Ephesians 5:31-33 — Conversations with God

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Lord Jesus, everything You have created seems to have a paradigm in heaven.  And here You are saying through the apostle Paul that our marriages are analogous to Your marriage to the church.  Our marriages are meant to picture Your relationship to us.  Just as we have become one flesh through marriage, you have become one with Your church.  There is this unbreakable bond you have with us that You will never abandon.

We are to submit to You as our “husband” and follow Your direction.  And You love us enough to die for us and have actually done that.  So we should mimic You in our marriages and demonstrate to the world what it means to be in relationship with You.  Why would You tie Your image to our weak attempts at modeling our relationships after You?  You know how much we have failed and are going to fail.  Does this not frustrate You endlessly?

Somehow You value this connection and are unwilling to back off from calling us to imitate You.  You are always modeling what it means for us to love one another and be committed to each other and how order should be kept in a chaotic world.  You’re our marriage manual, our marriage Counselor and Mentor by example.  Your interaction with Your church is our couple therapy.

Make my marriage a credit to Your character.

Ephesians 5:25-30 — Conversations with God

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.

Lord Jesus, it doesn’t get much clearer than this!  You love Your church, Your bride, and You want us to love our brides with you as a model and pattern.  I know there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence.  I can’t make my wife holy.  My life in sacrifice for hers can only be effective on the physical and emotional level.  It won’t save her soul eternally.

But I can be concerned about her spiritual growth as she can mine.  I can be of help to her in that area as much as I am spiritually mature.  I can seek to help her develop to the maximum of her potential as You have gifted her and developed in her unique talents.  I can sacrifice myself for this cause because I love her with Your love.

I can treat her as if she is me and I am great at giving myself credit for the slightest of good motives, rationale for the most egregious of sins, and pampering when I am the least bit uncomfortable.  If I give myself the benefit of the doubt, I must do so for her as well.

Pretty simple…pretty hard!  Help me, Lord Jesus.  You’re my only hope.

Ephesians 5:22-24 — Conversations with God

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Lord Jesus, I’m a husband and so are You.  My wife is to be subject to me as we, the church, are to You.  I dare say my wife has done a way better job of being subject to me than the church has to You.  That is as much a praise of my wonderful wife as it is an indictment of me as a part of Your church.  You have earned the right to have a submissive “wife” by becoming our Savior.  Forgive us for not being more submissive and obedient.

I don’t know, Lord, that I have earned my wife’s submission, but she has freely given it and trusted me beyond my trustworthiness.  Perhaps that trust has helped me become more trustworthy.  I want to be as wise and loving a leader of her as You are of us.

Being a follower of someone else, whose leadership might result in financial failures, unhealthy responses to stress, and less than godly paths, is an exercise in trusting You, really.  You are the one who put people in authority in our lives.  You know how subject to failure all leaders are, especially husbands.  Help my wife by helping me be a more stalwart “head” to her, and in so doing help me be a better, more submissive “spouse” to You.

Lessons From the Old Testament: God and Terrible Marriages

LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.
Image via Wikipedia

Yahweh has had one of the worst marriages possible!  Jeremiah 3 chronicles some of it:

“If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again?  Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—would you now return to me?” declares the LORD.  During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:1,6-10)

Things got so bad between Yahweh and Israel, the northern part of Israel that split from Judah and formed its own kingdom, that He divorced her.  The practical import of this is that He allowed a foreign nation, Assyria, to take Israel captive and exile many of her inhabitants in Assyria’s other conquered territories.  The real penalty for adultery was death, but Yahweh instead divorced Israel and then was ready to go against His own prescription for healthy marriages in Israel (found in Deuteronomy 24:1-3) and remarry her.  The same offer was available for Judah, the southern part of the once unified kingdom of Israel, but it had no affect.  Jeremiah is told to prophesy her “divorce” as well.  This did indeed happen in Jeremiah’s lifetime when Babylon conquered Judah and exiled many of her residents.

So God has had a terrible marriage to Israel/Judah.   And we may suppose that His current wife, the Church, hasn’t been a complete blessing to Him either.

How has God responded?  Well, in one case, Israel/Judah, things got so bad He felt the necessity of divorcing.  God is a divorcing husband!  He didn’t want to do it.  He gave numerous opportunities for his bride to repent.  And I would suggest that this is what any husband or wife ought to do upon discovering unfaithfulness in one’s spouse.  This process would be greatly helped by loving counselors being involved and the prayers of loved ones and friends.  But there may come a time when the unfaithfulness cannot be stopped or it is so egregious or flagrant that divorce is best worst option.  God believed so.  This still did not preclude the possibility of restoration, but only God can make an erring spouse repentant, and His grace is desperately needed should restoration be a consideration.  Jesus does not require restoration (Matthew 19:1-12), but He certainly desired it, if possible (Matthew 18:15-17).

As for the church, Paul warns that individual churches can be spit out of his mouth (Revelation 3:14-22).  It seems, however, since the Church, as a whole, is now living under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8), that we are no longer susceptible to divorce.  Though it seems the Church has been allowed to languish in idolatry for long periods of time, God has always called her back and brought her to repentance and restoration.  Individual congregations may, however, lose their “lampstand” (Revelation 2:5).  There is the promise, however, in such a church, that one who is willing to open the door to a knocking Jesus may usher in the restoration of this church under Jesus’ loving direction (Revelation 3:20).

What does this mean for our terrible marriages?  We must look to God for the same power to love that He has displayed toward his erring spouse.  We must love the way He loves even when, especially when, what we are getting in return is so painful.  After all, what does it mean to love someone if you don’t love them when they are giving you nothing but pain in return (Matthew 5:43-48)?

Related Articles: 

Four Views on Divorce and Remarriage (The Counseling Moment) ; The Truth About Divorce (The Counseling Moment); A Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage (The Counseling Moment); I Stayed (The Counseling Moment); Does God Want Me in a Bad Marriage? (The Counseling Moment); Lessons From the Old Testament: Passionate Marriages (Thimble Full of Theology for Daily Living)

Lessons From the Old Testament: Passionate Marriages

What is God’s standard for marriage?  What is it He desires to see as a reflection of His relationship to His people in the lives of married couples?  Surely He requires us to keep our vow of lifelong commitment, but is He satisfied if we tough it out in miserable perseverance, not feeling loved by or loving our spouse?  Not according to the Old Testament.

Proverbs 5:19 says, “A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.”  Here Solomon is encouraging his son(s) not to resort to a relationship outside marriage.  The way of the adulterer is death (5:5).  But it is not enough to simply steel ourselves against the desires of our hearts for a more romantic, more exciting relationship than we consider our marriage to be.  Instead, we must put the passion (or better, keep it stoked) in our marriage.

The language Solomon uses here is the language of intoxication.  The idea behind being “captivated” by my spouse’s love is that I am rocking and  reeling and drunkenness over how special my spouse’s love is.  That is God’s standard for marriage!  But how do I get that, or keep that.  I know what it feels like because that is how I started my marriage.  But what keeps that intoxication going?  What must I keep drinking to get drunk on love?

The Song of Solomon gives us the answer.  My take on the message of this Song of Songs is that romantic love is wonderful, powerful and noble when harnessed to commitment, but all such relationships will have their problems.  That is the realism of God and the realism of marriage.  Even God’s marriage to us is marked with such realism.  But of interest to us immediately is how this couple manages to keep the fires going.

Intimacy!!!  They are drunk on intimacy! They feed on intimacy.  They primarily feed on emotional intimacy in the context of sexual intimacy.   How do they do this?  They talk to each other.

They talk to each other!  Did you get that?  And the way they talk to each other is most important.  They do at least three things in this regard:

They affirm each other over and over.   There might be some negative things to say to each other, but they focus on the things they like about each other.  Of course, they do it in terms that we would not use in our culture (“I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses,” 1:9),  but you get the point.  This is their habit and their commitment.

They talk to each other when they make love.  I’m not trying to get too explicit here nor do I think that there is some prescription for how one has to talk before or during sex, but so much of our sexual interaction can feel selfish if we are not really focused on our partner.  Affirmation during love making puts sexual intimacy in the proper realm of emotional intimacy.  Now it is not just an expression of our yearnings, but of our love, as well.

They affirm the high value of their relationship.  After an argument, they affirm the value of their marriage (chapters 4&5).  In their recounting of the history of their relationship they affirm the value of their marriage and their love for each other (chapter 8). 

Place me like a seal over your heart,
   like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
   its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
   like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
   rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
   all the wealth of one’s house for love,
   it would be utterly scorned. (8:5-7)

Lessons From the Old Testament: What is the purpose of the Law?

The Ten Commandments, In SVG
Image via Wikipedia

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Why did God give Israel the Law?  In Exodus 19 we Israel being prepared by God to receive His law and to make a covenant with Him based on that law.  As we look through the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, the books of Moses, we see a lot of attention devoted to the Law and its exposition.  One might get the impression that the way to have a right relationship with Yahweh is through obedience to His commands.  But we need to make some careful observations in this regard.

If we simply think of our relationship with God like we would any relationship, it is obvious that the way two parties behave toward one another greatly determines the quality of any relationship.  If in my marriage I do not treat my spouse with respect and kindness, or if I treat others who matter to my spouse in ways that hurt them, I will not be in good relationship with my spouse.  There are “laws”, if you will, that govern our relationship.  But there is something else that is governing our relationship, and that is a promise.

When I married I made a covenant with my spouse, and she with me, to love each other under all circumstances.  This promise supercedes questions of behavior.  It does not make them irrelevant, of course.  If I want to have a happy marriage I cannot depend on the fact that we made promises to each other and then live a self-centered life disregarding how my behavior affects my spouse.  There will be times when we will fail to love one another and the promises we made will cover for that, but we need a way to know how to please each other, and that is the function of the behavioral “laws” that govern marriage.

And so it is with God.  But there is something else.  Not only must I know how to live in such a way that God is honored by my behavior, I must live in such a way that others are given a clear picture of what it means to be in relationship with God.  After all, He wants this kind of relationship with all humans.  He commissioned Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation so that all peoples might see who He is and might be drawn to Him.  We are His representatives.  So keeping the Law of God enables us to make clear what His character is and what it means to live in relationship with Him.

There is yet another more subtle function of the Law.  When Israel is told that God wants to meet with them and enter into covenant, they confidently assert, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” (Exodus 19:8)  We are privy to what happens merely some days later.  When Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law they have promised to keep, the people persuade Aaron to make an idol for worship (Exodus 32).  One design of the Law is to show us that we do not have it in us to keep God’s laws.  We desperately need His help to be obedient to His covenant with us.

So the Law shows us how to have a happy relationship with God, shows us how to represent Him to the world, and teaches us to depend on Him for ability to obey.  But there is one more function of the Law.  Because the law of God represents His knowledge of how human beings best function, the law of God becomes our prescription for personal happiness.  God knows that if I do not steal, I will be much happier.  I will be much happier if I honor my parents, love others instead of being consumed with hatred for them, remain faithful to my spouse and not yield to coveting what others have.

You and I have witnessed this over and over again.  Though it may seem that we get benefit from lying or not taking a sabbath, in the end we are harmed, not only with regard to personal prosperity and peace, but in regard to the health of our own souls.  God loves us enough to tell us what will make us most healthy and alive.  Will we trust Him and keep His laws?

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Case for Monogamy

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.

If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
(Genesis 4:19,23,24)

There is no statement of condemnation by God for the fact that Lamech takes two wives.  The author of Genesis is more subtle than that.  What we get is a depiction of the character of Lamech that leads us to believe that his arrogance extends to his marriages.  He’s a one-upper.  He even wants to one-up his father.  If dad was avenged seven times, he will be avenged seventy-seven times.  If a man wounds him, he is justified in killing him.  No eye for an eye here.

But the original pattern was established in the garden.  God made one woman for the man, one wife, not two or more.  Jesus tells us that this also establishes God’s ideal for no divorce (Matthew 19).  The New Testament apostles affirm monogamy as the ideal when they make the requirement for elders/pastors that they be only the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).  The leaders must set the precedent for right living.

But throughout the Old Testament we see several individuals, especially some of our heroes to whom we look up, engaged in multiple marriages.   Jacob has two wives and a couple of secondary wives, Moses takes a couple of wives (Numbers 12:1), and with the advent of the kingship David and especially Solomon go a little crazy.  Undoubtedly they are making alliances through these marriages, especially Solomon.  But Moses had conveyed God’s standard in Deuteronomy 17:

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.  (verses 16,17)

Here God gives a reason for not multiplying wives for kings.  The alliances they make through their marriages will undoubtedly introduce pagan religion into their households.  And the case of Solomon proves God’s point.  Solomon begins to worship with his pagan wives according to their idolatrous religions.  He turns from Yahweh.  This is one of the ways the Bible tells us God’s that having more than one wife is not a good thing.

The other way the Bible does this is by showing us the practical problems created by polygamy.  For example, Jacob obviously favors one wife over another and the children of one wife over the others.  The disarray this introduces into his family is devastating.  There is constant competition between the wives and the kids suffer as well (see Genesis 29-35).  We see the same story in the lives of Elkanah and his wives Hannah and Peninnah.  The pain caused by the obvious favoritism Elkanah had for Hannah results in Peninnah using her own ability to have children to torment Hannah.

There are no good examples of polygamy in the Bible, no situations where polygamy is presented in a favorable light.  Though God does not come down hard on Jacob or Moses or David for having more than one wife, He does not condone it.  Are nations justified, then, in outlawing polygamy?  Nations can legislate however they desire in compliance with Biblical ideals.  It is in the best interest of their citizens not to allow polygamy.  The same difficulties seen in the Biblical accounts of polygamous marriages will be repeated in modern day marriages.  It is the hardness of men’s hearts that promotes multiple spouses.

However, you can bet that the appetite of many men (and not a few women) for multiple sexual partners and what some consider the benefits of having larger households with multiple spouses will lead citizens to appeal for polygamy to be allowed.  The Bible is a record of God’s best practices for human beings.  His love for us leads Him to tell us what is best for our lives and what leads to the greatest opportunity for blessing in our lives.  Monogamy is just such an opportunity.