Marriage (5): when your dear wife says “no” (b)

Marriage (5): when your dear wife says “no” (b)

A couple readers expressed frustration that I began this series on responding to a wife who refuses to submit by saying what shouldn’t be done about it, and not what should. One reader pointed out to me that there really are rebellious wives—which I thought was the point of this series. One frequent problem in pastoral care is that people are impatient and want you to address problems in isolation from other problems. As in “she’s rebellious, so tell me how to deal with her.”

Also people want the pastor or elder to simply give them some interpersonal skills the husband should use at home to solve the problem, and it doesn’t much occur to them the church is integral to the sanctification of the godly and keeping the peace in the home as it’s integral to keeping the peace through, for instance, doctrinal formulations and reporting abuse. We don’t live alone, as believers, and we shouldn’t. The church in Jerusalem was devoted to fellowship,  and not simply the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of bread, and prayer.

In other words, the church is integral to the peace of the homes and marriages of believers, and this in many ways. It’s not all on the husband and wife alone together.

Now, back to the interrelatedness of marital problems. Note the Apostles address wives’ rebellion cheek-by-jowl with husbands’ nastiness by saying wives, submit to your husbands right next to husbands, love your wives. We should always keep in mind that the Scriptures show us how to deal with things, pastorally, and are not simply compendiums of doctrine. Dealing with both the wife’s submission and the husband’s love together is the Apostolic pattern and is no absolution of wifely rebellion.

Nine times out of ten, the husband who wants to know how to deal with a recalcitrant or rebellious or shrewish wife needs to be told to love her. Why does this response to wifely rebellion anger people when this is how the Apostles handle it?

Too, if the Apostle Peter says (1Peter 3:1, 2) the solution for loveless husbands who don’t believe is winning them through submission, wouldn’t it follow that the solution for rebellious wives who don’t believe is winning them through love? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Now then, back to the church’s pastoral care of the marriages where there is wifely rebellion. In this connection, it may help readers to know that many years ago my brothers and I1 were discussing the issue of rebellious wives who led their homes and we agreed that we had never seen such marriages do anything other than spin out of the church, eventually.

I report this as a warning, but also an encouragement. Part of God’s pruning of His Bride is protecting her from sedition and rebellion, and sometimes that pruning is self-pruning which heals and protects the flock. This is my view of matriarchies leaving churches: it demonstrates those churches are so committed to teaching and preaching and exhorting and rebuking in submission to God’s father-rule that those committed to mother-rule can’t stand it and leave. It has the smell of death to them and they go somewhere they can breathe without vomiting.

Which is to say your church should be gently yet persistently intolerable to rebels of any sort, but especially rebels against God’s Order of Creation of Adam first, then Eve. This is central to our day’s rebellion against God the Father and the church that fears God and clings to His Son, our Lord Jesus, in the power of His Holy Spirit, should never stop calling men and women to order their marriages and homes rightly.

  • The call to obedience should be in premarital counselling.
  • The vow to “obey” should be in every bride’s vows by requirement of her beloved session’s marriage policies.
  • The wedding homily should always command the bride to submit to her groom as it commands the groom to love his bride.
  • The post-marital counselling should probe both matters for growth in godliness.
  • The week-by-week and year-by-year sermons should apply the truth of the Order of Creation every time it comes up, and good pastors will see it in the text all the time, and not bypass it because it’s awkward and some rebellious households will leave angry.
  • The central curriculum of the women’s ministry Bible studies and bridal showers and interpersonal counselling should be those things under intense attack today communicated to Pastor Titus by the Apostle Paul in his program for older women teaching younger women: wives are to be “workers at home” and “being subject to their own husbands” (Titus 2:3-5).
  • Home fellowship groups should provide occasions for older women to observe wifely rebellion; and observing it, they should find a time to exhort this wife.
  • Home fellowship groups should provide occasions for the elders and pastors and deacons, at least, to observe callous, rude, indifferent, and passive husbands; and observing this lovelessness, they should find a time to exhort this husband.

And on the list should go…

You say I still haven’t given you any strategy to bring your wife under your authority? You’re kidding, right? We’ll pick this up again in a day or two. Meanwhile, make sure your church is doing these works so indispensable to growth in godliness in our wicked day.

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1. At the time, my youngest brother, Nathan, was still alive and pastored a Cornerstone Chapel in Bristol, Virginia. The middle brother, David, pastors Christ the Word (PCA) in Toledo, Ohio.

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About The Author

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Tim Bayly has been senior pastor of Clearnote Church, Bloomington since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is titled "Daddy Tried" and he is co-author of a book on homosexuality titled "The Grace of Shame.’

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