Some may disagree with gender role distinctions, but it should at least be admitted that however much one disagrees with them there’s nothing intrinsically abusive about these roles when we tether them to Christ. You cannot sacrificially lead and abuse your family (verbally, spiritually, physically, or in any way). The biblical picture of headship is from God. He doesn’t abuse. Paul doesn’t command abuse either. As a matter of fact, Jesus hates the kind of power play that uses leadership to take advantage and abuse. He says,
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mk 10:42-44)
Leadership in a gospel framework humbly serves those under its guard. Men, you are united to your wife and children’s well-being as much as Christ is united to His bride and her well-being. You cannot act on your behalf alone. What’s more, you fall under the headship of Christ and woe unto those who abuse a daughter or son of God.
The qualification for leading your wife is being prepared to die for her. You may have a period of your marriage where your wife despises you. Jesus wants to know— are you ready to wash her feet? Are you ready to put your pride aside and serve her so that she might be sanctified and blameless before God? You may have children that mock you. Are you prepared to discipline, love, admonish, and put aside your own pride for their benefit? Are you prepared to put the spiritual welfare of your family ahead of your own welfare? Men, are you ready to risk following Jesus unto death for your family?
You may cry out, “I’m a sinner so all this is impossible.” Paul disagrees. In one of the high watermark passages on Jesus Christ’s person and work, Paul says,
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:4-8)
What I should immediately point out is the chapter starts with “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any participation in the Spirit” (v. 1). This is the language of union and communion. We are in Christ. We participate in the Spirit. Paul then commands us to humbly serve like Jesus Christ. Sound impossible? That’s because it is. But notice what Paul does next. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (v. 4). He immediately makes the union and communion connection again. The mindset of a servant is already ours because the Spirit unites us inseparably with Christ. That’s good news, men.
Paul says a marriage where the wife submits to her husband and where a husband leads by serving and dying daily reveals the mystery of the gospel. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). We flourish because Jesus died for us. We’re set free! Does your wife feel this freedom under your leadership? Does she feel the weight of the gospel’s sacrifice in the way you serve her? Does she know you’re ready to risk everything for your family? Paul says over and over again (stubbornly so), “Husbands, love your wives.” We see this command to love six times. It’s an intensification of the overarching “love your neighbor.”
Paul also compares Christ’s work on behalf of His bride with what is expected of husbands. Again, this alone should set the tone for any discussion of gender roles within the home. Submission isn’t abuse, servility, or slavery in biblical parlance. Nobody mishandles their position and gets off.
Unfortunately some have used the idea of submission and the marriage relationship as a grounds for abuse and sin. “Do what I say. . . or else.” Or “You’ll let me do this or I’ll leave you.” I want to categorically reject submission (or should it be called slavery?) in those terms. Submission is always to Jesus Christ first--for husbands and wives. Anything that doesn’t fall under his loving leadership isn’t the kind of submission and love I’m talking about. Marriage isn’t a totalitarian state. Marriage isn’t slavery. We are ruled by a benevolent Monarch. He loves justice, mercy, sacrifice; He hates abuse, sin, injustice, and inequality. Men, lead your family in the fear of the Lord.