Ask the typical man on the street to give one word that embodies the essence of leadership, and he’ll probably suggest words such as authority, control, or power.
Scripture’s view of leadership is characterized by a different word: love.
Godly leadership is always driven by love, and it is uniquely and clearly displayed in God’s design for marriage. God divinely ordered the relationship between husbands and wives to be a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the church. The wife’s submission to the husband is designed as a living illustration of the church’s submission to her Lord. The husband, conversely, is supposed to be a living illustration of Christ, who “loved the church and gave Himselfup for her” (Ephesians 5:25, emphasis added). Notice that the stress is entirely on Christ’s sacrifice and service for the good of the church.
That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” (Ephesians 5:26–28)
Paul’s whole point here is that a husband best shows Christlike headship by voluntary, loving sacrifice and service for the good of his wife.
The sinful tendency of fallen men is to dominate their wives by brute force. Even some Christian men are guilty of being too aggressive with their authority in the home. But dictatorial despots and heavy-handed husbands are antithetical to the pattern of headship Christ gives us.
Authentic love is incompatible with a despotic or domineering approach to headship. If the model of this love is Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), then the husband who thinks he exists to be served by his wife and children couldn’t be farther off the mark.
Consider the implications of a command to love. This suggests that genuine love is not merely a feeling or an involuntary attraction. It involves a willful choice. Far from being something we “fall into” by happenstance, authentic, Christlike love involves a deliberate, voluntary commitment to sacrifice whatever we can for the good of the person we love.
When Paul commanded husbands to love their wives, he was calling for all the virtues outlined in 1 Corinthians 13, including patience, kindness, generosity, humility, meekness, thoughtfulness, liberality, gentleness, trust, goodness, truthfulness, and long-suffering. It is significant that all the properties of love stress selflessness and sacrifice. The godly husband and father must make himself servant of all (cf. Mark 9:35).
How, in practical terms, should a husband demonstrate his love for his wife? Christ’s love for His church is the perfect pattern and prototype for every husband’s relationship with his wife. That elevates the husband’s love for his wife to a high and holy level. The husband who abuses his role as head of the family dishonors Christ, corrupts the sacred symbolism of the marriage union, and sins directly against his own Head, Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3).
So the husband’s duty to love his wife in a Christlike manner is of supreme importance. No one in the family is given a greater responsibility (Paul’s exhortation to husbands is the longest and most detailed section of Ephesians 5:22–6:9).
Christ’s love was a self-sacrificial love. He “loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus Himself indicated that of all love’s qualities, a willingness to sacrifice self is the greatest: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life” (John 15:13). Authentic love is always self-sacrificial.
The person who loves sacrificially is humble, meek, and concerned more with others than with self. Again, Christ is the model. Though He existed eternally as God and was therefore worthy of all worship and honor, He laid all that aside in order to come to earth and die for sinners. Scripture says:
[He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a [slave], and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7–8).
The demands on husbands are not nearly so severe. Yet we need to have the same willingness to make any sacrifice necessary for the sake of our wives and children. Anything less is not godly leadership.