Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Leadership 3

Ritual Bath (Mikveh)

We’ve been talking a lot about leadership in the church.  And the simple reason for that is that we need to establish some kind of structure in order to be a church.  But for that to work, we need to be in agreement with the Bible’s plan for leadership.  We need to agree with Jesus’ instruction that he alone is the head of the Church, and that all the rest are brothers—all the rest are equal under him.  He alone is our rabbi and leader. 

Jesus taught us that to be great in the Body of Messiah, you must be a servant to everyone else in the Body.  He said, “It will not be this way among you; rather whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave” (Matt. 20:26-27).  Why?  Because God’s plan is for us all to submit to each other.  God’s plan is for us all to serve each other.

We’ve also seen that a key part of the structure of the local church is the elders of the church, who are pastors to the others—they help and serve all the others.  But why does the Bible say that elders should be men, and in fact married men (“It is necessary therefore that the overseer [another name for an elder] be above reproach, a husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” 1 Tim. 3:2)?

 In Judaism, one of the reasons for male elders is that the religious requirements for Jewish men are much more strict than for the women.  The men have more religious duties to fulfill, which includes attending meetings.  The women are freed up from many of these requirements because they have another extremely important ministry to perform:  the ministry of bearing and raising children.  Also, according to some rabbis, women are more prone to do right:  it’s the men that have to be constantly reminded to behave themselves. 

One practical reason that we’ve found over the years for men elders is that men need male role models.  When women are in charge of a church, fewer men show up.  This was the way our church in the Philippines was when we first started.  It was mostly women.  We even appointed women elders, because they were the longest attending, most faithful and most knowledgeable members of the church.  But we couldn’t get men to come.  So finally I was convicted that we needed to do it God’s way, and all the ladies agreed, and resigned their positions.  So we started appointing men to positions of leadership.  In half a year, the church was filled with men.  It was an amazing change!  This also led the men to take more seriously their duties in the family.  When men are given responsibility, they step up to the plate and do the job.   

Also, remember that those in positions of leadership in the Body of Messiah have to serve all the others.  This means that the elders can be called on by the brothers for help at any time.  But if you put women into the position of being a servant to men like that, it could create some improper situations.  So it’s better to avoid any problems like that from happening.


The Bible’s view about the relationship of men and women is closely connected to the idea that every created creature has its own proper realm of authority.  Different angels, for example, have their different areas of authority, but when they stray from that area of authority, it creates problems.  Do you remember when the angels began to marry human women in Gen. 6:2 (“And the sons of God saw the daughters of man that they were good and they took for themselves women from all that they chose”)?  They had strayed from their proper domain and were punished (“And angels that did not keep watch over their own domain, but left their proper dwelling place, he has kept under watch in darkness for eternal bonds on the judgment of the great day,” Jude 1:6). 

This is also the problem with homosexuality and men acting effeminate (Rom. 1:27).  If God made you a man, but you act like a woman, you are straying from your created realm. 

So what then does the Bible teach about the position of women in the Church?  You’ve probably heard the verse, “but I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but rather to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12).  This sounds severe.  But what is it actually talking about?  Clearly, Paul thought that teaching, in other words, doctrinal teaching of adult men, and having authority over adult men were two areas of authority that should be in the domain of men.  But what about being “in silence”

If we look at this in context with the previous verse (“Let a woman learn in silence in all submission,” 1 Tim. 2:11), it clearly means that the women were to be quiet while someone was teaching.  This is also the meaning when this topic comes up in 1 Cor. 14:34,35.  What was the reason for this?  Women were usually not educated in those days.  Only the men received formal education.  Many of the women were not used to being in a formal setting.  So just like in areas where there is little education today, some of the ladies would start chit-chatting during the message, which clearly was annoying to Paul. 

But does this mean that women always have to be silent in churches?  In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul himself mentions women praying and preaching in the services (“But every wife praying or prophesying…”:  remember that prophesying in the Bible means preaching a message from the Lord).  He mentions this as a normal thing in the services.  These are obviously extremely important parts of the service that women were participating in.    

Even in Old Testament times, Miriam the sister of Moses was a prophetess (Exo. 15:20); so was Deborah in the time of the judges (Judges 4:4), and Huldah in the time of the kings (2 Kings 22:14).  Anna was a prophetess at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:36).  And so were the four daughters of Philip in the book of Acts (Acts 21:9).  So Paul is clearly not telling us that women can never speak in the churches.  It’s just that they should be orderly in the services, and with regard to doctrinal teaching and positions of authority, they are not to be put over men. 

Why is Paul so insistent on this point?  He traces it back to the Bible where it says:  “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13).  This is a reference to the Creation, when Eve was created to be a helper for Adam (“And the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make for him a helper similar to him,” Gen. 2:18).  Here’s that whole idea of a created position and purpose again.  Eve was created to be in the position of a helper to Adam, which implies that putting her in authority over man would be to reverse God’s intended purpose. 

Paul continues:  “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman is, having been deceived into transgression (or overstepping)” (1 Tim. 2:14).  Now this is quite a strange verse.  The first question we have to answer is, is it true that Adam was not deceived?  To answer this, we have to turn back to Genesis 3.  The first five verses of this chapter are the conversation between the serpent and Eve.  There is no mention of Adam.  So I think it’s safe to say that Adam was not there for this conversation. 

Then, in verse 6, she ate.  “And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes and the tree was desirable to look at (or to give wisdom) and she took some of its fruit and she ate, and she also gave some to her husband together with herself, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).  So they both ate the fruit together.  But it doesn’t say that Eve said anything to Adam about it.  She just gave him some fruit, and he ate.  So as Paul understands this, she didn’t convince him to eat by repeating the lie of the serpent and talking him into it.  She just handed him some fruit, and without thinking, he accepted it and ate it.  This means that Adam didn’t sin by accepting the lie of the serpent, he wasn’t deceived, he only sinned by eating the forbidden fruit.  So this is why Paul says that Adam was not deceived in the way that Eve was. 

But Paul doesn’t just say that Eve was deceived (1 Tim. 2:14 above).  He says that women today are deceived because of what Eve did in the past.  This is very clear in the Greek.  What does he mean by this? 

Perhaps you remember Paul’s teaching in Romans that through Adam sin entered the world and led to spiritual death for all, right up until today (Rom. 5:12).  Here we see that he had a similar teaching about Eve, that through her, women today (and here he’s talking about women in general) are deceived into transgressing or overstepping God’s plan for the family.  They are deceived into stepping out of God’s created order.  Eve, who should have been a helper to her husband Adam, stepped out of that position by receiving instruction from the serpent and taking action on her own, without checking with Adam first.   So how can this inherited sin, or tendency to sin, be fixed? 

1 Tim. 2:15:  “but (the woman) will be saved (i.e. from this sin) through the bearing of children if they remain in faith and love and holiness with self-control.”  The bearing of children is a reference back to the created order again, and to one of the key differences between men and women, the ability to bear a child.  So by living a godly life and bearing and raising children, through being a mother, the married woman can be saved from this sin or temptation to sin—because she’ll be plenty busy with lots of other things to do that are within her area of authority. 


To really understand this idea of created position and authority, we need to look in a little more detail at the relationship between men and women in general in the Bible.  As we’ve seen, the Bible calls for mutual submission in the Body of Messiah.  But there are two relationships in the Body of Messiah that are not described as relationships of mutual submission.  The first is our relationship to Jesus.  We must submit totally to him, because he is the head of the Church. 

The second is the relationship of the husband and wife.  This is in Eph. 5:22-23:  “Wives (submit) to their own husbands as to the Lord. For a man is head of his wife even as the Messiah is head of the Church, being himself the Savior of the Body.”  But what does this ‘headship’ really mean?  Many people think of headship as a simple relationship of human authority:  I’m the boss, you’re not.  And because of this, the Bible’s teaching about men and women gets a lot of bad press.  But as we’ve seen, Jesus’ ideas of authority and leadership are just the opposite of the world’s ideas.  So what does it really mean that the husband is the head of the wife, and that Jesus is the head of the Church?    

Now first of all, we need to notice that this relationship of submission is only between a wife and her husband, not anyone else (except the Lord of course).  So this has nothing to do with women in general being subject to men in general.  It’s only between a husband and wife in the marriage relationship.  Nor is it talking about leaders having headship over the members of a congregation.  The Bible teaches that there is only one head of the Christian Church, and that is Messiah Jesus himself.  Jesus said that he alone is the head of the church, and we are all brothers. 

This is also the message of 1 Cor. 11, which is often used to try to prove human headship over the Church.  But what does it actually say?  “But I want you to know that the head of every man is the Messiah, but the head of a wife is the husband, and the head of the Messiah is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).  It doesn’t say that the head of every man is the church leadership.  It says that the head of every man is the Messiah.  The wife, too, is not just subject to anyone.  She is subject only to her husband and to the Lord, not to anyone else. 

But what does this headship mean?  Well, how did Jesus come to be in the position of head over the Church?  Because he saved us (“being himself Savior”).  How did he do that?  “Husbands, love your wives, just as the Messiah also loved the Church and gave himself up for her,” (Eph. 5:25).  Jesus became our Savior by giving himself up for the Church.  What does that mean?  That he gave himself up to torture and death for her sake. 

This is the part of the husband:  to do “just as” Jesus did, to give up your life for your wife.  We men enter into a position of headship in our marriages when we give up our lives for our wives:  when we give up having our own way and doing our own thing for her.  This is true headship, this is godly leadership. 

Eph. 5:26:  “that he might make her holy, having cleansed her for the bath of water [baptism] by his word.”  This is a fascinating verse, and widely misunderstood and mistranslated because most Christians don’t know the Jewish custom Paul is referring to here.  In Judaism, to be cleansed from ritual impurity (like those in Lev. 15), you had to take a ritual bath, and then you had to wait until sunset to be clean. 

To do this, you would go to a ritual bath, which at the time was kept full of water and was usually in a dark basement or room.  You would then take off your clothes—it was a private place—walk down the steps on the unclean side, all alone, into the water, and dip yourself three times.  Then you would walk up the clean side and get dressed again.  But this was not to get the dirt off.  For that they used a regular bathtub first.  So first you would take a bath to become clean, then you would enter the ritual bath for ritual cleanness.  This ritual bath is the origin of our practice of baptism.  Baptism is a ritual bath, a source of ritual cleanness.  But what people don’t understand is that this was a two step process:  first a regular bath, then a ritual bath. 

This is what Paul is getting at in Eph. 5:26:  that Jesus washed us with the words of his teaching first to get the dirt off, and only then after that are we ready for baptism.  This paints a beautiful picture of Jesus washing and cleansing us, just like he did at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of his disciples.  It’s a very beautiful and tender picture of Jesus’ care and concern for us. 

Why did he do this?  Why does he take the time to wash us with his Word?  It’s to make us holy, to set us apart from the world (Eph. 5:26).  In the same way, husbands have the responsibility to wash their wives in the Word of God, that they might be holy and set apart from the world.  This is true Biblical headship.

Eph. 5:27:  “that he might present the Church to himself as glorious, not having a stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and blameless.”  The goal of all this is that we will be found holy and blameless when Jesus returns and we are presented to him.  Are you ready for that?

Eph. 5:28:  “In the same way, husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies.  The one who loves his own wife loves himself.”  Why is the wife the husband’s own body?  This is an allusion to Genesis.  I’m sure you remember how God made Eve.  “And the LORD God made the rib that he took from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22).  Eve was made from Adam.  And what did Adam say?  “This time it’s bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, because this one was taken out of man” (Gen. 2:23).  The woman literally was from his own body.  So there’s a very literal sense to the idea that when a man loves his wife, he is loving his own body. 

Eph. 5:29:  “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Messiah also does the Church.”  Husbands are to nourish and cherish their wives, just as Messiah does the Church.  The husband cherishes his wife because she is part of his body.  The Messiah cherishes the Church because it is his body.    

Eph. 5:31:  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with (cleave to) his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  Here Paul is quoting from Gen. 2:24.  In the Hebrew of Genesis, it says “cleave to,” in other words, the man should stick to his wife.  The marriage relationship takes priority over fathers and mothers.  It takes priority over our birth families.  We are to leave them, and cleave to our wives.  We are to ‘leave and cleave.’ 

Eph. 5:32:  “This mystery is great; but I speak with regard to Messiah and the Church.”  Even though Paul has been speaking about Genesis and the relationship of the husband and wife, it’s only to help us understand the relationship of Jesus to the Church.  That means that in the same way that the marriage relationship takes priority over our birth families, we are to give priority to our relationship to the Messiah over our birth families.  Here, too, we are to leave and cleave. 

This helps us understand one of the difficult sayings of Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life, too, he is not able to be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).  Have you ever wondered about this one?  Isn’t it against the Ten Commandments to hate your father and mother?  Well actually, the Ten Commandments says to honor your mother and father.  It doesn’t say you have to agree with them about everything.  It is possible to honorably disagree with someone.

But what does Jesus mean by this difficult saying?  Does he really mean we should hate our families?  Well, how did Jesus treat his own mother? 

Do you remember when Jesus’ mother and brothers came to get him from one of his meetings, what he said when someone told him they had arrived?  “But he answered and said to the one speaking to him, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Look!  My mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:48-50).  Wow.  This was very radical.  Do you see what Jesus is saying?  Who are his true family members?  The ones that do the will of God.  Our true families are our spiritual families.  And what about his own natural family?  It seems that they were not following God at that time, so they were not yet part of his true spiritual family.  He had left them behind to minister to his spiritual family. 

So what does he mean when he says that we must hate our family?  We have to remember that at that time, Jesus was talking to the very first believers.  None of their family members was yet saved.  This means that their family members were not yet part of God’s true spiritual family.  So if they’re not yet saved, if they’re not yet part of God’s family, whose family are they part of? 

As Jesus said in Jerusalem, “You are of your father the devil…” (John 8:44).  It’s not a pleasant fact, but it’s true.  We need to recognize that unsaved family members are on the wrong side of the spiritual world.  Either you’re with Jesus or against him.  We can’t hide from this or cover up this basic fact. 

Do you remember what Jesus said to one young man that wanted to follow him, but said “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matt. 8:21).   First let me bury my father, and then I will follow you.  What did Jesus say?  “Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22).  To some people, the words of Jesus sound cruel.  Why wouldn’t he let the young man bury his father?  But you have to realize that this doesn’t mean his father was dead or even that he was sick.  He’s actually saying, let me wait until my father dies, and then I will follow you.  His father was standing between him and following Jesus.  So Jesus points to the spiritual reality that the young man’s father was not a believer.  He was spiritually dead.  But Jesus calls us to life, leaving the dead behind, and entering the family of God.  We must leave and cleave. 

Does that mean we don’t care about these people who are our physical family members, but who are not yet saved?  Well, let’s look at what Jesus himself did.  He drew a clear line between himself and his unsaved family members.  He denied that they were his true family in public before a crowd of people.  But later, many of them accepted and believed, including Mary his mother and his brothers James and Jude.  What if he had not drawn a line between himself and them?  What if he had not made it clear that they were not yet part of the family of God?  Then they would have thought they were okay and there was no need to change.  Would this have been a loving thing to do?  Would it be loving to let them think they’re okay with God when they are not?  Or wouldn’t that be a terrible deception, a lie that would keep them from entering into eternal life and would encourage them on their path to destruction? 

Jesus even said the gospel is intended to divide families:  “Do not suppose that I came to bring peace on the earth:  I did not come to bring peace, but rather a sword.  For I came to divide ‘a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’” (Matt. 10:34,35).  Here Jesus is quoting from Micah 7:6.  It’s a passage in which Micah is weeping over the land:  There is not a grape to eat, the godly person has perished from the land (Micah 7:1).  It was a time when the nation, God’s people, were in rebellion against God.  

This is also how Jesus understood his own generation:  it was a perverse and adulterous generation.  Into this wicked generation, Jesus brought the gospel, just as we also preach the gospel to a perverse and adulterous generation.  And the truth, the light, divides people.  The darkness hates the light and turns from the light.  The truth divides families.  So we must leave and cleave.  We must hate the works of darkness and all those that do them.  But all the while we must hope and pray for their salvation.  We must continue to do good even to those who oppose us. 

What did Jesus say?  “Love your….”?  Enemies.  “Pray for those who…”?  Persecute you (Matt. 5:44).  God does good to the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:45).  And we must do the same. 

Why is it so important to leave everything behind to follow Jesus, to leave and cleave?  Just look at what happened to Jesus when he went back to preach in his home town of Nazareth.  Was he successful?  No.  Why not? 

He said, “Amen I say to you, that no prophet is welcome in his home town” (Luke 4:24).  Now why did he say that?  The people had welcomed him with great pride:  “And all were bearing witness of him and were wondering at the gracious words that were going out of his mouth, and they were saying, ‘Isn’t this the son of Joseph?’” (Luke 4:22).  What’s wrong with that?  It sounds like they were being very friendly and nice to him.  But you see, that was the problem.  They were receiving him back as a home town boy.  They could only see him as the “son of Joseph,” not as the Son of God.  And so he couldn’t do many miracles there (Matt. 13:58). 

Jesus could just have accepted this situation.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he confronted them by comparing them to the sinful generation in the time of Elijah, which also received no miracles (Luke 4:25,26).  That’s when what started as a welcome home celebration turned into an angry mob dragging him to the edge of town, ready to throw him off a cliff. 

There’s no record that Jesus ever returned to Nazareth after that.  But do you know that in the years after he died, a strong Jewish Christian synagogue grew up in Nazareth, descended in part from his own relatives.  What if he had not drawn the line with them?  What if he had not challenged them?  But because he did and almost died there because of it, many of his relatives were saved. 

Jesus shows us in his own life what it means to leave our earthly families and cleave to our spiritual family.  This is what we are called to do as Christians.  It’s also a picture of how it should be in our marriages.  We have to leave and cleave.  Jesus laid down his life for his spiritual family.  In the same way, husbands should lay down their lives for their wives.  This is true spiritual headship.  They should wash their wives and their families in the Word of God.  This is when men fulfill their destiny and calling as the heads of their family.  This is when they fulfill their created purpose.  And that’s when a wife’s submission to her husband becomes a joy and not a duty.

God’s plan for the relationship of men and women is such a beautiful thing.  Yes, it has often been distorted by abuses.  But if we restore it to God’s original plan, it can be one of the most intensely beautiful things in our lives.     It’s the same way with leadership in the Church.  God has a wonderful plan for all of us to work together to achieve God’s purposes.  This includes the gift of elders to the Church, elders that can serve and shepherd the others.  And it works when we all submit to one another and to the Lord.  Amen?

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