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Being a biblical husband

Being a biblical husband

What do you think of this marriage advice that someone tweeted at the end of 2020?

Men, your wife wants leadership and guidance.
She wants to see decisiveness and discipline.
Act the man and watch her flourish. 

Now this sort of advice would have resonated with me a decade or two back, and possibly some wives may appreciate parts of this ‘muscular Christianity’. But I came to a complementarian position on gender in the home and the church against an egalitarian upbringing; I was and remained convinced from Scripture.

So what struck me is how this tweet (by a church pastor and author with a reputable evangelical publisher) so sorely lacks any biblical justification as general advice for married men.

For a start, surely a Christian woman flourishes primarily in and through trusting Christ and his sufficiency, rather than simply when her husband “acts the man”! (And what of the single?)

But husbands, stop and think about what the New Testament says regarding how you should act towards your wife. I can’t find leadership, guidance, decisiveness or discipline mentioned anywhere. Rather, we are told to love our wives sacrificially (Eph 5:25, 5:28), which seems to be expressed in protection, nourishment and care (Eph 5:29). We are also told to be considerate of (or understanding) and to respect (or honour) our wife (1 Pet 3:7).

A husband ought to fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and to remember that neither of their bodies are simply the property of the other but that sex occurs by mutual consent (1 Cor 7:3-5). Husbands (actually, all men) are told not to commit adultery, physically or emotionally in their hearts (e.g. Matt 5:27-28).

Paul also reminds us married men that we are rightly concerned in this world with how to please our wives (1 Cor 7:33) and are commanded not to be harsh with them (Col 3:19). With limited exceptions, we are commanded not to divorce our wives in Matthew 19:3-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.

Some might note what is implied by the command, repeated by Paul and Peter to wives, to submit to their own husbands: some kind of authority, leadership or direction (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Pet 3:1-6). Fair enough—but should I concern myself primarily with correcting my wife’s behaviour or my own? Besides, the ‘love and consideration’ commands to husbands give the context desired for wives asked to submit.

Of course, there are hints that freely given submission is a difficult choice at times. I maintain that no wife is spiritually obliged to submit to domestic violence from a husband. The Bible encourages her to seek from the state and the church protection from violence, bullying, threats and other verbal abuse (Prov 27:12; Rom 13:1-5; Col 3:19; 1 Pet 3:7). Further, “revilers” (the verbally abusive) and “swindlers” (the vicious) will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, we are warned about associating with those who claim to be Christian but practise such things (1 Cor 6:10, 5:9-11). Christian elders and overseers are not to be “violent” or “quarrelsome”, nor “over-bearing” or “quick-tempered” (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7). If these qualities are unacceptable for congregational leaders, no husband in his right mind could expect a wife to submit to his (false) claim of ‘leadership’ when expressed through immorality such as domestic abuse.

Ultimately, when giving advice to husbands, it’s strange to foreground what at best the New Testament only implies, while completely ignoring what is explicitly commanded.

Some lessons in leadership or encouragement to initiative may be useful to some husbands, but perhaps the topic is too nuanced for social media soundbites! A better scenario for giving or accepting advice is found when a wiser, godly person—who understands the particular context of the wife, their background and especially the husband’s own character—speaks directly with that Christian husband.

To wrap things up, it fascinates me that there is only one time in the New Testament that we are told to “act like men”: 1 Corinthians 16:13. The NIV84 translated it as “be men of courage”, and the original Greek is using the gendered ‘men as male’ manliness verb. But the truly noteworthy thing is that the command is not just addressed to men but to all Christians in the church at Corinth. Paul tells all believers, including women, to act courageously. This is what men are typically known for, but women also need to stand firm in the faith, to be courageous and strong, and to do all things in love.

When we focus on what husbands should do for their own wives, we should spotlight nothing more than the love and care, respect and faithfulness that Scripture commands.

Sandy Grant

Sandy is the senior minister at St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral in Wollongong. He is married to Karyn with three daughters. Prior to entering full-time ministry, his only other job has been in a bottle shop! Sandy enjoys reading theology, biography and crime fiction.