Before a man and a woman enter into marriage there should be a clear understanding of the responsibilities that fall to the husband and to the wife. It must not be entered into with some vague idea that “love will sort it all out and overcome every problem.” If the Scriptures are not considered before the marriage takes place, there is danger that the “would be” husband and wife are not suited for each other.
Scripture is clear that the husband carries the responsibility to lead. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians states that “the husband is the head of the wife” (Eph 5:23) and continues by stating, “even as Christ is the head of the Church.” The second statement confirms the importance of the first. This is not a man-made edict with the purpose of demeaning womanhood. It is the God-given order that the husband takes the lead in the family.
In fulfilling his role, the husband must display strong, yet spiritually compassionate, leadership in the home. He will ensure that the Scriptures are read and that prayer is offered. Children will be left with memories of godly men and women who sat at their table with the Scriptures being the subject of conversation. The father sets the standards and, in so doing, must be prepared to live them out. If he fails to do so, he is denying his family the great privilege of seeing Christian life firsthand. Such a privilege has helped many a young person acknowledge their need of salvation and, after that, has given them an example to follow. It is true that such a home life does not always result in children being saved, but it does ensure that parental responsibility has been fulfilled.
Inconsistency in fulfilling this role will soon be spotted by wife and family. A father will find it difficult to encourage a son to attend assembly gatherings when his lack of interest mirrors the behavior of the father in previous years. Children are quick to see inconsistent behavior in their parents.
But not only has the father to lead, he has also to love, as Paul asserts: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (Eph 5:25). But the love of which the world speaks is not the love that a Christian husband and wife have for each other. “Love” as the media sees it is a feeling which comes of its own accord, sustains itself, and then may cease. It arrives unasked, controls the individual and, when it sees fit, it disappears. The individual cannot, therefore be blamed for “falling in love” or for “falling out of love.” Christian love as felt by husband and wife, however, is very different. Between them there will be growing affection and love.
Two of the significant features are first, a selfless love. Paul states, “Love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it” (Eph 5:25). This is sacrificial love; loving was backed up by giving. The word used, agape, describes the love that God displays. Selfless love puts the interest of the one loved before self-interest. A husband will not selfishly pursue his own interests and ignore those of his wife. She ought to be able to have complete confidence in him, knowing that he will put caring for her first.
Second, it is a love that is kind. The beautiful description of love found in 1 Corinthians 13 states that love is “kind,” and surely also covers the love of a husband. The word means to be kind, willing to assist, and obliging. It is used of one who is not overbearing or demanding, but always considerate of others. The mutual love of a couple will be enhanced by that obliging, kind, and willing disposition which they show for each other, even during the strains and stresses which marriage and rearing children can bring about.
Love does not flourish without being practiced. A domineering husband who shows little appreciation for his wife will cause her grief and turn the home into a place where rules may be laid down and obeyed, but where there is little of the warmth and loving atmosphere that Christian love brings.
The husband is also responsible to labor. Paul writes, “So men ought to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Eph 5:28). But as he “nourisheth and cherisheth” his own body, so he ought to nourish and cherish his wife. He is responsible to feed (nourish) his wife and to keep her warm (cherish). This responsibility also covers his children. The place of his wife is in the home with their children, and his place is to work to support the home.
There may be times when an ill husband is unable to labor, or there may be times of unemployment which makes the situation difficult. If the practical support that the assembly and other family members can give is not able to meet the need, it may be necessary to take other steps. However, to change the divine order simply to afford what is known as “a higher standard of living” will be detrimental to the condition of the home and will bring about “a lower standard of spiritual living.”
The Christian father will realize that today’s society thinks little of marriage. The world is setting it aside. In days like these, however, the home is where there is the opportunity to show devotion to the Lord and display what it means to submit to the Word of God. It also is an opportunity to show that following the Lord is not an onerous duty, and that the Scriptures are not irrelevant. Where neighbors may refuse to listen to the gospel they may listen to the message presented to them when they observe the daily life of those who are followers of the Master.