Quick Thoughts: Loving as Christ Loves the Church

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EPH. 5:25-33:  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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.[a28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

From this passage, we see two important things: Christ loved the church AND gave himself up for her. These are two separate ideas. He 1) loved her AND 2) gave himself up for her.

The word for “love” here is “agapao.” According to Thayer’s Dictionary and Strong’s Concordance, this word means “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly” and “to love in a social or moral sense.” This is broader than friendship love because “it includes the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty, and propriety”. Agapao is an active volition and purpose, not a passive acquiescence in objective considerations. It is an active choosing or preferring, a delighting in, as opposed to a more passive desire or willingness. It is a passion of the heart, not the head, which means it is a picture of the inward feelings, not the outward emotions.

Agapao is derived, as you would expect, from agape, which literally can mean “a love feast.”

Think about it like this.

childrens-feast

Variety. Delicacy. Succulence. And sweets!

Is this the best representation of your love for your wife? Do you present her with a feast of love?

Or do you provide her with a feast of something else, such as selfishness, control, ill-will, no affection, and commands?

Christ agapes His church. He provides a full understanding for her of what love is, for He is the author and source of love.

Love is expressed to the undeserving to unexplainable depths (Rom. 5:8)

Love commits to the remain, regardless of the situation (Rom. 8:35-39)

Love demonstrates what is genuine by abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good. (Rom. 12:9)

Love strives together with the beloved on the beloved’s behalf (Rom. 15:30).

Love directs our actions/choices (2 Cor. 5:14).

Love comforts (Php. 2:1).

Love labors (1 Thess. 1:3)

Love is steadfast (2 Thess. 3:5).

Love follows the sound words of Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13).

Love waits for the mercy that leads to eternal life (Jude 1:21).

Love frees us from our sins (Rev. 1:5).

Christ is Himself love…Do you show this type of love to your wife? The type of love that comes from Christ? That allows her to feast on your love for her?

Secondly, Christ gave Himself up for his bride, the Church. How do you give yourself up for your wife? Remember, Christ Himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)

Do you serve your wife?

Do you serve her in such a selfless, holy way that she becomes a better person than she was at the beginning of the relationship?

Do you love her without condemnation but with sacrifice (temporarily giving things up for her), serving (refusing to lord your authority over her but instead bowing to wash her feet so that she sees you do not value power, sex, or money more than her?), severing (what have you permanently given up for her?), and sheltering (how do you protect her, especially from yourself, just as Christ’s love protects us from His wrath through His sacrifice on the cross)?

Giving up one’s self requires initiative. No one MADE Christ do this. He took the initiative upon Himself to become what He was not (sin) so that His bride might become what they could not be (righteous), see 2 Cor. 5:21. We husbands must willingly take the initiative to become what we are not (servants) so that our wives can become what they could not be without our action (spotless). For instance, although we are the head of the household, we must become a servant so that she can be washed pure.

Our wife’s happiness is NOT the goal. Rather, it is her holiness (happiness is just a byproduct of this goal). Notice that the scripture says that Christ loved his bride 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.” This is the purpose of Christ for his bride: that she might be holy and without blemish.

Although God is ultimately responsible for making her sanctified (or perfect), we emulate Him in this process by nourishing and cherishing our wife as we would our own selves. Let us be clear: no man is able to make any woman perfect. To believe that is our role can lead to pride, scorekeeping, controlling, domineering, and a “holier than thou” attitude.  God does not allow us men the authority or the ability to sanctify our wives, for all of us (both men and women), are redeemed sinners, members of Christ’s church, whom He is sanctifying. Men cannot sanctify their wives because they have not completed sanctification themselves.

So, what is the scripture commanding us husbands to do?

To nourish and cherish our wife as we would our own selves. For this is exactly how Christ treats His church. In each case, both with Christ and with couples, the wife is to be treated as if she is a member of the husband’s own body. That is why the apostle quotes Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Just as Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:6-7), so husbands leave their family of origin and join themselves to their wife and become one flesh with them.

The point here is that because she has become one flesh with you and is now a member of your own body, you should treat her as such.

Nourish her.

Cherish her.

Love her as your love yourself.

And though it may sound obvious, do not show her hate. The Greek word for “hate” is “miseo,” which means “to detest (especially to persecute); by extension to love less: — detestable, hate.” Miseo also means “to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another.” (From https://biblehub.com/greek/3404.htm )

Therefore, we husbands are not to love our wives less than we love ourselves. Or, to put it another way, we cannot choose ourselves over and above our wives. To do such a thing is to hate our wives, for we have at that moment prioritized ourselves as more important than her.

If we refuse to do something she has asked us to do so that we can do something we want to do instead (watch a ballgame, get some rest, participate in a hobby, seek out time with our friends…), then we are renouncing her in favor of ourselves.

What we fail to realize is that we are not above her, nor is she above us. We are both members of the same body. And as equal members of the same body, we are to love, cherish, and nourish that body AS IF THERE IS NO SEPARATION between us. We have been made one flesh. Therefore, do not treat your wife as if she is separate from yourself. She is just as important as you are and needs to be valued and treated as such.

Love her in such a way that she can feast on your love.

Make no distinction between how you cherish and nourish yourself and how you cherish and nourish her.

In other words, love her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.

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Remember What You Have

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November 10, 2016.

3:43 p.m.

My phone notifies me that my wife has texted me. I am finishing up an appointment with a client and think to myself, “Ok. I’ll call when we’re done.”

3:44 p.m.

My wife calls me on my phone. I decline the call. Whatever she needs is obviously urgent. I begin to hurry my session to a close.

3:45 p.m.

She calls back a second time. This is our signal for 911. I excuse myself from my meeting and answer the call.

“Hello.”

“Mark! You need to leave. Right.  Now. Luke and his friends were crossing the street near the bus stop and have been hit by a pickup. The police say they need a parent on the scene.”

Images of a lifeless, bloody body laying on the ground cloud my mind, making it hard to catch my breath.

“Mark?”

“I’m on it,” I exclaim, rushing out the door with only a brief explanation to my client and our receptionists.

Twenty minutes later I arrive at the scene. The police have gone. The paramedics have left, and a call to my son tells me that he is now at home.

When I walk into the house, I find him sitting at his computer, eating a Pop-Tart.

“Why are you home early,” he asks.

I raise my eyebrows. “Uhhh. Because you were hit by a truck?”

“I’m okay, Dad,” he says. “Really. It’s not that big a deal.” He points to a small abrasion on his wrist that is about an inch in length.

He tells me that he and two of his friends decided to go to the park near our house after getting off of the bus. As they were crossing the street, they noticed a pickup truck stopped at the stop sign facing them. Initially, they waited for him to go, but when he remained stopped, they decided it was safe to cross. However, once they were halfway into the street, the truck began to make his right-hand turn and hit all three of them. My son saw the truck coming and jumped back enough to only be clipped by the vehicle’s side mirror. One of his friends, though, suffered a bruised rib, and the other had two fractured wrists.

I hug my son and breathe a sigh of relief.

Later that night I tell my wife, “You never realize how quickly your life can take a left turn into hell.”

She nuzzles herself into me on the couch and begins a refrain that we will take turns repeating for the rest of the evening: “I’m just so thankful. It could have been much, much worse.”

A week and a half later I am still chilled at the idea of what could have happened, and I find myself randomly thanking God for His protection and grace.

It is a gift I do not deserve. No amount of good deeds could have been exchanged for the life of my son. He is of infinite value and I am a man of limited resources. If God were to weigh me on the scales of justice, I would always be found wanting. And I am acutely aware that there are others in the world who have not been as fortunate as I, so I cannot claim that some cosmic “fairness” is owed to me.  I can only express appreciation and gratitude for being allowed to have my boy, first as a life loaned to me from God and now as a life spared.

But that is the nature of thankfulness, I suppose. One cannot appreciate what he has unless he juxtaposes it against the tragedy of its potential loss. And it is this juxtaposition that lays the foundation for the joy in whatever we have. This is as true for children as it is for jobs, marriages, finances, health, or lessons learned through life.

Too often we forget to measure the breadth and depth of our blessings and falsely presume that they will endure continually. But everything we love, everyone we treasure, every possession we hold dear can vanish in an instant. Everything in life, even life itself, melts away like the morning dew, and if we do not acutely attune ourselves to the transient nature of all our blessings, we will fail to be thankful for what we have been given. Nor will we recognize how God abundantly displays His goodness in our lives.

This holiday season, before you carve the turkey and watch the football game, take time to walk around the house. Reflect on how far you have come over the years. Enjoy how the crisp autumn air has gradually wrapped each tree in thin brown paper. Have a conversation with each person who is at your home. Revisit your favorite memories. Tell a story or two. Laugh with each other.

What is here today can be gone tomorrow.

Remember what you have. And be thankful.

 

 

EXTRA! EXTRA!

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For over a year I have been writing the blog “Living in the Tent.” Initially, I tailored my blog to express how to live a Christian life, both from a theological perspective and a relationship perspective. As a Christian marriage therapist, I felt this would be a great way to blend both of my passions into one expression.

However, as I began to review this blog last month I realized that the majority of my posts on here were more of a devotional nature and less about relationships. I still enjoy writing about how to manage one’s marriage successfully, but I have to recognize that this blog is no longer able to sustain a dual focus. Therefore, I have decided to do the only thing that anyone with a passion for writing, loving God, and helping couples can do…I’m starting a second blog!

This blog will remain intact and continue to deliver the devotional posts that you have been reading. However, my new blog will take up the mantle of providing relationship advice for couples. As anyone can tell you, a wedding is one thing but a marriage is a whole other animal. That is why I decided to create After the Aisle. If any of you are interested in my new blog and the relationship advice that I will be giving there, please click here and check it out. I hope you enjoy it!

Psalms for the Election – Day 2

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This year has brought us one of the most divisive elective cycles in recent memory. Many people that I speak to, regardless of political affiliation, are not excited about the choices they have for President. Both candidates have characteristics that could be defined as “unfit,” whether it is in temperament, decision making, morality, unpredictability, criminal behavior, experience, judgment, health, or political vision.  It is in this season that we need to pray for our country more than we do for our political parties. We are a nation off-course and the choice of our leader will make irrevocable changes to the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and moral direction we take as Americans.

Therefore, I would like to invite you to pray with me for our country. Over the next 7 days, I will be making a new post each day. Each post will include a link to a reading from the Psalms and a brief instruction on how to use this reading as a guide for prayer. Let us put aside our desire to see a specific person win the election and have the courage to pray boldly for God to stay his judgment and place in office the man or woman who will lead us to be the country that God desires (and designed) us to be. 

Will you please pray with me?


Read Psalm 37:27-40

Identify what God is saying about Himself in this passage. Boil it down into a one or two-word summary (e.g., God is ______ ) and confess that truth back to God, asking Him to reveal Himself in this way through your day and this election cycle.

v. 27-29 Ask God to give you, our nation, and our nominees a heart for good and not evil. May evil be repulsive to our souls and justice a delight. Ask that we will be a people filled with righteousness so that we may never lose our land but will inherit it and dwell upon it forever. Ask that we will not fall victim to government tyranny but that we will retain the precious freedoms with which God has provided us.

v. 30-31 Ask God to give us more than intuition in this election. Ask Him to give us wisdom and the ability to articulate it to others. May our tongue speak justice, so that truth abounds in the marketplace as well as on the ballot. Ask God to keep His law within our hearts so that we do not slip, either in our daily lives or in the electoral booth.

v. 32-34 Confess that “the wicked watches for the righteous and seek to put him to death” and that we are easy prey if God abandons us. Ask that God will express His power on behalf of the righteous and that He will not allow false accusations to condemn them. But may the righteous “wait for the LORD and keep His way” while the wicked are cut off.

v. 35-40 Rejoice that God does not permit a wicked, ruthless person to endure but instead, He upholds the blameless and the upright. Ask God to make us a people of peace and to give us a future while the those who seek to turn us away from Him and His ways are “altogether destroyed.” Praise Him that our salvation does not come from a Republican or a Democrat but from the LORD. Ask Him to help us in this election cycle and to deliver us; deliver us from the wicked and save us because we take refuge in God.

Thank Him for hearing and answering these prayers.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dear Teenager…

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-spider-manYou’ve probably heard it all your life. Your parents say it. Your teachers say it. Heck, even your coaches may say it. You’ve heard it so many times, you’re probably sick of it, and even though you think you know what it means, I’m betting that you don’t.

So, as you transition from adolescence to adulthood, I’m going to give you what no one ever gave me, but everyone expected me to understand. Continue reading

Thoughts on Nehemiah

“The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah” (Nehemiah 1:1)

Have you ever noticed that in the Bible there are no last names?  Instead they refer to themselves by the father that they belong to.  This identification set them apart from other people and signified many things about who they were, including social strata and character (“Oh! You’re his kid).  The significance of this truth was never made more clear to me than when my youngest son was playing pee-wee football. For years he had wanted to play this sport, so when he got old enough, we signed him up. At first it was flag football. Then, a year later, it was tackle. That meant he dressed out in full pads for games and practices and belied the image of an athlete, though it was easily apparent he was not one.

This fact did not bother me, though, because I saw what a good teammate my son could be. He was always the kid encouraging his peers, telling them they’ll do better next time, providing optimism in the midst of disappointment. He liked to make people laugh, if he could, and he enjoyed having fun. However, when it was game time, “fun” sometimes included playing on the sidelines with a friend, instead of standing next to the coach, as he had been repeatedly instructed to do, so that he could be sent into the game at a moments notice.

As a result of “goofing off” during game time, his coaches often became upset they could not find him when they needed a sub. This often resulted in the refrain, “HOWELL!” (no response from my kid) “HOWELL!” (still no response as he is deep in make believe). Then something inaudible from the coach to an assistant as they sent in a different player and the assistant went and gently guided my son to the coach.

After seeing this occur for more than one game, I said to him after a game one day, “Let me ask you a question, son. What does it say on the back of your jersey?”

“Howell,” he said.

“That’s right,” I acknowledged. “That means that each time you step out there on that field you are representing me and your mother. People recognize you as our kid. And your behavior says what kind of parents we are. When people hear you being yelled for by the coach and you don’t respond, people hear your name, but they look over at us. Now, I know you’re a good kid. All I want you to do is show people how good a kid you are by doing what the coach says.”

I am not sure if he got this lesson, or even if he remembers this talk. But later, as I reflected on this discipline of my son, I remembered that as a Christian I, too, am a child of God. You are a child of God. But we must all be careful.  Questions about our character, goals, choices, or values are not about us.  They are about how well our Father has fathered us.  If our life is indistinguishable from the non-Christians’, then we reflect a Father who has taught us to compromise with the neighboring pagans.  But if our actions reflect the teaching and wisdom of Christ, if others can listen to your words and recognize the voice of God, then you will not only be set apart as a member of a distinguishable family, but you will also demonstrate the perfection and holiness of  God – our Father.

It is not enough to be a good teammate of the other Christians around you. It is not enough to have fun and enjoy looking like a strong and able Christian. It is not enough to enjoy the joy of fellowship or worshiping God. Who knows? Maybe, if we are paying attention, standing beside the coach to be used at a moment’s notice, we will hear the coach calling for us and get into the game.