The Apostle John makes it clear that Jesus Christ is not only the world’s Redeemer, but also its Creator. Jesus formed Adam and Eve with his own hands, creating them in His image. This image of God, imparted to humanity, is often thought of in terms of God’s creative power being imparted to us in a few specific ways. Our abilities to reason, reproduce, and be stewards of the earth are often among the most commonly mentioned. The crowning act of God’s creativity, however, was in God’s redemption of this world, and I would argue that it is in the marriage relationship that we humans most fully partake of the redemptive aspect of God’s image.
The Bible often refers to the Church as the “Bride of Christ,” and Paul used this analogy in Ephesians 5 to explain to husbands and wives how they ought to treat each other:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
We well know that what Christ did for the Church was the most painful and difficult thing anyone has ever done, and we are familiar with the above passage, but we frequently fail to connect these two pieces of knowledge. If we place our dealings with our spouses in the context of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of the Church, the solemnity of our duties, the nature of our struggles, and the eternal and glorious nature of our rewards become clear.
In practical terms, husbands are called to unconditionally love their wives, and wives are called to unconditionally respect their husbands (Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerich). Wives, for the record, our calling as husbands is just as difficult as yours. Both callings require humility that only Christ can impart. When a husband is called to love his disrespectful wife, or a wife is called to respect an unloving husband, Satan will be right there with the same temptations he threw at Christ in Gethsemane: “Your suffering is pointless, your humility will be taken advantage of, nobody will accept your sacrifice, you will be rejected, and there will be no reward.”
Often, our mistreatment of each other has a specific goal—we are trying to get the other person to realize that they have wronged us, to apologize, and ultimately to treat us as we wish to be treated. In acting this way, however, we attempt to do the work of the Holy Spirit. Only God can convict people of sin. By usurping the Holy Spirit’s role, we actually hamper the work of sanctification that God is doing in our spouse’s life.
If, on the other hand, we make Christ’s humility and forgiveness our modus operandi, treating our spouses according to the Divine mandate and patiently waiting for the Holy Spirit to work in our spouses’ life, we become fuller partakers of not only Christ’s nature, but also Christ’s reward.