Question on “Accountable Steward” in Marriage

We hope this blog is a place where we can tackle some questions that arise from sermons or in our other published work.

Scott asked, “…one thing that occurred to me after your message to wives yesterday was this:  the notion of husband as “head” also seems to imply “accountable steward.”  If so, this means that not only is each accountable for his/her own actions (husband to sacrifice, love and give; wife to respect and submit as you described); but also husband is ultimately accountable for whether the marriage functions as an effective picture of Christ and the church.  Is this right?”

My thought is that you are absolutely right.  In my opinion, the husband bears 75 percent of the responsibility for the marriage relationship.  If the husband loves his wife the way that Christ loved the church, a majority of marriage problems would go away.

However, the reason I say 75 percent (and not 100 percent) is because even in the case of Christ — who loved perfectly and completely — there are still many who resist his love and wander away into sin.  So, too, a husband who loves perfectly may still have a wife who refuses to submit or is unfaithful to him.

Here are some reasons why I believe the husband bears a majority of the responsibility:

  1. If you simply count verses in Ephesians 5:22-33 you end up with 10 verses on Christ/husband and only four verses on church/wives. This is a notable contrast with the following two passages where the “leader” receives less attention then the “follower.”  In Ephesians 6:1-9, children have three verses and fathers have only one verse; slaves are addressed in three verses and masters are addressed in only one verse.  (Although in 1 Peter 3:1-7 there are six verses addressing wives and only one verse addressing husbands, Peter is talking about a specific situation in which a wife is suffering because her husband is not a believer.)
  2. There is a Bible passage instructing wives on what they should do if their husbands refuse to love them sacrificially (1 Peter 3), but not a comparable passage telling husbands what to do if their wives refuse to submit.  This implies that if a husband will sacrificially love his wife the marriage will usually be in good shape.
  3. The most powerful force in all of existence is sacrificial love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13) and when God sacrificially loved us it set in motion the entire salvation process. This most powerful force of sacrificial love is assigned to husbands in their leadership role.

For these reasons, when I counsel husbands, I tell them that when the cycle of mutual self-sacrifice in marriage breaks down, as it inevitably will, the husband should take the initiative to restart that cycle by sacrificing for his wife although this does not prohibit the wife from re-starting the cycle of mutual self-sacrifice.

Additionally, when we talk about the husband being the leader in the marriage relationship, it brings to mind the analogous passage of Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”  This is not speaking of marriage, but it gives the indication that leaders will have to give an account to God.  I would be hard-pressed to think that God would ask leaders in a church to give an account, but not the leaders in marriages.  Likewise James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  Here again is the principle: “to those whom much has been given, much is expected.”




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