Male Headship: One Sign you are Failing

Biblical patriarchy expects wives to submit to their husbands. Hyper-patriarchy expects husbands to regularly remind wives of their duty to submit. In contrast to hyper-patriarchy, husbands need to follow the example of the Supreme Head, Jesus Christ, who emptied himself. Male headship happens, not because husbands cluck about submission, but because a husband’s love, language, character, and actions prevail over his wife’s disposition to the natural and full effect of God’s design for marriage.

Modern evangelicalism is replete with examples of husbands disobeying Paul’s instruction that “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). On one extreme are husbands who abdicate their responsibility completely. On the other extreme are those husbands who are always demanding submission. One ready sign that a husband is failing to be the head is when he talks about little else besides submission.

God calls wives to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:24; Col. 3:18), but nowhere does Scripture tell husbands to demand it. Older women, not husbands, are assigned the responsibility to train the younger women about submission (Titus 2:3-5). Paul doesn’t instruct husbands to talk incessantly about submission. He instructs wives to give it. This is a significant distinction.

Demanding submission is how Caesar operates. When Jesus casts out a demon, they fall before him and cry out, “You are the Son of God.” What was Christ’s reaction? Mark 3:12 says, “He strictly ordered them not to make him known.” This stands in contrast with Caesar’s prideful power religion. Caesar wants to be acknowledged as the Son of God and he erects temples to His image and requires his subjects to pay homage in a charade of fake acclaim.

Jesus establishes his people through sacrificial love. And Jesus’ death is the exemplar of this service. Isaiah 42:1-4 describes the baptism of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.

Isaiah 42:1-4

The way Jesus establishes his leadership is not through the tactics of Roman power. Jesus leads his people by lifting them and healing them. Likewise, husbands need to win their wives through loving grace, competent wisdom, and persistent joy rather than brute force. It’s hard to respect someone who isn’t respectable. If a husband is constantly demanding that his wife submit, he is announcing that he has failed to lead, failed to cast a vision, and failed to plow up the field in advance of planting the crop. By demanding respect, he is announcing he hasn’t earned it. He is presenting a singular lack of concern about fulfilling his side of the assigned roles. In obsessing over the wife’s role, he has failed to understand his own—to be the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church.

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Published by Jason Cherry

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call and The Making of Evangelical Spirituality (Wipf and Stock).