Over the last two weeks, I’ve noticed a 2012 Christianity Today article making its rounds on Facebook. Circulated mostly by men, with approval of its content. Reading it, however, I could help but be worried about the implications that it set out. Particularly, in that it provides husbands an excuse not to perform or even attempt to initiate prayer or bible readings with their spouse. For those who haven’t read the article, it sought to underline that many women have unrealistic expectations of men in regards to being a spiritual leader. That these women are overemphasising the initiation of “prayer, Bible study, and other similar devotional activities” as a litmus test for spiritual leadership and as such, they’re failing to take into consideration that there are other ways of leadership such as modelling Christ through the exhibiting of the fruits of the spirit. It’s a fair point, and I can see where the author is coming from.
Yet, at the same time I see several flaws within the reasoning underlying the article. The most prominent is that it really seems to establish a false dichotomy between two different types of men.
A Loving Man Vs. A Leading Man
Within the article, the author really seeks to emphasise the point that those men who simply embody the fruits of the spirit, and, thus, model Christ-like behaviour to others should be considered spiritual leaders. She further underscores this by comparing this to what is traditionally considered a spiritual leader — someone who initiates ‘family devotions’ (prayer, Bible reading, etc), and illustrates that plenty of those from the latter lack the fruits of the spirit yet arguably are considered ‘spiritual leaders’.
The problem here is that the author is creating two examples of males and comparing them as two polar opposites. Those who initiate devotions but lack the fruits of the spirit, and those who do not initiate devotions but lead through example. While the author, rightfully so, identifies the crucial nature of a spiritual leader exemplifying the fruits of the spirit, I feel she misses several crucial things and also fails to address the question — shouldn’t men strive to be ‘spiritual leaders’ through both initiating family devotions and also representing Christ to the family through the exhibiting of the fruits of the spirit?
What Does Scripture Say?
The only way to tackle this question fairly faithfully is not addressing it perspectively but rather appealing to scripture. So what does the Bible say about spiritual leadership and husband leading their families?
The first thing to examine is what the Bible says about what God desires for husbands and fathers:
- They must love God and follow His commandments. (Matt 22:37-38; 1 John 5:3)
- They must sacrificially love their wife and children (Col 3:19-21; Eph 5:25-33,6:4)
- They have a level of authority in the family as Christ has over the church. (Eph 5:22-24; 1 Cor 11:3)
- They are to provide spiritual instruction to their family (Eph 5:26,6:4; 1 Cor 14:35)
Admittedly, the Bible doesn’t necessarily provide an explicit structure or framework on how this all works or is to be carried out. Yet, whilst it is very implicit in some areas of what this should look like, it is explicit in others. Specifically, it is an undisputed point that husbands must love God first and foremost, and that this should subsequently extend to loving their wives and children in no uncertain terms. This much is obvious within scripture. Yet, when it comes to the concept of the authority of the husband in the home, this is where the contention and controversy lies.
However, the fact that the Bible establishes that the husband is the ‘head’ of the wife twice (Eph 5:23; 1 Cor 11:3), no doubt indicates that Paul wished to highlight the significance of this point. It is obvious that this stated headship is not to look as an authoritative dictatorship of a husband commanding his wife as in some form of pseudo-slavery. Instead, Paul explicitly provides two examples of what this headship should look like. The first is that Christ is the ‘head’ (or source) of the church, the other is that God is the ‘head’ of Christ. Neither of these look anything like a raving tyrant dictating to underlings, but rather reflect a relationship of mutual love and willing submission; which is also especially reinforced by Ephesians 5:25, which spurs husbands to love their wives in such as a manner which reflects how Christ gave his life for the church.
Further, the idea of a husband leading spiritual instruction is not a foreign concept within the Bible. As mentioned in the points above, a husband needs to bring up their children in the ways of the Lord (Eph 6:4), and are also to provide spiritual guidance to their spouses. Nowhere is this more explicit than within Ephesians 5:25-28, when a husband is exhorted by Paul to assist his wife in sanctification by “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:26). I’ve emphasised the latter part of this verse as this clearly indicates that a husband is to help his wife in her spiritual growth through the use of scripture. Guiding her so she may be “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27). More so, in Ephesians 5:25, Paul continues the comparison between the relationship between the husband and wife and the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul is very intentional here, and other than signifying the sacrificial love that a husband needs to have for his spouse, he is also indicating a form of what this love should look like. Pastoral concern and care for the spiritual welfare of his wife.
So what is the purpose of this authority? Whilst, no doubt there are many reasons why God chose to reveal His majesty and glory in this way. I believe that one of the purposes stemming from this authority is for husbands to spur on the spiritual development of the entire family, both spouse and children. You are to show Christ, vis-a-vis God, to them through your actions, but also ensure that your family adheres to the LORD commandments through your assistance. The latter of which, should be done out of humility and meekness as opposed to being assertive or forceful.
So What Now?
Fundamentally, it is important for a husband to show grace and love to those within his family, this is pivotal. If a husband is leading his family in family devotions but failing to model Christ or exhibit any of the fruits of the spirit, then he is failing in his responsibilities. However, it can also be said that if a husband is faithfully modelling the fruits of the spirit but not guiding his family in spiritual growth, then he is also failing.
Being the spiritual leader doesn’t mean you will need to be able to know the Bible in its original language, that you will need to be able to recite verses off the top of your heard, or that you will have to be ‘super-spiritual’. But it does mean that you need to focus on the well-being of your family, physically and spiritually. It means you will need to love your family as Christ loved the church. It means being sacrificial and a servant. It means listening, and not just speaking. It means that you need to talk to your family about God and to God about your family. It means always keeping your family in your prayers.
The role of a spiritual leader is one that all men can, and definitely should, embrace with loving and humble hearts. It should not, by any means, be felt as a burden or an obligation, but rather a husband should be motivated through their love of God, which should flow into their love of their family and the family’s spiritual growth. After all, it is a privilege, not a right, for a husband to be able to help their family come to love and honour God.