Sarah and Scott have a difficult marriage. They have been one flesh for eleven years. What began with all the hope in the world has slowly degenerated to a daily struggle.
Though they both attend their local church, Scott is passively engaged. It’s more of a social event for him. Sarah has pleaded with Scott to pursue the LORD, but thus far it has been to no avail.
Their children are modeling his anger in different ways. The older two internalize the disappointment they feel from their dad, while the younger two act out according to their personalities.
Sarah has tried to speak into this, but usually botches it up and the succeeding arguments have discouraged her. She does not want to overstep her bounds, which puts her in a quandary as to how to move forward.
I sent her my article How to lead your husband and she asked if I would extrapolate more on how to humbly and skillfully lead him. This is what I told her.
One of the things I communicated to her was the difference between subordination in roles and equality of persons. Just like what we see in the Trinity, there is a difference between what a person does versus who a person is.
Jesus is God, but He serves in a subordinate position. On one hand He is no less than the Father or the Spirit and on the other hand He serves in a different capacity than both of them.
The husband/wife relationship is like this too. Though both partners are fully equal before God, as a married couple they serve different roles.
This would also be the same in an employer/employee relationship. The reason I said this to her was because some men and women do not have a clear understanding of what a complementarian relationship should be like.
The husband and wife are equal human beings, both made in the image of God. They are the same before God and people. However, when it comes to the roles they serve in the marriage there is a subordination dynamic.
This does not mean she can’t help her husband to be a better person. The wife, Christian or otherwise, was never meant to be a doormat in the marriage. It would be foolish and unbiblical for any man to treat his wife that way. She should be the one of the most effective sanctification assets in his life.
I wanted to encourage her by letting her know that though she may be subordinate in role, she has an obligation before God to be a means of grace to help him to be the man of God the Bible calls him to be (Ephesians 5:25-33).
Guard thy heart
The biggest temptation for her will be to guard her heart as she thinks about her husband, while trying to serve him in his sanctification. I’ll not repeat that information here, since it is in the aforementioned article.
However, it is essential she is guarding her heart. She will more than likely need an honest friend speaking into her life about how she thinks and talks about her husband.
She will not be above sinning against him. It will be a daily struggle for her to exercise self-control in this area of her life (Galatians 5:22-23).
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. – Proverbs 27:6 (ESV)
She needs a female friend, preferably at her church, who is willing to wound her if necessary in order to serve her in the marriage.
It will be difficult for her to lead her husband alone. Each local church is a community of like-minded disciple-makers and she will need a biblically like-minded friend to help guard her heart from sinning against her husband (Galatians 6:1-2).
Pray for your husband
One of the questions I asked her was how often she prayed for her husband. She said she prayed often, but when I unpacked what she meant, I discovered she prays when she is mad at him or as she casually thinks about him.
She does not spend dedicated, undisturbed, quality time before the Lord talking about her husband. The best marital or parenting advice you’ll ever receive is to pray for your spouse or children.
God can do more than you can do. It is imperative you are talking to God about your husband. It is also imperative you are saying specific things about your husband.
Sometimes a wife will ask God to change her husband which becomes the extent of her prayers regarding the marriage. This is not how Paul thought about people he wanted to help to change. Think Corinthians here.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Corinthians 1:4 (ESV)
Perhaps you read the verse above and said, “I don’t see the grace of God in my husband’s life.” Perhaps you are right. However, you missed the point if that was your first thought. The point is that Paul prayed for these mean and stubborn people.
If you are not Gospelized enough to pray with thanksgiving regarding your marriage then the first place you need to begin is in your own heart. Before asking God to change your husband ask Him to change you.
If your heart is not adjusted rightly before God, then it will be hard to lead your husband toward change. What I mean is if you have not been changed into a grace-filled and grace-giving person, it will be contradictory to ask the Father to make your husband different from you.
Encourage your husband
Have you ever been encouraged by a person who did not seem sincere? How did it feel? Sincere encouragement is born out of a sincere heart. If your heart is struggling toward your husband, then it will be hard to move forward with any kind of authentic complementarian responses.
Christ genuinely loved us while we were sinners (Romans 5:8). Paul genuinely loved the Corinthians too. Don’t skip this point. If your heart is not tuned to God this way, then you won’t be able to get it tuned to your husband.
You may then ask, “Why should I try to be an encouragement to my husband?” The answer is because this is the primary method the LORD uses to change a person. Do you want him to change? Read what Paul told the Christians in Rome:
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 (ESV)
The word repentance in this verse means change. Do you want your husband to change? Then how are you motivating him by grace? How are you encouraging him? Remember, it was God’s kindness through the death of Christ which turned our hearts toward Him.
What does your husband receive more from you: (1) Your critique, negativity, and nagging, (2) or your encouragement, hope, and affection? This is a marriage-changing question.
If your husband is more aware of your displeasure, then you need to repent to God because you are sinning against him. You’re being self-righteous, acting as though he is a worse person than you are (1 Timothy 1:15).
Model what you want
Another good assessment question to ask yourself is, “What do you want your husband to be?” Think about this with me for a minute. Let me list some possible things you may want him to become:
I want him to pray, love, encourage, help, serve, and lead. I want him to be spiritual. I want him to confess his sins and seek forgiveness. I want him to be humble and teachable. I want him to love the church and church people. I want him to be nice and kind to me.
I often tell folks that whatever they want someone to be, then they should be modeling this before them. If you are a pastor and you want your congregation to be living the practical life of Christ, then you should be living the example of Christ before them.
If you are a wife whose husband is lacking in certain ways, then you should be presenting yourself as an authentic example of what he should be. If you are a parent who wants the kids to love Christ with all their hearts, souls, and minds, then you model this before them.
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.
Few more things to consider
Pick your spots – Let’s say you are actively guarding your heart, praying for your husband, encouraging him daily, and modeling the example you want him to be. If these things are imperfectly working for you, then as God leads, try to bring loving correction to your husband.
The best times to bring loving appeals to your husband is in non-fight times. Don’t try to correct him when you’re arguing. The angry man is a fool according to Proverbs and a fool cannot be corrected (Proverbs 22:24; 29:9).
Pick your spots. Leverage the good times to make your adjustments. Also correct him more through question asking rather than statement making.
As a general rule, it is better to ask questions than to make statements. Statements can sound like or be perceived as accusations. Question asking has a humble measure of self-suspicion.
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 (ESV)
Let the wise words of James take control of your mind. If you do not do this, you will compound your troubles. However, if you’re actively doing the things I’ve suggested so far, the Spirit of God will not be grieved or quenched.
Plus, He will give you the grace you need to exercise self-control toward your husband, specifically the way you talk to him (Galatians 5:22-23).
Ask for forgiveness – If you blow it, which you will, you can take care of your mistake through repentance. Just because he never asks 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. It does not matter. His actions should not stop you from doing what is right. You do what you know the Bible says to do whether he does or not.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. – Romans 12:18 (ESV)
Forgive him…at least attitudinally – Minimally you can forgive your husband in your heart even if he does not participate in any kind of active repentance toward you. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34 (ESV)
You can follow His example. They were not forgiven, but you see the heart of the Savior, even when He was dying on the cross for them. Let this Gospel truth empower you to have a forgiving heart attitude.
Honor him before others – Never speak angrily or unkindly about your husband to anyone–especially to your children. And when you sin against him by the things you say, repent to all the people to whom you dishonored 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 made you a priority. You did not deserve His attention or His love, but He gave it to you anyway. You were a rebel and 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, my sister, hope in God. Allow the Father to fill your mind with daily hope. I’m not necessarily talking about hope that your husband will change. He may never change. I’m talking about an eternal hope which will empower you to endure.
This kind of hope is born in the closet of prayer. Paul understood this. It was the hope he found in God which buoyed him through some of his most challenging seasons. This 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 (ESV)
Finally, spend much time talking to the Father, asking Him to turn your husband’s heart because the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. – Proverbs 21:1 (ESV)