Inspiration – Servant leadership in marriage

Rev. Terry Goerz,
Redeemer Lutheran Church.

We all like to be in positions where we are able to provide leadership and many seek to have authority over others.

Jesus spoke directly about this for Christians. He said to His disciples, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” [Matthew 20: 25-27]

Jesus was not here saying Christians are not to be in positions of leadership; rather, Christians in leadership are not to lord their authority over others.

We call this type of leadership “servant leadership”. It is the type of leadership that Jesus modeled naturally. Jesus’s nature could be best described like the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control.

Today, in all of society there is no place where this understanding is more needed than in marriage. As time goes on the percentage of marriages that fail grow higher and higher. Today, far more than half of marriages end in failure. Infidelity has always been a big factor, but more and more today we see marriages fail because one partner is controlling, manipulative, self-seeking, domineering and/or abusive.

And far more often than not it is the man. Today, we have to have women’s shelters as a refuge for battered women.

Often the problem originates in the misinterpretation of Scripture. Some Christian men want to take God’s words to Eve in the Garden of Eden after the fall “and he shall rule over you” as a license to rule.

But God did not make man the boss; instead He gave him a responsibility, as head of the family. We see this responsibility in action when God confronts Adam and Eve after they sinned. God knew it was Eve who sinned, and then led her husband to join her.

But God confronts Adam first. He was responsible, even though Eve was the one deceived. So man has a responsibility, a responsibility he is going to have to give an accounting for.

When God said “and he shall rule over you” He was not handing out a punishment, He was pointing out a consequence of his actions to Eve. Man was the head of the family, and now as a result of the fall, he had this sinful nature. He will rule was the consequence.

Man’s responsibility in the role of leadership is made clear in scripture.

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” [Ephesians 5: 22-24]

Because we all have a sinful nature this is often also interpreted as a mandate to rule by many men instead of a responsibility. To be sure, all men will have to give an accounting of the responsibility they have been given.

And no man who has been abusive with that responsibility will be able to say to God, “It was her fault, she did not submit to my God given authority.”

The world’s answer to this problem is equality. God made a mistake when he put man in charge. The world is wiser. If the marriage partners are equal, the problem goes away.

Funny thing, though. The marriage failure rate is getting worse since the introduction of this concept, not better.

God’s answer is found in in the above text. Underline the words “as to the Lord”, “Now as the church submits to Christ” and “as Christ is the head of the church” and then reread that text. A man’s leadership model needs to mirror Christ’s as a servant leader.

We all have no problem serving Jesus, because His nature is defined by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

If a woman’s husband also exhibited these same qualities, if his leadership embodied the concept in our first text: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” then the wife would have no problem with a husband who is head of the family. A wife should feel that her husband is willing to die for her as Christ died for the church.

God’s answer is always far better than the world’s. An additional concept to be understood in all this. Women often feel God has made them second class citizens. Man is the head of the family. Woman, the Bible says, was created to be his helper. In the eyes of the world, second class, a “servant”.

But in God’s eyes all Christians are His servants. Even great prophets like Moses and Job are called “my servant” by God. Servant is the exalted state for all Christians and none are second class.

How can we all exhibit Christ’s nature in our Christian walk? Sanctify your life by cooperating with God in your sanctification. Read and study your Bible, participate in the sacrament of communion, have your sins atoned for by confession and absolution, exhibit dedicated worship attendance, include Christian music in your life, include Christian friends in your life and so on.

As you participate with God in your sanctification your faith will grow and your nature will more and more mirror Christ’s nature. Then servant leadership will become the natural way of doing things.

If both marriage partners grow their faith, sanctify their lives, and become mature Christians, then the problem will really go away.

As I said above, God’s answer is always far better than the world’s.


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