Putting Identity Before Instruction

Several years ago I was doing my pre-service ritual on a Sunday morning; which included sipping coffee and gathering my final thoughts while early arrivers made their way into the lobby. As I made small talk; which is not exactly fun for an introvert like myself, the doors to the gym-made-sanctuary were violently swung open by a production team volunteer yelling, “Hey Stephen, will you tell Erik to take his hat off?!?”

Erik was the recently hired worship director and he was guiding the different teams in their run-through prior to the “worship experience,” as we called it in those days. Of course my first thought was, “Oh yeah, this is what Jesus died for and why I went into full time vocational ministry.” Then I thought back to that day in seminary when we discussed the case study of a camera operator triangulating the pastor in a plot to make a wardrobe change.

Are you feeling my sarcasm??

Turns out that the production volunteer had already asked Erik to remove his hat; which he declined because, well, who cares?? The real issue, however, is that Erik was new and a relationship had not been developed between him and this entitled production volunteer.

This ministry moment illustrates the damage we can do when we throw around instructions before addressing identity.

We all get our identity from our relationships with others…starting at day one. I was born a son to my father and mother. When I arrived, they chose my name (coincidently the same as my father’s) and wrote it on the certificate. I didn’t choose my name and yet that is the most prevalent way by which I am known. I received that identity out of relationship to my parents.

Do you can see just how tied up our identity is in our relationships with others? Therefore, we really have to consider relationships (and their correlation to our identities) before we start throwing around instructions.

I’m sure there have been times when another parent at school or in the neighborhood gave you some parenting instructions and yet didn’t know you from Adam. Or there was that time when a supervisor at work started assigning you tasks and you thought, “Why is this assigner telling me what to do? Who does he think he is?,” because he was not your supervisor and had not built the relational equity like your supervisor had.

We are all tempted to instruct others, but that’s never the place to start. We see this in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He spends chapters on identity before he ever gets to instructions. It is our identity as saint, saved, chosen, and sealed that serves as the foundation for the types of behaviors Paul gives us. Notice that he doesn’t start with submission.

For those of us who profess Jesus as savior, king, and lord, we really should consider our identity. Most of all, we should consider how our baptism is the signifier of our identity, because we will only live in submission to Jesus (and to one another) in as much as we live out of our submersion.

In this passage, near the end of his letter to the Ephesians, and only after Paul has spent so much time on our identity, do we find that there are twice as many instructions to husbands as there are to wives. Interestingly enough, when I was preparing for this message, Emily (my wife) and I ended up in some of the silliest spats.

She berated me for being too liberal with our body wash in the shower. Later in the week, I informed her how she was opening a bag of chips incorrectly. (Obviously she was very appreciative of my correction.)

Seriously though??

We were both forgetting our identity. We were failing to live out of our submersion and, consequently failing to live in submission.

So don’t be like me!

Instead, I encourage you to resist the temptation to throw around instructions before you consider identity. Develop relationships with people before you start instructing them on how to live. And, if you believe that Jesus is Lord, remember your identity before writing off any instructions that may actually be helpful in reinforcing that identity.


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