Saturday, November 01, 2008

Heirs Together Part 7: So Now What Do We Do?

We have covered a lot of ground, haven't we? Today Ken and I will share our thoughts, gleaned from 37 years of marriage, first trying to live someone else's idea about the "rules" and later throwing out most of the teaching we had received and asking God what to do. We don't have it all figured out. We slip back into old patterns that aren't necessarily healthy. We argue. Perhaps this is a bit of the blind leading the blind, but we have managed to live a mostly happy and satisfying marriage for more than three decades. We can't tell you exactly what your marriage should look like. We will not tell you about your role. But that is the whole point. What we hope to do is to help you begin thinking about the practical ways you can apply the biblical truths we have been learning. How will they fit in your marriage? What does a marriage of partners, of equals, of heirs together who live in mutual submission look like?

First, a quick review.

God created a beautiful world, and in it placed the man and the woman, who was made to be a suitable and strong help for the man. Humankind, both male and female, was made in the image of God. God gave them dominion (rule) together of all He had made, and God pronounced it all “good.” Disobedience to God's directions brought sin into the world, causing fear, shame, pain, and damaged relationship with God and each other. God cursed the earth and the serpent. God also told the man and woman that their relationship was damaged. The result of sin would change them. The man would seek to dominate the woman, and the woman would turn toward the man instead of to God. God did not pronounce this good. He just told them that the world was going to be a much different place.

We asked ourselves whether we choose to live under the results of sin and a cursed world or whether we want to, as much as possible, live under the grace and freedom of God. We learned some new words and phrases:
HERMENEUTICS: Principles that help us correctly interpret scripture
EZER KENEGDO: Suitable, strong Help (not the made up word “helpmate”)
TESUQAH: Desire for, or literally “turning toward”
We learned that some of our beliefs about women and men and marriage do not come from the Bible after all, but from culture, from history, from a Middle Ages view about the “natural order of things” and from the “Church Fathers” – many of whom had a very twisted view of women.
KEPHALE: "Head" but not authority, "head" as in "noggin" -- a metaphor for "source."

And we learned a verse: I Peter 3:7 “...Live with heirs together with you of God’s gracious gift of life.”

Let’s put that in context.
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives...Your beauty that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs together with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
Weaker does not mean intellectually weak or weak in character. Women are generally not as strong as men--I mean who do you call to move furniture? And women have been more vulnerable because of that, because of pregnancy and motherhood issues. Women are, in a sense, more delicate. I'll let you work that out in your own life.
We looked closely at Eph. 5, especially the verses beginning with verse 21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head [source] of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself... and the wife must respect her husband.

We found out that verses 21 and 22 are one sentence, not two, or even a separate paragraph like we see in most of our English Bibles. We discovered that the word "head" (kephale) is a metaphor for source. Customs of the time, word usage and context all combined to show us that these passagec are not about the husband’s supposed authority over his wife, and not even about Christ’s real uthority over his church. The man is the source of the woman as Christ is the souce of the Church. This isn't about authority at all, but about love, humility, honor, respect, and mutual submission.

We also discovered that the Bible does not assign leader-follower roles to the husband and wife, but partnership and interdependence--on each other and on God.

I need to say here that many women have said things to me like, “I wish my husband would step up. I feel like I am always leading, like I am the spiritual authority. How do I get my husband to lead?” Upon further questioning I usually find that most women really do not always want to be led (a few do, but that is another issue). We want our men to be our lovers and friends, we want them to step up, not lag behind, not always be the authority, but stand beside us as our partners. If we constantly emphasize that the man must be “the authority” or “the leader” over the wife, what is the unspoken message about women? What is the unspoken message about men?
Does that bring freedom or does it bring bondage?

So, now what do we do? How does this different idea work out in real life? What does “mutual submission” look like? We don’t have time to consider all they ways this might change our marriages, but here are some thoughts just for starters.

Work and Responsibilitie: We are free to divide things up however it works for us. If we reject someone else’s idea of what our marriage must be, we are free to decide for ourselves. Each person can lead out of their strengths and receive support in weak areas. Dividing up the work and responsibilities according to what each person likes and does well means that the person doing the job is more likely to do it right.

Decision Making: Much is sometimes made of authority, of husbands having “final say.” I’ve been told that every organization must have a head and that if no one is in authority that chaos and confusion will be the result. This makes marriage more like a corporation, and not much like a loving relationship of partners.
If the decision is minor, talk about it as needed but the person whose job it falls under probably should decide. Ken chooses the laundry soap. I choose food brands. A silly example, maybe, but you get the idea.
If the decision is major, you must reach a decision together. This means you must talk and explore feelings, pros and cons, implications, and so on. If you can’t agree, give it time. Pray. Consider the counsel of othes (but be careful here). Seek compromise or agreement where possible. Look for other options.

I can honestly say that we have not always followed this advice ourselves, but when we have we have always been able to reach a decision together. When we have not, we made mistakes.

Fighting Fair: Some of this should not have to be said, but I’ve learned that it does. Remember the “one another” principles we looked at a few weeks ago? Practice them! No name calling. No swearing, belittling, demeaning the person, telling them their opinion does not matter. No dragging the past into the future every time you disagree. If you can’t disagree without yelling, stop. Take a break to cool off. No projecting how YOU feel on to your partner. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. If either of you thinks there is a problem, there is a problem. No itimidation, not verbally, physically, emotionally. Submit, love, honor, respect—even when you disagree.

What About the Kids? Just a few words here. Discipline is necessary (and is beyond the scope of this message) but living in God’s grace and freedom means you respect and value your kids. No using them as weapons. No playing them against your partner. No painting the other parent as the bad guy. No name calling, humiliating, swearing, screaming. Involve them in decision making as appropriate.

This kind of relationship frees both of you to grow the way God designed you—free to be who you really are. This is not just a "woman's issue." It is a people issue!

For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong,
There is a man who is tired of acting strong when he knows he is vulnerable.

For every woman who is tired of acting dumb,
There is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of “knowing everything.”

For every woman is who is tired of being called “an emotional female,
There is a man who is denied the right to weep and be gentle.

For every woman who is called “unfeminine” when she competes,
There is a man for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity.

For every woman who is tired of being a “sex object,”
There is a man who worries about his potency.

For every woman who feels “tied down” by her children,
There is a man who is denied the full pleasure of shared parenthood.

For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay,
There is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.

For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile,
There is a man who was not taught the satisfaction of cooking.

For every woman who takes a step towards her own liberation,
There is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier!

Nancy R. Smith
Last, what may be the most important thing of all, R.E.S.P.E.C.T! Marriage is, above all, a relationship. All relationships must have respect if they are to survive and thrive. Talk to each other about what communicates respect. For some it is body language or tone of voice. For others it is being listened to with focused attention. When it comes to respect, words are important, but the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words” applies.

A marriage of mutual submission, mutual honor and respect, mutual love, means that you are free to design your own marriage. You are free to decide what it means to be “heirs together of the gracious gift of life.”
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! Thanks be to God!


Deb said...

WHOOP! I'm cheering you on! :) Thanks for doing your part of knocking down the stereotypical sermons.

Ah, that I may have the privilege some day to do the same!


Sally said...

I will come back to read this properly tomorrow, it is past mid-night here.

Thank you for this wonderful series of sermons!

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

good to see you Dorcas. I'm still around I still check up on you now and then, and on the other ECA people when I can.

this is Metacrock.

LoieJ said...

I finally finished reading the series. I didn't want to skim. It is excellent.
With all the talk about literal interpretation of the Bible, I've come to some of my own conclusions about that controversy, and your series reinforces my opinion.

I can believe that the Bible is the Word of God, literal Word of God, True or authoritative Word of God, or whatever specific description a denomination might say it is, but still know that MY reading, my interpretation, isn't necessarily the way God intended the message to be. We don't have the original scriptures, rather we have translations and copies and copies of copies, which investigations have shown to be different from each other.

But rather than undermining my faith in the scriptures, this knowledge only undermines my "faith" in a preacher who insists on a specific interpretation of one translation of scripture.

The topic of marriage came up at Bible Study the other day. Our pastor said that she just laughs when somebody talks about going back to a Biblical way of marriage because of the various ways that marriage has been practiced in Bible times. Which is God's way?

Your article points out the difference between the ideal relationship and the practices that have occurred throughout history.

BTW, is there an Heirs part 1 or do you assume that the preceding material takes the place of all of that?

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