Head of Every Head

How to Lead Like Jesus

We’ve now heard plenty about bad heads. In a world of depravity, where even churches are led by recovering sinners, humans have long circulated reports of poor leaders, and some terrible ones. Now we can amplify the stories with our new technologies.

Power can indeed corrupt, but not because power itself is poison. Rather, the poison is in us already. We are sinners to the core and across all our faculties. Christians have long called this “total depravity.” Leadership is not the problem; sin is.

In fact, good leadership, and healthy headship, is part of the solution to what ails us today. Many don’t even know to ask and pray for such leadership because they haven’t experienced it. But for Christians, even if we haven’t personally enjoyed healthy headship, we have a clear Good Head to look to — one we confess as Lord. We have Jesus.

“One of the first truths to rehearse about mere human heads is that they all have a Head.”

Our great need is for more heads like him, leaders who are not just kinder, gentler, and more patient, but men who actually lead — in taking godly initiative, in opening God’s word and explaining it, in prayer, in envisioning good deeds, in shaping the moral vision of our families and churches. We need heads who don’t melt into a puddle of self-pity when they don’t get the strokes they’d like, but who are ready, like Jesus, to endure personal discomforts for the good of their household, and the joy set before them.

Head of All Heads

This month at Desiring God, as we take up a focus on the “marks of healthy headship,” we begin with the one who is Head of all heads. One of the first truths to rehearse about mere human heads is that they all have a Head. Before the apostle writes, “The head of a wife is her husband,” he says, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Before reflecting long on headship in our marriages and homes, and other spheres, we first take our bearings from the divine-human Head over all human heads.

Those with an aversion to all human headship might consider the chastening and comforting effects of grasping that “the head of every man is Christ.” On the one hand, every human head is a man under authority. None is autonomous. No husband or father or leader is unaccountable to his Maker. All will stand before the judgment seat of their Head (2 Corinthians 5:10). To have Christ as Head will be terrifying to self-serving men. On the other hand, this truth is precious and strengthening for heads who know themselves weak and in need of his help.

For Christians, healthy headship takes its cues from Christ himself. He is Head of his bride (Ephesians 5:23), Head of his church (Colossians 2:19), and Head of every head (1 Corinthians 11:3). Learning from him, then, what might it mean for us mere human heads to rule like Jesus does? What imitable forms does his headship take?

1. Covenant Fidelity

First, Christian headship is covenantal. It’s not random, free-floating, and simply spontaneous but operates in specific, given terms. Jesus is Head of his church, his bride, in a different way from how he is Head over all as sovereign. He has covenanted himself to his bride in a way that he has not to all people. So too with Christian husbands.

The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:23, 25)

Christ has pledged his special allegiance to his church, and he is a man of his word who fulfills it. He makes solemn promises to his bride that he will keep her, love her, and be faithful to her, come what may. Amazingly, Jesus “hold[s] fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). And so his church responds in reciprocal fidelity, “holding fast to the Head” (Colossians 2:19).

As Head, Jesus loves not only in word but in deed. From this covenant allegiance arises costly action — even to the point of death on a cross. There he bore the cost, sacrificially giving his own body and blood, to rescue his bride. He didn’t just give her attention and energy when it was convenient, or when she seemed deserving, but “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). He showed his covenant love by persevering for his bride, to die in the worst of ways, to secure life for her.

2. Affectionate Care

The headship of Ephesians 5 is striking not only for the depths of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice but also for the ongoing, everyday affectionate care with which he tends to his wife. Husbands, take note:

No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. (Ephesians 5:29)

Far from inaugurating a new covenant and then turning his attention and energy to other interests, Jesus daily cherishes his church. His heart expands and grows for her. She knows herself to be resourced by his great singular sacrifice in the past and also treasured daily by an endless stream of care and concern.

Elsewhere, Paul applies this language of cherishing to people who, through faith, “had become very dear to us”:

We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves. (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8)

So it is with our Head toward his bride. He longs for her, cherishes her, is affectionately desirous of her. And from such an active heart stems the holy jealousy of protection from threats to the ultimate good of his bride.

If the apostle could “feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband” (2 Corinthians 11:2), how much more the Groom himself for the protection of his bride? From love for his bride flows wrath toward her foes. The promise of his final protection — and the infinite power to back it up — is a function of his great, ongoing cherishing of his church. He loves his bride, and so will protect her, with fitting firmness and grace, from the many dangers to her good — obvious and inconspicuous, physical and especially spiritual, immediate and especially eternal.

So too with human heads. In the happy confines of the marriage covenant, daily affection and attentive care can grow and flourish. Christlike heads are allegiant to the covenant through ongoing affection toward their bride.

3. Steady Provision

Jesus both cherishes his bride and nourishes her. Colossians 2:19 connects his nourishing to her growth:

Holding fast to the Head . . . the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Our Head makes provision and supply for the growth of his wife. As Head, he not only loved her at the cross with covenant-making allegiance, and loves her daily with ongoing concern, but he even loves her enough to take action for her growth, her improvement, her advance.

Now we add a fresh kind of encouragement to Christlike headship. Such heads not only keep covenant promises and show affection, but they find the right balance and proportions for challenging their bride to grow in holiness, to become more free from the miseries of sin. To finish the thought of Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” not just to leave her as is, in the decay and despair of sin, but to

sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26–27)

Jesus supports and provides for the holy growth of his bride (Colossians 2:19). He washes her with the word (Ephesians 5:26) that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Fidelity and affection do not mean catering to her indwelling sin. In fact, fidelity and affection mean exposing her sin to the light of grace and investing time, energy, and resources into the path of her healing and growth.

“Our Head brings us with him into his own hard-earned rewards and well-deserved privileges.”

Good human heads provide not only materially but spiritually, and spiritual provision not only begins with teaching and aims at training, but inevitably walks through the challenges of reproof and correction. Because the husband’s head is Christ, and not his wife, his labors to bless her may not always feel like blessings, at least in the moment. But to lead her well, he must be faithful first to his Head. He will need to be ready to disagree with her at times, and confront her in sin, with fitting firmness and grace.

4. Selfless Generosity

Finally, gathering up these previous marks, and extending them yet further, and into the future, is Christ’s lavish generosity as our Head. Ephesians 1:23 calls “his body” — the church — “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” One implication, among others, is that our Head brings us with him into his own hard-earned rewards and well-deserved privileges. He is a lavishly generous Head. Not only has God made us alive together with our Head, but he

raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:5–7)

Even as the God-man, our Head doesn’t leave his bride behind when he benefits — not even with respect to the throne of heaven. How much more, then, with merely human heads.

Learning from Jesus, we enjoy every privilege and reward with our covenant partner. We keep no transferable privilege from her, but with covenant fidelity, affectionate care, steady provision, and selfless generosity, we enjoy being “heirs [together] of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7), even as we husbands humble ourselves to actually lead, as commissioned by our Head.