Yesterday we asked how we could begin to treat our spouses with respect, even when they don’t deserve it. I suppose I should start off by saying how much none of us deserve honor. After all, we all deserve God’s eternal judgment. But isn’t it easy to think that some people deserve eternal damnation just a little more than we do (i.e. Hitler, Child Pornographers, Serial Murderers, Satan Worshipers, and whoever else is on your boogieman list). Sometimes we even think that, due to their failures, the people closest to us deserve just a tad more judgment as well. This is completely unwarranted since before your salvation both of you were in exactly the same predicament as undeserving “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). But now you’re not; you are now children of the King. And this new status has nothing to do with how good you are, it’s all because of God’s grace (Eph 2:8). Neither you nor your spouse deserve honor on your own. Rather, both of you deserve honor because of someone else, namely, Jesus Christ.
With that in mind, I think we need to find the baseline for honor/respect. That is, at the very least, how much should we honor? Let’s start with the command for a husband “to honor his wife as the weaker vessel since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (I Peter 3:7). We see the requisite word “honor” (“have a high regard for”) followed by both the manner in which we honor and the reason we should honor. Husbands should first honor their wives as if she were the weaker vessel. Most commentaries explain “weaker vessel” to be something like “understand that your wife is weak physically, so protect her all the more because of this physical weakness.” This explanation might be correct, and it is okay as far as it goes, but I think it misses the full scope of Peter’s word picture. Instead of using words that clearly mean “physically weak” he chose the term “weaker vessel.” I believe that “weaker vessel” here refers to an expensive and fragile vessel. In this case “as the weaker vessel” would mean “honor her as much as you would honor an expensive and fragile vessel.” That is, honor her as something that you were proud of and wanted to display to everyone (the honor is the point of comparison, not the fragility or expensiveness).
But whatever the correct explanation of that term is, one thing is clear: the primary reason for showing her honor is found in the second half of the phrase. A husband should show honor to his wife because she is a co-heir of heaven (cf. Rom 8:16–17). Husbands, your wife is in Christ, which means that she has all the same rights as you have as a firstborn son of God (Gal 3:26–29, Rom 8:29). This is indicated by her equal inheritance with you (1 Pet 3:7c; Gal 3:29). God regards your wife very highly indeed. Any move to dishonor her would be to dishonor one of God’s own children!
Wives, this logic has implications for you as well. If he your husband is to honor you as a co-heir, you must also honor him as a co-heir. Generally then, the principle is that you must honor the one on whom God bestows the undeserved honor of sonship with all it’s implications (John 12:26; Rom 2:10; 1 Pet 1:7). We are told to “esteem others better than ourselves” because that’s what Jesus did (Philippians 2). Thus we see that the first baseline for honoring your spouse is that they are son or daughter of the King of Kings. But what else?
But what of humanity in general (after all, some are married to unbelievers—1 Pet 3:1–6). Is there a dignity, an honor or respect that is requisite for every human be they saved or unsaved? Yes, every spouse also deserves respect because they are an image-bearer. Every human on earth was made in the likeness of God (Gen 1:26–27). Every human deserves a baseline of respect because they reflect God. This can be seen negatively when Scripture prohibits certain ways of interacting based on God’s image. So what is the least amount we can value this image of God in a human? Well we’re supposed to not murder people because they are made in God’s image (Gen 9:6). Have you murdered your spouse lately? Now before you get all high and mighty (spouse not murdered, check:-), the Scripture goes on to say in James 3:9 that “curses” are also out. Again, you are safe, right? I’m really hoping that none of you have damned your spouse to hell at any point. But if cursing them has implication for the image of God, wouldn’t general “abusive language” have implications as well? In short, when you choose to dishonor/disrespect someone with your tongue (i.e being scornful, mocking them, disparaging them in public, etc), you are in some way disrespecting the God who made that person. Of course, it almost goes without saying that if you can’t abuse them with your tongue, then any greater action would be similarly prohibited.
So now we have our baseline. If your spouse is a son or daughter of the King, respect/honor them as co-heirs. If they are made in the image of God, the baseline is “watch what you say.” After those two prerequisites, the sky is the limit. Go ahead and totally outdo one another in showing honor! Most people have some kind of good trait that goes beyond the baseline (e.g. they aren’t just sons and daughters but they actually act like sons and daughters of the king). They aren’t just made in the image of God, but there are times where they actually reflect God’s holy character as well. Take notice of those things which stand out about your spouse’s character. Value those things and spread the word to others.