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Who should be helping whom in a marriage?

Where is the line between sacrificially leading my wife and my becoming her 'suitable helper' instead of the other way around?


My girlfriend and I are nearing engagement, but we’ve run into a snag. She feels that God is calling her into the music ministry.

I see in Genesis that God made the man, gave him a job to do and gave him a helper suitable for him. At the same time, in Ephesians, husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church, who gave himself up for her.

Where is the line between my leading her in a sacrificial way in what she feels is her ministry calling and supporting her in that, and in having a reversal of the Genesis picture?

If in marriage I feel, after prayerful and loving consideration and talking with her, that music and thus her calling need to be put on hold for the health of the family/marriage, does the husband have the God-given authority to stop a ministry the wife feels she is called to by God?


Volumes have been written about the husband/wife relationship in a Christian marriage and what it means for the husband to be the “head” of the marriage and family and what it means for the wife to be his “helpmate.” As you might imagine, there is a good bit of debate over the topic, and I won’t end the debate here. But let me offer some guidelines as I have come to understand these roles both through Scripture and in my own experience.

First, yes, I believe that the husband has been called by God to lead the marriage and family. Yes, that means on that very rare occasion when there needs to be a “final say” on a decision where there is disagreement, the husband must make it. But after nearly 20 years of marriage, I still haven’t had to do that, at least not for anything that really mattered much.

So what does husband “headship” mean? It means a lot of things, but they can be boiled down to two: 1) He always sees the marriage and family within the larger context of the kingdom of God and keeps the family on course within that larger vision of the kingdom, and 2) He leads in love.

With all the different needs, interests, gifts and personalities represented in a family, I believe the husband/father has been given the responsibility to make sure the “ship” keeps moving in a direction that glorifies God and builds the kingdom. If someone in the family desires to pursue a music ministry, husband/dad will ultimately need to make sure that pursuit is the very best way that family can glorify God. He keeps what is best for the kingdom and his whole family in mind, and tries to guide everyone in that direction. He does his best to make sure that the “ship” isn’t just about one person, not about him or any family member, but about God.

He can’t do it alone, though. He needs help. He needs the one God made to help him keep that ship on course. And together with his wife, his helpmate, they work as a team to navigate that family ship through the waters and currents of life.

Remember that a marriage will have different seasons, so the framework of husband “headship” will play out differently as a marriage journeys through those seasons. You’ll have the season before children, and that will play out very differently than the season with children. And the season with very little children will play out differently than when they are older.

Before we had children, my wife was the primary income-earner while I attended seminary. I worked part-time jobs, but her income met the bulk of our financial needs, including my seminary tuition. When I graduated and received various job opportunities, I ultimately accepted a job that allowed her to pursue a position she had had her eye on while I was in seminary. It was something she really had in her heart to do, and I was more than happy to adjust my choices for her to do it. I “led in love” by helping her achieve a career goal just as she had helped me achieve an educational goal. That’s how my leadership looked in that particular moment of our marriage.

When we started having children, I became the primary income-earner so she could be at home with our kids as much as possible. I believe wives/moms have a God-given gift for creating a nurturing home-environment for the whole family, and I believe this is especially critical for the early years of childhood. That’s not to say that dads don’t nurture; they do and their role is critical in child rearing. But the way God loves children through “the home” He has gifted moms to “make” is invaluable in terms of healthy development for a child.

Can the roles be reversed and dads offer the primary home nurturing? Maybe for an exceptional season, but I think the “norm” that rises from Scripture and “nature” is that primarily moms identify with that role and husbands/fathers with the role of securing provision for the family so that the parents can fulfill their first calling: to raise up their children as followers of Christ.

The ultimate guiding factor in husband “headship” and wife “submission” is for each of you to ask in every season of marriage, what brings the most glory to God? God’s primary purpose in creating the family is to offer the best context to bring up children who love and follow Christ, not be a platform for launching one’s career or ministry.

I’m not surprised that your friend wants to be used by God; we all do! And I think that’s great for her to pursue music ministry if that’s the direction God is taking her. But when children come along, the emphasis of our calling shifts from outside the home to inside, for both parents. I would advise that if she has no interest in ever shifting her emphasis from ministering to others to ministering to her own children, then that’s a major red flag in moving this relationship toward marriage.



Copyright 2012 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

John Thomas

John Thomas has been a Boundless contributor since its beginning in 1998. He and his wife, Alfie, have three children and live in Arkansas, where he serves as executive director of Ozark Camp and Conference Center, a youth camp and retreat center.


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