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Volume 8, Issue 5: Husbandry

The Three Responsibilities

Douglas Wilson

Scripture sometimes teaches us in an offhand way. When Paul requires husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, he is not exactly making an indirect point. But Scripture will frequently teach through assumptions that are clearly made in a passage which is primarily addressing something else.

An example of this can be found in Exodus 21:10, in a law regulating and restricting polygamy. "If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights." In other words, in this situation a husband was only permitted to take a second wife if he did not cease certain fundamental marital duties with regard to his first wife. Those marital duties were respectively, conjugal relations, provision of clothing, and provision of food.
The Bible is the Word of God, but it must be admitted that the spiritual words of Scripture frequently take a far more mundane turn than we might expect. One would not be surprised to find the author of Proverbs, for example, exhorting us to change our oil every three thousand miles. We are tempted to think of such things as not really high-minded enough for Scripture because we are more gnostic than Christian in our thinking. The biblical understanding is that the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. The gnostic view is that spiritual things are always up and out of reach, or in and out of touch. What matters is emphatically not what happens here and now. The scriptural requirement is quite different from this.
Consider. A man has a basic responsibility before God to make love to his wife regularly, keep her cupboards full, and her closet full. Not quite the love her forever and a day violin stuff that we have come to expect from Christian romance-as-foundation-for-marriage seminars. Some might counter that this neglects the fact that we are discussing a requirement from a law dealing with polygamy. So it is, but we should argue a fortiori from this. If a polygamist was required by God to do these things for his first wife, how much more a monogamist, still with his first wife? We do not want to find ourselves in the position of arguing that now in the Christian era, with monogamy now set forth as the norm for God's people (1 Tim. 3:2; Eph. 5:25), God has in His infinite wisdom restricted us to one woman so that we could learn to treat her more poorly than was required under the Old Covenant.
A man must love his wife as Christ loved the church. But this does not refer to any divine expectation that we send our emotions off hang-gliding. It refers to an efficacious and very mundane provision. That provision is to be what God requires, and supplied in the way God requires. A man may effectively fall away from the faith through failure to do so. "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 Tim. 5:8).
The duty of ongoing sexual relations is clearly presented by Paul when he says, "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband" (1 Cor 7:3). Modern liberated types enjoy sniffing at this, as though making sexual relations a duty somehow removes the . . . well, you know, the romance, the excitement, the high octane kick. The thing that will supposedly carry us through to the end of our lustful little lives is supposed to be that spontaneous combustion thing between man and woman, like in the movies. But any pastor who knows what it is to counsel a couple who cannot even touch one another any more knows what a bogus help this doctrine is. And our generation, riddled as it is with divorce, ought to be a little more humble about giving out advice concerning long-term sexual contentment.
Men also need to learn self-denial as they provide for their wives in nonsexual ways. The joke that the difference between men and boys is the price of the toys contains more truth than is good for us. Far too many men have never withheld from themselves toys (guns, boats, dirt bikes, fishing gear, etc.), and yet their wives have to struggle to set the table, or to dress themselves. When this is the case, such men are falling short of God's standard for a polygamist.
Christian men must see to it that these fundamental duties are discharged. This cannot be done by letting her get a job so that she can do it. Many excuses are offered up in our greedy and discontented age ("It takes two paychecks nowadays.") which will enable us to send the wives off to help provide for a wife. If a man is not capable of providing his wife with food and clothing, then he is scripturally disqualified as a husband. He has no right to get married. In a time when many women are more qualified to take a wife than many men are, it is not surprising that gender confusion is rampant.
But biblical stewardship of finances is never fulfilled through strewing money about. An important corollary must be connected to all of this. If a man has a wife who is not as responsible as she should be in her purchase of food and clothing, he is responsible to oversee her financial dealings. A man may be a poor provider through thoughtless abundance as much as through lack of provision. But if he serves God with both his hands, then his work is received as spiritual worship, both good and acceptable. He does this as he meets her needs in all three areas.

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