Are Husbands to Show Love and Not Respect?
Updated: Jul 29
Are husbands commanded to show love and wives to show respect? Are husbands not to respect wives? Are wives not to love husbands? What are wives commanded to do? Does the Bible command only men to love, and not women?
Does the Bible command wives to unconditionally respect their husbands? No. Does the Bible say that the husband's needs are paramount, and the wife may have desires but not needs? No. Does the Bible teach that the husband is the wife's 'Lord/Master' and that she must submit? No.
Recently I have been looking at some ungodly teaching about marriage that is disguised as Christian teaching. In a separate post, I examine Ephesians and discover that all genders are called to love one another and submit to one another.
False Teaching about Christian Marriage Exposed:
On the Bare Marriage podcast episode "Unconditional Respect is NOT a Thing!", Sheila Gregoire criticizes the book 'Love and Respect' by Emerson Eggerichs, which teaches that wives are commanded to give unconditional respect to husbands. The book portrays respect as a man's need and love as something a wife wants. Satisfying his needs becomes the primary goal. But look at the Bible. Who is commanded to Love? Everyone.
Who is commanded to submit? Everyone.
Who is commanded to Respect? No one.
Who is Commanded to Love
In Ephesians 5:2 Paul instructs both women and men to "Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us." Both women and men are called to love one another sacrificially, as Christ loved us. Ephesians 5 opens by telling all believers to walk in the way of love and to love the way that Christ loved us. The biblical teaching is for both the husband and the wife to love one another.
In addition, the husband is repeatedly told to love his wife (from NIV):
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25)
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph 5:28)
He who loves his wife loves himself (Eph. 5:28
Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself (Eph 5:33)
The husband is told to love his wife and care for her as his own body, just as Christ loved the church, his body. This exhortation to love his wife as he loves himself echoes the second and greatest commandment for all believers: "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:29-31) and "Treat others in the same way that you want them to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). We are all commanded to love.
Who is Commanded to Respect
The Eggerichs book advises that for a good marriage, the wife should provide unconditional respect to her husband because that is what he needs. It teaches men are entitled to respect because they are husbands. Some even teach that if a wife respects her husband, even when he hasn't earned it and doesn't deserve respect, he will change and become more responsible and live up to the wife's expectations.
Sheila Gregoire points out that the Bible commands us to love one another and serve one another, to speak kindly and respectfully, but that there is no such thing as unconditional respect. If we want to be respected, we must earn it; we are not entitled to it by gender. The Bible reveals the secret to anyone who wants or needs respect: show respect for others. If we follow Christ and are kind, compassionate, considerate, helpful, and respectful, we will become respected.
This is a biblical truth that research in our secular world has proven: respect is earned by giving respect to others. 'Respect is earned, not given' is an expression that means you cannot force people to respect you because you want it or need it. Leaders can earn respect by their actions: being kind, respectful, listening well, and taking responsibility. Leaders lose respect by ignoring or being inconsiderate of the people for whom they are responsible. Respect for a person builds as the person pays attention to you, is accountable, refrains from complaining, and is open to change. The Bible commands us to behave in such a way that earns respect.
But What is Respect?
Is respect the same as fear and obedience? No. That is self-preservation. Does respect mean submitting, serving, and being subject to the demands of others? No. That is slavery. The Eggerichs book teaches that it would be disrespectful for a wife to teach or advise her husband. Yet in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Paul says we are all called to teach and admonish one another. Respect seems more aligned with honour, admiration, awe, and love.
Sheila Gregoire interviewed a psychology and statistics specialist, her daughter Rebecca Lindenbach. Rebecca explained the Eggerichs book was based on a survey designed to confirm preconceived ideas and the survey questions were ineffective because many respondents had trouble differentiating between love and respect. Quite often, feeling respected leads to feeling loved. If a husband says he loves his wife, yet is inconsiderate, does not appreciate her or respect her time, or treats her as an underling, there is a good chance she will feel both disrespected and unloved.
Rachel Schmoyer reviewed the Eggerichs book on her blog 'readthehardparts'. She points out that the book tells couples to have sex for the purpose of the husband’s sexual release and that a woman must not withhold sex from her husband. It says nothing about her needs, sex for the purpose of a woman's pleasure or about withholding from a focus on bringing her an orgasm release. It ignores that God created both men and women with anatomy that feels sexual pleasure. It uplifts respect for the husband as a necessity while downplaying love for the woman as her desire: a 'nice plus' that is not essential. The Eggerichs book promotes some ideas that have been used to silence women and allow a husband to consider only his own needs, to misrepresent the Bible's message about mutual submission and to allow false teaching about an ideal Christian marriage.
Respect is putting the needs of another person above your own, thinking more highly of them than of yourself. Respect results in yielding to their ideas or ways of doing things. But commanding that a person yield or submit to your ideas or ways will not generate respect.
Who is Commanded to Submit?
Paul says in Ephesians 5:18-21 that submitting to one another is a result of being filled by the Holy Spirit. He tells all people, men and women, to submit, yield, serve, or be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. There is no indication that men only submit to men. Looking at a few different translations provides the full meaning:
being subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. AMP
and submit to each other out of respect for Christ CEB
and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.ESV
Be willing to serve each other out of respect for Christ. ERV
Place yourselves under each other’s authority out of respect for Christ. GW
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. NIV
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. RSV
Paul also calls us to submit to one another in his letter to the Colossians: it is mutual. Paul writes that wives are subject to their husbands, as is appropriate for those who belong to the Lord, and that husbands love their wives and be gentle with them, not bitter or harsh. (Colossians 3:18-19).
It is a statement of fact that wives in the first century were subject to their husbands. The only thing in their control is to behave in a way that is fitting for a believer. However, if a husband loves his wife, he will show her consideration and honour. Putting her needs ahead of his own is not a command; it is a result of love. I wonder if it is possible to love anyone who you do not respect. I wonder if it is possible to feel loved if you are treated inconsiderately, ignored, or slandered. I view disrespect as a means of showing disapproval, low esteem, and low love. Your respect shows your love.
Peter also presents mutual submission. In 1 Peter 3:6-7, Peter says that a wife accepts her husband's authority and her husband 'in the same way' accepts his wife's authority and treats her with respect. A husband is told to honour his wife because women are co-heirs receiving the same blessings of new life that men receive. In effect, Peter says a wife submits to her husband, and likewise, a husband submits to his wife. Wives earn respect by respecting their husbands, and vice versa. Both husbands and wives are being told to lift up their spouses.
Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honour on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7 RSV
In the same way [same as in 2:18 where slaves yield to masters and same as in 3:1 where wives yield to husbands], you husbands should live with your wives in an understanding [considerate] way [Eph. 5:25–33; Col. 3:19], since they are ·weaker than you [the weaker sex; the less empowered one; the weaker vessel; women are typically physically weaker, but in Greco-Roman and Jewish society, they also had less power and authority]. But show them [respect, pay/give them honour], because ·God gives them the same blessing he gives you—[ they are co-heirs of] the grace that gives true life [God’s gift of life; the grace of life]. Do this so that nothing will ·stop [hinder] your prayers. 1 Peter 3:7 EXB
Both wives and husbands should display the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: Galatians 5:22-23).
Both Paul and Peter are describing a mutual submission where people, regardless of gender, submit to one another. We see examples of this rotating submission in our everyday lives where people in positions of authority at the same time submit to those under them. Employers serve their employees by providing the tools and training to do their job. Governments serve citizens by providing shared community services. A mother may teach her child safety on the street, and a child may teach her mother about trust. Galatians 6:6 says that one who is taught God's word shares in turn with the one who taught them. It is reciprocal. Mutual submission is held as a model for behaviour in all of the verses ending in 'one another', such as 'love one another', and 'serve one another'. The phrase 'one another' is used about 100 times in the New Testament, and a third of these concern unity.
To think the Bible says that women should submit to men and men should not submit to women would mean ignoring or disobeying Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 as well as the many passages about mutual submission, mutual service and mutual love. Believers, both men and women, are commanded to submit to one another
Are Wives Commanded to Submit to Husbands?
There are three verses in Ephesians 5 that have been interpreted as commands to a wife. Sheila Gregoire interviews Dr. Cynthia Westfall, an academic expert in theology and ancient Greek, and they find that Ephesians 5 does not command the wife to submit. Again, we will look at various translations for full meaning:
being subject to one another out of reverence for Christ—wives to their own husbands as to the Lord. LEB
Also, submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Messiah—wives to your own husbands as to the Lord. TLV
submitting yourselves to one another in [the] fear of Christ. Wives, [submit yourselves] to your own husbands, as to the Lord, DARBY 1890
Dr. Cynthia L. Westfall, the author of Paul and Gender, reveals the original language: 'submit to one another in reverence to the Lord, wives to husbands' (Eph. 5:21-22). There is no verb in 'wives to husbands'. It is implicit from the previous phrase that wives are submitting to husbands.
The phrase 'as to the Lord' in Ephesians 5:22 does not mean Paul tells wives to treat their husbands as their Lord. Paul does not suggest that the husband is her Lord or that she obeys him. Paul repeatedly says there is one Lord, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:5, 1 Cor. 8:6, Romans 10:12). Instead, Paul is saying that the wife is acting out of reverence to the Lord God. The instruction to submit to one another in reverence to the Lord is comparable to Colossians 3:23: “Whatever work you do, work at it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, not for human masters”. Paul makes clear that neither men nor women have human masters, by saying ‘it is the Lord Christ you are serving’ (Col 3:24) and ‘there is no favouritism’ (Col. 3:25).
Ephesians 5:22 is not a command that wives submit to their husbands; this is a reference to the familiar pagan household codes to explain the unfamiliar concept for all believers to submit to one another: 'for example, as wives to husbands'.
To think the Bible says that wives should obey their husbands as Lord would be idolatry, having a god other than the one true God. It would directly oppose God's word which says repeatedly there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.
2. Ephesians 5:24
As the church is under Christ’s authority, so wives are under their husbands’ authority in everything. GW
As the church is under Christ’s authority, so wives are under their husbands’ authority in everything. NOG
but even as the assembly is subject to Christ, so also [are] the wives to their own husbands in everything. YLT
In Ephesians 5:24, Paul says that the body of believers is subject to Christ, in the same way that wives of the first century are subject to their husbands. Paul uses the pagan household code to illustrate the relationship between the assembly of believers and Christ.
Ephesians 5:24 is not a command that wives be subject to husbands, but a statement of fact about the position of wives in that Greco-Roman culture. It is a description, not a prescription. Just as wives are subject to husbands, believers are to be subject to Christ.
Just as Christ loves the body of believers, husbands are to love wives as their own bodies. In both cases, Paul uses the familiar to describe the unfamiliar. Christ is both Lord and servant, providing an example of reciprocal love.
After describing mutual submission in 5:19-24, Paul starts to describe Christ's love for the church in 5:25-32. In verse 25, Paul flattens the hierarchal relationship of marriage in the first century where wives had a lower status than their husbands, upsetting the balance of power by bringing husbands down to the level of serving their wives. Paul is presenting an 'upside-down kingdom' where men serve like women. Paul tells husbands to love their wives 'in the same way that Christ loved the church body'. Paul explains how Christ loved the church and how husbands may love their wives in verses 26-30 where he describes how Christ loved the body of believers:
gave up his heavenly privileges for her sake
gave up his human life to serve the church body
Washed her in a bath of clean water
Made her clean, without stains or wrinkles in her clothes
Made her holy and blameless
Love your wife as you love your own body
Feed your body
Take care of your body, in the same way that Christ takes care of the church body
Husbands even out the power imbalance by treating wives as their own bodies (effectively lowering themselves and lifting up their wives). A husband is being told to act like a woman, to serve his wife as Christ serves the church, to honour his wife as if she were his own body. Paul explains that if you love your wife, you are showing love for yourself. Paul affirms we should love one another because we are parts of one body.
This exhortation for a husband to love his wife as himself echoes the second and greatest commandment for all believers: "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:29-31) and "Treat others in the same way that you want them to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). Husbands need to love in a way that is considerate, listening to and noticing their wife's concerns, and putting their wife's needs ahead of their own. A husband is to care for his wife's body with the same care he takes for his own body. A husband is to treat his wife as he would like to be treated. If a husband would like to be respected, he will earn it by treating his wife with respect.
To think the Bible says that husbands need not love and respect their wives would be going against the second greatest commandment in the whole Bible, also called the Golden Rule.
3. Ephesians 5:33
but ye also, every one in particular -- let each his own wife so love as himself, and the wife -- that she may reverence the husband. YLT (Young's Literal Translation, 1898)
But *ye* also, every one of you, let each so love his own wife as himself; but as to the wife [I speak] that she may fear the husband. DARBY (1890)
In any case, as for you individually, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands. CEB (Common English Bible 2011)
Ephesians 5:33 is often translated with words such as 'see that the wife reveres', or 'let the wife fear', 'the wife is to respect', 'a wife must', or 'a wife should'. These all appear to be commands telling the wife how to behave. Let's look a little closer at a few examples of how you might read them:
'if you work out regularly, you should become more fit'
'drink plenty of fluids, get some rest, and you should feel better'
'each adult should read to their child, that each child will read.'
Is it a command that you should become more fit? Is it a command that you should feel better? Is it a command that each child read? No. These are the logical conclusions of the first half of the sentences.
Dr. Cynthia Westfall reveals that this was written in Greek as a cause-and-effect phrase. Loving your wife will build her respect for you. Paul exhorts each husband to love his own wife so that his wife will respect him. The husband is told to love his wife as himself in order that she may reciprocate in gratitude, honour, and respect for him. The biblical teaches us to love one another; the result is mutual respect. Paul talks about the unity of the body, not about male leadership.
Ephesians 5:33 is not a command that a wife respects her husband; it is revealing a truth that when you love your wife, she will respect you.
To think the Bible says that a wife must respect her husband and fulfil all his needs is not accurate. Likewise, the bible does not command a husband to respect his wife, but to love, honour, and cherish her. The Bible tells us how to earn respect: by loving one another, serving one another, and yielding to one another in love, out of reverence for Christ. Marriage partners need to honour and love one another, treating one another with kindness and consideration. Respect must be earned.
The Eggerichs book, Love and Respect, promotes some ideas that have been used to silence women and allow a husband to consider only his own needs. This book reinforces gender stereotypes and has influenced much of the Western Church in promoting a marriage power hierarchy that has hurt women and misrepresented the message of the Bible.
From Ephesians 5:15 to 6:9, Paul tells believers to submit to one another, as is honourable to God. Paul upsets the society's hierarchal structure, telling those in higher positions to serve those in lower positions. This instruction is consistent with many places where the Bible tells us God brings down the powerful and uplifts those in humble positions (Psalms 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, Matt 23:12, Luke 1:52, James 4:6). Women of the Bible also speak about God pulling down the powerful and lifting up the lowly: Mary (Luke 1:51-53) and Hannah (1 Samuel 2:7-8). The words the prophetess Huldah spoke to the king of Judah are recorded in Scripture and authoritative for men and women. Huldah says the king will die in peace because he humbled himself before God (2 Chronicles 34:27).
Ephesians 5 is not a household code. It refers to the familiar marriage structure to reveal the union of Christ and the church. Paul's letter to the Ephesians is not describing roles for wives and husbands; it's describing how the body of believers can live in unity and peace as they imitate Christ, and live in love and mutual submission.
Paul does not provide a picture of Jesus and the body of believers as a model for marriage. It's the reverse: the marriage union of two becoming people becoming one flesh in marriage illustrates the Great Mystery of the unity of Jesus and the body of believers: Jew and Gentile, Slave and Citizen, Men and Women. The letter to the Ephesians does not command wives to be subject to their husbands or to unconditionally respect their husbands. I write more about the main message of Ephesians here.
To think Ephesians promotes a one-directional servitude would contravene God's word in the many places where God uplifts the oppressed and where Paul emphasizes love, unity, and mutual submission.
In conclusion, both women and men are to love one another. We are united in mutual service to one another as parts of one body. As you show love by your actions - kindness, honouring, listening to and helping one another - you will earn respect.
May God bless you in becoming more like Christ.