The Biblical Role of Husbands
Study #23 Colossians 3:19
by Bob Burridge ©2023
When morally immature people are in leadership roles, they often tend to become tyrants. They think that being in charge means having the power to do whatever they want, and to get their own way. Since this neglects the real purpose of leadership, things eventually fall apart and chaos emerges instead of order.
It’s the natural way of a fallen heart to become a self-centered tyrant. But God calls leaders to responsible leadership.
Being in charge isn’t all it’s imagined to be. It’s very hard to be a good leader. The most basic place where responsible leadership is needed is in the home. It’s important to pray for our government leaders, managers where we work, and church leaders, but we also need to pray for the leaders of families.
This was part of the confusion that had come to the city of Colossae. Some taught that women existed only to have babies and to serve men. Females were degraded and treated as mere servants or sex objects. Men were tyrants in their homes who kept wives from realizing their potential as God had gifted them. This is a horrible distortion of the order God set up for the home.
In his letter to the Colossians Paul explained the leadership principles God gives us in his word. In the previous study, we looked at the duty of the wives in Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” In Ephesians 5:22-24 Paul explained in more detail. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” God assigned men the role of headship in the home to model the headship of Christ over his church.
Biblical subjection means honoring and supporting the duty God gives to the one responsible for being in charge. It doesn’t mean that those in subjection are slaves or inferiors. Man was incomplete by himself, so woman was made to be her husband’s helper. But being a helper doesn’t make a person less important. God is often called our helper in times of need (for example in Psalm 121:2).
We each have areas where we need to respect others God’s put in charge. Governments are responsible for our peace and safety. Church officers are called to oversee worship and church members. Those under their oversight need to support their leaders as they responsibly do their work.
Wives need to respect and support the great responsibility the Lord has laid upon their husbands. The godly wife uses her wisdom and abilities to do her part in the home, church, and community. She should not usurp the responsibility of leadership God has given to her husband. The only biblical exception to a wife’s submission is when she’s asked to violate God’s higher law. No one may forbid us to do what God commands, or command what God forbids.
How should the husband exercise
headship in the home?
Colossians 3:19 says, :”Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” In Ephesians 5:25-31 Paul expands giving us more detail. It says, “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. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ ”
Marriage is not a human institution. God established it for a reason. Marriage should show us Christ’s relationship with His church. In our Savior we have a perfect example for headship in our homes. To know how we should love, we need to learn more about how he loves.
What kind of love is it that
Christ shows for his church?
1. This kind of love is self-sacrificing.
This divinely implanted love puts the well being of the loved one first.
Jesus truly suffered when he came to redeem his people. He left his heavenly glories to take on a finite human body and soul. He went through the pains and indignities of growing up here on Earth; being disliked, persecuted, wrongly accused of crimes, and put to a disgraceful and torturous death. He hung on the cross which his bride deserved, and in her place he died the death she deserved. He did all this for the church, his bride. He did it voluntarily out of love. The words by Samuel J. Stone in “The Church’s One Foundation” describe it so well, “From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride; With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.”
The Apostle Paul described this love in Philippians 2:7-8. “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
After the last supper, before his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus taught his disciples about love. In John 15:13-14 he said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
The godly love of Christ-like headship doesn’t love for self-benefit. Its driving objective is the true well being of the one loved. It’s not like the love we feel in our fallen souls where we emotionally fall into and out of it.
I’ve always appreciated an amazing story about an amazing man. After Christmas in 1876 Philip and his wife were relaxing on a train heading for home in Chicago. They had just completed a visit to his childhood home in Rome, Pennsylvania. As the train rumbled across a bridge in Ohio the train lurched and their seats and the floor fell away from under them. Passengers were tossed around inside as the bridge crumbled into pieces dropping the train and its people into the ravine sixty feet below! When the pieces came to rest at the bottom, fires broke out.
The few surviving passengers scrambled to find a way out of the flaming wreckage. Philip found a broken window nearby and he squeezed himself through. Free of the wreckage he began to search for his wife. Horrified, he realized she was still trapped inside! Without hesitating for his own safety he returned to the wreckage to rescue her. While inside he became trapped by the fire and they both perished. One hundred passengers died that December day. Philip was only 38 years old when he died. But he was a Christian.
His full name was Philip P. Bliss, a well-known hymn writer. Many of his hymns are found in today’s hymnals. When his trunk was pulled from the train wreckage they found in it a yet unpublished song Philip had written. Today we know it by the title, I Will Sing of My Redeemer. It’s a song about the self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ for his people: “I will sing of my Redeemer and his wondrous love to me. On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free. Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me; On the cross He sealed my pardon, paid the debt and made me free.” The second verse is about his boundless love and mercy
Unlike our Savior who gave himself for us, Philip wasn’t able to save his wife. But his love for her was so deep, he gave his own life trying to help her.
Do we husbands put our wives’ true well being above our own comforts and needs? We may never be asked to risk our lives for our wives, but do we consider her needs and interests above our own when we decide where to go out to eat? how to organize our budget? how we’ll use our time off from work? what movies or TV shows we watch together? Such simple little things can be tests. Is our love self-sacrificing like the love of Jesus?
Godly headship is not to ensure comfort and ease for the husband. Biblical headship is to help the wife achieve all God calls her to be. Loving leadership in the home is self-sacrificing. It meets the needs of the one loved.
2. The godly kind of love provides for those who are loved.
One of a good husband’s great concerns is to make sure the family’s basic needs are met. 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
After the fall in Eden, God explained the struggle the wives and husbands will experience. Eve’s struggle would be two-fold: raising children, and her subjection to her husband. Adam’s struggle was in bringing forth their daily provisions from the earth. That’s a duty God has particularly assigned to men from the time of creation. Of course there are exceptions and times when men aren’t able to work. In those situations, godly wives lovingly do all they can to help meet the family’s needs, yet without neglecting their responsibilities God specially gave them. Those are very hard times for any woman. They need our support and encouragement. But the general rule is: Men must make sure their family has its provisions.
It perverts that duty when a husband’s work becomes more important than those he cares for. He must never become so greedy of money, power, and position that he neglects his family’s needs.
The godly husband’s love is concerned for the spiritual health of his wife and family. Jesus’ love moved him to build up his church in her relationship with God. Ephesians 5:26-27 tells us he came, “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.”
He prayed for his bride and purified her by paying the penalty of sin in her place. He made her able to live God’s way by giving her spiritual life. That should be the godly husband’s concern toward his wife. He should see that she has every opportunity to grow in grace.
Jesus is able to change the heart of his bride. That’s something a husband can’t do! But he may draw down the power of Christ by the means of grace.
1. He prays for his family, and teaches them to pray.
2. He values God’s word so that he and his family know it and live by it.
3. He makes sure that he and his family are regular in worship, and the sacraments. He makes sure his family understands the parts of worship.
4. He values the Christian friends of his family. He teaches them to encourage one another in God-honoring fellowship and mutual care.
3. The godly kind of love is tender and caring.
Ephesians 5:28-29 tells husbands to care for their wives as he would care for himself, as Jesus did for his church. “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, just as Christ does the church,”
We humans instinctively care for our own physical health. When we’re hungry or thirsty we instinctively look for food or drink. When we’re injured we instinctively try to fix it. When we’re cold we instinctively look for a way to get warm. When we’re hot we instinctively look for a cooler place.
Husbands should care for their wives as instinctively and with as much care. In Genesis we are told that when two are married they become one flesh. This real union is reflected in the tenderness a husband shows to his wife.
The words nourishment and cherishment stir up a picture of the gentle care a mother gives to her baby. She loves it so dearly and watches over it, as if it was her greatest treasure.
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.” This verse is often misused to teach that women are by nature weaker than men. First, that’s not what it says. The words mean that she is to be treated as one would treat a valuable but fragile vase. Second, while the average woman may not have the strength in her arms or legs that the average man has, she is far from weak. Her body has a whole cycle of demands to prepare her for bearing children. She endures a heavy demand from her responsibilities in the home. She has strong emotions specially suited to her duties as mother and wife. Her strengths lie in different areas than those of men. God equips us each with what we need to accomplish our calling. But a wife is to be treated tenderly and with the same care one would give to a valuable art-form.
This tender care of Jesus for his church is never overbearing. Our Lord isn’t a slavemaster driving his church oppressively. He blesses her by using her gifts and talents to help accomplish his own work. He knows her weaknesses and need for comfort. His encouragement is always appropriate. This is the model every godly husband must follow as he leads his home.
4. The godly kind of love listens.
1 Peter 3:7 says that as husbands you must “… live with your wives in an understanding way”. Godly love wants to know and understand what the wife needs and wants. It works to listen and appreciate what the wife has to say and advize. Jesus tells us that when we to pray to him at any time he hears us.
Often men and women face different experiences in life and deal with different problems. Setting all our worldly excuses aside, it’s our duty to understand our spouses. That’s a big job! But God commands husbands to understand their wives.
5. The godly kind of love assures.
It makes sure that the loved one feels secure in a sure source of hope. A lot rests on the husband. His responsibility could be frightening. How could he possibly measure up to the high standard of Christ’s love for his church? Wives may be thinking, “If my husband was like that I would find it easier to be in subjection to him.” Probably true, but it’s no excuse from biblical subjection. Their responsibility doesn’t depend on how successful he is in his duties. Husbands may think, “If my wife was more encouraging and submissive I’d find it easier to love her as I should.” Also probably true, but no excuse from loving leadership. The husband’s responsibility doesn’t depend on how successful she is in living up to her part.
Husbands may feel discouraged and ask: “How can I live up to such a high standard? How can I learn to be a loving leader with an imperfect family?” Be encouraged men: There’s a sure source of help. You’re included in the church loved by Christ. You’re also the bride for whom Christ died. He has given himself up for you. You’re one of those he nourishes and cherishes. You are his body. Your source of help is in your Savior, Jesus Christ. No human called to leadership is ever perfect in this life, no parent, no husband, no church officer, no civil leader. So there is no excuse from the standards God sets for you.
As any one in the church, husbands must press on in their calling. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12-14 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The husband must be an example to his wife and children of: humility, repentance, and subjection to Christ. He must demonstrate confidence that his hope rests in Christ, not in his own accomplishments or abilities.
Don’t let your children or wife think you expect perfection in them. But let them know you understand their challenges, that you will still love them when they sin or fail. You need to remember that Christ loves you in the same way.
6. The godly kind of love is unquenchable.
It continues even when the loved one isn’t perfect. It persists.
Jesus persists in his love, even when his people fall short. Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” The Greek word used here for “being harsh” is “pikraino” (πικραίνω). There was a plant familiar then called Botanae Pikrain Ekhousa meaning a bitter tasting plant. Here it means, husbands, don’t get a bitter taste toward your wife. Don’t be at odds with her. Remember, in Christ you are both one flesh.
The biblical model for the husband
is a humbling thing to study.
We are to love our wives as Christ loves his church. This is a very special kind of love. It’s a self-sacrificing kind of love that puts the wife’s wellbeing above our own. It provides for her every need to the best of our ability in Christ. It’s tender, caring, and listens carefully to understand her. It assures her by directing her to Christ, the only sure source of hope. It’s an unquenchable kind of love.
That humbles us! How far short we are all bound to fall! It sets a high goal. One that always gives us more to strive for. It brings with it a wonderful promise, that God empowers us to move toward that goal! It impresses upon us what a wonderful Savior we have, who loved us that much, to love us as his bride.
Husbands, Jesus is our model! This is what we need to prayerfully strive to become. Our duty, according to God’s word, is to love our wives as Christ loved His church.
Both husbands and wives need to encourage and pray for one another. They must keep this perfect example in mind: remember Christ’s self-less love for his church, and the church’s subjection and respect for Christ.
If our homes were like that, if our churches and communities were made up of homes like that, the lordship of Christ would be seen more broadly today. his kingly glory would disarm all criticism. our children will grow up better prepared to live in imperfect families, go to imperfect schools, hold imperfect jobs, support imperfect churches, and be good citizens in imperfect societies.
The quest for perfection will be satisfied only in heaven. But for now, here in this imperfect world, we should strive to love one another as Jesus loved His church.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.