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Mable and Biff have a challenging marriage. They have been married for eleven years. What began with all the hope in the world has slowly degenerated to a daily struggle. 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 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 into this, but she typically botches it up, and the following arguments have discouraged her. She does not want to overstep her bounds, which puts her in a quandary as to how to move forward. She read my chapter, how to lead your husband and asked if I would write more on how to do that. Here is what I told her.
You will have to think through the differences between subordination in roles and equality of persons. You see this idea when you 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. As 100% man, He was subordinate to the Father.
On the one hand He is no less than the Father or the Spirit and on the other hand–as a man–He serves in a different capacity than both of them. The husband/wife relationship has an echo of this idea. Though both partners are fully equal before God (ontology), as a married couple they serve different roles (function).
As humans made in the image of God, there is a coequality (Genesis 1:27). Perchance, they are born again (John 3:7), there is a spiritual coequality (Colossians 3:9-11). The husband/wife context is not the only place where we see this idea coequality and hierarchy.
Our world could not function well without hierarchy, but those structures do not mean those who serve their leaders or authorities are lesser humans than their authorities. It’s important for you to know this because there are some who teach there is no equality between the wife and husband, which is ludicrous. It also has no biblical basis.
The husband and wife are equal human beings made in the image of God. They are the same before God and with each other. When it comes to their roles in the marriage, there is a subordination dynamic. This idea means the wife can help (even lead in 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. You are one 100% person in many roles, e.g., mother, sister, daughter, wife, and employee. Christ is God, but He set that aside to become a man. Hardly something you 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 the grace of God into your life so you can use your unique God-giftedness to serve your husband and marriage with Christian leadership.
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, especially if he does not change. You need a female friend, preferably at your church, who is willing to wound you if necessary to help you (Proverbs 27:6).
Let’s Begin Here: How often do you pray for your husband? It’s imperative that you pray for him. It is also essential that you say specific things to the Lord about your husband. 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?” (See Esther 4:14)
You have a substantial redemptive opportunity. Paul had one with the Corinthians. Maybe before you ask God to change your husband, ask Him to transform you. If you do not adequately fine-tune your heart before the Lord, it will be hard to lead your husband toward change.
What I mean is that if you are not a grace-filled, grace-giving person, it will be a gospel contradiction to ask the Father to make your husband something you are not.
Have you ever been encouraged by a person who did not seem sincere? How did it feel? Genuine encouragement is born out of a pure heart. If your heart is struggling toward your husband, it will be hard to move forward with sincere, authentic help.
Christ genuinely loved you while you were a sinner (Romans 5:8). Paul genuinely 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 tune to your husband. Some wives have asked on this point,
Why should I try to be an encouragement to my husband?
The answer is because 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 encouragement. Paul talked about it like this:
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 to ask yourself is, “What kind of husband do I want?” Think about this with me for a minute. What if I listed a few things you might want your husband to be? Maybe you would say it this way:
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 biblical requests. They are doable. However, there is an essential first step with desires like these: How are you modeling the items you’re asking him to be? If your husband lacks in any of these good things, you should be presenting yourself as an authentic example of how to be them in your marriage and home.
Do not discount what a God-honoring, gospel-motivated, Christ-centered example can do for someone. You show your husband what Christ looks like through your humble modeling of Christ. Don’t be that hypocrite person who demands Christlikeness without providing a Christlike example for him to follow (1Corinthians 11:1).
Let’s say you are actively (1) praying for your husband, (2) encouraging him daily, and (3) modeling the example you want him to be. I’m sure you’re not doing these things perfectly, but you’re doing them most of the time. If these things are happening, you’re in the best place to bring gentle correction to him (Galatians 6:1).
Pick Your Spots – The best times to make your loving appeals is always non-fight times. Don’t try to correct your husband when you’re arguing with him. The angry man is a fool, and a fool should not be adjusted (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 you don’t know all there is to know 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 brain. If you do not do this, you will compound your troubles.
James also said the anger of (woman) does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). If you want to create righteousness in your husband, turn off the switch to any anger you may have toward your husband.
Ask For Forgiveness – If you blow it, which you will, you can take care of your mistake through repentance. Just because he does not ask you for forgiveness, you can still ask him for forgiveness. And don’t forget to ask the Father too.
Your husband may be too stubborn and proud 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 the Bible says whether he does it or not (Romans 12:18).
You can forgive him at least attitudinally: You can forgive your husband in your heart even if he does not participate in active repentance with you. Jesus asked the Father to forgive the folks at the cross that day.
It was not an active, transactional repentance since they were not asking but you see the heart and attitude of the Savior in the dark moment (Luke 23:34). You can follow His example (1Peter 2:21). Let Christ’s example motivate you to have a forgiving heart attitude.
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 the things you say, repent to all of the people you dishonored in front of him.
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.
Make Him a Priority – God makes you a priority. You do not deserve His attention or His 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 daily fill your mind with hope. I’m not necessarily talking about the belief that your husband will change. He may never repent. I’m talking about the eternal confidence that will enable you to endure.
This kind of hope is born in the crucible of prayer. Paul understood this. It was the hope he found in God that buoyed him through some of his most challenging seasons, which is how he framed it in Corinthians:
For this slight 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 things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18