© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015

We have already looked at the command that we are to love our ‘neighbour’. This command defines God’s expectation of every human being. When we come to the New Testament, not only do we see this command reaffirmed by Jesus, but we also see a fine-tuning of its meaning for those who know the Lord Jesus.

He commanded those who follow him: ‘Love one another’ [John 13:34,35; 15:17]

The New Testament writers repeat this command to love our fellow Christians: [Romans 12:9-10; 13:8; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11.23; 4:7,11,12; 2John 5]

But Jesus did not leave it there. He fine-tuned and defined the kind of love he expects of us even further:

‘Love one another as I have loved you’ [John 13:34; 15:12]

This ‘as I have loved you’ encapsulates the whole of the Redemption, Regeneration, Reconciliation factor. Its significance cannot be measured. This command allows us no room to love believers of one sex to treat believers of the other sex with contempt, or with less love than shown to believers of the same sex.

Here we confronted with the question: just how did Jesus love us? In what way, in what measure, with what conditions, with what qualifications? Because it is this same kind of love, this same extent of love that he commands of us. It is in this study that we will understand how we are to put into practice the implications of our Redemption, Regeneration and Reconciliation.

Jesus loves us with his eyes open. He knows, even better than we ourselves know, that we are sinners who sin. He doesn’t wait for us to be perfect, or even to improve, before he loves us. He doesn’t stop loving us, or change his love, when we fail. [Romans 5:6,8,10; Ephesians 2:4,5]

People knew they were loved by Jesus. In fact the sinners knew it far better than the ‘righteous’. The presence of sin did not cause change or alteration in Christ’s love or in his expression of that love.

Paul has left us with two clear statements:

Ephesians 4:32: ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’

Colossians 3:13: ‘Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’

These verses challenge men and women within the church to a radical acceptance of each other, irrespective of whether each is conforming to the other’s perception of the roles of men and women within the church. What exactly are they saying?

‘kind’    The Greek word is ‘chrestoi’. This is the word Jesus used in Matthew 11:30: ‘my yoke is easy’.  It means: gentle, benign, obliging, gracious, agreeable. It is the opposite to: hard, harsh, sharp, bitter.

‘compassionate’    Sometimes translated ‘tender-hearted’ the word ‘eusplangnon’ literally means ‘good (or beautiful) bowels. [The Hebrews saw the bowels, not the heart, as the seat of emotion.] To be compassionate is to be moved towards the other person, from the depths of one’s being, with a strong, good (beautiful), tender feeling towards them. Christ’s feeling towards people in need was ‘he was moved with compassion.’

‘forgiving each other’; ‘forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another’.    The verb used here is ‘charizomai’ which means to grant as a free, unconditional favour. It comes from the root ‘charis’ which means ‘grace’, which in turn is related to the word ‘chairo’, to rejoice or be full of joy. Thus, forgiving is graciously, joyfully, unconditionally choosing to not pay a person out for their offences against us. It is also to be on-going ‘forgiving’ – present and continuing.

‘just as in Christ  God forgave you’; ‘as the Lord forgave you’. God’s once-for-all (the verb is in the Aorist Tense) forgiving my sin in and through the death of Christ is both the measure and the model of how he expects me to forgive others. It is without limit. It is without condition. It is permanent. It is comprehensive. No sin is beyond it. No sin is excluded by it. Indeed, forgiveness is something we possess, something we have [Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14]. The believer lives in the presence of God in a state of perpetual forgiveness.

‘Bear with each other’. The word means to put up with, to endure patiently. This assumes that we are imperfect, that we are sinners who sin, that we will do things that annoy, frustrate, hurt or anger each other. This phrase forbids us to retaliate in any way when we are offended. [Note the previous verse – Col. 3:12 – it assumes that in living with each other we will need ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ – things we would not need to be commanded if the other person was perfect!

This is the kind of loving that we have to do to each other. This is the kind of loving that men are to do to women even if they don’t want to be led; this is the kind of loving women have to do to men, even if they lead inappropriately. If the man is fulfilling his responsibility of headship with this kind of loving it will make it far easier for the woman to accept his headship. If the woman is fulfilling her responsibility of accepting the man’s headship with this kind of loving, it will make it easier for the man to lead.

Neither men nor women are perfect. We are all sinners who sin. What are we supposed to do, how are we supposed to respond, in the presence of each other’s sins and weaknesses, including their struggles with the effects of the Sin Factor – their self-image problems, their inhibitions, their fears? Are we to condemn, to deride, to criticize, to act superior because we ourselves have ‘victory’ or insight in a particular area where they don’t, to barrage them with a tirade of insensitive tongue-bashing?

Jesus Christ carried our sins.

Even though it meant ridicule.
Even though it meant he was misunderstood.
Even though it meant public disgrace.
Even though it meant the appearance of weakness and powerlessness.
Even though it meant suffering.
Even though it meant separation from his Father.

Paul wrote:

Philippians 2:4ff: ‘Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus … who made himself nothing … and … humbled himself.’

Romans 15:1-3: ‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”’

Galatians 6:1-2: ‘Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’

In the context of the differing perceptions of men’s and women’s ministry roles within the church this means:

That neither a man nor a woman should be governed by the need to promote their own role or significance

That neither a man nor a woman should feel threatened by appearing to be nothing

That both the man and the woman should be governed by the well-being of the other

That if either fails in their perception of the respective roles of men and women this failure should be born with, even if it does not please us, even if it insults us.

That there will be sympathetic understanding of respective weaknesses hanging over from the sin factor – whether it be of the man’s tendency to dominate or of the woman’s feeling of incompleteness and unfulfilment.


D.1 Ephesians 5:15-33
We come now to Ephesians 5:15-33. [While this relates specifically to the husband/wife relationship there is much we can learn here for the man/woman roles and relationships within the church.]
We need to keep in mind that the husband-wife passage flows on directly from, and is an example of the kind of lifestyle commanded in, Ephesians 5:15-21 where we find a number of contrasts:

Verse   Don’t                        Do
15        Be unwise                Be careful and wise
17        Be foolish                 Understand what the will of the Lord is
18        Get drunk on wine     Be filled with the Spirit

We then have (in the Greek) five present participles expressing what will happen in the lives of those who allow themselves to be controlled by God’s Spirit day by day, moment by moment:

They will be speaking to each other in ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’: in other words, they will be so impacted by God’s truth that they can’t stop talking about it.

They will be singing and making music in their hearts: that is, they will be filled and overflowing with a deep-set joy.

They always will be giving thanks to God for everything in the name of Jesus.

They will be submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Note carefully that the ‘submitting to one another’ command is given to everyone. Everyone is to be submitting to one another. Paul goes on to describe how this ‘submitting to one another’ will express itself in the three most common inter-personal relationships. It is as if a husband has said to Paul: ‘What does ‘submitting to one another’ mean for me?’ and a wife has said ‘What does it mean for me?’ And a child, a parent, a boss and an employee all asked the same question. So we are each confronted with this question: what does it mean for us, as men and women in the church, to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ?

In Paul’s example, the wife, out of reverence for Christ, jettisons her personal ‘rights’ in submission to the leadership role God has ordained for the husband; here the husband, out of reverence for Christ, jettisons his personal ‘rights’ in loving his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The degree to which each one is able to submit to the other in this way will be paralleled by a reduction of the difficulty the other finds in expressing the same submission.

We must be careful to use this passage in keeping with its original context, as an expression of the Redemption Factor, not as an expression of the Sin Factor. It is meant to help us to ‘live a life worthy of our calling’ [Eph 4:1], to ‘no longer live like the Gentiles’ [4:17], to ‘live a life of love’ [5:2], and to ‘live as children of light’ [5:8] – all expressions of the Redemption we have in Christ. This passage:

Is not telling the husband he must demand submission from his wife.
Is not telling the wife she must demand sacrificial, Christ-like love from her husband.
Is not authorising the husband to verbally, emotionally or physically abuse his wife.
Is not telling the wife she has to put up with such abuse from her husband.
Is not defining the husband as superior and the wife as inferior.

Transferred to the respective roles of men and women in the church, the passage:

Is not telling men they must demand submission from women in the church.
Is not telling women they must demand sacrificial, Christ-like care from the men in the church.
Is not authorising the men to disparage or belittle or ignore the gifting of women in the church.
Is not telling the women they have to put up with such behaviour.
Is not defining the men as superior and the women as inferior.

Rather this passage defines a submission of the men to the women as a commitment to the well-being of the women that exemplifies the commitment of Christ to the well-being of the church. And it defines the submission of women to men as a total trust in and dependence on the good-will of the men towards them.

D.2 Other scriptures on submission
1 Peter 2:11-3:7 is a similar passage. In 2:11-12 Peter says: ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’ He then goes on to spell out the implications of this instruction in various situations:

We should all submit to the government for the Lord’s sake. [2:13-17]

Slaves [employees] should submit to their masters [employers], even insulting or unjust masters, and so express the example of Christ [2:18-25].

Wives ‘in the same way’ should be submissive to their husbands, and possibly by this submission win them over to Christ [3:1-6]. Note that this submission is not an expression of fear [3:6].

Husbands ‘in the same way’ are to treat their wives with consideration and respect because they know they are weaker and because they are heirs together of the gracious gift of life, and, Peter adds, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Like the Ephesians passage this neither authorises nor commands male domination and female servility. Peter, very much aware of the pagan world looking on and observing the behaviour of Christians, calls Christians to express their knowledge of Jesus Christ in their relationships in such a way that God will be glorified.

Governments may be wrong: but the Christian’s responsibility before Christ is to submit to their decrees.

Masters may be harsh and unjust: but the Christian servant’s responsibility before Christ is to respect them and not retaliate.

Husbands may be unsaved and demanding: but it is the Christian wife’s responsibility to choose to respect their authority.

Wives may be frustrating dependents, but it is the Christian husband’s responsibility to treat them with consideration, respect and equality.

This does not endorse governments in their wrong decisions.
This does not endorse harshness or injustice in masters or employers.
This does not endorse harsh leadership in a husband.
This does not endorse helpless weak dependence in a wife.

Colossians 3:18,19 parallels the Ephesians 5 passage. It teaches that submission ‘is fitting in the Lord’ and requires husbands to ‘not be harsh’ with their wives, in this way summarizing the lengthier passage in Ephesians.

In each of these we can transfer principles to the roles of man and woman in the church.