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.