by John Meador
The most popular book in America over the last ten years, having sold 30 million copies, is Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus by Dr. John Gray. I wonder if it is not because we are wondering how a man and woman really relate. How can they best get along as husband and wife? The majority of the American people apparently hope Dr. Gray has some clues.
But I believe God has given us two indispensable keys to marriage harmony in Ephesians 5:32-33: "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband."
Like the two keys it takes to open a safety deposit box, these two keys must be operated together by the husband and the wife, each using the key that God gives to each. As they do so, together they open the box that has the mystery of marriage inside.
Let's look at verse 32 again: "This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church." Paul is basically saying, "You cannot understand your marriage if you do not understand Christ and His love for the church. You can't understand your marriage if you don't understand the church and her response to Christ. The real secret of marital oneness is discovered as you look at Christ and the church."
And what do we see when we look at Christ and the church? First of all we see Christ loving the church in an unconditional way. And then we see the church responding with a mixture of awe and reverence and holy respect. His love overwhelms us, it conquers our allegiances and we become loyal to Him from that day forward. That is a beautiful picture. And that picture speaks of our marriage.
The two secrets are really two words found in Verse 33. We can boil all that Paul says about marriage down to "love" and "respect." Notice that these commands are unique for each spouse. Paul did not say the woman is to love her husband. He told her to respect her husband. And Paul did not say for the man to respect his wife. He told the man to love his wife. That is not to say that husbands should not also respect wives and that wives should not also love their husbands. But the principle command given here meets the principle need in the other's life.
The woman's greatest need is to be loved unconditionally. And the man's greatest need is to be respected—in his marriage and his life. Love and respect. Love and respect.
If you are going to love your wife like Christ loved the church, you will be a serving leader. This is the only kind of leadership that Jesus respects. You will seek to understand her needs and meet her needs. And you will do this by serving her, not by lording over her. You are there to initiate love and to invest your love into her life.
Dear friend, leadership in God's book is about responsibility, not privilege. It involves sacrifice, not being catered to. It means being sensitive, not ignoring your wife. It means loving her unconditionally.
If you love your wife in this kind of way, she will be impressed—not by your good looks, nor by your body, nor by your paycheck. She will be impressed by your love.
Not only will your wife be impressed by your love, but so will others. One of the most impressive things in the world is to see a picture of someone that loves someone else unconditionally and devotedly in life and in death. And when others see that picture, you are going to point people to Christ. So husband, love your wife.
What does "respect" mean? It means to fear, to reverence, to honor. We understand it pretty well, I think, in the English. The Greek, phobéo\, is in the middle voice—which means the wife is to bring upon herself the responsibility of respecting her husband.
Guys, this command is not to you. You are not to force or demand her respect. This command is to her, to voluntarily respect you and come under your leadership, because God has caused you to be the head, as Christ is the head of the church. That is what God has called her to.
Basically, respect means the wife is to defer to her husband, to allow herself to be positively influenced by him because God has put him over her in that area. It means not ignoring him. It means not belittling him. It means not complaining to him.
Note this potential pitfall: If a husband loves his wife unconditionally, there are all kinds of opportunities for her to exploit that love for selfish means—just as there are ample opportunities for husbands to exploit their leadership roles. If the wife is respecting the husband and yet he does not love her unconditionally, he can lead in a very selfish, demanding way. Or if he loves her unconditionally and she does not respect him, she can be very demanding, and end up with great misery instead of great harmony in the marriage.
So God gives us these two incredible commands, love and respect. The connection brings the husband and wife together: She needs love, just like air to breathe; and he needs respect just like he needs air to breathe.
Exactly how do these keys work? Let me get real practical about this because this is essentially what we live with and what we deal with from day to day. A woman wants to know she is loved. She wants her husband to demonstrate that love. She wants to even test that love from time to time to see if really, truly he loves her unconditionally.
One of the most perplexing questions a woman ever asks a man is, "Do I look like I am gaining weight?" That is a loaded question, guys. She is not really asking you whether she has gained weight. What she is asking you is, "Do you love me no matter what I weigh? Do I still look good to you?" And of course, your answer needs to be, "Baby, you look as good as you have ever looked, believe me." It needs to be something like that because she wants to feel unconditional love from you. The core question that a woman really wants answered in all the things that she does, in all of her conversations, is "Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me?"
The man needs love, too, but the greatest thing for the man is to know that he is respected. Here's a personal example: My wife and I are involved in a project at our house where we are closing in a back porch and we are probably 9, 10, 12 months into that project. It has been a very slow project. But I have noticed that when I finished one section of it, I would go get her. And I would say, "Hey, what do you think about this section?" And she would say, "Yeah, it looks good." And she would go on about her business. But I didn't think she was impressed enough. So when I finished something else I'd show it to her and say, "What do you think about this?" And she would say, "Yeah," and then she would go about her work.
After a while, I realized I really have a need for her to respect the work that I am doing on this room. I want her to think that the floor looks great, the windows look great, the wall looks great, the paint job looks great. I want to hear from her on that. Now I am not just some immature little boy that needs mama to pat him on the head every once in a while. I just really need her to respect the things that I am doing for her.
I need respect. She needs love. And that is the way it is with all couples. That is the way it is with every man and every woman. God created us that way, and that is why God can boil down the relationship between man and woman in Verse 33 and say simply: "the husband is to love the wife and the wife is to respect the husband."
And if we will begin to plunge ourselves into the quest of loving wives and respecting husbands, the marriage will begin to gel and the cleaving will begin to take place as only God can cause it to take place. When we do not do that, we find ourselves in a terrible cycle where there is little love given and then little respect given.
When a wife feels her husband has responded without love, she reacts by withholding respect. She may not know that she does that, perhaps, but she is hurt, she feels unloved, and she reacts—sometimes emotionally. And her husband tunes her out because he feels she is disrespecting him as her husband, in the way she speaks to him. And the woman is very capable of speaking to the husband as she would her six-year-old boy because, after all, she speaks to that boy every day when he does something wrong. And when her husband does something wrong she responds in that same vein. Feeling unloved, she reacts by withholding respect. And that grates on him. She may not realize she has done that, but she has.
Without respect, the husband usually reacts differently. He will often respond by withdrawing, by going off on some project so that he won't have to be there where he feels he has been treated without respect. So his reaction is to withhold love. He goes where he will find respect, and quite often that is where he works or where he goes to relax.
So the terrible cycle keeps going. No wonder we call it the crazy cycle because it just keeps on going. We might change the subject that we talk about, we might change the transition periods of our life, we might change the circumstances that we deal with, but it is still the same. We are not meeting the basic need in our spouse's life of love or respect, so we are missing the real issue. Without love and respect, the cycle of reactions goes deeper and becomes more ingrained.
But men, when you begin to love your wife unconditionally and begin to understand the questions and the circumstances and the issues—and when she responds to you in ways that say, "I am meeting the need of respect in your life," then that cycle becomes an upward spiral instead of a downward spiral. The husband loves, the wife respects, and the door to the mystery of Christ begins to open.
There are great examples of women who respected their husbands in the Bible. For instance, 1 Peter 3:5-6 says, "For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear." God's first word to Abraham was, "Get up and go out to a place I will show you." So he packed up the family and out he went, by faith. Does Sarah know where they are going? No. Do she know how long they will be on the trip? No. Does she know how they will get by when they get there? No. But Sarah goes with him. She respects him. He believes he has heard from God, so she follows. That is how women of old did it.
Men, let me simply ask you, do you love your wife in an unconditional way? And when those tests are given to demonstrate whether you do love her or not, are you willing to rise to the occasion and love her? Are you willing to think about her? Are you willing to consider her as more important than yourself? And if so, are you doing it from day to day?
Wives, are you willing to respect your husband? Are you willing to submit to his leadership? Even though he is not perfect, even though he often leads the wrong way, are you willing to give him the respect he needs? That is his greatest need, just as love is your greatest need.
The command is clear: husbands, love your wives; wives, respect your husbands. These are the keys of marital harmony.
John Meador is senior pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.
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