Husbands and Wives: Distinct Roles and Responsibilities

Husband and Wife

God’s ways have been rejected by many in our society on a number of issues. The marriage relationship is one such example. The rampant divorce rate, calls for same-sex marriage, and couples living together and engaging in sexual relations before/without marriage all demonstrate a disregard for God’s plan. In addition to these more apparent things, there are also attacks against the God-given roles and responsibilities in marriage. Let us consider what the word of God has to say about these.

Roles of the Husband and the Wife

Paul wrote, “The husband is the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23). He told the Corinthians, “The man is the head of a woman” (1 Corinthians 11:3). This idea is scoffed at by many in our feminist-influenced society. They say that women are not inferior to men, so the headship of the husband is rejected.

Actually, the Bible does teach that men and women are equal. Paul wrote, “There is neither male not female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Men and women are equal with regard to salvation: “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34, KJV). But this equality does not mean that men and women cannot have different roles. Paul also said slaves and free men are “one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28), but these have different roles as well (Colossians 3:22-4:1). God has given men and women different roles in the marriage relationship. These roles bring with them various responsibilities.

The Wife’s Responsibilities

Paul wrote, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). No matter what the predominant views of society are, the wife is to be in submission to her husband. Peter mentioned the “holy women” in “former times” who were “submissive to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:5). He specifically mentioned the example of Sarah who “obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Peter 3:6). Just as “the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24).

The wife must recognize that “the husband is the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23). This means that it is his responsibility to lead the family. She should not make his job more difficult by not being in submission or opposing his direction. This is something that needs to be considered seriously. Women are to be taught to be “subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Titus 2:5).

A wife is also to love her husband. Paul told Titus that older women should “encourage (teach, KJV) the young women to love their husbands” (Titus 2:4). Love needs to be taught. This is necessary because Biblical love is more than just the infatuation a couple has for one another leading up to and in the beginning of their marriage. This is something deeper. It is a desire to put the other’s interests and well-being ahead of their own. Eve was told, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).

This goes along with the responsibility for the wife to be a “help meet” for her husband (Genesis 2:18, KJV). She must support him as he fulfills his responsibilities as head of the household. This is what the “excellent wife” does: “She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12). In the following verses, the text described what she does to do him good (Proverbs 31:13-27). As a response to her work as a “help meet,” “her children rise up to bless her; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:28). Notice who is blessing and praising her – her husband and children. Why? They were the focus of her work. She was not laboring for herself, but for her family.

At the close of a discussion of the roles in marriage, Paul said, “The wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). Men, particularly husbands and fathers, are not highly respected by many in society; instead, they are disrespected and mocked. The husband is often portrayed in television shows as being a doofus who is as immature as a teenager and totally dependent on the wife to take care of everything. As the acceptance of this stereotype grows, women come to expect this from men and men tend to conform themselves to this image. Men can and should do better than this. Wives need to realize that about their husbands and show them respect as God commands.

The Husband’s Responsibilities

Paul instructed three times in the passage about the roles of husbands and wives that a husband is to love his wife. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself” (Ephesians 5:33). This must be the same type of love that Christ had for the church. He “gave Himself up” for the church (Ephesians 5:25). A man must love his wife enough that he willingly makes sacrifices for her just as Jesus did. The Lord “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Men would do well to remember His example.

The husband is to rule over his household as he is the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23-24). This is his role. One of the requirements for elders in the local church is that he “manages (rules, NKJV) his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). The qualifications for elders, particularly the ones that pertain to one’s character (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), are characteristics that all Christians should have. This also means that all men with families must rule their house well. This does not mean he is to rule as a cruel dictator or tyrant. As we already noticed, he is to love his wife. He must not rule selfishly but be conscious about what is best for his wife and family.

A husband has the responsibility to provide for his wife. Paul told Timothy, “But 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). Does this prohibit the wife from working to supplement his income? No. The excellent wife of Proverbs 31 did various things to earn money (Proverbs 31:16, 24). But this is primarily the husband’s responsibility. Her responsibility is to attend “to the ways of her household” (Proverbs 31:27) and to be busy working in the home (Titus 2:5). The husband must see to it that his family is provided for, even if that means long hours and more than one job.

Husbands are also to honor their wives. Peter wrote, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). A man is not to look down on his wife because she may be weaker, but to be understanding and show her honor. The excellent wife in Proverbs 31 was blessed and praised by her husband (Proverbs 31:28). Husbands must not take their wives for granted, but should give them the honor they deserve.

Submit to One Another

Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This general statement introduced the section that spoke of the roles of husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-33). The instruction is to be more concerned with the interests of the other than one’s own interests. Selflessness is necessary for a marriage to work. Husbands and wives must submit to one another in this way and ultimately submit to God (James 4:7) and fulfill the roles He has given.

Love and humility are at the heart of the marriage relationship. We must also respect God’s plan for marriage. God is the one who established the institution of marriage. Let us heed His instructions so that our marriages can reflect His original plan.


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on the Gospel, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Road Trip.