Last week my prayer partner John read me a bit from CS Lewis’ “The Business of Heaven“, a daily reader. This little vignette covers the controversial topic of headship. Christians have frequently gotten up in arms over the meaning of headship and submission in the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:21-33). We can boil most of these arguments down to matters of power. Who gets to be in charge? What is mutual submission? Are you loving right? Submitting right? How often should the decider (thank you George Bush and Saturday Night Live for this wonderful noun) be putting his/her foot down?
Wherever you fall on this discussion of the meaning of the Ephesians 5 passage, the following from Lewis is quite apt:
We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the church–read on–and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is–in her own mere nature–least lovable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her lovely. The chrism of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man’s marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other) never despairs… (p. 169-170)
There is a lot of substance in the above quote. You might do well to read it again, slowly. I gather a couple of crucial points.
- You want to see Christlikeness in a husband? Much easier to see it in a difficult relationship than in an easy one. It is easy to love the most lovable.
- Headship is not about being the decider so much as it is about being the first to sacrifice his desires for hers.
- Sacrificial living is not acquiescing to another’s desires. That is a weak way of relating to others. A thoughtful person may well say “no” to another’s wishes when humbly considering that the request is not good or healthy or is unjust. And yet, many of our denials of other’s wishes are less about right and wrong and much more about personal freedom and control. There is great power in choosing to set aside personal desire for the sake of another.
- The same can be said for women who are trying to figure out how to “submit” to “unworthy” husbands. However, this biblical passage has much more to say about the sacrificial, others-focused husband.
Lewis goes on to say that he does not mean to baptize difficult or miserable marriage. There is no extra value to martyrdom. He only wishes to remind us that it is easy to point out the flaws of another in such a way that makes our self-serving choices legitimate. Even when we must refuse a loved one or confront them about their flaws, it should be done for their sake, and not our own.