Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rules for Husbands

I am writing this article to my fellow and future husbands of the Body of Christ. Before I begin with the "how-to" portion of the article, I would like to take a moment to share my personal experience as a husband.

My wife, Amy, and I were married at a young age. A hopeless romantic, I made it a point to continually surprise her when we were dating and to show her love in every way I could. After only five months of dating, I proposed to her on her birthday with what many who know us consider to be the most grand proposal they have ever witnessed. I had a friend who owned a small airplane, and, along with my mother-in-law and father, we arranged for about 150 family members and friends to be present for the event. The morning of the proposal, my father, a friend and I went to the airport to plot points with white spray paint in the grass. That evening, Amy and I boarded the plane for what she thought was a surprise birthday present, and while we were in the air our friends and family members arrived and lined up along the plotted points on the ground. When the pilot's wife informed him via radio that everyone was ready, he flew over the group, tilted the plane, and asked Amy to look out her window. What she saw was "Marry Me" spelled by 150 people. The proposal made the front page of the local paper. Thus, our engagement began.

As the wedding planning got underway, tension started to arise. Shortly after the proposal, I left for Army basic training and was gone for six months. When I returned home, things had changed - to say the least. The dynamic between my wife (fiancee at the time) and mother-in-law was sharp, and her frustration with the situation inevitably carried over into our relationship. Things got so bad that the pastor who led our pre-marital counseling told us he thought we would be making a big mistake to get married. We had quickly gone from being the picture perfect couple to being advised to not even marry!

Still, we knew we loved each other and were confident we could make our marriage work. We had already been through a lot; what more could we possibly face? Contrary to the pastor's advice, we got married as planned.

Little did we know that not only would things get worse after our marriage - they would get a lot worse. My wife was working at the time and I was attending college, so she bore the burden of providing for us both. We took financial risks, including purchasing rental properties, which proved to be devastating. Amidst all this hardship, my wife became pregnant with our first child only five months into our marriage. Emotions were high and stresses were great, and constant arguing became the norm. A mere eight months into our marriage, we were both strongly considering divorce.

Around that time, a friend of mine challenged some of my beliefs regarding God's sovereignty and, unable to dispute his claims, I changed my entire set of beliefs. My wife and I were both brought up in Baptist churches, and she was not exactly thrilled with my newfound beliefs. This added even more tension - especially with regards to how we would raise our unborn daughter. 

Feeling completely hopeless, I eventually began what many would deem an "emotional affair" with another woman. Though not physical, the relationship was certainly more intimate than it should have been. Finding happiness and no stress with the other woman, my intentions were to leave my wife for her. By this time, our daughter was over a year old and my wife was pregnant with our son, but I justified my intention with the reasoning that it would be better for our children to grow up with us divorced than together and constantly arguing. 

Thanks to God, the affair was short-lived. The same friend who had originally convinced me of God's sovereignty, shared some material that would change my life for good. I was introduced to God's truths and committed from that point forward to living faithfully. The relationship with the other woman abruptly ended, and I recommitted myself to my marriage.

Needless to say, my wife was not eager to "welcome me back" with open arms. Over several years, tension was still thick and we did not get along. I could not forget the pain she had caused me, and though she admitted she didn't blame me for seeking comfort elsewhere after how she acted, she couldn't forgive my mistake.

Finally, after years of reasoning to myself that I was the head of my family and had changed for the better and that my wife needed to follow me in spite of our past, I lay in bed one night and realized that I had been selfish and had never put myself in my wife's shoes. I realized that I couldn't control what she felt and did, but I could control what I did regardless of how I felt. I committed to acting in love toward my wife no matter how she treated me.

As my faith grew, my wife's didn't. In fact, if anything, it only got worse. She could not accept that what she had been taught for years growing up was completely wrong, and she accused me of being arrogant for stating that I knew more truth than the credentialed pastors she was so fond of. As frustrated and angry as I was, I stuck to my commitment to love her at all costs. 

In time, my wife has come around and her faith has steadily progressed. Just recently, she told me that the driving force for her change was her recognition of the fact that I led by example in love. More than any words, my actions demonstrated to her what it means for husbands and wives to love one another.

I tell you this, dear reader, so you know that I am not writing with no experience. I feel it's safe to say that my wife and I have been through more than most couples may ever endure, and over a shorter period of time. By following God's model, we have overcome extraordinary odds and I am in a unique position to share with you the recipe for success. As we men like things to be kept simple, I have decided to list a number of Scriptural "rules," or best practices, for husbands to follow. If you are currently struggling in your marriage or are a single person who may face martial problems in the future, I implore you to take what you are about to read to heart and to commit to acting it out.

Rule #1: Headship is not a license to dictate or degrade. As men, we are prone to emphasize our masculinity and headship by "laying down the law" with our wives. When we feel disrespected and like our rightful position is being challenged, we quickly resort to the "authority card" and demand that our wives submit! It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this method is totally ineffective. What woman in her right mind would respond well to a man who acts like a dictator? We must lead by example, not force! Often, we feel that our wives are too emotional and illogical. They vent to us about their fears and insecurities because they simply want us to listen; but unable to understand how someone could complain without desiring an immediate solution, we quickly offer a solution and make them feel as though we don't listen, understand or care. Angered that we do care but are being accused otherwise, we give up or respond defensively. To deal appropriately with our wives, we have to accept the fact that they are different from us and have been designed differently by God. They are our complement, not our clone. Whether their thought process makes sense logically or not, they feel how they feel! When our wives tell us they feel a certain way, they are right! We may think their feelings are unfounded or foolish, but the feelings are there nonetheless. It is what it is, and any attempt on our part to "fix" how they feel will inevitably result in failure. Just as Paul became all things to all men, we too must meet our wives at the point of their need and never degrade them. We must give our wives what they need rather than what we need.

Rule #2: Love through action. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul defines love for us. Here, we see that love is not so much a feeling as it is an action. Someone who is loving acts out the virtues Paul lays out to the Corinthians - namely: patience, kindness, forgiveness, and rejoicing with the truth, while rejecting jealousy, arrogance, indecency, selfishness and anger. Also included in love's attributes is the virtue of enduring all! What does this teach us about how we should love our wives? It's really quite simple (although not easy)! Loving our wives means enduring everything we encounter with them, always being patient with them,  kind toward them, and forgiving. It means not acting in jealousy, arrogance, indecency, selfishness, or anger. Countless husbands feel that this is an impossible task. They feel as though their marriage is entirely one-sided if they are to live out the virtues of love toward their wives with no hope of getting anything in return. What they fail to realize is that acting in love is the only chance they have of getting anything in return because it is the only way a wife will respond as she is designed to! Our primary motivation should be to follow God in faith, and we can trust that there is blessing in doing so. If you feel your wife is undeserving of love, consider the greatest example of love - Christ. Romans 5:9 reminds us that "God is commending this love of His to us, seeing that, while we are still sinners, Christ died for our sakes." In other words, we are completely undeserving of God's love and He shows us that love by saving us in spite of having no reason to feel anything for us in our wretched state. So, if your wife screams at you and calls you names, buy her flowers. If she hits you and degrades you, tell her how beautiful she is and how blessed you are to have her in your life. If she refuses to submit to your headship or to follow you in faith, be continually patient with her. If she is cruel to you, be kind to her. Commit to being a Christ-like husband above all else, and when you don't think you can continue one moment longer, recommit again! If, in the end, your wife leaves, you will not be at fault.

Rule #3: View your wife as your own body. In Ephesians 5, Paul gives us a wonderful analogy for marriage. He says, "Husbands... ought to be loving their own wives as their own bodies. He who is loving his own wife is loving himself. For no one at any time hates his own flesh, but is nurturing and cherishing it, according as Christ also the ecclesia." The significance of Paul's analogy is that husbands and wives are so unified that they can be seen as one single entity. When a husband wrongs his wife, he is harming himself, not just her! Furthermore, a man cannot cast away part of himself. To do so would be to destroy himself! Thus, husbands must view harming their wives as harming themselves and casting away their wives as casting away part of themselves. When we recognize this truth, the importance of cherishing and caring for our wives takes on a whole new meaning.

Rule #4: Submit to Christ, not your wife. The previous rules discussed what to do, but this rule describes what not to do. This rule is especially difficult to follow because it often seems to contradict the other rules. Yet, loving our wives through action with the virtues of 1 Corinthians 13 does not require giving into to their desires when they contradict Christ. We can still be patient, kind, selfless, and so on with our wives while, at the same time, submitting to Christ's will above theirs. This is not to say that we do not take their concerns, thoughts, and feelings into account. Our wives should be free to express whatever they wish with regards to any decision, but if their will is opposed to Christ's, it is Christ's will that must prevail.  It may seem that putting Christ above our wives will make them feel less loved and set a bad example of love; but, on the contrary, they will respect us all the more for doing what they know to really be right.

Rule #5: Serve and sacrifice for your wife. Our example as husbands for how to treat our wives is exemplified in how Christ treats His Body, the ecclesia. Paul tells us that Christ's example is best seen through the lens of service and sacrifice. Following in Christ's footsteps, we must center our leadership around these fundamentals, rooted in love. Our service to our wives should not be limited to minor acts, but should include major acts of servitude and hard work. We must be diligent in providing for our wives and protecting them. This often requires a great deal of sacrifice, even to the point of dying for our wives if need be!

I am living proof that the biblical model I have provided here works! God has graciously granted me the blessing of experiencing immense trial in my marriage so that I can proclaim the effectiveness of His ideal to my brothers. If you are experiencing difficulty in your marriage or know someone who is, these biblical principles are the best tools for fixing what seems hopelessly broken. Commit to putting them into practice at all cost. Be the man God calls you to be!

© 2013 by Stephen Hill

Sunday, May 5, 2013

God's Chain of Command

For six years, I served in the Army National Guard. If there's one thing of value I learned firsthand during my service, it's that organization works and disorganization doesn't. This seems obvious enough, but much of the world hasn't yet caught onto this simple truth. Rather than accept and fulfill their proper roles, people fight to obtain what they consider to be a superior role. As a result, the system cannot function and inevitably breaks down. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than with the family structure in modern America.

Every organization has a chain of command. Companies have a Chief Executive Officer, or CEO, at the top of the chain who functions singularly as the highest point of authority. Beneath the CEO is a collective of a few other key leaders, such as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Operations Officer (COO), who manage those beneath them but answer to the CEO. Beneath these leaders is a larger management team composed of managers who manage large departments or teams within the corporation. The chain, then, exists as a pyramid; the bottom of the pyramid, or company, is the largest segment, composed of the most workers. As the chain moves up, it gets increasingly smaller until its singular top - the President or CEO. The higher individuals are in the chain of command, the more responsibility they have, and the more they are compensated for that responsibility. At each stage of the pyramid, or chain, lower ranking members submit and answer to those immediately above them in the chain. Since each leader takes direction from a higher authority, disobedience to an immediate supervisor is considered disobedience to a higher one. If each member of the corporation accepts and fulfills his unique role, the system runs like a well-oiled machine; if not, it falls apart.

In the military, the chain of command functions no differently. The base of the pyramid consists of hundreds of thousands of enlisted soldiers who answer to a smaller segment of non-commissioned officers, who in turn answer to an even smaller segment of commissioned officers, who answer to a handful of Joint Chiefs, and finally to the singular President of the country - the "Commander in Chief."

As one of the majority of enlisted soldiers, I frequently lamented the fact that I was at the bottom of the chain. I was confident that I could do a better job than many of the sergeants I answered to and many of their superior officers as well. Had I acted above my rank or disobeyed orders, though, I would have hindered the singular purpose that had been passed down throughout the chain of command. It was crystal clear that in order for the the mission to succeed, I had to know my role and act accordingly, regardless of how I felt.

 We often associate the chain of command structure with the secular world, but when we examine Scripture we discover that this is God's model, not man's. Throughout the eons, God has organized His structure as a pyramid consisting of many at the bottom and one at the top. This is true for Israel, the Body of Christ, and, on a smaller scale, the family unit. Each of these three demands a discussion all on its own, but for our purposes here I will focus on the family structure alone.

God's chain of command for the family is as follows (from top to bottom): God Himself - Christ - Husband - Wife or Wives - Children. Paul lays out this model clearly in Ephesians 5 and 6 where he instructs, "Let the wives be subject to their own husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife even as Christ is Head of the ecclesia, and He is the Saviour of the body. Nevertheless, as the ecclesia is subject to Christ, thus are the wives also to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:22-24). Paul then moves further down the chain and says, "Children, be obeying your parents, in the Lord, for this is just. 'Honor your father and mother' (which is the first precept with a promise), that it may be becoming well with you, and you should be a long time on the earth" (6:1-3).

God's purpose for this model in the family is to ensure that His will for the family is passed down and carried out effectively. Wives are instructed to submit to their husbands because their husbands are instructed to submit to Christ. In the same way, children are instructed to obey their parents because both parents are to obey Christ. Christ Himself, then, submits to the Father.

Many argue that God's model for the family is, in reality, often ineffective because husbands are imperfect and do not always submit to Christ. As a result, wives attempt to usurp their husbands and take on the husband's God-given role. In the same sense, husbands, overwhelmed with their increased responsibility and eager to avoid arguing, often allow their wives to take on the role of husband via role reversal. In either case, the family cannot function as intended.

Without a doubt, women are justified in their claim that most men today do not live in submission to Christ. What is the answer to this dilemma, if not to take on the husband's role?

As a soldier, I was required to obey every order I was given, unless the order was clearly unlawful. If I obeyed an unlawful order, I was subject to correction just as if I had disobeyed a lawful order. Many orders were somewhat questionable, but very few were clearly unlawful. In fact, in my entire career as a soldier, I was never once given an obvious unlawful order. Thus, ninety-nine percent of the time, obedience is required and right.

The same is true for marriage with a faithful husband. When the husband earnestly seeks God's will in submission to Christ, the wife will rarely (if ever) be justified in not submitting. To do so would be to refuse submission to Christ. On the other hand, if a husband lives in constant rejection of God's ideal for his family, the wife finds herself in a tough spot. In such a case, she may be obeying an "unlawful" order if she submits. Should she refuse to submit, take on the husband's role, both or neither?

When we understand the chain of command, questions like this become much easier to answer. The husband, wife, and children of a family all have God-given roles that do not change as long as the family remains intact. If a wife is unable to submit to an unfaithful husband, she is able to still fulfill her role as a wife and mother. In the absence of a believing husband, she can still submit to Christ herself and lead her subordinate children in godliness. In doing so, she is not ruling over her husband, but is instead fulfilling her own role as she should.

The feminist movement has swept the nation in recent decades due to the feeling of inferiority women have toward their husbands and men in general. They feel that a lower position on the chain equates to a position of less importance.

The pyramid structure seems to support this notion. After all, the CEO of a company earns the most money in a corporation, and God gets the most glory in the family structure. What most fail to realize, though, is that in order for the organization to function efficiently, the higher ranking members must take care of the lower ranking members. A CEO won't last long in his position if he doesn't take care of the many workers who are in the field every day working hard to manufacture, market, and sell the company's products. Likewise, the family will not function if its immediate head, the husband, doesn't take care of his family. This is why Paul instructs husbands to love their wives as their own bodies (Eph. 5:28) and says that a husband who does not provide for his family has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that it's much easier to be happy with less responsibility. As a child, I hated being under my parents' authority and longed for the day I would become an adult, free to make my own decisions. When I became an adult, I quickly realized how foolish that desire was and wished I could be a kid again, under my parents' authority but with less responsibility and more freedom to have fun. No doubt, many wives feel the same way in regards to their husbands.

It's true that "with great power comes great responsibility." Headship is indeed a position of honor, but it is a position most would gladly give up to avoid its burden. Once a husband recognizes his responsibility to submit to Christ and his wife recognizes that her position is only different - not inferior - to her husband's, the marriage can thrive as God intended.

If you struggle with accepting your God-given role as a husband or wife, consider the chain of command. Forsake the faulty view that your role is less important, and commit to fulfilling your role as God intended. If you are a husband, commit to leading your family with a fixed commitment to submit to Christ in all things. If you are a wife, submit to your husband in everything, for in doing so you are submitting to Christ.

© 2013 by Stephen Hill

Friday, May 3, 2013

Taking the Lord's Name in Vain - Oh, My God!

Our adversary is very clever. For millennia, he has been working tirelessly to cloud the minds of
humanity by means of underhanded, subtle trickery. Challenge to obvious truth is too risky, but stirring confusion with what is already confusing is an inevitable recipe for success.

The examples of Satan's brilliance in this area are nearly endless. Christendom as a whole has bought into his many lies, hook line and sinker. Satan wants Christians to deny the literal death of Christ; what bettter way to accomplish his task than to introduce a concept like the trinity, which denies Christ's death while at the same time proclaiming His majesty as "God?" Our enemy thrives on Christians rejecting God's sovereignty. Is there a better way to convince them that they are more powerful than their Maker than by introducing the false doctrine of free will, which makes God seem generous but at the same time powerless?

Christendom is littered with popular vignettes that seem, on their surface, to line up with Scripture, but in reality oppose it. Here are a few examples: "All sins are equal in the eyes of God," "God helps those who help themselves," "Jesus is my copilot," "Christians must go to church," and "prayer changes things."

One of these more subtle lies is the notion that taking the Lord's name in vain means saying "Oh, my God" or "God, damn it." When asked, most Christians claim that these phrases take the Lord's name in vain by using His name in an "empty" or "meaningless" way. After all - they reason - God's name should not be used flippantly or disrespectfully.

When we read through the Law of Moses and discover that God forbade taking His name in vain as one of the ten commandments to the Hebrews, we should pause to consider whether something as trifle as saying "Oh my God" really constitutes taking the Lord's name in vain. Among the commandments, we find that God's ideal includes not murdering, stealing, or committing adultery. Can a simple three-word phrase really measure up to those sins? Is an everyday phrase on the same level? Can we picture God squirming in anguish when His name is used by someone who is merely reacting in surprise?

To anyone with a brain, it should be crystal clear that taking the Lord's name in vain does not mean saying "Oh my God" or "God damn it!" What, then, does it mean?

Let's first examine the two notorious phrases. What are we saying when we say "Oh, my God?" For one, we are calling out to God! We are acknowledging His existence, and in our surprise, we are actually acknowledging His sovereignty in a sense. Granted, those who frequently use the phrase do not think of this when they say it, but the phrase implies this nonetheless. What about the phrase "God damn it?" This undoubtedly seems far worse to most because it includes the word "damn." Surely this must be an example of taking the Lord's name in vain!

But is it? What are we really saying when we say "God, damn it?" In frustration, we are asking God to "damn," or "curse" the things that caused us frustration. In the original text, to "damn" meant to "down-judge." We might as well say, "God, curse this!" Is there any harm in asking God to curse something that's harmful?

If taking the Lord's name in vain doesn't mean what most think it means, we should attempt to determine what it does mean. As with most dilemmas, we should consult an accurate translation of Scripture to arrive at the truth. When we do (such as the Concordant), we discover that taking the Lord's name in vain means using His name in a futile, or useless way, with no practical result.

God is not concerned with people referencing Him as part of a common phrase. What He is concerned about is people taking up His name for no purpose or for falsity. If I make a false and detrimental claim in the name of God, I have taken His name in vain because I have ascribed His name to something He never decreed. I have "forged His signature," in a sense. To "take" God's name is to use His name. Using His name falsely is taking His name in vain.

A while back, my daughter said "Oh, my God." A while back, Benny Hinn said, "In the name of God I cast out your demon." Which of the two took the Lord's name in vain?

© 2013 by Stephen Hill