I am intrigued by the Scripture’s controversial words to women. I believe we can take Scripture at face value, and I guard myself against writing off any Scripture, no matter how hard its instructions sound. I know if I allow myself to write off the things I find hard, I open the door to writing off the things that I find precious and life giving as well. But I know the society I live in, especially Christian society. Left to themselves without proper checks and balances, authorities always tend to over reach and abuse. It’s their fallen nature. So what do I do with the Bible’s straightforward instructions to wives?

Ephesians 5:33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:33 in particular has some of the most inflaming instructions to women in all of Scripture. Paul has just used the same Greek word for respect, phobeo, in verse 21, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The Greek word means to fear, reverence, venerate, or treat with deference or reverential obedience. Just in case you didn’t find the term respect itself controversial enough, consider how the Amplified Bible words this verse.

33… let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly].

If you are a woman with any sense of pride, your body probably tenses with dread in the pit of your stomach as you read these words, perhaps in part because you know that you make better decisions than your husband. What if you do? What if you can document that your decision-making skills are more mature and biblical than his? Does that make it unreasonable to expect you to respect your husband? Which comes first—respect or respectability? I remember well an illustration given by an education professor during my undergraduate studies. He told of a junior high math teacher who, on the first day of class, mistook her students’ locker numbers for their IQ’s. For the entire school year, she treated the students as if they were only as smart as their locker numbers indicated. Sure enough, at the end of the year, they had consistently lived either up or down to her expectations.

This illustration reflects well the issue at hand. If we wait until our husbands meet some subjective standard we have set for earning our respect, we will never respect them. I would be quite offended if my husband chose to not love me until I met some external criteria for being lovable. The same should be true of my respect toward him.

Surprisingly enough, I did not personally have that much of a problem with the concept of submitting to my husband. But respect was much harder. I could submit and still harbor anger and bitterness. I could still put out the vibe that says, “I am disappointed in your decision-making skills.” In fact, submission without respect let me live in a delusion of self-righteousness. “I am submitting, but I do not think you know what you are doing, and I am going to continue to let you know that I do not trust you with my attitude, even though, technically, I am submitting on this issue.” Submission does not equal respect. And submission without respect brings NO honor to God. Why would God command the combination of the two?

If you have not yet read the first three chapters of For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, I highly recommend that you do. She has well illustrated God’s wisdom in giving us the command to respect our husbands. God is the master psychologist who better understands the male/female psyche than we have any hope of comprehending, especially when it comes to the issue of respecting our husbands. The bottom line is that our husbands need our respect every bit as much as we need their love. Respect is my husband’s love language. But how can we respect someone if we have deemed them unworthy of our respect? This leads back to our earlier question. Which comes first—respect or respectability? We must remember that this is God’s command to wives, and God has already well earned our obedience. God has earned our respect. So we treat our husbands with deference, honoring the position in the home to which God has called them out of our respect for God.

Even if our spouse abdicates his responsibilities, when we honor him as God intended him to be, not as he is now, we are being salt and light in our homes, powerfully influencing our husbands, not by nagging and manipulating, but by humble submission to God’s design. If you want a husband you can one-day respect, I highly recommend you start treating him that way now. A godly wife’s respect for her husband despite his fallen nature and tendency toward sin is a powerful tool of God to minister grace to her husband and transform him to what God intended him to be.

Sure, you may have a more logical, systematic argument for which car you should purchase. And certainly you should make that argument. But understand too when your argument stops being for your idea and against, maybe even mocking, his. Most importantly, recognize that your husband’s conformity to God’s image is more important than that car, and God’s purposes in your marriage extend WAY past the earthly circumstances that will consume us if we let them. The car is irrelevant. Your husband’s heart and conformity to Christ are not. And your respect is apparently in God’s sight a valuable piece of the puzzle in terms of conformity back to the image of God for both you and your husband.

When read in context of all of Ephesians 5, we see that our calling is not unfair. Simply put—like our husbands, we are called to be like Christ—to submit our will, humble ourselves, and take on the form of a servant in our homes. Christ is both our model and our source of strength to obey on this matter. Do you trust God’s plan on this matter? Do you trust His Word? Do you trust His wisdom, sovereignty, and compassion? Are you offended that God calls you to be a servant like Christ? That He asks you to humble yourself by treating your husband with respect? If you are struggling with respect and submission, start by dealing not with your views of your husband, but with your views of God Himself. You can trust God with the details of your daily life. Rest in Him for He is worthy.