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“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” –Paul
Did you ever play the hiding game where you hid something from your friends, and it was their job to find it? We played this game often as children. I would hide a thing, and my brothers would search for it. If they got close, I would say something like, “You’re getting warm,” or “You’re getting warmer,” if they were getting real close, or “You’re red hot,” if they were nearly on top of it. Of course, if they were moving away from the object, I would say something like, “You’re getting cold,” which was their clue that they were going in the wrong direction.
I was thinking about this child’s game during a counseling session where I illustrated what Paul said in Ephesians 5:29. Paul was counseling the Ephesians to nourish and cherish their wives. Paul was teaching them that a God-centered, biblical husband is one who “nourishes (grows) and cherishes (warms)” his wife. The word nourish means to grow, and cherish means to warm. To illustrate my point to the husband I was counseling, I distinguished between “warm and cold” by writing out specific attitudes and actions a husband could use to warm his wife or push her out in the cold.
In the next section, you’ll see the word choices I shared with this husband, plus a few others I’ve thought about since our conversation. You can print this article and circle the attitudes and actions that best represent how you think about and treat your wife. For a bonus, you can print this for your wife and ask her to circle the ones you excel in and ask her to highlight the things where you need improvement. Your wife might have a different perspective than you do. I typically have a higher view of myself than Lucia does.
I’ve noticed that other men besides me tend to have an over-inflated view of their husbandry skills. Instructively, whenever I advise men without their wives in the room, they tend to give me a better assessment of themselves and their marriages. Then a wife comes to the next meeting and presents a strikingly different perspective, a valuable one, of course. No one knows you better than your wife. More than likely, she knows you better than you do, at least in some ways. Though what I’m asking might sound like a dare or even manipulation, it’s not: if you’re serious about your marriage, ask your wife to assess you. This interaction could be one of those pivotal points in your relationship because (1) you can model humility, (2) she can exhibit grace, and (3) you both can glorify God.
Gentle, Cross-center, Romance, Humility, Forgiving, Respecting, Talking, Edifying, Sacrifice, Transparent, Esteem, Kind, Joyful, Grace-filled, Friendly, Affection, Cherish, Agreeable, Honoring, Accept, Discipling, Providing, Confession, Modeling, Leadership, Loving, Caring, Serve, Dependable, Honorable, Encourager, Mature, Fun, Patient, Passionate
Just as there is a “warm list,” there is also a “chill list.” If a man is not warming his wife, he is cooling her by his attitude, words, and behaviors. There is no neutrality in any marriage. As for the chill list below, I have done nearly every one of them in our marriage. Though our relationship is terrific now, it was not always this way. There was a time when I did not care so much for Lucia, and she viscerally and physically responded to my sinful attitudes and behaviors toward her. There is a direct correlation between how a man thinks and responds to his wife and the state of his marriage.
If a man likes his wife, the marriage will go in a good direction. If he does not, the marriage is on hard times. A man cannot fake genuine gratitude and affection for his wife. If he has it, he will exhibit the character traits and behaviors in the “warm list.” He cannot do otherwise. He will demonstrate the character traits and behaviors in the chill list if he does not have them. Her radiance is a clue to the warmth she experiences from her husband—she will feel and show his affection. Of course, like a dance partner, the opposite is true: his wife will react to his poor leadership and a lousy attitude.
Harsh, Unkind, Hatred, Belittling, Anger, Selfishness, Rejection, Devalue, Passivity, Disrespect, Accusing, Hostile, Self-sufficient, Individualistic, Loner, Unforgiveness, Criticalness, Disapproving, Apathy, Abuse, Bitterness, Hypocrisy, Boasting, Silence, Proud, Coarse, Porn, Self-righteous, Blames, Cynical, Lying, Immodest, Suspicious, Disagreeable, Stubborn
How did you do? Are you warm and getting warmer, or are you cold and getting colder? Some may interject, “But you don’t know my wife. If you lived with her, you would also not pass this test.” I hear you, and I do understand what you’re saying. As noted, there was a time I did not like my wife, and I could have maintained a similar defense. But was she like this when you were dating? If so, why did you marry such a mean woman? The better question is, “Do you hear what you are saying?” You’re saying that you do not have to do for your wife what Christ did for you—assuming you’re a Christian. You’re saying it was okay for you to be unlovable to Christ and Him love you, but it is not suitable for your wife to be unlovable to you, and I suggest you start nourishing and cherishing her (Romans 5:8).
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32).
You and I do not have the biblical right to withhold nourishing and cherishing from our wives because they are not meeting our expectations. That is another gospel the Bible does not condone. Perhaps the nourishing and cherishing that needs to ensure is time with God. It took me two years in my closet, praying and asking God to give me a renewed affection for Lucia. It was not as easy as repenting and moving on to the next item on my warm list. My heart was selfish, angry, and stubborn. It took many hours before God to get my heart realigned to His gospel.
Imagine the Savior saying, “If you behave in a manner acceptable to me, I will save you.” Oh, my. We all would go to hell. To withhold nourishing and cherishing from your wife until she makes the first move means, “If she behaved more acceptably, I would be more inclined to love her the way Paul is suggesting.” Paul would never condone such adulteration of the gospel. He tied the marriage to the gospel and expected us husbands to model the gospel he proclaimed. His expectation for covenantal partners is to bring the union into gospel focus.
The primary person Paul was talking about in Ephesians 5:32 was Christ. He had Christ and His relationship to His church in view. He is teaching us about the love of Christ and how that active love changed us (Ephesians 5:25-26). Then Paul transitions by drawing an analogy regarding the husband and wife relationship. He is telling us husbands to love our wives, similar to Christ’s love for His church. Of course, Christ loves His church through His ongoing nourishing and cherishing. Christ does not hate His body. If you are a Christian, you have been the benefactor of the Savior’s loving activity. You are growing and changing through the attitudes and behaviors of God’s work in your life.
Sanctification is what God does for us because we are part of His body. He sees it as His job to mature His body. In like manner, your wife is part of who you are. You and your wife are one flesh. To dislike your flesh is insanity. It leads to suicide or, in this case, divorce—the aggravated amputation of the flesh from the body. Your wife has a predisposition to respond to you, not to be repulsed by you. If you nourish and cherish your wife well, she will respond to your reasonable, loving care, similarly to how the church responds to Christ. Through your careful cultivation of nourishing and cherishing, she will start to grow and mature.
While it’s true that she must grow in Christ despite you, that is not how things should be entirely. Husbands have no calling to hate their flesh but to nourish and cherish it. A wife is a reflection and reactor of her husband’s care. Though he can be impressive in his vocation and many accolades come his way, the real test is the “reflection and reaction” of his wife. If your wife is nourished and cherished according to the “warm list,” her growth will be apparent. Think with me for a moment about Christ being a “big man on some other campus” while neglecting His church and it growing bitter and distant by the day. That would not make sense.
Similarly, it does not make sense for a husband to seek other interests elsewhere while distancing himself from his wife. Some women married for ten years or more have that wilting, withdrawn, and degenerative look. Their husbands have been growing and warming other things, and the nourishing and cherishing these women were supposed to receive went toward those pursuits. These wives are wilting on the vine, a wilting that is different and deeper from external beauty.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4).
Anybody can paint a barn and change a few boards, but what you have is still quite evident—a decaying structure. There is an internal beauty you cannot disguise from the well-nourished and cherished wife. Many externally beautiful women in this world are spiritually rotting. There is a lonely, lost, and worn feel to them. They don’t glow no matter what color they dye their hair, how many times they Botox, or even if they bought every pair of shoes and dress on Fifth Avenue. They are spiritually withering. It’s a sad thing to see.
You can look at their wedding pictures and see the life and hope that radiated from their faces. Then you see them ten years later, and the inward beauty from their special day is gone. The most beautiful woman you’ll ever see is not a twenty-something hottie but a sixty-something beauty who has been nourished and cherished by her husband. She glows. She has something Hollywood cannot replicate. She has imperishable beauty. Husbands, we are the caretakers of this kind of beauty.
If you have been married for at least five years, the imperishable beauty of your wife should be evident, even if only in embryonic form. If you have been married for ten years or more, who you are as a person and what you have done to your wife are evident, as shown by what your wife reflects through your nourishing, cherishing care. The Doctrine of Progressive Sanctification is the context in which the Savior operates on Christians. The job of the Savior is to remove every spot and wrinkle and any such thing that defiles His church. Husband, God has called us to do similarly to our wives. Our marriage covenant is the context in which we nourish and cherish (mature) our wives. Are they getting warmer?
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).