Does the Church Have a Mission?

Our pastors have begun working through some strategic planning for the church. To this point our work has been preparatory, but we are nearing the stage where we hand the football off to the members. Preparation can be tedious, and some of the questions we had to wrestle with may be a little surprising to some. For example, strategic planning is basically the development of strategies to accomplish a mission, but one of our tasks was to go way back to the beginning and ask a foundational question, “does the church even have a mission?”

This may seem like a no-brainer, especially in the today’s church culture where words like “missional” and “on mission” are the linga franca. But after doing a little more digging we found that there are some fairly significant objections to the concept of a mission for the church.

One significant concern is that the modern language of church mission is just that: modern. According to David Bosch’s seminal work, Transforming Mission, the term “mission” was never used to describe the church until the Jesuits in the 16th century. Even then, the fascination with mission did not become a staple of Christian thought until the 1950’s. One may ask, is all this talk of the mission of the church just an unnatural importation of corporate or business lingo into God’s holy church?

The problem seems compounded when we search for the word mission in the Bible. The word mission is not used a single time in the KJV Bible. The term is used on occasion in most modern translations, but not in a technical sense that describes the mission of the church. So again we must honestly ask ourselves, does the church actually have a mission or are we artificially imposing the world’s strategies on God’s institution.

To answer this question we had to do a word study in hopes of defining the concept of mission more precisely. Our English word mission comes from the Latin word mitto, which means “I send.” That Latin word is closely associated with two Greek terms which appear frequently in the New Testament: πέμπω (I send) and ἁποστέλλω (I send out).  ἁποστέλλω is the verb form of a noun most Christians immediately recognize: apostle. The title, “apostle,” literally means one who is sent out.

Though these words are generally translated simply as “to send” or “to send out,” there is an element of intentionality that is typically implied by the terms. BDAG, the gold standard in Biblical Greek Lexicons, actually defines ἁποστέλλω as “to send out to accomplish an objective.” In other words, when the disciples appropriated the title “apostle” they weren’t saying they had been dismissed, or sent out of the room, they were saying they had been commissioned or sent out to accomplish a specific objective. They were sent out with a job to do. They were “on mission.”

And this brings us to a working definition of mission. Mission must involve at least two parties. There must be a sender and there must be one who is sent. The other necessary element for a mission is an objective. If the church is on a mission, at least in this classical sense of the term, we have to be a people who are sent out by God to accomplish a specific objective.

Once we established the definition of mission, recognizing that the church had a mission became overwhelmingly apparent. The lack of the Bible’s use of the term mission did no more to undercut the doctrine of God sending His church into the world than the lack of the term Trinity undercuts the doctrine of the one Triune God.

There are many many passages that describe God’s intentional calling of the church. It is also clear that God has given the church objectives that we are expected to fulfill. One particular example of this intentional sending is Jesus’ commissioning of His followers in each of the four gospels.

John’s account of this commissioning is especially helpful. The commissioning actually begins in John 17 where Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of all those who follow Him. Then after praying on behalf of His disciples, he repeats a portion of this prayer to the disciples in John 20. And in both of these passages, John 17:18 and John 20:21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”

Jesus is practically recounting our definition of mission. Jesus was actually the first one sent to accomplish a mission. It is instructive to recognize that Jesus knew His mission and claimed to have faithfully fulfilled it. We see this in His prayer to His Father, Jesus said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” And now, following His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus becomes the sender. He sends the church and gives the church her objectives.

So does the church have a mission? The answer is a resounding yes! In fact, it is fair to say that we cannot understand the church rightly outside of understanding her mission. The church is the people of God, called out of the world, and sent back into the world to accomplish the objectives given to them by Christ Jesus. To reject the concept of a church on mission it to reject the possibility of faithfulness to the one who has sent us to accomplish His purposes.

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We Can’t Farm Out Guarding the Flock

My friend, Jonathan Micke, wrapped up a series on false teachers tonight. The whole series was great and I commend it to you. You should be able to access each message from the series through the link at bottom of this post.

Tonight, again, Jonathan spent some time talking about the need to address false teachers by name. As is often the case, I felt some degree of discomfort because of the seriousness of Jonathan’s tone and the possibility of offense that his message might evoke. But the more I wrestle with Jonathan’s message the more convinced I am that my discomfort is born more out of fear than love. The truth is, Jonathan’s charge isn’t really even Jonathan’s charge, he is just copying Paul’s message to the pastors in Ephesus.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock  that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers,  to shepherd the church of God,  which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert.

Acts:20:28–31

Here is my concern. I am afraid that the task of guarding the sheep from false teachers is one that many pastors have decided to “farm out.” Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that no pastor/teacher takes this responsibility seriously. Many pastors and teachers are doing important work in this area. Still, it seems like this has become one of the most underemphasized aspects of pastoral ministry. Protecting the flock is not typically considered central to the pastoral calling. It is something we do on rare occasions, and even then with extreme caution. We can safely protest attacks from the outside. Few will complain if we call out Dan Brown’s Davinci Code or some documentary on the History Channel. But when it comes to the predators who rise up from within us, outspoken critique is exceedingly rare often comes at a price.

However, when we don’t do our job, someone else will volunteer to do it for us. Take, for instance, the HBO’s late-night comedian John Oliver. Oliver spends roughly 20 minutes in one episode of his show to lambast false teachers associated with the prosperity gospel. Oliver’s segment is crass and filled with foul language, so foul in fact that I don’t feel comfortable linking to it from my blog. But at the same time it the most blunt and explicit rebuke on false teaching that I have seen. Far from a general and generic mention of potentially problematic ideas, Oliver gives a detailed critique of the heresy with names and clips from actual false teachers to illustrate the problem.

However, Oliver is an outsider. He’s not pastor. He’s not even, to my knowledge, a Christian. To follow the biblical metaphor, he is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. So, while that may be better than a wolf in sheep’s clothing, he isn’t exactly qualified for the task of guarding the flock. Watching even a brief portion of the video will demonstrate Oliver’s distance from the Christian faith (in other words, be warned that the video is offensive).

Oliver’s speech, in my opinion, isn’t particularly brave. He is a scoffer mocking false teachers to an audience of scoffers. His speech is littered with foul language and dripping with disdain. This is a segment meant for an audience that opposes Christ and His church. He won’t get boos. He won’t get concerned warnings to “touch not the Lord’s anointed.” He is the anti-preacher preaching to the anti-choir. Yet sadly, the church has, to some extent, farmed out our shepherding role to people like him.

One consequence of farming out the shepherd’s role to the wolves, is that the wolves are unable to discern between true and false faith. The wolves attack false teaching in a way that likely causes their audience to doubt all teaching. Rather than seeing counterfeit religion as evidence that there is something real and valuable to counterfeit, wolves attack real teachers and false teachers as if the whole enterprise is counterfeit. When we leave the wolves in sheep’s clothing to bigger and badder wolves, I fear we are simply offering these wolves a two-course meal.

Another consequence of farming out the shepherd’s role is that we don’t actually protect the sheep. One of the most obvious things about Oliver’s segment is that he won’t actually protect the sheep. His profanity laced rant is a medium that obscures, if not destroys, the message. The people who are most vulnerable to these false teachers are the same people who are most likely to plug their ears from foul language. My point is that shepherds cannot farm out their job because they are uniquely qualified to know how to care for the sheep. God equips those he calls, and He has called Christians, not the world, to guard the flock.

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The video below is the last message in Jonathan Micke’s series on false teachers. Click here for the entire series.
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https://embed.sermonaudio.com/player/v/78181913107/
 

Is “Twitter Wins” Really A Good Thing?

I just saw an interesting development on Twitter and thought I would jot down a few thoughts. I get that this is a extremely sensitive topic for some people and I mean no offense by exploring it in what I think will be a somewhat detached manner. But I am worried that there is a trend that may not be good for our country.

The Back Story
On July 4th, a man named Adam Bloom called the police on a black lady at his neighborhood pool. From the video, it appears that he didn’t think she had the right to be at the pool so he called the police to get her to leave. A part of the discussion was caught on tape and has made its rounds on social media.

Was This A Racist Act?

Social media, particularly the Twitter community, have mobilized to condemn Bloom for calling the police. The assertion is that this call to the police was motivated by racism. In the video, Bloom denies this charge. He mentions that he doesn’t call the police on other black people, just her. Bloom’s concern, at least in his own mind, seems to be that she doesn’t have the right to be at the pool because she isn’t a resident of the community.

I don’t know Bloom’s true motivation. The Bible says that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). I have some doubts about whether Bloom would really understand what is going on in his own heart. As hard as it is for Bloom to judge his heart, it is even harder for me to judge it through a computer screen 300 miles away. That said, I have to confess that I find the evidence for racist motivation less convincing than many others seem to. I am not saying that Bloom isn’t racist, just that I am not convinced that the video gave enough information to prove that charge.

The Good News: Racism is Down

Assume for a minute that Bloom was indeed motivated by racism. It seems to me that we should still be excited about the great ground we have gained over the last 50 to 60 years. I have seen several people describe this as a “hideous display of racism.” Of course, all racism is hideous, and it is especially hideous for Christians (I don’t have any reason to believe that Bloom is a Christian).

At the same time, if this is the type of thing our culture holds up as a hideous display of racism, we should be thankful of the great gains we have made in this battle. The oppression that this lady had to endure was essentially a few minutes of delay in her swimming schedule. Bloom’s assault on her wasn’t physical, he simply called the police. And the police didn’t even side with Bloom, they sided with her. They considered the evidence and decided Bloom was wrong. She was vindicated in what seems to be the span of about 15 minutes. I don’t deny that if I were in her shoes I would have been frustrated. Still, when we call this a “hideous display of racism” we have to admit that we have come a long way since the days of Emmitt Till.

We should never stop the battle against racism in our hearts and our society. In the words of John Owen, “If we aren’t killing sin, it will be killing us.” That said, the outrage over this event suggests to me that while racism hasn’t been killed, it is by comparison gasping for air and limping about. We should be be thankful for the incredible progress we have seen in this battle.

What About Twitter?

My real concern here is the role Twitter played in this whole interchange. Soon after the video went viral people found out where Bloom worked and began contacting his employer, Sonoco, calling for him to be fired. Within 48 hours the packaging company complied and Bloom was unemployed.

The Twitter mob is ecstatic. One person said, “Twitter remains undefeated!” Many more echoed the sentiment, congratulating themselves for using the social media platform to identify racial offenders and exact punishment for their crimes against society.

I, however, am growing increasingly scared of the power that this faceless mob is amassing. It’s true, “Twitter remains undefeated,” but is that really a good thing? Let’s be honest, very few people on Twitter had anything more than a sliver of information related to this case. Very few people know Bloom or this lady or any of the context that might surround this situation. What possibly could qualify the Twitter mob to adjudicate whether Bloom has disqualified himself from packing boxes or making signs?

Of course, Sonoco is stuck between a rock and a hard place. In ages past, a company didn’t have to regulate the private lives of their employees. They didn’t have to screen everyone for their social or political views before hiring them. But now, if anyone in the company steps out of line, be it a CEO or a janitor, the company has to worry about optics. Companies feel pressure to take swift action to quell the wrath of the Twitter mob lest they become the new target. Our employers have little choice but to acquiesce to Twitter’s moral police and start regulating every aspect of our lives, not only when we are on the job, but even when we are at the pool on holiday.

I get it, actions have consequences. But it used to be that those consequences were doled out primarily by a smaller group of people who were closely connected to the offense. Our families, employers, and local communities had a responsibility to hold us accountable. But their proximity to our lives and problems gave them at least a measure of qualification for the job. Should we really be happy that the role of judge and executioner has been passed to people like me, sitting on their couch and scrolling through their Twitter feed?

Ephesians 5:21—A History of Interpretation

I’m still puzzling through the function of Ephesians 5:21 in its context. My argument was that Ephesians 5:21 was one of several ways that Paul tells us to sow to Spirit, or to be filled by the Spirit. Ephesians 5:22ff., in my view, then work out what it looks like to submit ourselves to other Christians without obliterating any concept of authority structures in our society.

One really fun and helpful resource for Bible study is called the “Exegetical Summaries of the New Testament.” There is one for each book of the NT and they walk you through the different debates and positions regarding the interpretation of almost every clause in the New Testament. For this particular clause, the summary gives us three options.Exegetical Summary of Ephesians

QUESTION—What is meant by ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ‘being subject to one another’?

1. This clause focuses on an attitude of reciprocal or mutual subjection to one another [AB, Can, CBC, DNTT, Ho, IB, ISBE2, LJ, Lns, MNTC, NCBC, NIC, NTC, Si, St, TD, TH, TNTC, WBC, WeBC (probably)]. This is an attitude of meekness, gentleness, and humility toward one another [St]. There must be within the Christian community a willingness to serve, learn from, and be corrected by any other believer, regardless of age, sex, class, or any other division [TNTC]. Paul is talking about reciprocal subjection within the fellowship of the church [AB, Ho, Lns, NCBC, NIC, NTC], even though, in the following verses, submission is only applied to three of the six groups mentioned, namely wives, children, and slaves [AB, Lns, NCBC, NTC]. This subordination consists of a willingness to respect and honor the needs of others [CBC, ISBE2, NCBC, NIC, TD], even taking precedence over one’s own needs [ISBE2, NCBC, TD].

2. This clause focuses not so much on a reciprocal subjection of Christian to Christian, but on voluntary subjection to the various areas of constituted authority in life [Alf (probably), Ba, EBC, ECWB, EGT, El, Rob]. In the Divine ordering of human life one person is to be subject to another, but this must not be pressed into meaning that even the highest is, in some sense, subject to those beneath him. The husband, in the following verses, is not told to be subject to his wife, nor parents to their children [Rob]. Rather husbands, parents, and masters are told to use their authority in a proper manner, with no abuse of their power [Ba].

3. This clause covers both reciprocal subjection of Christian to Christian as well as to all constituted authority [Cal, Ea]. Where love reigns, believers will mutually minister to each other. Even the authority of kings and governors is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn [Cal].

So, a quick look at the exegetical summary suggests that my position is the most common (the abbreviations in brackets represent different people who hold the positions). However, there is one big problem. The exegetical summary series is pretty dated. most of the commentaries they survey were written before the 1950’s. In other words, just because my view used to be popular, doesn’t mean it still is.

In fact, my view has taken a serious hit in popularity. Today, many of my favorite commentators are tending toward the second option. In other words, more and more people are suggesting that “submit to one another” doesn’t address how every believer is to relate to every other believer, but only how we are to relate to the people who are in positions of authority over us.

My question is, “why the change?” Of course, any answer to this question is only speculative, but I have been speculating. Wayne Grudem, I think, provides a helpful case study. Grudem has written an article titled, “The myth of mutual submission as an interpretation of Ephesians 5:21 (chapter 7 of BFMW).” In that essay he discusses the rise of feminism, and particularly a part of feminism called egalitarianism. Grudem argues that egalitarians have interpreted Ephesians 5:21 to rule out any possibility of male authority in the home or society. Grudem explains,

And so egalitarians began to claim that Ephesians 5:22 did not really teach any unique authority for the husband in a marriage, because Ephesians 5:21 nullified that idea. Any submission in marriage has to be mutual, and thus male headship in marriage evaporates.

Thus, Grudem recognizes that the previously common interpretation has been used, or rather misused, by egalitarians to explain away what follows in Ephesians 5:22ff.

It is my suspicion that the rising popularity of this second interpretive option of 5:21 is due in large part to an effort to disarm the egalitarian position. Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming that people are intentionally misrepresenting their views to win a debate, only that our involvement in contemporary debates can sometimes shape the way we read historic texts. As much as possible, we should try to avoid this temptation.

One way to help us avoid interpreting texts solely through our contemporary lens is to read older works. It is a good thing for Christians to dust off their commentaries written by the old dead guys. Reading John Calvin, Martin Luther, Matthew Henry, Charles Hodge, and the like not only give us a glimpse of how this text was applied in other eras, but helps rise the text out of any given cultural milieu and thus reveal a less historically biased approach to the text.

To wrap this up,  I admit my position on this verse has lost some popularity, but for what its worth I still think it is the most common even if the margin has narrowed. At least that is what Clinton Arnold claims in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament. And I bring him up so I can close this post with his take on Eph. 5:21

Thus, Paul can say, “be filled with the Spirit … by submitting to one another.” Mutual submission is not just the result of Spirit-filling; it is prerequisite to the reception of grace from the Spirit-endowed members of the body. Thus, it is easy to see from Paul’s perspective that attitudes and behavior reflecting arrogance, harshness, impatience, and intolerance will not only adversely impact the unity of the community, but will also keep believers from effectively ministering to one another. The work of the Spirit is thus effectively hindered.

Although the English term “submit” is viewed in a pejorative way today and is often seen as a sign of weakness or as something one should resist at all costs, it should not be seen in such negative terms here. In general, the verb (ὑποτάσσω) is widely used for the proper social ordering of people, as, for example, warriors giving their allegiance to their commander (e.g., 1 Chr 29:24). Similarly, people living in a certain political jurisdiction are obliged to respect the authority of (ὑποτάσσεσθαι) their local governor. This carries with it the responsibility to live in an orderly manner and not to be seditious or rebellious (Josephus, Ant. 17.314).

As within the social, political, and military spheres that have a leadership structure, Paul will elaborate on his expectation that “submission” should characterize the response of the wife to the husband in the divinely ordered marriage roles (Eph 5:22–33). His appeal here, however, takes an unexpected twist. He calls for all believers to submit “to one another” (ἀλλήλοις), not just to those in leadership roles. By expressing himself this way, Paul subverts the normal usage of the term to convey the idea that all believers should defer to one another in the life of the Christian community.

This is the same countercultural attitude that Jesus commended to his disciples when they sought positions of preeminence in the coming kingdom. Jesus condemned the mind-set of the Gentile leaders who sought to “lord it over” (κατακυριεύω) people and taught that members of his new community need to become servants of one another, following his own example (Mark 10:42–45). Paul’s desire for these believers is similar to what he longs for in the Philippian community, that they “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” that they humbly consider one another in the community as more important than themselves, and that they look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3–4; see also Rom 12:10).

Submit… A debate over Eph. 5:21 and following.

I am in the middle of a bit of a friendly debate with a good friend of mine. To the best of my understanding, there is no significant theological difference, but there is a bit of a difference concerning the best way to interpret the command to submit in Eph. 5:21ff (ff is shorthand for “and following”). I’ll try to briefly give the two positions, and explain why I think I’m right.

The Context

Let me start with where the passage starts, and where we both agree. Paul is arguing, as he does in many of his letters, that the gospel has implications in our lives. In the first three chapters he explains the gospel with considerable clarity. Starting in chapter 4 Paul begins to urge us to live in a manner consistent with that gospel.

Part of living in a manner consistent with the gospel is being filled with the Spirit. This, I believe, is another way to talk about the same principle he discussed in Gal. 5 where he used the language “sew to the Spirit.” The basic premise is this, God saves us so that we are free from the penalty of our sin, but that we progressively experience this freedom as we cultivate our awareness and responsiveness to Him.

This is exactly what Paul commands in Ephesians 5:18. Stop getting drunk with wine, this only leads to debauchery. Getting drunk is the kind of behavior that sows to the flesh and prevents you from experiencing the full freedom of your salvation. Instead of getting drunk, you should be getting full of the Spirit. In other words, don’t do the things that prevent you from experiencing the joys and freedoms of knowing God, instead do things that help you experience those joys and freedoms.

So what can we do to sow to the Spirit? What kinds of behavior help us experience those joys and freedoms? Paul immediately gives us three things to do in order to be filled with the Spirit: (1) address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (2) give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (3) submitt to one another out of reverence for Christ. When we make these kind of practices and behaviors a habit in our life we sow to the Spirit and put ourselves in a position to more fully experience his joy and freedom in our life.

The Debate

So far, I think my friend and I agree. Where we differ is the relationship of what comes next to what we have just discussed. Paul follows this section with what is sometimes referred to as the household code. It discusses the relationship between a husband and wife, a child and parent, and finally a slave and a master. My friend argues that rightly participating in these relationships are the 4th, 5th, and 6th way we sow to the Spirit and enjoy freedoms of new life in Christ.

I don’t entirely disagree, but I think that misses, or at least greatly underemphasizes, an important connection between these household codes and the 3rd point. In fact, I believe that these household codes are given as practical examples of what it means to do what is commanded in verse 21. The relationships described in verses 22ff are examples of submitting to one another. So in this context, 5:22ff are not new or different ways to be filled with the Spirit, but specific examples of one particular way to be filled with the Spirit; namely submitting to one another.

So why would Paul need to give these codes in connection to verse 21? The reason is because the word submit, in its normal usage, evokes ideas of obedience. This is fine in certain relationships, but in other relationships the concept of submitting would seem out of place. It is easy for someone to understand how a child should submit to their parents, but is there any meaningful way that a parent can submit to their child?

If the answer is no, then we should interpret verse 21’s charge to submit to one another in a somewhat limited sense. We would assume Paul certainly doesn’t mean that I submit to everyone in the church, but only those in authority over me. However, I think Paul gives these household codes to show us that there is a meaningful way that every Christian is able to submit to every other Christian they are in relationship to. This isn’t merely a command for people under authority, it is a command for people in authority too.

So, if I am correct, what would submission look like when applied to both sides of an authority based relationship. For those under authority, it looks much like we expect: respect and obedience. The distinction between spirit filled submission and an every day garden variety of submission found in the world is the spirit in which one obeys. Wives submit, but not as if they are merely submitting to their husbands, but as if they are obeying the Lord. Children get a similar command with regard to obedience. Slaves, perhaps, get the most expansive explanation of the distinction between Christian submission and worldly submission to those in power. The Christian’s submission is different not primarily in form, but in spirit because it is characterized by joy and sincerity.

These examples of submission are certainly unique, but they don’t significantly stretch the way we typically understand the concept of submission. They they don’t help us think through how those who are in authority might submit. But, if I am understanding Eph. 4:21 correctly, submitting to one another is a two-way street. It is not simply that those under authority submit to those in authority, the command is that we submit to one another.

So how does one in authority submit to the person he leads? He submits in the same way Christ submitted himself to the church. He loves and sacrificially gives himself for the person he leads. Husbands are clearly the chief picture here as marriage is specially designed to display this relationship, but the general principle, it appears, applies more broadly. We submit to those whom we lead by denying ourselves for their good. I submit to those I lead by mimicking Christ and considering their needs to be more important than my own.

In this sense, submission obviously means something other than obedience. Christ doesn’t obey the church. Nevertheless, I think there is a meaningful way of talking about Jesus submitting himself to the church. We mean something along the lines of Philippians 2 where we are called to consider the interests and needs of others as more important than our own. We are called to a form of self denial where my needs and desires are submitted to those of the people I am called to lead.

To be clear, I think Eph. 5:21ff teaches that all of us should mutually submit to each other in the sense that we consider others as more important than ourselves. This does not obliterate the existence of authority structures. Eph. 5:22ff explicitly point out that authority structures such as husband/wife, parent/child, and slave/master can exist in a real and functional way without rendering mutual submission impossible. Mutual submission doesn’t mean that obliterate the concept of authority in our relationships (I understand that some people have argued this, but that is not what I mean by mutual submission).

What’s at Stake

So why does this debate even matter? I don’t want to overstate the importance of this debate. I don’t think the gospel or any serious point of theology is hanging in the balance. We are wrestling over each others souls here. Nevertheless, we both feel that the debate matters, though perhaps for different reasons.

My friend is concerned that, at worst, my interpretation functionally abolishes any form of authority. He argues that if, for instance, parents are told to submit to their children then they are left without the right or responsibility to tell their children what to do. Or at least, if they do tell their children what to do, they need to allow their children to tell them what to do sometimes as well.

My response to this objection is that this is only possible if we ignore Paul’s whole point (to which he agrees, though as already covered he disagrees about what that point is). Paul’s point, as I understand it, is that there is a requirement to submit to each other in a way that takes serious and does not destroy authority relationships. I think Paul is using these relationships to teach husbands, parents, and bosses that we can exercise authority in a way that simultaneously submits ourselves to someone else.

My friend’s other concern is that my interpretation stretches word meaning beyond any reasonable bounds. He argues that submit means and can only mean to obey. Once we change the meaning of submit to something more like “sacrificially deny yourself for the benefit of another,” we so change the word so drastically that it looses any communicative power.

My response to that is that words almost never have a single meaning, instead they have what we call a semantic range. That is, a word’s meaning is best determined by how it functions in that particular context and not how it was used in a previous context. To demonstrate the concept of semantic range, I think we can actually use the word submit. When we talk about a wrestler who submits to his opponent, we don’t mean the same thing as when we say a child submits their parent. One refers to tapping out because of the pain. The other refers to our concept of obedience. Of course, there is a degree of semantic overlap there, but now we are back to the exact argument I am trying to make. Submission can have a broad sense that applies to every person in an authority relationship, and a more narrow sense that applies more narrowly to the one who is under authority. Words actually are pliable tools and they always have been.

But what if I am right and my friend is wrong? What is lost by him if he doesn’t come on board? Again, nothing quite as major a one’s salvation. This isn’t a heresy issue. Nevertheless, I think my friend’s interpretation of this passage runs the risk of missing two significant implications of the text.

First, by describing Christ’s love as a submissive love, I think we actually get a more full understanding of what Biblical love is. Biblical love is sacrificial love. It is love that submits myself for the good of another. We live in a culture that defines love primarily in terms of feelings. Christ’s love however isn’t described primarily as enjoying His church, but by enduring suffering for the benefit of His church. Removing the concept of submission from the definition of love risks a shallow understanding of what true love is.

I would assume that my friend would respond that there are plenty of passages that teach that love sacrifices for its object. Romans 5:8, for instance, explains that God demonstrates His love in this, that while we were sinners Christ died for us. So, even if his interpretation minimized this component of love in this particular passage, it in no way denies it as a general principle.

The other thing that I think is at risk in my friends interpretation of this passage is that it misses what I believe is a fairly simple and universal argument. It is clear that the first to ways to be filled with the Spirit are applicable universally. All Christians of all times and in all places are able to sing to one another and to give thanks with each other. I think continuing the triad with another universal command to submit to one another both makes sense and provides a valuable consistency to the argument of the passage.

Concluding Thoughts

That is the debate in a nutshell. Granted, not much hangs on who wins this one. I’m not convinced either of us will convince the other, nor that it is of any great importance that we do so. So why bother? Let me list three reasons why I think this is worth our time.

  1. It’s the Bible. 2 Tim. 3:16 promises that this passage is profitable (or useful) for teaching rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness. Wrestling with God’s word brings a reward. Of course, this reward is available only if we wrestle with the text and submit to it. But those things come in that order. There is no meaningful way to submit to a text if I am unwilling to read it and wrestle with its meaning.
  2. Further, God’s word is only profitable to the degree that we rightly interpret it. Sloppy interpretation doesn’t produce profitable results, it produces cults and false doctrine. Granted, I don’t think either position is teetering on the edge of heresy, but passages like this are where we learn the skills to responsibly interpret the Bible. Michael Jordan didn’t wake up one morning dunking a basketball. He practiced. This is my practice. You may want to practice in a different way, but you ought to practice.
  3. This particular text is one that not many people in our culture like because not many people in our culture like authority. This compels me to interpret this passage all the more carefully. Knowing that this text will be difficult for many people makes me want to be all the more careful when I study it.

Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Having just read Proverbs 4:7, which said “the beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom!”, one may be tempted to stand up and say, “see, I’ve been telling you all along, the Bible is full of contradictions!” But the truth is that Solomon is a man who, though he can see quite well, has decided to describe the elephant by its parts.

Why is the quest to get wisdom the beginning of wisdom? Because it is the recognition that wisdom doesn’t come from us. Why is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom? Because it is the recognition that wisdom does come from God. Same coin, different sides..

If you want to be wise, then go get wisdom. But where do you go to get it? You go to God.

For the Lord gives wisdom.
From His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright…
Proverbs 2:6–7

 

There is much that could be said here. For now, let’s stick with the most obvious. If you want to be wise. get to know God. Learn about His nature, His attributes, and His character. Talk to Him in prayer and read His Word, where He talks to you. Spend time with the One who is wise and you will find, before long, you are starting to become like your friend.

 

Proverbs 4:7

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom!

This is a paradox. A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that, when investigated further, proves true. The more I think about this verse, the more I think we can’t understand it rightly until we catch the paradox.

Let’s put it another way. The first sign that you are wise is recognizing that you aren’t wise. If wisdom is something we need to get then, obviously, it is something we don’t have. And it is the moment that you realize that you don’t have it that you actually begin to have it.

To be a little more thorough, it isn’t the mere recognition that we are sans wisdom, it the the accompanying pursuit of it. It’s not simply that we recognize a lack of wisdom, we also recognize a need for it. Proverbs 4:7 is talking about the person who realizes he lacks wisdom, but is therefore setting out to get it.

Why is this the beginning of wisdom? It’s the beginning of wisdom because it is only when we realize our lack that we are motivated to look outside of ourselves to be filled. Jesus said, “the healthy have no need for a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” Wisdom and righteousness, apparently, have a lot in common.