Seeking the Sense of Headship

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

Ephesians 5:23 gives a reason why wives should submit to their husbands: “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.” This verse has stirred up all sorts of scholarly debate about the intended sense of headship. Clearly, the husband is not the literal head of the wife even as Christ is not the literal head of the church. The word head, kephale in Greek, is being used metaphorically here. But with what connotation?

At first glance, the answer to this question seems obvious. English speakers understand the word “head” in the sense of authority. A head of state, for example, is the chief leader of a country. Greeks could use the word kephale with this sense. So, given that the wife is to submit to her husband, isn’t the sense of headship in this verse that of authority?

Perhaps, though it isn’t quite that simple. Twice Ephesians speaks of Christ as “head” in relationship to the church (1:22-23; 4:15-16). In neither text is Christ’s headship a matter of his authority over the church. In 1:22-23, he is over all things “for the church, which is his body.” In 4:15-16, he is the source of the church’s growth and life, supplying all that the church needs to flourish. The Greek word kephale can mean source, as in the “headwaters” of a river. So, following the usage of kephale in Ephesians, it’s possible that the sense of “headship” in 5:23 leans in the direction of source.

What Ephesians 5 actually says about Christ’s relationship to the church as head, and therefore, by implication, the husband’s relationship to his wife, makes things even more intriguing. Christ, the head of the church, is her “Savior” (v. 23). He “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). He feeds and cares for the church (v. 29). And he is deeply and mysteriously united with the church (vv. 31-32). Nothing in this passage mentions Christ’s authority over the church as her Lord. His saving, loving, self-giving, feeding, and caring for the church could be seen as ways in which he is the source of the church’s life and health.

Thus, even if the sense of “head” in verse 23 includes a nuance of authority, other nuances receive greater emphasis in the text of Ephesians. If the headship relationship of husband to wife is like that of Christ to the church, then the husband is to be one source of his wife’s vitality and growth in holiness (v. 27). His primary responsibility as head is to love his wife as Christ loved the church through his self-giving sacrifice. To this kind of serving love the wife is to submit. How? By receiving it freely, even as the church receives the love and care of Christ.

I believe there is another sense of headship operating in this text, which we will examine in tomorrow’s reflection. For now, you might consider the follow questions.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you read this passage, what stands out to you about the relationship of husband and wife? What stands out about the relationship of Christ and the church? If you are not a wife or a husband, what in this passage speaks to you?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, head of the church, thank you for being our Savior. Thank you for loving us even to the point of giving up yourself for us. Thank you for wanting your church to be holy and blameless and for doing that which makes this possible. Thank you for feeding and caring for your church, for giving us all we need to thrive. Thank you being united to us in a way we’ll never fully understand in this age.

May we live our whole lives in response to your self-giving love, receiving all you have to give us and following you in all ways. 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.

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