7 Writing Tips from Brett McCracken

Since I enjoy podcasts and I enjoy writing, it’s not a shock that I enjoy podcasts about writing. One of my favorites is the Home Row podcast, hosted by J.A. Medders.

Brett McCracken (author and editor at The Gospel Coalition) was the guest on a recent episode. Toward the end of the episode, Medders asked McCracken for his best writing advice. The advice was so good, I thought I’d jot it down here. To get the full explanation behind each nugget, listen to the episode! (The advice starts around the 29 minute mark.)

  1. Good writers are good readers. Read a lot, and read broadly.
  2. Be curious about the world. Expose yourself to all sorts of inspiration.
  3. Make interesting and unexpected connections.
  4. The habit of writing is essential. Find daily rhythms of writing.
  5. A good piece of writing is made in the editing process.
  6. Be unexpected in your ideas and your writing.
  7. Avoid the hot take. Take a considered approach; don’t rush to be the first to say something.
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Six Woes from Jesus Reveal His Perfection

It’s easy for modern Christians to scoff at the Pharisees. In the Gospels, they appear mean, petty, and vindictive. 

Let’s be careful, though. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day, enjoying and abusing their power and prestige. Today’s church leaders face these same temptations. 

But it’s not just leaders who need Jesus’s warnings. The Pharisees were honored in the first century, so those who weren’t Pharisees respected them. Therefore, at least some of the qualities Jesus rebuked in the Pharisees were present in the common synagogue member. If Jesus’s criticisms would have stung the average Jewish citizen back then, all Christians today should give full attention to his critiques. 

Six Woes From Jesus 

In Luke 11:37–54, we read some harsh words from Jesus. He was invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee, and the issue of pre-meal washing came up. Jesus offered this stinging rebuke. 

Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. (Luke 11:39–41

Christians know that Jesus was perfect, but we seldom explore the details of his perfection. In this passage, Jesus levels six woes against the Pharisees and lawyers. As Jesus is the exact opposite of what he criticizes, we will see Jesus as the perfect religious leader and teacher. 

Woe #1: Tithing 

The first woe concerns the Pharisees and their tithes: 

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Luke 11:42

It’s an absurd picture—these socially powerful men gathered around a scale, removing a precise portion of garden herbs. And those hearts that cared deeply about the weight of mint cared little for God or neighbor.  

Jesus was just the opposite. His entire mission was defined by justice and the love of God. His love for his Father compelled him in his quest to save sinners. Our holy God wanted to dwell with sinful people, and that could not happen without his just wrath aimed at those sins. Jesus came—as the perfect man—to solve this problem. 

Woe #2: Reputation 

In the second woe, Jesus focused on the Pharisees’ desire for acclaim and recognition. 

Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. (Luke 11:43

As often happens with those in high positions, the Pharisees twisted the honor due to a leader into a hunger for praise. They were eager for people to flatter them and exalt them in religious and social settings. 

Though Jesus deserved the seat of honor, he faced derision and scorn. He did not seek out popularity but associated with the lowly. And his earthly life ended in the shame of a bogus trial and a gruesome death. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death (Philippians 2:8) so that his people might be rescued and exalted.

Make no mistake, one day everyone will see Jesus in the best seat—his throne—but during his earthly ministry he sacrificed his own comfort, ego, and reputation for others. 

Woe #3: Uncleanness 

Jesus’s final woe against the Pharisees was the most severe:

Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it. (Luke 11:44

According to Jewish law, anyone who came into contact with a dead body or a grave was unclean (Numbers 19:11, 16). Since Pharisees were devoted to ceremonial cleanness, Jesus’s image of them was horrifying. 

The mercy and power of Jesus are seen in sharp contrast to this picture. By his touch, Jesus made unclean people clean! (See Matthew 8:1–4, for example.) 

Woe #4: Heavy Burdens 

After the first three woes, Jesus focused on the lawyers in the crowd:

Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46

It’s easy to see Jesus on the opposite side of this coin:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30

The burden of following Jesus is one of dying to oneself. But this yoke is easy in view of the burden Jesus bore for sinners.  

Woe #5: The Blood of the Prophets 

This fifth woe is the hardest of the six to decipher (Luke 11:47–51). Jesus condemned the lawyers for building the tombs of the prophets, the same prophets whom their fathers killed. “So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers” (Luke 11:48).

Jesus goes on to say that “the blood of all the prophets…may be charged against this generation” (Luke 11:50). 

If the lawyers approved of the death of the prophets, then they opposed the greatest prophet ever—the one standing before them. All the law and prophets pointed to Jesus, and the lawyers, who were supposed to be experts in the Scriptures, ignored these signposts. Because they despised the Son of God, their generation was guilty. 

Woe #6: The Key of Knowledge 

What is the goal of Scripture if not to point people to God? 

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52

Jesus called people to follow him and worship the Father. He sought his Father’s presence and wanted the door to his Father’s house flung open for many. Jesus used the key of knowledge—understanding the nature and will of God—to bring people to God. 

3 Applications 

As we move from condemning the Pharisees to commending Jesus, we must realize the demands this passage makes on us. As people who are loved, saved, and secured by God, how should we respond? 

  • Don’t neglect your heart. It’s tempting to focus on our appearance, but God knows and cares about our hearts. He who made the outside also made the inside. 
  • Don’t mistake religious practice for love. We are often so consumed with the details of church activities that we miss the larger point. We should be giving, praying, serving, worshiping, and reading, but we must not neglect justice or the love of God. 
  • Invite others to God. The church is not a club or secret society, and the knowledge of God should be used to gather people, not scatter them.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.

Photo credit

Singing Is An Act of Faith

hymnal

Singing is a big part of the Christian life. We sing several times each Sunday, and we read of singing throughout the Bible. Christians are musical people.

When viewed from outside the church, however, all this singing is weird. There’s no other part of life—except, perhaps, birthday parties—that involves as much singing as Christianity.

I notice this whenever we have an official ceremony at Washington & Jefferson College, where I teach. Most of these ceremonies end with the alma mater, a song written to express one’s undying loyalty to and affection for the school. (Most colleges have such a song.) The music begins and everyone stares at the program. If not for the student singers up front, there wouldn’t be much to hear. For those who don’t sing outside the shower, it is a strange moment. I’m supposed to sing these words? To a tune? With my mouth? It’s no wonder most students (and faculty) end up mouthing the words or standing in disinterested silence.

Why We Don’t Sing

For Christians, singing is simply part of the deal.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1–2)

Paul commands the church to sing as well—see Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18–20. He connects this command to thankfulness, being filled with the Spirit, and “making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Singing is part of the way we glorify God as his body.

But, let’s face it. Not many of us are born singers. We are grateful for the word “noise” in the phrase “joyful noise.” We naturally make comparisons, and we feel awkward singing when our skills fall so far short of the worship leaders or soloists in church.

And beyond the lack of talent, singing exposes us. We put ourselves at risk when we sing; there’s nowhere to hide. Those near us hear our wrong notes, missed beats, and bad pronunciation. To avoid embarrassment, we sometimes decide to make a joyful noise internally.

Why We Sing

However, our obedience to God’s command to sing doesn’t depend on our ability. God doesn’t only want singing from the choir.

Think of an analogy. We wouldn’t leave giving, praying, Bible reading, caring for orphans and widows, or loving neighbors only to those who were naturally gifted. If a friend confronted us with the Biblical command not to gossip, we wouldn’t respond, “Oh, it’s okay—I’m just not very good at not gossiping!”

We’re not called to sing because we’re great singers. We sing because God is great and greatly to be praised! And, by God’s design, one of the chief ways we praise him is through song. He is worthy of our song, so we sing!

And as we sing, especially for those not naturally gifted, we exercise faith.

As we open our mouths to sing, we must believe the truth that God is pleased with us. We trust that because of Jesus’s work for us, our Father loves us and wants to hear our voices. Because he is good and tender and faithful, he won’t turn away if we can’t carry a tune.

In a world where we rely on our senses and instincts, this will take some adjustment. We must believe the Bible over our impulse to hide. We need to trust God that our relationship with him does not depend on our performance.

Jesus, the Perfect Singer

If we’re commanded to sing, and if Jesus has perfectly obeyed every command for us, then Jesus is a singer. In fact, he’s the best singer ever.

Think of your favorite hymn or praise song. Or think of the Psalms, most of which were written to be sung in worship by the people of Israel. Jesus has sung and continues to sing these songs of praise to God! His praise to God is perfect, and that obedient praise is credited to us. This is the good news of the gospel!

So when you stand to sing at church this week, don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about your skill. Open your mouth and make your melody, trusting that God loves and accepts you on the basis of his perfect son.

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:1–2)

Post Credit, Photo Credit

Jesus Did Not Come to Bring Peace on Earth

fire

It’s too late for this year. But if you’re looking for a Bible verse for next year’s Christmas card, I have a suggestion.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)

Your card is sure to be a hit, though it may get you disinvited from some parties.

What About the Angels?

In seriousness, this passage in Luke 12 raises some difficult questions. We’re used to reading and singing about “peace on earth” at Christmas. And for good reason!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13–14)

As we read closely, we see that the angels were praising God and praying as well. They both sought and heralded peace on earth among those with whom God is pleased. So, the angels weren’t declaring an immediate, universal peace with the arrival of Jesus, but they were calling for a peace among his people.

Because the birth of Jesus was a definitive, declarative step in the victory of God, and because this victory brings believers peace with God, peace among God’s people is possible. We can rest in our acceptance by God, our common adopted status as his sons and daughters. We can stop tearing each other down and start building each other up. We can love each other as brothers and sisters.

Not Now But Later

I read that portion of Luke 12 and I think, Why not, Jesus?

Why didn’t Jesus come to bring peace on earth? There’s a deep part of me—maybe it’s within everyone—that cries out for true peace on earth. Now.

But Jesus came to bring division.

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49–53)

Jesus’s “baptism”—likely his crucifixion—will kindle a fire. That fire will bring division based on allegiance and worship, and these fault lines will shoot through households and families.

Sons and daughters of the king will necessarily divide from those outside the kingdom. We love and work and sing and pray and plead for our neighbors, but eventually everyone’s heart follows their treasure.

But among God’s children, there should not be such division: “Peace among those with whom God is pleased.” Though peace will come imperfectly, it should come.

In this aspect as in many others, the church points ahead. We have God’s presence with us now, but we will have it fully in the age to come. We understand dimly now as we look forward to crystal clarity. And we aim now for the peace that will one day extend in all directions, forever.

No Peace for Jesus

We long for that future day without death or pain or any sign of the curse (Rev 22:3). It is coming as surely as the sun rises. But it comes at a cost. We will have peace because Jesus had none.

During his earthly ministry, life for Jesus was chaotic. He had nowhere to stay, no one who understood him, and a growing crowd of accusers. His life ended with betrayal, loneliness, pain, and disgrace.

But most peace comes through conflict. The peace that Jesus secured for us came through the anguish of the cross. God the Father focused his wrath against Jesus, who stood in our place. We can have peace now in part, and we can look forward to perfect peace, because Jesus knew no peace on earth.

Christmas Cheer

The reason for Jesus’s birth doesn’t lend itself to foil-stamped greeting cards. The Incarnation wasn’t about warmly-lit, soft-focused images to make people feel cozy.

But it was about love. It was about peace.

Remember Jesus’s purpose this season. He came to bring peace within the church, division with the world, and a sure hope that sustains us until he returns.


Photo Credit: raquel raclette (2017), public domain

 

Thank You, God, for Failure

old-bus

Thank you, God, for my failures. I do not like to fail, but I trust you use my failures for good in me.

In my failure, I realize how much I need help. So often I fail because I barrel into a task or project on my own. Thank you for reminding me of my limitations and for providing every droplet of assistance I need.

In my failure, I see my vulnerability and sin. I recognize my selfish choices, my blind spots, and the categories I didn’t even know existed. Thank you for pointing out my mistakes and for forgiving me as your child.

In my failure, I recognize the opportunity to grow. In my pride I often think I am wise and strong. Thank you for the chance to continue being human, to learn about your world and to gain abilities in it.

In my failure, I see the opportunity to identify with others who fail. Though I am prone to push other people away by boasting in my success, you are equipping me to help and talk with those who struggle. Thank you for your presence with me—and in me—that allows me to be a presence to others.

In my failure, I see an accurate picture of myself. No one fails at everything, but we hit the ground more often than the bullseye. Thank you for Jesus, who always hit the mark. Thank you for the gracious exchange of the gospel, in which he took my sin and gave me his righteousness. Thank you that every failure is a reminder of your patient mercy toward your children.


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Photo Credit: Pablo García Saldaña (2015), public domain

Amplify the Power of the Sermon in Your Life

amplifier

During his earthly ministry, Jesus had a lot to say! He comforted some people, exhorted others, and preached far and wide about the kingdom of God. One of the brilliant aspects of Jesus’ preaching was the vibrant images he used.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24–27)

For disciples of Jesus, hearing him is only our first step. What happens after hearing makes all the difference. What produces an unshakable life that stands on a rock-solid foundation is hearing followed by obedience. Without obedience, we will be washed away in the storm.

I’ve often tried to apply this warning to my personal Bible study. But I’ve missed another obvious context for applying this passage.

The Sunday Sermon

I suspect that, as a people, we do not heed Jesus’ warning with regard to the preaching we hear at church. We pay little attention to the weekly sermon outside of Sunday. For some, the sermon only comes up over lunch as a way to praise or criticize the preacher.

Yet God, through his ministers, puts his Word in front of us every week. Pastors put in long, difficult hours during the week to study, pray, and prepare the sermon. They think carefully about what the Bible says and what their congregation needs to hear.

If we routinely forget the Sunday sermon by Monday morning, I fear we are building our houses on sand. The preacher must interpret God’s Word rightly, explain it clearly, and help the congregation understand it—but then we must build our house on the rock.

Are we doing after hearing the Word?

One Way to Build Your House on the Rock

I’ve been neglecting this area for too long. And with the help of a friend from church, I’ve been working toward change. Here’s one way I’m learning to build my house on the rock that I hope will inspire you to do the same.

My friend and I take one day each week to pray about the issues raised in the previous sermon. For me, this has produced rich prayer times, full of conviction and thanksgiving. Here is a description of our practice, which you might apply with your spouse, friend, or children.

1. Take notes during the sermon.

We capture the preacher’s outline of the passage along with the main interpretive points. We write down applications. I’ll also record any questions the passage raised for me.

2. Prepare the prayer guide.

On Sunday or Monday, while the sermon is still fresh in our minds, one of us will take their sermon notes and produce a prayer guide. We include the Bible text and then five to ten ways to respond in prayer.

Sometimes the passage calls for praise, thanksgiving, or petitions. But we’ve also seen the need to remember what God has promised and to lament the state of our world, our city, and our own hearts. We ask God to show us our doubts, sins, biases, and unwillingness to obey. This leads to confession and pleas for God to change us.

While we talk with God as individuals and ask him to work in us personally, we also think about our church, our community, and our neighbors:

  • Where is there corporate disobedience?
  • How should we thank God for his broader work?
  • Where can we work to apply the gospel to these groups and the institutions that affect them?
  • How can our church respond?

3. Pray.

We usually pray on Wednesdays. We pray with and for each other, using the prayer guide, throughout the day. (This practice also pairs well with a day of fasting, but that’s a topic for another time.)

4. Follow up.

My friend and I haven’t taken this step yet, but it would close the loop nicely. Sometime after the prayer day, either over the phone or in person, talk with your friend, spouse, or children about the sermon again.

  • What did God show you during your time of prayer and reflection?
  • What are some ways you were called to obey?
  • What implications do you see for your church?

Don’t Forget Jesus

Jesus is the key to all biblical interpretation. If you’re trying to understand a passage without the work of Christ in mind, you’ll probably miss the point (see Luke 24:25–27).

But Jesus is also the key to biblical application! We cannot claim that we have been saved by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus and then insist that our obedience or spiritual growth will come because of our own effort or discipline or zeal (see Galatians 3:3).

All of our application must find its purpose and power in the work of Jesus. So when my friend and I apply God’s Word to our lives with this exercise, we try to remember these four truths.

1. Obedience is not optional. In addition to what we have seen above, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

2. Obedience is impossible on our own, apart from the Holy Spirit. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16).

3. Obedience will not make God love us more. (Neither will disobedience make him love us less.) We are perfectly loved by God our Father; thus we obey.

4. Our obedience will be imperfect, because of our mixed motives and uneven desires. We will always need the finished, perfect obedience of Jesus to please God. And this is exactly what is credited to Christians by faith!

When we focus on application, it’s easy to think exclusively about discipline, methods, and details. But we must view all of our repentance and obedience in the light of Jesus’ work.

Let’s Get to Work

Not every sermon will be a five-star masterpiece, but God will use our every encounter with his Word for his good purposes (Isaiah 55:10–11).

In the sermon, God gives you a passage of Scripture each week upon which to meditate. Then he invites you to build. Brick by brick, board by board, come away from the sand and construct your house on the rock.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Kai Oberhäuser (2016), public domain

 

After Many Years

stars

The gravity of our bond keeps us
spinning, orbiting.
But we move no closer.

Our space cold, familiar.
Path-worn answers to ancient questions.
The pressure flattens words to dark silence.

Light from only one direction.


Note: I submitted this “short poem” (less than 40 words) for a contest run by Fathom Magazine for their latest issue. My poem wasn’t selected, but I had so much fun writing it that I thought I’d publish it here anyway.


Photo Credit: Denis Degioanni (2018), public domain

 

Good News for Husbands

couple

God does not make demands without supplying grace.

In our last article, we studied Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5 that husbands must “love their wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is a serious, heavy responsibility, focused on the wife’s spiritual growth (v. 27).

But in the midst of this command, we read that it is Christ’s mission to “present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” As a husband who falls far short of this mandate to love, I need this encouragement. Though I may fail to give myself up for my wife’s sanctification, I can be sure that Jesus gave himself up for mine!

As Christ Loves the Church

We have, however, only explored half of Paul’s instruction for husbands. First, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Then, he says husbands must also love their wives as Christ loves the church.

The key section of the passage is Ephesians 5:28–30:

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body.

To apply this passage, we must consider two distinct but related questions: How do humans love their own bodies? And, How does Christ love the church?

As Your Own Body

Fortunately, we need not consider all possible ways a man cares for his body, for Paul speaks of nourishing and cherishing in verse 29.

Paul uses the word for “nourishes” later in the context of raising children to maturity (Ephesians 6:4). And the word for “cherishes” is translated as “tenderly cares” in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, where Paul describes his gentleness among the people.

So, how does a man care for his body? He nourishes his body by feeding and providing for it, through exercise, sleep, and nutrition. He strengthens and equips it. He cherishes his body by cleaning it, protecting it, and giving attention to any wounds or weaknesses.

Not all of these descriptions translate to the marriage relationship, but some do.

Just As Christ Does the Church

Christians often hear what Jesus has done for his people in history—and rightly so! His birth, life, obedience, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension are glorious and essential.

But we don’t often recall the ways that Jesus cares for his church today. This is what Paul points to in Ephesians 5:29 when he uses the present tense, and we are to use this example, in part, to learn obedience as husbands.

Paul has not left us in the dark about Christ’s present care for the church. Consider what he has already written in Ephesians:

1. In Christ, we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is a pledge of our inheritance (1:13–14). Jesus gives us his promise and points to the glorious future we will share with him.

2. God has put all things in subjection under Jesus’ feet, who has been given as head over all things to the church (1:20–23). Jesus is the supreme ruler, governing all things for the good of his body.

3. We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jesus has broken down the wall that divided Israelites from Gentiles. These are written in the past tense, but here is the present truth: Jesus is our peace. The reality of the ascended Jesus means we currently have peace with God; we are not excluded (2:11–16).

4. Because of Jesus, we have present-day access to God (2:18).

5. We are God’s household, growing into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:19–22).

6. Paul prays that Christ would dwell in the Ephesians’ hearts by faith, so that they “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [they] may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (3:18–19). Christ’s presence gives a supernatural knowledge of his immense love, which fills us up to the fullness of God.

7. Christ has given gifts to the church (apostles, prophets, etc.) to equip the saints for the work of service. Since these gifts include pastors and teachers, this is a present-day work of Jesus, helping us grow in unity, knowledge, maturity, and love (4:11–16).

There are other ways that Jesus loves his church — in particular, he prays and advocates for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). Isn’t his love for us lavish? Overflowing? Tender and generous?

So should a husband’s love be for his wife.

What Tender Love Looks Like

From these descriptions, we can make some practical conclusions about the ways a husband should love his wife.

Each husband must nourish and cherish his wife; this has physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Because each marriage is unique, instead of giving universal suggestions I have provided a list of questions for husbands to consider.

  • Are you tending to your wife’s health? Do you pray for her physical, emotional, and spiritual vitality? As much as it depends on you, are you working to provide for her in these areas? Do you talk with her about them?
  • In areas of weakness for your wife, are you tender? Does she have confidence that you are for her, protecting and covering and nurturing her, eager for her growth and flourishing?
  • Do you know the best ways to pray for her? Do you pray regularly and fervently for her?
  • Do you value her? Does she know how much you value her? Do you celebrate the woman she is and the woman she is becoming?
  • Do you give her gifts that let her know you love her? Do you make arrangements to share special times and make memories together?

Good News for Husbands

I love the way Paul injects hope into his commands. There is difficult work here for husbands, but there is so much good news too.

Remember—Jesus nourishes and cherishes the church. He does this not simply out of obligation or command, but because we are members of his body. In the same way that a man and woman become one flesh in marriage, so it is with Christ and the church.

Out of the overflow of infinite love, God the Father sent his Son to rescue his people. Because of the work of the Son in history, we are now joined to him—in love—forever.

Husbands, love your wives. Nourish and cherish her as your own body. Do so knowing that, as part of the church, Christ loves you with a tender, unbreakable, unending love. And in that love and strength you will be able to love your wife.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Anne Edgar (2016), public domain

 

Husbands, Love Your Wives

couple

I’m a deep sleeper, so it’s unusual for me to see the clock at 2:00 a.m. As my brain shook off the fog I heard the call again. “Mo-mmy! Da-ddy!” I grabbed my glasses and headed for the door.

My daughter had a nightmare. This happens about once a month, so we both know the routine. We prayed, focused on happier thoughts, and turned on some music. She slid back to sleep within minutes.

I can’t say I love these wakeup calls, but they provide a reflex test for my heart. When I know I should get up, will I hesitate? Will I wait for another call, hoping my wife will get up instead? Or will I take this small opportunity to give of myself?

Christ’s Love for the Church

At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul lays out a stunning picture of human marriage. He concludes, “this mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). In sum, the command to wives is to respect their husbands; and husbands, to love their wives (v. 33).

Paul’s command to husbands in this letter is two-fold. He first tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Paul then tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (vv. 28–29).

We’ll explore the first part of Paul’s teaching in this article. In a later article, the second command will be addressed.

A Word to Non-Husbands

Men make up less than half the church, and not all men are husbands. Is this passage relevant for everyone?

If you are not currently a husband, I hope you will continue reading. This passage in Ephesians will remind you of the love of Jesus for the Church—for you—and will instruct you how to pray for, encourage, and support those who fulfill this role. And, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

A Husband’s Aim

Ephesians 5:25-27 says:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Christ’s aim for his church is a husband’s aim for his wife—her sanctification. “Sanctify” is just a fancy word meaning “set apart for God’s intended purpose.” God’s plan is to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (v. 27).

Husbands are to labor for the holiness and purity of their wives, just like Christ labors for the purity of his church. This means a godly husband will prioritize his wife’s spiritual growth. How can he practically do this?

Each husband should consider some serious questions about his wife on a regular basis:

  • In what areas is her relationship with God strong? Where is it weak?
  • What brings her the greatest joy?
  • What battles with sin does she face? Where does she encounter discouragement, doubt, fear, or despair?
  • What care, help, or wisdom does she need from me?

Husbands are commanded to “live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7), meaning they should strive to understand and get to know their wives. Through all of these inquiries, it’s vital that the husband makes his wife a priority, not a project. Love should make no one feel like the target of an investigation.

The answers to some of these questions will come through conversation and simple listening. Other answers will come through experience, advice, and the leading of the Spirit.

Sanctification may seem like a lofty goal, but Paul gives one simple, all-encompassing means to achieve it. Husbands must give themselves up for their wives (vv. 1, 25). This is a broad command begging for specific explanation and illustration.

Give Up Yourself

What does it look like for a husband to give himself up in order to sanctify his wife? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because each person and each marriage is different.

The basic principle is that the husband should set aside what he values to help his wife value most what is most valuable—God himself. As someone has said: “A husband must be willing not only to die for his wife but also to live for her.”

Consider this short list of suggestions, offered to help each husband think specifically about how to lay down his life for his wife.

  • Give up early mornings to read and study the Bible with your wife. Help each other make specific applications for that day.
  • Give up devotional time to pray for her; pray with her.
  • Give up your time and perhaps your finances to encourage the cultivation and expression of her God-given gifts.
  • Give up your comfort to gently correct her from God’s Word, lest she be found with “spot or wrinkle” (v. 27). (Invite this correction of yourself, too!)
  • Encourage her to spend time with her friends. Assume the necessary responsibilities and burdens to make this happen.
  • Affirm her talents, her sacrifices, and her contributions to your family on a regular basis.
  • Give up potential advancement or praise at work by spending time with her rather than at the office after hours.
  • Give up your preferences when finding a church for your family. Within the scope of Bible-preaching, Jesus-loving churches, seek out what would be the best fit for your wife. What will help her to grow?
  • Give up the comfort of being passive. Step into the leadership role God has given you within your family (1 Corinthians 11:3). In love, serve your wife by making plans, asking questions, and stepping out in front in ways that will bless her.

Not Just an Analogy

Paul uses a husband’s love for his wife as an example and explanation in this passage. But we must not miss the glorious truth contained in this analogy!

Jesus gave himself up for the church. He lost his comfort, his friends, his position, his time, his dignity, and he lost his life in a gruesome, humiliating display on the cross.

And because of his resurrection, one day Jesus will present the church to himself “in splendor”, without any spot or wrinkle at all. This gives me tremendous hope! When I look at myself and the church around me, I see lots of spots and wrinkles, lots of blemishes, and lots of evidence that we still need to be sanctified.

But let’s raise our eyes and see what Christ has done in his love for his Bride. He sacrificed himself making the one-time cleansing for her sin, but also secured and provided the power for her ongoing change. Jesus is committed to his holy church—to making her holy. You might think we have a ways to go, but make no mistake—the sanctified church is a certainty.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)

This is good news for Christians, including husbands who fail to love, fail to give of themselves, and fail to joyfully labor for the sanctification of their wives. The church of God has a heavenly husband who provides all the forgiveness and power we need to joyfully lay down our lives for our wives as he laid down his life for us.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez (2016), public domain

 

The Man With Two Names: How Jesus is the Fulfillment of Immanuel

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We celebrate and sing the name “Immanuel” at Christmas, and rightly so. “Immanuel” means “God with us,” and in one sense this is the story of the entire Bible. It is certainly the story of Advent.

But a Bible search for the word “Immanuel” doesn’t return many results. Aside from its appearance in Matthew 1, we only find this name twice in the early chapters of Isaiah.

Matthew 1

When the angel of the Lord visits Joseph in Matthew 1, he tells Joseph to name Mary’s baby Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Matthew comments:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (vv. 22–23)

Since “all this” which took place must include the angel revealing Jesus’ name to Joseph, then the name “Jesus” fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy. But in Isaiah’s prophecy, the son would be called “Immanuel.”

This passage raises a question: How does the name “Jesus” fulfill the prophecy that this son would be named “Immanuel”?

Isaiah 7

We need some background before we land on an answer. After King Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel splintered. The 10 northern tribes formed their own country with the capital of Samaria. This country was then referred to as “Israel” while the two southern tribes formed the country called “Judah.”

During the time of Isaiah, the Assyrian empire was gaining power, and the other nations in the area were scrambling. Israel joined Syria in a pact of mutual defense against Assyria, and they pressed Judah to join them. As Ahaz, king of Judah, resisted, Israel and Syria threatened to attack Judah and replace Ahaz with their own king.

Isaiah 7:10–17 is one of the best-known passages in all the Prophets. God told Ahaz to ask for a sign that God would protect Judah from their enemies. Ahaz refused, so God promised his own sign—the sign of Immanuel.

We know that the prophecy about the virgin bearing a son (v. 14) is fulfilled when Jesus is born. Matthew says so! But many biblical prophecies have both immediate and ultimate fulfillments. Is this prophecy fulfilled before Jesus is born?

Isaiah reveals the answer as we read on. One key is that the Hebrew word often translated “virgin” can also be rendered “young woman” or “maiden.” Thus, a miraculous birth is not necessary for an immediate fulfillment. Verse 16 also contains language pointing to a not-long-from-now fulfillment. And the beginning of the next chapter brings this first fulfillment into focus.

Isaiah 8

In Isaiah 8:1–8 we read of the way God will bring about his thorough judgment.

One of the striking features of this passage is the strangeness of Isaiah’s son’s name: Maher-shalal-hash-baz (v. 4). This name means “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens.” Through this name God was communicating his plan to break the Israel-Syria alliance by the coming of Assyria.

Isaiah was used to giving his children names with messages. In Isaiah 7:3, God told Isaiah to take his (older) son Shear-jashub with him to speak to Ahaz. This name means “a remnant shall return.” This son carried his name as a reassuring message to Ahaz, designed to give him confidence in God.

It’s impossible to miss the parallels between Isaiah 7:16 and Isaiah 8:4. The birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz is tied to the victory of Assyria over Israel and Syria. As Immanuel comes, Judah will be free from the immediate threat of these nearby nations.

But how should we understand the meaning of “Immanuel” in Isaiah 8:8?

Even when defeat looks near and the Assyrian army is filling the land, it is still Immanuel’s land. God will not abandon his people, even in their darkest hour. Assyria will come in like a flood, sweeping Syria and Israel away. But Assyria will eventually fade from history. Judah will remain in the land of Immanuel. God will be with them.

There is one final mention of Immanuel in this chapter. Though not a title, Isaiah specifically refers to “God with us” in verse 10:

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
speak a word, but it will not stand,
for God is with us. (Isaiah 8:9–10)

Isaiah was speaking to those who would attack Judah in the future. He dared them and warned them that they would be broken and shattered. The reason all their counsel will come to nothing and none of their words will stand is because God is with them.

Putting It Together

What does this background to the name “Immanuel” add to our reading of Matthew 1?

“Immanuel” in Isaiah is a sign for God’s people that they will see victory over their enemies. Despite the doom and devastation, God will be with them, and they will be victorious. Isaiah’s son was a first, imperfect version of Immanuel, pointing to God’s victory over military enemies through his presence.

Notice how the announcement to Joseph fulfills this prophecy. Jesus will “save his people from their sins.” For God’s people then and for us now, our sins are an enemy. They are worse than any menacing country. We are no match for them on our own, and we dare not make peace or an alliance with these scoundrels.

Sometimes our sins seem overwhelming and damnable. These rise to our necks and threaten to drown us—

But Jesus is Immanuel, God with us! He will save us from our sins!

For those who trust in him, he has taken away the punishment our sins deserve. And he will strip our sins of their power over us, taking away their allure, appeal, and longevity.

The more we see the strength and rebellion of our sin, the more we see the glory and love involved in the work of Jesus for us. He is God with us, and this is good news worth celebrating, not just at Christmas but all year long.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Aaron Burden (2016), public domain