The overarching question I have for my life is a simple one:
How can I live out the kingdom of God and make Jesus take up more space? How can we make Jesus more evident in this world?
That is the job of every believer.
On the podcast last week, though, Scott Coley was talking about how too often Christians “proof text” to make the Bible say what they want it to, rather than approaching the Bible with humility, and letting it teach us what it should.
In few spheres of the Christian life is this more evident than when it comes to marriage.
We have built whole doctrines of marriage on single verses, while often missing the bigger picture of Scripture.
That’s what “proof texting” does.
This month I want to talk about how to put “Christ” back in Christian marriage, and I believe it starts with our attitude when it comes to how we think about what the Bible teaches about marriage.
Some people look at obscure, hard to understand marriage passages and use their interpretations of these to inform how they see the rest of Scripture, and some people use the whole story of Scripture to inform how they understand obscure, difficult passages.
I’m definitely in the second camp. The Bible tells a story of what God wants and what God is like, and that story should be consistent. Therefore, if the way that we think we should interpret a verse violates what we know God is like, that’s a sign that our interpretation is likely off.
The problem is that most denominations formed over people’s interpretations of obscure verses. That is often their identity; it’s what distinguishes them from other Christians. And so these obscure verses take on tremendous importance, and somehow in the midst of all of that Jesus is lost.
We run into a unique problem with this in marriage because the Bible only talks about marriage specifically in a few places, and does so using words that are not easily translated into English, or that have different connotations in the Greek than what their English translation would suggest.
When we’re trying to figure out gender roles and marriage, then, we look at these few verses and we create huge doctrines out of them that take on tremendous, oversized importance, and I fear in the process we often miss the forest for the trees.
I’d like to suggest we go back to first principles: God wants us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), and that includes with our marriages.
The key question to ask when it comes to marriage, then, is how does my marriage play a part in bringing the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:10)? Our marriages should reflect the kingdom of God and should share characteristics of God’s priorities for the kingdom of God.
Jesus tells us what it looks like when the kingdom of God comes in Luke 4:18-19:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The point of the kingdom of God coming is right relationships with God and each other which involves an end to injustice. That’s God’s plan for the whole world. Now let’s look at a few things we know about how that plan will play out:
1. Relationships will be about serving, not about power and authority
And what will interpersonal relationships look like? He tells us this in Matthew 20:25-28:
Jesus called them together and 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.”
Relationships in the kingdom should never be about who has power over another person, or who has authority, but instead we should all be endeavouring to serve one another.
2. The point of our lives is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus
In Romans 8:29, we’re told that God’s purpose for us is that we look more and more like Jesus. And what does Jesus look like? In Philippians 2:1-11, we’re shown the picture of someone who gives up everything to serve. Again–life is about humility and servanthood.
Any advice which, if followed, would regularly result in someone being encouraged or enabled to look less like Jesus is not of Jesus.
Are you GOOD or are you NICE?
3. We’re transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is given to all believers, regardless of gender, class, or race. The Holy Spirit gives gifts that we are to exercise. There are no artificial divisions in the kingdom of God based on race, gender, or class (Galatians 3:28).
4. We are to follow Jesus, listen to Jesus, and obey Jesus
In John 10, we’re told that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. Over and over and over again in Scripture, too many times to count, we are told to follow God and obey Him and seek Him.
Any doctrine that tells someone to follow a human being first, and only follow God if we think that human being is sinning, is not of Jesus. Life is not all about “not sinning”; it’s more often being part of what God is doing on earth and following His will. His will is not just that we don’t sin, but rather that we be part of the bigger story. When we are told that we can’t hear directly from God, and so we have to have someone else mediate–well, that contravenes 1 Timothy 2:5 exactly:
For there is one God, there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
Jesus is our mediator with God, and we need no other. In fact, if we try to follow another, God will ask us, “why did you not follow me?” Any interpretation of submission, then, which tells women NOT to follow Jesus is not of Jesus.
5. When Christians are together, there should be unity in the Spirit
God tells us that unity is a sign that the Spirit is with us. God tells us that we are to seek the Lord when we are trying to make decisions. Therefore, if there is disunity, the answer is to seek the Lord more (as the apostles and disciples did numerous times) rather than have one person unilaterally decide. Why? Because the aim is always to put the Lord at the top, and to ensure that we are doing the Lord’s will, and not man’s.
6. In everything, seeking God is the main aim of life
Our Christian life is lived out with God at the centre. The point of life is seeking God and obeying God and listening to God and hearing God. He is our aim.
These six things are all intrinsic parts of what life in Christ looks like.
They are not hard to interpret. They are EVERYWHERE in the New Testament especially, but also in the Old. Jesus Himself taught them all. None of them is debatable.
When we look at passages that are harder to understand, then, we must never violate the things that we DO know about the kingdom of God.
We need to keep the main story as the main story. Anything else is secondary.
I often get people asking me what I think headship means, or how I interpret Genesis 3:16, and I certainly have some opinions (I think Marg Mowczko and Bruce Fleming and Cynthia Westfall have all thought of these things more than I have and have better answers), but to be honest I’m not that worried about it. I know that any interpretation of these verses cannot violate what we know for certain about the kingdom of God. When we try to put interpretations of these verses ahead of what we know about the kingdom of God, then we are no longer putting Christ and his kingdom at the head. We are missing the main story, and distorting the main story. And when we do that, we miss the boat.
Restoring Christ in Christian marriages means putting arguments about the marriage verses aside and concentrating on what we do know about Jesus.
We can never go wrong if we focus on what we know for sure and for certain. The fact that so many people have allowed obscure doctrines to colour what we know for certain, and even supplant what we should know for certain, is a sign that we are not really following Jesus. That is how we go off track.
Jesus wants a relationship with every single believer. He wants us all transformed into His likeness, which involves serving others and humility. He wants the kingdom of God to come to earth, which involves righting injustices and having right relationships with others. Let’s make all of this evident in our marriages, and the disputes we have over interpretations of obscure verses will diminish as we simply focus on Jesus.
Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Series
- Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Introductory Podcast
- 6 Ways Christian Marriage Advice Leaves Christ Out
- Why There's More to Christian Marriage Than Just 5 Passages
- Does a "Christian" Marriage Need to Suffer to Grow?
- Do We Need to Jump out of the Boiling Water? How Advice for Christian Men Got So Off Track (from Keith)
- On Deconstructing our Faith--and Reconstructing by Holding on to what Jesus has said (from Keith)
- Is it So Wrong to Want to Submit to My Husband?
- How Hierarchy in Marriage Can Hurt Husbands Too
Plus please see my submission series!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
What if setting up marriage as a hierarchy, where men make the decisions, isn't good for men...
Sheila here! My husband Keith's manifesto on Wednesday about how the evangelical church has...
Most of us agree that you shouldn't have to submit to an abusive husband. But what if you're...
Our series this month is "putting Christ back in Christian marriage advice." When I told Keith...
I've been thinking lately about how much women are often made invisible or ignored. Specifically,...
Have you ever thought about how much Jesus must have laughed? And should that make a difference...
So many women--and many men as well--honestly feel like the church is hurting them. I do not...
I truly believe that most guys are good guys. I often get accused of hating men, but that's...