So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.—Ephesians 5:28
The husband must realize that his wife is a part of himself. He will not feel this instinctively; he has to be taught it, and the Bible in all its parts teaches it. In other words, the husband must understand that he and his wife are not two: they are one. The apostle keeps on repeating that: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself…They two shall be one flesh…We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Eph 5:28, 31, 30). That is all true of our relationship to the Lord; it is true also in this other relationship.
I would therefore put it in this way: it is not sufficient for us even to regard our wives as partners. They are partners, but they are more than partners. You can have two men in business who are partners, but that is not the analogy. The analogy goes higher than that. It is not a question of partnership, though it includes that idea. There is another phrase that is often used—at least, it used to be common—that puts it so much better and that seems to me to be an unconscious statement of the Christian teaching. It is the expression used by men when they refer to their wives as “my better half.” Now that is exactly right. She is not a partner; she is the other half of the man. “They two shall be one flesh.” “My better half.” The very word half puts the whole case that the apostle elaborates here. We are not dealing with two units, two entities, but dealing with two halves of one—“They two shall be one flesh.” Therefore, in the light of this, the husband must no longer think singly or individually. That should be quite impossible in marriage, says the apostle, because, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” He is in a sense not loving somebody else, he is loving himself. Such is the difference that marriage makes.
On the practical level, therefore, the whole of the husband’s thinking must include his wife also. He must never think of himself in isolation or in detachment. The moment he does so, he has broken the most fundamental principle of marriage. Everybody sees it when it happens on the physical level, but the real damage is done before that, on the intellectual and the spiritual level. In a sense, the moment a man thinks of himself in isolation, he has broken the marriage. And he has no right to do that! There is a sense in which he cannot do it because the wife is a part of himself. But if it happens, he is certain to inflict grievous damage on his wife; and it is a damage in which he himself will be involved because she is a part of him. He is therefore even acting against himself, did he but realize it. His thinking, therefore, must never be personal in the sense of being individualistic. He is only the half, and what he does involves of necessity the other half. The same applies to his desires. He must never have any desire for himself alone. He is no longer one man, he is no longer free in that sense; his wife is involved in all his desires. It is his business therefore to see that he is always fully alive to these considerations. He must never think of his wife, in other words, as an addition. Still less—I am sorry that I have to use such an expression—as an encumbrance;56 but there are many who do so…
[A husband] must therefore deliberately remind himself constantly of what is true of him in this married state, and that must govern and control all his thinking, all his wishing, all his desiring, indeed the totality of his life and activity.
But we can go further and put this more strongly. Verse 28 closes with the words, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself ”; but we remember that the apostle, in describing the relationship between the Lord and the church, has used the analogy of the body. “So,” he further says in the same verse, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” Then he elaborates it in verse 29: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” Here, then, is the teaching: that we not only have to realize that the husband and wife are one, but the husband must realize that the wife is actually a part of himself according to this analogy of the body. A man’s attitude to his wife, says the apostle, should be his attitude, as it were, to his body. That is the analogy, and it is more than an analogy…The woman was originally taken out of the man (Gen 2:21-22). There we have the proof of the fact that she is a part of the man, and that describes the characteristic of the unity. The man, therefore, is told this: “So ought men to love their wives as their own body.” Now that little word as is a most important and vital one because we can easily misunderstand it. Paul does not say, “So ought men to love their wives in the same way as they love their bodies.” That is not the meaning. The meaning is, “So ought men to love their wives because they are their own bodies.” A man loves his wife as his body—that is what he is saying. Not “as” he loves his body so must he love his wife. No! A man must love his wife as his body—as a part of himself. As Eve was a part of Adam, taken out of his side, so the wife is to the man because she is a part of him.
I am stressing this because the apostle brings out clearly, namely, to show that there is this element of indissolubility57 about marriage, which, as I understand the biblical teaching, can only be broken by adultery. But what we are concerned to say now is that the apostle puts it in this form in order that a husband may see that he cannot detach himself from his wife. You cannot detach yourself from your body, so you cannot detach yourself from your wife. She is a part of you, says the apostle, so remember that always. You cannot live in isolation; you cannot live in detachment. If you realize that, there will be no danger of your thinking in detachment, no danger of your wishing and willing and desiring any detachment. Still less can there be any antagonism or hatred. Notice how he puts it: “No man,” he says, to ridicule the thing, “no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” So, any element of hatred between husband and wife is sheer madness; it shows that the man has no conception at all as to what marriage means. “No man hated his own flesh”—but his wife is his own flesh; she is his body. So, he is to love his wife as his own body.
What does this lead to in practice? Here I come to very detailed teaching that is needed by all—Christian people as well as others. God knows, we all have failed; we all have sinned by failing to understand this teaching and to apply it in detail. The principle is that the wife is, as it were, the body of the man. So, what his body is to his personality, his wife should be to him. Out of that comes the apostle’s detailed teaching. How is a man to treat his wife? Let me give some negatives first.
He is not to abuse her. It is possible for a man to abuse his body, and many men do abuse their bodies—by eating too much, by drinking too much, and in various other ways. That is to abuse the body, to maltreat it,58 to be unkind to it. Now, says the apostle, a man who does that is a fool because if a man maltreats his body and abuses it, he himself is going to suffer. You cannot detach yourself from your body; and if you think you can, and abuse your body, you will be the one to suffer. Your mind will suffer, your heart will suffer, the whole of your life will suffer. You may say, “I do not care about my body, I am living a life of the intellect”; but if you keep on doing that, you will soon find that you no longer have the intellect that you once had, and you will not be able to think as you once did. If you abuse your body, you are the one who is going to suffer. Not only the body, but you yourself will suffer as well. It is the same in the married relationship. If a man abuses his wife, he will suffer as well as the wife. So, apart from the inherent wrongfulness, the man is a fool. If a man abuses his wife, there is going to be a breakdown not only in the wife, but also in the man, and in the relationship between the two. Surely this is what is happening so commonly in the world today. It should be unthinkable that a Christian man should abuse his wife.
But not only should the husband not abuse his wife, in the second place, he should not neglect her. Come back again to the analogy of the body. A man can neglect his body. It often happens, and again, it always leads to trouble. To neglect the body is bad, it is foolish, it is wrong. Man has been so constituted that he is body, mind, and spirit, and the three are in intimate relationship one with another. We are all surely aware of this. Take an example in terms of the frailty of the body. If I am suffering from laryngitis, I cannot preach, though I may want to do so. I may be full of ideas and of a desire to preach; but if my throat is inflamed, I cannot speak. And it is so with the whole of the body. If you neglect the body, you yourself will suffer for it. Many a man has done that, many a scholar has done that, and through neglect of the body his work has suffered. That is because of the essential unity between these parts of our personalities.
It is the same in the married relationship, says the apostle. How much trouble is caused in the realm of marriage simply because of neglect! Very recently there has been evidence in the papers by medical men who have reported that large numbers of wives today have been driven to chain smoking. Why? Simply because they have been neglected by their husbands. The husbands spend their nights out at sports, or in their public house, or playing games with their friends; and the poor wife is left at home with the children and the work. The husband comes home at night just in time to go to bed and to sleep; and he gets up and goes out in the morning. Neglect of the wife is leading to these nervous conditions that reveal themselves in excessive smoking and other manifestations of nervous tension. It is lamentable that a man should get married and then proceed to neglect his wife. In other words, here is a man who has married, but who in essential matters goes on living as if he were still a bachelor. He is still living his own detached life; he still spends his time with his men friends.
I could elaborate on this very easily, but the facts are so familiar that it is unnecessary. But I have a feeling that I detect a tendency even in Christian circles, and even in evangelical circles, to forget this particular point. A married man must no longer act as if he were a single man; his wife should be involved in everything…Of course, the man in his business has to be alone, and there are other occasions when he has to be alone; but if it is a social occasion, something into which a wife can enter, she should enter; and it is the business of the husband to see to it that she does enter…But there is another aspect of this matter that at times causes me great concern. I am constantly hearing of what sometimes has been called “evangelical widows.” The expression means that the husband of that particular type of woman is a man who is out every night at some meeting or other. His explanation, indeed his argument, is that he is engaged in good Christian work; but he seems to forget that he is a married man…The conduct of such a husband is grievously sinful. Though it is done in the name of active Christian work, a man cannot and must not contract out of his married relationship in that way because the wife is a part of him—his “better half,” not his slave.
Christian husbands must therefore examine themselves in this matter. A home is not a dormitory where a man returns to sleep. No! There is to be this active, ideal, positive relationship; and we must ever be holding it in the forefront of our mind. A man therefore must seek wisdom from God to know how to divide himself up in this respect. But I care not what a man is; if he is a married man, he must not behave as a single man, even in connection with Christian work, because in so doing he is denying the very teaching of the gospel that he claims to be preaching. There can be untold selfishness just at that point…So, I move on to the practical outworking of the teaching.
The husband must not abuse his wife, he must not neglect his wife, and, thirdly, he must never take her for granted. The positive element must always be there. A man’s wife is not just his housekeeper; there is this positive element. How can that best be brought out? Let me take the apostle’s own terms. He puts it like this: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but”—What? “Nourisheth and cherisheth it even as the Lord the church”…Once more, this can be worked out in terms of the analogy that a man does not hate his own body, but nourishes it and cherishes it. How does he do so? We can divide it up simply thus:
First of all, there is the question of diet. A man must think about his diet, about his food. He must take sufficient nourishment, he must take it regularly, and so on. All that must be worked out in terms of husband and wife. The man should be thinking of what will help his wife, what will strengthen his wife. As we take our food, we not only think in terms of calories or protein, fat, and carbohydrate; we are not purely scientific, are we? Another element comes into this question of food. We are influenced also by what appeals to the palate, by what gives us pleasure and enjoyment. So ought the husband to treat his wife. He should be thinking of what pleases her, what gives her pleasure, what she likes, what she enjoys. Of course, before he got married, he went out of his way to do this; but then after he gets married, he often stops doing so. Is that not the difficulty?…Consider her whole personality and her soul. There has to be this active thought about the development of the wife and her life in this amazing relationship that God Himself has established.
Again, there is the question of exercise. The analogy of the body suggests that at once. Exercise for the body is essential; exercise is equally essential in the married relationship. It can mean as simple a thing as this—just talking. Alas, I have known trouble in marriages so often, simply because of an absence of conversation. We all know how much there is to be said by way of excuse. A man is tired, he has been at his work or his office all day, and he comes home weary and tired and wants rest and peace. Yes, but the same thing is also true of his wife, with the difference that perhaps she has been alone all day or only had the society of little children. Whether we feel like it or not, we must talk. The wife needs exercise in this sense. Tell her about your business, about your worries, about your affairs;59 bring her into it. She is your body, she is a part of you, so allow her to speak concerning it. Consult her, let her bring her understanding to bear. She is a part of your life, so bring her into the whole of your life. Make yourself talk…I repeat once more that I know all the excuses, and how difficult it often can be; but let me put it like this—I think it is a fair argument. This man was equally tired and working equally hard before he got married; but in the days before marriage, whatever he had been doing, he was most anxious to talk to his fiancée and to bring her into everything. Why should that stop when they get married? It should not stop, says the apostle. The husband and wife are one. Look at her, and consider her as you do your body, and remember this element of exercise. Bring her into everything deliberately. It will be wonderful for her, for her development; and it will be good for you yourself because the whole marriage will grow and develop as you do so.
And that brings us to the fourth point, which is the element of protection. Here is this body—it needs food, it needs exercise; but in addition, every man has to learn to understand his own body. The apostle works out the argument. The apostle Peter, you remember, puts it like this. He tells the husband to remember that his wife is “the weaker vessel.” This means that these bodies of ours are subject to certain things. We are all different even in a physical sense. Some of us are subject, perhaps, to feeling the cold, or subject to chills in a way that does not seem to worry other men. Some of us are so constituted that we have these minor problems; and we are subject to odd infections and various other things that come to try us. What does a wise man do? He takes great care about such things: he puts on a heavy overcoat in winter, he may put on a scarf; and he refrains from doing certain things. He is protecting himself and his weak constitution against some of the hazards that come to meet us in life. “So ought men to love their wives.” Have you discovered that your wife has some peculiar temperamental weakness? Have you discovered that she has certain special characteristics? Is she nervous and apprehensive, or is she too outspoken? It does not matter what it is in particular; she has certain characteristics that are, in a sense, weaknesses. What is your reaction to them? Are you irritated or annoyed? And do you tend to condemn them and to dismiss them? Act as you do with your body, says the apostle. Protect her against them, guard her against them. If your wife happens to have been born with that worrying temperament, well, save her from it, protect her. Do everything you can to safeguard her from the weaknesses and the infirmities and the frailties; as you do so for your body, do so for your wife…She is “the weaker vessel”…
We leave it at that…We have been looking at one big principle that is most important. A man has to love his wife “even as”—because she is—his own body. “No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
From Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home, and Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9 (Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 213-221,
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)