Part Six: Love and Today

March 8, 2010 at 1:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

I can look back on the past 20 years of my life with entire confidence that, when it comes to love, I’ve been an overwhelming failure.  Praise the Lord, His love never fails, and it stretches to mercifully cover my short-comings.

God’s commands for purity are not for yesterday.  Certainly there are consequences to our poor choices and we should do our best to rectify our mistakes, but the past is a part of something the Lord has bought back and promised to redeem for our good.  He is in the business of using even bad things for His glory and our good.  That is the power of God’s redeeming agape love.

Today we are commanded to seek to love purely—the Lord first and our neighbor as our self.  It’s not something that just happens–it’s a battle.  The command to “keep” our heart bears connotations of surviving a siege.  As long as we are fighting, we can overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  A purity battle fought is not a purity battle lost.  We lose the battles when we stop seeking the Lord, when we give up, when we sit down and give in to temptation or greed or discontentment—in any form or appearance.

I don’t intend to impose law, but to lift up the Lord.  “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)  My challenge to you is the same I extend to myself:  Pursue the Lord!  Flee youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with those that call on God from a pure heart.  This is worship.

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Part Four: Love and Marriage

March 6, 2010 at 1:33 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Once upon a time I found myself in the middle of a conversation with a young woman.  The topic?  Romantic relationships.  She was aghast when she discovered that I “don’t date.”  “But—but—but,” she spluttered.  “How will you ever get married if you don’t date?”  “Hmmm,” I stroked my chin, enjoying her perplexity.  “I’ll have to think about that one.  How many guys have you dated?”  She thought for a few minutes before answering something close to a dozen.  “And you’re still not married?” I opened my eyes wide, pretending shock and horror before smiling.  “Well, if a dozen attempts haven’t found you hitched, it doesn’t really seem to me that dating is making marriage happen for you.”

Created to be his help-meet?

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he commanded them to go about “romance” in a set-apart way—not in lustful passion like those who don’t know God, and to be careful of defrauding.  In so-called “conservative” circles, we recognized the devaluation and pollution of marriage and the entirely impure routes many take to get there.  Often we denounce dating as “lustful passion” and “defrauding.”  We also see the rejection of God’s wisdom in creating men and women with unique roles.  And soon we are creating models and stereotypes of how a romance must progress and preaching slogans like “I’m saving my heart for my husband” and “Biblical courtship” and talking about being maidens in waiting. *  We proclaim the importance of marriage and the beauty of being wives and mothers, but sometimes I think we get caught up in the means and forget the end.  I think we’re confusing ourselves when we insist that we were created for marriage and child-bearing.  Before you stone me and throw me out of the synagogue, hear me out.  I counsel crisis clients at a pregnancy center, and every time I go over the information about conception, baby development and birth, I’m overwhelmed by God’s genius in creating women with the unique ability to sustain another human life.  You’ll never catch me devaluing that as a woman’s “saving” service. **  And yet, there’s a bigger picture.  You weren’t born married.  You could have been, but you weren’t.

Let me explain.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And He created a man to care for the earth.  But the man needed a helper.  So God created a woman and brought her to the man.  Eve might as well have been born married.  Adam had to have a wife to help him fulfill God’s command to multiply and fill the earth.  Eve was created to be his helper.  No questions asked.  That was the role God gave her when he brought her to the man.

But there was a bigger purpose.  Turn to the end of the Book—the Revelation given to John—for the unveiling of why God created the world, why He created man and woman.  “You created all things,” the saints proclaim the worthiness of the Lamb “and for Your pleasure they existed and were created.”  (Revelation 4:11)

Role vs. Purpose

The revelation is that you and I were created for God’s pleasure.  For His glory.  To do His will.  And we weren’t created married, which means that His pleasure, His will and His glory are more far-reaching than simply being married.

See, when an actress performs in a play, her purpose can’t be simply to play her role.  Her role will fall flat and empty if she focuses only on her character.  Why?  Because she’s missing the bigger picture.  The purpose of a play is to tell a story.  In order to tell the story, a play incorporates individual characters.  So the actress must make her purpose to tell the story, to express the story by playing her role.  She must make her role serve the story.  She is a part of a whole.

My concern is that, all too often, we miss the bigger picture.  By holding up marriage and motherhood as our purpose, we are actually stealing from the story.  What I see seeping through the cracks in the marriage goal are a few subtle lies:  that marriage will fulfill my needs; that I serve God through marriage, so, in the meantime, I am being prevented from really serving God as I was created to do; that single years are wasted years; that if I am not married, I must not be godly/mature enough; that my reward (of marriage) is based upon my performance (contentedness/purity/domestic skills/etc); that unmarried people are incomplete—just waiting on a spouse so they can truly be useful; that I would be more useful to God if I were married (I know better than He does). As we swallow these lies like our daily vitamins, we come to be self-obsessed.  Instead of looking at the bigger picture, the story that God wants to tell of His power, His love and His glory, we’re focused on our role.  Instead of making our role serve the story, we just want God to hurry up and write our lines.  When will it be my turn to come on stage?  How does my costume look?  Is this the guy for me?  I’m content now…Lord, where is my husband?  Soon we are pursuing our role instead of our purpose.  We’re obsessed with being wives and mothers, when we should be obsessed with God’s glory.

Ladies, even a pagan can be a wife and mother.

Am I against marriage?

Absolutely not!  Godly marriages glorify God.  But discontentment does not.

Our purpose is to glorify God.  We do this by seeking to understand our role—learning to be obedient women.  Being submissive wives and loving mothers is not the end.  It’s the means to the end—glorifying God.  And it only brings God glory if it springs from submission to God and love for His people.

What does God want from women?

For several years now, I’ve been searching the scriptures to see what God commands me to do.  I found an interesting omission.  God never commands me to marry.  He doesn’t command me to save my heart for my husband.  He doesn’t command me to court.

He commands me to love Him with my entire heart.  He commands me to love my neighbor as myself.  He commands me to view my body as His temple and abstain from sexual immorality.  He lays out the blessings and responsibilities of marriage.  In fact, He holds forth marriage as a picture of Christ and the church—that’s a pretty glorious role to play—picturing here on earth a spiritual truth as large as God’s eternal plan of divine love and redemption.  He also lays out the blessings and responsibilities of singleness.  Those whose roles find them unmarried or who have chosen to audition for unmarried roles are to be single-minded.  And Paul insists that singleness presents more freedom for service to God.  Neither is to covet the role of another.  “If you have a wife, do not seek to be free.  If you are not married, do not seek a wife.”  (1 Corinthians 7:27)  He lays out guidelines for relationships—single and married and in-between.

We are not commanded to have a mindset of marriage.  We are commanded to have a mindset of love.

Godly women are to love

Love, Biblically speaking begins with Christ’s love for us which enables us to have agape (sacrificial) love for all men, which progresses to phileo (affection) toward Christian brothers and sisters and finally (if God so wills) to romantic love—the deepest human fellowship, reserved in the Lord for one person.  When we divorce romance from agape, we have what Paul calls “lustful passion.”  Which is impurity.  For each of us, it must be agape that inspires phileo and controls romance—within the pure bounds of marriage.

The commands to believers over and over and over again are to love.  We are to love Yahweh with all our heart.  We are to love our neighbor as our self.  Your neighbor always begins with the one closest to you.  Married women are to love their neighbors, as well—their husbands and their children.  (Titus 2:4)  We are to look out for the interests of others, being devoted to one another in brotherly love, giving preference to one another in honor.  Our mindset shouldn’t be marriage, but love.

Love Yahweh with all your heart.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is obedient womanhood.  This is worship.

It is also the foundation for a marriage that mirrors Christ and the Church.

One day it may be these two loves that lead you into a godly marriage.  What is marriage if not complete and sacrificial giving of oneself—love?  When you understand your purpose is God’s glory, then you can joyfully accept a role of singleness or marriage—for however long the Lord prolongs it.  You can understand that God must always claim first place in your affections and that you must always love others as you love yourself.  Married or single.  This is obedient womanhood.  This is worship.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*  I’m not trying to attack the goals or purposes of phrases like this, but none of these terms is actually found in scripture.  I’d encourage us to be careful to lift the actual scriptural principles higher than our extra-Biblical models and phrases and to be sure our models and phrases are supporting and fitting into the grid-work of scriptural principles.  I’ve seen each of these terms pasted on rather varying explanations.  Those who advocate these ideals certainly can be/often are upholding Biblical goals, but its not subscribing to a “courtship approach” or claiming to be a “maiden in waiting” or to “saving my heart for my husband” that makes us pure.

**  I use the term “saving” role in reference to 1 Timothy 2:15, which speaks of the woman being “saved” or “preserved” through bearing children.  It is not her eternal salvation in view here—as though salvation were by works, especially a work over which she actually has little control—but the salvation of her importance in human society.  Modern women think they must compete with men to establish their importance, but men cannot compete with women in the thing God considers their most important task.  What will become of the human race if women cease to raise children?

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Part Three: Love and My Brother

March 5, 2010 at 1:18 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

I grew up guarded.  By my late teens, I’d apparently developed a reputation for distance.  One spring, I arrived at Lauren’s dorm room for a week-long visit, to be greeted by an enormous mirror scrawled with survival tips—from a couple of my brother’s friends.  “Be more friendly to guys,” came one sage command.  But my careful aloofness was shattered shortly after moving to Arkansas.  Our home was suddenly full of young men, eager to be part of a family, unwilling to permit me to live a hermit’s existence.  And what was I to do?  When a boy lives in your house overnight…or for a week…or a month…all pretense of distance and limits on interaction die a slow and painful death.  He becomes your brother.  Except that he’s not.

I found myself up late at night, with my brother and a few “extras,” working through life issues, studying the scriptures, playing games, singing praises, praying and offering advice.  Then suddenly one day I made a horrible discovery.

All these guys that were hanging around?  I loved them.  Not just an “oh I would serve them because Jesus says to” love, but a genuine, sisterly affection.  I wanted their good.  I missed them when they were out of town.  I hurt when they hurt.  I cared what was happening in their lives.  I appreciated hearing their thoughts.  I wanted to encourage them and see them cheerfully serving the Lord.

Oh no.

As I wrestled with guilt, feeling that I’d somehow lost my “kept” heart, I began to search the scriptures to see what the Lord had to say to me.  And I found three basic principles to guide and guard my actions.

Love your neighbor

“What is the greatest commandment?” a lawyer asked Jesus, and the Lord’s response was two-fold.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”  He dealt with the heart of worship.  Love God.  But then He added, “And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.”  He explained that on these two commands hang the entire Law and Prophets.  (Matthew 22:35-40)  “By this will all men know that you are mine,” Jesus taught His disciples, “If you have love for one another.  A new commandment I give you—love one another as I have loved you.”  (John 13:34-35)

God is calling us to love our fellow believers.  *  In fact, it’s the natural result of fellowship—brotherly affection.  We begin with sacrificial love—as Christ has loved us, we lay down our lives for the brethren, and the return is an emotional response.  (1 John 3:16)  Paul writes in many of his letters that he has a fond affection for the believers.  Never does he discriminate between the men and the women.  In Christ, they are unified in spirit.  In Christ, they are his beloved brothers and sisters.

Don’t be a cheater

To the specific topic of purity, Paul speaks a severe warning.  “Do not go farther and defraud your brother in the matter, for God is the avenger.”  Simply stated, Paul warns us not to take what doesn’t belong to us in a relationship.  This, too is guided by love.  First, love for the Lord, then love for your brother.  What rightly belongs to another person?  To God belongs your heart.  To your Christian brothers and sisters belongs sacrificial love (as worship to God) and brotherly affection.  Only to a spouse belongs ahab— romantic love.  This is what must be carefully guarded—by sacrificial love—as worship to God.

Be a sister

“Treat the younger women as sisters, in all purity,” Paul told his disciple, Timothy.  (1 Timothy 5:2)  Sisters, in all purity.  “What does this look like?” I’ve had girls ask me.  “I’m really close with my brothers—it just doesn’t seem like it would be pure for me to treat other guys the way I treat them.”  Growing up with two close brothers myself, I wrestled this question until I was exhausted.  And then, one day, I understood.

Purity is a heart attitude.  What is your heart attitude toward your brothers?  Are you trying to impress them by your beauty, your talents or even your godliness?  Are you constantly placing them in the balance with your husband checklist?  Do you watch them constantly for some little sign of interest?  Hardly.  You love your brothers and you want what’s best for them.  What is best for them?  To serve the Lord whole-heartedly.  To seek Him first.  To grow and mature.

“Let love of the brethren continue,” the writer of Hebrews encourages.  Brotherly love is pure.  It flows from a heart that is “kept” by God and it encourages our brothers to worship with us.  Here’s a snapshot of what brotherly love looks like.

Brotherly love is pure because it is honest

“Love without hypocrisy,” Paul wrote in Romans chapter twelve and then he spelled out a particular description of “true love.”  Abhor evil, cling to good, be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor, diligent, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering, devoted to prayer, contributing to the saints needs, practicing hospitality, don’t be haughty but associate with the lowly.  We’re not talking about blurting out “I love you.”  We’re talking about sacrifice without any pretending.  “Little children, let’s not just love in word,” John wrote in his affectionate letter.  “But in action and in truth.”  (1 John 3:18)  There is no pretense in brotherly love.  Honest love meets purity when your goal is not to capture a heart, but simply to serve the Lord and His saints.

Brotherly love is pure because it is not self-seeking

What is your goal?  1 Corinthians 13 proclaims that love does not seek its own.  It’s not looking to promote itself or its own agenda.  That certainly tosses actions like flirtation and innuendo right into the “hypocrisy” basket.  “Do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  (Philippians 2:4)  What would edify my brother?  What would encourage my brother?  What would bring my brother’s focus to the Lord?  Sacrificial love meets purity when your goals are to promote the interests of the Lord and His saints.

Brotherly love is pure because it does not show favoritism

James delivered a stout rebuke to those who picked favorites.  “Do not treat your faith in our Lord with an attitude of personal favoritism.”  (James 2:1) We’re commanded to love the brethren—that’s all of them.  Honest love leads us to associate with the lowly.  (Romans 12:16)  When you serve, you must serve all indiscriminately—the young man you might marry some day and the old woman that you wish would wear matching socks.  You are not to give or withhold love or service on the basis of age, ethnicity, background, beauty or gender.  Christ certainly did not.  All must be treated as Christ, that all may know you are His.  Indiscriminate love meets purity when you treat every person in Christ’s body as Christ Himself.

Brotherly love is pure because it expects no return

“When you give a feast,” came Jesus’ directions on hospitality, “Invite the poor…who can’t pay you back.”  (Luke 14:7-15)  Remember that “freely you received, so freely you must give.”  (Matthew 10:8)  God poured out His love and grace on you, showering you with a mercy you can never possibly return.  He commands you to “give preference to one another in honor.”  (Romans 12:10)  “He who gives to the poor is lending to the Lord…and the Lord will repay Him.”  (Proverbs 19:17)  God has blessed you richly.  To freely pour out the same love you have freely received is worship.  Prodigal love meets purity when you are loving without thought of the love being returned.

Brotherly love is pure because it is eternal

Faith, hope and love are the cornerstones of the Christian faith.  “But the greatest of these,” Paul writes, “is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13)  Faith will one day become sight.  Hope will one day be realized.  Love will continue.  Romance, as we know it, will last only this lifetime.  Jesus said there will be no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven.  (Matthew 22:30)  But brotherly love will still unite us at the throne of Christ.  Eternal love meets purity when it recognizes that everything must have an eternal perspective—what does not bear fruit in eternity is of little value.

Brotherly love is pure because it points toward Christ

Because we must love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind, we recognize that this is the highest call on the heart, soul and mind of every person.  To love the Lord first and then to love our neighbor as our self, we must consciously strive to point every person to the cross, the grave, the sky.  The love that worships beside another person is pure.  We must be controlled by love, walking in love, pure in Christ.  “The love of Christ controls us having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.  And He died for all so that those who live may no longer live for themselves but for Him who died.”  (2 Corinthians 5:14)  Christ-centered love meets purity when you keep Jesus the center of every relationship.

The world doesn’t understand brotherly love—it’s something unique to Christ’s disciples.  “This is how they’ll know that you’re mine,” the Lord said.  It doesn’t fit the grid for the world’s definitions:  on the one hand, take whatever you can get.  On the other:  protect yourself.

We recently shared with you the results of a survey on purity.  The purpose of this survey was to instruct us so that we can love in wisdom—understanding more clearly what our actions suggest.  But no set of rules or boundaries can entirely protect—ourselves or our brothers.  Keep in mind that love for the Lord and love for your neighbor should always be the guiding influence.  Had the Good Samaritan been a woman, I think they Lord would have still desired her to show love by helping her “neighbor.”

The kind of love God requires isn’t self-protection.  It’s risky.  It’s dangerous.  It can be painful.  But it is second only to loving God.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  The pure heart loves the Lord and seeks to encourage others to do the same.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*  A few commands to love our brothers:

(agape—sacrificial):  John 13:34; John 15: 12; Romans 13:8; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:12; 1 Thess. 3:12; Heb. 10:24; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:16; 2 John 1:5;

(phileo—brotherly affection):  Romans 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13: 1; 1 Pet. 3:8;

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