Reflections on Biblical headship - Faithful Generations

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Reflections on Biblical headship

Reflections on Biblical Headship

Mrs. Edith Schaeffer was once asked how she could stand being married to the same man for 40 years. She answered, "He's not the same man that I married."
After fifty-two years of marriage, my wife says the same thing about her husband. Both of us, in fact, have changed. One of the areas of change involves our
understanding of "headship"--the biblical teaching that the husband is the head of the wife.

A young husband once came to me in frustration saying that his bride expected him to be her spiritual leader and teacher. "How can I do that when she knows the
Bible better than I do and is qualified to lead and teach me? Yet the Bible says that I am the head of my wife?" (Eph. 5:23)

His question leads to several more: Should a mature Christian girl with a good knowledge of the Bible marry only someone she considers to be her spiritual
superior? Should a man seek to marry a girl less mature than himself so he can lead and teach her? How can a woman seeking to obey the instruction in 1
Corinthians 14:35 trust the judgment of someone who may know less than she does? Does the teaching about headship even apply today?

These questions reflect some of the uncertainty and frustration surrounding the biblical teaching of headship. Over the years I have become increasingly
convinced that the proper understanding and practice of headship within marriage is indeed relevant for today and that it does not lead to frustration--but to peace,
harmony, fulfillment, and wonderful flexibility.

Biblical headship places a premium on companionship. In the opening pages of the Bible we find the Lord God saying, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I
will make a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18, niv). In the closing pages of the Old Testament, God describes a man's wife as his companion (Mal. 2:14). A
helping companion is a partner, not a servant.

This beautiful partnership is illustrated in the New Testament by Aquila and Priscilla. Under the word "Priscilla" my concordance states: "See Aquila." There
is not a single reference in the Bible where they are not mentioned together. We find them making a living together (Acts 18:2-3). They went out as missionaries
together (Acts 18:18-19). In a private setting they taught the Word of God together (Acts 18:26). Together they hosted a church that met in their home (1
Cor. 16:19). And together they risked their lives--"laid down their own necks" to save the life of the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16:3-4).

One of the keys to biblical headship is delegated authority. Back in World War II the ship I was on approached a harbor that was unfamiliar to our captain. A small
boat came out from the port and a local man offered to guide us in. The captain wisely accepted and this man took over as our pilot, guiding the ship safely into
the harbor. Who was in charge of our ship while the local pilot was at the helm? Was it the pilot or the captain? The captain was in charge. Not for a moment did
he relinquish his position as head-of-the-ship (headship). He was always responsible for it and would be accountable if anything went wrong. But in his humility and wisdom he delegated authority to one more qualified in a particular area for the welfare of all.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament suggest that the frustrated young husband tell his new bride something like this: "Honey, the Bible teaches that I
am to function as the captain in our relationship, but we both know that in some areas you have more understanding than I do. You understand the Bible better
than I do. You have been a Christian longer than I have. Moreover, you have many natural talents that I lack. As my helper and companion, I want you to teach
and assist me in every way you can." If she comes to him with a question that he cannot answer, he could say, "I don't know the answer. Will you help me find it?
If we can't find it by ourselves, then let's ask someone who does know." A husband has not given up his headship by asking his wife for help any more than
the captain gave up his authority when he received help from the pilot.

Are you a young woman entertaining thoughts of marriage? Look for a humble man. Humility is more important than knowledge. No man knows all that he needs to know, but a humble man is willing to learn. Are you a young man thinking about marriage? Seek the most godly, mature partner possible. If God gives you a companion and a helper, let her function as your companion and helper. Do not lord it over her or take advantage of her, but draw her out to become all that she can possibly be. Are you a married man who realizes that you have not practiced biblical headship the way you should have practiced it? We cannot undo the past. What is done, is done. Let us humble ourselves before our wives, confessing our faults and resolving with God's help to do it right from now on.

Christ is our head, but He has delegated a great deal of authority to His body, the church. As Christ encourages us to use our gifts and talents to the fullest potential
for His kingdom and glory, so we should encourage our wives to use their gifts and talents to the fullest potential within God's will.

We have benefited from this principle of delegated authority in areas that involve the household. One of the requirements for elders and deacons as taught in 1
Timothy 3 is that they rule their households well. However, in 1 Timothy 5:14 the Apostle Paul desires that the women rule their house. This seems to indicate
delegated authority with the wife given much freedom in her God-given sphere of the home.

In our home my wife is more disciplined than her husband. He recognized this long ago and is very thankful for it. We had family devotions following the evening meal. The new nature in the husband wanted to be regular in this good habit, but sometimes the flesh was weak, maybe tired or forgetful. He encouraged
her to help him. When she handed him the Bible it would get him back on track. So between the two, our children, some of them grandparents today, had their
regular devotions and were blessed.

There were times when there was strife between husband and wife. He had the ability to put it out of his mind and go to sleep. She would be laying there wide
awake, troubled, thinking of God's command, "Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath." So in obedience to the command from a higher authority, she would
wake him up to see the trouble resolved. What a helper she has been!

The headship of the man was established with creation (1 Cor. 11:3, 8-9). In Genesis 3:16, God states, "Your husband shall rule over you." This statement was
not given to Adam but to Eve. It seems to be a prediction of the subjection that wives would endure as a consequence of the fall. Man's carnal nature would raise
its selfish head and wives would suffer for it. This prediction has been fulfilled throughout the sad history of mankind up to the present day. This treatment of
women should not characterize the relationship of husbands and wives who have become new creatures in Christ, who have a new Spirit and a new nature. Our
wives are our companions, helpers, and sisters in Christ.

In Titus 2:5, Paul instructed the older women to teach the younger women to be obedient to their husbands. A man who wants a female servant might use this
verse to lash his wife into servitude, but what does that do to companionship and the sense of being co-workers?

Two things need to be said regarding Titus 2:5. First of all, men have no business teaching women to be obedient to their husbands. That is a job for the older
women. Secondly, the word for obedience in Titus 2:5 is different from the word used in Ephesians 6:1 where children are instructed to obey their parents. Parents
can command their children to do something and discipline them if they don't, but that is not God's plan for a husband and wife. The word in Titus 2:5 is the word
for submission that occurs in Ephesians 5:22 where wives are told to submit to their husbands. Godly submission is the willing choice to defer to another.
Obedience is an act; submission is an attitude.

Husbands have no authority to command submission. Only God has that authority. We cannot even refer our wives to Ephesians 5:22 without being reminded of Ephesians 5:21 which commands all of us to submit to one another. The only leverage biblical headship has is the leverage of love. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" (Eph. 5:25).

One of the first things we learn by observing Jesus is that He Himself recognized the divine order and submitted to it. He acknowledged the headship of His heavenly Father. Even as God the Father is the head of Christ, and Christ is the head of man, so man is the head of the woman (1 Cor. 11:3). Man is the head of woman by divine appointment. Headship has nothing to do with intelligence, gift, ability, or maturity. It does not originate with culture but with creation (1 Cor. 11:8). It has to do with being a man. Man is not more free to abandon his post than a woman is to usurp it. The divine order is not our choice. That is one of the first things that Jesus teaches us about headship, and that we must embrace when we become His followers. God's order, if followed, will eliminate all quarreling, fighting and bitterness. It is a way to resolve all differences when husband and wife have exhausted all avenues for agreement. What are these avenues?

  • Pray together.
  • Respect each other's intelligence.
  • Honestly listen to each other and each be satisfied they have been heard and
  • understood.


If after all this, communication has been kindly and humbly practiced, and there is still no agreement, the husband must make the decision and assume the
responsibility. The wife then needs to submit and by faith trust God for the results. If time proves him wrong he will be a little more ready to trust his helper
in the future. Regardless of what time reveals, each partner did their part and each has a clear conscience.

Listen: submission should be the last resort. What should a godly husband be like? Would you not agree that if he were just like our Lord Jesus Christ he'd be the
perfect head of wife and family? Husbands, should we not regularly ask yourselves, "Am I now considering and dealing with my wife as Jesus would?"

To be like the Lord Jesus is so general. It covers so much. How can I get a handle on that ocean of goodness? We could remember His unselfishness, courteousness,
helpfulness, kindness, etc. Yet, what characteristic above all others may cover it all in relation to the husband's headship?

As our Lord Jesus came near to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the ancient prophecy from Zechariah was fulfilled, "Behold, your king is coming to you, lowly, and
sitting on a donkey..." On another occasion He said, "Come unto Me...learn of Me...for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Mt.
11:28-30). The one spiritual attribute above all that should characterize headship is humility. Humility is also the key to the women's role of submission.

Yes, we have changed in more than 50 years together. We have learned more about companionship and being helpers together. The husband has come to
appreciate his wife's abilities. He can delegate responsibility without giving up his role as head of the wife, but most of all, his wife's input and concerns are
encouraged and considered in decisions. She has peace in knowing she has been heard. Having a better understanding of biblical headship earlier in life could
have saved us many tears and regrets.

Experience has taught that marriage can be one of companionship and peace, resulting in blessing in the home and honor to God.


Don and his wife make their home in Lawrence, KS. He is an elder in the
Lawrence Bible Chapel there.