For six years, I served in the Army National Guard. If there's one thing of value I learned firsthand during my service, it's that organization works and disorganization doesn't. This seems obvious enough, but much of the world hasn't yet caught onto this simple truth. Rather than accept and fulfill their proper roles, people fight to obtain what they consider to be a superior role. As a result, the system cannot function and inevitably breaks down. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than with the family structure in modern America.
Every organization has a chain of command. Companies have a Chief Executive Officer, or CEO, at the top of the chain who functions singularly as the highest point of authority. Beneath the CEO is a collective of a few other key leaders, such as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Operations Officer (COO), who manage those beneath them but answer to the CEO. Beneath these leaders is a larger management team composed of managers who manage large departments or teams within the corporation. The chain, then, exists as a pyramid; the bottom of the pyramid, or company, is the largest segment, composed of the most workers. As the chain moves up, it gets increasingly smaller until its singular top - the President or CEO. The higher individuals are in the chain of command, the more responsibility they have, and the more they are compensated for that responsibility. At each stage of the pyramid, or chain, lower ranking members submit and answer to those immediately above them in the chain. Since each leader takes direction from a higher authority, disobedience to an immediate supervisor is considered disobedience to a higher one. If each member of the corporation accepts and fulfills his unique role, the system runs like a well-oiled machine; if not, it falls apart.
In the military, the chain of command functions no differently. The base of the pyramid consists of hundreds of thousands of enlisted soldiers who answer to a smaller segment of non-commissioned officers, who in turn answer to an even smaller segment of commissioned officers, who answer to a handful of Joint Chiefs, and finally to the singular President of the country - the "Commander in Chief."
As one of the majority of enlisted soldiers, I frequently lamented the fact that I was at the bottom of the chain. I was confident that I could do a better job than many of the sergeants I answered to and many of their superior officers as well. Had I acted above my rank or disobeyed orders, though, I would have hindered the singular purpose that had been passed down throughout the chain of command. It was crystal clear that in order for the the mission to succeed, I had to know my role and act accordingly, regardless of how I felt.
We often associate the chain of command structure with the secular world, but when we examine Scripture we discover that this is God's model, not man's. Throughout the eons, God has organized His structure as a pyramid consisting of many at the bottom and one at the top. This is true for Israel, the Body of Christ, and, on a smaller scale, the family unit. Each of these three demands a discussion all on its own, but for our purposes here I will focus on the family structure alone.
God's chain of command for the family is as follows (from top to bottom): God Himself - Christ - Husband - Wife or Wives - Children. Paul lays out this model clearly in Ephesians 5 and 6 where he instructs, "Let the wives be subject to their own husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife even as Christ is Head of the ecclesia, and He is the Saviour of the body. Nevertheless, as the ecclesia is subject to Christ, thus are the wives also to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:22-24). Paul then moves further down the chain and says, "Children, be obeying your parents, in the Lord, for this is just. 'Honor your father and mother' (which is the first precept with a promise), that it may be becoming well with you, and you should be a long time on the earth" (6:1-3).
God's purpose for this model in the family is to ensure that His will for the family is passed down and carried out effectively. Wives are instructed to submit to their husbands because their husbands are instructed to submit to Christ. In the same way, children are instructed to obey their parents because both parents are to obey Christ. Christ Himself, then, submits to the Father.
Many argue that God's model for the family is, in reality, often ineffective because husbands are imperfect and do not always submit to Christ. As a result, wives attempt to usurp their husbands and take on the husband's God-given role. In the same sense, husbands, overwhelmed with their increased responsibility and eager to avoid arguing, often allow their wives to take on the role of husband via role reversal. In either case, the family cannot function as intended.
Without a doubt, women are justified in their claim that most men today do not live in submission to Christ. What is the answer to this dilemma, if not to take on the husband's role?
As a soldier, I was required to obey every order I was given, unless the order was clearly unlawful. If I obeyed an unlawful order, I was subject to correction just as if I had disobeyed a lawful order. Many orders were somewhat questionable, but very few were clearly unlawful. In fact, in my entire career as a soldier, I was never once given an obvious unlawful order. Thus, ninety-nine percent of the time, obedience is required and right.
The same is true for marriage with a faithful husband. When the husband earnestly seeks God's will in submission to Christ, the wife will rarely (if ever) be justified in not submitting. To do so would be to refuse submission to Christ. On the other hand, if a husband lives in constant rejection of God's ideal for his family, the wife finds herself in a tough spot. In such a case, she may be obeying an "unlawful" order if she submits. Should she refuse to submit, take on the husband's role, both or neither?
When we understand the chain of command, questions like this become much easier to answer. The husband, wife, and children of a family all have God-given roles that do not change as long as the family remains intact. If a wife is unable to submit to an unfaithful husband, she is able to still fulfill her role as a wife and mother. In the absence of a believing husband, she can still submit to Christ herself and lead her subordinate children in godliness. In doing so, she is not ruling over her husband, but is instead fulfilling her own role as she should.
The feminist movement has swept the nation in recent decades due to the feeling of inferiority women have toward their husbands and men in general. They feel that a lower position on the chain equates to a position of less importance.
The pyramid structure seems to support this notion. After all, the CEO of a company earns the most money in a corporation, and God gets the most glory in the family structure. What most fail to realize, though, is that in order for the organization to function efficiently, the higher ranking members must take care of the lower ranking members. A CEO won't last long in his position if he doesn't take care of the many workers who are in the field every day working hard to manufacture, market, and sell the company's products. Likewise, the family will not function if its immediate head, the husband, doesn't take care of his family. This is why Paul instructs husbands to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph. 5:28) and says that a husband who does not provide for his family has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).
If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that it's much easier to be happy with less responsibility. As a child, I hated being under my parents' authority and longed for the day I would become an adult, free to make my own decisions. When I became an adult, I quickly realized how foolish that desire was and wished I could be a kid again, under my parents' authority but with less responsibility and more freedom to have fun. No doubt, many wives feel the same way in regards to their husbands.
It's true that "with great power comes great responsibility." Headship is indeed a position of honor, but it is a position most would gladly give up to avoid its burden. Once a husband recognizes his responsibility to submit to Christ and his wife recognizes that her position is only different - not inferior - to her husband's, the marriage can thrive as God intended.
If you struggle with accepting your God-given role as a husband or wife, consider the chain of command. Forsake the faulty view that your role is less important, and commit to fulfilling your role as God intended. If you are a husband, commit to leading your family with a fixed commitment to submit to Christ in all things. If you are a wife, submit to your husband in everything, for in doing so you are submitting to Christ.
© 2013 by Stephen Hill