One of the mysteries if Christian theology is the doctrine of the Trinity. It affirms that God is one in essence but exists as three distinct persons. Each is a separate personality but shares in the one divine being. Each is as much divine as is the other.
The reason we hold that God is one and exists as three is because this is the testimony of the sacred Scriptures throughout. For example, the Bible begins with the profound statement that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. But the very next statement speaks of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters in the beginning. And in John 1:1, in introducing Jesus, John writes that He existed as the Word from the very beginning and that everything in the world was created through Him.
Right now I am working on a series of messages from Isaiah 9:6, 7. This passage is commonly understood as a messianic passage because it prophetically points to the coming of Jesus into the world as a baby. But it identifies this coming baby as one who will ultimately become the everlasting governor of the whole world. And His name will be called, Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. This clear reference to the coming of Jesus speaks of Him as God.
In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is most often spoken of as the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of the Lord. Again and again, He came upon people in power to anoint them to speak or to do God’s mighty works in some miraculous way. Thus Moses worked by the power of the Spirit (Numbers 11:25) or was led by the Spirit. Samson as one of the judges of Israel accomplished great things by the power of the Spirit (Judges 15:14).
In the New Testament, it is clear that God exists as three persons that individually relate to each other while still retaining their essential nature as God. Matthew 28:19 and 20 speak of “baptizing disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus prays to the Father (John 17) and speaks about sending the Holy Spirit into the world after He has gone back to heaven (John 16:7). And there are many passages in the New Testament that speak of Jesus and the Father being one (John 10:30) and yet being separate (John 16:32).
So there is this sense of equality. But the thing that’s especially interesting to me is that despite the share that each has in the one divine essence, one can’t help but notice that there is also a difference between them in terms of function in relation to one another. Jesus comes into the world, for example, by the commission of the Father. This is clear through such well-known verses of the Bible as John 3:16 and 17 — which speak of Jesus being sent into the world by the Father. This is commonly spoken of in theology as “the generation of the Son.” Likewise, both the Father and the Son are involved in the commissioning or sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26 and John 16:7-15) — the “procession of the Spirit.”
The point that seems to be strongly upheld in Scripture is that though the members of the Triune God are each worthy of being called “God,” there is a functional difference between them. And so, Jesus, as the Son, obeys the Father to become the Saviour of the world (Philippians 2:6-11) even though He is clearly God. And the Holy Spirit comes upon the early disciples (Acts 2) just as Jesus promised to send Him.
I was especially struck by this “order” in the Trinity recently while reading 1 Corinthians 15: 24-28. There we read that Jesus will reign in the world until all has been put under His authority. But it also says very clearly that when all things have been put under His authority, Jesus will put Himself under the authority of God the Father so that He may be utterly supreme in all things. (In fact, it even speaks of Jesus having been given His authority, by God, in the first place.)
Clearly, from these Scriptures, it is evident that though there is absolute equality between the members of the Trinity, there is also a significant functional difference. The Son is subject to the Father, and the Spirit is subject to the Father and the Son. This has remarkable implications, I think, about the nature of the relationship between the husband and wife in marriage, and the role of women in the church. Though they share ontological equality as far as their existence and value is concerned (as is evident both in creation and redemption — Galatians 3:28), God has evidently ordained a functional difference between them in how they serve. If this functional difference is evident in the Trinity, should we be surprised that such should also exist in this human relationship?
I think this implies that though both men and women should be respected and related to, by the other, with appropriate honour, this difference of function should also be acknowledged and applied in the relationship. It seems to me this is a key point in the current debate about the role of men and women in relation to one another, especially as relates to the church. While both are called to serve in many of the same ways, there are points where the difference is taught and ought to be respected, just as is evident in the relationship between the members of the Trinity.