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Member mailbag – I struggle with the concept of a wife discipling her husband. I read most of the articles you post on Facebook, yet struggle with what that would look like in marriage. I believe I am to be my husband’s help-meet, under his authority, not a woman teaching a man.
I believe much, if not all, of my role, is to provide what he needs and wants when he needs and wants it for him to accomplish the ministry to which God has called him. What you say appeals to me, but usually that means my flesh is rising and trying to usurp authority over him. Can you explain just a bit more what you mean by wives discipling their husbands?
The first place to begin is a different understanding of her word helpmeet. It is one of those words that was brought over from our old English, then altered and redefined. The word helpmeet was never meant to be a word. The original old English words are a help meet. It’s two words, not one.
Because many folks accept the word helpmeet in modern Christian English without argument, its meaning is assumed. This is unfortunate. The confusion originates in Genesis 2:18, when God said that Adam needed a helper who was suitable or complementary to him. The King James Version of the Bible says, “A help who is meet for him.” Here is the actual verse:
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him (Genesis 2:18, KJV).
Because our modern English is not the same as the 1611 English when they published the King James Bible, some people do not know what “meet” means, so they combine the two words–help and meet–as though the two were supposed to be one–helpmeet.
After the two became one, some writers modernized the non-word helpmeet to helpmate. As far as a word goes, helpmate looks and sounds much better than helpmeet. The problem still remains. The Lord originally rendered “help meet” as two different words, which communicates two different ideas as any two words do.
You could read it this way, “God is going to make a helper (Eve) who is suitable (complementary) for Adam.” The made-up word “helpmeet” or the modern equivalent “helpmate” means “help-suitable”. That does not make sense.
Theological precision and practical application suggest it is better to separate the words to give them their unique, accurate, and intended meanings. This change makes it easier to understand what the words mean, which can move you forward to clarifying your role as a wife.
God made Adam a wife who was perfect for him. She—the helper—was suitable (meet) for Adam. Eve was not suitable for anyone else. She was perfect for Adam. Each husband has a wife who is suited perfectly, like a hand in a glove (Genesis 2:23).
The wife’s “meet role” in the marriage is a “suitable” or complementarian role. Christian spouses are complementarians as opposed to egalitarians. “Complementary” is different from the word compliment. It does not mean you give compliments to each other, but you are perfectly suitable for each other.
The husband is not better than his wife, and the wife is not better than her husband. The two complement each other perfectly. Adam needed something, and Eve had exactly what he needed. Adam was missing a rib. Guess what? Eve was what he was looking for in a wife.
And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man (Genesis 2:22-23).”
Eve is not Adam. She is her own woman. She is different. Adam is not Eve. He is his own man. He is different. Both of them have missing pieces that the other person can fill. This reality is how two can become a beautiful one flesh union.
It’s not like a bump added to a log, but two people who are assimilated into each other, forming a unique one-flesh union. This union means Eve has not added baggage in Adam’s life, but she has an essential and unique role to play in the life of her husband. She is his helper who is perfectly suitable for him.
One of the concepts the supporting member suggests is that she should be under her husband’s authority. That is mostly true, but that is not all she should be to her husband. While I appreciate her humble attitude and willingness to submit to him, there is more she needs to understand and apply to her marriage.
Jesus Christ took a similar position as He submitted Himself to the Father; He became a man. He willfully subordinated Himself to the Father when He became a man. This act of subordination does not mean He is unequal to the Father. This theological truth is what Paul was getting at in the excellent Philippians passage.
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7).
This text teaches what theologians call the Hypostatic Union–Christ is 100% God and 100% man. There is no contradiction here though there is much mystery. Depending on what Christ is called upon to do determines the role He performs. His humble submission does not negate His equality with the Father.
The wife’s roles and responsibilities within the marriage covenant are analogous to what we see in Jesus. Yes, she is to subordinate herself to her husband. But on the other hand, she is coequal with her husband. You could say it this way: she is his wife in marriage, and she is his sister in Christ.
The supporting member only mentions one of her roles, the subordination aspect of the marriage. While I appreciate her humble acknowledgment, I must call attention to the fact that she is her husband’s sister in Christ. I’m assuming both of them are believers, but even if they were not believers, they would be the same under God.
To be a helper who is perfectly suitable for your unique husband, within the framework of your unique marriage, you must grow in your understanding of how to be a complementary helper for him.
This truth means you are a “teacher” of your husband. Perhaps you prefer the word discipler. That is fine and is more accurate. Paul’s language about a woman not teaching a man in the context of the local church has nothing to do with a wife’s role to helpfully come alongside her husband within the home.
Being under a person’s authority should never negate loving a person enough to bring corrective care into his life. These ideas do not contradict each other in the Bible, and they should not create a contradiction in your marriage.
If a wife is not helping her husband in his sanctification, she is not adequately fulfilling her role as a wife. She does not have to lecture him or set up “teaching times” to bring instruction into his life. Her discipleship responsibilities do not begin after she walks out the door of her home, meaning that she is discipling others but not her husband.
She should be praying, reflecting, and seeking how to disciple her husband. If her husband is humble, he will leverage this remarkable asset that God gave to him. He will perceive the wisdom of God in giving him the perfect match who is suitable for him. He will pursue her opinions, observations, and God-given wisdom.
There is nobody on the planet who knows me better than my wife. I would be a fool not to be regularly asking her to speak into my life. We have many years of living near each other. She knows me. In some ways, she knows me better than I do.
I strongly appeal to you to prayerfully step up to the marriage plate and figure out how you can serve your husband through discipleship care. Perhaps he is not open to this practical need in his life. Maybe all you can do is pray for “doors of opportunity” to bring discipleship care to him. The primary key right now is understanding your full role as a wife.
There may be a temptation to rule over your husband. You must guard against falling into that ditch while making sure you don’t leap into the other one. There are two ditches here, not one. You want to stay out of both. You do not want to neglect your unique discipleship gifting that your husband needs.
Disrespecting your husband while ruling over him is at the heart of egalitarianism. Don’t do that. You can drive down the middle by submitting and discipling. Give your husband the wisdom and insight the good Lord gave to you. You have a relationship with God. You hear from the Lord. You can discern things. You’re the second set of eyes that your husband needs.
I told Lucia many years ago that I did not marry my doppelgänger. I married a uniquely different person from myself. She has things I do not possess, and I need her to give those things to me. She then told me that I needed to create an environment–a context of grace–that would be conducive and motivating for her to speak into my life. If I need her discipleship care, which I do, then making it hard to care for me will discourage and eventually disconnect us from this mutual marital responsibility.
I told her she’s my “et” at the end of “ass” (asset). A wife who is actively and practically submitting and discipling is a real asset to her husband. If you are not fully leveraging your asset, you’ll end up as an ass.
I’m fully aware many women reading this will sign off on it, but their hearts will be heavy because their husbands are unwilling to cooperate. I understand how discouraging that can be. These despairing women should know though their husbands are their authority, they do not have absolute authority over them.
Perhaps the most effective way you can disciple your husband is by going over his head. The church gives you an authority chain that is supposed to come alongside any person stuck in a non-redemptive relationship. Maybe your small group leader or pastor is the next authoritative person to talk to about what’s happening.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).