The Bible is Practical

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By Sean Perron

The Bible isn’t relevant for life if the Bible can’t be applied practically. Biblical counseling must be practical or else it will be irrelevant. This is because we obey or disobey God in specific ways. Our idolatries are not vague. Our sins are not general. When we are fearful, we think fearful thoughts in our mind. When we are sinfully depressed, we neglect real responsibilities. When we act in anger, we do things with our tongues and our hands. Thankfully, the Bible offers practical ways to overcome our sin and change us in concrete ways.

The practical nature of the Scriptures for counseling can be seen in three verses in the New Testament. Romans 12:19-21 is just one example that gives us insight into the powerful and tangible ways the Bible can be used in counseling.

Verse 19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

 

1) Command and Motivation

The command in verse 19 is to never take revenge. This command is simple, but it is not merely a command. In Romans 12:19, the motivation for the command is given. We should not seek revenge because this is only God’s prerogative. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and we are called to trust him instead of taking matters into our own hands. To not take revenge requires faith. The command is given and the motivation to obey the command is also explained.

Verse 20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 

 

2) One Practical Application

Verse 20 goes beyond both the command and the motivation and moves into a practical example. If your enemy is hungry, you can not take revenge by feeding him. If your enemy is thirsty, you can fight anger by giving him something to drink. This is one practical way of fighting the urge to take revenge. Instead of giving your enemy poison, you should buy him coffee. Instead of giving your enemy a mouthful of harsh language, you should give him a mouthful of food.

Verse 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

3) Many Practical Opportunities

The practical nature of the commands of God can be seen even clearer in verse 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The practical nature of doing good in order to combat revenge isn’t bound up in giving away meals or bottles of water to your arch enemies. There are hundreds of ways in which you can tangibly show kindness instead of wrath to those who upset you. Romans 12:20 gives one practical example, but Romans 12:21 allows for a thousand other acts of kindness that are in keeping with verse 19.

 

Biblical Counsel is Practical Counsel

How do you give advice to others? Do you talk about God’s commands? Do you explain the motivations behind those commandments and how faith is required? Do you give practical examples to implement these truths? Do you then teach others to think of new ways to obey God when faced with a variety of circumstances?

Romans 12:19-21 is just one example of how the Scriptures are powerful and practical to help people change. It is my prayer that this text is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves: Do we counsel like the Bible counsels?

This post was originally posted on The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors blog. 

Some Clarification and Suggestions from a Theology of Biblical Counseling

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Post by Sean Perron
Yesterday I read David Murray’s blog post. Murray graciously asked for replies to his blog post and I hope these quotes are helpful.
Below are some of my suggestions and also some clarifications from Dr. Heath Lambert’s book A Theology of Biblical Counseling. My main suggestion is that Murray should have read the entirety of Lambert’s book before writing his post.
Murray Question 1: “Is there any revelation outside the Bible?”
Has God revealed any truth about these topics (information about obesity, nutrition, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.) outside the Bible?
Lambert’s clarification: 
Rich Resources Outside Scripture
Some believe that embrace of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling necessarily entails rejection of true information outside of the Bible. This is a fairly common objection to the kind of biblical sufficiency that I am discussing here…
…From the very beginning of the biblical counseling movement, leaders have made clear their belief in the legitimacy of sources of information outside of Scripture. Biblical counselors do not ignore or outright reject extra-biblical sources or counseling insights. In fact, I would argue that biblical counselors have demonstrated a high level of theological sophistication about the use of extra-biblical data, often greater than our brothers to the theological left. The biblical counseling position is that there is much true information that exists outside the Bible—that found in the sciences, for example. (53-54)
Murray’s Suggested Clarification: 
“Without the qualification of ‘special revelation’ (or spiritual truth), I think we risk being understood as saying that there is no general revelation, no truth, outside of Scripture on any topic.”
One of Lambert’s printed clarification in chapter two: 
The call to be compassionate counselors requires that a thoroughgoing theology of biblical counseling must not only address the sufficient resources for counseling within Scripture but must also address the relevance of resources that exist outside of Scripture. This is an issue that has the highest practical and personal implications for counselors. We must consider this matter very carefully if we are to be compassionate. Considering the matter in this way requires that we understand the doctrine of common grace. (66-67)
I began this chapter on the resources for counseling outside Scripture by asking what is necessary to help Rick, Wendy, Gail, Trenyan, Jenny, Scott, Drew, Amber, Sean, and Sarah. To answer that question, we examined common grace and saw that, indeed, God does allow unbelievers to come to know true principles that are helpful in counseling. (100)
The quotes that answer this question are too numerous for me to reproduce in this post.
I also want to point Murray and readers to
Appendix A: Statement from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors  Regarding Mental Disorders, Medicine, and Counseling

Appendix B: Biblical Counseling, General Revelation, and Common Grace

Murray writes: “I’m hopeful that Heath will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent chapters, but it’s unqualified generalizations like these that confuse people and have created justifiable resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. With just a couple of extra words, the potential confusion is avoided and understandable reasons to resist are removed.”
My Suggestion for Murray’s Post:
I’m hopeful that Murray will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent blog posts, but it’s blog posts like his review of first chapter of Lambert’s book that confuse people and have created resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. By waiting just a couple of extra pages, the potential confusion is avoided and reasons to resist are removed. I wish Murray had refrained from blogging before he finished A Theology of Biblical Counseling.
What Counseling Requires 
Murray’s Question 2: “Does ‘problems’ here mean all problems (such as autism, or those Heath mentioned earlier – employment problems or choosing a college)?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification: 
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 3: “Is God’s prescribed solution (singular) to our problems (plural) always simply ‘faith in Christ’?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 4: “Is this the only solution to all our problems?”
One Quote with Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
My Suggestion: Murray may consider being slow to blog and quick to read. Murray may consider if he is answering a matter before he hears all of the facts. I also pray that Murray would be more open to changing his position on counseling.
Other Minor Suggestions: 
  • Murray suggests Lambert should use the word “necessitates” instead of “requires.” We should not quibble over words that mean the same thing. Requires and necessitates are the same thing. These words are synonymous.
I close with this quote from Murray which I apply to this post and my suggestions:
I offer these questions and clarifications in the spirit of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17), and in the hope that my biblical counseling colleagues will see the need for much greater clarity, carefulness, and consistency, if we are to have a hope of building the credibility of our discipline and expanding the availability and usefulness of biblical counseling throughout the world. I’m looking forward to learning from any responses to the questions, further questions to me, and hopefully clearer and more consistent definitions at the foundational level. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented anything, please let me know as this was not my intention.
Sean Perron

Four Years Later: 25 Reasons

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by Sean Perron
Four years ago I wrote out a list of 25 reasons why I was thrilled to marry Jennifer Whiteaker. This year I wanted to revise the list.
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Marrying Jenny is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She stunned me with her life and love four years ago and that has only continued.
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Here are just a few of the reasons why I love you Jenny Perron: 
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  1. You desire to be found faithful before God
  2. Your submission is a sweet aroma
  3. You squeeze me tightly and hold me loosely
  4. You hide yourself in the shadow of God
  5. Your Spirit is lovely beyond compare
  6. You smirk at the storms ahead
  7. You are planted by streams of water and bloom in every season
  8. Your joy is brighter than a tulip farm and your stem is strong to serve the world his beauty
  9. You are radiant and reverent in your worship
  10. Adventure is your middle name… and your first name… and now your last name
  11. Your brown eyes are unparalleled in beauty
  12. You are confident in his image
  13. You care about the rights of all who are destitute
  14. You open your mouth for the mute
  15. You open your hand to the poor
  16. You inherit the earth
  17. Your heart is soft to conviction and committed to a clear conscience
  18. You call evil evil and good good
  19. Your well is filled with songs, hymns, and spiritual hums
  20. Your gold is giving
  21. People want more of your pleasant presence
  22. Thoughtfulness flows from you like a waterfall
  23. Your smile has a domino effect
  24. You pray more than there are minutes in an hour
  25. Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness

Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing: Cultivating Joy In Singleness

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

Marriage celebrations aren’t always joyful.  

There are certainly those overflowing with joy:  the older couple reminiscing on their wedding joy, the newly engaged couple dreaming of their own wedding day, the parents of the bride and groom beaming with pride.  However, marriage celebrations can also be painful reminders of a persistent suffering – the suffering of singleness.  To be sure, there are singles who are not suffering.  They are content with their season of life, enjoying the freedom that singleness brings.  For others, however, singleness is a burden that they struggle to carry.  They long for the companionship of a spouse, to come home to a friend,  and the intimacy of love.  

You may know exactly what I’m talking about.  You enjoy weddings, engagement parties, and celebrating the excitement of matrimony with friends.  Yet, there is a tinge of pain – perhaps felt on the drive home or as you hear another couple make vows – that reverberates in your heart.  You long to rejoice with your friends, but struggle with this unmet desire.  

On top of this, you hear the call of the Bible to rejoice with those who rejoice, but your heart does not feel it.  How am I supposed to rejoice while suffering?  Can this sorrow and joy exist within the same heart?

The Composite Joy of the Body of Christ

If we are honest, many of us hear the call to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15) as a call to force a crooked smile on your face at an engagement party.  We think: “Good for them!”, and may genuinely mean it.  However, the dominant tone of our hearts is a deep groan of “How long, O Lord?”

But rejoicing with those who rejoice is not like a forced smile on a family photo.  It is an ownership of the joy of another because it sees God at work.  The joy you are called to experience at your friend’s’ engagement party or marriage ceremony is not some blind naivete  that ignores your own desires to be married.  Instead, it is a celebration of God’s good plans in the life of someone who is deeply connected to you.

This means that your joy is meant to be a composite joy. The joy of the Christian is equally composed of the work of God in their own life and the work of God in the lives of fellow Christians.  This is what Paul means when he writes that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  The joy of the Christian is a many-membered tapestry that interweaves the threads of our lives with one another.

So then, the engagement party or marriage ceremony of your friend is actually an opportunity to experience real, warm-hearted joy.  Most of the time when we find it difficult to celebrate with another Christian, it is not because it is not possible.  Rather, it’s because we are not willing to experience joy in this way.  We limit the potential moments of rejoicing in our lives to those times when things align to our preferences.  The world transforms into the size of a clenched fist that holds its plans, rather than the big world where our happy God is busy blessing his children (Jeremiah 32:41).

How do you see other believers?  Are they only a catalyst of despair anytime they get something you don’t have?  Or are they a member of the same body as you so that their joy is your joy?  Are you soaking yourself in the picture of the church as your family so that the metaphor becomes reality?  The key to rejoicing with those who rejoice is to see the victories of others as your own.

Joy and Sorrow Under the Same Roof

But most of us are not dominated by only despair at the engagement party or marriage ceremony.  Instead, we often experience a tangled web of rejoicing and sorrow, pleasure and frustration, contentment and restlessness.  We rejoice to see God at work, but the desire for marriage aches like a tender bruise being pressed.  This isn’t selfishness – it’s a reminder of a unwanted suffering.

Singles often experience unnecessary guilt because they don’t understand the idea of earnest waiting.  Earnest waiting happens when the truths of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility meet in some suffering in our lives.  When Christians suffer, two responses are to exist in their hearts.  First, they are to wait on the Lord.  The posture of our hearts is to be one of a weaned child trusting its parent (Ps. 131:2).  We are to not take matters into our own hands, but hope fully in our God (Psalm 37:34, 62:5, Proverbs 20:22).  For many Christian singles, this is the primary battleground.  However, Christians are also to be persistent with the Lord.  A wrong application of the sovereignty of God is to assume that we are not to pray for relief from suffering.  Although the heroes of our faith trusted God, Hannah prayed for a child (1 Samuel 1:9-18), the church in Acts prayed for Peter to be released from prison (Acts 12:5), and Jesus honors the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).

It is not sinful to feel the sting of unwanted singleness at a marriage ceremony.  It is sinful to allow this sting to translate into a grumbling heart towards the Lord and others.  You can be sorrowful and yet rejoice at the same time.  You cannot grumble and rejoice at the same time.  Do your sorrows roll up into prayer toward the God who knows your needs?  Or do your sorrow’s knot up your soul with a complaining heart?

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

The pendulum could currently be swinging to either extreme for you.  You may be sorrowful, rejoicing, or both.  Either way, God calls you to take steps of faith now.  Are you sorrowful?  Call on friends to partner with you in your prayer for a spouse and for a heart that waits on the Lord.  Are you rejoicing?  Cultivate a lifestyle that loses itself in the joy of others.  Go all out to celebrate the work of God in the lives of others through attending parties, serving on the day of the wedding, and giving your life away for the good of others.  In other words: live the Christian life – weeping and laughing, repenting and believing, grateful while groaning.

These truths are not to be exclusively applied to singleness and marriage.  The Christian life is full of trials, and yet we are called to rejoice in them (1 Peter 4:12-13).  We are not called to merely rejoice with those who rejoice; we are called to rejoice in God (Habakkuk 3:18, Philippians 4:4).  This rejoicing in God is the bedrock to rejoicing with others.  In singleness, and a million other sufferings, our hearts must be confident that he does not withhold good things from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

 

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

Young Romantic: Complement One Another

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

Dear Young Romantic,

On a personal note, I don’t need to remind you that there is very little reason for my wife to be thrilled about me. I’m not all that and a bag of chips. Yet to my wife, my smallest accomplishments earn the same applause as if I was awarded a nobel peace prize. If I fix a bolt on an old piece of furniture, I’m MacGyver. If I make a layup on the court while competing against the 9 year olds we babysit, I’m Michael Jordan. If I demolish a wasp nest, I surpass Tom Cruise. She bubbles over with enthusiasm for whatever my hand finds to do.

But she is more than a cheerleader. She is an essential part of my life and ministry. Jenny is my sister in Christ just as much as she is my wife. There have been many wonderful times when her gentle rebuke has set me back on course. I can’t tell you how many times she has encouraged me in the faith and held up my weary hands.

And if that wasn’t enough, she blossoms beautifully in submission. If I tell Jenny we are going to move to another state and start a ministry from the ground up, she will be in-it-to-win-it. She will have questions, she will want to know what our pastors think, but she will submit to my leadership. She is a helper extraordinaire.

Why do I say all this? Because my wife rejoices in her God given role as my wife. She is not oppressed. Jenny loves being a woman. She is thrilled to be a helpmate. She is humble, submissive, gentle, compassionate, and lives in obedience to God. The reason she thinks I’m awesome is not because I am. She thinks I’m the best husband in the world because she is the best wife in the world. If you looking for me to explain this in theological terms, my wife is a complementarian to the core and she couldn’t be happier.

Mansions to Decorate

God has given men and women different roles in marriage. We are both equal and beautiful in God’s image and yet we have different functions. The man is called to lead, guide, and protect his wife. The woman is called the honor, submit, and follow her husband.

The roles God designed for us are not prisons to escape from, but mansions to decorate. God’s roles for men and women are not putrid veggies to swallow; they are the choicest meats to feast upon. God created us to flourish and thrive in the gender role he sovereignly bestowed upon us.

The husband is not to be a dictator or tyrant. Men are called to be like Jesus – and Jesus is a shepherd (Psalm 23:1). Shepherds don’t beat their sheep. They protect them from wolves and clean them from the thistles. Shepherds care for their flocks and lead them beside still waters. Husbands are to wash their wives through the water of the Word and pursue them with goodness and mercy all the days of their life (Ephesians 5:26).  

Biblical headship is a weighty responsibility. In Ephesians 5:25, a husband is called to love like Christ. This tall order should cause husbands to humbly tremble before the holy God of the gospel. Husbands are called to lay down their lives, their preferences, their wishes, and their selfish ambitions for their bride. Jesus lived out this love and proved John 15:13 true. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

How can this look practically?

A husband and wife will discuss and dialogue about all kinds of decisions during a typical week. Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are preference choices. In these types of choices, Christians are called to consider others above themselves (Philippians 2:3). If your spouse wants to eat at home this week, why not? If they want to watch a movie instead of read a book, why not? If they want to take the interstate instead of the back roads, why not? Our preferences are not the precepts of the Lord. The goal is to outdo one another in kindness. Love leads with sacrifice and this produces a joyful home.

There are also significant decisions that shape the course of a family such as jobs, churches, family crisis, etc. The husband is to lead by listening. It is important for the husband to truly understand his wife and consider any disagreements she may have. The channels of conversation and prayer must be open and cleared of any sin. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7)

After all the issues are lovingly addressed, the husband has the final call in the matter. The wife is called to submit to the leadership of her husband and trust that God has given him the authority and wisdom of the home. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:24)

Biblical submission is a relieving reality for a wife. A wife must believe that God has given her husband authority to lead the home and she can submit to him. She can experience relief and safety as she submits in faith. The pressure is off. This is a mysterious experience that causes the world to gasp and look at the glorious picture of Christ and his bride.  

Being a complementarian couple affects everything you do in life. When Jenny and I were engaged, our counselors wisely encouraged us to go ahead and determine which of us would typically be responsible for everyday life tasks. Who is going to do the dishes in the home? Who is going to take out the trash? Who is going to cut the yard? Who is going to catalogue the finances? Who is going to make dinner?  

A husband and wife are each other’s highest compliment, but don’t wait until marriage to begin cultivating these characteristics. Learn to lead and submit in the season of engagement.

Future husbands, gently protect your future bride from all the unnecessary demands and expectations placed on her during this busy season. Give up any silly preferences you have for the wedding and honeymoon. Seek to serve and don’t be detached from the planning. Leaders are engaged and selfless. Ask yourself, where can you tenderly lead?

Future wives, humbly allow your groom to take the lead in decision making. Voice your opinions in a way that respects him and speaks the truth in love. Trust his judgement and free yourself from the pressure of making the final call. Ask yourself, where can you lovingly submit?

My wife was complementarian before we got married. She was blooming beautifully then and is flourishing now. I can’t get enough of her. It is my prayer, as a couple, your headship and submission would stir your affections for each other and attract people to the God of this glorious gospel.

Are you ready to rejoice in your gender for God’s glory? Do you complement each other?

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

Explore The Garden: Kindling Affection While Dating

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

Dating is a complicated dance.  Especially when you are trying to avoid sin.    

For Christians, dating pulls you in two opposite directions.  First, you experience the tug of your affection for your significant other.  You spend more time together, and your heart swells with warmth and care.  You rejoice in the presence of your significant other, and, naturally, you want to express that joy.  In addition, because God created you as an embodied person you usually expresses your emotions physically:  You hug the people you love, you cry over losses, you eat the food you want, and sometimes you even jump with joy.  You have a body.  You were made for this.  

Enter the second (and opposite) tug.  

Although your heart swells with love and you desire to show your love physically, you also feel the tug of biblical truth.  Even though God gave you a body, he wants you to control it (1 Thessalonians 4:4), he didn’t make it for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13), he wants you to flee immorality at all costs (1 Corinthians 6:18), and he wants you to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).  Although you feel the pull of the desire to express your affection physically, you are pulled in the opposite direction by God’s word.  

Many single Christians live within the tension of these seemingly opposing desires.  To add to the confusion, when Christians talk about affection during dating, we typically talk about it in negative terms.  “Don’t be alone in the car”, “Don’t kiss each other”, “Don’t touch her there”  Although these specific prohibitions are important , they are not the full story.  

Outside of knowing what not to do, is there a way forward?  How do you kindle appropriate affection in your relationship while honoring God with your body?

Transform How You Think About Boundaries

The temptation of the serpent in the Garden succeeded by blurring the purpose of boundaries.  Why are you not allowed to eat of the tree in the Garden?  Because God doesn’t want you to grow in your knowledge, and he’s holding things back from you (Genesis 3:5).  The first couple were convinced by the serpent that their God given boundaries were not given to them for life (Genesis 2:17) and so they broke them.  This insidious lie took root in their hearts, and the curse pulsated through the world.  

How do God’s righteous boundaries sit in your heart?  Are they a pointless burden meant to keep you in line? Or are they lamps that light the path to life?  But even more specifically, how are you thinking about the boundaries of your relationship?  Do you think of them as a burdensome prerequisite class of purity before the elective of marital intimacy?  This is that ancient lie of the serpent that plunged our race into the dark waters of the curse.

The best way to combat the lie of the serpent, is to renew your mind with God’s good purposes for your relationship.  When you discuss your boundaries with your significant other, talk about them as a means to store up pleasure, rather than a temporary misery that must be endured.  Not: “We can’t do this together because the Bible says we can’t”; but: “We choose to save this to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage”  

To be sure, the call to purity will be difficult.  However, comfort and joy are found when we view our difficulties through the lens of God’s good purposes and promises for us as his children.  This starts in your heart.  Meditate on the goodness of God’s purpose behind your boundaries.  You’re storing up pleasure for later.  Very soon, you will experience God’s good gifts in God’s good time under God’s good smile.  Transform your thinking.

Patterns Become Permanent

Although intimacy is a vital part of marriage, it is a relatively small part when compared to the various aspects of your relationship with your spouse.  So much of marriage happens outside of the marriage bed.  So during this time, when this fruit of marriage is forbidden, explore the other trees in the garden.  The memories you make now, the habits you are cultivating, the relationships you pursue – all of them are patterns that will affect the fragrance of your marriage.

Some couples miss the wonderful “yes’s” of their current season because they are so focused on the “no’s” of their relationship.  When we are convinced that the only way to show affection is through physical intimacy we never see the potential for love in the other areas of life:  Long walks, road trips, serving saints in your church, eating with friends, adventuring through your city, asking questions.  These habits of pursuing one another outside the marriage bed will become patterns in your relationship.  Furthermore, they will serve to bind your hearts together through shared experiences and memories.  Make patterns now while you wait for intimacy.

Trust The Divine Sequence

In fact, the patterns you create while waiting for intimacy will actually improve your marital intimacy.  The joy of the bride and groom in the Song of Solomon is a symphony of emotional, physical, and relational delight.  They experience the security of belonging (Song 6:3), the joy of friendship (Song 5:16), and the intensity of physical intimacy (Song 4).  The poem is composed of all these elements.  This is the divine sequence.

It makes more sense to touch each others’ hearts before you touch each others’ bodies.  The sweetness of the wedding night – the reason why they call it consummation – is found when it is the rightful climax to a million shared moments, memories, joys, sorrows, conversations, experiences, and adventures.  And when you do finally touch each other, you will find that you are participating in a divine sequence – one that compounds your joy and intensifies your pleasure.   

Deep Roots

In this season of pursuing the heart rather than touching the body you are nurturing deep roots.  If God blesses your relationship with marriage you will discover that your friendship and intimacy are weaved together. The cultivation of friendship solidifies the foundation of your marriage.  So, don’t lose sight of the beauty of the garden because you are obsessed with the forbidden tree.  Explore, cultivate, and adventure in the current stage you are in.  Soon you will find that the exploration never ends.

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

No Divorce: Sing the Melody

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

There has never been a better time to strengthen your view on marriage. The culture around us is in a continual state of flux on the issue, but the church has to get this one right. We have to hit the nail on the head and pin God’s picture up on the walls of our house. Christ is coming back and we want him to see our marriages as a beautiful mosaic reflecting his gospel.

All of that to ask, what is your view of divorce and remarriage? You must have a biblically informed view or else you will default to someone else’s viewpoint – or you will simply go with what feels right in the moment. We must be tethered to truth or else we will have nothing to hold onto when the gravity gives out under us.

Three Views and Four Gospels

There are many conversations and debates that have been taking place among Christians when it comes to divorce and remarriage. I realize I am flying into this conversation like a NASA shuttle in a meteor shower. I am picking up the conversation mid-flight, but I hope the discussion is helpful in some way.

The three main evangelical positions on divorce and remarriage are the Erasmian, Patristic, and Permanence views.

The Erasmian view allows divorce for adultery and abandonment. It allows remarriage for the innocent party and many Erasmians will allow remarriage for the guilty party as long as they repent of their sin.

The Patristic view allows divorce for adultery and desertion but does not permit remarriage unless the death of a spouse occurs.

The leading Permanence position does not permit divorce and interprets the exception clause (Matthew 19:9) as referring to fornication during the betrothal period. Remarriage is not permitted in the permanence position unless the spouse is deceased.

All of the fuss centers on the exception clause in the gospel of Matthew. It is the star in which all the conversations orbit. If you are not familiar with this universe, I recommend checking out this article here before you leave the launch pad. If you are already geared up in your suit and ready for another space walk, here is one issue for you to consider. I am convinced that the permanence position best reads the gospels horizontally and vertically.

Ladders come before Roofs

Biblical interpreters should seek to harmonize the gospel accounts. The permanence position argues that there is only one exception for divorce in the gospel accounts and this is found in Matthew 19:9 for the cause of πορνείᾳ “porneia”. The permanence position is not opposed to harmonizing the gospel accounts. Rather, the permanence position seeks to harmonize the gospel narrative while also maintaining their individual integrity. The Gospels should be read both horizontally and vertically.

To say it another way, we should climb the ladder before we walk across the roof. We should seek to understand why one of the Gospel authors selected their words – this is a vertical reading of the text. It is widely accepted that Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience while Mark wrote for Gentile audience. Naturally, you would expect these books to be different in style and construction. Mark includes words and experiences that Matthew does not and vice versa.

Reading vertically means reading a writer individually and reading horizontally involves seeking to put the entire story together. To get an accurate picture of the whole, the individual pieces of the puzzle must be examined first.

While harmonization is an important study tool, there is a danger of obscuring the original meaning of an individual text and actually missing the correct interpretation. “Although it is certainly useful to engage in horizontal, comparative Gospel reading, this approach should not be preferred over vertical reading.” (Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 149)

Should readers of the Gospels automatically conclude that Mark and Luke intended for their readers to assume an exception clause? The permanence position disagrees with both the Erasmian and Patristic perspective at the point of believing that Mark and Luke assumed their readers would expect an exception clause.

The Erasmian position is not unreasonable in desiring to harmonize the Gospel narratives. A good example of harmonization can be found when comparing the story of Jonah in Matthew and Mark’s gospel. Mark, in typical fashion, gives a more condensed account of the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. (Mark 8:11-12)

Matthew’s account of this passage is similar, but adds an exception to Jesus’ absolute statement. But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (Mat 12:39 ESV) It is a correct interpretation to believe that Mark shortened the account and assumed an exception in Jesus’ statements.

Yet this example is not a one-to-one comparison with the divorce and remarriage issue. Matthew is not the only narrative giving an exception to Mark’s shorter account in this instance. Luke also records the exception that Jesus mentions regarding a sign to the Pharisees. (Luke 11:29 ESV)

If someone is reading the story of the sign of Jonah vertically before horizontally, they should conclude that Mark is condensing the narrative due to his typical writing style of giving an “immediate” message. When it comes to the issue of divorce and remarriage, it is only Matthew who includes the exception clause whereas both Luke and Mark do not include it.

Hasty Harmonization Harms the Melody

There is nothing in the texts in Mark and Luke that indicate those Gospel authors held to an exception for marriage. The Erasmian position must harmonize something into the text that Mark and Luke did not communicate. In order for the Erasmian position to be persuasive, it requires tangible evidence that Mark and Luke assumed the exception clause would have been common knowledge to their readers. I know we all love a good tune, but let’s not be so hasty in our harmonization – we might mess up the melody.

The permanence position of marriage offers the best horizontal and vertical reading of the gospels. It seeks to understand first who Matthew was writing to and why he would include an exception clause. Given that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, it is understandable that he would be concerned about the issue of righteousness in the Law and the issue of betrothal. It is significant that Matthew is the only Gospel writer who mentions the righteous intention of Joseph to divorce Mary for porneia. If Matthew had not included the exception clause, the readers would have been confused as to how Matthew could have described Joseph as righteous when Jesus prohibited all divorce.

This is one of several reasons why I take exception to the typical view of the “exception clause” and believe the Bible does not permit divorce. We will discuss more in future blog posts, but I hope after this space walk you are at least saying, “Erasmian, we have a problem.” I hope you will continue to explore this issue further and boldly go where you have not gone before.