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If a husband experiences transformation into a person who can practically live out the Bible while serving his family in doing the same, in most cases, his wife will follow him in his gospel-centered applications. I would have to rack my brain to think of a situation where a woman refused to follow a humble, Christlike man.
Though there are outlier wives, the percentages are pretty low within the Christian community. Most wives are more than willing to follow their God-centered, God-following husbands when they are leading biblically. We should expect this kind of humble submission from our wives, which is why I make many appeals to men to lead like Jesus.
Even so, there is that exceptional woman who will not submit or follow her husband even if he were the most exacting replica of Jesus Christ. Their husband may not be perfect, but you get the sense that it would not change her into a glowing reflection of His church even if he were. She is downright mean, snarky, unforgiving, and generally brutal to love.
One of the essential keys for the husband in this kind of marriage to keep in mind is that the things currently wrong with her did not begin when she married him. She brought the baggage of her former manner of life into her marriage (Ephesians 4:22). People do not “become mean” in an instant any more than a stalk of corn magically appears on a summer day. Many days of “quiet growth” ensue long before he first laid eyes on her as a potential date (Romans 3:10-12).
More than likely, a mean woman like this thought marriage would rectify or help some of her pre-existing problems. Perhaps she saw him as her Prince Charming, which is code for a “functional god who would salvage her bad past.” There is always a history of wrong attitudes and expectations that predate anyone’s current meanness. The way for him to discern these culprits is to observe (1 Peter 3:7) and categorize (John 2:24-25) her current behavior.
Whatever she is doing in the marriage has a long tail, reaching into her childhood and teenage years. For example, a mean wife could have had a difficult relationship with her father; he could have been over-the-top angry. Perhaps he was passive, and the mother was a controller. Maybe there were other forms of dysfunction.
Here are a few samples of what her life could have been like before she met, dated, and married her husband. These mean-spirited attitudes and behaviors are rooted in her past. This list helps to think through how she might have become so broken by the time she reached the marriage altar.
You see blaming, insecurity (fear), criticalness, self-righteousness, idolatry, anger, materialism, and self-centeredness in these five characteristics, which did not randomly show up on their wedding day. She had a pre-existing condition. The husband must discern and identify her past “sin constellation” to help her change. The key for him is to think redemptively, not reactively.
Too often, the husband gets ticked off at his wife because she is not meeting his expectations. Rather than responding with “fire-for-fire,” he needs to challenge himself to cooperate with the Lord by coming alongside her to love her into transformation (Luke 10:33). Perhaps the Lord will grant her repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Regardless, somebody will have to act like Jesus in this marriage (John 14:6), and the assumption is that it must be the husband.
In addition to pre-existing problems, the husband must know that he cannot make her happy. To soothe her by feeding her idolatries is to become her “functional god.” If she is mean or attempts to manipulate the husband to satiate her idolatries, he must not acquiesce. She needs Jesus more than she needs him, and he is “Exhibit A” of what Jesus looks like, practically speaking. Ultimately, Christ is where she will find satisfying happiness (Deuteronomy 33:29).
We find true happiness when we are fully satisfied in God alone. Any other attempt to find solace for the soul is an insatiable pursuit of the elusive pot at the end of the proverbial rainbow. There is no hope or help in those endeavors. The difference between a god of her making and the true and living God are matters of control, authority, and submission.
The angry wife is an idolator, looking for whatever means she can find to satisfy the fears and longings of her soul. Because she is looking to her husband as the primary source of her happiness, she is trying to control him, have authority over him, and she will not submit to him or God. If she chooses to submit to the Lord, she will have to give up these control, authority, and submission idols.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).
Those traps that predated their relationship has caught her, and she will blame him for what is going wrong. This predicament reminds me of the snarky comment Martha made to Jesus when she wanted her brother healed. Sometimes a mean wife will say unkind things. It is imperative in those moments that he keeps the big picture in mind, as Jesus did.
An “eye-for-an-eye methodology” is the old-school way of reacting to sinful people. If the husband does not guard his heart, he will take it personally and snap back at her. This approach will never work. She does not need his punishment but his Christ. If he sins back at her, he will be just like her. One of the things that surprise me about how people process marriage conflict is they do not have practical awareness of the doctrine of sin.
Sometimes in counseling, I want to stand up and ask, “What did you expect?” I am not sure if we are naive, dense, dumb, absent-minded, or blinded by our cravings. We live in a sinful world. People sin. This characteristic is the one thing that we all do swimmingly well. Sin is my greatest strength, sad to say, which I have been trying to put to death since regeneration. As of this morning, it is still not dead.
The gospel-centered husband perceives this “Adamic problem” and can set aside his expectations to serve his wife. He does not have to take it personally but understands the true nature of the situation. He wants to view things from a different perspective. We see this need for a God-centered perspective in the Old Testament, where Samuel ran up against some selfish people who did not like his ideas.
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).
Samuel took it personally. He had a good idea, and he thought everyone would be on board. When they did not cooperate, Samuel went into self-pity mode and needed the Lord’s corrective care. A mean wife is not rejecting her husband, but she is rejecting the Lord. The selfish Israelites launched their disappointment toward Samuel, even though it was not about Samuel. Samuel was only an advocate for the Lord. Advocacy is part of the job description of the husband of a mean wife.
God has called husbands to love, learn, and lead their wives. We must never forget these objectives. If we get caught up in what we are not getting and toss a grenade in the wife’s direction, there is no hope for our marriages. But if we allow the Lord to correct us as He corrected Samuel, our perspective will change, and He will give us the grace to serve our wives, hopefully helping them experience complete restoration to the Father. To do this well, we will have to answer the biggest question of all, which is why God brought the husband of a mean wife into the marriage.
You must wonder why Sovereign Lord brought you two together. It is a thought worth pondering, and the Scriptures do not leave you scratching your head on such matters. May I speculate with you? Is it possible the Lord knew the soul condition of your wife before you ever met her (Jeremiah 1:5)? Is it possible His desire has always been for her to find satisfaction in Him alone (John 4:14)?
Is it possible the Lord brought you into this marriage for such a time as this? We do not serve a haphazard, “catch-as-catch-can” God. He is a premeditative God. He knows the future (Ephesians 1:5). Sometimes He “prepares suffering” for us because He works a higher purpose in our lives. Are you in faith to serve this kind of God? God placed Joseph in Egypt so he could receive the people who needed his help (Exodus 1:5). Through the means of disappointment and broken dreams, Joseph was put in Egypt to steward a sovereign opportunity.
Are you willing to become God’s man for your wife so you can lead her out of her bondage? You have a choice: you can act similar to your wife by becoming just as snarky, demanding, and mean as she is, or you can choose to endure the current suffering because you have a future vision of what pure joy could be like in your home.
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