Thursday, May 14, 2015

Proof of Paul's Progression

Recently, I wrote a rather controversial article on the importance of rightly dividing Paul's epistles. In the article, I described Paul's progressive revelation and the fact that his focus transitioned from Israel to the nations. This transition is abundantly apparent when we compare Paul's earlier (pre-prison) epistles with his later prison, or "perfection," epistles. In this supplementary article, I will attempt to prove this truth in greater detail so that you, the reader, may have a clear understanding.

Some argue that Paul's letters should not be divided at all. They insist that while Paul's message progressed in minor ways over the course of his ministry and letters (a fact they cannot deny), all of his letters are equal in terms of the relevant truth they hold, today, for the Body of Christ. Those same folks argue that all of Paul's letters are entirely to and for the Body of Christ since Paul was commissioned from day one as the apostle to the nations. 

Interestingly, though, these same teachers do not practice or condone much of what Paul instructed his early readers--especially the Corinthians--to seek and do. These include: the Lord's Dinner, speaking in tongues, performing miracles, healing, prophesying, and ordinances in keeping with the Israeli program. If, in fact, Paul's earlier letters are equally relevant for the Body of Christ today, then we would be obligated to practice everything Paul instructed in his early ministry. It simply is not possible to uphold Paul's earlier letters as equal in every way with his later letters while, at the same time, dismissing much of what Paul instructs in his early letters. If Paul's pre-prison epistles are as relevant today for the Body of Christ as his prison epistles, we should do what Paul instructs in them! Ironically, it is evident that the teachers who oppose right division of Paul's letters are, themselves, dividing them. They have no choice but to divide them, because what Paul teaches the Body of Christ in his last epistles often contradicts what he first taught in his early epistles. 

In the Concordant Commentary on the New Testament, page 33, A. E. Knoch writes:

"... it was not until the end of the Acts era that the salvation of God is sent directly to the nations (Ac. 28:29). The latter half of the second chapter of Ephesians (2:11-22), is an elaborate statement showing that, in the present administration of God's grace, the nations are no longer in the inferior position accorded them in Paul's earlier ministry."

And, farther down: 

"... it was not until Paul's imprisonment that we were brought nigh and enter the family of God (Eph. 2:18, 19). Until then we were still guests at Israel's table, if not puppies under it."

No doubt, many of those opposed to, or ignorant of, this truth are staunch followers of A. E. Knoch and will likely be shocked to know he penned these statements. I wish they would read these words from his commentary every day for a month, or until they really sunk in. Knoch clearly distinguished between Paul's "pre-prison" and "perfection" epistles. As Knoch rightly points out, the end of the Acts era (which encompassed Paul's pre-prison epistles) marks the time when the salvation of God was finally sent directly to the nations; and prior to that point, we (the nations) were still Israel's "guests," or--even less--puppies, inferior to them. Our place of inferiority, as Knoch makes clear, remained unchanged during Paul's "earlier ministry." As he correctly puts it, we were "brought nigh and enter[ed] the family of God" after Paul's imprisonment. 

This fact (which is a fact because it is scriptural, not just because Mr. Knoch said it) proves some rather shocking truths. First, any message of salvation or instruction taught by Paul prior to his imprisonment could not have been directed solely to the nations, despite the fact that he was commissioned by Christ from the moment of his conversion to be the apostle to the nations. Second, only Paul's post-Acts epistles contain truth that is solely applicable, today, for the Body of Christ. That is not to say that Paul's earlier letters contain no truth for the Body; but it is Paul's later letters which contain complete truth for the Body of Christ, now. Not surprisingly, Romans--Paul's last pre-prison epistle--contains more regarding the mystery of Paul's evangel than any of his other pre-prison letters. Paul revealed more and more as he progressed through his ministry and transitioned his focus from Israel to the nations.

Now, some insist that since Paul was commissioned to be the apostle to the nations from day one, he must have dealt only with the nations from the beginning. This assumption is illogical and is simply not true, as proven by the text. Paul frequented the Jewish synagogues in his early ministry, even to the point that Luke called it his "custom" (Acts 9:20, 13:5,14,15,42; 14:1, 17:2,10,17; 18:4,19,26; 19:8, 28:23). Immediately after his conversion, Paul went where? Not to the nations, but to the synagogues (9:20), heralding Jesus as the Son of God. 

Of course, the fact that Paul was commissioned to be the apostle to the nations is no less true because he focused first on his Jewish brethren. Paul retained his title all along, but he could not enact all that his title entailed until God permitted him to, after the full setting aside of Israel. Furthermore, the Body of Christ is composed not only of Gentile believers, but also a remnant of believing Israel; so while Paul's primary task was evangelizing the nations, his ultimate goal was the up-building of the Body, which included his brethren, the believing Israelites. We must not ignore Paul's overwhelmingly Jewish qualifications as we examine the totality of his God-given role.

Perhaps one of the strongest proofs of Paul's transitioning focus lies in some key words. To many, the terms "Greek" and "Gentile" are synonymous and interchangeable. Yet, while all Greeks are Gentiles, not all Gentiles are Greeks. Please read that last sentence again, or until it is completely clear. This is no different than the fact that all Ohioans are Americans, but not all Americans are Ohioans. I trust this is a simple reality to comprehend.

Of course, many translations of Scripture render the Greek terms for these important words erroneously. The Greek terms often translated as "Greek" or "Gentile" are hellen and ethnos. Paul used the term hellen in his pre-prison epistles only, except in the one case of Colossians 3:11 where he reiterates the lack of distinctions in the Body. In his later letters, he uses only the term ethnos. Why would Paul draw this distinction? Is it even worth noting? I would argue that it most certainly is. Things that are different are not the same (another simple fact to comprehend); and whenever we come across God's inspired use of different terms, we should study to understand His reasons for doing so.

Paul makes it clear that his early ministry was directed to the "Jew first," then the Greek. Note, Paul does not say to the "Jew first, then the Gentile." So, who were these Greeks? Any and all Gentiles? No. They were God-fearing proselytes who sought God's wisdom (1 Cor. 1:22) and blessing through the seed of Abraham. By definition, they were hellens--natives of Greece, or ones who had adopted the Greek language and culture. They were not the non-Jewish heathen (ethnos). In Romans 1:14, the Concordant Version appropriately has the phrase, "To both Greeks and barbarians..." proving that Paul made a clear distinction between Greek believers and other Gentiles. In any case, it was believing Jews and Greeks Paul addressed in his early ministry. This is why when Paul identified certain individuals by name among the ecclesias he wrote to, several of the names were Greek as well as Jewish. By preaching to the Jews and Greek proselytes in the synagogues, then, Paul was indeed heralding Christ to the "nations" (as Greeks are non-Israelites by progeny), although those Greeks were clearly aligning themselves with Israel and were considered, for all intents and purposes, "Jewish."

When Paul and Barnabas met with the apostles and elders of Jerusalem to discuss the requirements for salvation for the nations, they agreed that while circumcision was not a requirement, other observances of the Mosaic Law--items they deemed "essentials" (v. 28)--were still to be kept (namely: abstaining from ceremonial pollution with idols, and prostitution, and what is strangled, and blood). This decision, agreed upon by Paul in Acts 15, is a far cry from his later evangel of God's grace which requires no law keeping, whatsoever.

When we arrive at the prison epistles, we see an entirely different focus than that of Paul's earlier ministry. Now, Paul's focus is entirely on non-Israelite, non-proselyte believers whom he addresses in Ephesians as having, prior to that point, been "apart from Christ, being alienated from the citizenship of Israel, and guests of the promised covenants, having no expectation, and without God in the world." This statement certainly doesn't pertain to the Jews and Greeks Paul had previously spent so much time teaching! Rather, these believers are ethnos--non-Jewish, non-Greek Gentiles.

The order of progression for Paul's audience throughout his ministry, then, is as follows: The Jews first, then Greek proselytes, and, lastly, the nations who were previously alienated from Israel's covenant promises. Amazingly, as Paul transitions from one group to the next, the balance dramatically shifts so that the nations, who were once separated from the commonwealth of Israel, end up with an even better allotment!

Paul begins his letter to the Romans--likely his last pre-prison epistle--with this revealing statement: "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, a called apostle, severed for the evangel of God (which he promises before through his prophets in the holy scriptures)..."

Did you notice what is "revealing" about this opening line? In his greeting to the Romans, Paul defines his evangel to them as one promised through the prophets in the Scriptures. Unlike the evangel of the grace of God that Paul later preached exclusively to the nations, his evangel to the Romans was not a mystery that had been kept hidden by God, but was contained in prophecy and should have been identifiable to those who knew the Hebrew Scriptures. Who were such people? Israelites and proselytes. The nations were not given the Law (Rom. 2:14) and were not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul does hint at the secrets of his evangel in Romans, as he does, at times, in his other pre-prison epistles; but he does not fully reveal the secrets of his evangel in their entirety until his later letters. Prior to the full setting aside of Israel, it was unlawful (that is, not permitted by God) for Paul to teach all that had been revealed to him (2 Cor. 12:4).

Likewise, it is important to realize that when we read of Paul's frequency in the synagogues throughout the Acts period (contained in nearly every chapter from Paul's conversion in chapter 9 on), we always read of him proving Jesus was the Son of God "according to the Scriptures." It was only those who had and were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures who could have been reasoned with by them. These, again, were Israelites and Greek proselytes. 

Repentance is another important distinguisher between Paul's earlier and later epistles. Paul's message in his earlier epistles contained a call to repentance, whereas his latter epistles stressed justification through faith. Repentance recognizes one's guilt, while justification does not. This is a significant difference and one that is clearly evident in Paul's progression. Paul uses the term "repentance" (metanoia in Greek) in his pre-prison epistles, 2 Corinthians and Romans. The books Hebrews and 2 Peter (both addressed exclusively to Israel) are the other books, aside from the so-called "gospels," containing the term. The only exception to this rule is 2 Timothy 2:25 (Paul's last letter), where Paul instructs Timothy to be gentle and patient toward "those who are antagonizing," seeing that God may lead them to repentance. Who are those antagonizing? Contradicting Jews--the same men who had always plagued Paul's evangel by teaching a mixing of law and grace. Timothy knew these men well. Clearly, repentance was a necessity for Israel, not the nations, since Israel was given the Law and rejected their Messiah. Paul's insistence on repentance in his earlier epistles, then, is further proof of his initial focus on Israel.

When we understand that Paul's revelation was progressive and that his ministry was transitional, the reason for the sometimes drastic differences in his earlier and later letters becomes clear. Paul first taught the believing Jews and Greeks he addressed to observe the Lord's Dinner, to seek the spiritual gifts, to heal, and to believe his evangel which was promised "before through [God's] prophets in the holy scriptures." Paul initially operated this way because at that period in time the gospel of the kingdom was still being offered to Israel who always required a sign (1 Cor. 1:22). As such, Paul's primary focus was naturally on Israel at first, in spite of the fact that he would eventually fulfill his calling as God's chosen apostle to the nations. 

Keep in mind that the mere fact that Paul had to tell the Jews of his transitioning focus to the nations at Acts 28 is rock-solid proof of his focus on Israel to that point. Immediately prior to that point, we read of Paul "persuading [the Jews] concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and the prophets, from morning till dusk" (Acts 28:23). Interestingly, it was this same time period (the end of the Acts era) when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans.

When we examine Paul's later epistles--those written after the Acts era--we see an evangel of grace, heralded to the non-Israelite nations, based on faith alone, with no active signs or gifts, which promises a celestial allotment, far superior to Israel's terrestrial expectation. After the setting aside of Israel at the close of Acts, Paul--in sharp contrast to his earlier letters--never promotes the signs that were previously given for Israel. On the contrary, he instructed the Colossians to let no one judge them for what they ate or drank, or whether they observed the Sabbath or religious feasts (Col. 2:16). Likewise, Paul advised Timothy to take some wine for his stomach, whereas before he would have just healed him. 

In short, an examination of Paul's epistles proves some undeniable facts. First, Paul's epistles must be rightly divided, as his message significantly changed according to whom he addressed over time. Second, as Paul's focus clearly transitioned from Israel to the nations, we must look to Paul's later epistles to find complete and current truth that pertains only to the Body of Christ. Third, while Paul was commissioned as the apostle to the nations at his conversion, he did not direct his efforts to the nations alone until after Israel had been fully set aside. Fourth, while the Body of Christ began with Paul (and, in reality, before the disruption of the world in an absolute sense (Eph. 1:4)), Paul did not fully disclose all truth for the Body until after his imprisonment. Fifth, the evangel that Paul preached early in his ministry did not include the fullness of the mystery he eventually revealed to the nations.

I have to assume that those who contradict the necessity of rightly dividing Paul's epistles do so out of mere ignorance. The whole concept is simply new and unfamiliar to them and, as such, challenges their firm, long-held beliefs. Many have likely never studied the chronological order of Paul's epistles or compared them to the account in Acts. Recognizing Paul's unique place as the apostle to the nations, they have taken for granted that Paul dealt only with the nations when he, in fact, dealt primarily with Israel at the beginning of his ministry. I encourage anyone who fits that mold to put the truth of God's Word above their pride--to value glorifying God above glorifying themselves.

Consider this: if we neglect to rightly divide Paul's epistles, we have no choice but to partake in the Lord's Dinner, seek the spiritual gifts, attempt to heal others, and so forth. Paul instructed his early readers (especially the Corinthians) to do all these things, declaring that Christ had passed them along to him. If Paul's letters are all equally relevant for us today, then either those ordinances are still valid, or Paul contradicts himself. I, for one, don't accept either of those possibilities, and I encourage you to rightly divide Paul's epistles to draw that same unavoidable conclusion.

© 2015 by Stephen Hill

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Right Division Includes Paul

Many of my readers have a firm grasp of Paul's exhortation to "rightly divide the Word of Truth" and to examine things that differ in the Scriptures. This practice is an absolute must for anyone seeking to make sense of God's Word. Among the many truths we discover through right division, one that becomes obvious is Paul's unique place as the apostle to the nations and the bearer of the mystery kept hidden by God from ages past.

Unfortunately, many believers stop here. After recognizing the distinct nature of Paul's epistles, they fail to rightly divide his epistles. In the case of Paul, right division does not end at separating Paul's letters from the rest of Scripture. Paul's own letters must be rightly divided in order to make sense of his teaching.

In this article, I will address several examples of how Paul's message changed and progressed over the course of his ministry, the reasons for that change, and the error of lending equal weight to all of Paul's letters. To begin, we must be aware of the true order of Paul's letters, as they are not ordered chronologically in our Bibles.

Generally, Paul's letters can be lumped into two groups: the pre-prison epistles and the prison epistles.  The pre-prison epistles, written before Paul's imprisonment, reflect the early period of his ministry and include (in no certain order): First and Second Thessalonians, Galatians, First and Second Corinthians, and Romans. The prison epistles, which reflect the latter part of Paul's ministry, include (again in no certain order): Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Titus, Philemon, and First and Second Timothy. Interestingly, the pre-prison period consists of six letters, which is the scriptural number for imperfect man, while the prison period consists of seven, which is the scriptural number of perfection. 

When we directly compare Paul's statements between different epistles, we notice some stark differences - especially between the pre-prison and prison epistles. Before I go over several of these differences, I will let Paul speak for himself in regards to his progression and changing message:

... I shall also be coming to apparitions and revelations of the Lord. I am acquainted with a man in Christ, fourteen years before this, (whether in a body I am not aware, or outside of the body, I am not aware - God is aware) such a one was snatched away to the third heaven... into paradise and hears ineffable declarations, which it is not allowed a man to speak.       -2 Corinthians 12:1-4 (CLNT)

Here, Paul describes himself years after an amazing experience receiving revelation. He begins by explaining that he shall be coming to revelations of the Lord and that the revelations he had already received were not yet permissible for him to teach. Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians, one of his earlier letters, well before the words he penned in his later letters. Thus, Paul himself made it clear to the Corinthians that 1) he would receive more revelation in the future, and 2) he was not allowed at the time of his writing to the Corinthians to teach all he had been shown by Christ to that point. Both of these facts are vital to understanding Paul's later writings. Acts 26:16 confirms Paul's progressive revelation by stating that he was made a minister and witness both of the things he had already seen and the things that would be shown to him. 

The book of Acts encompasses Paul's ministry from his conversion on the road to Damascus in chapter 9 to the complete setting aside of Israel and his imprisonment in chapter 28. In other words, Paul's pre-prison epistles exist on the timeline of Acts, and his prison epistles were written after the period accounted for in Acts. Reading through Acts, it is clear that following the death and resurrection of Christ, a great transitional period took place. This transition was from the exclusivity of Israel to the fullness of the nations. On a graph, this could be represented by Israel beginning at the top left with the nations on the bottom left, and ending exactly opposite with the nations on the top right and Israel on the bottom right. The downward moving Israel line and upward moving nations line would intersect in the middle forming an "X." Not surprisingly, Paul's letters perfectly mimic this transition. His earliest letters were written primarily to his fellow Jews and Gentile proselytes who attended the synagogues (see 1 Cor. 10:1-4 as an example), his mid-ministry letters were written to Jewish and Gentile believers, and his later letters were written to non-Jews who were previously "apart from Christ, having been alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God, in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Study Paul's letters chronologically, and you will discover that the pre-prison epistles are loaded with Old Testament references, while the prison epistles contain hardly any.      
As this great transitional shift was occurring and Paul's audience changing, it was vitally important that Paul only reveal what God permitted him to reveal at certain times. This is precisely why Paul's later letters are different in many ways from his early letters. In addition, God's entire program was changing. During the beginning of Paul's ministry when Israel was the focus, signs, gifts, healings and miracles were prevalent as God was dealing with the Jews who required a sign (1 Cor. 1:22). As Paul's ministry increasingly moved toward a focus on the nations who sought wisdom (also v. 22), the signs and gifts continually dwindled until they were non-existent.

Though Paul never said this, it is highly likely that the revelation he had received and was initially not allowed to share was the mystery God had kept hidden of the salvation of the Gentile nations and their superior allotment. The fullness of this amazing truth is not revealed by Paul until his prison epistles, although due to the transitional nature of God's program, hints of it can be seen in Paul's later pre-prison epistles - particularly Romans (see chapter 15).

With this foundation of knowledge, we can examine some of the key differences between Paul's pre-prison and prison epistles and begin to understand which epistles bear greater weight for us today. The examples I am about to give are only a small sampling but will serve to prove the need to rightly divide Paul's epistles to uncover current, relevant truth.

Reading the pre-prison passage of 1 Corinthians 11, one would assume that we need to partake in the Lord's Supper. Paul clearly instructs the Corinthian believers to and even says that he received the practice from the Lord before passing it along to them. Yet, in Colossians 2, we read Paul's instruction to let no one judge us for what we eat or drink or for whether we observe religious festivals. Without rightly dividing Paul's prison period words in Colossians from his earlier, contradictory words in First Corinthians, it is impossible to know which to believe and follow today. When we realize that Paul's instructions to the Corinthians during the pre-prison period were written primarily to Jewish believers and proselytes who were still entrenched in Israel's works-based traditions while his opposing instructions to the Colossians were written to believers of the nations who were never given those traditions, the answer is clear. As believers today, we are to follow the Colossians passage and do not need to partake in the Lord's Supper.

Tongues, prophecy, and healing are other examples of Paul's evolving message and God's changing program. In 1 Corinthians, Paul instructed believers on the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit and the appropriate way to use them. He even told them to eagerly desire the gifts (1 Cor. 14:1). Reading passages like 1 Corinthians 14 without rightly dividing Paul's epistles, one would naturally assume that the gifts are still in operation today and that we should eagerly desire them. This is precisely why Pentecostal churches exist. Yet, Paul also told the Corinthians that the gifts would cease and vanish in the prior chapter (1 Cor. 13:8). When we read the prison epistles, we discover that there is no mention whatsoever of the gifts, even when we would expect Paul to stress them, and that rather than heal Timothy's stomach problems as he could have before, Paul simply instructs him to drink some wine (1 Tim. 5:23). This sharp contrast, of course, is due to the gradual transition during Paul's ministry and the ceasing of the gifts by the time Paul wrote to Timothy. Indeed, the gifts had ceased well before Paul's first letter to Timothy, which is why there is no mention of them in Paul's previous prison epistles. Rightly dividing these passages, we can easily see that the sign gifts are no longer in operation today, nor have they been for over two thousand years! Seeking them today is a complete waste of time based in ignorance, and claiming to possess them is a lie based in arrogance.

Water baptism is another major stumbling block when Paul's letters aren't rightly divided. Reading 1 Corinthians 1, one would be inclined to uphold the practice of water baptism in keeping with John the Baptist and the other Jewish apostles. Paul, himself, was water baptized, and states that he water baptized two individuals and one household (1 Cor. 1:14-16). Yet, in the following verse (17) he states that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the evangel. Later, in Ephesians 4, Paul lists the elements of oneness that compose the unity of spirit and lists "one baptism" (that is, spirit baptism) rather than water. Through right division, we discover that water baptism was predominantly a Jewish work, performed at the beginning of Paul's ministry while Israel was still in focus. As God set Israel aside and drew the nations in, spirit baptism reigned supreme and water baptism was irrelevant for believers of the nations. Nearly all believers today uphold water baptism as a necessary act of faith or even a saving act in itself. If they rightly divided Paul's epistles, they would understand that their baptism in spirit renders water baptism meaningless and unnecessary. 

Perhaps the most confusing issue in Paul's letters - even for many who rightly divide them - is the so-called "rapture," or "snatching away." Paul describes this event briefly at the end of 1 Thessalonians 4. A careful reading of the passage shows that Paul believed this event was imminent at the time of his writing, for he states that he and the other living believers would not precede those who had "fallen asleep," or passed away, in being snatched away. As we know, this event still has not occurred, long after Paul wrote these words. Was he wrong, or lying, or was something else at work? 

1 Thessalonians 4 describes Christ coming down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, resurrecting the dead in Christ first, followed by living believers, being snatched away into the clouds of the air to meet Christ. As we know, though, 1 Thessalonians is a pre-prison epistle, written early on in Paul's ministry. In fact, many scholars believe 1 Thessalonians is Paul's first letter. Our next step, then, is to search Paul's later epistles to see what, if anything, he has to say about this event.

When we do just that, we discover a surprising passage. In Colossians 3:4, Paul makes the new declaration that members of the Body of Christ will appear with Christ at the moment of His appearing in glory. While the 1 Thessalonians 4 event would take place with Christ coming down and a series of specific elements (command, trumpet, etc.), the Colossians 3 event is described as Christ remaining in His place of glory and occurring in an instant. Rather than the Body being snatched away and meeting Christ among the clouds, it will immediately appear with Him in His glory.

While it is easy to draw comparisons between these two events, they are, in fact, quite different. By rightly dividing the passages, we realize that Paul described the seemingly imminent event of 1 Thessalonians 4 as he did because at that point it was in line with God's program for Israel and the revelation God had given Paul to teach. At that point in time, Israel was still the dominant focus in God's program and the "snatching away" was the event that would soon precede Christ's second coming to a finally repentant Israel. As this was not God's actual, long-term plan, Israel as a whole remained hardened, the event never took place, and Paul later informed the Colossians of a previously unrevealed, future event - our appearing. 1 Thessalonians 4 remains the future expectation of believers of Israel, but the appearing Paul later revealed in Colossians 3 is now the future expectation of the Body of Christ. Thus, members of the Body of Christ who still look to the rapture look toward an event that is promised to Israel, not us. Rather, we should be living in expectation of our future appearing with Christ when He is made manifest. 

Much of what Paul wrote early in his ministry hinged on his belief that Christ's second coming was imminent and would occur in his lifetime. Without this understanding, many are misled and take all of Paul's words to heart to the extent that they endeavor to practice them in their own lives. When Paul instructed married believers to live as though they were not married and unmarried believers to remain single as he was, it was because he believed Christ would be returning very soon. Paul's advice was appropriate for the time, but two thousand years later, after the event did not take place, that advice is no longer relevant or applicable. This is why in Ephesians 5, Paul gave very different advice to husbands and wives. Rather than live as though they were single, he urged them to live in love with their focus firmly on one another. This is also why Paul instructed Timothy that those seeking eldership in the ecclesia must first demonstrate their leadership abilities as a husband and father (1 Tim. 3).

My hope is that this article has clearly demonstrated the great importance of not only rightly dividing Paul's letters from the rest of Scripture, but rightly dividing Paul's letters themselves. Not doing so creates inevitable confusion and causes us to adhere to advice and practices that do not pertain to us today. Those who fail to rightly divide Paul's epistles are bound to inappropriately teach these errors as they uphold Paul's earliest writings as equally applicable with his later writings. Let your focus be on Paul's last seven epistles as you strive to learn what pertains to you, today, as a member of Christ's Body.

© 2015 by Stephen Hill

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Polygenosy: An Allegory

The year is 2021, and the world has reached an unprecedented era of ungodliness. The signs of the End Times spoken by the Apostle Paul are more evident now than they have ever been. The United States, still hailed as a powerful beacon of hope by many, is leading the crusade against righteousness while hiding behind a guise of purity and freedom. 

The U. S. government has passed the Defense of Parent - Child Equality Act (DOPE) and claims the law will put an end to the unfair discrimination between parents and their children and ensure that children are no longer victims of a cruel and archaic system.

DOPE prohibits parents from having more than one child - a practice known as "polygenosy," from the Greek poly meaning "many" and genos meaning "offspring" or "generations." Lawmakers unanimously support the legislation, reasoning that 1) a child with one or more siblings will inevitably struggle with unfair feelings like jealousy and abandonment, 2) parents with more than one child are forced to neglect their children at least part of the time, 3) parents cannot possibly love all of their children equally, 4) a child will lose his or her sense of identity and not realize his or her full potential if they are not their parents' sole focus, 5) it is unfair and discriminatory for parents to be able to have multiple children while kids cannot have multiple sets of parents, and 6) parents who desire more than one child are selfish and clearly just want more kids to serve them.

Christendom as a whole supports the DOPE legislation and upholds it as biblical stating that 1) having one child is not biblically a sin, 2) Jesus was the only begotten Son of God so God's ideal family model must be one child, 3) Paul prefers that people remain single so no Christian should get married and have any children at all, let alone more than one, 4) the practice of polygenosy is "immoral" and 5) having multiple children was okay and common in ancient, Old Testament times but is too hard and not practical or ideal today.

Since abandoning their long-held beliefs of parents having multiple children, Christians have made it their mission to preach and demand the practice of monogenosy (parents having only one child) throughout the world. In many other countries and faith groups, polygenosy is still frequently practiced, and Christian missionaries are working tirelessly to eradicate the practice, demanding that polygenostic families abandon all their children but their firstborn. Families are being torn apart as fathers (known as "polygenosts") cannot bear abandoning their children but fear spending eternity in hell if they don't obey what the missionaries claim is God's command.

Because DOPE prohibits any set of parents from having more than one child, millions of orphans - only able to now be adopted into childless homes - remain parentless and cost tax payers countless extra tax dollars. Still, the government and majority of citizens reason that it is better for these orphans to remain without parents than the "abusive" alternative of being placed in plural-child homes.

Many parents, recognizing the absurd and unbiblical nature of DOPE, have multiple children in secrecy. The government only recognizes children with a legal birth certificate as legitimate, "real" people and threatens to imprison any set of parents with multiple licensed children under a third degree felony; so plural children families have all their children beyond their first child at home without the government knowing. As a result, these "victim" children are forced to battle the daily struggle of concealing their happiness and true identity from the rest of the world, including their closest friends and extended family members.

Of the thousands of secret polygenostic families, two bizarre families that abused their children have made the news, and these two families now exist in society's eyes as the perfect and true reflection of the plural child lifestyle. A small group of "victim" children have left their plural child families and have written books and done interviews painting the polygenosy lifestyle in an awful light as manipulative, abusive and immoral. Books such as Escape from Polygenosy and Polygenosy: One Child's Story of Imprisonment currently top the New York Times Best Seller List.

On the other hand, one brave and healthy polygenosy family with the last name Green (a true example of the plural child norm) has taken a great risk and contracted with a popular television network to film a reality show in an effort to fight for the decriminalization of DOPE. Public response to the show is extremely varied. Many viewers hate and despise the "weird" and "cultish" Green family due to fear from their mere lack of understanding for their lifestyle, while many others see that the family is loving and happy in spite of their departure from societal norms and that they do not pose a threat to them in any way. While on a talk show recently, the children of the Green family fielded questions from viewers who called in during a Q & A session. One viewer asked, "How can you share your parents with your siblings? How can you watch your parents kiss your brothers and sisters? I could never share my parents!" Another caller remarked, "Y'all are crazy! I'm sorry but you must be brainwashed to be okay with not being an only child. You deserve to have all your parents' attention and this is just wrong."

For now, the majority of U. S. citizens remain supportive of the DOPE legislation and plural children families do not expect the law to be overturned any time soon. The cry of the populace is "one set of parents, one child!" In the meantime, countless children remain alone, uncared for, and dependent on a corrupt, oppressive, ungodly system. The question now is, will they realize how simple and obvious the answer to their many problems is - the answer found in Scripture... the one they used to practice?

© 2014 by Stephen Hill

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Our Last Minute God

When I was in the Army, a common motto was "hurry up and wait." We were required to appear at a destination immediately, but inevitably waited a long while once we arrived. Of course, this trend was very annoying and, if nothing else, taught us that waiting seems, at best, impractical. Had we made the most of our waiting time, our efforts to arrive early would have been practical and made sense; but since we often did nothing while waiting, we reasoned that we would have been better off arriving at the last possible minute. 

Perhaps it's due to my military experience, but I admittedly struggle with patience. Once I have determined the best course of action in relation to God's revealed will, I work tirelessly to see it through as quickly as possible. This trait may seem admirable to some, but in reality it can be detrimental. 

The life of a believer is marked by struggle and forced patience. When I say "forced," I mean that it is imposed upon us by God, in spite of our personal efforts. It's said that patience is a virtue, and this truth is nowhere more apparent than in the life of every believer. Patience is a necessary virtue because it acknowledges God's perfect timing above our flawed timeline. A lack of patience is rooted in trust of self, while an abundance of patience is rooted in trust of God.

As we examine the Scriptures, we discover that God often waits until the last possible moment to act - especially in times of crisis. To come to grips with patience during trial, we must recognize this characteristic of our Father and keep it ever-present in our minds. Studying God's timing also reveals the reason God tends to postpone action until long after we would expect or desire Him to act. As we review several examples of God's delayed timing, the reason for it becomes abundantly clear.

Remember Abraham and Isaac? God waited until Abraham's knife was raised and ready to plunge into Isaac before He stopped it. When Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt, God waited until Pharaoh and his army were right behind them to part the waters of the Red Sea. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were condemned to the furnace, God waited until they were cast in to deliver them from the flames. When Daniel was sentenced to the lion's den, God waited until he was in the pit to close the lions' mouths. When Samson was engaged in continual battle with the Philistines, God waited until he was bound with his eyes gouged out to defeat them. 

The life of Jesus, Himself, was no different. From infancy through adulthood, God delivered His Son from death right before His would-be murderers arrived, until His appointed time. 

One common denominator exists for every one of these examples and the many more that fill Scripture: God has to wait until the last possible moment in order to be glorified and in order for us to learn to depend on Him. Had God told Abraham to not kill Isaac prior to lifting his knife, Abraham would have learned nothing of value and God would have appeared foolish instead of righteous. Had God parted the sea for the Hebrews prior to the Egyptians arriving, they would not have appreciated His assistance to the same degree. Had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never been thrown into the furnace, no one would have witnessed God's saving power. Had Daniel never been with the lions in the den, no one would have witnessed the miracle of their mouths being shut. Finally, had Jesus been delivered from his accusers early, many would have never noticed God's hand in protecting Him till His appointed time and would not have acknowledged Him as the Messiah.

Yet, while God often waits until the last minute, He is never late. As a song I like puts it, He is in time, on time, every time! By waiting until the last moment when we are completely helpless and totally dependent on Him, He forces us to recognize that it is all about Him and not about ourselves. It is as if God is saying, "I have waited until the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour in order to make it clear to you that I am God. You are completely dependent on Me for everything. Trust My ways, not your own. Rest assured and never fear, for I am in control."

When you become impatient and eager to put your own timing above God's, remember that the longer you wait the more mature you will be. Recognize that waiting on God's timing is a blessing, not a curse, and place your full trust completely in the hands of the perfect Timekeeper. 

© 2013 by Stephen Hill

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Unity Standard

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul 
seems to blatantly contradict himself. Near the
opening of the letter, he writes, "Now I am entreating you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all may be saying the same thing, and there may be no schisms among you, but you may be attuned to the same mind and to the same opinion." Here, Paul entreats fellow believers to be unified - especially with regards to what they say and think. Yet, ten chapters later, in 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul writes, "For it must be that there are sects also among you, that those also who are qualified may be becoming apparent among you."

At first glance, it seems that Paul is providing opposing instructions. He first instructs believers to be unified to the extent that "there may be no schisms" among them, but then reminds them that "it must be that there are sects" among them to prove who is and isn't qualified. Knowing that Paul did not contradict himself, how can we possibly make sense of what he writes?

To begin, we must realize that Paul was presenting an ideal goal to his brethren. Following his guidance for unity, Paul cites the reason for his instruction. He writes, "For it was made evident to me concerning you, my brethren... that there are strifes among you. Now I am saying this, that each of you is saying, 'I, indeed, am of Paul,' yet 'I of Apollos,' yet 'I of Cephas,' yet 'I of Christ.' Christ is parted!"

The problem in Corinth that led to Paul's call for unity was the lack of recognition of whom they were "of." As members of Christ's body, their lack of firm identity caused the Body to break down to the point where Christ was parted. As a result, Paul called them to unity so that the Body would be whole.

Later, when Paul stated the seemingly contradictory truth that sects are necessary, he did not downplay the importance of striving for unity. Interestingly enough, the necessary sects Paul describes actually promote unity. By making apparent who is and is not qualified, each member is encouraged to function with his or her God-given strengths so that the Body functions just as it should. This "weeding out" process went so far as to even "give up" certain ones to Satan "for the extermination of the flesh" (1 Cor. 5:5). In giving up these members who harmed the Body, the Body became more unified.

If we are to imitate Paul as he instructs, we must recognize what it means to continually strive for unity. As unity is naturally achieved when all members are in agreement, we would do well to focus on how to deal with one another when we disagree. We must have a clear understanding of which sins are worthy of giving another up, if necessary, and which ones require a less severe approach. Far too often, we place any and every sin in the "worthy of giving another up" category. As a result, our judgments lead to Christ being parted rather than unified, just as with the Corinthians. We forget that faith is given to each in measure (Rom. 12:3).

Fortunately, Paul gives us some clear guidance for knowing which standard to use when confronting and, in rare cases, giving up others. The majority of this guidance appears in Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus - two leaders in the Body. To Timothy, Paul said, "Herald the word. Stand by it, opportunely, inopportunely, expose, rebuke, entreat, with all patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). To Titus, Paul said that a "supervisor" must be "unimpeachable" so that "he may be able to entreat with sound teaching as well as to expose those who contradict" (Titus 1:6-9).

What does Paul mean, though, by "those who contradict?" Following verse 9 in Titus, he gives the answer to this question: "For many are insubordinate, vain praters and imposters, especially those of the Circumcision, who must be gagged, who are subverting whole households, teaching what they must not, on behalf of sordid gain" (Titus 1:10-11). In verse 13, he reiterates this by charging Titus to "be exposing them severely, that they may be sound in the faith, not heeding Jewish myths and precepts of men who are turning from the truth."

Clearly, the biggest culprit in Paul's mind was anyone who taught a message contrary to his evangel of grace - and, in particular, a Jewish, works-based evangel. This is further proven in Paul's words to the Galatians: "If anyone is bringing you an evangel beside that which you accepted, let him be anathema" (Gal. 1:9)! What false evangel did the Galatians accept? A works-based evangel from members of the Circumcision! For trusting this false message, Paul called the Galatians "foolish" and "bewitched" (Gal. 3:1)!

Today, most members of the Body consider all sins to be egregious. Indeed, many members have not studied the Scriptures thoroughly enough to develop a concrete understanding of what even constitutes "sin;" thus, they are not qualified to rebuke another brother, let alone give him up.

When we consider the words of Paul, our apostle, without personal bias or presuppositions, we discover that 1) we should strive for unity to the greatest extent possible, 2) we should recognize that sects are necessary for that unity to occur, 3) we must study the Word thoroughly to know, without a doubt, which sins are worthy of rebuke and possibly giving one up to Satan, and 4) the most detrimental problem is a member teaching a works-based evangel.

© 2013 by Stephen Hill

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