How to treat rebellious spouses

Infowarrior brings up a really interesting comment in Jesus and the Church is husbands and wives.

Would you say this would be an appropriate disciplinary measure should any one of the spouses sin:

Matthew 18:15-18
15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18

Whether the husband fails to love his wife as Christ loves his church or the wife rebels against her husband’s headship?

My answer is yes.

However, the reasoning is interesting and always brings everything back to God’s truth. First, let’s start by analyzing the situation here.

Jesus’ comment was specifically about general (ekklesia / Church) matters in that instance. We have instances of when Jesus speaks specifically of divorce/adultery in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark and Luke record no exceptions for dissolution of marriage. Matthew confirms only infidelity as a reason. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 permits remarriage from abandonment. However, we know God’s heart:

Malachi 2:16 For [a]I hate [b]divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and [c]him who covers his garment with [d]wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

Those specific instances are like Paul’s exhortations to general believers and to husbands and wives — submission of the wife to the husband supercedes that of submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. I wrote extensively on this in is there mutual submission or not.

In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father that even as they are One that the Church be the redemptive power of God to bring all believers as one. This is part of the New Covenant whereby the indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit in concert with Christians is able to make the Church one as the bride of Christ.

However, marriage as an institution is already perfect as it unites the two as one fully. It was created before the fall. As Jesus states in Matthew:

Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt. 19:3–8; cf. Mark 10:2–9; Luke 16:18)

Divorce was only allowed under the old covenant due to hardness of heart; however, that is not the way it was created to be and the way it should exist. Thus, excommuncation via divorce of the wife in regard to Matthew 18 is impermissible because of the specific stipulations of Jesus in regard to marriage and also in regard to how marriage as an institution was created.

However, what should a husband to a disobedient wife since he is not permitted to divorce his wife? How are Christians supposed to treat Gentiles and tax collectors? Jesus has words for that as well:

Matthew 5: 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may [ap]be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore [aq]you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

All in the all, the Scriptures are remarkable consistent with the same prescriptions with no stipulations in Ephesians 5:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church [q]in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

Husbands have the command to love their wives, even if they are enemies under their own roofs.

Wives to husbands

Wives have a similar prescription for unbelieving husbands outlined in 1 Coritniahsn 7 and 1 Peter 3.

1 Corinthians 7:12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not [f]divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not [g]send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through [h]her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called [i]us [j]to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Peter 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and [a]respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right [b]without being frightened by any fear.

I covered how both of these might look in Wives will never win their husbands with words and husbands win their wives with words.

The great thing about being a Christian is that we get to love. If it’s an obligation where you feel like you have to love then pray to Him for grace, mercy, compassion, patience/endurance, and faith. You should want those who are closest to you follow Christ!


Love your spouse, even if they are acting like an enemy.

This entry was posted in Masculinity and women and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to How to treat rebellious spouses

  1. infowarrior1 says:

    What would an example of loving your enemy without subsidising or incentivizing their behaviour?

  2. donalgraeme says:

    As a Catholic, I feel compelled to include what St. John Chrysostom, taught on Ephesians 5:22:

    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.

  3. @ Info

    We discussed this in the comments here! Depends highly on the situation, but there are some examples given of how that might look:

    Tl;dr be responsible for what God has said to be responsible with: your actions and the control of your material household (finances, possessions, etc.) and children if necessary.

  4. infowarrior1 says:

    I understand. I am asking about church discipline. I remember one instance of a wife being expelled(under extreme circumstances) for being rebellious causing her to be furious and suing the church the case which which she won.

  5. KingProphetPriest says:

    I have considered this issue in some depth myself. I am curious about your take on the verses in Proverbs that state that “it’s better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife” or “it is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.”

    Are these verses merely descriptive? Or could they be prescriptive? Could these be taken to mean that at some time it’s better to stop living with the dripping wife? The “withdrawal of attention and presence” approach.

    You can do good to your enemies from a distance.

  6. infowarrior1 says:

    @Deep Strength
    I disagree:

    Wasn’t tax collectors and gentiles being shunned the norm?

  7. infowarrior1 says:

    The catholic answers forum(feminist as it is) has a similar stance:

  8. infowarrior1 says:

    One bible commentary:

    ἐὰν δὲ καὶ τ. ἐκκλ. παρακ.] but if he refuses to listen even to the church; if he will not have submitted to its advice, exhortation, injunction.

    ἔστω σοι ὥσπερ, κ.τ.λ.] let him be for thee (ethical dative); let him be in thy estimation as, etc.; λοιπὸν ἀνίατα ὁ τοιοῦτος νοσεῖ, Chrysostom. What is here indicated is the breaking off of all further Christian, brotherly fellowship with one who is hopelessly obdurate, “as not being a sheep, nor caring to be sought, but willing to go right to perdition,” Luther. In this passage Christ says nothing, as yet, about formal excommunication on the part of the church (1 Corinthians 5); but the latter was such a fair and necessary deduction from what he did say, as the apostolic church, in the course of its development, considered itself warranted in making. “Ad earn ex hoc etiam loco non absurde argumentum duci posse non negaverim,” Grotius. In answer to the latter, Calovius, in common with the majority of the older expositors, asserts that the institution of excommunication is, in the present passage, already expressly declared.

  9. @ Info

    Correct, but we’re talking about marriage here. Excommunication is not possible, given the injunctions on marriage and divorce override that.

    Thus, the specificity of 1 Cor 7 applies to “unbelieving” spouses that if they consent to live with you then you should, and the goal is to love them even if they are enemies in in your own house.

    If they are being disruptive in church matters that’s another story and he/she can be excommunicated.

    I don’t think airing dirty laundry from marriage in the church is a good idea either as it will make other spouse(s) resentful. This is something that the couples should be using mentors for.

  10. @ Kingprophetpriest

    The vast majority of the Proverbs are wise sayings about common consequences of actions. I don’t think I’ve read anything to where they should be taken as prescriptive in terms of how the rest of the Scriptures speak to such situations.

    They should guide you in your decision making in order to count the cost. For example, if you know a woman is argumentative and contentious before marriage you should expect that you’re going to potentially be irritated in the long term because it’s very difficult for people to change unless they are continuing to renew their minds daily in Christ.

  11. infowarrior1 says:

    Hmmm. Thanks for the food for thought.

  12. ballista74 says:

    I understand. I am asking about church discipline. I remember one instance of a wife being expelled(under extreme circumstances) for being rebellious causing her to be furious and suing the church the case which which she won.

    I second Deep Strength’s suggestion, though there are better posts coming on the topic (if I ever get it done, lzozlzol, that’s the reason that particular linked post exists). 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 applies to such matters. Once upon a time (in the US), that separation was acted upon, as it is enshrined in Amendment I of the Constitution. If it is a legal church, such a lawsuit would be thrown out, because the court has no jurisdiction over a legal church.

    The problem comes in this: 90-95% of the churches in America have waived these legal rights, therefore making them perfectly open to suits of this nature. They’ve waived these legal rights by making themselves into legal corporations, opening themselves up in numerous ways (this being one of them).

    There’s much much more detail to the issue at large (and that’s why I’ve worked on the topic for a year plus now). But that’s the general analysis of such things.

  13. ballista74 says:

    Ironically, scant few will see their incorporation as the sin that it is, as well as the cause of such lawsuits arising from church discipline. It’s for that reason that most churches don’t do it anymore (fear of these lawsuits). In other words, to “answer” the problem, they only compounded their sins.

  14. theasdgamer says:

    Loving your wife might mean increasing your jerkiness in order to give her tingles. “Cherishing and nurturing” includes managing her emotional cocktail needs for tingles, comfort, validation, and drama.

    If you’re not doing Soft Dread, you’re not following the biblical prescription for marriage. See my site for an article about Soft Dread in the Song of Songs.

  15. amanhiswife says:

    I think this is wise and extremely important post. Thank you. But I do think it’s not the whole story. 95%, but not the whole. Jesus, when speaking to folks in Matthew 18 and the final consequence is to treat them like a Gentile or tax collector at that time was speaking to them at a time when Gentile’s and tax collector’s were shunned. We cannot take teaching about the sowing of the seeds and apply John Deere’s latest technology to get to the truth. I know that is an extreme example but teaching in Corinthians 5 would back the tough love approach. Finally, Jesus says in Revelations that He disciplines those whom He loves. We are to love our wives. But love in the biblical definition. Not the worlds. And the biblical definition can involve tough love. Overall, I am close to agreement with you and it’s quite possible I am missing something because I’m usually in agreement with you. I’m running on E tonight, so if I’m misunderstanding let me know. Thanks.

    In Christ-

  16. @ amanhiswife

    1 Corinthians 5 applies to both oddly because men were engaged in adultery with their father’s wives. Basically, they were violating marriage and the general command of sexual immorality. That’s why Paul advised that they be shunned from the Church immediately.

    If a wife or husband is engaged in obvious sin against the marriage on which there is grounds for divorce like adultery then sure excommunication and/or divorce are options in this instance.

  17. amanhiswife says:

    Deep Strength,
    I was not arguing for divorce. Anything but. I was arguing for love. But the full definition of love. Love that includes rebuking, correction, discipline and in some situations seperation until reconciliation can take place. I am probably reading it wrong and I’ve read you long enough that I know the depth of your biblical knowledge but just reading this post on it’s own it seemed you were arguing (sorry, no coffee yet this morning and can’t think of a better word) for a definition of love that excluded those things…almost churchian definition of love. I doubt that’s what you meant but it is how it came across in this one on a stand alone basis so I wanted to ask for clarification for what you were shooting for. Thanks-

  18. @ amanhiswife

    Yeah, love in this case would definitely require some type of admonishment/rebuke but in a kind hearted manner. Difficult to pull off correctly.

  19. donalgraeme says:

    @ Deep Strength

    1 Cor 5 doesn’t deal with adultery. Not sure where you are getting that from. It is about men living with/marrying their father’s wives. Porneia was used in that instance by Paul because he was describing an illicit union, not adultery.

  20. donalgraeme says:

    Oh, I guess some translations render that as adultery. Just goes to show the importance of proper translation work.

  21. @ Donal

    The men fornicating with their father’s wives (e.g. mothers?) are basically committing adultery as well as incest and the like.

    Porneia from my understanding and Strong’s is somewhat of a catch-all term for illicit sexual union, including adultery and/or incest which in this case it is all of the above:

    G4202 — πορνεία — porneia — por-ni’-ah

    From G4203; harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively idolatry: – fornication.

    In either case, we can definitely say the the father’s wives are at the very least committing adultery here, and I’m speaking of that marriage union since we were talking about marriages here.

  22. donalgraeme says:

    @ Deep Strength

    My understanding of the situation was that men were marrying their step-mothers after their father died. I read somewhere that this practice owed itself to inheritance laws in Greece or something. Since the fathers were dead, it wouldn’t be adultery (as the women in question were no longer married). Hence the use of Porneia to describe an illicit union/marriage.

  23. @ Donal

    Ah, gotcha. That would make sense.

  24. Pingback: Negating Authority In Marriage | The Society of Phineas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s