By Andrew Hebert
An ancient Chinese proverb says, “One generation plants the tree. The next enjoys the shade.” This is a restatement of the biblical truth that “whatever a man sows he will also reap,” but with a slight twist – “what you sow, others will reap.” Nowhere is this more relevant than the mandate to be a biblical husband and father. This is a stark and terrifying reality – my wife and children will reap what I sow.
While recently counseling a young man who was about to get married about his new role as a husband, he looked at me with a sad expression and after telling me that he did not have a father who set an example of biblical manhood for him to follow, asked, “What should I do?” Not for a lack of desire, this man was simply clueless about what it takes to be a husband. He was reaping what his father had sown.
One of the desires in my own ministry is to build men who will sow faithfulness by loving and leading their families in obedience to Christ. The most important thing that men can sow into their families is the gospel, which also provides the pattern for being a biblical man in the first place. Scripture teaches four “irreducible minimums” for leading a wife and children in a Christo-centric way, all of which can be seen (though not sequentially) in Paul’s teaching to the Ephesian church in Ephesians 5:25-33.
The biblical narrative is a story of pursuit. After God creates the world in beauty and perfection, mankind rebels against God and a fracture occurs in creation. The rest of the Bible is the story of how God pursues fallen mankind. He does this first through Israel, and then when by conforming to the pagan nations surrounding it Israel fails to be a light to the nations, God sets in motion His redemptive plan to rescue the creation through His Son, Jesus. Just as God in Christ pursues His rebellious creation, a biblical man should pursue his family. This is Paul’s point when he commands husbands to love their wives, “just as Christ loved the church” (vs. 25).
Just as God chases after men and women when they are running from Him, husbands and dads should be the initiators of relationship in the home. Practically, this means that when my wife and I disagree, I should be the one to initiate the conversation to make things right. It means that I should be the one to invite my kids on “dates with dad,” or be the one to offer to so things that interest them. It means that I should take the initiative to bring flowers to my wife. It means I should be the one to initiate dates, conversations and time spent with her. I look to the loving pursuit the Father has for us as the pattern for my loving pursuit of my own family.
In the gospel, Christ loved the church and “gave Himself for her.” This is a reference to the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross. This sacrifice forms the pattern for how a husband should love His wife. This sacrifice takes place in many small ways, such as a daily giving up of rights for your wife. But not excluded from this call for sacrificial love is the very real possibility that one day you may be called upon to give up your life in defense of your wife. If this scenario ever is the case, it is the man’s job, not the woman’s, to take the initiative and give up his very life, if need be, to protect his wife. This is echoed a few verses later when Paul encourages husbands to “care for” their wives (vs. 29), as they would their own bodies. It is hard to care for a wife and not be willing to protect her from physical danger. In light of the recent move to allow women on the front-lines of combat in the military, this mandate will become increasingly important to remind the men in our church about. It is always the responsibility of the man to lay down his life to protect his family.
Beyond physical protection, however, a man is called to protect the spiritual and emotional well-being of his family as well. This includes guarding your home from ungodly influences in the form of media (TV, books, internet, music, etc.), bad friends (my father used to say that he wouldn’t choose my friends, but he would choose the pool from which I chose my friends), and even bad teaching or doctrine. This requires the man to be “tuned in” to the life of his family in order to measure their emotional and spiritual state.
In a culture where it is more common than not that wives and mothers work outside of the home and take the role of co-provider or primary provider for the home, the following statement is out of vogue, but no less true than it was 2,000 years ago – the man must provide for his family just as he “provides and cares for his own flesh” (vs. 29). If you are a husband or father, you are called not just to be the primary breadwinner of your home, but the breadwinner of your home. Unless you are physically incapable of having a job, your call is to shoulder the burden of providing for your family. Protect your wife by not requiring her to bear that responsibility. Indeed, “if anyone does not provide for . . . his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
In our modern context, we need to work through this issue with grace. For instance, a husband and wife who do not have children may decide that the wife should work outside the home to supplement the income of her husband. In my view, this is permissible as long as both spouses are willing and one isn’t pressuring the other. Sometimes, the wife rightly values the high calling God has given her as a homemaker (Titus 2:4-5) and does not wish to work outside the home. If this is the case, the husband should take whatever steps are necessary, including accepting a scaled-down standard of living, to allow his wife to stay at home. Practically, I do not want my wife subjected to the demands of having to work for a harsh employer, or the stress of having to meet certain work deadlines, all while trying to raise children, keep the house, and meet her responsibilities as a wife. Our home operates in a more peaceful way when I take the responsibility upon myself to provide for my family.
Perhaps the most important responsibility of a husband and father is to shepherd his family. The man truly is the pastor of his home. Paul told the men of Ephesus to follow the example of Christ who sanctifies the church, “cleansing her with the washing of water by the word” (26). The word Paul uses is loutron, which means to literally bathe your wife in the Word. Every man is tasked with the responsibility discipling his wife and children with the Word. Deuteronomy 6 calls parents to systematically, regularly, and intentionally teach children the Word in the home.
Most men feel ill-equipped for this. You do not have to be seminary-trained to do this, however. Let me encourage you to take a few simple steps towards the practice of faith at home:
Being a husband and a father has been the greatest adventure of my life. It is hard work. It requires intentionality, time, much prayer and wisdom, and most of all, love. Even though it is costly, it is worth it. In the words of Robert Lewis, “The best hope still lies in the hearts of fathers.” The hope for a generation that will reap what we sow is laid at the feet of husbands and dads who will choose to walk away from the mantle of manhood and reap the consequences, or take up the mantle and reap the blessings. I pray you and I will do the latter.
Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church in Hobbs, New Mexico. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewhebert86.
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