Summary: What it means for a married man to be the head of his wife and of his home.
If the Lord wills, both today and next week we will focus on what it means for a married man to be the head of his wife and of his home. We focus on this for two reasons. One is that the Bible says in Ephesians 5:23, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” We need to know what the Bible means by this statement so that we can exult in it and obey.
The other reason is that few things are more broken in our day than manhood and headship in relation to women and families. And the price of this brokenness is enormous and touches almost every facet of life. So for the sake of faithful biblical exposition and exultation, and for the sake of recovering biblical manhood and Christ-exalting family structures, we will, Lord willing, spend two weeks on this important issue of headship.
First Things First
Our emphasis in these weeks so far has been that staying married is not mainly about staying in love, but about keeping covenant. We did eventually come around to saying that precisely by this unwavering covenant-keeping the possibility of being profoundly in love in forty years is much greater than if you think of the task of marriage is first staying in love. Keeping first things first makes second things better. Staying in love isn’t the first task of marriage. It is a happy overflow of covenant-keeping for Christ’s sake.
We have spent most of our effort in these five messages so far pondering the foundations of covenant-keeping in the way Christ keeps covenant with us. We have looked at marriage as a showcase of covenant-keeping grace and as a combination of forgiveness and forbearance. And the last time we were together we took up the question: Can you help each other change? And if so, how do you do that graciously?
Headship Seen in Light of the Gospel
Up till now we have spent little time on the distinct roles of husband and wife—headship and submission. This was intentional. Foundations in the gospel are needed before these things can shine with the beauty they really have. There is nothing ugly or undesirable in these distinctions of headship and submission when they’re seen in the light of the gospel of grace.
So now the question presses on us: What is headship? And what is submission? The plan is to deal with headship in the next two weeks and then after Easter deal with submission and other issues relating to marriage.
This week will be largely foundation for headship, and next week will be largely application. What does it actually look like in practice?
The Mystery Revealed
Let’s move into this text at verse 31. It’s a quote from Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In the next verse (v. 32), Paul looks back on this quote and says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Now why is the coming together of a man and woman to form one flesh in marriage called a mystery? Mystery in the New Testament does not mean something too complex or deep or obscure or distant for humans to understand. It refers to a hidden purpose of God that is now revealed for our understanding and enjoyment. Paul explains what the mystery is in verse 32. The marriage union is a mystery, he says, because its deepest meaning has been concealed by God during the Old Testament history, but is now being openly revealed by the apostle, namely, that marriage is an image of Christ and the church. Verse 32: “I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
So marriage is like a metaphor or an image or a picture or a parable or a model that stands for something more than a man and a woman becoming one flesh. It stands for the relationship between Christ and the church. That’s the deepest meaning of marriage. It’s meant to be a living drama of how Christ and the church relate to each other.
The Parallel Between One Body and One Flesh
You can see how this is confirmed in verses 28-30. They describe the parallel between Christ and the church being one body andthe husband and wife being one flesh. Verses 28-29: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it . . . .” In other words, the one-flesh union between man and wife means that in a sense they are now one body so that the care a husband has for his wife he, in that very act, has for himself. They are one. What he does for her he does for himself.