First, let’s define “punish” so that we are all on the same page.
Merriam Webster defines “punish” as:
a : to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense, or violation
b : to inflict a penalty for the commission of (an offense) in retribution or retaliation
a : to deal with roughly or harshly
b : to inflict injury on : hurt
I think we can all agree that God does not give believers the “right” to “deal with roughly or harshly,” “to inflict injury on,” or to “hurt” someone else. The two greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-40 are to love God with all our hearts and to love others the way God does.
Love does no harm to others (I Corinthians 13:4-8a, Romans 13:10).
What about imposing penalties? Do I have the right to impose or inflict penalties on my husband or to seek retaliation if I am hurt by him in some way?
WHO HAS AUTHORITY TO DISCIPLINE OR TO PUNISH OTHERS? (There is a discussion about the difference between discipline and punishment at the bottom of the post.)
According to God’s Word, God has the ultimate authority to punish or discipline people. God alone has the right to decide what is right and wrong. God decides what punishment a person, city, or nation deserves. God also delegates certain human authorities who have the authority to punish, discipline, and/or lead certain people according to His design for order. (For more detail on this, please check out Spiritual Authority.)
- Government officials have authority from God to punish criminals and are supposed to uphold God’s standards (Romans 13:1-7, John 19:11)
- Parents have authority from God to discipline and correct under-aged children within the limits God commands (Verses about parents’ responsibility and authority to discipline their children)
- Church leaders have authority from God to discipline and correct those under their authority within certain limits (Verses about church leaders’ responsibility and authority to correct and discipline those in their churches)
- Believers may lovingly, gently confront/rebuke each other about sin they see in the others’ lives after examining their own lives for sin first, seeking to restore one who has fallen back into fellowship with God (Matthew 7:1-5, Galatians 6:1-2).
- Managers/supervisors at work, teachers/administrators at school have limited scope of disciplining employees and students (Ephesians 6:4-6, passages about believers submitting to their boss)
- Husbands have authority from God over their wives to lead them, to instruct/correct/rebuke, to make the final decisions in the family, to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and they are accountable and responsible for this leadership to God Himself (I Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:22-33, I Peter 3:7, Colossians 3:18-19, I Corinthians 13:4-8a, 1 Corinthians 14:35). God does not authorize husbands to be “harsh” with their wives – if they are, their prayers will not be heard (I Peter 3:7). Men and women have equal value before God (Galatians 3:28). Husbands and wives are all heirs together of the gracious gift of life (I Peter 3:7).
Note. For more about husbands’ responsibilities, please see the section at the bottom of the post (for some of you, this is a trigger, so please don’t read the very last section). For more about wives’ authority, please check out “A Husband’s and a Wife’s Authority in Marriage.” Wives do have authority to address their husbands’ sin, please see below. However, the farther a husband is from God, the less he can hear his wife’s words about spiritual things. If my husband is far from God, God’s command for me is I Peter 3:1-6.
“SHOULDN’T MY HUSBAND TRY TO MAKE ME HAPPY MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE?”
A husband’s primary responsibility is to honor, please, and obey God – that is every believer’s primary responsibility. A wife’s primary responsibility is also to honor, please, and obey God. Ideally, we can please God and please our spouses, but if we must choose, we must choose to please God.
Most husbands truly want their wives to be happy whenever possible. Many husbands measure their success as men by their wives’ happiness. (This is not always an accurate measurement – by the way – of a man’s success. God is the only one who can accurately measure a man’s “success.”) A wife’s happiness can be wonderful when she is happy about godly things. But a wife’s happiness must NEVER come before a husband’s obedience to God, God’s will, the Spirit’s leadership, and His Word.
A wife (or any believer) who is walking in the power of God’s Spirit can and will have joy, peace, and a thankful heart no matter what her circumstances may be at the time.
“I KNOW GOD’S WILL BEST!”
Sometimes, we think we know what is best for us and we think if we had our way that everything would be great. We may think we have more wisdom than our husbands and more wisdom than God. Sometimes God will lead our husbands another way, give them wisdom we cannot see at the time, or prompt them in ways we don’t understand until later. I pray we will not attempt to insert ourselves between our husbands and God and attempt to derail our husbands from doing what they truly believe is best, right, and most honoring to Christ. We can do incalculable damage if we do this! And, please keep in mind, that God can and does lead believing wives through unbelieving husbands. God is sovereign. We can rest in that. 🙂
Human happiness does not come first. God MUST come first. Always. We are no longer seeking to please people, but to please God! (Galatians 1:10)
WHAT DOES GOD SAY WE SHOULD DO WHEN SOMEONE SINS AGAINST US?
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14, 17-21
We, as followers of Christ, can trust God with vengeance and retribution for those who sin against us. Ultimately, all sin is against God. Revenge belongs to Him alone. And we must trust the government to act on God’s behalf to carry out punishment for criminals.
If I assign myself authority to judge someone, to take vengeance, and to execute punishment – I am putting myself in God’s place in a sinful, prideful way.
I DO NOT HAVE AUTHORITY FROM GOD TO PUNISH MY HUSBAND
God does NOT impart to me the right or authority to punish anyone – including my husband. As a believer, I am not the judge or executioner for anyone (unless that is my job with the government and I determine or administer punishment for criminals who have been convicted by a court of law – and even then, I would be disqualified from judging or punishing my own husband in our society, at least).
IF MY HUSBAND WON’T DO WHAT I WANT HIM TO DO
If my husband is not asking me to clearly sin or to condone sin, God commands me as a wife to honor my husband’s leadership, to respect him, and to biblically submit to his decisions – even if I disagree with him. This does not mean my husband is “always right.” It means I am submitting myself to God and obeying Him because I love, respect, and reverence Him and because He is worthy of my obedience.
My recourse is to take this issue to God in prayer. It is my responsibility to share my heart, my desires, my perspective, my needs, my wisdom, and my emotions with my husband respectfully. If he decides not to do what I think is best, and he is not asking me to clearly sin, I cooperate with his decision because I want to walk in obedience to the Lordship of Christ in my life.
God can change my husband’s heart if a change is necessary. God is sovereign, and He has the power to lead me through my husband in ways I cannot begin to imagine. Will I hold my will loosely and seek God’s will above my own? Will I trust God? Will I submit to Him as LORD? Am I willing to die to myself?
I AM NOT QUALIFIED TO JUDGE MY HUSBAND’S GODLINESS
If my husband doesn’t do what I want him to do right now, I may be tempted to think “he is ungodly,” “he needs to change,” or “he is unloving.” I can sometimes see fruit in his life accurately – but I am not God and I am not privy to all of my husband’s motivations or to God’s view of my husband’s heart. I may be tempted to think I am the only one who can rightly interpret Scripture and that I know so much better what God’s will is than my husband does. How I must guard against such pride and self-righteousness! I may not be able to judge properly. Only God can truly know and accurately judge my husband’s heart and His will in a given situation – unless something is clearly explained in God’s Word. If I want something that goes against God’s Word, I do not have to wonder if that thing is God’s will. It is not.
I used to judge and condemn my husband constantly. 🙁 I know now that I was very wrong so many times. May we not judge our husband’s “godliness” by measuring whether our husbands will submit to us or do what we want them to do. Let us allow our husbands the freedom to seek to do what God calls them to do and let us place our happiness and our will on the altar before Christ. This is what it means to die to self and to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.
CHECKING MY MOTIVES
If I am doing something with the purpose of:
- hating my husband
- desiring to hurt my husband and cause him pain – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually
- desiring to punish my husband or take revenge
- acting out of unforgiveness, bitterness, or resentment
- holding a grudge
- being jealous
- turning others against my husband
- causing division, contention, arguments, strife, and factions in my home, marriage, or family
… I have major sin in my heart. These are the fruit of the flesh God describes in Galatians 5:18-21.
WHAT A WIFE MAY DO IF HER HUSBAND IS SINNING AGAINST HER (A husband would have the right to do these things, as well, if his wife is sinning against him.)
A wife attempting to punish her husband is very different from a wife handling her husband’s sin according to God’s Word in such a way that her motives, words, and actions honor Christ, honor her husband, honor her marriage, honor her children, and honor herself:
2. A wife may confront her husband humbly, gently, respectfully, and firmly about his sin with godly, loving motives, desiring to see him restored to fellowship with God and with herself (a husband may do this, as well). (Matthew 18:15-17) She may need to involve church leaders if he doesn’t respond to her approaching him privately about her concerns first.
3. A wife may need to remove herself from a dangerous, blatantly sinful, truly abusive situation or a wife may need to remove herself from a situation where a husband is an active drug/alcohol/sex addict or is involved in unrepentant infidelity. (Matthew 18:15-17, I Corinthians 7, “Do I Condone Marital Rape and Abuse?“)
Are We Responsible for Our Spouse’s Happiness?
PUNISHMENT IS DIFFERENT FROM DISCIPLINE:
www.biblestudytools.com defines “discipline” in detail here and how this concept is used in Scripture in the Old and New Testaments
Let’s talk about discipline from a biblical standpoint because God does chastise and discipline those who belong to Him. He also punishes sin and sinners.
God punishes sinners –
His motives are to execute holy, fair, perfect, and righteous justice. He is the Judge. God is love, but God is also completely just. He will not tolerate sin. He does not make excuses for sin. He does not ignore sin. All sin offends God and is primarily against God. As Creator, God, and Judge He has the authority to correctly and rightly judge each person against His Laws and His standards and He alone has the right to execute punishment against sin.
And the Lord God commanded the man (Adam), “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17
The wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a)
This death that we eventually earn with our sin (our wrong doing) is both physical (we are separated from our body) and spiritual (we are separated from God now and after this life in hell).
Thankfully, Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserved for our sins. Jesus took God’s punishment for our sins on Himself. If we receive the gift of His death in our place and we give our lives to Him to be our Savior and also our LORD (the One in charge of our lives from this point on), we do not face or experience God’s punishment for our sins. (We may still experience earthly consequences or discipline, but not punishment.) THIS IS GOOD NEWS!
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
God disciplines His children –
His motives are His incredible love for that child and the child’s greatest good. God makes a distinction between those people who belong to Him and those who do not. As a parent, I have the responsibility to discipline my children, but not to discipline someone else’s children. God disciplines us to help us mature in our faith (Hebrews 12, James 1, I Peter). Just like a loving father disciplines his children and does not allow them to destroy themselves with poor choices, God disciplines us. Discipline is about God training and teaching us His righteousness and holiness. Discipline is about correcting our mindset, our motives, and our behavior. It is about sparing us from death and disaster. God’s discipline of us is designed for our ultimate good and God’s ultimate glory. His Spirit has the power to convict us of sin, to bring us to genuine repentance, and to give us victory over sin.
Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death. Proverbs 19:18
SOME WAYS WIVES MAY ATTEMPT TO PUNISH THEIR HUSBANDS TO TRY TO HURT THEM IN SOME WAY
- withholding sex
- shaming them on Facebook
- telling other people things that their husbands desire to be kept private
- withholding affection
- refusing to cook
- thinking, “I’ll show him!” or “I’ll teach him not to mess with me!”
- refusing to clean
- refusing to work
- arguing and being contentious
- purposely making a mess for him to clean up
- spending more money than the couple can afford to spend, willfully driving her husband into deeper debt
- humiliating him in front of other people
- attempting to turn other people against their husbands (in the family, the extended family, at church, at work, in the neighborhood, etc…)
- refusing to take care of the children
- refusing to eat together
- refusing to talk
- refusing to cooperate with their husbands’ God-given leadership when their husbands are clearly NOT asking their wives to sin or to condone sin
- disrespecting their husbands
- trying to control their husbands
- attempting to get their husbands fired
- yelling, screaming, cussing
- violence (throwing things, hitting, pushing, slapping, etc…)
- threatening divorce
- leaving (with the purpose of causing pain)
- throwing all of his belongings out the window or putting them by the road
- having an affair in retaliation
- I cannot love God and hate my husband.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21
- I cannot cling to a desire to hurt my husband and obey God’s greatest commandments.
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
- I cannot cherish unforgiveness in my heart and follow and love Jesus and be forgiven by God.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:12-15
- I am not my husband’s judge or executioner.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister ? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Romans 14:10-13
As the head of the home and marriage, a husband (for more, please see “Spiritual Authority“):
– may give directives as long as he is not asking his wife to condone sin or participate in sin (“Please do this/Please do not do that…”)
– may give consequences within limits of Scripture (i.e.: “because you cannot control your spending, I don’t want you to use your credit cards anymore”)
– has the final say in decisions (I know that you really want to do X. I have taken your feelings, desires, and needs into account. But I believe that it would be most honoring to God for us to do Y right now.”).
– may lovingly correct, confront, or rebuke his wife if he sees sin in her life – as believers, we do this for each other humbly, graciously, gently, respectfully and only after we examine our own hearts for sin first – Matthew 7:1-5. (I am concerned that there may be some bitterness in your heart toward your mom. Let’s talk about what’s going on, Honey. Bitterness is so toxic, I don’t want to see you consumed by that poison.)
– has the responsibility to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her – this does not mean a husband must love a wife in the way she wants to be loved or that a wife must always “feel loved” the way she wants to feel, but that the husband seeks to truly love his wife the way Jesus loves His people by the power of God’s Spirit (I Corinthians 13:4-8a).