Love, Honor, and Obey

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Dear Darla,

So his name is Trent, is it? Lucky dog.

This means that you are now going to be thinking through a number of the things I have written in the earlier letters, but now doing so in a very concrete way. Before it could all seem sort of abstract and out there . . . kind of ethereal. Now a very particular individual has shown up on your doorstep, and wants to go out with you, and you are interested in doing so. How should you process this?

Let me begin with an observation about couples who are already married. Scripture tells husbands what to do, and Scripture tells wives what to do. The emphasis of the directives to husbands is that they should love their wives, as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). The emphasis of the directives to wives is that they should respect and honor their husbands, submitting to them (Eph. 5:33). We have touched on this before, but here I would like to point out that these respective commands are not contingent upon the other person doing their bit. Husbands are not told to love their wives if their wives are being lovely. Or if their wives are being respectful. There is no if in it.

And by the same token, it does not say that wives are to be respectful to their husbands if their husbands are being respectable. Or if their husbands are being loving. There is no if in it. Now all of this assumes a marriage that simply an ordinary marriage between regular folks—we are not talking about radical forms of covenant-breaking. That’s a different matter, which Scripture addresses in other places. So we are thinking of Joe and Jane Ordinary Christian, living down at the end of Ho Hum Lane. Love her, respect him.

So husbands are told to love, and wives are told to honor and respect. If you are already married, these are your marching orders, and you don’t get to sit sullenly on the couch until the other one “goes first.” But here is the thing. When you are married, you don’t get to think in terms of contingencies. But while you are still unattached, while you are being courted, you do get to think in terms of contingencies. You are wanting to determine if your assigned scriptural duties, if directed toward this man, would be a delight, or tedious, or a chore, or next to impossible.

In other words, in a marriage between sinners, fulfilling our duties toward one another will have its challenging moments, no matter who you are. But with that said, if you were to marry different men, this task of fulfilling your duty would be relatively difficult or relatively easy. You have the option now of seeing to it that it is relatively easy—because once you are married, that option is out. Once you are married, Scripture simply tells you to honor your husband, regardless of who he is. As long as you are in the plane, you can check your parachute as many times as you like. But once you have jumped, there you are.

As you are considering Trent, you should be asking yourself how readily (or not) he commands your respect. The central thing you should be looking for is your desire to respect him, honor him, follow him. You will be the blessing and glory of some man. Do you want him to get that glory? How challenging will it be for you if he gets that glory?

So with all this said, let me summarize three basic reasons why you must go into marriage prepared to honor, primed to respect.

The first is that Scripture flatly requires it. The Bible teaches us that wives are to be obedient to their husbands (Tit. 2:4-5). “Love, honor, and obey” will be in your wedding vows for a reason. Peter instructs wives to be in subjection to their own husbands (1 Pet. 3:1,5-6). Wives are to be subject to their husbands in everything (Eph. 5:22-25; Col. 3:18). As God is the head of Christ, and as Christ is the head of man, so also the man is the head of the woman (1 Cor. 11:3). This is not a teaching that is tucked away in some obscure corner of God’s Word; it is pervasive. And then Peter tells women that they should be like the holy women of old, like Sara did, calling her husband lord (1 Pet. 3:6).

What modern evangelicals have done is that they have rummaged around for an exegetical diluting agent, and having found one, they have poured it into all these texts, and so it is that the men have had rule taken away, and are charged to be leaders and, moreover, they must be servant leaders. Now I am not objecting to the servant part of this because Jesus did in actual fact lay down His life for His bride. That is what true masculinity is—the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. The sacrificial part of this is not the diluting agent. That part of it is biblical. But why leader and not lord? The Lord washed his disciples’ feet, and He modeled for them how to be servant of all (Mark 10:44). But it was the Lord who did this.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

John 13:14 (KJV)

But no one talks about servant lordship the way they want to talk about servant leadership. The diluting agent move works better on “leaders.” What this means is that you must come to understand that the levels of respect that God will expect you to render to Trent, assuming marriage, will be high. Lean into that responsibility, and if you think that this will be too much of a challenge for you, then say no now.

But before you say no, do a self-inventory. Ask yourself whether your hesitancy is because Trent is not “man enough” or because you have a feminist bone somewhere in your leg. That would mean Trent is not the problem, but rather you are. You are not yet “woman enough.” So the kind of respect that God calls you to is not a mild sort of admiration.

The second reason is that this demeanor of obedience is an erotic necessity. There is a wonderful passage in That Hideous Strength where Ransom is explaining to Jane one of the reasons for her marital unhappiness. It is not the only reason, but it was one of the central ones. He says that you have lost love “because you have never attempted obedience.” When the scriptural structure of marital hierarchy is rejected, all sorts of dislocations result. And I write this knowing that my use of the word hierarchy here was a calloused use of a proscribed cringe word. In fact, all these words—obey, subjection, head, respect—are words that we moderns think unsuitable for this day and age. We, a generation most miserable in our marriages, think we know better than the apostles of Jesus. But when we suppress this creational order, we are arguing with gravity . . . and that gravity will have its revenge. Not content with a biblically-ordered structure of authority and submission in marriage, we think that we can flatten the relationship between the sexes. The result is an eruption of demented caricatures of authority and submission—pagan things like bondage and submission, and other 50 shades of nonsense. We have rejected the kind of true authority that Jesus modeled and requires, because it might lead to abuses, and then turn around and celebrate fur-lined handcuffs, available at Amazon. So wisdom is justified by her children (Matt. 11:16-19)

And last, when you are living this way, you are doing so as a woman who fears the Lord—and a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Prov. 31:30). One of the consequences of being this kind of woman is that it builds trust.
“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” (Prov. 31:10–11).
Note that her husband trusts in her. Second, he safely trusts in her—she does not let him down. And third, the heart of her husband trusts in her. Do you want your marriage to be characterized by a fierce and dedicated loyalty? Do you want your husband to know that you are, to put it simply, doggedly reliable? Then this is the way.

Your uncle,