Think of it as two kinds of car that run on different kinds of fuel — diesel and regular, say. Men run on respect, and wives run on love. Men should remember that their wives need to be loved, and their wives should remember that their husbands need to be respected.
Scripture teaches us that Christians should honor or respect all men (1 Peter 2:17). Every human being bears the image of God, and so, of course, we are called on to respect and honor that. And of course, Scripture also teaches us to love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), and Jesus in his famous story makes the point that our neighbor is whatever person God has placed right in front of us (Luke 10:29–37). So all Christians are to love everyone, and all Christians should honor everyone. That is the baseline.
But when we come down to the particular relationship of husbands to wives, and wives to husbands, Scripture gives us an important, additional emphasis. Husbands are told specifically to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Wives are told specifically to respect their husbands as the church does Christ (Ephesians 5:33).
There are three things that we can take away from this. The lessons are not limited to three, but we should make a point of grasping at least these three things.
1. We Are Called to Love and Respect
First, the commands are directed to our respective and relative weaknesses. We are told to do things that we might not do unless we were told. For example, children are told to obey their parents because it is easy for children not to do so (Ephesians 6:1). In the same way, husbands are told to love their wives because it is easy for husbands not to do so. Wives are told to honor their husbands because it is easy for wives not to do so. We are called to do things that might not occur to us. If we were all doing these things naturally, why bring it up?
Women are better at loving than men are. Men do well at respecting. C.S. Lewis once observed that women think of love as taking trouble for others — which is much closer to a scriptural agape love than what men naturally do. Men tend to think of love as not giving trouble to others.
So men must be called to sacrifice for their wives, to take trouble for them, as Christ gave himself for the church. Women must be urged to respect their husbands. A woman can naturally love a man she does not honor or respect very much, and this is something that Paul would identify as a trouble. How many times have we heard a terrible story about a girl returning to her abusive boyfriend because she “loves him,” even though he treats her like dirt? But if we asked her if she respects him, she would reply, “Are you kidding? Him?” And men must be called to give themselves away for their wives. This is what a wedding means.
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