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God’s Design for Fathers and Work

I recently posted a Twitter poll. The question was: Is it biblical for a man who is able-bodied and married with children to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife goes to work as primary provider? After over 1,100 people weighed in, the results and responses were varied. Including many comments from Facebook, it became obvious that there are still numerous people who don’t think the Bible speaks on this issue. I hope this article will help provide some food for thought.

How should a Christian father approach work, leadership, and providing for his family? Some would argue that the culture has changed since the “old days” and the modern man should be happy with whatever method or arrangement he and his wife agree too. That may mean him staying home with a baby strapped to his chest and a casserole in the oven while his wife climbs the corporate ladder. It also may mean the income-driven approach. In many of today’s households, money drives the agenda and the “have to’s” abound. We “have to” have this, “have to” have that. Even if both spouses didn’t have to work, many couples choose to both work in order to maximize income. As for the kids? Well, some would argue that’s what daycare is for.

Is this God’s design? Did He call fathers to a passive existence when it comes to work and provision; viewing “homemaker” as a role fit for men? Is His will that mother and father work for retirement, home ownership, and more comfort while their young children are farmed out to others during their formative years? Does God want the burden of being primary provider placed on the wife’s shoulders? Are we to chase a cushion in our bank account at any cost – even if that means our kid’s well being? The picture we see in Scripture is a resounding “no.” You may be thinking, what about special circumstances and seasons where it’s not as black and white? What about married couples who don’t have kids – can’t they both work? What about people who work from home so they’re able to be with the kids? What about women who work night shifts and Saturdays while their husband plays with the kids in order to not abandon their role in the home? Isn’t it fine that a mother go back to work when her children are old enough to go to school? The nuances are endless, and like the ones above, some are valid, but each couple will have to decide whether or not to follow God’s design – even if that means tough decisions. God’s will for fathers and mothers is that they be serving in their primary roles – especially when young children are in the home. I’ll repeat that one more time so we’re clear: especially when young children are in the home. Let the reader understand, this is no broad brush of every life stage and scenario. A topic like this takes a great a deal of level-headed, biblical thinking. We must consider all that Scripture teaches.

In today’s world, many Christian men need to step up as fathers and stop bowing to culture and cowering in fear of feminists. Yes, life is hard and some decisions might make you public enemy #1, but Christian men are called to lead by example whether it’s easy to or not. To spur you on as you discern God’s word in relation to work and roles, here are 3 truths to remember about a godly father and his work:

  1. Godly fathers are called to work

In Genesis God established the working order for husband and wife.  The Bible is not unclear about God’s design. First, God modeled work in creation (Genesis 2:1-3). As an image-bearer of God, men must remember that work is part of their pre-fall design. Work isn’t bad or to be avoided by men. Work is to be embraced, and by work, I mean employment and labor because God means employment and labor. God gave man his first job (Genesis 2:15). God didn’t employ a woman to manage the Garden of Eden, He employed man. That should be noted.

After the Fall, the nature of work changed, but man’s call to work didn’t. God cursed the ground (Genesis 3:17a), told Adam that toil was now to be expected and that hard work was required to provide food (Genesis 3:17b-19). The work environment would be hostile and unforgiving as it produced thorns and thistles in addition to good crops (Genesis 3:18). As the nature of work changed, God laid out clear roles for men and women. He was not silent on the specific areas that husbands and wives would be impacted. For women, it would be childbirth and the desire to dominate their husband (3:16). For men, it would be difficulty in laboring to provide.

Furthermore, Jesus was a divine example of work. He was sent to accomplish spiritual work (John 9:4-5) which, of course, caused Him to constantly exert Himself physically. Beyond that, what did Jesus do until His ministry began at 30? Historically speaking, as the son of a carpenter He would have been apprenticed in carpentry and no stranger to hard work. Your Savior had the calloused hands of a carpenter long before having the nail scared hands of a Redeemer. Christ was a worker in every sense. We should be too.

  1. Godly fathers are to provide

Being a provider is a vital part of biblical manhood.

On the order of a Christian home the Bible explains that while husbands and wives are spiritual equals (1 Peter 3:7), they are to function in distinct roles. Wives are to submit to their husbands as the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23-27). Just as Christ is the head of every man, the man is the head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3). Therefore, a simple question can be asked when it comes to men providing for their wives: Did Christ provide for the Church or did Christ command the Church to provide for Him? From our salvation, to our future glorification, we are provided for by Christ! So also, a man must care for his wife and children by providing for them. 

In the Paul’s writings, we see strong words regarding men providing for their homes: if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever(1 Timothy 5:8). Some will try to dismiss gender roles here and argue that the context is limited to the care of widows (which Paul certainly has in mind), but Paul broadens his language to include a man’s household and immediate circle. To “deny the faith” and be “worse than an unbeliever” means your actions are contrary to what you say you believe and that there are even unbelievers who do a better job prioritizing provision than you! This can be tough for a man to face, but a man was, and is, biblically expected to provide.

A word to those feeling shame or tension over this topic: There is no need to feel shame for missing the mark in this area if you’ve never been taught biblically on it. Study further (resources below), pray through the next step with your wife, and walk confidently forward knowing God always honors His word. It may be a difficult season shifting to a more biblical approach, but trusting and obeying God will lead to joy and peace.

  1. Godly fathers don’t capitulate to culture

It doesn’t matter what culture may demand, a godly man will stand. The Word of God is the godly man’s decree. Christ, not culture, is the head he submits to. Whatever the nuances that come up in relation to his wife, his children, and work, his leadership stays under the Lordship of the Master. He knows his role requires the provision and protection of his family. He studies and helps his family understand their roles as well, leading his wife to be one who loves her husband, loves her children, and diligent keeps home (Titus 2:4-5). This will, of course, include accurately handling the Scriptures so not to dismiss or misinterpret passages he must apply. For example, the question will often arise: Why can’t a mother work full time like the woman in Proverbs 31? He must know that there is nothing wrong with a wife who emulates the industrious woman of Proverbs 31 in order to create income for her home. Yet still, a Christian home should be structured in such a way that the mother is not abandoning her primary responsibilities in order to climb the corporate ladder. It is against God’s design for a household to rally around a mother who is pursuing a career outside of the home when young children are present. Especially when God has called her to fulfill one of the greatest roles in the history of the universe for a short number of years. While many will cry, “cruel patriarchy!” and view God’s design as oppressive, their perspective is short-sighted. A woman gets to birth and nurture God-glorifying children (1 Timothy 2:15) while her husband gets to care for her and provide for her needs. She gets to influence the next generation. She gets to shape the minds of her little ones in a world gone mad. This is God’s design and godly men must work to allow their wives the opportunity to fulfill this high calling.

Christian men do well to read a book edited by Piper and Grudem called, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. On wives and work, George W. Knight III writes:

Since Scripture interprets Scripture and its teaching is consistent and unified, we realize that the picture of Proverbs [Chapter 31] is not contradicted by the Apostle Paul. Furthermore, we must realize that the emphasis on the home is the very point of the Proverbs passage. The woman in Proverbs works to care for her family and to fulfill her responsibility to her family (cf., e.g., verses 21 and 27). She does this not only for her children but also to support her husband’s leadership role in the community (verse 23). She is seeking the good of her family. Furthermore, she seeks to aid the poor and needy by her labors (verse 20). Here, then, are keys to the question of a wife and mother working outside the home: Is it really beneficial to her family, does it aid her husband in his calling, and does it, in correlation to the first two, bring good to others? Can she do it while still being faithful to her primary calling to be a wife and mother and to care for her home? It must be noted that even though the woman in Proverbs has not sought to “find herself” or to make her own career, but rather serve her family, in the end she receives praise from her family (verses 28, 29) and recognition for her labors (verse 31) because she has conducted the whole endeavor in obedience to the Lord she reverences (verse 30).

Much more can be said on this topic that space and time do not allow here. Whatever your view at this point in time, remember this:

Every Christian father will give an account to Christ one day for how he led, served, and nurtured his wife. Will she be battered and worn down from this world because you sent her to fight in a battle that was yours? Will your children have experienced the beauty of God’s design before their very eyes or will you have squandered the chance to help them relish in the joy and blessing of obedience? Will your hands be calloused from labor like Christ?

Men of God keep their work boots by the front door and their Bible close by.

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Recommended Resources: 

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited By John Piper and Wayne Grudem

The Grand Design by Gavin Peacock and Owen Strachan

The Fulfilled Family by John MacArthur

Being a Dad Who Leads by John MacArthur

The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott

Marriage Advice from Oxen

One Sunday a teaching-pastor dared to go where few pastors are willing to go. He called marriage, “work”, and had the audacity to compare a delicate bride and handsome groom to two dirty, bulky, yoke-pulling oxen. Of all the nerve!

In a day and age chock-full of Disney romanticism, post-modern liberalism, and LGBTQ fanaticism, he had managed to de-romanticize marriage in all its blissful glory and call it something few are willing to, only to illustrate his point with a picture that couldn’t have been further from Cinderella’s happily-ever-after ending. Every hopeless romantic in the room gasped for air, every lazy lover looked for the nearest exit, and I’m almost certain that some of the young single women fought back the urge to shout, “Heretic!”, for fear of the ushers – we’ve got some burly ones.

But you know what? The pastor was dead on. He couldn’t have been more right and the illustration couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Marriage has always been a challenge and will continue to be in every generation. With so much at stake when it comes to marriage, we need to enter it spiritually prepared. As laughable as a 300lbs hot dog eating contest winner thinking he can be an NFL lineman, is a biological man who thinks that because he is a biological man, he is ready to lead a bride and a home. The divorce rate takes no prisoners, an adulteress lurks at every turn, and a marriage made in heaven can quickly become a living hell when it’s put on cruise control.

When asked about divorce and marriage Matthew records Jesus’ poignant response as he declares, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Look at how binary Jesus was when it came to marriage! From gender, to function, to format, God purposed marriage to be a life-long marathon that produces a generation of godly worshippers, sanctifies bride and groom unto holiness, and bears fruit from the work they put in to see it through. All that work means that unity will be essential to production.

Many talk a big game when it comes to bible knowledge and marriage, but the real test is not how much you know but what you actually produce. Does your marriage resemble two oxen pulling a yoke in unity? Or do you find that it can be more like two oxen fighting to pull the yoke in their own direction? Whether it’s your first year, or your fiftieth, we can all learn a lot about marriage from those beasts.

Here are three things to consider based on the bold pastor’s illustration:

  1. OXEN MUST BE PROPERLY YOKED TOGETHER

Unity is a requirement for oxen to be productive and marriage is no different. When two oxen are placed under a yoke it’s the farmer who brings them together, the farmer who lines them up, and it’s the oxen who stay in place – submitting to the farmer as he places the yoke upon them. Sounds a lot like the role that God plays in a proper marriage doesn’t it? Ultimately, two oxen won’t need to continually stop and be re-adjusted if they start by lining up straight in the first place. Another important thing to remember: the oxen need to be similar in size and kind or there’s little that can be done to make them productive. A donkey and an Ox aren’t meant to pull together. The Apostle Paul commanded, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?(2 Corinthians 6:14). Always wise practice to go with the God’s word when it comes to life long commitments.

  1. OXEN ARE PURPOSED TO WORK

Farmers don’t yoke their oxen for show and they certainly don’t do it for fun – it’s an important part of their purpose. In short, they were meant for work! In the same way, marriage exists to produce. The “work” of marriage should produce holiness, it should produce godly children, it should produce a dependence on the grace of God, and it should produce a clear (yet still not fully complete) picture of Christ and the church. John Piper famously once write that “God designed marriage not to make you happy but to make you holy.”William Tyndale said, “Marriage was ordained for a remedy and to increase the world and for the man to help the woman and the woman the man, with all love and kindness.”Anyone familiar with Malachi 2:15 understands that God wants godly generations to come out of godly marriages. It’s safe to say that marriage is work and that work is our purpose for being yoked together. Talk about de-romanticizing the Disney version of marriage in a day and age where everything is about being happy and living happily-ever-after. Like it or not, it’s true. But don’t lose heart! Love is still as foundational as ever in marriage because who wants to do all that work with someone they don’t love? And all the hopeless romantics said, “Amen.”

  1. OXEN ARE BETTER TOGETHER

Have you ever seen two oxen plowing together? A quick YouTube search will prove this simple fact to be true: they are better together! One 1500lbs ox can do some damage, but two yoked together are unstoppable. It’s amazing what oxen can do when there’s two – and marriage is no different. God intended for both men and women to accept their roles, follow His design, and stick to His purpose. There’s no success in a lone-ranger marriage. A true Christian marriage is a shared mind, shared body, shared emotions, shared goals, and shared direction. It’s you-win-I-win, you-lose-I-lose. In many cultures the concept of “better together” is so prioritized that as a symbol of unity they chain a young couple together during the wedding and sometimes longer. When Jesus said, “…they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6), He was making the commitment of marriage crystal clear. When a man and woman stand to pledge themselves to one another on the wedding day, they are partaking in a gracious gift God gave humanity, and receiving of His blessings. Consequently, when they break those vows, they are not consciously uncoupling or agreeing to disagree…they are offending God and turning their backs on their vows to Him as the One who declared, “I hate divorce”(Malachi 2:16).

So there you have it. Marriage advice from the most unlikely of places. Thank God for oxen and thank God for grace!