Meditations from Ephesians
This is a story about love. It would be a mistake to leave headship in the category of doctrine. It is so much more than that. If that’s all it was, then maybe another term would do. We could use a term such as leadership, or authority, or order, but that’s not what God chose to use. He chose to use headship in explaining the beautiful relationship between “Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). Headship is a love story of the purest kind because it involves the purest form of love, love as our Creator intended it to be and love that reveals Who God is. It gives the Christian husband a template for loving his wife, and even when he fails to do so, it is still to remain as his standard and goal.
As Paul writes to the Ephesian believers, he develops headship on three different levels. The first level is the literal reality of how a physical head relates to its body. At the second level, we have the truest form of this relationship as we see Christ and His Church. And from that perfect model, we have the pattern for the final level – the application level – as Christian husbands learn to love their wives in everyday life.
In the natural sphere, science and medicine have much to say about the relationship between our heads and our bodies. They are interconnected in such a way that they act as one unit. We take for granted what our mind does in order to supply and control our body. It controls our thoughts, our actions, and our emotions. In fact, it controls everything that happens. It regulates our heart rate, our breathing, our swallowing and the functioning of every organ. When our finger touches a hot stove, the nerves in our skin shoot a message to the brain, which detects danger and fires back a command to pull the finger away. All of this takes place in a fraction of a second. We are, indeed, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psa 139:14).
It is fair to say that the head has a deep concern for the function and safety of the body. It is a sacrificial care, not just toward certain parts of the body, but toward the entire being. It makes decisions for each individual part so that the whole benefits. This is the illustration that is used to describe Christ in relation to His Church. Paul tells the Ephesians that He is “Head over all things to the Church, which is His body” (Eph 1:22-23). As Paul describes Christ as the Head, He refers to the Church as His body every time. In this case, the term “Church” refers to all saints on a global scale throughout history, from Pentecost until now. If you are a Christian, then you are a member of this body. You have a part in this love story. And the question remains: how does our Head care for us as “the Church, which is His body?” (Eph 1:22-23). The answer centers in the cross. In chapter one, the picture of Christ as Head over the Church is set against the backdrop of His resurrection from the dead. The pathway to His position as Head runs through the agonizing death of the cross, and a tomb that is now empty.
In chapter four, we are reminded again that if Christ has “ascended” to His position as Head, then He must have first descended into the lower regions of the earth (Eph 4:9). Again, we are confronted with His coming down before His going up.
In chapter five, we are once more reminded that “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25, NIV). In the three references to Christ as the Head of the Church, we cannot escape two obvious realities. The first is His love. The second is His sacrificial care. As Head, He is permanently marked by self-sacrificial love. He was willing to give Himself for the Church’s welfare, but there is more.
In chapter four, as Paul takes us from the past and points to the present, we see what our Head is doing for us now. He has supplied the Church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. They all have something in common; they use words. Through their “speaking the truth in love,” the “body of Christ” is built up (Eph 4:15). This is reinforced in chapter five as we see Christ sanctifying her and cleansing her “by the washing of water with the Word” (Eph 5:26). As Head, He is supplying everything His body, the Church, needs in order to flourish and “grow up in every way” (Eph 4:15, ESV).
His sacrifice and care have a goal in mind. There is a day coming when He will “present the Church to Himself in splendor” (Eph 5:27, ESV). There will be no “spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” She will be “holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:17). He is committed to her. He will not forsake her. He is the purest model of what it means to be the Head. The physical and spiritual models both lead us to a vivid picture of self-sacrificing, other-centered, and committed love.
Paul points out the profound implications for Christian husbands. Our Creator designed marriage with specific order. “The husband is the head of the wife” (Eph 5:23). This is what the husband’s role should be in relation his bride. He is to love her based on the template of Christ’s love for the Church. He is to love her as his own body (Eph 5:28). If he is going to love her in this way, he will commit himself for as long as the Lord gives him life, to supply everything she needs so that she can reach the potential that God intended for her. In the end, our Lord receives all the glory from such a life that reflects His example of headship.