Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Encouragement: Part 2

This one's primarily for the guys (though not exclusively, by any means).

Rob Bell writes:

The word that came to my mind at that moment was the word submit.

Not her submitting to him.

Him submitting to her.

...Submitting is serious. Submitting is difficult.

And it's the only hope a marriage has. (or any relationship, for that matter.)

I'm aware that I am using a volatile word here, one that's been used to cause great harm to women and consequently marriages and even men. The danger is that in reaction to the abuses and distortions of an idea, we'll reject it completely. And in the process miss out on the good of it, the worth of it, the truth of it.

The word submit occurs only a couple of times in the Bible, most notably in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5. The section begins in verse 21 with the command, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

The passage says we are to place ourselves under one another out of reverence, or respect, for Christ. This reference to Jesus calls us to follow his example, his sacrifice, his giving his life for ours. As it's written in the book of John, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son." At the heart of the worldview of a Christian is the simple truth that people are worth dying for.

People are worth dying for. We know it to be true deep in our bones. And when we see someone actually do it, it's overwhelming.

Jesus said in one of his teachings that there's no greater love a person can have than to lay down their life for another. (John 15:13)

We know this to be true.

People are worth dying for.

So the passage in Ephesians is to love and serve the poeple around you, placing their needs ahead of your own, out of respect and reverence for Jesus, who gave his life for us, the ultimate act of love and sacrifice. Die to yourselves, so that others can live. Like Jesus.

In Greek, the passage continues with verse 22, "Wive, to your husbands as to the Lord."

Did you notice that a word is missing?

We're missing a verb. The words submit is not in the verse. You have to go looking for the verb, which is in the verse before.

The wife isn't commanded to do anything different from what everybody else is commanded to do in the previous verse, namely submitting. Placing the needs of others ahead of her own, especially in her most significant relationship - the one with her husband.

Verse 23 is next: "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior."

The point is that the husband is supposed to be like Christ. And what does that look like?

Notice how the text continues. Verse 24 repeats the submit command, and then verse 25 reads, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

Christ's "headship" comes from his giving himself up for the church.

His sacrifice.

His surrender.

His willingness to give himself away for her.

His death.

Whatever authority the word head carries with it is rooted in the sacrifice of Christ and therefore the sacrifice of the husband.

So the husband is commanded to lay down his life for his wife, and the wide is commanded to submit to her husband, but they're both commanded to submit to each other because everyone is commanded to submit to everyone else, and all of this is out of "reverence for Christ."

A man waiting for his wife to submit is actually a failure to lead. He thinks he's the strong leader, but he's actually weak and misguided. If he really thinks he's the head, then he would surrender his desires and wants and plans. He would die to his need to be in control and do whatever it takes to serve her, to make sure she has everything she needs. He would die to himself so that she could live.

He would lay down his life for her, like Jesus laid down his life for the church.

This is submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

What if he had a habit of this?

What if she knew without a shadow of a doubt that his love for her was so great that he would give his life for her in the blink of an eye?

Think about your friendships, the closest ones, the ones that have gone the distance. How often do you ask who is in charge? Do you ever find yourself questioning, "Where does the buck stop?"

No, it's not even on the radar. Over time you've built up reserves of trust and love, and power and control become irrelevant. The healthier and more whole a relationship is, the less you ask these kind of questions. When people are truly living in what's called "mutual submission," you lose track of who's in charge.

In a marriage, you're talking about power and control only when something central to the whole relationship has fallen apart.

And once again, poetry comes to our rescue.

The woman says in Song of Songs, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."

She speaks a paradox. Two things are going on here. She's giving. Giving herself away. Letting go. Losing herself in her lover. And yet she's also getting something in return: the other person. Her lover, at the same time, has let go and fallen into her.

(Let's go back to those verses in Ephesians.)

This paradox of mutual submission is only one of the profound things going on in this passage. The command to the husband is to love your wife "just as Christ loved the church." On the first pass, it seems quite straightforward. But as we've seen before, words in the Bible are often loaded. In this case, the word love in the Greek language is specific.

The word for love here is the word agape. We find the word all over the New Testament, and it's generally used in the context of God's love for people as in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world."

So the man is to love the woman, to agape her, like God agapes the world.

Agape is a particular kind of love. Love is often seen as a need, something we get from others. Agape is the opposite. Agape gives.

Agape doesn't love somebody because they're worthy.

Agape makes them worthy by the strength and power of its love.

Agape doesn't love somebody because they're beautiful.

Agape loves in such a way that it makes them beautiful.

There is a love because, love in order to, love for the purpose of, and then there is love, period. Agape doesn't need a reason.

It's written in the book of Romans that Christ dies "while we were still sinners."

Jesus reminds his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you."

People in the Scriptures essentially are loved into their futures. Think of how many of us had encouraging or affirming or inspiring words spoken to us years ago about our worth, our value, our future, and how those words shaped us. We often carry those words of agape around with us our whole lives.

Agape shakes us. It's too good to be true.

Or maybe you could say it's good enough to actually be true.

It affects how we live, how we act, how we think about ourselves.

For God so agaped the world...

And so the man is commanded to agape the woman with the same kind of love that God has for all people everywhere.

It's a big task the man is given, and it's reflected in the number of words in the passage. In the Greek, the command for the woman is 47 words long, while the commands for the man are 143 words long. The onus here is on the man to love with the kind of love that will go all the way to death if it has to.

What if she were loved like this?

Guys, do you realize she is worth dying for?

Gals, do you realize you are worth dying for?

See, marriage is on my mind. Not anybody in particular. But in another few years, I'll be around that age and stage in my life where marriage comes to great potential. I'm certain most of you guys are feeling similar to me. I want to live like Christ. I want to learn to love like he loves. I want to learn to die to myself so others can live. If I'm still living selfishly, marriage opens the door to cause overwhelming damage to another person. I want my marriage, with whomever, whenever it should come, to reflect Christ's love for us.

I guess the encouragement is more of an instigation for us guys. Can we spend our time now, whether single or already in some sort of relationship, learning how to submit to others, how to die to others? Can we learn to give up our desires and wants and plans for the sake of others? Now is the time to start learning and to start practicing.

Now's the time to start living. "To live is Christ and to die is gain." To live is Christ who died for our gain. To live is Christ so we should die for their gain. His gain. Her gain.

A good friend wrote on the subject of girls about two years ago. I'm going to adapt his main points, quoting and paraphrasing some and elaborating my own thoughts of response, too. Jeremy Steckel, I hope you don't mind, and know that I greatly respect you!

1. Girls are talkers!
I'd think if you haven't noticed or observed this fact before now, you might be somewhat daft. There's countless articles and books suggesting that girls use an average of 20,000-25,000 words a day, and guys use only around 7,000-10,000. There's no way this is going to change! Girls are wired to talk about everything, and it's how they connect with other people. I once read that girls define their closeness of friendships based on the amount of conversation they've shared, where guys base their closeness on the amount of time spent together, whether talking or not. The point is, if you want really respect a girl, LISTEN! It's important to her!

2. Girls are relational!
Some of you may disagree with this, but it's an observation Jeremy made with his post, and I agree: "Girls tend to de-bunk their bunk beds here at college more often than guys do. Why? I wondered the same thing. Until I realized an astounding truth: maybe they do it because, then, it's easier to TALK to your roommate! I've also noticed that girls seem to have more of an emotional connection with their roommate than guys do." From here, we get to Jeremy's third observation:

3. Girls are emotional!
Again, if you haven't noticed this by now, you may be a bit daft. Girls are HIGHLY emotional. Emotional security is probably the most important thing for a girl! God is a wonderful daddy who provides incredibly security, but as guys, we can constantly remind every gal we know of this. We are able to encourage and lift them up with the reminder that Abba, daddy, is their emotional guardian. Too, we can help to guard their emotions. Physical protection is a great thing, and I know girls value feeling safe in that sense, but emotional security is even more important than that!

4. Girls are gorgeous!
Yeah, we all know it's true! Jeremy said it best: "Imagine a world, or even a campus, without girls, and I imagine a place full of dead bodies of men who couldn't take looking at each other any longer."

Girls need to feel loved, and girls need to feel beautiful. Encouraging a girl in this area is a fine line, and I'll admit I often avoid walking it altogether out of anxious fear I'll creep a girl out. But us guys have the opportunity to really embolden and reassure value in our friends and sisters in Christ, and it is absolutely possible to tell a girl she looks beautiful without hitting on her! Take that uncomfortable step and encourage! (Which is a challenge for me, too.) After all, she is worth dying for!

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