Carrien reminded me of a conversation R and I had about a month ago. We both ended up studying the lives of Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) at the same time and I was struck by a question posed by his group leader:
Can respect of a wife for her husband be commanded or must it be earned?
Even more interesting was the response from the men in R's group: almost all said that a husband must earn the respect of his wife.
Feel free to click away now!
Now that people who are looking for a fight have left, let's get into it.
First off: we are assuming that the relationship we are discussing is free from any kind of abuse - emotional, physical... You name it. This is a marriage of two people who love each other and want to succeed in their relationship. K?
I'm here to say that I disagree with the guys' response above.
Ephesians 5:22 says this:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.
Here, I see a clear command for wives to submit/respect/honor their husband. And it IS a command. There is no "respect him IF he treats you well" or "respect him IF you think he is doing a good job." No, it's a command to respect. Period.
Let's not ignore the command for husbands in Ephesians 5:25-27:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Another clear command: husbands must love (the verb) their wives. Not, "love your wife as long as she does what you want" and no "love your wife as long as she keeps her mouth shut." No, just love your wife.
Both of these commands are difficult, practically impossible without God's help. In order to respect your husband even when you think you know best, you have to trust God to work in your husband's heart and mind to enlighten him. In order for a husband to love his wife, he must trust God to give him insight into his wife's needs and what decision will be best for THE RELATIONSHIP AS A WHOLE rather than what is easy, or best, for him alone.
It isn't hard to see that this sort of arrangement works best in a marriage that includes two believers who are actively growing spiritually (spending time in the Word and with other believers who challenge them to learn/grow). Speaking from experience, I was not able to follow the command to respect my first husband and he was not able to follow the command to love me. I feel that this stemmed from my lack of commitment to God's command as well as my first husband's lack of commitment to an active spiritual life. This became especially clear when we divorced and he declared himself an athiest. I was not able to trust God to work in my husband's heart and to guide his actions because it was becoming more and more clear that pursuing God was not important to him. Going into marriage unevenly yoked: Recipe. For. Disaster.
Here is the entire Ephesians passage, for your viewing pleasure. Now that I have matured, both emotionally and spiritually, I find these verses very helpful because I understand that these directives are asking one spouse to provide exactly what the other needs.
What do I, personally as R's wife, need from my husband? To be loved. I need to feel that R wants what is best for me. That he both listens and understands. That he wants my input on decision making and takes that into account. That he wants to see me flourish and to be happy. That he is thinking about me and our family before he thinks about himself. And that he would "lay down his life," both physically (would die for) and emotionally (would give up what he personally desired in order to do what is right for our family), for me.
And what does R, personally as my husband, need from me? To be respected. He needs to know that I recognize that he is an adult and capable of leading our family. That I trust him with my life and our family's well being. He needs to know that I realize that I am not the center of the universe. He needs to know that I trust him to seek God's help in decision making. He needs to know that I will not become resentful as he leads and will not "gather ammunition" from decisions I disagree with to use against him later.
"But," you may be thinking, "he doesn't know what's best! I should be allowed to say that I disagree!"
And you're exactly right. Wives SHOULD be a part of the process. A husband SHOULD talk to his wife as a part of decision making. A wife SHOULD respectfully voice her disagreement. A husband should recognize that his wife has her own unique perspective and that her thoughts are valuable for: 1. gaining new insight into the topic and 2. understanding her desire in the outcome, which he should take into account when making a decision. (And a wife should understand that her husband has his own unique perspective, too, and that God may have revealed additional insights to him that she is not aware of.)
This whole thing hinges, though, on the wife's ability to remain respectful throughout the process and to accept that the final decision is just that - final. To trust that her husband has taken her (and the family's) needs into account, has sought the Lord's help, and has made a decision based on spiritual principles.
The biggest part of this for me, as a wife, is prayer. If I am to trust my husband to do his job (as outlined in Ephesians 5), then I need to trust that God will empower him to do it. And that means praying constantly for my husband to seek God's will, through prayer and study of scripture, and to hear His voice, by listening for the Holy Spirit and through a spiritual mentor (a male Christian who is further down the "spiritual road" than my husband).
Additionally, I need to pray for myself to trust God and to come into alignment with His will for our family. I need to pray for my own selfishness and/or pride, understanding that my husband will not make a decision to deliberately hurt me or our family, and that his decision is never an attack on me.
I heard a great quote in BSF last Fall and have found myself coming back to it again and again:
"Do you believe that what God says is true? Do you believe that the Bible is God's Word? If so, then what the Bible says is true and you should take it seriously."
Back to the original question: Can respect of a wife for her husband be commanded or must it be earned?
I say that respect IS commanded. And that a wife should follow that command because it isn't her husband that has given it - it's God. And, as a Christian, I strive to follow God's commands.
Your comments, thoughts, insights, and personal stories are appreciated. I can't wait to hear your response!
Rude or attacking comments will be deleted. Please, keep it respectful!