I am a pastor who loves his church, delights in the gospel, rejoices in the discipling of Christ-followers and grieves the deep scourge of sin in this world.
I follow the movements and trends in church practice and preaching, often with much concern and fear for American Christians. I tire of the political rancor and espoused righteousness of every viewpoint freely and abundantly shared on social media. I faithfully read the letters to the editor and opinion articles in the Baptist Standard.
My dismay and concern for the health of the church in America continues to deepen. The Standard’s recent news article, “Texas Christian women’s advocate still waits for apology,” seems to equate an orthodox teaching about a husband loving and leading his family with a form of slavery. The shocking image of hands breaking free from handcuffs is not subtle.
Am I guilty of abuse, sexism and inviting persecution toward women because I read Scripture plainly and observe in creation a wonderful complementary pairing in husband and wife?
This pairing is woven into the very fabric of creation prior to the curse of sin on the world. Following the links provided in the article, I navigated to the Christians for Biblical Equality website where I conclude the owners of that website might judge me as such.
Genesis and Ephesians
I read in Genesis and Ephesians that I am commanded to love my wife unconditionally. I must be willing to die—if that is what it takes—to lead and journey with her toward greater knowledge of and relationship with Jesus. I also understand I desperately need my wife to help me be a better father, friend and pastor.
The wife does not have the same command. She is expected to respond to such deep love. The infamous “submit” passages—no matter how they are translated in English—are not imperatives. Rather, they invoke volition on the part of the wife. As your husband loves and leads, willingly go with him—not as a slave, as the blatant handcuffs heading the aforementioned article seem to indicate.
Perhaps some might like to take a Jeffersonian approach to Genesis? Simply cut out those sections that dissatisfy, confront or conflict.
We find Adam in Genesis 2 surveying God’s magnificent creation and naming the animals. He learns he is lacking. He is not good by himself, as he does not have “a helper suitable for him.”
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Two important words
I delight in the Scripture and long to be sustained by the marrow in each word. Two words here excite me—“helper”and “suitable”—for these words describe my wife.
The word for “helper” is found 21 times in the Bible. Eight times, it refers to God as “helper.” Eleven times, it is translated as “strength.” It is used twice in the creation account.
We might translate this word best as “strength” or “power.”
“Helper” is not a derogatory term. How can this term be derogatory or imply lesser worth or value if applied directly to God so many times?
The word translated “suitable” is an odd word in English, as the word is comprised of two prepositions and a pronoun. The first preposition means “corresponding to” or “the same kind.” The second preposition means “in front of,” “facing” or “facing as an equal.” The pronoun means “him.”
Consider this expanded translation of Genesis 2:20: “The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not power/strength like him, corresponding to him, of the same kind of him facing him as an equal.”
For Adam, Eve completed him, and he, her. This strength and help from God who faced him as equal made Adam rejoice.
Perhaps one might not like the idea of being sent by God as helper. God considered this a great idea and literally removed part of Adam to make this happen. More notably, he sent his Son and the Spirit to be our helper.
My wife and I
My wife faces me as equal with great power and strength. In my more humble and contrite seasons of walking this Christian journey, I know she is vital to me being able to serve and minister to others in a God-glorifying manner.
Does she need rescue from her willingness to walk alongside me and follow me as I seek to love her as Christ loved the church? If my wife does not to choose to follow me as I seek to love her fully, am I no longer obligated toward her sanctification, cleansing her through the word of God and striving to present her in all her glory, without blame or spot?
I must die to self in seeking the spiritual growth and vitality of my wife. Her following me in this is what I seek to earn.
We have different roles, and that is good. This is designed by God. My role is to be willing to live and die for her. Her role is to respond to such great love.
The apostle Paul, in wrapping up this teaching about husband, wife and family, reminds us of the greatness of the divine and wonderful mystery of how two become one and serve God, but he really is speaking of how the church relates to Jesus.
A biblical marriage is to be a living, talking and walking gospel presentation. When we throw off the roles and obligations God graciously gives us for marriage, we seek to do violence to the Scriptures.
I have only condemnation for abuse in all its varied forms and sources.
I exalt my wife and treasure her wisdom and strength and declare my insufficiency without her.
Most of all, I seek to glorify God and obey him.
Mathew St. John is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Anson. The views expressed are those solely of the author.