Words are the essence of communication. Without words, there is no way to convey concepts or feelings or attitudes. Words are glorious tools that help us to frame and communicate what we really believe. The importance of words is clearly seen in the Bible. When God created the heavens and the earth, He did it by speaking Creation into existence. And Jesus Himself is called the Word made flesh.
But, we must also remember that the definition of a word is even more important than the word itself. It is by definitions that we come to understand what a word actually means and what the word-giver is trying to communicate to the word-hearer.
In our day, there is a great battle over how words are defined. This happens often in the political arena where the words “liberal” and “conservative” seem to take on a different meaning depending on who is using them.
And it’s not just politics; many moral and theological terms have either been morphed or hijacked. With or without an agenda, many words are twisted by the behavior of the one embracing a term, making things even more confusing.
Words like “gay,” “partner,” and “tolerance,” communicate something very different than they did even 50 years ago. Even words like “dominion” or “kingdom” are pejoratives to some, used and defined only by the critic tossing them around.
Words can be so badly twisted that they become “trigger words” that no one wants to mention, and certainly no one wants to be associated with it.
And, so it is with the “P” word; the word we know as patriarchy. In our day, patriarchy is quickly becoming a pejorative. It has come to mean, “selfish, overbearing tyrant who seeks to dominate and suppress women and children.” And, let’s be clear, there are those who embrace that term and fit the bill. They have behaved as if the world revolves around them and that women and children exist only to serve them.
However, the true definition of the term patriarchy does not refer to a position of dominance, rather it refers to a position of servanthood. The word comes from two Greek words: patria, which means father, and arche, which means to rule. In other words, patriarchy refers to a government where the father is responsible before God for the nurture and care of those placed under his charge. Serious stuff.
A man who embraces the biblical call of patriarchy must be a man who strives to love his wife as Christ loves the church, dying to himself and his desires as he seeks his wife’s good—caring for her and nurturing her especially through the Word of God. In addition, a man who embraces biblical patriarchy must invest himself in his children. Instead of viewing his children as his servants, he should recognize them as disciples, bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Jesus gave us a pretty good example of how to treat disciples when He washed the feet of those He was about to die for.
In addition, the concept of biblical patriarchy is not focused on the man; rather it is focused on the family unit. It is a call for a particular polity—a particular government within the household that conforms to the directive of the Bible.
So, it’s not surprising that patriarchy, as defined by Scripture, is countercultural; and it’s not surprising that in a church-gone-worldly that even many Christians have succeeded in twisting the term.
However, when men begin to embrace their call to emulate the leadership style of Jesus, when a woman makes the decision to submit to her husband as unto the Lord, and when children choose to honor their father and mother, they are embracing the model of family life presented in the Bible. When that happens, we actively hallow God’s name before a watching world. In doing so, we are not living out a term or an agenda; rather, we are living out the call of the Christian family—we are living out the Gospel.
But, what are we going to do when the world (or worldly Christians) mocks us for embracing this call of Scripture? Or, what are we going to do when those who say they have promoted biblical family order are later shown to be hypocrites? In such a case, we have an even greater call to be faithful to the word of God.
You see, we should expect the world to mock our lifestyle. If anyone desires to live godly in Christ Jesus, he will suffer persecution, however great or small. In addition, we should expect men to fail. Check your Bible. We are all sinners, and even the greatest among us can succumb to the temptations of pride and power. That’s why our faith cannot be grounded in man.
Regardless of the world, and regardless of the weaknesses of men, we are still called to faithfulness because of what Jesus has done for us. Though some will blaspheme His name, we must hallow it. Patriarchy is all about service. And true service is found in the ministry of Jesus, the Faithful Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.
“I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. (Ezekiel 36:23)
Originally published in March 2014 issue Every Thought Captive