Authority and responsibility go hand-in-hand—Adam’s authority over Eve was not for his own self-indulgence or pleasure, but for the glory of God and their mutual good. ‘Provision’ is not simply defined in terms of material necessities—a man who supplies social and economic security for his family does very well, but that’s not the sum total of his biblical duty.
In American society, the belief that a husband is called to provide for his wife is quickly becoming an ideal of the past. With the rise of the new feminism movement, women are throwing off the “shackles” of expecting their spouses to take care of them and are stepping into the role previously held by men. With the backlash that comes with this supposedly antiquated view, people have begun to rethink this belief, even some within the church. This is not to say that the church has always been blameless—there are certainly instances where various groups have held beliefs and practices that have been portrayed as biblical, but when held up to the light of Scripture, turned out to be nothing more than cultural preferences couched in Christian terminology. In the midst of such serious debate, how can we discern what the Bible actually says about men providing for their wives, if anything? Is the idea of men providing a cultural or biblical idea?
In his letter to his young son in the faith, Timothy, the Apostle Paul encouraged the newly-ordained minister to faithfully shepherd this local congregation. False teachers/teaching, proper etiquette and attire in the church, standards for fellow elders and deacons, and the gospel message itself are some of the primary topics addressed in the letter. Amidst these various exhortations, we read in chapter 5, verse 8 the following admonition: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” It seems clear that the mandate to provide is a categorical (as opposed to a contextual) one, which is helpful to know, as we want to rightly understand the author’s intended meaning, why he felt that it needed to be brought to his protégé’s attention, and how it would have been understood by the original audience.
When writing to Timothy, Paul gives concrete, particular examples of what Christian life among the household of God should look like. He reminds Timothy that the true widows of the church should be cared for in their bereavement. There were Christian women in the local church whose husbands had died and whose adult children lived nearby. In verse 4 of chapter 5, Paul makes it clear that if a widowed woman has children or grandchildren, it is their responsibility to “show godliness to their household and make some return to their parents” by providing for her. Paul then contrasts the widow with family with those he calls ‘truly widows’ in verse 5. True widows were those who had lost their husbands and had no biological family to support them. In those cases, it is the role of the local church to come to her aid and provide for her, provided that she is one who ‘has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day,’ (v.5).