Often in books and teaching about the Biblical roles of husband and wife, we learn about husbands loving their wives and wives submitting to their husbands. We don’t hear as often about another responsibility of wives: Ephesians 5:33b says, “the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
We don’t live in an age of reverence. Husbands and fathers are often portrayed as inept buffoons on sitcoms. Humor seems to be regarded as a higher virtue than respect, and everyone from the president on down can be the subject of belittling parody (I am not against humor or even parody, but there has been a viciousness to much of it in recent years that I think goes too far). “Speaking our mind” takes precedence over balancing our words with respect for another individual. It is important for Christians to get back to treating people with grace.
What does reverence mean? Dictionary.com defines it as “a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration; the outward manifestation of this feeling: to pay reverence; to regard or treat with reverence; venerate.” One of the definitions from Strong’s Concordance of the Greek word this is translated from is “to reverence, venerate, to treat with deference or reverential obedience.” That same Greek word is translated “fear” in I Peter 3:1-2: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” It is also translated as “fear” in a servant’s responsibility to his master in I Peter 2:18, (also Col. 3:22 and others. Most translate this into the employer/employee relationship for our time), and as an attitude we should have towards the Lord in I Peter 1:17, and as “be afraid” in our regard to rulers in Romans 13.
Other translations use the word “respect” in Ephesians 5:33. Of the myriad definitions in Dictionary.com, the ones that seem most applicable are, “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability, deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment: to hold in esteem or honor.”
One of the first thoughts that comes to some minds is, “Well, he doesn’t always act in a way that I can respect. How am I supposed to respect or reverence him then?”
Well, let’s look at it from another angle. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as themselves and as Christ loved the church. Do we as wives always act worthy of love? Is our husband’s love conditional on our behavior or performance? Don’t we want our husbands to love us no matter how we act? Isn’t that, in fact, exactly how Christ loves the church?
So, too, our respect of our husbands is not based on their performance or attitude or demeanor. Just as we want them to show God’s grace, forgiveness, and forbearance toward us when we are not all we’re supposed to be, so we should show the same to them.
How can we show them reverence? I think reverence would avoid nagging and scolding. We need to allow them to be human, to be imperfect, again, just as we would want them to allow the same for us. Proverbs has a lot to say about the brawling woman (21:9, 25:24) and the contentious woman (21:19, 27:15). I don’t think that means we can never express a preference, for instance, that dirty socks go into the hamper rather than next to it or in the middle of the floor. But once we make that request, it doesn’t do either of us any good to fuss about it (or to seethe in silence). We need God’s grace to exercise forbearance and the love that “covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12).
Reverence would also avoid talking to a husband as if he were one of the children. And I think it would also be careful about humor. We live in an age where almost anything is accepted if it is funny. But though humor “is the oil in the friction of life,” as the saying goes, it can sometimes be caustic, and some people are more sensitive to it than others. Everyone can laugh at something that is said, yet the subject of the joke can be left wondering if there was a hidden meaning. In the Quieting a Noisy Soul series, Dr. Jim Berg said the word “sarcasm” comes from two Greek words meaning “to tear flesh.” We need to be careful that we’re not “tearing,” “cutting down,” or disrespecting even in our joking and teasing.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” We need to be careful to apply this not only to what we say to our husbands, but also what we say about them. All the verses about talebearers and gossip apply to our conversations about our husbands, and our respect needs to shine through there as well.
I don’t think reverence means an unrealistic view of our husbands. Abigail was very frank about what kind of man her husband, Nabal, was, yet she intervened and interceded for him (I Samuel 25).
I wrote earlier about a session at one of our ladies’ meetings on how to love our husbands, and I think that respect is a part of Biblical love.
Perhaps the idea of reverence can best be captured this way: think of someone whom you would be awed to have in your home, for example, the president or a great hero of the faith like Hudson Taylor. The ways that come to mind to act (and not act) towards and treat a person like that are ways that we can show the same respect to our husbands. If I had someone like that in my home, I would be attentive, seek to anticipate and meet their needs, prepare what I think they would like. If I had to ask them to do or not do something, I would take care how I worded my request, assuming they meant well.
Do I always act that way toward my husband? No, I’m afraid not. I am instructing myself here and inviting you along through the process.
In one of those sermons that has stuck with me for years, Dr. Wayne Van Gelderen, Sr., as a guest speaker at our church, made the point that all of the instructions concerning the home in Ephesians 5 and 6 come after the command to be filled with the Spirit in 5:18. Only when we are filled with the Holy Spirit can we manifest love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.