Honoring Our Wives
There is in the Body of Christ today a growing awareness of the headship role a man is to take in his home as both husband and father. This renewed focus on male headship is in itself entirely right and proper. For decades now Christian men have all too willingly given up their God-mandated responsibility to give spiritual direction and protection to the home and have in many instances gladly abdicated their role to others, including their wives and church leaders. The current emphasis on male headship is long overdue, for it seems to me that the Bible is clear that husbands and fathers are ultimately responsible for the spiritual well-being of their families. One healthy effect of this movement has been to create in Christian husbands a new willingness to go beyond superficial forms of leadership (e.g., dropping the children off at church) and become personally and vitally interested in leading their families in Christian nurture.
As with most movements, however, there is a debit side. Emphasis on roles and responsibilities has blinded some men to the relational side of marriage. This imbalance has sometimes led to an extremely authoritative form of headship, in some cases issuing in mental and even physical abuse. Something is terribly wrong when a wife is made to feel like a neglected, inferior creation.
Nowhere is this truth more clearly seen than in Peter’s first letter, in which he addresses husbands as follows (1 Pet. 3:7): “Likewise, husbands are to dwell with [their wives] in an understanding manner, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, being heirs together of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” What Peter’s readers desperately needed to realize, and what some husbands today may need to relearn, is that the husband who fails to honor and respect his wife is no husband at all. The best corrective to a domineering headship style will be a view of marriage that sets activities and role performances in a framework that showcases them as deeds of genuine love rather than activities devoid of any relational aspects. This truth, I believe, is a necessary corrective not only to those husbands who are preoccupied with headship to the exclusion of other aspects of marriage but also to those who measure their success in life by the number of activities in which they engage instead of by the test of healthy relationships. A vast difference exists between a headship that demands respect and proper submission and one that merits it by honoring the weaker vessel in the relationship.
I maintain that no doctrine of headship in marriage is fully Christian until it includes an acknowledgement of the need of a wife to feel known, understood, loved, honored, and respected by her husband. It is worth pausing for a moment to note the glorious paradox this truth entails, namely that the husband to whom the wife is obligated to show respect and honor (vv. 1-6) is himself under divine obligation to show her respect and honor (v. 7). We return, then, to Peter’s fundamental vision of marriage as essentially a partnership between a Christian husband and a Christian wife as joint heirs of the grace of life.
Husband, it would be your wisdom, I think, quietly and prayerfully to meditate on this verse of Scripture until its message sinks deeply into your soul. The health and happiness of your marriage may well depend on it. Honoring our wives means that we will never belittle them. We will never demean them. We will never joke about them. We will treat them like fine china at all times. We will gladly listen to what they have to say. We will realize that our wives are “weaker” than us not in any moral or emotional or intellectual sense. They are simply physically weaker (and hence more vulnerable). We will remember that marriage is reciprocal. Both parties have obligations, and both have privileges. The Roman writer Cato once said: “If you were to catch your wife in an act of infidelity, you can kill her without a care and no fear of a trial; but, if she were to catch you, she would not venture to touch you with her finger, and, indeed, she has no right.” In a Christian marriage, both parties have the same standards.
The church father Chrysostom, who lived some 1,600 years ago, gave us some sensible advice about husbanding. Since it is so little known, I quote it at length:
A husband must never exercise his authority by insulting and abusing his wife. Whenever you give your wife advice, always begin by telling her how much you love her. Nothing will persuade her so well to admit the wisdom of your words as her assurance that you are speaking to her with sincere affection. Show her that you value her company, and prefer being at home to being out. Esteem her in the presence of your friends and children. Praise and show admiration for her good acts. And if she ever does anything foolish, advise her patiently. Finally, never call her by her name alone, but with terms of endearment, honor, and love. If you honor her, she won’t need honor from others; she won’t desire praise from others if she enjoys the praise that comes from you. Prefer her before all others, both for her beauty and her discernment, and praise her.
Will you say “Amen” to that? Only so will reading this essay be worth your while, and only so will your heart be in a state of readiness to obey Peter’s words.
I conclude with a brief definition of “honor”:
To regard or treat with honor, esteem, or respect; to revere; to treat with deference and submission; to dignify; to raise to distinction or notice; to bestow honor upon; to elevate in rank or station; to ennoble; to exalt; to glorify; hence, to do something to honor; to treat in a complimentary manner or with civility.
Ask yourself, “How well am I living up to this ideal?” Better still, why not take a moment and ask your wife for her evaluation?
May 23, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.