Gentlemen, Don’t Let Head Covering Go to Your Head
REJECTING OUR BAD CULTURAL EXAMPLES
According to one worldly stereotype, the modern man is lazy, selfish, and disengaged. His wife may even feel that she needs to act like his mother in order to make him more responsible.
The maturing Christian man pushes back against this stereotype, both in his own life and in his influence with other men. “Authentic Manhood” is an excellent video series about biblical masculinity, with a frequent call to “reject passivity, accept responsibility, lead courageously, and invest eternally.”
To the men who fulfill that call to biblical manhood: well done! Continue to be a diligent student of the Word as you lead your wife with love (Ephesians 5:23-25). Yes, this includes lovingly leading her in the head covering practices and principles found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. But ensure that you are also taking this approach in the many areas of life that are more important than head covering!
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to hear that Christian wives are lacking godly leadership from their husbands. In relation to 1 Corinthians 11, the wife may be the only one studying the passage, praying for the Lord’s guidance about head covering, and wrestling with how to respond. Too often, her husband’s feedback is simply, “I’ll support whatever you decide, Dear.”
On the surface, this seems like a no-pressure, gracious word of support. But if this describes your response to your wife, then I urge you to “reject passivity” and get in the game with her! Be an involved student of the Word. Lead her with love.
And to Christian husbands who are trying to figure out how to lead wives who do not agree with biblical marriage roles or do not feel convicted about the practice of head covering: may the Lord grant you the needed wisdom and grace! Your calling is the same: lead her with love.
PROBLEMS WITH THE OTHER EXTREME
But there are problems with the extreme opposite of passivity as well: men who let headship go to their heads. Unfortunately, some men see head covering (and what it symbolizes) as just another tool for their male-role power trip. They may read through all of Paul’s instructions about head covering, but the only concept they come away with is “authority and submission.”
This type of husband rightly promotes male leadership in marriage and in the church, but ends up turning women against the idea because his approach is so different from Jesus’ approach. Not surprisingly, he may not do well with having a female boss at his place of employment. And if he’s the boss, those under him probably don’t appreciate his leadership. He’s the servant-leader minus the “servant” part.
Within marriage, this man will embrace leadership, but not with love. His wife would say he’s not afraid to use his influence, but she’s not sure that influence has been very pleasant or godly. Somehow he’s conveniently forgotten the direction (and warning!) found in 1 Peter 3:7.
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
It’s not surprising that disobedience to this command has real-world consequences (even beyond “hindered prayers”). Just one verse prior, Peter had urged wives to embrace biblical womanhood (including submission within marriage). He acknowledged their need for courage to do this, but then he immediately addresses the husband’s important responsibilities in the marriage relationship (the verse quoted above).
If a man does not show “understanding and honor” in his role, it will obviously make his wife’s role that much more difficult. Obviously, this is twice as important if the wife has previously suffered under any man who abused his authority. As a Christian marriage ought to model the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33), it is critical that each spouse approach the other with a biblical mindset.
Sadly, some strong-willed men endorse male leadership and the Christian practice of head covering for the wrong reasons. Not only is this a poor testimony, but it can cause both hurt and confusion in the marriage relationship. A prideful and domineering approach is not consistent with showing the kind of love, understanding, and honor that husbands are commanded to express to their wives. And from God’s perspective, that’s a problem.
THERE’S A BETTER (BIBLICAL) WAY
Fortunately, 1 Corinthians 11 itself provides the needed counterbalance in situations where the husband’s leadership has gone to his head. In verse 3, Paul writes:
“I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.”
Here we see that God (the Father) is the head of Christ (the Son), that Christ is the head of man, and that man is the head of woman.
This 4-member “hierarchy of authority” is actually quite insightful. For example, we see that Jesus has both a headship role (over man) and a submission role (under the Father). This means that Christ is both our perfect Master, and also our example of perfect submission.
Jesus demonstrated this submission in both His life and His death. He declared, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). And while approaching the cross, Christ prayed to the One in headship over Him: “Yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This Head of the husband, this Savior with unlimited power, confidently embraced submission.
What does this hierarchy mean for you, husband? First, this means that your primary responsibility (above and beyond leading your wife) is submitting to Christ. So, as you consider your own life, would you say that you are a good “submitter”? From His perspective, would Jesus say that you have been living in submission to Him? From the perspective of others, is His leadership (and your yielding) evident in your life?
Second, as husbands we are not left without an example in submission. If you want to learn how to become a better submitter, you can learn by observing the life (and death) of Jesus. In fact, while your wife has an imperfect example of submission immediately above her, you have a perfect One immediately above you. Let’s make the most of this opportunity.
Third, leading by example is one of the most effective ways to lead. This means that your wife should be able to learn about submission by following your example of submission. Your wife should see you submitting to Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:3), to government authority (Romans 13:1), and to church leadership (Hebrews 13:17). And in other ways, your submission may also extend to your employer, university professor, sports coach, etc. If your wife wants to learn how submission works, she should be able to find out by observing your life.
PRACTICAL THOUGHTS IN CONCLUSION
The two opposite extremes described in this article can be labeled as “egalitarianism” (equal roles and authority between the husband and wife) and “hyper-patriarchalism” (where it can be hard to tell that there’s any authority structure at all above the husband).
Between these extremes is a biblical balance where the husband provides loving leadership under Christ’s headship. Husbands, Christ is our example in how to both wield authority and yield authority. And if we make good use of this biblical paradigm, then there should be some practical benefits.
The first benefit is for the husband. Christ’s leadership in the husband’s life is a blessing to him. This is because Christ’s leadership is good – and in the end, a man will never regret the results of submitting to Christ. Husband, can your wife say the same thing about your headship? As you grow in Christlikeness, would she say that following your lead has turned out for her good, and for God’s glory?
Biblical leadership is servant-leadership (Matthew 23:11). This means that it is not to be domineering (1 Peter 5:3), and Christian leaders should not “lord over” others with their authority (Matthew 20:25–28). Husbands, your Head washed the feet of those He was in authority over (John 13:1-17). He came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Would your wife say that you show this same kind of servant-leadership?
Christ-like leadership is also loving leadership. It is not self-serving (1 Corinthians 13:5). In Colossians 3:19, the husband’s command to love his wife comes with a second imperative: “do not be harsh” to her. As a husband, does the way you respond to your wife or family cause them to react with bitterness? The command from your Head is to do the opposite: sacrifice, cherish, and nourish your wife (Ephesians 5:25-33).
For example, in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, if your wife sees head covering as a burden, become more understanding. Assist her in the Word and in prayer – and make sure you aren’t the reason that head covering is a burden. Find ways to make the burden lighter. Christlike love means you sacrifice for her benefit.
If you don’t take this approach, you’ll have the same leadership attitude as the Pharisees (Matthew 23:4). But I believe that if you conspicuously adopt the leadership attitude of Jesus, then you may find that instead of your wife just feeling obligated to follow your lead, she’ll want to follow your lead – even as you want to follow Christ’s lead.
The nature of leadership is that people are always watching. In some form or fashion, all leaders will need to give an account for their leadership. Church leaders are accountable to the Lord (Hebrews 13:17), and you are likewise accountable to your Head for your leadership in marriage. Therefore, make sure that your leadership follows the good example of the One in leadership over you.
Husbands, your authority is delegated-authority: it was given to you by your Head. It cannot be used for selfish purposes. Instead, the husband is to be in submission to his Head, and focused on Christ’s preeminence. As a husband, the best use of your authority is when it is used in submission to the example and authority of Christ. Resolve to make your leadership better reflect the loving servant-style leadership of your Savior.
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- Gentlemen, Don’t Let Head Covering Go to Your Head - September 19, 2022