The Ideal Wife


Ephesians 5:22-33

Please turn to Ephesians 5 and I will read vv. 22-33 but we are looking almost entirely at v. 33. Since these messages were meant to go together I am going to use the very same start I did two weeks ago.

Marriage is an uphill climb with numerous challenges and breathtaking vistas. We make it more arduous if we do not know what to expect along the way and if we do not have a map or well marked trails. It is even harder if we are not mentally prepared for the journey; lacking the mental toughness, the forbearance, the stamina and endurance required.

But it is harder still, by far, if our climbing partner, the one who we are tied into, tries to climb independently from us. There are simply too many places along the way that we cannot do it by ourselves. We need, we actually depend on our partner for help in upward mobility.

There is nothing like being strapped or clipped to a partner who works with you and not against you; a partner who understands their role and assignment. The Scriptures are our map, marking out the trails to the top. Our spouse is naturally the climbing partner we have been tied into. And in our passage tonight, Paul tells each climber how to work in tandem with their partner.

Listen for the broad principles that Paul sets out for husbands and wives here.
As I said earlier I am focusing on his concluding sentence in v. 33, but beginning at v. 22.

Read

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splen­dor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Prayer:

Our Father we don’t want to make life harder than it needs to be. We want to enjoy this journey up this mountain with our partners. Help us to listen carefully to make the necessary adjustments in our marriages that we might derive more pleasure out of them and you might get more glory in them. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.

The principles necessary to scale the heights reduce to these: husbands, love your wives; wives, respect your husbands.

I want to recap what I said two weeks ago just to keep all of this together and as I said before these messages are really meant to be taken together.

We began with what is love—if this is our chief duty as husbands to our wives, what is it? What is love? Unfortunately the Bible does not give us a definition of love as it does faith and as it does hope. Rather we are dependent on learned men who know the Scriptures well and offer us their definitions. I gave two definitions and I want to remind you of them.

The first is James Orr. You can find this in the Hastings Dictionary of the Bible as follows:

“Love is that principle which leads one moral being to desire and delight in another, and reaches its highest form in that personal fellowship in which each lives in the life of the other, and finds his joy in imparting himself to the other, and in receiving back the outflow of that other’s affection unto himself.”

So it involves desiring and delighting in another; living in the life of the other and finding joy and imparting himself to the other.

The second definition of love is from C.S. Lewis and found in Mere Christianity:

       “Love…is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened
by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God.”

If that is what love is, the text says that we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and as we love ourselves. We talked for a moment about how Christ loved his Bride.

In our passage we said that he gave himself up for her and then we took two lessons outside our text: the foot washing among the disciples in the Upper Room. He lowered himself to humbly serve her. And then from Romans 5:8, Christ loved his Bride when she didn’t return his love. While we were still enemies, Christ loved her.

We are to love our wives as our own bodies or ourselves. I mentioned two points here. How do I love myself? I naturally seek my own happiness, my own good, my joy. I like myself no matter how low my self-esteem may be I still want what is best for me. I care about my future. I don’t think I am able to stop caring about my future and the Lord is simply saying that the way you so naturally care about yourself, your happiness, your future, you should care for your wife. Make the securing of her happy welfare your joyful duty. Seek your happiness in hers.

Secondly, how else do I love myself? I forgive myself 7 X 70. Lewis said there is always one person whose sin we hate and abhor and yet we keep on loving and forgiving them. Guess who that person is? It is you.

Our forgiveness and our forbearance seem infinite with ourselves. Husbands, forgive your wife the way you forgive yourself. Don’t hold yourself to a higher standard than you are holding yourself to. Think of it gentlemen, if we love our wives like this, how much easier we are making it for them to respect us. We thrive on their respect which is what the message is about tonight.

This is from Dr. Bryan Chapell’s book, Each for the Other. He says:

“God seems to deal with each gender at its weak points. A man’s temptation is to use the power of his position and physique to enforce dictatorial rule or to indulge passive self-absorption. A woman’s temptation is often to use the power of words and emotions to manipulate and shame her husband into doing as she wishes. Paul allows neither “power play” by commanding men to love and women to respect their spouses.”

He continues to say:

“The words [love and respect] remind husbands and wives to express care for one another in the ways that touch each others’ heart most deeply.” P. 142

So if he is right, love—not respect—is the best word to strike at the heart of a wife’s need from her husband. And respect—not love—is the best word to strike at the core of a husband’s need from his wife.

I would like to make three points to begin. Ladies, your husband needs you to respect him. Secondly, God wants you to respect your husband. And, thirdly, deep down you want to, you need to respect him. Then briefly I want to think about what are the languages of respect and consider how a wife can respect her husband when he is unworthy of it.

1.  Wives, your husband needs you to respect him as long as you both shall live.

He needs your respect. Just as there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that can only be filled by God, there is a respect-shaped vacuum in the heart of every husband that is designed to be filled by you, his wife.

Before the Fall it was not good for Adam to be alone. He had deficiencies that only Eve could fulfill. All along it was his good intention for husband and wife to need each other, depend on each other, be incomplete without each other, even as a violin is incomplete without a bow or a lock is incomplete without a key. Husband is incomplete without wife. Ladies, you are crucial, you are vital!

Apparently one of the peculiar needs that the wife is uniquely designed to meet in her husband is this deep need for sustained respect. It may not appear to you that your respect means that much to him. It may not be that apparent to him. He may not be able to articulate how valuable it is to him. So let me be his voice tonight. Let me speak on his behalf. He needs, he craves your sustained respect more than he and therefore you know.

This is Dr. Chapell once again:

“A wife who does not understand that God designed husbands to thrive through her respect too often discovers that her husband will find other sources for the respect he required.” P. 138

Remember he has this vacuum and it’s got to be filled. If it is not coming from you, he will look elsewhere to fill that vacuum. It might be the work place, he might become a workaholic looking for esteem there. It could be a hobby. He wants to distinguish himself there. It could be a sport or sports. He is searching for recognition that he is still good at something, that he is respected in some field.

I remember the movie Hoosiers when it came out years ago, starring Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey. Hoosiers is about this small town in Indiana. Basketball was everything to this little town in Indiana and I suppose it is in every little town in Indiana. But these two, Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey, are teachers at this little school and Hackman happens to also be the basketball coach.
They are talking about one player in particular and Hershey says this, “You know sports have become so big, they treat the athletes like gods.” And Hackman says something like this, “Yes, but isn’t it great to be a god just for a few minutes.”

Every man wants to be admired and wants to be respected and thought highly of; put on a pedestal and revered. He might seek it in the work place, he might seek it in sports or hobbies or he might seek it in other women.

Dr. Chapell says:

“The man’s need for respect from a woman drives him to one who knows him less well but treats him more highly than his wife.” p. 138

He goes on to say:

                   “I wish that women understood that a man’s confidence of his wife’s respect is the ground on which he plants his feet to meet life’s challenges. As a husband’s assurances of his love provides a wife security and comfort for her trials, her respect is his fortress.” p. 142

Depending on your husband’s job he may encounter a good deal of criticism especially if he is dealing with people. Your respect, ladies, allows him to get up in the morning and go back to work after a hard day or week.

At the risk of overstatement to make the point, your respect is his daily petro. It is the gasoline he runs on. Whether your husband has been able to identify it or articulate it to you, I believe he begins his day with this unspoken prayer, “Give me this day my daily respect from my wife.” And you, ladies, are God’s appointed means to be the answer to that prayer.”

Every husband wants to be a hero in your eyes. He wants to know, he needs to know that he is admired by you still and that there is something still admirable about him. There is a respect shaped vacuum in his heart that you were uniquely designed to fill.

Secondly, wives, God wants you to respect your husband. That is the sum of your chief assignment in your marriage relationship; to think and speak and demonstrate respect to him.

This is from Dr. Chapell’s wonderful book again. I will be quoting him a lot. I used this as a glorified book report for our couple’s retreat, but it became more than a book report.

     “I accompanied a distraught husband to his home to confess his failures to his wife. He had lost his job, spent his last dollar on diversions to make him forget, and returned home expecting his wife to add her scorn to the weight of his self-defeat. Instead, she told him that she loved him.
          He collapsed sobbing into a chair. Then, as I looked on, she placed a hand on his shoulder and for the next half hour reminded him of the good she loved in him.
          The words the wife spoke did as much to strengthen her heart as they did to rebuild the young man’s respect. She told him how she admired his sensitivity and care for their children. She reminded him of the ways he made her laugh and of moments their family treasured. She listed the people who believed in him. Simply by recounting what she did respect in this terribly flawed man, the wife’s eyes glistened with renewed love. He knew that he was undeserving of this kind of love. At one point he objected to her words by say­ing, “I don’t want you to love me so much.” She responded simply, “God does.” She gave her husband respect not only because he needed it but because she knew God delighted in her doing so.”

And since he does you can count on his resources to supply that respect for your husband even when it is low and is undeserving.

Thirdly, deep down you want to respect your husband. You know you do. You want to live with a man, you want to be seen in public with a man, you want to take the arm of a man whom you respect. You want a man who does not demand your respect. You want a man who commands your respect.

I found this illustration in Elisabeth Elliot’s book called The Mark of a Man. She is writing to her nephew and says this about her second husband.

      “You may remember a story your uncle Add used to tell. When he was a dean of a small college in Pennsylvania, he learned that the walls of a certain men’s dormitory were smeared with shaving cream, peanut butter, and jelly. He went over to investigate. Of course not a soul around had any idea how it could possibly have happened. In room after room he met with surprised innocence.
He had several options. He could make every man in the dormitory go to work and clean it up. He could call the custodian. It happened that the custodian was a very good worker, an amiable and therefore a very valuable man. To scrub up the mess would have been beyond the call of duty, but he would have done it. There was a third option. Add went and got a bucket and a brush and set to work himself. One by one doors opened, heads, popped out, word spread of what the dean of the college was doing, and soon he was not alone in the scrub job. The power of servanthood. It commands respect. It does not demand it.”

You want to respect your husband. As great as his need is to receive it so too is your need to give it, to find its rightful object. You were born with a reservoir to respect. He was born with a vacuum, you have the reservoir inside of you. You are more whole, more healthy, satisfied and happy when you exercise respect toward your husband.

You have been made for intimacy and a deep profound unity and sharing of all your parts—body, mind and soul. You are enabled to give more of yourself in love as your respect for him is expressed and grows. Your respecting him results in a deeper satisfaction for yourself and your respect for him draws out more of his love for you. It’s a win-win.

This is one woman’s testimony:

       “Before marriage I was attracted to my husband’s strong person­ality. After marriage this same personality overwhelmed me. I began believing the lie that Eve believed in the Garden—I could not be fulfilled doing it God’s way. I believed the lies that I would have to fight for my rights and that it was my responsibility to destroy my husband’s ego, so I did everything I could to belittle him. I corrected him in public. I rarely expressed admiration or appreciation. In trying to destroy his pride, I was destroying his manhood and elevating my own pride. I convinced myself that when he changed, I would be a great wife. I was less and less interested in him. There were no feelings of affection or love. I would rather have gone to an execution than to bed with my husband. I turned off all the music and wore flannel nightgowns.”

The husband is not the only one who benefits from the respect of a godly wife; she benefits too. The respect a wife offers her husband is vital for finding the deeper levels of mari­tal bliss for which her heart yearns. The more she treasures her husband, the more precious and fulfilling a woman will find their union. The woman who longs for deep satisfaction in her marriage must provide the respect that secures the relationship for which she longs.

          “….the love for which her heart longs cannot flourish without the respect for her husband that God requires.” p. 142

So, ladies, if you withhold respect from your husband, you shoot yourself in the foot. It hurts and it hurts you. Your marriage suffers because of it. It is like withholding forgiveness, it eats you up. It is a growing cancer and must be addressed. You might think it is one of your weapons against your husband in order to get your way. You might think by withholding respect you are using that as some sort of leverage over him, but ironically it turns out to be a weapon against the love, the intimacy and security you so desire. It is a lose-lose.

You can do something about that. You are not in a hopeless and helpless situation; nobody who has Christ living in him or her is in that situation. Your husband craves, even thrives, on your respect. God designed you to give respect to your husband and deep down you want to respect him. It is the single most important contribution you can make to a God-exalting, God-glorifying marriage. It is what you do to help your tandem summit the peak.

So, what does respect look like? What are the ‘languages’ of respect? What communicates respect to your husband may not be the same thing that communicates respect to someone else’s husband.

Is it staying interested in his career? Is it rejoicing in his successes? Is it cheer-leading his ambitions? Is it listening to his dreams? Is it honoring his decisions though you may not necessarily agree with them? Is it making a joyous offering of love by overlooking his flaws? Or is it some combination of these?

     “Respecting the characteristics of a spouse that are honorable, forgiving the flaws that cannot be honored and caring for the man regardless of his dishonor—these bless the man, but in greater measure they reverence God.” p. 146

You are to respect your husband and unto the Lord.

What about your husband if he does something or becomes someone whom you think unworthy of respect? Does that take you off the hook?

Just like love is more than a feeling, it is a choice, so too is respect. Respect is an act of the will. It is often a choice. No husband is flawless. No husband, no matter how saintly he is, has not thought a thought, spoke a word, done a deed, that his wife could not respect at some level and at some time. Perhaps more often than she cares to admit to her friends. Frankly, husbands disappoint. We are “frail children of dust and feeble as frail” as the hymn writer puts it. (O Worship the King by Robert Grant)

So, ladies, where do you find the strength, power and resources to respect your husband when you believe he has forfeited all rights to it? God gets great glory from you when you respect an unworthy husband because it shows that the ability, power and grace to respect is an alien power and grace. God loves to show himself strong and the supplier when you are weak and empty.

Take comfort in this wives. God requires the same from your husband. He expects your husband to still act lovingly toward you when you are indifferent to him. He expects your husband to still act lovingly toward you when you do not return his love.

Gary Thomas writes:

      “I reach out to others because God has loved me and has asked me to love others in return, not because the people I am lov­ing are “worthy” of love…. God is always worthy of being obeyed and served, so when I act out of obedience to him, the person who receives my service doesn’t have to be deserv­ing—they’re benefiting from what I owe God. Yes, this truth is hard to apply in marriage, where demands and expectations are so plentiful, but I try to remind myself of this fact: God is always worthy of being obeyed, and God calls me to serve my spouse—so regardless of how she treats me at any particular moment, I am called to respond as a servant.

He continues:

           If you are in a one-sided marriage where you feel you’re giving and never   receiving, my heart goes out to you. [And may I add, my heart goes out to you.] You can partially redeem such a situation by becoming more God-oriented….If the heart of Christianity is service, any situation that shapes the spirit of a servant is worthwhile—even a lopsided marriage.”

Wives, may your husband benefit from what you owe God. Husbands, may your wife benefit from what you owe God. The Lord is waiting for you—eagerly so—to cry out to him and say, “My reservoir of respect for my husband is running low or dry.” He wants to replenish it. God designed you with that reservoir in your heart. He is the most untapped Person in your love triangle. Don’t stop crying out for more grace to respect. After all, he has designed you to give it.

I want to set up my conclusion with this opening story that Dr. Chapell uses in his book Each for the Other:

            “The day was bone-chilling but clear. My brother, Gor­don, picked me up at my apartment just as the sun was coming up, and we headed for the tall rocks and clear rivers of the Ozark Mountains. Home for a leave from the Air Force, Gordon had promised to take me mountain climbing.
             Specially trained to rescue pilots from any terrain in the world, Gordon told me not to worry that I had no idea how to scale tall cliffs that soon loomed before us. “Just do what I tell you,” he said.
            We started on the smaller rocks with gentle slopes. There Gordon showed me how to use the rope clamps and spikes. He taught me how to ask for more slack or tension on the rope to make my climb, and how to give the same to my partner to enable him to climb with me. J soon learned that the progress either of us made was integrally related to the actions and responses of the other.
          We hiked to the cliff, roped ourselves together, and side by side started up. Gordon set the course… The nature of the obstacles and crevices before us meant that sometimes he advanced ahead of me, and sometimes I preceded him. We gave each other tension or slack depending on what was needed to leverage our bodies up the rock. There was no ques­tion of who was in charge, but neither was there any question that the one who led the way sometimes had to let his partner advance ahead of him for both to make progress. The goal was not for one to stay ahead of the other but for both to reach the top.”

Ladies and gentlemen, for both of us to reach the top husbands must lead with love and wives must follow with respect.

Gentlemen, someday in heaven you will run into the woman who was once your wife on earth for a very short time. You will not remember any, I tell you any, of her flaws, defects or sins. The sight of her will steal your breath. You will feel yourself so honored, so humbled, so grateful that you got to climb with her, lead her, take responsibility for her, provide and protect her, by loving her even at those moments when she does not deserve it.

Ladies, someday in heaven, you will run into the man who was once your husband on earth for a very short time. You won’t remember the difficult times. All the good times will come crowding in. You might even mistake him for an angelic being when you see him there. You will feel yourself to be so honored and so grateful and graced that you got to climb with him, follow him, submit to him, aid him, and complete him by respecting him even at those moments when he didn’t deserve it.

We are here for a short time. Our marriages are so short. The mountain is steep and treacherous at places. Let’s make the climb as easy and as enjoyable as we can by looking to the third Person in our marriage. The most important Person in our marriage and drawing on our Savior’s resources to love our wife and respect our husband.