Marriage is a microcosm of human society. A key aspect of this micro level is headship in marriage.
In Ephesians 5, Paul explains headship in marriage in a pretty straightforward way. He recasts the traditional authority of the husband (‘head’) to reflect the way that God upends human authority. He says, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’. What a radical statement!
Let’s get a few things straight, though. So often, our ideas of headship remain attached to our own human notions of authority. I see one of the biggest confusions about headship in the word ‘leadership’, which some Christians use more or less interchangeably with ‘headship’. For example, Mark Driscoll sometimes seems to reduce headship to decision making, so that the head is the one who calls the shots. That’s off the mark.
Headship does involve being responsible and taking initiative — but remember, these are not our human ideas. God has subverted these things in Christ. Headship is being responsible for serving. Headship is taking the initiative in sacrificing.
I use the word initiative deliberately: it captures the idea that — like Adam in the garden, and like God’s work through Christ — there is someone with the opportunity to start things off and make the first move. This means that headship is not about authority or even about being first. It is about being the first to serve. Being a real husband means being the one who takes the initiative to love his woman, giving up his life for her. Being the head in a marriage means being the sacrificial servant who loves his wife so radically that he gives up every desire and ambition and even his own self all for her service. And to lose your self like that, of course, means you need to know yourself and be dealing with your insecurities.
What about leadership and decision making? If it is possible to speak of either in relation to headship, it is in a sense that is profoundly opposed to our human ideas. Paul is providing a radical Christian spin on traditional household codes. There may well be times when a husband ought to make decisions — but this is not because he is the leader but the lover. Whatever he does must be driven by his sacrificial service to his wife, just as Christ loved the church.
Throughout this mini series, I’ve been exploring things in terms of two different groups of guys. One group needs to see that headship is a very active thing. This may be your problem because you’re insecure, or it may be your problem because you’re hyper-individualistic. Either way, to just follow along with your wife or to leave her to tick along by herself is exactly the way not to love her. When you switch off, that undoes her trust and disempowers her. Our wives are our equal partners, so manning up means teaming up. Each of you have a corresponding part to play. You have an equal partnership, but it’s an equal partnership. You empower your wife by partnering with her. Only when you see that you are bound together as partners will you be able to give up your life for her.
Other men have a different problem. Some of us are so caught up in being ‘active’ and propping up our own insecure machismo that we’re fixated on authority. We think that real men assert themselves, tell their wives what to do and ‘keep their women in line’. If that’s you, you have entirely missed the point that headship is about service and sacrifice. You have simply copied the traditional human authority of a husband, which grasps at power and control, always reflecting the fall. A man who needs to control his woman is a weak, fake man. Strong, real men are big enough to love and empower their wives in every way. Remember the Bible’s ultimate anti-patriarchal statement: Christ did not grasp power but made himself nothing. You have an equal partnership, but it’s an equal partnership. Your wife is your counterpart, so start caring for her. Then, perhaps, you might even begin to sacrifice yourself for her, as God commands you to.
The bottom line is this: the measure of a husband is not how well his wife submits but how well he serves her.
Categories: Written by Arthur
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.