As we sat squinting at Michael’s laptop, we listened as our long-time marriage counselor and friend, Matthew LaGrange, imparted some crazy, awesome wisdom that we wished we had known 17 years ago. (Just a heads up- I’ve taken liberty with Matthew’s quotes as I’m horrible at remembering things verbatim. Sorry Matthew!)
He said, “Here’s the deal. When discussing relationships, a lot of people talk about love and respect.”
(Yep- we’ve done that before in several marriage studies and in ministry marriage counseling sessions…)
“The problem with respect…,” he continued, “is that it has to be earned. Well… what happens when respect is not earned?”
I felt like my brain was starting to combust. Why would we ask people to just be respectful to each other (even in regards to our own relationship) if they weren’t earning respect? Over the years, Michael and I have mentored couples to love and respect each other. But when one spouse was not acting respectful or worthy of respect, it left us a little conflicted. We usually just responded with, “Well… you just have to keep being respectful and pray that they’ll come around someday.” It left Michael and I feeling like we weren’t effective in our marriage mentorships.
Matthew leaned in closer. “So… I started thinking about honor. Honor can never be earned. It is only given.”
We’ve all heard the word. In fact, if you’re married, you might have used the word “honor” in your wedding vow to your spouse. But it seems that we’ve skipped over that short word. We hinge on “in sickness and in health… ‘til death do us part…” and forget that one small word that may seem insignificant.
But- it’s definitely not.
Honor is defined as high respect or esteem. But when honor is a verb (as in I “honor” you…), it becomes so much more. It means to regard someone with great respect and to fulfill an obligation or to keep an agreement. According to our U.S. Army, “Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do…”
As humans, we are imperfect. Far from good at times… and tend to border on selfishness- quite frequently. So, what happens when two imperfect people come together and experience conflict? What can happen to those butterfly feelings… that sense of overwhelming love that you had for the other person… and your heart racing in your chest every time they touch you?
It can vanish… just as suddenly as it started.
The World We Live In
We live in a pretty fickle world right now. There are slogans about “The Next Best Thing,” “Keep Up with the Jones’” and “The Grass is Greener” mentalities all around us. So- what happens when we are no longer feeling that overwhelming “love and affection” towards our spouse?
We can choose disrespect. Throw hand grenades of conflict triggers. Isolate and distance ourselves until our relationship grows chilly. Ignore the conflict and/or problems and pretend like nothing is wrong, while it builds and festers under your skin… just waiting for the right condition and irrational moment to arrive and EXPLODE into a nightmare of a life.
And then we wonder why we’re acting like roommates, don’t recognize our spouse any more, wander into emotional affairs, or teeter on the edge of a divorce.
Problem with Respect in Relationships
See, here’s the thing. Respect can only get you so far in a relationship. And here’s what I mean by far–
- when both people are 100% generous and constantly loving to each other
- when respect has been earned… all the time… every day…
- when those people are robots and only treat each other with kindness
- when a person has gone above and beyond (every single day) to build the other person up to where there’s no doubt that the world revolves around them
Welp. That’s kinda unattainable.
Whereas, honor is a choice. (Notice how the trend of this series of blog posts lands on our choice?) Honor is a gift to the other person whether they deserve it or not. It’s very similar to love… it’s unconditional. Honor and love must go hand in hand in order for a relationship to work effectively.
Honor in Scripture
I’m sure most of us have all heard the commandment, “Honor thy Father and Mother…” and Scripture points to honor between employer/employee relationships. The apostle Peter used the word, “honor” regularly in his books, as we see here when he was writing to the scattered Church in modern day Turkey:
1 Peter 2:17
Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Here’s where translation is so important. Some translations (yes- even my favorite one) translates the word “honor” here into respect. And as I mentioned earlier- that doesn’t quite hit the mark. When we translate the word, honor, it deepens the meaning of that verse. Not only is Peter asking the Church to honor people- he’s asking us to honor ALL people. Even the king. Even when they don’t deserve our honor.
But that’s not the Honor situation I’m going to focus on today. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5 about love and marriage, and here’s where I’m gonna narrow it down.
Honor in Marriage
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so 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.
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33 (ESV)
Does it seem as though Paul is trying to hit men between the eyes here? I’m pretty sure it’s intentional. The apostle Peter (who was married when he began following Jesus) goes even further in regard to honor in marriage:
And now let me speak to the wives. Be devoted to your own husbands, so that even if some of them do not obey the Word of God, your kind conduct may win them over without you saying a thing. For when they observe your pure, godly life before God, it will impact them deeply…. (7) Husbands, you in turn must treat your wives with tenderness, viewing them as feminine partners who deserve to be honored, for they are co-heirs with you of the “divine grace of life,” so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:1-2,7
Peter is calling wives whose husbands don’t follow Christ, to stay devoted to them. Continue to honor them. He then calls husbands to honor their wives… noting that if they choose not to honor them, their prayers will be hindered.
Holy cow. That’s intense. Honoring our spouses and those we love is a game-changer.