Written By Richard Steele (1672-1729)
This is the wife’s special qualification. If she has all beauty and learning but no respect for her husband, she is not a good wife. Creation suggests it. She was made after the man (1 Tim. 2:13), from the man (1 Cor. 11:8), and for the man (1 Cor. 11:9). This order was not by man’s doing, but God’s. Even after the fall the divine order stands: “He shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). The New Testament confirms all this (Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). Even if she is the sweetest thing and her husband the meanest, she still has a duty to respect him. First, she must fix in her heart that her position is inferior to his, and then she will be able to fulfill all respect implies with ease and delight. It is not fitting to set the rib above, or even on the same level with, the head. [INFERIOR: “Lower in station, age, or rank in life. Pay due respect to those who are superior in station, and due civility to those who are inferior.” Not inferior in personhood, worth, or value.]
1. The Description of a Godly Wife’s Respect.
A. She highly esteems him. “All wives shall give to their husbands honor, both to great and small” (Est. 1:20). Ponder the excellence of his person, and value it properly. And if he is not accomplished, then she should consider the excellence of his place as “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7). You esteemed him when you chose him as your husband, and you should continue to do so. Remember Michal’s disrespect to David and her punishment from God (2 Sam. 6:16, 23). Her family and neighbors will respect her about as much as she respects her husband, so in honoring him, she honors herself.
B. She dearly loves him. This respect is composed of love, which is also the wife’s duty (Tit. 2:4). Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel left parents, friends, and country entirely out of love for their husbands. A young woman named Clara Cerventa was married to Valdaura whose body was so riddled with disease that no one else would touch him, but she dressed his sores with all care, and sold her attire and jewelry to maintain him. Finally he died, and when comforters came to her, she told them she would buy him back again with the loss of her five children if she could. She can beget her husband’s love no better way than by her reverence toward him.
C. She diligently pleases him. The word “reverence” in Ephesians 5:33 is literally “fear.” She should maintain “chaste conversation coupled with fear” (1 Pet. 3:2), for one without the other is inadequate. This fear is not servile, but a sincere desire to please and refusal to offend him. “I will do my utmost to please him, though I do not fear his hand, but his frown. I would rather displease the whole world than my husband.”
2. The Pattern of a Godly Wife’s Respect.
A. The church’s respect for Christ. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing” (5:24). Her submission is to be like the church’s ideal submission to Christ.
1) In everything. In things great and small, agreeable and disagreeable to her. Only when he requires what God forbids or forbids what God requires is she to refuse submission. She may reason with him in things inconvenient to her, but if he will not be persuaded, and there is no sin in the case, she must submit to him.
2) Free, willing, and cheerful. The service Christians do to the Lord is with goodwill (Eph. 6:7). So the wife should submit to her husband as if there were but one will in their two hearts. Leah and Rachel followed Jacob like his shadow (Gen. 31:16). Sarah’s reverence was sincere, as she called her husband “lord” (Gen. 18:12), and this is an example for Christian wives (1 Pet. 3:6). Therefore a grudging obedience is unacceptable, and usually springs from her unmortified pride and self-conceit. Even if he is severe, it is better for you to do your duty, and leave his judgment to God.
B. The body’s respect for the head. “For the husband is the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:23). All members of the body realize the head is useful for their good. The hand will accept a wound to protect the head. Whatever the head decides to do, the body gets up and follows as long as it can. This is the way the wife should honor her husband, second only to God. It is ludicrous for the head to go one way and the rib another, for a soldier to command his general, or for the moon to pretend superiority over the sun. Only if the husband is insane is this altered. “The man has authority in his house unless he is verbum anomalum; that is, a fool” (Luther).
3. The Demonstration of a Godly Wife’s Respect.
A. In word.
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). If she really respects him, it will show in what she says. “In her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26; cf. 15:4).
1) She speaks respectfully of him in his absence. No wife is too great or good to imitate Sarah’s godly example of giving her husband a title of respect like “lord” (1 Pet. 3:6). A wicked woman refers to her husband as “the man” (literal Hebrew in Prov. 7:19). Would that this was the worst thing wives call their husbands behind their backs!
2) She speaks respectfully to him in his presence. Beware of:
a. interrupting him while he is speaking, or saying ten words to his one. Silence commends a woman’s wisdom more than speech. The wise woman uses words sparingly.
b. using disrespectful words or tone. Strive for “a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:4). Do not be afraid that this will make your husband worse, but trust in God’s wisdom (1 Pet. 3:1; Prov. 25:15). Remember God hears and will judge you for every idle word (Matt. 12:36). Ideally, both the husband and wife should be slow to passion, yet where one must yield, it is most reasonably expected of the wife. No woman gets honor by having the last word. Some women argue that their tongue is their only weapon, but the wise know that their tongue is set on fire by hell (Jas. 3:6). See how Rachel spoke rashly to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die” (Gen. 30:1), and as soon as she had two, she died (Gen. 35:18)! On the other hand, Abigail behaved prudently with a very bad husband, and was raised to honor. If respect will not prevail with him, anger never can. That is why the husband and wife ought to agree never to shout at one another.
B. In deed.
1) She obeys his directions and restraints. Sarah obeyed Abraham, and she is a worthy model (1 Pet. 3:6). He said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes” (Gen. 18:6), and she did it promptly. The wife is bound in conscience to obey her husband in everything that is not contrary to the revealed will of God, and even in this case, she should refuse respectfully. For example, she cannot consent to omit Bible reading, or prayer, or sanctifying the Lord’s Day, although he command it ever so sternly. The house is her proper place; she is its beauty; there is her business and safety. Only urgent necessity should call her abroad. The prostitute’s feet did not abide at her house (Prov. 7:11). She must live where her husband judges best. Wives are to “love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers [“keepers at home,” KJV; Greek, oikouros, meaning caring for the house, working at home, keeping at home and taking care of household affairs, Strong’s Concordance], good, obedient to their own husbands” (Tit. 2:4).
2) She asks his counsel and hears his reproofs. Rebekah would not send Jacob to her brother Laban without consulting Isaac (Gen. 27:46). Sarah would not discard Hagar the servant without consulting Abraham (Gen. 21:10). The Shunnamite woman would not receive a prophet into the house without advising her husband (2 Kings 4:10). Her hardest task is in hearing a reproof lovingly and thankfully, especially if she has a proud and contentious spirit. But she should remember she has her faults, and no one can see them better than her husband. So to answer him harshly for reproof shows great ingratitude. If she really respects him, this will be a much easier pill to swallow.
3) She maintains a respectful and cheerful attitude at all times. She should not indulge irritability or gloom when he is happy, nor be giddy when he is sad. She should try her best to make him delight in her. Let her express contentedness in her goods and position, and a sweet disposition so he will enjoy being at home with her. Let her study how he likes his meals, his clothes, and his lodging, and conform to his pleasure, because even in these small things many sharp arguments may arise. She must never let her familiarity with him breed contempt. His love must not make her forget her duty, but rather increase her efforts. His fondness must not decrease her respect for him. It is better to obey a wise man than a fool. Most husbands are liable to reform if their wives respect them properly. Some will disregard all this counsel with the excuse that none can attain it, but this mocks God. He will punish all such. If His vengeance does not meet you in this life, as it often does the rebellious, then it will in another. A true Christian is marked by a fundamental submission to biblical counsel; without this, you are mere hypocrites.
How To Accomplish These Duties
1. Keep Yourself Pure Before Marriage. This will help you in the duties of marriage later. Everyone should “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thess. 4:4). The fornicator before marriage continues his sin in marriage. Beware of lust’s first beginning, and flee it like poison. Keep your heart filled with the things of God and your body busy about your duties. The greatest fires begin with a spark. Momentary pleasure that precedes eternal torment is utter folly. If you have sinned in this way, cleanse your hearts and hands with Christ’s blood by confession to God with fasting and prayer for His forgiveness and strength against future temptation. Get a taste of the more ravishing delights of God’s favor and promises, pardon of sin, and assurance of life and immortality. Once you have drunk from the pure spring, you will not prefer the muddy stream.
2. Choose Your Spouse Carefully. Now that you know how difficult godly marriage is, you should be praying that He would guide you into it. Do not first love, and then consider. First consider, and then love. Let their soul be your main concern, not their looks or money. Why espouse a perpetual cross for some passing profit or delight? Marry only a Christian, the more godly the better. Consider also their personality. Speak honestly to one another about your faults and liabilities before marrying. If someone sold you a sick animal as a healthy one, you would feel cheated. How much worse is it when someone pretends to be better than they really are to secure marriage to one they profess to love!
3. Study Biblical Marriage Duties Before You Have Them. Being a godly spouse is such a big challenge that you must prepare for it well beforehand. It is no wonder that so many marriages fail! Too often the husband does not know how to rule, the wife does not know how to obey. They are both ignorant, conceited, and miserable. Therefore, parents ought to teach their children about the duties of marriage. Otherwise families which should be the nurseries of the church prove to be hotbeds of disorder and immorality. Read not only Scripture, but good books like Gouge’s treatise on Domestic Duties or Mr. Bolton or Mr. Gataker or Mr. Whately. [Modern readers have many choices; we would commend Douglas Wilson’s Reforming Marriage by Canon Press.]
4. Resolve to Obey God Without Any Reservation. Until you are born again and made holy in your heart and conduct, you cannot please God or be a complete blessing to your spouse. You can only live together as civil pagans. The husband that truly fears God cannot remain bitter against his wife. A Bible placed between you will eliminate many differences, comfort many distresses, and guide you in many confounding circumstances. Remember God’s commands have the highest reason and so obedience has the greatest sweetness. Keep the Golden Rule in your marriage. Righteousness abroad will not excuse wickedness at home. When you each focus on your own duties, you will be blessed.
5. Get and Maintain True Affection for Your Spouse. Give no place to jealousy. Do not give ear to backbiters and gossips. Jealousy often develops where true affection was lacking from the start.
6. Pray for Spiritual Graces.
A. Wisdom. A lack of wisdom causes many troubles in marriage. We need much wisdom to rule as husbands, and to submit as wives.
B. Humility. This keeps the husband from becoming a tyrant, and the wife in ready subjection to her husband. “By pride cometh contention” (Prov. 13:10). A proud person could not agree with an angel; the humble will agree with anybody. Humility will also promote contentment. The humble husband and wife will say, “My spouse is far too good for such a sinful person as myself. I don’t deserve such a wonderful partner. That was a sharp reproof, but it was nothing compared to hell, which is what I deserve.” Truly humble people are easy companions.
C. Uprightness. An upright heart is needed to keep these commandments of God. An upright heart will choose the safest course, even if it is the hardest. It will suffer the worst injury rather than cause the least. It will watch against the beginnings of sin, which produce marriage’s worst troubles. The upright husband and wife will strive each to do their own duty, and will be most severe against their own failures.
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.