Understanding what the Bible says about these touchy words can help move you from a knee-jerk reaction to a godly response.
A Wives Only Wednesday post
Words inherently carry with them the baggage we have gained over our personal history, providing us with innate emotional responses. Today I’d like us to examine some emotion-triggering words to see if we can find biblical insights that might calm our emotions.
I use the term surrender, which applies equally to husbands and wives, to convey the paradigm shift of turning from self-focused living to a life focused on your spouse. It means bringing the fullness of who you are into your marriage partnership and choosing to focus yourself and abilities to bless your spouse and your marriage. A wife’s surrender takes the form of submission to her husband; a husband’s surrender takes the form of sacrificial, servant-hearted leadership.
Surrender comes from two old French words “sur,” which means over and above, and “render.” which means to give over. Putting them together in the marriage context, it means to go over and above in giving to your spouse, especially in giving yourself over.
The Apostle Paul ends his instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5 with this summary:
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Though he begins this text with instructions to wives on submission, he ends with the need for them to respect their husband. But are these really the same thing? Let’s look more closely.
Strong’s defines the Greek word Phobeo, in this context, as “to reverence or treat with deference.” Some dictionary definitions I’d like to include here are: holding in honor or esteem, to pay proper attention, and to show consideration for.
I have mentioned before the survey results that clearly show the highest stated need for husbands is the need to feel respected, in contrast to wives’ highest need, which is for love and affection. Interestingly, these are the very two things that Paul includes in his summary, quoted above.
In contrast, Strong’s defines the Greek word for submission, hupotasso, as “to arrange one’s self under,” and “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”
So what’s the difference between submission and respect? The way I see it, respect is the attitude and submission is the action that flows out of the attitude.
Emmerson Eggerichs, in his book “Love and Respect,” makes a pretty strong case that a wife’s respect should be unconditional in the same manner that a husband’s love should be unconditional. By this, he does not mean unconditional admiration, agreement or approval. What I think he is getting at is the idea that if respect and honor is not the primary expression of your unconditional love for your husband, he will not feel loved. Again, this doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with or approve of his actions. It means you approach him with respect out of reverence for that fact that he is your husband. See the difference?
At the same time I also believe that without respect, marital submission is really hard. A husband who requires grace from his wife in order for her to act with respect toward him will make her job of submission much more difficult. So although I tend to agree with Eggerich’s call for unconditional respect, a husband who works to earn that respect will add grace to his wife rather than require it from her, and in so doing further enable her to walk in submission to him.
Submission is the act of preferring another above your self – a strongly biblical principle. In the marital context, it means a wife yields her self in deference to her husband. Respect is the attitude that enables such submission.
Trust, on the other hand, is a separate dimension of the marital equation.
While there is no biblical reference that I have found that directly calls for a wife to trust her husband (or vice-versa), trust should be a central principle of any marriage that strives to be a reflection of the love relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church (what I call a “bridal paradigm” marriage).
Whereas respect should be shown without condition, and submission should be the default position in most cases, trust must be earned by a husband.
Trust grows out of consistent demonstration by a husband that he desires the best for his wife and their marriage and that his intention is to cherish and nurture her and help her to be all God intends her to be. He must earn her trust through the demonstration of caring and godly leadership, through consistent attention to her needs and desires, and through the fair exercise of his authority.
By earning his wife’s trust, a husband can propel her past the issues of respect and submission and into the joyous place where she willingly joins herself to her husband, where two truly become one.
When husband and wife are living as one, then when either person wins, the other wins by definition.
What do you think of my definitions? Do you buy into Eggerich’s idea of unconditional respect? Does the establishment of a deep level of trust help lessen the issues of respect and submission?
See also: Love, Respect, and Submission from my “What I Believe About Marriage” series