Second Sunday in Epiphany 2015
[Note: the audio for this sermon can be found here.]
We continue our Epiphany Marriage series by asking the question: What does it mean to be the head of your wife? A husband is called by God to be the head of his wife by ministering the grace of Jesus Christ to his wife through representing her, taking responsibility for her, protecting, leading, and loving her.
The Head Represents His Wife
In the Garden of Eden, God first addressed the man (Gen. 3:9). The man must not misrepresent his wife, but by virtue of knowing her and teaching her, he ought to be able to honestly say “we” and not have everyone snickering at him. The most important act of representation is the constant affirmation of loyalty and obedience to God: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). One way we signify our commitment to this principle is by our practice of household voting and head of household meetings.
The Head Takes Responsibility For His Wife
One of the central temptations of men is to evade responsibility. Adam did this first thing when he was confronted by God for his sin, and it has been the emasculated tendency of men ever since. This is why boys need to be taught to accept responsibility from an early age, and ignorance is not a good excuse. Both actions and inactions have consequences. Paul says it this way: “husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church” (Eph. 5:28-29). This responsibility includes the vows that a wife makes (Num. 30:6-8, 10-15). And the thing to note is that God holds the husband guilty for the foolish or evil decisions his wife makes (Num. 30:15). And this is true without obliterating individual responsibility (e.g. Acts 5:1-11).
The Head Stands Between His Wife and Every Danger
In the Old Testament, one of the most common uses of the word “head” is in the sacrificial system. When an animal was brought to be offered to the Lord, the worshiper laid his hand on the head of the animal signifying that this animal represented him (e.g. Lev. 1:4, 3:2). Then immediately the animal is killed and butchered, and the head is one of the first things to go into the fire (e.g. 1:8, 1:12, 4:11). The head represents and takes responsibility for his wife, and therefore goes into the fire first.
The Head Leads His Wife
One of the favorite words of pop marriage counseling is “compromise.” But the problem with this word is that it assumes there are only two wills involved in a marriage and basically it’s a tug-o-war between them. Men frequently buy into this paradigm when they assume that leadership either means bossing everybody around and getting them to do what he wants or else “sacrificing” what he wants doing whatever she wants. And this is frequently why feminists and egalitarians make hay with language about headship and submission. But Christian leadership (in every sphere actually) is not about getting what you want, it’s about submitting to the will of God in everything. The head of man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:3). First off, this means that God has embedded this hierarchy into the world as reflection of Himself. It is no more demeaning to have a head that it is for God the Father to be the head of Christ. But notice that the man’s headship is not unrelated to the fact that he has a head too (Christ). In other words, Christian leadership in marriage and everywhere else is submitting to the will of Christ, obedience to Jesus in all things. It should be noted that husbands are heads whether they like it or not. A man can no more choose to be the head than water can choose to be wet. You just are the leader, and the only question is whether you are leading well or not. This is what it means for the man to be the “glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7).
The Head Loves and Honors His Wife by Obeying Jesus
Paul says that a man loves and honors his wife by imitating Christ’s sacrifice for the Church (Eph. 5:25). First, we ought to remember that Christ’s sacrifice was not a whim or His dreams coming true, it was first and foremost submission to the will of His Father: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34). “I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me” (Jn. 5:30, 6:38-40). “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him… Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed…” (Phil. 2:8-12). But notice that the sacrifice of Jesus is not merely betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, but His sacrifice is also telling the truth, being misunderstood, healing the sick, teaching, feeding the hungry, traveling from town to town teaching, being pursued by crowds, being hated, etc.
God made men for a particular kind of glory, the glory of gladly using their strength to take responsibility for others by living sacrificially in obedience to Jesus. This strength is needed for self-control. This strength is needed for courage and being misunderstood. This strength is needed for being gentle and forgiving. This strength is need for diligence, discipline, and hard work. This strength is needed for joyfully bearing the burdens of life, and waking up every morning ready to give again, die again, live again for the glory of Christ. When men love their wives in obedience to Christ, the grace of God fills them and empowers them in unique ways to be all that they were created to be and this includes offering their lives as living sacrifices. This is what it means to be the head of your wife.