Mutual Submission and Marriage

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I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I had been hoping for later. But it took place right out of the gate. On the very first week of a six-week marriage class, someone asked me about the dreaded S-word.

How do we understand submission given the social norms we see today?

So much for starting off with an easy question. This question gets right at the heart of the biblical understanding of marriage. Even though it’s a tough question, it makes sense to begin here.

You have to read and understand [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21-33″ display=”Ephesians 5:21-33″]. In these 13 verses, Paul paints a picture of the mystery, beauty, and meaning of Christian marriage. And, yes, submission is a big factor. Before we answer the question, let’s examine this text. I’m going to do something a little unorthodox, however, and I’m going to work backward. You’ll understand why in a bit.

A husband’s self-sacrificing love

The foundation of Christian marriage, and the ultimate reality to which Christian marriage points, is Jesus’ self-sacrificing love for the Church, his bride. Paul says that Jesus’ love for the Church is the model.

Notice the preposition as in [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:25″ display=”verse 25″]. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church: in the same way, with the same persistence, with the same purity, with the same affection, with the same patience, and with the same fidelity. Christian husbands ought to love their wives to the extent that they’d be willing to sacrifice even their own lives for their wives’ protection, purity, holiness, and salvation.

Christian husbands are to love their wives and to give themselves up for them in the same way Christ loved the Church. Let that sink in.

A wife’s respectful love

So many people are tripped up by Paul’s command to women in [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:22-24″ display=”verses 22-24″]. Yes, he does require Christian wives to submit to their husbands in the same way they submit to the Lord. But, that’s not all. Buried at the end of this text, in the second half of [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:33″ display=”verse 33″], Paul summarizes his thoughts by saying that Christian wives ought to respect their husbands.

The fact that Christian wives respect and submit to their husbands’ Christ-like, self-sacrificing love and leadership does not mean that they are silent, that they sacrifice their opinions, that they negate their own rights, that they don’t bring every strength they possesses into the relationships, or that they are a weak, fragile, or lesser people. On the contrary, they demonstrate their ultimate faith in Christ by actively supporting, respecting, and loving the husbands God gave them.

Christian wives who have mastered the art of respecting their husbands will find that they are active partners with God in helping their husbands become the type of men they ought to be.

Understanding submission

Now that we understand the type of love Christian husbands and wives are to have for one another we can talk some more about submission. Here’s the most important thing to understand:

In marriage, submission is not a one-way street.

Paul begins this text with the [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21″ display=”clear command”] for husbands and wives to submit to one another. Why? What’s the motivation? Reverence for Christ.

The fact that Paul, after commanding husbands and wives to submit to one another, pivots toward wives and tells them to submit to their husbands does not negate the man’s responsibility to submit himself to his wife through self-sacrificing acts of love. It illustrates the woman’s responsibility to edify her husband through acts of respectful love.

The willingness to submit to one another—out of reverence and following the example of Christ—is a sign that a husband and wife are humble, deeply bonded, affectionate, kind, and growing in godly character. It is an essential element of a lasting marriage.

As a side note: don’t forget, Jesus submitted himself to the will of his Father. Did his submission diminish his worth as a member of the Trinity? Did the fact that he dedicated himself to the will of the Father somehow make him less, decrease his divine identity, or make him weak? Absolutely not!

Standing out from the crowd

I haven’t forgotten. An important part of the original question dealt with social norms. I haven’t mentioned social norms yet simply because, first and foremost, we have to clearly understand how to believe and behave as Christians. That means we must be transformed by the Spirit’s working through the Word before we are conformed to the whims and will of our culture.

Don’t miss this: Mutual submission, respectful, and self-sacrifice are deeply counter-cultural. They run against the grain of both the society around us and the sin within us.

And, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

God is calling us deeper. He wants to transform us. In his wisdom, he gave us the gift of the institution of marriage to be a primary driver in that life-long transformation process.

Lest we gaze too longingly at society, wondering if we’d be better off if we more closely resembled culture’s norms, remember that the world has yet to offer a better, less damaging, more honoring alternative to life-long, monogamous, respectful, self-sacrificing, mutually submissive, Christian marriage.

Discussion questions

Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions. And, feel free to leave a comment or continue the discussion below.

  1. What are some ways the biblical ideal of Christian marriage are superior to the typical way our world views marriage?
  2. Husbands, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to love your wives as Christ loved the Church, showing self-sacrificing love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?
  3. Wives, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to submit to your husbands in the same way you submit to the Lord, showing respectful love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?

The Big Picture of Marriage

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Have you ever attended a wedding in a garden? I’ve had the privilege of officiating several of them. It’s beautiful … as long as the weather cooperates.

Now, Kelly and I would have never been brave enough to plan an outdoor wedding. We both value control—or at least the illusion of control—too highly to plan a wedding that would be at the mercy of unpredictable elements. Nevertheless, when a bride and a groom can pull off a garden wedding under a bright blue sky, it’s a wonderful thing to behold.

The first wedding celebration took place in a garden.

The final wedding celebration will take place in paradise.

Understanding the first and final weddings can give us a better understanding of the big picture of marriage.

The first marriage

God formed Adam from the dust of the earth and placed him in the garden. All was well for a while. However, it didn’t take long before Adam recognized it wasn’t good for him to be alone. God saw what was going on, placed Adam in a deep sleep, and formed Eve from his rib. When Adam woke up, rubbed his eyes, and looked around his perfect complement was standing there in front of him.

He wrote the first love song on the spot! [Cue “At Last” by Etta James.]

God said, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh,” ([biblegateway passage=”Genesis 2:24″ display=”Genesis 2:24″]). Some time later, his Son would add, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate,” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 19:6″ display=”Matthew 19:6″]).

Little could Adam and Eve have known but their wedding in the garden was pointing toward something far beyond the two of them. Their marriage was the first pixel in a far bigger picture.

The final marriage

One day, maybe sooner than we realize, there will be another wedding celebration in paradise, one that will put all of the others to shame. The groom, Jesus, will return in great splendor to claim his bride, the Church, as his own. As he brings heaven to earth, he’ll draw her to his side, clothe her in radiant white, and seal the vows for which he bled in front of the approving eyes of our heavenly Father.

At this wedding ceremony, all of the pixels will have been set in place and the picture will finally shine in ultra-high-definition brilliance. We’ll finally see the big picture of marriage as we celebrate with Jesus.

Two takeaways for all the marriages in between

It truly is beautiful to consider the significance of the wedding in the garden in the light of the final wedding in paradise. But, what does that mean to us? Why is this important for those of us who are struggling to make our marriages work in the here and now?

There are two takeaways for all of us.

First, your marriage points to something bigger. Your marriage may only be a pixel in the big picture. Shine with all the brilliance you can muster. You’ll lack clarity sometimes. You may feel burnt out. But, understanding your marriage in light of God’s will for his church, your Savior’s love for you, and the power the Spirit provides will help you to faithfully point to the truth of God’s redeeming love for the world.

Second, your marriage can make you holy. There’s no other human relationship that has the same sanctifying potential as the marriage relationship. Don’t resist the work God does in your life through your spouse. Embrace it. Allow yourself to be challenged, stretched, helped, and held accountable. And, do the same for your spouse. God intends for your marriage to be a major factor in making you into the image of his son.

Don’t give up. If you keep your eyes focused on the big picture of marriage your marriage could become more than you ever imagined.

Discussion questions

Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions. And, feel free to leave a comment below.

  1. Think back to your wedding. What was it that made that day special or beautiful?
  2. In what ways does your marriage point to Jesus and his love for the Church?
  3. In what ways has your spouse helped you become better? In what ways have you helped your spouse grow?

The Original Attack on Marriage

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I have always supposed that the great fall of Satan, his wicked rebellion against God, happened in eternity past. I assumed it occurred eons before God created the Earth.

But, what if it didn’t?

When we meet him, [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:1-13″ display=”just a few pages into the book of Genesis”], Satan is in full and glad rebellion against the Creator. Did Satan already have a long record of defiance? Or, was this his first offense?

Cyprian, a church father who was born in the year 200, proposed a theory for Satan’s fall: “When he saw human beings made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy and malevolent envy” and determined to rebel. In other words, the great sin for which Satan and his demons were banished from God’s presence was the pride that made him intent on dragging Adam and Eve into his insurrection.

Can I say, for sure, that it happened this way. No. The Bible doesn’t specify. But, it sure does make you think.

Why does this matter?

There has been so much upheaval surrounding marriage. Who should be able to marry? Who shouldn’t? And, who gets to decide? The government? The Supreme Court? The States? Who’s agenda wins the day? All the discussion and debate has widened the gap between people who take opposing views. Each side has succeeded in demonizing the other. And, it’s all a mess.

Christians, are we missing the point? Is it possible that we are fighting the wrong enemy?

Marriage has a greater enemy

Who’s the enemy?

On the one hand, the liberal media isn’t the enemy. Gay-rights activists aren’t the enemy. Hollywood isn’t the enemy. Neither the Constitution nor the Supreme Court is the enemy. On the other hand, the religious right isn’t the solution. Evangelical leaders aren’t the solution. A majority of Republicans in Government, the courts, and the White House isn’t the solution. Christian media and movies aren’t the solution.

God help us. We’ve boiled the issue into simple dichotomies. But, it’s not “us” against “them.”

If Satan’s defining rebellion—the cataclysmic act for which he and a third of the angels were eternally expelled from God’s presence—was the original attack on marriage in the Garden, then shouldn’t we focus our energy on opposing him, his accusations, and his schemes?

And, shouldn’t our counter-rebellion begin in our own homes?

Curses and blessings

All sin has [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:16-19″ display=”consequences”]. For Eve, painful childbirth and conflict regarding her role. For Adam, ceaseless toil, diminished returns, and death. The struggle continues today. We still experience the result of the Garden’s curses. But, we can also know the blessings of obedience to Christ in our marriages, even in the midst of a fallen world inhabited by a very real enemy.

Satan still does all he can to divide us. He knows that his success in wrecking marriages accomplishes profound collateral damage. But, we have a choice. We can choose not to perpetuate the evil that Satan plots by cultivating [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 19:4-6″ display=”marriages that will last”]. We can build our marriages on [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21-33″ display=”mutual submission, respect, and sacrificial love”]. And, we can choose to [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 13:4-7″ display=”love unconditionally”]. That is the path that leads to blessing.

Marriage has a greater hero

Satan’s rebellion seals his fate. God makes it unequivocally clear to Satan that [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:14-15″ display=”his destiny is Hell”]. Eve’s offspring, Jesus, would one day crush Satan’s head (but not without himself suffering from the Serpent’s poison). Because of Jesus’ victory over Satan, he took the penalty of our rebellion and made it possible for us to again be united to one another and, most importantly, to our heavenly Father.

Satan will do all he can to tempt, accuse, and divide our marriages. It’s his rebellion’s original strategy. But, we have a Savior who has made it possible for us to resist his temptations, deflect his accusations, and remain united.

Let’s fight for our marriages. But, let’s make sure we’re fighting the right enemy.

Are You the Dad You Want to Be?

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I love Father’s Day.

I always have. It’s not just because I’m a dad and I get to set the agenda for my special day. It’s because I have a great dad. He has always been present and dialed in. He loves my mom. He has been a faithful father and husband. He works hard. He loves people. He loves God and has surrendered his heart to Jesus. He’s a fantastic father in-law and grandpa. I hope you had a dad like mine. If you did, you were blessed.

Some of you hate Father’s Day. 

I understand. There are plenty of people in my life whose fathers don’t really deserve their own special day. Many of them were absent. Some were abusive. Most had corrosive attitudes and lifestyles that eventually poisoned their hearts, eroded their families, damaged their wives, and alienated their kids. If this is you, I get it. I’m sorry.

One of my favorite preachers talks a lot about the role of men in their households, as husbands and fathers. He has us figured out, I’m afraid. He boils down a lot of our failings into two sinful tendencies: selfish passivity and selfish aggression.

Did you have a great father? If not, it’s likely because he was either selfishly passive or selfishly aggressive.

Are you the dad you want to be? If not, it may be that you’ve surrendered to one of these two things as well.

So, how do we avoid these two all-too-common pitfalls as men?

The antidote to selfish passivity

The antidote to selfish passivity, dads, is a true understanding and surrender to the truth of the Gospel. You have been bought with a price. Through the Father’s active pursuit of his children, we no longer bear the stain of sin and guilt. Jesus nailed it to the cross. He suffered, bled, and died for your sins and mine.

When you truly understand the lengths to which our Heavenly Father went to love and rescue us, it doesn’t feel quite as imposing to get off the couch and have a catch with your son, help your daughter braid her doll’s hair, or have a conversation with your wife. Sure, you’re tired because you work hard. But, your most important work, for the benefit of the people who need you most, begins when you pull into the driveway. Don’t sell them short and settle for the passive kind of existence that has swallowed up so many men.

The antidote to selfish aggression

Love. The antidote to selfish aggression is love. When you are transfixed by the outrageous love your Heavenly Father has poured out on you, you want to reflect that love back him and to your family. What great love the Father has lavished on us by calling us his very own sons.

How can we be so bold as to let our anger and bitterness spill out onto the people we should love the most? Men are powerful; we need to use that power to guide, correct, teach, and protect rather than to hurt. A scorched-earth policy toward your family is the height of arrogance and forgetfulness. Instead of being harsh, cruel, vindictive, demeaning, manipulative, or argumentative, we should treat our families with the same kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, compassion, and tenderness that the Father shows us.

We all still have a chance

I love Father’s Day. I love my dad. I am a better husband and dad because he was so good to my mom, my sister, and me. You might not have had a dad like mine and this may be a bad day for you. But, let it be an encouragement. You may have already made mistakes. I sure have. None of us will be perfect. I am not. But, thank God for second chances. Let’s avoid the pitfalls of selfish passivity and aggression and let’s strive to be the kind of husbands and dads—real men—that God has called us to be.

Reflections on the RFRA Ruckus

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I know it’s been a few weeks since this issue took over the news cycle, social media, and the blogosphere. I’m tardy to the party. But, in contrast to virtually all of the loudest voices that have weighed in on the issue, perhaps that qualifies me to say something of substance.

Four things I believe

Here are a few of my own random reflections on the RFRA ruckus.

1. All the propaganda, fear tactics, and false logic—from all sides—are killing the conversation.

Enough already!

It doesn’t matter which side of the religious, social, or political spectrum on which we stand, we each have a choice. We can either buy into the rhetoric and demonize “those people” who don’t share our favored philosophy, or we can listen, learn, discover common ground on which to stand, and then engage in constructive conversation.

Even if we have to agree to disagree, isn’t this posture preferable to what we’ve all been experiencing?

The moment we decide to dig a trench, make allies with any like-minded people we can find, and begin to hurl grenades at the other side, all progress ends.

And, as a Christian who understands my role on this earth as an agent of God’s redemptive plan for his creation, I simply cannot choose the satisfaction of merely being right over the unique opportunity to be salt and light to the people around me, people who are all dearly loved by their Creator.

2. Christians must become better at communicating what we’re for than what we’re against.

Pop quiz. You don’t need anyone to remind you what Christians are against. What are we for?

Exactly.

Where are the voices painting a compelling, biblical picture of the Imago Dei, the beautiful, complementary design of men and women, the covenental nature of marriage, the wondrous mysteries of married sex, the high and precious calling of parenting, and the latent redemptive power that the elevation of the institution of marriage would have upon our fractured and desperate culture?

As a Christian, I am convinced we need to change the narrative. We must tell such an evocative story—and live such a faithful example of that story—that we earn a hearing in the broader culture. There’s no reason to state what we’re against until we have expressed what we are for.

3. Christians must decide if we’d rather model our actions and words after Jesus or the Pharisees.

It should be no surprise, but Jesus perfectly embodied grace and truth.

Jesus continually courted scandal by his willing association with any and all of the notorious sinners who came across his path. A quick glance at the Gospels makes this abundantly clear. From partying with embezzlers, to touching the diseased, to conversing with adulteresses, Jesus was perpetually in proximity to people who were sinful and lost. This is vital: while Jesus faithfully demonstrated love to each and every one, he never missed an opportunity to challenge them to move beyond their sin and into his plan for them. The love he demonstrated and the truth he communicated, together, were transformative.

On the other hand, Jesus also spent a lot of time with the proper, righteous, upstanding members of his society. And, lest we fool ourselves, Jesus was dead set against allowing them to retain their smug, self-appointed position of religious superiority. He didn’t commend them for being against all the right social ills. He didn’t urge them on in their hypocritical bluster. He didn’t allow them to comfortably get by with the stereotypes they cast on sinners. He didn’t mince words. His judgment was clear.

Christians must make better decisions with regard to our approach. We must look more like Jesus—loving all and speaking God’s truth in love—than the pharisees—failing to see the sin in which they themselves were dwelling as a result of their own ill-conceived attempts to be perceived as morally superior.

4. The Church’s pursuit of political power is an adventure in missing the point.

Too often, it appears as if Christians believe that our hope is that we could change the bad laws, get the right politicians in office, or gain a greater amount political influence. That becomes all too clear in the midst of the RFRA ruckus that took place in Indiana this March.

Let’s just be clear on this point: the right politicians, in the right offices, creating the right laws is not the hope of the world.

The hope of the world is the Gospel of Jesus: the message that God became human, entered into the muck and mire of this sinful world, took on the worst it had to offer, and triumphed over sin and death. And, in so doing, he paved the way for all of us to be reunited with our Creator.

That is the hope of the world.

Where do we go from here?

If you’re a Christian and you’re reading this blog, I hope that you understand that the onus is on us. It’s up to us to form genuine, redemptive relationships with the very people we’re so quick to demonize. It’s up to us and our churches to hold high the transformative truth of the Gospel. It’s up to us to conduct our own lives with so much tangible grace and truth that the world is changed everywhere we go. It’s up to our families to exemplify the kind of faithfulness and love that God intended. And, it’s up to us to rely on prayer and the Holy Spirit—not any secular, para-church, or political institution—to produce the kind of heaven-on-earth world in which all of humanity would flourish.