Ephesians 5 presents Christ as the model for all Christians, loving and sacrificing. Paul applies this specifically to husbands and wives, and today as we prepare to enter the season of Lent, we consider what it means to imitate the sacrifice of Christ as husbands.
A Sacrificing Sacrifice
Paul exhorts Christians to imitate Christ who gave himself in love as a sacrifice and an offering to God, a sweet smelling aroma (5:1-2). This is precisely the way sacrifices are described in the old sacrificial system (e.g. Lev. 1:9, 13, 17, etc.). But in order for a sacrifice to qualify, it had to be without blemish (e.g. Lev. 1:3, etc.). Of course Christ is both the sacrifice and the priest (Heb. 9:11-12), and as the priest he must also be holy and blameless (Ex. 29:1, Lev. 21:6ff, Heb. 7:26). Sacrifices were considered holy, and those who ate them were required to be holy (cf. Lev. 6:18, 27ff). In keeping with this, we need to look at two things briefly: first, notice how the Ascension Offering is prepared. As with all the offerings, a hand is laid on its head (1:4), it is cut up and arranged on the altar (1:6-8), a portion is washed (1:9), and then it ascends in the glory of the fire to the presence of God (1:9). What is striking is that there are a number of parallels with the ordinations of priests: priests were washed (8:6), clothed in garments of glory (8:7-9), in order that they might have access to the presence of God in the tabernacle. This is why the priests wore holy garments (Lev. 16:4) and were anointed with holy anointing oil (Ex. 40:13). Holiness means authorization and access. One last item to note is that during the ordination, blood from the ram was put on Aaron and his sons (Lev. 8:24). Putting all of this together means that priests were to be viewed as walking sacrifices. Priests were living sacrifices. In other words, being a sacrifice is what authorizes you to offer a sacrifice.
It is the Holy Spirit who makes us holy; he is our seal, our authorization, God’s mark upon us (4:30, cf. Jn. 6:27). Since we are called to imitate the love and sacrificial offering of Christ, Paul calls us to holiness (5:3, 9, 18). But since Christ is both the priest and the sacrifice, it should not come as a surprise that we are called to the same. In fact, Paul insists that the priestly love of Christ is what actually affects this change in us, and that our priestly ministry is and does the same. Paul applies this priestly calling to marriage, and calls husbands to love their wives in imitation of Christ (5:25) which is exactly what he previously called all Christians to (5:2). Again, the love of Christ is sacrificial, but his sacrifice is what qualifies him for the task. He gave himself in order to “sanctify and cleanse her” (5:26). And it may sound a little funny: is Christ preparing his bride to be a sacrifice? And the answer is yes, a living sacrifice “holy and without blemish” (5:27, 1:4). Like all sacrifices, he washes her, sanctifies her, feeds and warms her (5:29). And this applies directly to the calling of husbands. The ministry of husbands is not generic or common; it is specific and priestly. You are holy: you have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, set apart for ministry to and for particular people. And one of those people is your wife. You are called to walk in love and give yourself for your bride as an offering and a sacrifice to God in order that you may sanctify and cleanse her, in order that she may be holy and without blemish, in order that she may be a sweet-smelling aroma to God (5:25-27, 5:2). And this ministry is in word (5:26) and in deed (5:29).
Conclusion & Applications
In order to cleanse your wife, you must repent of your uncleanness (5:26 cf. 5:3-5). You must be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in order to turn others into sacrifices (Rom. 12:1, 20).
Cleansing with the “washing of the water by the word” comes on the heels of Paul’s exhortation to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (5:18-19). Reading scripture and singing together is an essential way husbands must cleanse their wives.
Lent is the season in which we meditate on the work of Christ for us. Jesus is the ultimate living sacrifice, because Easter is true. And being united to Him means that we have been set apart as his ministers to follow in his steps, to lay our lives down in order to bestow the gifts of life and light. Therefore put away all fornication and uncleanness, and walk as children of light. “Awake, you who sleep. Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”