I was tempted to ask for a tape of an April 25, 2004 sermon on Ephesians 5:22-23--and the next week's--to play for people, but such sermons are being given all over town, and if people don't regard common sense, they're not going to be listening to such tapes. There was one glitch in it, the preacher trying to import the previous verse 21 out of its own context which muddies the water of submission, so I am giving some examples and cautions for what they are worth.
I actually used Strong's Concordance to look up the Hebrew for this invention of marriage, and I found that the cleaving (KJV) a man will be doing to his wife (Hebrew: woman) contains an element of pursuit, so I surmise that the plan at the beginning involved a man recognizing the unique one for him, engaging in pursuit, and ending up married. We might suppose that before sin entered the world, a man would have no trouble recognizing that which was taken from him for the purpose of being his own helpmeet, although the woman being made from something outside herself would actually need to be shown how she's the match before she'd agree, whence the pursuit. I think the NIV misses the point by saying only that the man will be united as one flesh with his wife as that's redundant to becoming one flesh, after the pursuit, the cleaving. But then the NIV messes up in other places on m-f relations which is good enough reason to reject it.
Personally, I think a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the introduction of marriage into a sinless world, and that men and women in our age might have trouble separating issues of compatibility from plain old lust. I think we do ourselves a huge favor by paying attention to the book of Esther in which a king made the acquaintance of a wide spectrum of eligible maidens, he dated the ones he liked--(Esther 2:14b), 'she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name,' --, and he married the one he loved most. (The NIV makes a mess of Esther too, by the way.) I question whether a Christian man praying for a wife and settling on one by some sign or such criterion might not be engaging in spiritual pride by too readily seeing God's will. Would it hurt him any to meet a bunch of women, date those he likes, and then marry his best love after such comparison shopping?
I overheard a woman advising a friend on some guy she was interested in. She told her that if he's interested in her, "he will chase." She repeated herself to her friend for emphasis, "he will chase ... he will chase." There's probably something to what she said, that if a guy is interested in a girl it is likely that he will chase her. Furthermore, I don't see anything in that of itself which would contradict the invention of marriage from Genesis.
I try to learn something from my dating experiences that could be applied to marriage. I mean, aren't we supposed to be learning from our experiences before we go any deeper? Take the part of the preacher's sermon where he said, (Ephesians 5:21) "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." is an "umbrella" over the following verses on husband-wife relations. That's not so obvious from the text, either in my version or his, at least to me it isn't. It's not punctuated that way, and in fact verse 21 seems to be completing an earlier thought before Paul goes on to another subject as happens so often in the epistles. For that matter verse 22 has a different Greek word translated submit than does verse 21. This would be a good place to get some experience during dates before I would ever think to use such an umbrella scheme in actual marriage.
I had a movie date on a Friday afternoon. We agreed to meet at such and such a place and go see such and such a movie. Such an agreement wasn't so much along the lines of Ephesians 5:22-23 as it was, (Amos 3:3) "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" which I've also heard quoted in the context of husband-wife relationships. God through his prophet Amos was trying to get his people to understand that his judgements were caused by their behavior, so he was using their ordinary understanding of how life works to help them figure this out. If you see two men walking together, you can figure there had to have been some prior agreement in order for that to take place: cause and effect. If you see a guy and a girl together at a movie, you can figure there had to have been a prior agreement in order for that to happen, cause and effect. We agreed to see the movie, and there we were.
I made sure the place we met was one where people could ordinarily be expected to hang out. If she were late or didn't show, I'd be there waiting by myself, and there are lots of places where a lone man hanging out with no obvious purpose looks suspicious. I wanted to avoid that. It wasn't so much directly as a result of Ephesians 5:21 and preceding verses as it was, (I Thes. 5:22) "Abstain from all appearance of evil.".
My first finding is that I probably don't want to go directly to Ephesians 5 to apply it to every situation in marriage that comes up, just as I wouldn't apply it to every social situation. I don't mean to forget Ephesians 5, or that it doesn't have application, just that there are probably better verses to use in many situations.
Before we went to the movie we had lunch. I figured that a married man loving his wife sacrificially should at least show it with his financial support and responsibility, so it's a good idea to get lots of practice beforehand by picking up the tab for his dates. I told her I'd buy her lunch as long as it wasn't extravagant. She ordered within my means. A wife being submissive probably includes not spending more than her man makes. I figure these are good lessons as far as they go.
She ordered a subway sandwich while I ordered a couple hamburgers at the adjacent vendor. Standing in lines waiting is a good application of submission in a general sense, although here I'd be inclined to use, (I Peter 5:5) "Likewise ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." The ones at the head of the line are the elder, at least within this context, and so on, and we defer to those in front of us, although occasionally there is cause to allow cuts.
Now, for Ephesians 5:21 being the umbrella over m-f relations in Ephesians 5:22-23 etc., here is where I would find it, although it's a bit convoluted. Just as my date and I were in two different lines for lunch, so men and women before, during or after marriage will come from somewhat different church backgrounds, and their understandings from legitimate submission to their respective elders would necessarily be different in places, which might lead to a temptation for the woman to try to teach the man contrary to her role in scripture as developed in Ephesians chapter 5 and elsewhere. Therefore it would be a good idea for all churches to simply go by what the Bible actually teaches so there will be more uniformity of belief and fewer conflicts within marriages to allow them to better live out Ephesians 5.
It's all well and good to say that, but if a church is ignoring the Bible in places already, do you really think they are going to pay more attention to it in order to give members of their congregations a better chance for marital harmony when marrying someone outside of their immediate fellowship? Yeah, right! This preacher I heard uses mostly a relative newcomer in Bible translations, not universally accepted. If I were to tell him that the KJV has been around longer with a wider circulation, therefore churches should stick to it to promote harmony when believers from different congregations marry each other, is he going to start preaching from the KJV then? Probably not unless he were otherwise inclined to.
Then we went to the movie itself which was probably the best place to see Ephesians 5 applied. (Ephesians 5:21) "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." There is plenty of room to apply that in a movie theater. First, upon entering, the movie or trailers being shown, our eyes are not adjusted to the darkness, and to try to take a seat might mean colliding with someone. If you can't see whether someone's in a seat, it's best not to sit yourself there. Wait until your eyes are adjusted before claiming a seat. That's part of everyone being submitted to each other and easily applicable in many a sermon.
Secondly, if it's possible, don't sit directly in front of another moviegoer to block his view. That's being submitted to one another which often entails not putting a stumbling block in his way.
And thirdly, one shouldn't talk during the movie. Other people are trying to enjoy it too. You know, being submitted to each other probably means a great deal of keeping one's trap shut, wouldn't you say?
Now, let's see how that works as an umbrella over the rest of Ephesians 5:22-23 and so forth, applied to dating interaction. I am a little bit nearsighted so I asked my date if she wouldn't mind sitting towards the front. That was showing consideration on my part, and she followed me to a seat, which was submission on her part. We did our part à la Ephesians 5:22-23-33. Now, here's the thing: from roaming the woods at night, I have a pretty well developed night vision, and as soon as I got adjusted, I could see pretty well where to go. If I took off and she waited until she got well adjusted before moving, she'd have lost contact with me. Her role was to follow close, holding hands if necessary, while I had to be sure not to maneuver her into trouble. So while submission to one another in a group means being patient until you see clearly before moving in a way that could disrupt someone's peace, a couple is supposed to be connected together well enough to be aware of what is going on with the other, so the woman follows the man's lead trusting him to avoid the conflicts.
The rules of seating are different too. Since partners sit side by side, they can't block one another's view, but they may pose a bigger block to someone behind them. I think a lot of cause of stumbling a weaker brother has to do with the kind of activities one allows oneself which someone else cannot do in good conscience. People tend to marry those with whom they hold things in common, so they would tend to be at the same level, like sitting side by side, not able to stumble each other, but could pose a bigger stumbling block as a duo to someone else.
And thirdly, there is the no-talking rule. No, I don't want to disturb the other moviegoers with my chatter, but at times I may need to coordinate something with my date or make a needed remark, at which time I would lean over and whisper in her ear. I do want her to hear me.
You know, there are a lot of things it's best we wouldn't say to someone, but we wish their spouse would tell them. It might be the place of a spouse to say something that someone else shouldn't. The trick is to do it like whispering in a movie theater, gently and not very often. And from the standpoint of Ephesians 5:22-23-33 the man should say such things from the standpoint of love and a woman from respect. Dr. James Dobson makes a very good case that men need respect and women love. A man might find it easier to respect his wife than to love her, but that's not what she needs. I think importing Ephesians 5:21 into the next thought of Ephesians 5:22-23 blurs this reality and does disservice to women in the end.
The preacher's delivered good sermons in the past about going by what the Bible actually plainly says, and he's applied it well enough for it to sink in. Jesus wants His believers to be baptized. He also specifically wants husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands, and for the whole congregation to submissive to each other. The man-wife dynamic means she has to concern herself with following his lead where unmarried she would have just fitted herself in with the group, and on his part he has to take her into consideration in his decisions where when single, he just had himself. If there is some kind of way Ephesians 5:21 is an "umbrella" over the Ephesians 5:22-23, it's like the umbrella the wind takes out of my grasp.
I thought it might help illustrate the interplay of Ephesians 5:21--submission to one another--with Ephesians 5:22-23--wives submitted to husbands (who in turn love their wives)--by recounting this story of a young Indian medicine man who goes on a quest to discover the meaning of the peculiar markings on a colt. Pay attention to the places the People is submitted to each other for the good of the band and the places where the wife submits to her husband and her husband loves his wife.
For the first time since our marriage, he was distant, and he wanted to walk alone to think and pray. I was hurt a little bit, because I wanted to be a part of everything that happened to him. But in this I was feeling shut out, maybe. I knew that there are places in the life of a holy man that even his wife may not go with him. Yet this was my first experience with it, and I was hurt. We had been so close, always.
In this vignette I see as an example of submission one to another:
"Others could help with your lodge. Your brothers, the family of your
husband." I see as an example of a husband loving his wife, his concern
for her safety." And I see an example of a wife submitting to her
husband when she gracefully accepts his decision to take her with
him on the quest.
But if one tries to mix the Ephesians 5:21 principle of submissive behavior one to another with the Ephesians 5:22-23 principle of a wife submitting to her man and he sometimes to her, then you'll end up with situations where she feels it's his turn to submit and he doesn't. Then she'll "pout and be angry" which turns into nagging and eventual loss of bedroom privileges. That doesn't really help men "especially men who have been given gifts of the Spirit."
Unfortunately, rather than having (Titus 2:1,2-5) "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged ... women ... be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." we've got a bit too much Gentile feminism infiltrating the church. "The tough female who wants her freedom only wants the upper hand, which her gentler sisters have had all through the centuries."276 The umbrella I use on Ephesians 5:22-23 is (Eph. 4:17) "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind."
The "ways of women of the People" are "A way of all women, maybe," if they were given the right instruction. But if the top is on the bottom, then who's on first?
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Copyright © 2004, Earl S. Gosnell III
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