Wives, Submission, and Foolish Husbands

The following excerpt is taken from a book written for women, but one I find very helpful as a husband. The quote reminds me that my wife is called to exercise her own biblical discernment in relation to the decisions I make (or fail to make). My wife is not called to follow me into foolishness or sin. She knows this, and knowing that she knows this keeps me on my toes. I first read this excerpt around Christmas, and I’ve come back a few times since to dwell on the implications for me. What follows is the quote taken from Nancy Wilson’s book, Building Her House: Commonsensical Wisdom for Christian Women (Canon Press, 2006), pages 44–45:

The commands of submission and obedience are only difficult when we disagree with our husbands. If we agree with them and do what they say, it can hardly be called submission. Submission comes into play when we differ with them over an issue, but we defer to them and willingly give way.

But what about when the husband is in sin? This is a very important issue. What if the husband has adopted a wrong attitude and is heading in the wrong direction? Is a wife obligated to go along? It all depends. I have often been saddened that we don’t see more Abigails in the church today. She was not afraid to call her husband a fool and make arrangements behind his back without his permission [1 Sam. 25]. God blessed her abundantly for intervening in this way. She did not stay home and wait for David to attack her household while calling herself a submissive wife. She recognized that her husband was acting the part of a fool, and she exercised wisdom and prudence by going to King David herself.

If a man is acting foolishly, a woman is foolish to go along quietly. Of course this requires great wisdom. I am not advocating giving wives license to disobey in a willy-nilly fashion; that is what I am objecting to in the paragraphs above. But there are times when a godly wife should beseech her husband not to act in a foolish manner. It may involve doctrine. Perhaps she is alarmed that he is being attracted to heretical ideas, whether it is “openness theology” or Roman Catholicism. She should speak to him respectfully about this and let him know she cannot follow him there. If she belongs to a godly church, her elders would support her in this.

Perhaps he is plotting to create some kind of stink in the church. Abigail would not stand for it. A good Christian wife should go to the elders and ask them how she can be a good church member and a good wife at the same time. She should not simply stand by, hoping that her husband will do the right thing. Nor should she just accept anything her husband does as though he is infallible. If a husband is bad-mouthing his elders, his pastor, or his friends, a godly woman should refuse to go along. She should speak to him privately first, but if he is not receptive, she should go to her pastor or elders and seek their advice. This same pattern should be followed if a husband is violent, if he has a temper, if he is cheating on his income taxes, if he is not providing for the household, or if he is being sexually unfaithful in any way—and this is not an exhaustive list.

A wife is to be a helper to her husband, not a blind follower, and this sometimes involves going past him to get help. God blessed Abigail when she did this. In her case it was abundantly clear what was necessary. In other cases it might require pastoral input and oversight. But obedience and submission to a mere man is never absolute. God governs all of us. We demonstrate that we serve Him above all others when we realize that our submission and obedience to our husbands is always to be lived out within the boundaries God has wisely set for us.

Home Burdens

Octavius Winslow writes the following to comfort all who carry the weight of “home-burdens.” After I read it I stopped to pray for the wives I know who carry a heavy load of family duties and burdens on a daily basis. This is from his book The Ministry of Home (London: 1847), pages 351–352:

Perhaps, your home-duties, trials, and needs, form your burden. Every home is an embryo kingdom, an epitomized world, of which the parent constitutes the sovereign. There are laws to be obeyed, rules to be observed, subjects to be governed, cares to be sustained, demands to be met, and “who is sufficient for all this?” is often your anxious inquiry. Who can tell what crushing burdens, what bitter sorrows, what corroding cares, what pressing demands, may exist within a single family circle, deeply veiled from every eye but God’s? . . . Your children are an anxiety. Your domestic duties a trial. Your necessities are pressing. Your whole position one of embarrassment and depression [financially].

What shall you do? Do even as the Lord who loves you enjoins — “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you.” Your Heavenly Father knows all your home-trials, for He has sent them! Jesus, though he had no home on earth, yet sympathized with the home-cares and sorrows of others, and is not a stranger, nor indifferent to yours. Bring all to Him, tell Him all, confide to Him all, trust Him in all. You have no family trial too great, and no domestic need too little, and no home-sorrow too delicate, to take to Christ. Obey the precept, “Cast your burden upon the Lord;” and He will make good the promise, “and He shall sustain you.” O costly and blessed home-burden that brings Jesus beneath our roof! . . .

Jesus is the great Burden-Bearer of His people. No other arm, and no other heart, in heaven or upon earth, were strong enough, or loving enough, to bear these burdens but His! He who bore the weight of our sin and curse and shame in His obedience and death — bore it along all the avenues of His weary pilgrimage, from Bethlehem to Calvary — is He who now stretches forth His Divine arm, and makes bare a Brother’s heart to take your burden of care and of grief, dear saint of God, upon Himself.

Loving with Constancy [marriage]

“After Lucas, the artist, had taken a wife and the wedding was over, he always desired to be next to his bride. He had a good friend who said to him, ‘Friend, don’t do that. Before a half-year is gone you will have had enough of that. There won’t be a maid in your house whom you won’t prefer to your wife.’ And so it is. We hate the things that are present and we love those that are absent. As Ovid wrote, ‘What we may have [does not please us]; it’s what we may not have that excites our passion.’ This is the weakness of our nature. Then the devil comes and introduces hatred, suspicion, and concupiscence on both sides, and these cause desertion. It’s easy enough to get a wife, but to love her with constancy is difficult. A man who can do this has reason to thank our Lord for it. Accordingly, if a man intends to take a wife, let him be serious about it and pray to God, ‘Dear Lord God, if it be thy divine will that I continue to live without a wife, help me to do so. If not, bestow upon me a good, pious girl with whom I may spend all my life, whom I hold dear, and who loves me.’”

Martin Luther, Table Talk [WA TR V no. 5524] p. 214.

HT: T-Bomb