"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (NIV)
It is my contention that those who cite this verse as the proof that stay-at-home "dadding" is a sin are misinterpreting it. On the surface it appears quite convincing in that regard, but reading it as a moral command to husbands to be the primary (only?) breadwinner for his family is exegetically untenable. To review, the reasons for this include:
1. In context, this verse is in a passage about taking care of the elderly, particularly widows. I think the "anyone" in reference really does refer to anyone, although I am not the sort to think that masculine pronouns in Scripture can or should be automatically gender neutralized. I only mean to say that the verse is not directed at husbands narrowly in regard to providing for wife and children specifically, but rather is directed at "anyone" generally in regard to older family members who need looking after. If we really want to apply this verse to today's family scenarios, we would say it makes a sin of warehousing our elderly parents and grandparents in nursing homes for someone else to watch over. (I'm not saying that's a valid application -- I don't believe availing ourselves of the services of nursing homes is sinful! -- I'm only saying that that is a more direct application to today's culture of what the verse really means than the SAHD issue.)
2. The relation of this Scripture to the whole of Scripture also seems to make the view that not providing money for wife and children equals "denying the faith" fairly questionable. But in the light of the commandments to "Honor thy father and mother," the verse takes on a more substantive meaning. Failure to take care of our parents, grandparents, elderly and widowed relatives, etc. is disobedience to the Mosaic Law ("denying the faith").
3. Even if we are to decontextualize the verse from its immediate context and from the context of the whole of Scripture and force it to relate to husbands and their wives and children, we then must reckon with the concept of provision as "breadwinning." This is the angle I mean to take on now:
What does it mean for a husband and father to provide for his family?
First of all, making provision solely about money is not Christianity, it is idolatry.
Secondly, as a complementarian, I do believe it is the husband and father's charge and duty to lead and direct his family. In that sense, I wholeheartedly believe husbands should provide for their families. And as I mentioned in the previous installment, I believe this normally and ideally includes being the breadwinner of the family.
But whereas provision cannot be restrictively equated with monetary provision and whereas the Bible's clear, unambiguous commands to husbands do not include reference to breadwinning, my conviction is that masculine provision for the family is bigger, grander, and deeper than merely earning a paycheck.
A Biblical Synthesis
Coupled with the biblical framework offered in Part 1, the description of Christian masculinity in Ephesians 5:25-28 sets the bar:
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself."
This is the clearest and most elaborate command to husbands about how to treat their families, and it is also the most daunting. Certainly more daunting than "get a job that pays the bills."
What we learn from this passage is that a husband's primary job is to sanctify his wife. And he does this the way Christ sanctifies the Church -- by emptying himself of himself and sacrificially serving his wife.
This can and frequently includes getting a job that pays the bills but does not have to. If a man's wife is the primary or only breadwinner and her job is crushing her spirit and harming her health and breadwinning work is within the man's ability and availability, then providing for his wife does mean getting a job that pays the bills.
But sanctifying provision is not about making money. It is about doing what is best for the family, what best provides for the family's physical and emotional and spiritual health. And a godly husband as the head of his family should be granted liberty by the Church to direct how this is accomplished in his own family.
A husband who can't work due to disability, who cannot find work due to unemployment and/or lack of demand for his given trade/skill set, or who cannot get work that adequately provides monetarily for his family has the biblical mandate to decide how best to manage the family's predicament. And if we are tracking at all with what the Bible actually says about husbands and wives and working, Proverbs 31 (for one big instance) indicates that a husband may delegate work outside the home to his wife.
In biblical culture, the entire family did a heck of a lot more than our families tend to do today anyway. The idea that a wife's job is to make dinner, sweep the floor, play with kids, and shuffle them to soccer practice is more "American" than it is biblical. Work that paid the bills was typically a family affair in biblical times, and even in early American times! Work was typically rural work, blue collar work, and wives and occasionally children often got involved.
The prevailing idealization of the working husband and stay-at-home mom owes more to a Western "nuclear family" concept than it does to biblical manhood and womanhood, and in that regard it is actually more of a culture-shaped conclusion than allowance of SAHDs! Fairly ironic, wouldn't you say?
The bottom line, Scripturally, is that a husband should do whatever he needs to do, at expense to himself and his ambition and his convenience and his comfort, to make sure his wife and children are physically and emotionally and, above all, spiritually healthy . This usually means working for a living, but does not preclude serving his family in other ways. And it always means binding ourself to Christ in conviction and conscience, not to some pastor or pundit whose concept of provision more resembles Ward Cleaver than the suffering servant. They are not mutually exclusive but neither are they inextricable.