Saturday, September 09, 2006

Matt's Messages - Headship

September 10, 2006
Ephesians 5:22-6:4

This is our second week in our Home Improvement series. Last week was basically an introduction: why we are studying God’s design for the family, what we hope to accomplish in our families with God’s grace, and what foundation we need to build and (where necessary) re-build upon–the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you missed last week, let me encourage you to grab a free CD of last week’s message. They are in the bins on the right side of the steps as you go out of the auditorium. Also, you will notice on page 4 of your bulletin a tentative schedule for this series. I am not promising to actually do it like I have listed in the bulletin! But I wanted you to have some kind of a map of where we are headed over the next 4 months. And you can pray for these messages using that.

Many of you have turned in good questions about the family on the Home Improvement Survey. I hope that these messages address them. There’s still plenty of time to fill out a survey. They are under the missionary-letter bulletin board in the foyer. Also on that table are sheets for turning in prayer requests for my retreat on Tuesday. I’ll be praying for you and your family, and I’d love to have specific requests to take with me.

Have you found Ephesians 5? We will be in this passage this week and next week (more in-depth) and then return to it again later on in the series. There’s a lot in this passage, but today I want to just focus on one thing: leadership in the family.

As I read it, I want you to notice everything that it says about leadership in the family.

Ephesians chapter 5, verse 22.

[scripture reading, prayer]

Okay, what did you notice about leadership in the family according to Ephesians 5 and 6?

According to Ephesians 5 and 6, who is designated by God to lead their families?

The men are.

The husband is called “the head of the wife” in chapter 5, verse 23.

And fathers are singled out by name to “bring up [their] children in the training and instruction of the Lord” in chapter 6, verse 4.


It has always been this way. In the book of Genesis (to which we will refer repeatedly during this series), God made the Man first (before the rest of his family) and gave him certain responsibilities as the Man such as naming all kinds of things including even his wife. From the beginning, God has designated men to lead their families.

And for better or worse, men have led their families for most of human history.

We often call this leadership “headship” after the metaphor that Paul uses here in Ephesians 5 and elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 11 to say that the husband is the head of his wife. We often expand that to cover the whole of leading his family. We call him the “head of his family” because he is charged with leading it.

Next week, we’re going to look at headship and submission explicitly in the primary context of marriage.

But this week, I just want to start generally with the God-given responsibility of men to lead their families.

In 1 Timothy, when Paul is giving Tim the qualifications for being a leader, he says, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)” (1 Tim 3:4-5).

Leading/managing/caring for a family is part of the character qualifications of a church leader. That’s because church leaders are supposed to be examples of what Christian men are supposed to be like.

And Christian men are supposed to exercise headship in their families.

God Has Designated Men to Lead Their Families.

Men, sometimes you may wonder or even be asked, “Who died and put you in charge?”

Well, God put you in charge.

You have not earned the right to lead.
You have been charged with the responsibility.

If you have a wife and/or kids, you have been appointed–you have been designated–“head.”

To keep up our analogy of a construction site, you have been named “the foreman.”

The man at the front.

You have a different colored hard-hat on the construction site of your family.

God Has Designated Men to Lead Their Families.

Now, for some of you this is Family 101. You know this stuff. You’ve come from male-headed families and have led male-headed families for years.

You’re hoping that I can give you some pointers for doing it better.

For others of you, this is new stuff. You’ve never been a part of a healthy male-headed family. You might not even know anyone who is part of a healthy male-headed family. Lots of boys and girls are growing up in homes without fathers.

The male-headed family is an anomaly in today’s American society.

The nod is given to it from time to time, but it’s becoming a rare thing in our culture.

And yet, it’s so fundamental for healthy families!

This is why our culture is in crisis.

This is why the family is in danger!

And that’s why we are starting the series with this:

God Has Designated Men to Lead Their Families.

Some of you are not persuaded yet.

The idea of headship and male leadership in the home is a hotly disputed topic even in the Church today.

So, I want to begin by making 5 points about male headship, male leadership in the home that I hope can clarify what the biblical teaching is and isn’t so that our families can be led by good foremen.


I know that’s a double-negative which you shouldn’t never use.

But I’m trying to clarify the misconception.

Some people think that headship means inequality between men and women. It doesn’t.

The Bible teaches that men and women are equal in dignity, value, and worth.

Genesis says that men and women are made in the same image–the image of God. And that gives both men and women equal value, dignity, and worth.

And the Apostle Paul (the same one who calls men “head”), says that both men and women are equal in salvation, redemption, where it really counts.

In Galatians chapter 3, verses 26-28, Paul says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.

Headship does not mean inequality.

I’ve talked to men who think that because they are the head they are better than their wives and more important than their children.

It’s not true.

Being a man doesn’t make you better than anyone else.

You aren’t worth more. You don’t have more value. You don’t have more dignity.

You aren’t more glorious.

This is probably where the analogy of the foreman breaks down. I would imagine that, on some jobs at least, if not most, the foreman makes more money than the other construction workers. He might be considered worth more than another guy on the crew.

But that’s not how it works in God’s plan for the family.

Men, the Apostle Peter tells us to treat our wives with respect as co-heirs in the gracious gift of life.

Headship does not mean inequality.


This one goes along with the last one.

Because you are the head, men, does not mean that you get your will all of the time. It does not mean that you rule in your home and that everyone must bow to your wishes.

I’ve seen some male-headed homes that were run by dominating tyrants.

They read verses 22 through 24, but they ignore verses 25 through 33.

Headship is loving and caring and sacrificial–not dominating and controlling and overlording.

Some of you have experienced this either in the family you grew up in or in your family now.

Tyranny has been a problem ever since the Fall. In Genesis 3, part of the curse on the woman was that she would desire to rule over her husband and would then suffer from his domination (Gen 3:16).

Men, don’t use your headship as an excuse for abuse. You will be held accountable for it.

This one is on the other end of the spectrum:


This is the opposite extreme from tyranny. This is men who will not lead their families.

They leave it up to other people, especially their wives, sometimes even their children!

I know men who say, “Well, I’ll have to ask the Boss.” And they really mean it!

Not that we shouldn’t be asking our wives what they think. We should. Good leaders do that all of the time.

I mean, these men think of their wives as the Boss. As the foreman. In charge of their home, their family, their head!

Many men want their wives to be like their mothers were and take care of them and lead them around.

Or maybe they don’t even get married at all. And are passive to the extreme of not even taking a wife.

Many men are passive in some areas that they should be active in–especially the most important area–spiritually.

Many men take some responsibility in the areas of providing, protecting, and so on, but they are passive spectators when it comes to their families’ relationship with God.

But that’s not the kind of headship that God has designed for the Christian family.

Headship does not mean passivity.

Do you know who started this?

Adam did.

Where was Adam when Eve was being tempted with the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3?

The Bible says that he was right there. What was he doing?

He should have been stomping on the head of that snake that was lying to his wife!

But instead, he was just sitting there, passively watching all of our lives unravel.

Headship does not mean passivity.
Nor does headship mean tyranny.

Men, most of us fall somewhere between the two. Which one do you tend towards?

Do you tend to rule with an iron fist?
Do you tend to leave the decisions and the direction of your family up to someone else?

I gravitate towards the passive end of the continuum. It’s a lot easier to let Heather take the initiative to discipline the kids or to make a decision about some purchase or something. But by God’s grace, I have been growing as a foreman on our crew for the last 12 years, and I am getting quicker at taking responsibility for the direction of our family.

How about you? Which way do you lean?

Headship does not mean inequality.
Headship does not mean tyranny.
And headship does not mean passivity.

So, what does it mean?

I think I can boil it down to two words.


Men, you have [not tyrannical authority but] genuine authority in your family.

You are called to lead. You have to make the big decisions.

You can’t be passive. You can’t stand idly by. You are in charge.

That does not mean that you are “on your own!” You don’t lead out there miles ahead of your family. You are one flesh with your wife. And you are called to listen to your children.

But at the end of the day, you are the God-appointed authority in your home.

You might say, “That’s unfair. My wife is a lot smarter than I am.” It’s true for me.

“And she’s got better leadership gifts.”

Well, utilize her brains and her gifts in your home. But you’ve been put in charge. You are the foreman. You are the head. You can’t dodge your authority.

You need to step up to the plate.

I used to think that it wasn’t much in the way of authority. Headship basically meant to me that there had to be a tie-breaking vote when the two of us couldn’t agree on something.

But I’ve meditated a lot on this passage and the meaning of the word “head.”

And I’ve come to see that there is a real authority bound up in being the head. And I ignore it to my peril.

And it goes hand in hand with this last one.


This is the big one.

In a way that my wife is not, I am responsible for my marriage and my family.

I am responsible.

I will be held accountable.

Not that my wife is not responsible for her own actions. Not that my children aren’t responsible for their own behavior.

But in a way that they are not, I am responsible for my family.

After the Fall in Genesis 3 (Notice how this all got started back at the beginning?), when Eve had been tempted and was the first to bite, whom did God come looking for first?

The Bible says that God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Adam was held responsible for what was happening to his family. We know that he had failed in passivity. And he was held accountable.

In headship, God is giving men both the authority and the responsibility to lead their families where they need to go.

And you know what?

Most women love it when their husbands act like godly heads.

And almost all children do.

Headship mean responsibility.

Responsibility for what?

Ultimately, for the direction set in every area of your family.

Headship means taking responsibility for the direction set in every area of your family.

That doesn’t mean making all of the decisions. It does mean making sure that all of the decisions get made.

I’ve found that headship often boils down to taking the initiative.

In providing, protecting, parenting, sexuality, finances–basically everything–especially spiritually (like what we heard from Jeff and Ben today).

Headship means loving your family enough to lead it where God wants to take it.

Yesterday, we went to the Tractor Show at Penn’s Cave.

That was cool!

And there was so much testosterone there! There were men everywhere.

And what I kept wondering while I was there, was whether or not those men who could do such amazing things with machines were committed to leading their families where God wanted them to go.

Foremen taking the responsibility for their crew.

Now, I know that many of you are not men or are not men yet.

And I know that this raises a whole host of questions:

What about when my husband won’t lead?
What about if my husband is not a Christian?
What about if my ex-husband and I are divorced?
What about leading my children in that case?

What about...?

Well, certainly, if there is no man to be the head, you have to take those responsibilities yourself. And God will give you grace if you trust in Him.

And if your husband is not a Christian yet, you will have to lead your children in certain ways–especially spiritually. He is not the head in that sense.

But he is still your head. We’ll talk more in a couple of weeks about spiritually single marriages.

There are a whole bunch of “what abouts.” And God will provide wisdom for navigating them.

But here is His revealed will: God Has Designated Men to Lead Their Families.

Married men, here are some diagnostic questions for you:

How are you doing at leading?

Are you leading?

Do you see yourself as the head?

Do you see yourself as her equal?

Are you rejecting passivity?

Are you taking responsibility?

Are you ruling like tyrant?

What does your wife think?

What do your kids think?

What do your friends think?

Have you asked them? Any of them?

How is your family doing under your leadership?

Where are you taking your family?

What blueprints, what foundation are you building your family upon?

Are you the authority in your family?

Are you taking the initiative?

Are you making the key decisions? Are you getting the input you need?

What are you doing to lead your family where it counts the most–spiritually?

Are you leading in family prayers, family worship, family devotions?

Sometimes, we have such fantastic wives that we think that we don’t have to lead her. But our fantastic wives have us as their heads, and we are responsible for them.

Boys and Unmarried Men, here are some diagnostic questions for you:

Are you training for headship?

Are you taking responsibility for the areas that God has entrusted to you now?

Are you becoming a man worthy of following?

Girls and Unmarried Women, here are a couple of questions for you:

Who are you going to marry?

Someone who is tyrannous? If you listen, you’ll probably know before you get married what he’s going to really be like.

How about someone who is passive? Are you going to marry someone you are going to end up leading?

I pray regularly (even last night) for Robin Joy who is very strong willed leadershipp-gifted young girl that she would marry a man worth following. A man who can lead her.

Are you going to marry an unbeliever? There are reasons to find yourself spiritually single, but going in with your eyes wide open to it shouldn’t be one of them.

Married Women, here are some diagnostic questions for you:

Are you enabling passivity? Are you taking the lead where you know you should follow or ask to be led?

Do you have a disposition to follow even when you don’t or even can’t agree with your husband? We’ll talk more next week about what submission is, but at least, it’s an attitude, an internal disposition to follow your man when you can.

Everyone, pray for headship to raise its head again.

This is what is missing in America. We have become a divorce-based fatherless nation.

We need fathers to not only raise their boys and girls, but to raise them to be fathers and mothers.

We have a crisis of headship that needs to be solved.

Now, I would imagine that there is a heaviness that has fallen on the shoulders of the men in this room today.

Perhaps you have been reminded of your responsibility again and it feels heavy.

I pray almost every day for wisdom because my responsibilities seem so heavy.

Perhaps you have seen your responsibility for the first time. And you are feeling it.

Maybe you’ve messed up a lot as a tyrant or a wimp and you see yourself in the mirror of God’s Word.

I want to end with this:

Remember what we are building our families upon: the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Jesus died and rose again for this!

Jesus died for all of your passivity and tyranny.

Jesus died to forgive you for your treating them as inferiors.

Jesus rose to give you power to use your authority for their good.

Jesus rose to give you power to take responsibility and initiative to lead your family where God wants it to go.

Jesus died as an example (we’ll see this more next week) of how to love your wife; how to raise your kids.

The Gospel is the foundation we build our lives upon.

Godly male headship is made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It all starts with Him.

If you don’t know Him, you can’t lead your family where God wants it to go.

He invites to know Him by trusting in Him and what He did on the Cross bearing our sins.

And He invites us to trust Him for the power to lead our families in the way that they should go.

Men, there is grace.

In these days of gender confusion and directionless, headless families, God has both told us what He wants and assured us of His love for us to get us there.

Let’s trust Him and exercise godly headship.


Well said. Authority without responsibility is self-serving control leading to tyranny. Responsible authority is love leading to service and sacrifice. Your diagnostics nmake all men examine themsleves to see what kind of authority they are, or aren't. Keep up the good and godly preaching Matt.


Found this looking for soemthing else. If this is really Christianity, it offers nothing to women. All the assuramnce that women really are equal ring hollow since they have no effect in the world. In fact they merely sound patronizing.

Well, good to know, I guess. I won't look in this direction any furhter.

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for dropping by and reading what I have to say.

Obviously, I disagree with you and think that Christianity is the greatest thing to ever happen to women. My wife (the wisest and happiest woman I know) agrees.

The key is to look at Jesus Christ Himself. As you check out Christianity, make sure to study who Jesus said He was and what He did.

I believe that He is the Son of God and happily submits to the headship of God the Father--and at the same time has a profound effect on the world! That's not "patronizing" in my book.

Don't take my word for it, though, get a Bible and read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to get a feel for the Lord Jesus Himself.

I'll pray for you today--especially for the blessings of coming to know the Savior.



Just got finished with your blog regarding headship. Agree with it 100%.
Have looked at several articles, very few with scenarios/examples.
I wonder if you could look at the situation below and provide your thoughts about it in light of your article.

Scenario: Christian husband and wife, the wife having children from a previous marriage. Both agree to traditional headship prior to marriage.
The wife’s 17 yo son has received 2-3 tickets, been in multiple car accidents - the last totaling his car. His biological dad then buys him another car (before the son even finishes paying his dad for repairs on the first car). The wife (without discussing with the husband) tells the son she will also pay for his insurance for 6 mos so that he can pay his dad back for the car repairs (not for the new car). She also tells him that he will not have to pay the money back. When the husband discover this, he confront the wife and is told she does not have to consult him about it, and he disagrees with her, the husband will just have to change his mind.

Curious to hear your response –

Also, any thoughts on what a Christian husband should do with a wife who rebels against the model of Christian headship, agreeing with it in principle but not in application?



Thanks for dropping by, reading my post, and leaving your comment.

Those are a couple of painful scenarios you've asked about--the first one, especially because of the brokenness introduced by the first failed marriage.

In both cases, what I hear you saying is that the husband's authority is being ignored, in practice, even if not in theory.

I think that the wife should re-consider her actions. It sounds like she needs to work on figuring out what respect and submission to her husband would look like in these situations.

But also, the husband should check his motives and how he's using his authority--is he really loving her as a head that isn't tyrannous or passive? How is he engaging in this conversation? Is he throwing his weight around and insisting that the wife obey him and follow his commands? Or is he drawing her out and gently (but firmly) showing the inconsistencies in her actions/words?

Is he truly sacrificing for her, and willingly laying down his life for her--or only wanting her to do things his way? Is he a man worth following?

Assuming the husband passes those heart-tests, I would counsel him to be patient, not concede authority, and continue to make this an issue in their marriage.

A husband can't make his wife submit. Submission is a choice that she makes (the verb is in the middle voice in the Greek). But he can ask her to follow him.

I would also encourage him to ask his pastor to be involved--maybe, at the start, to just provide him some pastoral counsel. Perhaps eventually to counsel with both of them.

I would also encourage him to not think about this as the only issue in their marriage and to try to honor her and encourage her as much as possible--especially when she takes steps in the right direction.

Patience and prayer are the most important things, I think, in this situation.

Those are my initial thoughts. Thanks for asking my opinion.