Sex as sabbath

The restorative effect of sexual delight on husband and wife may perhaps be considered by analogy with the blessing of the Sabbath. Just as rhythms of Sabbath rest are instituted by the Creator for the sake of man (cf. Mark 2:27) to refresh him so that his work may be a joy, so sexual delight within marriage may refresh and restore husband and wife for the work to which the Creator has called them….Just as God gives rest in order that man may joyfully work (and not work for the sake of rest), so he gives husband and wife joy in sex that they may more joyfully serve, and not the reverse. When reversed, sexual delight and relational intimacy become ends in themselves. The paradox and tragedy is that, having been made into idols, they inevitably disappoint, frustrate and fade. So often in a healthy marriage sexual delight creeps up on the couple at unexpected moments, in the midst of lives of active service and outward-looking work. –Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, 188.

Looking to save some money on Valentine’s Day?

Men, if you can win your wife to this spiritual perspective you stand to save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your marriage.

It is easy to condemn those who marry for money or status, but a more insidious wrong motive has insinuated its way into our culture: romance. Romance has attached to itself a raft of benefits focused on self-fulfillment and the realization of dreams (notably the dream of ‘the right one for me’), but because this is not God’s purpose for marriage, it is a self-defeating goal. Besides, as Hauerwas nicely observes, even if we seek to marry ‘the right person’, in practice ‘we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change.’ Paradoxically, it is when we jointly embark on the endeavor of serving God in his world that romantic pleasure sometimes takes us by surprise. As a goal it evaporates, but as an unsought blessing it may be greeted with delight and thanksgiving.

-Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, p 219.

How the trinity speaks to marriage

Husbands take note:

… “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” the Son says (Jn 15:9). And therein lies the very goodness of the gospel: as the Father is the lover and the Son the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved. That means that Christ loves the church first and foremost: his love is not a response, given only when the church loves him; his love comes first, and we only love him because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).

     That dynamic is also to be replicated in marriages, husbands being the heads of their wives, loving them as Christ the Head loves his bride, the church. He is the lover, she is the beloved. Like the church, then, wives are not left to earn the love of their husbands; they can enjoy it as something lavished on them freely, unconditionally, and maximally. For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son’s eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response; the husband so loves his wife that he excites her love to love him back. Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God.

Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to get married(?)

1 Corinthians 7:7, 27, 38 {ESV} I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another… 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife… 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

Marriage is frequently projected as “the norm” in today’s church (at least in Protestant circles). The assumption is that all good Christian men and women have been ordained to find their complementary other half, the resulting implication being that to remain without a spouse signals some lack or deficiency in the single person. Marriage books, studies, and seminars are prodigiously produced but finding some decent material on singleness or celibacy is like finding a few Arminians at a Piper conference–you’re pretty sure they’re out there but it ain’t gonna be easy to find them.

Where is the church that would take seriously Paul’s preference for celibacy in 1Corinthians 7?  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a pastor or teacher challenge young, single Christians to examine themselves to see if they might be gifted for celibacy or to consider the advantages of living single. Certainly we should be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. Paul may have preferred singleness for the sake of the gospel but he stopped short of discouraging marriage. Even so, I think there are a few things we might consider to better reflect the biblical perspective on singleness and marriage.

Churches might:

  1. Determine not to exclude single men when searching for a new pastor — if Jesus & Paul could be single why can’t our pastor(s)?
  2. Intentionally disciple single members in such a way that we communicate their equality as members and their unique opportunity for ministry. 
  3. Preach/teach that the ability to remain celibate is a gracious gift for some men and women. [The gift is the ability and/or desire for celibacy, not celibacy itself. The single whose desire for marriage remains unfulfilled probably shouldn’t be told that their singleness is a gift.]

Christian parents might:

  1. Pray that God would raise up their child(ren) to be happy in holiness more than happy in marriage.
  2. Consider that their child(ren) may be destined to produce spiritual children (rather than grandchildren) for God’s greater glory and their greater joy (1Cor 4:15; 3Jn1:4).
  3. Nurture their child(ren) to seek His kingdom before they consider searching for their counterpart. 
  4. Remind themselves that marriage is temporary but glorified singleness is for eternity (Mat 22:29-30). 

‘That strange grief which has no focus for its tears and no object for its love’

Approximately 10% (6.1 million) of women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant according to the CDC . Beyond clinical infertility we’re also told that about 15-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. It seems inevitable that a married couple will experience some heartache when it comes to childbearing which makes the church’s (relative) silence on the matter even more puzzling [as a pastor, a self-indictment].

The sorrow that accompanies infertility has been described somewhere as “that strange grief which has no focus for its tears and no object for its love.” For the Christian this strange grief carries additional frustration and confusion due to Scripture’s praise of child rearing in marriage. Thus, the couple dealing with infertility (and particularly the woman) is left to wrestle with the notion that God is withholding a blessing (Psa 127) they have been commanded to pursue (Gen 1:28).

Many others have reflected and counseled on infertility far better than I could hope to do so for the sake of sensitivity & encouragement I’ll limit my thoughts to a few key affirmations:

1) Infertility is cause for grief and mourning. Children are a divine blessing we hope to receive (Psa 127:3) but hope deferred makes the heart sick (Prov 13:12).

2) Infertility is not God’s punishment on you–that punishment was already placed on Christ. Those who have been ransomed from sin have no debt left to pay, no account to settle (Col 2:13-14). Infertility is painful but it’s not punishment (Rom 8:28ff).

3) Infertility is rendered impotent when the sovereign Creator commands the barren to bear fruit. Nothing is too difficult for the Lord (Gen 18:14; 25:21; Psa 113:9; Jer 32:27).

4) Infertility is not a broken promise. The Christian has been promised many things but conception is not one of them. We are promised, however, that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psa 34:18), heals the brokenhearted (Psa 147:3), and provides a grace sufficient for our time of need (2Cor 12:9). You can trust Him.

5) Infertility should be a shared grief.
As fellow members of Christ’s body we should weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).

6) Infertility brings a sorrow which was most acutely felt by our Savior. Christ knows what it means to labor through futility
(Isa 49:4; Heb 4:15-16).

7) Infertility is a pain to be conquered by a greater joy. In the end, the pain & loss of this life should drive us to find better, lasting joy in God’s presence (Psa 16:11; 73).

Headship is crucifixion

     Christian writers (notably Milton) have sometimes spoken of the husband’s headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church—read  on—and give his life for her (Eph 5:25). This headship, then  is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least lovable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.

     The chrism of this terrible coronation is not to be seen in the joys of any man’s marriage but in it’s sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labors to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.

– C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, “Eros”