Union

Marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman

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[This may appear as a bonus post, because I crossed the international date line today so this is my second run through Friday 8 June 2018.]

Read: Deuteronomy 22

If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must be put to death. You must purge this evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22)

Reflect:

God takes marriage very seriously. His instructions for the people of Israel reflect that. In this chapter, Moses warns against a number of evils:

A husband who decides he doesn’t like his wife must not lie about her to others and he is not to divorce her (22:13-19). A bride who is found to not be a virgin (obviously this does not apply to widows marrying a second time) shall be stoned to death (22:20-21). Adultery is punishable by death also (22:22). Consensual sex outside of marriage is punishable by death (22:23-24). If a woman engaged to be married is raped, her attacker shall be put to death (22:25-27). If an unmarried, unengaged woman is raped, the attacker must pay a massive fine, but they are to be married and he may never divorce her (22:28-29). A man may not marry his father’s wife (22:30).

Without contraception and protection from STDs, these laws provided for the protection of the vulnerable, including women and any children born from a forced sexual union. However, the biggest messages from these laws are the sanctity and sacredness of marriage, the immense importance of the one flesh union, and the seriousness of sexual sin which would harm this one flesh union.

Though the laws of my county differ sharply, as a Christian and as a wife I must recognise my marriage is precious in God’s eyes – and live accordingly.

crux:

Marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the huge blessing and privilege of my marriage relationship with Jeff. Thank you for enabling us to keep our marriage bed pure and undefiled for nearly 18 years of wedded joy.

Thank you for Jeff’s faith, for his sacrificial love for me, for his compassionate care for our children and for his desire to serve you by serving your people as a pastor.

LORD, please help Jeff while I am away (and when I return) to remain faithful to you, to me, to our children and to our church. May he have the strength and patience, insight and kindness to love and lead in our marriage, our family and our church in a way that brings glory to Jesus.

Amen.

Purity

God calls his people to purity so they won’t fall into paganism

Read: Deuteronomy 7

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serving other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

Reflect:

At the end of his first sermon (chapter 4), Moses reintroduced the people of Israel to their God in a homily related to the first commandment. Now, after listing the core laws (chapter 5) and explaining the responsibility set upon parents to instruct their children in the law (chapter 6), Moses returns to the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” He explains the implications for living in such a way to fulfil this command.

Moses gives instructions for entering the promised land, where God will drive out the nations before them. The people are to show no mercy (5:2) nor look on the people with pity (5:16). Instead, they are to destroy the people of these pagan nations. Why? If Israel does not destroy the current occupants of the promised land, they will be led astray by them, led into idolatry by them. Then the LORD will punish Israel, just as he is punishing these seven nations now. The LORD says his people must stay separate from the people they dispossess.

Today, God is not calling his people to dispossess other nations. Rather, he calls us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But we are still to remain separate in some ways so we do not become ensnared by the trickery of false gods and the lies of idol worshippers. For this reason, it is still only appropriate for Christians to marry fellow Christians (1 Corinthians 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14).

crux:

God calls his people to purity so they won’t fall into paganism.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are holy, holy, holy. You despise sin and detest wickedness. All such things shall come under your righteous judgement, including me and my sins. Please forgive me; do not destroy me. Thank you for your Son who paid for my sins.

Please help me to be holy as you are holy. Help me to know what I must cut out of my life and cast away. Please help me to see clearly what needs to change, whether it be the way I spend my days or my character, habits and choices.

Please mould me in the shape of Christ my Saviour and keep me from conforming to the patterns of this world. Please keep me pure and holy, washed by the blood of the Lamb.

Amen.

One Flesh

A “one flesh” marriage is a worthy goal, but it can’t become my god

Read: Matthew 19

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Reflect:

One flesh. As a married person, I love that expression, but I know it also has its dangers.

In recent years, Jeff and I have started celebrating what we call “one flesh moments” with a high-five. When both of us answer a question from the children with identical words, we high-five. When we both laugh at a joke no-one else understands, we high-five. When we look down at ourselves and realise we are wearing coordinating outfits, we high-five. Actually, that one’s just me. I high-five Jeff on that occasion whether he wants to celebrate or not. And when we sit down to talk about a big issue and realise in the first 60 seconds that we already think exactly alike, we high-five for another one flesh moment.

Of course, these moments of mutuality are partly a natural result of living in the same household for almost two decades. Our first memorable one flesh moment came when, after a decade of marriage, we sat down to a game of Articulate! Your Life and absolutely blitzed the opposition, a newly-married couple, because we could anticipate what our spouse would say; we had a shared language developed from shared experiences.

These one flesh moments are also the fruit of our very deliberate efforts to love each other biblically: to make decisions together that bless each other and our children; to set goals together and work towards them as partners; to support each other as we develop our interests and passions; to support each other in our weaknesses and struggles; to work as a team in our parenting and in ministry. We work very hard to be united in all we do.

I thank God for my husband, but it is important I don’t let my husband become a false god, an idol in my life. I need to remember that it is God who loves me best, even when he chooses to show his love through Jeff. It is God who leads me, even when he uses Jeff to provide the guidance. It is the LORD who is the true God.

crux:

A “one flesh” marriage is a worthy goal, but I can’t let it become my god.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the gift of my husband. I am very aware that he is fairly awesome, as husbands go, for you have made him so.

Thank you for the many blessings you bring into my life through Jeff, including:
the delicious dinner he’s cooked tonight,
our helpful Bible talk this afternoon,
his hugs when I came home from work,
the way he apologised for not getting up to be with me this morning before I left for work having already made my lunch the night before,
and his care for our kids on their last day of school holidays.
Please help me to always be aware that it is your Spirit within Jeff who warms his heart to love me.

Please help me to treasure our marriage and always seek too be closer in unity with Jeff. Please also keep me from idolatry, so I may never value my husband above my God, nor my marriage above my salvation.

LORD, I’m very conscious that not every single Christians wants to be single and not every married Christian enjoys the one flesh experience. Please comfort them, strengthen them, encourage them, bless them with your love, with your companionship, with union with your Son and your Spirit. Please grant them and us deep, abiding satisfaction in our relationship with you our God.

Amen.

Sharing

Sex is about sharing my body with my spouse

Read: Song of Songs 7

[He] May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples,
and your mouth like the best wine.
[She] May the wine go straight to my beloved,
flowing gently over lips and teeth. (Songs 7:8-9)

Reflect:

This chapter shows the enormous beauty and joy to be found in the love between a husband and his wife. They delight in each other’s bodies and delight also in sharing their body with the other. This is the joy of give-and-take in a marriage, which is true joy.

Marriage is not about catch-and-snatch: luring another person in to some sort of sexual honeypot trap and then stealing from them sexually. Rather, the sexual side of marriage is about enjoying each other together, being generous towards the other.

As Paul says (1 Corinthians 7:4) “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but yields it to his wife.” In yielding, we are ceasing to rule over ourselves and learning the joy of mutual submission and sharing our most private self.

Crux:

Sex is about sharing my body with my spouse.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I must admit I’m shy to be talking with you about this topic, but you’ve initiated the conversation by including it in your holy Scriptures. Shy as I am, I have to thank you for opening up the topic.

You have showed me in your word that sex between married spouses is intended to be a physically delightful thing to be shared and enjoyed together. Please may it always be so between my husband Jeff and me.

Thank you for your good creation and your good created order. Please help us to always keep to the joy you offer us within your created order. Do not let us overstep our bounds.

Please also help us to use your words to talk with our teenage children about righteous sex in marriage so they may value it for their future but not overstep and seek to steal it too early.

Amen.

Multinational

Solomon’s foreign brides were a prelude to the multinational kingdom of Christ

Read: Song of Songs 6

Sixty queens there may be,
and eighty concubines,
and virgins without number;
but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
the only daughter of her mother,
the favourite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
the queens and concubines praise her. (Songs 6:8-9)

Reflect:

It’s hard not to get sidetracked here with thoughts of Solomon with all his hundreds of women and feel disgust at a man who used women as ways of solidifying his status in international relations. Of course, he wasn’t alone; marrying foreign women and taking foreign concubines was an established part of the political process of that time and place.

But culture, then as now, can never be used to excuse sin. As I have told my children many times, “Their sin doesn’t excuse your sin” and “Just because someone else sins, that doesn’t mean you have to follow their bad example and do it too.” The cultural acceptance of polygamy did not excuse Solomon’s polygamy. And Solomon’s polygamy cannot be used to justify polygamy, or even serial monogamy, today.

But once again, there is a deeper spiritual message in Solomon’s multitude of foreign wives and concubines. He was using them as a means to expand his kingdom, which was primarily a problem because he was sinning against God. Solomon was pre-empting God’s timing in the multinational explosion of his kingdom, which God inaugurated properly at Pentecost, a thousand years after Solomon’s reign.

Solomon wasn’t alone in this sort of pre-empting of God’s plans in the history of God’s people. Most notably, Abram and Sarai took it upon themselves to secure their heir through Sarai’s maidservant Hagar, with disastrous consequences that echo today. Better had they waited until the appointed time, when Sarah would become pregnant and give birth to the promised child of the covenant, Isaac.

Moses also sought freedom for Israel in improper ways 40 years before God gave him instructions at the burning bush. Moses initially sought to bring justice through the murder of an Egyptian slave-master, and then had to flee for his life. It was a much humbler man who returned to approach Pharaoh and insist that he “Let Yahweh’s people go!”

Back to Solomon with his foreign wives, and the link to Pentecost: At Pentecost, Jesus sent his Spirit to his disciples and since this time, Jesus’ Spirit has come upon all disciples at their conversion. On Pentecost, people of many different nations and languages heard the good news of Jesus in their own languages; they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by God so their sins might be forgiven; and they repented and were baptised, publicly declaring their entrance into the kingdom of God and their new allegiance to this kingdom’s ruler: Christ Jesus. From that time on, the kingdom of God has been truly multinational.

Crux:

The many foreign brides of Solomon were a foretaste of the millions of Gentile believers whom Jesus has brought into his kingdom.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the true King who reigns perfectly, expanding the borders of your kingdom not through warfare or abuse, but through the gentle work of your Spirit and the faithful witness of your citizens. You do not coerce anyone to become Christian, but your glory shines forth and attracts all those whom you chose and call to be citizens of the kingdom of your Son.

Thank you for seeing me as “unique” and choosing me to be one of the citizens of your kingdom. Thank you for your promise to perfect me. I am indeed blessed.

Thank you for upholding your church by your grace. Thank you for your continued empowerment of your people to share the gospel and spread your kingdom into every nook and cranny of this wide world. Thank you for making the world’s only divine multinational: the Church which is the body of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Regrets

Do not walk willingly into immorality

Read: Song of Songs 2

[She] Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not awaken or arouse love
until it so desires. (Songs 2:7)

Reflect:

Although Jeff and I weren’t Christians when we met and married, I chose to read the first seven verses of Songs 2 aloud as part of our wedding service.* Songs 2:7 challenges me now as then: “Do not awaken or arouse love…”

When we married, I looked back on my previous relationships with regret, remorse and a certain amount of shame – though not yet with repentance at that time. I have long since repented of all my sexual immorality, and I know that I am forgiven by the grace of God. But I still wish I had learnt the lesson of Songs 2:7 long before my wedding day.

Sexual sin – whether in thought or deed – is no different to any other sin in that I need to not do it! And since I didn’t avoid this sin, I needed Christ to atone for this sin (along with many, many others) through his death on the cross.

For my present and future, I need to keep away from sexual immorality. I need to “not awaken” ungodly love. Since I’m now married, the only valid, godly expression of sexual love for me is shared with my husband. I need to flee inappropriate arousal, and whatever might feed it in me. I need Christ to purify my love.

Crux:

Do not walk willingly into immorality.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I thank you once again for the forgiveness and freedom you have given me in Jesus Christ. Please keep me from dwelling on the regret I feel for my past sin and instead help me to enjoy the peace and purity you have given me when you made me a new creation in Christ Jesus.

LORD, please help me to stand firm against sexual temptation and against any temptation to form inappropriately intimate relationships. Please protect me from Satan’s snares. Please counsel me and guide me by your Spirit so I do not ever willingly walk into immorality.

Please help me to teach my daughters especially – and also my ‘daughters in the faith’ – to not walk willingly into immorality. Please help me to show them the value and virtue of purity and fidelity, modesty and morality.

Amen.

* Songs 2 begins with a reference to my namesake, the fertile pasturelands of Sharon.

Kisses

The love between a wife and her husband is delightful

Read: Song of Songs 1

[She] Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth –
for your love is more delightful than wine. (Songs 1:2)

Reflect:

According to my Bible’s brief introductory notes, the songs in Song of Songs “are arranged to tell the courtship story of a man and a woman, of their marriage (described as a royal wedding) and its consummation, and of the beginning of their new life together.” A series of songs authored by or for Solomon, these are songs which celebrate the particular expression of love in the context of marriage. With the newest laws of my country conferring the right to ‘marriage’ upon same-sex couples, it seems prudent to me to re-read Song of Songs to learn or re-learn God’s ideal for marital love.

Songs begins with the woman seeking kisses! This is a shock to me, because somewhere along the way I caught the thought that the man must always be the initiator of intimacy. Hmm. I guess maybe that’s a cultural standard that isn’t necessary biblical.

I am thinking I need to memorise this verse to quote to my kids when they’re all “Ick, Gross!” because Jeff and I are kissing in the kitchen…

Crux:

The love between a wife and her husband is delightful.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for including Solomon’s Song of Songs in the Scriptures so I might learn better how to love my husband rightly. Please help me to understand, interpret and apply the words in your book wisely to my own life and to our marriage.

Please also use your words to give me words to explain righteous Christian marital relationships to others: to our children, to the women in my Bible study small group, to others with whom you grant me an opportunity to converse on this topic.

Please make me wise on the topic of marital and sexual love.

LORD, I also ask that you continue to grant me delight in the kisses of my husband. May our children see our affection and be inspired to seek godly spouses when your time for that comes to pass.

Amen.