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Fathers Who Provide

Is a father responsible to provide for his family? When people ask me this question, sometimes they really mean to ask: Does God want the man of the family to earn the main income and the wife to remain home with the children? But the two questions are not identical.

I think a man has primary responsibility to provide for his wife and family, but providing involves more than just income, and having ultimate responsibility does not necessarily mean that the one responsible does all the tasks himself.

A man is responsible to provide a context where Christ is central, where love reigns, and where he is the first to sacrifice for the wellbeing of his wife and children (Ephesians 5:21-33). A man is responsible to provide ongoing instruction in God's Word to his wife (1 Cor 14:35) and children (Deut 6:4-9, Eph. 6:4). A man, as head of his wife, is responsible to provide leadership and set a godly tone for everyone in the family. And yes, as head a man is responsible to provide for his family's financial and material needs, and when possible to generate additional income to help others in need (Psalm 112:9), especially widows who are related to him (1 Tim 5:8).

In these responsibilities to provide, the man has a suitable helper in his wife. She can do a lot. He is not required to perform every task himself. Various elements of provision may be delegated to her to some degree, if she is willing and able. For instance, in educating the children, he may delegate much teaching to his wife, though he would be foolish and disobedient if he avoided any active role in teaching God's Word to his children. In providing leadership and decisiveness, he should seek his wife's counsel before making major decisions for the family, and may have such confidence in her (Prov 31:11) that he delegates various everyday decisions and tasks to her. Such delegation should not be an excuse for sloth or lack of leadership on his part; rather, it is a result of the oneness with his wife and of their godly partnership. I certainly don't try to micromanage my wise and gifted wife.

In the matter of financial provision, I don't think there's an absolute biblical requirement for how to go about it, but I do think that in many cases where it's necessary for someone to work outside the home and another to stay with children, the man will be more inclined to seek a job and the woman more inclined to care for young children. Even so, in some cases a woman has far more earning power, and a man (especially if he has sons of a particular age) might think it best to spend extra time teaching his sons while his wife earns a large paycheck. The husband/father has final responsibility for his home and the allocation of tasks within it; that's part of his role as head. He should take full account of his wife's feminine nature and her personal preferences in deciding who should do what.

Before the Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s, the home was often the base for making a living, whether in farming or as shopkeepers or craftsmen. Husband, wife, and children spent much time together, and all worked together in making a living. Husbands were involved in daily affairs at home. Wives were involved in economic activity. The Industrial Revolution split work life away from home life. Most husbands went away to work; many women stayed at home if they could.

This division of labor became enshrined as biblical in the minds of some Christians. Given the choices available, it may often be best for the man to work and the woman to stay home, but that is more a matter of prudence than obedience to the Word of God. After all, the Bible is much more clear in telling a father to teach his children than in saying that the man must be the main wage-earner.

As New Covenant believers, we are not to over-legislate fellow Christians or ourselves. We are to walk in the freedom of the Spirit, drawing on God's wisdom, attentive to the Lord's presence within, and obeying his direct commands in Scripture. However, we are not to regulate in areas where the Scripture and the Spirit grant freedom to improvise and to do what seems best in a given situation.

Yes, fathers should provide and lead--and in many more ways than income. No, the Bible does not require that the man always be the main wage earner and the woman always be the main caretaker of children. Husband and wife, united as partners in Christ, can together discern how best to apply God's Word in their particular situation with their particular personalities and abilities.

2012. Family of Faith
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