Biblical Marriages in a Broken World, Part 1

[Editor’s Note: This summer we at BtT are running some older but good posts. Look out for all new content in August. This post originally appeared on October 22, 2008.]

Portrait of a Redeemed Marriage

I believe one of God’s greatest gifts this side of heaven is marriage and family. I believe they are good gifts from a great God. My wife Charlotte and I have been married for more than 30 years and we have loved each and every minute. We have had our good days and our bad days like every couple, but our life together has truly been a blessing from the Lord. We were also graced by God with four sons, each now serving King Jesus, with two involved in ministry overseas. We have three beautiful daughters-in-law and three grandchildren and a fourth on the way. We agree with the psalmists, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3-5).

Tragically many in our fallen world are not experiencing what God designed for marriage and family. Sin and confusion rob them of the delights and joys God planned in this sacred covenant relationship. Divorce, marital disharmony and broken lives are all about us, and the heartache and disappointment we see day after day causes us to weep and cry out to our Lord for help.

Placing marriage within the great redemptive storyline of the Bible is instructive in seeing what God planned, what went wrong, and how we can regain something of “Paradise Lost” in our homes. The three great movements and the appropriate text can be outlines as follows:

CREATION

Genesis 1-2

“Equal Image Bearers”

FALL

Genesis 3

“Battle of the Sexes Begins”

REDEMPTION

Ephesians 5

“Redeemed and Restored Marriage”

There is a remarkable redemptive biblical storyline when it comes to the family that runs like this: Genesis 1:26-28 – Genesis 2:18-25 – Deuteronomy 6:1-9 – Ruth – Psalms 127, 128 – Proverbs 31:10-31 – Song of Solomon – I Corinthians 7:1-40 – Ephesians 5:1-6:4 – Colossians 3:1-18 – 1 Peter 2:13-3:7. This list is not exhaustive but it does note major text along the path.

Interestingly the New Testament grounds both the assignment of a redeemed husband and a redeemed wife in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus. In Ephesians 5:25-33 Paul draws on the themes of sacrifice and substitution (v. 25 in particular) in addressing the responsibility of a saved husband. In 1 Peter 3:1-6 Peter calls upon a saved wives to submit to an unsaved husbands that they “may be won [to Jesus] without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior (vs. 1-2). The grounding or basis for this charge is found in 2:21-25 where Peter highlights the redemptive emphasis of Christ’s example (esp. vs. 21-23). This is an amazing insight, the significance of which must not be understated or papered over. A biblical theology of the atonement undergirds a biblical theology of marriage.

Is It True Jesus Never Addressed Same Sex Marriage?

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on August 8, 2012.]

Today it is popular among those promoting same sex marriage to say that Jesus never addressed the issue, that He was silent on the subject.  Those who affirm the historical and traditional understanding of marriage between a man and woman often are admonished to go and read more carefully the Bible.  If we do so we are told we will see that Jesus never addressed the issue.  So, the question that I want to raise is, “Is this assertion correct?”  Is it indeed the fact that Jesus never addresses the issue of same sex marriage?

When one goes to the gospels to see exactly what Jesus did say, one will discover that He addressed very clearly both the issues of sex and marriage.  He addresses both their use and misuse.  And, as He speaks to both subjects, He makes it plain that issues of the heart are of critical importance.

First, what did Jesus say about sex?  Jesus believed that sex is a good gift from a great God.  Jesus is pro-sex!  He also believed that sex was a good gift to be enjoyed within a monogamous, heterosexual covenant of marriage.  On this He is crystal clear.  In Mark 7 Jesus addresses the fact that all sin is ultimately an issue of the heart.  Jesus was never after behavioral modification.  Jesus was always after heart transformation.  Change the heart and you truly change the person. Thus when He lists a catalog of sins in Mark 7: 21-22, He makes it clear that all of these sins are ultimately matters of the heart. It is the idols of the heart that Jesus is out to eradicate.  Among those sins of the heart that often give way to sinful actions He would include both sexual immorality and adultery (Mark 7:21).  The phrase “sexual immorality,” in a biblical context, would speak of any sexual behavior outside the covenant of marriage between a man and woman.  Therefore, Jesus viewed pre-marital sex, adultery and homosexual behavior as sinful.  And, He knew that the cure for each is a transformation of the heart made possible by the good news of the gospel.  The gospel changes us so that now we are enabled to do not what we want, but what God wants.  Here we find real freedom and joy.

Second, what about the issue of marriage?  Is it truly the case that Jesus never spoke to the issue in terms of gender?  The answer is a simple no.  He gives His perspective on this when He addresses the issue in Matthew 19:4-6.  There, speaking to the institution of marriage, Jesus is clear when He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  That Jesus was committed to heterosexual marriage could not be more evident. A man is to leave his parents and be joined to a woman who becomes his wife. This is heterosexual marriage.  That He also was committed to the permanence and fidelity of marriage is clear as well.

So, how might we sum up the issue?  First, Jesus came to deliver all people from all sin.  Such sin, He was convinced, originated in and was ultimately a matter of the heart.  Second, Jesus made it clear that sex is a good gift from a great God, and this good gift is to be enjoyed within heterosexual covenantal marriage.  It is simply undeniable that Jesus assumed heterosexual marriage as God’s design and plan.  Third, Jesus sees all sexual activity outside this covenant as sinful.  Fourth, it is a very dangerous and illegitimate interpretive strategy to bracket the words of Jesus and read into them the meaning you would like to find.  We must not isolate Jesus from His affirmation of the Old Testament as the Word of God nor divorce Him from His 1st century Jewish context.  Fifth, and this is really good news, Jesus loves both the heterosexual sinner and the homosexual sinner and promises free forgiveness and complete deliverance to each and everyone who comes to Him.  John 7 tells the story of a woman caught in adultery.  The religious legalists want to stone her, but Jesus intervenes and prevents her murder.  He then looks upon the woman and, with grace and tenderness, He tells her that He does not condemn her.  Then He says to her, “go and sin no more.”  In Matthew 11:28 Jesus speaks to everyone of us weighed down under the terrible weight and burden of sin.  Listen to these tender words of the Savior, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  This is the hope that is found in Jesus.  This is the hope found in the gospel.  Whether one is guilty of heterosexual or homosexual sin, one will find grace, forgiveness and freedom at the foot of the cross where the ground is always level.

When I came to fully trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 20, I determined that I wanted to think like Jesus and live like Jesus for the rest of my life.  When it comes to sex I want to think like Jesus.  When it comes to marriage I want to think like Jesus.  That means I will affirm covenantal heterosexual marriage.  It also means loving each and every person regardless of their lifestyle choices.  It means, as His representative, proclaiming His gospel and extending the transforming grace of the gospel to others that takes us where we are, but wonderfully and amazingly, does not leave us there.  That is a hope and a promise that followers of Jesus gladly extend to everyone, because we have been recipients of that same amazing grace.

Brothers, We Are Still Not Superstars: We Are Servants

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Between the Times on October 30, 2012.]

Jesus summarizes the purpose of his incarnation in Mark 10:45 when he says, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This profound and crucial statement, which weds the “Son of Man” title of Daniel 7:13–14 to the “suffering Servant” of Isaiah 52–53, and redefines what kind of Messiah-Savior our Lord would be, comes on the heels of James’s and John’s request that Jesus would give them seats on his right and left in Glory (verse 37). James and John are crystal clear in their intentions and goal: they want status, not service. They want the position of a king, not the calling of a slave.  They want to be looked up to, honored, and revered. They wanted to be superstars, not servants.

Tragically, today, when it comes to the ministry, the standards and criteria for success are too often culled from the world, and not from the Word of God. To deny this is to play the ostrich, stick our head in the sand, and simply ignore the massive evidence that swirls around us. Allow me to share what I see.

Evangelicals have their cult-heroes and cult followings. This is true both inside and outside the local church. We have our groupies who pine after their “Christian rock stars.” Such stars are given almost infallible status, at least by their devoted fans, and if they are not careful, they may begin to believe what blogs, fans, and fellow superstars say.

Suddenly, the green monster of pride sneaks into their lives and an attitude of entitlement begins to transform a once gracious and humble servant into a hulk-like prima donna who less and less resembles the simple carpenter from Galilee. Subtly, over time, I convince myself that I deserve a six-figure salary. I deserve to live in a big home and drive an expensive car. I deserve to have people wait on me hand and foot and respond immediately to my every request. Furthermore, they can expect to receive a quick and painful tongue-lashing if they move too slowly or fail to meet my exalted expectations. Why, I may even fire them for not measuring up to my personal expectations.

I become too important and my time is too valuable to meet with common people, people who cannot help me further my agenda. I am too busy in “my ministry” to respond to letters, answer emails, return phone calls or schedule appointments. And amazingly, I become almost self-righteous in defending my lifestyle, all my perks, and my prideful behavior because what I do is valuable to the kingdom and I’ve earned the right to be treated as one of its kings.

I wish what I have written to this point was theoretical or at least hyperbolic. Sadly, it isn’t. As someone who has been in the Christian ministry for 35 years, and who battles daily the green monster of pride, I have seen and continue to see this superstar mentality and lifestyle far too often among a number of current day pastors. You see, I am now a seminary president who, if not careful, can get caught up in all of this “malarkey.” I am easily seduced by the sirens who feed a superstar mentality that knows nothing of the way of Jesus.

So, what biblical counsel and wisdom can help keep our heads out of the clouds and our feet on the ground where “real people” live? Let me offer one avenue of Scriptural exhortation that may help.

Keep continually before you the biblical model of leadership. We are not CEOs. We are not professionals. Brothers, we are shepherds — and under-shepherds at that. We are servant-leaders. First Peter 5:2 instructs us to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” The word “shepherd” is an imperative receiving the force of a command. Shepherds who follow in the footsteps of the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20), will love and lead their sheep. They will not drive them and use them and make ungodly carnal demands of them. They will continually remind themselves that they tend over “the flock of God” and not their own.

They also understand it is the “flock of God among you.” That means they live with their sheep, they spend time with their sheep, they know their sheep, they care for their sheep. I once heard a famous and well-known pastor brag about the fact he had never had a single meal in the home of one of his members nor had he ever invited any of his members into his home for one. When I asked him why, he simply responded, “I never wanted to get that close to any of my people.” Words cannot express how this broke my heart. It still grieves me to this day.

Brothers, we never have been and never will be superstars. We are lowly shepherds, servants of the “Great Shepherd of the sheep.” One day we will give him an account for the souls we are keeping watch over (Hebrews 13:17). May we by his grace and for his glory do so with joy and a clear conscience, serving him and his sheep “honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18).

(This was first published yesterday at the Desiring God blog.)