Talking About Christ and the Church

Please read Ephesians 5:21-33 in your favorite Bible.

Wedding Cake (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Some social commentators express grave concern over the state of marriage in our culture.  I believe there is good reason for our concern as several cultural shifts have weakened our national commitment to marriage.

However, we don’t hold a candle to the depravity of the culture in which the Apostle Paul lived.  In Greek culture, wives were kept in the house, their sole function to bear and raise children and manage the household.  Prostitutes met the husband’s desires for intimacy and companionship.  In the first 500 years of the Roman republic there was not a single recorded case of divorce.  Under the emperors, Roman culture degenerated to the degree that marriage was a revolving door.  The historian Jerome wrote of a woman who was married to her 23rd husband and she was his 21st wife.  Juvenal told of a woman who had eight husbands in five years.  Against the backdrop of such depravity, our situation seems rather tame.

Into that setting the Church arose and dared to say that marriage was a life-long union between one man and one woman for their mutual love and joy!  You can imagine how some received that teaching.

CONTEXT = Having set forth the principles of godly relationships in 3:14-5:20, now he uses three types of relationships to illustrate what difference all that teaching makes.  He used the relationship between husbands and wives (5:22-33), children and parents (6:1-4), and slaves to masters (6:5-9) as examples of how the principles of unity and maturity work in each set of relationships.

But there’s something about the marriage relationship that sets it apart from the other two kinds of relationships: Paul used the marriage relationship as a symbol of the relationship of Jesus Christ and His Church.  Our title uses Paul’s plain statement in v. 32: I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

This will be our approach this morning.  Rather than waste time trying to resolve the “battle of the sexes,” we want to draw out the theology of the Church that Paul taught by using marriage as a metaphor.  In order to understand the metaphor, we have to look at it from that point of view, not from our cultural perspective.

God’s standard for marriage is related to Christ’s relationship to His Church.

  1. Christ is the Head of the Church. (21-24)

We demonstrate our REVERENCE FOR CHRIST in mutual submission.  This is a statement of general principle and there is no distinction of gender or any other factor.  Mutual submission is the counter-cultural norm in the churches that worship Jesus Christ.  In mutual submission, everyone submits to everyone else, putting the needs of the church and the other believers ahead of their own needs.

Mutual submission is motivated by REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.  Because we put Jesus first, we put His people second, and self last.  Any rearranging of these essential priorities exposes a claim to faith as false.

The word SUBMIT is key: let’s understand it the way Paul understood it.  It meant giving voluntary subordination to someone deserving RESPECT (v. 33).  The phrase AS TO THE LORD (v. 22) sets a high standard for the one deserving respect and it casts the whole teaching in the brighter light of the Church’s relationship with Christ.

In Paul’s culture, the submission of the wife to the husband was normal.  Verse 22 calls all believers to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we think submission will be easy because Jesus is an “absentee landlord;” He’s in heaven, removed from earth.  Not so.  Jesus is very involved in all our lives.  In the same way that a wife’s submission to her husband’s authority was required in order to form a marriage, so is submission to Jesus’ lordship a prerequisite to true faith.

Verse 23 sees a husband as a symbol of Jesus Christ in two ways.  First, they saw the man’s decision to take a wife as the first cause of the formation of a family.  Similarly, the word HEAD means the Church exists because Jesus decided to form it.

Second, the word HEAD carries a sense of authority.  No one disputes that Jesus is HEAD OF THE CHURCH in much the same way people of Paul’s day assumed the husband to be “head” of the family.

But there’s a theological element in v. 23 as well: Christ is the SAVIOR of the Church, whereas the husband is not the savior of the wife.  This theological element prevents us from turning Paul’s use of metaphor into a legalism that determines marital relationships in our own time.

In verse 24 Paul reversed the metaphor.  In vs. 22+23 he started with marriage as a metaphor of faith.  In v. 24 he started with faith and used it as a metaphor of marriage.  The way he intertwines and compares the two, Paul’s intent is clearly to talk about more than marriage.  In all this, he’s explaining how the standard of mutual submission is similar to the marriage relationship.

His purpose is certainly not to establish a law for marriage, as that would be contrary to all the clear statements that are contrary to the law that he made in numerous places in his letters.  He’s merely using marriage as it was known to himself and his readers as a reference point to explain that submission to Jesus is what’s expected.

  1. Christ demonstrated his love by self-sacrifice. (25-30)

As the husband is the symbol for Christ, he is appealed to in v. 25.  Paul’s appeal is to practice a self-emptying love, a sacrificial love that puts the beloved before self: HE GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER.  Verses 26-27 list specific ways Jesus enacted His sacrificial love.

TO MAKE HER HOLY is the first.  The word HOLY has different meanings, but based on the context, I’d say Paul is emphasizing HOLY as moral/spiritual purity.

People assume the phrase CLEANSING HER BY THE WASHING WITH WATER THROUGH THE WORD refers to baptism.  I don’t believe so.  Instead, I believe Paul referenced Ezekiel 16:1-7, a touching passage where God found orphaned Israel, cleaned her up, and took her as His bride.

Jesus’ ultimate purpose in this is to PRESENT HER TO HIMSELF as His bride (Revelation 19:6-9).  Through a process similar to the one allegorized in Ezekiel 16, she will be a RADIANT CHURCH, not aglow from anything in herself, but reflecting the glory of God.  The Church will be WITHOUT STAIN OR WRINKLE OR ANY OTHER BLEMISH, being forgiven all her sins and everyone cleansed from all unrighteousness.  Set apart to Christ alone, the purified Church will be HOLY AND BLAMELESS.

In vs. 28-30, Paul returned to the use of the HUSBANDS as a symbol of Jesus.  As men, husbands practice self-care.  Most men attend to matters of hygiene and health on a daily basis.  As husbands, most men attend to providing for their family’s needs on a daily basis. 0 In a similar way, Christ cares for His Church (29).  He provides for us and protects us, and nurtures life for our sake.  We are all – both male and female – MEMBERS OF HIS BODY (30).

  1. Saving faith requires us to leave the world and love the Lord. (31-33)

Verse 31 quotes Genesis 2:24, the portion of the creation account where God instituted marriage.  The phrase FOR THIS REASON does not refer to the reasons any of us have for getting married, that’s relatively trivial.  When we go back to Genesis 2 the context gives us the reason: God created men and women to relieve loneliness and create a partnership that would facilitate humanity fulfilling His command to BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER (Genesis 1:28).

This means the Church fulfills similar functions: the Church was created to relieve loneliness and be a partnership that extends the Kingdom of God all over the world.  Becoming ONE is not an end, it is a means to that end.  Unity and maturity are virtues, but they are means to fulfill our mandate to make disciples.

In v. 32 Paul used the word MYSTERY, a word we explored back in chapter 3.  It means something that was previously unknown coming to light.  Anyone who is married will acknowledge that marriage is a MYSTERY, but Paul made it plain this teaching is about something more PROFOUND when he wrote I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.  (This is our Key Verse.)  In the next two sections, Paul does not analogize the relationships as he does in this marriage section.

This sets the marriage section apart and proves that Paul has more in mind here than instructing married couples.  There is both theological and relational teaching here.  The analogy is completed in v. 33, where LOVE is what Christ (as the “husband”) bestows upon the Church and the Church (as the “wife”) returns His love with RESPECT.

God’s standard for marriage is related to Christ’s relationship to His Church.

The best way to understand the Bible is to first understand what the words meant to the writer and his original audience.  We have to get into their culture, their language, their situation to really appreciate what these words MEANT to them.

Having been diligent in that first step allows us to recognize the eternal truths that are conveyed in that original context.  With these principles in hand, we can apply them to our own situation, using words and symbols that convey that meaning to people of our own time and culture, in language that best communicates those principles.

Paul is clearly calling husbands and wives to a higher standard of relationship.  By using marriage as a symbol of Christ and His Church, Paul exalted the marriage relationship above that of the parent-child relationship and the master-slave relationship, which he mentions but does not use as a theological illustration.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #369

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

The Significance of Singleness

A BOOK REPORT

on

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SINGLENESS

(Baker Academic, 2018)

by

CHRISTINA S. HITCHCOCK

marriage mandate

A review by Brett Best

January, 2019

THE BOTTOM LINE

            According to the subtitle, Hitchcock’s book promises to be “A Theological Vision for the Future of the Church.”  It does not deliver on that promise.  Instead, it is an overreaction to the “marriage mandate movement” in evangelical Christianity.  The author is not content to set singleness and marriage on a level playing field but seeks to tip the balance to the assumption that singleness is an inherently more spiritual situation.  (Full disclosure: she is married with children.)

IN THE AUTHOR’S OWN WORDS – STATEMENTS OF THESIS

            Characterizing the usual evangelical position she wrote, “Thus marriage presents both an appealing lifestyle and a powerful picture of who God is and what he is doing while singleness does neither.” (p. 7)

“Singleness is a sign not of loneliness but of perfected community.” (p. 33)

“Although Protestants do not consider marriage to be a sacrament, many still treat it as if it were one.” (p. 78)

“The true ground of authority in the church is always God and the gifting of the Holy Spirit.  This direct link to Christ through the Holy Spirit is made clearer in single people than in married people because single people have fewer natural relations to whom we might attribute their authority.  The church needs single people to remind us that our own commissioner is God.” (p. 124)

BY THE BOOK – MY REACTIONS TO CHAPTERS

“INTRODUCTION”

            The introduction oversells the purpose of the book, devoting too much attention to the author’s personal life.  It’s better skipped, unless the reader has an interest in the author’s situation or curiosity about why the author feels this book “had to be written.”  As will be characteristic throughout the book, the author resorts to assertions of opinion as fact, stereotyping Evangelicalism, and unsubstantiated assertions of how the Church has “punted” on the subject of singleness.

1 = “WHY SINGLENESS?”

            Attempting to cure what the author identifies as a widespread, deep and long-standing bias against singleness, Hitchcock wields an uncritically assumed generalization as fact: that the Church (especially the Evangelical branch) has adopted the culture’s view of sexuality as a means of achieving maturity, even personhood.  This charge will be levied often in the book.  It’s ironic that liberal Christians consume and even champion our culture’s permissive view of sexuality but in these pages conservative Christians are accused of doing the same thing.

Hitchcock asserts that an exaltation of singleness as inherently more spiritual will open all kinds of doors, helping the Church better deal with all sexuality issues.  To Hitchcock this is apparently self-evident as nothing resembling proof or explaining the points of such a process is offered.

What she calls the Marriage Mandate is the bogeyman.  It serves the author as a handy straw dog that she knocks over repeatedly instead of substantiating exactly how sanctifying singleness is going put the Church in a better state.

I wonder if the author is not guilty of over-correcting.  If she sought balance instead of making the same error on the side of singleness as she alleges the Church has made on the side of marriage, the whole would be more palatable.  As it is, the author offers hand-wringing and complaint in excess and little vision or practicable action.

2 = “MACRINA (SINGLENESS AND COMMUNITY)”

            The life of St. Macrina serves the author as an excellent example of the principles she wants to will in to existence, but I wonder at the historicity of the accounts she cites.  Macrina’s story may be exemplary, but are the sources reliable enough to cite as proofs?

Hitchcock’s thinking is binary; either singleness or marriage must be exalted as “the” spiritual condition?  The more logical assumption would be that neither state is inherently more spiritual, they are simply different.  Each status carries advantages and disadvantages.  Why rely on  “either…or” thinking to prop up pedagogy exalting singleness?

The idea of “updating” the Creation Mandate to reflect all of biblical revelation is good, but it is only explored as it supports Hitchcock’s thesis.  That notion should be treated with the same skepticism that is needed when the Left talks about the US Constitution as a “living document,” which serves as an excuse for putting modern words in the mouths of the Founders.

3 = “PERPETUA (SINGLENESS AND IDENTITY)”

            This chapter starts with the bare facts of Perpetua as a first century martyr who had an infant child at the time of her death.  To that the author adds speculation that suits her thesis.  It becomes a tangential discourse on the practice of baptism in the early church.  The relevance of the baptism study is Hitchcock’s assertion that baptism establishes a new Christian identity.  Because the father of Perpetua’s child is unnamed, Perpetua’s assumed baptism cements her identity as a single person.  This is an example of the forced, tortured “logic” that pervades the book.  Repeatedly asserting things as true does not make them true.

The chapter has so little to do with the topic of singleness I wonder why the author worked so hard to shoehorn it in.  It is the most obvious example of bending evidence and rhetoric to prop up her thesis.  In each of the three “historical” chapters I see the usual postmodern assumption that narrative trumps rhetoric.   In this case, the narrative has been tweaked to make it better suit the thesis.

4 = “LOTTIE MOON (SINGLENESS AND AUTHORITY)”

            Hitchcock offers Lottie Moon and the success of her Chinese mission as proof that singleness is the preferred qualification for ministry.  Had Hitchcock ever offered her assertions with some qualification such as “in some situations,” one might find more agreement.  As it is, anecdotes are not evidence, narrative does not trump rhetoric (it merely illustrates it), and one does not achieve correction by offering the opposite in exactly the same position/proportion as the problem.

In this chapter, the author’s point about Miss Moon’s career is held until the last page.  This is a suspect practice, deferring scrutiny.

Lottie Moon is the most verifiable of the three narratives and Hitchcock does a good job of demonstrating that she was an exceptional person.  However, that cuts both ways; her exceptionality logically argues against making her experience the basis of the generalities Hitchcock endorses in this book.  Clearly, not every single person is going to duplicate Lottie Moon’s influence and success.

5 = “HOW SINGLENESS CAN SHAPE US INTO BETTER THEOLOGIANS”

            The final chapter is the weakest.  Hitchcock’s hand-wringing over Evangelical “idolizing” of marriage is offered as reason enough to swap the two-person idol for the single person idol the author proposes.  The empty promise that singleness is inherently more spiritual is not logical or biblical.  Hitchcock has not provided us with a vision – theological or otherwise.

CONCLUSION:  AVOIDABLE

            Apart from the shoehorned section on first century baptism practices, there is little of value here.  The book is a journal article that has been inflated to fill 100+ pages.  While there is much to criticize about the American Church’s treatment of the subject of marriage, there is nothing practical and little theological value in Hitchcock’s treatment of the subject.  A more nuanced view seeing marriage and singleness as both having potential and pitfalls would be more logical and more biblical, and therefore, more helpful.  We ought to seek ways to honor and support persons who seek God within their marital status, whatever it may be.  For what it’s worth, my advice is to avoid spending any time on The Significance of Singleness.

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solution (5 of 7)

#5 = Lust/True Love

Lust (impurity) violates God’s command to honor Him with our body.  True Love keeps His commands.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

ginger

“Ginger Grant” (the “movie star”); a character on the “Gilligan’s Island” TV series.

The actress who portrayed Ginger on the show was Tina Louise, an actress who had an impressive acting resume on stage and screen.  In fact, her acting career started at age two when she appeared in an ad for her father’s candy business!  In 1958 the National Arts Council named her the Most Beautiful Redhead.  (What has that got to do with ART?)  She and cast mate Dawn Wells are the only two survivors of Gilligan’s Island.

Ms. Louise won the role after Jayne Mansfield turned it down.  She became increasingly unhappy with the role, claiming it typecast her and ultimately ruined her career.  Her dislike of the character might be implied in the fact that she turned down every chance to reprise the role in subsequent Gilligan’s Island movies.

On the other hand, there aren’t many roles that come along that make an actor a “pop culture icon.”  In fact, in 2005, a TVLand special program ranked Tina Louise as second only to Heather Locklear as TV’s all-time sex symbols.

Because the character of Ginger was written to be beautiful and glamorous, it is an obvious choice to link the character with the vice of LUST.  Additionally, Tina Louise traded on her good looks to encourage LUST, appearing twice in “Playboy” magazine.  This means both Ginger and Tina are good choices as symbols of the modern malady of LUST.

  1. The vicious vice of IMPURITY (Matthew 5:27-30).

What are the sins of impurity, including lust?  First of all, sexual impurity violates God’s will.  God’s will in sexuality simply expressed: a husband and wife may enjoy sexuality together.  In any other relationship, sex is “adultery;” the Bible term that includes all the other variations on sexuality you can name.

In a culture drowning in sexual sin, we especially need to maintain a healthy balance on this subject.  Adultery is only one sin of many.  In the mind of God, it is no better or worse than any other.

Adultery is condemned in the Seventh Commandment: in Exodus 20:14 we read, YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.  In the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17) a man is not co covet your neighbor’s wife.  The similarity of these prohibitions lead to the misconception that ADULTERY was a form of thievery, reflecting an attitude toward women that they are the property of a husband or father.  We need to make a distinction between the two: the sin of coveting involves property, not people.  Though it may feel similar, the sin of lust involve people, not property.

Jesus broadened the definition of adultery to include lust. In Matthew 5:27 He compared the Old Covenant with the New Covenant He was making, introducing the topic with “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID.”  Under the old definition, adultery was misidentified as being a version of theft, motivated by covetousness.  This combination of the 7th & 10 Commandments.

This was wrong in two other ways: it placed the responsibility for the sin on the woman but gave the authority to resolve it to the man.  It put a wife on the level of other property.

As with all kinds of sin, sexual impurity has deadly consequences.   In Jesus’ time, they understood it as a physical act of unfaithfulness, not as an attitude of unfaithfulness.  However, in v. 28 Jesus supplied a new, larger, and more challenging definition.

His new and better way was to understand adultery as being sinful as a physical act AND as an emotional/mental act as well.  Jesus condemned LUST as marking a person as being just as guilty of adultery as persons physically committing it: “ANYONE WHO LOOKS AT A WOMAN LUSTFULLY HAS ALREADY COMMITTED ADULTERY WITH HER IN HIS HEART.”

This word LUST is to be understood as a prolonged look while mentally considering a sexual act.  In the Greek, there is more to LUST than meets the eye.  (Pun fully intended!!)  The word LUST included a consideration of the physical act, even planning how to do it.

What’s true of ADULTERY is also true of other sins.  An act is sinful because it takes a sinful thought and/or perpetuates it in an evil act.  The process is explained in JMS 1:13-18.  Let me be clear about what Jesus taught; ADULTERY is just as much a lustful look and/or thought as it is a physical act.

Morally speaking, we are not responsible when temptations come to us spontaneously.  We are responsible for tempting ourselves, but we are in all cases responsible for our reaction to temptation.  If we keep looking at it, keep thinking about it, or dwell on it, we are responsible for turning temptation into sin.  If we avert our eyes, dismiss it from our thoughts, pray, and in any other way resist the devil, we are not guilty of sin.  We need to resolve, as Job did, to look away from temptation and thereby avoid sin.  In Job 31:1 it is written; “I MADE A COVENANT WITH MY EYES NOT TO LOOK LUSTFULLY AT A YOUNG WOMAN.”  This is an example of a simple and practical means to minimize the frequency and depth of temptations.  As ever, Jesus’ standard is higher; it is not enough just to refrain from the physical act, but one must also avoid the heart-attitude to avoid being guilty of adultery.

Avoiding the temptation and repenting of it is the more important thing.  One measure of the deadly consequences of sin is the lengths to which one is willing to go to prevent being guilty.  In vs. 29-30, Jesus sets a high value on avoiding adultery.  The seriousness of a crime is determined by the seriousness of its punishment.

I don’t know about you, but I value my RIGHT EYE and my RIGHT HAND pretty highly.  Jesus said these are worthless compared to life after death. In this teaching, Jesus is on the same page as Jewish rabbis of the time, who taught:

“The eyes and the hand are the two brokers of sin.”

“Woe to him who goes after his eyes, for they are adulterous.”

Some people think Jesus is exaggerating here a bit or using metaphoric language.  It doesn’t make sense to them that Jesus would really advocate self-mutilation as an alternative to self-control.

I disagree.  I believe He was being literal.  In this teaching, Jesus puts a high value on the deadliness of sin and on the worth of eternal life with God.  When you think about it, what He said is true: it’d be better to give these body parts up than lose one’s entire self to hell and eternal death.  Two counterpoints: One, sin is serious.  It is deadly.  With this sin and with others, we’ve got to stop winking and making excuses.

Two, heaven is so wonderful, it’s worth everything in this world.  There is nothing we can give up to earn salvation, but if there was anything of this world that we might have to give up to obtain eternal life the trade would be a no-brainer.  Jesus made this point again in 16:26; “WHAT GOOD WILL IT BE FOR A MAN IF HE GAINS THE WHOLE WORLD, YET FORFEITS HIS SOUL?”  As we read in verse 29: it is far better to sacrifice earthly things than lose heavenly blessings.

ADULTERY, like all other kinds of sin, often has consequences in this life.   There are consequences to every decision we make; some of them occur naturally and others are chosen (”structured”) for us by God and/or others.  In the case of ADULTERY, the natural consequences can include diseases and relationships broken by feelings of betrayal.  The structured consequences are intended to end the sin, enable repentance, and restore relationships by means of forgiveness.

A fourth warning about sexual sin is that it is a perversion of true love.  Based on Jesus’ teaching, any part of love we’ve promised to our spouse that is given to another is ADULTERY.  A look, a thought, a flirtation – anything that is outside the blessing of marriage can be ADULTERY without any kind of physical contact involved.

The devil can’t use the things of God to tempt us, so he uses copies.  Like a reflection in a broken mirror, these are false and distorted versions of the truth.  In this case, LUST is a distorted version of LOVE.  A person guilty of LUST is entirely wrapped up in themselves.  A person in LOVE is wrapped up in their beloved.  The difference is obvious.

A fifth reason to understand IMPURITY as deadly is that it defies God’s commands to use our body to glorify God; ADULTERY is doing the opposite.

A couple examples summarize this command to use our physical selves to point others to God.  In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 we read, FLEE FROM SEXUAL IMMORALITY.  ALL OTHER SINS A MAN COMMITS ARE OUTSIDE HIS BODY, BUT HE WHO SINS SEXUALLY SINS AGAINST HIS OWN BODY.  DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHO IS IN YOU, WHOM YOU HAVE RECEIVED FROM GOD?  YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN; YOU WERE BOUGHT AT A PRICE.  THEREFORE HONOR GOD WITH YOUR BODY.  Romans 12:1 teaches, THEREFORE, I URGE YOU, BROTHERS, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY, TO OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, HOLY AND PLEASING TO GOD – WHICH IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.

  1. The vital virtue of TRUE LOVE (JHN 15:9-17).

What makes love “true?”  True love has its origin in God’s love.   In John 15: 9+10, Jesus urged His disciples to REMAIN in His LOVE.   In verses 12+17, He made it a command; we are to love one another as He loved us.  Merrill Tenney’s comment on this verse is instructive: “Unity instead of rivalry, trust instead of suspicion, obedience instead of self-assertion must rule the disciples’ common labors.”

In verse eleven we find that true love for God is revealed in obedience.  Love is being wrapped up in God, not self.

Obedience is putting God’s will ahead of my own.

Obedience is surrendering my freedom to do evil in return for the true freedom to do good.

Obedience is leaving slavery to sin to call God our true Master.

Obedience is the source of COMPLETE JOY in our lives.

True love for others is revealed in the sacrifices we make in order to witness to them about Jesus and serve them in His name (v. 13).  Love shows preference for the beloved.

Verses 14-16 warn that the world does not know or practice TRUE LOVE.  Our culture settles for the lesser goals of “tolerance” and satisfaction.  Why settle for mere tolerance when love is a deeper commitment?  Why make self-satisfaction our goal when satisfying the will of God gives COMPLETE JOY?  These verses call us to the deepest kind of love as our first love.

Since sexuality is limited to the husband-wife relationship, we benefit by asking, what are God’s purposes in marriage?  Why did He create it?

One divine purpose for marriage is the foundation of families, which are the building-blocks of civilization.  From the beginning of the Bible and throughout its pages, God instituted marriage as the fundamental human relationship, the source of life and the organizational principle.

Another divine purpose is that marriage be a source of blessing to husband and wife.  Because they are one in Christ, they are to bless all around them.  When He made the world, God declared all of it good, except for one thing: the man’s being alone.  God completed Adam’s manhood by complementing it with Eve’s womanhood.  And so it has always been that the two become a fuller version of the one.  The other blessings of marriage include:

Physical pleasure in sexual ways, but in all the other worldly senses as well.

Emotional pleasure; companion-ship is supposed to be part of marital relations.  Whenever people are in right relationship with one another, COMPLETE JOY is to be the result.

Spiritual maturity is the highest expression of love.  The family founded on husband and wife is supposed to be a relation-ship of mutual support and growth in grace.

A third divine purpose in marriage is to create a place to learn about true love and to train others (children especially) in true love. God’s word reveals that the ideal in God’s institution of marriage is that the two become ONE FLESH (Gensis 2:24).  This is where families begin: at marriage, not at childbirth.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 makes it clear that the family is, in God’s plan, the primary means of passing the faith along from one generation to the next.  This is the priority in family life, training children in godliness.

The primary relationship in families is that of husband and wife, NEVER parent and child.  When we make marriage our priority, family life improves on its own.  It is the child-centered parenting of the last 2-3 generations that has created so many disastrous things in our culture.

Fourth and finally, God wants marriage to be a foretaste of heaven and a symbol of the relationship between God and His people.  Isaiah 54:5; 62:5; Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 2:19-20; Revelation 19:7 are samples of the scriptures that utilize the metaphor of God as the Groom and His people as His bride.

Its a good metaphor: marriage is an institution created by God, a relationship that is created by entering into a covenant.  So is God’s relationship with His people.  Marriage is a voluntary covenant where two parties motivated by love join together.  Marriage is, ideally, the relationship we know as being the deepest, most joyous celebration of love.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

tinder

“Tinder,” a photo sharing app used as a dating service.  On the surface, Tinder is an app used for sharing pictures.  Users post pictures and look at other posts by swiping a finger across their phone screen to move from one picture to another.  Though it is not billed as a dating service, Tinder is nonetheless used to search for possible dates and initiate conversations.

Tinder has been selected as a symbol of LUST because the pictures posted are sometimes lewd and because with nothing more than pictures to see, people are deciding with whom they want to hook up for casual sex or pursue lasting relationships on the basis of what they see.  People will swipe from picture to picture until they find someone visually appealing and then initiate a conversation with that person.  In this way, Tinder is the EPITOME of LUST!

To understand the scope of Tinder and other sites like it, I offer two bits of data.   The first, from Wikipedia; as of 2015, there are 1.6 billion Tinder users.  “More than 8 billion matches have been made since Tinder launched in 2012.”  The second, from a website called “The Bustle,” citing a study by a marketing service called “Simple Texting,” 13.6% of dating app users have made matches that result in engagement or marriage.  The third, from the Wikipedia again; the biggest group of users of Tinder are in the 16-24 years old range.

Tinder enables people to make life-changing decisions on the basis of a single picture.  In this way, it works very much like LUST; on just one look.  To use this app is to treat love like a slot machine.  Gambling with your life is even more foolish than gambling with your money.

A Saintly Stepfather

(Please read Matthew 1:18-25 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV as a basis for these remarks.)
There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates.
“That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.”
“No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
A less materialistic little fellow came closer to the real meaning of Christmas. A store owner was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with his young son when he saw another store owner with whom he had been friends for some time. The two of them exchanged greetings and spoke with each other about what a financially profitable season it had been for their respective stores. The small boy overheard his father say, “This has been the best Christmas ever.”
As the store owners parted company, the father and son continued their shopping, but the father noticed his son had become very quiet. He inquired as to his son’s silence, and his son replied, “Dad, you just told Mr. Johnson that this was the best Christmas ever.”
His dad replied, “I did, son. The economy is great, and people are really spending.”
“O.K.” the son replied, “It’s just that I always thought the first Christmas was the best one.”
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>
More than any other holy day, Christmas has been co-opted by our culture, turning it into something irrelevant to the event itself. We know from church history that the church took Dec. 25th away from the pagans who were celebrating the winter solstice. Now it seems they want their
holiday back.
The important thing to we who believe is keeping our perspective in order. At Christmas, we celebrate one of God’s signature events. He became one of us. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man at the same time is a fact that taxes our knowledge and our imagination, but is wholly necessary for a saving faith.
Whatever reason others may have to observe Christmas in their own way, ours is to look to the Incarnation, the in-boy revelation of God, and rejoice that He came. This is why we return to the biblical texts year after year, reaffirming the faith we have received as a heritage and work to pass along as a legacy.
Last Sunday we looked at the family tree of Jesus. There we saw an important if neglected figure in our history of faith, a man named Zerubbabel. He set an example of perseverance and devotion to doing the will of God that we would do well to follow.
Which leads us to today. At the top of that family tree we found the name Joseph. Joseph, we should observe, was NOT the biological father of Jesus. While Matthew includes Jesus at the very top of Joseph’s family tree, this is not for the usual reason. It is not a relationship of blood that bound Jesus to Joseph.
As we shall see, God is the Father of Jesus. One of the persons of the Trinity would, from Jesus’ birthday forward, be known as “God the Son” because he accepted a human body that God the Holy Spirit made for Him in cooperation with a brave little lady named Mary.
Out of convenience and respect we refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “father,” but it would be more accurate to say that he was Jesus’ “stepfather” or “adoptive father.” I do not make this point to take anything away from Joseph. He too is a great man of faith who sets an example for us to follow.
1. Joseph made a wrong but kind decision (1:18-19).
It was a wrong decision because he did not know the true means of Mary’s pregnancy. Verse eighteen clearly tells the reader the cause of Mary’s pregnancy: THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since he believed that Mary’s pregnancy was disgraceful, Joseph decided to DIVORCE her.
It was kind decision because he did not want to expose Mary to disgrace or harm. Joseph writhed on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he was FAITHFUL TO THE LAW. The Law had a very strict penalty for adultery; death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:10). On the other hand, Joseph wished to spare Mary of both kinds of suffering if he could. If he extended her mercy, that outcome could be avoided. However, there was still the court of public opinion and the DISGRACE Mary would face in the community.
Joseph resolved his dilemma by his decision to keep the DIVORCE and its cause quiet. He wanted to keep Mary and her pregnancy out of the public eye as much as possible. In this instance, Joseph is an example of the classic struggle between law and grace, between holiness and love. Knowing how to balance these sometimes complimentary virtues is one essence of wisdom.
2. God’s messenger changed Joseph’s mind (1:20-21).
The word “angel” literally means “messenger.” The ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM to deliver God’s message about the truth behind Mary’s pregnancy.
Let’s note the specifics of the message.
The angel addresses him as JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, it is essential to note that Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send a Messiah. One aspect of the Messiah is that he would continue the dynasty of David, being one of His descendants. We looked into this last week. Though Joseph is not Jesus’ father, it is still important that he be a descendant of David, and that fact is affirmed again by the angel.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY HOME AS YOUR WIFE. Of what was Joseph AFRAID? Based on the context, we can assume he was afraid of violating the Law. He may have also feared public ridicule or retribution.
This statement is puzzling if we don’t understand that culture’s wedding traditions. When the marriage was arranged and agreed-upon, the couple was considered to be married in every way until the wedding day. Then the wedding was held and the union consummated for the first time. What looks to us as an “engagement” is a different relationship in their culture. In this case, as Mary’s “reputation” was already under suspicion, Joseph was told to move up the wedding date and immediately include Mary in the home he had made for the two of them.
WHAT IS CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mary was not, as everyone assumed, guilty of adultery. She had not cheated on Joseph. Just the opposite; she had been faithful to both Joseph and God. The truth of the matter was that her pregnancy was a miraculous act of God.
SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON…YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS…HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. HIS PEOPLE are the Jews. Jesus’ own description of His mission was to the nation of Israel first.
FROM THEIR SINS = Jesus came to save people. Sin leads to death. The sacrifice of blood is God’s cure for the problem of sin and Jesus’ blood would be shed for that purpose.
3. Interlude: explaining prophecy (1:22-23).
As we’ve observed, Matthew is very concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, so, no surprise that 22 verses into his Gospel, we have the first citation of fulfilled prophecy. This is not part of the angel’s message, it’s an aside delivered by Matthew. Let’s note the specifics.
THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH. This is obviously a supernatural, miraculous occurrence. Both Matthew and Luke go to lengths (as we’ll see in v. 25) to let us know Mary’s pregnancy was this miracle.
To be clear – the conception of Jesus was supernatural; a miracle. The birth of Jesus was completely natural and typical. Mary shared the experience of every mother from Eve onward.
SHE WILL…GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, just as the angel predicted to Joseph in v. 21. As we see later in the passage, this is exactly what came to pass.
THEY WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL might, at first glance, seem contradictory with the angel’s instruction to Joseph to name Him Jesus. Note that THEY, not “you” will call Him Immanuel. This is a name others will bestow on Jesus. The meaning of this name or title is literally “God with us;” Jesus was God present in the flesh. What is more significant than the name itself is what it tells us about Jesus; He would be GOD WITH US.
4. Joseph completely obeyed God (1:24-25).
WHEN JOSEPH WOKE UP means he didn’t waste any time. Joseph was obedient in time and in the fullness of the angel’s instructions.
It’s my pet theory that the wedding date was moved up and perhaps it was observed without the usual fanfare and the customary week-long party. I speculate that it was early enough in Mary’s pregnancy that no one else knew about it and a quick wedding might mislead others into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son.
This theory has only a little support in the Bible. In Matthew 13:55, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His ministry, the people of Nazareth remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” If they had ever known about Mary’s pregnancy before consummating her relationship with Joseph, they forgot about it. I like to think that Joseph was such a kind-hearted man that he was willing to endure a slur on his character rather than let Mary take the heat for something she clearly had not done; be unfaithful to him.
Joseph is such a faithful man he took the command of God one step further and did not insist on his conjugal rights: HE DID NOT CONSUMMATE THEIR MARRIAGE UNTIL [after] SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A SON. This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy entirely, maintaining Mary’s virginity until the birth of Jesus. Also, Joseph followed through on all the angel’s instructions and GAVE [Mary’s son] THE NAME JESUS.
For all kinds of reasons, Christmas has occasionally been a tense, hotly contested holiday. One of the recurring stories is non-Christians complaining about how the holiday gives Christianity too much of the spotlight.
You may remember that our former governor Bill Janklow was not one to let complaints bother him too much. When criticized about having a nativity scene on display, Janklow prepared to let every religion put something on display in the Capitol, and even set aside an “empty corner” for the use of atheists.
Tony Cooke and David Beebe came up with a cute and insightful look at the conflicts of Christmas. They took a popular poem and wrote their own version of it. The titled it ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.
‘Twas the fight before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was peaceful,
Not even my spouse.
The bills were strung out on our table with dread,
In hopes that our checkbook would not be in the red.
The children were fussing and throwing a fit,
When Billy came screaming and cried, “I’ve been bit.”
And Momma with her skillet, and I with the remote,
She said, “You change one more channel and I’ll grab your throat.”
When on the TV there arose such a clatter,
I sat up on the couch to see what was the matter.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
The cable was out, it was my worst fear.
“The Cowboys, the Celtics, the Raiders, the Knicks,
Without the sports channel I’d soon need a fix!”
And then in the midst of my grievous sorrow,
I remembered the times I had promised, “tomorrow…”
“Not now, my children, but at some soon time,
Dad will play with you, and things will be fine.”
Now under conviction, I looked at my wife,
Where was my kindness? Why all the strife?
My heart quickly softened; I now saw my task,
Some love and attention was all they had asked.
I gathered my family and called them by name,
And told them with God’s help I’d not be the same.
We’ll keep Christ in Christmas and honor His plan.
No more fights before Christmas—on that we will stand.
My children’s eyes twinkled; they squealed with delight.
My wife gladly nodded; she knew I was right.
It was the fight before Christmas, but God’s love had come through,
And just like He does, He made all things new.
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>

We redeem the days of Advent by following the faith example set for us by Joseph.  In addition to being faithful to God’s will, Joseph showed grace.  He demonstrated personal holiness in his full devotion to God and gracious love in the sacrifices he made for Mary and by adopting Jesus as his son.

Love Finds A Way

(Please read Ruth 3:1-18 in any version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks with the NIV.)

A “job interview question” about three people at a bus stop, by Alvin Alexander, Aug 5, 2011

You are driving down the road in your car on a wild and stormy night. The weather is like a hurricane, with heavy rains, high winds, and lightning flashing constantly. While driving, you come across a partially-covered bus stop, and you can see three people waiting for a bus:

  • An old woman who looks as if she is about to die.
  • An old friend who once saved your life.
  • The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.

You can pick up the old woman, because she is going to die, and thus you should save her first. Or you can take the old friend because he once saved your life, and this would be the perfect chance to pay him back. However, you may never be able to find your perfect mate again.<Retrieved on 7/16/15 from http://alvinalexander.com/blog/post/software-dev/job-interview-question-car-bus-stop-three-people.&gt;

Marriages come about in all sorts of ways, don’t they?  Today we’re continuing our look at Ruth and how her mother-in-law contrived to put Ruth into an arranged marriage.

The answer from the Bruce Willis character in “16 Blocks:” “I would give the car keys to my old friend, and let him take the old woman to the hospital. Then I would stay behind and wait for the bus with the partner of my dreams.”

Knowing that you only have room for one passenger in your car (it’s a really small car), which one would you choose to offer a ride to? And why?

Message: The love of God and the love of His people will always find a way to do the right thing.

 

  1. Naomi acted as a match-maker.

It is no disrespect of Scripture or Naomi to say that there is some kind-hearted manipulation in her. Ruth gleaned in the same fields for SEVEN WEEKS without any mention of marriage! So Naomi decided to take matters into her own hands.  What may have motivated her to do so?

– Naomi cared about Ruth and believed she was too young to be a widow all her life.

– The family name and lands would not be saved for future generations except as Ruth remarried.

– Naomi does not want to be a beggar all her life, so she’s providing a home for herself as well.

There is a biblical precedent for a widow taking an assertive, proactive role in this matter of remarriage to save her family. In Deuteronomy 25:7-9, provision is made in the Law for a widow to demand that the kinsman-redeemer marry her.  If he refused, she was permitted to shame him by taking off his sandal, striking him with it and spitting on him!

So Naomi took initiative and set the stage for a kindly suggestion of marriage.  She instructed Ruth to:

– “WASH AND PERFUME YOURSELF.”

– “PUT ON YOUR BEST CLOTHES.”  These words are also used in Ezekiel 16:9-13 to describe a bride preparing for her wedding ceremony.

– “Go to where Boaz is, but don’t let him see you.”  Ruth was a familiar sight at the fields of Boaz, so she might easily go unnoticed.

– “WHEN HE LIES DOWN…GO AND UNCOVER HIS FEET AND LIE DOWN.”  Now THIS seems odd to us.  Let’s note first that Boaz’s presence on the threshing floor that night proves again his unpretentious character.  He had celebrated fellowship with his workers and spent the night with them too.

A difficulty for interpreters is that these actions have sexual connotations elsewhere in Scripture.  But let me assure you there is no such double entendre here.  Based on the context, we know the relationship between Ruth and Boaz was innocent, in spite of how these words might be taken elsewhere. (It’s similar to the way our culture takes the meaning of innocent words and twists them: “sleeping together” connotes activities other than sleep.  Watch an old movie and you’ll find out the original meaning of “gay.”)

– “HE WILL TELL YOU WHAT TO DO.”  It’s important to remind everyone of the righteous character of Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth.  Naomi is not asking Ruth to do anything illicit.  She’s merely devised a way to get Ruth and Boaz together but alone.  She trusted Boaz to do the right thing and that’s exactly what he did!

We’re not told what Ruth thought about all this.  What’s important is that she obeyed her mother-in-law; “I WILL DO WHATEVER YOU SAY.” (6-7).

Later, after this contrived encounter was concluded, Ruth returned home and gave Naomi a full accounting (16-18).  Naomi was content to think that she’d done all she could do and left it in Boaz’s hands.  This expresses confidence about the character of Boaz and also trust in God; He can handle this.

  1. Boaz was willing, but there was one hitch before they could be hitched.

All of this caught Boaz in an especially good mood (7). In these cultures, times of harvest and sheep-shearing were often celebrated with feasts.  These could be drinking parties, but there’s no reason to assume that Boaz was drunk; as with the “uncovered feet,” this language should be taken literally, not euphemistically.  The text reveals the opposite of a drunkard just as it reveals the opposite of a lecher.  Boaz’s behavior indicates an intelligent, moral, and respectful man as well as a sober man.  This should not be understood as luck, but as God’s hand directing events.

Boaz was suddenly awakened (by cold feet?!) and startled to find someone lying at his feet.  If you’ve ever been awakened by the sensation that somebody is watching you, you know how creepy that feels.  If not, we’ve all had the experience of awakening to find one’s self uncovered and feeling for your sheet and blanket.

Ruth identified herself and made a very specific request that sounds a little odd in our ears; “ SPREAD THE CORNER OF YOUR GARMENT OVER ME, SINCE YOU ARE MY KINSMAN-REDEEMER.” The formal nature of these words may imply that she knew enough about Israelite customs to understand what all this signified.  Or perhaps she’d been thoroughly coached by Naomi on the right words to say.  Either way, this is a euphemism for marriage and, more generally, a plea for protection.  The corner of a garment is likened to a bird protecting its young.

Boaz received Ruth’s statement with enthusiasm tempered by duty.  He showed enthusiasm for the idea of marriage to her in verses ten to eleven.

– Boaz blessed Ruth and spoke kindly to her: “THE Lord BLESS YOU, MY DAUGHTER.”

– He appreciated her intention: “THIS KINDNESS IS GREATER THAN THAT WHICH YOU SHOWED EARLIER: YOU HAVE NOT RUN AFTER THE YOUNGER MEN, WHETHER RICH OR POOR.”  This is a Sadie Hawkins kind of approach; Ruth had effectively asked Boaz to marry her.  He was flattered and pleased that she had chosen him over younger men and without regard to material wealth.

– He complimented her: “AND NOW, MY DAUGHTER, DON’T BE AFRAID.  I WILL DO FOR YOU ALL YOU ASK.  ALL THE PEOPLE OF MY TOWN KNOW THAT YOU ARE A WOMAN OF NOBLE CHARACTER.”  Boaz Said this to calm any fears Ruth might have about offending him with her assertive behavior.  You know how sensitive men can be about being told what to do!  In fact, he swears an oath, “AS SURELY AS THE LORD LIVES.”  A WOMAN OF NOBLE CHARACTER is a phrase used in Proverbs 31:10 to describe the “ideal woman.”

Boaz was also a man who knew his duty as the Law defined it.  He was obedient to the letter of the law (12-13).  This is a refreshing attitude in any age!  He knew of one who was nearer in kinship to Naomi and Ruth than he.  By law, this man had the first choice of whether or not to redeem Ruth.

Let’s note that he did not send Ruth to this other man; that would have been awkward and potentially unkind.  Instead, he insisted on going to speak to him on her behalf.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for widow means “one who has no voice.”  Boaz volunteered to be Ruth’s voice in this matter.

The end of this passage leaves the reader with a bit of a “cliffhanger” and three more demonstrations of Boaz’s loving-kindness (13-15).

– Out of concern for Ruth’s safety, he required her to remain with him through the night (13-14).  In the most civilized situations, gadding about in the middle of the night can carry some danger.  This was NOT the most civilized situation.

– Out of a concern for her reputation, he required her to leave early, before anyone else saw that she’d been there all night.  We must work to have a good conscience and at the same time a good reputation.  Gossips are going to gossip, but we don’t need to give them any ammunition!

– Out of a concern for Ruth’s household, he generously gave her some more barley to take to her mother-in-law (15-17). The measure described here is close to what we saw Ruth glean in a whole day’s work in chapter 2.  It was about as much as she could carry.  Additionally, if anyone happened to take notice of Ruth in the morning, her carrying grain away would look like she’d had a purpose in being around the threshing floor; this was another way of denying the gossips anything to talk about.

In his sermon on Ruth 3, Pastor Ryan O’Bryan wrote:

“From the stories I’ve heard, many proposals don’t happen soon enough for one or the other person in the relationship!  I heard a story of one guy who really put things off. He’d been going with a young woman for six years and still nothing by way of proposal.

“One evening, she decided she’d do something! They sat down at a favorite Chinese restaurant and were ready to order dinner. When the waiter asked the woman, “how do you want your rice?” she said ‘thrown!’”

<Retrieved on 7/16/15 from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/a-bold-request-dean-obryan-sermon-on-examples-of-faith-108895.asp.&gt;

In verse seventeen Ruth quotes Boaz as having told her, “Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.”  These are the last words of Ruth recorded in the book that bears her name.

As Pastor Peter Loughman wrote, these are the words that define this woman: “Ruth is a model of selfless concern for others.  Ruth is the poster child of Jesus’ teaching: The greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all. Ruth is the living model of the New Testament truth: The last shall be first.  Ruth is the personification of getting to the top by fighting your way to the bottom.”

<Retrieved on 7/16/15 from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/from-zero-to-hero-peter-loughman-sermon-on-hardship-of-life-134755.asp.&gt;

When you’ve reached the bottom, be certain, by faith, that love will find a way to get you back on top again.