The Goads

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
And I said, Who are you, Lord?’
And the Lord said, I am Jesus
whom you are persecuting.”
(Acts 26:14-15)

Friends in Christ sometimes ask how my marriage to a Muslim has informed my faith and call to ministry. When they know my wife, Maryam, they do not question why I fell in love with her. In fact, Maryam frequently reminds me that I won the lottery when I married her. But the faith and ministry question challenged me for many years and required greater self-knowledge and theological insight than I could muster at first.

For many years, I believed that I attended seminary in spite of my wife, but I came to understand that I attended seminary because of my wife.

When Maryam and I married in 1984, I asked her to attend church as a condition for our marriage, which she did faithfully until our kids grew up and attended college, confident that the Holy Spirit would work in her life to bring her to faith. When this did not happen, I became convicted of my own negligence in witness and began to explore my own faith more deeply hoping to become a better witness, not only to Maryam but also our children. As I witnessed to them, my faith blossomed and I found my call to ministry to others, even as Maryam remained a Muslim. Stubborn as I failed to recognize God’s call on my life, Maryam served as God’s goad—a prod to action—in my life to bring me to himself.

The Prophet Hosea also married an improbable wife and used her sin to highlight the idolatry of the Nation of Israel (Hos 1:2-3). While not mentioned in the text, I can picture Gomer as a stunningly beauty woman that God used to goad Hosea into realizing his prophet call and to draw attention to the nation’s idolatry.

Idolatry also figures prominently in the call of the Apostle Paul, whom the risen Christ accused of kicking against the goads, as cited above. In describing himself before he came to faith in Christ, Paul reported:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)

Paul’s idolatry took the form of being zealous for the law. When we zealously prosecute the law—beit Mosasic, Islamic, secular, or even physical law—rather than almighty God who created the law, we commit idolatry. Or when we work zealously and worship God sparingly, as I did, we commit idolatry and come under judgment.

Consequently, I believe that God placed Maryam in my life to goad me into a deeper faith and to realize my call to ministry.

Thanks be to God!

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Read my April newsletter at: http://mailchi.mp/t2pneuma/monthly-postings-on-t2pneumanet.

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Stanley: Sex is Easy—Not Easy are Relationships; Be the Right Person

Stanley_LSD_03032015Andy Stanley. 2014. The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Life has become increasingly complicated in the new millennium, in part, because American culture has thrown out “the rule book”. Some blame the pill; some blame the feminists; some blame the media.  Whoever you blame, the irony is that the emotional and financial costs of broken relationships have never been higher.

In his new book, The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating, Andy Stanley writes:

“I’m not all that interested in why things are the way they are.  I’m more interested in helping you navigate the way things are. My purpose in writing is to increase your relational satisfaction” (14).

Fair enough. But then Stanley then offers a rather rare insight:

“I’ve met with many struggling married couples who would describe themselves as having ‘marriage problems.’ But in all my years I’ve never talked to a married couple that actually had a marriage problem. What I have discovered is that people with problems get married and their problems collide. What was manageable as a single person eventually becomes unmanageable within the context of marriage” (20).

Wow.  Instead of looking for that perfect person to solve all your problems, Stanley says—hey, look in the mirror![1]

Andy Stanley is a pastor who does not sound or write like a pastor. He describes himself as a communicator, author, and pastor and founder of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. His book is written in 10 chapters, including:

  1. The Right Person Myth;
  2. Commitment is Overrated;
  3. Becoming the Right Person;
  4. So Becoming;
  5. Love Is;
  6. Gentleman’s Club;
  7. The Way Forward;
  8. The Talk;
  9. Designer Sex; and
  10. If I were You (7-8).

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction.  They are followed by conclusions, notes, and a small group discussion guide.  A DVD video study is also available.

This is a book filled with a lot of wisdom.  For example, Stanley’s discussion of 1 Corinthians 13 in chapter 5 is priceless—he describes it as your list of suggestions on becoming the person that you would want to meet (76).  One item on this list is patience:  Love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). Stanley notes that impatience is an emotion, not a decision, and patience does not come naturally.  We all have a natural pace and get angry when others don’t go along.  Stanley explains that love means deferring to someone else’s pace—in time, space, and margin—just as much as they need (79).

Summarizing all the wisdom would be hard. The cliff notes version of Stanley’s advice is found in chapter 10 which he describes as the “hard sell”.

Stanley knows his audience.  He starts this chapter by repeating a challenge that he made earlier: “Beginning today, take a year off from all romantic and sexual pursuits” (170). This is the hard sell part. Bad habits take two weeks to break;  psychiatrists tell us that addictions are forever—abstinence is the only prescription that truly works.  Bad sexual habits fall somewhere in-between a bad habit and an addiction.  While this might sound like a high price to pay for moral clarity, but the life you save may be your own[2].

Stanley suggests that you spend this year off doing some important things…working to become yourself the kind of person that you would want to meet.  He suggests 5 things:

  1. Address your past—face up to your issues;
  2. Break some bad habits (substance abuse, bad attitudes, poor fashion choices…);
  3. Set some standards—how far is too far?
  4. Get out of Debt—don’t expect to dump debt on a potential spouse; and
  5. Go (back) to church—hang out in the right place (172).

Remember the mirror mentioned earlier?  You cannot change someone else but you can change yourself and become someone that your Mr/Ms perfect might actually want to meet.

This is not a preachy book, but it is an in-your-face book.  Although my wife, Maryam, and I have been married for 30 years, I was already 30 when I got married.  In other words, I was single for a long time—it seemed like forever at the time.  Reading Stanley’s book back then would have saved me a lot of pain.  In today’s social context where learning how to engage in healthy relationships can no longer be learned by osmosis and errors are costly, how does one intentionally learn the lessons needed?

Buy and read this book. Single or not, you will be glad you did.

 

[1] Stanley writes:  “ever purchase something from a big box retailer and open the box to find a card that reads something along these lines?  If this product is defective or a piece is missing, do not return to the place of purchase.  Instead, contact us at 1-800-ITS-YOUR-FAULT.” (59)

[2] The leading cause of suicide among young people is a broken relationship.

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Early Marriage

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die…”
(Eccl 3:1-2)

Early Marriage

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When Maryam and I were married on November 24, 1984, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Shirlington, Virginia. This apartment was located within walking distance of King Street where my family lived during our first year in Washington in 1960 and not far from my office in Southwest Washington. Our families helped us purchase our cars and donated most of our furniture. We did not have much debt, but we were eager to pay back our family loans and to begin saving for a place of our own.

Not being finished with my dissertation, I started work with the government at a GS-11, which was simply meager relative to the cost of living in Northern Virginia. The Shirlington Apartments, where we lived, were solidly built, probably in the 1940s, with a stone exterior and hardwood floors; the rent was affordable, but misbehaving neighbors and an encroaching urban environment made the area fairly sketchy. At one point, the police chased an African American man in a stolen car into the neighborhood where he crashed the car and took off on foot. Drug sales were common a block from us and a clerk was murdered during a robbery in a shopping center down the street. As an evening jogger, I was sensitive to the chances that I had to take, but I worried more about Maryam being exposed to such things. When my mother in law visited and suffered verbal abuse from a relative of the owners of the apartments, we became anxious to find a place of our own somewhere else.

Between my meager income, the sketchy environment, and our desire to find a place of our own, Maryam was eager to find work in her field—chemistry or chemical engineering—but professional work was tied to defense contracting and she did not yet have a green card. At one point, she interviewed with a company looking for a chemist outside of defense, but when the interviewer learned that she was married, the interview was over. While we began the byzantine process of applying for her green card, it became obvious that we could not successfully navigate the process alone—in the Reagan years following the Iranian Revolution, resentment against Iranians was bitterly deep. Maryam began working retail and, later, substitute teaching primarily because no one asked for about your immigration status when they had no one else willing to do the work.

Maryam was a talented sales representative for a fashionable woman’s store, Thimbles, at Tyson Corner shopping center. She routinely outsold the other sales staff, was a featured store model, and was asked to help out in other stores throughout the region. She also accumulated a substantial wardrobe of suits and dresses bought at a deep discount on account of her bonuses.

During this period, my schedule was tight. Maryam dropped me off in the office at 6 a.m. and drove to the mall where she hung out until the store opened at 10 a.m. Later, she picked me up and we had dinner together. Then, I worked until 8 or 9 p.m., went jogging, and worked a bit more before going the bed. In May 1985, when I returned to East Lansing, Michigan to defend my dissertation, I learned that no one expected that I would ever return and that I finished my doctorate before most of the colleagues that I had left behind me at school. With my dissertation behind me and with both us of working and saving everything, we entered 1986 looking for a home of our own [1]. We purchased our first home at 5519 Shipley Court in Centreville, Virginia later in 1986, even though I had not yet been promoted—Maryam’s hard work was instrumental in our being able to afford a house [2].

More important than her hard work in retail, however, was Maryam’s experience teaching. Most substitutes cannot assist in teaching mathematics and chemistry classes, but Maryam was different—she not only taught these lessons, teachers began requesting her from high schools throughout Fairfax County and she soon was offered long-term, substituting opportunities. What’s more, she loved teaching, was good at it, and was quickly able to bond with troubled students, many of whom were also immigrants. She soon decided to study for a teaching certificate and later earned a master’s degree in education at George Mason University.

At some point, I received a flyer in the mail from Senator Paul Trible which described his legislative accomplishments and solicited feedback on issues that we were concerned about. I responded to his solicitation describing our problems with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Not long afterwards, we received a letter in the mail from Senator Trible asking us to call his office about the INS problem. When we called, his office intervened on our behalf with the INS and Maryam soon had her green card.

After we purchased our first home and I entered finance, I felt confident enough to train for and run the Marine Corps Marathon in 1987. My logic was that I did not need to worry about promotion, because I was new to finance but I was nonetheless promoted that year! I trained for the marathon again in 1988 and received a second promotion! At this point, I had the financial wherewithal to pay family expenses without Maryam’s salary and we began thinking about children.

We put off having children for close to five years both because of the financial pressure and because we needed to settle into our relationship. Outside of the usual challenges that newlyweds faced, we were both strong-willed individuals; we came from radically different cultures; and we married much later than most of our friends—age brings maturity, but it also makes relational growth more challenging. In spite of being Muslim, for example, Maryam promised to attend church with me and, for the most part, kept that promise, but we did not share the same level of commitment in attending. Bringing children into the relational mix required special care making financial security especially important.

By 1988, the groundwork had been laid for us to think about kids and we took the plunge. Shortly after announcing that we were expecting, Maryam spontaneously miscarried leading to a bit of embarrassment. All eyes in my family were on us, because I am the oldest child in the Hiemstra clan and so our child would be the first to make my parents grandparents. Being the youngest sibling, Maryam did not receive quite so much scrutiny in her family.

In any case, Maryam was pregnant in 1989 as she applied for citizenship and when my brother, John, married Julie Oweis on November 25. Our first child, Christine, was born a short time later on December 14th. Maryam accordingly took the oath of citizenship in the Alexandria Courthouse on a snowy day after Christmas that year with a week-old newborn in her arms.

[1] We spent almost none of our earnings other than for necessities. When we sat down with a loan officer to purchase a mortgage, he could not believe how much we had saved and insisted on documenting everything. His assumption was that someone lent us our down-payment, which was simply not true. He was not accustomed to seeing newlyweds coming to the table with a 10-percent down-payment that was saved on their own.

[2] Finishing my degree in 1985 did not result in immediate promotion—a sore point at the time. However, when I entered finance in 1987, I received three grade level increases in three years. Having started government as a GS-11, by September 1989 when I began work at the Farm Credit Administration I was a GS-14—an usually rapid progression not often seen in the Economic Research Service in USDA where I started out.

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Gibson: Preach God’s Word in Season and Out

Gibson_review_08232016Scott M. Gibson. 2001. Preaching for Special Services. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the more perplexing challenges that pastors face is always being on call. Recently, the pastor on duty at a luncheon I attend got caught up in traffic; I found myself presented with an unexpected mic. For a plodder, someone who always works from a 5-year plan, these special occasions can be especially challenging.

In his book, Preaching for Special Services, Scott Gibson writes:

“A pastor must be able to step with ease into a number of different speaking venues. In addition to a regular preaching schedule, you as a pastor face an endless parade of special occasions at which you are asked to speak.” (Back cover)

He goes on to cite the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2 ESV) The purpose of such preaching, he says, “is to give a clear, listener-sensitive, biblically based word to men and women who are sometimes eager and often desperate to hear it.” (18)

In this short book, Gibson focuses on 4 special occasions that make up the core of his  6 chapters:

  1. Preaching for Special Services
  2. Wedding Services
  3. Funeral Services
  4. Baptism and Infant Presentation Sermons
  5. Preaching at the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
  6. Speaking on Other Occasions

The foreword was written by Haddon W. Robinson who taught preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for many years and is famous for “big idea” preaching.

The idea in “big idea” preaching is to identify the subject of a particular passage of scripture, usually a pericope,[1] and its complement. The subject is what the author is talking about and the complement is what is said about the subject (19). In special occasion preaching, Gibson emphasizes the need for brevity and clarity where the preacher must be clear about the biblical text, clear about the audience, clear about the occasion, and clear in what they say (21). Tall order on occasions where the circumstances may limit the time available for preparation.

Why preach on special occasions? Outside of the obvious response—because you are asked—Gibson offers this response:

“Preaching at these times allows the preacher to speak the word of God to those gathered, to round out the worship, to bring focus to the occasion.” (17)

When I am asked, I refer to these special occasions as difficult transitions in life where God is especially present to those who call on him. Of course, preaching helps us reflect on God’s presence and his special presence.

If you are like me, this is the sort of book that gets bought and remains on the bookshelf until a special occasion arises when a good reference comes in handy. In my case, I am working on a wedding so let me review Gibson’s comments about weddings.

In each of his presentations on special occasions, he reviews the history of the church’s customs with respect the particular occasion. Gibson notes that in pre-Christian Rome and Greece, weddings were celebrated with an epithalamium, which is a poem celebrating the wedding—kind of like Song of Songs in the Old Testament. Gibson’s comments about weddings in medieval Europe are interesting:

“Preaching took place at the synagogue or at the wedding feast.  The preacher was the groom, the father of the groom, or the father of the bride.” (27)

In my case, I am both a volunteer pastor and father of the bride.

Gibson sees the wedding sermon as: “a window to understanding God’s design for marriage.” (30). In particular, the marriage is not simply a covenant,[2] but a covenant before God, having both his oversight and blessing. Gibson furthermore sees the wedding service having both theological and practical objectives, celebrating the mystery of marriage (32). The wedding sermon should use concrete language, be brief, clear, personal, and have central idea (35-37).

Scott M. Gibson’s Preaching for Special Services is a helpful reference for pastors and aspiring pastors. Others who speak occasionally may also find it interesting. Although I had a wedding in mind in reading, other chapters helped me prepare sermon notes in advance of writing.

References

Robinson, Haddon W. 2001. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

[1] A periscope is a unit of scripture with one unified thought, usually a story or parable, which is often no more than 10-20 verses.

[2] Here a covenant is more than a business partnership, but, taking the business analogy, it is more of a merger where compatible corporate cultures often determine the long-term viability of the merger.

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Chapman: Knowing Love’s Expression Can Heal

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gary Chapman.  2010.  The 5 Love Languages:  The Secret to Love that Lasts.  Chicago:  Northfield Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

According to the U.S. Census, the share of children born to unwed mothers rose from 27 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2007, with the rate more than doubling among white women over this period [1]. This one statistic implies that in our generation the prospects for children in the U.S. have plummeted. Think more poverty. Think more drug use. Think more suicides. Marriage is not just a romantic idea. Broken marriages are probably the most important social problem of our time.

Gary Chapman gets it.  In his book, The 5 Love Languages, he writes:  Keeping love alive in our marriages is serious business (13).  Relational and emotional sophistication is especially important in a society where

  1. Time is measured in milliseconds;
  2. Families are mobile and both spouses work; and
  3. Community ties are weak

because little or no backup exists.  In this context, if husband and wife fail to commute their love concretely and in a way that meet each other’s needs (fills their “love tank”; 20), then the marriage comes under stress.

Chapman observes that the period of “falling in love” lasts about 2 years (30). This implies a learning period that permits couples to learn about each other and sort out their relationship.  In Chapman’s experience as a marriage counselor, he observed that in healthy marriages couples expressed love in 5 distinct languages:

  • Words of Affirmation;
  • Quality Time;
  • Receiving Gifts;
  • Acts of Service; and
  • Physical Touch (18).

This observation is complicated by two further observations:

  1. We are all by nature egocentric and
  2. Couples seldom communicate love in the same language (15; 32).

When couples fail to learn to communicate love in their partner’s love language, both partners begin to feel that their emotional needs are not being met (the love tank empties) and they feel neglected.

A key challenge in many troubled marriages is learning to identify your partner’s primary love language and communicate love in that language (124).  Chapman sees 3 clues in discovering your primary love language:

  1. What actions or inactions of your spouse are most hurtful?
  2. What things do you most often request of your spouse?
  3. How do you try to express your love to your spouse? (128)

Areas of sensitivity, requests, and expressions of love all point to your primary love language.  Because we are not all alike, expressing love the way we hope to receive it may come across to your spouse like speaking Chinese to an English speaker (15).

How can we love someone that we hate? (151)  At this point, Chapman turns to his faith citing Jesus:  But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). While quoting scripture is fairly common, Chapman builds on it. He suggests:  try a little experiment—identify your spouse’s top 2 love languages and work for 6 months to offer them love through them without reacting to their comments or offering criticism.  Then, see what happens (153-162).  What do you have to loose?

Chapman is an interesting read. He peppers his advice with stories of couples experiencing the problem under discussion.  He also talks about his own challenges in marriage. Throughout this book I found myself applying his advice as I read along. Perhaps, you will too.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. Economics and Statistics Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce. Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2011.

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Prayer Day 45: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Una Guia Cristian a la EspiritualidadAlmighty and loving God. We praise you for instituting and blessing our marriages. We thank you for the gift of children and for the way you transform us through and with our families. In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom and strength to care for our spouses and our children day by day. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Todopoderoso y amoroso Dios, te alabamos por instituir y bendecir nuestros matrimonios. Te agradecemos por el don de los niños y por la manera en que nos transformas a través de y con nuestras familias. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, concédenos la sabiduría y la fuerza para cuidar a nuestros cónyuges y a nuestros niños día tras día. En el nombre precioso de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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Prayer Day 37: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Almighty God. We praise you for loving our families and caring for our children. Guard our hearts and minds. Chasten us to be faithful to our spouses. In the power of your Holy Spirit, keep us mindful of your will for our lives. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Dios Todopoderoso, te alabamos por amar nuestras familias y por cuidar a nuestros niños. Guarda nuestros corazones y mentes. Disciplínanos a ser fieles a nuestros cónyuges. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, mantennos conscientes de Tu voluntad para nuestras vidas. En el precioso nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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What is Spiritual About Marriage and Family?

Maryam and Stephen 1984
Maryam and Stephen 1984

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov 31:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

How has marriage transformed you? If you are not married, how has your parent’s marriage impacted you?

Scripture begins and ends with marriage. In Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve, who are just made for each other! In the book of Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) Obviously, marriage was God’s idea (Keller 2011, 13).

As an unconditional promise—until death do us part, marriage is also formative and it provides a paradigm for other covenants. This implies that marriage, in and of itself, can function as a spiritual discipline.

The Apostle Paul’s comments on mixed faith marriages highlight marriage’s formative character. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) [1]

In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component [2]. Jesus’ own teaching on divorce and remarriage clearly draws inspiration, not from the Law of Moses (which admits exceptions), but rather from God’s eternal work in creation [3].

But if marriage is a spiritual discipline, how does it draw us closer to God?

Marriage is formative in our faith for at least three reasons. The first reason is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God must draw us closer to him.

The second reason that marriage is formative is that it starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third reason marriage is formative is that it makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses and sin affect our spouses and they tell us. We sin less, in part, because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by practicing them daily [4].

As the Apostle Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17)

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross.

God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us. This is probably the reason that God places such a high priority on marriage. We should too.

[1] A lot of ink has been spilt over the church’s traditional teaching that forbid remarriage after divorce. For a discussion of the various perspectives, see: Wenham, Heth, and Keener (2006). My point is not to advocate a position but rather to recognize that marriage has a sacrificial component that often gets lost in our era of no-fault divorce.

[2]  In the Roman Catholic tradition, marriage is also a sacrament.

[3] Deut 24: 1–4, Matt 19:6–9, and Gen 2:24.

[4] Marriage is so important in the Apostle Paul’s thinking that he used the household codes (Eph 5:22–6:10; Col 3:17–4:4) as a metaphor for relationships in the church. Paul writes: “. . .if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5)

REFERENCES

Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Wenham, Gordon J., William A. Heth, and Craig S. Keener. 2006. Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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Marriage as a Spiritual Discipline

Maryam and Stephen 1984
Maryam and Stephen 1984

 “An excellent spouse who can find? They are far more precious than jewels.” (Prov 31:10)

 By Stephen W. Hiemstra [1]

How has marriage transformed you? If you are not married, how has your parent’s marriage formed you?

Scripture begins and ends with marriage. In Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve, who are just made for each other! In Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) Obviously, marriage was God’s idea [2].

As an unconditional promise—until death do us part, marriage is also formative and it provides a paradigm for other covenants and the relationship of church to Christ. This implies that marriage is a spiritual discipline.

The Apostle Paul’s comments on mixed faith marriages highlight marriage’s formative character. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component. Jesus’ own teaching on divorce and remarriage clearly draws inspiration not from the Law of Moses (which admits exceptions), but rather from God’s work in creation which is eternal [3].

But if marriage is a spiritual discipline, how does it draw us closer to God?

Marriage is formative in our faith for at least three reasons. The first reason is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God always draws us closer to him.

The second reason that marriage is formative is that marriage starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third reason is that marriage makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses vex our spouses and they tell us. We sin less because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by using them on a daily basis.

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross.

God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us. Marriage is not exclusively about our own feelings. This is why other relationships are not marriage and why God places a high priority on marriage. We should too.

Almighty and loving God. We praise you for instituting and blessing our marriages. We thank you for the gift of children and for the way you transform us in our families. In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom and strength to care for our spouses and our children day by day. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

[1] Reprinted from NCP Online Monthly, July 2014 (www.thepresbytery.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/July-News-from-National-Capital-Presbytery.htm).

[2] Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton. Page 13

3] Deut 24: 1–4, Matt 19:6–9, and Gen 2:24.

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