Sunday, September 30, 2018

Harmony in the Christian Home – Ephesians 6:1-4

I think it would be safe to say that all of us want to have harmony in our homes.  We want our homes to be a safe place from all the hostility and bitterness that exists in the world.  The last thing we desire is to come home to dissension and anger and hostility and fighting.  Such an environment leaves no place for the soul to rest.  It causes husbands and wives, parents and children, to draw up into themselves and to avoid the people to whom they ought to be the closest.  If a child does not experience love and harmony in the home, we should not be surprised if they grow up to be cynical and suspicious of others.  And then they will go on to reproduce the cycle of suspicion and cynicism, hostility and anger, in their own homes. That should be the last thing we want.

Now, as Christians, we have a choice.  We may or may not have been brought up in a broken home.  We may or may not have grown up in a home were parents fought with each other and with their children.  In the end, that shouldn’t matter when it come to our homes, because we have the perfect guide, our Lord, and the perfect rule, the Scriptures.  We also have the perfect enabler, the Holy Spirit.  Our homes do not have to be a mirror image of the ones we grew up in, nor do they have to be an image of the homes so often found in Christless families. 

On the other hand, if we have grown up in a godly home, though you should thank God for this, you shouldn’t presume that you are just automatically going to reproduce this in your home.  A righteous man can have a godless son.  Godliness does not run in families; it is a gift of the grace of God.  Sin does, however, come naturally to us, and if we are not careful – even if we were raised in a consciously Christian home – we will end up reproducing an environment in our homes that is more like our godless culture than it is like the home that is the fruit of gospel living.

Now, I have preached on this passage many times.  This morning, therefore, I want to approach it from a particular point of view, from the point of view of how we can restore and secure harmony in the Christian home.  I say Christian home on purpose, because all the apostle says here is predicated on the fact that he is speaking to people who have embraced the gospel and the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives.  You see this in our text in the words “in the Lord” in verse 1 and “of the Lord” in verse 4.  The Lord is a reference to Jesus Christ.  He is our Lord, and his words and example are the pattern and motivation for the Christian home.  If you don’t embrace Christ as Lord, then it is hard to see how you could truly put these words into practice.

How then do we secure harmony in the home?  Now I am talking about harmony here.  I know that the word “harmony” is not specifically mentioned in these verses, but it is definitely implied.  Remember that everything the apostles says from 5:22 to 6:9 is predicated upon his exhortation in 5:21 – “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”  That is harmony, putting others before yourself.  It’s like what the apostle is talking about in Romans 15 when he exhorts the believers in Rome to “be likeminded one toward another” and to “receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:5, 7).  It’s what Peter is getting at when he reminds husbands and wives that they are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).  So if we put Paul’s instructions into practice, we are going to see the relationships in our homes – between husband and wife, parent and child – become increasingly harmonious and unified and loving and caring.

Now here’s something else.  Sometimes people have been so long in a bad condition that they don’t have any hope for change.  Things are just the way they are and they think they are going to stay that way.  As Christians, we don’t have to accept that!  Look, if your problems are so bad that you don’t have hope for change, then the real problem is that you don’t really believe what the Bible says about the power of God’s grace.  Our Lord said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).  Now a lot of people quote that verse and apply it to truth in general.  But our Lord is not making a statement about truth in general, he is making a statement about the truth concerning himself.  You have to read this verse with the previous one: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  In other words, if you embrace the truth about Christ and become his disciple, then you will experience true freedom.  And the freedom he is talking about here is freedom from sin, because in verses 34 and 36 he says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin . . . if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”  It could be that harmony is hard to come by in our homes.  It could be that you are very discouraged and don’t think it could ever be achieved.  But that is just to give into a lie that the Devil wants you to believe, but the Bible tells us that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). 

Now I realize that for true harmony to exist in our homes, everyone has to participate.  However, you cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself.  So stop looking at the other person.  Consider the ways you can change.  There is freedom in that, even if the other person never changes.  The Bible never gives us the excuse that we get to wait on the other person, or if the other person doesn’t change, then we don’t have to.  That’s baloney. 

With that in mind, what does our passage say about how to achieve harmony in the home?

Well, the first thing I think we should point out is that Ephesians 5:22-33 comes before Ephesians 6:1-4.  In other words, unless husbands and wives are relating to each other the way they are supposed to relate, it’s going to be hard to have a home in which the children relate properly to the parents and the parents to the children and the children with each other.  Of course, if you don’t have children in the home, all the harmony in the home is going to come down to harmony between the husband and the wife.  So this is fundamental.

How does this look?  Let me remind you what the apostle says.  He says that wives are to submit to their husbands.  I know that this is not a popular thing to say today, but it is the Biblical thing to say.  If a wife is fundamentally unwilling to submit to her husband, and if the husband is fundamentally unwilling to lead the home, then there will be no basis for Biblical harmony in the home. 

But the husband ought never to be a tyrant or bully or center-of-the-universe in the Christian home.  Christ is Lord, not the husband.  And the husband is to lead his family, and especially his wife, in a loving manner.  He is to love his wife as himself.  He is to recognize that marriage has brought him into this “one-flesh” relationship with his wife, and on this basis he is to serve her and lead her, as Christ serves and leads the church.  If the husband truly loves his wife and is looking out for her interests and not just his own, then he will be in a position to lead her in such a way that she will willingly follow.  It will be hard, and sometimes impossible, for a wife to submit to a selfish bully.  That is not the marriage Paul is calling us to model. 

So the apostle’s words to husbands and wives are absolutely foundational to 6:1-4.  If the marriage is not right, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get the parenting right.  It will create an environment in which children will find it easy to disobey and disrespect their parents.  That doesn’t, of course, give the children an excuse for such behavior, or make it right.  But it does make it easy for sinful attitudes and behaviors to take root.  As parents, we must remember that when we sin against our spouses, it will not only affect our relationship to our spouse, our sin will also affect the people next closest to us, namely, our children.  The words of Hebrews are relevant here: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).  When bitterness between husband and wife springs up, the first people (outside the marriage) to be defiled by that are the children. 

I think this is especially important with the respect to the attitudes that the husband has toward his wife and the wife toward her husband.  Note the thing that Paul says at the end of Ephesians 5: “Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (33).  There are these two attitudes: love and reverence.  They are absolutely crucial to harmony in the home.  The husband loves his wife and does so in a way that is obvious to everyone – the wife, of course, and especially the children.  Husband, does your wife feel loved by you?  It is not enough to convince yourself that you love your wife.  You need to love her in ways that she feels loved.  If you are not doing that, you are probably not loving your wife. 

And wife, does your husband feel respected by you?  It is not enough to convince yourself that you respect him; he must feel respected by you.  By the way, the word in the KJV is better than the one used in most translations here.  Most translations use the word “respect” in verse 33.  But “reverence” is better.  It is more accurate.  The Greek word literally means “to fear.”  Of course, Paul is not saying that the wife should be afraid of her husband.  But there ought to be genuine reverence for him.  And the children ought to see that.  Do they?  Why do you think children don’t love and respect their parents?  It’s often because they don’t see the love and respect their parents ought to have for each other.  It is the first step to securing harmony in the home.

So wife, submit to your husband.  And husband, lead her in a way that is loving and fundamentally consistent with the way Christ loves and leads the church.

Next, Paul comes to the children in verse 1-3.  If there is to be harmony in the home, children must learn to obey their parents while they are at home.  And then even when they leave home and start their own families, they still show respect for their moms and dads.  That is the point of these verses.

Another way to put this is that the Christian home is not a child-centered home.  It is not a home where the children think they are the most important thing around, and where their wishes are always to be granted.  Rather, the Christian home is a Christ-centered home, in which is Lordship is respected and followed in every area of the home.  And part of being Christ-centered means following the leadership structure which he has ordained, and that means that parents lovingly lead their children and children lovingly obey their parents.

You know that you have entered a child-centered home when children are constantly interrupting their parents, when they can use manipulation and rebellion to get their way, when they can dictate the family schedule, when their needs take precedence over the needs of the spouse, when they have an equal or overriding vote in family decisions, when they can escape responsibility for their actions, when they look at their parents as if they were their peers, when they are entertained and coddled (instead of disciplined) out of a bad mood.[1]

The problem is that in many cases, the problem with children not obeying their parents is a problem with the parents not obeying Christ – that is, not willing to put in the time and effort to structure their home in the way Christ has ordained.  Yes, children are to obey their parents and this is addressed to them and they are accountable to obey their parents, but it is also the parent’s responsibility to see that the children understand that this is how they are expected to behave and to explain (as appropriate) why it is this way.

Speaking of reasons why, do you notice that the apostle spends most of his time in verses 1-3 giving such reasons?  There are three of them.  One reason is from nature: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  Charles Hodge commenting on this phrase, writes, “It is not because of the personal character of the parent, nor because of his kindness, nor on the ground of expediency, but because it is ‘right;’ an obligation arising out of the nature of the relation between parents and children, and which must exist wherever the relation itself exists.”[2]  Nature and just plain reason ought to tell us that parents are the natural choice for the direction of the life of their children.  To replace the parent with a nameless bureaucracy, as seems to be occurring in the West, is unnatural and unwise. Therefore, it is right and natural for children to obey their parents and wrong and unnatural for them to rebel against their direction and authority.

Another reason the apostle gives is from Scripture, straight out of the Ten Commandments: “Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (2-3).  It bothers me the way some evangelicals speak about the OT.  One prominent evangelical pastor says that we need to unhinge our faith from the OT.  But Paul never did that.  If you unhinge your faith from OT, you will also have to unhinge your faith from the NT.  They go together.  Yes, there is discontinuity but there is also continuity.  The discontinuity shows up here in the way Paul generalizes the promise.  In the Ten Commandments, the promise was that obedient children would have long life in the land of Canaan.  Paul generalizes this to long life on the earth, because the church is no longer tied to a specific geographic location.  However, there is also the obvious continuity.  The moral law still applies.  Paul is basing NT ethical commands on OT ethical commands.  The reason is obvious: the God of the OT is the God of the NT.  To deny this is to fall into the second-century heresy of Marcionism and to undermine the moral basis of the NT ethic.

Now, this ought to tell you children just how important it is to obey your parents.  God thought it so important that he did two things: first, he put in the Ten Commandments, which was a summary of how the life of the godly man or woman is to live before God.  It’s right there next to, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”  It’s right there next to, “Thou shalt not murder.”  This is clearly serious, and you see how serious it is when you look at how rebellious children were dealt with under the Law.  In a word, they were stoned!  Now, here is another point of discontinuity, in that the punishments of the Law no longer apply to the church.  But we should not think that God has softened in his view towards children who rebel against their parents.  The Law remains a reminder of just how God continues to think of it.

Then the next thing God did was to attach a promise to this commandment.  Now this has given commentators a lot of indigestion because of the fact Paul says that this is “the first commandment with promise.”  The problem is that there is a promise attached to the second commandment.  However, I think that the solution is that the promise attached to the second commandment is not specific to that commandment but is a promise (or a threat) of how God will act toward all who disobey any of his commandments.  Thus, the promise attached to the Fifth Commandment is the first promise attached to a specific commandment.  But there’s another problem then.  There are no other promises attached to any other commandments in the Ten Commandments!  So why would Paul say it is the first commandment with a promise?  The solution is surely that when Paul says this is the first commandment with a promise, he is not thinking only of the Ten Commandments, but the whole Law which includes the Ten Commandments.  This is a consistent and satisfactory solution.

The point is that God gave a promise to this commandment.  It’s that important to him.  It’s not only that you should obey your parents because it’s the right thing to do, but also because God has created this world so that obedience would be rewarded and disobedience would be punished.  That is the point of the promise.  It is not that there are not exceptions to the rule.  But exceptions do not negate the rule, and the rule – the promise – is that if you obey your parents, you are putting yourself in a position to be blessed.  On the other hand, children who do not obey their parents are setting themselves up for failure and disappointment in life.  This is why it is so important for parents to shepherd their children rightly and to command their obedience and respect.  Proverbs 29:15 says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bring shame to his mother” (ESV).

And then the most important reason Paul gives for children to obey their parents is from the gospel: I get this from the phrase “in the Lord” (1).  This is an unmistakable reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In a Christian home, everything is to be flavored by the gospel, including the way children relate to their parents.  Children need to understand that our homes stand under the Lordship of Christ and that this is a good thing not a bad thing.  Christ died for our sins that we might have eternal life.  This is not the act of a tyrant.  This is not the act of someone who is using you for selfish and unloving ends.  This is the generous and loving act of a Savior who gave his life so that his people might have never-ending and ever-increasing joy.  So if obedience to parents is something he commands, we can be sure that it is for our good.

At the same time, the gospel reminds us that obedience to any authority is not the basis of our salvation; that basis of our salvation is Christ.  Thus, where the gospel flavors the home life, it will temper the parent’s upbringing of their children, so that it is not done in a legalistic, mechanical, lifeless, and loveless atmosphere.  Yes, we expect obedience from our children, but we also give them grace, because that is just the way our Savior relates to us.

And that brings us to verse 4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” 

First of all, Paul addresses fathers in particular here because fathers are the leaders in the home.  It was that way in the general culture as well.  But this does not preclude mothers.  It is the ultimate responsibility of the father to make sure his children are being educated and brought up in a way that is consistent with the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  But of course the mother plays an important and crucial role here as well and she should hear these verses addressed to herself too. 

In our day, though, I think it is good that Paul put “fathers” here, because in our culture, men are more likely than not to leave the child-rearing to the mother.  This is true I think in Christian and non-Christian homes.  But this is not Biblical.  Fathers, God holds you just as responsible for the upbringing of your children.  We need to invest in our children, our sons and our daughters, and this doesn’t begin and end in bringing home the bacon.  It means that you are actively participating in their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. 

Note what Paul says: “in the nurture (paideia) and admonition (nouthesia) of the Lord.”  Now this word “nurture” includes the total development and training of the child.  The Greeks used this word to refer to the development of culture in their citizens.  In other words, this means all that goes into the training of a child and the outlook that they develop as a result of that.  Of course, for different people this means different things.  For the ancient Spartans, it means developing a sense of total submission to the state; that was their culture.  For the ancient Athenians, it meant something different: for them the development of culture meant educating their citizens so that they developed physical and spiritual maturity so that they became responsible individuals who could serve the state.[3] 

For the Christian, it means something entirely different: it means training our children so that they develop a Biblical worldview centered on Christ.  This is the meaning of the phrase “of the Lord” in verse 4.  We are not interested merely that they can read and write.  We want them to read and write and think and do art and science and everything else to the glory of God.  We want them to live out the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” 

One of the ways we do this is by instruction and admonition.  Parents, you must teach your children the right way.  They will not absorb it by some process of osmosis.  They must hear from you the truth of God’s word.  If you share the gospel with anyone, share it with your children.  Teach them the Bible.  Teach them theology.  Memorize the Bible with them.  Sing it with them.  Let them know why you believe what you believe.  Don’t just expect them to embrace your worldview, because there are plenty of influences out there in the world who would love to draw your children away from the faith.  Make it interesting.  Show them that it is freeing.  Adorn the gospel of God our Savior in all things, especially in front of your children.  Back it up with your life.

If they truly embrace, along with their parents, the gospel, that is the truest way to harmony in the home.  But there are ways to sabotage this nurture and admonition, and that is why the apostle put in those words, “fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.”  In Colossians, Paul writes, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:21).  Are your children angry, angry with you?  It could be that they are angry because you have provoked them. 

There are any number of ways this could happen.  Let me list a few.[4]  It could happen because of marital disharmony, as we’ve already pointed out.  It could happen because you are modeling sinful anger in front of them, blowing up at each other and at your children.  It could happen because when you do discipline them, even if they are wrong, you discipline them in anger.  As Lloyd-Jones put it, “We are incapable of exercising true discipline unless we are first able to exercise self-control, and discipline our own tempers.”[5]  Another consequence of this is scolding our children, which happens when we are unable to talk to our children in a natural tone of voice.  Along the same lines is a parent who disciplines their children in front of others, adding insult to injury.  In some sense this is a lack of discipline, refusing to make a place and a time in which correction can be administered in a way consistent with both justice and the dignity of the child.  We can provoke them to anger when we refuse to listen to the child’s side of the story, when we rush to judgment before we have had the opportunity to hear from them what happened.

There are other ways.  For example, when we live a double life in front of them, when we tell them to do one thing and then do another.  We can do it when we refuse to admit we are wrong and don’t ask their forgiveness when we have sinned against them.  We can do it when we are constantly finding fault with them, when we refuse to praise them for their successes but always point out their failures.  We can do it when we continually compare them to others, especially to their siblings or perhaps someone else’s child.

It is always the easiest thing to do to blame someone else when our homes are not the way they ought to be.  But if our homes are disordered, the very first place we need to look is in the mirror.  If you provoke your children to anger, and you don’t repent, Paul says that this will lead to discouragement.  And if that is not relieved, it will inevitably lead to rebellion.  In other words, the failure of parents to pay attention to verse 4 leads to children who don’t pay attention to verses 1-3. 

If we want harmony in the home, we need to take heed to all the apostle’s instructions, including his words to wives, husbands, children, and parents.  If there is not harmony in the home, on any level, it is because we are left off obeying God’s word to us in these verses.

And harmony is what we should expect in the Christian home.  It ought to be the outworking of God reconciling us to himself through Jesus Christ and bringing harmony between us and God.  If we have experienced this, it ought to show in practical, daily ways in our homes.  Remember that these instructions flow out of the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit in 5:18.  The promise of the Spirit is the gift of Christ, given to those who believe in the Son of God.  And if we live in the Spirit, we ought to walk in the Spirit, not provoking one another, but exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (cf. Gal. 5:22-26).

[1] I got this list from The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo (Grace and Truth Books, 2015), p. 24.
[2] Charles Hodge, Ephesians (Banner of Truth, 1991 [reprint, 1856 ed.]), p. 262.
[3] Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3, (Zondervan, 1986), p. 775.
[4] Again, this list comes from Lou Priolo’s book, The Heart of Anger, chapter 2, p. 29-51.
[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit, (Baker, 1974), p. 278.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

How a husband should love his wife. Ephesians 5:28-33

To this day, I remember a story I read in a magazine that came out when I was a teenager.  It was about a well-known pastor who was almost forced to step down from the pastorate (and probably should have) – after many years of public and prosperous ministry – because his wife divorced him.  Now the interesting thing is that she didn’t divorce him because he was sexually unfaithful to her or any other kind of what we would normally consider flagrant, ministry-ending sins.  The reason she gave was that he had chosen his ministry over her.  Over the years she had been neglected and ignored and unloved.  He had poured all his passion into the ministry and left his wife in the shadows.  Now, I do not condone the divorce.  But the fact of the matter is that this pastor certainly hadn’t loved his wife as Christ loved the church.  He had sinned greatly against his wife. 

The thing that haunts me the most to this day about this tragedy is the way the magazine advertised the story on the front cover.  On the cover page was a picture of this pastor preaching, along with quotes from sermons he had given over the years on marriage.  Every one of the quotes condemned the very way he had treated his wife.  If he had just listened to his own words.  If he had just practiced what he had preached.

This story haunts me because I know how it is much easier to preach than to practice what you preach.  This is of course true of all of us.  Hypocrisy is not something some people have to deal with; it is something we all have to deal with.  At some level, we are all hypocrites.  You’ve heard the adage, “Don’t do what I do, but do what I say.”  It’s the same thing.  And it is easy to preach on marriage, but it is also easy to sin against your wife.

And so, when I come to preach on words like this, I remember that pastor.  I preach this sermon with fear and trembling.  I acknowledge before you all that I am not perfect and that there are ways I can and should be a better husband.  I also acknowledge that by the grace of God I will become a better husband, and, taking Christ to be my guide, will love my wife the way she ought to be loved. 

Now, my wife and I have agreed that if ever my ministry begins to come between us, I will step down from the ministry immediately.  But there are a million ways for a husband to sin against his wife because there are a million ways for a husband to fail to love his wife the way he ought to love her.  So we husbands need to be vigilant.  And there is no better place to begin being vigilant in loving our wives than to start by listening to how the apostle exhorts Christian husbands to love their wives.

There are two aspects of this text that I want to look at.  There will be, of course, some overlap with what we have already touched on in the previous verses, but I think these things are worth repeating.  The overriding exhortation here is found at the beginning of verse 28: “So ought men to love their wives.”  I want to unpack that statement in two stages.  First of all, this text says something about the foundation of this love to which husbands are called.  That foundation is marriage and the meaning of marriage as God instituted it among men.  In other words, the meaning of marriage gives the why of marital love.  Second, this text says something about the example of this love, which is Christ.  His love for the church gives the how of marital love.

First of all, let us consider the foundation of this love, which is marriage.  Clearly, Paul is speaking to husbands as to married men.  But that is not the only reason why I say that marriage is the foundation of this love.  It is because Paul goes on to say, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.”  Why does Paul say that?  Why does he say, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself”?  He says this because there is a real union between husband and wife and that union is created in marriage.  They are one; so that in a very real sense when a husband loves his wife he is loving himself.  The apostle refers to the Biblical support for this union in verse 31, when he quotes Genesis 2:24.  This verse reads, “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.” 

Our Lord also referred to this verse when answering a question from the Pharisees about divorce.  Our Lord quotes this verse, and then says, “Wherefore they are no more two, but one flesh.  What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).  This is a very significant text, for a very important reason.  This is because our Lord affirms here that the marriage union is a union created by God.  Husband and wife are one because God makes them and declares them so: “what God hath joined together.”  So when Paul talks about husband and wife being one flesh, he is referring to the reality than in marriage God makes two people, a man and a woman, one flesh.

Now some people look at this and think Paul is just referring to sex.  Their reason is that in 1 Cor. 6:16, the apostle quotes Gen. 2:24 there as well as a reason for Christian men not to consort with prostitutes.  There is no marriage there, just a man joining himself unlawfully to a prostitute.  However, that cannot be the sum total to this one flesh reality that Paul and Christ are talking about in Eph. 5 and Mt. 19.  The context of Genesis 2:24 is marriage, not just sex.  The reason Paul refers to this text in 1 Cor. 6 is because marriage was ordained to be the only place in which a man and a woman should have sex (cf. Heb. 13:4).  One of the many horrors of prostitution is that it allows a man to treat another woman who is not his wife as if she were his wife, but without any of the commitments of love and respect; she becomes merely an object.  It is a degrading institution and it is one of the benefits that Christianity brings to society that where true Christianity flourishes prostitution does not.

So the one flesh union is a reference to marriage, and marriage is a union created and sanctioned by God himself.  In marriage, a man and a woman become one.  This is the basis of the apostle’s reasoning in the text.  It is the reason given why a husband should love his wife.  He should love her because she is one with him; to love her is to love himself.  Later, in verse 31, where the apostle quotes Genesis 2:24, the language is there of a husband cleaving to [being joined to, holding fast to] his wife.  This word “being joined to” underlines again the nature of this union.  That word literally means to glue together, to weld together.[1]  It is a very strong word.  The apostle uses it to cement this idea of the union between husband and wife.  Interestingly, it does not contain the idea of alloy, of two things being mixed up into one thing, but the idea of two distinct things between united into one.  In marriage, our personalities are not dissolved but are united in such a way that they complement each other and strengthen each other.

So notice how the apostle reasons in verse 29: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”  It is unnatural for a person to hate themselves.  We care for ourselves.  Paul says that if you are married self-care means spouse care.  If you don’t see that it means that you do not appreciate the reality that marriage is.  It means that you don’t understand the meaning of marriage. 

Paul’s logic is this: you are a husband, married to your wife, and therefore one with her.  You are her and she is you in a very real sense.  (Again, this is not to say that marriage disintegrates our individuality; it unites two people without destroying their identities as individuals.)  Therefore it is as unnatural to fail to love your wife as it is to love yourself.  You ought to love your wife because she is one with you.  In other words, the meaning of marriage is the foundation of love in marriage. 

Now this is very important for the following reason.  We live in a culture in which the basis for loving someone else is whatever it is at the moment that pleases you.  If another person pleases you, you love them.  If they do not please you anymore, you move on.  It is the mindset that is behind so many of the broken families in our generation.  With this mindset, there is very little room for patience, for forgiveness, for longsuffering, and for sacrificial love.  On the other hand, if you look at your wife as you look at yourself, there is going to be a lot more room for all those things.  I love the way Charles Hodge expresses this.  He writes: “Conjugal love . . . is as much a dictate of nature as self-love; and it is just as unnatural for a man to hate his wife, as it would be for him to hate himself or his own body.  A man may have a body which does not altogether suit him.  He may wish it were handsomer, healthier, stronger, or more active.  Still, it is his body, it is himself; and he nourisheth and cherishes it as tenderly as though it were the best and loveliest man ever had.  So a man may have a wife whom he could wish to be better, or more beautiful, or more agreeable; still she is his wife, and, by the constitution of nature and ordinance of God, a part of himself.  In neglecting or ill-using her, he violates the laws of nature as well as the law of God.”[2]  Husband, you are to love your wife because you are one with her; you are therefore to love your wife as you love yourself.  Marriage is the foundation of the love to which you are called.

Second, let us consider the example of this love.  It is Christ.  Note how verse 28 begins: “So ought men to love their wives.”  What does the word “so” refer to [“in the same way” is how the ESV puts it]?  Well, clearly, Paul is referring to verses 25-27.  Remember, in those verses he reminds us how Christ loved the church: “Husbands, love you wives, even as Christ loved the church . . . so ought men to love their wives.”  The reason you should love your wife is that you are one flesh with her.  The example you are to take in loving your wife is the way Christ loved the church.  Paul refers to this again in verses 29, 30, and 32.

We noted last time that there are two elements to our Lord’s love for the church that are highlighted here.  The first is that his love is sacrificial, and the second is that his love secures the happiness of the church.  These two elements ought to find their way into the love that as husbands we have for our wives. 

Let’s take this second aspect first: if we love our wives, we will delight in and work for their happiness.  The point of being married is not to have someone around to always serve your wishes.  A married man who honors Christ in his marriage is the man who finds his joy in the joy of his wife.  He is the man who serves his wife and meets her needs even as he leads her.  He finds his delight in her delight.  He dwells with her “according to knowledge,” as Peter puts it, as an heir together of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7), in order to help her and bless her.  Christ makes the church beautiful (cf. Eph. 5:27).  A good husband does not wear his wife down but builds her up.  He follows his master who did not come to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).

How is this worked out in the marriage?  I think the key word here is “cherish” in verse 29: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”  The interesting thing about these words is that they come right out of the nursery.  In other words, this is the type of language a parent uses to express the tender affection and care they have for their children.  In fact, this is the way these words are used elsewhere in the NT.  For example, the word behind “nourish” is the word for “bring . . . up” in Ephesians 6:4 with reference to a father’s care for his children.  The word behind “cherish” is used in 1 Thess. 2:7 to express the apostle’s care for the Thessalonian believers and likens that to the way a nurse or a mother takes care of her children: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.”

Now Paul uses these words here to describe how a person takes care of their bodies: they nourish and cherish them.  In other words, people normally devote much care and attention to their bodies.  The apostle is saying that this ought to describe our love for our wives.  We are always shocked when we see someone who isn’t taking care of themselves because that is just not normal human behavior.  We are also shocked when we see a parent who isn’t devoted to the happiness of their children.  The apostle is implying here that we ought to be just as shocked when a Christian husband doesn’t love his wife in such a way that he is devoted to her care and happiness.  He ought to cherish her.

What does this look like?  First of all, it means he is devoted to her.  The reason why a wife might chafe under the leadership of her husband is probably because he is more devoted to himself than he is to his wife.  The Christian husband is constantly thinking of his wife and her needs and wishes even as he leads his family.  He is her servant even as he is her head.  Now I am not saying that Paul is encouraging any kind of foolishness here, or that a loving husband indulges his wife even when it would not be for her good.  It doesn’t mean that he moves to her every whim.  That would be not be wise or loving, and that is not how Christ loves the church.  But it does mean that she comes before everyone else.  The husband’s first affection and first loyalty is to his wife, not to his buddies or his co-workers or his parents.  His wife is the love of his life.  As Martin Luther is supposed to have said, “The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.”  Whether he said that or not, I think it’s absolutely right.

Second, it means that he doesn’t just love his wife with his hands, but also with his heart.  We all know that we are called to love even when we don’t feel like it.  There are always going to be times in a marriage when you do the right thing, not because you want to do it, but because it is the right thing to do.  But you don’t cherish your wife if your married life is just one long list of duties to perform.  If your affections don’t follow your will, then something is wrong.  To use John Piper’s famous illustration, you don’t give your wife roses and then explain that it was just your duty to do so.  That is not cherishing and nourishing.  And if you are not in the place where you feel love to your wife, where you are moved by your wife, then you need to get there.  To stay in that place is sin and you need to repent.  Husband, cherish your wife!

Now you can fail to do this in at least one of two ways.  One way you can fail to do this is by intentionally doing things that hurt your wife.  If you know that doing something will hurt her, but you do it anyway, that is wrong.  It is not loving your wife as Christ loved the church.  But there is another way to fail to do this.  It is by ignoring your wife.  Going about life as if your wife did not exist.  Christ does not ignore his church, his people.  He constantly reminds us that he is with us, even to the end of the age.  In all our afflictions, he is afflicted.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  He is always present (even if we don’t feel it) to help and to bless.  Thus, to live as if your life was just your life and not something you share with your wife is to fail to love your wife as Christ loved the church. 

Now in all honesty, I must confess to my shame that I have been guilty of both the sin of omission and the sin of commission in this respect.  I need to do better, and to follow more fully Christ our Lord in this regard.  Thank God that he gives grace to grow in our walk with him and with our wives.

The other aspect of our Lord’s love is that it is sacrificial.  Now, if you are not living for your own joy but finding your joy in the joy of your spouse, you are going to find it a lot easier to live sacrificially for her.  It means that you will be able to lay some of your desires on the altar in order to fulfill the desires of your wife. 

Now all this should be manifested in concrete ways.  It is the easiest thing to do to tell your wife you love her (if it is not, then something is dreadfully wrong!).  But our love should not just be communicated by our lips; it should show itself by our actions.  It is not just a matter of feeling like you love your wife.  Rather, do you love your wife in concrete, specific ways?  I noticed something when I was reading verse 25 again.  It says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.”  Now our Lord has always loved his church and he will continue to love his church into eternity.  But when Paul talks about Christ’s love for the church, he puts it in past tense, “loved.”  Why?  Because the apostle is referring to a specific act of love, the supreme act of love, by which Christ showed the church he loved her.  That specific act was the cross, giving up his life so that those who make up his church might have eternal life.  And when we think of Christ’s love two thousand years later, this is what we think of.  Not that Christ does not continue to love us.  But he manifested toward us in this very specific, concrete way. Husbands, can you do this?  Can you point to specific, concrete ways that you have loved your wife, even sacrificially?  That is loving her as Christ loved the church.

As Christians, we have the greatest example and motivation and pattern to have wonderful and fulfilled marriages.  As believers, we go into marriage having already experienced the kind of love that should guide and preserve and grow our marriages: Christ’s love for the church.  We are not called to live out something alien to our experience, but something which we have all experienced.  Christ’s love is the example, and it is also the power behind our marriages.  It is his love that motivates us.  It is his love that gives us grace for every trial and hardship that we face in marriage.  We don’t do this alone.  Christ walks with us in our marriages, with both husband and wife.  There is therefore no reason why believers who are married should not be able to work out their differences.  There is no reason why believers who are married should not be able to have the very best relationship with their spouse.  We are not only united to each other, we are also mutually united to Christ.  What greater commonality is there?  None!  May God grant that as husbands and wives united to each other but also united to Christ, that we will be able to grow in our love to each other even as we grow in our love to Christ.  These things go hand in hand.  You will love your wife more if you Christ above all.  And the wife will love and reverence her husband (ver. 33) if she loves and reverences Christ above all.  May it be so in our church!

[1] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker: 2002), p. 773-775.
[2] Charles Hodge, Ephesians, (Banner of Truth, 1856 [reprint, 1991]), p. 246-247.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Meaning and Importance of Baptism (Romans 6:1-4)

What is baptism and why do we do it?  There is, frankly, a lot of confusion related to baptism.  For some baptism acts as a kind of totem.  A neighbor once asked if I would baptize her in a creek.  She was having problems at home and I guess she thought that being baptized in a creek would somehow provide some spiritual barrier to further problems.  Other people don’t see any need for baptism, even though they profess to be Christians.  Some have even taught that Christians shouldn’t be baptized anymore!  Others go to the opposite end of the spectrum and teach baptismal regeneration, or at least that baptism is instrumental in our salvation somehow.  What does the Bible teach?  That is the question before us.  Let’s look at six truths relating to baptism.

Baptism is an Act of Immersion in Water

As far as the external rite of baptism goes, it is by immersion in water.  The words “baptize” and “baptism” mean to immerse.  This seems to fit clearly with how the apostle describes baptism in our text: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life” (ver. 4).  This verse seems to be saying that in baptism we are symbolizing our union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.  This is most clearly seen when baptism is by immersion. 

This is confirmed by the way baptism is described in other parts of the NT.  For example, when our Lord was baptized, we are told that he “went up straightway out of the water” (Mt. 3:16), indicating that he had gone down into the water to be baptized, which would be strange if he only had to be sprinkled.  The same description is found in Acts 8 of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:38).  In John 3:23, we are told that John the Baptist “was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.”  This corresponds to the needs of immersion rather than sprinkling.

Baptism is an Act of Obedience

Next, baptism is an act of obedience.  In the Great Commission, our Lord commanded his church, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And so, in obedience to our Lord, we baptize those who profess to follow him.

This is assumed, though not explicitly stated in our text.  Notice that the apostle assumes that all his readers have been baptized (ver. 3).  His argument would not have had much weight if his readers, the members of the church at Rome, had not all been baptized.  No one could say, “Well, I have not been baptized, so Romans 6 does not apply to me.”  Baptism is not therefore something that only some Christians should do.  It is something that everyone who professes the name of Christ ought to do.  It is a matter of obedience. 

Sometimes we have overstated the case that baptism is not in itself salvific and given the impression that you can be a good Christian, as long as you believe, whether or not you have been baptized.  But according to the NT, if you say you are a believer and yet remain unbaptized, you are in sin: you are disobeying a clear command of your Lord.  How can you claim to be a follower of Christ and own him as your King when you are not obeying his commands?  Failure to obey even one command of Christ, no matter how unimportant you deem it to be, is flat-out rebellion.  The question the apostle asks in verse 1 can be with equal force applied so such people: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”

Baptism is an Act of Faith

Baptism is also an act and an expression of faith.  It is an act of faith, because it is by faith that we are connected to the saving benefits of Christ, which is what Paul ascribes to baptism here: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: hat like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (ver. 3-4).  Note that in baptism we are proclaiming that we are united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.  What Paul means by this is that in baptism we visibly demonstrate our faith that connects us to the salvation Christ has purchased for us.

Though the apostle does not explicitly mention faith in these verses, he does not need to because he has just finished five chapters explaining that the way Christ’s saving benefits become ours is by faith.  In particular, he has labored to explain how it is by faith that we are justified and made right in the sight of God. It is not because faith makes us righteous, but because by faith we grasp the righteousness of God which is given to us in Christ.  Faith is not the ground but the means of our justification.  In Romans 3, the apostle explains, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath sent forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).

Notice also in verse 7, the apostle says, “for he that is dead is freed from sin.”  Now the word “freed” is just the same word “justified” that Paul has been using all along.  Those who are dead (to sin) are justified from sin, and Romans 1-5 makes it very clear that justification is by faith.  The implication here is that those who are dead to sin are those who have been justified by faith.  So those who are baptized and proclaim their death to sin must of necessity be those who have faith in Christ and have believed unto justification.

This is why I believe in believer’s baptism.  Now even pedobaptists will affirm the importance of faith for baptism and acknowledge that baptism will do no one any good if they never have faith.  But they are still okay with baptizing children who clearly have no faith.  However, it is hard for me to understand why you would give the sign of being united to Christ by faith when the person being baptized has no faith.  Now the argument from some will be that we should bestow the sign of the covenant (baptism) upon children because this is how it has always been done.  As those who were members of the Old Covenant community gave the sign of the covenant to their (male) children, so (they argue) we ought to give the sign of the covenant to our children.

The problem with this argument is that the New Covenant community consists only of those who have been born again, who have God’s law written on their hearts: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach any man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:10-12).  These promises affirm that everyone who belongs to the New Covenant community will have God’s law written in the heart, will know God, and have their sins forgiven.  But none of these things are necessarily true of little children who have not yet been born again.  The sign of the covenant should go only to those who belong to the covenant community; in other words, to those who are described by the terms of the New Covenant.

Baptism is a Symbol of our Union with Christ

Baptism is a visible demonstration of our allegiance to Christ and our union with him in his death, burial, and resurrection.  In other words, baptism is a symbolic representation of our union with Christ by faith.  We do not believe that baptism is instrumental for justification; it an act of obedience that is the fruit of the faith the saves.  Baptism, like any act of obedience, is necessary in the sense that saving faith always produces good works.  Good works are the necessary evidence, but not the ground of our salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).  What then is the purpose of baptism?  The purpose of baptism is not to save us but to symbolize our salvation in Christ. 

Now, many throughout the history of the church have disputed this claim.  They will point to the text and claim that it says that baptism itself is what saves us: “we are buried with him by baptism into death” (ver. 4).  But there are many good reasons to think that it is not the act of baptism but the faith that baptism assumes that saves us.

For one thing, it is interesting that Paul only speaks of baptism in these two verses (Rom. 6:3-4) in all the book of Romans.  When he is arguing how sinful human beings can get right with God, in chapters 1-5, he never mentions baptism even once.  Paul has made it clear that we are justified by faith.  And it is by faith alone, for the apostle argues that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (3:28).  This is another way of saying what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”  The Bible says over and over again that we are justified by faith, but never by baptism.  No one would come off of Romans 1-5 and naturally think Paul is now adding baptism as an extra element to the formula of justification.  They would recognize it for what it is: a symbol of our union with Christ, a union that we have by faith.

Note the parallel passage in Colossians 2:11-12, which reads, “In whom [Christ] also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”  First of all, there is the parallel between spiritual circumcision and baptism, which points in the direction of seeing baptism as the symbol of union with Christ in his death, just as circumcision was a symbol of spiritual circumcision.  Furthermore, here Paul explicitly mentions faith, and puts faith as the instrument of our spiritual resurrection.  It is best to see baptism as something that symbolizes this rather than effecting it.

Some might point to 1 Pet. 3:21 as a counterexample to the argument I have been making here: “the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also saved us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  But notice that Peter immediately explains himself when he says that baptism saves: he says that it is not the external rite (the putting away the filth of the flesh) that saves, but the inner spiritual reality that baptism represents (the answer of a good conscience toward God) that saves.  That is exactly what we affirm.

Another passage that has often been used to make the case that baptism contributes to our justification is Acts 2:38, which reads, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  They point to the fact that this text says that we are baptized for the remission of sins.  This seems to say that the remission of sins follows or is produced by baptism.

However, when we compare this form of expression to similar texts, the argument crumbles.  For example, in Matthew 3:7-8 John the Baptist rebukes the Pharisees for coming to his baptism, because they had not already repented.  However, he describes his baptism as a baptism unto (or for) repentance: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance” (“unto” is the same word in the Greek as “for” in Acts 2:38).  So baptism unto repentance cannot mean that repentance is produced by baptism, since it already had to exist in order to be qualified to be baptized.  Rather, this must mean that repentance is symbolized by John’s baptism.

You see something similar in 1 Cor. 10:2, where Paul says that the ancient Israelites “were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  He is referring in part to the passing through the Red Sea.  What Paul is saying is that by this baptism the Israelites were identifying with Moses as their leader.  But they did not start following him at the Red Sea.  The passage through the Red Sea didn’t make Moses their leader; it symbolized it.

Thus, when Peter offers his hearers a baptism that is for or unto the remission of sins, he is not saying that in baptism they receive the remission of sins.  Baptism symbolizes the remission of sins.  When we are baptized, we are confessing that we have already received the remission of sins by faith in Christ.  It is a baptism unto remission of sins in that sense.

John Piper, in his series of expositions through Romans, gives what I think is a really good illustration of the way Paul is using language here in Romans 6.  We often use language in which the symbol is put for the thing that is symbolized.  We hear this almost every time a couple is married, when the bridegroom repeats the words, “With this ring I thee wed.”  He is not saying that the ring creates the marriage, although if we take the language literally, that is what he is saying.  We all recognize that the ring is the symbol of the marriage, and that the symbol is put for the reality that it symbolizes.  Similarly, we are not bending language when we recognize the same thing in Paul’s language in Romans 6.  We are not playing fast and loose with language when we say that baptism doesn’t create our union with Christ but that it symbolizes it.

Therefore, we believe that our salvation was accomplished at the cross, it is applied when we are born again, and it is announced when we are baptized.

Baptism is a Reminder of our Identity in Christ

This is the apostle’s primary purpose in bringing up the subject of baptism in Romans 6.  He has just finished five glorious chapters reminding us of the gospel, that we are justified, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us, and that we become connected to his saving work through faith.  We are justified and saved by grace, not by works. 

But Paul recognizes the deviousness of the human heart.  He knows that some will run with grace in the direction of sin and use grace as an excuse for licentiousness.  So he wants to head them off at the pass, and this is what he is doing in Romans 6.  His basic argument is given in verse 2: “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”  The Christian, he argues, is someone who is dead to sin.  That does not mean sinless perfection.  But it does mean that the power of sin has been destroyed in the life of the Christian: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (ver. 14).  To go on living in sin is to deny the fundamental reality that defines us as Christians.  You simply cannot be dead to sin and go on living in it.

This is where baptism comes in.  We often think of baptism as something in the past, we’ve done with that and we are moving on.  But this is not the way the apostle thinks of baptism.  Baptism is something which is meant to remind us of where we began and what we profess to be.  When the Lord spoke to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 1, he called them to “Remember from when thou art fallen and do the first works” (Rev. 1:5) – go back to the very beginning, to your baptism, and remember what you professed then.  It tells you that you are one with Christ, that you died with him to sin and are risen with him to newness of life. 

And therefore baptism ought to be a powerful reminder of the necessity of holiness in our life.  Those who have been baptized and are living in sin are living a fundamentally contradictory life.  Your baptism is calling you even today to holiness.  Baptism is a pledge of our obedience to Christ, as an oath of allegiance to him.  This is one of the reasons why as rejection of the symbol is so deplorable.  To reject the symbol is implicitly to reject the thing signified.

But baptism is not only calling us to holiness, it is also a constant reminder of what a privilege it is to be a Christian.  When we are baptized we confess that we are united to Christ in his role as redeemer.  It means that Christ is the Captain of our salvation.  It means that we have been lifted from the dung heap, from being vile, wretched sinners deserving only of God’s wrath and vengeance and hatred, to being raised up to become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  It means we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

Baptism is a Reminder of our Connection to God’s People

Now it is important that we see baptism as primarily saying something about our connection to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Baptism is not primarily about church membership; it is first and foremost about our union with Christ.  However, it is hard to see how one could profess union with Christ and not want to have union with his people.  That is why almost always in the NT, baptism is followed by a commitment to the local church.  As it is put in Acts 2:41-42, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  Just as the Lord’s Supper is not only a reminder of what Christ has done for us but also a reminder that we are the body of Christ, even so baptism ought to cause us to appreciate the fact that being in Christ means that we are part of a family, and that family is the church.

The amazing thing is that Christ allows any of us to wear the badge of discipleship, baptism in which we confess our faith in him and our union with his saving death and resurrection.  Baptism is a blessing, and incredible privilege, an indescribable honor.  May the Lord bless each and every one of us to so live that we glorify the one whose name we now bear!

How to be blessed by the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:1-4)

I have heard it said that if you were to poll the average Christian on which book of the Bible they most want to study, the answer would be ...