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What Does Unconditional Really Mean?

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When I talk about unconditional respect being equal to unconditional love (Ephesians 5:33), one of the questions I hear the most is some variation of, “Are you telling me I have to unconditionally respect my husband’s bad behavior and become a door mat? Everyone knows respect must be earned!”

Interestingly, in our culture we don’t have a problem understanding unconditional love…in fact, we see unconditional love as the right of every human being. Imagine expecting our children to “earn” our love!  We would disapprove of such parenting. Most of us have no problem separating the person from their behavior when it comes to love.  Love the person, hate the sin.  Right?

But mention unconditional respect and some women go through the roof!  Immediately, visions of weak, dependent women flood their minds – along with the inevitable label – DOOR MAT.

So is this what Christ had in mind for married women?  Not at all!

When the Bible reveals that a wife is to respect her husband, it is shown in the same way a husband is to show love to his wife (Eph. 5:33).  Both are unconditional.

However, unconditional does not mean you remove all the healthy conditions that make a marriage succeed.  Unconditional does not mean you go along with bad behavior, giving another person license to do whatever he or she feels.  Unconditional does not mean superficial praise.

Unconditional means that you give the person the gift of love and respect as you confront the issues.  In other words, you recognize that a hostile and contemptuous attitude is ineffective in helping resolve the issues.

A husband may not deserve respect because he has not earned respect, but a wife’s disrespect for him is ineffective long-term—and not biblical. No husband responds to disrespectful attitudes any more than a wife responds to unloving and disrespectful attitudes.  Put it this way:  this is about how we come across when addressing issues.  This is not about our spouse's worthiness.

Let me repeat that!  This is not about our spouse's worthiness.

Unconditional means NO CONDITION can arise that stops you from dealing with the situation in a loving or respectful manner.  We might say your love or respect is UN-situational or UN-circumstantial.  No situation, circumstance or condition in your marriage can CAUSE you to react in hostility or contempt.

No matter the conditions, God calls you to show love and respect to your spouse.  No matter the conditions, you have the freedom to choose a loving and respectful demeanor.  No matter the conditions, your spouse cannot stop you from loving and respecting.

In a strange way, this becomes incredibly freeing!  Our response is our responsibility…and not dependent on our spouse’s behavior.

Are you showing unconditional love and respect towards your spouse?  This isn’t easy, but God never gives us a command He doesn’t equip us to obey!  Humbly ask Him to help…and He will.


P.S.  If you are a woman who would like practical ideas on how to unconditionally respect (even in tough situations), please check out Respectfully Yours, our study for women.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

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