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Marriage Preparation / Improvement: Roles of Husband and Wife

Marriage: Roles of husband and wifeWhat roles has God assigned to husbands and wives? Who should be the head to lead the family? How important is love in exercising authority? Who should work to provide income? Is the role of homemaker demeaning? 

This is part of a ten-part series about marriage preparation and improvement. This article should be studied in context of the whole series of articles. To start at the beginning of the series, please click here: Marriage_Improvement.php

Traditionally and Biblically, the roles of husband and wife were fairly well defined. God created men and women different and assigned them different roles.

Modern philosophies, however, pressure modern families to believe these roles will not work in modern society. Indeed, they may not work - if we want to have the kind of families people in the world have. But if our primary goal in marriage is to serve God, then we will find the roles defined in the Bible are the only ones that will work!

Biblical roles require the following:

A. The Wife Must Submit to Her Husband, But He Must Rule with Love.

The Bible teaches wives to submit to their husbands.

Genesis 3:16 - God decreed that the man should rule over his wife. This is neither the invention of men nor the product of evolution. It is a decree of Almighty God.

Ephesians 5:22-24 - The wife should submit to her husband as the church should submit to Christ. And, she must submit in "everything." She has no more right to pick and choose which decisions she finds acceptable or reasonable, than the church does regarding Jesus' decisions. The only exception is if her husband tells her to do something that would be sinful to do; then she "must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

Further, the church should cooperate with Jesus' authority in every way possible, submitting willingly out of love (John 14:15). Likewise, the wife should not try to look for loopholes or sneak behind her husband's back or manipulate his decisions by devious means. The command to love her husband (Titus 2:4) should lead her to seek to know his will so she can obey it.

1 Peter 3:1-6 - If her husband is disobedient to God and even if he misuses his authority, even then the wife is not justified in refusing to submit. In fact, this just gives more reason why she should submit, so she can set him a good example. [Cf. Romans 12:17-21.]

[See also Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Corinthians 11:3,8-12.]

The Bible teaches husbands to use their authority with love.

Ephesians 5:25-29,33 - While the husband is head of the wife, he must also rule with love as Jesus does for the church.

A man who loves his wife will not use his authority just to get his own way and please himself. Instead, he will rule for the good of all (1 Corinthians 13:5). This often requires him to sacrifice his own desires for the good of the group, even as Jesus did in dying for the church.

Further, the husband should make a reasonable effort to consult his wife in decisions that affect her; he should take her will into consideration. God grants the church the right to influence His decisions by our prayers. For a husband to refuse to do this would be failing to love his wife as himself: you would not like people to make major decisions that affect you without your input. Likewise, using family funds to do as you please, without careful consideration of the wife's needs and views, is selfish and unloving.

This does not mean the husband always does what the wife wants. He does what he honestly concludes is best; but making good decisions requires a willingness to receive input from those who must follow the decisions.

Again, Jesus acted with love for the church, even when we were in sin (Romans 5:6-10). Therefore, the husband must not be unloving toward his wife, even when she is disrespectful or even sinful. On the contrary, he must seek to put love in the home, even when the wife is unloving, just as Jesus did for the church.

1 Peter 3:7 - The husband should strive to understand the needs of the wife and value her, so that he can make his decisions accordingly.

He should honor her (cf. cherish - Ephesians 5:29). The wife should not to be treated as property or a slave, but as a valued and respected companion.

The fact the husband is the leader does not mean the wife is any less valuable or important. In God's plan, value and importance are not determined by authority, but by the service we perform (Matthew 20:20-28). Men and women were each uniquely created by God to fill the role He planned for them. Though their authority and abilities differ, each is equally valuable and important in his/her role (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:14-22).

Young people, do not marry someone unless you are truly convinced that he/she will practice Biblical roles. Young lady, God will require you to submit to your husband for the rest of your life, even when you don't like his decisions and even if you think he is unreasonable. The marriage commitment must be to "love, honor, and obey." Consider that carefully long before you say, "I do."

Young man, God will require you to love your wife and make decisions for her good without bitterness, even when you think she is not submitting to you properly. When you choose a marriage companion, choose someone whose example and conduct indicates understanding of Bible roles and commitment to follow them.

This is another reason why it is so important to really take your time and be sure you know a person well before you marry.

B. The Husband Is Responsible to Provide Family Income and the Wife Is Responsible To Be The Homemaker.

The Bible often states the husband's responsibility to provide family income.

Genesis 3:17-19 - From the beginning the man was responsible to labor with his hands to provide bread A man who is able to do this but will not, is lazy and foolish (Proverbs 24:30-34). [1 Thessalonians 4:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10]

Ephesians 5:28-31 - The man should labor, not just to provide for himself, but also to "nourish and cherish" his wife as he does his own body. These terms include providing and caring for her, as well as protecting her. (Cf. v23.)

1 Timothy 5:8 - The man who will not provide for his own, especially his own household, is worse than an unbeliever. Yet, all across the country there are men who fail to provide for their families as they ought. Even though they are able-bodied, they live off welfare or off relatives or institutions. Meantime, their families suffer.

The Bible is filled with examples of men who were employed in various occupations by which they provided for their families, including occupations that often took them away from their families through the day. This includes sailors, shepherds, physicians, tax collectors, carpenters, fishermen, preachers, etc. There is no passage, however, that teaches wives, especially if they are mothers, that they are similarly obligated to leave their families and work to provide income.

Mothers are instructed to be homemakers, managing the home.

Bible teaching

Genesis 2:18ff - The wife was created to be a companion and helper to her husband. She finds her fulfillment, not in competing with the husband in his work nor in taking his responsibilities, but in assisting him. [Titus 2:4]

1 Timothy 5:14 - She should manage the household. (Cf. Proverbs 31:27.)

Titus 2:5 - She should be taught by the older women to be a homemaker (NKJV; "worker at home" - ASV).

Psalm 113:9 - She should rejoice and praise God for her role as mother and keeper of a home. Husbands ought to praise their wives for fulfilling this role.

Proverbs 7:11,12 - It is a shame for a woman to gad about instead of staying at home.

John 10:11-14 - Some work cannot be done by one who is simply hired, as well as it can be done by one who has a personal relationship. What is true of caring for mere animals would surely also be true of caring for our family members. Ladies, no one can love and care for your husbands and your children like you can. Can you hire another woman to fulfill your role as companion to your husband and submit to him in your place? Then why think your can hire a day-care center, babysitter, or other hireling to love and care for your children in your place?


The roles of wife, mother, and homemaker are not the only responsibilities God requires of women. He also requires them to teach His word, be active in the church, care for the needy, visit the sick, and be diligent in prayer and Bible study, etc. Some of these activities may even briefly take her away from her house. But it should be clear that filling all her God-given roles would constitute a full-time job for any mother.

The Bible simply does not approve of the idea of modern society that family roles are to be shared equally or interchanged or hired out to others. Most of the major problems that exist in modern homes can be traced to a failure of husband, wife, or both to understand and properly fill their God-given role.

There may be circumstances in which the husband or wife is unable to do their work, so their spouse may take the duties of a companion in an emergency circumstance. And wives may find ways to contribute to family income without leaving their children or neglecting their families or their homes. But the fact remains that God said the man is responsible to be the head of the family and the one to provide the income, and he said that the woman is to be in subjection and is to be the homemaker. Yet, all across the country there are families in deep trouble because husbands and/or wives neglect their God-given duties because they spend so much time doing things other than what God requires them to do.

Young ladies, make sure you marry a young man who is willing and able to provide for you and the family. If he doesn't hold down a job or doesn't show clear evidence of being able to provide an adequate living, or if he might encourage or even expect you to work so you cannot stay home and be a mother to your children, you need to resolve this before marriage. And while you should prepare to provide for yourself if you cannot find the right young man to marry, nevertheless you need to organize your education and lifestyle so that, when the right man does come along, you are prepared and willing to be a fulltime homemaker.

Young men, you make sure that the young woman you marry is committed to staying home and being a fulltime mother to your children. If she is career-minded or expects a lifestyle that you can't provide, make a serious effort to resolve this before marriage.

And throughout marriage, avoid making financial commitments that require two incomes. Some couples, early in marriage, develop commitments and attitudes that encourage the wife to continue working outside the home even after the children come. The best way to avoid these problems is to never put yourselves in the situation where you must have two incomes to make ends meet.

This is part of a ten-part series of articles about marriage preparation and improvement. To continue with the next article in the series, please go to /family/marriage-children.php  To start at the beginning of the series, please click here: Marriage_Improvement.php

(C) Copyright 2007, David E. Pratte;
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