Thursday, April 13, 2017

He First Loved Us

Today is the Thursday before Good Friday, an appropriate day to think about the events of the night of the Lord’s arrest, when Jesus made a number of startling predictions, all of which came true, and all of which demonstrate the depth of the Lord’s commitment to save sinners.  We can read about these things in Matthew 26.

In 26:21, the Lord foretold that one of the twelve, Judas, would betray Him, would hand Him over to the authorities to be crucified.  He was right.  In 26:31, He predicted to the remaining eleven, “You will all fall away because of me this night…”  That is, Jesus predicted that He would be abandoned by those whom He had chosen and discipled.  He was right.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching and memorable prediction is introduced in 26:33, when Peter responded, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away."

“Lord, I’m different.  I’ll stand by you no matter what.”  Those of us who know what is coming – that Peter will deny the Lord – engage in some Monday Morning Quarterback pity – “poor Peter.  Poor foolish Peter.”  We think that we would be different…which makes us just like Peter.   

Peter thought he would be different than the other disciples who might abandon Jesus.  When we think we would be different than Peter, we are just like Him.  Isn’t that what we think when we read this story?  “If I was one of the disciples, I’d stick beside Jesus.  If I was Peter, I would never deny Him.  I’d stay right there and follow Him all the way to the cross.”

It seldom occurs to us that we abandon Him in various ways now.   We deny Him in various ways now.  We abandon Him for the sake of idols, the world’s pleasure.  We forsake time with Him.  We ignore His Word and fellowship with Him and His church.  We deny Him by the way that we live our lives.  Did you know that that was Paul’s major concern for the professing believers at Crete when he wrote his letter to Titus?  There were people there who claimed to know Christ, but who denied Him by their works (Titus1:16). 

We abandon Him.  We deny Him.  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  He demonstrates this to Peter:

Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same.  (26:34-35) 

“And all the disciples said the same.”  Why do you think Matthew included this detail?  Likely, there are many reasons, but perhaps one is that disciples tend to have a higher opinion of their own faithfulness than they should.  All of them swore they wouldn’t abandon Jesus.  And how many of them were right?

Another reason to mention this is that these details remind us that Jesus knew precisely what was going to happen.  He knew precisely how He would be treated even by those closest to Him…yet it did not deter Him in the least.  Jesus is the only hero in the story.  Everyone else fails.  This casts a long gospel shadow. 

Do you love Jesus?  I’m sure we all do in some way and in some measure, but we all undoubtedly fail Him in many ways.  The beautiful thing about this scene is that the disciples’ love for Jesus or lack thereof had absolutely no bearing on whether or not He would proceed with the Father’s plan.  He was going to die for these men without regard for how they had loved Him or failed Him.  The disciples’ betrayal, abandonment, and denial introduced no hint of hesitation on the part of the Savior. 

It was for these very sins that they needed a Savior.  By their poor treatment of Him, their disregard for Him, their dismissal of Him they demonstrated the depth of their desperate need for Him.  And this Savior is the only Savior who would save such band of unfaithful sinners. 

Jesus doesn’t love us because we first loved Him.  We love because He first loved us.  He loved us when we had nothing to offer Him, when we wanted to offer Him nothing.  What a Savior.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Resources for Understanding the Christian and the Law

In the message on Sunday, I mentioned that we wouldn’t be answering every conceivable question regarding Christians and the law.  Again, we did a more substantive series on the law when we studied Matthew 5:17-20.  Those messages can be found here.

I’d like to recommend a few other resources that I’ve found very helpful and easy to read.  The first is a book by Dr. Tom Schreiner, entitled 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law.  With a title like that I’d prefer not to insult you by describing the format.  However, I will give you an idea of the kinds of questions answered. 
·      Does Paul distinguish between the moral, ceremonial, and civil law?
·      Are Christians under the third use of the law?
·      Is perfect obedience to the law mandatory for salvation?
I love this book because it’s thorough, but it’s written in normal English.  It’s also great in that you don’t have to read the whole thing – just find your question and read that answer.  If you found yourself irritated by the brevity of Sunday’s message and the volume of questions left unanswered, this is the book for you.

Another book by Dr. Schreiner dealing specifically with the issue of Paul’s teaching on the law is TheLaw and It’s Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law.  This is a bit more robust and reads somewhat more like a scholarly work.  I would recommend it for theology nerds who are well familiar with the issue, but who want a deeper treatment of Paul specifically, OR for those who have worked through the 40 Questions book and want to keep digging.

A third resource written by Dr. Douglas Moo is “The Law of Christ as The Fulfillment of the Law of Moses.”  It’s great because it’s shorter than a full-length book, but touches on all the major issues.  It’s one article from a larger work entitled, The Law, The Gospel, and the Modern Christian: Five Views.  It isn’t the easiest read, but it’s manageable, it’s online, and it will answer most questions. 

Happy reading!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

More Discipleship Hows and Whys

For those of you who were absent a couple of Sundays ago when we studied Exo 18:13-27, the main application of the message was that we are called to grow spiritually and to be involved in the spiritual growth of others.  A way of doing this is to get together with another believer to read the Scriptures together and talk about it.  In another post, I’ve suggested a method of Bible reading for long-term retention – this method can be used with another believer to facilitate the kind of one-anothering prescribed in Eph 4:12-16. 

I’ve been so encouraged by the number of people who have told me that they have pursued this kind of relationship since that message.  (Some folks were already doing it! Awesome.)  But I’ve gotten some questions since then that I’d like to answer here for the benefit of all.  I’d also like to share a couple of exhortations for the purpose of perpetuating this new movement at Providence.

In the message on Exodus 18:13-27, I shared a series of questions that can be used to generate discussion when reading the Scriptures with another person.  If you are both reading the same portion of Scripture in the manner prescribed in the above mentioned post, these questions may not be necessary, since you will likely have plenty to talk about without them.  But since I mentioned the questions very quickly in that message, some folks did not have the opportunity to write them down, so here they are:

1) What is one thing that you did not understand in the text read?

2) What is one thing that you had never noticed before?

3) What is one thing that you found particularly moving/convicting/helpful?

To these questions I would add a fourth:

4) How does this passage point us to the Lord Jesus?

If we use Hebrews 10:24-25 as a guide for these meetings, we will approach them with a view toward stirring one another up to love and good works.  So along with the above questions about the text, we should give thought to how we can use the passage to encourage our reading partner to (1) greater affection for the Lord and the church and (2) greater striving for holiness.

I also mentioned in the message that ideally we would do this with a couple of people, one believer who is more mature who can challenge us and another believer who is less mature whom we can help along.  I received a good question about this: does this mean having two one-on-one meetings or one meeting of a group of three?  I had in mind two one-on-one meetings, so that you are able to focus on a different purpose for engaging with the two different people.  That being said, it wouldn’t be a violation of any “rule” to do a group of three.  If you have a group of three excited to get together, do it!

There are two kinds of people that may be slow to pursue this kind of relationship.  The first is people who are introverted.  This is a generality, not a universal truth.  Consider that this is really a matter of obedience to the Scriptures.  You don’t have to engage in this exact mechanism of being involved with other believers, but to be a faithful, participating member of the body, you do need to be having meaningful interaction with other believers in some capacity.  Sunday morning worship simply is not conducive to this kind of interaction.  If our only meaningful conversations about the Lord take place during the greeting time and before and after the service, can we really say that we are stirring one another up and encouraging one another as we’re commanded to do?  Are we really speaking the truth in love as we’re told?  Again, these are not commands given to some elite strata of believers.  They are given to all of us, and the body will not grow as it is designed if we are not all functioning properly. 

The other group of people who may be slow to pursue this kind of relationship is men.  Pretty broad, huh?  Again, a generality, not a universal truth.  The typical reason we give for not doing it is that we’re “too busy.”  This is somewhat comical to me given that a large number of our members already engaging in these kinds of relationships are mothers of small children.  I’ve never been a mother of small children, but I’ve been married to one.  I’m betting that all of us “too busy” men are able to carve out a good ten to twenty minutes here and there to at least close the bathroom door and read.  If the typical mother of small children ever experienced ten uninterrupted minutes alone in any room, she would assume her children had died because it never happens.  If these mothers can meet together, so can the men.  We’re not too busy.  We make time for what’s important to us.  And those of us who went through the Men’s Boot Camp in 2015 know better than to try to go it alone. 

There is wave of Christ&Church affection and good works swelling at Providence.  It has everything to do with the fact that people are taking seriously their responsibility to be involved with one another, pointing each other to Jesus.  If you’re not involved in this, jump in.  If you don’t know who to ask, ask one of the elders and we’ll get you connected to someone.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How quickly should we use the word "heresy"?

While considering the sovereignty of God over salvation last night in our continuing study, Walking in the Excellencies of God, the question arose, “Does the rejection of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ever cross over into heresy?”
To begin to answer that question, let’s consider a couple of main criteria the church has historically used to decide what errors were so far outside the bounds of Scripture that they constituted heresy.  First, does it affect an essential component of the gospel?  The Protestant Reformation represents one of the most serious of theological hills in that it was largely based upon the struggle for the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  The Catholic church had adulterated the gospel to the point that it proposed a salvation by works.  When you introduce works as a means unto justification, you have a “different gospel,” as Paul taught in Galatians 1.  
A few years back, there was a broad attack on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in some of the more liberal pockets of the church.  Even now, Paul Evans, in his Lies We Believe About God, makes a sustained assault on multiple essential components of the gospel, including substitutionary atonement.  A gospel that prescribes a mechanism for salvation other than Christ absorbing God’s wrath in our place is rightly called heresy.  It guts the gospel.

The denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ would also rightly be considered heresy.  Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not raised, “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Do away with the resurrection and you do away with the gospel.  So if a belief removes an essential component of the gospel, it is heresy.  A good diagnostic question could be, “if I hold this particular belief, do I still have the gospel?”  If the answer is “no,” it is heretical. 

Second, does this belief affect the nature of the Godhead?  Most of the theological controversies of the early church surrounded the orthodox understanding of the members of the Trinity.  This is why all of the early creeds are so heavy on the deity of Christ – they fought long and hard to win that theological battle.  We should be willing to stand anytime there is a movement in the church to downgrade a member of the Trinity from our biblical and historically orthodox understanding of them, or to deny the existence of the Trinity in any sense.

So what about the doctrines of grace and unconditional election in particular?  I don’t think that the Arminian view of salvation does harm to any essential component of the gospel.  But the concern is that it does damage to a biblical view of God.  Does Arminian theology affect the nature of the Godhead in such a way that we no longer have biblical Christianity? 

My opinion is that it does not.  With an Arminian view, you still have an orthodox Trinity, and even a sovereign God, although the outworking of that sovereignty is somewhat out of line with the clear teaching of the Bible.  You would be hard pressed to find an Arminian who would disagree with the statement, “God is in control.”  They are going to have an errant understanding of the mechanics and extent of that control, but they still believe that in some sense He is in control and will bring about the fulfillment of all His promises.  

Something to keep in mind is how inflammatory the word "heresy" can be.  I'm all for exposing serious error and calling a spade a spade, but there may be wisdom in engaging in a conversation about why something is a dangerous teaching before pulling out the "heresy" billy club.  We are more likely to be winsome and persuasive if we make our approach in a patient and caring way.  "You're a heretic" tends to shut down communication immediately and lose us a hearing with those who need the truth most.  Additionally, there is nothing that will make us less effective in persuading people of the truth than gaining a reputation as "the boy who cried heresy."  If we label every error "heresy" then we're not going to be taken seriously when it really matters.

I would reserve the word “heresy” for those errors that directly assault the gospel and the nature of the Godhead in such a way that we are no longer left with Christianity.  We may disagree on where that line is.  May the Lord give us wisdom, charity, and grace in our interactions on all such issues. 

I’m happy to continue with this topic.  If you have a follow-up question, you can post it in the comment section or send it to me via email. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Podcast - Truth & Circumstances!

PBF is launching a new podcast today called Truth & Circumstances.  Some questions of the Christian life lend themselves to easy answers from the Bible.  Questions like, “should I pray?” or “what is the proper motive for everything I do?” – these questions require little reasoning from the Scriptures.

But other questions are a bit more complicated and require more digging in the Word.  Truth & Circumstances is a podcast dedicated to answering these kinds of questions.  Along the way, we’d like to help train believers to reason from the Scriptures so that they can find guidance for such issues themselves, and ultimately, live in a way that reflects the glory of God.

The first episode has been posted today.  The second will be posted this coming Tuesday, and subsequent episodes will be posted each Tuesday after that.

You can find out more at  You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter.  If you have any questions you'd like to hear answered on the podcast, those can be submitted via Twitter, the podcast website, or via email to

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How do I change? - The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Part 5

(Warning: This article should be considered “not safe for children.”)
In this series, we’re working through the issues surrounding the common sexual sin of depriving one’s spouse.  So far, we’ve established that this is indeed a sin.  We’ve also considered why it is so dangerous, and we’ve spent the last couple of articles (here and here) looking at some of the most common questions raised about this issue.  In this article, we’ll address the question, “How do I change?”
This article assumes that you’ve considered the Scriptures and realize that depriving your spouse is sinful, it is not an option for you, and you want to change.  The course of action may depend somewhat on why you’ve struggled with this sin.
It could simply be that you don’t like sex.  If that’s the case, you’re not alone.  But as you’ve seen from the material we’ve already posted, the sexual relationship, like marriage as a whole, is a forum for serving another person.  You must adopt a biblical mindset.
The key to overcoming this issue will be to allow the Scriptures to transform your mind.  There are numerous places to go in the Scriptures to meditate on the truth that life as a disciple is one of service.  In addition to the ones we’ve referred to numerous times in this series (1 Cor 7:1-5; Eph 5:22-33), perhaps the best place to go is to the Gospels and pay close attention to how selflessly Jesus gave of Himself to those in need.  He regularly served to the point of exhaustion and beyond, and He made a point to teach this to His disciples.
There is one narrative in the Gospels that is particularly helpful.  It’s the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9.  That may seem strange given our current subject matter.  “What does the feeding of the 5,000 have to do with helping me overcome the habit of depriving my spouse?”  The feeding of the 5,000 has lessons to teach us about any area of service.  It is very relevant to the situation we’re discussing because it found Jesus in the disciples confronted with a task that, humanly-speaking, they’d rather not have done.  The Lord and His disciples were exhausted and desiring some quality time alone together, when this huge crowd crashed their plans.  The disciples wanted to send the people away to fend for themselves, but Jesus said to them, “you give them something to eat.”  The disciples were incredulous.  Their response was essentially, “that’s impossible.”  Not only were the disciples exhausted and wanting to get alone with Jesus, but they thought there was no way on earth they could feed such a huge crowd!
The following narrative shows Jesus feeding that crowd through the disciples in perhaps the least efficient way conceivable in order to make a point to the disciples that it is a blessing to serve.  Jesus had the disciples themselves deliver the food by hand to all these people – 5,000 men not including women and children.  It would have taken hours.  And what was the result?  Afterward Jesus asked the disciples, “who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 
This is significant.  By serving with Christ in a less than desirable circumstance, enabled by His power, they experienced Him in a way they had not before, and they knew then who He was.   
There are numerous lessons to glean from this narrative.  First, as the Lord’s disciples, we serve.  Jesus was teaching, “we serve.  That’s what I do, and that’s what you do as my disciple.” For those who are married, it could be said that marriage is their primary place of service to the Lord and another.  There is no more immediate arena for the expression of one's role as a disciple of Jesus Christ. 
Second, we should approach all service depending upon the strength of the Lord.  That’s what the disciples did in feeding this enormous crowd.  They were right to think they did not have the ability to feed the crowd.  But Jesus did have the ability.  And He did something amazing through them.  Regarding your sexual relationship, you may think, “I can’t do this.”  That may be true, but you have an omnipotent Savior who enables you by the power of the Spirit to walk in faithfulness.  Depend upon Him and He will do through you what you thought was impossible.
Third, when we obey in the most difficult of circumstances, depending fully upon the Lord, we will enjoy a growing intimacy with and knowledge of Him.  It was after the feeding of the 5,000 that the disciples finally made the good confession about the identity of the Lord.  It was through that intimate participation with Him in His work that they came to experience Him.  This is true in every area of life.  If you will obey Him by participating with Him in serving your spouse, you’ll not only experience deeper intimacy with your spouse, but with the Lord.
Fourth, consider the great blessing it is to be used by the Lord.  What a great privilege the disciples were given to be the ones through whom He performed this great miracle.  Did you know that the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of the Lord that is recorded in all four Gospels?  (Not including the resurrection, which was technically accomplished by the Father.)  Jesus allowed the disciples to participate with Him in this.  What a blessing!  Now, consider that you are THE gift that God has given to your spouse for sexual fulfillment.  He has chosen to use you and you alone to bless your spouse. 
While you are allowing the Scriptures to transform your thinking on this issue, pray.  Pray that the Spirit will help you think rightly and give you the desire to serve your spouse.  Pray that He will give you joy in serving.  And pray that He will cause you to begin to enjoy having sex with your spouse.  Based upon counseling cases I’ve had, I would say that it is likely that if you will obey the Lord with the right heart, desiring to do the godly thing, and love your spouse by serving them in this way, you’ll find yourself enjoying your sexual relationship like you haven’t in the past. 
For some people, it is not simply that sex is undesirable, but it is physically difficult or painful.  A visit to your doctor would be beneficial.  There may be things that can be done medically to improve the situation.  Also, discuss it with your spouse.  Express your desire to serve your spouse in this area and brainstorm ways to deal with the situation. 
For others, the barrier to regular sexual relations is related to trauma from the past, either you’ve been abused or your marriage has been damaged by infidelity.  Such situations don’t lend themselves to easy counsel in a blog article.  The best thing to do would be to seek biblical counseling to work through those issues.  We’ve got counselors at Providence who would be blessed to help you.  Keep in mind that in Christ we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness.   That is, there is no issue of salvation or sanctification that cannot be addressed from the Scriptures.  Whatever you’re dealing with, there is hope and help in the Lord Jesus.  All you need to do is ask, and we’ll get you connected to a biblical counselor. 
Unless I hear from some of you with specific questions related to this issue, this will be the last article in this series.  If you do have questions, you can email them to me or ask them in the comments section below.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

More Common Questions - The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Part 4

(Warning: This article should be considered “not safe for children.”)
In this series, we’re working through the issues surrounding the common sexual sin of depriving one’s spouse.  So far, we’ve established that this is indeed a sin.  We’ve also considered why it is so dangerous.  And last time we began to look at some of the most common questions raised about this issue.  In this article, we’ll continue with common questions.
“But my spouse never meets my needs.”  “Why should I do this for my spouse when my spouse almost never does anything for me?”  There could be many more ways of stating the same sentiment, but the basic idea is, “I don’t want to be the only one giving in this relationship.”  If you feel that way, you’re not weird.  Nobody wants to be the only one serving in a given relationship.  But just because we all feel that way doesn’t mean that it can keep us from doing what is right.
It’s possible that this question arises from yet another worldly lie about marriage and sexuality.  The lie says, “Sex is what I give in return for what I get.”  Surprisingly, there are many "Christian" marriage books that perpetuate this idea of "give in order to get."  But remember we have to train ourselves to spot and reject these lies.  We must replace them with the truth of the Word.  We’ve already noted that the Bible’s design for marriage is that it is not about self-fulfillment, but about serving someone else.  When we apply that principle to the sexual relationship, we realize that sex is not “what I give in return for what I get,” but rather it is simply “what I give.” 
There is a great country song from the 1990’s by Diamond Rio called “Meet in the Middle.”  It was back when country music wasn’t embarrassed to sound like country music.  It was a simpler time.  Anyway, the chorus is super catchy and the words are memorable:
I start walkin’ your way
You start walkin’ mine
We meet in the middle
‘Neath that old Georgia Pine
We gain a lot of ground
When we both give a little
Ain’t no road to long
When we meet in the middle.

The idea is that their relationship works because they know how to meet in the middle.  I love that song…but it’s terrible relationship advice, biblically-speaking.  The whole 50/50 relationship idea is dead wrong, and yet it’s unquestioned in the minds of many Christians. 
Did Jesus meet His bride half way, pouring out half His blood and then saying, “good luck”?  Did Paul exhort husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave half of Himself up for her?  Does the church submit to Christ 50% of the time?  Does Paul exhort wives to submit to their husbands in half of the matters that come up?  Of course, not.  The husband is to follow Christ’s example of pouring himself out.  Complete service.  And the wife is to follow the example of the church by submitting in all things (Eph 5:22-27). 
The biblical picture of marriage is one of both spouses giving 100% regardless of what they are receiving.  If you take a close look at all the commands given to husbands and wives in the Scriptures, including those we’ve referred to repeatedly in this series (1 Cor 7 and Eph 5), you’ll not find any commands conditioned upon the obedience of the other spouse.  In other words, the Holy Spirit did not move the apostle to write, “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church…as long as they are submitting to you and respecting you.”  In 1 Cor 7, the command to meet the sexual needs of the spouse is not tagged with the condition, “if your spouse is meeting your needs, too.  Otherwise, hold out on them.” 
No, you and I are called to obey the Lord no matter what our spouses do.  We are commanded by our God to give all even if our spouses give none. 
And it appears that the Lord has given us the perfect tool to help us have the right frame of mind in that kind of situation.  To the slave serving an unjust master, Paul writes, render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man… (Eph 6:7).  Likewise, to wives he writes, wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph 5:22).  In Col 3:17, we’re told to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus….  It is right for us to think of service to our spouses as ultimately service to the Lord.  This can make it easier to serve a spouse who is disobedient and uncaring. 
But we should also recognize that love seeks the highest good of another.  Service flows out of true love.  And so serving our spouses, whether we are receiving anything or not, when we are making the conscious decision to love them, can be a source of joy and fulfillment.  There is great joy in giving, not just receiving. 

A somewhat related question could be stated this way: “There is no closeness in other parts of our relationship, so that makes our sexual relationship feel something like a business transaction.  What should I do?”
First, talk to your spouse.  Share your thoughts on the issue.  Be sure to convey that this is not an ultimatum regarding the sexual relationship – you are committed to serving your spouse in that way no matter what.  But express that you want to deepen the intimacy of your relationship by broadening it to encompass every part of your lives. 
Second, formulate a plan together.  “What can we do to grow closer?”  Make it a priority to spend time together away from electronic devices and other distractions.  If you have young kids, get a sitter regularly, and go out on dates.  If you can’t afford a sitter, make a deal with another young couple to swap sitting services so that both couples can go out.  Talk about meaningful things: share your present concerns and future hopes.  Talk about spiritual matters.  Pray together.  Do family devotions.  In short, remove the meaningless things that are getting in between you and replace them with opportunities for meaningful interaction. 
Next time, we’ll talk about what to do if you struggle with this sin and you want to change. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Common Questions - The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Part 3

(Warning: This article should be considered “not safe for children.”)
In this series, we’re working through the issues surrounding the common sexual sin of depriving one’s spouse.  The first article established the biblical basis for considering this  a sexual sin.  The second article explored some of the reasons that this sin is so dangerous.  Now, we’re going to begin to consider some common questions and special situations.
A common question about this issue is “does this mean I can never say, ‘no’?”  This question could be answered in a couple of ways depending upon who is asking it.  If the person asking the question is someone who habitually says no, then the above is not really the most honest way to phrase the question.  A more honest way to phrase the question would be, “does this mean I can’t always say, ‘no’?”  This questioner may not be looking for true guidance for obedience, but an excuse to justify habitual disobedience.  To that questioner, we should suggest starting with a different question, one that begins with a desire to obey: “How can I change?”  We’ll address that question later in the series.
To the person who is not in the habit of saying no, but who knows that there are times when saying yes is difficult because of health reasons, fatigue, or other circumstances, the question could be answered differently: Discuss this with your spouse.  If your spouse realizes that the vast majority of the time, even when you’d rather not do it and even when you don’t feel well, you accommodate that desire, he or she should be willing to wait a few hours or so until you’re feeling better or until circumstances improve. 
We should also note that “this isn’t the best time” or “can we wait until [fill in the blank]?” is not the same thing as “no.”  All of us who are married, especially those with children, know that there are times that are simply inopportune.  1 Corinthians 7 does not give one spouse the right to demand immediate interaction from the other.  Asking to wait until a more opportune time is perfectly reasonable.  However, keep in mind that such an opportune time needs to be found quickly – if at all possible within hours, not days – otherwise, we’re losing the sense of 1 Corinthians 7, which teaches us that one reason for making this a priority is to avoid sexual temptation. 
A related issue/question could be phrased in a number of different ways, but could be boiled down to this: “My spouse and I are just on very different schedules.”  It’s quite common for work schedules to cause a situation where one spouse is exhausted when the other is not and vice versa.  In some marriages it may not be due to work schedules, but simply that an early bird married a night owl.  The result is that their respective times of sexual desire seldom coincide and frustration ensues. 
What to do?  First, let’s reject the lies that Hollywood and literature have sold us.  One such lie is that fulfilling sexuality is inherently spontaneous.  A closely related cousin is that fulfilling sexuality can only take place when both spouses desire it.  We naturally infer from these statements that non-spontaneous sexuality is unfulfilling and therefore not good, and sexuality that derives from one non-amorous spouse seeking to serve an amorous spouse is unfulfilling and therefore not good.  These are LIES.  Lies, lies, lies. 
Second, consider some counsel that from the world’s perspective is completely counter-intuitive: schedule it.  I’m serious.  Talk about when are the best times for you and your spouse to come together and plan on it.  The things that people intentionally make time for usually end up getting done.  The things that they do not plan for often do not.  Other things crowd them out by using up all available time and energy. 
If you think about your personal devotional life, you’ll see that this is true.  If you do not intentionally set aside time to spend with the Lord, but instead wait until a spontaneous moment presents itself, you’ll likely go days, weeks, or months without cracking a bible or engaging in concentrated prayer.  The same goes for many other activities in our lives.
If you find that one of you is always too tired, consider scheduling it.  Communication is paramount.  Find those times when fatigue is not such an issue and plan on it.  If necessary, remove other things from your life or move your schedule around.  Again, this is something that must be a priority.  Let’s face it – there are a lot of things that we spend our time and energy on that are not commanded in Scripture.  We cannot allow those things to crowd out the things that are commanded in Scripture.  The sexual relationship in marriage is one of those things.  
“Scheduling” doesn’t have to mean putting it on the calendar weeks ahead of time.  It could mean that kind of foresight, but it could also mean telling your spouse a few hours in advance that you’d like to come together.  There are numerous benefits to this kind of planning.  First, it can help your spouse prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Second, it can allow you both to arrange for some uninterrupted time together.  Third, it demonstrates that you both have made it a priority and therefore care for one another and for the Lord. 
In the next article, we’ll consider other questions like, “Why should I do this for my spouse when my spouse does very little if anything for me?” 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Is it really that dangerous?" The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Pt 2

(Warning: This article could be considered “not safe for children.”)
In the first article of this series, we introduced the topic of a widely practiced, but seldom discussed sexual sin – depriving one’s spouse.  If you missed that article you can find it here.  In this article, let’s consider why this sexual sin is so dangerous.
First, depriving one’s spouse adopts the world’s rules for the use of God’s good gift.  This never turns out well.  God designed, created, and is Lord over marriage and sexuality.  He has designed them to work in a particular way.  When they are used in ways contrary to God’s design, it leads inevitably to heartache.  For example, according to God’s Word, the only appropriate context for sexual activity is the monogamous marriage of a man and woman.  When sexual activity takes place outside of that context, all kinds of problems ensue.  (Examples from Genesis alone: Gen16:1-6; 19:1-29; 19:30-38; 29:1-24; 34:1-31; 38:1-30; 35:22 [cf. 49:1-4]). 
In addition to that contextual boundary, God’s plan is for marriage/sexuality to be other-centered or service-oriented.  We learned this from 1 Cor 7:1-5 in our last article, but it is also the overarching picture derived from the Christ/Church depiction of marriage in Eph 5:22-33.  I am here to serve, is the God-intended attitude for every husband and every wife.  Regarding the sexual relationship, that attitude should take the form of, my sexual energy exists for the pleasure of my spouse.  That is why God gave it to me (1 Cor 7:3-4).
To deprive one’s spouse is to assume that the opposite is true, which is that my sexual energy exists for my pleasure.  This is the message that the world propagates.  It is the message that the world received from the god of this world, a message he first preached in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7).  God gave boundaries for Adam and Eve in the garden, boundaries for their good lest they die.  The serpent contradicted God, questioned His motive, and accused Him of withholding something good.  By this, he introduced a new ethic, prefer yourself. Don’t listen to God. Do what you want.  And of course, following the devil’s rule in God’s world was disastrous.
The same principle applies in marital sexuality.  God has designed it to work one way, but when we bring in the world’s perverted ethic, difficulty follows. The sexual relationship in that case will not be a neutral component of the marriage, causing neither good nor bad.  Rather, that gift of sexuality will create frustration and strife instead of bliss and unity.  Bank on it. 
A second danger is that this sexual self-centeredness will permeate the rest of the marriage so that the whole atmosphere of the home will be one of self-fulfillment (the world’s ideal) rather than selfless service (God’s ideal).  Much of what is written above could be repeated here.  We cannot adopt the world’s thinking on marriage as a whole and expect marriage to function as God created it.  The world’s thinking on marriage is antithetical to God’s design.  If we think that we can quarantine self-centeredness to the sexual area of the marriage but have loving, selfless service in every other area, we are mistaken.  Do you know why?  Because this is a heart issue.  And the heart that says, “no” in the bedroom is the heart that you take with you into the living room and kitchen and everywhere else.    
A third danger is the danger most explicitly mentioned in 1 Cor 7:1-5: depriving one another can lead to sexual temptation.  Paul begins in v2 by writing, …but because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have is own wife and each woman her own husband.  Remember that the Corinthians were under the mistaken impression that ALL abstinence was good, including within marriage!  The apostle corrects this by teaching that marriage is part of God’s remedy for sexual temptation. 
So he commands sexual activity in marriage in v3 and forbids depriving one another in v5, after which he gives the reason for these commands: so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 
In the original language, all the verbs and pronouns there are plural.  So Paul is teaching that when we deprive our spouses, we put ourselves and our spouses in harm’s way.  We are either creating an atmosphere conducive to sexual temptation or exacerbating temptation that already exists.  We ought not be surprised then if a different sexual sin, either ours or our spouse’s, rocks the marriage.
When a husband or wife commits adultery or becomes involved with pornography or some other sexual sin – sometimes it is the case that that person’s spouse deprived them of sexual relations, exacerbating the sexual temptation.  Does that mean that the depriver is responsible for the sin of the adulterer?  Certainly not.  No one causes another to sin.  (And many people deprive their spouses without their spouses then giving into sexual temptation.  Therefore, putting a stumbling block in front of someone is not synonymous with causing them to sin.)  But I do believe that Paul would say that the depriver is guilty of the depriver’s sin – the sin of withholding sexual relations and thereby putting a stumbling block in front of the spouse.  In those cases, there have been two sexual sins, not one.  Some people may be troubled or even angered by this paragraph. I would just ask you to read 1 Cor 7:1-5 again and see if these things are not so.  When we deprive our spouses, we invite danger. 
Please understand, I don’t write these things to trouble those who have been hurt by the sexual sin of a spouse, but to warn all of us of the danger of depriving our spouses.  This is not a small thing.  We must treat it with seriousness.  
It is also not my intention to imply that the only reason to avoid any particular sin is the danger is poses to us.  The first and best reason to hate and kill any sin is that we love God.  That He tells us to do something or not do something should be good enough for us.  This issue should be no different.
“So, does that mean I can never say, ‘no’?”  This question and others will be considered next time, Lord willing.  Until then, if this is a sin you struggle with, prayerfully think about the dangers discussed here.  The Lord has designed good things for you.  And His commands regarding this area of marriage are for your good.  You can trust Him. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin

(This article could be considered “not safe for children.”  I’m not sure there are any children/teens who read this blog, but if your children do, you might want to read this first, before giving them the green light.)
When we think about sexual sin and its potential to destroy a marriage, most of us immediately assume that the sexual sin in view is pornography, adultery, or some other extra-marital perversion.  Certainly, those sins have laid waste to their share of marriages.  We’ve all seen it.  But I challenge you to consider that there is another sexual sin that plagues marriages perhaps even more pervasively than these.  It is a sin that is most likely not even considered a sexual sin by most people. And though we are warned against it and its dangers in God’s word, some may not even consider it a sin at all.  For this reason, it may be the most insidious sexual sin out there.
First of all, what is a sexual sin?  It is any violation of God’s standards for sexual conduct.  There are sins of commission – doing what God forbids.  And there are sins of omission – failing to do what God commands.  As we will see from the Scriptures, the sin I’m referring to is both a sexual sin of commission and a sexual sin of omission.
First Corinthians 7 is a goldmine for sexual and marital ethics in the New Testament.  “Should I marry and if so, when?”  “Is divorce biblical? If so, in what circumstances?”  “If I marry, whom may I marry?”  “Should sexual desire be a factor in my decision to marry or not marry?”  First Corinthians 7 answers these questions and a host of others. 
It begins by addressing an erroneous view held by some in the Corinthian church that abstaining from sex, even within marriage, was a virtue: Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" (1Cor 7:1).
So, beginning in v2, Paul shows that abstinence is intended outside of marriage, but is sinful inside of marriage. He writes, But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband (1Cor 7:2).  We know from other passages, like Eph5:22ff, that the ultimate purpose of marriage is to serve as a living picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.  But here we find that another purpose, a perhaps more immediately practical purpose, is to provide an appropriate context for sexual activity. 
From Genesis 2 on, we see that marital sexuality is a blessing from God.  It pleases Him for husbands and wives to enjoy their sexual union.  Conversely, sexual activity outside of marriage is universally sinful.  So the idea of the Corinthians, that it might be virtuous for married people to not have sexual relations, is backward.  And v2 corrects this idea by assuming again what is taught from the beginning of the Bible: sex outside of marriage is sinful and is to be avoided, but sin inside of marriage is blessed and is to be pursued.  But v2 goes further by teaching that sexual activity in marriage is a godly means of fighting sexual temptation. 
Paul continues in v3: The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband (1Cor 7:3).  Quite simply, this is a command to have sex with one’s spouse.  The Holman Christian Standard Bible reads, A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife…  The New English Translation: A husband should give to his wife her sexual rights…  The most woodenly literal translation would be, “the husband must pay to the wife the obligation, and the wife to the husband.” 
All of these translations are good and pick up the sense of the text.  This verse assumes that a wife has a right to have sex with her husband, and it explicitly commands the husband to fulfill the wife’s right.  And vice-versa.  Now, what we assume from this verse – that one spouse has a right to have sex with the other spouse – we don’t have to assume for long because the apostle makes that truth explicit in the following verse:
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does (1Cor 7:4).
This is startlingly counter-cultural in our modern context.  Our culture tells individuals that sexuality is ONLY about self-fulfillment and you are the master of your own sexuality.  Further, marriage itself is about self-fulfillment.  But this is precisely backward.  Now, what Paul writes in 1 Cor 7 may feel backward to us, but we must realize this is only because we’ve been indoctrinated by a culture ruled by the god of this world.  It is that indoctrination that is backward.  Right thinking about marriage is that it is about serving another and sexuality is about bringing pleasure to another.  Period.  This other-centeredness of marriage is clear from the picture of Christ and the church in Eph 5:22-33.  Christ gave Himself up for the church and the church submits to Christ.  This is intended to be reflected in marriage.  That is the right way to think about marriage and sexuality.
The command to have sex with one’s spouse is grounded in the truth of v4 that there is a cross-ownership of sexuality that takes place in marriage.  The idea expressed in v4 is that the husband’s sexuality does not belong to him.  It exists for the pleasure of his wife; she owns it.  Likewise, the wife’s sexuality does not belong to her.  It exists for the pleasure of her husband; he owns it. (By the way, this why masturbation is sinful.  In masturbation, you use sexual energy that does not belong to you for your own pleasure.  It violates the other-centered, Christ-and-the-Church design of marriage and sexuality.)
So Paul has given the positive command – have sexual relations with your spouse.  Then in v5 he continues by forbidding not having relations with your spouse: Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1Cor 7:5).
The negative command here is “do not deprive one another.”  “Deprive” is a word that deserves some thought.  It means to withhold something that is necessary.  In this context, it means to withhold something from someone to which they have a rightful claim, keeping back something that belongs to them.  Don’t do this, he writes.  If you’re going to abstain, it needs to be by agreement, for the purpose of prayer; and it needs to be temporary, otherwise you’re defeating the purpose that he began his argument with – you’re flirting with temptation. 
This means that when deciding whether or not to have sex with one’s spouse, the appropriate internal question to consider is not, “do I want to or feel like it?”, but rather, “does my spouse want to?”  Some people have the mistaken idea that a couple should only have relations when they both desire it at the same time.  This is wrong.  According to 1 Corinthians 7, they should do it anytime either one of them desires it.  Otherwise, they are depriving the spouse of something that belongs to them and they are exacerbating potential sexual temptation.
This teaching is part of God’s standard for sexuality in marriage.  We have it stated as a command (v3) and as a prohibition (v5).  To violate the command is a sin of omission.  To violate the prohibition is a sin of commission.  To deprive one’s spouse of sexual relations is sexual sin.  And if it is a pattern, it is habitual sexual sin.
And we’re not playing cheap word games by calling it sexual sin.  To violate God’s standard for sexuality is an inherently sexual sin.  It is to misuse God’s good gift of sexuality.  For some reason, this particular sexual sin does not carry the stigma of other sexual sin.  However, it is no less sinful.  And it can wreak havoc on a marriage.
Some may be thinking that this is a hit piece aimed exclusively at wives.  Not true.  Please consider that Paul addresses the husband first – “the husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights…”.  Paul is not just using a rhetorical device here.  There are men who deprive their wives.  In fact, I have counseled as many married couples in which the husband was depriving the wife as I have where the situation was reversed.  We must not adopt the assumptions of our culture.  Similarly, we should not assume that pornography is only a male problem.  It isn’t. 
As with any topic, things get more complicated when we start to talk about real life situations.  So I know that there are objections out there.  I want to deal with those.  There are also caveats that I would add to what has been written here.  There are special situations.  I want to present those as well.  I also want to discuss why this sin is so dangerous.  Further, I’d like to offer suggestions for killing this sin.  But I’ll save those for the next articles in the series. 
For now, consider that to deprive your spouse of sexual relations is sexual sin.  Perhaps you are in the habit of doing so.  Recognize that the only way forward begins with confession and repentance.  Confess and repent to the Lord and your spouse.  And believe that in Christ there is hope and help to change.  More on that to come.
If you have comments/questions pertaining to this article, you can leave them anonymously in the comment section.  No comments are automatically published.  I’m the only one who will see them and you don’t have to leave your name.  But your thoughts/questions may help make the other articles in this series more helpful to others.