Home Alone (Jeremiah 16:1–21)

“For thus says the LORD: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the LORD. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride (Jeremiah 16:5–9).

city-1868530_1280.jpgJeremiah was not to enter two houses: the house of mourning and the house of feasting. Both fasting and feasting with his countrymen were forbidden. The most expected social conventions were off limits—the mourning of a funeral and the mirth of a wedding. Jeremiah was home alone. “Jeremiah,” writes Phil Ryken, “spent his Friday nights at home, alone. There were three things he did not do—go out on dates, send sympathy cards, or sit down to fancy dinners.”

Though these commands as given to Jeremiah are circumstantial and prophetic, there is a principle underneath that is not alien to us today. There is mirth and mourning in which we should not mingle.

Weddings are celebrations. There are “unions,” attempted unions, that we cannot celebrate. When the world tries to make the north ends of two magnets stick, we should not join their jolly madness. We can love the persons involved, but we may not celebrate their attempted union, because nothing is being joined. In such, there is no peace, no covenant, and no mercy (Jeremiah 16:5). There are also times when north and south do click in earthly covenant, and yet, heavenly covenant is maligned. When two folks play like they know Jesus, and want a Christian wedding, but only with a white dress on the surface and not clean hearts by the blood of Christ underneath, the name of Jesus is blasphemed therein. There are unions that we can recognize as legitimate, but not celebrate as Christian.

While there’s still enough sanity for some professing Christians to see we can’t make merry over “same-sex mirage,” mourning with the bereaved seems trickier. This is because we’re looking at the other person instead of ourselves. We don’t go to the north–north wedding because of their sin. We go to the funeral, because dead men are no longer sinning. What we need to ask is if by our presence we are sinning. 

Frequently our Lord is as blasphemed in funerals as He is in weddings. We have transitioned from funerals in which we grieve, looking to the blessed hope of the resurrection, to celebrations where we take comfort in the beauty of a life lived. Let’s be honest, the editing skills of funeral slide shows rival that of Hollywood, though not in production, truly in bias. As R.C. Sproul says, what many really believe in is “justification by death.” When the dead are preached into heaven while their souls are surely in hell, we should desire no part in endorsing that message. Problem is, most often we have no idea what that message will be. One of the elders I am honored to serve alongside attends primarily only visitation now for this reason. 

Regardless, let us express our condolences, and weep with those who weep, and let us also make clear that the blessed hope is the death and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes we must merely grieve over the dead, and not with the living. That is, we must be clear what our comfort is. Or, to put it yet another way, sometimes we must grieve over the dead and not be comforted with the living when their comfort is a false one. Again, if Christ is not known, there is no peace, no covenant, no mercy.

Understand, all this is a digression from the thrust of Jeremiah 16. The focus isn’t on Jeremiah and his actions, but the word of God thereby. Jeremiah is cut off from the most expected of social conventions to make this word emphatic. This is a severe word of judgment, radically portrayed through the prophet. A judgement is coming on Judah so severe, that not only will the mirth of marriage be silenced, there will not even be a proper lamentation and burial for the dead.

God’s commands to his prophet may seem hard, but is the judgment portrayed thereby that is truly unbearable. Sinner, if you don’t know Christ, you stand under such judgment. It is because Christians love you that they don’t want you to think otherwise. It is because we are earnest for you to know His love that we speak of His wrath. Saints, may we not confuse by our presence those who have no peace, no covenant love, and no mercy into thinking that they do. Let us love them more and better than that.

Dumb, but not THAT Dumb

Naomi’s instructions to Ruth are as dark and mysterious as the night she sends her out into. “What?” is the proper Biblical response to this plan. Previously, Naomi showed concern for Ruth’s safety during the day, and now she sends her out into the darkness. Bathed. Anointed. To lie at the feet of a man enjoying the fruits of his labor, with a heart merry with food and drink. Do you remember the backstory of the Moabites (Genesis 19:30–37)?

While our hearts should sink with disappointment and be charged with anxiety as we read this narrative, and while sin should always be recognized as nonsensical, we shouldn’t be shocked. Don’t be so naive as to think that some sins only became common following the sexual revolution of the ’60s.

Beware of the person who wants to go back to some golden age. They’re dangerous. There are two reasons we shouldn’t long for some idealist lost nostalgia. First, no such golden era ever existed. Second, the saints are a people of the future, of the age to come, and of hope. There has never been a pure age. In colonial New England, bundling was a common practice wherein the suitor of a young lady was bundled up in a bag with his head sticking out to sleep next to his potential spouse in the home of her parents. Weddings sometimes necessarily followed. Jonathan Edwards condemned and preached against the practice.

We shake our heads at Naomi, but we readily send our daughters out into the night, dressed alluringly, with young men of far lesser character. We send them out, not to find a single suitor, but simply to have fun with a serial number of non-committals. “Modern American dating,” writes Voddie Baucham, “is no more than glorified divorce practice. Young people are learning how to give themselves away in exclusive, romantic, highly committed (at times sexual) relationships, only to break up and do it all over again.” We treat our daughters like prostitutes and authorize our sons to pursue the woman folly. We are not teaching our sons and daughters to tell the story of Christ and His bride. We’re letting them role play Satan’s whoredom.

Targetless dating is as dangerous as targetless shooting. If two young people want to spend great amounts of time together, alone, at night, and their aim isn’t covenant, what is it? Lust! Jesus makes it clear what it is when a man looks on a woman with desire outside of covenant. Yes, Naomi’s plan is dumb, but give her this, it isn’t 20th century dumb, and it certainly isn’t 21st century dumb.

Bleed Her Beautiful, Love Her Lovely (Colossians 3:19)

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” —Colossians 3:18–19 (ESV)

Wives are to submit. Husbands are to… love. Is that what you expected to be paired with submission?

This isn’t to deny, but define authority and headship. Men, the authority you have isn’t your own, it is a steward authority given to you by Christ. The only authority you have a right to exercise is the kind modeled by Jesus (Ephesians 5:24). Does your authority bleed for those under it?

A man’s marriage is his garden. He sweats. He bleeds. Blisters abound. Weeds, thistles, and pests are fought. Bones ache. His life is spent, but the garden thrives, and the garden is his glory. He does all this with a smile. At day’s end, stretching his cramping muscles and straightening his sore back, a man should look back on his well-tended garden with pride and joy, as a soldier having taken a hill to drive the enemy back, believing the sacrifice worth it all.

Husbands, bleed your wives beautiful and love them lovely (Ephesians 5:25–27). When we lead, may our wives gladly follow knowing we are leading them into their own splendor.

Think of your wife as talent (cf. Matthew 25:14–30) entrusted to you by the Lord. You’ve been given no greater treasure save the Triune God himself in Christ. Invest in her, and return her having increased many fold. No investment can make so great a return as this. She is your crown (Proverbs 12:4). She is your glory (1 Corinthians 11:7). Investing in her is polishing and embellishing your crown. The radiance and glory of your wife speaks to your authority. What kind of king are you? What kind of gardener are you? The quality of the gardener is generally testified to by the quality of garden.

Husbands, our authority should be so exercised, that to be treated as an equal would be a step down for our wives. May she mock the world saying, “Why would I desire to be treated as a knight, when I am loved as his queen? Why would I want to fight by His side as a comrade, when I can rest atop his head as his crown?”

The Splendor of Submission (Colossians 3:18)

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” —Colossians 3:18–19 (ESV)

These verses have always been startling, but for different reasons. In Paul’s time, the jolting word would not have been “submit,” but “wives.” Some think that Paul is capitulating to the culture; a fall leaf easily blown about by the wind of his age. No, Paul is a salmon tenaciously swimming upstream to deposit something precious. True, contemporary Hellenistic household codes also focused on authority and order in the home, but they only addressed men. They thought men alone worthy of address. This was Aristotle’s position. Funny how Aristotle is held in esteem as wise while Paul is ridiculed as a fool. Paul addresses women, and calls for them, with the authority of the Christ who rose to the heights, to submit to their husbands.

“Well, what progress,” the feminist sarcastically retorts, “so nice to be addressed as a human being.”

Roll eyes. Carry on.

Whereas children and slaves (yep, I’m not even going to play at taming that down to ‘bondservants’), are called to obey, women are told to submit, as though to emphasize the voluntary nature of the act.

Ladies, submission to your husband is a strength that comes out of you, not a weakness that is beat into you. A submissive spirit is a distinctly feminine glory to be worn like a wedding gown or a queen’s robe. Submission is your pomp and glory, not your shame. Submission is like a wedding ring; it is a sign of marriage and a beautiful one. Not having submission is as shameful as not having a ring*. The absence of either should cause others to wonder, “What kind of man does she have?”

The submission Christ calls for is not to men in general, but to one’s husband. He has authority, others do not. Submission puts women in a place of protection. Submission is not a prison to break out of, but a castle to rule in.

“Feminism is mixed up,” Chesterton says, “with the muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands (emphasis mine).” Feminism tells women they are free when slaves, and in bondage when they are queens.

Submission is not ugly and weak. It is glorious and powerful. Solomon captured the splendor of feminine glory when he wrote, “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners? (Song of Solomon 6:10)”

Submission is the garment of Chris’s bride. Do not treat the royal robes of Christ’s bride as rags. Do not put them on as shame.

*I only want to cause offense, um, conviction in the right way, so by way of disclaimer, this was only meant as an illustration non-ringbearers.

“How Far Is too Far?” Is too Far (Exodus 20:14)

It seems the Pharisees were like hormonal teenagers raised in a dead Christendom; they read the law wanting to know how far they could go (Matthew 5:27–30). You could lust, only you mustn’t commit adultery. When one asks the question, “How far is too far?” they’ve already crossed the line. The law makes hard lines, no doubt, but we shouldn’t treat the law like a cow does a barbed wire fence, straining our necks through the lines to get the green grass on the other side. “But my feet and body are still on the other side.”

Think of the law less like a line between and more like a line to: a line leading you unto godliness, a line to express love to God, a line that you want to climb higher up. The law is a line to pursue deeper intimacy. The point isn’t how close you can stay to sin, but how you can grow closer to the Holy one in holiness. The point isn’t to stay an inch away from sin, but to run miles away from sin towards God.

In Proverbs 5 Solomon calls for his sons to flee the forbidden woman. He doesn’t give his sons wisdom for how to knock on her door and stare only at her face. “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house (Proverbs 5:8 ESV).” But that alone isn’t the full prescription: “Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress (Proverbs 5:15–20 ESV)?”

Enjoying the aged and refined scotch in your cupboard curbs the appeal of the illicit and deadly moonshine. Delighting in the truth that God has given you the best grass is the way not to succumb to Satan’s lie that the grass is greener on the other side. The Puritan Thomas Watson commented, “It is not having a wife, but loving a wife, that makes a man live chastely. He who love his wife, whom Solomon calls his fountain, will not go abroad to drink of muddy, poisoned waters. Pure conjugal love is a gift of God, and comes from heaven; but, like the vestal fire, it must be cherished, that it go not out. He who love not his wife, is the likeliest person to embrace the bosom of a stranger.”

This is a glorious way to fight sexual sin, but it is yet a lesser way. It is a lesser way in that marriage is lesser thing than that which it is a copy of, Christ’s love for His bride. The way to avoid violating the command to not commit adultery, in all that it entails, is for the bride to delight in Her Bridegroom. He is without peer. He is altogether lovely. He is without fault. When we truly see Him, we have eyes for no other. Be intoxicated in the unequalled jealous love of your Savior, and may this overflow into your marriage, and may it keep you from adultery of every sort.

Tolle Lege: Reforming Marriage

Reforming MarriageReadability: 1

Length: 144 pp

Author: Douglas Wilson

There are few authors I enjoy more than Douglas Wilson. There is no subject I enjoy reading Douglas on more than family. Here is a smattering of why that I hope will intrigue.

God is the one who called our first parents by the collective name Adam. Now Adam is also a generic term for man or mankind. This shows clearly the biblical practice of including women under such a description. Our English use of the generic man and mankind follows this biblical example exactly. Far from being insulting to women, as feminists want to maintain, it reflects a biblical pattern of thought. The feminist reaction to this, and their rejection of taking a new last name (in order to keep their father’s name!), is not just a small bit of modern silliness. It is a fundamental rebellion against God. So when our Susan Miller becomes Mrs. Robert Carter it is not just “something we do.” It is covenant security.

[Commenting on Ephesians 5:23 where Paul says, “the husband is the head of the wife.”] Because the husband is the head of the wife, he finds himself in a position of inescapable leadership. He cannot successfully refuse to lead. If he attempts to abdicate in some way, he may, through his rebellion, lead poorly. But no matter what he does, or where he goes, he does so as the head of his wife. This is how God designed marriage. He has created us as male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage. If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord—Dominus—at the cross. If a husband tries to run away from his headship, that abdication will dominate the home. If he catches a plane to the other side of the country, and stays there, he will dominate in and by his absence. How many children have grown up in a home dominated by the empty chair at the table? If the marriage is one in which the wife ‘wears the pants,’ the wimpiness of the husband is the most obvious thing about the marriage, creating a miserable marriage and home. His abdication dominates.

[A] husband can never stop talking about Christ and church. If he is obedient to God, he is preaching the truth; if he does not love his wife, he is speaking apostasy and lies—but he is always talking.

WTS Books: $12.23               Amazon:$13.50

Tolle Lege: What Did You Expect?

What?Readability: 1

Length: 287 pp

Author: Paul David Tripp

What Did You Expect? bursts your rainbow-hued bubble of marriage utopia and trades it for storm clouds. But for those honest with themselves, those who realize that they are sinners married to sinners, the bubble bursting makes way for the refreshing, life-giving rains of grace. Play as if your marriage has no death in it and you will find death. Own up to all the ugliness you both bring to this glorious thing called marriage, and Beauty will invade.

Praise God there are several good books on marriage that I recommend, but this one might just be the most helpful for me for the task of counseling those who tried to live myth of sinless matrimony.

Marriage is a beautiful thing that only reaches what it was designed to be through the methodology of a painful process.

So, what does give you reason to continue when the little problems have gotten under your skin or the big problems have left you devastated? What does produce a marriage with sturdy love, unity, and understanding? I think the answer I am about to give will surprise many of you. Here it is: a marriage of love, unity, and understanding is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship. Now, you may be able to read all the words, but you still might not understand the depth of the insight of this principle.

What does it mean to say that a marriage is “rooted in worship?” The word worship is a tricky word. When the average person hears the word worship he thinks of a gathering, of hymns, an offering, and a sermon. But there is a biblical truth embedded in this word that is vital to understand if you are ever going to figure out why you struggle in your marriage and how those struggles will ever get solved. Worship is first your identity before it is ever your activity. You are a worshiper, so everything you think, desire, choose, do, or say is shaped by worship. There is simply no more profound insight into the reason people do the things they do than this, and once you get hold of it, it opens doors of understanding and change that were never before opened to you.

I have become more and more persuaded that marriages are fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally. We have to deal with what is driving us before we ever deal with how we are reacting to one another. Every relationship is victimized in some way when we seek to get from the surrounding creation what we were designed to get from God. When God is in his rightful place, then we are on the way to putting people in their rightful place. But there is more. I am convinced that it is only in the worship of God in our marriages that we find reason to continue.

WTS Books: $12.78               Amazon:$12.29

Hydrogen to Helium (Matthew 19:1-12)

1 + 1 = 1—this is the formula for marriage. Marriage is God turning two hydrogen into one helium. It’s fusion. But first, marriage is fission. A man must leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. Family ties are near strongest. They have a-bomb power; fission power. Marriage is stronger. Marriage has star power; fusion power.

Marriage is held together by the strongest glue—Trinitarian strength glue. Only the triune God could be the author of such a mystery as 1 + 1 = 1. God made man in His own image and He made man male and female. One way that man images forth God is in marriage. There are many junk illustrations for the Trinity (water in three forms, clovers, an egg, etc.) but there is only one authorized metaphor. Marriage, though a limited analogy, it is an analogy after all, is a legitimate one, the best one (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3).

How permanent is marriage supposed to be? As permanent as the Triune God. One man, one woman, forever, till death do them part and usher them fully into the eternal reality of which their earthly marriage was just a shadow. Anything less isn’t marriage, it’s “mar-age.”

Let not man do fission where God has done fusion. When you toy with divorce you need to know you are playing with a nuclear warhead. You can’t seek to undo God’s work without the effects being cataclysmic.