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Monday, March 29, 2010

Family and Work, Part 3: The Father and the Children

Family and Work, Part 3: The Father and the Children

Colossians 3:20

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. (Colossians 3:20 ESV)

Children, in the Greek, refers to offspring, regardless of age. It implies a result or something produced. The result of wise decisions is described as being children of wisdom. (Matthew 11:19). The owner of a vineyard had two children, old enough to work in a vineyard (Matthew 21:28). Jesus called his disciples, Children (Mark 10:24).

Thus, all children, of any age, are to obey their parents in everything. Obey in the Greek means to listen attentively, implying obedience to a command.

This word is related to that used of the woman's submission. Both words use the Greek preposition hypo, meaning under. However, they are distinctly different.

The woman's submission to her husband is based upon arrangement. God has placed the husband as the head, and the woman as the helper, as a matter of arrangement and duty. It is not based upon any difference in ability, intellect, or knowledge.

The child's submission to the parents is based upon knowledge. The parents have knowledge and skill that the child does not possess. God expects the child to learn from the the parents, and this requires submissive "under-hearing", a willingness to hear and obey.

This can give us guidance in answering the question, For how long do I obey my parents? The answer should depend upon knowledge and skill. When my knowledge and skill equal or surpass that of my parents, it may become necessary for me to disagree with my parents.

Any disagreement, however, must not result in dishonor. We are always to honor our parents.

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)

Honor means to regard as important and valuable, and as a person of influence.

This is how we see young Jesus submitting to his earthly parents. With all His knowledge and skill, even at the age of twelve years, Jesus could certainly have lived independent of his parents, making his own decisions about where to live, who to associate with, what to experience.

But Jesus submitted to his parents. They said, Come home with us now, and He did.

It is important once again to see the connection between obedience and pleasing the Lord. Whatever is obeyed must at the same time be fitting, or pleasing, to the Lord.

If a parent commands a child to do or be something that directly conflicts with God's revealed will, or it dishonors God, the child cannot obey, any more than a wife can submit, nor any Christian follow, regardless of the authority.

Closely related to the issue of parental authority and child obedience, is the concern that a parent might be right in the command, but wrong in the attitude.

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21 ESV)

Provoke, in the Greek, means to stimulate, especially to anger. It is from a word meaning a quarrel.

Provoking can be good. Paul commended the church in Corinth for their zeal in provoking (stimulating) other churches to give generously (2 Corinthians 9:2).

But stimulating argument, with a desire to show superiority, can only result in discouragement.

The Greek word translated as discouraged means to be spiritless...literally, without passion.

If I feel threatened, or I don't know what to do about my child's disobedience, I will fall back onto my fleshly instincts and attack my child, using arguments to back my child into an corner filled with anger. If I win the argument, the child will give up, feeling no desire to love me or the Lord.

It seems that Paul's entire admonition to the church in Colossians centers upon arguments. Arguments within and without the church, and arguments within the family and work-place. If I find myself in an argument, that should be a flag of warning: I am beginning to act out of my natural, fleshy strength...it is time to stop arguing and start praying, depending upon God to change my heart as well as that of my child or wife or husband.

Anger does not accomplish God's work.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (Psalms 37:8 ESV)
A man of quick temper acts foolishly. (Proverbs 14:17)
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding. (Proverbs 14:29)
The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14 ESV)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)

What do you think?

What has been your experience as an adult child submitting to your aging parents?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Family and Work, Part 2: The Husband

Family and Work, Part 2: The Husband

Colossians 3:19

Women are commanded to submit to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Men are commanded to love their wives, especially avoiding harsh attitudes and actions.

Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19 ESV)

The Greek word translated here as love is best defined as a strong desire for the eternal good for another person. It is a moral love, a long-term view of love, rather than temporary affection or sensual desire. It is based upon the desire to provide the answer to the question: What would be ultimately best for the one I love? It is used for many relationships, not just that of husband and wife:

Jesus commanded this type of love for neighbors, enemies, and God Himself:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 19:19 ESV)

Love your enemies. (Matthew 5:44 ESV)

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37 ESV)

This is the same love with which God loved the world:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

And it's the same love the Father has for the Son:

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. (John 3:35 ESV)

This love is a desire to be intimate, to enjoy, to experience...whether something good or bad. The Pharisees loved praise and recognition, and wicked men loved darkness rather than light, loving money and earthly life (Luke 11:43, John 3:19, 2 Peter 2:15, 2 Timothy 4:10).

Jesus loved Martha, her sister, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. Yet his love was expressed in a way that seems at first glance to be false, and this may provide an important foundation for a husband's love for his wife.

The illness and death of Lazarus is described in John, chapter 11. Mary and Martha had told Jesus about their brother's illness, and they trusted Him to heal Lazarus as He had done for many others. Jesus loved this family, yet He stayed away from Lazarus for two days, seeming not even praying for him. Lazarus died while Jesus delayed traveling.

This seems heartless. It seems the opposite of love. Yet Jesus was acting out of love. He believed that the illness and death of Lazarus would eventually result in more joy than the sorrow it immediately would bring. He believed it was for the glory of God, glorifying Himself as the Son of God.

When Jesus heard about Lazarus, He said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (John 11:4 ESV)

Martha and Mary both doubted the love of Jesus, but not His power. They blamed Him for allowing Lazarus to die, but still believed He had the power to give life, even to one dead.

Jesus felt emotional love and compassion for Lazarus and his sisters. He wept when He saw how devastated the sisters felt when their brother died. But this emotional love is not the same as the moral love He had in placing God's glory and a greater good as more important than the death of Lazarus.

Moral love moved Jesus to delay healing Lazarus, allowing him to die, allowing his sister's to feel pain, and allowing all Jerusalem to think of Jesus as weak and powerless, or heartless.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but only after choosing the greatest good for all concerned. This is the foundation of moral love. This is the love in which all Christians are to live in all their relationships: politics, work, ministry, friends, family, and marriage. Love desires the greatest good.

This is how men ought to love their wives.

Paul is echoing the commandment of Jesus:

Love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12 ESV)

Jesus endured temporary discomfort, pain, and loss in order to accomplish ultimate pleasure, joy, and contentment. This can be seen in all His attitudes and actions. His love for His people is rooted in God's love for Him, longing for people to be as intimate and joyful together with Him as He is with God. His joy in, and enjoyment of, God is the motivation for His love for us. This is the greatest good.

Paul was probably not married, yet he saw direct correlation between his love for Christians and the love of a man for his wife. His love for the believers in Corinth drove him to desire the greatest good for them beyond everything else:

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. (2 Corinthians 12:15 ESV)

A man's love for his wife will move him to sacrifice for the sake of his wife's ultimate good (Ephesians 5:2, 25). This love is a desire for enjoyment and pleasure, but only if it works toward lasting good (Ephesians 5:28, 33). It requires the husband to lead and instruct (Hebrews 12:6), making decisions based upon the love of God rather than love of the world (1 John 2:15).

This leads us to the qualifying statement that Paul attaches to his command that a man love love his wife: Do not be harsh.

In the Greek, Paul used pikraino, meaning embittered, from pikros (sharp, pungent, or acrid), probably related to pegumi (to "peg" a tent).

Paul cautions men to avoid being bitter, sharp, and piercing toward their wives. It seems too common to see men who release their frustration and dissatisfaction by using harsh, biting words against their wife. It's as if they know that striking her would result in criminal charges, so they reach for the same effect in bitter words of scorn or command or criticism,.

What is the source of bitter, harsh words? Is is just the result of a "bad day"? Is it a bad habit? Is it "just the way I am"?

James describes bitterness as coming from jealousy, ambition, and it is ultimately demonic:

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16 ESV)

My careless and harsh words to my wife are not random...they are the result of being manipulated by a demon, springing from jealousy and selfish ambition.

Perhaps my wife seems more intelligent than I, or more valued in the workplace. Perhaps I lack emotions and attitudes that can only come from a heart in love with Jesus, yet I expect my wife to make me feel them. Perhaps I'm willing to settle for immediate self-pleasure rather than the long-term greatest good.

There seems to be a direct correlation between love and bitterness, in the same way that a woman's submission is connected to what is fitting in Christ.

If a man harbors bitterness, his actions toward his wife will not demonstrate genuine love. It is the same for the woman: if a woman disregards what is fitting in the Lord, her actions toward her husband will not demonstrate genuine, godly submission.

Paul is implying that it is possible for a man to demonstrate an outwardly moral love, appearing to be giving what is ultimately best for someone. Yet inner jealousy and ambition perverts love into a weapon, either to hurt someone or to achieve superiority over them.

Not only is it possible, it is all too common.

A man works to provide for a luxurious lifestyle for his wife. It would be a demonstration of love...unless he regards it as evidence of his own strength or importance. The taint of selfish ambition will soon express itself in bitter words, calculated to force his wife to feel subordinate, dependent, weak, and unimportant.

A man remains faithful to his wife, never having sex outside of his marriage, never allowing himself to be placed in a compromising situation. It would be a demonstration of love...unless he sees divorce as evidence of personal failure that would result in loss of stature in the workplace and society. Divorce would allow his wife to find someone else, and someone could claim victory of a sort over him. He is in truth acting out of jealousy of an imagined lover, someone who might win a more intimate, more honored position in the heart of his wife. This taint of jealousy will soon be seen in bitter, harsh words.

What can be done?

Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:14-17 ESV)

This is the heart of Paul's argument and exhortation. Without Christ's rule in our hearts, even our attempts at godly love and submission will erode into bitterness and apathetic despair.

Wives are to allow Christ to work submission into their lives. Men are to allow Christ to work love into their lives.

What do you think?

Men: what does healthy, godly love for a woman look like?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Family and Work, Part 1: The Wife

Family and Work, Part 1: The Wife

Colossians 3:18-25, 4:1

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18 ESV)

What do you think?

What do you know about the new internet-based social media sites like Facebook or Myspace or Twitter? What has been your experience, good or bad?

Paul makes a transition from the general to the specific, from discussing the group of people called the Church, to four distinct relationships:

  • Wife
  • Husband
  • Children
  • Slaves
  • Masters

Every person in the world can identify with one or more of these social links. We will see that we are children long past adolescence, and we all are slaves in several imporant respects. We do not commonly use the terms "slaves" and "masters", except in reference to past usage. But these relationships are actually universal and foundational in modern, everyday life.

This entire passage flows out of the umbrella statement found in verse 17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17 ESV)

Paul has argued that a Christian's spiritual relationship with our Creator is actually a new life. We've been changed from dead flesh to living spirit, alive in Christ, our "all in all".

An earthly result of this spiritual change can be seen in our relationships in family and work. We begin with a woman's role as wife.

The Wife

What do you think?

Are you tired of hearing repeated sermons about women submitting to their husbands? What is a common objection to this biblical doctrine?

Wives, from the Greek word, gyne, means a woman, specially a wife. The word is used in gynecology, the study of female health and medicine.

Paul begins here by encouraging women to express their new life in Christ by submitting to their husbands.

"Submit" in the Greek is hypotasso, to obey or "under-arrange".

All social relationships, not just marriage, depend upon the arrangement of expectations and responsibilities to one another. Different people groups create different ways to express the social arrangements, but at their core they are either faithful to godly principles, or they pervert them.

Jesus submitted to His parents:

He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. (Luke 2:51 ESV)

"Submissive" here is the same word that Paul used in his reference to women. In this instance, Jesus was only twelve years old but He spent three days alone in Jerusalem, discussing spiritual truth with teachers in the temple. Despite His wisdom and skill, He placed Himself under the authority of His earthly parents.

We will see later that Jesus at twelve years of age had wisdom and skill independent of his earthly parents, making Him technically no longer a child. Yet His submission to them honored them, a goal equally important as gaining knowledge.

Another important instance of this word for submission is seen in Paul's letter to the Romans:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2 ESV)

There is no authority on earth or in heaven that is not instituted by God. Resistance against authority is resistance against God, resulting in judgement.

And here we have a difficulty: How should we respond to authority which is wicked or wrong? How should we respond to a ruler who demands service that is sinful? How should a woman respond to a husband who hurts or offends? How far does Christian submission go?

Look back at Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 13. His exhortation to obey the authorities depends upon that authority's righteousness:

  • Rulers are not a terror to good conduct (verse 3)
  • Do what is good, and you will receive his approval (verse 3)
  • He is God's servant for your good (verse 4)
  • If you do wrong, be afraid (verse 4)
  • One must be in subjection...for the sake of conscience (verse 5)

In support of this, Paul adds the phrase, "as is fitting in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18). A woman's submission (obedience) to her husband is based upon what is fitting (proper, "up-arrive") in the Lord.

"That which is fitting" refers to that which is required or commanded:

Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you. (Philemon 1:8-9 ESV)

"Required" is the same word in the Greek as "fitting". Paul had Christ's authority (in Christ's name) to command Philemon to do the right thing, that which is fitting, but he prefered to appeal to him through the sake of love.

Authority that demands submission is to be based upon doing the right thing, acting in the name of Christ. That is the reason for Paul's appeal to our sense of conscience in obeying authority. That which springs from Christ is that which our conscience presses us to follow and obey.

The Word of God is an important element of obedience to authority:

Train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:4-5 ESV)

Only that which is taught by the word of God is that which we can submit to, whether commanded by king, president, master, or husband. We are to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil (James 4:7). The devil works through authority through lies, lust, and malice. God works through authority by truth, self-control, and love. We submit to righteousness, but resist evil.

There is an important distinction, however, between authority that is wicked and the demands made by wicked authority. A wicked authority may make righteous demands, to which God's Spirit still exhorts us to submit.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:18-23 ESV)

Peter reminds us of the suffering that Christ endured at the hands of wicked authority.

Christ obeyed "unjust masters" only to the extent that it did not require Him to sin. "Unjust" means warped or perverse, from a word meaning parched or lean. It refers to crookedness or wickedness.

The suffering of Jesus is an example of how we are to respond to wicked authorities and abusive husbands. Jesus suffered physically from abusive, wicked authorities because He refused to sin, even while submitting to that authority. He refused to deny the truth of God's word. He refused to honor man more above God. He refused to stop acting out of love. And in all this refusal He maintained subjection to the wicked authority by committing no sin or deceit against that wicked authority. He resisted the devilish lies demanded by a wicked authority, but He submitted to the righteous requirement to honor that authority by refusing to sin against or deceive that authority.

What do you think?

What does healthy submission look like? Especially in reference to a woman submitting to her husband, what practical things show evidence of a healthy attitude of godly submission?

"Obey" means "act in love", even toward our enemies, even toward wicked rulers, even toward abusive husbands.

A woman might choose to leave her abusive husband, yet still act in love by refusing to spread lies about him, continuing to pray for him, and continuing to speak the truth of God's Word to him.

A woman might choose to pray and worship God, despite her husband's scorn or anger. A woman might choose to teach her children the truth in God's Word despite her husband's atheism or antagonism. Yet in all this, she can continue to submit (obey) to her wicked husband by doing what God would have all Christians do for all people, good or bad: act in love and truth as is fitting in Christ.

We cannot minimize the suffering that a woman might experience in obeying God while submitting to a wicked husband. Acting in love does not guarantee that wickedness will repent. Look at Christ's example. God's grace is most powerfully seen when we do good yet suffer for it. Jesus was reviled and beaten for His love for God and others. He did not revile in return, nor did he threaten, but He continued to entrust Himself to God. (1 Peter 2:20-23)

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV)

It could very well be that you or I will be called by God to suffer for the sake of righteousness. We could very well be called to be martyrs for our faith in Christ. This could be in a distant country, among pagan tribes, or an inner-city gang-ruled housing project, or a middle-class suburban neighborhood in a typical American marriage.

At some point we may find ourselves ruled by a wicked authority. Perhaps the government of a country in which we are ministering, or a gang-leader in the inner city projects neighborhood in which we pastor. Or perhaps a husband.

The bottom line: trust God and flee a dangerous situation, relying upon Him to provide for what you need. Remaining in a dangerous relationship out of fear of leaving is not faith.

If not a dangerous situation, remain and shine like a bright light, always prepared to "Honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (1 Peter 3:15-16)

What do you think?

Closely related to the issue of submission and suffering is the religious concept that "those who please God will experience earthly comfort, wealth, and health." Does a Christian deserve comfort? Does a Christian have the right to expect God to provide earthly wealth and health?