“Is ‘obey’ a bad word?”
RUMC Chapter 30 THE STORY
One day God said to all the folks in heaven , “I want the women to go with Saint Peter and the men to make two lines. One line for the men who wore the pants in the family and the other for the men whose wives wore the pants.”
With that said and done, the next time God looked, the women are gone, and there are two lines. The line of men who said their wives were in charge in their family 100 miles long, and in the line of men that said they wore the pants, there was only one man.
God was surprised and said, “You all failed the test- don’t you understand that marriage is supposed to be a partnership in which you share lives equally.” Then God turned to the one man who was in the line saying he was in charge. “I’m curious, though; tell me my son, how did you manage to be the only one in this line?”
And the man replied, “I really don’t know sir, my wife told me to stand here.”
Let me be the first to say I don’t like the words obey or submit. I don’t believe in husbands or wives dominating the other. And this passage has been misinterpreted and abused as much as any passage in the Bible.
One of my biggest problems is the word “OBEY.” To me it is a four-letter word in every possible way. I don’t like to be told to obey. It makes me feel like a dog being told to sit. It makes me feel like a child being told to do something “because mom said so.”
The only thing worse than “obey” is the word “submit” so when I read both “obey” and “submit” on page 455 of THE STORY I asked myself, why in the world they would include that? You know, Lucado and Frase chose what they believed to be the key passages that would be included in THE SOTRY to help us understand the story of God. Of all the great things Paul wrote, why did they include that passage from Ephesians 5?
As I mulled that one over in my head, and read the passage about 15 times, it struck me that the message here is bigger than marriage, bigger than my problems with authority, and more important than I first recognized. Let me see if I can communicate that message to you.
In the first century outside of Christianity, women were treated as nothing. There was a prayer that Jewish men prayed first thing in the morning to the effect of, “I thank you God, that I was not born a gentile, a slave, or a woman.” Women were property to be bought and sold. Marriage was cheap, and divorce was cheaper, simply consisting of handing the woman a divorce certificate drawn up by a rabbi.
The woman’s plight in the Greek or Roman worlds was not much better. Demosthenes wrote, “We have courtesans for our pleasure, concubines for companionship, and wives so we can have children legitimately.”
All of this was reinforced in household codes that specifically laid out the role of each person in the household. Those codes were widely known and widely circulated.
Keep that backdrop in mind and consider the role of women in the gospels. Think how the angel elevated Mary at the annunciation, how Jesus treated the woman at the well, how Jesus loved Mary and Martha, and who was it that was the first witness to the empty tomb? The women! Did you notice that the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s writings are full of references to women who had both small and important roles in the early church?
It was scandalous! From the very beginning, Jesus and his followers exemplified the crazy idea that women had value and worth as individuals. (Well, it was a crazy in the first century.)
Then add to this respect for the dignity of a woman, Paul is preaching that we are set free from the law like in Romans 8.
I suspect that there was pressure from outside the early church to control those “uppity women.” Well, that’s the way they would have been perceived. Going to church, taking on leadership roles, even preaching and teaching. That was a complete overturning of those household codes, and they may have told Paul to keep the women in their place.
I can see Paul using the opportunity to teach something very important to the Christian faith. I think he took this opportunity to redefine submission and obedience. That’s why he starts with verse 21 and writes “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.” He could have just as easily written “serve one another out of reverence for Christ.” In Christ, we are all called to live lives of servanthood, submitting to those around us: not just wives serving husbands, but also husbands serving wives. Not just children obeying fathers, but also fathers not exasperating their children. Not just slaves obeying masters, but masters caring for their slaves. Everyone living lives of servanthood, and submission, and obedience, mutually with those around them.
The Christian life is a life of serving others.
A few years ago a group of salesmen went to a regional sales convention in Chicago. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night's dinner. The meeting ran late and in their rush, with tickets and briefcases, one of these salesmen inadvertently kicked over a table that held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane in time for their nearly missed boarding.
All but one. He paused, took a deep breath. He motioned for his buddies to go on an he would catch a later flight. Then he turned the apples that were all over the terminal floor. He was glad he did.
The 16-year-old girl was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her, no one stopping and no one to care for her plight.
The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the applies, put them back on the table and helped organize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket. When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, "Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?" She nodded through her tears.
He continued on with, "I hope we didn't spoil your day too badly."
As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, "Mister..." He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued, "Are you Jesus?" He stopped in mid-stride, and he wondered. Then slowly he made his way to catch the later flight with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: "Are you Jesus?"
This mutual servanthood, mutual submission, and mutual obedience is our way of reflecting Jesus, showing love to God.
Paul wrote Wives submit to your husband (which the traditionalists loved)… but he also wrote HUSBANDS LOVE YOUR WIVES. That was crazy talk to most of his contemporaries, unless you understand that we are to mutually submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.
Paul wrote Children obey your parents (which the traditionalists loved)… but he went on to say FATHERS DON’T EMBITTER YOUR CHILDREN. That’s foolishness to the traditionalists, but not to those of us who understand that we are to mutually submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.
Paul wrote, Slaves obey your masters… but he also wrote MASTERS PROVIDE FOR YOUR SLAVES! That’s silliness to most people, unless you understand that we are to mutually submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.
Jesus spent his whole life serving others. The Christian life is one of mutual servanthood.
Mark 10:43 says, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.”
Matthew 25:40. When you have done it unto the least of these (be they women, children or slaves) … when you have done it to the least of these …you have done it to me.
Jesus example is very clear. He loved his enemy, gave to the poor, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, accepted the unacceptable, ate with tax collectors, and died for sinners. Jesus modeled this kind of mutual servanthood in every relationship he had.
The Christian life is one of mutual servanthood because Jesus became a servant. The Christian life is a life lived on our knees because Jesus knelt down to wash the feet of the disciples. The Christian life is one of carrying our cross, because he “humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8) The Christian life is one of submission, obedience, and service to those around us. The Christian life is the life of a servant.
Remember verse 21 “Submit to one another.” Paul tells us why we serve one another. He writes “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
In Philippians chapter 2 Paul wrote
Have this mind among ourselves that was in Christ Jesus.
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant.
Jesus made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant. Not for the sake of those he served, but because he loved God. Jesus lived a life of service and obedience as a way of loving God.
I know, you don’t like the word “obey” any more than I do, but Paul teaches us that we submit to others as a way of submitting to God.
Deuteronomy 11:26–28 sums it up like this: "Obey and you will be blessed. Disobey and you will be cursed." To the Deuteronomist OBEY was not a four-letter word.
1 Samuel 15: 23 says , “But Samuel replied, Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. To Samuel OBEY was not a four-letter word.
John 15:10 “If you love God you must obey Him.” To Jesus, OBEY was not a four-letter word.
1 John 2:3–6And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, "I know God," but doesn't obey God's commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.
But those who obey God's word truly show how completely they love him. To John OBEY was not a four-letter word.
It comes down Loving our spouse is loving God. Serving our spouse is serving God.
Loving our parents or children is loving God. Serving our parents or children is serving God.
Loving those in authority over us or those over whom we have authority is loving God. Serving those in authority over us or those over whom we have authority is serving God.
Loving our neighbor is loving God. Serving our neighbor is serving God.
Loving and serving others is obeying God.
I think that helps us to make sense of this passage doesn’t it? It deep meaning is not about marriage or parents or slaves. Those are the applications. The deep meaning is a call to Love, serve and obey God in all things.
The upper story vision is nearly complete. It’s about time… we have been working on it for 19 months. The upper story vision of God is nearly complete. God’s upper story vision of the world as I have said all along is that more than anything God wants us to live in love with him and in service to each other.
Are you ready then to chase God’s upper story vision by loving, serving, and obeying God in all things?
Why not? What’s your excuse for not loving, serving, and obeying God?
Noah got drunk, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Abraham was too old, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Isaac was a daydreamer, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Jacob was a liar, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Leah was ugly, yet she loved, served, and obeyed God.
Joseph was abused, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Moses had a stuttering problem, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Gideon was afraid, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Rahab was a prostitute, yet she loved, served, and obeyed God.
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young, yet they loved, served, and obeyed God.
David had an affair and was a murderer, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Elijah was suicidal, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Isaiah preached naked, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Jonah ran from God, yet in the end he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Naomi was a widow, yet she loved, served, and obeyed God.
Job went bankrupt, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
John the Baptist ate bugs, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Peter denied Christ, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
The Disciples fell asleep while praying, yet they loved, served, and obeyed God.
Martha worried about everything, yet she loved, served, and obeyed God.
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once, yet she loved, served, and obeyed God.
Zaccheus was too small, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Paul was too religious, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Timothy had an ulcer, yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
Lazarus was dead! yet he loved, served, and obeyed God.
What’s your excuse?
Go, Go love, serve, and obey God in all that you do.