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Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

 

Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28

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From Job 32-37, the long speech of Elihu, we started to see how suffering is a far more complex issue than the ‘comforters’ had made it, with many possible purposes beyond punishment and linking to God’s concerns to speak to us, perfect us, call us to himself and above all his glory.

Discussing marriage and parenting (Ephesians 5:22-6:4) we saw many striking differences between the gospel-shaped family and the more common models in our cultures. We agreed that the husband’s role, laying down his life for his wife like Christ for the church, is the more challenging one; we thought about what it meant for practice for Jesus to serve the church including suffering and shame (and going into the kitchen!); and questioned the common assumption that submission in marriage is mutual (does Christ submit to the church?).

With Sammy we looked at how to stay mission-minded, servant-hearted and Steadfast in the workplace. Including questions like ‘Can a Christian work for a brewery or tobacco company?’

As the second year apprentices discussed the challenge of liberalism the two big issues that came up were women in pastoral ministry and divorce/re-marriage – the latter seeming to be increasingly common even among pastors.

In all these things the big challenge was – do we go with our personal experiences, our culture, our feelings or ‘logic’ or do we honestly look at the Word and stick with that.

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Also today:

 

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Even non-Anglicans might be interested to know that there was a large world conference of orthodox Anglicans (they do exist!) in Nairobi last October. A few resources that are well worth checking out:

  • William Taylor preaching from preaching from Ephesians 5:1-6:9 (full text) – very strong on not being in partnership with certain people, on what it means to be filled by the Spirit, on the basis of Christian ethics, and brilliant on marriage (see esp. pages 8-11 and 25-42).
  • Mike Ovey on The Grace of God or the World of the West (video & full text) – brilliant analysis of the Western church, Western society, cheap grace, entitlement, narcissism – important for us here in East Africa to the extent that Western culture is impacting and being absorbed here (increasingly).
  • The main GAFCON website.
  • The never-dull blog, waanglicana, is worth checking out too.

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The definition of marriage is a big issue of debate in the UK and US at the moment. In East Africa we might imagine that the traditional definition of marriage is much more stable and not under threat in the same way. Gay marriage is not on the horizon. But actually the ‘traditional’ definition of marriage is not at all traditional here (it has a comparatively short history) and the institution of one man and one woman in exclusive covenant is under many pressures – polygamy (whether formalised or informal mpango wa kando), a high and growing divorce rate, high rates of pre- and extra-marital sexual activity, ‘come we stay’ relationships, social expectation to have a flashy wedding, have children, submit to in-laws etc., and the common pressure of geographical separation for employment.

Why is this so important? Well, as Ken Mbugua has noted in a great post, there are vital connections between our understanding of marriage and our understanding of the gospel and the Trinity (my friend Nick Franks makes a similar point powerfully here). If we don’t understand marriage we won’t understand the gospel or God himself, and we won’t understand marriage until we understand the beautiful Triune nature of God or the gospel doctrines of grace and justification and sacrifice and union with Christ. I wonder whether we need to teach both marriage and salvation simultaneously, interweaved – which, come to think of it, is exactly what Paul does in Ephesians 5 and sounds like what Ken has been doing in South Sudan.

Some resources…

There are 4 books I’ve found really helpful – I’ll review the first two below and I’ll do two more in another post:

momentary marriage1.  John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: A parable of permanence, IVP: 2009. Brilliant stuff, compelling to read, free to download, very well summarised by Christine Auma:

I read that book and my perception towards marriage was changed. I realized that getting married is not the highest point of life! It is actually a very momentary gift that God gives to us and not entirely everyone! You may or may not experience this gift! The purpose of marriage is that it puts on display the greatest and most glorious marriage there ever was and ever will be: Christ and his Bride the Church. It is actually not about us but God!! He gives us the grace to display his amazing love and covenant keeping to his Bride.

That’s Piper’s big point – marriage is a parable of the gospel – and so it’s about covenant-keeping not first and foremost about gushy lovey feelings. And as Christine mentioned there’s some brilliant stuff on singleness – counter-cultural anywhere in the world but particularly here. Other great insights:

  • Six very helpful points on what submission is not from 1 Peter 3:1-6 (p. 99-101).
  • Chapter 11: ‘Sex and Faith’ – the most amazing stuff I’ve ever read on the subject with section headings like, ‘defeating Satan with frequent sex’.
  • The danger of anger in parenting and the general point that ‘anger devours other emotions’ (p. 150) – so true.
  • The argument – that was new to me – that the divorce ‘exception clause’ (Matt. 19:9) may well refer to fornication during betrothal (as presumed in Matt. 1:19) rather than adultery during marriage.

My only quibbles would be very minor. On one or two occasions I find it hard to follow Piper’s reasoning – e.g. I’m not quite sure how he gets to all the stuff in chapter 7 about the practice of being ‘lionhearted and lamblike’ as a husband; and on the role of procreation under the new covenant I think I’m more convinced by Christopher Ash. But these are tiny things. Basically this is Piper at his best – Gospel-centred, fresh, mind-blowing, life-changing exposition.

marriage book ash2. Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the service of God, IVP: 2003.

This is a thicker book interacting with a lot of material at quite a serious level – not really a bedtime read. But again brilliant stuff and well written. Lots of careful Biblical argument. Lots of insightful cultural analysis (‘the churning of partners’). Lots of gospel. He’s making a number of really important points. Here are three that really struck me:

Marriage is not primarily about dealing with loneliness, it is about serving God. Ash goes to the much quoted, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and shows (I think convincingly) that it must be read in relation to Gen. 2:15 – the work that Adam had been given. The “helper fit for him” is a helper – to help with the work. As my old pastor used to say, “The problem was not that Adam was lonely but that he was incompetent.” If marriage was God’s cure for loneliness the single would be condemned to lifelong loneliness but God has other remedies for loneliness – friendship, church, relationship with Him. Ash shows that marriage cannot bear the load of expectation that we put on it when we expect it to perfectly fulfil all our relational/intimacy/loneliness needs. A ‘couple-focussed’ introverted marriage which seeks relational satisfaction as its greatest goal becomes idolatrous and self-destructive. Rather, Ash argues the great goal of marriage is the service of God and all the other ‘goods’ of marriage line up under that one:

Ash marriage

A non-Christian marriage is just as much a marriage as a Christian marriage. Ash gets to this point from a discussion of the objectiveness of biblical ethics as woven into the fabric of creation itself:

Marriage is an ordinance of creation not a regulation of the church; it may be entered outside the sphere of faith… Couples may have different levels of understanding of the purposes for which marriage was ordained, but those who know neither the creation origins nor the redemptive significance of marriage may yet marry. And when they marry, they marry; they do not partially marry because they are outside the boundaries of the church, and they do not marry in some superior way if they are within. (p. 75)

I think this is an area of quite a lot of confusion in our context here. Certainly it is good and fitting if believers marry in the presence of their church family. And it’s nice to have the pastor conducting the ceremony and reminding us of God’s gift and pattern and purpose in marriage. But we need to say that a couple going to a civil registrar to get legally married and then consummating that marriage in a physical one-flesh union (which Ash argues strongly is intrinsic to / even synonymous with marriage) are joined together by God just as strongly as the born again couple who have a church wedding.

Marriage is not really under threat – our society is. This again flows from the objectiveness of the created order and is very relevant in the current debate in the West:

We are not defending the institution of marriage, as though the God-given institution of marriage were under ontological threat [i.e. of ceasing to exist]. If ethical systems were [only ever] voluntarist constructs [i.e. man-made], that is indeed what we would be doing, engaging in a power struggle for the convictions of people. But it is not within the power of humankind finally to destroy created [moral] order… It stands above human history and the human will, and finally it will be restored and transformed in the new heavens and earth… No Christian movement needs to defend marriage: rather we seek to protect human beings against the damage done to them by cutting against the grain of the order of marriage. (p. 82)

married book ashThere are loads of other helpful things in the book – e.g. careful biblical work exegesis and word studies on headship and submission, fornication and adultery. And, wonderfully, Ash has condensed the most important stuff into a much shorter, very readable book, free of academic argument, with helpful study questions at the end of each chapter. A great book to read as a couple in marriage prep or as a marriage refresher: Married for God, IVP: 2007.

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Job

Praise God for a good final day.

As we looked at Ephesians 5 on marriage we found something very counter-cultural, very different to pragmatic marriage, the husband as unconditionally loving, sacrificial servant leader, Oneness, a parable of the gospel.

In the workshop on evangelistic preaching (notes here) we had quite a discussion about the content of the gospel – is it “Jesus transforms” or “Jesus died”?

The highlight for me was Sammy concluding the Book of Job for us:

  • Patience is not passive – crying out to the Lord, desperately desiring to meet with him (James 5:7-11 cf. Job 23:2)
  • Satan is God’s dragon on a tight leash (Job 41 cf. Rev. 12)
  • Job sees the Lord high and lifted up and he is humbled and justified in his presence (Job 42 cf. Isaiah 6)
  • The solution for sinners is a suffering substitute (Job 1:5; 42:8)
  • The end comes at the end (Job 42:10-17)

Please give thanks for a good five days. Kweli Yesu amekuwa mwalimu wetu wiki hii.

 

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Things really warming up. Lots of Bible. Lots of nitty gritty. Enjoying it more and more…

Some surprising things about wisdom from Proverbs 8:

  • Wisdom is personal
  • Wisdom is out-going – seeks us as before being sought
  • Wisdom is delighting, delighted-in, loving, loved
  • Wisdom is supremely valuable, the source of life and blessing
  • Wisdom is prior to the world and creates the world – not a construct that arises from the world
  • Wisdom comes through words – not so much from age or mystical experience

Some taboos challenged:

Pray for our final day today:

  • That we would finish well and the apprentices would travel safely back to their placements encouraged and strengthened by the grace of Christ.
  • For Sammy, Ken Kamau and myself – to teach and preach faithfully.
  • For Romans 9, Job 38-42, and Ephesians 5 to really speak to us.

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target diagram

The ‘target diagram’ has been a staple of evangelical wisdom for a long time. It is a pattern of priorities – Jesus first, then marriage, then children, then work – and it’s a model of healthy Christian living – my relationship with Jesus overflows into my relationship with my wife; our marriage relationship overflows into our parenting; our family life overflows into our work. If the core is healthy then so are the outer layers and the opposite is true.

Recently the target diagram has been criticised recently in some quarters – and certainly it shouldn’t be taken as a simple formula for making every decision – but basically it holds up as a very helpful model. For one thing it closely resembles the way Paul orders his letter to the Ephesians – first Jesus and the church (Eph. 1:1-5:21), then wives and husbands (Eph. 5:22-33), then children and parents (Eph. 6:1-4), then slaves and masters (Eph. 6:5-9).

Even more significant than just the order in which Paul deals with these things in his letter are the differences between the permanence, commitment and nature of the different relationships which form a sort of hierarchy:

  1. Jesus & The Church – The relationship between the church and Christ is eternal and indestructible. We have been chosen in Christ before creation. In his death he has destroyed all dividing walls, uniting us to himself, to God and to one another. The ‘calling’ in Ephesians (4:1) is simply this calling of the gospel. One of the main arguments of Ephesians is that the Christ-Church union is the great reality that will one day fill the universe. So this Christ relationship is the central, unbreakable one and it is not just about solo quiet times it’s about being part of the church united together to him. There is no higher or more lasting ‘belonging’ than this.
  2. Marriage – The relationship between husbands and wives, unlike that between Christ and the church, is temporary. We all start life unmarried, it is dissolvable by the death of one member and there will be no marriage in heaven or the New Creation. Some Christians will not get married at all. Unlike the Christ-union it is not essential to be a fully whole human being and child of God. However, it is next in rank to the Christ-Church union for the very reason that it is modelled on it (Eph. 5:32). It is to be absolutely faithful, exclusive, complete commitment, full of whole-life-laying-down love, oneness.
  3. Children – Parenting is also a temporary thing. It begins at the birth of a child (or adoption) and is ended by death. In fact the intensive responsibility of ‘discipline’ and ‘instruction’ lasts only while the child is a relatively young child (though of course there is an on-going dimension to parenting). Parenthood is not essential to a marriage in the sense that a marriage is still a valid whole and complete marriage before, after, and in the absence of children. Furthermore, the child-parent relationship doesn’t have the oneness of marriage. However, it is a tremendously important unconditional commitment of love-obedience, a great privilege and joy, modelled on the relationship between Father and Son in the Godhead, never to be abandoned.
  4. Work – Last of all comes work. Noble though it is. God-like and God-given as it is. Essential though it is for those who can to work hard and provide for their families and serve others. Work is for a season of life – we don’t expect babies and the elderly to work. It can also be prevented by illness or disability. And it is for only part of each day, part of each week, part of each year. It is taken up and laid down. It is not essential to our identity. It is not our ‘calling’. We are to work at whatever we are doing (whether church work or cleaning or carpentry) with all our hearts, loyally, lovingly but unlike Christ, the church, marriage and parenthood, it is permissible to walk away from a job (1 Cor. 7:22).

There are obviously a lot of implications that flow from this in terms of ministry, mission, family life. One that was noted by a commenter on this blog a while ago:

One high-profile church leader I knew used to say to his wife, ‘If you feel I am not looking after you because of my ministry, I will hand in my notice.’ Others I know neglect their wives (in my opinion) because they have a ‘calling’ from God to a specific ministry, and all else must be sacrificed for that. Which is right?

What do you think? What other challenges are there for us in our context and cultures? If we were to draw the diagram in terms of our actual priorities and level of commitment, how would it look?

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