As we continue through our series of half-hour studies we might hold with an unbeliever, we’ve now passed the point of conversion and moved onto instruction in righteousness. The goal is to teach that new Christian what they need to know in order to be faithful to God.
In this, the most obvious verse to start with is 2 Timothy 1:13. Here, Paul tells Timothy that he is supposed to hold to a pattern, a particular way of doing things that Christians are to imitate. The pattern is laid out in sound words, in the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the apostles.
In recent years, this idea has come under attack. Many now claim that following the New Testament pattern for our work and our worship is no longer important. As long as we love Jesus, they say, everything else will work itself out.
Is that really so? As disciples of Jesus, should we concern ourselves with the cross and not with the tiny details of Scripture? Or, conversely, is there some reason why we should concern ourselves with the details too? In short, why should a new Christian—indeed, why should we—care about the pattern?
I’ve got three reasons for you this evening. The first is that caring about the pattern is CONSISTENT. Let’s look here at a text that is familiar to many of us, Colossians 3:17. We’re not to do some things or even most things in the name of the Lord Jesus. We are supposed to do everything.
There are many points that we could draw from this, but the point that I want to make is that if we do some things in the name of Jesus and not others, we are not being consistent. Why is what the Bible says so important in this one area over here but not in this other area over here?
I think that nearly everybody here this evening would agree that following the New-Testament pattern is important when it comes to conversion. We go to various passages and see that we’re supposed to believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. That’s how you know you’ve been saved, not because you hear a still small voice in your head, but because you have done what the Bible tells you to do.
We are very suspicious, and rightfully so, of additions to that pattern. For instance, let’s say we run into somebody who insists that we can be saved from our sins by praying the sinner’s prayer. What do we tell somebody like that? I’ll tell you what I’d do. If this were somebody with any Scriptural sophistication at all, I’d hand them a Bible and ask them to prove it
Of course, nobody is going to be able to do that. At that point, though, they’re likely to start saying that the Bible never says you can’t, either. That’s true. I cannot point to a verse that says, “Thou shalt not pray the sinner’s prayer in order to be saved.” The Scriptures are silent concerning the sinner’s prayer, but I don’t think any of us would say that such silence makes the sinner’s prayer acceptable.
You know what, brethren? If silence doesn’t authorize adding to God’s plan for salvation, it doesn’t authorize adding to God’s plan for worship or for the work of the church either. If we honor God’s silence in teaching others the truth, to be logically consistent, we must honor it everywhere.
Second, caring about the pattern matters because IT CALLS US TO THE WORD. Consider, for instance, the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:10-11. Paul came to town proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ. The Bereans didn’t dismiss his teaching out of hand because they’d never heard it before, nor did they uncritically accept it. Instead, they turned to the word. They examined the Scriptures to determine whether what Paul said was true.
We can just as easily apply the same method to weighing any teaching that we hear. Preacher gets up, says something we’ve heard all our lives. The fact that we’ve heard it all our lives is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether his sermon stands up to the word.
What if he says something we’ve never heard before? Doesn’t matter. Compare it to the Scriptures, and that will reveal whether we ought to listen.
This word-centric method of discovering truth has two main virtues. First, it means that we can apply an impartial standard to our lives. Now, obviously, not every Scriptural question we have can be answered with certainty. If you think you know for certain what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, I think you’re wrong! However, the things that we need to do have been revealed for certain, and if we will agree on following the standard, we can use it to serve God together.
Second, turning to the word is important because it changes us in ways we don’t expect. The longer I spend with the Bible, the less I think that it’s just a book and the more I think that it’s more like a computer program. It’s more than a source of information. As we take it into ourselves, it changes us, and the more we turn to it for answers, the greater that change will be.
Finally, we should care about following the pattern because IT HONORS JESUS, NOT OURSELVES. Let’s begin our investigation here with Ephesians 5:22-24. In context, Paul is making the point that women are to submit to their husbands as the heads of their families. It’s important to note, though, that the example he uses for this submission in everything is the submission of the church to Christ. Clearly, Paul believed that the church too was supposed to submit in everything to Christ.
That’s a big deal, brethren, not only for the church but for its members. Everything is everything. This begins with our personal lives. Every decision we make, every hour of the day, is supposed to honor Jesus as Lord. There’s a lot of noise on the news these days about how people have the right to control their own bodies. Christians don’t. The most intimate decisions we make, those belong to Jesus too.
So too in our churches. We’ve got a sign out front that says “Church of Christ”. Brethren, we can’t just say that we belong to Christ. We have to prove it. If everything this church does does not show our submission to Jesus as Lord, that sign out front is nothing more than an empty boast.
OK, but how do we know? How do we know whether in our personal lives and in our church we are submitting to Christ? Simple. We know we are honoring Him as Lord when we do what He says. There’s no other way.
If I’ve got this great idea for how I should live my personal life, and I can’t point to anything in Scripture that says it’s a great idea, that’s a problem. If I put it into practice, I’m not honoring Jesus. I’m honoring me.
Same goes for our conduct in the church. There are all kinds of things that we might do in our assemblies. There are all kinds of things that we might do with the Lord’s money. However, unless we are taking our marching orders from Jesus in those things, we are not honoring Him. Honoring Jesus means following the pattern. Anything else is about exalting ourselves.
Lord, in wrath do not rebuke me,
Nor in anger, discipline,
For Your hand is hard upon me
As I suffer from my sin.
My iniquities are heavy,
And my grief has bowed me low,
For my sides are filled with burning
And my spirit groans in woe.
All my longing is before You,
And my bitterness You see;
Strength has failed me, light has darkened,
And my friends ignore my plea.
Those who hate my life entrap me,
And for treachery they seek;
Like the deaf, I do not hear them;
Like the mute, I cannot speak.
Only You, O Lord, will answer;
Do not aid their wickedness;
Ever is my pain before me,
And my failing I confess.
They are vigorous and mighty,
Those who hate me wrongfully;
Hasten, God of my salvation,
O my Lord, be near to me!
Psalm 35 contains David’s plea for God’s help against his enemies. He asks God to frustrate their attempts to destroy them and to hinder them in everything they do. They hate him without good reason for doing so. Even though he has always been concerned for their welfare when they are in trouble, when they see him in trouble, they plot against him. David asks God to rescue him and not allow them to rejoice in his downfall. Instead, David hopes that God will give those who love him cause to rejoice.
Psalm 36 contrasts the wicked with God. It begins with a description of the wicked, particularly the devious wicked. They plot evil and believe that they won’t be discovered. God, on the other hand, is so good that His goodness can only be compared to the magnificence of nature. His love provides nourishment and light to all people. The psalm concludes with an appeal to God to continue his steadfast love to those who know Him, especially by protecting David from the wicked and defeating them.
Psalm 37 is commonly called “the psalm for the fretful”. It begins with an appeal to, rather than fretting about the apparent prosperity of evildoers, to trust in God instead. He will bless the righteous and those who wait for Him. The wicked, on the other hand, will vanish.
Even though the wicked are plotting against the righteous, God sees through their designs and will frustrate them. Ultimately, God’s protection is more valuable than the riches of the wicked. He will protect them, but the wicked will vanish. Even though the righteous may struggle, God will protect them from complete ruin. In all of David’s long life, he has never seen the righteous nor their descendants be reduced to begging.
David’s advice, then, is to do good, which ensures God’s blessing and averts His wrath. The righteous are surefooted even when the wicked are looking to destroy them, so anybody who wants to prosper should look to God. They’ll see the downfall of the wicked, who spring up suddenly and then are destroyed. By contrast, the blameless are able to establish themselves and their future. All of this is because of the help of God, who is sure to rescue the righteous from the wicked.
Psalm 38 pleads with God to turn aside His anger from David. He acknowledges that he has done wrong, but he is oppressed with the severity of God’s righteous wrath. Everything in his life is going wrong. He’s guilty, miserable, sick, and lonely. Indeed, his enemies have seized the opportunity to plot against him.
David, though, isn’t paying attention to their plots. Instead, his attention is entirely on God, whom he trusts to rescue him from the wicked. He admits that he has done wrong, but he doesn’t think it’s right for God to deliver him into the hands of those who hate him for his righteousness. He begs God to help him because only God can.
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.