I participated in a Q&A recently where a woman anonymously submitted this question: The Word instructs wives to submit to their husband’s and RESPECT them. How can I respect a man who is not respectable in my eyes?
First, my big picture advice was this: Be willing to go to your pastor or a godly couple in the church to talk these things through. The local church is designed to help us walk through issues just like this. Marriage is not easy. However, it is good, and it is a sacred bond between a man and a woman that is worth fighting for. I don’t say fighting each other! I mean it is worth making the effort to preserve.
I won’t go into all the details of my answer, but I would like to include a very important aspect of my response in today’s post. How do we really go about changing our spouse? If the husband isn’t leading well enough or if the wife isn’t submitting well enough, what do we do to fix it? Here’s what you need to do first:
Take the focus off the other person for a moment.
I’m not saying there aren’t serious issues that arise in marriage that need to be dealt with by going to counseling or even confronting particular sin issues. But here’s what I’m saying: focus on changing you.
You see, marriage is a beautiful covenant between two broken people. The only marriage ever to occur that was between two non-sinners happened at the end of Genesis 2. And it took all of just a handful of subsequent verses to change that forever. Marriage is messy sometimes because people are sinners.
Paul exhorts husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22,25 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
Often times in marriage disagreements I hear the wife say something like “I would follow you if you would lead better” or the husband says “I would lead better if you’d submit better.” Yet, here is the reality of Ephesians 5: There are no exception clauses. Paul doesn’t say only love perfect wives, or only submit to perfect husbands, for if he did, these exhortations would be completely meaningless! It’s not the lovely wives that are to be loved or the respectable husbands that are to be respected. That’s not what Paul says.
He says Wives, submit to your husbands and husbands, love your wives. We can’t get out of these commands by claiming our spouse is imperfect. In fact, in other places in Scripture all Christians are told to submit to governmental leaders (1 Peter 2:13ff) and we know that the leaders of the New Testament era were certainly not Christians. The point being, instead of waiting around on your spouse to do what they are supposed to do, first focus on doing what you are supposed to do.
Let the fullness of Christ in you spill over into your marriage relationship. Focus on being the spouse God has called you to be first. No, you can’t be perfect, but there are areas we can all grow in. Wives, follow your husband’s leadership even if it is imperfect. This doesn’t mean you have to be a ‘slave’ or do something that Christ forbids, but it does mean that you can follow in areas your husband is leading even if you don’t always agree.
Husbands, love your wives even if they are contentious. My friend Jim Elliff recently wrote an excellent article about the sad story of James Fraser. Does not Christ continually love the church even though she is imperfect? Is He not full of grace toward Her? Did He not give up His life for Her? Strive to love your wife that way, even if she balks sometimes. You keep doing what God has called you to do.
None of this is to imply that the other person doesn’t need work too. In fact, I don’t even know who they are but I know they need work. Why? They are a fallen human being! If they are a Christian though, I am certain that your joy in Christ will eventually rub off on them (of course, marriage counseling might be a tremendous help too. And there is no shame in wanting to work on your marriage through biblical counseling!).
Let your fullness in Christ spill over. Let your meditations on Scripture, and prayer, and love for the local church pour over in your life so that your husband or wife sees your joy and love for Christ. May your witness show them that obedience to Christ brings delight. If they are not a Christian, your fullness in Christ might just win them to the Lord (see 1 Peter 3:1).
As you strive to do what Scripture teaches regarding your role in marriage, pray for your spouse. Pray that they would understand the role God has for them as well. Pray that the gospel would continually work in their hearts. Pray that you would love and cherish them as the gift they really are to you.
Marriage is hard work sometimes. But sometimes the hardest work might be humbling yourself and seeking the Lord to work in your life before you worry about what your spouse needs to fix. In all of this however, it is worth it.