Be completely humble and gentle; Be patient, Bearing with one another in love
Our culture is based in large part on the presence of hierarchies, and the importance of position. Value and worth are often seen as equivalent to how much money you make, what kind of job you do, how old you are, what sex you are, or some other external measurement. Under the hierarchical view, humility becomes self-debasement. In other words, I value myself in comparison to others, based on how I view my position. In order to be “humble,” I must devalue myself in relation to others. I am lower on the ladder. If I place myself or see myself higher up on the ladder, I am “prideful.” I am constantly asking myself, “How do I measure up?” I compare myself with others on an ongoing basis, and either attempt to better my position so I can feel better about myself, or lower my position out of fear of being arrogant. In Christianity, there is pressure to debase ourselves in order to appear humble, to make ourselves good enough for salvation. Let’s see how God views this hierarchical perspective.
Three verses come to mind immediately: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24, NIV); and, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:16-17, NIV); and, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:26). These verses suggest we are all on the same plane; we all have sinned, we are all justified freely by His grace, we are all heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Is one greater than and one less than? Is one better and one worse? Is one more valuable than the other? On the contrary, Scripture suggests that the hierarchical perspective is lie-based.
By now I am sure you are asking how this discussion on hierarchy relates to marriage. Note the inclusion of “male” and “female” in Paul’s admonition against hierarchies. What I call “Ladder Lies” (a hierarchical view of self and others) are major obstacles to oneness in marriage. When we believe in a hierarchical view, we struggle with our spouse for power and control. We defend ourselves and our position. We attempt to “one-up” each other. We may even denigrate the worth or value of the other person, to prop up the way we feel about ourselves.
So what truth of God replaces a hierarchical perspective? From the point of view of God, we stand side by side before His throne, co-heirs with Christ. As Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:5-6, NIV). We are all on the same plane. Our value is determined by His creation of us, and our worth is determined by the justification of Christ. No one is greater or higher, lesser or lower; we are all one in Christ Jesus.
This perspective changes the definition of humility. Under hierarchy, humility is self-debasing. However, that cannot be the case if no hierarchies exist. Humility, therefore, is defined simply as knowing that God is God. Jesus was able to demonstrate true humility, without any sense of lessening His worth or value. He was humble, knowing God is God.
The removal of hierarchical thinking also changes our point of view on positions and roles. Under a hierarchy, the position is power and determines our worth. On the same plane, as God sees us, we have a variety of roles, each completely unique based on our unique creation, but no one role is greater or higher than another. As it states in Ephesians 4, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV).
To apply this to marriage, the position of a husband can result in control and power over the wife. Domination at best and abuse at worst can grow out of this position. The role of the husband, however, becomes to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV) and to “love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28, NIV). The position of wife can result in feelings of worthlessness and bitterness at being dominated. The role of a wife is to “submit to your husband” (Ephesians 5:22, NIV), which means to align yourself with him like soldiers who lock shields and to “respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:38, NIV). From these roles, the fruits of gentleness and patience grow. These fruits point to the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.