Earlier this year, I heard a speaker declare “We as Christians have a hierarchy in marriage and we should not apologize for it!”
I recently heard it said that men are designed by God to be the leaders. Likewise, women are designed by God to want and need men to lead – whether they will admit this or not.
I also recently read that men need to step up to lead, to fulfill their roles, even if their wives are resisting.
This is concerning to me.
What does it actually look like for a husband to assume leadership if his wife resists it? What happens when a husband and wife hold different beliefs about what equality looks like?
I have heard that just because a woman chooses not to follow her husband’s leadership, it doesn’t negate his authority.
What is a husband allowed to do to enforce his leadership if his wife sees him as her equal and not as her authority?
I actually think that many times, complementarians and egalitarians are closer in practice than they might think. In healthy marriages, many complementarians in name are actually quite egalitarian in function. I think that Ephesians 5 lived out is mutual submission in practice.
Hear me out. My purpose here isn’t to be oppositional, even if we see things differently.
Since Ephesians 5 is used so often to support a patriarchal view, let’s look at it. In this post, I would like to focus on what Paul wrote to husbands in this passage.
If husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved church, how DID Christ love the church? How did He love people?
It’s important to note that in the Greco-Roman household codes, husbands had authority because that was the law. They were the masters of their homes and their wives had to obey. So it’s significant to note that Paul didn’t command the wives to obey here. In fact, between Ephesians 5:22-6:9 ,there are a total of eight commands given. Five of these commands are to husbands.
Zero commands are given to wives.
Paul telling husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church was counter cultural at the time it was written. It wasn’t in line with the law or the tradition. It was quite liberal.
Let’s look at the character of Jesus.
Jesus, who is God, actually had authority. Authority of one person over another exists if there is something to enforce, and a righteous mechanism to enforce it.
Jesus could have enforced His authority. But he didn’t.
Jesus confronted sin, but He didn’t take it further than that. He didn’t exercise control over others.
When the adultrous woman was face to face with Jesus, He told her “go now and leave your life of sin.” There is no record of Jesus running after her to make sure she followed through.
When Jesus told the young man to give all he had to the poor, the Bible says His heart was filled with love for the man. The love of Jesus was not contingent on obedience. There is no record of Jesus chasing this man down and insisting he do what he was told – or even trying to reason with him at great length.
Even when Jesus cracked out the whips and threw over tables in the temple, there is no record of Him then forcing those who were in the temple to turn around and follow Him.
They were free to have bad attitudes about it all. And they did. They eventually killed Him.
In Matthew 23:37, Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
He was grieving. He was anguished because the people of Israel exercised their free will and resisted Him. It grieves God when we resist Him, but He has given us the choice to do so.
Jesus, who had authority, consistently spoke in love and then He let people go and make their choice.
To be clear, men do not have this authority. It is a slippery slope to assume that they do. Abuse often comes from a sense of entitlement, and to presume the authority of husbands over wives is the epitome of entitlement.
If a man is going to love his wife the way Christ loved the church, he will value her free will and live with her in love, even if her convictions are different than his. He won’t try to impose his convictions upon her or convince her to follow his. He will simply love her.
This is a part of mutual submission. This is equality. This is God’s true design for marriage.