"Eschatology and Enjoying Your Mate"
October 6, 2015
In his first lecture on Biblical Theology (available for free download on iTunes U), Dr. Gregory Beale begins to build his case that eschatology is the key to our sanctification. He even half-jokingly suggests teaching one day on the topic, “Eschatology and How to Enjoy Your Mate.” Beale claims that we could all have better marriages if we understand this connection better.
That’s worth pondering, isn’t it? And as I have seen all the insistence on carrying the “headship norm” established in Genesis 2 as a “creation norm” to inform one’s view on maleness and femaleness, I’m even more interested in this proposal by Beale.
In my last article, I made the case that headship is a household role. This is an important distinction as Christians discuss what is appropriate in the workforce and civil culture. While there are certainly innate and cultural differences between men and women that we consider in our vocations and in our relationships, headship does not extend beyond the household: all women are not under the authority of all men.
I also pointed to Ephesians 1:10, showing that as the household manager, Christ is working in both God’s household and family households as he is summing up all things in him. And I ended with some questions regarding what the head of a household does here in these last days; and when we are talking about elders in God’s household and husbands in family households, what is their responsibility in authority and leadership?
Before I get to the practical implications, I want to look at this household analogy closer as it is used by Paul in the pastoral epistles. He opens up his letter to Timothy:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:3-5)
The English translation here doesn’t really capture the household theme that is set up in these verses. Robert Wall translates this “stewardship from God” (oikonomos theou) in his commentary on the pastoral epistles as “God’s way of ordering the world,” and describes it as what we may even think of as mundane tasks in managing a household. He draws on a similar phrase in Titus 1:7, theou oikonomos, where Paul is speaking of “the congregation’s… (episkopos) or ‘administrator’ (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7) and in Gal. 4:1-2 of the heir’s relationship to his ‘trustees’…as analogical of Christian conversion” (65). He continues:
The catchphrase oikonomia theou is probably rooted in the same typological soil and envisages a kind of divine trusteeship by which the triune God manages the outworking of salvation’s history within the ongoing community of faith.
…Moreover the letter’s wide-ranging instructions are formative of the church’s existence in the world as God’s household, and as such make it a public microcosm of the oikonomia theou. (65)
Moving on, in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, we have the qualifications for overseers, or “household administrators.” Wall returns to this illustration of God’s household:
In any case, it bears repeating that “household” is the central metaphor for the church of the Pastoral Epistles and that Christian teachers catechize believers according to the social patterns of the oikonomia theou (1:4). The ‘living God’ is paterfamilias of the sacred household (cf. 3:15). The political shape of this theological conception draws naturally on the experience of middle-class households in urban centers of the Mediterranean world (see 1:4-5; 5:1-6:2; 2 Tim. 2:20-21; Tit. 1:5 ;2:1-10). Those in charge of caring for the family household, from its administrator to its servant staff, had particular responsibilities and observed particular social conventions. The stability of the city-state, if not the empire, was routinely considered by its politicians and philosophers to be dependent on maintaining its various households. While the vocation of God’s sacred household is religious, its daily operations require effective administrators and a competent servant staff, like any other Roman household. (99-100)
A few verses later, in 1 Timothy 3:14, Paul continues on this theme:
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Wall comments that, “Even more central to this letter’s theological vision is the belief that faithful familial relationships instantiate a Pauline understanding of the oikonomia theou” (118). Our relationships within our families and in the household of God bear witness to God’s mission to the world.
With that in mind, let’s get back to enjoying your mate, tying this household language in with my last article on Ephesians 1:10 and Genesis 2:24. As God is putting his household in order, we have a beautiful eschatological picture in marriage. Beale points out in his last lecture of his Biblical theology series that every time a man leaves his father’s household to cling to his wife (Gen. 2:24), we have “a parable, a repeated parable, of what Christ would do as the husband of the church: leave his father, cleave to the church. He would initiate as the… preserver and leader, and be the instigator and source of unity and nourishment, and the church should respond in trust.” He continues that when a husband lavishly and sacrificially gives to his wife, providing her with what she desires, as long as it is not sinful, he is showing the fallen world something about what Christ has come to do. And when a wife is able and offers trust to her husband, the watching world is shocked by our “walking lifestyle of the gospel.”
You see, there is a theological mission connected to being the head of a household. Going back to the practical questions, what exactly is the responsibility as head? Wall again sheds light here emphasizing the responsibility to tend to the mission and purpose of the household. We are moving toward something, our mission to be summed up in Christ’s household, to be sanctified for his purposes, and to reign with him on the new heavens and the new earth. This eschatological goal shapes the mission of the household. This mission needs to reach the next generation, and the ones after that. And so the head needs to ensure that our faith is articulated well, that the members of the household live accordingly, and that it is passed down to the next generation. This is true of the family, and of the household of God, his church.
And so Wall does get practical on how this leadership plays out. “They [leaders] think about the mission, describe it, communicate it, keep it constantly before the group, and develop goals on the basis of it” (259). If only Adam would have done that! Because there is a great opposition to the mission. And that is why these household-themed exhortations are always beside warnings about false teachers. Wall interestingly points out, “While love is the moral aim of the oikonomia theou and is spiritually adduced (1:5), it is threatened not by misbehavior but by bad theology…(1:19)” (171).
We don’t bear witness to God’s mission to the world by micromanaging male/female relationships, regulating the details of femininity and masculinity when it comes to serving in our vocations, or insisting on some kind of blanket male authority over all women in society. We bear God’s mission to the world by functioning in our households under the mission God has called us to. And what a great privilege that is!