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Article with videos clip on parenting at the Desiring God website.



The Heart of Christian Husbanding

The first of two parts of the fruit of interviews I did with the Desiring God website is now posted on line. There you will find insights on husbanding in written and short video form. You can access this at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-heart-of-christian-husbanding .


The Seriousness Of Making Accusations And Breaking Covenant Commitments

May 2009

Note: Ajith is on leave writing a preaching commentary of Deuteronomy. This is an excerpt from that.

An Exposition of Deuteronomy 22:19

Ajith Fernando

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 describes how the people must react if a man who does not like the woman he marries and makes accusations of promiscuity following their first night together. This may have been a common occurrence because, in those days of arranged marriages, men sometimes met their brides for the first time on their wedding day. If the accusations are true, the woman is to be stoned to death. If they are not true, the man must be punished for making false accusations against his bride. He is to be whipped and made to pay a fine to his father-in-law, “because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel” (22:19a).

The point here is that a man cannot get away with making false accusations against his bride. Sadly, however, usually when an accusation of a sexual nature is made against another—especially a Christian—it spreads like wildfire, and it is very difficult to contain the spread even if it us totally untrue. Sometimes when a woman accuses a man of improper behaviour towards her, he tries to negate the accusations by insinuating she is an immoral person, so that she is the offender, not him. I heard the story about a successful pastor who had to leave the ministry because his secretary accused him of impropriety. The church ruled that the accusations were true and he had to resign. Several years later, she admitted that she was the one who had tried to be intimate with the pastor and not vice versa. The accusations were her angry response to his rejection of her advances.

We should not tolerate false accusations; and must adopt careful procedures to determine whether an accusation is true or false. The severity of the punishment prescribed here is intended to be a deterrent to spreading slanderous stories about people and also a just sentence for the wrong done. Today we hardly subject to discipline people in the church who slander others. Perhaps by adopting such disciplinary processes we can minimize the circulation of unsubstantiated slanderous stories in the church. I think the command about false witness is one of the least kept commands among the Ten Commandments in the church today.

After mentioning the punishment to be given to the man, the law goes on to say, “And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days” (22:19b). Many today would react to this statement with shock and incredulity. Why should a man be forced to live until death with a woman he “hates” (22:13)? Should not the couple divorce because they are so incompatible? Incompatibility seems to be almost universally accepted grounds for divorce today. Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth made popular the idea that incompatibility can be a plus point in a marriage. Billy Graham once described the secret of their more than 60-year marriage saying, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.” Chuck and Barb Snyder, who describe themselves as “the world’s most opposite couple,” have written a helpful book, Incompatibility: Still Grounds for a Great Marriage, which, they say, explains “how they have survived almost 50 years of marriage—and enjoyed the journey.”

When a couple marries, they make a solemn covenant before God and human witnesses to be faithful to each other until they die. That is a serious undertaking. If people keep breaking their covenant commitments, we are going to end up with a very insecure society when no one trusts anyone and authentic community life becomes extinct. Sadly, this seems to have happened, and the world is filled with insecure, unhappy and restless people—missing the enriching “life in community” that God intended for them. The idea of lasting commitment has gone out of fashion. When people find their church does not meet their particular needs (incompatibility?) they move to another church—forgetting that the key to their church membership is not their needs but the fact that they have become part of that body. Imagine a body having to amputate its members all the time. Today’s church hopping culture has made the body metaphor for the church very difficult to sustain!

The Christian ethos of commitment comes from the way God deals with us. God clings to us with patience when we fail him, and the Bible implies that we need to be patient with people just as he was with us. The New Testament Epistles use the noun usually used for “patience with individuals” four times to describe God’s patience with humans. Then the Epistles use this noun and the corresponding verb to describe the believer’s patience with people fifteen times (six and nine times respectively). So we are to be patience just as God was patient with us. There is another word group, which is generally used for “endurance amidst difficult circumstances,” which appears thirty-one times in the Epistles to refer to the endurance that Christians must have. Patience, then, is clearly a vital feature in the Christian lifestyle. And a key aspect of that is commitment to people, expressed in patience with their faults and weaknesses. Colossians 3:13 asks us to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. That is also the point of Jesus parable of the king and the two servants who owed him money (Matt. 18:21-35).

This commitment to people—expressed in patience with their weaknesses and failures—finds its fullest expression in marriage. Christians do not practice this commitment only by stoically clinging to an unhappy and gloomy marriage out of an obligation to be faithful to vows made at the wedding. The Christian view of patience is much more positive, and it is based on the belief that God turns everything to good (Rom. 8:28). We are patient with people because that is the best possible thing to do. If the Old Testament is any indication of what a “good” family is, then joy is an important feature of the marriage relationship. When Christians exercise patience with their spouses, they are fired by an ambition to see their family life joyful just as God intended it to be. They know that God can help them to achieve this joy.

With such ambition, Christians exercise patience as part of a concerted effort to work at improving their marriage relationship. This is expressed, for example, in Paul’s advice: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Paul is talking about sacrificial commitment to the spouse. Couples can make such commitments if they view the solemn marriage vows they made before God as vows that have to be kept no matter what happens.

Over the years, I have worked with a few couples who have looked like they were very incompatible to each other. Some had come from dysfunctional backgrounds, which had left serious psychological scars in their personalities. At times, it looked like there was no hope of salvaging these marriages. However, as they persevered in obedience to God and with an ambition to make their marriages work, I have seen them emerge with beautiful testimonies to how the sufficient grace of God helped them forge stable marriage relationships.

I am not saying that there is no place for divorce in the Christian church. We know that sometimes devout, holy Christians have to resort to divorce because of an impossible relationship in which one partner refuses to work towards a resolution. What I am saying is that far too many battles to save marriages are abandoned too early. God can make incompatible people happy as the quote from Billy Graham above has shown. However, for all this to make sense, we must first bring back to the thinking of Christians the utmost importance of commitment as a key Christian value. As Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6)


Why Go Through a Wedding Service?

A Response to a Question Asked Via E-mail

Question: I have a question. I have just been thinking about it. Now since my fiancé and I have already made a commitment to each other before God, to devote ourselves to each other till death do us part, what difference would a marriage (wedding) make? Is it only a public statement of our devotion? Is it following biblical command? What else is it?

Answer: The marriage relationship of all couples comes under a lot of fire and strain with time. This is why there are so many divorces. So society and God have devised ways to affirm its permanence and the responsibilities that go with it. There are some very strong and binding vows that are made at the wedding service. They are made before God, and the covenant of marriage is a three-fold bond; with God, the bride and the bridegroom as the participants. At any time prior to making these vows and covenant before God and the people of God, you can move out of the relationship. But once they are made the relationship is a permanent one.

It is sad that people today, perhaps knowing the responsibilities that go with a permanently binding tie, do not go to marriage but live together. Many people now have children and have been together for a long time without ever getting married. This is a precarious way to live, because there is always the option of stepping out of the relationship.

Contemporary culture is gradually moving out of holding to lifelong commitments. This is partly because it has downplayed the value of making covenants. Christianity is a religion of covenants. A covenant is a solemn public act made with witnesses (God’s people) and with the leader of God’s people that we are going to follow God or, in the case of a wedding, to be tied to one’s spouse, under God, in marriage. When you downplay the value of covenants, feelings are allowed to rule in relationships. And in the field of love feelings are notoriously difficult to understand. Feelings are never enough to sustain relationships on the long term. This is a huge challenge in this postmodern generation which gives a very high place to feelings and instincts, sometimes at the cost of binding commitments.

So God has put in place sacraments of covenant-related events to help burn into our minds the seriousness of the commitments we make, and to help us persevere during bleak times when the relationship comes under strain. Examples of such covenants are baptism, Holy Communion and the marriage ceremony.

There is a lot of security that comes within a covenant relationship. You have made a commitment under God to stick to the person “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and health; did death us do part.” God has set his seal on this relationship. He is committed to seeing you through. Then divorce is not an option. Instead you have the courage to face the problems and work for a solution knowing that God is bigger than the problem and that he is committed to helping find a solution to it. This gives a great freedom to the relationship. In the midst of the huge problems the couple face, they can affirm that God is committed to seeing them through. This helps them to think positively about their marriage despite the problems they face.

This positive attitude of security becomes the foundation for joy in the family. And joy is the greatest wealth that a family can have. Research has shown that married couples enjoy their sexual relationship more than cohabiting couples. This is because God created sex to be enjoyed within the context of a permanent relationship of people united in body, mind and spirit. When you have such a relationship you are free to give your whole being to your spouse. The result of such total self-giving is the freedom to fully enjoy each other sexually.

Of course, there are exceptional cases when people are so stubborn and refuse to turn from their wicked ways when divorce may be a last resort. But I believe that these days people are opting for this far too soon. They are ignoring the fact that they have made a vow before God to stick to their spouse for better, for worse. That awareness would make them patiently battle for a resolution to the problems. A suffering spouse would persevere in prayer over an errant spouse longing for God to do a miracle and change him or her. The history of the church is full of stories of such change taking place.

As people are taking the marriage tie too lightly, these days it is very important to emphasise the seriousness of vows made before God. There is so much attention given these days to the clothes, the decorations, the music and the sermon in a wedding service, that few people view the covenant vows as the most important part of the wedding. God comes to the wedding make a covenant at the service and I fear he is ignored as we enjoy the clothes, the decorations, the music and the preaching. Indeed the music and the sermon are intended to honour God, and that is very important. But these are not the key to the wedding service. The covenant and the vows are the key.

So the wedding is a very important occasion created by God to affirm the seriousness of the marriage commitment and to give occasion for a covenant to be made with the accompanying binding vows. Events like the wedding service contribute to making our society the stable, secure and healthy place that God intends for it to be.