Mar

25

2014

Ray Ortlund|2:59 PM CT

What is marriage, according to the Bible?

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Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  Genesis 2:24

It is not true that the Bible teaches multiple views of marriage, and therefore the Bible’s clarity is diminished on this question.  The Bible does record, for example, that “Lamech took two wives” (Genesis 4:19).  But the Bible is not thereby endorsing polygamy, but indeed is casting doubt on polygamy.  The role of Lamech in the text is to show “a progressive hardening in sin” (Waltke, Genesis, page 100).  We invented polygamy, along with other social evils.  But God gave us marriage.

The Bible defines marriage in Genesis 2:24, quoted above.  Here is what this very significant verse is saying:

Therefore.  This word signals that Moses is adding an aside to his narrative.  It’s as if we are sitting in Moses’ living room, watching his DVD of the creation of the universe (Genesis 1) and of man and woman (Genesis 2).  At this point he hits the pause button on the remote, the screen freezes, he turns to us post-fall people watching these amazing events and he says, “Now let me explain how what God did so long ago is normative for us today.  Amazingly, we still retain something beautiful from the Garden of Eden.”

A man shall leave his father and his mother.  In a culture of strong bonds between the generations, this is striking.  A man’s primary human relationship is no longer with his parents or ancestors.  He breaks away from them for the sake of a more profound loyalty.

And hold fast to his wife.  A man, in marrying, enfolds his wife into his heart.  He rejoices to identify with her: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23).  At every level of his being, he becomes wholeheartedly devoted to her, as to no other.

And they shall become one flesh.  “One flesh” is essential to the biblical view of marriage.  It means, one mortal life fully shared.  Two selfish me’s start learning to think like one unified us, sharing one everything: one life, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, one mission, and so forth.  No barriers.  No hiding.  No aloofness.  Now total openness with total sharing and total solidarity, until death parts them.  Moreover, Jesus explained that, behind the word “become,” God is there: “What therefore God has joined together . . .” (Matthew 19:6).  Marriage is not a product of human social evolution.  Marriage came down from God.  And he defined it for us.  He has the right to.  It belongs to him.

One mortal life fully shared between a man and a woman — this is marriage, according to the Bible, because Genesis 2:24 is not a throw-away line.  Its very purpose is to define.

What’s more, the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to take our understanding a step further — an amazing step: “We are members of [Christ's] body.  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:30-31).  Did you notice his logic?  “We are members of Christ’s body.  He loved us.  He chose us.  He gave himself up for us.  He embraced us.  He is with us.  He will present us someday in splendor.  All of this glory is ours, because we are united with him now and forever.  Therefore, this is why, our union with Christ is the reason why, a man and women get married and live united as ‘one flesh.’  Human marriages are miniature social platforms on which the gospel is to be displayed.”

Marriage is a gospel issue.  That is the ultimate reason why clarity about its definition matters.  People who depart from, or fail to stand up for, the biblical view of marriage are taking a step away from the gospel itself.  The whole Bible is the story of the marital love of God, as I demonstrate in this book.  Our whole lives are that story, if we have eyes to see.

Marriage is more than human romance, wonderful as that is.  Marriage is the display of Christ and his Bride in love together.  A beautiful, tender, thriving, Ephesians 5-kind of marriage makes the gospel visible on earth, bringing hope to people who have given up believing there could be any love anywhere for them.  That is why biblical marriage deserves our courageous loyalty today.  And that is why, in our increasingly secular times, biblical marriage is under pressure.  Its true meaning is understood and embodied and sustained only by the power of the gospel.

We can’t turn the clock back to the days of the Christian social consensus the West has foolishly thrown away.  But we who say we believe the gospel can and must stand up for the biblical definition of marriage.  We must cultivate beautiful marriages ourselves.  We must suffer social rejection bravely.  We must pray for revival.  We must wait for the inevitable collapse of every false view of marriage.  We must lovingly serve all who suffer for their foolish attempts at false “marriages.”  And we must go to church this Sunday and worship the living God with all our hearts, so that we ourselves are sustained for faithfulness over the long haul, because this isn’t going to be easy.

 
 

Mar

22

2014

Ray Ortlund|11:03 AM CT

Flee youthful passions

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Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Luke 2:10

The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  James 1:20

A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:18

Flee youthful passions.  2 Timothy 2:22

The “youthful passions” in this context are not sexual.  Paul has in mind the passion for controversy, that feeling inside that relishes a fight and loves to be proved right and even prophetic.  Instead, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, . . . patiently enduring evil” (2 Timothy 2:24).  But there is something about us, especially in our youthful immaturity, that lusts to raise protests and set the world right and make sure everyone cares as passionately as I do, because I’m on the side of the right, I’m the defender of the downtrodden, I get it more than others do, etc.

In this world of blatant, horrible wrongs, it is not hard to get angry.  It is hard not to get angry.  But “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  It just doesn’t.  Because it can’t.  No matter how right the cause is, the anger of man only makes things worse.  Sometimes the youthful don’t see how clever evil is, how easy it is for us to add to evil while intending good, how hard it is for us to be angry and not sin and complicate things further.  Exposing and confronting wrongs — real wrongs with real victims — is good, but not simple.  Not for us.  What is simple is creating more victims by rushing to judgment with guns ablazing and a golden heart pursuing a noble cause.

Personally for me, as a pastor, I long to be the kind of man that sinners want to move toward, not away from.  Inevitably, for every one of us, there will come a moment when we have sinned so stupidly that our future is in peril, or when we have been sinned against so destructively that we fall into despair.  When that happens — not if it happens — to whom will we go?  Not to the fault-finders and finger-pointers.  Desperate people will go, if they have any courage left, to a pastor who is known for good news of great joy for all kinds of people.  They will go to a man who is known for being kind to everyone, a man who understands sowing and harvesting shalom for other people.  And if the pastors within the acquaintance of a person in serious trouble are not like that, if those pastors are known only for their trenchant criticisms — Oh, what a loss!

There is a continuum in pastoral ministry, with rebuke at one end, comfort at the other, and various strategies between.  Wise pastors move along that continuum constantly, interacting with people as we understand their needs moment by moment.  Personally, I default toward comfort.  Unless a person is defiant against the Lord, the ministry of comfort is more consistent with the tone of the gospel — good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  They, and they only.

 
 

Mar

21

2014

Ray Ortlund|1:59 PM CT

Epitaph

“Here lies one who never feared any flesh.”

Comment by the Earl of Morton, regarding John Knox, at his burial.

W. Stanford Reid, Trumpeter of God (New York, 1974), page 283.

 
 

Mar

20

2014

Ray Ortlund|3:34 PM CT

Forgiveness must go before sanctification

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“A sense of having our sins forgiven is the mainspring and life-blood of love to Christ. . . . Would the Pharisee know why this woman showed so much love?  It was because she felt much forgiven.  Would he know why he himself had shown his guest so little love?  It was because he felt under no obligation, had no consciousness of having obtained forgiveness, had no sense of debt to Christ. . . . The only way to make men holy is to teach and preach free and full forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  The secret of being holy ourselves is to know and feel that Christ has pardoned our sins.  Peace with God is the only root that will bear the fruit of holiness.  Forgiveness must go before sanctification.”

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on Luke 7:36-50.

 
 

Mar

19

2014

Ray Ortlund|6:31 AM CT

Both simultaneously only by God’s power

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“If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise.  But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty.  And it is important to show forth beauty before a lost world and a lost generation.  All too often young people have not been wrong in saying that the church is ugly.  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we are called upon to show to a watching world and to our own young people that the church is something beautiful.

Several years ago I wrestled with the question of what was wrong with much of the church that stood for purity.  I came to the conclusion that in the flesh we can stress purity without love or we can stress the love of God without purity, but that in the flesh we cannot stress both simultaneously.  In order to exhibit both simultaneously, we must look moment by moment to the work of Christ, to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Spirituality begins to have real meaning in our moment-by-moment lives as we begin to exhibit simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church before the Watching World (Downers Grove, 1971), page 63.  Italics added.

 
 

Mar

18

2014

Ray Ortlund|3:03 PM CT

Real forgiveness

Joseph Makes Himself Known to His Brothers

When we have been sinned against, real forgiveness should flow out to the offender at two levels.

First, internally, within the thoughts of our own hearts, we should forgive the offender unconditionally and immediately.  That is extremely difficult.  But it is how God forgives us.  So we know that radical forgiveness is right.  Not easy, but right.

Secondly, externally, in our relationship with the offender, we should follow the path the Lord gave us in Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”  John Stott, in his book Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation, page 35, writes about this verse:

“We are to rebuke a brother if he sins against us; we are to forgive him if he repents — and only if he repents. We must beware of cheapening forgiveness. . . . If a brother who has sinned against us refuses to repent, we should not forgive him.  Does this startle you?  It is what Jesus taught. . . . ‘Forgiveness’ includes restoration to fellowship.  If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love but its shallowness.”

Luke 17:3, then, is a huge verse, too often overlooked.  What is the Lord saying here?

“If your brother sins, rebuke him.”  If you have been sinned against, the Lord is telling you you can name it.  You can and should call sin sin.  It is not to be exaggerated, nor is it to be denied.  But in this verse the Lord is talking about sin — not hurt feelings or disappointed expectationsSo the word “sins” in this verse means something like, “If your brother behaves in a way that, according to God, chapter-and-verse in the Bible, goes against his will, then a rebuke is right.”

What then about this rebuke?  Surely, since this verse is the Lord speaking, his kind of rebuke is not angry venting.  His kind of rebuke is fair-minded and not blood-thirsty, calm and not explosive, citing facts and not hearsay.  Maybe it could go like this: “Brother, here in [biblical text], God says . . . . But you will recall that, on that painful occasion, you said/did . . . . But I can’t see how your behavior lines up with what God says in Scripture.  I’m troubled by this.  I want to be able to trust you and think the best of you.  And the consequences of your behavior are landing on me hard.  I believe you should reconsider what you did.”  Not vague generalities, but verifiable facts, clearly addressed by the Bible.

A rebuker will make sure that his rebuke is fair enough to stand a chance of being received.  So it is wise to avoid the verb “to be” (“You are . . .”) or the words “always” and “never” (“You always/never . . .”).  Those categories are too absolute to be fair.  They blast the offender to smithereens, with no dignity left.  They presume to redefine what another human being is, and no one but God has the right to do that.  A wise rebuke limits itself to observable behavior.

“And if he repents, forgive him.”  I wish we were all so tender before the Lord that obvious sin, lovingly rebuked, always evoked repentance.  Sadly, that is not so.  Hence, the word “if,” rather than “when,” in this verse.  But if the relationship is to be restored, the offender must confess his sin as sin and repent of it.  How can a sin be forgiven, if it’s never been confessed as sin?  So hopefully the offending brother will say, after carefully considering your rebuke, “You’re right.  I didn’t see it that way at the moment.  I was too riled up.  But now I see what I did, and I see what the Bible says about it, and I am making no excuses.  I was wrong.  I’m sorry.  And, God helping me, it won’t happen again.  Is there anything I can do that might make a positive difference?”

At this point, the victim faces another difficult task.  The rebuke wasn’t easy.  It required much death to self.  So does forgiveness, and probably more.  Here’s why.  The offender is simply unable to make up to you all that his sin destroyed in your life — perhaps years of hardship, many sleepless nights, losses of money and reputation and opportunity, lost friendships because of misinformation and even lies that have been spread, and more.  A serious sin pushes dominoes of consequence over in many directions.  And now the offender finally sees the impact of his destructive foolishness.  Hopefully, he is devastated.  That will lead him deeper into God’s blessing, which is your desire.  But a big part of the mercy God intends for the offender will come now through you.  So here is your next hard assignment.  You must accept that you’re not going to recover everything that that person’s sin cost you.  A big part of the tragedy of this life is that we do things to one another we cannot later remedy, no matter how penitent we become.  It’s why we must be so cautious in how we treat one another.  But the role God is calling you to now, as the victim, is two-fold.  On the one hand, guide the offender toward some form of reparations that are possible.  Don’t demand of him what he cannot do.  That would amount to sending him to hell.  And you don’t have the right to do that.  So, ask something of him, something relevant to your losses but still doable, so that he can have the satisfaction of knowing that his own repentance is real.  But don’t be so demanding and so severe that you destroy your penitent almost-friend-again.  On the other hand, you must accept, as from the hand of God himself, that your story is now permanently changed because of the sin of your offender.  Under God, your sufferings are not a loss but a gift.  You are now more profoundly qualified to comfort others with the comfort God has given you.  That is a privilege, not a death-sentence – if you’ll let the Lord tell your story.

Now you are ready to bless your offender with real forgiveness: “Dear brother, thank you for receiving what I said so humbly.  I do forgive you, completely and wholeheartedly.  Thank you for asking about follow-through.  Yes, there is something positive that would help.  What would you think of . . . ?”

Joseph tested his treacherous brothers.  He wanted to know if they had really changed.  And they had.  So he embraced them.  But from the start, his only desire was their restoration.  He used his power not to punish them but to forgive them and provide for them.  He was a picture of Jesus.

 
 

Mar

17

2014

Ray Ortlund|12:58 PM CT

What just happened

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He owned up.  And that’s amazing.  Not that he did so.  I wasn’t surprised, because I know him.  What’s amazing is not how often he repents but how rarely other Christian leaders repent.

How does every Christian start out?  In repentance.  We finally admit that we’ve been completely wrong about everything every moment of every day throughout our entire lives, because we’ve been wrong about God, and God is omni-relevant to us at every level of our beings all the time.  But from then on, for too many of us, we’re never wrong again.  That’s amazing.  The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

When a Christian man repents, two things immediately kick in for everyone else around him.  One, we may look for changes.  Things should be different from now on.  Not perfectly, but visibly.  Two, we should cheer for him as he grows and sees things in a new way and makes adjustments.  But let’s understand what just happened.  His repentance just pulled the rug out from underneath all the Driscoll-haters out there.  He shifted the moral burden to them.  Not that that was his purpose.  But it was an outcome.

Everyone who feels the power of the gospel will also feel that a penitent man deserves another chance.  That man should be held to his professed repentance — but gently, with encouragement, with support, with prayer, with every positive expectation of beautiful outcomes.  And if we don’t cut him that slack, we are the ones whose turn it is to repent.

May his willingness to face himself and own up wonderfully spread to all of us.

 
 

Mar

15

2014

Ray Ortlund|1:41 PM CT

Why Jesus came

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“Jesus Christ came to blind those who saw clearly, and to give sight to the blind; to heal the sick, and leave the healthy to die; to call to repentance and to justify sinners, and to leave the righteous in their sins; to fill the needy, and leave the rich empty.”

Pascal, Thoughts (New York, 1910), #771.

 
 

Mar

14

2014

Ray Ortlund|11:06 AM CT

Spiritual perception changes us

Looking over the horizon. (Image from swissre.com ad.)

“The spiritual perception of divine things is invariably accompanied with a sanctifying influence, and knowledge is no further genuine or spiritual than as it leads to this result.  When it is a mere natural and intellectual perception of divine things, the mind is only elated (1 Corinthians 8:2), not imbued with the humility which is the effect of all true spiritual knowledge.  When it is a perception which takes its rise from the Holy Spirit, and is kindled by the contemplation of the divine perfections, excellence and glory, the taste is so changed that it is separated from the pleasures of sin.  They who have a spiritual perception of the divine beauty of God our Savior are drawn by a high attraction and induced to forgo not only the sins but the pleasures, emoluments and distinctions which absorb men’s present thoughts.  The knowledge of God, taught by the Spirit, is invariably connected with a new spiritual relish, or a new sense, which inclines the mind to rest in God as better than the creation — to regard sin as repulsive and holiness as the only element in which the mind delights to dwell.”

George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh, 1974), pages 254-255

 
 

Mar

14

2014

Ray Ortlund|8:02 AM CT

Spektor

“We’re all laughing with God”? But the rest is compelling.