Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Positive Spin on Adultery

HA! I got you to read the article, didn't I? No, of course there's no positive spin on the act of adultery. None whatsoever. But, hopefully I can help you to see what I mean when I say "a positive spin."

When I began my study of the 7th commandment these past few weeks preparing for this Sunday's lesson, I realized I had to start with a definition of adultery. And, once there, I was forced to define marriage. Without an understanding of the underlying framework, the commandment is worthless to us as Christians. So, what is marriage? No. Let me restate: what was marriage to the hearers of this covenant in 1500 BC?

Marriage was a societal institution. It protected women, giving them an identity and a purpose in society not elsewhere realized. It provided much benefit to men--domestic support, sexual pleasure, and a general status of having "grown up" into manhood. It completed both partners. And, most of all, it did all of this because that's how it was designed by God. The two become one, they complete one another, they interact with one another in a way that (ideally) preserves equality without disregarding their inherent differences.

And, if you haven't caught on, God didn't just do this so we could all have sex and make babies. Marriage is a picture of God's relationship to Israel. In unity with Him Israel found an identity and purpose not elsewhere realized. God receives their ministry, their worship, and is glorified on earth through Israel. It delighted God to love Israel. And, Israel was treasured and shown to be valuable even while they were submitted to God's authority.

Does that last part sound impossible? Does it sound impractical and chauvinistic to think that my wife can submit to me and glorify me and yet not be devalued in the process? I hope not. Jesus did it. Remember, He's submitted to the Father in hierarchy but nonetheless exalted and God Himself. (1 Corinthians 11, and for more good reading on the subject read Wives and Husbands)

So, that brings us to the issue of adultery, then. What is adultery? It's thumbing one's nose at the covenant of marriage. It's a bride saying to her husband, "I will disgrace you, not serve you." It's a husband saying to his bride, "The respect of you alone is not enough for me, I will find others and build a harem." Adultery disrespects the covenant God made with Israel. It defiles it. It dishonors it. It violates it.

So what are we to do? Is it enough that we do not commit adultery? Can we just abstain and be safe? Israel tried this. They drew their lines and found their loop holes. "I'll just think about it, but not act." One man might think. Or, "I'll act privately as a measure of controlling my lusts." another might have concluded. But Jesus came along and closed off the loop holes. He cut out the comfort zone.
"Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away... And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away." -- Matthew 5:28-30
Oh, great. Now what can I do. Here's an idea: take a positive spin on adultery. When we focus on what we ought not do, we tend to forget the fervor with which we ought to do many things. Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Submit to your husband as to the Lord. Have sex often. Enjoy one another's company. In short: invest passionately in your marriage. Do not commit adultery, instead, "Rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:18).

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Friday, May 29, 2009

In My Fathers House There Are Many Rooms...

This post comes in response to a question posed by Tabatha at AskScripture.com. Tabatha (a self-proclaimed Jew) writes:
There is, I seem to recall, a beautiful piece of writing in the Christian bible; I don't know all of it but it starts with, I think: 'My father's house has many mansions'...?

I've always liked it, though I don't remember where I first read or heard it. It would just be great to learn a bit about the full piece of text?

How do you interpret that first line?

Thanks for asking, Tabatha. I have to admit that I'm hesitant at first--knowing from our past exchanges that you're much more familiar with Jewish tradition than I--to add my commentary on this passage, but I trust that what the Lord has to say through this passage will not be hindered by my commentary. I hope, in fact, that He uses me to illuminate in a way that's glorifying to Him.

The passage comes from John 14:2, during what is called the Passion Week that led up to Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus had predicted his own death in chapter 12, to His own disciples' dismay. Then, in the scene that immediately precedes this text, Jesus then foretells that it will be the denial and betrayal of His own disciples that will lead to His death. Peter, specifically, says He will "follow" Jesus where He goes--which is of course, to death--but Jesus predicts just the opposite for Peter.

Now, we also know from the other parallel accounts of this occasion (the synoptic Gospels) that it was at this very meal where Jesus declares the "New Covenant" in His blood. This brings us, at last to the context of the house and the rooms. One of the clearest descriptions of the old and new covenants is found in Jeremiah 31:32, where God describes the new covenant in this way:
"It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"

Both covenants, New and Old are likened to that of marriage. God was a "husband" to Israel, leading them by the hand--an affectionate term. Likewise, the Church is called the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5:32. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the covenant of marriage is modeled after God's covenant with His people, rather than that His covenant is modeled after marriage. (See The Nuptial Gospel for deeper discussion)

And so, at last I've laid the contextual groundwork for dissecting the passage of Scripture in question. In John 14:1-4, Jesus tells his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Although the Latin Vulgate and the King James versions both translated "rooms" as "mansions"--the better understanding would be "rooms." Literally, it's a dwelling place. But, whereas we consider a dwelling place to be it's own freestanding home, not so in the lower classes of this culture--such as the fisherman, carpenters, and so on. The custom practice was for a bridegroom to work during the year of his engagement on building a new addition, like a lean-to, onto his father's house. This would be where he and his new bride would live in the years after their marriage until, hopefully, someday he could begin his own family or inherit his father's house.

Jesus' message here to His disciples is that, though He is leaving them for a while, He is still their groom. He goes to prepare a place for them in the Father's house. Similar to the first covenant, which was established by the blood of a bull and mediated through Moses, Jesus here is giving a poignant metaphor for the love and care that is represented in the New Covenant, which He was about to confirm by His own blood (Luke 22:20) and would mediate Himself as our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-15).

And if He is departing temporarily, but remains their promised groom, then He certainly will return for them. That is the assurance He offers in verse 3. The eschatological meaning of this is still debated, but whether it is a pre-tribulation rapture that is in view, the descent of the new Jerusalem, or simply a metaphorical description of their reuniting at their own death, the end result cannot be mistaken. We will live in an everlasting loving relationship with God.

In the verses that follow, Jesus goes on to describe the mysterious relationship between Himself and God, their unity as one God-Head, and yet the distinction of Jesus as "the way" to the Father. For a more in depth look at this topic, refer to We Beheld His Glory, We Beheld His Glory Part II, Learning from the Kenosis, and Christ the Mediator.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Nuptial Gospel

By now, the term "social gospel" is pretty widely known, but what's the nuptial gospel? I'll tell you... it's a made up term I just invented. Or at least I think I did. Although I haven't done my due diligence in a trademark and patent search, it was new to me when I thought of it last night.

The social gospel, stripped of it's theologically debatable earmarks and connotations, is at it's heart the principal that THE gospel can (or should, depending on who you ask) be conveyed in the genuine care for those socially needy. This is a Biblical concept, no doubt. "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it" (James 2:15-16)?

In an opportunity that the Spirit created and led me through last night, I found a similar connection between the familiar (felt needs) and the unfamiliar (the gospel to non-believers) that proved very useful. What can a man understand and relate to the love of God if he is not "socially needy." In this case, the married man struggling in his marriage could relate to the covenant love that God has modeled for us.

"Why does she need to deserve your love?" I asked. He didn't quite know what to say. The answer was exceedingly obvious to him, doesn't everyone need to work to deserve love? I explained that her attitude and actions toward him would be more positively effected if he focused less on correcting her (or "parenting" her as he put it) but simply on loving her unconditionally and caring for her. From a psychological standpoint, it made sense to him how this was sound advice.

With that established, I decided now would be a good time to break all social etiquette and bring God up in the midst of a perfectly good normal conversation. "You know, that's what God does for us," I said. His blank stare let me know I had the opportunity to say more. I explained how marriage isn't just something we invented. If we (men, that is) made it up in our own wisdom, we wouldn't have chosen to be monogamous nor would we reserve sex for marriage. To this observation, I received a glowing agreement and buy in... the Spirit was moving.

"So, who made it up? God did. And He told us that, when it's working well, it mimics the way He loves us." Now we're getting somewhere. I was able to make the correlation between his appropriate love for his wife and God's love for his people. "It's nice for me to know that when I screw up, divorce isn't an option for God. That's why it's not an option for me and my wife."

Did He get on his knees and convert? No. But for the first time in a long time I was able to engage this friend in an overt and open discussion about God, His Son, and man that didn't end in a scoff at my faith or an awkward lack of response. So, am I ready to formulate the "nuptial gospel" as a church-wide strategy for conversions? No. But I did find it's effectiveness very moving, and I was grateful to God for giving me the words. I share it today because perhaps your looking for that open door with someone you know. Are they married? Give it a shot.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Wives & Husbands - Part II

A few weeks ago I wrote about a topic that is constantly on the forefront of doctrinal battles: The roles of Wives & Husbands. As a follow-up to that post, and to that topic in general, I just wanted to take a few minutes to share something that I found very moving during one of my recent times in the Word.

I love to write. So, often times as I'm doing self-study I end up writing thoughts. Some day, they may be compiled into a book. Who knows. In any case, there are those rare times when my fingers move faster than my mind and I just get passionate about a topic and "on a role" so to speak. Now, there are two possible outcomes of those excited and unbridled ramblings. It's either extremely inspiring and a magnificent art of writing or extremely undecipherable and worthy of a good hack at the backspace key. I'd like to think that this was the former.

I was considering the concept of a "treasured possession" and its significance in theology. Without really thinking, I began to type. I'd like to share with you the ramblings that left me with no other thought at the end other than to truly treasure my wife and to commend her publiclcy for the ways she honors me:

Like the Sons of God in Genesis 6, God chose a people with whom to initiate a covenant of love, and this covenant was also likened to marriage. God spoke to Israel, "Your Maker is your husband—the Lord almighty is His name" (Isaiah 54:5).

Why would God "marry" mere mortals? What prompts Him to display such amazing love and mercy? To be sure, we can never understand precisely why He chose to do so. What we do know, however, is that it was not based on Israel's merit. They did not deserve this covenant. God says, "It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity" (Deut. 9:5).

We also know God's intended effect for His choice. We know why, if not for their merit, He treasured His possession, Israel. "You will be my treasured possession," said the Lord, "…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6). A kingdom of priests, made holy and consecrated for His worship, Israel would bring praise to God on earth. They were instruments of His praise and worship. Just as a good wife reflects well upon the husband who loves her, so would the world look to Israel and see the glory of the one who "treasures" her.

Husbands, if you desire honor and respect from your wife, treasure her! Wives, honor your husband who treasures you.

For more detail, listen to my expository teaching on 1 Peter 3:1-7 in mp3 format.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

1 Peter 3:1-7 - Wives & Husbands

This Sunday, I'll be teaching out of 1 Peter 3:1-7 on wives and husbands. By God's providence, in my 3 years as leader of the 20-somethings ministry at Faith, the topic of male/female relationship (and related topics on church structure and function) has come up at least 4 times that I can remember. On top of that, I've spoken to a group of men at a CBMC meeting on the topic from 1 Corinthians 11. I don't believe in coincidence, so there's either something God wants me to learn about this or some message He really wants people to hear through me. Either way, I'm humbled and hope to exposit the text responsibly this weekend.

A few things stand out to me. First, as I so tactfully argued in my last post, is Peter's call for the 1st century Greek women to follow the example set out by a Semitic nomad from over 2000 years prior. Think about it, that's the same separation we have today from the setting in which 1 Peter was written. In a doctrinal debate where "cultural contextualization" comes up so often, I think we have to acknowledge the way in which Peter presents his teaching as what theologians call a "transcultural normative," which basically means it is a standard that transcends cultural barriers because of the overarching authority of God's intended order.

That said, we must also be responsible in this text to see what those transcultural principles are, and be careful not to add to them. Peter doesn't describe a 50's housewife here. He doesn't say women should be perceived in lesser value, nor give husbands permission to demean and manipulate wives (in fact, quite the opposite). But, implied in this passage (and stated explicitly elsewhere in the New Testament) is a truth about differing roles and a definite hierarchy—not hierarchy of value or worth, but of civil, familial, and even church authority.

Two more things stand out to me that build on this principle of complementary roles. First, Peter's praise for women "who put their hope in God," and his call for all women to "not give way to fear." Fear of what? Their husbands? Perhaps. What about social pressures to adorn oneself instead of relying on "inner beauty?" Women in the church who accept a Biblical view of their complementing roles need to be recognized, admired, edified, and encouraged because this behavior requires a faith and hope in God as their sole measure of worth, outside of worldly standards, to a degree that I declare many men struggle to have as they assess their own self-image.

And finally, the last verse really personalizes that call for recognition, admiration, edification, and encouragement and places it directly as a burden on each husband individually. Do not underestimate the magnitude of Peters first phrase, "in the same way." In the way that we place hope in God and strive for value according to His standards, we should lay down self, pride, personal agenda in pursuit of understanding and honoring our wives. Where the NIV uses "considerate", the NASB says to live "in an understanding way." And, lest there be any perversion of this hierarchical order into a hierarchy of value in God's sight, Peter assures that our believing wives are co-heirs and will receive an inheritance by the same measure as their husbands.

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