Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Widgets

Reading My Wife's Mail

Yesterday I went running along the Potomac River. As I approached the Lincoln Memorial, I had to cross the street that carried the busy traffic of the Memorial Bridge. As I strode confidently into the crosswalk, an approaching car had to slow quickly to let me cross. The driver was clearly angry and shook her fists at me. I confidently pointed toward the crosswalk which (in my mind) gave me the right of way. She pointed toward the stop sign that was clearly meant to govern pedestrians (see photo). Clearly she was correct--I should have waited for her to pass.

As I ran back to the Pentagon, I had the chance to consider this. First, of course, there is a certain foolishness in thinking one can be protected against all hazards by a painted line in the street (those of you from New York City may stop rolling your eyes at me now). Self-preservation alone should have convinced me to be more careful. But let's set that aside. The existence of the crosswalk gave me a sense of "entitlement" (a dangerous sense I picked up while stationed in Germany, where they take their crosswalks seriously). It was there to channel my movements rather than to constrain the driver. But I self-righteously and foolishly interpreted it as my right-of-way.

In the same way, when I read Paul's guidance to wives and husbands; children and fathers; slaves and masters in Ephesians 5-6, I need to be careful not to read someone else's mail. The commandments directed at me as a husband, for example, are meant for me. This may seem obvious, but there is a temptation for me to gloss over it and focus on my wife's responsibilities: "You need to submit to me." Yet the passage does not say, "Husbands, make sure your wives submit to you." Focusing on Mrs. Jailer's job takes my eye off the ball: loving her as Christ loved the church, giving myself up for her, etc. is more than enough for me to work on. I need to read my own mail.

Stated another way, in the same way my focus on the driver's responsibility with respect to the crosswalk took my eye off the stop sign, fixating on Mrs. Jailer's responsibility takes my attention off my own, and can serve to rationalize my own bad behavior: "Well, I can't be expected to love her if she doesn't submit ..." Of course, a careful reading of the passage makes it clear that I am to do exactly that, in the same way that Christ loved and gave Himself up for us while we were yet sinful.

Even worse, excusing my wrongs by citing hers reduces me to idolatry. I'm effectively saying, "I can't be expected to obey unless my wife does!" My wife thus displaces God (in my mind) as my enabler for obedience. The truth is that "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose". Transferring that power to Mrs. Jailer (or Jailer Jr., or Jailer Boss, etc.) is idolatrous, unfair, and a losing strategy.

Transferring it to anonymous motorists can get me killed.

29 comments:

  1. Excellent! Thank you for sharing this!!

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  2. Excellent thoughts! I would only add if "if I can't be expected to obey unless my wife does" is a conditional love for my wife and open rebellion against Godly instruction.

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  3. Well put. Everything is about our personal relationship with Christ and not others relationships with Him.

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  4. I hate it when God hits me between the eyes so hard with reminders like these. ;-) Thanks so much for sharing!

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  5. I think your insight is very helpful and using the crosswalk as your modern example is great. I will remember that when I next need to lead a discussion on this passage. ( Unfortunately we did this last week and I could have used your metaphor of reading your own mail as there were quite a few spouse-mail readers). If you manage to actually live out your understanding your wife is very lucky!

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  6. Wonderful!!!! Thank you for stating this so clearly. I've taught many couples' seminars (for married and those preparing for marriage) but I have never come up with an analogy that brings it home quite as clearly as this. From the (single) woman's perspective, for years I read 'my mail' and chose to remain single and satisfied because I did not understand how 'submission' to a man fit into the life of this powerful woman. However, one of the best lessons that God Himself taught me was that if I allow Him to provide a mate who knows how to love me as Christ loved the church, I would understand that 'to submit' is to lovingly and faithfully present myself...it does not mean that someone is 'taking control' of my life or that I am relinquishing the God-given gift of free will. Christ loved the church enough to give it power, provisions, protection, authority, communication, free will...to intercede on its behalf, to love unconditionally, to teach, to guide, to correct in love, to defend, to endow with gifts and liberty, to understand, to hear, to answer, to share intimate moments, to establish a relationship (with all that that entails)...to surrender His life. Who wouldn't love and submit to a man like this? The bible is filled with great examples: Boaz and Ruth (he loved her enough to provide for her, cover her virtue, redeem her and her family and go before her elders to set her affairs in order and ask for her hand.) Joseph and Mary (Likewise he covered her virtue and in doing so he became her amour barer in the ministry to birth and raise Jesus Christ); Esther and King Ahasuerus (He loved her for herself, protected her, provided for her, listened to her and took council from her, redeemed her and her kin (Israelites), endowed her with power and authority, established her as a ruler and allowed her to exercise her authority, respected her wisdom etc.) The list goes on and on. The key is that wives are to submit themselves to their OWN husband (uh oh). That's a whole other message :) "Whose Shoulder are you Crying On?" or "Is the One You Have Now, Your Own?" These days, I thank God that I learned that 'submit' is not a four letter word...it is indeed a blessing in the hands of a God-given man...who knows how to read his own mail :)

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  7. I sure needed to read this, and I'm the wife! Thanks!

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  8. I agree with Paul, Very well put. And yes our relationships with Christ are personal, and we can stand as a loving united force, together, as Christians. Many Blessings.

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  9. I'm blessed...thanks a lot!

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  10. Thanks so much for posting! Self righteousness is something we all need to be very careful of! I have a feeling it'd be wrong of me to print this for my husband to read, huh?!

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  11. How perfect! Sometimes we need to be reminded or convicted in one way or another that 'we' do this in silence. We should not judge others or have expectations about others in order for us to live righteously. Matthew 7:3 (New International Version) 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Be blessed.

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  12. I especially appreciated the point you made that excusing our wrongs by citing our mate's reduces us to idolotry, effectively saying, "I can't be expected to obey unless my spouse does!" Our mates thus displace God (in our minds) as our enablers for obedience.

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  13. Your insight has brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. I am so glad that you shared this with me. I spend too much time worrying about my wife's mail that I am not complying with my own responsibilities.

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  14. Excellent! Thanks! Your article is a great "perspective adjuster" and reminds us to look out for what God has given us to manage and not get into other's business. This reminds me - I think I have a speck in my eye. Gotta go!

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  15. Wow- very well written. How easy it is to focus on what others should be doing and how they should be acting in relation to ourselves when that is precisely what we can't control. It so often breeds frustration in people because they're trying to fix others when the solution is to simply look at ourselves in light of God's grace and mercy and do what we can to be like Christ and love others who are in the process, wherever they are in that process. Thanks for this great insight :)

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  16. Thank you for sharing this, God puts many things in front of us that we need (although we may not know we need it) and your post is that for me. My wife and I are working hard to understand how God wants us to live together and as we study this it can become confusing. I think your post has shed some light on some of our confusion and I thank you for that.

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  17. All -- thanks for your encouraging feedback on this post. Those of us who write do so with the prayer that it will prove of use to God and others in some important way. Sometimes we wonder if it's worth the time. Sometimes we don't have to wonder. Thanks for that.

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  18. Thank you Brother. We all need to be reminded of biblical truths from time to time - some of us (me) more often than others.

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  19. Wow that is a very good angle to look at. You are right. It doesn't say to ame sure your spouse submits. So much of the time we are better off to not focus on ourselves. But in this case...we need to focus on self.

    There is no black and white line. we have to always go t oGod for His guidance.

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  20. Thank you....I will try to remember this myself and am passing on to my internet ministry

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  21. I very much appreciate your writing, and your honesty. More people need to know these truths. Wouldn't the world be so much better? thank you for sharing this with all of us.

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  22. Thank you for this post. It is true and it reflects how, because of the pull of our flesh, we need constant reminders so that we remain focused. Thank you and God Bless.

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  23. I've not read all the comments, so this may have already been noted, but it is significant that in Ephesians 5.33 there is a word that is almost always badly translated - the word 'ina'. In the NIV it is translated 'and' but if we take it's most usual usage 'in order / so that' then the passage reads wonderfully - husbands should love their wives as Christ does the church, so that the wives will respect their husbands. This is in accord with the character of God - see Psalm 130.4 - With you there is forgiveness, THEREFORE you are feared....

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  24. That was a great article, I really had to think about the idolotrous part but God really spoke to me loud and clear.

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  25. Don't you love it when God uses a random life experience to teach spiritual lessons? I do. Great illustration and an important perspective on this passage that causes so many difficulties.

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  26. Great stuff. You win the metaphor award for insight into these passages. While a visiting preacher and professor in an Asian country I was asked to preach on the biblical view of submission and to really make sure the women understood their need to submit without whining. I hesitated and the Pastor asked if I was concerned about the negative reaction of the women. I remarked that I was willing to preach on the text of Eph 5 but was unsure how the men would respond and if they could stand the truth.

    He was stunned because he had always read the mail of women and essentially ignored the part of St. Paul's letter that was written to him. I asked him to read the entire passage that says, "Submit yourselves one to another in reverence to Christ. Wives submit to your own husband... and husbands love your wife and die for her..." I asked, "Are you and the other men ready to die for your wives in submission to them?" He replied that he was not so sure.

    The entire context is mutual submission not the submission of only one gender. When read from the perspective of only one gender submission is deadly, hurtful and full of the fleshly desires of our sex. Mutual submission requires death to self and the power of the Holy Spirit.

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