I took a marriage preparation session for a number of engaged couples at our church last week. There were lots of things I would have been very happy to discuss not least all of the many practical issues that a couple face as they get ready to marry. But rather than start there I wanted to start with the biggest issue facing any human relationship: Am I willing to let this person change me?
Tim Keller in The Reason for God writes: One of the principles of love – either love for a friend or romantic love – is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want ‘freedom’ of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways. You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up personal autonomy.’
For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way. Both sides must say to the other, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.’
In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means sacrifice for me.’ If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others.
In summary: As God has changed for you, so you can now change for him.
That’s exactly what we find in a passage like Philippians 2:1-18.
2:5-11 tells of Christ’s willingness to leave the glories of heaven and become a man, taking the form of a servant, being willing to die, and to die on a cross (a cursed death – the worst death). From the highest place it is possible to be, at the right-hand of God, Christ now occupied the lowest place it is possible to be, cursed on a cross.
Either side of these verses are a call for our relationships with one another to be utterly transformed by this gospel pattern.
So, 2:2-4 we read: make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (NIV).
And 2:14-15: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (NIV).
The power to live well in a marriage comes from our willingness to change and to let our marriage partner be God’s change-agent. Christ’s willingness to change for us gives us every reason to change for him and to let him use others to do exactly that. As we learn to welcome change and to say to our marriage partners,for Christ’s sake, I need you to change me to be more like him so our marriages grow stronger.
Mark Vernon has written a really helpful myth-busting piece for Valentine’s Day. Here are some of his key conclusions could have been written by a Christian and they certainly serve to highlight how both Christian and non-Christian alike can go badly wrong when living according to the myth of Romantic love. Here are three of his key insights.
1) When we think that there is someone out there who can ‘complete us’ we are looking in the wrong place if we look for that in a person. Marriages can be extremely happy and do offer many blessings but when we marry we marry fallen, sinful human beings just like us. If we want someone to ‘complete us’ what we’re really asking for is someone to be God for us. He alone can provide ‘true love’. Vernon points to the conclusion of philosopher Simon May when he says:
There is a spiritual dimension to this romantic addiction too. The philosopher Simon May has proposed that while many have given up on God in the West, we still long for the unconditional love that God used to offer.
But godless, we seek instead unconditional love from our fellow humans. We make them gods, and of course they fail us. And then love turns to hate.
2. When we put that kind of expectation on ourselves, our spouse or on a potential boyfriend or girlfriend we ask them to do the impossible and they will always be a disappointment to us. We risk damaging the relationship if we want perfection. We risk never entering into a relationship if we wait for ‘the one’ who alone is perfect.
3. We need to recognise that love is a decision rather than a feeling or destiny.
The pressure to find ‘the one’ is socially corrosive because it idealises love, rather than understanding that love is made not found. Love is made in the gritty ups and downs of being with someone who is as flawed as you.
All of this said we should still celebrate human love and that should include romance; flowers, candle-lit dinners and all. What we mustn’t do is ask Romance to be our god for God alone IS love.
Tim and Kathy Keller deconstruct the cultural myths that surround marriage and give a gospel answer.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
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.
It’s becoming more common for dating couples to go off on their own for holidays. Peter Ko offers biblical wisdom on the matter.
Great article by Steve Cornell. Does not say everything that would need to be said in such a situation but is a very helpful starting point.
(HT: Tony Lane)
An interesting post by Chris Wiles on being a single Christian on Valentine’s day prompted me to offer up some material on marriage, singleness and Christian ministry. A second post will follow on some of the practical outworkings on the issues faced by married’s and single’s in ministry situations.
1. Biblical models of marriage and singleness in the Bible
- The Apostles – 1 Cor. 9:5
- Priscilla & Aquilla – Romans 16:3
- Typical situation of a church elder – 1 Tim. 3. 2-5
- Jesus, Paul
2. Does the New Testament offer any advice on whether marriage or singleness is better for Christian ministry?
a. Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Tim.3:2-5
Marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Companionship, procreation.
Christians, through marriage, have opportunity to model to the world God’s ultimate purpose of the heavenly marriage between Christ and the church. Given that the majority of people in a local church congregation will be married a church minister has opportunity to model to the church, and to a watching world, Christian marriage and through marriage point people to Christ.
Marriage is a privilege, blessing and gospel opportunity!
b. 1 Corinthians 7 – a brief overview
1 Cor. 7:1 should follow the ESV translation
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’
Some at Corinth seem to have been following the Greek practice of celibacy and considering themselves more spiritual for doing so. They were possibly also using Paul’s celibacy to justify their own attitude to sex and marriage.
In Chapter 7 Paul wants to defend the value of singleness without defending their rationale for it.
The theme of Chapter Seven can be summed up as ‘remain in the situation in which God called you’ v.8, 17,20,24,26,40. i.e. Be content with who you are in Christ.
Were you married when you became a Christian? Then stay married, even if your spouse is an unbeliever. This is command of the Lord v.10-11
Were you a widow(er) or unmarried? Then Paul’s advice is that it is best to stay unmarried, as he himself is. v.8.
Please notice that to those who are married Paul issues a command from the Lord but to the singles Paul does not use commands but rather offers guidance. He chooses not to speak with the full force of his apostolic authority but with words of advice.
‘Paul’s argument takes on a character of its own, quite unlike anything else in his extant letters. He begins with a caution, that what is about to be said, even though he thinks it trustworthy, is less than a command of the Lord; it is his ‘opinion’ (v.25). The argument is then laced with ‘I think’ (36), ‘I am sparing you’ (28), ‘I wish’ (32), ‘I say this for your own good’ (35), ‘let him do as he wishes’ (36), ‘he shall do well’ (37). Whatever else this is not your standard Paul.’
c. Why does Paul seem to prefer singleness?
i) Eschatological perspective – Christ is coming soon vv.26-29
This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in vv.26-29 as the present crisis v.26 and again in v.29 when he comments that the appointed time is very short. If Christ is coming soon then there is an urgency about the Lord’s work and we must be free from the grip of the world’s values e.g. Pursuing the things the world chases after – spouse, 2.4 kids, nice house, car and dog!
ii) Those who are married inevitably have divided interests. v.28, 32-24.
Family life is hard work and requires time and effort to sustain. Being single enables an undivided service of Christ.
d. Is it less spiritual for Christians to seek to be married?
No. Twice Paul affirms that if you marry you are not sinning v.28, 36
Paul also recognizes that God gifts people differently. He gives a marriage partner to some and not to others. v.7. If you are married, thank God for your partner. If you are single thank God for that too! Both are gifts from God.
Paul is concerned that we seek the Kingdom of God first, c.f. Matt.6:31-33, and not get hung up on marriage. However if a suitable marriage partner comes along and we wish to marry then we are free to do so.
‘Ultimately, however, it is our freedom to marry or not which Paul emphasizes time and again. .. As such, we should regard singleness (whether short or long term) as an available option and, since we all start out single, we should approach life form the point of view of seeking the Kingdom of God, not the end of our singleness, as our priority.’
- First things first. Seek to serve Christ where you are!
- Don’t idolize either marriage or singleness.
- Don’t consider yourself superior because of your status e.g. ‘smug married’s or ‘single for the gospel’.
- If looking for a potential marriage partner ask:
‘Will this person I am thinking of going out with / marrying help or hinder me in the work of the gospel?’ ‘Will I help them?’
- If you are thinking about starting a relationship look to go out with someone more godly than you.
- Consider life goals i.e. how, where and when you might serve in say 10 years time when thinking about marriage.
g. Can I know today which gift I have been given by God?
Not necessarily. John Stott helpfully comments in an interview with Al Hsu at the end of his book Singleness
In spite of rumours to the contrary, I have never taken a solemn vow or heroic decision to remain single! On the contrary, during my twenties and thirties, like most people, I was expecting to marry one day. In fact, during this period I twice began to develop a relationship with a lady who I thought might be God’s choice of life partner for me. But when the time came to make a decision, I can best explain it by saying that I lacked an assurance from God that he meant me to go forward. So I drew back. And when that happened twice, I naturally began to believe that God meant me to remain single. I’m now seventy-six and well and truly ‘on the shelf’! Looking back, with the benefits of hindsight, I think I know why. I could never have travelled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family.
It should also be noted that some people long to be married and yet for various reasons never do. This must be seen as God’s sovereign gift for them.
Some good books to read on the broader issues of marriage, singleness and the gospel:
Good commentaries on 1 Corinthians!
Typical, you wait years for a book on marriage and then two come out within a couple of months of each other. I’m talking about The meaning of marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller and Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll.
Given that most of us will probably choose one or the other (at best) how do you go about deciding between the two.
Tim Challies considers one to be ‘my new favorite book on marriage and the best of all the books I read in 2011‘ but when assessing the other concludes ‘Would I want to read it with my wife or would I encourage her to read it on her own? Would I recommend it to the people in my church? In both cases the answer is no.’
Read his reviews to find out why and if you’ve the time and the money to read both make up your own mind!
‘If I was a young woman, and was thinking of being married, I would not marry a minister, because the position of minister’s wife is a very difficult one for anyone to fill. Churches do not give a married minister two salaries, one for the husband and the other for the wife; but, in many cases, they look for the services of the wife, whether they pay for them or not.
The minister’s wife is expected also to know everything about the church, and in another sense she is to know nothing of it; and she is equally blamed by some people whether she knows everything or nothing. Her duties consist in being always at home to attend to her husband and her family, and being always out, visiting other people, and doing all sorts of things for the whole church! Well, of course, that is impossible; she cannot be at everybody’s beck and call, and she cannot expect to please everybody. Her husband cannot do that, and I think he is a great fool if he tries to do it; and I am certain that, as the husband cannot please everybody, neither can the wife. There will be sure to be somebody or other who will be displeased, especially if that somebody had herself half hoped to be the minister’s wife. Difficulties arise continually in the best regulated churches; and, as I said before, the position of the minister’s wife is always a very trying one.
Still, I think that if I was a Christian young woman, I would marry a Christian minister if I could, because there is an opportunity of doing so much good in helping him in his service for Christ. It is a great help to the cause of God to keep the minister himself in good order for his work. It is his wife’s duty to see that he is not uncomfortable at home; for, if everything there is happy, and free from care, he can give all his thoughts to his preparation for the pulpit; and the godly woman who thus helps her husband to preach better, is herself a preacher though she never speaks in public, and she becomes to the highest degree useful to the church of Christ committed to her husband’s charge.’
So said C.H. Spurgeon at a wedding recorded in Sermons Preached on Unusual Occasions
‘Why are there so many unmarried, college graduated, serious-about-Christ, committed-to-the-church, put-together young women who haven’t found a groom, and don’t see any possibilities on the horizon?’
asks Kevin deYoung. Well worth a read.
For an interesting follow-up piece read this.
Thanks Lizzie for drawing my attention to these.
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