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Volume 8, Issue 1: Husbandry

Love and Respect

DOuglas Wilson

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 so?
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.

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