How does a husband meet his wife’s needs spiritually?
This is the most important aspect of a husband’s responsibility as the head of his wife (Eph 5:23). Christ is the head of the Church. As such, He has fully devoted Himself to her complete spiritual blessing (v. 27). Christ is fully able to accomplish this, whereas a husband does not have this capability. In his measure, however, this is his goal. While Christ takes complete responsibility for the Church’s condition, a husband will only give account of His own condition at the Judgment Seat of Christ. He will be responsible for how he contributed to his wife’s spiritual maturity, but she will be accountable for her own spiritual condition. No one can force another to be saved or to make spiritual progress. By force, a husband can at most produce an appearance of spiritual growth; this is only self-serving and lacks glory for the Lord.
Since he is dependent on the Lord for the spiritual growth of his wife, a husband is wise to first of all pray specifically for this. If his wife is not saved, a saved husband obviously has this responsibility, but it is equally relevant if his wife is saved (1Pe 3:11, 12).
Reading the Scriptures with his wife contributes to her receiving nourishment. Sharing with her the food that he is enjoying from the Scriptures is also important.
Perhaps most important is recognizing that a husband will have little ability to meet his wife’s spiritual needs if he is not meeting her needs in every other area of their life together.
Does a husband guide or lead his wife apart from a right example?
Whether a husband or wife, a parent, a Sunday School teacher, a preacher or elder, or a brother or sister in Christ, none of us has the ability to bring greater spiritual help to others than what we practice ourselves (1Ti 4:12, 16). Can a husband who finds fault with the other believers in the assembly hope to help his wife feel comfortable in the company of those believers? Will an elder expect his wife to submit to the teaching of the elderhood (namely, the teaching of the Word of God) if she sees that his life is not spiritually consistent with the Word of God? Does a husband who will not submit to the Scriptures in one aspect of his life have any “weight” in helping his wife to obey the Lord? She could easily sense that his interest in her obedience is only for the sake of appearance, since reverence for the Lord hardly characterizes him.
Examples of humbly submitting to the Lord and delighting in His will and Word are the strongest influence for good in any believer’s life. Our steps provide much better guidance than our words, no matter how loud, strong, persuasive, or apparently sanctimonious they are (Mat 23:3, 13).
What if a wife is unwilling to submit to God’s will?
The most simple response would be to decide that because she doesn’t submit to the will of God, she is not saved. That would also be the response most unlike the Lord Jesus. Although He had omniscience, which, of course, we do not have, He took people on the basis they claimed and treated them accordingly. This gracious response either fanned a faint flicker into a flame or eventually made it clear to that individual that he could no longer make that claim. The Samaritan woman claimed to be religious. The Lord spoke profoundly about worship. It resulted in her expressing the truth: she longed for the coming Messiah, because her religion only left her confused (John 4:19-24).
By acting on the assumption that his wife is not saved, the husband will effectively close the door to being a spiritual help to her. The same will be the result if he tries to force her to obey the Lord or to conform to the expectations that he or other Christians have.
By listening to her concerns and accepting her perceptions, he builds a basis for understanding and then meeting her needs. Two opposite possibilities pose a danger for him: defending his viewpoint and pointing out to her where she is wrong; or taking her part against other Christians. The first is inconsistent with love for is wife and the second with love to other believers. Since a Christian husband is to love both his wife (Eph 5:25) and other believers (John 13:34), he needs grace from God to submit to the Lord in both areas. The Lord never places us in a position where we must choose which part of Scripture to obey. The only acceptable position is obedience to all the Word of God (John 13:17).
A husband can most effectively help his wife spiritually by building his relationship with her (1Pe 3:7). Anything that damages their relationship is disobedient to the Word of God and is detrimental to his wife’s spiritual condition. This does not suggest that the husband should disobey the Word of God to build his relationship with his wife. Disobedience to God’s Word is never beneficial in a marriage relationship or in any other sphere.
The trouble with building a relationship is that it takes time. The desired spiritual results may not be immediate. In fact, the husband may never realize those desirable results; she is responsible for her own choices. The husband is not responsible to make his wife obey the Lord, but to encourage and enable her to do so. The stronger she is spiritually (meaning the more deeply she is devoted to Christ), the more she will delight to submit to the One Who died for her.
In what ways can a husband help his wife spiritually if she is afraid of telling her family she is saved?
Of first concern is the fact that this will hinder her spiritual progress (Hos 6:3a). Perhaps the problem is deeper than fear of her family. Is it a fear of losing some financial benefit? Is it the result of being manipulated by fear in her previous interactions with the family? Is there some inconsistency her family has noted in other family members who claim to be saved? Several other possibilities may exist and each requires a different response. The simplest general answer, however, is for the husband and wife to join together in continuing prayer for the salvation of those family members. As the Lord deepens the burden of both the husband and wife, He may also give her (and her husband!) the needed strength to do what is possible to see those prayers answered (comp. Mat 9:38; 10:5) and those loved one delivered from perishing eternally.