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Archive for the ‘marriage’ Category

How I relate to nagging

A repost from 2 years ago…

Nagging

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Emma’s posted up 22 reasons she nags.  Stunningly, none of them is “Glen shirks responsibility like it’s cryptonite.” That  was gracious of her.

In the interests of restoring some kind of balance, I thought I’d post 7 thoughts on how I relate to nagging. I’ll be stark in the interests of spotlighting the darkness and hopefully chasing it away a bit…

So… here’s how I relate to nagging…

1. I create it

We really do need to think about scheduling our holidays, and booking the car in for a service and fixing the back gate, etc, etc.  But I naturally flee responsibility.  The needs build up.  Something needs saying.

2.  I invite it

On a very foolish level (one that I’ll later despise in myself), I’d like to be mothered.  “You’re so much better with that detail stuff” is code for “I’d like to be kept as a little boy.”

3. I provoke it

Given my fear of responsibility, I will affect an exaggerated air of ease.  I project an image of stoner-cool (occasionally backed by Scriptural “fear nots”) so that I can label every sense of urgency (legitimate or otherwise) as uncool and ungodly.  It will be seriously tempting for Emma to burst this bubble with a good sharp nag.

4. I fear it

It’s not just that I’m being asked to engage with the thorns and thistles.  It’s not just that I’d rather withdraw and serve myself.  It’s that, deep down, I fear I don’t have what it takes to forge ahead in this world.  When she says “Can you fix it?” I hear “Can you be a man?” She doesn’t realise it but, in the male imagination, her simple requests are loaded with the weight of a thousand gender insecurities.

5. I withdraw from it

I tune it out the way a teenager tunes out his mother (see 2).  Of course this only provokes more (see 3).

6.  I hate it.

It confirms my deep suspicion that I am a little boy.  Yes, I know I wanted to be a little boy earlier.  But that’s why it grates so much!

7. I silence it

Anger works best.  Sometimes it just takes an exasperated sigh or a withering look.  Anything that shifts the focus onto her and how she’s being unreasonable, uncool, ungodly.  Other women aren’t like this.  Have you read Proverbs recently?

Men have locked up women as hysterics for centuries.  It’s happened throughout history, but it also happens in marriage.  We’re good at despising women for their needs.  Then they’re doubly good at despising themselves for them.

So she’ll slink off and maybe determine to “button it” (which some might call “submission”).  Or she’ll just fume.  Or she’ll deaden her hopes for the marriage, deaden her hopes at being heard, deaden her hopes that her man could ever lead.  She might well do all of the above.  But it’s only further fuel for the nagging urges.

The way out of the nagging cycle?

Both Ephesians 5 (v18) and Colossians 3 (v1-4) preface their marriage discussions with being filled with the Spirit!  Having a spiritual buoyancy from Christ.  My identity, status, honour, beloved-ness is NOT being threatened by my spouse.  I’ve got it all.  Laugh!

Now husbands, LOVE your wives and don’t be harsh.

Wives, trust your husbands and receive that love – the heart and soul of submission.

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Eph5 Wedding

Ephesians 5:19-33

There is to marriage a:

– Foundation

– Filling

– Family

– Fact

– Flow

TEXT

AUDIO

[audio http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/Eph5Wedding150613.mp3]

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In honour of our 10th Wedding Anniversary, here are some mawwiage classics:

Marriage is glorious…

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…a dream within a dream…

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…but let’s not get too mystical about it…

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…and let’s acknowledge differences between the genders…
(warning: one swear word)

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…and differences in how we approach relationships…

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So men, don’t say any of these things to your wives…

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In all the give and take, you’ll have to make priorities…

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…and find glory in the ordinary.

 

 

 

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Wedding-rings-300x274Here is Andrew Errington’s Same-sex marriage – what is really at issue?

His central point is that there are two visions of marriage going on behind the same-sex marriage debate.  One is set out in the Book of Common Prayer, in which the three purposes of marriage are:

  • the procreation and nurture of children
  • as the only proper place for sexual intimacy; and
  • for the sake of lifelong companionship.

As against this, the modern, romantic view of marriage disregards the first two purposes and is, essentially, two ‘grown-ups’, part-couple-part-sofa, watching boxed sets till they fancy another sofa-mate. (That’s my cynical overstatement, not Errington’s.  But marriage-as-companionship reminds me of Alain de Botton’s comment that love today is about finding someone in particular to save us from people in general).

One implication at the political level is this:

The success of same-sex marriage will not only marginalise the principle that biological parenthood is normal and best. It will mean that the discussion of whether children need their biological mother and father is over for good, because such a claim will be regarded as discriminatory against the necessarily non-biological parent or parents in a same-sex marriage. To be as equally married as anyone else requires that we never again question the various ways children enter these marriages, and whether these means of having children are best for children.

So there are some sobering implications for society at that level.  And if Christians want to exercise their political freedoms in pointing such things out they should be able to do so without being called bigots.  Calling Christians homophobic for having a view on sexuality is like calling Buddhists carnophobes for having a view on meat-eating. Errington’s contribution is a model of clear-thinking Christian engagement at that political level.

On this blog, Paul Blackham has written Legal Recognition of Marriage and the Way of Jesus. Without denying the gravity of the social shift we’re witnessing , Paul’s introduction gives a much needed sense of perspective:

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect…

Paul goes on to hold up the local church as the place where the true meaning of marriage needs to be fought for and displayed (read here).

(If the consequences for the Church of England concern you, Jonathan Chaplin offers a solution that works just fine in many other countries – it involves getting out of the registrar business!)

And if all this sounds like a retreat from the public sphere, let me assure you I’m all in favour of preaching the gospel publicly.  Not the fruits of the gospel, mind you.  The gospel.

Here’s an evangelistic talk seeking to make sense of the Christian vision of sex and sexuality (and these are some other posts: here and here).  You’ll notice that integral to these approaches are beliefs about Trinity, creation, fallen-ness and union with Christ.  It seems to me this is the properly Christian footing on which to stand. But these things are not at all obvious to anyone debating at the political level!

So, yes, let’s grieve for a society that has drifted so far from the gospel. Let’s prepare for more of the persecution that is the norm all over the world (not to mention in the Bible). Absolutely, we can be concerned for the freedom of Christian expression – maintaining our right to ‘appeal to Caesar’ as Paul does at points. But let’s not be shocked that new generations, so ignorant of the gospel, find gospel living incomprehensible. Of course they do. And let’s not be under any illusions about how to “fight” this trend.  Let’s look at our own marriages, our own churches.  And let’s get preaching the good news of Jesus.

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Emma and I have just done a seminar at Bible by the Beach. Emma told some of her story and I spoke about ‘The Big Story’ around pastoral care and addictions as well as ‘The Carer’s Story.’  Here are the notes I was working from:

A New Name Seminar 1

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Christ is our Identity

15 times “in Christ” in Ephesians. What a preposition: Can’t get closer than “IN”

You’ve died and gone to heaven. Ephesians 2:1…5-6.

“Seated in Christ” – nothing more to do – don’t need to move an inch.

What do we need? To know more of what we have: Ephesians 3:14ff

Don’t try to feel Christ in you – look to HIM.

To the degree you know yourself in Him, you will know Him in you.

Despite your feelings (or lack of them) it’s His relationship with the Father that’s central, not yours!  You can’t trust your feelings, you can’t even trust your faith.  Just know that Christ has faith for you.

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We’re All Addicts

People are not free, rational decision-makers

Ephesians 2:2-3: In pursuing the desires of our flesh we are enslaved to the devil.

You say “I’m not enslaved, I just do what I want.” Exactly – that’s your slavery. You keep feeding your foolish desires though they never actually give you what you want or need.

Human beings are not decision-making machines, calculating costs and benefits and acting rationally.  We’re foolish lovers who abandon ourselves to bad relationships that only enslave.

We’re not bound against our will. We choose what we choose. Nonetheless, we are trapped.

Addictions to substances or behaviours (like exercise or starvation) are obvious manifestations of this truth. But we’re all addicts. Ephesians 4:17-20

Both sufferers and carers need to know that the sufferer is not deciding to be unhealthy to spite everyone. Neither are they able to choose their way out of this. If you don’t understand the nature of their slavery you’ll only end up hating them. You’ll spend your whole time resenting them for their wilful rebellion and/or beating them with the will-power-stick to make them better.  If you don’t believe that we’re all addicts, you cannot love people through their self-destructive behaviours.

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Suffering is not a detour, it’s the way

We naturally think that the ultimate Christian life is one free from suffering and struggle. Of course we have to forget all about Jesus to believe that.

It’s not that God’s up there and we ascend through our strength.

Christ comes down because we have no strength of our own.

It’s not “There’s light at the end of the tunnel, here’s the 17 point plan for how you can get there in the end.”

It’s: “You’re dead in transgressions and sins. Utterly helpless.  And Christ joins you in the mess.”

If you find yourself in this kind of mess: Know that RIGHT HERE is where Christ is at work.  This isn’t a detour, it’s the way.

The Lord knows how to redeem the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).  Maybe you’ll be able to comfort others with the comfort you’ve received in your affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4).  But whatever happens, Christ is IN the situation.

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Redemption is Forward-Looking

When a loved one is suffering, it’s very natural to want to say “We just need to get the old Emma back.”  It’s very natural to look backwards.

I’m not so sure this is wise.  It seems to me that redemption works differently.  In Ephesians we get saved out of the pit and raised to a new height.  Salvation moves us onwards. In Exodus, the Israelites were brought out of Egypt and taken to the promised land.  In the wilderness they yearned for Egypt with its decent food and shelter.  But the Lord doesn’t take them back to the old place.  He takes them through the desert to a new place.  Their true home is ahead – a spacious land they haven’t yet seen.  This is the whole pattern of God’s dealings with us – from a garden but onto a city.

I think it’s a mistake to try to return to the way things were. It’s very possible that the way things were got you into this mess in the first place.  As you go through a wilderness time, the goal is a transformed you ahead (not the old you which you left behind.

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A New Name Seminar 2.

Church Comes First

Ephesians 4 comes before Ephesians 5!

We belong to each other in baptism before we belong to our spouses in marriage – or even to our children in families. Modern understandings of “coupledom” are very destructive.  We’re taught to cosy up to each other with a meal for two and a boxed set and we sing that old song from the 60’s “We’ll build a world of our own, which no-one else can share…”  But church has a claim on us before even our spouse does.

So quickly crazy can become normal when you try to manage by yourselves.  Far too often I coddled Emma in the darkness when I should have been moving her into the light of community.  That’s a hard judgement call when she becomes afraid of others and when she needs to know you’re safe.  But you need to be committed to life in community and to moving in that direction.

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One Flesh Gets Twisted

FLESH: Ephesians 2:3 5:31.  Those who deal with addictions will tell you that most addicts have an enabler somewhere in their life.

There are all sorts of dynamics that come into play when destructive behaviours flare up and if you’re close to the sufferer then it’s quite possible that you are some part of the problem.

Giving an addict what they want is not love. FEEDING HALF TON HUBBY is a chilling example of how an enabler can give the addict everything they want in the name of love.  It was the story of Patrick Deuel who weighed half a ton and his wife who could bring herself to stop feeding him. He was in hospital on nil by mouth and his wife would smuggle pizzas into the hospital. Why?  She said “Because I love him and it’s what he wants. I can’t say no to him if that’s what he wants.”  This kind of “love” can kill.

When Emma and I got married I basically thought that love meant saying “Yes” to my wife, no matter what.  If she wanted poison… well, what’s a loving husband to do but give her poison?  That’s a stupid analogy but only because it highlights the stupidity of what I was doing.  I took no lead in casting a vision for what healthy desires and directions might look like in our marriage.  In the absence of this Emma demanded more and more of her own way and I conceded more and more to drives which were ultimately self-destructive.

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You Need to Change

Ephesians 4:14-15 – we’re all being told lies every day.  We need “truthing in love” in church family to fight the lies. And that means that the carer needs to repent too.

This is hard to hear, but it’s vital. BOTH of you need to repent.  Can I suggest talking to a trusted Christian friend about the details of how you’re handling all this?  Don’t just get your friends to tell you There, there it must be so difficult – of course its difficult and of course you need sympathy and care.  But give friends permission to speak the truth in love: to challenge you on how you’re handling things.

When I did this in Christian community, I started to see a pattern emerging…

IMAGE: Dancefloor – Emma edging towards the dark edges, I would follow to coddle her from behind.  I should have spun her around and danced her into the light.  (It would mean kicking and screaming and tears and accusations – and that would mean I’d have to repent of my need to be “Mr Nice Guy”.  But that’s ok – I need to repent, and we both need community).

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Prayer is Warfare

Ephesians 6:10ff

Headship means being a prayer warrior.  This one’s for husbands but it has implications for others…  There are few other things I’d articulate as implications of headship, but it seems to me that prayer is top of the list. The LORD thunders at the head of His people (Joel 2:11) and husbands make war at the head of their wives.  When I’m prayerless Emma suffers.

And remember community. Some of the most powerful help we ever received as Emma was at her worst was going to another Christian couple’s house and praying on a Monday evening. They didn’t know much about eating disorders. Emma was able to talk about her struggles, talk about what the NHS were doing, talk about what was hard and we took those requests to God. It’s incredibly powerful to open up your needs before God and before church family.  It’s a total reversal of the condition actually.  The condition is about solitary, self-sufficiency. Praying with others is about a corporate expression of dependence and community.  Very powerful!

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wedding cake topper

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On Thursday I wrote a piece on Emma’s blog about how I coped through her illness.  I hope it might help others too.  Here are the headings…

The Priesthood of Christ is vital for you both

You are their vicarious hope-r

You must believe in the bondage of the will…  

A theology of the cross is vital…

A theology of the cross is not the same thing as “Misery loves Company”…

The goal is not getting back to how things were…

That feeling of impotence is inevitable, it’s good and it’s bad…

You will need to change…

Giving an addict what they want is not love…

Firm, buoyant love is the tone to strike…

Don’t do it alone…

Headship means being a prayer warrior…

This is not a distraction from real life, this is it…

Read the whole thing…

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Recently I wrote about every husband’s temptation towards resentment.  Wives also have every inclination (as well as motivation!) towards sinful attitudes regarding their husbands.  (Mistrust and disrespect are perhaps chief among them).

But in my post I counselled husbands to die to their private ambitions and seek a fruitful union with their wives that acknowledges the completely new unit they’ve become.  Now, as I read back over that language of “sacrifice” and “death”, I have a fear.  My fear is that this talk of “death” will feed directly into the resentment I was highlighting.

I know this because for many years I considered myself to be a sacrificial head.  I took Ephesians 5:25 as perhaps my most basic calling as a husband – to lay down my life.  Trouble was – there’s always a counterfeit way to view marital roles.  The death I embraced was not the joyful abandonment of my rights to find a deeper joy in my wife’s flourishing.  Instead it was the proud martyrdom of the burden-bearing ox.  I’d trudge along singing “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…”, just loud enough for people to notice.  But while-ever I was a burden-bearing ox, there was a deep sense in which I needed my wife to be a burden.

This is counterfeit headship and it comes in a couple of different flavours.  Some, like me, emphasize the “dying” part and spin it to mean ‘desire-crushing trudgery.’  Others emphasize the “saviour” role (Ephesians 5:23) and spin it to mean “knight in shining armour.”  But if you’re married to such a head, watch out.  The burden-bearer will (unintentionally) make you the burden.  And the knight in shining armour will (unintentionally) make you a “damsel in distress.”  In either case we have a sick perversion of roles masquerading as biblical faithfulness.  If you want to consider it in trinitarian terms (which I do here), you end up with Arian distinctions not Athanasian ones.

The terrible tragedy is that these marriages can appear to fulfil an Ephesians 5 complementarity.  And those who trumpet complementarianism as though it’s the key to gender relations can apparently justify their counterfeit roles as “Scriptural.”  I know I did.

But the husband is not simply called to a death, but to a happy death.  As with Christ, this death is because of love and for the sake of the joy set before him.  It’s the very opposite of resentment.  It’s acknowledging the indicatives already present for the husband:

* Christ has put me to death in His cross and I no longer live (Galatians 2:20)

* The Father has made me one with my wife quite apart from my efforts (Matthew 19:6)

* My wife is a gift straight from the LORD and she’s good for me (Genesis 2:18 ; Proverbs 18:22)

* There simply is no life without a good death (Matthew 10:39)

* God will make our sacrificial union fruitful (Genesis 1:28)

* Her beauty will be presented back to me, shining all the brighter for the love which nurtured it (Eph 5:27)

The husband’s death is not the sacrifice of a noble sufferer or the heroics of a brave rescuer.  It’s the grateful response of a guy who – in spite of how she may have hurt him – still counts himself “lucky” to have her.  And if he doesn’t, his need is not to stuff his feelings and die anyway.  He needs to go back to the 6 indicatives above and prayerfully ask for help.

No marriage needs a resentful martyr for a husband.  Every marriage needs Jesus to make husbands joyful self-givers.  And He will… if only we’ll drop our counterfeit roles and receive again from Him.

 

 

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Just to be clear – these thoughts have arisen after talking marriage to half a dozen guys in the last fortnight.  I’ve never been prouder or more delighted with my wife.  I’m trying to put words to every man’s struggle here.  And maybe this will also help wives to see what it is they instinctively (and perhaps quite rationally) fear about their husbands…

Ever since Adam, men have wickedly resented their wives.  That’s not the whole story.  Not by a long shot.  On our wedding day we sing “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”.

But remember how Adam reacted when the honeymoon wore off?  He blamed God for the burden of “this woman you put here.”

Every son of Adam has been there – we’re all chips off this old block.  At first we wax lyrical, genuinely besotted by beauty.  But give it time and self-righteous resentment creeps in: “Doesn’t God realize how she holds me back. Think of what I could accomplish if I went solo.

But what was God thinking?  Consider Genesis 2.  “It’s not good for the man to be alone.”  He makes a “helper suitable” for Adam. “Suitable” means “opposite to” Adam – i.e. a counterpart.  By design, wives are not like their husbands.  They don’t naturally pull in the same direction.  This has nothing to do with sin.  In a pre-fallen state, women are intentionally ‘opposite numbers’ to men.

Therefore to “cleave” together is to form a new unit in which both parties must die to self.  And so complete is this oneness that even the death cannot be considered separately. The husband initiates the dying, the wife receives (Ephesians 5:21-33, esp v25).

Remember how Genesis 2 finishes… it’s the man who is explicitly said to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife.  Like Christ, husbands are the ones to decisively change their direction and circumstances, and in that change to sweep the bride up into a new way of being.

But in the flesh, the husband refuses to lose his life. Instead he keeps hold of his old ambitions and resents the wife.

I keep thinking of John Wesley in this regard.  On the morning after their wedding he saddled up to go on a preaching tour.  He wrote to her from the road saying “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.”  Unfortunately he lived up to that tragic opinion and had a tragic marriage.  He did not die for his bride in order for them both to find new life on the other side of sacrifice.  He clung to his single vision and demanded that his bride simply fall in line.

But if it’s “successful ministry” we want, then there’s another way. Because the one-ness of marriage is a fruitful and multiplying reality.  Husband and wife are meant to be so much more than the sum of their parts.  But it’s not a simple addition.  It doesn’t happen by adding her old gifts and desires to his.

Rather than resenting her, when the husband dies to his private ambitions, there will come a new way of being fruitful in Christian service.  It will take time and it will take self-sacrifice.  But as both seek the Lord for their fullness and as they give it away to each other, they grow in new and surprising ways.  Through this good death the Lord brings forth a life-giving home where spiritual and physical children can find rest.

Husbands, “this woman” was indeed given to you by the Lord. Not “put”, “given”. As a helper suitable for you. You can either keep your life, resent your wife and blame God, or you can lose your life, nurture your wife and watch Him bring a rich and unexpected fruitfulness.

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I met Dave K through blogging and it was a great privilege to preach at his wedding yesterday. True to form he wanted a law-gospel sermon on 1 Corinthians 13.  Here’s what I came up with

Sermon text

Sermon audio

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…1 Corinthians 13… taps into your highest longing and your deepest fear.

Your highest longing is in verse 12. It’s that little phrase “face to face.”  That’s your highest longing.  In the words of Mumford and Sons – You were made to meet your Maker.  And not to meet your Maker face to floor – to meet Him face to face.  This speaks of intimacy, friendship, relationship, love.  You were made for face to face with Jesus your Maker.  That’s what this whole third paragraph is about – the future is face to face.  In fact so was the past.  The Bible says that before there WAS a world, there was face-to-face.  Before there was a universe, there was Father, Son and Spirit “face to face” – united in love.  Wind back the clock into the depths of eternity and you don’t find mere chemistry – you find community.  That’s why the greatest things in life are a meeting of hearts and minds.  That’s why relationships are so precious.  That’s why we love weddings – we love face to face.

But every earthly experience of “face to face” is, in the words of verse 12 “a reflection in a mirror.”  The old King James Version rendered it “seeing through a glass, darkly.”  Every kiss you’ve ever wanted, every affirmation you’ve ever craved, every relationship you’ve ever pursued, every longing you’ve ever felt – it’s a reflection of the ultimate face to face.  This wedding – is an incredible reflection of the real face to face – Jesus and His people, united in love.  This reflects that – that’s why we love this so much.

Because our highest longing is love.  Not just earthly reflections: face to face with Jesus our Maker.  That’s the longing behind every other longing.

But this passage also tells you your deepest fear.  Your deepest fear is in verse 2.  It’s also a 3 word phrase.  Look at the last three words of verse 2. That’s what terrifies you. It terrifies me.  My deepest fear is that “I am nothing”.  Your deepest fear is that you are nothing.  You worry you don’t amount to anything, that you’re actually a nobody, you are pointless, you’re a zero, completely insignificant in the universe.  That’s the voice that whispers to you at 2 in the morning.  And it’s the fear that drives you to a relentless pursuit of performances and experiences and face-to-face relationships – some healthy, others unhealthy – but none of them dislodge the fear that you are nothing.

This passage explains your life.  You’re made for face to face, you’re terrified that you’re nothing.  And this passage can tell you how to answer your fears and fulfil your longing….

Sermon text

Sermon audio

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I guest posted for Emma on headship and submission and all that.

Stuff like…

The Father is the Head, His Son is the Body (1 Corinthians 11:3)…

Christ is the Head, His Church is the Body (Ephesians 5:21-33)…

Ephesians 5 says that  Head and Body roles are taken on by husbands and wives…so it seems clear that there is a place for roles.  But what place?

If you only study Christ on earth, you might see a passive Father and an active Son.  If you only study Christ exalted to God’s right hand, you might see a busy Father and a resting Son.  If you only look at Christ in Gethsemane you might see a sweating Saviour and a sleeping church.  If you only look at the worship of heaven, you might see worshipping servants and a seated Lord.

Freeze-frame a marriage at any one point and either spouse might look like the active partner, either spouse might look like they are ‘taking a lead’.  And that’s a good and healthy thing.  It’s the nature of a proper relationship which thrives on give-and-take.

The thing is – and finally I’m getting to my point – we just can’t insist on one kind of action for one member of the relationship. In fact, to worry about specifics is a big mistake.  Roles is about an overall shape to the relationship in which the Head serves in love and the Body encourages and receives that serving love.  And when this shape is even approximated in human marriages, something wonderful happens.  Suddenly the  caricature of marriage is over-turned.  You know the picture – rightly derided in our culture: there’s a  good-for-nothing husband, half-man, half-sofa, watching Top Gear repeats on Dave while his embittered wife taps her foot and nags him into submission.

The gospel redeems this shadow of marriage as partners embody the true roles of Head and Body.  Where Adam was silent and Eve grasped, now husbands step forward and wives receive.  It’s a beautiful thing when true roles are played out.

But… resolving to take on these roles is not where the revolution lies.  The roles are an expression of the revolution, not the cause.

The gospel is the cause and Ephesians 5 (the passage on roles) couldn’t be clearer about it….

Read the whole thing here.  And perhaps if you want to comment, do so there to keep them all together.

 

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Is she a doubler?

The Gospel of the Blokey-Hearted doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, so maybe I need to bang some old drums again.  For those who missed the rants first time around, here’s

Models of masculinity

Some manly things Jesus did

He said – She said

Spouse speak

Three thoughts on Headship

Is the fruit of the Spirit too sissy for real men?

Arian Misogyny

And here’s a repost regarding a distinct but related problem: when blokey attitudes define marriage…

Today I heard one more story of a keen young gospel soldier recently married.  From what I can tell the wife is feeling abandoned, isolated and increasingly desperate.  And the husband is pressing on in his ministry service for the Lord!

If I had a minute with the young gun I’d ask him to read about John Wesley’s disastrous marriage. Just after John married Molly he wrote to her from the road to inform her of his views on marriage and ministry: “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.”  (Read more here).  It should be a cautionary tale for every young gospel soldier.

But the Wesley model is not dead.  I still remember the ringing endorsement our own marriage union gained from a leading UK evangelical while we were still engaged.  “You’re marrying well there Glen,” he said, “She’s a doubler.”  He was referring to a calculation that there are (apparently) ministry doublers and ministry halvers.  Thus the question to be asked about every prospective bride is, “Is she a doubler?”

Now that might be a question you ask a prospective PA or church worker.  But if that’s the first question you want to ask your bride-to-be then, seriously, that’s the proof right there.  It’s not meant to be.  And you’re the problem!  If the prospect of being fruitful and multiplying with this woman inspires a ten year business plan, call it off now.  The kind of multiplication God has in mind is multiplication in which you commit to each other for their sakes.  And, fellas, the more you want to use her for other ends, the less multiplication’s gonna happen!

And I’m not just trying to make a cheap gag here.  The Lord has designed marriage to be a multiplying union.  But in His economy it turns out to be fruitful as and when you are brought to commit to each other in deep oneness.  I mean this physically but I mean it in every other way.  The way to ministry multiplication can only be through marriage multiplication which can only happen in and through the union and communion of husband and wife. That’s got to be the beating heart of it all.

Single people should definitely seek the Lord’s wisdom about who to marry.  Wesley should definitely not have married Molly.  If two people have massively different expectations of what Christian service will entail then that’s a real warning sign.  But what first needs to be sorted out in our thinking is the very nature of marriage itself.  It is not a ministry multiplication venture.  It is a covenant union, joined by God, reflecting Christ to the world.  And out of this union comes a multiplication of spiritual and physical children.  Under God it cannot help but be fruitful and multiply.  But under God He will bring fruitfulness in very unexpected ways.  It will not be a multiplication one spouse’s prior ministry plans.  The old individual plans must die.  This will be a new union with a totally new kind of fruitfulness – much of which simply cannot be predicted.

But an understanding of marriage that is anything like a contractual business partnership will strike at the very heart of the covenant union.

I pray for this young couple, that there would be a death to the old individualist/contractual understanding.  And that out of that death would come new life in their union and communion.  And, yes, that out of that there may even come a wonderful fruitfulness.  But it will be His fruitfulness His way.

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It’s Trinity month in the blogosphere.  And it’s Thawed-out Thursdays on Christ the Truth.  So here are two posts from 2010 that (appropriately enough) I’ve combined into one.  It’s all about the one-ness of marriage as defined by the one-ness of the Triune God…

One-ness

Husband and wife are meant to be one.  Nothing could be clearer.  Think on each of these phrases from Matthew 19:5-6:

The two shall become one flesh.

They are no longer two but one.

God has joined together.

Let man not separate.

Oneness is a priority for married couples.  The question is – what kind of oneness?  Because not every kind of unity is good unity.

There are all sorts of dysfunctional unions – think of a couple feeding each other’s sins.

Or there’s the Abuser-Victim relationship, or the Rescuer-Victim relationship.  On the surface these marriages look very different, but in both there’s a sick one-ness in which the couples are locked into deeply dysfunctional roles with each other.

Then there’s the pathologically jealous spouse who is forever suspecting infidelity because their partner has interests outside the home.  They are looking for a kind of unity.

Or there’s the subtle and unspoken compromises we make with our spouses – I won’t challenge you here, if you don’t challenge me there. For the sake of unity we decide not to ‘rock the boat’.

Or there’s the couple who sing the Seeker’s song:

Close the door, light the light, we’re staying home tonight
Far away from the bustle and the bright city lights
Let them all fade away, just leave us alone
And we’ll live in a world of our own

We’ll build a world of our own, that no one else will share
All our sorrows we’ll leave far be-hind us there
And I know that you’ll find, there’ll be peace of mind
When we live in a world of our own

This is unity for unity’s sake, with nothing larger to guide or direct them.

So unity in a marriage is not good in itself.  There are some really unhealthy ways in which the two can become one.  So what kind of oneness does Jesus want us to have?

God’s Oneness

The trouble with all the above concepts of unity is that none of them model God’s unity.  In this post we want to examine God’s oneness in two regards.  First, we’ll think about how God’s unity as a unity on mission.  Secondly, we’ll think about how the Trinity models a unity that is held together with distinctions in equality.

Unity on Mission

So, first, the unity of the triune God is not unity simply for its own sake.  It’s a unity that’s going somewhere.  This is what the missio Dei is all about.  God is the ultimate Missionary.  His very being is a sending forth of Self in His Son and Spirit.  To wind the clock back into the depths of eternity you find that God is always the Sending God.  There is not a God who then decides to go out on mission.  There is only the Missionary God – the God who speaks His Word / shines His Light / sends His Son.  This is not just what He does – it’s Who He is.  God’s unity is a relational unity of Persons who go out and draw in.  God’s unity is (in Richard Sibbes’ phrase) a “spreading goodness”.  It is of the nature of this unity to be on the move.  On mission even.  And it’s of the nature of this overflowing unity to draw others in.  It’s not a unity that excludes others, but a unity that seeks to bring more into its own way of love. God’s unity is a unity on mission.

And this is the kind of unity we are to look for in marriage.  Our unity is not supposed to be one that closes the door so we can ‘live in a world of our own’.  It’s a oneness that is for others.  Our marriages exist to overflow – with natural children and with spiritual children.

This paints our marriages on a far larger canvas.  The purpose is not simply to become one.  The purpose is to have a oneness that’s going somewhere – i.e. a oneness that witnesses Christ to the world.  An undefined oneness can easily turn into idolatry.

(Note that this is exactly parallel to unity in the church – ecumenism for ecumenism’s sake is not the unity which we should seek.  We pursue unity in mission – not unity in unity.)

And just as God’s unity is a habitable unity – opened out in the Spirit to those adopted in the Son, so our marriages are to be habitable unities – opened out to spiritual and natural children.

We shouldn’t pursue a oneness that then has mission as an afterthought.  We should pursue a missionary oneness – a oneness for the sake of mission and a mission that forges and reinforces the oneness.

If we pursue this kind of oneness, when the time is right we’ll be able to challenge sin and complacency in marriage.  If done in wisdom and love, such challenges don’t compromise but rather uphold true marital unity.

If we pursue this kind of oneness, interests outside the home won’t be thought of as intrinsically threatening but quite possibly as opportunities for our missionary oneness.

If we pursue this kind of oneness, we won’t make our marriages into our own private heaven – seeking the kind of relational nourishment that can and should only come from Christ.  Instead we will experience the kind of healthy marital oneness that exists for a purpose far more fulfilling than cosy nights in.

Unity in Distinctions and Distinctions in Unity

We’ve seen that a married couple are supposed to be one.  But not every kind of oneness is healthy.  So what kind of oneness should we pursue?  First, it should be a unity on mission.  Now we’re considering the truth that our unity must embrace and uphold our distinctives. Again we’re beginning with the truth that our unity is modelled on God’s unity.

And when it comes to God’s unity, there are all sorts of illegitimate ways of understanding God’s oneness.  These are called heresies!  Here we’ll see how they map onto recognizable marital problems.

Trinitarian heresies…

Any orthodox account of the trinity needs to be able to answer three questions.  How are the three Persons united?  How are they distinct?  And how are they equal?

If you can only answer one of these questions well, you’re at the corner of the triangle and you don’t really have any kind of trinity.

If you can answer all three questions well you are inside the triangle – hopefully in the centre.  You are orthodox.

If you can only answer two of them then you’re at A, B or C – along one of the sides of the triangle.  You have two aspects of a good trinitarian theology but not three.  In other words, you’re a heretic.

At position A you have subordinationism (also known as Arianism).  Here the Persons are united and distinct but not equal.  So Jesus is the first creature.  God still mediates all his business with creation through him.  But actually Jesus is on the creature side of the Creator-creature line.  He is decidedly inferior to God.

At position B you have tritheism.  Here the Persons are distinct and equal but not united.  You have effectively three gods.  They might defer to each other and work really well as a team.  But there’s no substantial unity.

At position C you have modalism (also known as Sabellianism).  Here the Persons are united and equal but not distinct.  Effectively you have only one Person who wears different masks at different times.  The oneness is an all-consuming oneness that swallows up any ideas of difference/otherness/mutuality etc.

Where you want to be is in the centre of the triangle.  There you can respond to all the questions with the same answer:

How are the Persons united?  Asymmetrical mutual indwelling (i.e. love!)

How are the Persons distinct?  Asymmetrical mutual indwelling (i.e. love!)

How are the Persons equal?  Asymmetrical mutual indwelling (i.e. love!)

But if you get this wrong you drift away from the centre and towards one of the heresies.

I would suggest that if you attempt to answer those three questions in three quite different ways you’ll run into trouble.  But that’s a different post.

Marital heresies…

Other than the triune relationships, there are two other relationships in which humans particularly share in this kind of mutual indwelling.  The relationship of Christ and the church.  And the relationship of husband and wife.

In this post we’ll limit ourselves to the marriage side of things (though obviously this is derivative of the Christ-church relationship – see e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:3).

So let’s think about what it means in marriage to have a healthy sense of unity, distinction and equality.

It’s worth asking the questions of your own marriage:

On Unity:

Is there an intimacy between you deeper than what you experience in any other human relationship?

Do you have a oneness that is going somewhere (hopefully the same place!)?

To put it another way, Do you have a sense of ‘face-to-face’ unity and ‘side-by-side’ unity?

On Equality:

Do you look at your spouse as your equal?  Do you honour them, upholding and valuing them in love?  Or is there a sense of superiority – contempt even – residing in your heart?

Do you perhaps have an unhealthy sense of inferiority?  Do you meet your spouse as an equal or do you shrink away, allowing them to dominate (to theirs and your own detriment)?

Do you both play an equal part in where you’re going as a couple?  (Even though according to different roles)

On Distinction:

Does your relationship foster or smother distinctive strengths in each other?

Does your marriage foster or smother distinctive roles of head and body?

We have to die to our selfish, individualist selves when we marry.  But as you serve one another in love, is your relationship drawing out the real you?

If you’re doing well in only one of these categories, it’s unlikely you actually have a marriage!  If you’re doing well in all three then hopefully the distinction, equality and unity are mutually informing each other in a healthy way.  If you’ve got two but not three of these areas covered (which is where all marriages tend to be to one degree or another) then you’ve got problems.

What do Marital heresies look like?

These are the kinds of ‘heretical’ marriages we tend towards:

At position A we have the Arian marriage: unity and distinction but not equality.  This might take the form of  a Noble Rescuer married to a Poor Unfortunate.  Or an Abuser and a Victim.  Or your garden variety Superior Patroniser and their Silent Admirer.  Here we have the mystery of how such unity is maintained amidst all this inequality.  But codependency is a fascinating study!

There are all sorts of no-go areas within and outside the marriage since the power structure must be maintained.

The danger of an affair here is either the arrogance of the more powerful partner who feels entitled to it, or the amazement of the weaker partner to find someone “who actually respects me!”

In traditional churches, Arian marriages may go unnoticed as a problem.

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At position B we have the tritheist marriage: equal and distinct but not united.  The couple run on parallel tracks, more like a working co-operative than a marriage.  There is no ‘face to face’ closeness and this might well stem from a deep fear of personal intimacy.

In all this shallow engagement, the danger of an affair is the distinct possibility that either one will find someone “who actually touches my soul!”

In busy churches, tritheist marriages may go unnoticed as a problem.

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At position C we have the modalist marriage: united and equal but not distinct.  Here the couple get lost in each other.  Not in the Christ-like way of losing your life in order to gain it.  This is more like strategic people-pleasing, but they may not be aware they do it.  They won’t really know who they are but tend to think and act in the collective.

They have learnt well the no-go areas within the marriage and are very threatened by no-go areas outside it.

In these marriages there may be an abiding fear of an affair that is completely unjustified.  But the danger of the affair comes when one of them finds someone “who actually appreciates my gifts!”

In nice churches, modalist marriages may go unnoticed as a problem.

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Now these are sweeping generalizations and there are massive margins for error.  I’d be glad to hear any feedback you might have.  But, as with trinitarian theology, it’s always good to be aware of which particular heresy you’re most in danger of falling into.

It also means, when faced with a Superior Patroniser, you don’t have to call them a smug git.  You can call them an Arian!

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Happy Friday

We seem to be on a healthy trajectory of de-romanticizing marriage, so…

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Paul Blackham pastors at Farm Fellowship and is the co-author of Bible Overview.

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect.  The only weird thing is the way that European churches have grown so used to actually imposing ‘Christian’ ideas through the statute books.  It is interesting to see which churches and church leaders are most alarmed at the loss of this power.

The LORD Jesus Christ, through the whole Scriptures, sets out His own unique vision of marriage and sexuality.  The Bible shows almost no interest in what kind of ‘orientation’ any of us might have or what kind of people or things our sexual desires might attach to. Throughout the whole Bible there is a much more practical concern with what we do with our sexuality and how we say “no” to worldly passions, living self-controlled lives in this present age while we wait for the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  The passions are there, and we are not told to deny their existence, but rather we say ‘no’ to them and instead develop [receive from the Spirit] a new passion for the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour. (Titus 2:11-13)

The alcoholic might live with a strong worldly passion all their life, yet every day they have to say ‘no’ to it – and the fact of that daily ‘no’ is what gives them the freedom and dignity that is so precious. We understand this well enough, but don’t always see how the experience of the alcoholic is a basic paradigm rather than a special case.

We all are what we are as fallen, messy sinners, whether our sexual desires want to run away after several different people of the ‘opposite’ sex or the same sex or both sexes or we may feel little sexual desire.  As followers of Jesus, all of us have to say ‘no’ to a great many of our sexual desires, yet there is that one context of a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman where we are permitted, within godly limits and self-control, to say ‘yes’ to sexual desire. Jesus’ preference is, of course, that we don’t marry at all and are able to say ‘no’ to all our sexual desires and give all our passion and desire to the life and work of the Kingdom of God.  Yet, if any of us cannot do that, there is this one possibility of a totally exclusive, lifelong, sacrificial marriage between a man and a woman.

Yes, even allowing for that possibility does not mean that any specific person will ever be married.  There are godly people who would love to marry but have just never been able to make it happen, for one reason or another.  There are godly people whose desires do not lead them towards such a marriage.

Naturally, this understanding of marriage and sexuality is based on a passionate love and trust for the LORD Jesus Christ.  It would seem very legalistic and futile for anybody outside the love and support of a local church to try to live this way.  How can any of us joyfully say ‘no’ to our worldly passions, eclipsed by that great passion for the return of Jesus, unless we are members of the local family of Jesus followers?  There is too much frustration and bitterness when we turn to ‘religion’ as the alternative to our own sexual desires – or when people turn to a harsh treatment of the body (Colossians 2:23). It is not good for us to be alone – and whether we are married or not we urgently need that family of the local church where we can find that unity and diversity in Jesus that we were made for.

It is, of course, slightly odd that in the modern age there is so much pressure within our churches to get people married off.  Yes, the culture of the day strongly worships sex, romance and relationships – with the overt pagan claim that a failure to be sexually active is almost dehumanising.  Our Christian ancestors of the ancient Roman empire tended to emphasise their freedom from such views by declaring how many of their congregations were lifelong unmarried virgins.  It is hard to imagine such a free and confident view of human sexuality at this moment, though there are some encouraging signs as we are sent back to an older, deeper view of sexuality and marriage.

We are living at the tail end of a cultural era when Christianity had exercised enormous control over the legal structures of the European world.  It is fascinating to see how this was done in relation to marriage in medieval Europe as strict legal limits on marriage were introduced as a support to the vision of ‘Christendom’ that was forming.  Polygamy was a widespread European practice in early medieval Europe which was addressed with ‘Christian’ legislation especially after 1215. A classic example was over the marriage of close relations.  Historically it was considered a good thing to marry close relations so that land and power could be kept within a fairly tight family heritage, but for a variety of political, economic and theological reasons Christendom tended to introduce legal limits that forced people to marry from a much wider social circle.

Having such political and legal power was not necessarily good for the churches or for ‘Christian’ marriage.  If the only kind of legal marriage available is ‘Christian’ marriage, then is there really any such thing as ‘Christian’ marriage in such a society?  If people were forced to marry only as if they were followers of Jesus, even when they were most definitely not, then how could anybody ever see what difference Jesus really makes to marriage?  Once we seriously question the idea that the church should be married to the state, then we see how strange it is for the church to ever be meddling in the business of the state’s legal recognition of marriage?

My Nonconformist friends find these protests against legal definitions of gay marriage totally incomprehensible, but for those of us with established church connections it is “emotionally more complicated”!  Islam is comfortable with claiming legal and political power because it was the way of Muhammad from the beginning, but it is most definitely not the way of Jesus to do that.

In the period between Moses and the Ascension when the Christian church formed its own nation and, to various limited degrees, was able to write its own laws, there was a sense in which ‘Christian’ marriage and the law had a much closer relation.  Even then, of course, the law could only define the limits and provide certain provisions, but the love and sacrifice, the faithfulness and service, all still came down to the godliness of the husband and wife.

However, before Moses and after the Ascension, how could local churches ever have that level of legal control over marriage in any society?  We are only ever a small minority and Jesus promised us that we would be consistently persecuted, misunderstood and even hated.  We are spread out through all the nations and cultures of the world, trying to live out the way of Jesus under all kinds of legal systems and cultural expectations.  Sometimes the law makes it easier for us, sometimes not.

Many of our brothers and sisters in Muslim majority nations or communist regimes have all kinds of legal problems not only with marriage but also their basic citizenship.  It is pleasant when the law is not against us, but can we ever really expect the law to enforce the way of Jesus on the whole of a nation?

Can we ever really expect to be the legal majority who makes life difficult for or even persecutes those who do not follow Jesus?

In the 16th and 17th century some of our Christian ancestors took a very different view.  What had the church got to do with marriage? How had the church ever ended up exercising this kind of state power, providing legal norms for marriage?  How did local churches ever become franchises of the registry office?  The Puritans who went to America wanted to escape the European alliance between church and state.  The established churches of England and Rome thought that marriage was their business, to be authorised by the clergy, but the new England Puritans believed that marriage was a civil business to be governed by the magistrate.  They did not want institutional churches wielding such civic power.

Followers of Jesus marry only other followers of Jesus, only one man married to one woman, exclusively and for life, modelled on the marriage between Christ and the Church – but none of that is from the magistrate!  The magistrate/registry officer is only interested in recognising the civil union defined by the state: the content we pour into that is what it means to follow Jesus.

Think for a moment who utterly strange it would be to imagine Jesus of Nazareth lobbying Herod or Pilate for better marriage laws so that His teaching might find a more comfortable place in society. The Christians in the catacombs were not administering the states records.

Local churches are the places where Christian marriage is defined, where we disciple one another in Jesus’ way – and it is almost a total irrelevance how the state views marriage.  The way we follow Jesus in marriage and sexuality is ever more distant from the legal patterns and cultural assumptions of European society.  Maybe that’s all the better for our Christian witness.  Perhaps it is time we got out of the legal marriage business and leave that entirely up to the state.

The state can define marriage however it wants to – but we should have the confidence and faithfulness to hold up and display Christian marriage for what it is.  We are not a franchise agency for the state’s administration of marriage.  We are the churches of the LORD Jesus Christ bearing witness to His way of sexuality and marriage that is radically different to anything else in European culture.  We need to make sure that in our local churches we are showing the world what the LORD Jesus Christ created marriage to be – but can we really do this through the statute book?  What right do we have to judge those who are outside?  1 Corinthians 5:12.

A friend asked me to consider another possibility.  In the Bible it is sometimes difficult to see the relevance of the state at all in marriage.  When Isaac married Rebekah, wasn’t that just handled within the local church?  The local church community recognised that Zak and Becky were hitched and so Zak & Becky went to live in his tent for the rest of their lives.  Did it ever cross their minds to register this event with the local Canaanite magistrate?  Were they expecting some tax breaks, allowances and credits as a kind of state reward for getting hitched?  I’m not convinced that any of these things went through their minds.  So, is it even conceivable that a modern Zak and Becky could, after some marriage prep and wisdom from older Christians, announce their marriage after the morning service and then go and live together for the rest of their lives as a married couple… and never even bother seeking tax credits, allowances or legal status from the magistrate?  This possibility gave me a sleepless night, thinking it through.

The fact is that as followers of Jesus our marriages are full of challenges and struggles as well as joy and comfort.  When we display the way of Jesus in marriage we are trying to show how grace, patience and love work when selfish sinners are joined so closely together.

At the moment there is a real danger that, once again, Christians can appear to be trying to legislate through the statute book that non-Christian people must behave as if they are Christians.

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Emma writes a vivid account of some mundane but murderous marital bullying she overheard.

…For almost forty minutes, he ran her down. Criticised her appearance, complained about the coffee she ordered (and brought to him), repeatedly insisted that she was stupid and useless. When she went to get some groceries, he greeted her return with a volley of anger and abuse. Nervous and bowed, she fluttered like a tiny bird, trying to appease him. But to no avail…

As terrible as I find this gross assault, I recognise the bully in me.  Here’s an older post of mine about how men and women use words.  Verbal intercourse is just like the other kind – and attended with all the same abuses (see here for more).   I think addressing ‘words that pierce’ (Prov 12:18) should be front and centre in marriage prep.  And something to revisit time and again…

 

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Emma’s got a great post up contrasting Amy Winehouse and Anders Breivik:

One person couldn’t cope with fame.  The other couldn’t cope with ignominy.  One person’s life was out of control.  The other was extremely disciplined.  One was full of self-doubt.  The other was certain he was right.  One revealed her problems to the world (“I told you I was trouble!”).  The other kept it all inside.  One took it out on herself.  The other took it out on everyone else.

Is it too far to suggest that these two (obviously extreme cases) represent the apogee of female and male anger?

And if not, what kind of pathologies develop when an angry man (i.e. a man) marries an angry woman (i.e. a woman)?

 

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There are two things that will really mess you up in life.  Getting married and becoming a Christian.  You can poodle along quite contentedly before either of these states.  But once you enter marriage, or once Christ enters you – life as you know it is over.

I know a good number of people who have developed and/or exacerbated serious emotional and psychological problems upon entering one or both of these states.

How come?  Well here’s one thought.  In both you have the unconditional presence of another.  Not even your sins can keep people at bay now.  In fact now sins just become the occasion for a much deeper engagement.  Conditionality used to keep your sins underground and your critics distant.  When things were conditional you knew that the presence of love in your life was directly related to your ability to keep unloveliness hidden.  Now you have unconditional – and therefore inescapable – presence.

Ironically it’s not law that shines a torchlight into our basements.  It’s grace.  There’s no hiding place from unconditional love.

Barth used to say ‘God’s grace shatters men.’  George Hunsinger wrote a book on Barth’s theology called ‘Disruptive Grace.’  That’s the true nature of covenant relationships.  Yes they are the context in which true growth and godliness occur.  But only because first of all they totally mess you up.

What do we expect in Christian discipleship? What do we expect in marriage?  I say prepare for massive disturbance – and I mean disturbance in the fullest sense of the word.

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