Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” This verse is found in the middle of an entire chapter devoted to the Christian’s calling to imitate the Lord by walking in love. As with all Biblical terms, the meaning of the word love in this chapter is determined by its use in context, and the context of Ephesians 5 clearly includes the concept of self-sacrifice as a defining characteristic of love. According to v.2, Christ is our example in that he loved us and gave himself us as an offering to God, and the same connection between love and self-sacrifice is found in v.25. Christ loved the church, that is, Christ loved the believers who make up the church, and he gave himself for us. So the love that a husband is to have toward his wife is a martyrdom of sorts.
Under normal circumstances, this calling is a challenge, due to our natural selfishness which, of course, resists such a giving of oneself with no expectation of a return. In fact, it is impossible for any man to live with his wife in such a way. The love that Christ demonstrated when he offered himself as a sinless substitute for fallen mankind is beyond compare and impossible apart from the power of the Holy Spirit of God which indwells those who are in Christ. And although it is impossible for any man to so love his wife that he perfectly matches the love of Christ for his church, it is possible for a man who knows Jesus Christ to learn to demonstrate the same kind of love, a self-sacrificing, life-giving sort of love.
Nowhere is this more evident than in end-of-life care, when one’s spouse has become, for all intents and purposes, helpless to care for themselves, and sometimes even unable to show gratitude or respond to the loving care offered by a faithful spouse. One of the most extremely difficult scenarios is when one’s spouse is dying of Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative form of dementia. What does the self-sacrificing love of Christ have to do with Alzheimer’s? It may be the most extreme challenge to any husband’s commitment to love his wife and give himself for her, but it is also a rising concern. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and nearly 2/3 of Alzheimer’s patients in the US are women. This dreaded disease presents Christian husbands with the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in a way that few others can match. When there is no longer any give-and-take but only give-and-give-again, then the husband’s love begins to approximate the love that Christ showed in dying for sinful men. When a wife becomes unkind or even hostile, due to the effects of the disease, then her husband’s patient and tender care begins to look even more like God’s love which he lavished on his rebellious and un-thankful creatures.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with a retired pastor who is caring for his wife as she suffers from this disease. When I told him how much I appreciated his testimony of love as he cared for his wife of 60+ years, he simply said that he had made a vow to love her, “in sickness and in health.” This simple response is a wonderful example of one man’s obedience to the word and work of God.