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Archive for June, 2012

For Husbands: 6 Ways to Display Christ’s Love

Today marks the conclusion of our four part series on marriage. We hope it has been a blessing to you! If you missed any of the first three posts, you can read them here: For Wives: A Profound ParadoxFor Wives: Praying Hearts, and For Husbands: Miracle Required

Adapted from No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God’s Glory by Tim Savage

What does the biblical love of a husband look like in practice? Once again, the model is Jesus Christ. We can identify six salient features of the love of Christ. The first two may be framed in terms of prohibitions (what his love is not) and the last four in terms of affirmations (what it is).

Never Unfaithful

First of all, a husband’s love is never unfaithful. The love of Christ for the church is extremely possessive (John 10:14), fiercely protective (John 10:28), intensely devoted (John 10:9), and radically sacrificial (John 10:11). Nothing could ever prompt the Lord to spread his affections among those who do not belong to him (John 10:10). And love like this evokes a response in kind: the people of God return an all-encompassing love.

The same pattern applies in marriage. When husbands demonstrate unwavering faithfulness to their wives, they prompt a response in kind. Husbands must guard this fidelity at all costs. A wife should know herself to be the sole recipient of her husband’s romantic affection. As he vowed at the altar, a husband must forsake all others.

It is not ultimately biblical warnings against infidelity that sanctify our behavior as much as fresh encounters with the living Christ. Transformed daily by the faithfulness of our Lord, we are supernaturally empowered to exhibit the same faithfulness to our wives.

Never Divorce

Secondly, a loving husband will never divorce his wife. Although the Scriptures may provide an exception to this rule (see Matt.19:9), husbands ought to draw their inspiration from the exceptional love of Christ. It is a love that never parts with its object. There will never be sufficient reason for Christ to abandon his bride, the church which bears his name. We are secure in his eternal embrace. It ought to be the same for wives who are loved by their husbands in the same way as Christ loves the church. Marriages may be subjected to severe trials, but they need never break. At the altar a vow was etched in stone—“till death do us part.”

In antiquity, people were accustomed to easy divorce, and it proved a comforting safeguard in the event of bad marriages. When Jesus uttered the famous prohibition against divorce, it sent a collective shudder down the spines of even his most pious listeners. “If such is the case of a man with his wife,” demurred his disciples, “it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10)! Many today would express a similar reservation. But we must not succumb to a self-seeking outlook that has produced so much pain and dysfunction within marriage. Our compassionate Messiah’s instruction, far from limiting our options and curtailing our happiness, is designed to promote freedom and fulfillment within marriage. It is for our good that he commands us not to divorce.

It is only when a husband follows the counsel of the Lord, when he forsakes all others and clings faithfully to his wife, and does so irrespective of inevitable marital disappointments, that he discovers a contentment beyond anything the present age has to offer—an abiding and overwhelming joy that only God can provide. Following the commands of the Lord never diminishes marital fulfillment. It always enhances it.

Always Attentive

We can fill out the portrait of a loving husband by adding four positive affirmations. First of all, a husband who models the love of Christ will notice his wife. Love pays attention. As time wears on and the initial sparks begin to wane, other things—the demands of work, the passion for sports, the challenge of parenting, the companionship of male friends—can steal away a husband’s attention. The result is marital stagnation in which superficial and brief conversations and perfunctory kisses take the place of deeper interaction.

Many husbands fail to detect the deterioration, or they look primarily to their wives to stoke the marital flame. Sticking closely to their appointed routines, husbands busy themselves with their own projects. Wives, wishing to please their husbands, keep growing frustrations under wraps and then, unwittingly, begin to slide into a state of emotional indifference or despair. When the sterility of the relationship finally becomes unendurable, wives will erupt into—what seems to their husbands—a volcano of irrational negativity. At that point, the marriage is seriously imperiled.

But the point need never arrive. A vigilant husband consciously nurtures his first love. He views his wife as his most cherished earthly possession. He pays attention to her. And when he does, he makes a startling discovery. She becomes the great delight of his heart. Her personality, her gifts, and her interests—now carefully noted by the eyes of her partner—become to him a source of endless fascination. The words of Solomon stand like a capstone over his heart: he enjoys life with his wife whom he loves (Eccles. 9:9). Because she knows herself to be his greatest treasure, she is filled with joy and the sparks of the marriage rarely diminish.

Always Understanding

A loving husband will take pains to understand his wife. He will notice not only what she says and how she acts, but will also seek reasons underlying those words and behavior. He will probe beneath the surface for the person she is within. That, of course, is a defining feature of Christ’s love. He was not content merely to notice from afar but climbed into a human body in order to deal with us on an intimate level. He was “made like his brothers in every respect” in order that he might “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 2:17; 4:15). In the same way, a husband ought to pursue insight into the thoughts and emotions of his wife. He ought to learn what shapes her dreams and prompts her fears.

Deep understanding will emerge only through creative verbal interaction. Love talks. It asks questions. Jesus constantly inquired of those he loved. “Why are you so afraid?” (Mark 4:40). “Why are you making a commotion and weeping?” (Mark 5:39). So, too, a loving husband will tenderly ask his wife to reveal her heart and, when necessary, help her to do so.

It will hardly be surprising that the greatest obstacle to an outbreak of God’s glory within marriage is a breakdown of communication. When dialogue becomes mundane, one-sided, repetitive, tense, or ceases altogether, mutual understanding will be the casualty. A loving husband will guard against the demise of conversation. He will carve out times for sympathetic interaction and, if necessary, structure times into his daily routine. Uninterrupted communication every day helps to build marital cohesion. So, too, does a date night once a week or a quarterly weekend in the mountains or at the beach. Fixing times is the responsibility of a loving husband. Ongoing dialogue is the fruit of his love.

Always Sympathetic

Thirdly, a loving husband will seek to sympathize with his wife. Sympathy represents a natural progression from the first two positive brushstrokes of Christlike love.

For many husbands, sympathy is not a natural attribute. And, ironically, the more a husband thinks he understands his wife, often the less sympathy he expresses. Understanding can breed contempt. When the weaknesses of a wife are exposed, husbands can become judgmental, harsh, critical, or authoritarian. They can disrespect her opinions, belittle her ideas, demean her accomplishments, correct her use of words, and criticize her initiatives—either in subtle ways or sometimes even in front of others. How a husband treats his wife in public is a very telling measure of the authenticity of his love.

True love sympathizes. It rejoices to support another. Here the apostle Paul sets a high standard of instruction: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4–5, 7). Although these words were addressed to all members of the church at Corinth, they could easily be understood as a call specifically to husbands. Love relishes the opportunity to defer to the concerns and the needs of a wife.

Always Sacrificial

Fourthly, a loving husband will sacrifice for his wife. If we were to scan the dictionary for the perfect synonym of biblical love, we could do no better than the pregnant word sacrifice. It certainly sums up the pattern inherent in Christ’s love. He sacrificed himself on our behalf. This is the supreme calling of husbands. They love their wives “as Christ loved the church [when he] gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

Sacrifice entails more than a simple willingness to put one’s life at risk for another. The love of a Christian husband ought to be characterized by an even greater degree of sacrifice—more than a life given in death, but a life given in life. A loving husband will lay down his own life by taking up his wife’s. He will make her life his life. He will view her life as dearer to him than his own.

This kind of self-denying love is a mystery to most husbands. Few things are deemed worthy of the sacrifice of their lives—work perhaps, or ambitions, or wealth. But a wife?! Men still nurture the idea that wives are essentially there for them—to serve them, to please them, to love them—and not vice versa. How often do men forfeit a personal passion for the good of their wives? How many men will put their work on hold to fulfill a wife’s dream? How often do husbands assure their wives in a tangible way that apart from God nothing in their lives is even remotely as important as they are? How many wives are confident that their husbands are willing to sacrifice everything for them? This is not the reality of most marriages. We live in a society where men are more likely to nurture their golf swings, or their reputations, than the hearts of their wives.

Rewards of Christlike Love

Biblical love transforms a wife. It is the most powerful shaping agent in the world. Love elevates a wife above everything common and defiled, cleanses her from the sullying influences of her past, and transforms her into a radiant person. It bathes her in the glory of God and removes—from the eyes of her husband and, consequently, from her own eyes too—any taint or blemish. What an exquisite creature is the woman loved by her husband! Men take note. The wife of your dreams—indeed a wife exceeding your dreams—awaits the demonstration in and through you of Christlike love.

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June 30, 2012 | Posted in: Loving Others,Marriage,Men, Husbands, Fathers | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 8:00 am | (2) Comments »

For Husbands: Miracle Required

This is part three of a series for wives and husbands. If you missed the first two posts for wives, you can find them here (For Wives: A Profound Paradox and For Wives: Praying Hearts)

Adapted from No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God’s Glory by Tim Savage

According to Paul, it is the right of the wife to receive and the responsibility of a husband to provide love. “Husbands, love your wives” (Eph. 5:25). Few men will rebel at this command. Most husbands aspire to love their wives. Yet seldom has there been a word susceptible to a wider variety of interpretations. Modern clichés about love demonstrate the point: “Peace and love,” “All you need is love,” “Let’s make love.” In the first colloquialism, love represents an antidote to violence; in the second, a vision of utopian bliss; in the last, a desire for sexual intercourse. The wide range of meaning attributed to the term love is enough to tax even the most gifted lexicologist.

What Does Biblical Love Actually Mean?

What does biblical love actually mean? Fortunately, the apostle Paul leaves us in little doubt of what he means by the term. Just as he explained the subordination of a wife by using a qualifying as clause, so he also expounds the nature of a husband’s love with a similar clause. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). The twelve words of this as clause require close examination. There is scarcely a more potent assembly of words in the entire Bible, and by them Paul provides a crisp and profound definition of love.

The first and most obvious feature of the clause is that Christ is presented as the exemplar of love and the church as its recipient: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church [when he] gave himself up for her.” The verb used to describe the extent of Christ’s love is the Greek term paradidomi, which may be translated “he gave himself over for.” It is a technical term in the writings of Paul for the most radical demonstration of self-abandonment in history—the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. By allowing his lifeblood to be drained out on a Roman gibbet, Christ proved himself to be the archetype of self-emptying love.

What mortal can understand a love so extraordinary? Not even, it seems, the apostle Paul. Earlier in the same epistle to the Ephesians, Paul concludes that it is impossible to comprehend, in full measure, the infinite dimensions of Christ’s love. It is simply too broad, too long, too high, and too deep. It is a love that “surpasses knowledge” (3:18–19).

There is, however, an exercise we can perform to derive a more precise understanding of this love. We must picture in our minds the outer limits of Christ’s sacrifice, the two points forming the launching pad and the destination of his love. Heaven, certainly, represents the point of departure. If we could imagine the incomparable splendor that surrounded Jesus in heaven, we could appreciate how much love was required to pry him loose from such eternal bliss. The cross, on the other hand, was love’s destination. If we could imagine the appalling nature of crucifixion, we could gain an appreciation of the depth of love required to embrace a fate so brutal. The reality, of course, is that none of us can fully comprehend either the splendor of heaven or the horror of a cross. They represent polar extremes and encompass a gulf infinitely wide. But it is precisely that gulf that represents the measure of Christ’s love.

The marital ideal is pitched at a very high level. Christ, and his example of infinite love, is beyond the capacity of finite minds to comprehend. But if we cannot comprehend this love, how can we ever achieve it? With the standard set so high, what hope do we have of reaching the marital summit? None, if left to our own efforts and power; but much in every way if we turn to our Guide for supernatural help.

Marriage Requires a Miracle

Marriage requires a miracle, indeed a succession of miracles. Husbands, especially, must reckon humbly with this truth. They must acknowledge that left to their native devices they will never be able fully to grasp—let alone achieve—the measureless love that is meant to inundate their marriages, the matchless love of the crucified Christ. For this reason, they must seek prayerfully the enlightenment that only God can provide. Husbands must implore the Lord for greater access to the mysteries of the love of Christ.

The enormity of Christ’s love suggests an important implication for marriage. A husband must come to view his love as much more than a reciprocal duty. His love was never meant to be a mere response to his wife’s subordination. Husbands do not offer their love only when they feel their wives deserve it. That was not the way with Christ. He poured his love into us when we least deserved it. It was when we were most unattractive, “while we were still sinners, [that] Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). True love always and aggressively takes the initiative, flowing unconditionally into the hearts of those who may not merit it.

The radical nature of Christ’s love is missed by men who make a habit of pointing out to their wives the importance of submission. Husbands who track closely evidence of their wives’ subordination invariably neglect their own responsibility. The call of a husband to love his wife ought to be so all-consuming that a husband has little time to attend to his wife’s submission.

What does the biblical love of a husband look like in practice? Join us tomorrow for 6 ways that husbands can display the love of Christ to their wives.

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June 29, 2012 | Posted in: Loving Others,Marriage,Men, Husbands, Fathers | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 9:43 am | 0 Comments »

For Wives: Why Do We Pray so Infrequently for our Husbands?

by Tim Savage

If you missed part one of this series, For Wives: A Profound Paradox, be sure to take a look. Parts three and four (for husbands) are coming in the next few days—stay tuned!

Content adapted from No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God’s Glory by Tim Savage

A submissive wife will take pains to ensure that the eye she focuses on her husband is a sympathetic eye. When perplexed by his behavior, she will, instead of engage in condemnation or self-pity, stop and ask herself searching questions. Why is he slow to respond to my requests? Why does he come home and turn on the television or surf the Internet instead of talking to me? Why does he keep his feelings to himself? Why does he get angry and snap so quickly? Why does he seldom express gratitude for my labors on his behalf? Why is he more interested in his male friends? Why does he spend money on foolish things? Why does he not listen to my advice? Why is he plagued by stress and anxiety? Why is he so easily threatened? Why is he insecure? Why can’t he break out of his irritating habits? Why does he treat other women with greater interest than he treats me? Why is he so negative? Why does he seldom come home on time? Why does he always expect me to mesh with his schedule? Why does he rarely say he loves me—and when he does, why is it so unconvincing?

Too often we permit questions like these to pass without sympathetic examination. It is always easier to allow frustrations to fester and to explode in verbal criticism than to do the difficult work of drawing a bead on the mind of the husband. Focusing a sympathetic eye on the husband is the way of subordination. It is also the way of healing, both for a weary wife and for her husband.

Praying Hearts

But just because a wife asks the right questions does not mean she will find correct answers. Careful observation does not guarantee accurate analysis. The latter is won only by supernatural assistance. The process of focusing her sights on the husband must be bathed in prayer. Questions such as the ones asked above ought to be addressed not in the first instance to female confidants or to marriage counselors or even to the spouse himself, but to an all-knowing God. To the Lord she must turn with questions and plead for supernatural insight into her husband. And she will receive a response: to prayerful hearts come illuminating answers.

With the assurance of a divine response, why do wives pray so infrequently for their husbands? Is it because they are predisposed not to pray? Earnest prayer does not come naturally to any of us. And it is certainly torture to our adversary the Devil; he will do anything in his considerable power to thwart a wife’s prayer on behalf of her husband. The very tendency to neglect prayer ought itself to become the object of our prayers. We must pray that we would pray—and in particular, pray for husbands.

It would be tempting to suggest examples of the possible insights flooding the mind of a wife who inquires prayerfully into the ways of her husband—tempting, but not necessarily beneficial. Every husband is different, and examples pertinent to one might be irrelevant to another. Moreover, the provision of examples might cause wives to neglect the hard work of drawing a bead on their own husband. And it is the hard work that the Lord rewards.

But for purposes of illustration, I will venture one example. It may be that after earnest and prayerful inquiry a wife discovers that her husband derives a large portion of his identity from the level of material success he can strain from a fickle marketplace. As a result, it dawns on her that he needs her unconditional acceptance irrespective of his economic productivity, the size of his salary, or the standard of his living—matters which foster in him an acute sense of inferiority. With fresh insight into her husband’s heart, a proactive wife will seek to inundate her husband with unmerited encouragement. In this way, submission to her husband moves beyond prayerful inquiry and blossoms into a resolve to do whatever it takes to minister to him at the level of his need.

That is the pattern of Christ. Looking down from heaven, he inquired into the needs of human hearts. Turning his sights onto our shriveled souls, he identified a debilitating defect. Mercifully, he took the next step and met us at our point of need; leaving the glory of heaven, he submitted to the brutalities of a cross. He walked the path of subordination and now bids us to do the same.

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June 28, 2012 | Posted in: Marriage,Women, Wives, Mothers | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 4:24 pm | 0 Comments »

For Wives: A Profound Paradox

This is the first of a four-part marriage series. Today and tomorrow we will focus on the role of a godly wife, and the next two posts will explore the Christlike love husbands are called to provide. We pray that God will use these excerpts to strengthen your marriage and enable you to more clearly reflect our Savior.

Adapted from No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God’s Glory by Tim Savage

Proactive Subordination

What does a wife’s subordination look like in practice? In short, it bears a striking resemblance to her subordination to the Lord. She submits to her husband “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22)—in other words, in the same way as she submits to the Lord. Since she is more than the Lord’s slave, her submission entails more than mere acquiescence in times of disagreement or decision. Since she is his beloved child, she responds to him as to a cherished parent, seeking in every way and at all times to honor him, to please him, to respect him, to exalt him, and to serve him.

Her subordination is thus a proactive subordination. It is a vocation which she takes into her own hands, so to speak, and pursues with every fiber of her being. It is not passive subservience but active engagement. Hence its application, far from being restricted to isolated occasions, represents the prevailing, moment-by-moment pattern of her relationship with the Lord.

When applied to marriage, subordination of this kind ennobles the wife. She becomes a creative and energetic partner. She interacts thoughtfully and actively with her husband. She becomes so much more, radically more, than simply a deferential partner in times of dissent. She is also more than a competitor vying for equal status. Confident of her equality to her husband, she passionately uses that equality as a platform for revolutionary action, the sort of action which makes other revolutionaries look insipid by comparison. She throws herself into fulfilling the needs of her husband, viewing his interests as more important than her own (Phil. 2:3).

Revolutionary indeed! What person with even a modicum of self-respect, with even the slightest measure of egalitarian propriety, would dare to subordinate her interests to those of another? We have met just such a person: Jesus Christ. He viewed his position of equality to God as a reason to submit himself to the appalling death of crucifixion. By doing so, he put our interests ahead of his own. He regarded our needs as more important than his own. He “lined up under” us—not in the sense that he became inferior to us, but in the sense that he gave priority to our needs.

Does this kind of self-sacrifice offend our enlightened minds? Does the subordination of Jesus scandalize our egalitarian sensibilities? Of course not! It is gospel, good news, because it is the grounds of our salvation. Through the subordination of the Son of God, we are exalted.

Exaltation by subordination! It is a profound paradox. It is the provocative way of Jesus Christ—and now also the provocative way of wives who have in themselves the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5), who willingly “line up under” their husbands, who view the needs of their husbands as more important than their own, who seek to exalt their partners—and in doing so exalt themselves.

Don’t forget to join us tomorrow for part two!

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June 25, 2012 | Posted in: Marriage,Women, Wives, Mothers | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 11:46 am | 0 Comments »

How Far is Too Far? (Part 3)

Earlier this week, Gerald Hiestand expressed the need for pastors and ministry leaders to develop a more thought-out premarital sexual ethic. Research shows that only 20% of Christians remain abstinent prior to marriage. As evangelicals, we are often ready to take a necessary stand on homosexual ethics, yet the issue of heterosexual purity is compromised for nearly 80% of us. And so we want to begin a conversation that may feel offensive, overly conservative, or at a minimum, uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we think it’s an important one to have. We encourage you to begin by reading Gerald’s post and How Far is Too Far Part 1 and part 2 for an introduction to this series of posts.

How far is too far? Perhaps this is the wrong question, but it’s one that is asked nonetheless. Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas give a thought provoking answer in Sex, Dating, and Relationships. What does it mean to adhere to the New Testament’s vision of sexual purity? Here’s a short excerpt:

Don’t eat the cake.

Imagine that a man comes home from work one evening to find that his wife has baked a cake. As he walks into the kitchen, she sees him eying the cake and explicitly states, “Don’t eat that cake; it’s for our party this evening.” He nods in understanding, and she leaves the kitchen. As soon as she leaves, he cuts himself a large slice and places it on his plate. And then, bite by bite, he chews the cake and spits it back onto his plate. Having thus chewed the entire piece (but not swallowed, mind you), he scrapes the chewed piece back into the empty space on the cake tray. At this moment his wife walks back into the kitchen and looks at him in horror. “What are you doing?!” she exclaims. “I told you not to eat the cake!” He looks at her calmly and says with an assuring voice, “And indeed I have not. You see, dear, I define eating as ‘swallowing.’ And since I didn’t swallow the cake, I didn’t eat the cake. In sum, I did not have eating relations with that cake.”

Is “making out” porneia?

A silly story, but one that makes the point. When the wife tells her husband not to eat the cake, she means, “Leave it alone—don’t touch it.” And in real life she doesn’t need to be more explicit, because he knows perfectly well what she means. It’s the same with the Bible’s teaching on sexual immorality. When the biblical authors wrote, “Abstain from sexual immorality,” their hearers knew exactly what they meant. In the first-century context, appropriate conduct meant treating members of the opposite sex in a completely nonsexual way. The New Testament simply assumes and affirms this standard of sexual purity. Given this historical and cultural framework, we can understand why the biblical authors did not need to spell out how far is too far. They could simply say, “Avoid porneia,” and everyone knew what they meant. In sum, all premarital sexual activity—even light sexual activity such as passionate kissing—is outside the bounds of New Testament morality.

“Let’s not put even a toe in the water of sexual immorality.”

So wait. Are we saying that passionate kissing is sexual immorality? Yes, after a fashion. But we aren’t suggesting that passionate kissing is the same as sex, any more than Jesus, in his teaching on lust and adultery, meant to suggest that lust carries exactly the same consequences as adultery (see Matt. 5:27). Lust is, of course, a sexual sin. And in that sense, lust is a form of sexual immorality. But we don’t invoke church discipline on every person who lusts. There’d be no church left! Christ’s point wasn’t that those who lust should be treated the same as those who commit adultery. Rather, his point was that lust is the first expression of a big sin, and as such, is itself a sin. In the same way, make-out kissing, while not the same as premarital sex, is the beginning of premarital sex and as such is itself a sin. Lesser expressions of big sins are still sins. That was Jesus’s point about lust, and that’s our point about make-out kissing. God calls us to absolute purity. Let’s not put even a toe in the water of sexual immorality.

Intrigued by the conversation? Read a free sample chapter of Sex, Dating, and Relationships.

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June 22, 2012 | Posted in: Dating and Singleness,Purity,Pursuit of Holiness,Sexual Immorality,Sin & Temptation | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:00 am | Comments Off »