People of the Word

Paul told Timothy, and since his letter to Timothy is in the canon of Scripture, by implication told us all, that

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”

and I have never had any reason to doubt the veracity of Paul’s statement.

In 21st Century Britain, we live in an age where all sorts of equalities are presented to us as being required in law, and everyone has rights to this that or the other.

In the Old Testament there were numerous offences which were considered deserving of the death penalty. But we do not have a death penalty in the Britain because such a penalty is a cruel and inhuman punishment. We were promised by the politicians who legislated into being the end of the death penalty that life would mean life, but now that is not possible, except in the most extreme cases because that is an inhumane punishment too.

So where does this situation leave those of us who are Christian? Most of our laws were based on the laws of the Old Testament and the Sermon on the Mount. Can we rely on our laws to be just as God is just?

And what of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and especially Chapter 5, from verse 22 on.

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body.

Our laws require that we treat men and women as equals yet Scripture requires that wives should submit to their husbands. Our divorce laws are such that the wife could leave and claim irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and be divorced in fairly short order. No doubt the husband would be verbally pilloried in the columns of the Guardian or the tabloids for being a dinosaur.

What would the churches say or do? Would the wife be welcomed as a poor downtrodden victim of a relic from a bygone era or would she face a call to repent of her sin of rebellion against her husband? Would the husband be welcomed as the victim of a wilful and untruthful wife who had promised him a Christian marriage or would he be treated as a sinner in need of repenting of his sin of living in the past?

We have already seen a polarisation of the views over the ordination of sexually active homosexual clergy, which is clearly contrary to the teaching in Titus 1:6 where we are told

“An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.”

Are we about to see a clash between the churches and the state over whether the churches follow god’s direction of Caesar’s.

About UK Fred

A Christian who cares that the church in Britain conforms to societal demands, rather than transforms society. I am particularly concerned with the lack of support for marriage and the acceptance of divorce in the church. I also care that the body politic in Britain seems to be corrupt and in need of a good shake-up.
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5 Responses to People of the Word

  1. Availeth says:

    I’d like to comment on a little detail in your post, Fred. I took several classes in college a million years ago using classical Greek to fill my language requirement for a degree in linguistics. I’ve forgotten most of it, but I often think of a little word “ei” which I think English needs. It meant both “if” and “since”.

    If/Since “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” then one should ask those questions of each passage, each verse. In the Ephesians 5 set of verses, 22 through 24 call a wife to submission to her husband, and verses 25 through 28 call a man to love his wife–mixing some of that in with higher, more over-arching reasons why.

    The example you framed for a choice between secular interpretation or spiritual response was interesting to me. It has the wife “fac[ing] a call to repent of her sin of rebellion…” and the husband “treated as a sinner in need of repenting of his sin of living in the past”. It took me a second to realize that the contrastive phrases for the two parties in the divorce are switched around–the second phrase for the woman being the ‘right one’ (compared to the secular accusation surrounding the Bible as “a relic of a bygone era”)–but the second phrase for the man as being the ‘wrong’ one (compared to being left by a wife untrue to instructions for Christian marriage).

    It’s always been a curiosity to me that in every sermon I’ve ever heard or every study I’ve ever been in and even every prayer meeting I’ve attended where the subject of a divorce (or even difficulty in a marriage) comes up, that Ephesians 5 is framed in a way similar to your questions posed in “What would the churches say or do?”

    IF and Since the Timothy verse is true, why is it never said that the dissolution of a marriage could be first, and just as likely foremost as the other — that a husband failed to love his wife better? And in fact, just looking at the structure of Ephesians 5 (remembering Paul also said we should “submit to one another”) there is a greater preponderance of verses given to the man than the woman. I think that the woman nearly always seen as more culpable in break-ups (based on Ephesians 5 even) is the echo of centuries in a man’s world that the problem lies in lack of submission rather than lack of love.

    What should the churches say or do? If and Since the Timothy verse is true, then verses 25 through 30 are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting or training”. Yet, I usually “hear” them as transcendent allegorical statements rather than a call to action carrying the same pointedness, insistence or accountability as the other person’s response should be.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Rarely is there a truly innocent party in a divorce. Almost invariably, one spouse has, by his/her failure to follow Ephesians 5 (and other instructions) tempted the other spouse to fail to follow Ephesians 5 (and other instructions). That temptation is not an excuse. But when a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church, few wives will want to leave, and he makes it easy for her to trust and submit to his leadership.

      Re: your last paragraph, this is a summary of a sermon I preached on I Peter 3:7, with passing allusion to Eph. 5. I think it is the type of thing for which you are calling:

      • Availeth says:

        thanks for everything you just said. and I went and read your “Likewise, ye husbands” sermon. It made me cry … that part about cherishing weakness.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        I hope it helped you to greater holiness and love in and for Christ. May the Lord bless..

  2. ukfred says:

    I am coming to the view that part of the problem, at least, is that we are tending to treat marriage as a contract, where each party has obligations to the other, and is relieved of his/her obligations in part or in full if the other party did not meet of all their obligations to the first party. If we look on marriage, as it was originally designed, as a covenant where the failure by one party to meet their obligations does not relieve the other of his/her obligations, we would start to see it as a relationship in which irrespective of what your spouse does, you are still required to give them love and respect.

    It is rather like the way God treats us. If He treated us the way we deserve, there would not be much hope for any of us, but because He is kind, long-suffering, slow to anger and swift to bless, and always eager to forgive the repentant sinner, we do not get what we deserve, but rather better treatment. Now if we all behaved to our spouses like that, maybe, just maybe, we would have a much lower divorce rate and a much higher happiness rate in our marriages.

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