Gender

Boaz and the Power of Power

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According to traditional interpretations, when Boaz sets foot in the story, readers breathe a sigh of relief and exchange knowing glances. We have met the hero. Let the romance begin! His arrival awakens hope that Ruth’s fortunes are about to change for the better. It isn’t uncommon to hear contemporary single women say, “I’m waiting for my Boaz.” But relegating Boaz to a romantic figure not only downsizes him and cheats him of the enormous credit he actually deserves; it also distracts us from the truly powerful role he takes and the deep gospel wisdom his story contains. For far too long, we’ve been cheating Boaz by caricaturing him as “the guy who gets the girl.”

Furthermore, that portrayal raises grave questions about his character. What kind of egregious abuse of power is involved when the owner of the field eyes a female gleaner with romantic motives? How will he dishonor his family by bringing home a bride who lacks social or economic advantages and, worse, is barren? Besides, if Boaz had marriage in mind, what was the hold-up? Why didn’t he at least send her home with his assurance that neither she nor Naomi would ever have to worry about hunger again? Instead, Ruth continues slaving in the hot sun for the entire harvest season.

In fairness to Boaz, the dissonance between the romantic version and the narrator’s portrayal of a man surely means Boaz deserves a closer look. We learn he is an older man of Naomi’s generation when he addresses Ruth as “my daughter” (2:8; 3:10, 11), just as Naomi addresses her (1:11, 12, 13; 2:2, 8, 22; 3:1, 16, 18). The genealogy at the end of the story reveals Boaz is Israel’s native son, born to a prominent family in the leading tribe of Judah. His grandfather Nahshon was the commanding general of the tribe of Judah and the third man in rank after Moses and Aaron. Through Obed, the son Boaz fathers by Ruth, Boaz becomes the great-grandfather of King David, the royal line that ultimately leads to Jesus. Talk about pedigree!

At their first meeting, Ruth knows nothing about the landowner in whose field she comes to glean. So her proposals to this daunting older landowner included a high degree of apprehension. International Justice Mission engages countless legal battles globally to counteract the abuse of widows when tribal strong- men seize their property, depriving widows of their only means of sustaining their families.5 That scenario plays over repeatedly in today’s world. It was the kind of danger Ruth faced.

THE PIVOTAL MOMENT

Much is made about the initial encounter between Ruth and Boaz in Boaz’s barley field. Without question, this meeting is the pivotal moment in the story. But no one could know ahead of time that things would turn out well. Good stories have tension. One of the key questions posed by the presence of Boaz is, how will this impressive man use his power and privilege? For starters, the enormous social and cultural disparity between them could not be more pronounced. They are polar opposites. He holds all the advantages.

The disadvantages belong to Ruth. Throughout human history and right up to the present, the differences between them are the makings of some of the most horrific violations of human rights. Only consider the explosive combinations: male and female, rich and poor, young and old, Jew and gentile, native-born and immigrant, powerful and powerless, valued and discarded. Anyone watching this nitroglycerin mixture would be expecting something terrible to happen, especially when her request implies criticism of how he’s managing his field.

But Boaz’s response to her request to glean in territory that was off-limits to gleaners is a show-stopper. He was not offended, although obviously taken aback. Her perspective on Mosaic law was eye-opening to him. Not only does he listen and grant her request, but he exceeds it with evident determination that nothing must prevent her from succeeding. He even serves her a meal. How countercultural is that?!

A MAN AHEAD OF HIS TIME

We must not miss the earth-shaking implications of his response. Boaz has just been introduced as a man who needs no improvement. In the eyes of the culture (and also of the narrator) he is golden. And yet, his exchanges with Ruth are eye-opening to him. He realizes what she is trying to do. Her perspective sheds new light on a business he has been running for years.

It is one thing for notable theologians such as John Calvin or Jerome to engage in conversation with noble women who are wealthy patrons. It is quite another for a man of Boaz’s stature to engage in conversation with a woman who culturally speaking is beneath him. He is bridging a cavernous gap. Yet, as the story demonstrates, and as he acknowledges, she is in every sense his match. The way he honors her bears that out and goes against the way life typically works in this world.

What if Boaz had dismissed, ignored, rebuked, or even abused her for violating social boundaries? How would the rest of the story have played out? Ruth and Naomi would have lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Naomi would not have revived. It never would have entered her mind to send Ruth to Boaz in hopes of finding shelter. Ruth wouldn’t have attempted to rescue the legacy of Elimelech. His land would have remained fallow until later—perhaps after Naomi’s death. The elders and villagers wouldn’t have witnessed this stellar man becoming even greater by making unrequired, extraordinary sacrifices for Elimelech’s sake. There would be no marriage and no Obed.

Boaz’s response raises a huge issue for Christians. One of the biggest obstacles to a deepening walk with God is resistance to rethinking our beliefs, listening to others, learning, and changing. All through the Bible, God is repeatedly asking some of the people who walked with him the longest to be willing to be wrong and to learn and grow. Sometimes walking with God means learning truth requires means rethinking your entire life. Abraham’s journey with God began in earnest when he was seventy-five—an age when people have a right to be settled in their ways. Abraham had to change, and with each change he grew deeper in his faith. More recently, after decades of ministry, a pastor began to realize he had gotten some things wrong. When one of his parishioners questioned what was happening, the pastor replied, “You gotta give me room to grow.” Room to grow and the courage to change— that reflects what happened to Boaz.

Boaz openly violates cultural expectations in his interactions with Ruth. Instead of showcasing patriarchal standards of masculinity, Boaz subverts them. He bucks the system. He is not held captive to dominant definitions of masculinity. He is free of such expectations and big enough to do the right thing, even when it costs him. In his interactions with this foreign newcomer, Boaz accepts her influence and in doing so discovers room to grow.

Boaz was a man ahead of his time. In the workplace today, equal pay for women remains an unmet goal. Boaz went beyond equality. So Ruth’s take-home pay was as much as fifteen to thirty times what a male harvester would pocket for a day of labor. Boaz pursued the spirit of God’s law—to seek justice for the poor and to feed them.

BOAZ AND THE POWER OF POWER

When it came to the obligations of the kinsman-redeemer and levirate laws, Boaz enjoys loopholes that would make a defense attorney salivate. He isn’t Elimelech’s nearest relative, nor is he Elimelech’s blood brother. Legally, he is beyond the demands of the law. Furthermore, Ruth’s combination of the two laws is highly irregular, especially in Naomi’s case, where the statute of limitations had expired. So when Boaz goes to Bethlehem to press the nearer kinsman-redeemer to purchase land he is likely to inherit anyway and to marry Ruth to produce a male heir for Elimelech, he’s pressing his case beyond the requirements of the law. It raises the question, how did Boaz get away with this?

Boaz’s self-appointed advocacy for Naomi on Ruth’s behalf demonstrates how radically out of step he is with his culture. At the male-dominated seat of government, Boaz gives women a legal voice. He assumes Naomi has property rights and insists that purchasing her land is an urgent matter. If that wasn't surprising enough, he bends the law to require the kinsman-redeemer to fulfill the levirate law too in lieu of a blood brother.

He also bends the law emphatically toward women’s rights—a concept unheard of in ancient times but a pressing contemporary global issue today. And Boaz, a heavyweight among Bethlehem leaders, proves unstoppable. Not only does he push through everything Ruth requested, he depletes his own estate to rescue Elimelech, just as he vowed he would. The fact that not one man attempts to oppose him signifies just how powerful Boaz was.

Boaz shows how male power and privilege can become a powerful force for good. He voluntarily makes extraordinary sacrifices beyond what the law requires. His story also refutes the misguided adage that the rise of women comes at a cost for men. The rise of Ruth influenced Boaz to become a better man—one of the best men in all of Scripture.


Content taken from Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James , ©2018. Used by permission of Lexham Press, Bellingham, Washington, LexhamPress.com.

Carolyn Custis James is an award-winning author and international speaker. She blogs at www.carolyncustisjames.com, as a Leading Voice at MissioAlliance, and at Huffington Post, is an adjunct faculty member at Biblical Theological Seminary, and a consulting editor for Zondervan's Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament. Her books include Malestrom―Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World, Half the Church―Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, and The Gospel of Ruth―Loving God Enough to Break the Rules. She speaks regularly at church conferences, colleges, and other Christian organizations and is a visiting lecturer at theological seminaries. 

Women in the Local Church: A Conversation

Today we are hosting a conversation with Lore Ferguson, writer and speaker. This conversation centers on how the local church can make, mature, and multiply stronger women disciples.

Gospel-Centered Discipleship: There are many opinions about what Christian women need most in and from the church. In your opinion, what's the greatest need for women from the church?

Lore Ferguson: What women need most is the same as what men need most—to understand and see the power and effects of the gospel made clear in their lives. I think we often think of the men as the gospel proclaimers and the women as the gospel enactors. Men teach and preach, women serve and build. Even if we wouldn’t draw such clear distinctions with our words, it is the way the local church seems to function. In the same way the gospel is for all people, though, the effects of the gospel are for all people all the way through.

GCD: Pastors have not always honored or considered the needs of women in the church. How can pastors grow in their understanding of the needs and meeting the needs of women in the church?

Lore: Ask us! Whenever my pastor is asked by another man how to lead his wife, my pastor says, “I know how to lead my wife. You ask your wife how to lead her!” It’s the same with us. Keep an open dialogue with the women in your local church (not just the wives of your pastors/elders). Many pastors seem to have similar personalities and marry women with similar personalities/giftings, which enables them to minister well to women of the same personalities. But the local church is made up of every personality and gifting. Ask women—aside from your wives—how you can serve them and help them flourish.

GCD:

What are the biggest hurts for women in our churches that we are overlooking and missing?

Lore: Every woman is different, so my answer here might not be helpful in the sense that it might reflect more what’s going on in my heart than in the average woman’s heart. I think there seems to be a universal desire for us to be loved and cherished as an essential part of the body. This includes being heard and not having to fight for a voice, but recognized as someone who has an equal and distinct voice (the essence of complementarianism). We understand the distinct part, and feel that often, but we don’t feel the equal part quite as much.

GCD: As a follow up to that, I’ve heard from women that they desire a voice on the front end of the decision process as opposed to hearing about it after the fact and being asked for feedback. How would you recommend pastors change their approach in decision making to include a broader range of voices and specifically women?

Lore: If the approach is that they’re asking women’s input after the decision, or the only women they’re asking on the front end are their wives, I’d just say invite more women into the front end fact-finding mission. I regularly have men from my church seek me out for thoughts on how we minister to women in different contexts. In no way do I assume I’m part of the final decision making process, but I hope and pray my words are considered as a part of the water that ship sails on. As I say further down, a woman’s role is to help, but sometimes we’re better helpers on the front end of things.

GCD: One of the biggest conversations in the church has to do with women's roles and opportunity in the church. Many women feel there isn't a role for them in the church, yet when someone reads how Paul praises women's involvement in the church, we can't help but ask—How did we get here? Why is our experience of church seemingly different than Paul's?

Lore: There seems to be a lot of fear in some complementarian churches. Fear of the messiness of life on life, fear of sexual brokenness, or fear of being seen as a place where the women wear the pants (whatever that means). What that results in is the staff can become a Good Ole Boys Club instead of a place where we see, value, employ, and utilize the gifts of women in an equal measure. I don’t mean women are given equal authority—eldership in the local church is clearly for men, but the disparity in staffing and investment in women does not reflect the equality we say we believe.

GCD: From the outsider's eye, there seems to be a rise in women bloggers, women's books, ministries, and bible studies. How have these helped in empowering women? In discipling women? And what are the dangers of these in relation to discipleship in the church?

Lore: In regard to empowering women, the internet/publishing world has empowered every voice, so I don’t know that we’re moved the conversation that far forward as a whole. For every woman who speaks out, there’s another voice speaking against her. I’m not sure the quantity has helped the quality. I do think that all the voices might have harmed the discipleship of women because it’s taken discipleship out of the local context and made it global. Women are getting their theology, encouragement, teaching, etc. from blogs and books in an unprecedented way. Meanwhile face to face engagement within the local church has suffered.

GCD: In this conversation, there seem to be polar extremes of complementarianism and egalitarianism. Have those terms clouded the conversation or helped the conversation in empowering women?

Lore: They’ve done both. Whenever we have terminology for something, it helps make the conversation more clear. The problem is when our experience differs from the actual definition, and I think the complementarianism/egalitarianism debate is a cesspool for disparate experiences and definitions. We’re talking past one another most of the time instead of really sitting down and understanding culture, context, history, and how the Bible speaks to all people for all situations.

GCD: Women on staff at complementarian churches are the minority and, when they are, they are rarely in roles beyond children and women. How can complementarian churches seek to empower women better in staff roles?

Lore: Hire them! The benefit of elder led churches is you have men whose responsibilities include shepherding and discipling men. We would think it was foolish if that wasn’t a qualification for an elder, but we don’t have women in those official roles (or if we do, they’re in charge of “women’s ministry” which is a fuzzy, unhelpful term). We need women whose job it is to disciple and shepherd women. Not necessarily lead women’s events, organize meals, or teach VBS or kids church. We need women who will walk faithfully with women in discipline, holiness, Bible study, teaching, etc. One thing to note is that I’m speaking from the context of larger more urban churches with more resources, you’re going to be able to hire more women. In a smaller church where hiring more women isn’t possible for various reasons, it should just be on the minds of the leaders there that they’re going to need an extra measure of intentionality in making sure their women are shephered and are discipling.

GCD: I've heard many women express a lack of discipleship while they watch men experience it. How does this happen? How is it fixed?

Lore: I don’t think the lack of discipleship is a distinctly female issue. Discipleship is going to be hard no matter our context or gender, otherwise we wouldn’t have needed to be told to do it so emphatically by Christ. Men experience a lack of discipleship too, but I think what happens is, especially in complementarian contexts, men are more visible, so we see the resources being poured into them in a more visible way. If there is a lack though, this is how it happens: many women only know how to contextualize the gospel in one situation or life-season, i.e., their marriage or home. The result of that is you have single women and empty-nest women who don’t have specific people within the sphere of their influence with whom they’re walking in discipleship. But it secondly happens when the local church doesn’t prioritize the discipleship of women. It’s fixed by prioritizing it in your staffing and ministry paradigm.

GCD: How have you heard gifted, godly, and strong women express their desire to serve the church and their elders?

Lore: In every way and every day. Women were uniquely designed to be helpers, so we see possibility in every situation. We’re not just helpers in the sense that we come alongside what’s already happening, though, we’re also helpers in the sense that we see things men just don’t see. That’s actually a beautiful thing! We don’t want to do the same thing as the men do, or overtake their God-given roles. We do desire to play our equal and distinct part though.

GCD: There seems to be an unnecessary awkwardness in male and female relationships. Many fear inappropriate relationships. How does the gospel free us from this fear and empower our relationships?

Lore: All through the New Testament Paul uses shockingly inclusive language to refer to the church, familial language. It’s not shocking to us because we’ve used it for two thousand years, but to the early church, calling one another brother and sister and father and son without the blood bond would have been shocking. In the western church we’re very accustomed to holding the opposite gender at arms length—which actually provides more room for fear than if we drew our brothers and sisters close and engaged in the messiness of family. There is righteous wisdom when it comes to avoiding sin, or the appearance of evil, but there’s also so much we miss out on when we hold our brothers and sisters away from us and don’t engage their distinctiveness from us. The gospel is marked by hospitality, by being drawn close to God (who is the most holy of us all!). By drawing us near, He is saying, “Your soiled self doesn’t sully me. I will engage that and cover it and love you all the more through it.” I say embrace that awkwardness, press through it, hug generously, listen fearlessly, counsel wisely, and live as though you’ll give an account for every action. My lead pastor does this better than almost any man I know. He simply isn’t afraid of women and always draws near to us. As much as he’s able and it’s appropriate, he closes the gap.

GCD: What levels of leadership and responsibility can a woman have in the church without encroaching on a pastoral role?

Lore: This is a tough one partially because I think it does depend on the pastor(s). If you have strong and humble men leading, men who will listen and lead well, a woman has a lot of freedom within those bounds. But if you have timid and/or young immature men leading, there’s going to need to be more restraint by the women. As far as biblically and theologically, that’s an issue for the local church elders to navigate.

GCD: A misconception seems to exist that complementarian and strong, gifted, and godly women don't go together. In this misconception, egalitarianism seems to draw the strong women. How can complementarianism strengthen women?

Lore: By majoring on the majors. We believe that women are equal and distinct, but too often we only feel our distinctiveness, our otherness. If we believe women are equal, then we have to begin to treat them as such. And—forgive me for encouraging men to be like Sarah—but we have to do it without fearing what is frightening (I Pt. 3:6). It will be messy or difficult—but so is gardening, child-rearing, and building a house, and we know we don’t do those things in vain.

GCD: Men can be taught, encouraged, and impacted by the gifts and lives of women. This seems lost in opportunities given to them to teach class, lead mixed small groups, and even in everyday church relationships. How do we move away from this gap?

Lore: Again, I think it needs to be reflected in staffing/ministry paradigm. We don’t need wide here; we need deep. By that, I mean we don’t need a huge women’s ministry. We don’t need more conferences or retreats, etc. We need to staff women who will go deep with few, disciple them in a long-suffering, difficult way, so those they disciple are empowered to do the work of the ministry. The more we are building healthy, discipled women, the more confident those women will be in engaging men in right and biblical ways, and the more happy they’ll be to submit to God’s good design for them as equal, distinct image bearers.

GCD: Paul highlights many women as “partners” with him in the gospel. It is safe to say that women don't often feel that way. What would a great partnership look like to build the church without compromising a complementarian approach?

Lore: If complementarian churches would gather and staff an equal amount of women as men, I think they’d be surprised at how effective the ministry of their local church would be. We seem to assume a church with strong leadership means a church with more men on staff, but staff isn’t eldership. Our elders/pastors ought to be men, but we should have a clearly reflected equality throughout the rest of our ministerial staff. In the same way as a marriage in which there is a clear partnership is effective, the local church that reflects this equality would thrive. And I don’t mean it would thrive in the sense that it would grow leaps and bounds (though I think it would), but their people would thrive under the firm, godly, nurturing, gentle, wise unification of their male and female leaders.

Lore Ferguson is a writer whose deepest desire is to adorn the gospel in everything she says and does. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and is a covenant member at The Village Church. Lore writes regularly at Sayable.net, and you can follow her on Twitter @loreferguson.

Changing the Dating Culture

Let's get right to it on this topic. The way young people date today pretty much reflects how married people relate to each other. Young people spend lots of time together alone; they awaken desire prematurely; they mess around, often times ending in intercourse; and they are just as affectionate as a husband and wife should be within the sacred confines of marriage. Most of the time, the only thing that separates a dating relationship from a marriage relationship is the ring that is parked on the left hand. Vodie Baucham says, as stated above, that dating as it is currently done is “glorified divorce practice.” So, it’s not hidden—I am a huge enemy toward the way we currently practice dating. The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian when it comes to relationships should be monumental. For the Christian, the lens through which we view relationships must be Scripture. For the non-Christian, the lens through which they view relationships is often the current cultural approach. This approach is found in the saying, “You don’t know if the shoe fits until you try it on.” Men and women live with each other, fulfill their sexual desires, hop around from dating partner to dating partner, and treat each other as husband and wife—all without any form of commitment. Again, it is not uncommon to find confessing Christians living together before marriage either. If they are not living together it seems that they spend all of their time together in intimate environments where there is no accountability, and they have no one walking beside them as they pursue the biggest journey of their life.

What’s the Difference?

The dating relationships of Christians must be different than those of non-Christians. Men, what does it say about you when you do not protect your girlfriend physically, emotionally, or mentally? Do you use the words, “I love you,” without thinking twice about it as if love is really an emotion, and then when you aren’t “feeling it” anymore you can just use the “it’s not you, it’s me” line? Oh man, there is nothing worse than a guy who uses a girl and then moves on to the next after he’s gotten his fix! Do you often put yourselves in situations where temptation can be sparked? Have you awakened desire and intimacy before it is ready? If you can answer yes to any of these questions then you need to repent of your stupidity, and really begin to think about how you are forever hurting your sisters in Christ. Believe me guys; I’ve been there. I have done the things mentioned above, and thankfully God has shown grace upon me through his Son Jesus where I have had to repent of sin and become intentional about how I treat my sisters in Christ.

Partner—GCD—450x300The way young people currently practice dating is killing not only their spiritual lives but it is killing the vitality of the church. This must change in our generation! Scripture does not necessarily say, “This is how you are supposed to date,” but it does give us insights and wisdom into how men and women outside of marriage should relate to one another. Let’s begin in Genesis 2. Genesis 2:24-25 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

The Bible does not say that a man shall leave his fa- ther and mother and hold fast to his girlfriend. Let me be clear men, we don’t join with our fiancées either. We join together with our wives. This is what is known as leaving and cleaving. Men, we leave our mother and father and we cleave to our wives. And obviously, we don’t get naked with our girlfriends either. Do you ever wonder why you feel ashamed when you do?

So, if marriage is the end goal then what are the steps to getting there? Here’s what I think, and honestly, it’s this simple:

1. If you find yourself being sexually tempted then it’s time to begin to prepare yourself for marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-3).

I realize that many people will disagree with me on this point, but that’s okay, often times the ones who disagree with this are the ones who are justifying their actions of finding sexual pleasures outside of marriage—whether it’s through sexual relationships or pornography. It has been said somewhere that 98% of men lust after women; the other 2% who say they don’t lust after women are liars.

2. Young guys, you must have someone walk with you through the dating/courtship process (Titus 2:1-10).

I often tell young guys who ask me about courtship that it is simply the season of life when you are preparing yourself for marriage. If we are modeling discipleship/mentorship biblically then we should have an old- er man who is teaching and walking beside younger men as they make decisions. This includes their dating/courtship decisions.

3. Keep your dating/courtship/engagement time short (Song of Solomon 2:8; 8:4).

Please don’t date for five years before you get married. Seriously, is there any biblical wisdom in this? Let me tell you what will hap- pen if you don’t know already. You will be putting yourselves in five years of sexual temptation, desire, and struggle. Desire and love will awaken before its time. Also, when it comes to the engagement process then keep it as SHORT as possible. Believe me, this is the absolute WORST time for guys.

4. Begin to read books on marriage and not books on dating.

Why would you want to read a how-to-guide on dating if you’re only going to date for 6-8 months when you’re going to be married for the rest of your life? Prepare yourselves to be husbands and wives, not boyfriends and girlfriends. Believe me, six to eight months is enough time for you to know if you want to spend the rest of your life with someone. You don’t need a year to figure out if you want to see them naked or not, if you are like-minded, and if he or she loves Jesus. In all honesty, these are the only three requirements you must have to be compatible as husband and wife: 1) Do they love Jesus? 2) Are you attracted to them physically? 3) Are you like-minded in life, family, children, church affiliation, goals, etc.?

With that said, I implore you to begin to rethink your current dating situation if you are indeed in one that I have spoken of above. Let us be men who take the Bible seriously. Let us see the culture through the lens of Scripture—not vice-versa. I challenge you to be courageous in your dating, engagement process, and marriage.

Men, we must step up! —

Greg Gibson is married to Grace and is the father of Cora and Iver. He serves as an elder and family ministries pastor at Foothills Church in Knoxville, TN overseeing birth through college and marriages. He is the author of Reformational Manhood: Creating a Culture of Gospel-Centered Warriors and serves as the lead editor for CBMW’s Manual. Greg also writes often at ggib.me. Follow him on Twitter: @gregrgibson

Excerpt taken from Greg Gibson, Reformational Manhood, BorderStone Press, ©2014. Used by permission. http://borderstonepress.com

Wisdom in Manhood

I read through the book of Proverbs this weekend. As I was trying to discern the right way through a difficult question I was asked and wanted to make sure my answer wasn't couched in cleverness or pragmatic "well it sounds good so let's do it" philosophy. I wanted my answer to be anchored in real, biblical reality. The question I was seeking to answer by looking through Proverbs is an altogether different story. However, I did find something that I believe a lot of churches today would have a difficult time swallowing. Wisdom doesn't really appear like today's "manly man."

Darwinism, Not Biblical Manhood

Today's "manly men" are seemingly the guys that shoot first and take prisoners later. They conquer everything. Passivity has no room in the life of a man. He needs to mount up, shoot the wolves, vanquish the foes, and save the princess. Some of the descriptions I get of the "manly men" today sound a lot like a Gideon (Judges 6-ff) or Sampson (Judges 16-ff). Honestly, those aren't the most exemplary characters in the Bible. Don't agree with me? Read Judges again, you probably remember the flannel-board versions. If there’s no place for weakness in men in the Christian faith then we have Darwinism, not biblical manhood.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30).

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

“For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4).

Pursue Wisdom

Yet the kind of person I find in Proverbs that is truly wise is first described as a woman. Lady Wisdom "calls in the streets" (Prov. 1:20). Now, I understand the literary device the writer of Proverbs is trying to use here to coach his son to pursue wisdom. "Boy, think of wisdom as a beautiful, attractive, glorious woman. Pursue wisdom the way you'd pursue her." But then the book gets to describing wisdom. Wisdom doesn't sound like the manly man.

  • Wisdom is quiet. It doesn't talk too much, and never runs it mouth (Prov. 13:10, 15:1).
  • Wisdom waits, it's patient and sees all the sides before making a decision (Prov. 18:17, Jas. 1:19).
  • Wisdom isn't flashy. It quietly goes about its hard work (Ecc. 9:10.
  • Wisdom is kind. It covers a multitude of sins (Prov. 16:24, 1 Pt. 4:8).
  • Wisdom isn't presumptuous. It lets the person finish before they respond (Prov. 18:13).
  • Wisdom doesn't demand the right to be heard. In fact, it rarely even asks to be heard, but those who value wisdom constantly ask for him to speak (Jas. 3:1-12).
  • Wisdom is meager. Not building a big platform or making a lot of noise about itself (Prov. 25:27, 27:2, Jas. 3:13-18).
  • Wisdom is somber. It's not a coarse joker (Jas. 1:19-21).
  • Wisdom is mature. It's not the juvenile, "wrestle-them-to-the-ground," berating, know-it-all that tells you how much he knows (Prov. 18:6-7, Jas. 1:26, 1 Cor. 14:20).

All-in-all wisdom seems like the slow to speak, respected, patient man that we should aspire to be. Not the goof-ball, overconfident, blabbering self-promoters that our culture clings to so much. If anything we should be quiet, grow up, listen up, and get to work. Wisdom doesn't look like the young hip guy with opinions to spare and a head of steam. It looks like the older man who quietly goes about his work. In fact, if you hang out with the older guy, he’ll share the sweet honey of his wisdom (Prov. 24:13-14). Wisdom is “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24). I hope to be the older wise man, not the young fool.

Jeremy Writebol(@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over thirteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He lives and works in Plymouth, MI as the Campus Pastor of Woodside Bible Church.

I Am Noah's Wife

I had just spent the majority of the last 36 hours at a Christian women’s conference. The conference was well done with inspiring speakers, moving worship, beautiful ambiance, and, most importantly, the coffee was really good! I was glad I went. But once I returned home I couldn’t seem to get out of the car. I just sat there in my husband’s (not awesome) 1998 Infinity with no air conditioning. Although I was burning up in the Texas heat, I just couldn’t go inside. I was stuck in the seat with my seatbelt still wrapped around me. Over and over again I kept asking myself, “How do I describe to my husband what I’ve just experienced?”

He had sacrificed a lot that weekend to make it possible for me to attend the conference. I was certain he’d love hearing about the beautiful worship I heard. He’d love to hear the glowing reports of women being challenged to be what God made them to be. I know for a fact that news of the good coffee would be a welcomed report.

How in the world could I tell him the truth--that despite all the beautiful words I heard, despite all the perfectly arranged songs I sang, and despite all the perfectly brewed coffee I drank. . . I wasn’t satisfied. I was still bored. I was still wrestling with something very deep inside my heart. Although I couldn’t quite name it, I knew it wasn’t something I  was proud of.

Eventually I did manage to collect my pamphlets and gift bag and get out of the car. As I took a deep breath and walked in the door, there he was, my husband--smiling from ear to ear! I could see the excitement on his face, his excitement to hear of my excitement. Rats! Typically I might lie a little bit. Not a bad lie. . . just a little twisting to make myself look better. I really didn’t want to seem unrighteous or ungrateful, so I wish I could’ve come up with something wonderful to say. Instead, I chose to tell the truth as best as I understood it. I know now the Holy Spirit was working powerfully to give me these words, but at the moment, it was a little weird! Are you ready for it?

Here’s what I came up with: “I am Noah’s wife.”

Yep. Insert the creepiest looking emoticon you can think of right here.

I am Noah’s wife.

You may, like Jonathan, be wondering what in the world I meant. Truthfully, it’s something I’d been chewing on for a while, but right then and there I understood the reason for my boredom. Let’s me explain.

Years ago I participated in a bible study of the book of Genesis. Oh sure, it was an amazing study. I am sure I learned a boatload of amazing truths. Wanna know what I remember most? Genesis 7:6-10:

“Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.”

Let’s think about this together. Who is Noah? Duh.

Who else was on the boat? Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives.

What were the sons’ names? Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Yep.

What was his wife’s name? Think. . . think. . . think. . . I got nothin’.

Noah’s wife was nameless.

Hey, writer of Genesis. . . are you kidding me right now? I can understand leaving out the daughters-in-law’s names, but the wife? You can remember names like Shem, Ham, and Japheth but not the wife’s name?

I’ve always been sad for her. I mean, maybe she wasn’t as awesome in the whole “righteousness” thing as her husband, but she must have done something right. Right? I mean, she was good enough for righteous Noah to fall in love with her. She raised their children in such a way that they got access to the boat. Something must have been noteworthy about her. Right?

Well, the author of Genesis decided to leave her nameless. She’s known forever as simply “Noah’s wife.” The unnamed wife of one of the most well known men in history.

Back to real time--and here’s where it gets uncomfortable to talk about. It’s the truth though. . . and since I’m being truthful. I sat there the whole weekend trying to engage my heart in worship, but all I could think about was how much I had in common with Noah’s wife. How utterly unknown I was. Over and again I thought about my different titles: “Owen and Ellie’s mom,” “Teacher helper,” or “That girl who sews things.” Oh, I can’t leave out the most popular one, “Pastor’s wife.”

It’s crazy, but no matter how well I know a woman, no matter how many hours we spend together, and no matter how many laughs or tears we share, she will always introduce me as her pastor’s wife. Occasionally the title of friend comes in at the end, but first and foremost I’m her pastor’s wife. The nameless companion of her pastor. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

Well, the real heartbreak came on as I watched the women on stage. Please put your grace cardigans on because this is vulnerable y’all. It might not be pretty but it’s what I got. They were all friends, and were all exercising their unique gifts on stage--together. As each one was introduced with a glossy photograph, it was like a parade of comrades who gave themselves away to us so that we could know them too. This was not at all their intention, but as I watched I became increasingly and painfully aware that not only did I not know them nor they know me, but my gifts were lying dormant in the room as if they were nonexistent. All of a sudden I saw what I had been suppressing in my heart because I didn’t want to believe it:

I’m average.

I’m unnamed.

I’m unknown.

When I’m alone and have time to think (also known as either house cleaning or showering), I’m confident I’m a strong leader. I’m pretty certain I’m an able public speaker and teacher. I know hands down that I can throw a pretty good party. I mean come on. . . I’ve been a Christian for 25 years, so I’ve had time to accept my talents and figure out my spiritual gifts. They’re part of me, they’re who I am.

At the conference, I realized, however, that to most people I’m known differently. I’m known more generically.

Jonathan’s wife.

Pastor’s wife.

The woman in the back.

That girl.

Average.

Unnamed.

Unknown.

It’s one thing to fear being unknown, it’s altogether more painful to realize that you are unknown. It was devastating. In fact, my fingers are still a little shaky just typing about it. I don’t enjoy the truth of it, but it is the truth.

If I weren’t baptist, I’d make a bet that many of you reading this feel the same way.

WHAT'S AN AVERAGITE TO DO?

So, fellow averagites, what do we do now? Do we stay in our seats and either shake in fear or seethe in bitterness? Do we hurl insults and cheap commentary on those women who are known? Do we hide our gifts away as we decide that if no one’s gonna notice we’re just not going to perform? Oh Lord please no! I don’t want that. I don’t want that!

In the days that followed, I cried out to the Lord in a way that only a lonely soul can do. The privileged voice of helplessness was crying out to him asking him to make sense of my selfishness and sorrow. I was asking him to turn my mourning to dancing. To use my gifts and remove my desire to make a name for myself. I refused to live a life of jealousy, but I had no idea how to exercise it. And then I watched a video. I remembered the unnamed, and, soon, I called out for his name over my own. It’s exciting. If you are or have felt like me--average, unnamed, unknown--I hope you’ll read on.

I WATCHED A VIDEO

My husband recently co-wrote a book on the resurrection of Christ called Raised? to help engage doubters and skeptics. A movie was made about the spiritual journey of a dear couple Ben and Jessica Roberts. The story the Lord has written for them is truly amazing. I have personally watched them walk from darkness into light and have witnessed the corresponding life change that is gifted to those who know Jesus as their resurrected King. It’s been an amazing gift to observe this process in them and celebrate what the Lord has done. I know that this couple is just at the beginning of something amazing.

A week after the conference, I was watching part three of the movie. In this part, Jessica tells of her return to church. She chose our church  because “it met in a bar.” She goes on to share what I’ve heard about twenty times before, but this time I heard it with keen hearing, like it was the first time I’d ever heard something so amazing.

She said something like, “I sat with my son in the children’s worship. They were singing Father Abraham, which has no spiritual significance, but somehow I met Jesus. I knew then that I was loved, that I belonged, and that I could be cleansed.”

Averagites--that was ME leading children’s worship! Even though I swore I’d be the only pastor’s wife in the history of pastor’s wives to never ever lead the children’s ministry. . . that Sunday, I was in charge of leading the children’s ministry! I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember feeling stupid for choosing to sing that song, but it was the best my ineptitude could come up with so I went with it. I remember meeting Jessica. I remember her son’s uncertainty there. And I remember seeing her facial expression change from fear to comfort.

As I sat there watching the video, tears begin to fall uncontrollably as I began saying to myself, “That was you! That was you! That was you!” I became completely aware that the Lord had used me and my service to him to change this family’s life.

Jessica never said my name nor did she even hint at it. . . but I know it was me! I am so happy for the Roberts’ faith and influence so the realization that my unnamed status had a part in their faith is overwhelmingly wonderful! In all honesty, I’d love to have a million more of those stories where my unnamed, unknown, and even inept self is used to bring others from darkness into light. What a privilege!

That moment, the Lord taught me that being unnamed is not the same as being unknown. I felt the love of my Father pour over me in such a way as to bring purpose to my generic status. Like Hannah, I felt completely seen. I felt known. He knows me and is using me in mysterious ways! I am unnamed but I am not unknown. What a joyful distinction.

THE HOPE OF BEING UNNAMED

Come to think of it, the world is overflowing with powerful no-name Christians. We call them missionaries, Sunday school teachers, doctors, neighbors, parents, and friends. When I think of the people who have had the greatest impact on my life, I don’t think of the amazing conference speakers I’ve heard or the great authors I’ve read. Nope. I think of the family in Minneapolis who taught me how to open my door to strangers. I think of the couple in Boston who showed me that all of life is repentance and discipleship. I recall the gentle rebuke of a church planter’s wife who pointed to me to Christ and away from bitterness. I think of my aunt who lived well and died even better as she drew nearer and nearer to Christ. Each of these have made an indelible mark on my faith--yet to the world they will always be nameless. The nameless souls who teach other nameless souls to proclaim the name of Christ.

All of this unnamed searching led me to where else...the cross. (And this is where I hope I camp out for the rest of my life!) There we meet two of the most powerful unnamed characters in all of Christendom- the two thieves on either side of Jesus.

Two men. Two criminals. No names.

One chides Jesus, refusing to repent. He wants to save his own life, his own name so to speak. I’m certain he’d be happy to use Jesus’ power for his own name’s sake but he wants nothing of the Christ as Lord. Forever unnamed. Forever unknown.

The other, however, is altogether taken with Jesus. He places no demands on Jesus, and instead, he asks Jesus to be who Jesus says he is...the Forgiver. He loves Jesus just as He is. He accepts his calling as a thief on a cross. He asks for the glory of the Lord to shine on him and give Him grace. Forever unnamed. Instantly known.

Fellow Noah’s wives we can get a name for ourselves or we can get Jesus. One leads to death, the other to beautiful life. May we strive for the popularity of our King and not ourselves. May we be content to use our gifts in secret knowing that our God sees us. Let us delight in being unnamed yet fully known.

Robie Kaye Dodson lives in Austin, Tx with her husband Jonathan and their three young children. She’s a horrible cook and a worse housekeeper…but she loves Jesus who gives her worth and meaning in the majestic and mundane of life. When all else fails, she makes dresses! Read more of her craft at www.sosewsomething.com. Follow on Twitter: @RobieDodson

Justification and Work

I’ve been writing about how faith applies to the everyday life of our work. I’m learning, just like the rest of us, how the grand doctrines of grace connect, form, and transform my job. Much has been written on how they transform our hearts, ministry, and even family, but I don’t know how much has been written on how they practically invade our workplaces. These doctrines don’t just live in our hearts, or in our churches, but they exist and are active on the street corners, in the restaurants, in our homes, and in our jobs.1

The Claim

The audacious sounding claim, is that through an act by a Jewish Messiah, humanity in Christ, has been put right before God. We have been “reconciled” (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20). This reconciliation demonstrates that not only have we as people trusted in this Messiah, but we also have been found “right” in the sight of God (Rom. 4:5), but that even God’s disposition towards us is one of delight, even to the degree that he delights in his own Son, the Messiah (Mk. 1:11).

Is there any room for us to claim any credit in this process?  Happily we say “No!” There has been nothing done on our part to initiate or cause us to be reconciled before a holy God. The claim sounds audacious, too good to be true even. We live in a culture that operates contractually. 50-50. Fairness is the golden rule now. This claim flies in the face of fairness, and is otherwordly because it is made possible through grace (Eph. 2:8-9). We “ran up the bill” so to speak, and Christ “paid the tab.”

The Christ

This is all possible through the work of the Christ.  What was his work? A perfect life lived, a sacrificial death died, and a victorious resurrection. We, as enemies of God, traitors of the heavenly court, stand in opposition towards God. Christ comes and “stands in our place” (Rom. 5:17). He tell us where we failed and put things out of order. Then he overcomes, and puts everything back in order.  This Messiah went down into our valley’s of sorrow, overcame the temptations of glory on the mountaintops, and broke the power of evil that stains this world.

He literally became the wrath-taker. Paul says he was offered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). We have the declaration from God, that in Christ, we not only have been forgiven, but we are invited in to the Father’s arms and home. We are invited to the table of Christ to eat, drink, and enjoy him.

I struggle to discipline myself to remember this declaration by God. I can easily get caught up in how I performed at work, then get caught up in how I performed in church, instead of resting in Christ’s performance on my behalf. Recently I went through a season in which, at work, there were people who seemed against me. We’ve all experienced this. During this time, it was easy to use my own performance to justify myself. Sadly the more I did this, the more pride crept into my heart, and the more I cared about what these people thought. I wasn’t able to respond in grace because I was so set on proving them wrong. However, the Spirit reminds me that my identity isn’t “Collin the banker” or “Collin the church planting resident,” but “Collin, God’s son who’s loved in Christ.” Grasping our justification, frees us up to graciously care and love our co-workers regardless of how we’re being treated.

The Consequence

Consequence is usually viewed in a negative light, but it only means the result of something. The consequence of this declaration of God is freedom from listening to the declarations inside our own head that either justify or condemn us. A final word has been spoken, a declaration has gone out; we are right, loved, accepted, forgiven (not merely excused) in Christ. On the flip side, we are in no place to make justifying or condemning statements about others. It is Christ to condemn and justify.

We are no longer bound to be defined by our circle of friends, the work we do, or society’s valuing of that work, but we are bound and defined, in love, in the fellowship and love of the Trinity. We are, therefore, freed from the work of our hands being used to define, justify, or condemn us.

Now What?

We are free to affirm others in the workplace because we are secure in our affirmation from Christ.

  • We are free to serve others in our workplace because our justification is wrapped up in the servant Christ.
  • We don’t hang on every word or declaration from our employers; our declaration in Christ from the Triune God of the universe sustains us.
  • We can live under the umbrella of the declaration of Christ, when the torrential rain of condemnation comes.
  • We no longer swing from despair (not good enough) to pride (I am good enough) in our work, but fix our eyes on Christ, because of his goodness and finished work.

Now our jobs are no longer empires we are building, but tools to live for Christ’s kingdom.

Be assured, justification means Christ is for us.

Collin Seitz is an almost 30 year old, grateful husband to Allison, father to Hudson and Hannah, learner, and most importantly disciple and lover of Christ and His Kingdom. He enjoys a nice cup of Oolong Tea, reading, playing basketball, and watching his kids grow up. He and his family are currently a part of Austin City Life, and a church planting resident there. He blogs at For Christ, City, and Culture. Twitter: @Collin_Steitz

1. I don’t mean to minimize the good news of Christ to the doctrines of grace. I understand that the good news of Christ as Messiah and King will be deeper and fuller than what I have written here.