Refresh My Heart (chapter two continued)

Most of us have two lives, the one that we show to the world around us; the other is often referred to as our thought life.  In a perfect world, they would always be in accord or a reflection of each other.  Some have posited that, “what we think is who we are.” Actually this is consistent with a statement that Jesus made to his disciples, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  No doubt, one of our biggest problems, for both Christians and non-Christians alike, is controlling our thought life.  The progression goes something like this; if our thoughts are corrupt, then our heart will be also, which leads inevitably to behavior that is consistent with our thoughts. The converse is true for thoughts that are not corrupted by sin. So, if at the root of our problem is our thought life, how do we control something that we think is so easily concealed?

One of the first things we need to realize is that our minds are never idle or empty.  Sure, there are times when the mind is more active than other times, but it is always taking in information, processing it and then reacting.  Sometimes those reactions are carefully considered and sometimes not, but there is always an inevitable reaction.  Sometimes that reaction may be to not act out on what we think, but that is also a reaction.  So if we apply this to what Paul is teaching in chapter three of Colossians regarding the mind and heart and the two lists, then the key for us is fill our minds with things that are edifying to God, to others and ourselves.  Let’s take Jesus’ teaching regarding lust as an example; how am I to prevent thoughts that lead to lust when there is a drop dead beautiful woman or a hunk of a guy in front of me?  The answer may be more obvious and practical than you might think.

In his first letter to the church (1 John 3:16) the Apostle John wrote this, “For all that is in this (corrupt) world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the (corrupt) world.”  What John has identified in this passage are the entry ports for all that corrupts us and when we allow corrupted data to enter our minds, it spreads to our heart and ultimately influences our actions.  It’s sort of like a computer virus or malware, in that once inside our core memory the damage can be massive and sometimes even fatal to the system.  The entry ports are our senses which were given to us in order that we might enjoy all of God’s creation; our seeing and hearing, taste, smell and touch; all remarkable gifts of God.  Yet, what was given to us as a blessing can be turned into a curse by a world hell bent on turning us toward the one who, at least for now, has dominion over our world, Satan.  This is not to say that Satan has control over what we choose to take in, no, the choice is ours.

It would be much simpler if all we needed to do was to shut our eyes and cover our ears, shut our mouths, keep our hands to ourselves and hold our noses.  But even if we could do the ridiculous and impossible, it wouldn’t work because the mind will not allow itself to be turned off or be in a state of emptiness.  Even when we sleep the mind is sending us images in the form of dreams and stimulating a physical reaction.  What is needed is to provide the mind with uncorrupted data to process, data that once processed, leads us in the direction that God would have us to go and to do those things that please him; while at the same time benefiting others as well as ourselves.  If we can control what comes into our mind then the desires of our heart and our actions, will follow. Few would argue that Paul’s list of those things that corrupt our thinking, found in chapter three of Colossians are the problem, thoughts that provoke anger, malice and dishonesty. It would be ideal if we could replace them with thoughts that bring about about compassion, kindness and patience.  So how do go about the process of filling our minds and hearts with the later, instead of the former?

In chapter three of Colossians, beginning in verse 18, Paul provides the central principles or truths that will help us to redirect our thoughts in the right direction.  His instruction deals with how to prevent dissention and conflict, both in the home and the world outside; as well as what will resolve the issues that already exist.  Some of them are contrary to what the world is telling us, which should not surprise us since conflict and dissention is what pleases the author of sin and the temporary ruler of this world, Satan.  God’s truths, by contrast, are founded in the created order of things, an order that has been corrupted by the “sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1).” The bottom line is that the Creator’s order works and brings peace; Satan’s, the opposite.

Paul’s first statement is probably the most controversial since it is widely misunderstood, quoted out of context and Satan has made an all-out assault on our thinking on the subject for the past 40 years.  Paul’s statement is short and to the point, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (v.18).”  Paul’s teaching here and in Ephesians chapter five has been labeled by many as sexist, archaic and contrary to any sense of fairness and equality between the sexes. But is it, when viewed in its context?  Paul follows this statement concerning wives saying, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (v.19).”  What Paul is teaching in these few verses in chapter three of Colossians, is at the center of much of the conflict in our lives and is the foundation upon which forgiveness and reconciliation can be built.

Some have suggested that since Paul’s exhortation to wives comes first, it proves that Paul was sexist, whether he knew or not; that he was reflecting the way in which women were treated at the time. However, let’s look at another reason that has more to do with the created order of things, than some suspected prejudice or cultural norm.  In verses eighteen and nineteen, Paul is attempting to prevent and correct the wrong thinking and the calamity which it causes. He bases his teaching on the opening chapters of the Hebrew bible, the book of Genesis.  Genesis, chapter two concludes with God having joined Adam and Eve together as husband and wife and is followed in chapter three by the account of the temptation and tasting of the forbidden fruit; a story we are all familiar with.  But let’s spend a few minutes on the detail of how and why God created both man and woman in the first place.  God created the heavens and earth for the benefit of his most spectacular creation, mankind.  What made mankind unique among all creation?  Unlike anything and everything else God created, mankind was created in His image, to rule over all of creation (Genesis 1:26, 27).  Not only did mankind receive this unique position, but received something infinitely more valuable, God’s blessing (1:28).  What is this blessing?  Simply put, it is God’s unmerited favor, given to the first couple out of a love based on the special relationship they shared; for only mankind bare the image and likeness of the Creator.

Adam was created first, but it wouldn’t be long before God acknowledged that one of the basic needs of humanity is companionship, someone to share God’s blessing with.  All the animals, trees and even the very presence of God were no substitute for someone of Adam’s own flesh.  You mean to say that the presence of God was not sufficient companionship for Adam?  Adam was created in the image of God, but he did not share in the substance of God.  Adam was still only a created being and needed someone created “according to his own kind”; in the same way that God created all other living things (1:24-25).  In chapter two, we read that God created Eve from Adam because it was “not good for man to be alone.”  Unlike Adam, who was created from scratch, so to speak, Eve was created from the very flesh of Adam and once joined together as the first man and wife, became both figuratively and literally, one flesh.  This is the very same relationship a husband and wife share today, having been joined by God.  If this was the end of the story and “they lived happily ever after” we wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to deal with the sin and estrangement that plaques mankind today.

God had created a perfect order, with Adam charged with the responsibility of caring for the world God created, with Eve as his “suitable helper.”  However, it wasn’t long before things began to break down.  God gave Adam and Eve a single “thou shalt not.”  They were free to enjoy all of God’s creation, with one exception, that they were not to eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Now it would be easy to conclude that both Adam and Eve were weak and stupid since they had only one rule and failed to keep it.  One might conclude that unlike us, they did not know what evil was, only that if they disobeyed, they would “surely die (v.18).”  Some have defended Adam and Eve, saying that life and death was a foreign concept, so the penalty that God promised for disobedience wasn’t real to them or the seriousness of the matter fully understood.  Perhaps, but this is not an excuse we can employ since we have a first-hand view of what evil looks like and what comes from it.

Satan, in the form of a serpent, singles out Eve to begin his deception, saying, “Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”  Satan begins with a lie, knowing full well that God had only restricted them from tasting the fruit of a single tree.  Eve replied that of course they could eat from the fruit of the garden, just not of the one tree in the middle of the garden.  Now we know that Adam was with Eve during this conversation, so why didn’t Satan address himself to Adam?  Was it because Eve was less knowledgeable or weaker than Adam?  Did Satan think that Eve was easier to deceive?  I don’t think so.  It was simply part of Satan’s strategy to disrupt the natural order of what God had created.  Satan chose Eve to assault with his lies as a way of mocking God and disrespecting what God had created and the order in which it had been created.  It had nothing to do with weakness or character, only that by disrupting the order of communications, chaos may be able to find a way in.  It’s not unlike how battles are fought today, where the invading army first attempts to disrupt their enemy’s ability to communicate, hoping to cause confusion and discord.  Well, it worked because both Adam and Eve were deceived and both ate of the forbidden fruit.  Would the story have had a different ending if Adam had been the focus of the serpent’s questions?  We’ll never know, but we do know that Satan will employ whatever techniques necessary to confuse and disrupt our relationship with God and each other.  Let’s compare Satan’s line of questioning with that of God, after they had fallen for the serpent’s deception.  In verse nine of chapter three, God calls out to Adam to find out where the two of them are hiding, “Where are you?”  God, of course, respects and acknowledges the perfect order of His creation by addressing Adam first.  In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he first addresses wives because we live in a fallen world, corrupted by sin, where the natural order that God created has been confused and disrupted.  It has nothing to do with strength or weakness, or some innate gender flaw.  Paul addresses wives first because they have a unique and special role in humanity, set apart to be cared for and honored by their husbands “as is fitting in the Lord.”

So what is the rub here?  It boils down to the word submit, which to some implies a second class status.  The Greek word that’s used here, translated as the English submit, has the sense of one who is subject to someone else.  Granted, there is a sense of rank or order as well, but only functionally, not substantively.  There is no implication as to importance or capability, only the functional role a wife plays in her relationship with her husband.  Any two people whose are joined together with a common objective have specific responsibilities both to their common objective and to each other.  This is how each shows respect for the other.  The problem is there is no other relationship under heaven and earth like that of two people, a man and a woman, joined together by God in marriage.  In fact, it is so unique that in Ephesians chapter five, Paul describes it as a “profound mystery.”  The only possible comparison is the relationship between Jesus and his Father or Christ and the church.  Jesus submitted, or was subject to, his heavenly Father’s will, but did that make him any less divine, any less the God of our salvation and deliverance?  Of course not, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, but they function in different and sometimes mysterious ways; ways that are of equal importance and each infinitely powerful.

“Husband’s, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”  Again, the Greek word for love used here means to be selfless and sacrificial.  Paul further describes the love a husband must have for his wife as that which he holds for himself.  It is assumed that a man loves himself and will do most anything to preserve and protect his body and well-being, “after all, no one ever hated his own body, but feeds and cares for it (Ephesians 5:29).”  Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, willing to sacrifice everything for her.  In the same way a wife is should submit to her husband in everything, just as the church submits to Christ.  Why did Paul add that a husband is not to be harsh with his wife?  Because, by being harsh or unjust he will sacrifice both the submission and respect that are his do and find them replaced by rebellion and contempt.

Anyone who has or has had children knows that dealing with issues related to their kids can become a flash point in a marriage.  More often than not, the issue is in some way related to the child’s behavior but when a husband and wife disagree on how to deal with it, things can go from bad to worse.  Paul’s simple exhortation on the subject, “Children obey your parents,” is curious since it is highly unlikely that his letter was intended to be read to children.  So why does Paul add it to his list?  Was it targeted at adults, intended as an instruction of how adult children are to relate to their parents?  I doubt it.  I think the target of Paul’s teaching was to parents and indirectly to their children.  I have no doubt the imperative that children are to obey was shared with the young ones, but the message was more for mom and dad.

We all know that children do not innately want to obey, when the alternative is more fun or satisfying.  In fact, children innately want their own way in almost everything.  We all have witnessed a child defying a parent for no other reason than they want, what they want, when they want it.  Again, there is a very practical reason for a child to obey since, more often than not, what is required will benefit them in some way. But when a parent is arbitrary or self-serving in their demand for obedience, the child usually sees right through it and the chance of a successful conclusion is greatly diminished.   The point is that instructing children in obedience is a parent’s obligation, as much as it is an obligation of the child to obey.  And, in the process of instruction, conflict between a parent and child often results.  It is also true that teaching children to be obedient can lead to conflicts between mom and dad as well.  This whole subject of teaching children to obey can even lead to conflict beyond the immediate household.  All of us have heard of a grandpa or grandma criticizing their children for the way they have taught the grandchildren to behave.  Yes, children are a blessing, but also a point contention in most households, at one time or another.

I propose that there isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t, more than once, lost their temper and responded inappropriately when disciplining their son or daughter.  After things have calmed down a bit, usually an apology is tendered and the best you can hope for is that your message didn’t get lost in the fury and anger of the moment.  This is why Paul adds one more item to his list, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged (vs.21).”  Why does he address this command only to fathers?  Is it because it is only the father’s responsibility to discipline?  Of course not, but at the end of the day, the buck stops at dad’s door, as the head of the household.  Also, it is the nature of a man to be less sensitive in dealing with children, especially a son.  While a mother’s natural tendency is to nurture a child, a father…well let’s just say they can sometimes be harsh, even demanding.  This brings to mind a personal story that can best illustrate my point.

After finishing up an hour of teaching a 5th grade Sunday School Class, I was greeted in the hall by the Sunday School Superintendent and informed that my son, who was in Junior High at the time, had been expelled from the class for repeatedly misbehaving and being disruptive in class.  Well the drive home was silent, but once we walked through the front door the fireworks began. I spent the next 30 minutes giving my son a piece of my mind, at a volume that could be heard all the way down the block.  When I was finished, I was shaking and retired to my easy chair to compose myself.  As I sat down, my wife Cindy made her way upstairs, for what I thought would be round two, but as I sat there in silence, all I heard coming from upstairs was silence. After an hour or so, my wife joined me in the family room and scooped me in on what had been said and how it was said.

My son was both angry and apologetic at the same time.  But it is what he was angry about that cut me to the quick.  He knew he had been wrong and deserved to be corrected and punished but he was angry at me because the whole time I was shouting at him, I refused to listen to him even for a moment.  I had in fact, told him to be quiet; that I didn’t want to hear his excuses.  He also told my wife that he believed the reason I was so angry had nothing to do with him or any concern for his well-being. The reason for my anger was all about how his behavior might tarnish my image or reputation at church.  It wasn’t about him, it was all about me.

Cindy said nothing more and left me to consider the whole matter in silence.  I quickly concluded that my son was right on the money.  What he had done was wrong, but what I had done bordered on unforgivable.  I returned to his room and asked to be forgiven and confirmed that his conclusions were spot on.  But, I could tell it would take some time for the wound I had inflicted on him to heal.  Did he forgive me? I’m sure he did, but complete reconciliation would take some time.  I learned a valuable lesson that morning about the importance of demonstrating selfless love in all things and in all circumstances.  I also concluded that one of the best ways to teach a child about forgiveness is to be willing to honestly and unabashedly ask for their forgiveness.

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