The Provider

3.1 Be the Breadwinner

From the book Biblical Manhood
By Joel Hilliker

The moment he stepped in the door to his home, he could hear the baby crying, smitten with hunger.

The problem was, he was too poor to feed his wife enough that she could supply the baby sufficient milk. And this particular afternoon, he didn’t even have a dime to buy milk for the baby!

It was 1930, in the midst of a crippling national depression. What’s a good husband to do? Herbert Armstrong knew it was his responsibility to provide for his family. He had been working every option he had and coming up short.

“There’s only one thing to do,” he told his wife. “We’re helpless, of ourselves. There’s no human to help us. We’ll have to rely on God. He has promised to supply all our need—and this is a need” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong). Mr. Armstrong prayed right then that God would hastily provide a dime to buy a quart of milk for his newborn.

Within the very minute of that prayer, a “rag and bottle man” wandered by the Armstrongs’ house. Amazing! They flagged him down and asked if he would like to buy anything from their basement. He went to look. Sure enough, a stack of old magazines caught his eye, and he offered to buy it for exactly one dime.

What a miraculous answer to prayer. What an impression it must have made on Mr. Armstrong. This was among a few notable experiences early in his converted life that taught him a lesson he never forgot.

A Critical Responsibility

The duty of provider is fundamental to a man’s role. “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8). This is a scripture every man should think deeply on. Its ramifications are profound and far-reaching.

Every man naturally sees to his own needs. But God commands that a man provide for others as well, especially those of his own family. The context shows this specifically includes providing for his own widowed mother. Provision is a man’s God-given responsibility. It is not optional.

This command certainly applies to material provision. A man’s body was engineered to handle hard physical labor. God designed men to be providers in the sense of ensuring physical needs are met. That is crucial and vital to both a man and his family.

But the full picture of a man’s role as provider goes far beyond bringing home a paycheck. True provision such as God commands here requires that a man supply his family mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It means providing leadership, direction, active engagement, masculine strength and stability, protection, justice, compassion and other godly traits. A man’s duty to provide “for his own, and specially for those of his own house” is a magnificent mandate from God that gives his life real purpose and direction.

How many men today disregard this plain biblical command? How many men have sex with women with no intention of providing for them financially or emotionally, or for any children that might result from their actions? How many men expect or force their wives to work because they will not?

There are even some men who consider it enough to be supportive and involved with their family—yet fail to fulfill the physical duties of material provision. Providing spiritually is crucial, but a man must not underestimate or neglect his responsibility to provide physically.

The transition from boyhood to manhood is largely a transition from taking to giving. From being dependent to being a provider. From being someone for whom others make sacrifices to being one who sacrifices for others. A boy who physically grows to look like a man but has not made that change is not truly a man. A man who prioritizes his own selfish cravings above the needs of others grows smaller. He enters a negative cycle that pulls him away from responsibility, away from accomplishment and achievement—away from family. He grows more inward-focused, self-absorbed, myopic, lazy, self-indulgent. His perspective contracts; the size of his world shrinks. He puts his own interests above those of his family; his wife’s needs become secondary. His ability to lead suffers.

In a word, he becomes less of a man.

God says any man who fails in this duty has denied or disowned his religion and is worse than an unbeliever! That is a serious condemnation. Society has discarded the model of the male breadwinner as if it is arbitrary who provides for a family and what a man does. But clearly this is not arbitrary to God!

The Way of Give in Action

Why does God consider it so important that a man provide? He designed the physical to point us to the spiritual. His laws governing family and marriage teach us about the spiritual Family of God and the Church’s marriage to Jesus Christ.

A physical father providing for his family points to God the Father doing the same! A husband providing for his wife typifies Christ fulfilling this responsibility toward the Church. Many scriptures, both Old Testament and New, illustrate this fact. “[M]y God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19; see also scriptures like Deuteronomy 8:3-4; Nehemiah 9:13; Psalm 23; 84:11; Luke 12:30-31; 2 Corinthians 9:8-11).

God is the Provider for His Family! Think of that. In this way, God and Christ do not require anything of us that they themselves don’t do. They are exemplary in fulfilling this role. It is their example that husbands and fathers must emulate.

Being a provider is God’s way of give in action. It is fundamentally a giving, sacrificing responsibility. It is a tangible expression of godly, unselfish love toward one’s wife and family.

Paul instructed, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church” (Ephesians 5:28-29). A man who truly cherishes his wife will nourish and care for her physically.

The later sections of this book—particularly Section 5 on The Husband and Section 6 on The Father—will give more instruction on the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of provision. The rest of this section will focus on elements of physical provision, especially a man’s work and career, as well as details of caring for material things and building one’s health and strength. Even these physical elements, however, teach essential spiritual lessons, and their importance should not be underestimated.

To fulfill simply the physical aspect of provision, a man needs to be hardworking, dependable and useful. A man must apply his strength, his capabilities and his talents to produce something of value to more than just himself. As he earns enough to support a wife and children, he builds personal character and stabilizes and strengthens society in the process.

Though this duty requires discipline and self-denial, the man who fulfills it as God intends receives tremendous satisfaction. He thrives where his strength and skill are put to productive use, where he is needed and respected, where others benefit from his accomplishment. He derives joy from being able to give to his family, to open opportunities for them, to supply their needs and many of their wants. He learns to value these things even above his own desires.

Even in a society that so routinely exalts self-actualization and selfishness, many people, deep down, know this to be true. They see nobility in a man who thinks this way.

And as Mr. Armstrong learned, being the provider can also lead a man into a closer relationship with his own Father, the ultimate Provider. As a man fulfills his responsibility to his family, having God as his adviser and partner teaches him invaluable spiritual lessons.

Instruction for Youth

Every man should do all he can to become self-sufficient and ultimately to produce more than he consumes. Only as he does so can his thoughts begin to take on the dignity of godly manhood.

Even a young man can begin to build the mindset of moving from being a liability to his family to being an asset—even earning money to bring into the home. “The goal isn’t to get rich. The goal is to learn to be a useful man, not a burden,” wrote author Bob Schultz. “Have you learned to mow a lawn, clean a gutter, or vacuum a car? Can you quickly wash a window without leaving streaks? Are you strong enough to carry boxes from a house into a moving van? Do you know the needs of children? Can you babysit for an hour or two while a parent runs to the store? When a neighbor takes a vacation, are you responsible enough to watch their house, walk their dog, and weed their garden?

“If you don’t know how to accomplish these simple tasks, ask somebody to teach you. Take the time to learn. Every skill you develop becomes a talent to use at home and to serve your neighbors. The possibilities are endless. Simply find out what people need and provide it. By providing for the needs of others, you’ll have the resources to provide for your own” (Created for Work).

Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might ….” Too many men simply haven’t been taught this principle when it comes to work.

Young boys and teens need to learn how to work efficiently, hard and quickly. Having a good work ethic is essential to masculinity. They need to learn how to maintain focus on a task and to be productive without supervision (e.g. Proverbs 6:6-8). They need to develop self-motivation and drive. And they need to learn skills and become comfortable with tools like a shovel, rake, screwdriver, hammer, wrench, pliers, tape measure, hatchet, ax, saw and so on. They need to learn how to do a job properly and to take pride in their work.

When you hit age 25, you will have several decades of work ahead of you as a man, a husband and a father. No matter what your career is during these years, continually developing basic work skills will always pay off. Work is one area where ongoing education is a necessity. And having a good work ethic is a large part of developing strong Christian character in men. More about this in the next chapter.

Prepare yourself for success by working hard at whatever job you undertake. For boys and teens, skills and good work habits are developed by doing chores around the home and are helpful in finding and keeping part-time jobs. Parents should encourage their teenage sons to find at least a summer job, especially after age 16. Having a job and learning to pay your own way will help develop your independence as a masculine young man.

Choosing a Career

The teen years are also important to begin thinking about and developing specific career goals. The most important thing for you as a young man is to begin submitting the direction of your life to God. He knows you well. He has plans for you. He can steer your life in marvelous ways that you cannot anticipate. Jobs or opportunities that may seem insignificant to you may be valuable training, stepping-stones God is providing toward larger responsibilities He has in mind for you in the future!

Pray that God would open the right doors and show His will in your life. After that, the best way to invite God to direct your life in this way is to put your whole heart into whatever job you are given, whether at home or on a job site. Be attentive to direction, and complete your tasks in a way that is reliable, efficient, timely and top quality. Developing this habit—and this reputation—is guaranteed to lead to greater opportunities.

For many young men, taking this approach leads to lucrative careers. Employers love to hold on to dependable employees and increase their responsibilities.

Some careers do require years of formal education, either in a vocational school, college or university. But be conscientious about this decision. Many young people today simply jump into college unthinkingly—incurring great debt and spending years of their life with no plan or direction. Before you pursue higher education, you should have a strong sense that it is the right course and will lead you toward the right goals in life.

Consider taking an aptitude test to determine your strengths and abilities. Though it is more and more common for people to change jobs several times throughout adulthood, the better you know yourself, the likelier you are to find work you are well suited for. Most high schools and colleges offer free job-placement testing; most libraries have guidebooks on how to educate oneself toward a career.

You may choose not to attend an institution of higher learning. Perhaps your talents and interests will lead you to obtain education through practical, hands-on experience. You might pursue the opportunity to work on a farm or in an apprenticeship with a carpenter, plumber or electrician. You might even start your own business.

Whatever path you choose with God’s guidance, always keep in mind your goal to be able to support a family. This will give you the direction and motivation you need to aim high and take the road that will truly maximize your potential life.

Do Not Abdicate This Duty

Barring debility of some kind, a man must provide. If this requires cutting expenses, getting two jobs, taking night classes, looking for better pay, so be it. But the responsibility lies squarely with him. If a man loses his job, he should work eight hours a day to get another job! Until he finds a new job that fits his career, he should also be willing to work several part-time jobs. If a man cannot find a job in his area of training, he should seek the proper education or retraining to obtain a job.

What if you want to change your career? It is harder to change careers once you enter your 30s, 40s or 50s, but it can be done with careful planning and education. It is imperative to get counsel and advice—not only from professional career counselors but also from God’s ministry.

Some men in the Church in Paul’s day were not working as they should. It was in that context that Paul instructed, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

A man who has willingly abdicated the role of provider—who is content to live off the generosity of others rather than marshaling his powers to produce for others—is failing in his manly duty.

The importance of this role becomes irrefutable when you consider the revolutionary transformations in modern society that have resulted from the disappearance of the male breadwinner. Men who feel no responsibility to be providers tend to have blunted ambition and retreat into selfish, time-wasting activities.

This loss of robust, active manliness and shift toward a feminized economy has caused inestimable changes in society, most of which were unplanned and unforeseen, and the effects of which few even question. It is probably impossible to calculate how much this trend has contributed to the swing in Western nations, particularly America, away from production, manufacturing and industry and toward soft services, health care and information-based commerce. The very fabric of our families has also been irreversibly altered: The increase in financially self-sufficient women and ambitionless men means fewer families, a higher proportion of children growing up with one parent, the replacement of stay-at-home mothers with professional child care, and other drastic social changes.

A man who fulfills his duty as a provider is a blessing to society. A man who does not is a burden, and his family likely is as well. As male breadwinners have declined, government welfare has increased. In more and more families, the state is taking the place of the man. Now multiple generations are accustomed to sponging off the government. Again, it is impossible to calculate the damage of this loss of self-sufficiency to our national and individual character, responsibility and liberty.

Yes, these are difficult times economically. Many people believe two incomes are absolutely necessary in order to maintain an appropriate standard of living. But this reasoning should be challenged. Consider the costs of working that offset the added income, including transportation, clothing and other direct work-related expenses, along with child care and additional food costs that become necessary. A full-time homemaker can provide many things at less expense and higher quality. How much of a family’s quality of life is sacrificed by the absence of a homemaker? A second income may provide more things or nicer stuff, but often a family is still better off in many other ways without it. It requires honesty to distinguish genuine needs from wants. Particularly if there are children at home, especially young children, the wife should not work outside the home if at all possible. Having a wife working outside the home is a serious decision and should not be made lightly.

What a Man Should Provide

In an increasingly materialistic world, it is important to distinguish real needs from luxuries. It is also crucial to recognize when the pursuit of material wealth is harming your family—when, in the supposed pursuit of providing for the family, a man is sacrificing his family for his career.

What should a man provide, physically speaking? “Simply stated, he should provide the necessities,” Aubrey Andelin wrote. “This means food, clothing and shelter, plus a few comforts and conveniences. … Although a man has a sacred and binding obligation to provide the necessities, he is under no such obligation to provide the luxuries. … In providing a high standard of living, some men make near economic slaves of themselves with great disadvantage to themselves and their families. … He has little of himself to give—time to teach the values of life, how to live, standards to follow and time to build strong family ties” (Man of Steel and Velvet).

This is why the full scope of the provider’s role must never be overlooked. A man who provides well for his family materially and thus considers his responsibility to them complete will make disastrous mistakes. Perhaps his house is palatial and impressive, his wife wears designer clothing, and he has expensive man-toys—a big-screen tv, power boat and outdoor kitchen. But if he is failing to provide nonmaterial things such as an environment of open communication, a sense of belonging and security, structure and order in the home, then he is leaving some of the most crucial aspects of his job undone. A man must strive to provide generously of himself—his presence, his attention, his engaged leadership, his decision-making, his encouragement, his love—in order to truly fulfill this wonderful God-given role.

Being a provider is a marvelous calling. God wants to use it in order to stretch you and help you grow. Fulfill it the best you can. No matter what your job, work at it to the best of your ability. Use your duty as a provider to combat laziness and selfishness. Let it prod you to develop your skills and abilities, let it fuel your ambition in life, and let it build within you more of the mindset of your heavenly Provider!

Continue Reading: The Provider: 3.2 Build Your Work Ethic