Does God require fathers to be the breadwinners?

This question raises a common confusion: the distinction between leader and provider, and how God instructs men on both. The image that we are given in scripture for God the Father is of the highest and best leader of all.  That provides us with a template for understanding what is expected of men and what is not.

In the Bible, God lays out a chain of leadership, which does not subjugate, but rather organises how people work together. At the foundation of the structure is sacrificial love by the leader, who is held to the highest standard.

When it comes to organizing households, 1 Corinthians 11:3 puts it like this, “But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” In this outline, we see God detailing who is accountable for whom in relationship. God, out of love for the world, sent His Son to die for us. He made a plan to care for all of us. He asks the most of Himself. The husband is told to lay his life down for his wife and family as well, following God’s example. Accountability does not equal tyranny, but rather describes a sacrificial relationship.

Consider that wives are told to love and respect their husbands, while husbands are ordered to be like Christ. “For husbands, this means to love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her,” notes Ephesians 5:25. Husbands and fathers are called to sacrifice their own desires for the good of their family. This requirement ranks far above money. It involves time, planning, preparation and self-discipline for the goals and good of our loved ones. But does that responsibility also include the requirement to be the main income earner?

The short answer is no. The Bible does not indicate that a good husband and father brings home all or the highest share of the income, but he is required to work to the best of his abilities. A husband is required by God to care for the good of all in the family. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.”

This verse indicates that a husband and father is expected to provide for his family, to know their needs and to plan how to care for them.

Some women do work — even in the Bible. In Proverbs 31 for example, we read about the industrious woman, who cares for her household and contributes to the income through her businesses. God chose Deborah to rule as a judge over Israel in the Old Testament.  We know of married couples like Aquila and Priscilla who worked together as tentmakers. Glimpses of couples working together are woven throughout the scriptures without any condemnation of the family where the wife may have earned more.

But God does require something from those in leadership and holds men accountable for their management of their homes and families. A husband and wife together may decide that both need to work, and may organise their resources to achieve goals for their children and loved ones. It is the husband and father who will be held accountable for keeping the family on track.

Options to think about

Sometimes, when a couple has small children, it may make sense for the person with the lowest income to take on the responsibility of caring for the children while the other works full-time. Some men do well in the role of stay-at-home parent, while others struggle.  It depends on what works best for you as a couple. Working for Families tax credits and the Accommodation Supplement for families who are renting or have a mortgage, mean they might be better off financially on one income, because they don’t need to pay for child care.

Some men have been able to go into unpaid ministry work because their wife is able to financially support them both and their children. This doesn’t mean that the men have given up on their responsibilities to provide for the family, but rather that they have come to an agreement with their wives on where God wants them both to be working.

A great first step to setting priorities for your family is make sure that what you believe about God’s principles for finances aligns with how you actually behave with your finances. The MoneyLife Indicator assessment on www.crown.org will help you identify areas of strength and weakness and provides an Action Plan for making changes. So, make it fun and plan a date night with your spouse to discuss your individual results, the impact on your family and what steps you want to take together!

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