September 30, 2012

Double Jesuses and Play-Doh

It must be difficult those pastors who want to support same-sex marriage and still use the Bible. This summer as I was preparing to perform a wedding it struck me how difficult it would be to explain a particular passage if I were an advocate of same-sex marriage. So for those who are pushing for the transformation of marriage and are at a loss to explain this passage in a modern and progressively acceptable way, I have some ideas to help. But first I need to describe the problem.

The couple I was going to marry (a guy and a girl) specifically asked me to preach on Ephesians 5:22-33 as the text for their wedding message. Read this passage and think of the conundrum this would be for a supporter of gay marriage. The Apostle Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (vs. 25). Wives are to submit to their husbands and “as the church submits to Christ” (vs. 24). Now, even if we leave aside the sticky issue of submission it still leaves a big problem. 'Husbands' and 'wives' are viewed as two distinct things that are not interchangeable. It describes marriage as corresponding to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. And since there is only one Christ, and only one church—and since Christ and the church are not the same—this passage presents us with a very narrow-minded interpretation of what a marriage is supposed to be.

The problem gets worse as we read on. Paul explains:
“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.
To start with, Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24—also quoted by Jesus (Mt. 19:5)—which describes marriage as being created by God, from the beginning, as the union of one man and one woman. Further, when Paul talks about this being a 'mystery' he is using a technical term meaning a ‘previously unrevealed truth.’ This means that God, from the beginning, created marriage to illustrate the relationship between Jesus Christ and something else. Thus, for many of today's politically correct pastors this passage would be considered hopelessly heterocentric. It would be hard for them to preach this passage to a progressive audience without giving the impression that Paul, Moses, and Jesus were all "on the wrong side of history."

If I were a pastor who wanted to promote same-sex marriage I would avoid passages like Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:22-33 like the plague. But if you support same-sex marriage and you are pressed into a situation where you have to deal with Ephesians 5, here is my (less than serious) suggestion of what to do: Since there is no politically correct way to explain Ephesians 5:22-33 in a way that the authors of the Bible would have agreed with, you might as well rewrite the whole thing in a way that is much more same-sex friendly. Since Christ and the church are not the same thing, one of them has to be swapped out. So, to make a nice matching pair, just replace the church with another Jesus. After all, two are better than one. Now, you can explain that marriage is like the union of one Jesus with another matching Jesus. This is the perfect analogy for a same-sex marriage.

I also have a second great suggestion for today’s progressive wedding ceremony. In an old-style wedding, when the couple exchanges rings, the pastor will often make some comments about what the rings symbolize—being a circle symbolizes that marriage is unending, and being made of gold symbolizes that it is precious. Instead, have the wedding rings made out of Play-Doh. That way the pastor can talk about how the rings symbolize that we can twist and shape marriage into anything we want.

September 13, 2012

Cruciform Love in Marriage

What passes for love today is usually nothing more than feelings of attraction or self-gratification. To know what love really is we need to look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In his excellent book on marriage, What Did You ExpectPaul Tripp describes this as cruciform love--that is, love that shapes itself to the cross of Christ. Tripp defines this type of love as "willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving" (188). 

Tripp then unpacks this with about two dozen examples of what cruciform love looks like in a Christian marriage. This section is so powerful and convicting that I can only read a short bit at a time without stopping--sometimes to ponder, and sometimes to put the book down and act on it. In the book these descriptions are longer, but I think it is worth listing his points as insights for God to use to help us look at our hearts and actions.

  • Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the by the needs and struggles of your husband or wife without impatience or anger. 
  • Love is actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward your spouse, while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
  • Love is the daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
  • Love is being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding, and being more committed to unity and love than you are to winning, accusing, or being right. 
  • Love is a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer excuse or shift blame. 
  • Love is a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to your husband or wife is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient. 
  • Love is being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged but to look for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good, 
  • Love is being a good student of your spouse, looking for his physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support him as he carries it, or encourage him along the way.
  • Love means being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the problems that you face as a couple, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed on a strategy of response.
  • Love is always being willing to ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested. 
  • Love is recognizing the high value of trust in a marriage and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.
  • Love is speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack your spouse's character or assault his or her intelligence. 
  • Love is being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-op your spouse into giving you what you want or doing something your way. 
  • Love is being unwilling to ask your spouse to be the source of your identity, meaning and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of his or hers.
  • Love is the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a husband or a wife. 
  • Love is a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your marriage. 
  • Love is staying faithful to your commitment to treat your spouse with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when he or she doesn't seem to deserve it or is unwilling to reciprocate. 
  • Love is never letting the failure of your spouse become a reason for changing the rules of the game.
  • Love is the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of your marriage without asking anything in return or using your sacrifices to place your spouse in your debt.
  • Love is being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm your marriage, hurt your husband or wife, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
  • Love is refusing to be self-focused or demanding but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
  • Love is daily admitting to yourself, your spouse, and God that you are not able to love this way without God's protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.
  • Love is a specific commitment of the heart to a specific person that causes you to give yourself to a specific lifestyle of care that requires you to be willing to make sacrifices that have that person's good in view. 
Let me also add, love is reading this list and thinking about your own heart rather than the shortcomings of your wife or husband. As Christians, this is the kind of genuine love that we need to seek by God's power and grace.

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