What I Believe: Christian Marriage

My beliefs about Christian marriage are, of necessity, shaped by my own experience of marriage. My first marriage took place in a church when I was not a practicing Christian. That marriage lasted fourteen years. My second marriage was a brief ceremony in a pastor’s living room when I was living a committed Christian life. That marriage has lasted many years and my full intent is that it will last as long as we both shall live.

A Christian marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman that they will live in a lifelong exclusive relationship. To do so is a gift from God because there are many things, I believe, that war against the durability of a marriage. A public profession of promised love and faithfulness must be supported by an acceptance of the Christian view of marriage by both parties.

Christian marriage has practical as well as spiritual benefits. It seems obvious that two people working together to deal with the issues of life will have a better chance of coping with whatever may come.

When Paul used marriage as a picture of Christ’s love to the church (Ephesians 5:22- 23), he brought Christian marriage into the realm of the spiritual blessings given to Christians.

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What I Believe: Forgiveness

Most of the time when we think of forgiveness we think of God forgiving us. However, at the end of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus gave the people he was speaking to this teaching about forgiving others. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 RSV).

The need for forgiveness among people comes from us having to live as imperfect people in a fallen world. Fortunately, Jesus gave us two commandments that form the basis of right-minded forgiveness. Love God with all our being and love everyone—including ourselves. Forgiveness should be based on love not on a desire to get right with God by obeying a commandment. Also, I think Jesus had in mind that our love should be as clear-sighted as his and not fogged by cultural constructs. Be that as it may, commandments are always impossible for us to completely obey. This brings us to how we go about the matter of forgiveness.

To be able to truly forgive others, and ourselves when we fail to do what is right, we must ask God to grant us the ability to love in a way that exceeds our present capacity. We need from the Holy Spirit a filling of love so we can forgive others and ourselves not on the basis of their or our righteousness but because we have been enabled to have in us more of God’s love

I also believe following the guidance of the Lord’s Prayer keeps us from asking God for mercy and refusing to grant it to others.

Can Love Be An Obscenity?

A long time ago I was sitting in a class at Regent College taught by Clark Pinnock. He was then, and I assume now, a pacifist. My contrarian mind came up with a scenario. What if I came upon him being mugged in downtown Vancouver and I called out to him, “I love you Clark but I can’t help you because I am a pacifist.” Continuing the train of thought, I assumed that the thing that would come to his mind would most likely be obscene and, of course, my professed love for him would be an abomination if I refused to come to his assistance in a dire situation.

In general to profess love for someone but to refuse to help them in their need is to turn love into something else. James, brother of Jesus, wrote about people who offered good wishes to people needing food, clothing and shelter (James 2:15-16). He did not indicate the response of those so “blessed.” It may not have been appropriate for Scripture, even though there are strong condemnations of self-centered behavior elsewhere.

In our own time there are people who think that tolerance of self-destructive behavior is a form of love and those who seek to stem that behavior are “haters.” What they may hear from the victims of their unlove is, “Why did you allow me to do those things?” I suspect there will be few who will answer truly, “We did it because it was in our own self-interest to not oppose your choices” just as it was in my hypothetical situation when I refused to risk physical harm for the sake of one I claimed to love.

The Love Chapter: A Trap for the Corinthians—and For Us

The love chapter is, of course, First Corinthians 13. It was supposed to be a favorite chapter of our Sunday school class. However, I think we should be wary of it.

What Paul wrote to the Corinthians was the result of what he had heard of them. This was that they were engaged in a “spiritual competition.” This is evidenced both by their division into factions (1:10-12) and by arguments of which spiritual gifts were greater (12:1-11). Paul finishes chapter 12 by showing the value of all the spiritual gifts. As the letter was read in the church I can imagine everybody feeling good about themselves and their gifts at this point. Then the trap closes.

“And now I will show you the most excellent way” (Romans 12:31b, NIV). We might have heard a gasp out of the assembled Corinthians. They thought they were arguing over excellence—how could there be something better. Paul then tells them that love is better than spiritual gifts through providing them a series of examples of love, some of which are beyond most people’s capability and all of which we have difficulty with in our everyday lives.

It is impossible to have divisions and factions and competitions in our churches and still maintain we are being faithful to Paul’s teaching concerning our Christian lives and spirituality. Surprisingly, after telling the Corinthians that love is greater than faith and hope, Paul exhorts them to continue to desire spiritual gifts. The trap for us in the love chapter is that we, in general, do not go on to chapter 14 but are content to see chapter 13 as the high point and end of Paul’s instructions and leave the search for spiritual gifts to others of less orthodox persuasions.

The Ladder to Love

The apostle Peter in his second letter, in the context of what divine power has provided us Christians, gives us what might be called a ladder to love (2 Peter 1:5-11). The purpose of his instruction is that we might “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4 NIV).

Faith is the first rung on the ladder, as we might expect. Everything given to us in Christ is based on our belief in him and the Father.

Next, we are told to add goodness to our faith. It is a great help to us in our lives if we both be good and do good.

Knowledge comes after goodness. We might think the order here should be reversed. However, if we waited until we had great knowledge of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit we would be postponing the exercise of the knowledge we already have about things that are good to do.

After knowledge comes self-control. One of the things we will learn through increasing our knowledge ourselves is how difficult self-control is and on how many occasions it will be tested.

Perseverance is required of us because none of the steps on the ladder are easy and there are many times our feet will slip off the rungs. Without perseverance the ultimate promises given to us in Christ cannot be fulfilled.

When we think of godliness, we should think of the ability that is given to us to become more like Christ as we mature in our Christianity. We will not be perfected while still on the earth but we can hope to be markedly improved in being an image of God.

Kindness is of the nature of Christ. The Gospels tell of many instances when Jesus was kind to people who did not expect it, did not deserve it, did not understand it, and sometimes did not even thank him for it. As we come to be more like him, we will be kind just as he was to those he encountered.

When we come to the final rung, love, we are reaching what is the essence of the Trinity. Their love for us is what puts us at the foot of the ladder of love and provides the grace we need to ascend it. When we return the love given us by them, and love the people around us, we are as we were meant to be when we were envisioned before the creation of the earth.

Peter tells us that climbing the ladder of love will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then he adds a warning that if we do not seek to acquire the qualities described we are nearsighted and blind and are forgetting our cleansing from our sins.

He then goes on to tell us we should be eager to make our position in Christ sure as having these qualities will keep us from falling [into the corruption caused by evil desires?] and insure our welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 1:8-11).

Reply to the Dancing Professor

The following paragraph is my comment on a post by a person who blogs as The Dancing Professor.

I have thought about how I might help you in your search for the reasons early Christianity endured while other religions did not. These thoughts are not in any particular order since I have no idea how to weight them. They are: mutual sharing of resources, emphasis on the psychological and physical healing of individuals, a realistic view of the human condition, an ethics based on love of God and love of individual people, encouragement of fellow Christians to live up to the ethical standards of Christianity and display a high standard of behavior, support for individuals when they were facing mortal risk, an objective view of physical and cultural reality so as to understand them as neither ultimate or eternal, a hunger for wisdom that led many Christians into a search for truth, and an idea that there was at some level a unity of all Christians. I have not put forth any supernatural reasons for the continuance of Christianity although, of course, most Christians see the whole thing as an outpouring of the purposes of God mediated by the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. Please let me know if this is helpful.

Frankly, I liked what I wrote and the religion it described. So I thought I would share it with the people who visit my blog.