What is the proper role of men in the family and society? History reveals extremes from the family dictator to the bumbling sitcom dad. What did God design?
Society has many different ideas about what the role of men should be. But what did our great and loving Creator intend?
In the beginning …
To answer that question we need to start in the beginning, at the creation of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2 we see that Adam was created before Eve. Adam was given the task of naming all of the animals. It seems clear that at least part of the purpose for this was to help him realize that none of these creatures were “comparable to him.” Every other creature had its mate; but Adam was at that point alone, the only one of his kind (verse 20).
After he was done naming all the animals, God then created a very special blessing for him—a woman fashioned from Adam’s own rib. The connection between them was undeniable. Together they had a oneness—they formed a family, a complete unit (verse 24).
New Testament instructions
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul very specifically outlined the leadership roles God intended within the family in Ephesians 5:23. Here we see that the husband is to be the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. That sets a very high standard for men to live up to!
What specifically is this standard God expects men to live up to? Verse 25 makes two very important points. The first is that Christ “loved” the Church. There are many definitions for love. But one that would describe Christ’s love for the Church is “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).
The second point (which is an extension of Christ’s love) is that He gave Himself for the Church. What is described in these verses is authority as the head of the family and a commitment to fulfill the needs of the family. Jesus Christ demonstrated that real leadership and real love are self-sacrificing in order to provide what is needed to those who are led and loved.
The husband’s role is intended to be one of loving authority and not a harsh authoritarian role. And as a loving authority, the husband is accountable to God for the welfare of his family—physically, morally, spiritually and emotionally.
Further evidence of a man’s role as head of the household is found in 1 Timothy 3. This passage (verses 1 to 13) is talking about the qualifications of “bishops” and “deacons”—leaders in the Church congregation. These standards are benchmarks for all Christians to strive for. In this context, verses 4 and 5 state that a leader should be one who “rules his own house well” and that his children must be in submission.
With understanding and honor
The apostle Peter adds to our understanding in 1 Peter 3:7. Here husbands are instructed to “dwell with them [their wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life.” There are three points made here:
1. The husband must dwell with his wife with understanding. Of course, this evokes many humorous comments because there are men who feel they can never “understand” their wives. Sadly, many husbands and wives simply do not take sufficient time with each other or even try to get to know each other well enough to “understand” what the other may struggle with or be going through. One-on-one quality time together is necessary, no matter how long a couple has been together.
2. What about the “weaker vessel” part of this passage? Women are generally smaller and not as physically strong as a man. So God is directing husbands to take care of their wives, to look out for, cherish and demonstrate tenderness toward them. When God created woman, He could have made her equal in strength and stature to the man, but He did not. Instead, He gave man the responsibility to protect, care for and give honor to her.
3. The third part of this passage is “being heirs together of the grace of life.” The Moffatt translation states, “You must honor them as heirs equally with yourselves of the grace of life.” The potential to be children of God in His Kingdom is the same for both men and women.
While God established certain roles for men and other roles for women in our physical families, there is nothing in Scripture to indicate one sex has more favor with God, or that one would have preeminence in the coming Kingdom. The relationship between husband and wife today should be harmonious and one of mutual love and respect, knowing that both are to equally inherit eternal life.
Role of a father
When a man marries and children start coming along, he enters a different phase of life. So it is important to ask: What is a man’s responsibility toward his children?
There is an old saying about fatherhood: “The greatest gift a father can give to his children is to love their mother.” The family begins when a man and woman are joined as husband and wife. The family grows from the two of them together, and the marriage relationship must remain the bedrock of the family.
From infancy onward, children should be comforted by the close and loving relationship they see demonstrated between their mother and father. This gives stability to the family and credibility to the father as he goes on to properly teach and train his children.
A responsibility to teach
And teaching his children is a major responsibility of a father. Most important is to teach them the ways of God. In both Deuteronomy 6:7 and Deuteronomy 11:19 we find that parental instruction should be an ongoing process: “When you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
While there should also be times of more formally teaching your children, the inference from these instructions is that teaching should be just a normal part of life. The father should live God’s way of life and teach it to his children through everything he does and says all day long!
Abraham was commended by God because of the example he set and the way he led his family. God knew Abraham would “command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19).
This responsibility applies to both parents and requires that they be spending enough time with their children daily. For a father, spending time teaching, guiding, playing with and working with his children has to be a priority. It is a God-given responsibility. This loving interaction and positive example is of more value than many men ever realize.
Not provoking wrath
Ephesians 6:4 gives instructions for fathers to not provoke their children to wrath. This verse does not mean that a father will never annoy his children or that he should not correct them. It is impossible to teach without offering at least some correction!
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible offers this explanation of the phrase “do not provoke your children to wrath”: “That is, by unreasonable commands; by needless severity; by the manifestation of anger. So govern them, and so punish them—if punishment is necessary—that they shall not lose their confidence in you, but shall love you. The apostle here has hit on the very danger to which parents are most exposed in the government of their children. It is that of souring their temper; of making them feel that the parent is under the influence of anger, and that it is right for them to be so too.”
While parents do have and should maintain authority over their children, the way they should deal with their children is with tenderness and understanding. This echoes the tender, understanding authority that Christ showed to His disciples and with which He deals with us.
Providing for the family
It is also important to note that a father should take the lead in providing physically for his family (1 Timothy 5:8). Allowances must be made in cases where age and physical health may limit what some men can do. However, to the best of his ability, a father is enjoined by God to do all he can to make sure his family has the basic necessities of life: food, clothing and shelter.
Most families in the Western world have far more than just the basic necessities, and that is laudable in most cases. The scriptural injunction is that fathers provide for their families’ needs, but we understand it will likely not include all of their wants.
Roles specific to men
Are there roles that God has decreed only men should fill? Just as God has appointed husbands to be heads of their physical households, He has specified that the heads of what are in essence spiritual households (congregations) are to be men. We find in 1 Corinthians 14:34 that women are not to preach in church services.
While the Bible is clear that the public preaching and pastoral role is to be filled by a man, that does not mean every man must preach or publicly teach in the Church. Paul notes in Ephesians 4:11 that different gifts or roles are given to different people. A congregation needs a public speaker or leader, but it also needs many “behind the scenes” support people who serve in various capacities.
We find this parallels the physical household. There will only be one “head” of a physical family, and God has decreed that to be the husband and father. However, other members of the family can fulfill various duties to serve the family and see that the needs of the household are met. God’s intent is for all to work together in harmony and unity for the good of the family, although there can be only one “head.”
Applications for singles and widowers
How do these roles apply to singles and widowers? A man who is not yet or no longer married is still the “head” of his household. (An obvious exception is if he is still living at home, he would submit to his parents as the head of the home—as a young woman should if she is living at home.) In the case of a widower, there may be children still at home or even grown children who still need the guidance of a loving father. He may need to make adjustments in the way he fulfills his responsibilities, but he still has the duty to serve his family as best he can.
In the case of a single man, there are still opportunities for him to serve and provide some godly leadership in his extended family, his community and his congregation. The same principles of a godly example and proper teaching apply, though in a broader sense, if he does not have a mate and family of his own at this point.
Honor and responsibility
God has given the man a unique and special role in the family. His function in the family is to reflect that of Jesus Christ Himself. He is charged with nurturing and caring for every member of his family—of having that same tenderness and loving authority that Christ has for His Church.
What a tremendous honor and responsibility it is to have the role of father and husband!