A wife can be a husband’s most significant asset or his most significant liability. I think most of us know this, but I wonder how many wives have thought through how to be an asset to their husbands by humbly leading them while submitted to them.
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Though your calling is to a particular role of submission in the marriage, it does not mean you can’t be a Christlike leadership example to him. Because you are ontologically equal to him, though submitted in your role as a wife, may I ask you a couple of questions about how you humbly lead 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 leader (1 Corinthians 12:21)?
- How are you using your God-given insight and wisdom to serve your husband (Philippians 4:9)?
I have often asked these questions to wives. Here are three of the more common responses I typically receive:
- Humble answer: I didn’t know I could help him lead. Tell me more.
Not so humble response: Why does he need me to help him do what he is supposed to be doing?
- Not so humble response: Why does he need me to help him do what he is supposed to be doing?
- Second not so humble response: Why are you putting the weight of his failures in my lap?
Let me tackle the third response first: If he has failures, they are between him and God. Each of us has a moral responsibility to God not to sin. My questions about you being a Christlike example were not about you being culpable regarding what he is doing wrong but about you living out the gospel.
Though Christ was not responsible for your sin, He made a deliberate choice to come alongside you to help you while you were sinning.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
The question in view here is not about tallying up the faults in the marriage. Jesus saw a need and knew He could meet it. That is why He humbled Himself to the cross (Luke 9:23). You had a problem, and He wanted to help you with your problem. 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 point of the story is that when we see a need, we should seek to fill that need if we can. This man saw a need and decided to set aside his plans for the day so he could 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? Take a look at Philippians 2:5-11:
- Though he was in the form of God … (He) made himself nothing, 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
Jesus set aside the life He enjoyed with the Father to come to earth to help you become what you couldn’t become on your own. Now you are being called to model what the Savior modeled for you (1 Peter 2:21). The Father is appealing to you to set aside your 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
The Savior’s death was not the end of the story. Eventually, He was highly exalted to His former position with the Father. Because of His sacrificial work on the cross, there will be a day when He will be able to thoroughly enjoy the fruit of His sacrifice with millions of people who have accepted His finished work (Hebrews 12:2).
It’s so easy for us 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 kind of 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 be overwhelming to the wife. 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 and Christlike example, her own desire for something better overpowers her will. It’s an easy trap.
You Don’t Know Him
The most common response to my gospel appeal runs along the line of, “You don’t know my husband.” 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. He can be insensitive and stubborn at times too. If he is similar to the way that I am.
You’re right, I do not know your husband, but let me ask you this: Do you sin in response to your some of your husband’s behaviors? If you answered “yes,” 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. Perchance, you do sin against your husband because of his sins, you have found the right place where you can begin leading him.
You can do that through the humble confession of your sin, which is followed up by asking for his (and God’s) 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 (1Corinthians 11:1)? You teach them through your example. A picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine what a clear picture the humble Christ would look like to someone who desperately needs to see Him practically presented. Like your husband.
God has used my wife’s gifts and strengths repeatedly 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 on many occasions set aside her preferences to lead me to a more productive understanding of Christ. In turn, this has simultaneously convicted me of sin, while motivated me to be a better leader in our home.
He Won’t Change
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. There is a high probability he will not change, but that should not be the first question you must ask. The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Why am I doing this?”
- Are you modeling 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?
The unchanging husband is a typical scenario. There are many marriages where that is the case. There is a story in the Bible about a young rich man who would not change either. When he encountered Jesus, he was told 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 this man. 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 every week who want better marriages or better children or better parents. Sometimes it does not work out the way they want. That is the reality of the world in which we live.
But there are things you can do, even when others will not cooperate. I had a friend give me a piece of advice nearly thirty years ago, 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 at a time when I desperately wanted someone to change their mind about our relationship. That person never changed their mind, and I entirely felt the helplessness of my unchangeable situation.
My friend’s advice was accurate. It became invaluable in that case and I have used it many times since. He was communicating with me another aspect of the gospel. You could say it this way:
God so loved the world that He determined to love the world 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, great. If they did not receive His sacrificial work, their rejection would not alter His love for them. (John 3:16 paraphrase)
Your Real Motive
The first question you will have to ask is why do you want to lead your husband lovingly? Do you want to lead him so you can have a great marriage? That is a good desire. It’s a biblical one, though it’s 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 will need to do some heart work before you go to the practical steps of working on your marriage.
You will need to spend some time with your Father to get your heart adjusted 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.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. – James 4:3
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.
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
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 be dishonoring your husband if you find support for your marriage. It’s another way you can lead. 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’re going to talk to a leader at your church about these matters. You would not be sinning if you choose this course of action. By all means, lead him. And, as always, if we can serve you, it would be a joy to do so. Let us know how.
Also published on Medium.