March 3, 2015
As we come to the Apostle Paul’s very brief instruction on marriage, there is one point to be made in general. Whatever Paul has been teaching up to this point has direct application at home as well as the church. In one sense, the household is a mini-church, a community of believers centered on Jesus Christ. I picture this centeredness with the following analogy:
Imagine a Chinese acrobat who spins a plate on the tip of a pole. Imagine that pole extending all the way through the plate to become the axis around which it spins. Think about your plate—your life and all its various relationships and activities—as spinning around the center axis, which is Jesus Christ. All analogies have their limitations, and this one does, too. But the idea is that as long as Jesus is at the center, everything else holds together around it by centripetal force.
As long as all other relationships and activities revolve around Jesus, they find order and balance. Marriage is one of those relationships, that, when ordered around Jesus Christ at the center, holds together in a God-honoring way.
Here in Colossians, from verse 12 on, Paul has been giving a positive exhortation to the church on how to be with one another in Christian community. In similar passages, like Ephesians 5, Paul uses the same pattern:
21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,
22wives, to your husbands as you are to the Lord.
23For the husband is the head of the wife
just as Christ is the head of the church,
the body of which he is the Savior.
24Just as the church is subject to Christ,
so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her, . . .
He exhorts the church community to live in mutual submission to one another, under the authority of Jesus Christ. [In the Colossians context, this is described in terms of compassion, kindness, love, meekness, humility, faithfulness, and forgiveness.] With this as a backdrop, wives are to submit to their husbands as they are submitted to Christ. Their husbands are not Jesus Christ, for they, too are to be subject to him out of reverence for his Lordship. So when, in Colossians 3, Paul writes: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” he is applying specifically to the household what is required of the whole Christian community.
This teaching speaks to reality with a biblical understanding of human nature and the stresses possible within a marriage, since Adam and Eve in the Garden. Remember, after their sin against God, God described the kind of life they were going to have together: [to the woman]
“ . . . yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b)
The word translated “desire” in this context means “fixation,” or “longing,” or even “with an eye to devouring.” The idea is that wife Eve is likely to find ways to manipulate husband Adam in order to get what she really wants. I know I am treading on sketchy ground here with my sisters in the faith, as if we are not aware of how we do this. But people who, by station or rank, do not have imputed power nevertheless attempt to gain power over another by manipulating situations to land in their favor. It’s called “reverse psychology,” and we even use it with our two-year-olds who are in their self-defining period. Given a choice, they will not do what Mom wants, but anything else just to assert their independence, right? It is a smart mother who can use this fact of life to best advantage. Yep, I did it myself. And wives are capable of doing this to their husbands as well.
But Paul says, no, in Christ there is a better way that is based on mutual submission. Do not be afraid to fully invest yourself in aligning your life with your husband’s! With Christ at the center of your life (and, we hope, in the life of your spouse), keep an eye on the Lord Jesus and act unselfconsciously and generously toward your husband.
Some of you are protesting, because your husband is abusive, absent, or adulterous. Are you to submit even to him? No, of course not. Paul conditions his instruction with “as is fitting in the Lord,” and I think that covers a lot of this ground. Unlike some of the early teachers of hierarchy, who used top-down dominance to subjugate and control women, the Apostle Paul—in the Spirit of Christ, I am sure—is not requiring women to be victimized by their husbands in order to show biblical submission. If it’s not mutual, it’s not biblical or “fitting in the Lord.” This will become more clear when our discussion extends to Paul’s instruction to husbands.
In the months leading up to our 40th wedding anniversary, my husband and I occasionally look back to our experiences together since we met as Stanford freshmen in 1971. Of course, our nation has observed a huge cultural shift in the practice of marriage; but Andy and I have also experienced phases and seasons in a relationship that has evolved and strengthened through the years.
At Stanford, we were assigned to Rinconada House within the Wilbur Hall complex during the days of the famous “Stanford ratio,” two men for every one woman. The first and third floors of Rinc were men, and the women’s floor was sandwiched between. Quaint, I know. Andy, from southern California, had declared an engineering major; and I, from the Seattle area, entered as a mathematics major. Consequently, we had the same academic advisor who invited a handful of freshmen to his campus home for a barbecue a few days before classes began. This is where Andy and I met.
It wasn’t until the Spring of freshman year that our dating focus turned to each other. By this time, Andy had given his life to Christ, which put him on the eligibility list as far as I was concerned. We had been through the rigors of freshman calculus and introductory physics together. He was brilliant and took to the disciplines like a duck to water. I was in over my head and would never have passed that first physics course if it had not been for Andy’s tutoring. Perhaps you know the feeling: everything you learned in high school on the subject was covered in the first three weeks of class.
By the end of my four years, I had shifted majors first to mathematical sciences (with courses in computer programming and algorithms) and finally, as my blood pressure skyrocketed from the stress, to music (majoring in vocal performance). Andy remained in the school of engineering throughout, earning a BS in Electrical Engineering. Through thick and thin, our relationship was a steadying force, and we became engaged the summer before our senior year.
We started out thinking we were quite a lot alike, but over the years discovered that our gift-mixes were quite different indeed. The beauty of our pairing was that we had complementary ways of processing thought (the engineer had an active right brain and the musician had an active left). We were both intelligent in our own ways, were hard workers, and came from long-married middle-class parents. We were a very good match.
At the time, the Christian fellowship on campus was nothing short of spectacular. Hundreds of students gathered weekly, on Sunday morning through the ministry of “Seminar 70” (a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church) and on weekday evenings (Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship). It was the height of “the Jesus movement,” and though the university itself was challenging to people of faith, being a Christian was cool, and discipleship was taken seriously.
With the possible exception of InterVarsity, in which I did not get involved until senior year, the general mindset on the issue of marriage promoted a hierarchical view of the relationship between husbands and wives. Through Bible teaching and the mentoring of older couples, we were taught about the loving headship of the husband to which the wife submitted in all things. We soaked it all in and adopted the concepts as our own.
We owned the hierarchical model, though it was not reinforced in our premarital counseling (done by a Presbyterian pastor). Two weeks after graduation from Stanford, we were married in Memorial Church; my marriage vows included a promise to obey Andy. There was an audible gasp from one section of the congregation, people who knew me well.
I share this story because it is important to be open about where I have been on the subject. Having said that, forty years of experience as a married person and twenty-eight as a pastor have taught me a lot:
While general teaching about marriage is indispensable for preparing couples for life-long relationships, the fact remains that every marriage is unique because the two individuals bring their unique personalities and gifts into the union.
Couples have to work things out between themselves. “It takes two to tango.” Help is available, but husband and wife are primarily responsible to engage in the life-long process of “two becoming one flesh.”
The Bible’s teaching on marriage is rich, true, challenging and applicable, even today.
In my next post, we will tackle Paul’s teaching on marriage, beginning with his instruction to wives in Colossians 3:18.
February 27, 2015
A few years ago, my plans changed at the last minute, preventing me from accompanying my husband to Yosemite National Park for the annual Spring Forum. My ticket was prepaid, and I had registered for some interesting seminars. So rather than let all that go to waste, Andy decided to invite his friend Ron to accompany him for the long day-trip. Upon arrival, Ron claimed my nametag, but whited out the tail on the Y to make the nametag say “Marv Naegeli.” For the day, “Marv” lived in my name. I told him before they left, “Make me proud. Don’t embarrass me.”
This idea of doing something in another person’s name is legalized with a “Durable Power of Attorney.” When one has DPA for another, one feels very responsible to carry out the wishes (if known) of the person who signed the document.
So does it surprise you to know that God has given each one of us his “durable power of attorney” to act in a manner and with the same authority that he himself possesses? This DPA was first issued back in the Garden, when God told Adam and Eve to steward and tend the earth. Creation has always belonged to God, but he commissioned human beings to take responsibility for its care and feeding.
All along, our task has been to ask, “What would God do in this situation if he were in my shoes?” This focus is embedded in the Judeo-Christian psyche, to act on God’s behalf according to God’s purposes, for the glory of the One who made us and for the good of the creation we are stewarding.
The Apostle Paul concludes this first round of positive exhortations in Colossians 3 with a reference to this stewardship mindset:
17And whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
What a blanket statement! Paul is saying, whatever activity you are engaged in or whatever you are saying, conduct it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This instruction can be understood two ways, firstly, “representing Jesus,” and secondly, “with the power and authority of Jesus.”
As an ambassador for Christ, Paul was well aware that he was representing Jesus Christ to those who were just being introduced to the Savior as well as to established believers (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20). It didn’t matter what the particular activity was, but Paul aspired to do it representing the goodness, life, power, love and message of the One who had transformed his own life. He is telling us in this verse that we are to do the same.
Further, whatever we do, we can (and should) do it in the power of Jesus Christ. We can expect Christ’s power only for those activities and words that are in the Lord’s service, consistent with his values, demonstrative of his nature, and aligned with his purposes. When we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, we are inviting the helpful scrutiny of the Holy Spirit to stay on the straight and narrow. Rather than feel threatened by God’s interest in what we are doing, we are reminded to give thanks to God, our heavenly Father, who loves us so much as to entrust us with important decisions. The least we can do is honor him and act in a way that would help others recognize God at work through us.
There is another “whatever you do” passage coming up, so I will save the rest for later. In the meantime, though, Paul is elevating all normal activity to the possibility of divine ambassadorship. Food for thought, don’t you think?
February 24, 2015
::Sigh:: It has been one of those days. Technical difficulties are keeping me from Bible study today. I guess that is not entirely accurate. Technical difficulties with my Bible software program have slowed me down. I tried to install an upgrade, and failed. The program now lies in a crashed heap, and I am awaiting tech support.
My sigh is followed by laughter, however, as I realize my big ol’ Bible is sitting right here on my desk. And today’s text is simple and probably tailor-made for just such an occasion!
15 And be thankful.
Up to this point, the Apostle Paul’s positive instruction in Colossians 3 has covered the following exhortations:
• Be virtuous as an expression of true love.
• Bear with one another.
• Forgive each other.
• Let peace reign in your heart.
• Let peace reign at church.
And then Paul just sneaks this brief exhortation into his list without elaboration:
• Be thankful.
It isn’t even specific, like “Be thankful for _______!” Nope, just “be thankful.” Now this takes me back to what Dallas Willard wrote about love: the goal is not so much “Help me to love this cantankerous person” as it is “Help me to become a loving person.”
With “Be thankful,” I don’t think Paul intends to be specific at all. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, he instructed them to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:18). His life modeled the attitude that regardless of what is going on, one can remain thankful to God. He does not say “be thankful for” but “give thanks in all circumstances.” Thankful people just carry gratitude around with them wherever they go. It’s a beautiful thing when one runs across such a person. What Paul is saying is that it is part of keeping our sights on “things above” (Colossians 3:1) to walk in a general state of gratitude to God. Then when it is time to say “Thanks” for something specific, the words naturally come out of the heart.
So with that short, pithy encouragement, I shall sign off with a grateful heart. Thanks be to God, who has created this day, who has loved me even in my frustration, who has given me the energy to tackle today’s problems. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
February 21, 2015
Spring training has started! The Giants are warming up their pitchers and catchers in Scottsdale, AZ, this week. Assessments are being made, recovery from injuries celebrated, starting lineups tried on for size. Next week the full team checks in. As of today, Major League Baseball has exactly forty-five days until opening day, April 6.
What we do not hear much about, however, are the umpires. The roster of 68 umpires qualified for “the Majors” is a traveling band of baseball experts. Their calls are sacred—even with official reviews, also made by umpires—and they bear an authority that elicits respect from little kids all the way up to grannies watching the game on TV. [Last June, a fascinating article told the story of a Christian ministry to umpires. The human side of their role—schedules, travel, and stresses of the game—awakens the compassion of a pastor called to minister to them.]
I bring up umpires, because there is a word in today’s Colossians 3 passage that hints of umpiring.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in the one body.
The word is “rule,” and it connotes the overarching judgment and voice of authority, such as an umpire would administer through a game. What is it that is to rule, or umpire, your hearts? The Peace of Christ! So let’s explore this a bit.
When we hear “the peace of Christ,” we are probably more inclined to think of it in terms of personal, inner reassurance and contentment. This is the focus of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians (4:4–7). There, he talks about trading in worry for prayerful petition and thanksgiving, the result being peace in one’s heart. So this individual, inner peace is certainly legitimate and necessary in the Christian life.
However, in Colossians, Paul takes a different spin by indicating that this peace is a quality to which we “were called in one body.” This points to a corporate condition of peace, relational peace, that is to guide and adjudicate our dealings with each other. Keeping the peace is a virtue in Paul’s playbook.
Thinking about my fellow Presbyterians for a moment, the peace in our ranks has been shaken greatly in the last twenty-five years or so. Discontent and dysfunction have disturbed the peace, unity, and purity of our denomination for almost as long as I have been a member. My desire is not to replay any of those fights, but only to illustrate that peace is truly a precious commodity in short supply. And yet, we are called to it. So how do we manage it?
The conditions in which the peace of Christ can flourish include the following:
single minded and pure hearted recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ
an agreement (yes, “being of one mind”) about the essentials of the Christian faith
the exercise of the fruit of the Spirit in community with fellow believers, with love as the tie that binds all others together
in the reality of conflict, discernment of those matters that fall under #1 or #2 above and dealing with them clearly and thoroughly in a timely fashion.
Speaking only for the conflicts of which I have been a part, we have failed to realize the peace of Christ, even yet, because
there is still plenty of human competition for the role of “Lord” in the church
we cannot state and therefore cannot agree on what is essential for Presbyterians to believe in order to remain within the fellowship
we have betrayed one another’s trust and given confusing messages about loving one another
our dealings with the issues at hand have dragged on now for decades, have been ecclesiastically clumsy, and have created mixed messages for the church and the world. The solution currently under scrutiny by the presbyteries will only confuse matters more, for what its new statement about marriage does not say, as much as what it does say.
So I do not hold out much hope that “the peace of Christ” will reign in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) anytime soon. It makes me very sad to say so.
It reminds me of the prophet Ezekiel’s indictment against Israel, which included, “They have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace” (cf. Ezek. 13:8-16). Lest we join the prophets who are making statements simply out of their own imagination, leading to dead-ends, let us submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, hold fast to the faith, and bear with one another out of love for Christ.
For those done with church, this passage probably comes across as a lament. If only the church had let peace rule, we say . . . so now what do we do to promote the peace of Christ, to live in it in community? We are going to have to listen more, talk less, pray more, walk alongside, anguish in the Spirit and long for purity that is wrought by God’s thorough work in our souls and in our fellowships. A tough call, and we may not be up to it yet. But still, we must affirm that Paul’s admonition is on target: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.”
February 20, 2015
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Paul continues his theme with the “layered look” of spiritual dressing. Imagine yourself putting on a patience undershirt, and then a kindness button-down oxford. Pull up those meekness jeans, and compassion socks. Bring it all together with a humble sweater. But now, Paul says, the entire ensemble is tied together with an overcoat of love. It is intriguing imagery, particularly contemporary. What Paul is saying here is that love (and he uses the term agape, unconditional love) is the all-encompassing virtue. Love is the general “rule” and the fruit of the Spirit (for instance) are ways that it is embodied in actual attitudes and behaviors. Love is expressed through patience, humility, and kindness.
As Dallas Willard remarked, “Love, as Paul and the NT presents it, is not action—not even action with a special intention—but a source of action. It is a condition out of which actions of a certain type emerge.” 
We live in an age and environment that is a bit mixed up about what love is. We confuse love with desire. We say we fall into it. Or it is strictly a feeling we cannot control. And yet, Paul in this passage (and others, such as Romans 13:19 and 1 Corinthians 13) writes about love from a completely different angle. We are to put it on over everything else good and virtuous, because love brings it all together as one piece.
But what is it, this agape love? Dallas Willard offers a definition he thinks covers the ground:
Love is an overall condition
of the embodied, social self
poised to promote the goods of human life
that are within its range of influence.
Willard—“Getting Love Right”
Love is a disposition or character that makes one ready to act towards and for another in a way consistent with the gospel (God’s love for us). Willard often said it is misplaced effort to try to love a person. Rather, our prayer should be that we become the kind of person who would love that person. “The kind of person” who can do this is “possessed by love as an overall character of life,” regardless of what is going on. So, “I do not come to my enemies and then try to love them; I come to them as a loving person.” This is why John said, “God is love.” This is God’s identity, “a loving person.” It explains why he can and does love me, even when he is not pleased with what I am doing. Love is God’s general condition, out of which comes his promotion of what is good and right and life-giving for me.
So when Paul says to “put on love,” he is asking us to enter into the state of being possessed by love. “We love, because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Knowing we are loved by God, allowing that “we are not our own; we were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19f), we are possessed by love. As we surrender our wills to God and remain open to his transforming power, he will make us loving persons from the inside out. This is a work of the Spirit, requiring our willingness and availability, and the sort of practice that demonstrates we really do want to change clothes from “unloving” to “loving.”
The question for your consideration is not, Whom should you be loving? but What are the obstacles in your heart to becoming a loving person: selfishness? pride? anger? competitiveness? indifference? impatience? hurry?
 What follows are some thoughts heavily relying on Dallas Willard on the subject of love, as presented in his Fuller lectures (when I took a two-week intensive with him in June 2007) and a presentation he made in September 2007 called “Getting Love Right.” I am quoting him freely.
February 19, 2015
A Facebook friend was fretting a bit that she had not yet decided what to give up for Lent. She brings up an interesting question. As a born and raised Catholic, my family of origin refrained from eating meat on Fridays. Nowadays, such a discipline is a daily and year-round practice among vegetarians, robbing the deprivation of its spiritual meaning. But being the consumer society we are, chances are pretty good that we are all eating, drinking, injecting, or inhaling something that threatens to get the upper hand in our lives. Something in this category would be a sharper focus of discipline during Lent.
On the other hand, rather than eliminating something, would it not also be Lent-worthy to adopt a new habit or practice instead? Yesterday’s verse, Colossians 3:12, suggested arenas for our thoughtful application: patience, kindness, compassion, meekness, and humility. What is something you could do that would exercise one of these virtue-muscles for spiritual strengthening?
Today’s verse is even more pointed, as Paul urges us to express that patience, kindness, compassion, meekness, and humility in the act of “bearing with one another.”
“Bear with each other and forgive
whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
I can think of at least two ways “bearing with” happens:
We help our [friend, family member, co-worker] to bear a particular burden, by our ministries of intercession, presence, and merciful action; or
We “grin and bear it” when our [friend, family member, co-worker] errs, sins, or offends us, and follow up that tolerance with forgiveness in the same manner Christ has forgiven us.
Both interpretations offer possibilities for Lenten discipline.
This past week, one of our covenant group members experienced a confusing medical problem and had to be taken to the hospital ER. Three different brothers in Christ took turns staying with Tom and his wife Betty while the situation was sorted out over a matter of days. Just being there to share the burden and to help them know they were not alone away from home was “bearing with them.” In your life, is someone suffering a prolonged illness, requiring isolation from his or her community and yet needing it more? Can you take a meal? Drop off a little stuffed animal? Do a load of laundry or garden maintenance? Send a meaningful card with a verse worth re-reading and remembering? Your imagination is far more creative than mine is. What is important is that you show up in some way, as a sign that the burden is shared by the Christian community.
But then we come to the other meaning of “bearing with,” which is another way of saying Christian forbearance toward others while they work out the sin thing in their own life. Perhaps Lent is the time to stop nagging or being critical of someone close to you. The Christian discipline would be one of fervent intercession (pray for them!), openness to their humanity (listen to them!), active choosing not to be bothered by irksome behavior (forgive them!), and tending to their wounds with the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
Just today, a Christian friend was sharing frustration over a work relationship that seems to be going south. The Christian friend thinks the solution is to quit the job because he feels he is being discriminated against as a Jesus-follower. I do not know the details, only that he feels this way about the situation. But maybe for Lent, he (and I in similar situations) could choose to take the barbs and put-downs without losing sleep over them, and walk in Jesus’ footsteps toward the Cross. After all, isn’t that a point of reflection during Lent? We ponder how it is that Jesus took our sins upon himself and absorbed them. He did not return evil for evil, he did not displace any anger or frustration on others around him. No, he bore the sins of all people and carried them to the grave where they could do no more harm. He bore with us, and he forgave us.
There is escalating tension and terror on earth today. Perhaps giving up retaliation might just be the Lenten discipline that could change the world.
February 18, 2015
Finally I come ‘round again to the letter of Paul to the Colossians. I left off ten days ago with a general reflection on the idea that we are to clothe ourselves in Christ and his character. This week, I would like to use Paul’s list of admonitions as a springboard for discussion of the sorts of changes you anticipate Jesus might accomplish in you in today’s world. We’ll take this verse by verse through Colossians 3:17.
Though it may seem like a thought coming from left field, I start by expressing my outrage at the anti-Semitism that is rising in Europe. Prejudice is defined as preconceived bias against someone or a group, based on misunderstanding, misconception, or incomplete knowledge. For whatever reason—and I admit utter bafflement—France, for example, is becoming inhospitable to Jews. But please hear me: there is nothing in Christianity to justify hostility towards the Jewish people. If one points a suspicious or accusatory finger towards a Jew, one must point that same finger towards oneself, for we have all sinned—Israeli, Palestinian, Parisian, Jew, Gentile— and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We all like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). We have all been alienated from our Creator, and our sin resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus died at the hands of Romans (pagan Gentiles) and Jews who provoked them —no denying this fact of history. But we all bear a common burden of sin guilt. Reception of Christ’s grace and forgiveness does not make a person superior or in any way justify contempt for those who have not received this gift. We are called to treat one other as kin (in the sense that our faith and humanity is grounded in the same Old Testament roots), even as we await the coming return of Jesus Christ to make clear his identity as the Messiah and invite everyone to believe and receive him.
Do hear how Paul begins his admonition:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
So when Paul calls us “chosen ones,” we stand in spiritual solidarity with the people that were the first to live in covenant with Almighty God. Identifying believers as chosen ones, holy and beloved, puts Gentile Christians like the Colossians squarely in the circle of the covenant between God and the Chosen People. In our generation, it is a great honor to be numbered in the family of faith that started with Abraham. This honor is humbling and dangerous in certain parts of the world (and our country and neighborhoods) where Christians stand up against prejudice. We Christians, like Abraham, were called out of a worldly life into fellowship with the living God (hence, we are holy). We were embraced in mercy by our heavenly Father (hence, we are beloved). We were grafted into the covenant by Jesus’ death on the cross, allowing us to receive the same covenant blessing (hence, we are chosen). You can read more about that in Ephesians 2:11–22.
And since we are chosen, we are to clothe ourselves with virtues that should lead to gracious tolerance of others (more on that as Colossians 3 unfolds). Those virtues would include patience with others’ foibles or cultural practices, humility before God and one another, and costly kindness extended to those who need it.
Questions for your reflection:
Watch this brief video. How would you feel about being this chap’s bodyguard?
Can you cite any instance of anti-Semitism in your neighborhood or city? What can you do to call this out or model Christ’s way?
If you were “clothed with compassion, humility, etc…” how would your behavior change in response to local or common vexations?
Sojourners done with church: is there any element of prejudice embedded in your reaction against the church? How can you show kindness, patience, humility, or compassion to those who have disappointed, disillusioned, or injured you?