Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Civil Law

When we hear the word outlaw, we may hear the chords of The Clash singing, "I Fought the Law."  The dictionary defines "outlaw" with, "a person who has broken the law, especially one who remains at large or is a fugitive."  However, this is not the historical meaning of this word.  Historically, this word meant, "a person deprived of the benefit and protection of the law."  In this ancient meaning, Christianity began as an outlaw and its history has kept an outlaw position.

Christianity began as an outlaw.  We needn't go much into the book of Acts to see the outlaw nature of the church.  Acts 4 contains the trial of Peter and John before the Jewish authorities.  The apostles are arrested, imprisoned, and tried in the very next chapter. There, Peter make his famous statement, "We must obey God rather than man." (5:29)  In chapters 6-7, Stephen is arrested, tried, and executed.  Chapter 8 begins with the persecution of Saul that continues until his conversion in the next chapter.  James is executed and Peter arrested in chapter 12.  Saul becomes Paul and faces legal persecution in such towns as Damascus, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Ephesus.  In Jerusalem, he is arrested and sent to Caesarea and then Rome.

During the apostolic period and the following generation, Christianity became a true outlaw religion.  To the Roman authorities, Christianity originated as a jewish sect.  Because Judaism was an accepted religion, Christian enjoyed its protected status.  As Rome recognized Christianity's distinct status, many officials saw it as an outlaw religion, not an illegal religion as such, but one that did not enjoy protected status.  The early apologists wrote to the civil magistrates to convince them to permit Christianity based on its own merits.  This condition continued until the Edict of Milan (AD 313).

Christianity did not lose its outlaw footing being accepted by Rome.  That character stayed even into the medieval age, as demonstrated by the character of the reformers.  Famously, Martin Luther was declared an outlaw by the emperor at the Diet of Worms.  He was not to be protected by the law.

The church has always had a tenuous connection to the civil law.  After the exile and fall of the theocratic monarchy of David's dynasty, the people of God have lived as those whose civil obedience exists under a law that is largely disconnected from Scripture.  Even in the Confession, we are reminded that the civil law of Moses only applies in areas of general equity (whatever that is). (WCF 19.4)

As we think about the Christian's relationship to the civil law, it is important to understand what law we mean.  We do not mean the civil law of Moses described in WCF 19.4.  We do not mean the civil use of the law described by Calvin.  We mean the Christian's relationship to the law as laid down by the civil magistrate.  For this, we begin by reiterating the obedience we described in the last lesson.  We are to obey the law of the civil magistrate as far as our duty to Christ will allow.  He has ordered us to obey, yet He remains the ultimate authority.

Here, we touch on two topics that arise especially in democratic societies, but also exist in other types of government as well.  The first we find in I Corinthians 6.  Paul begins this chapter with a warning to the church about what we may presume was a common occurrence, a habit into which the church had fallen in their use of the civil law.
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?  If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.  I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?  But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.  Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?  Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. (I Corinthians 6:1-8)
Paul exhibits some raw emotion in this passage.  We read him that this entire sequence of events bothers him excessively.  He begins at the end, with the taking of the matter to a judge outside the church.  The members of the church were using the civil law to deal with their problems.  In one sense, Paul would agree that this is part of the duty of the civil magistrate. (Ro. 13:3-4)  The problem is that it is the people of God who go to the world to find justice and not within the church.  If the people of God will judge angels, is there no one in the church who can settle these matters?  Paul goes back to the original problem.  Why can't the people of God resolve their problems among themselves without involving others.  If you are wronged, accept it. (6:7)  If you are wronging others, stop. (6:8)

Paul continues with a description of the world, the judges to whom these Christians go to resolve their problems.  Paul paints this unflattering picture to remind the church of the character of the people upon whom they rely for the solutions to their disputes.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
This reminds the church of their different morality and spirituality that comes from God.  Why would they, knowing who they were, rely upon these people.  Have they no respect for the work of Jesus upon them?

The next verse reminds the church that they operate by a different law. "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." (I Cor. 6:12)  In the following verses, Paul will flesh out this reality.  The civil law, the morality of the world, does not define the morality of the Christian.  You can do something legal that is not moral.  For the Christian, the only illegal morality is that which is clearly required of God in His word.  However, we cannot accept that our general duty to the civil magistrate fulfills all our duty to God.  We follow a morality that the world does not.  Even if the world legalizes fornication (6:18), it does not make it moral for a Christian to practice.

The relationship Paul describes has a number of applications.  The first few are the most obvious.  Christians ought not use the civil magistrate to resolve disputes between themselves.  We are different with a different morality from the world.  We must obey Christ and the law of God written and revealed in Scripture.

This does not mean that the civil law and the courts are closed to Christians.  Nothing prevents the Christian from using the courts to obtain justice from those outside the jurisdiction of the church.  (While not on point, something of the parable of the unjust judge seems appropriate here. Luke 18:1-5)  The law exists for our good.  God gave the civil magistrate to protect us and administer justice.  It is not wrong for the Christian to use the court.  It is wrong for the Christian to worship the court, to rely upon it rather than God to bring about justice.  Human judges get things wrong; they make poor and unjust judgments.  Ultimate justice awaits in heaven.

In democratic societies, the citizens participate in the operation of the civil magistrate.  This gives us the ability to consider the nature of the civil law as what it should be.  Christians who God calls to serve as civil magistrates ought to consider this in their deliberations.  What should the civil law be as a Christian?  For this question, two competing theories have emerged: two kingdoms and theonomy.  For the purpose of this discussion, we cannot indulge in an in-depth examination of these theories.  In practical terms, one argues that the civil law ought to arise out of natural law, the law that appears in nature.  The other argues that the civil law ought to arise out of Scripture.  I have no real desire to delve into the niceties of obscure biblical speculation.  I will confess that I have no good experience with two kingdoms exegesis of particular portions of Scripture.  I also confess that extreme theonomy also exhibits poor exegesis.  In the end, one must confess that the content of the natural law must be seen as identical to the moral law.  Christian natural law theory argues that the law of God is written in creation as part of general revelation.  Since general revelation and special revelation (Scripture) cannot differ, originating from the same source (God), the difference between two kingdoms and theonomy ought not seem that pronounced.  I suggest theonomy may have the upper hand for one reason I find profoundly pointed.  Paul reminds us in Romans 1 of the habit of humanity. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."  Paul tells us that sinful humanity surpasses the truth in unrighteousness.  To expect that sinful humanity, surpassing the truth of general revelation, will be able to identify accurately the natural law, seems to me to be an exercise in absurdity.

Christianity remains an outlaw.  We follow a law that arises from Scripture.  As outlaws, we live in obedience to the law.  Our ultimate authority commands us to do so.  Even so, we must also live above the law, above the morality of a sinful world.  This is the way we live Christian in an unchristian world.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Of the Civil Magistrate

Christianity has a turbulent history with the church's relationship to the civil magistrate.  The apostolic period felt the sting of persecution.  Constantine normalized relations with the church leading to an uneasy cooperation between church and emperor. Later caesars returned to persecution.  During the medieval period, Christendom placed the pope as supreme over the king for many nations.  He sent their armies to the crusades.  The reformation broke the Roman hegemony and led to the democratization of Christian belief.  The inquisition used violence to halt the spread of protestantism.  In England, the denomination of the king led to the persecution of other denominations.  All this led to the flow of refugees to the new world seeking religious freedom.

One of the oddest anecdotes in the history of the United States involves how our conception of religious liberty came to be understood.  The Constitution originally did not include a clause ensuring religious freedom.  The First Amendment promised that congress could make no law regarding an establishment of religion.  It wasn't until the twentieth century that the Supreme Court questioned the force of this statement.  They decided to take a passage out of a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association.  In it, he promised that the First Amendment had erected a wall of separation between church and state.  This phrase was not Jefferson's invention.  He borrowed it from a basic tenet of the anabaptists from the radical reformation, those who believed that the reformation of Calvin and Luther had not gone far enough away from Rome.  Because of their understanding of the connection between Rome and the state, they saw the state as part of the world from which they were to be separate.  Thus, a deist used words he may not have understood to endorse an amendment to a denomination he may not have understood, and the Supreme Court thought this defined the First Amendment.

The evangelical church in the United States spent the latter half of the twentieth century enraged by The Supreme Court's decisions evicting the church from the public square.  This increasing preoccupation with government followed a similar trend within the wider population.  More than ever, people in the United States believe the solution to their problems rests in the federal government.  It has become our national god.

Again, the First Commandment forces us to reckon with our own attitude toward the civil magistrate.  We are not to be those who look to Washington, DC for solutions to spiritual problems.  Our safety, peace, joy, and prosperity cannot depend on government but in God alone.

Again, the Fifth Commandment comes into play as God commands us to submit to the dictates of the civil magistrate.  Paul writes the following to the church in Rome.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.  For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.  (Romans 13:1-7)
Before we engage with this statement, we must remember that the Roman government at this time could not be called favorable to Christianity.  Estimates at dating this letter put it around AD 57, early in the reign of Nero, the one who would begin using Christians to light his garden.

This general rule of submission revolves around the concept that God ordains the authorities over us.  This does not give them, as earlier Christians maintained, divine right.  It does not make them infallible in their ordinances.  God may choose to give us wicked authorities.  Nevertheless, those who resist authority needlessly are resisting God.  Rebellion against lawful government is rebellion against God.

Paul reminds us that the purpose of government is the terrorize the wicked, those who do evil.  He is responsible to punish those who do wrong.  This means we ought to obey them, not only because they are God's ministers, but also because they rightly punish the wicked.  Government promotes our safety by their judgment of evil doers.

It takes resources to do this work, therefor God requires us to support the work of the civil magistrate.  Paul concludes with a general reminder that we are responsible to act appropriately to every one according to their position.

Paul gives us a very limited view of the civil magistrate from the Christian perspective.  God ordains government to protect people.  He does this especially for the church.  The church supports the government in this work.

Peter also instructs us in our relationship to the government.
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.  For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.  Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.  (I Peter 2:13-17)
Peter instructs the church to consider ever ordinance of government to be lawful, to which we are to submit.  Again, he notes their primary purpose to punish evildoers and support the obedient.  He adds to this the testimony the church bears to the world.  He reminds us that the church needs to lead in obedience, not in rebellion.  The civil magistrate should see our obedience as positive character to attract others to Christ.  Those who would condemn the church for insurrection should find no evidence for their vile calumny.

Nevertheless, Peter would be the first to admit that this submission has its limits.  We are always fundamentally servants of God.  Peter himself said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)  God commands us to obey government.  He always remain the ultimate one to whom we submit.

In practical terms, the general rule is that we submit to the laws of the civil magistrate with the assumption that they have are lawful for us to obey.  In general, we purpose not to allow our judgment lead us to contradict the judgment of our superiors.  Most of us struggle with obedience to the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.  We struggle with speed, not with murder.

Our relationship to government can be categorized into three parts: duty, right, and privilege.  Duty are those things we must do.  We have a duty to obey the laws of the country, even if we think they are irrational.  We have no justification for disobedience unless the government tells us to believe anything beside scripture or to do anything opposed to scripture.
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." (WCF 20.2)
Note the difference.  Believing anything in addition to or alongside of scripture is not permissible for only the revelation of God can instruct us what to believe.  However we regularly do things in addition to and alongside scripture.  Here, government has authority to instruct so long as it is not opposed to scripture.  God commands us to fulfill our duty toward government.

One duty we have not mentioned, the Bible places upon us.  "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (I Timothy 2:1-2)  If we do not pray for our leaders, we truly have little justification for complaint against their person, morals, or judgments.  After all, "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will." (Proverbs 21:1)

Rights are those freedoms and abilities that the civil magistrate grants to us.  Our freedom to worship comes to us as a right that government grants to its citizens.  Rights are different from duties for God does not require us to exercise all our rights.  We are required to worship, so that right we must exercise.  The freedom of the press we may choose not to participate in, unless God calls you to be a reporter, editor, or press owner.

Privileges are those abilities government permits upon certain qualifications being met.  Among these are driving on state roads and serving in government.  You don't have a right to be mayor.  You can be privileged to serve in that office upon election.  That privilege can be revoked upon impeachment and recall.

Voting is a privilege that the United States government grants to all citizens 18 years of age and older.  The Fourteenth Amendment allowed the state to revoke upon conviction of a crime.  The Supreme Court has allow felonies to be accepted as crimes warranting disenfranchisement.  The history of voting in the United State suggests that voting is more a privilege than a right.

Christians may choose to pursue these privileges before God.  Christians may choose to vote and hold public office.  "It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto." (WCF 23.2)  They may also serve in the police and military.  "And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:14)  Scripture does not support the concept of the world that the anabaptists adopt.  Government is not intrinsically evil, but the gift of God.  Participation in it does not taint the believer or yoke him to the world's system.  That which the Bible warns us against the world refers to the sinfulness of society, not the structures of government God ordains.

Christians will wrestle with their relationship to the civil magistrate, perhaps until Jesus returns.  We ought not adopt the isolationist mindset of the anabaptist.  We ought not adopt the interventionist mindset of christendom or the christian deconstructionist movement.  We appreciate that God ordains government for our protection.  We obey government a far as we may without doing violence to our obedience to God.  We pray for our rulers and seek their good.  In this way we live as Christians in an unchristian world.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Christian at Work

In this lesson, we move from the arena of the Christian's general life to the way in which the Bible instructs us to deal with society.  How ought the Christian to live before the world?  This will broaden into a large number of arenas in which the Bible commands us to live rightly.  However, for these first two lessons, we will follow a trajectory that have directed our thoughts in the previous two lessons.

We have been following the direction of Paul's mind in the second half of his letter to the Ephesians.  We have tracked his instructions through marriage and then the family.  Now we will follow him in discussing the relationship between employer and employee.  How the Christian views his work and how God directs in the choice of occupation, we have already examined in a previous lesson.  In this part, we will consider how the Christian ought to conduct himself at work.  Where previously, we thought about a theology of work, here we go to work.

Paul follows the same procedure in each arena.  He begins with the party to submit/obey and then instructs the leader.  He follows this order with regard to work as well.
"Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." (Ephesians 6:5-8)
Here, the historic master/servant model has its closest analog to the boss/worker relationship.  Though not a perfect comparison, the example is close enough for these instructions to be applied consistently and accurately.

Paul begins with a familiar instruction that we have seen before.  He reminds servants that the general rule of submission to superiors applies to their bosses as well.  Here, Paul again uses the idea of obedience "as unto Christ."  Christ is our model and foundation for obedience.  As Christ obeyed for us, so ought we to obey.  Our obedience is not for our boss's benefit.  It is our duty, not to our boss, but to Christ.  While the boss is our authority in a physical sense, Christ is our ultimate authority.  For this reason, Paul describes our obedience in such extreme terms. ("with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart" 6:5)  We fear and tremble not at the possibility of punishment from either our boss or Christ, but for the possibility that we would disappoint our Lord and Savior.  Our singleness of heart means that we have no ulterior motive in our obedience, no attempt at duplicity with our obedience.  Instead, we obey to glorify Jesus, to honor our boss, to reveal the excellence of Christ within.

This kind of obedience has a quality that transcends the obedience of other people.  "Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." (6:6)  We obey even when no one is looking.  We work just as hard when the boss is not present.  We are not working ultimately for our employer.  We work for Jesus, who always sees.  We serve Him and His will with a single heart.

Paul also speaks to the mind of our work. "With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men." (6:7)  Working for Jesus means that we serve with a benevolent mind, and good heart.  We do not serve grudgingly.  We do not serve thinking ill of our boss.  We serve seeking the good of all in our company.

Paul finally gives us a promise of reward for obedience. "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." (6:8)  Ultimately, our salary is only part of our compensation for obedience service.  Again, Paul reminds us that our ultimate boss is not our employer, but Christ, that Christ is not only our authority but also the ruler of our employer as well.

One area of obedience that Christians ought to exercise conspicuous attention regards the employer's property.  Theft from one's employer is a constant loss for a business.  This is especially true in retail, where employees resort to theft, but it also occurs in other industries where embezzlement occurs and company property is appropriated for personal use.  Many companies understand the need of employees to conduct personal business at the office and make allowances for this.  Taking advantage of this is not theft.  Theft occurs when a person uses company time or property without the approval of the employer.  Christians ought to have sensitive consciences about this issue, not only for the purpose of obedience to the employer, but for the greater demands of the Eighth Commandment. "Thou shalt not steal." (Ex.20:15)

As with all these commands to obey, our obedience has its limits.  All authority is capable of misuse.  Sin justifies some acceptance of Lord Acton's axiom about power.  "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  We cannot accept the axiom as stated, attributing the corruption to power.  Rather, we acknowledge that men with power remain men and sinners.  They face the temptation to use that power for sin rather than good.

In the context of the workplace, two major areas challenge the Christian with his obedience to God and man.  The first requires an application of the Ninth Commandment. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." (Ex.20:16)  As we have examined elsewhere, the Lord requires His people to follow His example of being people of the truth.  Honesty forms a fundamental part of our identity.  We cannot countenance lying as part of our work.

It will not be a big lie that makes a scoundrel of us.  C.S. Lewis was right when he said the following.
To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”  And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. ("The Inner Ring", Weight of Glory p. 115-116)  
Our employer may ask us to misrepresent a minor thing.  Even the best of bosses may ask us to massage the truth.  It is best to resolve before, the moment of temptation, that we will not compromise our integrity, our identity as those who stand for the truth.

Another area where we face the confrontation between our duty to God and that to our employer is in the observance of the Lord's Day.  "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." (Ex. 20:8-11)  We addressed the topic of the Lord's Day in another place.  Here, we simply remember that this issue must be a matter of conscience to us.  The Lord's Day is special.  It is not like every other day of the week.  It matters to us.  We cannot treat it in a cavalier fashion.  Our employers ought to know how important the Lord's Day is to us.

Speaking of employers, this commandment gives us to opportunity to shift to God's instruction to bosses.  The Christian boss has an obligation to his workers.  As we moved from Ephesians to Exodus, we will move in the opposite direction.  In the Fourth Commandment, the order involves how one conducts his house and workers.  "In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant." (Ex.20:10)  The head of the household is commanded to give the Sabbath day as a day of rest to his employees.  The example of Chik-fil-a proves a prime example of obedience to this commandment.  The world may scoff at this company's practice in this area, but the believer cannot.  It is what the Christian employer ought to do.

For a manager in a company that requires operation on the Lord's Day, the task of obedience is more problematic.  Nevertheless, the believing manager still must ensure to the best of his ability that provision is made for maximizing the observance of the Lord's Day.

Coming back to Ephesians, we find that Paul has some words for Christian employers as well. "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him." (Ephesians 6:9)  The "same things" probably refers to the mindset that Paul has used in instructing the servants.  The master is to see his governance as unto Christ, as following Christ's example.  They are to govern their servants as Christ governs them.

This requires the employer/manager to resist the tendency to govern by threats.  Threatening comes natural to us to change behavior or promote productivity.  There is a place for threatening, but a limited role.  Our example is Jesus.  Christ rules predominantly through love and blessing, so ought the master.  The master rules knowing that he serves the same Lord as his servants.  He is answerable to the same authority as the servant.

Here is the heart of living Christian in an unchristian world.  The rest of the world in the workplace acts according to their own law, serving themselves.  The Christian boss and worker serves Christ.  Only as seeing ourselves as serving God, may we truly live Christian in an unbelieving world.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Next to the church, I submit that the family finds itself the target of the forces of evil.  If Satan hates the church, the family as an organization comes a close second in his rage.  We often think that he directs his animus toward believing families, but the truth is that every family suffers the pressures of dissolution.  The world, flesh, and devil devour families of every stripe.

This calls into question the predominant view of the family.  If the primary benefit of the family is the passing of virtues to the next generation, then we must question why the devil would desire the dissolution of families that follow his path.  Why would he want to hinder the passing of his own values to the next generation?  Here again, we must return to Genesis.  The institution of marriage and family originated with God.  Family is not a social or evolutionary construct, but a divine order, a structure hardcoded into our creation.  An attack on the family is an attack on God, the way he has made us.  The dissolution of the family takes from us a part of our humanity.

For this reason, understanding the family, as the Bible records it for us, matters.  We are born into families, and have responsibilities within those relationships that God appoints to us at every turn.  Here, the Westminster Shorter Catechism lays out for us the positions within the family that we ought to consider: superiors (parents), inferiors (children), and equals (siblings). (WSC 64)  Note, that in the equals category, we do not include spouses, not that we deny their equality, but we dealt with that relationship in the previous lesson.

We begin with the Biblical instruction that prompted the Westminster divines to give us these categories. In the Ten Commandments, the first commandment of the second table, that table that instructs us about our duty to our neighbor, begins with the family. "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (Exodus 20:12)  This leads the catechism to conclude as follows. "The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals." (WSC 64)

The fifth commandment applies to the family at all times.  Its New Testament analog limits itself to children, but the fifth commandments broader command applies continuously through life.  We are born with a special emphasis of this commandment that Paul relates to us in Ephesians 6.  "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." (Ephesians 6:1)  Paul follows this command with a reference to the fifth commandment.  He understand that the fifth commandment has special meaning for children still in their parent's house.  Honoring their parents requires obedience.

We have previously commented on the concept of obedience "in the Lord."  It means, as unto Christ.  This has two aspects, a broadening and limiting aspect.  It broadens the command, reminding us of the gospel reality.  We are to obey as we would obey Jesus.  We are to remember what we owe in obedience to Jesus based upon the gospel, and live accordingly.  The limiting factor appears in the fact that our true allegiance lies with Christ.  He means more to us than any earthly parent.  We obey them because our ultimate authority has commanded us to obey.  Nevertheless, the subordinate authority cannot override the superior authority.  We must obey God rather than man.  Our parent's commands must be assumed lawful unless clearly against scripture.  Doubt ought be resolved in favor of obedience rather than rebellion.

While the duty of obedience last during childhood, the duty of honor lasts throughout life.  Honoring our parents takes a tricky place in later life.  It requires us to live in ways the bring honor to our parents, to give people a favorable impression about our family.  It does not mean that we must agree with our parents about every matter.  It does mean that we must treat our parents and their opinions that differ from our own with respect and grace.  There are even tragic events that break the parent-child relationship.  Abuse and neglect among the family tear at our heart and cause us to question how we fulfill the fifth commandment at this point.  Sometimes honoring our parents means living righteously without a relationship with one or both of our parents.

Honoring our parents also requires circumspect speech.  We need to be careful what we say about our parents to others.  This generally applies to the entire family as well, but the application of the fifth commandment makes it especially true of our parents.  That is why you regularly may hear me speak about the good things my parents taught me and nothing else.  You may think that my parents never did anything wrong, or else that I am naive about my parents.  Neither is true.  However, it is not beneficial nor honoring to broadcast these matters.  Occasions may arise when one must raise parental wrongdoing, but these should be done circumspectly.  The general rule is that the family is a unit, and fidelity to that family is part of the Christian ethic.

In terms of parental responsibility to the children, we have already addressed one of the largest responsibilities, that of education in a previous lesson.  We will not take time to retread that ground.  Nevertheless, the topic of disciple finds guidance in the Bible.   Paul continues his discussion of the family by turning his attention to the parents in Ephesians 6. "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)  When I was a child, I memorized this verse and would quote it immediately after any would quote Ephesians 6:1.  I was a little contrarian.  While my motive and method left much to be desired, this verse does remind parents of their responsibility in the course of training.  Parents are to train and instruct their children in the Lord.  That is, they are to teach their children what to know and believe about God and they are to train their children how to live before God.

The Bible has some words to say about discipline.  One of my brother's favorite verses to quote demonstrates that contrarianism may be hereditary.  "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)  Western liberalism has challenged Christianity on many fronts, with some benefit.  It has forced the church to reflect on what is truly Christian and what we have kept from the old way of living.  We must answer liberalism from Scripture, stopping its errors with truth and not tradition.  The mounting pressure against corporal discipline challenges our traditional presumption, but cannot overcome the weight of Scripture.  The Bible clearly accepts as proper the use of corporal discipline. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15) "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." (Proverbs 29:15)  "I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men." (I Samuel 7:14)

This is not all that must be said about discipline.  Discipline is a discernment matter.  That is, parents must use wisdom in the method and application of discipline.  Remember, the goal is training, not mere justice. (although parents may also teach justice through discipline as well)  Each child is different.  Each child learns differently.  Each child responds to discipline and methods of discipline differently.  Corporal discipline ought to be one tool in the parent's toolbox of training methods and not the only tool available or used.

This task is made manifest in Paul's command. "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath."  Paul calls parents to use discernment so as not to wear out their children with discipline.  This again takes wisdom.  My father would often exasperate his children with his lessons.  He knew that even though we were grumbling, it was important for us to learn.  We didn't like going to school as children and often parents have to exasperate us in order for us to learn.  Learning to balance these duties involves wisdom and experience.

Among siblings, we must return to the general commands regarding kindness and love that proliferate the New Testament.  We note this here because maintaining good sibling relationships proves to be a great challenge.  My mother worked tirelessly to encourage her children to form positive relationships with each other.  I would generally say that the Lord blessed her efforts, but it was hard work.  It is easy for us to hate our enemies apart from us, but it is easier to despise those of our own family.  Our duty to preserve and promote the family requires all members to work at obtaining and maintaining positive relationships.

I must add to the end, a comment that rightly belongs at the beginning.  Christians, sensing the attack on the family can overreact, placing the family at a higher rank than it ought to occupy.  Again, we must remember the requirement of the First Commandment.  Family cannot replace God.  You cannot find in your family, the love, joy, and peace that only God in Christ gives freely.  Do not make your family your God. (In rewriting this series, I would add this caution to many previous topics: occupation, location, and relations)

Make no mistake.  The family is important and is under attack.  If we would live Christian in an unchristian world, we must labor to maintain the unity of our families.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


If I failed at dating, I have no experience at marriage.  This causes me to be very hesitant to advise on conduct within the marital relationship.  However, where we begin with implications regarding dating, we find firmer biblical footing with marriage.  We can rely upon firmer footing.  For this section, I use less experience, and more Bible.

In applying the law of God, we must begin with the first commandment.  "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3)  We might miss this requirement in our desire to reach for the seventh, but the first, especially in the present situation of dating lends itself to questions of the First Commandment.  The romantic notion inherent in dating tends to tempt couples to seek in one another that which they are only to find in Jesus.  This may lead to two opposing results.  Some, finding their desires fulfilled may dote on their spouse, replacing Jesus in their affections with their spouse.  Others, disappointed in marriage will continue in their misery desperately seeking to find their satisfaction in their spouse.  Whether in fulfillment or in want, we face the temptation to replace Jesus with any human.

For the Seventh Commandment, not much must be said beyond the obvious.  "Thou shalt not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14)  God requires faithfulness in our covenant relationships.  Nevertheless, the high incidence of adultery and emotional estrangement reminds us that we need this reminder.

For a foundation of relational morality, we begin with Ephesians 5:22-33.  We must remember that this passage appears in Paul's second half of the letter, the predominantly practical portion of the letter.  Having provided the indicative of the new life provided in Jesus, Paul calls us to a different kind of life, a different kind of marriage because we have all we need in Jesus.  With that principle, marriage becomes about what each spouse is to give rather than what each spouse expects to receive.

Here, we must first observe that Paul puts the person and work of Christ at the center of the marital relationship, as with all of life.  Again, we see how necessary it is to see the blessing of marriage as a reflection of the blessings we have in Christ rather than a blessing in addition to, or in replacement of Christ.  While there may be happiness in a marriage contracted outside of Christ, true joy comes from a marriage subordinated to one's relationship with Christ.

Paul begins with instructions to Christian wives. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."(Ephesians 5:22-24)  Subordinating the marital relationship to Christ points to the reality of submission within the marital relationship.

Many have called marriage a partnership.  This idea may be misleading if one has not dealt with the reality of legal partnerships.  As children, we thought of partnerships as 50-50 arrangements.  No intelligent partnership ever has this setup.  This would inevitably lead to gridlock.  One member of the partnership must break ties.  This reality applies in marriage as well.  As we submit to Christ, one member of this partnership must submit to the other.  Someone has to break ties.  In God's economy, He has chosen the wife to submit, and we may not dispute His decision.

Paul uses the model of Christ and the church as the basis for this imperative.  This model forms the justification for all of the directives regarding the marital relationship.

Notice the extent of the submission. ("in every thing" 5:24)  No exception is left for a lack of submission in any matter.  This does not give rise to the notion that the husband can command sin.  After all, this violates the First Commandment and the very foundational principle of the marital relationship being subordinate to Christ.  Our duty to God must take preeminence.  Nevertheless, the wide extent of submission requires wives to presume a husband's lawful decisions absent clear evidence to the contrary.

While this submission has been misused and abused, it still holds firm as God's design.  The command is not attached to a prerequisite that the husband do his duty outlined by Paul here.  Nor is the reverse true.  This demands that the wife find her moral ability in Christ rather than in her husband's obedience.

Even so, the picture improves as we see the way in which obedient spouses function together.  As the wife yields to the husband, the husband sacrifices himself for the good of his wife.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.(Ephesians 5:25-33)  
Notice the brevity of the instruction to the wife compared with the extended instruction to the husband.  I venture to say that the husband has either the harder duty or need more instruction in that duty.  Perhaps the hard headed male needs more particular instruction.  Perhaps it is the hard-hearted male that needs the constant reminder.

Notice that Paul uses the example of Christ and His church in two ways to direct husbands on what loving their wives looks like.  First, we note that he speaks of the sacrificing work of Christ for us.  This presents the most commonly discussed aspect of how the husband ought to act toward his wife.  In this principle, Paul indicates that the husband sacrifices his own self for the benefit of his wife.  One may almost suggest that only when the wife is fully satisfied in her station, may the husband consider his own desires.  This rule may not be pressed as an absolute, for the exigencies of life do not allow for such abstract and hypothetical practice.  Nevertheless, the direction of this theory does reflect the attitude necessary in Paul's instruction.  Christ died for the church, to make it holy, to do for it what it could not do for itself, to provide for it what it needed.  So also, should the husband for the wife.

Certainly, this simile has its limits.  When Paul talks about the sanctifying work of Christ for the church, there are hints of this in other of His writings (I Cor. 7:14), but the point here involves provision with a view to sanctification.  The husband cannot make the wife more like Christ.  He can only provide the resources needed for that goal.

This requires a broadening of the concept of what provision means.  It includes more that mere physical necessities, although those are absolutely required.  If Paul is speaking spiritually, then it also includes spiritual leadership in the marriage, the provision of the means of grace.  The husband should provide the wife the ministry of the word, sacraments and prayer.  Now, that doesn't mean that he must minister these things alone, any more that he is required to cook. (although he may)  Rather, it means he is to enable the wife to attend corporate worship.  He may also lead in the reading of the word and in prayer.

In addition, we may suggest that if the husband is to provide for the physical and spiritual good of the wife, might he also have a duty to provide for the intellectual and the emotional well-being of his wife?  We must be careful here, for these issues become murky very quickly.  At best, we can say that the husband should guard and cultivate the mind and heart of his wife.

Paul has something more to say about the example of Christ and His church that speaks to a motivational aspect.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Ephesians 5:28-33)  
Paul uses the concept of the church as the body of Christ.  As such, Paul equates this with the two becoming one flesh in marriage, quoting from Genesis 2:24. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh." (Ephesians 5:31)  This provides a motivational and a practical guide.  As a motive, the husband should see his wife as part of him.  As he experiences a natural desire and urge to care for himself, he also should cultivate a habit of caring for his wife.  Part of this desire naturally occurs, but Paul's instruction indicates that the husband's habit of caring for his wife needs development by practice.  Husbands need the instruction that "He that loveth his wife loveth himself."  Husbands need the instruction to "love his wife even as himself."

Again, we ought to remind ourselves that the instructions to the husband are not dependent upon the wives obedience to the instruction to submit.  Husbands are to love regardless of a submissive wife.  Wives are to submit regardless of a loving husband.  The only way this works is if the husband or wife in this problematic situation finds his or her fulfillment, not in the marital relationship but in Christ.  Nevertheless, how beautiful the picture of husband and wife both obedient to God's arrangement of marriage.

We find additional instructions in the same area in I Peter 3:1-7.
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
Here, the amount of instruction is reversed.  We may speculate that Peter is dealing with a different issue in the church than Paul.  Nevertheless, there is a tangent within this passage that does not directly deal with the topic of husbands and wives. (I Peter 3:3-5)  In this central section, we see a synthesis of ideas found elsewhere.  Notably I Cor. 7:12-16.
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
We may safely assume that Peter knew of Paul's writings.  "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (II Peter 3:15-16)

This tangent is connected with the instruction of submission.  The message is that the unbelieving spouse is more prone to believe the gospel by the wife's submissive and godly attitude, than with her superficial beauty, fine clothes, or jewelry.  This command is directed primarily to wives of unbelieving husbands. "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives."(I Peter 3:1)  This reminds us again that a disobedient spouse does not exempt us from our duty in marriage.

Finally, Peter speaks to husbands. "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." (I Peter 3:7)  The duty to love is not dependent on the wife telling the husband what she needs.  The husband has an obligation to find it out.  If you are to live with your wife according to knowledge, it follows that you have a duty to learn your wife.  This does not give place for the "delightful" game of "there's-something-wrong-and-you-have-to-figure-it-out."  The wife should let the husband know if there is a problem.  However, the husband should also make an effort to understand his wife.

There is one final matter that the Bible speaks clearly about.  It is one that I hesitate to describe for lack of knowledge and an interest in discretion.  The author of Hebrews reminds us, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." (13:4)

Paul writes, "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.  The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.  Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." (I Cor. 7:3-5)

Some commentators argue that The Song of Solomon was originally  a celebration of the physical joy in marriage created by God and, in the New Testament, sanctified in Christ.  We proclaim to the rafters, to everyone who will hear, and even to those exhausted of hearing, that any sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman is sin, no matter what letter you assign it.  We do poorer job reminding married people what the Bible says about the blessing of sexual activity within marriage.

With our society's preoccupation with all forms of sexual deviancy, we are tempted to become jaded about the beauty of marriage.  If spouses are to live Christian in an unchristian world, let me suggests something to read together.  Perhaps you think it Ephesians 5.  No.  Most of the time we read it thinking about where our spouse has gone wrong rather than where we have gone wrong.  No, perhaps it's time to rekindle the romance.  Perhaps it's time to pick up and read the Song of Solomon.

Thursday, January 4, 2018


I am an absolute failure at dating.  This is not an attempt at false modesty.  My present singleness testifies my total lack of talent and success in this area.  My past includes failed relationships and missed opportunities.  In my darker moments, I long for the days of arranged marriage.  With that system, you see a girl, find her father and arrange a price.  Done.

Some people who share my thinking have tried to bring back this historic method of contracting marriages with mixed results.  My advice to them, "Forget it."  Even if you could arrange a return in some limited way, the society surrounding us so influences our mentality that the romantic ideal would make people in arranged marriages miserable.  Western culture finds itself saturated in romanticism.  Our language, media, law, and society all echo to the ballad.  The only alternative would be an escape from the culture.  If you lived in countries with arranged marriages, or formed a commune, it might work, but one requires you to be a missionary, and the other violates other instructions in God's Word.

So what is a failure like me doing trying to teach about the topic?  Can I have anything productive to say on this issue.  I think so for two reasons.  First, the instructions in the Bible stand even if they don't result the way we would like them to turn out.  There are instructions in the Bible that provide guidance to us in these matters.  They remain true and wise even if they do not result in the outcome we prefer.

Second, you can learn a lot from failure.  Failure teaches you what not to do.  Battle scars tell the story of experience.  Experience may teach, if only we have the wisdom to learn from it.  All too often we fail to learn from failure.  I confess that what I have to say comes at a price, and I cannot presume that I have fully learned from failure.  All I can say is that I am still learning from the past.

First things first, dating is not in the Bible.  If you are looking for the biblical way of forming relationships that lead to marriage, the Bible gives us a diverse examples of the arrangement of marriages.  This means, that the mechanics leading to marriage matter little compared to the morals practiced by the participants.

It might help counter or romantic prejudice to look at examples of how marriages were formed in the Bible.  These we can examine in three groups: those found in the narrative and probably not probably not normative, those found in the narrative and potentially normative in some way, and those found in the law.

For those found in the narrative and probably not normative, we consider the breadth of the manner, the various ways that marriages were accomplished in the OT.  Most of the formalities that became normal did not exist in this distant past.  For this group, we pass over most of the patriarchs, and perhaps consider best the rather obscure story about the tribe of Benjamin in the book of Judges.  In chapter 19, the author reminds us of the dire situation in Israel, no king, every man his own ruler.  The depravity of this situation is revealed as a Levite and his concubine, who had left him, travel through Ephraim and arrive at a city inhabited by Benjamites.  While there, a repeat of the events at Sodom occur, leading to the molestation and death of the concubine.  The Levite takes the corpse home, splits it into twelve pieces and sends her throughout Israel to call for retribution.

In chapter 20, Israel comes together against the tribe of Benjamin.  Eventually, the tribe is smitten.  The chapter indicates that Israel destroys the entire tribe but for 600 men that hide out in the wilderness rock called Rimmon. (20:47-48)  This sets the stage for chapter 21, which begins with a flashback to before the war.  Then, Israel had sworn never to marry with Benjamin.  This posed a problem.  600 men remained alone of Benjamin, but could have no future place with Israel, as marrying outside would exclude them from Israel.

What would Israel do to provide Benjamin with wives? (21:16-25)  The Romans would have a similar story in the abduction of the women of Sabine.  This would later be made into a musical called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  We cannot consider this manner of finding a spouse normative.

Another such story appears in the story of Esther.  The story begins with the marital conflict between King Ahasuerus and Queen Vashti.  This leads to the exile of the Queen and the necessity of another Queen. (2:1-4)  It was perhaps the earliest form of the modern reality show, the Bachelor.

For narratives that perhaps we can find some normative concepts, we add the story of Rebecca and Isaac. (Genesis 24)  The fact that God apparently works at the well to send Abraham's servant to Rebecca indicates some divine approval of this union.  Ruth's bold approach toward Boaz, ought be seen as commendable for the twin reasons that Boaz calls her a "virtuous woman" (following Prov.31 in the Hebrew order of the OT) and she is included in the genealogy of Jesus. (Ruth 3; Matthew 1:5)

For the last group, the manner the OT law directs, we must begin by placing this in the right type of law.  This is the civil law, that which extinguished at the end of Israel as a theocratic nation, but may apply as far as its equity may require.  Exodus 22:16-17 "And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.  If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins."  Deuteronomy 22:28-29 "If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days."  We cannot think of this as normative, or advisable as an way of forming marriages, but it does counter our accepted mindset, we often credit to scripture, but has more to do with victorian morality.

When we think about dating, we ought to remember that it's primary purpose is marriage.  I have already referred to it a number of times as a method by with marital relations are formed.  Dating is a process, and at the end of that process ought to be marriage.

For this reason, we ought to define some terms.  One of the key challenges to the dating process is the lack of definition.  In fact, it has been my experience that people don't want definitions in this process.  There is a feeling that definitions rob the participants of the mystique, mystery, and fun of the process.  Unfortunately, that same ambiguous relationship can also lead to sinful behaviors.  It also can produce much confusion and pain as the participants inevitably differ on their perception of the progress of the relationship.

What does a man mean when he asks a woman to dinner?  The problem with answering this question is that I can give you a wise answer, but one that probably doesn't exist in most minds.  Most men will think on some part of a spectrum between, "I'm lonely and would like another human to eat with and this is another human," and "This is my future wife."  We might safely assume that there is an element of attraction and desire to get to know the woman better.

For me, I get involved in a mind trap game.  I often cater my behavior according to how I perceive it will be perceived by others.  Basically, I ask how I think, they think, that I think.  This kind of "I know, that you know, that I know" thinking runs in circles without stopping.

From this, I conclude that dating as a process of forming relationships that lead to marriage arose from a generation of intellectually averse people, or at least people who don't think like me.  It may not have been a failure to think or an inability to think, but rather a preference for emotion over thought; a generation averse to emotional definitions, a generation who prefer feeling to thinking.  There is a reason why Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers asked the question, "Why do fools fall in love?" (1956)  I think they understood, or at least their writers considered falling in love the absence of sense and intellect, perhaps of wisdom.  This is not a criticism, but an observation.  This mentality is woven so tightly into the culture, that we think this normative without criticism.

Christian writers during the "free love" movement of the 60s and 70s and onward have been so shocked by the fruits of this thinking, that they have tried to reverse the culture without avail.  They were attacking the method they themselves used to form their positive marriages.  You cannot attack the pillar upon which you stand without care or catastrophe.  The most significant salvo in the past thirty years was probably best expressed in Joshua Harris' book I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  Ironically, Mr. Harris has retreated somewhat from this book.

This attack has had a deleterious affect on Christian youth.  We have made young people scared.  I remember reading an article in World Magazine a few years back where they remarked about this very thing.  Christian singles are scared of marriage, making the wrong choice, and overthinking their initial steps.  It's not that their relationships are failing, its that they are not even trying.  They are too scared to take the first steps toward any type of relationship.

I'm going to say something I really don't like.  A conclusion that I have reached after much soul-searching.  It is something that I think corrects the presumptions present in Christian society.  In order to wisely survive dating, you have to not think.  You have to not ask, "how will this be perceived?"  You have to just act on feeling.  You have to give in to the folly...

..for the first date.  On the second, the wisdom must come back, but we will get there in a bit.  I hate this reality, but I can see no other course.  It really bothers me how I see so many excellent single men and women who stay single, scared, alone, and miserable.  I have to imagine, that what I see in my experiences, also has some bearing on what others experience.  We have been so often cautioned about the dangers of "giving your heart" to the wrong person that we have turtled.  So, I say, don't ask all those pesky emotional/relationship inventory questions, before or on the first date.

Later, think.  It may be the second, third, or fourth date, but soon, you have to answer the question if this relationship is going somewhere.  If you intend to progress the relationship past the initial stage, it's time to think about the reality of what you are doing.  I think it relatively safe to leave this calculus for the second date.  I think it rather unlikely that major emotional damage would occur if the relationship terminates after one date.  Mileage will differ in some respects, but the alternative is rather more objectionable.

Let me also suggest a first date criteria.  Ask/accept any evangelical Christian who asks.  Consider Roman Catholics.  Reject anyone with a false idea of who Christ is or who rejects the gospel altogether.  You have no business even starting the process with those who do not share your commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I will add this.  If she is a Christian woman, ask.  If he is a Christian guy, accept, if he doesn't weird you out.  We need to conquer the initial fear.

To continue the relationship, the brain must run back into the driver's seat.  At that point, you know that this relationship is proceeding down a path, and must exercise wisdom in deciding whether you want to go down that road.  For this analysis, many factors may be considered.  Acres of forests have given their lives for the books written on these subjects.  I don't think it efficient to rehearse them here.  I will say that the most important involve spiritual agreement and family organization.

For the actual conduct during the dating relationship, much has also already been written and said.  During each of my years in college, I could expect the same event at the end of every fall semester.  Officially, the administration titled the event, "split chapel."  To the students, it possessed a completely different name.  We knew that the content of the chapel involved dire warnings against sexual immorality during the Christmas break.  Why these warnings were not repeated for the summer, still remains a bit of mystery to me.  For most of we students, the event meant an opportunity to catch the speaker in a plethora of verbal faux pas.  We considered it a colossal waste of time.  Having grown up in the church, we had heard innumerable such warnings, and these added nothing to what we already did not know.

Therefor, I must ask pardon for yet another reminder.  The present reality, the ever increasing laxity toward the biblical directive tells us that these warnings are still relevant.  The author of Hebrews reminds us, "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." (13:4)  The Seventh commandment forbids any sexual activity outside marriage.

In aid of keeping this commandment, some have added prohibitions on conduct between the genders.  Some have ignorantly used Paul's word to the church at Corinth as a guide. "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman." (I Cor.7:1)  The absolute prohibition of touching finds no justification in this verse or in any other teaching of Scripture.  While I shall not start drawing arbitrary lines for conduct, care, discernment, and discretion ought characterize our behavior in the dating relationship.

How we go about forming the relationships that lead to marriage  matters.  It, as all other human activities, demonstrates our character.  It provides another opportunity for us to glorify God through our activities.  (I Cor.6:20)  It matters how we conduct ourselves in order that we may live Christian in an unchristian world.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


My best friend in college told me why we were great friends.  He said that friendship rested on economics, that we used one another for what the other had.  That didn't explain the most memorable times of our friendship.  Riding along Scenic Highway, listening to "music" and enjoying the view of Escambia Bay.  Struggling with Suite issues.  Sailing in a catamaran on Perdido Bay.

One of my favorite memories was a trip to Olive Garden.  We had issues with the food from the campus cafeteria, so often we would enjoy a meal off campus.  We would swap between Olive Garden and Red Lobster.  On this occasion, we began to notice that our waiter was not as attentive to our needs as one would had preferred.  So, we organized a game.  We began with our customary tip, the standard rate of 15%.  We agreed that anything he did exceptional would add to his tip, and any infraction of expected service would decrease it.  Every time he didn't refill our drink when empty cost him dollar.  Every time he walked past and didn't check on us cost him fifty cents.  We kept making deductions for other infractions, some impromptu, others regimented, and at the end, he owed us five dollars, meal included.  We had a wonderful time.

Man was made for companionship. We don't pass the second chapter of the Bible without this fact plainly revealed to us by God.  The creation of woman was more than the invention of binary reproduction.  It signaled something about being made in God's image.  The triune nature of God indicates that even in the godhead, there is relationship and companionship.  Since we are made in His image, we share that need of companionship and community.

Unfortunately, all that God made for good, sin has corrupted.  our natural and good need for fellowship drives many to form detrimental connections and relationships.  The Bible cautions us to take seriously the matter for friendship and form relationships that edify rather than corrupt.

The Biblical examples of friends are quite numerous.  It was Judah's friend that "helped" him through the death of his wife. (Gen.38)  Moses spoke to God as to a friend. (Ex. 33:11)  Haman's friends helped him celebrate the gallows made for Mordecai. (Esther 5-6)  Jobs friends did their best when they remained silent for seven days and nights. (Job 2:13)  The Psalmist talks about the friend who turns on you. (Ps.41:9)  This prophecy finds its fulfillment as Jesus calls Judas "friend."  (Matt.26:50)

The classic example of Biblical friends appears in the story of David and Jonathan.
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house.  Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle. (I Samuel 18:1-4)
This is the example of what friends are to be.  It is deplorable that this relationship has been used by some to justify homosexual sin.  It completely defaces the wonderful picture of friendship.  In this picture, Jonathan puts truth to the friendship reality that whatever he owned was at David's disposal.

The choice of friends matters.  When I talk about this issue, I am particularly referring to close friends.  We allow people in our lives at different stages of closeness.  Some people barely know us at all.  Some get to know our souls.  In choosing friends, I refer to the latter and not the former.  Nevertheless, even those with whom we regularly associate have an impact on our mindset.  Peer pressure increases by quantity as well as quality.  We should choose our close friends carefully while having a broad acquaintanceship.  Even so, we must remember that even our acquaintances have an impact on us.

Before we discuss choosing friends, there must be a choice to make.  The AV translates Proverbs 18:24 as, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."  More modern translations follow some variant observed in the ESV, "A man of many companions may come to ruin,but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."  The reason for this disparity is that the AV follows Greek manuscripts, presumably because the Hebrew is open to interpretation.  The verb and the word for "friend" use the same root.  It could be a play on words or a unique use of the verb.  The AV translators relied on an older interpretation than their own.  Nevertheless, the principle rings true.  Those who would have friends must present themselves as open to people.  Solomon also writes. "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Prov. 17:17)  If we would have this kind of person in our lives, we must be this kind of person.

In choosing friends, we are not free to imagine we live without the need of friends. Solomon in Ecclesiastes reminds us of the necessity of friends.
Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.  There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.  Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.  For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.  Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?  And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:7-12
In this passage, Solomon reminds us that life is futile without people in our lives.  We need people is only just to watch our backs.

The main biblical exhortation regarding our choice of friends has more to do with spiritual considerations rather than anything else.  "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (II Cor.6:14)  Paul does not intend that we have no friends with unbelievers.  After all, he encourages the church to have relationships with unbelievers. "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world." (I Cor. 5:9-10)  Paul understands the need to associate with unbelievers in this world, but he warns against a willful choice to associate closely with unbelievers.  This "yoking" indicates a close friendship.  This type of relationship should only be formed with those who share the faith.

Paul's reason for this warning comes from the reality that close friends advise one another.  The unbeliever advises out of a totally different worldview than the believer.  The substance of their advice will often conflict with what the Bible commands.  The absence of the gospel reality within cannot be ignored.  We make light of the gospel if we think we can form close friendships with those who do not have this reality within.  Either we don't think that the gospel transforms and affects all of life, or it has not truly changed us.

While we must form relationships that include this unity of spirit, we ought to beware of the tendency to form relationships with people identical to us.  Diversity is a healthy thing in personal relationships.  Forced diversity has become a socially desirable practice.  The Bible does not suggest it.  Rather, the diversity of gifts within the church reminds us that understanding the wide scope of the church suggests a broad array of friends.  It is amazing to me how diverse God's people are.  This is seen in our own church.

Friendship takes work, and diversity often requires the most work.  Our differences become the source of friction, but our similarities can be the catalyst that escalates minor differences into major arguments.  Is it any wonder in the church, the diversity and unity combine to encourage Paul to direct the church in its relationship with one another. "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32)  It is informative that this verse appears at the end of a chapter the began with the diverse gifts that God gave to the church to edify it.  That which God gives to edify, man can distort to view as detrimental.

My mother always reminds her children, when we would fight each other, something along the lines of, "friends come, and friends go, but family is forever."  Perhaps forever is a bit strong, but it has proven rather effective.  Many families disintegrate.  Even my parent's siblings struggle to remain together.  The modern society and it freedom of transportation has allowed children to leave, but they have not often used that freedom to return.  Thanks to the influence of my mother, we enjoy being with one another, even we live so far apart from one another.

My mother was right and wrong.  Friends and family come and go.  For some, the fear of losing someone places a real psychological barrier to making friends.  Why make friends if they go away?  It makes as much sense as why live, if you are going to die.  Friendship matters.  Relationships matter.  Forming them well requires wisdom and discernment, so that we may fulfill God's calling upon our lives.  In this way, we may live Christian in an unchristian world.