I remember the feelings of guilt and condemnation I felt as a young wife when I struggled to abide by some rule in my imperfect marriage. Every sermon and encouragement I heard on the subject of marriage seemed not to apply to my situation. “Women, respect your husbands,” was the mantra all of my church leaders and friends. I felt I had to give in to be a godly woman. It felt like everyone else seemed to have a perfect marriage with simple guidelines to follow. As I grew older and wiser, I found that nothing could be further from the truth. Many of these “model” marriages were in worse shape than my own.
A good friend encouraged me with Proverbs 31. Of course I had heard it a million times, but had never considered it the way she explained it to me that day. “She will do him good and not evil all of her life” (Proverbs 31:12). This scripture looks entirely different for each individual marriage. Doing someone good doesn’t mean letting them get away with consistent ungodly behavior. It doesn’t mean blind obedience to direction that opposes God’s Word. In other words, it doesn’t mean allowing a once godly man to wander away from God’s best in his life.
The danger of this type of teaching can be that everyone begins to think that their situation is the exception to the rule. So how do you know how and when to challenge your husband with words and boundaries that might feel outside of the "Christian marriage" rule book?
“In matters of taste bend with the wind, in matters of principle never give in.” My pastor often quotes this, and the older I get the wiser it seems. Another way to state this idea is to choose your battles. If you let the matters of taste fly to the wind, you will have a louder voice when you might need to add value to your husband by challenging him on a matter of principle. Even matters of principle can be subjective. I am one of those people who can make everything a matter of principle, so how do I choose which principles are worth “fighting” for?
For instance, if your husband is asking you to stop going to church or to do something morally or legally wrong, you must choose to follow a higher authority. Doing him good in this situation may be to remind him how valuable he is as the spiritual leader of the home and to ask if the two of you might be able to pray together about this suggestion. (Of course this would only apply if your husband is a Christian.) Having scripture and verse for your “principle” is a helpful safeguard that ensures that you aren’t just trying to control the situation or get your way, but that you are holding your marriage, family, and husband to the standard of God’s Word.
If God is calling you to keep your husband accountable (Matthew 18:15-20), you don’t have to feel pressured to blurt things out. We all know what it’s like to come in the door from a long day at work. Obviously, being exhausted may not be the best time to talk to anyone. In most cases, this type of conversation can wait for the timing of the Holy Spirit. If a decision must be made immediately, take a moment to breathe deeply, close your eyes and respond in calm and with your husband’s good in mind rather than in defense of an opinion or hurt. This is an art that I am still learning, and will probably never completely and truly accomplish. You can still be respectful even though you might be calling your husband’s actions into question. We can choose instead to speak the truth in the context of love (Ephesians 4:15).
With the help of the Holy Spirit, you can keep your motives pure by keeping the best interest of the other person in mind. For instance, confronting a spouse with alcoholism and possibly even asking them to leave the house for a time may not feel like the “Christian” response as a wife. But how is turning your head and ignoring the destruction of a life that God has amazing plans for doing someone good? In addition to the responsibility that we have to protect ourselves and our children, even the most difficult decisions can be made with the other person’s best interest in mind.
It is always wise to allow another believer to speak into your life where marriage is concerned. Marriage often comes with poor eyesight where our own actions and feelings are concerned. However, a trusted confidant, full of God’s Word and Spirit may be able to see your situation more clearly and ensure that you are doing good. A word of caution here: Your best friend can rarely do this for you, as she often will take on an offense for you. Consider a Christian counselor, mentor, or pastor.
It all boils down to this common sense thought: Yes, we are called to submit as wives. However, we are also called to love and help our husbands. There is no better way to show love and help someone than to hold them to godly standards. Never allow what you perceive as a Christian picture-perfect marriage to intimidate you from accomplishing your God-given role as a spouse. No marriage is ever perfect. Do your spouse only good as long as there is life within you.
Rev. Deb Koster
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra