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Paul H. Byerly

Headship is a sticky issue; just mentioning it can get folks uptight. This is probably because in the past some have misused scriptures about headship to make women second-class members of the Body of Christ. Years of abuse have made the parts of the Bible which discuss God’s intended structure for marriage too hot to handle for some. Avoiding the issue altogether is tempting, but rather than run from it, we need to find and proclaim God’s truth.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also
loved the church and gave Himself for her, Ephesians 5:25

In both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible, God uses the husband and wife relationship to explain His relationship with us, His people. I find the idea that I should treat my wife as Jesus treats the church to be both instructive and VERY challenging. I’m supposed to emulate the perfect Christ, while my wife is to emulate the very imperfect church… now who has the worse end of THAT deal?!? I will never be able to love and care for Lori the way Jesus loves and cares for me, but the fact that I should helps me understand who I am to be as husband and head.

Why I’m the head

back to back couple © Xalanx | dreamstime.comI must understand that I’m not the head because I am smarter, better, or otherwise superior to her in any way. My headship is positional; I’m the head because God said so, not because I deserve it in any way. Just as Jesus, who was equal to God in all ways, submitted to the Father, so our wives, who are equal to us in all ways eternal, are called to submit to us. God is a God of order, and He requires us to submit to the order He created. When we do this, things work well; when we don’t, things end up a mess. While men are not the head because they are better in any way, God always equips us to do that which He calls us to; thus a man who seeks to be the head of his marriage and household will be empowered by God to do the job beyond his own natural ability.

Why being the head makes me a servant

Some think being the head makes a man “the boss” who can do what he wants and demand what he wants. This is not what God calls us to as the head. When we look at Jesus, we see that He was a servant leader. He never demanded or forced His will, even when He knew those around Him were wrong. Jesus was actually rejected by many Jews because He came to serve, not to rule. Likewise we as husbands are called to serve our wives, not rule them. Yes, we are to lead, but it’s a leadership based on willing following, not on coercion, force or fear.

A while back some folks at our church were discussing plans for a Valentine’s Day banquet. Someone suggested taking Communion, and this prompted another to suggest foot washing. One fellow said “Yeah, our wives can wash our feet” and several men joined in approvingly. But they had it backwards!! Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, not the other way around. In Jesus’ time it was customary to have a servant wash the guest’s feet when they came into the house (sandals and dirt roads, you understand). Foot washing was assigned to the lowest servant in the house, so Jesus wasn’t just playing the role of a servant, He was being the lowest of the low. As husbands we are called to wash the feet of our wives, not have her wash our feet.

How God calls me to lead

It’s not about doing it my way, and it’s not about doing it her way. Try thinking of it as being the head of the marriage; the goal is not to rule her, but to guide and direct “us” as a couple. Sometimes what’s best for the marriage happens to be what I’d like; sometimes it happens to be what she’d like; sometimes it’s something that neither of us really wants to do. In short, it’s not what either of us wants, it’s about what God wants.

Why I’m a fool if I ignore my wife’s input

Okay, fool is a strong word, but what else would you call someone who makes decisions without getting all the information? My wife has a different perspective than I do, and that perspective can be extremely valuable. I should not only listen to my wife, I should seek her thoughts and feelings before I make decisions. Peter suggests that men who don’t pay attention to their wives are crippling themselves in more ways than one:

Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife,… that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7

Why being the head doesn’t entitle me to demand anything

Free will is real big with God; He even gave us the free will to reject Him and His love. If God gave us that kind of free will with Him, how could He expect anything less in our relationships with other humans? Its one thing to tell my wife what I think should be done, but I see no scriptural support for demanding or forcing her to comply. Jesus never treated people that way, so how can I treat my wife that way?

I’m responsible to lead; I’m not responsible for her following

When the Church fails to follow the Lord, does that mean Jesus has failed? NO!! Similarly, I’m not a failure if my wife chooses not to follow what I say. That’s between her and God; it’s not my place to make her comply, and it’s not my place to take punitive measures.

Being the head is not the cushy perk-filled job some men and women think it is, at least not if we do it God’s way. I understand the men who abdicate their duty as head; headship is just plain hard! Still, we’re called to do it, and we’ll be judged for our obedience or lack of obedience. Failing to be the head God called us to be brings a curse on us and our entire family, but obedience brings blessings to all. As I walk in it, He is with me, guiding me. When I’m not sure how I should proceed, I always think about what Jesus would do with the Church; He is my example and guide.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Image Credit: © Xalanx | dreamstime.com

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