Headship and Unity

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Ephesians 5:22

In yesterday’s reflection, we began to examine the sense of the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23 and the following verses. We saw that head, used metaphorically in this passage, could mean “authority” or “source.” We noted that Ephesians 5 associates headship with the sacrificial love of Christ, as well as with his nurture and care for the church, the body of which he is the head.

In the often heated and convoluted debate over whether “head” means “authority” or “source,” we might easily overlook one of the most important and obvious senses of headship in this passage. Verse 23 says that “Christ is the head of the church, his body.” This reiterates what we have seen previously in Ephesians, where Christ is the head of (not over) the church, “which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:23). In 4:15-16, Christ, as head of the body, is the one “from whom” the body receives what it needs to grow in love. Again, the emphasis here is not on Christ’s authority over the church, though he is surely the church’s Lord, but rather on his intimate, nurturing relationship with the church.

A few verses after using “head” metaphorically for husbands and for Christ, Ephesians says that “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (5:28). Three verses later, we find a quotation from Genesis 2, in which man and wife are united and “become one flesh” (5:31). Ephesians relates this to the “profound mystery” of “Christ and the church” (5:32). What stands out in this passage is the deep, mysterious, fundamental unity between husband and wife and also between Christ and the church, not unlike the bodily unity between a literal head and a literal body.

The discussion in Ephesians 5 suggests that the main point of the headship metaphor in marriage is the unity between husband and wife. If it’s true that “he who loves his wife loves himself,” then couldn’t it also be said that “she who submits to her husband submits to herself”? Christ, as head of the church, is not some distant overlord or impersonal source but is united with the church to such an extent that the church can be called “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:23). Husband and wife have a similarly melded existence.

The emphasis on unity in marriage reflects the broader story of Ephesians. As you may recall, in Ephesians 1, God’s plan is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (1:10). In Ephesians 2, this unity is epitomized in the oneness of the church, where formerly divided Jews and Gentiles are brought together through the cross. In Ephesians 5, unity between Christ and the church is highlighted through the metaphor of Christ as head of the church, his body. Marriage between husband and wife reflects this unity, with the husband seen as the head and the wife in the place of his body. Husband and wife, head and body, so to speak, are to be unified even as Christ is unified with the church.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: If you are married, how unified are you with your husband or wife? What contributes to this unity? What detracts from this unity? No matter your marital status, how does the unity of Christ and the church speak to you? Have you experienced this in your own church experience? When? How?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, head of the church, what a wonder that you have chosen to be unified with us. You know how imperfect we are, how tainted by sin, how compromised in our holiness. Yet by grace, you have chosen to identify with us, to be one with us as a head is one with a body.

As our head, we are somehow your fullness, and you continue to fill us with even more of yourself. You give us all we need to grow as your body. You love us. You cleanse us. You feed and care for us. Thank you, dear Lord, for all you give us, every day, every hour. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.


Work for God

Whatever work you do, it matters to God. And you can glorify God through your work. God doesn't give more points or ascribe more value to pastoral or missionary or non-profit work. God looks at you and the work you do in your cubicle or classroom or kitchen or conference call, and all of it matters to him. It's not just ministers who work for God. No matter what type of work we do, let's do it to the glory of God. The series, Work for God, reminds us to do all of our work as if we were working for God, because we are.

Featured image by Simply Darlene. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.