submission

Made…In Complementarian Community (part 2)

And the Spirit makes it possible to submit (be under God’s arrangement) humbly to one another out of respect for Christ. Wives, it should be no different with your husbands. Submit (private, personal, uniquely one’s own”) to them as you do to the Lord,  for God has given husbands a sacred duty to lead as the Anointed leads the church and serves as the head (kephale, the cornernerstone). The church is His body; He is her Savior.  So wives should submit (be under God’s arrangement) to their husbands, respectfully, in all things, just as the church yields to Christ.

Husbands, you must love (agapao, actively doing what the Lord prefers) your wives so deeply, purely, and sacrificially that we can understand it only when we compare it to the love Christ has for His bride, the church… “And this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother and is united with his wife; the two come together as one flesh.”  There is a great mystery reflected in this Scripture, and I say that it has to do with the marriage of the Anointed One and the church.  Nevertheless, each husband is to love and protect his own wife as if she were his very heart, and each wife is to respect her own husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33)

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In Christian theology, the Trinity offers an analogy to the male/female relationship. The three persons of the Godhead are absolutely equal in essence, but they are distinct in function. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one , but they have different roles or offices. They engage in equally necessary and distinctly unique roles with and in the world. Within the Trinity, there is a constant interaction of leadership/headship and submission/obedience

Based on the title of this series it’s obvious I believe there is something unique about being male and female that makes men and women complementary in the same way that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit complement each other. I think that conclusion is unavoidable. 

  • Biologically (it’s how we get kids)
  • Sociologically (generally present attributes)
  • Relationally (generally common approaches to people)
  • Spiritually  (as imago dei)

A complementarian view says we are all one in Christ; we are all recipients of his gifts; we are all stewards, ambassadors and disciples. The Trinity gives us the model of how men and women experience equality and unity without denying diversity.  It is impossible to replicate this type of interaction in humanity because we are not God, but the Trinitarian relationship is nonetheless a model that is meant to give us some insight into God’s design for human relationships.  We, too, are equal in essence but different in function.

We engage in equally necessary and at times distinctly unique roles with and in the world. There is a constant interaction of leadership/headship and submission/obedience.  We see it most directly in marriage where “the two become one,” but we can see it clearly in all human interactions. Male and female complement each other as male and female as they function in ways that match God’s intent for their flourishing and for God’s glory.*

 So what do HEADSHIP and SUBMISSION mean in the biblical context? I am going to broaden this out from the subject of marriage, because we will all have times in our life where we are responsible for leadership in a particular area of life, and we will all have times where we must submit to the leadership of others. But let’s back up.

In Genesis 3, we saw one of the results of sin clearly spelled out: there would be a power struggle between men and women where there was once peace. We see there a picture of a fundamental struggle we all face:

We want power and we can’t stand submission.

We love to lead and we hate to follow.

We love to be in charge.

  • When Vince was in kindergarten he used to come home and proudly proclaim the days he was ‘line leader.’ He never said anything about being ‘line follower’.
  • You don’t see coaches call a timeout when the game is going bad and ask, “Who’s gonna step up and show some followership(?)” No, it’s always about who’s going to lead.
  • There is no high school graduation speech where kids are encouraged to join with someone else and help that person make their dreams come true.
  • When’s the last time you heard someone commemorated by saying, “Bob sure knew how to follow. He could toe the line and do what other people told him to do better than anybody.”

We love to lead and we hate to follow. It’s been that way since the Fall. We talked last week about life during the New Testament era, how those who were leading were more often than not oppressive and exploitive, and those who submitted to their authority were treated cheaply at best and brutally at worst.

We also talked about the big picture, “the forest” and not just the trees, and how the Household Codes and Church Codes were an amazing redemptive move in the first century.  This week we are going to look at two trees: headship and submission.

HEADSHIP

Let’s see where the Bible talks about Christ as the ‘head’ to see what that means. First, here is what Jesus said about power:

“You know that among the nations of the world the great ones lord it over the little people and act like tyrants. But that is not the way it will be among you. Whoever would be great among you must serve and minister. Whoever wants to be great among you must be slave of all. Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to be a servant—to offer His life as a ransom for others.” (Mark 10:42-44)

So whatever we are going to hear must have something to do with becoming a servant. Paul use the term “head” to describe how Jesus serves in a headship role, so let’s look at his explanation. 

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head (kephale) over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23)

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19)

What is biblical headship? Equipping, promoting, and nourishing through loving service for the good of others and the glory of God. Our 21st Century Western ears hear the discussion of headship and we hear authority, power and privilege. When the Bible uses these terms, it is a template for understanding responsibility and service for those around us.  There is no sense of entitlement, no sense of ‘lording” over others. When that is present, it is not biblical headship. Any time Christians use headship as an excuse for lordship, it is a sin.

Biblical Headship cannot mean power as the world understands power. It cannot mean authority for the sake of being in charge.  It cannot mean someone is at the top of a hierarchy of value, worth and dignity. It can only mean self-sacrificial responsibility to empty yourself, and treat everyone around you as more important than you are, to die so that others may live, and not care if you get noticed or appreciated.

SUMBISSION

Once again, let’s look at the forest, the big picture. We already read what Jesus said about being a servant as recorded in Mark 10, so let’s look at one of Paul’s teachings:

“ If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:1-8)

 “Moved to treat others better than ourselves.” Concerned about the interests of others.”  That’s biblical submission. Notice it’s not unquestioning passivity. It’s not cowering in fear or anxiety (we read some verses in 1 Peter last week). Biblical submission is not taken. Biblical submission is honor and obedience which is given freely as a principled decision to sacrifice and serve others in the same way Christ sacrificed and served us.

Biblical Submission cannot be a life in which someone lives in a coerced prison of fear and anxiety.  Mere conformity is not the goal of submission; harmony of mission and purpose is the goal. Biblical submission is not following while rebelliously undermining – if there is a challenge to be made, it’s open and honest.  Submission does not mean one is silent or passive in such a way that sin or degradation is enabled.  Biblical submission is a principled commitment to allow others to lead and encourage those who have leadership roles for which God has equipped them. It’s encouraging and challenging but never insulting. It’s working to bring honor and not shame to those who exercise leadership.

We are all transformed into the image of Christ as we all learn what it means to exercise godly headship and godly submission.

So who’s in charge? I guess I’ll use my home as a way to talk through this, not because it’s a model but because it’s one way to see how this idea plays out.  I asked my wife last night if she thinks of me as the “head” of our house, and she said she did. So I asked what that meant to her. She said, “You have the weight of the household on your shoulders.” In other words, I will answer to God in a way that she does not for what happens in my home – which is why I have to love my wife as Christ loved the church, and pour out my life in the service of her and my family.

I asked her what she thinks it means to submit, and she said, “I need to help you carry that weight.” In other words, we are on the same mission.  I pour out my life for her and our home, and she pours her life back into me and our home. God has given me a terrifying weight to carry, and my wife sees that, and she comes along side me in this mission. In the Kingdom of God, we should tremble when we bear the weight of leadership and celebrate when we are able to freely submit and follow godly leadership.

 How does this look practically?

 I don't just decide where we go on vacation, or how we spend our money, or how to discipline or reward our boys, or what job I or my wife should have, or what to plant in the garden, or what vehicle to buy, or what translation of the Bible we should use in our home.  Neither does my wife. My wife and I wrestle with these questions together.  But at the end of the day, do I make the final call? No. Yes. Depends on the issue. What’s my strength? What’s my wife’s strength? How can we serve each other? How can we help each other flourish?

Let’s broaden this principle….

With my kids, or here at church in my role as pastor, or at TC Christian in my role as teacher, it’s not about how I will be served, or how I will be obeyed, or how people must give me what I am owed. I’ve not earned some privilege that forces others to bow to me. I have been given a position of responsibility from which to serve my kids, to serve you, to serve my students. The question must be, “Am I equipping, promoting, and nourishing through loving service for the good of others and the glory of God?”

 And here at church I serve in a plurality of leadership, and at school I have an administrator, and at home my wife takes the helm in certain areas, and the question must be, “Am I allowing them to lead and encouraging them in the leadership role for which God has equipped them?

We are all going to have times in our life when we lead, and when we are given the responsibility of serving through leadership, we had better drop to our knees and beg God to overwhelm us with His strength, wisdom, goodness, and humility because if we don’t have that, everything around us will crumble.

When you are following the lead of someone else, are you stubborn, critical and judgmental, or are you praying for their wisdom and offering respect even if it is (at times) confrontational respect? When we are in situations where we are called to submit, follow and serve, we had better drop to our knees and beg God to do a work in this around us who lead, and to fill us with strength, wisdom, goodness, and humility so that we allow those who lead to flourish.

So how do we do this impossible task? There is only one way: “ If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ… if there is any fellowship of the Spirit…” (Philippians 2). Next week we are going to talk about encouragement in Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit, and how God is glorified in all this.

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  • If you desire to be in charge, be honest before God. Why? Do you want power and control, or are you humbly looking for greater opportunities to serve?
  • If you cringe at the idea of submission, be honest before God. Why? Is it because silence and inaction will enable sin and ruin, or do you just want power and control?
  • If you are married (or engaged), are you and your spouse on the same page about the interplay of leadership and submission in your own home?
  • When you are at home, with your friend and coworkers, or working with people at church, do they experience you as leading by equipping, promoting, and nourishing them through loving service? Do they see you submit to the authority figures in your life by looking out for their interest above yours?
  • What are some signs that someone in  biblical headship/leadership is moving from being a servant to be being a ‘lord’?
  • What are the biblical limits of submission (for what biblical reasons should someone draw a line and not submit to someone in authority)?
  • Why is it so important to find encouragement in Christ and maintain fellowship with the Holy Spirit?

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FOR FURTHER THOUGHT….

  There is another view of the biblical relationship between men and women that is called egalitarianism. Egalitarians agree with the theological claims, but argue that the distinction of roles will not reflect a designed role for genders but will instead reflect a designed role for our gifts. Men and women don’t necessarily complement each other as male and female, but because as individuals with imago dei they have particular gifts or strengths that will flourish in particular ways for their flourishing and for God’s glory.

Both of these perspectives invite controversy. Complementarianism is a word with a lot of baggage because it’s been used as a code word for stifling authority and coercive power. Egalitarianism is accused of being just a reflection of modern feminism, or a kind of postmodern attempt to eliminate differences between men and women and see gender merely as something we construct.

I recommend a book that does a fantastic job explaining these two positions from a Christian perspective: Two Views of Women in Ministry, Stanley Gundry and James Beck, editors. Here’s a statement from the four authors in the book: “We believe one can build a credible case within the bounds of orthodoxy and a commitment to inerrancy for either one of the two major views we address in this volume, although all of us view our own position on the matter as stronger and more compelling.” If you would like to read more about areas of agreement and disagreement, and why Bible-honoring Christians disagree about this issue, I will just refer you to that book. Since that’s not the point of my sermon today, so I leave that follow-up opportunity in your hands.

Here’s just one example (which you can read about in far more detail Two Views of Women in Ministry) why Bible-honoring Christians have a vigorous discussion about complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.

THE CONTEXT OF 1 TIMOTHY 2

Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from a man. As I said, it’s best if a woman learns with quiet harmony and agreement.  This is because Adam was formed first by God, then Eve.  Plus, it wasn’t Adam who was tricked; it was she—the woman was the one who was fooled and disobeyed God’s command first. “ (1 Timothy 2:12--14)

Here’s the difficulty in wrestling with passages like this one. There is always a context, and understanding what the original audience heard vs. what we hear is hard work, and not everyone agrees. So, here’s the context.

The wording used to describe how women are not to “wrench authority from a man” always carried a violent or sexual meaning when used in ancient literature. Catherine Kroeger writes: “Chrysostom uses autheritia to denote “sexual license.”   Dr. David H. Scholer cites Leeland Edward Wilshire’s exhaustive study of the word authentien“… almost exclusively meant “a perpetrator of a violent act, either murder or suicide.” In other words, there were a lot of other words Paul could have chosen that would have been entirely adequate to refer to teaching, but he chose this one. There is a much deeper dynamic going on.

Consider this reality of ancient Greek culture (pointed out once again by Catherine Koeger) that seems to have been a part of life in Ephesus: “Virtually without exception, female teachers among the Greeks were…hetairai (remember them from last week?) who made it evident in the course of their lectures that they were available afterwards for a second occupation. But the Bible teaches that to seduce men in such a manner was indeed to lead them to slaughter and the halls of death (cf. Prov. 2:18; 5:5; 7:27; 9:18). The verb authentein is thus peculiarly apt to describe both the erotic and the murderous.”

Something seriously distorted is happening in Timothy’s church that goes far beyond the mere act of teaching. It seems clear, if you read the whole book of 1 Timothy, that the church in Ephesus was plagued with false teaching. The primary source appears to be women in the church who had picked up some teaching that combined the religion of Artemis with some of the early gnostics. This is not surprising, considering that women were generally not educated, and were thus more susceptible to taking whatever was taught to them and accepting it as true.

The cult of Artemis, which was very active in Ephesus, taught female superiority and dominance. It was characterized by, among other things, fertility rituals and genealogies that only traced female bloodlines. There was also a movement in Judaism at that time that combined the teachings of Artemis with the teachings of the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve. In their version, Eve was the 'illuminator' of mankind because she got 'true knowledge' from the Serpent, who revealed truth God did not give to Adam. Eve was the Mother of both Life and Truth, and she gave birth to Adam and taught him the truth of the Serpent.

So When Paul writes, "Adam was formed first, then Eve,” and that Eve was deceived not Adam, it’s a direct attack on the idea that Eve was the Mother of both Life and Truth. A contextualized translation of 1 Timothy 2: 12-14 would read something like this:

“Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from the qualified men who are teaching. As I said, it’s best if a woman learns true doctrine with quiet harmony and agreement. Considering that women are being taken with the popular the idea that Eve was the originator of Adam and the goddess of life, let women submissively and humbly learn sound doctrine. And I do not permit a woman to teach that she is the illuminator of man because Eve was the illuminator of Adam. The Bible teaches that Adam was first formed first, then Eve. Adam disobeyed, but he was not deceived; Eve fell into sin because she was deceived."

So suddenly it’s not just, “I don’t let women teach because women are more susceptible to error than men.” It’s loaded with insight about how to structure life in such a way that those who are strong in certain areas take the lead, and those who are weak in certain areas let those who are strong do their thing. Everybody benefits if it’s done well. Some complementarians would say there is a timeless principle here; egalitarians would say it is situational. Maybe there’s elements of both. That’s the tension, and I point you again toward Two Views of Women in Ministry (Stanley Gundry and James Beck, editors) to read more about the discussion.

 

 

Life Together: Submitted to Christ (Colossians 3:16-4:1)

“Submit” and “obey” are two words that don’t usually bring out the best emotions. Perhaps we think of submission as something we endure from some overpowering bully, like a mixed martial artist who submits his opponent. Perhaps we think of a family, school, a church or a business where all that mattered was authority and obedience, and it was experienced in a way that was mean, cold, harsh, or demeaning. Perhaps we think of obedience or submission as being weak, or being told not to think for ourselves. Perhaps we think of being a victim, abused by those who want to dominate and control us rather than compel or love us.

So here’s a question: What does the Bible say about power and submission?

 Let’s go back to Paul’s letter to the Colossian church.

  • Paul began Colossians by demonstrating the supremacy of Christ in every area of life.
  • Because Christ is above all, we are not enslaved to human traditions and expectations about what it means to be righteous or holy.
  • We are free – from the power and condemnation of sin, and to become people who “put on” compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and forgiveness.
  • In this life of freedom in Christ, the differences that we cite to create division and pride – race, nationality, gender, and social position – are gone.
  • We are to put on love as the thing that holds together all the goodness we are free to have and to do in Christ.

Next, Paul gives a very practical demonstration about how this looks in their community:

Let the word of God richly inhabit your lives. With all wisdom teach, counsel, and instruct one another. Sing the psalms, compose hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, and keep on singing—sing to God from hearts full and spilling over with thankfulness. Surely, no matter what you are doing (speaking, writing, or working), do it all in the name of Jesus our Master, sending thanks through Him to God our Father.” (v. 16-17)

 

So the Colossian Christians were to do at least four key things: Let God’s Word richly inhabit their lives (read, listen, think, and absorb the truth found in God’s revelation); teach, counsel and instruct each other (challenge and encourage others with love); sing with gratitude (respond to God in thankfulness for who He is and what He has done); and do everything in the name of Christ (live transformed lives). Sounds great! What will happen when we do this?

Wives: be submitted to your husbands as is appropriate in the Lord. Husbands: love your wives, and don’t treatthem harshly or respond with bitterness toward them. Children: obey your parents in every way. The Lord is well pleased by it. Fathers: don’t infuriate your children, so their hearts won’t harbor resentment and become discouraged. Slaves: obey your earthly masters in all things. Don’t just act earnest in your service only when they are watching. Serve with a sincere heart , fearing the Lord who is always watching! So no matter what yourtask is, work hard. Always do your best as the Lord’s servant, not as man’s, because you know your reward is the Lord’s inheritance. You serve Christ the Lord, and anyone who does wrong will be paid his due because He doesn’t play favorites. Masters: treat your slaves fairly and do what is right, knowing that you, too, have a Master in heaven. (3: 18- 4:1)

 

Hmmm. Two thoughts strike me. First, this seems like an odd thing to write at this point in the letter. Second, this section seems to have a lot to with power: those how have it and those who don’t. In order to understand what is happening here, we need to know something about life in first century Colossae.

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 As far back as the fourth century BC, there is record that the Greeks viewed the household to be a miniature version of the order found in society, the realm of the gods, and ultimately the universe. Aristotle even identified the three key relationships within the household that mattered: “The smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”  Aristotle believed free men were by nature intended to rule over their wives, children, and slaves because they were created by the gods to be better. His writing is pretty clear on this point, noting that “the one gender is far superior to the other in just about every sphere,”  and that “the slave has not deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature.” .

Considering this type of philosophical background, it's probably worth understanding how life looked like for women, children, and slaves in the Greco-Roman world before we look at Paul's Christianized household code.

Women existed to please the men around them, and a husband could do with his wife (or wives) whatever he wanted. Marriages were typically based on economic considerations. Wives were often young teens who married much older men. They were more important than slaves, but in many ways they were just property of their husbands. The reason for marriage was not “love” in our usual sense, but to bear legitimate children and to keep the family line going. Demosthenes noted: Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children."

They had almost no voice in the home or in the city. They could not testify in court because they were considered unreliable liars (that was true in Judaism as well). Some were educated; most were not. They rarely joined their husband and his friends for meals, which was where all the important conversations happened. They had to be faithful while the husband could be promiscuous.

The father also had authority over his children no matter their age. They were to submit to his will even after they had families of their own.  Once again, his children existed to serve and please him. He could set them outside the city to die when they were babies if he didn’t like what he saw.  He had absolute control over their lives.  They were meant to bring him honor and perhaps wealth.  It was all about him, not them.

The head of house was also free to beat his slaves, servants, wives and children, into submission (see the posts on Philemon for a more nuanced look at the reality of slavery at the time).  

This is what had formed the perspective on Paul’s audience. In this cultural milieu,  Christians were already finding themselves butting heads with both the culture and the law as they came to grips with what it meant to follow Christ. They were now part of a "new humanity" in which the divisions of race, gender and freedom were meant to dissolve in mutual love toward Christ and each other. For example, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, were sharing common meals together in their meetings (1 Corinthians 11). This was unheard of.  Meals separated the free men from everybody else.  While the Romans passed laws forcing widows to get remarried, the early church helped the widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16) without insisting they get remarried.

This was not necessarily sitting well with Rome. The early Christians were called “haters of humanity,” because they so willingly broke down the structures that the Greeks and Romans believe brought stability to the nation and honor to the gods. So when the husband/father became a follower of Christ, his conversion brought him and his household shame and suspicion in the eyes of the Romans and Greeks. They were pretty sure this man and his family were on the verge of being traitors to their country, the gods and the order of the universe.  

So Paul has his work cut out: he does not want to add shame, suspicion or even persecution by dismantling the structure of the household. What he needed to do was show believers how to enter into an imperfect Greek culture and apply a gospel of love and servant hood that reflected the heart of Christ.

This brings us back to the question of power vs. submission and authority.

 I have heard this passage quoted as an example of how Paul just wanted men to be at the top of every relationship. That kind of observation misses the point. Paul was not imposing a new power structure onto marriage. He was showing them how to redeem a flawed cultural reality so that they could live at peace in their city while offering everyone the dignity and honor they deserved.  This may seem like an odd conclusion to reach from this passage, but let's go back to Genesis.

The power struggle between people entered the world as a result of sin entering the world. We read of women in in Genesis 3:16 that, as a result of the fall: “With pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” (NET Bible). I saw a website for wives that posted this verse with the comments: “Could your desire for your husband be a little stronger? Could you let him rule over you a little more than you did last week?”

They are missing the point badly. This verse is not a promise of blessing; that’s an observation about how life will not look in a fallen world.  Rebellion broke the world. Genesis 3 is not a list of how things ought to be; It's an explanation of how things have become.  One thing we learn right away: The fallen nature craves power and hates servanthood. But the New Adam, Jesus Christ, came to redeem not just people but the ways in which people have grown comfortable in their fallen state.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, did not seek the position His power offered him. Instead, he became a servant and gave his very life for those he loved as an example for how we are to live. Three examples from Scripture:

  • Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8). 
  • In speaking to them about authority he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28). 
  • When his disciples argued amongst themselves about who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

In Colossians, Paul is showing how redemption looks in relationships. Now men (the culturally privileged and powerful) have to care for the people within their household for their own sakes with the same level of committed self-sacrifice that Christ himself showed for us all. Men must learn to genuinely love and serve those whom their culture said they could use and control. The redeemed nature chooses service over power.

This was unprecedented in the history of household codes.

 No one is told that they are better. No is told they have a right to rule. No one is told what their rights are, or what is owed to them. They are all told what their responsibilities are to those around them: mutual service to honor Christ. The language is different, but the principle is the same.

From this perspective, there is much we can learn from the household codes about confronting our own lives.

  • Do we feel like we actually are better than others because they don’t have the same education, level of success, background, appearance or spiritual training?
  • Do we feel like we deserve to be in a place of privilege?
  • Do we feel like our spouse, kids, parents, employees, or friends are there to serve us and make us happy? 

When we follow Christ, we are called to sacrifice power, pride and privilege.  Are we learning how to genuinely love and serve those whom we assume we can use and control?

 When we all find ourselves kneeling at the foot of the cross, we look up and see only Christ, not other lording over us. If we look up and see our spouse, or our parents, or our boss, something has gone wrong.We look down and we see only the ground, not people we are lording over. If we look down and see our spouse, or our kids, or our employees, something has gone wrong. And when we look around, we see everyone around us eye-to-eye, remembering that God so loved the world – and we are called to nothing less. 

The Potter and the Clay (Part 2)

In the previous post, we looked at how the Potter pulls the clay from the ground and prepares it for His use. He "wedges" it to get rid of air holes, then throws it into the center of the wheel. After that, of course,  the shaping begins.

“Opening the form” happens after centering.  The potter puts his finger into the very center of the clay to create a well. As He pulls the clay towards him, the clay begins to respond.  Re-centering happens throughout this entire process. We are constantly in need of aligning ourselves with God and his ways. There is an interesting incident in Jeremiah18:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me.  He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”
      We all get marred by others:  cruel words, physical abuse; emotional manipulation.  We call them scars.  But sometimes we mar ourselves – we make choices that catch up with us.  And it’s not that the Potter has to throw us away, but there is a re-centering, and maybe a new well, a new direction in the plan.  The Potter is not stumped, but the pot may take on a different shape on the way to fulfilling the Potter’s purpose.
    Sometimes our lives take a path we don’t expect.  We had this plan – we were going to do THIS with our life – but we got marred, and something about that marring changed the shape of our lives.  And we still have the same purpose we always did, but now we might get there a different way.  
Pulling up the wall (the sides of the pot), the Potter's hands no longer fully surround the clay.  The hands change position to one hand on the inside and one on the outside and the wheel speed slows considerably.  Gentle pressure inward forces the clay upward.  Again, pressure must be steady or the form will shift off center.  God is doing something inside us, but He’s also working on the outside.  When this happens to us, there are things happening that no one else can see – but there are also things people can see.  God doesn’t just work on what we do [external]; God doesn’t just work on who we are [internal]. He works on both.
     The Potter does not need to use much pressure to make the clay take shape.  The clay is very sensitive to the touch.  The Pot has a sure foundation; the grains are aligned with the Potter’s plan; the pot is still near to the Potter.  In the same way, the believer is grounded in the truth, aligned with the will of God, and confident that the work God is doing is making something beautiful.
Once the walls are lifted then the potter begins to apply a pressure to specific places on the wall to create a shape. The wheel is turning much slower now.  The potter is now using small nudges that make big changes to the pot.  Centering really is not needed any longer at this point; just a balancing of the form.
      This is the gentle nudge, but it is HUGE in shaping the pot.   Question: Do we believe God speaks to us?  Are we sensitive to His touch?  Are we so surrendered and submitted to God that we are living in the awareness of His presence in our lives – His purpose, His plan? If we want our lives to really take shape we must be sensitive to His nudging – prayer, the Bible, godly friends, and our conscience.
The pot is removed from the wheel and set aside to dry before it is returned to the wheel for final trimming.  Re-centering occurs before trimming the foot of the pot.  Usually, if the potter is good, a few gentle taps move the pot on center.  The potter trims a "foot" on the pot.  Another foundation for the pot to sit on. 
 It is important that there is a consistency of thickness throughout the pot, or it will crack in the drying process.  There is a balance to the Christian life. Faith or works?  Intellect or emotion?  Long-term planning or in-the-moment response?  Well, yes. For example,  if we rely only on scripture and never learn to "know" God spirit to spirit - hearing his voice, feeling conviction, becoming spiritually discerning - we will not be able to be used as the potter intended.  But if we neglect the word(truth) and only rely on what we discern we will not be used as intended. Balance is crucial in forming the life of the believer.
     The drying process is a good analogy of the times when we know we are waiting on God.  The pot remains confident that the potter will return to finish the work he began (Philippians 1:6) This is Joseph as he languished in prison…Ruth as she waited on Boaz…Jesus as he waited for his ministry…. the disciples as they waited between Jesus's ascension and the feast of Pentecost…this is us as we wait at times when all we see happening is that we are drying, when actually we are being prepared for the next step in God’s process. 
The pot is fired.  Once the heat of the kiln reaches a specific temp. the clay is transformed and is no longer able to go back to the earth as soft clay.  The actual chemical composition has changed.  In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist said: “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” 
If the pot never experiences the fire, the heat, the clay will never mature.  It will never be able to be fully used for the Potter’s purpose.  Trials change us. This is a pivotal point in the life of the believer.  We have to be careful that we don’t reach a place anywhere in the pot making process where we fear the fire of refinement.  Again, it is all about surrender.  
The Glazing is the final adornment process. Glaze is actually clay that has melted to make glass. Its purpose is to enhance the look of the pot, to make it attractive. 
   There is an importance placed on having a glaze that "fits" the clay body you use.  The two need to mature together in the kiln at the right temperature  and will hopefully fuse with no imperfections.   
   This sounds a lot to me like our testimony of forgiveness, grace, and hope. .  It comes from us, the clay, but it’s made possible by the Potter.  

Then the pot is filled. That’s the purpose of a vessel – to hold something. 

  • Romans 5:5 “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
  • Acts 1:8 “you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem…”
Now, we are ready to be poured out in the service of others.  God molds us for His purpose; God fills us with the love and power of His Holy Spirit, and now God’s vessel pours God’s life and truth into the world, to the glory of God.
And through it all, we have The Potter - steady, unchanging, trustworthy, faithful, a solid rock, a firm foundation. 
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to [us] …We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6 )