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Ten out of ten Reformed Christians agree: “Heads of Christian households must provide for their families, particularly their spiritual needs.” So, telling you that parents (particularly fathers) are responsible for bringing up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) is not controversial. Telling you that as the head of the household you need to have income to provide for your wife and kids is equally obvious.
What may not be as obvious is that meeting the material needs of your family is just as biblically important as discipline and instruction, and failing in this duty has serious spiritual ramifications. As the Apostle Paul states, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Paul unequivocally states that not providing for the material needs of your family, if you are physically able, is tantamount to denying the faith and living like a pagan. This is a scathing indictment.
The basis for Paul’s condemnation stems from the godly charge to provide financially for those who are widows. Paul argues that the material needs of widows are first and foremost the duty of relatives. This was true in Roman society. Almost all pagans understood the necessity of caring for their parents. How terrible it would be for Christians to do less. If a widow has no financially capable relatives, only then, Paul argues, does the church’s duty to provide for the widow apply. The biblical duty to provide lies first and foremost with her children (and other family members), no matter the cost.
Paul takes this specific concern for widows and draws a universal principle. He understands that, as Christians, we are obligated to provide materially not only for widows but also for those in our immediate household and extended family. Failure to live out the gospel in this way is equivalent to denying the faith and living worse than a pagan.
Simply put, material provision for your family is ultimately a spiritual matter. Even today, unbelievers and our secular culture recognize this obligation. Fathers who fail to provide for their families are degradingly referred to as “deadbeat dads.” This description has applications much broader than simply failing to give child support to your ex-wife. It applies to the hardworking man of wealth who squanders his money on frivolous spending, jeopardizing his family’s security and not considering their needs first. It applies to the decision of purchasing a house two sizes too big while showing no support for a sibling struggling to make ends meet. As Jesus says, “If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God),” then he makes void the Word of God (Mark 7:11–12).
What a terrible thing it is for a father who has the means and opportunity to provide for his children, or a son for his elderly parents, or a brother for his sibling, or a husband for his wife, if he neglects to do so. The only thing worse would be if this man also called himself a follower of Christ. For Paul, and more importantly, for God, that is much worse. Heads of households must meet the material needs of their families. This duty carries spiritual ramifications of the utmost degree.
There is much that we as Christians, and especially heads of households, can learn from Paul’s instruction. Our spiritual growth and maturity are primarily connected to how we handle our material obligations. This is just as true for the church. Meeting the material needs of our congregants (particularly those unable to receive help from relatives) is not to be taken lightly and must be just as much a part of our church’s mission as Bible studies and evangelism.
As heads of households, we must prepare for the possible biblical necessity to materially provide for our parents in their old age. Several years ago, my parents moved to south Florida, and we purchased a house together to ease their burden after my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Although I was there for my mother and father providing emotional, spiritual, and physical support, I realized that if the time came, I would not be able to provide much in the way of financial support. Why? Because I didn’t prepare. It was an honor to help my parents, but it was rendered more difficult because I didn’t consider that my biblical obligation to help financially was going to go unfulfilled.
It is central to the duty of heads of households to care for their families. An important way to do this is to prepare for financial hardship. As you are able, begin to prepare. Set aside finances for a rainy day, because you never know when God may be pleased to ask you to glorify Him by meeting the unforeseen material needs of your family.