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.

8 Responses to R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  1. Amy March 4, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Totally LOVED this!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for your obedience to God in sharing with us. You rock. 🙂

  2. kellycowan March 4, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    Got me. Nice work :). Yes, I think the part that “got me” was the paragraph on not having trouble with submission, but then seeing that there was disrespect even in my willingness to submit. Yep. I see that.

  3. sandygarman March 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    So well said, Wendy. One of the best articles on respect I have read. Thanks for the timely reminder.

  4. Wendy March 5, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    Someone sent me a private email asking me “how do you show respect without being a doormat?”

    Here is my response:

    First, we need to define doormat. When I use that term, I think of someone wimping out because they don't have the character to stand up for what they believe. Or maybe they don't believe anything of their own. Someone may look at Christ in the Garden and on the cross and think He was a doormat to let God send Him to the cross. We know otherwise. We know Christ didn't have to go to the cross but submitted His will. We know He was powerful and wise. We know He believed in what He was doing. So we don't see Him as a wimpy doormat for letting others crucify Him. Instead, we praise the character and strength that enabled Him to follow through on such a path. It may look wimpy to some from the outside, but the distinguishing difference is what we know of His character on the inside.

    Some women are wimpy doormats. They don't think for themselves. They do whatever their husbands or any other authority in their lives say because they have no self identity apart from them. They don't stand up for what they believe, because they don't believe anything strong enough. Biblical respect may not necessarily look incredibly different from the outside. But it definitely looks different from the inside. In Ephesians, Paul spends a long time in chapter 1 and 2 detailing who we are in Christ–understanding our identity in Him and the power at work on our behalf by Him is key to all the instructions in Ephesians. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells us to be imitators of God and walk in love out of reverence for Christ. The woman following these instructions respects her husband out of confidence of her great worth to Christ and the value of her sacrifice for God's kingdom purposes. When I choose to respect my husband, I know I could insist on my own way or shame him with my response. But I don't need to do that to feel good about myself. I know who I am in Christ. And I value obedience to God's instructions on marriage.

    John Stott says this in his commentary on this section of Ephesians.

    “Should not the wife even rejoice that she has the privilege of giving a particular demonstration (of I Peter 5:5) in her attitude to her husband of the beauty of humility which is to characterize all members of God’s new society? This is specially so when it is seen that her self-humbling is not coerced but free. It must have been very obvious in the ancient world. The wife had no status and few rights …. Yet the apostle addresses her as a free moral agent and calls upon her not to acquiesce in a fate she cannot escape, but to make a responsible decision before God. … Voluntary Christian self-submission is still very significant today. “Jesus Christ demonstrates rather than loses his dignity by his subordination to the Father. When a person is voluntarily amenable to another, gives way to him, and places himself at his service, he shows greater dignity and freedom than an individual who cannot bear to be a helper and partner to anyone but himself.””

    That's a long answer, but I hope it is helpful.

  5. Anonymous March 7, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    This is a great post on respect and submission! Well said and very important to understand. Something that I can always grow in. I have observed much confusion on this topic among young married women. For the person concerned about “doormats,” being Biblically submissive and respectful does not mean ignoring sin (including sin against you by your spouse). Truth can be spoken in love with respect and so can confrontation of sin if necessary. I Peter 3 also addresses this topic talking about holy women who “hoped in God” and so were submissive to their husbands, just as Wendy explained in her article. Sarah submitted to Abraham without fear (of frightening things) because of her hope in God. Abraham made some pretty big mistakes that affected Sarah in a huge way. That is a powerful illustration! Hope in God is the key!
    Jenn A

  6. The Sneaky Mommy March 10, 2010 at 4:55 am #

    This was such a great post! I quoted you to our moms group at church and wanted to thank you!
    A friend shared your blog with me recently–I'm hooked! 🙂

  7. Anonymous July 18, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    http://www.amazon.com/Respect-Dare-Nina-Roesner/dp/144013278X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279421687&sr=8-1 is a great resource for women trying to get this right!

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