Christianity 201

May 16, 2019

Compelling Vision for the Family

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for family life? Some ancient religions required child sacrifice. That is not a compelling vision for family at all! Some would say that the Christian vision for family is likewise not compelling. It is too rigid, too patriarchal. Does the Christian vision for family make you think “that sounds right, that is consistent with a good and loving God” Is the Biblical vision for family beautiful, or ugly? It is beautiful, for the following reasons.

There is a beautiful vision for parenting.

To begin with, child sacrifice was strictly forbidden under the Old Covenant law. God’s people were to be different from other peoples of that day who did indeed sacrifice their children. The place near Jerusalem where people sacrificed their children was eventually used as a garbage dump, as it was despised by God’s people. It was called Gehenna, which most English Bibles translate as ‘hell.’ God’s people were expressly forbidden from sacrificing their children. This already was a positive step for family life!

But is there anything else about parenting? If you happened to read through the entire Bible this week, you might say, “I did not see too much on parenting.” If parenting is all about technique, then yes, the Bible does not say too much. However, if parenting is about character, then the Bible has much to say. Let us consider one example from Galatians:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)

Not only will those who “live like this” not inherit the kingdom of God, they will also make life miserable for their children.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24 (NIV)

Those who live like this, on the other hand, will be appreciated by their children who will have great examples to follow. Who wouldn’t want to grow up with parents whose character is marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Techniques in parenting will vary according to culture, but the character of a parent can make for beautiful parenting in any society.

Character development is also good for marriage, which is also great for family life. This brings us to our second point.

There is a beautiful vision for marriage.

While we find polygamy quite often in the Old Testament, things are different in the New Testament. In speaking about marriage, Jesus focused, not on the people from the Old Testament who practiced polygamy, nor on the law, which allowed for polygamy, but on the creation account:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV Quotes from Genesis emphasized)

This return to the original vision for marriage paved the way for women to be on a more equal footing. Polygamy naturally leads to someone being in charge of “the clan,” a supreme leader. Monogamy more naturally allows for the possibility of an equal partnership.

Further, the Biblical vision is of covenant faithfulness and loyal love between two people. Such covenant faithfulness, based on God’s covenant faithfulness, is a beautiful thing and enables family life to be settled and stable. It is a beautiful thing to grow up in a home where one’s parents are in love, with each other!

There is also beautiful vision for leadership and submission in marriage:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  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.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:21-27 (NIV)

Perhaps that does not sound beautiful to everyone. Women being under the thumb of a controlling man sounds ugly. However, let us dig deeper. When leadership is about control, it is ugly. When leadership is about care and responsibility, it is beautiful. Notice the focus on the lengths Jesus went to in his care of, and love for, the church. He was willing to die for the church! There is a great expectation placed on men here, and one that was not prevalent in that day. Likewise, when submission is about giving control over, it can be ugly. When submission is about trust, it is beautiful. When a man loves a woman the way Christ loves the church, trust is built. This passage is not about men taking control without building any trust. It is about harmony in care and trust. It is a beautiful vision that was quite radical and woman affirming in its day. And let us not forget verse 21! Love, trust, and mutual submission makes for great family life.

There is beautiful flexibility in the Biblical Vision for Family.

Although Jesus focused in on the creation account of marriage, something you do not find in the New Testament is a push for everyone to be married with children. Jesus himself affirmed that not everyone will be married with children in Matthew 19:10-12. The Ethiopian eunuch was welcomed into the Kingdom in Acts 8. Paul encouraged people to remain single in 1st Corinthians 7, or get married! While married with children is a beautiful vision, it was not an expectation in the New Testament church. It should not become an idol on ours. If you are single, or have no children, you are not a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God. We do well to ensure that no one is a second class citizen in our churches.

Since there is flexibility in not forcing everyone to fit the pattern of married with children as set out in the creation account, is there also flexibility with leadership within the family? Can it be based on giftedness and capacity rather than gender? My wife takes the lead in a number of areas of our family life. She is so much more capable than I am in those areas!

Proverbs 31 is often thought to be about “the virtuous wife.” It is often pitched to women, that they should be more like that Proverbs 31 ideal. However, I think it pitched to men. The lesson of Proverbs 31 for men can be summed up as “don’t micro-manage your wife, she excels without your interference.” Proverbs ends with this instruction:

Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. Proverbs 31:31 (NIV)

This description of the capability of a wife must also be considered a part of the overall Biblical vision for family. The flexibility of the Biblical vision for family is a beautiful thing.

There are those who say that even if they became convinced that Christianity is true, they would still not want to be a Christian because it has a very patriarchal and constrictive vision for family life. Indeed, some Christians live out a constrictive and patriarchal vision. However, the Bible gives us a vision for family which is a beautiful. This is another aspect of Christianity that is compelling. What the Bible teaches about family life is indeed consistent with a good and loving God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

March 17, 2018

Paul’s Advice to Married Couples

Last year we introduced you to the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. He’s currently working his way through 1 Corinthians. The Apostle Paul begins talking about family life in chapter seven. For an introduction to that, click this link. For today’s piece, click the title below. At the end is a link to a third part in the series.

If you are married

1 Corinthians 7:1-7

1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (NIV)

Paul addresses himself to married couples in these verses; that is something that becomes clear as we read through it, and even more clear when we get to verse 8 and he addresses the unmarried. Essentially, his message to the married is that they should restrict themselves to sexual activity within the marriage, and that in this, neither partner should deprive the other of marital comfort except by mutual consent for a time of prayer (7:3-5), and then to come together once more so that Satan cannot exploit human weakness to lead them away from righteousness.

This seems to me to be in general accord with Paul’s teachings for husbands and wives elsewhere in the New Testament (see Col. 3:19 ff. and Eph. 5:29 ff.). It has a practical component in that he recognizes the fact that humans are sexual creatures, and that a man or woman who is unfulfilled in that area is more likely to be tempted to stray than one who is not. There is also a deeper recognition, although Paul seems reluctant to mention it here as he did in Ephesians 5: The physical union of husband and wife is illustrative of the union between Christ and His Church, and thus it must be respected by everyone.

Now we come to something quite interesting which may explain Paul’s general attitude toward this issue:

I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (7:6-7)

Verse 6 tells us that nothing in the preceding verses is a command, for it is a concession. Whenever I read this chapter, I get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that Paul takes a rather dim view of sexuality. I ask myself why he would do that, and I never have a satisfactory answer, not even enough to be sure that he had the view I think I see, so I always just move on…

Yet my vague impression remains.

Look at the last verse: Paul concludes his thought by making the issue revolve around spiritual gifts, as so much of this letter does later on. Sex is not a spiritual gift, but celibacy is, so when Paul says that he wishes everyone could be like he is,(which is celibate) doesn’t it seem that he is telling us, between the lines, that he has the spiritual gift of celibacy?

I tend to think so.

Spiritual gifts are given by God at His sole discretion, so we can’t run out and get one on our own, and if we could choose our gifts, I doubt that most people would choose celibacy. Yet for Paul it was different, for I highly doubt that he could have served God the way he did if he had a wife and family back home to support.


Continue to part three from this chapter: Comments About Family Life

February 2, 2017

Religion and Sex, Here, and in Pergamum

by Clarke Dixon

Old fashioned fuddy-duddies in a society that is enlightened and progressive. That is how many people would describe Christians today, especially in the areas of religion and sexuality. In matters of religion the contemporary trend is to either deny, or affirm, all of them. You can practice one, but don’t dare say it is the only one that is true. And in matters of sexuality, there are no rules, so long as it is consensual. If only the Church would get with the times and not be so stuck in the past! But is this fair? Has society truly progressed leaving the church stuck in the past? The letter to Pergamum in the Book of Revelation helps us answer this question.

While the faithfulness of the Christians at Pergamum is commended, there is something that Jesus must address:

But I have a few things against you: You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Revelation 2:14-15 (NET emphasis mine)

Whoever the Nicolaitans were, the main concern is with their teaching on religion and sexuality. To understand why this is important, it helps to know something about religion and sexuality in a Roman city like Pergamum.

The word that could be used to sum up a typical Roman view of religion is confusion. Confusion because the gods were always in a mess. When men create gods in their own image, the gods start to look and act a lot like men. Character deficiencies are to be expected. If the gods could be in a mess, they would hardly be in a position to give moral guidance. You would be excused for being in a mess too. Further, you could be confused about whether the gods like you or not. You might pour out the proper libations to the proper gods, but if your boat sank, it was pretty clear they were not happy.

The Good News of Jesus Christ brought people from confusion in matters of religion, to clarity. God was not created by men, but He is the Creator Who has revealed Himself. His character and nature are clear. His moral guidance is clear. That you have the opportunity to stand in a love relationship with God is clear. Yes, you might pray and your boat might still sink, but that God loves you is still clear. The proof was not in a safe voyage across a sea, but in the cross of Jesus Christ which brings us safely from enmity towards God to intimacy with God. With the Gospel, confusion is replaced with clarity. 

The word that could sum up a typical Roman view of sexuality is power. Adultery, prostitution, sex with temple prostitutes, sex with prepubescent boys; all of this was not just allowed, it was encouraged. The free Roman male should do all this, and should not blush. You had sex, not because you were in love with someone, but because you had power over them. What kind of a Roman man are you if you cannot prove your strength and power?

The Good News of Jesus Christ brought people from a place where sex is about power, to sex being about love. You might think that the Romans were free in matters of sexuality, and that Christianity came to replace freedom with rules. But the move is not from freedom to rules. Instead it is from a power trip to a journey of love. Paul in speaking about renouncing old ways has not changed gears when he says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .” (Ephesians 5:25 NRSV). Among other things, this is still on the theme of living a new way, and not the old Roman way. In Christ, husbands are called to sacrificial love, and this includes matters of sexuality. Loving your wife means giving up the prostitutes and whatever other sexual interests you had as a Roman man. In places like Pergamum the Christians were the enlightened and progressive ones calling people away from the old status quo of sex as an expression of power to a new way of sex as an expression of love. 1

We clearly see this shift in matters of religion and sexuality at the Council of Jerusalem. The big question facing the Church at the time was whether non-Jewish people needed to become Jewish as they became followers of Jesus. Here is the conclusion they sent by letter:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. Acts 15:28-29 (NIV)

In other words, you do not need to become a Jew and keep all the rules of Judaism when you become a follower of Jesus. But you can no longer live like a typical Roman! Roman confusion about “the gods” does not mix with Christian clarity about the love of God in Christ. Roman emphasis on power in matters of sexuality does not mix with the Christian emphasis on sacrificial and covenantal love.

At Pergamum, the Nicolaitans were pressuring the Christian community to ignore the wisdom of the Jerusalem council and keep living like typical Romans while also looking to Jesus. They are called to repent, keeping in mind that while Rome ruled with the power of the sword, the Romans themselves were accountable to a more powerful God.

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. . . .  Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Revelation 2:12,16 NIV

So are we being old fashioned fuddy-duddies, out of step with an enlightened and progressing society? Should we join with the Nicolaitans and mix our Christian faith with changing Canadian values in religion and sex? Actually, in throwing off the beliefs and ethics grounded in our Christian heritage, our society is not moving forward, but moving backward – to ethics recognizable to pre-Christian Romans. In throwing off an exclusive belief in Jesus as Lord, society is moving from clarity about God and His love to confusion. And in throwing off Christian ethics in sexuality, society is moving away from love as the anchor. When you un-stick religion and sexuality from God’s Word, you quickly become unglued. As Christians, we are called to join God in turning religion and sexuality from confusion and power, to clarity and love. There is nothing old-fashioned about that!


1 I am always indebted to the work of Biblical Scholars as I am in the habit of consulting various Bible Commentaries in the preparation of sermons. One book in particular helped shape this sermon: Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Michael Rueger, who points out the Roman view of sex as power, and the Christian call to love.)


Read today’s post at Clarke’s blog, Sundays Shrunk Sermon.

September 5, 2014

Understanding Song of Song’s Place in Scripture

Note: Song of Songs = Song of Solomon (just in case a reader didn’t know that!)

Today we have regular columnist Clarke Dixon’s latest from the blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To read this at source, click the title below.

Your Love is Better than Chocolate. Reflections on Song of Songs

Through the ages many have wondered just how to deal with the book of the Bible known as Song of Songs, its sensuality and sexuality surprising many and causing many a good Christian to skip ahead to a much more modestly behaved Isaiah. However, celebrating fifteen years of marriage this week I found the words of Song of Solomon quite fitting: “For your love is better than chocolate” (1:2 mostly NRSV, except that I prefer chocolate to wine!). The Bible itself teaches that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NRSV). So we might ask, just how does Song of Songs help us with righteousness?

To answer that we first need to ask what the book is about. In it we find a love triangle with powerful Solomon who never speaks, a male shepherd who does, and a female who is brought into Solomon’s harem, but who is in love with the shepherd. With many just seeing it as a love poem between Solomon and his bride, why do we see a love triangle instead? Consider:

  • With regards to Solomon we know that “Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3 NRSV), So . . . “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (6:3 NRSV) could hardly make sense for a bride of Solomon who must instead say “I am one of my beloved’s many, and my beloved is shared between us.” Also, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (7:10) again does not fit for a man with so many women. If the woman is speaking about Solomon it would be “I am one of my beloved’s, and his desire is to build up his own ego by conquering women.”
  • In 6:1-3 when the female looks for her lover, she does not look for a king in a palace, but a shepherd in a garden.
  • The male voice says in 6:8,9 “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number. My dove, my perfect one, is the only one” (NRSV). I am hardly romantic, but even I know that it would be horrible love poetry for Solomon to tell the female how many women he already has at home. This makes far better sense on the lips of an exclusive partner, the shepherd.
  • In 8:11-12 the male voice points to the wealth and power of Solomon. “My vineyard, my very own, is for myself; you, O Solomon, may have the thousand [pieces of silver]” (NRSV). In other words, “you can keep your wealth, I will enjoy being in love with this woman which is a far better life.”
  • In 3:6-11 we read about Solomon arriving to marry the woman. But in contrast to all the garden imagery she uses to speak of the shepherd, she points out Solomon’s power: “sixty might men of Israel, all equipped with swords and expert in war” (3:7,8 NRSV). How could she say no that?

Given this love triangle, Song of Songs has much to teach about righteousness.

First, Song of Songs was a corrective to the faulty wisdom of Solomon in matters of love, sex, and marriage. True love is not found in the multiple wives of Solomon, or even Abraham, or any of the males of the Old Testament for that matter. God’s intention is found in the Garden of Eden with one man and one woman exclusively and mutually in love. The shepherd has it right, not Solomon. The exclusive relationship is more romantic by far! And notice how much the female speaks in the poem. That too is far more romantic than the domineering male scenario which Solomon represents. So this poem shows a better way ahead for love, sexuality, and marriage, a more righteous way for Solomon and men like him.

Second, Song of Songs is a corrective to the faulty wisdom of the Christian Church in matters of love, sex, and marriage. So often throughout the history of the Christian Church Song of Songs was interpreted in an allegorical way which would soften the “obscene” bits. It was seen as a description of love between God and His people. However, this often seems a bit forced and the explanations become very arbitrary. Better to see it for what it is, a celebration of love, sex, and marriage. Given the ‘bad press’ that parts of the Church have often given to the physical aspects of love, this poem does help us recover the goodness of sexuality. God invented it, is not surprised by it, and it existed back when God looked at His creation and called it good. That the Church has often downplayed the goodness of sex has more to do with being swayed by Greek and gnostic thinking than with sticking to solid Biblical theology. When we affirm the goodness of a mutually expressed sexuality within marriage we find a way towards greater righteousness.

Finally, Song of Songs is a corrective to the faulty wisdom of society today in matters of love, sex, and marriage. If the Church has at times needed the lesson that sexuality is good, then society needs to learn that sexuality is a big deal. That is why it has traditionally been linked to the lifelong commitment and covenant of marriage. It is too sacred, too holy, too important, too powerful, too harmful, too exploitable to be without boundaries. In God’s design, the covenant of marriage is that boundary.

While people will tell the Church to “get with the times” and that the sex-within-marriage is old fashioned, we do well to notice the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament to people coming to Christ from the Roman culture. They do not often talk about keeping the Sabbath, or tithing, or some of the other things you might expect former pagans to know when drawing close to Israel’s God. But they do warn again and again against sexual immorality. In the ancient Roman society sexuality was “no big deal.” The Christian Church did not “get with the times” then and it should not now. It has always been a counter-cultural revolution.

We have been hearing more often about “rape culture” on university campuses which has been met with a “no means no” campaign. But suppose a young man points a water pistol at a young woman and she says “no.” Is he not likely to pull the trigger anyway and say “What? Where is your sense of fun? A little water is no big deal!” Far too many men and women are playing with loaded guns while thinking they are playing with water pistols. And people are getting hurt. Song of Songs, in teaching that love, sexuality, and marriage is a big deal provides a corrective to the wisdom of our society and points the way to righteousness.

While it is difficult for me to select passages for the scripture reading as some parts are too saucy, and others are, for us today, comically weird, this is the Word of God. And the Word of God tells us that sex is good, exclusive marriage is great, and the two belong together.

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned
(Song of Songs 8:6-7 NRSV)

September 1, 2014

Marriage with Eternity in View

Ephesians 5 (NLT): 21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[b] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[c] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The new book by Francis and Lisa Chan, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity places a high value on scripture. Readers here would enjoy the book which has applications in areas far beyond marriage and family.  But in this section (p. 77-8) he’s looking at the traditional passage in Ephesians that always comes up:

You and Me Forever - Francis ChanPart of the problem is that so much of my sacrifice for my wife seems trivial compared to the cross:  changing diapers, doing chores, eating food she likes – these things feel insignificant in comparison.  It’s embarrassing that I even struggle to do these things!  In a sense, the bigger things seem easier, like taking a bullet for her.  Or pushing her away from a speeding train (since Lisa is always playing on train tracks).  Maybe I could muster up the courage for one glorious moment of sacrifice.  But I need to look at the bigger picture.  It’s not just about making sacrifices, big or small.  It’s about character.  It’s about letting go of myself and constantly thinking of others.  It’s about becoming like Christ.

We have to remember why Christ made the sacrifice He did:

…that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  (Eph. 5:26-27)

Why did Jesus sacrifice Himself for the church?  He was preparing us to meet God.  Without His sacrifice, it would have been a horrifying encounter.  God would have taken one look at our sinfulness and sent us to a terrifying end.  But Jesus changed all of that.  He sacrificed so we could stand before Him “holy and without blemish.” It was the most loving thing He could have done.

If you are to love like Christ, then you also must concern yourself with your wife’s sanctification.

Though Jesus has already taken all of her sin on the cross, you still have a real responsibility.  You are to love, lead and sacrifice in such a way that it results in your wife’s sanctification.  The most loving thing you can do is lead your wife to be closer to Jesus, to become more like Him.

Learn more at YouAndMeForever.org

Watch for a full review of the book Tuesday morning at Thinking Out Loud.

January 30, 2014

Women’s Role In Marriage

In the early days of Christianity 201, where the motto is, after all, “Digging a Little Deeper;” we weren’t afraid to tackle controversial topics. So today, I am including an article by author Mary Kassian that appeared at the True Woman blog. This is part two of a three-part discussion, the link to part one is below and I encourage you to watch for the third. While you may not agree, there are many scripture links here that are worth clicking. And if you’re single, or male, or both, remember that marriage is often used in scripture as a picture of Christ’s relationship to His Church.  To read this at source, click here.


FYI: This is Mary Kassian’s second post in a three-part series on the complementarian view of male-female relationships—what it is and what it is not.

In the movie The Matrix, the main character, Neo, is offered a choice between swallowing a red pill or a blue pill. The blue pill would allow him to remain in the Matrix, an illusionary computer-generated world. The red pill would lead to his escape out of the Matrix and into the real world. It was an either/or scenario. He couldn’t have it both ways.

The Evangelical world often frames the discussion about gender roles in “either/or” scenarios. Women are led to believe they only have two choices: They can choose to swallow the red pill of mutuality or the blue pill of complementarity—but not both.

I want to firmly stake the claim that complementarity and mutuality are not either/or concepts. The exact opposite is true. Complementarity embraces mutuality. Complementarians desire mutuality as much as egalitarians do. Our point of difference is not mutuality but rather our respective views on the means whereby this will be achieved.

  • Complementarians claim we achieve mutuality by embracing God-given male-female role distinctions.
  • Egalitarians claim we achieve mutuality by embracing the fact that no such distinctions exist.

The question is definitely not about which viewpoint upholds the dignity, honor, full personhood, and mutuality of woman. They both do. We merely disagree on the route the Bible says we must take to reach the destination. But this disagreement is no small matter.

Acknowledging the Both/And

Complementarians believe God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus. Role distinction and mutuality in a redeemed male-female relationship reflect characteristics of the Godhead and of Christ’s relationship to the Church. Yes, practically, this involves males stepping up to the plate to head up both individual and corporate church families. But no, this doesn’t logically necessitate wooden, unilateral relationships where men boss women around. On the contrary, complementarity solicits cooperation, togetherness, and mutuality. It calls for a profound reciprocity.

Complementarity solicits cooperation, togetherness, and mutuality.

Instead of either/or, authors of the Bible acknowledge the both/and. When they discuss distinct male-female roles, they almost always frame up the conversation within the context of male-female mutuality. For example:

  • The Genesis creation account emphasizes that male and female were both created in the image of God and that both were given dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26–28).
  • In Ephesians 5, Paul correlates the relationship between a husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and the Church. He advocates distinct gender-based roles but emphasizes the “one flesh” and “one body” nature of the relationship. He emphasizes that “we (male and female together) are members of his (Christ’s) body.”
  • In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul points out differing roles in the Godhead and draws a parallel to the husband-wife relationship: “the head of every man is Christ, the head of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (v. 3). He also emphasizes male-female mutuality: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman” (vv. 11–12).
  • After directing wives to submit to husbands, Peter is careful to direct husbands to honor their wives. He reminds men that women are “heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).

Complementarians ought to clearly acknowledge the “both/and” nature of complementarity and mutuality when we speak of gender roles. To fail to do this paints an incomplete picture. In male-female relationships, as in the Body of Christ as a whole, our differences ought to be the foundation and catalyst for a profound unity and mutuality.

Complementary and Mutuality in Marriage

In His Word, God has given us some sex-specific assignments. He instructs me to respect my husband as the team leader of our family unit. He instructs my husband to be a good leader—a self-sacrificial, loving one who looks out for the best interests of his wife and family. But He also gives us both a host of instructions about His expectations of everyone. Though we’ve been assigned different positions, there are many clear responsibilities my husband and I have toward one another as followers of Christ. They include the instructions to:

The Game Plan

All of our common responsibilities are to be carried out in the context of relationships in which God has delegated some individuals—like the husband of each family unit—the additional responsibility to provide loving team leadership in his respective corner of the field (Eph. 5:21–32).

Yes, it’s true that some Christian men don’t take their assigned responsibility seriously. Yes, it’s true that men fail. But the same could be said of women. When I read the list, I am conscience-stricken about my own short-comings.

The fact that some people don’t carry through on the game plan doesn’t mean the plan is a bad one. Nor does it mean we should hold a collective mutiny and declare a free-for-all. It just means we need to work harder to execute the game plan in the way God has designated.

December 1, 2012

Fear of Intimacy Due to Shame

This is a topic that probably affects more people than you realize. Although it is directed more at married people, or those desiring to be married, there are also some general principles here. (I also think that even for single people — divorced, never married, widowed — mediating on Biblical marriage exposes us to God’s heart; what he desires for all.)

Our source today is Royal Farris, pastor of Life Connection Church in Euless, Texas who blogs at e-Royal. Although we’ve linked to him before at Thinking Out Loud, this is his first appearance here. You’re encouraged to click through, where you’ll find the full 37-minute sermon for which this is the outline: Shame Leads to Fear of Intimacy. You can then browse the blog for other topics and sermon videos.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.  He freed me from all my fears.  Ps 34:4 NLT

 Living under the fears of rejection and failure lead to shame and road blocks to healthy, honest, intimate relationships.

 In male/female relationships we have confused intimacy with sex.

 Shame:  I am what I am and I can’t change.

 Living with Shame

 1)    Feel like everyone is better than you.

 2)    Keep making the same harmful mistakes over and  over again.

 3)    The glass is always at least half-empty.

 4)    The world is against you and you feel sorry for yourself.

 5)    Resist investing in relationships.

 6)    Resist taking risks to improve situation.

 7)    Loss of creativity or imagination.

 8)    Always looking to rescue others in order to feel better about yourself.

 9)    You never feel good about your appearance.

 Get a New Intimate You

 First … Get intimate with God .. Spiritual Intimacy

 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.  Eph 4:22-24

 Identity, Purpose, Bible Study, Prayer, Church, obedience

 Gallop poll: Couples who pray together 3-4 times a week have a divorce rate of 1 in 1052.

 2)  Practice communicating intimacy.

 …you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. 1 Pet 3:7

 1)    Make the time to talk.

2)    Develop like interests.

3)    Practice active listening

4)    Ask questions to find out who your spouse is.

5)    Practice giving undivided attention.

6)    Say what you mean.

7)    Talk about physical relationship. (Married)

 One of the greatest hindrances to building intimacy between a man and women is sex outside of marriage.

 3)  Share emotional intimacy.  (Honesty)

 4)  Enjoy physical intimacy.  (Married)

 Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  1 Cor 7:5

February 12, 2012

Does a Christian Wife Always Follow Her Husband’s Leadership?

To read all of today’s Bible study, you need to click the link at the end of the portion showing.


I really appreciate it when an online article forces me to think, especially when two seemingly diametrically opposed schools of thought converge in the pages of the Bible.  Andy Naselli re-introduces us to the story of Abagail and Nabal.  You’re encouraged to click the link to this Bible study on Andy’s blog.


I emailed this to a friend earlier this week:

I was just reflecting on the story of Nabal and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. This nicely illustrates a difference between authoritarianism and complementarianism.

  • Authoritarianism would say that Abigail sinned by not “submitting” to Nabal since she sent David and his men a lavish gift without telling Nabal, who had expressly refused to give David and his men anything.
  • Complementarianism would commend Abigail for wisely not following her wicked husband and for shrewdly saving her household in a way that honored the Lord.

Are you aware of any books or articles making this connection? It’s an important one, I think, especially re how alleged complementarians (who are really authoritarians) encourage women to endure sinful abuse of various kinds in the name of submission.

The next day another friend of mine posted this from Nancy Wilson’s Building Her House: Commonsensical Wisdom for Christian Women:

The commands of submission and obedience are only difficult when we disagree with our husbands. If we agree with them and do what they say, it can hardly be called submission. Submission comes into play when we differ with them over an issue, but we defer to them and willingly give way.

But what about when the husband is in sin? This is a very important issue. What if the husband has adopted a wrong attitude and is heading in the wrong direction? Is a wife obligated to go along? It all depends.

I have often been saddened that we don’t see more Abigails in the church today. She was not afraid to call her husband a fool and make arrangements behind his back without his permission [1 Sam. 25]. God blessed her abundantly for intervening in this way. She did not stay home and wait for David to attack her household while calling herself a submissive wife. She recognized…

[…continue reading this excellent article here…]

Cartoon image — not part of original article — was sourced at a related article by Rebecca Trotter (click image).

November 20, 2011

Personal Accountability

The Message, Prov. 2717 You use steel to sharpen steel,
   and one friend sharpens another.

Currently there are different ideas about the concept of having personal accountability, or more particularly, the idea of having an accountability partner.  I am quite sure that, as with so many areas of Christian endeavor, there are pluses and minuses to systems of this nature.

However, I think those of us who live much our spiritual lives online need to be especially challenged in this area, simply because we may find ourselves deriving spiritual fulfillment from the Christian sector of the internet, at the expense of other types of ministry that would give us more personal contact, and would leave us less likely to be anonymous, or to pretend we are something other than we are.

Accountability is particularly stressed in men’s ministry.  Pastor B. J. Rutledge recently shared ten accountability questions with his men’s group, but if you’re woman reading this, I believe B. J. has rewritten this to have more general applicability.   This appeared on his blog under the title, Accountability is a Non-Negotiable.

This past Sunday [November 13th] we talked about overcoming those Fatal Flaws that have the potential to destroy your influence, marriage, family and life.  One of the four keys to overcoming Fatal Flaws is accountability; it is non-negotiable.

A number of you asked me about the Accountability Card used for years in my Men’s Small Group.  Here are the questions if you’d like to make your own card or a similar card.

1.  Did you spend quality & quantity time seeking God?  Share a Quiet Time highlight.

2. Did you talk with, communicate with, pray with and encourage your wife regularly?

3. Did you spend special time, encourage and pray with each of your kids regularly?

4. Did you expose yourself to any movies, videos, magazines, internet sites, etc, that were immoral, pornographic or encouraged lust?

5. Did you interact with a (man/woman), in any way that was not pleasing to God?

6. Did you memorize your verse for the week?  Share it with me.

7. Did you attempt to share the love of Christ with anyone this week?

8. Did you demonstrate integrity and Christ-likeness in your business or ministry affairs this week?

9. Did you just lie to me about any of these?

10.  What are some of your struggles right now?