Let me begin with a story.
There was this couple, both Christians and faithful church goers. Both came from Christian families and both grew up in church. But their marriage wasn’t quite working out and one day they decided to make an appointment to see the pastor.

So the pastor did a simple diagnostic questions to see if he could nail the problem but he really couldn’t because they both could give all the right answers to his questions. So finally the pastor said to the husband ‘Would you explain a normal day at home for me? What does it look like when you come home from work?’

He said – When I get home from work I am kind of tired and the house is busy. The kids are home from school. And I would like to stretch out in the coach a little bit and play FIFA, just to relax. My wife will be working in the kitchen preparing dinner and she might ask me like – set the table or get the kids to bath and change and get ready for dinner.

And he said – I want to be a good husband – a husband according to Scripture.
And the Bible says I am the head and so I get to decide if I want to do what she is asking of me and I kind of flip a coin in my mind and if the coin comes out heads in my mind, then I will help her out. And if it comes out tails, then I don’t.

No wonder they had problems in their marriage.  But what is biblically wrong with that? The bible does say – Husband you are the head of the home – and he was exercising his authority, right? But then, why is it that we obviously know that his expression of authority is wrong?

The answer is of course in the passage like the one we just read which describes the husband as the head of the home. But it also clearly says – The husband is the head of the home even as Christ is the head of the church. Ephesians 5:23   For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour.

What we are going to do today is look at what the bible is actually saying to husbands about the nature of their relationship to their wives as he is describing them as the head of the home.

This whole concept of husband’s headship and wife’s submission is a huge controversy in our time and age today.

But the scripture starts off so even-handedly.  
Ephesians 5:21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

And then you go right to the next verses… Ephesians 5:22-23 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour.

This seemed to reflect the notion in the novel Animal Farm: All animals are created equal. But some animals are created more equal than others. So you are all to submit to one another out of reference to Christ. All equally. But wives, you are different; you are to submit to your husbands as head. And the language gets weightier when Paul adds… as to the Lord.

That word ‘head’ does not sit well in our culture. And so we need to talk about it.

You could look at the word ‘head’ and try to do away with it in several ways. You can say, ‘Well, Paul is a chauvinist.’ If you really believe that, that would say something about your understanding of scripture. I believe (and I hope you do too) that the scriptures are the inspired and inerrant word of God. And in order for that to be the case, Paul couldn’t be a chauvinist.  He is saying something that is true;  something that has stood the test of time and has been a key to marital strength and flourishing through the ages.

Others will say, this is just cultural bound – that Paul may not be a chauvinist, and he could be saying something true for his time and age but it is not no longer true for our time. The difficulty with that of course is, then in verse 23 we are told – the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.

Well if Christ is still the head of the church, if the church is to assume Him to still be the head, given that we are now living in a different era and culture from Paul, then the husband  must still the head of the wife.

And if what Paul is saying about husbands and wives is somehow culturally bound, then what he says about Christ and the church will also be culturally bound. Instead he says in verse 32..

Ephesians 5:32  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

So the relationship with Christ and the church has not change through time; neither has the relationship between husband and wife as stated in scripture.

What does it mean for the husband to be the head?
First, let us talk about what it cannot mean.

The head of the house cannot mean nothing

Meaning it is not something we just ignore, like as if it is unimportant. This is a serious truth that will affect the dynamics and the flourishing of any marriage. You treat it as nothing, you will not enjoy the benefits of it for yourself or your children in the long run.

Look at the entire context in which Paul places this call for headship.

Ephesians 5:25-27  25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

While our culture is very concern about the word ‘head’ being equal to dominance, I must tell you from counseling married couple that I have heard often enough how wives desire so much for their husbands to provide leadership
in the relationship and their family.  

The reason many wives long for their husbands to lead could be because a lot of husbands have looked at these verses and in their minds interpreted headship for passivity. They think: ‘You see, I am the head of the home. I am ultimately
responsible to bring in the money so that this family stays comfortable. I am king over my household. I go out into the world to fight and I come home to rest.  It’s my privilege and my right to find rest and recuperation at home.’

Paul says the model for headship is Christ. Look at Christ.  He was working hard when he came to live amongst us, living to become that perfect sacrifice, suffering and dying on the cross.  And today, by the work of the Holy Spirit and His living word, he is still working to make us, his body, his church,  glorious to himself.

We will talk about dominance in a bit, but it is important that we make sure ‘head’ does not mean passivity, as though it means no responsibility as a husband.

But we often see gross passivity in the home on the part of the husband – husbands who hardly make any decision regarding the family and leave it all to the wife. And unless the wife pushes them to decide, they just sit on it. Fathers who make no attempt to discipline the children, leaving it to the wife to play the bad guy with the kids. As a result of continual passivity, some husbands and fathers slowly become emotionally distant from their wives and children. The children will grow up not knowing their father because he wasn’t really involved in their lives. These are some of the consequences fathers and husbands reap for not choosing passivity over headship in the home.

There is a type of male headship that is self-absorbed, self-contained, and
non-responsive. The excuse is – ‘Can’t you see I am so busy at work. Give me a break at home.’ For such men, his headship really means nothing but taking care of himself.

Oftentimes in Christian households, there are man who don’t want to rock the boat. They are afraid to create waves so they rather not say anything and be passive.
And in our culture today, there are a lot of Christian young men who say – ‘While I don’t want to be unbiblical but I really hate to rock the boat in our relationship. I don’t want to make my girlfriend unhappy. (Happiness can become more important than holiness!) Or I don’t want to tell my wife what to do in the relationship. I don’t want to order people around in the house. I don’t want to do that.  It doesn’t make me look nice.’

I tell you, a husband’s and father’s passivity will have serious consequences on how the wife turns out and the children turn out.

The bible does not permit the man to be uninvolved, or to be intentionally deaf or selfishly blind to issues and problems in the household.

You see when the husband is passive, the wife will eventually feel the pressure
to push verbally like,  husband, you need to respond; you need to do more; you need to say more. And if a man is determined to be unresponsive, then he becomes resentful at being pushed and one day, he will erupt like a volcano and he becomes verbally or even physically abusive, which he will later feel guilty about. Passivity has grave consequences.

Husbands listen, indifference to the needs of the wife and the family
is not biblical headship.  Biblical headship doesn’t mean nothing.

Headship is not superiority

By that I mean that headship cannot be somebody in some spiritual hierarchy taking advantage of somebody else. Headship cannot be defined that way.

The reason I say that is because we are simply told here in verse 25 – husbands, love your wife. And in the Bible love is never defined as taking advantage of another person.

I know you know these words in 1 Corinthians 13. But it may help to hear them again.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5  4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.

Whatever you think headship is, it is clear that includes loving your wife and therefore it cannot mean that I am somehow so spiritually privileged that I have the right of taking advantage of her. It cannot mean that and still be biblical. Jesus’ sacrificial ministry – the washing of feet, the giving up of his heavenly glory, the suffering on the Cross – all demonstrates that biblical headship never permits
using one’s position for selfish benefit.

So what does headship mean?

Headship is authority

Ephesians 5:23-24 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

While headship is not superiority, it is till authority because however you want to define the relationship between Christ and the church – you will have to say that Christ is the head of the Church and therefore he has authority over her.

So also the husband in his relationship to his wife – he has authority over her. And what is the extent of husband’s authority? – verse 24 says, wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Now our culture is repulsed by this. It may even make some people
want to walk out of such conversation. Because we cannot accept this.

And I tell you why we can’t seem to be able to resonate with this. We are by large a fatherless generation. Many in our times have grown up where the father was not present in the home – either because of divorce, or constant career travels or tensions between mum and dad.  As such, many young men, even Christian young men grow up not knowing what authority really is like. With no personal positive experience of biblical leadership and authority, all they can make out of authority is that it is negative and bad.

And Christian young men today, by and large want to be kind to their girlfriends and wives.  They want to be fair in dealing with them.They want to give their wife’s equal say in the relationship. So the idea of authority over the woman just does not sit well with many young men. And yet here the apostle Paul clearly says, there is an authority. And you cannot abdicate your authority over your wife  and still be a biblical and responsible husband.

And listen. The real question is not if authority exists but how it is expressed.
Husbands must exercise authority over their wives but the way they express
that authority is what going to make all the difference.

Ephesians 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

Paul says look again at Jesus Christ.He has authority over the church. Well, how does he express that authority? In verse 25, authority is expressed in the way Christ sacrifices for the church. He has authority over the church because he sacrifices himself for the church. Then in verse 26, his authority is expressed in  he how he sanctifies the church. And in verse 27 his authority is expressed in how Christ presents to church in splendour.

So whatever is your definition of headship, it must include authority and authority is
sacrificing and serving your wife to the extent that she feels radiant before God.

My headship is not abandoning responsibility but it is to become responsible to serve the wife such that she becomes glorious in Christ. So whatever authority is mine,
I am to use that authority to make sure that grace, love and justice are experienced in this home.

You see, the husband is the authority but he uses it to serve the interest of another.
And is Christ the ultimate example of this. Christ has absolute authority over the church but he uses his authority for the sake of the church; for the good of the church.  So headship is not the abdication of authority. It is the use of authority for the good of another. That’s biblical authority. Simply, the purpose for the husband’s headship is to glorify his wife. [Webster: glorify – to make glorious by bestowing honour, praise and admiration].

Ephesians 5:25, 27  25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Headship goes terribly wrong when you rob your wife of her radiance. If my headship is being properly expressed, then I tell my wife – I love you so much that I am going to use all the authority God has given to be that love and grace and justice are known in our house by you and the kids.  And I am going to use that authority to bring the best out of you and the kids so that you become radiant and glorious as the lady of my house.

Now headship can of course be expressed in very ways that are not biblical. Instead making the wife feel glorious before God, headship can be used to make the wife
feel miserable. Instead of making his wife feel precious, the husband’s headship can use his authority to make her feel worthless. But true biblical headship is the use
of authority for the good of another such that they grow in radiance and splendour before God.

Well if you know just how different my wife and I in personality, you would know that I could easily undermine her confidence in herself in our marriage. My wife was not who she is today. When I courted her, she was very ill-confident, quiet person.
On the other hand, I was an over-confident, loud person. She was very indecisive
and I was very decisive. She was slow and I was fast. And it would have been very easy for me to just overtake and overrule and overcome in the relationship and she would let me, given her personality. It would have been super easy for me to exercise dominance in the name of headship and take advantage of her quiet, submissive spirit.

But early in the courtship, I began to think – what kind of wife do I want in 20-30 years’ time? What kind of mother and grandmother would she become as my wife? And how would my headship over her affect her in her sanctification in Christ and in who she becomes in the future? Because this is the woman I am going to do life with until my final breath.

So I thought – I must be very careful not to undermine her confidence. I must be very sensitive to help build up her identity in Christ; to help her come out of her shell; to bring out all she is in Christ so that I can present her radiant and glorious in Christ. That is the kind of wife I want in 20-30 years. That is the kind of mother who will be
a blessing to her children and that’s the kind of person that will be a strength
to my ministry and that’s the kind of wife will make our sunset years a delight.

So I had to keep dying to myself. I must tell you I failed so many times because I had been impatient with her and I had been frustrated with her and angry with her. And again and again I had to go back to how God saw her in Christ. I had to go back to how Christ gave himself to the church despite the church’s imperfections and how he had given himself to me despite my sinfulness. That was very sanctifying for me.

Over the years, Christina grew to be more and more decisive and more confident in who she was in Christ. She became more and more radiant.  And that has blessed me to this day. She was raising two children and one of them was so strong-willed;
that child was the direct opposite in temperament to her but still she was unraveled and unshaken in dealing with her. Her identity in Christ was so deep; it blessed every one of us in the family.

I wonder how she would have turned out if I had used my headship to dominate her
and crush her esteem. I wonder what kind of woman she would have become?

Husbands, how are you treating your wife with the authority God has given you
as the head of her life for her good, to make her radiant and glorious?

You cannot imagine how many times we husbands think in our heads that headship means I have to be more than my wife. I have to be better. I have to be smarter.
I have to be more superior. And if I have to be all that, then my wife has to be less. So it becomes an ego issue of trying to be more by putting down the wife.
We think if I can dominate my wife, then my significance and my headship
is better established.

But that is not the gospel. If I am to be Christ-like to my wife, she should feel more able, more confident, more ready to tackle anything whether I am around or not. I shouldn’t be robbing my wife of her self-worth – that is not headship. I should be adding to her self-worth in God. So headship is not the abandonment of authority but it is the use of authority for the good of another.

One aspect of headship is to glorify another.
A second aspect of headship, the reason for it, is to sanctify oneself.

Headship is to sanctify one self.

Ephesians 5:28-29 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church

The analogy here is that once you are  married, the two become one, so if you are helping your wife; you are also helping yourself. And if you are making her radiant, you are becoming more radiant, yourself. If she is being sanctified, you are becoming more sanctified too.

So by taking care of your wife, you are actually taking care of yourself before the Lord. And so when you demonstrate Christlikeness to your wife, you are getting to know Christ better in your own life.

When I make the choice to die to my own aggressive, dominant nature and choose patience towards my wife, I am at the same time learning who Christ is. It helps me better know Christ as I choose Christ-likeness.

The opposite is also true – if you as a husband were to continue to demean your wife; like if you were to always compare her to other women or make her question her appearance – you are destroying yourself by destroying her.

Or if you put her down before your kids or your friends and keep on harping on the fact that she is so incapable and petty – you are literally destroying yourself by destroying her.

If the goal of headship is the use of authority for the good of another, then that will not just be benefitting the other; that’s benefitting us both.

And I don’t want to be hypothetical, so I am sharing some very personal stuff coming out of my wife and our families.

When my wife was growing up in her mid-teens, the marital problems her parents had and her mother’s depression and an older sister who was very vocal and out-rightly rebellious teenager -  all caused her to go emotionally numb in order to protect her heart from hurt. And so when I met her and we courted, I had a girlfriend who was not greatly responsive (although she was able to cry, and she cried a lot) but she was able to respond readily to affection. So when I told her I love her – she said, she didn’t quite understand what that really meant. And I on the other had came from a family background that was loud and expressive and filled with hugs and kisses. We were emotionally reactive and highly affectionate.

So we got married – and here is this guy loud and emotionally very expressive and then there is this girl who is emotionally rather numb. And what I needed to do was to tone down, was to get more stable emotionally. And what she needed was to warm up emotionally.

And over the years, and it has been 36 years, 37 if you include 2 years of courtship, and I think in so many ways by being married to Christina, I really refound me and I think, I believe rather, that she refound herself. I found the best me in being married to her. Today I am more emotionally stable; far more stable although I am given to reactions still – but through the years my wife has been there to help me keep that balance. And she probably found the best her.

I remember when our son was born 3 months premature. That evening I was going to pieces. I couldn’t hold myself together, until I saw her after the caesarian surgery at her hospital bed.

There was a strength about her in the crisis that I so needed for myself. And God used it to bring me strength. Then through the months, she demonstrated such long-suffering and patience and perseverance in caring for the baby, I could have never be able to do that. And it changed me.

Can you imagine if I had to somehow succeeded in our early years of marriage
of putting her down for her emotionally numbness and criticizing her for her slowness and raising my expectations of her to become just like me – fast and furious – and not letting her be herself and somehow thinking that my significance is in her diminishing? I dare not think of the damage I could have done to her and to myself.

I really don’t know who I would be as a person, as a father, as a pastor if the Lord had not put Christina in my life. And I am thankful. But I also have a responsibility.
And my responsibility as the head of the home is to use my authority to see that love and grace and justice rule in our home so that she comes into her radiance and in her radiance, I am blessed.

How do we do this husbands?

What power does God give us to use our headship authority to make our wives radiant and at the same time sanctify ourselves. What resources does God give us to accomplish these things?

Here are two from Ephesians 5.


Ephesians 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

What does it mean to be self-sacrificing for your wife? Does it mean you are willing to die for her when the terrorist come to your door? Well, what if no terrorist comes to your door ever? Then how are you going to be self-sacrificing?

In the book, A Promise Kept, J. Robertson McQuilkin, a seminary president tells the story of his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease. His wife, Muriel and him lived in the seminary campus. And as the disease progressed, Muriel wanted to be with her husband all the time. It brought her comfort and joy. She was uneasy without him
and was desperate for him.

So she would walk from their home to his office like about half a mile, each way. She will walk there and be with him. And then he would walk her back or have someone walk her back home.

Then it became several times a day – walk and then walked back, just longing to be with him. One night, as he helped her get ready for bed, he took her shoes off and saw that her feet was bloody from walking back and forth.

And he knew at that point her need of him. And he knew then what he needed to do. And that was to resign the presidency, for her sake, to be with her full-time.
So he gave up the fame, the leadership, the career -  all the stuff a man enjoys and gives him fulfillment just to be with her. So his mind, his intellect, his authority
was now all used for her sake.  Here is a beautiful example of headship and authority expressed in self-sacrifice. He just didn’t want his wife robbed of glory in her Alzheimer.

How do you do such things? How do you live for the sake of another like that?
The obvious thing that Paul is doing here – he is not just saying that our resource
to be the head of the home is self-sacrifice. Ultimately, the resource we have is


I think if you just do a human resolve, saying to yourself -  alright, I will exercise my authority for the sake of my wife’s radiance  – just that resolve won’t sustain you

If you have never benefited from another’s sacrifice in you own life, you cannot be sacrificial.

You will only treat others as you have been treated. That is why you got to know how Jesus has given his all for you; how he gave up his glory in heaven to make you glorious; how he sacrificed his life unto death to give you life eternal. You got to be gripped by the gospel. And that is what going to fuel your life to sacrifice for another, even if they cannot repay you back as in the case of Muriel.

When Robertson McQuilkin’s book went on sale in the early 90s, it just swept the Christian world. Couples began to renew wedding vows; people who were divorced
came back together. He wrote in Christianity Today that all that  sensation astounded him  because all he did was give himself to his wife.

And he said he was actually his oncologist who explained to him why people were crazy with his story. The oncologist, who had seen so many couples in suffering because of cancer, said that reports show that wives are the one who commonly will give up their jobs etc. to care for their ailing husbands and that is very rare for a husband to give up his promising career to care for his wife in her sickness. And the fact that he was willing to do that for his wife was counter-cultural; it was up against the natural instincts of so many men that it simply astounded people.
It inspired people.

But McQuilkin knew the gospel. The power for him to care for his wife in her sickness came from the One who cared for him for all eternity.

It is Christ’s sacrifice that enables us to self-sacrifice.

Guna Raman

Guna Raman is the CEO of City to City Asia Pacific (CTCAP). He served as the senior pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Singapore for 30 years (1990-2019) before transitioning to lead CTCAP.

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