Head of Home
(Is the husband the head of the home?)

QUESTION: Head of home? What does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband? Is submit and obey the same?

ANSWER: Yes, submit and obey mean much the same thing. If there's a difference, submitting is perhaps the inner attitude, and obeying is the action that flows from it. Ephesians 5:22 says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord [as you would submit to the Lord]." That means a wife is to put herself under the headship of her husband. God has designed that the husband be the spiritual leader in the home.

QUESTION: Head of home? Is the wife to do whatever her husband tells her to do, as long as it is not against God? And does the husband have the right to discipline the wife? I have been told this was okay.

ANSWER: First, we need to deal with the phrase, "as long as it is not against God." The decisions we make in life fall into several categories.

1) First, there are those things that are clearly spelled out and forbidden in the Word of God. We know that stealing is wrong, and lying, because the Bible says so.

2) Then, there are some things that we can be pretty sure are wrong, even though the Bible doesn't refer to them directly. Cigarettes aren't mentioned in God's Word, but we know that smoking would be dangerous to our health, and as believers we also know that our bodies are God's temple, and we should treat it with care (I Cor. 6:19-20).

3) Finally, there's the whole area of day-to-day decisions that are basically neutral in themselves. In these, God's will isn't always easy to know for certain. Should I agree to teach a Sunday School class? Should I attend such-and-such a college? Should we have the pastor and his wife over for supper on Sunday? Maybe. Or maybe not.

But here's an important key to remember. What is God's will in every situation? What is it that is always God's will--even in those neutral and non-moral issues? It's that we "be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). That we become more and more like Jesus, in other words. And He will work for our good in all things (vs. 28), to see that done.

Some of life's choices will have to do with moral issues. But most of the decisions we make probably fall into this last category. There are principles in the Bible that we can apply, but no direct commands for them. And the Lord is willing to work with whatever decision we make, either way, to mould us into the likeness of His Son.

So, now: In matters about which God's Word isn't specific, does the husband, the head of the home, have the right to insist on his wife doing things his way? No, I don't think so. Or, let me qualify that a little: not necessarily. It would certainly be arrogant and foolish for either partner to assume that he or she is always right!

Suppose the family needs a new car, and the husband wants a brand new one that will cost about $30,000. But his wife is looking at their need for other things, and at the bills piling up, and she has seen a $10,000 used car that's been well cared for, and would suit their family well.

There's a disagreement there–and while we can find principles in the Bible that might help with a decision, there's certainly no Bible verse about buying cars. So, how is a decision to be reached in a mature and God-honouring way?

1) They both need to pray about it. Not just one quick "Lord give us wisdom" prayer, but perhaps prayer over several days or longer. (Asking God for wisdom is certainly part of that, James 1:5.)

2) There needs to be a discussion of the pros and cons by the two of them. Exactly why does each think the course they favour is the best one? Are there some areas of agreement? Or areas where they're willing to compromise?

3) Whatever the case, there ought to be humility and gentleness in the discussion, and a respect shown for the other person.

4) Maybe friends and family can be asked for advice–though sometimes this creates more conflict if it's not done carefully. And others may not want to take sides in what seems to have the potential of becoming a heated family debate.

5) It may be possible to suggest a third option. A creative alternative or a compromise that better meets the views of both.

6) Maybe there's a need to wait awhile–to wait for God to give them both more light. Perhaps, with further thought, one partner or the other will change his or her opinion somewhat. Or a new option will surface.

7) Either partner should be very hesitant to create a division over a non-biblical issue. Life is short, and there are lots of things more important. Harmony at home, respect, affection and kindness toward one another are far more important than getting one's way in one decision.

Even though the husband is head of home, decisions need to be made in a collaborative way. And, no, the husband has no right to discipline or punish his wife for disobeying him. Even when what she's done is clearly forbidden in God's Word, he must be careful about that.

For one thing, he's too close to the situation, and may be blind to his own faults relative to the issue. What if he is part of the cause? In the words of Scottish poet Robert Burns:

     O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
     To see oursels as others see us!
     It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
     And foolish notion.

The process for dealing with that kind of situation is spelled out in Matthew 18:15-17. Perhaps the husband can show his wife from the Scriptures where she is in the wrong (if it is a moral issue), and she'll be willing to change.

But if that doesn't happen, her husband needs to involve one or two godly and mature Christians. They will be able to look at the situation in a balanced way. Maybe the husband is partly to blame, and he needs to face his own failings and deal with them.

In a marriage, you have only two people involved, which means that every disagreement will result in an evenly split vote. Somebody has to break the tie, and, in one sense, the husband has that responsibility.

However, he would be very unwise to simply put his foot down and do things his way, if he senses his wife feels strongly the other way. (I'm not talking here about things that are morally right or wrong, but more neutral things where the best path is harder to find.)

When Peter counsels pastors, he tells them not to act like "lords over those entrusted to you" (I Pet. 5:3). The Amplified Bible has: "Not domineering [as arrogant, dictatorial, and overbearing persons] over those in your charge, but being examples (patterns and models of Christian living)." That's good advice for husbands too.

Part of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness (Gal. 5:22-23). As in the local church, so in the home, "With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering [patience], bearing with one another in love, [we ought to be] endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:2-3).