Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband
(Ephesians 5:25 and 33)
Love and respect. Two ingredients for a healthy marriage. Which one comes first? How does the recipe work? Is it two portions of love mixed thoroughly with two of respect? Is it a quart of respect poured over a pound of love? What goes in first? This recipe doesn’t tell us the proportions. It doesn’t say how much respect to use or how much love is enough. It doesn’t tell us if we are supposed to add the love to the respect or vice versa. The recipe for a healthy marriage is very simple, but its application is hard. If we read it correctly it is actually impossible. The recipe is love without proportion and absolute respect. And these ingredients are not added one after the other, but simultaneously and continually. In other words the recipe is to love your wife completely all the time and to respect your husband completely all the time NOT to love your wife when she is lovely and respects you or to respect your husband when he is respectable and loves you. In other words, the recipe for a healthy marriage is an all-encompassing, non-negotiable mixture of love and respect. So go right out there and get loving and respecting and everything will be better and you won’t botch the recipe…sound about right? No. This cake will fall in on itself. Something major is missing from this recipe. Its gospel context. It is the mixing bowl we throw ourselves in that contains us and sustains us.
We are not made for absolutes. We don’t love completely and can’t claim to offer love unconditionally. We lack the capacity for absolute respect. We run down mentally and physically. Our emotions wear out. None of us can be a source of love and respect for another person on our own without limits. So is the Bible teaching us a recipe for a healthy marriage or is it giving us instructions to bake a futility cake? The mixing bowl is what we need. The gospel is the context we can use to cook a good marriage. Just before the Bible sets out the well known love and respect teaching, it gives a not so well known or repeated instruction: submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21). This is the preeminent piece of the teaching and nothing in the rest of it makes sense without it. The gospel is love and respect without measure. Unconditional love and utter respect given to all people by a Person able to deliver both and to sustain them indefinitely. A husband who reverences Christ (actually is the same word meaning “have respect to”) experiences a love he did not earn from a source he does not have to create or sustain. Husbands don’t need to be a primary source of love to their wives if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible love overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage. Wives don’t need to be the primary source of respect for their husbands if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible respect overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage. The love and respect shortage in our marriages isn’t a supply problem, it is a source problem. There is more than enough love and respect to bake into our marriages, we just need to stop trying to get it from our spouse and get it from the gospel instead.
Not feeling respected by the wife today? Stop looking at her and look to the cross where the most important boss in the world focused all his attention on you, held you up as an example of the person he’d love to promote, and promises to forever dedicate himself to making sure you become everything you’re meant to be. If that isn’t enough respect, your wife doesn’t have a chance at making you feel respected. Not feeling loved by your husband today? Stop looking at him and look at the white knight who stormed The gate, slew The dragon, bought you the perfume of eternal life and lives to make you into your full self. If that’s not love enough, your husband hasn’t got a prayer of making you feel loved.
If we want satisfying and healthy marriages the recipe is love and respect, but not the way most of us try to bake it. It is not a knock off version of love and respect found in a second hand market; it is the real stuff imported from God’s storehouse and accessed by turning our eyes away from our spouses and onto Jesus. This is too simple you say or it isn’t scientific, or I can’t trust it. Well, the statistics say clearly that Christians experience a higher rate of marital satisfaction (yes, including sexual satisfaction). And consider this final point: no one has a marriage without faith. It isn’t as if we choose between trust and not trust. We trust or we don’t have a marriage at all. Believing the gospel means marriage with faith in God. Marriage without the gospel means faith without God. Good luck with that – and I do mean that – without the gospel there is nothing to depend upon but luck, and it means finding your own hearty supply of love and respect you are sure will never run out. Marriage with faith in God is much simpler and sustainable. It is healthy.