If a wife is more spiritually mature than her husband, how does the husband lead her spiritually? Not an uncommon situation. Not an uncommon question in the inbox, and it’s up next in an email from a young man. “Pastor John, hello! How do I lead my wife spiritually when she is more spiritually mature than I am? I became a true follower of Christ years after my wife, and her spiritual maturity is far greater than mine. For most of my marriage I’ve been a poor leader of my family, especially in spiritual matters. But by the grace of God I’m growing in my faith, and I’m slowly starting to take the reins of leadership in my family. My wife’s discernment, desire, and dependence on the Lord are incredible examples, and I often ask her advice and discernment in my search and reading through Scripture. So how can I better lead her?”
Let’s start with the foundations: I’m going to get to very specific responses to his question on how to lead a woman who’s ahead of you like this. But I just think that way more important than those particular suggestions is getting foundations clear.
Hidden, But Now Revealed
The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:23–25)
Now that’s all very, very radical in every culture on planet Earth. It is a restoration of what God established in the garden of Eden and a transformation of the mess that the relationship became after the fall. It recaptures what God originally designed, and it redeems what was ruined in that design by sin. That’s the point of Ephesians 5: it restores headship or leadership, and it transforms that leadership by modeling it on the self-giving love of Christ for his church.
“God’s design of male and female, from the beginning, included this glorious destiny.”
When Paul was finished in Ephesians 5, describing the relationship of husband and wife in this recovered and renewed dynamic, he said in verse 32, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” So, the mystery of marriage refers to Christ and the church. And the reason he calls marriage a mystery is not that it can’t be understood, but that it was kept secret for thousands of years, and has now been most fully revealed in relation to Jesus and his church.
In other words, the secret that human marriage is modeled on the coming relationship between the incarnate, crucified, risen Son of God and his blood-bought bride, the church, is mysterious. That’s the meaning of the mystery or the secret. There were hints of it, the mystery, in the Old Testament because God called himself the husband of Israel. But this full-blown pattern of Christ and the church is a new revelation and very radical in every culture on the planet.
Christ and His Church in View
The reason that calling marriage a mystery is relevant right here is because it tells us that when God created man as male and female, he already had in view Jesus Christ and his church as the model for Adam and Eve and all marriages to follow. This means that the wisdom of God created male and female in such a way, with such male and female natures, that in their most godly manifestations, they would rejoice in and flourish in the living out of Christlike headship and church-like submission. He made them that way; that’s the mystery. It was the model from the beginning.
The distinct calling of each of them would fit their created design. The calling would fit the design. They would be perfectly suited for this dynamic of leadership and submission. In other words, calling this relationship a mystery in Ephesians 5 assures us that God’s design of male and female, from the beginning, included this glorious destiny of the man echoing Christ in his role as husband, and the woman echoing the church in her role as wife.
Governed by Infinite Wisdom
And one of the reasons I’m stressing this is that I want you to have a clear sense of why you are called to lead your wife even when she is superior to you in significant ways. What is your calling to lead rooted in? Because if you don’t get that clear, you’ll probably just bail on this and say, “Well, there’s no point in trying to do this.”
And I don’t want you to say, “Well, the reason I am called to lead is because I am called to lead.” There are a lot of people today who more or less take that position: men should lead their families on the basis of the fact that men should lead their families. Or to put it another way: God says in the Bible that men should lead their families because men should lead their families.
I want to discourage you from thinking that God flipped a coin in the garden of Eden when he was deciding about leadership in the home. I want to encourage you not to think that God said, “Well, here we have two human beings that I have made. There’s nothing about them as I have created them that would make it fitting or especially beautiful for either one to always be the leader. I have not made them that way. Nothing about their male or female differences makes it better or more fitting that one should be the leader. But I want somebody to be the leader, so let’s flip a coin. Heads — Adam leads. Tails — Eve leads.” Flip. Heads — there you go. It’s settled for all history and codified in a book. God said so. “This is the way it’s going to be because I say so. I flipped a coin.” I don’t want you to think that.
“You should feel a uniquely masculine burden that the buck stops with you.”
I think that notion of why you should lead, because God just flipped a coin or God said so, dishonors, discredits the wisdom of God. I don’t think God decides anything by flipping a coin — ever — for the simple reason that if he did, he controls which way the coin lands every time. There’s no point in flipping the coin. God never does anything whimsically or randomly — ever — because he’s governed always by infinite wisdom.
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24). That’s what you do. His decisions always reflect the profound suitableness and beauty of what he decides. That applies to the decision that husbands are called to be the leaders of their wives, and we’re both fitted to these distinct callings.
Lead from Below
So, here we are at your question, and you were pointing out that it doesn’t necessarily look like you are especially fitted for leadership, and she especially fitted for submission. You say that she is spiritually more mature than you are, and that her discernment, desire, dependence on the Lord are wonderful examples for you. So, how are you going to lead her? Here’s my answer.
By being thankful and expressing thankfulness to her and to others that she is as mature and discerning and godly as she is — and by not being the least intimidated or resentful of it. That’s your first job: confident, Christ-exalting thankfulness that you have such a wife. Oh my, what a gift.
And realize that what makes your leadership fitting and beautiful is not your superior knowledge, or your superior wisdom, or your superior insight, or your superior language skills.
She may be ahead of you in all of that, and yet the fitness of your leadership is still firmly in place. I’m not denying that knowledge and wisdom and the ability to speak are helpful in exercising leadership, but they’re not the essence of it. No, no, no, no, they’re not. Nor are they the essence of what a godly woman hopes for in her husband’s leadership. The essence of this God-given call on your life as husband is a mature, loving sense that you bear a primary responsibility for the relationship.
Special Kind of Care
Let me say that again because that’s the heart of the matter: the essence of the fitness for your leadership is that you sense a call, because it’s there from God for every man — a mature, loving sense that you bear a primary responsibility for this relationship, especially the flourishing of the spiritual life of the relationship. You should feel a uniquely masculine burden that the buck stops with you for making this relationship work. When anything is not working in this relationship, you feel the primary responsibility to get it fixed — even if she has the wisdom to fix it, and you ask her to use it.
God created men to bear this burden of mature, loving, Christlike, primary responsibility for the relationship. She has her responsibilities, but you take special initiative and bear primary responsibility before God that God’s pattern be joyfully fulfilled. That’s your calling. And it does not depend on being her superior; it depends on faith, and courage, and initiative, and sacrifice.