I recently read a book by Joel and Kathy Davisson, Man of Her Dreams, in which they address a tendency by some men to make the wife’s “submission” a key issue in marriage.
As they see it, Biblical marriage teaching popularised in the 1980’s ended up making “submission” the key issue in Christian marriages, leading to various ways in which wives have suffered. To bring redress they seek to wind back the significance of a wife’s submission and call upon men to lay down their lives for the wife.
It seems that the 1980’s teaching promised that if a wife submitted, the marriage would be wonderful. So the Davisson’s replace that erroneous idea with the proposition that if a husband submits to the vision of the marriage as directed by his wife, then they will live happily ever after.
Joel and Kathy’s book prompted me to consider how I would address imbalanced thinking about the Biblical issues for husband and wife.
Mind Your Own Business
The readily identifiable responsibilities for husband and wife as given in the Bible are clearly that the husband must “love” his wife and the wife must “submit” to her husband.
Now obviously wives are to love their husband and husbands give attention to and work alongside their wives. Mutual affection and submission are obviously ideal in a good working marriage relationship. However, the clear directive is that the husband give supreme attention to loving his wife and the wife give supreme attention to submitting to her husband.
But take note that the clear instructions to love and submit are clearly addressed to the responsible party, not their spouse. Husbands are not instructed to enforce submission, nor the wife instructed to force her husband to love her. Each is individually accountable before God for their actions.
So, husbands and wives, “Mind Your Own Business!”
Marriage is not a battleground where you struggle to get your spouse to do their part. It is a place where you live in the fear of God and be the man or woman God has called you to be, through all the “for better or for worse” challenges.
Dear Husband Dear Wife
Let me show you, in your face, so you can’t miss it, that the instructions for a husband and wife are given to the relevant party. It is NOT your place to be an enforcement officer in your marriage, or anyone else’s.
Ephesians 5 is the most extensive Bible passage addressing the responsibilities of a husband and wife. Here we see the love/submit responsibilities stated repeatedly and expanded with reference to Christ and the Church. Yet at no point is anyone authorised to police the responsibilities, except the individual husband and wife taking responsibility for their own actions.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22
“Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Ephesians 5:24
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” Ephesians 5:25
“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:28
“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Ephesians 5:33
Note that the last verse does not say, “Husbands see that your wife reverences you”.
The Focus on You
When Paul repeats to the church he planted in Colosse the personal responsibilities of husband and wife he goes on to show that these are personal responsibilities before God. The point is, therefore, that we are not accountable to our spouse, but to God. And our spouse is not accountable to us, but to God.
In Colossians 3:18-25 Paul addresses wives, husbands, children, fathers and servants in a common instruction regarding their personal challenges.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:
And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men;
Knowing that of the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ. But he that does wrong will receive for the wrong which he has done: and there is no respect of persons.”
Note that the Lord will reward those who do right and will see that wrong actions receive due response, because all we do, as wife, husband, child, father or servant, is really done in service of Christ our Lord.
Beware the Human Heart
Marriage issues in western Christian homes are rarely about the husband or the wife not knowing their role and responsibility. The problems spring from the selfish evil human heart we all carry within us.
Men fail to love their wife. They do so often because of laziness and selfishness. They also do so because of resentment toward the wife.
Women fail to submit to their husband. They do so because of such things as self interest, self will and resentment.
God is watching our heart and will reward us according to how our heart responds to the various challenges that come our way, including the challenges that come from our marriage and family.
“I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:10
Always Show Grace
The most common issue in marriage is that husband, wife or both have given up giving grace to each other. We all know that when we are in a good mood we suffer all manner of frustrations, but when we are troubled by ill will toward our spouse we find it impossible to show grace.
Human selfishness is counter to God’s grace. We are sinful but God is perfect. We are instructed by Christ to show God’s grace so we too may be perfect.
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; So you may be the children of your Father in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” Matthew 5:44,45
“Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
However our human heart rebels against blessing those who we feel have wronged us. And that is toxic to a marriage.
Newlyweds find many things to resent in their newfound spouse. We enter marriage with hopes, dreams, delusions, false ideas about ourself and our spouse, fears, insecurities, unrealistic expectations, and so on. It is a recipe for hurts and disillusionment.
But in the honeymoon phase we tend to press past these bumps and show grace, in the hope that we can get our spouse to change, or in a trade-off for the benefits which marriage provides.
Eventually, however, our selfish hearts give up on grace and we give in to our selfish feelings. Not everyone pouts, seethes or revolts, but the tiny roots of disappointment, resentment, hurt, frustration, disillusionment and the like begin to sprout in our hearts.
What I call “resentment” is the soft term for “bitterness”. But westerners don’t like to be told they have such ugly things in their heart, so they will more likely accept the softer label of resentment, since resentment suggests we have a right to be resentful based on the failure or actions of the other party.
Having softened you up with the ‘R’ word (resentment), let me switch it for the ‘B’ word, Bitterness.
The writer to the Hebrews warns us clearly that if we fail to show grace the alternative is BITTERNESS. Call it by any other name if you like, but if you are feeling hard feelings toward your spouse you are in bitterness! Sorry about that, but it’s actually YOUR FAULT. You are in deep trouble because your heart has rejected God’s grace and given in to the powerfully destructive bitterness plant growing in your heart.
See it for yourself in the book of Hebrews….
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Hebrews 12:14-16
Let me paraphrase the message for you…
‘Live by peace and holiness, or you will never see the Lord. And be really careful about always giving God’s grace to people, because if you don’t a “root of bitterness” will spring up and trouble you and poison many people. And don’t commit spiritual adultery by putting other things ahead of your spiritual inheritance, like Esau did, selling his birthright for self indulgence.’
Be Not Bitter
Your selfish heart will readily enter into resentment (bitterness) and will justify those feelings based on the failure of your spouse.
Wives and Husbands will feel hurt, frustration, disappointment, shame, offence, defeat, death of their vision for the marriage, and all sorts of related feelings. Those feelings could easily feed feelings of self-pity, defeatism and depression. Those feelings make psychologists busy and profitable.
But God’s will is that we do not give in to those various expressions of bitterness. We are to show grace, like God does, and not fail to keep giving our best to those who don’t deserve it, just as God gives sunshine and rain equally to the good and the evil.
No matter what our spouse puts us through God is watching our heart to see how we react. He wants us to react in a perfect expression of His grace. Our flesh wants to react with anger, manipulation, retaliation, indulging our hurt feelings, and so on.
Note Paul’s specific word to husbands in Colossians …..
“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Colossians 3:19
The Big Issue is the Heart
The big issue in marriage is not the wife’s submission. And it is not the perfection of the husband’s love for his wife. The whole trouble with marriage is the resentment and bitterness that springs up in the human heart, producing hardness toward the spouse and justifying those bitter thoughts and the resultant actions they produce.
What comes out the husband’s heart and what comes out of the wife’s heart are the “issues of life” for that couple. Well, it is actually the issue for the individual, since the spouse does not really get affected.
Ooops! Did I hear a reaction to that statement?
Remember that you are in control of your heart. Your rebellious wife or your uncaring husband are not your issue. They are each accountable before God for their rebellion against God’s will for their lives. All that is important for you is that you show grace to them.
If you fail to show grace, then your heart reaction will become a serious issue in your marriage. What comes out of your heart determines the issues of your life and marriage.
“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23
“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:23
Hidden Man of the Heart
The Bible reveals we have a hidden personality in our heart. It is our most private part.
Peter encourages women to let the beauty of their hidden inner heart attitudes of submission be more important to them than dressing up with clothes and hairdo.
“Likewise, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the lifestyle of the wives; While they behold your chaste lifestyle coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” 1Peter 3:1-4
Your wife is married to your hidden man of the heart. Your husband is married to your hidden inner man.
Is your hidden man of the heart one with a meek and quiet spirit? Does it live by the fear of God? Or is it defiled with seething self interest, selfishness, pouting, resentment, bitterness, and such like?
The Problem with Your Marriage
The problem with your marriage is your heart. It is not your wife’s lack of submission or your husband’s insensitivity.
God has set you up with a spouse that will constantly fail you and test your heart. As far as you are concerned, God is focussed on your heart reaction, not your spouse’s selfishness. It is up to God to deal with your spouse. Their willingness or unwillingness to be the husband or wife they are supposed to be is a matter of God’s judgment on their life. You have no stake in the matter.
You have a huge stake in your heart reaction. And you have a HUGE stake in the question of your resentment or bitterness toward your spouse.
So, get over the fact that your wife is a tyrant and your husband is a jerk. Get serious about your heart response. That’s the only thing you have to care about.