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Addressing the Passive Husband

Growth in sanctification requires patience. Healthy relationships are marked by accountability, grace, and long-suffering.

May 18, 2022

A passive husband is usually a likeable guy, but he fails to live up to the high calling God has for his life. Passive husbands are characterized by accepting or allowing outcomes without an active response or resistance. This may even be the workaholic husband that checks out at home by indulging in personal interests. While the husband’s actions may not be outright sinful, his failure to fulfill his God-given role is sinful. Proverbs 24:30-34 provides a picture of the passive husband. It uses words like sluggard, lazy, and lacking sense. Because of his inaction, his life is falling apart. His work is fruitless, his family is unprotected, and he will soon be left with nothing. Proverbs 18:9 says the passive man actively participates in his own destruction. Avoiding decisions is a decision to be absent, unhelpful, and destructive. 

There are two sinful extremes that a wife may develop in responding to a passive husband: domineering or enabling. She may rightly see her husband’s passivity as sinful, but respond by taking up his role as leader. She may even become bitter and controlling of the relationship. Instead of holding her husband to a biblical standard, she holds him to impossible standards which reinforce his passivity. Even when he tries to fulfill his role as a husband and a father, he is met with skepticism and criticism.  

The opposite extreme of domineering is enabling the sinful passivity. The intention may be to be submissive and allow the husband to rise to the occasion, however, this approach may end up removing the incentive and accountability he needs in order to change. The enabler also excuses and covers up the passivity through sayings such as “he works so hard to provide for his family,” or “I’m letting go and allowing God convict him.” This too leads to a wife who is bitter and feels hopeless. 

God’s Design for the Husband 

God created man and woman in His image to have equal value, dignity and identity. They are created distinctly and given specific roles to fulfill, but together they are given the responsibility to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28).” He placed man in the garden to “work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15).” These two mandates speak of God’s initial plan for men to be kings and priests, and to lead and equip (Exodus 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6). While God’s original design is frustrated by the Fall (Genesis 3), through the Gospel, men may be restored to their God-designed roles to be servant leaders and spiritual leaders.  

In contrast to the passive husband, men are called by God to be active, intentional husbands. In everything he does, he should bring glory to God (Colossians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31). The first place that married men are called to fulfill these roles is within his home. The qualifications to be a leader within the church requires men to “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). A husband should be the leader of the family. This does not mean that he controls everything as a despot by doing what serves himself best. Rather, it means that he is sacrificially laying down his life for his wife and children (Ephesians 5:25-28).  

He is to be the spiritual leader of the family by encouraging and modeling spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, study, prayer, confession, forgiveness, and faithful obedience to Scripture. While he may not be capable of answering every question, he must be continually growing and cultivating his faith, as well as his family’s. He is active in his family’s lives, provides for his family (1 Timothy 5:8), and is responsible for promoting the wellbeing of each individual. He may not be able to give his family everything they desire but should work diligently to provide for his family’s needs. A godly husband and father seeks to protect his family both physically and spiritually. As a father, you quickly learn that all children are uniquely made and gifted. Each child has their own personality, temperament, weaknesses and giftings. He must identify these distinctives and use them to guide and equip his children to glorify God. 

It is not easy to be an active, intentional husband. He will surely fail in many ways and many times. The goal is not perfection, but progress. It does not matter where he is right now but that he is continually striving for growth in his faith and obedience to the high calling God has for his life. That sounds great, but how do you go from a passive husband to one that gives God glory in all aspects of his life? 1 Thessalonians 5:14 lays out three key principles “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” 

Admonish the Idle 

It is important to never call what is evil – good. It is good and right to label passivity as sinful and wrong. We admonish the idle in a God-honoring way (Galatians 6:1) lest we also sin in our rebuke. We must address the bitterness and frustration that has built up in our hearts. Instead, we are to do everything out of love for others by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15-16). We also need to address the heart issue of idleness, which could be selfishness, fear of man, and ultimately, an intense focus on self. Therefore, the admonishment needs to address the heart in order to bring about biblical change that grows into the fullness of Christ; not behavioral modification. 

Encourage the Fainthearted, Help the Weak 

We are called to encourage each other, especially the fainthearted and weak. The passive husband may be browbeaten and belittled to the point of hopelessness. Every time he tries or puts his effort into something, he is met with criticism, discouragement, and disapproval. He is left hopeless and only able to see a false dichotomy motivated by fear or selfishness. He must be freed from the weight of living for the approval of others or pursuing comfort and pleasures of self by living for Christ (Colossians 3:17).  

A biblical view of Christ will bring about a fresh need for the Gospel that leads to true repentance and faith in Christ – not a performance-based penance or false repentance that is merely worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Listen to apostle Paul’s caution about depending on self in our sanctification when he writes— “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” So, remember that Christ came to us at our worst; in our sinfulness (Romans 5:8). And he does not snuff out the smoldering wick or break the bruised reed (Isaiah 42:3). Likewise, we must provide hope through Christ and encourage Spirit-dependent change. 

Be Patient with Them All 

Growth in sanctification requires patience. Healthy relationships are marked by accountability, grace, and long-suffering. The domineering spouse must give grace to allow room for change while providing realistic accountability. The enabling wife must give firm accountability while giving grace in letting go of the bitterness and putting her hope in Christ. The passive husband will not change overnight. It takes consistency through action to change the relationship.  

But the Gospel is too profound and too powerful to have little change in a believer’s life. For the love of Christ controls us, and the passive husband is able to no longer live for himself, but for Christ who died and rose again on his behalf (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). More than that, we pray to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirt through Christ’s mediation to bring about the change that restores one into the original design of God for the husband. 

If it were left up to the passive husband to change himself, he would undoubtedly fail. But if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our justification by faith alone, guarantees our sanctification that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now may the God of peace of Himself sanctify the passive husband and his spouse entirely. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). 

This blog was originally posted at 3:18 Biblical Counseling, view the original post here.