Through the years, I’ve noticed that when churches offer meetings, Bible classes, and seminars on marriage, they tend to be a species unto themselves. Much of the time, the presenter will offer a few passages at the beginning as “cover” and proceed to spend the rest of his time working through the advice of various marriage gurus under the guise of “application”.
This is not necessarily bad. In Ecclesiastes 12:9-11, the Preacher commends the study and examination even of human wisdom. God is the Author of wisdom, and nothing that is truly wise can be very far from Him. However, there is still a vast difference between the words of men and the word of God. Presentations on marriage that are 5 percent Bible and 95 percent human application put an awfully long tail on an awfully small kite!
In addition to not being ideal, this kind of analysis is not necessary. For some reason, brethren seem to think that only New-Testament texts that contain the words “husband” and “wife” are about marriage. The underlying logic, I suppose, must be that marriage is so different from the other areas of our lives that only passages that explicitly mention marriage are applicable to it.
I think this is exactly wrong. In order to be true disciples of Christ, we must be disciples first in every relationship of our lives: as brethren, as workers, as parents, and, yes, as spouses. In marriages where both spouses are Christians, marriage problems are always discipleship problems. Always. Conversely, if I want to be the best husband I can be, I first must strive to be the best disciple I can be.
Take, for instance, the husband’s role as head of the family. Certainly, that role is defined by the texts in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 that specifically address it, but it also is defined by everything that the Bible has to say about leadership. The husband’s role is much more like the role of the father, the employer, and the elder than it is different. If this were not so, how could the Scriptures hold up Christ, an unmarried man, as the perfect example for every man who is married? Every godly leader, husbands included, first must learn servant-leadership from Him.
I would never in a million years criticize a congregation for studying Ephesians 5:22-33. However, that study ought to begin at least with Ephesians 5:18. Contextually, loving our wives and submitting to our husbands are every bit as much expressions of being filled with the Spirit as singing praises to God is.
Love and submission don’t instantaneously spring up in our marriages like mushrooms in a flowerbed. Instead, they must originate from a heart that we have diligently filled with God. Cheap fixes don’t work. If we want our marriages to improve, we have to do the hard work of seeking God first.
However, Ephesians 5:18 is no place to stop. We ought to consider the first part of Ephesians 5 and ask how godly speech and walking in the light should appear in our marriages. Now there’s an application worth making!
We ought to go back to Ephesians 4 and forward to Ephesians 6. Is the new self that we have put on evident in our marriages? Do we employ the whole armor of God in warding off the devil’s assaults on our marriages? For that matter, how does Paul’s great account of the grace of God in Ephesians 1-3 shape our understanding of our responsibilities in marriage? Those who have been forgiven so much ought to be ready to forgive, for one thing!
Indeed, every spiritual principle and precept in the New Testament can be applied usefully to our marriages. There are many wonderful lessons here that we too often overlook because the Bible passage doesn’t say “marriage” and that book on the shelf over there does.
There’s little harm in The Five Love Languages or any other such book, nor do I think brethren should shun marriage seminars and marriage counselors. However, if we’re getting more of our instruction on marriage from them than from the word of God, we’re making a grave mistake.
At the end of 2018, The Atlantic ran an article (I’m not going to link to it; it’s pretty salty stuff) proclaiming a surprising fact. In modern America, people are having less sex than they have for decades. Porn use, along with everything that goes with it, is booming. Actual sex, not so much.
Since then, I’ve read several articles bemoaning this trend. After all, if our nation stands for anything these days, it stands for sexual autonomy. It stands for the notion that people should be able to do whatever they want with whomever they want. We are willing to legalize and support abortion, even, to remove the consequences from sex. And yet, it all seems to be having the opposite effect. We have stepped on the accelerator, but the car has slowed down.
To the worldly, this is baffling. To the spiritually minded, though, it makes a bleak kind of sense. Sex was created by God. Like all of His other creations, though it can be perverted and abused, sex is inherently good. It is creative and connective. It unites us with our spouses in any number of dimensions, and it connects us to the future through the children we conceive. As is characteristic of the designs of God, sex in marriage elegantly achieves many positive ends.
Now, imagine for a moment that you’re the devil, and you see this beautiful thing that God has ordained for husbands and wives to share in. What are you going to do?
First, you’re going to lie about it. You’re going to use human desires to persuade the foolish that the marriage bed truly is not the best place to satisfy those desires.
“Why wait until you’re married?” “Why confine your sexual interests to your spouse?” Sexual immorality is evil because it frustrates the good design of God.
Second, you’re going to make it about pleasure rather than connection and creation. In our hookup culture, sex is intimacy only in a physical sense. It does not unite souls. It does not join hearts. It does not express and deepen a marital relationship.
Similarly, you will want to remove sex from procreation as far as possible. Abortion does this, as does homosexual sex. Thus, rather than being about somebody else, sex becomes about the self.
Once you’ve gotten things that far, the final step is to abolish sex. After all, Satan always wants to destroy the works of God. If sex is about pleasure, you can find that pleasure by yourself. You don’t need anybody else.
Besides, relationships are hard. You don’t get whatever you want whenever you want it. You have to be nice to somebody else, live with them in an understanding way, and work through difficulties and struggles. Why go through all that trouble when you can get your satisfaction with no strings attached?
Thus, the effect of sexual license is ultimately to do away with sex. As always with sin, once people get what they want, they find out that they don’t want it after all. The end result of selfish pleasure-seeking is not happiness but loneliness, misery, and despair. Porn never made anybody’s life better. The passing pleasures of sin are no substitute for the enduring joys of godliness.
By contrast, if we want sexual fulfillment (and indeed life fulfillment), the recipe is simple. Be holy. Find one person of the opposite sex. Marry them. Stay married until one of you is dead. Love and serve them wholeheartedly. Hate sin in your marriage and in your hearts. Stamp it out.
If we will do this, we will discover the sexual blessings that God has prepared for us. If we will not, though, we will encounter not the goodness of God but the malice of the devil. As the sex recession reveals, this is precisely what our poor deluded sex-worshiping society is learning.
If there is anything I have learned in life, it is this: When we are guided by our fears, we bring the thing we fear upon ourselves. Like a girl in a horror movie, the harder we run from something, the more likely we are to find ourselves face-to-face with it. This happens all the time, with the insecure boyfriend who drives his girlfriend off by being too clingy, with the secretary who lies because she’s afraid of losing her job but gets fired for lying, and with the older man who is worried about not having enough to retire on, puts his nest egg in a rash investment, and loses it all. Love of money may be the root of all evil, but fear isn’t far behind.
Over and over again, the Bible bears witness to the destructive irony of fear. One of the foremost examples of this is the first king of divided Israel, Jeroboam. In 1 Kings 11:37-38, he receives a promise similar to the one that David received. God would make Jeroboam king, and if he stayed faithful to God, his descendants would become an enduring line of kings after him.
In 1 Kings 12:20, the first part of the promise is fulfilled. Jeroboam does indeed become king over Israel. However, rather than being guided by faith, he chooses instead to be guided by fear.
We see him make this fateful decision in 1 Kings 12:26-30. Jeroboam starts worrying that if the people go to Jerusalem to worship, eventually they will go back to the Judahite king Rehoboam and kill Jeroboam. As a result, Jeroboam sets up alternative worship centers in Dan and Bethel and gives the Israelites two golden calves to be their gods.
On one level, this works. Jeroboam’s idolatry does ensnare the people. They faithfully worship at Dan and Bethel until God destroys Israel for her unfaithfulness. Other than a remnant, the Israelites never worship at Jerusalem again.
However, Jeroboam’s apostasy spells disaster for his house. In 1 Kings 14:8-11, Ahijah the prophet predicts that because of his sin, his family will be destroyed. In 1 Kings 15:29, this dire prophecy is fulfilled. If Jeroboam had been faithful, his house would have endured for centuries despite his concerns. However, because he listened to his fears, his line was destroyed.
Today, the devil frequently attempts to use fear to keep us from serving God. He wants to scare us into disobedience like he scared Jeroboam. However, we must remember that God is faithful. He will keep His promises to us, no matter how unlikely that seems.
Instead, true danger lies in the false security of following our fears. Whatever it is that we think we have to protect by disobeying God will surely be lost to us. Whatever sorrow we hope to avoid through sin, we will surely encounter. When we fear, we shrink back to destruction. Only by boldly entrusting ourselves to God will we be safe.
I don’t have a teaching assignment on Sundays this quarter, so I’ve been attending a class on parenting, taught by one of our elders. Several times, he’s asked the question, “What is the most important thing you can do as a parent?” I think that’s a great question, and there are several solidly Biblical answers that commend themselves. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Pray. And so forth.
However, about the time we began the Lord’s Supper last Sunday, my brain kicked out a different response (apparently, it takes about 45 minutes to warm up). Deuteronomy 6:5 is the answer, it decided. The most important thing you can do as a parent is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
This is hardly an obscure text. It is part of the Shema, the holiest writing of Judaism. It is identified by Jesus as the greatest commandment. I’ve certainly recognized it as the center of Christianity, but it had not occurred to me to regard it as the center of Christian parenting.
However, I think that’s the point that Moses is making in context. Generally, I’ve read the rest of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) as sub-commandments of the first commandment. You shall teach. You shall talk. You shall write. You shall bind.
I don’t think that’s wrong, exactly, but I don’t think it’s the point. Instead, I think what Moses is saying is that all of those other things are consequences of the first commandment. If you love the Lord your God as you should, you will naturally find yourself teaching and talking and writing and binding.
This certainly aligns with my own experience. My father talked with me about the Bible constantly. The last time I ever saw his face, we talked about the Bible. The last time I ever heard his voice, we talked about the Bible.
This wasn’t because my dad was intentionally Deuteronomy 6:7-ing as hard as he could. These conversations continued long after I was a grown man with a household of my own. Instead, it was simply because he loved the Bible and would talk Bible with anybody who would hold still long enough, especially one of his relatives. Without much intention to fulfill Deuteronomy 6:7, he did so impressively. That was who he was.
So too with Deuteronomy 6:9. When I look around the main room of my home, I see easily half a dozen quotations from the Bible or various hymns. The most prominent piece of art in the whole house reads, “Love is kind.” That’s not because my wife deliberately used Deuteronomy 6:9 as her decorating guide. It’s because she chose decorations that reflect her values, indeed, decorations that reflect her own love for God and His word.
It’s certainly good for parents to think about specific ways that they can become better. I myself have already had to confront several of my shortcomings as a father, and we’re only two weeks into the quarter! However, as we think about all of those other things, we shouldn’t forget the one necessary thing. If we love God with everything we have, everything else about our lives will fall into place.
In 2003, social scientists Isabell Sawhill and Ron Haskins noticed three striking differences between poor people in America and the nonpoor. First, poor people generally hadn’t completed high school; the nonpoor had. Second, nonpoor people kept a steady job; poor people didn’t. Third, nonpoor people got married before having children; poor people had children before getting married.
From their data, Sawhill and Haskins concluded that young Americans who 1) finished high school, 2) got a job, and 3) got married before having children had only a 2 percent chance of falling into poverty. Since that time, conservatives as varied as Ben Sasse and Ben Shapiro have adopted this solution as their own.
However, the single most elegant means of promoting this program isn’t found in a report from a Washington thinktank or a political candidate’s platform. Instead, it is found in Scripture. As Moses observes in Deuteronomy 10:13, the commandments of God are for our good. The godly path is the wise path, and it generally will lead to a more prosperous life.
Some might have trouble locating “Finish high school,” in the Bible. My father didn’t. If he quoted Ecclesiastes 9:10 to me about my schoolwork once, he quoted it a hundred times! He understood that discipline and hard work were essential not only to education, but everywhere in life.
The others are more obvious. 1 Timothy 5:8 was very much on my mind when I refused to marry my wife until I found a job (much to her annoyance, actually). I was not about to establish a household until I could provide for it. Sure, I was providing for it at the rate of $23,500 a year (in 2005), but that was a whole lot better than providing for it at the rate of zero!
Similarly, all Christians are aware of Hebrews 13:4. Young disciples who honor the marriage bed and shun sexual immorality because of the obvious spiritual dangers will consequently also avoid the less obvious economic dangers. Single motherhood is usually a one-way ticket to poverty (and a lot of other problems besides), but the great majority of women who don’t sin sexually don’t end up as single mothers. If the Christian husband will remain committed to his wife, that percentage goes up to about 99.9 percent.
God’s way works. It doesn’t work because He upends bags of money on you when you pray for riches, Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar to the contrary. It works because the Biblical values of self-discipline, hard work, and sexual continence are economically useful values. Nearly always, people who practice these things will rise.
What’s more, you don’t have to have read the sociological studies and thought deeply about the long-term consequences of your actions to benefit. God has already done the thinking for you. Obey Him, and it will be well with you.
Of course, all of the above is a “nearly always”. Just as there are exceptions to nearly every proverb in the book of Proverbs, there are exceptions to this. There are godly people who find themselves in poverty through circumstances beyond their control, serious health problems being the chief of these. However, those things are the exception, not the rule, and we should not ignore the rule because of the exceptions.
Sadly, the same forces that have struck at religion in America also have attacked this simple engine for prosperity. The more people deviate from God’s plan for work and the family, the worse they fare economically too. The dimensions of this national disaster are becoming clearer with every passing year.
The most potent cure for the disease isn’t found in Washington, but in the word. If people devote themselves to the teachings of Christ, the problem of poverty will, if not disappear, at least greatly diminish. Those who refuse to do so have no one to blame but themselves.