How should we honor and respect our spouse?

Few things in this world are as joyful, dangerous, unpredictable, and emotionally challenging as getting married. Biblically speaking, marriage isn't a contract, it's a covenant. It's a permanent pledge before God. When you make the choice to marry someone, you take the risk to entrust many aspects of your well-being to their care or provision. You also make the pledge to love them unconditionally and care for them in every high and low moment that comes your way over the course of your life, for decades and decades.

Just last week, I was pleased to see multiple friends share thoughtful tributes to their spouses online. One husband expressed his sincere thankfulness to his wife who has consistently showed him love in the midst of many recent life transitions. One wife expressed her sincere appreciation to her husband who has stood by her and supported her during a recent bout of clinical depression.

Marriage isn't easy, but few things of lasting value ever are. Marriage is meant to serve as a visible expression of Christ's deep and abiding love. Marriage involves placing the needs of your spouse above your own. Godly marriages consist of men and women who love, sacrifice, and intentionally seek ways to build their spouse up, instead of selfishly demanding that their needs or wants be valued above all else.

Our culture no longer understands what marriage is or what it was designed by God to be, nor does it want to understand such things. Even professing Christians struggle to understand what marriage is all about and how God has designed it to operate.

Thankfully, God's word never changes, and He tells us exactly how husbands and wives are called to serve and bless each other. What does Scripture tell us about how God has called us to honor and respect our spouses?


I. Wives: Be subject to your husbands

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 
— 1 Peter 3:1-2, ESV

I don't know if you like offending people, or if you would prefer not to. But if you ever want to offend a random stranger, please share this portion of Scripture with them. It's fair to say that this is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied Scriptures in God's word. It's also one that tends to offend because it conflicts with certain cultural values that are preached toward us regularly.

What does this Scripture mean when it encourages wives to be subject to their husbands? Is this passage saying that women are somehow inferior to men? Is this passage saying that somehow men are smarter than women? Truthfully, it isn't saying either. What we're shown in this passage is a pattern for order in the home that's meant to resemble a pattern that our triune God expresses as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another.

During the course of the earthly ministry of Jesus, He intentionally demonstrated a willingness to submit Himself to the will of the Father. Not because the Father is better or more divine than Him, but as an act of humility and respect.

but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.
— John 14:31a, ESV

Jesus intentionally submitted Himself to the Father so that the world could see the depth of His love for the Father. Our marriages are designed by God to display the same dynamic. When a wife chooses to be subject to her husband, she shows others that she actually loves and trusts him.

Biblical submission as it's referenced in this passage, is not a reference to inferiority. Rather, it's an opportunity for a wife to display that she respects her husband, that she understands the responsibilities God has entrusted to him in his role in the home, that she understands that he will one day give an account before God, and that she is willing to partner with him to make this all work. This is the pattern that works best.

One of the beautiful things that has often come out of this kind of partnership is that wives have blessed their husbands with a glimpse of Christ's love. As men have seen this, many have come faith in Christ through the testimony of the selfless lives of their wives, and believing men have embraced repentance when their wives have shown them what it actually looks like to live in obedience to the word of God.


II. Wives: Embrace the nature of true beauty

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
— 1 Peter 3:3-6, ESV

When I was in college, I fell in "like" with my wife. I hadn't told my friends about my feelings, but one of my friends called me out on it after Andrea had stopped to talk to me outside the school cafeteria. I asked him how he knew I liked her and he said, "Your eyes light up whenever she stops to talk to you." It was true. I was smitten with her and part of what drew me to her was that she wasn't flashy or "over decorated." She was, and is, beautiful to me, but I have always been grateful that she wasn't showy.

The Lord has chosen to bless us with daughters, and now I think about a lot of these subjects from a fatherly perspective. One of the things they have heard me say many times is, "You get what you advertise for." If you want to draw the attention of a superficial man, value superficial beauty over the gracious spirit the Lord wants to foster in your life. If you want to meet and marry a spiritual man, let your beauty be more than skin deep. Let your relationship with the Lord become what's most apparent in your life.

From what we know of the Apostle Peter, he wasn't a fashion expert, nor was he forbidding cosmetics or jewelry. He was simply trying to encourage Christian women to possess a beautiful spirit, not just beautiful skin. He reminds us that this was the standard of beauty displayed by the holy women who lived generations before.

I think it's interesting that he references Sarah here because Sarah was known for being exceptionally beautiful in the visual sense.

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. 
— Genesis 12:11-15a, ESV


But what is the nature of true beauty? If true beauty was merely physical, that would be tragic because physical beauty tends to peak very early in life. Real beauty is found in the presence of Christ in your life. Lasting beauty is found in the heart, in gentleness, in a quiet spirit. God considers this kind of beauty precious because it's the kind of beauty that can only ultimately be fostered by Him.

I think it's wise for us to keep our bodies healthy and I also think there's value in caring for our appearance, but we need to remember that we've been created in the image of God and our value in His eyes has absolutely nothing to do with our physical appearance. In fact, when Jesus came to earth and took on flesh, He intentionally took on a modest appearance so there would be nothing about His physical appearance to draw people unto Himself.

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
— Isaiah 53:2b, ESV


III. Husbands: Honor your wife as God's precious gift to you

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
— 1 Peter 3:7, ESV

Moving on from his counsel to women, Peter, a man who was known for speaking his mind, had some direct advice for Christian men. He encouraged husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. What does that mean? He was encouraging men to put great thought and value into their marriage relationships. To learn the way in which their wife communicated because it would be different, and have shades and nuances that would stretch him in a healthy way. To be mindful of her needs and take time to learn why these things mattered to her.

Peter also encourages men to honor their wives, treating them as the "weaker vessel." What did he mean by that? Biologically speaking, men typically have a larger and stronger stature than their wives. Both men and women are vessels that the Lord desires to pour Himself into, but the idea here is that while the man might be like a metal lunch thermos that can get dropped, dinged, and scratched up, the wife was to be treated like a precious vase or an irreplaceable work of art.

On behalf of men, I would like to thank all women for the patience you show us as we learn these things. Some men catch on to the biblical pattern of how a wife is to be cherished and loved earlier than others. Some of us take a while to catch on, that's why the Lord blesses us with this counsel. If the Lord blesses you with a wife, treat her better than just one of the guys. Don't ignore her. Don't be crass or overly blunt with her. She is an equal heir of salvation with you and should be completely convinced of her immeasurable value to you.


IV. Husbands: Never forget that God's eye is watching how you care for His gift

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
— 1 Peter 3:7, ESV

When my wife and I started dating, it was important to me to get to know her parents and we would regularly ride with them to family events. Their family vehicle was a van. Her parents rode in the front seats. Her sister and the dog rode in the middle, so Andrea and I sat in the back row. I don't know how we didn't get in an accident on those trips because every time I looked at the rear view mirror, I could see that her father's eyes were watching me.

Men, please be aware that God is keeping an eye on us. It really does matter to Him how we treat women. It matters to Him that we love and value our wives. It matters to Him that we are caring toward and gentle with the precious gift He has entrusted to us. Let's not be the kind of men who show more thought and care for our vehicles, TV's, and golf clubs than we do for our wives.

If I treated Andrea poorly, her father might have killed me. What do you suppose is on God's mind if, after treating His daughters poorly, we come before Him in prayer? Peter tells us that our prayers will be hindered, meaning, that until we repent of the hurtful or ungrateful way we've treated our wives, we can expect to have a few issues with their Heavenly Father. In those moments, it might be helpful to remember 1 Peter 5:5, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In that case, it would be wise to rectify the issue with humble repentance before God the Father.

Your spouse is a gift from God. Your marriage is meant to glorify Jesus Christ and reflect His love. Marriage is not necessarily an easy kind of relationship to cultivate, but by the grace of God, it can be a good one. The Lord calls wives and husbands to do some very difficult things to help foster a healthy relationship in the home. This pattern is set before us and we can adopt it or reject it. But if we humbly accept the counsel of God's word, I'm certain we'll create a healthy culture in our homes and one day look back with gratefulness to the Lord who helped us value the spouse He has blessed us with.

© John Stange, 2017