God’s Design for a Husband’s Headship and a Wife’s Submission

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Editor’s Note: This video excerpt is taken from David Platt’s sermon titled “Men and Women in the Church” (Part 2) and is based on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. For further context on how to approach the issue of men and women in the church, see also “Men and Women in the Church” (Part 1)

According to God, for the husband to be the head of the wife means that a husband lovingly sacrifices his life to lead his wife for her good. It means for husbands to love their wives, how? As Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. That is quite a statement. The Bible says, “Husbands, look at Jesus on the cross and love your wife like that.” What does it mean to be the head in your marriage? It means you get to lay down your life for your wife. 

Then, this passage says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” So also wives should submit everything to their husbands. So for the husband to be the head in marriage means that a wife respectfully submits to her husband’s loving leadership. I use “respectfully” here very intentionally, because that’s the word God uses specifically later in this passage, in verse 33: “Let the wife see that she respects her husband,” as the husband loves his wife. And I use the word “submit,” because that’s the word we see twice in this passage.

I so wish we had more time to camp out here because I know many of you may be going in all kinds of different directions, particularly if you’ve never heard this before. You’re wondering if this picture of leadership and submission is unhealthy, demeaning, oppressive, abusive, misogynistic or any number of other things, based on what this sounds like or how you’ve seen a text like this used. But I just want you to know that if any of those pictures are in your mind right now, that is not at all what God is saying.

Look at the comparison here. The relationship between a husband as head of his wife is comparable to Christ as head of the church, His followers. Jesus does not oppress His people. He does not abuse them. He does not demean or devalue them. Jesus lifts them up. Jesus’ leadership of His church as the head is perfectly for their good.

Now, obviously, no husband is perfect like Jesus. But God’s design is good. It’s very good. I’ve never met a wife who didn’t want to respectfully submit to a husband who was laying down his life every day to lovingly and sacrificially lead, serve, support, and help her to thrive for her good. So any problems and abuses that arise here are because of husbands and/or wives going outside of God’s good, distinct design for marriage. The problem is not with God’s design.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.