Modeling: Sharpening The Arrows In Your Quiver

Malachi 2:15

For six weeks we have been discussing ways to remodel our houses into homes. We started by seeing that the basis of a successful marriage is our character. Then we looked at God’s master plan behind marriage and some of the reasons God hates divorce. We’ve also seen that significance and security in the home starts with Jesus first and our spouse second, and we have learned to love and respect one another.

We are going to shift gears a bit this morning and focus our attention on the other relationships that make a house a home relationships between parents and children. It has been good to discuss these marital issues at length because a good marriage relationship is crucial to a good parenting relationship.

The best thing you or I can do for our children is to love our spouse. Your relationship with your husband or wife is the primary relationship in the home. When God created a family, he started with Adam and Eve. Not Adam, Eve, and Jr. The demands of raising children often get this fundamental issue out of alignment. Even with a boatload of kids, the most important relationship in the home is husband and wife, father and mother. Not mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter or mother-son. If your marital relationship is struggling, continue to work diligently on it. There must be oneness between you and your spouse before there is oneness in your parenting.

Since I have been a parent only three years, I decided that I was still a bit lacking in personal experience to try to fake it and become First Free’s version of James Dobson. In fact, James Dobson could use some of my parenting skills as negative examples for his program. So lacking anything pithy to share, I turned to the Scriptures to see if God had some wisdom for parents concerning the raising of children. In the overview study that I did on Monday, I found that

Regarding parenting, the Scriptures are long on principle and short on method.

There are only a few passages that teach us directly about parenting. In Deuteronomy 6 and 11, the people of Israel are admonished to teach their children the precepts of God by talking about Him to their children as they go about their daily business. In Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21, fathers are admonished to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Along with these three clear commands, there are a half dozen Proverbs that give broad wisdom concerning the value of children and the discipline of children. Also in the account of Eli in 1 Samuel 14 there is a useful negative illustration of what happens when a father fails in his responsibilities. In addition, a few verses in 1 Timothy 1:4 and 5 illustrate what happens when a mother and grandmother (Lois and Eunice) build God’s Word into the lives of their children.

Despite the relative shortage of biblical material, there are three foundational principles that need to be highlighted.

The goal of parenting is raising godly children. (Mal 2:1016) Malachi is the last Old Testament book and comes just before the first Gospel, Matthew, about two thirds of the way from the front of your Bible. Four weeks ago Mike preached from this passage to help us understand why God hates divorce. After rebuking the men of Israel for breaking their marriage covenants, Malachi raises a rhetorical question in verse 15, “Has not the Lord made them one?” The obvious answer is “yes.” They should know from Genesis that the Lord does make two people one when they are married. Malachi states this in the next sentence, “In flesh and spirit, they are his.”

Then the prophet asks the question, “And why one?” The answer is given, “Because he was seeking godly offspring.” God makes two people one flesh in order to meet their aloneness needs but also because he wants godly offspring. And the best way to produce godly offspring is to put them in a loving home with two godly parents. From God’s perspective the goal of parenting is not to raise a Princeton grad or a world class swimmer, but to raise godly children. This is important to God because godly people worship Him.

The responsibility for raising godly children belongs to parents. (Deut. 6:49, 11:1621; Eph 6:14; Col 3:20,21) Now this may seem obvious, but I wonder how many of us “outsource” this responsibility to the church. We outsource math, science and literature, but the moral character and spiritual development of our children is our responsibility. AWANA, Passport to Adventure, and Junior and Senior High youth groups are here to support your ministry with your children. They offer your children models that reinforce what they are learning from you and provide further instruction.

One of the ways we should respond is by being as involved in our children’s spiritual education as we are in their math and science education. Simple things like knowing their Sunday School teacher, praying regularly for them, and sharing our own process of discipleship with our kids are ways to begin taking this responsibility.

Let me mention one other observation that was a bit startling to me. The New Testament addresses parenting twice. In both instances, Paul addresses fathers but not mothers. I believe he does this not to minimize the importance of mothers but instead to whack men across the side of the head and remind them that they are to be the spiritual pacesetters in the family. Not to do so, the New Testament implies, is a sure way to irritate, discourage and cause bitterness to well up inside our children.

Our inner cities are showing the marks of what happens when fathers are physically absent. But I wonder if some of the problems we are seeing even in our suburban homes is also because of absent fathers–perhaps we are there, but too often we have a remote control in our hands and are emotionally distant from our children.

The methods of raising godly children vary. This is true for two reasons. First, the Scriptures do not give us systematic methods for rearing children. And second, it just would not make sense to assume that one method can work for all families in raising godly children. Just as there are many different ways to disciple people who have come to faith in Christ, so too there are any number of good directions parents can take to intentionally develop godly children. You cannot apply a rigid formula to relationships.

There are a number of great resources in our library on parenting. I encourage you to read widely and draw from the experience of any number of wise parents in developing your own method of raising your children. Kevin Leman, Jim Dobson, and Ken Huggins offer great practical help. Two books from which I have drawn good principles are Christian Parenting by Dr. William Sears and the work of Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo in their “Growing Kids God’s Way” series. I have a pet peeve with both these books, however. Dr. Sears in his introduction says that he is presenting what he believes to be “God’s design for parenting” (Sears, p. xix). I find that a bit arrogant to assume. I have the same problem with the title to the Ezzo’s series. I do not believe that they have necessarily found God’s way of raising godly kids. They both present great principles and practical advice, but I think it is stretching it to assume they have the definitive works on the subject.

Rather than focusing on teenage rebellion or sleep schedules or the merits of time-out versus spanking, I want to look at raising godly children from a different perspective. The problems and pitfalls of raising godly children in our homes are similar to the problems of raising godly people in the church, but on a smaller scale. In his letters to the various churches, Paul reveals some of his discipling principles for turning ungodly people into godly people. I want to try to explain these principles and relate them back to the home. I believe that if they work in the local church they can transfer equally well into the context of our homes.

One of the most powerful ways to learn is by imitating the examples provided by other people. In the church, Paul knew that people would become godly if they imitated good models of Christian living. In the home, the same truth applies. Parents are examples to their children in everything. We have no choice in the matter.

Modeling godly attitudes and behaviors are critical in helping our children attain godliness.

In fact godly children can only be produced by godly parents who are modeling their walk with God and offering appropriate instruction as they go. Let’s start looking at Paul’s principles for training by modeling. Turn with me in the New Testament to 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 5. Paul is recounting how he saw these believers come to faith in Christ. Then he writes, “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.”

The Thessalonian believers came to faith in Christ in the midst of significant persecution. Despite this persecution, they received the Gospel with great joy. Paul attributes their joyous response to imitation of himself. He modeled a joyful response to the persecution he experienced. Luke tells us in Acts 17 that Paul was persecuted in Thessalonica and was run out of town by an angry mob after only four weeks of ministry. We see from this that

People learn by imitating behaviors and attitudes they see lived out in other people. (1 Thess 1:6) We learn most of what we know about living life through imitation. We see this easily during early childhood. My daughter imitates my facial expressions. My son imitates every movement I make. But this kind of learning continues even as adults. Do you want to see a good example of this? Just look at my outline in today’s worship folder. Have you ever seen an outline like this before? This is a Mike Andrus sermon outline, isn’t it? For 10 years, I have been sitting under Mike’s teaching. He has been the most consistent, biblical teacher I have had. I have learned to think through a sermon by imitating Mike. This is a scary realization, isn’t it? I have joined the Twelve Step recovery group Brad Harper founded to break myself of this dysfunctional behavior. Seriously, Mike is a wonderful model to follow in this regard. Today’s sermon outline reflects the fact that I have imitated what has been modeled for me.

Right now, our children are learning and imitating behaviors and attitudes they have seen lived out in us. Do we love people and use things, or do we love things and use people? Our children will imitate our values. Do we follow God’s priorities, or do we expect God to follow our priorities? Our children will imitate our faith. Is our prayer life a constant discipline, or is it just a mealtime ritual to ask God to bless our food to the nourishment of our bodies? Our children will imitate our prayers.

Look at what Paul says next in verse 7: “And so you became models to all the believers in Macadonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia your faith in God has become known everywhere.” After imitating Paul’s and Jesus’ example of joyous grace under fire, these believers become an example to other churches. They would never have been an example to others unless they had a model to imitate in the first place.

People who imitate good models become good models for others. (1 Thess. 1:79) What we model to our children will last through generations. Today in our homes girls are learning how to love their husband by watching their mother. Boys are learning to be fathers by watching their dads. They are learning ways to resolve conflict by watching us either talk it out, fight it out, or avoid it altogether. Someday our children will imitate us in these areas. They will sit in a pastor’s office for premarital counseling and bring with them a host of expectations about marriage and family which they learned from us. They will pass on our examples, both good and bad, to our grandchildren. Sobering, isn’t it? But there is hope.

Turn over two pages to 2 Thessalonians 3:6ff:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.

Paul made a decision at some point to intentionally live a certain way in the hopes that his example would be followed.

Parents must intentionally model a godly lifestyle for their children. (2 Thess 3:9, 1 Cor 4:16, 1 Cor 11:1, 1 Peter 5:13) One of my professors at Trinity said this to a class filled with future pastors, “You are an example. You have no choice in the matter. You can choose, though, what kind of example you will be.” That holds true for you as a parent as well. You can intentionally choose the kinds of things you want to model for your children.

Let me suggest that you sit down with your spouse, or by yourself if you are a single parent, and write out the godly character qualities, godly attitudes, and godly behaviors that you would like your children to have when they leave your home at age 21. Then intentionally seek to build these attitudes and behaviors into your own life and begin living them out before your children. Most important lessons are caught rather than taught. Your children will catch something from you. You can have control over what they catch.

When Paul wrote Timothy, a young pastor shepherding a church in Ephesus, he encouraged Timothy this way, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” This gives us our fourth principle on modeling.

Parents must set an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity. (Mal 2:15; 1 Tim 4:12) Last week I was having a little talk with my son about the tone and volume of his voice. I told him I didn’t like it when he yelled or used a disrespectful tone of voice, and I asked him to work on it. Then he said to me, “Dad, I don’t like it when you raise your voice.” Rebuked by a three year old! In my spirit, I wanted to justify my behavior and tell him that I needed to raise my voice in order to get his attention. But that wasn’t the point. He was asking, “How come I can’t raise my voice but you can raise yours?”

I was trying to instruct without modeling. Thankfully the Lord showed me my hypocrisy. So I thanked Matthew for telling me and then I told him I wanted to change. Then I asked him to help me. So we are working together on our voices. He helps me and I help him. He’s a lot better, I’m still struggling. As you make your list of qualities, attitudes, and behaviors, start with these five categories-speech, life, love, faith, purity. That covers a lot.

But modeling is not enough. Paul coaches Titus, another young pastor on the island of Crete, this way: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness.” (Titus 2:68a) Notice that Paul tells Titus to demonstrate with his life and then teach. His counsel to Timothy followed the same sequence.

Parents should follow up their example with integrity filled teaching. (Titus 2:7) Two extremes need to be avoided in the areas of modeling and teaching. The first extreme is instruction without modeling. This will work with younger children, but as soon as kids get to their teens, they will see it for what it is, hypocrisy. Teenagers are smart; they can smell a fake a mile away. One of the quickest ways to embitter your children toward you and God is to establish a rule that you don’t follow or that you occasionally change when it becomes inconvenient. The second extreme to avoid is modeling without instruction. This leads to confusion by putting the responsibility on our children to guess what the real motives behind our actions are. As children grow up they need patient instruction so that they understand the motivations and mindset behind the model they see.

One other caution is to be very careful how we use God’s Word. Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. But it is not useful for winning arguments. If we pull out a verse in the middle of a conflict with our children, even if we are right, we will lose because we are using the Word for our advantage, not their advantage. We should instruct with God’s Word to equip them for every good work, not to beat them.

These are the five principles I see Paul employing in discipling ungodly people toward godliness. One important fact I haven’t mentioned is that these principles are given in the context of people who have placed their faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. So Paul, Timothy and Titus are using these principles with people who have the Holy Spirit residing in their hearts. This gives them a distinct advantage. One of our elders, Heinz Bockle, has wisely observed that having the Holy Spirit in your children helps tremendously in parenting because the Holy Spirit works from the inside out. I encourage you to diligently pray for God to open your children’s hearts to their own sinfulness and to Christ so that by faith the Holy Spirit can come in and transform their hearts.

So what about those of us whose kids do not show signs of personal faith in Jesus? Thankfully for us Jesus was well acquainted with the problem. Jesus took ungodly disciples without the Holy Spirit and transformed them into godly leaders for His Kingdom.

Jesus’ relationship with His disciples models the training relationship that parents can have with their children.

Jesus prioritized his relationships with the twelve disciples. Jesus spent time with twelve men who were impulsive, loud, quick-tempered, slow learners, smelly and disobedient. He gave his priority time and effort to these few. He did not neglect his ministry to the masses but he deliberately gave those few disciples the greatest majority of his time over the length of his ministry.

Why did Jesus focus so much attention and spend so much time with so few? His ministry was relationally driven, not content driven. Jesus understood that it was in his presence that they could learn all they needed to know. The essence of Jesus’ training of the twelve was that they would learn simply by being around Him. Jesus was a living sermon. He was the curriculum. This kind of ministry takes a lot of time but it is highly effective.

Our kids need a relationship with us. We have to intentionally spend large amounts of time with them, not just quality amounts of time. We need to be available to them when they are ready to learn.

Jesus gave himself to the Father first, and then to the Twelve. The controlling principle in Jesus’ life was obedience to the will of God. So, often Jesus would get away by himself to be alone and to pray. The Twelve would eventually learn that to be godly, they would have to be sold out to God. After spending time with His Father, he gave himself completely to his disciples. He gave them his joy, his peace, his love. He denied himself comforts and pleasures for their sake. He accepted humiliation and poverty for their sake.

If we are not sold out to the Father, we will not raise children who are sold out to Jesus. If our faith is casual, then we cannot expect our children’s to be anything more. Remember what Malachi said earlier, “Guard yourself in your spirit,” that is, love God with all your heart, soul and strength and also love your spouse.

Jesus demonstrated attitudes, priorities and disciplines to the Twelve. In the short term this didn’t have a lot of payoff. The disciples were constantly failing at living out what Jesus demonstrated. Peter was the ultimate rebel when he denied Jesus three times. But Jesus’ model was quickly imitated once the Spirit came on the disciples after the resurrection.

Luke tells us in Acts 1:14 that after Jesus ascended into heaven, they all joined together constantly in prayer. How did they know to do this? Well, they had seen Jesus pray countless times as he healed the multitudes, as he feed the 5000, and as he blessed the children.

Immediately after the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples in Jerusalem, Peter explains to the crowd the meaning of the strange dialects they are hearing. In Acts 2:15 Luke records Peter’s message, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel . . .” He then quotes five verses from Joel chapter 2. Where did he learn to use the Scriptures like that? He had spent three years with Jesus. Over and over again, he would watch Jesus using the Scriptures to correct and rebuke the culture of his day, to build up the broken and the hurting, and to stand strong in the midst of temptation.

Throughout the book of Acts the disciples fan out over all the earth reaching out to all kinds of people, including Gentiles. How did they know to do that? They had seen Jesus reach out to all kinds of people sick people, poor people, untouchable people, grieving people, immoral people, forgotten people, short people and materialistic people. Jesus was in the people business. And they had learned the family business by watching the founder

We cannot control when God will open our kids’ hearts to the gospel, but we can still model for them what to do when the Spirit does come upon them.

Jesus instructed the Twelve in the context of real life. Most of Jesus’ instruction was done on the fly in the midst of real life situations. He did not try to create teaching environments. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells parents to impress the commands of God on their children. “Talk about them when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” There are many opportunities to teach children the precepts of God throughout the course of a day.

Jesus gave the Twelve controlled opportunities to fail. Jesus knew he would have to help his disciples move from being renters of the truth to owners of the truth. The way he did this was to give them opportunities to fail in controlled environments. He would give them things to do that would intentionally stretch them. Often they failed the test, but failure created a laboratory for learning.

One of the parents in our church was trying to decide last spring if she should let her young daughter go to Haiti with the youth group. She did let her go and she came back changed. The opportunity gave her daughter the chance to see God work in very personal ways. It is those kinds of experiences with God that will help a child move from renting her mother’s faith to owning it herself.

Jesus knew they would reproduce what they saw. He knew that the model he gave would last through the generations. The steps Jesus took with the disciples can be steps we take.

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The Master’s Mind Behind Marriage

Recently I purchased a piece of furniture from a catalog. When I opened the box, the first thing I noticed was that it was in about 30 pieces. I got a sick feeling in my stomach because I knew what I needed to look for next was the instructions. I dug those out and saw the phrase for which I have great contempt, “read directions completely before proceeding.” Being more on the intuitive side, I find instructions like this very limiting. My normal mode of operation is to plug in my glue gun, look at the pictures and “feel” my way through it, just gluing pieces together. This usually leads to all kinds of sin, because I begin to get really angry that it does not assemble the way I would have designed it.

My usual standby is to blame the manufacturer for hiring second rate engineers. Any engineer worth his salt would be able to design this stuff so an intuitive guy like me could just build it. This spring, Carol and I will have a garage sale where we are going to rid ourselves of all the items I have intuitively assembled. We are looking for a bigger garage where we can hold that sale.

This propensity on my part has cost me on a few occasions. How often has the warning, “read directions completely before proceeding” been ignored to your detriment? It is unfortunate that many people approach marriage the way I approach assembling furniture. The building of a marriage is infinitely more important than a piece of furniture, yet people often ignore the instructions provided by the Manufacturer. This morning, let us walk through the directions given by the Manufacturer of marriage.

Turn with me to Genesis, the first book in the Bible, beginning with the second chapter. We will discover why God created marriage, what he designed marriage to look like and what keeps marriage from being everything God designed. When Mike and I discussed how to approach this series of sermons on marriage, we recognized that there are almost an infinite number of books being written on the subject of marriage. We felt that the best service we could provide would be to clearly, simply and carefully teach what God has told us about marriage from his Word. Whether we are contemplating marriage or in the midst of it, we must align our understanding and practice of marriage to coincide with God’s.

I know that God’s word is the power of God for salvation. If God is powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead, He is able to apply salvation to my marriage and resurrect it, too. In order to understand God’s design for marriage, we have to go back to the beginning. The first three chapters of Genesis tell a dramatic story. Genesis 1 gives the account of a perfect creation, Genesis 2 lets us see the wild meeting of two people who become one, and Genesis 3 shows us what brings the disintegration of their relationship with God and with each other.

Where Genesis 1 gives us a complete narration of creation, Genesis 2 retells the story in order to fill in the details concerning human existence and specifically, marriage. Look at verse 24 of chapter 2. Moses writes, “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” The phrase “for this reason” tells us that what preceded verse 24 answers the question, “Why do men and women get married and why did God create men and women so that they desire to get married?” As we look back, we this important truth:

Marriage is created by God to meet our core need for companionship. (Gen. 2:1823)

In verses 414 of Genesis 2, God creates Adam, breathes life into him and then creates the garden where he will live. Let us pick up the story at verse 15.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden: but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'”

This is a remarkable statement by God. Six times in Genesis 1, after each major creation event, God looked at what he created and Moses tells us that “God saw that it was good.” But now in this expanded account of the sixth creation day, there was a moment when things were not good.

God declares the lack of human companionship “not good.” Human isolation, human aloneness, is the only thing that God declares not good in the whole of creation. God sees companionship as a core need. So what does God do? Does he make the suitable partner that He knows Adam needs? Not yet, look at verse 19:

“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.” (1920b)

Instead of making a partner, God puts Adam to work on a big zoology term project. God works by his side bringing animals of every species and kind. Adam studies them and gives them a name, cow, duck, horse, lama, tapir, condor, platypus . . . on and on he goes. Why do you think God does this while there is still something “not good” that needs to be addressed?

Look at the end of verse 20, “But for Adam, no suitable helper was found.” We already know this, Moses, you told us this already in verse 18, so what else is new? A lot is new. Between verses 18 and 20, Adam discovers for himself what God already knows. He is living in paradise where he has everything his heart could want–a dog named Lassie, a good job, and a sinless relationship with God. But Adam has also discovered a very important fact:

Abundance, work and a relationship with God are inadequate substitutes for human companionship. Now Adam appreciates what God appreciates and will appreciate the way God provides for his need. So in verse 21, God sets out to address Adam’s need for companionship:

“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man.'”

God creates a partner for Adam from his own flesh. Having come to appreciate his need, he wakes up from his sleep. Now Adam doesn’t say this in a church voice. There is a bit of excitement here. “Whoa man! This is good! Whooo Wheee! This isn’t a duck. Got any plans on Thursday?” He knows he is not alone. Isolation has given way to relationship and partnership.

A marriage partner, for most people, is God’s provision for aloneness. Now for those of you who are not married or who have the gift of singleness, there is a broader principle that applies to you. Aloneness and isolation are viewed as not good and companionship remains a core need. That is why you date; it is why you have special friends. God provides for your aloneness through multiple people now, rather than a lifetime partner. So until marriage, develop intimate relationships with people. Get beyond just having surface acquaintance with a few people. Develop close friendships with other adults, both single and married, to meet your needs for human companionship.

For those of you who are married or will be getting married shortly, God has provided for your aloneness primarily through your spouse. Your job, your ministry, your relationships are inadequate substitutes to meet the need you have for companionship.

Carol and I recently had a good heart to heart talk after the kids went to bed. We talked through some lingering issues that were keeping us isolated from one another. We talked for over an hour about many things. About 45 minutes into our conversation, I had a wonderful sense of satisfaction that what we were doing at that moment was it. Even though it was a difficult conversation, a tear-filled conversation, our relationship was more satisfying than even Kingdom work, more satisfying than anything I could ever imagine owning, and more satisfying than my relationship with my children. Companionship with Carol is it. That is my core human need.

Now that we know why God created marriage, what did God design marriage to look like?

Marriage is designed to be the most intimate of all human relationships. (2:2425)

In these verses, we can see God’s original design specifications for marriage. The first design specification is this:

The husband wife relationship is to be the primary human relationship in our life. This principle comes from the phrase, “a man will leave his father and mother.” The word “leave” is a very strong word that is translated “forsake” in other places. Intimacy in marriage cannot occur if parents hold equal or greater access to the heart than does the husband or wife. (Intimate Allies, p. 218). God intends that our greatest delight is to come from the opinion or desires of the person whom we marry, not from the parents of origin. In order for intimacy to have a chance, each spouse must choose to disconnect themselves from loyalty to their parent’s priorities, traditions, rules and influence. Then, after disconnecting, they need to reconnect with their parents as a husband and wife, instead of simply as a son or daughter.

Leaving is perhaps one of the hardest steps for most couples and it is a step where failure leads to many problems later in married life. Leaving doesn’t mean that we cut off communication with our parents. Nor does it presume that we can just wipe the slate of our past clean and start brand new with our spouse. But with honor and respect to our parents, couples must move away from them and from the past that defined who they were and what they did. Then they should relate to their parents as a new family.

Marriages run into trouble when the goals, rules for relating, and family priorities continue to be dictated by one or both families of origin. Some families are very difficult to leave. Through my counseling I have observed three types of parent- child relationships that are very difficult for married children to leave.

The first involves an insecure or overly controlling parent who uses guilt to get their married children to respond in ways that focus their child’s attention upon themselves. The married child finds himself expending tremendous energy meeting the emotional needs of the insecure parent. This energy is taken from the limited resources that are intended to be directed toward the needs of the spouse.

Married children have to decide which emotional needs of their parents they will try to meet so that power of guilt can be deflected. Then working with their spouse, they must develop clear boundaries and rules which they will follow in their relationship with their parents. If possible, they should discuss those boundaries with their parents and then live by them.

The second is an emotionally absent parent who never told their children that they were proud of them simply for being who they were. Having experienced a lack of affirmation from a very significant relationship, married children may continue to orient their priorities in order to gain approval and acceptance from their parents. Married children orient their careers, their parenting, even their decorating in hopes that maybe their mother or father will finally be impressed and say, “I’m proud of you!” The married child needs to leave this family by recognizing the underlying motivation and to accept that this need for approval may never be met by their parents. Then they must choose to seek and receive their significance from Jesus first and their spouse second. (Pastor Andrus will be focusing an entire message on this issue on March 3).

The third kind of relationship is an overly protective or overly indulgent parent. Both parents fail to change the emotional, financial and relational locks on their house after their child gets married. They often unknowingly continue to meet the emotional needs of their child that are to be met by the child’s spouse. When life get tough for their children, the parents make it too easy for them to return and receive praise, financial help, or inappropriate emotional support. The married child needs to leave this kind of family by choosing not to return and transferring their trust to their spouse. They need to do without the things their parents still provide.

Each of these are difficult families of origin. But our text teaches us that our responsibility is not to change our family of origin but to leave our family of origin. The key to making marriage work begins by courageously leaving the loyalties, priorities and roles of our family of origin as best we can. Your family of origin may not like it, they may not change, they may not know how to have a mature adult relationship with you. You cannot change your mother using guilt. You cannot make your dad tell you, “atta boy!” But the power of the Holy Spirit can help you change. You can choose to make your relationship with your spouse the primary relationship and you can choose to respond differently to your family of origin. Living this way honors your family and is honoring to God.

The uniting of a man and a woman in marriage creates a new unique family unit. God did not begin society with a nation. He did not begin with a corporation. He did not begin with the church. He started with the relationship between a man and a woman. I’ve officiated at a few weddings and attended a number of rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions. In almost every one, the father of the bride or the father of the groom will stand up and toast the couple and say something like this, “We are so happy for Bob and Julie on this special day. Alice and I are overjoyed to welcome a new daughter into our family.”

Now I realize that dads are not trying to make a theological statement with their toast. I know their words are motivated by love. I will probably say the same thing when my kids get married. But from a theological standpoint it is wrong. When two people get married, they are not joining their respective families. In God’s eyes they are leaving the families of their youth and coming together as a brand new family. Distinct. Separate. No longer under the authority of the parents. I would love to hear our fathers say at the weddings of their children, “Bob and Julie, we share your joy this day with you. Today, you are leaving our family. God had made you into a new one. Alice and I are just thrilled with the opportunities for our families to fellowship together and share life and support one another.”

I’ve taken some time on this issue because it is crucial for the steps that follow.

The husband/wife relationship is to be a permanent relationship. This principle is derived from what happens after men and women leave their families of origin. The text tells us that the man is “united to his wife.” In older versions, the word was translated “cleave,” meaning that two people are bonded or glued together. The union is so strong that it takes something extremely violent to dissolve it.

Marriage vows are vows of permanence. “I, Paul, take you, Carol, to be my wife from this day forward, for better or for worse, whether rich or poor, in sickness or in health. I vow to love and cherish you till death parts us.” I made a permanent commitment no matter what the circumstances.

To develop a permanent bond, a man and a woman will need to weave themselves together in their minds, in their hearts and in their bodies. They must develop their own stories, make their own songs, and be transformed by the same incidents. They are to be united in the greatest of triumphs and the most heart wrenching disappointments.

The spirit of our age is a spirit of temporary commitments and instant gratification. The spirit of our age demands that relationships be perfect, without any pain, any struggle, any work. If it doesn’t come quickly, if the relationship takes me away from my goals then I have the right to get out of it. The spirit of our age has led our society to enact laws that make divorce very easy. As a follower of Jesus, we need to listen to the Spirit of God not the spirit of our age.

I have spoken to a few people who told me they got a divorce simply because they didn’t get along or they married the wrong person. They just threw in the towel. It was easier to start over. They bought the lie put forth by the spirit of the age. They didn’t take the time to talk with anyone else to see that every couple struggles and some days are better than others and it takes work to break barriers that get built up. But the breaking of barriers brings great joy. If you think your marriage isn’t what you would like it to be, join the club, get in line, queue up behind me.

The husband/wife relationship is to be characterized by oneness. This principle comes from the phrase, “one flesh.” Oneness is the day-to-day unity a couple experiences as they live life together. They experience oneness emotionally, spiritually and physically.

To begin experiencing oneness in marriage, a couple needs to be in agreement in two ways. First, they must be in agreement with God’s will, plan and purpose for marriage. Together, they must desire to align their marriage with God’s plan and to seek to honor God through their love for one another. Second, on an ongoing basis, they must be in agreement with one another concerning the specific goals, purposes, and direction of their relationship. You need to agree in areas like career, parenting, finances, long term investments, relationship with each other’s parents, commitments to ministry, how leisure time is spent, and how conflicts are resolved. Making a unilateral decision concerning one of these areas without consulting your spouse and having them on board is one of the quickest ways to develop bitterness and slowly erode the oneness of your relationship. Oneness demands that two people communicate, listen, and ask questions on a continuous basis.

Imagine being in a three-legged race where you are united at the ankle with another person, but when the gun sounds you both head off in different directions believing you know the way to the finish line. What happens? You will either kill each other or the stronger of the two eventually will get to their finish line, dragging their companion behind them. Many marriages are like this. They lack oneness.

Oneness is not necessarily unanimity but it is unity. When Carol and I decided to spend the summer in Russia in 1994, I was much more sure about us doing this work then she was. It took us a couple of weeks to talk through all the issues involved for both of us to be on board. Carol did not feel as passionately about the ministry opportunity as I did. On the other hand, I was not as concerned about logistical issues as she was. But I would not have gone if there had not been oneness of heart that this was the right thing for us to do. Being an intuitive person, my natural response is, “trust me, things will work out OK.” I could have seen it as a lack of respect for my person when she initially raised some objections and I could have pulled out a submission verse and beat her over the head with it. But that wouldn’t be oneness. Instead, we talked through it until I was satisfied that we had oneness at the core, even though our passion about the ministry would not be identical.

The husband/wife relationship is to be a private kingdom of significance and security. This principle comes from verse 25 where we read that they “were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Marriage is an incredibly intimate affair. In marriage you cannot hide your flaws, the flaws of your past, the flaws of your bodies, or the flaws of your character–all of which can produce shame. They are all there for someone else to see. Marriage makes you very vulnerable. God’s intention is that marriage be a relationship where we can safely be transparent and vulnerable without fear of being put down for whom we are. He wants a relationship in which there is love and acceptance, where normally there would be shame.

One of the ways couples violate this design is by making mean spirited comments to their spouse that belittle, degrade or shame them. This kind of behavior is nothing less than exploitation. It is taking advantage of insider information and using it to their advantage to win an argument or to temporarily salve their insecurity by giving them a feeling of power. When this occurs inside the home, it is a repugnant distortion of God’s plan and creates great damage. When it occurs outside the home in a public context, it is even a greater distortion and significantly more damaging. Using intimate information for ridicule or shaming acts like Roundup on a person. It is a slow but very effective killer.

So far we have seen why God created marriage and what he created it to look like. When Moses puts the period at the end of chapter 25, the music begins to play because now everything is good. The man and the woman are both naked and unashamed. Fortunately, Moses didn’t put his pen down. Following closely after chapter 2 is, get this, chapter 3. The third question Genesis 13 answers is, what hinders God’s design for marriage? Why do we continue to experience isolation instead of oneness? Why do we continue to feel alone?

Marriage is corrupted and destroyed by sin. (3:111)

Genesis 3 begins with the serpent appearing on the scene. He twists the truth in order to deceive the unlearned Eve to disobey God’s command and eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So why does the serpent come now? Why does he come to the woman and the man and not some other part of God’s creation? These are good questions. There are also good answers:

Satan stands against the purposes of God in marriage. People are the creative high points of God’s creation. In Genesis 1, verses 2627, Moses reports, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Satan stands against marriage because man and woman are like no other creatures on earth. We alone bear the image of God. Dogs don’t. Trees don’t. The stars don’t. They declare God’s glory but they do not reflect it in their character and their being the way you and I do. Each of us reflects, though sometimes ever so faintly, the character and nature of God in our being.

Satan picks out the man and the woman because they alone bear God’s image. And he cannot stand it. He is set against God and seeks to destroy the image of God from the face of the earth. If Satan can destroy a marriage, he knows he destroys two people who bear the image of God for the price of one. And possibly, if there are some kids, he may be able to destroy a few others who bear the image of God.

Marriage is lived on the battlefield, friends, not merely in the bedroom. Satan recognizes the image of God in your spouse and in you. Unfortunately, many spouses fail to recognize what Satan sees. Satan is set on destroying the image of God. Are you playing into his hands?

Carol and I are vastly different. She is detailed and ordered. I am “big picture” and intuitive. At times, these differences create great tension in our home. We could let these differences erode the permanence and oneness of our marriage or we can recognize that these qualities are reflections of God’s character and learn to work through the differences respectfully. Let me encourage you to make a list of the qualities you see in your spouse that reflect the character and nature of God. Then thank God for those qualities and think about them more than you think about the deficiencies you see.

Personal sin is the greatest enemy in marriage. One of my Trinity professors eloquently said, “Sin wrecks everything.” He’s right. The serpent goes after Adam and Eve to disobey God, but look at the context in which this occurs, verse 6 of chapter 3, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Who is at fault here? Sin takes place while they are together. They are still on their honeymoon. They can’t get enough of each other. The serpent deceives Eve and she takes some fruit and lovingly offers some to her spouse. Who is at fault? Eve? Well, Adam is right next to her. They are one flesh.

Then look what happens in verse 11 where God addresses Adam. “And [God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?'” In other words, “Did you disobey me, Adam?” What should his response be? “Yes.” Look at what he says instead. “The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.'” In other words, “it’s not my fault. It is not my character that is out of whack!”

Adam needed to hear last week’s message, “It’s character, Adam!” Moses continues, “The Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?'” In other words, “Did you disobey me, Eve?” What should her response be? Look at what she says. “The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me and I ate.'” Eve needed to hear last week’s message, too! “It’s character, Eve!”

What are they doing? They are blaming everyone but themselves. Like five year olds, they point the finger somewhere else rather than at their own hearts. Rather than working toward oneness by confessing and accepting responsibility, they isolate themselves from one another and blame the other guy. God holds each of them accountable and they suffer the consequences for their disobedience against God.

Everett Worthington, a counselor and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University has written:

“The root cause of systemic marital discord is sin and selfishness . . . Sin and selfishness create me-centered communication, in which the partners do not think of each other’s needs; each attempts to manipulate the partner to meet his or her own needs. Sin and selfishness frustrate conflict resolution because they establish a win-lose mentality. . . Sin and selfishness whisper accusations against the partner and prime the ear to listen to and believe the accusations. At the center of all these relationship difficulties is an attitude of self-righteous self-justification that proclaims, ‘I’m right. My partner is wrong. My partner is to blame.’ Finally sin and selfishness erode commitment.” (Worthington, p. 30)

There is last week’s message again. It’s character, Jim. It’s character, Mike. It’s character, Paul. Listen to the tape again if you have forgotten. But Worthington goes on and writes, “At the center of every successful marriage is each spouse’s capacity and willingness to confess his or her own inadequacies and to ask forgiveness.” (p. 60) This is the hope for us.

Confession and forgiveness are the steps toward healing. Every marriage has enough sin to go around. But renewal in marriage takes place when we stop blaming someone else, own up to our sin, and take responsibility for it ourselves. We are each experts at our spouse’s sin, as Adam and Eve illustrate. But healing begins when we examine ourselves and recognize the shortcomings in our own character that have hurt our spouse and confess them to our spouse. Confession is one’s sincere recognition of his or her part in marital tensions. Confession is an abandonment of self-centeredness and self-righteousness and humble acceptance of personal responsibility. Confession opens the floodgates that bring healing.

Forgiveness is not forgetting the sin against us. Rather, it is an attitude and a decision to not hold our spouse’s actions against them anymore. Forgiveness breaks down the dam that holds back healing and replaces bitterness and resentment with freedom and love.

I encourage my premarital couples to practice the verbalization of confession and forgiveness. I tell them to get in the habit of saying, “I’m sorry I’ve sinned against you by. . . .” and returning the confession with a verbal expression of forgiveness, “I’ve been hurt, but I forgive you and I won’t hold it against you.”

Again Worthington has written, “Sincere confession and forgiveness and assurance of forgiveness are the keys that open the gates to other aspects of healthy marriage closeness, communication, conflict resolution . . . and these in turn lead to contentment, which strengthens commitment.”

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It’s Character, Stupid!

In the 1992 presidential election Bill Clinton’s campaign had a slogan that every campaign employee, every political operative, every ward boss, every media consultant was constantly challenged with this slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid!” It hung on the walls of the campaign headquarters, it was stamped on letters to state committees, it was plastered on the limos and airplanes and buses used to haul the candidate and his entourage around.

What the slogan was designed to convey was the conviction of those at the top that the election would be won or lost on economic issues alone. Nothing else really mattered and nothing else was going to be allowed to distract the campaign–not ideology, not foreign affairs, not family values, not even bimbo eruptions (as Rush Limbaugh so delicately puts it)–nothing but the economy. Since there was a slight recession in George Bush’s last year, along with a rising unemployment rate, the decision was made to exploit the people’s fears of job security and hope they would vote their pocketbook. As we all know, it worked.

This morning I want to borrow the form, though not the substance, of Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan as my theme in this, the first of a series of messages on the Christian home. During this series we are going to deal with such questions as:

Why Did God Institute Marriage?

Why Does God Hate Divorce?

How Does a Man really Love His Wife?

How Does a Wife Really Respect Her Husband?

How can I Meet the Two most Basic Human Needs of My Spouse and Children?

But this morning I want to ask and answer the simple question, “What is the single most important key to having a great marriage, a great relationship with your kids, and a godly family.” I am convinced that the secret to a great family life is not the dozens of books on marriage in your Christian book store, it’s not professional counseling, even Christian counseling, it’s not seminars, it’s not technique, it’s not methodology, it’s not Promise-Keepers’ conventions, it’s character–Christ-like character. Maybe this slogan needs to go up on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror or the dashboard of the car, only substituting your name in place of Clinton’s term. It’s Character, Charlie! It’s Character, Tracey! It’s Character, Mike!

There’s no substitute for character. If you don’t have it you will never meet the needs and aspirations of your spouse, you will never raise a godly seed, you will never even find fulfillment in your own life. But if you do have it, you will find ways to work on and resolve the idiosyncrasies and personality quirks that try even the best of marriages.

I want to speak this morning on the most important passage in the Bible on marriage and family. And what is that? You might think it would be Gen. 1,2, Eph. 5, or I Peter 3, but while those are all foundational to understanding God’s blueprint for the Christian home, I am convinced that the most important passage on marriage and family is probably Gal. 5:22,23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” But let’s read it in context, beginning in Gal. 5:13:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love. {14} The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” {15} If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

{16} So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. {17} For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. {18} But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. {19}

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; {20} idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension’s, factions {21} and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. {22} But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23} gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the fifteen acts of the sinful nature mentioned in verses 19-21 include virtually all of the leading causes of divorce in our country. Even more important, these behaviors are absolutely contrary to the law of God and those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In contrast, however, there are some behaviors that are not against God’s law or anyone else’s law, for that matter. They are the characteristics and personality traits that make one attractive, productive, loveable, and pleasing to God. I am going to concentrate just on verses 22 and 23 this morning. Even that is an assignment much too large for the time we have available. As a matter of fact when Brad and I preached through Galatians in 1987 we spent three weeks just on these two verses. What I wish to do today is to look at these character traits from the standpoint of family life.

Now no doubt someone is anxious to point out to me that marriage is mentioned nowhere here in Galatians 5. I understand that. Gal. 5 is bigger than marriage; it speaks of all human relationships. There is no relationship between two human beings that is not damaged by the desires of the sinful nature or that is not enhanced by the fruit of the Spirit. None. The reason I have decided to preach from this text today is that I want us to see that a happy home is, more than anything else, the result of the character of Christ being formed in us.

Before we begin we must be reminded again that these qualities are called fruit. Fruit is not something made, manufactured or engineered. It is not the invention of a genius, or the product of sophisticated technology, or even the result of hard work. Fruit is the result of a long organic and living process–in this case a process that is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Furthermore, if these traits are the fruit of the Spirit, then I would assume the only people who can exhibit these characteristics in their true form are those indwelt by God’s Spirit.

Oh, there are a lot of unbelievers and even a few carnal Christians out there who appear to be loving and patient and kind and self-controlled, but they remind me of the wax fruit you can buy in some of your better gift shops. Frankly some of it looks pretty good; in fact, from a distance you can’t tell it from the real thing. But when the heat is turned up, it melts. It’s only the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit in the lives of true believers that can stand up to the test over the long haul.

The Holy Spirit indwells every true believer. That’s a Scripturally demonstrable fact. But the Holy Spirit does not have control over every believer’s life. That’s an experientially demonstrable fact. The true test of how much control the Holy Spirit has over our lives is seen principally in whether the fruit of the Spirit is clearly in evidence in our daily living, especially in the home.

You see, it is much easier to exhibit these characteristics with strangers than with those who know us. It is easier to exhibit them at church, where we spend a few hours a week, than it is at school or at the office where we spend dozens of hours. The hardest place to exhibit them is in the home. So that’s the place where our examination should take place to see if love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest of these qualities are really present in our lives. Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-19, “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce good fruit.”

I think it is not at all foreign to this text to suggest the following observation: a person of good character cannot produce a rotten marriage, while a person of rotten character cannot produce a good marriage.

Now let’s play the role of fruit inspectors this morning, not to inspect other people’s lives, but rather to inspect our own in relationship to what we see here in these verses.

Love

There is no more important word for marriage and family than this one. So important is it that we will be devoting an entire message to it in a few weeks. But this morning I want to make a few general observations. As many of you know, there are a number of different words in the Greek language that are all translated “love” in our English Bibles. There is a love that is sensual in nature, there is a brotherly love, there is family love. But the word used here is the term agape. It not an emotional love; it is a love of the will, it is love in action. It is a love which causes a person to take the attitude, “I will do what is best for my spouse, no matter what I get in return.” Imagine how that kind of attitude could revolutionize a marriage! But do you know how rare that is in some homes?

Recently I came across a story that says it better than I can. A man named Tom Anderson wrote it of himself.

I made a vow to myself on the drive down to the vacation beach cottage. For two weeks I would try to be a loving husband and father. Totally loving. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The idea had come to me as I listened to a commentator on my car’s tape player. He was quoting a biblical passage about husbands being thoughtful of their wives. Then he went on to say, ‘Love is an act of the will. A person can choose to love.’ To myself, I had to admit that I had been a selfish husband–that our love had been dulled by my own insensitivity. In petty ways, really: chiding Evelyn for her tardiness; insisting on the TV channel I wanted to watch; throwing out day-old newspapers before Evelyn had a chance to read them. Well, for two weeks all that would change.

And it did. Right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, “That new yellow sweater looks great on you.”

“Oh, Tom, you noticed,” she said, surprised and pleased. And maybe a little shocked.

After the long drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested a walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, Evelyn’s been alone here with the kids all week and now she wants to be alone with me. We walked on the beach while the children flew their kites.

So it went. Two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I am a director; a visit to the shell museum, though I usually hate museums; holding my tongue while Evelyn’s getting ready made us late for a dinner date. Relaxed and happy, that’s how the whole vacation passed. I made a new vow to keep on remembering to choose love.

There was one thing that went wrong with my experiment, however. On the last night at our cottage, preparing for bed, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression.

“ What’s the matter?” I asked her.

“ Tom,” she said, in a voice filled with distress, “do you know something I don’t?”

“ What do you mean?”

“ Well . . . that checkup I had several weeks ago . . . our doctor . . . did he tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me . . . am I dying?”

It took a moment for it all to sink in. Then I burst out laughing.

“ No, honey,” I said, wrapping her in my arms, “you’re not dying; I’m just starting to live! ”

Now my impression is that this man’s marriage was not exactly on the rocks; it just needed a tune-up. But it’s pretty sad when exhibiting one of the fruit of the Spirit for just two weeks would cause one’s spouse to think she’s dying. But frankly, friends, I suspect many of us might get a similar response.

I probably shouldn’t share this, but this little story reminded me of an embarrassing situation in my own family. I haven’t spent a lot of money on flowers in my life, but I have frequently brought home flowers from funerals I performed. You know, there’s umpteen flower arrangements and after the funeral the family says, “Pastor, if you know anyone who might enjoy these flowers, feel free to take them.” So I would take some to the hospital, some to shut-ins, and some I would bring home. Well, one day I stopped at Dierberg’s on my way home and bought my wife some flowers. It wasn’t for her birthday or Valentine’s or anything–just because I loved her. As I walked in and handed her the flowers she asked me in a rather concerned voice, “Who died?” Well, you can’t win ‘em all.

As I said, we’re going to return to the topic of love in a few weeks, so allow me to go on to the second in our cluster of fruit.

Joy

Joy is underrated as a godly characteristic in the home. As I read books on Christian marriage I find a lot of attention given to love, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, but this one is given short shrift. But the fact of the matter is that joy sets the tone for a household, providing an atmosphere where problems can be solved and the future looks bright. On the other hand, one of the quickest ways to destroy a marriage is by means of a negative, pessimistic, and complaining spirit.

The Psalmist says, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” You say, “But you don’t know the circumstances I live with.” Or “You don’t know my wife or my husband.” True, I don’t, but the Lord does, and He indicates that joy doesn’t have anything to do with circumstances. True joy is a delight in life that comes from the knowledge that we belong to God and that no matter what situation we are in, He is in total control. Joy has its source in the Holy Spirit through a vital relationship with Jesus, and it is not subject to circumstances! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice,” and he wrote that from a Roman dungeon.

Is there laughter in your home? Is there a light-hearted spirit? Can you play practical jokes on one another without taking offense? Is there singing? Joy is something the Holy Spirit would like to bring into your home. Third, we come to peace.

Peace

The most important peace attainable in this world is, of course, peace with God. Man is naturally at enmity with God, but God Himself declared a truce when He allowed His one and only Son to go to the Cross as a common criminal to die for the sins of mankind. We can have peace with God when we lay down our arms and put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Peace with God enables us to enjoy the peace of God, which is the quiet confidence that God can be trusted with anything and everything we face.

The peace of God, in turn, allows us to be at peace with one another. Jesus broke down the dividing walls between Jew and Gentile, between slave and free, even between men and women. The Holy Spirit enables two people with different backgrounds, different desires, different ideas, and different goals to live in harmony with one another. If a battle is going on in your home, it’s not because men are inherently impossible to live with or because women are impossible–it’s because sin has violated the peace God has arranged.

But what does peace in the home look like? First of all, it involves cessation of open warfare. It means that husbands and wives and parents and children make a decision to solve their conflicts by communication and compromise and forgiveness and, if necessary, counseling, rather than by physical violence or verbal abuse. But cessation of open conflict is not the only kind of peace God wants for us in our homes. We have that kind of peace in Bosnia today, but none of us would want to go there, and we surely wouldn’t want to model our homes after the situation there.

A second kind of peace is like the peace of a stagnant pool. In this kind of home no one’s fighting because no one cares. Husband and wife are living in the same house but not engaging one another. Conflict is dealt with, not by screaming or hitting, but with the old silent treatment.

The kind of peace God wants for our homes is different from either a truce or a stagnant pool; it is the refreshing kind of peace one experiences when one goes to his favorite vacation spot and unwinds. For me it’s Beaver Lake in NW Arkansas, where my parents live, or Door County, WI, where we have spent a week of vacation each of the last three summers. I can go to either of these places and completely relax. Walking the shoreline, soaking up the sunshine, eating Swedish pancakes at Al Johnson’s restaurant with the goats on the roof, or Norwegian lefsa hot out of mom’s oven. That’s peace.

By God’s grace our homes can be like that. In fact, I enjoy that kind of peace with my wife. We don’t fight. We don’t yell at each other. We don’t ignore one another. We’re friends. And my home is a refuge from the sometimes difficult and demanding issues that I face at work.

Now let’s be honest. I have a son who turns 13 this year, so the peace I’m talking about is not absolute; it does get disturbed from time to time. But I’ll tell you this; if my wife and I are at peace with one another it makes any other disturbance a lot easier to handle.

Now the fourth fruit on this cluster is patience.

Patience

There are two principal NT terms for patience, one speaking of patience under circumstances, and the other addressing the matter of patience with people. The word for patience under circumstances is a Greek compound made up of two words, meaning “to remain under.” Sometimes God calls us to remain under a pile for a while, without giving up. Patience with circumstances is not easy and the heavier the circumstances, the harder it is to exercise patience. But the second kind of patience is even harder to exercise, and that’s patience with people. And it is patience with people that is listed here in Gal. 5 as a fruit of the Spirit.

For a definition of this term I think Reader’s Digest came up with as good a one as I have seen: “Patience is the ability to count down before we blast off.” Losing patience is a childish characteristic, but it’s amazing how many adults do it regularly, especially in the home. No doubt there are dozens of things that try your patience with your spouse–things you have mentioned a hundred times but they keep on happening–like moving your keys from the table where you put them, like taking the towels out of the bathroom to wash them without replacing them, so when you come out of the shower there’s not a towel in sight, like turning up the thermostat instead of putting on more clothes, like failing to keep hand soap at the kitchen sink. (My wife’s teaching S.S. this hour, so I can get by with this).

Now stop and think about this list or your list for a moment. How many of the things we lose patience over are really earth-shattering? Not many. Strangely, I think most of us probably handle the earth-shattering things better than the little things. God wants us to have patience with people in the little things. (But those towels really drive me nuts!)

We’re going to consider the next two pieces of fruit together because they are so similar.

Kindness and goodness

Friends, tell me, who would you rather have as a neighbor–a brilliant surgeon, a famous athlete, a great movie star, or someone who is just ordinary in every way except he is kind? It’s not even a contest, is it? The same could be asked about whom you’d like to be married to, couldn’t it? Simple kindness turn an ordinary person into a saint. Perhaps more importantly, simple kindnesses are contagious. Someone has said, “One of the most difficult things to give away is kindness, for it is almost always returned.” That’s why, of all the fruit of the Spirit, kindness and goodness may be the most effective instruments of healing for a troubled marriage. I am convinced that there are very few people so hard of heart that they can resist a persistent barrage of kindness for any length of time.

Kindness is closely related to forgiveness. Eph. 4:32 says, “Be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.” One of the kindest things you can do for another person is to forgive him. And if you refuse to forgive the one who has wronged you, any kindnesses you do will seem empty and hollow. If a wife is holding angry feelings against her husband, or vice versa, the little kind things that make a house a home are nothing but hypocritical gestures if forgiveness does not come first. The sixth fruit is

Faithfulness

Faithfulness is loyalty to long-term commitments based on invisible values rather than immediate and tangible self-interests. Faithfulness and marriage should be synonymous terms, but sadly they often are not . The fabric of many marriages has been damaged by a one-night stand or a clandestine love affair, or even a series of such affairs. Do you know how serious this is in God’s eyes? The Scriptures tell us that God hates divorce. It is contrary to everything He planned for the epitome of His creative power, namely mankind. Yet, unfaithfulness in marriage is so heinous to Him that He grants permission to the one who is a victim of sexual unfaithfulness to get a divorce. He hates divorce, but He hates unfaithfulness even more.

It’s important, however, that we come to understand that faithfulness in a marriage is more than abstaining from adultery. It is more than a negative concept, more than what we haven’t done. Faithfulness means we are committed to being there for our spouse–body, soul, and spirit. By that definition there are probably some people who have made a tragic mistake in a moment of passion, but, having repented, actually fill the bill of faithfulness better than many spouses who have never climbed into the wrong bed.

Gentleness

Men, I think this may be the sweetest piece of fruit in this entire cluster to most of our wives, but unfortunately it is also very rare. It is not in most men’s nature to be gentle, and not a few women come up short here as well. When I think of gentleness I cannot help but go back to a letter I came across years ago, written by Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, the Bible scholar I often mentioned in our series on Romans. Dr. Barnhouse was widowed in 1944, and then a decade later he met Margaret, to whom he became engaged. He wrote this letter to himself, a few excerpts from which I would like to read:

Memo from D.G.B. to D.G.B. about Marge:

In just thirty days you are due to marry Marge. My boy, you have hit the JACKPOT, and you are in the position of a man who has never had money and is suddenly coming into a brace of oil wells. Or of a spinster who has just inherited her sister’s nine children. Or of a bull who is taking title to a china shop. In other words, you have a very valuable property with great potential that must be handled with extreme care. So stop and assess the situation.

The Bible says a husband is to love his wife. There will be no difficulty here. You love her all right, and with a love that scares you because it is so different. You loved and married before, but it was not a love that made you want to think of D.G.B. in second place while this distinctly is. The first was selfish. You were going someplace and nothing should get in the way. Now you have been someplace and you don’t want to travel alone anymore. And it is rather wonderful and a little frightening to have a love that does all this to you at your age . . . . This, then is something that must be watched, protected, safeguarded. Bull, watch out for that china as you walk in the aisles.

I think it would please the Lord if a little topsoil were taken off and the bulb allowed to flower . . . . Watch your step lest Marge become a yes-woman. Delight when she says no in a good cause. Learn to listen when her spiritual perception catches something that is even slightly off-key.

Watch the growth of her feathers. She has flown for many years with wings clipped. . . . Encourage her to soar. You know that she has great capacities and will be hesitant because of past restraints. She probably doesn’t realize the heights of her possibilities. It will be up to you to lead her gently to greater and greater heights.

Now the modern women’s movement would undoubtedly consider the whole tone of this letter to be condescending, perhaps even chauvinistic. There’s nothing they hate more than the perception that a woman needs to be treated with any special deference by a man. But 99% of the women I know would give their right arm for a husband who saw gentleness as a top spiritual priority and practiced it.

Children, too, need to be treated with gentleness. Their spirits are so delicate, so easily bruised, and great damage can be done to their futures when father or mother do not understand gentleness.

Now the last piece of fruit is self-control.

Self-control

Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” Paul adds in I Cor. 9:25, “Everyone who competes in athletic competition exercises self-control in all things. Athletes do it to receive a perishable wreath; but we an imperishable one.”

What is self-control? It is the healthy regulation of our desires and appetites, avoiding harmful excesses. It is needed because we are bingers by nature. Some people binge on food, others on sleep, others on work, and others still on TV or golf. We need self-control of our bodies, self-control of our minds, and self-control of the emotions. The latter may be the most important in respect to our homes. Some of the emotions that need control are anger, resentment, self-pity, and bitterness. Solomon warned, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” When one allows his emotions to control his life, rather than exercising control over his emotions, the springs of life are polluted and great problems result.

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