Surrender

All I am and have must be surrendered to Christ

Advertisements

Read: Song of Songs 8

[She] Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon;
he let out his vineyard to tenants.
Each was to bring for its fruit
a thousand shekels of silver.
But my own vineyard is mine to give;
the thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit. (Songs 8:11-12)

Reflect:

Throughout Songs, the bride and groom have talked of her body figuratively as a vineyard. So as I thought about these two verses, I thought I should read them as a comparison between the taxes citizens pay and the voluntary giving over of herself to her husband which a wife does – even if that wife be a royal princess married to a king.

As well as royal brides, however, the vineyard stands in Scripture for all Israel, in the prophetic literature (Isaiah 5:7) for example.

Furthermore, Jesus expounded upon this idea in a parable of a rented vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:9-19). Jesus applied it not to carnal generosity but from the position of one who saw the rightful rents being refused to the landowner’s messengers, even to the point of the landowner’s son being murdered.

Jesus turned this metaphor of a rented vineyard into a parable that prophesied his own death.

The Jews didn’t want to submit to the King, so they killed him. And, through a miracle of God, the death of King Jesus made it possible for his chosen Bride (the church) to respond willingly to him.

Christians may own their own ‘vineyards’ as Christ’s gift to us, but we should – nay, must – surrender all to Christ: “In view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice,” Paul wrote in Romans 12:1.

Crux:

All I am and have must be surrendered to Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Worthy, worthy, worthy,
is the LORD God Almighty,
to receive praise and honour and glory –
may the whole earth be full of your glory!

LORD, you created everything and it was all subject to you, yet you handed authority over to Adam and Eve to care for the Garden of Eden, despite knowing they would sin.

You created the vineyard that was your people Israel and they were subject to your law, yet you allowed them to ask for Moses to be their mediator and to appoint Saul as their king, despite knowing Moses would stumble and Saul would fall.

You have granted me authority over the limited sphere of my own body, despite knowing I too would stumble and fall into sin. Wretch that I am!

Yet you have done this so I might be redeemed by your Son and granted his righteousness. You have called me to surrender all that I am and have to you. You call me to live as a sacrifice to you – wholly given over to your will and into your service.

I owe all that I am and have to you. Please allow me grace to serve you in all that I do, with all that I have: my skills and passion, my intellect and education, my heart and soul, my hands and feet, my ears and mouth. May all of me be submitted to you, my King.

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.

Open

Jesus seeks entry into the lives of all who will welcome him in

Read: Song of Songs 5

[She] I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My beloved is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
my dove, my flawless one.” (Songs 5:2)

I have taken off my robe –
must I put it on again? (Songs 5:3)

I opened the door for my beloved,
But my beloved had left; he was gone.
My heart sank at his departure,
I looked for him but did not find him.
I called for him but he did not answer. (Songs 5:6)

Reflect:

At first glimpse, this chapter seems out of place in a book of courtship and marriage. The bride is visited by her groom at night but she is unready to receive him when he knocks. After dithering around putting on clothes and washing her hands in perfume, she finds he has left by the time she opens the door. Looking for him in the streets, she is set upon and her wedding robe is stolen by policemen. Yet she still searches for her beloved and entreats others to join her in the search.

In order to understand this passage, I contemplate several allusions to this story and amplifications of it in the New Testament. Jesus himself takes up the idea of a groom/master knocking at the door and an unready bride/servants several times, in Matthew 22 and Matthew 25 and also in Luke 12. In his letter to the church at Laodicea, transcribed by John (Revelation 3:20) Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Jesus is ready to enter in to the lives of those who are willing and ready to receive him. The question is, are we ready to receive this royal guest?

Many will be taken by surprise when Jesus returns in glory and they find themselves unprepared – without the robe or wedding clothes necessary for the Bride of Christ. Over-reliance on religious rites will be of no benefit either, just as washing her hands until they dripped with myrrh did not help the bride in Songs to be ready.

If we try to force our way into his presence, we will find ourselves excluded completely. Unready people shall be like the Jews to whom Jesus said (John 7:34, in a paraphrase of a line from Songs 5:6), “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

How many hearts will sink on that day! How many faces will be downcast at the coming of the King! By the grace of God I shall be ready, willing and waiting for Jesus when he returns and knocks once more.

Crux:

Jesus seeks entry into the lives of all who will welcome him in.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I recognise Jesus Christ as the King who stood at the door of my life knocking for many years. Thank you for your grace in opening my ears to hear Jesus’ request to enter in to my life. Thank you for prompting me to open that door. May it remain wide open all the days of my life!

LORD, I pray for those who are not yet ready to open their door to Jesus. Please open their ears to hear his words. Open their eyes to see his majesty. Open their hearts to receive him.

I pray also for the workers who go in Jesus’ name as his ambassadors to ‘knock on doors’ for the sake of your glory in the gospel. I pray especially for Suichi & Elaine, Nathan & Shawna, Ben & Bec, Glen & Liz, Ross & Jill & Hazeen. Give them words to speak. Open doors to them. Allow them to share the blessings of Christ’s wedding banquet with many.

Amen.

Flawless

Jesus is sanctifying me, making me his flawless bride

Read: Song of Songs 4

[He] You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you. (Songs 4:7)

You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon. (Songs 4:15)

Reflect:

Flawless beauty. Absolute perfection. That is what this groom sees when he looks at his bride. It’s what every bride wants her groom to see on their wedding day. It’s certainly not what my husband sees when he looks at me.

Our marriage is almost 18 years old (I joke it’s almost a mature adult) and over that time my physical beauty, such as it was, has deteriorated. More significantly, no-one can hide their sinful nature from a spouse for 18 years, and so Jeff is now far more aware of my lack of spiritual beauty than he was when we married. I’m more aware of my spiritual ugliness as well. My need for Jesus Christ is plain to both of us.

Yet Jeff loves me despite all this, and he persists in drawing water from my fountain, as I am delighted for him to do – and as Scripture advises him to do (in Proverbs 5 and 1st Corinthians 7, for example).

As with Songs 3, I am drawn to consider this passage also in a different light: the light of Christ. I can see in this passage hints and a foretaste of the marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church. Now the Church (like me) is certainly not flawless at present; news headlines tell us that. But one day, the day Christ returns to claim her, he will make her entirely perfect, without blemish, sanctified. Even now, streams of living water flow from her (from me!) because Jesus Christ made his Spirit dwell within his bride, as Jesus promised in John 4 and John 7.

Crux:

Jesus is sanctifying me, making me his flawless bride.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for washing me clean, cleansing me from within with your living water which you have made to well up within me as if I were your fountain.

Please sanctify me. Please continue to strip away my spiritual ugliness.

Please take my selfishness, my lack of compassion, my pride and vainglory, my lust, my sloth and laziness, my dissatisfaction, my wilfulness, my self-aggrandisement, my competitive spirit, my ignorance, my disorganisation, my quick tongue and quicker temper.

Please remake me until I form a clearer image of your Son. Please make me flawless, full of your attributes which are true beauty.

Please make me loving, kind, gentle, peaceful, caring, patient, humble, submissive, joyous, self-controlled, diligent, disciplined, winsome, good. Please make me like my Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Surpassing

No human king’s glory can compare with the surpassing glory of the King of kings

Read: Song of Songs 3

I looked for the one my heart loves…
I will search for the one my heart loves…
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”…
I found the one my heart loves. (Songs 3:1-4)

Who is this coming up from the wilderness
like a column of smoke? (Songs 3:6)

Look! It is Solomon’s carriage.
escorted by sixty warriors. (Songs 3:7)

Look on King Solomon wearing a crown
the crown with which his mother crowned him
on the day of his wedding,
the day his heart rejoiced. (Songs 3:11)

Reflect:

The juxtaposition of characters in this chapter is intriguing. The bride yearns and searches for “the one my heart loves” and the reader assumes this is her groom. But upon finding her “one”, she immediately describes the appearance of King Solomon in his royal carriage.

King Solomon is accompanied by 60 warriors, twice as many as King David’s famed chief warriors of 2 Samuel 23. He drives a carriage made by himself, which is replete with royal materials like purple cloth, gold and Lebanon cedar. Furthermore, it seems King Solomon wears his wedding crown.

So, is King Solomon the bride’s groom? Or is she just favourably comparing her beloved groom to King Solomon, wisest and richest and most powerful of Israel’s kings? I’m not sure.

But there is another comparison at play here in the text as well: King Solomon in all his splendour is seen coming “from the wilderness like a column of smoke”, a clear reference to the LORD who went before the people of Israel through the desert as a pillar of fire by night and a column of cloud by day.

King Solomon may be twice as mighty as his father King David, but here he is compared to the LORD himself, the King of kings. This King shall one day return rejoicing to claim his bride (the church) who yearns for him and searches for him eagerly.

Crux:

No human king’s glory can compare with the surpassing glory of the King of kings.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the King of kings, majestic in glory.

Your coming will be like that of a great king riding his carriage, made from the finest materials, draped in royal purple. All will see you coming on the clouds.

Your attendants are too numerous to count: the vast hosts of heavenly angels who serve you, the countless descendants of Abraham who shared his faith, the multitude of saints who believe in your Son.

You wear a crown, a crown of thorns, which was placed on your head by your own mother, Israel herself. On that day they celebrated your death on a cross, but you celebrated your union with your bride, the church.

It is not King Solomon, still less any human husband (including mine), who displays your glory in all its magnificence. These are but pale imitations. It is in Jesus the Christ, your Son and Heir, the Messiah, that the radiance of your glory shines fully.

May Jesus ever be praised; may he be forever exalted as the King of kings!

O how my heart loves him!

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.