You may want to read:
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).
A friend was working through these perspectives on roles and equality, writing me the following letter: “I struggle with the concept of a wife discipling her husband. I read most of what you have said about this, yet I 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 my flesh is usually rising and trying to usurp authority over him. Will you explain more about what you mean by wives discipling their husbands?”
The first place to begin is a proper understanding of her word helpmeet. It is one of those words we brought from our old English Bible. It should not have been one word but two. 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 obscured and assumed. This perspective is unfortunate. The confusion originated 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.” 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 combined 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, but the problem remains. The Lord initially rendered the words to communicate two different ideas as any two words do. Help refers to the person. In this case, the person helping was Eve. She was Adam’s helper. Meet refers to Eve’s role. She was to complement or be suitable for Adam. 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,” which is unnecessarily confusing. Theological precision and practical application suggest it is better to separate the words to give them their unique, accurate, and intended meanings.
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 perfectly suited wife, like a hand in a glove (Genesis 2:23). The wife’s “meet role” in the marriage is a complementarian role. Christian spouses are complementarians as opposed to egalitarians. Complementary is different from the word compliment. It does not mean you praise 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 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 was not added inferior baggage to Adam’s life, but she was an essential and unique role to play in her husband’s life. She is his helper who is perfectly suitable for him. Part of her suitability is her strength which Eve needs to complement her husband. If she were a doormat or a “be seen but not heard person,” she could not adequately help her husband.
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7).
One of the concerns that my friend suggests is that she should be under her husband’s authority, which is true. But submission is not all she should be to her husband. While I appreciate her humble attitude and willingness to submit to him, she must understand there is much more to how she responds to her husband. Jesus Christ took a similar position as He submitted Himself to the Father; He became a man. He willfully subordinated Himself to the Father after becoming a human being. This act of subordination does not mean He is unequal to His Father. This theological truth is what Paul was getting at in the excellent Philippians passage. This text teaches what theologians call the hypostatic union—Christ is 100% God and became 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 as a human does not negate His equality with the Father as 100% God. 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 equal to her husband. You could say it this way: she is his wife in marriage and his sister in Christ. My friend only mentions one of her roles, the subordination aspect of the marriage, and while I appreciate her humble acknowledgment, I must call attention to the fact that she is her husband’s sister in Christ. I assume both of them are believers, but even if they were not, they would be the same under God as image-bearers. Do you understand your dual and noncontradictory submission and coequal roles in your marriage?
Regrettably, a few husbands play the authority-respect card, manipulating their wives to a role of submission while not envisioning and equipping them for their coequal responsibilities. I don’t sense this regarding my friend; I hope she will talk with her husband about what it would mean to envision and lead her to become a more valuable asset within the marriage. Imagine the complementing possibilities if a wife brought her unique gifts and strengths to the marriage. Nobody has more insight and intel on a husband than a wife, who has seen more aspects of his best and worst qualities than anyone else. The wise husband wants an expert to help him mature into the best possible leader, and no one has more experience with him than his wife.
To be a helper perfectly suitable for your unique husband within the framework of your unique marriage, you must grow in understanding how to be a complementary helper. An aspect of 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 come alongside her husband within the home in a disciple-making capacity. Being under a person’s authority should never negate loving someone enough to bring corrective care into his life. These ideas do not contradict each other in the Bible and should not create a contradiction in your mind or 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 while he sits at her feet. Her overall, God-given discipleship responsibilities do not begin after she walks out the door of her home, where she can only disciple others but not her husband. She should be praying about her husband, reflecting on God’s Word as it applies to him, and seeking to bring reasonable care to him. If her husband is humble, he will leverage this remarkable asset God gave him. He will perceive the wisdom of God in giving him someone who loves him so much that she wants to use her skills to serve him. The wife then becomes the perfect match that is suitable for him. Her husband will pursue her opinions, observations, and God-given wisdom.
Has your wife ever predicted what you might say or do before you said or did it? My family has done this to me many times. Afterward, I would ask, “How did you know I was going to do that?” Someone would say, “You always do [that]” because they know me better than anyone else. I would be a fool not to ask my wife to speak into my life regularly. We have multiple decades of living with each other. She knows me. In some ways, she knows me better than I do. My appeal to every wife is to prayerfully step up to the marriage plate and figure out how they can serve their husband through discipleship care. Perhaps these men are not open to this practical need in their lives. Maybe all a wife can do is pray for “doors of opportunity” to open in the future so she can bring discipleship care to him then.
Of course, a few wives err on the other side of the complementary coin as they attempt to rule over their husbands. As in most situations, there are two ditches; you want to stay out of both. You do not want to neglect the unique discipleship gift that your husband needs from you, which is a form of disrespect, dishonor, and unloving. Disrespecting your husband while ruling over him is the other ditch at the heart of egalitarianism. Your goal is to embrace the middle narrative that releases all that God has given to you to serve your husband while not trying to dominate him. 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 me the stuff that will assist me in becoming the most effective leader in our home. She followed up by letting me know that I needed to create a context of grace conducive to and motivating her to speak into my life. She did not want my appeal for her to care for me to collide with my stubborn refusal to resist her care. If I need her discipleship care, which I do, then making it hard for her to care for me will discourage and eventually disconnect us from this mutual marital responsibility. A wife actively and practically submitting while discipling her husband is an excellent means of grace to him.
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 with them in the mutual care of each other. I understand how discouraging that can be. These despairing women should know their husbands are their authority, but they do not have absolute authority over them. Perhaps the most effective way to disciple these husbands is by “going over their heads.” The church gives you an authority chain that is supposed to come alongside any person stuck in a non-redemptive hierarchal structure. Maybe a spiritual leader in your local church is the next authoritative person to talk to about what’s happening in your marriage.
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).