Chapter 10 – What Does Headship Look Like?

Ephesians 5:22-23 says, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of church…” Taken by itself, one could conclude this passage gives all decision-making authority to the husband. But is this actually the way Christ relates to His bride? Is this how He exercises authority? To answer this question, consider some of Jesus’ final words to His bride before His ascension in Matthew 28:18-20:


“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


The implications of this verse are far-reaching. The Father gave all authority to Jesus. So what did He do with it? He immediately turned around, gave it all over to His Bride, and sent her out on His behalf to use it for God’s kingdom. In essence Jesus said, “I won’t do anything apart from you. You and I are now one flesh. Your willing cooperation with Me is a perquisite for anything I will ever do in the earth.” So who really has the authority, Jesus or His bride? Both. They are mutually dependent on one another. Neither can accomplish anything without the other – not because God is limited, but because He has chosen to work with and through His bride rather than apart from her.


God is Affected by Us

Jesus’ headship in our lives is not formulaic – it’s relational. Sometimes He leads in a way we wouldn’t have expected or chosen and asks us to follow; other times He helps us pursue a desire that came from our own heart. Sometimes He waits to be asked for help; other times He sees us struggling and pursues us on His own initiative. Sometimes we ask for something that perhaps wasn’t part of His original plan, but His heart is moved by our request. It is a real relationship. God is actually affected by our prayers, dreams, and desires. Sometimes He even changes His plans in response to us. There are many, many examples of this in scripture. Let’s briefly look at two.


The construction of Solomon’s temple was a significant event in Israel’s history because it was the first permanent dwelling place for the manifest presence of God. But whose idea was it? Was it God’s? 2 Chronicles 6 tells us:


“‘Since the day that I brought My people from the land of Egypt, I did not choose a city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house that My name might be there…’ Now it was in the heart of my father David to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well that it was in your heart.’” (2 Chronicles 6:5-8) 


God had no intention of building a permanent house for His presence. It was David’s heart and initiative – and God honored it. Such a major event, recorded in scripture forever, occurred not because of God’s desire, but because of David’s. David affected the heart of God.


Second, let’s look at Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.


“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’ …Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’ So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine [he] …called the bridegroom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, …but you have kept the good wine until now.’ This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:3-11)


Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19-20). When Jesus told Mary His time had not yet come, He meant what He said. The Father had shown Jesus it was not yet time for Him to perform a miracle in the way Mary was asking. But this didn’t deter Mary; she turned to the servants and told them to do whatever Jesus asked.


This was an act of faith and intercession. She wasn’t disregarding what Jesus said. Nor was she demanding anything from God. But she was making an appeal. In her heart, she desired for God to intervene on behalf of these newlyweds whom she loved. God was so moved that He changed what He was showing Jesus. The timing and circumstances of Jesus’ first miracle were forever altered because of Mary’s appeal.


There are many other passages in scripture where God changes his mind, or expresses a willingness to change His mind, in response to one or more of His people. Examples include Exodus 32:14, 33:1-14, Numbers 14:12-20, 16:20-35, 41-48, Deuteronomy 9:13-25, Psalms 11:1-2, 106:23, 1 Kings 21:21-29, 2 Samuel 24:12-25, Amos 7:1-6, Judges 10:13-14, 2 Chronicles 12:1-8, Ezekiel 4:9-15, 2 Kings 20, Isaiah 38:1-5, Joel 2:13-14, and Jeremiah 18:7-10. Some of these passages even use the exact wording, “…the Lord changed His mind”. If marriage is meant to be a picture of how God relates to His people, it certainly follows that a Christ-like husband can be affected by the feelings, dreams, desires, and requests of his wife, just as God is affected by ours.


If God is really changes His plans sometimes in response to His bride’s heartfelt desires, husbands should be ready to do the same. This can even be true of a plan God specifically puts on a husband’s heart for how to lead his family. If his wife is not in agreement and appeals for an alternative, God may be moved by her appeal and alter the original instruction He gave the husband. Therefore, when working through a decision-making process, husbands and wives must be careful to listen to each other’s input, pray together, and continually seek the Lord for the next step.


A husband should also be open to the possibility that God wants to put the decision in his wife’s hands. In Genesis 21, Abraham had a major decision to make concerning his family. Sarah wanted him to send away his oldest son, Ishmael. Abraham was greatly distressed. When Abraham brought this before the Lord, God said, “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her.” In essence, God said, “I want you to put this decision in Sarah’s hands. It’s not yours to make.”


Who Has God’s Perspective?

My marriage broke down, in part, because I mistakenly believed being the head meant God would always lead through me and Jenny should submit to me in every major decision. When my marriage was being restored I learned that God can give wisdom and discernment to either spouse. Here are two examples that come to mind of when my wife Jenny had the Lord’s perspective about important decisions.


One time, a number of circumstances lined up in a way that led me to think the Lord had opened a door of financial opportunity to me. Jenny felt strongly it was not a wise decision, but I didn’t listen. My choice ultimately resulted in deep debt. It wasn’t until years later I saw the foolishness of my choice.


Another time we were initially in agreement about a major decision. We had prayed, talked, and sought counsel. But as the deadline to make the final decision approached, Jenny’s peace left her. I still wanted to move forward. We had one final time of prayer and conversation. As I began to share my thoughts, I suddenly became deeply convicted it wasn’t the right decision. Jenny later told me that everything in her wanted to speak up, but she felt the Holy Spirit telling her to remain silent. Her obedience opened the door for the God to move on my heart.


In marriage, each partner will have discernment about different situations at different times. Sometimes the husband has God’s perspective. Sometimes the wife has it. Sometimes each has a part of it. Sometimes neither has it and they need input from others or they just need to put the decision aside for a while and trust God to reveal His perspective at a later time.




What should a wife do if her husband is not following the Lord in a major decision but He impresses upon her heart to submit to his lead anyway? Does scripture give a strategy for how to handle this situation? We’ll find out in the next chapter.