Bad Teaching: “Unconditional Love” Marries LYWACLTC

bad teaching

I began this series of posts on bad teaching with a re-examination of the ubiquitous “God’s Unconditional Love” statement. Since that first post, I’ve been deconstruction the malpractice version of “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church”, demonstrating that much of it is a load of, erm, hooey. I’m pretty sure that there have been a few readers waiting for the other shoe to drop.

After all, when you juxtapose my posts on LYWACLTC with my post on God’s Unconditional Love, you just have to believe that I would eventually arrive at the point where these two bad teachings intersect, right? Well, that day is here, as I want to look at the mess that is …

“Husbands, Love Your Wives With UNCONDITIONAL Love”

Just recently, as I was doing my daily reading around the ‘net, I came across another would-be counselor saying that, as Christians, we are to give “unconditional love” to our spouses because, after all, God love us unconditional love. This is the logical convergence of two bad teachings, isn’t it? After all, one bad teaching says that God loves “unconditionally” and the second that husbands should “love their wives like Christ loved the church”. It is only logical that these two teachings should be conjoined to say that husbands need to love their wives “unconditionally, like Christ loved the Church.”

The result is that bad theology is wedded to bad marriage advice, resulting in the birth an unbiblical teaching that sounds wonderfully pious but is merely oppressive. When delivered, as it usually is, with an air of piety, this shibboleth really has no unction to it, as it abuses the scripture from which it claims to be formed.

Now, to be fair to this would-be counselor I was reading, he did say that wives were to love their husbands, as well, (although apparently not with an unconditional love). He inserted a couple of caveats in order to lessen the impact of his teaching, including patterns of behavior that would nullify “unconditional”. After all, adultery and abuse aren’t really ‘conditions’, just ‘wherefores’ and ‘whereases’, right?

In Which I Make A Momentary Concession

Just for the sake of this one post, let’s assume that I agree with this bad teaching, that God *does* have ‘unconditional’ love and that Eph. 5 *does* command husbands to show ‘unconditional’ love toward their wives. You know that this isn’t going to turn out well, don’t you? That there might be some interesting complications that might not be so favorably accepted?

As we know, in Eph. 5:21, at the end of an exhortation to walk in the Christian graces, Paul gives an overall command about Christians submitting to each other. He follows this up with three specific examples, giving illustrations to his general statement: submission in marriage, submission in families, and submission in employment(?). The operative one, the one that creates more heat than the others is, of course, the idea of submission in marriage.

Paul begins this section with his dictum to wives to submit to their husbands (v. 22), and then moves on to the husbands, telling them to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (v. 25). After a lengthy passage detailing this dictate to husbands, Paul finishes with a summation to this marital submission passage:

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself,
and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (v. 33)

Several years ago, I came across a blog I’d never heard of  before, titled Love & Respect Reflects. It’s written by a man and wife team, Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs, who have apparently written a well-received book on marriage relationships, Love & Respect. In his book and on his blog, Mr. Eggerichs says that, yes, men are to have “unconditional love” for their wives. However, Eggerichs does something that would give most Christian counselors apoplexy; he goes further by adding a concomitant teaching, for wives.

“Wives, Respect Your Husbands With Unconditional Respect”

[Curmudgeon waits, listening. And there it is! The answer comes echoing back from far and near:]

 “Unconditional respect for my husband? Oh, hell no!” 

To be fair, Eggerichs doesn’t say that that is the actual response that he receives, but apparently he often encounters the attitude. “Respect him? Respect has to be earned!” But here’s the kicker: Eph. 5:33 says that husbands are to love their wives, and we tell them that this means that they have to love their wives with an “unconditional love”. But the very same verse, that very same sentence, tells wives to respect their husbands, right? So why don’t we tell the wives that they have to respect their husbands with unconditional respect? Why do we let so many wives say “My husband has to EARN my respect?” 

Please tell my why one command is unconditional and the other isn’t? After all, they’re in the very same sentence! How would you feel about the following conversation?:

Husband: “I don’t feel loving toward you. You’ve done things to me that have forfeited your right to expect love from me. If you want me to love you, you’ll have to earn my love.”

Wife: “I have to earn your love? What kind of BS is this? You are supposed to love me for who I am.”

Husband: “But I don’t feel loving. You haven’t acted loving, so you haven’t earned my love.”

I don’t think that that would be acceptable to you; in fact, I’m pretty sure that most of you would be pretty upset. After all, that would be un-Christian, saying someone has to earn love. But how many would be just as livid if it were the wife saying, “But I don’t feel respectful. He’s done things that have forfeited his rights to be respected.” Not so infuriating, is it?

If we give a wife the right to say that she doesn’t have to respect her husband until he earns it, what gives her the right to demand that her husband love her, “Well, uh, just because”? If a husband forfeits his wife’s respect, and she has a valid excuse not to be respectful toward her husband, why doesn’t the husband have a valid excuse to not be loving toward his wife?

Back To Reality

Okay, the exercise is over. I’m reclaiming my sanity; I do not believe in unconditional love, nor do I believe in unconditional respect, and I will denounce anyone’s attempt to say that I ever did. 🙂
I do hope, though, that through this temporary excursion into insanity, I have demonstrated that the idea of husband’s being required to give “unconditional love” is untenable. After all, if you are going to advocate for unconditional love, then you have to advocate for unconditional respect. To do otherwise simply makes you a hypocrite.

‘Nuff said.

(Of course you know I’m not done with with, right? My next post will be a summation of my feelings about proper Christian love and respect.)



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9 responses to “Bad Teaching: “Unconditional Love” Marries LYWACLTC

  1. MO_Dufus

    Oh, that horrible hermeneutics rule of CONTEXT. Too bad Revelation 3:19 is in the same Bible right after the “loving” letters to the churches.


  2. Both unconditional love and unconditional respect require a healthy dose of humility. I do believe that my own marriage is better for us both trying to do as we’re instructed in Ephesians 5:22-33. We recognize that our own efforts at this are inspiring to the other to also continue putting forth effort. Eggerich terms this as the Energizing Cycle. It’s a fitting name. I hope you’re not dismissing Eggerich’s work. His book “Love and Respect” has helped many couples.


    • Oh, no, I’m not dismissing it at all! In fact, I just recommended it to someone I’m talking with via email.

      Eggerichs, at least, is no hypocrite. Unlike other teachers, while teaching unconditional love, goes the full monty and teaches unconditional respect.


  3. MO_Dufus

    I have been thinking all day about not just this post, but the prior posts on the same subject as well. The Greek NT has four words that we translate as “love” and the words, once translated into English are often confused. I’m trying to put this into the entire context of Scripture.

    Begin rabbit trail: John 21:15-19 where Jesus uses agapeo and Peter uses philaeo. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he will commit his life to Him and Peter replies with yes, you are my good friend. The section is usually headed with something like “The Restoration of Peter” but that isn’t what happened at all. End rabbit trail.

    God does love (agapeo) us unconditionally. Remember, in Genesis, after creating man He said, “VERY GOOD.” However, His is a Perfect Love that a fallen man should attempt but no man should ever be expected to achieve. Usually, the Servant-Leader advice confuses this agape love with philaeo – friendship love and eros – erotic love. I’ll leave storgae – love of things (I love pizza) out for the moment.

    If you scramble the three relational definitions together, you come to the conclusion that the husband should be his wife’s best friend and bed mate, regardless of what the wife says or does and this should occur “unconditionally.”

    Again, this takes LYWACLTC completely out of context. Because God agapeo us, He disciplines us, He confronts us, He warns us, He even argues with us but if WE REJECT HIM, He, out of His Holiness, and without any pleasure, lets us cast ourselves into HELL (a very real place) but His agapeo doesn’t cease.


    • Just one quibble. All too often, because we try to make God appear not so Old Testment-y, we tend to fudge a little on judgment. Yeah, people reject God, but it’s God sending them to Hell. Yes, He loves, but He judges, as well.

      Matthew 7:23 – And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’


  4. MO_Dufus

    I agree with the judgement part. Fully 2/3 of Jesus teachings were on judgement and Hell (a very real place). God has characteristics that are unchanging and immutable. These are two (but not all) of His characteristics: Love & Holiness. I may not have been clear enough on this. God tell those who reject Him (lots of ways to do this), “Away with you, I never knew you” because allowing them into Heaven (once again, a very real place) would violate His Holiness. I stake my claim to this on both Paul’s letters and the number of times prophets, seers and men-of-God appeared before the kings of Israel and Judah to correct their direction but still their reigns were described as, “He did evil in God’s sight.”

    I contend that God takes no joy in seeing any one of his most precious creation going to Hell but must allow this to happen.


  5. Pingback: Love and Respect: A Two-Way Street | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  6. Now I am even more confused than I was on your unconditional love post because I *do* believe the wife is called to unconditionally respect her husband, just as he is to unconditionally love his wife. Acting disrespectfully is sinful. Acting unlovingly is sinful. Husband and wife are both the bride of Christ and should love/respect one another unconditionally in a way that purifies both of you so you can present one another as holy and blameless. That means loving/respecting your spouse too much to let them stay in sin or settle for letting things slide under the rug because it is easier not to confront the ways we fall short. No, unconditional love/respect–whether from God or from a spouse–always calls you to be more Christlike. Unconditional love/respect is TOUGH, both to give and to receive. It loves and respects not who you are or what you do but Jesus, and therefore one another as a brother/sister in Christ. It is the hardest thing you will ever give AND receive.


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