Men and Unemployment: A Biblical View

Is an unemployed husband and father really "worse than an unbeliever," as Paul seems to infer in I Timothy 5:8? I'm having a hard time understanding this. I was laid off my job eight months ago, and since that time my family has been getting by on my wife's income. Even when I was working I could never have supplied all of our needs on my own. Meanwhile, Christian broadcasters and preachers keep telling me that God wants men to provide for their own families. This is a real sore spot with me. Do you think the Lord rejects me because of my inability to meet up to His expectations?

We’re keenly aware of the struggles of those who have to deal with the hardship of unemployment – men and women alike. Our hearts go out to you because we know that you’re in the middle of a truly awful situation. Job loss can be a serious blow to an individual’s sense of identity. This is especially true for men, who tend to define themselves in terms of their work. That’s not to mention the financial anxieties that come with the package. All of this can place a serious strain on a marriage. It weighs heavily on both partners. But it’s especially hard on the male who feels responsible to provide for and protect his family as part and parcel of his God-given role.

That leads us to the first point we’d like to make. We can’t speak for anyone else, but we can tell you that whenever we address the topic of masculine and feminine roles, we’re careful to clarify that we’re not in the business of establishing rules or telling people how they ought to live their lives. Our only goal is to help men and women understand their own God-given impulses and desires. We would never tell a man in your position that he should provide for his family, or that he has to provide for his family. It’s not up to us to lay down the law and condemn anyone who fails to measure up. We do believe, however, that most men are designed to want this. As a result, they become uneasy and discontented when they’re prevented from fulfilling their role. You seem to be a case in point.

In our view, it all comes down to a matter of trusting God to meet your family’s needs. It should be obvious that you’re not the only conscientious, well-intentioned male in this situation, especially in today’s economy. Whether or not it helps to hear it, we want to encourage you to hang in there and keep looking to the Lord for His provision. He knows your heart, and He hasn’t abandoned you.

In the meantime, you should understand that Paul didn’t write I Timothy 5:8 to condemn victims of adversity. His goal wasn’t to pass judgment on those who find themselves unemployed through misfortune or hardship. Let’s take a look at his exact words. “If anyone does not provide for his own,” he says, “and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” What does this mean?

The answer is closely tied up with the historical context of Paul’s letter. He was speaking to a very specific situation which involved certain members of the Christian community. These people were attempting to avoid family responsibilities by asking the church to assume support of their dependent relatives (widowed aunts and grandmothers). But the church, as Paul makes very clear, was already burdened with the care of “genuine widows,” or those who had no relatives (I Timothy 5:3). This is why he stresses the importance of each family taking care of its own members.

Similarly, when the apostle told the Thessalonians, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10), he wasn’t talking about men who had lost their jobs as a result of layoffs or economic downturns. Instead, he was addressing the disorderly, unruly, and irresponsible members of the church (see verses 6 and 11). In particular, he was thinking of those who had abandoned all worldly occupations in expectation of Christ’s imminent return.

If you would like to discuss your concerns at greater length, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible

The 21-Day Dad’s Challenge: Three Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Kids

Championship Fathering: How to Win at Being a Dad

52 Things Kids Need From a Dad

The Vital Role of Fathering

National Center for Fathering

Defining ‘Successful Parenting’


The Husband and Father’s Role

The Involved Father

You May Also Like