Role of husbands in Covenant Marriages 

Ephesians 5:22-33 is primarily about Christ and His Church. But as Paul speaks about the relationship between Christ and the Church, he illustrates it by appealing to the relationship between husbands and wives. In doing so, firstly, he teaches us that the higher theological purpose of marriage is to illustrate or reflect the bond between Christ and His Church; and secondly, he instructs us on how our marriages must be conducted. In particular, he teaches us what is the role of the husband and what is the role of the wife relative to each other.

In this first of two articles, we examine the role of the husband under two head implied in the passage: Leading his wife: "the husband is the head of the wife" (v. 23) and Loving his wife: "Husbands, love your wives" (v. 25).

Leading Your Wife 

Imagine a football team without a captain. Will such a team win? They have no unity and no strategy. There is just a fine line between having too many Indian chiefs and having Indians without any Indian chief. When there is no leader in a team, the team is bound to be chaotic and tempers are bound to flare because everyone will be doing what is right in his own eyes, which is probably wrong in someone else’s eyes.

One of the saddest and shocking portion of the history of Israel is recorded in Judges 17-21. There we will find gross idolatry of the worst sort, sodomy, rape and murder, followed by gruesome dismembering of corpse, war between brothers, and state sanctioned kidnapping. How did these come about? The Scripture does not leave us to guess, for the chapters which describes the atrocities begins and ends with the same statement:

In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Jdg 17:6; 21:25)

The point is clear. No society can function effectively and purposefully unless there is a leader or a system of leadership. Indeed, as long as there are two or more persons, there is a need for a functional order of leadership and submission. In fact, the necessity of such an order is manifested from all eternity in economic order of the Persons in the Godhead. Though each Person in the Godhead is the same in substance and equal in power and glory, there is an economic order. The Father sends the Son; the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit. Order is, therefore, a matter of perfection. It is not surprising, therefore, that in God’s perfect design of marriage, He has also set in place an order which must be observed for the marriage to be meaningful and fruitful.

It is a matter of observation and sadness that while Christians in general profess obedience to the Word of God, many have in fact imbibed the worldly philosophy of equality of the sexes, and so enter into what the world calls "equal marriages." By this is meant that neither spouse has any real authority over the other. But such marriages are bound to fail, for though they are based on the prevailing wisdom of the world, they are head-on against the wisdom of God who instituted marriage.

Imagine buying a complicated washing machine, and then throwing the manual away and going to your neighbours to ask them how they operate a washing machine. Yet, this is what a denial of God’s instruction and succumbing to the prevailing wisdom of the world is all about.

But what does the Word of God says?

Headship belongs to the husband 

The apostle says:

"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body" (Eph 5:23).

Why does the Scripture teach that the husband should be the head rather than the wife? The Scripture does not give us an answer that will satisfy the unbelieving world. But it gives us a most glorious answer, which should satisfy Christian men and women, namely: It is by God’s design! If God has designed us this way who are we to question? Can the clay say to the potter, why do you make me this way?

The apostle Paul appealed to God’s design when he brings us back to creation to show us why there must be an order in Christian marriages. He reminds us, 1 Corinthians 11, where he argues for the headship of man that: "Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man" (v. 9). Again in 1 Timothy 2, where he argues for male headship in the church, he reminds us: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (v. 13-14).

The apostle Peter similarly was appealing to God’s design when he speaks of women as being "the weaker vessel" (1 Pet 3:7). The word translated "vessel" is the same word that Paul uses when he speaks of God as the potter moulding one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour. God has moulded women as weaker vessels.

Someone may object that there are some women who are stronger than man. But I want to remind you that this is the Word of God, and we do see that in nature, and by design women are generally weaker vessels: weaker physiolog-ically, weaker psychologically. This weakness is not derogatory; it is part of the beauty of women. A woman is like an exquisite and delicate, beautifully finished vase wherein the most beautifullest flowers may be placed in, whereas a man by comparison is like a sturdy, unfinished clay jar very useful in situations which requires rough handling.

It is this physiological and psychological difference in the makeup of men and women that provides the platform for the different roles of the husband and wife. The husband must be the leader, he being the stronger vessel. But what if he is the weaker vessel? Well, it does not make any difference; we must obey the Word of God.

What does it mean to lead? 

Firstly, it means being a manager. Immediately after the Fall, God said to Eve: "…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (Gen 3:16).

Although this verse is given in the context of judgement, and describes the leadership tension that sin brought into marriage, it also indicates to us what the headship of the husband involves. The Hebrew word translated "he shall rule" is the word lv'm; (mashal) which means "to rule," "to reign," or "to have dominion." The noun form of this word is used to describe Joseph’s position in Egypt, and is rendered "ruler" in Genesis 45:8 and "governor" in Genesis 45:26.

The husband is therefore to be a governor. He is not a tyrant or a dictator, but he is to manage his whole household. He is ultimately responsible not only over the goods and possession of the house, but for well-being of his wife and children.

Paul echoes this idea in the New Testament when he speaks about the qualifications of the elders and deacons in the church:

"[The elder must be] one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?). . .. the deacons [must] be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well" (1 Tim 3:4, 5, 12).

We should realise that the qualifications for leaders in the church are exactly what every man in the church should aim for.

Being a manager in the house means that as the husband, you are to make all the major decisions in the house. Do not shirk your responsibility by having your wife make the decisions instead. You are to be concerned and you are to decide. You may discuss with your wife, you may delegate some decisions to her, but you are ultimately responsible.

And I put it to you too, that if you are careful to exercise your role as the governor and manager of your family, that you will have a much happier marriage. On a personal note: It took me quite a while to realise that I need not be crippled by being afraid of displeasing my wife when I make decisions. Yes, I must be careful to make a decisions that will not upset my wife, but at the same time, I learned that my wife prefers so much that I make most of the decisions.

So, husbands and husbands-to-be, next time you have a difficult decision to make—be it where to go for dinner, which school to apply for your children, what time to have family worship, etc, take an active interest, a relieve the burden that your wife bears by bearing the burden of making the decision. I am quite sure that your wife will appreciate you for that.

Secondly, being a leader also mean being a servant.

If you are asked to depict a leader, how will you draw the leader? Will you draw him with a crown? Will you draw him with a sceptre or a club? Will you draw him with a suit-case and tie? This is not the picture of a leader painted in the Word of God. The picture painted by our Lord is one with a towel and a basin kneeling down to wash the feet of others. Remember how on the evening that our Lord was about to be betrayed, he took a basin of water and a to wash his disciples feet. Remember what he said when he finished:

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them (Jn 13:13-17).

To be a leader, therefore, the husband really ought to be the servant in the marriage and in his family. This must especially be so, since husbands are to be to their wives as Christ is to the Church.

This means that while there are many things around the house that the wife does much better than the husband that the husband must be willing to help out in anyway he can. And he must be willing to take as much load as he possibly can. A husband who is a leader-servant knows that household chores are not the responsibilities of his wife alone. He has the attitude that it is his responsibilities too. He is appreciative when his wife cook, wash and clean to relieve him for other important tasks and he is willing to do menial tasks in the house to relieve his wife. He cooks when he can, he wash the dish if he cannot cook, he vacuums the house when he is able to, he remove trash bags. He does not sit down to watch TV and read the newspaper when he sees that his wife is busy doing something which he can help in.

Thirdly, leading your wife also means giving honour to your wife as the weaker vessel:

"Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" (1 Pet 3:7).

We have already noted what Peter means by calling wives weaker vessels. Here we see that the husband must dwell with his wife with full apprehension and consideration that his wife is a weaker vessel. In other words, a marriage is not just an ordinary 50-50 partnership such as a business partnership. In the marriage partnership, the husband must recognise that his wife is a weaker vessel, and he must lead her and the family with this knowledge in the mind all the time.

Being a leader of your wife means having your wife’s interest at heart all the time and treating her with special care. It means not speaking to your wife roughly or in a way that is hurting. It means never allowing your wife to carry heavy loads when you can help it. It means making sure that if there is something unpleasant to do—taking something out from the toilet bowl which your wife accidentally dropped in, clearing blocked sinks etc. As a leader, you are to be very sensitive of your wife very protective over her.

Fourthly, being a leader means instructing your wife in spiritual things. The husband or father is the pastor in the family. He is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the entire family. He is therefore to be the spiritual leader of his wife, and must instruct her in spiritual things. The apostle Paul forbids women to speak publicly in church, but he also suggest that they should ask questions at home: "And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1 Cor 14:35).

Paul was referring to Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:25-27. However, since the relationship between husband and the wife typifies the relationship between Christ and the Church, what Christ does for the Church, the husband is expected to do for the wife. As Christ sanctify and cleanse the Church with the washing of the water by the Word so also the husband is, in a certain sense, expected to help his wife in her sanctification by instructing her according to the Word of God. As Christ is seen as being responsible for the Church’s justification and sanctification so that He may one day present to Himself a glorious and holy church not having spot, or wrinkle, so also the husband is to consider the sanctification and spiritual growth of his wife his responsibility.

Husbands have you been teaching your wife? Have you been keeping ahead of your wife in spiritual knowledge? Have you been seeking to improve in knowledge so that you can answer your wife’s questions? Have you been leading your wife in prayer and in Bible Study? Realise that one day you will not only have to stand accountable before the Lord for what you have done with your life, but you will also be held accountable for your wife’s spiritual welfare. Are you causing your wife to starve spiritually by refusing to lead in family worship, or refusing to equip yourself to lead your wife, or refusing to attend Bible Studies with your wife? Are you causing her to sin against the Lord by keeping her away from the means of grace by your lethargy and laziness? Remember that you will have to answer to God because your wife is a gift of God.

Finally, being a leader to your wife means being a good example to your wife. Woe are you if your actions cause your wife to sin or to have a lower standard of obedience to the Word of God. May I urge you, beloved brothers in the faith, to be leaders not only by providing for the physical needs of your family, but much more importantly, by providing the spiritual leadership and example.

Loving Your Wife 

There are many effective leaders in the world who are cold hearted and clinical in their dealings with their subjects. These may get their work done, but at what expense? The Scripture requires the husband not only to be an effective leader, but a loving leader.

Notice that in Ephesians 5, husbands are only called once to lead (v. 23), but three times he is reminded to love his wife: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (v. 25); "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself" (v. 28); "Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself" (v. 33a).

It is interesting to note that the apostle, nowhere, directly exhorts wives to love their husbands. He exhorts them to submit to their husband, but he does not command wives to love their husbands. Yes, he urge Titus to teach the older women to teach the younger women to love their husbands, but no where does he directly commands them to love their husbands.

Why? Could it be because women are simply by nature more loving than their husbands? Or conversely, are husbands are more inclined to neglect love their wife? Or could it be that wives are greatly in need of love or assurance of love from their husband? Whatever the case, the point is: Husbands especially need to be reminded to love.

How can love be commanded?

Consider the confession of a husband who admits that he does not love his wife:

"I know what it was like to love my wife—that was when we were dating. But now after so many years, we are so used to one another. The chemistry has fizzled out. I don’t feel any love for her anymore."

What does the Scripture say? "Love your wife!" Our counselee retorts: "But I said, I don’t feel loving any more!"

What does the Scripture say? "Love your wife!" "But how can the Scripture command me to love when I have no feeling for my wife anymore?"

Because "love" is a verb. It is not just a feeling. It is as much a verb as "kiss" or "hug." This is why the Scripture can command you to love. Love is volitional. It is an act of the will. Yes, genuine, complete love will always involve the emotion, but it begins with an act of the will. This is why John could say "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3:18).

How to love? 

Firstly, love by words. Show your love by telling your wife that you love her. This is especially difficult for Asians men to do, but it is needful.

The Songs of Songs is a poem describing the love of Christ for His Church. But it is presented typically as story of true love between a shepherd and his beloved. Listen to what shepherd says to her: "Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair… thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes…" (SS 4:1, 9).

Husband, it is biblical to tell your wife that you love her. Do not wait till she asks you. If she has to ask you, it is probably too late—she is probably wondering already if you do love her. Do not let it happen. Learn to express your affection. If our Shepherd expresses His love to His bride, surely husband whose marriages are to reflect the marriage of the Lamb must learn to do likewise.

Secondly, love by deeds. Remember that love is not just words. It must be enacted too. Loving your wife by your deeds involves providing for her needs, protecting her from all harm and danger—whether perceived or real.

You know, a little rain is not going to dissolve your wife, but showing love involves your giving her a shelter. Helping your wife with some physical chores is also a way of showing your love. When you come back from work, you may feel like flopping down on the sofa and watch the TV as your wife cooks. Show your love by helping her to wash the pots and pans, or by bringing her out for dinner instead. Especially when you feel like doing other wise, you should do something to show your love for your wife. And yes, do not forget to buy or make little presents for your wife.

Thirdly, love your wife by not being bitter against her: "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them" (Col 3:19). It is so easy to feel bitter against your wife. She says something which upsets you. She cooks something you dislike. She expects too much from you. She puts words into your mouth. She expects you to read her mind. She contradicts you in public. She demonstrates disdain for your authority by coming for family worship grudgingly, etc etc. Paul says, if you really love her, you must not be bitter against her. You must always be ready to forgive her. "Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins" (Prov 10:12).

Fourthly, love your wife by not comparing unfavourably with other women. To do so is to tell her that she is not as good as someone else and she may suspect that you feel you have married her by mistake; or that you are being
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attracted to someone else. Remember that your wife needs your constant assurance that she is the loveliest person in your eyes. Do not take her feelings for granted.

Fifthly, love your wife by not embarrassing her in front of others. If she does or say something wrongly, it is best not to correct her faults there and then for it would certainly embarrass her.

Sixthly, love your wife by not making decisions that will hurt her. Yes, you are ultimately responsible for making all the major decisions in the home, but your decisions should take into consideration the feelings of your wife. That is loving her. If you think that it makes business sense to sell your present flat and to move somewhere, but you know that your wife has sentimental feelings for the current flat, then you should not even think of it. Consider your wife’s feelings.

To what extend are you to love?

Firstly, realise that God expects husband to exercise self-sacrificial love towards their wives.

There are four Greek words for love, three of which are used in the Scripture. The first is e[rw/ (erô), a romantic sexual love; the second is stevrgw (stergô), natural affection between father and son; the third is filevw(phileô), brotherly love; the fourth is ajgapavw(agapaô), the highest form of love—sacrificial love.

The last two kinds of love are particularly contrasted in the Scripture. Consider the conversation between the Lord and the apostle Peter recorded at the end of the Gospel of John (Jn 21:15-17). This accounts sounds somewhat repetitious and flat in English, but in the Greek it is very rich and emotive.

We may get a sense of this richness by replacing the words rendered "love" or "lovest with the Greek original:
The Lord Jesus: "Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas,agapaô thou me more than these?"
The apostle Peter: "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that Iphileô thee."
Jesus: "Feed my lambs.… Agapaô thou me?"
Peter: "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I phileô thee."
Jesus: "Feed my sheep.… phileô thou me?"
Peter (grieved): "Lord, Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I phileô thee."

Notice how the Lord uses the word agapaô, the first two times, whereas Peter consistently uses the word phileô.After having betrayed the Lord thrice, Peter dared not say he agapaô the Lord. But notice that when the Lord asked Peter the third time, He switches to the word phileô? It was as if He was saying, "So you cannot agapaô me, but do you truly phileô me? Do you love me as a brother or a close friend would?" This was why Peter was so grieved as he said, "Lord, Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I phileô thee."

How are husbands to love their wives according to the apostle Paul? Well, it is not erô. That word is not even found in the Bible. And it is not phileô. It is agapaô—the highest form of love. It is a love that is self-sacrificial and unconditional. Intriguingly, in Titus 2:4, where older women are instructed to teach younger women to love their husband, the single word translated "love their husbands" is derived from phileô rather than agapaô.

But the fact that husbands are to agapaô their wives means that you must love your wife no matter how they feel and how your wife relate to you. You must not love only if your wife is submissive. You are to love and show her love even if she is the most aggressive woman and she is always quarrelling with you. Your love for her must be unselfish. Showing love because you desire her to do something for you is not showing love. It is plain hypocrisy.

Secondly, the husband must love his wife as much as he takes care of himself. You must care for your wife as much as you care for yourself: "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself" (Eph 5:28). "Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself" (Eph 5:33).

It is an undeniable fact that man in general takes a lot of time to nurture himself, to protect himself, to provide for his needs, to feed himself, to keep himself in good health, to nurse his wounds, to clean himself and to groom himself. Even the most stoic person will take care of himself. Paul says, as you show love to yourself by cherishing your own body, so you must cherish your wife, protect her, satisfy her needs, provide for her, care for her. You are to give her at least as much priority as you give yourself.

There is something severely wrong with your attitude if your wife is overworked and you can still be leisurely reading the papers and watching the TV when you come home. Remember that you are one with your wife.

Thirdly, husbands must love their wives, to the point of being willing to die for their wives. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph 5:25). Yes, as Christ love the church so much he died for her, you who are husbands must be willing to die for your wives sake. Now, I understand that few of us will ever have the opportunity to die on behalf of our wives. But are you willing to sacrifice your career for your wife’s sake? Are you willing to forgo your promotion out of love for your wife? Are you willing to forgo your favourite sports programme because your wife wishes to talk to you? Are you willing to wash the dishes even though you hate to wash dishes? In other words, are you willing to love your wife at the expense of your own interests and inclinations?

Your love for your wife must be unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial. This is the requirement of the Scripture for you. Yes, none of us will be able to attain this perfect standard in this life. But remember that that is the standard required of you. It is sin to fail. It is greater sin not to resolve and attempt to love your wife as required of the Scriptures.


Dearly beloved husband, how do you measure? Are you a leader to your wife? Do you love your wife unselfishly and sacrificially? Are you a loving leader of your wife? If your marriage is not one that is greatly enjoyable, could it be that you have not been serving as a leader? Or could that you have not loved your wife as you ought to. Remember that you do not own your wife. She is on loan to him by the Lord. You will be held accountable for her well-being too.

Wives, this message is for you too. Will you help your husband to exercise his role as a husband? We will speak about the role of wives in the next article, but do remember that the Christian marriage is not a fifty-fifty marriage. Fifty-fifty marriages do not work. The Word of God requires that husbands and wives exercise their roles as duty towards God. Therefore the husband must love and lead him wife unconditionally.

Do you feel that your husband does not lead and love you as much as you wish he would? Could it be that you are not helping him to love you by being submissive? Could it be that you have been taking the role of leadership instead of allowing your husband to lead? As you have heard about the proper roles of the husband, will you not relinquish those roles to him and help to nurture him to become an effective husband to the praise of the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore someone whom you can respect, love and look to. —JJ Lim

This article is based on a sermon preached by the writer on 17 September 2000, 
and has been distributed to those who attended the Marriage and Courtship preparation classes in PCC. 

Short proverbs collected by CH Spurgeon in hisSalt-Cellars, with his annotation in brackets: 

"A bad husband cannot be a good man" (He fails in the tenderest duties, and must be bad at heart); 
"A good husband makes a good wife" (A gracious disposition in the one influences the other, and little faults are almost insensibly cured); 
"If Jack were better, Jill would not be so bad" (Often the husband creates the wife's faults, and vice versa).