God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.




Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2004

We have seen that Jesus Christ radically confronted attitudes of male dominance and superiority. In this he was un-doing the impact of the curse of Genesis 3 in individual lives and specific circumstances. But the incarnation of Christ also strongly affirms the male leadership role assumed and implied by the Creation Factor.


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.

Read these verses. Discuss how they maintain both equality and headship/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 role, 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 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.


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'. [ See Additional Note: #4(a-c)]

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.

Read these verses. Discuss what they teach about the husband's leadership modelled on the headship of Christ.
Key concept
Implication for husband's headship

Eph 4:15-16

Col 2:19

The strength and unity of the Church comes from Christ, the head.


Eph 5:23

Christ, the Head is the Saviour of his body, the church.



Eph 5:25-27

Christ, the head, loved the

church, his body.



Christ, the head, gave himself up for the church, for the church's good.


Eph 5:29-30

Christ ' feeds and cares for' the church, his body.



Eph 5:30-32

Christ shares a profoundly mysterious union with the church.



Col 1:18

As head of the church, Christ is the one who led the way, and who shouldered the responsibility.



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:

C.1 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.' [Ephesians 5:28-32]

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.

C.2 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' [Colossians 1:18].

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.

C.3 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.

Discuss the implications of Section C for male headship and female dependence in the marriage relationship. Make a note of any changes you need to implement in your marriage because of this role-model in Jesus Christ in his incarnation.








The incarnation models 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 and discuss Philippians 2:3-8. From an understanding of this passage, fill in the opposites in the table below. Discuss the implications for servant leadership.
Although Jesus was -
For our sake he put it aside and -

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].


As we have seen, and as we will see again later, we do not live in the perfect world of Genesis 1 and 2. The husband/wife complementarity of the order of Creation has been destroyed by the Sin Factor. The original, spontaneous, unmentioned, unthreatening leader/led relationship, has been devastated:

  1. By the inner death and division and by the inter-personal death and division that we saw in Study 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 we saw in Study 4. 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, loved as I loved. We will be looking further at this 'as I ... ' in the next section. But even now, in the light of the incarnation, let us think about how things are and how things could be.

Wives : What negative thoughts and feelings do you experience when you think about having to submit to your husband's leadership in the same way the incarnate Jesus Christ submitted to his Father?

Husbands : What negative thoughts and feelings do you experience when you think about following the incarnate Christ's example of self-denying, humble leadership of the church?















Husbands : What adjustments are necessary to your style of leadership that will make it easier for your wife to feel unthreatened by your leadership?

Wives : What adjustments are necessary in your attitudes to your husband that will make it easier for him to feel unthreatened by your equality?















HOMEWORK TASK: During the week:

Together consider the implications of the incarnation. Identify from the exercise above areas in which your relationships need to be brought into line with the example of Jesus Christ. Prayerfully seek the Lord's help to be Christlike in your attitudes to each other.