Friday, March 23, 2018

Husbands and Wives (6)...Ephesians 5:22-33

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…”

     I often recall a scene from The Brothers Karamozov.  A wealthy woman asks a monk how she can know if God exists.  He tells her this can only happen as she practices active love.  She admits that she sometimes dreams of a life of service to others, but then she thinks how ungrateful people will be.  So those dreams vanish.  He responds, “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
      Paul moves his focus from the husband to the wife as he writes, Husbands, love your wives.  This may sound natural and easy.  But then Paul quickly continues the analogy between human marriage and the relationship between Jesus and the church.  The husband should love as Christ loved the church.  And what does this love involve?  Jesus gave himself for her.
     Love gives.  Again, this may seem easy.  A man may say, “I will give all sorts of things to my wife.  I will provide her with a decent lifestyle, a reliable vehicle, and regular vacations.”  This is all well and good, but love is much more than that.  When you give to someone, you give something of yourself, whether it is your desires, goals, priorities, or comfort.  
     As wise people have said, love is dying.  When you love another person, you die to whatever you want for your life.  Again, you may read this and think, “Yes!  If my wife is ever seized by scofflaws and tied to railroad tracks before the approach of an oncoming train, I will sacrifice my life to rescue her!”  But you probably will not need to do that.  You will need to…
     > Give the time, attention, and energy it takes to encourage her after a devastating day.
     > Give the necessary effort to settle down a crying child in the middle of the night.
     > Give the inconvenience of smashing a bug because she is so freaked out by them.
     > Give the hassle of cleaning up a huge mess in the kitchen.
     > Give the frustration of stopping at the store for a weird food you despise.
     > Give the blessing of caring for her aging parents.
     > Give the gift of forgiveness when she is unkind to you.
    The examples are endless.  You may read Paul’s call to submission and think, “This means I can do whatever I want!”  But now you must read Paul’s call to love and realize, “This means I must give of myself for her wants and needs.”  You never want to enable her to sin, and she should give to you, too.  But the daily attitude of the husband should be, “How can I love my wife by giving of myself on her behalf?”
     Giving is not just for romantic or dramatic moments.  Giving is the real heart of the husband’s call, every day and in every way.  Will you devote yourself to this hard thing?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Husbands and Wives (5)...Ephesians 5:22-33

“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should
submit in everything to their husbands.”

     “Chicken!  Chicken!  Chicken!”  Over thirty years later, I can still hear local businessman Lou Pappan urging us to go to his restaurants by declaring the virtues of this bird.  With his Greek accent and effervescent personality, his message was one I will never forget.
     “Context!  Context!  Context!”  This is the message the Bible reader should never forget.  You never read biblical passages apart from the rest of the Bible.  When you isolate concepts and ignore context, you misinterpret and misuse what God has revealed.
     Paul writes that as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  Pretty clear, right?  Not when you consider the biblical context.  As we have seen, the believer’s first loyalty is always to God, and no Christian has the right to ever tell another Christian to disobey God.  If “everything” includes absolutely every large and small decision or action by the husband, he becomes “god.”  The true God would never command this.
     Let’s ponder this issue by considering three possible scenarios:
     1 - The husband tells the wife to obey a biblical command.  She must speak the truth, cease gossiping about the neighbor, or worship the true God alone.  If he is the leader and she is the follower, she must do this.  (Hopefully, she would rarely need such instruction!)
     2 - The husband tells his wife to follow his personal preference.  He wants to open a bank account somewhere, watch a certain movie, or enjoy sex with her in a certain way.  She may do this.  But she is free to question him if she believes his preference would be harmful.
     3 - The husband tells his wife to disobey a biblical command.  Lie to the children.  Fudge part of the tax form.  Ignore the needy person.  He is asking her to sin, and he has no right to do that.  She must respectfully refuse.
     God must be first in her heart.  Her overriding desire must be to obey His will and ways.  Her husband is the leader, but he is not sinless.  His word is not the gospel.  His desires are not the only factor in pending decisions.  She may be God’s voice to him in questioning what he is doing or why he is doing it.  She must not be defiant or disrespectful.  She must always ask whether she is being selfish.  But when she is convinced he is wrong to ask her to do something, she must stand and speak.  He should respect her respect.  He ought to receive her counsel with humility.  If she is right, he should change his plans.
     Remember that your marriage is never just about the two of you.  It is always about God.  He is most glorified when His people faithfully follow Him.  In your marriage, may you always strive to obey God and enable your spouse to obey Him.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Husbands and Wives (4)...Ephesians 5:22-33

“For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church,
his body, and is himself its Savior.”

     What kind of learner are you?  Here is one way to summarize learning styles:
     Auditory learners learn well when they hear well.  They can listen to a sermon or lecture and  gain great insight from what they have heard.
     Visual learners learn well when they see well.  For example, Albert Einstein perceived space well and could reason fruitfully when he saw objects.
     Tactile learners learn well when they can touch and act.  They like role playing, challenging games, and projects that require a hands-on approach.
     What does this have to do with marriage?  Everything.  Why?  Because for believers in Jesus, marriage is about far more than you.  In verse 23, Paul writes that the husband is the head of the wife.  The concept of headship includes the idea of authority.  Because she has willingly submitted herself to following his leadership, he has authority over the marriage.  He is in charge.  As we have seen and will see, he has no right to abuse this privilege.  But he has it.
     Yet Paul does not linger on the man and woman.  He quickly moves to Jesus and the church.  He wants us to see that marriage is about far more than you because marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church.  Jesus has authority over His church.  He leads, and we follow.  In the same way, when the husband exercises godly leadership over the wife and the wife follows him with submission and respect, their marriage demonstrates the greatness and goodness of Jesus’ rule and care for the church.  
     Think of our learning categories.
     When the husband speaks to his wife with love and the wife responds with respect, people can hear an echo of Jesus relating to the church.
     When the husband and wife show attention to each other and affection for each other, people can see and discover something of the unity between Jesus and the church.
     When the husband and wife live and labor together in their home, church, and world, people can feel the example of Jesus’ love for the church.
     Paul moves quickly to this image because it is so vital for marriage.  The husband’s leadership is never for himself or even for his wife.  It is for the glory of Jesus.  The wife’s following is never merely for the peace of the household or even the good of the husband.  It is for the glory of Jesus.  As you think of your present or future marriage, you must gain a glimpse of this vision.  Otherwise your marriage relationship will focus only on the two of you, and you will eventually begin to collapse under the weight of your selfishness.  But with this vision, you both flourish in following God’s design and displaying Jesus’ glory.
     Will you learn to do this?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Husbands and Wives (3)...Ephesians 5:22-33

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

     One of the most profound and painful quotes I have ever read about leadership came from President Franklin Roosevelt: “It’s a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead — and to find no one there.”  Every leader knows this feeling.  Leadership is hard, and it is impossible when no one wants to follow.
     We have discussed what submission is not.  Let’s recall the basic definition of the word Paul uses here for submission.  It is a military term describing someone who voluntarily “ranks under” someone else.  In other words, the husband does not draft the wife into submission.  She willingly takes on that role in the marriage.
     Biblical submission in marriage occurs when the wife says, “I will follow the leader.”  Does she make this decision because he is perfect?  No.  Does she forfeit her right to ever question or challenge him in his leadership?  No.  Does this mean she never assumes leadership roles within the home?  No.  But as we will see, the husband is the “head” of the home, and submission is when the wife freely and fully agrees to follow the leader.
     Consider the context of Paul’s instruction.  He lived in culture where women had absolutely no legal rights.  As well, marriage did not possess all the romantic overtones we give it in our culture.  Many men had numerous mistresses, and the concept of intimacy and companionship between husband and wife was rare or non-existent.
     In this setting, the apostle is writing a radically different script for the way the husband and wife should relate to each other.  They are in a physically and emotionally intimate relationship.  They live life together, caring for one another and submitting their desires to the needs and wants of each other.  In such a relationship, someone must lead and someone must follow.  If they try to construct some sort of “50/50” arrangement, a power struggle will ensue, with each side convinced the other is getting too big a piece of the pie.
     Instead, Paul calls the wife to submit and the husband to love.  He must be willing to lead, and she must be willing to follow.  When this happens, the home is a place where both partners use their gifts and graces for God’s purposes and each person enjoys the fruit of the intimacy God designed and desires.  Instead of conflict, there is harmony.  Instead of a fight for power, there is a desire to bless.  Instead of chaos, there is order.
     This may sound easy, but it is not.  As we have seen, the husband and the wife both bear great responsibility for how they contribute to the culture of their home.  But first the wife must ask, “Am I willing to follow?”  If not, the husband will look over his shoulder and find no one there.  If so, God will guide and help them both.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Husbands and Wives (2)...Ephesians 5:22-33

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

     “Don’t hear what I am not saying!”  A long-distance friend often says that in his sermons, on his podcast, and in casual conversation.  He knows we have a tendency to hear what we think others are saying instead of what they are actually saying.  Before we focus on what submission in marriage is, let’s think about what submission is not.  Paul is not saying…
     > Submission is universal.  The wife submits to her husband, not to all men.  If you are a man, you have no right to claim leadership over all other women.  If you are a woman, you have no responsibility to follow all other men.  Conversely, no biblical passage prohibits women from leading in other settings, like work or politics.
     > Submission is compulsory.  Paul does not say, “Husbands, make your wives submit.”  He says, “Wives, submit.”  As we have seen, submission is something the wife chooses to do.  Yes, the husband may occasionally need to remind her of her role.  But if he does this in an attempt to exert power or control over her, he is wrong.
     > Submission is devaluing.  We affirm the equal value of people, but allow for distinct roles.  We do this in our workplaces and communities.  Someone must be in charge.  More profoundly, this reality reflects the relationships within the Trinity.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally God.  But the Son submits to the Father.
     > Submission is mindless.  If God gave you a mind, he wants you to use it.  If you are a wise leader, you will delegate many decisions and much direction to the people who follow you.  Only a foolish husband would neglect to employ all the gifts and graces his wife can offer.
     > Submission is absolute.  Later in this section, Paul calls wives to submit “in everything.”  But as Paul and the other apostles demonstrate elsewhere, if you must obey God or a person, obey God.  A husband is wrong to ask his wife to disobey God, and she must not submit to that.
     > Submission is everything.  While Paul’s words here are central to our understanding of the marriage relationship, submission is only a part of his instruction here.  As well, the Bible guides us in numerous other ways about our marriages.  So while submission is part of the marriage relationship, we must always remember that it is only one part of a larger picture.  If a marriage is filled with the husband barking orders, something is seriously wrong.
     Do not hear what Paul is not saying.  This is difficult because as a woman, you may have seen men who believe submission involves all of this and more.  Perhaps you have suffered from wrongheaded views of submission.  May God give you and your husband wisdom to discern the difference between godly submission and ungodly abuse.  And may He give you ears to hear what Paul is saying.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Husbands and Wives (1)...Ephesians 5:22-33

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

     I can still envision the moment.  A group of ministers met regularly, and we generally tried to focus on our areas of agreement.  But somehow we stumbled onto the subject of marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33.  Before long we were facing Ephesians 5:22: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  A godly, wise, older Lutheran minister was in the group.  We all liked and enjoyed him, and he had demonstrated a high regard for the Bible.  But as the words of the verse were uttered, he shook his white-haired head vigorously.  “No,” he said.  “No, no, no.”
     Why did he do that?  I do not recall every detail of the rest of the conversation, but I suppose he rejected this verse at least partly because he had seen abuses of this verse.  He is far from alone.  We have all seen or heard of husbands who:
     > Micro-manage every person and decision in the home.
     > Manipulate and intimidate their wives into doing what they want.
     > Make decisions with no regard for the feelings or concerns of their wives or children.
     > Refuse to allow their wives to talk about important subjects.
     > Physically, emotionally, mentally, or sexually abuse their wives when they “get out of line.”
     > Believe all women should submit to all men in all things.
     As we begin to ponder Paul’s words on marriage, we are wise to begin with a Latin phrase I learned several years ago from C. John Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary: Abusus unum non toilit.  (Translation: Abuse does not take away proper use.)  
     Sinful humans abuse God’s good gifts.  I abuse the good gift of Twinkies by eating too many of them.  Workaholics abuse the good gift of work by working too much, while slackers abuse it by working too little.  Men and women abuse the good gift of sex by consuming pornography and engaging in adultery.  People abuse substances that are helpful when used properly.  People-pleasers abuse their kind instincts by enabling people to sin.
     Do we respond to these abuses by destroying Twinkies, ignoring or overdoing work, swearing off sex, rejecting all pain-killers, or squelching kindness?  No!  We strive to replace improper abuse with proper use.  It is the same with this portion of the Bible.  God has provided these inspired words for His glory and our good.  We cannot neglect or reject them.  We must ask God to show us how we may properly order our marriages.
     As we will see, this section places a heavy responsibility on both the husband and wife.  As with all of God’s guidance, we need His grace, mercy, and help to follow His will and ways.  But first, you must check your heart on this issue.  Will you shake your head in opposition to these words, or will you ask the Lord to show you how you may follow them?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Submitting to One Another...Ephesians 5:21

“…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

     The pastor shook his head in disappointment.  He was reflecting on several marriages in his congregation that had fallen apart.  The details varied, but this man saw a common theme.  “You know,” he said, “when you get right down to it, it’s nothing more than good old-fashioned selfishness.”  When you live for self, you jeopardize every relationship — particularly marriage.
     This verse is at the heart of Paul’s transition from his discussion of sexual immorality to an extended discourse on marriage.  Sexual immorality is a matter of selfishness.  You want the enjoyment and satisfaction of sexual sin, so you selfishly pursue it.  Yet selfishness also damages and destroys marriages.
     Paul’s inspired answer to selfishness is submission.  He wants God’s people to develop the habit of submitting to one another.  As we will see, God calls wives to a particular duty of submission.  But every believer should strive for a submissive heart and actions that will drive out the selfishness we often exhibit.  
     The Greek word here means “to rank under.”  It is a military term.  You decide to “rank” your desires beneath those of the other person.  Instead of demanding your way, you submit to their way.  As we will see, such submission never follows the path of sin.  Nor should this submission encourage selfishness by other people.  But as you deal with others, particularly in your home, you subsume your desires beneath their needs and wants.  
     You do this out of reverence for Christ.  As John Stott writes, “The Holy Spirit is a humble Spirit, and those who are truly filled with him always display the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”  You revere your Savior, so you want to serve Him in your submission.  He is your perfect guide to the selfless life God desires for you.
     This submission establishes the foundation of every godly relationship, including marriage.  If you live for yourself, your relationships will wither and die.  But if you die to yourself and submit to others, your relationships will survive and thrive.  Jesus calls His followers to push against the desires of their hearts, the temptations of Satan, and the habits of their world as they live with the selflessness that honors Him and blesses others.
     So as we ponder this transitional verse, do an inventory of your heart and life.  Maybe you are married and need to consider the way you treat your spouse.  Perhaps you have serious problems in other relationships.  Is selfishness the cause?  You may say, “Yes!  The other person is selfish!”  Possibly.  But what can you do to create a culture of submission?  How can you display the glory and goodness of Jesus as you lay down your rights and reflect the righteous Savior with your selfless words and deeds?  My pastor friend was right.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, ask God to enable you to put off selfishness and put on submission.