December 1, 2013
Ginger Siemens
The Meaning of Marriage
#6 – Embracing the Other

As the Women’s Ministry Director the majority of my interactions are with women and most of the time when I speak it is to women. So men, if you will allow, for just a few minutes I’m going to talk to just the women.

When Joe called me and asked me to deliver this message we talked about the details such as topic, date, PowerPoint, etc. I hung up the phone and then gasped. Ladies, what do you think was going through my mind?

What on earth am I going to wear?

So I called a few friends to get their advice and one wonderful husband suggested this:

  • Jinjah/Joe – Hawaiian shirt, shorts, sandals –

I totally would have gone with this but it’s a little chilly out for shorts and sandals. Ultimately I decided it was best to just be me; the real me which requires honesty, vulnerability, and trust… but no Hawaiian shirts.

Ladies, you might have some mixed feelings about our text today:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:22–23, 25

Some of you saw this verse on your outline this morning and you shut down. Every emotional wall you have is up. You’ve been hurt by our culture, the churches, your father, your husband. I know. I’ve been there. I spent most of my life bristling every time I heard the word submit. I’ve heard a lot of sermons (not here at Life Center) but I’ve heard a lot of sermons that were simply titled Wives Submit, sermons and books that focused entirely on the first part of that passage. I usually either didn’t read the books or threw them across the room. But the sermons, I endured those sermons and then braced myself for the wonderful lunch conversations where my husband would pull out his list of ways I could submit. Fun times.

Thankfully there has been major healing in my marriage and in my heart. However, I’m still cautious. I am certain there are many of you right there with me.  Nevertheless, I am asking you keep your mind open for the next 30 minutes. Walk with me and together we will work our way through a mine field of a topic.

You might not agree with every point Kathy Keller makes in the book or everything I say today. That is more than ok. Part of the pain that I experienced is that no one ever gave me permission to disagree with what I heard. It felt like sin to disagree. You might not agree with everything that is said today but I think that in the end we will find a great deal of common ground and maybe even something positive to talk about at lunch.

We are getting close to the end of our series based on The Meaning of Marriage. Tim and Kathy Keller wrote the book together but the chapter we are looking at today was written by her alone, chapter 6, Embracing the Other.

Her choice of the word “other” has a larger meaning than just embracing the other person.  Philosophers and social theorists developed a concept called “Otherness” or “Othering”.  Othering is a way of defining ourselves by classifying people as “not like me” or “not one of us”. It helps us define ourselves by the differences we see in other people. This is why on your outline, and often in chapter 6, you will see that the word is capitalized.

It can be difficult for us to love, understand, and accept the Other; those we do not understand. In marriage there are days where it seems impossible to embrace the Other. John Eldredge says that marriage is like throwing Cinderella and Huck Finn into a submarine and closing the hatch! But here’s our

Big Idea for today:Jesus gives us a pattern and the power to embrace the Other.

I don’t know about you but that right there helps me relax, He’s got this. Jesus is with me. I don’t have to try to figure it out or power through it on my own.

In the Beginning

Well, In order for us to fully understand our lives and the story we are in we have to go back to the beginning and look at what God originally intended for mankind before sin entered the picture.

The Bible starts with Genesis 1…In the beginning… The earth and all that is in it is created. Light, dark, sun, moon, stars, waters, land, creatures and finally man is created. After every creation God says “It is good”. It was good, it was good, it was good and then,

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”Gen 2:18 NIV

God then took a rib from Adam’s side, while he was sleeping deeply, and created Eve. That is one very deep sleep. I think my husband just might be capable of that kind of sleep. But I digress.

God created Eve and it wasn’t until after he created Eve, that God said it was VERY good. Creation was not complete, Adam was not complete, without Eve. It seems obvious that had Eve been created before Adam, she would not have been complete without him either.

  1. God created the Other as a source of completion.

Your beliefs about the creation story and much of our understanding of the Bible depend on which translation we choose. I grew up in a church that used the King James Version. That version can be quite difficult to understand, especially as a young person. Let’s look at Genesis 2:18 again:  

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” Gen 2:18 KJV

A help meet? What on earth is a help meet? This is what I associated with my role in marriage. (Pic of hamburger helper.) That’s me. The Hamburger Helper. No, that is not my husband. Well, I didn’t fully understand the term help meet but I was pretty sure I did not want to be one.

A “helper suitable for him” is a better phrase, however, it is still not sufficient. “Helper” is not the best English translation for the Hebrew word ezer. There is strength in the word that is lost in translation.

The word Ezer is used in the Old Testament twenty-one times and most of those times it is used to describe God. God is our ezer, our helper when we need him to come through for us desperately. Ezer connotes a strength that is needed to win the battle or to survive. For example:

Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Deuteronomy 33:29

When you are in need of a shield and a sword you are in a battle. You need more than just an assistant. You need a strong helper, someone so crucial that you will lose the battle if they do not offer you their strength. Ezer is a strong word and Eve was called an ezer.

The word “suitable” is not an exact translation either. It literally means “like opposite him”.  Male and female “are like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together because they are not exactly alike nor randomly different.” (p. 165). Like two different puzzle pieces, they complete each other. The Bible doesn’t give us details on what Adam’s first words were to Eve we only know what he said about her. But I’m pretty sure he had her at “hello”. They completed each other.

For our purposes today, another thing to note about the Creation story is that men and women were created with absolute equality.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Gen 1:28

God gave the command to subdue and rule over the earth to both man and woman, equally. He also told them to procreate, something that cannot be done alone. Men and women need each other. God created the Other as a source of completion.

Before we move on to the next point I need to talk about different positions regarding gender roles. This is a VERY hotly debated topic within Christian circles. I do not have time to fully explain the nuances of the different positions but it is important that you have a basic understanding because it shapes how you view submission, headship, and roles within marriage.

Let’s look at a couple of definitions:

Complementarianism

Complementarianism “affirms that men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.”

From the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

On the other end of the spectrum is

Egalitarianism

Egalitarianism holds that “all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.

From the Christians for Biblical Equality

As with any spectrum, there are many who are in between, “soft complementarians”, “moderate egalitarians” etc. The different viewpoints stem from how certain words are translated in the Bible. For instance, look at part of our key passage again:

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Ephesians 5:23

Our word “head” is translated from the Greek word kephale. (kefä-lā). Complementarians believe that kephale (kefä-lā) means “authority over” while Egalitarians believe that it means “source”. The question is whether Adam had “authority over” Eve or if Adam is the “source” of Eve. The difference to us is whether husbands have authority over their wives or if metaphorically speaking they are the source.

Kephale is one very important word. Complementarians use this verse and definition of kephale (kefä-lā) to support their belief that a husband has authority over the wife while the Egalitarians believe that the idea of male authority over women was not introduced until after the Fall in Genesis 3, when sin entered the world. These are two very different interpretations of the Ephesians 5 passage.

The reason I have just spent the last few minutes making your head hurt with all of this is that you might not agree with everything you read in chapter 6 of The Meaning of Marriage. That’s ok. I want you to know that there are very well respected preachers and learned biblical scholars who are Complementarians as well as those who are Egalitarians and all points in between. Also, church denominations hold differing beliefs about women and gender roles as well.

Kathy Keller and I are not in the same camp. At one point she was an egalitarian but now identifies herself as a complementarian. However, she seems to still have a few egalitarian viewpoints. Maybe she is a moderate complementarian. Honestly, I’m not completely certain but I’ll make sure to ask her next time we chat.

What I do know is I am more egalitarian than she is when it comes to roles in marriage. The even bigger difference between us is with her views on women’s roles, or rather limitations, in ministry. Our differing viewpoints stem from the translation and interpretations of certain words in passages such as 1st Timothy. But that is a topic for another day and according to one of her footnotes, a topic for a new book she might write in the future.

Whether you identify yourself as a complementarian or an egalitarian or somewhere in between please remember that this is not a salvation issue. It affects your daily living to be sure, but not your salvation. Christ followers from both sides will be in heaven I assure you.

Just in case you are a clock watching oh wow we are only through point one type of person, rest assured, the last three points go much faster.

  1. Both men and women get to play the Jesus role in marriage.

Don’t confuse this with the idea of playing God in your marriage. Playing the Jesus role is an entirely different concept. Kathy Keller explains how this works by describing what she calls the “Dance of the Trinity” using Philippians 2:5-11:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slaveand was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,8 humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The dance is this…Jesus was God but he emptied himself of his glory and took on the role of the servant and humbled himself in obedience to God. He was submissive to the will of the Father. The Father then gives Jesus the highest place of honor, the name above all names.

This passage shows Jesus, the Son, willingly taking the subordinate, submissive role in the Trinity. This was not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of his greatness. From this, Keller surmises that submission in marriage should always be a gift that is freely offered and never a duty that is coerced. In this way, women can play the Jesus role in their marriage.

Our key passage states that the husband is the head of the wife. Keller defines head/kephale (kefä-lā) as “authority over” but reminds us that Jesus redefined or rather more properly defined headship and authority. In John 13, the passage where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus demonstrates the principle of servant leadership. He further demonstrates this leadership turned upside model in Matthew 20:

Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matt 20:26-28

Jesus took the authoritarianism out of authority and modeled servant-leadership. The Ephesians 5 passage calls men to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ showed his love for the church by giving his life. This servant-authority model is how men can play the Jesus role in their marriage. Men often ask Tim Keller how to do that. His answer is “It’s not complicated. But it’s hard.” (Focus on the Family Radio, February 14, 2012).We don’t want to serve or lay down our rights, our desires, or our lives for others. It’s hard.

But in this model, both men and women get to play the Jesus role in marriage – Jesus in his sacrificial authority, Jesus in his sacrificial submission. (p. 170).

Whether you choose this model or a more egalitarian approach of mutual submission, the end result should look very similar; both husband and wife endeavoring to be more Christlike… loving, serving, and sacrificing for each other. If you are single, this is an important discussion to have with a potential spouse. It is ok for you to have a few differences but being too far apart on this issue will create a multitude of problems in your relationship.

  1.  Our sinful drive for self-justification often leads to despising the Other.

Remember that Othering is a way of defining ourselves by classifying others as “not like me”. Othering is the source of racism, classism, sexism and a bunch of other isms including all forms of discrimination. In general it works like this “Stop Othering Me! What’s Othering? YOUR kind could never understand.” I think that is a case of reverse Othering.

Othering most often produces a feeling of superiority; that the other person is inferior in some way. Examples of Othering are thinking that someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language is less intelligent, stupid, thinking women are less logical, thinking that a person with different skin color is lazy or taken to the extreme, less human. Othering is a source of abuse and stereotypes.

In marriage, Othering can be as benign as whether the toilet paper goes over or under but even something as silly as that can end up leading to this War of the Roses…

Hopefully some of you remember that scene from the 1989 movie, War of the Roses. It is the tragic ending to their relationship. The things that they do to each other leading up to that moment are darkly humorous because it is a movie. They start out by being annoyed with each other over daily things and end up in all out war. In that final scene the chandelier drops and they both die. Definitely not a feel good flick.

If you have been married for any length of time, let’s say over a year, you know what I am talking about. Not the fighting on a chandelier dying thing, but what use to be cute is now downright annoying. Day after day it annoys you. And every time, what goes through your head? There she goes again. She’s doing this on purpose. He’s trying to irritate me. He’s an idiot. He’s the biggest idiot I’ve ever met. I made a mistake by marrying her. All because of toilet paper.

Just as an aside…I have a question for you. How many of you think the toilet paper should go over? Well, here are some interesting numbers for you:

  • 70% of people think the toilet paper should go over.
  • “Over” people personality traits: likes to take charge, over-achiever, stays organized
  • The Wikipedia page devoted to the toilet paper debate is twice as long as the page for the Iraq War.

There you go. That information ought to help you during your next debate. I know Robin thoroughly appreciates my expert use of Google for topics such as this. Smartphones should come engraved with a warning to “use responsibly”.

What are the thoughts that go through your head when your spouse is displaying how different they are from you? Often it is not just that they are different from you, it is that their differences make no sense to you.

For example, Robin is louder and I am quieter in how we move around our home. From wherever you are in the house you can hear him shut every cupboard door, front door, and side door. His footsteps are heavy. This can really bother me, especially if I’m trying to relax. I know that he can be quiet if wants to, if he focuses. This knowledge only adds to my irritation. I become convinced he is purposely doing this to bother me.

One day I realized that my irritation was beginning to cause me to see everything he was doing in a more negative light. I decided to change my inner dialogue. Every time I heard a door or a step I said to myself “He is strong and his strength enables him to lift and carry things I cannot.” That simple statement played over and over again in my mind and now I rarely notice whether he is quiet or not. We also talked about the issue and he does try to be quiet if I am sleeping or studying.

What are the thoughts that go through your head when your spouse is displaying how different they are from you? Again, usually it is not just that they are different from you, it is that their differences make no sense to you. I don’t understand heavy walking. Sin then leads us to assign negative motives for their actions or we start to believe that they are inferior to us. If he was more considerate or smarter he would walk quieter.

 When day in and day out this becomes a habit, a divide the size of the Grand Canyon forms. You wake up and think “I don’t know you, I don’t understand you and really, I don’t think I want to.”

Embracing the Other is hard and seemingly impossible sometimes but this is where our big idea comes in to play: Jesus gives us a pattern and the power to embrace the Other.

Because, number 4 on your outline…

  1. Jesus embraced the ultimate Other – sinful humanity.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

Jesus could have rejected us. We certainly rejected him. He made the ultimate sacrifice to bring us into unity with Him. He knows what it is like to embrace the Other. The Other that rejects, betrays, attacks and sins. He knows and understands. As Christ followers, our security and self-worth should come from who we are in Christ. We should not need to feel superior to others, especially our spouses that we are supposed to love and serve.

This is particularly difficult when your spouse is not even trying to be Christlike. The first 17 years of my marriage were difficult, to say the least. It wasn’t hell every day. We did have good times and times of spiritual growth and connection. But it was very hard. Robin was angry, controlling, manipulative, and self-centered. He was not always easy to love and I grew to resent everything about him. I also developed a sense of moral superiority. I was a better parent, spouse, Christian, and really…I was just plain better.

One day, about ten years ago, I had an aha moment. The Holy Spirit lovingly convicted me and my heart broke. It hit me that Jesus died for Robin and that Robin is no less deserving of God’s grace and mercy than I am. I am no more deserving of God’s grace and mercy than Robin. Neither one of us deserves it. God’s grace is a gift he freely gives.

From that moment on my heart was different towards Robin. I didn’t tell him what had happened. It was an inner change. Ironically it is when my heart softened towards Robin that my boundaries became more firm. My eyes were beginning to open to what was happening in our relationship.

In an interview on Focus on the Family radio Tim Keller says,

It is never loving to let someone sin. To make it easy for someone to sin. That’s the worst thing you can do for them. Submission does not mean that a wife doesn’t confront or push back. A submissive wife can be very forthright.  February 14, 2012

One example they give in the book and in other interviews is the case of physical abuse. A wife must forgive him in her heart but also call the police and have him arrested. Embracing the Other does not mean putting up with whatever sinful behavior they choose to engage in. It is never loving to let someone sin.

I had to confront Robin about his actions, attitudes, and behaviors. Robin also had a secret life involving addictions and infidelity. He disclosed that information while we were separated 6 ½ years ago. Thankfully he hit his rock bottom and fell on his face before God. Robin chose to trust God with the truth of his life, even if it meant I would permanently leave him.

The opposite happened. I stayed and fell in love with my husband. God healed us, our marriage, and our family. This healing process continues to this day and while our marriage is not perfect, it is good, very good. Jesus’ healing power and a lot of hard work on our part saved our marriage. Our marriage was made new.

We both had to submit, a lot. We had to submit to our recovery programs and our counselors. I had to lay down my right to be angry and choose to forgive. Robin had to give up his need to know if we were going to make it or not and give me the space to figure it out. We both chose to submit to God and his plan for our lives.

We followed Jesus’ pattern of submission, sacrificial love, service, and forgiveness. His power enabled each of us to play the Jesus role in our marriage. Jesus gives us the pattern and the power to embrace the other, even and especially when this is incredibly difficult to do.

One thing to note, the process of submission, sacrificial love, service, and forgiveness started in my heart years before there was a breakthrough in Robin. Becoming more Christlike towards your spouse does not require their permission or cooperation. This is one time it’s all about you. You can choose to let the Holy Spirit work in you.

What will be your next step? For married couples…

My Next Step:

Married:

  • Choose one area where you can begin to serve your spouse without telling them.

This can be as simple as fixing the toilet paper role or choosing a different, more positive inner dialogue when they slam the door…again. If you don’t already, pray for your spouse daily. I often ask God to create a deep desire in Robin to know Jesus more. 

For singles…

Single:

  • Choose a relationship (friend, roommate, family member) where you can begin to serve them without telling them.

Of course, this needs to be within appropriate boundaries. The way you serve others is different than the way you will serve your spouse one day. However, we are all called to serve one another. 

And because I am a type A/over achieving personality, I have a bonus step. I encourage all of you to…

Bonus Step:

  • Read the Appendix: Decision Making and Gender Roles and discuss.

The title jumped out at me and it is actually the very first thing I read in this book! The Keller’s give several examples of their beliefs about decision making and gender roles. Have a discussion with your spouse or trusted friend about their statements. You might not agree with all of them but they will definitely lead to interesting conversations. Just remember, no Othering! Give grace in this area.

I still struggle with some of the issues we have discussed today. I am still cautious when I see that the sermon will be on Ephesians 5. Some of you are struggling, right now as well. It’s ok. You are no less of a Christian wife or biblical woman because you struggle with this topic.

I hope that today’s talk and this chapter will encourage both men and women to explore what the Bible has to say about gender roles. Look at differing interpretations of words such as kephale (kefä-lā) or the true meaning of words like ezer. But most of all, follow the example of Jesus. Endeavor to be Christlike in all of your relationships, especially your marriage. Jesus is the pattern and he gives the power to embrace the Other. Let’s pray.