by Leigh Ann Dilley on June 30, 2023
My name is Leigh Ann Dilley and I’ve been the Women’s Ministry Director at Timberline Church for about five years now. My husband, David, and I have been married for 35 years and we have three children together. Our older two children are married, and we finally got the last one out of college this spring. That means the education fund has just become the vacation fund and we are looking forward to that.
You should know I have a counseling background and I gravitate towards anything relationship-oriented, especially marriage. It’s a passion of mine. I’m kind of a nerd that way. I’ve listened to numerous podcasts, sermons, and read books on the subject. I’ve walked beside a few women during some tough spots in their marriages, and in today’s world, it’s so encouraging to witness good marriages. Good marriages generally tend to coincide with good leadership, so it’s difficult to talk about one without the other.
Our topic is biblical male leadership from a woman’s perspective! I love it! It’s tough, it’s complicated, but it’s also important.
It’s complex because not only is each person unique, but each marriage is unique. So please grant me some grace, because I will be guilty of generalizations — which are always dangerous, but there’s so much to say.
So, when we consider biblical male leadership, what we’re really talking about is biblical marriage, and I’m a big believer in that because that is what God designed for us.
To do that, we need a foundation of God’s design for marriage. We’ll do this in three steps: we’ll look at how God created men and women, followed by the purpose of our union, then we’ll be ready to consider some biblical instructions and applications.
Throughout this message though, I’ll be pointing out the differences between what we learn from culture versus God’s word.
For example, we know women are not passive creatures, and many have strong personalities. That is not a bad thing for our society. We need their skills. Current culture does not teach men to be spiritual leaders, and therefore a women’s strengths have carried into the home. If men do not lead, women will. While she is capable, and her skills are beneficial, we’ve allowed men to become passive in their leadership, and that is not God’s design for marriage or families. Our culture needs more men to be the leaders God created them to be, spiritual and otherwise.
Starting with the end in mind, Let’s look at an ideal definition of what a man’s spiritual leadership looks like. I’ve used different resources, conversations, and experiences to put this together. It’s a tall order for you men, so please consider it something to work towards.
Definition of a Spiritual Leader
A spiritual leader has a relationship with Jesus above all else. He is a servant to his family. He is completely devoted to his wife and elevates and empowers her, demonstrating her worth. He recognizes his marriage is holy under God. He is not seduced by authority and power within his marriage. He is a good steward of money, but also generous. He takes ownership in the development of his children and cares for their home. He leads his children by using teachable moments, rather than punishment, creating the desire in them to seek his wisdom. He quickly forgives and offers grace. He models reading scripture, attending worship, and he prays often to discern God’s voice and wisdom for his family. He is aware of his own skills and weaknesses and delegates responsibilities or tasks to others, including his wife, when their skills, abilities, talents, or interests exceed his. He is humble, gentle, confident, patient, and kind.
I know it’s big, but it is not meant to overwhelm anyone or shame anyone. It’s meant to demonstrate you can’t do this on your own. The Holy Spirit's help is vital. Let’s break it down and start with creation.
God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.
— Genesis 1:27
Since men and women were created in God’s own image, this gives them equal value. The point of this verse is they were created equally but are very different due to the different purposes God gives them in the next verse.
God blessed them and said, be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. . .
— Genesis 1:28a
The second chapter of Genesis fills in some details. God called everything he created “good” until Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper that is just right for him.’”
Man needed an appropriate helper not only for procreation but as a day-to-day partner. God designed her and blessed them.
The way Eve was created is significant because it is different from Adam’s creation. God created Adam from dust. God creates Eve from Adam’s rib. God could have created Eve from dust, and they would be separate from each other. He didn’t. God could have used part of Adam's head or heal to give one a position that is higher or lower than the other. He didn’t. Eve was created from Adam’s side. This symbolizes a position of equality.
Because God created woman from a man’s rib, she is literally part of him. But we need to understand this: she also completes him. Adam recognized this about Eve, because when he saw her, he said, “At last, she is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23)
#2: The Union
God designed marriage. Genesis 2:24 says, "The two became one flesh." Oneness is the key to everything in marriage. It’s also the key to everything we will talk about today. From the moment we say, “I do,” that is exactly the way God sees us: as one flesh. Not a man lording over a woman, or a woman lording over a man, or separate, but one! And since God created this union, that makes it holy.
Marriage, being a sacred relationship, is to mirror the relationship of “oneness” between Christ and his church, similar to the “oneness” of Jesus and His Father.
Jesus recognizes this oneness in Matthew when he said,
“What God joined together, let no man separate."
— Matthew 18:6
“One flesh” would explain why separation of this union, by divorce or death is desperately painful, like a ripping apart of the flesh!
Singles – the Bible does not say you have to marry to be complete. Paul teaches us that in 1 Corinthians. He said singles may have a richer relationship with God, without the distractions of marriage.
Key points on biblical male leadership before moving on:
- Men and women were created with equal value but designed differently, for a purpose.
- Marriage is seen as “one flesh” because they are part of each other and complete each other.
This gives us the foundation we need to look at men’s spiritual leadership through Step 3.
#3: Biblical Instructions
There are many scriptures we could use for instruction, but right now, it’s enough to look at Ephesians. Parts of this scripture may sound offensive to some of you. If this happens, take note. Make it a practice to dive deeper and get more information. When we don’t understand scripture, or it doesn’t sit right with us, it usually means we have learned something from our culture, that is not consistent with God’s word. God primarily speaks through his word. As Christians, His word is important to us because it gives us the guidance and direction that we need to renew our minds and attitudes. Take time to pray and wrestle with God for understanding. It’s okay. What is really happening here is God is speaking truth to you, through His word, and the Holy Spirit is doing His work by creating this restlessness. This is where transformation begins. God is calling you out of the culture. We’ve seen God do this all throughout scripture. He sets His holy people apart. He did it then, and he still does it today! (Deuteronomy 14:2, Revelation 18:4) Pretty cool, right?
Starting with Ephesians 5:21:
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands and to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. (NLT)
Anybody feeling uncomfortable? Especially with verse 22? It’s probably the elephant in the room. We’ll get to that in a minute. We need to deal with the word “submit" — not from a cultural view but from the perspective of God’s design to clearly understand men’s leadership. The passage opens with the couple being instructed to submit to each other. First, out of reverence for Christ. Do you sense the “equality and oneness” in this verse? The spousal relationship is to mirror our relationship with Christ because marriage is holy. As mere humans, this is difficult. We need the help of the Holy Spirit.
God sees the couple as one, and it’s meant to be something beautiful. Two vulnerable individuals being given each other as a gift from God. They are to support each other and make each other better, out of reverence to God. There is nothing weak in submission. Quite the opposite! There is strength in the union of oneness. The couple grows stronger, hopefully, they grow in faith, and there is joy, and fulfillment in their growth, and comfort in companionship. It’s beautifully designed. Submission in marriage honors the “oneness” God intended.
In verse 22 we get another culture lesson! Our current culture teaches us to be offended by the idea of submission, seeing it as something weak. Vulnerable. A lack of control.
The idea of a woman submitting to her husband has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mistaught, and it’s even been abused for most of history, by men and women alike. There should be no sense of pride or authority from either partner or a sense of “less than" — only humility and reverence. God honors us equally. If we allow pride in our marriage concerning submission, we create power struggles in marriage, which in turn, creates disobedience to God’s design for marriage. This is better known as sin!
For a first-century woman, the culture was hostile. She was barely more than a piece of property. It was Jesus who initiated a cultural change for women because he esteemed them. He honored and respected them. This was liberating to women. Today, things are very different for modern women, but God’s word still applies.
In a similar way, Paul gave single people dignity and permission to remain single at a time when singleness was disrespected by the culture.
We need to talk about what submission is not. It does not say, “Make your wife submit." It does not say, "He is the boss of her.” It does not say, “She will wait on him." It needs to be clear submission has nothing to do with control, obedience, and should never involve any kind of abuse.
Submission does not mean she has to tolerate porn. Porn can kill your marriage. If your woman does not like it, get rid of it. Women deserve this because porn tells her she is not good enough, and she is not the object of a man’s affection. Along the same line, single men, sex should never be expected as a “thank you” for a good date!
Men, if you ever need to remind your wife she is to submit to you, I suggest there may be a problem in your leadership and/or marriage. Please don’t lead out of selfishness, control, or bullying. Submission feels natural in a trusted relationship. It won’t even hit her radar if she feels safe, secure, prioritized, valued, and respected herself. It’s meant to be easy and something she wants to do.
Remember, God gave all of us free will, and that includes her choice to submit. Therefore, submission is a reflection of how a husband values and prioritizes his wife, and it reflects her relationship with Christ. By the way ladies, your husband is the only man you are called to submit to.
Does anyone here like to ballroom dance? Men, leadership concerning submission might look like this dance. Which partner leads? The man. Which partner is the center of attention? The woman. What happens if a man holds his partner’s hand too tight or is too rough leading her through the movements? He could hurt her! He could upset her balance and send her off course, creating missed steps. On the other hand, if he offers her no leadership, or his leadership is weak, she doesn’t know what is expected of her. She becomes confused and frustrated. Both these leadership styles can result in a partner who does not trust you. If instead, she’s led gently, confidently, and consistently through the steps, the dance is beautiful. It looks fun and easy, even enviable! Others are drawn to watch these dancers because they move along gracefully. The dance is lovely, and so it can be in your marriage. I got this from a friend, isn’t it a beautiful metaphor?
A word to women before we return to men. Ladies, we are asked to glorify Christ in everything that we do. If women are disrespectful, argumentative, disobedient to God's word, unfaithful, and say hurtful things to their husbands, it’s a poor reflection on the Kingdom of God. If wives constantly judge their husband’s inadequacies or put him down and share marital disappointments with their friends, wives are not living up to their marriage vows. Hold other women accountable for this, because speaking poorly of a man you promised to love and respect is probably the thing that harms him the most. Men need to know we honor and esteem them. A man's greatest need is to be respected, and it connects to a wife’s greatest calling. Also, show him a little appreciation. They love that.
Single women, find a man you respect, and the rest will follow. It’s that simple. Walk down the aisle, toward a man you admire and respect and consider your best friend. This is far preferred over walking to a man you think is good-looking or has a good job! Take a good look at his leadership skills and spirituality. Let him lead you in something, anything, and see how it goes.
Back to men. God has a lot to say to you.
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. "He gave up his life for her. . ." (Ephesians 5:25).
Pause and reflect on this for a moment. What is God really asking you? This calling is huge! Given a choice, I think I’d rather submit. “Love” is a verb, which means it requires action. A man is called to love his wife regardless of how a man “feels” about his wife. Again, a man’s actions toward his wife should mirror Christ’s love and His actions toward His people.
Pastor Jeff Schwartzentraub of Brave Church in Denver says Jesus offered his church four kinds of love: sacrificial, sanctifying, satisfying, and stabilizing. We’ll talk briefly about each one because to love in these ways, is leadership.
Starting with sacrificial love. What example does Jesus give us?
Jesus’ love is not based on worthiness, it was given freely, abundantly, and unconditionally.
Jesus nurtured and cared for people.
Jesus was not concerned about His own needs, welfare, comfort, happiness, or fulfillment.
Jesus protected His people to the point of taking shame upon Himself, to make the church righteous. Ultimately, He died for them.
Jesus gives people free will. He does not control them.
Jesus gave His people rules to create order and provide for their well-being. But even when people didn’t follow the rules, Jesus did not dump shame and guilt on them.
Jesus' great love for His people made Him a servant.
Men, your leadership needs sacrificial love.
Imagine, if husbands consistently cared for women and families in this way, their respect and adoration for him would soar. Separation from you would be desperately painful.
What about sanctifying love?
He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.
— Ephesians 26-27
This is another serious calling men, because she is not spotless. She has wrinkles and blemishes, and I’m not talking about her age, body, or beauty in any way. What this means is your lady comes with hurts and pains and imperfections. She’s had experiences that have left scars, some are more visible or easier to detect than others. Lead by validating her worth, and give her a safe place to heal and grow. Protect her. God calls you to love her, despite her flaws.
If you are single, or you have not done this in your marriage, you may be getting overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid of this call! God does not expect perfection. It’s His design and it comes naturally when a man loves a woman and they remain united, before the Lord. God promises to help you, and His promises never fail.
How else did Christ sanctify us? By forgiveness. Be merciful and gracious when she needs forgiveness. God has made this your job. If she seems undeserving, remember God forgave you first. Also remember, the church did not deserve all Christ did for her either. I can tell you, my heart swells when my husband is quick to forgive me.
Sanctifying love means one day God will ask you, “Is she a better woman today because of you?” How is she holier for being married to you?
Women, this call God has put on men should earn our respect if nothing else does, which is why they need our prayers. The Holy Spirit must be in this. Be patient with him. Recognize that God is also sanctifying him, through this call, so one day, he may also be presented without spot, wrinkle, or blemish.
Moving on to satisfying love!
Men, you should know women’s hearts are insatiable! We can’t help it. It’s our biggest weakness. We yearn to be loved, adored, and even pursued. Women need to feel safe and secure. Women want to be in the spotlight of their man’s affection. Remember the dance metaphor?
This is because women process experiences from their hearts while men tend to use their brains. It’s actually a good thing. It brings depth and perspective to the union. God has connected a married man’s greatest calling to a wife’s greatest need: to be loved.
Isn’t it cool that a married person’s greatest calling is to serve their partner’s greatest need? It convinces me that God knew what he was doing when he designed us.
How do you satisfy an insatiable heart? Look again at the relationship we have with Christ. As our relationship with Christ grows, we want more of Him, not less of Him, right? So it should be, with a husband and wife. Allow her easy access to you. Spend time with her. Listen to her. Seek her opinion. Let her hear you pray a blessing from time to time.
If she seems generally unhappy most of the time, it is likely you are not loving her the way she wants to be loved. Pursue her and take the lead to initiate the changes that are needed. Her feelings will tend to follow your actions. It only takes one to start the changes that are necessary. Be that guy! Ask her how you can love her better. She might have something to tell you. Be an active listener. You might need to learn her love language. Do you know what I mean when I say that? Personal touch, words of affirmation, gifts, time, or acts of service. Her love language is likely different than yours. She’ll respond better if you use her love language, rather than your own. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with her. Remember, women process things from the heart. God designed her and chose her to be your helper.
Finally, women need stabilizing love. God is our rock, is He not? He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Create stability for your wife and your children. They need to know what to expect from you and that your love is consistent. Here we go with the dance again. Like it or not, men, you set the tone and the mood in your home. If you are worn out one day and depressed the next, followed by distracted, then angry, you will lead with those emotions and the family will never know who they are dealing with. They’ll walk on eggs shells, and that is not stable love. Be happy to see the family, so they are happy to see you! Remember how Pastor Dary tells us to have a “there you are” attitude?
Last verse: It continues with the stabilizing love theme.
In this way, husbands ought to love their wives as they their own bodies, for a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body, but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.
— Ephesians 5:28
As you lead with love, it may require that you put on your own oxygen mask first at times. I’m a firm believer in that. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
There is nothing more attractive than confidence in a man — not arrogance, to be sure — but a gentle, humble nature of being secure in his love, his leadership, and his decisions. Seek your wife’s input often. She sees things differently than you, and that’s a good thing. Know when to submit to her. Her skills or interests may exceed yours in certain areas. Try not to be defensive when she comes up with something different, and maybe even better! Marriage is a partnership, if it is anything.
Simplified, here’s what we’ve learned today.
- Men understand authority and respect.
- Women understand the heart.
Each sex is wired that way, and we need each other for the balance of a blessed life.
Don’t expect perfection! I presented a Biblical plan, full of ideals that are unattainable by humans. Call on the Holy Spirit. As we said earlier, God doesn’t expect perfection, and neither should you — for yourself or anyone else.
Never underestimate the power of forgiveness! None of us can live up to all God asks of us. Be quick to ask for forgiveness and quick to forgive, so no bitterness takes root. Forgiveness makes it easier to move forward and not get stuck.
Learn to pray together. Do you know couples who pray together have a 98-99% survival rate? Remarkable when the divorce rate is nearly 50%.
Though one can be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three is not easily broken.
— Ecclesiastes 4:12
Should you need counseling, seek a Christian counselor. Someone who is trained to trust God’s word and does not rely on the current culture for validation of what’s right. God is the designer and maker of all things. He will help you.
I’ll close with a couple of verses I’ve used as a check and balance system concerning relationships.
We are told to take every thought captive, and not allow ourselves to think negative thoughts. This includes thoughts about our spouse and our relationships. Instead, use Philippians 4:8 for that. Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Train yourself to do this. It really does work.
From 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, is your love patient? Is it kind? Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way, it is not irritable, and it keeps no records of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.