[The following is a biblical meditation for young men considering engagement and marriage. You can find a PDF of the questions here.]
In Proverbs 31, we find a beautiful, twenty-two verse acrostic poem describing an excellent wife. While these verses focus on the character of a godly wife, they are written for a young man to discern and desire these characteristics in a future wife. For men seeking marriage, these verses can provide a fruitful place to prayerfully consider the kind of woman he should marry. With that in mind I’ve drawn a few questions from each verse, attempting to make contemporary wisdom that addressed an agrarian world.
For practical purposes, these questions do not all need to be answered in the affirmative to proceed towards marriage. No one marries a perfect spouse, but these questions can be asked to clarify the enigmatic question: Is this the one? More specifically, when answers arrive as weaknesses or negatives, godly men should ask: Can I embrace that weakness? Or better, is God calling me to lead, love, and lay down my life to bolster this woman and to cultivate weaknesses towards greater strength.
These questions should be asked with significant soul-searching and self-examination; they should not be used to judge another or to point out faults. They are for clarity, not condemnation. That said, many marriages stumble because biblical wisdom has not been applied from the start. These questions, therefore, are meant to stir up wisdom and to press young men to consider from Scripture the kind of characteristics that should be present in a godly wife. In so doing, the man should also grow in wisdom.
10An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
An excellent wife is from the Lord (Prov. 19:14), not from man. So in what ways can you see that God has brought the two of you together?
Does this marriage have the mark of God’s handiwork, or yours?
Unfortunately, it says quite a bit. As a book that gives us everything we need for life and godliness, the Bible gives instructions about marriage and warnings about divorce. But that is not all that it says.
If our minds jump too quickly, we may only remember the words of Malachi 2: God hates divorce. But we can’t read that prophetic utterance without reading Jeremiah 3, a passage that tells how God issued a certificate of divorce to his covenant people Israel, when their sin destroyed their covenant with God. Moreover, we cannot forget the grace God gives to heal past sins, even as we read and repeat his instructions about covenant marriage and the sinfulness of divorce.
Accordingly, we must understand divorce according to the full gospel story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. In this context, we begin to see how the whole Bible gives comfort and conviction about this and every subject.
But why are we taking about divorce?
Well, to our series on the Sermon on the Mount, we had to return to one section of the Sermon our schedule forced us to postpone—namely, Jesus’s teaching on marriage and divorce in Matthew 5:31–32. With help from Jeremiah 3, I preached a message on the root problem of divorce (a hard-heart) and how Christ enables covenant-breakers to be covenant-keepers.
With his characteristic biblical insight and cultural engagement, Tim Keller’s book on marriage, The Meaning of Marriage, is filled with wisdom and encouragement. Aimed at marrieds and singles considering marriage (and singles who have sworn off the institution), Keller provides a helpful look at God’s design for marriage.
Importantly, he spends the first chapter considering the state of marriage today. He recognizes the way in which marriage has been assailed by the culture, and he makes a cogent argument for the enduring goodness of marriage in a secular age.
It’s from this first chapter, I want to share a few quotations that reflect on the pain of marriage, the enduring goodness of marriage, the perversion of marriage (i.e., how redefined expectations for marriage have twisted God’s original design); and way the gospel brings hope and meaning to marriage.
There are many who have read Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22–33 as an accommodation, or even an appropriation, to the Greco-Roman culture. However, Clinton Arnold in his outstanding commentary on this section, shows why that cannot be true. Taking an extended look at “The Roles of Wives in Roman-Era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor” (pp. 372–79), Arnold shows why Paul’s words are radically counter-cultural—both in his day and in ours.
Writing to a church combatting spiritual powers, Paul is not adopting the idea of patriarchy and headship from the Roman culture. If anything, he is opposing an ancient form of feminism that saw women asserting greater independence. In particular, citing many primary sources, Arnold shows how growing wealth among women, coupled with positions of leadership and the rise of goddess cults all worked to create “freedom and opportunity for women,” which had the effect of creating competition between married men and women (376).
This “new Roman woman,” as Arnold calls it, shows why Paul’s words about marriage and the family in Ephesians are not simply a cultural accommodation. Rather, as he puts it,
Ephesians was thus written to a place and at a time where traditional Greek and Roman roles for women and wives were in a dynamic flux. It is no longer accurate to portray the social-cultural environment as oppressive for women, denying them opportunities for leadership in religious and civic institutions, and extending to them no places of involvement outside of the domestic sphere. Of course, these opportunities would not have been available to most of the peasant and populations. But the same opportunities would have been closed to peasant and slave men as well since their primary focus was on survival. (378)
This is a vast change from the way many have read Ephesians. But we can ask, what significance does this have for our reading of Ephesians? Continue reading →
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. — Ephesians 5:25–27 —
In his commentary on Ephesians, Clinton Arnold shows how Paul takes up the imagery and language of Ezekiel to explain the work of Christ in purifying his bride, the church. As Ezekiel 16 looks forward to a day when the God of Israel will redeem and purify his covenant people, it is important to see how Ezekiel’s prophecy is fulfilled by Christ and the church. Thankfully, Paul demonstrates how Christ’s purchase and purification of his bride gives us explicit textual evidence for that fulfillment.
Arnold picks up the way Paul has made those connections and helpfully shows us how the many passages describing God’s marriage with Israel (e.g., Isaiah 54:5; 58:8; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:1–10; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2:19–20; 4:12; 5:4; 14:4) are picked up and applied to the bride of Christ composed of Jews and Gentiles. Here’s what he says, Continue reading →
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
— Genesis 1:28 —
Few commands in Scripture are more important than the first one: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”
In Genesis 1 we learn God made mankind in his image and after his likeness. The purpose of this “imaging” is disputed and multi-faceted (as I’ve described here). However, it is clear that the first command is to be fruitful and multiply, a pregnant command if there ever was one.
In fact, from the placement of this command—the first chapter of the first book in the Bible—we see how programmatic this command is. It is fundamental to being human, and therefore it applies to every one of us. At the same time, from a canonical reading of Scripture we learn how this phrase repeats and develops, so that it bears significance for more than just having babies. In other words, though it never loses this meaning (child-bearing is an implicit part of humanity), the progress of revelation also shows how fruitfulness relates to the Word of God, regeneration, and the Great Commission.
So, in what follows, I will list out many places where this language (“be fruitful and multiply”) occurs, with a few comments along the way. Then, I will list four ways that reading Genesis 1:28 canonically helps us understand this verse and the whole structure of the Bible. Continue reading →
The Bible begins with a marriage, and it ends with a marriage. In fact, the goal of all humanity is a spiritual union between Christ and his bride the Church. In between, we must decide if we will abide by God’s design for marriage or design our own.
To be completely honest, every single one of us has sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal for sex and marriage. Born outside the Garden of Eden, we cannot experience marriage as it was created to be. Sin has tainted every part of life, including the desires that move us towards love, romance, and sexual relationships.
Thankfully, the goal is not to rebuild what we have torn down. As Galatians 2:18 indicates: this only proves we are lawbreakers. Rather, the Bible gives su a vision of coming marriage that is offered to all who look to God for redemption. Hope, therefore, is found in embracing the gospel and seeking the marriage he offers through faith in him. By entrance into this covenant, we find renewed grace to pursue a path of holiness and wisdom with our sexuality.
God’s grace, then, is the singular answer to our sin. And a future marriage is the singular source solution to a host of threats against marriage today. In yesterday’s sermon I outlined six threats to God’s design for marriage. You can listen to the message online or read the notes. Discussion questions and resources for further study below. Continue reading →
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” — Revelation 19:6–9 —
What is marriage supposed to look like? What is its design? Who gets to set the standard? And how do we test whether one’s marriage is a good or not, let alone pleasing to God?
These, and dozens of other questions, haunt us today. They haunt us because marriage has been redefined and repackaged into a million different Do-It-Yourself romantic projects. Yet, the original still remains—one man and woman woman united by covenant until death.
The reason the original design remains intact is because the shifting shadows of marriage on earth cannot alter the substance in heaven. And it is the heavenly marriage to which all history lunged toward—namely, the blessed union of Christ and his Bride.
On Sunday, I will preach on the good design of marriage and how the future vision of marriage protects us from the erasure of marriage in our day. To help prepare my heart and yours for that message, I share a story and a song that should fire our moral imaginations for what marriage lived in light of eternity should be—indeed, can be when we let Scripture shape our affections. Continue reading →
First Corinthians 7 is a difficult passage for many reasons, but one of those reasons has to do with how poorly the evangelical marriage machine (i.e., Christian romance novels, endless marriage conferences, Christian Mingle, etc.) has loved singles and thought about the subject of singleness. While the EMM projects marriage as the blissful goal of every Christian adult, singleness is often perceived as something to avoid. Yes, Paul calls it good, but . . .
Genesis 2:18 is the tell-tale verse: “It is not good for a man to be alone.” Period. End of story. From this verse, and the cultural statistics about men and women waiting for decades before married, the goodness of singleness is missed.
Then we read 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul makes odd statements about how the married should live as though they are not married (v. 29) and that those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (v. 38). To understand Paul’s point, we have to fight back images of monks punishing themselves for impure thoughts and stories of celibate priests abusing young boys. “Surely,” we say to our selves, “the inspired apostle is correct in what he says, but things have changed.” “Yes, there is a gift of singleness that God gives to some people, but that’s not me and should be avoided at all cost.”
Long story short, I think we still have a negative view towards singleness. To the married, there maybe suspicion of those who are not married. And to the single, there may be sorrow, anger, or frustration that Mr. Right has not yet arrived. In fact, this sadly is the promise most True Love Waits-typeministries offer—“If you save your virginity, you will be rewarded with a godly (gorgeous) spouse”. But is that so? Continue reading →
“Words of wisdom” may be the best way to describe Paul’s counsel concerning singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:25–40. Instead of comprehensive or absolute rules about marriage and singleness, he offers five portraits of marriage for singles and married couples to consider. In these portraits the Spirit-filled man or woman (see 1 Corinthian 2:14–16) can discern how to apply God’s Word to his or her life.
While others (see below) have been more comprehensive in treating the subject of singleness, my sermon sought to follow Paul’s train of thought and apply his words to singles, especially those contemplating marriage. In all, there are lots of technical question in 1 Corinthians 7, but the singular message is clear: Whether married or single, do all things to the glory of God, leveraging your position in life to know Christ and make him known. This is what it means to walk in wisdom, whatever your vocation.
You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message or read the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources (articles, sermons, books) on 1 Corinthians 7 and the topic of singleness. Continue reading →