Posted by: Ety W. | June 18, 2008

Changing Our Husbands

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This is part 4 in a series on Biblical Submission. To start at the beginning, click here.

I was in a ladies Sunday school class several years ago, where the topic of discussion was husbands who didn’t go to church. Several women complained that because their husbands refused to go to church, the entire burden of spiritual leadership for their family fell upon themselves. One woman however, had a different approach. She shared this with us:

She said, “One Sunday morning I got up at the usual time, but instead of getting myself and the children ready for church, I sat at the kitchen table in my bathrobe, drinking my coffee and reading the Sunday paper.

After awhile, my husband asked, ‘Isn’t it time for you to get ready to go to church?’

‘Well, dear’ I replied, ‘You are the spiritual head of this family. From now on the children and I are going to follow your lead.’ “

She told us that from that Sunday on, her husband had never missed a service.

After reading Submission for Husbands? You’ve Got to be Kidding, most of us can probably point out all the times in which our husbands fail at these things. On the other hand, we have to admit that neither are we perfectly submissive and supportive of them. I know I’m not.

So what do we do when our husbands are not acting in a godly manner, or aren’t following biblical principles when they make decisions affecting their wives and families? What then? Most of us have probably tried arguing, but how effective is that?

Here is a verse to consider:

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, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 1 Peter 3:1-2 (NASB)

Who is being addressed? Wives

What about? Husbands who are disobedient to the word. I’ve heard some say this refers to unsaved husbands. That could be, but the principle applies to saved husbands as well.

What is she to do? Behave in a chaste and respectful manner toward him.

Chaste – Strong’s 53 – ´αγνος – hagnos = properly clean, that is, (figuratively) innocent, modest, perfect, pure. From the same root as the word translated “holy.”

Respectful – Strong’s 5401 – φοβος – phobos = This word has two definitions, depending on context. 1) fear, dread, or terror. 2) Respect for one’s husband.

Manner – Strong’s 391 – αναστροφη – anastrophe = manner of life, conduct, behavior, deportment. Translated as “conversation” in the KJV.

How is she to do this? (This is the hard part.) Without a word.

Why? Note the “in the same way” at the beginning of verse 1, above. We should immediately ask, in the same way as what? The previous verses answer that.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps, “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth”; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. 1 Peter 2:21-23

Jesus, who suffered horrendously, left an example for when we too are treated harshly or unfairly (verses 19 and 20). Or, “in the same way”, for suffering when our husbands are disobedient to the Word. Rather than speaking out, Jesus trusted the Father. Wives too, are to trust the Lord rather than try to correct their husbands with words.

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts and corrects. Too often, we get in the way by trying to influence a situation ourselves. God’s will for all is salvation first, followed by growing in Christlikeness. He is working all things toward this end. (Rom. 8:28-29). In our marriages, we can cooperate with Him by quietly and lovingly supporting our husbands, confident in the knowledge that no matter how difficult the situation seems, nothing is impossible for God (Luke 18:27). Our spiritual leadership is to be by example, not words.

It all boils down to trust. At times we feel we cannot trust our husbands, but can we trust the Lord to work in that situation? Here are some verses I hold onto for my husband whenever I suffer in this manner:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God …. holding fast to the word of life ….. Philippians 2:13-16

Next …… Submission: Where Do We Draw the Line?


  1. Ety,

    I struggle with that passage and the way it’s been used.

    First of all, there’s a glaring absence of a parallel passage for husbands dealing with wives that are disobedient to the word. Why? Is it possible that men didn’t have to worry about that because wives HAD to go along with them?

    Is it possible that Peter was speaking to wives that were married to non-believers only?

    For husbands that sin against their wives, can’t the wives use the procedure of Matthew 18?

    What if a husband is abusive? Can a wife turn to the church (if he is a Christian) or the government if he isn’t (Romans 13)?

    Should a wife support a husband who is doing something she can’t morally support? For example, lie on a tax return, steal…

    I’ll have to look into what was meant by being disobedient. Like you, I’ve always thought it meant disobedient, not non-believer, and that it applies forever. But then, would it mean she has to try “the submissive, silent way” if other ways don’t work? And I’m not talking about nagging, but about expressing concern, calling in witnesses, going to the elders, and the government if necessary.

    The passage is confusing. But I do agree, often being quiet about situations that we don’t like, but that don’t demand our support of sin, just makes the injustice stick out more and there’s no excuse to keep practicing it.
    I wonder why Peter made that rule only for wives and SLAVES.

  2. Here’s a very radical use of that passage:
    I can’t find the link, but Dr. Paige Patterson, the President of the SBC (I believe), counseled a woman who was being battered by her husband to quietly pray for him after he went to bed. He told her that her husband may become more violent.
    She did what Patterson told her to do, prayed for him, and surely enough, the man got very angry when he found out and beat her up.

    The woman went to church, with two black eyes, and Patterson commended her. He was sorry for her bruises, but happy that she had followed his advice.
    That very day, the husband came into church and responded to the altar call.

    Sure, you can use a story like that to illustrate that the principle can work, but what if the man kills his wife? Or puts her in the hospital?
    Shouldn’t someone protect the children if there are any?

    As you see, I have a lot of questions regarding that passage….

  3. I agree, that is a very radical (if not abusive) use of that passage. Physical abuse and other immoral behavior by husbands is another matter entirely. I plan to try and address that in my next post. But again, just as incorrect interpretation doesn’t negate the Bible, neither does incorrect application!

    Several commentaries say that 1 Peter 3:1 refers to unbelieving husbands. However, I don’t see how they come to that conclusion based on the definition and context. Perhaps they assume that Christians automatically believe everything the Bible says and are never disobedient. We know this isn’t the case, so I believe that the principle applies.

    I don’t think Scripture teaches that wives are doormats who never communicate with their husbands. Sadly however, if a husband is in rebellion against the Lord, then it’s doubtful he’s going to listen to anything his wife has to say. And to be honest, I don’t think husbands always hear their wives all that well. I think this is spiritual pride on their parts.

    Sure a wife could use Matthew 18 (15 to 17, right?). Personally I wouldn’t take all those steps, because unless his sin was outrageous (as in breaking the law), I believe that the command to respect our husbands in Eph 5:33 means not making his sin public. Matthew 5 tells me to take the problem to the individual first (in this case my husband) and communicate. If he refuses, then it’s spiritual warfare. I pray and let the Lord fight my battle.

    From experience, I know this works. Not always as fast as I would wish, but without a doubt I know that the Lord wants my husband’s spiritual growth and maturity even more than I do.

  4. This is a fascinating post.

    I know that you say this passage can relate to believing men who don’t obey, and I agree, but it’s useful for me to look at it in the light of unbelieving husbands. You see, my husband is not saved. It is something I always struggle with. I can look at this command to submit in a theoretical way, which is interesting and useful, but I always have to look at it more throughly to see how to relate, spiritually, with my husband.

    So I find this interesting and potentially useful, although i do not have many coherent thoughts to express just yet.

  5. Well, then there’s someone else you’re an example for 🙂

    I agree with Madame that this isn’t forbidding wives to talk about their faith. But to be honest, I think the strength of our testimony is in how the Lord has changed our lives. IOW, it’s in our attitude and behavior. A wife’s respect and support means a lot to a husband and may help him spiritually more than you realize.

  6. Razzler,

    I am inclined to take into account the context in which this passage is written.
    Peter was writing to a church that was emerging, in a pagan culture (Rome), where the women were being literally disobedient to their husbands by not worshiping their gods. considered in that context, it’s actually a “coping strategy”. It’s like Peter is saying “by law you are disobeying your husband. That could lead you to be killed, but don’t let this lead you to fear, instead keep submitting to your husband and let him see how Jesus makes you a better wife to him”.

    But I always see some sort of eternal principle in it too. Our actions always scream much louder than our words, and we are a lot more likely to influence our husbands if we first try to win them by our actions.

  7. Imagine a Muslim woman in a country that practices Sharia law comest to know Jesus. She is in a situation where she can lose her life for her faith.
    These instructions may save her life, because she would be trying her best to stay submissive to a husband that considers her property, staying covered, abiding by his rules, but respectfully not worshiping his god. If she should start evangelizing, she could lose her life. If she keeps her place, in silence, she might win him over.

    I’m seriously hacking your posts, Ety!

  8. Madame, hack away! *lol*

    One principle I have lived by ever since I learned the inductive Bible study method is to “see for myself.” I never assume that the teachings I’m listening to or reading are automatically correct. Like a good Berean (Acts 17:11), I apply the inductive method to see if what they say is so. I encourage others to do the same with what I write. Of course, the challenge in doing this is to set aside our own assumptions of what a particular verse or passage means, and let the Word speak for itself. That’s why I do so many original word studies and cross references, because what I really want to know, not what others say it means, but what does God say it means. Firstly to those to whom it was written, and secondly to me in my own walk with the Lord.

    I agree with you that there are a lot of troubling interpretations out there, which lead to incorrect application. And I agree that culture is a factor that is too often misunderstood or overlooked. Also, I appreciate that you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Too many folks reject Scripture because of the exceptions, rather than embracing the truth as it applies to them. Fortunately, we won’t be accountable for what others do with the truth, only for what we do with it.

  9. Ety: Do you mind if I add you to my blogroll?

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