To begin we must first recognize that marriage itself was instituted and ordained by God at the very beginning when he created the first man and woman (Genesis 2:24). Thus, we must also look to the Creator for wisdom on the roles within marriage to determine what they are and how they function.
Throughout this article, we will look specifically at spiritual leadership within marriage and a few ways that it is practically lived out.
The Husband Headship Established
In Genesis 2:16, God placed the first man in the Garden of Eden and gave him the very first command. It was this act of directly communicating God’s specific law to Adam that placed the responsibility of spiritual headship on him.
Immediately following this edict, the Triune God noticed that Adam lacked a companion suitable for caring for and sustaining the garden. The Hebrew words `ezer kenegdo used within Genesis 2:18 show that God created a suitable helper for Adam in Eve. She would be equal in worth, but with different roles to complement the man, her new husband.
It is important to note that nowhere in the Bible does it state that God gave the command “to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17) directly to Eve; therefore, it can be assumed that Adam was to shepherd his new bride spiritually by teaching her the law that God had set forth.
Why do we make this assumption? Since we trust that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), then when one portion of Scripture seems vague, we must look to the whole of God’s Word to give light to that passage.
In this instance, Ephesians 5:22-23 gives the clarity needed in that it speaks specifically to the role of “the husband [being] the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.”
When Husbands Fail to Lead
We do not know how much time has passed from the end of chapter 2 in Genesis and the beginning of chapter 3. We can assume that Adam has at least told Eve of the only rule as per her response to the cunning serpent in verse 2.
Here is where Adam failed in his role as the spiritual leader. Genesis 3:6 is clear that he was with his wife during this conversation where the serpent is twisting God’s Word. But did Adam speak up? No.
Many times, we gloss over the fact that Adam was right there in the moment with the opportunity to stand up, follow God’s command, and protect his wife, but alas, he stayed silent like so many husbands today.
The silence and willing participation in breaking God’s one command led to sin entering the world and catastrophic consequences that have impacted far more than just the two original sinners.
So, too, can our choices impact future generations. Problems arise when we try to distort God’s design and think that our way is better.
God’s Design for Marriage
To be clear there are dangers in misinterpreting spiritual leadership, which is why it is vital to know what God’s true design for marriage looks like. Coming from a sports background, a sports analogy just makes sense in my mind whenever I think of marriage and God’s design — a team with separate roles that must each be utilized for success.
God is like the owner of the team — He created us, He knows us and wants us to choose Him and His good plan, but ultimately, it’s our choice to submit to Him or be a free agent, which does not go well for long.
Jesus is the manager — he has given us the example in his earthly ministry and playbook (Bible) on how to sacrificially love others. Next, we have the coaching staff — the head coach (husband) and assistant coach (wife). As I’m sure most of you are aware, there can only be one head coach.
Why? Imagine there is an important decision to be made and the coaches are at an impasse, there must be a leader to make the decision. That person will be the one that bears the consequences of said decision — win or lose. The same goes for marriage. This does not mean that the husband disregards the wife in decisions. By no means!
The wife is to be intelligent and capable — an equal counterpart to the husband, giving advice, and help in all matters (Proverbs 19:14; 31:10-31); however, in the end, it is the husband who will stand before God on the day of judgment and answer for all things regarding the leadership of his family as that is his God-given role.
Leading in Love
A few years ago, Luke, my husband, received a call from a church that would put so much pressure on pastors in the first year Luke and I sat down and prayed over how to proceed.
Neither one of us was excited about possibly being called to this church. Luke felt the Holy Spirit saying to see the process through; whereas I made it very clear that I had already been hurt in ministry and was not willing to pack up and move 12 hours with two little kids while pregnant with number three to be mistreated again.
Luke could have said, “Well, I’m the spiritual leader of this family and this is what we are going to do!” However, he knew that would only be a clanging gong hardening my heart to his leadership because it would not have been said in love (1 Corinthians 13:1). He gave me space to pray and process.
Immediately, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I was leaning into fear rather than trusting Him. I went to Luke and said, “I love you and trust that you are listening to the Holy Spirit just like I am. I am committing to pray for the Lord’s will to be done and will follow your leading.”
Luke looked at me with love and compassion as he said, “I understand how you feel. I don’t want to go either, but the Lord is strongly leading me to follow through with the interview.” I sighed and said, “Then you have to do it.” I did not argue or throw a fit, but I did begin praying fervently.
That night, I was on my knees in prayer, tears streaming down my face, crying out to the Lord begging Him to not send us to that church when the still small voice of the Lord said, “What if that is where I want you, Amanda?” “Lord, change my heart then. Help me. Change my heart!”
The interview with the search committee was scheduled for a Saturday evening with the intent that Luke would preach the next day in view of a call if the committee was in unanimous agreement.
We hit it off with the committee; therefore, Luke would indeed preach the next day before the congregation. I have never in my life prayed for someone to fail, but I did that night.
Luke ended up preaching the best sermon of his life — like an out-of-the-park home run! Oh, God is hilarious like that at times — driving the point home that He is in complete control.
That week I really began to understand 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 more intimately — I rejoiced in the sovereignty of God trusting Him to change my heart, thanked Him for a husband who loved Jesus with his whole heart, and I prayed constantly that the Lord would make His will abundantly clear.
It was Sunday after church when the call came, the congregation had voted not to call Luke as the pastor. Luke and I threw our hands up in praise, danced, and shouted, “Hallelujah!” throughout our tiny seminary apartment because we had followed God’s leading, and He protected us.
I share that story to give an example of the necessity for not only the husband to lead well, but the wife must also be willing to submit well. Not only was the marital bond of trust strengthened, but ultimately my trust in the Lord deepened.
Seeing God’s hand move even in this rejection freed us up to be available for our current church, which has been a well of abundant blessings to our family.
Spiritual Leadership in Marriage
Husbands, here are five ways to practice spiritual leadership within your marriage:
1. Praying for and with your wife — daily. It is critical to give your wife space to pray and process things; think gently, not a bull in a China shop (1 Corinthians 7:5; Colossians 1:9; Luke 5:16; Galatians 6:1).
2. Love your wife like Jesus loved the church — sacrificially, being the leader in forgiveness, quick to listen, slow to anger…ultimately seeking to display the fruit of the Spirit (James 1:19-20; Galatians 5:22).
3. Take the lead in making daily Bible reading and studying a priority. Your first accountability partner should be your spouse and the second would be a person of the same gender, not vice versa (Proverbs 27:17).
4. Attend church faithfully to be spiritually fed. Get up early, help make breakfast, and/or get the kids ready — practical ways to accomplish point number two.
5. Actively serve in the local church — model the importance of being an active member within the body of Christ. Lead your family in discerning and cultivating those unique gifts God has given each of them.
Wisdom for Wives
The word and the act of submission have received a great deal of backlash and scorn within our society, some of it rightfully so, as unrepentant wolves try to use it for their evil need to control, dominate, and abuse their wives.
Let me state emphatically and unequivocally that is not the biblical picture of submission and should be called out for what it is — heresy and the work of Satan.
To the wives, the struggle to submit is not as hard as it once was, but it is a conscious choice to willingly lay my sinful pride, extremely strong-will, and need to be in control down especially when I think my husband is wrong.
He is still a fallible man after all; yet, I have learned that ultimately it's not my husband but God whom I trust in all things. God’s design for marriage is a picture of Jesus and His bride, the church — it is good and holy even in the hard times. Let it deepen your faith and trust in the Lord.
Why Does Spiritual Leadership in Marriage Matter?
Make no mistake that a man who chooses to be wise in his spiritual leadership of his wife is not weak. No. He is a man of quiet strength that commands respect out of his loving servant’s heart for the Lord, not because he demands it.
He is a man who is not above doing laundry to help his family and never once demeaning her for it. That is a man who loves and leads his family well. And I am thankful for mine.
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Amanda Robinson is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mom of three, and a Christian blogger. As someone who has struggled through the deepest valleys of depression, Amanda hopes to share the complete joy that comes through forgiveness and renewal in Jesus Christ. For more, check out her blog.