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Posts Tagged ‘created order’

mother and child holding handsGod entrusts children to parents.

Parents are called by God to guard the innocence of childhood.  This is a serious challenge in today’s society.  From early on, boys and girls are surrounded by the visual images and messages of a highly sexualized culture.  The Christian parent may feel overwhelmed by their role.  But parents today—as always—are equipped for the job.  The Word of God is sufficient.  The Bible provides all that is needed to help boys and girls respect themselves and others, understand why male and female are not the same but complementarily different, resist temptation, and protect human life from the moment of conception.  When sin and failure occur, the Bible points the way to forgiveness and hope in Jesus Christ.

One topic that perhaps most intimidates and even confuses parents is sex and sexuality.  Sex education sounds like a good idea, especially if it is taught in a Christian environment; however, the origin of sex education is not biblical.  It is founded on a humanistic and secular theory.

A zoologist and follower of Charles Darwin by the name of Alfred Kinsey concluded that children are “sexual from birth” and can enjoy and benefit from early sexual activity.  He believed that society should reflect his “science” by altering its moral codes.  Thirty years of study by researchers such as Judith A. Reisman, PhD., prove that Kinsey’s research was built on sexual experiments by known pedophiles on children ages five-months to 14 years.  The research was both fraudulous and criminal; nevertheless, it accomplished what it intended.  By the 1960s, Kinsey and his followers were recognized as the “experts” on matters of “sexuality.”  Kinsey associates and students opened the doors of SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.) and partnered with Planned Parenthood to aggressively make their way into schools and churches.  Pro-homosexual and pedophilia groups were emboldened.  Over the next fifty years, moral codes based largely on the biblical worldview were dangerously compromised.  Never before had anyone considered a child to be “sexual” in the way that Kinsey meant, but today children are sexualized not only by the media but in sex education, health or “family living” classrooms.  The innocence of children is stripped away in classrooms where boys and girls together learn about their bodies, what their parents do in the bedroom and what it means to live a “sexual” life.

God calls us to holy living.

God does not call His children to be “sexual.”  He calls His children—of all ages— to be holy.  Therefore, the Bible does not educate in sex, but instructs in purity.

Purity is not prudish.  It is prudent.  Purity is not Victorian and antiquated.  It is God’s plan for children and adults whether married or single.

Purity focuses on our identity as redeemed sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus.  God says, “Be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  We are “vessel[s] for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:21).  Daily remembering our Baptism, we see ourselves not as “sexual beings” captive to instinct and desires, but as heirs of the promise and clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27-29).

Purity is about more than abstinence.  Abstinence says, “No, I can’t be sexually intimate right now.”  But purity says, “Yes, I can be the male or female God created me to be right now.”  Instruction in purity begins with an explanation of biblical manhood and womanhood.  It draws attention to the many ways that male and female, of any age and married or single, can work, worship and serve together without a hint of sensuality.

Purity is about God’s design and order for life.  It is also about mystery and modesty.  God’s Word says, “Do not awaken love or arouse love before its proper time” (Song of Songs 3:5b).  This is why purity must be nurtured in a special garden tucked safely behind a protective fence.  That fence is the boundary of home.  God entrusts the training of children to their parents.  Children trust parents.  The Church supports parents by equipping them with God’s Word of Law and Gospel, the catechism, and models for instruction.

Purity is nurtured in an environment where modesty is preserved.  This is not a classroom where boys and girls together learn about sex or sexuality.  It is nearly impossible to train in purity when intimate topics are discussed between boys and girls in a common and casual manner.  Why?  Because holy people and the behavior God expects from them are not common but, rather, uncommon.

Modesty emphasizes the importance of the sexual organs (which God placed out of view and behind hair, 1 Corinthians 12:23) reserved for the special and honorable use within marriage.  Rather than trying to remove embarrassment (a natural protection from God in a sinful world), adults should do everything they can to maintain modesty.  A father can best explain to his daughter that there is mystery in more clothing rather than less, and that a girl’s behavior can raise—or lower—a boy’s standard of thinking and behavior.  A father can encourage his son to guard a woman’s virtue and lead him away from the “temptress” (Proverbs 7).

Purity grows from the truth of Genesis.  The first man and woman were created in a complementary but different way, each with a unique and vital role.  Purity understands that a man is a good steward (Genesis 2:15) and defender of life (Genesis 16-17) who takes a stand against evil.  The man is to lead, not as lord and master, but as one who goes first to make sure the path is safe.  Purity understands that a woman, as a “helper” (Genesis 2:18) and a “rib” or “pillar” (Psalm 144:12b), is strong and supportive, yet vulnerable to abuse.  Purity understands that a woman, as the bearer of life, has the most at stake; therefore, it places her within protective, yet pleasant boundaries.

These boundaries are drawn by God to respect the physical and psychological differences between male and female.  Woe to those who attempt to erase these boundaries by pretending that boys and girls are “the same”.  Woe to the adults who remove the protective covering of modesty and desensitize children.  Woe to the adults who dangle the carrot of joyful marital union in front of children but then tell them to “wait” for marriage after graduating college and securing a job.

God Gives a Model to Parents.

God has given all parents and grandparents a model for the instruction of purity in Titus 2:3-8. Older men are to mentor younger men by being examples of sobriety, dignity, self-control, sound faith, agape love, and steadfastness.  In addition, older men are to model the sacrificial love of Jesus (Ephesians 5:25).  This love is shown today by men who defend the honor of women, rescue children from abortion, and guard the door of homes.  For a young man, it means treating all girls as he wants his sister, mother, grandmother, and someday-wife to be treated.

Older women are to mentor younger women by being examples of goodness, self-control, purity, homemaking, kindness, and respectfulness for God’s orderly design in marriage.  In addition, older women can contrast the “temptress” with the holy woman who calls attention not to self but God (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4).

If there is no father present or involved, mothers can point both sons and daughters to their Heavenly Father who is very present and involved in the lives of His children.  Timothy was raised to purity of faith and behavior by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).

Parents can be confident in raising sons and daughters to a life of purity.  They need not be intimidated by the world—or by their own past.  Sins that have been confessed to God are forgiven and forgotten.  Parents can show children the way to the Cross every time a wrong choice is made.  Parents, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can help sons and daughters resist the temptations of a self-focused and sensual world.

It is an awesome thing to know that the God who calls us to holiness also saves us when we are not.    Even when all seems lost to sinful people, we can reclaim our purity in Jesus.

Jesus Christ came to live among us.  He experienced human emotions and feelings.  He knows our weakness.  But for our own sakes, He calls us to lives of purity.  Purity does not seek its own way.  It models biblical manhood and womanhood.  It raises standards for behavior and encourages self-control.  Purity guards body, mind and soul.  It lays a foundation for friendship, marriage and family.

Purity anticipates a future of hope.

Written by Linda Bartlett for Lutherans For Life.
Available in brochure format (#LFL903T)
from CPH or Lutherans For Life

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father & son with hard hatsHere’s the final page from Ezer’s Handbook!

Mentor and Encourage Biblical Manhood

 

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Genesis 2:15-17). Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him (Genesis 2:18). Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness . . . urge the younger men to be self-controlled (Titus 2:2, 6).

Honor God’s created order by being a helper. There is no shame in being a helper. In John 24:16, Jesus called the Holy Spirit a “Helper” (Greek: parakletos, “comforter” or someone who appears on another’s behalf—“advocate”). In what ways does a Christian woman help or hinder a man in a dating relationship? In the workplace? In what ways does a Christian wife help or hinder her husband? In what ways does a Christian mother help or hinder the father of her children? In what ways does a Christian mother help or hinder her son?

Mentor sons. A woman is needed to mentor her sons, grandsons and all of the boys God brings into her life. She doesn’t do this like a father. Mom and dads are not interchangeable roles. She is needed to model biblical womanhood, he is needed to model biblical manhood, and both are needed to show the complementary design of marriage for the good of family. A mom models femininity, virtue, modesty in dress and behavior, and respect for her husband. She is not quarrelsome. “Strength and dignity are her clothing . . . she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness . . . she fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:25-30). A son needs to see that his mom is not deceived by the world. Recommended resources include Boys Should Be Boys (7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons) by Meg Meeker, M.D.; Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson; Raising Boys By Design by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD and Michael Gurian; and Raising Real Men by Hal and Melanie Young. Encourage dads to do a study of Proverbs 4-7 with their sons. The Lutheran Study Bible (ESV) with commentary provides plenty for discussion. If a dad isn’t present, study these chapters from Proverbs with your son. Help him avoid the “temptress”.  Oh!  That reminds me.  Another resource (how could I forget?) is The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity.  The book is available on Amazon by mid-May.  More than expose the humanistic origin of sex education, it focuses on identity and provides suggestions for parents who want to train children in biblical manhood and womanhood.

Encourage fathers to be heroes and defenders of their daughters. There is much evidence to suggest that girls will wait longer to be sexually active if they have a dad who provides appropriate attention. What does it mean when a father gives his daughter’s hand in marriage? What does it mean when he lifts his daughter’s veil on her wedding day? Recommended reading includes Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker, M.D., and Unprotected by Miriam Grossman, M.D., and my two-part article Dad: A Girl’s First Hero (visit Titus 2 for Life – click on “writings”).

Resist the world’s disdain for patriarchy. Patriarchy is God’s plan to bring order into a sinful and often chaotic world. Men are held responsible for loving their wives and passing on the Truth of Jesus Christ to their children. Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism, not for pastors to teach, but for fathers to teach their children in the home. Encourage the men of your congregation to use Men, Women and Relationships: Building a Culture of Life Across the Generations, a Bible study I wrote for college-age and older men and women (LFL901BS – CPH) Topics of particular interest to men are “Modern Man”, “The Abuse of Sex”, “Husbands and Wives”, “Heroes in a Culture of Life”, “Bearers and Defenders of Life”, and “Building a Culture of Life”. Each lesson includes a leader’s guide.

Raise the standard for men. The way a woman chooses to dress, speak and act can either raise—or lower—a man’s standard of behavior. Suggest that your women’s group read Christian Modesty and the Undressing of America by Jeff Pollard or check out the books Wendy Shalit has written on modesty. A ten lesson Bible study entitled Dressing for Life: Secrets of the Great Cover-up is available in a reproducible PDF format (LFLDFL) from CPH. I wrote the study to help moms and daughters resist immodest dress not just for their own sake but for the sake of boys and men. The study explains why God said fig leaves weren’t enough, why embarrassment is natural, and why a bride presents herself to her groom in a white wedding dress.

Encourage, respect and appreciate men. Purchase the Bible study Called to Remember (LFL302BS) from CPH. After a number of Titus 2 Retreats, I was asked to respectfully encourage men in their vocation of biblical manhood. This study is but one of many resources for pastors, men’s fellowship, your husband or son, or other male members in your family. The study calls men to accountability while also showing appreciation for their faithfulness. (See also The Men’s Network.) My grandfathers, father, and husband are humbled by their failures, but it is because of their faithfulness that I am more confident, secure and protected as a woman. Feminism speaks ill of men; but there are many women like myself who hold godly men in high esteem. The Book of Man (Readings on the Path to Manhood) by William J. Bennett is a collection of writings by men on work, war, citizenship, women and children, prayer and reflection. Encourage fathers and sons to watch the movie Patriot, The League of Grateful Sons, or Kirk Cameron’s Monumental. Study men like General Thomas Jackson. Jackson’s mother gave him away when he was seven, but he became a man of unbending faith and a Civil War hero respected by students at West Point and those he led into battle.

Visit Titus 2 for Life. Go to the “4 men” page and click on the links to articles that encourage and support biblical manhood. Thank God for humble, praying, and faithfully involved fathers, grandfathers, husbands, sons, pastors and friends.

This concludes a series of nine posts on mentoring. It is my prayer that older women not shy away from mentoring younger women in biblical womanhood so that, together, we might encourage biblical manhood.

Ezer’s Handbook is a resource developed by
Linda Bartlett and presented at Titus 2 Retreats

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two women talkingAnother Titus 2 for Life Retreat has concluded.  I am tired, but encouraged.  In a culture such as ours, the need for mentoring grows daily.  This was affirmed most especially this past weekend by the younger women who attended.   Perhaps it will be helpful to share a few quotes from their evaluations.

  • I wasn’t sure what to expect . . . considering the topics, I thought it might all be too judgmental . . . but it was not.  You see, I spent my childhood and good part of my young adult life wishing I was a boy because no one had ever pointed out the joy and biblical blessing of being a woman.
  • I will be getting married soon and this was a great springboard and encouragement for helping me understand my role in our new family.
  • It’s o.k. to be a woman!  This retreat really laid to rest a lot of the horrible post-modern and feminist myths that were always a part of my life but were causing such pain and discontent.  Thank you for being such a real person and addressing the foolish women in all of us with forgiveness.
  • As I approach motherhood, I wanted to attend this retreat again . . . I love how you share with us God’s purpose and esteem for women and womanly traits . . . there is no indignity in God’s design of the woman as ‘helper’ . . . it helps to remember that Christ was submissive and that the Holy Spirit is a helper.
  • Many of my friends are unhappy, kind of restless and certainly discontent.  They hear so many voices of the world which seem in conflict with their own heart.  This retreat was like ten years of godly mentoring in just a few hours!
  • I was afraid this retreat might be hours of anti-abortion rhetoric.   Instead, it affirmed my value to God, reminded me that my Christian upbringing is not a lie, and why my faith makes me so weird to the world . . . I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that God made women not to compete with men but complete them.  I’m very competitive . . . high school girls need to know about biblical womanhood.
  • The discussion on sex education and our mistaken identity was so important . . . I have had abstinence education for years but, no different from the culture, it was a constant focus on sex.

And what do I say to these young women?

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

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woman soldier with gunDeborah was a judge and prophetess.  To this, many of my gender quickly add, “Deborah was also a courageous military leader in battle.”  But, what does God’s Word tell us?

Let’s Think About It

Q: Deborah was a prophetess.  A prophet or prophetess speaks on behalf of another but, as far as I can determine, not as a public speaker for God during a congregational gathering.  A prophetess might give counsel, settle disputes, or offer thankfulness and praise to God.  Deborah was also a judge.  What was the condition of Israel in the years prior to her leadership (Judges 2:13, 16-17; 3:7, 13; 4:1-4)?

A: Martin Luther took note of the service of Deborah and other women as rulers.  He said that they “have been very good at management.”  He suggested that women’s leadership in other areas of life might motivate men to properly fulfill their responsibility.  It is important to note that Deborah became a judge after the people of Israel repeatedly “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”  Evil, in every way, opposes God’s created order for men, women, and the benefit of a thriving society.

Q: We may think that Deborah was sent by God into combat against Israel’s enemy.  But, is this the case? 

A: A careful read of Judges 4:4-15 reveals that God did not ask Deborah to carry the sword in combat.  He asked Barak through Deborah.  Victory was promised to Barak if only he would obey, but he chose not to.  Barak said he would do the Lord’s bidding only if Deborah went with him into battle.  Deborah told Barak that the glory in battle would not be his because the enemy Sisera would be delivered “into the hand of a woman” (v. 9).  The woman Deborah refers to in this verse is not herself, but Jael.  Dr. Vogel explains: “Deborah accompanied Barak to Mount Tabor, but no further.  Consistent with Deuteronomy, she donned no battle gear nor engaged in the conflict.   Barak (unaccompanied by Deborah) led 10,000 men into the valley to a resounding victory. The rebuke for Barak’s recalcitrance was rendered when a heroic woman, Jael, was given the opportunity to slay the fleeing enemy commander, Sisera.  She did this in her own tent, with household equipment [a tent peg], not as a warrior on a battlefield.”  (“Women in Combat: Two Views,” The Lutheran Witness, May 2003, p. 16-20)

Q: Deborah served as a judge and prophetess.  She counseled Barak as the leader of Israel’s troops.  Yet, how did she sum up her role in Judges 5:7?

A:  Deborah was praised for her leadership, yet she does not sing about being raised up as a warrior.  She sings of being a “mother in Israel.”  Though no biological children of Deborah are mentioned, she is an encourager and helper for her people.  Scripture, like much of human culture, consistently distinguishes the roles of men and women.

Q: Specialist Hollie Vallence, quoted in Part 1 of this series, was asked by her country to sacrifice home and family.  In doing so, she explained that she had to build an “ice wall around her heart.”  Is this consistent with God’s design?  What are the consequences for women, men, and children if a mother hardens her heart?

A: Luther noted that a woman is merciful by nature because she is born to show mercy and to cherish just as a man is born to protect.  This is why, Luther says, no living creature has more mercy than a woman, particularly in respect for her infant.  Men are known to focus on one project, putting all others aside, until it is finished.  In times of war, this allows them to leave their home and family for periods of time in order to “do their duty.”  It is not that they always feel brave and fearless, but perhaps their vocation of steward and protector allows them to do what they need to do for wives, sons and daughters; indeed, for future generations.  They are free to accomplish what is necessary, knowing that their children are in the capable and loving care of mothers.  Here, then, is the woman partnering with her husband and serving her country by guarding hearth and home while he is doing battle with the enemy of that home.  In war, as in work, men understand other men.  When a country is serious about winning victory over its enemy, it brings well-trained men together, with no distractions, to focus on the job at hand.  These men may return home “changed,” but most can resume life as usual.  Mothers, as explained by Hollie Vallence, are not programmed to put distance between themselves and young children.  Dr. Vogel offers wisdom: “If God is indifferent to the woman-warrior concept and a woman chooses to serve in a noncombatant role, God is not offended.  If, however, God is not indifferent to the woman warrior concept, and a woman seeks service as a combatant, does she not become a victim of her own will and disobedient to that of God?”  Is there a problem with women in the military?  No, but as in any workplace, there will certainly be a changed environment and cautions to heed.

Q: Will God bless a people or a nation whose men send women to the front lines of battle?  Will He bless the men (defenders of life) who send women (bearers of life) to meet the enemy?  To be shot at, brutalized, or sacrificed in the name of “equality” or “rights?”

A: God was not pleased with the man who used Deborah as a kind of “human shield.”  That is because the Groom of the Church does not stand behind his Bride.  He stands in front of her.  Small tribes and great countries who honor the human rule of chivalry understand that great sacrifice may be necessary in order to protect mothers of children for they are a people’s future.

Conclusion

It is not that God wants men to die, but that He entrusts to them the noble role of protector and defender.  As the Man of Sacrifice, Jesus led the way into battle.  He did not send others.  Jesus faced the greatest weapon of mass destruction – the anger of God upon sinful people.  He did not stand behind “human shields,” letting you and me die so that He might avoid pain and death.  In the battle for the life of His Bride, Jesus “took the bullet.”  He died so that we might live.

Jesus is both a model and Savior for men and women.  He wants us to follow Him and imitate His behavior.  Sinful as we are, we will want to test the boundaries.  We will put ourselves in God’s place, but such pride can put others at risk.  Is all hopeless?  No!  The One who faced our enemy – and won the eternal victory – reaches to us with nail-pierced hands, saying: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14:6).

“Bearers and Defenders of Life” is Lesson 11 of
Men, Women, and Relationships, first published in 1999 and revised in 2004.
(Lutherans For Life, Concordia Publishing House)

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women in combat“Women in combat” is a life issue.  It is an issue to which God speaks.  In this post and several to follow, I would like to offer questions, answers, and commentary for Christians to ponder. 

The question, I think, that we need to be asking is not: “Can women be in combat?”  The question is: “Should women be in combat?”  I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for, shall we say, better ammunition for my argument than “if men can do it, so can women.”

Bearers and Defenders of Life

Discussions of men and women in combat bring mixed reactions.  Some people believe that women do not belong in combat because they do not have the physical capacity to endure the rigorous standards of training or the hardships of war.  Some believe that it is a woman’s “right” to defend her country and that she can do so as well as any man.  Besides, they insist, modern warfare seldom involves the physical force of front-line battle

Let’s put reason and logic to work: Consider the physical differences between men and women, such as their bone and muscle structures.  Gender-integrated basic training undermines rigorous standards.  But, this argument can be countered with examples of women who have developed body strength and can keep up with a man.

Consider the sexual attraction between men and women.  Gender-integrated training and combat duty creates an environment in which men and women are vulnerable to sexual misconduct and abuse.  But, this argument can be countered with practiced self-control.

This debate deserves more than opinion.   It deserves more than a simple “it’s my right.”

So, what are real soldiers saying?   A classmate of my son’s served on board ship in the Persian Gulf.  In a conversation, this 21-year-old woman confessed a breakdown in respect for both women and men.  Everything, she said, took on a “sexual connotation,” modesty was nearly “impossible,” and the rate of pregnancies on board ship was “higher than on shore assignment.”

Specialist Hollie Vallance was quoted in the Dallas Morning News (2-20-91) before being shipped to the Gulf War.  She said, “I never really thought about going into combat.  I never dreamed anything like this would happen in my lifetime, let alone right after I had my first child.”  She continued.  “I’ve built an ice wall around my heart to try to cool the pain, and sometimes I worry that [my husband and baby daughter] won’t be able to melt it away.”

In a commissioned survey of women in the Army, 79% of enlisted women and 71% of female noncommissioned officers said they wouldn’t volunteer for combat.  Only 10% of the female privates and corporals agreed with this statement: “I think that women should be treated exactly like men and serve in combat just like men.”  Less than one-quarter of mid-grade sergeants answered yes.  (The Washington Times, 10-5-98).

A young husband and relative of mine serving in the Persian Gulf was forced to share his tent with a woman soldier.  He told me “it was not a good situation any way you chose to look at it.”

Pfc. Jessica Lynch and Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson returned home from the War in Iraq in the spring of 2003 as heroines.  Although neither of them was technically in a combat position, they were, nonetheless, placed so close to the front line of battle that they were each captured by the enemy.  After being rescued, neither of them, it seems, wanted to be “poster girls” for women in combat.

Is there a problem with women serving in the military?  I don’t think so.  A strong, effective military respects and utilizes the abilities of women in medicine, teaching, and tactical maneuvers.  But, to pretend that women are no different from men, place them together in close quarters, lower standards of physical endurance, and compromise training is to place men, women, families, and country in harm’s way.

The question we need to be asking is not: “Can women be in combat?”  The question is: “Should women be in combat?”

In the end, it really doesn’t matter what our opinion might be or how we feel about it.  What does matter is what God says.

In gaining perspective on women in combat, do you find significance in the name of the first woman?  Genesis 3:20 tells us that Adam named his wife Eve.  Eve, in Hebrew, means “life.”  How this must have angered Satan who despises the humans that God so loves.  But, it was God’s plan that Eve became the mother of every living person.

During a Titus 2 Retreat, some women will tell me that having women in combat must be o.k. because, after all, Deborah went into battle against the enemy of the Israelites.  But, have they read the whole account found in Judges 4:4-22?  Did Deborah lead the troops into battle or fulfill the role of encourager?  Why didn’t the man Barak receive glory for the way his enemy died?  Was the enemy killed by a woman with a weapon on the battlefield… or not?  (Be patient.  We’ll come back to this in Part 3.)

The prophet Nehemiah told the men to do battle for their families.  He said, “Do not be afraid of them [enemies].  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes (Nehemiah 4:1-14).

Want to continue this discussion with some Q & A?  Then please continue to Part 2 of this series.

“Bearers and Defenders of Life” is Lesson 11 of
Men, Women, and Relationships first published in 1999 and revised in 2004.
If you’re curious about this collection of 12 studies on
Biblical manhood and womanhood,
please contact
Lutherans For Life or Concordia Publishing House.

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The question is: “Who steps first into the circle of love and respect: The husband or wife?”

It helps to remember who created that “circle.”

God did.  And, true to His design, there is order.  God created human beings in His image, but He did not make them to be the same.  They are equal, but different.  God did not create woman at the same time as man, in the same way, or for the same purpose.  In fact, God revealed to man that he was incomplete.  “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).  “Fit for him” literally means: “Like his opposite.”  (Think of this!  Anatomically.  Hormonally.  Psychologically.)

Is it significant that woman was made for man?  To complete him?  Be his helper?  Yes.  The created order shows that man was to be the steward over all and she would help, assist, encourage, comfort, and be his advocate.  (The word “helper,” by the way, is not dissimilar to the word used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit [John 14:16,26).  In her privileged role, she is free to help without any initiative on his part.  She doesn’t wait for him to ask before she offers encouragement, comfort, or good counsel.

God’s created order is a reflection of Himself.  He is one God, yet three persons.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal, but with different functions.  There is headship in this orderly structure… and there is submission.  The same is true with male and female.  Even after sin spoiled God’s perfect design, the order of creation remained in place for our benefit.  Sin broke man and woman’s relationship with each other and with God.  But, in mercy, God used the submission of the Son, Jesus Christ, to save His Bride, the Church, and serve with humility.  A woman might resent the created order.  A man might abuse it.  But, whenever it is honored, it continues to serve family and society well.

Doesn’t the created order beg the question from a leadership perspective?  Shouldn’t the man be the first to step into the Ephesians circle?  No, not necessarily.  Even if he is stepping out front to fight wolves at the door, she is fully engaged as his ally and encourager.  In God’s design, the man is responsible for bringing order out of chaos, but she helps that happen.  Regardless of their different functions, both husband and wife can practice loving and respecting at all times.

There is no measuring stick.  No fairness meter.  In a godly home, neither husband nor wife keep track of what the other does or doesn’t do.  Both have the same goal: To do all they do to God’s glory.  And, when they fail, they apologize and forgive.  Both take their sin baggage to the cross — and leave it there.

Visits to the Cross happen all the time even in the best of marriages.   Let me approach this from a woman’s perspective.  Helping is what I naturally do.  But, flawed by sin, this becomes difficult.  My husband might not think he needs help.  Might not invite help.  Might resent help.  Might interpret my help to mean he needs “fixing.”  So, how do I enter the “circle of love and respect” at such a time?  Hopefully, I haven’t disengaged from the “circle.”  Hopefully, I am faithful in offering encouragement.  If I need to help, but he’s too prideful to accept it, I need to take care.  Be sensitive.  I may need to move slowly.  Mary told Joseph that she had been visited by an angel with news of her pregnancy, but Joseph was of the mind to quietly divorce her.  In their “circle of love and respect,” Mary understood that it wasn’t up to her to convince Joseph.  She needed to wait on God.  In His time, God helped Joseph get his arms around the situation.  A woman is helping — in one way or the other — all the time.  She may be helping to good… or bad.  To build up… or tear down.  To encourage… or discourage.  To trust God’s plan… or shape her own.

Ultimately, two are better than one.  One may fall, the other lifts up.  One may be overwhelmed, a team of two stands firm.  One alone is cold, two together stay warm.  One might fall out of the “circle” momentarily, the other welcomes him/her back in.  Woven with God, both are able to engage in the “circle” freely and unconditionally.

The pure circle of love and respect is tainted on this earth.  We too easily think of ourselves first.  How we’re not being served… or how we’re doing all the serving.  But, challenged to “shine like lights” and “hold fast to the word of life,” we do what we do for Christ — even if it means being “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of our faith” (Philippians 2:14-17).  Faith produces a sacrificial attitude for husbands and wives that frees us up to think less about self and more about other.

With this attitude, one might even forget who started, paused, stopped, or re-started the circle to go ’round.

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The New Testament book of Ephesians, in chapter 5, speaks to husbands and wives.  Someone recently told me that she understands God’s Word here to describe a “circle of love and respect.”  The husband is to love his wife and the wife is to respect her husband.  But, she wondered, who first steps into this “circle of love?”  The husband or the wife?

Is it one or the other?  No.  It is both.  Both, in response to God’s invitation, are responsible at all times: he to love, she to respect; he to lead, she to assist his leadership.  Both are to see each other as their neighbor and faithfully serve that neighbor in the way that glorifies God.  One does not wait for the other to serve. To love or respect.  To do something thoughtful or kind.  This might promote negative responses: “Because he doesn’t lead like I want him to, I can’t help him,” or, “Because she doesn’t respect me like I think she should, I can’t love her.”

Does the question, “Who steps first into the circle of love and respect” hint of fairness?  Who defines “fair?”  Who measures “fair?”  Behavior based on fairness also tends to slip negatively.  She could say, “Well, he didn’t do that, so I won’t do this.”  He could say, “Well, she didn’t do that, so I won’t do this.”  That isn’t how it works with God’s agape love.  We aren’t to be patient only if the other one is patient, kind only if the other one is kind, or selfless only if the other one is selfless.  Who should take the first step?  In a working relationship, there is no “first.”  Each is always trying to be patient, kind, and selfless.  He is responsible for his behavior.  She is responsible for hers.

It helps me to remember who created the “circle of love and respect.”  (I’ll return to this in my next post.)

In God’s language, a husband’s love for his wife and a wife’s respect for her husband are unconditional.   Not dependent on what the other does, or does not, do.  A husband’s love for his wife is actually how he serves God.  Should he wait to serve God until his wife respects him?  A wife’s respect for her husband is actually how she serves God.  Should she wait to serve God until her husband loves her?

To be sure, on occasion, one may feel like disengaging from the “circle of love and respect.”  The perfect “circle” is, after all, tainted on this earth.  We too easily think of ourselves first.  How we’re not being served… or how we’re doing all the serving.  But, with a growing faith in God’s Word for husbands and wives, we can practice doing what we do for the glory of God.  We can develop better habits.  God’s love in Jesus Christ was sacrificial.  Faith in the power of that love produces a sacrificial attitude for husbands and wives.  It frees us up to think less about self and more about the other.

With this attitude, one might even forget who started, paused, stopped, or re-started the circle to go ’round.

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