Heads, Bodies, and Marriage
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
Marriage is a gift created by God for our blessing. Sin fouled it up big time. Christ has come to redeem the entire creation, and that includes marriage. In Christ, marriage should be, can be.. very good. But we still mess it up. And it has often been messed up in the very last place it should be distorted — in the church. Let me explain how (though many of you already know).
Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (26) It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, (27) and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, (28) even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Alright, this means that in the various relationships in life in which the world uses power to carry out those relationships, we are to make sure that our heads are turned 180 degrees opposite the world mindset. Jesus is the example. Though He possesses ultimate and total power and authority, He exercises it toward His people in a remarkable manner. Serving. Giving. And He said this is how you become “first” in His kingdom. He mentioned the same “he who is last shall be first” principle numerous other times. The Apostle Paul realized that he had been given apostolic power and authority in the church, but he was very hesitant to use it. He would if his enemies pressed him to it, but he much preferred leading by serving. When Christ does use His power toward His own people, it is for our good. For example, it is His power by which He regenerates our hearts.
Now, as we have taught (I have been guilty of this in the past also), as we have taught about marriage, about wives and husbands and how they are to relate to one another, we have taught about the husband being the head of the wife, the wife submitting to him, and so on, but we have largely left it to our congregations to sort out what this all means. We have not described sufficiently what this business of being a head entails, and what is does not entail. We have not sufficiently addressed the definition of submission — what it is and what it is not. These are serious deficiencies because, let’s face it, there is still plenty of sin in even the best Christian, and there are people in our churches who are not Christians at all, though they claim to be. What is holy can be twisted into a great evil. Our default setting on this is to run to the notions of head = power, authority over. Submit = obey that power. But that is exactly the description of the “lording over” model that Jesus tells us to reject.
Listen to these familiar instructions from the Apostle Paul, and then let me make some comments and observations about heads, bodies, and marriage:
Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (23) For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (24) Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (25) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (26) that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (27) so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (28) In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (29) For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (30) because we are members of his body. (31) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (32) This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (33) However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
I am only going to focus in on this matter of the husband being the head of his wife and the wife being compared to the body. Think about this. How does my literal, physical head function in relation to my body, and vice versa? My head is the head of my body? In what way? It leads my body. I think this is the key term here, and I think this is what we are still missing in our teaching about husbands and wives and marriage. Leadership. My head is the part that gets the notions and thoughts first — “turn right, stop, eat this, don’t eat that.” Why does my head do this? Well, if my brain is functioning properly and isn’t diseased or psychotic, my brain does what it does for the good of my entire body. (Ok, the analogy breaks down when my brain wants 10 Oreos with ice cream! Well, wait a minute… actually, the rest of my body pretty well likes that idea too:), but back to our point. My head leads, and it leads for the well-being of my whole body. And why does my body “submit”? Because it is natural. My head and body are a team.
So it seems to me that when it comes to marriage, the husband being the head (and remember, his Head is Christ!), what we are talking about here is a matter of leadership. And more specifically, leadership that is serving, that is sacrificial and giving for the well-being of one’s wife. Is there any element of authority involved? Well, there is definitely authority when it comes to Christ as Head of the church, but the fact is that in whatever sense a husband may have authority, his function as head is worked out through self-sacrificial, loving, other-oriented leadership. His wife’s submission simply… follows. By “follows,” I mean in the sense of how my body follows my brain. And I think that when this leadership is functioning as it is supposed to be, as Christ leads and loves His body, the church, there is not a whole lot of discussion or thought about what is supposed to happen. “You have to obey me,” and that sort of thing. Especially when both husband and wife are truly Christians, animated and led by the same Spirit.
The burden then rests upon the head, upon the husband. It always rests on the leader. Therefore, the first question to be asked when things don’t seem to be working right in a marriage is, “husbands, why doesn’t your wife seem to want to follow you?” Is it possible that in some cases the problem rests with the wife? Of course. Even Christian wives are capable of sin. But is that the first place to look when things aren’t going well? I don’t think so. I would begin with a head examination. Maybe, just maybe, the body is balking because the head has a problem.