Heads, Bodies, and Marriage

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).

Jesus said:

(Matthew 20:25-28  ESV)  (25) 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  ESV)  (22) 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.

[March 31, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to March 31, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 31, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 31, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 31, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


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.

8 thoughts on “Heads, Bodies, and Marriage”

  1. Another very good post Jeff. Let me know if you would ever like to join our advisory board and help us take this message to churches and Bible Colleges across the US or where ever God gives us an open door.

  2. Many times I’ve read on Christian forums or blogs about domestic abuse, women commenting like this: “I would have no trouble submitting to a husband who was truly honouring Christ and was willing to sacrifice himself for me as Jesus gave Himself for the church.” And guys, I think you would say the same: you would have no problems submitting to a man (say a pastor or Elder or other Christian leader) who led the people in a self-sacrificial way, putting the flock first and himself last.

    Yeah, there are a few women who are “way off” and refuse to submit to their husbands because they are sick or evil (emotionally / psychologically / spiritually). But apart from those few, the vast majority of women would happily follow their husbands IF their husbands were sensibly and seriously following the precepts of God.

    Look at the term “a nagging wife”. It seems to me, from my years of being on this earth, that if a woman asks her husband to do something sensible, reasonable, helpful, or prudent — something good for the family as a whole — and the husband ignores her request, then if she asks him again she’s called a “NAGGING WIFE”! Pretty unfair, I reckon. The husband is rarely called “lazy” or “negligent” or “selfish”. But the wife is quickly labelled “a nagger”. Hmmm….

    1. Barbara – yes, the “nagger” stereotype. While Proverbs says there is such a woman, it has become commonplace to call any suggestion by a wife to her husband as “nagging”. Even if she is asking him for reasonable assistance with something. I can also give a flip-side version of the same kind of damaging type-casting. I have known several truly godly men who had occasion to have genuine concern over something that they saw to be a danger to their wife’s well-being (a bad influence from someone, etc.). No matter how tactfully he broaches the subject, he can immediately be accused of being controlling. That is what happened in at least 3 of the cases I know about. And the world will be happy to jump on the wagon here and encourage the wife not to listen to her husband because “obviously” he is just out to control her. Yes, we need to reject the abuser’s control and power hunger, but husbands (and wives as well) who love one another need to be able to lift the other up when he / she stumbles, and not have their hand slapped for being controlling. The workplace can be a very dangerous place (so can churches, or anyplace the world’s minions gather) for lying whispers to be spoken in our ears.

      1. 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.


        Yes, men can get labelled “controlling” when they are only showing concern for someone they have a duty of care towards, someone who they perceive to be stepping into danger. Women can get labelled “nagging” when they are only making reasonable requests of the men in their lives. Knee jerk reactions can happen both ways. Thanks, Jeff, for keeping us mindful of this.

  3. First of all, I absolutely love your blog and read it pretty much daily. I appreciate your sensitivity and your courage in talking about a very difficult subject. May I respectfully ask you to consider it is possible Paul was using a head-body metaphor to speak of one body, one flesh and unity, rather than a leader and follower? In most verses about submission between believers it carries the sense of mutual cooperation, which is certainly a goal between fellow believers, brothers and sisters, as well as husbands and wives.

    When I was a young Christian I believed as you do, and later discovered this viewpoint made me “follow” unChristian directions in an effort to be submissive and follow then-husband who was a very skilled pastor yet ungodly in the privacy of our home. (By follow I mean I allowed more than I should have before I put my foot down.)

    The church’s teaching about follower and leader led me astray. I now follow only Jesus, though I love my husband and I am faithful, loyal and true to him.

    1. Thanks Becky – yes, glad to consider your thoughts. Whatever nuance of position we take on this, one thing we certainly agree upon. Namely, that the biblical use of head and submit to that head has been very often mishandled, misrepresented, and allowed to deteriorate into an issue of power and control, thus adding enablement to wicked people. Any presentation of sections such as Ephesians 5 that fails to clearly announce that no Christian is bound to submit to evil demands by default misrepresents Scripture. Any presentation of these doctrines that leaves an abuser unscathed and unexposed is grossly inadequate. And however these doctrines play out in truth in godly marriages as they should, in the end I think we find mutual cooperation functioning as one flesh. I suspect that in practical, daily matters, your position and mine are really not very different at all. I am not comfortable at all with men who see themselves as “head of the house” and frequently remind their wives of this fact. I remember talking to one man once in a church I was a guest speaker at. His wife was there and in the course of the conversation he said “I am the breadwinner in our family and therefore I am the one who determines how the money is spent.” He may as well have said “my wife’s work in the home, caring for our children, homeschooling them, and all of her other duties are worth absolutely nothing to me.” Yet many Christians would affirm him in that statement. Terrible.

      Incidentally, you are probably the seventh or eighth abuse survivor I have been contacted by whose abuser was a pastor — a well thought of pastor as a matter of fact. Such is the deceptiveness of sin. I am VERY glad you are free of it.

  4. Very helpful, thank you. In the same way that a stroke in the brain damages the brain but may show up as paralysis in a leg or arm, it would be foolish for the doctor to instruct the leg, “You have to move! The head wants you to move!” or to begin physical therapy for the leg without addressing the stroke damage to the head.

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