Does a Christian wife have to submit to a sinful request from her husband?

Should a Christian wife have to participate in a threesome or abort her child because her husband tells her to? Some Christians teach that women should submit to any and all requests their husbands make even if they believe that in doing so they would be directly sinning against God. Other Christians believe that if a husband is not living a righteous and holy life he has no authority over his wife at all regardless of whatever requests he asks of her.

How should a Christian wife handle such situations?

The Two Extremes on Submission

When it comes to the submission of wives to unrighteous husbands there are extremes on both the left and the right side of this issue.

On the left we have Christians who believe women only have to submit to husbands that are righteous and treat them right (as they see right).

This comment I recently received from a Christian woman illustrates the left position on wives submission to their husbands:

“In your blog you speak a lot about women submitting to the authority of her husband. Even when her husband is sinning (i.e.denying her sex, which you admit is her right to have) she must still submit to him. She cannot do as men and deny him dates, gifts, etc. Here you say a husband should show love toward his wife and can please his wife, but he must please God above her. I agree with that. However, isn’t a woman’s duty to please God before her husband also? If he isn’t treating her as a Christian husband should, should she follow an unrighteous man?

Authority is given from God, if we do not follow God we lose the power that comes with that authority. Therefore, his authority becomes useless. Would a sinful man have her well-being in mind? I would think not. I agree a man is the leader of the home, but I also believe a woman is only obligated to submit to her husband’s righteous desires the same as a man should only please a woman when her desires are righteous.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement it is hard to know where to begin.

I have never stated that a wife has to stay with her husband if he sexually denies her.  I have shown from the Bible that a Christian wife may divorce her husband for these 4 reasons:

If he fails to provide her with food and clothing (shelter is implied with clothing).

If he refuses to have regular sexual relations with her (sexual defraudment).

If he physically abuses her or makes attempts on her life.

If he abandons her.

For a detailed discussion on each of these four items please see my article “For what reasons does God allow divorce?

However this woman is not looking for serious reasons she may divorce her husband.  She is looking for reasons that she does not have to submit to him. These grave sins I have described are not reasons for a wife to stop submitting to her husband’s authority – they are reasons to end the marriage so he is no longer her husband. If the woman chooses to stay even if he is chronically sexually denying her, physically abusing her or refusing to work then she must continue to submit to him.  As long as he is her husband she must submit to him.

So if a woman were to come to me and tell me “I am not divorcing my husband for refusing to work and playing Xbox 7 days a week while he sends me out to work.  But I won’t submit to him either.” –  I would tell that woman she is wrong.  She has two choices – submit to her husband or end the marriage so he is no longer her husband.  Those are her only two choices.

A wife does not submit to her husband because he is “treating her as a Christian husband should” or because he has “her well-being in mind”. She submits to her husband because God has commanded it.  A husband, Christian or non-Christian, does not lose his authority over his wife if he does not follow God’s Word.

This woman and a whole host of Christians today ignore this passage from Peter on the subject of submission of wives to unrighteous husbands:

“3 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”

I Peter 3:1-2 (NASB)

This passage makes it crystal clear – wives are to submit to sinful and disobedient husbands.  Whether your husband is a Christian, a non-Christian or a professed Christian who is living in disobedience if you are his Christian wife you are to submit to him despite his sinful behavior.

This attitude toward submission is by far the biggest problem today with Christian’s attitudes toward marriage.

But there is another extreme – the far right extreme.   And while this far right extreme may be a small minority and some think it is not worthy of our time even to address their false teaching – as Christians we must also stand for the truth and stand against false teaching.

It does not matter if many people are teaching a false doctrine or just small groups are teaching it – false teaching is false teaching and it must be exposed.

Should we not talk about exceptions to submission?

Some of the people on the far right of on this topic of Biblical submission believe we should not talk about exceptions to submission.  This is demonstrated in recent comments by the blogger Deep Strength:

“You’re falling prey to the same trap that women do. It’s an obvious diversion! You don’t answer the question to an obvious diversion or if you do then you have to tie it back to righteous attitude and actions.

Good answers to a question like “But what if my husband commands me to sin?” are:

  1. “lf that ever happens, feel free to call me at any time and we’ll look through the Scriptures to discuss it. Now, as I was saying about submission…”
  2. “When’s the last time you heard a husband command his wife, much less to sin? Now, as I was saying about submission…”
  3. “You should find where it says it is a sin in the Scripture. Then you come to him with a respectful and submissive attitude and say: ‘Hey, I think this may be against what God says in the Scripture here and my conscience. Is there anything else I can do instead to make it up to you? Now, as I was saying about submission…”

The point is to stay on topic because the desire to divert a topic away from uncomfortable Truths is one of the strongest temptations that women have which is the desire to be rebellious. Submission is righteous and holy. Discussing it is good, and diversions away from it are to play right into temptation.”

Deep Strength argues that it is a “diversion” and a “temptation” to even discuss exceptions to a wife’s submission to her husband.  He acts like it is so rare and unfathomable that a husband would ask his wife to sin.   Does he forget how many Christian women are married to unbelieving husbands? Husbands that might ask their wives to do drugs? Husbands that might as their wives to have sex with their friends or participate in a threesome? Yes these things happen.

And yes even professing Christian husbands may ask their wives to do sinful things.  Just because it is rare does not mean it does not happen.

I really don’t see the fear these men have of discussing exceptions to submission.  Since when is the truth a “distraction” or “temptation”?

It is actually very easy to address these exemptions and then continue on in the topic of submission. We don’t ever have to be afraid of the truth as Christians.

Now are there Christian bloggers who add to the exemptions to submission like the way the female commenter did above? Yes and they do it all the time.  But just because people add to God’s Word does not mean we can take away from it.

We are to teach the whole counsel of God.  We are not to go to the left or the right:

“Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”

Proverbs 4:27 (KJV)

People on the left and right extremes of submission both have something in common.  They both dismiss those passages they don’t like and they both add things to the text that are not there.  But we are not to take away from God’s Word or to add to it – but instead we are to follow the entire Word of God:

“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

Deuteronomy 4:2 (KJV)

So truth about the submission of wives to their husbands is very simple. A wife is to submit to her husband in all areas of her life and everything he wishes her to do or not do as long as he does not ask her to sin against God. Even if he asks her to sin against God she should respectfully refuse his request but this does not mean she stops submitting in every other way. Even if her husband is living a sinful life either as a Christian or non-Christian she must submit to him.  She is not responsible for his sin, she is only responsible for hers.

But this then brings us to the final part of submission to sinful requests by husbands to their wives.

Is a wife responsible for doing something sinful if her husband commands her to do it?

This statement was made by the blogger Moose Norseman in his post “For clarity’s sake

But perhaps the last one tells the most. Do these blogs and ministries teach young women to be obedient to their husbands, or do they teach things like this:

“Submission does not mean that the men in authority, whether in the church or in the home, are always right. They aren’t. They’re sometimes and often wrong. They sin, as do we. Submission does not mean blind obedience. It does not mean that we sin in order to submit. It doesn’t mean that you overlook sin in the authority. “(emphasis in original)

And this:

Now, what if he asks her to participate in a threesome, abort her baby, or help him commit robbery by stealing from a bank? Should she submit in these instances? NO!

A reminder about headship and covering: The one that is covered bears no iniquity. It is the authority that bears the iniquity.

Moose first presents a false dichotomy – If a Christian teacher teaches that there are any exceptions to God’s command that wives are to submit to their husbands then the person is said to be negating the entire Biblical teaching of the submission of wives to their husbands.

So according to Moose – a Christian wife should participate in a threesome, abort her baby, help her husband commit a robbery and do anything else her husband requests of her even if she believes that action would be a sin against God.  If she does God will not hold her accountable – in fact he honors her for participating in acts she believes are sinful if her husband asks her to do it.

This teaching by Moose Norseman is not just simply absurd – it is the very definition of heresy.  Any teaching that tells someone it is ok to sin against God is heresy.

As believers we will often disagree on Bible interpretations and what is and what is not sin.  But to acknowledge that something is a sinful activity and then say God is ok with us doing that sinful activity under certain circumstances is the height of heresy.

The Apostle Peter made this point abundantly clear:

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:29 (KJV)

Moose bases his heresy on a passage from the book of Numbers which is linked from the phrase “the authority that bears the iniquity.”

“13 Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.

14 But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day; then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.

15 But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.

16 These are the statutes, which the Lord commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between the father and his daughter, being yet in her youth in her father’s house.”

–  Numbers 30:13-16 (KJV)

The key verse Moose is pointing to is verse 15 of Numbers chapter 30:

“But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.

This is a great passage of Scripture that I have spoken about several times on my blog. I do not disagree that this passage demonstrates the headship of man over the women in his family whether it be his wife or his daughters.

But what it does NOT show is that a husband can ask his wife to directly participate in an activity that she believes is a violation of God’s law and that God would honor her for obeying his sinful command and participating in these kinds of sin.

In this case with her broken vow the husband by not overriding the vow his wife has made when she made it has taken on the penalty for her not fulfilling that vow if he stops her from doing it.  If he tells her he has changed his mind and does not want her to fulfill the vow she made then he bears what would have been her sin.  It is his sin now since he approved her vow.

A simpler way to say this is – when a woman makes a vow to do something in her husband’s presence and he either remains silent or actively agrees with her vow then as her husband he takes on the responsibility and the penalty if he stops her from fulfilling that vow.

Conclusion

God’s Word teaches us two important principles as it relates to the submission of wives to their husbands. God tells wives to submit to their husbands in “everything” (Ephesians 5:24) but the Apostles when told to disobey God said that “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  So when we take the whole counsel of God on the matter of submission we see that wives are to obey their husbands in all things unless their husband directly tells them to do something that would violate God’s law.

It really is that simple.

Christians on the left of Biblical submission want to find every way they can out of submission so they abuse the principle that “We ought to obey God rather than men” by saying things like if your husband chooses a church you disagree with you don’t have to follow him there which is utterly false. But then on the far right of Biblical submission we have those like Moose who claim that there are no exceptions for wives submitting to their husbands and even if their husband asks them to participate in a threesome or kill their child they must do these things.

The people of God must avoid all extremes.  We must instead walk the straight path – following the whole counsel of God and not veer either to the left or the right.

How to handle a perfectionist Wife

Angry woman shouting at man

How are you as a Christian husband to handle your perfectionist wife? Do you dread coming home from work because you know the moment you walk in the door your wife will complain about five things you have done or not done?

Why God makes perfectionists

Your wife’s perfectionist nature is not some mistake in God’s creation. It is by the design of God.  But what perfectionist wives don’t realize is, they need to channel their perfectionism into positive outlets and not be critical and inflexible with their husbands and children.

For instance a perfectionist wife may channel her perfectionism into how she keeps folds the clothing and puts it way. Often times the perfectionist wife is a great house keeper, planner and organizer. She can use these qualities in positive ways to help her family.

My wife is a perfectionist. Not everything about her perfectionism is a bad thing. When we go on vacations, she is extremely organized at getting our entire family packed up days ahead of time, and going to the store to get all the things she thinks we will need for the trip. I have seen very few women that can throw as good a baby shower or bridal shower as my wife, she is extremely organized and anticipates everything she will need ahead of time.

The negative hallmarks of a perfectionist

Being organized or wanting things done a certain way is not always the mark of perfectionist or a negative thing. But it is the inflexibility, the impatience, and the lack of mercy and grace toward those around them that mark the perfectionist. Perfectionists are often plagued by anxiety and insomnia because no one around them seems to live up to their expectations (including themselves) and they don’t know how to handle the imperfections in the world around them.

Perfectionist tendencies need to be left outside the home and personal relationships

This is one of those posts I can write, only because my blog is anonymous (and this is one of many reasons my blog is anonymous, so I can speak freely).

I wish I could say that my perfectionist wife, like my perfectionist Dad, had not only recognized her perfectionism, but recognized where it is appropriate to apply her perfectionism and where it is not appropriate to apply it – but this simply is not the case with her.

This is my second marriage and I met my wife after having been previously married and having children from that marriage. When we were dating she contained her complaints about me and my children for the most part, but after we were married her complaints came rushing out like water that breaks through a dam.

My wife recognizes her perfectionism, she will admit it before me, her family and my family. Her mother and sister have known this is how she always was.

But while my wife will admit her perfectionism before me and others, she will not always admit that it is wrong. Often she will state the typical perfectionist statement – “I am not wrong for wanting those around me to do things the right way”. I will get more into how I respond to that later.

I say all this, not to say my wife is some terrible person, but simply to say to those husbands reading this who may recognize these issues with their wives, you are not alone. In this post I am writing from my very personal experience.

Our heavenly father is NOT a perfectionist toward us

I want to make something very clear. God is perfect, but God does not act as a perfectionist toward us in the relationship he desires with us. Some Christian teachers over the centuries have incorrectly tried to say that God is a perfectionist toward us with passages like this (and others in the Bible):

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”

Genesis 17:1(KJV)

But the idea God is trying to communicate in these passages, is for us to be “complete” in him. He wants us to walk with him, and to be complete in him. God does not want us to sin, but God knows we are sinners. Listen to God’s compassion here:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

Psalm 103:9-14(NIV)

Being a compassionate wife and mother, is the opposite of being a perfectionist wife and mother. Your wife cannot be both. In the same way God recognizes our frailties and weaknesses, so too a wife ought to recognize these things with her husband and her children and be gracious about these things.

Are there times when my wife can be compassionate and loving? Absolutely! She has her moments. Your perfectionist wife may have some very soft and tender times. But then the perfectionism creeps back in and rears its ugly head. My wife’s soft and tender side is what drew me to her while we were dating. It was only after we were married that she removed the barrier and allowed her perfectionist critical side to come out in full fashion.

So how do you handle your perfectionist wife?

First of all as a Christian husband remember that two wrongs never make a right. It may be very tempting for you lash out at your wife’s perfectionist tendencies.   But if you are unkind and harsh with her, God may not bless your attempts to bring these issues to her attention.

In another article on How to handle a perfectionist husband, I wrote about a wife being criticized for how she cooks. What I was describing there was based on what has happened to me in real life with my perfectionist wife.

Unlike my Dad and many other men, I truly enjoy cooking, it can be a therapeutic experience for me. I enjoy looking up new recipes, and I have been known to watch a cooking show or two. In our home, my wife is more of the baker and crock pot person. If it gets baked or put in the crock pot, most of the time it is her making it.

I am the griller and stir fry person. If it is getting fried up on the stove, that is probably me. I cut and slice up meats and veggies, come up with different marinades and make many different Asian dishes. I also like to make pasta dishes and I have quite a few that my family enjoys. I am also the master pancake maker in my house – by my wife’s own admission.

But not long after we were married (and it may have even started softly and subtly when we were engaged and I cooked for her) – she started criticizing the way I cooked. She did not like how messy I was when I cooked, or that I did not mind if some splatter got on the stove or on the counter when I was mixing and making things.

Once we were married she became more aggressive with her criticism. She did not like how I did not clean while I was cooking, getting things out and putting them away as I cooked, the way she did. She keeps a clean kitchen while she is cooking, and directly afterwards has everything cleaned up and in the dishwasher. Why could I not just do things the way she did? This is something I often heard.

I wish I could say I never lashed out her, but that would not be true. In the first few years of our marriage I lashed out several times telling her to get out of the kitchen. I said she was ungrateful for me cooking and that many men would not make the effort to cook the way I did, and she should be grateful for that.

What I learned more recently in our marriage, is to contain my anger, recognizing this comes from her perfectionist mindset. I now calmly reminder her that we have had this conversation about 500 times since we have been married, and that I am not going to cook the way she does. Occasionally if her tone is off, and I will also address the issue as a matter of disrespect coming from her.

Some more examples of a perfectionist wife’s behavior

Again these come from real life experiences I have with my wife (whom I love dearly) but has a problem with bringing perfectionism into our home:

My wife is one the many perfectionists I have known, that is thrown off by a cereal box being left on the counter, or on the kitchen table. This drives her nuts. I do truly try to remember to put it away, and often I do. But with me and my kids (who are at my house 3 days a week), there is a very strong chance of a cereal box being left on the table or counter.

The cereal box being left out showcases a broader problem with the perfectionist mindset. Should the person of have put the cereal box away after they ate? Yes. But because a perfectionist cannot tolerate even the smallest failings of others this type of things drives them insane. Each person must do everything right, if they fail in the slightest degree, the perfectionist has the hairs on the back of their neck standing up.

Another thing my wife gets thrown off by is if any amount of water is on the bathroom floor or bathroom sink after someone takes a shower and brushes their teeth. This is another huge pet peeve for her. She will routinely hunt down the last person who was in the bathroom after a shower and ask them why they did not use a towel to wipe up the floor and wipe the counter.

Often perfectionists are thrown off by children rough housing, or yelling at one another. While I agree children need discipline, there should always be a time and place for them to just be who they are – children.

I basically have the rule that as long as there is no cursing, or bleeding (or broken bones) or hitting of girls – almost anything goes.

I have teenage boys and sometimes they fight. My daughter(who is younger than them) may get involved sometimes, but all the boys know they are not allowed to hit her because she is a girl. If she hits them, then they can bring it to me and I will discipline her for it if I think that is appropriate. So as long as there is no hitting of girls, no cursing, and no bleeding happening, I usually don’t get involved. I let my children play, rough house, and work out their differences.

For my wife, this often drives her nuts. She wants me to get involved in each and every scuffle and I have informed her that I do not believe this is the correct approach to fathering them. I will only get involved if I think it has risen to a level that needs some parental refereeing.

Being angry or worrying about small and trivial things is what causes many perfectionists to have horrible anxiety problems (my wife suffers from anxiety and sleeplessness and my father does as well – even though he has gotten better with age).

Don’t fall for the perfectionist wife’s justifications

When you try to address your wife’s perfectionist tendencies be prepared for these three justifications in defense of her perfectionist ways:

Justification #1: Her way is “the better way” or “the right way”

She might just try and tell you she was just trying to show you a better way, or the right way to cook. You need to let her know that her way might be what she thinks is the best way to cook, but you do not think her way is better and she needs to accept that.

Justification #2: Her way is not so hard

She might try and say her way is easier, or what she is asking you to do is not so hard, so why can’t you just do it the way she does? Again you need to respectfully let her know that you are not purposefully trying to upset her, you just have your way of cooking and she has hers.

Justification #3: Why do just want to keep doing things you know upset her?

This is the final weapon many perfectionist wives will pull out if all other attempts fail. “Why do you cook this way, or leave your tooth brush this way, or leave your clothes on the floor if you know it upsets me so much?” This is the perfectionist wife’s attempt to put you on a guilt trip, to make you feel that each and everything you do that is not done her way, is a personal attack on her.

You need to let her know that when you are cooking, you are not doing it differently to make her upset. You are doing it that way because it works best for you.

If you accidentally leave some clothing on the floor, or leave a cereal box on the counter, you were not doing it to upset her. You simply forgot to put the cereal away, or you missed the clothes hamper. If you has a father allow certain behavior she may not approve of, it is not to upset her. She needs to defer to your authority as the father and head of the home.

Whenever something is out of place, or you do something different than she would have done it, you need to gently and respectfully remind her that you are not her.

She has her way of brushing her teeth, and you have yours.

She has her way of folding clothes, and you have yours.

She has her way of cooking, and you have yours.

She has her way of driving, and you have yours.

She may want stricter rules for the kids, but you have decided to be more lenient in some areas. This is your prerogative as the father and head of your home.

I could go on with a 1000 examples of small things, but you get the point.

What is not a perfectionist wife?

Sometimes a husband may falsely accuse his wife of being a perfectionist.

A mom wanting her kids to pick up their clothes and put them in the hamper is not necessarily a perfectionist.    She may just trying to teach her kids good habits about cleaning up after themselves.

A mom asking her kids to scrape their plates and put them in the sink, or to perform certain regular chores like washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom is not being a perfectionist. Again she is just trying to get her kids to clean up after themselves.

What I am NOT saying to Christian husbands who are married to perfectionist wives

I am not saying a Christian husband should not take his wife’s concerns into account.  Should a Christian husband try to clean up after himself? Yes. Should a Christian husband listen to his wife’s concern about the discipline of their children? Absolutely.

What I AM saying to Christian husbands who are married to perfectionist wives

But let’s face it, how a person cooks is not a moral issue. The way a person brushes their teeth is not a moral issue. Clothing not making it to the hamper is not a moral issue. The perfectionist wife cannot differentiate between these types of insignificant things, and the truly important things that have moral consequences.

Many Christian teachers have rightly said “you cannot be the holy spirit for another person”, and that is a very true statement. However, you as the head of your home, are the spiritual teacher of your home. This not only includes your children, but it also includes your wife. While you may approach your wife differently because she is not a child, she still a woman who is under your spiritual authority and you bare a responsibility for admonishing her with God’s truth.  A certain amount of perfectionism from one’s wife can be tolerated, but a certain point if she is being disrespectful and obstinate about it a husband may have to call out his wife’s rebellion.

You need to help your wife realize that you do not live in a museum or a military base, you live in a home. Yes a Christian home should have some discipline and order to it, but it should also be a place that showcases God’s love, compassion, mercy, acceptance and grace. It is your job as Christian husband, and the head of your wife, to help your perfectionist wife to see this truth.

Related article: How to handle a perfectionist husband