Time To Give Up On Church or Time to Be The Church

There are lots of things that make people stop going to church. And there are other things that make people really not want to go at all. I bet you’ve had Sundays where you dread going to church. Like it was the furthest thing from what you wanted to do. Maybe it’s because you didn’t want to see someone or a group of people. Maybe you just had something else that you wanted to do. Whatever the case, you just dreaded going to church.

If you’ve had those days – if today is even one of those days, you aren’t alone. We’ve probably all been there at some point. And the statistics show that more and more people are not interested in church. A recent Barna Survey said church attendance has been declining nationwide over the past 20 years. The Barna and Gallup polls show a decline from 40 to 36% of Americans who attend church regularly—once every 4-6 weeks. One more sad statistic: In a 2002 survey of almost 1200 U.S. churches, Thom Rainer’s research team found that only 6 percent of the churches were growing. Stated inversely, 94% of our churches are losing ground in the communities they serve. Thankfully, we are one of the 6%.

That might not be the worst of it. Of those that do come, I wonder how many are being dragged to church. How many are coming because a spouse guilts them into it? How many are coming because it’s tradition or habit, but who really would rather just stay home? I fear it is a large percentage. Lots of reasons could be given for this decline and this apathetic attitude. We could blame everything from busyness to technology to secular world views to churches just not keeping up with the culture. And while those things may be contributing, we also need to take a look at ourselves.

One of the greatest lies of our time is that one can church alone. I constantly hear the idea of being church or of being a Christian without actually being part of a church. I’m not buying the idea that anybody is doing this or can actually do this well. For if you are actually a Christian without a church, you will naturally start a church. A church is the natural result of radically following Jesus. If you are following Jesus and living out the Jesus life in your neighborhood and workplace, you will start mentoring others. You will start teaching them. You will start praying with them. You will find ways to serve alongside them. This is the result of following Jesus. You may not sing songs together because that isn’t essential to church.

Church, at its essence, is just a disciple-making machine, an example of the kingdom – God’s people living the way they were designed to live together. So if you just use the excuse of being a church wherever you are without actually being the church – if you use that as an excuse to just be an isolated, selfish Christian, you aren’t being a Christian at all, let alone being the church. For if you are actually being a Christian without church, you will naturally start a church. But that isn’t going to stop people using the “I’m a Christian without church” saying as an excuse to just be selfish, maybe nationalistic, individualistic, possibly new agey, follower of yourself disguised as God.

I get it. Church is hard. And we would much rather do what will make us more money, give us more pleasure, or entertain us. There are struggles, sacrifices, and difficulties in having the relationship were are called to have.

Each one of us has been made for community. It’s in our DNA. God created life to be lived in community. There have been scientific studies that have shown the importance of human touch. We write books about friendships and companionship. Popular TV shows show us the community we long for. But we don’t experience it because we don’t make decisions in life by considering what will make our community better. Instead, we just ask what do I want. All through the bible you have examples of people in community with each other. Life wasn’t meant to be lived isolated from others. I’m reminded of the quote from Into The Wild: Happiness is only real when shared.”

If you have ever used charcoal on a grill you see a very vivid picture of this concept. Coals need to be near one another, to feed off each other. If you move one coal over to the side, eventually it starts to die out and cool off. But when you put that dying coal back into the rest of the coals and stir it up, it begins to get hot again and glow. That’s us. We function better when we are part of a community.

The beautiful thing is that God established the church to be that place of community. That place where people wanted to go to and be a part of because they were accepted, loved, made to feel like they had worth. In our world, true community is hard to come by and the church is to be a place where people who have different interests, hobbies, and are from different walks of life can still have community with each other because we share the same Lord and Savior. Gluten lovers and Gluten free people can be brothers and sisters. Vegetarians and carnivores. Ford drivers and GM drivers. iPhone users and Android users. Democrats and Republicans can worship together as fellow citizens in the kingdom. 

Listen to what Paul wrote the church in Corinth:

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27 (ESV)

Paul says that we are all part of the same body. There’s no division. There’s no classes or castes. One group—one community—that is concerned for each other. Who are there to laugh with one another. To cry with one another. To celebrate with one another. To do life with one another. See, the goal of a healthy church is to provide the opportunity to be part of a healthy community to everyone, regardless of wealth, social status, or biological family. Blut we have to be that healthy community to have people join it.

In order for that to happen we must cultivate an atmosphere of being focused on one another, not just on Sundays but all through the week. Because if the church becomes all about me, and what I like, and what I prefer, and what I want to see happen, then true community does not happen. If I neglect coming regularly, it becomes about me and not what I can do for others. And we see the effects of that attitude. People leave churches all the time because either their preferences aren’t being met.

See the church is not supposed to be a place where everyone looks alike, acts alike, or even agrees about every single thing. But it must be a place devoid of selfishness and full of putting one another first.

Peter wrote:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11 (ESV)

Peter makes it clear the sort of qualities that epitomize healthy churches—love, hospitality, service.

As a church, we need to love one another. Peter draws on Proverbs 10:12 to affirm the power of Christian love.

Early Christianity regarded love as the foundational ethic for the community of believers. In other words, the easiest way to tell if someone was a believer was to see how they loved. Because their world was like our world—full of selfish, unloving people. But as redeemed, forgiven people we are called to be different. And love has profound effects. It can result in forgiveness and reconciliation when people have been harmed or wronged. In this way, love overcomes sin. So even though someone commits an offense against you, love bears it.

Peter mentions hospitality also. Hospitality without grumbling. But this is more than taking someone’s coat or setting out a platter of crackers and cheese. In the ancient world, hospitality was one of the most important things one could do. Basically hospitality is the generous and gracious treatment of guests. Hospitality should be part of our life day in and day out.

Love. Hospitality. Serving one another. Peter ends with serving. We all have gifts from God. Some are spiritual. Some are just tangible, material things. And healthy, attractive churches that are functioning properly are full of people who are serving each other. Are you putting what you are good at to use for the betterment of the church? Being different parts of the body, we all bring different gifts and abilities to the church. I love the way Peter describes service—good stewards of God’s grace. In other words, God has poured out grace on us and now God expects us to share that same grace. We serve with the abilities God has provided us without any expectation in return.

Love, hospitality, and serving one another—churches that do these things are growing. Churches that are doing these things are attractional as we live missional lives. But the reality is that we won’t do these things when we are livings selfishly.  Living this sort of life—a life of love, hospitality, and service to one another is radicial in today’s culture. Cultivating this sort of environment at church—is costly. It’s not easy, by any means. It requires us to give of selves in significant ways. It requires sacrificing of what we want and what is easy for a harder, but more satisfying option.

In his book, Dissident Discipleship, David Augsburger tells this parable about cost and sacrifice:

Long ago in a distant land, a prince dreamed of creating more than a geographical or political kingdom. He dreamed of establishing a community in which all persons were committed to each other in loyalty and equality, where every person sought the welfare of the neighbor even at a cost to the self. So the prince called a great meeting of all the heads of clans, all the wise and trusted people of the land, and dared to tell his dream. Each chieftain and his clan were invited to join in the foundation of a new society. As part of the community's inauguration, each was requested to search his cellar for the best wine produced from his ancestral vines. These treasured bottles would be uncorked, poured into a great communal vat, and blended, as the true community it represented, into a common vintage.

"How can I mix my exquisite wine with that of my neighbors?" asked one of the winegrowers invited to this covenanting. "I would sacrifice the unique variety of grape, the special climate of the year, the sweetness of a late harvest, the indefinable magic of bouquet, and I would violate my art as a winemaker. Impossible! Give up my distinct variety? Lose my separate self? I will not be adulterated in such a common cup."

So he corked a bottle of tap water, affixed his most beautiful label to the bottle, and at the time of the ritual poured the water ceremoniously into the vat, thinking that nobody would notice one bottle of water mixed in with all the other bottles of wine. When the covenanting was solemnized, all filled their glasses for the communal draft, the toast that would seal commitment to community. As the cups touched their lips, all knew the truth. It was not wine. It was water. No one had been willing to pay the cost of community.

I fear we have been pouring water into our church rather than our treasure. Pouring only that which is no sacrifice. Jesus is Lord and we seek his kingdom only when it’s convenient.

Good, loving, serving, irresistible communities don’t just happen. It requires work. It requires sacrifice. It requires paying the cost. Because from what I see as I read the New Testament, I see that Christianity is many things. But one thing it is not: a weekend option between all the things we could fill our time with. If you are serious about building a community in this church, then you need to invest in the people and ministries of this church. Not just showing up sporadically on Sunday mornings. Not just giving a cursory greeting to people as you pass by. But investing in them.

Church is not just about gathering together at a certain time on Sunday morning. Irresistible churches are more than that. Love, hospitality, and serving one another. And it starts with us—how we view ourselves. How we view others. How we steward the grace we have been given. How we sacrifice and invest in one another. That’s how communities are built and are sustained. That’s how churches go from an optional weekend activity to the most irresistible force in the world.

King David wrote:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!  It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!  It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. Psalm 133:1-3 (ESV)

It is pleasant to live together in unity. Unity is like oil that heals rifts. It is a symbol of God’s presence. It is the cure for what ails our world. So may we be the balm that this world and our churches desperately need. I know we are called to much more than we’re currently experiencing, but we have to change to get that. May we pray, and love, and show hospitality and serve one another and become a place where no one must be dragged to. But that we all eagerly join and invest in. Whether you’re young or old, you have a place in this church. A role to play. An important piece of our puzzle. Loving, showing hospitality, and serving one another begins with you.

co-written with Sam Long.

More On Women Leading In The Church - Addressing 1 Timothy 2

So my previous post on Women. The Church. The Family. And You. didn't quite satisfy some. That is to be expected. The issue of concern centers around how does that view explicitly deal with Paul's teaching in 1 Timothy. So I am going to address that here today.

Paul wrote:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (ESV)
1 Timothy definitely gives the harshest perspective against the view that women should be able to serve in whatever way they are gifted as I expressed in my previous article. 

I would point out that Paul contradicts this teaching in his letter to the Christians in Corinth where he gives instructions on women prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:5). So the issue comes down to which passage supersedes the other. I would go with the one where he tells a woman to prophesy means that women can speak. So that makes me view 1 Timothy 2:12 as a command specific to something that was happening in Ephesus. They may have had unruly women or something of that sort. We honestly don't know.

But what we do know for sure is that we have examples of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, leading in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, you have the examples of Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Junia, and Priscilla leading.

Every one of these people would appear to be violators of the teaching of Paul to Timothy to be silent. So those examples tell me that what we had going on in the letter to Timothy was something different.

So we have this letter to Timothy in Ephesus that is difficult. I get that.

But I find the story of Jesus restoring all things to be more compelling. Our salvation has already begun. The church is the restored community of God. In that light, we should live like it. That's why we strive for holiness, etc. We are an example to the world of what God intends for the world to be like.

Now, moving on to the childbearing one passage that follows.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. 1 Timothy 2:13-15 (ESV)
Again, we are obviously dealing with a church community that has some problem among the women where they were supposed to stay silent. We aren't given an understanding of what that problem is though.

Paul is emphasizing that women are saved through Jesus like any of us are saved in case people in the audience were confused, which may have been in doubt since there seemed to have been some sort of crisis among the women. But women, like anyone else, are saved through faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

But the sticky part is that childbearing word in the passage. To accept this just without thinking deeply about it, we would have to say that women who can't have babies are going to hell. That doesn't seem to jive with the rest of the teaching of Scripture, so maybe this passage carries a different meaning than women without childbearing are doomed.

What if the imagery here is pertinent? He's talking about how through Eve, one woman, sin came into the world. But also through the childbrith of Mary, one woman, Jesus came into the world. So it is through the childbirth of a woman that salvation comes just like through the sin of Eve, sin came.

From Ben Witherington:
"There are these further problems with your interpretation of 1 Tim. 2.8-15: 1) why exactly do you ignore the fact that vs. 15 speaks of ‘the child bearing’ with the definite article? Do you really think that the definite article has no weight here? Paul is surely referring to one specific childbearing, not the act of childbearing in general, for which we would have expected a different grammatical construction. The church fathers often recognized an Eve — Mary contrast here, as I am sure you know. If this is right, then it is not a comment on women in general and their roles, it is telling us that just as the fall came through Eve, so redemption came through Mary. The curse was reversed through Mary. 3) Paul says nothing here about women being in submission to men. The submission referred to in vs. 11 is coupled with the learning in quietness that they must do. It has to do with submission to the teaching of authorized teachers, whoever they may be. BTW Genesis while speaking of an order to creation does not connect this with the submission of women to men; 4) obviously 1 Tim.2.12 is the big bone of contention— I would have thought that with the ‘not…. nor’ construction here and the fact that Paul is correcting problems caused by both men and women in 2.8-15 that these facts would have favored a negative reading of both infinitives here— referring to unauthorized teaching and the usurping of authority. ‘Authentein’ in a pejorative context like this where abuses are being dealt with can certainly refer to the heavy handed use or abuse of authority or power or privilege."

"I recognize that other readings of this text are possible, but there is no knock down argument which rules out the possibilities I have outlined above and will present at length in my commentary on the Pastorals coming out this fall. In other words, you can’t rule out my interpretation and I cannot definitively rule out yours. This being the case, it would be better to recognize and accept this fact while we agree to disagree as brothers in Christ."
This echoes the idea that Paul expressed in Romans, "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:18-21 (ESV)

Women. The Church. The Family. And You.

An off-centered picture of three of the most important women of my childhood.
Aunt Rita. Grandma Jessie. And Mom.


Sadly, the church has been on the side of telling their daughters, “You can be anything but not a preacher or a leader in the church.” “Be confident. Work hard. But make sure that you always do what your husband says.” Even in our town, these views are still prevalent. And you may think those views are the right ones, but let me challenge you with a different perspective today.

So today’s article is going to be a little different than one where I try to motivate you to change. It’s going to be much more of a study and explanation of women’s role in the church and in the home. But this truth can be more liberating than any motivational sermon if lived out.
Wrapped up in this issue is part of how we interpret the Bible. Do we take one verse and run with it, or do we understand it in the context of the whole?

Proponents of both sides of the issue like to explain away passages that disagree with their viewpoint. But there is something to be said in reading the Bible in context and in light of the overarching themes of the rest of the Bible. There are also special contextual issues to consider when reading Paul’s writings since he is writing to address specific issues in specific churches, of which we can only surmise the context because we only have Paul’s reply. This understating and appreciation of what Paul is doing makes the application for us more refined than simply reading and then doing.


So let’s start at the beginning. In Genesis 1 and 2, man and woman were equal in God’s sight and complimented one another. In fact, the woman is called a “helper” (ezer) – the same word used in the Psalms to describe divine help (Psalm 20:2, 70:5). One would have a difficult time casting God as a subordinate.

So in the first chapter of Genesis, we have women created to be a helper just as God’s help given to us is described in the Psalms. But only a chapter later, things change – there is a division between man and woman as a result of sin entering the world. We must note that this is the result of sin. It is not the desired relationship that God had in mind between a man and a woman. The effects of the fall have impacted cultural perceptions and expectations between men and women negatively ever since. From the treatment of women as second class citizens, to a view of women as property, to a denial of certain rights to women, varying cultures have diminished the value of women ever since. These were not God’s intention but a result of sin among us and the fall having happened. They were a consequence.


But God is in the process of removing the consequences of sin and restoring all things. This is the idea of the kingdom breaking through into the here and now. So if we view the role of women through the idea of the kingdom of God, we see that God is restoring all things. So God’s original intention as described in Genesis 1-2, not the consequence laid out in the post-fall Genesis 3, is the idea of the relationship between men and women in God’s kingdom. And through the ministry of Jesus, God is now restoring all things to their intended purpose through the church. That means that women will are not inferior. Now, I can't do everything to bring about God's perfect kingdom now, but treating women equally is something that I can do. So as much as I possibly can, I live under the principle of bringing about God's perfect kingdom now. The church should be an example of God’s restored purpose for humanity, not a reflection of the world post-fall.

In addition, Paul restates this same idea to the church in Galatia: 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (ESV)

Paul echoes this sentiment in In 1 Corinthians 12 where he states that we are one body with many members where each part performs different functions. There is no delineation between men and women. There is no assigning the teaching or leading duties to men while relegating women to other duties.


But Paul is also the source of the two difficult passages where women should be silent and where women should not teach or have authority over a man. Throughout his writings, Paul describes a unity and equality that exists between the spiritually reborn living in God’s restored kingdom. On the other hand, Paul backs off in these sections and defer to cultural norms.

The clearest mention of a woman in leadership is at the end of Romans where Phoebe is called a deaconess/servant/minister (diakonos). Granted, this word can mean all of those things in the Greek, but in Paul’s writings when he is speaking of the office of "deacon," he uses this word. When he speaks of servants he uses other words (doulos, oiketes, pais, etc.). We also have Priscilla and Aquilla. Word order was used in Greek language to show prominence, making Priscilla the prominent teacher in this couple. You even have an apostle named Junia.

So when Paul gave his lists that people use to exclude women, Paul was not providing a comprehensive list of qualifications but a general understanding of what would make a good leader (see The Biblical Requirements for Elders). This list is used so legalistically at times that it fails to see the point -- leaders should have leadership qualities and be actual spiritual leaders. Gender, if the practice of the early church as seen in Scripture is to be given weight, is not necessary to be a spiritual leader. The same book that commands women to be silent (1 Cor. 14:33-35) gives instructions for women praying and prophesying in the public assembly (1 Cor. 11:2-16). This role of prophet and praying in public indicates some level of authority and leadership in the church given to women, even over men.

The notion that men have the corner on wisdom, knowledge and teaching ability is pure arrogance. And relegating women to teaching only children and other women is not only demeaning but fails to see the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Yes, women can be homemakers – my family life is a testament to the idea that I like that concept - but so can men. In the same way men can lead the church, but so can women. Only by working together, making up for one another’s deficiencies, and carrying one another’s burdens do we see the Kingdom come.

As for qualifications of leaders, obviously we don’t want some hot head drunk leading the church. But as I mentioned, I think these are general principles based on observation, experience, and wisdom as opposed to a clearly delineated list to treat like law. The two lists in the two different Pauline letters aren’t even the same. In other words, each candidate should be evaluated individually. Maybe the person is divorced because the spouse had an affair and left him or her. Maybe the person brought their child up in the church and did all he or she could but the child still is wayward. Perhaps the recovering alcoholic has controlled the addiction. The point is that I don’t think that a candidate should be dismissed out of hand because he or she doesn’t meet the qualifications without examining the reasons behind their circumstances and where that individual is today. They should not be disqualified for something that happened in their lives fifteen years ago if they have conquered the cause of whatever that sin was. Again, this reasoning is based on my understanding that Paul offers a general list of leadership qualities, not a law of leadership qualifications.

Not all of us will be elders or teachers. Each of us performs different functions and roles within the body. But that does not disqualify women from fulfilling these functions. Nowhere in Paul’s discussion on giftedness does he single out men for the “leadership” type gifts or roles. I agree that not every woman should be a leader in the church. Just like every man should not be one. I have heard dynamite women teachers and awful male ones (and vice versa). We are who God empowers us to be, regardless of gender. And the only sin here is if we don’t operate in our giftedness or don’t allow others to operate in their giftedness.

What it comes down to in the Kingdom of God is to be a community that rises above the “-isms” that have plagued our society and churches. It is time to do away with chauvinism, feminism, racism and return to seeing each other as created equally loved in God’s sight and empowered differently but living unified to do the work of the Kingdom.


Now, that is church life. But I think if we go to the same passages regarding family life with the same attitude and understanding the same principles, we will see a similar stance.

A study was released a while back that described three types of families.  One happy, termed cohesive.  Two unhappy, termed disengaged and enmeshed.

Typically cohesive families are characterized by harmonious interactions, emotional warmth, and firm but flexible roles for parents and children. "Think the Cosby family," says Sturge-Apple, offering an example from the popular TV series about the affable Huxtable family.

Enmeshed families, by contrast, appears to be emotionally involved and display modest amounts of warmth, but they struggle with high levels of hostility, destructive meddling, and a limited sense of the family as a team. Sturge-Apple points to the emotionally messy Barone family in the family sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond as a good example of an enmeshed family.

Finally, disengaged families, as the name implies, are marked by cold, controlling, and withdrawn relationships. [With help from my Facebook friends, think All In The Family, Married With Children, or National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. ] The seemingly pleasant suburban family in the movie Ordinary People provides a classic illustration of a disengaged family, as per the authors. Reacting to the death of their oldest son, the parents in the film retreat emotionally, creating a barren home environment in which feelings cannot be discussed.”

What we see in Paul's passage on the household in Colossians on how to have a godly family is similar to what the scientists in the study mentioned above would describe as a cohesive family. Paul wrapped up telling us about the new self with instruction about the household. The new self should permeate every area of our lives.  The old self is lying, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk while the new self is compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, thankfulness, forgiveness, and love. But then he follows this with explicit instructions on family life.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV)

Paul then goes on to one of the more controversial sections:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.  Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 3:18-4:1 (ESV).


Now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. The big, hot button issue is that first sentence: "Wives, submit to your husbands." 

An exercise that is useful in discovering the meaning of a word is to examine what it meant in the original language through a Greek word study.  One of the biggest mistakes typically done is to just look the word up in an English dictionary and call it good from there.  The problem with our understanding "hupotasso", the word translated "submit" here, is that we don't use the word "submit" much in our normal conversations.  The only places I hear it is in wrestling/mma where the fighter gives up due to excessive pain or in a classroom environment where a student hands in a paper to their teacher.  In doing a word study, we can see how the word was used in other sections of Scripture.  So let's look at some of those verses.

Jesus was hupotasso to his parents.
And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive (hupotasso) to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.  Luke 2:51 (ESV)

We need to hupotasso governing authorities. 
Let every person be subject (hupotasso) to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Romans 13:1 (ESV).

We need to hupotasso to every fellow worker and laborer like those of the household of Stephanas. 
Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject (hupotasso) to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 1 Corinthians 16:15-16 (ESV).

We need to hupotasso to God. 
Submit (hupotasso) yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  James 4:7 (ESV).

We need to hupotasso to one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting (hupotasso) to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Ephesians 5:18-21 (ESV).

We could get a grand and deeply authoritarian view of submission from the verses that teach us to submit to governing authorities and God, but there are also uses of "submit" that throw a wrench into that definition. We see that submitting to one another is something that we are all called to do as believers to each other. 

So the word "submit" has to fit these passages. And sadly, the concept, especially in regards to the role of a woman with her husband when viewed as a subordinate role, has been misunderstood and doesn’t fit. This teaching of womanly submission has tragically been abused by the patriarchal society of the past and is still being abused in sexist settings today, to the detriment of everyone involved. I have heard of tragic stories of abuse in which a woman has been told to submit to her husband and remain in an abusive relationship. I have heard stories of women having to go along with things they seriously disagree with. That is not what this Paul is teaching in this section in his letter to the Colossians.

Submit (hupotasso) is voluntarily placing ourselves under someone in order to support them and help them achieve the dreams they have. When Paul wrote that a wife should submit to her husband, he was stating that a wife needs to be a person who is voluntarily supportive of their husband, but that is nothing more than what Paul said we need to be to one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus. It is nothing more than the husband should also be to the wife.

Submitting does not mean that we don’t speak up. Submitting doesn't mean that we don’t ever disobey. It does not mean that we endure torture or abuse under another. It's actually a beautiful concept that translating it into a negative word like "submit" misses. It means that we know the dreams of the other person, and we put ourselves voluntarily under them to help them achieve those dreams. We become a support to lift them up and help them achieve their goals. I feel like breaking out into Josh Groban here.


A domineering man might then ask, "What does authority matter if it does not mean blind obedience by those under authority?" It’s mean Christian authority. If you are over someone in Christ, then you are their servant leader. Jesus is our Lord and does not force His will to be done by taking away our free will.  He leads out of submission, example, and love. We are to do likewise.

Jesus taught:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV).
Jesus also taught that leadership in the church and in Christian relationships is upside-down.
The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Matthew 23:11-12 (ESV).

Servant leadership is what Christian leadership is all about.  As a pastor, I am in this position to serve the people in the church I am part of, the community I live in and interact with, and the world abroad. It is not about me getting special treatment; it's about serving people through calling on them, meeting their needs, praying for them, and listening to God and proclaiming what He wants us to hear. This is what all church leaders are called to do. If you are living out the life of Jesus in your workplace, then you should be about serving those around you. Christian leadership, whether it is the role of a husband in the house, parents to their children, a teacher to their students, a law enforcement officer to the citizens, is one of sacrifice and service when done well.

We all know in the core of our being what good leadership is. What kind of cowardly father would flee if his family was endangered? What kind of corrupt politician would seek to gain personally from their position as a representative of the people? What kind of shameful law enforcement officer would abandon people in need of help? We all know, in the core of our being, what good leadership is. And that is what Paul is laying out here because, so often, men can create a destructive family environment from their unhealthy leadership. The leadership trap for a husband, as Paul warns, is to become harsh with their wives and provoke and discourage their children.     

But a healthy family is not one of selfish and personal ambition.  It’s one of compassion, patience, love, humility, forgiveness, and love.  It is the new self lived out in unison one with another.  A healthy family is the most basic example of the love of Jesus lived in community. The family is designed to be a place where people are encouraged and built up to be who Jesus wants them to be rather than a place of manipulation and selfish ambition.
In the healthy family, telling a wife that she is to submit to her husband, as long as we are using it with the biblical idea of hupataso, is also proclaiming that the husband must serve his wife.  We must never separate a wife submitting with the love of the husband that is always connected with that command to submit.

Submit does not mean that someone should be silent, obedient at all times, or a slave. Actually, if submit means to support someone to achieve their dreams, then speaking up and telling the other person where they need to improve would be needed at times. So submit, in Paul's command for a wife to submit to her husband, just means that the woman will help the man achieve the dreams he is trying to achieve.  She will be his support. From other verses, we see that a man should be just as supportive of his wife. It’s the same concept we are to do to one another.

The main crux of the argument, as Paul described the way the household should function, is that the man should no longer abuse his position. At the time this letter was written to church in Colossae, the man was very domineering over the family. Paul gave three warnings to the man. One, he is not to be harsh with his wife. Two, he is not to provoke and discourage their children. And three, he is to treat his slaves justly and fairly.  This was a radical teaching that would be liberating to wives, children, and slaves at that time.


The Roman society was patriarchal and vicious. Babies would be presented to the father after birth at which point he could decide to let the baby not enter the family by forcing the baby to just be abandoned and die from exposure. No property was allowed to be owned in a Roman family except for the father owning it; this even included grown men. All children were to be under the authority of their father until his passing.

Like modern sitcoms jokingly show the faults in the American family, Roman theater did the same for their audience. And we can see in the family comedies of Plautus and Terrence that the Roman family could devolve into manipulation and greed. With such a patriarchal structure, the wife, children, and slaves would all try to manipulate the father to get their will done. Paul's writings were a direct assault on the Roman family structure and would have transformed a Roman family that lived selfishly into one that would be a witness for Jesus. The Christian family is to be a model of God’s plan for us in right relationship with each other. The church is to be the same.

If the man is the head of the house, it is not as a domineering head. Christian leadership is the exact opposite of being domineering. If anyone is the head of anything in Christian thinking, then that person is to be the servant of those in their charge. True Christian leadership is serving, not domineering. We will wrongly take the headship idea that we get from the Bible and then apply a worldly definition to it, but it is to be viewed through the lens of a sacrificial Jesus who, as the head, gave up his life so that those like you and me – under him – could live.

In Genesis, humanity fell and there were consequences: 
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 (ESV)

That’s the fall. That’s what Jesus came to reverse. That’s not the reality we are called to live in.

As Paul explains it:
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:19-21 (ESV)

In the perfect world before the fall, women were not ruled over by men; that was a consequence of sin. As Christians, if we are forgiven of our sins and are striving to live in perfection, then we should treat women as they were treated before the punishment of sin. As much as is possible by us, we should live as the restored people of God, letting the kingdom be realized in the here and now through us. That would include women not being ruled over by men, both in the home and in the church, but, instead, women being treated as equals as they were before the fall.

Let’s live in God’s restored kingdom reality.