When we speak of ‘headship’ we are describing a form of control and order that is unique. It is a principle of government that not only originates with God, but also displays how the three distinct persons of the Godhead, entirely equal in their attributes, eternality and essence, all work in harmony to fulfil divine purpose. The Son is seen as being obedient to the will of the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the will of the Son, John 8. 29; 16. 7. Indeed, Paul wrote ‘the head of Christ is God’. Clearly, submission in the pursuit of divine order denotes neither subservience nor inequality.
In the creation of man, when God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’, Gen. 1. 26, He instituted an order of things on earth that reflected the order of heaven. God’s regent on earth would work according to the same principle as that observed by God Himself. There is no mention in Genesis chapter 1 of there being male and female in the animal kingdom. There must have been both, of course, because of the divine design for procreation, but the words male and female are first used of the human race. The design, therefore, was to fulfil something more than merely the spread of the species. Indeed it was, for, as Christ is to God in obedience to His will, so the woman was to be to the man. The divine order for exercising dominion in creation was that as Christ submits to the will of God, the man would submit to Christ, and the woman would submit to the man, 1 Cor. 11. 3. The Lord Jesus said, ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me’, John 4. 34, so, if each one in the chain of headship is marked by that degree of submission, it means ultimately that the woman, in submitting to the man, is fulfilling the will of God. The presumption is that the woman should be able to submit wholeheartedly to the will of the man, because he, in turn, is in full submission to the will of Christ.
If we have been blessed with a healthy body and all its faculties, we need only a few moments to observe what headship is in operation. As I type this article, my thoughts are being expressed in words that my hands are producing via a keyboard. The various members of my body are working in a coordinated way to achieve the desired purpose. If, through some problem, my hands did not respond to the requirements of the head, what could my head do about that? It is not able to enforce its will on my hands – it depends on their cooperation through the properly functioning components of my body. Your body, and mine, has an incredible capacity, and requirement, for the harmonious submission of every part to the head. Whilst the body provides a clear demonstration of what headship involves, we would look in vain if we sought to find the principle displayed in any administration of man’s invention. Whether in business, civil order or the military, the idea of all workers being equal in rank, and performing their tasks in a spirit of submission, is manifestly impossible. People are naturally insubordinate and rebellious. Therefore, a ‘pyramid’ structure of administration is necessary, where each person has a boss, and each boss has a boss, until, at the top of the pyramid, there is a CEO or some such executive. That ‘top-down’ system of government reflects the principle of lordship, where obedience is both demanded and enforced.
A scriptural illustration of the distinction between lordship and headship can be found in the Lord’s own words. As He spoke to the disciples in the upper room, the Lord Jesus said to them, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’, John 14. 15. This is the language of lordship, signified by the word ‘commandments’. A little later, the Lord said ‘If a man love me, he will keep my words’, 14. 23, and this is the sentiment of headship. In acknowledgement of Christ as Lord, His people must keep His commandments. In acknowledgement of Christ as Head, they will keep His words. Commandments are unequivocal instructions that demand obedience, but words (sayings) are the expression of one’s thoughts and desires.
Both headship and lordship have glory associated with them. In the case of lordship, that glory lies in the ability to impose its demands. Thus we read of the Lord Jesus that, as a consequence of His self-humbling and obedience to the extent of death, ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’, Phil. 2. 9-11. Praise God, every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! Proud and mighty men will be made to acknowledge that the One they despised is, indeed, Lord. But the glory of headship does not lie in the imposition of authority. Rather, its glory is displayed in the voluntary submission of those who acknowledge its authority. If a wife refuses to acknowledge the headship of her husband voluntarily, there is nothing he can do to enforce it. As soon as headship is enforced it becomes lordship, and the glory of submissive obedience is lost.
The principle of headship, instituted in creation and practised by Adam and Eve before the Fall, was the divinely ordered relationship between the man and the woman. The man tenderly and genuinely cared for the needs of the woman who was his help, and she joyfully submitted to his guidance and his will. It was a failure to observe headship on the part of both Adam and Eve that allowed sin to enter into the world, and one of the consequences of sin was that headship became rivalry, and an onerous burden to both the man and the woman. For her part in the Fall, God told Eve, ‘thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’, Gen 3. 16: there would henceforth be a natural inclination for the woman to usurp the role and authority of the man. He, in turn, would oppose that natural instinct in the woman by using his (usually) greater strength to impose his rule upon her. The harmony of headship would henceforth be lost in the struggle for supremacy of will.
How lovely it is for the believer to view the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church which is His body, when He prostrated Himself in the garden of Gethsemane and prayed, ‘Abba, Father … not what I will, but what thou wilt’, Mark 14. 36. In Him, whose Head is God, is displayed the voluntary submission that is the essence of headship. Now, all who are in Christ have the responsibility to surrender their will to Him as Lord, Rom. 12. 1, and also to recognize Him as Head, in keeping with the order God has ordained.
There are seven particular references to the headship of the Lord Jesus in the New Testament. One is found in the first letter to the Corinthians, three in the letter to the Ephesians and the remaining three in the Colossian Epistle. The emphasis in Ephesians is on the relationship of the Head to the body; in Colossians the responsibility of the body to the Head is in view, and in Corinthians the subject is the recognition of the Head in the local expression of the body, the assembly. If we look in vain for the principle of headship in the institutions of men, the one place where we should find it observed is in every local company of Christians gathered to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In such companies, God’s desired order should be taught, loved and obeyed. It is clear from Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 verse 35, that there are two distinct spheres in which headship is exercised: ‘at home’ and ‘in the church’. In fact, the distinction is slightly obscured in the English translation, because the wording in Greek is the same: ‘in the home’ and ‘in the church’. ‘In the home’, the man is head, and for that reason the woman is free to speak and need not cover her head. However, ‘in the church’ the headship of Christ is to be displayed by the uncovered head of the men, the covered head of the women, the leadership of the men in the spiritual exercises of the company, and the silence of the women.
It should be noted in 1 Corinthians 11 that three distinct glories are spoken of. In verse 7 we read of the ‘glory of God’ and ‘the glory of the man’, and in verse 15 there is ‘a glory to her’. Seeing it is the case that the gathered company is being observed by angels, v. 10, it is important that only the ‘glory of God’ be on display. It follows, therefore, that the other two glories must be veiled. ‘The glory of the man’, represented by the physical head of the woman, is veiled by her long hair, but that very covering is ‘a glory to her’. In covering one glory, another has been introduced, so it must also be covered. Hence the requirement for a suitable artificial covering which, depending on culture, availability and affordability, might be anything such as a hat, veil or sari. The important matter is not the style of the covering but, rather, the intelligent use of one. In that simple and dignified way, the woman has a positive ministry to both angels and men, complementing the symbolism of the uncovered head of the men. Thus, divine order is observed, angels are instructed, Eph. 3. 10, and God is honoured.