God Is First
For the message this past Sunday the Readings were as follows, Isaiah 29:11-19, Ephesians 5:22-33, Mark 7:1-13. In preparing for this my heart was drawn to the Ephesians reading and conversations helped to affirm that drawing. All three readings have an element of challenging traditions that often get placed before a full devotion and love of God. That issue is no more true than how we act within marriage. Yes, God desires for husbands to be the head of their household but what that means is where the weeds become thick. God desires for men to be the Spiritual head. In the Old Testament we find from the end of Genesis 2 is that a man is not to cling to anything but his wife and to be the one that cares for her as God cares for us. In the Fall, that became twisted and women often became mere property meant to bear children and to take care of the household. Wives were often relegated to a position just above a servant or slave. Though this position has often gone unchallenged throughout history and as Christians we have not been innocent in this viewpoint, when looking to the Word it is difficult to defend this mentality if we are being truly honest with ourselves. Though one could point the the tenth commandment that equates wives with chattle, but I would argue that even there one may find difficulty. God gave women to us as helpmeets or partners and both man and woman are made in the image of God.  No other creature is made in the image of God. God formed both man and woman with His own hands.

The problem is that often the orthodoxy of the world tries to paint their orthodoxy as God's. The worldly sense does not respect nor regard humans as anything more than another animal. So, why should we not act like another animal. Women are abused because of the perpetuation of this model and the concept of love is something that is twisted up to such a point that the most intimate act that is meant to be done within the confines of love, particularly the love reserved for husband and wife, is merely another recreational act that is more for self-pleasure and self-gratification as opposed to a true sharing of one another where two are joined together in one flesh. As Christians, we should be most horrified by that view. Unfortunately, we are often just as wrapped up this worldly mindest as those that are not in Christ. We see single parents, couples living together, divorce, and the like equally inside of the Christian Church as we find among those that have no Christian faith. This is a real tragedy and a grave danger to the faith that we hold.

Paul's words to Ephesus are just as timely for those of us in the Church whereever we are today. We can read these words as if written to us. Ephesians 5:21, though often not read with the verses that follow says this, "Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." Most translations tie it to end the preceding verses but it could just as easily be read as the introduction for the next verses. Ultimately, we should understand all relationships as a reflection of how Jesus Christ relates to all creation. We find in Him the true desires of how God desires to be in relation to us. Jesus did not live nor did he treat people in a worldly way. People were not and are not meant to be treated as a pawn to help us to get to where we desire to be.

For men, God has given us great responsibility. We are called to be Christ to our wives and in our household. That is what our wives and family are to submit to when they submit to us. We are called to be lifting up our wives and pouring our love upon them so that our sons know how to love women and, ultimately, their wives. This is a way to show our children what a healthy relationship looks like and how we are not to bring them down by objectifying them, but to lift them up and cover their shortcomings. Christ didn't come to lord over us, He came to redeem us. He showed us a different way. When He came across those that were overly burdened with sin, He did not come with a wagging finger, but words of comfort and concern. That is the power of the Gospel and as husbands we are called to live that out for our families. It is for the salvation of our sons and daughters. As son watches his father's treatment of women, particularly their mother, they are imprinted with those images of what it looks like for a man to love his wife. The same is true with daughters in understanding how they should expect to be treated by the man that they eventually will marry. Unfortunately, many young men seem to have the mentality that a woman is something that a man is called to possess. So, if a man truly desires a woman he needs to take her. Sometimes this is through wooing her for the purpose of sexual intercourse and self-gratification. At times, though, this can be done through force. The problem of objectifying another is that it removes the realization that the person is made in God's image and is a person, but now the person is no different than any other creature that is meant to be possessed. This leads to rape and other abuse and sometimes ends in the death of another physically, but no matter what it does cause a spiritual death within people.

The sad thing I see in marriage and in relationships in general is that no longer is God put first. If we don't put God first in our lives, we certainly don't put God first in our relationships. This is where the rift begins. The First Commandment that says, "You shall have no other Gods, " is where we see the failure begin. We put ourselves and our needs in the position of God and often expect Him to bend to our will. This feeds into our speaking, our worship, and ultimately how we treat others. If we were faithful with the first there would be no such thing as violence, war, theft, or divorce. If God is first we reflect that to our children and they grow to love, fear, and trust God over and above anything in the world. Marriage would be easy because as husband and wife the relationship would not be a competition of wills, which is what we often find and neither the man nor the woman would seek affection from another because each would support the other. Jesus never oppressed those that He encountered, but offered a hand and encouragement. He healed those that were oppressed with infirmities. That is the power of our God and that is what He offers for those that have nothing else to hope in. Those healed had no expectation but their hearts cried out for God. Often we are the same when we come to the end of our ropes. God wants us at the beginning. He desires us all along.

Ultimately, my appeal is that as men we seek to be the godly heads of our households that God calls us to be. Not putting our needs before the needs of our wives, but sacrificing for our wives and our families. Putting God first in our relationship and showing Christ's love in how we love our wives that our sons and daughters will grow to to know the love of our Father by the love that their father has shown. It isn't a call to be perfect, but humble. Humble enough to admit error and ask for forgiveness. The Christian faith is not mysogynistic and it does not even leave the door open for chauvinism. In countries where the norm was the orthodoxy of the world one of the greatest missionary witnesses was once a man converted how different he was for his wife and family. Women found that they were not oppressed. Any one who calls themselves a follower of Christ but oppresses his wife needs to take a look at the Word and truly humble himself because the words that are given speak of the husband as being Christ in his home, is Christ in Scripture an oppressor. The roles of husband and wife are very unique and special but they are complementary and both require a sense of humility. A woman that disrespects her husband is no better than a man who abuses his wife. Ultimately, the focus and the call that I have as a pastor is to beginning with the men. God calls us to be Christ to our wives and we are called to this reality as we live our lives placing God first. This is not an easy calling because it causes us not to react as our nature would call us to react, but to be humbled and seek to give a positive witness. This by no means is weakness, but meekness. It is a position of restraint for teaching. It does not tolerate abuse. Jesus was not weak in His witness and neither should we be weak in ours. When we live by our convictions, we are clear and boundaries are clear also. We are consistent and in that consistency is protection. Our witness should be such that our wives and children know the Lord and His love because we reflect that love to them.

This is a high calling and we will fail since we are fallen human beings, but that does not excuse us from trying. In Martin Luther's writing "On the Estate of Marriage," he places the importance of husband and wife raising their children to love and trust in God as one of the only areas that he would, if it were in his power, think would be a guarantee to salvation through one's own work. Of course, we don't say that and Luther did not offer that as a real possibility since salvation comes through Christ and Christ alone, but it does highlight how even 500 years ago this was seen as a need. It is not easy to live into the witness because of our fallen state and, even then, fathers were falling short at being witnesses of Christ's love. I described in my sermon this past Sunday the story that is making its rounds about a couple married 70 years as they lay dying had their beds placed close to one another so they could hold hands. As they lay together the wife passed and shortly after that the husband. What a witness to the family of love and devotion. The family had no doubt as to the love and devotion that they had for one another. If we show that love and devotion with God being put first in the lives of husband and wife, imagine the witness that is offered to the children. If we place God first in all relationships, imagine how different they may be. That is the calling, that is the gift and that is life. Our children are dying. First, they are dying because they are being swallowed up in a world that offers nothing but takes everything. Second, they are dying because they don't understand the fullness of what it means to be loved by God. Third, they are dying because they do not understand in whose image that they are made. Fourth, they are dying without knowing the Savior which means that they will not only die once, but twice for eternity being separated from God. Christian, put God first and let Him be the guide, let Him be in charge, and let Him make you new.