What is the meaning of headship? Biblical headship is characterized by godliness, love, sacrifice, protection, providing, and leadership. Let this article show you how this functions in a marriage.

Source: Witness, 2014. 3 pages.

Headship in Marriage

Recently I had an email enquiry which I found challenging. The writer stated: ‘I had been thinking yesterday about how we hear more often addresses to husbands to love their wives, and lead them as the weaker vessel, (I suppose to stop husbands being too rough, or to counteract abuses in authority), but I was realising I didn’t feel I’d had much in-depth teaching on authority, and the exercise of it’. It made me reflect on headship and what is required of us as husbands and as fathers and what wives and children should expect from us. The fact of God-ordained headship is clearly stressed in Scripture. Paul writes to the Corinthians: ‘But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God’ (1 Cor. 11:3). To the Ephesian church he declares: ‘The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church’ (Eph. 5:23).

Godly Headship🔗

Godliness is vital. We are to glorify and enjoy the Lord in everything we do. Everything good begins with God, comes from Him and should return to Him in praise and thanks. Because we husbands are to be heads of our wives and families we need to be godly not only for our own sakes but also for theirs. An ungodly head would be a great curse to those under him. To be godly is to be holy and God-like. God is the great Head. Headship is patterned on Him. Yet God is unique as the supreme Head from whom all authority flows. Husbands must submit to Him and strive to bring all under their control to worship and serve Him. The godlier the husband is the easier it should be for the wife to submit.

Biblical Headship🔗

The man is not free to decide what his headship will be like. The Bible is the rule. The husband’s authority comes not from the man’s strength or wisdom but from God’s appointment. The practice of the headship is to be according to the Scriptures.

Loving Headship🔗

While stating clearly that the ‘husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church’, and that ‘as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything’, the Apostle goes on to emphasise, ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it’ (Eph. 5:23-25). Christ who is the Head of the church loved the church so much that He died for it. That kind of sacrificial love is to be the pattern for husbands. It should be easy for wives to submit to husbands who love them so much that they are willing to die for them. There is no room here for the tyrant or oppressor. It is a gentle leadership calculated for the benefit of the wife.

Firm Headship🔗

Sometimes so much stress can be laid on the loving and gentle aspect of this leadership that it is forgotten that it is to be real headship. The husband is to lead and the wife to follow. He is to use the Scriptures and his God-given leadership gifts to direct the family. Yes he should value the wisdom and advice of his wife and he should try to attain consensus as much as possible and yet at the end of the day the man must lead.

Sacrificial Headship🔗

The idea that the husband sits on his throne and orders his wife what to do is contrary to Scripture. He should not treat his wife as a slave or kitchen-maid. He expects his wife to perform certain chores but he must also show himself enthusiastic in performing other chores. The best leadership is always from the front – follow me! This means self-denial. Christ is the great example.

He loved ‘the church, and gave himself for it’ and in the same way the husband is to love his wife and give himself for her.

Moral Headship🔗

The moral standards of the family are to be set by the husband in submission to Scripture. The law of God is the rule and the man is to enforce it. He must diligently study the Bible and seek to apply the Word of God to all of life. As much as possible he must strive to set out the black and white of Scripture and make clear what God requires.

Educational Headship🔗

As the head of the home the man is duty-bound to arrange for the education of his family – both his wife and his children. Education is a life-long occupation and one that is very important. Wilful ignorance in important matters is culpable. There was such a thing in the Old Testament as the sin of ignorance and it required a sacrifice. The husband is to encourage his wife to learn true wisdom. In educating his children the father should make use of the talents of his wife. A mother has a special relationship with children and is usually the primary educator especially when the children are young.

Disciplinary Headship🔗

Rules are to be enforced and as the head of the wife sometimes the husband has a responsibility to rebuke his wife if she is behaving unseemly, inappropriately or unwisely. Sin has to be corrected. Overindulgence in worldly pleasures must be admonished. Gossip and slander should not be tolerated. This of course must be done in private. The most effective discipline is that which is loving. It should not be done in anger but with patience and backed up by the Word of God. Fathers are also responsible for disciplining children. Fathers may use their wives to do this as mothers are often best at it but the father must be there backing up the mother.

Exemplary Headship🔗

The husband should be an example of meekness, humility, holiness and piety. Godliness earns respect. The fear of God and tenderness of conscience are beautiful and give authority. Hypocrisy leads to contempt. Saying one thing and doing another undermines leadership.

Financial Headship🔗

A husband should provide for his wife. The biblical pattern is that the woman bears the children and the husband by the sweat of his face earns the bread. Sometimes the woman can earn also without the home and the upbringing of the children suffering, but the responsibility to provide for the family rests on the husband. His wife may be able to help him greatly in managing the finances but he is the one who must ensure that the family are well cared for.

Protective Headship🔗

There are many dangers in life. The husband has the duty as much as is within his power to protect his wife and children from harm. He must carefully guard them from spiritual, mental or physical danger.

Praying Headship🔗

In some ways this is the most important headship. The husband prays for his wife and children and leads them in prayer. He brings them before the throne of God and pleads for them. He seeks their souls’ salvation. He protects them by surrounding them with prayer.

Accountable Headship🔗

God holds the man responsible before Him. On the judgment day the head of the home will have to answer to God not just for himself but also for his wife and children. Headship is not an option but a God-given responsibility.

Response to Headship🔗

The Scriptures plainly state, ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord ... As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing’ (Eph. 5:22, 24). This makes plain that there is to be a willingness on the wife’s part to submit to and to follow the leadership of her husband as much as that is possible in the Lord. The type of obedience is a very high one – ‘as the church is subject unto Christ’. So it is not merely outward conforming but also from the heart. In fact the wife is to ‘see that she reverence her husband’ (v 33). This reverence is made easier by the fact that the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and sacrificed Himself for it (v 25).

The Spirit through Peter says the same thing: ‘Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands’ and later adds, ‘For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well’ (1 Pet. 3:1, 5-6).

Both husbands and wives today often forget this Scriptural teaching. Husbands have a duty to lead. Of course they must not tyrannise their wives or provoke them to wrath by unreasonable harshness. So Peter adds: ‘Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered’ (v 7).The wife is to be respected because she too is a child of God, equally saved by the death of Christ and jointly an heir of heaven. Yet there is to be a real managing of wife and children and home to the glory of God.

So, husbands, really love your wives in a self-denying and self-sacrificing way. But also make sure that you take your responsibility seriously and lead your wives in the ways of God as those who will be answerable at the end of the day. Wives, be careful that you respect your husbands and do not manipulate them or usurp the headship which they have been given by God. Remember that you too will have to answer to God if you do not submit to your husbands. Surely you want the blessing of God upon your marriage and there will be no blessing if God’s directions for marriage are ignored.

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