Unveiling the Profound Mystery of Marital Love | Love Bible Study #7

Marital Love – Love Bible Study #7

Pastor Duke Taber

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Introduction

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses the marriage relationship to illustrate the profound mystery of Christ’s love for the church. In Ephesians 5:22-33, he writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (NKJV).

This passage reveals the unique aspects of marital love, which is to reflect the sacrificial, redemptive love that Christ has for His church. In this Bible study, we will explore the Biblical vision for marriage, the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives, and the practical ways in which couples can cultivate a Christ-centered love in their relationship.

Marriage is a sacred institution, designed by God to reflect His character and purposes. It is not merely a human contract or a social construct, but a divine covenant that joins one man and one woman in a lifelong union of love, fidelity, and mutual service. As the Bible declares, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

In a world that often distorts or diminishes the meaning of marriage, it is crucial for Christians to understand and embrace God’s design for this precious gift. Whether we are currently married, single, or preparing for marriage in the future, we all have a stake in upholding the sanctity and beauty of marriage as God intended it.

As we study this topic, may we approach it with reverence, humility, and a desire to align our marriages (or future marriages) with God’s perfect plan. May we seek to honor Christ in all of our relationships, and to love as He has loved us – sacrificially, unconditionally, and faithfully.

Marital Love - Love Bible Study #7

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The Biblical Vision for Marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)

To understand the unique aspects of marital love, we must first consider the Biblical vision for marriage as presented in Ephesians 5:22-33. In this passage, Paul draws a parallel between the relationship of a husband and wife and the relationship between Christ and the church.

Submission and Headship (v. 22-24)

Paul begins by addressing wives, calling them to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. This submission is not a matter of inferiority or oppression, but rather a voluntary yielding of oneself in love and respect. It is modeled after the church’s submission to Christ, who is the head of the church.

The Greek word used for “submit” is “hupotasso,” which means to arrange under, to subordinate, or to place in subjection. It implies a willingness to follow the leadership of another, not out of coercion or fear, but out of trust and respect.

It is important to note that this submission is not unconditional or absolute. Wives are called to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” – that is, in a way that is consistent with their ultimate allegiance to Christ. A wife is not required to follow her husband into sin or to endure abuse or mistreatment.

The husband’s role as head is not one of domination or tyranny, but of loving leadership and sacrifice. The Greek word used for “head” is “kephale,” which can refer to the physical head of a body or to the source or origin of something. In this context, it denotes the husband’s responsibility to provide leadership, protection, and nourishment for his wife and family.

Just as Christ is the Savior of the church, so the husband is to be the protector and provider for his wife, putting her needs above his own. This headship is not a license for selfishness or superiority, but a calling to serve and sacrifice for the well-being of one’s spouse.

Christ’s Love for the Church (v. 25-27)

Paul then turns his attention to husbands, commanding them to love their wives “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (v. 25). Christ’s love for the church is the supreme example and standard for marital love. It is a love that is unconditional, unending, and unstoppable.

The Greek word used for “love” in this passage is “agapao,” which refers to a self-giving, sacrificial love that seeks the highest good of the beloved. It is not based on feelings or attraction, but on a commitment of the will to act in the best interests of the other person.

Christ’s love for the church is demonstrated most fully in His willingness to give Himself up for her on the cross. As Paul writes in verse 25, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” This sacrificial love is the model for husbands in their relationship with their wives.

Christ’s love for the church is also a sanctifying love. He gave Himself up for her “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (v. 26). In other words, Christ’s love has a purifying and transforming effect on the church, making her holy and blameless before God.

In the same way, husbands are to love their wives in a way that promotes their spiritual growth and purity. They are to nourish and cherish their wives, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. As Paul writes in verse 29, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.”

One Flesh (v. 28-33)

Paul goes on to emphasize the oneness that is to characterize the marriage relationship. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them (v. 28-29). This oneness is rooted in the mystery of the one-flesh union described in Genesis 2:24, which Paul quotes in verse 31: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

The one-flesh union of marriage is not just a physical or sexual union, but a comprehensive joining of two lives into a new, shared identity. It involves a merging of hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits in a covenant relationship that is meant to last a lifetime.

This oneness is not automatic or easy to maintain. It requires intentional effort, selfless love, and a commitment to put the needs of the marriage above individual desires. As Paul writes in verse 33, “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Ultimately, the oneness of marriage points to the profound unity between Christ and His church. As Paul writes in verse 32, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Marriage, in its truest sense, is a living parable of the gospel, displaying the love, intimacy, and covenant commitment between God and His people.

When husbands and wives embrace their God-given roles and love one another as Christ loves the church, they not only experience the blessings of a thriving marriage, but also bear witness to the power and beauty of the gospel.

Reflective Questions:

  1. How does the Biblical vision of marital submission and headship differ from the world’s view of marriage roles?
  2. In what ways does Christ’s love for the church serve as a model for a husband’s love for his wife?
  3. How does the “one flesh” union of marriage reflect the relationship between Christ and the church?
  4. What do you think it means for a husband to love his wife as his own body? How can this be practically lived out in marriage?

The Roles and Responsibilities of Husbands and Wives

Based on the Biblical vision for marriage outlined in Ephesians 5, we can identify several key roles and responsibilities for husbands and wives. These are not meant to be rigid, legalistic rules, but rather guidelines for how to express Christ-like love and promote oneness in the marriage relationship.

The Role of the Husband

The primary role of the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. This involves several key responsibilities:

  1. Sacrificial Love: Just as Christ gave Himself up for the church, husbands are to prioritize their wives’ needs and well-being above their own. This may involve laying down one’s own preferences, comforts, or even life for the sake of one’s wife. As 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
  2. Spiritual Leadership: Husbands are to take the lead in the spiritual nurture and growth of their marriage and family. This includes praying for and with one’s wife, studying and applying God’s Word together, and setting a godly example in speech and conduct. As 1 Corinthians 11:3 states, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
  3. Provision and Protection: As the head of the household, the husband is responsible for providing for his wife’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, as well as protecting her from harm or danger. This does not mean that the wife cannot contribute to the family’s provision or that she is incapable of protecting herself, but rather that the husband bears the primary responsibility for ensuring the well-being and safety of his wife and children.
  4. Nurture and Cherish: Husbands are called to nourish and cherish their wives, just as they would their own bodies. This involves showing affection, kindness, and tender care, as well as encouraging and affirming one’s wife. It also means being attuned to her needs, desires, and concerns, and seeking to meet them with sensitivity and understanding.

The Role of the Wife

The primary role of the wife is to submit to and respect her husband, as the church does to Christ. This involves several key responsibilities:

  1. Voluntary Submission: Wives are to willingly submit to their husbands’ leadership, not out of fear or coercion, but out of love and reverence for Christ. This submission is not a blind obedience, but a joyful trust in God’s design for marriage. It is a recognition of the husband’s God-given role and a willingness to support and follow his leadership, as long as it is in accordance with God’s Word.
  2. Helper and Companion: God created Eve to be a helper and companion to Adam (Genesis 2:18). In the same way, wives are to come alongside their husbands, supporting and assisting them in their God-given roles and responsibilities. This may involve offering wisdom, encouragement, and practical help in various areas of life, such as parenting, decision-making, and ministry.
  3. Respect and Honor: Wives are called to respect and honor their husbands, even when they may not feel like they deserve it. This respect is not based on a husband’s performance, but on his God-given position as head of the home. As Ephesians 5:33 says, “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
  4. Godly Character: Wives are to cultivate godly character qualities, such as gentleness, purity, kindness, and a quiet spirit. These inner qualities are of great worth in God’s sight and can have a powerful influence on one’s husband and family. As 1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

It is important to note that these roles and responsibilities are not one-sided or independent of each other. Husbands and wives are to mutually submit to and serve one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). When both spouses seek to fulfill their God-given roles in a spirit of love and humility, it creates a beautiful picture of Christ and the church.

Moreover, these roles are not meant to be rigid or inflexible. Every marriage is unique, and couples may need to adapt and adjust their roles based on their individual gifts, circumstances, and needs. The key is to approach marriage as a partnership, seeking to honor God and serve one another in love.

Reflective Questions:

  1. How can husbands practically demonstrate sacrificial love for their wives in daily life?
  2. What does it look like for a husband to provide spiritual leadership in the home?
  3. How can wives show respect and honor to their husbands, even in challenging circumstances?
  4. In what ways can couples mutually submit to and serve one another in marriage?

Cultivating Christ-Centered Love in Marriage

Reflecting Christ’s love in marriage is not something that comes naturally or easily. It requires intentional effort, dependence on God’s grace, and a commitment to put Biblical principles into practice. Here are some practical ways couples can cultivate a Christ-centered love in their relationship:

Abide in Christ

The foundation of a Christ-centered marriage is a living, growing relationship with Jesus. As individuals and as a couple, husbands and wives must prioritize their personal walk with God, abiding in His love and allowing His Spirit to fill and empower them (John 15:5).

This involves regularly spending time in God’s Word, prayer, worship, and fellowship with other believers. It means seeking to know and love God more deeply, and to align one’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions with His will.

When both spouses are individually pursuing Christ and allowing His love to transform them, it naturally overflows into the marriage relationship. They are able to love, serve, and forgive one another, not in their own strength, but through the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through them.

Study and Apply God’s Word

God’s Word provides the blueprint for a healthy, godly marriage. It offers timeless wisdom, guidance, and encouragement for navigating the joys and challenges of married life.

Couples should regularly study the Scriptures together, seeking to understand God’s design for marriage and to apply His truths to their relationship. This may involve reading a passage together, discussing its meaning and implications, and prayerfully considering how to put it into practice.

Some key passages to study and discuss include:

  • Genesis 1-2: God’s creation of marriage
  • Proverbs 5:15-19; Song of Solomon: Celebrating marital love and intimacy
  • Malachi 2:13-16: God’s heart for marriage and hatred of divorce
  • Matthew 19:1-9: Jesus’ teachings on marriage and divorce
  • 1 Corinthians 7:1-16: Paul’s instructions for married and single people
  • Colossians 3:18-19: Paul’s exhortations for husbands and wives
  • 1 Peter 3:1-7: Peter’s guidance for wives and husbands

As couples immerse themselves in God’s Word and seek to apply it to their marriage, they will grow in wisdom, understanding, and Christ-likeness.

Pray Together

Prayer is a vital component of a Christ-centered marriage. It is the means by which couples invite God’s presence, power, and guidance into their relationship.

Husbands and wives should make a habit of praying together regularly, both in formal times of prayer and in spontaneous moments throughout the day. They can pray for one another’s needs, concerns, and spiritual growth, as well as for their marriage, family, and broader circle of influence.

Praying together also cultivates a deeper level of intimacy and unity in the relationship. As couples open their hearts before God and one another, they are drawn closer together and are better able to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys.

Furthermore, praying together can help couples navigate conflict and decision-making in a godly way. Instead of relying on their own wisdom or engaging in heated arguments, they can seek God’s guidance and surrender their wills to Him.

Practice Forgiveness and Grace

In any marriage, there will be offenses, disappointments, and hurts. No spouse is perfect, and even the most loving couples will experience conflict and pain at times.

That is why it is essential for husbands and wives to practice forgiveness and extend grace to one another, just as Christ has forgiven and shown grace to them (Ephesians 4:32). This involves a willingness to let go of bitterness, to apologize and make amends, and to seek reconciliation and restoration.

Forgiveness is not always easy, especially when the offense is deep or repeated. It may require time, counseling, and a conscious choice to release the other person from the debt they owe. But as couples choose to forgive and extend grace, they open the door for healing, renewal, and greater intimacy in their relationship.

Moreover, practicing forgiveness and grace can prevent small offenses from escalating into larger conflicts. It creates a culture of humility, compassion, and understanding in the marriage, where both spouses are quick to own their faults and extend mercy to one another.

Serve and Sacrifice for One Another

Christ-like love is characterized by selfless service and sacrifice. Husbands and wives can reflect this love by looking for ways to serve and prefer one another, putting their spouse’s needs and interests above their own.

This may involve acts of kindness, words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, or other expressions of love. It may mean doing the dishes, running an errand, or watching the kids so one’s spouse can have some alone time. It may require giving up a personal hobby or activity to invest in the marriage or family.

Serving and sacrificing for one another is not about keeping score or manipulating the other person. Rather, it is a joyful and willing choice to honor and prefer one’s spouse, motivated by the love and example of Christ.

As couples practice mutual service and sacrifice, they will experience a deeper level of love, trust, and intimacy in their relationship. They will also be better equipped to face the challenges and trials of life together, knowing that they have a partner who is committed to their well-being and success.

Pursue Intimacy and Oneness

God designed marriage to be a deeply intimate union, reflecting the oneness between Christ and His church. This intimacy is not just physical, but also emotional, spiritual, and relational.

Couples should prioritize cultivating intimacy in all areas of their marriage. This involves regular, open, and honest communication, where both spouses feel safe to share their thoughts, feelings, and needs. It means making time for meaningful conversation, shared activities, and physical affection.

Pursuing intimacy also involves guarding against anything that would undermine the exclusivity and sacredness of the marriage bond. This may include setting boundaries around opposite-sex friendships, media consumption, or other potential sources of temptation.

As couples pursue intimacy and oneness, they will experience a deeper sense of connection, fulfillment, and joy in their relationship. They will also be better able to weather the storms of life together, knowing that they have a strong foundation of love and commitment.

Seek Godly Counsel and Community

No couple is meant to navigate marriage alone. God has given the gift of Christian community to provide support, accountability, and wisdom for the journey.

Couples should seek out godly mentors, whether pastors, counselors, or older couples who have a strong marriage and faith. These mentors can offer guidance, encouragement, and a listening ear, especially in times of struggle or uncertainty.

Participating in a small group or Bible study with other couples can also be a valuable source of support and growth. As couples share their experiences and insights, they can learn from one another and be reminded that they are not alone in the challenges they face.

When more serious issues arise, such as addiction, infidelity, or abuse, couples should not hesitate to seek professional counseling from a licensed Christian therapist. A skilled counselor can provide a safe space to process pain, learn healthy communication and conflict resolution skills, and pursue healing and restoration.

Ultimately, seeking godly counsel and community is a way of acknowledging our need for God’s wisdom and grace in our marriages. It is a humble admission that we cannot do it on our own, and a willingness to receive the help and support that God provides through His people.

Reflective Questions:

  1. How can you and your spouse (or future spouse) make abiding in Christ a priority in your marriage?
  2. What are some practical ways you can study and apply God’s Word together as a couple?
  3. How can you cultivate a habit of praying together regularly in your marriage?
  4. What does it look like to practice forgiveness and grace in the context of marital conflict or disappointment?
  5. In what areas of your marriage do you need to grow in selfless service and sacrifice for your spouse?
  6. How can you pursue deeper intimacy and oneness with your spouse in all areas of your relationship?
  7. What godly counsel or community can you seek out to support and strengthen your marriage?

Conclusion

Marital love, as designed by God and modeled by Christ, is a profound and beautiful mystery. It is a reflection of the unconditional, sacrificial, and redemptive love that Christ has for His church. When husbands and wives embrace their God-given roles and seek to love one another as Christ loves the church, they not only experience the blessings of a thriving marriage but also bear witness to the power of the gospel.

Cultivating a Christ-centered marriage requires intentionality, effort, and dependence on God’s grace. It involves abiding in Christ, studying and applying God’s Word, praying together, practicing forgiveness and grace, serving and sacrificing for one another, pursuing intimacy and oneness, and seeking godly counsel and community.

No couple will perfectly embody the ideal of Christ-like love in marriage. We are all sinful, broken people in need of God’s transforming grace. But as we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and seek to follow His example in our marriages, we can experience the joy, fulfillment, and sanctifying power of marital love.

May our marriages be a living testament to the love of Christ, drawing others to the foot of the cross and bringing glory to God. And may we, as the bride of Christ, look forward with hope and expectation to the ultimate marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will be united with our heavenly Bridegroom forever.

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