Hiding Under the Law
As I help people heed God’s gender-relevant commandments, I often find myself getting theological. Something hides under the law of God. Our cultural sensibilities obscure it. Our ignorance renders it opaque. Or our unbelief blinds us to it. But as I recently pointed out here, the apostle Paul informs us that there is a goal of love to all the laws that God gives. They are getting at something deeper, which may not be evident from the law’s letter. The struggler must lift up her eyes to the goal and intent of these rules the Lord issues.
Theologian Matthew Bates (whose work in several areas I greatly appreciate), gets at this in a certain passage in his new book, Why the Gospel? (2023). He is passionate to define the gospel in a more Biblical way. And this, he argues, would help the church out of some of her pressing errors in living out the Christian life (e.g., “Christ” really means “King,” “faith” usually means “allegiance to”). In describing how the gospel should transform us, Bates asks:
How does Jesus teach his followers to become God’s living law? In a series of sayings in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes up some famous Old Testament teachings—for example, “do not murder,” “do not commit adultery,” and “eye for eye.” But in each case, Jesus radicalizes it to show God’s true intentions. Jesus tells his followers that they are indeed to obey the actual command. Yet they must push beyond superficial obedience in order to live out the fundamental reason why God gave that law.
So, for example, “you shall not commit adultery” is not merely shunning illicit sex. Rather, the word is insisting on and exalting commitment to one person in body and soul, to the reality of “one flesh” in our place of greatest intimacy. “You shall not murder” is really getting at our angry hearts. In “You shall not make a graven image,” the big deal is not hand-made craftmanship. The big deal is loving something–anything–more than we love God.
Now, apply this thinking to what God says about not cross-dressing (Deuteronomy 22:5) or a wife submitting to her husband (Ephesians 5:22, 33).
Identifying what your culture means by women’s dress or accoutrements and resolving not to break those cultural norms is not the big deal. The big deal is how God wants you to explore and enjoy real manhood in your relationships. He wants you to have fellowship with other men and then, in an asymmetrical way, to love women. That all lies beneath the cross-dressing downer.
Again, wifely submitting is not the big deal. The big deal is promoting the guy you want to succeed. It is realizing how, if you are married to him, you hold one of the very big keys to his success. You can do something for him that no one else can do.
Complementarily (is that a word?), God’s insistence that you love your wife to the point of imitating Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 5:25, 29) is easier to draw deep. That command’s wording is already radicalizing a husband’s faithfulness to the main point: give yourself up for her. Yes, God wants you to experience something of Christ Jesus, and something that also comes from within the Godhead itself.
Which command are you struggling with?
Can you look through it, and by it, to see God’s true intent?