Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Is Specific

This past Sunday was week 2 of our Pure Pleasure series through Song of Songs. We covered 1:2-2:7. If you would like, you can watch the full message below.

Pure Pleasure Week 2 from Life Bible Fellowship Church on Vimeo.

As part of the message, I emphasized that the man and the woman in the song are not simply singing about their desire for intimacy in a general way. The woman is not singing, "I want a man to hold me." The man is not singing, "I want a woman who will walk next to me." They are singing about each other. They compliment each other specifically. They are not just devoted to love in some abstract way. They are devoted to one another.
In this post, I would like to spend some time following up on this theme of love being specific. I believe that it has major implications for each one of us, whether we are married or not.

Indebted to Mark Driscoll
In preparation for this series, I listened to all ten of Mark Driscoll's messages from his "Peasant Princess" series through Song of Songs. His messages were excellent and were a great help to my preparation. Here are some phrases that Mark used to emphasize this idea of love being specific:
God didn't give Adam a type; he gave him a wife. God did not line up a group of women before Adam and say, "Which one do you like best?" God gave Adam a specific woman as his wife. If Adam would have said, "Well, I really like tall women with long legs," this would not have changed the fact that Eve was his wife.
Sometimes we can act as if we are victims of our own tastes and attractions. Many men complain that they are not attracted to their wives anymore. It is important to remember that God does not call us to be devoted to our tastes and preferences. He calls us to be devoted to our wives.
You're spouse is your standard of beauty. Because God does not place a value on our devotion of our own tastes, it is important that we don't measure our spouses against some objectified standard of our own making. This goes for both men and women. The grass can always seem greener on the other side. It is a recipe for discontent if you say to yourself, "If only she was thin like her," or "If only he was tall like him." Again, God treasures our devotion to our spouses, not to our fleeting and personal tastes.

Feed the Right Flame
Song of Songs compares love to a fire. The woman says,
   Love is as strong as death,
      its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
   It burns like blazing fire,
      like a mighty flame.
   Many waters cannot quench love;
      rivers cannot sweep it away.
          ---Song of Songs 8:6-7
Our God-given sexuality is a powerful thing. It is like a fire. Fire can be wonderful, and fire can be destructive. The key is that we must feed good fires and quench destructive fires. The good fire is the passionate love between husband and wife. The destructive fires are anything that get in the way of that passionate love. Too often we feed the fires of lust through pornography, fantasizing, and romance novels, and then we find that the fire in our marriages has died down. Many of us need to begin by starving out the destructive fires so that we can focus attention on rekindling the flame in our marriage.

Know Your Spouse
It is not a wife's job to make sure that her husband is attracted to her. But if a wife knows that her husband really likes a certain dress she wears, really likes her hair a certain way, or really likes a certain color of lipstick . . . she should use this information. God has given each wife a specific husband. While she should not feel the burden to make sure that his eye does not wander, she can love him by appealing to him in these ways.
Likewise, it is not a husband's job to make sure that his wife respects him and is attracted to him. But this should not lead husbands to become lazy, disconnected, selfish men who demand respect because "God commands it." If you know that your wife loves certain kinds of dates, or certain activities, or a certain configuration of facial hair, you can look to appeal to your specific wife in this specific way.
If you know that something is meaningful or attractive to your spouse, you can show love by giving them the gift of catering to them. This does not mean that we worship our spouse, but we also should be careful not to disregard our spouse.

Look to Attract Your Spouse
There is a danger in all of us, that we can desire to be attractive in a way that is general instead of specific. Women can desire to be beautiful to men in general. Men can look for admiration from women in general. This is very dangerous. This is often the first step to an affair. A woman begins to get compliments that she is not getting at home. A man begins to feel admired and respected, while he does not feel this from his wife. This is a recipe for infidelity.
A man should desire to be admired and respected by his wife. A wife should desire to be loved and desired by her husband. As you look to make yourself attractive, keep in mind what is attractive to your spouse.
In Song of Songs 1:12 the woman says, "While the king was at his table, my perfume spread its fragrance." In other words, she is saying that she spread the aroma of her perfume not while she was in the public square. She spread her aroma when she was in the presence of her beloved. She is not getting herself all dolled up in order to attract a man. She is beautifying herself in order to make herself attractive to her specific man.
One way to love your spouse is to value what attracts them to you.

Words Have Meaning
Finally, remember that words have the power of life and death. If you know that your wife is insecure about something specific, reassure her about that specific thing. If you know that your husband longs for admiration in a specific way, speak words of respect to him about that specific thing. Compliment the things that make your spouse unique. Generic compliments of affection and admiration are fine, but compliments that zero in on the uniqueness of your spouse carry greater power.

Love is specific. God loves each of us specifically. In marriage, we have the opportunity to mirror his love by giving specific love to our specific spouse.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pure Pleasure: Song of Songs

This past Sunday I got to kick off a new series at Life Bible Fellowship Church. The series is called Pure Pleasure, and it is a study of the Song of Songs. In the series, we will deal with themes of love, marriage, sex, purity, passion, communication, pursuit, masculinity and femininity, and the gospel. Below is the video from the first message of the series.

It has been enriching to prepare for this series, and I am looking forward to our church experiencing the book. Whether you attend our church or not, and whether you watch the message or not, I hope this post might be helpful.
Here are answers to three key questions that have either come up in response to the series, or have come up in preparation for it.

1. Can't a dating couple experience the joy of sex if they are really committed to each other?
The Bible is clear that sex outside of marriage is wrong. To some, this might seem archaic or unrealistic, but the solution is not to ignore or amend what the Bible says. It is easy for all of us to think that we are the exception. We are not. If God has spoken, it is not our place to say something different. We can struggle and wrestle with it, but we don't get to tell ourselves or tell others that something is okay when God says it is not.
That said, many people will hear this, shrug, and say, "Are you really saying that a committed dating couple can't experience God's good gift of sex?"
Let's break this question down.
Can an unmarried couple enjoy sex? I don't think anyone would argue that an unmarried couple can gain physical enjoyment from sex. All sin holds an appeal. Otherwise we wouldn't be tempted by it. But sin gives us a passing pleasure (Hebrews 11:25). It bring momentary joy and then brings consequences later on.
Can a dating couple really be committed to each other? As my friend Jonathan Martin likes to say, when you date, you commit to continuing to date that person until you decide to stop. The idea of a committed dating relationship is a bit of a myth. If a man is really committed to a woman, he should ask her to marry him. If he is not ready to get married, then he is not really committing to her. The same is certainly true for women.

Sex is the most intense form of intimacy. It is the way that we become most vulnerable before another person. God is not arbitrary when he reserves sex for marriage. He warns us not to waste ourselves and open ourselves up to great pain. When you enter into intense intimacy with other person, and then that other person rejects you or abandons you, it is some of the deepest main that can be experienced.
Sadly, marriage is no guarantee that we won't experience rejection or abandonment. Perhaps one of the reasons why many people see no real difference between a dating relationship and a marriage relationship is that so many people abandon their vows. When a person divorces their spouse, they break a promise. When a boyfriend abandons a girlfriend with whom he has been intimate, he doesn't break a promise. But he exploits her after she was willing to give herself to him.
None of us are the exception. God is wise and he is good. We can trust him. Any pleasure that we will experience in any sinful activity will only bring pain and regret in the long-run.

2. What can a married couple do if their physical relationship has stalled (or stopped)?
I said in my message that some people need to repent because they are having sex when they shouldn't be. The real shocker, though, is that other people need to repent because they are not having sex when they should be.
Polls consistently show that 15-20% of marriages are sexless (meaning they have sex 10 or less times each year). The point is not that married couples are compelled by God to be intimate. The point is that many married couples are not experiencing the intimacy that God intends. Sex is not the only important aspect of marriage, but it almost always serves as a barometer of the relationship. If sex has left a marriage, there is something wrong.
A One-Sided Decision. In many sexless marriages, one spouse is the keeper of the keys. In other words, one spouse wants sex and the other rejects them. The Apostle Paul warns against this in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5: "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
Deeper Issues. As I said, sex is often a barometer. If either spouse is disinterested in sex, it usually means that there is hurt and alienation. If the spurned spouse simply says, "Come on, the Bible says that you're not supposed to deprive me," that will probably not be effective. Deeper issues require deeper healing.
The spouse who is withholding needs to take responsibility. Your pain is not an excuse to sin against your spouse. The spouse who is being spurned needs to take responsibility also. Chances are that you have contributed significantly to your situation. Pursue your spouse, apologize, look to set a new tone in the marriage.
On top of all of this, get counseling. Couples often wait a long time before seeking marriage counseling. Among Christians, there should be no stigma for couples seeking counseling. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. We all need help. Don't ignore issues in your marriage. Fight for it.

3. How does a book like Song of Songs relate to single people?
In all churches, there are unmarried people. Some are divorced, some are widowed, some are young singles, and some are lifelong singles. I can certainly understand how singles could be frustrated when churches seem to gear their ministries toward married couples. This can be a blind spot for churches. The Apostle Paul was very clear that the single life is not a second-class existence for believers (1 Corinthians 7). Churches should address singles and married couples.
So, what in the world does a book like Song of Songs have to say to these people? After all, Song of Songs is about marriage, sexuality, and love. Isn't this just a book for married couples?
Think Bigger. All of us always need to remember that the body of Christ is bigger than any one of us. Not every sermon that I hear is going to have direct, immediate application to my life. I may hear a sermon on a passage about modesty and struggling to see it as directly application to my struggles. But the body of Christ is bigger than me. I can celebrate the fact that the sermon will be a great and immediate benefit to many of my brothers and sisters sitting next to me. In the church, we are not called to be consumers. We are members of one another. If one member rejoices, all members rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Trust God's Word. Song of Songs is one of the 66 books in the Bible. If we believe that God has given us the Bible, then we believe that Song of Songs is a divinely inspired gift to God's people. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful. "All" includes Song of Songs. It has a lot to say to us about sexuality and about love, and these are issues that impact every single one of us. And even if you don't see the immediate relationship between a certain passage in God's Word and your daily life, this doesn't mean that the connection does not exist. Trust God and trust his Word.
Focus on the Gospel. The whole Bible has one message: The Gospel. God graciously saves desperate people and gives them new life. Song of Songs is about the gospel. While the love song is not an allegory of God's love, all human love is a small picture of God's amazing and unconditional love. When we read of the groom's intense affection for his bride, we are not only instructed in our own marriages. We are also instructed in Christ's deep affection for his bride, the church. When we read of the bride giving herself fully to her beloved, we are directed to God's invitation that we would entrust ourselves fully to him. We need Song of Songs because it is a part of God's story. It is not just good advice for couples; it is a picture of our need for love and it points us to the solution for that deep need.

I really look forward to continuing to walk through this book with the church. As we do so, please feel free to send out questions and points for discussion. It should be a good and lively series.