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. I believe that 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 in order 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 up and trying to usurp authority over him. Can you explain just a bit more what you mean by wives discipling their husbands?
The inquirer is responding to two of my articles, which can be found on our Membership Site:
I think sometimes a wife can confuse her various roles as a wife, which is what may be going on here.
Maybe she has a narrow and/or wrong view of what a wife should be in her marriage.
It could be that she has bought into the lie that wives are a metaphorical doormat to their husbands. Maybe her husband perpetuates this myth. I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, she is humbly asking for help regarding one of the most important issues in a woman’s life–her marriage.
Bear with me – this is not a linguistic rant
The first place I would begin with her is to try to understand what she means when she uses the word helpmeet. This would be more than an opportunity for me to go on a linguistic rant.
If we don’t know who we are, then it will be difficult to live out the roles that God has called us to live out. The obvious implication of the question being asked is that she is unsure of her roles and responsibilities as a wife.
In such a case, I would not want to assume that she understands the full meaning of what a wife means–a helper who is suitable for her specific husband, which she calls a helpmeet.
Helpmeet is not a word, or it was never intended to be a word. I think because of the broad use of the term in the English-speaking world it has been allowed into our language as a word. In the beginning it was never considered such.
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 essentially 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 the King James Bible was published, 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.
Through the years the word helpmeet appeared weird to some folks, so they changed it to helpmate. As far as a word goes, helpmate looks and sounds a lot better than helpmeet. However, the way God originally rendered help meet was as two different words, which communicates two different ideas, like any two words do.
- Help refers to the person. In this case the person was Eve. She was Adam’s helper.
- Meet refers to Eve’s role. She was to complement or be suitable to him.
You could read it this way, “God is going to make a helper (Eve) who is suitable (complementary) for Adam.” Therefore, the made up word helpmeet or the modern equivalent helpmate means helpsuitable. That really does not make sense.
Theological precision would say that it is better to separate the words in order to give them their separate, accurate, unique, and intended definitions. Once you do that, then it becomes easier to understand what the words mean and you can move from there to what the actual role of a wife should be.
A wife is perfect…for her husband
God made Adam a wife who was perfect for him. She, the helper, was suitable for Adam. She was not suitable for anyone else, but for Adam only. Each husband has a wife who is suitable for or perfectly complements him.
You may have heard the term complementarian. Christians are complementarians as opposed to egalitarians. Complementarian is different from the word compliment. It does not mean to give compliments, but that we are complementarians–we’re 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 needs something and Eve has exactly what he needs. Adam is missing a rib. Guess what? Eve is what he is looking for.
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 (ESV)
Eve is not Adam, but she is her own woman. She is different. Adam is not Eve, but he is his own man. He is different. Both of them have a missing piece that the other person has the ability to fill. This 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 totally assimilated into each other, forming a unique one flesh union. This means that Eve is not just added baggage, but that she has an important and unique role to play in the life of her husband. She is his helper who is perfectly suitable for him.
Submission does not negate equality
One of the concepts that the questioner 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 that she needs to understand and apply to her marriage.
Jesus Christ took a similar position as He submitted Himself within the Trinity. He willfully subordinated Himself to the Father. This act of subordination does not mean that He is not co-equal with the Father. This is what Paul was getting at in the great 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 (ESV)
This text teaches what theologians call the Hypostatic Union–Christ is 100% God and 100% man. There is no contradiction in play here. 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 modeled by the Savior. Yes, she is to subordinate herself to her husband. But on the other hand, she is also coequal with her husband. You could say it this way: she is his wife in marriage and she is his sister in Christ.
The lady only mentions one of her roles, which is the subordination aspect of the marriage. While I appreciate that, I would want to call her attention to the fact that she is also her husband’s sister in Christ. I’m assuming both of them are believers, but even if they were not they would be the same under God.
The following are two things I would want to ask her regarding why she can only see the submission aspect of marriage, but not see the coequal aspect of marriage:
- Is your husband playing the authority-respect card, manipulating you to a role of submission, while not envisioning you regarding your role of co-equality?
- Are you a fearful person, who has had some bad teaching and/or experiences about marriage and choose to easily acquiesce to a role of submission because of the fear?
You’re a discipler
In order to be a helper who is perfectly suitable for her unique husband, within the framework of this unique marriage, she needs to grow in her understanding of how to be more of a complementarian for him.
For some reason she is playing the I can’t teach a man card. I’m not sure why that is. Her reference about not teaching a man is from what Paul told a pastor as it pertains to how a church functions (2 Timothy 12). Paul was not teaching about roles in marriage, but about roles in the local church.
Regardless, being under the authority of a person does not mean you cannot help them. Incidentally, my pastor is in my small group. I get to talk to him all the time about his walk with God. I also get to submit to him. These two things do not contradict each other.
If a wife is not helping her husband in his sanctification, then she is not fully fulfilling her role as a wife. This lady is using (misusing) the word teaching, for reasons that are not clear to me. My recommendation would be for her to use the word disciple–all Christians are called to disciple other Christians.
She should be praying, thinking, and seeking how to disciple her husband. If her husband is wise and humble, he will be leveraging his assets–specifically his wife. He should see the wisdom of God in giving him the perfect match who is suitable for him. Thus, he should be pursuing her opinions, observations, and 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 multiplied years of living and being in close proximity to each other. She knows me. In some ways, she knows me better than I do.
I would make a strong appeal to this lady to prayerfully step up to the plate and figure out how she can serve her husband. Perhaps he is not open to that. Maybe all she can do is pray for doors of opportunities to bring discipleship care to him. That is fine, as long as she understands that it is part of her responsibility as a wife.
Go over his head
The last thing she talks about is her temptation to rule over her husband. This is a very real temptation for most women. This was the temptation with Eve. Not respecting men, by trying to rule over them, is at the heart of egalitarianism.
While I respect her humility, it appears that she has over-steered the car. She has jumped from one ditch–I will not teach a man, to the other ditch–I will rule over the man. She needs to drive down the middle of the road.
What she should be doing is humbly submitting to her husband, while offering what wisdom and insight God has given to her about him. She has a relationship with God. She hears from God. She can discern things from God. She knows stuff, especially stuff about her husband.
I told my wife many years ago that I did not marry my twin. I married Eve, a person who has something that I don’t have. And I need for her to give it to me. I think sometimes she has wanted to hit me over the head with her rib, but that’s okay.
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. She was saying that when she believed she needed to bring some kind of correction into my life, I should not blow her off in anger or other forms of unteachable-ness.
My wife puts the “et” on the end of “ass.” She is my “asset.” Sometimes I forget about the “et” and you can pretty much figure out how things go from there. However, when I fully understand the value of my helper, then she is no doubt an asset. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m fully aware that many women will read this article and sign-off on it, but their hearts will be heavy because their husbands are unwilling to cooperate. I understand that. It can be discouraging.
My advice has been to many of these women that though their husbands are their authority, they do not have absolute authority. And maybe the best way you can help disciple your husband is by going to your small group leader or pastor or an authoritative person who is able to speak into his life.
You are your brother’s keeper. Maybe the best way you can care for your husband is to humbly go over his head by talking to someone who is over his head. Minimally that person you can go to is our heavenly Father.