But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
1 Corinthians 11:3
When the apostle uses the word head here he is speaking figuratively of that which sits on top of the neck. Even in the ancient world, it was understood to be the control center of the body. That is what the head of our body does; it runs the body; it is in charge; it is the direction setter of the body. Used, figuratively, therefore, the word head means primarily leadership, and thus it is used in this passage. This is clear from the threefold use of it that the apostle makes here.
The first one is, “the head of every man is Christ.” There is the declaration of Christ’s right to lead the whole human race. He is the leader of the race in the mind and thinking of God, and ultimately, as Scripture tells us, there will come a day when all humanity, without exception, shall bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:11). So whether we know it or not, Christ is our head, and we are responsible to follow him. That is the whole objective of life for any person who wishes to fulfill his humanity.
Move down to the third level of headship mentioned here, “the head of Christ is God.” Here we have a manifestation of headship demonstrated for us in history. Jesus, the Son of God, equal to the Father in his deity, nevertheless, when he assumes humanity, submits himself to the leadership of the Father. Everywhere Jesus went he stated that he always did those things which pleased his Father. He even said, “My Father is greater than I,” (John 14:28). That does not challenge the equality of the members of the Godhead, but when Christ became man he voluntarily consented to take a lower position than the Father. It is in that sense he says, “My Father is greater than I.”
Those two headships help us to understand the meaning of the central one, “the head of the woman is man.” The RSV says, “the head of the woman is her husband” because the subsequent passage has in view a married woman. Headship is most visible in marriage where it manifests that role of support which a woman undertakes voluntarily when she marries a man. He is to be leader and she assumes a support role to help him fulfill the objectives of their life together as Christ, his head, makes clear. Now if she does not want to do that she is perfectly free not to undertake that role. No woman should get married if she does not want to. This is a role that she is perfectly free to forego if she chooses. If she wants to give herself to the pursuit of her own objectives, she has every right to do so. But then she ought not to get married, because marriage means that she is willing to recognize her husband as the leader of the two.
In turn, the man is to discover the secrets God has put into his wife, and seek to encourage her, so that she will be all that she is capable of being. This is the argument of Ephesians 5. They are one and no man hates his own flesh. If he hurts his wife he hurts himself. There is no way that he can achieve the fullness of his manhood in marriage apart from encouraging his wife to utilize all the gifts God has put in her. This is the reciprocal relationship seen in Scripture on marriage. It is this that creates the beauty of every wedding. When a man and a woman stand together to be married, the marriage ceremony has for centuries recognized that she is giving herself to him, and he promises to treat that gift with kindness, tenderness and loving care.
Lord, I pray that I would remember that my views of life are often shallow, superficial and inadequate, but whenever I conform to the divinely given order I find myself opening a door into joy and love and peace such as I never dreamed of; that your yoke is easy and your burden is light.
Do we need to revisit the view of the role of headship as demeaning to a man’s wife? Does our concept of ‘submission’ equate with our Lord Jesus’ submission to the Father? Do we then value it as a privileged and holy calling?