Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Marriage: Male Headship

Okay, I'm going to dive headlong into this marriage thing, and take a look at the Biblical model we're given as husbands and wives. Before I go any further, I have to admit that I am a great sinner as a husband; I fall far short of Jesus' model here, and I'm not claiming myself as an authority with any real personal expertise on this subject. Don't get me wrong, I love my wife desperately, and we have a great marriage, but far too often, I fall terribly short as a leader. Nevertheless, God has created marriage a certain way for a certain reason, so I want to look at that over the next several posts.

First of all, as Christians, we believe God created man and woman in his image. We believe that he created them both equally but differently. As such, in the setting of a marriage, they have different roles. The man's role is one of leadership; the woman's, one of submission to that leadership. I want to look specifically today at male headship; what it means, and what it does not mean.

When two people are married, they form an equal partnership, with both sides put everything they have into the marriage in different ways. The Bible says the two become one flesh - in a sense, each partner completes the other.

That partnership entails much of what you would expect from a marriage: give and take, discussions about issues from how to spend money, to sex, to where to live, to whether or not to have kids, to how many kids to have, to how to raise the kids. Male headship and leadership does not assume that it has all of the answers; as a matter of fact, it looks very often and listens very closely to what the woman has to say, and what she wants to do. The man takes his directions from Jesus himself, looking to display the kind of sacrificial love and servant leadership toward his wife that Jesus did, and continues to do, toward his people.

Now, eventually, though, someone is going to have to make a decision about things. As much as it is possible, leadership looks for consensus. Mutual decisions are wonderful things. But there are times, because no agreement can be reached, or because there is some general uncertainty about what to do, that someone has to step up and do something. The Biblical model, given by Jesus himself, is that the man makes that decision. With that authority comes great responsibility, and much care must be taken to do it in a loving way, just the way Jesus would do it. That is an incredibly difficult task for a man to undertake, and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

I think that's where husbands usually fail; taking their responsibility as leaders too lightly. Men will be tempted in their headship to fall between two extremes: authoritarian and passivity. Passivity is not a pretty trait. Frankly, no one really has much admiration for a passive man who lets others make his decisions for him, who sits on the couch and eats potato chips while his wife and family live their lives, who allows his wife to do all of the work while he just kind of stands by.

While passivity is bad, it's not nearly as bad as authoritarianism. Authoritarianism, at it's best, comes off as angry and bossy and demeaning. At its worst, it comes in the form of verbal or physical abuse. Whatever form it takes, it goes against God's design. And all too often, those who believe in male headship will tend toward this extreme. That's why male headship has gotten a bad name, and in those cases, rightly so. But I think headship that looks like Jesus would be something that most wives would be happy to submit to.

Okay, so I said it: submit. I'm going to try to, as tenderly as possible, tackle that issue in my next post.


Juliet said...

Hey Wade!

I like this series of posts and I look forward to reading them. I, too, found out about someone (a pastor, actually) who is dealing with this. It's one of those things that will definitely make you re-evaluate and take a closer look at your own marriage. Don't you love my questions? Well, I've got one, sort of...

Brian and I are in a great place. We have worked out over the years our roles as best we can. A lot of times he defers to me on issues with the kids or other things he feels I know more about, and on issues he feels very strongly about I defer to him (submit). Submission is a lot easier when I feel respected and loved. Brian is good at that. We certainly are not perfect and don't come anywhere close to claiming we have it all figured out, but we do have good communication and are in a strong place in our relationship right now. Anyway, here's the question or idea I was wondering if you could address...

What can we do to protect our marriage when everything seems to be going well? It seems as if we get into a really good place only to let ourselves get lazy and begin to unravel... then we get back to really focusing on our marriage and things get good again. This seems to be true of a lot of marriages I know. It has certainly been true of us in the past. The simple and obvious answer is to stay focused and not get lazy, but for some reason that seems very difficult at times. So, any ideas why we allow our marriages to go through this cycle and what we can do about it?


Juliet (and Brian)

Wade Phillips said...

Julie, you know me and my marriage well enough to know that I don't have all the answers. I don't know, and I'm not afraid to say it. I'll talk to Crystal and see what she thinks. We certainly tend to fall into those vicious cycles ourselves.

Wade Phillips said...

Yeah, Crystal says she doesn't know either. We both decided that you probably can't prevent the ups and downs, but with work, you can make the lows a little higher, and prevent the great swings. How do you do that? Ask Gary Smalley. He knows everything.