BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 4 of a BCC Grace & Truth blog series on marriage. Read Part 1: Counseling the Marriage Stuck in Neutral, Part 2: Vows, Promises, and the Problem of Love, and Part 3: Winning Without a Word.
Marital Roles and Responsibilities
“My wife just won’t submit,” the husband says, painfully expressing to you why he thinks his marriage is so difficult.
If you are a pastor or counselor, there is a good chance you will probably hear this from a well-intentioned Christian husband at some point in your ministry. And from hearing it repeatedly, you have gained the wisdom to know that “the marriage is not working” because the husband is probably not fulfilling his biblical marital role as he should. Yes, the Christian wife might not have a clear understanding of her role in the marriage or might have different sins that prohibit her from following her husband submissively. But more often than not, I have found the Christian husband needs admonishment and instruction from God’s Word on his role and responsibilities in marriage.
Three Diagnostic Questions
There are three questions that need to be asked to this husband when you meet with the couple:
- How are you loving your wife?
- How are you leading her?
- How do you show long-suffering?
Of course, you will gain valuable information in listening to how the wife answers these questions about her husband, but the Christian husband needs to answer these questions. They will help you get to the heart of where God’s grace needs to infiltrate his life and impact his marriage. God’s Word confronts Christian husbands that they are to submit to Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:20). Submission to Christ transforms how a husband loves, leads, and extends patience to his wife.
How are you loving your wife?
You might be tempted to talk about leadership with him first, but a husband can only be a good leader if he is a loving husband. Godly affections will drive good decision making. Love is the manner in which we “bear with one another,” that is, exhibit long-suffering (Ephesians 4:2). A husband who loves will learn to lead and be long-suffering. Love is first and foremost the description of Jesus’ disposition to the church. “Christ loved the church,” and so husbands are called to emulate that love (Ephesians 5:22). Loving your wife means serving her and being selfless.
Love displays itself in service to her. Christians are called to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). Christian husbands need to think through how they can serve their wives in love. A wife who is described as “un-submissive” by her husband might never see the love of Christ displayed by her husband. Good pastoral counselors will probe into areas where the husband is not serving his wife and encourage him to submit to Christ by serving her in specific ways throughout the day and week.
Love also displays itself in unselfishness. Husbands who live for themselves are likely to notice where others are not meeting his needs because his concern is always about his needs and desires. Yet Christ calls husbands to live selflessly, even to the point of death (Ephesians 5:28-29).
Husbands are to love their wives as they love themselves. What this means is that with as much instinctive attention a husband gives to caring for his needs even more so must he instinctively pay attention to how he loves and cares for his wife. This is the application of the second greatest commandment in the context of marriage (Matthew 22:39).
Husbands need to learn that submission to Christ means no longer living for yourself but living for him who gave his life up for the church (2 Corinthians 5:15). Walter Chantry warns Christian husbands of the danger of selfishness.
“Desperate to have some time for himself, a husband retreats behind newspaper or television set or into bar rooms after his day’s work. No communication is made from the head to his body (his wife). If she does not serve his interests, he becomes angry with her self-defense; but never does he take time to confer with her and to divulge his deepest concerns. Nor is an attentive heart directed to her signals of suffering or neglect. By his lead the two are no longer heirs of one life but strangers in a fractured existence. This tragic pattern, repeated to the misery of multitudes, begins with man’s failure to recognize that his wife has been made by God a part of himself. His private ego is too demanding to allow room for another as co-heir of his own intimate life.”
Counselors need to challenge husbands to notice specific areas of selfishness and replace those self-serving sins with acts of loving service. Nothing less than giving a false representation of Christ’s love to your wife is at stake.
How are you leading her?
Christian husbands are called to be the leader of their household (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 11:3). Husbands are the decision makers in the family, though not to the exclusion of ignoring the wife’s desires and input into family matters. Godly wives are godly decision makers, as seen in the actions of the Proverbs 31 wife. Godly husbands lead their wives by trusting their wives (Proverbs 31:11). Leadership comes through planning and being proactive. Does the husband you are counseling make plans for his family? Does he follow through on those plans? These are questions that need answers to see if the husband is being submissive to Christ.
Husbands who lead are husbands who have plans. Questions the counselor might ask the husband is whether or not he is consulting God’s Word for decision making, does he offer up his plans to the Lord in prayer, and is he considering how his plans bring glory to God and spiritually strengthen his family. As the book of Proverbs is filled with instruction on the necessity of planning and making those plans in the fear of the Lord, a wise counselor should walk the husband the importance of making plans (Proverbs 12:20; 15:22; 16:1, 3, 9; 19:21; 20:18; 21:5).
Husbands must also be proactive with their plans. It will not be enough for the husband to make plans, he must carry them out with his “help-mate,” his wife (Genesis 2:20). If he has not been leading his wife, this will be where his masculinity is tested. He simply must set the direction for his family in all areas of life, whether it is finances, jobs, parenting, or church life. Essentially, he must start to live out the definition of the word husband: “husbandry, careful management of resources; economy.” The early church father, Clement of Alexandria, said it this way:
“The prize in the contest of men is won by him who has trained himself by the discharge of the duties of husband and father and by the supervision of a household.”
Counselors must confront lazy husbands with the truth that Christ calls them to lead their wives wisely by his Word.
How do you show long-suffering?
The Apostle Paul calls all Christians to be lovingly patient by displaying long-suffering, tolerance, or forbearance with other believers (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13). The command to be lovingly patient is especially needed in the marriage relationship. A husband who thinks his wife is not submissive might not be considering how his wife is willing to follow him but needs patience along the way.
A husband with plans often flies down the highway of life exceeding the speed-limit of 70 miles per hour. He blazes into the future, having calculated and crafted his plans with precision. He has consulted the Lord and others with his plans. He is ready to lead his family for Christ. He is ready to be “radical.” The only problem is that he is going too fast for his wife, who just started to merge onto the highway of life at 35 miles per hour. She needs time to catch up. She needs her husband’s long-suffering, his loving patience.
One thing Christian husbands must do is consider how patient God has been with them. One of God’s chief characteristics is his patience (Exodus 34:6). Is the wife struggling with a particular sin? Be patient. God is at work. Is she having a difficult time being on board with the direction you have set for the family? Be patient. God is at work. Is she not understanding scriptural injunctions about marriage roles?
Be patient. God is at work. Christian husbands will do well to extend godly patience to their wives as they lovingly lead them.
These three questions will be more than enough for you to engage the husband who says his wife has “submission issues.” There very well may be an issue in the wife’s heart that needs to be addressed (i.e., her sinful responses to her husband’s lack of love, leadership, long-suffering). Be ready to counsel her as needed, as well. Listen to the husband answer these questions, give him biblical advice, and offer hope that God is working grace in him so he might submit to Christ more obediently and more faithfully.
Join the Conversation
Which point impacted you the most as a counselor? As a husband? What other areas do you see where husbands can follow Christ more obediently to lead his wife?
Walter Chantry, The Shadow of the Cross (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2001), 53-54.
The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., 417.
Clement of Alexandria, as quoted in Gary A. Anderson, The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 60.