From The New Zealand Landscape
We enjoyed a family holiday in New Zealand last year. Most of our time was spent as tourists travelling around the countryside and admiring the scenery. While I took photographs and did some hiking, my wife made teddy bears and visited craft shops, and our teenage children socialized and did some in-line rollerskating whenever possible. We also renewed friendships with our relatives and other Christians.
In many areas of New Zealand white wooden crosses along the roadside mark the site of fatal accidents. These are memorials to those who have died, but they can also remind drivers of the dangers they face. For example, upon seeing a cross, drivers may check their speed and drive more carefully. Of course, vehicular accidents happen despite road safety campaigns and warning signs. Similarly, couples and families have accidents in life despite warnings in the Scriptures.
The landscape of New Zealand is characterized by mountains, lakes and sheep. These three features remind me of three things that healthy marriages and families need: enduring partnerships, power for each day, and Christian fellowship. We can also view these three needs as commitments – to our spouse, to God and to a local church.
New Zealand’s Southern Alps feature snow-capped peaks and glaciers. At Mount Cook National Park climbers prepared to scale the alpine peaks. Some advertised for climbing partners as the terrain was too dangerous to explore alone. Those climbing alpine mountains require reliable team mates and proper equipment. Connected by ropes for hours each day, this is not a place for weak commitment. In such situations, if you stopped and did your own thing you would be endangering yourself and others. In this way, climbing reminds me of marriage.
Paul referred to Titus as his “partner and fellow worker” (2 Cor. 8:23), which is an ideal description of the relationship between husband and wife. At times those who are married will need to depend on the endurance, strength and patience of the other partner. But if both are committed to Christ, then He is part of the team and promises to help through difficult circumstances (Mt. 11:28-30).
God invented marriage (Gen. 2:24-25), and Jesus endorsed the importance of marriage between one man and one woman when He said that no one should separate a couple that God has joined together (Mt. 19:4-8). Christians are commanded to always be faithful to their marriage partners (Heb. 13:4). This means that marriage is a lifelong commitment, which is consistent with God’s command that the love between a husband and wife be like that between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-23). Therefore it is wise to count the cost beforehand rather than to leap into such a commitment too quickly. Do not be deceived. The idea of a marriage only lasting as long as it “works” or until one finds a more attractive partner comes from Satan not from the Scriptures. Similarly, the idea of living together as a couple outside of marriage shows a lack of commitment to each other and lack of obedience to the Scriptures.
Two other great dangers that can destroy a marriage are sexual immorality and selfish ambition (Gal. 5:19-20). It is good to have ambitions as long as these are shared and agreed upon. But when little regard is held for the views and/or the welfare of the spouse, then the marriage is in danger of breakdown. Likewise sexual immorality or unfaithfulness always hurts the marriage relationship. One reason for this is that unfaithfulness to one’s spouse indicates unfaithfulness to God. Building a lasting, faithful partnership with your spouse improves your relationship with God as well as with each other.
Power For Each Day
New Zealand has many lakes that have formed as a result of volcanic and glacial activity. Much of the water in these lakes is harnessed to generate hydro-electric power. Because electricity cannot be stored, the power generated must, on a moment-by-moment basis, exactly match the power demanded.
Similarly, God’s power and strength for the believer cannot be stored; it needs to be available for use on a day-by-day basis. This power comes from the Holy Spirit as we participate in the divine nature (Acts 1:8; Eph. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). It relies on God-given faith, the truth of the Scriptures and prayer (Eph. 6:10-18).
In a Christian marriage the order of priority should be God first, spouse second and children third. Do not neglect your relationship with God as you need His divine power in your marriage and your family. Those who pray together are more likely to stay together. When both partners are committed to God, they have a solid foundation for their marriage. It also shows children what is really important in life.
According to the Old Testament, parents should remind their children daily about God’s promises and how He is working in their lives (Dt. 6:6-7). This can help children realize that God cares for them.
Our top priority should be to build a strong, lasting relationship with the Lord. Communicate with Him daily. Read and apply the Bible to your life. Ask God for guidance by praying about the needs in your marriage and family. Share the vision God has given you and help others in your family to develop their gifts. If God has put you together, then you should complement each other. He wants you to work together as a team in your mission for Him. Know what you are to do day by day and God will provide the power for you to do it.
New Zealand has lots of sheep. They are kept in flocks and follow one another as they move around the countryside. One day we spent about five minutes attempting to drive through a flock of sheep that was travelling on a road. This reminded me that God sees us as His sheep (Jn. 10:11; Heb. 13:20). He puts us in local churches (or flocks) because we need ongoing relationships with other believers. Just as children are to grow up within families, believers are to grow up within local churches.
The local church is where we are to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Th. 5:11). We are to talk regularly with local believers and not be isolated from them (Mal. 3:16). God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Likewise, neither couples nor families are meant to be isolated. Instead we should “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24-25). Unfortunately, some give up the habit of meeting collectively with other believers, which leads to a lack of mutual encouragement, and increases the likelihood of being deceived by sin and hardened against God (Rom. 1:12; Heb. 3:13).
Marriages fail when communication ceases and people who once worked together as partners begin to lead separate lives. Some believers also give up on Christian fellowship and choose to isolate themselves from other Christians. For various reasons they may drop out of the local church, not realizing the importance of ongoing fellowship for their spiritual health. Did you know that statistics show that married people are physically more healthy than unmarried people of similar circumstances? This research not only promotes marriage, but it also indicates the benefits of companionship and fellowship.
Some couples and families stop attending a local church when they move to another city. Since one of the purposes of marriage is to raise children to become believers (Mal. 2:15), if the family does not attend a local church, the children will miss out on Christian fellowship. It is clear from Scripture that parents should endeavor to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. For example Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers (2 Tim. 1:5) who passed on their “sincere faith” to him in such a way that it was evident to Paul. To hear that their children are “walking in the truth” should give parents great joy (2 Tim 2:2; 3 Jn. 4).
Communication of the Christian faith should begin in the home and be supported by the local church. Is your home used for Christian fellowship such as Bible study and prayer? When Peter was in prison “many people had gathered and were praying” in Mary’s house (Acts 12:12). This kind of home fellowship is a great witness to your children and to the community.
Couples and families should build lasting relationships in a local church. This means sharing your lives with your Christian brothers and sisters (Mt. 12:49-50; Jas. 2:15) and praying collectively about your situations and needs. Stay where you can experience spiritual growth; where there are those you can learn from and follow and those you can help and encourage. How can you expect to have a lasting relationship with God if you cannot have a lasting relationship with other Christians (1 Jn. 4:20-21)?
Healthy Marriages And Families
Hopefully, New Zealand’s mountains, lakes and sheep have reminded us of the foundations of strong marriages and families. The health of your marriage and family depends on the strength of your commitments to God, your spouse and believers in the local church. These are important in a day when it seems difficult for many to make and keep commitments.
Keeping your marriage together affects your spouse, children, co-workers, friends, neighbors, fellow Christians – your whole life!
We began this article by mentioning the white wooden crosses that mark the sites of auto accidents in New Zealand. You may drive carefully to survive, but do you live to survive? Don’t back out of your commitments. God doesn’t want you and yours to become another marriage/family accident statistic along life’s highway.
In the beginning God created the universe and it was excellent in every way. But Adam and Eve’s disobedience affected God’s creation. Today all creation groans with pain, and longs to be released from its slavery to decay and death, and to live in a world free from sin. In the future, God will judge the ungodly, as He did in Noah’s day, but this time by destroying His creation with fire not a flood. Then He has promised to replace it with a new creation that is perfect and free from sin (Gen. 9:15; 2 Pet. 3:7-13).
That’s the big picture of the material world made up of atoms and molecules that we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. It is essential for living, providing such things as air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and materials to use from farms, mines, forests and factories.
We can have three possible attitudes toward the material or physical world: we can idolize it, despise it, or use it to honor God. Let’s look at each view and its consequences.
Idolizing The Material World
Ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun and the Nile River as gods. There were also sacred animals such as the cow and the crocodile. Remember Aaron’s golden calf (Ex. 32:4)? There have also been sacred mountains and trees, and some people have even worshiped images and shrines.
Most of us do not idolize such things today, but materialism dominates the thinking of many. For example, many believe that the physical world made itself; so there was no separate Creator. Also, many consider possessions and pleasure to be their goals in life.
What does the Bible say about this? According to the Epistle to the Romans, people who worship idols have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” It also says that “although they claim to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:25,22 NIV). This means that rejecting the Creator-God is a lie, and living for possessions and pleasure is a lie. Such people are “worshiping” creation instead of the Creator, and adoring what is made instead of the Maker. They are foolish, living for something they cannot keep (Mt. 6:19).
We should not “run after” material things nor live for money and possessions; instead we should be content with what we have (Mt. 6:31-32; 1 Tim. 6:8, 17; Heb. 13:5). God knows our needs. As our time on earth is short, we should not be taken up with the things in our lives (1 Cor. 7:31).
What is the consequence of this way of life? Living for possessions makes it difficult to follow Christ (Mt. 19:23-24). Such people use excuses to reject the gospel (Lk. 14:16-19). It also crowds out the Christian’s chance of maturing (Lk. 8:14). Unfortunately this is evident around the world today. As in life we reap what we sow, these behaviors are often a result of being devoted to the material world (2 Cor. 9:6).
Warnings about our attitude toward money can also be applied to the material world: “The love of money (or the material world) is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). So idolizing the material world is a great source of evil. Christians should always remember that Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money (or material things)” (Mt. 6:24).
Despising The Material World
The opposite view, that of despising the material world and looking down upon it, can be traced back to Plato, the Greek philosopher who lived about 400 b.c. He valued the soul and mind much more than the body and nature. Then in the first few centuries a.d. the Gnostics thought that all matter was evil. They only valued the unseen spirit and believed that the body was worthless. They minimized contact with the physical world.
Christianity in the Middle Ages also concentrated on the heavenly realm, so nature was absent from their art. This view of the world has crept into some forms of Christianity today, where the only interest is in heavenly things, in saving the soul and getting to heaven. Little emphasis is placed on the proper pleasures of the body or the proper use of the intellect. Bodily senses and pleasures are despised and regarded as being evil.
What does the Bible say about this? Colossians 2:20-23 describes such people as living under many rules and regulations. They have long lists of don’ts: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (v. 21). These are merely the wisdom of sinful people (v. 22), not God’s intention for us today, as the New Testament gives us general principles, not detailed rules. Remember, the Jews had the best set of rules in the world, but they couldn’t follow them! These rules may seem good. They may appear to make you love God more and to be very humble and to have control over your body. But they don’t really have any power over our desires (v. 23). They only result in pride.
The consequence of this way of life is a list of useless rules. We are driven internally, not externally. It is the attitude of the mind that is evil, not the material world (Mt. 15:10-20; 1 Tim. 6:10). Remember, everything that God created is good (1 Tim. 4:4). “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood (the material world) but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Eph. 6:12). So the material world is neither evil nor against us; it is with us, sharing both our suffering and our longing to be released from the influence of sin (Rom. 8:18-23).
Using The Material World To Honor God
If the material world is not an idol to be devoted to nor an evil to be despised, then how should we view our material world? As created by God, it was very good; and although now spoiled by sin, it still belongs to Him. So it shows God’s unique power (Rom. 1:20). Also, it is sustained by God: “In Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).
Adam was to work the material world, take care of it and receive food from it (Gen. 2:15-16). As a consequence of the fall into sin, this work is difficult and many struggle to survive (Gen. 3:17-19). The thought of needing to work for our food is repeated in the New Testament (2 Th. 3:10). Paul thanked God for food before he ate; likewise we should be thankful for the physical resources that God provides for us (Acts 27:35).
People still have some of God’s image, which gives them extra value (Gen. 9:6). God loves all people (Jn. 3:16), body, soul and spirit. In fact, God loves people more than anything else in the material world, and to demonstrate this Jesus healed their diseases (Mt. 4:23) and died for their sins.
Jesus had a body and lived in the material world (Heb. 2:14). Our bodies and the physical world will be transformed one day, like Jesus was after His resurrection (Rom. 8:18-23; Phil. 3:21). The believer’s body is like a temple where the Spirit lives, and which God bought with the blood of Jesus. So we should use our bodies to honor God (1 Cor. 6:20). The same principle can apply to the physical world of which our bodies are a part.
We are urged to give our bodies to God (Rom. 12:1), and are told, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13). Here we see that the body can be viewed as an instrument or a tool which can be used for good or bad purposes. Again, the same principle can apply to the physical world.
This means we should honor God in our way of living in the material world. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we need to work out what this means in the various areas of our lives such as: work, housing, transport, care of our bodies, recreation, sport, how we use our money and possessions, nature and the environment, art, music, literature, movies and TV. What are our dreams and goals?
“Nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). When God replays the video entitled “This is your life,” our lives will be shown for what they are (1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10). Will we be assets or liabilities for Him? Will there be much evidence that we honored Him in our material world? Will His life be obvious in ours? (2 Cor. 4:11).
How Christ Used The Material World
It is instructive to be reminded of how Jesus Christ used the physical world in what He said and did, teaching spiritual principles and helping others. Parables, metaphors, similes, and illustrations from the material world were used liberally in His teaching of the disciples and the people. In this way, people had a visual impression of the truth being taught and they would have been reminded of it whenever they came across the object or situation in everyday life.
Christ healed diseases, calmed the storm and fed the hungry – for the benefit of people. He taught that God knows all about our circumstances and will provide our material needs (Mt. 6:33; 10:30). Likewise, we should remember to use the material world and life’s circumstances to teach spiritual principles. Helping to meet others’ physical needs is part of being Christ’s ambassadors on earth (2 Cor. 5:20).
The Material World Is Not The Sinful World
Sometimes the Bible uses the words “earthly” and “world” to describe the sinful nature. For example, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2,5). “Do not love the world or anything in the world” is explained as referring to sinful craving, lust and boasting (1 Jn. 2:15-16). Also, “earthly” wisdom is described as “unspiritual, of the devil” (Jas. 3:15) and “jealousy and quarreling” as “worldly” (1 Cor. 3:3).
This is an example of metonymy – the rhetorical technique of using one thing to represent another thing to which it is related in some way, such as “crown” instead of “king.” It is a figure of speech, like a metaphor, where words do not take their literal meaning. Here the words are linked because sin entered the world via Adam and Eve who were created from the physical world (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:47). So when “earthly” and “world” are used in this manner they mean “sinful,” not “material.” They are contrasted with “heavenly” which is used metonymically to mean “divine,” as Christ came from heaven to bring divine life (Phil. 3:19-20; 1 Cor. 15:45-49). Confusion regarding this distinction can lead to falsely despising the material world and considering it evil.
Although the Bible says believers are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), we presently live on planet Earth. Our time here is relatively brief and our planet has a finite future (2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12). Considering our destiny, we can be pictured as strangers visiting Earth (1 Pet. 2:11).
The physical world is not an idol to be devoted to; this is a lie that results in evil behavior. Also, it is not an evil to be despised; this attitude results in a list of useless rules. The Bible shows us that the material world should be valued and used to honor God.
Why is the Bible, a book written thousands of years ago, still relevant today? Because it contains universal principles that apply to everyone regardless of circumstances. God actually caused the writers of the Bible to address all the essential issues needed by us to live on this planet.
So how do we apply the principles in the Bible, originally expressed in a society foreign to ours, to our circumstances today? Fortunately, God has not left us alone. The Holy Spirit has been with believers since our Lord’s ascension (Jn. 14:16; Acts 1:8), and provides all the guidance we need through the Word (Jn. 16:13). As a result, we have God’s wisdom, “the mind of Christ,” revealed to us by His Spirit (1 Cor. 2:6-16 NIV). This is just as true for today’s situations as it was for events that occurred thousands of years ago.
Faith And Action
James 2:14-26 shows the relationship between what we believe (our faith) and what we do (our actions). Our faith is shown by what we do, so faith that does not result in appropriate action is dead (Jas. 2:17-18). As scriptural principles are the foundation of our faith, they should be expressed in our actions. Otherwise our faith is not based on the Scriptures and we are acting as if the Bible is no longer relevant today. God is interested in what we do and how we do it. For example, we are urged to “speak … the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
Wineskins And Clothes
An incident recorded in the Gospels helps to show the relationship between what we believe (scriptural principles), what we do (practices) and the present circumstances. In Luke 5:33-35 the religious leaders criticized Jesus because his disciples did not fast (go without eating) as was their custom. Jesus gave a reason for this and explained it further with a parable of the wineskins (Lk. 5:36-38).
Jesus said that “no one pours new wine into old wineskins,” but “new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” The wineskins contained the wine and protected it from the environment. Without an effective container, the wine would be spilled out and the wineskin would be useless. The application of this illustration was that the “wine” of the gospel of Jesus Christ could not be contained and expressed by the practices (or “wineskins”) of Judaism. New practices were required in order to preserve the Christian faith: “Put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Mt. 9:17).
From the diagram it can be seen that the wineskin is the point of contact between the wine and the world (or the surrounding environment). Similarly, our practices are between the principles we follow and the circumstances we face. The practices are a result of the application of divine principles to human circumstances.
In the above parable, Jesus taught that if the principles (wine) changed, then the practices (wineskins) should change. What if there are changes to the circumstances we live in? Biological organisms respond to changes in their environment, otherwise there is no evidence of life. We should also address changes that occur in our environment (or circumstances).
It is interesting that Christ used wineskins and clothes in his story. These are items that wear out and eventually must be replaced. Likewise, our practices will need replacing from time to time as no society or culture is stagnant. Of course, for us it is a case of the circumstances changing rather than the principles, or it could be due to a new understanding or application of the principles. This means that our practices must be based on scriptural principles and relate to the present circumstances we face.
Traditions And Circumstances
Human behavior is influenced by past experiences and present circumstances. An example of inappropriate behavior is given in Mark 7:1-9. Here Jesus calls the religious leaders hypocrites for placing more importance on ceremonial washing than on God’s commands. Jesus accused them of “setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (v.9). So their practices were dominated by traditions, which were contrary to scriptural principles. Similarly in Luke 6:1-11, Christ opposed their regulations of what was allowable on the Sabbath day. In both of the above situations the religious leaders were treating a tradition as though it were a scriptural truth.
A good example of how behavior can be influenced by circumstances is Paul’s visit to Athens (Acts 17:16-34). While waiting for Silas and Timothy to arrive he “walked around and looked carefully at” their “objects of worship” (v. 23). This gave him an insight regarding these people which he was able to use when he spoke to them. Paul was like the men of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chr. 12:32). Note that it was essential to understand the times (or situation) in order to know what should be done.
Likewise, Christ recognized the needs of the people – “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36) – and responded to their needs and was willing to be their Shepherd (Jn. 10:14).
A Framework For Action
Christians are called to be active representatives of Christ today (2 Cor. 5:20). It is helpful to visualize the relationship between what we believe and do, as shown in the diagram. This shows that when scriptural principles are put into practice, the way they are expressed is influenced by both past practices (which are now traditions) and the present circumstances. Circumstances change in families, communities and nations, because life is a dynamic process. Practices which were once appropriate may become obsolete, but if we persist in their use an opportunity is lost to demonstrate the principles in present circumstances.
The principles are important because they provide divine guidance and purpose. We need to distinguish between scriptural principles (which are fixed) and our practices of them which can change according to present, local circumstances.
In order to discern biblical principles and apply them, consideration is required of the culture, way of life and language at the following periods of time: Bible times (to interpret the Bible); previous generations of family, church, community and nation (to understand our traditions); and the present (to understand current circumstances). This will help to distinguish the relevant principles and the most suitable practices to meet the circumstances we face.
Our practices are important because they are the visible aspect of our faith. Jesus said that people will recognize His disciples if they love one another (Jn. 13:35). After Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” he noted, “and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:16-17). Following the example of Christ, our traditions should always be evaluated by scriptural truths and current circumstances, replacing those traditions that are no longer appropriate with more relevant practices.
Like wineskins and clothes, our Christian practices only exist to serve a purpose. They are human expressions of divine principles within a given historical, social and cultural context. We should know the purpose behind our practices, and periodically consider whether other methods would be more appropriate. There is a tendency to perpetuate long-established practices, but our security should be in the principles, not in the practices.
So, when evaluating our practices we need to consider each of the following, under the Spirit’s guidance: scriptural principles, present circumstances, and past practices or traditions. In a sense, the Scriptures only live and survive as we believers apply them to all the circumstances of life – otherwise we are living as though the Bible is merely a history book that is not relevant today.Published: June 1999
See application to the local church:
– The local church in a changing world
Opportunities for spiritual development
God can seem so distant when we are going though difficult times of trial and trouble. Yet the Bible teaches us that God is always at work for our good (Rom. 8:28).
The Christian faith, like the human body, requires exercise in order to keep healthy. Otherwise it will grow weak and useless (Jas. 2:14-26). The trials in our lives can be viewed as opportunities to develop our “spiritual muscles” in four areas of our lives.
Trials Develop Patience And Maturity
Besides prayer, the most common theme associated with suffering is that of developing patience, perseverance and endurance. In such times our faith is being exercised and tested and we become more mature (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).
God does not want weak Christians who give up when they face difficulties. Instead, Paul says “we do not lose heart,” and he reminds others, “you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (2 Cor. 4:16-17; Heb. 10:32 niv). The illustration in these verses is that of a contest or a battle. Near the end of his life Paul stated, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
Christ is the greatest example of perseverance: “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3).
Patience is a characteristic of the divine nature (Gal. 5:22). Paul told the Thessalonians: “We boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (2 Th. 1:4). He also urged them to continue to persevere: “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Th. 3:5).
Another illustration is that of training and discipline within a family. Here God is viewed as a parent disciplining a child: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).
So God uses trials and hardships to mold and refine our character, like metal is refined and molded in a furnace. Through these we learn what is most important in life, and our values, priorities, attitudes and behavior are developed. We are transformed and God’s image and likeness are more evident in us (2 Cor. 3:18). This vision of maturity enables believers to joyfully endure trials and suffering (Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2-4).
For example, David faced adversities in preparation for being king of Israel. His perseverance in facing the opposition of wild animals (like the lion and bear), enemies (like Goliath), and countrymen (like Saul and his men), gave him the experience which developed his skill to lead his nation.
Trials Increase Reliance On God
Paul saw that the reason for the hardships that threatened his life in Asia was, “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). He knew that God supplies all our needs (Phil. 4:19).
The Bible also states that: “He who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2). Physical suffering makes us realize that we are accountable to God and we need to live for Him.
Paul understood that he was given the “thorn in the flesh” so that he would acknowledge Christ’s power rather than take the credit himself and become proud. As Christ’s power is more evident in times of human weakness, Paul delighted “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Similarly, Paul could write that our bodies are likened to “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:7-11). Due to physical weakness we learn to persevere by God’s power and not our own strength.
Trials Encourage Care For One Another
God calls on His people to support those facing trials and troubles through helping, praying and comforting.
°Helping: We are to “share with God’s people who are in need” (Rom. 12:13; 2 Cor. 8:13-14; 2 Cor. 9:12). In fact, “if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,” then he is not behaving as a Christian should (1 Jn. 3:17).
Paul thanked the Philippians for sharing in his troubles and sending him aid (Phil. 4:14-18). He also remembered those who helped him when he was in prison (Phile. 12-13). The principle is to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3). This could include standing side by side with those who are being persecuted (Heb. 10:33).
°Praying: When Peter was in prison, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him,” although they were surprised by his miraculous escape (Acts 12:5). And Paul was confident that the Corinthian church’s prayers helped to deliver him from hardships and suffering (2 Cor. 1:10-11). He also asked others to pray for his struggle against unbelievers (Rom. 15:30-31).
°Comforting: We are told to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). As God comforts us in our troubles, we in turn can comfort those facing trials and difficulties (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Trials Strengthen The Church
Christianity has flourished under persecution. For example, when the early Church was being persecuted, the Christians left Jerusalem and evangelized wherever they went (Acts 8:1,4). This resulted in Christianity being spread across the Roman empire.
When Paul was imprisoned he was glad that the gospel was being preached by others and that his Christian faith was widely known (Phil. 1:12-18).
The Church is also strengthened in difficult times as more believers grow towards maturity and realize their dependence upon God and express this through prayer and praise. There is also an increase in care for each other by helping, praying, and comforting.
Finally, we must keep in mind that our troubles are insignificant when compared to eternity with Christ (2 Cor. 4:17-18). We always need to view the present in the context of a vision of the eternal.
Also see – Facing trials
How our view of the future can influence the present
Some people are optimistic about the future – they see advances in science and technology, so they hope for the best that can happen. Others are pessimistic – they see damage to the environment and social and economic breakdown, so they fear the worst that can happen.
The bad news is that there is a lot of evil and despair in the world and some people are frightened by the future. But there is good news as well: it is clear from the Bible that God offers hope for the future if we follow Him.
Let’s consider some facts about the future, their consequences, and the impact they can have in our daily lives.
We All Have A Future
How can those facing death due to a terminal illness or an accident have a future? Like a criminal facing execution, they seem to be in a hopeless situation. But Jesus actually told a criminal facing execution, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43 NIV). This gives us a clue – no matter what the circumstances, there can be a bright future for those who trust in God.
The Bible teaches that there is a future beyond our current lives. Death is not the end of our existence, but a doorway between this life and a future destiny. So in this sense, we all have a future.
This is illustrated by the example of the rich man and Lazarus, whose lives are shown to continue after death, with consciousness, communication and memory (Lk. 16:19-31). They were in two different places – heaven and hell – and the rich man wanted his brothers warned so they would not end up in the place of torment. This wish was denied, illustrating that decisions made on earth can have eternal consequences.
Also, God will raise everyone from death (Acts 24:15). In fact, there are two resurrections, the first for God’s people and the second for the judgment of those who have rejected God (Rev. 20:5-6).
Paul looked forward so much for this future that he considered dying better than living, because it meant he would be with Christ (Phil. 1:21-23). Elsewhere he wrote, if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world (1 Cor. 15:19). This is because it would mean that there was no raising from death and no hope beyond death (1 Th. 4:13).
Lasting Hope Comes From God
The Bible was written so “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). In the Old Testament God promised this to His followers: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And again He says, “There is hope for your future” (Jer. 29:11; 31:17). So, if they followed God and not false prophets, they were assured of a future filled with hope.
In the New Testament, He is described as “the God of hope” because He is the source of hope, and those separate from Him are said to be “without hope” (Rom. 15:13; Eph. 2:12). The believer’s hope is in God because He has given them a hope that lives on, and an inheritance that awaits them in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3-5,21).
The “hope” of the Scriptures is a confident expectation of a future event, not just a possibility or a desire. This is because God has a perfect record for keeping His promises.
A New Heaven And A New Earth
The eternal inheritance of Christians is to be “with the Lord forever” in paradise, and they will all be transformed to be like Christ (1 Th. 4:17; Phil. 3:20-21). Their main purpose in heaven will be to celebrate, praise and worship Jesus Christ and God – it will be like a great wedding feast (Rev. 19:6-9). At this time they will receive rewards, they will see God glorified, and they will reign with Him (Rev. 22:12; 1 Jn. 3:2-3; Rev. 20:6). God is in the business of destroying the effects of sin such as decay, sadness, evil and death. He wants to renew all His creation. At the end of time He says, “I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:5).
One of my favorite verses is: “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13). It is described as a place where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). What a great prospect to be a part of this!
It is important to realize that this aspect of the future of believers does not depend on their efforts or their success in life. It is a gift to be accepted from God (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Fruit Of Hope
Our view of the future affects our daily lives by influencing our attitudes, feelings and behavior. Hope is a vital attitude for the Christian that is associated with faith and love and that should result in encouragement for the journey of life (1 Cor. 13:7,13). Its fruit include security, strength, perseverance, holiness, an eternal perspective and joy.
- Security: The hope that God offers us is described as being like “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:18-19). It is also likened to a helmet and believers are “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Th. 5:8; 1 Pet. 1:5).
- Strength: The Old Testament promised, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).In the New Testament Paul wrote: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19). So God’s great and mighty power is available to believers.Those whose hope was in the Lord remained strong in the faith. For example, when everyone deserted Paul, he said, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” This was his hope: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:16-18).
- Perseverance: Paul praised the Thessalonians for their “endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 1:3). Then, after considering the resurrection body he wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).Knowing some of God’s plans gives us purpose and motivation to persevere and to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Believers are urged “to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Heb. 10:23,36).
- Holiness: After writing about the hope of eternal life, Peter urged believers to live a holy life: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’”(1 Pet. 1:14-15). This means purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates body or spirit and working toward complete purity out of reverence for God (2 Cor. 7:1).The hope of being like Jesus when He appears makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy (1 Jn. 3:2-3). In view of our heavenly home, “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9).
- Eternal Perspective: Since heaven is the believers’ home, they are to live as foreigners on earth (1 Pet. 1:17). They are urged “as foreigners and strangers on this earth, to abstain from sinful desires” and to live such good lives that others will come to glorify God (1 Pet. 2:11-12).Similarly, the Old Testament people of faith lived as strangers on earth as they were looking forward to the heavenly place that God had promised to prepare for them (Heb. 11:9-10, 13-16).So, we are to put our hope in God and not in idols such as money (1 Tim. 6:17-18; Mt. 6:19-21); and we are to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18). This means focusing on eternal things rather than those that are only temporary.
- Joy: Consideration of the believers’ lasting hope and eternal inheritance leads to great joy even if they are enduring trials. Christians are said to be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” because they can see the end result of their faith, their complete salvation (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
- Your Future:Is there hope for your future? The Bible says if you are without God, you are without hope for the future. In this case, your only hope is in this life, which can be very disappointing. Why not make heaven your eternal home? Then you will be with Christ when He returns, and will share in the coming new world.If you are a believer, are you letting the fruit of hope grow in your life as you anticipate what God has in store for you? This should be evident as security, strength, perseverance, holiness, an eternal perspective and most of all joy. Are you always ready to explain your hope to others (1 Pet. 3:15)? You should be.
“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” Genesis 2:24 NLT
As marriage was God’s idea from the beginning (Gen. 2:24), it’s appropriate to see what else He says about it in His Word, the Bible. We’ll look specifically at three aspects of Christian marriage – a new home, sacrificial love and mutual respect. It’s important to be aware of these topics whether you are married or about to be married.
A new home
The Bible says that a marriage occurs when a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. This definition – taught by Moses, Jesus Christ, and the apostle Paul (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5-6; Eph. 5:31) – has applied since the time of Adam and Eve. By inference, the woman also leaves her parents and is joined to her husband, to be united into one. They are no longer two individuals, but one new entity. A husband and wife become linked together and interdependent in a way that requires cooperation and unity.
A wedding is a celebration of a new relationship, a new allegiance, a new identity, a new home and a new family unit. The old relationship with their parents is now superseded by their new marital relationship. They should no longer be physically or emotionally dependent on their parents. Next to God, their top loyalty is to be to their spouse. This means shared goals, shared budgets, shared experiences in life and shared plans for the future. If one rejoices, the other rejoices. If one is hurt, the other is hurt.
First Corinthians 13 is a chapter about how Christians are to love each other in the local church. This kind of love (Greek: agape) is referred to by Paul six times in Ephesians 5:22-33, and is the same love essential to a Christian marriage.
What is agape love like? According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it is patient, kind, truthful, protecting, trusting, hopeful, enduring, and everlasting. It is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, evil-minded, or unjust. Such love is an ongoing commitment and an act of the will, not just a feeling or an emotion. It is a giving love, not a getting love – an unselfish love that is ready to serve. Elsewhere, we learn that it comes from God who demonstrated it when He sent Jesus to be our Savior: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Also, this love is an aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is available to all believers (Gal. 5:22).
How does the Bible describe what agape love is like in a Christian marriage? First, “you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the Church. He gave up His life for her” (Eph. 5:25). Husbands, do you love your wife enough to die for her? Is it reflected in how you spend money? In how much time you spend with her? In how you talk to her? In your prayers for her? Jesus is the example for a husband’s love for his wife.
Second, “Husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). You are to care for your wife and put her needs before yours. It’s like your wife is a part of you. It’s the closest relationship you can have with another person. Husbands, when you show this agape love in your marriage, it provides the emotional security that your wife needs and it creates a happy atmosphere in the home.
Leadership and Respect
In Ephesians 5:22-33 the husband and wife are given complementary roles. The husband is the leader in their relationship, just as Christ is the leader of His Church (Eph. 5:23). He is to love his wife with the same love that Christ showed His Church (Eph. 5:25). As all believers are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), “wives will submit to your husbands as you do the lord” (Eph. 5:22). Also “the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33).
What kind of leadership is this? It’s a cooperative relationship (Jn. 5:17-23; 1 Cor. 11:3), one that consults and listens to the viewpoints and desires of the wife and meets her needs. A benevolent leader acts in the interests of his wife and children, and delegates responsibilities when and where this is appropriate. He is a wise, prayerful and caring leader in physical and spiritual matters. Husbands, it’s your responsibility to show this kind of leadership in your marriage and family. Don’t shirk your responsibility or seek to dominate, dictate or control your wife.
What kind of respect and submission is this? As Christians commit their lives to the Lord, wives are to commit their lives to their husbands. They submit to Christ’s authority through their husbands. Wives, adapt yourselves to your husband; be loyal and respect your husband’s leadership; be a helper and companion like Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:18,20). Encourage your husband to take responsibility and lead the family. Showing respect and submission in your marriage provides what your husband needs.
Marriage is about commitment – giving ourselves to our spouses. It is about teamwork – husband and wife working together. Marriage is a journey – husband and wife travelling together. May godly leadership and mutual love and respect flourish in our homes as we follow God’s plan for marriage.
Published, March 2011