Yesterday, I wrote about biblical submission, and today I’m going to flip the coin over and talk about biblical leadership. Just as the good leader of a business will empower and encourage the other employees to flourish with creativity and skill to the best of their ability (especially in the areas where they are more skilled than the leader) and yet still bear the weight of responsibility for the working body as a whole, so the husband is to do the same with the members of his family.
As in the case of submission, the Christian concept of the husband’s leadership has to be understood in the context of the overall Christian worldview, with its understanding of intrinsic human value and the example of leadership set by Jesus. No hierarchy within a marriage is biblical if the leadership is not shaped by the three biblical ideas of equality, self-sacrifice, and humble service.
A good leader recognizes equality within hierarchy.
As Christians, we know that we have all been created in the image of God and so all have intrinsic value. In the secular world, on the other hand, value comes from external characteristics, achievements, or roles. It is not to be this way for us. The Bible is very clear that all who are fulfilling the task given to them are equal, regardless of role—not equal in terms of sameness, but in terms of honor, value, and necessity.
Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 12:14–26:
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you;” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
A good leader sacrifices himself.
Hierarchy within marriage must also be viewed in the context of Ephesians 5:25–30:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
Christ gave His very life for the good of the church, and a husband is to lead with this same willingness to die—not only literally but also figuratively, giving himself up for his wife’s good every day, in order to nourish and cherish her as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.
A good leader is a humble servant.
Women often reject submission because they fear the domination and oppression they’re sure will come. Sometimes, of course, it does. But these things have no place in a Christian hierarchy. Jesus, who wrapped a towel around His waist and washed His disciples’ feet, is our model in this, and He not only condemned oppressive leadership but also went a step further, calling for leaders to lower themselves below those whom they lead in order to lift them up. See His words in Luke 22:25–27:
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called “Benefactors.” But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
What man would not be drawn to the chivalry of this vision of leadership I’ve described? And what woman would not respect such a man and thrive under his leadership?