by Doy Moyer
Let’s start with this well-known statement:
“For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23).
The immediate thought seems to be that the man is where “the buck stops” in the home. This makes him responsible in multiple ways. But I want to explore this idea of his being the head beyond that. What I think is sometimes missing here is that the passage itself defines the implications of this.
Notice the qualifying statement about Jesus in context: “He Himself being the Savior of the body.” Let’s clear something up right now. While the man is the “head of the wife,” he is not the “head” to the same extent that Jesus is head over the church. Jesus has authority that no man has, so we need to be careful we aren’t taking this metaphor further than intended. “Head” implies a level of authority, but authority to do what exactly in this context? Boss her around? Give orders her like a drill sergeant? Of course not. Look at the context because it tells us what this means.
The man here is head in that he has the charge of being a type of “savior” of the body. He cannot save her from her sins like Jesus does, but he can be a protector of the body. This would imply taking caring for, nourishing, and loving the body. And this is the point Paul makes in Ephesians 5:25, 28-30: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her… In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body.”
This contextually defines what it means to be the head, and this presents to us the servant-leader model. The man gives himself up for his wife. See again Philippians 2:3-5 to see the mind of Christ, a mind that ought to be followed fully in marriage. In this relationship, we do nothing selfishly or in conceit, but in humility treat one another as more important than self. Husbands need to be following this pattern. Headship has its limitations for the husband, and rather than seeing it as a place of power, see it as a position of service.
Let’s go a little further. Ephesians 5:25 says that Christ gave Himself up for the body, and this is the example of what the man is to be doing for his wife. The phrase “gave Himself” is important for seeing the servant-leader model. To get this point firmly fixed, I want to remind us that marriage is intended to be an example of what Christ’s relationship is to those for whom He died in a specific way (Eph 5:32). It is to model the love and sacrifice of Christ. With that in mind, consider the point Jesus made to His disciples when they had problems with each other:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
Now apply this to marriage because there is a direct correlation. Men, you are not to be rulers who lord it over your household, acting like tyrants. If that is expressly forbidden among all disciples, then it would especially be forbidden in a marriage meant to showcase what Christ did for His body. “It is not so among you.” Rather, you are a servant to all. Following Christ’s example, you are not there to be served by your wife, but rather to serve and give your life for her. Isn’t that what Ephesians 5 tells us? You are the head and, yes, the buck stops with you, but as the head, you are the servant who is giving your life. This is the love Jesus showed.
Do not conceive of headship, then, as a position in which you get to wield power and demand whatever you want. You are not God, and that attitude should not be found in husbands. If you are following Christ, then you are a servant who is giving your life and putting her first. That’s the example Jesus gives, and that’s what the text teaches us. Be the godly, loving servant-leader, not the ungodly tyrant-leader.