Husbands tend to fall into one of two errors. Some are too passive, others are too domineering or controlling. In Ephesians 5, Paul addresses both extremes. To the passive abdicator of responsibility, he says, “Lead your wife.” To the aggressive tyrant, he says, “Love your wife.”

Let’s focus on Mr Passive today and see if we can help him step up to the plate and start leading. Before we do so, though, let’s just deal with some objections that may already be rising about this idea of the husband being the leader.

Two Equalities

First of all we state categorically that when it comes to salvation there is no distinction, no difference between men and women. All Christians are equally loved, forgiven, and adopted (Gal. 3:28). 

Second, men and women are essentially equal. As we noted yesterday, God made us different, not to compete with one another but to complement one another. These differences do not make one gender better than the other. We must not allow a smidgeon of thought that differences mean any essential inferiority or superiority.

Even though women are weaker than men in some areas (like physical strength), women are stronger than men in other areas (like longevity and intuition). Each needs the other to perfect and complete them.

But even given soteriological and essential equality, in day-to-day living there has to be a leader, a captain of a team, a manager of a business, and a head of a home. And for that day-to-day family life, God has appointed the husband to be the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23). What does that mean?

Lead as a Head 

When many of us hear the language of headship, we immediately think of our worst experiences at the hands of authority figures: a bad-tempered boss, an aggressive coach, an abusive father, a despotic minister, an egomaniacal politician, and so on.

However, we’ve got to put these images out of our minds, and think only of the head-body imagery that Paul deliberately chooses here. That changes everything. There’s a huge difference between being a ruler and a head.

A head is attached to the body, cannot exist without the body, cares for the body, and provides for the body. A ruler has no such connection, dependence, or relationship to the ruled. This leadership, then, is a metaphor of protection not of power, of salvation not domination, as Paul’s very next words underline:

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

Lead as a Servant

“He is the Savior of the body.” Just as Christ came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many, so the husband is to demonstrate this kind of unselfish headship in his relationship to his wife.

Lead by Listening

One of the ways a husband leads and serves his wife is by listening to her. He doesn’t assume that he knows everything, that he has all the answers, that wisdom begins and ends with him. He sees His wife as wonderful resource, as his chief adviser, as a treasure trove of insight and knowledge. He therefore asks for and listens to her advice and counsel. He also listens to her concerns, fears, and worries.

Lead by Deciding

Yes, the husband puts his wife first, listens carefully to her, takes full account of her views, and weighs them seriously, But ultimately he has to take the final decision, and accept all the responsibility for that. He must not pass the buck (or drop it) the buck stops with him in both spiritual and temporal matters.

Lead by Delegating

A good manager doesn’t do everything himself. He knows how to delegate, and he does so in a way that brings out the best in people and helps them to flourish. As Jay Adams put it:

A good manager will look at his helper and say, “She has certain abilities. If I am going to manage my household well, I must see that every last one of those gifts is developed and put to use as fully as possible.” He will not want to quash her personality; rather, he will seek to bring it to the fullest flower.

  • Paula

    Thanks for this. I shared with my friends!

  • a.

    “men and women are essentially equal”
    “differences don’t mean any essential inferiority or superiority”


    • Eric

      the wording threw me off too, but i think David is trying to communicate the idea of ‘equal in essence’ as opposed to ‘equal with caveats’.

      • David Murray

        Yes, I mean that, but also more. I also mean equality at the level of being, personhood, identity, etc.

        • Eric

          thanks for clarifying!

          • a.

            “differences don’t mean any essential inferiority or superiority”

            s/b “differences don’t mean any inferiority or superiority” ?
            just reacting to what sometimes seems ‘out there’ pushback because of misunderstanding that this is being said:
            “superiority, inferiority” – the belief that you are better/worse than another

    • Boyd

      Can they be ‘equal’ if one has been designated the ‘leader’ and been given final decision/responsibiltiy on all things regarding the marriage ?? If God set it up this way, and one is ‘above’ the other in rank in the family…I think it would be o.k., wouldn’t it then ‘work’ better that way ?? Just askin..

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  • buddyglass23

    Lead by Deciding

    Can you give some examples of contexts in which the husband should lead by deciding?

    • Boyd

      Husband and wife talk something over in depth/detail….she agrees or doesn’t agree with him, or doesn’t care one way or the other… The man now decides what they will do together based on whats’ best for her/him both, and take responsibility for the decision…leadership.

      • buddyglass23

        I’m trying to get as concrete as possible. Given the husband’s job of loving his wife requires him to self-sacrificially elevate her welfare and preferences over his own, what’s an example of a situation where the husband who is “leading by deciding” should decide {X} when his wife has voiced a strong preference for {Y} instead?

        Honestly, I’m not sure I can think of any situation where my wife and I have disagreed about something and I felt strongly enough about my own view to override hers. Though I could be experiencing selective memory.

        • Darren

          Surely you can think of reasonable hypotheticals even if you haven’t experienced such a disagreement personally. Just think of any situation in which you are convinced that her preferences and her welfare or the welfare of your children are at odds.

          Take church attendance for example. If we have been members of a church for a long time and for some reason of conscience I become convinced that we should no longer be a part of that congregation, I would lovingly insist we leave even if my wife didn’t believe my objections justified leaving. Obviously this wouldn’t be a curt, unilateral decision. It would involve all of the same communication, consideration and prayer together that all big decisions warrant, even when you agree.

          Perhaps these disagreements surface most in parenting. If and when should you baptize your kids, what kind of discipline should you use, if and at what age they should be allowed to date, etc.

          • buddyglass23

            “Surely you can think of reasonable hypotheticals…”

            I could, but I would never be sure they’re the kind of situation Boyd (and Mr. Murray) had in mind.

            Have you and your wife ever reached an impasse in any of the situations you listed where she had to eventually submit to your decision even though she continued to disagree?

      • Amber

        This idea seems so unbiblical. What support do you have for this?

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  • Jeremy

    Or don’t lead maybe?

  • Sam Rollins

    I think that this article completely ignores all historical context for the passages of scriptures. This is weak analysis–i know you can do better. To quote Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, “It is often assumed that “head” in the Koine Greek of the New Testament, means leader, boss or authority. However, despite the fact that there are scores of references with all kinds of titles to leaders in every area of life in the New Testament, none is ever designated as “head.” The word “head” used in this manner appears exclusively in the relation of Christ to the church paralleled in that of husband to wife. In each of those New Testament references, the function of Christ’s headship to the church is one of servant-provider and never one of authority or leadership”.

    • David Fritch

      You kind of miss the whole point of this article by scutinizing it the terminology. The point is to encourage men to love, lead and serve their families.

    • J_May

      Sam, I would stay away from the teaching of anyone who so poorly handles the Word of God. It’s easy on so many levels to refute the quote you posted. The most obvious is that Christ is not merely the Savior and provider of His body, but its Lord also.

      Also, the passage clearly says that wives should submit to their husbands as unto the Lord.

      Additionally, in the original language of the text (Koine Greek, as the quote mentions), the passage actually goes on to say “wives fear your husbands.” If anyone is familiar with Biblical idioms, this does not mean “be anxiously afraid of” but it means “revere”. Unfortunately, the word gets translated as “respect” too often, which is strange because it’s just the regular word “fear” (phobos) and is translated as “respect” into English nowhere else. I suspect this is out of fear (the anxious, afraid type) of cultural mores that have been developed since the Industrial Revolution, and not in reverence to the Word of God. So actually, the Koine is even more intensely in favor of hierarchical leadership, not less.

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