No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:29–30)
Don’t miss that last phrase: “because we are members of his body.” And don’t forget what Paul said two verses earlier, namely, that Christ gave himself for us “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor.” So in two different ways, Paul makes plain that Christ pursued his joy in pursuing the holiness and beauty and happiness of his people.
The union between Christ and his bride is so close (“one flesh”) that any good done to her is a good done to himself. Which means that the clear assertion of this text is that the Lord is moved to nourish, cherish, sanctify, and cleanse his bride because in this he finds his joy.
By some definitions, this cannot be love. Love, they say, must be free of self-interest — especially Christlike love, especially Calvary love. I have never seen such a view of love made to square with this passage of Scripture.
Yet what Christ does for his bride, this text plainly calls love: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church . . . ” (Ephesians 5:25). Why not let the text define love for us, instead of bringing our definition from ethics or philosophy? According to this text, love is the pursuit of Christ’s joy in the holy joy of the beloved.
There is no way to exclude self-interest from love, for self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others.
Christlike love seeks its happiness in the happiness of others — not at their expense. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be made full in the life and purity of the beloved.
This is how Christ loved us, and this is how he calls us to love one another.