February 16, 1997

HUSBAND AND WIFE

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Ephesians 5:23

Let’s begin today’s broadcast with a letter. The writer is a woman. Here’s what she wrote.

The kids are in bed. There’s nothing on TV tonight. I ask my husband if he minds if I turn the tube off. He grunts. As I walk to the set my mind is racing. Maybe, just maybe tonight we’ll talk. I mean have a conversation that consists of more than my usual question with his mumbled one-word answer or, more accurately, no answer at all. Silence–I live in a world with continuous noise, but between him and myself, silence. Please–oh God, let him open up. I initiate (once again; for the thousandth time). My heart pounds–oh, how can I word it this time? What can I say that will open the door to just talk? I don’t have to have a DEEP MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION. JUST SOMETHING!

As I open my mouth–he gets up and goes to the bedroom. The door closes behind him. The light showing under the door gives way to darkness. So does my hope. I sit alone on the couch. My heart begins to ache. I’m tired of being alone. Hey, I’m married. I have been for years. Why do I sit alone? The sadness undergoes a change slowly–then with increased fervor I get mad. I AM MAD. I am sick and tired of living with a sissy. A wimp–a coward. You know, he’s afraid of me!

Hostile, you say. You better believe it. I’m sick and tired of living in a world of passive men.

Clearly, this woman feels hurt and angry at what her husband’s passiveness is doing to her, but that’s not all. She also worries about what his lack of initiative is doing to her children.

My two sons like sports. They’re pretty good. They could be a lot better if their Dad would take a little of his precious time and play catch with them. (I’m sorry, catch once a year at the church picnic doesn’t quite make the boys into great ball players.) But Dad’s too busy. He’s at work. He’s at the health club. He’s riding his four-wheeler. He’s working on the car. He’s playing golf. He’s tired. He’s watching a video movie. So who plays catch with my boys? Me. My husband says, “You shouldn’t be playing men’s sports.” So who’s going to do it. He says he will. But he doesn’t. Remember? He’s too busy. Satisfying himself doing what he likes…

My daughter is a teenager. She likes boys. They notice her. They pay attention to her. She responds. I know what’s coming. I try to talk to her. But it’s not me she wants. It’s Dad. Yeah, Dad! If he’d just hug her, notice her, talk to her–just a little–she wouldn’t need those boys so much. But no … so she turns elsewhere for attention and love. And there’s nothing I can do.

A mom isn’t enough. Kids need a father. And not just a body, a passive, silent presence.

And here’s the killer. My husband’s father did the same number on him. Didn’t hug him. Didn’t take him to anything, let alone watch his baseball games. And he HATES his father. Now my husband’s doing the same thing. Will our sons grow up to be passive? Will they be cowards?

What a sad situation! This woman wrote her letter to pastor and author Weldon Hardenbrook, and Pastor Hardenbrook included the letter in a chapter he contributed to the book Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway Books). If this were just one woman’s story, it would be bad enough; but it’s a story that’s being repeated over and over in countless homes. How many other women can echo the one who wrote this letter and said, “I’m sick and tired of living in a world of passive men”?

The passive man–that’s one of the worst plagues in our society. The passive man is a coward who doesn’t even have the courage to respond to his wife’s desire to talk with him, let alone take the lead in communication. The passive man is a wimp who doesn’t have the strength to lead his family and build up his wife and children. Instead, he runs away into his own interests.

Now, in all fairness, we have to recognize that sometimes the man isn’t the only one at fault. In some cases, the passive, do-nothing husband became that way with a lot of help from his wife. In some marriages, the woman is quick to take over the family and do everything herself, instead of encouraging and supporting her husband’s initiative and leadership in the home. If the man just surrenders his role and abandons his duties, he’s responsible for that, but his wife may also be partly responsible if she has been too eager to take over her husband’s role.

Likewise, when a man becomes withdrawn, when he is silent and uninvolved and spends as much time as possible away from home, he’s responsible for that, but his wife may also be partly at fault. The Bible book of Proverbs says, “Better to live on a corner of the roof than to share a house with a quarrelsome wife… Better to live in the desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife” (Proverbs 21:9,19). If you’re a wife and it seems your husband would rather be anywhere than with you, why is that? You might want to think he’s just a wimp and a coward, and maybe he is. But what if he’s trying to get away from your criticism and complaining? Proverbs says “a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping” (Proverbs 19:13). Drip, drip, drip–who wants to listen to that?

Still, even if women are sometimes partly at fault for passive and cowardly men, that still doesn’t get husbands off the hook. If you’re a man, maybe you like the proverb that compares a quarrelsome wife to dripping water. But what if you’re the real drip? You may think the Bible gives you a good excuse for withdrawing emotionally to the corner of the roof or to the desert to get away from your quarrelsome wife. But did you ever consider the flip side? What if those biblical proverbs about a quarrelsome wife aren’t there just so that you can blame your wife, but so that you’ll do all in your power to keep her from becoming that way in the first place? What if God is telling you to be so considerate of your wife and so eager to talk with her and listen to her that she never has to resort to nagging in order to get your attention?

If we want our relationships as married couples to blossom and our families to flourish, then we need to understand God’s design for husband and wife, and we need to live in a way that reflects his design. In particular, we need to understand and live by what the Bible says in Ephesians 5:23, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” That may not be the way you think of husband and wife, but it’s what God says, and it’s the key to enjoying marriage as God meant to it be.

A household of faith is a place where husband and wife love each other, where both love the Lord Jesus Christ, and where their marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and his church. In Ephesians 5 the apostle Paul says, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”

Earlier this month on the Back to God Hour, we studied what the book of Genesis says about being created male and female. We saw that God created male and female spiritually equal and at the same time gave them distinct personalities and roles as husband and wife. But why did God design it that way? Bible scholar George W. Knight III explains it this way:

Marriage was designed by God from the beginning to be a picture or parable of the relationship between Christ and the church. Back when God was planning what marriage would be like, He planned it for this great purpose: it would give a beautiful earthly picture of the relationship that would someday come about between Christ and his church…

This means that when Paul wanted to tell the Ephesians about marriage, he did not just hunt around for a helpful analogy and suddenly think that “Christ and the church” might be a good teaching illustration. No, it was much more fundamental than that: Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage He already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of God’s great purposes in marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and his redeemed people forever! (in Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

Now, if this is true, then it’s wrong to say that the notion of the husband being the head of the wife is just some outmoded cultural pattern. It’s God’s design, first put into effect at the time of creation and now expressed most fully whenever husband and wife consciously reflect the relationship between Jesus, the head, and his body, the church. So, then, we can’t dispense with male headship without violating God’s creation design and obscuring the way Jesus relates to his church.

By the same token, however, we must never affirm male headship simply as an idea that stands on its own. If we tear it away from its origin in creation and its goal in Christ, male headship becomes distorted and disastrous.

How does it get distorted? Probably the most common distortion throughout history has been male domination. Very early in the Bible, right after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God said that one result would be a poisoning of the male-female relationship. He told Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 4:16). In God’s original design, a wife gladly and freely affirms, receives, and nurtures strength and leadership in her husband, but sin distorts joyful submission into a desperate desire and a degrading dependency. In God’s original design, a husband has a tender but strong sense of initiative to lead, protect, and provide for his wife and family, but sin distorts loving leadership into domineering dictatorship.

Men have often misused their power and have pushed women down instead of lifting them up. It’s shouldn’t be too shocking, then, that so many women have joined the feminist revolution. Unfortunately, though, most revolutions end up destroying the good along with the bad, and so it is with the feminist revolution. Much of modern feminism has reacted to male domination by denying male headship altogether and even by denying any meaningful difference between male and female. For example, one official goal of NOW (the National Organization for Women) is “an end to all distinctions based on sex.”

All too often, the sad result of this approach has not been liberation for women to live as women but rather the sad spectacle of women trying to be like men–and not like good men, either, but men at their worst.

Do men make sex their god? Well, so can women. Are men so obsessed with career and their own selfish plans that they won’t let relationships get in the way? Well, women can do that as well. Do men use violence and seek vengeance? Well, so can women. They can rent a movie and cheer for pistol-packing Thelma and Louise or the vengeful women of The First Wives’ Club. Are men free never to get pregnant? Then women can be free, too, even if it means destroying their own unborn children through abortion.

How sad and how ironic! Much feminism started out as a reaction against ruthless and domineering men, men who are sexual predators, men who do their own thing and neglect relationships, men who are willing to destroy others to get their own way. But for some reason many feminists ended up acting very much like the men they despised. Ironically, in trying to get rid of male leadership, they followed the lead of men, and bad men at that.

If you’re a woman who wants respect, imitating bad men is not the way to do it. The Bible says, “A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth” (Proverbs 11:16).

Feminists are perfectly right to object to male domination and degradation of women, but they are wrong if they try to get rid of healthy male headship altogether. You see, although male domination and a corresponding female servility has been a big problem historically, we also have another, very different problem, one that is growing at an alarming rate: the problem of passive men whose wives are providing the initiative and sense of direction in the home.

There are a lot of passive men and headless homes out there, and many women are sick and tired of it. Think again of the woman whose letter we heard at the beginning of the program. Women like this aren’t suffering from physical abuse. They’re not being controlled by domineering men. They’ve got the opposite problem: passive, cowardly husbands who are emotionally distant and physically absent much of the time. The women are the leaders in these homes, and not always because they want to be, but because they feel they have to be.

If husbands would ever wake up to what it really means to be masculine, the vast majority of wives would be overjoyed. The great need of the hour is a recovery of the kind of headship that rises out of creation and is patterned on Christ’s love for the church. How many women would revolt against that kind of headship? Deep down, most women long for a man with the strength, the initiative, and the courage to take his place at the head of their marriage and to take a leading role in the home.

And when I say “a leading role in the home,” I mean it. When some people think of traditional marriage roles, they picture a scenario where a woman’s place is in the home and a man’s place is almost anywhere but the home. But is that what God wants? A few decades ago, the late British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The husband is deliberately vacating the position in which God has put him… and leaving it in laziness to his wife.” Dr. Lloyd-Jones saw this happening in England, and when he looked across the ocean at the United States of America, he saw it happening to an even worse degree. He said,

There, you have what may more or less be called a matriarchal society, and the man is increasingly regarded merely as the one to provide the dollars, the wage-earner, the man who brings in the necessary money. The woman, the mother, is the cultured person, and the head of the home; and the children look to her. This false unscriptural view of man and woman, and father and mother leads to a matriarchal society, which, it seems to me, is most dangerous. The result is, of course, the growth of crime and all the terrible social problems with which they are grappling in that country. Then, because they influence every other country through their films and in various other ways, this attitude is being spread throughout the entire world. A matriarchal society with the woman as the head and center of the home is a denial of the biblical teaching.

Some feminists complain about a patriarchal society, by which they usually mean that men get all the best jobs and the most important government positions. But what if our biggest problem isn’t patriarchy in government and the workplace, but matriarchy in marriage and the home? Some people blame weakened families on women going to work, but what if the biggest problem is men abandoning the home? Think about it. The Bible doesn’t say much about what jobs or government positions a woman should or shouldn’t hold. But the Bible does say that in marriage and family, the husband is the head of the wife. The husband bears primary responsibility for the affairs of his family.

What does it mean to say that the husband bears primary responsibility? Does it mean that the woman never takes any initiative or does anything on her own? Of course not. Pastor and author John Piper writes,

Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative… There will be many times and many areas of daily life where the wife will do all kinds of planning and initiating. But there is a general tone and pattern of initiative that should develop which is sustained by the husband.

For example, the leadership pattern would be less than Biblical if the wife in general was having to take initiative in prayer at mealtime, and get the family out of bed for worship on Sunday morning, and gather the family for devotions, and discuss what moral standards will be required of the children, and confer about financial priorities, and talk over some neighborhood ministry possibilities, etc. A wife may initiate the discussion and planning in any one of these, but if she becomes the one who senses the general responsibility for this pattern of initiative while her husband is passive, something contrary to Biblical masculinity and femininity is in the offing.

As husbands and wives, we need to rediscover a pattern of relating to each other that is in keeping with God’s design in creation, a pattern that models the relationship between Christ and his church. If you don’t trust in the Creator or belong to Christ, you have little choice but to approach marriage as a matter of two separate people trying to stick together and get along the best they can. But if you come to know Jesus as Savior, and if you become part of the church of which Christ is the head, it changes everything–including the way you relate as husband and wife. Let’s conclude simply by listening to what God says in Ephesians 5.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, 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… Each one of you must also love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

That is God’s way for husband and wife.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you that as head of the church, you loved us enough to die for us. Thank you that you lead us to be pure and holy. Help those of us who are husbands, Lord, imperfect though we are, to take the initiative to love and to lead and to sacrifice for our wives and families as you have for us. Help those who are wives to submit to their husbands as your church submits to you, not reluctantly or out of fear, but with respect and joy. Father God, forgive our many sins and violations of your wonderful design for marriage. Then renew us in our relationships as husbands and wives to radiate the wonder of our relationship to Christ our head, in whose name we pray. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.