Dan Popp
The lie we believe about respect
By Dan Popp
March 16, 2015

Have you ever wondered why we have a holiday for love, but no holiday for respect? No, you probably haven't. Culture shapes our thoughts without us knowing it. And our culture doesn't put much stock in respect.

"Respect has to be earned." That's the lie. It does tremendous damage to our families and to our society. I'll try to disprove it by Scripture and by your own experience.

Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, NKJV) Modern psychology has just now acknowledged what an imprisoned tentmaker knew 2,000 years ago: As women crave love, so men need respect. And, contrary to what we've been taught explicitly and implicitly throughout our lives, this respect is granted, not earned.

No one would say that a husband must make his wife "earn" his love, if such a thing could even be called love. On the contrary, he is commanded to love her. So it follows that he's capable of loving her. Unless we want to put nonsense in the mouth of God (and sadly, many do), we're compelled to say that love is a choice. What I am commanded, I can choose to obey.

Now, the command to the wife is complementary to this: and let the wife see that she respects her husband. This imperative, too, can be obeyed as a choice – independent of merit. She can respect her husband without him having to "earn" it. That's a counter-cultural thought, isn't it? How can this be?

Let's go on to personal experience.

You're a child sitting down at your desk on the first day of school. The teacher walks in. Are you required to respect her? Don't answer too quickly. You see, if respect must be earned, it will take many weeks until she's worthy of your respect. And in that case nothing will be learned this term, because a class that doesn't respect the teacher is a chaotic mini-hell of ignorance. Why do you respect the teacher before she opens her mouth? Yes, she comes endorsed by your parents, but she has not earned their respect, either – they probably don't know who she is.

The true situation is not that respect must be earned, but that respect is granted until it is dis-earned. It is disrespect that must be earned. If the teacher dozes through class, or abuses the children, or imposes arbitrary rules on them, trust and respect may be withdrawn. But she starts on Day One with her account of respect already full, having done nothing except to show up.

So how does this lie about respect affect our families? If respect must be earned, then where is the bar set? What good deeds must the husband do – and already we're talking like Pharisees – in order to earn the wife's honor? I submit that, since the Fall, wives will probably weigh their husbands in the balance and find them wanting. It seems easy to withhold respect for almost any shortcoming, and we men have plenty of shortcomings.

Christian marriages are suffering because of this lie. I've heard Christian wives mock their husbands in public. I've watched them become comfortable with breaking their once-serious vows to "love, honor and obey" their mates. Ladies, here's a simple test, if you care to use it: What you're about to say to your husband – is it something you would say to your father or your pastor or your supervisor at work? If not, it may be that familiarity has bred contempt where there should be respect.

Many of our churches have failed women and their families by neglecting to teach them godly priorities. The Bible says that the older women in a church should teach the younger women ...to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (Titus 2:4,5) Yet some women have sat in Sunday services for decades, attended countless meetings, Bible studies and seminars, but have never had one lesson on how to make a Christian home.

Earlier I said that this lie wounds our society as well as our families. Of course, anything that corrodes the bricks eventually topples the building. But the "earned respect" concept attacks all authority directly. If you're stopped by a policeman, what happens next depends almost entirely on whether you respect him first, or demand that he submit to your imaginary respect test. If he believes that he is in authority in this situation, while you believe that you are in authority, conflict must ensue.

In a society where strangers must interact with each other countless times a day, the "earned respect" lie means breakdown and anarchy. "Granted respect," on the other hand, means courtesy, propriety and safety.

© Dan Popp


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