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Warning: If your spouse is physically harming you, my strongest appeal is for you to speak with a competent biblical leader before you act on what I’m teaching. If your husband manipulates you, please talk to someone. I’m writing to marriages with run-of-the-mill problems, not hyperbolic issues where one spouse may harm the other.
Though the Lord calls the wife to a unique role of submission in the marriage, it does not mean she has no leadership capabilities and should not use those strengths to bless her husband. With this in mind, may I ask you a couple of questions about how you humbly lead your husband by the example you model in your home? How are you using your gifts, strengths, skills, and talents to help your husband be a better leader? How do you use your God-given insight and wisdom to guide and mature your husband? I have often asked these questions to wives, and they do not always respond the same way. Here are three typical responses.
Let me tackle the third response first. If he has failures, they are between him and God and are not your fault. We have a moral responsibility before God not to sin, and it’s unacceptable to blame others for what God expects us to do (James 4:17). The point of my questions comes from a “brother’s keeper perspective,” not an accusatory one. My questions were not about you being culpable regarding what he is doing wrong, but about you living out the gospel in practical and specific ways before God and your husband. Though Christ was not responsible for our sins, He deliberately came alongside us to help us while we were failing miserably.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Jesus was not at fault for what we did wrong, but He saw a need and found great joy in helping us overcome our problems (Hebrews 12:1-2). Christ realized that our condition was more significant than our ability to fix it, so He humbled Himself to death on the cross. I’m not asking you to do what He did in a literal sense, but we must be willing to take up our unique crosses for the sake of others, especially our spouses. You may even recall the story in the Bible about the good Samaritan that communicates this idea of recognizing a problem and doing what is within our power and scope to assist.
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 point of this story is when we see a need, we should seek to respond to that need if we can. This man saw a need and decided to set aside his plans for the day to help a fellow struggler. One of the more profound demonstrations of the gospel in a marriage is when a wife is willing to set aside what she wants because of a greater desire to serve her husband so he can become a better leader in the marriage, home, and community. This kind of others-centered attitude is at the heart of the gospel Philippians 2:5-11.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).
The Father is appealing to us to set aside our preferences for the greater good of others. The good news is that dying to ourselves to come alongside a fellow struggler is not the end of the story. Jesus died to help us. In time, He will thoroughly enjoy the fruit of His sacrifice with millions of people who have accepted the gospel. It can be easy for a wife to lose this Christocentric gospel focus because of the difficulties and demands of being a wife to an exasperating man. The dawning awareness of how the husband is not what she hoped he would be can be disappointing, frustrating, and overwhelming.
Perhaps she spent most of her young life waiting for her prince to come. Then he showed up. She married him, only to be surprised at the revelation of what she did not know during the dating season, which came shortly after the honeymoon. Her hope for a good marriage had more control over her than God’s call to model a Christlike example to a challenging person. Who has not had this experience? Instead of working toward maturing the marriage through her humility, wisdom, strengths, and practical help, her dashed hopes overpowered her and interfered with what God could have done through her. She became entangled by what she wanted versus what God could do. She responded with anger toward him.
The standard retort when I make these appeals typically run along the line of, “You don’t know my husband.” Of course, that would be correct; I don’t know anyone’s husband the way their wives do; I don’t live with him. But I am assuming that he is like me, and if, perchance, he is like me, his temptations are generally selfish. Sometimes he succumbs to those unsavory temptations, causing insensitivity and stubbornness—if he is like me. I do not know your husband, but perhaps leveling the playing field would be helpful: Do you sin in response to some of your husband’s behaviors? If you do, this is where you need to begin leading him. Nobody can righteously make a case for sinning against someone, regardless of what they have done to them.
If you have sinned against your husband because of his sin or general thick-headedness, you have found the right place to begin leading him. You can do this through humble confession of your sin and seeking his forgiveness. How wonderful could that be for him? If he needs to repent, lead him by your example of repentance. Isn’t this how we parent our children? You teach your children through your example, knowing a picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine what a clear representation of the humble Christ would look like to a person who desperately needs to see Jesus in somebody’s life.
The temptation is to focus more on what our marriages are not giving us rather than regularly providing what our marriages need, which is our Christlike examples. Do you know how to serve your husband this way? God has repeatedly used my wife’s strengths throughout our marriage to help me be a better husband and leader. She has been a remarkable practical example of Christ’s actions in Philippians chapter two. Lucia has, on many occasions, set aside her preferences to quietly and courageously lead me to a greater understanding of Christ. Her posture has convicted me of sin while motivating me to be a better leader in our home.
Another response is, “What if I do all this and my husband does not change?” It’s a possibility, but that should not be the first question we should ask. The first thought should be, “Why am I doing this for our marriage? What is my motive?” Do you model Christ before your husband primarily because you want him to change, or do you model Christ because you want to honor God regardless of what your husband does? There is a possibility that your husband will never change. It happens. A story in the Bible is about a young rich man who would not change. When he encountered the Savior, Jesus asked him to sell all he had and follow Christ. “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 this man. The Bible does not tell us. We do know what happened to Jesus. He kept being Jesus even when others around Him would not emulate His example. God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6), and if you walk in the humility of Christ (1 Peter 2:20-25), even when you are not getting all you want, you will be repeatedly surprised by His grace. I wish I could tell you something different, but I can’t. I talk to people weekly who want better marriages, children, parents, or a better life. Sometimes it does not work out the way they want. That is the reality of the fallen world in which we live.
But there are some things that you can do, even when others will not cooperate with your desires. 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 shared this during a season when I desperately wanted my wife to change her mind about our relationship. She never changed her mind, and I fully felt the helplessness of our unchangeable situation. My friend’s advice became invaluable, and I have used it many times since. I never got what I wanted and had to learn not to let that disappointment manage me. I have since thought about his advice this way:
God so loved the world that He was bound and determined to lavish the world with His Son even if the world did not reciprocate. His love was so profound that He gave His one and only Son to save a bunch of unlovable people. And by doing this, He left the door open for anyone to accept His love. If they did respond to His grace, great. If they did not, their rejection would not alter His love for them (John 3:16 paraphrase).
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).
The first question you must ask yourself is why you want to disciple your husband lovingly. Do you want to help him so you can have a great marriage? Though that is a good and biblical desire, it is not the primary reason for coming alongside him. Do you want to lovingly guide him because you want to make God’s name great most of all? I trust that it is because that is the best reason (1 Corinthians 10:31). If your motive is not primarily for God’s fame, you must do the necessary heart work before you go to the next step of working on your marriage. You may need to spend time with the Father to adjust your thinking for the challenging task ahead. Do not skip this vital step.
Ask God to give you the grace to love a not-so-lovable man. The Father will provide you with the favor if you ask with the right motive. Do not think God cannot perceive your heart’s motives. He knows your intentions. You may be able to fool others by putting on a happy face and saying all the right words, but you cannot deceive God. If you think what I am asking you to do is more challenging than your ability to carry it out, you would be correct. God calls us to work beyond our ability, so we learn to stop relying on ourselves and choose to rely on Him, who can raise the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Speaking with a spiritual leader in your local church would be best as you make the appropriate changes in your thinking. Do not be afraid to seek help. A courageous and wise Titus Two mentor could prove invaluable. If you have humbly appealed to him to change and he has not repented, let him know you plan to speak with a church leader about these matters. You will not sin against him or God if you choose this course of action. But let me reiterate; whatever your course of action may be, you cannot sin against your husband. Perhaps this is where you should begin before you do anything else. And should you sin against him the next time he disappoints you, quickly repent to him and to God. You may be surprised at how your humility changes the environment in your home.
Every wife reading this is in a different place in their marriage. Let biblical wisdom rule your heart as you apply these truths to your life and marriage. For some of these women, their husbands are cruel, manipulative, and harmful. These ladies need to find help immediately because what I suggest here is not applicable.
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).