Volume 8, Issue 5: Femina
Respect When It's Hard
And let the wife see that she respects her husband
Dead flies putrefy the perfumer's ointment,
And cause it to give off a foul odor;
So does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor
-- Ecclesiastes 10:1
Wives are commanded to see to it that they respect their husbands. Husbands were not commanded to see to it that their wives respect them. The command is directed to the wives themselves. Certainly this does not mean that the wife's conduct regarding respect is outside the husband's jurisdiction; but it does appear that Paul's injunction is worded in such a way as to lay the responsibility squarely in the wife's lap. Women see that the laundry gets done, that the meals are prepared, that the children are clean, and that countless other tasks get done, but are they as diligent to see that they respect their husbands?
Respect is a demeanor that should characterize wives in all their conduct toward their husbands and in all their communication to or about their husbands.This means courtesy in the home where the husband is treated with honor. Christian wives must show respect by treating their husbands with honor and courtesy in their role as head of the family. They must also show respect in many little ways each day that demonstrates that they revere their husbands. This can mean following through when husband requests something instead of putting it at the end of the to-do list. This kind of respect is simply a courtesy that springs from gratitude and love.
Respect in communication includes how wives talk to their husbands, and how they talk about them. This kind of respect is also shown on a daily basis. When wife speaks to husband, she should not speak as though she is talking to one of the kids. Her tone should be courteous and kind, not critical, sharp, or flippant. Likewise, when her friends hear her speak of her husband, they should note that on her lips is the law of kindness, not railing and complaining. Rather than sharing his weaknesses, faults, or problems, she should speak of him kindly, saying things that would please him to hear her say. Consider Proverbs 31:12, "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." This husband receives positive blessings from his wife every day. "The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain" (Proverbs 31:11). Again, this husband is confident in the character of his wife; she brings him nothing but good things. He knows she is not telling others things that she should not. His heart is safe with her. She is trustworthy. This is a blessed husband because he has a respectful, courteous, kind wife who lovingly considers his interests ahead of her own. What husband wouldn't be thankful for such a wife? In fact, the husband in Proverbs praises his wife, for she is a source of tremendous blessing for the whole family.
This is indeed a lovely picture. But not all husbands are easy to respect all the time. Difficult circumstances can arise, and the faithful Christian wife may find it a challenge to respect her husband. When an otherwise respectable man behaves in a foolish way, it is a stench. The Scripture does not deny that stupid behavior is unbecoming to a man. It is a foul odor. What does a wife do when her husband is behaving in such a manner, and everyone knows it is folly? Perhaps the stench has traveled far and wide. How can a Christian woman render respect in such circumstances?
Folly can include financial irresponsibility, laziness, unwise comments, irrational behavior, poor decisions, or faithlessness in many areas. The Scripture speaks clearly about sin and does not require wives to pretend their husbands who have acted foolishly haven't really. Wives must view their husbands' folly the same way Scripture does--as a stench. Nevertheless, respect is still required from wives; it is not a qualified commandment.
A wife may speak to her husband about his behavior. She may ask him to consider what he is doing and encourage him to put things right by making appropriate restitution. She may do this and still be fulfilling her duties of respect and submission, if she speaks kindly and is not bitter and resentful. If he persists in his folly, she may need to speak with her pastor or the elders about the situation. This is not disrespectful if it is done with the proper attitude and demeanor.
Perhaps church discipline is in order, and the elders are unaware of his behavior. Certainly a wife can do the right thing in the wrong way. For example, it may be her duty to go to her pastor or elders, but she must guard her tongue and communicate about her husband in a respectful manner. Often women think nothing of telling their friends about a situation that they would never dream of telling their pastor. This is backwards. The friend is probably not in a position to do anything about the problem, while the elders are. It may be disrespecting the husband to tell friends, but it may actually be respecting him if the wife goes to the proper authority.
This is not to recommend wives calling their pastors every time a husband slips. If a woman did that she would soon be hearing from her pastor about her own problem. It is merely to point out that God has a chain of command. If a woman has appealed to her husband about an area of disobedience that he refuses to address, it may be her duty to apply to her pastor or elders. This is not being a talebearer if it is done in the proper, respectful manner. It is merely applying respect when it isn't easy.