Headship: In Matrimony

The Design of God

The design of God for marital headship is no afterthought. In the last article we understood that in chronological order, God, with purpose, formed the man before the woman (cf. 1Co 11:9) – headship is not a result of sin! We also noted the moral order of the creation, proving the clear superiority of mankind over the animal kingdom. With the benefit of the NT, we further observed the typical order, that in Genesis 2:18-25 God was painting a portrait to speak of Christ and His bride. Now we desire to focus on the scriptural order for headship within marriage.

The Delight of God

The delight of God for marital headship is not hidden in Scripture. With creation blossoming from His handiwork and the first couple in total harmony in His presence, we hear Him breathe out, “Very good.” With man placed as head, the woman was to be his “help meet” (Gen 2:18).[1] The Hebrew word means to “aid” or “assist,” not a position to be despised. Of the 21 times it’s used in the OT, 16 refer to God Himself. For example, Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: whence shall my ‘help’ come? My ‘help’ [cometh] from Jehovah, who made the heavens and the earth” (JND). To every godly wife, as you take this dignified position, you are in good company! Within marriage, man and woman are not autonomous; rather, a mutual dependence is vital. We bless God that into the first marriage He firmly established the principle of headship, setting a foundation stone for every marriage thereafter.

The Dismay of God

The dismay of God in the disregard of marital headship is unmistakably discerned in Genesis 3:8-19. The man who introduced thousands of new words when he named the animals had remained silent when Eve partook from the tree and did eat. Spirituality is not based upon intellect. The woman who was to be a helper to Adam heeded the lie of the devil and stepped out of her God-given sphere, embracing the position of leadership and head. The first marriage was under attack, and the first principle that was assaulted was headship.

The Desire of God

The desire of God for marital headship to continue was not diminished. In the NT we have every instruction for headship to flourish within the marriage bond. Ephesians 5:22 teaches us that for the wellbeing of the marriage, wives are to “submit [them]selves unto [their] own husbands, as unto the Lord.” The Greek word translated “submit” is used 49 times in the NT and is constructed from 2 words meaning to voluntarily arrange oneself in an orderly manner within the sphere of authority – yielding to another’s control. The first mention of the word is in Luke 2:51: “He [Jesus] went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” People speak of going on missions for God, but the greatest mission is submission! Voluntarily placing oneself under divinely appointed authority and leadership shines the spotlight upon God’s creatorial wisdom. In doing so, the woman herself is magnified before God (cf. 1Pe 3:4).

Titus 2:3 makes it abundantly clear that the aged women are to teach the young women how to love their husbands, how to have a true maternal care for their children, how to be self-controlled and pure in their actions, maintaining and benefiting the home sphere by being in voluntary submission to the authority of the husband. Such responsibility to teach these things can only be accomplished by those who have lived after this manner themselves.

What about those who have an unsaved or erring husband, who wilfully disobeys the Word of God? 1 Peter 3:1-6 makes it clear that “living” before them will be more effective than “preaching” at them. It’s possible to win the erring party by a clean and holy life. They note your fear of God and desire to be right inwardly, as opposed to merely concentrating on material externals. It stands in contrast to this corruptible world, and your ability to exercise a mild and unobtrusive spirit not only speaks volumes to them but also is highly valued by God. Attraction to spiritual things is not based upon the flesh.

Placing oneself in submission is a vulnerable place to be. We only have to observe the life and sufferings of Christ to see this exemplified. In order to safeguard this place of the wife, our God is careful to give clear instructions to the man. In 1 Peter 3:7, the husband is taught to dwell with his wife “according to knowledge.” It is incumbent upon the man to get to know his wife, not be constantly off with friends or living separate lives. He is to give “honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel.” While this could mean weaker physically or emotionally, I suggest it also may be because of the place of submission she has voluntarily surrendered herself to, leaving herself vulnerable. Husbands, don’t abuse it or take it for granted, but value and promote her for it! Headship is founded upon authority and submission, not abuse and suppression.

In Ephesians 5:25-33, the husband is taught to be sacrificial in love to his wife, as Christ was in giving Himself for the Church. Likewise, as Christ is presently sanctifying and cleansing the Church with the water of the Word, the husband’s responsibility is to have a spiritual love for his wife, not one based upon satisfying his own desires. Let us remember that as the Church will be manifested and the work of Christ borne witness to, so, too, the actions of a husband for his wife will be scrutinised and seen at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The love of a husband for his wife is to be selfless – “so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” It is to be a sensitive love, one that will nourish, cherish and keep warm. Yes, husbands, there is nothing wrong with being a romantic! Let every one of you particularly in this way so love his wife, and the wife see that she respects her husband.

Finally, having considered the devastating effect that sin brought to marriage, it’s with joy that we witness headship within matrimony being upheld and enjoyed. Scripture is replete with marriages that brought pleasure to the heart of God. May Christians today experience the same.


[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.