A Godly Husband

There are many challenges that a young Christian husband faces in the first years of marriage. There may be doubts about his ability to be a good dad when the time comes. There may be temptation to see and gain worldy success immediately in order to provide the best life for his family. There may be struggles in figuring out how to balance work, family, church ministry, and leisure. But perhaps the greatest challenge of all is to understand rightly the Biblical instruction for his role as a husband in leading and serving his wife. It is tricky enough to seek the Biblical witness, and it is certainly not helped by a culture that has a very different view on how these things work.

One of the first passages in Scripture a husband may turn to is 1 Peter 3, where Peter sets out instructions for wives to submit to their husbands as Sarah obeyed Abraham and husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. In helping us to better understand how the dynamics of love and submission in a marriage are to work, Peter references Sarah, what I find to be an interesting move on his part. Why does Peter go back to the relationship of Abraham and Sarah as an example for our marriages today? What can we glean from the Genesis narrative that is instructive for us, especially perhaps for a young husband learning his role and responsibilities.

Though Peter isn’t explicit about a particular passage that he has in mind, there is an interesting interplay in Genesis that seems to make sense. There are two times in Genesis that it seems Sarah simply obeyed Abraham in his instructions: Genesis 12:10-20 and Genesis 20 – the two times where he instructs her to act like his sister. He gave instructions and she followed suit. To be clear, this was terrible husbanding. What is interesting, however, is that after both accounts of Abraham taking action in this manner, there is a time where he does the opposite: he listens to the voice of Sarah. I think Moses is setting up for the reader an intentional conflict: what is the right move for a husband, to act without your wife’s input or to listen to her and go with whatever she says? The accounts and their evaluations go something like this: Abraham does not listen to Sarah (ch 12) = bad. Abraham listens to Sarah (ch 16) = bad. Abraham again does not listen to Sarah (ch 20) = bad. And then finally, Abraham listens to Sarah (ch 21) = good!

This creates a clear tension when reading up to the narrative in chapter 21: should Abraham listen to Sarah or not when she asks him to kick Hagar and Ishmael out of the house (21:10)? Until this point, both listening and not listening to Sarah have led to horrible consequences. It’s further muddied when God Himself tells Abraham to listen to the voice of his wife (21:12). It is at this point that the reader may be confused. In chapter 16, Abraham listening to the voice of his wife is a bad thing. In chapter 21, Abraham listening to the voice of his wife is a good thing. How are we to reconcile this contrast?

The solution, of course, is clear and extremely instructive for husbands in understanding what godly leadership in the home is. The difference is that God tells Abraham to listen to his wife. Unlike chapter 16, where he blindly follows the advice of Sarah, the events of chapter 21 highlight Abraham’s dependence on God’s specific instructions. And this subtle shift makes all the difference in how the events of chapter 21 play out.

Briefly, here are several implications from this Genesis interplay:

1. Husbands, hear your wives. We don’t know whether Sarah objected to the sister schemes or not, but wisdom should have dictated that he find out whether she was comfortable with this plan (and I imagine she probably wasn’t). The command for wives to submit to their husbands is not an excuse for husbands to not seek the advice of their wives. Your decisions affect her in often very serious ways.

2. Husbands, seek the Word of the Lord first. Again, the outcome of the two accounts of Abraham listening to Sarah depended entirely on whether or not Abraham sought the Lord’s instructions. This ultimately is the role of a godly husband – to listen to and obey God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. To think you can navigate the waters of marriage and life apart from God’s good Word is a fool’s errand and will only bring pain and suffering to your family.

3. Husbands, communicate well to your wife the instruction of the Lord and act boldly in faith. Once you are confident in the instruction of Scripture, bring this to your wife, following Ephesians 5:26 in washing your wife with the Word. And once you have opened the Word with her, act accordingly. When the Word of God directs, a godly husband leads his family in obedience and submission to that Word.

Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.

Keith Kauffman