The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

“The problem with self-esteem–whether it is high or low–is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom. Every single day, we are on trial.”

Recently, a friend suggested a small booklet by Timothy Keller called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

This booklet addresses the issue of ego. Ego can either become so inflated that it is unbearable to others, or it can become so deflated that it is unbearable to others. On the one hand, it is difficult to put up with someone who is constantly bragging or overly sure of themselves, but, on the other hand, it is difficult to put up with someone who is insecure and always looking to be built up and affirmed.

Keller shows that they both have the same root problem: it’s all about the self. He also shows that the answer is not to have a lower view of self, or a higher view of self. In his words, the answer is “not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.”

That’s why he titles the book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.

But how can we possibly just stop thinking of ourselves? To Keller, the answer is found in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

Paul’s answer is not to put people around himself who will be positive and build him up. His answer is not to tell himself that he is strong, important, and smart. He does not care what others think, but he also does not care what he thinks.

This is not some hipster who is too cool to care what anybody thinks. Human opinions have not actually become smaller to Paul. The judgments of peers and his own heart have not changed in size. The whisper of men and the echos of the heart have not changed volume, but the trumpet blast of God’s judgment has drowned them all out.

The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that God pronounces a judgment of “accepted and not guilty”, not based on performance (because all are guilty), but on the basis of Jesus Christ’s obedient life and perfect sacrifice. God calls us righteous. God calls us loved. God accepts us. When the shout from God comes, “No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,” it drowns out all other judgments and condemnations.

The phrase, “Only God can judge me” is true, but it doesn’t remove the responsibility of right living. God’s judgment is not based on my performance (thankfully), but he does call me to live out the judgment he has proclaimed over me. Because he says, “You are righteous in Christ,” I live righteously. Because he says, “No condemnation from Me,” I live like someone who would not need to come before a judge for punishment.

When a life has been shaken by the voice of God saying, “Righteous, accepted, and loved,” no other voice can shake it. Whispers from outside or inside may be harsh, critical, and sometimes very right, but my identity is built around God’s judgment of me, and my character will continue to be built on God’s judgment that I am his righteous, loved child.

Implications of the Resurrection

In our first study, we examined some of the evidence for the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. This study will look at some of the implications of the resurrection, both positively and negatively.

If the Resurrection is not true, then there are several implications that even Paul saw during the early days of the church.

1. Christians who teach the resurrection are con artists teaching a fairy tale that has no life-changing effect

1 Corinthians 15:13-14 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

I’m surprised more people aren’t appalled at churches teaching adults, teens, and kids that the resurrection is true. I’m surprised more people don’t question pastor’s motives, or sanity. If “scholars” really don’t believe that Christ was raised from the dead, then why is Easter considered a good thing? Shouldn’t it be considered a crazy day where crazy people celebrate imaginary tales of magic? Shouldn’t that be a pitiable thing?

2. We are still trapped by sin and can find no promised victory 

1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

Marital problems, laziness, pornography, anger, bitterness, loose tongue, loving money, addiction, and many other sins  can be put to death through the resurrected Jesus, but if he has not been raised, then we do not have the ability to overcome our habitual, daily sins.

3. We have no hope at funerals, because we do not know if someone can live after they die 

1 Corinthians 15:18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then we have no hope that there is life after death. Why aren’t pastors seen as coffin-chasers giving shameful hope when there is none? Why aren’t we seen as con artists looking to make a few bucks off the griefs of a deceased family?

4. If Christ is just a cushion to make Christians’ lives easier today, then he is a terrible cushion, and we deserve pity. (vv 19, 32)

1 Corinthians 15:19, 32 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. … What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

The majority of Christians in the world do not enjoy societal benefits because of their faith in Christ. American Christians still do, but that may not always be the case. Christianity is forbidden in many countries. To be a Christian in most Muslim countries would, at the very least, mean a lower social standing, and at the most, might mean death.

If Christianity is a means to benefit our life but gives no hope for the future, then why are thousands of Chinese, Iranians, Afghanis, Cambodians, Mongolians, and Laocians believing in Christ? It will mean a worse life for them, not a better life. If they have no hope of future life through the resurrected Jesus, then we should pity their decision follow Christ and ruin their life.

APPLICATIONS OF THE RESURRECTION

1. We must submit to the risen king. 

1 Corinthians 15:24-28 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Philippians 2:10-11 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus’ resurrection served to reinforce who he was. It proved that he has power over our most basic enemy: death.

Romans 10:9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

One day everyone will recognize that Jesus is the risen king and give him glory, but what happens on that day will have no effect on our eternal destiny. However, today, if we trust in the risen Christ for our salvation from sins and God’s wrath, then we will be saved. Our faith in the risen Christ today does effect our eternal destiny.

2. Find true joy in eternal things. 

The historical fact of the Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope that there will be life after we die. This eternal perspective radical changes the way we view this life.

1 Corinthians 15:19, 32 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. … What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

If this life is all there is, then it might be natural to live a utilitarian  or hedonistic lifestyle. If we are only mammals, then let’s indulge our instincts, as long as they do not detriment society, until the day we die. However, if this life is a mere speck compared to eternity, while still impacting eternity, then we might sacrifice slight, fleeting pleasures now for the sake of more lasting joy later.

For example, before a Christmas meal, I would not grab a cheeseburger at McDonald’s. Why? Because, while I am hungry and the cheeseburger would bring some satisfaction, I would rather be satisfied with a wholesome, tasty Christmas dinner.

Hebrews 11:25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Sin offers only fleeting pleasure. New toys bring passing joy. Another dollar only creates a deeper longer for another dollar. Everything this world offers is like saltwater to a sea-stranded survivor. It looks tasty, especially when we are thirsty, but it only make us more thirsty and damages our souls.

Psalms 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

But Jesus is compared to living water (John 4:13-15) that satisfies the soul and gives new life. An eternal perspective finds lasting joy in God rather than fleeting joy in sin and stuff. That lasting joy not only satisfies the soul today, but it holds promise of future joys and pleasures with God in heaven.

The resurrection reminds us that this life is not all there is. As we live with eternity’s values in view. we find “fullness of joy” today and the promise of greater joys in the future.

Answering Common Objections to Jesus’ Resurrection

The vast majority of Americans believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 2014, one poll indicated that 69% of Americans believe that Jesus rose from the dead. In a similar polls in 2013 and 2012, 64% and 77% believed that Jesus rose from the dead.

These polls lack specificity about whether people believed this event was a physical or spiritual event, but these statistics show that the vast majority of Americans are still influenced by the Easter story.

REASONS TO BELIEVE JESUS’ RESURRECTION HISTORICALLY, PHYSICALLY HAPPENED

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 records 15 specific witnesses and a crowd of about 500 people who saw Jesus post-resurrection. At the time of the writing, he appeals to them because they were still alive and could give eye witness accounts. This should be counted as a verifiable event with so many witnesses.
  2. Jesus’ body was buried in the same place that the church would start only a few months later. If the disciples were lying, it would be easy to prove them wrong and go to the tomb to show Jesus’ dead, decaying body.
  3. The gospel records that women were the first to see Jesus. In this time, a woman’s testimony would not be admissible in court. This shows that the disciples were not trying to cleverly concoct a story about Jesus that wasn’t true, but they were simply recording a timeline of events.
  4. Jesus physically ate, talked to, touched, and walked with his disciples over an extended period of time. This was not a few seconds of bigfoot walking in the trees. This was multiple encounters in various contexts with multiple disciples for various amounts of time.
  5. A group of mostly religious Jews were willing to change their tradition of worshiping on Saturday to a Sunday-the day on which Jesus was raised from the dead.
  6. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 was a creed, or a traditional doctrinal statement that had been passed to Paul. This idea predates Paul and the gospels, dating it to about 30-33 AD, or 2-5 years after Jesus ascended to heaven.

COMMON THEORIES THAT OBJECT TO A CHRIST’S HISTORICAL, BODILY RESURRECTION

Objection #1: Jesus’ Resurrection was a hoax and a lie.

From the very beginning, the religious rulers were concerned that the disciples would try to fake Jesus’ resurrection. They knew it was a possibility because they remembered that Jesus predicted he would rise again. Therefore, they went to Pilate and requested special provisions be made to keep Jesus in the tomb.

Matthew 27:62-66 “The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive, He said, ‘After three day I will rise again.’ Therefore give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come, steal Him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ Then the last deception will be worse than the first.’ ‘You have a guard of soldiers,’ Pilate told them, ‘Go and make it as secure as you know how.’ Then they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting the guard.”

The disappearance of his body would question the Roman authority and would challenge the Jewish leader’s religious authority. Both parties wanted to make sure that Jesus stayed in that tomb. Because they were worried that a great deception would take place by the disciples, they guarded it.

In order to protect it, Roman Guards stood by the tomb until the third day. A 3000-4000 pound stone was rolled into a divot right in front of the opening. There was probably also some kind of mortar seal on the stone and cave mouth to seal the stink in.

According to this theory, untrained disciples would have had to organize and overcome the best-trained guards in the world, break the mortar, roll the huge stone away, and disappear with the body without being seen.

The lie that the disciples stole the body was started immediately after Jesus’ resurrection by the chief priests.

Matthew 28:11-15 “As they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them. ‘Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping; If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been spread among the Jewish people to this day.”

Even if they were able to steal the body, one fact still does not make sense: liars do not make martyrs. Liars are cowards. A liar will abandon his lies as soon as his lies do not serve him. Why would the disciples steal the body of Jesus, create this lie about the resurrection, and die terrible deaths for something they knew was a lie? When faced with torture and death, wouldn’t at least one of the disciples have told the truth in order to save his life?

Objection #2: Jesus was never actually dead.

According to this theory, Jesus was whipped, beaten, hung on a cross, and stabbed through his heart without dying. Then he was cleaned, wrapped in linens, anointed with spices, and buried in a dark tomb with a boulder covering the opening. Having never died, he woke up, rolled the 3000-4000 pound stone away from his tomb, snuck by  the guards, and convinced all of his disciples that he had come back to life from the grave.

The beatings that Jesus endured would have been enough to kill almost any man. At the very least, he would have been dehydrated and ridiculously weak. He would have had very little blood and infected wounds all over his body. Even if he survived his crucifixion, he would have had years of recovery time. He could not have been able to convince the disciples that he rose from the dead. The disciples would have seen right through his lie.

Considering all that Jesus’ body went through, it does not seem reasonable to think that he survived.

Objection #3: Jesus being alive again was merely a hallucination of the disciples.

This theory basically says that all of the disciples started having hallucinations and visions of their teacher being alive again. This was the result of the great stress and depression that they had because of their teacher’s death.

This objection cannot be true because it is impossible for groups of people to have hallucinations together. Individuals may have hallucinations, but groups do not have hallucinations of the same thing. According to records, Jesus appeared to large groups of people at a time: two Disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary and Mary Magdalene, 10 apostles, Thomas and other apostles, seven apostles, all the apostles, and 500 people at one time. The fact that he appeared to many crowds on multiple occasions denies the possibility of this objection against the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:6 “Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.”

Objection #4: Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual thing, not a physical thing.

This theory says that Jesus’ spirit came back and appeared to the disciples. He was a ghost or apparition, but did not physically come back to life.

If you look at what Jesus did after he came back to life, then you start to realize this theory can’t be true. After Jesus rose again, he did physical activities that required having a body. He ate, cooked, and had Thomas touch the scars in his hands and side.

Luke 24:41-43 “But while they still could not believe because of their joy and were amazed, He asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.” 

In fact, some of the original apostles (who ended up recording Jesus’ life and resurrection) had trouble believing Jesus was physically raised. Some of them thought he was a ghost. In response, Jesus had all of the disciples touch his healed wounds in order to prove to them that he physically came back to life.

Luke 24:36-40 “As they were saying these things, He Himself stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and terrified and though they were seeing a ghost. ‘Why are you troubled?’ He asked them. ‘And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ Having said this, He showed them His hands and feet.”

The transparency of the disciples concerning their doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus indicates their sincerity and honesty in their testimony.

Objection #5: Christ ‘lives’ in my heart, much the same way the memory of lost love ones live in our hearts.

Christ was physically there with them as a group. He ate and drank with them. They physically touched him. The disciples could not do these things as a group with a memory.

Objection #6: Jesus was an alien.

Yah. It’s a real theory. I am not even going to give this one the dignity of a response.

Conclusion

If the majority of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and if all of the historical evidence points to the physical, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, then why isn’t this more important?

In other words, if someone claimed to be God, claimed that he would die as punishment for our sins, claimed that he would come back to life three days later, and fulfilled all of those claims, doesn’t that verify his message? Shouldn’t we submit ourselves to him, believe that he died to save us, and follow his commands?

Part two of this study will look at the some of the implications of Jesus’ physical, historical resurrection.

Pastor Josh Byers from our sister church Willow Creek Baptist Church put together this handy picture with proofs for the resurrection.

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Other information and resources

 

Guest Post: Singleness and Soul-Tailoring

A note from Pastor Trey: I invited Dewey to write a blog post for us about singleness. Dewey is a young man pursuing future ministry. He has a unique history and has interacted with these ideas in his own spiritual life. I hope you benefit from hearing his story and what he has learned. 

Just a few summers ago I started to take interest in a nice girl, whom I will call Taylor. At this point of my life Taylor seemed to be everything I could have ever dreamed of; she wasn’t afraid to get dirty, to be silly with me, or even to talk with me about personal thoughts and feelings. I felt that since we had a good foundation of friendship, we were ready to take things to the next level. After some time, on a beautiful summer day, I started a conversation with her about the possibility of a relationship; a conversation that ended with the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship becoming reality. Now that I had that person to fix all of my insecurities, I felt like I was on top of the world, that nothing could ever go wrong. Needless to say, after nearly two years in the relationship we started to encounter some major problems. Taylor didn’t seem to “fix” my weaknesses at all. In fact, she seemed to criticize them and frustrate every attempt to deal with them. Our “ideal” relationship had become a massive enigma riddled with guilt, shame, harsh words, worse insecurities, and deadly unconfessed sins. It was at this point that I started to think that I had done something wrong in our relationship, that maybe, just maybe, if I could do something to repair it, all of the problems would be resolved.

At the end of those long two years of dating, I was convicted of all the sins I had committed and for being blind to them. I knew that something needed to change internally and externally. I went before God and begged Him to forgive me for the things I had done inside the relationship, and for the sins I committed outside. My heart was so heavy with guilt that I considered suicide many times, and all of the insecurities I had sought to cure were really magnified tenfold. But God, in His great love, showed me grace. God freed me from the sins that had enslaved my soul, and from the idol I had made Taylor to be. I knew then that I had to make a decision about our relationship, it could not continue any farther. The break-up was an exhausting, shameful, and painful process, but when it was all said and done I had freedom and a restored fellowship with God that still covers my insecurities to this day. There are still times that I catch myself looking for idols, but when I go to God and confess my sins to Him, He frees me from them as well.

Have you ever found yourself wondering what your future would hold? Whether you will remain single the rest of your life or find the guy/girl of your dreams? Do you believe that a significant other will be the answer to your problems? Do you feel “singled out?” So often we get caught up in our own desires that we forget what is really best for us. Relationships and romance are not bad by themselves, but when you have an insatiable, all-consuming desire for a relationship you will never find satisfaction.

Single Life

In our American “I-do-what-I-want” culture being single is considered a curse. Is it really a bad thing to be single? No.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 says,

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.

Paul says that it is better to remain free of worldly anxieties that are present in any human relationships. In verse 28 Paul also says:

“…Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles…”

Yes, marriage is a gift from God. Being single is also a gift from God. With any gift we are given we should seek to honor God with it by enjoying it in the right way.

Enjoying Gifts Correctly

Often times, I have found myself making gifts more important than the Giver; it is a terrible habit to let form. Now and then we sink into sin because we forget that God’s grace is sufficient for us; it is only His grace that completes us.

The times when we start to fear that we will lose God’s blessings are the times when we forget that He already provides what we need, and even far more, daily. We are like toddlers that hold on to our old filthy diapers because we think that we will not receive a newer, cleaner one. We are anxious that God will not provide even if we tell ourselves all is well on the outside. Matthew 6:25-34 says,

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? ’For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all .But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you seeking your own desires?
  • Are you looking for satisfaction in earthly things? In earthly relationships?
  • The hard truth is that you will never find it in those places. You will find satisfaction neither in your filthy diaper, nor in looking for a new one, nor by ignoring it. Satisfaction is found in God’s perfect grace alone, in which we are in desperate need.

This Momentary Gift of Marriage

Many of the insights into these passages are from John Piper’s book This Momentary Marriage.

Have you ever seen a plaque on a kitchen wall that says, “Marriage is Forever” or “Love is Forever” or “Family is Forever.” These platitudes have beautiful sentiment. Family, love, and marriage have a way of getting us through the tough times and help to keep us anchored to things that are more important than money, houses, and jobs.

But are those plaques accurate? Unfortunately, they are not completely true.

Matthew 22:30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” There will be no marriage in heaven. I do think that we will know our earthly spouses, children, friends, and loved ones, but ultimately, these earthly relationships will pale in comparison to our relationship with Jesus. Blood may be thicker than water, but the common bond in Christ is thicker than anything.

Paul knows that future day is coming, and therefore he says in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 “This is what I mean brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no good, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”

Does this mean we should ignore our spouses and become a monk? I don’t think so, but I do think it means that, while we are united to our spouse in love, we also hold everything on this earth loosely, because all of our possessions, all of our earthly work, and all of our earthly relationships are passing away. Only eternal possessions, eternal work, and eternal relationships will last. And so we hold our spouses tightly, and loosely.

This is what Jesus means when he says in Luke 14:26-27 and 33, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples … So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” This does not mean we should despise our spouses, any more than it means we should despise our own life. This word refers to preferential treatment.

For example, if I offered you $100, would you take it? Of course you would. In fact, you are probably already planning what you would do with it! What if I also offered you $1,000,000, but only on the condition that you cannot take the $100 too. Would you cry about the $100 that you lost? No! Because you have something much better. Jesus is telling us that we need to choose him above all else, which does not mean that we literally need to grit our teeth and despise our spouses. God gives the good gift of marriage. He expects us to love our spouses and enjoy our companionship, but he wants the greatest gravitational pull on our lives to be him. This means that, even on our wedding day when we hold one another tightly and enjoy our first married kiss, we hold our spouses loosely, knowing that there is an infinitely better day coming.

In Luke 18:29-30, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” We are not promised more spouses in heaven because we chose Christ over our earthly wife or husband. We already learned that in heaven we are not married. This means we will receive rewards that are far better than any earthly relationship could offer.

Christianity calls marriage a wonderful gift, an amazing responsibility, and a treasure to be held loosely. Love your spouse, but through your relationship with him/her, set your mind on eternal things.

Colossians 3:1-4 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Tightly, but loosely.

 

Descriptive or Prescriptive? Biblical Stories of Marriage

If you are a Christian or have grown up going to a church youth group, you have probably heard a dating message from the story of David and Abigail, or Adam and Eve, or Jacob and Rachel, or Isaac and Rebekah. Many books have been written that built off of these Biblical stories to make a Christian method of dating.

It is important to note that the Biblical stories are not prescriptive, but descriptive. In stories, Biblical authors simply describe the events that took place. There are no headings over each story that say, “Good Example” or “Bad Example.” They simply state the facts. In other words, just because we read it in a story, that does not mean we should necessarily do it. In fact, the Bible’s cold-hearted description of the events around many marriages in these stories are an unrelenting critique of those marriage models. Here are some examples:

  1. One of the most common arguments against the Bible is polygamy. Critics have argued, “David was lifted up as a righteous man, but he had many wives. Does that mean that polygamy is ok?” While polygamy was permitted in ancient cultures, the Bible relentlessly gives the details of these polygamous men’s lives and describes the troubles it brought them. (Genesis 16)
  2. Many agrarian cultures, like the ones in the Bible, treated marriage like a business transaction to profit a family. In the business transaction between Jacob and Rachel’s family, we see Laban tricking Jacob into marrying his more ‘undesirable’ daughter. When Jacob didn’t like his purchased product and realized it couldn’t be returned, he worked to purchase the product he really wanted. This led to weird complications between daughter and father, sister and sister, and husband and wife. The details of those stories are a condemnation of making marriages a business transaction. (Genesis 29-31)
  3. In Jesus’ day, if you were unmarried, you were a second-class citizen. To them, marriage was a sign of God’s blessing and raised your status. However, Jesus frees us from viewing marriage as a sign of blessing or singleness as a sign of cursing, because he and Paul were both single. In fact, Christianity was one of the first religions that made singleness a viable option for its followers. (1 Corinthians 7:6-7)
  4. Also in Jesus’ day, it was common for a man to divorce his wife basically any reason, leaving her a social outcast with very little means to support herself. Jesus harshly condemns this practice. (Matthew 19:1-12)
  5. In the early church, women were dynamically lifted up as equals to men, though they had few rights in their cultures. (Galatians 3:28, 1 Peter 4:7)
  6. In the Roman culture in which the early church was birthed, husbands were allowed to cheat whenever they wanted. Wives were often forced into terrible forms of birth control, and, if they got pregnant, could be forced into abortions by their husbands. These abortions often lead to life-threatening complications or drastically damaged their ability to have children. (these terrible actions are noted by historian Rodney Stark in his book The Triumph of Christianity) Through all of this, the Bible still holds that the husband is head, but radically slashes at the Roman view by telling them not only to flee sexual immorality, but also to nourish and cherish their wife, as if she was part of his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Ephesians 5:25-29)

The stories in the Bible are written for our example, but we need to determine whether they were a good or bad example from the explicit teachings of the Bible. The truth in God’s Word and the examples given critique many incorrect models of marriage throughout the history of the world. Although many incorrectly view the Bible’s teaching on marriage to be outdated, it continues to be a clear voice on gender equality, anthropology, marital roles, practical marital advice, sexual morals, true love, the pleasures of sex, the meaning of marriage, the nature of relationships, and much more.

“‘Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32