Recently, I led a Bible study for 5-6 young couples in our church. Upon reading from Ephesians 5:22-33, I asked the men a simple question: what does Paul mean when he says, “the husband is the head of the wife”? After several seconds of uncomfortable silence, a young father proceeded to tell me what it did not mean. Amongst a dozen or so conservative believers, it was obvious that the issue of male headship is still a bit awkward…even in the church. For some reason, Christian men often feel obligated to exonerate the idea of male authority before actually explaining it, if in fact they can. It points to a fundamental shift in the way that Christians approach marriage today. Due to societal pressures for egalitarianism and the cultural sensitivity to abuses against women, young Christian women often attach negative connotations to the word “authority” while well-meaning husbands don’t want to diminish the value and dignity of their wives. As a result, talking about male authority inside the context of marriage has largely become a taboo subject in the church. Men are too often afraid to boast in God’s wonderful design in marriage. And that reflects a hesitation to boast in God Himself.
God doesn’t ask men to simply “affirm” or “recognize” their ordained roles in marriage. Despite what the Supreme Court may rule or what feminists may believe, the union between man and woman isn’t simply a contract or an agreement. It rests on much more than stated terms. In His goodness and love, God decreed before the foundation of the world that the relationship between a husband and wife should model the self-sacrificing authority of Christ over the church, His beloved bride for which He gave his life. (Eph. 5:32) And because marriage is a picture of the saving Gospel of God, it needs no exoneration. It deserves celebration. Jesus renews our manhood, restoring both passive, complacent men and domineering, authoritarian men to God’s benevolent design in the Garden: when men were men.
Unlike the awkwardness we see in countless churches today, Scripture presents manhood and womanhood as something to treasure. After making Adam and Eve in His own image, God “blessed them.” (Gen. 1:28) It was a blessing to receive our roles as man and woman. On the sixth day, after looking upon the apex of his creation, Yahweh looked upon man and woman in their design “and behold, it was very good.” (1:31) God delighted in this order. It was his beautiful handiwork. And yet, tragically, so many followers of God today treat the Almighty’s design as an embarrassment instead of an emblem of the best news on earth. Consequently, it’s not simply our knowledge of marriage that proves deficient. Indeed, if from marriage comes a better understanding of the Gospel, and if from the Gospel comes knowledge of God, our lack of boasting in marital design demonstrates a sinful blind spot to the glory of Jesus, our Head. (1 Cor. 1:21, 11:3)
Rather than boasting in his muscles or his bank account or his expensive toys, godly manhood is the kind that boasts in God by boasting in the Gospel-focused, self-sacrificing role God has given husbands in order to love their brides. His leadership isn’t hard and stern, but rather, like the Christ who came with an easy yoke, the man confidently and proudly woos his bride, who in turn, like the church, desires to be led by a selfless leader. (Matt. 11:28-30, Col. 3:18-19) As Jonathan Parnell explains, “Masculinity, then, is more than how a man should act; it’s an expression of a man’s love. And its distinguishing feature is self-sacrificing leadership. In a phrase, masculinity is gladly assuming sacrificial responsibility.”
The woman who was “created from man” and “for man” is the same woman who is “the glory of man.” (1 Cor. 11:7-9) The blessed Adam boasted in his wife, but the sinful Adam blamed her. (Gen. 3:12) When we diminish our roles as husbands, we diminish our wives. It’s time for men in the church to be proud of their manhood, not by boasting in their testosterone, but rather by boasting in their Christ. Male headship in the home isn’t an issue to be skirted silently under the doctrinal table. In God’s great design for marriage, we become better lovers of our wives and of our Savior.