Published in 1998, I wish I had read it that long ago. Not that I would have appreciated, or even accepted, its message back then, but if I had been teachable I might have avoided a lot of dualistic confusion and battled for a lot better things. My point here is, don’t let my mistake be yours. Get a copy, read it soon. See how the medieval weltanschauung (not that they called it that) has much for our Kuyperian (not that they called it that) living and joy. Without agreeing with every jot and tittle, this book points toward a love of truth and feasting and poetry, of submission and sphere sovereignty and the silliness of so much so-called science, of earth and work and relationships teeming with beauty and breath and blessing.
Maggie and Taylor
It’s been almost two weeks(!) since the wedding, but here are some of the things I said.
This is different for me than any other wedding I’ve officiated. Here I function pastorally and as involved patriarchy. While it won’t always be the case, it is the first wedding I’ve officiated where I’ve known either the bride or the groom since birth. In fact many of you, and not just family, have held them. Due somewhat to my public position, Maggie was a sort of community kid. It’s the first time I’ve said the “I do” as a father at the beginning of the ceremony while then asking the couple to say “I do” as a pastor. It’s also even more personal because, even out of my kids, Maggie is the most like me, and our faces were virtually indistinguishable when we were both five.
She is much better than me at picking up on some things, which she gets from her mother. That includes how she picked up on Taylor’s appropriate yet apparent increase of attention towards her starting at a church youth car wash a couple years ago. And even though it wasn’t the right time to move toward marriage then, it was a great time for conversations…about tattoos, and the like. It was actually tough for a while for Maggie to be heard over Calvin talking to Taylor about guns and buffalo check.
I’ve known Taylor, and his family, for almost twenty years. And over the last couple years, his name has come up a lot among many of the men at church, because they loved how much and how obviously Taylor was growing in Christ. Even in the last ten months since he first spoke to me about his desire to pursue Maggie, I couldn’t be more impressed and thankful for how he’s handled himself at every stage. He won me first. He has submitted to me, but led her, and at a perfect pace.
I knew that Taylor could be a good fit for Maggie, and I told her so. But the moment that I wasn’t looking for, the moment with the most conflicting fatherly feelings, was when we realized that Taylor is the man to take care of Maggie better than I can. The two of you together will have it better. That is God’s idea.
Marriage is GOOD.
From the very beginning almost every creative act of God the first six days of the universe, God looked at His work and saw that it was “good.”
On the first day, He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. The next day He gathered the waters together and caused dry land to appear and He saw that it was good. Three more times God created and He saw that His work was good.
Then, partway through day six, God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. But before man could catch his breath, before man made any personal comments about his condition, the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The emphasis wasn’t as if the man was simply missing out on something nice. The emphasis was that there was something identifiably wrong. Something was not good.
Not good? What else could man possibly want? Adam had a spectacular home, with beauty and variety and resources of every kind at his disposal. Not only that, he was assigned a global enterprise: to exercise dominion and subdue every square inch of the planet. He had a place to be and a purpose for being. Yet still something was not good: Adam was alone.
Because God made man in His own image, man was not made for isolation, but for intimacy. From the beginning, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him,” and then a third and final line follows in 1:27: “male and female He created them.”
God Himself, in the Trinity, is a relational being. The three Persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–had already been enjoying an eternity of perfect, happy intimacy and fellowship with each other. When God said, “Let us make man in our image,” for whatever else that “image” includes, He meant to make us social, familial, personal beings like Himself.
The first relationship on earth, and the one logically necessary for future generations, the one that God uses to illustrate His own Son’s relationship with the Church-Bride, is the husband and wife relationship. A man and a woman, in the “one flesh” commitment, know and enjoy and model the most Trinitarian-like relationship in the universe.
That’s not to say that single people are second-class citizens (God’s own Son who took on flesh, Jesus, never married), but rather to emphasize that the love of a husband and wife is meant as a way to share, to taste, a bit of God-like gladness. Image-bearing is done in marriage, with one man and one woman, in a loyal and pleasurable relationship with each other. God made us this way to reflect Himself.
By the end of day six, with all creation finished and the first wedding ceremony complete, God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good. So today, as Taylor and Maggie enter this covenant, and become one flesh and bear God’s joyful image, He sees that it is very good.
Marriage Needs the Gospel.
There is, however, one setback in the story. In the very next chapter of Adam and Eve’s marriage, they disobeyed God. As a consequence of their disobedience, not only did the man and woman lose spiritual fellowship with their Maker, they also began to experience the effects of sin in their relationship. Sin separates. It has from the beginning. Sin is the enemy of marriage, destroying intimacy and communion and joy.
The biggest problem you will ever face in marriage is not money–too little or too much. The greatest obstacle to joy in marriage will not arise from personality or gender differences (God made those to be enjoyed). Personal weaknesses and little idiosyncrasies, in and of themselves, will not hinder love and submission.
This is good news. On one hand, if your issues were personality based, the best you could do would be awareness of the differences, but there would be no solution. On the other hand, if your problem is sin, there is a solution for that. Jesus is the solution.
Through His work on the cross we have salvation, not only from the penalty of sin, but also from the stronghold of sin each day. Confess sin as sin to Christ and to one another and you will clear the way to the deepest levels of intimacy. The Lord Jesus Christ is in the business of transforming sinners, and that includes sinners who are married to each other. Don’t try to cover your sin or call it by some other name. You won’t fool the other person, and you certainly won’t fool God. The health and happiness of your marriage depend on believing and living the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Your marriage will be a partial but true, pleasurable yet with great purpose, embodied reflection of the Trinity. May He bless your vows and your love with great fruitfulness and joy.
Two Moving Toward One
I’ve heard it described before that marriage is like a triangle with God at the summit. As the husband and wife get closer to God they necessarily get closer to each other. I like the illustration well enough. It is true that the man and the woman have their own, personal relationship to God, a relationship that in many cases existed before the wedding and one that provides spiritual support during marriage.
But most of the Christians I fellowship with on a regular basis do not usually struggle to remember or attend to our individual access to God. “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ regardless of what happens around me.” That is true, and there is a proper way to emphasize that. It becomes a problem, though, when we value our individual access to God in such a way as to consider our spouse (or children) as an obstacle, or even just insignificant to our movement toward God.
There is a sense in which every man by himself and every woman by herself bears the image of God. But a married couple bear God’s image together. That means that your spouse–even your sinning, selfish, stand-offish, criticizing, fussy spouse–is less of a hindrance to Your fellowship with God and more of a reason for it. Christian couples should think correctly about their connection. In other words, it is not a time to congratulate yourself when you’ve inched closer to God on your side of the triangle but your spouse stays further back.
Husbands, if your wife is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in your loving sacrifice that may, by grace, win/woo your wife to come along. Likewise, wives, if your husband is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in joyful respect that may, by grace, push your husband further. Individual Christian growth that does not look to unite, even if that unity doesn’t happen overnight, is not growth in godlikeness. God unites us to Himself, He doesn’t just celebrate that He is better than us.
by C.R. Wiley
The title is provocative, and I am thankful for Wiley’s guided meditation on the significance of what it means to live in an ordered cosmos and also on the thickness of household (with its productive property and patriarchal) piety compared to the thin individualism causing our culture’s current foolish fruitlessness.
Should you read it? If you want to please your Father in heaven, then queue this one up.
Men and Marriage
by George Gilder
Men and Marriage is both perfectly obvious and eerily prophetic, especially since it was published in 1986. Because Gilder doesn’t work from the Bible’s revelation, he can’t celebrate fatherhood as a reflection of the Father, and he misses the purposeful and powerful call to men to be fruitful. Gilder sees marriage as a good thing for men (and women), but mostly as women tame the barbarians. Nevertheless he painstakingly shows how ugly and dangerous and sick societies get when they don’t promote and protect the bond of one man with one woman in marriage with kids to come and care for.
Today is our twentieth wedding anniversary! Praise the Lord, and amen!
I love my wife, though I have not always been good at knowing what love is or what love does. By grace, she has been patient and I am on the learning/loving path.
From the beginning I knew that she would not be satisfied with the status quo in our Christian walks, in our relationship at spouses, in our work as parents, or in our service to Christ’s Body; her high expectations were part of what attracted me to her. In order to be helpfully provocative (rather than a nag, or as the boss) she had to be a committed disciple of Jesus, a lover of the Bible and theology, and a student of people. She has been that since I met her, and has only matured more than I could have imagined in all of those things over the last two decades.
There is no one that I’ve sinned against more than her, and there is no one that has shown me what forgiveness looks like in the flesh as much as her.
She is a model of endurance through chronic and sometimes debilitating pain.
She cares about our kids, seeing them for who they are and encouraging each one in their particular interested and giftedness.
She is the financial nerd (in Dave Ramsey terminology), but how necessary that has been to keep us from never-ending debt of the free-spender.
She loves loud music, the kind that shakes the outer panels of our minivan and causes the back seat to bounce with the subwoofer underneath.
She consumes and processes more conversations in a month (personal and via podcasts) than I can imagine doing ever.
She is always curious, always learning, quick to say she was wrong, laughing (the good ways) the whole time.
She respects me far more than I deserve, to my face, to our kids, and to others in our church.
And I still love to watch her gait, even though it’s changed a lot under the burdens of pain and responsibilities.
I love you, Mo! Happy anniversary!
This isn’t a wedding photo, but it’s at least closer to when we tied the knot!
Sex Is for Fruit
“Blessed the man that fears Jehovah and that walketh in His ways.” Yes, and amen to the one-hundred and twenty-eighth Psalm. And what form does the blessing referred to in verse 1 take? In addition to eating the fruit of the field (verse 2), God’s blessing includes enjoying the fruit of the womb (verse 3).
Sex is a blessing, for enjoyment and pleasure and closeness in marriage. Sex is for fun, and sex is for fruit. This fruit is a blessing, says God. The man blessed by the Lord will have children “like olive shoots around his table.” By the Lord’s blessing he may even see his “children’s children,” his grandchildren (verse 6).
Recognizing this blessing does not require that every married couple needs to have as many kids as they possibly could. It does mean that every newly married couple should not reject this blessing on principle. Recognizing this blessing also means finding days-old, dried-up pieces of pasta stuck to the floor underneath the kitchen table, or the fine powder of fist-crushed pretzels in the crevices underneath the car seat in the back of the van. It means inconveniently timed disobediences to deal with, or inconveniently timed emotional breakdowns to work through, or math homework that needs to be rewritten for the fifth time, while you watch.
But these are part of the olive shoots. These are part of the blessing. And too many of our kids don’t get that we get that they are blessings. They have father hunger rather than hunger to father. So they think that growing up and getting married is about the ceremonial wedding-dress pageant, or for the honeymoon-night undressing, or they run the other way and think that God thinks less of all those things and only wants us to be “spiritual.”
God bless us with kids, and God bless our kids with a vision of generational fruitfulness rather than merely moments of satisfying their physical pleasures.
When I first started to think that God was calling me to be a pastor I was still in high school. And I did not want to be a youth pastor. One reason for that was because it seemed, based on my friendship with my youth pastor at the time, that the person who got to talk to the parents of the youth had a more strategic position.
My exhortation to confession today is loosely connected to the sermon text about how our work will be revealed (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 which is aimed at church leaders), and more specifically directed to parents of our junior high and high school and college age young people based on some things I’ve observed about our kids.
I want to start by saying that I am against raising our kids to be pornographers or prostitutes. I assume that we are all in agreement about that, and I wanted to take my initial step where the common ground was secure.
So we can and do agree that certain ends of our kids’ sexuality are no good. That’s good because the godless parts of our culture are in a tailspin of confusion and inconsistent condemnation over sexual corruption. They don’t know what they’re doing. But I want us to consider, do we?
We don’t want our kids to grow up and be prostitutes, but how much perversity are we willing to tolerate for them? We may not like thinking of it in those terms, but what are we thinking when we let them watch it, or mimic parts of it? Would we be okay with their promiscuity as long as it’s heterosexual? No? Then why in the world do we let them play around with transient relationships? Why do we let them practice being slaves to their feelings, because (when it’s not awful) it’s cute? Or because we don’t want to face the wrath of their feelings against us?
When it comes to parental purposes, it seems that we are either not thinking or, worse, our purpose is to avoid an imagined puritanical prudishness that causes too much cultural embarrassment. We have a plan, and that is to let them have fun and have crushes and not have to control their fleshliness too much beyond not getting pregnant.
Shouldn’t the purpose be for purity, in parts and hearts? We should want our kids to get married and be fruitful and multiply, and we are not taking that seriously enough. Parents, our work is on display.
A fantastic footnote (#10) found in chapter 6 of The Things of Earth (paragraphs added):
Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’
What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that Thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with Thy perfect pleasure. I confess to Thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving Thy creature and Thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised! Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in Thy sight.’
A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works….
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all His angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all His creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.”—Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 158– 59.
Before or After?
Most of us are familiar with Paul’s warning about eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner. Unworthy eaters “will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). So a person should “examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (verse 28).
Some Christians with sinful attitudes towards another person, let’s say toward their spouse, do not eat or drink at the communion table. Something isn’t right there, so something isn’t right here. Their marriage affects their worship.
It goes the other way, too, doesn’t it? If something isn’t right here, something won’t be right there. Worship affects relationships, including marriage. It is unlikely that a man will be faithful, engaged, eager to commune with God week by week and then be a hermit at home, at least he won’t be that way forever. It is unlikely that a woman will be humble, teachable, eager to commune with God and then be a spoiled, cold brat at home. If either, or both, are half-hearted, motion-goers here, their marriage investment probably won’t amount to much either.
Which is worse, disunity before or after worship? Which is unworthy, fussing with your spouse before taking communion or after taking communion? Paul warns about unworthy partaking not so that we will get our hearts right for this Table and then relax. The point isn’t to survive a communion table gauntlet only to be a pain in the butt at the lunch table. The point is having our hearts right for whatever table we’re sitting around. The communion table reminds us of Christ’s work that makes wrong hearts right and ready for communion wherever.
Before we eat and drink, let us examine ourselves. And after we eat and drink by grace, let us examine ourselves to see if we are guilty of profaning the image of God by our unworthy attitudes toward one another.