CoE V: I Am Not Called to “Lead” in the Bible

Our age’s focus on a husband’s leadership is a clever redirect away from the Biblical command for wives to submit and obey. Every instance of Biblical instruction to husbands and wives say the same thing: Wives submit to and obey your husbands. Husbands love and care for your wives. That’s the instruction in 1 Peter 3, Titus 2, Ephesians 5, and Colossians 3; in every instance where the Christian home life is addressed.

The wisdom here is simple, but deep and powerful. If she follows then she is able to fulfill her God-given design. Through Christ she is empowered to be godly even if her husband is a fool; even if he tries to lose her. Likewise, a husband cannot be thwarted from loving his wife. Even if she does not obey him that is no bar to his God-given ability to love and care her despite her wickedness. If he loves and cares for her, and she refuses to obey he is clean. He did not fail to lead.

I’ve written many posts and comments about a husband leading his wife, and I was fundamentally wrong. Over the years it has come to be that the liberal progressives proclaim the right thing for the wrong reasons and the traditionalists fight back with nonsense, and I fell into it also. Christian Feminists (both overt and those undeclared and unwitting) are quick to point out that it is a wife’s duty to obey and not a husbands right to force her to submit. Traditionalists have tried to fight this by demanding husbands lead better, and by stealing the glory of obedient women for themselves; such as when a man says his wife follows him because of his good leadership.

And all of it–the progressive tactics and the traditionalist response–is meant to tangle us up so that a wife’s temptation to rebel and abandon is never the topic of discussion; so that no one says, “Wives, obey your husbands.”


Of course there are times where a spouse’s behavior is so wicked and odious that individuals should take prudential action under the guidance of secular and religious authorities. That’s not the topic today.

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21 thoughts on “CoE V: I Am Not Called to “Lead” in the Bible

  1. Time for a new definition of complementarianism, perhaps?

    “A complementarian is a Christian who asks husbands to lead”

  2. Traditionalists have tried to fight this by demanding husbands lead better, and by stealing the glory of obedient women for themselves; such as when a man says his wife follows him because of his good leadership.

    And all of it–the progressive tactics and the traditionalist response–is meant to tangle us up so that a wife’s temptation to rebel and abandon is never the topic of discussion; so that no one says, “Wives, obey your husbands.”

    This really is a tangled mess, a very artful trap. While it is true that the Bible tells us that the husband is the leader, the injunctions as you say are for the wife to submit and the husband to love. This doesn’t mean that husbands don’t have an obligation to lead (leaders have this obligation), but the opponents of biblical headship use this subtle twisting to make a mess of the whole thing. Where Scripture tells wives to submit to their husbands, even if the husband is not a believer/follower, they claim instead that the Bible teaches that wives will want to follow if their husband leads in a loving way.

    You can see this in Pastor Doug Wilson’s recent post criticizing the complementarian term servant leader. Even while criticizing them for being weak and denying the clear instruction of the Bible, he does exactly what you describe:

    So what would a genuine servant leadership result in? If it were the real deal, the result would be a greater likelihood of the wife being willing to refer to her husband as a lord, and not choking on it. But the moment anyone suggests that we might want to take such a thing seriously, we rush to the abuses, we rush to the caricatures, we rush to the extremes, we rush to the cartoons, and we rush to the barricades…

    We should have no trouble with the concept of rulers giving themselves away through service. That is preeminently biblical. True authority bleeds. The problem is that we are dealing with a counterfeit service, not the real thing. We are dealing with widespread abdication that wants to call itself servant leadership…

    Those who are great in the kingdom are those who have given themselves away like this. So a man who wants his authority to be recognized in his home—whoever would “be great”—must pursue that authority the way Jesus says to do it. But when he pursues the role of servant, he is pursuing genuine authority. He is not pursuing the status of “nullity” or “milquetoast.” And when he pursues this under the blessing of God, the very first person to see it will be his wife.

    This is of course an old theme of Wilson, that you can tell if a man is good by whether his wife is happy or not. As he wrote in Reforming Marriage:

    In other words, keeping God’s law with a whole heart (which is really what love is) is not only seen in overt acts of obedience. The collateral effect of obedience is the aroma of love. This aroma is out of reach for those who have a hypocritical desire to be known by others as a keeper of God’s law. Many can fake an attempt at keeping God’s standards in some external way. What we cannot fake is the resulting, distinctive aroma of pleasure to God…

    When a husband seeks to glorify God in his home, he will be equipped to love his wife as he is commanded. And if he loves his wife as commanded, the aroma of his home will be pleasant indeed.

  3. Every instance of Biblical instruction to husbands and wives say the same thing: Wives submit to and obey your husbands. Husbands love and care for your wives.

    Direct. Simple. How many thousands of words have been used to avoid saying these few words?

  4. @Dalrock

    “While it is true that the Bible tells us that the husband is the leader,”
    “This doesn’t mean that husbands don’t have an obligation to lead”

    But that’s exactly the point of Cane’s post: The Bible does not call husbands to “lead”.

  5. @white
    @Dalrock

    Here’s something that may not have been considered much. I think that at certain levels the husband IS the leader, whether he’s shirking it or not, just as the the lungs and diaphragm have no say in whether to participate in respiration. He WILL set the spiritual tone and the priorities for his household, whether he sets out to do it or not.
    Using my own family as an example, the heritage of my grandfathers comes down in very different ways:

    Granddad G. was an atheist and a Navy veteran who married a Catholic girl, and had seven kids. He let Grandma take them to church while he spent Sundays on the trout stream. He was also an engineer just shy of a doctorate, and the son of a divorce. Of his seven kids, three became Christians (protestants all), one was or is Unitarian, two atheists, one Taoist/Secular, following their father’s abdication of spiritual direction their faith was scattered. But he was loyal to Grandma for six decades and more, despite their conflicts and the unequal yolk. Only two of their offspring (to my knowledge) got divorced and one never wedded. All are college-educated with at least a Bachelor’s degree. Two followed Granddad into the Navy.

    Of the three Christians, two had kids and one of those was a missionary in West Germany. All of his kids profess Christ, one adopted an Ethiopian orphan and another married into the Masai in Africa. The other was one of the Navy vets and took his degree in education: his wife homeschooled the kids for part of their (our) childhood, and all four finished college. All of his sons commissioned in the Armed Forces– two of them from the USNA. The third holds an Army Reserve commission and comments on Red-Pill blogs. (I’m the green sheep of a blue family in that regard.)

    Grandpa S. was a second-generation rancher, an Army veteran, and a member of the Gideons. He raised three children in the faith, and when he got older he passed the care of the ranch down to his son (who married late and when he did, married a cowgirl). His daughters married Christian men– the oldest wed an ex-sailor from her campus ministry group, and the youngest showed a slideshow of her groom’s China mission-work at the reception.

    The husband’s leadership, then, AS HUSBAND and AS FATHER, is inescapable. Especially in spiritual matters and priorities, I believe. I’ve seen it play out similarly in other households, as well.

  6. If my premise, that the father’s leadership is a natural function of his role, holds true, that would explain why there is so little in Scripture telling him TO lead (just like there are no commandments of breathing), or detailed instructions for “you have to do thus in order to lead your wife.”

  7. Every instance of Biblical instruction to husbands and wives say the same thing: Wives submit to and obey your husbands. Husbands love and care for your wives.

    Direct. Simple. How many thousands of words have been used to avoid saying these few words?

    The love of the World and all that it holds dear runs very, very deep. Even self-described Christians cannot entirely break free of the mores of the wider culture.

  8. “Husbands love and care for your wives.”

    Let’s get away from “leadership” for a minute, as there is a lot of modern baggage with that term. Is managing the home part of loving and caring for wives?: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.” (for “manage” see here: https://biblehub.com/greek/4291.htm )

    Or, given that this is Paul’s instructions about elders, is this not something that all fathers must do as a part of loving their wives?

  9. @Dalrock

    While it is true that the Bible tells us that the husband is the leader, the injunctions as you say are for the wife to submit and the husband to love. This doesn’t mean that husbands don’t have an obligation to lead (leaders have this obligation), but the opponents of biblical headship use this subtle twisting to make a mess of the whole thing.

    You have it there.

    The word leader is loaded with a meaning of action. A leader who is not in engaged in the act of leading isn’t a leader in the fullest sense of the word. If the leader is asleep, as must often be the case among humans, at that moment someone else is in some real way the leader until the nominal leader is awakened. Also, discrete areas of responsibility might have discrete leaders at different times; even within the same organization. There can be many leaders.

    In contrast, the head of a body or organization is the head in the fullest meaning of the word no matter what he is doing at the moment; even asleep, or even if there are various structures of authority under him. There can only be one head.

    From this small crack of distinction all kinds of mischief and excuses are extracted Leader and head don’t have to be crowbar’d apart like that, but that’s what people like Wilson do. For example: Wives are leaders of the house–called to care for it and be responsible for it as a kind of leader–so with the careful application of distinction and non-distrinction he catalyzes the husband into merely an honored guest in his own home.

  10. Perhaps it’s time to, once and for all, differentiate Biblical “leadership” from the Churchian one?

    Given the amount of baggage this word carries, it would be wiser to just abandon it altogether. Helps too that the BIble never once associated the word “leading” or “leader” with husbands – not the KJV version at least.

  11. Jephthah in Judges 11 comes to mind. “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.”

  12. In contrast, the head of a body or organization is the head in the fullest meaning of the word no matter what he is doing at the moment; even asleep, or even if there are various structures of authority under him. There can only be one head.

    Thank you. This is a very useful distinction.

  13. How could I respond to someones claims that the sanctifying work in Eph 5:26-27 is exclusively the work of Christ towards the church AND towards the wife and that the only action of the husband is to love? Wouldn’t the So (“houtos”) in 28 imply that 26-27 show what type of love the husband is supposed to show?

  14. Pingback: Though, the Best Retort is to Live It | Things that We have Heard and Known

  15. Pingback: Headship sleight of hand | Dalrock

  16. Pingback: The Husband’s Call to Love Is A Call to Lead | Biblical Gender Roles

  17. Pingback: The Husband’s Call to Love Is A Call to Rule | Biblical Gender Roles

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