… and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:33b)
In the closeness of a marriage relationship, a wife very quickly discovers that her husband is not always perfect. Paul emphasises that a wife must maintain a respect for her husband throughout the relationship. As the reality of a husband’s limitations become clear, it is all too easy for cynicism and criticism to creep in. But if these are allowed to flourish they will ultimately undermine the marriage. Regardless of the perceived weakness of her husband, one thing a wife must defend at all cost is a respect for the man she married. If cynicism and criticism have developed, they must quickly be repented off, before their corrosive effect on the marriage leads to lasting damage to the relationship. We see a similar example of this advice in Peter’s first letter, where we read: … as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord (1Pe 3:6a)
To our modern way of thinking, Sarah’s description of her husband seems very unsettling. But we need to go back to the original account in Genesis to see what happened. This is not how Sarah addressed Abraham in public, but rather the attitude of her heart; the way she thought about him. This was not some imposed standard that had been forced upon her, but this respect rather reflected the love she had for her husband. And we must not forget that at this time the two of them had been through many trials together and Abraham had not always behaved perfectly. But still Sarah respected him!
One of the mistakes we make when considering such scriptural advice is to miss who is being addressed. This is addressed, not to the husband as though he should impose it upon his wife, but rather to the wife, so that she takes responsibility for the way she thinks about her husband. It is the same with the command for husbands to love their wives; it is their responsibility to do this, not the wife’s to demand it. So much of the guidance recorded in scripture is addressed to us as individuals, and each of us will be held accountable for how we respond to that advice.