56. Moral Ethics (1)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  56.  Moral Ethics (1)

Heb 13:4   Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

God’s design: In the next two verses we find two examples of what I will simply call moral ethics. The first is about marriage and sex and the second is about attitudes about money. One of the things many people do not like about the Bible is that it lays down specific rights and wrongs according to God’s design for mankind but people do not like being told what that design is and therefore what is behaviour running contrary to it.

Design for Marriage: Perhaps nowhere is this rebellion against God’s design seen as clearly today, as in the whole question of marriage in the Western world. Marriage design is seen in the earliest pages of the Bible: “A man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) One man plus one woman who separate themselves from their families and become a new single unit, a foundation stone of civilisation.

Oneness: The apostle Paul spoke of the oneness that comes from this uniting suggesting it is far more than merely a physical uniting. The Message version is particularly good at expressing what he wrote: “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modelled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realise that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Cor 6:16-20). In other words, what you do with your body is important to God because your body houses the Holy Spirit and when there is a legitimate God-blessed union of husband and wife, there is a unity that includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. THIS is God’s design order and therefore anything less than this cannot receive His blessing.

The failures of Co-habitation: Living together and having sexual relations without commitment is what today is referred to as co-habitation, not only a sign of rebellion against God but also a sign of lack of security. Surveys of cohabitation clearly show that such relationships are more likely to break up than marriages and, even more, those who cohabit before marriage but then get married, are more likely to break up than traditional marriages.

Features of Divorce: When Malachi said that God hates divorce it wasn’t only referring to spiritual breakup but also to marriage breakup because God knows the harm that is done to individuals when there is a marriage breakup and, even more, the harm that is done to the children of such a family breakup. Jesus confirmed the Law of Moses that permitted divorce but only because of the hardness of heart of the individuals concerned who cannot receive counsel and help and grace to restore that which has been damaged by infidelity.

Adultery: Infidelity in respect of marriage is called adultery, the crossing the boundaries of a marriage so a sexual relationship occurs between a member of the marriage and a third party. God’s feelings about this are quite clear: You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex 20:14). General prohibitions against immorality are found in the New Testament (see 1 Cor 6:9 and Eph 5:5) The apostle Paul spells it out: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thess 4:3-7)

Again his instructions as to how to take control of yourself is are clear: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Col 3:5,6) and “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Eph 5:3)

It is sometimes suggested that in the modern church in the West these instructions are often forgotten or ignored. If we do, we do so at our peril for there will come an accounting before the Lord. There are no excuses; merely because others live and behave in ways contrary to God’s ways,  that gives no allowance to us to do the same. This may become one of the key ways that Christians stand out from unbelievers and in so doing they will reveal a better way.

God’s order for Pre-Marriage: Many modern young people appear to have no sexual boundaries and as, many a TV series has shown, find it incredibly difficult to find love. Starting a relationship in God’s order of things starts, I would suggest, in becoming friends which is a meeting at intellectual and emotional and social levels. Physical intimacy may begin before marriage but consummation should always be left to after the marriage. Anything less than this leaves guilt and fear.

The teaching here by the writer to the Hebrews is ultra clear: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”   i.e. marriage is a relationship God-style and anything less than that may mean adultery or simply immorality (anything outside marriage) and that means being answerable to God and that may be painful. Let’s not go that way!

14, Teach Young Women

Meditations in Titus: 14:  Teach younger women

Titus 2:4,5   Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

We now come to the third group who need specific teaching in the local church, the younger women, but there is a difference here. It is not Titus who should be teaching them but the older women. Why not Titus? Because he’s not a woman, not a wife and not a mother. The best he could hope to do would be to speak theory, but the older ladies come with a wealth of knowledge and experience from having been homemakers, from having been wives, and from having been mothers, and having gone through the trials and tribulations that such roles entail. I am saddened whenever I come across a couple who have chosen not to have children because they will come to the end of their lives having missed out on so much, and so much of that will be the things that change and sanctify us.

Now when you start looking in detail at this teaching from Paul, he says the older women should ‘train’ the younger women. That is not merely passing on information, it is being alongside to bring about change in behaviour. When you ‘train’ someone you teach them to do something practically and you cannot be any more practical than when you are raising a family. There are six things these younger women are to be trained to do.

  1. To love their husbands and children. The basis of a marriage is love and we may think that is natural but why is it that we have so many divorces today? The answer has got to be because the couple allowed love to grow cold. To hold a marriage together and to create an environment in which to raise children requires effort to maintain love because love has a sacrificial element to it and also a practical element to it. When children are having a tantrum it is the mother’s love that hangs in there and sees past it and is still just there for them. In older people if someone threw a tantrum you would walk away and leave them to it and possibly the relationship might end, but when you are committed to someone, as the mother is, as the wife has said she will be, then you hang in there and are not deterred by glitches along the way.
  1. To be self-controlled. The mother carries all the daily pressures of the marriage and of bringing up the children. Traditionally the man was the breadwinner and she was the homemaker. He could escape the drudgery of being there with the children all the time, being up in the night with the latest baby, and so on, by going out to work. She is there performing what can be the most fulfilling vocation in the world – but which can at times be hard and stressful. Self wants to rise up and scream out, ‘”Let me out of here!” but if she is to be there for them all, then she needs self-control to hang in there and be a rock for her young family. How tragic many modern families are who have not learned this.
  1. And (to be) pure. We have already said that the wife-mother is the creator of the home environment to which the husband returns at the end of the day and the children live in. It is an environment where they should experience love and feel secure, where they are cared for and provided for. Observe the difference in two people, one who has had a loving family life and the other who had either a hostile family life or none at all. They are different people and so much of the difference is because of their experience of life in (or out of) a family. We often think purity is only in respect of sexual matters but I suggest that it should include anything that might pollute life, bad attitudes, poor moral standards, playing with the occult, so many things that can pollute the little minds she cares for and disturbs the environment she is creating.
  1. To be busy at home. I suspect that many of these words must be alien to many modern young women who have been deceived into believing that fulfilment can only come through a career. No wonder we have so many shallow or fragmented family situations. Our materialism has lead us to believe we can only live off two incomes. Perhaps the greatest picture of an industrious women is that amazing chapter 31 of Proverbs (or at least verses 10-31) This woman makes most career women look mere beginners when it comes to achievement. She is amazing! And her family is blessed – because of her! The call to be busy challenges idleness. We may think we have labour saving devices and need to do less but that misses the point. She is industrious and she is fulfilled and her family is blessed. How many children just get the dregs or leftovers of their tired mother’s life today?
  1. To be kind. Look ‘kind’ up in a dictionary and you find such words as ‘sympathetic, friendly, gentle, tenderhearted, generous, cordial, loving; affectionate.’ It’s not a word we use much today but it covers who whole spectrum of good attitudes and good behaviour and speaks of the nature of the wife-mother and of the environment at home that she creates.
  1. Subject to their husbands. Don’t confuse this with being servile. I have encountered wives in Jewish culture and in Indian culture, wives who are indeed subject to their husbands but who rule their home. They are the power house of the home and although they respect and honour the husband and give him pride of place in the family (which builds and changes him for good), they all know who is the power in the home! The woman of wisdom recognizes her husband’s need of esteem and recognizes she can be the prime provider of that for him but her wisdom also makes her a queen in this place.

But then Paul finishes with a reason for all this: “so that no one will malign the word of God.”   In the community the family is so often identified through the wife. She (traditionally at least) is the one who is around and she is the one the other wives, and therefore other members of the community, will speak about. She is the one who so often, in the eyes of the community at least, conveys the integrity of the family. The way she lives, the way she is a wife, and the way she is a mother will either add to her testimony as a believer or detract from it. Paul says these things so that she will not detract from her testimony.

As I have said, I have a feeling that of any meditation, this particular one will feel alien to the modern young women, which is sad because it indicates that we have lost something of the wonder of God’s design for families, in the name of freedom and fulfilment. We are realising more and more that so called freedom in respect of sex is destroying the realities of having real relationships and experiencing real love. One of these days we will wake up to the poverty of modern family life in comparison to the possibilities of God’s design for it. We have often said in respect of Christian leaders that the order needs to be God, first, family second and the ministry third. For wives we might slightly change that to God first, family second and career third. To abandon that order means poverty of ‘life’. Please ponder on that.

47. Family Harmony

Ephesians Meditations No.47

Eph  6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The context you may remember is of submission creating unity in the church, the body of Christ. Paul developed that concept through the picture of marriage and now extends it into the whole family. It is a subject – and through these verses especially – that often raises a number of questions. Paul starts off, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He is looking at the parent-child relationship and so starts with the child who is the one who is most likely to have difficulty with the submission concept. This especially comes so in teenage years when the young person is seeking to find their own identity, and part of that process involves temporarily drawing away from the parent. It is also difficult when the child is a Christian and the parent is not and the parent makes demands that conflict with the faith of the young person. It may also be difficult when the parent is a Christian and the young person has not made a decision for Christ themselves.

In the call to children there are two things that deserve particular attention. The first is the word obey’. The role of the parent in God’s design is to be there to provide for and protect the child and, if we follow Old Testament teaching, to train up the child (Prov 22:6). Part of those things will be to issue instructions which may vary from the mundane (e.g. please will you pick up that toy off the floor), to the more serious, (e.g. I really don’t want you mixing with those teenagers who are taking drugs). If we ever had a question of the reality of sin (rebellion), observe any child! The wilful refusal to do that which is asked (or required) leads us into discipline issues, which are beyond what we have space for here.

The second thing to consider is Paul’s use of the words, ‘in the Lord’. Now he obviously includes these for a reason and that, we suggest, is similar to our thinking when it comes to the requirements of the State. The Law, or the instructions of the parent, should never go contrary to God’s laws, instructions etc. Thus a non-Christian (although tragically this doesn’t exclude some Christian men), who brings instruction to a child that involves them submitting to abuse, is wrong and should not be heeded. Wisdom suggests that as the child gets older instructions give way to discussion, i.e. bald commands give way to explanation. It is always wise to put in some form of explanation with every instruction (e.g. …otherwise your toy might get broken if you leave it there) but in teenage years talking and discussing (in a family forum?) are much better and are an acceptance and recognition of the child’s growing responsibility.

Then Paul gives a reason for ‘obeying’ parents, and it is because it goes with the original Old Testament instruction as the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Honouring is slightly different from ‘obeying’ in that obeying can be an expression of honouring. Honouring is more about having an attitude of respect, a recognition of the role that God has given to this older person. It isn’t about how well they have performed it! So important did God consider this that He made it a condition of blessing, originally in the Promised Land, but now in life generally. I wonder how many young people DON’T realise this (or older ‘children’ too!) that God’s blessing on their life can be curtailed because of a bad attitude towards their parent?  Even when the parent has not been good, godly ‘honouring’ should produce a concern for (and prayer for?) that parent.

There is another side to this submitting which might be simply summarised as ‘don’t make it difficult to be submitted to’: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Why does Paul say this to fathers? First, because fathers, as the ones who have the responsibility before the Lord for the family, should be the ones taking the ultimate action to bring about the training in righteousness of the child and, second, fathers tend to be more heavy handed in these things than the mother. It is thus something that, for both reasons above, the father needs to give particular thought to.

A final comment: in all of these things pertaining to family relationships, legalistic demanding of them does no good. Whatever else is required of such parental leading, the primary thing is love and acceptance. Let those two things temper all you do with your child, and increasingly as they grow older. If there is a genuine loving relationship, there is more likely to be obedience that flows out in response to that love. You will also need to cry to the Lord for wisdom on more than a few occasions! May it be so!

46. Loving Unity

Ephesians Meditations No.46

Eph  5:29-33 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband

There are three facts of life that we, as Christians, would always do well to bear in mind, especially when we are faced with instructions in God’s word. The first fact is that God has designed this world – including us – and He knows best how we work. The second fact is that we are a sinful human race. Adam and Eve turned away from God and that tendency is inherent in every one of us since. Thus we tend to disregard God and do our own thing, living our own way. The third fact is that God has chosen Israel and then the Church to receive His Law or His instructions that reveal His ways for people to live in relationship with Him and according to His design so that what we call ‘blessing’ can follow. So, to recap and summarise it: God knows best, we don’t, and He’s given to us the ways to live so that blessing follows.

So, back in Ephesians, Paul has moved on in his letter to practical applications of the Christian life and has recently laid down the principle of submission to one another, which he has then applied to marriage. In the previous verses we saw his call to husbands to lay down their lives in sacrificial love for their wives, and in the way they care for their wives practically, will be an expression of how they care (love) for themselves – but that that is to be similar to the way Christ loves the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (5:25-28) [sorry we need to recap that whole part to see it as an entire picture]

It is at this point that Paul elaborates on that but then swings back in to speak about the church again: “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.” He keeps on swinging back and forth between church and marriage, with the suggestion that there are similarities we need to consider. We are members of Christ’s body, the church and he, as our head, loves us because we are his body. If marriage is a unity with the husband as the head, he should surely love the ‘body’ part of the marriage, the wife, just as much.

As Paul thinks on this he reflects back to the Genesis mandate: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” which quotes Gen 2:24 and then he quickly adds, “This is a profound mystery,” which we might take to mean the mystery of oneness in marriage, but he immediately swings back to refer to the church: “but I am talking about Christ and the church.” What? Hold on!  But we thought you were talking about marriage?  He is but it is so interlinked with the picture of the church that the mystery of the one reflects on the mystery of the other. So what is the mystery of Christ and the church? Surely it is the wonder that the perfect Son of God, Spirit who took on a human body, can be united with a mass of human bodies that we call the church. It is that opposites can be joined to produce something even more wonderful. Thus in marriage the mystery is that two such incredibly different beings (and we are, and if you deny that you just don’t know male and female!) can be united into a oneness which, when it is working according to God’s design, is incredibly wonderful!

So he summarises his basic teaching: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” The ‘however’ indicates that he is moving away from the big picture to the detail instructions again. The man is to express the same love to his wife as he does for himself. The wife is to respect (note the different word he now uses to clarify the teaching) the husband. Respect means to acknowledge the role and responsibility that God has bestowed on the man. As we’ve said previously, the buck stops with him. The Lord will be watching him to see that he brings death to self when necessary and lays down his life, his desires and wants, for the life and well-being of his wife (but never denying the truth). As a Christian he will pray for his wife and his family, recognising that their protection is his responsibility and it starts in the spiritual realm. He will not be casual as he takes the prayer structure that Jesus gave, that God’s name will be honoured in their family (Mt 6:9), for God’s will to be done in their family (Mt 6:10), that God will provide for their family (Mt 6:11), that right attitudes will be upheld in the family (Mt 6:12), and that sin and the work of the enemy will be kept from the family (Mt 6:13). Respect is earned, not claimed, and when the husband does these things, his headship will be seen for what it is, and he will be respected. Tough stuff! Men, are you doing it?

44. Submission

Ephesians Meditations No.44

Eph  5:21-24 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Paul, in this chapter, has been covering aspects of the Christian life. He’s moved on from what God has done to what we must now do. He started with a call for us to imitate God (v.1,2), and followed it by a continuation of things that must not appear in the Christian life (v.3-7). He then went on to explain why, using the analogy of light and darkness (v.8-14), followed by a call to be wise as to how we live and to live a Spirit-filled life (v.15-20). Earlier on he had spoken about unity (4:3) because there is just one body (4:4).

This present paragraph is difficult because of what is viewed today as its contentious nature, as he speaks about husband and wife relationships. However, we should see it in the context of the unity of the body (which crops up within it) and it is clear that Paul has this in his mind when he writes. He starts out with a general call to all the church: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We have commented in the past about the fruit of ‘gentleness’ which, when it is there, produces a pleasing, conciliatory approach to others. Submission has the same feeling behind it.

Taking the negative approach first, when you submit to another, there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will to the detriment of others. Now to be positive, when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say. Submission is a practical outworking of love.

Paul had the same idea in mind when he said, “Honour one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:10) and “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). Peter had the same idea when he said, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5) Submission and humility go hand in hand. Those who object to the concept of submission fail to realise that it is a call to humility.

We should note in passing that it is a call to “submit to one another,” i.e. it is mutual submission. This is a clever strategy for it does not mean, ‘be a doormat to all others’ because it is mutual submission and so NO ONE becomes dominant!  I have never heard this spoken about and so I conclude that it is something that is rarely realised. We are ALL to be servants of one another and therefore there is NO room whatsoever for anyone to dominate or domineer over another. The kingdom of God has only one master – Jesus! The rest of us are servants.

When Paul comes to the marriage situation, he realises that the sinfulness of mankind is given fertile ground in which to flourish. If these verses have been seen as contentious, it is simply because sin is lurking, waiting to rise up and make claims on behalf of ‘self’. Now we really do need to see this before we carry on, otherwise, depending on whether you are a man or a woman, you may take particular ‘sides’ and so generate or egg on what the world calls ‘the battle of the sexes’. This should NOT exist in the Christian world, and it is this very thing which works against unity in the body and works against harmony in relationships.

Now because we can only take a certain amount each day, we will only be touching on the woman’s side today, but any men reading this should realise that their part is coming soon and it speaks death to ‘self’ even more, so there is no grounds whatsoever for men to be able to take these words and use them as ammunition in the ‘battle of the sexes.’ You have been warned!

Paul continues: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Ladies this is not to make you a grovelling heap, for the reasons we have given above – he is to submit to you as well! However, if you consider what we said initially about submission above, it does mean that “when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say,” and “there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will,” and “Submission is a practical outworking of love.” (The same is going to apply to him so don’t get all defensive!).

In case you think this is just Paul, remember the apostle Peter has the same ideas: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Notice the ‘without words’ – which means no nagging. Modern science suggests you are more capable with words but therein is a danger that you try to browbeat your partner with words – and that does nothing for harmony and unity. (Prayer does a lot more!)

Then Paul gives his reasoning: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The buck has to stop with someone he is saying. God looks to husbands to carry the can for what happens in the family.  That’s all that this ‘head’ language means. It’s all about responsibility. Women are often wiser than men, I believe, simply because they often also work on emotions, care, concern, and intuition, but each of those things also makes them vulnerable. Paul is trying to protect them at their most vulnerable point but sadly that is the opposite of how so many see it today (and yes, men have so often neglected their side – see the following meditations – and given cause). You may need a lot of grace to work through to the truth as God sees it, in the light of the pressures of ‘the world’ today, but there is something better than we’ve had in the past or that we’ve got today. There is God’s way.