How Should a Wife Respond to Her Husband’s Bad Authority?

Compel the Gospel

How we respond to bad authority depends on what you mean by bad authority. There’s everyday, typical, selfish uses of authority that can be lived with, but then I also want to be very sensitive to those kinds of abuses of such a nature that they can’t be lived with.

Let’s start in that first category. The passage that comes to mind is 1 Peter 3: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word”—he’s not obeying the word; he’s using his authority poorly in some form or fashion—“they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”


Jonathan Leeman

Through Scripture and engaging stories, Jonathan Leeman shows that godly authority is essential to human flourishing and presents 5 attributes of biblical authority.

And let me just say this is something commanded not just of wives, but I would say any Christian under an authority in which the word is not being obeyed. Whether you’re in the workplace or government or whatever the case is, as Christians, generally, and as wives, specifically in the context of marriage, we’re to assume that the authorities that God has placed over us aren’t perfect. Now, God’s authorization is perfect, but what those authorities do isn’t perfect, and they aren’t going to obey. And we are called to forbear and be patient and forgive, and yet continue to seek to compel the gospel through our trust in Christ, as we trust in God, even as we continue to serve those God has called us to serve.

The Beauty of Your Life

I remember a terrible boss I had once at a magazine. I was a managing editor at a magazine early in my career, and he was a terrible boss. He attacked me verbally and otherwise. And as I look back on that experience, what are my regrets?

Ironically, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t do awesome work for him. You know why that’s my regret? Is it because I didn’t progress in journalism? No, I left journalism. It's because I did B-level work, and I wish my A-level work would’ve continued to testify against him, as it were. Hey, here’s this Christian who’s listening to me and following and doing awesome work, even though, at some level, I know I’m a terrible boss.

I wish that had been my motive. And so I think there’s a sense in which Peter’s getting at that same idea. Even when your husbands do not obey the word, present the gospel to them, in a way, with your life. Let your adornment, he says, come from the beauty of your lives. For wives with selfish, sinful husbands, I want that to be your goal.

Now, of course, I’m not telling you not to correct him and speak to him about it. All of that. Absolutely. And learn how to do that well. Learn how to give the wisdom to your husband that he needs. He needs the helper. He needs you to talk to him about those things he may be doing wrong. All of that is in that first bucket of sins that can be lived with, as it were.

Learn how to give the wisdom to your husband that he needs. He needs the helper.

The Second Category of Bad Authority

And if you need to involve the elders in your church, I think that’d be a good thing to do. Talk to other sisters in your life who can give you wisdom on how to do it. And also—and this brings us to the second bucket—they can help you discern that if some of those things are happening, you need to separate. You're actually endangering yourself. There is abuse going on here.

Talk to the sisters in your life, talk to your pastors, and let them help you see if maybe you’re the frog in the kettle. If those things that you’re just sort of taking for granted as normal aren’t normal, then you actually need to flee. You need to get out. That’s another set of complex of issues that I can’t really tackle right here.

But the bottom line is: seek to love your husband, whether in ongoing submission or, on occasion and when required, even pulling out and fleeing so that he can’t continue to sin against you.

Jonathan Leeman is the author of Authority: How Godly Rule Protects the Vulnerable, Strengthens Communities, and Promotes Human Flourishing.

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