A wife asks, “Could you please tell me what the difference is between a husband not being responsible for my walk with the Lord and being the spiritual leader in the family?”
This is a fantastic question! It could be the topic of an entire book. Here are my thoughts. Please compare anything I say with Scripture.
What Does It Mean for the Husband to Lead?
A husband is accountable before God to be the leader of the family and the wife is to honor her husband’s leadership—unless he asks her to clearly sin (1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:22-33, Col 3:18-19, Acts 5:28, 1 Pet. 3:7).
Godly Spiritual Leadership
Jesus described godly leadership to His disciples when He explained that He set the example of humility by washing their feet (a job only the lowest slaves did at that time). He taught them that anyone who wants to be great in His kingdom must be a servant to others (Matt. 20:25-28).
Jesus taught that those in positions of leadership in His kingdom are not to “lord authority over” others but serve them in love (Matt. 20:25-28). It is not about being a selfish tyrant, but rather being a selfless, humble, yielded servant of Christ.
A husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:22-33). He is to live with his wife in an understanding way as the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). He is accountable to the Lord for making the final decisions in the family (1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:22-33).
When a husband and wife are making decisions, ideally they will discuss things together (if time permits). A loving husband cares about his wife’s feelings, concerns, and ideas.
If they can’t agree or there isn’t time for discussion, it is ultimately the husband’s decision to make and he answers to God for his decision and it is a wife’s responsibility to have a cooperative spirit. He is not to make decisions selfishly, but seek what is truly best for his wife and family.
If a husband believes his wife is sinning or heading in a dangerous direction spiritually, he is responsible to lovingly address the issues he sees, wanting to see his wife grow in her walk with the Lord.
He is also responsible to lead by setting a godly example of submission to the Lordship of Christ and obedience to God’s Word. He should desire to live a holy, Spirit-filled life evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and to love with the very agape love of Jesus (1 Cor. 13:4-8) knowing he will be held to a greater level of accountability as the leader.
Any believer who addresses another believer’s sin is to:
- Address any sin in his/her own life first (Matt. 7:1-5)
- Follow God’s instructions for giving a godly rebuke (Gal. 6:1-2, Matt 18:15-17).
A husband can seek to lead and guide his wife, but her response is her responsibility before God. He can’t convict her of sin, open her eyes, or make her obey the Lord.
Jesus, ultimately, accomplishes the sanctification of each believer through His death on the cross. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can convict people of sin, open blinded eyes, and change people. And each person has free-will to obey or rebel against the Lord.
God provides spiritual leaders for us to follow. It is our choice whether we follow or not.
Like a good shepherd, he can lead her to water and food, but she must decide to receive it.
A husband seeks to protect his wife from harm spiritually, emotionally, and physically and to make sure she has all she needs to thrive, just like Jesus does for us.
And just like believers can choose to submit or rebel against Jesus and His leadership, a wife has that same choice and is accountable for her obedience to the Lord and her cooperation with her husband’s leadership.
Ways a husband may lead
He may ask her to take certain things off of her plate if he sees she is exhausted and trying to do too much. He may notice ungodly influences in her life and ask her to avoid those things or people. He may encourage her to take better care of herself and get the rest and time with God she needs.
He may ask for her help with a ministry God has called him to. Or he may feel a different approach would be best for disciplining their children.
Husbands have a learning curve as they learn to become better leaders just like wives have a learning curve as they learn to become better followers and influencers. We all need grace, at times.
There is plenty of room for different leadership styles, personality types, and for each couple to work out what dynamics work best for them in the framework the Lord provides.
Some husbands will delegate more and give their wives a whole lot of freedom and discretion and only give feedback occasionally. Some will give more concrete direction more often.
What Is the Wife’s Role?
A husband has positional authority and a wife has influential authority. The husband is essentially in the driver’s seat. Not because he is more important or better than the wife, but because this is God’s design to be a picture of the way Jesus and the church relate.
The husband and wife’s relationship should be a living portrayal of the Gospel for all to see.
Or an even better analogy than a driver’s seat could be, they are two oxen pulling a yoke together in a field under the direction of their owner. One ox is the lead, but they both pull their weight. This is why God calls us not to be “unequally yoked” with an unbeliever vs a believer.
We need to be pulling our own weight and going in the same direction with the same purpose.
The wife has a voice and influence and, as a believer, should use her power for good in her husband’s life (like Esther and the Proverbs 31 wife), never for evil (like Eve or Jezebel).
I am to be a helpmeet who empowers my husband to better accomplish God’s will and His glory in our marriage and family. I seek to honor my husband’s God-given leadership and have a cooperative spirit first with Christ then with my husband.
I put my strength and support behind my husband’s leadership and seek to make his job easier by taking some of the details off of his hands so he can focus on God’s calling in his life and his responsibilities.
I respect my husband’s position as leader and God’s design for marriage and desire to fulfill my role in God’s design.
Wives have responsibilities for themselves, too
My boss is a God-given authority in my life, but he doesn’t do my work for me. He supervises me and is there if I have questions. He lets me know if I need to improve in various areas. He provides the resources and direction I need to do the best job I can do.
It’s similar in marriage. Our husbands are responsible to lead us properly, but we are still responsible to do our work.
A wife still has to:
- Work out her own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13).
- Feed herself spiritually by praying privately (Matt. 6:6) and read God’s Word for herself (Ps. 119:105, 1 Pet. 2:2).
- Listen to the Holy Spirit and obey God’s Word for herself (John 14:15-17).
We put our own spiritual armor on (Eph. 6:10-18). We praise and thank God without our husbands telling us to. We pray fervently for ourselves and others without having to be prompted. We seek Christ first in our lives and stand on His promises for ourselves.
We should be asking the Lord to help us see sin in our own lives and repenting of sin we see. We shouldn’t just wait on our husbands to tell us when we are in error.
We should take responsibility for our spiritual wellbeing and emotional wellbeing and not expect our husbands to carry all of our spiritual and emotional weight for us. My husband is not responsible for my happiness. We are teammates and both grown adults who take personal responsibility in our own lives.
We are very actively involved in loving and following Christ whether our husbands check up on us or not. And we know we are individually accountable to the Lord for all that we think, say, and do whether our husbands lead us well or not.
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.Rom. 14:12
If I have questions about theology or the Bible, I can go to my husband to ask him to help me understand. And I can ask him for his advice or direction on things.
But I can’t seek his approval above God’s. I don’t want to idolize my husband. (He shouldn’t idolize me either.) And I should compare anything my husband says to scripture. God’s Word and His wisdom are higher than any person’s.
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.Gal. 1:10
God holds wives accountable if we knowingly follow our husbands into sin. See the story of Sapphira.
Our relationship with the Lord is personal and private. We do not have to go through our husbands or a pastor to get to God. We go directly through Jesus as our High Priest.
Then we humbly seek to honor our husband’s leading out of reverence for Christ, trusting God to lead us through our husbands.
Proverbs 31:10-31 is a great description of a godly wife and how proactive and strong she is spiritually and how she blesses her husband and children.
My husband doesn’t own my thoughts, my conscience, or my decisions
My husband can’t decide for me what I think, what I believe, what I say, and what I do. I am responsible for these things myself. Each person has God-given free-will.
A Christian wife can also respectfully appeal her husband’s decision, if she believes it is necessary, at times.
If a husband is sinning
If a wife believes her husband is sinning or heading in a dangerous direction, she can respectfully and prayerfully seek to address the situation as Esther did. Not as the leader, but as the influencer and trusted advisor.
If he is trying to lead her into a cult, false religion, or sin, she cannot follow. She can speak and act respectfully. She can show that she wants to honor his leadership, but what he is asking her to do is outside of God’s Word so she cannot follow.
What If a Wife Is Married to an Unbeliever?
If a Christian wife finds herself married to an unbelieving husband, God can even use an unbeliever to lead her. She would still need to honor her husband’s leadership unless he asks her to rebel against God.
Her willingness to respect and honor her husband may be the very instruments the Lord uses to draw him to salvation and eternal life in Jesus.
She can’t force his spiritual eyes to open, but she can use her incredible influence through the Holy Spirit and her example to seek to reach him.
1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Peter 3:1-6 are great resources for wives in this situation, as well.
If there are severe issues in the marriage and the wife is not safe and/or the husband is not in his right mind, she should reach out for help ASAP. There are times when it is not safe for a wife to cooperate with her husband’s leading. Please see the bottom of the post Spiritual Authority.
How do you honor your husband’s leadership and still take personal responsibility for yourself?
- Are Husbands Responsible for the Spiritual Maturation of Their Wives? by CBMW
- Spiritual Authority—a Firm Foundation—class notes from a class at my church by Rev. Harold Weaver
- Christian Submission, Is It Only for Wives?
- Biblical Submission Is Not Passivity
- What Headship/Biblical Submission Look Like at Our House
- What Is Godly Spiritual Leadership?
- Supporting My Husband’s Leadership
- The Purpose of Marriage
- What Does It Mean to Be a Godly Husband? by www.gotquestions.org
- What Does It Mean to Be a Godly Wife? by www.gotquestions.org