Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ananias and Sapphira

Yesterday we examined the lives of Aquila and Priscilla. We saw how abnormally gospel-centered they were and pray that more such couples let go of their claims on this world in exchange for eternal joy. Today I want to contrast the heavenly-mindedness of Aquila and Priscilla with the skewed priorities of another couple in the early church - Ananias and Sapphira.

In the first chapters of Acts we read of the beginning of the church. In Acts 4:32 we read: "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common." Why did the believers have everything in common? We read on in verse 34: "There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." The first believers had everything in common because they loved each other, and as John Piper once said, "Love cannot be satisfied with need." The church is the earthly outpost of heaven. The church is the invasion of the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of man. The first church was simply living out the heavenly ethic of love for one another.

Rather than operating out of selfish ambition, the first believers were motivated by delight in God. How do we know this? Well in Acts 2:46 we read: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people." What was the source of their joy and generosity? It's obvious that the source of their joy was God because he's the object of their praise. If their joy was to be found somewhere else, they would have praised that instead. The believers were living out the heavenly ethic of Jesus, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:32-34). We see something amazing in the writings of Luke. In Luke's gospel, we read the instruction of Jesus on how to be eternally prosperous. Then in the book of Acts, Luke records how the first church actually obeyed.

But all was not well in the first church. Ananias and Sapphira were part of the first church. We read about them in Acts 5. As the early believers were selling their possessions, giving to the poor, and providing treasure for themselves in heaven; Ananias and Sapphira decided heavenly treasure wasn't good enough. They, too, had a piece of property to sell and they sold it. But rather than giving all the proceeds to the apostles for loving distribution, they kept back part of it. The problem is that they paraded around like they contributed the entire sum. In other words, they lied about the amount of profit they made. "Yeah Peter, this property brought $5,000. Here it is." Actually, it brought $10,000, but Ananias and Sapphira kept back some for themselves. (The text doesn't actually give the amount.) They pretended to be heavenly-minded while firmly anchored to this world.

Somehow, Peter knew better and confronted Ananias. "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? and after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? you have not lied to men but to God" (Acts 5:3-4). Peter points out the obvious - the property belonged to Ananias. He was under no compulsion to sell it. And once sold, he was under no compulsion to give the proceeds to the church. The apostles weren't communists. They expected love to do its amazing work in the hearts of believers. When there is a greater hope than that offered by the trinkets of this world, love is free to flow.

Out of delight in God, with an eye to heaven, believers are free from the tyranny of worldly possessions. Jesus tells his disciples not to fear. God is giving us his Kingdom. We don't have to provide it for ourselves. And at the end of the day, the accumulation of possessions flows from a fear of lack. We fear life won't be as complete without possessions, so we hoard. The only thing worse than such faithlessness is pretending that we have faith. That's what Ananias and Sapphira did. Before Aquila and Priscilla traveled all over the Roman empire, advancing the Kingdom of God, Ananias and Sapphira pretended to have that kind of faith. But one can't fool God. God struck down Ananias and Sapphira for their hypocrisy.

How many today claim to be friends of God? How many in the church today fake faith? I'm not talking about those who long for greater faith, but fall short. I'm talking about those who long for earth, but want to look like they long for heaven. How many husbands long for a more comfortable life with their wife here and now? How many wives yearn to be the center of their husbands' affection? One cannot fake heavenly-mindedness! Heavenly-mindedness overflows in love for the advance of God's Kingdom on earth. That kind of passion is going to find outlets in daily life. If there aren't any outlets, there isn't a flow of passion.

It is debated whether Ananias and Sapphira were truly Christians. When Ananias and Sapphira breathed their last breath on earth, was their next breath in heaven? It would seem strange that God would reward disobedience with promotion. However, God is incredibly gracious through Christ. After all, the name Ananias means, "God is gracious." How gracious? Do you want to be the one to test him?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Abnormal Aquila and Priscilla

Since I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, I've been trying to give you a taste of marriage lived for the advance of the gospel rather than for your temporary comfort. Comfort fades while the Kingdom of God will remain forever. There can be no greater argument for a Christ-centered perspective of marriage than the weight of eternity (see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Over the next several weeks, we'll look at some marriages from the Bible through the lens of eternity's weight and see what attitudes come to light.

In the New Testament, we read of a married couple named Aquila and Priscilla. They are first mentioned in Acts 18 during the account of Paul's missionary activity. Paul went from Athens to Corinth. When he got there, he found a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla. They were living in Italy, but fled when the emperor, Claudius, ordered all Jews to leave Rome. (Of course Claudius wanted the Jews to leave Rome - because God wanted Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth when Paul arrived!) Paul carried on the same trade as this couple (tentmaking), so he stayed with them while in Corinth. Paul stayed in Corinth a year and a half. That's a long time to entertain a house-guest! Notice the hospitality of Aquila and Priscilla, opening up their home to the apostle.

Opening up your home to a stranger can be a taxing situation. It's difficult to function in your normal routine. You have to be aware of how you dress, how the house looks, what you say, what you schedule, what you make for dinner. You don't want to be rude to your guest, and you don't want to give a bad impression. This discomfort at entertaining guests may explain the increase of motels that dot even rural landscapes.

We are tempted to read through the Bible without letting the weight of what it says settle upon us. When Luke tells us in Acts that Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, he doesn't give the daily details. However, there were daily details - probably uncomfortable ones. The words of Ben Franklin come to mind: "Fish and visitors smell after three days." Compound the small irritation that comes with having to rearrange your household with the fact that your guest is running around all over town making enemies, and we can really see the cost of gospel-centered hospitality! From the day Paul arrived in Corinth, we can see that they were partnering with Paul in his gospel-mission.

When it came time for Paul to leave Corinth for Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla packed up and moved with him. Once again, we have to take time to register what the Bible is saying. Oh, Paul's moving on, so they just go with him. You, like me, probably know of friends or family who have packed up and moved away for a better job. What is more rare is for someone to pack up and leave for the sake of the gospel. I'm guessing the conversation went something like this: "Well guys, the church is planted here in Corinth. I'm moving on to Ephesus. Thanks for all your labor and love." "Ah, Paul, can we go with you and be your core group in Ephesus?" "Sure." So they went.

Aquila and Priscilla stayed for some time in Ephesus. They must have had a respected position in the church there. When Apollos began speaking in the synagogue at Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla explained the Bible to him so that he would be a more accurate preacher. After his lessons, Apollos moved to Achaia. We read in Acts 18:28 that Apollos, "powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus."

Again, we must feel the weight of the narrative. Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers - just trying to make a living and build a life together. They began as just an average Jewish couple living in the Roman empire in the early days of Christianity. They became central players in the gospel's spread throughout the empire. Not only did they move with Paul to plant a church, they knew their redemptive history and biblical theology well enough to shape Apollos into an effective force for Christ. That's not normal! But it should be. It's difficult in America today to find a couple that knows the books of the Bible, let alone how they fit together. It's even more difficult to find a couple that cares enough about the Bible to risk confronting a preacher about his doctrine. Knowing Scripture takes study. Study takes time. Making time requires adjusting priorities. Just the fact that Aquila and Priscilla could correct Apollos displays their priorities.

We find that Aquila and Priscilla opened up their house in Ephesus to the church there. We read in 1 Corinthians 16:19: "Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord." We can picture the household of this dear couple - an intermingling of Christ-centered doctrine and practical hospitality. They showed hospitality in Corinth by opening up their home to Paul and his missionary activity. They showed hospitality in Ephesus by opening up their home for the church to meet there. But there's more.

The gospel-narrative moves on, and so did the apostle Paul. He continued his travels throughout the Roman empire. Aquila and Priscilla apparently moved on from Ephesus as well. When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, he sent greetings to his old friends, Aquila and Prisca, who had moved back there. Why did they leave Ephesus? Did business dry up? I think a better explanation can be found in Romans 16:5. They moved to Rome and opened up their house for the church to meet there. This married couple moved all over the Roman empire, setting up their house as a base of operations for the advance of the gospel. That isn't normal. But oh, that it would be!

One last thing I want us to notice about this dear couple comes from Romans 16 as well. "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well" (Rom. 16:3-4). Aquila and Priscilla understood the weight of eternity compared with the comfort of today. When it came time to lay their everything on the line for Paul's mission - they did it. We're not sure exactly what Paul was referring to, but Paul obviously credits his life to them. God didn't require their lives at that time, but they put their lives on the line. They so devoted their lives - their everything - to the gospel that all the churches of the empire knew of them, and were thankful for them. That's not normal. But won't you pray with me that it will be?

Friday, May 25, 2007

How Can I be Happy?

Someone may read the last post about An Explosion of Joy and think I've lost my mind. The question inevitably comes up, "How can I be happy? If you knew what I go through, you'd realize how difficult it is to be happy in my marriage. I love the gospel, but my marriage is another story. I'd love for my marriage to be more missional, but right now I just want it to be tolerable."

The Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, speaks to us in the middle of our trials. Habakkuk complained to God about the wickedness he saw in the land of Judah. God promised a coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. They were known for their fierceness, and they would show no mercy to Judah. This left Habakkuk with a bigger complaint. How can God judge Judah with a wicked people like the Babylonians? Upon reflection, Habakkuk ends his prophesy with these words in 3:17-18:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (ESV)
Habakkuk was discouraged by the wickedness of Judah and the coming judgment. He didn't see prosperous times on the horizon. He was living in a funk and had no hope of better circumstances around the corner. This is where many people live in their marriages every day. They are discouraged and tired. They are always looking a little farther ahead, praying for some change in scenery that will bring relief. Perhaps there's an illness that taxes energy and finances. Maybe money is tight and the couple lashes out at each other under the stress. Or it could be the little bickering all day long that seems insurmountable. Over time, those little barbs can leave large welts.

Whatever the circumstances, Habakkuk could have related! When Habakkuk looked ahead, he saw famine. When the mainstay of your nation's economy is agriculture, you want figs on the trees, fruit on the vines, fields of grain, pastures speckled with sheep and stalls full of livestock. Habakkuk wasn't discouraged because he might have to give up satellite television! He might die of starvation. What sustained Habakkuk? How did he get through trying and uncertain times?

Habakkuk resolved to rejoice in God regardless of earthly circumstances. We must look beyond all the good gifts of this life to the God who gives them. He is better than his gifts. God is more valuable than life on earth. So when Habakkuk ponders starvation and severe calamity, his response is joy. People who have no greater hope than a little better lot in life tomorrow cannot appreciate Habakkuk's attitude. It will seem utterly foreign. But for those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, trials (like an unpleasant marriage) can be endured; and yes, even nurtured to display the wonderful gospel that redeems our life from the pit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

An Explosion of Joy

I'm reading The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin (Eerdmans, 1989). Lesslie Newbigin was a British missionary in India. On page 127 of this book, Newbigin says:
The church's mission began as the radioactive fallout from an explosion of joy. When true to its nature, it is so to the end. Mission is an acted out doxology. That is its deepest secret. Its purpose is that God may be glorified.
I love that first sentence! The church's mission is not just a command to be obeyed. The church's mission is the public overflow of joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such life-changing, eternally good news can't be kept private. So missions isn't first about doing - it's about being. There is no such thing as God-glorifying missions without the explosion of gospel-joy that propels it. What are the ramifications of this kind of thinking for marriage?

Paul seems to say in 1 Corinthians 7 that marriage is a "worldly" reality. The church, on the other hand, is eternal. This fact must shape the way we set priorities. Marriage is at its best when it points to the preciousness of the gospel. Marriage should serve missions to far away lands, and missional living in one's own neighborhood. If what Newbigin says is true, the foundation of a missional marriage is the enjoyment of God. Because "mission is an acted out doxology (worship)," missional marriage is also acted out doxology.

So, if you wonder why your marriage seems unsatisfying and falls flat of your expectations, maybe it's because you're not experiencing the explosion of joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you wonder why you aren't motivated to let your marriage be a light to your neighborhood, maybe it's because your marriage is acted out doxology to the wrong god.

Let's take the example of Jim and Judy from the previous post. All the buckling down in the world isn't going to make Jim want to show hospitality to his neighbors. Jim can read "the great commission" (see Mat. 28:18-20) every day, feel more guilty for falling short of its call, and still never reach out in love to his neighbors. Why? Because Jim is more concerned about and satisfied in his temporary comfort than he is in the gospel. Where is Jim going to get the motivation to look beyond his own temporary comfort? Not in his ability to buckle down.

Jim needs to experience the radioactive fallout from an explosion of gospel-joy. Remember, doing flows from being. If Jim isn't constantly aware of the joy the gospel brings, then he can pretend to love his neighbors. He can go through the motions of serving his neighbors for awhile. But Jim isn't going to shine the light of the gospel on the face of his neighbors. He can't overflow with something he doesn't have. Jim can only overflow with the joy of the gospel when he is filled with gospel-joy himself.

Moral of the story: Be happy in the gospel. If you're not happy in the gospel, pray that God would give you eyes to see its beauty and value. Pray that God would show you your own sin. Pray that God would show you the precious love of your Savior, overcoming your sin for you. And pray that God would cause the joy of such grace to explode out of you and "fall out" on everyone around you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Anxious Marriage Revisited

In "The Anxious Marriage" post, I put forward the argument that we must fight the tendency to treat marriage as the central reality of life. Marriage exists to advance the agenda of God. So married people must deliberately figure out how that will look in their lives. I gave the following illustration:
Jim and Judy recently moved into a new neighborhood. The church they've started attending is big on building new friendships as a way of reaching out with the gospel. Judy has a strong desire to reach out to their new neighbors and build relationships. But every time she mentions inviting a new couple over for dinner, Jim complains about how drained his new job is making him. He'd rather wait till they get a little more "settled in" before making new friends.
What should Judy do in response to Jim's attitude? Should she confront Jim? Should she invite some neighbors over in spite of Jim's opposition? Is Jim hindering Judy's godliness?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Great Advice, No Fear

Professor and author, Scot McKnight, has some excellent counsel for those writers who start a blog to accompany a book they've written. You can view it here. I find his counsel very wise and appreciate his perspective. His post immediately challenged me as to the motives of this blog. Upon reflection I can say, "Great advice, no fear." I must admit that writing a book on marriage did inspire me to start blogging on marriage. However, my goal for the blog is not to promote or market the book (though that's not necessarily a bad goal in itself if the message is good). My goal in starting The Profound Mystery is to provide further reflection on marriage from a Christian Hedonist, gospel-centered perspective. Marriage is forever fresh because new people are constantly entering into it. The gospel is forever relevant because people will never grow beyond their need for it. This blog is about those two threads being knit together. So there will be a value in a blog from a Christian Hedonist, gospel-centered perspective of marriage long after The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another is gathering dust.

It is my goal to pepper my posts with issues derived directly from the The Pursuit of Pleasure, but my greater goal is to move beyond it. It is my goal to tease out some concepts in the book, but my greater goal is to move toward providing a forum for everyday Christians to discuss their marriages from a Christ-saturated focus.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

When a Spouse Dies

God has ordained that this world is a temporary reality. It is not the ultimate reality, but a shadow of it. Because of this, everything in this life is a shadow of greater realities. Marriage is just such a shadow. The greatest significance of marriage does not come from the fact that it brings worldly companionship. The greatest significance of marriage comes from the fact that it is a shadow of a far better marriage - the one between Christ and his church.

Nothing brings this truth to light more than the unfortunate, though inevitable, death of a spouse. God has ordained a time for everyone to display the transient nature of this world. "You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:14). We don't know when our spouse is going to be snatched away from us. It can come quickly, and steal our breath away. Or it can come slowly, and almost feel like a relief. Whether death is unexpected or anticipated, it is a canvas on which the spouse left behind paints a picture for the world to see.

The question is, "What hues and emotions will the one left behind slap on the canvas?" Will the picture be one of bewilderment, an abstract of anger and upheaval? Or will the one left behind display the grieving joy of one who hopes in the sovereign grace of God? Will grief be a testimony to human rebellion and a love for this world? Or will grief be a testimony to faith in the God whose "steadfast love is better than life"? (See Psalm 63).

When a spouse dies, Christians are given a unique opportunity to share who there hope is in and why. It is an excellent opportunity to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15). Unless that hope is a daily reality in the life of a married couple, unhealthy grief will threaten to cripple that opportunity. The kind of hope that sustains joy and sanity in the midst of losing a lifetime mate is difficult to drum up at the last minute. The kind of hope that sustains through the death of a spouse must be nurtured and protected through many lesser trials of life. Joyful hope in God comes through practice.

Lest you think it would be impossible to respond to the death of a spouse in such a Christ-centered way, I have seen it first hand. I have witnessed the lingering illness and death of an elder in our church whose Christ-centered perspective shined Heaven's light on all who spoke with him. People would come to visit him in his final months to support and comfort him. It never failed that he would end up comforting and edifying the visitors. I always left his presence more enraptured with Christ and the reality of Heaven than I was when I got there.

When this beloved brother passed into eternity, his wife was a bastion of grieving joy. Of course she mourned the loss of her companion of many decades. But it wasn't the unhealthy, worldly grief of those who have no hope. It was the grief of knowing that she would have to carry on without her worldly companion for awhile. This dear couple never looked at their life together as anything more than a temporary arrangement while they waited for their Lord to carry them to their real home. So, though death interrupted their worldly life, it didn't ruin their eternal plans. This dear sister continues to joyfully live her life for the glory of God. I pray that God would bless all of our marriages with such a Christ-centered hope.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Anxious Marriage

In 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 we read, "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. . . ."

It seems from Paul's argument here that he doesn't want us to be free from anxieties as much as he wants us to be free from what he calls "worldly" anxieties. Paul appears to be just fine with anxieties concerning "things of the Lord." I take Paul's use of the words "anxieties" and "anxious" to be referring to priorities. He doesn't use anxiety in a negative way in these verses. He's not talking about an anxiety attack. He's talking about fulfilling daily obligations.

Unmarried people are free to serve God whole-heartedly because they don't have the obligation of prioritizing around the pleasure and whims of a spouse. Married people, on the other hand, automatically deal with dividing their interests between serving God and pleasing their spouse. That is the concern that Paul is dealing with here. Marriage isn't to be forbidden, but it must be properly oriented "to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:35).

We cannot escape the fact that Paul calls marriage "worldly," and expects it to be treated as such. We cannot have a happy marriage if we try to give marriage a significance that Scripture does not. We'll be fighting against God if we do that. Bad plan. If we go through marriage on auto-pilot, our natural tendency may be to treat marriage as the central reality in our life. We have to fight that tendency. We have to deliberately make our marriage serve God. I'll give a concrete example of how this works.

Jim and Judy recently moved into a new neighborhood. The church they've started attending is big on building new friendships as a way of reaching out with the gospel. Judy has a strong desire to reach out to their new neighbors and build relationships. But every time she mentions inviting a new couple over for dinner, Jim complains about how drained his new job is making him. He'd rather wait till they get a little more "settled in" before making new friends.

Do you see from this simple illustration how pleasing a spouse can interfere with a godly desire to love your neighbor as yourself? If Judy is single, she can use her home any way she pleases. But because she is married to Jim, she is at the mercy of Jim's mood. Now, Judy's interests are divided between serving the Lord and pleasing her husband. That's what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians. That is what married couples must consciously fight against if we are going to have "undivided devotion to the Lord" while being married. Married couples must be anxious to use their marriage to serve the Lord on a daily basis. How would you solve Judy's dilemma? I'll give some possible answers later.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Words of Grace

If you've never read through the Old Testament book of Job, I encourage you to read it. There's no better soap to wash away human pride. In the book of Job, we read of a conversation between God and Satan concerning the man, Job. Job was "a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil." God taunted Satan with the goodness of Job. Satan tried to tempt God by saying, "Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? . . . But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." So God gave Satan permission to tighten the screws of Job's life. In what appears to be one day, Job lost his livestock and servants to marauders, his farm to a "fire from God," and all ten of his children to a windstorm while they were gathered together for dinner. It seems that Job is left with his wife. Any one of those losses would have been difficult to deal with, especially when they came upon him so quickly. Job's faith in God was tested in a way that few have known. But Job's testing wasn't finished. God also permitted Satan to steal Job's health. God had one stipulation. "Only spare his life." Job was struck with painful sores all over his body. Talk about a change in fortune!

I want to zoom in on the dialog between Job and his wife after his health was sapped. Job's wife is rarely mentioned. Surely she, too, had feelings of great loss over her children and estate. So it's not surprising when she finally blurts out, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." It's not surprising that she says that, but it is wrong-headed. Job recognized this and responded, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In other words, people don't refuse all the good things that God sends their way. No one is worthy of God's good gifts. So when something bad happens, how can anyone complain? Clearly Job's wife didn't see things that way. If she did, she wouldn't have provoked her husband the way she did.

The book of Job gives us a classic example of how NOT to encourage our spouse. We must be very careful that our words are not used to destroy our spouse. Make no mistake. If Job would have followed his wife's hasty counsel, rather than rebuking her, things may not have turned out so well for our hero. Instead, Job "did not sin with his lips." Don't be like Job's wife (whether you're a husband or wife). Don't speak words of bitterness and death to your spouse. For example, let's pretend our husband comes home from work complaining about how he was mistreated by his boss. Be like the apostle, Paul, and only speak what is "good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29). I'll briefly explain how to do that.

Jesus tells us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mat. 12:34). What kind of heart shouts, "Curse God and die!"? A heart that lacks faith in God shouts such things. The words of Job's wife advertise where her hope was. King David wrote, "Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you" (Ps. 63:3). Job's wife wasn't hoping in the God whose "steadfast love is better than life" (Ps. 63:3). If she were, her lips would have praised God. Instead, she cursed God. Her hope was clearly in all the generous blessings that God had given her. She worshiped the blessings of creation, rather than the Creator and Giver of the blessings. Her words were just the overflow of her idolatrous worship. And if we worship the blessings of creation, our idolatry will overflow in bitter words of death.

If we're going to follow Paul's instruction in Ephesians rather than the example of Job's wife, we can't just try to control our tongues. We can't just "think before we speak." If our thoughts are wrong, our speech is going to come out wrong. We must change our thoughts. Our thoughts can only be changed by changing our object of worship. If we're going to speak words of grace to our spouse, we must truly believe that God's love is better than life, and anything that life has to offer. The only way for that to become a reality is to contemplate and desire God more than the blessings of this life. Only when we desire God more than life, are we free to speak words of grace and life to our spouse.

I will now give a concrete example of how all this looks in the drudgery of daily living. Let's pretend our husband comes home from work complaining about how he's been mistreated by his boss. What will we say to him? Will we encourage him like Job's wife or Paul? "I can't believe your boss would say that to you! Who does he think he is? Tomorrow, you go in there and give him a piece of your mind in front of everyone! You need to stop being the whipping boy of the entire office!" That kind of encouragement doesn't take into account James 1:20. "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires." A better response may look like this: "Wow, dear. It sounds like you had a rough day. Was your boss justified in his criticism of your performance? I'm sure you'll assess the situation properly and make any changes you need to. Even if your boss is totally unjustified in his tirade, it's nice to know that Christ has given us an example of how to suffer wrongly for the joy set before us. We know that God is working this trial out for our good to conform us to the image of Christ."

Do you see the difference in the two responses above? The first response is entirely devoid of a godly perspective. The second response rightly puts the situation firmly within the sovereign, wise control of a loving God. That's how we speak grace to our spouse.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

All Things Marriage

This is a blog about marriage. More importantly, this is a blog about God. The reason for this is simple. Marriage cannot be divorced from God. God created marriage. God determined what significance marriage would have within the rest of his creation. Marriage isn't a plastic social experiment, pliable to the whims of culture. Marriage is what God says it is.

In saying this, I'm not being nearsighted. Marriage has been and always will be hijacked from God and twisted to suit the idolatrous desires of man, while we live on fallen earth. Man will deny God's authority over marriage. Man will deny God himself. And man will continue to try to force marriage to accomplish things that God never intended it to accomplish. However, the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians 6:7 loom large over the whole rebellious affair: "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."

Some couples reap the dreadful consequences of idolatrous marriage early, and end in divorce. Others hold on to idolatrous marriage with gritted teeth and sweaty brow, determined to not be a statistic. They reap chaos and conflict, always hoping tomorrow will somehow be better. Still others build a happy little life together in their idolatrous marriage, remaining joyfully married for five or six decades. It will take the return of the King to finally manifest the folly of the "golden" idolatrous marriage.

No marriage mocks God. God is not the fool when couples wrestle control of their marriage from the King of the world. It would be foolish to try to cook dinner on the television set. It would be foolish to watch the microwave, desperately hoping American Idol comes on. It's also foolish to go into marriage, and remain in marriage, desperately hoping that we can finally get it to deliver what God won't allow. Marriage cannot replace God. God won't let it.

Fortunately, we aren't doomed to an unhappy life of idolatrous marriage. God sent Jesus Christ to pay for our idolatry. As a result of the gospel, we are free to enjoy God forever, in spite of our fallen past. And as a result of the gospel, we are free to enjoy marriage out of the overflow of our joy in God. Marriage doesn't have to replace God. Marriage is free to serve God.

This blog is dedicated to a gospel-centered perspective of marriage - which is the only perspective that corresponds to reality. I look forward to discussing many different aspects of marriage. It's my prayer that God would use this blog as a forum for Christ-exalting reflection on one of God's most redemptive gifts.