Tag archives: Bible

God’s Good Design for Marriage (Part 3): Bone of My Bones

by Joshua Arnold

March 17, 2022

This is the third part of a multi-part series on God’s good design for marriage. Read part one and part two.

It’s no secret that popular culture frowns upon Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Bible’s view of marriage as a covenant union of one man and one woman for life has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive.

Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better.

But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. This series aims to examine God’s good design for marriage by taking the Word of God itself as our guide.

Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with mankind.

In Genesis 2, Moses retells in greater detail the creation of man and woman, which he previously summarized in the first chapter. In verse 4, the words “these are the generations” signal a new section, as they do throughout the book (see Gen. 6:4, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, 37:2). Verses 5-17 tell how God created man and placed him in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it.” In verses 18-25, God creates the woman and brings her to the man. They are united in the covenant of marriage, established in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That verse is key to examining the rest of Genesis 2:18-25, where Moses continues to unfold God’s glorious design for marriage.

1. A Helper Fit for Him

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Gen. 2:18-20)

The Lord God’s statement in verse 18 is “striking,” writes Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage. “It is striking not just by contrast” (God has repeatedly called “good” all he had made), “but it raises a question: how could Adam be in a ‘not good’ condition when he was in a perfect world and had, evidently, a perfect relationship with God?” Keller explains that mankind images the triune God partly through “our intense relational capacity, created and given to us by God,” which is designed to be fulfilled in relationships with other human beings. “Even in paradise, loneliness was a terrible thing,” Keller concludes. God has ordained two institutions to prevent loneliness: the family and the church. Our culture’s “loneliness epidemic” and related disorders are at least partly due to the lack or erosion of both.

But Keller’s interpretation of verse 18 is not the only compelling one. For example, Dr. Alastair Roberts writes, “The problem of man’s aloneness is not a psychological problem of loneliness, but the fact that, without assistance, humanity’s purpose cannot be achieved.” He finds this purpose in Genesis 1, “the task of filling the earth through child-bearing.” One person, particularly one man, cannot fill the earth alone.

Whatever God meant, after diagnosing the problem, God himself prescribes the solution. He provides the man “a helper fit for him.” This translation is not intended to imply that women are inherently inferior to men (“helper” could also be translated as “companion,” and “fit for” could also be translated as “corresponding to”).

Instead, “the word ‘helper’ corresponding to Adam designates a social role for Eve within her marriage to Adam—a role that is inextricably linked to her biological sex,” writes Denny Burk, president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Likewise, Burk continues, “Adam’s creation before Eve designates a social role within his marriage to Eve—a role that is inextricably linked to his biological sex. He is to be the leader, protector, and provider within this marriage covenant. And these social roles within the covenant of marriage are not only creational realities, they are also commanded in Scripture.” These distinct, biologically linked, social roles shine most brilliantly when a husband and wife use their roles to “complement” one another, achieving more together than they could alone.

Verses 19-20 prove by negation the importance of human companionship. Before God creates Eve, he parades all the animals before Adam. Adam names the animals, thus exercising dominion over them (see Gen. 1:28), but he does not find what God says he needs, “a helper fit for him.” Only other humans can provide the companionship, love, and affection necessary for biblical marriage. This is the basis of Scripture’s condemnation of bestiality (e.g., Ex. 22:19).

2. The Lord God Caused

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:21-22)

In verses 21-22, God puts Adam to sleep and makes Eve out of his rib. If we allow the Bible to interpret itself (which we should), this creation order (Adam from dust, then Eve from Adam) has a purpose and remains relevant in the church. Paul appeals to this order, “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13), and “man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9), as reasons for the authority, or headship, or a husband over his wife. While these Scriptures are difficult to interpret and apply, and Christians can disagree, they are also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

However, male headship does not mean female inferiority. Paul continues, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Nor could Adam take credit for Eve’s creation, since he slept through it, as Matthew Henry notes in his Commentary on the Whole Bible. He adds that if man was “made last of the creatures, as the best and most excellent of all, Eve’s being made after Adam, and out of him, puts an honour upon that sex, as the glory of the man, 1 Co. 11:7. If man is the head, she is the crown.”

Henry also finds meaning in God making Eve out of Adam’s rib. She was “not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

Having unilaterally prepared and provided for everything in this marriage, God then gives away the first bride; “he brought her to the man.” God procured, endorsed, and effected Adam’s marriage to Eve. Having created man and woman, he bids them be happy together in their innocence.

3. Bone of My Bones

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)

Happy, indeed, are the first newlyweds. “When the man sees the woman, he responds in poetry,” writes Keller. “At last!” is his first response. This is what he has waited for! Such rejoicing and delight God has designed for all who enter into the covenant of marriage. A husband’s joy over his wife is not only natural but normative; God commands husbands to enjoy their wives (Prov. 5:15-19, Eccl. 9:9). If men paid more attention to this command, they would escape so many temptations to lust and adultery (Prov. 5:20-23), and they would spare their wives from much heartache and sorrow. In addition to the prudential benefits, a husband’s joy over his wife also serves to image God’s joy over his people. Isaiah prophesies about Zion’s coming salvation, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5).

Adam continues his poem by noting that he has finally met another like himself. Not only does she, like him, have flesh and bones (so far has he advanced in anatomy in his few hours of life), but her flesh and bones came from his. This is the “helper fit for him” God promised to make. While they are alike, Adam is also the head; he names her “Woman,” much as he had previously named the animals, exercising his dominion over them. Thus, Moses finishes recounting the story of the first marriage and inserts the principle of marriage, which we examined previously, in verse 24.

4. Naked and Not Ashamed

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:25)

Verse 25 concludes this chapter by noting that the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed. That such a condition is worthy of remark implies that there is a shameful sort of nakedness. In fact, chapter 3 will explain how Adam and Eve become ashamed of their nakedness once they become conscious of their sin. It was the first time they had something worthy to conceal from critical eyes. Ever since the Fall, it has been proper for human beings to cover ourselves with clothing because of our sinful condition.

Marriage, a covenant where two persons become one flesh, is the only remaining haven in which such intimacy is still proper. Keller makes this point by contrasting marriage with illicit sexual relationships, where he says both parties feel a need to continually prove themselves. Then he says, “The legal bond of marriage, however, creates a space of security where we can open up and reveal our true selves. We can be vulnerable, no longer having to keep up facades. We don’t have to keep selling ourselves. We can lay the last layer of our defenses down and be completely naked, both physically and in every other way.” Thus, marriage provides mutual security, intimacy, and nourishment within, while presenting a united, delighted exterior—or at least so God has designed it.

Remembering America’s Pastor

by Worth Loving

March 2, 2022

As the nation focuses on inflation crises and the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, perhaps it would do us good to pause and reflect on the life of Billy Graham, whose heavenly homegoing happened four years ago on February 21, 2018.

As a young boy, I remember well watching some of his last crusades on TV with my grandparents. For 76 years, God used a country boy from Charlotte, North Carolina to change the world. During his ministry, Billy Graham preached the gospel to nearly 215 million people in 185 countries. He met with every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Donald Trump as well as countless world leaders. Wherever he went and with whomever he met, his message was simple: We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and Jesus died so we might have eternal life. Even after his death, Billy Graham’s legacy continues to live on.

Humble Beginnings

Born on November 7, 1918, just four days before the end of World War I, Billy Graham was raised on a dairy farm just outside Charlotte, North Carolina. His parents instilled in him the value of hard work as well as a love for God. When he was 12, Graham gave his first speech in a school pageant. The speech made him so nervous that he vowed to never become a public speaker. A few years later when he was 16, Graham attended a tent revival where Rev. Mordecai Ham was preaching. Although Graham had been raised in a Christian home and attended church, he suddenly became aware of his need to accept Christ as his personal Savior. From then on, Graham marked this time in his life as the moment when he trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior.

After graduating from high school, Graham attended Florida Bible Institute near Tampa. Though he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life preaching, he often found himself preaching in trailer parks, street corners, and jails, with many people responding to his sermons by turning to Christ. One night while on the golf course, Graham fully surrendered to God’s call on his life to preach the gospel. Over the next two years, Graham received many requests to preach at churches, missions, and camp meetings, further confirming God’s call on his life. In 1940, he graduated from the institute.

Upon hearing him preach, one of Graham’s friends offered to send him to Wheaton College in Illinois for a year. In 1941, while still taking classes, Graham became pastor of United Gospel Tabernacle. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Graham attempted to become a military chaplain but was turned down by the War Department because he lacked a college degree and the necessary seminary courses. But God had other plans. Graham soon met Ruth Bell, a missionary daughter from China, whom he would eventually marry.

Sensing God’s Call

In January 1943, Graham became pastor of Western Springs Baptist Church near Wheaton. In June, he and Ruth graduated and were married in August. At first, it was difficult for them to manage Graham’s already busy schedule, especially for Ruth as he was away much of the time. But they quickly adapted, no doubt through the grace of God. Soon thereafter, a minister named Torrey Johnson asked Graham to take over his 45-minute Sunday night radio program. Graham soon convinced a well-known voice named George Beverly Shea to begin singing on his new radio program.

As Graham became more and more popular, he grew increasingly restless and sensed God calling him into evangelistic ministry. Around this time, Torrey Johnson asked Graham to take over a new initiative called Chicagoland Youth for Christ, where Graham would preach at Christian rallies for soldiers and young people who poured into Chicago every weekend. On May 27, 1944, Graham preached to nearly 3,000 people at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall; 40 people gave their lives to Christ. Johnson eventually started Youth for Christ rallies in other cities, and Graham preached at those as well.

Although Graham received many offers to pastor churches, he never felt God was calling him in that direction. As World War II continued, he was finally accepted into the army chaplaincy program but was forced to withdraw due to illness, yet another sign God was leading him toward a specific type of ministry.

In 1945, Graham began working again with Torrey Johnson, as he renamed his ministry Youth for Christ (YFC) International and expanded his rallies across the United States, Canada, and Europe. Realizing that Ruth would be alone while Billy traveled, the couple moved to Montreat, North Carolina to be near Ruth’s parents as she was expecting their first child. In 1946, Graham spent several months holding rallies in war-ravaged Europe and found desperate young people very receptive to the gospel. In 1947, Graham preached YFC rallies across the United States and continued to believe God wanted him to be an evangelist.

An Unparalleled Crusade Ministry

Graham was catapulted to national fame in 1949 when he preached his first crusade at the “Canvas Cathedral” in Los Angeles, an event organized by 200 churches calling themselves Christ for Greater Los Angeles. Although the initial results were disappointing, Graham’s crusades quickly gained more traction after Stuart Hamblen, the most popular radio host on the West Coast, was saved at one of the rallies and talked about it on air, urging others to attend. The renowned publisher William Randolph Hearst also encouraged his Los Angeles editors to give Graham good press. After the publicity, some 350,000 people attended this crusade. In the final week of his Los Angeles crusade, Olympic runner and WWII POW survivor Louis Zamperini was saved.

In 1950, Graham formed the non-profit Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and began his weekly Hour of Decision radio program. As the civil rights movement heated up, Graham declared that seating at his crusades would not be segregated, even inviting the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to offer a prayer at one of his crusades.

In 1954, Billy and Ruth traveled to England for a 12-week crusade. By the end, over two million people had heard the gospel. Before leaving to vacation in Scotland, Graham was invited to 10 Downing Street to meet with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There, Graham was able to pray with Churchill and offer him the hope found only in Jesus Christ. It was the first of many meetings Graham would have with prominent political figures. Graham returned to Europe the following two years and even preached in the same Berlin stadium where Adolf Hitler had delivered his maniacal speeches just two decades prior. Queen Elizabeth even invited Graham to preach at Windsor Castle. This was the first of a dozen friendly meetings between the monarch and the minister.  

After the success of his 1955 London crusade, Graham began preaching all over the world—ultimately in 185 countries. He became acquainted with many world leaders and at times even hand delivered letters from U.S. presidents to them. In 1956, Graham preached crusades in southeast Asia, where he spoke hope into the hearts of many people weighed down by unjust caste systems. He spoke about Jesus, “a Man who was born right here in your part of the world… where Asia and Africa and Europe meet. He had skin that was darker than mine, and He came to show us that God loves all people.” While here, he also met with several heads of state and returned to southeast Asia many times during his decades of ministry.

In 1959 and 1960, Graham conducted crusades in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and the Middle East. By the end of this tour, over three million people had heard the gospel. In 1967, Graham preached in Yugoslavia, his first visit to a communist country. In 1973, Graham preached to one million people in Seoul, the largest live audience of his entire ministry.

In 1972, Graham visited Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a bitter war was occurring between Protestants and Catholics. Though he couldn’t hold a crusade for security reasons, he did preach at one church. He even visited the Catholic area of the city and ministered to anyone who would listen. He even risked his life as a bomb went off close to where he was. Rather than fleeing, he ministered to the injured and to those who had lost loved ones. During this time, a Catholic woman told Graham that he was the first Protestant minister she had ever met.

In the late 1970s, Graham began preaching behind the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe, speaking in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, and Russia. Many credit Graham’s ministry as one of the many factors that brought about the fall of the Soviet Union. When Graham returned to Moscow in 1992, crowds of 45,000 gathered each day to hear him, with a quarter of them being saved.

In 1980, Ruth’s long-desired wish to return to the country of her birth—China—was fulfilled. She and Billy had prayed that he would one day be able to hold a crusade there. That prayer was answered in April 1988 when Graham preached in five cities and ministered in many house churches as well. Graham was even able to preach to students and government leaders in North Korea in 1992 and 1994 as well.

More Alive Than Ever Before”

During his decades of ministry, Billy Graham met with every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. Dwight Eisenhower twice called for a meeting with Graham to ask him his beliefs on the afterlife, once while he was president and just a few months prior to his death while he lay in a bed at Walter Reed Hospital. Lyndon Johnson asked Graham to preach his funeral, which he did. Richard Nixon invited Graham to speak at a number of services held at the White House. Ronald and Nancy Reagan shared a warm friendship with the Grahams. Reagan invited the Grahams to several state dinners during his presidency. The Grahams were also close to George H.W. and Barbara Bush. The Bushes invited them to the White House for prayer the day before launching Operation Desert Storm. The Bushes also invited Billy to host Bible studies with their extended family at their vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine.  Graham also had a warm relationship with Bill Clinton, stretching back to Clinton’s time as governor of Arkansas (Clinton first heard Graham speaks as a young boy at a Little Rock crusade). George W. Bush recalls meeting Graham as a young man at a family gathering when Bush was struggling with a drinking problem. Graham offered to send Bush a Bible, and this marked a turning point in the future president’s life.

Billy Graham’s one regret was the amount of time he spent away from home during his ministry and the toll it took on his wife and children, especially his two boys. Near the end of his life, he warned Christians who were just starting their careers to learn from his mistakes. Fortunately, all five of the Graham children turned out well and serve in his ministry. The best known of these is Franklin who runs Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  

Graham’s health began declining in the early 2000s. Franklin took over the BGEA in 2002, and Billy preached his last crusade in New York City in July 2005. Just two years later, Graham grieved deeply when his wife of 64 years was called home to Heaven.

On February 21, 2018, God called his servant home as he passed peacefully in his sleep at his log cabin in Montreat, North Carolina. His casket, a simple wooden box made by prisoners at Angola Prison, lay in repose in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. I had the privilege of paying my respects in-person and was impressed by how several members of the Graham family personally greeted every person in line. I’ve also had the privilege to visit the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte where the evangelist was laid to rest next to his dear wife Ruth. At his funeral, Billy’s son Franklin gave a gospel message, inviting those in attendance to repent of their sins and turn in faith to Christ. Graham chose the Scripture reference John 14:6 to be engraved on his tombstone. The passage, which reads, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,’” embodied the message he preached for decades.

Of death, Billy Graham, paraphrasing D.L. Moody, often said, “One day you’ll hear that Billy Graham has died. Don’t you believe it. On that day, I’ll be more alive than ever before! I’ve just changed addresses.” Graham spent his entire adult life proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Although he was born from humble roots, he rose to fame and prominence; but he never let that get to his head. No matter who he met, his message was the same. He saw all men, women, and children as sinners like himself in desperate need of a Savior. That is the same message we must proclaim today. Amidst all the turmoil in our world, Jesus is the only answer.

God’s Good Design for Marriage (Part 2): They Shall Become One Flesh

by Joshua Arnold

February 21, 2022

This is the second part of a multi-part series on God’s good design for marriage. Read part one.

It’s no secret that popular culture frowns upon Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. In American entertainment, business, media, politics, and courts of law, the prevailing view is that marriage is an optional “extra” for romantic partners, one that quickly proves inconvenient and restrictive when it outlasts emotion. In the minds of many, marriage is an outdated artifact of obsolete social conditions and inhibits the self-expression, tolerance, and liberation expected in the 21st century. The Bible’s view of marriage as a covenant union of one man and one woman for life has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive.

Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better. But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. This series aims to examine God’s good design for marriage by taking the Word of God itself as our guide.

This series began by looking at Genesis 1:26-31, where God created “male and female.” This second installment will examine Genesis 2:24.

Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with mankind.

In Genesis 2, Moses retells in greater detail the creation of man and woman on the sixth day of creation (which he had summarized in the first chapter). Moses has theological purposes for holding a microscope to God creating mankind with this second account, some of which pertain to marriage.

In Genesis 2:24, Moses summarizes the first marriage in history, explaining, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The importance of this statement for understanding God’s design for marriage is underscored in the New Testament by Jesus (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:8) and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:31). Both quote this verse to support marriage.

Thus, we learn that this verse is not a cloudy line in a quaint fable, nor an archaic notion that has passed away with the old covenant. Rather, Genesis 2:24 contains a transcendent, timeless principle of God’s created order that still applies to us today. As such, this verse is worth studying carefully.

Observations

First, notice the prescriptive language in the verbs: “shall leave… and hold fast” and “shall become.” In contrast to the narrative portions of Genesis, which describe actions and events, this verse ordains the covenant of marriage. Every human being is morally accountable to this formula.

Second, the man takes the initiative in leaving his parents and holding fast to his wife. The Holy Spirit could have inspired Moses to write, “a woman shall leave her father and her mother and hold fast to her husband.” He didn’t. In the context of Genesis 2 (which we will explore in the next part of this series), this is intentional, and it contains the seeds of both “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles” and “Adam’s headship in marriage,” as the Danvers Statement affirms. These biblical principles, which our culture hates, reflect the beauty and wisdom of God’s good design for marriage. We shouldn’t be ashamed of them.

Third, the man must leave his parents. This doesn’t mean he should desert them, for that would dishonor them (Exodus 20:12), but his relationship with his parents should change. He and his wife constitute a new and distinct family unit. A man’s wife replaces his parents as his chief relational priority. Of the many ways to apply this, perhaps the most apt for our cultural context is that men should move out of their parents’ house before they marry. A man who can’t function independently from his parents or run a household on his own isn’t fit to be married yet. To single men who are seeking a wife, get a job, get an apartment, pay some bills, and dress yourself. Show that you are responsible enough for a woman to feel safe under your leadership.

Fourth, the man must hold fast to his wife. Older translations used the word “cleave” (thus the phrase “leaving and cleaving”). Tim Keller explains in The Meaning of Marriage, “it is a Hebrew word that literally means to be glued to something.” Marriage binds together a man and woman tighter than any other natural bond. As centuries of wedding vows have acknowledged (“as long as we both shall live”), marriage is for life (see Romans 7:2). This close, intimate, exclusive relationship provides an opportunity for mutual support, encouragement, friendship, accountability, advice, and sanctification like no other human relationship. Marriage images Jesus, our “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

Fifth, the man and his wife shall become one flesh. This phrase isn’t easy to explain. How, exactly, can two people become one flesh? If that seems impossible for man to achieve, it is. But Jesus helps us understand this is not God’s doing. After quoting Genesis 2:24, Jesus applies it in “a comment that explodes like thunder with the glory of marriage,” says John Piper in This Momentary Marriage. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9). Piper continues, “when a couple speaks their vows, it is not a man or a woman or a pastor or parent who is the main actor—the main doer. God is. God joins a husband and a wife into a one-flesh union.” Every marriage is a covenant, an exchange of vows before God, effected and enforced by God. Because God makes a marriage, “it is not in man’s power to destroy,” says Piper.

Conclusion

Violations of the marriage bond receive frequent and severe condemnation throughout the Bible. Jesus himself quotes Genesis 2:24, in conjunction with Genesis 1:27, to condemn divorce. Adultery is forbidden by the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18). Jesus added, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The writer of the book of Hebrews exhorted his readers, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). Hundreds of other Scriptures could be added to this list. The point is clear: because God has ordained marriage as part of his good design, he takes it seriously, and he has commanded us to honor it. So, we must obey his commands and honor marriage out of both “love and fear” (Deuteronomy 13:3-4).

More can be said about marriage from the Bible’s teaching in Genesis 2:24, and future parts of this series will explore it further.

But what should be crystal clear—and what all the Bible’s teachings are founded on—is that marriage is a covenantal relationship uniting a husband and wife, which is designed and achieved by God himself. Marriage is not a social construct to be cast aside on a whim but a lifelong, moral duty watched over by its holy creator, God.

Read part three.

Praying for a Progressive President

by Joshua Arnold

February 15, 2022

Recently, President Joe Biden signed off on a successful mission in the ongoing fight against the ISIS terrorist organization, taking out ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. According to U.S. intelligence, al-Qurayshi “helped drive and justify the abduction, slaughter, and trafficking of the Yazidi religious minority in northwest Iraq and also led some of the group’s global terrorist operations.” FRC’s Executive Vice President Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin explained, “this was a guy that replaced Baghdadi as the head of ISIS.”

[Biden] deserves a lot of credit for this,” Boykin added. “It was a good decision. This was a good kill.” FRC President Tony Perkins agreed. “I commend the president for taking that action to stop this ISIS leader who had been linked to several terrorist activities in recent months that killed civilians and others.” Family Research Council often criticizes President Biden’s pro-abortion agenda, his promotion of LGBT ideology, and many other policies we believe promote what is morally objectionable. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). But in authorizing this military raid, President Biden did well.

While we often disagree with President Biden’s progressive priorities, we must remember that God commands Christians to honor their rulers (Romans 13:7, 1 Peter 2:17), and even to pray for them. The clearest biblical text on this is 1 Timothy 2:1-4, which reads:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

These verses contain three reasons to pray for our rulers. First, it pleases God. This should be the aim of every Christian. If we don’t delight to do what pleases him, it calls into question whether we really love him. Second, that they might be saved. Many rulers are not Christians—both in Paul’s day and in ours. They need Jesus’ righteousness to cover their sins and save them from the wrath of God just like every other person. Third, for the sake of our own hearts, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We are called not to anger and bitterness and outrage, but “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). That’s only possible if you “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

There is another, less discussed reason to pray for our rulers, which Paul does not address in 1 Timothy 2, but which the recent American military strike illustrates perfectly. That is, that when a nation’s rulers govern well, everyone benefits, including God’s people. For example, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2). How does this prompt us to pray for rulers? To answer that question, we have to understand Jeremiah 29.

The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon to counter false prophets who were promising the people a quick deliverance and return to Canaan. Jeremiah explained to the exiles that their exile would continue for 70 years before God would bring them back. Therefore, he sets forth three ways they should conduct themselves:

  • In verse 5 he says, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” That is, work! Don’t be idle. Improve your property by your own labor.
  • In verse 6 he says, “Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” That is, don’t neglect the family. Enduring this exile and returning from it is a multi-generational project. Build relationships with your neighbors and plant deep roots.
  • And in verse 7 he says, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). The Jewish exiles are commanded to seek the welfare of Babylon, their enemy and captor. Seeking the welfare of the enemy of God’s people would seem like rebellion against God if God himself had not commanded it. But God through Jeremiah explains that, during their exile, Babylon was their new home. Thus, their welfare was tied to its welfare.

How, then, could Jewish exiles with no political power (except for a few uniquely gifted persons like Daniel) seek the welfare of Babylon? God explains; they seek its welfare by praying to the Lord on its behalf. And what is praying for a nation if not also praying for its rulers? Their own welfare was tied to their prayers for rulers of Babylon.

How does this apply to us today? First, let’s remember that not everything in the Old Testament applies to new covenant believers in the same way that it did to Israelites under the old covenant, and living in the unique, God-ruled theocracy of ancient Israel. Next, let’s note that the letter in Jeremiah 29 is written not to Jews in Canaan, but to Jews in exile in Babylon. New covenant believers are exiles (1 Peter 1:1), whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Like the recipients of Jeremiah’s letter, we are living in a place that is not our home, but we are eagerly looking forward to the day when we will finally get to go home at last. Our situation is quite similar to that of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.

Of course, Christians have an additional mission. Israel under the old covenant was tasked with remaining a holy people, distinct from the surrounding nations. Christians are tasked with the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

As we wait for Jesus to return, and as we make disciples, we should also work, raise families, and seek the welfare of our nation. And that includes praying for our nation’s leaders, whether we like their policies or not. We can pray that they would rule wisely and justly and for the good of all. We can pray that they would pursue policies that allow the gospel to flourish, and that glorify God. We can pray that God would reveal himself to them that they might be saved.

God’s Good Design for Marriage (Part 1): Male and Female He Created Them

by Joshua Arnold

February 10, 2022

This is the first part of a multi-part series on God’s good design for marriage.

It’s no secret that today’s popular culture opposes Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Christian view of marriage has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive. Recent examples include American tech giant YouTube removing a John MacArthur sermon clip on transgenderism as “hate speech,” the Canadian parliament approving a new law which could criminalize preaching and teaching against homosexuality or transgenderism, and Finland’s top prosecutor prosecuting a bishop on criminal charges for publishing a booklet titled, “Male and Female He Created Them.” All that was just last month.

Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better. But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. That is the goal of this series: to examine God’s good design for marriage, taking as our guide the Word of God itself.

This series will begin, appropriately, in the beginning, by looking at Genesis 1:26-31. Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with man. In these verses, God’s creation of the world reaches its crescendo in the creation of man (that is, the race of mankind—men and women). Many Christian doctrines are grounded in these verses, but for the present, let’s consider three specific points.

1. God Created Man

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Four times in two verses, Moses repeats that God created man. With any human creator, we readily understand that the creator has total power and authority over his creation. He made it, so he decides how it works and what purpose it serves. That is God’s relationship with man, as the frequent analogy of the potter and the clay depicts (Isaiah 29:15-16, Jeremiah 18:1-12, Romans 9:20-21). God has the sole, unquestionable authority and power to determine how mankind works and what purpose we serve. Men may not naturally like that very much, but reality does not conform itself to our desires. We are not gods.

Besides, complaining about God’s authority is foolishness because God’s purposes for mankind are far better than any we could invent for ourselves. We are created “in his own image.” An image, such as we find in a photograph or mirror, is not the thing itself, but it is “like” that thing. It bears a resemblance to it such that an observer can recognize the original in its image. In Genesis 5:3, we find similar language, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Just as a child looks like his parents, so God created man to look like God himself.

These are two ironclad reasons for the dignity of mankind and the sanctity of human life. We are created by God, so anyone who harms or criticizes another human being is harming or criticizing God’s handiwork, God’s prized possession. We bear God’s image, so anyone who harms a person is defacing an image of God’s character.

It’s fair to ask, in what way do humans bear the image of God? After all, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), so he doesn’t have a body like we do. And God is invisible (Colossians 1:15), so to say we literally look like him is nonsensical. The first answer is that, like God and unlike other creatures, we also are spirits. The second answer is that God uses metaphors of the body to describe himself in ways we can understand. In various places, the Bible speaks of God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8), ears (Psalm 18:6), mouth (Numbers 12:8), lips (Job 23:12), face (Matthew 18:10), nostrils (Isaiah 65:5), arm (Acts 13:7), hands (Hebrews 10:31), fingers (Psalm 8:3), back (Exodus 33:23), and feet (Exodus 24:10). Christians don’t understand these passages to mean that God literally possesses all these body parts. Rather, these metaphors describe God’s power in ways we can comprehend. God’s ears refer to what God hears. God’s mouth refers to what God says. Christian meditations on this question could fill libraries (here’s a summary), but, for our purposes, it’s sufficient to establish that God created mankind as an image of himself.

We also read, “male and female he created them.” This phrase helps us to interpret the rest of these verses; when it says God created “man” in his image, we can understand that the text is referring to the creation of both men and women—the entire human race. Another way to say the same thing is that the image of God in mankind is incomplete without considering both male and female. Thus, God’s relationship to his children is explained both as a father (Psalm 103:13) and as a mother (Isaiah 66:13). (This is not to say that God is feminine; God may nurture his children like a mother, but he is their Father (Isaiah 64:8). Scripture exclusively refers to God with masculine pronouns.)

Genesis teaches that men and women are both made in the image of God, and both participate in the inherent dignity of that image. Thus, Christianity has historically taught (usually in opposition to prevailing cultural norms) that men and women possess equal dignity and worth. Moreover, Christians have historically fought to protect the dignity and value of women. This is also why the transgender movement sweeping the Western world cannot be reconciled with Christian teaching. Transgender ideology teaches that gender is a social construct that can be altered and that bodies should be altered to conform to a person’s chosen identity. Christianity teaches that a person’s sex is an innate, immutable characteristic created by God to reflect his character. Thus, cosmetically altering a person’s body is defacing God’s image, lying about his character, and usurping his lordship.

Marriage is implied in this creation of male and female. John Piper writes in This Momentary Marriage, “Marriage is God’s doing because it was his design in the creation of man as male and female.” Jesus himself cites Genesis 1:26 as a prooftext for marriage (Mark 10:6, Matthew 19:4). We’ll explore this more in part two of this series on Genesis 2, where Moses explains that a man and his wife “shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Mankind exists to portray God’s image as male and female, according to God’s created order. God has the authority to order our lives because he is our maker. But he uses that authority for our good, as we will see in our next point.

2. God Blessed Them

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

It’s challenging to interpret what Scripture means by the phrase “God blessed them.” Perhaps a rough approximation would be “God made them happy.” The verses that follow explain how, beginning with a succession of imperative verbs: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion….” If it was unclear from “be fruitful” (the Hebrew word for “offspring” is “seed,” see Genesis 3:15), the use of the word “multiply” makes it clear that God wanted the first human couple to reproduce. Genesis 1 teaches that human reproduction was part of God’s blessing on mankind from the very beginning. And they weren’t told to merely procreate at a replacement rate; they were told to “fill the earth.” Here are two blessings for mankind from God: sex within marriage and, as a result, plenty of children (see Psalm 127:3-5). The culture may mock these truths to its own detriment, but the Bible is very clear on them.

Another part of this blessing is mankind’s role as middle magistrates. God proceeds to tell Adam and Eve to “subdue [the earth]” and “have dominion… over every living thing.” Because of the image of God they bear, they are exalted to a position of authority over the rest of creation (see Psalm 8:5-8). Notice these verbs are all imperatives. While blessings from God, these are also commands from God. Mankind has authority over all creation but is itself under God’s authority. The centurion understood this (Matthew 8:5-13), but Adam and Eve rebelled (Genesis 3:1-7). Learning to live under authority and wielding authority well are crucial aspects of a healthy marriage, as we’ll see later in this series.

3. It Was Very Good

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)

The last point to consider from Genesis 1 is that everything God made, in his infallible judgment, was “very good.” That includes God’s creation of mankind as male and female in his image, the institution of marriage, and the command to be fruitful and multiply. God designed marriage, and he declared that it was very good.

Perhaps this strikes you as incredible. After all, our world is filled with sad, painful stories of people suffering from spousal abuse, parental abuse, difficult marriages, gender dysphoria, and rebellious children. How could marriage and family relationships, with all the disorder and hurt we see in them, be designed by God and declared “very good”?

First, what we witness today isn’t God’s original design. The Bible explains that our familial relationships are cursed with pain and strife (Genesis 3:16) as the result of our first parents’ rebellion against God (Genesis 3:6). Through their disobedience, sin entered the world, bringing death and suffering along with it (Romans 5:12). As a result of sin, many things God designed for pleasure (like childbearing and marriage) are now full of pain.

But as we struggle against the effects of the curse, we can still affirm that God’s design is good. As we strive to live according to God’s Word, we will come to experience the goodness of his plan. It’s a duty that is filled with pleasure and joy.

Second, God designed marriage for other reasons, which weren’t revealed in Genesis 1. Just because God’s good design for marriage has been sadly marred and warped doesn’t mean that marriage can’t still fulfill some of its good purposes. But that’s for future parts in this series to explore.

Read part two.

The Limits of Human Happiness: The Danger of Trying To Find Our Identity in Our Feelings

by Dan Hart

January 24, 2022

In a recent interview, pop superstar Adele told Oprah that the reason she divorced her husband and created a broken home for her then six-year-old son was because “she realized she was ‘ignoring’ her own happiness.” Similarly, Honor Jones, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote recently that, even though she “loved [her] husband,” who she had three young children with, she was breaking her family up because she “felt that [her husband] was standing between [her] and the world.”

This 50-year-old-and-counting trend of “no-fault” divorce, in which a husband or a wife chooses to split from their spouse because of a feeling rather than a concrete transgression like abuse or adultery, is part of a larger phenomenon that has been happening in Western society for decades now: the ascendence of feelings and emotions as the definitive barometer of who a person is.

Arguably, we are seeing this trend more explicitly in our current American moment than we ever have before with the advent of transgenderism—the idea that one can change their “gender” because of being unhappy with one’s biological sex. Just as with no-fault divorce, the choice to become transgender has proven to have very real negative consequences that not only affect the health of the individual choosing to identify as transgender (through harmful hormone therapy and surgeries that do not resolve the person’s unhappiness) but also society (through classroom indoctrination, bathroom privacy violations, and the assault on women’s sports, among other harms).

In our “live your own truth” society, consuming pornography, participating in premarital sex, and committing adultery are acts that cannot be judged by others if they feel right to the individual in the moment, despite the trail of brokenness and victimization left in their wake. Furthermore, we are seeing highly-charged feelings about America being a “racist” and “white supremacist” country driving a nationwide movement to establish intensely divisive “Critical Race Theory” policies in schools and places of work, despite clear, commonsense evidence that “systemic” racism does not exist in America.

The right to act on strongly-held feelings—no matter how it may affect others—has become an idol in our culture, and the damage that this causes is plain to see. While feelings and emotions are an important part of being human, they do not ultimately define us, and we must carefully discern whether or not to act on them. If we want to flourish as a society, it is critical that we have a grounded, biblical perspective on our emotions, which continually shift from day to day like the changing winds.

The Pursuit of Happiness

In this country, we can trace the privileging of feelings back to our founding. Ever since Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement in the Declaration of Independence that among our “inalienable rights” bestowed on us by our Creator is “the pursuit of happiness,” the concept of “happiness” has held a prominent place in the American heart.

But what is happiness? At best, what we associate with or describe as happiness is often a fleeting feeling of contentment or pleasure. According to Thomas Aquinas, this “imperfect happiness” is the only form of happiness that can be obtained on earth. For most of us, even when we are doing something we thoroughly enjoy for an extended period of time, a genuine, all-encompassing feeling of happiness is usually short-lived. If one were to continually strive for one’s own version of happiness at every turn, it’s easy to see the disaster that would unfold—someone acting on every whim and urge regardless of the consequence or the effect on others.

Yet, there is no denying that happiness in its essence is a good thing and is wonderful to experience. Even so, what’s interesting about happiness is that we tend to experience it when we don’t necessarily expect to. It could be when we are simply on a walk, and the beauty of nature strikes us in a way that we weren’t anticipating. Or it could be in a more predictable context, like when we are engaging in an activity that we find pleasure in such as reading a good book or playing guitar. What’s fascinating, though, is that even when we do something in order to be happy, there is no guarantee that we will feel happy. This speaks to the ephemeral nature of happiness—it is a gift that is given to us from above. When we grasp for it, it is often just out of our reach. Perhaps this is what Jefferson meant when he wrote of the “pursuit” of happiness—we seek it because of how good it makes us feel, but we don’t always find it.

When we look at Scripture, we find that happiness or its synonym joy is almost always connected with seeking God and the virtues. For example, Psalm 146:5 proclaims: “Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Proverbs 3:13 declares: “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding.” In Psalm 92:4, the psalmist writes, “You, O Lord, have made me happy by your work. I will sing for joy because of what you have done.” In another passage, King David actually commands happiness, writing, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). 

These verses tell us something about what should be of ultimate importance to our earthly life and Who we should ultimately seek.

The Limited Offerings of the World

A natural question to ask here is, why? Why should we seek after a God we cannot see? A large part of the answer lies in the nature of the world. At the end of the day, as Bishop Robert Barron has so eloquently written and spoken about, “nothing in this world finally satisfies the deepest longings of our heart.” When we think of our most cherished and memorable experiences and feelings in our lives—the most delicious meal, the most mind-bendingly electrifying movie, the most beautiful mountain view, the most exhilarating athletic achievement, the most stimulating conversation—what do they all have in common? They all inevitably end, fading into the mists of the past, and we are plunged headlong into the next moment or the next day, which usually isn’t nearly as memorable. Even our loved ones will eventually die, ending our most cherished relationships. So what can we learn from this universal (and somber) certainty?

One thing we can learn is a fundamental truth about being human: We all have a deep desire for lasting happiness which points to something beyond anything this world can offer. Built into every human heart is an insatiable hunger for ultimate love, ultimate goodness, ultimate beauty, ultimate truth. As wonderful as our best moments on earth are, they only leave us wanting more. But why? Why would God create us this way? C.S. Lewis, in his great work The Problem of Pain, gives a perceptive, poetic answer to this confounding question:

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world; but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

Knowing that ultimate fulfillment can never come on earth, our hunger for it nevertheless drives us to continually seek it. In this pursuit of happiness, it is often our deeply felt emotions and feelings that drive our actions. But as we have seen, unless these feelings are directed toward good things that ultimately come from God, we will not only be chronically unhappy, but we will also end up falling into wrongdoing, hurting ourselves and those around us.

The Fulfillment of All Desire

Our Heavenly Father knows our needs and the deepest longings of our hearts (see Matthew 6:25-33), but He also gives us the freedom to choose to follow those longings in the way we choose to do so. This is why we must remain anchored in God’s Word and follow His laws laid out for us in Scripture, so that our emotions and our deepest longings will naturally fall in line with the things of God—those things that are by nature true, good, and beautiful.

This is the wonderful reality about the unique gifts and talents that we are all blessed with: everyone can express their ultimate longing for God in their own way by pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty through music, athletics, writing, building houses, repairing cars, homemaking, or any of the multitude of good things that fills the earth. God delights in giving His children good gifts. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). At the same time, our natures tell us that ultimate fulfillment won’t come from these finite gifts, for as Christ said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

When we live our lives without God, however, the results are plain to see. We end up straining and grasping for fulfillment moment by moment, without a fixture of truth to guide our hearts. We attempt to “live our truth” by following whatever earthly thing we think will make us happy, eternally confounded by its finiteness.

May we instead live in the promise of the “food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27), forever consoled and strengthened by the hope and truth of the One who has set all people free (John 8:32), who will eternally fulfill every desire in our true home—the world to come.

Is Diversity a Biblical Goal?

by Joseph Backholm

January 14, 2022

While racial tensions reached a fever pitch in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death, the issue is not new. Two thousand years ago, Paul addressed the issue of race in his letter to the Galatian church when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Appropriately, the church has taken a leading role in the effort to bring unity and racial reconciliation where it is needed. In some cases, this has led some church congregations and denominations to place a special emphasis on cultivating racial diversity in their midst.

For example, the Acts 29 church planting network, started by Mark Driscoll and now led by Matt Chandler, has a Diversity Initiative. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has a Kingdom Diversity Initiative. Hillsong Church says they are “committed to providing strategic direction to enable us as a global church to make progress in racial diversity and equity.” Various Christian colleges have published their “Christ-centered rationale for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

All this emphasis on diversity begs the question: should church congregations be making a concerted effort to be racially diverse?

There are many things Christians are commanded to do, including loving one another (Rom. 13, John 13), honoring one another (Rom. 12:10), accepting one another (Rom. 15:7), being at peace with each other (Mark 9:50), serving one another (Gal. 5:13), carrying each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), and forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32). There are no exceptions for people who don’t look like you, talk like you, or think like you.

But nowhere does Scripture command us to have racially diverse congregations.

Of course, this does not mean racial diversity is wrong. It can often be helpful. But it is not specifically a moral good because nowhere does God say that diversity is a virtue in and of itself.

It is beyond dispute that the Kingdom of God is racially diverse. Not only are the world’s 2.3 billion Christians spread all over the planet, but John’s vision of heaven in Revelation gives a glimpse of what the diversity of heaven looks like: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Rev. 7:8-9). Heaven is diverse.

This vision of different people praising the same God is beautiful and even aspirational, but it does not mean that racial diversity is inherently virtuous. We know this because if that same group of people pictured in John’s vision were chanting “Hail, Satan!” it would be no consolation that they are a diverse assembly. What we intuitively understand—but must say—is that racial diversity can be a sign of something good but is not something good in and of itself. Racial diversity could be a sign of discipleship, but is not a form of discipleship.

In one sense, this is simply practical. It would be silliness, for example, to tell a group of Christians in remote places like the jungle of the Congo or the mountains of India that they need more racial diversity. In some places, racial diversity isn’t realistic. But this point is not merely practical. If we emphasize the secondary over the primary, we end up with the wrong goals.

The primary goal for Christians is to love God and others. We rightly see racism as a violation of God’s commandment to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) and may see racial diversity as evidence that racism is not present. This is logical, but there is a risk. The emphasis on racial diversity as the antidote to racism may create a situation where we see racial diversity not as evidence of love but as a form of love. As a result, diversity has become an end unto itself.

The problem with confusing diversity for the sake of diversity with real, biblical love is that it puts the cart before the horse. In a world where diversity is a form of love, communities that are “diverse” are inherently better than those that are not. In a world where diversity is a form of love, we inevitably value people differently based on their ability or inability to contribute to our diversity. Christians can’t subscribe to this mindset. In addition, while efforts to be diverse are nearly always well-intentioned, the temptation to appear diverse can easily become self-centered. Only God knows when we’ve crossed the line from trying to love people well to trying to look good, but the line exists.

Consider an analogy from Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira were a couple in the early church who made a public display of generosity. However, they intentionally misrepresented their gift, and God put them to death for it (Acts 5:1-11). Generosity is a good goal; wanting to look generous in the eyes of our fellow man is not. In the same way, it can be good to be diverse but not if we are merely wanting to look diverse. If God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than the complexion of our skin—and He is—we should be, too.

What every Christian can do, in all times and all places, is love people the way Jesus does. In communities where people look different, the love of Jesus will transcend racial barriers and bring people together. In communities where people look the same, the love of Jesus will transcend other boundaries, including class, politics, age, or sex.

None of this means that concerns about racism are invalid or that the church should not be part of the solution. Our call to seek justice, provide hospitality, and care for the marginalized will create a community that some might call diverse. In addition, when people share pain and frustration about the brokenness of the world, we should be slow to speak and quick to hear. But racial diversity that honors Jesus will never be achieved by making it our primary objective. It will, however, inevitably develop as Christians follow the example of Jesus. Seeking Jesus will lead to racial diversity; seeking racial diversity will not lead to Jesus. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seem to apply here: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

No doubt, the emphasis on diversity is well-meaning, but it comes with real risks. If we pursue diversity with more passion than we pursue love, we are very likely going to miss both.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 5): Mary Endured the Crisis of Ostracization

by Joy Zavalick

December 24, 2021

This is the final part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

***

The fifth and final woman acknowledged in the genealogy recorded in Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ mother, Mary. Scripture tells us that Mary was a young woman from Nazareth who was highly favored in God’s sight (Luke 1:26-28). The angel Gabriel visited her to explain that she would serve the Lord in an unprecedented way; the power of the Holy Spirit would allow for Mary to conceive even though she was a virgin, and the child would be the Son of God.

Mary would have understood the social consequences of her conceiving prior to her impending marriage to Joseph. She would have faced possible ostracization from her community, since at this time in history, women could even be executed for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Nevertheless, Mary readily accepted the Lord’s charge for her, telling Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

What Mary’s community would have viewed as a “crisis” was all part of God’s plan. In reality, the crisis Mary faced was not her pregnancy but the pain of facing a world that would not celebrate the creation of this new life with joy. We learn from Scripture that Mary did receive support from at least a few people in her life. These included her fiancé, Joseph, and her cousin, Elizabeth.

After the angel of the Lord affirmed to Joseph in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, and that the child in her womb was the Son of God, Joseph responded in faith and accepted his charge as the adoptive father of Jesus. Joseph cared for Jesus as his own son throughout the entirety of his earthly life. In so doing, Joseph set a strong example of a man of God rising up to fill the role of an earthly father for a child who was not biologically his own. Prayerfully consider if God might be calling you—like Joseph—to adopt, foster, or mentor children who are not biologically your own.

The response of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth paints a beautiful image of how all Christians ought to respond to the news of a pregnancy, even if the surrounding circumstances are not easy. Elizabeth was also pregnant at the time of Mary’s visit, and Scripture tells us that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, who would later become known as John the Baptist, “leaped in her womb” as he recognized the nearness of the Messiah. Elizabeth and her own unborn child shared in Mary’s joy at the news of her pregnancy and treated it like the miracle that it was.

Just as Elizabeth shared in Mary’s joy, Christians ought to rejoice at the news of pregnancy, encouraging the mother and reminding her of the miracle of life in which she is participating. Each child is a unique individual handcrafted by the Lord and worthy of celebration. Although Mary had the unique honor of carrying the Savior in her womb, every mother has carried a human made in the image of God.

Every new life is a gift of God, but not all pregnancies are surrounded by joyful or peaceful circumstances. Some pregnancies are unexpected. Some pregnancies might be unwanted by one or both parents. Some pregnancies result from rape. Some pregnancies are accompanied by a prenatal diagnosis of a disease or disability. However, the faithfulness of the Lord ensures that a response of trust in His plan can contribute to redeeming a broken situation. Even amid dark circumstances, the light of miraculously creating a new image-bearer can shine through.

Though not in bodily presence, as he was with Mary, Christ is present with each of us as we face challenges. The world may see an insurmountable trial, but as Christians, we are called to believe that each “crisis” no matter how big or how small is all part of God’s plan.

Let us pray that this Christmas, no matter what circumstances we happen to be facing, we would recognize that God will use every moment of our life for good. May we join Mary in singing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49).

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 4): Bathsheba Endured the Crisis of Sexual Sin

by Joy Zavalick

December 23, 2021

This is the fourth part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.

***

The fourth woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Bathsheba, or “Uriah’s wife” as Matthew refers to her. If we take a closer look at Bathsheba’s story, it becomes clear that Matthew’s description of her as Uriah’s wife is intentional.

According to 2 Samuel 11, King David remained at home while his army was away at war. One night, while walking on the roof of his palace, he noticed Bathsheba bathing. Instead of respecting the woman’s privacy, a lustful David sent one of his servants to find out the woman’s identity. Despite learning that she was married to someone serving in his army, David continued to pursue Bathsheba.

David commanded his officials to bring Bathsheba to him, and he slept with her, causing her to conceive. Scripture does not tell us what Bathsheba’s role in this affair was; she could’ve been a co-conspirator in David’s act of sexual immorality or a victim of sexual assault. However, Scripture does show us that David misused his position of authority to initiate a crisis of sexual immorality.

When David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant, he attempted to hide his sin by tricking her husband into sleeping with her so that Uriah would believe the child was his. After this strategy failed, David resorted to placing Uriah at the front lines of battle so that he would be killed. Thus, David not only sinned against Bathsheba sexually but also by murdering her husband and leaving her a widow.

Bathsheba married David after Uriah’s death. She might have had little choice, given David’s position as king and her own desperation to survive after being widowed. Although David believed his sin to be in the past, the prophet Nathan reminded him of the Lord’s wrath against David’s acts of sexual immorality and murder. David was convicted and cried out to the Lord in repentance. His prayer for forgiveness, Psalm 51, is one of the most well-known penitent psalms in Scripture. Although he repented, David still had to live with the consequences of his sin. Tragically, the first child that Bathsheba had conceived with him died (2 Samuel 12:19).

Bathsheba eventually bore David a son named Solomon, who later succeeded his father as king and became known for his immense wisdom. However, the trauma and anguish that David caused Bathsheba may never have fully healed in her life. Even if the intercourse between David and Bathsheba was consensual (which is unknown based on the biblical evidence), it was nevertheless a sinful act that God mercifully commuted. The Messiah’s lineage passing through Solomon, David, and Bathsheba’s son, demonstrates God’s willingness to graciously use for good situations that man intended for evil (Genesis 50:20).

Tragically, there are many women who must live with the consequences of evil acts committed against them, such as sexual assault or abuse. Just as David attempted to escape the consequences when Bathsheba became pregnant, many men today try to conceal evil actions or simply escape the responsibility of fatherhood by abandoning women or coercing them to undergo abortions. It is important to note that although men must be held accountable for sexual abuse, children conceived through an act of sexual sin are never to blame for their fathers’ sins and must be treated with the same inherent dignity as every other child made in the image of God.

Chemical abortion pills have provided yet another way for men to avoid the responsibilities of fatherhood. But what makes this abortion method even more appealing to abusers is that it limits the woman’s contact with an in-person physician, making it harder for the abuse to come to light. Women who have suffered a coerced abortion ought to know that there are resources available to help them. Additionally, women who have taken the chemical abortion pill should know that this form of abortion is reversible if only the first pill has been ingested and action is taken quickly to reverse it.

Many women have been sexually manipulated or assaulted and may be struggling to recover from this pain. The church must rise up to protect and care for these women, ensuring that they have access to resources and ministries designed to help them heal.

The story of Bathsheba reminds us that Jesus Christ came to free mankind from captivity to sin and demonstrates the loving character of God in bringing beauty even from the depravity of human actions.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 3): Ruth Endured the Crisis of Being Widowed

by Joy Zavalick

December 22, 2021

This is the third part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar and Rahab.

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The third woman identified in Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Jesus is Ruth, a Moabite woman who married into the nation of Israel. In addition to being an ancestor of Christ, Ruth has the distinction of being one of only two women with a book of the Bible named after her (Esther being the other).

The book of Ruth opens with an introduction to three widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. Naomi had relocated to Moab with her husband and two sons in order to avoid an ongoing famine in Israel. While they were living in Moab, Naomi’s sons married two local women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, all three husbands passed away, leaving Naomi alone in a foreign land and Orpah and Ruth childless.

When Naomi decided to return to her homeland of Israel, Orpah returned to her parents’ household, but Ruth refused to abandon Naomi, knowing that her mother-in-law had no one left to care for her. Ruth demonstrated her loyalty to Naomi by saying, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:6).

Ruth and Naomi returned to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Upon arriving, Ruth provided for them by gleaning in the fields of a man named Boaz, the son/descendent of Rahab and a relative of Naomi’s late husband. Boaz took notice of Ruth, impressed by her loving sacrifice to leave her home in order to stay by Naomi’s side. Boaz treated Ruth with kindness and ensured that she could work safely in his fields without being harmed by men who might prey on her.

Naomi informed Ruth that Boaz was one of their family’s kinsmen-redeemers. According to Hebrew law, Boaz was eligible to purchase their family property and marry Ruth, thus allowing her to carry on her late husband’s family line (Ruth 2:20). When Ruth approached Boaz and explained her family’s situation to him, he went through the proper cultural channels to redeem Naomi’s husband’s inheritance and marry Ruth (Ruth 3:9-13). Ruth’s first son with Boaz was named Obed. In God’s wonderful providence, Obed had a son named Jesse, whose youngest son, David, would one day become king of Israel.

The intricate story that God wove from the tragedy of Ruth’s widowhood shows His ability to bring beauty even from crisis situations. After the death of her first husband, Ruth likely was unsure of her future. When Ruth selflessly refused to abandon Naomi, she took a leap of faith and trusted that God would care for her—and He did, grafting the Moabite woman into Israel’s family tree.

It is worth noting that Ruth likely did not see the ultimate plan that God was working through her suffering during her lifetime. This is true for us as well. In this life, we will likely never fully understand why God allows us to experience a tragedy. Whether it is the experience of heartbreak, miscarriage, death of a spouse or loved one, or loneliness, it is important to know that the Lord is still present even when He seems silent and that hope for the future remains even when today’s circumstances are filled with pain. Just as Ruth mourned her loss and placed her faith in God, so should we today whenever tragedy strikes.

There are ministries and resources equipped to support widows as they raise a child while simultaneously coping with grief. The book of Ruth may also be read as a call to action for the men of the church to meet the needs of women facing crisis circumstances. Marriage aside, there are countless other ways for Christian men to emulate Boaz and serve the widows or single mothers in their community through acts of kindness.

Ruth’s example may provide inspiration to women and men who have experienced a tragic loss or who unexpectedly find themselves in the position of being a caretaker. Ruth displayed her noble character by acting based on her love for her family and trust in God, rather than allowing the pain of loss to overshadow her hope for the future. Her story reminds us to turn to the Lord in every sorrow and trust that He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

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