When I was a pharmacist, I took a pharmacy manager position in 1999 at a grocery store pharmacy. My pharmacy supervisor hired me. He designated me to be the pharmacist in charge with the Board of Pharmacy of SC. I had a staff pharmacist who worked with me, we’ll call her “Jane.”
I could ask Jane for her advice and insights. She was a very intelligent pharmacist, with a lot more knowledge than I had. She had her Doctorate of Pharmacy degree and I only had a B.S. degree. I could delegate many things to her. And I knew she would take great care of it all.
We made a lot of decisions together, but I bore the primary responsibility for everything that happened in that pharmacy to my company and the Board of Pharmacy.
I did not have the authority to mistreat or abuse my staff pharmacist, technicians, or patients. My responsibility was to make sure people got their medicines safely and to protect my coworkers and our patients.
Limitations of My Authority at Work
I couldn’t just “give” Jane my position as the pharmacist in charge, even if I thought she would make a better manager than I did. Only my supervisor could change that designation through the Board of Pharmacy. I did not have that authority.
I could break certain laws to lose my position of authority and my job. I could quit and give my authority back to my supervisor and the Board of Pharmacy to give to someone else who was qualified.
But I couldn’t just say to her, “Jane, you are now the legal and responsible pharmacist-in-charge in the eyes of the Board of Pharmacy of South Carolina and of our company.” I didn’t have that level of authority.
Years later, we worked at a different chain together and she was the pharmacist in charge and I was the staff pharmacist. So we switched roles. But it was no problem because we understood the authority we each had and the chain of command. And she was given her position through the proper channels.
The God-Given Authority Position of the Husband
It is my understanding that authority (according to the Bible) works very much the same with positions of God-given authority in the home (and other places). God is the ultimate authority. He is the only one who can decide who has a position of delegated authority. Please feel free to check anything I say against the Bible, our ultimate authority. Don’t just take my word for anything.
A husband who doesn’t want to lead in a marriage and who says to his wife, “I am giving you the leadership position” will still be accountable to God for his leadership, provision, and protection of his wife and family.
He doesn’t have the authority to remove himself from his position. This is a lifelong covenant between God, husband, and wife. No person is supposed to break this covenant or alter God’s design for the marriage covenant or family structure.
And a wife is supposed to honor her husband’s leadership. She doesn’t have the authority to usurp his leadership position. It is a command, not a suggestion (Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18-19, I Pet. 3:1-7, 1 Cor. 11:3).
What If My Husband Won’t Lead?
If he won’t lead, a wife can pray and invite God to help her honor his leading and ask God to heal him and help her be the wife God calls her to be and to support him wisely. She can ask God to give her the discernment she needs to know how to rightly respond in submission to Him on her end of things.
In my experience and with hundreds of women around the world, if a wife is doing anything to contribute to her husband’s reluctance to lead, and she addresses her end of things, most husbands will eventually begin to lead.
My husband gave up leading and just let me lead for over 14 years in our marriage. I thought I had to lead because he wouldn’t. But really, he just didn’t want to fight me for control that I had usurped. In our case, when I stepped down and left room for him to lead, he slowly began to step up. But he was not going to fight me for leadership. If I took that place, he just backed away. But when I backed away and learned to treat him with genuine honor and respect, he slowly stepped up.
Biblical Marriage Roles
There are some roles Scripture gives to wives and certain ones for husbands. They have been distorted in our world because of sin, but the original design was very good. As we follow Christ, our marriages look more and more like God’s original good plan.
- The husband has the primary role of leader and final decision maker who is to imitate the love, humility, selflessness, and sacrificial leadership of Christ. He is to manage his family well, especially if he wants to be a church leader. (1 Cor. 11:3. Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18-19, 1 Pet. 3:1-7, Gen. 3, 1 Tim. 3:4)
- The husband has the primary responsibility to work and provide for the family. (Gen. 2: 15, Gen. 3:17, 1 Tim. 5:8)
- The wife has the primary responsibility to bear children and to manage the household well. (Gen. 3:16, Prov. 31, Titus 2:3-5)
- The wife has an advisory role and can use her influence for great good or for harm (Gen. 3, Esther’s story, Prov. 31, Abigail’s story, and others)
- The wife has the primary responsibility for being the helpmeet to support her husband in his calling. (Gen. 2:17)
- The wife can also help bring in income and help with finances. (Prov. 31)
- Both parents are responsible for raising godly children. (Prov. 31, Eph. 6:1-2, Deut. 6)
Delegation in Marriage and Division of Labor
A husband can certainly delegate certain things to his wife. She can act in his name to do many things on his behalf legally and in other ways.
They may decide it works best for her to write the checks and pay the bills, but with the understanding that they are a team and she is accountable to her husband and to the Lord for how she handles things.
Each couple can also decide how to split up the various chores and household responsibilities as they seek the Lord. There is not a verse that says husbands must mow the grass and wives must cook every meal. Or that husbands have to maintain the cars and only wives can clean the bathroom.
Outside of the specific design of the Lord, there is a lot of room for personal variation for each couple to forge their own style within that framework. And there are sometimes emergencies that require changes temporarily or permanently.
A husband may be deployed and his wife may have to handle everything while he is away. Or he may become disabled and she may have to take on many more responsibilities than normal. But he is still the head of the home.
The wife’s position is similar to a vice president, she may have to take over as acting president if her husband is away or becomes incapacitated by illness or injury.
Any authority given by the Lord is always intended to be used to benefit, nuture, protect, provide for, and shepherd those in that person’s care as if the Lord, Himself, were caring for these beloved “sheep.”
Forfeiting Authority in Marriage
A husband can forfeit his position of authority by breaking the marriage covenant or abandoning his wife and children. He will be held accountable by God for this breach of covenant. He is supposed to carry this responsibility all his life for the rest of the marriage.
(Hopefully, he will repent and rebuild the broken trust. Perhaps the marriage can be salvaged and healed by God and he can be reinstated.)
If he severely abuses his authority by abusing his wife or children, he should have to answer to church leadership and the police/government. They may strip him of his authority by not allowing him to be with his wife and/or children for a time, depending on how serious the abuse was.
If a man is recovering from anesthesia, has Alzheimer’s, or is otherwise cognitively impaired, he may also not be able to make wise family decisions in those situations. Sometimes, that is a temporary thing. Other times, as in the case of progressive Alzheimer’s, he may eventually not be able to lead at all.
If a husband is drunk, high, or not in his right mind, he may not fit to lead. Or if he is psychotic, hallucinating, manic, or suicidal, he may need his wife to intervene and seek out help.
If he becomes incapacitated and can no longer think clearly or function, the wife may have to step in, as well.
These are the kinds of emergency situations where a wife may have to “grab the steering wheel” to try to get the family to safety.
Authority in God’s Kingdom Is Not Transferrable
Authority is one of the most weighty issues in Scripture. It is something we should approach with the utmost respect and reverence for the Lord.
Moses could not give the authority God granted him to anyone else. Yes, God allowed Aaron to help him, but that was not God’s original plan, and it sure caused a lot of trouble when Aaron made the golden calf for the people while Moses was on Mount Sinai. Korah (and others) tried to claim Moses’ God-given authority, and God caused the earth to swallow them up and destroy them.
King Saul took it upon himself to offer a sacrifice that only a priest could offer to God when Samuel was late and the people were getting edgy. It was such a serious offense in God’s eyes, God took His Spirit from him and the kingdom, as well.
When God gives a person a position of spiritual authority: a king, a priest, a believer in Christ, a husband, a boss, or a parent, it is not transferrable.
God has all authority in heaven and earth. He gives that authority to Jesus because of Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness and His sacrifice on our behalf on the cross. God delegates his authority to certain people on earth for His purposes. But only God can decide who gets certain kinds of authority.
- Parents do not have the authority to give their parental responsibilities to their underage children.
- A priest in the Old Testament times could not give his duties to anyone else. Only men in the tribe of Levi could serve as priests. There were very specific requirements.
- A church elder must meet certain stringent biblical requirements to lead as a pastor in the church. He cannot just give away his authority. He can delegate certain jobs. He can have an assistant pastor who may perform certain duties if the assistant has authority through the church’s proper channels. But the pastor can’t just go up to another church member and say, “You are now the pastor. And I will just be in the congregation.”
- A police officer or government official can’t just decide, “I think this citizen should be a police officer or the governor of South Carolina so I will transfer my authority to them.”
- A husband can’t give away his leadership for his wife and family to another man, his parents, his wife, or children. He has agreed to a lifelong covenant and part of that covenant is that God has placed him in the driver’s seat in the marriage. This was part of the marriage vows.
We do not have the power to give our positions of authority away.
If someone abuses their position of authority, it may be taken from them and they may lose their responsibilities and privileges. Or if they become incapacitated, they may no longer be able to serve. Or they might decide to quit and voluntarily give up their position of leadership.
But God defines the purpose, structure, and function of marriage, the church, work, and even the government. He gives authority to those He wants to give it to. They answer to Him for everything they do with that authority.
No one has equal or greater authority in our lives than God. If anyone in a position of delegated authority instructs us to sin against God or violate the absolute authority of God, “we must obey God rather than men” Acts 5:29.
What Is Godly Spiritual Leadership?
What Do Headship/Biblical Submission Look Like at Our House?
What Is the Purpose of Marriage?
Spiritual Authority Class Notes
A Husband’s and a Wife’s Authority in Marriage
The Peaceful Wife book
What Is the Authority of the Believer? by www.gotquestions.org
What Does the Bible Say about Authority? by www.gotquestions.org
Does God Give Any One Individual Spiritual Authority Over Another Individual? by www.gotquestions.org
What Does the Bible Say about Marriage? by www.gotquestions.org
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (free download. Please read at least the first chapter!)
How Much Authority Should a Pastor Have Over a Church? by www.gotquestions.org