Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My best friend and I were talking recently… about the man as head of the household and him needing to lead as head of the household. His spouse is very liberal and a feminist. He was telling me in so many words that the word of God saying that men were the head of household is no longer pertinent today because times have changed. I know this thinking is wrong but…
My four-year-old daughter was deep in thought as we drove to our new house. The trailer trailing our car was filled with furniture from the old house. Sitting beside me in the front seat my daughter looked over to me and declared, “Dad, you know how you were the boss of the old house?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well,” she said, “I’m going to be the boss of the boss of the new house.”
I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.
OK, S, let’s talk about who is the boss of the house.
The Bible teaching that a husband is the head of the family (Ephesians 5:23-33) is obviously a struggle for your friend and incomprehensibly ridiculous to his “feminist” wife.
Let’s see if we can clear this up to everyone’s satisfaction.
The primary Biblical purpose regarding marriage is companionship. God said to Adam in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a 'helper' [partner] for him.” The Hebrew word for “helper” is hard to translate with only one English word. It certainly contains the idea of service but mixed in is the idea of completion and partnership. Adam was incomplete and alone. Eve completed Adam in a way that brought fulfillment to them both.
The most significant issue of marriage is removing aloneness. A mature marriage is one where husband and wife become intimate friends. We are blessed if we have two or three intimate friends in a lifetime. Most people go through life and never have even one. We are doubly blessed if one of those two or three is the one we married.
I often tell people, “You ought to marry your best friend!” Close friends make the best marriage partners.
A superficial or incorrect understanding of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians chapter five about the “husband being the head of the household” has wrecked many a marriage.
The operative directive is never a husband who thinks things like, “I am the head of this household; everyone must answer to me; I am responsible to oversee and control everyone’s life; I am the ultimate authority.” This complete abandonment of God’s design for marriage will bring untold harm to his wife and children. They are defenseless against his mistreatment and emotional dysfunction.
The operative directive to husbands is that they love their wives like Jesus loves the church and lays down His life for the church.
Husbands are to lead with love, humility, unselfishness—not with power, authority and “divine right.” In fact, God’s design is for husbands to do whatever is best for the wife’s needs first. Headship brought to its logical conclusion is surrendering my rights in order to meet the needs of my family. In other words, to do everything possible to help everyone in the family become less and less alone.
In Ephesians 5:21 Paul enunciated the overall attitude for husbands and wives in marriage: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Who is designated to be in charge here? Neither. Mutual submission is the principle attitude behind a successful marriage. Husbands and wives are concerned first about the emotional health and well being of their partners—even before themselves.
Paul outlined the roles of husband and wife in Ephesians 5:22-33.
In these verses, Paul advised wives to submit to their husbands in the same way as they submit to Christ. Paul adds one more injunction for wives in verse 33: “…and the wife must respect her husband.”
Paul’s instructions are intriguing for what he didn’t say. Paul never instructed wives to love their husbands. I find this a rather glaring omission and want to know why.
In Ephesians 5:25-33 Paul instructed husbands on their roles:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body... This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself.”
The loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ in dying on the cross for His church is the model for how husbands are to love their wives. Husbands are to lay down their lives in sacrifice for their wives in the same way Jesus laid down His life in sacrifice for His church.
Could you imagine a wife submitting to a husband who always had her best interests at heart?! That might be for her a rather lovely and enjoyable thing to do!
I often think of the husband as being like the sun and the wife being like the moon. The sun gives off the light and the moon reflects it back. Whatever the husband gives to his wife she often reflects right back to him. Show me a husband who is pouring anger, resentment, disapproval, disappointment and hurt into his marriage and I will show you a wife who is soon reflecting anger, resentment, disapproval, disappointment and hurt right back to her husband.
On the other hand, show me a husband who is pouring in love, acceptance, forgiveness, approval and compassion and I will show you a wife who is soon reflecting love, acceptance, forgiveness, approval and compassion right back to her husband.
I often use these instructions when I perform wedding ceremonies. I say to the bride, “If he were to love you like Christ loved the church, if he were to lay down his life in sacrifice for you, if he were always to put you and your needs first and if he were defer his own needs in order that your needs were met at all costs, wouldn’t you find it easy to love a man like that?”
I wish you could see the sparkle in her eyes as looks over at the man of her dreams—could she love a man like that? You bet she could! Could she respect a man like that? You bet she could! Could she submit to a man like that—one who always had her best interests at heart? You bet she could!
Now I know the answer to my earlier wonderings. When husbands love as Christ loved, Paul has no need to instruct wives to love them in return—the love of the wives will come automatically.
By the way, remember how wives are to respect their husbands? Respect is a big deal for men. Unfortunately, respect does not come automatically. Respect is cultivated over time by the husband’s careful loving and caring for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of his wife. A wife who expresses respect for her husband goes a long way toward meeting one of the deepest needs in his life.
I hope you will be able to share with your friend this Biblical perspective on a husband being the “head” of the wife. She might even decide that she likes it.
I hope this helps.
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.