When my wife first became an adoption consultant, it was nothing short of an answered prayer. God had given her so much more than a job. It was a ministry not unlike mine, an opportunity to combine her love for children with her heart for counseling. And it wasn’t long before we saw that Jesus was the center of both of our careers. The saving Gospel that I preach every Sunday is the very same Gospel that drives the adoptions that Kelly facilitates each week. But Kelly’s career brought us more than a fresh reminder of God’s grace in adopting sinners. It did more than meld our ministries and our marriage. Kelly’s career also began to displace many of my hidden preconceptions of marriage and our respective roles in it. And it all started when Kelly brought home a paycheck with more dollars than mine.

As a small town church planter and former youth pastor, my identity has never been tied much to my salary. At least I didn’t think so. As the spiritual authority in our home, I understood that my job as husband was more than simply bringing home a paycheck. But paychecks can expose our assumptions about the way a marriage works. More specifically, a paycheck forces a couple to define leadership. And the way that we define leadership inevitably impacts the way we conceive of authority itself. According to the world, a larger salary generally indicates better leadership. More results, more productivity, more machismo. Masculinity becomes a gradated scale rather than a set command. As a result, many men, even the most well-meaning of men, can silently associate their manhood exclusively with earthly provision. And when that provision is challenged, their masculinity is threatened.

However, while providing for the material needs of his family is an important duty of the father, Scripture never presents income as a barometer for real leadership. Instead the Gospel defines leadership in terms of love. The Apostle Paul concludes his first letter to the Corinthians with a message to the men: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Cor. 16:13-14) For Paul, the concept of male strength implied a command to love. And this is something that doesn’t show up on a paycheck.

If we define a marriage as a one-flesh union between man and woman designed by God to depict the wedding between Christ and His bride, then leadership becomes tightly bound to the idea of initiative. (Eph. 5:22-33) As Christ pursued His rebellious bride in love, men are called to take the first step in leading their brides. That means more than just bringing home the bacon. It includes proactively blessing your spouse, initiating conversations, and loving her independently of the things she does and says. Therefore, an initiative to lead is an initiative to love. In other words, true leadership is an expression of self-sacrificial love. And this is precisely why male leadership is never attached to a paycheck. In fact, in some sense, godly leadership can be more accurately measured in how we spend our money than in the way that we earn it.

Does your wife earn more than you? Does her paycheck damage your worldly sense of masculinity? If so, look to the husband of sixty years, physically fragile and mentally frail, forced to receive medical support and moral encouragement from his younger, more competent bride. If his manhood remains, so does the young husband who earns less than his wife. Masculinity doesn’t diminish with age or income because masculinity is never determined by factors external to the posture of humility and love expressed by the husband. A man who doesn’t know how to love doesn’t know how to lead. Indeed, men who earn less than their wives should count it all joy that God has presented them with an opportunity to divest themselves of the fleshly desire to lead without love. To earn without emptying. To work without faith. Before old age cripples a man, he has the imperative to freely serve His Lord and His bride, not just financially or physically, but in love.

Wives were never designed by God to prop up their husbands’ enlarged sense of manly authority. As image bearers of God, they were ultimately intended to promote the authority of Christ in the home by displaying the message of His unconditional love to His bride. That means a husband’s paycheck is never ascribed value in relation to his wife’s, but rather as he joins her in projecting the message of the Gospel regardless of earthly circumstances or finances. Two people, one flesh. Two paychecks, one Savior. Two lives, one Lord.