What Does the Bible Say About the Role of a Husband?

By the time a man gets married he has an idea of what a faithful husband looks like. This image has been molded by a slew of influences outside of Scripture. Not all of those influences are bad, however, it is helpful to use the foundation of God’s Word to remind us what God has in mind for the role of a husband. According to Scripture, in order for a husband to faithfully and obediently walk in love to both God and his wife, there are certain duties or roles that God has ordained. Let’s look at three roles God gives to husbands. (In a second post we will look at three roles God gives to wives.)

[The summary of these roles comes from the book – Tying the Knot: a Pre-Marital Guide to a Strong & Lasting Marriage by Rob Green.]

Perhaps the most obvious role that a husband is to fulfill within a marriage covenant is the role of a leader. Matthew 20:25-28 is a great passage that describes the role of leader. Here, Jesus describes leaders who do not lord their authority over those they are leading. This is a temptation to anyone with authority but the authority of a husband is unique in that it is not earned but given. God has given authority to many different institutions such as parents, the state, and the church. For each of these three institutions of authority, he has also given a way for those institutions to enforce their God-given authority. For the parents he has given the rod (Proverbs 23:24), for the state he has given the sword (Romans 13:40), and to the church he has given the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:13-20; Matt. 18:15-20). However, to the husband God has not given a way for him to enforce his authority over his wife. The nature of his authority is different as described in Matthew 20. A husband serves his wife by leading through example, persuasion, and by the application of God’s Word.

We should rightfully be afraid of extremes. One extreme is the servant leader that is described pejoratively in Matthew 20, who lords his authority over those he leads. The one who forgets that his leadership is oriented toward the good of others – that he leads as an act of service.
The other extreme is just as harmful – a servant leader who does not lead and hence does not serve. A husband has indeed been given the role of leader, and when he abdicates that duty, even when rationalizing it as service to his wife, he is no longer fulfilling the role God has called him to.

In the “go-to” passage on marriage roles of Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul commands husbands to love their wives three times. Anytime something is repeated in Scripture it is to be taken seriously as if the author is highlighting it for the reader. When the author repeats something three times, it should be like a massive flashing neon sign to us. What Paul is talking about in this passage is probably very familiar to anyone who has had even a small amount of exposure to biblical marriage resources. However, verse 28 might catch some of us off guard. Paul says that, “he who loves his wife loves himself.” It’s an interesting statement and requires a moment of meditation.

No one should enter marriage with the hope that loving their spouse will help them to love themselves more. But instead, the theme of oneness and unity in this statement is emphasized. We enter marriage with the assumption that we already love ourselves enough. When husbands love their wives within the “one-flesh” foundation of the biblical marriage covenant, they are loving themselves. It’s an amazing picture and illustration of the love that Paul is commending to husbands.

Another passage of Scripture that speaks to marriage is found in 1 Peter 3. In verse 7, Peter writes, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”. The Lord has designed the role of husbands in such a way as to live according to knowledge, with their wives. Constantly gaining a better understanding of them. Husbands are to be learners of their wives. Notice that this passage says, that this is one of the ways that husbands show their wives honor.

At the end of this verse, there is a terrifying warning. Peter says, that husbands are to live in this way, honoring their wives by growing in their understanding, “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” This warning can be understood in two ways. First, that the husbands prayers would be hindered because he genuinely lacks the knowledge necessary to pray earnestly and appropriately for her. Second, that if the husband fails to work to gain an understanding of his wife, the Lord will withdraw his ear from the prayers of the husband. But in either case the husbands’ prayerful connection to Christ is damaged. So considering that the marriage covenant is built on Christ and we need his help in our marriages this potential consequence, should a husband be unfaithful in this role, ought to be motivation enough to pursue it with as much effort as he can spare.

There is plenty of practical flexibility in these roles and certainly a wife is to be a learner and a lover of her husband, however Scripture carefully and primarily assigns these roles to husbands. Husbands, in their pursuit of Jesus, should find ways to be faithful in these roles.
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