Most wives I have met actually do long for their husbands to be the spiritual leader of their family. They are not resisting his leadership; they truly do believe it’s biblical. However, they fear that he will not take their opinions into consideration. Furthermore, they fear that he wants the authority as the leader without exercising the responsibility of a leader.
Case in point, listen to this one wife who emailed me recently:
I am a little frustrated by Michael’s inability to be the head of the household as I think he should be. When we got married, he told our pastor that he wanted to be the spiritual leader in our family. What bothers me right now is that Michael is telling me that he is the head of the household and this means he has tie-breaking authority according to what our pastor preached in a previous sermon. I do agree with this but I still need the respect of Michael to consider my views. I know in the past that I had been a little too strong for Michael in my voice for what I believe is right for us. I know to tone it down and be more respectful. However, it concerns me that he is so stuck on the issue. I am afraid that Michael is not willing to take the responsibility of the head of the household yet demands the authority of it. In writing this, I realize that I need to decide whether I believe in the Word of God or not. I know I need to be respectful of the authority that God gave Michael and give him the respect regardless of his performance in reverence of Christ. However, I am human and have my doubts, mostly in Michael.
Not a few men fail to see that their wives are resisting not their spiritual leadership but the fact that they lead in a way that feels unloving. What feels unloving to a woman? When he does not listen to and even appreciate her different opinion, and when he does not display a humble demeanor but an arrogant attitude that says, “I am in charge here.” He acts like the brand-new lieutenant in the army who arrogantly shouts, “I outrank you” to a non-commissioned sergeant major who has served for thirty years and fought in two wars. The sergeant major plans on responding to his leadership, but it would be the better part of wisdom for this lieutenant to be humble, solicit the opinion of the sergeant major, and act responsibly first before broaching the subject about who is in charge. It is that attitude of arrogance that totally discredits him.
Many times the wives are reacting negatively not because they do not want to follow the leadership of their husband but because they don’t see a humble, loving servant leader. This unnerves them. They feel they have no part to play. They fear that if he closes out her input they will make bad decisions. She wants to be a team player, but he frightens her. She does not sense her husband is coming under the authority of Christ and thus she fears coming under her husband. She wants to treat him as first among equals, but she wants to be treated as first of importance to him.
Wives are also looking at other aspects of their husband’s life, other decisions he makes, that indicate what type of leader he is and—right or wrong—how comfortable she is following his lead. The wife who wrote me above shared that she was concerned that her husband did not show a mature sense of responsibility.
As an example, she wrote: I expressed to him how I felt that it seemed like in our relationship Michael cares about the household but seems to expect me to take all the responsibility to make things happen and I did not like this. So I mentioned that he could do at least one load of laundry a week, cook dinner at least one night of the week, etc. I had recently hired a maid service to dust, vacuum, clean the kitchen and bathrooms once a month. So in response to my request, Michael mentioned that the maid service was really expensive and that he would be willing to do it [instead of hiring the maid service] if he could spend the money we would’ve paid the maid service on whatever he wanted. This was the most bizarre thing to me because I felt that if he could make the time to do it, why wasn’t he? I do all the other chores without being paid for it. . . . I am busy doing all the other stuff even though I work a full-time job.
-Fair is fair. This gal is working full time as he is-
To this churchgoing husband who is apparently familiar with God’s word on marriage and spiritual leadership, specifically Ephesians 5:22–23 that says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife,” I would like to remind him of the full context of the Ephesians 5 command to husbands and wives. Verse 23 continues, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” The comparison to Christ continues in verse 25, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
In this verse, the word “and” is key. Yes, of course Christ loved the church so much that He gave up His life for it. His sacrifice on the cross was the ultimate show of love for His church. And most husbands, including Michael, would indeed die for their wife if necessary. He loves her that much. That’s not disputable. But the word “and” in verse 25 implies that Christ loving the church was more than giving up His life. Paul didn’t write, “Christ loved the church by giving himself up for her.” He wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Which means husbands should look not only to Christ’s death on how they should love their wives but also to His life.
And how did Jesus love His church during His life? Did he force His authority over others? Did He boss the disciples around so that He could relax? When He healed people, did He ask for the money that people would’ve paid the doctors, so that He could spend it on whatever He wanted?
Not at all. He served people. Christ loved the church by serving it, unconditionally. In both His death and his life. So husbands who may be upset and confused at why your wife seems to be rejecting your spiritual leadership, despite their vocalized commitment to follow Scripture . . . are you truly loving them as Christ loved the church? I would bet that your wife’s resistance to your leadership has little to do with your God-given authority but with her fear that you do not come alongside of her and responsibly meet the needs she feels are overwhelming her. In other words, don’t misinterpret her frustration with you. She is not attacking your headship but trying to address her need of your sensitivity, strength and resourcefulness. At its deepest level, it is a compliment not a complaint.
Questions to Consider
1. Emerson wrote, “Most wives I have met actually do long for their husbands to be the spiritual leader of their family.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
2. Have you ever met someone (a boss, teacher, husband, etc.) who clearly wanted the authority he felt he deserved but refused or hesitated to exercise the responsibility that came with being a leader? Why do you think he did not want to exercise that responsibility?
3. Why is it so important for the wife to know that she is following a humble, loving servant leader? Why is she more confident following a humble leader than one who demands power and control?
4. What are some specific ways that Christ loved others while on earth? What can a husband learn from this in how he should love his wife?