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Because you are equal to your husband, though submitted in your role as a wife, may I ask you a couple of questions about how you humbly disciple your husband by your Christlike example (Ephesians 5:1)? How are you using your gifts, strengths, skills, and talents to help your husband be a better person (1 Corinthians 12:21)? How do you use your God-given insight and wisdom to serve your husband (Philippians 4:9), helping him to see things with more clarity? I have often asked these questions to wives. Here are three of the more common responses: “I didn’t know I could help him lead. Tell me more.” “Why does he need me to help him do what he should do?” “Why are you putting the weight of his failures in my lap?”
Let me tackle the third response first: If he has sin in his life, they are between him and God. Each of us has a moral responsibility to God not to sin, and blaming others for our transgressions is not an option. My questions about a wife being a Christlike example were not about imposing a false sense of guilt on her but about her living out the gospel. Though Christ was not responsible for our sins, He deliberately came alongside us to help us while we were sinning—against Him (Romans 5:8). The question here is not about tallying up the faults in the marriage or placing blame in the wrong places. Jesus saw a need and knew He could meet it, so He humbled Himself to the cross (Luke 9:23). We had a problem; He wanted to help us with our problem. Perhaps you recall the story in the Bible about the good Samaritan. It carries a similar idea.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:33-37).
The story’s point is that when we see a need, we should seek to fill it if we can. This man saw an opportunity and decided to set aside his plans for the day to help a fellow struggler. One of the most profound demonstrations and motivating examples of the gospel in a marriage is when a wife is willing to set aside what she wants out of the marriage so she can help her husband become a better leader. Isn’t this what the Savior did for us?
Though he was in the form of God … (He) emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:6-9).
Jesus set aside the life He enjoyed with the Father to come to earth to help us become what we couldn’t become without His assistance. Now He is calling us to model what the Savior modeled for us (1 Peter 2:21). The Father is appealing to us to set aside our preferences for the greater good of others: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). We die to ourselves. Daily. However, the Savior’s death was not the end of the story. Eventually, the Father highly exalted Jesus to His former position with the Father. Because of His sacrificial work on the cross, there will be a day when He can thoroughly enjoy the fruit of His sacrifice with millions of people who have accepted His finished work (Hebrews 12:2).
It’s so easy to lose this gospel perspective and challenge, especially when the demands of the day or the disappointments of others begin to drain the joy of Christ from our souls. Losing this gospel-centered focus is especially tempting when a husband is a royal knucklehead. The dawning reality that a husband is not what the wife hoped for can overwhelm her. Perhaps she spent her childhood thinking about her prince, then found him, only to be surprised he is not as princely as she hoped. That kind of disappointment can circumvent Biblical clarity and gospel initiatives. Instead of working toward maturing the marriage through her humility, talents, and Christlike example, her desire for something better overpowers her will. It’s a typical trap.
The most common response to my gospel appeal is, “You don’t know my husband, and you have not lived with him.” Of course. That would be correct. I don’t know him, and I don’t live with him day-to-day. I do know if he is like me, then he is selfish. He also sins in other ways. He can sometimes be insensitive and stubborn, too, if he is similar to me. There can also be a lack of repentance, making your desire to come alongside him appear daunting. So, you’re right; I do not know your husband, but do you sin in response to some of your husband’s behaviors? If you answered “yes,” which I know you have because you’re like me, too. Then that is where you need to start leading your husband. Nobody can make a biblical case for sinning against another person regardless of what they do to us.
Perchance, you sin against your husband because of his sins against you. Okay, let’s start there because that is the perfect place to begin leading him. You can do that through the humble confession of your sin, followed by asking for forgiveness. I’m sure he needs to repent of something too, but how beautiful would it be if you led him by your example of repentance? Isn’t this how you parent your children (1 Corinthians 11:1)? You teach them through your example. A picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine what a clear picture of the humble Christ would look like to someone who desperately needs to see Him practically presented—as your husband does. God has repeatedly used my wife’s gifts and strengths throughout our marriage to help me be a better husband.
She has been a remarkable practical example of what I see Christ doing in Philippians chapter two: He temporarily set aside His comfort for the betterment of others. She has often set aside her preferences to lead me to a more transformative understanding of Christ. Her responses have convicted me of sin while motivating me to be a better leader in our home. Of course, your husband could be a brute, and I realize it might not be wise to make yourself that transparent and vulnerable to him now. If that is the case, you must beg God to give you the right attitude toward him while seeking forgiveness for your sin against God. There might be a better day to transact forgiveness with your husband. Sometimes it’s not wise to transact forgiveness, but it’s never right to permit evil to harbor, fester, and capture your soul. You must confess to God minimally.
“Yes, but;” someone will say: “What if I do all this, and my husband does not change?” You’re a realist who may be right. He will likely not change if you purify your heart and prepare your soul to lead him like Christ leads you, but that should not be the first question you ask. The first question is, “Why am I doing this?” Do you model Christ before your husband primarily because you want him to change? Are you modeling Christ before your husband because you want to honor God regardless of what your husband does? There is a story in the Bible about a young rich man who would not change either. When he encountered Jesus, the rich man realized he had to sell all he had and follow Christ.
Here is how the young rich man responded to the Savior: “But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:23). I do not know what happened to him. The Bible does not tell us. We do know what happened to Jesus, though. He kept being Jesus. Even when some of those around Him would not change, He kept doing Jesus things. God gives grace to the humble, and if you walk in the humility of Jesus, even when you are not getting all you want, you will repeatedly be surprised by His grace (James 4:6). I wish I could tell you something different, but I can’t. I talk to people who want better marriages, children, or parents weekly. Sometimes it does not work out the way they want. That is the reality of the world in which we live. Sometimes people never change.
But you can do some things, even when others will not cooperate. I had a friend give me a piece of advice in 1989, and I have never forgotten it. He said, “I can’t make you love me, but you can’t stop me from loving you.” He told me this when I desperately wanted someone to change their mind about our relationship. I tried to change and was ready to commit to doing my part. That person never changed, and I felt the helplessness of my unchangeable situation, but my friend’s advice was spot on. It became invaluable to me then, and I have used it many times since. I had to decide whether I would love others, even my enemies, and their response to me would not alter my love for them, even if my love looked like confrontation and corrective care.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:3).
The first question is, why do you want to lead your husband well? Do you want to teach him so you can have a great marriage? That is a good desire. It’s biblical, though not the best reason to lead him. Do you want to lovingly lead him because you want to make God’s name great? Now that is the best reason. If God’s fame is not your primary motive, you must do some heart work before you go to the practical steps of working on your marriage. You must spend time with your Father to adjust your heart for the challenging task ahead. Do not skip this vital step. Ask God to give you the grace you need to love an unlovable person. He will provide you with that grace if you ask with the right motive (Hebrews 4:13).
God can see in the darkness of your heart. He precisely knows what your thoughts, intentions, and motives are. You can fool others, but you won’t trick Him. How you think and what you want are not hidden from Him. If you believe what I am asking you to do is a more significant burden than you can carry, appeal to someone from your local church to help you both. Don’t be afraid to seek help. You will not dishonor your husband if you find support for your marriage. It’s another way you can lead him while submitting to him. It’s a way to respect your one flesh covenant. If you have humbly appealed to him to change and he has not, let him know you will talk to a church leader about these matters. You will not be sinning if you choose this course of action.
You’re in one of the most challenging spots a wife can be in when the husband is unkind and unwilling to change. He may never change; only God will grant repentance, and there is no guarantee that he will give repentance to a sinning husband, making your motive to come alongside him essential to clarify before you take the next steps. I know you’re grateful to God that He did not give up on you but kept loving you while you were a sinner. We must emulate this gospel truth. I’m not suggesting you withhold correction or other hard things from him, but you’ll have more clarity on what to do after you clarify and recalibrate your motive for being Jesus to him.
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).