Compelling Belief

“ For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:”  2 Corinthians 5:14-18.

We live with a real family that has real problems and real conflict. But why should we care if they are not our problems? Why should we put our own self-interests aside and forgive the other person? Why should I reconcile with somebody who is to blame for the conflict? The answer is found in the passage above: “For Christ’s love compels us…”

What would be different if love compelled your life?  What would our life be like if Christ’s love compelled us? What if the love of Christ requires, drives, obliges, urges, surrounds, and resides in us. It would be like we didn’t have a choice. “I love you so I have to forgive and reconcile with you. I had to speak to you. I had to find a way to share your burden. I had to put the past in the past.” It’s not just any love in us. It’s Christ’s love.

It was love that made Jesus perfectly obedient to the Father. Love was how Jesus summed up all of the law of the Old Testament. Matthew 22:37-40 says, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love caused Jesus to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free. (Luke 4:18)  Love caused Jesus to heal many who had various diseases. (Mark 1:34)  Love caused Jesus to give sight to the blind. (Matthew 9:27-31)  Love caused Jesus to weep for Lazarus. (John 11:35)  Love caused Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-17)  And love caused Jesus to humble himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

What would my life look like if love had the first and last word in everything I did? What if every word, every thought, every act was compelled by the love of Christ? I find that my actions are compelled by a variety of motives: fear, duty, pride, ignorance, apathy…I could go on. But what if the love of Christ was my primary motivation? What would my life and my family life look like? Would there be any conflict in the family> 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much you love and obey God depends on how much you believe He loves you. Agree or disagree?
  2. How does Christ’s love compel you?
  3. Do you think that the phrase “Christ’s love compels us” is for all followers of Jesus, or just some?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you grow in love. 

Who Really Cares

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4

To say family relationships are enigmatic is to say that seven is a prime number or that the earth orbits the sun. When someone asks you about your family relationships, answering that question is like one of the relationship status options on Facebook: It’s complicated. In those complicated moments, anger, stress, or a simple “I don’t care” attitude can be the end byproduct.

Our lives are inundated with being both practical and productive. We come to believe early on that if there’s no purpose to something, there’s no point in doing it. So if you are working your way through complicated family relationships that seem to serve no purpose, why keep banging your head against the wall. Why not invest your time, energy and sanity in more constructive purposes. That seems logical, doesn’t it? But God has different standards.

Throughout life numerous relationships are broken or breached. Trust is hurt, sometimes because of a perceived wrong, other times because of a real offense. No matter the reason, or who was wrong, or we experience breaks with friends or family, the love of Christ compels us.

There are many stories of family difficulties in the Bible. One is Jacob and Esau who were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah and the first twins mentioned in the Bible. The twins grew up very different. One day, Esau returned from hunting and desired some of the stew that Jacob was cooking. Jacob offered to give his brother some stew in exchange for his birthright. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:27-34).

When the time came for Isaac to bestow his blessing on his sons, Jacob and his mother contrived to deceive Isaac into blessing Jacob in Esau’s place. When Esau found that his blessing had been given to Jacob, he threatened to kill his brother, and Jacob fled (Genesis 27:1 – 28:7). The brothers did not care much for each other, but then we read this in Genesis 33:4: “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”   

We see brothers reconciling, removing every barrier and running to embrace and weep. Not an alliance. Not a negotiated settlement. No face-saving theater. The real thing. Honest and deeply felt. That is how real reconciliation works. 

The apostle Paul said, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  He didn’t say he had “moments of reconciliation now and then.” He said God gave him “the ministry of reconciliation.” In other words, “reconciliation is what we do. It is standard operating procedure for followers of Jesus. There is no room for “I just don’t care” or “why not just move on.” 

Sometimes it seems that giving up or not caring is the way to go. We shut down and hope God fixes what needs fixing. Remember what Jesus did for you through his life, death, and resurrection. God has poured an unlimited amount of grace, forgiveness, love, commitment, security, and commitment into your life. The love of Christ puts all of the slights, unmet expectations, and hurts of family in a totally different perspective. It doesn’t mean you ignore or don’t feel the hurts, but they pale in comparison to what you have been given in Christ. Because of who you are in Christ, you don’t have to be overwhelmed and dominated by the sins and failures of your family. Instead you should care about them as God cares about you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it easy to just not care anymore?
  2. The key to reconciliation is your attitude. Agree or disagree?
  3. How can we forgive when we don’t feel like forgiving? 
  4. Are there any relationships that you need to reconcile this week?

Submission Does Not Mean…

“ Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. …For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” – 1 Peter 3:1-7.   

We have been discussing the subject of submission this week in the daily devotional. But since we spent time on what submission means, I thought it wise to spend a few moments talking about what submission does not mean. 

Submission is not about forced control. When a man leads his wife, he is leading her to depend on Christ, not on himself. The kind of leadership a husband provides his wife is to encourage her growth in grace and prepare her to be an equal heir in the coming kingdom. Biblical submission does not mean that the wife is in any way inferior to, or less than her husband. Nor does it mean the wife should be a docile or passive participant in the marriage. Biblical submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says and giving up independent thought.

Biblical submission is not putting the husband in the place of Christ as if the husband is some sort of absolute authority. Biblical submission does not mean that a wife gets her personal and spiritual strength from her husband. She gets her strength from God. And it does not mean putting the will of the husband before the will of Christ. 

Submission is also not about belittlement, inferiority, or worthlessness. Scripture teaches that we are to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). It also says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29). And “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19).

A wife’s submission is also not blind and absolute. Ultimately, Christ is the wife’s final authority. As a wife follows her calling to submit in marriage, she is ultimately submitting to Christ. She also gets her spiritual identity and ultimate strength and meaning through Christ and not through her husband. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did this week change your view of submission? If so, how?
  2. We talked about the wife, but how do these principles apply to the husband and the children?
  3. Is there one area that you need to make changes in?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you make the changes needed to move closer to his standard for submission.

On The Leading Edge

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” – Ephesians 5:25-27.

When a potential husband applies for a marriage license, all that is required of him is that he pays a fee. There is no training, no video, and no job description. Most lack the fundamental skills, yet the license is granted. Many of those husbands are trying to learn as they go to figure out exactly what God expects of them as husbands and fathers. Some are insecure, others are confused. Some decided that the easiest thing to do is nothing. The simplest thing—with the smallest risk—is to stay on the fence. Others boldly try to “wear the pants in the family.”

Fortunately, there is an answer. The Scriptures clearly give us the model for being a man, a husband and father. That role starts with leadership. Scripture makes it very clear that a husband must be a leader of his home. Furthering this understanding, Ephesians 5:21-24 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Again, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Scripture says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

One of the primary roles of a husband in the Bible, then, is to lead. Leadership simply means influence. Therefore, a husband should influence his family. Husbands are not dictators, they should not demand, they should not rule over their wives. In no place does Scripture teach or endorse that women and children be considered second rate or inferior to men. Instead, husbands should influence their wives and families with their voice and their actions, attributes that bring glory to God and value to their spouse and family. The product of a good husband is a strong, confident, spiritually mature wife and family.

Men often joke that they just can’t figure women out. Physics genius Stephen Hawking has pondered the secrets of the universe, but says that women “are a complete mystery.” But not to God. But the apostle Peter instructs husbands to “…live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7).

The NKJV Study Bible explains it this way: “A Christian husband should be intimately aware of his wife’s needs, her strengths and weaknesses, and her goals and desires. He should know as much about her as possible in order to respond in the best way to her.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of leadership? Influence?
  2. Husbands are told to love and respect their wives. Does this mean to meet their needs? If not, what does it mean on a daily level?
  3. Would your marriage look different if you really tried to put your spouse’s needs before your own?
  4. In Philippians 2:1-7,  Paul writes about how Christians should treat each other. How does this passage apply to husbands and wives, though not written specifically for that context?

A Marriage Made In Heaven

“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” – 1 Corinthians 11:3.

I’m sure that most, if not all new Christians, especially married ones, do a double take when they come across Paul’s words in Ephesians 5. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” I’m also sure that the new Christian husband had to have some real misgivings about trying to sell his wife on that idea. Most people immediately default to some type of bizarre patriarchal suppression of the wife by the husband. I can understand that, because it can seem to demean her rather than helping her to thrive.

All this week in the devotionals we have tried to shed some additional light on the subject of mutual submission. Let’s look at husbands for a second. Husbands are to lead like Jesus.

The Bible does call husbands to lead with humility, not from some sort of perceived superiority. Instead of bullying or lording over our wives, we are to lovingly lead them. An ideal marriage should look less like a conquered people and more like a Christlike sacrifice. That means the husband should love and lead his wife in sacrificial service that reflects the humility of Jesus. Wives are to submit like Jesus. 

In 1 Corinthians 11:3 we read: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”  Biblical submission is anchored in the submission between Christ and the Father. The Christian wife should consider her Savior when she considers her calling to submit to her husband in the Lord. She is to think much upon the submission of the Lord Jesus himself as He left Heaven’s throne in service and submission to His Father’s will.

As I said on Sunday, this submission was not for Him, but for sinners like us. In order for Jesus to save a sinner, even one, He needed to submit, which He did completely. Jesus willingly takes the role of submissive son for the purpose of redemption. Every moment of every day, Jesus submitted to His Father. What did this look like? Jesus submitted to an earthly father who was imperfect, an earthly mother who was a sinner, to earthly governments and authorities who were flawed. The perfect one, Jesus, embraced this calling of submission to imperfect people so He could save imperfect people. Wives should let this walking, talking gospel instruct and motivate them to submit to their (imperfect) husband out of reverence for Christ.

In essence, Jesus is not telling husbands and wives to do anything He hasn’t already done. Further, He is not telling you to do anything that He hasn’t empowered you to do through the Holy Spirit. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does submission seem difficult? Or out of step with modern society?
  2. Why do you think wives need love and husbands need respect (Ephesians 5:33)?
  3. Where does the power come from to implement the Bible’s teaching on mutual submission?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you with biblical submission this week.

A Loaded Question

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.’ – 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Mutual submission – what does it mean and better yet, how can I apply it in my life? In simple terms, mutual submission means “I’m going to leverage my resources, my time, my talent, etc. for your benefit.” Regardless of who we are or what role we have, this is God’s standard for relationships. So what is it all about and how do I go about doing that?

This question will help: ”What can I do to help?” This is a game changer, especially if everyone in the family adopts this mindset. Stop for moment for this mental picture: one of your kids comes up to you and says, “Hey Mom, hey Dad, what can I do to help?” Your immediate thought is, “who is this kid, and what have you done with my son?” After the initial shock, you smile. You look at your wife who has accidentally swallowed her gum. You decide there is hope for the world after your generation is gone after all. You decide to try it and ask your son or daughter, “What can I do to help?” For the first time in years, they turn off their electronic devices and you have their rapt attention. For the first time in a long time you are communicating. Wow.

Then conjure up a mental picture of wives, rather than being unintentionally critical, ask, “what can I do to help?” Suddenly, the husband drops his remote control and by doing so turns off the football game in the middle of the biggest comeback in collegiate history. By asking that question, you are telling your husband that “I am aware of your responsibility, the burden you carry.” It tells him that you value, affirm, and respect him. If the husband asked the wife the same question, she would be no less surprised. She may look a little closer and then ask quietly, “we have been married for 17 years and I don’t know you.” But when you ask that question, you are telling her that you are here for her, that you love and appreciate her. If you make a habit of asking the question, she will feel secure, cared for and cherished.

The reason we don’t submit and our relationships are not as healthy as they could be is because of fear. We are afraid of the answer. Or we are afraid someone is going to take advantage of us or we won’t be king of the castle anymore. We are afraid it will cost us time, resources, prestige and maybe even jeopardize the good thing we have going on. We are afraid it will cost us something, so why risk it if the status quo is fine already.

Ephesians 5:21 gives us the answer: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul, in that context, is telling us, “out of reverence for Christ, open yourself up to help others, and yes they may take advantage of you, and yes you’ll have to put someone else first, and yes it will cost you.”  But it will not cost you your life as it did Jesus.  And Jesus is the model of mutual submission.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In marriage, what does mutual submission look like? What part do you play in that?
  2. What is the difference between obedience and submission?
  3. What moments in Jesus’ life can you recall that demonstrate a choice of submission to another? How does knowing this make you more willing to practice submission?
  4. What are some practical ways that husbands can love their wives as themselves?

A Word To The Wise Is Enough

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, .” – Ephesians 5:22-25.   

Has there ever been a more misunderstood, more disliked or more divisive word than submission? Yet Paul says, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Whatever the word submit means, it’s something Paul thinks every Christian can and should do. 

In Paul’s day, a wife had no legal rights. Husbands also had the financial advantages and virtually all the education.  It is easy to guess what happened in this environment. The man lorded over the woman, controlled her and used her to make his life easier. It is also easy to see the woman bristling in that type of environment and resisting and rebelling as best she could.

But Paul offers a solution to the power struggles that result in so many relationships. It’s called submission. He says, in effect, in life, when you’re in a place of less authority and power, don’t resist and resent and rebel. Out of reverence for Christ, respect and honor and work hard at pleasing the other person. And when you’re in a place of more power, don’t lord it over the other person. Don’t use them to make your life easier. Instead, use your power and influence to benefit them.

Submission means I voluntarily limit what I might do naturally in this relationship in order to benefit you. If I have more power, instead of doing what I might do naturally and use that power to make my life easier, out of reverence for Christ, I’ll use my power instead to serve you. I’ll give up even my life in order to benefit you. Submission also means that if I have less power, instead of doing what I might do naturally and fight you every step of the way, I’m going to show you respect and honor.

We need to remember that submission is personal. Submission is a doctrine you apply to yourself. Notice Paul doesn’t say, “husbands, tell your wife to submit”—or, “wives, tell your husband to step up and be the spiritual head of the home.” Instead, he speaks to each person and asks each to work on his or her own attitude. We also need to remember that submission is mutual. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does submission imply inferiority? Why/why not?
  2. What is one thing you can do to improve the way you use your power, influence, and resources on behalf of your spouse, your children, your parents or your friends?
  3. Read John 13:1-5. How is Jesus demonstrating the principle of mutual submission in these verses? And how can you apply it in your life?
  4. What is one obstacle to practicing mutual submission? How can you overcome that obstacle?

Jesus And Conflict Management

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

Conflict is a part of life. There is simply no getting away from this fact. As a human being and as a member of a family, you can be sure that you’ll face relational conflicts. There is no practical way to totally eliminate disagreements or clashes of personality. So, the question becomes “how can I best manage conflicts when they arise?”

The tension that comes from conflict can be healthy and beneficial to growth if dealt with correctly. Look at Jesus. When Jesus addressed problems, he tackled them head-on. While delivering the Sermon on the Mount (and later in Matthew 18) he dealt with the issue of conflicts brought about either by others offending us or by our offending them:

In Matthew 5:23-24: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

While Jesus was addressing the problem of sin, there were broader principles at work in His teaching. No matter who caused the problem, the solution is the same: First, go to the person with whom you are experiencing a conflict and address the issues face-to-face. I’m not suggesting this is easy. In fact, often the last person we want to talk to is the one we are in conflict with. 

But that is what the Lord expects us to do, and to do so quickly. Jesus counseled that, if someone is worshiping God and remembers that he or she has offended someone, the appropriate response is to stop right there and go immediately to the offended individual. With those words, Jesus made it clear that correct interpersonal relationships are more important than correct ritual. That is because our relationship with God is better gauged by our human relationships than by religious ritual. 

Jesus’ advice is to take the initiative. When you have done something wrong, you go and make it right. When someone else has wronged you, you still take the first step. Jesus is not asking us to do anything he hasn’t modeled for us. He gave up heaven to come down to earth, become a servant and died to repair our broken relationship with the Father. In Jesus Christ, God takes the initiative. When we come to see how important people are to God, we will value the community Christ’s death makes possible. We will value it enough to take the initiative in resolving relational breakdowns.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think Jesus said to be reconciled before worshipping?
  2. Conflict between people is natural. How can we glorify God in conflict?  How does unresolved conflict affect your relationship with God?
  3. How can I show Jesus at work in me by taking responsibility for my part in the conflict?
  4. How can I help others experience God’s grace by owning their part?
  5. How can I demonstrate the forgiveness of God and encourage restoration?

The Conflict Blues

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” – Galatians 5:22.

Music often reflects culture, which explains why there are so many songs about getting what we want. Take the Rolling Stones song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Then there is the song “Never Gonna Stop” from the movie soundtrack Generation of Iron which include the lyrics: “Never gonna stop, till I get what I want. Never gonna stop, till I get what I need.” And there is a song recorded by any a variety of people titled “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.” There are many more because we as a society want stuff and much of the conflict in families is predicated on someone not giving us what we want.   

Since every family band hits some sour notes, what can we do to eliminate or at least reduce the conflict? One simple way is to put others before yourself. Start with your level of compassion. We can ask the Lord to develop compassion in our lives. He said to His followers that those who are truly His disciples will show love to one another. It may seem easier to love others than some people in your family, but Christ loves people regardless of who they are. Then try to be empathetic. Consider the needs of those around you. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to put yourself in their situation and treat them as you would like to be treated. This is the golden rule. Matthew 7:12 says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Try to develop a servant’s heart. Find ways to serve others rather than expecting to be served. This is the best way to develop a servant’s heart. Putting others before yourself is easier when you are serving them. One of the reasons we find it hard to put others before ourselves is that different people think differently than we do. If my family thought exactly the same way I did then we might have fewer problems, but that is rarely the case. Most families have diverse ideas, and that can be a good thing. Don’t try to force your family into your way of thinking. 

And finally, consider their welfare more important than you getting what you want. You see the effect you have on people’s lives when you put others before yourself. Try it this week and you will see a marked decline in conflicts.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was the last time you were in a serious fight or quarrel with another person? What caused the conflict? Was there anything you could have done to prevent it?
  2. Why do you think it is so hard to put others first?
  3. Read James 4:1-3. What are the selfish desires that capture your attention? When you allow yourself to chase after these, how does it affect your relationships?
  4. How do we reconcile conflicting advice such as:  “Show some pride!” “Stand Up for yourself!” “Walk tall!” “Don’t be a doormat?”

Playing God

“ I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:1-6. 

We have had some fun with the perception verses the reality of the ideal family. Without knowing each family in the church, I would feel comfortable saying that each family has a whole lot of strengths. Some family members are strategic thinkers, some are good at managing money, others are charismatic, still others are funny. But there is one thing that no member in any family is good at: being God.

We are awful at it. We make pathetic gods whether we are husband or wife, kids or any other relative. The kids may be adorable, or straight A students. The wife may be a great cook, and the husband may be poet and a scholar. Doesn’t matter. They all make terrible gods. 

You are probably wondering where we are going with this. I do have a point and it is this: If you’re in the habit or mindset that other people need to give you what you want, when you want it, then we are asking them to play God. Think about the pressure and weight we put on family members when we expect them to give us what we want. Because at the end of the day, what I want from them is to be what only God can be for me. That creates collateral damage. If there is an unrealistic expectation put on the shoulders of my wife, my children, my friends, they will not be able to do what only God can do for me. The result is stress, fallout, brokenness, anger, betrayal, bitterness, resentment, frustration, and anger.

God has not wired us to want what we want and expect others to give it to us. Nor has He wired us to find happiness in others. When we seek happiness from others and it results in conflict, we need to pause a few moments in introspective thought. Ask a few questions such as: “What do I need to own here? What have I done? Where have I added fuel to this fire?

When we do this, we will find that we have contributed to the conflict and God is the best source for resolution. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do we expect our family to play God? If so, how?
  2. What is the best way to resolve conflict?
  3. Is there an area where you are not getting what you want and it results in conflict?
  4. What can you do this week to better depend on God in the area of conflict?