We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.
Husbands and wives
I need to mention another example of the importance of this understanding of the nature of God. It’s has to do with marriage and the role of women.
(Eph 4:24 ESV) and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
(Eph 5:1 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
The theme of the concluding sections of Ephesians is that we’ve been created (re-created, really) so that we can be like God. Therefore, the following instructions must be understood as lessons on how to be like God. We could profitably work through each of the passages that follow and consider God’s character in their light, but for now, we skip to —
(Eph 5:18-21 ESV) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Here the instruction is to be “filled with the Spirit.” After all, what better way to be like God than to be filled with his indwelling presence? If we do this, what happens? Well, we sing to one another, give thanks to God, and submit to one another. And submission culminates this section of Ephesians because it most clearly shows what it’s like to be like God — because Jesus is like God.
The next chapter and a half is commentary on “be filled with the Spirit … submitting to one another” as applied to marriage, parenthood, and master/slave relationships.
(Eph 5:25-28 ESV) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
In marriage, Christ is the model of the perfect husband. But it’s not every aspect of the Christ. It’s his kenosis — his self-emptying — that Paul refers to, because this is the definitive characteristic of God as revealed in Jesus. Thus, Paul emphasizes how Jesus “gave himself up” for the church out of love. It’s impossible to exegete “gave himself up” other than in terms of the crucifixion. Paul used the same words earlier, saying —
(Eph 5:2) And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The husband’s role in marriage is to be like the crucified Christ, surrendering himself for his wife. And this is not an incidental comment. It’s the essential explanation of the essence of Jesus.
(To fully exegete the passage, we have to also sort through the meaning of “head,” of course.) Selfishness is not allowed to husbands. And we husbands no more get our way than Jesus got his way in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It’s often been argued that the husband’s role is to be the “spiritual leader” of the family. Jesus explains the meaning of spiritual leadership in kenotic (self-emptying) terms–
(Mat 20:25-28) Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Notice, that Jesus denies the power to “lord it over” or even to “exercise authority” over others. Rather, the essence of leadership is is to be like Jesus — that means being a servant or even a slave — even to the point of giving up your life. It’s much the same thought that Paul expresses regarding husbands.
Jesus later said,
(Mat 23:11-12) “The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
It all fits.
(John 13:34-35) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What makes the command new? The phrase “as I have loved you.” What does this mean?
(1 John 3:16-18) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
John sees the connection. It’s about laying our lives down for each other. It’s giving ourselves up. It’s kenotic.
Now, there are those who argue that true love is obeying God’s commands, and of course it is. But the command is to love one another.
(1 John 3:21-23) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
What would Jesus do?
It’s fashionable to train young Christians to make ethical decisions by asking, “What would Jesus do?” The trouble with this is that we rarely incorporate into this instruction a serious understanding of Jesus. And so WWJD becomes a slightly idealized version of ourselves. But we know, at least in principle, what Jesus would do.
As pointed out by John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus, pp. 130-131,
[T]here is no general concept of living like Jesus in the New Testament. According to universal tradition, Jesus was not married; yet when the apostle Paul, advocate par excellence of the life “in Christ,” argues at length for celibacy or for a widow’s not remarrying (1 Cor. 7), it never occurs to him to appeal to Jesus’ example, even as one of many arguments. … [T]here have been efforts to imitate his prayer life or his forty days in the desert: but never in the New Testament.
There is thus but one realm in which the concept of imitation holds – but there it holds in every strand of the New Testament literature and all the more strikingly by virtue of the absence of parallels in other realms. This is at the point of the concrete social meaning of the cross in its relation to enmity and power. Servanthood replaces dominion, forgiveness absorbs hostility. Thus – and only thus – are we bound by New Testament thought to “be like Jesus.”
(emphasis added.) This is big. And it’s right. Yoder quotes numerous passages each of which urges us to be like Jesus in his suffering, servanthood, and submission. None urge us to exercise authority or power as Jesus does.
(John 13:3 ESV) Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”
7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
Notice how the story begins. Jesus washed the apostles’ feet because he knew God had given all things to him. This knowledge led to the sort of service only a slave would perform. Peter saw it as an embarrassment, unworthy of the Messiah, but Jesus said,
(John 13:12 ESV) When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
If Jesus is compelled to wash feet because of his position, we who are in far lower positions must surely be compelled to do the same. Nothing else is to be like Jesus.
I think Gorman has it right. The essence of being like Jesus is self-emptying, that is, kenosis. We see it stated in different words and different ways many times, but over and over, we see that Christian ethics are based on being Christ-like, and to be Christ-like is to pick up a cross and follow Jesus, because if you don’t have a cross, you aren’t following him.
Some may object that Jesus was sometimes not so humble. Sometimes he took a whip and cleared the temple courts or pronounced judgment against the Pharisees in the most severe terms. But we are not called to be like Jesus in every respect — only in his self-emptying. Unlike Jesus, we are not the judges of the world, and God does not exercise his vengeance through us. Rather, God has a very clear plan. He wants those who see the church to see the kenosis of Jesus lived in us — and so be drawn to it.
It’s not nearly enough to be right on doctrine or worship. It’s not nearly enough to be organized correctly. Rather, it won’t be until we look like the Suffering Servant who gave himself for the sins of the world that we’ll truly be Christ-like — and that is the real mark of the church.