As we conclude this marriage series, we finish with the apostles’ review of the central duties of husbands and wives. And as we do so, we should recall the cosmic ramifications and nuclear potential in well-ordered marriages. If marriage is one of the central reflections of the New World that Christ is ushering into existence through His love of His Bride and her growing glory, and if marriage is that place where new, immortal souls are being brought into existence under God’s blessing, then the stakes are high and love and respect are not just extraneous courtesies, but central protocols for a thriving home, church, and nation.
“Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph. 5:33).
LOVE & RESPECT
When God commands pastors to feed God’s sheep, it is a reasonable inference that the sheep need to be fed (1 Pet. 5:2). Likewise, when God commands husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands, it is a reasonable inference to assume that these are particular things each one needs. As Douglas Wilson likes to say, men run on diesel, women on unleaded. And if you know anything about that metaphor, you should also know that it will not go well to mix them up. It is not wrong for a man to respect his wife or a wife to love her husband, but it is wrong to knowingly neglect that which God has specifically commanded.
Part of the challenge here is that everyone tends to give what they want, and since a woman wants to be loved, she tends to give love, and since a man wants to be respected, he tends to give respect. And this is definitely one of those places where a great deal of faith is needed because obedience to these commands frequently doesn’t make sense to the spouse commanded to give it. But obedience is always better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22), and disobedience is a form of a witchcraft, trying to trick blessing out of our preferences or methods (1 Sam. 15:23).
WHAT IS LOVE?
Love is obedient, sacrificial protection and provision that results in security, beauty, and glory. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 5:10). C.S. Lewis says somewhere that women tend to think of love as taking trouble for someone else, while men tend to think of love as not giving trouble to someone else. This can be helpful for interpreting one another, but “taking trouble” really is closer to the biblical pattern of sacrifice.
We should underline that Christ-like love includes drawing near as Christ has done in the Incarnation – husbands must “dwell” with their wives in an understanding way (1 Pet. 3:7). Christ-like love communicates (particularly affection, security, attraction) – just as Christ has done through His Word and ministry. Christ-like love expresses sympathy and compassion – just as Christ sympathizes with us in our weakness as our High Priest (Heb. 4:15). This covenant love is an overarching commitment to be gracious, a resolute orientation of kindness, even while leading or correcting, even in the face of opposition.
WHAT IS RESPECT?
Respect is obedient, sacrificial honor, submission, and obedience that results in wisdom, strength, and glory. A wife is instructed to adorn herself with the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that trusts in God and obeys her husband, calling him “lord” or “master” just as Sara obeyed Abraham (1 Pet. 3:5-6). Part of the reason why even many Christian wives have difficulty with the command to respect their husbands is because they do not actually think of their husbands as a true authority. There are so many jokes about who the “boss” is and to be fair, so many cowardly men, that to speak of the true authority of a husband seems almost strange or foreign. While no woman is required to marry any particular man, when she does, she is voluntarily placing herself under his authority. The husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23).
Respect is full of esteem, praise, and admiration for achievements, strengths, and abilities. Respect is shown through speaking highly of him, honoring his preferences, cheerfully obeying his decisions, gracious serving his needs, and the thoughtful adorning of body and home. A wife ought to give thought to how she can best arrange the home, meals, schedules, and her own adornment in a way to bless her husband and his needs or preferences, not merely what she prefers.
The Bible does not teach that husbands should love their wives if they have been acting particularly loveable. Nor does it teach that wives should respect their husbands if they have been acting particularly respectable. No, the logic of the gospel takes personal initiative. Christ loved us when we were unlovely, and Christ submitted to authorities that were acting unjustly when we were among the unrighteous. And He did both in order to overcome evil with good. Christ-like love efficaciously bestows loveliness. And Christ-like respect and submission efficaciously bestows honor and respectability.
The stakes really are high. It is no accident that when our enemies sought to undermine the influence of Christianity in our land, they went for the jugular: marriage and marital fidelity. Marriage is the nucleus of society; it is the nuclear power of a culture. We are currently living in the nuclear fallout of splitting the marriage atom and pretending that all is well. But Christ was crucified because the curse of our rebellion is that bad, and the promise is that all who look to Him in faith will be healed, the curses of all disobedience taken away. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
While this doesn’t mean that the consequences of sin are automatically eradicated, the blessing of Christ is the promise of His favor in whatever circumstances we are in. This blessing is what gives us courage to love and respect in obedience, whether it makes sense to us or not, whether it looks like it’s working or not. If we have the blessing of God, we have everything we need.