“The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down” (Prov. 14:1).
Christians believe in the power of women. We believe that women are made in the image of God, and therefore, they carry with that image the power to make and break whole worlds. They will either be house builders or home wreckers.
Of course by now you should know that whenever the world talks about empowering women, they mean stripping them of their God-given power and convincing hordes of them that the shredded rags they’ve been left with are sexy, cute, and totally hip. This same world, remember, thinks that women (and all humans) are evolved from apes and amoeba, and that dudes can be women if they put on enough makeup, get breast implants, or just put on a dress.
What follows is not based on any kind of scientific study of the data, but it is based on years of pastoral experience and counseling. Let us state the obvious at the outset: men are sinners. But all things being equal, men tend to sin out in the open, and even when they are trying to be sneaky, it isn’t usually as sneaky as they think. Parents of boys can witness to this general pattern as well. Boys tend to sin pretty openly and obviously. And even when they are trying to hide their sin, it’s often less hidden they think. Boys and men are not particularly subtle.
Now here comes the controversial part: women are sinners. I know, I know, I’m an extremist, and probably a racist. But I’m going to stick with it. And here’s the thing: women tend to be far better at hiding their sin than men. And this hiding can often be so good, it may even be hidden from the women themselves. I believe this is related to the respective glories of men and women. The glory of men is their strength and so they were made to be assertive and therefore out in the open, but the glory of women is to be the glory of man, to be beautiful and to make the world around them fill up with beauty and life. And I think this is why women are generally better at hiding their sin. They are generally more sophisticated, more subtle, more nuanced, and just all around sweeter, even in the grip of sin. This can make it harder for parents of girls, harder for pastors counseling women, and harder for a woman herself looking in the mirror. There they are being all sweet and looking nice (as opposed to the guy standing next to her who forgot to tuck his shirt in).
Now don’t get me wrong; Jezebels do exist. There are wicked witches who really are cruel, malicious, and who openly, unapologetically howl at the moon every night. But it’s far more common to have couples show up for counseling where the woman is sweet, polite, and self-deprecating, all while the list of problems in the home and marriage consistently fall at the feet of the man. I mean, look at him, the poor fellow.
Again, let me run back around the other side and affirm that I do understand that sometimes the man is a complete jerk, a complete fool, a narcissistic manipulator, abusive, criminal, and cackling in the basement as he prepares his next sinister move. But honestly, most men aren’t that smart. We aren’t that good at covering our tracks. Most of our sin is on the surface: we forget important things, we give into our appetites (lust/drink), and we get angry. And let me be clear: those sins can do great harm to a home, and let me also add that because the husband is the covenant head of the home, those sins can do more damage than other people in the home committing the same sins.
Someone recently pointed out that parents need to be aware of the “tattler kids” in the home. Remember Proverbs 18:17 at all times, even with the kids: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” That first kid that comes running in can certainly have the feel of genuine spiritual concern for her little brother who is throwing toys in the family room. But the wise father or mother should almost immediately ask the question: But what did you do? Frequently, there was an antecedent event, something that happened before, and sometimes it’s more subtle, harder to pin down, but every bit as sinful. And while this need not be limited to girls, it is often found there. Perhaps she was doing something very small, but intentionally frustrating, something hard to photograph, but certainly disrespectful.
The Damage of Disrespect
Because men and women are made different, there is an element here that can be honestly difficult for a woman or girl to see. God has wired women to be particularly attuned to love, but He has wired men to be particularly attuned to respect. And since we naturally tend to give what we want or desire to receive, it can be very easy for a woman to love her man without respecting him and not realize just how harmful and damaging that can be (and by the same token, it can be easy for a man to respect his woman, without actually loving her, unaware of how harmful and damaging that can be). So a woman can love her husband all day long, all while not respecting him in the slightest, and the thing that she needs to know is that he can tell. Again, in the same way that she is intensely attuned to his love for her, and can tell if he’s just “going through the motions” without loving her, he can tell if she doesn’t respect him. It may be a low grade fever of disrespect or a deep, rotting resentment, bitterness, and frustration, maybe even streaked with the gangrene of coveting other men or another woman’s husband. It may be a rock-in-the-shoe frustration with his lack of leadership, lack of understanding, lack of cherishing-love, but my point is that a woman can think the primary problem in the house is him, all the while she is actually the one tearing her own house down by dishonoring and disrespecting her husband. A woman can do great damage to her husband, marriage, and family through her disrespect.
From the outside, it can often look like the man is just being dense. He goes to work every day, and when he comes home, he’s often tired and doesn’t have much to say. Maybe occasionally he’s a bit grumpy with his wife or kids. Maybe he asks why dinner is late or why the living room is so messy. And sometimes, he really can be unkind and rude. Of course someone needs to tell that guy that he needs quit it, and start holding his wife’s hand, take her on dates, leave her notes, tell her that she’s beautiful, lead the family in prayer and worship, and bring home flowers and chocolates from time to time. But often that guy has occasionally tried to do those things. He does occasionally apologize for being a lunkhead, and he does bring her flowers. He does try to tell her she’s beautiful, but he’s still a man and a sinful man at that, and a forgetful, sinful man on top of it all, and sometimes his attempts at being thoughtful are just very poorly timed. And an ungracious, disrespectful woman can take all of this onboard with a critical eye and calculating ledger and a few shots of self-pity, telling herself that she’s married to such a difficult man and has such a terrible marriage, and if she has unscrupulous friends, they will let her talk about it all and hug her and hold her hand and buy her lattes and tell her how sorry they are and that they are all praying for her.
But they aren’t helping. They’re pouring gasoline on the fire. They’re feeding discontent, envy, resentment, and the cancer behind it all: failure to honor her husband. But the response will come back: how can I respect a man who doesn’t even know how to spell romance? How can I respect a man who doesn’t remember my birthday and who would forget our anniversary every year if I didn’t give him a weekly reminder for six months leading up to it? How can I respect a man who is so tired every night and doesn’t pursue me, except whenever he’s interested in sex?
Two Reasons for Respect
First, it should be noted that God doesn’t command a wife to respect her husband only if he’s respectable. God commands a wife to respect her husband simply because he is her husband. And in many of these situations where he really is a trial in various ways, there are still plenty of things to respect. Your man may not be the most thoughtful, but he gets up every morning and goes to work all day for you and for your children. Do you appreciate that? Do you honor that? Is he tired every night after all of that work, all that sacrifice for you? Do you honor that? Do you think highly of that or are you only thinking of yourself, your needs, your lusts? Has your husband been faithful to you? Has he kept his vow to keep himself only for you? That is very respectable in a world full of unfaithful men. Does he pay your bills? Has he provided a home for you to live in? Honor him. Think highly of him.
Secondly, these commands are not random. They are the path to God’s blessing. In the same way that men must be taught that love is food for their wives, women need to be taught that respect is food for their husbands. And again, it’s easy for a woman to wonder why her man cares whether she respects him or not, but that just goes to show that you’re a woman. But if you want your man to be respectable, God says that one of the ways you can minister to him is to respect him. A man never stands so tall as he does for a woman who looks up to him. Do you want him to stand tall? Then honor him. Honor him in your heart, in your words, in your actions. In 1 Peter 3, the apostle instructs women who have disobedient husbands to submit to them, seeking to win them over by their virtuous conduct, through their gentle and quiet spirits, by obeying them and calling them “lord.” Is your man disobedient to the word? Are you married to a sinner? Here are you marching orders. But these are not marching orders for women who have given up; these are the marching orders for women who want godly tactics of resistance, for women who truly want their husbands to change.
But far too many women will say that “they already tried that.” It’s been years of his coldness and distance and grouchiness, and you think you’ve had enough. But the gospel is for this. How long did Christ love you in your coldness? How patient has Christ been with you in your bad attitudes? What is the command of the Lord? Love your enemies, do good to them that persecute you, bless those who curse you. How much more are you required to do this for the man you promised to marry?
But let me challenge you to honestly check your heart. Yes, he may have hurt you, but have you honestly determined in your heart to honor him? Do you thank him for all the ways he is faithful and provides? Is your heart truly calm and quiet in the Lord? Or is it restless and agitated and frustrated? Have you learned to be content in every circumstance like the Apostle Paul, or are you constantly coveting what you think other families have, what other marriages have, what other men are like? Maybe you’re on the verge of throwing in the towel and filing for divorce and maybe there’s enough of a mess caused by your husband to get most of your friends and family to sympathize with you. But you need to know that even if you have a point, even a good one, it is still possible for you to have been a player in all of it. A disrespected man does not have a free pass or excuse for his bad attitudes or distance or coldness or any sin, but if you have been disrespectful, if you have not honored your husband for many months or many years, you need to know that you have sinned gravely against him. He may not be able to express it like you could, but have you ever considered the possibility that you have hurt him very badly, that you have made his job harder? You are a woman, made in the image of God, you most certainly do have the power of life and death in your tongue, the power to pull your own house down on your head, even if your husband has contributed his own significant failures and sins to the process.
Sure, you might feel like giving up, like nothing can be done, like your marriage is dead, but we serve Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. Many men do need to hear this gospel, and they need to repent of their sins and get back to work. But there are just as many women who need to hear this as well. Christ died for the sins of women. Christ died for their discontent, envy, bitterness, taking offense, critical spirits, gossip, and dishonor of their husbands. Christ died so that any woman who turns to Him will be forgiven and washed clean. All who turn to Him will be received, and when they come, Christ will be with them. And if Christ is with you, you will not only be able to confess your sins to God and your husband, you will also be able to begin honoring and respecting your husband. And in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and understanding, even the kind of wisdom needed to rebuild houses that foolish women have torn down with their own hands. Christ knows the way back, and He knows how to put it all back together.