God and marriage

In my previous post on authority, submission, obedience, and servanthood, infowarrior1 raises a good point about the nature of submission in marriage:

The “voluntary” aspect rubs me the wrong way unless it refers to the choice of the wife to submit to her husband upon marriage. I am troubled by the potential wriggle room though to pick and choose which submission is convenient or inconvenient. How can it be sin if submission is voluntary?

What would be your suggestion to the husband if his wife is consistently rebellious?

The choice to become a Christian is much like the choice to enter into the contract of marriage.

When we become Christians, we become children of God. However, Christianity is not a one time deal that we reach with God upon salvation:

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and [h]that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

We, who become Christians, submit our lives to God in order to do His will. As James so eloquently puts it: Faith without works is dead, and as Jesus states in John “If you love me you will obey my commandments.”

Likewise, so too marriage is of a similar contract.

The wife, upon CHRISTIAN marriage, pledges to become her husband’s helpmeet, to respect him, and submit to Him as unto the Lord.

However, as Christians, we still have the choice — the free will — whether to obey God or not. We fight this battle everyday:

Ephesians 4:22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old [a]self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new [b]self, which [c]in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

So too the wife has the same battle everyday whether or not she will be her husband’s helpmeet, whether she will respect him, and whether she will submit to him. The same is true of the roles and responsibilities of the husband in marriage in headship, love, not embittered, and to honor as co-heirs.

God doesn’t want to coerce Christians into serving Him. It is a willful, joyful choice to do so. The same is true of the modeling of Christ-Church and husband-wives. God wants wives to have the free will to submit to their husbands in marriage.

Just as when Christians fail to do what is right or don’t call out sin, we fail to submit to God and instead hold ourselves or the world as more important. The same decisions are made by the wife to submit to her husband in marriage.

Now, what should the husband do? Two things.

Essentially, just as the Scriptures are useful for teaching, rebuking, training, and correcting to too husbands have that same role as Jesus does with the Church.

  • The husband should also continue to do what God has said the roles and responsibilities are for the husband in the marriage. There is no “get out of my duty free card” if someone else isn’t obeying God. We want to obey God because we love God. Donal posted this link in the comments which elaborates on this.

Husbands should never attempt to force compliance to his will as that is never what Jesus did. Jesus always gave those under his care the free will to choose whether to follow Him or not.

John 6:59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would [j]betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” 71 Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, [k]was going to betray Him.

The most difficult thing, which I have talked before, is that when wives choose not to submit to their husbands then the husbands should allow the wives to take responsibility for their own decisions. This is the same as God and Jesus do when Christians sin: He doesn’t stop us from going off the reservation, but He makes His position clear through His Scriptures in regard to sin.

Given that the husband tasked with headship, in some more destructive behaviors to the whole family such as compulsive spending or overeating or whatever the husband may need to protect the wife through management of finances or other resources.

However, the wife still has the choice whether or not to submit and therefore love God and her husband, or to not submit and sin against God and her husband.

Those who claim to be Christians and do not follow God’s commands and wives who claim to be Christians and don’t submit to their husbands will be punished more than unbelievers:

Luke 12: 41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his [u]servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his [v]master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master [w]will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of [x]a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Be forewarned, if you call yourself a Christian but don’t do what God says or submit to the roles and responsibilities in which God’s Scriptures say you have in marriage or other areas then you heap judgment upon yourself.

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33 Responses to God and marriage

  1. donalgraeme says:

    Regarding what to do when a wife is rebellious (or a husband unloving), here is what St. John Chrysostom advised in his homily on Ephesians 5:

    For the man who loves his wife, even though she be not a very obedient one, still will bear with everything. So difficult and impracticable is unanimity, where persons are not bound together by that love which is founded in supreme authority; at all events, fear will not necessarily effect this. Accordingly, he dwells the more upon this, which is the strong tie. And the wife though seeming to be the loser in that she was charged to fear, is the gainer, because the principal duty, love, is charged upon the husband. “But what,” one may say, “if a wife reverence me not?” Never mind, you are to love, fulfill your own duty. For though that which is due from others may not follow, we ought of course to do our duty. This is an example of what I mean. He says, “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.” And what then if another submit not himself? Still obey thou the law of God. Just so, I say, is it also here. Let the wife at least, though she be not loved, still reverence notwithstanding, that nothing may lie at her door; and let the husband, though his wife reverence him not, still show her love notwithstanding, that he himself be not wanting in any point. For each has received his own.

    One way or another, we are all called to obedience. If others falter, we must still do our duty as God requires of us.

  2. donalgraeme says:

    Link to it here:


    Been meaning to write a post on it for a while, but haven’t had the time.

  3. @ Donal

    Yep, none of the Scriptures allow Christians to not do what God has said if someone else is not obeying God.

    I’ll add that in.

  4. donalgraeme says:

    @ Deep Strength

    It also ties into marriage as a covenant, which is a very special form of contract. Unlike how modern contracts work, covenants were binding on both parties even in the event of a “breach.” So if one party didn’t fulfill its obligations, the other party was still obligated to carry out it’s. There is no “escape clause” in a covenant.

    Which is why God is and was faithful to his people, even when they are/were not faithful to him.

  5. infowarrior1 says:

    So essentially you are saying that the husband should rebuke correct hiss wife. But if she is insistent of rebelling he can only trust in god and take measures to protect himself and his family yet not sparing his wife the consequences of her actions.

    Except when the situation is dire.

  6. Robyn says:

    “God doesn’t want to coerce Christians into serving Him.” But He will. When His chosen children rebel against Him, He corrects; does He not?

  7. @ Robyn

    Yes, He uses the Scriptures, other Christians, prayer, and other such instances to correct. But we still have to make the choice to submit and repent.

  8. @ Info

    Not really when the situation is “dire.” The husband has control over himself and the resources within marriage to which he must be faithful with to God even if his wife is going astray. Divorce threat not withstanding.

    Obviously, he should try to correct/chastise the wife, but she still has to decide to submit of her own free will.

  9. donalgraeme says:

    I think it is more accurate to say that God doesn’t compel obedience, rather than coerce it. I think that the case could be made for coercion (see most of the OT) on the part of the Lord. We have a choice, but He makes it a painful option to disobey.

  10. @ Donal

    Good analogy.

    It’s slightly different with God as we know the wages of sin is death, and God has the authority judge those that sin which husbands do not have the authority to do. If God wanted to He could just strike those who sin down where they stand, but He almost never does that.

    But, like God, husbands do have the duty of correcting/chastising as well as control over the possessions/finances in the relationship to make it “painful to disobey” if necessary.

    Ideally, it does not come to that.

  11. Robyn says:

    Yes, “ideally” it would not come to that. However, conflict is very real in marriage and it’s very rarely ideal. If a husband is waiting for God to compel a rebellious wife to obey his financial parameters … and he is just stepping back waiting for God to do it; which is exactly what Adam did. This would mean that a husband is merely a figure head with a title but no real power to effect change in his own family and more importantly to help his sister in the Lord mature to submission. The authority that God gives the husband is a misnomer and not meant to be used in reality. (this can’t be what you mean is it?)

  12. @ Robyn

    The husband doesn’t have the authority to compel obedience like God does, which is the difference between headship and authority.

    Though, he should take express displeasure through words (correct, chastise, rebuke) and actions (through management of household) against the behavior.

    The husband cannot force her to obey through direct punishment (e.g. authority) nor should he.

  13. Robyn says:

    Yes, that’s what I mean. By taking “express […] actions against the behaviour.” the husband IS forcing her to obey.

    If I’m using money that has been allotted for groceries on cards (gambling – which I was) and my husband chooses to not give me that allotment anymore and do it himself, or go with me to make sure it’s done the way he wants it … I don’t see that as punishment or even coercion. But rather him moving in his authority as the leader of the family.

  14. @ Robyn

    Yes, that’s what I mean. By taking “express […] actions against the behaviour.” the husband IS forcing her to obey.

    No, that’s headship. The husband is incentivizing behavior, but the choice is still up to the wife.

    Forcing someone to obey (e.g authority) is the government/police giving you a ticket for speeding, or a parent not allowing or allowing children to do certain things.

    There’s no choice on the side of the one being forced to obey.

  15. infowarrior1 says:

    @deep strength
    So how would your headship work out in this situation then?

  16. Robin Munn says:

    I’m not Deep Strength, but when I read that article, a couple things popped out at me. First, there was the shaming approach the ladies took with the men who were sensible enough to refuse to join them: “We have no longer any use for the distaffs, but, as you are intending to stay at home and make women of yourselves, we send them to you, so that you may occupy yourselves with spinning while we are gone.” And second, there was this bit when the ladies wanted to take “large quantities of baggage, containing dresses and stores of female paraphernalia of all kinds” with them on the expedition: “The king remonstrated against this folly, but all to no purpose. The ladies thought it very hard if, in going on such an expedition, they could not take with them the usual little comforts and conveniences appropriate to their sex. So it ended with their having their own way.”

    The men who let themselves be persuaded by this shaming tactic might have had some success in turning it around on the women: “Since you seem to think that staying at home is to be a woman, therefore it follows that being in the army is to make a man of oneself. And men do not need dresses and stores of female paraphernalia of all kinds.” Naturally, hindsight is 20/20, and I’m fully aware that I’m armchair quarterbacking retorting here, so I can’t blame the men at the time for not coming up with that one.

    Or her husband, the king of France, could have ordered her to stop this folly — he was not only her husband, but also her liege: she was the duchess of Aquitaine, but he was the king, and she owed him obedience as her liege. Though it’s entirely possible that he knew she would disobey any such order, and so he never gave that order in the first place: because it’s unwise to give an order you know will be disobeyed, and then he would have had to lead his army against a rebellious duchess — and he really didn’t want to do that.

    Or perhaps he could have ordered that none of his own troops, and none of his other subjects, were to join the duchess of Acquitaine’s foolish expedition. As I understand the feudal system, he did not have any right to give orders to Eleanor’s own troops, because she was their liege: if her orders and the king’s orders should conflict, they were dutybound to serve her, not to serve the king. But he had the right to give orders to his own subjects regarding what they did with their own troops: Eleanor might not have obeyed such an order, but many of the other dukes, counts and barons would probably have been glad to obey. Most of them didn’t want to go along with her expedition anyway, and the king’s order would have given them the perfect excuse: “I wish I could join you on this noble crusade (must keep a straight face), but the orders of my liege lord compel me to stay home, much as I regret the lost opportunity (must, MUST keep a straight face…) to prove myself in glorious battle.”

    But ultimately, I don’t think any of these approaches would have gotten Eleanor to give up her foolish project: she was just too mulishly stubborn and insistent on having her own way. All it would have done is limit the loss of troops to just her own men, instead of letting her get a lot of the king’s men killed as well with her foolish insistence on the “romantic and beautiful” valley instead of the defensible and sensible hilltop.

    Thanks for that link, infowarrior; it’s a good reminder that you can’t force someone to submit.

  17. @ info

    What does this have to do with headship?

    Eleanor is Richard’s mom.

    Political power is also involved where that is not also present in 99.9999% of marriages.

    If you’re talking about how men should responsibly control what they are able to (their subjects/men/entourage from poor decisions), and not to give in to shaming tactics like Robin says then sure.

  18. infowarrior1 says:

    Lets say she is a case study of a pretty uppity woman that disregarded her husband’s headship and caused him to lose the war against the muslims in the crusades just because she thought that going with to be with her husband would win her fame. And upon arrival forced her husband to lose a crucial battle.

    I wonder how the principles in your post would work in this situation. Or if you can come up with a better realistic scenario where biblical principles which are the subject of this post is applied?

    Since I personally do not find your post convincing I posed a real historical circumstance so I can see how this works.

  19. @ Info

    I think the Scriptures are pretty clear on this point.

    But, let’s assume that she was his wife instead of a totally separate entity:

    The husband with the resources at his disposable can do any number of things to not allow such things to happen:

    1. Bringing people who have no military knowledge is a risk already.
    2. Risk of prisoners.
    3. Same with excessive baggage.
    4. Same with giving in to shaming language.
    5. Telling his men to ignore orders from them as they are not trained in military tactics.

    These are things with which he is responsible that his wife would be placing in harms way. It is his duty as the head of marriage (and head of state) to ensure that there is no collateral damage.

    Obviously, he can’t order her not to come (well, he could’ve since he was the king because that is different from head of marriage vs. authority of the state), but his responsibility to manage his military and those under him correctly would’ve made it mighty difficult for her to want to go.

  20. @ Info

    An obvious more modern example would be a wife with excessive spending habits.


    AsThe husband is head of the family he should restrict financial access in order that the family not be placed in a poor money situation. Likewise, he should chastise her that he is doing this because it is placing the family in a bad financial situation.

    Compare versus authority:

    Now, let’s say that a child could hypothetically open up credit cards and go spend them. In this case, the parents (or father) can directly punish the child. He can say.. go to your room, we’re revoking all your credit cards, and you’re grounded for 2 weeks. You have to do X, Y, Z to reearn and make up all of the money you squandered.

    Do you see the difference?

    Headship puts the family first (although in instances it can seem like “consequences”), while authority can impose unilateral consequences and punishments.

  21. infowarrior1 says:

    Thanks. You clarified many points.
    @deep strength
    Would you consider the withdrawal of protection and provision in the case of eleanor an exercise in headship? I am thinking that for cases of certain bull headed women allowing her to experience the consequences for their actions as god does for his servants ensure natural chastisement.

  22. @ Info

    I wouldn’t say there is a “withdraw” of protection or provision. However, a husband should have a sphere of protection — a limited sphere (e.g. boundaries, within the scope of what the Scriptures state) of protection and provision in which he does this.

    For example, the household is an area where the husband should provide protection and provision for the wife as the Scriptures support this.

    However, let’s say the wife wants to venture outside of that protection and provision by say going out to a party at a nightclub in a poor area of town. The husband disagrees with that decision. The husband is by no means obligated to go out and protect the wife if she chooses to go out alone, and any consequences of her actions such as mugging may fall on her alone.

    The husband may choose to do so anyway, but that is his prerogative if he wants to be merciful. But he should realize that he may be inspiring more of this behavior because he is protecting her when she is acting recklessly.

    The same is true with God. God does not have to provide protection or provision to Christians when they go outside of His will and sin. But sometimes He does do that because He is merciful.

    Likewise, a wife wants to separate and live away from the husband, and the husband disagrees. Is the husband obligated to provide for that which disrupts the unity of marriage? No. He may choose to do so though at his own risk.

    In the case of Eleanor, if the king had said “Hey, we’re not doing this like you said, and I’ve instructed my men to ignore orders from you that aren’t militarily sound” then if she chooses to go off on her own that is on her own head.

    The king may indeed by merciful and still provide protection to her, but he is not obligated to because she has chosen to disobey and do what she wants.

    The key point that we’re discussing is should the husband have responsibility for the wife when she sins. The answer is NO because she is stepping outside of that protection and provision, but he may choose to have mercy just as God has mercy on us.

  23. Elspeth says:

    If I’m using money that has been allotted for groceries on cards (gambling – which I was) and my husband chooses to not give me that allotment anymore and do it himself, or go with me to make sure it’s done the way he wants it … I don’t see that as punishment or even coercion. But rather him moving in his authority as the leader of the family.

    Agreed. What I have found when these discussions come up however (and I have in the early years of our marriage had my debit card revoked), is that there is a strain of thought which indicates that any action a husband takes that his wife finds unpleasant is “punishment” and therefore “unloving”.

    I had to laugh at the night club scenario Deep Strength as I am intimately acquainted with a wife who many years ago tried a stunt and was effectively “forced” to stay home. Car keys taken, and when her plan B girlfriends showed up, her husband met them in the driveway and said “She’s not going. You may leave my property now, and you should consider going home to your own husbands and kids instead roaming the streets at night.” They left without argument.

    She did not call the cops and have him arrested for kidnapping. It has been many years since that night and they are still married, and seemingly quite happily.

    I liked this post’s spirit, but I keep coming back around to not understanding a husband’s headship devoid of authority. It simply cannot work unless he can act. And it infuriates me that the church seems to be complicit in tying his hands and offering cover to rebellious wives.

    Ultimately, the woman does have to submit of her own volition, out of reverence for God and His word (since we’re talking Christian marriage). But I don’t see where discipline and love are mutually exclusive propositions.*

    *Not that YOU said that Deep Strength. I’m musing here.

  24. Robyn says:

    “It simply cannot work unless he can act. And it infuriates me that the church seems to be complicit in tying his hands and offering cover to rebellious wives.” Not ‘cover’ but saying to “LOVE them into obedience …” Trust me, not going to happen. When you keep giving a diva her own way … she keeps taking it.

    My brother-in-law grounded their oldest son from his bike. As soon as he left for work my sister cut the lock off the bike. o.O – totally true story. The had already talked about it; there was nothing left to ‘convince’ or ‘love her into obedience’ … she simply did not agree … would not agree. Therefore would not obey.

  25. @ Elspeth

    Yes, essentially a husband should do everything in his power to prevent his wife from sinning or otherwise making bad choices through his words and actions especially with access (or lack thereof) to his possessions like money, the car, and others. Lack of submission should be made to be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and otherwise allow the consequences to fall on those that do it instead of protecting them from them.

    But she still has the choice to go astray if she really wants. He doesn’t have the authority to compel her to obey him.

    That’s the difference between headship and authority.

  26. Elspeth says:

    When you keep giving a diva her own way … she keeps taking it.

    Exactly. I said it on my blog recently, but this way: “Behavior rewarded (or even tolerated) is behavior repeated.”

    I like your diva quote much better. Much more flair and the image is crystal clear.

  27. Pingback: Random Musings And Links- #2 | Donal Graeme

  28. Looking Glass says:

    I think what is being run into here is one of the hardest False Dichotomies that comes up in Male-Female relations, and we know Satan loves his them. But, don’t feel too bad, even the Apostles couldn’t grasp it at first. (Matthew 19:10)

    The main issue comes down to the desire to “force” an action, compared against the reality that we *always* have a choice in all decisions. God spends most of the Major & Minor Prophets highlighting this problem, right down to outright calling Israel & Judah harlots in Ezekiel. And this is what trips up a lot of Men, especially when emotions get in the way.

    The reality of the blessing of Creation is the ability, in all places, times and circumstances, to choose what you will respond with. You are responsible for your Sin; you chose it. That is the Truth that we, as humans, quite hate. This is also the Truth that anyone in any position of Authority finds to be a constant problem. You *cannot* compel someone that is truly set on a set of decisions against it. It’s just rare that people are that set on the action.

    This is also why Faith is such a worship to God. Obedience to him is something he will not “compel”. It is freely chosen, freely given and a “sweet aroma” to him. Especially due to the fact that Faith normally is the much, much harder choice. This is why, on Faith, the very World is changed. (It’s also, by relation, why hypocrisy is derided so much by Jesus)

    As for the Husband and how to handle things, let me bring up a concept that I’ve rarely seen mentioned by Christians, but it’s really quite important to understanding God & responsibility.

    Matthew 27:24-26 (NASB)

    24When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

    We remember this, obviously, because of the consequences that would befell the Jews, but we normally gloss over the importance of the concept of Responsibility. As I was going through 1 & 2 Samuel, as well as 1 & 2 Kings, the statements about placing responsibility for actions (normally Sin) on another crop up a lot. It’s for the purpose of preventing Sin on their own house, but it also places the Sin squarely on the person under whose Authority it took place. While I’m having some trouble finding too many references (Take 1 Kings 2:37 for instance “For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.”), it pops up a lot. Some of them are Oaths, others are not, but it’s laying out that the consequences for Actions are upon the person that chooses the action.

    This is always the trap that’s preached at Men, on this subject. We’re taught to be either Over-Protective or, if we’re not being, that isn’t “love”. It’s a false dichotomy, but one that’s so easy to fall into. Partially because we lack the Faith that “narrow road” between where Sin would lead us. “Love” isn’t over-protection. God’s even pretty straight forward on that one (Proverbs 13:24 NASB “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”), but we’re so quickly given to thinking it is.

    So, it’s most definitely not easy, but bringing clarity to expectations, and scaling up the responses to the lack of them, is simply the way to go.

  29. Robyn says:

    @Elspeth: Why, Thank You !

  30. infowarrior1 says:


    I don’t believe that husbands lack authority over their wives. But your point about their divestment of judicial powers or of violent coercion(speeding ticket) is correct. Only that the sanction applied is social and economic but not with the power of the sword as the state(exousia) employs.

  31. @ infowarrior

    By “authority” I mean they can’t directly punish.

    Headship carries all of the weight of authority except the right to directly punish (in terms of headship-submission). That means the husband has the responsibility over all of that which is in his household including wife, children possessions, etc.

  32. infowarrior1 says:

    I understand you referenced giving a ticket as an example. But the ticket in that case in enforced ultimately by the point of the sword. Same with jail time etc.

    The husband does not bear the sword in the sense the paterfamilias of old did.

  33. @ infowarrior

    Yes, that is correct. We agree on those points.

    What happened is:

    Pre-fall — headship-submission
    Post-fall, Old Law — authority-submission
    Post-fall, Jesus — headship-submission

    The OT authority of the husbands was pretty much unilateral which is why it was authority and not headship. It’s a restoration of pre-fall relationship.

    You can see where most egalitarians get mixed up by assuming pre-fall was “equal”; however, there was headship-submission in the beginning and it was restored to headship-submission in by Jesus.

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