Embracing the Joys and Sacrifices of Our Distinct Roles
I can remember the first time I heard the gospel. By God’s grace, the mental furniture had been arranged in such a way that I had a clear sense of what my sin deserved and what lengths Christ had gone to in order to atone for it. In those first moments after my conversion, I don’t think there was anything I could imagine withholding from Christ. I understood what so many other Christians came to see: the King of kings loved a sinner like me by humbling himself to become a man who would serve me even in his death (Philippians 2:3–8). We would be happy doing any job in his service. Make us under-rowers in the great fleet of Christ, just as long as we are on his boat!
For a variety of reasons, this zeal and instinctive contentment can be eclipsed by a preference for personal comfort. Soon enough, the roles of service God calls us to can be turned inside-out, becoming burdens rather than the blessings he intends. We can experience this when we consider the sacrifices God requires of men and women in their distinct roles in the home and the church. Instead of embracing the roles and requisite sacrifices, we passively disengage, grumble, or even become embittered against God. But, when we zoom out and look at the big picture of our calling as Christians, and the Christ we follow, we ought to find encouragement and instruction.
OUR ENTIRE LIVES SHOULD BE A SACRIFICE
It’s hard to imagine any relationship or context that doesn’t require some degree of sacrifice. In the office, we have to set our preferences aside for the good of the company. In traffic, we have to yield and merge. On a sports team, the field is divided and positions are played, but often it is only one who does the scoring. Sacrifice for the sake of a larger goal than ourselves is woven into our lives.
The Christian life is a life of sacrifice. The Apostle Paul tells us that our lives are to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Jesus himself said that if anyone desires to follow him, they must deny themselves (Luke 9:23). Self-sacrifice is engraved upon the threshold of the church. It should characterize our lives as followers of the one who sacrificed himself for us.
In discussions about complementarianism, what’s often emphasized is what women have to give up in order to submit to God’s Word. And it is true there are requirements, for example, for a wife to submit to her husband’s leadership (Ephesians 5:22–24).
However, I’m convinced we too often under-emphasize what the husband must sacrifice. In his work to fulfill the role God has called him to, we must give more careful and comprehensive consideration. Consider for a moment the type of loving leadership that husbands and pastors must demonstrate if they’re truly going to reflect Jesus. His loving leadership initiates, sets aside personal privilege, seeks to serve even when it’s uncomfortable, sacrifices their own interests, is characterized by humility, and zealously pursues the holiness of those he leads. Husbands and pastors must give themselves to this regular, prayerful practice for both their wives and members.
Imagine a husband coming home from work after an especially grueling day. His head is pounding, and he is exhausted. When walking through the door, he wants to recline in his chair and escape the world. But upon walking in the door, he is greeted by his wife who also has had a bad day and has discovered a significant financial error in the families’ account. How does Jesus’ loving leadership come into play here? Does the husband push away to accommodate himself, or does he lean in and sacrifice himself? Or think of a pastor who, after weeks of receiving multiple shipments of bad news, finishes preaching and seeks to disappear. But he can’t. Because there are church members who have questions; there are church members who are hurting. His flesh cries out, but the echo of Christ is louder still. He is a shepherd-leader who, like Jesus, must set himself aside and joyfully serve others. A husband, father, or pastor who intends to lead like Jesus always pours himself out for the good of others and the glory of God.
People tend to exalt leaders, but leaders like Jesus spend their days cleaning up messes and strengthening people around them.
When we follow Jesus, our whole lives are to be a sacrifice.
THERE SHOULD BE JOY IN OBEDIENCE
Though the commands of Scripture may make us uncomfortable, we shouldn’t be characterized by downcast dolor. If we’re convinced of what God’s Word says, then we shouldn’t be embarrassed about the demands it makes upon us. And if the Bible is God’s Word, then it’s his good Word to us and for us. He gives it to us––all of it––for his glory and our flourishing.
Obedience to God’s Word brings great reward (Psalm 19:11). God blesses those who keep his Word and seek him with their whole heart (Psalm 119:2). Jesus said that hearing and obeying his Word is like one who builds their house on a solid foundation (Luke 6:47–49). He also reminds his followers that by reflecting his loving service we are blessed (John 13:16). James reminds us that by persevering in obedience, the faithful doer of the Word is blessed (James 1:25).
The roles and responsibilities God gives us are hard. They’re counter-cultural. They often unsettle us. But they’re nevertheless good, and for our good. This dogged commitment to the goodness of the Bible should produce joy in us as we fulfill the roles of self-sacrifice that God has for us.
WE REFLECT CHRIST THROUGH OUR SUBMISSION TO GOD’S WORD
But here’s an even greater motivation to embrace the roles and practices God gives us: we get the opportunity to reflect Christ. After all, it was Jesus himself who willingly submitted to his Father and took on the role of the Redeemer of God’s elect.
Therefore, we embrace whatever role and responsibility God’s providential hand gives us. We set aside ourselves and embrace the infinite value of the glory of God and the goodness of his Word. Whether this means fulfilling the role of husband or wife or elder or supportive member or gentle parent or faithful friend or obedient citizen or whatever—it’s all part of a grand project and privilege we have to reflect Christ.
When we consider the work of Christ for us, then we can find a sufficient model and motivation for our own service to God and others. The gospel of Christ puts everything into focus for us. And when we see this, just like the first moments of our new life in Christ, we’re happy for the opportunity to serve him, however that may be.