Headship Turned on its Head: Ephesians 5:23

Paul tells us there is a profound mystery regarding the headship of Christ and the Church and how it relates to husbands and wives.

A beautiful poem was given to us on our wedding, “Marriage Takes Three”. That essential third Member is God. Except, the wonderful christian couple who gave us this advice are now divorced. And I can’t help but wonder…

50% of marriages today fail. Even Christian ones are not far behind. If we have God- why are we crumbling at almost the same rate? Maybe marriage takes something more than three?

We need biblical headship, with (Paul says, specifically) the husband willing to model his life after Jesus’ death.

A Proper Understanding of Biblical Headship.

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Eph. 5:23

Let me hijack your mind for a minute as we picture a “Starship” together. If nothing conjures up, imagine an awesome spacecraft designed for interstellar travel, able to zip around planets at lightning speed with a mission to save the world! Fictitiously created to mimic what technically only the stars can do. Patterned after a star but of course not itself a real star thus called a “Star-ship”.

Head-ship is the same concept. The husband’s headship is patterned after Jesus -The Head, although of course, not Jesus.

Headship is the vehicle piloted by men used for interplanetary travel between Mars and Venus (where men and women live) with a mission to save the marriage at the very risk of losing their own lives all the while knowing it is nearly impossible, without the Force (Holy Spirit)!

So What Does Biblical Headship Look Like?

Okay, let’s bring this down to earth.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. (Eph. 5:25-29)

Biblical headship, first and foremost looks like sacrifice a servant’s role.

What was the main purpose of Jesus as the Church’s Head? To loving sacrifice Himself for His Bride, the Church. Martin Luther said, “The rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all His goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christi and swallowed up by Him.” There are some things clearly only Jesus can do – because he is Head.

But, the model is unconditional, nurturing, loving care. Husbands can’t manufacture this. It is created by a close abiding walk with our Lord and Holy Spirit empowerment.

Wives are not satisfied with feeble earthly attempts of love, they want God’s unconditional love, channeled through the husband by the Spirit. And they know the difference.

The Lamb.

Jesus is both the Lion and the Lamb. (Rev. 5:5-6). Two natures in one. God/divine and Man/flesh. So which did he want husbands to pattern their headship after, the Lion or the Lamb? Seems, if Jesus,

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8)

Then the same calling is for husbands. In essence, forget that your male. Forget you’re privileged (if you believe you are*). It shouldn’t make you feel entitled or superior in the slightest way. “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care,” (1 Peter 5:3) Instead, humble yourself to the high, holy, and humiliating point of death, receiving nothing in return for your love -like Jesus.

“Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature; the Eternal Love humbling itself, clothing itself in the garb of meekness and gentleness, to win and serve and save us.”  Andrew Murray

Headship modeled after this then, requires a strong, yet meek man. Just as it was the Holy Spirit who enabled Jesus to stay on the cross. The Holy Spirit will enable him to stay in the cross hairs of marriage difficulties.

If the husband has modeled his life after Jesus, not just in theory but in practice, it looks a lot different than some heroic isolated event.

We’ve seen the Google earth view of headship, now for a side walk view.

The husband:

  • Seeks to obey God by modeling his life after Jesus (Luke 22:42)
  • Is Spirit led, and seeks unity and peace (Eph. 4:3)
  • Is sacrificial, self-giving does not demand his own will or way (1 Cor. 13:5)
  • Is faithful in heart, mind and body (2 Tim. 2:21)
  • Seeks wife’s greatest joys above his own (Phil. 2:4)
  • Does household duties ie. dishes, laundry and cleans (John 13:12-15)
  • Loves without strings attached or expectations in return (Luke 6:35)
  • Lives in an understanding way, trying to see her point of view (1 Peter 3:7)
  • Encourages, confides and trust her as his closest friend (Prov. 27:17)
  • Utilizes and encourages her gifts and talents, and isn’t threatened by them
  • Is mindful of any limitations she may have emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally or sexually (Col. 3:19)
  • Prays with and for her (1 Thes. 5:16)
  • Defends, nourishes and cherishes her (Eph 5:29)
  • Softens her rough edges and hardened heart with his love (Rom. 12:9)
  • Sees her failures, yet loves her unconditionally (1 Peter 4:8; Rom. 5:8)
  • Gives her freedom to leave, but his love is irresistible (1 John 4:9)
  • Woos her by the washing her wounds. Shares in her pain.
  • Considers her a wonderful gift from God (Gen. 2:22)

What Headship Does Not Look Like

It does not look or feel like Spiritual Abuse.  Click here to read my article on this.

Ironically it should not look like the very definition of headship: The position of head or chief; chief authority; leadership; supremacy.”

The New Testament never describes headship with words or examples of a authoritarian exercising power over someone else. With a man or husband card to demand that others do what they want, or permission to get his own way.

It should not look like the Lion. Husband is headship – not Head.

Despite this, some husbands insist they are the head, “The topmost part of the body, where symbols of power, authority, and honor are displayed.” Therefore, subjugate their wives, hijack biblical headship and with selfishness and pride malign the gospel.  Jesus teaches and models the exact opposite of this. While having all authority, He did not use it. Men may have some measure of God given authority (although some disagree*), they are called to forfeit it.

Servant is the only position available in heaven.

Selfless servanthood was so radically different form anything the disciples knew (about as foreign as a starship), here James and John are caught fighting over hierarchical power and supremacy while Jesus warns that will only guarantee last place,

Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.” (Luke 22:24-26 The Message)

Wielding all his might, power and authority, to show them what he meant, Jesus donned a rag and bowl and on hand and knees scrubbed off the dirt, grime, and manure from their dirty, soiled feet.

The whole concept of headship is turned on its head.

The Mission of Marriage is the Gospel

“When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2)

The Lord wanted to speak through Hosea. By remaining faithful to an unfaithful wife, he demonstrated the truth of God who remains faithful to unfaithful people. God wants to speak through our marriages today and Hosea shows us they don’t have to be perfect to do that. He wants to use imperfect people, willing to die to themselves to portray His undying love, forgiveness and redemption.

Too many men, when asteroids hit – abandon ship. Christian women feel unloved and unhappy and -abandon ship.

The third Member left all alone – piloting the “headship” without His crew.

~Mission Unaccomplished~

The Curse Will One Day Be Broken

“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve Him.” (Rev. 22:3)

While this this is still yet future, we can experience a glimpse of Heaven on earth in marriages today when godly men are willing to take on a servant role, alongside a respectful wife who does not take advantage of him.“

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3: 16)

Biblical headship, when operated this way, it is very effective in reversing man’s sinful bent toward both passivity and domination.


There are cases where wives do not respond to biblical headship described here. It may be due to mental illness or perhaps a severe hardening of the heart. Success in God’s eyes involves being faithful to the task at hand, you are not responsible for another’s actions.

Women, with your new found awareness comes a certain measure of responsibility. If you berate him for not measuring up, you will lose his heart and push him further away.

Instead, fight for him in prayer. You cannot change him. You cannot force him to have a servants heart. No one forced Jesus to go to the cross, this must be done voluntarily. While you wait for God to mold your husband into Christ’s image, position yourself before God, and ask what needs to change. Dying to self is not just for husbands, but for every believer.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jn. 15:13

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)

*It’s important to note, some understand “head” (Kephale) to mean “source” not authority. Adam (Man) was the source of Eve’s physical body. Other positions hold that biblical headship doesn’t necessarily mean leadership. Some differentiate “Headship” and leadership. Lastly, while two “heads” might be better than one, some believe it is husband’s role to initiate and model servanthood first in the family. The efficacy of the husband’s willingness to lay down his life has unique symbolism to Christ and the Church.


Matt Chandler Sermon -Complimentary View

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3 Replies to “Headship Turned on its Head: Ephesians 5:23”

  1. This is a very timely insight and very Biblically supported. Even though the subject is husbands it has a very important message to wives or future wives. Proverbs 31 is an in depth look at the attributes of a Biblical wife. You had to bring together many scriptures to describe the role of husbands in a Godly relationship. Thank you! I know God blessed me with a Godly husband so ladies they do exist. Not perfect but always mindful. We have to work together every day to build a relationship that remembers what God has done for us and look forward to what is yet to come.

    1. Thank you Susan! Yes, the concept of laying down our lives for one another is a common thread in the NT because it is the very heart of God❤️ Thank you so much for your comments!

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