Saturday, October 11, 2008

Heirs Together Part V: Marriage in Grace

Peter 3:7 “...Live with heirs together with you of God’s gracious gift of life.”

In Genesis 1 and 2 we read that God created a beautiful world and finished by creating humans. Let's begin with a review.

God’s plan was that the man and the woman were made to rule together. The woman was made to be an ezer kenegdo, a strong help, the man’s equal and partner in every way. What went wrong? What happened? Sin happened. The Enemy tempted Eve and she listened to him. Adam followed suit, and death began to come to the world. The partnership God had originally designed began to disintegrate. Results of sin on humans were: shame, fear, pain and suffering, damaged relationships, toil just to survive, separation, rebellion, and death.

We read in Gen. 3 that a further result of sin would be that the man would seek to dominate the woman. Instead of loving her as a part of himself (bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh), he would increasingly think he was superior. He would “lord it over her.”

The woman’s “desire would be for her husband.” Some believe that this means woman will seek to dominate the man, so a battle ensues. Others, and I'm among the latter group, believe that this means the woman will turn towards the man even when it is not wise or good to do so. Either way, after disobedience and rebellion messed things up, the relationship was not the one God planned in the beginning.

All too often, God’s people are applying the results of sin, calling it "God's divine plan" for men and women. It is a dreadful thing to attribute the work of evil to God, even with the best of intentions. Remember that in the Gen. 3 passage we were not told that this battle of the sexes was good. It is not good. It is tragic and sad, just like the other things that were coming on the world. God promised that the “seed of the woman” would defeat Darkness! This was the first of many prophecies that an “anointed one” would come from God to conquer sickness, sin, pain, and death!

Romans 5:12,15,17- 19
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death to everyone…But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.


Do you see the contrast between what sin brought to us and what Christ’s grace brings to us?

Today we are going to discover another biblical principle: MUTUAL SUBMISSION.

Let’s look at the message of freedom in Christ that scripture teaches, reclaiming the truth of equality and partnership in our marriages. Remember, whatever else marriage is, it is always a RELATIONSHIP! There are only a few passages specifically about marriage, but there are many scriptures that deal with healthy relationships. Some of them have the words “one another” in them. Let’s consider just some of those “one another” directions.

Be devoted to one another.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Live in harmony with one another.
Love one another deeply.
Accept one another.
Instruct one another.
Agree with one another.
Serve one another.
Care for one another.
Do good to one another.
Be patient with one another.
Make allowances for one another’s faults.
Bear with one another.
Teach one another.
Forgive one another.
Encourage one another.
Build one another up.
Spur one another on to good works.
Be sympathetic to one another.
Act humbly with one another, avoiding pride.

These are good advice for all of us in the Church of Jesus Christ—and would you say they are good advice for friends and partners? How about for marriage?

Lets’ take a look at Ephesians 5. When it comes to marriage, this is one of the most quoted, and probably most misunderstood, chapter in the Bible.

Verses 1-2 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Note that we are admonished to live the kind of life Christ led, meaning a life of SACRIFICIAL LOVE.

At verse 18 Paul begins with a command, “Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit.” Then follows a series of participles telling them specific areas where they will need to leave the old ways and to be filled with the Spirit—practical working out of this new life in Christ.
Verse 21 just sort of stands out. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
This mutual submission is how we relate to one another in a filled-with-the-Spirit sort of way!

Greek culture of their time and place was rigid in structure and hierarchical in form. They even had “household codes” which spelled out exactly how they were to relate: Husbands to wives (and man to mistress, which was a given), masters to slaves, parents to children. One said prostitutes and mistresses were for “pleasure and companionship.” Wives were to “bear and rear children and manage the house.” The power and authority was completely unequal.

Many Bible translations begin a new sentence or even a totally new section at verse 22. Most teachers have begun with verse 22 as well. But in Greek to divide verse 21 and 22 into two sentences, and even two paragraphs, is not possible. Verse 21 and 22 are a CONTINUOUS SENTENCE. The word ‘submit” does not appear in verse 22! So the text reads like this:

21"Submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ, 22 wives to your own husbands as to the Lord."

Those of you who have been following this series know I said that from now on when you hear that a wife is a helpmate you are going to think EZER KENEGDO or strong, suitable help. And from now on when someone begins a sermon, or a chapter of a book, etc. with verse 22, “Wives submit to your husbands, you are going to think, “But that is the second half of the sentence. Go back and start at verse 21.”

Let’s read the passage. I've edited it a bit for the sake of time and also because we will consider some of the other parts next week. For now, let's look at the directions to wives and husbands.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your own husbands as you do to the Lord… as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 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. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church… "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

In Greek "submit" is a big word: Hupotassomenoi. Used the way it is in this passage, "submit" is not a demand for wives to be under a husband's authority. It is a call to voluntary submission by all believers to one another.

No one really had to tell a wife in Ephesus to submit. She had no choice. But there certainly was need to tell her how to do so in a Christian manner! She was to respect and honor him, like she would respect and honor the Lord Jesus. And it was to be “in everything” meaning not only when he was looking or she was concerned someone would tattle on her.

This has been taught in all kinds of minute ways with all kinds of suggestions and directives added to the text. This obscures the real point: it is all about the wife’s attitude! It is instruction to the Greek wife--a woman who was not considered her husband's equal. Don’t you think it would be temping to feel rebellious, angry, spiteful, and manipulative? A Ephesian wife could cause harm to her husband’s things in underhanded ways. She could gossip about him, criticize him behind his back, dishonor him and more. Frankly, and sadly, I have seen the same kind of behavior among Christian wives who feel the husband has all the power. Some books even instruct Christian wives how to manipulate to get her way, though of course the languge is moch more "spiritual" than that. Is this the way of grace? Paul says the Christian wife is called to a higher standard.

Next, the husband is instructed how to apply this principle of mutual submission. A Christian husband was going to be different than his neighbors. He was not only going to see his wife as a mother and housekeeper, as he was used to doing. Paul gave him an entirely new kind of household code. He was to LOVE her! And not only love her, but love her with deep compassion and care, the same way Jesus Christ loves his Church!

Sometimes husbands are told that they have the more difficult thing to do, an almost impossible task. This is true, to some degree, but Paul is not speaking of some mystical, impossible thing--some impossible love that no one can attain. He is being practical. A Greek husband had almost total power over his wife. To love a woman as he loved himself was radical! THIS RAISES HER TO THE SAME LEVEL AS HE IS!
The grace of life in Christ helps bring us back to God's plan before sin entered the garden.

If the husband loved the wife and raised her to equal status with him, and if the wife respected and honored her husband as she did the Lord --even in a rigid, patriarchal culture it was possible to live lives of being equal persons, living in mutual submission and support!

How sad it is that we have used Eph. 5 to paint a picture of hierarchy, and of “who wears the pants?” thinking. The relationship of mutual submission shines out! And, by the way, it is not just a principle for marriage even though that is the focus of this series. Paul goes on to apply this new kind of Spirit-led behavior to two other unequal relationships, that of master and slave and father and child. In every walk of life and in every situation, we are of equal value before our Creator God and we should act like it. How much more peaceful our marriages and our families and our workplaces--and our churches--would be if we heeded this principle.

As for a husband and wife, living in a marriage of mutual submission does not mean that no one ever gets his or her way. It does not mean that both of you get to be equally unhappy. It does not mean that no one has any power. It does not mean that no one ever leads. It does not mean that you must become a doormat for your spouse. It does not turn us into androgynous, unisex shadows of our former selves. It does not mean chaos will be inevitable. It does not mean that each gives half—the 50-50 thinking.

Our final release from the curse of sin is yet to come. In this world, our relationships will be imperfect. Mutual submission is an ideal that all of us will fail to perfectly practice. But it is a life where each supports and lives in a way that considers the welfare of the other. Both will love, and honor and respect. All those healthy “one another” principles of relationship will apply to marriage too. We will stop giving each other bad relationship advice and telling each other that someone always has to be in charge. It means that we can live in a relationship that is more like God’s original plan—a marriage "where the Spirit of the Lord is"—thus a marriage of freedom--a pair who live together, reflecting the image of God.

Is this possible? Only as we remember Eph. 5:18 “Be filled with the Spirit.”

It is the Holy Spirit who can show us as individuals and a unique couple how to live our own lives and marriages according to this principle. The Holy Spirit was sent from the Father to be our guide and teacher and to lead us into all truth.

Applying man-made marriage "rules" and "roles" leads to struggles and misery--even when we call it God's plan. We can choose to refuse a marriage defined by a curse. We can rejoice that even though sin brought destruction and despair, Christ came to show us a new way.

We can choose marriage in grace.


chartreuseova said...

I've been enjoying the marriage series. Great stuff that is making me think.

I sent you an email this morning about our vacation plans that include a visit with you. Let me know if you don't get it.

Iris Godfrey said...

Very good post! Yes! It is possible to apply grace in the marriage relationship and have each partner encouraged and fulfilled. So much better than the "normal" teaching. Oh that we would really read the Scriptures -- they do teach us this.