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Mable and Biff have a challenging relationship. They have been married for eleven years. What began with all the hope in the world has slowly degenerated into daily tussles. Though they are part of a local church, Biff is not engaged. It’s more of a social context for him. Mable has pleaded with Biff to pursue God, but thus far, it has been to no avail. Their children are responding to his indifference and anger in different ways. Two of them internalize the disappointment they feel from their dad, while the other two act out overtly, according to their personalities. Mable has tried to speak about this, but she typically botches it up, and the ensuing arguments have discouraged her.
She also does not want to overstep her bounds, which puts her in a quandary about moving forward. She read my chapter on how to lead your husband and asked if I would write more on how to do that practically. I’m glad to do that, but first, it’s crucial to consider the differences between subordination in roles and equality of persons. We see this idea when we think about Jesus in the Trinity and Jesus as a human on earth. Jesus served both functions. As 100% God, He was coequal with the Father, not subordinated to the Father in any way. As a 100% man, Jesus was subordinate to the Father. He was 100% man and God on earth, the hypostatic union. He is no less than the Father or the Spirit; on the other hand, as a man, He serves in a different capacity than Father and Spirit.
The husband and wife relationship has an echo of this idea. Though both partners are fully equal before God (ontology), they serve different roles (functions) as a married couple. As humans made in the image of God, there is a coequality (Genesis 1:27). If they are born again (John 3:7), there is a spiritual equality, as opposed to light and darkness (Colossians 3:9-11). The husband and wife construct is not the only place we see this idea of equality and hierarchy. An employee is equal to his employer while submitted to the employer. A child is equal with the parents while submitted to them. We also make the argument about the dignity of the unborn child. The baby is the same as post-born humans because God created the child in His image.
Our world could not function well without hierarchy, but those structures do not mean those who serve the authorities within those structures are lesser humans than their authorities. It’s essential to know this because some Christians teach there is no equality between the wife and husband, which is ludicrous. That dogma has no biblical basis. The husband and wife are equal human beings made in the image of God. When the wife stepped into a submissive role in the marriage, she did not leave her Imago Dei at the altar. It’s not a diminishing of something but the addition of submission within the union. They are the same before God and with each other.
This subordination dynamic means the wife can help (even lead in some areas) her husband to be a better person. I used the illustration of Christ as 100% God and 100% man but only loosely because any “God and God-man examples” are unique. There must be carefulness when making applications like this. A wife is “one 100% person” with many roles, e.g., mother, sister, daughter, wife, and employee. Christ is God, but He set that aside to become a man—hardly something we can do. Thus the analogy is not the best. The better analogy is comparing human-to-human relationships like the employer to employee or parent to child.
The point here is you must know how your subordinate role to your husband does not relieve you of the obligation to appropriate God’s grace into your life so you can use your unique God-giftedness to serve your husband and marriage according to your Christian leadership gifting. One of the most significant challenges for you will be to guard your heart as you think about your husband while trying to serve him in his sanctification. You will need an honest friend speaking into your life about how you think about and talk to your husband. You will not be above sinning against him. It will be a daily struggle for you if he does not change. You need a female friend, preferably at your church, willing to wound you if necessary to help you (Proverbs 27:6).
I will share with you ten practical things that will guide you in leading your husband while submitting to him, and let’s begin with prayer. How often do you pray for Biff? You must pray for him. You must also say specific things to the Lord about Biff. Sometimes a wife will ask God to change her husband, and that is the extent of her prayers. That is not how Paul thought about the people he wanted to see transformed (1 Corinthians 1:4). Paul thanked God for the Corinthians. Maybe that is hard for you to do right now.
If so, you have your first leadership opportunity: Ask God to give you a grateful heart for your marriage. As Mordecai told Esther, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). You have a substantial redemptive opportunity. Paul had one with the Corinthians. Before you ask God to change your husband, ask Him to change you. If you do not fine-tune your heart before the Lord, leading Biff toward change will be hard. If you are not a grace-filled, grace-giving person, asking the Father to make your husband something you are not will be a gospel contradiction.
Genuine encouragement is born out of a pure heart. Moving forward with honest, authentic help will be hard if your heart struggles with Biff. Christ genuinely loved you while you were a sinner (Romans 5:8). Paul loved the Corinthians too. Don’t skip this point. If your heart is not fine-tuned to God this way, you won’t be able to get it tuned to Biff. Some wives have asked, “Why should I try to be an encouragement to my husband?” The answer is straightforward: motivating your husband by grace is the primary method God uses to change a person. If you want him to change, there is only one way: authentic motivation.
Paul said, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4)? The word repentance in this verse means change. Do you want your husband to change? Of course, you do. Then how are you motivating him to change? How are you encouraging him? It cannot be negativity, anger, condemnation, shame, guilt, or other forms of frustration. If your husband is more aware of your displeasure with him, that is another area where you must lead by changing first.
Another good assessment question is, “What kind of husband do I want?” Think about this for a minute. What if I listed a few things you might want your husband to be? Maybe you would say this: “I want him to pray more. I’d love for him to enjoy, encourage, and help me. I want him to lead. I want him to be spiritual. I want him to confess his sins and ask for forgiveness. I want him to be humble and teachable. I want him to be more engaged with our church and the church people. I want him to be kind to the children and me.”
All of these things are great, and they are doable. However, there is an essential first step with desires like these: How are you modeling what you’re asking him to be? If your husband lacks these good things, you should present yourself as an authentic example of being them in your home. Do not discount what a God-honoring, gospel-motivated, Christ-centered example can do for someone. You show Biff what Christ looks like through your humble modeling of Christ. Don’t be that hypocritical person who demands Christlikeness without providing a Christlike example for him to follow (1 Corinthians 11:1).
How do you lead him with your prayer life, encouragement, and example? Let’s say you actively pray for your husband, encourage him daily, and model the standard you want him to be. I’m sure you’re not doing these things perfectly, but you do them most of the time. If these things are happening, you’re in the best place to gently correct him (Galatians 6:1). So now, let’s look at seven more practical considerations.
Pick Your Spots: The best times to make loving appeals are always non-fight times. Don’t try to correct your husband when you’re arguing with him. The angry person is a fool, and you don’t want to act like one or try to correct one (Proverbs 22:24; 29:9). Pick your spots. Leverage the good times as you try to restore him. The best approach is to do this by asking questions. Question-asking is nearly always better than statement-making. Statements can come across as accusations while question-asking acknowledges that you don’t know everything about the situation. A healthy dose of self-suspicion is wise and humble during potential conflict times.
Think Before You Speak: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Let the wise words of James take control of your thoughts. If you do not do this, you will compound your troubles. James also said the anger of (a wife) does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20).
Ask For Forgiveness: If you blow it, which you will, you can repent. Your husband may be too stubborn to forgive you, a sad reality in too many marriages. His actions should not stop you from doing what is right. You do what you know to do whether he does it or not (Romans 12:18). You can forgive your husband in your heart even if he does not participate in active repentance. Jesus asked the Father to forgive the folks at the cross. It was not transactional repentance since they were not asking. Still, you see the heart and attitude of the Savior in that dark moment (Luke 23:34). You can follow His example, motivating you to have a forgiving heart attitude (1 Peter 2:21).
Honor Him Before Others: Never speak angrily or unkindly about your husband to others—especially to your children. And when you sin against him by what you say, repent to all the people you dishonored before him. If your sin against Biff splashes on others because they were in the room when you did it, ask them to forgive you for your anger toward Biff.
Submit To Him: Submit to him as much as possible. Let him see the humble Savior in you (Philippians 2:5-10). As long as he is not asking you to sin, you should be able to submit to him. Submission does not mean you can’t confront or correct him; some folks have a distorted view of love, as though it has no teeth. If someone is sinning, and you do nothing about it when you could have, that is not love.
Make Him a Priority: God makes you a priority. You do not deserve His attention or love, but He gives them to you anyway. The Father loved you into submission. Let this gospel truth govern your heart as you model it before your husband and family.
Hope In God: Finally, hope in God. Allow the Father to fill your mind with hope daily. I’m not necessarily talking about the hope that your husband will change. He may never repent. I’m talking about the eternal confidence that will enable you to endure. This hope is born in the crucible of prayer. Paul understood that the hope he found in God would buoy him through some of his most challenging seasons, which is how he framed it to the Corinthians.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the unseen things. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
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).