Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Portrait of Biblical Love

Introduction
When I saw her in for the first time, I was captured right away. For me it was love at first sight. For Sarah (not her real name), it was the same! We were both freshmen at Baylor. We both were Christians. We were both interested in missions. What else was necessary?

We spent every moment we possibly could together. We went to football games and basketball games. We attended Baptist Student Union events. We ate every meal together – school schedules permitting. We walked the grounds of the campus. We talked for hours about our future.

One Sunday, we both answered an altar call to become foreign missionaries. We told the pastor, that we were in love, planned to get married, and go to the mission field together. The pastor was wise enough to merely mention to the church that both Sarah and I were called into missions. He conveniently chose to ignore our statement about being in love and planning to get married. I was disappointed. I wanted the audience to know that we were in love. Really in love!

It is humbling to admit, but that relationship went south before I began my sophomore year at Baylor. I was all of 19 years old and I knew little about love. What I thought was love, I would not call love today. It should be obvious since Sarah and I are not married. But it took me years to truly grasp what marital love looks like.

When it comes to love, we have two problems. First, there are many things we call love that simply do not rise to the level of what love is. We will call that “faux love.” My relationship with Sarah is a painful reminder of this fact. Secondly, we lack a clear definition of what biblical love is and what love does.

Watch Out for Faux Love [1]
It is important to realize that counterfeit love wears very convincing masks. Let us look at four examples of faux love.

1. Physical Attraction
Physical attraction is an amazing thing. God displays His creative glory in ten thousand different forms of human beauty. We all don’t look the same, and we all don’t look at each other the same way. We see beauty in different ways and are attracted to different people as a result. Physical beauty is a powerful attraction because it is – physical! We live in a material world, so physical beauty is one of the things we all care about in some way. Physical attraction is not in itself wrong or dangerous. It is possibly the first thing that connects you with someone of the opposite sex.

What is really scary is that people get into serious relationships (and even marriage) based solely on physical attraction. You are drawn to someone because of her beauty. You want to be near her and with her. You may even be fantasizing about life with her before you have gotten to know her. This is how powerful the draw of physical attraction can be. You may even have allowed yourself more physical contact with her than is appropriate before marriage, thereby deepening the physical attraction. You may think you love this person, but you really don’t. No, what you love is her physical beauty. What you think is love is self-love in the mask of true love. You want to be with her not because you love her, but because you love yourself and you want to decorate your life with her physical beauty.

Know this – physical beauty get normalized in marriage. You wake up that first week to a person with baboon breath and rat’s-nest hair. He falls out of bed and puts on rumpled sweats and stumbles to the bathroom where he makes sounds you’d rather not hear. Then it hits you: you married a fantasy but got the real person. Real people have imperfect bodies. Real people get bellies, gain weight, lose hair, and get old. Marriages that are built on physical attraction are an example of faux love.

2. Emotional Connection
An emotional connection with a man or woman is an exciting thing. To find someone that you can relate to, talk to, and feel comfortable with is fun and fulfilling. Who wouldn’t want to experience this? It’s fun to be able to talk without ever feeling one of those uncomfortable periods of silence while you’re searching for the next possible topic. It’s enjoyable to be able to relate to what the other one is experiencing and feeling. It is nice to have your personalities complement one another. It’s nice when you think and feel the same way about things. It’s enjoyable when you are in a relationship relatively free of stress and tension. It’s good to be able to anticipate how the other will respond and react to something that you will share together.

In a marriage, this emotional connectivity is important. You cannot have a long-term relationship with a person who is never on the same emotional page as you. But you can have all of this and not have love. Here is the point – like physical attraction, emotional connection can actually be self-love wearing the mask of true love. Could it be that you are powerfully attracted to someone because he is easy and enjoyable to be with? Being with him doesn’t take a lot of commitment or effort because you are so emotionally alike. Maybe you are attracted to him not because you have come to love him, but because you love yourself, and he is comfortable to be with, and you are drawn to the effortlessness of the relationship.

Let’s be honest – Most of us don’t enjoy hard work and will avoid it if possible. I think this tendency to work-avoidance and ease-attraction has gotten many marriages off on the wrong foot by convincing couples that they are experiencing love when what they are really experiencing is merely emotional connection – i.e., faux love.

3. Spiritual Unity
Spiritual unity is even trickier. It is essential that a husband and wife have spiritual unity. This unity is first based on the fact that they are both members of God’s family and therefore indwelt by the same Spirit. But this unity is more than that; it is unity of biblical worldview, of theological persuasion, and of Christian experience. It is very powerful when you are around someone who seeks in every way to look at life through the lens of Scripture. It is very powerful to be with someone as God is making His Word understandable and relevant to you both. It is very powerful to be in services of worship where you are led to celebrate God’s life-changing grace. These things create a connection and a unity that is like no other.

All of these things are good things, but they are things that you could probably experience with many believers. You can share a platform of spiritual values with someone you don’t actually love in the full sense of what love is and does. This will trouble some of you, but it must be said: the powerful attraction of spiritual zeal and unity may not be love; it may actually be self-love in the mask of true love.

I can’t number how many women I have known who married men because they were attracted to their “spirituality,” their biblical literacy, or their theological knowledge – only to sadly come to realize that the men didn’t love them! Their future husbands were attracted to them because they shared a platform of spiritual unity that may make building a relationship a lot less work than it otherwise would be. And in almost every situation, the men were drawn by the way the women looked up to them as a theological mentor. But when the women demonstrated that they are sinners and not always students and the men showed that they love the theology of the women more than they do the women, the house of cards came crashing down. Spiritual unity was merely another example of faux love.

4. Cultural Similarity
Cultural similarity is a huge issue in marriage. You always drag your familial and cultural influences into the development of a relationship and ultimately into your marriage. God has crafted locations, situations, and relationships for you that have formed your cultural instincts and tastes. You have certain likes and dislikes (food, clothing, entertainment, etc.). There are experiences in life that have formed your sense of what is important and what is not, what is enjoyable and what is not, what is beautiful and what is not. You come to every relationship you have with certain assumptions about what is proper and to be expected. You have a certain definition of father, brother, sister, friend, worker, neighbor, boss, etc.

We carry with us differing definitions of what is polite and what is not, what is tasteful and what is not, what is expensive and what is not, what is casual and what is dressy, what should be public and what should be private, and the list could go on and on. So you bring to your potential partner a whole set of assumptions and unspoken rules. They become one of the lenses through which you look to evaluate the people in your life, so it is very compelling when you are in a relationship with someone and you share the same assumptions, expectations, and unspoken rules. It is hard not to be drawn to that person, and it is tempting to mistake your cultural unity and the attraction it creates as love.

Once again, the powerful attraction of cultural continuity may feel like love, but it may actually be self-love masquerading as love. Perhaps you are drawn to your spouse not because you love her, but because you love yourself, and you are stunned by how much she agrees with you. She is attractive to you because she thinks you are right about life as much as you think you are, and you find this to be a very attractive thing. Perhaps you don’t actually love her. Perhaps what you love is the similarity of your cultural assumptions. This too will almost always be challenged in marriage as you come to realize that you are not clones of one another and you are faced with the reality that there are many places where you disagree and look at life differently. Again, what looks like love may be just another compelling form of faux love.

Group Questions – Breakout Session #1

What in the World is Love Anyway? [1]
Sharon thought she was ready, willing, and able to love Carson – and because of this, she was excited to get married. People around them told them not to rush, that there was wisdom in waiting, but Sharon didn’t want to wait, and neither did Carson. They were both convinced they were ready. Sharon was persuaded that there was no way she could love Carson more than she already did. She was convinced that there was nothing she would not be willing to do for him.

As she looked forward to marriage she thought of it as an extended date. I am afraid that many people do. She had found Carson to be a great companion. He was good looking. He was a hard worker around the house. He was a good step-father to her child from her first marriage. He was a great student of the Scriptures. He was also known as being very gifted in the area of Children’s ministry.

Sure, Sharon knew Carson wasn’t perfect. He was a perfectionist and there were times he could be pretty stubborn. She knew that he liked to be in charge and that she naturally struggled to submit to others. But she loved Carson and they had managed to get along pretty well so far. Thus, she didn’t think being married would be that much of a struggle.

Sharon told herself that she was ready, willing, and able to love her future husband forever – but she wasn’t. It wasn’t long after their wedding that she began to be driven crazy by Carson’s controlling personality. She struggled with his constant criticism of her messiness. She hated how he rearranged the refrigerator and spice rack. She struggled with his stubbornness and refusal to admit that he was over the top, even when it was clear that he was! She struggled with the reality that she had no independence left. She resented having to discuss everything with Carson. She felt that she had fallen in love with her boyfriend and ended up marrying a monster!

The problem with Sharon was that she (and Carson) did not really know what love is and what love does. They confused the enjoyment of shared experiences as love. They had confused physical attraction, emotional connection, spiritual unity, and romantic affection with love. They had confused brief moments of patience with love’s long-term commitment to sacrifice.

Sharon learned quickly that you don’t get your best definition of love from a Web article. You don’t get it from Wikipedia or from Dictionary.com. You don’t get it from Webster or Shakespeare. The reality is that love is best defined by a set of abstract concepts. Let me explain.

There are few discussions in Scripture of what love is that are more helpful and more practical than the words found in 1 John 4.

Read 1 John 4:7-12, 16b-21

This passage tells us that we get our best definition of love from an event, the most important event in human history. You get your best definition of love from the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice of love is the ultimate definition of what love is and what love does. In this passage John is calling us to cruciform love. That is, love that shapes itself to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ (cruci = “cross” and form = “in the shape of”).

Look at the words of verses 10 and 11: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” When it comes to love, the cross of Jesus Christ is our ultimate example. John says it clearly: if Jesus loved us in this way, in the same way we ought to love one another.

So what does cruciform love look like? Let me give you a definition and then unpack it. Here is the definition -- Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving of that love. Let’s unpack this definition.

• Love is willing. Jesus said: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). The decisions, words, and actions of love always grow in the soil of a willing heart. You cannot force a person to love. If you are forcing someone to love, by the very nature of the act you are demonstrating that this person doesn’t in fact love.

• Love is willing self-sacrifice. There is no such thing as love without sacrifice. Love calls you beyond the borders of your own wants, needs, and feelings. Love calls you to be willing to invest time, energy, money, resources, personal ability, and gifts for the good of another. Love calls you to lay down your life in ways that are concrete and specific. Love calls you to serve, to wait, to give, to suffer, to forgive, and to do all these things again and again. Love requires you to lead when you really would like to follow, and to follow when you really want to lead. Love again and again calls you away from your instincts and your comfort. Love always requires personal sacrifice. Love calls you to give up your life.

• Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another. Love always has the good of another in view. Love is motivated by the interests and needs of others. Love is excited at the prospect of alleviating burdens and meeting needs. Love feels poor when the loved one is poor. Love suffers when the loved one suffers. Love wants the best for the loved one and works to deliver it.

• Love is self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation. The Bible says that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. If He had waited until we were able to reciprocate, there would be no hope for us. Love isn’t a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” bargain. Love isn’t about placing people in our debt and waiting for them to pay off their debts. Love isn’t a negotiation for mutual good. Real love does not demand reciprocation, because real love isn’t motivated by the return on the investment. No, real love is motivated by the good that will result in the life of the person being loved.

• Love is self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving of that love. Christ was willing to go to the cross and carry our sin precisely because there was nothing that we could ever do to earn, achieve, or deserve the love of God. If you are interested only in loving people who are deserving of your love, the reality is that you are not motivated by love for them but by love for yourself. Love does its best work when the other person is undeserving. It is in these moments that love is most needed. It is in these moments that love is protective and preventative. It stays the course while refusing to quit or to get down and get dirty and give way to things that are anything but love.

Now , maybe you’re thinking: “Paul, where in the world do I get this kind of love?” John answers the question for us. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). These words carry a rich content of many things, but one of the things surely meant by these words is that true love doesn’t best grow out of the soil of duty. No, true love grows out of the nutrient soil of gratitude.

Imagine me plopping down on the couch next to my wife and with a stern, unexcited, sadly flat, and monotone voice saying to her: “Debi, I have come to the understanding that it is my responsibility to love you. So I am going to do my duty. I am going to love you because that is what I am supposed to do.” Do you think Debi would throw her arms around me and say: “Thank you for loving me so!” No, she would be heartbroken because she would instinctively know that what I have expressed is not love.

Love is not born through begrudgingly succumbing to duty. No, love is born out of remembering and celebrating. When I remember the lavish, faithful, patient, forgiving, and empowering love that has been poured on me – that I could never have earned and will never be able to fully reciprocate – I will want to give that love away to someone else.

John says one more thing that is very powerful while being ground-level practical: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (vs. 20). John is saying that if you want to know the true character and quality of your love for God, examine the quality of your relationship with the person near to you. Your love for your future husband or future wife is a very accurate barometer of your true love for God.

These words call us to face the fact that we must fix our marriages vertically before we ever fix them horizontally. Why? Consider my own marriage. My core problem is not that I don’t love Debi enough. No, my problem is that I don’t love God enough, and because I don’t love God enough, I don’t love Debi as I should.

When I fail to love God as I should, I insert myself into His position, desiring to be sovereign over my little kingdom of one and demanding that those around me do my bidding. If I am not loving God as my king, I will set up my own kingdom and live for myself.

I would ask you, right now: “Is your plan for marriage fueled, moved, and motivated by real God-worshipping, other-focused, self-giving, willing love? Have you made and are you willing to make this commitment? Where do you need to seek forgiveness and commit yourself to a new and better approach?”

Marital Love in Action [1]
Even though we have attempted to carefully define cruciform love in the context of your future marriage, you may still be fuzzy as to what this kind of love looks like on a practical level. Here are some concrete descriptions of how real, Christ-like love thinks and acts. As we work through this list, I invite you to examine your commitment to this type of love for your future spouse.
1. Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of your future husband or wife without impatience or anger.
2. Love is actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward your future spouse, while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
3. Love is the daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
4. Love is being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding, and being more committed to unity and love than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.
5. Love is a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.
6. Love means being willing, when confronted by your future spouse, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.
7. Love is a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to your future husband or wife is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient.
8. Love is being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged but to look for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.
9. Love is being a good student of your future spouse, looking for his physical, emotional, and spiritual needs to that in some way you can remove the burden, support him as he carries it, or encourage him along the way.
10. Love means being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the problems that you face as a couple, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.
11. Love is always being willing to ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
12. Love is recognizing the high value of trust in a marriage and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.
13. Love is speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack your future spouse’s character or assault his or his intelligence.
14. Love is being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt your future spouse into giving you what you want or doing something your way.
15. Love is being unwilling to ask your future spouse to be the source of your identity, meaning and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of his or hers.
16. Love is the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a husband or a wife.
17. Love is a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your future marriage.
18. Love is staying faithful to your commitment to treat your future spouse with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when he or she doesn’t seem to deserve it or is unwilling to reciprocate.
19. Love is the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of your future marriage without asking anything in return or using your sacrifices to place your future spouse in your debt.
20. Love is being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm your future marriage, hurt your future husband or wife, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
21. Love is refusing to be self-focused or demanding but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
22. Love is daily admitting to yourself, your future spouse, and God that you are not able to love this way without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.
23. Love is a specific commitment of the heart to a specific person that causes you to give yourself to a specific lifestyle of care that requires you to be willing to make sacrifices that have that person’s good in view.

Gospel Implication
Let’s be honest. You and I are not up to this task. Can you honestly look at yourself in the mirror of God’s Word and say: “I do all these things well”? In fact, when I consider God’s call for me in my marriage, I think: “The bar is too high; I’ll never reach it!” Hear what I am about to say next: this is exactly what marriage is meant to do. It is meant to be a tool in God’s hands to expose your heart and to drive you to the end of yourself. Marriage is meant to expose your self-focus and self-reliance. It is meant to convince you that you are needier than you thought you were and to encourage you that God’s grace has more power to transform than you thought it did. [1]

As John begins that long discussion of love that we have already considered, he says these words: “God sent His only son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9). John says that the purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth, suffering and dying, and rising from the dead is that through Him we might have what we need to be able to live the life to which He has called us. And the life to which He has called us in fundamentally, comprehensively, and perseveringly a life of love. John is saying that Jesus died not only so that we would have forgiveness for not loving as we should, but also so that we would have the desire, wisdom, and power to love as we should. [2]

As you give yourself to love, He showers you with His love, so that you would never be without what you need to love. He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of love because He knew that that was the only way that you would ever get what it takes to love as you have been called to love. Jesus knew that your struggle to love is so deep that a certain system of wisdom or a certain set of provisions wouldn’t be enough. He knew the only thing that would help you would be if He gave you Himself. So that is exactly what He did. He gave Himself so that right here, right now, you would have the resources you need to live a concrete and continuing life of love. [2]

So don’t let regret paralyze you. Don’t be overwhelmed by love’s call. Don’t be discouraged by the size or number of the things you are facing. Don’t let the failures of the past rob you of hope for the future. No, left to yourself you don’t have what it takes, but He is with you, in you, and for you. Walk forward in hope and courage, and commit yourself to real, active, and specific cruciform love, knowing that the gospel of Jesus Christ really does have the power to make you ready, willing, and able. [2]


Endnotes

[1] Paul David Tripp, “What Did You Expect”
[2] Dave Harvey, “When Sinners Say I Do”
[3] Dennis Rainey, “Preparing for Marriage”
[4] Lewis and Hendricks, “Rocking the Roles”
[5] John MacArthur, “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus”
[6] Chad Brand, “Christ-Centered Marriages: Husbands and Wives Complementing One Another”
[7] Piper and Grudem, Edited by David Kotter
[8] Gerhard Delling, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”
[9] Rebecca Jones, “Submission: A Lot More Giving In: Biblical Principles on Radically Honoring Husbands”
[10] John MacArthur, “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians”
[11] Paul David Tripp, “War of Words”
[12] Gary Chapman, “Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married”
[13] Piper and Taylor, “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ”
[14] The Village Church Position Papers

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Portrait of a Biblical Marriage

Introduction
He showed up at our house, curled up in the back seat, drunk as a skunk. His binge drinking, always leading to drunkenness, had begun before they were married. In fact, she had first learned about his binge drinking only days before the wedding. But after more than ten years of marriage, she had had enough. It was time to bring this sin into the open.

She called as soon as she returned home from the honeymoon. It had been a disaster! She was talking about getting an annulment or filing for a divorce. He was verbally abusive. He was controlling. He was not the man she had fallen in love with.

The calls came to both of us. She was devastated to find her husband immersed (i.e., addicted) in pornography. What did she need to do, she asked my wife. Now that the sin was in the open, he was interested in salvaging his marriage. What did he need to do, he asked me.

How did these couples get there? I’ve sat with many couples who have come to us – after months or years of marriage – frustrated! I was not frustrated that they were having problems. I was not frustrated that they once had been “in love.” I was frustrated because they had unrealistic expectations about marriage. Time and time again, I have seen couples who did not seriously consider what the Scriptures had to say about marriage. They were simply unwilling to be realistic about what a biblical marriage looks like.

Where do unrealistic expectations arise? Paul David Tripp states that unrealistic expectations arise from two sources. First, it arises from the way we use Scripture. We mistakenly treat the Bible as if it were arranged by topic – a compendium of human problems and divine solutions. We run to all the marriage passages expecting that we will be able to learn all that is needed to prepare for marriage. We fail to understand that the Bible is not an encyclopedia. Rather, it is a story, the great origin-to-destiny story of redemption. But unrealistic expectations have another source. Secondly, most potential husbands and wives don’t’ want anything to mess up the unfettered affection that has left them in a virtual romantic delirium. They look at each other with glazed eyes, and they are sure that the powerful love they are feeling will get them through anything. They are sure that few people have felt the love that they have felt for one another. They know that other couples have problems, but they are convinced they are not like them. They are sure they must not have felt what they are feeling. They are in love and they are sure that everything will work out right. They are simply not interested in being realistic. [1]

If unrealistic expectations almost always lead to disappointment, how can this pre-marital course be helpful and impart “realistic” expectations? How can it provide you with a portrait of a biblical marriage, a biblical wife, a biblical husband, biblical communication, biblical love, and biblical sex? In the course of this study, I will intentionally borrow concepts/discussions from a select set of marriage resources. This is in order to introduce you to these resources so that you can see their value and consider adding them to your library. In this first session, I will be borrowing from Paul David Tripp’s, “What Did You Expect?” Let me suggest five portraits that will impart “realistic” expectations and provide you with aspects of a biblical marriage.



Grounded in the Word [1]
The first portrait is that a biblical marriage must be grounded in the Word. And in this course, the Bible will be the sole source of authority – not opinions, not experience, not societal norms. While there are many things that the Scriptures have to say (about the Christian life in general and biblical marriages specifically), let us consider just three biblical truths that can provide a basis for a biblical view of marriage:

1. You Will Be Conducting Your Marriage in a Fallen World
Keith can’t believe that he has been laid off for the second time in twelve months. Jeannie can’t believe that she has to buy gifts for each member of her husband’s family when there is insufficient money to buy even one present for her side of the family. Sarah can’t believe that her in-laws refuse to babysit her three children. Karen wonders when her husband will get off the couch and go find a full-time job for the first time in two years.

We all face the same thing. Your future marriages will exist in the middle of a world that does not function as God intended. Somehow, someway, your future marriage will be touched every day by the brokenness of our world. It is not an accident that you will be conducting your marriage in this broken world. It is not an accident that you will have to deal with the things you do. None of this is fate, chance, or luck. It is all a part of God’s redemptive plan. Acts 17:24-26 (“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation…”) says that He determines the exact place where you live and the exact length of your life. He knows where you live, and He is not surprised at what you will be facing. Even though you will face things that make no sense to you, there is meaning and purpose to everything you will face. I am persuaded that understanding your fallen world and God’s purpose for keeping you in it is foundational to building a biblical marriage.

There is no better window on what we face in the here-and-now world in which we live than the descriptive words that Peter uses in his first epistle: “distressed,” “trials,” and “tested” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Read 1 Peter 1:6-7

(“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”)

First, you will not escape the distress of life in the fallen world. Second, we will all face trials. We will deal with things we would never have planned for ourselves or inserted into our schedules. Third, we will be “tempered” or “refined.” Does that sound realistic? Absolutely!

Most of us have a “personal happiness” paradigm. God has a “personal holiness” paradigm. As Gary Thomas states: “What if God intended marriage to make you holy rather than happy?” The fallen world we live in – more specifically, sin -- is the biggest obstacle to a marriage of unity, understanding, and love. God uses the difficulties of the here and now to transform us. That is, He uses it to rescue us from ourselves. When we embrace God’s “personal holiness” paradigm, life not only makes sense – the things you face are not irrational troubles, but transforming tools – it immediately makes sense! Biblical truth #1 -- Biblical marriages are conducted in a fallen world.

2. You are a Sinner Who Will Be Married to a Sinner
We will say much more about this throughout the course, but you don’t get to be married to someone perfect. Both of you will bring something into your marriage that is destructive to that marriage. That thing is called sin. Most of the troubles you will face in marriage are not intentional or personal. Rather, your life will be affected by the sin, weakness, and failure of the person you will be living with.

Here’s what usually happens. When our ears hear and our eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of our future spouse – we tend to personalize what is not personal. At the end of a bad day at work, your fiancée doesn’t say to himself – “I know what I’ll do. I’ll take my bad day out on my bride to be so that her day gets as wrecked as mine.” No, the trouble you are experiencing is not about you directly. You are in a relationship with a sinner, so you will experience his sin. Thus, we turn a moment of ministry into a moment of anger. What do I mean? When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your future spouse, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves your future spouse, and He is committed to transforming him or her by His grace, and He has chosen you to be one of His regular tools of change. So, He will cause you to see, hear, and experience your future spouse’s need for change so that you can be an agent of His rescue. Make sure that you turn these events into moments of ministry rather than moments of anger. Biblical truth #2 – Biblical marriages are made up of sinners who are married to sinners!

3. God is Faithful, Powerful, and Willing
There is one more truth that you have to include as you are trying to look at your future marriage as realistically as possible. You are not alone in your struggle. The Bible says that God is near, so near that in your moment of need, you can reach out and touch Him because He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27). Yes, you live in a bad neighborhood (fallen world), and the two of you are less than perfect (sin), but in all this you are not left to your own resources. Biblical truth #3 -- The God who determined your address lives there with you and is committed to giving you everything you need.

Summary: Your future marriage needs to be grounded in the Word.

Rooted in Worship [1]
Andrea pushes the food around on her plate. Another meal eaten alone. Her husband left for work at 6am, promised to be home for dinner at 8pm, and it is now 9pm and he has not shown up. She is exhausted from caring for two small children all day. She is crushed that he has failed to keep his promise for the millionth time. As a tear coursed down her cheek, she remembered Roger’s cute smile and his gentle spirit. Somewhere along the way Roger had quit being Roger. He was working seven days a week, 14 hours a day. And when he was home, he was always distracted.

While such a situation will not happen to everyone, it is the unavoidable reality of marriage. Somehow, someway, every marriage will become a struggle. Life after the honeymoon will be radically different from the honeymoon that precedes it. Somewhere along the way, you will realize that you are a sinner married to a sinner, and you are living in a broken world. At some point you will need something sturdier than romance. You will need something deeper than shared interests and mutual attraction. You will need something more than marital survival skills. You will need something that gives you peace of heart and strength of resolve when you aren’t feeling romantic and your problems are getting you down.

What will you need to do when your marriage becomes what it was not intended to be? What will you need to do in those moments when you aren’t so attracted to your future spouse? Where will you look when you are irritated, hurt, or discouraged? Where will you reach? Where will you run? You won’t find them in your future spouse. I think the answer will surprise many of you – a biblical marriage is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship. This is our second portrait of a biblical marriage.

The Bible teaches us that all of us are worshipers (Romans 1:19-25). When the Bible says that all of us are worshipers, it means that every human being lives for something. All of us are digging for treasure. All of us are in pursuit of some kind of dream. Behind everything we do is some kind of hope. Every one of us is in constant pursuit of life. Being a worshiper means that you attach your identity, your meaning, your purpose, and your inner sense of well-being to something. You either get these things vertically (from the Creator) or you look to get them horizontally (from the creation). Paul says specifically that we either worship the creature or the Creator (Romans 1:25). This insight has everything to do with how a marriage becomes what it is. No marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creations (think your future spouses) what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator.

Marriages must be fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally. We have to deal with what is driving us before we ever deal with how we are reacting to one another. Every relationship is victimized in some way when we seek to get the surrounding creation what we were designed to get from God. When God is in His rightful place, then we are on the way to putting people in their rightful place. Or stated differently, it is only in the worship of God in our marriages that we find a reason to continue.

What does a marriage rooted in the worship of God look like?

1. A biblical marriage will flow out of a daily worship of God as Creator. In subtle and not so subtle ways we all question the Creator, and in so doing we will dishonor and disrespect our future husband or wife. We end up criticizing the other for choices (physical attributes; intellectual attributes; etc.) he or she didn’t make. We all end up asking the other to change in areas where change simply is not possible. When we celebrate the Creator, we look at one another with wonder and joy. When you look at your future spouse and see the Creator’s glory, then you feel blessed by the ways your future spouse is different.
2. A biblical marriage will flow out of a daily worship of God as Sovereign. Your future marriage will be an unfolding drama written by the wise control of a loving and sovereign God. Either you worship God as sovereign and celebrate the different way of looking at the world (birth culture; family history; etc.) that your future spouse has blessed you with, or you dishonor Him by trying to rewrite His story.
3. A biblical marriage will flow out of daily worship of God as Savior. When you celebrate God as Savior, you are confronted with the reality of how much you are in desperate need of His grace. Worshiping God as Savior also means that you find joy in being part of the work of grace that God is unrelentingly committed to doing in your future spouse’s life. That is, you look for ways of incarnating the transforming grace of the Savior.

Summary: Your future marriage needs to be rooted in worship.

Kingdom Oriented [1]
Martha had always carried her dream with her like a precious jewel. At ten she would leaf through her mother’s home magazines and imagine her home and family. At thirteen, she began cutting out pictures from numerous bridal magazines of her gown, possible bridesmaid dresses, and flower arrangements. At twenty, she had a mental checklist that a future husband had to meet. She was looking for that special man who would help her realize her dream. So, the more she got to know Bobby, the more she was attracted to him.

They dated for nearly seven years. The plan called for them to finish college, finish graduate school, and get established in their careers. Sure others thought they were crazy for waiting, but debt needed to be eliminated and money accumulated for the first home in an expensive part of town (where the best schools were for the two children – two boys – to be born into this dream family).

Unfortunately, finding out that Bobby struggled with same-gender attraction, was not part of Martha’s dream. But so many other things had fallen into place so perfectly that she took it in stride. She was strong enough to help him work through this issue. It was only after he started spending more of his free time with another man that she threw in the towel and saw her dream come crashing down.

Romans chapter 1 also teaches us a third eloquent truth that bears on a biblical marriage -- we are kingdom-oriented people. We always live in the service of one of two kingdoms. We live in service of the small, personal happiness agenda of the kingdom of self, or we live in service of the huge, origin-to-destiny agenda of the kingdom of God.

When we live for the kingdom of self, our decisions, thoughts, plans, actions, and words are directed by personal desire. We know what we want, where we want it, why we want it, how we want it, when we want it, and who we would prefer to deliver it. Think about Martha. She was not angry that Bobby had broken the laws of God’s kingdom. She was not grieved that he was in the way of what God wanted to accomplish in and through her pending marriage. No, Martha was hurt and angry because Bobby had broken the laws of her kingdom.

Perhaps this portrait tells us much more about the beginning of Martha and Bobby’s relationship than we tend to think. Maybe what they thought was love was not love at all, but something very different, masquerading as love. Remember, Martha had specific marriage and family dreams for most of her life. Although she did not realize it, Martha was searching for the one man who would be the missing piece to the puzzle that was her dream for her life. What felt like love may actually have been excitement that this man she had gotten to know seemed to fit nicely into the dream she had always had for her life.

Isn’t it tempting to think that perhaps God has gotten it all wrong. Wouldn’t it save a lot of heartache, conflict, hurt, and disappointment if God just gave us someone who really fulfills our dreams? Wouldn’t it be much easier if God worked it out so that we would be fully sanctified, then married? Wouldn’t that make marriage fundamentally easier and more enjoyable?

The reason we tend to think this way is precisely because we are captivated by the kingdom of self. We are drawn to order, predictability, comfort, ease, pleasure, appreciation, fun, and personal happiness. These things are not wrong in and of themselves, but they must not control us. We struggle with God’s plan because, when the rubber meets the road, we don’t really want what God wants. We want what we want, and we want Him to deliver it.

Think of the sturdiness of your allegiance to your own kingdom purposes. Think about how little of your anger over the last month had anything whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God. Your anger seldom comes out of a zeal for the plans, purposes, values, and calling of the kingdom of God. When you are hurt, angry, or disappointed with your fiancée, it is not because he or she has broken the laws of God’s kingdom. No, you are usually angry because your future spouse has broken the laws of your kingdom.

What does this practically mean? It means the trouble that you will face in your marriage will not be an evidence of the failure of grace. No, these future troubles are grace. They will be the tools God will use to get us to leave the confines of the kingdom of self and to join Him in advancing the kingdom of God. This means that you will never understand your future marriage and never be satisfied with it until you understand that marriage is not an end to itself. Rather, marriage has been designed by God to be a means to an end. It is only when a husband and wife each live in a purposeful and joyful allegiance to the plans, purposes, and Lord of the kingdom of God that their marriage can really be a biblical marriage.

Whose kingdom will shape your future marriage? Whose kingdom will define your dream? What really makes you happy? What is it that you want so badly for your future marriage to be? Could it perhaps be that what you think is love is not really kingdom-of-god, other-centered, other-service love? Could it be that what you actually want is for that other person to love you as much as you do? Could it be that your anger reveals how zealously committed you are to the purposes of your own kingdom? Could it be that the troubles you face in your engagement, both big and small, are not so much hassles as they are opportunities? Could it be that just when you think God had abandoned you (and your future marriage) that He is really very near, giving you the best gift ever – transforming grace? That is, the grace that rescues you from the one thing that you cannot rescue yourself from – you.

Summary: Your future marriage needs to be Kingdom-oriented.

A Marital Mason [1]
The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of St. Paul’s cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers, so he chose three and asked them this question: “What are you doing?”
• The first replied: “I’m cutting stone for 10 shillings a day.”
• The next answered: “I’m putting in 10 hours a day on this job.”
• But the third said: “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London’s greatest cathedrals.”

The fourth portrait of a biblical marriage speaks to this. In His wisdom, God has crafted a life for us that does not careen from huge, consequential moment to huge, consequential moment. In fact, if you examine your life, you will see that you have actually had few of those moments. You can probably name only two or three life-changing events you have lived through. We are all the same -- the character and quality of our life is forged in little moments. Every day we lay little bricks on the foundation of what our life will be. The bricks of words said, the bricks of actions taken, the bricks of little decisions, the bricks of little thoughts, and the bricks of small-moment desires all work together to form the functional edifice that will be called your marriage. In other words, you need to view yourself as a marital mason.

Perhaps this is precisely the problem. We just don’t tend to live life this way. We tend to fall into thoughtless routines and instinctive ways of doing things. We tend to back away from the significance of little moments because they are -- little moments. The crazy thing is that the opposite is true. Little moments are significant because they are -- little moments. These are the moments that make up our lives. These are the moments that set up our future. These are the moments that shape our relationships. We need to have a day-by-day approach to everything in our lives, and if we do, we will choose our bricks carefully and place them strategically. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 provides a model for what this day-by-day lifestyle looks like.

Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

This passage is a call to a particular way of thinking about and living in our relationship to God. What it calls us to in our relationship with God is a wonderful model for our relationship with one another in marriage. Paul understands that we have been reconciled to God by an act of His grace. He knew that there is no way for us to earn God’s love or deserve His favor but, having said that, he was quick to remind us that reconciliation to God is both an event and a process. Notice the words of verse 20: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Who is the “you” that Paul is addressing? The “you” is the Corinthian church. Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Mark, if these people are believers, haven’t they already been reconciled to God?” The answer is yes and no. Yes, they have been reconciled to God in the sense of God’s acceptance of them in Christ. But there is another reconciliation that is still going on. To the degree that we continue to live for ourselves (v. 15), to that degree we still need to be reconciled to God. We need to be reconciled daily to God in confession and repentance. Likewise, are you willing to commit to focusing on a habit of daily reconciliation in your relationship with your future spouse?

Summary: Your future marriage needs you to view yourself as a marital mason.

An Effort in Gardening [1]
The fifth portrait of a biblical marriage is that marriage is just a long-term exercise in gardening. If you’ve done any gardening you know there simply aren’t any shortcuts. Gardens begin with hard work. Clearing the land isn’t fun, but it’s essential. Digging holes for the seeds isn’t enjoyable, but it is a necessary step. The regular work of watering, weeding, and pruning off wilted flowers is necessary for plant health, too.

Why is it that we don’t expect our gardens to just grow by themselves – from weedy land to lush garden – yet we expect our marriages to blossom beautifully without the daily work of pulling up weeds and planting seeds? I don’t know why we think that the most comprehensive and long-term of all human relationships can thrive without the same commitment we make to our gardens.

God’s words of commission to Jeremiah have a powerful and practical application to your commitment to work on your future marriage. The words are brief but beautifully and accurately descriptive: “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer.1 :10). If change was to take place in Israel, God is saying that this is how it will have to happen: pluck up and break down, plant and build. God is saying that change always has two sides to it: destruction and construction. Change is needed because there are things in you, in your situation, or in your relationship that need to be uprooted or torn down.

For your future marriage to be healthy, you must have this type of destructive and constructive zeal. What are practical examples of things that will need to be destroyed (i.e., what are things that will need to be weeded)?
• Selfishness (self-appointed little sovereigns seeking to set up their own little kingdoms)
• Busyness (usually driven by materialism)
• Inattention
• Self-righteousness
• Fear (of failure, of man)
• Laziness (usually rooted in self-love)

On the other hand, what are practical examples of things that will need to be planted (or constructed)? The list in Galatians 5 -- the “fruit of the Spirit” – is the best catalog of the character qualities that will need to be cultivated in a biblical marriage:
• Love – What does a commitment to serve your future spouse in love look like? It will look like getting up in the morning and committing to searching for concrete ways to love your husband or your wife. Where does he tend to be discouraged or overwhelmed? What are the daily tasks in which she could use assistance? In what special way can you communicate your affection?
• Joy – What is joy about? It will mean looking for reasons to be thankful. It will mean being better at counting your blessings than you are at calculating your complaints. It will be about communicating appreciation. It will be about letting her know how much the things she does for you mean to you. It will be about thanking God daily for your relationship, even though it will be less than perfect.
• Peace – What does peace look like? It will mean gladly overlooking minor offenses. It will mean that you will quickly forgive. You will work to restore your relationship when something has separated you and your future spouse. You will find unity more attractive than winning and peace more compelling than power.
• Kindness – What does kindness look like? It will mean being polite and patient. It will mean not being critical. It will mean placing him/her first. It will mean not doing things that are called rude!
• Faithful – What does faithfulness look like? It begins with your thoughts and desires. It will mean not allowing yourself to fantasize about another person. It will continue with your actions. You will never do anything that would call your faithfulness into question by anyone (especially your future spouse).
• Gentleness – What does gentleness look like? It will mean that something doesn’t get damaged in the process of being handled. It will be the recognition that if you could change another person by the volume of your voice, the power of your vocabulary, and the force of your personality, Jesus would not have had to come!
• Self-Control – What does self-control look like? A good marriage will always be the result of saying no -- not to the other person, but to yourself. It will be the constant willingness to critique your thoughts, edit your words, and restrain your behavior out of love for your future spouse and love for what is right.

Summary: Your future marriage will require gardening (planting and weeding).

Gospel Implication [2]
Have you ever buttoned your shirt wrong? You know, so the holes and buttons don’t match up and the shirt looks like it was put on by an absent-minded professor? It’s amazing how distorted and disheveled one can look from not getting that first button right. Start off in the wrong place, and there’s no way to correct the problem down the line. Getting the first one right is the key to getting all of the other ones right.

Marriage is like that shirt. If you get the first thing right, then the other things/buttons of marriage – roles, communication, love, sex – all start to line up in a way that works together.

Key Idea: What you believe about God will determine the quality of your future marriage.

In this session, we learned that we are all theologians – we all think about God. Let me take a moment to explain. Everybody views life from a perspective – what some call a worldview. Our worldview is shaped by many things: our culture, our gender, our upbringing, our present situation, etc. The most profound thing that shapes anybody’s worldview is their understanding of God. What a person believes about God determines what he or she thinks about how we got here, what our ultimate meaning is, and what happens after we die. So essentially, our worldview and our perspective on life, is determined by our perspective on God. And when we talk about theology, all we are talking about is what we think about God. What you truly believe about God and what it means to live for God is your theology.

What kind of theologian are you? It’s not hard to tell. Whether we realize it or not, our ideas about this world, worship, kingdom-orientation, and everything else reveal themselves all the time in our words and deeds -- inevitably reflecting our view of God. If you listen carefully, theology spills from our lips every day.

The gospel is an endless fountain of God’s grace in your future marriage. Even when we were dead in our transgressions, God sent His Son to die in our place (Eph. 2:5). Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we were regenerated (John 3:5) and given faith to believe in His work on the cross in our stead – “For by grace we have been saved through faith…” (Eph. 2:8). To become a good theologian -- and to be able to look forward to a lifelong, thriving biblical marriage -- you must have a clear understanding of this gospel. Without it, you cannot see God, yourself, or your marriage for what they truly are. The gospel is the fountain of a thriving marriage.

[1] Paul David Tripp, “What Did You Expect”
[2] Dave Harvey, “When Sinners Say I Do”
[3] Dennis Rainey, “Preparing for Marriage”
[4] Lewis and Hendricks, “Rocking the Roles”
[5] John MacArthur, “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus”
[6] Chad Brand, “Christ-Centered Marriages: Husbands and Wives Complementing One Another”
[7] Piper and Grudem, Edited by David Kotter
[8] Gerhard Delling, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”
[9] Rebecca Jones, “Submission: A Lot More Giving In: Biblical Principles on Radically Honoring Husbands”
[10] John MacArthur, “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians”
[11] Paul David Tripp, “War of Words”
[12] Gary Chapman, “Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married”
[13] Piper and Taylor, “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ”
[14] The Village Church Position Papers

Friday, December 4, 2009

Titus II Lesson -- November 29th

Golden Nuggets – Part 2

Introduction
Through the years, the teaching in Titus II has covered much ground. We have:
• Started at the beginning (Genesis) and gone all the way to the end (Eschatology, Rapture, Millennium),
• Seen how God works in the lives of people (Abigail, Bathsheba, Boaz, David, Gideon, Naomi, & Paul),
• Addressed real-life issues (money management, biblical view of work, childrearing, decision-making and the will of God, divorce & remarriage, in-laws),
• Studied Old Testament material (Daniel, Ruth, Genesis, Job, 10 Commandments),
• Studied New Testament material (First Peter, James, Great Galilean Ministry, Gospel of John, James, Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.), and
• Considered a Biblical Worldview

Transition
While it would be impossible to review all of the biblical material that has been discussed in the past 8 years, we can selectively consider “nuggets” or “pearls” that the Spirit chose to resonate in your hearts and minds. Two weeks ago, we considered eight of these nuggets. Let us continue our brief tour down memory lane and consider several more of those nuggets this morning.

Lesson

9. The Study of John 17
Our ninth “nugget” is another great lesson on prayer drawn from our study in John 17. For here in this passage, we can learn about how sovereignty and prayer do go together. God’s appointed hour (“the hour has come”) has arrived. Yet, it does not strike Jesus as an excuse for resigned fatalism, but for prayer. Even though his “fate” was sealed (actually from the beginning of time), Jesus chooses to pray. As is so often exemplified in Scripture, an emphasis on God’s sovereignty functions as an incentive to prayer, not as a disincentive (1). Why? There are at least three reasons:
 God delights to be told things He already knows (2).
 Our rationale for praying, like Christ, should not be to ask for things but to assure our own hearts and to maintain our contact with God and to make certain of our contact and communion with Him. Any idea that prayer is only for guidance and to make requests is false. (3)
 The object in prayer should never be to change God’s heart or will…God’s will is always perfect, and He is a loving Father. Rather, we should come to Him to discover His will, to see that it is right and to rejoice in it – that is the object of prayer. That does not mean that you do not take your requests to Him (see Christ in Gethsemane – “if it be possible” and Job). Rather, you bring your requests and say: “if it be your will” (4).

10. The Story of Joseph
One story from the life of Joseph is worth revisiting. For in the life of Joseph we learn that even evil, is subject to God’s sovereignty. We are familiar with Romans 8:28 (“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”) and the experience of Joseph and his brothers (“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”), yet we still struggle with believing that the Scriptures teach that God can use deliberate sin. But this is precisely what the Bible does teach. And in proof of this conviction, I submit the example of the greatest evil in all history producing the greatest good imaginable. I refer to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we learned in our study of Genesis, the story of Joseph prefigured the story of Christ in nearly every way? What are some of those similarities? Jesus was our elder brother sent into a foreign land for our rescuing (as was Joseph). He was the favored of his Father (as was Joseph), but he became a slave (as was Joseph), and later rose to the highest position of power in order to seek us out and save us (as was Joseph). Most significant, he was hated by his brethren (as was Joseph), the very ones the Father was using him to save (as was Joseph).

We read in Isaiah: “He was innocent of any afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53.7). Against Him cruel and evil men poured out wrath. He was unjustly arrested, unjustly tried, unjustly convicted. Then He was killed without mercy. Never in the entire history of the world has greater evil been done – for this was an extreme of evil practiced against one who was not only innocent of crimes but was also actually sinless. Yet, from this greatest of all evils – evils which parallel but infinitely exceed the abuse inflicted on Joseph – God brought forth the greatest possible good: the salvation of a vast company of people.

How can we apply this example of Christ and Joseph to our lives? When people conspire to harm us and actually inflict wounds born of cruel hatred or indifference, we will not call their evil good. Evil remains evil. Sin is still sin. But we will testify before these and the world that in a universe ruled by a sovereign and benevolent God – our God – their evil will not succeed. We will say: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” We will declare that in the ultimate assessment, nothing can be anything but good for God’s people.

11. The Scriptures
Our next stop takes us back to our study on a biblical worldview to consider the importance of the Scriptures.
o How has God chosen to reveal Himself? God reveals Himself in two distinct ways to man: in nature and in Scripture.
o Are the Scriptures divinely inspired? The Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek are divinely inspired and final authority resides in these original texts alone.
o Are the Scriptures a work-in-progress? Because of man’s lost condition, God has revealed Himself and His will through a historical process, permanently inscripturated, that is now complete.
o Are the Scriptures necessary for salvation? Scripture is necessary for true and saving knowledge of God because therein alone is revealed God’s redemptive provision. Or stated differently, God’s plan of redemption requires the revelation contained in His word – man cannot be saved apart from the sharing of the gospel.
o Are the Scriptures sufficient for all of our needs? God’s finished revelation (now inscripturated) is entirely sufficient for all of man’s spiritual needs (2 Tim. 3:16). Or stated differently: We must remember that God reveals His will in His word – not in signs, circumstances, and/or feelings. There is no need for new or additional revelation.



12. The Ten Commandments
The second commandment – “You shall not make for yourself an idol…” – is a commandment that most 21st century Christians believe that they do not struggle with. One of the great “takeaways” from our study of the Ten Commandments, was Tim Keller’s magnificent work on this commandment. Tim stated that all Christians (even 21st century Christians) struggle mightily with this commandment. We learned, from him, that it is possible to use “problem emotions” to identify idols in your life. Specifically:

o If you are angry. Ask: "Is there something too important to me? Something I am telling myself I have to have? Is that why I am angry because I am being blocked from having something I think is a necessity when it is not?" You may be angry because you are worshipping an “idol.”
o If you are fearful or badly worried. Ask: “Is there something too important to me? Something I am telling myself I have to have? Is that why I am so scared because something is being threatened which I think is a necessity when it is not?" You may be fearful because you are worshipping an “idol.”
o If you are despondent or hating yourself: Ask: “Is there something too important to me? Something I am telling myself I have to have? Is that why I am so 'down' because I have lost or failed at something which I think is a necessity when it is not?" You may be despondent because you are worshipping an “idol.”

To help you see how “easy” it is to worship an idol, he also provided a checklist of possible idols that we may have in our life. How many of these idols are in your life?
o Power idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I have power and influence over others.
o Approval idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I am loved and respected by
o Comfort idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life."
o Image idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I have a particular kind of look or body image.
o Control idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of
o Helping idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if people are dependent on me and need me."
o Dependence idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if someone is there to protect me and keep me safe."
o Independence idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone."
o Work idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I am highly productive getting a lot done."
o Achievement idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I am being recognized for my accomplishments, if I am excelling in my career."
o Materialism idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.
o Religion idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I am adhering to my religion's moral codes and accomplished in it activities."
o Individual person idolatry: "Life only has meaning/ 1 only have worth if this one person is in my life and happy there and/or happy with me."
o Irreligious idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and with a self made morality.
o Racial/cultural idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior."
o Inner ring idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in"
o Family idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if my children and/OR my parents are happy and happy with me."
o Relationship idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if Mr. or Ms. 'Right' is in love with me."
o Suffering idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if I am hurting, in a problem ¬only then do I feel noble or worthy of love or am able to deal with guilt."
o Ideology idolatry: "Life only has meaning /I only have worth if my political or social cause or party is making progress and ascending in influence or power.
o Understanding idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if – I understand why I am the way I am and understand my idols!”
o Safety idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if – I am pursuing the safest course of action and not taking risks emotionally or physically”
o Authenticity idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if – I am not pretending and being honest [shameless] about who I really am”

13. The Prodigal Son (or the Tale of Two Sons) (5)
Our final stop down memory lane will find us in the parable of the Prodigal Son (or the Tale of Two Sons). Our study of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (and specifically some work done again by Tim Keller) taught us that Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity (the elder son) and the way of self-discovery (the younger son). Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from Him either by breaking His rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It’s a shocking message: Careful obedience to God’s law may actually/intentionally serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.

Given this powerful statement, let us look for a minute again at the elder brother. Why is he so angry with the father? He feels he has the right to tell the father how the robes, rings, and livestock of the family should be deployed. In the same way, “religious” people commonly live very moral lives, but their goal is to get leverage over God, to control Him, to put Him in a position where they think He (God) owes them. Therefore, despite all their good works and piety, they are actually rebelling against His authority. If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey Him and be a good person -- then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration -- but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior.

Here then, in this parable, is Jesus’ radical redefinition of what is wrong with those of us who mimic the elder brother. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, on the other hand, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules. Sin is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.

Final Thoughts
In closing, I would like to comment on one final topic – the topic of “leaving.” It’s fairly easy to find a book or an article that tells you how to choose a class or a church. But what about leaving either of these? American evangelicals shuffle all too often from class to class and from church to church, following the movements and fancies of the moment. That is not what I’m addressing here. I’m talking about when there are legitimate reasons for leaving a class or a church (heresy, opportunity to exercise spiritual gifts, relocation, etc.).

Before, I comment on how one should leave, let me say that our loyalty to our class/church should be stronger than our attraction to the better schedule, the hot-shot teacher/preacher that just took over a class/church, or the better praise band. Leaving a class/church (even if for legitimate reasons) should feel like leaving a marriage. It should hurt because we have lived and invested our lives with a group of people -- and now we are leaving.

But how should one leave? The usual method is to sneak out the back door with the hope that no one notices. Over the years I’ve had numerous conversations with people who have “left” Titus II, conversations that are sometimes embarrassing and sometimes hurtful. “Haven’t seen you in a while”, I say as we meet in a restaurant (assuming they don’t try to avoid me). “How are you doing? How is your family doing? How is your job situation?” Then I learn that this person has moved to another class/church for whatever reason. I’m quick to try to relieve the embarrassment by asking how their new class/church is enabling them to serve Christ. But these conversations — while cordial and sincere — are hurtful because they happen accidentally. A serendipitous encounter at the grocery store should not be the moment to announce that three months ago you left Titus II or Stonebriar. So how does one properly leave Titus II or Stonebriar? I offer the following suggestions:

1. Leave Humbly
First, leave humbly. The Psalmist writes: “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins…” (Psalm 19:12-13a). You need to remember that you may not actually be the final word on a subject or topic. Our sinful nature can sometimes blind us. As such, when you are thinking about “leaving” a class or church – be humble. Prayerfully consider your motives. Seek out the counsel of those that are wise in the faith.

2. Leave Deliberately
Second, leave deliberately. Don’t slither or slide. Don’t wander hither and yonder. When it’s time to go, go — and then go become an integral part of another good, Bible-believing, Christ-saturated class/church. The New Testament knows nothing of individual believers taking a little from here and sampling a little from over there. The biblical doctrine of the church describes a body of believers deeply committed to Christ and to one another.

3. Leave Graciously
Third, leave graciously. Has your theology changed to the extent that you need to join a different church? Have the needs of your family or your work schedule compelled you to make a move? Fine. Move, but move graciously. Avoid leaving in a way that causes division or unnecessary controversy in the class/church (Prov. 6:19; 1 Cor. 1:10). Resist the temptation to concentrate on the warts and blemishes of the class/church you are leaving. (You’ll find, soon enough, that your new class/church has a few of these too!) Realize that as a Christian, whatever you do, will be either positive or negative in its apologetic and evangelistic value. Is it any wonder that unsaved people have a low opinion of the importance of the church and commitment to the church when we show so little commitment ourselves? Or, when we demonstrate a negative (or ungracious) attitude when leaving a class/church?

4. Leave Planfully
Fourth, leave “planfully.” Church membership and class involvement are serious undertakings. When we meet Christ, we are saved into the church. The Bible speaks of our being members of one another (Romans 12:4-5). We are joined together in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16). We eat from one loaf and drink from one cup (Ephesians 4:4-5). We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). We might even find ourselves selling our property in order to meet another’s needs (Acts 4:32ff.). Church is not just an organization where you go to get; it is an organism where you go to give as well as get, to minister as well as be ministered to. As such, any decision to leave must be done “planfully.” Are you responsible for a specific ministry in your class (shame on you if you aren’t)? If so, have you raised up your replacement? Whose responsibility is it to find your replacement? It is your responsibility. If you want to leave “planfully”, you must ask this question: “How does my departure affect others?”

5. Leave Thankfully
Fifth, leave thankfully. I write as a man who has been a teacher of this class for almost eight years. During these years many people have left our class (some of them because of me). To be honest, some of the people who have left I didn’t know very well. But others I miss sorely. In either case, I always appreciate the ones who take the trouble to say good-bye. Embarrassing or awkward as it may be, have an exit interview with one of the leaders, elders, or pastors of the class/church you are leaving. Explain the reasons for your departure, express your gratitude for their hard work, and commit yourself to praying for the class/church with which you will no longer be associated. It is rarely easy to hear someone say: “I have to leave.” In fact, it always hurts. But the pain is softened when we learn that he or she is going to settle in a godly congregation of Christ-exalting believers. After all, we’re on the same team working for the same purposes.

6. Leave with a Blessing
Finally, leave with a blessing. Many times people tell me they are leaving because God told them to leave. That may be true, but it leaves little room for me to disagree with them. If I do, I am arguing with God and that never works out well. The right way to tell someone is to say: “I am sensing that God is leading me to leave but I am open to your counsel” (see Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). This changes the entire tone of the conversation. Now, the leaders get to be a part of the process and they have a chance to pray with you. Most of the time the decision remains the same and you leave the church for your next assignment. The difference is you leave with the blessing (and participation) of the leaders and those that served with you.

Endnotes
(1) D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI; 1991), Pages 553-4.
(2) D.M. Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of Our Salvation, (Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL; 2000), Page 37.
(3) Ibid, Pages 33-34.
(4) Ibid, Page 38.
(5) Tim Keller, The Prodigal God

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Titus II Lesson -- November 15th

Golden Nuggets

Introduction
Through the years, the teaching in Titus II has covered much ground. We have:
• Started at the beginning (Genesis) and gone all the way to the end (Eschatology, Rapture, Millennium),
• Seen how God works in the lives of people (Abigail, Bathsheba, Boaz, David, Gideon, Naomi, & Paul),
• Addressed real-life issues (money management, biblical view of work, childrearing, decision-making and the will of God, divorce & remarriage, in-laws),
• Studied Old Testament material (Daniel, Ruth, Genesis, Job, 10 Commandments),
• Studied New Testament material (First Peter, James, Great Galilean Ministry, Gospel of John, James, Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.), and
• Considered a Biblical Worldview

Transition
While it would be impossible to review all of the biblical material that has been discussed in the past 8 years, we can selectively consider “nuggets” or “pearls” that the Spirit chose to resonate in your hearts and minds. Let us take a brief tour down memory lane and consider eight of those nuggets this morning.

Lesson

1. The Study of 2 Samuel 11-12
Our tour begins in the book of 2 Samuel. Our study of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12 was very instructive of how sin is birthed and how sin always results in consequences. Buried within this study was a great lesson about prayer. Remember when David is told that his ill son will die because of his sin? What does he do? He chooses to intercede on behalf of his son. Yet, his son dies. What can we learn from David’s petition for his ill son in 2 Samuel 12:18-23? We can learn a lesson about unanswered prayer. David prayed as earnestly as a man could pray, but God clearly answered: “No!” How did David respond? David was content with God’s answer. He did not protest or complain. He accepted God’s will as that which was best. He worshipped God in spite of his loss and his pain. He did not agonize that he simply lacked faith (which if great enough would change the outcome). He knew God had heard him and He had answered. How many of us praise God when He has told us “No!”?

2. The Study of Contentment – 1 Timothy 6
Our study in 1 Timothy 6 on contentment included this poem by a confederate soldier written more than a hundred years ago. While it is not “biblical”, it says it all:

I asked for health that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity that I do might do better things...
I asked for riches that I might be happy,
I was given poverty that I might be wise...
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God....
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
I was given life that I might enjoy all things...
I got nothing that I asked for but everything that I hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

3. A Biblical Response to 2008
In January of this year, I delivered a two-part message on a biblical response to 2008. We looked at both a “spiritual” response as well as a “financial” response. I want to briefly re-visit what we discussed in the “financial” response. I made the following predictions for 2009:
o Credit would be tight throughout 2009
o Unemployment would rise to between 10-12% by year end (and many of you would be affected)
o Worker pay and benefits would remain flat or decline
o Loan defaults would rise resulting in declining asset values
o Government revenues would decline, triggering tax increases and/or a decline in services
o The economy would not have bottomed and a recovery would be yet several quarters out

Unfortunately, virtually all of these predictions came true. What does 2010 look like?
o Credit will remain tight throughout 2010
o Unemployment will struggle to go below 9% (do not be surprised if it remains above 10%)
o Worker pay and benefits will remain flat or decline
o Loan defaults will rise again and asset values will remain flat (at best)
o Government revenues will decline triggering tax increases and/or a decline in services
o Businesses will continue to sit on cash and invest very judiciously

Or in other words, most of us will be profoundly disappointed a year from today with the financial recovery. If this picture is true (or even directionally true), how does one respond biblically to such a financial environment? Just as I stated in January, you need to:
o Get debt-free (Prov. 22:7; Prov. 6:1-5)
o Build and live on a budget (Prov. 23:23-27; Luke 14:28-30)
o Simplify your lifestyle
o Live below your means (preferably at about 75% of your income)
o Seek neither poverty or wealth (Prov. 30:7-9)

4. The Sunday After
The Sunday after Mike Spratt died, which corresponded with the class coming of age, I delivered a lesson that praised, warned, and challenged the class. My final topic dealt with how Mike’s unexpected death reminds us of an important fact – we need to be prepared for death. One may ask: “What should we do to be prepared for death?” Or stated another way: “What decisions do you need to make?” Warning -- some of these may be unsettling (but should not). You and your spouse need to:
 Organize your financial records
 Have a will
 Have adequate life insurance
 Plan your respective funerals
 Determine what careers each should pursue if the other dies
 Determine what type of housing each should have if the other dies
 Determine where the surviving spouse should live
 Determine what childcare options should be used if the other dies
 Discuss who or what type of person the surviving spouse should consider for re-marriage

How many of you are so prepared? Why am I emphasizing that you discuss “dark” thought? It is because the greatest gift you can give your spouse is the freedom to grieve. This is only possible if decisions such as these and plans such as these have already been finalized. It allows the grieving spouse to grieve and not to focus on “logistical” matters.

5. The Example of Gideon
Our tour down memory lane returns us to the Old Testament and our study in Judges 6. Gideon is called deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. As the Midianites and Amalekites assemble to attack Israel, Gideon fears for his life. He says to God: “If Thou wilt deliver Israel through me as Thou hast spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on the all the ground, then I will know that Thou wilt deliver Israel through me, as Thou hast spoken. And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Thine anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” And God did so that night, for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.”

This passage is considered the proof text by many of the “practice” of placing fleeces before God in order to determine his will. “If X, then I will do Y.” There are several problems with this practice. First, God’s sovereign will call not be known in advance and thus is of no value in determining the “individual will” of God. Second, God’s moral will can be fully known and we do not have to resort to “fleeces” to determine that will. Finally, Judges 6 (the only example of using a fleece to determine God’s will), itself, does not support the practice of modern day Christians. This is because:
o Gideon’s fleece was not simply a circumstantial sign, but rather a miraculous display of supernatural power. How many of us realistically ask for a supernatural display when asking for guidance?
o Gideon was not employing the fleece to ascertain guidance, but to gain confirmation of guidance already given.
o Rather than being an example of a proper approach to receiving guidance, Gideon’s demand for further signs was really an expression of doubt and unbelief.

If the practice of placing out fleeces can not be supported by this text (or any other text), what are the best guidelines to use to determine God’s individual will for our lives?
o In those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed -- the moral will of God encompasses much more than one’s actions. Goals, motives, attitudes, and means to ends are all governed to some degree by God’s moral guidance.
o In those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (non-moral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God.
o In non-moral decisions, the objective of the Christian is to make wise decisions on the basis of spiritual expediency. The final decision should be explained and defended on the basis of moral guidance (“God’s Word says…”) and wisdom guidance (“it seemed best”).
o In all decisions, the believer should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God’s sovereign will as it touches each decision. That is because sovereign guidance has no direct bearing on the conscious considerations of the decision-maker.

6. Matthew 24:42-51
The next “nugget” can be drawn from our study of Matthew 24. While much energy is given over to focusing on understanding “end times”, very little consideration is given over to understanding what are our duties in waiting and preparing for the 2nd coming of Christ. Read the text. What do we learn from this text as it relates to our duties in waiting and preparing for the 2nd coming of Christ? In this study we concluded with these wise words:
o Secure your salvation. Since the 2nd Coming will be sudden, do not delay in securing your salvation or of warning others.
o Be a good watchman. Live your life as if he could come at any minute.
o Be a good servant. Be faithful to that which he has entrusted to us.
o Quit trying to predict the timing of the second coming. Since we can not know the hour and day of the 2nd Coming, it is futile (and I would argue sinful) to attempt to predict the 2nd Coming.

7. Childrearing
For nearly six weeks, we took a deep dive into what the Scriptures had to say about parenting and rearing children. From that study, I want to pull out one thread. What are we to focus on in our parenting? Are we to focus on their behavior? Are we to focus on their character? We are to focus on the heart of our children. This is because a person’s life is a reflection of his heart. Luke 6:45 states: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” This passage teaches that behavior is not the basic issue. This passage teaches that character is not the basic issue. The basic issue is always what is going on in the heart. Your child’s behavior – the things he says and does – reflects his heart. If you are to really help him, you must be concerned with the attitudes of heart that drive his behavior. Why? Because a change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable (see Matthew 15:8-9). But, what about the gospel? Isn’t that to be our focus as parents? Obviously, one the most important things we want to tell our children about (as well as to model), is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, the focus of parenting must be on that which we can contribute to the parenting process. We can’t save our children – that is God’s work. But we can instruct them in the matters of the heart.

8. The Book of Ruth
Let us next turn to the book of Ruth. Most of you know the story – a widow (Naomi) and her daughter-in-law (Ruth) return from a sojourn in Moab in an impoverished state. We learned that Ruth turned into a field apparently by chance (“she happened to come to the portion of the field…”). She worked hard. It was hot. She takes a break. While unattractive and sweaty, sitting alone, speaking with an accent, two men off in the distance talk about her. “Who’s that?” Without her knowing, everything was about to change – (“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9).

It is because of this providential meeting, that we are introduced to one of the most godly men in the Bible – Boaz. While there are many lessons from this story that are worthy of being highlighted, let me highlight just three (3):

o The Generosity of Boaz
The character of God is one of mercy. God’s interaction with Israel displayed mercy. As such, the Law of God was very clear, we are to be merciful. We read in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:9-10)…When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deut. 24:19). While the law of God is clear – you need to know that this was merely the “minimum” standard. This was what God “required.” To be “generous”, one must give beyond this level. And here is Ruth 2, we see the example of a man (Boaz) who loves God, who loves the Law, and who desires to be both obedient and “generous.” Notice how he:
 Allows her to drink from the water jars that have been provided for the servants
 Allows her to eat food that has been provided for the servants
 Commands his servants to allow her to glean even among the sheaves (not on the edges), and
 Instructs his servants to purposely pull out some grain for her from the bundles already gathered

The example of Boaz can teach us much about generosity. For if we truly understand the character of God, if we truly understand the moral will of God, if we truly believe what James says in James 1:27 (“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”), then we will be generous. We will live in smaller houses, we will have fewer toys, we will have older cars, we will wear less expensive clothes, we will donate more money – because we are being generous.

o The Redemption of the Damaged
A second “take-away” can be seen in the miraculous backdrop of Boaz’s heritage. It is a story for those of you who struggle with their past. Do you believe mistakes you made in your youth (or earlier in your life) make you damaged material? Do you believe you can not used by God to make a difference in this world? If you do, listen to this lesson from Ruth.
 Matthew 1:4 – “…and to Ram was born Amminadab; and to Amminadab, Nahshon; and to Nahshon, Salmon; and to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab; …”
 Boaz’ mother was Rahab the harlot of Jericho.
 Hebrews 11:31 – “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”
 If God can redeem Rahab and make her useful in the advancement of His kingdom, God can redeem anyone and make them useful in the advancement of His kingdom.

o The Picture of Redemption
Our final “peak” back at the book of Ruth displays an even greater picture of redemption. You may remember that the Moabites “did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you” (Deut. 23:4). As such: “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord” (Deut. 23:3). Yet in the tenth generation, and recounted in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:2-5), the ancient quarrel between Abraham and Lot is redemptively ended in the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. Once again, God redeems by grace.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Titus II Lesson -- November 8th

How Shall We Then Live in a Post-Christian Culture
“The Suffering of Believers – Suffering and Satan”
1 Peter 5:8-11

Review
In 1 Peter 1:13, after having explained the greatness of our salvation in 1 Peter 1:1-12 (i.e., what God has done in salvation), Peter says: “therefore.” That is, in light of this great salvation we are to live in a manner that is consistent with this great salvation. So, in 1 Peter 1:13-2:12, Peter sets forth seven calls to action related to our sanctification as believers. Next, Peter focuses on the submission of believers (2:13-3:12). In this section, Peter has something to say about Christians living in a society that is less than ideal, to slaves who are living in circumstances which are less than ideal, to husbands and wives who are living in marriages which are less than ideal, and to those who are living in churches which are less than ideal. Finally, we moved into the final section of the epistle that deals primarily with suffering. We have considered the “conduct” needed in the midst of suffering (3:13-17) and the example of Christ’s suffering and how that should encourage us to yield to suffering for doing what is right (3:18-4:6). We have considered three lessons (Do not be surprised by suffering; Do not be ashamed by suffering; Do not be confused by suffering) about suffering in 1 Peter 4:12-19. We have also considered the attitudes that represent the building blocks of spiritual maturity in times of suffering (submission, humility, and trust) in 1 Peter 5:1-7. (1) This week, we are going to consider three strategies to invoke when Satan uses suffering as a weapon (1 Peter 5:8-11).

Text

“8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Introduction
Peter continues his series of imperatives that he began in verse 5 – “be subject”, “humble yourselves”, etc. But here in verse 8, these imperatives are associated with our interaction with Satan. Satan is a creature with a great diversity of methods. Most of the time, he chooses to attack the believer indirectly through the impulses of the flesh (see Romans 7:7-25) and the world (see Romans 12:2). He seeks to catch us unawares, slipping up on us unnoticed (e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). But sometimes, like we see here, Satan’s opposition is direct and frontal. (3) He is described as stalking us like a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Now why is this lion roaring? If a lion wants to eat someone, you'd think it would sneak up on them instead of roaring. In fact that's the way the devil is described in other places: he's like a snake. A snake is subtle. It doesn't roar. It hides and slithers. A snake is dangerous because he is subtle, quiet, and hidden. But that's not the case here. Satan is dangerous for another reason. Satan is here compared to a lion. This is because a lion is dangerous not only because it sneaks, but because it's so strong. Even if you know it's there, you're a goner unless you have some power greater than yourself — like a rifle, a land rover, or in the case of Satan, God. (4)

So Peter's point here is not the devil's subtlety or craftiness, but his power. What power? Verse 9 tells us: "…resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world." Satan’s power is his ability to make believers suffer. That is, the roaring jaws of the lion are the sufferings of the saints, designed by Satan for their devouring. Now you can see the difference between Satan as snake and Satan as lion. His “snakelikeness” is his indirect sneakiness. But his “lionlikeness” is his direct attack in suffering. The hardest thing about suffering is not usually that it sneaks up on you. The hardest thing about suffering is that it can overwhelm your faith with fear and pain. It can destroy your faith that God cares, or has any power to help, or even exists. That's exactly what Satan wants to happen, and that's why Peter says the lion is roaring. The roaring of the lion's jaws is the power of suffering to destroy our faith. (4)

Transition
In light of this aggressive stance that Satan can sometimes take, Peter sets forth three strategies to invoke when Satan uses suffering to devour Christians: “be sober”, “be alert”, and “resist him.” Let’s consider each of these one by one.

Be Sober
The first strategy is found in verse 8: "Be of sober spirit." This is not something new in this epistle. Peter has made reference to this before. Back in 1 Peter 1:13 he said: "Gird your minds for action and keep sober." In chapter 1 Peter 4:7 he said: "The end of all things is imminent, therefore be of sound judgment and sober for the purpose of prayer." Now what does this word "sober" really mean? It’s literal use is usually associated with intoxication. Yet, as it is used here and most commonly in the New Testament, it is used metaphorically to refer to self control. It means to be in control of the issues of life, having the priorities of life in the proper order and the proper balance. It requires a discipline of mind and a discipline of body that avoids the very intoxicating allurements of the world. (2) Why is it so important to be “sober” when a roaring lion is about? You do not want to be drunk or out of control when a roaring lion is about.

Be Alert
First, we are to be sober. Second, we are to be alert. Look at verse 8 again: “Be on the alert.” What is one risk of a believer who trusts in God’s mighty hand, who trusts in God’s care, who has confidence that he can cast all of our anxieties on Him? It is that we become lazy and let down our guard. It is that our confidence in God may lead to slackness. Why do we need to be alert? A roaring lion isn’t going to sneak up on you, is he? The point is that when you fight a lion, roaring with hunger, you better not be distracted. You need all your spiritual faculties. The spiritual warfare that we are in the middle of, demands that we be alert and vigilant.

Resist Him (3)
First, we are to be sober. Second, we are to be alert. Third, we are to resist him. In this epistle, Peter has had much to say on the subject of submission. We are to be subject to governing authorities, to earthly masters, to our mates, and to one another (2:13–3:12). The younger men are to be submissive to the elders (5:5), and all are to submit to God (5:6). Yet here, Peter encourages us to do the opposite. What is the opposite of submission? The opposite of submission is resistance. Peter tells us not to submit to Satan, no matter how authoritative his roar may sound. We are to resist him, believe the Scriptures, and stand firm in our faith.

Before considering how we are to resist Satan, let us first be very clear about what Peter does not mean by resisting him:

• Resisting Satan does not mean attacking him. Even Paul was reluctant to take him on (see Acts 16:16-18). Taking Satan and his henchmen on is dangerous business (see Acts 19:13-18).
• Resisting Satan does not suggest we should mock him or belittle him. Too many Christians make light of Satan as though he were no threat. They mock Satan and call him a “wimp.” This does not square with Peter’s description of Satan here, nor does it square with the attitude we are to manifest toward angelic powers (see Jude 8 and 9).
• Resisting Satan does not mean “rebuking,” “binding,” or “defeating” him. Resisting simply refers to our refusal to submit to him and our standing fast against his onslaughts, by divine enablement. Many Christians do “these” things even though there is no command to do so and even though there is no example of the saints having done so.

If this is not how we resist Satan, how do we resist Satan? We are to "resist him, standing firm in the faith." Peter does not say: "Run for your lives" or "Beg for mercy." He tells the Christians to put up a fight! To resist the devil is to refuse his demands, to foil his devices, and to even seize his domains. If the devil tempts us to sin, we resist the temptation by saying "no" to it and pursue holiness instead. If he spreads strife in the church, we resist him by preaching and practicing selfless love, by rebuking the troublemakers, and even by expelling the unrepentant. If he incites slander against us, we will answer by a rational discourse and our good conduct. And if he introduces false doctrines to seduce the minds of God's people, we resist him by refuting the error and teaching the truth. (5)

What is the key to standing fast against Satan’s attacks? Just as the key to submitting to God is faith, the key to standing fast against Satan’s attacks is faith. Remember, the words our Lord spoke to Peter just before his denial:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded [permission] to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 31-32).

The key to Peter’s survival under Satan’s attack was his faith. Just as our Lord had prayed for him that his faith would not fail, faith is likewise the key to our resisting Satan’s attacks. Why is faith so essential? Because Satan’s direct frontal assaults (using suffering) against the believer are an attack on faith itself.
• When Satan tempted Adam and Eve, he tried to induce them to act independently (disobediently) of God. They were urged to act independently of God by Satan, raising doubts in their hearts about the trustworthiness of God. They could not understand why God would “hold back” the fruit of the forbidden tree and what it offered. They trusted in themselves (and Satan) by doubting God.
• When we are successful, Satan tempts us with pride, seeking to turn us from God because we think we no longer need Him. When we suffer, Satan tempts us with doubt and unbelief, trying to make us believe God has abandoned us so we will act independently of God to bring about what is in our best interest — or so we think.

Since faith is so essential, Peter provides us with several encouragements related to faith in verses 9 and 10. What are those encouragements?
• First, we can be firm in our faith because we know we are not alone in our suffering. There are others who are suffering for their faith and are standing fast as well. How is this an encouragement? When we suffer, we are tempted to think our situation is unique, that no one has ever faced the difficulties we are facing. Thus, standard biblical solutions and principles cannot apply possibly apply to us. We are an exception to the rule. Unfortunately, this mindset is in direct contradiction to the Word of God, for we read:

13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We may think we are alone in our suffering, but we should be comforted and encouraged when we realize saints around the world are also suffering — some much more than us — and they too are standing fast, firm in their faith. Our faith silences Satan’s temptation for us to doubt God.

• The second basis for a firm faith is knowing that while Satan seeks to destroy us, God sovereignly actually uses his opposition to further His purposes and strengthen our faith. As Peter has already shown, trials and suffering are the means by which our faith is proven (see 1 Peter 1:7). Now, he says so again. Suffering is the means by which God — the God of all grace — perfects, confirms, strengthens, and establishes us (1 Peter 5:10). The very suffering which may appear to be the means Satan employs for our destruction are the means God employs for our deliverance and development. Behind the opposition of unbelievers stands Satan seeking to devour us. And behind Satan stands God, sure to perfect and purify us.

• The third basis for our faith is found in verse 11: “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Satan claims to control much more than he does (see Matthew 4:9) and even demands that which is not his (Luke 22:31). He seeks dominion over all the earth and over the people of God, but dominion does not belong to him. It belongs to the Lord Jesus, whose death, burial and resurrection brought about Satan’s downfall (John 16:11; Ephesians 1:18-23; Colossians 8:15; 1 Peter 3:21-22).

Conclusion
Those are the three strategies that Peter encourages us to invoke against Satan when Satan uses suffering as a weapon. We are to “be sober”, “be alert”, and “resist him.” In closing, I want to address a few very interesting questions that are raised in this text.

1. First, what is the worst thing that Satan can do to you? He can only kill you. We see a clear picture of this in Revelation 2:10, where Jesus says to the church in Smyrna: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In other words, Satan will throw some in prison so that some die there. But if they are faithful unto death (or as Peter says: "resist him firm in their faith"), they will live forever (or as Peter says: they will be "perfected, confirmed, strengthened and established."). Which means that successfully resisting the devil does not mean that he can't kill you. It only means he can't do you any ultimate harm. He can only kill you. And he can't even do that without God's will (1 Peter 4:19). (4)

2. Second, who causes suffering? In past lessons, I stated that the suffering of Christians is the judgment of God. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:16–17: “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.” Peter tells us that the suffering of Christians is God's purifying judgment. But now I am saying that suffering is Satan's attack. Which is it: the judgment of God or the jaws of the lion? The answer is: it's both. This is not new. It was both in the life of Job (cf. Job 1:12, 21; 2:7, 10) and it was both in the life of Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7). If God is sovereign over all things (including Satan), then God has a different sovereign design in all the designs of Satan than Satan does himself. When Christians suffer, the devil's design is destructive pain. But God's design — in the same suffering — is constructive purification, holiness, and power. The devil aims to devour. God aims to empower, purify, and prepare for glory. (4)

3. Third, can true Christians be devoured? Peter says in verse 8: "Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Satan’s aim is to devour. Devour is not the same as a scratch, a mauling, or a wounding. It is to chew up and swallow. I don't think there is any way to make this mean anything less than bring to ultimate ruin. The devil aims to take people with him to the lake of fire. So can true, born again, Christians possibly be devoured by the devil? No they can't. This is because true, born again Christians resist the devil by standing firm in their faith. That's the meaning of being true born again Christians -- they have the Holy Spirit inside moving them to fight the fight of faith. If God says — which He does say in 1 Peter 1:5 — that He will keep us eternally secure by His power through faith, then it is foolish and presumptuous for a believer to say: “I believe I am eternally secure but I don’t need to resist the devil firm in my faith.” Whoever does this is contradicting God and throwing away the warrant of his assurance. Peter shows us in verse 10 where our assurance is really found: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” What this verse promises is this: if God called you to His glory, He's going to get you to His glory. A little suffering in between is not going to stop Him. The meaning of being a Christian is that we have been effectually called to eternal glory (cf. 1:15; 2:9). This is Peter's way of saying what Paul said in Romans 8:30: “Whom God calls He also justifies, and whom He justifies He also glorifies.” Simply put – a true Christian can not be devoured by Satan. (4)


Endnotes
(1) John MacArthur, “Fundamental Attitudes for Spiritual Maturity, Part 1” (1 Peter 5:1-7)
(2) John MacArthur, “Fundamental Attitudes for Spiritual Maturity, Part 2” (1 Peter 5:8)
(3) Robert Deffinbaugh, “Suffering, Satan, and Standing Firm” (1 Peter 5:8-14)
(4) John Piper, “The Dominion Belongs to the God of All Grace” (1 Peter 5:8-14)
(5) Vincent Cheung, “A Commentary on First Peter”