STUDY EIGHT: HUSBANDS AND WIVES - ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

© Rosemary Bardsley 2004,2006, 2016

In previous studies we looked at the equality of the sexes and the distinction and differentiation between the sexes. This equality in humanity, dignity and value is affirmed right through the scriptures. The distinction of role and responsibility, evident in the original Creation, is also affirmed throughout the scripture. The impact of sin on the husband/wife relationship has also already been addressed. The Incarnation of Christ and the redemption we enjoy through his death call us back to the original right relationship between husband and wife.

A. LESSONS FROM THE INCARNATION AND REDEMPTION

A.1 The Incarnation affirms the equality and dignity of women
In his incarnation Jesus Christ affirmed the essential dignity and equality of women, and in doing so intervened in this area of the curse that has, in the hands of sinners, caused immeasurable pain and suffering.

In the culture of his day women were relegated to the ‘women’s court’ in the temple; girls were generally excluded from education in the synagogue schools, where the great bulk of learning was the law of God; Jewish men were forbidden to speak with women, even their own relatives, on the street; the Jewish Talmud stated that it would be better for the words of the law to be burned than to be entrusted to a woman. Quite apart from any inferior social status, the prevailing attitude to women excluded them from the more significant levels of worship of God and knowledge of God, and denied them immediate access to the Word of God, assuming a lesser intelligence, a lesser spirituality, and a lesser responsibility.

Jesus, in an extremely radical way, broke through these traditional attitudes and boundaries.

In his conception and birth [Galatians 4:4, Luke 1:28, 30, 35, 42-55], we see an individual woman as:

An essential component of God’s eternal plan of salvation.

The recipient of the Lord’s favour … with the responsibility and spirituality to live out the high calling inferred by that favour.

A person with whom God was present.

The recipient of special revelation … with the ability and spirituality to understand and be obedient to a theologically complex and radical message.

A person able to be used by the Spirit of God and protected by the power of God.

Blessed by God.

A person with great capabilities of faith.

A person who knows who God is - ‘my Saviour’, ‘the Mighty One’, who is ‘holy’, merciful, etc.

A person able to learn and remember the Scriptures, and apply them with quiet and simple trust to her present unexpected and socially threatening situation.

Although God did not ask Mary if she was willing to be his instrument for the incarnation of Jesus, the Gospel records give no impression that God treated her without respect to her personal being. God didn’t simply use her. God communicated with her; God recognized her valid fears; God explained the frightening details to her, in highly theological terms that assumed she knew both the Scriptures and God; God sought, and gained, the humble, trusting co-operation from her that he had anticipated. Later, having been greeted and blessed by Elizabeth, Mary burst into a song in praise of God, a song that reveals both her faith in God and her knowledge of God and his word. This respect and dignity with which God treated Mary instructs us concerning how women ought to be treated.

In his teaching Jesus confers women with equality and dignity.

Read Matthew 10:35-37; 12:49-50; 24:41; 25:1-13; Luke 15:8-10; 18:1-8.

 

 

 

 

In his attitude to women Jesus radically rejected social and religious inequality. 

Read Matthew 27:55; 28:1-10; Mark 12:41-44; 14:6-9; Luke 7:13,15, 36-50; 8:1-3, 43-48; 10:38-42; 13:10-17; 21:23; 23:27-31; John 2:1-11l 4:1-42; 8:1-11; 11:23-27, 32-35.

 

 

 

A.2 The incarnation and redemption affirm and define male headship
Although Jesus Christ radically confronted attitudes of male dominance and superiority, the incarnation of Christ also strongly affirms the male leadership role assumed and implied by the Creation Factor.

A.2.1 Male headship does not mean superiority and inequality
A sound Biblical understanding of the incarnation outlaws any conclusion that the headship of the man over the woman means that the woman is inferior or of less worth or ability. This is easily seen by listening to the Word of God, which states, on the one hand:

‘… the head of Christ is God’ [1 Corinthians 11:3], and on the other hand:
‘I and the Father are one’ [John 10:30, and many other expressions of equality and shared identity.]

Headship is about role and responsibility, not about superiority and inequality. Jesus, the Son of God, possessed full and essential equality with God, the Father. He possessed the ability and authority to do and say things that only God can do and say, and he did them and said them. All four Gospels make this quite clear. However, the New Testament also makes it clear that Jesus acknowledged and lived within the boundaries of his Father’s headship.

Identify how these verses maintain both equality and submission.
John 3:34,35

John 5:19,20a

John 5:21

John 5:22,23

John 5:26,27

John 13:3-5

John 17:7-8

Matthew 26:42

Matthew 26:53,54

Hebrews 10:7-10


In view of these descriptions of Christ’s submission to his Father’s headship, and of the responsibility delegated to him, we can understand that none of the following are threatening to equality, identity or authority or contrary to the Biblical headship/submission principle:

For the husband to delegate highly significant tasks and responsibilities to his wife.
For the wife to depend on the husband for instruction and example.
For the husband to trust major undertakings totally to his wife.
For the wife to be given the same respect as the husband.
For the wife to appear to be inferior.
For the wife to acknowledge dependence on her husband.
For the wife to ask if a change of the husband’s decision is possible.

God is the head of Christ: but he was not threatened by handing massive authority over to Christ. Christ is equal with God the Father: but he was not threatened by the role of obedience, dependence and service. In the same way, a husband assured and confident of his headship, is not threatened by the equality and ability of his wife; and the wife assured and confident of her equality, is not threatened by the headship of the husband.

A.2.2 The role-model for male headship is Jesus Christ
One of our biggest problems, whether we’re husband or wife, is that not one of us has actually seen a husband’s leadership and a wife’s ‘submission’ as they were meant to be. The original, untainted, uncorrupted, uncursed relationship was in place only in Genesis 1 and 2. There it was not commanded or even discussed: it simply was. Without threat, without compromise, without question. Perfect. Pleasant. And ‘very good’.

However, in his incarnation Christ not only modelled ‘submission’, he also modelled the leadership role:

‘For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour’ [Ephesians 5:23].

To understand the role and responsibility of the husband’s headship we need to look at how Christ fulfils his role and responsibility as head of the church. This is evident in the Redemption Factor.

What are the implications of these key concepts about Christ’s headship for the husband’s leadership role and responsibilities?
The strength and unity of the Church comes from Christ, the head - Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 2:19

 

Christ, the Head is the Saviour of his body, the church - Ephesians 5:23

 

Christ, the head, loved the church, his body - Ephesians 5:25-27.
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Christ, the head, gave himself up for the church, for the church’s good – Ephesians 5:25-27

 

Christ ‘feeds and cares for’ the church, his body -  Ephesians 5:29-30
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Christ shares a profoundly mysterious union with the church - Ephesians 5:30-32

 

As head of the church, Christ is the one who led the way, and who shouldered the responsibility - Colossians 1:18
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A.2.3 The headship of Jesus expresses unity and identification
Jesus Christ’s headship of his body the church is a function of his humanity, not simply an expression of his deity. As Lord, he is Lord of all, whether they acknowledge him or not. As Head of the body he is the leader or head of the church – of those who have identified with him and he with them. This is evident in the following Scripture passages:

Ephesians 5:28-32: ‘… husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.

In this passage Paul uses the Genesis reference to the marriage union as a reference to the union between Christ and his church. Christ and the church are ‘one flesh’. Here headship is portrayed as loving, protective union and identity.

Colossians 1:18: ‘He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.’

Paul connects Christ’s headship with the resurrection of his human body from the dead: he is the first, the leader, the one who brings the church out of death into life. And by virtue of this victory over death he is in the position of authority over all whom he rescues from death.

This same concept of Christ’s leading out of death those who are his ‘brothers’ is taught in Hebrews 2:9-18. Christ shared our humanity so that as a human he could share our death and rescue us from it. As a human being he is the ‘author of’ our salvation – the ‘one who takes the lead in’ our salvation. The concept of leadership in this and the previous reference, is not that Jesus Christ, as God, leads us out of death and into salvation and resurrection life, but that Jesus Christ as a human being just like us is our leader. Christ deliberately identified with us as human, so that he could do all that he did as one of us.

A.2.4 The headship of Christ expresses an incredible strength and humility
The incarnation and redemption model the embodiment of servant leadership. Christ, who is the eternal Lord of all, the almighty Creator, put aside his glory and came to earth incognito, subjecting himself to misunderstanding and rejection, to obtain the salvation of his bride, the church.

Every Christian is commanded to follow Christ’s example of strong, humble consideration of each other. Though not mentioned in the passage in Philippians, this example of Christ is also acutely applicable to the husband in his headship role and responsibility. If it is difficult for any of us to follow Christ’s example here, it is even more difficult for the husband to follow it in relation to his wife.

Read Philippians 2:3-8. Below is a list of truths about Jesus, the eternal Son of God. Beside each of these truths list the opposite that resulted from his self-denial in order to become one of us and save us. Identify the implications of this for servant leadership.

The eternal God

Equal with God

The One whom all heaven worships and honours

Creator of everything

Lord of all

The one to whom all obedience is due

The source and giver of all life

Perfect, pure, holy, innocent


We hear a lot about being ‘totally committed’ to Christ. As far as the Bible is concerned it is Christ who was ‘totally committed’ to us: he who by nature is our divine Lord and Master, in a way that is far beyond any authority any human being has over another human being, became our servant, totally focused on our spiritual well-being, disregarding all the recognition and respect that was rightfully his, heedless of the misconstructions that would be placed upon his poverty, his humiliation, his degradation, his powerlessness, his servanthood.

As the Philippians passage states, he did not ‘grasp’ at his rights. He let them all go, so that he could be one with us in our humanity, in our suffering, in our condemnation, in our death. He let them all go so that he could lead us out of that condemnation and death into resurrection life. Thus he models the protective, saving, self-denying, sacrificial care and love that the husband is commanded to have for his wife.  

Christ’s well-known saying encapsulates this key aspect of his leadership that is taught in the passages addressed in this study: ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ [Mark 10:45].

A.3 Implementing the role model of the incarnation and redemption
As we have seen, we do not live in the perfect world of Genesis 1 and 2. The husband/wife complementarity of the order of Creation has been corrupted by the Sin Factor. The original, spontaneous, unmentioned, unthreatening leader/led relationship, has been devastated:

[1] By the inner death and division and by inter-personal death and division that began in Genesis 3. We are each insecure. We each feel a need to defend, preserve and justify ourselves. We tend to see every other human being either as a challenge we have to master or as a threat against whom we have to protect ourselves. Even our marriage partners. And we are no longer at peace.

[2] By the curse and condemnation. In our incompleteness and our chosen independence from God, that which was originally the closest, most joyful human union, is now the focus of our most acute inter-personal pain. The original complementary roles of the husband and wife are now fraught with division and conflict.  The husband, as a sinner, now ‘leads’ with dominance and suppression. The wife, as a sinner, now ‘follows’ in an unsatisfied, demanding way.

But the incarnation models a new possibility. It calls us with the words of Jesus ‘Follow me’ – live as I lived, love as I loved. In the light of the incarnation, let us think about how things are and how things could be.

 

B. FURTHER LESSONS FROM THE REDEMPTION FACTOR

From the Redemption Factor we learn that the death of Jesus Christ, by which we are redeemed, regenerated and reconciled to God, endows the human person with enormous value in the eyes of God, even if that person has not embraced this incredible gift. For those who have received this gift the significance is immense, the endowed value magnified, and we all do well to think hard and long about this significance and value: that my Christian marriage partner belongs to God, not only by virtue of creation, but also by virtue of the death of Christ – by virtue of salvation.

In addition to this immeasurable value bestowed by the death of Christ, the Redemption Factor also, by demonstrating foundational life principles, establishes a well-defined boundary around our perception of the marriage relationship and our attitudes, speech and actions towards our marriage partners [and also to our children].

We also learn from the Redemption Factor that the devastating effects of the Sin Factor can be undone: that through the sin-bearing, curse-bearing, condemnation-bearing death of Jesus Christ we, personally and in our marriages and families, are redeemed and being redeemed [liberated and in the process of being liberated] from those horrific aspects of death and division, curse and condemnation, that entered our lives and our marriages in Genesis 3.

The implications and applications of the Redemption Factor for our marriages and families can be summarized in three points:

That our marriage partner [and our children] is God’s special treasure.

That in Christ there is a totally new mindset, a totally new perspective, and a totally new value system, which it is our responsibility to adopt and implement in our relationships.

That as part of the Redemption Factor we are expected to love each other in the same way that Christ has loved us.

The Redemption Factor therefore excludes a whole range of attitudes, words and actions towards one another that are commonly accepted in contemporary society. The existence of the marriage relationship does not exclude or excuse the husband's and wife’s attitudes, words and actions towards each other from obedience to the expectations and commands God lays upon all believers. Rather, the husband/wife relationship is the one relationship where the model of the Redemption Factor can and should be most fully displayed.