Stay the course!

Series: Marriage East of Eden, by Rosie Moore.

Some final words about perseverance in marriage!

If married couples shared the truth about their struggles, it would soon become evident that every marriage passes through storms and wildernesses along its journey. The problem is that on the day that we say “I do” at the altar, we often have an idealised view of marriage, thinking it’s the end of all our loneliness and troubles, the ultimate island retreat! We don’t imagine that we could ever be overwhelmed with division, anger, disappointment or despair. We are ill-prepared for manipulative in-laws, childlessness, strong-willed children, chronic illness, tragedy, joblessness, burnout or the effects of sin and abuse. We’re not even prepared for the normal everyday stresses of life, which rock the strongest of marriages. As the years roll on, sometimes it may feel as if our actions don’t really make a difference, because nothing seems to change. But nothing could be further from the truth. Our actions really do matter.

Listen to the advice given to Frodo the hobbit and his unlikely companions on their perilous quest in  The Fellowship of the Ring. It could just as well apply to us on the quest of marriage:

“Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens…All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us….The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” (J.R.R Tolkien).

Small hands matter.

Small hands, not distracted eyes, make all the difference in marriage. Ordinary actions in the hidden rooms of our homes matter more than any lofty words we may profess. It matters what we do with the short time that is given us in our marriages.

Ask yourself three simple questions at the end of every day: Did I honour? Did I cherish? Did I thank my spouse today? Small deeds done over a lifetime will make or break our marriages. 

Remember this—If you’re a Christian, the greatest quest in life is to know and grow in the love of the Lord Jesus. It is to imitate our Saviour wherever He’s placed us. He is our Holy Grail, not our spouse or our marriage! And as on every quest, actions speak louder than words. Small actions, done day after day, over a lifetime.

Winston Smith expresses it well:

“True faith is most obvious when it empowers you to action that’s opposite of your emotions. Doing what you feel like doesn’t take faith…In your marriage, you choose to act not just because you feel things but because you’re moved by another relationship that’s more powerful, your relationship with God. The power of that relationship becomes most obvious when it moves you to do what God wants, rather than what you want” (Marriage Matters, p 263).

This is seriously counter-cultural at a time when feelings are on the throne and being true to yourself is the highest good! So, our Christian faith is practised when we are unselfish in the unseen moments of our ordinary marriages, whether or not our actions are affirmed or appreciated by our spouse. Irrespective of whether our actions change our spouse, they will change us. Obedience to God always does.

As I read through the list of faithful believers in Hebrews 11 this week, it struck me that these were men and women of action: Noah built an Ark in obedience to God’s command; Abraham and his family uprooted themselves from civilisation to go to a place they’d never seen; Rahab gave up all the security she ever knew in Jericho to follow the Israelites’ God. None of them would have felt like doing these counter-intuitive things!

These heroes of the faith were ordinary believers who acted in response to God’s promises. They didn’t just speak about their faith, they acted upon it! “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6). It is our acts of obedience in marriage that prove whether we earnestly seek the Lord. Our willing hands and feet show that Christ matters most to us, not our feelings or circumstances.

Marriage is a longterm farming operation.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminds us that our acts of obedience do indeed make a difference, but the difference isn’t always obvious to see from the outset. Marriage is more like the diligent work of a patient farmer, who sows his seed and tends his fields for ages before he finally reaps a harvest. In fact, most of the hard work is done under the ground, invisible to the naked eye.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Gal 6:7-9).

So, if we hold to a Biblical worldview, marriage is not a Facebook post, but a longterm farming operation! It requires time, effort and grace. It requires us to persevere in doing good to our spouse, even when we are weary. Like a farmer, we cannot control our spouse or all the external stressors of our marriage, but we can trust God to provide manna and water one day at a time. He will see us through the darkest seasons and driest deserts.

The principle of sowing and reaping means that no matter how hard the soil of your marriage, keep moving towards your spouse in faith and obedience. Keep your eyes on the Lord’s promises, the Lord’s love and the Lord’s faithfulness. It’s only His daily grace that can sustain us. Remember that marriage was always intended to draw you closer to the perfect Bridegroom, so fix your hope on Him.

Blessed is the one who perseveres.

As we reach the end of 2020, it’s natural for us to be weary, but we must fight for hope. This year has taught many in Christ’s family that human existence is often hard, dark and fragile, full of brokenness and hidden desperation. The reality is that earthly marriage is not miraculously sheltered from the ‘trials of many kinds’ that are part and parcel of the Christian life, no matter which century or continent we live in. But amidst the persecution of first century Palestine, James reminded believers to cultivate a hopeful mindset towards their trials, as they trusted in Christ:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:2-412).

And so, as we navigate the difficult seasons that test our marriages, let’s see our relationship as a classroom where the Lord is teaching us more about who He is, a crucible in which He is growing Christ’s character in us.

As husbands and wives, let’s stand steadfast together by allowing what we know about God to inform what we feel about our circumstances. And let’s press on in faith together, as we prepare for the day when our Bridegroom will return to claim His Bride (2 Tim 4:8). On that day, all who are in Christ will celebrate the great wedding feast that will never come to an end (Rev 19:7-10). “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the blessing of marriage. Please help us navigate the challenges we face together and be willing to be honest about our struggles. Help us to honour, cherish and thank our spouse every day.

Lord, give us a hopeful outlook, because of the character and perseverance that trials can produce in our lives. Help us to focus on how we can walk faithfully alongside our spouse and love him/her well, showing the same selfless love that you have poured out on us. Finish the good work you have begun in us.

Father, protect our marriages from the enemy’s schemes to divide us. Give us grace to cherish one another for as long as we live. Fill us with hope to keep trusting in your promises, until the Bridegroom returns to restore all things.

Amen.

It’s been a privilege to share The God Walk with you in 2020. What gems we’ve discovered in God’s Word along the way! If you’ve missed any of the previous devotions in this series, Marriage East of Eden, click on the links below:

  1. Whatever happened to marriage?
  2. Laws for lasting marriage.
  3. Worshipping the idol of blame.
  4. Demolishing the idol of blame.
  5. Redeemed roles.
  6. Husbands, love your wives!
  7. An excellent wife, who can find?
  8. Designer sex! A very good gift indeed.

Useful Books referenced in this series:

Winston Smith, Marriage Matters.

Walton, Jeff and Sarah, Together through the Storms.

Christopher Ash, Marriage and Sex in the Service of God.

Kevin Leman, Sheet Music.

Emerson Eggerichs, Love and Respect.

Designer sex: a very good gift indeed!

Series: Marriage East of Eden.

“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps 84:11).

From the first two chapters of the Bible, it’s clear that God created sex to be a blessing to married couples. In fact, our love life is a very good gift from God, the Designer of the universe, and it’s a gift that married couples should not neglect. If God made us sexual beings, then a good sex life colours our marriage. It may take a little work and forethought at times. It may require that we stand up to our own feelings when we’re just not in the mood. But the dividends of a good sex life are more than worth the effort.

Designer sex.

When God created Adam and Eve, He joined them as man and wife. Then he blessed them and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:31). He actually commanded them to have sexual relations! Moreover, when God looked at all that He had made, including the sexual act, he pronounced it “very good” (Gen 1:31). So then, we can say with absolute certainty that sex within marriage is not embarrassing or unspiritual, but a God-given gift to express and strengthen the covenant of marriage itself.

Intended for pleasure.

If you ever doubt that God designed the sexual bodies of husbands and wives to experience lifelong pleasure together, the Bible is not prudish or embarrassed about this divine intention:

“Drink water from your own cistern,
    flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
    streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
    and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
    and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19     a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
    be intoxicated always in her love”. (Proverbs 5:15-19).

I’m not sure how relatable the ‘lovely deer’ and ‘graceful doe’ imagery is, but it’s clear that God created husbands and wives for enduring sexual pleasure! This is a poem of pure sexual delight, blessing, fulfillment, fun, joy, even intoxication. But the Bible is equally clear that sex is a divine gift, not for strangers, but for monogamous, faithful, committed, lifelong marriage partners (Prov 5:15-17). Isn’t God’s design amazing? He gave us a little slice of sunshine amidst the grey humdrum of domestic responsibilities! And He means us to bask in the sunshine, not stay inside the house all day!

But sex is not only a pleasurable gift. It is also a powerful glue that God has given to married couples to bond us together.

Sex is divine glue.

Of course, common beliefs, interests, hobbies and children also bond married couples together, but sex is a very unique kind of glue.

Sex is about knowing another human being and being known, in the deepest Biblical sense of the word (Gen 4:1). “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen 2:24-25)…Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived” (Gen 4:1).

Lovemaking is the beautiful, tangible expression of being united as husband and wife physically, emotionally and spiritually. There is great vulnerability in the two becoming one. They have entrusted themselves to each other. They are unashamed, known, understood, safe, accepted, cared for.

I find it fascinating that God designed our human bodies to release oxytocin (the ‘love’ hormone) when we make love. It’s the same hormone released when a mother is breastfeeding, to strengthen the maternal-infant bond.

Amazingly, oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust in the most intimate of human relationships. It’s been shown to be a powerful antidote to depressive feelings, and takes the edge off our emotions. Oxytocin makes it easier to resolve conflict and overlook offences in your partner. So, you see, sex doesn’t just bring momentary pleasure, but also bonds us together as husband and wife. It makes us more loyal, more committed, more forgiving, even a little irrationally fond of each other! And oxytocin is a totally natural hormone, with no unwanted side effects!

Study after study has shown that a sexually fulfilled wife will have less stress and more joy in her life. A sexually fulfilled husband will normally be more dedicated and confident as a husband, father and employee. So, a fulfilling sex life is about more than procreation and erotic pleasure. It actually knits us together in greater intimacy that deepens over the years. Sex gives us a spring in our step so that we can manage more difficult areas of our lives. Therefore, it makes sense that husbands and wives shouldn’t neglect our love life.

It’s interesting that even secular researchers have reached these conclusions. In 1995, one of largest studies ever conducted on sexual practices showed that married couples report considerably higher rates of sexual satisfaction than singles. Among women, conservative Protestant women have the highest rates of orgasm. I enjoyed this comment on their findings:

“The young single people who flit from partner to partner and seem to be having a sex life that is satisfying beyond most people’s dreams are, it seems, mostly a media creation. In real life, the unheralded, seldom discussed world of married sex is actually the one that satisfies most people” (Robert Michael and John Gagnon, Sex in America: A definitive survey: P127-131).

The Psalmist seemed to understand this 3000 years ago:“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps 84:11).

Sex is a mysterious mirror.

And yet, even more mysteriously, God created sexual intimacy to mirror the faithful, committed servant-hearted relationship between Jesus and his Bride, the Church. As John Piper rightfully reminds us, “the goal of sex isn’t ultimately just enjoying your spouse, but it is enjoying God as the giver of good gifts. God is better than the best sex. We know this because for all of eternity we will live in a new heaven and new earth better than this one, a world in which we will not experience marriage or sex as we do now, but we will have a better and lasting pleasure with God (Matthew 22:30 Psalm 16; Isaiah 51:11; Revelation 21–22).”

For all these reasons, sex outside of marriage is repugnant to God and damaging to ourselves. Sex was never created to be a mere function of biology, as human beings are not animals, driven by biological urges. If we’re to be blessed by the roaring fire of sex, we must use it within the mantelpiece of marriage. Outside of this covenant boundary, the fire of sex will burn the house down.

Five ingredients to sexual fulfillment.

Most of us complain that men are from Venus and women are from Mars! We may be different, but together, we’re better. God created the sexual differences in us to make our marriage more fulfilling. We fit together as we should. And if we truly believe that sex is a good gift from a good Creator, then it is a rejection of God himself to neglect this good gift. We cannot use our differences as an excuse.

So, let’s get intentional about fanning the flames of our love life. Here are 5 practical commitments that you and your spouse can make to each other today:

  1. Commit to meeting your spouse’s needs in a faithful and intentional manner. Since our bodies belong to each other, we should never use them to punish, manipulate or withdraw from each other (1 Cor 7:5-7). Remember that men and women respond to sexual stimulation at different rates and our needs are different. But it really doesn’t matter who is more sexual in the relationship. What matters is that you each commit to meeting your spouse’s sexual needs, provided that they do not violate your marriage covenant or your conscience.
  2. Commit to communicate your sexual needs and reservations to one another, freely and without fear. Make sex an open topic in your marriage and don’t be ashamed or prudish. Never ridicule or shame your spouse. If you talk things through respectfully, you’ll have a great time in bed.
  3. Commit to sexual purity in your marriage. God’s parameters are wide, but there are some boundaries which God’s word lays down:

For starters, don’t allow fantasy lust into your marriage (Matt 5:27-30). Take every thought captive to Christ, as the most ferocious spiritual battlefield is your thought life. Flee from pornography, as it is lust-centred and invites other parties into your marriage bed. Don’t let any person but your spouse into your mind or your heart. Don’t develop an emotional or sexual attachment with any person except your spouse, either on the internet or in real life. Trust Jesus to fulfill your unmet needs and do not turn to sin. Get help and be accountable to someone you trust when you face temptations.

  1. Create an atmosphere of sexual pleasure in your marriage. Lovemaking won’t just happen! Remember that sex begins in the kitchen, not in the bedroom! If a husband is impatient, angry and inconsiderate all evening, he’s crazy to think his wife will be eager for sex when they go to bed. Romance happens outside the bedroom. Plan a date night, and make sure the kids and housework are taken care of. Set aside times just to enjoy each other in a non-physical way, to talk and build trust and friendship. Become BFF’s (Best Friends Forever), as relational intimacy spawns sexual intimacy. If there’s no connection on the soul level, there’ll be no connection on the physical level.
  2. If you have sexual problems, deal with them together. At some point in nearly every marriage, there will be obstacles to sex. Lack of desire, chemical, hormonal, unresolved conflict, stress and fatigue are all part of our broken existence. Go to the Doctor; pray together; go for counselling for past abuse; go on holiday; do whatever you’ve got to do. Don’t strand your spouse sexually because of a problem that you need to deal with.

Sheet Music.

Finally, make a worthwhile investment into your sexual life by buying and reading together Kevin Leman’s book, Sheet Music—Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage. This is a wise, hilarious, straight-talking author, who understands sex from a female point of view!

“If you and your spouse work in tandem”, says Dr Leman, “you’ll create some of the most stunning music ever heard! All it takes is practice…and the right attitude. Sex is about the quality of your entire love life, not just the alignment of your bodies. So why not put inhibitions aside and give your spouse the best gift ever— a sexually enthusiastic mate?”

Recommended reading:

Dr Kevin Leman, Sheet Music—Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage.

An excellent wife who can find?

Series: Marriage east of Eden

10  An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:10-11).

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord” (Col 3:18).

If the idea of a husband’s headship is a cultural hot potato, then a wife’s submission is a hot potato stuffed with radioactive chilli! To our 21st century ears, submission sounds a lot like mousy silence, subservience, humiliation and inferiority. Surely strong, intelligent women don’t submit to any man!?

But, if we’re Christians, we need to allow God’s timeless and infallible Word to recalibrate our distorted, preconceived ideas. We need the truth of the Bible to define what God has established as the good life. We need to be led, not by culture, but by the divine Choreographer who invented the dance of marriage in the first days of Creation (Gen 2:22-25). That’s how we, as God’s children, demonstrate that Christ is truly Lord of our lives. After all, marriage is not an end in itself, but a metaphor pointing to a much more profound spiritual reality– Christ’s relationship with his Church (Eph 5:32). Ultimately, everyone who is born again is His Bride, and we respond by gladly submitting to Him in all things.

Last week in “Husbands, love your wives,” the heat was on men! Today we focus on what it looks like for a wife to submit to her husband and be his helper, as Scripture teaches us.

Let’s start by reading the verses relating to wives in Ephesians 5:

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church (he himself being the savior of the body). 24 But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  32 This mystery is great—but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each one of you must also love his own wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph 5:1-222-2432-33).

Simple, yes! Easy, no!

You’ll notice from last week that Paul uses much more ink on husbands than on wives! A husband is called to cleave to his wife, lead her spiritually, nourish her like his own body, put her ahead of himself and sacrifice his own interests for her good.

But, there are only two little verbs that describe how a wife should relate to her husband: Submit and Respect. She is responsible to love her husband by accepting his authority and respecting his God-given role as head of their marriage. A Christ-honouring wife will not try to undermine her husband’s leadership in any way. She will allow her husband to care for and love her, and trust God to care for and love her even when her husband fails…and he will! Marriage is a Christian wife’s tool and test to deepen and demonstrate her reverence for her Lord (Col 3:18Eph 5:22).

Submission and respect is really quite simple for us wives…when all is going well and we agree with our husbands! But it’s in the messy pressures of life that the rubber really hits the road. It’s that pesky little phrase “in everything” that gives me trouble (Eph 5:24)!

In those heated moments when things are falling apart, isn’t it easier to be critical, to nitpick and second-guess his decisions? There are so many subtle ways to undermine his authority. A roll of the eyes, a gesture that says, “Not again!”

Isn’t it sometimes more intuitive to save our best behaviour for the world, and give our husbands our grouchy, most negative self? Isn’t it easier to try to control things, rather than build up our husbands to become godly leaders of our family?

Isn’t it more natural to try to change our husband’s behaviour, instead of praying for him and allowing our quietness and respect to change his heart? Isn’t it easier to stay silent and sullen, rather than respectfully correcting him, speaking the truth in love in a gentle, patient and self-controlled way? Yes, submission is simple, but definitely not easy “in all things!”

A wife’s unique temptations.

Like a husband, a wife faces unique temptations in marriage.

Emerson Eggerichs, in his book “Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires. The Respect He Desperately Needs” cites a study of over 7000 men and women who were asked a simple question: “When you’re in conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” 83% of men said ‘disrespected’, 72% of women said ‘unloved’.

Of course, husbands and wives both need love and respect equally, but often our felt needs differ during conflict. This seems to be borne out by Eph 5:33. A woman’s natural response to feeling unloved is to respond disrespectfully. A man’s natural reaction when disrespected, is to respond unlovingly. Regardless of who started it, the crazy cycle continues—leading down a dangerous path of endless contempt, criticism and anger. Intimacy can’t weather this onslaught, so the relationship inevitably withers and dies. Contempt is known to be the greatest early warning signal of impending divorce.

To avoid this inevitable destination, either husband or wife has to break this self-feeding cycle. It’s no use blaming your husband if you’re not obeying God’s word to submit to him. In fact, your failure to submit could stand in the way of God’s dealings with your rebellious or unbelieving husband. It’s best to stand aside and let God do His work.

But let’s first get a proper understanding of what submission means, and doesn’t mean.

Defining submission.

Some of us have bought into faulty definitions of submission. Literally, the word ‘submit’ means to arrange oneself under.

Submission is not mousey subservience or inferiority.

We can know this for sure because of the dignity Jesus gave women in the Gospels; the many women who flourished and actively participated in the early church, and because of the Bible’s insistence on equality of men and women in the Old and New Testament (Gen 1:27Gal 3:28).

There is nothing mousey or weak about the Proverbs 31 ‘wife of noble character’, or about Ruth or Rahab, or Jesus’s own mother, Mary. And there is nothing degrading about submission, as even Christ submitted to his Father (Luke 22:42). Jesus’ submission was actually an expression of his great love for us, a show of profound strength rather than weakness. Would we call Jesus a doormat for submitting to his Father’s plan of salvation? So why then would we caricature a submissive wife as a doormat?

Submission is not silence or blind acquiescence.

Honest, godly communication is expected of all Christian men and women (Matt 18:15Eph 4:152 Tim 4:2). In fact, respectfully correcting your husband is part of loving him and being his helper. You share in the calling to “love your neighbour” just as your husband does.

Love speaks sincerely, exhorts, corrects and says no to evil. That means that if your husband is verbally, physically or sexually abusing you or your children, you must say No to his sin. You cannot acquiesce in humiliating sexual acts. You cannot be his enabler in shaming and blaming sessions. Get the support you need from CCM’s Crisis and Care Centre. Submission doesn’t aid and abet sin.

A positive portrait of a godly wife.

It’s always best to go to the Bible for the real deal, instead of being misled by false caricatures and stereotypes. Proverbs 31:10-31 is a vivid cameo of a respectful, godly wife. Yes, it was written three thousand years ago, spotlighting a wife with many years behind her. But the timeless principles in Proverbs 31 show us that there is endless scope for a submissive and respectful wife to flourish as a woman and a mother.

This is a woman who is anything but a doormat! She has a good mind and is capable and strong in helping her husband to lead the household (Prov 31:16-171825). She has practical street savvy. She is caring and generous to the needy (Prov 31:20). She is resourceful, shows initiative and thinks for herself (Prov 31:21). She is a blessing to her husband (Prov 31:23). She is hardworking and wise in handling money (Prov 31:24). She takes her responsibilities at home seriously (Prov 31: 27). She is wise, and passes on her wisdom to others (Prov 31:26). Her family respects her (Prov 31:28). Most important of all, this woman fears the Lord. Her identity is in Him, rather than external status and charm (Prov 31:30). These qualities, coupled with fear of the Lord, leads to enjoyment, honour and worth (Prov 31:31). Peter paints a similar portrait of a wife who follows Christ in 1 Peter 3:1-6. Her identity and faith is in Jesus alone.

There’s no way we can do, or be, the wife of noble character, unless we look beyond our husband and see Jesus! Your husband’s behaviour may deserve contempt, but that won’t win him over any more than your husband’s harshness will win your heart. If your husband is an unbeliever, cling to 1 Peter 3:1-6, and nag God for a miracle in his hard heart. Put your hope in Christ, not your husband. “Do what is right and do not give way to fear” (1 Peter 3:6).

Wives, let’s do our own verse, and let Christ take care of the rest!

Prayer

Lord, we pray for marriages in our church and life groups. We pray that you would help us to learn the steps of the marriage dance you have choreographed for us. Lord, help husbands to see the opportunities you’ve given them to lead sacrificially. Lord, help wives to respond by being our husband’s helper, respectfully arranging ourselves under his leadership. Lord, whether we are married, single, divorced or widowed, help us to resist the urge to find our identity in our marital status. Instead, may we find our hope only in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Redeemed Roles

Series: Marriage East of Eden, by Rosie Moore

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them”. (Col 3:19)

I’ve always loved watching my parents dance! Rock n Roll, Swing, Jazz, Waltzes— even in their eighties, my dad still leads my mom across the floor, much to the amusement of their teenage grandchildren!  Fifty years ago, they were probably awkward and stood on each other’s toes, but today they move comfortably in unison. My dad is clearly the leader and my mom keeps in step. Their dance reminds me of what the Bible teaches about marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33: Equal in value and worth; one in heart and purpose, yet distinct and complementary in roles. Marriage is not supposed to be a lifelong battlefield or an oppressive prison, but a rhythmic dance choreographed by Christ Jesus himself. The dancers are an imperfect husband and wife living and growing together, in step with their Redeemer, and in step with one another. This is the redeemed marriage, which is as foreign and radical today as it was when Paul wrote his letters to the first century believers.

Before you burn this blog, let’s dismantle a few cultural roadblocks which have twisted our understanding of authority into something archaic, evil and oppressive to those who submit to it. Let’s cling instead to the truth of servant leadership that Christ taught and lived out (Eph 4:21Phil 2:5-8). As King of Creation, Jesus expressed ultimate authority. And as the suffering Saviour, He expressed ultimate submission to God His Father. In our own marriages, let’s turn to Jesus and take our cue from His surprisingly radical authority and submission, rather than from our culture’s ideas on these things.

So, what does the Bible say about authority in our imperfect marriages?

No apologies.

There’s no way to explain away God-ordained authority in marriage. As offensive as this idea may be to minds that have marinated in feminism for the last sixty years, it’s taught without apology throughout the Bible (Eph 5:22-25Col 3:18-191 Peter 3:1-7Titus 2:4-5). Each text teaches a wife to respectfully submit to her husband, as to Christ, and a husband to lovingly and sacrificially lead his wife as head of their family.

So, in the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, the husband bears the primary responsibility to lead the marriage in a God-glorifying direction. He is committed to his wife’s physical, spiritual and emotional maturity (Eph 5:26-27). He is to be considerate and humble, treating his wife as a sister in Christ, not an object who exists for his own convenience (1 Peter 3:7). For “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph 5:29). And the woman is to love her husband by supporting him in that godly undertaking (Eph 5:22-24). Each must do their own verse, as an expression of their submission to Christ as Lord. If I’m honest, I think the wife’s job description is a whole lot easier than the husband’s!

Alongside their distinct roles, both husband and wife share the common duty to love each other and submit themselves to Christ as Lord (Eph 5:211-2).

Headship and submission is like the mantlepiece within which love is encouraged to burn brightly between husband and wife, bringing warmth and blessing to everyone near them for generations to come. It is a godly legacy that will be passed on to your watching children. But it is also radically counter cultural.

Cultural roadblocks.

Even as I write, I can hear you say, “This picture sounds so warm and cozy, but you’re living in a dreamland! Most marriages are as frosty as the Arctic! What about the scourge of gender-based violence in our society? What about abusive husbands and women’s rights? Doesn’t man’s headship mean woman’s inferiority and oppression? Isn’t patriarchy everything that’s wrong with the world?”

Given the nature of our fallen world, it is natural to be suspicious of authority. We see its abuse everywhere we look. All of us bring baggage to the idea of authority. We carry baggage from the dysfunctional marriages we’ve seen and those we’ve personally experienced. We also carry ideological baggage from the ideas we’ve been taught as fact since the rise of feminism in the 1960’s.

Listen to the solutions proposed by two radical feminists:

“Under patriarchy, no woman is safe to live her life, or to love, or to mother children. Under patriarchy, every woman is a victim, past, present, and future. Under patriarchy, every woman’s daughter is a victim, past, present, and future. Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman” (Andrea Dworkin).

“The nuclear family must be destroyed… Whatever its ultimate meaning, the break-up of families now is an objectively revolutionary process…. No woman should have to deny herself any opportunities because of her special responsibilities to her children… Families will be finally destroyed only when a revolutionary social and economic organization permits people’s needs for love and security to be met in ways that do not impose divisions of labor, or any external roles, at all” (Linda Gordon).

The problem is that if we allow our ideological baggage and bad experiences to define what manhood and womanhood are, we will be be swept away by the cultural tsunami, which leaves only hatred and misery in its wake. Our current society is living proof of that, with exponentially rising rates of divorce, single mothers, fatherless children, gender-based violence and every other type of abuse and neglect. After 60 years of feminist ideology and #MenAreTrash and #MeToo, there is still an abundance of passive men, abusive men, men engrossed in porn, men who neglect to lead their families, men who cannot even govern themselves or make their own beds, men who are completely confused about their role and identity. There is still an abundance of abused women, aggressive women, resentful women, distracted women, depressed women, overworked women, women who are completely confused about their role and identity. Despite women’s rights enshrined in law, in reality male domination and female victimhood remain the norm. Feminism has proved to be a terrible counsellor. No, if we want whole marriages, we must not seek counsel from our bankrupt cultural norms. We need to cling to God’s truth and do marriage God’s way, for “you, however, did not come to know Christ that way” (Eph 4:20).

Christ’s way.

Scripture shows us a much better way than male domination or feminism. It involves the redemption, not the destruction of a husband’s authority in the home. Marital roles are actually not about who does what in the home, but they are ultimately a worship issue. Do we submit to God’s revealed will in this area of authority?

On his final journey to Jerusalem, Christ offered a radically different picture of roles and authority than our culture. He showed us that authority doesn’t need to be toppled, but redeemed. His disciples, James and John were jostling to sit in the places of honour (Mark 10:35-38). Like us, they saw everything through the lens of personal power and glory. They expected a Messiah who would operate the way worldly politicians do, wielding power for personal gain. But Jesus’s response to his disciples was striking.

Not so with you! Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:31-32).

Jesus’s role was not to deny his own authority, because it was God’s gift for the mission to which He was entrusted. On the contrary, Christ showcased his power over nature, sickness, demons, the Pharisees, sin, Satan and death. He exercised his authority for good. Moreover, Jesus’s role as God’s Son was to meet people at their level, to be a blessing to them and ultimately to sacrifice himself for the people He loved, his Church. He didn’t use his authority for his own gain or benefit. Against every human instinct, Christ entrusted himself to His Father and gave His own body for His Bride. He showed us what perfect authority and submission looks like in a fallen world. What an example to spur us on!

Jesus knows the way authority is abused in our world, as it was in the Roman Empire. But He says to Christian husbands and wives today, “Not so with you!”  Jesus redeems our roles. He shows us with his life that a husband’s authority is God’s gift for the purpose of expressing love to his wife and presenting her holy before the Lord. Leadership is about service, not a thirst for control. And a wife’s respect for her husband signifies that she has entrusted herself to Christ’s care and submitted to His authority as Lord of her life (Eph 5:33). If we neglect or rebel against our God-given roles, we will never mature into the godly men and women the Lord intends us to become over a lifetime. This is the way the great Choreographer leads husband and wife in the dance of marriage. Let’s follow in His footsteps, even if we stand on a few toes as we learn!

Join us next Friday for some practical implications of Redeemed Roles:

Part 2: Portrait of a redeemed husband.

Part 3: Portrait of a redeemed wife.

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them”. (Col 3:19)

It’s not my fault! Demolishing the idol of blame.

Series: Marriage East of Eden

“It’s all your fault! You drove me to it! I’m sorry you’re upset by what I said, but I just had to get it off my chest!”

Last week we saw how each human sinner is born with a natural tendency to cloak our sin and play the victim. It’s a universal idol that first raised its head in Genesis 3:10-13 and it’s been the predicable pattern of this world ever since. When life is tough, we become experts at creating scapegoats out of anything and anybody in our line of sight: My colleague…my boss…my children…my past…the system… they’re all to blame, except me! Sadly for marriage, the first person in sight is often our spouse and closest neighbour! It is the “flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones” who bears the brunt of all our struggles. Isn’t blaming a lot easier than being accountable?

The ultimate Scapegoat

But there is good news for husbands and wives who have repented, taken up our cross and followed Jesus! The only blameless man who ever lived shifted all our blame and all our spouse’s blame onto Himself. On the cross, Jesus Christ became the ultimate Scapegoat, who took the blame our many sins deserve. The same Lord who commands us to love our spouse has shown us what genuine love looks like, and his Holy Spirit empowers us to love in this way. He is, after all, the source of love.

The good news of the Gospel is that we no longer have to follow the default pattern of this world (Rom 12:2), which ends in hostility and divorce. We can build the one-flesh intimacy God intended for our marriages. But first we must resolve to stop hiding and blaming. We must demolish the idol of blame as though our one-flesh union depends upon it. Because it does.

Demolishing the idol God’s way.

In the Bible, God gives Christians a blueprint for dealing with conflict and disagreement in relationships, so that we don’t resort to blaming and shaming. These four general principles are as relevant in marriage as they are in every other relationship:

1. The real War.

The battle starts with you! You’re in spiritual warfare and home is where the ultimate enemy (Satan) finds ample opportunities to strike (Eph 6:14-17). God can use everyday conflict with your spouse to help you root out the sin of your own heart and to serve His good purposes. So, let’s remember that the conflict itself is not the root problem, and your spouse is not the enemy! Make sure you fight the real battle with the armour that Christ has provided.

2. The danger of offence.

“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city” (Prov 18:19). Solomon warns that a stalemate results if one spouse digs in her heels and stubbornly refuses to let go of her offence. Offence becomes a stronghold from which there’s no escape. That’s why, in Matthew 18:15-16, Jesus tells his followers to meet face-to-face with a brother or sister who has sinned against him and to communicate his grievances clearly and honestly.

So, in marriage, we talk directly with our spouse, rather than resorting to emotional outbursts, slander or withdrawal. We don’t run off and gossip to our best friend or mother if our husband has offended us! We don’t generalise or caricature our spouse, but we give examples of actual conduct, so that our spouse can understand how they have offended us and make changes. We centre our discussion around the truth and resist the urge to judge our spouse’s motives. And if we reach a stalemate, we’re to call in an independent arbiter from the church to judge between us and help us to restore the relationship. Offence must be stopped in its tracks if we’re to guard our one-flesh bond.

3. Mind your own logs!

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5).

It’s not just your spouse that needs to change! When you take the plank out your own eye, you need to describe yourself accurately, so that you can change. You needn’t be afraid to look at yourself, as you won’t find anything there that will surprise God or that He cannot cleanse and transform. I love the pattern David lays down for us in Psalm 51:3-4. Remorse and repentance are not the same thing! Repentance is about being restored to God and changing direction, not just saying you’re sorry to get something off your chest.

When we first confess our sins and selfishness to God, our confession creates a soft, gracious heart from which to apologise and make amends. You cannot discuss our spouse’s faults unless your own heart has been humbled before the Lord. Take time to listen to how your sin affected your spouse before you launch in with your complaints. And be ready with practical ideas of how you’d like to work together to change these patterns in the future. Marriage is not a contest, it’s a collaborative effort.

4. Choose the wisest approach that fits your knowledge of yourself, your spouse and the need of the moment:

a) WAIT“It is to a man’s honour to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Prov 20:3). Rather than calling out every instance of failing, we need to be patient with our spouse, as God is with us. “Bear with each other” is a good formula for a great marriage! The world’s pattern of venting every thought and emotion is not a godly pattern, and it bears terrible fruit.

b) CONFRONT“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbour, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord”. (Lev 19:17-18)

These two beautifully balanced verses point out two common pitfalls in mishandling conflict: Some of us hate our brother in our heart by nursing grievances and incubating a silent grudge. But some of us hate our brother in our heart by playing tit for tat. Moses says that it’s actually unloving and sinful not to speak up and reason frankly with your neighbour (Lev 19:17). But it’s equally wrong to take vengeance and repay evil with evil.

In truthful confrontation, let’s remember that God is the ultimate judge of you and your spouse, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:1012Lev 19:8). He is the silent witness to each of our relational encounters. Our responsibility is to speak up and reason frankly with one another. But at the same time, it is our responsibility to  do everything to safeguard the dignity of our spouse as we speak the truth. That’s how we will love our nearest neighbour as we love ourself.

c) YIELD“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul points out that in conflict, being right and doing right aren’t always the same thing. It’s not about winning the argument, but about how you can best love and minister to your spouse. If something isn’t helpful for your spouse, don’t get stuck on who’s right and who’s wrong. Don’t pursue your rights at the expense of your relationship. Always seek the good of your spouse, even if it curtails your freedom (1 Cor 10:23-241 Cor 8:9-13).

The Sweet Fruit of a Peacemaker.

Whether you choose a), b) or c) in resolving conflict, is a matter of wisdom. Seek the Lord in prayer and ask Him for the wisdom you need to make everyday choices which yield the sweet fruit of peace and order in your home (James 1:5). James contrasts the fruit of godly and worldly wisdom in relationships: “A good life, deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom…but where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:13-18).

Are you seeing evidence of this sweet fruit in your own marriage? Or are you tasting the bitter fruit of envy, selfish ambition and disorder? Perhaps it’s time to go back to biblical principles and submit to the wisdom from heaven.

Don’t buy the lie!

It is Satan himself who whispers slander about your spouse in your ear. Every time your husband fails you, every time he offends you, every time you feel hurt or disappointed, the Accuser is whispering slander in your ear about your spouse. He is interpreting your wife’s motives to convince you that she means harm towards you. He is tempting you to think that you’re your own moral compass, so it’s always her fault, never yours! Don’t buy the lie! Use conflict as an opportunity to grow up and deepen your relationship: Don’t take offence easily. Mind your own logs. And choose the wisest godly path to resolve disagreements. That’s how you’ll be a channel of Christ’slove to your spouse.

Prayer

Oh Lord, we long to be wise in our marriages! Free us from the idol of self which makes us think we are always right, and that our rights are all that matter. Help us to hear your voice clearly in your Word, so that we will not listen to the voice of slander and blame in our own hearts. Give us the apt words to speak graciously and frankly to each other. Help us to see our marriage as a one-flesh union, so that we will regard our spouse’s pain and progress as our own. Empower us to be more like you, and to seek out little and big ways to minister to our spouse for their good and their godliness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

It’s not my fault! The idolatry of blame-shifting

Series: Marriage East of Eden

“The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen 3:12-13)

Blame-shifting is an idol inherited from our ancient ancestors. It’s an insidious idol of the heart that threatens to poison our relationships, especially the unique one-flesh bond of marriage. Left to rule the roost, this idol can lead to an abusive marriage in which a manipulative husband uses every trick in the book to avoid being held accountable for his own behaviour. A wife may play the victim or get angry and aggressive if her husband fails to show her the sympathy she feels she deserves. As Christians, we must recognize that blame-shifting is an idol that has set itself up in every human heart since the Fall. It is a tendency that is in each one of us as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

The original ‘victims’

Genesis 3 tells us that every marriage has an Enemy, and that enemy is not our spouse! Notice that Satan slithered in by stealth to tempt the first married couple (Gen 3:1). He didn’t announce himself as the Enemy. And yet, before Adam and Eve knew it, Satan had slandered God’s goodness and his Word (Gen 3:4-5). He convinced the first humans that God was a killjoy and that they could judge for themselves what is right and wrong.

Then, instead of taking responsibility for their sin, Adam and Eve blamed each other, blamed God and blamed Satan (Gen 3:12-13). Adam accused Eve, and even blamed God for giving him his wife. “The devil made me do it!” said Eve. They created scapegoats to divert from their own guilt. In today’s language, Adam and Eve played the victim card. Their rebellion was everyone else’s fault except their own.

Tragically, each of us carries into our marriage this idol of blame to protect ourselves and hide from our guilt. We look for solutions out there, to avoid looking into our own rebellious hearts, which do not worship or love God as we ought. We pretend to be the poor hapless victims of other evil people or circumstances.

Worshipping at the altar of blame.

So how does this idol of blame rule and reign in our day-to-day marriages?

Being married to another human being is inevitably hard, because the moment we turn away from God, we naturally turn our backs on each other. We offend and get offended far too easily. We get stuck on who’s right and who’s wrong, instead of acting to build the other in love. It doesn’t take long before we think our spouse is the enemy, instead of the issue at hand. We get angry and aggressive, or we ‘stonewall’ honest conversation and build walls. We manipulate our spouse’s emotions and put him/her on a guilt trip. Without help, we’re often blind to what’s really going on in our relationships and our own heart, so the destructive cycle continues.

Blaming and complaining.

The blame game is nothing new to human relationships. It’s what the Israelites did in their distress, when they blamed God, Moses, the water and the manna that God provided generously in the wilderness (Ex 16:2-5Num 11:4-614:2Num 20:2-521:5). Remember how they even turned on Moses when God judged them for their incessant grumbling (Num 16:41). When we blame and complain against our spouse, the Lord hears our grumbling and it greatly displeases him (Num 12:2). Blame-shifting is no small thing to God, because it is an idol of the heart that steals our devotion and gratitude to Him.

The child of entitlement.

James says that grumbling results from not getting what we want or expect (James 4:1-3). It is the child of entitlement. But in reality, when we blame our spouse, the one we are really complaining against is God Himself (Ex 16:8). Blaming is just another way that we grumble against God and slander our neighbour, instead of loving God and the nearest neighbour that God has provided—our spouse.

Believe me, I’m not speaking here as a Christian who has demolished this idol in my own life. Far from it! I still struggle against the powerful urge to put myself at the centre and worship at the altar of blame. It doesn’t take much to unleash the little narcissist in me, besotted with my gripes and grievances, searching for anyone and anything to blame. I hate not getting what I want or expect! “I’m tired, that’s why I’m in a bad mood! If only God would fix this person/system/situation, I would be a much more godly person!” When I look through the lens of entitlement, I attack or become defensive and demanding. I pity myself and am easily offended. Worst of all, I’m usually guilty of the very same things I point out in Pete! That’s because we become like our idols (Ps 115:8135:18Jer 10:14). The sanitised term is ‘projection’.

The antidote to blame-shifting.

The Fall demonstrates our natural tendency to shift blame onto others. But the Gospel points to Christ, who was truly blameless, and yet shifted all our blame onto Himself. He is the only effective ‘blame-shifter,’ and He also calls Himself the Bridegroom. The Lord who commands us to love our spouse has shown us what genuine, self-giving love looks like in the way that He loves His Bride, the Church. He calls us to turn to Himself as the source of love. He doesn’t simply command us to love our spouse and then leave us to do it on our own. He also empowers us to exercise this unnatural kind of love towards our spouse, as we love Him.

Moreover, our Creator-God has also given us the blueprint for godly relationships. In the Bible, we find many practical principles for dealing with conflict without resorting to blame. Given our sinful nature and the dismal state of marriage in our culture, Christian couples would be foolish to ignore these principles, which run radically counter to the pattern of this world. We cannot ignore God’s ethic without suffering serious shipwreck in our marriages, and indeed in all our relationships. Next week we will look at four of these principles in part 2.

Prayer

Oh Lord, you are the Groom and we are the Bride. We know our marriages are supposed to reflect the beautiful unity of the Trinity– Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but so often they don’t. Help us to know the depth, length and breadth of your great love for us, so that we will be a conduit of this gracious, forgiving, faithful, enduring love to our marriage partners. Free us from the idol of blame which makes us think we are always right, and that we are entitled to have whatever we want. Teach us to be more like you and to work for the good and godliness of our spouse. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
https://www.youtube.com/embed/LULK2nZ6sCc?enablejsapi=1&wmode=opaque

Laws for a lasting marriage

And Jesus said to them…“from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:6-9).

The Great Architect of Marriage

If you’re willing to turn to God for marital advice, you’ll soon see that His Word says a lot about your marriage. After all, He invented it and joined you and your spouse together in the first place (Mark 10:9). God doesn’t just care about your prayers, going to church and reading your Bible. His command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ tells us that every human interaction, including every interaction with our spouse, is a spiritual matter. After all, isn’t my spouse my nearest neighbour? (Mark 12:30-31Deut 6:4-5).

So then, how I treat my spouse and take care of my marriage, reveals how seriously I take God’s character and his commands. Marriage cannot be separated from the command to love God. It isn’t just some pesky problem that can be zipped up in a sleeping bag and put in the cupboard, while we get on with our lives. In fact, the way we love each other is a window into our relationship with God (1 John 4:7-12).

The good news is that the God himself gave us foundations to build a lasting marriage at the very beginning of the Bible:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him….” 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bonesand flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Just as the earth is subject to the laws of physics, this amazing text lays out God’s Laws which govern Marriage. He is, after all, the Architect. Here are two of them:

Law of priority

‘Leave and cleave’.

On the sixth day of creation, a comfortable rhythm is disturbed. “It was good” is replaced by “it is not good”. Why this sudden break from the pattern?

God is deliberately stressing something important about marriage here: Apart from Eve, nothing in all of creation can fill the unique role of a marriage partner. None of the animals were fit to be Adam’s true companion or helper. Only the woman was suitable. When Adam finally meets the one, he bursts forth with a love poem! “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man’ (Gen 2:23). He is enamoured with her! She is utterly different, and yet made from the same stuff as him. It is the first glimpse we get of the beautiful unity in diversity of God’s creation.

But verse 24 is the punchline of the story. Did you notice the little word, “therefore”? Some versions translate it as ‘this is the reason’ or ‘for this cause’. This verse explains what marriage is all about. Marriage solves the problem of aloneness. And the moment we choose to marry, our spouse should become the most important human in all the world to us. We leave everything else and cleave to each other, emotionally, physically and geographically. That is God’s design.

God is intolerant of rivals (Ex 34:14), and so is our spouse! This is not the sick form of jealousy that seeks to control and manipulate, but passionate, protective, healthy jealousy of our spouse’s heart. When something or someone else takes first place in your wife or husband’s affections, it is appropriate to be jealous and to fight for that affection. That’s why marriage often slides downhill when children appear on the scene. If children become all-important to mothers, men often turn to work, affairs or other interests. And if their husbands take them for granted, women often turn to children, friends or other interests.

The traditional marriage vows are beautiful in expressing what it means to leave and cleave: ‘To have and to hold,’ ‘to love and to cherish’, ‘forsaking all others, to be faithful to him/her as long as you both shall live’. This is God’s law of priority.

Could this be what’s gone wrong in so many marriages? Marriage only works if our spouse is our top priority. Above our hobbies and friendships. Above our work and leisure. Above our community projects, ministry and children. Above our personal dreams and desires. Above our duty to our parents and extended family. Our spouse deserves more than our leftovers. When this priority becomes disordered, the foundations of our marriage will start to wobble. After many years of distorted priorities, our marriage will eventually implode.

So, the first law of marriage is the Law of Priority. The second is the Law of Intimacy.

Law of Intimacy

One flesh.

They shall become one flesh” forms the foundation of the Bible’s understanding of marriage and family. Jesus and Paul assume this basic law of marriage (Matt 19:5Eph 5:31Mark 10:9).

Remember how Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed? But after they rebelled against God, they clothed themselves in fig leaves to cover the most intimate parts of their bodies. Sin alienated them from each other. “If I really want to impress this person, I have to fix myself up”. None of this feeling was there with Adam and Eve when they were naked…and not ashamed.

As husband and wife, we naturally drift towards this alienation, unless we take steps to cultivate intimacy. You can be living in the same house as your spouse, but this doesn’t guarantee intimacy. You can be married to the man or woman of your dreams, but this doesn’t guarantee intimacy either.

You have to nourish intimacy through love, honour and respect. It’s like caring for a delicate plant which can easily shrivel up. You have to be willing to help your spouse grow. You have to be willing to learn from him or her. These are the ingredients to nurture intimacy. But sarcasm, criticism, ridicule, refusing to say sorry, resentment and manipulation—these are just some of the poisons that some spouses pour daily over the little sapling of intimacy. And then they wonder why they have no affection, no sex life and ultimately no marriage.

Here are two letters to remind us how to practice the Laws of priority and intimacy in our own marriages. (Since men are from Mars, I asked Pete to write the letter to wives!)

Dear husband,

Husband, if you want to nourish intimacy in your marriage, it’s not good enough just to say “I love you,” or to bring home your salary or the odd bunch of roses. Please show your wife how much you delight in her! Every woman needs to know she’s desirable and valuable, because we often don’t feel those things about ourselves, especially our bodies. Maybe you’re not a poet like Adam, but please continue to pursue your wife with all your energy. Cleave to her, (even if she’s got three children cleaving from her and baby food cleaving to her shirt!) Even when she’s saggy and grey, don’t stop pursuing her and touching her cheek gently with your hand. She is bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh! Look into her eyes and tell her that she is God’s gift to you. Protect her and build her up. Together, you are better than alone and can face anything.

Invent ways to show her that she’s beautiful to you, and be especially careful not to wound or ridicule her with your words. Help her with ordinary everyday things. Show her that you value her by sharing your emotions– even fear, hurt and shame. She won’t think less of you, just more. Be willing to listen and share in her emotions too, even if they’re through-the-roof crazy! Pray and read the Bible together often. Your hearts will bind together as one, when you turn to the One who bound you together.

Husband, don’t allow your extended family to encroach upon your marriage! Your wife is not you, nor is she your mother, and never will be! Don’t let your children mistreat their mother or take her for granted. Instead, thank her for being the heart of your home, even if this can’t be quantified in money. Let them see how much you love her. They will take great security from this.

Husband, don’t ever treat your wife like an object whose sole purpose is to give you what you want. Encourage her to use her gifts and make close friendships. Allow her to point out your blindspots. Take the lead in resolving conflicts biblically, before they become too big to talk about. Trust her to help you with decisions and problems. Don’t hide anything from her and stay faithful to her in mind and body. Say “I love you” often!

Dear wife,

Our society teaches men to put up a veneer of being bullet proof and impenetrable. As a result, we sometimes give the impression that we don’t have feelings and the last thing we do easily is share our hopes and fears. That’s why we stand around the braai and talk passionately about impersonal “out there” things like sports teams and politics, while wives will be talking about relationships and family: things that really matter.

Wives, don’t think that that is really us and that we are shallow and superficial. We aren’t, BUT we usually open up to the closest of our friends only. People who trust, respect and appreciate us. A wife is a man’s closest friend, but looking back, this takes time, patience and care on your part. We don’t know ourselves very well. I’ve realised that the more I put into loving you, the return I get back from you is exponential. That’s a business deal worth investing in! We want to be thanked, appreciated and loved: we certainly don’t get that in society at large, and certainly not at work! We are often thought of as the bad guys.

There are many other men who are faster, stronger, brighter, wealthier, better looking, more athletic (the list is endless) than your husband. However, your husband (well this one anyway!)
loves you more than anyone else and can truly say “you are bone of my bones, the one absolutely right for me in every way (sounds like Goldilocks!)”. I love you.

Whatever happened to marriage?

Series: Marriage East of Eden

If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mark 3:25)

“Sorry, but I just don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever loved you.”

“I must have married the wrong man. We bring out the worst in each other.”

“If only I’d married that fun-loving girl instead of my wife!”

What’s gone wrong in so many marriages? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately. There seem to be more households divided and devouring each other, than couples who cherish each other. For so many, the dream wedding has turned into a nightmare of blame and shame, erupting rage and simmering resentment. Conversations about money, sex, children and in-laws are landmines to be avoided at all costs. The idol of self sits smugly on the throne while self-sacrifice is out the window. Control and criticism; sarcasm and shame; manipulation and aggression are ruling the roost in many homes. What’s more, lockdown has aggravated troubled marriages, even Christian marriages. It seems that marriage is in a dangerous ditch.

The war between husband and wife may be passive and silent, or aggressive and loud, but in either case, it’s a war with no winners, only losers. And the collateral damage of this war goes far beyond husband and wife, to the bystanders who parrot the pattern for generations to come. Divorce may seem like a necessary truce, but it creates its own special legacy of destruction.

So, what happened to the husband who once took delight in his wife and thought, “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh?” (Gen 2:23) Why is it that the marriage vows, once spoken so eagerly by a man and a woman in love, now seem archaic and disconnected from the harsh reality of married life?

The vow

Remember the day you said these words:

“I, take you to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part”.

If a mere reminder of this vow pierces your heart with wistfulness for a marriage that is far short of your expectations, perhaps now is the moment to diagnose what has gone wrong and get back to God’s pathway for a godly marriage? Perhaps today is the day to ask the Lord to help you and your spouse build the kind of marriage He intended for you “until death us do part.” Perhaps it’s time to seek godly counseling.

Disclaimer

Here’s a candid disclaimer about this series: I’m no marriage guru! In a fit of rage, I once hurled a pot of mashed potatoes at Pete, and we spent the next hour cleaning up the buttery mess, complaining about how mad we made each other! At times, we thought it was a most unsuitable match. In fact, when we first got married, I don’t think I resolved a single problem without throwing something in Pete’s direction! But, after 26 years, there’s no one in the world I’d rather be with than him. Apart from salvation, our marriage is truly the most treasured love gift that God could have given us. It keeps getting better.

The truth is that the best marriages are made, not born.

Marriages are made not born.

Our marriage has grown through trusting the Lord together, through raising four children, through sickness and miscarriages and death, through a fire and financial crises, through walking together as brother and sister in Christ. We have personal experience of those pesky little ‘foxes’ that can kill a marriage (Song of Solomon 2:15). We’ve also counseled couples over the years, not as experts, but as beggars showing other beggars where to find food.

Bit by bit, we are learning how to approach tricky conversations without losing love and respect for each other (or throwing mashed potato)! And we are learning how to prioritize our marriage above other good things, like children, ministry, friends and entertainment. We’ve by no means arrived, but we’re opening up the gift of marriage one wrapping at a time.

With all my heart, I believe that the Lord has given Christians everything we need to build fruitful, faithful, loving, lifelong marriages, which are a blessing to ourselves and those around us. After all, if God invented marriage, He surely intends for us to have success in marriage. And He’s offered us the blueprint to build a house that is not divided against itself– A house that will stand strong when the storms come. But first we must go to Scripture to diagnose why our marriages are under such siege. Unless we deal with the sin in our own hearts, we will never build a good marriage.

Marriage East of Eden

Since the moment Adam and Eve rejected God’s words and defined what is good and what is evil for themselves, marriage has been under fire. The house has been divided against itself. This is how Genesis 3 describes part of the curse:

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to
 your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. 22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:16-24).

Genesis 1-3 is an astonishing explanation of why marriage is in such a sorry state. Nothing is as it should be, not even in a Christian marriage. We are living outside of God’s ideal for relationships, and it’s no paradise. We may have thought that getting married would solve all our problems, but every husband and wife soon discovers that we take our sinful, selfish, prideful self with us wherever we go. Everything in God’s original plan has slipped into dysfunctional chaos:

The first dysfunctional marriage

Instead of listening to God and leading his wife in godliness, the man listens to his headstrong wife. Then he blames her (and God), refusing to accept responsibility (Gen 3:1217). Instead of listening to her husband, the wife falls for Satan’s lies and leads her husband into sin (Gen 3:1). She blames the snake for her conduct (Gen 3:13). Nancy Guthrie paints an accurate picture of the original dysfunctional marriage,

“Eve should have run screaming through the garden to report this rebellion against God to her protector, Adam. Adam should have protected his wife and defended God by confronting Satan’s twisting of God’s clear word…Instead, Eve listened to the Serpent. Adam listened to Eve. And no one listened to God.”

And so, instead of husbands and wives enjoying one-flesh intimacy (Gen 2:23), sex is abused, neglected, used outside of marriage and replaced with pornography. Instead of being naked and not ashamed (Gen 2:25), a husband and wife naturally hurt and hide from each other, and from God. We try to justify our guilt (Gen 3:7). Instead of nourishing his wife as he would his own body, a husband is aggressive and domineering towards her. He treats her harshly, or he passively stands by and allows her to control him like a lapdog.

Genesis 3:16 reminds us that unless the Spirit of God breathes new life into our hearts and our marriages, they’re hardwired for disaster. ‘Shame and blame’ will inevitably replace ‘leave and cleave’. It’s our default position in relationships.

“If only Eve had stood up to Satan’s lies”, we say! “Why did she not just listen to God and trust what He told her?”

Instead Eve “took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6). These are terrible words to read, but is this not the very same temptation that faces us in our own marriages? Is it not easier to take and eat whatever we want, rather than to ‘have and hold’ our spouse, come what may?

Same temptation.

Listen to the echoes of the first temptation in regard to our own marriage:

Did God actually say I shouldn’t marry an unbeliever? (2 Cor 6:14-15; 1 Cor 7:39)

Did God actually say I should be faithful to my marriage vows when we’ve fallen out of love? (Mark 10:9)

Did God actually say I’m supposed to forgive her when she’s hurt me again and again? (Col 3:13)

Did God actually say that I should respect and submit to him? (Eph 5:23-24; 1 Peter 3:1)

Did God actually say that I should love, lead and lay down my life for her? (Eph 5:25-28)

Did God actually say that ‘love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’? (1 Cor 13:7)

Did God actually say I shouldn’t go to bed angry? (Eph 4:26)

Did God actually say that our bodies belong to each another? (1 Cor 7:5)

Surely not, Lord! You obviously don’t know who I’m married to!

Same destroyer

Let’s remember that Satan, our culture, and our natures are assaulting marriage from every side, from inside and out. Can you hear Satan’s cunning deceptions behind these trendy slogans and book titles?

You’re you own moral compass! Find your truth! When you love yourself first, life will take care of the rest! Untamed! Fierce, Free and Full of Fire: The guide to being glorious You! Love is love!

The sad thing is that no amount of love and fire and ‘glorious You’ can set you free from the consequences and power of sin in your life. Only Jesus can set us free from its prison cell (John 8:34-36). And even if yours is a Christian marriage, you may be eating the bitter fruit of turning away from God and being ruled by your own wants rather than what God has said. It’s never too late to turn back. It’s never too late to be a godly spouse or to build a godly marriage.

Today, the real question I want to leave with you is this: Are you going to allow God to define what is good and what is evil in your marriage, or are you going to hold the reins and decide these matters for yourself? This is no small thing. It was Adam and Eve’s response to this very question that changed the course of the whole world. It is our response to the same question that will determine the course of our marriage.

Join us next week as we look at God’s laws for a healthy marriage.

Let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross to break the penalty and power of sin in our lives. We don’t want to live as slaves to our own desires anymore. Show us the hidden sin of self-righteousness knocking at the door of our hearts. Teach us to forgive as you forgave us. Help us to obey your word instead of deciding for ourselves what is good or bad for our marriage. May your love spill out of our hearts, so that we may cherish each other. Soften our hearts, so that we may learn ‘to have and to hold one other’ until death parts us. Amen.

The weakest saint upon his knees

Series: P.P.E for the Christian life, By Rosie Moore

Through prayer, even the weakest Christian gains renewed energy and strength for the battle.

“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Eph 6:18-20).

Knowing our enemy and putting on Christ’s armour are not enough. The Christian soldier is also an ambassador of the Lord Jesus, and we need to declare his gospel boldly and fearlessly. Paul was doing it from prison even as he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. We need the energy to face the Enemy and use the equipment we’ve been given. Prayer is the power behind all the Christian’s armour. When we neglect to pray, or when our prayers are sporadic, meaningless or self-obsessed, we will never have victory in our battle with Satan. That’s why, straight after Paul’s list of the spiritual armour in Ephesians 6, he appeals to Christians to pray, including to pray for himself and other saints. He set us a wonderful example of how to do this, even in chains, in a cold prison cell (Eph 3:14-19). Today let’s look the vital energy behind the armour as we wrap up our series on spiritual warfare.

Satan trembles when we pray

William Cowper, who lived in the 1700’s, is remembered today for his theologically-rich hymns and poetry, which have blessed countless Christians with hope and comfort. Ironically, Cowper himself struggled with mental illness and severe depression for most of his life. With the help of his faithful friend John Newton, Cowper was engaged in a fierce spiritual battle over despondency for most of his life. This is what he wrote about the power of prayer for the Christian soldier:

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;

Prayer keeps the Christian’s armour bright;

And Satan trembles when he sees

The weakest saint upon his knees.

The weakest saint upon his knees

The way that Paul writes Ephesians 6:18-20 in the Greek, tells us that prayer is the mechanism by which we put on all the armour of Christ. In other words, in order to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, gospel shoes, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, we must pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is how we get dressed for battle!

There is nothing inherently strong about a soldier of Christ. To the contrary, each and every Jesus follower is weak and vulnerable, while the devil is a devouring lion (1 Peter 5:8). But Paul reminds us that when properly equipped, we can “be strong in the Lord and His mighty power” (Eph 6:10). Through prayer, even the weakest Christian gains renewed energy and strength for the battle. And the most potent prayer is the kind that perseveres, like a nagging child that won’t relent. It is the kind of prayer that “keeps on praying, on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”, even when answers seem delayed or impossible (Eph 6:18).

We dare not venture out even a single day without prayer, thinking to ourselves:

“I don’t have time to pray. I’ll just let go and let God today. I’m sure He’s got this covered.” Or, “I’ve had victory over this battle once before. Surely I’m strong and experienced enough to do it again?”

No, we are never strong or wise enough to have victory over Satan’s schemes without prayer. We will never do God’s work without prayer. Nor can we ever sit back and expect God to work out his purposes and show us His will, without prayer. Paul is emphatic that we are personally responsible to pray:

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13).

The habit of prayer

Prayer is vital to working out our salvation each day, over a lifetime. Prayer is how we respond to what the Holy Spirit has taught us in the Bible. Prayer is our daily surrender to Christ as Lord, where we offer Him every nook and cranny of our lives to be re-calibrated. When we pray, we invite the Holy Spirit to convict and shape us into godly people. That is how we ‘pray in the Spirit’.

As a child growing up, the most vivid picture I have of my parents, is them kneeling together and praying at their bedside, every morning. I knew that they were praying for me and my siblings and for all the concerns of the day. Before breakfast and all their important duties, I knew that my mum and dad had met with the Lord. I knew that they were on the same page in their marriage and that God was the centre pivot of their lives and our family. Seeing this daily habit of prayer gave me great security and showed me how to dress in Christ’s armour in the real, everyday struggle of life.

When we pray as a daily habit, we don’t just babble or recite a prayer, or ask God to bless us or others in some vague way. We say something, not nothing! We speak directly to our heavenly Father, about real and specific details.

The posture of prayer

We don’t have to kneel when we pray, but kneeling is a posture of reverance and awe. Kneeling says that we understand the greatness of the Holy, wonderful God we are addressing and our own sinful, frail humanity. Using heartfelt but ordinary words, we remember who God is, and then place our little story within the big story of His kingdom and reign. When we pray, we forget about worshipping ourselves and nursing our grievances. Instead, we direct our praise and thanks to the caring Creator who made us and gave his life for us. And as we show Him gratitude, our vision of the world becomes clearer. We begin to see ourselves and our neighbour through a different lens. Through prayer, creatures practise humble surrender in a world that we cannot control. We learn to say to God, “Thy will be done, not mine.”

Thankful prayers produce perspective and peace in us (Phil 4:6-7).

When we pray, we offer the Lord our opportunities, gifts, struggles and responsibilities, to be used for His glory. We lay down our loved ones, our sins, questions, doubts, temptations and troubles, which weigh heavily on us. We entrust to God the groaning world in which we live. We ask the Lord to re-align our emotions and ambitions, to make them more accurate and less selfish.

An Ambassador in chains

When we pray, we remember that we are not masters of our fate after all, but rather, as Paul puts it, ‘an ambassador in chains’. Paul was literally stripped of all his rights, freedoms and personal ambitions in a prison cell when he wrote this. But if even Paul knew his dependency on prayer, how can we possibly rely on our own experience, eloquence and training to “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19-20)? You and I are never strong or wise enough to be Christ’s faithful ambassadors, but even the weakest saint upon his knees can make Satan tremble.

It was what Daniel did, as an old man in Babylon, when “he got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). Daniel had built a habit of prayer over a lifetime. He had a relationship with Yahweh. That’s why, when his great test came, he could defy the King’s edict by continuing to pray, as he’d always done.

Through the practice of prayer, God equips and prepares us for battle one day at a time, over a lifetime.

All kinds of prayers and requests

In the NIV, Paul says to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph 6:18 NIV).

Apart from habitual prayer, we must also ‘pray continually’ (1 Thess 5:17). That means anywhere and everywhere, because our prayers are urgent and necessary. It means we make quick, brief prayers our automatic response to every situation throughout the day. We silently pray before we read the Bible or talk to someone about Jesus. We spontaneously pray for wisdom when we face a hard choice (James 1:5), or when we need to demolish an idea that sets itself up against Christ (2 Cor 10:5). We are alert and prepared to pray whenever a friend calls for help. When we can’t sleep at night, we get up and pray like David prayed throughout the watches of the night (Ps 63:6). When I was at boarding school, I learnt to pray in toilet cubicles because there was no other place to be alone! Prayer is just speaking to God silently wherever we find ourselves, even on a busy taxi, along a noisy street, or in prison as in Paul’s case.

We should also pray “for all of the saints” (Eph 6:18), because all God’s people around the world are fighting the same battle we are. If they fail to resist Satan and his evil forces, it affects us all. Denominations don’t matter to the Lord, as the invisible Church of Christ transcends nations, time and space. So, if a fellow soldier falls, the devil gains one more foothold. But if a fellow soldier stands strong and declares the gospel fearlessly in spite of opposition, it advances the kingdom of God.

Potent prayer

Don’t doubt for a moment that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). Prayer is a fearsome weapon against the fury of Satan who “has gone to make war on those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:12; 17). Our prayers are like incense that rises before God, with powerful reverberations on earth. The symbolic language of Revelation is stunning: And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev 8:4-5).

Flashes of lightning and earthquakes! That’s how God regards our prayers and that’s what the prayers of the weakest saint can produce! Let’s stay alert and keep on praying, for “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Rev 22:12)

Sword of the Spirit

Bible reader resizedSeries: PPE for the Christian life, by Rosie Moore

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17-18).

When I was a child, my dad read C.S Lewis’s Narnia series to me several times over. I never forget what Aslan told Jill Pole in her quest to find a lost prince in The Silver Chair:

“Stand still. In a moment I will blow. But first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart, and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” (Aslan, The Silver Chair).

“Pay no attention to appearances”

Jill Pole and her group started well on their quest to find a lost prince, but on the journey many dangers befell them. They veered off the route; narrowly escaped being eaten by giants; and then failed to recognize the prince even when they came face to face with him. Strangely, although Jill learned Aslan’s signs, she couldn’t remember them when the world around her became threatening and confusing. When the Narnian air became thick and everything was hazy, Jill began to doubt what Aslan had clearly revealed to her to ensure that she would safely reach her destination. That’s precisely when she had to pay no attention to appearances and just remember what Aslan had told her.

I can relate to Jill. Sometimes, clever arguments and personal fears have caused me to forget even the clearest and simplest of God’s commands, like “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Or to doubt the very first truth that I ever memorized as a pre-schooler, “We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Or to believe the crystal clear, simple truth, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

That’s why, in Deuteronomy, God gives a command which echoes Aslan’s, directed to parents as they raise their children:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.   Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut 6:4-9).

This command was given to parents so that their children might also remember the Lord and follow his way. It’s based on the assumption that parents know and love the commands of God. Remember, when Moses spoke this final sermon, the people didn’t have Bibles in their pews and were not reading along from a text. They had to bury the word of the Lord deep in their hearts and, in Aslan’s words, “Remember, remember, remember.”

“Remember, remember, remember”

I wonder why Aslan and Moses made such a big deal of remembering? I think perhaps because we are prone to forget what God has said in the Bible. And when we forget, we get confused and lost in this world of suffering and hardship. We begin to believe that there are shortcuts to the life we want and we lose our compass for how we should live for Christ day-by-day. Over time, an unused sword becomes a blunt and useless stick of metal. Without the sword of the Holy Spirit, we will believe Satan’s lies the moment we face doubt, discouragement and danger in our lives. It is when the air is thick around us that we need to remember most.

Satan will offer us a crown without a cross. He will tempt us to believe that we can experience joy without also repenting of our sin, denying ourselves and suffering for his name. He will offer us earthly redemption instead of Christ’s redemption. He will offer freedom apart from God’s commands. He will make us believe that we can worship God without serving him too (Matt 6:19-21); that we can blame others instead of taking responsibility for our own rebellion (Gen 3:12-13).

But in Satan’s many assaults against a Christian, the devil will employ a predictable tactic. He will manipulate God’s Word to confuse and deceive us, because he is the master of illusion. He also fears the power of the sword that Christ places in the hands of every believer, young and old. This weapon is the Bible.

Twisted Scripture

Last week we saw that Satan is a liar and a vicious destroyer, disguised as an angel of light. But he is also a sleight-of- hand magician who knows how to twist Scripture. His servants will flip and manipulate the clear Word of God to make it say what it was never intended to say (Acts 20:28-30). Do you remember when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness? His quotation of Psalm 91 was not incorrect, but his application and meaning were utterly contorted (Luke 4:9-12). Satan knows the Bible, but Christ’s responses are a perfect demonstration of how to use the sword of the Spirit against the enemy (Luke 4:12). It is only when we correctly handle the Bible that we will resist his fake teachings.

Fierce wolves

Luke shows us Satan’s tactics in Acts 20, where Paul is warning the elders of the Ephesian church about fierce wolves that would come in among them, not sparing the flock. Paul continues to remind today’s church that “from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-31). In contrast, Paul never shrunk back from declaring to them “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27-28), because this is how a true shepherd must take care of the church of Christ. It is only the ‘whole counsel of God’ that will protect the church against false teachers who manipulate the Bible to suit themselves.

The whole counsel of God

In fact, the New Testament is peppered with warnings about imposters and false prophets who, motivated by greed, will secretly bring in strange heresies, exploiting believers with false words (2 Tim 3:131 John 4:1; 2 Peter:1-3). Their purpose is not to nourish the church and build mature believers, but rather to create rifts between people and obstacles to oppose the doctrine of Christ (Rom 16:17). Let’s not veer off course by listening to these people.

Beware of Bible apps and teachers who separate single verses and stories from the rest of Scripture. Beware of preachers who extract texts that suit them and ignore what doesn’t suit them, creating arguments that sound plausible, but are actually delusions (Col 2:4). Beware of those who love to read their own beliefs and assumptions into Scripture, instead of the other way round. Beware of “diverse and strange teachings” (Heb 13:9), which are man-centred, crowd-pleasing, ear-tickling and self-affirming (2 Tim 4:3).

Every one of us can follow three basic rules of interpretation to help us discern the true from the fake: 1) Understand the context of a passage. 2) Read each text against the rest of Scripture. 3) Allow clear passages to interpret more ambiguous ones. A Study Bible is a great tool to help you to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). Let’s all be like the Berean Christians, who examined the Scriptures daily to check for themselves if what the apostles were saying was true (Acts 17:11).

Tool of the trade

The Holy Spirit has given us the Bible as the tool of our trade and our sword for the fight. If received with a soft heart, we are assured that Scripture will thoroughly equip us for every good work that the Lord has planned for us (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible will also guard us against deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim 3:13). I’m no theologian and have never studied at seminary, but I delight in the fact that the disciples were unschooled, ordinary men who had spent time with Jesus (Acts 4:13). That is why I write The God Walk week after week. This simple discipline of reading, understanding and obeying the Bible will enable each of us to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of…to know the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14). That is the way we sharpen our sword against the father of lies and learn how to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.