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Good Marriages Sometimes Say No to Good Things

Marshall Segal / March 1, 2016
Good Marriages Sometimes Say No to Good Things

One of the subtle pitfalls in Christian marriages is an inability, when necessary, to prioritize ministry in the home over ministry to others. It can be a temptation anywhere, but especially for spouses or couples serving in ministry in some official capacity. It’s dangerous because wives, husbands, and children really suffer. It’s subtle because the strain and pain often come in the name of something worthwhile, even something God-glorifying.

I’ve been married ten months, so I’m really not qualified to say much of anything yet, but this is one lesson I’ve been learning the hard way since day one: True love regularly sets aside its own preferences and agenda, even good opportunities to serve, for the sake of the beloved. Love knows its own limitations, and therefore has to choose when and how to lay itself down for others. This is especially important when a couple is building trust and habits in their first year of marriage.

Some people have a hard time saying no because they have a huge heart, always feeling sympathy or empathy for the needs around them. More people, I would imagine, find it difficult to decline opportunities to do good because they are afraid others will be disappointed or frustrated with them. Because we fear men.

Minutes Matter in Marriage

The first year of marriage has made me ask: Would I be willing to say no to something good for the sake of caring for my wife? In my single years, I said yes more often than not because I had a lot more time and energy to spare. Marriage brought a new and permanent second priority (behind my pursuit of God). Instead of cutting the pie of my life into lots of little pieces after God and work, I have three king-size slices now. And therefore less pie to go around elsewhere. Marriage (and later, parenting, I can imagine) rightly puts us on a different diet.

This doesn’t even speak to the less-than-good ways we might spend (waste) our time. In singleness, it was easy to spend a couple hours watching television, browsing Netflix, checking social media, or hanging with the guys without anyone seeming to pay the price. In marriage, those minutes add up quickly and seem to matter more.

Principles and Priorities

Paul acknowledges that marriage comes with new priorities. His argument for the unmarried Christian life relates to the heavy demands of the married Christian life. He says, “The married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. . . . The married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:33–34). Paul may sense the heavy burden of marital duties, but he doesn’t dismiss them. They’re simply a reality for a husband or wife (or father or mother).

You might call this reality the principle of especially. Paul writes to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Are we providing first for our first calling, our own household? Are we rightly prioritizing our giving — our time, energy, and finances? He writes elsewhere, “Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Beyond our family, are we caring first for believers, and then for those outside the church? Do we prioritize our ministry outside the home?

The principle of especially is not a principle of only. A Christian cares about all the needs around him or her and regularly cares for the needs of others whenever they arise — whether those inside or outside his or her home, close friends, or complete strangers. In that way, we are free to help whoever is in need on any given day. Another major way Christian marriage can go wrong is to allow the marriage or family to dominate life in a way that the husband or wife, or both, are never or rarely available to help others in need.

But the whole of our lives, and the sum of our loves, should be marked by humble, selfless, and biblical prioritization. We need to ask if there is a thread of especially in our schedule and decision-making in ministry.

Finding Redemption in Dysfunction

For anyone who has been married, even for just a couple of weeks, this need will not surprise us. From the wedding day forward, wires can get crossed in countless ways. Tying two sinful people so closely together more than doubles the risk of dysfunction. With Christ, the dysfunction can be routinely and beautifully addressed, forgiven, and redeemed, but not without significant and consistent time, energy, and intentionality. And that ministry almost never conveniently fits into the cracks of busy schedules.

We have to be willing to set aside time, regularly and spontaneously, to invest intentionally in our spouses and children. It likely requires more time at the outset, especially in the first year of marriage or parenting, but the need never ends this side of heaven. It’s a daily effort, a weekly effort, a yearly effort, a lifelong effort.

And this kind of effort includes being willing to say no even to good things for the good of our homes.

Didn’t Jesus Say to Hate Our Spouse?

Jesus did say, “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” (Luke 14:26). What did Jesus mean by this? Does it mean that serving others in the church should always come before our family?

The larger context of Jesus’s teaching makes it clear that Jesus’s words are not a call to forsake one’s family, or even to treat them like everyone else. He rebuked the Pharisees for creating loopholes in the command to care for our families (Matthew 15:3–6). No, Jesus’s words are about our love for and loyalty to him. For us to love anyone well in this life, we must love Jesus first and foremost. If we begin to prioritize our spouse, or children, or grandchildren over our King, we insult the King and harm our families.

Commitment to this King, though, comes with a call to prioritize our families — not ultimately and in every circumstance, but selflessly and consistently.

Service Starts at Home

The difficult, but critical truth is that our No’s often preach the gospel more clearly than our Yes’s. Our steadfast commitment to serve at home first, to submit to and sacrifice for one another at home first, highlights the intimate relationship between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:21–33). My wife needs to hear me regularly say no to others for her sake, because of what it says to her about Jesus. My friends and partners in ministry need to hear me regularly say no to them for her sake, because of what it says to them about Jesus.

This couple’s testimony ten months into marriage and ministry together is that when we prioritize well, we spill over more eagerly and effectively into the needs outside our home. Having created rhythms of caring for one another, we have felt fresh wind in our sails to dream about investing in others and welcoming them into our home more. As we’ve learned to say no to good things, God has begun to multiply the opportunities (and energy) to do good.

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Is Your Jesus Too Small?

R.C. Sproul / March 1, 2016
Is Your Jesus Too Small?

I remember the remarkable success of a little book published by J.B. Phillips entitled Your God Is Too Small. It was a ringing challenge to seek a deeper understanding of the nature and character of God. It obviously struck a nerve as multitudes of people devoured the book in a quest to expand their knowledge of the majesty of God.

I wish that someone could provoke the same response with regard to Christ. In my years of publishing and producing educational materials for Christians, I have been puzzled by something strange. I have noticed that books about Jesus do not do well in Christian bookstores. I am not sure why this is so. Perhaps it has something to do with a widespread assumption that we already know a lot about Jesus or that there may be something irreligious about studying the person and work of Christ too deeply. Perhaps such study might disturb the simple faith we cling to.

My teaching career has spanned many decades. And though I have taught in the formal setting of colleges and seminaries, the bulk of my time has been devoted to adult lay education. This emphasis began in Philadelphia in the sixties when, while I was working as a seminary professor, I was approached by the pastor of the church my family attended to teach an adult course on the person and work of Christ. My class was composed of housewives, professional people, business people, and more. As we got into the material, I discovered a more passionate response to the content of my teaching than I had ever witnessed in the academic classroom. These people had never been exposed to any serious teaching of theology beyond what they had experienced in Sunday school. It was this class that pushed a button in my soul that catapulted me into the full-time endeavor of adult education.

Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild

There seems to be something wrong with our understanding of Jesus. We speak in saccharine terms of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and of his “sweetness,” but the depth and riches of his nature remain elusive to us. Now, I love to speak of the sweetness of Christ. There is nothing wrong with this language. But we need to understand what it is about him that makes him so sweet to believers.

When we consider Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Logos who became incarnate, we note instantly that in any attempt to plumb the depths of his person we are stepping into the deep waters of searching for the nature of God himself. The Scripture says of Jesus in Hebrews 1:1–4:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Here the author of Hebrews describes Christ as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Imagine someone who not only reflects the glory of God as Moses did after his encounter with God on Mount Sinai, but who actually is the very brightness of the divine glory.

The Very Glory of God

The biblical concept of divine glory is reiterated again and again in the Old Testament. Nothing can be likened to that glory that belongs to the divine essence and which he has placed above the heavens. This is the glory manifest in the theophany of the shekinah, the radiant cloud that displays the pure effulgence of his being. This is the glory of the One who dwells in light inaccessible, who is a consuming fire. This is the glory that blinded Paul on the Road to Damascus. The glory of Christ belongs to his deity as confessed in the ancient hymn, the Gloria Patria, composed by Trinitarians as they resisted the heresy of Arianism: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Athanasius in commenting on Hebrews 1 declared, “Who does not see that the brightness cannot be separated from the light, but that it is by nature proper to it and co-existent with it, and is not produced after it?” Or as Ambrose proclaimed,

Think not that there was ever a moment of time when God was without wisdom, any more than there was ever a time when light was without radiance. For where there is light there is radiance, and where there is radiance there is also light. For the Son is the Radiance of his Father’s light, co-eternal because of eternity of power, inseparable by unity of brightness.

The Very Revelation of God

But what can be said of Christ’s being “the exact imprint of his nature”? Are not we all created in the image of God and does not this reference merely speak of Jesus’s being the perfect man, the one in whom the imago Dei has not been besmirched or corrupted? I think the text means more than that. Phillip Hughes says,

The Greek word translated “the very stamp” [“exact imprint”] here means an engraved character or the impress made by a die or a seal, as for example, on a coin; and the Greek word translated “nature” denotes the very essence of God. The principal idea intended is that of exact correspondence. This correspondence involves not only an identity of the essence of the Son with that of the Father, but more particularly a true and trustworthy revelation or representation of the Father by the Son.

We remember the request made to Jesus by Philip when he said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (John 14:8). We need to meditate upon the response of Jesus in John 14:9–11:

Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

He who would taste the fullness of the sweetness of Christ, and perceive the total measure of his excellence, must be willing to make the pursuit of the knowledge of him the main and chief business of life. Such pursuits must not be hindered by sentimentality or season.

To help you enjoy the bigness and beauty of Christ in greater measure, R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries have crafted a fresh statement on Christology.

Related Resources

  • Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ | The depth and complexity of Jesus shatter our simple mental frameworks. John Piper celebrates the person of Christ in this short devotional book.

  • Jesus Is Fully Human | This brief article sketches the basics of the humanity of Christ. He has a fully human body, emotions, mind, and will — and this in no way compromises his deity.

  • I Love Jesus Christ | John Piper tells of one unforgettable moment in seminary.

Holy Women Are Fueled by Hope

John Piper / March 1, 2016
Holy Women Are Fueled by Hope

Underneath a wife’s submission to her husband must be the anchor of fearless hope in God. Where does that come from and where do we see it?

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