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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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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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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.

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)?

 

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.

5

Readings:  Genesis 2:19-25; Colossians 3:12-19

Opening gag: Pete and Claire it’s my duty to tell you that you are now sat next to the person who is, statistically speaking, most likely to kill you.

Pause for nervous laughter

The bible is all about marriage.  It begins with marriage and it ends with marriage when all Christ’s people are united to Him at a cosmic wedding banquet.  In the middle the bible is always describing our relationship to Christ as a marriage relationship.

Our first reading described the first marriage.  Adam and Eve.  Did you hear how they came together?  The Groom was put down into a death-like sleep, his side was pierced, his bride was formed, he was raised up and they were brought together to become one.

And the ancient commentators would wax lyrical about the formation of Eve:

She was not taken from Adam’s head to be his ruler, nor from his feet to be his servant, but from his side, that she might be his equal, from under his arm, that he might protect her, and from close to his heart that he might love her.

Isn’t that beautiful?  But it’s a picture of Christ and His bride the church.  He went down to death, His side was pierced to form His bride, He was raised up again and when we come to Him in faith – we are united to Jesus, like a bride is united to her husband.

So friends if you’re here this afternoon and you’re not a Christian, let me tell you what Christianity is all about.  You’ve just seen it.  THIS is the heart of the Christian faith.  According to the bible, this shows us the heart of all reality!

Did you hear those vows:

All that I am I give to you
All that I have I share with you.

Of course when Emma and I said those vows to each other there were sniggers in the congregation because effectively we were saying “All my debts I give to you, And all my student loan repayments I share with you.”

But in our marriage to Jesus it’s different.  He doesn’t have any debts, He has only riches.  But we have debts.  We are in over our heads in cosmic debt towards God.  We are trillions in the red.  We have a wealth of badness and a terrible poverty of goodness.  And we all have a bad name.  We have inherited a shameful family name.  “Humphrey” is quite a good name.  In spite of all Jonathan’s trying to do to ruin that name, “Humphrey” is still a decent name.  But our name, inherited from our human family, sullied by all that we’ve done as a race – that name is stained.  We’re in debt and in shame.  But the minute we say “I will” to Jesus, what happens?  We say:

All that I am I give to you
All that I have I share with you.

We give to Jesus all our debts, all our sins, all our shame.  And Jesus takes it.  His name covers over ours – the way Deaves has now covered over Humphrey.  His name covers over ours, and His riches pay off our debts.  He absorbs  our debt, and pays it all off on the cross.

Then Jesus turns to us and says:

All that I am I give to you
All that I have I share with you.

What’s that?  His riches, His righteousness, His honour, His royal status.  He covers over our old name and gives us His name.  And He invites us into His royal family, to share in His royal power and royal inheritance.  And best of all we get HIM.  He gives HIMSELF to us, to enjoy forever.

History is headed towards a cosmic wedding banquet where we will enjoy our marriage union to Christ FOREVER.

That’s Christianity.  And anyone can come to Christ and say “I will” to Him.  And at that moment they come in on the ultimate royal marriage.  Maybe some here would like to do that, or find out more.  Come find me today and we can talk more.

But because of this marriage union to Jesus, our second reading for today is true:

It says that Christians are:

God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved

You might think, how can we be called chosen, holy and dearly loved.  We certainly don’t look it.  And we rarely act like it.  Well, remember the marriage analogy.  Remember our Groom, Jesus – He is choice in God’s eyes, He is holy in God’s sight, He is dearly loved.  And when we are united to Jesus we share in His choiceness, His holiness, His dearly loved-ness.  We’re adopted into the family, we enter the palace and we become the ultimate rags to riches story.

And so our passage goes on, and tells us, now that you’re in the palace, put away the rags and start wearing the royal clothing.  He says:

clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

What wonderful clothes, every marriage could do with this couldn’t it:  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience!  It’s the clothing of Christ, isn’t it?  He is compassionate, He is kind, He is humble, He is gentle, He is patient.

And maybe we think, if we just put on this kind of character, our marriages will go fine, right?

Well it couldn’t hurt.  But our passage goes on:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Our reading expects there to be grievances, it expects there to be things that feel unbearable, it expects there to be sins that need forgiving.

So, Pete and Claire: the strength of your marriage won’t actually be determined by your nice-ness to each other.  You need to hear that, because you’re some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  But marriage doesn’t run on nice-ness.  It runs on forgiveness.

A successful marriage is not about your goodness, it’s about how you respond to badness.  And this passage says, “forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

You know when we came to Christ we came in with a trillion pound debt.  And Jesus took it, absorbed it, paid it off, and it’s gone, forgotten, never to be brought up between us again.  Pete and Claire, you’re going to cost each other thousands of pounds worth of hurt.  And sometimes tens of thousands of pounds of hurt.  And maybe at points a million pounds of hurt.  And if you’re just looking at the hurt it’ll be unbearable and you’ll consider it unforgiveable.  But if you look to Jesus, it doesn’t compare with how He has forgiven us.  So may this be your motto, especially when you drive each other crazy: forgive as the Lord forgave you.

And then Paul tells us how Christ’s forgiveness and love will be brought to mind:

Verse 15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

Verse 16: Let the word of Christ dwell in your hearts.

Verse 17: Let the name of Christ infuse all your life.

Be Christ-filled people…

And then we come to the specific verses about husbands and wives.

Pete – verse 19 is yours: Love your wife and don’t be harsh with her.

Do you know why that verse is in the bible?  Because A) Jesus is NOT harsh with us.  And B) Husbands ARE harsh with their wives.  And that just can’t be.

Husbands are playing the part of Christ in this whole Christ-and-the-Church picture.  So love Claire the way Christ has loved us.  He is not harsh with us.  He leads in servant-hearted, forgiving, gentle love.  How can husbands be harsh, when Christ is so gentle?  “Love your wife and do not be harsh with her.”

Claire – verse 18 is your verse: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”  Pete is laying down his life for you, to lead you in sacrificial service.  Let him.

Pete – love.  Claire – receive that love.  The great heresy in the history of the church has always been a church that doesn’t receive the love of Christ but tries to earn and perform and do and work and get busy for God.  It’s heresy.

And if the great temptation for men is to be a false Christ and shrink back from responsibility, shrink back from service, to never get off our backsides and love – the great temptation for women is never to rest in love.

CS Lewis once said the best marriage prep would be to put a couple in a chaotic kitchen together.  The pot’s boiling over, the toast is burning, the cats are nibbling at the plates.  Here’s the challenge:  the woman has to sit down and do nothing.  And the man has to jump up and sort it out.  The man has to not be harsh.  And the woman has to submit.  How counter-cultural, how counter-intuitive!  But that’s Christian marriage.

Husbands – love.  Wives – submit to that love.

And then you’ll have a marriage that bucks all the stereotypes.  Our culture rightly despises the caricature of marriage where husbands are cruel or cowardly and women are clamouring or closed.  Not so with you.  The world will look on and ask – why is your marriage so different to the stereotype.  And you can answer – Let me tell you about our riches in Christ.  Let me tell you about the ultimate marriage.  Because of His love – that’s how we manage it.

 

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