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Father’s Day is this weekend, so Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. As a father myself, I know the responsibility that comes with leading your family. That’s not a real popular notion this day-and-age, that a husband is the head of the family. But, that’s the model Paul teaches us, and Jesus affirms, in the Bible. Men are the leaders.
There are a lot of questions that can be asked after making that statement. Let me ask, then answer, 3 of the most common ones. If men are to lead their families, (1) Does that mean women are inferior to men? (2) Does it mean men are better leaders than women? And (3) What exactly does it mean for men to lead?
1. Are Women Inferior to Men?
Hahaha! Of course women aren’t inherently inferior to men! It’s absurd to think that. There are many things women can do better than men; and in some cases, that may include leading others. So what does the Bible mean when it says:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Eph. 5:22–24, ESV)
Well we know it can’t mean women are inferior because we should know the rest of the Bible’s teaching on gender roles. Look at Genesis 1:27, for example. There we see male and female were both made to bear God’s image together. They equally bear His image as they come together to fulfill certain gender-oriented roles.
We also see this affirmed in the New Testament when Paul says in Galatians, for example, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28, ESV). In Jesus—when you trust him as your Savior—there is no one that is better or more valuable than another.
So why should wives submit in marriage? Because in God’s good design, he gave women (who are married) a role that Christ himself takes in relationship to God the Father. Jesus submitted his whole life to God’s will, even when it wasn’t easy and he didn’t really want to. Yet he did it willingly, not under compulsion. God calls wives to voluntarily (not under compulsion) follow their husbands the same way.
Notice too, it doesn’t say all women and all men. Ladies, don’t just follow any old man. This is for husbands and wives who have voluntarily committed themselves to one another in a trust-based relationship. And God has designed it to optimally work when wives submit to their husband’s role, and teach their children to do the same. In essence, wives are to help their husbands fulfill their God-given role to be the leader of the family by willingly following his lead.
If I’ve lost you because that all sounds so archaic and backwards, stick with me and read the rest of the post.
2. Are Men Better Leaders Than Women?
Obviously not. No one is saying they are. As a matter of fact, men tend to use their strength to lead through violence. This tendency to lead poorly is a product of the original fall of humanity into sin. Most men have a natural bent toward being overbearing, chauvinistic, and using their brute force to get their way because, well, it’s natural to them as sinners.
However, God does call husbands to a higher standard, which we’ll talk more about in a minute. Now unfortunately, no husband is perfect. So should wives really submit to their husbands, even when their husband is wrong? (And we know husbands can be wrong a lot!) After all, the Ephesians passage said “wives should submit in everything to their husbands?”
The simple answer is “yes,” if she can do so without sinning. In other words, if a husband is leading his wife to sin, then of course she shouldn’t follow him; she should follow Jesus, instead. But if her husband’s attempting to follow Jesus, and she can submit to him and not sin, she should, perhaps even if he is wrong on an issue, try to follow him. Remember, it’s a voluntary submission on her part.
But also remember, that doesn’t mean it’s up to the husband to make all the decisions for the family. That would be disastrous. Obviously men lack qualities that women have. So a husband making all the decisions for his family without input from his wife sounds really unwise and unhealthy. As a matter of fact, I’d say husbands should defer to their wives’ wisdom in most circumstances. But if push comes to shove, the husband’s role is to have the final say as the leader, for better or worse.
The question for husbands and fathers to ask themselves in all this should be, “Am I a leader worth following?” Like we’ve said, no man will lead perfectly, but God calls men to lead like Jesus. Does that characterize your relationship with your wife and children? Are you continually trying to evaluate where you are as a leader? Do you let your wife help you lead?
3. What Does It Mean For Men To Lead?
When God calls husbands to lead their families, this is what is expected of them:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Eph. 5:25–30, ESV)
Notice how in the marriage relationship there’s a little more responsibility for the husband than the wife. That’s because as the leader, the health of the family falls on you, Husband. You’re the reconciler in the relationship, just like Christ reconciled the church to God. What did Jesus ultimately do for his bride? He sacrificed his life.
This sacrificial leadership is what it means for men to lead in their household. We’re to give up whatever other life we had, and focus on the health and provision of our family. We lead our wives and our children toward Jesus as we follow him ourselves. Your headship role means leveraging your life to help your wife and children become more like God intended her and them to be: holy and pure.
That’s a tall order. Are you man enough to take it on? Ultimately you’ll never be able to even scratch the surface of being a good father and husband if you don’t have Jesus changing your heart everyday.
So what I want to challenge you to do as a husband and father is to follow Jesus with your whole life. Surrender your will to his, and let him teach you how to pursue a sacrificial life for you family.
What does that look like? It can look like a lot of things, the least of which is to get off your phone, get away from the TV, and get into the lives of your wife and children. That should go without saying. If you’re to lay down your life, that means you live to lead your family instead of gratify yourself.
But you also need to get to know the Bible… study it, meditate on it, memorize it… so you’ll get to know God and can appreciate what he’s done to lead you. Also get around other guys who can hold you accountable and pray for you in this important endeavor called marriage and fatherhood.
If you don’t, one of two things will happen. You’ll either crumble under the pressure of trying to lead on your own without God; or you’ll lead your family poorly, to their detriment, maybe even to their eternal destruction. In some way, your family will suffer.
My prayer for you is that you’ll lay down your life for your family and take up the unique role that God has designed for you as a husband and father. Are you willing to lay down your life for your family like Jesus laid down his life for you?
Carter Mundy is our Assistant Executive Director (and the only guy on staff!). He and his lovely wife have been married for 8 years and have two beautiful daughters, ages 3 and 1.5. Carter is a pastor at his local church, Mercy Hill.
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