When we consider where we have come from, and how the relationship started, you can begin to get an understanding of how astonishing it is that Paul tells husbands that they should love their wives just as they love their own bodies, even going to the extent to give themselves up for them.
Here is what I mean:
If you look all of the way back to the Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commandment to not eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we can immediately see where both sin entered the world as well as the problems started between men and women.
God asks Adam whether or not he has eaten from the tree that he commanded him not to eat from. Adam’s answer?
“The woman you put here with me —she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Did Adam not know God’s commandment? No, of course he knew it. He and Eve both knew God’s command.
So why would it be that Adam would blame Eve for disobeying God’s command? Because Adam felt ashamed and didn’t want to solely take the shame upon himself. He wanted to deflect it onto Eve and to prevent the blame from resting upon him. He didn’t want the punishment that would come from God for what he had done.
Rewriting the story
But of course, this is the opposite of what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t have a reason for shame, and yet instead, he stepped forward to take the blame and the punishment. Jesus knew that it would be too much for his bride to bear.
Who is Jesus’s bride? It is the church. The people that he came to win. He would win them through his sacrifice and they would become his bride. He took the blame and punishment for them even though he didn’t have the shame of having sinned. The bride consists of the church, the people that deserved the shame, the blame, and the punishment.
Jesus, instead of turning to blame his bride as Adam did instead took the blame upon himself and received the punishment that came from God.
So now we can begin to see how radical of a statement this is when Paul calls husbands to love their wives. Here is what he says:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.Ephesians 5:25-32
Clearly, Paul isn’t just saying that we should be nice. Nor is he calling husbands to be a little bit better husbands…maybe we bring flowers from time to time. Paul is calling husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church.
Jesus put himself in harm’s way and took the full brunt of the harm that came so that the church, his bride, would be unharmed. The church, instead, would receive grace and mercy through Jesus’s actions. This is the level at which Paul is telling husbands to love their wives… just as Jesus loved the church. A profound mystery indeed!