The pressure grows in our time to live a life worth taking pictures of. Special accomplishments and special moments — confirmed by scrolling spectators — threaten to become the business of life. This pressure tempts us to perform. The world is our stage; stand ready to pose and sleep in your makeup. Life away from the public eye is as unheard of as it is undesired. If we enjoy a simple walk in the forest — and no one else hears or sees — did it happen?
Of course, this pressure has not landed equally on the shoulders of all in our society. Satan loads more weight on the pillars of civilization when he strikes at the pillars of our households: our wives and mothers. We see this heartbreaking lie at work every time we hear valiant women reflect on their decades spent at home as if they never really lived. Eve, the mother of all living, is pressured to think she forfeited all that mattered by giving it to her children. What have I done with my life?
Now some women could ask the haunting question with due sobriety — what have they done with their lives? — but not these women.
These women built their homes and did not eat the bread of idleness. These women opened their mouths with wisdom and released the fragrance of kind teaching. These women dressed in strength and dignity and laughed at the times to come. These women produced industry in their homes, opened their hands to the poor, crowned their husbands with splendor, rose early in some seasons, retired late in others. These women, who sat year in and year out at their Master’s feet, far surpass Solomon’s riches. And yet these women reflected upon their lives, convinced they had done meagerly. Oh, for hands to strangle the devil and silence his forked tongue.She Was Industry
In the case of these women, the lie mocks the very ones who are worthy of praise. God determines she is worth a planet’s weight in gold, while the enemy tells her she’s weightless. God instructs his sons to rise and praise her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29). Meanwhile, Satan asks what they each, in turn, had to show for themselves on all the wrong terms. And the question from his lips finds its place on theirs. This breaks the heart of all good men.
But have the good men been praising? Has Satan sunk our queens with whispers because the kings have forgotten to sing? When Adam ceased singing, the serpent found an opportunity to speak. These women too, musing upon what they feared to be a wasted life, may not have heard lyrics of excellence sung over them. And they should have. The choir of godly men should have gathered to drown out the secret fears of irrelevance.
And all the louder in our day — because the world sings a song of demerit to the full-time mother. Congratulations are liberal for the career man, and especially for the woman working outside the home, but not the wife and mother managing it. We proudly hear, “I am a contractor,” or a principal, or an artist, but we nervously break eye contact when a woman reports that she has been faithful at her post as wife, mother, and Christian. We blush for all the wrong reasons.Gray-Haired Glory
So there they sat. Now with grown-up children, life was not what it was before. What could they say to secret fears of triviality? They changed thousands of diapers? Cooked thousands of meals? Stood in grocery aisles for endless hours? Helped their child with countless assignments? Their days, many of them now passed, did not contain much that the world values. Their Instagrams weren’t followed by any but a few friends and family.
These women sat reckoning with the fact that not an insignificant amount of the fruit of their hands (and their wombs) had moved on. The harvest grew legs and walked away. The son left father and mother; the daughter, swept from her feet and from home. The assignments were complete. No more diapers to change. They stood in grocery lines with an inexplicable pain that fewer mouths remain to feed. Life lacked the same color as former days. And the gray hair of the righteous woman seemed less of a crown and more of a shame.Chesterton Saw It
Her youth, now gone, was spent on others. And she retires with no awards for public service. The reason being that the world acclaims specialists, and the Christian mother is the supreme generalist. She is not the professional of one skill, but the vital proficient of many. She is omnicompetent, lauded by few but in many areas. How short would that poem in Proverbs 31 be if she was the specialist of today?
If she, as G.K. Chesterton mused, went down from the mountaintop with man into a trade and did not continue to “behold the horizon,” she undoubtedly would get applause, but would all be better? Her ability is the great ballast that complements man’s inabilities as a specialist. She, the great North Star, shines fixed in glory among the changing heavens. Historically, “Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad.” We’ve lost the romance of the generalist for the appeal of the specialist. A romance we need not apologize for.
I, with wiser sons and fathers around and before me, refuse to join the cultural sigh given to mothers and daughters who answer (and have the luxury to do so) the call to manage the very entity that builds and preserves all civilization: the home. We will not join the elegy. We will ennoble her and her household again — rescuing the latter from its ruins as a place of mere sleep and screens. In the meantime, we wonder aloud, for the feminists, and all others, to hear, as Chesterton did (more than a century ago),
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. (“The Emancipation of Domesticity” in What’s Wrong with the World)
The stay-at-home wife and mother does not work in obscurity, but in grandeur. And as she rounds the bend into the homestretch, she should never be left to wonder whether all required sweat, blood, and tears along the way made any difference. If anything is true, this is: it did.Praise Her in Public
As a son to these women, and other women, who have spent their years in — and this abhorrently — thankless labor, may I speak? To you mothers in the faith who did not hear the song you so rightfully deserved and now question, “Was it all worth it?” To women tempted to look at the sacrificed career that stood within reach, laid down to build a home and console a crying baby (and so much more) in love and obedience to Christ: Yours is praise. Yours is thanks. Yours is honor. Yours is heaven.
The world, with all its cheap ribbons, overlooks you. Too many of us men have forgotten to sing. But one who watches above has not. His music does not fade. His smile only broadens. Do not despise the homestretch. Your wifehood and motherhood, conducted in the fear of the Lord, is the very opposite of a wasted life. Thank you for all you are and all you do. We men resolve to again learn to sing, to respond to our Father’s call more faithfully: “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:31).
Not one word has failed. Joshua, as leader of God’s people, had said this not once, but twice after God brought them safely into the land he promised (Joshua 21:45; 23:14).
Several hundred years later, at the height of the earthly kingdom, in his benediction to the dedication of the temple, Solomon echoed Joshua’s declaration: “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant” (1 Kings 8:56).
Not one of God’s words had failed. It was an important reminder for the first readers of the book of Kings, as they found themselves at rock bottom (all too soon after Solomon’s reign). Having fallen from those heights to the depths of exile, God’s people were tempted to wonder, Have God’s plan and power failed?
Again and again, 1 and 2 Kings seeks to restore and strengthen the faith of God’s languishing people, not with platitudes and generalities, but with specific details and concrete facts. God’s people need to be confronted with the stark realities of what God had said through his prophets and how, without fail, he acted to fulfill his word.Specificity Feeds Faith
Two and a half millennia later, such specificity still feeds faith. Generalities about God and his trustworthiness draw on a depleting store, while concrete details, textures, and hues replenish the supply. Which is why God gave us such a big book, a book big enough to feed our faith for a whole life long. God means for his church to move about and feed from the whole pasture, not cluster in one corner of the field. He means for us not simply to remind ourselves that God is good and keeps his word, but to recall specific expressions of his goodness and particular instances in which he spoke and it came to pass, seemingly against all odds.
Some of God’s promises come to pass quickly, even overnight. Others stretch over long periods of time, acting as sinews holding together the history of his covenant people over centuries. Both long-term and short-term prophecies serve to build and renew the confidence of his people. In a previous article, I rehearsed a few of the more arresting short-term fulfillments, but here let’s consider some of the more significant long-term examples of God’s faithfulness to his word. Marvel with me at the power and patience of God, and let the specific details fill the tank of your confidence in him to accomplish, in his perfect timing, all that he promises.
As much as we might suspect differently, God never goes back on his word. As he said to Jeremiah, “I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12), even when he watches for hundreds of years. Remembering his long-term care and faithfulness may not, on its own, relieve our pain today in waiting, but through it God does provide strength to endure while we wait.Two Sons Die the Same Day
In 1 Kings 2:27, shortly after Solomon’s coronation, while the new king is establishing his reign, we learn that “Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.” This was no day-old prophecy. It was a century old.
The promise went back generations to 1 Samuel 2:27–36, before the call of Samuel, who, in his old age, anointed David as king after Saul. Eli, serving as priest and judge in Israel for forty years, had kept his own nose clean but looked the other way on the wickedness of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. A nameless “man of God” came forward to pronounce God’s judgment on Eli’s house because of his sons:
All the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. (1 Samuel 2:33–35)
The immediate word came to pass in 1 Samuel 4:11. The Philistines slaughtered thirty thousand Israelite foot soldiers, captured the ark of the covenant, and killed Eli’s sons. But then God patiently waited, until the reign of Solomon, to finally unseat the house of Eli, one hundred years later. God’s word did not fail.Jericho Seven Centuries Later
At the end of 1 Kings 16 comes the first introduction and summary of the 22-year reign of Ahab, a wicked king in Israel. In the writer’s brief summary, he mentions something seemingly incidental that transpired in that span:
In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34)
It’s a stunning lightning strike of prophetic fulfillment. Seven hundred years have passed since Joshua said, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26).
Now the Kings narrative marks for us, as a simple parenthesis in Ahab’s reign, how God is watching over his word to perform it. What he said through Joshua, he meant. The passing of seven centuries did not negate one syllable of his word.He Knew the King by Name
For those who know well the story of Israel’s tragic fall, over five centuries, into exile, we know a king named Josiah comes near the end of that tragedy (2 Kings 22–23). So, it’s surprising to hear his name foretold centuries before (1 Kings 13:2). The kingdom is newly divided between Solomon’s son (Rehoboam) and Solomon’s former servant (Jeroboam), and another nameless prophet arises to tell the latter, addressing the altar of his idolatry,
Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you. (1 Kings 13:2)
What, of course, is remarkable is that the prophet gives the specific name of a coming king, in David’s line — a king who will not even be born for almost three hundred years. Then an immediate sign is fulfilled (1 Kings 13:3–5), granting assurance that God will most certainly fulfill his long-term promise.
Sure enough, almost three hundred years later, a young ruler arises who, against the grain, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2). His name: Josiah. Not only does a king ascend by that specific name, but he also fulfills the particular prediction:
The altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place [Josiah] pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. (2 Kings 23:15–16)The Thousand-Year Judgment
Finally, and perhaps most dramatically, is the exile itself. The very Trauma that had so unsettled the collective faith of God’s people, and threatened to destroy them as a nation, and called God’s word into question among the faithless, was in fact precisely what God himself had foretold by his prophets. Here at the end of the Kings narrative, during the reign of Josiah’s son Jehoiakim, we discover where the story has been driving all along:
In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. (2 Kings 24:1–2)
Now it’s no mention of a singular prophecy, but the sweeping “by his servants the prophets.” This is a thousand-year, multi-prophet project finally coming to its horrible fulfillment. One of those prophets had been Isaiah, who had said to good King Hezekiah, “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord” (2 Kings 20:17). Isaiah even pinpointed the specific nation more than a hundred years in advance.
God also spoke “by his servants the prophets” to King Hezekiah’s wicked son Manasseh:
Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day. (2 Kings 21:12–15)
Yet even at this point, God wasn’t done issuing warnings. He spoke to Josiah as well about the coming exile: “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there” (2 Kings 23:27). All along, the ministry of the prophets had been leading here, to exile. God’s people, on the whole, had disobeyed him “since the day their fathers came out of Egypt” (2 Kings 21:15). God sent his prophets, one after another, generation after generation, to awaken his people to repentance and warn of exile to come. But, as a whole, they would not repent.
In fact, God himself had said even through the greatest, most conspicuous prophet, Moses, “They shall go into captivity” (Deuteronomy 28:41), as well as, “You shall be plucked off the land” (Deuteronomy 28:63). And then he said to Moses (to be recorded as a testament against the people),
Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. (Deuteronomy 31:16–17)
For those who remembered these prominent words, exile was not a challenge to God’s word, but a confirmation of his plan and power. Nearly 900 years before Babylon ransacked and destroyed Jerusalem, God had said it would happen. And as the time drew near during the reigns of Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah, he confirmed it again and again. A chorus of prophetic voices, spanning almost a millennium, had foretold that God would do the humanly unthinkable. And he did.He Will Keep His Word
Kings records this important word from God through Isaiah: “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass” (2 Kings 19:25). Not only does God have the power to make the utterly unthinkable happen in 24-hour cycles; he also has the patience to watch attentively over his words, and bring them to pass — every single one — in his perfect timing, whether it spans days and weeks, or generations and millennia.
To the Christian, even more impressive than century-spanning prophecies about Jericho, Josiah, and the exile are the long-range promises fulfilled in Jesus. More than four centuries before he came, Malachi told of a messenger who would prepare the way for God himself (Malachi 3:1). Seven centuries prior, Isaiah wrote of “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
Even the Kings narrative ends in hope, that God is keeping, and will keep, his promise to David, as the Davidic heir comes into unexpected favor in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27–30). God promised that he would not let the lamp of David go out (2 Kings 8:19), and God always keeps his word.Every Word Comes True
Now, on this side of Christ’s coming, we take heart knowing that God’s words to us will not fail. Not that they all have come to pass. Not that we don’t have to wait. In this age, we wait for healing, for restoration, for peace, for fullness of joy.
Filled with fresh faith from feeding in Scripture on the details of how God has fulfilled his word in the past, we look with confidence to the day when our world finally rings with this great announcement:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3–4)
God never goes back on his word. Not one of his promises will fail. Some will come true even in this life, and all of them in the age to come.
Unmarried couples who sleep together lose something precious. But if Christ is their treasure, his grace still reigns over their shame.
Sermons are not speeches. Preaching isn’t a lecture. When a pastor speaks God’s words to his gathered people, in the power of the Spirit, miracles happen. John Piper delivered this message at the Sing! conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The cross was designed by God to humble us. It reminds us that we need Christ’s blood to rescue us, and his power to strengthen us.
We all know that everyone who claims to be a born-again Christian is not a genuine follower of Christ. A 2017 study by LifeWay Research discovered that 24% of Americans profess to be evangelical. A higher percent claim to be born again. But when pressed, only about 15% of Americans can affirm the most basic evangelical beliefs.
This is not a new problem. Anyone who has been a Christian for long knows someone who professes Christianity but fails to believe what Christians should believe, or believes right doctrine but exhibits little or no fruit. A gap always exists between the number of people who profess to be born again and those who possess the reality. This is true of every congregation. That is one reason why the constant preaching of the gospel matters. The more the gospel is preached, the smaller that gap becomes.
So, acknowledging that the gap exists, how can we know that someone who professes new birth actually possesses it? Those legitimately born again are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit living within us? Fundamentally, it means that the Holy Spirit is communicating a conviction about Christ’s moral beauty to the eyes and ears of our hearts. This communication has four important distinctives.
- First, the medium of God’s communication is a conviction of faith.
- Second, the place where it occurs is the heart.
- Third, the knowledge communicated is the moral beauty of Christ — a growing grasp of his moral and spiritual goodness.
- Fourth, the effect is changed behavior motivated by a growing desire to be holy as God is holy.
First, the medium of communion with God is a growing conviction of faith. Remember, “Faith is . . . the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). True faith empowers us to increasingly see truth through God’s eyes — from a divine perspective. We “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). New birth equips us to increasingly taste spiritual truth. The primary way we taste is through conviction.
For example, I recently read Paul’s description of man’s sinfulness in Romans 3:9–20. As I read “their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive,” God opened my heart to see that this was often me. Then the thought that God had loved me, even in this condition, overwhelmed me. The result was a new conviction about the depth of God’s love and mercy. My soul soared in gratitude, and I felt a heightened desire to serve and live for God.
This is what takes place when the Holy Spirit speaks to us. We see spiritual truth with God’s eyes, and conviction is always a byproduct.
Many reading these words have experienced similar encounters with God. It can take place while reading Scripture, while listening to a sermon, while busy jogging, driving, or vacuuming the living room. To the degree that this communication happens, everything changes.Has Something Happened in Your Heart?
Second, the location of this interaction with God is the heart, not simply the mind. In the work of sanctification, God never bypasses the mind. The intellect is crucial. Although the conviction that points to new birth passes through the mind, however, it occurs in the heart. “With the heart one believes and is justified” (Romans 10:10). “Faith is the candlestick,” noted Charles Spurgeon, “which holds the candle by which the chamber of the heart is enlightened.”
We use the expression “from the heart” to describe something done with enthusiasm and joy — something done because we want to. By contrast, we say “my heart wasn’t in it” to describe behavior done strictly from a sense of duty. Although some duty always characterizes Christianity, fundamentally it is a heart religion.
Before conversion, our hearts might be into material wealth, popularity, entertainment, or career success. After conversion, we are increasingly into God himself (not just his gifts). Increasingly, he becomes our heart’s delight. John Bunyan described the Holy Spirit’s heart conviction as God branding our hearts with a hot iron.Is Christ More and More Beautiful?
Third, the subject of this communication is ultimately the moral beauty and goodness of Christ. I am not talking about eschatology or the best form of church government. These subjects matter, but you can have convictions about them and not be born again. But you cannot have a conviction about the moral beauty, the utter glory and trustworthiness of Christ, without the inward presence of the Holy Spirit.
That is why Paul described new birth as the shining forth of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is a growing heart conviction that God is good, that he can be trusted, that I can spend my life in his service and will not be disappointed. This conviction about God’s goodness frees me to take the risks that always accompany obedience. It is a down payment on our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13–14).
The more we gaze at the light of Christ, the brighter it gets. For example, at conversion my knowledge of God’s glory was basic. I trusted that God forgave my sin and loved me. Over the years, however, God has increasingly turned that light up. It now includes the excellence of his justice, the depth of his righteousness, and the majesty of his sovereignty. With each communication, the capacity to delight in his goodness has grown, and joyful obedience has increasingly followed.Has Believing in Christ Changed You?
Fourth, this communication has one consistent effect: it motivates us to be like Christ in holiness and righteousness. New birth and spiritual fruit cannot be separated.
Our hearts cannot feel a growing conviction about “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” and not long to imitate what we see. This is what Paul meant when he also wrote, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We will always imitate the object of our worship. That is why John inexorably connects new birth with a changed way of life. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14).Am I Truly Changed?
Tragically, some legitimately born again will read this and doubt their salvation. That is not my intention. It is possible for us to experience assurance that we have been born again. Do you love and trust Christ more today than ten years ago? Yes, I know you have doubts. All Christians do at one time or another. But has your view of Christ changed? Do you increasingly want to imitate him? Has he become the treasure in the field for which you would sell everything (Matthew 13:44)?
Second, are you changing? I’m not asking if you are perfect, but are you changing? “You may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29). Do you handle your money, your time, and your gifts differently? Is your speech becoming more godly? Are you more willing to forgive, to love an enemy, to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Are you changing how you relate to your spouse? Your roommate? Your parents? “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
Third, there will be a spiritual oxymoron. People born of God feel increasingly (and joyfully) unworthy. They feel their sin more acutely, and therefore are more dependent upon Christ and his grace. That is because their knowledge of Christ’s perfections grows much faster than their ability to change. Even though they are forgiven and growing in Christ, the contrast makes them feel increasingly unworthy.Born Again for Good Works
From the data gathered from his many surveys, George Barna concludes that when “evaluating fifteen moral behaviors, [those who profess to be] born-again Christians are statistically indistinguishable from non-born-again adults.”
This will not be true of those who possess the reality of new birth. Just the opposite — they will increasingly enjoy communion with God. And a believer enjoying this communion will begin to change. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). That is because God saves purposefully. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
When the Holy Spirit indwells us, he communicates a growing conviction about Christ’s moral goodness to the eyes and ears of our heart, and it slowly changes everything. “The core of conversion,” writes John Hannah in To God Be the Glory, “is the gift from God of a new indwelling principle in the heart of mankind. That principle is the very life of God; it is the love of God. This alone is the ground of true virtue and morality and is the exclusive means for glorifying God.”
Some days, you go to Bible study and your life is slowly but imperceptibly changed. Other days, you go to Bible study and something in God’s word changes the trajectory of the rest of your life.
One spring day in 1998, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I understood marriage in a way I never had before. I had signed up for a Bible study taught by my college pastor, “Preparing for Marriage.” That day, Pastor Doug Busby gave me and all of the young men in the room an assignment that I have been working on for the last 22 years. I will continue to work on this homework until, for my wife and me, “death do us part.”
My pastor read to us, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Then he asked us the obvious question (the question we husbands so often fail to ask in the daily grind of work and family life): How does Jesus love the church?Ten Christlike Loves
As I have scoured the Scriptures, year after year, looking for ways that Jesus loves the church, ways that he calls me to echo his love for me in my love for my wife, I have found ten great loves. As a husband, God calls you to love your wife like Jesus loves her, so meditate on his deep, complex, and unparalleled love.1. Stubborn Love
Jesus won’t ever leave his bride. He says to her, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His love for your wife is based not on her performance, but on his covenant love for her. When we keep our marriage covenants through all of the challenges and changes over years of married life, we reflect his kind of stubborn, delight-filled love. May our wives know the comfort of love that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).2. Hopeful Love
When Jesus looks at your bride, he sees her as already sanctified. This hope is anchored in the power and promise of the gospel. Paul writes to believers, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In fact, he sees her not only as already sanctified, but as already glorified (Romans 8:30). How often would your wife say that your love for her “hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)? By keeping eternity in mind, you can have patience with your wife, just as Jesus does with her — and you.3. Pursuing Love
Jesus never takes a break from pursuing your wife’s heart, not romantically but persistently. In fact, he cares not only about her devotion, but also her affection (Psalm 37:4). He is the tireless Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to seek after the one (Luke 15:4–7). In a similar way, God is glorified when a husband continually seeks a deeper relationship with his wife. A husband who has been captured by Jesus’s love is an incurable romantic toward his wife.4. Forgiving Love
Jesus gives your wife grace when she doesn’t deserve it. It may be that the most Christlike thing you can do is offer your wife forgiveness on a daily basis, remembering that you too are in need of forgiveness. The picture of forgiving love that every husband should seek to emulate is Jesus making breakfast for Peter, who had sinned against him, denying him three times at his crucifixion (John 21:12–15). Is it you or your wife who is usually the first to begin to move toward reconciliation when it’s needed?5. Joyful Love
Jesus doesn’t just put up with your wife or grudgingly but persistently love her — Jesus loves to love her. He delights to be with his bride. He receives joy by giving us joy (Hebrews 12:2). Wives who are loved this deeply, who know their husbands love to love them, are often an even greater blessing to others. Love your wife so joyfully that it’s obvious to her and others.6. Serving Love
Jesus served her in life and death. There is nothing — nothing — that God can call you to do for your wife that would be too much! Jesus “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Many husbands think of themselves as kings to be served, but you and I are called by God to be the chief servants in our homes. The way to Christlikeness in our marriages is through joining Jesus in taking up the towel and the basin (John 13:12–17).7. Sanctifying Love
Jesus loves your wife by helping her to grow in holiness and by being her advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Do you encourage your wife to go to Bible study, even if it means you have to care for the kids by yourself for the evening? Do you regularly bring your wife before the Father in prayer? Work hard to help your wife blossom spiritually.8. Leading Love
Jesus leads us to what is good for us. Jesus not only loves your wife with a leading rather than a passive love, but he also leads her toward what is good (Psalm 23:2). It is impossible to lead our wives spiritually if we ourselves are not being led by God through the word and prayer. One way you can lead her well is by seeking her input and then making big decisions (and accepting the consequences), rather than allowing the decisions and consequences to fall to her.9. Providing Love
Jesus provides your wife with all that she needs. Do you notice your wife’s needs, even beyond physical provision, and do something about it? Christ nourishes her, providing an environment for growth and flourishing. The apostle Paul explains to us that “in the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). It made a marked difference in my marriage when I realized that it was my responsibility to do what I could to fill my wife’s sails.10. Knowing Love
Jesus knows your wife better than she knows herself. He has an informed love for her. He knows her strengths, her weaknesses, and he acts on her behalf (Ephesians 5:29–30). While we will never know our wives like God knows them, he wants us to know them as well as we can. Our prayers for them will always be hindered if we fail to know them (1 Peter 3:7). Our wives know they are cherished when we make an effort to really know them.Defy the Serpent with Love
One evening, I walked down the hallway from our bedroom with bare feet when I saw something you never want to see in your hallway: a snake tail sticking out where the floor meets the wall. It turned out that there was a crack in our foundation, and a snake had made its way through the crack, and up into our home.
Brothers, we have an enemy, that ancient serpent, who desires to squirm his way into our homes and cause havoc. But praise God, we know the snake crusher, Jesus Christ, who has already defeated him and loved us with a supernatural love. Know that when you love your wife like Jesus loves her, the foundation of your marriage is strengthened, Satan is defeated again, and Christ is lifted up for more to see.
Pastor John extends biblical counsel to those who struggle with sexual sin and worry that they may be beyond repentance.
Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks said, “God is the author of all true happiness; he is the donor of all true happiness. . . . He that hath him for his God, for his portion, is the only happy man in the world.” English evangelist John Wesley said, “When we first know Christ . . . then it is that happiness begins; happiness real, solid, substantial.”
Happiness is what we all want, and believers throughout the centuries, like Brooks and Wesley, have affirmed that it is a good desire when we seek it in Christ. Unfortunately, countless modern Christians have been taught various myths about happiness.Is God Concerned Only with Our Holiness?
As a young pastor, I preached, as others still do, “God calls us to holiness, not happiness.” I saw Christians pursue what they thought would make them happy, falling headlong into sexual immorality, alcoholism, and materialism. The lure of happiness appeared at odds with holiness. I was attempting to oppose our human tendency to put preferences and convenience before obedience to Christ. It all sounded so spiritual, and I could quote countless authors and preachers who agreed with me.
I’m now convinced we were all dead wrong.
To be holy is to see God as he is and to become like him, covered in Christ’s righteousness. And since God’s nature is to be happy (Psalm 115:3; 1 Timothy 1:11), the more like him we become in our sanctification, the happier we will be. Forcing a choice between happiness and holiness is utterly foreign to Scripture. If it were true that God wants us to be only holy, wouldn’t we expect Philippians 4:4 to say, “Be holy in the Lord always” instead of “Rejoice in the Lord always”?
Any understanding of God is utterly false if it is incompatible with the lofty and infinitely holy view of God in Ezekiel 1:26–28 and Isaiah 6:1–4, and of Jesus in Revelation 1:9–18. God is decidedly and unapologetically anti-sin, but he is in no sense anti-happiness. Indeed, holiness is exactly what secures our happiness. Charles Spurgeon said, “Holiness is the royal road to happiness. The death of sin is the life of joy.”Is Happiness Just a Matter of Chance?
It’s common to hear objections to the word happy based on its etymology, or history. One commentator says that “Happy comes from the word ‘hap,’ meaning ‘chance.’ It is therefore incorrect to translate [the Greek word makarios] as ‘happy’” (The Pursuit of Happiness: An Exegetical Commentary on the Beatitudes). This argument may sound valid, but our language is full of words long detached from their original meanings. Enthusiasm originally meant “in the gods,” but if I say you’re enthusiastic, I’m not suggesting you are a polytheist.
When people say they want to be happy, they are typically making no statement whatsoever about chance. D.A. Carson argues in Exegetical Fallacies, “The meaning of a word cannot be reliably determined by etymology” (32). King James Version translators wouldn’t have used happy and other forms of the root word happiness thirty-six times or translated makarios as some form of happy seventeen times if they thought its word history disqualified happy as a credible biblical word.
The fact is, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and many others used the words happy and happiness frequently in biblical, theological, and Christ-centered contexts. When they called on believers to be happy, they weren’t speaking of happenstance or chance, but of enduring delight and pleasure and good cheer in Jesus.Is Joy More Spiritual Than Happiness?
Oswald Chambers, author of the excellent My Utmost for His Highest, was one of the earliest Bible teachers to speak against happiness. He wrote, “Happiness is no standard for men and women because happiness depends on my being determinedly ignorant of God and his demands” (Biblical Ethics, 14).
After extensive research, I’m convinced that no biblical or historical basis whatsoever exists to define happiness as inherently sinful. Unfortunately, because Bible teachers such as Chambers saw people trying to find happiness in sin, they came to think that pursuing happiness is sinful. Chambers said, “Joy is not happiness,” and continued, “There is no mention in the Bible of happiness for a Christian, but there is plenty said about joy” (God’s Workmanship, and He Shall Glorify Me, 346).
That simply is not true. In the King James Version, which Chambers used, Jesus tells his disciples, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17 KJV). Speaking of faithful Christians, James said, “We count them happy which endure” (James 5:11 KJV). Peter said to fellow believers, “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye” (1 Peter 3:14 KJV) and “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye” (1 Peter 4:14 KJV).
Chambers also wrote, “Joy should not be confused with happiness. In fact, it is an insult to Jesus Christ to use the word happiness in connection with him” (My Utmost for His Highest, 31). I certainly respect Oswald Chambers, but statements like this are misleading. It’s hard for me to conceive of a greater insult to Jesus than to effectively deny what Hebrews reveals about his happy nature: “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Hebrews 1:9 NASB).
It also seems insulting to say that the best Father in the universe doesn’t want his children to be happy. In reality, the Bible is a vast reservoir containing, not dozens, but hundreds of passages conveying happiness. I’ve found more than 2,700 Scripture passages where words such as joy, happiness, gladness, merriment, pleasure, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation, feasting, exultation, and celebration are used. Throw in the words blessed and blessing, which often connote happiness, and the number increases.
The English Standard Version doesn’t use the word happy nearly as often as many other translations, but it’s still there:
Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord! (Deuteronomy 33:29)
Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. (1 Kings 4:20)
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness. (Isaiah 52:7)
Scripture is clear that seeking happiness — or joy, gladness, delight, or pleasure — in sin is wrong and fruitless. But seeking happiness in him is good and God-honoring.Redeeming ‘Happiness’
The modern Christian avoidance of happiness is completely counterintuitive. This is no minor semantic issue. Historically, philosophically, and practically, happiness is a vital word. But for too long we’ve distanced the gospel from what Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, the Puritans, Wesley, Spurgeon, and many other spiritual giants said God created us to desire and what he desires for us: happiness.
We need to reverse this trend! Let’s redeem the word happiness in light of both Scripture and church history. Our message to the world should not be “Don’t seek happiness,” but “You’ll find in Jesus the happiness you have always been seeking.”
Many of the greatest fears in life come not from what we can see, but from what we can’t — from the next unpredictable natural disaster, from the nameless and faceless thief that might break in while we’re asleep, from the disease that could strike someone in our family at any time. Satan consumes us with fear by inflaming the unknown. He exploits our imagination, and torments our feelings of insecurity.
The Israelites knew insecurity. Each year, they traveled from their homes to faraway Jerusalem, many of them by foot, for one of the three major feasts (Exodus 23:14). Jesus himself made the treacherous trip from his own hometown many times, walking (or riding) more than ninety miles each way. God had told them to go — to come where his presence was (1 Kings 8:10–11) — but the road was dangerous and uncertain.
Along the road, the people met threats above and threats below, most of which they could not see or predict. They were fully exposed to scorching heat and volatile weather. Robbers hid in the caves and hills, knowing exactly when to expect their victims. The people knew they had to go, but they did not know if they would all make it. Surely, some didn’t. So, they felt fragile, vulnerable, unsafe.
Our road to heaven, to the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), is much longer than the dozens of miles they walked, and no less treacherous. We carry God’s promises with us, but life still often feels desperate and uncertain. Temptation hides and strikes. Trials ambush us and our loved ones. Besetting sin lingers. Disaster and crises come unannounced. We feel our need for keeping.Sing Against Danger
When God’s people felt their need for keeping along the road to Jerusalem, they did not cover their mouths in fear; they raised an anthem. They cried out with hope into the uncertainty, drowning their fears with verse and chorus. They sang against danger.
Psalm 121 was a song for rough and uncertain roads like these. The refrain over and over again in these eight verses was that the Lord can and will keep them. The psalm was written because the long and lonely road to Jerusalem was dangerous — and because the long and often lonely road to heaven is also dangerous. The vulnerability and fragility in these verses describe the very different world we live in today, the world in which Satan prowls and sin tempts and death lurks. We still feel our need to be kept.
You can sense the insecurity in the opening line: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1). We don’t know what was in the imagination of the writer, whether the hills were hiding dangerous enemies or if they were simply empty of allies. Either way, these hills made him feel small, vulnerable, and helpless: Who will help me now?What Your Keeper Can Do
What the psalmist could see told him he was in trouble, but he did not trust in what he could see. Where does his help come from? “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). As he imagined what he might suffer, he looked beyond the threats he could see to the God behind everything.
If the hills around you suddenly look terrifying, remember who made the hills. Your God built each hill to this precise height, down to the tiniest fraction of an inch. He shaped every curve and cliff, planting each bush and flower and putting each rock in its place. He counted and scattered the blades of grass. Your God knows this hill, watches over this hill, governs this hill and every hill. And yet how quickly we’re tempted to fear the hills!
The Lord can keep you, because there’s nothing this God cannot do. No crisis or circumstance can overwhelm him. He is never surprised or shaken. He made all things, sustains all things, and rules all things, including every detail of our lives, even on the most difficult days. No hill is too high, or night too dark for him. When what you can see only screams anxiety, see the strength of his power in all he has made. Surely the God who made the mountains “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24).
When the religious leaders later threatened the apostles and warned them not to preach the gospel, they prayed a similar prayer: “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them . . .” (Acts 4:24). Where did the early church find the courage to keep witnessing? They began by remembering just how powerful their God was — the power they could see everywhere they looked. Look around, look closely, and know that the Lord can keep you.Nothing Day or Night
The Lord can keep you, and he will keep you. What will he keep you from? Anything that might ultimately harm you. People were harmed on the way to Jerusalem, and you will be harmed following in the footsteps of Christ (John 16:33). But if you are God’s, nothing can ultimately harm you anymore, because nothing — neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything that threatens you — can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38–39).
If God is your keeper, he is “your shade on your right hand” (Psalm 121:5), meaning no one is nearer to you than the one who keeps you. Nothing can come between you and your God. “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night” (Psalm 121:6). This is the writer’s way of saying, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed” (Isaiah 54:17) — no weapon of man, no weapon of Satan, no danger in nature can keep God from keeping you.
Nothing day or night, for as long as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, can rob you of your life or his love. Even when you have to sleep, surrendering all awareness and control of your circumstances, “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3–4).He Will Keep Your Life
“The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life” (Psalm 121:7). How can God say all evil when we seem to suffer so much from evil (our own and others’)? Derek Kidner compares this verse with Jesus’s promise to his disciples: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16, 18). How can someone be put to death, and yet not a hair of their head perish?
Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Evil can (and will) harm us in this life, but it can only do so much harm. Satan can make months, or years, or even decades miserable for us, but his leash is short, and eternity long. Our flesh, our relationships, our feelings are painfully vulnerable for now, but our souls are perfectly and perpetually safe. “He will keep your life” (Psalm 121:7) — the life that matters most, the most satisfying and meaningful life, the one that lasts forever.From Now to Forever
If we don’t regularly feel our need for keeping, we have lost our hold on reality. We may have never really known and felt reality in the first place. Beware if “the Lord bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24) sounds stale, nice, “maybe necessary someday,” rather than urgent and indispensable. We are far more vulnerable than we often realize.
But if you do feel your need for keeping — if you feel your weakness, and wonder how you’ll make it home — then take heart. Jesus prayed, and continues to pray, for your keeping, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name” (John 17:11). You have an inheritance “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” that God is keeping for you. And God is keeping you for it (1 Peter 1:3–5).
Wherever he calls you to go, however hard the journey feels, whatever fears emerge along the way, hear him say, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:8).
Fasting is a way of saying with our stomach and our whole body how much we need and want and trust Jesus.
To love the world and all its riches may scratch an itch for a moment, but it will cost you everything in the end.
I once overheard a Christian ask the man responsible for setting him up on a blind date, “So, this is what you think of me?”
The girl — “although really nice” — was not his type (his emphasis making the euphemism clear). They were incompatible — but not because of him. The matchmaker, not foreseeing what was so apparent to the single man, inadvertently slighted his friend with the match. The pick, as he understood it, was a reflection of his potential and worth, of his manhood. He deserved a more suitable partner.
Another Christian man I knew acted similarly. He stood so inflexible upon his preferences that onlookers wondered if God had yet created a woman who could meet them. He, as if for sport, ignored every sweet Christian girl who would show interest because of feverish expectations of whom he ought to be with. He resisted any rumors of interest, because he believed himself destined for what amounted to a Christian supermodel.
Some in the church — not all, or even most — remain single because they cannot find their “type.” By type, they mean more than just (1) the opposite sex, (2) single, and (3) a follower of Christ. They dismiss girl after girl (or guy after guy), looking sideways at future queens of heaven as if squirrels, geese, and alligators were set before them as a helpmate.
Imagine the poem of Genesis if these characters were inserted for Adam. Instead of beholding the first woman and singing “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), he would have said, “Yes, she is much closer — same bones and same flesh — and I have no doubt she is a really nice girl and all, and while I’m sure we’ll make great friends, I have to say, I’m just not sure she is quite my type.” Imagine if Adam had said to God, “So, this is what you think of me?”Too Many Flavors
Now, of course, my point is not that you must marry the first eligible Christian in your church. My point is that some reject (or significantly delay accepting) God’s gift of marriage because their standards surpass God’s.
Their lofty preferences, downstream from an inflated view of self, substitute for biblical criteria. They don’t apply Paul’s exhortation to their love lives: “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).
I wager that most of these helpless romantics (helpless, of course, by choice) struggle with pride because they are in fact desirable to the opposite sex. They are in “high demand.” They do possess more options than the rest of us — and seem the worse for it. Like a child at Baskin-Robbins, they cannot bring themselves to say “I do” to any one flavor precisely because it requires forsaking so many other options.
So, they spend years in the parlor, lingering. They date, but won’t marry. Although they may not mean it maliciously, broken hearts trail behind. They have not yet found the cone topped with all thirty-one flavors. Faced with choices, they cannot partake for fear of what if. What if they grow a fondness for white chocolate raspberry later on? What if, in the end, they settle? What if they meet “the one” after exchanging rings with someone else?
The cruelty of options and the tyranny of unrealistic expectations for marriage frustrate them, so they leave empty-handed. Self, in the end, has stolen love from them.Pride and Prejudice
For years, I too stole from myself. I write this article not to twist the knife stuck in those who struggle with their singleness (and remain so due to no choice or fault of their own), nor do I desire to berate young men for the state of singleness in the church today (as if they were solely to blame). I write this for some who stand in their own way (to Christian men in particular), who do not consider the amazing women right in front of them.
I could have acted both proud characters in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. As Benedict, I could have said, “One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another is virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace.” As it was said of Beatrice, it could have been said of me, “[He] cannot love, nor take no shape nor project of affection, [he] is so self-endeared.”
I didn’t fail to take marriage seriously; I failed by taking myself too seriously. She needed to be exotic, beautiful, extroverted, athletic, adventurous, humorous, intelligent, industrious . . . oh, and Christian. And she must be those things, and more, because I quietly deserved it. Until all graces be in her, she would not come into my grace. Marital love was scorned because self was savored.
Does pride, even if it hides amidst a company of legitimate reasons, hinder you from marriage? Does too much self-focus prevent you from answering the wonderful call to covenant? I wish for some of you to be released from the self-imposed holding cell, where you consider all (if not most) Christians below your impossible standards. It is a miserable, lonely place to live.Mount-Everest Standard
Now, by saying some have impossible standards for a spouse, does this dismiss standards? By no means. Attraction, common interests, common goals, personality types, and so on, matter. It’s very good to be attracted to the one you marry. I am married to the amazing woman I am because I kept some good standards.
But while such details are important, they are not the end-all for believers. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). We should not, as I once did, flirt to convert women who possess perishable beauty while overlooking God’s women of imperishable beauty (1 Peter 3:4). All flavors are not created equal, and the godly will prioritize accordingly.
Remember, Christians already have the highest standard on the planet when considering a spouse: rebirth. Divine lightning must have struck this woman. Christ must have called her forth from the tomb. Nothing short of a miracle makes her worthy for marriage. This reality, when treasured, is more stunning than any outward physique or natural charm. Who will she be in a thousand years?Lightning Does Strike
Christian man, if God gives you one of his own daughters to raise children beside, laugh hysterically with, make love to, and travel alongside, she will one day be “a creature which, if you saw [her] now, you would be strongly tempted to worship” (The Weight of Glory, 46). She is cultivating a beauty your earthly eyes cannot yet see without blinding. Marrying in the Lord is never a call to settle.
For the man or woman who is putting too much hope in marriage, and raising unrealistic standards thereby, be reminded that this present world — and its good things, like marriage — is passing away. We can hope to be happy in our marriages exactly because happy marriages are not ultimately our hope. The most desirable spouse in this life will not make earth heaven. The greatest marital bliss won’t inaugurate our eschatology or make the coming glory irrelevant.
Only with the Groom’s descent to earth did he unveil the mystery: God created weddings to join one. Every chill we feel as the doors open to reveal the bride reminds us of our future. Marriage, though stunning, is not about us — we enjoy it without bowing to it. God will make earth heaven when he returns and lives there.
Until then, we can (and most of us should) seek to embrace his good gift of marriage, as far as it depends upon us. Until then, we marry our type — imperfect people, redeemed by grace, made alive in Christ. Until then, we live out the chief end of man in our marriages: to glorify Jesus, knowing that God is most glorified in our marriages when our marriages are most satisfied in him. Two imperfect spouses, one imperfect marriage, pointing to forever with him.
The word simplistic exists because there are kinds of guidance and kinds of explanations that are too simple to account for the real complexities of life. They are simplistic. We don’t admire such counselors or preachers or teachers. They just don’t seem to be living in the real world where things are often very messy. In all my reading of Paul over the years, he has never struck me as simplistic.
A good example is the way he deals with our submission to authority in this world, and the way he treats Christian freedom.Citizens of Heaven
It is a fundamental Christian reality that “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Or another way to say it is that, because Christians are united to Christ, there is a real sense in which we have already died with him and been raised with him and are already secure in heaven with him.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1–3)
Paul draws out the radical implication:
Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)
A simplistic inference from this reality would be that Christians have no responsibilities to this world or her institutions. That is not Paul’s view. Instead, it seems that, in this freedom from the world, we are sent by God back into the world to be subject to its institutions “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13) — or as Paul says, “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).Earthly Authorities
For example, though your citizenship is in heaven, nevertheless assume the role of a responsible citizen in your own country: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). See the hand of your heavenly Father behind the hand of human government, and submit for his sake.
Similarly, in the socioeconomic sphere, submit to human authorities in a way that turns your service of them into the service of Christ:
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man. (Ephesians 6:5–7)
Is it not amazing how interwoven allegiance to Christ is with allegiance to the earthly authority? This is not simplistic. It is complex and will sooner or later result in tensions, even to the breaking point.
Similarly in the home: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). And “children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1).For the Lord’s Sake
To be sure, the new reality in the world, since Christ has come and died and risen to reign, is that our absolute allegiance to him relativizes all other allegiances. That is, we serve in all other relationships at his bidding, not because of their intrinsic authority over us. Which means that wherever those relationships contradict what he calls us to do, his authority takes precedence.
In a real sense, we are free from these institutions, even while submitting to them. Here’s how Paul expressed this to the Corinthians:
Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:21–23)
And again in an earlier chapter of the same book: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Christ purchased us by his own blood (Acts 20:28). Therefore, he owns us. Therefore, all other claims on our lives are secondary. We stay in them at Christ’s bidding, and for his sake, not because there is any intrinsic right that they have over us.Slaves No More
This Christian freedom goes right to the heart of who we are as Christ’s people. It goes deeper than freedom from institutions. It is also freedom from the law of God as a way of getting right with God. When Christ died for us, he paid the penalty that the law of God demands for our guilt (Romans 5:8–9; 8:3). And he fulfilled all the obedience that the law demands for our righteousness (Romans 5:19). Therefore, we are free. And we dare not return to law-keeping as a way of getting right with God. When we do what God commands, it is because we are already right with God through faith in Christ, not because we need to get right. So Paul says,
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision [i.e., law-keeping], Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. (Galatians 5:1–3)
So we are free from God’s law and free from God’s institutions (e.g., state, business, home). Christ owns us, and we are his. He is our absolute commander and protector. If he calls us to submit to any law or any institution, we do it. Not because the institution is absolute. And not because law-keeping makes us right with God. We do it because we believe Christ knows the way of love better than we do. This is what’s behind Paul’s amazing word: “Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19).Freest Life of All
Perhaps this gives you a taste for what I mean when I say that Paul is not simplistic. Christians are free in Christ. Gloriously free. To the world our lives may look very much like the lives of mere servants — constantly subordinating our own comforts to the needs of others. But in God’s eyes, this life of love is the freest of all.
Which is not a simplistic reality. But it is beautiful, flowing directly from the cross of Christ. And I love Paul for helping me taste the beauty.
Husbands take their cues from Christ, who gave himself up for the church. How can Christian men serve their wives and kids while leading them?
In this life, we will not be able to see all God is doing through sickness and pain, but we can trust that he will reveal more of himself to us through every trial and trouble.
As hard as it may be, we must face the reality that hell exists and is promised to all of God’s enemies.
Playwright T.S. Eliot wrote, “In my beginning is my end.” The statement has been interpreted in many ways, but I see in it a reflective note of someone older who realizes that who we end up becoming is set in motion and already at work at the beginning of our lives. Oh, how I wish I had known that when I began my ministry.
This year I turned 52 years old and I am realizing very quickly that my end is closer than my beginning. As I reflect on 20 years of ministry, I wish I could go back and tell my younger self a few things — things that had I known at the beginning of the race would surely have served me, and others, well. If I could go back in time, here are four pieces of counsel I would share with my younger self.1. Knowing the Bible is not the same as knowing Christ.
The apostle Paul said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). That was his greatest passion: to know Jesus, to experience his resurrection power, to participate in his sufferings so that he might be conformed into his image. And that ought to be your greatest passion.
Seminary training is great. A working knowledge of Hebrew and Greek will serve you well. Reading your Bible, learning doctrine, and preparing gospel-saturated sermons are a must. But none of those is the same as having and cultivating a vibrant relationship with the risen Christ, fueled by regular drinking from the fountain of living water — Christ himself.
Never stop studying the Bible. But above all, never stop pursuing Christ. He is the pearl of great price and the greatest treasure in the universe. He laid hold of you so that you might spend the rest of your life growing in intimate knowledge of him. This might surprise you, but I have learned that the greatest need of your people is your personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.2. Preaching sermons is not the same as loving people.
Don’t get me wrong: preaching is important. You will spend the bulk of your ministry proclaiming God’s word. It’s your duty, one to which you will be held accountable. But as Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “To love to preach is one thing, but to love the people to whom you preach is quite another.” And let me tell you, God’s people will inevitably know the difference.
Preaching is only part of being a faithful shepherd. You are called to model your shepherding efforts after Christ himself, of whom it is written, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). To love like that is to love not only in word from the pulpit, but also in deed with your presence amid people’s pain, heartaches, and sufferings.
You will discover that a congregation who knows you love and care for them will overlook a multitude of your flaws and endure any number of weak sermons. As pastor Albert Martin once said, “It’s a false sense of piety of those who love to study who say, ‘I show my people I love them by sweat in the study,’ but then neglect them outside that realm.” Don’t be a “noisy gong” or a “clanging cymbal” — be an unfeigned lover of Christ’s blood-bought people. Show them that you love them.3. Teaching godliness is not the same as being godly.
Private home life qualifies you for public ministry life. The home is simply a microcosm of the church. What you say and do in your home will either add weight to or erode your credibility in the church. So, never forget: ministering to your family is your primary calling.
Gathering the family for daily devotions will yield eternal dividends, but I have come to realize that my wife and kids watch me more intently than they listen. And confessedly, I’m sure I’ve spoiled some of my influence in their lives because of the gap between what I’ve taught and how I’ve lived. It’s one thing to teach patience and something else to practice it.
Some of the most powerful words that you’ll ever utter to your family is when you say to them with integrity, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Strive to model the graces of the gospel in your own life. Your family may not always listen to you, but trust me: they are always watching you.
Robert Murray McCheyne once wrote, “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.” That’s true. But let me respectfully tweak it by saying, what a man is in his home before his wife and kids, that he is, and nothing more. Endeavor to be, by God’s grace, as Christlike as possible.4. Defending yourself is not the same as defending the gospel.
Ministry is going to be tough. If you stay faithful to the gospel, you will be attacked, maligned, misunderstood, and criticized. The temptation will be to defend yourself at all cost. After all, no one likes to have his name dragged through the mud — trust me, I know.
Somewhere along the way, though, I learned that I was more concerned about my own name than I was about Jesus’s. It was my unmortified pride and ego that were bruised, so I fought back, only to realize that the more I fought, the more I made things about me. And the more things were about me, the less they were about Christ and his gospel. I lacked the humility of John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
As I determined not to defend myself and only defend the gospel, I began to see in my life the reality of God’s promise in Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The best defense against personal attacks is maintaining “a good conscience” as you defend the hope of the gospel “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15–16).Well Worth It
Time travel is impossible, so I’ll never have the opportunity to counsel my younger self. But if you’re reading this and just getting started in ministry, perhaps you can take some of what I’ve shared to heart and spare yourself, your family, and God’s people some grief. If that’s the case, my hard knocks will have been well worth it.
John Newton called ministry “a sorrow full of joy.” That’s pretty accurate. But let me tell you, there is no greater work than giving yourself to the service of the all-glorious Savior who alone saves, sanctifies, and satisfies the soul.
You’re probably like me — you like a good story. Whether it’s a TV drama, a box office hit movie, or a best-selling novel, we tend to line up for a compelling story.
Maybe you’re sitting in a restaurant or around a campfire, and your friends begin to tell stories. Each one seems better than the one before. It begins to feel a bit like a contest. It seems as if people are trying to “outstory” one another, so you begin to thumb through your mental catalog of personal stories to see if you are carrying one that may just win the day.
Maybe someone tells you a fantastic story, and you can’t wait for the opportunity to retell it to someone else. We all love a good story.Your Story Won’t Make History
The honest reality is that most of our stories won’t end up in history books. After we die, most of our personal history will die with us, forgotten except for perhaps a few pictures or memories cherished by our closest loved ones. The chances of your life accomplishments being preserved in a biography are slim to none.
Discouraging? It shouldn’t be. Rather, if you are God’s child, you have been invited into a much bigger story — the grand redemptive story — which is now your biography.
Better than anything impressive that you could accomplish in this life, your life story is a biography of wisdom and grace written by Another. Every twist of the plot is for the best. Every turn he writes into your story is right. Every new character or unexpected event is a tool of his grace. Each new chapter advances his purpose.
Hosea 14:9 proclaims, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right.” It is almost a gross understatement to say that God’s ways are better. How could they not be? He is infinite in wisdom and grace!
You have been welcomed into the best story ever by grace and grace alone. Best of all, this story that is your biography has an end that never ends.The Best Story Never Ends
Most great stories are great because, through the characters, relationships, situations, and locations, they march you to an incredible ending. When someone is talking to you about a great movie they just saw or a great book they just read, they will often say, “You will just not believe the ending!”
The grand redemptive story, on the other hand, is the best story precisely because it has no ending. The one story you need to know, understand, and give your heart to is hopeful, encouraging, and life-transforming because it offers you the two wonderful things that no other story can offer you.
First, it offers you a place in the story, a place that was planned for you long before the story was written. But it also offers you something that is hard for the human brain to grasp and the human imagination to envision. It offers you life that never, ever ends.
We are all so used to death that we sadly think of it as a normal part of life. Things die, people die — end of story. But that’s not the end of this story. God’s amazing story of redemption, which is written for you on the pages of your Bible, is radically different, because in this story, death dies.
Yes, you read it right. The main character of God’s story (which is your story if you’re his child) comes to earth and defeats sin and death, and because he does, he offers us the one thing that no other character in any other story can offer us — real life now and eternal life to come.What Story Are You Reading?
Remind yourself again today that you have a story, but it is not an autobiography. There is an author of your story, but the author is not you. You have been welcomed into an epic drama, but you will never be the hero. You have been given a kingdom, but you will never be its monarch.
The price of your admission into this story was the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. But he conquered death so that by grace he could establish his story in your life. Today he reigns on your behalf and will continue to do so until the last enemy of your soul and of his kingdom has been defeated.
Then he will summon you into the final chapter — a chapter that never ends — where peace and righteousness will reign forever and ever. This is the story of your faith and your life. The story of this redemptive, eternal plan is now your biography.
Why would you ever want an autobiography when you could have the story God himself has written?
As I meditate on my story, woven into the grand redemptive story, I can’t help but run to the words of Jeremiah 9:23–24,
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Below is a meditation in the form of verse that I wrote to remind myself to boast in the Lord and not in my own story. As you read it, ask yourself two questions: (1) How have you been tempted to take personal credit for your story when it is rightly due to God? (2) What specific aspects of the grand redemptive story can you celebrate today?
I have taken an accounting
I had to admit
that in many ways —
boldly other times —
I have taken personal credit for what I could not
or accomplish on my own.
I have no independent
that I have manufactured
on my own.
There is nothing that I have done
in my own strength.
There is no ability that I have employed
that does not come from
All the things around me
that had to be in place
for me to do
what I have done
exist under your sovereignty,
not my own.
All the people that have mentored me,
cooperated with me,
stood with me,
stood against me,
cared for me,
protected me, or
worked with me
came into my life
brought there by
I have arrived at places
that were not in my plan.
I have done things
I never envisioned to do.
I have lived in situations
that were not of my wise choosing.
I have been regularly surprised by the turnings
of my own story.
I have not had the
of a hero.
As I have taken an
this is the sum:
there is only one hero in my story,
only one who deserves
Clearly that hero is
My successes are the result of
and your grace.
You are the
and completer of my story.
There is nothing
that I have done
that could be done without
There is no reason for me to
The account points me here —
if I am to boast,
I will boast in
We may not be able to explain how Satan became evil, but we do know that God did not compromise his goodness or glory in allowing Satan’s fall.