Marriage and the Family - 3 - Headship

Chapter 3


There are few things as destructive as truth which is wrested by a person to serve a personal interest. Many have used the Spirit of God’s teaching on Headship in the home for personal advantage. They have reduced the Word of God to a “billy-club” to demand subjection and to maintain a wife in a state of fear and dependency.

Headship is not only different from this, but is the antithesis of such a concept. The role of being “head of the wife” is one of the most privileged responsibilities God has entrusted to men, and it is also one of the most demanding. It teaches, as does every role of leadership, the great principle of serving the needs and well-being of another. Far from rule and dominion, it entails sacrifice and support. In contrast to fear and dependency, it fosters security and growth.

As we shall see as we look at the Scriptures, headship implies responsibility for the welfare of another. A husband stands accountable to God for the welfare of his wife. That responsibility is expressed and operative in several different spheres as Ephesians 5 outlines. It takes character from the headship of Christ over his Church, and is intended to teach, portray, and represent that higher relationship to a spouse and to the world.

Notice then

The Standard for Leadership

What is a leader? Where do we find principles to guide us as to what a leader is and does? As to how he leads and whom he leads?

Leadership in any Sphere 

Luke 22:26 teaches that leadership involves the commitment to serve the needs of others. It is not a position of being “in control” or being the boss and making others bow to my demands. It involves service to others. Essentially, my service is godward, but expressed toward the ones I am given the responsibility to lead. The Lord Jesus was never the bond-slave of men. He was the servant of Jehovah, but expressed that service toward men.

Leadership of the Husband

Christ is the example for leadership within the marriage bond ( Eph 5:25-33). Do I lead my wife in the same manner as Christ leads His Church and treats His Church? The standard is high and perhaps unattainable, but it is a goal which should guide my every action and decision. I will need to be sensitive to my responsibility, skillful in carrying it out, scriptural in my manner, and spiritual in my life.

The Strength and Supply for Leadership

The Fruit of the Spirit is as necessary for the prospering of a Christian marriage as it is for every other relationship. If my relationship is not right with the Lord, then it is likely it will not be right with others, especially my wife and children. The reverse side of this is that if I am having trouble with my marriage, then it is very likely that I am not right with the Lord.

Maintaining a right relationship with the Lord is vital and very practical. It involves:

 (1) Abiding in the Vine - Fruitfulness in Christian living is only possible if we abide in Christ (John 15). It is not determination or a checklist of behaviors which I need. I must know daily communion with Christ so that His life may be reproduced in me. (2) Living in the Word of God - As the Word of God abides in us, then the Spirit of God has the liberty to guide and develop my life for God (Col 3:16). (3) Walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 ) will develop the fruit of the Spirit in my life.

Love - A love which accepts an individual and seeks to always do what is in her best interest. In a mutuality of love, there is no competition, no power struggles, no bitterness; Love accepts the wisdom of God in our makeup. It accepts both the inherent divinely imparted differences in the emotional makeup of the genders, and the personality differences found in a spouse. Acceptance is a key ingredient of good relationships. While a marriage should be a fertile soil for growth and change, the struggle to “change” another transforms a relationship into a frustrating game of manipulation.

Joy - Finding joy in your spouse’s blessing and honor. This is what we see in Proverbs 31. It is primarily joy in another’s spiritual blessing and growth.

Peace - It is the desire to bless another with all the “Shalom” which is possible. It is not simply the absence of strife, but the abundance of a relationship which is all it can be.

Longsuffering - This is vital to the functioning and fitting together of the differences. Longsuffering is needed while each learns the character of the roles into which marriage has thrust them. Understanding the difference between the genders helps me to be longsuffering. Recognizing that God has made us complementary and not competitive, equal yet different, fosters patience.

Gentleness - This is kindness, goodness in action, not in the abstract. We are instructed to put it on in Colossians 3:12, a section which deals with all relationships. How vital it is in marriage to express kindness to each other.

Goodness - moral excellence; it is used in Romans 15:14 and linked with admonishing. Thus goodness does what is the very best for another even if it means that I confront a problem. It does not avoid problems. Understanding differences will also enable me to know how best to approach problems: a man, to whom leadership and problem-solving is ingrained, will not handle challenges to his wisdom easily. He must be approached with wisdom on the part of a wife. A wife, to whom security and cherishing is vital, will not respond well to coldness and withdrawal.

Faith - This is not a mindless hope, but an assurance based on divine truth. It is the absolute conviction that marriage is of God and that the very best for our marriage is possible by obedience to God’s pattern. It recognizes and rests in the pattern which God has given for a marriage, seeks the wisdom to understand it without our cultural biases, and to implement it despite our natural weaknesses.

Meekness - This is my attitude to the will of God. It is not fatalism but faith in God’s will.

Temperance - It is that inner strength which controls self.

The Snares of Leadership

Abuse of Leadership

It could be by acting as the boss instead of the head. Headship means that I am responsible for another, not that I am the dictator of another. Husbands are not to “lord it over” their wives but to lead them and care for them.

Disuse of Leadership

By this term is meant the neglect of leadership, failing to take the responsibility God has entrusted to the husband. We can become too busy with business, work, hobbies, other interests, even the assembly, and fail to lead the home. Look at the results when Adam allowed his wife to lead (Genesis 3), when Abraham allowed Sarah to lead (Genesis 16) and when Jacob failed in leading his family (Genesis 34).

It is surprising how many wives are frustrated by the unwillingness of a husband to take the leadership which they so crave and need.

Misuse of Leadership

It is possible to use our position as leader to satisfy our own egos and get our own desires met. We use leadership to satisfy ourselves and not to serve the needs of others; we fail to put a spouse’s welfare first, ahead of our own interests. Selfishness is in each of our hearts and is part of the sinful flesh we possess. Little wonder that only a spiritual man can be the kind of husband that the Word of God envisions.

The Spheres and Scope of Leadership

Leadership involves at least four vital areas: guarding, guiding, gracing, and the growth of the home.

1. Guarding the Home - Genesis 35 and Jacob

One of the key issues in leadership is guarding the home and making it the spiritual safe haven God intends every believer’s home to be. This is accomplished by having definite priorities and goals.

Establishing Spiritual Standards for the home. This embraces

Establishing Spiritual Customs - reading and praying sometime in the course of the day with a family. It conveys to them an attitude which honors the Word of God.

Determining Spiritual Convictions - parents need to communicate in order to agree about the raising of children and the principles of discipline. Parenting involves Headship (the father is responsible before the Lord), Stewardship (recognizing that the children are an Heritage from the Lord (Ps 127:3), and a Partnership.

Enhancing Spiritual Conversation -  What is our conversation like in the home? Do we talk about the Christians and their failures? Do we criticize the overseers and speakers? What kind of language do we allow in the home?

Furthering Spiritual Cultivation - Encouraging and supporting each other in spiritual life. Think of the home of Priscilla and Aquila. Each was a help to the other and a support.

Maintaining its Separation

What is going to be allowed in the house? What are the goals and priorities of the family? How is leisure time spent? What type of entertainment and activities do we encourage for ourselves and our children? Is our home open to their friends and are they allowed to see how a Christian family lives? We need, as parents to be aware of the influence that the media has upon our children: the internet, television, radio, magazines, movies. We must be alert and do all we can to preserve our families from the influence of the world’s thinking.

Teaching the Scriptures

Reading the Scriptures at home should be a spiritual habit. There should be a time when the family is together and the Word of God is opened. God does not intend either the assembly or a Christian school to teach children the Word of God. It is primarily a family responsibility. This involves more than simply reading a chapter together. There should be time for teaching the great doctrines of the Bible in an age-appropriate manner. Reading through the Proverbs will afford an opportunity to counter the values of an anti-God culture and open many avenues for discussion.

2. Guiding the Home - Ephesians 5; Colossians  3:19; 1 Timothy 3:4, 12

Love which leads to Sacrifice - Christ sacrificed His life for the object of His love. What sacrifices does the N. T. envision a husband making for his wife? This will again mean that he will place her welfare ahead of his own agenda and selfish interests. Sacrificial love will touch upon my time and interests. I will be willing to give up my time for my wife. Marriage is a commitment to these principles and the man who is not ready to live these principles is not ready to marry. Marriage is not simply an adding on to my other interests, but a restructuring of all my interests with new priorities.

But this also involves being supportive. “Nourisheth and cherisheth” are the words which Paul uses in Ephesians 5. These mean to address both physical and emotional needs. Perhaps the brief warning in Colossians 3:19 highlights the greatest vulnerability which women have - being treated with emotional coldness and cruelty.

Leadership which leads to Service - A husband is to serve his wife. That does not mean meeting every desire, but meeting her needs and seeking to bless in every sphere of life. Notice Ephesian 5:26-29. Needs relate to the exhortations of Scripture to nourish and cherish - provide an emotional, spiritual, and physical climate which is for her blessing.

Loyalty which Leads to Security - Christ’s love makes a believer secure. A Christian has no fear of Christ’s love decreasing or stopping. A Christian husband should make his wife feel just as secure and certain in his love. He should never give cause for suspicion or doubt about his love and faithfulness. There should be no flirting or inappropriate attention paid to other sisters. There should not even be a hint that his wife does not have the sole place in his affections. We need to create a safe haven in our homes.

Life that is Shared - Christ shares His life and His wealth with us (Romans 8:17). God intends that a marriage should be a total sharing of all. This answers questions about whose money it is and who should “control” the money. Part of a husband’s responsibility is to prepare his wife for every eventuality. This includes the possibility (and probability) that the Lord will take him to heaven before he takes his wife. In light of this, he should do all he can to enable her to be confident in her handling of money and decision making. All money that is brought in belongs to both.

3. Gracing the Home - Enoch, Noah, Job 1:5; David 2 Samuel 6:20

By Character - What I am will influence my wife and children more than what I do or say. Manoah’s wife was going to have to live a Nazarite life if her son, Samson, was going to be a Nazarite (Judges 13).

By Conduct - Do I lose my temper and become angry in the home? Anger is one of the works of the flesh and brings with it much sorrow. Why do we get angry? Against whom do we get angry? A father represents God to his children (Eph 3:14, 15). What lessons do we teach our children about the character of God if we are easily made angry?

By Consistency - Am I the same in private as in public? Are my convictions “convenient” and only when others are watching me? Do I teach my children and my wife that we have two standards of behavior: one for when we are with the Christians and another for when we are at home or alone?

By Communication - Communication skills are important. God is a God who communicates. The Lord Jesus is called the “Word” from the very beginning (John 1:1,2). In other words, God always intended to speak to us. He has spoken clearly and fully (Heb 1:1,2) Does my speech reflect how God has spoken to me? Note that we are instructed to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) and our speech is to be free of anything corrupt, ministering grace to the hearers (Eph 4:29-31). Do I strive to listen to others when they speak? What kind of an atmosphere do I foster in the home? Is it one of fear?

By Consideration - Consideration will make you a student of your wife (and children) in an attempt to better meet her needs. Have you ever thought what it must be like for a mother to spend eight hours a day with several preschool children all demanding her attention simultaneously? Or with teenagers who are struggling with all the changes unique to that time of life?  After cleaning up the second glass of spilled juice and entertaining for several hours, she is both emotionally and physically exhausted. If the children are very young with vocabularies limited to monosyllables and sentences of two words at best, she may even forget what the English language sounds like. For a husband to come home at dinnertime and immediately disappear into his study with “work” to do is neither considerate nor kind. Time is needed for personal spiritual development and preparation for meetings, but your wife needs that same time as well. Where is she to find it? The Scriptures call upon you to sacrifice yourself for the things of the Lord, not your wife. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul does allow for mutually agreed upon sacrifices for the word of God, but they are agreed upon mutually.

4. Growth of the Home - The spiritual growth and development of all is the responsibility of the head of the home. That does not mean that if there is failure, backsliding, or even moral lapses, that the husband/father is to blame. But he is to create an atmosphere in which spiritual growth can flourish. Ephesians 5:29 suggests that the nourishing and cherishing involves both emotional support as well as physical support. How sensitive am I to my wife’s emotional needs? How available am I for meeting those needs? Do I do all I can that she might reach her full potential as a believer in Christ (Eph 5:26, 27)?

The Seriousness of Leadership

Present Loss 

Failure in leadership will influence my wife and children. She will feel insecure and uncertain. It may tempt her to step out of her sphere of submission and begin to lead because she feels someone must. It may tempt her to rivalry with you in leadership.

Future Loss

God uses the home and leadership in the home to fit a man for service and leadership in the assembly (1 Tim 3:4,12). The man who fails in leadership in the home is disqualifying himself for further leadership or usefulness in the assembly. How can he lead or take care of the Church of God if he has not learned how to assume that responsibility in his own home? See God’s comments about Abraham in Genesis 18:18.

Eternal Loss

Since this is a stewardship from God, we will give an account at the Judgment Seat of Christ for how we have carried out our stewardship (1 Cor 4:2). The wife God has given you is not “yours” to do with as you please. She belongs to the Lord and has been lent to you for your spiritual and earthly good. To mistreat her or to ignore her spiritual and emotional needs, to treat her as a possession that can be manipulated and used, will mean eternal loss at the Bema.