Revive Our Hearts Podcast

God’s Beautiful Design for Women, Day 43

Leslie Basham: For years, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has taught what the Bible says on marriage; then, she got married—and had to start living it out.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: As I’ve tried to choose the pathway of submission—to let my husband lead—I’ve watched this precious man bend over backward to serve and bless me!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Wednesday, April 5, 2017.

Nancy: If you’ve been with us for the past couple of days, you know that we’ve been leaning in on this phrase in Titus 2 where older women are instructed to teach, to train, the young women to be submissive to their own husbands—the last in seven qualities in this curriculum for younger women discipleship.

And this is a tough one! It’s tough in any era, in any generation, but I think it’s especially tough in ours today, because the worldview in which we live is so diametrically opposed to this whole concept. You can sound like you’re for abuse . . . like you’ve got three heads . . . like you’re crazy—if you teach on this today.

There are women who have been deeply wounded, scarred, by men who weren’t thinking God’s way about this subject. If you’ve missed the last couple of programs, I want to encourage you to go back to ReviveOurHearts.com to listen to those, to read the transcripts. 

Perhaps you might want to pick up a copy of the Adorned book. We have a whole chapter that unpacks this message and other teaching we’ve done on this—because you can’t say everything, you can’t give all the caveats in one session. You can’t cover all the bases.

You may have a situation that is very different than anything I’ve talked about. So go to the Lord and ask Him for wisdom—but you start with this assumption that God is good, that He loves you, that submission was His idea, and that properly understood it is a blessing. There is a strength and a beauty of submission done God’s way.

I want to talk for a few moments today about: What do I do when I disagree with my husband’s decisions or his direction? And, actually, this is the only time submission really becomes an issue in marriage. Because when you both agree with each other, you both agree with each other, right?

But when a husband and his wife don’t agree on something, that’s when this comes into play. That disagreement may be a minor disagreement that surfaces in the course of everyday life. Sometimes there can be bigger issues related to parenting decisions.

For example (I’ve watched a number of women go through this), you want more children and he doesn’t. That’s a parenting challenge. Women in this room have faced that. Maybe it's in relation to financial issues—spending, saving, purchases. Or it could be when to switch churches; how to pick a church. A career change, etc.

A woman just came to me before this session and she said, “Most recently, my husband and I had to exercise this whole principle and teaching when we were trying to decide whether God was moving us from one ministry to another. We talked about it; we interacted. We talked about the pros and the cons. But when it came down to it, I needed to say to him, ‘You need to make this decision.’”

She placed herself in a position of trusting God to work through her husband. But sometimes you don’t come to agreement on these things.

Sometimes it’s not the little things, it’s not the bigger issues of life, it’s really thorny issues like when a husband is pushing a wife to do something that she is convinced is contrary to God’s will and God’s Word.

I’ve heard all sorts of things from listeners over the years. Let me just read you a sampling of those. One woman wrote and said, “My husband is not saved. I’m supposed to be submissive to him. He does not want me to tithe; this is a big issue for him. What am I to do?”

So, you could multiply that by many different financial challenges and issues, where you may have disagreement. Here’s a husband who’s not a believer, so he’s not concerned about obeying God’s Word. What do you do?

Here’s another one. What if he is an unbeliever and “takes our young children to see R-rated movies when you plead with him to consider an alternative?" You can multiply that times a jillion in terms of ways that plays out—parenting decisions.

Here's another one. “My friend’s husband has a large collection of evil music: sex, drugs, etc. He says he’s a Christian, but he refuses to dispose of it. My friend does not like having it in her home (they have six children), but feels that to be submissive she cannot tell him to get rid of it.” What do you do in a situation like this? What does submission mean? What does it look like?

And the women asking these and other tough questions, first of all, let me say, they need the kind of relationships that Titus 2 provides for between younger women (who are figuring these things out) and older, seasoned women who will walk with them, who will pray with them. 

It’s not a “yes” or “no” answer to most of these kinds of things. People write us, and they ask us these questions. I’m saying, “You know what? They need to get somebody in their life who knows them, who knows their situation, who will walk with them, who will pray with them, who will stick with them, who will help them discern the best course of action and then how to respond when that goes 'kerflooey' when the reaction of the husband isn’t what they thought it might be."

These relationships, ideally, should take place in the context of a local church where pastoral leaders can be brought in, if necessary, to deal with the husband or deal with the marriage.

You can have speakers that you love listening to, books that you love reading by Christian women and authors and speakers, and they can be helpful—but only to a point. There is no substitute for these life-on-life, real human-being relationships!

I don’t know how to answer most of these questions for you, and you don’t know how to answer most of them for me—because you don’t know me; I don’t know you. That’s why we need these relationships, these women’s friendships, where we are involved in each other’s lives, and we can help each other walk through these kinds of decisions.

However (having just told you I can’t answer your questions!), I do want to give you a handful of general principles that I have found helpful in walking women through situations where they are being asked to submit to direction from a husband that they believe is unwise or unbiblical.

I think these simple principles can be useful to all of us when we question the direction of a God-ordained authority. First, ask yourself, “Am I generally submissive?” Step back from this situation that’s become so tough, and ask yourself if you’re generally submissive toward your husband.

Biblical submission is a heart-attitude; it’s an inclination; it’s a bent toward being leadable. Is your response to your husband generally receptive and responsive, or do you tend to reflexively push back and resist—no matter what he says? This makes it incredibly difficult for him to make suggestions or decisions without bracing for your objections, and most men aren’t going to do that for very long. 

If you’re not generally of a submissive disposition and spirit, then don’t expect your husband to find it easy to navigate this one really tough place with you.

Number two: Make sure that you want God’s will and His glory more than you want your own way. Is this a matter of pride? (Again, we’ve said there is a whole range of issues here.) Is it a matter that you just want it to be your way? It has to be “my way or the highway”? Or do you really want God’s will and God’s glory in your life and your marriage—more than you want your own way?

If your desire is really to glorify God, it will make it easier (I didn’t say “easy,” and I didn’t say that always there will be a resolution—a good one) to work out a lot of differences.

Number three: Share your concern.

Submission—we said this in the last session—doesn’t mean that you don’t give input, that you don’t express yourself, that you don’t explain differences, that you don’t talk about things. You need to share your concern. Your husband needs to hear your heart.

But remember that attitude is huge—it’s huge! If you’re being shrill, if you’re being a shrew, if you’re being accusatory or threatening or whining or demanding or insisting that it has to be your way . . . turn it down! You’re not going to win that way. You’re both going to lose.

He’s not going to win. You’re not going to win. And, by the way, submission is not about who wins. Submission is about coming together to glorify God and to honor Him. And none of that’s going to happen if you try to only have your own way. You’re both going to lose big time.

So dial it down. Sometimes what happens in a marriage or a relationship is . . . Start with either one. Maybe it was your husband who “dialed it up.” Maybe he’s not a believer. Maybe he’s rougher-hewn and he's gotten a little harsher, feistier, or not kind. So you dialed it up, and so he dialed it up, and you dialed it up, and so, pretty soon you’ve got this crazy mess going on. You can’t hear each other; you’ve got your heels dug in, and you’re not going to solve the issues.

Sometimes when he dials it up, you can dial it back. If you don’t put on boxing gloves (you refuse to do it), he may just decide, “This is not a woman I can box with.” Now, I’m not saying that works in every situation. 

I know I’m looking into the eyes of women who have horrendous, hard, horrible situations in your marriage, and everything I’m saying sounds like, “She has no clue what she’s talking about!” And I probably don’t. I don’t know your situations, for sure. But I know that God knows, and I know that God will give you the grace to do what is right in that situation.

And so, when you share your concerns, be careful about timing. You’ve got to be careful about extreme word choices: “You always . . .” “You never . . .” You’ve got to back off from that! Be humble, be teachable, be loving, be respectable, be respectful in how you treat him.

You say, “He’s not acting respectable!” You still have to respect him. And, as you do, I think you’ll find that a lot of times the intensity of the situation will tone down; it will cool down. And don’t say, “We’ve got to solve it in the next three minutes,” or “We’ve got to solve it tonight.”

The more you push against him, the more you may find that he pushes against you—and you don’t want that. That’s not productive. So be willing to back down. Now, I’m not saying that submission ever means you follow him into sin (we already said that in the last session). I’m not saying that.

But even as you deal with issues where there’s clear right and wrong involved, think about your tone. Think about your manner. Think about your attitude. Does he feel respected? Is he reacting more to your tone and your attitude more than he is to the issue itself? These are things you need to think about. Share your concern.

And then, number four: If you’re still in disagreement, make an appeal—with a humble, respectful spirit (not defiant). Again, I’m thinking about Esther as she went to the king when her people were about to wiped out. She does this so wisely.

And, I’m thinking, I couldn’t have waited until that second dinner to tell what my concern was, to make my appeal. I would have had to have it out there, just like: “Hurry! People have been fasting and praying for three days, and everybody’s . . . We get in this tizzy, and let me just say, a lot of men don’t like a lot of emotional drama. So cool the drama! It’s not necessary.

Now, I’m not saying that you always say everything in just a calm tone of voice. Sometimes he’s needs to know that this really matters to you. But do it with wisdom, do it with discretion, do it in a way that is humble and respectful. Make your appeal in the way that Esther did to the king.

And then, number five: Ask God to intervene. This is a matter where you’re being forced to do something sinful. Ask God to intervene, to show you what to do. Look, can God part the Red Sea? Can God part the Jordan River? Can God let His people go across on dry land? Can God drown the enemy? God can do anything! There’s nothing too difficult for Him.

And I think, sometimes because we take matters into our own hands and we say, “I’m going to fix this, I’m going to manipulate this, I’m gonna make this happen,” we just leave God out of the picture. We don’t see what God could do if we give Him a chance.

Give God time to change your husband’s heart—or to change your heart. Trust God with the outcome. We get so stuck in the moment and so bent on our own way, and so into the emotion and the drama of the moment . . . which, I think, drives some husbands a little bit crazy (or a lot crazy).

So back off. Trust God with the outcome. Remember that things will not always be as they are. They won’t be, even in a situation that feels so impossible to get through. It won’t always be the case. In the long term, God will reward your faithfulness, and He will right all wrongs.

You say, “I can’t wait that long! That’s like eternity—that’s like Heaven.” You know what, if you have to wait until then, by God’s grace you can. I think a lot of these things can be resolved: time changes things, God changes things, husbands change, wives change. 

So don’t get stuck in saying, “Look, this is the way it is, and he’s going to destroy my life because he’s saying we’re going to have to move to . . . wherever.” That’s not necessarily a sin on his part. It may be, but it may be that you’ve just got to trust God for the things He has for you in wherever that place is where your husband’s moving you. 

And you are like, the moving truck showed up at the door, and you guys didn’t really have a chance to talk about this, and your husband didn’t think about what the kids are going to do, and what your mother’s going to do (because she needs care) . . .

You know what? You’ve got to trust God. Sometimes God will use even your husband’s wrong decisions to teach him things that you couldn’t possibly teach him—and to teach you things that you might not learn any other way.

Let me just give you a few illustrations of this kind of thinking.

A friend of mine said,

My dad often made financial investments involving thousands of dollars, thinking he was going to make a lot more. I watched my mother share her heart, but back him up in many decisions that were failures. If my father would have taken her advice, they probably would have gained instead of lost. But she never held that over his head or talked to us kids about his faults. 

That’s an illustration of this.

Another friend of mine, who at the time had been married for seventeen years and was dealing with some pretty serious health issues. Through some circumstances (too long to go into), she and her husband (married seventeen years, she’s got major health issues) did not own a home at that point. That’s the backdrop.

She said,

In this last year, I’ve wanted my own home to be sick in. We have house-sat, and we are presently in someone’s apartment. I made my wish known to my husband; he did not go for it. I wanted my own placed so badly. I felt it was a need. It still has not happened [at the time she wrote this]. I am in the submission process at the moment, and I am praying for a house [which God has since blessed them with].

Am I kicking and screaming? No. Do I make comments every now and then about it? Yes. Am I demanding it? No. I want God’s blessing and timing and will wait for the Lord. He can move my husband, as I submit.

When we differ, we usually discuss and get both sides on the table. When I feel that I’ve been heard, saying it once—clearly and gently—is my goal. [Good counsel there.] I leave the ultimate decision to my husband. It falls on him as leader and head of our home.

Then, I take it to prayer. [Your most powerful weapon! Prayer.] Knowing that God sees, knows and is Sovereign is so comforting! Sometimes it works itself out; sometimes my husband makes a decision that I would not have made. Sometimes I get what I was wanting. There’s give-and-take, and love that covers a multitude of transgressions.”

And then, here’s another one from another friend. She said, 

The most difficult issue of submission in our marriage has been my husband’s choice of vocation. Throughout our marriage, he has alternated between serving a church as pastor and being employed in a secular vocation where he is traveling and spends much of the week out of town.

The first time he took on secular employment was when our first child was a baby. For the entire year he had that job, I cried, nagged, complained, and tried to manipulate him to change his vocation. I was relentless and nearly drove him to divorce.

Now, my husband is once again employed in the same type of job that keeps him away from home much of the time. Our Father has taught me that, although my husband’s occupation is not what I would choose for him or for our family, I am to honor the Lord by submitting to my husband.

When I entrust this difficulty into His hands, I am demonstrating my trust in God. I know that He can work out His plans and purposes—and even use this trial in my life to do the sanctifying work that He desires, and to ultimately bring Himself glory.

Now, I’ve watched this couple (I’ve known them for years—a bi-vocational pastor and his wife) go through this process (there was a lot more to it than she said there). And, do you know, today God is using that couple in an amazing way to minister to marriages out of the hard things God taught them both through some long years in the wilderness.

You can demand getting out of the wilderness sooner, but you might forfeit some of the beauty of what God wanted to do in your lives in that process.

This friend says,

The true test of submission is how my heart responds to his decision when, after giving my input, he still determines to go in a direction that he knows I disagree with. My response to my husband is a reflection of my trust in the Lord’s ability to work.

Although a husband may never completely submit to God’s plan for his life, it is not the wife’s responsibility to see that he submits to God. It is, however, the wife’s responsibility to submit herself first to God, and reflective of that submission is her submission to her husband.

Ladies, that kind of submission is very powerful! It’s powerful in your marriage; it’s powerful in your own walk with God, and it’s powerful in our witness to the world. Peter talks about this in 1 Peter 3:1–2, “Likewise, you wives [this is in a much bigger context of how Christ handled adversity], be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word, by the conduct of their wives—when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” (paraphrased).

So even if he’s not a believer, there’s power in the example of your trust in God and your willingness to come under God-ordained authority.

Be careful about nagging, about badgering, about manipulation . . . or what one pastor has called “excessive exhortation!” (laughter) Listen, exhortation is okay in your marriage—well-timed and with a great spirit—but excessive exhortation . . . “methinks that succeedeth not.”

This is talking about husbands who do not obey the Word and how they can be won to God’s way of thinking (not won to your position, but won to God’s Word) without a word from you. Your spirit can harden this husband’s heart, or God can use your spirit to soften his heart.

I’ve shared in my book on Titus 2, Adorned, a story about an older woman in my life named Vonette Bright—who went home to be with the Lord six or seven weeks after our wedding. She was eighty-nine years old; she had acute leukemia, and she made her way to our wedding—from Florida to Chicago.

It was as if it was the last thing she ever did, and she was going to be there for that! She was such a joy. And, just minutes before I walked down the aisle to become Mrs. Robert Wolgemuth, Vonette asked if she could spend a few moments alone with me.

Vonette—a mother and a grandmother—wanted to be sure that I felt prepared for this new life I was stepping into. We had had lots of conversations prior to that moment, but it was like she wanted one last conversation. It was very sweet.

Toward the end of our brief conversation, Vonette said something to me that I’ve never forgotten . . . a little bit of wisdom that has proven to be one of the sweetest wedding gifts we received. I’m going to tell you what she said, and then I’m going to give some caveats to it, okay?

She said, “Submit to whatever brings him pleasure in everything . . . and you’ll be just fine.” And she had a big smile on her face while she was saying this. Now, I’ve hesitated to share that exchange, knowing it could easily be misunderstood.

By no means was she to encouraging me to satisfy any sinful, selfish desire my husband might have. She was not implying that I would be my husband’s slave, or that my role was merely to fulfill his every whim.

Here was a dear widow who had enjoyed a deeply loving fifty-four-year marriage, and who knew first-hand the joys of having a disposition—an inclination—to follow her husband’s leadership. Vonette’s words have come to my mind many times since my wedding day, not so much in big issues of submission or big impasses—we really haven’t had that kind of thing. 

But every day, there are matters where he thinks one way, I think another way. Mostly little things, but if you would add them all up, you could make them a big thing, right? And I’ve thought about that: “Submit to whatever brings him pleasure in everything, and you’ll be just fine.”

My natural bent is not that way. My natural bent is to push for what I want, what brings me pleasure. But in those moments when I’ve been tempted to resist what I know would bless my husband or to push back against his leadership, these words from an older, wise woman, has helped to counsel my heart.

I’ve tried to choose the pathway of submission, to let my husband lead, and I have watched this precious man bend over backward to serve and bless me. I’ve seen him take even more seriously his responsibility to get before the Lord and to ask Him to lead our lives and our marriage.

I understand that not every husband will respond the same way and that some wives will not see the fruit of their obedience to God’s Word in the short term. I also understand that, too often, the concept of submission has been used as an excuse to justify bullying.

And, depending on the nature of the circumstances, those who do this (who hold this wrong view of authority) need to be confronted and held accountable for their behavior. And those on the receiving end need to be given compassionate, practical help.

But we can’t afford to let those distortions and those perversions of God’s gift of submission cause us to miss out on the real thing.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth isn’t done. She’ll be back with a final thought on the beauty of genuine biblical submission. She talks about this topic in the new book Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together. It’s an in-depth look at Titus 2:1–5.

This is a passage that specifically shows women what it looks like to put the gospel on display, and Nancy will walk you through these verses. We’ll send you this new hardback book when you help make this program possible. Listeners have donated so that you can be hearing Revive Our Hearts right now, and you can pass along that gift to others.

Your support will help us keep this podcast coming to you each weekday. You can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com. You’ll find a place to click a box and let us know you’d like a copy of the book Adorned. You can also ask for the book when you call 1–800–569–5959.

Tomorrow, Nancy will continue to show us how this concept of submission puts the gospel on display in great beauty. Please join us again for Revive Our Hearts. Nancy’s back to wrap up today’s discussion.

Nancy: In her book, The True Woman, my friend Susan Hunt sums it up so beautifully, I think, in this way. She says,

I cannot give logical argument for submission. It defies logic that Jesus would release all the glories of heaven so that He could give us the glory of heaven. Submission is not about logic. It is about love. Jesus loved us so much that He voluntarily submitted to death on a cross. His command is that wives are to submit to their husbands. It is a gift that we voluntarily give to the men we have vowed to love, in obedience to the Savior we love. 

Amen? Amen!

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