Love and Respect Can’t Be Treated Like New Year’s Resolutions
Love and Respect Tests
It’s that time of year again—when millions all over the world make New Year’s resolutions. Many will want to lose weight and become healthier in general; many will take up a new hobby or skill; and others will seek to become more organized in different aspects of their lives. But no matter what a person’s goodwilled intention for the New Year is, studies show time after time that roughly 80 percent of people fail in their New Year’s resolutions.
Of course, there are a variety of reasons for the failures, depending on the type of resolution it is, but it doesn’t take an Ivy League education to realize that a common reason behind many of them is that the new undertaking the person is trying to accomplish for the year simply does not come natural to them. Dieting is not easy for the person used to eating drive-through four nights a week. Exercise can be quite overwhelming for someone not already active. And one’s desire to spend more time in the Bible is fought every day by the Enemy, who loves to fill our days with just about anything else.
In short, that which does not come natural to us will not be easy. But that doesn’t give us license to quit!
For many years I’ve challenged husbands and wives to apply what I call a 60-second test that I believe will reveal to them the power they have to influence the heart of their spouse. (The wife is to try the Respect Test on her husband, and the husband is to try the Love Test on his wife.) For example, I challenge a wife to say to her husband something like, “I was thinking of you today and a couple of things about you that I respect, and want you to know that I respect you.” Then simply exit the room.
I predict he’ll follow her or call her back to find out what. At that point she can say something like, “I respect your goodwill toward me and the family. You are a goodwilled man. Thank you.”
In most instances she’ll observe the positive energy enter his spirit. This illustrates the influence she has in the marriage. If he asks, “Why are you saying this?” she should remark that it struck her as very true and she wanted him to know how she felt.
To men, I challenge them to say to their wives something along the lines of, “I was thinking of you and a couple things about you that I love, and want you to know I love you.” Then exit the room.
I predict his wife will be blown away, leading her to follow him or call him back to find out what. At that point he should say something from his heart, such as, “I love your goodwill toward me and the family. You are a goodwilled woman. Thank you.”
The overwhelming majority of the time he’ll observe the positive energy enter her spirit, illustrating the influence he has in the marriage. If she asks, “Why are you saying this?” he should respond that it struck him as very true and he wanted her to know how he felt.
But of course, starting dialogue like this does not come easy. That’s why God’s Word addresses it in Ephesians 5:33: “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Put directly, God is not in the habit of commanding us to do that which comes natural to us! Thus, He must clearly tell the husband to love his wife unconditionally and the wife to show unconditional respect toward her husband.
Intentionality is Key
Which means this is something a husband and wife must be intentional about every day. Not just in January. Not just until it gets too tough for us or we simply feel like going back to “normal.”
On this, a counselor wrote to me, "I recently assigned a woman your Respect Test with her husband. She came back and said it worked great but she did not want to do that anymore. I think part of the problem is that our people have hardened their hearts to the truth of what God really wants from us."
This wife had the power to influence the heart of her husband, she even saw with her own eyes how great it worked with him, yet for whatever reason she chose to not continue with that power.
Maybe her heart was hardened to the truth of God’s Word, as her counselor speculated. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote about the Israelites in Moses’ day, whose “minds were hardened” (3:14) toward God’s Word, and how “the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they will not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Indeed, many people around us every day are living with hearts hardened to God’s truth and we should be praying that God would remove the veil covering their eyes.
But we must remember that Paul wrote his letter we call Ephesians to “the saints who are at Ephesus and are faithful in Christ” (Ephesians 1:1). The husbands and wives he was commanding to love and respect were believers! They were not blinded to the gospel. Their hearts were not hardened to God’s Word. They were simply men who did not naturally love their wives unconditionally and wives who did not naturally show unconditional respect toward their husbands. So Paul knew they needed to be intentional about showing love and respect every single day.
They could not give up in February when it became too tiring. They could not stop obeying God’s command when their spouse didn’t reciprocate the way they hoped. He was to love . . . unconditionally. She was to respect . . . unconditionally.
Imagine a husband saying, “Loving my wife worked great, but I don’t want to do that anymore.” Here would be a guy who acted on the wisdom of God about loving his wife, and it worked; but he didn’t want to keep on doing it.
Would anyone defend that today? No one I’ve ever met. So how could we let slide the wife who doesn’t want to keep on showing respect to her husband, even though she knows it’s working?
Of course, sometimes the 60-second test doesn’t work the way we hope. We are a sinful people, after all. But that is when I encourage those struggling to continue showing love and respect with what I call the Rewarded Cycle: Her respect regardless of his love. His love regardless of her respect.
The husband should love his wife unconditionally, no matter how she responds, knowing that in obeying God’s command to him, he is actually loving Jesus who stands just beyond the shoulder of his wife.
The wife should show unconditional respect toward her husband, no matter how he responds, knowing that in obeying God’s command to her, she is actually showing respect to Jesus who stands just beyond the shoulder of her husband.
This doesn’t come from me, by the way, but straight from God’s Word. Later in Ephesians, Paul wrote, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (6:7-8). The Bible speaks of God’s rewards to us many times in its pages, in fact (e.g., Matthew 25:21; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
I only wish the best for anyone with their New Year’s resolutions. I hope that we all become healthier, that we all learn new skills and talents, that we all become more organized. But at the end of the day, the rewards of those resolutions achieved cannot even begin to compare with God’s promised rewards to His children in the life to come.
The Respect Test, as well as the husband’s Love Test, should not be treated as whimsically as we tend to treat our New Year’s resolutions at times. I would still wager more times than not you will see payoff from your spouse, but even if not, aren’t you as excited as I am to see what the Creator of everything has in store as His rewards?
Questions to Consider
1. Have you ever given up on or failed a New Year’s resolution? Why do you think that is? Why should our commitment to love and respect be treated much more seriously?
2. Have you ever taken the 60-second test? If so, how did it go? If not, how can you do so today?
3. Emerson said, “God is not in the habit of commanding us to do that which comes natural to us.” How does realizing this affect your perspective toward living out Ephesians 5:33 in your marriage? How does this encourage you?
4. How does the Rewarded Cycle encourage you? Do you believe God will sustain you in your commitment to showing unconditional love and respect and will reward you in heaven for obeying His commands?