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Colossians 3:19  (ID: 2491)

What does it really mean to love your wife? The Bible affirms that husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church.” As Alistair Begg explains, this high standard is nothing less than a model of the cross of Jesus. A godly husband demonstrates a sacrificial love that is exclusive, natural, purposeful, and never harsh. Such love enables wives to flourish in their femininity and grow in their love for Christ.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Christian Family

Colossians 3:18–21 Series ID: 24701

Encore 2014

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25905

Sermon Transcript: Print

“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 … 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 his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, 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’m] talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must [see that she respects] her husband.”


Father, help us now. Some of us do feel like lying down at the end of this day, and we can’t just yet, because we want to pay attention to the Bible. We’re not really interested in the views of a man, but we are increasingly interested in what your Word has to say, especially about such an important subject—either a role that we already fulfill or perhaps one day will fulfill. So we pray that you will either set us on course, or redirect our course, or just meet with us, we pray, in the study of the Bible, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, let’s get straight to our verse. It’s Colossians 3:19: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” It’s very straightforward. Somebody could readily say, “Which part of that do you not understand?” Peterson paraphrases it, “Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. [Do not] take advantage of them.”[1] And J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “Husbands, be sure [that] you give your wives much love and sympathy; don’t let bitterness or resentment spoil your marriage.”

More than one individual mentioned after last Sunday evening that our study on wives was conducted in such a way that the points of application might, the observer said, apply just as well to the role of a husband. And that, of course, I freely admit. And there was actually some purpose in what I did, insofar as I decided not to have a preliminary study that set up all of the studies—so, certainly piety and mystery and authority and liberty are encompassed in the distinctive roles that are given both to the wife as well as to the husband.

The freedom that is found in the fulfilling of God-given roles is a freedom which is founded, grounded, and bounded by the authoritative statements of Scripture.

And we noted last time that the authority to which we refer is none other the authority of the Bible itself; that the mystery which Paul references, as we read in Ephesians 5, is that of the relationship between Christ and the church; the piety, or godliness, or all-pervasive God-consciousness, as we said last Sunday evening—that God-consciousness is equally to be on display in the context of the husband’s role and the child’s role as it is in the wife’s. Indeed, piety is to be worked out in the context of home life, where, for better or for worse, each of us are truly ourselves. Whatever our public posture, whatever people think of us when we’re out and about conducting official business or going about the duties of our day, those who know us in our home know us . And it is true to say, as someone has said, that if our Christianity does not work at home, our Christianity does not work. And if our professions of obedience to the Scriptures do not find their outworking in the interplay of human relationships within the home, then, of course, we’re in trouble. 

And the fourth word was the word freedom or liberty, and that liberty, we said, was to be discovered in obedience to the commands of God. And we finished last time with the thought of freedom, debunking the idea of the freedom that is offered in the secular world, which says, “If you will just throw over the old shibboleths of historic Christianity—those ideas of fidelity and monogamy and purity and so on—if you’ll cast those to the side and exercise your prerogatives, then you will enjoy a life such as you have never known.” And we didn’t work it out, but we suggested to one another that the evidence in contemporary society gives the lie to that assertion. And we said that it was worth considering the whole notion that the greatest freedom that is ever to be found is the freedom that is found in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

I came across a quote during the week on this very subject from C. S. Lewis, who wrote as follows: “If the home is to be a means of grace it must be a place of rules.… The alternative to rule is not freedom but the unconstitutional (and often unconscious) tyranny of the most selfish member.”[2] And N. T. Wright in a follow-up comment observes, “As in improvised music, spontaneity and freedom do not mean playing out of tune.”[3] So the freedom that is found in the fulfilling of God-given roles is a freedom which is founded, grounded, and bounded by the authoritative statements of Scripture. 

Now, we saw last time that the great temptation to the wife is to rule over her husband. And I was thinking afterwards of all the little anecdotes that I left aside, and probably just as well, but I couldn’t resist dragging this one out from the past: When you think of the responsibility of a wife to fulfill her role and the temptation that she has to rule over her husband à la what we discovered in Genesis, you perhaps remember the fictitious story of the individuals who had all arrived in the realm of heaven, and Peter and some of the others were getting the men as organized as they could. And the fellow stepped forward and said, “Now, what I want you to do is, I want you to just get yourselves organized here. I’m going to put you in two groups. Over here on my left I’d like to have all the men whose wives, frankly, dominated them in their earthly pilgrimage, whose wives ruled the home. And then over on my right-hand side I’d like to have all the men who exercised leadership and jurisdiction in their earthly pilgrimage.” And there was just a huge shift over to the left-hand side, just droves and droves of men. And when they had finally assembled themselves, Peter looked, and there was just one man standing over here. And Peter said, “You’re probably quite lonely over there. How come you’re there?” And he said, “My wife told me to stand over here.”

Well, you’re very gracious. It really wasn’t worth it. But anyway…

Last time we had four words for the wife; tonight we have five words for the husbands. In Ephesians 5, the portion we’ve read, Paul addresses the wives in 40 words; he uses 115 in instructing the husbands. That might give us some hint of what’s involved here. We might also be tempted to debate—you may have a coffee later this evening with your wife or someone and debate whether God has given the husband or the wife the more demanding role. In fact, you may already have begun to think that out.

Last time we pointed out, and tried to do so quite clearly, that the wife’s submission to her husband is one evidence of her submission to Christ—that for a wife to declare the lordship of Jesus will be borne testimony to within the fabric of home life in her submission to her husband. Now we come to the reverse of this, and we recognize that, in the selfsame way, for a husband to declare that Jesus is Lord demands that he serves his wife and by doing so makes it clear that he is serving Christ.  Let me just say this, in case I forget later on: children growing up in a Christian home should actually be able to see the gospel modeled in the way their father loves their mother with a sacrificial love —the love of Jesus for his church—and the way the mother submits to the father as an expression of the church’s submission to the lordship of Christ. As soon as we put things in that framework, taking them out of the realm of the superficial—many of the preoccupations which are not irrelevant but are not really germane to the central issues—then we realize what a high standard the Scriptures call us to.

And particularly this notion for the men. How characteristically New Testament is this, that husbands are commanded to love their wives? Commanded to love! This is not unique here. You’ll find the same thing is true in 2 John 6; and indeed in Titus—we studied it years ago, now—you’ll remember that the older women are to help the younger women to train them how to love their husbands. [4] So in other words, this notion of love is not the victim of human emotion; it is rather the servant of our human will —that the real issue for both the husband and the wife is whether we are going to bow our knee, bend our will, to what the Bible says or whether we are going to try and go on our own.

Now, the word that Paul is employing here for “love” is an important word. It’s not the word eros for sensual or sexual love, nor is it either of the two words that would be used for brotherly and sisterly affection or for human affection, storge or phileo, but it is, as some of you will know, the word agape: a love which considers the other before the self and then acts on that premise.

Loving Sensitively

Now, let me come to our words, and we’ll do so quickly. Some of them we’ll go faster through than others, but the first word is the word sensitively. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” What does it mean for the husband to love his wife and not be harsh with her? Well, it means that first he must love her sensitively.

Now, romantic suggestions and sentimental expressions are easily come by. Indeed, the phrase I love you is easily come by. It can become just a routine phrase. But those sort of sentimental expressions on their own will offer only the thinnest of disguises if there is a failure on the part of the husband to pass this most practical test. It is a practical test, isn’t it? If it simply said, “Husbands, love your wives,” full stop, then, of course, that would be okay. It would immediately let us off the hook in relationship to his correlative statement. But when he says, “And do not be harsh with them,” you said, “Oh! All right.”

Love is not the victim of human emotion; it is rather the servant of our human will.

Or as Phillips puts it, “Don’t let bitterness or resentment spoil your marriage.” And that notion of spoiling something is the spoiling that can so often happen over a period of time as a result of neglect. Few marriages disintegrate as a result of some cataclysmic moment in time. Most disintegrate like the leak in a tire on a freeway —which finally the car is found pulled over in the center reservation, and something that has gone undetected over a period of significant time, over a long number of miles, finally has shown up. And one of the ways that that can happen is so easily in the realm of neglect. And as husbands, if we are not careful, and even if we attempt to be careful, we may cultivate a harsh tone not only in our voices but in our attitudes, which is fueled by bitterness—a bitterness which often stems from disappointment, a disappointment that is grounded in our wife’s failure to live up to our unrealistic ideals.

Now, did you get that? This is a harshness which is found in a bitterness that is tied to a resentment which is fixed in a failure on the part of our wives, not to be good wives, but a failure on their part to live up to unrealistic expectations established by Mr. Harsh, who holds his wife to a standard that he has no right to hold her to, either emotionally, physically, spiritually, or otherwise. And yet so often we as husbands make huge mistakes when we think to replace love with faultfinding and with nagging.

One of the pieces of work in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s orb of musicology is the show Aspects of Love, which I’ve never seen, but somebody gave me a male-voice choir from Wales singing. Everyone in my home thinks it’s a huge joke, and when I put it on, they go out of the room, or just laugh. But that’s all part of the husband’s role and the joy of being a dad. But anyway… (And I’m not bitter about it in the slightest. I refuse to say anything harsh about that at all.) But you have this male-voice choir, and do you know the song “Love Changes Everything”?

Love, love changes everything,
Hands and faces, earth and sky;
Love, love changes everything,
How you live and how you die.
Love can make the summer fly,
Or a night seem like a lifetime;
Yes love, love changes everything,
[And] now I tremble at your name;
Nothing in the world will ever be the same.
Love … changes everything,
Days are longer, words mean more;
Love, love changes everything,
Pain is deeper than before.
Love will turn your world around,
And that world will last forever;
Yes love, love changes everything
Brings you glory, brings you shame;
Nothing in the world will ever be the same.[5]

Now, that’s written from a purely secular perspective. There is a measure of sentimentality in it. But when we take that and recognize that poured into the essence of that is the self-giving love of Jesus in the life of a Christian, then surely we understand what a challenge and privilege it is to love our wives in this sensitive way.

All of that is in direct contrast to the insensitivity which has become the hallmark of so many a husband’s life. You remember the song by Shel Silverstein, in contrast to that? “No,” they said, “I don’t remember it.” Well, that’s okay, ’cause I’ll remind you of it now. Do you remember this song?

Put another log on the fire,
Cook me up some bacon and some beans,
And go out to the car and change the tire,
And wash my socks and sew my old blue jeans.
Come on, baby, you can fill my pipe, and then go fetch my slippers,
And boil me up another pot of tea,
Then put another log on the fire, babe,
And come and tell me why you’re leaving me.
Now, don’t I let you wash the car on Sunday?
Don’t I warn you when you’re getting fat?
Ain’t I gonna take you fishing someday?
Well, a man can’t love a woman more than that!
Ain’t I always nice to your kid sister?
Don’t I take her driving every night?
So sit here at my feet, ’cause I like it when you’re sweet,
And you know it ain’t feminine to fight.
Come on, baby![6]

That’s the average guy’s attempt at sensitivity, right there.

Loving Naturally

Secondly: sensitively, naturally—naturally. I struggled for a long time with this word, and I figured this is actually the right word. Go back to Ephesians 5:28–29: “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own [body]. He who loves his wife loves himself.” In other words, men ought to give their wives the love that they naturally have for their own bodies. And the love a man gives his wife is the extending of his love for himself, enfolding her in himself, if you like. So, in one sense it is entirely unnatural for a husband not to love his wife in this way.

The Christian husband’s role is not to suppress his wife but to see her flourish.

Now, you see, all of this, again, is grounded in the creation ordinances and what happened at the very beginning when God made man and woman. And so much of Paul’s argument relates to what God did when he made woman: “[And] man said”—after the woman had been given to the man—“man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”[7] The order of that is very important. The sustaining of that is vital to a healthy marriage: leaving, cutting the cord, cutting the apron strings, moving on, a new affection, a new devotion—not the absence of parental love or childhood love to parents but the changing of that love because of the expulsive power of a new affection. And it is in that leaving that there is then a cleaving, and it is in that cleaving that there is then a union, and there is in that union some profoundly mysterious dimension that takes place—hence the monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside the framework of marriage as God intended. It is a silly, stupid, ugly, meaningless thing when it is removed from the framework in which God establishes it, the one-flesh union of a husband and a wife —purity before marriage, fidelity in marriage, union in the context of marriage, the freedom, the security, the delight that is wrapped up in that. And at the very heart of it is this natural affection on the part of the husband.

And I’m not sure that I understand it all, but somehow, in some profound way, the Bible says that a man’s wife is part and parcel of his living frame, and vice versa. I think this must be one of the reasons why people say as couples grow older, “They’re starting to look like each other! Isn’t that strange?” And it is more than just an observation; there is a measure of truth in it. I think somehow or another it is wrapped up with this very notion—that the husband’s love for his wife is both, in Christ, supernatural, and within the framework of Genesis 2 it is also natural.

Writes my good friend Sinclair, “For a husband not to love his wife—who has become one flesh with him—is not only to be a poor husband, it is to be a dysfunctional Christian.”[8] Now, once again, it is at this point, you will see—there as we follow on from that in Ephesians 5—it’s at this point, driving home this truth, that Paul references again this “profound mystery.” And what is the mystery? Well, it’s “Christ and the church.” Who is Christ and the church? Well, it’s the ultimate couple, the bridegroom and the bride. And what he’s saying is that when a husband loves his wife in this way, they then—as husband and wife, as bride and bridegroom—they point to the ultimate couple, and that the interface between the bride and bridegroom—Christ and the church, and husband and wife, as Paul moves back and forth between them—is an unassailable point that needs to be bowed to.

In the nineteenth century, Charles Hodge commented on this, and this is what he says. This is a fairly long quote, so you can just listen up for a moment. “[Married] love,” writes Hodge,

is as much a dictate of nature as self-love; and it is just as unnatural for a man to hate his wife, as it would be for him to hate himself, or his own body. A man may have a body which does not altogether suit him. He may wish it were handsomer, healthier, stronger, or more active. Still it is his body, it is himself; and he [feeds] it and cherishes it as tenderly as [if] it were the best and [most lovely in the world]. So a man may have a wife whom he could wish to be [a] better, or more beautiful, or more agreeable; [but] still she is his wife, and by the constitution of nature and [the] ordinance of God, a part of himself. In neglecting her or [abusing] her he violates the laws of nature as well as the law of God.[9]

Now, when a husband treats his wife with disregard and disrespect, it is frequently because he has hopes and notions which he has projected and which he now expects her to subscribe to and to fulfill—and if he’s honest, it is often a cover for his own sense of personal inadequacy. And so instead of looking within to address the issues of his own heart, life, psyche, soul, body, fitness, whatever, it is easier to do what is unnatural, and that is to abuse she who is one flesh with him.

Loving Purposefully

Thirdly, to love our wives is to do so not only sensitively and naturally, but purposefully. We’ll just have a comment on this, shall we? And once again you will see that the work of Christ in relationship to the church was a purposeful work. We’re still in Ephesians 5; it is the most helpful correlative passage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Why? Well, here’s the purpose: “to make her holy, cleansing her by … washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any … blemish, but holy and blameless.” So Christ loved as we must love, husbands; Christ gave himself, as we must do; and he did so purposefully in order to cleanse, to sanctify, to present his bride, the church, without spot or wrinkle. 

Now, the simple and obvious application is simply this: that the Christian husband is to have a similar concern, that the Christian husband’s role is not to suppress his wife but is to see his wife flourish —to see her flourish in purity and within the framework of her feminine identity as established by God; to see her grow and mature and become in every realistic sense glorious, a glory that is related to that perfection of personhood which will one day be completed when our wives stand before the Lord Jesus.

Many of us as men will predecease our wives. That means we’ll die first. That sounded like lawyer’s talk, didn’t it? Sounded like the guy had come to sign you up for your will, and he didn’t want to say “die.” But anyway… We’ll die first. Therefore, when we go, our wives will stay for a while. As a result of that, we have tried to make certain plans, haven’t we—financially and so on? But how will our wives do in progressing towards glory when we go, as a result of our purposeful commitment to them to allow them, to encourage them, to coax them, to pray for them to become all that they might possibly be under God in the fulfilling not only of their feminine identity but in the fulfilling of the purposes of God for them? Christ looks on his bride and he loves her with a purposeful love. It’s a challenge!

Remember C. T. Studd? You say, “You better find another person to quote than C. T. Studd. We’re fed up with C. T. Studd.” Well, that’s okay. Most of you forget it, anyway. For every time I tell it, it’s like a new story because of your power to forget. That’s the one thing I can always bank on from Sunday to Sunday—alongside my own power to forget. But remember, C. T. Studd gave his wife that little poem that she was supposed to include in her day? He was vastly wealthy. He was off to Africa. He had given up his fortune but kept back a substantial portion in today’s money—a million, two million, three million—that he put in trust for his wife. She found out that he’d done that. She said, “What’s the deal? You mean you can trust God, but I can’t trust God? God’ll look after you, but he won’t look after me? Give the rest of it away, Charles.” So he took the final aspect of his fortune and he gave it to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and off they went to serve Christ together. And this was what he had his wife say every day: “Dear Lord Jesus, you are to me dearer than Charlie ever could be.”[10] “Dear Lord Jesus, you are to me dearer than Charlie ever could be.”

Now, we understand that, as husbands and wives—we know all the things we say to one another—but we also understand the nature of it, don’t we, and what it really means? How many times have you seen a husband and wife separated by death, and the spouse is just a complete emotional, physical, spiritual disaster? And not in every case, because one must be careful of generalizations, but in certain cases it is due to the fact that they had grown in on one another in such a way that neither had been an encouragement to one another to grow up into Christ, who is the ultimate goal of all our living and all of our dying.

The husband’s standard for loving his wife is to be nothing less than the cross of Christ.

Loving Sacrificially

Well, fourthly and penultimately, sacrificially. If a loving husband genuinely wants the very best for his wife and is prepared to work towards that goal, then he’s going to have to do so sacrificially.  How daunting is this standard? “How would you like me to love my wife?” we ask of the Bible, and the Bible comes back and says, “Why don’t you love your wife the way Jesus loved the church?” Well, that helps us in this debate, remember, from about thirty minutes ago now, twenty-eight minutes ago? The debate was, Who got the harder role? Is it harder to be a wife or harder to be a husband?

Well, when you factor this demand, this standard, in here, then you realize what a challenge it is—that the model for the wife is the submission of the church, which is good but not perfect, but the model for the husband is the love of Jesus, which is both good and perfect , and that is the model and that is the measure of a husband’s love. The husband’s standard for loving his wife is to be nothing less than the cross of Christ.  Most of the material that I found in preparing for this, if I went outwith Bible commentaries, I found material on marriage in books on ethics. I found that very interesting. I understand that there is an ethical, moral aspect to marriage, but I thought, “Isn’t it interesting that marriage falls in books on ethics?”—for example, a wonderful book on New Testament ethics by the late professor John Murray: very, very helpful stuff.[11]

And then while I was thinking on that, I came across a quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones and was gratified to discover that he’d been thinking in the exact same way. And he was actually able to articulate it. This is what he wrote: “How many of us have realized that we are always to think of the married state in terms of the doctrine of the atonement? Is that our customary way of thinking of marriage? [Books on marriage are found in a library] under ethics. But [they do] not belong there. We must consider marriage in terms of the doctrine of the atonement.”[12] Writes F. F. Bruce, “By setting this highest of standards for the husband’s treatment of his wife, Paul goes to the limit in safeguarding the wife’s dignity and welfare.”[13]

Now you see why it is so important that the exhortation of verse 18 from last time, and the exhortation in verse 19 tonight, that not only are they read together but that they are understood together, so that the notion of submission is not bowing to some kind of tyrannical force, but it is the melding of a life into the role that God has intended, emblematic of the submission of the church to Jesus and being met—being, if you like, preceded—by the love of the husband, which has the very doctrine of the atonement—the self-giving love of Jesus—as the standard, as the modus operandi for the exercising of that leadership role. No, there’s nothing faulty or flawed with this mechanism. All the faults and all the flaws in the husband’s realm are because God intends for us to be lovers, not ogres .

Loving Exclusively

Finally—it’s a great word, isn’t it, finally?—fifthly, it means to love your wife exclusively—exclusively. Because that’s how Jesus has loved the church. The church is the object of Christ’s exclusive love. The church belongs exclusively to Christ.  In the same way, husband and wife are bound exclusively to one another. The husband sustains a relationship with his wife that he sustains with no one else.

Richard Baxter provided for his congregation six points for husbands and wives; I have them up the stairs in a file. Number five reads as follows: “To keep conjugal chastity and fidelity; [and] to avoid all unseemly and immodest [conduct] with [another] which may stir up jealousy.” Let me just read that again, ’cause it’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? “To keep conjugal chastity and fidelity; to avoid all unseemly and immodest [conduct] with [another] which may stir up jealousy,” and then he adds, “and yet to avoid all jealousy which is unjust.”[14] There’s tremendous amount of pastoral wisdom in that.

Bottom line is straightforward, isn’t it? Our wives, gentlemen, are not to share us with anyone—anyone real or anyone imagined. Our wives are not to share us with the internet. Our wives are not to share us at all. The husband has a relationship with his wife which he enjoys, and may not enjoy with any other person. “The key is to make your mind monogamous.… When you’ve promised to drink only from one spring, its water will be sweet. Surely, when a woman knows that she is it for you—that she is the alpha and omega of your erotic world—she’ll be emboldened by [it].”[15] Now, that’s not Richard Baxter; that’s Men’s Health, January 1996, in a profoundly helpful article on monogamy—most of which I can’t read in a public forum like this, because it’s just too incisive.

Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, we are to go all out in love for our wives, never taking advantage of them.

So how do you feel? Well, you feel like me, don’t you? You say, “Who is sufficient for these things?”[16] Well, the same God who calls us to this standard equips us in order that we might make an attempt at this standard. And as in every other gain in life, whether investing, saving, training, exercising, putting together a beautiful garden, the real gain is the gain that is made consistently over the long haul. And the lies of the world are just that: lies. And the fixes of the world are no fixes at all. If you have not, husband, been taking care of business within your home consistently along the journey, there is no trip to Hawaii that is gonna fix this. There’s no slick methodology that you can get out of a magazine to go and put everything back together again. But if you will get down on your knees with your wife and take her hand in yours and cry out to God from the depths of your being for his help and his grace and his restoring power, and then get on your feet and by his help do what the Bible says to do, and if you’re prepared not to look for the short-term buzz but for the long-term blessing, then all of the encouragement of the Bible is that we might look to see a radical transformation, with the same old you and the same old me living in this same framework.

Now, I want to give you, husbands, a little primer, a little starter. This is a PS, okay? And the wives are not really to listen to this very much. But I quoted from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and he was talking about how, you know, “The only test of a true husband’s love is the doctrine of the atonement.” That sounds, like, whoa, way out there, you know? You say to yourself, “I wonder what he was like when he came home, you know? ‘Oh, honey, pour me out some soup, I was just thinking about the doctrine of the such and such,’ you know, and so on.” No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. That would be… we’d miss the man completely. Let me let me just give you a little flavor of one of the great preachers of the twentieth century, one of the great theological minds, one of the most austere leftover Puritans you could ever hope to meet. (The day that I met him—Sue and I met him together—he was wearing a black hat that looked like he came out of the seventeenth century, he had net gloves on—little black net gloves—and he had a black coat that buttoned right up here. Shook hands with the little net gloves. Quite a guy.)

On the May 18, 1937, it was his wife’s birthday. Unfortunately, he wasn’t with her. The reason he wasn’t with her was because he had to go and preach on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and he was on a ship. Having got on the ship, he determined that he would write to his wife, since it was a strange experience for him to be gone on her birthday. And so he wrote to her:

The authorities told me that there was no doubt [that if I sent you a telegram it would arrive on your birthday]. I had endless pleasure and happiness in sending it, I somehow felt I was in touch with you once more. In this awful distance of separation, a thing like that is a great help—but oh! what a poor substitute.

I cannot describe the various feelings I have experienced since I saw you last on Waterloo Station. And I had better not try to do so. Let me say just this much—thinking of you gives me endless happiness, and I am more certain than ever that there is no one in the world like you, nor even approaching you, not in all the world.

I don’t know if I’m losing my reason like that poor Mrs Jt in St Brides, but I often feel that you are with me and that I could almost talk to you. I have at times tried to imagine where you all three are [his two daughters and his wife] and what you’re doing. I would give the whole world if you could’ve been with me, but there, I must be content to look forward to some four weeks today, when I shall [God willing] be back with you again, looking into your eyes and sitting beside you. I think I shall be perfectly content just to be with you and Elizabeth and Ann, just sitting with the three of you and doing nothing else. I’ve said in my ‘letter telegram’ that I am sending you all my love and here I am, saying it once more.…

God intends for us to be lovers, not ogres.

I have been thinking of eleven years ago tonight, when we went together to Covent Garden and then back to Dilys’s. I thought, at that time, that I loved you, but I had to live with you for over ten years to know you properly and so to love you truly. I know that I am deficient in many things and must at times disappoint you. That really grieves me, and I am trying to improve. But believe me, if you could see my heart you would be amazed at how great is my love. I hope you know, indeed I know that you know, in spite of all my failings. I can do nothing but say again that from the human standpoint I belong entirely to you.[17]

That is not even a fifth of the letter. His next sentence is, “Forgive me for writing in English from this point on,” having written all of the first part of the letter to her in his native Welsh.

Now, husbands, you can find these letters in the bookstore, in volume 2 of the biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. You may be entirely disinterested in his life and ministry, but—not that I would give you any naughty advice or anything—but I could see slipping in there of an afternoon and showing a peculiar interest in volume two while I drank a coffee and scribbled down this letter verbatim, and then hope for my wife to forget all about it so that I could use it someday in the future. You don’t need it; just write your own.

Let’s pause for a moment and pray:

There’s a reason why on the noticeboards of old and outside of churches they used to say that “divine service” was conducted at eleven a.m. and six in the evening or seven in the evening, and also that the minister was available for “the solemnization of marriage.” We recognize that there is something profoundly wonderful and yet significantly solemn, because marriage is capable of the greatest joys and the deepest sorrows. Even on our best days, it’s a struggle because of sin. All of us are flawed. What would we expect?  Two imperfect people, two sinners, stuck together in the one room—forever!

And so we cry out to you tonight, Lord Jesus, simply and humbly. “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. May your will be done in our homes on earth as it is done in your home in heaven.”[18] Save us from rummaging around in the garbage cans of the sins of the past. Help us, in every realistic way, to say with Paul, “We are forgetting those things which are behind, our successes and our failures, and we’re pressing on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.”[19] Remind us as we give ourselves wholeheartedly to the privilege of marriage, if we do, that there will actually be no marriage in heaven. And so we pray that, given the very temporary nature of this earthly framework, that we might give ourselves to Christ and to our marriage partners—body, soul, and spirit—to the glory of your great name. Amen.

[1] Colossians 3:19 (The Message).

[2] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 286.

[3] N. T. Wright, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 146.

[4] Titus 2:4 (paraphrased).

[5] Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, and Charles Hard, “Love Changes Everything” (1989).

[6] Shel Silverstein, “Put Another Log on the Fire” (1976). Paraphrased.

[7] Genesis 2:23–24 (NIV 1984).

[8] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 154.

[9] Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1856), 336.

[10] Norman P. Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete and Pioneer (Harrisburg: Evangelical Press, 1933), 91. Paraphrased.

[11] See John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

[12] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit: In Marriage, Home, & Work (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 148.

[13] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition (London: Pickering and Inglis, 1968), 115.

[14] Richard Baxter, The Poor Man’s Family Book (London: Printed by R.W. for Neville Simmons, 1674), 307.

[15] Hugh O’Neill, “Your Honey or Your Wife,” Men’s Health, January/February 1996, 77.

[16] 2 Corinthians 2:16 (KJV).

[17] Quoted in Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939–1981 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 781–82. Paraphrased.

[18] Matthew 6:12–13, 10 (paraphrased).

[19] Philippians 3:13–14 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.