Have you ever read a Christian romance novel? The one with a misled girl who meets that perfect Christian guy who has it all figured out, and who from the day they met was her spiritual guide to encourage her in a closer relationship with God? They saved their first kiss for the altar, and when they got married, they lived happily ever after—her husband leading her spiritually for the rest of their lives. How romantic, right?
Maybe you aren’t the fiction-loving type and decided to get your marriage advice from a Christian marriage book. There you read about the spiritual headship of the husband and how he is supposed to lead you, and you are meant to submit to him. In the church today, you probably didn’t even have to read one of those books to hear the term “spiritual leadership” tossed around. We hear the plea, “I just want to find a man who will lead me spiritually,” or, “I’m so sick of my husband not taking up his role of leading me spiritually.”
Perhaps you share that plea. Maybe the man you married hasn’t turned out to be the spiritual leader of your dreams. If so, there are two temptations I’d like to encourage you to guard yourself from: (1) taking up your chisels to carve your husband into an idol or (2) carving yourself into an idol for him.
Carving Him into a God
With the Christian romance novels, movies, marriage clichés, and poor marriage books, we can be tempted to raise our husbands up as household idols, demanding they change our hearts, make us more spiritual, lead us in righteousness, grow us in Christ-likeness, and take away our pain and sins. We may be tempted to excuse our own sins, blaming them on our husbands’ lack of leadership. We may expect their words to renew our hearts when we’re snared in sin or floundering in sorrow. And when they fail to do so, we become bitter, frustrated, or sad that they aren’t living up to our expectations as spiritual leaders.
If you can relate, these words declared by the prophet Jeremiah may sound a bit familiar to your heart:
Jeremiah 17:5-6, “The man who trusts in mankind,
who makes human flesh his strength
and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed.
He will be like a juniper in the Arabah;
he cannot see when good comes
but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness,
in a salt land where no one lives.”
Do you know that parched feeling well, friend? When we put our trust in our husbands, when we look to them to provide as and play the role of our Savior, we will be like a tumbleweed tumbling through the dry desert in search of water. We keep trying to sink our roots into the sand in search of even a single rain drop, but instead we are blown again by the wind, only finding parched places.
Now consider the contrasting picture Jeremiah paints of the person who trusts in God:
Jeremiah 17:5-6, “The man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed.
He will be like a tree planted by water:
it sends its roots out toward a stream,
it doesn’t fear when heat comes,
and its foliage remains green.
It will not worry in a year of drought
or cease producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
When we see the heat of a trial coming, those of us who put our trust in our husbands to be our life-giving stream are often filled with fear—we worry if they will be able to even sustain themselves, let alone us. When we find ourselves caught in sin, we wonder how they, frequent sinners themselves, will ever free us. But when our confidence—our trust—is in God, we don’t have to worry. He will sustain us. He will strengthen us. He will be our solid Rock. He will give us the way of escape in temptation. He will do the work of sanctification in our hearts so that we may produce fruit and grow. And He will do the same in our husbands, if they are believers.
Carving Ourselves as Gods
Like us, there will be times our husbands lapse spiritually—when they forget their need for Christ, when they aren’t in the Word, when they aren’t exemplifying Christ to our children, or when they aren’t praying. In our frustration, it can be tempting to play gods for our husbands, making snide remarks that are meant to convict but wording our phrases and responses in such a way that are meant to lay a thick coat of guilt despite sounding good. Or perhaps we attempt to be gods to them by writing our own law for how our husbands should live within our home and releasing our wrath when they don’t obey.
Sisters, we are not meant to be their gods. Our purpose is to come alongside and encourage them as our brothers in the faith. We can offer to read the Bible with them, pray with or for them, or counsel them from Scripture on battling sins. Don’t take them on a guilt trip—instead, seek to encourage them with the gospel. Pray for God to be at work since He is the one who convicts and changes hearts, not us. As Paul wrote to the Philippians,
Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
When change is slow in our husbands’ hearts, we can be tempted to try to speed up the process by using our own feeble means to change their hearts. But God is the One who changes our desires and gives us the ability to obey. Though we can be persuasive, and though we may force someone to obey from fear of man, that is not the lasting heart change that God works in us.
We Both Need God
What we must remember, sisters, is our husbands are not our saviors, but they are our brothers in Christ. They need the Gospel just as we do. We each have fallen short of the glory of God and continue to do so daily. The only reason any of us will stand before God free from condemnation at judgment is because we have Christ’s righteousness. He took our wrath on the cross and gave us His righteousness. We who are married—both husbands and wives—need Christ.
Being spiritual leaders doesn’t mean our husbands are more sanctified than us. We are all still sinners who must run to the cross of Christ daily in search of grace and strength.
Likewise, we can’t pretend to be gods for our husbands either. We are not powerful like God to make dead hearts alive or lead people from sin to righteousness—and thank goodness that’s not our job! Instead of making our husbands our gods or trying to play gods ourselves, we are siblings in Christ, pointing one another back to the One True God.