Do You Feel Joyless?

Recently, a struggling friend commented to me, “I find no joy in the world, just pain over and over. It never ends.”

I don’t think he is alone.

In our most honest moments, when we step back from everything and look at this world, we think the same way. Hobbies come and go. Money comes and goes. Job security comes and goes. Friends come and go. Family comes and goes. Love comes and goes. Athleticism comes and goes. Beauty comes and goes.

We have moments of pleasure followed by months of pain. Seconds of joy followed by seasons of numbness. We hide from these thoughts. We abandon these feelings in the corner of our hearts because we don’t want to be a “Debbie-downer.” (sorry to any Debrahs out there)

I want to offer hope.

There is joy in this world, but it is not of this world. This world has joy, but that joy does not come from this world.

Sin stripped this world of joy and left only pain, death, struggle, and distance from God. I can’t think of a better word than “ravaged.” Sin has ravaged this world, and it is not done ravaging. And, although sin has ravaged us, we keep going back to sin.

But God infused into this world healing, life, joy, and adoption into his family through his Son Jesus Christ. The perfect Son of God faced sin. Jesus Christ faced sin’s ravagings.

Jesus was the man of sorrows so that we could have joy.

Jesus received our punishment so that we could have peace.

Jesus became sin so that we could become children of God.

Jesus was broken so that we could be healed.

Jesus faced God’s wrath so that we could face God’s love.

Then Jesus rose from the dead so that all who believe in him might have eternal life–the kind of life that fills us today and pulls us graciously into eternity.

There is joy in this world, but it is not of this world. It is from heaven.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:13

 

Wives: Submission with Strength and Peace

One of the most hotly-debated issues in our culture is the role of a woman in marriage. There are basically two camps that people fall into in our country: egalitarian and complimentarian. Egalitarians essentially believe that women and men are equal in every way and should equally share in the responsibilities and leadership within marriage. Complimentarians recognize basic strengths and weaknesses within the genders and think that both men and women have unique roles within marriage.

The goal of this post is not to add to the arguments that are already out there. Instead, I will start with the assumption that complimentarianism is the correct view. This means that, although equal, this article will assume an essential difference in the roles of men and women.

Last week, we saw that a man’s role is proactive leadership, through sacrifice, with understanding. This kind of leadership functions through sacrifice, not authoritarianism. A good man will not demand to be followed, but rather will sacrifice his preferences, free time, energy, emotions, and anything else for his wife’s good.

A wife’s role in this is to willingly follow her husband’s leadership. Submission is an attitude that is inclined toward following her husband with love and meekness.

Because of the misconceptions on every side about a woman’s role in marriage, I want to spend a significant amount of time showing what Submission is NOT.

  1. Submission is not unique to the position of wife. The two primary passages in the Bible that explain a woman’s role in marriage are 1 Peter 3:1-6 and Ephesians 5:22-24. Both of the passages immediately follow general calls for all Christians to submit. Ephesians 5:21 says that we are all to submit to one another as if someone else is more important than us. 1 Peter 2:13-17 describes how we should submit to our government and 1 Peter 2:18-25 describes how bond-servants should submit to their masters (present day: employees submitting to their bosses). In other words, true Christianity includes a lot of submission to authority, because we see all authority as God-given. A wife’s submission to her husband is a subset of a general attitude of submission that all Christians should have.
  2. Submission is not a call for every woman to submit to every man. 1 Peter 3:1 makes it very clear that wives are not called to submit to every man, but rather to “your own” husband. Kathy Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage, commented on this, “We are all familiar with watching stunts or action sequences on television or in movies that come with the ‘Do not try this at home’ disclaimer attached. Gender roles are the exact opposite.” This specific kind of submission is contained within the marriage relationship.
  3. Submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says. In 1 Peter 3:1, we see a wife who is strong and smart enough to think for herself; she has chosen to trust Christ as her Savior even though her husband has not. This shows us that there are times when it is appropriate for a wife to disagree agreeably with her husband.
  4. Submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the wedding altar. Again, 1 Peter 3:1 shows us that the wife has thoughtfully chosen to follow Jesus, even though her husband has not. My wife is smarter than I am. She scored much higher on the ACTs, was a 4.0 student (until she met me and I distracted her from homework ;)), and has an amazing amount of common sense. If our marriage is going to truly flourish, we need her brain to be engaged.
  5. Submission does not mean avoiding every effort to change a husband. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” If the wife is a friend to her husband, then she must be able to ‘wound’ her husband like a gentle surgeon would push a needle and thread through a patient’s skin to stitch up a wound. In fact, the subheading for 1 Peter 3:1-6 could be “how to change your husband into a Christian.” This is not done through compromise, manipulation, coldness, arguments, or demands. This is done through respect, pure conduct, and gentleness. As a man, I will testify that it melts my guy’s heart when my wife is gentle and respectful with my failures.
  6. Submission does not mean putting the will of the husband before the will of Christ. In this passage, the wife is submitted first to Christ, and second to her husband because of Christ. This means that if her husband demands that she deny her faith, then she is loyal to Christ as she respectfully and gently tells her husband that she cannot.
  7. Submission does not mean that a wife is to act out of fear. 1 Peter 3:6 yteaches that submission that is demanded is not submission, but subjugation. The submission of the wife in this passage is willing and without fear. John Piper says, “The Christian woman is a free woman. When she submits to her husband—whether he is a believer or unbeliever—she does it in freedom, not out of fear.”

Submission Is

I think that submission must include three things: 1) strength, 2) peace, and 3) willing deference to authority.

  1. Strength – Submission is not the absence of strength, but rather it is strength under control. A wife is not weak or stupid, but she controls her strength and willingly puts it under her husbands leadership.
  2. Peace – If a heart is restless, it is difficult for it to be submissive. A restless heart tends to want to fix things, take control, and change circumstances. Internal peace and acceptance of one’s circumstances  are necessary for submission.
  3. Willing deference to authority – Submission cannot be coerced, forced, or demanded. Pure submission comes a from a willing heart that defers to someone else’s authority.

Ideas for Wives from a Husband

  • What are some areas of your marriage that lack submission? Ask your husband for forgiveness in these areas.
  • Identify at least one area in which your husband is leading well. Thank him and compliment him for his leadership in that one area.
  • Do you want to be included on decision-making processes, but worry that you might come across as disrespectful? Try this: 1) get a baby-sitter, 2) make his favorite meal or take him to his favorite restaurant, 3) take his hand, look him in the eyes, and say, “I really appreciate your leadership in this area. I want you to know that I love you and respect everything you are. Would it be ok if we talked through this issue sometime together? In the end, I will always follow you if I can, but it would mean a lot to me if we could have a conversation about it first” 4) schedule a time for him (preferably not right then) where you can talk through the situation together
  • Affirm his leadership in front of others, especially in front of your kids and your family (his in-laws).

How the Gospel Cultivates an Attitude of Submission

The Bible was never meant to be a rule book. It does teach husbands that we need to proactively lead through sacrifice with understanding. It also teaches women to willingly submit their strength in peace under their husbands leadership. But the Bible’s primary purpose is not a list of dos and don’ts.

That doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t show us where we are failing; it simply means that pointing out our failures and telling us to try harder is not the Bible’s primary focus.

Husbands are too controlling or passive. Wives are too controlling or passive. Both tend toward selfishness, pride, and bickering when we don’t get our way. Our lives are filled with sin; this is especially true in the pressure cooker of marriage. We cannot deny our failures, but God’s Word doesn’t leave us in our failures.

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

If peace, strength, and willingness to defer to authority are necessary for submission, then we can find those resources in the gospel. God’s Word teaches us that we have sinned and broken God’s laws many times; this sin creates hostility between us and God. This hostility creates tension in our hearts and tension in our relationships, but more importantly, it requires God’s just punishment.

God’s Word tells us that, through Christ, we can have grace and forgiveness. We cannot earn this through good living, but instead, God justifies those who put their faith in Christ. By declaring us righteous, we are restored to peace with God and given hope that one day, all things will be made right.

Because we have a deep peace with God, even difficult times (suffering in verse 3) cannot cause unrest in our souls. Instead of becoming restless under imperfect leadership, we can enjoy peace with God through Christ-peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Through the gospel, we are given a boundless reserve of peace in all of our struggles.

By trusting God’s goodness and resting in his peace through difficult circumstances, we develop the muscles of endurance, which produces strength of character. This strength of character endures gently and peacefully through all circumstances, including imperfect leadership. That kind of character does not hope in perfect circumstances, children, a care-free life, a knight in shining armor, a growing 401k, or a successful career in order to find joy; strength of character founded on peace with God produces a steadfast hope that God will one day make all things right through Jesus Christ.

The good news of the gospel is that we are forgiven for our failures and empowered through God’s love to do better tomorrow.

Credit to John Piper’s sermon The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission for many of the ideas and structure for this post.

How to Start Your New Family: Part 3

Many relationships have committed to a marriage covenant and have agreed to make the new family primary over all of our other family relationships, but how do we actually begin the process of weaving a life together? This third post we will focus on the third part of our key verse, “and they shall become one flesh.”

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.

One Flesh: By ourselves we are just a ball of yarn, but with our spouse we are a beautiful tapestry. To “Weave” two lives into one is to weave two different color threads into one tapestry.

This includes-but-is-not-limited-to joint bank accounts, synced calendars, shared vehicles, unmarked cartons of milk in the fridge, parenting style, vacation plans, investments (no prenups!), church attendance, future plans, future goals, and much more!

I love real Christmas trees. Every year, my dad would take our family out to a tree farm (or sometimes the woods!) and we would go looking for the perfect tree. Sometimes, the process took hours (as I remember it), but my dad always found a perfectly tapered, full, well-sized tree for our Christmas traditions. Each kid was given a turn to use a rusty old saw (which I still use) to cut down that year’s Perrott Christmas tree.

However, my wife did not value that tradition as much as I did. The sticky sap, dead needles, daily watering, and timely disposal of a real Christmas tree ruined her nostalgia. Each year, my wife and I had a disagreement about the Christmas Tree in early December. While I was probably a bit stubborn, my wife saw how important that tradition was to me and chose to weave my old family tradition into our new family tradition. My wife has been gracious enough to agree that, for now, our family tradition will include going to a tree farm to cut down a real tree! That was a sacrifice on her part in order to weave our two separate lives into one!

I met someone one time who was thinking of getting married. The only problem was that their fiancé of several years lived on the East Coast while they lived in Iowa, and they had no plans to move near to one another. This is not two lives woven into one. This is two separate lives remaining separate but gaining tax advantages.

The “roommate syndrome” can be just as bad as two people in different states. This is where both spouses become so busy with their own lives and goals that the only thing they share is a house, and maybe a favorite TV show.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

When two spouses are truly united together in life, they are nearly unbreakable. They can face financial difficulties, deaths in the family, moves, job loss, sickness, and anything else without breaking. However, when one partner starts to pull away and become independent, both the marriage and the spouses are vulnerable. We need to work at union with our spouse in every area of our life–not being needy, but mutual dependent–so that, when difficult times attack us, we can overcome them together

One Flesh: To “Receive” has the idea of gently and graciously accepting the other person just as they are (this does not mean that we accept their sin, but it means that we love them while helping them to overcome their sin). This is intimacy or “into-me-see.” The next verse, Genesis 2:25, comments that Adam and Eve were both “naked and unashamed.” I don’t think this is something that is merely physical. I think that Adam and Eve were able to be completely emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually naked and unashamed with one another. They each accepted one another graciously, and they each were completely intimate with one another.

This kind of intimacy cannot be found in a relationship where one person is thinking about leaving. This intimacy can only be found in a relationship that is glued together. The foundation of “receiving” one another is “holding fast” to one another. In other words, in order for two people to experience this level of intimacy and acceptance, both spouses must be all-in on the relationship.

How can you practically “receive” one another?

  • We must risk transparency. Some have been hurt or damaged by others, but everyone can experience the intimacy that they long for in a faithful, committed relationship with someone else.
  • We must respond to one another gently and gracious. This is especially when the other person is opening up to you, because this affirms that you are a safe person to whom that they can open up.
  • We must restore one another humbly and freely. We will wrong one another, but we need to forgive and ask forgiveness freely. This means no strings attached—just as warm, willing, free forgiveness to our spouse.

Sex within a marriage commitment is a beautiful and wonderful thing. As both spouses love each other graciously and risk transparency, they become one flesh. This is a beautiful and good thing as long as there is no risk of hurt or unfaithfulness. Sex becomes an insecure and fearful thing when there is a risk of hurt or unfaithfulness. This is why marriage is necessary for sex: not because God likes to keep us from fun, but because God wants us to enjoy secure, transparent, loving intimacy, rather than risk-filled, selfish, insecure transparency. God’s command to keep sex within marriage is a kind command for our good.

The Gospel and One Flesh

There is only One who completely sees everything about us.

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. 

We can try to fake who we are to God, but he knows the truth. We can try to hide our sins and cover them up with good works, but he knows every dirty secret about us. Every sin is an insult to God’s goodness and holiness. Every sin makes us an enemy of god. Our exposure to him is a dangerous thing:

Hebrews 12:29 Our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God

God’s Word does not tell us to cover our sins away from God’s sight through good works. The gospel tells us that although God sees us exactly how we are, he is willing to forgive our sins and accept us.

Romans 3:20, 23-24 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

The consuming fire of God’s wrath for our sin was poured out on Jesus Christ so that we could be forgiven. Anyone who trusts in God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ does not have to fear exposure to God. Instead of fear, we can have confidence before God and draw near to him, knowing that he has forgiven us and loves us.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This is Church.

Church FamilyChurch is not a location; it is a gathering of believers who seek to encourage one another’s faith through their gifts. This mutual, spiritual exchange is often marked by the phrase “one another” in the Bible.

We can do “one another-ing” in many ways: Love one another (John 15:17) Honor one another (Romans 12:10) Live in harmony (Romans 12:16) Welcome one another (Romans 15:7) Instruct one another (Romans 15:14) Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25) Comfort one another (2 Corinthians 13:11) Agree with one another (2  Corinthians 13:11) Serve one another (Galatians 5:13) Bearing with one another (Ephesians 4:2) Be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32) Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32) Address one another in song (Ephesians 5:19) Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) Admonish one another (Colossians 3:23) Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18) Build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Do good to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13) Stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24) Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16) Pray for one another (James 5:16) Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9) Clothe yourselves with humility to one another (1 Peter 5:5) Have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7) Minister to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

We are also called to avoid negative “one another-ing” in many ways: Don’t judge one another (Romans 14:13) Don’t compare with one another (2 Corinthians 10:12) Don’t provoke one another (Galatians 5:26) Don’t envy one another (Galatians 5:26) Don’t lie (Colossians 3:9) Don’t speak evil (James 4:11) Don’t grumble against one another (James 5:9)

Love does not just happen. It requires each member of the family to look for intentional ways to love one another. This means that when we meet together, we are looking to strengthen another’s faith and we are transparent with others so they can do the same for us. This intentional love is most clearly seen in Paul’s opening words of Romans. Let these words sink into your heart and make this your intention the next time you rub shoulders with you church family.

Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to serve you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encourage by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

This is church.