Chapter 3 – Marriage and Authority

Men and women have different functions in marriage. Difference in function does not mean difference in value. Husbands and wives are equally loved by God. However, they are not equal in authority or accountability. Ephesians 5:22-25 says:


“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”


Why did God design marriage this way? This question could be broken down into four sub-questions:


1. Why does God entrust authority?

2. What does it mean to have authority?

3. What does submission mean?

4. How does this design help men and women become who they are called to be?


Let’s briefly look at each of these questions.


Why Does God Entrust Authority?

All authority in the universe can be traced back to God as the Originator. Throughout the Bible we see God’s desire to distribute His authority to others. Here are some of the different spheres of authority God has established: 


·         Human beings over their own choices (ex. Deuteronomy 30:19)

·         Parents over children (Ephesians 6:1)

·         Husbands over wives (Ephesians 5:22)

·         Civil authorities over civilians (Romans 13:1)

·         Church leaders over believers (ex. 2 Corinthians 13:10, 1 Peter 5:2)

·         Employers over employees (ex. Colossians 3:22)

·         Owners/managers over private organizations (ex. 1 Peter 2:13)

·         Mankind over the earth and the animal kingdom (Genesis 1:28)

·         Higher-ranking angels over other angels (ex. Daniel 10:13)

·         Angels over their own choices (ex. Ezekiel 28:14-15)


Learning to steward authority is one of the primary ways free-will beings mature in godly character. If God wanted everything to go perfectly smoothly, with no mistakes and no potential for sin, He would control everything and everyone. He would exercise all authority by Himself. But He has no interest in this; this is actually the opposite of His nature. This would stunt our growth and deprive us of the opportunity to become more like Him.


A kingdom like that would be tyranny, not freedom. This is how Satan runs his kingdom. God, by contrast, is not controlling. He helps people form godly character by choice, not by compulsion. He waits to be invited, not forcing Himself on us. He is the ultimate respecter of freewill, because freewill is at the heart of what it means to be created in His image. Yes, free will is messy. There would be no sin without it. But there could also be no genuine love or worship.


What Does It Mean to Have Authority?

Having authority means different things in different contexts. For example, church leaders have authority to teach, comfort, or rebuke in a church context. Civil rulers have authority to punish evil if it violates someone’s life or liberty or property. Parents have authority to teach and discipline children. However, the type of authority given to husbands is to love, serve, protect, provide, and lead by example.


Some have interpreted Ephesians 5:22-25 to mean that husbands can give their wives commands since Jesus gives commands to the church. However, scripture uses many metaphors for how Jesus relates to His people. For example, He is a Master, a Judge, a King, a Creator, a Shepherd, a Father, and a Friend. Whenever scripture portrays Jesus as giving commands, it is typically as a Master, a King, or a Creator. By contrast, when scripture portrays Jesus as a Husband, He is shown loving, serving, protecting, providing, and leading by example, not giving orders. This will be discussed in more detail in a later chapter.


Part of the reason my marriage broke down is because I believed I should have the final say in every major decision. I didn’t envision any scenario in which I should yield to Jenny’s preference or counsel if I had sincerely sought the Lord and felt directed by Him. However, during my restoration, I discovered that scripture actually teaches the opposite. Now I see her as a partner and wise counselor, often providing discernment and insights I never thought of. This has brought us much closer together and has vastly improved the marriage-model we present to our children.


What Does Submission Mean?

Biblical submission could be defined like this:


Submission is a heart-attitude that honors authority, obeys its legitimate commands, forgives its misuses, and respectfully declines commands that are outside of its jurisdiction to give.


The first part – the part about giving honor and obeying legitimate commands protects the heart against the sin of rebellion. The second part – the part about forgiving misuses and respectfully disobeying illegitimate commands – protects the heart against the sin of unforgiveness. Put them together and you have an impenetrable force-field around the one thing in life that matters most – our relationship with God. No matter how unjust or oppressive of an authority a person finds himself under, submission will render that authority powerless to harden a person’s heart toward God.


God’s command for submission is meant for our protection. It is not oppressive, but freeing. Submission is not weakness. In fact, it is the most powerful action a person can take in response to oppressive leadership because it invites the power of God into the situation.


How does this design help men and women become who they are called to be?

In general, a man values respect and success. He instinctively understands hierarchies (such as in companies, ministries, or governments) and where he fits into them. He wants to build something significant and rule over a domain. He wants to impact the world around him.


However, he is called to do this with kindness and selfless motives. When he builds an organization, his goal must be to serve others, not exalt himself. When he rules over others, he must value the people more than his position. Learning how to lead and cover a relational wife trains him how to do this. It is how he forms God’s character and becomes who he was created to be.


A good friend of mine spent several years as a combat fighter in the Marine Corps. He experienced some challenging times as an unmarried soldier, but none of it compared to having a sick, pregnant wife, two young children, and constant financial pressures. There were days when he thought his marriage would crack. By the grace of God, they persevered.  


Today he is both a church planter and a supervisor of several dozen employees. It is a joy to watch his leadership style because he has no desire to promote himself. He cares about the people he leads and he cares about accomplishing their mission with excellence. He exemplifies servant-leadership – something he learned, in part, by leading his family.


In general, a woman desires love and security. She understands relationships and wants to feel close and connected to others. She wants to be seen as valuable, beautiful, and worthy of being pursued. However, she is also called to fill a position in God’s kingdom, both in this age and in the next. God’s kingdom is built upon order and hierarchy. There will always be things to build and accomplish and rule over. Learning how to show respect for a husband and submit to his leadership trains her for this.


God thinks long-term in His dealings with us. This 70 to 80 year life is very short compared to eternity. This life is largely about training and preparation for our eternal positons. The choices we make and the characters we develop now will be with us for eternity. God gave us headship and submission in marriage because it was the best possible way to mold us into the image-bearers we were intended to become.


Have you noticed in Ephesians 5 that husbands and wives are both commanded to do the opposite of what comes naturally to them? Respect comes naturally to men, but they are commanded to love (vs. 25). Love comes naturally to women, but they are commanded to show respect (vs. 33). This is how God transforms us. True obedience is not doing something because it comes naturally, but because we want to please God. 


Was There Headship Before the Fall?

Some people have taught that Adam and Eve had equal authority in their marriage before the fall. They reason, since there was no sin, there was no need for authority. However, God’s pattern of delegating authority in scripture does not depend on the presence of sin. In fact, the New Testament highlights four aspects of Adam and Eve’s creation before the fall that symbolize God’s design for headship and submission in marriage:


1)      The order in which they were created (1 Timothy 2:13)

2)      Eve being taken out of Adam’s own body (1 Corinthians 11:8). 

3)      Eve’s hair symbolizing a covering (1 Corinthians 11:15). 

4)      Eve’s calling as Adam’s helper (1 Corinthians 11:9). 


Do you remember what we discussed concerning Genesis 3:16? God was not cursing Eve by subjecting her to Adam’s headship. He was merely telling her what would result from Adam’s headship being distorted by sin.


In God’s kingdom, being under authority is a blessing, not a curse. Jesus defined godly authority as sacrificially serving others (Mathew 20:25-27). We as the church do not resent being subject to Jesus’ headship; this is the same kind of covering Adam was meant to be for Eve. 




Why did mankind fall into sin? Did it have anything to do with a breakdown in Adam and Eve’s marriage? This is the topic of the next chapter