A Husband's Honor
It has been often said that the coming of Jesus Christ into the world created a revolution in its views and treatment of women. Perhaps reformation is a better word, for revolution implies a movement to overturn the existing order of things. I think that the New Testament teaching on the relationship of men and women generally and husbands and wives specifically is not so much a revolution as a reformation, a return to what God intended in the beginning. It required the perfect Man, the God-Man coming into the world to cure the misery sin created in this relationship.
In the Jewish mind, women were second-class citizens. One debate among the Pharisees during the time that the Lord of glory walked the earth was whether a man could divorce his wife for any trivial thing that displeased him, or whether something more significant, such as adultery, was required for a legitimate divorce. To my knowledge, neither debated how to love one’s wife and cherish her.
In his most famous sermon, our Lord ended this debate by returning to God’s design and safeguards for marriage. It is an inviolable, earthly relationship that nothing but the most egregious breaking of one of the fundamental aspects of the marriage covenant (Gen. 2:24) could potentially dissolve. His own treatment of women, especially Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, and the woman he healed from a very delicate disease, manifests his tender regard for woman. He did not think it beneath him to speak to women, as most Jewish men of his time did. He did not think it beneath him to receive support throughout his earthly ministry from godly women. He wept with them and groaned over their miseries (John 11:33,35,38). His attitude was not dismissive or demeaning or demanding. He was the perfect man in his treatment of women, and we must learn from him (Matt. 11:29; 1 John 2:6).
From this, we should not draw the conclusion, as some do, that the respective, creation roles and responsibilities of men and women are cultural and preferential, and now abolished. As his subsequent revelation through the apostles make clear, women have their glorious, God-ordained gifts and places, as do men – as do husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves (1 Cor. 7:20-24). If we are to take our Lord’s treatment of women as spiritual co-heirs of heaven to mean that they can leave their God-ordained spheres and become functional men, then children may do the same with respect to their parents. Slaves would be authorized by their spiritual equality to their masters, assuming both are believers, to demand their freedom and carry out slave rebellions. Any idea or proposition that implies a conclusion so patently absurd and false should not be taken seriously. Our Lord’s will is much higher and nobler than this.
Let us consider the four statements Peter makes in his first letter (chapter 3, verse 7). First, the Christian husband is to dwell with his wife “according to knowledge.” This might also be translated in an understanding manner, or making it a science to understand your wife. This does not mean to be dominated by her wants and whines and fears. It means to understand them, to address them with God’s wisdom and our Savior’s manner – meek, gentle, and patient – the way he treats his wife, the church.
He adds “giving honor to her as unto the weaker vessel.” “Giving honor” is very different from making your personal preferences the standard of your home and relationship. Some of this is inevitable, of course, and can be very practical. If a husband does not like broccoli, a loving wife will not prepare it daily. At the same time, if he trusts her to guard and oversee the home wisely, then he will listen to her attempts to institute healthier cuisine into his life and home! Children that are allowed to be over particular about what they will eat tend to grow up finicky in other areas that makes them difficult to live with and hesitant to empty themselves for others. The husband should honor her by appreciating her efforts and supporting them. A wise and respectful wife will want her husband to live long and be healthy so that he can pursue his calling well. She will discourage him from a daily diet of chicken nuggets, French fries, and bologna sandwiches.
The spirit of the husband’s honor for his wife deserves far greater attention. The fundamental meaning of honor is value, the honor that belongs to a person by virtue of his rank or station. By extension, deference and reverence are the practical expressions of honor. What is most surprising, particularly in the Gentile world at that time and even in some Christian circles today, is that the husband is called upon to do the honoring. The wife has a rank in the home, an honorable position as a woman made in God’s image, as the husband’s other half and helper, and as the guardian or keeper of the home. She has immeasurable value as a daughter of the King. These make her worthy of great honor.
A husband like Jesus will seek to honor his wife as Jesus honors his. He laid down his life for his wife. His ears are always open to his bride’s cries and his heart tender toward her tears and burdens (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 5:7), even if those tears are the result of sin. His honor leads him to cherish and nurture his wife (Eph. 5:29). This cherishing is not an ideal without substance, as if a husband can say, “Of course I cherish my wife.” Does your wife feel cherished and nurtured? Honor is not merely a word but requires heart engagement (Matt. 15:8). Not that the wife’s feelings should ever rule her soul, her husband, or her home, but the church feels and experiences her Lord’s love and nurture, even as she is assured of it by his promise and covenant.
If he is confronting his wife and rebuking her, or, God forbid in some circles, being confronted by her, it is from a stance of love – “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19). Therefore, the inevitable differences of opinion and conflict in marriage, for we shall not escape our sinfulness and relational squabbles that are lingering stenches of the curse (Gen. 3:16), must be approached upon a foundation of the husband’s honor and deference for his wife. It is this spirit that allows for disagreements without bitterness, makes hardships occasions to draw together in prayer and mutual support rather than pull apart in frustration and bitterness – as least if the wife also is reverencing her husband (Eph. 5:33). Each is called to give honor, albeit in different ways and within the authority structure that God has instituted. The husband’s honor of his wife will encourage her reverence.
We must also take seriously that the husband’s honor is given as unto the weaker vessel. Whatever specific applications we might draw from weaker vessel, this is not said to insult woman’s lesser physical strength – remember that she, not the man, brings children into the world and cares for the sick to exhaustion but keeps going! Her mental and emotional tools and “rigging,” as vessel often means, may be weaker than man’s, for she was deceived by Satan (1 Tim. 2:14). But her weakness does not belittle her but heightens the imperative of the husband’s honor. Imagine a boy using a magnifying glass to set ants on fire or beating a dog because he can. The cruelty of the stronger toward the weaker is a constant reminder of how fallen the world is. The woman’s weakness is the reason that her husband must especially honor her – not smugly tolerate her, or belittle her, or treat her like a child. This is the opposite of honor, and it is very ugly in marriage. It will create resentment, distrust, and relational unresponsiveness. If we accept the Bible’s testimony about the woman as the weaker vessel, then we must also emphasize that the husband’s response to this must be Jesus’ response to his much weaker vessel, his wife – honor, support, reverence, appreciation, and tenderness. And this includes husbands!
Heightening the husband’s honor is that he and his wife are co-heirs of the grace of life. They share the same grace, the same inheritance, the same Lord. As an aside, this is one reason that Christians should only marry committed Christians, for in the absence of grace, peaceable, satisfying, honorable living together is impossible, except on the surface. But God’s grace to the wife deeply motivates and empowers the husband’s honor. She is Christ’s. I must love and lead her as belonging to Him more than to me. I am in her life to lead her to her true husband, Jesus Christ. Husbands and wives love and honor and reverence best who see themselves as preparing their spouses for heaven. Think upon this often. Many little squabbles and pettiness must melt away before this consideration: that life is not about getting my way and my wife satisfying my every preference but getting ready together for the marriage. The gospel invitation has gone out to you both, and you have both answered. Husband, your leading and guiding and loving is so that your wife will be holier and more beautiful at the heavenly marriage feast with Christ forever.
But, we are fallen, and even the best husband is tempted: “Yes, I must give honor to my wife, but where is my honor? My wife does not honor me very much.” This is an emotional dead end and a relationship cancer. Focus instead upon honoring your Lord by honoring his bride. Then, you have his own promise: “Those who honor me, them will I honor” (1 Sam. 2:30). Your honor is his pleasure, not your pleasure. Honor him, and by your honor, you model honor for your wife. Together, you honor him.