Can You Teach Old Dogs New Tricks?

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The picture I have painted of the Christian family in the last few postings has been the IDEAL one—the loving, strong husband, laying down his life for his family, always looking out for them and their needs before his own, and leading them with loving, firm, decisive decision-making. The wife, while submitting herself unto her husband just as if he were Jesus himself (Ephesians 5:22), faithfully carries out his vision for the family. This biblical approach to family structure seems impossible in our culture today.

If you believe anyone successfully does either of those things, even those who know them and sincerely want to follow them, I have a bridge I would like to sell you! God’s design for the biblical family is not a set of marching orders to try to successfully build that design.

What if that love for my wife that burned so brightly in my heart when we were married has been doused, flickered, and even gone out? What if my wife has proven to be stronger-willed than I am and has a different vision for the family than I do? The chances of me following that biblical pattern are next to zilch—probably not with my actions, but certainly in my heart.

What do I do? Trying to change either situation by my efforts to make the biblical design work are slim and none. And I can’t fake it—certainly not with the person I live with every day! I’ve tried that and she knows me like a much-read book, and she knows when I am faking it. The task seems impossible to me.

If that is your story, God has got you right where He wants you! His design for marriage is not to make you happy. That comes, but only as a blessed by-product. Marriage is to make you holy, and the best weapon God has to do that, believe it or not, is your family. You are trapped, and cannot get away. Every seemingly insurmountable, impossible problem you are having there is designed by God Himself for you personally to finally force you, maybe for the first time, to look at yourself as the cause of the dysfunction and failure!

Some will still refuse to do so. To discover that I am not just a theoretical, theological sinner, but a real, live one, even in my family relationships, is often still too difficult to do. It is a brand new way to think. I am too invested in being good, being sure when problems arise that someone or something else is at fault—my wife, my children, my in-laws, money, my job, religion, etc.—anything but, “I am the problem here!” Every seemingly unsolvable marital difficulty that couples have inevitably arises from each party being firmly convinced that the other is the problem.

Until that idea is addressed—that I am an inveterate sinner in this situation and I cannot change myself no matter how hard I try—marital counseling, with its efforts to improve communication, be more thoughtful, respectful and understanding, etc., is guaranteed to be fruitless., Both marriage partners must realize that there is plenty of sin to go around in every conflict, and the only sin I can do anything about is mine. Jill’s sin is of no concern to me. My job is to love her with agape love and lead her with strong, firm decision making. Period. I must keep my hands off her sanctification and leave that with God! My built-in desire to “be like God” and be the agent of change renders that almost impossible.

In these postings on the kingdom of God as expressed in the family, the emphasis so far has been on the male role in the family: to love and lead his wife. However, wives have some new tricks to learn as well if the family is to be an expression of the kingdom of God. Even though the husband has the full responsibility for the successful functioning of the family unit, the wife alone is responsible to God to follow her Heavenly Father’s clear instructions in the Bible on how to relate to her husband. It will not be easy; it is the exact opposite of the message today’s culture is shouting at her every day!

In Titus 2:3-5, Paul gives directions to older women, first pertaining to their own personal conduct. He then instructs them in a very vital ministry that is often neglected in the church today: the ministry of personally instructing the younger women in what they are doing with their own lives.

This imparting of personal life experiences, both successes and failures, from their reservoir of knowledge is real, get-your-hands-dirty ministry, and it is desperately needed in the church. Dissatisfied, frustrated wives make it difficult for young husbands who are just learning to lead their families to do so effectively. Older women have a very, very crucial role to play in seeing the family become a weapon for the ultimate, experiential victory of the kingdom of God.

In these verses in Titus 2, Paul tells us what the older women have learned and are to share with the younger women:

“(T)he older women…admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-5).

Rather than teach theology, which is the elder’s job, women need to be focusing on the material presented here when they teach the younger women. Who better to do this than godly, older women who have experience in developing these qualities and have gone through all the difficulties young wives must face? Certainly not the elders. There is enough material here for several years of women’s Bible studies!

The ideas we will explore in the next few weeks are extremely controversial in Christian circles today. That fact in itself is a commentary on the influence the feminist movement has had on the church. Sixty-five years ago these ideas were commonplace and universally accepted. Remember that the Bible is our standard, and we must anchor our view of marriage roles there and not to the accepted practices of the day. Next week we will look at what Paul means in 21st century America when he says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord“ (Ephesians 5:22).

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