Monday, October 28, 2013

The Headship of a Husband

Gen 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. …Gen 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

As a man and husband and Pastor it doesn’t hurt me every now and then to stop and consider whether I am living up to these three things as the Lord would have me or even putting forth the effort I should.  So as I was considering the above passages some thoughts occurred to me as to the relationship between Adam and Eve and with that the relationship between a man and his wife. 

Without question most people today have completely lost sight of the order that God ordained at creation within the marriage relationship.  If the Bible is clear on anything it is that the man is to be the head of the family and the wife is to submit to that leadership.  As men have capitulated their leadership the family has suffered.  But historically men of all cultures tend to have carried their headship to extremes in the opposite direction.  The problem isn’t that they have let their wives assume the head of the relationship but that husbands have assumed more authority than God has ordained them to have.  Let me explain:

The above verses tell us two very important things.  First of all, in verse 15 we learn that man was put on earth to be God’s steward.  We are here to serve him with all that he has given us which includes our very lives and bodies.  We were never meant to be self-serving and when we are we are committing the very sin that Adam and Eve committed when they fell.  The only time we are fulfilling our purpose in life is when we are doing everything to the glory of God.  Another way to say this is that we were put on earth to be image bearers; God's image.

Secondly, in verse 18, in the context of our purpose for being given life God gives Adam a helper who is fit for him to accomplish his purpose of serving God; a wife; not women in general.  Women are not a subclass of humans to be used by men as they wish.  I would assume any Christian man would agree with this last statement but my point is that this also is true of his wife. 

In other words, his wife is not given to him for his own personal enjoyment or his own personal servant to boss around as he sees fit.  Instead, she is here to help her husband as well as herself be an image bearer. That comes before anything else.  Unfortunately many times this is not how even Christian men have taken the headship of the husband to mean.  They are quick to tell their wives that they are to submit to them but they totally ignore what godly headship means.  Our wives were given to us to help us serve the Lord, not to serve our self-interest that have nothing to do with serving the Lord.  As soon as a husband tries to use the marriage relationship for his own purposes apart from the will of God, he oversteps his authority.  It seems that often what I see, and am certainly guilty myself at times, is that we men love to speak of wifely submission but hate to hold ourselves equally accountable to godly headship.  We love to tell our wives that they are to submit no matter how ungodly we might be acting but never hold ourselves to the same accountability. 

Now clearly as 1 Pet. 3:1 says, submission is a creation ordinance for a wife even if her husband is unsaved, 1Pe 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.  But I don’t believe they are required to submit to their husbands if told to do that which is disobedient to the Lord.  I think some men might disagree with me because they see submission as more important than the charge of the man to love his wife as God loves the church.  But the point of this articles is a call to Christian husbands to quit being hypocritical and hold ourselves just as strongly to godly headship as we hold our wives to.  And if our wives balk at following us when we are being ungodly let us be slow to condemn them when our sin as leaders is greater. 

Why would any of us want to put our wives into a situation in which she must try to decide if she must disobey her husband in order to obey Christ?  We husbands are just as accountable to love our wives and lead them in serving the Lord as they are to submit to that leadership.  And so their lack of submission is no worse a sin than our lack of loving them and being a godly head.  Marriage and life isn’t about us men; it is about our head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"I Shall Come Forth as Gold"

1Co 3:12  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- 1Co 3:13  each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1Co 3:14  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 1Co 3:15  If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

When I was young I heard a preacher who told us that these verses taught us that we were sending up building supplies for the mansion Jesus was building for us.  If we sinned more than we did good things our mansions would be incomplete or have holes in it when Jesus judged our works.  Of course, one problem with that is that since we sin all the time no one’s mansion would ever be anything worth stepping inside.  The very idea that we can do more good things than evil things is preposterous. 

Of course all this falls apart also if we aren’t going to have mansions in Heaven and I don’t believe John 14 is teaching that.  When Jesus said in John 14 that in his Father’s house are many mansions (KJV) he is referring to places of abode or rooms as the ESV has it.  This makes more sense especially when you consider these are located in his Father’s House, not on his property or whatever.  It is most likely a reference to the rooms in the Temple where the on duty priests stayed while they served.  Jesus is simply saying that it is the Father’s will to have a redeemed people with him in eternity and Jesus was going to the cross to make a way for us to get there.

I believe what Paul is getting at is that all that we do in this life means something.  It either honors the Lord (foundation) and will have everlasting reward or it is not done for the Lord’s glory and has no lasting value.  It is generally assumed that the Day spoken of in the above passage refers to the day that we stand before him and receive reward for those things done in our body and I think that makes perfect sense.  But I also think there is another way that all this takes place as well.

There is a very real and biblical sense in which the trials of life are God’s fire upon us to purify us so that we can produce works of enduring value.  It is interesting that the language Paul uses here is used similarly by other NT writers:

Jas 1:10  and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. Jas 1:11  For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Jas 1:12  Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Here the useless pursuits of the rich man produce no lasting value while those who bear up under trials for the Lord receive an incorruptible crown.

1Pe 1:7  so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Again notice how fire is seen as that which proves the value of the work much like fire removes the dross and purifies gold.  While even gold will eventually perish, those things done for the glory of God will never pass away.

And so while only a Christ honoring life will receive reward; such passages remind us that the most perfect way to prove our faith is under fire, not when everything is going well.  The Lord has his way of helping us prove our faith and at the same time he is the one giving us the strength to endure.  One of our goals as Christians should be to fan the flame of our love for the Lord so that in the day of trial we will come forth as gold. 

And we don’t want to forget that the only hope we shall be saved so as by fire in the Day of Judgment is because we are found in Christ.  He is our assurance, our strength, our only hope.  If I endure through tribulation and ever do anything that glorifies my Savior it will be because of him and yet he promises to reward me while all along giving me the strength to do works that honor him.  Amazing Grace. 

Job 23:10  But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ezra and Nehemiah

Ezr 8:22  For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, "The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him." Ezr 8:23  So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Neh 2:9  Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.

We have here two godly men doing much the same work but doing it a little differently.  As I understand it, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are just one book in the original Hebrew Bible.  So on the one hand Ezra feels it would dishonor the Lord to accept a military escort to Jerusalem while Nehemiah decides to accept it.  There might be something to learn in all this since they are included in the same book. 

We know that under the New Covenant we have no promise from God that just because we are doing his work, his way, he will protect us from physical harm or calamity.  Two thousand years of Christian martyrdom proves otherwise.  But for Ezra he believes that to accept the escort would give the impression to the world that the Lord was not as mighty as he has evidently told everyone he was.  So Ezra backs up his faith and his words with his life; he practices what he preaches.

But we read in the following verse in Ezra that he also holds a prayer meeting for the Lord’s help; he doesn’t presume upon the Lord.  There are times when we put ourselves “at risk” for Christ’s sake and we don’t use the usual means we might in order to protect ourselves.  Certainly there would be next to no missionary efforts if we only did things when they were safe, humanly speaking.

But we see Nehemiah in a similar situation using the “normal” means of safety and protection.  I think as we consider these two courses of action that we are reminded that the Christian life isn’t always laid out for us in black and white in the Bible and we are left to work out our salvation as best as we know how according to the general principles laid out in God’s Word.  This means we won’t always know exactly what we are to do but we choose what we do based on what biblically honors the Lord the most and trust God to work out the rest.  The fact that we are told that Nehemiah did take a guard when Ezra didn’t might be a deliberate attempt to point out that what is good one time might not be the best option the next time.

Now I know that this generally scares us to death.  We want the Lord to spell his will out for us so we don’t have to struggle with decisions or spend a lot of time in prayer.  We want it all laid out for us so we can just do it.  But that is not New Testament Christianity.  Instead, whatever we do, whether we eat or drink or whatever, we are to do all for the glory of God and whatever God does with it we accept from his hand.

I believe the normal pattern is the one Nehemiah took.  We trust God while thankfully using the means that He provides. You pray for protection on the highways, but you fasten your seat belt and drive carefully. You pray for healing, but you go to the doctor and take the prescribed medicine. You pray for a job, but you prepare a resume, dress appropriately, and go for job interviews. God normally expects us to use the means He provides, along with faith in Him. 

And the reason I say that is because we can sometimes fall into the error that Christians don’t have to live in this world like everyone else.  We think we should get a pass with the struggles of life and the hard decisions.  But we don’t get to sit back in indifference and laziness while everyone else has to struggle with the effects of sin.  We struggle as well but we have the Lord to explain how to live and to give us promises for being faithful.  We go through all the same things as the lost do but we glorify the Lord in it instead of living for ourselves. 

But sometimes the “normal” means becomes the worldly means which is perhaps what we see with Ezra.  Sometimes the Chinese Christian must openly profess Christ because it is the right thing to do even though he knows it will expose him to danger.  Sometimes there is nothing left for us to do but to get on our knees and turn it over to the Lord and then just wait.  It isn’t always going to be obvious but I think these two passages remind us that sometimes it will be one or the other and that is okay.  Sometimes we take precautions and use the normal means and sometimes we put ourselves at risk to let the Lord demonstrate his power.

And then there are times when it is wrong for us to get on our knees and pray for God to supply our needs when we just plan to sit back and not pound the pavement seeking employment.  “He who will not work, neither let him eat.”  I think often the prayer that God will supply a need without us working or doing the responsible thing is really a prayer that God would supply a need so that I don’t have to work!  What we need is balance, we pray because we know that without the Lord nothing will work out right but we work and are responsible because that is the way God has ordained.  Ezra and no doubt Nehemiah do both and while it didn’t look the same outwardly, they both are blessed by the Lord in their work. 

My last thought is this: Both are blessed because both are serving the Lord and his people.  If that isn’t what is motivating everything we do then prayer isn’t going to help because we can be sure we are praying amiss.