Fostering Faith

Original Date: 
Sunday, November 2, 2014

Colossians 3:12-14, 17 The Song: Fostering Faith

Top Ten
So I was looking online for some jokes about marriage. Some are just mean. There are a lot of very cynical jokes about marriage. Also, some are very sexist—just anti-women. But I found a blog called “funny Christian jokes” that I thought was pretty good. And it contained a Top Ten list of why God created Eve:

  1. God was worried that Adam would frequently become lost in the garden because he would not ask for directions.
  2. God knew that one day Adam would require someone to locate and hand him the remote.
  3. God knew Adam would never go out and buy himself a new fig leaf when his wore out and would therefore need Eve to buy one for him.
  4. God knew Adam would never be able to make a doctor, dentist or haircut appointment for himself.
  5. God knew Adam would never remember which night to put the garbage on the curb.
  6. God knew if the world was to be populated, men would never be able to handle the pain and discomfort of childbearing.
  7. As the Keeper of the Garden, since he didn’t have metal sheds or greenhouses, Adam would never remember where he left his tools.
  8. Apparently, Adam needed someone to blame his troubles on when God caught him hiding in the garden.
  9. As the Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone!”
  10. When God finished the creation of Adam, He stepped back, scratched His head and said, “I can do much better than that!”

We are in the last week of our 6-week series on marriage called “The Song.” Inspired by the movie of the same name and using the Song of Songs as our guide, we’ve been talking about how to strengthen and encourage our marriages. We’ve talked about attraction, intimacy, Godly conflict, romance, and commitment.

And now, today, I want us to really think about God’s purposes for our marriages. We’re going to leave the Song for the New Testament, to see how marriage fits into our Christianity.

I’m assuming that most of us want to have Christian marriages—not just good marriages, but also marriages that reflect our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. More than just marriages where we get along and we still make come hither looks at one another, it should be a priority for us to have marriages that honor Jesus. So today, I want to try to explore what that means.

Marriage: The Doing and Display of God
And I want to start at the beginning. As the top ten list reminds us: Marriage is the Doing of God. That is to say: He invented it. He created it. God walked the first bride down the aisle. Jesus says it like this, in Mark 10:

6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

This is the Bible’s clearest statement that marriage is God’s idea. At the beginning, God made them male and female. God decreed that the two would become one. Jesus says: “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

And I think that statement is meant to apply to the idea of marriage generally, as well as to each marriage specifically. When God joins two people together in marriage He doesn’t want anyone—least of all the husband or wife themselves—to break them up.

Now, I realize that’s a pretty strong statement; and some of you here have been through marital break-ups that you didn’t want to happen, but your spouse wasn’t willing to stick around. You can’t control your spouse, I know that. It takes two people committed to God’s perspective on marriage for this to work.

But what I’m going to talk about today isn’t about what your spouse does, so much, as what you do. It’s about living out God’s vision for your marriage as best as you can regardless of what your spouse does. And when both spouses are committed to this vision, that’s when marriages really sing.

So marriage is the doing of God. But also, Marriage is for the Display of God’s Glory. One of God’s intentions in creating marriage is that we would have living, breathing, earthly examples of what His love for us looks like. Paul says this in Ephesians 5:

31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.

In other words, the covenant involved in leaving mother and father and holding fast to a spouse and becoming one flesh is a portrayal of the covenant between Christ and his church. Marriage exists most ultimately to display the covenant-keeping love between Jesus and those He died to redeem.

And so, as Christians especially, there is something more at stake in our homes then whether we have a stable environment in which to raise the kids or whether we have lots of passionate nights or having someone to retire with: we have the opportunity to give witness to the world of what Jesus’ love looks like. As Paul says earlier in Ephesians, marriage is an opportunity for husbands and wives to love each other as Jesus loves us—that is sacrificially and selflessly. Marriage is an opportunity to take the grace that God has shown us—vertical grace, if you will—and bend it outward—horizontally—toward our spouse.

This week I read a book called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. In it he talks about how for centuries, Christians have seen the celibate lifestyle as the ideal way to grow in Christ-likeness. Monks and nuns were seen as the truly spiritual because they gave up earthly attachments to focus on pursuing Jesus. And certainly, celibacy and singleness can create opportunities for seeking Jesus, for taking risks, and for living radically that are more difficult for married couples.

But Thomas argues that marriage can also be an ideal arena for growing in Christ-likeness. That seems to be what Paul is getting at in this Ephesians verse. Marriage forces us to love our spouses like Jesus loves us. Marriage forces us to learn virtues like patience and kindness and humility and forgiveness and sacrifice and service. And so, the question on the front cover of Sacred Marriage is: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” That is to say, what if God’s goal for us in marriage is not necessarily that we are happy 24/7, but that we grow to be more like Him?

Fashion Police
The passage of scripture I want to focus on for the rest of our time this morning comes from Colossians 3. This isn’t a passage that specifically addresses marriage; but if we keep in mind God’s goal of displaying His glory through marriage I think we’ll be able to see how it applies. Here’s what it says:

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity…17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Paul is using a clothing metaphor to talk about the virtues Christians should display in light of Christ’s great love for us. I’m not a big fan of those TV shows or magazines that make a big deal out what people are wearing. The late Joan Rivers’ show Fashion Police always seemed pretty mean-spirited to me. I know I’m a guy; but really: is a person’s sense of style really all that important? We really have people who make a living by going around telling people “What Not to Wear”?

But Paul is kind of doing a “What You Should Wear” thing here. Not worrying about your physical clothes, but the metaphorical clothes of how we treat one another. And if we look at this passage in the context of marriage, we’ll find that husband/wife relationship is a great opportunity to develop these traits.

So, my big idea today is this: Marriage is the wardrobe that helps us dress like Christ. If marriage is meant to be a showcase of God’s grace, then there are several ways marriage can help us to grow in holiness. Looking at the text, I’m going to highlight three.

How Can I Serve my Mate?
First, put on the clothes of service. Marriage teaches us to serve. In marriage we grow to be more like Jesus as we learn to sacrifice.

We can break the list of virtues in Colossians 3 into three sets of pairs. Each pair gives an inner condition which leads in turn to an outward demeanor. That is: a way of thinking that leads to a specific way of acting. The first pair in the list, then, is compassion leading to kindness.

The word for compassion is literally “bowels of mercy.” You may have heard that original Greek word for compassion is “splagnizomai”, a word that literally means “guts.” It’s the idea of being so moved with emotion that you feel it on your insides. And if you feel compassion, then you’ll act with kindness. In other words, you’ll seek to serve others. You’ll ask yourself: “How can I best help him or her?”

Gary Thomas quotes a man named Otto Piper who defines marriage as “a reciprocal willingness of two persons to assume responsibility for each other.” (p. 180) To be married is to put yourself in a position to serve your spouse.

I don’t know if we think about this much when we are dating. Usually, that process is all about what the other person can do for me: do I find her attractive? Can he make me laugh? But once the wedding ceremony is over, if we want to enter a truly a Christian marriage, we have to turn the question around: “How can I serve my mate?”

Gary Thomas writes:

In this sense, a true Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request. Rather than saying in effect, “Will you do this for me?” when we invite another to enter the marriage relationship, the real question should be, “Will you accept what I want to give?”

If marriage is daily approached from this perspective, there can be no issue of disillusionment on the part of either partner, as both will become consumed with how well they are carrying out their duty of serving their spouse. (p. 187)

If you were a male Israelite in the days of Moses and Joshua, your job was to fight. Every young man was expected to be trained and prepared to pick up weapons and enter the ranks in order to defend the people. It was a part of their service to God and to the nation. But God did make one exception. It’s buried in the book of Deuteronomy: “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” (24:5)

That’s an actual command in scripture: “Bring happiness to your wife.” And while it’s talking specifically about men in the first year of marriage, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that God would like both husbands and wives to make this a priority throughout their life together: “Bring happiness to one another. Serve each other. Sacrifice yourself daily.”

That, of course, is how Jesus loves us. He came to earth not as He deserved: as the King of the universe attended by legions of angels; but as a servant, as a poor, itinerant teacher who removed his outer garments and wrapped Himself in a towel so that He could kneel at the feet of His followers and wash the mud and filth from between their toes. And if we want to be more like Him, then we need to follow His example. (John 13:15) And if you are married , there’s no better place to start than by serving your spouse.

Right about now is when married couples are digging elbows into one another and saying: “See, you need to pay attention. You should serve me more.” And if you are thinking that about your spouse, you’re probably right. Your spouse probably could serve you better.

But that’s not the point. This isn’t about your spouse. It’s about you. The whole idea of Christian service is that it isn’t dependent on whether the other person deserves it or not. It’s not something we do on a “you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours” basis. Serving your spouse is something you can do—indeed, something you are called to do—irrespective of whether they serve you back.

And husbands--let me talk to you a moment, because I think this is an area we often fall short--if we had real courage we’d ask our wives how we are doing at serving them. And then we’d really take their answers to heart, and we’d go out of our way to make sure we followed through on what they said. We have to ask ourselves: are we going to take advantage of the many ways our wives sacrifice for us, or are we going to emulate the One who laid down His life for us?

Thomas again:

Marriage creates a situation in which our desire to be served and coddled can be replaced with a more noble desire to serve others—even to sacrifice for others. This is a call for both husbands and wives. The beauty of marriage is that it confronts our selfishness and demands our service twenty-four hours a day. When we’re most tired, most worn down, and feeling more sorry for ourselves than we ever have before, we have the opportunity to confront feelings of self-pity by getting up and serving our mate. (p. 186)

The Mirror
Now, second, marriage helps us put on the clothes of humility. Marriage teaches us to see ourselves as we really are. Marriage forces all of our foibles and flaws into the light of day.

The next pair of words in the list in Colossians is humility and gentleness. Humility, or “lowliness”, is the inner condition and gentleness, or “meekness”, is the outward action. People whose hearts are lowly instead of proud will act more meekly toward others. Meekness counts others as better than ourselves and deals gently with their flaws. That happens when the heart is humble.

When I was looking for jokes on marriage I came across this one, which I think falls into the category of sexist, but also illustrates this point pretty well. A young man said to his dad: “Is it true that in some parts of Africa a man doesn’t know his wife until he marries her?” And his dad responded: “That happens in every country my son.”

You can take that as being a mild jab at women or you can take that as a pretty profound truth. When we are dating, we are invested in putting our best foot forward. We put on our nice clothes, we fix our hair, we try to smell nice. In dating, you’re usually together for a limited amount of time when you want to look and behave your best. Then the date ends, and you can go back to being you.

But when you get married, there’s no break anymore. This person is going to see you before your shower. This person is going to smell your morning breath. This person is going to hear the strange sounds that your stomach makes. And, more than that, your sins and flaws are going to be on open display. This person is going to know your sins and bad habits better than anyone else on earth, precisely because so many of these sins are going to manifest themselves against him or her.

We truly don’t really know that other person until we marry them.

Just to balance the ledger, here’s another joke I found: If it weren’t for marriage, a man would go through life thinking he had no faults at all. The humbling thing about marriage is that as you begin to see yourself through the eyes of your spouse, you get a much clearer picture of who you really are. Authors Gary and Betsy Ricucci write: “One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached, it would have said,
‘Here’s to helping you discover what you’re really like!’” (quoted by Thomas, p. 89) Marriage forces us to face ourselves honestly and consider our character flaws, our selfishness, and our anti-Christian attitudes.

Kathleen and Thomas Hart write:

Sometimes what is hard to take in the first years of marriage is not what we find out about our partner, but what we find out about ourselves. As one young woman who had been married about a year said, ‘I always thought of myself as a patient and forgiving person. Then I began to wonder if that was just because I had never before gotten close to anyone. In marriage, when John and I began…dealing with differences, I saw how small and unforgiving I could be. I discovered a hardness in me I had never experienced before.’ (quoted by Thomas, p. 93)

Jesus, of course, was extraordinarily humble. Not that He had any flaws or sins to be exposed; but He lived His life with honesty and transparency that far exceeds that of anyone in history. If we want to be more like Him, then we need to put on the clothes of humility.

Humility, Paul says, will lead to gentleness. I call this having a “Holy Double Standard.” We should look at ourselves critically and with an eye to change, all the while that we seek to overlook and downplay the flaws in our spouse.

Gary Thomas writes:

View marriage as an entryway into sanctification--a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord. But here’s the challenge: Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. Correspondingly, give them the freedom and acceptance they need in order to face their own weaknesses as well. In this way, we can use marriage as a leg up, a piercing spiritual mirror, designed for our sanctification and growth in holiness. (p. 97)

Forbear and Forgive
Which leads to the third piece of clothing in our wardrobe: put on the clothes of forgiveness. Marriage is where we learn to show grace. Marriage teaches us how to forbear and forgive.

The next pair on our list is not exactly a pair. It’s an inner condition followed by two actions. We are to put on patience, which will open the door to bearing with each other and forgiving one another.

The literal translation of patience is “longsuffering.” That is, we are to become the kind of person who does not have a short fuse, but a long one. A very long one. Become a patient person, slow to anger, quick to listen, slow to speak. John Piper points out that the three inner conditions—compassion, humility, and patience—are interconnected. “Bowels of mercy” lead to “lowliness” which makes “longsuffering” possible. So, if you are quick to anger instead of longsuffering, the root is probably a lack of mercy and a lack of lowliness. (sermon: Marriage, Forgiving and Forbearing, Feb. 18, 2007)

If you cultivate patience, however, the fruit will be the ability to forbear and forgive. I think of the difference here like this: you forbear strangeness, you forgive sin. That is, a lot of the things that another person does that bother us don’t necessarily spring from a sinful place, they just happen because the other person is strange. Quirky. Different.

For example, I have a particular way that I like my pants to be folded and hung on a hanger. Beth, for whatever reason, does not seem to be able to fold my pants that way( probably because I’m too fussy). Here is a place where we both need to bear with each other. Is my preference for the way my pants are hung a sinful preference? I don’t think so. It’s just the way I like them to be hung. Is Beth’s difficulty folding my pants the way I prefer some sort of evil trait within her? Not at all. It’s just something quirky about the two of us that we’ve had to learn to live with. We forbear.

(And by the way, Beth is a pretty private person who is not crazy about me telling these stories about our marriage. We decided that her putting up with it is a huge act of service on her part. She serves me, and my job, by allowing me to use our relationship in this way. It’s huge sacrifice on her part, and I can’t thank her enough for doing it. Thanks babe, you truly are the best!)

Forgiving, of course, gets much more serious. We forgive sins. That means something truly wrong has occurred. That we have been truly hurt. This isn’t something we can simply laugh off as no big deal, if we’ve been sinned against it is always a big deal.

The word for forgive here is a word that has to do with not exacting payment. The idea is that if the other person has wronged you, then they owe you. They are in your debt, and sheer justice says you have the right to get restitution in the form of some suffering on their part to make up for the suffering they caused you. But to forgive means to give that right up. You don’t demand the payment, but you “freely give” good for evil.

In marriage, there is no doubt that your spouse will sin against you. In big ways, and small ways. A harsh word, a half-truth, selfish behavior, intentional betrayal, the list could go on and on. In nearly every case, you have the right to hold it against your spouse and demand that they suffer for each and every hurt they cause you. But marriage cannot survive in such an environment.

Jesus, of course, is the great forgiver. Every sin ever committed, including the sins you commit against your spouse, are also sins committed against Him. He has the right of sheer justice to demand payment for every sin we’ve committed. And yet, in His mercy and grace, He went to the cross to pay the penalty on our behalf.

And now, Paul asks us to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” That’s an incredibly high standard. A level of holiness that we are challenged to live up to each and every day. But as we seek to follow Christ, it is the standard we must be aiming at. And there’s no better place to start than by forgiving your spouse.

To the Glory of God
So, marriage is the wardrobe that helps us dress like Christ. Marriage is the laboratory in which we learn to live the Christian life. If we are open to it service, humility, and forgiveness can all be developed in the context of marriage.

The passage in Colossians 3 ends like this:

14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity…

Paul completes the ensemble with love. It’s the belt that ties it all together. And really, all these things: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness are just components of what it means to love like Jesus. This is what love looks like.

And then, one more verse, a couple of verses down:

17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Let’s wrap up where we began: Marriage is the doing of God for the display of God. The ultimate purpose of your marriage is not for “happily ever after”, but to show a watching and doubting world what Christ’s love truly looks like. Your marriage is not just for you, it’s for the glory of God.