The Happy Surprise

Putting the good book to good use

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:23

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Ephesians 5:23 says,

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.

Context

This verse is the beginning of a descriptive metaphor Paul employs to describe Jesus Christ’s relationship with his body, the church. It is foundational to understanding the relationship a husband and wife are to enjoy.

Summary of Differing Opinions

Much of the controversy in this verse spills into the following verses, so I will condense a few of those into three main points for this post.

  1. What does head (kephale) mean? The word head can be literal, as in that thing on top of your neck, or it can be a metaphor for something. Paul is using head metaphorically in this verse. Complementarians believe it means leader or authority, as in head of state. Egalitarians believe it means either source, as in the head of a river; or a symbol of the whole body, as in “counting the heads of cattle.”
  2. Is the husband the head of the marriage in today’s culture? Or was Paul using a Roman-Ephesian phenomenon to illustrate an eternal truth about Christ and the church? Complementarians believe Paul’s teaching on marriage is God’s eternal truth, and culture should not play a part in the interpretation of this verse. Egals believe understanding ancient Roman marriage unlocks the truth of what Paul is teaching about the relationship between Jesus and His body.
  3. How should we interpret the analogy of Jesus and the church to husbands and their wives? Complementarians believe Jesus leads his church and as Savior, he displays loving authority over all aspects of the church. Hence, husbands should exhibit loving leadership of their wives. Egalitarians believe Jesus originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.  Through this work, he gave life to his body. Likewise, Roman husbands were the source of life for their wives. Comparatively, they should then treat their wives as Jesus treats his body.

Complementarian Interpretation

All complementarians agree that head metaphorically means leader. Their main argument for this is found in verse 22: wives [submit] to your own husbands. (See my explanation of that verse, here.) Because comps define submission as requiring some authority to submit to, they find that authority in the word head in verse 23. Ephesians 1:22 also uses the word head in conjunction with submission.

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”

Using these two verses together, comps maintain that submission, or being under, requires a leader to be over. A major goal for complementarian marriages is for the husbands to behave as a leader. As a member of the church, men are asked to submit to each other, but since the husband’s role is to “play” Christ in the marriage, men – as husbands- have a different script to follow. Their job isn’t submission, but leadership. Husbands are to lead their wives like Jesus leads the church.

Leadership encompasses a right of privilege, authority to rule, and responsibility for outcome. Comps believe that the husband is not only responsible for his wife, but a good husband must keep his whole house in subjection (1 Tim 2:11-13).  It is the husband’s responsibility to ensure his family honors the Lord and is properly cared for. Comps impress the importance of the husband’s stepping up into their role of being their family’s spiritual leader. The husband, not the wife, should instigate church attendance, prayer and devotions. The husband will be held accountable for how he leads his house.

Since comps believe Christ’s authority in the home is centered on the husband, a husband should lead like Christ. As Jesus leads the church for the body’s good, honor and glory; a husband’s headship is exercised for the wife’s good, her honor, and her glory. His leadership is one of love. Comps often refer to this as “servant leadership” or “loving leadership.”

“Paul tells us how to control our wives when he says to ‘love them.’ Love them. That is how you control a woman. You must love her. She is built that way. When she is fully loved, she is fully under control. Love her.”  Jay Adams, Christian Living in the Home. Page 101.

Complementarians believe the husband’s role is harder than the wife’s role, because husbands are called to reflect Christ’s role as Savior. Their role-model was perfect!  Even though it is an impossible job, the husband must actively lead because he represents Jesus’ relationship to the church. When he fails to lead his wife and family, he damages the name of Jesus.

All complementarians agree that God gave husbands (men) and wives (women) distinct roles. Comps believe these roles are rooted in God’s creation of gender, and are an eternal “script” that men and women are called to play. Because Paul’s writing was inspired by God, it vitally important we hold to its teachings. Many complementarians will point to the history of male authority throughout the Old Testament and church history as evidence of God’s plan for men to lead. Complementarians, though they admit that studying  culture enhances our understanding of this text, do not believe it should influence our interpretation of gender roles.

Further Reading

50 Crucial Questions Chapter 2 by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Interpretation

Egalitarians all agree that the metaphorical meaning of  head  is not always leader. In this context, its meaning is either source (head of a river) or a singular symbol for the whole body (heads of cattle). Egalitarians take the cue from they way Paul uses head in the previous chapter.

…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph 4:15-16.

Egalitarians understand Eph 5:23 in a similar fashion. The significance of the husband being the head of his wife is that they are joined together. It would be absurd to have a head that holds itself separate from the body. They are one. The husband and wife are both made from the same stuff. There is no fundamental difference between the two genders both made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ (Gen 1:26, Gal 3:3). Just as Christ, as the source of salvation and the First of many, gives the church fully of his inheritance and righteousness; so a Roman husband, as the source of income, property, sustenance and legitimacy in Roman culture, is to join 100% of those goods with his wife. Love is the connecting agent.

Egals believe a proper understanding of this passage cannot be divorced from the original culture. That the husband is the head of the wife was a fact in Roman society. Whichever meaning is chosen for head – leader, source or singular symbol – a case could be made that meaning existed in Roman law.  Women were the property of men. No one thought about equality or the absurdity of human property. The shocker for the Ephesian husbands was not that they were the “heads,”  but that they were to love.  Christians husbands are a head AS Christ is a head. The following verses describe how Christ heads the church (love). Egalitarians find no hint of authority or leadership in this context.

Egalitarians believe Jesus, as Savior, originated His church by his redeeming death and resurrection.  Through this work as head, he gave life to his body. Christ saves the church to share the privilege of heaven with those he loves. He transforms the church as a gift of eternal life. Everything Jesus enjoys, he makes available to his body. It is through the head, the body is equipped for true life.   The responsibility of a head is to share privilege and life with the body. Those with the elevated position bring up those in the subjected role to a place of equilibrium by virtue of joining together in unity. And ultimately that is the heart of Paul’s message and Egalitarian marriage.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Eph 5:31)

Further Reading:

An Exhaustive Study on the Meaning of “Head:” Are Women Really Free To Function Freely? by Wade Burleson quoting Lauren Fasullo

Household: Household Code in Ephesians (Part 3) by Michael W. Kruse

Christ as husband is about love not leadership by Retha

Ephesians 5:23

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
For the husband is the head of the wife Head means chief or leader. The husband is responsible for his wife. His goal is to behave as a loving leader. Head means origin or source. A Roman husband was the key to life for his wife  in that ancient culture. This was a fact, not a goal.
as Christ is the head of the church, his body, Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of authority and leadership. Jesus’ relationship with his church is one of pre-eminence. He is the first of many.
of which he is the Savior. Jesus earned the right to lead his church by His death and resurrection. Jesus’ role as savior is to transform us into His image.

 

 

Gems from Numbers 11: Prophesying without Permission!

Moses was stressed out with the load of leading a million whining ex-slaves. So, God has asked Moses to share the load. Specifically, He wanted Moses to share His Spirit with 70 hand-picked leaders.

He called together seventy of the leaders and had them stand around the Tent. God came down in a cloud and spoke to Moses and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy leaders. When the Spirit rested on them they prophesied. But they didn’t continue; it was a onetime event.

God gave his instructions. Go to The Tent where I always meet with you, and this time I’ll meet with your 70 helpers. But there was a problem. Apparently, only 68 of the elders actually showed up!

Meanwhile two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp. They were listed as leaders but they didn’t leave camp to go to the Tent.

Two of the men did not follow instructions very well. That, or they got the time wrong. Or maybe they got waylaid with a broken down cart. Or maybe they didn’t understand they were chosen. Or maybe they had a gig to finish up first. I’m sure they had a very good reason for not being at The Tent when God showed up. This next part is chilling.

Still, the Spirit also rested on them and they prophesied in the camp.

God gifted those who were outside The Tent! His Spirit indwelt those who didn’t follow the “meet in The Tent” policy! No wait…. God used the two misfits wandering around the camp to bless His people!

Admittedly, I understand the reaction of those who witnessed what happened.

A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”  Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ right-hand man since his youth, said, “Moses, master! Stop them!”

I can hear Joshua’s voice in my head. (It sounds strangely like Mydad. pun intended) Put a stop to this right now! Tell them they are not supposed to be prophesying because they didn’t do things the RIGHT WAY! Prophesying without permission! What if someone sees them and thinks you’ve lost control of the camp! I think that last statement gets to the heart of the matter. Joshua was very concerned Moses’ authority would be questioned because Eldad and Medad got the gift of prophecy outside The Tent.

But Moses said, “Are you jealous for me? Would that all God’s people were prophets. Would that God would put his Spirit on all of them.”

God’s Spirit does not always follow the rules as we understand them to be. This little incident is just a precursor to the fantastic outpouring Joel predicted at Pentecost where God gave his Spirit to young  and old, women and men.  The lesson I take away is that God does not always follow His rules when it comes to pouring blessing out upon His people. Sometimes He uses the Eldads and Medads who are like us, a little bit different, to speak with power and grace.

Will you be like Joshua and seek to silence the Spirit even when given to someone you don’t approve of? Or will you be like Moses? Would that God would put his Spirit on all of us.

Satan’s best tactic

How many of you have heard the sermon about what to do when tempted? <raises hand>

I bet the teacher used either the temptation of Jesus or the armor of God as text, right?

  • What did Jesus do when faced with temptation? He quoted God’s Word, of course!
  • We must weild the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God!

But does quoting the Words of God alone work in our battle against sin? Nope. Words are not a talisman of protection against strong desire or deceit. In fact, referencing God’s Word is Satan’s best tactic in tempting Christians to act like heathens. As the first woman learned to her shame.

The Bible describes two famous temptation scenes: The First Humans and Jesus.

These two stories have much in common. Both Jesus and the First Humans were perfect. Neither knew what life was like unconnected to God. Unlike us, they were not enticed by the evil desires of their flesh, because their flesh did not desire sinful things. (James 1:14-15) Could that be why a literal Being presented itself as the tempting force?

Both the First Humans and Jesus were tempted by the evil one, who took visible form and talked with them. Not only did Satan appear, he initiated.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman…

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him

The devil used food as his opener.

…“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” It asked the woman.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Both Eve and Jesus battled with God’s Word.

[The woman said] … God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

Satan responded by using God’s Word. To the woman he said God said something He never did, and to Jesus he twisted the context.

You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:  “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Eve used God’s Word, but it wasn’t enough.

These two situations had more in common than not. But the distinction is what made the difference between success and failure. Eve was deceived.  She probably didn’t even know she was being tempted! She believed something that wasn’t. She acted on information that was false. Believing she was doing the right thing, she ate. But she understood God all wrong. And she was ashamed that she was duped by lies.

Oh dear. How often have I done the exact same thing? Believing my actions were what was required from God’s Word, I’ve sown discord, pain and destruction. Looking back, I realize I was tempted with pride, self-righteousness and the fear of man. I succumbed to the deceit of those desires. And, I too am ashamed I fell for the lies I believed about God.

3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  2 Corinthians 11

Paul, who wrote those warning verses, understood deceit. He was a zealous Jew. He loved God’s Word. He believed killing Christians was the right way to serve God. His sincere desire was to live -or die – for the Lord. But he got it all wrong.

Deceit blinds us to the temptation.

13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  1 Timothy 1

I wonder at this. Can I even tell I’m being tempted if there is deceit sugaring the bait? How can I battle this ignorance? Paul was blindly sinning away, all the while believing he was acting righteously…based on his understanding of the Word of God. Only an encounter with the true Word, the incarnate and resurrected Christ, set him straight. And this is what he taught as the antidote to deceit. Holding our beliefs up to the light of Jesus, with the help of His Spirit. Paul knew how easy  it is to be deceived, and so he warns Christians to be aware to the possibility that teachers are twisting God’s Word to bind us to a gospel that is not Jesus’. Just like Satan. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

Heed the warning.

There really isn’t a formula of Words. Sure, knowing God’s truth helps us discern error, but what if we ignorantly follow an interpretation that is in itself an error? It is Satan’s best tactic. He twists God’s Word to tempt us.

 

 

Don’t Tell a Soul

“Do you wish to talk today, my lady?”

I whispered the words, leaning in to show her my face. Her tired eyes opened and focused. She gestured for the cup in my hand, and I helped her upright. She drank the honeyed goat milk and nodded.

“Are we alone?” she asked, unable to see farther than my face.

“Yes, my lady.” She had requested me to listen to her orality. She was dying and tradition dictated it was time for her to pass along her history. I was honored, because she had never spoken of it, as far as anyone knew, ever.

She shifted her hips and cradled her cheek to the pillow, and began in a wooden tone.

“When I was 14, I was summoned to the palace to see the king. My mother had prepared me to expect a betrothal. There was talk of an alliance with the Danaii. At that age, my mind was filled with gossip and silly songs. I was excited by the idea. I wasn’t so scared then. I didn’t know.” Her mouth tightened with bitterness, but she continued to talk.

“But it wasn’t to discuss marriage that my father had me summoned. My brother…” and at this, she spat the words “…it seemed, had gotten himself ill. My father thought it was humorous that he was asking for me instead of the court healers, but he was the crown prince and my father encouraged his frivolities. He told me to go to Amnon and do whatever he wanted. I was dismissed.

“Amnon was in bed when I arrived with my women. I’ll never forget what gown I was wearing that day, because it was blue and I’ve never worn blue again.” I looked toward her wardrobe and the monotonous dirty white that hung from the knobs. She continued.

“And the sleeves were embroidered with pomegranates. It was belted in purple. I think I left that sash there, in his room. I never saw it again.” Her voice caught and she scratched it with a clicking noise. Her inflection soured.

“He was supposed to be sick, but when I saw him he appeared in high spirits. No fever. No pain that I could tell. He dismissed everyone with the excuse he wanted me to feel comfortable to serve him without the servants around to interfere. Then, he made me play at baking while he watched. In my naivety, I thought he was simply hungry.” Her face hardened. “I guess he was.”

“My cakes were not very good, and the heat of the oven had me flushed. He paid little attention to my food and reached to loose my collar. He said I looked too hot. I had never been around Amnon before. I thought maybe he was just affectionate by nature, and allowed the intrusion. But his hand…” She crossed her arms at the memory of the trespass and stopped talking.

“My lady, you don’t have to tell me the details.” I said, trying to be kind.

“Okay.” She readjusted her weight and said dully, “He ruined me.”

“I know.” I reassured her. The whole kingdom knew. There were many rumors of the exploits of Amnon. I suspected she wasn’t the first virgin he’d raped, or the last.

“He kicked me off the bed when he was done,  and told me to get out. I was aghast. I had comforted myself through the ordeal with the acknowledgement that marriage to my half-brother would not be so bad. I would be allowed to live in my homeland and be close to my mother and brother. And so I asked him if he would speak to our father to settle the dowry that very day.” She spoke in a staccato lilt. “But he didn’t even look at me. He threw my clothes at me and pushed me out the door.”

She rolled on to her back and pressed her palm over her eyes. Her mouth opened in a gash of misery. An unuttered wail swelled her chest, and her body shuddered in memory.

“I wasn’t allowed to make a scene. My mourning rags were burned and replaced with normal attire. The king, when he heard the gist of what had happened, sent word that I was to keep quiet. Even your father, after questioning me on the specifics, told me to keep my humiliation a secret. Only, its hard to keep a princess who has been taken off the auction block a secret, eh? With my virginity gone, I was useless to the king.”

“Please. Don’t tell a soul.” Her last words to me. She was my aunt and my namesake: Tamar.

 

Gems from Numbers 11: The blessing of rule-breaking misfits

I tend to be a rule-keeper. Well, kind of. There is a good bit of the rebel in me. But in general, I have no problem sticking to a set of policies … as proof I claim my near-flawless demerit record at Bob Jones! (They still stuck me in the spiritual-problem-child dunce hat a number of times regardless of my rule-keeping. So, I guess my inner rebel always finds a way to peek through.) I totally see the necessity in rules. Even dumb ones. They bring order and cohesion.

There are those people who always break the rules. You know them. Maybe they are ignorant, and don’t understand they are breaking rules. Even though you tell them over and over again. Maybe they are cantankerous, and must. always. rebel. Or maybe they are naïve, and break the spirit of the law while toeing the line.

As a leader in Christian ministry, what do we do with the times our policy is broken or a rule is stretched way out of shape? Discipline? Overlook? Warn? Laugh? Sometimes it is tough to decide.

God’s Spirit knows best.

Moses was stressed out with the load of leading a million whining ex-slaves. So, God has asked Moses to share the load. Specifically, He wanted Moses to share His Spirit with 70 hand-picked leaders.

He called together seventy of the leaders and had them stand around the Tent. God came down in a cloud and spoke to Moses and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy leaders. When the Spirit rested on them they prophesied. But they didn’t continue; it was a onetime event.

God gave his instructions. Go to The Tent where I always meet with you, and this time I’ll meet with your 70 helpers. But there was a problem. Apparently, only 68 of the elders actually showed up!

Meanwhile two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp. They were listed as leaders but they didn’t leave camp to go to the Tent.

Two of the men did not follow instructions very well. That, or they got the time wrong. Or maybe they got waylaid with a broken down cart. Or maybe they didn’t understand they were chosen. Or maybe they had a gig to finish up first. I’m sure they had a very good reason for not being at The Tent when God showed up.

This next part is chilling.

Still, the Spirit also rested on them and they prophesied in the camp.

I could just stop there. I think you get it. But, I gotta hammer this point a bit.

Bang, bang!

God gifted those who were outside The Tent! His Spirit indwelt those who didn’t follow the “meet in The Tent” policy! No wait…. God used the two misfits wandering around the camp to bless His people!

But they were in the wrong place!

But they got off schedule!

But they bungled the plan!

It doesn’t matter when God’s Spirit is at work. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3)

Can we be like God?

Can we allow those who break our policies and rules to be blessed of God and in turn bring blessing to His people? Does it rub you the wrong way to “reward” rule breakers?  Is God’s Spirit the ultimate rebel?

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