The following is a portion of a talk that author and speaker Elisabeth Elliot gave on her radio program, Gateway to Joy, September 01, 2000. In it she addressed the question: “How am I supposed to learn to see Christ in my husband?”
Here’s what she had to say that we hope you will prayerfully consider:
So many women write to me to tell about their husbands, who either are not Christians at all or they’re not behaving like Christians even though they claim to be one. So what we need to do is to learn to see Christ in our husbands. Jesus said whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for Me. He also said whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for Me. That’s from Matthew 25:40 and also Matthew 25:45.
Here is perhaps one of the most difficult but also most transforming truths for a wife to grasp. She lives with a fallible human being 365 days a year. And so does he. Her husband does not always act like Christ, nor does she. Yet the Bible gives clear instructions to both.
Look up Ephesians 5:24 and 28. These instructions seem impossible. The husband is to love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife is to respect or reverence her husband. Let’s remember that what is impossible with men is possible with God, and He has never issued a command which He will not enable us to fulfill.
And I want to repeat that. God has never issued a command, which He will not enable us to fulfill. The question is, “Will we choose to obey?” Because I receive so many more letters from wives than from husbands, I will leave the “but what about him” to God and try to address the difficulties that we wives face.
What is a wife to do if he is being disobedient in any way to what God says? I am very grateful for the shining testimonies of several women who have found love, joy and peace by following the clear word of Scripture. Their marriages, once difficult, have been totally transformed. Might we, who earnestly desire that God’s will be gladly obeyed in our home, trust God to help us toward that transformation?
He will, I believe, if we begin with Jesus’ three conditions for discipleship in Matthew 16:24.
Number one: give up your right to yourself. That is a tough command and a scary thought, to give up your right to yourself.
Number two: take up the cross, which means suffering.
Number three, follow a daily obedience. Give up your right to yourself, take up the cross and follow. Do you want to be a disciple? Those are the conditions.
Once having made up our minds to be disciples, we may then study the specific teaching on marriage. Number one, what are the respective roles of husband and wife? Look first at Ephesians 5:22-33. The husband represents Christ, as He is head of the church. The wife represents the Church, the bride of Christ. This means that she is assigned a subordinate position, one which the world despises. “As the church submits to Christ,“ the Bible says, “so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” That’s Ephesians 5:24.
Submission is not inferiority. It is divine, drawn from the very nature of God. The Holy Spirit witnesses to Christ. Christ witnesses to the Father. And in obedience to His Father, He was willing to be made a little lower than the angels. That is, He was willing to be a mere man.
Now we’re down to number two. Number one was what are the respective roles of husband and wife? Number two, what shall we wives do if the husband is disobedient to the Word? Peter answers the question, 1 Peter 3:1-2. “Wives, in the same way,“ referring to Jesus’ response to insults, suffering and injustice in the previous chapter, “be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.“ Is it easy for you women to keep silence? Well, it certainly isn’t for me.
One of my friends has cheered me greatly by her own testimony. She wanted, above all, to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. She offers this suggestion: “When your husband comes home, say to yourself, ‘Christ returns. Practice readiness.’ When he is hungry or thirsty, give to him as if he were Christ, remembering that it is Christ he represents.
What a privilege we have to minister to him, just as the women of the New Testament did. If your husband is disobedient to the Word in any way, don’t get headaches trying to be quiet. Put an imaginary blanket over his face to cover a multitude of sins and not bring them to mind.”
This paragraph that I’ve just read comes from a woman named Lori Morrison, and I think she’s learned a lot of great lessons along these lines. Try to see Christ in the man you live with, even though he may be acting in a less than Christ-like way. Rest on this, “You married women should adapt yourselves to your husbands, so that even if they do not obey the Word of God, they may be won to God without a word being spoken-simply by seeing the pure and reverent behavior of you, their wives.”
Verse 6 refers to the example of Sarah, whose husband Abraham asked her to do some foolish things. Yet, she obeyed him, called him her master and did not give way to hysterical fears.
We give ourselves many excuses for failure to comply with our husband’s wishes. Often it is merely that we prefer something else and we’re unwilling to surrender our preferences. A more serious objection is fear that our husband’s decisions will be unwise and perhaps even disastrous. This is our opportunity to trust God in the man He has given over us.
My friend says, “If the disobedience is an unkind or harsh attitude, instead of pulling away, nursing wounds, say, ‘You, Father, have put this upon me. It’s from your dear hand, your appointed trial for me right now, and I accept it with joy.'”
Beware, however, of a martyr complex, which leads to that terrible temptation of our enemy, the devil, called self-pity. If we get down on our knees and offer up our sufferings to Christ, He knows just what to do with them. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.“ That’s Hebrews 4:15.
Beware also of saying, “But what about me? Why am I the one who always has to give in?” That question cloaks a critical spirit. Love aims always at unity and at the good of the other. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails.“
Another translation says, “Love never gives up.” That paragraph that I just read is from 1 Corinthians 13. I commend it to you to memorize, 1 Corinthians 13.
Spend more time thanking God for your husband than you do in criticizing him. Pray for him earnestly and daily, asking the Lord to help you to practice the self-giving, sacrificial love that He showed to us on the cross, accepting the terrible injustice as the Father’s will. Treat him exactly as you would wish to treat Christ if He came into your home. Can we do that? No, not by ourselves, but we are not alone.
God speaks peace to our souls. “Do not fear, for I am with you,” He says. “Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God bless you.
On another radio program Elisabeth Elliot spoke again on the same subject. She had received a letter from a listener that lived out the advice Elisabeth gave. Here are some additional insights on the same subject that she read:
I have a letter here from a mother. She says:
“Years ago I wrote to ask for prayer because my husband was badly wounded by friendly fire during Army training. The response I received was timely and right on. You see, my husband’s injury involved the whole right side of his brain, and blinded and paralyzed him. There was a major change in my life that I was not handling very well. How was I to obey a man whom I could not trust to make even routine decisions, never mind life-sustaining, life-changing ones?
“God’s grace was sufficient for me and your timely counsel and prayer and the prayer support of many friends got me over the initial hump. But the ongoing, day-to-day living can get depressing if your focus is on your circumstances instead of on the Mighty God who chose every path for you.
“What really helps me daily is offering up today in prayer all that I am-that I will respond with instant obedience to God’s plan for me. Saying that prayer every morning helps me to get a right perspective for the day.
“I must tell you that seeing Christ in my husband keeps me in check, a little nervous to do or say anything that would offend my Lord. I have found that even in submitting totally to my brain-damaged husband there is complete and total joy and peace as I know only God can protect and lead me —even through him —and that He is able. The more I submit to my husband’s leadership, to the family, the more of a great leader he becomes. The more successful he is, the more motivated he is to continue on.
“We have been blessed with three more children since his injury, which has really cemented our relationship. I love trusting God through this man; He gives me more love for him every day.
“We’ve been married now almost nineteen years. I wouldn’t trade my cross for anything. I wake in the morning excited for how God will show Himself to me this day; I seek Him and find Him in every little thing. I urge women who have trouble serving a ‘whole’ man, give it up; it’s not worth holding on to if you can’t keep it anyway. Jim Elliot said it better than anyone else; ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’
“Yes, I see Christ Himself in my disabled husband. I see the wounded head bowed down for me. I see the stripes taken for my sins. I see the pierced and bleeding hands and feet. Now I see the scars, signs that the wounds are healed and He walks and talks with me daily. Not a bone was broken but there was a lot bleeding; was I worth such suffering?
“Are we worth all the work our husbands put into living with and serving us, providing for our children, paying all the bills? I want to be worth it all. I feel like a gift. Every day I’m unwrapped, are the recipients going to like what they see? May God let it be so!
“As a mother, I realize the awesome responsibility we have in keeping out attitudes in check, because as the heart of the home, we do set the atmosphere. Thank you, Mrs. Elliot for your timely teaching, I’m convinced that your work and words are of Lord and we thank Him for you. We continue to hold you up for clarity of mind and speech as you asked in your last letter.”
Elisabeth Elliot goes on to say:
Well, thank you so very much. I won’t give you the lady’s name, but that is a most unusual story, a wonderful story of how in spite of very grave injuries, this husband is still the head of the house and the wife is loving him and submitting to him and praying for him. In that letter I counted that there were at least four times, she speaks about the word prayer.
This is a situation to prayerfully consider. It may be that God is leading you in the same direction. But pray about it, asking for wisdom.
The above article came from radio talks given by author, speaker, and former radio host, Elisabeth Elliot on the radio program, Gateway to Joy, sponsored by Back to the Bible Backtothebible.org. One of the programs was titled “Seeing Christ in Your Husband (September 2000).
If you have additional tips you can share to help others in this area of marriage, or you want to share requests for prayer and/or ask others for advice, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
Filed under: For Married Women