… And the wife must respect her husband.
As a husband, I only began to consider the issue of respect the less I felt I received it. In fact, it was the first time in a while the word ‘disrespect’ had even crossed my mind, when all the prideful security of self-given respect that I so regularly walked under became immediately challenged, simply by the attitude and words of one particular woman.
The more offended I got by the lack of respect I felt I was receiving, the more this word began to play over and over again in my head. Respect. ReSPECT. REEEEspect. And I began to attach great experiential significance to this verse, respect from a man’s wife being the fuel by which that man can love and edify and protect and cherish that wife. A husband, as leader, deserved respect as much as he needed respect. And a wife withholding respect, or even worse administering flippant disrespect, is a wife not obeying, not properly loving, and not doing her part to support the marriage, even going so far as to subvert the marriage!
In this small, isolated way, this verse began to make so much sense to me. And unfortunately, in this same small isolated way, I was drastically missing the point.
The subject of a wife respecting her husband immediately begs the question: why. Why do I deserve her respect? And it was this question that I was failing to ask, so it was this answer that I was failing to see:
A wife should respect her husband, as the husband should be a respectable man.
I began to realize that respect is a two-way street. As much as you give respect, you give respect as respect is earned. And often, the balance of this transaction can fluctuate, in the act of giving undue respect to people who don’t deserve it, or not receiving the respect that your actions and integrity do in fact qualify you for – and this is actually ok, especially in a marriage. But the point is, there’s a great deal of humility in this transaction that I was, up to this point, missing.
There can’t be any entitlement in a husband’s perspective. Any respect the husband hopes to gain should be an underwhelming harvest from the overabundant respect his character has sown. And luckily, beautifully, Ephesians gives us as succinct an answer as any as to how the entire Bible portrays a respectable man: “Husbands, love your wives…”
It’s amazing how quickly the matter of affection can slip from a marriage. The whole concept of marriage is founded on the eternal commitment and sacrifice of one to the object of his affection, his bride – and yet as soon as it’s achieved, the joy, sanctification, and pleasure of marriage become a matter of entitlement. Because you’re my wife, I deserve pleasure from you. I deserve happiness from you. I deserve better behavior from you.
It’s not only appropriate here but necessary to link love and respect, as Paul does in Ephesians. And the best way to do this is to get rid of the concept of entitlement altogether. Entitlement corrupts love. It twists unrequited sacrifice into self-indulgent gain. It is demanding and insatiable, a furnace of self-gratification. It is poison.
Respect must be merited; it must be earned. And it must be earned as a measure of how deep the love is that bought it. Not the emotion love, but the action love. The love that slays, that pursues, that sacrifices, that builds, that commits, that exhausts itself. The love that tirelessly seeks to stifle self-indulgent pride, that loses battles, that willingly dies, that constantly yields, that unendingly chooses the other every time. The man that loves in this sense – he is the respectable man.
A man is measured by these merits, by the depth of his soul and the height of the Spirit at work in him. In the message of God’s glorious acceptance, men have also bought the lie that the honor and dignity of man is entitled, not bestowed. We have failed to find the medium between unduly disqualifying men as manly, and failing to ask anything of them.
The Lord has taught me so much about how to love my wife in a way that is worth her respect. He’s taught me to exchange entitlement for humility, and to reap the rewards that follow. He has given me a marriage and a wife and invited me to step into a responsibility that constantly gives, without the immediate hope or confirmation of repayment. He has called me a man and asked me now, what kind of man would I like to be.
A respectable man does not provoke his wife. He does not talk over her. He does not talk down to her. He is quick to apologize. He honors his wife. He adores and cherishes her. She is his crown. He delights in her femininity and encourages her self-respect and security. He reminds her of her worth in all his actions, thoughts, and words. He is interminably proud of her.
A respectable man equips his wife. He supports and encourages her. He takes the heat, the head, the fall, the blame. He protects. He does not slip into passivity. He uses his passions and his energies for her and for them. He puts her first. He puts himself last.
He delights in his wife, in her heart, her intellect, her beauty. He devotes himself to her, to her well-being, to her passions, to her spiritual edification, to the utilization of her gifts. He relishes her affection. He makes himself presentable. Desirable. He takes care of his body, his health, and his hygiene. He presents himself to his wife always as a self-respecting man.
He humbles himself. He fights. He is fearless and honest and he seeks right tirelessly. He leads in humility. He leads in example. He leads in the fear of the Lord, accepting rebuke and correction. He always includes her. He loves mercy and seeks justice. He is passionate but well disciplined.
He is the same in public and in private. He is a man of unflinching integrity. He is intentional. He lets nothing go to waste. He is a man of rigid priority. In everything, no matter the cost to pride, ego, or entitlement, he seeks the good of their marriage.
For some reason, it’s so easy to stop trying. A husband should always strive to be this respectable man. He should relish the challenge and delight himself in the rewards of his wife’s respect, her purest affections. His words should be peace in conflict, patience in frustration. His thoughts should always be constructive no matter the hurt, always be edifying no matter the temptation. He cannot succumb to passivity.
Husband is not just a title, but it’s not just a duty either. It’s a calling and a purpose, a journey, a ministry, an imitation, a sacrifice, a light, an example, a sainthood, a joy. It is intrinsically holy, but not intrinsically worthy. That worthiness must be exhaustingly fought for, so that the holiness might be inexhaustibly illuminated.
I love my wife a million times better when I try. In fact, my love is void without the effort and inspiration behind it. Love does not naturally, effortlessly happen, just as respect is not naturally, effortlessly deserved. Hard-fought, back-breaking, truly sacrificial love is the most unnatural thing in the entire world. Which is precisely why it’s the most powerful.
My wife is an incredible woman, worthy of the most respectable man. And nobody makes me want to live up to the respect the Lord calls me to than her, my most deserving wife.
Danny and Sheri