There are few things more important to the married Christian's walk with Christ than how we relate with our spouses. As I approach my 32nd year of marriage to my beautiful wife and God's greatest gift to me (outside of the gift of Himself in Christ) I've been thinking a lot about this.
We're told in Eph 5 that marriage is wrapped up in a great mystery that reflects the great mystery of God in Christ and how He relates to the Church. In that passage Paul links it back to Genesis 2 and the original mandate from God for the husband and wife, two individuals, to become so united to become as "one flesh". How do we achieve that incredible oneness? Paul says that the husband, as head of the wife, is likened to Christ who is Head of the Church, and so like Christ should love His wife. And the wife, like the Church, should submit to His leadership and respect her husband. That's the process. Since I'm a husband, I've been reflecting on my part of that process...
As Christ loves the Church and gave Himself for her so the husband should love his wife in a self-sacrificial way. That provides us some definition of "love", being self-sacrificial, but still leaves it rather abstract. But God's word elsewhere provides ample definition of what Paul means here.
In 1Pe 3, Peter gives similar instructions to husbands and wives and tells the husband to live with his wife in an understanding way and in a way so as to honor her. So love is further defined here as understanding and honoring. And Peter also connects it to the spiritual saying that she is a fellow heir of God's grace such that if husbands don't live with their wives in an understanding and honoring way, their relationship with God will be hindered!
Then Paul provides perhaps the most complete and beautiful detailed definition of what he meant when he instructed husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. He does this in 1Cor 13. In that passage Paul tells us what actual, day to day love looks like, how it sounds, how it behaves. If your "love" for your wife doesn't look and sound and "feel" like this then it doesn't meet the high bar of Christian love. Paul says that love is, "patient and kind; does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful...it bears all things, believes all, hopes all things, endures all things".
Wow, I know I fail at loving Terri that way all the time but the fact of my failure does not diminish God's word and its authority for my life. No, it simply means I'm sinful, in need of a savior and must fight against the flesh so that I CAN love her that way more often than not. And if I do, if Christian men do, I'm quite certain that more often than not our wives will respond with the respect and honor and love we crave. But here is the truth - even if they DON'T - we are STILL to love them that way. For after all, is that not what Christ does for us?