Saturday, 7 March 2015

Thoughts on submitting - Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5:21-24:

"Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.  Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ.  The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing.  So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands." Put their husbands first.
What does it mean for me to understand and support my husband in a way that shows my support for Christ?!  What does that look like?
I understand this to be a follow on from verse 21, which talks about how we should live as Christians: be courteously reverent to one another. In the society of the time, wives would be the property of their husbands. The Jews had lived under the law, interpreted by the rabbis to such a strict extent that it was impossible, as Paul states in Romans 7, to keep properly. Jesus turned this upside down: it was God’s grace that saved people, not people’s own merits and deeds.

This admonition in Ephesians, then, is an encouragement to respond to each other as we do to Christ. This sense of awe and wonder: that Jesus should have died for MY mistakes and failings should be what drives me in my treatment of others. Paul says elsewhere ‘consider others as better than yourselves’ because Jesus humbled himself - the Philippians 2 poem says it all:

"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father."

We are to consider ourselves as ‘dead’ to the world (Galatians 2:19) and as such give up all our ‘rights’ in relation to each other. My right to be respected, loved, cherished, obeyed, appreciated, valued, desired… whatever I consider my ‘right’ to be in any relationship. My ‘submission’ - which the Message translates as understanding and support - is a representation of my submission to Christ in that he has paid for me and ‘bought me with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19 - 20)  My life is not my own.   As such, all that should matter - and, of course, sin and selfishness and ‘me’ and ‘my’ gets in the way of perfection - is my relationship with Christ as I try to work that out with others. It is holding my ‘rights' lightly, being willing to give them up.

Now, of course, in terms of my relationship with my husband I often don't give up my rights. After all, respect for me is incredibly important to me and many of my struggles are because I feel he doesn't respect my opinions/point of view whatever enough. Often, when I am satisfied he has understood, then I can 'support and understand’ him. It is all about putting the other person first.  If my 'right’ is to be respected and listened to, I need to be ready to give that up. I don’t like being told what to do - and I fear losing control - and so I don't naturally and readily 'submit’ in the old fashioned sense. But when I think about it, and try to understand - as I try to understand what God wants to do in my life - then it becomes more possible, in spite of my own selfishness.

It's all about NOT getting my own way!

Of course, the flip side is that Dad needs to lead me by 'cherishing’ me and being as self-sacrificial towards me as Jesus was and is. That is equally hard for him! From my point of view, leadership by Dad should be by example - and I need to have a humble enough heart that I do actually NOTICE his good example - and that he should make decisions based on what is best for both of us, not just what he wants to do.
So although I think we possibly disagree or 'discuss' rather a lot, perhaps we don't really. IF I want to show support for Christ - submit to Christ - then I must be loyal to him first. And if supporting Dad shows that I am a loyal wife and Christian, then that has to underpin everything I do in that relationship.  

Of course, discussing something so that I CAN understand is also what we do in prayer - we ask God and discuss and argue about what is happening until we come to an understanding. An understanding which, often, is just that we DON'T understand but are able to accept and to trust God.
As Isaiah 55:9 says:
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

And, sometimes, it's the same in marriage. Sometimes I just have to stop trying to understand and accept that my husband is trying to do the best he can for our marriage.

Even if I still don't 'get it'.

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