Follow the Leader

Oxen Yoke

Last week I wrote about the main difference between complementarian and egalitarian marriages. I ended with a question – if no one is in charge, how do hard decisions get made?

Somewhere along the way Christians started using terms like leader and follower to describe how marriages should work (though I cannot find this terminology for marriage in my Bible) instead of words like submission. After all, that’s the way the world works – businesses, organizations, schools – everything has that One Person that is Where the Buck Stops. One person who has that Final Say and Ultimate Responsibility.

In Christ, however, husbands and wives live in mutual submission. So if no one is leading and no one is following, who makes the decisions? Who has the final say?

This is a serious, practical question for those of us in this kind of marriage – and for people who love us who do not understand why we live this way (and how it is Biblical).

Christians often hear of pictures of what a marriage should be. A tandem bicycle. A canoe. A dance. One takes the lead and the other responsively follows.  But the Bible has its own metaphor for a marriage – oxen in a yoke (2 Corinthians 6:14). In this picture, the two partners work side by side, directed (by voice and visual cues) by a farmer – in this case, Jesus. If one ox tried to push ahead, bad things would happen. Just as in a marriage.

In an egalitarian marriage, each “ox” in the couple must listen for the direction of Jesus.

Practically speaking, this usually looks like a LOT of talking, praying, Bible reading, sometimes even outside counsel. But when both spouses are committed to waiting until they both agree on major decisions, they make it happen. Sometimes one in the couple may bend to the other. But generally, there is not one in the couple that ALWAYS bends. And usually (in all the egalitarian marriages I know of) through all the talking and praying, God reveals a solution (or changes a heart) that makes both of the spouses equally happy with the decision.

What about when the spouses do not evenly share a commitment to wait on the Lord or to submit to the other in Love? What about when one spouse is acting out of fear or selfishness (as all of us humans do sometimes). In a true dead lock, shouldn’t there be One Spouse who has 51% of the vote so he can just make the decision and move on with life? Isn’t that simpler? Easier?

Well. I’ve only been married 6 years. I am not any kind of marriage expert.

But I believe that human selfishness does not surprise God. And I believe that His Word is filled with lots of direction on what to do when we encounter it.* God tells us throughout the New Testament to die to ourselves. He tells us to submit to each other in love. He tells us to bless those who curse us. He tells us to pray for those who persecute us. He tells us to turn the other cheek. He tells us to Love radically and freely and without fear. He tells us to look to the interests of the other above our own. He tells us to wash each others’ feet. He tells us to win over unbelievers with our gentleness and let our good works bring glory to God.

I cannot find ANYWHERE in the Bible where God says, “If someone is being stubborn, just force your way anyway if you know you are right.”

The Christian life is about following Jesus. In His instruction about how to do that, He has included everything we need to know how to be good wives and husbands. He does not have a special list of rules and behaviors just for spouses. When spouses come to a deadlock or when one spouse is living apart from a close intimacy with God, our Father will take us by our right hands and guide us. He will give wisdom when we ask. He is the softener of hearts. He is the Lover of our souls.

And that doesn’t stop when we get married. God is the same God in our relationships with our spouses as He is in all our other relationships.

Living marriage with the gender equality taught in the Bible requires two people who love fearlessly. Who both look at Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our Faith. Who work side by side under the authority and direction of Christ. It is a constant dying to self, for both partners. It requires a newly humbled heart each day. It is radically counter cultural (both the culture of this world, where no one submits to anyone and the culture of the mainstream church, where only half of creation submits).

As both spouses in a marriage are, presumably, human, there are constant failures. But Jesus redeems. He brings new life and freedom each day. Our failures (or the fear of them) are no reason to shrink back into the cold comfort of the curse, for all the familiarity (and deceptive “simplicity”) it brings.

Jesus broke the curse when He rose from the dead. He broke the curse of men ruling over women. He leads us into equal partnership where there is no male or female in Him. And if our marriages are in Him, then there is no male or female in marriages either. We are all His servants and brothers and sisters and friends. He lives in intimate relationship with each of us.

And we can trust that He will lead us well.



*I am not addressing here the response to abusive behavior, which can come from wives, husbands, or both, and which I hope to have a qualified person write about in the near future.

Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

3 thoughts on “Follow the Leader

  1. wow, Nikki I think you must have thought long and hard about this subject before you started writing. I like what I am reading. Could I have your permission to share this with others? I am in the beginning stages of preparing to disciple a group of younger ladies. This could lead to some very healthy discussion and learning together.


    1. Absolutely, Meg!! That is wonderful! If you ever want to write something on this topic, I can also publish it here. Many blessings in your discussions! May the knowledge of Jesus and His redemption abound!


  2. I’ve witnessed situations where a leader in church knows he is right and pushes himself forward in spite of everybody else, and it always leads to disaster. It’s much the same for couples.


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