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This Is a Great Mystery

Men and women are different! You may consider this rather self-evident, but the differences are really important to consider, since the trend of our day is to minimize the differences, magnify the likenesses, and pervert the meaning of equality. We hear that women can do anything men can do, and some women are fighting for men’s jobs to prove it. Clothing styles tend to obscure the differences between the sexes. The biblical order of authority in the home is mocked by modern sociologists. Modern brides want the word “obey” taken out of their wedding ceremonies because they think it reduces them to the status of a slave.

God made men and women to be different. “Male and female created he them.”65 “At the beginning God created man and woman.”66 Men and women walk differently, talk differently, think differently, and even eat differently! They are motivated by different values and are affected by different emotions. They differ in every cell of their bodies.

While there are varying degrees of difference between various men and women, including exceptions to almost every generalization, we can nevertheless enumerate several important differences. Generally speaking, men are stronger physically than women. They are guided more by logic than are women, who seem to rely a great deal on intuition and emotion. Men are usually more objective, women more subjective. Men are often realistic, women idealistic. Many men are self-assured, while women frequently need reassurance. Men seem to be more rigid in their thinking, while women are often more adaptable and thus more susceptible to the influence of others. At the same time, women are generally more sympathetic than men. They seem to be especially interested in people, while men are more interested in things. In the chapters to come we are going to explore some of these differences and the special needs they produce. We will see how God’s specific instructions to husbands and wives are designed to help each partner meet the special needs of his mate. For the moment, however, we would like to learn why God created men and women with such distinct differences.

The Apostle Paul gets to the heart of the reason in his letter to the Ephesians. If there is one thing he wanted these folks to understand about marriage, it was that the husband-wife relationship can be compared to the relationship between Christ and His church. He repeated it three times in three successive verses.67 Then, after speaking of a man being joined to his wife, he makes this amazing assertion: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”68 The marriage relationship was intended by God to be a living illustration of the relationship between Christ and His church. Although marriage was instituted in the Garden of Eden long before the church began, that union nevertheless anticipated the fact that God would someday form the church and ultimately present it to His Son as His bride. This is a great mystery, a divine truth hidden in ages past but now clearly revealed. Marriage is a magnificent drama, vividly portraying the relationship between Christ and the church.

In the marriage drama the players are husband and wife. Each has a role to depict. The husband portrays Christ and the wife represents the church. Nothing could be clearer than this in Scripture:

“For a husband is in charge of his wife in the same way Christ is in charge of his body the church. … So you wives must willingly obey your husbands in everything, just as the church obeys Christ. And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the church when he died for her. …”69

Each player must be uniquely adapted to his role. One very important reason that God made men and women so unlike each other is that man portrays Christ and woman portrays the church in this divinely-designed object lesson.

Just as there is an order of authority in the Christ-church relationship, so there is an order of authority in the husband-wife relationship. One of the most hotly debated and fiercely denounced concepts in all the Bible is that “… the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.”70 This is the biblical doctrine of headship. Properly understood and practiced, it is not a grudging and distasteful plight but a gratifying and delightful privilege. Since this doctrine is part of God’s infallible Word, there cannot be perfect harmony in marriage apart from its application. What, then, is headship?

Maybe we should decide first of all what it is not. Headship is not superiority. Nowhere does the Bible imply that men are superior to women. In fact, it clearly states that men and women are equal in God’s sight. “There is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”71 Two becoming “one flesh” would also seem to indicate equality. God created men and women equal, and women should be treated as equals—not as inferiors. Men who ridicule and belittle women probably do it to reassure their own manhood. If they can convince themselves that all men are superior to all women, then they feel superior to their wives no matter how weak or irresponsible they themselves might be!

Nor does headship consist of domination or dictatorship. The doctrine of headship does not destroy a wife’s personality or will, nor does it reduce her to slave status. Actually it does just the opposite. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of headship, yet as the head of the church He ministers to it.72 In this capacity Christ actually serves the church—a fact which we husbands need to think about! Some men have the false notion that headship means “I’m the boss and you’ll do as I say whether you like it or not. Now get me my slippers.”

Other men have the ridiculous idea that headship includes bullying rights. They get bullied at work by their bosses, so they come home and bully their wives and children to prove their masculinity. But brutality doesn’t show masculinity. On the contrary, it shows weakness. The man who hits someone weaker than himself is demonstrating uncertainty about his actual strength. If he pushes his wife, drags her around, or strikes her, he is displaying his insecurity, immaturity, and incompetence as a husband. This kind of treatment puts wives in mental institutions. The man who thinks he can order his wife around like a slave is cheating her of a very wonderful privilege that God wants her to have.

On the positive side, headship is loving leadership. There is a universal need for leadership in every sphere of human experience. We have it in government—local, state, and federal. Our mayor, governor, and president are not necessarily superior to us, but as our duly chosen leaders they have delegated positional authority. We have authority in our schools, on our jobs, and in our churches.73 We need to have it in our homes, too. The Bible declares, “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.”74 Probably the greatest example of headship to which we could point is that of God the Father as Head over God the Son. Christ has been equal with His Father from eternity past, yet He subjected Himself to the authority of the Father. Just as the Father is the Head of the Son and the Son is the Head of man, so man is the head of woman in the marital relationship.

The ladies are probably asking, “Why must this be so?” The answer is simple—to dramatize the submission of the church to the leadership of Jesus Christ. “But why must the woman take a submissive role?” Simply because of the way God made her. For one thing, she is physically weaker.75 The weaker depends on the stronger, and the stronger leads the weaker. And so God said to Eve very early in her life, “He [Adam] shall be your master.”76 He was to be the head, with delegated positional authority.

The woman’s God-given nature is to be led, to be dependent. She is not truly happy in any other role. Some women, because of selfishness or immaturity, seek to dominate their husbands—but they are not happier for the effort. The older such a woman gets and the more she realizes the extent to which she has weakened the man she married, the more she hates herself for it. The urge for a wife to nag, criticize, ridicule, belittle, or manipulate her husband may seem to be almost uncontrollable at times, but Jesus Christ can help her control it. She will never be happy unless she lets Christ transform her. God made a woman to lean on her husband; if she whittles him down to where he can no longer be leaned on, she is the one who suffers for it.

Unfortunately, some men shy away from their leadership role. With authority goes responsibility, demands, decisions, pressures, and much time. They have enough of these problems at work, and don’t want to be bothered with more of them at home. Because they are more interested in their own convenience than in their biblical responsibilities, they force their wives into the leadership role—with chaotic results. This situation is contrary to the very nature of both man and woman as God made them. It brings friction, frustration, dissatisfaction, dissension, and discord. Gentlemen, take charge! Be the leader in your home. Take the initiative in making decisions, training the children, and establishing family worship. No man who shirks these obligations is qualified to be a leader in the church.77

One morning I asked fifty-one women in a ladies’ Bible class what they needed most from their husbands. One lady replied, “I need him to assume headship and responsibility. I have to make decisions that he should make, and I don’t enjoy wearing the pants.” Many of the other women made similar comments. They were particularly concerned about their husbands’ leadership in spiritual matters. Some professing Christian husbands refused to lead in prayer in their homes. Contrary to what women often say and do, deep down inside they do not want to dominate their husbands. They want to be lovingly led. This is the role which God has assigned them in the great drama of marriage.

How is this leadership implemented in the Christian home? I believe it is similar to the leadership exercised in any smoothly operating organization. No successful corporation can function properly with two heads. If there is a president and a vice-president, it is generally agreed that the president is the leader. The vice-president may actually be more brilliant than his boss, but the president still carries the greater authority. His status is not that of a dictator, but of a delegated authority. The arrangement will work best if there is a mutual confidence and trust between them, if they look to each other as equals, if each shares and contributes from his own abilities, resources, and experiences, and if they mold policies and make decisions by mutual consent, with both men abiding by those decisions after they are made. Behind it all, however, there is the realization that only one of them is actually the leader. In the last analysis it is he who is responsible for all that is done.

This is exactly how a Christian marriage should work. It could be described as a democracy with male leadership. Each mate should be concerned for the other, and for the best interests of the marriage. There should be a mutual sharing in the making of decisions and the resolving of problems. Because each partner displays a genuine love for the other, irresolvable problems should be rare. But in those rare cases, God says that the husband lovingly leads and the wife lovingly follows.

This is God’s blueprint for the Christian home. It is a long way from the perverted view that once considered women to be less than human. It is also a far cry from the equally dangerous modern philosophy which frees women from the responsibilities of the home, the kitchen, and the kids and liberates them from their husbands’ authority.

A woman finds real equality and freedom when she assumes her God-given role as a helpmeet, relying on the man God has given her and graciously submitting to him. He in turn tenderly loves her, cherishes her, protects her, and provides for her. God planned the role of the man and the woman to dramatize the relationship between Christ and the church. He asks us to glorify Him by accepting our roles willingly and fulfilling them faithfully.


65 Genesis 1:27, KJV.

66 Matthew 19:4, TLB.

67 Ephesians 5:23-25.

68 Ephesians 5:32, KJV.

69 Ephesians 5:23-25, TLB.

70 Ephesians 5:23, KJV.

71 Galatians 3:28, KJV.

72 Matthew 20:28.

73 cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17.

74 1 Corinthians 11:3, KJV.

75 1 Peter 3:7.

76 Genesis 3:16, TLB.

77 1 Timothy 3:4, 5.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Love, Marriage, Men's Articles, Women