Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For 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, that he might 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Jesus — The Pattern for Manhood
The reason I am using the title “Lionhearted and Lamblike” to refer to the Christian husband as head of his wife is because the husband is called to lead like Jesus who is the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5) and the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:6) — he was lionhearted and lamblike, strong and meek, tough and tender, aggressive and responsive, bold and brokenhearted. He sets the pattern for manhood.
But it may not yet be crystal clear to some that the concept of headship involves leadership as its main meaning. That is what I think is the case. The key verse on headship here is Ephesians 5:23: “The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” So the husband is to take his unique cues in marriage from Christ in his relationship to his church. I take that to mean that the husband bears a unique responsibility for leadership in the marriage.
The Husband as Leader
I suggested last time that a biblical definition of headship would be: Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home. The more I have thought about those three facets of headship — leadership, protection, and provision — the more it seems to me that they really resolve into one thing with two expressions. Leadership is the one thing, and protection and provision are the two expressions. In other words, a husband’s leadership expresses itself in taking the lead in seeing to it that the family is protected and provided for. So protection and provision are not separate from leadership. They are the two most fundamental areas where the husband is called upon to bear primary responsibility.
So what we need to do is see the support for this in the text and then some application or illustration of what it means. Let’s give a few arguments from the text for why we think the word head in verse 23 involves a unique responsibility of leadership.
The Husband as Head
1. Head is used for leader in the Old Testament. For example, Judges 11:11, “So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them (eis kephalēn kai eis archēgon).” (See also 10:18; 11:8, 9; 2 Samuel 22:44; Psalm 18:43; Isaiah 7:8.)
2. Ephesians 1:21–23 says that Christ is “above every name that is named . . . and God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body.” The focus in this text is on Christ’s rule and authority when he is called head of the church. So the emphasis falls on his leadership over the church.
3. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” While the stress here falls on Christ’s sacrifice for his bride and so tells the husband to love like this, we must not miss the inescapable truth that Christ took an absolutely decisive action here. He was not responding to the church. The church did not plan its salvation and sanctification. Christ did. This is leadership of the most exalted kind. But it is servant leadership. Christ is taking the lead to save his bride, and he is doing it by suffering for her.
But we see leadership in Christ’s sacrifice not just because he planned it and took the initiative rather than responding to her initiative, but also in the fact that he died to give an example to us. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). In other words, I have taken the lead in suffering for love’s sake; now you take up your cross and follow me. This is why leadership is not mainly a right and privilege, but a burden and a responsibility.
4. Finally, in view of these three reasons why headship involves leadership, the fourth argument is that the concept of submission, when related to headship, implies that headship is leadership. Paul says in verses 22–23, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife.” When the ground of submission is expressed as the headship of the husband, it is clear that headship involves the kind of leadership that a woman can honor.
The definition of submission that we will unfold after Easer is: “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.” The point today is simply that when submission is correlated with headship, it implies that headship involves leadership. The wife honors and affirms her husband’s leadership and helps carry it through according to her gifts.
So from these four observations—and there are more for other parts of the Bible that we could look at — I conclude that headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.
Now where in this text do we see the idea that this leadership takes special responsibility for protection and provision in the family? First, consider protection. In verses 25–27, Paul shows the husband how to love his wife — that is, how to exercise the kind of servant leadership that Christ did: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might 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.”
In the words “gave himself up for her,” we hear the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When Christ gave himself up for us, he took our place. He bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24) and became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) and died for us (Romans 5:8); and because of all this we are reconciled to God and saved from his wrath. Romans 5:10: “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
If there ever was an example of leadership that took the initiative to protect his bride, this is it. So when Paul calls a husband to be the head of his wife by loving like Christ when he leads, whatever else he means, he means: Protect her at all costs.
And what about provision? I am contending that headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home. Are there evidences in this text that a husband’s leadership should take primary responsibility for the provision for his wife and family? Yes. If anything, this is even more explicit. Consider verses 28–29: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”
The words “nourish and cherish” are significant. The word nourish (ektrephei) is most often used in the Bible for raising children and providing them with what they need, but the part of that meaning that applies here is not that the husband is a parent but that he is a caring provider. It’s used more in the sense of Genesis 45:11 where Joseph says to his brothers, “There I will provide (ekthrepsō) for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come.” So the point is at least that the husband who leads like Christ takes the initiative to see to it that the needs of his wife and children are met. He provides for them.
Similarly, the other word in verse 29 points in the same direction but even more tenderly. The husband “nourishes and cherishes (thalpei) it [his body, his wife], just as Christ does the church.” This word for cherishing is used by Paul one other time, namely, to refer to his tender love for the church in Thessalonica. He compares himself to a mother caring for her infant. First Thessalonians 2:7: “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” The point was not at all to belittle the church; the point was to emphasize his tender care and that he would do anything he could for them the way a mother does her child.
So I conclude that there is good reason just from Ephesians 5 — not to mention Genesis 1–3 and elsewhere — to lift up the divine calling of the husband as bearing a primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.
Life Hangs on Protection and Provision
Now notice something about protection and provision. The reason they stand out is that they are so basic. Without protection and provision, life itself is threatened. So the reason these two rise to the surface so quickly is that if a husband fails in his leadership here, there may not be any other place to exercise it. The life of the family hangs on protection and provision. Life itself must be protected and nourished, or it ceases to exist.
But there is another reason these two stand out. Protection and provision both have a physical and a spiritual meaning. There is physical food that needs to be provided, and there is spiritual food that needs to be provided. Husbands need to protect against physical threats to the life of the family and spiritual threats to the life of the family. So when you think it through, virtually everything a husband is called upon to do in his leadership is summed up in one of these four ways: (1) physical provision (like food and shelter), (2) spiritual provision (like the word of God and spiritual guidance, instruction, and encouragement), (3) physical protection (as from intruders or natural disasters or disease), and (4) spiritual protection (like prayer and warnings and keeping certain influences out of the home). Provision: physical and spiritual. Protection: physical and spiritual.
Encouragement of Husbands
Before I give some examples, let me give a word of encouragement and caution. The encouragement is to men. If this sounds new and overwhelming, be encouraged that Christ does not call you to do what he won’t empower you to do. My father loved to quote to us as a family Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Husbands are called to do some very hard things. Leadership is not easy. That’s part of what being a Christian means: Take up your cross and follow me. But with every command comes a promise. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). So be encouraged. Leadership is hard. But you’re a man. You’re a man. If your father never taught you how to lead, your heavenly Father will.
A Caution to Wives
The caution is to women. You cannot demand that your husband take leadership. For several reasons: (1) Demanding is contradictory to the very thing for which you long. It is out of character. If you become the demander, he’s not the leader. (2) Demanding will be counterproductive because if he had any impulse to try harder, your demanding will take the heart out of it, because it won’t feel like leading any more; it will feel like acquiescence. (3) It has to come from inside him worked by the word of God and the Spirit of God. So, instead of demanding, (1) pray earnestly for him that God would awaken his true manhood. (2) Ask him for a time when the two of you alone, when you are neither tired nor angry, can talk about your heart’s desires. When you express your longings, do it without sounding any ultimatums, and with a sense of hope grounded in God, not man. Express appreciation and honor for any ways that he is leading.
Examples and Explanations
That’s the encouragement and the caution. Now some examples and explanations. These must be brief and provocative rather than complete and an attempt to answer all your questions. Consider what leadership is in each of the four spheres mentioned earlier.
1. Leadership in Spiritual Provision
To provide spiritual food for the family, you must know spiritual food. This means that a man must go hard after God. You can only lead spiritually if you are growing in your own knowledge of God and love for God. If you are feeding your soul with the word of God, you will be drawn to feed your wife and your children.
Gather your wife and children for family devotions everyday — call it whatever you want: family prayers, family worship, family Bible time. Take the initiative to gather them. If you don’t know what to do, ask some brothers what they do. Or ask your wife what she would like to do. You don’t have to be a loner here. Remember, headship takes primary responsibility, not sole responsibility. The wife, we pray, is always supporting and helping. And regularly has gifts that the husband doesn’t. What women rightly long for is spiritual and moral initiative, from a man, not spiritual and moral domination.
And remember there is no necessary connection between being an effective leader and being more intellectual or more competent than your wife. Leadership does not assume it is superior. It assumes it should take initiatives. See that the family prays and reads the Bible and goes to church and discusses spiritual and moral issues, and learns to use the means of grace and grows in knowledge, and watches your example in all these things.
2. Leadership in Physical Provision
The husband bears the primary responsibility to put bread on the table. Again the word primary is important. Both husbands and wives always work. But their normal spheres of work are man: breadwinner; wife: domestic manager, designer, nurturer. And that never has meant that there are not seasons in life when a wife cannot work outside the home or that the husband cannot share the domestic burdens. But it does mean that a man compromises his own soul and sends the wrong message to his wife and children when he does not position himself as the one who lays down his life to put bread on the table. He may be disabled and unable to do what his heart longs to do. He may be temporarily in school while she supports the family. But in any case his heart, and, if possible, his body, is moving toward the use of his mind and his hands to provide physically for his wife and children.
3. Leadership in Spiritual Protection
The spiritual dangers that beset the family today are innumerable and subtle. We need valiant warriors like never before. Not with spears and shields, but with biblical discernment and courage. First, husbands, pray for your family everyday, “Lead them not into temptation but deliver them from evil.” Fight for them in prayer against the devil and the world and the flesh. Pray the prayers of the Bible for them. Don’t grow weary. God hears and answers prayer for our wives and children.
Set standards for your wife and children. Work them through with your wife. Remember the path of leadership here is primary responsibility, not sole responsibility. Wives are eager to help here, but what frustrates them is when we don’t take any initiative and they are left to try to determine and enforce the standards alone. Take the initiative in thinking through what will be allowed on TV. What movies you and the children will go to. What music will be listened to. And how low your daughter’s necklines will be. I am tempted to preach a whole message on the relationship between dads and the way their daughters dress. Yes, mom is the key player here in helping a young woman learn the meaning of modesty and beauty. But dad’s role for both of them is indispensable both in celebrating what they look like and telling them when the way they dress means what they don’t think it means. Dads, you know exactly what I mean. What you need here is courage. Don’t be afraid here. This is your daughter, and she must hear from you what she is saying to men with her clothes.
One other example of leadership in spiritual protection: Paul says in Ephesians 4:26–27, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” In other words, one wide open door to the devil in your house is unresolved anger as you go to bed. In the children and in the marriage. Leadership means we must take the lead in reconciliation.
I don’t mean that wives should never say they are sorry. But in the relation between Christ and his church, who took the initiative to make all things new? Who left the comfort and security of his throne of justice to put mercy to work at Calvary? Who came back to Peter first after three denials? Who has returned to you again and again forgiving you and offering his fellowship afresh? So husbands, your headship means: Go ahead. Take the lead. It does not matter if it is her fault. That didn’t stop Christ. Who will break the icy silence first? Who will choke out the words, “I’m sorry, I want it to be better”? Or: “Can we talk? I’d like things to be better.” She might beat you to it. That’s okay. But woe to you if you think that, since it’s her fault, she’s obliged to say the first reconciling word. Headship is not easy. It is the hardest, most humbling work in the world. Protect your family. Strive, as much as it lies within you, to make peace before the sun goes down.
4. Leadership in Physical Protection
This is too obvious to need illustration — I wish. If there is a sound downstairs during the night and it might be a burglar, you don’t say to her, “This is an egalitarian marriage, so it’s your turn to go check it out. I went last time.” And I mean that even if your wife has a black belt in karate. After you’ve tried, she may finish off the burglar with one good kick to the solar plexus. But you better be unconscious on the floor, or you’re no man. That’s written on your soul, brother, by God Almighty. Big or little, strong or weak, night or day, you go up against the enemy first. Woe to the husband — and woe to the nation — that send their women to fight their battles.
For God’s Glory and Our Good
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden and God came to call them to account, it didn’t matter that Eve had sinned first. God said, “Adam, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). That’s God’s word to the family today: “Adam — husband, father — where are you?” If something is not working right at your house and Jesus comes knocking on the door, he may have an issue with your wife, but the first thing he’s going to say when she opens the door is, “Is the man of the house home?”
When a man joyfully bears the primary God-given responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership and provision and protection in the home — for the spiritual well-being of the family, for the discipline and education of the children, for the stewardship of money, for the holding of a steady job, for the healing of discord — I have never met a wife who is sorry she married such a man. Because when God designs a thing (like marriage), he designs it for his glory and our good.