Walk in Wisdom—Husbands & Wives: Eph 5.22-33

“Fightin’ words.” That’s what she called them.

I liked this couple. They’d asked me to do their premarital counseling, and I found them dynamic, engaging and intelligent. In our sessions we’d started out looking at the marriage formula of Genesis 2.24: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (ESV). Two individuals, free and strong to love each other, joined into one new entity by marriage. Yeah!

But then we came to Ephesians 5.22-33, especially that corker of a first line: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. The look she shot me was unmistakable. “Those are fightin’ words for you, aren’t they?” I said. “Yeah, those are ‘fightin’ words,” she said, with conviction.

I know where she was coming from, and I don’t hold it against her. Since the social revolution of the 1960s our culture has largely held gender roles within marriage (and the lines of authority that go with them) to be self-chosen. Within my adulthood, gender itself has come to be regarded as self-chosen as well. All this brings us to the post-Obergefell era where self-chosen gender is (officially, according to the Supreme Court) who we are and not how we are.

All of this makes Ephesians 5.22-33 look just terribly antique, kind of like a pre-“talkie” black-and-white movie. (“I suppose they did it that way once.”) But, it also cuts against the basic teaching that we are (all of us!) image-bearers of God, created male and female (emphasis added, Gen 1.27-28).

But, positively (and in a much bigger way than the spirit of our times), God, in designed the human family, was making a picture about how the fellowship of the Godhead works (Father, Son and Spirit) and about how Christ would redeem creation.

So … wives, submit to your own husbands in the same way you submit to Christ (:22-24). Really important to catch here is what this verse is NOT talking about. Catch that word “own”? Women are not being asked to submit to somebody else’s husband. The teaching is not, strictly, about the relationship between men and women, or about the workplace, the military, government, or any other place where we serve together, including the church. It’s about marriage. And God has designed the marriage relationship to reflect the work of the Godhead who serves the church.

Behind all this is the spiritual reality that gives the reason: For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior (:23). Of course, the husband isn’t Christ, and he isn’t perfect, and he isn’t the wife’s savior, but he is what the Bible calls the “head”. And here the lights go out for most of us.

The reason for our confusion might be that we often mistake headship and submission for competency, or for superiority and inferiority. That isn’t the right picture, and it shouldn’t be a hindrance for us (see Galatians 3.28). The more serious problem we have, though, is that we’re also confused because we don’t understand Jesus’ role within the Godhead!

Consider these words by Jesus in Jn 12.49 (along with Lk 22.42; Jn 1.1; 1 Cor 11.3 and 15.28): For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 

The point is that everybody (except God the Father) is under authority and responsible to respond to somebody. God has organized the family to reflect the authority within the Godhead. Wives are to follow Christ in submission even as the wider church does.

But, there’s more … husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church (:25-33). Love your wives like Jesus loves us, husbands are told. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (:25).

There’s spiritual reality behind this as well. And what follows is a mysterious (see verse 32) description of Christ’s work in redemption, even as He is submissive to the Father. In the past, Jesus set apart at the cross those who would one day trust in Him. This is the grounds of our salvation where we were made clean, being washed with water (a metaphor for salvation) and with the word (think: the Gospel; also, Hebrews 10.22; John 17.17). In the future, Jesus will present the church to himself in splendor at His return. In the meantime, Jesus is making the church holy and without blemish.

Do you see where the church is now in the plan of redemption? Having been claimed by Christ at the cross, we’re being made beautiful in preparation for the bridegroom. And that, husbands, is our clue to how we’re to be loving our wives!

Are we helping our wives grow beautiful in their love of the Savior? Are we loving them with their best interest in mind, so that they increasingly desire the role God has crafted for them? 

Verses 28-32 is an application section taking us right back to the marriage formula of Genesis 2.24. Love your own wives as you love yourself. In doing so, you benefit, because you are (mysteriously again) one of the individuals who form one entity in marriage (Genesis 2.24). And so, we’re back to where we started … two individuals, one new entity, making a picture of Christ and His church.

Verse 33 sums up Christian marriage (what other kind is there, actually?): However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Practically, that about gets it, right? We men are simple. Food, intimacy, respect. That’s about what does it for us. Not easy for our wives, I’m sure, but simple. Our wives aren’t so easily explained, but what wife among us would not relish a two-step led by truly sacrificial love?

That beautiful dance between a husband and wife reflects both the truth of Christ’s love for His people and Christ’s peoples’ response to Him that can only be lived out by the power of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, they’re “fightin’ words”. With Him, it’s a walk in wisdom by the Spirit of God.

To walk in wisdom, husbands and wives, love and respect one another out of reverence for Christ.


For those who are married, how does the picture of Christ and the church help explain some of your successes and failures in marriage? That’s a serious thinker, isn’t it? Maybe, it’s best saved for private discussion between husbands and wives.

More publicly, and including those not married, how does the broader picture of redemption help us make peace with the Bible’s concept of submission and authority we see in this passage?

Every Careless Word …

It’s quiet in the chicken house, for once. And that seems strange, because each morning for the better part of a year I’ve started my morning with Pepper, the Barred Rock rooster.

Pepper was an accident, as people sometimes say. A year ago when we picked up our box of peeps at the post office, we’d hoped for all “layers”. But something was different about Pepper. As spring turned to summer and our chicks grew, Pepper found (her?)self often rejected by the other girls and would wander off alone. When Pepper didn’t lay an egg and finally threw back his head and crowed like a lonely adolescent boy, we knew we had a rooster.

Pepper had his moments. In the fall when Grandma Katie’s Yorkie dog, Penny, escaped to pursue Sabel, everybody’s favorite Red Star hen, Pepper gave chase. It was a good picture—Sabel out front, Penny close behind, Pepper in hot pursuit of the dog, and eight-year-old Henry, coming up behind with Coco, the Toy Australian Shepherd on a leash. A lap around the house, through the garden and the woodpiles and Penny caught Sabel, but couldn’t execute the kill before Pepper was there to rescue.

Pepper won points that day, but there was another day. It was the day early this spring when Pepper got proud. He lost sight of who he was, a lowly chicken, after all. His day and night (by now) crowing came to mean, we understood, that he believed he could chase anybody he chose. As Pepper grew proud he began to jump on the hands, and bodies, of those who fed him. Jack and Henry grew afraid to approach the chicken house. Amanda slipped and fell once while fending him off. Then, Pepper came after me. Carrying a load of wood, I caught sight of him coming, lost my balance while spinning to address him, and then, under the weight of the crashing wood, landed in a bed of snow and mud. I fought him off with a six-inch stump of wood that had been broken in two as I’d swung it at the dandered-up rooster. I knew right then we’d reached the point of judgment.

After that—while Pepper crowed, staking his claim to the chicken house, the yard, and everything and everybody else—he was being discussed. We’d sit at the dinner table talking about Pepper. He might have even come up in our family prayers. He appeared in to-do lists: “deal with Pepper”. The universe, and Pepper’s responsibility in it, turned out to be a lot bigger than Pepper ever accounted for.

Then, two Saturdays ago, I took Pepper to a neighbor’s farm and, well—as farmers say—”moved Pepper on”.

There’s a moral lesson in all this. In Matthew 12.36-37, Jesus says, I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (ESV).

Those are striking words. They mean that there’s coming a day when each of us will have a conversation with God about His evaluation of our lives. In the context of Matthew 12, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had just stamped their judgment on Jesus: “Jesus isn’t from God, not worth listening to … from Satan, even.” This they crowed out in their own little chicken house while God the Father waited at the family dinner table, taking notice.

And so it is for us. God’s evaluation of our lives will be solely about how we’ve responded to Jesus. Did we ignore Him or abuse Him, starting in our actions, moving to our casual speech, extending to our thoughts even? Romans 2.16, speaking of those who don’t even have God’s law in the Bible, indicates the scope of God’s evaluation of our lives: … their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them, on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Every bit of our lives (actions, words, thoughts) will be used as evidence of what we’ve made of Jesus. Sobering, isn’t it? … But even that isn’t the point.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1)

That’s the point, and the Goods News! What redemption there isn’t for a rooster gone bad, there is for us. My actions, words and thoughts will be taken into account, but they’ll be covered by Christ’s work. And that I receive by faith. That’s the Gospel!

So, while the kids enjoy the chicken house now turned hen house, and while I wake up under my own power and listen to the morning quiet, these moments of  tranquility become their own pictures of my peace in Christ.

And that is truly a thought to wake up to!


“Taking advantage of every opportunity …”

White out!

And, just like that, the preparation of a week is buried in what, by tonight, will be several feet of Northwoods April snow.

This is a first for me. I’d thought, if ever church were snowed out, that I might be relieved to rest, to have a spare message in the hip pocket. But, I’m not. I’m disappointed! Sunday morning is the high point of the week. And, this week, we hoped to follow the momentum of last week’s baptism. This week we were looking forward to hearing Liz and Paul Bowman, here from Spain. This week, Tim and the worship team were ready; the slides were all done. Both Bryn and Lauren’s moms were here from Iowa to celebrate Lauren’s baby shower, rescheduled for the second time … White out!

But then, this morning as I was skiing the two miles down the Pine Line to check in at the building to intercept any who didn’t get the cancellation message, a line from the morning’s message crossed my mind: Look carefully then how you walk … making the best use of the time … (ESV). Or, as a looser translation might say, “taking advantage of every opportunity.”

Now, here is an opportunity, this April white out. I thought of how, just an hour before, Amanda and I had (maybe for the first time ever in our married lives) made coffee, sat in bed on a Sunday morning and talked about what God has for us in the next season of our lives. Been looking for a chance to have that conversation, haven’t we, Dearie?  I thought of other married couples at Woodland who might have benefited from the same break in the routine.

Then we arrived. (Katja and Henry came up behind on snow shoes). We weren’t alone. A couple elders and a few others joined us. We made a circle, right where all the singing and sharing and teaching would have been, and we, well, made the most of the opportunity. We let our minds run over how God is the one doing the work at Woodland. While we pressed ourselves to prepare our parts for a service that was not to happen, God spent the week preparing a snow storm, so we’d have opportunity to “take advantage of the opportunity,” to pray for our Woodland church family, to have those over-due conversations, to rest even.

God is about 10,000 things at Woodland, isn’t He? We’ll take advantage of every opportunity, but let Him do the work.

And then, this coming week, we’ll go right down into the crisis of the week (there’s always one, you know), and we’ll trust Him to draw us together on Sunday, once again and as next week’s very own work of grace.

Walk Together, in Wisdom: Ephesians 5.15-21

I’ve long been a collector of wise quotes. Hear a bit of wisdom, and I jot it down in my black book. The best quotes make it into my computer file, where I’ve organized wise quotes by author. My favorite, recently, is by Confucius: He who chases two rabbits catches neither. 

Useful stuff, if you have an extra rabbit …

But, when we’re not just having fun, wisdom can be sobering. What is it, exactly? Do you have to be smart to be wise? How about old? Or, profound?

As it turns out … no … no … no! But, you have to live by the Spirit of God. And, the wonderful news for any follower of Jesus is that we can.

In Ephesians, Paul the Apostle describes God’s work in calling out a people to be His church (chapters 1-3). Then, (chapters 4-6), he tells us how to live together as God’s “called out ones”. In the repeated imperative of the second half of the book, we’re to “walk together” … in unity, in holiness, in love, in the light, and (in this week’s passage) in wisdom.

Take a look at Ephesians 5.15-21 and you’ll see one basic command: Look carefully then how you walk … (verse 15). It turns out that the Christian life is such that having received Jesus’ work by faith, we can then miss God’s blessing by not paying attention, by not being wise. Frightening!

But, we’re given help here. We’re told how to be wise. And, we’re told how not to miss the moment and the blessing in the Christian life.

The pattern in these verses is found in the three contrasts marked by “not … but”. We’re to walk (verse 15) not unwisely, but wisely. We’re to walk (verse 17) not becoming foolish, but perceiving God’s will. We’re to walk, not being controlled (by something other than God), but being filled by the Spirit of God (verse 18).

The example Paul uses is wine. Some of us have been closer to alcohol than this even, but we’ve all at least seen somebody teeter and totter and attempt to keep himself upright while under the influence. Try to reason with somebody in this state, and he won’t even remember talking with you. Ruin and wastefulness result.

That’s Paul’s picture of losing the moment, being unwise. It turns out that the Spirit of God typically won’t (not saying He can’t) do His work when we choose to bring ourselves under the influence of something else. But, the issue here isn’t really wine; it’s anything that controls us. Netflix binging, cell phone addiction, an obsession with checking email, or patterns of unforgiveness and anger.

Instead of being controlled by these things, we’re to be filled by the Spirit of God. This is the special work of God reserved for those who have already trusted in Christ by faith. It follows the baptism of the Spirit which is the once-for-all work of God that takes place the moment we trust Christ, in which God applies to work of Christ to us (Acts 1.5; Rm 6.3-4; 1 Cor 12.13). It follows the sealing of the Spirit, in which we’re claimed as God’s own (2 Cor 1.22; Eph 1.13). It even follows the indwelling of the Spirit, in which the presence of God Himself takes up permanent residence in the believer (Rm 8.9; 1 Jn 4.13).

The filling of the Spirit is the leading and guiding work of God that empowers us to please God and is also called “walking in the Spirit” (Rm 8.4-6; Gal 5.16-18).

And, it turns out, that’s what true wisdom is! To walk in Wisdom, be filled by the Spirit of God!

The Gospel is received by faith. Christ did the work of redemption; we receive it by depending on Him. In walking wisely, however, we get to cooperate with God’s Spirit. The result will be, as verses 19-21 describe, rejoicing in Christ. Speaking to one another in creative ways involving God’s truth (verse 19a), singing and “psalming” (literally, verse 19b), giving thanks (verse 20), and submitting to one another out of reverance for Christ.

So, perhaps, the question for those of us who are trusting Christ is, Where do we need wisdom in our walk with Christ? Stated another way, What places in our lives are under threat from being controlled by something other than God’s Spirit? (The answer, I suspect, will be found in those areas where we don’t find the rejoicing of verses 19-21).

Have a crack at that thought. And have a blessed weekend, walking by the Spirit.

New, in Christ! Romans 6.3-4

This week we’re in Easter Season!

Did you know there was such a thing? Well, think about it. We begin our Christmas celebrations with Advent, then build up to the big day celebrating Christ’s birth. But, with Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ victory at the tomb, then go through the rest of the year celebrating Easter Season, because Jesus is alive!

And, what better way to celebrate our new life with Jesus than through baptism? That’s what we’re doing Sunday at Woodland as Zoei, Jed, Jackson and Jack (I’ve known him his whole life) demonstrate their faith in Christ and show their desire to walk with Jesus all the days of their lives. And, to celebrate God’s grace to the five of you, the rest of this post is written right to you! …

So, group, what exactly is the connection between Christ’s work on the cross, the Father’s work at the tomb, the Spirit’s work of baptizing those who trust Jesus, and our work in the newly lacquered cattle tank we use as a baptistry at Woodland?

As it turns out, water baptism (like you’re doing Sunday) is an outward picture of the inner reality that those who depend on Jesus are new in Christ.

Romans 6.3-4 helps us with this: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (ESV).

Important to understand is that the baptism in these verses refers to the work of the Spirit of God that took place in your lives at the point when you first trusted in Jesus. This Spirit baptism means (in the full context of Romans 6) that you now have a new relatonship toward sin, because your old sins no longer stand between you and God. You’re forgiven, and you can now follow Jesus! Think of it this way …

There’s an inner reality. Jesus died and was buried, taking our sin on Himself. Then, Jesus was raised from the dead, showing the Father had accepted Jesus’ work for us. When we depend on Jesus by faith, we participate (this is deep!) in Christ’s death and burial, because we are joined by faith to Jesus. And (oh, joy!), we likewise participate in Jesus’ resurrection. That’s why we have new life with God.

This being joined to Jesus means that we’ve died to the sin that stood between us and God. And, it means that we have new life in Jesus, because we are new in Christ!

Then (and this is where water baptism comes in), there’s an outward picture. Going down in the water will point to your death to sin in Jesus. Coming up out of the water will point to your being alive to God in Jesus. And, all of this serves as a public demonstration that you are trusting in Jesus and desire to follow Him all the days of your lives.

Whew! … That’s a complex image, isn’t it? If it seems like a lot to take in, it is, and, like the Gospel itself, it’s worth spending the rest of your lives thinking about.

But, in this Easter Season, here’s the big truth that you can start to get your minds around:

Because the five of you (Zoei, Jordyn, Jed, Jackson and Jack) are depending on Jesus, you’re alive, because Jesus is alive!

Now, that is an Easter Season thought to carry with you all year, and the rest of your lives!

Bless you guys. I praise God for you … See you Sunday(:


For the rest of us, here’s a few thoughts to discuss as we think about being new in Christ

“Baptism is an outward picture of the inner reality that those who depend on Jesus are new in Christ.” How does this definition of water baptism help you understand what goes on when people are baptized? 

What about the picture of our death, burial and resurrection with Christ that we make in water baptism is particularly powerful for you? 

What about this complex picture is most difficult to get your mind around? 

“Because you’re depending on Jesus, you’re alive, because Jesus is alive!” How does this truth help you make the connection between the work of Jesus on the cross and your new life in Christ, if you’re trusted Jesus? 

What has been your own experience with baptism?