The Biblical Roles of Husbands & Wives in a Christian Marriage

INTRODUCTION

  In today’s culture, there is a blurred and distorted view of marriage. Various and diverse opinions exist in regard to the proper roles of husbands and wives. It is often said that it is up to each married couple to establish their own roles, as different approaches work better for some, but not as well for others. This “to each their own” approach allows people the flexibility to institute marital responsibility that “fits” best for them. It also allows for the ease of not conforming to an established law or guideline. However, the Bible establishes specific roles for both husbands and wives, and thus provides a vivid picture of a biblically based marriage. These teachings are often overlooked by many in the culture, and sadly, at times, even the church itself. Nonetheless, the fact remains that God’s word sets forth clear instructions for husbands and for wives.

   CHRISTIAN HUSBANDS

Today’s culture has labeled men and husbands as lazy and unintelligent. A quick glance at most television programs or commercials will reveal husbands as anything but respectful leaders. Most often, they are portrayed as slow-witted followers waiting for their next series of instructions from their wives, or slothful men lazily attempting to avoid household chores. Moreover, husbands are rarely portrayed as leaders of their families. In fact, the 90’s were dominated by popular television shows such as “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Home Improvement” that constantly and consistently portrayed the husbands of these shows as everything previously stated. The most troubling part of this phenomenon is not that people continue to laugh at these portrayals, but that it is now a powerfully embedded stereotype of men and husbands in our society.

Although this stereotype is the antithesis of the biblical role of the husband, the fact that it is so rooted into the culture makes it difficult to teach what the Bible says about marriage and the role of the husband. As a result, many churches often overlook scriptures that are perceived controversial because the teachings run contrary to what society has affirmed and accepted. While most everyone is familiar with the passage, many feel uncomfortable teaching that wives should submit to their husbands. Many also lack the confidence to properly explain the passage and present to in a manner that is biblical but sill understood and accepted. The fact that marriage is in trouble is not a new situation. Ripley states, “Marriage as an institution has faced challenges throughout history, from polygamy in the Old Testament era, to the challenges faced by teenage marriages throughout most of history, to the current sociological challenges in the Western culture.”[1] While the situation may not be new, it is clearly getting worse. Answers to these issues are provided through the Bible.

The role of the husband is clearly expressed in the Bible. It is that of a leader and a provider. According to Kostenberger, the husband is to “(1) love and cherish his wife and to treat her with respect and dignity; (2) to bear primary responsibility for the marriage union and ultimate authority over the family; (3) to provide food, clothing, and other necessities for his wife.”[2] This combination of responsibilities demands leadership, affection, and authority. It is the careful balance of biblical characteristics that creates this model husband.

The Bible instructs husbands to love and respect their wives. Ephesians 5:25 states, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it.” (NKJV) Considering how Christ loved the church and what He did for it, this is a powerful and daunting requirement. Wessels points out that this love is not merely the love most often equated with typical and familiar earthly relationships. Wessels states, “The injunction to love their wives entails more than emotion – it means placing their interests first, counting the wives better than themselves (Phil 2:3). Verse 25 is an imperative; husbands must love their wives.”[3]

Husbands are also required to be the leader of their family. This issue of headship is more controversial than the husband’s task of loving and respecting their wives. Since the fall, and especially in today’s culture, headship has been distorted and stating that the husband has authority over the wife is an issue that many avoid. Kostenberger states, “While the fall distorted the way in which men exercised their headship in subsequent generations (Gen. 3:16b), men were not to avoid their God-given responsibility to be in charge of their marriage and family and all that this entailed.”[4] However, this God-given responsibility of headship requires that a husband understand its meaning and use his authority in proper and biblical ways. Those acting contrary to Christ’s examples and teachings often abuse their role as leader of the family. Tracey argues, “The NT significantly qualifies a husband’s authority and that male headship in marriage is not primarily about power over but about the responsibility to serve one’s spouse.”[5]

 

CHRISTIAN WIVES

The Bible also details the wife’s role in marriage. According to Kostenberger, in historical times, “Wives’ roles and responsibility toward their husbands were considered to be essentially threefold in: (1) presenting her husband with children (especially male ones); (2) managing the household; and (3) providing her husband with companionship.”[6] In fact, woman was created to be a helper and for companionship. Genesis 2:18 states, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.'” (NKJV) As a result, the institution of marriage was created, by God, with each person having distinct roles and responsibilities. Genesis 2:24 continues, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (NKJV)

Within the role of the wife exists the issue of submission. Ephesians 5:22-23 states, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” (NKJV) Scripture also provides an Old Testament example. 1 Peter 3:5-6 states, “For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.” (NKJV) Once again in Colossians, the Bible confirms this requirement by stating in 3:18, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (NKJV)

While the issue of female submission is clearly biblical, it remains an issue that concerns many. Husbands, as leaders and heads of the family, have the unique ability to abuse this authority. Such actions are clearly not biblical, and all husbands should exercise extreme caution when accepting and implementing their roles as family leaders. Tracey argues, “Husbands are not commanded to rule their wives but to nurture them, cherish, the, and not be bitter against them (Eph 5:25, 28-29, 33; Col 3:19).”[7] A careful reading of Ephesians 5:25 reveals a powerful reality for husbands. The command for husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it” creates a situation of tremendous responsibility. It is a grave mistake to glance by this verse and not consume its awesome requirement; that husbands love their wives with a love comparable to Christ’s love for the church. If ever there were a statement to quell possible abuse of authority, or to cause husbands to fully realize the responsibility tasked to them by God, it should be this verse.

Any discussion of submission and the Bible should include the issue of mutual submission. McFarland states, “Wives are to be subject to their husbands and as ‘to the Lord’ and men to love their wives ‘as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (v. 25).”[8]  Both roles remain under the sovereign reign and authority of God. Tracey points out, “No earthly love or authority, neither a husband nor a wife, should supersede our love and obedience to Christ.”[9] Living in a manner that consistently observes the authority of God, and the inferiority of man, allows both husband and wife to better live out their assigned roles and to serve each other as they serve God. Christians strive each day to live more like Christ and to establish a closer relationship with Christ. As a result, the example provided through the life of Christ, a life a sacrifice, service, and love, provides a perfect blueprint for how husbands and wives should approach and treat each other.

CONCLUSION

It is apparent that today’s culture has impacted many people’s view of marriage and the individual roles of husbands and wives. If it were the 1950’s, there would be less opposition to the biblical view of marital roles. Today however, the mention of submission in marriage makes many uncomfortable or even angry. The culture may change, but God and His Word does not change. That which was biblically true before is biblically true today. The Bible clearly outlines roles for husbands and for wives. It is the responsibility for each married person to learn and obey their biblical roles and to live under the ultimate authority of the Lord. There is no doubt that marriage today is under attack. However, there is also no doubt, when done biblically and with love, that each marriage can and will succeed.



[1] J. Ripley, “Introduction: Reflections on the Current Status and Future of Christian Marriages,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 31:3 (2003), 177.

[2] A. Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family (Wheaton: Crossroads Books, 2010), 29.

[3] F. Wessels, “Exegesis and Proclamamtion,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 67 (1989), 73.

[4] Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 29.

[5] S. Tracey, “What Does ‘Submit in Everything’ Really Mean?,” Trinity Journal 29NS (2008), 306.

[6] Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 30.

[7] Tracey, “What Does,” 301.

[8] I. McFarland, “A Canonical Reading of Ephesians 5:21-33,” Theology Today 57:3 (2000), 350.

[9] Tracey, “What Does,” 298.

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