What is spiritual leadership?
This is a question about which there has been a great deal of confusion among Christians. Scripture teaches that we are to date and marry men who are spiritual leaders (1 Cor. 11:3), and Scripture also teaches us to date and marry men with whom we are equally yoked (2. Cor. 6:14).* The problem is that these two elements are not always discussed in conjunction with one another. Oftentimes Christians fail to view them as two equally important aspects of a dating relationship, aspects that hold one another in a complementary tension.
For many women, we subconsciously interpret “equally yoked” to mean: “as spiritually mature as I am, but preferably more mature if possible.” That is, we want to date someone as mature as we are, but we would prefer someone who is more mature. Why? Because we want him to be a spiritual leader, and he can probably do that best if he’s already more mature.
This mentality is not only unscriptural, but it can result in several negative consequences. First, it can deflate a woman’s motivation to push herself spiritually. After all, you don’t want to be so mature that there aren’t many guys who can lead you. Second, this mentality can lead to a marital dynamic in which the husband is significantly more mature than the wife. Even if she is not noticeably immature, she may not be as radically committed to know and serve God. But since she doesn’t have to be the spiritual leader, it doesn’t seem as important, as long as she’s a Christian.
The problem with this way of viewing Christian marriage is that it fulfills one Scriptural teaching while ignoring the other–yes, the man is leading spiritually, but are the two equally yoked? Not necessarily.
Spiritual leadership does not necessarily mean that the husband is significantly more mature than his wife. If he is, then the two are not really equally yoked. What’s more, the man is actually doing himself a disservice because he has not married someone who can REALLY challenge him. While he may be the spiritual leader in the relationship, it is likely that he will grow less because he is not married to a woman who has the capacity to push him the way he needs.
That said, spiritual leadership does not mean that the husband spiritually dominates his wife. On the contrary, it simply means that the man works harder. He’s got to step up, think ahead, anticipate, pray for wisdom, and humble himself, because being a spiritual leader has nothing to do with spiritual superiority–it has to do with fulfilling a role. If a man leads a woman who is just as solid as he is, then it’s going to be challenging for him to be the leader, but he’ll grow tremendously because of it.
With that in mind, men and women both have a challenge before them. Men, don’t allow spiritual leadership to be your only criteria in choosing a girl. Even if she’s a nice Christian girl, it’s not enough to know that you can lead her. Make sure you two are equally yoked as well. Make sure she is at the same place as you spiritually so that she is sure to challenge you, rather than pulling you down to her level.
And ladies, don’t be afraid to push yourselves. Not only are you doing yourself a service by pursuing God with radical ferocity, but you are serving your husbands as well. Remember, it takes iron to sharpen iron, so we cannot sharpen our husbands if we ourselves are not made of the right material.
Date a spiritual leader? Yes. But be equally yoked as well. Never have one without the other.
*The first time I posted this, a number of people questioned my interpretation of the phrase “equally yoked,” taken from 2 Cor. 6:14. Given that the context seems to deal only with unbelievers, and it is more broadly applied to fellowship rather than marriage, that is a fair critique. However, when this verse is read in conjunction with other passages in Scripture (such as Old Testament commandments against marrying pagans–Gen. 28:1, Ex. 34:12) it is clear that Scripture clearly stands against yoking yourself in marriage with one who does not share the same faith.
In addition to this point, verses that teach us about maintaining the integrity of the Church are also applicable to marriage, given that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. That said, verses such as Proverbs 27:17 (“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.) not only apply to Christian friendship, but should certainly be present in marriage.
Finally, it’s important to remember the visual that “equal yoking” conjures for us. When two oxen were unequally yoked as they plowed a field–that is to say that one was stronger than the other–the oxen were unable to plow in a straight line. Their work was impaired by their unequal yoking, and while this analogy can clearly apply to relationships between Christians and non-Christians, it can apply to relationships between mature Christians and immature Christians as well. If a mature Christian marries a nominal Christian and subsequently discerns a call to the mission field, it will be difficult for them to walk in a “straight line” so to speak.
All of that to say, in using the passage in 2 Corinthians to advise Christians against being unequally yoked in marriage, this is not so much a reckless lifting of the verse from its context as it is a reading of the passage within the larger context of the whole canon of Scripture.