One Of The Bible’s Most Beautiful Metaphors

One Of The Bible’s Most Beautiful Metaphors

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

The second half of the Ephesian letter is addressed to showing how the redeemed walk in Christ. That cannot be divorced from the Christian’s function within the body of Christ, the church. It has often rightly been observed that Paul, in this epistle, is exalting the church of the Christ. It is valuable to God and to us because (1) It is the body of Christ, His Son (1:22-23; 4:4), (2) It is His means of reconciling all people together (2:16), (3) It makes us members of His household (2:19-22), (4) It is the means through which He shows His manifold wisdom and eternal purpose (3:9-11), (5) It is the means through which He receives glory (3:20-21), and (6) It is where and how God intends for us to use our talents and abilities to grow individually and collectively (4:11-16). Added to that list is what Paul says in what we call Ephesians 5:22-33. Paul makes it clear that the material he covers in this text illustrates a profound mystery; what he is saying “refers to Christ and the church” (32). Therefore, whatever else we take away from this text as inspired guidelines for marriage–which it is–we must understand that the church is the bride and Christ is the groom. When we see God’s binding legislation on the husband and wife in this text, we must remind ourselves that it illustrates the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul repeatedly gives this reminder (23, 25,27,29, 30,32). But, it’s not exclusively about that, as Paul concludes, “However, let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (33). In other words, Paul is saying, “Even though my underlying point is about Christ’s love for the church and the church’s need to submit to His authority, apply this to the marriage relationship!” 

This illustration is about submission (22-24). The command here builds on the command previous to it, in Ephesians 5:21, that being filled with the Spirit is fulfilled by “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That is more generally about each member of the church. But, in a marriage between Christians, there would also be this mutual submission. Yet, in a specific way, God commands the wife to submit to the headship of her husband. Paul speaks “of submission involving recognition of an ordered structure… of the entity to whom/which appropriate respect is shown” (BDAG 1042). Louw and Nida add that it means “to bring something under the firm control of someone” (475). Kittel tells us that in the middle voice (i.e., the one commanded acting upon himself/herself) this is voluntary submission, but it is according to a divinely willed order (1159). The wife places herself under the leadership of her husband in a way that shows that she respect him (33). God commands this because, as previous commands in this letter, it does not come naturally or easily. It requires self-discipline and effort. The close the loop on the metaphor, Paul says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (24). This is neither vague nor unclear, though it is difficult. 

This illustration is about sacrificial love (25-30). The command here complements the one Paul gives to the wife. The husband is commanded to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”  (25). The specific “love” mentioned here is not erotic, familial, or companionship centered. It is the highest form of love, “to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard—‘to love, to regard with affection, loving concern, love” (Louw-Nida 292-293). This is the love used to describe why God gave His Son (John 3:16). Likewise, Paul here is saying that what husbands are called to show their wives is what prompted Jesus to lay down His life on the cross. Picture the intensity, the fierce devotion, the selfless care involved in that (as you read 5:26-27)! But that active interest also leads the husband, in love, to nourish and cherish her (29) as carefully as one acts to preserve self (28). Paul sharpens the focus of husbands on the sacrificial love Christ heaps on the church, and that is the bar God sets for the husband in the marriage. A husband is to be driven by concern, care, and genuine interest for the needs of his wife! Her greatest need is spiritual, so he will never abdicate the role of spiritual leadership. He will lovingly exercise it. 

This illustration is about severing (31). When the old saying goes, “Marriage takes three,” it does not mean the husband, his wife, and a parent. In fact, a prerequisite of forming a marriage presupposes what Paul explicitly states here: “Therefore a man shall leave his father & mother & hold fast to his wife, & the two shall become one flesh” (31). Did you know that this is one of the first commands in the whole Bible? Paul quotes Genesis 2:24)? Jesus reiterates it in His teaching to restore marriage to its original state (Mat. 19:5; Mk. 10:7). Suffice it to say, this is a foundational principle. Just as God does not want any outside influences to interfere in the church’s relationship to Christ, He does not want any undue influences upon the marriage relationship. That includes the parents of the bride and/or groom! The legislation is spoken to the husband, but it is applicable to the wife. It is also a warning to the parents whose children leave their home and form their new home. While this does not mean total isolation and desertion of responsibilities to parents, whom we must always honor (6:3), it does mean that the relationship changes. The married couple are not under the rule of parents. They leave that relationship and form a new one, beautifully described as a “one flesh” relationship. 

This metaphor is to help the church at Ephesus understand their relationship to Christ. But, let’s not miss the bottom line application, either. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (32-33). 

“Trust The Process”

“Trust The Process”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

In the lead up to the College Football Playoff National Championship, I have read a few articles about tonight’s game. More than once, the players and coaches have talked about the need to “trust the process.” That idea applies to the entire program, to the season, to preparing for every game including this last one, to both sides of the ball, down to the individual player’s preparation for this game. “The process” is comprised of every fundamental principle intended to bring about the highest success. There will be trying moments and setbacks, even failures. But when the tendency to doubt is the greatest, it is then that you most need to “trust the process.”

They say that athletics are a metaphor for life. The inspired apostle Paul thought so. Long before Nick Saban or Kirby Smart and their players used the mantra, the first-century native of Tarsus was teaching the idea in the Bible. Here is how he put it, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Tim. 2:3-6). No, he does not say, “Trust the process.” He gives it instead: Endure, focus, follow the rules, and work hard. Just as coaches use metaphors, making comparisons to chopping wood, flying the plane, rowing the boat, etc., Paul refers to the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer to illustrate principles in the process of living the Christian life.

Our goal is the enjoy ultimate success. The Bible defines that as overcoming the world (Jn. 16:33; 1 Jn. 4:4; 5:4; Re. 2:7,11,17, etc.). There are times this is very difficult, but at all times we must “trust the process.” Trust the process…

  • When you are encountering various trials (Js. 1:2ff). 
  • When you are aiming at church growth (Acts 2:42-47).
  • When you are combatting temptation (Js. 4:7-8).
  • When you are offended or have offended (Mt. 5:23-24; 18:15-17).
  • When you are trying to win back a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1-2). 
  • When you are seeking to follow Jesus (Lk. 9:23-26).
  • When you are working on your marriage (Eph. 5:22-33).
  • When you are running the marathon of childrearing (Eph. 6:1-4; Dt. 6:4-9).
  • When you are building your relationship with God (Ps. 1; Col. 3:1ff).
  • When you are shepherding the flock (1 Pt. 5:1-4; Acts 20:28).
  • When you are dealing with prosperity (1 Ti. 6:17-19) or poverty (Js. 1:9-12).
  • When you are struggling with sins of the tongue (Js. 3:1-12).
  • When you are wondering if it’s worth it to keep going (2 Tim. 4:1-8).
  • When you are being persecuted for your faith or for no good reason at all (Mt. 5:38-48).

In other words, whatever our specific struggle, problem, difficulty, or trial, God has given us a proven process. How many, through the ages, have overcome and won simply because they trusted it? As a loyal, long-suffering fan of the guys in red and black, I am hoping their overall process ends a 41-year drought. If it doesn’t, life will go on. As you follow Jesus, I am hoping that by trusting the process found throughout Scripture you win the crown of eternal life (Js. 1:12). When all is said and done, that is all that matters! 

What I am hoping, not predicting.
God’s Zoo

God’s Zoo

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

God created the animals on the sixth day (Gen. 1:24-25). From that time throughout the rest of the Bible, He mentions them for a variety of purposes. They feature prominently in various biblical accounts: the serpent in the garden (Gen. 3:1ff), the dove and the raven on the ark (Gen. 8:7-12), Israel’s quail (Ex. 16:13), Balaam’s donkey speaks (Num. 22:28), a great fish swallows Jonah (Jon. 1:17), the father’s fatted calf (Luke 15:23), Peter’s rooster (Mat. 26:75), and, of course, so many others. They are used in a figurative sense from cover to cover, too. 

  • The devil is likened to a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8), a serpent and a dragon (Rev. 12:9).
  • The false teacher is likened to a wolf (John 10:12; Acts 20:29) and to dogs (Ph. 3:2; Rev. 22:15). 
  • The apostate are likened to the leopard (Jer. 13:23) and the dog and sow (2 Pet. 2:20-22). 
  • The wicked ruler (Herod) is likened to a fox (Luke 13:32).
  • Jesus is likened to both a lamb (1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:12) and a lion (Rev. 5:5). 
  • The saved are likened to sheep and the lost to goats (Mat. 25:31-34).
  • The patient, but weary, are likened to the eagle (Isa. 40:31).
  • The thirsty for God are likened to the deer (Psa. 42:1).
  • The divinely-provided for are likened to the birds of the air (Mat. 6:25; 10:29). 

Whether for food (Gen. 9:3) or food for thought (Prov. 6:6), God provides the animal for us to consider. They depict the intimacy of marriage (Song 4:5; 7:3) and the ferocity of judgment (Hos. 13:7-9). They illustrate plenty (Ezek. 34:23) and desolation (Jer. 9:11). They picture joy (Isa. 35:6) and sorrow (Mic. 1:8). 

There are great lessons to be learned upon the pages of inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16-17), messages that guide and influence our eternal destiny (John 12:48). There are facts to be instructed by, internalized, and interpreted. Yet, in addition, God has allowed the heavens to declare His handiwork (Psa. 19:1). Creation reveals a Creator who weaves lessons into the characteristics of His creatures. It is just one of the infinite marvels of our great God, endlessly complex and inexhaustibly incredible! How great is our creative God!

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Photo from Safari to Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, 2012

MY FAMILY TREE

MY FAMILY TREE

Neal Pollard

Years ago, for a school project, I was asked to trace my ancestry and make a family tree. In the process I learned some things I did not know about my heritage. Some of that made me proud, and some of it did not. I also learned that a family tree is always living and growing. Now that I am a husband and father, I appreciate that my children (and, one day, grandchildren) will be affected by how I lead my family.

You are nourishing your family tree, too. How are you caring for it? That is called a legacy. It will affect those who live after you are gone. Consider some things every family tree has, and ask yourself what kind of tree you are growing in your home.

Your family tree has…

  • ROOTS. Something is central to your home. It is what drives and motivates you. It is where you have your primary interest and investment, measured in dollars, energy, and time. For your family tree to survive, you must be “firmly rooted and…built up in [Christ]” (Col. 2:7).
  • BRANCHES. Your home is an influence on the larger community surrounding you. Every facet of your life, your job, your friends, the church you attend, and your community, is impressed, positively and negatively, by your home. You have a reputation. You are seen. As your family branches out into the world, what impact is it making for Christ? Remember, “If the root be holy, the branches are too” (Rom. 11:16).
  • NUTRIENTS. God made the tree to eat and drink, and by such it lives. If the nutrients are cut off (via drought or disease or damage), the tree dies. Likewise, our family tree must be nourished properly to keep each member of it alive. We must keep “constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).
  • FRUIT. It may be acorns, cones, blossoms, or edible fruit, but trees bear fruit. When a fruit-bearing tree ceases production, it is a sign of trouble. At best, such a tree has lost its value. Our family tree will be known by its fruits (cf. Mat. 7:16,20). Failing to bear good fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) or bearing bad fruit (Luke 6:43) is condemned by God.
  • PREDATORS. “Dutch Elm Disease,” beetles, ants, and termites can all prematurely end the life of a tree. Sometimes, what kills the tree cannot be readily seen. Trees can be eaten from the inside out, and by the time the damage is visible it is too late. How like the damage predators do to the home! Three are so many! Tragically, sometimes the damage comes from within—what we do or allow to happen in the family. Satan is the predator of the home, but he works through human agency.
  • LEAVES. There are evergreens, conifers, and pines, but hardwoods are the most fascinating to me. I like their annual cycle. In Spring, the trees are in bloom and put on their leaves. They flourish in Summer. In Autumn, they are vibrant in color and beautiful. In Winter, they die and leave the tree. Parents, think of your children as those “leaves.” From birth, they bud and grow. Hopefully, in the teen years after trial and tribulation they begin to absorb and emulate the good principles we have taught. It can be a beautiful time. Then comes the time for them to leave. Remember that they are going to leave home some day. Make sure they leave spiritually and eternally prepared.