The Authority of Servanthood

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“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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 Savior. Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:21-24)

When people with an unfoldy perspective come upon a verse like this and see the submission of the wife to the husband commanded (and it is), they assume that the wife is having to submit to proclamations from a throne. They think the husband is to come home, establish himseslf in his armchair and start directing. But what the Bible is talking about is not submission to demands and decrees issued in a selfish manner. The Bible requires wives to submit to the authority of servanthood. This is not saying that the wife runs the home. The wife does not run the home. The wife submits to a servant. This is not the way the world conceives of submission.

How can a servant have authority? Before we can understand this we have to understand how it operates within the Godhead. How does this serving authority work?

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:4-11).


Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. This is how I can understand serving authority? Yes.  As the Scriptures say, “He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22). He spoke with authority because He had humbled himself and taken the form of a servant. The fact that He became a servant enabled Him to speak with authority.

We cannot have that same authority when we speak unless we are in consciouis imitation of Christ. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. What we often want to do is look up to Jesus and say, “There is someone who went right to the top. God has exalted Him to the highest place and has given Him the name that is above every name. I’m going to be like Christ. I want to be exalted.” We introduce selfish ambition. We want to go to the top in Christian circles. But when we go to God and get the directions on how to get to the top, He gives us a map that looks upside down. He says, “Here’s how you go to the top. The way is down.” He who humbles himself will be exalted. He who exalts himself will be humbled. It is upside down. That is how it works.

So how do you approach leadership in the home? You humble yourself in your home. Now it would be very easy to say, “I am going to learn how to take charge.” But that is not Christian authority. If you want to be a leader in your home you must be a man of humility in your home. Christian humility does not mean you are a doormat. Was Jesus a doormat for the Pharisees? Is that what humility means? It is not what it means. Jesus could lead and lead vigorously. He could preach and preach with authority. He could talk and talk with authority. He could say the word and tax collectors and fishermen would drop what they were doing and follow Him. He spoke with authority because they knew that if they follow Him they would be served and not ripped off. And when they began to follow for that reason it was not long before Jesus was saying, “When I go and you want to take charge after me, how do you take charge? I, your Lord, humbled myself.”

If you want to be a strong leader in your home, then humble yourself. You need to speak with authority in order to deal with problems, but remember, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humilty consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Humility means considering your wife and children first and not yourself first.

If you have a difficult leadership problem, the wrong approach is to say, “This is going to look bad on my record. This is not good for my reputation. What will the neighbors think?” If you are thinking such thoughts you are not in a position to exercise the kind of leadership the Bible requires. But if you put the interests of others ahead of yours, you will deal with the problem and you will exercise genuine authority. You can speak with authority because you are speaking on their behalf, not on your own behalf.

There is a fundamental truth here. If you are talking with your wife and requiring something of her because you want something done, then you are wrong. But if you require something of her for her sake, that is a servant’s authority.

If you are demanding your rights, demanding your leadership, demanding your headship, it is all there. You can grab it if you want to. But it is not going to work the way it could if your were humbling yourself and putting others first.

The same principle applies to your children. If you tell the children to do things for their benefit, the children respond and respect you. And when you need to, enforce it. But you enforce it for them and not for you. When the kids get out of hand and they get on your nerves, then your nerves are the issue and not godly leadership. In the same situation, with the children acting up, a father should and must step in. But he steps in to discipline for their sake. He does so as a servant, and he can do so with far greater authority than when he disciplines self-centeredly.

It is same with the church. If men have wrong motives for leadership, it is selfish ambition. And James tells us that whenever you have selfish ambition, it is not long before you have disorder and every evil practice. Have you ever been shocked by some of the revelations that come to light periodically in different churches? The pastor runs off with the organist and you are shocked. The secretary has embezzled thousands of dollars and you do not understand. How could this have happened? Because whenever you have selfish ambition of any kind, evil follows hard after. This includes financial problems, sexual problems and problems with authority and power. When you have selfish ambition, everything is corrupted. But whenever you have serving, everything is sanctified.

Authority is the ability to lead, direct, and speak, and have people follow you willingly. So a person who is exercising a humble authority is going to speak and people are going to listen. He is going to direct and people will do. But this result is achieved without lording it over the flock.

Originally published in The Hammer (Vol. IV, No. 3), 1985, a publication of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. This article was the second in a series on leadership, and in particular revealed that I entertained different views on the role of the comma than I do now, and so I fixed that.

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