Some time ago our youth group took a mission trip to help a newly planted church with a Vacation Bible School program, and in order to haul all of our equipment we needed to be able to tow a trailer behind the church van. However, the van was not equipped with a hitch. So, we got some quotes on what it would cost to install one, and long story short, our precious church van, after being single for 16 years, finally got hitched! Now that’s funny because it’s ridiculous…but what is not funny at all is the fact that in our world today marriage is being reduced to something that is really that absurd. Today, we are facing the reality of legislation having been passed which requires the legal recognition of so-called “same-sex marriage.” With the constant push to erase any sort of distinction between the sexes, we now hear reports of people wanting to marry their pets, trees, and even buildings. This is how ridiculous our culture is becoming. But we shouldn’t think that it is only within the past few years that marriage has been under assault. While virtually all cultures have always had some sort of formal recognition of marriage (which serves as a testament to its divine origin), there have always been aberrations of it. In ancient times it was the practice of polygamy (a man having multiple wives). This is what many of the kings of Israel and Judah were known for; including the good ones like David and Solomon. Throughout the centuries cultures have practiced not only polygamy, but polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands). Adultery, fornication, incest, pedophilia, abortion, and other immoralities have always been factors warring against marriage. The stability of this institution which we enjoyed in our country several decades ago was generated by our Judeo-Christian heritage which upheld the institution of marriage and looked down on divorce. But what was known as the ‘new morality,’ which reduced the Christian ethic to so-called “love,” meaning that it does not really matter what you believe or do as long as you follow the golden rule of loving your neighbor as yourself, began to bear its ugly fruit with the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. The baby boomer generation began to rebel against the morality of their parents’ generation, embracing with full force this ‘new morality,’ and thus fornication became rampant, adultery became not only acceptable, but encouraged, and by 1970, the state of California became the first to sign into law the “no-fault divorce,” meaning that a person could file for a divorce without declaring any wrongdoing by the other spouse. When you look at the state of marriage today, from a merely human perspective it seems likely that within the next decade or two marriage may be a thing of the past, or at least something that has been so radically redefined that we may as well not even call it marriage any longer. Nevertheless, regardless of what our culture or country does, marriage will not cease to exist until God says it does because marriage belongs to God, not man. You see, man did not create marriage; God did. It was a gift to man from God and a means by which God intends to fulfill His purpose for all creation. We see this clearly all the way back in the second chapter of Genesis.
In our study of relationships we have gone back to the beginning, and we have seen that man was created in the image of God, and therefore is a relational being because God, by His very triune nature is relational. We have noted that man was created for a relationship first and foremost with God, but that he was also created for a relationship with others. This is the very reason God created woman out of man–to be a companion and helper for him. What we’re interested in now is the relationship of marriage: the ultimate relationship. By this designation, we mean that marriage is the one relationship in the world that is the most unique and intimate possible among mankind. The ultimate relationship of any person is of course with God, but next to this is that of marriage. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how Scripture defines marriage.
Marriage is a Divine Institution. By “divine” we mean that God is the One who instituted marriage, not man. We’ve already mentioned this, but it’s important that we see it in the text of Scripture. Genesis 2:24 states:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed this when He stated in Matthew 19:4–6:
…He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Marriage may be recognized or conducted differently by different societies, but it is God, not man, who gets to define it, for it is His institution. This is very important because we need to be clear about government’s role in marriage. Romans 13:1–7 states that the government is established by God and that governing authorities are the servants of God, and therefore we understand that government is part of God’s common grace to uphold justice and order in society. If this is the case, not only does the government lack the right or authority to redefine an institution established by God, but when it endeavors to do so, it is actually abandoning the very purpose for which it exists since the family which is built upon marriage is the basic building block and source of stability of all societies. So when the government calls us to recognize so-called “same sex marriage,” we as Christians must respectfully reject that notion (Acts 5:29).
Marriage is a Union between One Man and One Woman. Last time we saw from Genesis 2:18 that God declared it was “not good for man to be alone.” God’s solution to this was to make Adam a helper who was “suitable” or “fit” for him–perfectly corresponding to him. But what is wonderful is that this perfect companion was not exactly like him; she was female. She was formed from Adam while he slept, and when she was presented to him he declared, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man” (v. 23). Then in verse 24, Moses, the writer of Genesis, follows up Adam’s declaration with a statement which is the basis of marriage. This verse begins with the word “Therefore,” which points the reader back to what came before. What Moses is saying is this: On the basis of the fact that God created woman out of man for the purpose of being his suitable companion and helper, it is God’s design that a man and woman be joined together in the “one flesh” union of marriage.
Many understand “one flesh” to be speaking merely of the sexual union which is a part of marriage, typically including children who may come as a result of the union. But while the sexual union is certainly a part of this, and resulting children is one of the purposes of marriage, “one flesh” goes far beyond this. In the previous post we noted God could have simply spoken the woman into existence like He did much of the created universe, but instead He fashioned her out of the man’s rib. This was by design, in order to show the close connection between the man and the woman which is brought out by Adam’s declaration of “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” The “one flesh” union in marriage is, what some have called, the reuniting of two into one. This union is one of mind, body, and spirit, bringing a married couple together in such a way that two people really become one together in a relationship more intimate than any other possible. Marriage is about companionship, but not mere companionship. It is a corresponding, complementing companionship; one in which the man is completed perfectly by the woman. This is the reason same-sex “marriage” is not marriage at all, because two people of the same sex can never complete and complement each other the way God designed. This is extremely important o understand not only on a theological level, but a practical one, because when married people say that their spouse is their “best friend” they should not be trying to be cute or sappy: this is the way it should be by the very design of God! Too often the careful fostering of practical oneness in marriage is hijacked by husbands choosing to “hang out with the guys” too much or wives having too many “girls’ nights out.” Friends of the same sex are very important, and those relationships should be fostered, but if you are married, your closest friend should be your spouse.
Marriage is the Establishment of a Family. We’ve been mentioning this all along, but again, we need to establish it in the text. We notice again in verse 24 that the man leaves his father and mother and “holds fast to” or “cleaves” to is wife; and they become “one flesh.” The word “leave” really has the idea of “forsaking.” This does not mean that a man has to reject his parents and never see them again in order to get married, but that he makes a clean break with them. In other words, he cuts ties with them to start his own family; he leaves their authority and becomes the head of his own household. It seems that this is the same for the woman, but the man’s role is more active than hers because she leaves the authority of her parents to come under submission to her new head, who is her husband (Eph. 5:22-24). We notice further that the man not only leaves, or forsakes his father and mother, but he “holds fast” to, or “cleaves” to his wife. “Cleaving” means to “cling to.” It speaks of loyalty and affection, and is really a covenant concept. What this means, then, is that the husband pledges himself to his wife and becomes responsible to love her exclusively. Again, the woman likewise leaves her parents and pledges herself to the man in exclusive loyalty and affection. As we noted above, the “one-flesh” concept relates this idea of loyalty and affection not only with the sexual union, but with the couples’ mind and souls, united as one. Many have rightly called marriage a “leaving, cleaving, and weaving” of two lives together.
Marriage is a Life-long Covenant. As we noted, “cleave” is a covenant term. It was used by Moses to describe Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh (Deut. 4:4; 10:20). A covenant is a promise, a pledge of one’s loyalty to another; and the pledge in Genesis 2:24 is no less than this. It is the promise of one man to one woman and one woman to one man for life. This is why couples say vows to each other at their wedding ceremony, and this is why traditional vows say something like:
“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.”
I’m fine with the new fad of couples making their own vows to one another–as long as they say pretty much the same thing as this! These vows should be said publicly before witnesses and should be celebrated as has been traditionally done here in our country because they are sacred. You can see why God says, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16 NASB), and why our Lord Jesus said, “what God has joined together let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6). We must remember that God allows divorce only when one spouse has been repeatedly and unrepentantly unfaithful or when an unbelieving spouse chooses to abandon his or her believing partner (Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15). As some have said, while “divorce is not always sinful, it is always the result of sin.”
Marriage belongs to God. It may be and should be recognized by man, but it may not be redefined or discarded by men at their whim and wish. It is the ultimate human relationship because it is the most intimate and unique relationship possible among mankind, and because it is such, it is the ultimate illustration of Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church. We’ll talk more about that glorious truth in the following post.
Some say I have a problem with coffee; I say I’m just enjoying a crucial part of God’s common grace to mankind more than the next man. In fact, I could give you a number of arguments why coffee is an important staple for all. For one, studies have shown that men who drink a lot of strong, black coffee reduce their risk of certain types of cancer. Second, coffee has been known to make the mind sharper and make people more productive, especially in the morning. Third, we all know that we’re supposed to drink a lot of water each day, and well, coffee is simply flavored water-so there you have it. Shall I go on?
In all seriousness, coffee is definitely a popular thing in our society, so much so that people will virtually take out a second mortgage in order to make sure they don’t have to give up their daily latte. So why the buzz (no pun intended!)? Well, I am not a coffee snob or connoisseur, but I’ve been drinking uncool coffee (like Folgers) since back in the day when coffee wasn’t cool, so I know a bit about the subject. Without going all psychological on you, I believe that there is something about coffee that’s deeper than just good Joe for most people, and it is the fact that coffee brings people together. Think about it: how often is coffee at the center of a meeting between two people or a group of people who are talking or studying or just hanging out and listening to some wanna-be with dreadlocks singing folksongs? The genesis of coffeehouses was the bringing of people together. In the Ottoman Empire and later in Europe, coffeehouses were places where the common people would come together to talk about politics, to play board games, and to hear speeches. Starbucks commercialized the coffeehouse idea in America with a clean, cool, trendy, “two pumps of caramel in your latte with a cake pop to go” sort of place. Ever since, “Let’s get together for coffee” has become part of our common, everyday language. Food and drink have always been a central part of bringing people together, including Christians (e.g. Acts 2:46). Sharing a meal or a good cup of Joe is a relational thing which all men readily appreciate because we are relational beings who are made in the image of the relational God. As we noted in the previous post, we were created not only to reflect God’s glory, but to have a relationship with Him. As important as this relationship is, we must not overlook the fact that we were created to have relationships with other people as well.
We’ve noted that Genesis 2 is a zoomed-in look at the sixth day of creation, and that verse 18 is the first time we see God pronounce something of His creation “not good.” God made Adam, placed him in the Garden, gave him boundaries for a relationship with him, and all seemed well, but the thing that was not good was the fact that man was alone. So what does this mean? First of all, it means that man is incomplete without other people.
Obviously Adam was not completely alone because he had perfect fellowship with God and he had the animals (I mean a dog is a man’s best friend, right?). But what was missing was someone that was a perfect companion–someone “fit” just for him. The idea of the word “fit” or “suitable” (NASB) is “corresponding to.” God would make Adam someone who corresponds to him, someone who would perfectly complement him and complete him. This perfect companion would be his “helper.” Many people struggle with this concept of the woman as a helper and therefore either reject it or try to redefine what God is saying here. But their response is due to a misunderstanding of the concept. It is enlightening to note that the same Hebrew word translated “helper” in this passage is used of God Himself on a number of occasions in Scripture (e.g. Deut. 33:29; Ps. 33:20; Ps. 124:8). If Almighty God, the Maker of heaven and earth would gladly be called Israel’s Helper, then how could this title possibly be demeaning to women? The woman’s designation as “helper” concerns her role, not her importance or worth or status. Rather than demeaning, the role of helper is considered to be the greatest of all roles one could be assigned (see Mark 10:42–45).
It was not Adam who realized that he needed a companion helper, it was God. And in order to press this need home for Adam, he first paraded all of the animals in front of him to name. This process would have forced Adam to study each creature carefully and to assign it a name that was consistent with its characteristics. As he was finishing up the task, he realized that “there was not found a helper fit for him” (v. 20). God not only pointed out the need to Adam; He provided the solution by performing the first surgery. He put Adam into a deep sleep, perhaps something like what the anesthesiologist does for you when you get your wisdom teeth out…you know, where you’re so out you don’t remember anything when you wake up and you’re drooling and mumbling things that don’t make sense and telling your mom you love her over and over! Well, while Adam slept God was not removing his wisdom teeth, but He did remove a rib, and after closing him up, God set out to “fashion” or literally, “build” a woman from it. This is extremely significant because this is the same God who spoke the entire universe into existence; He could have easily just spoken Eve into being. But He didn’t. Instead, He formed her out of part of Adam, making her intimately connected with him, and therefore when God presented the woman to Adam and he saw this perfect companion for the first time, his response constitutes the first words of man recorded in scripture, “This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” The phrase “flesh and bone” came to signify family relationships, and this is really what we have here. Adam and Eve were related to each other as man and woman. Woman was created for man, to be his perfect, complementary, corresponding, completing companion and helper, and she was created from man, to be intimately connected to him as his counterpart of the human race.
As seen in verse 24, the natural outcome of the first man and woman was marriage, which is a picture of the most intimate of all relationships. The “one flesh” concept is much more than sexual relations between the man and the woman; it is an intertwining of their lives in every aspect, so much so that some have called it a “re-joining” of the two who came from the one flesh. This of course does not mean that a person who is not married is not completely human. Singleness is praised not only by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, but our Lord Jesus (Matt. 19:11-12). Nevertheless, every human being, whether married or not, needs some sort of relationship with the opposite sex. In fact, as we see from the record of Genesis and our own experience down to this day, each of us has a father and mother, which brings us to the second truth we understand from God’s statement, “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Ge. 2:18): It not only means that man is incomplete without other people, but that others are impossible without man. We understand this not only from Scripture (e.g. Gen. 5:1-3), but from experience. Marriage certainly has other, even more important purposes than procreation, but this is certainly one of them. Through marriage come children, additional divine image-bearers (see James 3:9). Whether we know our biological parents or not, we needed them for our life, and we need relationships with members of the opposite sex in general. But even beyond parents, the creation of the family that we see in Genesis 2 is the beginning of all sorts of relationships which will come as a result, like parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, spouses, children, step siblings, second cousins twice removed, and on the list goes–and these are only family relationships! Add to these friends, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and the list grows larger and larger. In each of these relationships each of us has various roles: we are sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, moms or dads, aunts or uncles, grandmas or grandpas, friends, neighbors, students, coworkers, citizens, etc. And in each of these roles we have responsibilities and privileges; in all of them the unity and diversity of mankind is seen in how these roles are fulfilled as male and female. All of these relationships fill up our lives and complete us, and this is by the design of our wise Creator. We are relational beings. We need others who are the same and yet different than us. Guys, we need moms and sisters and most of us need wives at some point. Gals, you need dads and brothers, and most of you will need husbands someday. We all need friends who like what we like and friends who are different. We must appreciate and learn from others who don’t look like us or live like us or talk like us. We need to embrace the fullness of the image of God in man, and where that image falls short of His glory because of sin, we need to be His ambassadors to tell others about the redemption that is in Christ. You see, we must recognize that not only do we need others, but others need us. It is a sin to isolate ourselves from others. It is sinful for us to want others to leave us alone or to always be looking for a way to get away from people. Certainly there are some of us who are wired differently and our personalities either lend themselves to being “people persons” or “loners,” but we cannot hide behind our personalities. The fact of the matter is that it is natural for us to be relational beings, and we need to proactively seek out good, godly relationships with others, not just with those who are just like us, but with young and old, cool and uncool, black, white, red, and purple…and certainly male and female!
By: Lauren Phillipps
It taught young girls that they could find their prince. It taught us that being a little different from everyone else didn’t have to be devastating. Beauty and the Beast became a source of identity for so many little girls. Belle was like us because she was an ordinary girl, and yet she gave us something to aspire to. Her love for reading made her interesting, her kindness made her likable, and her failure to conform ultimately helped urge her on to her place in the palace. Last week I found myself sitting in a theater, waiting to see a childhood favorite played out with live actors. And it was lovely. But my twenty-eight year old mind found so much more than I expected. The controversy over Beauty and the Beast has focused on what director Bill Condon described as Disney’s first “exclusively gay moment. ” While concern over the inclusion of and focus on that moment is legitimate, it is my desire that we don’t want to fail to address, or perhaps even see, other themes within the story.
Nostalgia, Guilt, and Redemption I found Maurice’s construction of the music box one of the most poignant scenes in the film. The music box he has built displays a woman holding a tiny infant and a man tenderly leaning over them. Behind them is a painting of the woman and the child, and as the camera zooms out, an identical painting sits behind Maurice. He is reconstructing his own story. As he does this, he is singing, asking himself how a moment can last forever, and comes to the conclusion that love preserves memories. This is his way of relishing and re-creating a cherished memory. In fact, it seems that he has been unable to do more than live in these memories for quite some time. His secrecy surrounding his wife’s death seems, partially, to be motivated out of remorse over leaving his wife when she was dying. When the music box is left in the woods after Maurice flees from the wolves, his past is literally left behind, and the present commands his attention. Moreover, the man who left his wife to protect his daughter is saved when his daughter refuses to leave him. She takes his place, and in so doing, is given a glimpse into the events of her mother’s death. Belle’s uncovering of the truth, in a sense, frees Maurice to leave his guilt. He is redeemed, in both a literal way and figurative way, by Belle’s sacrifice. How many of us walked into this movie hoping to relive a piece of our story, to prolong a moment or a feeling that we can’t have back, just like Maurice?
Virtuous Women Belle is presented as an odd, but morally upright girl. Her kindness and selflessness are evidenced by her willingness to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner and in her choice to remain with the Beast when he is wounded, rather than run away. Belle’s virtue comes to her easily; it is her nature. And it is this nature that coaxes the Prince out of the Beast.
The theme of the virtuous woman preserving, protecting, or revealing man’s good character is a common Victorian theme. Coventry Patmore famously encapsulated this concept in his poem, “The Angel in the House.” Women were viewed as a type of safe haven from the outside world, a sanctuary for men to return to after they’d spent the day in a hard, depraved world. The Victorians failed to acknowledge the fallenness of all mankind, whether male or female, and assigned women an inherent moral uprightness. Women cannot be the salt and light of the world merely because they are women. In fact, this system of thought values women for their ability to preserve and spread virtue, and it values virtue for its ability to reform and subdue men. Virtue becomes a type of currency, and love becomes the ultimate reward for the virtuous woman (Aimee Byrd wrote a wonderful article on this idea here). Our beauty and virtue do not exist for the sole purpose of winning a man’s heart, and I found it interesting that Disney inserted elements of feminism to “modernize” the story, when in fact the story itself is built on a foundation of thought that feminists combated.
Obedience to the Lord, or virtue, does not increase the inherent value I have because I am made in the image of God. All humans have derivative value (value given to us by God, assigned at creation), and though sin mars us, it does not make us less valued by God. I cannot help but wonder if the idea that a woman’s virtue makes her valued has influenced Christian thinking about virginity; a woman whose “virtue” has been shattered is sometimes portrayed as offering something far less precious to her husband on their wedding day, even if she is currently walking in obedience to the Lord.
I want to be careful in making this point. Scripture praises women of virtue, and sets forth examples of virtuous women for us. In fact, 1 Peter 3:1-2 tells wives that their respectful and pure conduct may win over their unbelieving husbands. Kindness, forgiveness, and forbearance are good things, but they are not merely mechanisms for change. These attitudes arise in us when we abide in Christ and his forgiveness of our sin. Trusting the Lord to work through our obedience (and trusting him even if our obedience yields different results or seems fruitless) requires humble dependence on the Lord because we are sinners. My obedience to the Lord is a sacrifice of self that I make because of Christ’s work on the cross, and not something I do so that others see it and amend their behavior. Women need to trust the Lord to work change in their husbands, and obey the Lord’s commands for their treatment of others regardless of whether or not their obedience yields change.
Evangelicals will greatly benefit from exercising discernment over all ideologies of a film, and not only those that are blatantly ungodly. We must aim for obedience that is not merely outward, but from the heart (1 Sam. 16:7), and considering the themes of books and films we partake of is an essential part of conforming our minds to biblical thought; it helps us eradicate thought processes that are more worldly than godly. Beauty and the Beast features themes of common grace: kindness, forgiveness, forbearance, and love are gifts of God in a fallen world. What a wondrous thing it is that we can be forgiven of wrongdoing, offer forgiveness to others, and live harmoniously with those we love.
In the last post we began our series on relationships by backing way up and looking at the theological foundation of all relationships: that we are relational beings because we are made in the image of God, who Himself, by His very nature as the triune God, is relational. We noted that the fact that we are male and female reveals to us the diversity within the unity of the triune God. We ended by noting that God does not need us in order to be fulfilled; He does not need a relationship with us in order to be a relational God because He has perfect fellowship within the three Persons of His triune being…and yet He chose to create us, and He created us in His own image.
This is the second theological pillar that must undergird our thinking on relationships: the wonderful truth that God, out of no necessity, created us in order to have a relationship with us. In Genesis 1:26–28 we read that
…God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
From this passage we note that it was the willful decision of the triune God to make man in His own image and likeness. A central part of this image is certainly the relational aspect of man. But this relational aspect of man was not meant only to display God’s glorious nature, the creation of man was for the purpose of relationship. We see this personal relationship take shape in Genesis 2, which is an elaboration on the creation of man in day six. While the first chapter of Genesis is like a full panoramic view of the creation; chapter 2 is more of a telescopic zooming in on the most important part of the picture. We know this because of the tolodot (Heb. תּוֹלְדֹ֣ת) literary marker in Gen. 2:4 (“this is the account” or literally, “these are the generations”). This marker is used to introduce the major divisions of this entire book (cf. Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 10:32; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2). Each one of these tolodots marks the outlining of the development of mankind and the various tribes of men, focusing especially on the line of Israel. So what we have in Genesis 2 is the first of these tolodot markers which sketches the beginning of all mankind. In Gen. 2:15–17 we see in this passage some very critical aspects which help to define our understanding of relationships:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
First of all, we see that God communicated with man. Communication is basic to any relationship; if two people cannot communicate, it is very difficult for them to have a relationship! Secondly, we see that there were roles in the relationship. God made it clear to Adam that He was the Creator; Adam, was the created, and therefore Adam was to serve God. God gave the commands which Adam was to obey, and Adam would find delight in obedience to God. This brings us to a third aspect of this relationship: trust. Trust is the basic, foundational aspect of any good relationship; without trust a relationship falls apart. Trust is a like a boundary marker for a relationship. It’s like the lines on a basketball court or a baseball field which alert us to what is out of bounds and will cause damage or potentially even destroy the relationship if we cross those lines. Different relationships have different trust markers which define them. The trust marker of Adam’s relationship to God was made explicitly clear: it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That tree was the boundary of trust. Many believe that the tree was a marker for a probationary test of obedience, and if Adam and Eve had just obeyed long enough they would have been confirmed in righteousness and eventually would have not been able to sin any longer. But I don’t see any reason for this kind of speculation. God merely warned Adam that if He did eat of the tree he would surely die. If we understand the tree as a test, it was a test of relationship.
In Genesis 3:8 it appears that God had regular, personal fellowship with man in the Garden. And apparently this fellowship would have carried on to Adam and Eve’s children and their descendants because God had given him the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Yet we see that this perfect fellowship was broken when Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and violated the boundary of trust. Adam was dependent upon God and obligated to Him; this was his nature and his role in relationship to God. And yet he chose to rebel against this nature and this role and to make himself his own god. As a consequence of this, man died. Adam and Eve began to die physically at that point, but far worse, they immediately died spiritually as they were cast out of the Garden and out of the presence of God. In that instant, sin infected all mankind, as Romans 5:12 tells us: “…through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
But in the midst of Genesis 3, we find the first indication that God had a plan for rescuing man from the consequences of the Fall. In fact, the rest of the Bible is the story of God’s redemption of man. We see, then, that although the Fall broke man’s relationship with God, the recreation of man was for the purpose of relationship. Augustine’s famous line rings true for all men: “You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” God, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6) immediately made this possible, as we see in Genesis 3:15. God announced the consequences of sin first upon the serpent, whom He told, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is what theologians call the protoeuangelion, or the “first Gospel.” This was the promise of a Redeemer who would one day come to crush Satan and defeat sin and death and hell forever.
From here on out, God begins to deal with man in a gracious manner, calling a people to Himself through whom would come the Messiah, the Savior, who would reconcile men back to Him. As we mentioned, the tolodots of Genesis map out this choosing of a people, and God continues on throughout Scripture to tenaciously pursue a relationship with mankind despite their sinfulness. He makes covenants with them, he issues promises to them, and He acts for them. He gives them His law in order to show them their sinfulness and alert them to their need for a Savior. And ultimately, He sends that Savior who, as the “last Adam,” (1 Cor. 15:22, 45) was perfectly obedient, always doing what the Father commanded, perfectly fulfilling His role as the God-man. Through the new birth which we receive when we believe in Christ, we receive eternal life, the definition of which was given by our Lord Jesus Christ: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is to know God, to have a restored relationship with Him. It is to no longer be His enemy (Rom. 5:10), but to be His friend (John 15:13-14). This new birth gives us entrance into the family of God (John 1:12) and introduces us into the transformational process of becoming more like Christ (Col. 3:9-10). All of this is summed up in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
What wonderful news it is to know that God is committed to a relationship with us and that by heeding His call for us to turn away from our own way and to turn to Him through Christ we gain eternal life, the essence of which is a relationship with the living God. This is what we were created for!
When approaching certain subjects in student ministries, we have the tendency to jump to the practical–the stuff that we can grab a hold of. The subject of relationships is definitely one of these. Let’s be honest: the minute students hear the word ‘relationship’ every ear in the room suddenly perks up. Everybody immediately thinks of ‘dating’–and they immediately get excited about receiving answers as to how they can venture into these mysterious waters with God’s sanctified blessing. Those who teach on this subject are often just as zealous, and they either begin to declare with dogmatic certainty that it’s God’s will for you to “Kiss Dating Goodbye,” or they step out on shaky ground and provide some cautious “practical wisdom” (that, in reality, they themselves are not quite sure about). The reason for this is that the Bible does not say a whole lot about ‘dating.’ In fact, it doesn’t say anything about what is typically called ‘dating’–the idea of hanging out exclusively with someone of the opposite sex, just “having fun” for an indefinite period of time with no real intentions for the future. Nor does it give a systematic program for “courting” (an idea that has gained almost canonical status in some evangelical circles). This is why many youth leaders are either dogmatic or sheepish about the subject: they really don’t know what they’re talking about! Believe me–I’ve been one of them.
What I’ve found through the years is that we just have to accept the fact that the Bible is not a textbook for dating. Instead, the Bible views this sort of thing within the broader rubric of relationships, and it certainly has a lot to say about relationships of all sorts. In fact, the Bible is a relational book written by a relational God to relational people who were created in His image. As I often tell students, theology matters. And the reason relationships and even marriages are oftentimes such train wrecks, even in the church, is because we put the proverbial cart before the horse-we want to jump into something sacred before we think God’s thoughts after Him and develop deep convictions which help guide us. It’s no mystery why we do this; it is because relationships are bound up with feelings, and it is so easy to let our feelings direct us rather than our minds. And typically, we’re young when we start to be interested in this sort of thing, and therefore we are what the book of Proverbs calls “simple” or “naive.” What we’re in need of in this condition is wisdom.
Now, I never seek to talk down to young people, but I do know from experience that I did not know what I now know when I was fifteen (it’s okay if you need to read that sentence again). Being simple or naive is not a bad thing unless you are unwilling to listen to wisdom (the Bible calls that person is a fool). But the wise man was not born wise; he became wise by listening to the instruction given to him. Now, as we approach the subject of wisdom, we must remember that it is knowing how to rightly apply knowledge. So we must not think that we can simply fill our heads up with knowledge. We must get knowledge but then we must apply it to life. But let’s back up even further. The knowledge that one needs in order to apply wisdom is rooted in right theology. What we believe about God and what God requires of us is the knowledge we need in order to have godly wisdom. What people tend to do is to start with what they believe to be wisdom they have gained from the masses of voices who are all too eager to speak into their lives. This advice may or may not be sound, but it’s usually a hodgepodge of biblical wisdom and something they heard from Dr. Phil, and that is a cocktail fit for disaster! So what I would like us to do is wade into this vast subject of relationships by looking first at the theology behind it before we go and start laying down principles of wisdom derived out of so-called sanctified common sense. And to begin, I want us to take a closer look at our relational God.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made man in His own image, and so what I have grown to realize is that if we want to know more about ourselves–especially our relationships–we should not start with ourselves, but with God. The more we learn about God, the more we learn about ourselves. Obviously I’m not saying that we are gods, but I am saying what the Bible says – that we are made in God’s image, and so it makes sense to try to understand what God is like if we are to know what we are like. In doing so, we learn that there are ways in which we are indeed like God, and there are also many ways in which we are not like Him. We need to keep in mind that whenever we see likenesses between ourselves and God they are just that–likenesses. We are not God, and we will never possess the qualities that make us like Him to the degree that He does.
With that in mind, let’s begin at the beginning, in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God…” It is interesting to note that the Bible doesn’t have a dust cover with an “About the Author” section on the back flap. It doesn’t tell us where He came from or give us His credentials for being God–it just states matter-of-factly, God… What we know about God is revealed to us throughout the pages of Scripture, and it is not typically given in textbook style; we typically get to know about God by reading about how He has acted in the past. This is what we see in Genesis 1:1. Before there was time, before there was anything else, God was, and He created all things out of nothing. Well, we don’t find much likeness to God in this description–we are not self-existent beings who have the power to create things out of nothing! We are part of His creation. But, when we fast-forward to the creation of man we see that we are made in His image, and it is here that we begin to learn more about God. The first thing we learn about God in regard to relationship is that God’s creation of man in his own image reflects his relational nature. The pronoun that God uses in v. 26 – “Let Us make man in Our image” (emphasis added) tells us much about His nature. Deuteronomy 6:4 states clearly that God is one, and yet right here, in the first chapter of the Bible, we learn that there is more than one Person within the one God. This is the first reference to what Scripture reveals more fully in its progressive revelation as the Trinity–that God is three in one. The Old Testament eludes to this truth throughout, although not explicitly. Take Psalm 45:6–7 for example: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy above Your fellows.” Here there are two individuals who are being called God, and the writer of Hebrews tells us that these two who are called God are the Father and the Son (Heb. 1:8). In Isaiah 48:16, we see three individuals speaking: “Come near to Me, listen to this: from the first I have not spoken in secret, from the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit.” Here we have “Me,” which seems in this passage to be the Messiah; we have the “Lord God,” which is obviously the Father; and we have the “Spirit.” In the NT, we see this truth very explicitly. At the baptism of Jesus, for instance, we see Jesus coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and a voice (obviously the Father’s voice) from heaven (Matt. 3:13-17). We see it very clearly in the baptismal formula of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19): “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Each of these three individuals is said to be God; each is to receive worship, and yet God is one.
Now, this is how it usually goes when we talk about the Trinity. It is such a heady subject that we typically do a systematic Bible survey and wind up analyzing the Triune God as if He were some sort of scientific experiment! Don;t misunderstand me. I’m not saying it’s not necessary to diligently search the Scriptures systematically, not at all. But we can’t stop there. Once we’ve reached the conclusion concerning what the Bible teaches about a certain subject, we have to look deeply at what the implications of it are. I fear that the Trinity is something we sort of set on the back burner. We affirm it and we dare not disbelieve it, but it’s just so mind-boggling that we don’t think about it much. But this is who God is, and this is the God whom we worship, and this is the God in whose image and likeness we were created! We learn a lot about ourselves from the Trinity, and perhaps the most important thing we learn is that the reason we are relational beings is because God, by His very nature is relational! You see, if we study Scripture closely, we get to peek in on the inner working of the Trinity, and here in Genesis 1:26, we see the three Persons of the Triune God conversing about the creation of man! There are many snapshots of this relationship throughout the Gospel of John. In John 14, Jesus said that He was going away, but that He would send “another Helper,” – the Holy Spirit to His disciples. You remember Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, where He is speaking directly to the Father. In that prayer we see not only a sharing of glory between the Father and the son, but a sharing of love.
You see, God is relational by His very nature; He is three Persons in one God, three relational Persons who communicate and share in perfect harmony and love. And further, we learn that within this perfect relationship of unity there is a distinction of roles. Throughout the Gospel of John it is clear that although Jesus and the Father are one, Jesus submits to the Father and seeks to bring glory to Him. Jesus constantly made it a point to state that He was speaking only the words and doing only the works which the Father had given Him. He said in John 8:29, “…I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” He said in v. 26 of the same chapter, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” He said in John 15:26, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” In all of this, as we see in v. 14, the Spirit’s role is not to glorify Himself, but to glorify Christ. Now, in 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul notes the theological truth that “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” “Head” is speaking of authority; this passage is teaching that the role distinctions between men and women are rooted in the roles of the Persons of the Trinity. In fact, as the revelation of Scripture progresses we see that the dynamics all of our relationships are rooted in the nature of God. All of this understanding is huge for us because we see that God is a Personal God because He relates to Himself within His Triunity.
A second thing we learn about God in regard to relationship, which follows from the fact that His creation of man in His own image expresses His relational nature is the fact that God’s creation of man was not necessary for His fulfillment. Basically, what we’re saying here is that God does not need us because He has perfect fellowship with Himself. In other words, creating man did not make God a relational being; His very nature is relational, and He had perfect relationship within His Triunity. This is why we, who are His image-bearers are relational persons as well, and this is one of the reasons why He made us male and female, in order to be a true image of Him: a unity of diversity, equal in essence yet differing in roles and existing in relationship with one another. This part of God’s nature is called His aseity by theologians, which is from a Latin root means “from oneself.” This is the doctrine of God’s self-existence. But His Triune nature reveals that He is also a personal God. This is one of the primary differences between the god of Islam, “Allah” and the one, true God. Allah is not presented as a Triune God, but merely one god, and therefore He is not the one, true, personal, relational God of the Bible.
Hopefully this brief survey has helped you to see that when we understand God better, we understand ourselves better. We are relational beings because we are made in the image of the relational God. This is the first and foremost bedrock piece of theology we need in order to properly understand relationships. In the next post we’ll endeavor to build upon that foundation…
Jonathan Edwards stands as an enormous figure whose shadow stretches over each successive generation. Edwards was Born in 1703 in the colony of Connecticut, just three years before Benjamin Franklin, and was a bright and inquisitive young man. By the time he was only 13 years old he had already learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and was accepted to Yale College. He graduated valedictorian of his class with his Bachelor’s degree in 1720, at the age of 16 and went on for 2 more years of graduate study at Yale. It was around this time that he was converted to Christ and began to pen his well-known ‘Resolutions.’ These resolutions were personal commitments to holiness which Edwards put into writing and reviewed regularly. For example:
#4 Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
#5 Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
#17. Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
Edwards was a pastor and theologian, a writer, and the third president of Princeton Seminary. He is considered to be the greatest of American theologians, and is considered by many, even secular scholars, to be the greatest mind America has ever produced. His sermons and writings, such as Religious Affections and The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, have left an indelible mark upon the world. Many schools still assign students the reading of his most famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Edwards was a life-long student of the Scriptures, of philosophy, and of nature. He worked hard at not only studying things, but analyzing them, categorizing them, synthesizing them, and then expounding upon them for the benefit of others.
Jonathan Edwards is an example of someone who had an incredible work ethic; but more than that, he understood the concept of work from a biblical perspective. He was what we might call the foremost example of a ‘student for Christ.’ By this term I do not mean to describe someone who is merely a student of the Bible, although that is certainly a prerequisite, but a person who approaches everything in life, including his studies, from a biblical perspective. A student for Christ understands what Scripture has to say about masters and work, and one’s attitude concerning them so that he can, by God’s grace, glorify Him in this most important area of life. Colossians 3:22-25 states:
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
Now if you are a student reading this, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait a second, this is talking about slaves and masters; what does this have to do with me? I’m not a slave! I don’t have a master!” Slavery was an institution that was part of the fiber of Roman society during the 1st century. Although the principles of the gospel were contrary to slavery, the gospel is not intended to change society, but to change men’s hearts. God’s desires for Christians is that they will live according to biblical principle no matter what their station in life; Christians are those who submit to the authorities that have sovereignly been placed over them. The section of this letter to the church at Colossae in which our passage is found begins in verse 18, where Paul begins to give instructions concerning relationships in the home. Wives are to be subject to husbands, children to parents, and then here, slaves to masters. Although slavery is not a part of our culture, we see a direct correlation of this principle to the employer-employee relationship because slaves are basically workers who do not get paid. This brings to bear upon the passage an intensification of application, a lesser-to greater argument, because if slaves, who are not paid for their services, are to do what is commanded in this passage, how much more should an employee who is paid?
But you may now object further, “Wait! I am not an employee; I am not getting paid to be here in school! So how does any of this have anything to do with me?” The answer is that you are wrong about not getting paid, and your payment is far more valuable than money. You are being paid with knowledge from your teachers, who are your “earthly masters,” and you cannot put a price tag on knowledge. Money comes and goes, but no one can take your education from you. What you are receiving is the foundation of knowledge that you will carry with you all your life, and it will be this very foundation that will allow you to earn a living someday. Furthermore, the more you apply yourself in your vocation as a student, the more wealthy in knowledge you will become. There is no limit to your learning; what you put into it is what you will get out of it.
But God calls us to a higher understanding of this principle. There are two commands in Colossians 3:22-25: “obey your masters” (v. 22) and “do your work” (v. 23). The rest of the passage tells us how we are to do this, and it focuses upon the way you view both your master and your work – it gets to the heart-attitudes concerning these duties. All of us can obey to a certain extent. All of us can do work. But it is how we view these obligations and our attitudes toward them that are what God is looking for.
The first principle we learn from this passage is that we are to obey and work reverently. Obedience is to be done “fearing the Lord” (v. 22). Work is to be done “for the Lord (v. 23). It is “from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (v. 24), and “You are serving the Lord Christ” (v. 24). “Your earthly masters” are your temporal masters, placed over you here and now, but you answer to a higher Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. As a student, your master is your teacher, but ultimately, “You are serving the Lord Christ.” The parallel passage of Ephesians 6:5-8 says that Christians slaves are really the “slaves of Christ;” therefore you can consider yourself a “student of Christ.” A great way to check your attitude in this area is to imagine that your teacher was sick one day and it was announced that Jesus Christ would be your substitute teacher. How would this change your attitude and obedience toward your “earthly masters?”
A second principle we learn from this passage is that we are to obey and work completely. Verse 22 says, “slaves (or students) “in everything obey those who are your earthly masters” (emphasis added). God desires that His children obey completely, not just in the things that we desire to do. There are some things teachers tell us to do that are great (they are usually the P.E. teachers), like “Play basketball for next half-hour.” We gladly comply with that! But what about when he or she tells us to go run a mile? Not so fun! When the science teacher tells you boys to dissect a frog that’s pretty cool – no problem! But when she tells you to read the next two chapters in the textbook and memorize the definition of 30 words like “meiosis” and “mitosis,” that’s not cool at all! But God says, “obey in everything!” Okay, but what about the those teachers who are unreasonable, like the Literature teacher who tells you to read Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” all the way through and then turn in a detailed synopsis of it with footnotes by the end of the semester (without watching any movies)? What about you students who “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” brought on by teachers who are so unreasonable to the point where you cry out: “To obey or not to obey, that is the question!” Well, God answers that question in 1 Peter 2:18-19:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
So, we are to obey even those teachers who are (or at least seem to be) unreasonable.
A third principle we learn from this passage is that we are to obey and work sincerely, “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” “Eye-service” has the idea of working only when the master is watching. We all know what this means: when the teacher announces that she must leave the room for a moment and that everyone is to read quietly while she is gone…and then the moment she is out of sight everyone starts talking and throwing things and all chaos is beginning to break loose until someone whispers loudly, “Hey, she’s coming!” And then everyone goes back to their books, pretending as if they’ve been obeying her directions all along. This is the opposite of sincerity; this is hypocrisy. This is “eye-service” obedience. Students who obey only with eye-service are “people-pleasers.” We are to obey our earthly masters, not to simply please them in the moment. We are to have integrity, obeying even when no one is watching. We are to do this not only for the sake of our earthly masters, but for our true Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to obey with “with sincerity of heart,” a singleness of heart that is not two-faced, hypocritical, or deceptive. This really gets to the heart of the matter, that true obedience is an issue of your heart-attitude. And what a sobering thought it is to know that our heavenly master can see it all; not just what we are doing on the outside, but what is happening on the inside.
A fourth principle we learn from this passage is that we are to obey and work heartily. “Heartily” literally means “from the soul.” It is the idea of putting your whole self into it, working with enthusiasm, “leaving it all out on the field,” as it were. Just like you are to “obey in everything,” you are to do “whatever you do” with this sort of enthusiasm and vigor. Whether you are on the basketball court or in the classroom, shooting hoops or writing a paper, you are to do it from your soul – do it “heartily.” Again we see here the reason why we are to do this: it is because we are to work as to the Lord and not to men, which brings us to the final thing we learn from this passage.
Not only are we to obey and work reverently, completely, sincerely, and heartily, but we are to do all of this with eternity in mind. Since Christ is your ultimate Master, He will grant the ultimate rewards for obedience. When we do our work with the right attitude, even when no one else sees, our Lord Jesus Christ sees. Even when we are not rewarded properly for our work, we will someday receive the inheritance that is laid up for us in heaven, and we will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). This makes every ounce of effort and self-discipline worth it all. And the byproduct of this sort of Christ-centered faithfulness is that we will typically excel in whatever we do. Students who apply these principles will not always, but on the whole, get better grades, receive more scholarships, and retain more knowledge than others who are ungrateful, disrespectful, and slothful in their studies. Why not take this passage to heart and begin to obey and work from the heart this school year? Why not see your studies not as a roadblock to your happiness, but a primary means to the joy that comes from doing whatever you do for the glory of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17)?