Volume 8, Issue 1: Husbandry
Love and Respect
The second greatest commandment requires that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
"And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There
is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:31). And, of course, if we
ask, "Who is our neighbor?" the answer Jesus gives is that the person placed in
front of us is our neighbor. As His parable makes clear, this includes the stranger
by the side of the road, but it also includes those with whom we live. A husband
and wife are certainly required by Scripture to love one another.
But when the Bible gives a specific command to husbands as husbands , and does
the same for wives as wives , the emphasis in the respective commands is distinctly
different. Wives are nowhere specifically commanded to love their husbands. In
one passage, the older women are urged to teach the younger women to be "husband-lovers." But
the word is a compound word ( philandros ), and the form of the word for love
refers to a warm affection. The attitude that is required for wives is one of
respect . "[A]nd let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph. 5:33).
Men, on the other hand, are commanded to love ( agapao ) their wives to the
uttermost. Two examples are given for the men, and both of them require tremendous
self-sacrifice. First, men are to love their wives as they love their own bodies.
"So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his
wife loves himself" (Eph. 5:28). No one ever hated himself, Paul teaches, and
this provides us with a good standard in our treatment of others. A husband should
be as solicitous for the welfare of his wife as he is for himself. This is nothing
less than the Golden Rule applied to marriage. Second, men are to love their
wives as Christ loved the church. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also
loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Eph. 5:25).
Now the Scripture plainly gives us our duties. Wives are to respect their husbands,
and husbands are to love their wives. But there is more. When we consider these
requirements and look at how men and women relate to one another, we can see
the harmony between what God requires and what we need both to give and to receive.
The commands are given to our respective weaknesses in the performance of our
duties. Men need to do their duty with regard to their wivesthey need to love .
Women need to do their duty in the same waythey need to respect . But men are
generally poor at this kind of loving. C.S. Lewis once commented that women tend
to think of love as taking trouble for others (which is much closer to the biblical
definition), while men tend to think of love as not giving trouble to others.
Men consequently need work in this area, and they are instructed by Scripture
to undertake it. In a similar way, women are fully capable of loving a man and
sacrificing for him, while believing the entire time that he is a true and unvarnished
jerk. Women are good at this kind of love, but the central requirement given
to wives is that they respect their husbands. As Christian women gather together
(for prayer? Bible study?), they frequently speak about their husbands in the
most disrespectful way. They then hurry home to cook, clean, and care for his
kids. Why? Because they love their husbands. It is not wrong for the wives to
love their husbands, but it is wrong to substitute love for the respect God requires.
We can also see the commands which are given have regard for our respective
weaknesses in another way. Men have a need to be respected , and women a need
to be loved . When Scripture says, for example, that the elders of a church
must feed the sheep, it is a legitimate inference to say that sheep need food.
In the same way, when the Scripture emphasizes that wives must respect their
husbands, it is a legitimate inference to say that husbands need respect. The
same is true for wives. If the Bible requires husbands to love their wives, we
may safely say that wives need to be loved.
But we are often like the man who gave his wife a shotgun for Christmas because
he wanted one. When a wife is trying to work on a troubled marriage, she gives
to him what she would like, and not what God commands, and not what he needs.
She loves him, and she tells him so. But does she respect him and tell him
We have difficulty because we do not follow the scriptural instructions. When
a man is communicating his love for his wife (both verbally and non-verbally),
he should be seeking to communicate to her the security provided by his covenantal
commitment. He will provide for her, he will nourish and cherish her, he will
sacrifice for her, and so forth. Her need is to be secure in his love for her.
Her need is to receive love from him.
When a wife is respecting and honoring her husband, the transaction is quite
different. Instead of concentrating on the security of the relationship, respect
is directed to his abilities and achievements how hard he works, how faithfully
he comes home, how patient he is with the kids, and so forth.
The specifics may cause problems with some because he thinks he might not
come home, and she thinks he doesn't work nearly hard enough. But love is to be
rendered to wives, and respect to husbands, because God has required it, and
not because any husband or wife has earned it. It is good for us always to remember
that God requires our spouses to render to us far more than any of us deserve.