First off, apologies are in order for my delayed absence. Between wedding prep, a honeymoon and adjusting to a new house and schedule, writing sort of gets put on the backburner. But I am alive and ready to get back into the swing of things.
Being married has caused me to contemplate certain issues on a new level. Topics that were once theoretical concepts are now experiencal realities. Biblical manhood and family structure has been an important issue to me for a long time. It started out as the quest of a pre-teen boy trying to figure out what made me different from the girls I grew up with. It’s matured into a fuller understanding of masculine identity and responsibility. Now, these concepts have to be put into practice on daily basis.
It is out of this new experience that I’ve been contemplating an important distinction that needs to be made when we discuss issues like manhood and headship. This distinction is illustrated by comparing the rule of two kings. In about 483 B.C., King Xerxes of Persia made an interesting decree commanding that “all women will give honor to their husbands, both great and small” and “that every man should be the master of his own house.”On the surface, Xerxes’ decree seems Complementarian, even Pauline. In fact, the parallels in terminology are striking.
• Xerxes: “all women will give honor to their husbands” (Esther 1:20)
• Paul: “the wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33)
• Xerxes: “every man should be the master of his own house” (Esther 1:22)
• Paul: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands…for the husband is the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:22-23a)
At a glance, it seems like the Apostle Paul and King Xerxes are pretty much saying the same thing. But in fact the one is worlds apart from the other. The first rule in interpreting any text from the Bible, to a legal document, to a shopping list, is to consider the context. And in the contexts we find that Paul and Xerxes are describing two very different things.
Xerxes is describing tyrannical chauvinism while Paul is describing sacrificial servant-leadership. Xerxes’ decree was promoted when his wife refused to obey his stupid, self-serving edict (Esther 1:10-12). His ego offended, Xerxes throws a tantrum and banishes his queen. Still in an ill mood, he writes up a decree commanding all the women of the kingdom to shape up and “mind their man”.
Xerxes is the first king. He’s motivated by love of self. He uses his position of authority to fulfill his own desires at the expense of others. When his authority is maligned or questioned, he becomes angry and suppresses the opposition. This is the type of king all men are by nature. We all seek our own interests and our pride is angered when our rule is challenged. But thankfully, Paul gives us another example.
While Xerxes is the kind of king and husband we all are in our natural state, divine grace allows us to put on a different kind of King and Husband. Paul describes for us the rule and husbandry of King Jesus. While Xerxes cast his wife away, King Jesus is called “the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:22) His rule is not based on petty edicts or vengeful enforcements but on the fact that “he gave Himself for her, so 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 of wrinkle, or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) While King Xerxes degraded his wife, King Jesus presents His bride in all her glory.
And it is this Husband-King that Paul commands us men to emulate: “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25) and again, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” (Ephesians 5:28) This is the difference between pagan patriarchy and biblical patriarchy. The one is about the man seeking his own interests. The other is about the man giving up his own interests for the sake of others. The one is maintained through force and wrath. The other is maintained through love and self-sacrifice.
Therefore, let us resolve to put on the character of our Lord and lead as He led.