The Headship Issue

The debate over headship in marriage and home is long-standing. Who is the head of the family? This debate has done much harm to home and family. “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” (ecclesia) (Eph 5:23). The scripture is clear in stating that the husband is the head of the wife. However, what does this mean and in what context is this meant to be? I think we sometimes misunderstand Eph 5:23 as meaning control, power, decision-making, authority, ownership and accountability to God for one’s wife and children. Who is the head of the family and how does this headship issue play itself out in our family relationships?

The husband is the head of the family

The headship of the husband speaks not about the wife being unequal to the husband. It speaks of willing submission of the wife to her husband in his exercise of authority and headship of the family. The great difference in the  Christian home and marriage is that the wife submits to the husband’s headship “as to the Lord”.

There can only be one head in any one structure or organization. God has divinely appointed the husband to be the head of the family unit. It should be remembered as well that the husband as the head of the family unit is accountable as a servant of the Lord to fulfil the responsibilities which are his. He is head, but he is a man under divine orders. His family must live and serve the Lord.

The husband is not to rule over the family

Even though the husband is the head of the family he should not rule over the family. This means he must not conduct himself as a king with servants to be beckoned by words of command. Family members (wife and children) are not subservient subjects. Relationships are based and built upon love and respect, not control by one member over the others. Therefore, all members of the family are to function within an atmosphere of mutual love, concern and respect.

Bro Tim Genders once exhorted “Headship is not dictatorship or lordship. It is loving relationships. In fact, both the husband and the wife must be submissive to the Lord and to each other (Ephesians 5:23). It is mutual respect under the Lordship of Jesus Christ”. There must be order within the family but it must be a structure fitting and pleasing to the Lord. The family must be a godly structure. Notice in Eph 5:23 that wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord and (5:25), husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church.

The husband carries special responsibilities

As the head, the husband carries special responsibilities for the family. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (ecclesia) and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and righteous” (Eph 5:25-27). The husband is to love his wife “just as Christ loved the church. He sacrificed his life for the church. He gave completely of himself for others. This is the type of relationship the husband is to have with his wife and his family. ‘The measure of man’s love for his wife is not seen in gifts, words, but in acts of sacrifice and concern for her happiness and welfare’.

The husband must set the tone of the house. He is to love with an ever-present love, one that does not control and manipulate, but one that sacrifices for the good of one another. The special responsibilities that the husband carries include nurturing, loving, protecting, providing, respecting and honouring. Just as Christ loves the church, the husband is to see that the family is cared for and protected. Just as Christ loves God, the husband is to see that the family loves, honours and serves God. The wife and children must be submissive to the headship of the husband and father in the family relationships. The husband must love his wife and children with a self-sacrificing love. Most important of all, the family must be united together in the Lord.

Bro Richard Nganaga (Guruve, Zimbabwe)

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