Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Ministry of Marriage

Word Alive is all about getting into the Bible, glorying in the cross and seeing the Spirit at work in our lives.
Now to turn to the more contraversial evening celebration talks... Contraversial because Biblical teahcing is very counter-cultural. Contraversial because we're more culture-compromised than we realise. Contraversial because it probably didn't cross the cultural divide from middle-america to studentdom enough. Nonetheless there were some vitally important things for us to hear - and we should not let the difficulty of it excuse us from application of these things.
Setting our hearts and minds on heavenly things gets firmly rooted into the day to day of relationships in the church community... in marriage, parenting and work. To look to our heavenly marriage to Christ is worked out in our relationships of today. Talk of married life in the student venue might have felt a bit too future-minded for most, but it needs thinking about in advance.

The gospel teaching about these things is very counter-cultural... and we've bought into our culture more than we know. Often we view marriage as a life-style choice, Biblically marriage is a ministry in which God can be served... in which heavenly mindedness is worked out.

1. The Bible is very pro-marriage.
We find it in Genesis 2 as man and woman become one flesh.
The Westminster confession claims it is sinful to "unduly delay" marriage.
Some are given singleness but we ought to pursue marriage.
"Singleness is a rare gift" - so men, seek a wife. (counter-cultural!)

2. Husbands love
Loving for husbands is daunting.
Living like Christ - sacrificially. Love is like death.
This is being manly. Being like Christ by living for your wife.
Sanctifying love - leading your wife in holiness.
Love leads - headship is not passive.
There is a call to marriage - "be a man!" - a call that many young men need to take note of. This is a call to the ministry of marriage.
This really struck me - I've always tried to maintain that first and foremost I'm a husband, before I'm a Bible teacher or anything else... It struck me that we really need to view marriage as a high-calling in ministry terms. It is one to pursue. And in our culture men are not encouraged to love like Christ, nor women to submit... but we must stand against that by setting our hearts and minds on Christ.
3. Wives submit (This bit was Barbara Hughes)
Does that mean being a doormat? Quiet? Unintelligent? Denying rights?
No. Why submit? It addresses what is most difficult for wives to do.
Most women try to dominate their husbands, either passively aggressive, or aggressively aggressive. But wives are created to submit. Its trinitarian - following Christ and the Father... in God's image... with that image being renewed.
See also 1 Peter 3.
Following Christ's example... not belittling husbands, not taking over... not saying "I told you so", not "speaking ill of him in public"... but speaking well of him and not nagging... obeying and trusting God, even when your husband is wrong.... then the gospel shines!
This is hard teaching to hear in our feminist culture but like teaching to husbands is vital if we are to let the gospel shine in marriage. Less and less people get married today and yet God values it highly. All this talk of marriage is not to play down the difficulty and challenge of it. Nor does it deny the challenges of singleness many face today (I wonder if that would be reduced a bit if we got more of a grasp on Biblical marriage and Biblical manhood...). Life is not simple, its messy - I think Kent and Barbara Hughes presented a very simple rosy picture with much personal testimony. I rejoice at God's work in them, but know that many of our lives are fraught with struggle, mess and difficulty in relationships.
3. Children.
Kent stated that marriage is a given, as are children. This wasn't argued from the text and I'm not convinced. Nonetheless, those who are or become fathers should instruct their children. Fathers most typically put their children down, or are mean and inconsistent, overstrict or distant - the must consistently teach their children. And children must live under their parents (while they are children, not as adults). Children need to be gradually released from parental control so that they develop self-control and become Spirit-controlled.

4. Work
Everyone works for God. Doesn't matter who is watching. God sees. This applies to the workplace and to "ministry". Work is not life so we shouldn't be workaholics... family requires time and sacrifice. Workaholics are not serving the Lord. We should be the best employees, with the best attitude and integrity, dependability. Less than this is sin. We're all answerable to God.

Take domestic ethics to heart. Everything has to do with the gsopel. Fulness of God in christ in daily life. Put off the old ways, put on God's ways. Life goes fast - ride it fast for Christ:
... a few blinks and you'll be with Jesus.

14 comments:

  1. Also adding my 2 cents its worth rembering in all of this that singleness is also a ministry in which God can (and should) be served.

    Kent didnt realy go into this as singleness wasnt realy in the passage but i think its good to highlight as a comment

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  2. He did mention it though as a gift. I wonder if "we" (as a culture) lean too far in the singleness direction - magnifying our self-centredness at the expense of marriage. Which is not to say singleness is inherently self-centred... though both marriage and singleness can be corrupted by sin in that way.

    I want to value singleness but also give some people a big push at certain times to go on and get married.... something Christian men needs to hear particularly. To consider the high calling of self-sacrifice and love and commitment in marriage.

    And I think we can afford to speak unashamedly about marriage without having to qualify it with talk of singleness. The Bible, in Colossians 3 for example, is happy to do that.

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  3. Hi there Dave,

    Interesting stuff.

    On 'children as a given', I find it provocative to consider the fact that before effective contraception, children were a hard-to-avoid product of a normal martal relationship as the Bible defines it!

    This suggests to me that having children, like marriage, is an essential part of God's plan for the vast majority of Christians.

    If marriage is being 'unduly delayed', then perhaps children are the next thing to be 'unduly delayed' in our present culture.

    I should admit at this point that, by logical extension of this argument, God's original intention must have been for each couple to have quite a few children. We've only got one and, at times, we've only just coped with the challenges created!

    :)

    James

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  4. Helpful insight James. Thanks.
    You may have a point on our culture unduly delaying children...

    I'm not entirely sure that Colossians 3 justifies that "given-ness" of either marriage or children... it simply addresses them. However, I would posit that both are prominent in God's plans even from Genesis 1-2 we find marriage and a comission to fill the earth...

    I wonder to what extent the "fill the earth" continue for Christians today, and to what extent might it be replaced by "making disciples"...

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  5. yeah, i do agree that when it comes to comitment often guys need to be kicked.

    On the whole my experance is that most people (culture)do not see singleness as a gift and are bent on pursuing marrage. NOT that thats wrong. I dont see christian culture leaning towards singleness.

    However what results is they become rather obsessed with finding "the one" and when they still remain single after prayer, and attempts to find partners etc they question themselves, thier valuse and God's goodness.

    Also on the self centredness issues, yes it can be a problem for singles.BUT i have noticed that many people pursue marrage out of self centred motives. They dont like being single/lonely, they don't like the percived/atcual isolation, they want someone. Therefore becase of thier problems they find a partner to marry to solve them.

    the results being large numbers of single people who are disatified and also not fruitful in minsitry. However i also feel that this issue should be something the church in the uk does need to think about as how to help people live full and acgive lives of minsistry wherever and however God calls them.

    and again yes we can talk about both seperatley, as Kent did... yet i still have yet to hear a talk on singlesness outside the context of a marrage comparision or a relationship seminar.

    again just my musing on my studies this year, its an issue (particualry facing students) that no one realy adresses.

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  6. Culturally marriage is definitely on the decrease.... being single/unmarried is much more the norm-now. The church might not quite reflect that yet but the outrage of some after the above talk suggests that we're rather offended to be told that marriage is what ought to pursue... i.e. that we see single as the norm and marriage as an option....??

    What I'd love to see is everyone considering marriage as a ministry calling that God might have for them... as well as seeing whether God might have them be single. That way marriage isn't pursued selfishly but as a way to serve God...

    People seek guidance as to whether they should marry a particular person or not but the bigger issue is that there is this Biblical thing called marriage. And two people have to decide whether marriage is something they're prepared to commit to... and so its about God's plan of marriage more than about me pursuing "the one" for me...

    On singleness - when that state of living is described that way its synonymous with being unmarried. For 20 years I lived as a complete human being unmarried and not going out with someone - being single wasn't even something that crossed my mind. I was single but I just got on with living, living as me, living with God's people, with friends... I wasn't married and I didn't really worry about whether or not that would ever happen I just got on with life. Turns out it has happened which is great, but would have been fine it it hadn't.

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  7. I'm very confused about what my thoughts are about this subject - I do think churches are very good at making "the family" seem like the main Christian priority which can sideline single people, but then I can appreciate why often, say, only couples are allowed to lead home groups.

    There's definitely a trend towards not getting married in present society (although I'd argue not specifically towards singleness - finding a "perfect partner" still tends to be the ultimate aim) but I don't think it's really there in the church subculture. What has crossed over though is the fear of commitment. The whole idea of going out for ages and ages before marrying so you know everything about your prospective spouse before making a real commitment, for example. Or just not asking anyone out at all because it certainly seems like a lot of effort.

    Anyway, I'd be interested in a series on Biblical relationships, myths of marriage, and so on.

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  8. Marriage is a whole other prospect when you put together the Biblical picture...

    Husband - modelled on Christ... tough calling to love like Christ when you're as sinful as I am... and also loving when the one you love may not always be lovable.

    Wives - modelled on the church... sinful but saved... and then submitting to husbands as to Christ - even when husbands are far from messianic...

    Ought to show us something of the extent of grace, and our need of it!

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  9. Ho hum, deja vu... ;-)

    I'm a fan of marriage, but Bible pro-marriage? Perhaps, as long as one factors out the unmarried Christ who commends celibacy to those who can accept it ("For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." Mt. 19:12.)

    And who also says that (apparently) there is no such thing as marriage in heaven ("At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" Mt 20:30) - or does this only refer to the patriarchal form of arranged marriage of Jesus' time - the verbs one active, one passive, may suggest a different model to a consensually agreed love-match we would recognise?

    Then of course there's Paul ("Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am." 1 Cor 7:8)...

    And then finally there's that very seditious history of extra-marital 'affairs' (including Jesus' own mother, of a kind!) where God chooses not to work through marriage at all - cf. the three naughty liasons in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. (And maybe that's because God wants to subvert the idea that women are simply obedient appendages to their husbands by cutting the men out of the equation, and starting to create a new world order which frees women from such a limited role...)

    Of course, the Church has long recognised that a vocation to celibacy is of equal value to a vocation to marriage.

    (I take what you say about 'rose-tinted glasses'. Sounds like the couple have a good marriage themselves.)

    As for the dreaded 's-word', at the risk of repeating my former posts, I note your attribution of this to Barbara Hughes. Do you still buy wifely submission?

    Another suggestion of an alternative way to read Eph 5 would be to pay attention to the two verbs used: 'to submit' (which, as I pointed out is something all Christians should do to each other according to Eph 5:21, not just wives...) is counter balanced by the verb 'give oneself up' ("husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and *gave himself up* for her" Eph 3:25).

    'Submit' in Greek (hupotassetai) means to 'be under the authority of' or 'obey'.

    'To give oneself up' (Greek: paredoken) means 'to be handed over to', and is used of Christ being handed over to the Jewish and Roman authorities - i.e. to be put under their authority.

    The words could well function identically...

    I appreciate your comments on the messiness of real marriages, and also about children. The invention of contraception and sensitivity to those who cannot conceive has finally resulted in the liturgies of many churches demoting the role of child-birth in their wedding liturgies (in the Anglican rite it used to be the most important thing in the 1662 Prayer Book. In the current revision it is only third or fourth on the list of good things marriage can bring to society).

    As for 'our feminist culture', I'll believe that when I see male domestic violence ended, equal pay for equal jobs (women still earn less than men on average, particularly for the crappier jobs...), women being granted equal position in religious leadership (even in my own church), and acceptance that the role of 'carer' - a typical occupation of many women who look after children and elderly parents - should be recognised by the state as a legitimate job.

    I like your call to counter-culturalism. Wouldn't it be really counter-cultural if the Church helped incarnate in covenanted relationships like marriage the real Trinitarian pricinciples of mutual self-giving rather than the free for all of 'the most powerful wins' which passes for most human relationships today?

    When's all said an done, I'd commend marriage whole heartedly. I'd also note that most liturgies begin by noting that it should not be entered in to too quickly:

    "No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly but reverently and respsonsibly in the sight of Almighty God" (Common Worhsip Preface). As you say, something to be thought about deeply, even among students!

    Many thanks for this reminiscence - and your other ones - of Spring Harvest. Brings back fond memories. I've not been for many years. It had a profound effect on me.

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  10. Quite right marriage shouldn't be rushed into.

    The attributation to Barbara Hughes is because she said it. Likewise the rest of these posts from SH are what the speakers said. Doesn't mean I didn't agree with what was said :) or that I did...

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  11. ok, you play your cards close to your chest!

    Seriously is there an adequate equivalent to the recognised vocation of celibacy any more? It seems that unless one is lucky enough to find oneself in the Anglo-Catholic end of the church, or in RC itself, one would never discover monasticism. (Although having said that, I think there is a bit of a rediscovery going on of 'new-monasticism'; at least there has been some buzz about that at Greenbelt for the past couple of years.) I'll aim to try to take a little party out on retreat to a monastery some time for a taster...

    Some of the most humane Christians I've met have been friars, monks or nuns. They've often seemd extremely at home in themselves.

    I wonder whether behind a lot of the 'Christians should get married' agenda lurks the trickiness that the post-biblical invention of 'dating' doesn't really seem that helpfully met by the simple binary Biblical ethical world of single/married. What do you feel? It seems to leave us floundering for a real ethics of dating...

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  12. Oh right secualr Culture, sorry thought you meant Christian Culture.

    In that case yes, singleness if definalty a norm in most cases (though not celebacy0 And yes selfishness is defiantly a root cause of it.

    In that respect marrried couples are a great witness to the world of what marrage looks like and What Christ and his church looks like.The challange is getting inot the world to show that. :)

    and likewise Singles in that context can show what God's love looks like and what a hope and new life they have in Jesus as they live lives in the world.

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  13. Another random musing i've noticed from my studies, that first above all we should persue Jesus, and all else comes in second to that, inculding marrage

    also as regards to pursing marrage... well it seems that the new testament encourages belivers to pursue being single. Out of the two it seems that the "prefered state" (ie not direct command on wheteher to be sibgle or married) is to be single, there is no call to marrage.

    infactg atcualy pursuing marrage is one thing paul says we should not do. We should look to puring Jesus, then after if possible be single.

    Or so says the new testament

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  14. Marriage is directed to avoid sin in 1 Corinthians 7 - along with wisdom not to marry.

    Its difficult to say that marriage is discouraged by the Bible when:
    1. Its there in Genesis 1-2 as part of the design of creation.
    2. Its a revelation of Christ and the church in Ephesians 5.
    3. Its the institution that models the ultimate marriage of Christ and the church in Revelation.

    Pursuing Jesus is a whole lot more grounded and earthly than we give it credit for. To pursue Christ isn't ethereal. Pursuing Christ is about how I'm single, or how I'm married... about how I eat, or work, or do friendship or anything else for that matter. I think we err when we say that we should pursue Christ not some part of life...

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