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Monday, June 6, 2011

Part 5 of “What I Believe About Marriage”

I mentioned last time that I believe that the biblical order God intends for marriage is best described as an ordered partnership. But what exactly does that mean?

Today I’m gong to direct some straight talk to husbands about their biblical role in this ordered partnership. (The wives side will come with this week’s Wives Only Wednesday).

In simplest terms, I believe your role as a husband is to love, lead and serve your wife.

Loving Your Wife

Scripture sets the bar pretty high for us husbands on this one.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:24 (NIV)

I think the biggest reason husbands don’t do better at loving their wives as Christ loves the church is because they don’t really know how Christ loves the church. Specifically, I’m calling you to invest yourself deeply into knowing the love of Christ through whom the tremendous emotions of God toward you are revealed. Men, you do your wife a great disservice if you shy away from your bridal identity, because it is only in the intimate knowledge of the love of your heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus, that you can truly know how to love their wives. This is so hugely important! Get over it and learn to be a bride of Christ.

A few chapters before Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, he explains that the love of Christ is so vast as to be unknowable, yet he goes on to say that getting to know it is the very key to a full life in God (Ephesians 3:17-20). It is also the key to knowing what it means to love your wife with unconditional, passionate, pure, selfless love.

Loving your wife means loving her on her terms, not yours. Go back and read my recent post on how the top marital needs of men and women differ so greatly. Loving your wife how she needs to be loved will require you to become a student of your wife, learning how to delight her beyond her wildest dreams. It also requires a daily, consistent demonstration of that love through things like showing tender care, maintaining emotional intimacy and making sure she feels protected and safe.  This is not a quick fix or a sliver bullet. It’s a lifestyle of love.

Check out this amazing description of Christ’s love from earlier in Ephesians 5, just before Paul tells you that this is what you are to emulate.
Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:2 (MSG)
Leading Your Wife

I believe, as I said in my last post, that God grants a certain authority to husbands in the ordered partnership of marriage.

I know that not everyone agrees with me on this. However, I think the reason so many people have a problem with the notion of husbands having authority in marriage is that they have the wrong paradigm. The authority they think of is the tyrannical corporate boss, the corrupt politician, or the heavy-handed drill sergeant. There are so many examples of authority and power being used incorrectly.

How are you to lead as a husband? Lead with love, like Jesus does. I believe that if the “love” part of your role is fully understood and acted upon (see above), the “lead” part of your role becomes a huge blessing to your wife. Without a good grip on the love part, the lead part can easily turn oppressive and self-serving.

Not all husbands will take up their authority, and not all husbands will wield their authority wisely or well. Regardless, I believe that the authority is theirs nonetheless, because I believe it is authority delegated from God the Father in accordance with his design for marriage. It is not a question of earning your authority, it is really a question of what you do with the authority you have already been granted.

I’ve mentioned before that by far the most common search that lands people on my site is “husband refuses to lead” or variants on the same. This search is followed closely by some combination of the words “husband” and “dictator.” Your goal is to never give your own wife a reason to Google either one!

Believe me when I say your wife probably longs for you to walk in your God-given authority. Yes, she wants you to lead her, but lead her with Christ-like love.

Serving Your Wife

Jesus came to serve and save the church through the ultimate sacrifice of giving his own life for her. Most of us husbands will never be called upon to serve our wives in this way, but we are called to serve them in the way we love and lead them on a daily basis.

How did Jesus serve those he loved? He washed their feet. He calmed their storms. He set them free from bondage. He led the way to the Father. He was full of grace and truth, light and life, peace and joy.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Philippians 2:5-7

Your authority in your marriage does not give you the right to simply make all the decisions or to tell your wife what to do. It comes with the right to lay down your life for her and to serve her. I hate the way some people portray the biblical order and husbandly authority as a thoughtless, disheveled man issuing edicts and orders from his Lazy boy. But you know what? There’s probably a reason, a really bad reason, for that stereotype.

My heart’s desire is to see millions of good, loving, strong husbands walking out their authority like Jesus, in such an exemplary and powerful fashion as to wreck these negative stereotypes forever.

A few related posts:

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Continue to Part 6:  Wives: Love, Respect and Submission


wk said...

Great post, Scott! I wholeheartedly agree that we find our proper place in marriage and in the kingdom when we love one another as Christ loves us.

I think the biblical case for the "authority" role of the husband is a little less clear, however. I notice you did not include any Scripture references for this...maybe another time?

Strong Man said...

Very well put. I could have named my blog, Man Up and Lead with Love.

For wk, The Biblical support for this post and the Bridal analogy for marriage is extensive. are a few specific scriptures: Ephesians 5:22-25, Col. 3: 18-19, 1 Peter 3:1,5,6,1 Timothy 3:12

The Bridal paradigm also provides a plethora of scriptures. Many of these I reference in my post: Christ as Bridegroom, Church as Bride

Scott said...

Thank you wk and Strong Man for your comments.

I realize that not everyone shares my belief that the scriptures Strong Man lists imply that a husband has authority in marriage. Many parse the same Greek words and analyze the metaphors and come to a different conclusion. What I've stated here is my personal interpretation (and that of many) of what the Word says on this topic, and this I believe pretty strongly.

I would add that equality and authority are not mutually exclusive. We need only look to the Trinity to see that fact on display.

PS I add 1 Cor 11:3 to the Scriptures listed above.

Strong Man said...

Scott--good scriptural addition. I'd be interested in your future thoughts about equality and authority coexisting. I agree with you, and I see that as a real tension that many struggle with. A lot, I believe, has to do with what we mean by equality.

Scott said...

Strong Man - you might check out my post "The Myth of Equality"

Anonymous said...

authority n. 1) the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine. (

authority n. 1) a. The power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, or judge. (

"Your authority in your marriage does not give you the right to simply make all the decisions or to tell your wife what to do."

If the husband's "authority", as you say, does not give him a right to command or control, then it would be helpful to drop the doublespeak and use a different word because "authority" is confusing and/or loses its meaning if you redefine.

"It [authority] comes with the right to lay down your life for her and to serve her."

I think you mean....agape. The Ephesians husbands were told to agape their wives as Christ agaped the church and gave Himself up for her. The text is speaking to the way in which Ephesian husbands were to agape their wives NOT to the way in which they were to exercise authority over their wives.


Scott said...

SM -

Many use the term "headship" in place of authority. If you like that word better, I don't really have a problem with it.

Truthfully all the simple words surrounding a biblically ordered marriage (submission, headship, authority) are both limiting and wrought with contention, because people rely on dictionary definitions rather that biblical understanding.

I would only point you to Jesus as the example where "authority" and laying down your life do not conflict, which is really my point of this post.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the reply. Unfortunately, your explanation does little to make things more clear. If "headship" means authority, and if a husband does not have the right to control, exact obedience, command, direct, etc., as you explained in your post, then it is still doublespeak.

We rely on dictionary definitions because if we all use words outside their standard meanings then communication becomes difficult, if not impossible. Communication, written or spoken, in part, depends heavily upon the use of words and their established meanings.

If one does not believe a husband has the right to control, exact obedience, command, direct, etc. there is no need to say he has authority. If one does indeed believe, by agreement and mutual consent, a husband has the right to control, exact obedience, command, direct, etc., but it should be done benevolently, then confusion can be eliminated by saying so straightforwardly. It is interesting that in the last paragraph of your reply you place quotes around the word authority. This is commonly done when a word is being used in a peculiar or special way. You may have just been using the quotes to draw attention to the word. Given that you seem to be redefining the word authority, I suspect the former. So, it remains unclear what you mean.

I commend you on your efforts to encourage husbands to love their wives well.


Scott said...

Thanks for following up with your comment SM.

I understand your concern about using words in a way that attributes different meaning. Unfortunately we don't all speak Greek any longer, so we are are stuck with English equivalents to the original biblical texts, hence some of the confusion and limitations. (For example our singular word "love" does little to convey the variations of love we see in the New Testament, and hence much of the clarity and meaning are difficult to convey).

I just read an interesting article from Kyria in which a woman describes her struggle with the words and concepts around the authority question. Who's the Head of My House

This topic may be worthy of a dedicated post. Thanks for prompting further thought.

Anonymous said...

I posted reply comments but they are not showing.


Scott said...

I received your comments via email notification, so I do not know why they do not appear on the website. Perhaps I can repost them myself.

Anonymous said...


It seems comments are limited to so many characters, so I will break this up.

There is no word in the Ephesian passage under consideration in your post that commands or commends a husband's exercise of authority over his wife. To infer authority as the English equivalent to the kephale, is to read our English idiomatic metaphorical use of the word head back into the text rather than letting the context (historical) and, most obvious, the literary context of an extended head-body metaphor inform our understanding. To infer agape means authority is nonsensical.

The Ephesian husbands did not have authority conferred on them by agreement through mutual consent with their wives, but lived within a cultural construct in which Roman law and tradition granted the paterfamilias/husband legal privilege and **authority** over his property: wife, children, & slaves. As a proper citizen, the paterfamilias/husband was to fulfill his duty and use his authority over his property (wife, children, and slaves) to maintain proper social order.

Philosophers developed “household codes” which instructed the paterfamilias in his duty to manage his household by giving advice on the style or manner in which to exercise his socio-politically sanctioned authority ie harsh rule or a benevolent rule. Just prior to Christ’s birth, Arius Didymus summarized Aristotle’s household codes for Augustus Caesar. He argued that “a man has the rule of this household by nature, for the deliberative faculty in a woman is inferior…” Exercise of authority and management of the household by the paterfamilias in the Greco-Roman culture was necessary because women were considered lacking in faculty...

Anonymous said...

(comment continued from previous)

This was the cultural context in which Paul lived and wrote. The Greco-Roman culture was consumed with prominence and status. Male authority and privilege were assumed. Female subordination and obedience were assumed. For Paul, and rightly so, the influence of the gospel was of paramount importance. The teaching to real people in a culture devoted to prominence, status, authority, and obedience structures gives a new Christian ethic to the codes without maligning the gospel or subverting its influence. The gospel informed the early Christians about how they should live given their station (husband-wife, father-child, master-slave)in an authority-based culture consumed with prominence and status. Paul does not command a hierarchy but “Christinizes” the already existing hierarchy.

There is much that is significant in Paul’s addressing these household ethics i.e. opting out of the Greek word archon/head that means ruler and choosing to employ a kephale/literal head-body metaphor instead. Not the least is, in the extension of this head-body metaphor, Paul instructs the Ephesian husband to agape his wife as his own body as Christ did for His body (church) by giving up His life on the church's (body's) behalf to set her (church) apart unto Himself. Paul’s instruction relating to the culture’s household codes is radical on at least two counts: first, the husband is NOT told how to rule or govern his wife which was the usual objective of household codes, and, second, the husband is told to agape his wife which was not an objective of household codes. These are specific instructions of how the gospel informs the living of real people in real time in a real socio-political context. For Christ-followers today, there are principles that can be derived and applied...

Anonymous said...

(comment continued from previous)

If a Christian husband and wife agree through mutual consent to live in a hierarchical relationship and agree the husband has authority **as defined by the dictionary**, the application of agape and other Christian virtues and principles by *both* spouses can produce a surrendered, Christ-honoring marriage. Likewise, a Christian husband and wife sacrificially loving, respecting, deferring, and employing Christian virtues and the same relational principles I've read in some of your posts can live a surrendered, Christ-honoring marriage without the agreement through mutual consent to live in an authority-based relationship.

It is the application of those virtues and principles in name of and for the glory of Christ which makes for a surrendered and Christ-honoring marriage.

If no effectual authority (denotatively defined) exists, I do not see the benefit of using a word that does not describe what exists in reality?

As for the link, it has problems of its own. Not the least of which is that the bible never teaches that a husband is the "head of his house". It is true that a husband, may be, and many are the "head of household", but some many not be.

Also, I don't she how she supports your posts and her struggle, as I understand it, is not at all with the idea that her has authority. She actually doesn't claim her husband has authority, denotatively or otherwise defined. She seems to loosely cling to some hierarchical jargon but unabashedly asserts her marriage is one of loving mutuality and because her husband is sacrificially loving (within a paradigm of mutuality), she respects his opinions, desires, and plans without any mention of an obligation or responsibility of his to exact obedience of them because they have mutually agreed to consent to an authority structure.


Scott said...

SM -

My first attempt to re-post your comments was unsuccessful. I ended up breaking into smaller portions and it now seems to have "stuck."

Thanks for your very thorough analysis and for sharing your views. I have read many of your arguments on other pro-egalitarian websites, but upon review of all the relevant information I simply do not draw the same conclusions you draw. What I've realized that in this area, it seems both egalitarian and complimentarians can make strong cases for their viewpoints.

As for my reference to the Kyria article, it wasn't meant to be in support of my viewpoint or a thorough exegetical analysis of the topic, but rather one woman's personal story of her own grappling with the authority/headship issue.

Thanks for participating in the discussion here. I hope you stop by again.

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