Foundation of the Faith: The Doctrine of Headship – God’s Order Amidst the Devil’s Disorder

“But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:31

First Corinthians was written to believers in the brazenly corrupt city of Corinth. All manner of evil prevailed in ancient Greece amidst pleasure seeking and pagan idolatry. Corinthian believers had baggage and lots of it. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul emphasized believing and behaving to “the glory of God.” The verses and chapters following 1 Corinthians 11:3 also concern the “glory of God” contrasting God’s divine order and man’s natural disorder. With “the glory of God” as our context, we shall address three phrases in verse 3: the head of Christ is God; the head of every man is Christ; and the head of woman is man. This is God’s order amidst the devil’s disorder.

The Head of Christ is God

What does this mean? The word “head” within our context denotes authority or positional influence. As believers, we glory in the triune God, eternally pre-existent in three divine Persons. Yet, how are we to understand and apply the statement “the head of Christ is God?” Since Father, Son and Holy Spirit are individual beings co-equal in essence, how is Christ under the headship of the Father and yet equal? The short answer is that Scripture declares it. Human illustrations though limited, are helpful.

Consider a task force in business or government. The board, parliament, or congress may delegate a sub-group to study or solve an issue. Once the matter has been studied or solved, task force members return to their original functions within the main body. There was no change to their equality of standing or status while they were seconded to the task force. There was, however, a modification to their role or function. Though sent by and reporting to the main entity, their status as equal members of the sending entity is not diminished. In their temporary assignment as a task-specific group, they report to their functional authority. The distinction of being subordinate to the functional authority ceases upon completion of the assigned task.

Enter the Lord Jesus Christ, heaven’s task-specific force of one. Sent by the Father, the “Lord from glory” came to resolve the greatest of dilemmas by the sacrifice of Himself. The first Adam failed, leading to chaos and confusion. The last Adam is the victorious Christ, restoring God’s spiritual order amidst the devil’s disorder (Col. 2:13-15).

The first Adam, as head of the first creation, failed in His God-appointed privilege and responsibility. Adam was designated steward of all things including the Word of God as well as his wife. God gave him one commandment and one consequence for disobedience – “you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). While Eve was drawn into a dialogue with the serpent, Adam remained silent when he should have been speaking. He was responsible for protecting himself and his wife. Instead, Adam stood by, caved in, and heeded the prompting of his wife rather than obeying the truth of God’s Word. Rather than being faithful to his assigned position, by heeding the voice of his wife (Gen. 3:17) Adam submitted to the lying serpent, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4-5). The deceiver employed a “Five D” tactic to undermine God’s order: distortion, doubt, denial, deception, and destruction.

Incalculable suffering and disorder was the outcome. As Head of the new creation, Christ restored God’s order through suffering by humbling Himself and becoming obedient unto death “even the death of the cross.”

When did it happen? In the foreknowledge of God, “before the foundation of the world,” the eternal Godhead foreordained, chose, and elected the eternal Son of God to be heaven’s “Task Force One.” Within the context of redemption and salvation, we read in I Peter 1:20 of Christ, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world…” In I Peter 2:4 Christ was “chosen by God and precious.” Verse 6 declares Christ to be “a chief cornerstone elect, precious…” The words “foreordained,” “chosen,” and “elect” declare that Jesus was predestined before the foundation of the world to be the Savior of the world (John 3:16-17). God became the Head of Christ prophetically before the foundation of the world and became the head of Christ practically when He was “manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pet. 1:20).

How did it happen? God did it. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream declaring, “…do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). The virgin birth and incarnation were pivotal in God effecting His great salvation. Could there be a more staggering statement than Colossians 2:9, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” The Greek word “theotetos” translated “Godhead” appears just once in the New Testament2, a singular emphasis to the deity of Christ as Immanuel, God with us.

Why did it happen? Ah, wonder of wonders! Consider Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’”

Consider the magnitude of God. He declares that He inhabits eternity. The Hebrew word is “ad” meaning “perpetuity.”3 Eternity has no past, present, or future. No dimensions exist in eternity. Thus, the High and Lofty One declares His omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience.

Consider the magnanimity of God. Before the foundation of the world the Godhead enjoyed perfect fellowship, no conflicting agendas, or tensions. Harmony and peace abounded. Enter mankind. What indescribable trouble and trauma ensued! By divine foreknowledge, God knew the horrible hassles to follow. Why would the eternal God consider creating man? Some decry, “If God knew that trouble, sin and death would take place, why did He bother?” My reply to the gainsayers is, “Do you have children? Did they keep you awake at night with diapers and crying? Do your children fight? Are they ever disobedient or rebellious? Do they ever get sick? Did you know before you had children that you were likely to face such issues? Then why did you have children?” The answer is usually predictable: “We had children because we wanted to start a family.”

Consider I Peter 2:9-10 addressed to the pilgrims of the dispersion: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” Such glorious truths invoke boundless worship and praise. In Christ, God has forever joined humanity to Himself and Himself to humanity. To God be the glory!

The Head of Every Man is Christ

Years ago, at an assembly conference in Asia, I began a men’s meeting by asking a simple question. Slowly raising my right hand, I asked, “How many of you would agree that you are the head of your home?” It appeared that most hands went up. I was bewildered. How could so many well-taught Christian men agree with the question? They may have been baited by the visual of me raising my hand, or perhaps they were not paying attention to the question – hearing without listening?

The rest of that meeting was given to reviewing the phrase, “the head of every man is Christ.” The headship delegated to men is not detached from the headship delegated to Christ, the ultimate head of the home. Brethren, let us be ever mindful that we are responsible and accountable to Christ, our Head. Indeed, Christ is our example, pattern, and help for faithful and unwavering servanthood. He is the loving bridegroom who gave Himself to redeem His bride.

The worst aviation disaster in history occurred when the captain of a B747 made a hasty decision to take-off without clearance disregarding the promptings and cautions of his co-pilot. On March 27, 1977, 583 people were incinerated as a KLM B747 collided with a Pan American B747 on the ground during an unauthorized attempted take-off in fog at Tenerife, Canary Islands. The captain ignored his head – the company approved Operations Manual. He also disregarded the promptings and cautions of his co-pilot. The investigation concluded that the fundamental cause of the accident was the captain attempting to take-off without clearance. The disaster led to significant changes in how airline crews are trained. Today, the captain is no longer considered infallible, and combined crew input is encouraged during aircraft operations.

Dear brother, single or married, we are to co-operate fully with our Head the Lord Jesus Christ. Distractions and deceptions abound. However, never replace God’s Operations Manual, the Bible, with anything or anyone else. As captains of our flight through life, headship means cautious and careful consulting with Christ our Head. Proceeding independently without consulting or adhering to God’s manual has led to many family and societal disasters.

The Head of Woman is Man

Headship is rooted in the mind of God. Christ willingly submitted Himself to His Father’s will. Christ was single-minded, persistent, and determined to cooperate fully with the One who sent Him. The task of accomplishing salvation was in view. For the joy set before Him our Savior endured the cross and bore our sins in His own body on the tree.

How is a wife to respond as her husband’s helper? (Gen. 2:18,20) King David declares, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psa. 121:1-2). The Holy Spirit employs the same word for help in reference to Eve helping Adam as when referring to the Maker of heaven and earth drawing near to help His creation. The Hebrew “Ezer,” means help of God.

In aviation terms, God has appointed husbands to the left seat and wives to the right seat. Husbands did not appoint themselves to the left seat and husbands did not appoint their wives to the right seat. To resent, resist, or rebel against our appointed seats and roles is to foster an unsafe environment on the flight deck. Our children, the passengers, are trusting us to fly the family flight as per God’s Word. There is much at stake – the glory of God.

As a young First Officer (FO), my captain and I landed in Montreal one evening about 9:30 pm. As we disembarked and proceeded to the operations center, Flight Dispatcher, Ken Harper was in a “flap.” The FO for the outgoing flight had not arrived and he could not be reached by phone. The standby FO was also unreachable. The aircraft was being readied. I would not be legally able to fly the outbound flight due to monthly flight time restrictions. The Dispatcher needed two pilots but had just one available.

Ken then asked the captain from my flight if he was willing to “crew” the short thirty-minute flight to Ottawa overnight plus the return next morning? After phoning home to confer with his wife, my captain agreed to crew the flight. Facing the two ex-navy carrier pilots Ken announced, “Gentlemen, I have two captains but only one left seat. Are you prepared to accept the designations that I am about to give?” They heartily agreed.

The scheduled captain of the outbound flight was assigned the left seat as pilot in command with attending privileges and responsibilities. My captain was designated to the right seat as FO with attending restraints and limitations. I was warmly amused as two experienced captains equal in standing and status accepted their assigned roles to complete the task of delivering passengers, crew, and cargo safely to the desired destination. Problem solved.

The Father and the Son are equal. Brothers and sisters, we are also equal to each other (Gal. 3:28). May we joyfully embrace the example of God and of Christ and faithfully fulfill the roles and responsibilities delegated to us. “Let all things be done decently and in order” to the glory of God! (1 Cor. 14:40)

All references are from the NKJV
Strong, James, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. Publishers, 2010) 3Ibid
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance