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Chapter 7: The Role of the Husband in Marriage

Chapter 7: The Role of the Husband in Marriage.doc

Chapter 7

The Role of the Husband in Marriage

The topic the Form for the Solemnization of Marriage next picks up concerns the role of the husband in marriage.  This role is described in the Form in the following quotes:

As Christ is the Head of the Church, so the husband is the head of the wife.  Christ loved His Church to the end, and gave Himself up for her, that she might be holy and without blemish; likewise the husband shall love his wife as his own body, take care of her, and cherish her (pg 636).

In the address to the Bridegroom, the Form expands somewhat on the task of the husband:

Bridegroom, know that God has set you to be the head of your wife.  You shall love her as your own body, as Christ loved His Church and gave Himself up for her.  Guide, protect, and comfort your wife.  Live with her wisely and honor her, because she is an heir to eternal life together with you; then you prayers will not be hindered.  Work faithfully in your daily calling, that you may support your family and also help those in need (pg 637)

Further, in the vows themselves the husband promises to to love and guide her faithfully, to maintain her, and to live with in holiness, according to the holy Gospel? (pg 638).  It’s to this task of the husband that we need now to turn.


For centuries the understanding in western culture was that the man is the leader in society and in marriage.  With increased secularization in the last few decades, an egalitarian trend has replaced male headship.  50% of the human race, we’re told, has been effectively repressed for many years, and this female half of our race needs now to be given space to come to its own and take up its rightful place beside the man instead of under the man.  Young people growing up in our society are encouraged to think in egalitarian fashion, so that a woman can do any job a man can do and a man can do any job a woman can do.  The net result is that Christian men and women end up somewhat confused about the role of the husband in marriage.  What does the word “head” as used in the Form actually mean?  Is he in fact to “guide” his wife in a different way than the wife is to guide her husband?  Why, for that matter, does the Form instruct the bridegroom and not the bride to “work faithfully in your daily calling, that you may support your family”?  That sounds so antiquated, so out of step with today’s reality.

Holy Scripture gives to the husband a distinctly different role in marriage than the wife receives.  In fact, the different role attributed to the husband in marriage reflects the different role Scripture attributes to the man in daily life.  As the ordinances of God are altogether righteous and His statutes make the simple wise (Psalm 19), we do well to listen to what our Creator has revealed concerning the role of the husband in marriage – and hence the man in life as a whole.  We’ll need to appreciate that the Lord God has established a hierarchy between the man and the woman, with the man appointed as the head and the woman as the helper.  Yet man’s appointment as the head does not allow him to be demanding or dictatorial, but gives him the mandate to serve his wife.  Before I can draw that out, however, I should first make clear that before God the man and the woman are on a level.

Man and woman are equal before God

God’s determination to “make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock…” (Genesis 1:26) was followed by His action: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).  Notice that both genders of the human race were created to image God, and both were created to rule over the other creatures.  On this point the man and the woman have an equal position before God.

Similarly, the fall into sin touched both the man and the woman equally, so that both suffered the consequences of the fall (Gen 3:16-24).  Again, the gospel of redemption pertains to the man as much as it does to the woman (cf Leviticus 1-4).  So Jesus Christ proclaimed the gospel of forgiveness to men and women alike, and Paul could write pointedly that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” and together “heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28,29).  Man and woman are equally created to image God, equally sinful, equally redeemed, and equally heirs of life eternal. 

A Different Task

Inequality in Paradise

Equality of position before God, however, does not mean that the man and the woman received from God an equal function in relation to each other.  In His wisdom, the Lord God at creation arranged a hierarchy between the man and the woman wherein the one was appointed as leader over the other. It was the man –and not the woman who received from God the mandate work the garden and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).  To carry out his task in the Garden, the Lord made for the man “a helper suitable to him” (Genesis 2:18).  Responsibility for the work in the Garden fell, then, to the man; the man received from God the position of headship and leadership, while the woman received from the Creator the function to help.  The apostle Paul worded this relationship between the man and woman of Paradise like this, “man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Corinthians 11:8,9).

Role Reversal

The fall into sin damaged much.  For reasons we shall never understand, the fall itself happened through a role reversal of man and woman.  Through the serpent the devil approached the man indirectly, that is, through his helper, and challenged her to eat of the forbidden tree.  Scripture relates, “when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6).  At a minimum the woman ought when she was challenged to defy God to have sought leadership from the man, but she did not; unilaterally she made a decision, “she took some and ate it.”  Again, at a minimum the man ought when he saw his helper transgressing unilaterally to have forbidden her, but he did not; though he “was with her” he let her eat – and so reneged on his responsibility as leader.  In fact, “he ate” also, and so failed the more in his task as leader.

The Lord God after the fall confronted the human race with their transgression.  Scripture’s formulation is striking: “the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you’?” (Genesis 3:9).  God did not call to ‘the woman’, nor did He call ‘to the man and the woman’, but He summoned “the man”.  Herein God showed that He respected the ordinance He established in Paradise, that the man is the leader and hence carries the responsibility, and the woman is his helper.  More, God shows with this formulation that even after the fall into sin He maintained this order of things.  So Paul can write that “sin entered the world through one man” (Romans 5:12) – not through ‘one woman’ or through ‘two people, a man and a woman’.  Later Paul mentions the transgressor by name, and does not mention Eve but Adam (Romans 5:14).  In another place Paul can write, “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Though Eve was the initial transgressor (as Paul well knows, see 1 Timothy 2:14), the responsibility for the fall belongs with Adam since he received from God the position of leadership and authority.


It’s this same point that makes God’s penalty on the man and the woman so striking, as recorded in Genesis 3:15-19.  Consider the following points.

1. In the hearing of the man and his wife, God announced to the serpent that God would “put enmity between you and the woman” (Genesis 3:15).  The warfare would not be between the serpent and the man, but between the serpent and the woman.  Not the offspring of the man would crush the serpent, but the offspring of the woman.  Make no mistake: God was as mighty to bring His Son into the world through a man as through a woman.  But in declaring an antithesis between the serpent and “the woman”, and adding that the ultimate victory over sin and Satan would occur through the seed of the woman, God deliberately passed the man by – and here was an implicit judgment on his failure to give the required leadership in the face of Satan’s temptation.

2. After His address to the serpent, the Lord God turned to speak to the woman.  “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).  To be clear: the curse here is not in the role of motherhood, for receiving children was part of God’s ordinance on the day God created man and woman (Genesis 1:27,28).  The curse here lies in the pain that will characterize pregnancy, birth and child rearing.

Of greater interest to our topic, however, is God’s closing words to the woman: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16b).  The reference to ‘desire’ has led some readers to think that God speaks of the woman’s sexual appetite for her husband.  That is incorrect.  Others have wondered how to understand the word ‘will’ in the closing words of this text.  Does the word ‘will’ reflect a command: the man will (=must) rule over the woman?  Or does the word ‘will’ reflect a prophecy: in the brokenness of a fallen world, the man will (though he ought not to) rule over the woman?  If it is the latter, it’s said, redemption in Christ will mean that the Christian husband will resist this temptation, and the Christian woman will not quietly accept the man’s domination.

The significance of these words becomes evident when we lay them beside God’s words to Cain one chapter later.  When Cain was angry because God did not look with favor on his offering, the Lord addressed Cain about the sin that was crouching at his door: “it [sin] desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7b).  In the Hebrew text those two sentences (3:16b and 4:7b) are identical, with the exception of the pronouns.  The significance of God’s words to Cain is clear: Sin desires to have you, to control you, but you must not let it happen; you must rule over sin.  That is: because of sin’s desire, Cain has an obligation to resist sin and to rule over sin.

This clarifies God’s words to the woman.  The woman desires to control her husband (which the NIV translates too loosely as, “your desire will be for your husband”), but the husband is not to permit it to happen; he must rule over the woman – according to the position God had given in Paradise.  God’s penalty on the fallen human race is that the role reversal that characterized the fall itself would characterize so much of human life in the course of history; the woman would continue to seek to dominate, but the man must continue to resist her effort and be the leader.  Yet because of his depravity, the man’s leadership too often comes over in a heavy handed and tyrannical fashion – which in turn fills the woman with increased resentment against the man and more attempt to control his leadership.  This struggle between the man and the woman has been the driving force of so much sorrow in the course of human history.  Only through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit is the man made able to give good leadership to his wife, and so rule her in a God-pleasing fashion.  Similarly, only through the renewing work of the Spirit is the woman made able to resist the urge to dominate her husband and accept his leadership.

3. After speaking to the woman, the Lord addressed the man.  “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree…, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life… until you return to the ground” (Genesis 3:17-19).  Notice: God faults Adam for two transgressions here.  The second transgression is the one we typically think of when we recall the fall into sin, namely, Adam’s eating from the forbidden tree.  The one God mentions first is Adam’s failure to act according to the leadership role God had given in relation to his wife; God faults him for listening to his wife.  That God mentions this failure at all, let alone mentions it first, points up how much God insists that the man is the leader and so is ultimately responsible for the fall into sin.  Similarly, the curse that God pronounces on the ground is “because of you”, and in the Hebrew the ‘you’ distinctly refers to Adam alone and not to his wife; he is responsible for the sweat and tears that shall characterize all human labor.  Again, it is Adam, not Eve, that is told that “you [will] return to the ground”, that is, will die.  Certainly, she will die too, of course, for as goes the head so goes the member, but the onus lies here on the man and his responsibility.  He must first of all bear the penalty for his disobedience to God’s ordinance of being the leader to his wife.

Conclusion: in the way God responds to their fall, it is clear that God maintains the hierarchy He established in the beginning.  The man is the leader and hence ultimately responsible; the buck stops with him.

After Paradise

In the years of human history after the fall into sin, the Lord God has steadfastly maintained the ordinance of the beginning, namely, that man and woman have an unequal position in relation to each other; specifically, the man is the head and the woman is not.  Consider the following sample of Biblical data:

  • Only masculine names are found in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 10.  Obviously, women were involved in bringing forth the next generation, but the Holy Spirit does not mention them because the man is the leader – and to mention the leader is to mention at the same time those over whom he is responsible.
  • God addressed His command to come out of Ur to the man Abram, and not to the woman Sarai (Genesis 12:1).  Had God so wished, He could have addressed His command to Sarai, so that she take the initiative to take her household (including Abram) out of Ur.  That God addressed Abram was deliberate, and in full accord with His principle of male headship as expressed in Genesis 2.
  • The sign God ordained for the covenant (circumcision) was to be given to the boys alone (Genesis 17:10,11).  Yet the girls were very much included in God’s covenant people, for men and women, older and younger alike, were assembled at Mt Sinai when God gave them the Ten Words of His covenant (Exodus 19,20).
  • Amongst His people Israel God appointed only men to the priesthood and to be elders (Exodus 28:1; Exodus 18:21,25). 
  • Only the males in Israel were commanded to appear before the Lord, and not the females (Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:16). 
  • Only the males were counted in the census of Israel (Numbers 1:1-4).
  • In the instruction about the jealous husband, the Lord God uses telling formulation.  “Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, ‘If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you’” (Numbers 5:19).  Here the NIV does not render the Hebrew accurately, for (as most other translations also have it), the Hebrew does not speak of being ‘married to your husband’ but of being “under your husband’s authority”.  It’s a formulation fully in line with the lessons of Genesis 2.
  • When the Lord God speaks of Israelites in general, whether male or female, He uses the pronoun ‘he’ (see, for example, Leviticus 1:3).  This is not discrimination against the female, nor is this a culturally conditioned manner of speaking, but it is a formulation that flows directly from the structure God ordained in the beginning.  In the eyes of the Creator, the masculine pronoun does not exclude women, but gives recognition to the fact that woman is part of man and therefore the masculine pronoun can stand for all people.  Inasmuch as God’s view on things remains the true measure of reality, today’s people do well to recognize that intermingling the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’, or even using the phrase ‘he/she’, does injustice to God’s ordinance.  Similarly, a gender-neutral translation does not do justice to God’s revelation.

These and so many more examples point up that the norm God ordained in the beginning remains the standard for the human race, namely, that the man is the head and the woman is his helper.  Though both man and woman are equal before God, their functions in life are different.  ‘Leadership’ characterizes the man; ‘helping’ characterizes the woman.

NOTE: it has been said that the relative position of the man and the woman as reflected in texts as those mentioned above reflect the cultural expectations of the time.  In other words: God is simply working with the cultural realties as they were.  So (it is said) God works with cultural realities of our time (egalitarianism), and so we would do wrong to insist that God’s choosing only men to the priesthood of Israel means that only men may serve in the offices today.

In reply, we need to remember that the world’s Creator is and remains sovereign over all that happens in human history, including the shape of a people’s culture and what God thinks of that culture.  The culture of Israel’s time did not dictate God’s decision as to whether to address Abram or Sarai, or whether to appoint men to the priesthood or women; rather, the culture of Israel and the relative position God gave to the man and to the woman was built on God’s revelation in Genesis 2.  It is telling that the Lord emphatically opposed particular cultural realities when His people settled in the Promised Land; they were forbidden, for example, to embrace the homosexual behavior found among the locals of Canaan because such behavior was contrary to God’s ordinance of Genesis 2 (see Genesis 19:1-29; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Deuteronomy 23:17,18; Judges 19:22-30).

Later Scripture

In the inter-personal relation between man and woman the principle of Genesis 2 is also maintained in the New Testament.

  • There is a reason why the Savior of the world was a man and not a woman (Matthew 1:25; Revelation 12:5). 
  • Jesus chose men to be His disciples and not women (Mark 3:16-18).  If Jesus Christ wanted a woman to be a disciple He would have called a woman to be a disciple and (if necessary) made it culturally acceptable too.
  • In Acts 1:16 we read of Peter standing up in the midst of the disciples (120 in total, including both men and women) and speaking on the matter of filling the vacancy left open by Judas.  Peter addressed his speech to “men and brethren,” as the Greek has it.  Though Peter’s words were no doubt intended for all 120 disciples, regardless of gender, Peter reflects the principle of Genesis 2 by addressing the meeting with reference to the leaders.
  • In 1 Corinthians 11:3 the apostle writes, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”  Despite the passage of time and the developments in the history of salvation, the structure of Genesis 2, whereby the man is the head of the woman, remains. 
  • When Paul lays out the requirements for those who can serve in the offices of the church, he not only stipulates the gender of the candidate –“the husband of but one wife” but also that “he must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect” (1 Timothy 3:2,4; see also 12).  The later requirement describes the man as leader and ruler of his family, even as God intended Adam to be in Paradise.
  • By Paul’s instruction, the women of the congregation are “to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:5).  It is striking that the wife receives the instruction to be subject to the husband (and not the other way around), and that disobedience on this point results in speaking ill of God’s word.  This is because this order of things is the pattern God has established from the beginning.

These data, and so many more, make clear that the principle of male headship as delineated in God’s revelation in Paradise and in God’s approach to the human race after their fall into sin remains the norm of God throughout the ages.

Only in Marriage?

One question remains: was God’s intent that this hierarchy be true for marriage alone?  Is the man to fill the role of leader only in marriage, but not in the world of business, education, politics, etc? 

The division of life into various realms is ultimately a manmade division, not reflected in Scripture.  When the Lord God put the man in the Garden with the mandate to “work it and care for it” (Genesis 2:15), Adam was made the leader of every aspect of his existence.  When God in His wisdom added a wife to his life, Adam’s mandate to give leadership was not limited to their moments at home but also to their time working in the Garden.  Eve’s conversation with the devil and Adam’s negligence to give leadership was in that instance obviously not limited to marital matters, but to matters of life and death, of economics and business, politics and education and judicial, etc.  All of life is of one piece, and Adam’s failure in relation to his wife in Genesis 3 affected every area of life dramatically.

When the Lord God, therefore, appointed men to the offices of elder and priest in Israel, and when Jesus Christ appointed men to the office of apostle and Paul intimated that elders and deacons should be men, the application of male headship is thereby not limited to church – to the exclusion of life outside home and church.  The ordinance of God concerning male headship is valid for every aspect of life; by His sovereign decree the man is the leader.  That the Bible knows of exceptions as Deborah (Judges 4) does not undo the fact that the woman was not created for the role of leadership (as also Deborah’s words to Barak in Judges 4:9 show).

That the man is the leader and the woman is not does not go down well with fallen mankind – as God Himself decreed in the penalty He laid upon the fallen human race in Genesis 3:16.  But those who take seriously God’s ordinance in creation, as well as His punishment upon sin, will embrace God’s Word in humility.  They appreciate God’s explanation for the battle of the sexes, they delight in His forgiving grace in Jesus Christ, and thank Him for His renewing work in the Holy Spirit.
For indeed, the renewing work of the Holy Spirit is wonderful, also when it comes to man’s headship.  It’s to that topic we now need to turn.

What Headship looks like

Headship in first instance involves authority, government, leadership.  That is evident from the way the word ‘head’ is repeatedly used in Scripture.  To mention but one telling example: after His triumph on the cross, God “raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given….  And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church…” (Ephesians 1:20-22; cf Colossians 2:10).  The reference to headship is here clearly a reference to Christ’s authority over all creation.  In fact, by exalting Jesus Christ to be ruler over all, the Lord God has fulfilled the intent of Genesis 1:26, when God announced that the man He would create to image Him would “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth….”


Yet what does Christ’s government look like?  Does He as Head rule tyrannically?  Is He callous to the needs of His subjects?  In the battles of the great antithesis, Christ as King –even as God the Father– has no love for those who side with the devil.  Though the Lord shows much kindness and patience today (Romans 2:4), the lot of the ungodly shall one day be eternal damnation.  That is His righteous and divine prerogative as Creator of all.

As Head over all, however, Christ’s government over the world is directed to the benefit of His church.  That’s the force of the closing words of the above quote from Ephesians 1: Christ is “head over everything for the church.”  The church is His bride, for whom this Bridegroom’s conduct forms the template for every Christian bridegroom.  Says Paul in the same letter in which he wrote about Christ’s headship over the world: “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church His body, of which He is the Savior” (Ephesians 5:23). 

That Christ is the Savior of the Church is a reference to His work on Calvary.  Jesus Christ had been with God in heavenly glory from eternity, yet emptied Himself of His Godhead in order to join a fallen human race.  So completely did He become one of us that He became mortal, sickly (Isaiah 53:4), vulnerable.  He “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant….  He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7,8).  What was the purpose of His total Self-emptying?  Paul explains: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).  Here is illustrated fully what Jesus said to His disciples, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26).  It’s what Jesus began to do when He took a towel and a washbasin, and washed His disciples’ feet; on the cross “He … showed them the full extent of His love” (John 13:1).

This love of Christ as Head is not limited to His becoming man and His sacrifice on the cross.  He has since ascended into heaven to receive that glorious throne at God’s right hand, as Head over all.  For the benefit of His Bride the ascended Christ continued to serve her, for He sent His Holy Spirit to earth to dwell in His people – and the blessed result is that His people are changed from persons who serve the self into persons who serve the other.  Fallen mankind had “lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19) – and that’s a reference not just to sexuality but to every form of selfishness and hence of wanting selfish control over the spouse.  But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the child of God is renewed so that you “put off your old self” and are “made new in the attitude of your minds”, so that the Christian “put[s] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).  This new self does not “gratify the desires of the sinful nature” but brings forth “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16,22).  The acts of the sinful nature (“sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like”, Galatians 5:19-21) have a common denominator: selfishness.  The fruits of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”, Galatians 5:22,23) also have a common denominator: service to the other.  Such is the care of the exalted Christ that He has poured out His Holy Spirit so that His people might reflect the same self-emptying conduct that Christ exhibited for His Bride. 


Through the blessing of the Lord, regenerated husbands are made able to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  Instead of insisting that the wife submit to every unfeeling demand of the husband (sinful as he is), the husband –precisely in his office as head– receives from God the mandate and the strength to demonstrate in deeds what leadership really is: self-emptying service.  To change the analogy for a moment: as the head of the body ensures that the torso and arms and legs and hands and feet belonging to the body are sufficiently protected from dangers of frostbite or infection or broken bones, so the head of the wife ensures that the wife is protected, more, is made to flourish.  That’s the example of Jesus Christ as Head, an example every husband is privileged to reflect.

What does this kind of self-denial and service to the wife look like for the husband?  Paul in Ephesians 5 says that Christ “gave Himself up for [the church] to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (vss 25-27).  Then Paul adds this telling instruction, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (vs 28).  Those words describe the goal of the husband’s service to his wife; his self-denial must seek to make her flourish.  Instead of her looking tired and worn out on account of his demands and the trials of life (including the demands of motherhood), she should through his care look happy, glowing, vibrant, thankful.  Paul adds, “He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” (vss 28,29).  The wife is the husband’s own body, for the two –said God in Genesis 2:24 are “one flesh”.  Well then, the husband is to feed and care for his wife as he would look after himself.  All her needs –physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological, etc are his to supply, just as Christ from His place in heaven continues to supply all His Bride’s needs till she is ready for the coming of the Bridegroom on the Last Day.  Under no circumstance, then, is a husband allowed to let his wife become bitter (Colossians 3:19); on the contrary.

The apostle Peter adds some further detail about the task of the husband in relation to his wife.  He told the wives to “be submissive to your husbands” (1 Peter 3:1), and so implied the husband’s position as head and leader.  He then adds, “Husbands, … be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7).  The phrase translated as “be considerate” catches in Greek the notion of knowing the wife very well, and then treating her in accordance with her needs.  Implicit here is the matter of conversation and openness, and then taking seriously what is going on her life, her body, her mood, etc.  From the husband’s position of knowledge about her needs, he is to “live with” his wife – and yet do more than inhabit the same house as she does; he is to supply all her needs.

Again, the husband is to take seriously the fact that in God’s wise providence the wife is “the weaker partner”.  The word ‘partner’ is literally ‘vessel’, as a clay pot.  All people are ‘vessels’, made of clay and will one day return to dust.  The human race is finite, weak – yet the Lord has created the woman the weaker of the two genders.  The reference may be to physical strength or the need for a shoulder or the ravages of the monthly cycle, or any combination of these and other factors.  The husband is to respect the way God has made the woman, and so treat her with care, as fragile.  She is, after all, an heir to eternal life just as much as the husband, and that’s to say that both have been saved by grace, both belong to God, and both look forward to something better than the broken lives they now have. 

So the husband is also to pray with his wife, and lay her needs –and therefore his needs as her head and leader– before the Lord.  Yet to pray together takes conversation about the day’s events, and instruction from the Lord over an open Bible.  It is the husband’s privilege as head of his wife to see to it that the Bible is open daily, and husband and wife speak together about the questions and challenges of daily living in light of Scripture, and then lay their joys and concerns together before the Lord of life.

What, then, does the husband’s headship look like?  In a word, headship involves service.  Biblical headship leaves no place for selfishness on the husband’s part, no place for his commanding her to supply his coffee and clean up his dishes, no place for the husband demanding his wife because he has an appetite for her body.  In denial of self, he needs to pursue with strong leadership whatever makes his wife flourish in the Lord’s service.  That is the privileged place God has given him, and to this responsibility the Lord will hold him accountable.

Blessed is the man who has learned to love in the Scriptural sense of the word, and so to lead his wife well.  And blessed is the woman who receives such a husband!


The Marriage Form included this instruction to the husband: “Work faithfully in your daily calling, that you may support your family and also help those in need” (pg 637).  Does this make the husband the sole and responsible breadwinner for the family?  The question needs answering, but that’s best done, I think, after we have considered the role of the wife in marriage.  For this topic, then, the reader is referred to the closing paragraph of the next chapter.