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Who’s in Charge? Or, Who Cares?

Seems to me that “headship in marriage” remains one of the most misunderstood principles of the Bible.

On one hand, the Bible predicts that along with the curse of weeds, burdensome work, multiplied pain in childbirth, and death– husbands will dominate their wives (Gen 3:15).

The same Bible acknowledges that under the fallen conditions of “a man’s world” where the strong go to war, make slaves of the weak, and lord it over one another, God encourages his people to live with honor within a social order that is always less than ideal.

Even under difficult conditions, citizens are urged to keep the laws of pagan Caesars unless doing so would put them at odds with their God. Slaves (i.e. economic or prisoners of war) are told to obey their masters– if freedom is not an option. And, unless husbands refuse to honor their basic marital responsibilities (see God’s Protection of Women), wives are encouraged to submit rather than to divorce.

Ironically, over the years, many of us have assumed that God wanted men to “rule” their wives as a solution to the confusion that human rebellion brought into the world. But that overlooks the fact that Genesis 3:15 predicts consequences rather than solutions.

So, then, can we avoid what the Bible says about a husband being the head of his wife? Over the years I’ve wanted to– because I’ve seen this idea turned so often into an authority-based sense of entitlement– that has ruined so many marriages.

But maybe we need take another look. Are the problems we have with “headship” really in the text, or only in our perception of what the Bible says, and why?

(1) In 1 Corinthians 11:3 the Apostle Paul lists three relationships where one person is said to be the head of another. He says, “The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (2) In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he adds that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church, and also that, as “the head,” a husband is to relate to his wife as the human head relates to the human body (Ephesians 5:23).

It’s important to see what Paul didn’t say. He did not indicate that he is using the head-body word picture to say that husbands have been given a God-given right to rule over their wives. He didn’t say that a husband’s role is to think and a woman’s role is to respond. Neither did Paul say that he was talking about an authority-based relationship.

Paul didn’t even say that husbands are to lead their wives, or that husbands are to be the initiators and women the responders. Even though he could have talked about many other implications drawn from the relationship between Christ and the church, and the relationship between the human head and the human body, Paul didn’t develop those ideas.

What the Apostle does say is that, as we use our heads to care for our bodies, and as Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the church, so husbands are to love and sacrifice themselves for their wives.

Paul is just as clear that wives are not to try and rule over or control their husbands, but are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” The ideal picture described in Ephesians 5 is not of wives submitting to abusive, demanding husbands, but rather of cooperating with men who, with the attitudes of Christ, are loving, caring, and sacrificing for them.

I’m convinced that if we really listen to the text, the right question is not, “who’s in charge?”, but “who cares?” (i.e. who cares for one another as a head and body care for and cooperate with one another?)

In another post I want to give some specific examples that illustrate that the issue is not who has what authority– but rather what God has given husbands and wives that they can use for the good of one another, and for the honor of their God.

But for now, do you agree that, for too long, too many husbands have used the head-body word picture to justify treating their wives in a way that they would never treat their own bodies?

Does it make sense that the only other question that may be more important is, “Is Christ in charge?”

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16 Responses to “Who’s in Charge? Or, Who Cares?”

  1. rokdude5 says:

    Of course some have. They forget that the husband is to love his wife as Christ love the church. If those husbands would let Christ be in charge of their attitudes toward their wives, then abusive marriages would come to an end. So who cares for one another as a head and body care for and cooperate with one another? Certainly the wife but more importantly, God does. He created the institution of marriage and I cant imagine Him not caring about it after He created it.

  2. desert rose says:

    Because of abuse in the past, when I married my husband we took out the part about obey. I told my husband that as long as he is a good godly leader, I will naturally follow. That is how we have remained married. He is the head of the home and I don’t mind at all.

  3. sitsathisfeet says:

    I’ve been reading and thinking about your blogs and found this one so inviting. I’ve sadly been going through a divorce and custody battle. My husband decided to divorce me after 10 years of marriage and is asking for primary custody of our young son. My church and Christian friends have been so supportive to my son and I. Just knowing friends who can come alongside and pray for us is such a blessing. I also have read Gods Protection of Women, What is Promise of Marriage, and Eve and Rahab booklets from RBC series, also Covenant Keepers and Discovery Series video on marriage. In addition to being in the word daily. I’m not sure how everything is going to turn out but my son and I are clinging to the Lord, all his promises, as well as who he is and we know we’re in the only hands we need to be in. We look to him Our Lord to be our all to help us through the dark and scary places.

  4. daisymarygoldr says:

    Yes, Christ is in charge. Therefore, both husbands and wives should follow His example of selfless love by “giving in” rather than “giving up” because Christ never gives up on us sinners who constantly sin against Him and fail Him in every possible way.

    Agree there are cruel and mean husbands… not married to a Jesus Christ and not a perfect submissive wife either…we are all human who fail due to our flaws… However, in the process of being transformed into His character we will reach perfection only in Heaven.

    sitsathisfeet, praying for you and your son…

  5. mrdiaz says:

    God should always be in-charge. Easy to say but hard to do, since it’s always just husband and wife who argues and God is not there to defend His side. But as the bible says that the husband is the “head of his wife”, so it must be. As the head, he decides and drives the boat to the right direction. But it always matters where his “right directions” are. It should always be considered that the path to God is the only right direction. It is now the duty of the wife to always remind the husband of his purpose and direction. But since she is taken from the husband’s side, she should always keep her position, and never pose as if she is the head.

    As women of today imposes equality with men, we are. But as each one has a purpose, in marriage, woman should submit to their husbands as they become one in God’s name. But as to who’s in charge – God should always be!

  6. Abigail2 says:

    For many years after becoming a Christian so many sermons and books published and some Bible studies were on ‘Being Submissive’ I worked hard to do that hoping to win my husband to Christ by living the Christian life the way I thought God intended me to live it.My husband was and still can be very emotionally and mentally abusive(married 47 years) up until a few years ago was physically abusive and told me the way for a man to show a woman who is boss is to keep her afraid.

    I actually believed for a long time that God was on the side of men no matter what they did.

    We now live separate in our home,(for the last 3 years) there is no marriage as the way God describes it in his Word.
    Please don’t judge me as to why I stayed with this man.I grieve over that myself enough.
    I am 66 now and we have 6 children, 13 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. I now have gotten lashback from some of my children for staying and they tell me it is my fault there is trouble in the family because I didn’t leave him years ago.

    So on this topic, I cannot submit to a man who is so condescending and contemptuous.He is also addicted to pornography.

  7. Abigail2 says:

    I wanted to add, I came from a family who thought divorce was the answer to every little problem. Sisters, brothers Mom. Also I was a stay at home Mom and tried my very best to be the best Mom and wife that I could with what little I had. I got saved at age 29. Was married at age 19.

  8. daisymarygoldr says:

    My heart goes out to you and I pray and hope everything will work out for the ultimate good in the end. Please, do not regret the tough decision you made to stick it out “for better or for worse”…look at you- 6 children, 13 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren…I would give anything to be blessed like you! You are one strong God-fearing woman (other than my grandmother and aunt) who has greatly inspired me today. Of course, divorce is the broad and easy way that everyone likes to take…it only takes a strong and faithful few to tread the strait and narrow way. The Lord will surely reward you for your faithfulness and your husband will be accountable for his actions. So continue to stay strong and count the many blessings that God will keep pouring into and through your life to others!

  9. Abigail2 says:

    Thank you so much for your encouragement.
    God Bless you for your kind and encouraging words.
    I will hang onto them and cling to my God.

  10. dennisva says:

    Hi Abigail2, I admire your patience and determination in strictly following God’s word. I might not be the best adviser and others might disagree with me on this situation but I think what you did is right in leaving him. I personnally would even advise a wife to leave a physically abusive husband at least for her own safety. And I believe the husband might eventually start thinking why would a loving wife finally would want to leave him. It’s men like these that makes submitting hard for women. I agree with DaisyMary, he will be accountable to the Lord for his actions. I’m speaking as a husband as well, and I just can’t imagine myself lifting my hands on my wife. I’ve seen husbands who are verbally abusive to their wife right infront of us and I really can’t stand it and I need to speak up. I also have a sister and praise God her husband is very loving, although he hasn’t accepted Christ yet but he loves my sister very much. But I tell you, if ever he begins to become abusive to her, he will not only have problems with me, he will have problems with the whole family as well. :)

  11. Wordgazer says:

    What does the Bible actually mean by “the husband is head of the wife”? Are we reading “headship” where it says only “head”?

    What about the fact that in the culture in which Paul wrote, understanding of the roles of brain and heart were reversed? The brain (head) was thought to be the part of the body that gave life to the rest; the heart (chest) was seen as the seat of the mind and will. In short, the implication that “head” means “the one who makes the decisions” comes from our modern ideas, not from the Scripture.

    The “head” in that culture meant the source of life, also (due to its physical position) the pre-eminent part, the part on top, as it were. But those on top are constantly told in Christianity to take the lowest place.

    Is the husband told to “be the head” as in “take the lead?” No, the passage says the husband “is” the head, as the wife “is” the body. The passage is about the unity of head and body as one flesh, not about roles or actions within roles.

    There are other passages in Scripture that refer to Christ’s authority over the church. This does not happen to be one of them– this passage refers to the provision and nuture He gives the church. The husband is, by Christ’s example, to do the same for the wife.

    Yes, the wife is to submit, as all members of the body are to submit to one another. Eph. 5:21. But she is submitting to her husband, not her leader.

  12. Abigail2 says:

    Dennis, I may not have made myself clear.
    I didn’t leave but live separately in our home from him.
    I felt as though I would lose my mind eventually if I didn’t.
    I do appreciate what you have said though.
    I am so glad your wife has a husband who stands up for abused women whether verbally or any other kind of abuse.

    I heard Tony Evans on the radio one day a long time ago, that if the husband is not under the headship of Christ he has lost the privilege of being head over his wife. I don’t think he was referring to unsaved men.
    And I hope I haven’t misquoted him. But that is the jist of what I got out of it. I was in my car driving and cried, because hearing a man defend a woman, for me has been rare,not from my Father, brother, or my husband.

    God wants my obedience to Him but doesn’t force it on me and is not a tyrant. It took me years as a Christian to get that from my head to my heart.
    God loves me into submission, even in discipline.

  13. dennisva says:

    I still admire you Abigail2. :) I’ll continue to pray for you and for women like you. God bless sis!

  14. Abigail2 says:

    Thank you Dennis:)

  15. Cafemano says:

    Hey there Mart. I am not sure where I fit here but in reading these posts I so have admiration, empathy and compassion for these situations. I am in my 4th marriage and my experiances were similar… but on the other side as the husband. I grew up in a home with an emotionaly abusive father and its impact has affected my choices in life although I dont put the blame on my dad. At 19 my life was forever changed when I met Jesus and learned that He required me to forgive my earthly father. Somewhere along the way we ultimately must face and take responsibility for the decisions we make… good and poor alike. Along lifes journey at 20 years old, I married and made decisions based at the time where I believed God was leading me. Everything was so new and exciting and so hopefull. I have never been physicaly or emotionally abusive during my marriages rather it seems I chose dominating and controling realtionships. My first marriage fell apart at a time (late 70’s)and ended in 1982 when little was understood in the church about those who teeter tottered on the line of Manic Depression and Schizophrenia or struggled with Bi-Polar symptoms such as my wife did back then. It was put off as just an unwillingness to submit on her behalf. I thought I was going crazy and we only recieved pastorial/biblical council that basicly seemed to exasorbate the problems. My wife then believed that people were trying to make her think she was just being passive-agressive and rebellious or that she was not submiting in the way the bible required. We got into biblical thumping contests over time that just eroded away the little left relationship we had. Retrospectivly looking back I can see that she really needed professional help. She would seldom come out from the bedroom after our second daughter was born and when she did it was filled with argumentitive discussions and she would then retreat into the bedroom with curtains drawn like a darkened dungeon. By the time I had my third daughter I became more focused out of fear of what would become of the situation… not knowing what to do and rushing home to this depressing situation. Through it all I have to say that today I have three beautiful daughters who love the Lord deeply and I have to say that it is to God I give the glory. There is no other explanation to speak of it and I know the redeeming power of forgiveness and healing and mercy that only God could have brought through it all. I spoke earlier that there were decisions I had made in my past about marrage that had unseen consequences. I just never would consent to my divorces nor stand idly by while my world crumbled. We each must make a stand and also submit to the direction on the road that God leads us even when nothing makes sense. The most difficult thing to do is to get back up and put one foot in front of the other. I have made a few poor decisions along the way and shed many a tear as I deeply searched my heart before God about so many things. I am 54 years old and still can say that through it all I am still learning to trust in Jesus and not my own understanding so much. We all are vessels that contain the light of truith and hope wherever we are in this life. Our struggles and ability to overcome such obsticles are the very essences of which blaze the path for others to follow that we cannot begin to know. Job is a man of the bible that I am so very glad God made sure was in my path of life. Through it all Job blazed a trail that I could follow when all seemed lost. God tells me through Jobs life that He believes in me and that He will be there when the trials of this life are over for me. God has made a commitment to me and proved it with the covenent blood through Jesus my Christ. I long for that day when I will stand before Him and have the privelege of casting my crown at His feet. It really does come down to comitment and faith, but centered in a relationship with Jesus. There are really no easy answers to our lifes delemas. We can only learn to trust and obey the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

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