Headship: Demand it of Yourself

In the experience of abusive leadership in the home, church, workplace, and government, it is common to hear demands of submission as if the leader has absolute and ultimate authority.

Biblically, it is not true. Don’t be fooled by the blustering.

In his epistle to the Ephesians Paul spoke to husbands and wives, explaining their roles [Ephesians 5:22-33]. In a recent discussion with a friend it was pointed out that the church is keen on preaching “taking headship” in the family, often using this passage.

The curious thing about this passage is that in verse 23, where the word “head” is used for the husband’s role, it is in the indicative. The sentence is a statement of fact. It IS what the husband is in the family.

However, all the statements following, regarding the acting upon this position of the husband, instruct him to love and die like Christ.

Those are imperatives. Those are the commands he must follow. He does not take headship. He is called to live it in love and die like Christ.

But those who are control and power hungry, grab the indicatives in scripture and turn them into battle cries in the home and workplace. “I am the head and you must be loyal and submit.” And all disagreement is understood to be rebellion.

They never look at the responsibilities of leadership. Only at the benefits of good leadership.

  • Abusive leaders don’t look to their own leader, Jesus Christ.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

Philippians 2:5-7 (ESV)

This is what leadership looks like. It is strange that throughout the New Testament you do not read of Jesus demanding submission from His followers. You see Jesus washing their feet like a common household servant would and saying, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” [John 13:12-15 (ESV)]

Jesus didn’t demand, He served. And His disciples did then indeed submit to him…in their broken and forgiven ways. 

But the one who abuses his authority in the home or workplace fails to look to his own leader, Jesus Christ. 

  • Abusive leaders don’t look at their own imperatives.

What is the responsibility of governing authorities? The Apostle Peter says,

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

1 Peter 2:13-14 (ESV)

Most people look to the beginning of that sentence only and do not consider how it ends. But, notice that governing authorities are called to “punish those who do evil and praise those who do good.” That means they are to rule fairly and execute real justice. There are demands on the leaders. 

What are the imperatives for husbands in the home?

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”

Ephesians 5:25-28 (ESV)

Doesn’t sound much like crushing emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse does it?

Who wouldn’t submit to this kind of genuinely humble and serving leader?

Remember the ultimate leader, Jesus. He went to the cross to serve His people. Is the husband, boss, or government leader willing to go to great discomfort to serve the good of his wife, subordinate, or citizen? Even die or lose their position to serve their constituant’s needs?

Or, is he just interested in power and authority…and the follower’s submission?

Leaders in the home, workplace, and government; submit yourself to your own leader, Jesus! Then follow what He calls you to in your position of authority. He has not called on you to demand servanthood from others.

Only demand it of yourself.


A look at missions in Africa by the Editor of Pearls & Swine Site.

Stories of God’s transforming of one family’s ministry in the furnace of cross-cultural missions. Jeanine Jackson, the former US Ambassador to Malawi said, “What a wonderful book!”

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