Tim and Kathy Keller deconstruct the cultural myths that surround marriage and give a gospel answer.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
What is God’s purpose in when we want to be married but have to live contented lives as single people? Justin Taylor has pulled together a bunch of resources (books,audio & video) for anyone wanting to think through issues of singleness and the Christian life.
In today’s Spectator Magazine the author Martin Amis is quoted as saying ‘years and years ago, someone defined pornography as hatred of significance in sex. That’s what pornography does.’ Below is the third part of my sermon from last Sunday evening on the 7th commandment ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ In this extract we consider how through lust we all break this command.
C: How we all break the 7th commandment
We saw last Sunday in Jesus’ sermon on the mount that God is as concerned with how we think as much as how we act. You shouldn’t measure obedience to God’s word by what you do or don’t do but by what we would like to do or not do.
We saw that ‘You shall not murder’ is not an excuse to hate because hate is really murder in the heart. So in that second reading we had this evening (Matthew 5:27-30) we saw that ‘You shall not commit adultery’ speaks to our hearts that are full of lust. And that really matters because Jesus won’t allow us to divide the room this evening into two categories of people; the sexually pure and the impure. No, for the reality is that when it is the attitude of our hearts that are held to account surely we are all sexual failures.
Kevin DeYoung writes: The 7th commandment doesn’t just forbid adultery and pornography. It forbids every action, look, conversation, thought, or desire that incites lust and uncleanness.
To lust is to look at a person in a way that leads to sexual arousal and so again we find God’s purpose in the commandment to reveal to us that we are all adulterers in the heart.
1. Be radical
Jesus warns us what a serious sin lust is when he says ‘ If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.’
Jesus wants you to know that there is a difference between being sorry and being repentant.
Being sorry means regretting sin, being repentant means running from sin. Joseph when seduced into bed by Potiphar’s wife ran for his life. He fled the house. A friend of mine I met with to read the bible each week left his job because of a growing attachment to someone at work.
Maybe we would run from an inappropriate relationship but the bigger challenge for some of us is that we naturally have a pretty forgiving attitude to inward sins, we’re just much less concerned about the sins of the heart not least because no-one else knows about them.
The pastor who looks at pornography then preaches on purity is a dangerous person.
Not only do we sometimes simply forgive ourselves for our sin but we even use the gospel as an excuse to sin. We say well God has already forgiven me so I can sin anyway. Well it is true that the gospel does forgive sin but it is a dangerous thing to turn a truth into a half-truth because as Jim Packer has said ‘a half-truth, masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.’
The same gospel that forgives our sin also teaches us (Titus says) to say ‘no’ to ungodliness so if there is no fight for purity in our hearts is there evidence of grace in our lives?
So are you ready to take urgent and radical action in battling sexual temptation in our lives. That might mean not having a TV license or having accountability software on our computers or changing gym membership or even job. It would certainly mean stopping sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
If you are here this evening as a non-Christian I want you to know how totally amazing is the grace of God through his Son’s death on the cross he has dealt with our sin whatever our sexual sins, however we have lived, no-one is too far from God. Grace is always amazing but it is never cheap.
The sign that God is at work is real repentance.
2. Be honest
We do need each other in the battle. Married couples we need to help one another think through how to keep investing in our marriages. To help us in the battle with sexual sin we should seek support and we should make ourselves accountable. DeYoung comments ‘No one fights a war by himself, and no one will get victory over sexual sin on his own.’
3. Be real
About your own vulnerability. Recognise that if a man like King David, a man after God’s own heart, could fall into scandalous sin then why not me or you?
I don’t know why guys wouldn’t want to put some kind of software on their computers to take away temptation. Maybe you need to honestly face up to the fact that you are not ready for a relationship because you know that you could not control yourself physically and would only damage the person you were dating. Maybe you need to recognise that you are flirting in a dangerous way with a housemate.
Being real means recognising that you and I are weak and that the sexual impulse is very strong. And being real means recognising that sexual temptation sometimes comes from an unexpected direction at a time when we least expect it and in a way we’ve not gone looking for it.
King David’s adultery with Bathsheba began with David simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at home when he should have been with his army he was on the roof of his palace when he stumbled across beautiful Bathsheba bathing on the top of a near-by building. The results of a man with time on his hands was scandal.
The Government’s consultation on same-sex marriage closes at midnight tonight. Over 100,000 individuals and organisations have replied. Filling in the on-line form I was allowed a maximum of 200 words in expressing my opinion. Here’s what I wrote…
There are many reasons why the current definition of marriage must remain.
Firstly, throughout the world, across all cultures & times, marriage has always & only been defined as an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes this point very clearly in Article 16.
Secondly, it has been acknowledged by even Tory MPs that the idea that marriage can be redefined but only for civil marriages is deeply flawed. Any legislation will quickly be challenged by homosexual couples wishing to undertake a religious ceremony and a likely result is that religious institutions will be compelled by law to marry homosexual couples against their own right to freedom of conscience.
Thirdly it should be remembered that there is no electoral mandate for such legislation. No political party included ‘gay marriage’ in their manifesto and therefore the people of the UK have not been giving the opportunity to express an opinion at the ballot box. Finally the consultation process itself has been deeply troubling.
Through-out the period Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has repeatedly insisted that the Government will proceed with legislation regardless of public opinion.
A quite brilliant article in the Telegraph on Peter Tatchell, gay marriage and the role of the State
Brendan O’Neill writes in the Telegraph on the domestication of Peter Tatchell
His conclusion is sobering ‘The gay marriage campaign will end up expanding the remit of the state, granting it the authority to overhaul an ancient institution, redefine our relationships, and rebrand is all as “partners’ rather than husbands or wives.’
Preaching through a series on the 10 commandments on Sunday we reached the 7th . Yesterday I posted the first part of the sermon on the relationship between sex and marriage. Today the second part looks at God’s purpose in the 7th commandment.
What is the 7th commandment?
The seventh commandment reads ‘You shall not commit adultery’. Pretty much every Jewish adult who first heard those words of God would either have been married or engaged to be married. Every adult could expect to be married by the age of 20. So in that culture the biggest challenge to honouring God with your body was remaining faithful to your spouse. But the commandment clearly speaks against all kinds of sexual sin.
Paul in Ephesians says ‘ Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity.’ The word there for sexual immorality is porneia and refers really to any sex outside of marriage.
So why is faithfulness in your marriage so important to God?
We’ve been learning over again in this series is that each of the commandments that call on us to ‘love our neighbour’ depends upon a more fundamental commitment to ‘love God’. There is a right and necessary ordering of the commandments. It is the nature of our relationship with God that compels us to remain faithful to our spouse.
Covenant faithfulness in marriage is an expression of our covenant faithfulness to God. As God is faithful to us and as we are to be faithful to him so we are to exhibit the character of faithfulness in all our relationships, especially marriage. As his people so we want to be like him, to say to the world how great it is to have God as our God and so being faithful to our promises is part of saying thank you to God for being faithful to his.
I was at a wedding a while back, chatting to a non-Christian couple. They asked how long my wife and I had been married and at the time it was something like 10 or 11 years. One of them was surprised that having married so young we had lasted so long and then the other commented ‘it’s only the Christians who stay married.’ Sadly, in a fallen world marked by sin that is not always the case but it often is.
Our faithfulness in marriage is a reflection of God’s faithfulness we reflect God’s character as the faithful one who loves us with a never-breaking love. A husband and a wife are in their marriage to model the exclusive relationship between God and his people.
What makes adultery so serious it is both one and the same time a betrayal of a spouse and a denial of our God.
In Genesis 39:9-10 Joseph refuses to betray Potiphar by sucombing to the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He refuses out of loyalty to an earthly master. But more fundamentally he recognises that to break a human marriage is to ‘do a wicked thing and sin against God.’
The 7th commandment is given by God to protect marriages, to protect children in marriages and to protect God’s own name and reputation in the world.
Jesus and marriage
No wonder then that Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6 issues a solemn warning that it is God who joins a couple together in marriage. Through marriage they are now to be considered as one person (v.6) and therefore Jesus issues a command ‘let not man separate.’ It is not that it is impossible but rather that it is should not happen.
And the consequences for those who do break this commandment are serious. In the book of Hebrews Christians are reminded of the seriousness of honouring God with their marriages. 13:4
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Yesterday we saw that sex outside of marriage damages ourselves. Today that it dishonour’s God and we are warned judgement awaits those who dishonour God through adultery or sexual immorality.
Tomorrow’s post looks at how we all break the 7th commandment and how through Jesus we can keep the 7th commandment.
I’m preaching through a series on the 10 commandments at City Church at the moment and last night we tackled the thorny issue of sex under the heading of the 7th commandment. Below is a slightly expanded version of the first part of the sermon.
I don’t know what invention of the past 100 years has done most to change the very way in which we live. You could make a case for TV, the personal computer, the jet airplane but I wonder whether the real answer is the contraceptive pill because it has revolutionised our attitude to sex.
Sex is now – if we want it to be — something purely for recreation rather than procreation. It has for women in particular become a means sexual liberation.
So in our western culture sex is essentially now thought of as a bodily appetite to be indulged. We have lap-dancing clubs in our city-centres, brothels in the same communities as our students and pornography in our bedrooms. Women’s magazines run lead stories on how to perfect sex technique, some men’s magazines are little more than ‘soft’ porn and in the past week Birmingham’s gay pride march was officially listed as part of the City council’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
We’ve never lived in a more openly sex-mad society but as J.John has noted ‘the problem in our sex-saturated society is not that we think too much about sex, but that we think about it so poorly.’
It might be easy to think that Christianity, by contrast, is anti-sex and looking back through the history of the church there have been times when that has been the case. At best sex has been thought of as a necessary evil. One book I read on the subject this week made the point that the excesses of the Catholic church that kick-started the protestant revolution included a list of holy days on which sex was prohibited that numbered 183 days a year!
Clearly the track record of the church has not been good and yet when we read the Bible we certainly don’t find it speaking negatively about sex one entire book, the song of songs is given over to a celebration of romantic love.
In one talk tonight I can’t possibly say everything but I want to start with
A. The setting of the 7th commandment – God’s purpose for sex
In the Bible we discover that sex is a God-given gift. He is the one who has made us sexual beings. He invented sex and he intended it for pleasure. Sexual desire is therefore proper and natural and God even wrote a book about it in the Bible called Song of Songs. So no Christian should feel embarrassed by the subject.
But sex also has a context. Sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose — God intended sex to be a sign and a seal of the union of two lives.
In Genesis 2:24 we discover that marriage is the act of giving ourselves to another a) exclusively ‘leaving father and mother’ and b) without reserve ‘united to his wife’. Sex is then the bodily expression of that union ‘and they will become one flesh’.
Sex is therefore the body-language of marriage. One writer has said;
To be naked with another person is a symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment. It is one of the key ways in which we experience loving faithfulness in a total relationship
No wonder then that the Bible not only permits sex in marriage but actively encourages Christians to keep sex alive in marriage.
In Proverbs 5:19 we read
may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer —
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
And then Paul in 1 Cor. 7:3-5 reminds Christians that they should not abstain from sex within marriage.
Michelle Weiner Davis in a book entitled The sex-starved marriage has written ‘sex is an extremely important part of marriage, it offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure through which they connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy, and a sense of partnership. It defines their relationship as different from all others. Sex is a powerful tie that binds.’
And this is why sex belongs in marriage. You see it really does do something to us when we seek to separate the physical intimacy of sex from the context of marriage.
Tim Keller in the meaning of marriage writes:
Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.
So to protect yourself against the pain of giving your heart to someone who might not be there in the morning you disconnect the physical act of sex from the emotional intimacy it is designed to breed. And now here’s the problem – if you’ve practised that disconnect – if you have disabled it – what happens when one day you get married? There is a real danger that sex in marriage will not be able to do what it is designed to do.
Tim Keller expresses it this way ‘sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.’
All of the statistical evidence shows that when we separate sex from marriage through pre-marital sex we bring that delayed baggage into marriage. Meg Jay a clinical pschologist has written a remarkable chapter entitled the co-habitation effect in The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them
Living with someone may have benefits, but approximating marriage is not necessarily one of them.
She gives an example of one woman who describes her cohabiting relationship
‘A year of two into it, I started wondering what we were doing. Everything about it was fuzzy. That fuzziness ended up being the most frustration part. I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. That made me really insecure. There was a lot of game-playing and arguing. I never felt like he was really committed to me. I still don’t obviously.’
Jay concludes: Couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is what sociologists call the cohabitation effect.
Quite simply the more sex outside of marriage in a society the shorter the marriages in that same society become.
So sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose
In the next post why God has given the 7th commandment and how we break it.
For a one hour summary of Tim Keller’s Meaning of Marriage you can’t do better than this lecture given to the staff at the Google office in New York.
Sheri Thomas spoke at the City to City Network Leaders Conference yesterday on church planters and their spouses. Here are a number of key points that really struck me from what was said.
1) Planters need to understand the pressure on their spouses.
That means planters need to spend time communicating deeply with their spouses on how planting or planning to plant is impacting their marriage – both positively and negatively.
It also means planters need to be aware, up-front, of the most common causes of pressure that face spouses and to factor into both church and marriage ways of recognising them and overcoming them.
2) Ministry will always win out over family unless deliberate steps are taken to prevent it.
Ministry will always be here. Family will grow up and leave. Make family a priority for their sake and for the sake of the church. Prioritise eating together, taking good holiday, celebrating together eg birthdays, etc.
3) Plan a retreat for church planters in your network so that planters and spouses can be refreshed and encouraged together or if that is not possible try and get together as a church planting couple with another church planting couple.
4) Boundary Ambiguity is a cause of stress and tension. What is the spouses role and responsibility in a plant? Is it clear and has it been communicated to the plant? What protection of boundaries are in place with regard to space especially when it comes to using the home a lot.
5. Role ambiguity. Just how involved does she have to be and how might that role change over time and if children are involved.
6. Isolation is an issue. Groups of church-planting spouses need the opportunity of meeting together and talking about their roles and situations
7. The greatest fear for a church planting spouse is often the fear that she cannot do it all and yet all is expected of her.
8. The marriage is the biggest thing as to whether the plant will make it or not. Therefore assessing a church planter must involve assessing the church planter spouse. The person most likely to want to pull the plug on planting is probably an overburdened spouse.
So in order to protect the marriage in a church planting situation we need to ask:
How is the marriage functioning ?
When it comes to boundary ambiguity does she fight (ie take issue with the plant and how its impacting her in negative ways eg. gossip or even undermining her husband publically) or flight (by becoming withdrawn and isolated)? Does she recognise and want to respond to these temptations in a godly way?
What does she do with problems as they arise in church? Does she have the level of maturity to cope with this?
Is she supportive – does she believe in her church-planting husband? If she doesn’t it’s going to be very hard for them both and the plant.
Who are the people she is going to open up with? Different subjects, different depths.
Finding fault, finding forgiveness – part 1
“There are two basic problems in every marriage: one is the husband and the other is the wife.” So quipped author and Church Pastor, Tim Chester.
After all how long into any marriage before we begin to realise that this is harder than we thought it would be!
There are many different factors, situations and circumstances that put pressure on any marriage but crucial to a Christian marriage is a mutual recognition that sin and failure are inevitable.
Yet, despite our theology it can be profoundly disorientating to discover that my spouse has faults I didn’t know about or expect. Somehow, at least for a time, I thought my spouse had avoided the fall.
If we are to build strong marriages we need to grasp that through our failings and faults God works out his purposes for us. They are his opportunity to manifest grace and to demonstrate his power in the weakness of a marriage between two sinners.
Three books have been particularly helpful to me in preparing to teach a seminar at our church entitled ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’. They are When sinners Say ‘I Do’ by Dave Harvey, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and What did you expect? by Paul David Tripp. Each of the three are biblical, insightful and honest but above all else each are optimistic about the impact that spouses can have on each other.
Keller’s book appeals to us to see our marriages as preparation for the great marriage to come between Christ and the church. Once we understand that God has given us a spouse now to change us, to make us fit for Christ, it changes the way we face up to finding fault. Keller writes;
What if you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then…you will roll up your sleeves and get to work.
So as we get going with a short series of posts on ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’ let’s start with five necessary insights for facing up to sin and finding opportunity in them.
A. Five realities to remember in a marriage:
1. As sinners living together in a fallen world sin and failure are inevitable.
You might think you are going to find the perfect match but no Christian should live under any such illusion. The Christian of all people should be ready to face that fact. When we do enter marriage with realistic expectations it helps us to be ready not to run from them but to embrace them as opportunity.
2. ‘Everyone’s marriage becomes something they didn’t intend it to be.’
Paul Tripp’s observation is both obvious and yet profound. There is always an element of disappointment as well as frustration in a marriage which is flawed. When two sinners commit to spending their lives together it’s the marriage itself that will face challenges.
3. ‘Patterns of sin and failure in marriage must be met with patterns of confession and forgiveness.’
Paul Tripp again on the very way we overcome the corrosive affect of sin in a marriage relationship.Being quick to confess our sin and quick to forgive each other’s sin are necessary to building a strong marriage.
4. When we live this way real transformation is possible in a marriage.
So many marriages are damaged by our unwillingness to ‘find fault’ or to ‘find forgiveness’ but when patterns of mutual confession and mutual forgiveness begin to embed themselves in a marriage real change happens
5. None of this is possible without the gospel that supplies this power to confess and this power to forgive.
In future posts we’ll see that the ability to confess sin, freely and willingly and the power to forgive sin lie not in us but in the gospel and who we are in Christ.
The last word goes to Tim Keller:
I don’t know of anything more necessary in marriage than the ability to forgive, fully, freely, unpunishingly, from the heart.
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