What are the roles of the husband and wife in a family?


Question: "What are the roles of the husband and wife in a family?"

Although male and female are equal in relationship to Christ, the Scriptures give specific roles to each in marriage. The husband is to assume headship/leadership in the home (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23). This headship should not be dictatorial, condescending, or patronizing of the wife, but should be in accordance with the example of Christ leading the Church. “You husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). Christ loved the Church (His people) with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, respect, and selflessness; in this same way husbands are to love their wives.

Wives are to submit to the authority of their husbands. “You wives will submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the church; He gave His life to be her Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24). Being submissive is not only the responsibility of women who have Christian husbands. We should never submit to our husbands if it requires disobeying God; the relationship we have with Him is the most important (Deuteronomy 6:5). But preaching, nagging, whining, and refusing to serve will only turn an unbelieving husband away from God more. Instead, showing her husband the love of Christ through Godly behavior, serving him and loving him, will give him an excellent example of how Christ served and loved the church. If a Christian woman has an unbeliever for a husband, she must not leave him if he wants to stay with her. And if a Christian husband has an unbeliever for a wife, he must not leave her if she wants to stay with him. But if the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, it is okay to let them go (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

Although women should submit to their husbands, the Bible also tells men several times how they are supposed to treat their wives. The husband is not to take on the role of the dictator, but show respect for his wife and her opinions as well. “In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it...” (Ephesians 5:28-29). “So I say again, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). “You wives must submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord. And you husbands must love your wives and never treat them harshly” (Colossians 3:18-19). “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life. If you don't treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard” (1 Peter 3:7). From these verses, we see that love and respect characterize the roles of both husbands and wives. If these are present, authority, headship, love and submission will be no problem for either partner.

In regard to the division of responsibilities in the home, the Bible instructs husbands to provide for their families. This means he works and makes enough money to sufficiently provide all the necessities of life for his wife and children. To fail to do so has definite spiritual consequences. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially his family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” (1Timothy 5:8). An infidel is one who is an unbeliever. So a man who makes no effort to provide for his family cannot rightly call himself a Christian. This does not mean that the wife cannot assist in supporting the family—Proverbs 31 demonstrates that a Godly wife may surely do so—but providing for the family is not primarily her responsibility—it is her husband’s. While a husband should help with the children and with household chores (thereby fulfilling his duty to love his wife), Proverbs 31 also makes it clear that the home is to be the woman’s primary area of influence and responsibility. Notice that her real estate ventures do not preclude her preparing food and making clothing for her household (vv. 13-24). Even if she must stay up late and rise up early, her family is well cared for. This is not an easy lifestyle for many women—especially in affluent Western nations—and too many women are stressed out and stretched to the breaking point by trying to wear too many hats. When this occurs, both husband and wife should prayerfully reorder their priorities and follow the Bible’s instructions on their roles.

Conflicts regarding the division of labor in a marriage are bound to occur, but if both partners are submitted to Christ, these conflicts will be minimal. If a couple finds arguments over this issue are frequent and rancorous, or they seem to characterize the marriage, the problem is a spiritual one, and the partners should recommit themselves to prayer and submission to Christ first, then to one another in an attitude of love and respect.

Recommended Resource: Your Family God's Way by Wayne Mack.

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What are the roles of the husband and wife in a family?