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.
When Would I Not Submit to My Husband?
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.
Influencing an Unbelieving Husband for Christ
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.
Husbands Are Never the Absolute 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
Amen! A husband can be the best leader ever but the wife has free will and it’s up to her to follow or not.
And a husband can be a fairly poor leader, but with a godly wife supporting him and honoring his leadership, he may learn and grow to become a great leader.
Good point, correlates with 1 Peter 3:1.
It’s amazing to watch how when even just one spouse honors the Lord, it brings a blessing.
Nice, I love it. I also think we as wives should be careful not to allow sermons or other pastors take the lead over our husbands authority. Not sure if this makes sense, but I used to struggle with this by challenging my husband according to what another pastor said, rather than to yield to my husbands decision making/ leadership.
That is a great point! Thank you. 🙂
Husband got very angry, and said I disrespected him last night. Says he has been saying the same thing for years. Then goes on a rant of if i am going to rise up, then pay all the bills then. Starts saying I am just like my mom, she disrepects him and disrepected my dad.
We are believers, in fact we started a church a couple years ago. But it didn’t work out, and he blames me for it.
I see that I have fallen into the trap of focusing on the negative, and looking for him to give me attention. He has verbalizes that I don’t listen to him, and thats why he doesn’t lead me because of it.
Even though I have worked on it, and improved…if I have a down day (like yesterday) Its like it is all erased.
Last Night went in a whole different direction…he said he was leaving me and everything.
He also did this a year ago…
It’s very difficult to come back from that.
I was just starting to get over him wanted to separate over a year ago…things were good.
And then last night he just blew up, from something I felt was small (obviously not to him)
And said we aren’t going to be together.
I listened to him and Apologized
Please pray for a Speedy change in me, because I feel like he has no patience for me anymore. He feels you could have something just click in your mind, and make that change.
Oh, dear! It sounds like things are very painful. 🙁
I hope to reach you privately by email, if that is okay.
Husbands do think this stuff should all just “click” suddenly for wives. Most of the time it is a very slow process for us as we learn. The things God has for husbands to learn can be a slow process, as well.
Praying for you both and for God’s wisdom and healing.
I’m still struggling with this issue. There is big difficulty in letting go of control and allow my non-believing husband to lead me. What the Lord has been showing me is that if I follow his lead life would be a bit more peaceful. And yet I resist. I think the issue centers on respect. Why is this so hard?
P.S. given what I just said, my name seems a bit ironic.
Happily gave up,
I have many posts about what submission means and what it doesn’t mean because this topic can get really confusing or warped very quickly. And my book has chapters on the topic, as well, “The Peaceful Wife.”
My husband was a believer but was so spiritually wounded, shut down, and far from the Lord when I started this journey, that I had to approach things in a similar way as if he was an unbeliever. At first, honestly, I didn’t think God could lead me through Greg. I thought Greg was not able or willing to lead. I thought I had to take over.
But I saw that God’s Word said the husband is to lead. I felt sure I would sit and do absolutely nothing until I was 80 years old if I waited on Greg. But I decided to tell the Lord, “I know Your Word says I need to follow Greg and that You want him to lead. I don’t think he can even hear you right now. And I don’t think he wants to lead me. But I am going to obey and trust You with this. My real faith and trust is in You to lead me even through an imperfect man. If You want me to sit and do nothing, then that is what I’ll do. But I want to do things Your way from now on. If Greg asks me to sin, I won’t follow. But otherwise, I will wait on him. I will present issues to him. But I won’t push or pressure him. And I won’t run ahead or take over and steamroll him.”
The real issue is my respect and trust in Jesus and His Word and His commands for me. It’s not ultimately a matter of whether I think my is the best leader or always makes the right decisions.
Now, if a husband is not in his right mind, is actively involved in a drug/alcohol addiction, has an uncontrolled mental health issue going on, is demon possessed, is dangerous/abusive, or has dementia, a wife has to take a different approach. The end goal is always to honor God’s Word and to try to have a cooperative spirit with the husband’s leadership if he is not asking the wife to sin. But if there are severe issues, a wife may need to reach out for help.
This is hard. In my view, it is one of the greatest tests of our faith in the Lord.
If you need to talk more about this, I’m here! <3
Influencing an Unbelieving Husband for Christ.
Thanks. I think I needed some encouragement here. The Lord has been working with me on this and it is so much harder than it sounds! I don’t believe that being respectful to my husband is a negation of my will or personality at all. Twice during this lockdown there were incidents where I normally would have chastised him but instead took a deep breath and thanked him for the effort he put forth. Inside I was annoyed but outwardly I was respectful. That’s what I mean by it being hard. To deny my sinful side and accept the Lord’s way.
BTW, taking a breath was more of a figure of speech, not one of those breaths where you know the person is annoyed.
Happily gave up,
It is very against our normal nature. Yep. If it helps, what God asks husbands to do is equally difficult for them.
I’m really proud of you! That sounds like progress. In the beginning, you start with the outward stuff first, and then God continues to work and help to transform the inward part.
Thanks for clarifying the breath!
If you need more support or encouragement, please let me know. <3
One thing as a Christian woman I would love to be – and above any other status – I would love to have the reputation of being – is a good influence! April, you are a good (godly) influence. God bless you and keep you. ❤️
That is certainly my prayer, to be a light and to point women to Jesus and His goodness and healing.
Thank you for the encouragement. May the Lord empower us all to impact the world for His glory! <3
Thanks April. I’ve just stumbled across your blog – after doing a Google search on certain marital issues! As I said – I love it and can identify with everything I’ve read so far. So much so – that I’ve gone back to the beginning of your archives – Jan 2012 – and started reading them all. You will be getting a lot of likes from me for a while! I hope it doesn’t start to become annoying! There might be quite a few comments too after the more recent posts. God has raised you up for a reason. And if you hadn’t walked the broad path in marriage for 14 years – you wouldn’t have such a great story to share about the narrow path! That’s a testimony to God’s love, grace and mercy surely! Blessings ❤️
It’s wonderful to meet you and you are most welcome to share in any discussion you’d like. The comments aren’t open anymore on the really old posts. But you can share insights on the newer ones anytime. 🙂
I was devastated when I first saw my sin. I wished I could erase those 14 years of my life and make it all magically disappear. I didn’t want anyone to know. But now I feel totally differently about it. I’m glad to share my sin and mistakes and how God healed me. What a blessing to get to walk with other women on this road and help them find the steps to healing and to God’s narrow path. All the praise and glory goes to the Lord! He is so very good. I want everyone to get to experience the abundant Life we can have in Jesus.
I love reading your thoughts on this topic. My husband is definitely the spiritual leader in our home, but everyone in our family is responsible to tend to our own spiritual health and we encourage each other. I also tend to my children’s spiritual growth, and pray with them, teach them the Bible, their catechism (we use New City catechism) etc. I agree that submission is not the same as passivity. I wouldn’t be a good helpmeet to my husband if I was completely passive!
Husbands don’t need another child or a rug that lies on the floor. We each have our own load to carry and we can use our influence to be a blessing and to do our husbands good, not harm, all the days of our lives.
Thank you so much for sharing! I love your description of how you and your husbands manage your household. <3
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