Monday, 28 July 2008

What is biblical headship?

This is an interesting question posed on a few forums I read regarding headship in marriage.

Here are six pointers for blokes:

1. Be selfless and always loving to her: Eph 5:25
2. Love her as you love yourself: Eph 5:33
3. Do not be harsh to her: Col 3:19
4. Be considerate, treat her with respect : 1 Pe 3:7
5. Grant her honour as she is a fellow heir: 1 Pe 3:7
6. Know you will be judged by God for what you do: Col 3:25

That is not a comprehensive list of roles, but rather gives us a flavour of what husbands are to aim for as part of the outworking of their headship. If we are not hitting these targets, then whatever we are doing is not headship in a biblical sense.

I think sometimes the headship discussion becomes all a bit too technical and hierarchical and talks about the actions of the man without due regard to the benefit for the woman. Would your wife volunteer 1-5 as being true for you?

If we look at the example of Jesus, he is inclusive to women beyond what his culture was comfortable with. On top of that Jesus cooked: John 21:9-12 and did "menial" tasks: John 13:3-5 normally reserved for servants.

So does headship mean we always get to decide everything? Well God commanded Abraham to obey Sarah Gen 21:9-12 when Sarah was closer to God's heart than Abraham was, even when Sarah had already called Abraham "Lord" (1 Peter 3:5-6).

Who else gets to be called Lord? Well - Jesus for starters. Did Jesus rule with an iron fist or was he worth following (or even submitting to) because of his intense humility, compassion and godliness? Because of his selfless love that cost him everything?

Maybe humble, compassionate and godly men are the answer, as they are worth "following".

Jesus was not some big softie though - he challenged hypocrisy, he hated sin, he lashed out at mammon, he was jealous for His Father's house, but he was also the fullness of God, gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

I don't see headship as something we "are" by rights, by some rudimentary biological difference, but rather a responsibility and calling we can choose to live in the fullness of, by the grace of God.

The flip side is that it is also something we can fail in, horribly, as Adam did. It is a duty we can only uphold on our knees before God, without a hint of pride or self seeking.


DaveW said...

How about a couple of pointers for both wife and husband.

0: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ: Ephesians 5: 21

0.5: Recognise that old distinctions between genders have passed away: Galatians 3:28

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Distinctions or overcoming injustices and disunity?

It is interesting that in Galatians 3:28 it talks of situations of injustice, mistrust and abuse at that time.

Jew - Gentile, Slave - Master, Man - Woman.

"In Christ" there is a unity that can never be experienced by those not "in him".

But I don't think that Paul redefined the role God gave to the Jews, but rather placed it within the context of the new covenant in Christ.

PamBG said...

Isn't 'the role given to the Jews' a corporate role rather than 'the role given to each individual Jew'?

The Jewish people were to be the people through whom the Messiah would come. As Christians, we believe that this role has been fulfilled.

I've always understood - and I'm open to correction here if I'm wrong - that within complementarianism 'the role of women' was more about 'the role of each individual woman in each individual family'.

A 'corporate role' only in the sense that each godly woman who played out her subservient role would draw other women and families into the example of their 'godly roles'.

I'm afraid that I still don't understand the purpose - in soft form complementarianism - of women being subservient in a marriage and men being 'the head' in a marriage? Everything you say about how wives and husbands should behave appears to sound like egalitarianism properly understood (e.g. 'egalitarianism' as I understand it as opposed to the straw-woman - *grin*- stereotype of man-hating witches).

Egalitarianism is nothing more than each person putting the other person first. And if husband and wife both act with consideration toward each other, it's honestly not that difficult. If husband and wife are both always trying to get their own way and the man 'needs' to be 'the head' to break constant deadlocks, I'd suggest that the two people aren't really acting in a Christian way. Christian discipleship is not about 'What can I get out of this relationship?'

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

I think the desire within any Christian to godliness will lead us to very similar places in many things.

The Jewish comment was merely based on my understanding that the NT both declares their equality with gentiles in Christ, but appears to leave the door open for their future role being slightly different in ways yet unseen, relating to God's choice not their merit, but that is a massive tangent.

It is true though Pam - that when you write about egalitarianism it sounds remarkably similar to what I think and do, and you say vice versa. So the stereotypes of "man hating witches TM" or "abusive men TM" are not that helpful.

I don't think I need to "break" a deadlock, certainly not by overiding or forcing anything.

But I do believe I have a responsibility before God to ensure the deadlock is passed through, in a way that honours Him, and that might mean I have to move more ground than she does.

PamBG said...

I'm really beginning to think that soft-form complementarians are saying exactly the same thing I'm saying but you are just putting a different label on it.

dave bish said...

Listening to Mark Driscoll.... paraphrased: yes my wife is to submit to me, and that works when I love her, seek what's best for her, seek to have our home how she'd want it, help her get rest, serve her etc... - submission comes in the context of sacrificial love. Thanks for this post.

DaveW said...


I assume that we agree (I hope I am not mis-understanding your position) that if the husband fails to "love her, seek what's best for her, seek to have our home how she'd want it, help her get rest, serve her etc.." then the wife should not longer submit.

I am interested to know how you would advise a woman on the cross over. ie how much (and what sort of) failure on the part of the husband before you advise the wife not to submit any more.

Also how much range of opinion is there on this?

It seems to me that this must be a difficult balancing act, to require submission while at the same time avoiding harm from husbands who fail in their headship.