Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dissolving the Marriage Partnership

Dissolving the Marriage Partnership

There is great power in words. George Orwell, in his classic book 1984, gives a chilling depiction of a government manipulating minds by exerting control over words spoken and written. Words give rise to ideas in the minds of men. By advocating that certain words be used and others suppressed, minds can be controlled.

Mankind is aware of the power of words. I have been angered on occasion as I have read of the despotic Orwellian practices of the United States court systems. I have read of numerous cases where abortion issues came before the court. Whether the court was sentencing abortion protestors, or ruling on the legality of various abortion procedures, they have sought to influence the outcome by dictating the language that could be used. I have read of judges banning certain words from being spoken in court such as “baby,” “unborn child,” “infant,” and “murder.” It has been mandated at times that the baby in the womb be referred to as a “fetus,” or “fetal material.” By proscribing what words could be used, the judge was able to shape opinion and arrive at a ruling in favor of the abortionists.

The media employs similar tactics by describing abortion advocates as “pro-choice” while labeling defenders of human life as “anti-abortion.” Those who defend the lives of the unborn prefer the positive descriptor “pro-life.” By disallowing this term, and choosing the  negative prefix “anti” to describe pro-life advocates, the media is able to influence thought. The term pro-choice, although it is advocating the careless murder of the unborn, appears positive, while the term anti-abortion evokes a negative image.

I have recently been led to ponder the words “marriage partner.” The word partner has become ubiquitous, being employed  wherever the marriage union of the man and his wife is spoken of today. Even among Christians, the word partner is used commonly to refer to one’s spouse. This word never appears in Scripture when the relationship between husband and wife is mentioned. I can only surmise that it is the cunning of the great deceiver that has led to this word’s adoption.

Consider what the word partner implies. A partner is a person who shares, or is associated, with another in some action or endeavor. Common synonyms for the word partner are “sharer, associate, collaborator.” The word partner is very frequently associated with the realm of business. To be a partner in a firm indicates that a person has achieved a certain status. No longer are they merely an employee. Now they have authority and the perks that go along with it.

Although there are various aspects of the word partner that can be rightfully applied to marriage, it is the overall image that is evoked that is cause for concern. By referring to one’s spouse as their marriage partner there is an implicit assertion of equality of roles, of shared authority, and the combining of the husband’s and wife’s individual goals and dreams into one corporate vision. On the surface this sounds not only reasonable, but highly desirable. God’s ways, however, are not man’s ways.

Let us look at the very beginning of God’s thought for the marriage relationship. In Genesis chapter two we read:

Genesis 2:18
Then Yahweh God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him."

The word God used to describe the woman is “helper.” God saw that the man had a need, and there was no other creature that could meet that need. It was necessary for God to form another being specifically to meet the needs of the man.

Genesis 2:21-23
So Yahweh God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. Yahweh God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."

In the New Testament, Christ’s apostles base much of their instruction to women in the church upon creation order. Man was created first. Woman was formed later out of a remnant portion taken from the man’s body. Not only was woman created subsequent to man, but she was created “for man.”

I Corinthians 11:8-9
For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.

In this passage the apostle Paul is establishing the governmental order that Yahweh put in place between the man and woman. The man is given a position of ruling over the woman, and the woman is to subject herself.

Genesis 3:16
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

This testimony of the man being the ruler of the woman is repeated in the New Testament.

Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
I Peter 3:5-6
For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord...

Sarah did not call Abraham “partner.” Sarah called her husband “lord,” and she is set forth as an example for godly women to emulate. To hear it suggested that wives should call their husbands lord produces a discordant sound in the contemporary ear. It may be accepted that women long ago called their husband’s “lord,” but these are modern times. Things have changed. Right? Many women would experience fits of laughter if they were counseled to start calling their husband “lord.” “What planet are you from?” might be the response of some. The word of God states that those who belong to Christ are “aliens and strangers” in the earth (I Peter 2:11). It should not be surprising if the counsel of God to women today would lead them to appear foreign, as if from a completely different culture. The saints in Christ are citizens of a heavenly kingdom that operates upon different principles than the kingdoms of this world.

Philippians 3:20
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Yahshua Christ...

Among the citizens of a world under the dominion of Satan it is common to speak of one’s “marriage partner.” Sarah stands in stark contrast, for she obeyed her husband Abraham, and called him “lord.”

Genesis 18:12
Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"

After many years of being married to Abraham, having witnessed his faults as well as his victories, being aware that he was a man who had both weaknesses and strength, Sarah called Abraham “my lord.”  The word “my” adds a very personal element to the honor Sarah bestowed upon Abraham. Sarah had great knowledge of her husband, but she did not let familiarity breed contempt. To her, Abraham was, and ever would be, “my lord.”

Sisters in Christ, referring to your husband as lord, rather than partner is more than a matter of semantics. The attitude of women toward their husbands has been greatly altered so that the standard held up by the apostles seems absurd to the Christian wife today. A bondservant would never describe his master as “my partner.” To do so would be highly disrespectful.

One might object that the wife is not the husband’s servant. Why then is she instructed to call her husband “lord”? Yahweh has given us the examples of other women who, like Sarah, showed great honor and submission to their husbands.

I Samuel 25:39-41
Then David sent a proposal to Abigail, to take her as his wife. When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her, saying, "David has sent us to you to take you as his wife." She arose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, "Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my lord's servants."

If Abigail had been a contemporary Christian woman under the influence of that proud and independent feminist spirit prevalent today, she would not have spoken so humbly of herself, nor would she have joyfully embraced the role of a servant. This is where the woman who aspires to godliness must be transformed in her thinking. To see the husband as "lord" instead of as a partner goes against everything society teaches.

The influence of society impresses upon women the thought that marriage is an opportunity for the man and woman to jointly pursue life, liberty and happiness. The goals and desires of the woman are put on the same level as the goals and desires of the man. This sounds fair and reasonable, but it is a departure from the image of the woman as man's helper. The modern conception of marriage presents the woman as co-equal to man. Husband and wife are both pursuing individual goals and desires. The wife expects the husband to help her achieve her desires and goals as much as she helps him. The man is viewed as the woman's helpmate as much as the woman is the man's. Does this not sound reasonable?

To suggest that the woman should subjugate her life, her dreams and her desires to that of the man appears preposterous. At times it is hard to perceive the degree to which the world and the church have departed from the will of God. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, changes in attitudes have been gradual. People have adjusted themselves to the changes. They do not seek escape, even if the changes are killing them. It may be easier to see the degree to which the church has departed from the ideal set forth in Scripture by observing the parallels between the woman’s relationship to man, and man’s relationship to Christ.

The apostle Paul states in I Corinthians 11:3 that Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of woman. These are parallel relationships. Let us therefore look at the man’s relationship to Christ. It would be dishonoring for me to describe Christ as my "partner." He is my "Lord."

John 13:13
"You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.”

As a man, I am called to set aside my desires and focus upon the will and desires of Christ. My plans for life must be abandoned. I must hate my own soul in order that I might be a disciple of Christ.

Luke 14:26
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate... even his own life (psuche - soul), he cannot be My disciple.”
Matthew 16:25
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

What Christ is expressing in these words is that man must yield up his life, all the dreams and aspirations of his soul, all his personal goals and ambitions, and give his life to a wholehearted pursuit of the will and desires of Christ. This is what Christ did in relation to His Father.

John 5:30
“I can do nothing on My own initiative... I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

This was Christ’s attitude to His dying day. In the Garden of Gethsemane the soul of Christ was crushed as His own will and desires had to be put aside in order to embrace the will of the Father.

Matthew 26:38-39
Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will."

As Christ subjugated His will to that of the Father, man must subject his will to Christ. The parallel is observed further in that the woman is to subject herself to the man.

I Corinthians 14:34
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.

To do so, the woman must set aside her will, and her desires, and embrace her husband’s will as her own. As a man under the headship of Christ, I am to become so surrendered to Him, having no will of my own, that I can say with Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." I am to be selfless, wholly focused on fulfilling the desires of another. This attitude is to be carried over to the wife as she relates to her husband.

In my soul, I have many natural desires. Many of these desires appear noble and right. I would like to have a helpmate who honors me and supports me. I would like to have the intimate fellowship of both of my children, my parents, my sisters and brother. I would like to minister among the people of God and be recompensed with that honor that should be accorded to a faithful servant. My soul has also entertained some more overtly selfish desires at times. I have desired houses and land, money to spend, and many of the world’s goods. If I were to write the script for my life, it would be quite different from the script God has written. My script would have been self-focused. Christ would be included, but He would be helping me meet my soul’s desires as much (or more) than I was seeking His will and desires.

For much of my Christian life I was not yielded to Christ’s lordship. I loved Christ. I was in church every time the doors were opened. I taught Sunday School, preached, cleaned the sanctuary, mowed the church lawn, and looked for opportunities to serve the Lord. Yet I had not surrendered myself to go wherever Christ would lead me, and to do whatever He asked me to do. During this time I would have described myself as a disciple of Christ, but I was not one in actuality. A disciple must abandon his life to take up that life Christ has chosen for him.

During these early years of my walk with Christ, into my late thirties, I had all the things listed above that my soul desired. I had a wife who “partnered” with me even as I was “partnering” with Christ. I had children at home who loved me. I had fellowship with my extended family. I received honor in the churches that I attended and labored in. I owned several different homes at different times. I had the things this world offered that my soul desired, including a good job, and money to spend on my pleasures.

This all changed in 1999 when Christ spoke to me. Yahshua told me He could take me no further unless I surrendered to go wherever He asked me to go, and to do whatever He asked me to do. This thought terrified me. I knew that if I surrendered fully to Christ as Lord, He could very literally require anything of me. I had enjoyed being Christ’s partner, for that was not very costly. As Christ’s partner, my life remained intact. I could pursue personal goals while walking with Christ. I was sure I would not find it as pleasant to subject myself fully to Christ as my Lord.

A period of wrestling ensued. It was a Gethsemane moment that has been repeated numerous times in the years that followed. Would I die to my will and desires and accept the life Christ chose for me? By the grace of God I did yield. In the twelve years since that time I have been led down an afflicted path I would not have chosen. I have experienced firsthand all that Christ spoke when He said:

Luke 14:26-27
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Luke 14:33
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

Relationships that were dear to me had to be laid upon the altar. Fellow ministers cast me out from their midst. The honor I had formerly known among the body of Christ was turned to reproach. I was led to surrender the world’s goods that I had accumulated over many years. For a period of time I lived as a homeless man. I ended up as a resident at a Rescue Mission, being led of the Spirit to spend more than three years there. I have twice been put in jail as I have followed Christ. Life has not been a bed of roses. My soul’s desires have had to be cast aside that I might pursue the will of my Lord.

Christ made it known to me that we could not operate as partners. There could only be one Head in our relationship. I had to embrace the role of a bondservant. Most Christians today are partnering with God. Death to self has not been embraced.

Women today are mirroring with their husbands the same relationship most men have with Christ. They come into the relationship with dreams and desires of their own, and they expect their partner to help them achieve their soul’s aspirations. Christ did not approach the Father in this manner, and neither must we act toward our head in this way.

John 6:38
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

As a man who has been given Christ as head, my confession must be, “I did not become Christ’s disciple to do my own will, but the will of Christ.” Similarly, the woman who has man as head must say, “I did not enter into this union to pursue my will, but the will of my husband.”

In the previous chapters I wrote of the Jezebel spirit’s tendency toward self-exaltation. Jezebel made herself a partner with her husband, King Ahab. She did not present herself to Ahab as a maidservant to wash the feet of his servants. Jezebel had her own agenda. Hers was a life of self-seeking, and self-advancement. The woman who would find favor with Yahweh must abase herself. She must take the lowest seat. She must be humble, laying aside personal ambition, adopting another’s will as her own.

The woman was created “for man.” She is to be his helper. If the woman seeks to save HER LIFE, she will lose it. The woman who loses HER LIFE will find the true and lasting life that Christ came to give.

If you are a Christian woman, it is unlikely that you approached marriage as an invitation to surrender your life to another. Yet, this is the will of God for the woman who aspires to godliness. Even as a man entering into relationship to Christ is to surrender his life, taking Christ as Lord in everything, so too must the woman be subject to her husband. Paul wrote, “as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”

The apostles referenced three distinct things that serve as a foundation for their teaching to women: Creation order - man was created first; Creation purpose - woman was created for man; and divine government - “your desire shall be toward your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Each of these things finds its parallel in man’s relationship to Christ.

Christ precedes man in creation order even as the man precedes the woman. Christ is the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15). He is the “ONLY begotten” Son of the Father.

John 1:14
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

For many years I did not understand what was meant by Christ being referred to as “the only begotten Son.” It has only been as the Father has opened my eyes to perceive the creation order of all things that I have come to understand this mystery.

The Scriptures testify that Christ came forth directly from the Father. Everything else in creation was fashioned by Christ.

John 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
Colossians 1:16-17
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

In the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, the words “only begotten” appear as “monogenes.” You may recognize “mono” as a prefix meaning “one.”  “Genes” (pronounced gen-ace) is the root of the words “generate,” and “genesis.” Christ is declared to be the only direct generation of the Father. Nothing else has come forth from the Father in the way Christ has come forth.

There exists a hierarchy in creation. Yahshua is the firstborn of all creation. He is the direct generation of the Father. All other things came through Christ. Paul says of Christ, “all things were created through Him and for Him.” As man was created through Christ and for Christ, we see the parallel truth in Scripture that woman was created through man, and for man.

•    Christ came forth out of the Father.
•    Man came forth through Christ.
•    Woman was taken out of man.

•    Christ has God as head.
•    Man has Christ as head.
•    Woman has man as head.

The parallels continue. We previously read Christ’s declaration that He came to do the Father’s will. Similarly, man was created to do Christ’s will, and woman was formed to do man’s will, being created “for man.” The woman is instructed to obey her husband as the man is instructed to obey Christ.

A clear pattern emerges as we look at the testimony of Scriptures. Christ modeled before the creation what is pleasing to the Father. Having the Father as His head, Christ laid down His life that He might do the will of the Father. Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant. Man is to follow this pattern as he humbles himself before Christ, laying down his life to embrace the life of Christ. The pattern is completed as the woman humbles herself, taking man as head, laying aside her life to embrace the life of her husband.

As a man, I have fallen short of the perfection of Christ in many ways. Christ NEVER did anything of His own initiative. I have done much of my own initiative. Christ did not seek His own will, but I have often sought my own will. Christ ALWAYS did the will of the Father, but I have often chosen my will over the will of Christ. James declared, “For we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). John echoed this saying when he wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).

Observing the patience Christ has demonstrated toward me, I choose to be patient with others. The saying is true, “By the judgment you have judged others, you will be judged, and by the measure you mete to others it will be measured unto you.” The saying is also true, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” and “judgment shall be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy.” I would not judge my sisters in Christ for their failings any harsher than I would judge myself for my failings. If we are humble in acknowledging our failings, we will learn to be gentle, patient, and merciful toward others.

At the same time, I must always point to the standard before us which is Christ. He was perfect, and He has commanded us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). We are to aim for nothing less. We are always to strive toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Yahshua.

The pride of life would lead men and women to grasp for equality. Man wants to partner with Christ, and woman wants to partner with man. Christ, however, shows us what is pleasing to God. Christ humbled Himself. He set aside His soul’s desires to do the will of the Father. Christ accepted God as His Head and as His Lord. Man must take Christ as Head and Lord, and woman must take man as head and lord. In each instance the soul must be crushed as unto death. All who would follow in Christ’s steps must hate their own life.The purpose of this age is to give the children of God opportunity to have the character of Christ formed in them. If we refuse to humble ourselves we cannot attain to Christ’s character. If men insist on being treated as an equal to Christ, or women as equal to men, then conformity to Christ’s image will elude them. Christ was content to be a bondservant.

Our actions, and our words, will declare whether we embraced the self-exalting spirit of Jezebel, or the meek and lowly spirit of Christ.

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