Biblical Headship, Part 2

Scriptures such as
Ephesians 5:23-28 tell us that the godly headship of a husband to a wife is like the relationship of Christ to his church:

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:23, 25, 29-30, NIV)

This scripture describes a head-body relationship that is loving, caring, and even self-sacrificial. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us more about how a godly and healthy head-body relationship is to be:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 
(1 Corinthians 12:12,24b-25, NIV)

1 Corinthians 12 shows us that the relationship of the head to the body is meant to be based on cooperation, mutual support, and "equal concern". If the husband is the head of the wife, as it says in Ephesians 5:23, then his relationship to is wife should also be one of cooperation, mutual support, and equal concern. This scripture reveals that equal concern and equal honor are key to a relationship without division. They are essential to God’s design for marriage, where two people are to come together to form a single, thriving organism (Genesis 2:24).

Ephesians 4 provides another key to healthy head-body and husband-wife relationships:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  (Ephesians 4:15-19, NIV)

This passage says that in the headship demonstrated by Christ, all parts of the body grow. In domestic violence, by contrast, one partner dominates while diminishing the other. It is like an organism having a head that keeps growing out of control, at the expense of a body that withers. Where there is godly headship, it results in a building up of all the parts in love and cooperation.

Ephesians 4:17-19 also shows us what can go wrong in a marriage with a corrupt concept of headship. The result can be hard-heartedness, lack of sensitivity, and a growing self-indulgence. This is so often seen in domestic violence, where an escalating lust for domination and control leads to coercion instead of cooperation, cruelty instead of love, and hard-heartedness instead of sensitivity. In Matthew 19:8, Jesus testified how toxic hard-heartedness can be to God’s design for marriage.

Ephesians 4:15 tells something else, too. In order for a relationship to be one that allows godly growth, the members must be free to speak truth to each other in love. Christian counselors, Drs. Cloud and Townsend put it this way:

"Being honest and truthful about ourselves and what is going on in a relationship provides [healthy] boundaries. Not being truthful to one another gives a false impression of where we are, as well as who we are…If we are not being truthful with each other, our real relationship goes into hiding…Intimacy is lost, and so is love. Love and truth must exist together…Things don’t change in a marriage until the spouse [experiencing a problem in the marriage] decides to say or do something about it. This can range from mentioning how her spouse’s behavior hurts her feelings, all the way to setting a limit on the behavior. This helps both…to solve the boundary violation."1

A word of caution here: if the relationship has become so unhealthy that speaking the truth in love to an abuser could be dangerous, the abused spouse should not act without taking steps to guard her safety and that of her children. This may mean developing a safety plan (If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader you can download it here: ) for herself and her children. It could mean applying the four-step safety procedure Jesus taught for confronting transgressors (read it in Matthew 18:15-17), using professional help as needed, and staying away from a persistent abuser when necessary. It could mean getting help to escape danger.

Satan doesn’t want us to grow in our relationships to each other or to Christ, and is working hard to destroy God’s original design for marriage. Jesus came to restore this design as He reconciles all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). He not only taught and demonstrated the model, He gave us instruction in His Word to help us to make marriage a place of nurturing, growth, and love. Through godly headship and godly submission, man and woman can form a single organism that demonstrates to the world Christ’s plan for the Church.


Discussion Question:

  1. What are some things that may have made it difficult for you to "speak the truth" with your spouse? Are there certain fears that inhibit you?


1. Boundaries In Marriage, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Zondervan Publishing House, 1999.


Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy