It was one of those unexpected, honest, and painful moments. During casual conversation with an older friend, we started talking about my marriage. I asked for his thoughts.
“Well, you don’t challenge your wife enough.”
I was completely caught off guard by his honesty. But he was right, and I knew it. Something had to change.
A Call to Correction
It’s crystal clear: God calls husbands to be instruments of his sanctifying work in the lives of our wives.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. (Ephesians 5:25–26)
Just as Jesus set his church apart from sin through his sacrificial, loving death on the cross, husbands are to do everything in their power to promote their wives’ holiness.
This can take many forms. We can pray for our wives, read the Bible with them, and make space for them to pursue meaningful spiritual friendships with other women.
At times, though, it will also include correction. We all still fight with sin. We all need to be progressively sanctified. Even the most Christlike wives will sometimes need an honest, loving word to get back on course.
By virtue of the closeness we share with our wives, husbands are uniquely positioned by God to play this role. This is much easier to do in theory than in practice. Husbands will make the most of their mistakes in one of two directions.
Some of you, perhaps aided by your upbringing and temperament, count it all joy to correct others. You may feel like it’s your obligation to continually speak up to help your wife grow in Christ. After all, you may think, If I don’t do it, who will?
I can remember one guy who, under the umbrella of “headship and submission,” was routinely giving his wife correction laced with frustration. He was in violation of Paul’s command, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19).
When we behave like this, we’re (however unwittingly) executing wrath on our wives that Jesus has already absorbed. Even when we’re right about the need for correction, we’re often wrong in its application.
In Matthew 15:18, Jesus reminds us that “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” Angry, critical words reveal a heart that is concerned not with God’s glory, or our wife’s holiness, but our own selfish agenda.
More common in our day, I suspect, is the tendency for Christian husbands to remain silent.
Like I did.
Timid guys have their reasons too. If you were raised in a home where you felt pressure to be perfect, or learned to appease an angry parent, silence is one natural response. And if your wife struggles with listening, this may also tempt you to keep quiet. Or maybe you feel that challenging your wife would just add another burden to her plate.
Silent types appear much nicer than their critical counterparts. But it’s also true that what doesn’t come out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. Just like angry husbands, timid husbands are motivated not by their wives’ holiness, or God’s glory, but by preserving their own kingdom. A kingdom where peace, however false, reigns.
Of course, it’s entirely possible to waffle between these two approaches. To stay quiet and preserve the peace until resentment builds and the cork blows off. That was my pattern early in our marriage — a pattern, along with my wife’s own struggles, that led us to biblical counseling at just the right time.
Truth and Love
What did we learn?
Paul shows us what marriage is all about. “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31–32).
Our one-flesh marriages point beyond themselves to the relationship that Christ has with us, his church. The gospel and our marriages should illustrate each other. In fact, the way we treat our wives reveals what we really believe about the gospel.
If we find ourselves correcting with anger, it shows that we haven’t truly internalized the massive grace we’ve received (2 Peter 1:2). On the other hand, if we stay silent, we show that we don’t really believe that God rescued us to make us holy (Romans 6:18, 22).
So, if we want a marriage that brings glory to Christ, we’ll need to correct our wives by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). And the surest way to do that is to grow in appreciation for Christ’s work in our own lives.
Four Practical Principles
Some of you may be thinking, I’m feeling convicted. But how do I actually do this?
Here are four practical ways you can correct your wife with the truth and grace of the gospel.
Whether you lean toward anger or silence, acknowledge it to God first, and then to your wife. When we plainly confess our failures, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And most wives will be thankful when we seek their forgiveness too.
2. Learn when to speak.
We will need the Spirit’s guidance to discern if this is “a time to keep silence, [or] a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). In general, we should speak up when we notice sinful patterns or isolated examples of serious sin. God certainly doesn’t correct us at every turn, so we shouldn’t nitpick our wives either.
3. Consider your timing.
If we must speak up, we need to consider our timing. Recently, I challenged my wife when I was angry, and it showed, tempting her to respond defensively. Assuming we’re ready to act in love, we should also consider what’s happening on our wives’ end. If they’ve had a tough day at work or with the kids, for example, it can usually wait.
4. Be a student.
Your wife is a unique creation, so you need to know what will serve your particular wife. My wife appreciates it when I speak directly, keep it brief, then give her space. What about yours?
A Glorious, Temporary Calling
Like us, one day our wives will meet Jesus and be perfect, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). But until that day, until death do us part, husbands have the staggering privilege of getting our wives ready for Jesus, their true husband.
With God’s help, and for his glory, may we correct them with the grace and truth that we’ve received.