For This Cause

Marriage 05

“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 who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes 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

For this cause…. We who are in Christ and are married are an object lesson. But I must ask: Are we teaching the right lesson? God ordained the institution of marriage to be a picture to the world of His great love for us, but more often than not, we present a picture of our love for God instead.

Marriage Often Paints a Picture of Our Love for God.

The typical Christian family may look quite good to the casual observer. They attend church regularly, eat together every evening, and they have family prayer time. Bedtime is peaceful, and they get along pretty well most of the time. Their children go to a good school, or perhaps they are taught at home. They learned early on to obey and respect their elders. The husband works diligently so he can pay the bills and even buy some “extras” now and then. He maintains the home, yard, and vehicles. The wife cleans the house, prepares delicious meals, takes care of the children, and keeps up with the laundry and ironing. Together they are a well oiled machine—but there is little to no intimacy. The things they do for each other are motivated by obligation or perhaps habit, but not by love. They have each gotten so caught up in their own interests that they hardly know each other anymore. They live under the same roof and sleep under the same sheets, but they barely rub shoulders anymore. They are keeping up appearances, and that is all. When she has a problem, she knows she ought to go to him for help, but she doesn’t because she is unsure of how he will react. So she turns instead to her friends. He does the same thing. Communication falters and trust disintegrates.

All too often our relationship with Christ looks just like that. We go to church, we sing, we give, and sometimes we minister in more overt ways as well. But after a while, if the love relationship with Christ is not nurtured, then the ministry becomes a chore. Problems arise and we take them to our friends instead of the Lord because we don’t quite know what to say to Him anymore.

deep-water-shining-lightIf this is where you are, the first thing to do is return to the Lord, and that is as easy as floating to the surface of the water. I remember the first time I jumped off the high dive at the base swimming pool. My body plunged deep into the water, and at first I couldn’t tell which way was up. But instead of panicking—or even swimming—I decided to be still, and pretty soon the light above me became brighter as my body began to rise to the surface. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word translated know here means “to ascertain by seeing.” When I am still, God will draw me unto Himself, and His light will shine more brightly as I draw closer to Him.

When my relationship with God is what it should be, then my relationship with my spouse will be right as well. A right relationship with God always comes first. In fact, take another look at the passage above. Before Paul addressed the issue of marriage with the believers in Ephesus, he first told them they needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit (v.18). And here’s a wonderful ray of hope: You can have a God-honoring marriage even if your spouse is not on board with you. How is that possible? Keep reading and you will see.

 

Marriage Is Intended to Paint a Picture of God’s Love for Us.

We who know the Lord are the church, and we are sinful, imperfect wretches, every one of us. We do not cooperate with God; we do not return His love; we do not always please Him with our words, thoughts, and actions. But in spite of all that, God loves us unwaveringly. There is nothing I can do to make my Lord stop loving me. Marriage is intended to be just like that. The husband is instructed to love his wife, and the wife is instructed to reverence—or respect—her husband. Period. No conditions. No questions asked. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, regardless of whether she is worthy of his love. And the wife is to respect her husband regardless of whether he is worthy of her respect. Such love and respect are possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

A woman recently went to a female counselor for help with her marriage. She and her husband of 22 years had tried repeatedly through the years to resolve their problems, but the best they had done was to come to a stalemate. She would never leave him, but neither did she want to go on indefinitely living two separate lives under one roof. Surely intimacy was possible. The godly counselor listened for an hour as the woman poured her heart out, then she said, “Well, there’s no point talking about what your husband needs to do because he’s not here, but I have one word for you: Respect.” Then she told her to open her Bible to Ephesians 5:33 and read it aloud: “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” The woman looked at the counselor and said, “I can’t do that.” And the counselor answered, “You don’t have a choice. This is God’s plan for the wife.” The woman left the office sorrowful that day because she did not see how it was possible to respect her husband. But she trusted the Lord, knowing that His way is best. She asked Him to teach her to respect her husband, and she committed to learning this lesson no matter how long it may take. She accepted the fact that her husband may never change, but her attitude toward him can change, and that alone will make a huge difference in their marriage, for the Father promised to reward her obedience. The story is still in progress, but I’ll let you know how it goes by and by.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies with parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade—
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”

The songwriter said it so beautifully: the love of God cannot be measured, it cannot be described, and it cannot be fully comprehended. You and I are unworthy of His love, but He loves us anyway. He created us, and He gave us richly all things to enjoy, but we turned our backs on Him and chose to go our own way. Did He respond by turning His back on us? No! He loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to pay the ransom for our sins so that we could be redeemed and once more walk in fellowship with Him. What a beautiful picture! And we are married for this cause.

August 18, 2017

Photos courtesy of Pixabay

Ruth ~ A Nobody Who Became Somebody Special

Today’s study is a continuation of last week’s look at the life of Naomi. Ruth was born in the land of Moab. She was not one of God’s chosen people by birth, but nevertheless she was chosen by God to fill a very special role in history, as we shall see.

Allow me to recap last week’s story to set the stage for today. There was a famine in the land of Israel, so Elimelech moved his family from Bethlehem (the House of Bread) to Moab (God’s Washpot). They went there to stay, not just to wait for the end of the famine. No one knows why Elimelech truly wanted to leave Bethlehem, but God had a purpose, as we soon shall see. Elimelech and Naomi had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, and they married two women of Moab, Ruth and Orpah. They were married for ten years before the brothers died, yet they both died childless. Elimelech had also died, so Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Orpah and Ruth both went with her part of the way, but then she told them to return to their families, where they could remarry and worship their gods as they were accustomed. Eventually Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and returned home, but Ruth stuck with her. In fact, the Bible says she “clung” to her. (Imagine a bond tighter than super glue.) Then Ruth said something to her mother-in-law that is now often quoted at weddings: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you: for where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). Let’s see exactly what Ruth was promising to her mother-in-law.

1. Where you go, I will go.

Ruth had never been to Israel. In fact, it is likely she had never before left Moab. And yet she was willing to go anywhere with Naomi, such was her loyalty to this woman to whom she was related only by marriage. Perhaps Naomi, by the grace of God, had shown more love to Ruth than she had ever known from any other person.

2. Where you lodge, I will lodge.

Ruth did not intend to use Naomi to gain entrance into Bethlehem and then find her own way from there. Instead, she would continue to love and care for her mother-in-law, putting the elder woman’s needs ahead of her own. Ruth had such a servant’s heart, and also a spirit of gratitude for all that Naomi had done for her in the ten years that she had known her.

3. Your people shall be my people.

Ruth knew she would be a stranger in Israel, a foreigner, an outcast. Very likely the people would never accept her as one of them, and yet she would accept them as her own for Naomi’s sake.

4. Your God shall be my God.

Here is the key to all of Ruth’s commitment. Naomi had introduced her to the one true and living God, and Ruth had come to follow God for herself. She had turned her back on the false gods of her people and embraced Jehovah. This is why she could never go back to her old life. Her old life was dead. She now had a new life and a new walk.

5. Where you die, I will die.

Considering the difference in age, Ruth most likely assumed that Naomi would die before her, but she affirmed that she would remain faithful to the God of Israel even after Naomi’s death. She was steadfast, committed, and there was no turning back.

6. And there will I be buried.

This perhaps also points to her new faith in Jehovah, for most of the heathen practiced cremation. By admitting that she wanted to be buried, perhaps she was also admitting her faith in the resurrection of the dead. Or perhaps she was simply emphasizing the fact that she would never forsake either Naomi or God, whether by life or by death.

With this statement of loyalty, Naomi was content, and the two of them walked on. They arrive in Bethlehem at the time of barley harvest. We can assume that they return to the home that Naomi had lived in with her husband and boys before they left Bethlehem more than a decade before. They would have been very tired from their journey, and they probably both fell asleep with very little trouble, in spite of the dust and spiders that would have taken over the house during the long absence. I can easily imagine that when Naomi awakened the next morning, she found Ruth already up and busy tidying the house, chasing the bugs out, sweeping and dusting, washing and scrubbing, turning the house back into a home.

But they needed more than just a clean place to live. They also needed food to eat. So when the house was clean, Ruth asked Naomi if she could go find a field where she could glean, as the Israelites had a law whereby to care for the poor of the land, that they could go behind the reapers in the field and pick up the gleanings that had been dropped. That was the welfare of the day. I love how the Bible says, “And she happened to come to a part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3). Was it luck that led her there? or the Lord? Of course, we know that nothing in our lives happens by chance. God led her, not only to a place where her immediate need for food would be provided, but a much greater need would be met.

In the Old Testament times, protection of the family inheritance was very important, so a provision was made in the law of the kinsman redeemer in the case when a man died leaving no heir for his property. According to the law of the kinsman redeemer, someone of close relationship to the deceased could marry the widow, and the son born to them would become the heir to the property, as if he had been born to the deceased man. In much the same way Jesus Christ is our Kinsman Redeemer. That is why He had to be born. He could not redeem us as God; He had to become the God-Man in order to identify with us so that He could redeem us and give us an inheritance in God. This is very simplified because I’m trying to keep this article short. To learn more, study it out for yourself or ask me in a private message.

Boaz, the owner of the field that Ruth “happened” to find, was a near kinsman to her. He was not the nearest kinsman, but the nearest kinsman forfeited his right to redeem the land, so Boaz and Ruth were able to be married. This is to me one of the most beautiful love stories ever written—and it’s a true story, which makes it even better. Please read the book of Ruth for yourself. It doesn’t take long.

So Boaz and Ruth were married, and they had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse, and Jesse had a son named David—the very same David who became king of Israel! Can you imagine! God used a woman from a foreign land, an outcast, but a woman who forsook all and trusted Him completely, and elevated her to the status of great grandmother of King David, and in the direct line of Christ (Mt. 1:5). Did she know how God was going to use her? No. Do you know how God is going to use you? No. Nor do I. What I like most about the book of Ruth is that God uses little people… nobodies… people who in their high school yearbooks would be voted as “least likely to succeed.” Those are the people who, when fully surrendered to God, can be used to do great things. Because it is not them; it is God. God only asks us to be faithful. The rest is entirely up to Him.

Next week: Damaris

The Lifter Up of My Head ~ Psalm 3

Psalm 3

LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be who say of my soul, “There is no help for him in God.” Selah.
But You, O LORD, are a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head.

I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill. Selah.
I laid me down and slept; I awakened; for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for You have smitten all my enemies upon the cheek bone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs unto the LORD: Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah.

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My Onesimus

Squirrels lookingA Message of Forgiveness from Philemon

Please be warned that today’s post touches on some painful memories. As I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s blog post, I’m going to make myself vulnerable to you because I believe someone out there needs to understand in no uncertain terms that God is interested in every situation and in every life. And there is nothing so big, so ugly, and so horrible, that He cannot transform it into something beautiful. Your situation may be far worse than mine, but God is bigger than your problems. Please let that sink in as you read my story.

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