Spirit-Led Woman

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Women have been clothed with the priestly garments of holiness, and they have been commissioned to exercise His authority. No husband has the biblical right to stand in his wife's way, and no wife should use "male headship" to excuse herself from fulfilling God's call on her life.

"Headship" is another popular word thrown around in conservative religious circles. Many Christian men believe their spirituality is measured by the level of control they exert over their wives through "male headship."

These guys think they are being "real men of God" if they refuse to listen to their wives' counsel. Where did we get the idea that an authoritarian style of leadership is even remotely Christlike?

The rigid view of the Christian family says that men have been placed in the God-ordained role of full-time boss. The husband's role, according to the conservative religious model, is to lead and protect his wife, while her role is to trust him and submit to his authority at all times without question. Since he is supposedly smarter, stronger and more spiritually capable, the woman has no option but to accept this arrangement.

This view has been derived by misreading the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:23-24: "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."

We must remember that at the time Paul penned these words (probably A.D. 60), women had no rights and were viewed as the property of either their fathers or their husbands. In Ephesus during New Testament times, a man's idea of "ruling the family" was to keep his wife shut away in the house to do backbreaking chores, tend the family farm, provide sexual gratification and bear as many children as possible.

If she died in childbirth, he found another wife. If she didn't please him in bed, he paid a younger woman outside the home to meet his sexual needs. If his wife shamed him, he beat her.

Historian Ruth Tucker notes that in ancient Greek society, most men considered their homebound wives boring--so they typically sought the companionship of heterae, or professional female escorts. Yet when Paul introduced the Christian message to the Ephesians, he came with a radically new model of family that went to the very core of what was wrong with the world: "Husbands, love your wives" (Eph. 5:25).

Perhaps we don't realize what a revolutionary concept these four words were in the first century! It was even more radical when Paul told the men of Ephesus to love their wives "as their own bodies" (v. 28).

This meant that men and women were equals. It meant that Christian men would have to break out of their pagan Middle Eastern mind-set and stop looking down on the wives as if they were brainless, inferior animals. Paul's simple words shattered gender prejudice at its core.

And when Paul told the men to love their wives "as Christ also loved the church" (v. 25), he implied something even more revolutionary: Women are just as deserving of the grace of God as men are. We find in these tender verses the bedrock foundation for the Christian idea of gender equality.

Paul's words to the Ephesians blatantly contradicted the worldly philosophy of the ancient world, which taught that men and women live in two different social strata. In the kingdom of God, Paul declared, men don't beat their wives, rule their homes like despots or threaten divorce as a means to manipulate or control. In God's kingdom, husbands treat their wives with respect--yes, even as equals.

Paul was declaring in this passage that men are no longer "over" women. Husbands can no longer dominate their wives or treat them like chattel.

Now that Jesus Christ has come, the curse of male domination over females that began in the Garden of Eden has been broken. Women have been restored to a place of respect and dignity! This was good news for the women of Ephesus; it is good news for all women today.

But if this is true, then why does Paul still say the husband should function as the "head" of his wife? (See Eph. 5:23.) Does this not give him the right to dominate her? That depends on whether we want a Christian model of leadership or a worldly one.

The husband does function as a leader. But the gospel of Jesus Christ--who was the ultimate example of the compassionate "servant leader"--does not allow men to impose leadership in an authoritarian way, nor can men view their role as "head" as part of a God-sanctioned hierarchy that places them over their wives to domineer them or to deny their rights.

Ephesians 5 is not about hierarchy; it is about equality. But if we read Paul's words through a warped lens, it's easy to impose our own misconceptions about male-female relationships on the text. That's why we need the Holy Spirit to help us when we read the Scriptures.

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