The Roles of Husband and Wife


Attempting to look at the scriptures on the family is a needful thing in our current time. We have record divorce rates and record social problems that have come from family breakdown. There is very often a lack of desire between men and women to commit themselves to one another for the duration of their lives, which is the best environment for children. God is our creator. Because He made us and designed us, He knows what is best for us. He has given us the pattern for family life in scripture, and when men and women ignore that pattern we bring harm upon ourselves.

The Servant Leadership of the Husband

The Husband has the Primary Moral Responsibility

Reading Genesis 3:1 – 9 reveals that God will hold the husband, as the head of the house, primarily responsible for what happens in the home.  The instruction was given to Adam, not to Eve, not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they both sinned, in Genesis chapter 3 verse 9 God says, “Adam where are you?” God primarily calls the husband to account.  God’s reprimand to Adam was that he chose to listen to the voice of his wife rather than His own. The husband is to be the head of the household and to show that diligent leadership.

We find out more of the husband’s leadership and headship in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus:

“For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body.” Ephesians 5:23

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” Ephesians 5:25 – 29

“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

The Husband’s Leadership

Confer Benefit

The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, His body of which he is the saviour (Eph 5:23). The husband is to lead and to confer benefit. The Greek word that is translated saviour was used to mean a saviour, a deliverer, and a preserver. The name was given by the ancients to deities, especially guardian deities, to kings and in general to men who had conferred great benefit upon their country.  So to the husband must confer benefit on his family.


Christ loves His church. The word used for love is based on the Greek word, ‘Agape’. This is a steadfast, self-sacrificial love. Its not here today and gone tomorrow, it is enduring, it is long lasting.  As long as the church is there, as long as Christ is there He will have that love for the church, such is the husbands love to be for his wife. Husbands are to show that same love, steadfast, enduring for their wives.

Establish Holiness

But Christ has also aims to present His bride, the church, as holy, without spot, without stain, without blemish, blameless before Him.   Christ washes the church by His word, the word is the prime means for our sanctification, and no less so for the family. Part of the husband’s leadership and initiative which he is to show, is to ensure that the word is there and present in the family. The family is to be sanctified and made holy before God.

The Purpose of the Husband’s Leadership

Care For the Souls of the Family

The husband’s duty is to primarily care for the souls of the family.   The command to fathers in Ephesians 6:4 is to teach their children. Husbands should have a plan in action to teach and promote the word of God at home.  Remember where there is long-term sin in the family, God comes after the husband first, he is the head, and he is the one that takes primary responsibility.

Care For the Wellbeing of the Family

It is not just care for souls, but care for the well being of the family.   Do we as husbands seek to be involved with or plan activities that the family will enjoy? Is the family money primarily spent on things that are benefit to the husband or to the family? Christ has a self-sacrificial love for his church. Are you a present husband or father or are you absent from the family?

Valuing The Family

The family are God’s precious gift to the husband. He should in mind that his wife is joint heir with him in the gift of eternal life (1 Peter 3:7). The Lord Jesus Christ has died not just for the husband but for everyone in the family, if they have saving faith. Children are God’s gift and blessing to us. Psalms 127 and 128 make it so clear (Ps 127:3-5, Ps 128:3,4), Jesus radically purged leadership of pride and fear and self-exultation, and He also radically honoured women as persons worthy of the highest respect under God.

Taking Christ-like Initiative and Responsibility

Headship means taking the initiative to establish a plan for the moral and social well being for the family that honours all. That how Christ loves the church, and the husband is called by God to love his family in the same way. Headship bears the primary responsibility for the moral design and planning in the home.

The husband leads or should lead at personal cost to himself. Family needs should take precedence over his pleasures when determining how the family income is spent and in determining how his time is apportioned. He takes his turn in looking after the family. The family is in his daily prayers. Time and energy is taken up getting to know what pleases the family and what their needs are. Again, in the same way that Christ does these things for His church, the husband is called to do them for his family.

The execution leadership is not synonymous with unilateral decision making, i.e. the husband taking all the decisions. Good leadership recognizes the gifts and wisdom present in those around the leader. There are things that a husband’s wife can do far better than he can.

The Abuse of Headship

Abdication of Headship

There is the abdication of headship. Often men often don’t want to do it. Work or pleasure is allowed to consume all their waking hours and energy. They have nothing left to establish patterns for the wellbeing of the family. They just don’t take the part, and are not interested.

The Rule of Tyranny

Men can use their physical strength to dominate and control the family.   Any kind of leadership that abuses a wife, or tends to foster in a wife personal immaturity or spiritual weakness or insecurity through excessive control, picky supervision or obsessive domination, has completely and utterly missed the point of the analogy in Ephesians Chapter 5. Christ does not create that sort of a wife. That is not how He treats the church.

A Word To Wives

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” Ephesians 5:22

“As the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:24

What Submission Means

Submission is the wife’s disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. She submits out of reverence for Christ himself. This is Christ’s desire for her. The husband is not infallible, if a wife doubts her husbands judgment it must be raised. But she should help and support his efforts to promote the spiritual, social, and physical welfare of the family; she can hinder these if she chooses.

Common Objections to Submission

The idea of submission in the home is very politically incorrect, it flies in the face of modern thinking, and often there are objections raised concerning this.

Does not A Wives Submission Will Give Opportunity For Male Dominance?

Isn’t submission is an opportunity for men to be selfish, enabling them to order their wives around? That is why we first started examining the husband’s role, such selfishness is not the kind of leadership that God wants. It is not the leadership or attitudes that Christ has for His church.

Male and Female are Equal in Value and Function – Why Should One Submit to the Other?

Men and women are equal in value but not in function.  Those that study human behaviour know this, but unfortunately it’s not politically correct to admit to it. Men have generally better spatial awareness while women have generally better verbal skills. Men are more single-task orientated while women are generally are more multi-tasked oriented. Women are generally more attuned to people and relationships, while men have generally better math and engineering skills. God has called us to differing roles and we complement each other.

Should 50% of nursery helpers and aides be men? Well there have been calls for it because of how many absent fathers that there are, and many want to see children around a representative father figure. But are men generally as suited to looking after the behaviour of kids as women? Should be 50% of frontline soldiers be women? Men tend to have a physically stronger frame, they can carry more, and they tend to have the greater stamina, this is why we have men’s events and women’s events in athletics. There are differences between the male and female that go beyond the obvious physical differences, but we complement each other and God has assigned differing roles in the family.

But What if She is More Intelligent or Capable Than He?

Yes there are certainly couples where she has more ability than he. A good leader should recognize and use the resources around them. The husband should acknowledge the gifts God has given his wife, and then give an outlet for these talents to be used. Also a wife also does not follow her husband into sin.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones told an anecdote of something which he said was very beautiful. He regularly stayed with a particular family, when his preaching commitments took him into a certain geographical area.  Over time he began to realize two things. Firstly, she was actually more intelligent than her husband. She usually had better insight than her husband. Secondly, he then noticed what she did. He would observe round the meal table that when they were discussing something, she would lay out the options before her husband, pointing out pitfalls and guide him to the right decision.  There was laughter on the tape from the congregation when he said that. But Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones said that to him, it was utterly beautiful. Even though she had the greater gifting and ability, she didn’t try to bypass her husband’s headship, she submitted to it. She used her greater abilities to make sure he made the right decision, but she didn’t try to bypass this headship.

What about an unconverted husband?

“Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands, so that if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” 1 Peter 3:1,2

The Apostle Peter encourages the positive action of winning over her husband by godly behaviour. But while a wife can’t follow her husband into sin, she can do a lot by her attitude. She can show by her attitude and behaviour that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin, and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honour him as head can once again produce harmony.

The Abuse of Submission

But of course just as headship can be abused, so can the submissive role be abused. With her greater verbal ability the wife may seek to influence her husband through her continuous dialogue…nagging.  A wife’s calling is to honour and to affirm her husband’s leadership helping to carry it through according to her gifts. Husband and wife have complimentary roles, working together in the same direction.

The Relationship Between Church and Home

The reason why this is something that needs to be considered in the church, is that home life affects the church.  Godly home life is a great asset to the church, while ungodly home life can greatly hinder what the church tries to do.

If a man has abdicated his responsibility to lead in the home, allowing work or pleasure to drain his time and energy, why do you expect him to take up responsibility in the church if he hasn’t first done it in the home?

If a man dominates or is repressive in the home then watch out, if he gets an opportunity for leadership in the church the chances are he will be the same with you.

A husband’s prayers are hindered if he does not respect his wife, 1 Peter 3:7 makes that very clear, and a man bearing office in the church needs and effective prayer life.

If a man has learnt to develop an attitude of self-sacrificial leadership in the home, serving the spiritual and physical needs of the home at cost to himself, he has already learnt a lot of the qualities needed to serve God’s family in the church.

If ladies are not used to a pattern of submitting to godly leadership at home, why do you expect them to immediately submit to godly leadership in the church?

If a man or women has regularly taught the word of God at home, they will know the scriptures, will be more godly for it, and a real asset to the church.

A godly home life is one of the qualifications that can be used for an elder. Paul says if a man has first learnt how to handle his family well, then he will know how to handle Gods family in the Church (1 Timothy 3:5).

Home life and Church life are so closely connected.  So the question is: are we willing to live these rules out? Are we willing to play our part, which will benefit us as Paul, says? Husbands love your wives just like loving your own body, happiness in the home will benefit you greatly. Are we willing to live these things out? This is not only for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of the Church. May God help us to do this; we need his grace to live out the love of Christ in our homes.

This article is an edited version of the sermon transcript located here.

Bible Text Copyright Statement

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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