The Husband is the Head of His Wife

July 19, 2015 / No. 3785

Dear radio friends,
We would like to spend a few minutes today in reviewing the truth that we have seen so far in our series on marriage, the family, and God’s covenant. Really there is one great truth that we have sought to see, and that is that marriage is given by God to be a picture of Christ and His church, to be a mirror of God and His covenant with His people in the blood of Jesus Christ. May that great truth sink deep into the heart of our understanding. We have said repeatedly that you cannot say that too often.
In light of that, we have drawn out a few implications. First, marriage is about keeping covenant promises to each other. It is not, first of all, about staying in love. It is not, first of all, about keeping romance. It is about keeping promises made to one another. Yes, it is exactly by the unwavering covenant commitment to keep our promises that the possibility of staying profoundly in love is there and the romance will be there. It is exactly in keeping covenant promises that we can be in love after twenty/thirty/forty years of marriage. But, first of all, the task of marriage—though that may sound strange to us in this “me” age—the task of marriage is not first our happiness. It is first keeping covenant promises for Christ’s sake. For God keeps His promise to the church. Jesus keeps His promise to His bride. Having said, “I will love you, and I will be married to you,” He keeps His promise. His love is faithful. We read in Hosea 2:19, 20: “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.” God says, “In this you will know Me; I am faithful to every vow that I have ever spoken to My church, to My wife, to My people.”
Second, we have seen that marriage, because it is to be a display of Christ and the church, is therefore also a daily display of forgiving and forbearing. We are to forbear one another in love, even as Christ has forgiven us. We find that in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12 and 13. This forgiving of one another becomes the very foundation for working on change one in the other. We do not make change by bringing ultimatums, but we begin by exercising forgiving love for each other. This becomes the foundation for intimacy; this becomes the foundation for changing in our married life. Here is another good text to remember in your marriage: James 5:16, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”
And, third, marriage calls a husband and a wife to love with purpose. A self-denying love is a love that has a purpose. Husbands are to love their wives with a goal in mind, namely, that the wife grow up spiritually. We read in Ephesians 5:25, 26: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” Jesus had a goal in loving the church, namely, the church’s spiritual growth and maturation, its coming finally to stand before God as a glorious church. So also, as a husband, we are to see that we receive a wife from the Lord as a gift, knowing that when the Lord returns for her, His purposes for her have been sought by us—that we, as a husband, have been an instrument of her sanctification. What purpose, what goal, do you have for the wife that God has given to you? It should be this, that she be holy and without blemish before God in love.
Now today we want to continue our series and hear the Word of God on the role of the husband and the role of the wife—specifically the role of a husband to be the head of the wife.
We note from the Word of God that there are fixed roles for husband and wife. The Scriptures make that plain. The husband is the head of the wife and the wife is to submit to her own husband. I read in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands,” and then in verse 24, “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands.” And what about the husband? Verse 23 of Ephesians 5, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” There are fixed roles, then, for a husband: he is to be the head; and a fixed role for the wife: she is to be subject to her own husband.
This is so, not because of culture. This is not so because of the male dominance in Paul’s culture. This is not so because the one in marriage is normally the physically weaker one or the one that biologically is able to bear children. No, we do not find the origin of these roles in those considerations. But this is so because marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. That determines the role or the calling that each has in marriage.
The apostle says that the coming together of a man and a woman to form one flesh in marriage is a great mystery. In verse 31 of Ephesians 5, the apostle quotes from Galatians 2:24: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” Then, having spoken of God’s institution of marriage, he continues: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (v. 32).
When the apostle says that this is a great mystery, you must not think that the word “mystery” in the Bible is something that is obscure and hidden and hard to understand. But that word “mystery” means something that is profound, something that God has to show you. When God’s purpose for something is known, then that is profound—a great mystery. Marriage is a great mystery because this is God’s purpose for it. It is to be a picture of Christ and the church. As God made man in His image, so He made marriage in the image of His own eternal marriage to the church.
So husbands and wives, as they are filled with the Holy Spirit, will get down low to help lift the other up. They will both behave as the servants of Him who girded Himself with a towel and a basin and washed His disciples’ feet. They will both find ways to submit their preferences for the good of the other. They will both be mutually humble, mutually ready to serve the other. They will both desire to meet one another’s needs. They will both desire to build each other up.
Amen to all of that! May that happen more and more in your marriage. But that does not take away the distinct role, the distinct calling, the distinct place, that God has given both to the man and to the woman in marriage. He has given a unique calling to both. The husband is the head of the wife; the wife is called to be in subjection to her husband. For this is the picture of Christ and the church.
The husband, then, is to be the head of his wife. Once again, Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”
One thing that becomes crystal clear as we read that verse in Holy Scripture is that the calling of a husband in marriage is not arbitrarily a sign. Is it arbitrary that Christ is the head of the church? Is it only for convenience? Could this role be, perhaps, reversed—the church becomes the head of Christ? No! The headship of Christ over the church and the loving, honoring submission of the church is the design of God for our salvation. So also the calling of a husband and a wife is not an arbitrary matter. It is the revelation of the mystery of Christ made head of the church and the church looking to Christ in submissive love.
This was God’s intention in the Garden of Eden. Adam was made the head of his wife. He was made the leader, and Eve was made a help meet for Adam. We read in Genesis 2 that He (God) made the woman from the rib of Adam and brought her to be a help meet for him. God said, “Adam, you lead her. You show her the marvels of My creation. You cherish, you nurture, you provide for her. Eve, I want you to use everything that I have made you to be—your creative instincts, your womanly instincts—to bless Adam.
The headship of a man in marriage did not come into being because of sin. The submission, that is, the loving service, of a woman was not given as a curse because of the entrance of sin into the world. No, these were already present in the institution of marriage, and therefore these were and are good. God created it this way to be the picture of Christ and the church. Sin did not bring about the headship of the husband or the submission of the wife. Sin ruined them. Sin distorted them. Sin made ugly what had been made good. Sin made a man take this headship and pervert it to serve selfish, evil ends. This headship that was intended of the Lord for the growth and blessing of the woman, now, under sin, is used to pervert that good intention.
Do you, as a husband, try to destroy your wife? Do you criticize her every fault? Do you break her down? Do you think that you need to change her to be what you want? That is sin. Does your wife cower before you? Does she feel pressure? Does she think that she is not allowed to have a mind of her own? All of this is sin.
And sin made the woman to bristle when called to submit her will to God and to her husband. Sin made her say, “No, I’m not going to try to please that guy. It’s my way.” Sin ruined the harmony that God gave to marriage. Not because sin brought headship and submission, but because sin corrupted both of them and made a man into a tyrant and a woman into a rebel.
But now our Lord Jesus Christ has come. He has come to redeem us, to restore, to bring marriage back to the purpose that God intended, to provide loving headship through the man and willing submission by the wife. Christ did not come to dismantle marriage. He did not come to say, “Well, this doesn’t work—this headship and this submission. There is an intrinsic flaw here.” But He came to recover marriage from the ravages of sin.
And that is exactly what we have in Ephesians 5. We have gospel teaching. We have the cross of Jesus Christ in Ephesians 5. We have here the call of the gospel. We must remember that when the apostle Paul addresses a wife and a husband in this chapter, he is addressing them through the gospel, through the Savior. “Wives, let your fallen submission be redeemed by modeling your submission after the loving submission of the church to Christ. Husbands, let your fallen headship be redeemed by modeling it after Christ.” Headship, then, is not an evil controlling, a forcing of compliance, so that the wife is cowering and simply empty. But it is to mirror Christ.
What does it mean, then, to be the head of your wife?
Once again, we read in verse 23, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” It means two wonderful things.
First, that Christ is the head of the church means that Christ has assumed complete responsibility for the church. He became accountable for our salvation and for our eternal protection and well-being. The apostle underscores that in the text. He says that Christ is the head of the church and He is the Savior of the body. He functions as the head by being the Savior. In the eternal will and counsel of God (we read of that in Ephesians 1), Christ is appointed to be the legal, covenant head of the elect, of the church, to be responsible for all of them. There we stood, of ourselves guilty before God, exposed and liable to the wrath of God against our sins. All around us were the piles of our smelly sins. And behind us were the flames of hell. We did it. We were the guilty. We were damn-worthy sinners. Christ, the head of the church, became responsible for us. He became accountable for us. He came forward and said, “Father, lay not their sins to their charge.” He became responsible to redeem the church, to keep the church, to preserve the church, to guide the church, to bring us unto the Father.
Second, as head, Christ also rules over the church, leads and governs the church. So, first of all, Christ assumed responsibility as the head. Secondly, Christ rules over or leads the church as its head. Paul exalts this aspect of the headship of Jesus Christ over the church in chapter 1 of Ephesians, the verses 18-23, where he prays that our eyes might be opened; that we might see the exceeding greatness of God’s power or authority that He has placed in Christ; that He has raised Christ; that He has set Christ at His own right hand far above all things; that He has put all things under the feet of Christ, in order that Christ might be head over all things to the church, which is His body. Christ, as the head of the church, rules the church, and so governs all things for the good of His church. As the Lion of the tribe of Judah, He is fearless. And as the Lamb of God, He is tender to carry the church through all dangers, through all evils, and through all snares.
Now, husbands, be the head of your wife as Christ is the head of the church and the savior of the body. That means that you as the husband, as the head of your wife, are responsible for her and for your family. You are to take the leadership, the guidance, the rule, aimed at their good, their growth, and the enjoyment of their salvation. Headship is to assume responsibility before God for your wife and for the children given to you—for her soul and for the souls of your children. That is very humbling and overwhelming. We can do that only when we daily look to Jesus Christ, the real Man of God, the One who truly came to fulfill the will of the heavenly Father.
This means that the needs and the problems, the sins, the discipline of children—these are your responsibility. The patience, the ability to communicate, to be in touch with your wife, to be involved with your wife, to pray meaningfully for your wife—you are the responsible one in your marriage. You are responsible for the marriage when God comes to inquire of your marriage. He begins with the head. Who is the head here? He comes to speak to you. Do not point your finger and look at her! You are the head. Our flesh always wants to abdicate this responsibility. We say, “This is too hard. I am going to go fishing, or something else. That is easier.” No. You must look to God and understand that, as the head of your wife, you are responsible for the spiritual direction of your family.
And that head is also leadership. It is guiding, it is ruling your family by the Word of God so that the direction of the home is heaven-ward. You must see to it that you and your family are not drifting or sliding along but that you are constantly going to the Holy Scriptures in order that you might lead and show and instruct and teach. You are to take the initiative. You are not to sit back and wait for these things to happen. As the head of your wife, you are to take the initiative through the Word of God. Talk to her about these things. Consult with your wife. You are to be lion-hearted and you are to be shepherd-like. You are to be a strong and tender, steadfast and compassionate, bold and broken-hearted man of God.
I think, then, that we need a word of encouragement. And we need a word of caution. A word of encouragement to husbands. This would sound overwhelming. We certainly see our weaknesses. We certainly see that our wife is not perfect—just like the church on earth is not perfect. And then, if we are not looking by faith to our Savior and His promises, we are going to respond to this word: “I can’t! This is asking too much. I’ll just check out and hide from responsibility. I’ll be frustrated because she doesn’t follow my headship, my leadership.” Husbands, be encouraged. Christ did not call us to do something that He does not, by His grace, empower us to do. We read in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” The roles and the calling in the kingdom of Christ are indeed humbling things. In fact, if it does not humble you, then you ought to question yourself. But those roles, those callings that God gives to us in the kingdom of God, He does not leave it up to us, but He directs us to Christ for our strength. Therefore, if you and I do not know what to do, we must look up. We have a heavenly Father who has promised to be with us and to teach us and to bless us as we take up our responsibility for our marriage and our family.
So there is the encouragement to husbands. But there is also a caution to wives. You say, “But my husband is not that way. Yes, I want that. I want a man who is going to take responsibility. I want a man who is going to show good, sound, loving leadership of the family. But he doesn’t do that.” Then you, perhaps, begin to list all of his faults. And you, perhaps, become demanding. Well, demanding will be counter-productive. You must pray for him. You must pray that God strengthen him. You must pray that God awaken in him his biblical calling.
The apostle concludes Ephesians 5 with these words, “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (v. 33). Speak to your husband with a sense of hope grounded in the Word of God. And direct your husband to his God, your God, the heavenly Father who will certainly bless and be near to every son to whom He has given this responsibility.
We will return, next time, to this passage, seeing that, indeed, as the head of the wife, the husband is to provide and to protect his wife and family. Until that time, may God bless this Word to our hearts.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. It is indeed Thy Word. It is a Word that we cannot keep of ourselves. We look to Thee for the spirit of wisdom and fortitude, and we pray that we might be men of God, responsible as heads and also leaders of our homes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.