I am finding it hard to submit to my husband when I disagree with some of his choices around how our lives run. How am I meant to obey my husband when I feel his actions violate God's word?
The understanding of submission within marriage is one that has been discussed and debated for years. It's a difficult one and should be handeled with great care and gentleness, as Jesus both taught and demonstrated.
God designed marriage to be a direct respresentation of Christ and the Church. Christ's role is to breathe life into the church, lifting her up and empowering her with freedom so she can oben God's commands and be presented as flawless before God. As Christians, loving one another with this freedom is fulfiling the law. (Romans 13:8)
In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul teaches how we should live as followers of Christ.
"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
He goes on to speak to speak about what it looks like to live as children of the Light. Then, he gives this warning.
"Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is." Romans 5:15
It is after this teaching about how we are to live as God's children that Paul addresses husbands and wives submitting to each other.
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Romans 5:21
From this, we must conclude that submission within marriage goes both ways.
When sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, God's design became tainted with sin, thererfore creating confilct and hardship, especially within marriage. Pauls just warned Christians not to walk in sin but rather to exercise wisdom to aid in obedience to God. A Christian husband's role within his marriage and family is not one that is domineering, nor should the relationship operate as a dictorship. It's a partnership that in all things should work in service and obedience to God.
A woman's obligation to submit to her husband's authority should never be dismissed lightly, and is similar to every Christian's obligation to submit to church leaders or government. So far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men and women, striving to obey the authorities placed over you in a sincere desire to please Christ.
These authorities over us will not be perfect, of course, since all human beings are sinful, and yet Christ asks us to obey them knowing full well they will sin at times. The Bible doesn't say, "Obey authorities except when they sin," or "obey authorities except when they ask things you don't like or don't agree with, etc.". So the same goes in a marriage.
The only time we can knowingly disobey an authority over us is when that authority requires us to do something that is directly contradictory to the commands of Scripture. Even then, we should do all we can to obey, at least in part, while narrowly avoiding sin. The heart of submission will always look for a way to obey, while the heart of rebellion looks for any excuse not to obey. Remember, Abraham asked Sarah to go along with his lies to Pharaoh, and although she did not participate in the lies herself, she did concede to his requests and obey him by following his (bad) plan. This is the example of submission held out in Scripture by Peter:
1Pet. 3:1 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,
1Pet. 3:2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
1Pet. 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
1Pet. 3:4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
1Pet. 3:5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;
1Pet. 3:6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
There are many instances in life when a wife may struggle to submit to their husband. For example, filing a law suit against a neighbor. Paul instructs the church in 1 Corinthians 6 not to file a suit against a fellow believer (neighbor), so if your husband is doing so, you should advise him on Scripture and try to persuade him to do otherwise. In the end, if he chooses to move ahead with the suit, then you should support him nonetheless and cooperate with him without sinning yourself (like Sarah). On the other hand, there is no command in Scripture against filing suits in court against unbelievers. So if your husband files suit against an unbelieving neighbor, then you have no reason to object to your husband's wishes.
What if your husband asks you to do something that offends your conscience, such as watching R-rated movies? If the movie presents images of one kind or another that you find to be sinful, you have liberty to avert your eyes or leave the room altogether. When your husband is asking you to go against your conscience, which is sin, you may act to preserve your conscience over your obligation to submit to him. Having said that, we strongly advise caution in using the reason of "conscience" to engage in disputes with your husband or to challenge his authority. It's easy to label personal preference or desires as a matter of "conscience" whenever it suits our desire to avoid submission, which is a game of disobedience that God sees through. We would also recommend reading "Why is watching pornography sinful?" and initiating a conversation around what types of images or movies you may both feel comfortable viewing.
If your husband chooses to walk away from Christianity to follow a false religion, then this is clearly a path of disobedience on which you cannot join him. If your husband was not a believer in the first place, then your obedience to your husband cannot overrule your obedience to Scripture. Continue to honor your husband in every other possible way, but do not allow his move toward idolatry/false religions to compromise your walk of faith. In speaking about the importance of believers not entering into religious unions with unbelievers, Paul says:
2Cor. 6:14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
2Cor. 6:15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
2Cor. 6:16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM;
AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
2Cor. 6:17 “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord.
“AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN;
And I will welcome you.
2Cor. 6:18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
We would also encourage you to read "Can a believer marry or date a non-believer?"
The battle over submission in a marriage can be heated. If it appears that the husband is not leading his family in keeping with the biblical model of spiritual leadership, and the wife appears to be in conflict with him in multiple areas of marriage, this is not a healthy state of life for a Christian couple and we would recommend they seek biblical counseling with a local church. But remember above all, the first duty for both a wife and a husband is to Christ first. When we obey and honor Him, the other areas of our life should likewise follow His example.