The Couple

Great Joy in the New Testament

One of my favourite passages that mentions great joy in the New Testament is Jude 1:24-25. This brief statement is packed with meaning and hope for the Christian believer. As I was looking at the verse in Bibleworks for another study I noticed as my mouse hovered over the word for ‘great joy’ at the end of verse 24 that the definition came back as ‘exultation’. That got me thinking. The concept of Jesus presenting me to the Father with great joy is astounding, this just adds to my understanding!

I decided to take a look at how it is used in the New Testament. The word is only used five times in the entire New Testament: Luke 1:14, Luke 1:44, Acts 2:46, Hebrews 1:9 and Jude 1:24.

Luke 1:14 – This is the announcement to Elizabeth of her pregnancy with John the Baptist. It is Elizabeth, the barren one who is told that she is to bear the ‘Elijah to come’ that exults, rejoices in her blessed role in the Gospel! This is the kind of deep joy, hopeful joy that is expressed in Jude too.

Luke 1:44 – Wonderfully, this word is also used of John the Baptist’s reaction, in his mother’s womb when the expectant Mary arrives to visit Elizabeth.

Acts 2:46 – After the awesome events that unfolded on the day of Pentecost the believers became the Church. Their initial fellowship together was marked by a deep joy and sincerity as they for the first time as ‘my people’ worshipped God through Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 1:9 – Speaks of the superlative Christ, the only One who the Father has exalted as the first born Son and anointed Him with oil of exultation above all others. The anointing with oil is the exultant proclamation that this Jesus is God’s Son on the throne,  forever.

Jude 1:24 – This verse is just replete with hope and anticipation of a joy that will know no end! The wonder of it all is that my joy will be derived from the joy, the exultation of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the One through whom the entire universe was brought into existence and maintained. This Jesus will one day present me, righteous, redeemed by His grace with great joy, with exultation before His Father. I can only begin to imagine what that will be like, but even that beginning is awe inspiring!

Many times the things that we read in the Bible are truly mind blowing in the hope that they offer to us. As Job said:

 Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

Give Head Space to the Word, not the World

It’s well known that the heart has a limitless capacity to love. When you first get married you feel so full of love that you wonder how you could love more, and yet when that first child comes along you realise that your love has spread and increased with no diminution of what is already there.

The head is not like the heart. It is limited in capacity to think and to maintain. As an IT specialist I have to deal with many complex issues for many clients. I find that many of these projects and issues are so complex that I have to move them into my ‘head space’ for the time I work on them, and then park them out so that I can move on to the next issue. I can’t juggle them all in my head at the same time!

It’s the same with the Word and the world. We have a limited capacity in our heads, and if we fill that space with the wrong thing then it crowds out the more important stuff.

Psalm 1 points out this contrast very clearly.

Our relationship with the world is illustrated by a progression:

  1. There is a passing conversation with the world – we pick up something and let it into our minds.
  2. We actually stop and think about it, we allow it a foothold in our heads.
  3. Finally we are in a full blown friendship – sitting down indicates a full relationship.

Sadly the result of this progressive relationship is destructive: The last few verses of Psalm 1 point out that the wicked will not be able to stand before God, they will ultimately perish!

The good news is that there is another way, a way of blessing!

The man or woman who actively delights in God’s word is blessed! The person who is willing to actively give head space to God’s word, the Bible and to consider it will be blessed. We need to mentally move out of our heads that which is unworthy, unnecessary, worldly and replace it with that which is good: Scripture.

Unfortunately our inclinations are like a shopping trolley with a wayward wheel! We are constantly being drawn off course, and just like the shopping trolley it takes a constant deliberate act to keep us on track. The benefits are worth the effort however. The person who gives head space to God’s word, who actively puts it centre stage in his or her head and actively considers it will be like a tree planted by streams of water: solid, secure, fruitful, prosperous.

By God’s grace lets make a conscious decision to give head space to God’s word in the coming year, to fight the wayward inclination that draws us to a deeper and deeper relationship with the world and replace it with the fruit bearing live giving word of the living God.

‘Blessed is the man…’

I Wouldn’t Start from Here

How do we approach and understand the Bible?

The Starting Point

The story is told of a stranger who visits Ireland, and becoming somewhat lost he approaches a local man to ask for directions to Dublin. The local man pauses and considers the matter for several seconds before replying: “If I was going to go there, I wouldn’t start from here.” Of course the joke is intended to tell us more about Irishmen than it does about navigation, but there is a point to it: where you end up, in many cases does depend on where you start from. This of course is true of the Bible: you can come at it without any faith whatsoever and find it to be nothing more than a collection on ‘just so’ stories and fairy tales cobbled together by a variety of men who had ulterior motives in their production. On the other hand for many of us the Bible is more than a mere book, and more than the mere sum of its parts might indicate to the unbeliever. Even within the ranks of believing readers there is a broad range of opinion on exactly what the Bible is and still more to be said about how we understand and approach the Bible as believers.

Presupposing

It is a well understood phenomenon that we approach every piece of information, knowledge or instruction through the filter of our existing understandings and preconceptions. For the atheist this results in seeing the Bible as fiction; for the believer these preconceptions are often rather more vague, and little understood. If we do genuinely believe that the Bible is God’s Word to men and women then we have a responsibility to be sure that we not only understand those preconceptions, but that those preconceptions are valid and correct.

As Christians we are often involved in dialogue and discussion with those who disbelieve, and more often than not we tend to respond to attack rather than positively present the Bible from our own understanding. This being on the defensive, giving an apology for our faith is something that has been ever present since the times of the early Church. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Christian apologies or apologists – they are a right response in certain circumstances to what the world is saying about our faith. But before we begin to respond we must be sure that we are not using the Bible in the same way as our attackers. Let me give you an example to illustrate what I mean:

Science and observation

One major area of conflict with the world is the theory of evolution and the attacks both on our faith in a Creator God and on the veracity of the Bible. The latter is made on the basis that the Bible is scientifically inaccurate and therefore wrong. Our natural response is to maintain that the Bible is scientifically accurate and then to set out to prove it. Of course, assuming that the Bible is the Word of the omniscient God, the Maker of the universe, and more, then we would expect it to be true in every respect, including the scientific, and it is. But, the Bible is not a scientific textbook, and to make that its primary purpose, in refuting modern atheism driven science based arguments is to fail to use the Bible as God intended us to. Whilst being scientifically true, it is not a science textbook and science is not its primary purpose. Even the terminology that we use can affect our attitude to the Bible: the atheist scientist will ask ‘is it accurate’, the seeker will more likely as ‘is it true?’.

In 2011 there was a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami off the coast of Japan. The resultant devastation destroyed a vast swathe of coast along with a nuclear power station. If you were to ask a local geologist what happened you could expect to be told of tectonic plates and seismic events; if you were to ask a nuclear physicist what happened you could expect to be told of fuel rods and containment breaches and radioactive decay; if you were to ask a local fisherman what happened you would most likely hear a first hand account of the ground shaking under him, or under his boat, or waves higher than houses and of a force of nature that destroyed everything in its path. All these accounts would be true and accurate, but come from completely different perspectives. Science is not the only valid truth in this world.

When we come to the record of the Bible we need to fully understand the perspective that it is written from and given for. So, if it is not a science textbook, what is it?

Who do you think you are?

The Bible, in its entirety is God’s Word to us. It is His direct communication to the men and women of His creation. It’s our story from God’s perspective, things that we can’t see that God wants us to know. In a sense it’s a ‘Who do you think you are’ for every man, woman and child on the planet. It tells us where we came from, how we got here, what our ancestors did (both the good and the bad) and it tells us why we are how we are now and what we one day will be!

Whilst the Bible isn’t a science textbook it does give us a clear and unequivocal account of our origins, and that of the universe around us. We need to understand that the Bible gives us what God wants us to know about the universe in which He has placed us. It does not necessarily limit His activity to what we can see or feel – although this may be the extent of God’s work it isn’t explicitly stated – and the Bible is intended for us and therefore tells us our story, not an absolute full and final statement of all God’s activity.

The Bible makes it clear that the entire known universe was spoken into existence at God’s command, that we, although not necessarily physically central to the universe are the prime focus for God’s creation of the world and the creatures and plants on it. Mankind is placed as central to God’s plans for this world, and for the maintenance of it. Of course our walk on this earth is presented as one that includes an ongoing relationship with its Creator.

The opening chapters of Genesis present our family beginnings: creation, the family structure and our relationship with God, our disobedience to God and subsequent fall from that perfect state and relationship to our Creator. The story of the early history of mankind is presented as a perpetual drawing away from God in independence from Him. There are a series of major failings resulting in the Flood and the spread of the peoples after the Babel incident.

Covenant

Subsequent to the spread of the nations after Babel the Bible narrative focuses on one family: Abram’s. God chooses one man from all the people on earth and makes a covenant with him. God promises to provide from and for Abram a nation of God followers, believers. The story of the Old Testament is the story of this covenant unfolding in the offspring of Abram, who is renamed to Abraham as confirmation of the covenant. As the covenant unfolds God guides and helps His people as they follow Him.

The covenant people, however, are not as faithful in their covenant obligations as their God is! Apostasy and disobedience are the hallmarks of God’s people, Israel. The covenant has positive and negative promises, and as Israel falls away from God the negative promises are fulfilled – God’s people are taken captive and dispossessed of their homeland, their covenant possession.

Yet in all their disobedience (that was explicitly foretold) there is also the promise of a heroic figure, God’s Anointed Person, one Man who will change their fortunes and restore their place with God. This Person is the Messiah of the Old Testament, the Christ of the New – both titles are a description of a role, not merely a name. ‘Jesus Christ’ is literally ‘Jesus, God’s Anointed Person’.

As the Old Covenant fails due to the disobedience of the human party to the covenant another, new covenant is promised. Not one of physical lands and possessions, but a spiritual one, that brings us back to God in that original personal relationship that so briefly flourished in Eden. The prophet Jeremiah, at the height of national Israel’s apostasy tells the people of God’s promise to give them a new heart for a new covenant – God’s law written on hearts, not on stones.

Christ – Covenant Fulfiller

The New Testament present Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed Person promised by God to fulfill all His promises to give us a new heart and to restore our relationship with Him. The New Testament tells how Jesus did indeed fulfill the Old Covenant completely, living a sinless life, and in dying as the sacrificial Lamb paid the full atonement for the sins of the people – a once for all sacrifice. The New Testament presents those who believe in Jesus as the Christ to be a part of the original promises of God (the Old Testament is full of promises not just to Israel, but to all the nations of the world). Christians (those who believe in Jesus as Christ) are therefore part of God’s people, Abraham’s descendents and fully in the line of God’s covenant promises from the dawn of creation.

Consummation

The New Testament doesn’t stop with inclusion in the covenant, but points to the ultimate consummation of that covenant. The promise is that this world, this universe isn’t all there is, but that the Creator of all that we see and more will some day replace all of this with a new universe, and new creation for us who believe to live in with our God and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ as God intends. One day, this universe will be rolled up like an old coat and disposed of, while God takes us to His new work, our permanent residence for all eternity!

Conclusion

That’s some story! And it is a story, a true story, even though some of it is future tense, it is nevertheless true and accurate. It is not a textbook, neither is it a list of theological principles or rules, it is a family history, the family history of God and His creation: what He has done, is doing, and will do – fact. But it is our story, whether we believe it or not it has happened, is happening and will happen!

As we approach the Bible, this is the starting point that we need to take, that God, the Creator of this universe and of us has graciously revealed His plans and purposes, what He is doing, how He is doing it and how we can have a part in it. He has communicated His plans, His covenant, specifically because He intends us to participate in His work – that is an incredible offer and one that we dare not reject! So, read the Bible as our story, your story, given by the Story Maker – He is in control of this entire universe and we will see His plans as revealed in the Bible come to pass as history unfolds. If we start reading now, then we will see this great story unfolding around us until that ultimate consummation when our Creator returns for His people, for His new creation.

Who do you think you are?

That which is worthless

Marram & Sky

The psalmist says “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:3)

This is the starting point for much falling away: it is not the overtly sinful that first draws us away from God, but it is simply that which is worthless, that which is empty, that which has no value. As the serpent did with Eve in the garden of Eden it is the temptation to entertain thoughts or desires that are not centred on God, it is the precipice before the ‘sudden’ fall into sin. If we would avoid skirting the precipice the fall would also be prevented.

But we like to flirt with the worthless, to justify it as ‘not sinful’ and therefore somehow legitimate for the man or woman of God, designating it somehow safe. It is not safe, and it is sinful. It is only Satan and our own sin loving desires that persuade us otherwise.

Rather we must set before our eyes Jesus the Author & Finisher of our faith, the One in whose face we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (1 Corinthians 4:6). Anything else is ‘broken cisterns’, empty vessels, less than God, and therefore, worthless.

God created us in His image, and though we can never fully grasp His being He has graciously revealed Himself to us in creation, through Scripture and ultimately through His Son, Jesus. So, let’s do what the psalmist did and resolve not to set before our eyes that which is worthless. Let’s change our reading habits, our TV habits, our social networking habits to put God front and centre of our lives. This will not only please and honour God, but it will benefit and bless us more than we can imagine!

New sermon online: Reading Revelation

Just a quick note to say that there’s a new sermon online now on my sermons page entitled ‘Reading Revelation’. It’s a quick start guide to how to get started on reading this book. For many people the variety of interpretations and opinions puts them off ever starting to read through Revelation. In avoiding it, though, they are missing out on the encouragement that this book brings to all believers. If you haven’t already heard it, do visit the page and have a listen.

The Redemption of Ruth the Moabite

The book of Ruth is a heart warming story. It’s got pathos; it’s got true love; it’s got a happy ending! It’s one of those stories that we love to break out and tell to the Sunday School class – it’s easily understood by any age group; or is it? At what level do we read the book of Ruth and what do we really understand about its place in Scripture? Is it just a fascinating glimpse of historical Israel; a tale of loss and love?

I believe that it would be doing Scripture a gross disservice if we were to relegate any part of it to mere historical or social interest. What we have in the Bible is a compilation of many books (66) by around 40 authors, committed to written form of one sort or another over a period of at least 1400 years; in all probability, much longer. Yet despite this there is a golden thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation, the story of God and His creation: His plans, His purposes and His working out of those plans and purposes in His creation from start to finish, and beyond. In all this, the book of Ruth plays its own important part: it is a part of that golden thread; it adds to the whole. The book of Ruth is more than mere history, it is part of the great story of redemption!

Ruth’s story is not just one recording her own journey through life, but also displays the larger picture of redemption – Scripture’s wonderful Good News to all humanity It is a tender and beautiful depiction of God’s grace, exemplified in one family, but pointing to a much greater reality and in actual fact contributing to that ultimate reality.  We can easily read this little story in single sitting. We should do so in awe and wonder at the grace of God displayed throughout – a grace that we can all have a part of!

Where do we start?

It’s all too easy to read the Old Testament without context, without understanding the times, cultures or customs. Although it is possible to understand in part, and be blessed in part, it is of much more value to take a little time to understand the context better and so enjoy the nuances of the story. This is no simplistic tale of love lost and found, it is carefully put together to display God’s grace at work.

The book of Ruth is actually placed correctly in our modern Bibles. It stands in between the book of Judges and the beginnings of monarchy that we read of in 1 Samuel and following. The last verse of Judges defines the period as one where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. There was no permanent leader, nothing was certain. With the lack of leadership Israel fell prey to warring Philistines and to famine and other natural disasters, having no-one to follow, no-one to lead them. It is in this period of uncertainty and unrest that the book of Ruth is set.

Setting the scene

Moab was outside of the territory that God had allocated to Israel. It lay on the other side of the Jordan and had been opposed to Israel in times past. The initial description of Naomi and Elimelech’s migration to Moab in the face of famine rightly falls into the category of ‘doing what was right in his own eyes’ – it was Elimelech’s choice, and it took that family out of God’s planned home for them. Nevertheless, in God’s providence He worked through this act of independence for His glory and as an act of fulfilment of His divine purpose.

This sad tale of famine and failure, of migration in hope and then of loss, grief and ultimately hopelessness is the backdrop to a tale of hope found and held, in God. Ironically, it is Naomi’s admission of failure: her decision to return home to Israel, to give up her daughters in law and admission that she could not ever provide for them, it is this that is the beginning of the story proper. Things are about to look up!

A Gentile brought in

The second half of Ruth chapter 1 tells the story of a Gentile who is brought in to the family of Israel and to the covenant with Israel’s God. As we read Scripture through it becomes apparent that God’s promise: “they will be my people, and I will be their God” is a recurring theme. How wonderful to see that despite Naomi and Elimelech’s turning away from God and His provision Ruth covenants herself to Naomi, to Naomi’s people, and to Naomi’s God.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16 ESV)

Ruth was a Gentile, and as such she was outside of the covenant of God, outside of His promises and protection. Ruth was widowed, childless and hopeless. In a patriarchal society she had nowhere to go but back to her father’s house. This is what Naomi suggested. It is highly likely that, having married her off once already Ruth’s father would not have been pleased to have her return to him. As a woman she would have no means to provide for herself independently of a husband or father.

Despite being outside of the covenant, Scripture is filled with assurances that God’s grace is not just for those born of Israel’s line. If you read the prophets with half an eye open you will see that they are brimming with references to God’s grace to the nations – the nations are the Gentiles (anyone outside of national Israel). Take Isaiah 49 for an example:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV)

In this wonderful passage about the forthcoming Messiah, Jesus states categorically that it’s not enough that God’s salvation be just for Israel, it’s got to be for all peoples! God’s salvation is to reach the ends of the earth! As such, Ruth is graciously included in God’s promise of salvation! Ruth is a Gentile brought in to the covenant of God by the grace of God.

The lesson we learn for ourselves is that no-one is excluded from God’s grace and mercy, all the nations are included in His salvation. You and I can know the truth of this in our own lives!

A kinsman redeemer

Chapter two of the book of Ruth introduces Boaz. He is a man of substance: we are told that he is a ‘worthy’ man; someone to look up to, someone to be relied on, the hero of the story, the kinsman redeemer.

In the provision of the promised land every tribe was allocated a territory that was theirs by inheritance in perpetuity, they could lease it, but never permanently sell it. As this was inherited by the male offspring, if a man was to die childless he would lose his land, there would be no-one to inherit for him. In this situation the brother (or nearest kinsman) was to provide an heir on behalf of the deceased. He would take the widow as his own wife and the offspring from the union would be deemed to be the child of his dead brother. Boaz was to Ruth a kinsman redeemer. Boaz had the authority to redeem Ruth from her helpless situation (2:20), it was in his power to transform her life.

Praise God that we too, although helpless to save ourselves have a kinsman Redeemer: Jesus!

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, (Ephesians 1:7 ESV)

We too are completely powerless to save ourselves, we have no inheritance in God, we are lost and alone with no-one to save. But Jesus Christ is our kinsman, He became one of us for this purpose.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:14,17 ESV)

Only Jesus has this power to redeem us – He is our kinsman and He has the power to redeem by means of His perfect life! Jesus can and will redeem us from our sin to reconcile us to our God.

An act of dependence

It wasn’t just Boaz who had a part to play in this story. Ruth also had to play her part, to place herself under Boaz’s protection and redemption. In this one simple act is a momentous change in status.

And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9 ESV)

This beautiful episode culminates in Ruth going to Boaz at night and voluntarily placing herself in his care – an act of total dependence and submission. In this act Ruth has placed herself under Boaz’ provision, protection and redemption.

As Ruth did with Boaz, our only means of redemption is to place ourselves wholly and completely under the wings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our salvation can only come as an act of grace from God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is no-one else we can go to, but we must go, we must come to Him in complete submission and dependence, seeking from Jesus what only Jesus can do.

A consummation, a kingdom, an inheritance

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. (Ruth 4:13 ESV)

This is the finale, the great turnaround, the helpless, hopeless widowed foreigner is now a wife and a mother! This son is not just any son, but one of the line through which king David, and ultimately Jesus Christ will come! From hopelessness to the hope of the world in four simple chapters!

Boaz redeemed the lost inheritance of Naomi’s family; he restored their fortunes for generations to come. The consummation of his marriage to Ruth is the basis for the Davidic monarchy and for the lineage that leads to Christ Himself.

In Christ we too are restored; our lives are turned around and we have hope! In Christ too there is a consummation: Jesus is the groom, we are the bride; Ruth and Boaz are a picture of Christ and His Church! In Christ there is a new, eternal kingdom, with Christ as the Head and us as the restored, redeemed bride. Revelation 19 tells the story of the marriage supper of the Lamb – the hope of our ultimate consummation of our relationship with our Redeemer – what a wonderful hope for helpless sinners!

In Conclusion

We are, then, Gentiles incorporated into God’s people for God’s glory and our redemption. We have a kinsman redeemer in Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the One with the power to redeem. We must come to Him in and ask Him to spread His wings over us. We have a great hope, an inheritance, a place in His kingdom if we seek Him and His redemption.

As we read the Old Testament in general, and the book of Ruth in particular let’s do it with the understanding of the great truths that are revealed, all pointing to Jesus, the Christ, our Redeemer.

What Kind of Helper?

In John’s Gospel Jesus promised His disciples another helper. The Greek word translated as helper or comforter, or counsellor is a difficult one to translate straight into English – that’s why we’ve got so many different words used in our English Bibles. So how can we get a better understanding on what this means?

First, we need to look at the context. Throughout the Gospel of John there’s a gradual growth of understanding among the disciples as to who Jesus is, culminating in Peter’s declaration: “You are the Christ, the Son of God” (John 11:27). But once they know who He is, Jesus begins to explain that the Christ must die, rise and ascend to heaven. It’s this loss of Jesus and His ministry that prompts Peter to ask: “Lord, where are you going?” in John 13:36. It was a sense of loss that prompted the question that Jesus answered with the promise of another helper.

The promise of another helper implies that the Holy Spirit would continue the work in the disciples that Jesus had commenced. Greek has two distinct words for ‘another’ – meaning one of a different sort, or one of the same sort. This promise is for a paraclete of the same kind – in other words the disciples wouldn’t be left alone, or without the ministry that Jesus was exercising among them. The second half of John 14 spells this out in more detail, but the important point is that Jesus promised not to leave the disciples as orphans. We have the assurance that the paraclete – One called to be alongside us has as His divine vocation the continuation of the role that Jesus graciously initiated when He walked and talked and taught the first disciples! Praise God!

How to Read Revelation

The book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible is a difficult book. We can’t get around that, but that doesn’t mean that we can neglect it. In its opening verses we are told that those who read it out loud, and those who hear and keep the words are blessed! That’s worth having!

The name of the book: Revelation comes from the Greek word which means the same thing – apocalypse. In modern western culture the word apocalypse has come to be associated with cataclysmic events – you know the sort of thing – there’s even a genre of apocalyptic movies: large budget, large scale awesome dramas. Well, that’s what the book of Revelation is, it’s a large scale awesome drama – and it’s real! This is God’s message to us, His portrayal of what He will one day do, and it is awesome beyond our comprehension!

So, when we read the book of Revelation we need to start, at least, by treating it as a drama in the sense that it’s something that we are viewing as spectators, as well as being a part of. Read it in one sitting, as a true story of colossal proportions, infinite implications and cataclysmic repercussions for all mankind. Read it in awe and wonder at the scale of God’s doings, and then come to Him in worship and praise.

A Positive Perspective on Marriage

In these days it seems that everyone has an opinion on marriage, and everyone is equally dogmatic. I have no problem with dogmatism, but that dogmatism must be based on substance, not mere opinion or prejudice. The present government in the UK have indicated their intent to redefine marriage in UK law. I know that I’m sticking my head above the parapet with this, but here are my thoughts.

To redefine a thing implies that there is something substantial there in the first place to change. There is an existing understanding of marriage within the Christian faith that is wholly biblical. That is, the source of our understanding of, our definition of, our practise of marriage is based on what the Bible tells us about what it is and how we do it. The word marriage is a theological and sacramental term, and as Christians we can only restate what the the Bible gives as our authoritative word on the matter. If God, through the Bible is the source of our definition of and understanding of marriage, then no government has the authority to redefine it. They may introduce whatever other partnerships they deem to be acceptable, but to redefine that which God has set out goes beyond their remit and their right.

The reaction to the government’s proposals seem largely to be negative, with good reason. Whilst supporting that reaction I believe that we are missing the opportunity to put forward a positive perspective on what marriage really means to the Christian. What follows is, I trust, a positive presentation of what the Bible describes marriage to be.

In the first chapters of Genesis we are given the family history of mankind. It’s a sort of ‘Who do you think you are’ of the human race: where we came from, who we came from, and why things are as they are. This includes creation, men and women and the reason the world is full of wrong.

In this story the introduction of the first man, Adam, to the first woman, Eve is told as a story within a story. It was made obvious that nothing else in creation was right as a ‘partner’ for Adam. The specific phrase used for this ‘partner’ means, literally: ‘like opposite to’ – the same, but complementary. The two, becoming one were to be better than either on their own, but the fact that they are man and woman is fundamental to this – two different, but matching halves of a wonderful whole, just like those love heart necklaces for two lovers where the two parts join to make a single perfect heart.

This is presented in the Bible as the union intended by God for men and women.

Jesus, when asked about divorce quoted the text from Genesis, and reaffirmed that this was God’s plan. He went further by stating that ‘What God has joined together, let not man separate.’ This was made in the context of divorce, but the inference is that marriage is made before God and is subject to His specific blessing as men and women commit their lives to one another before God in fulfillment of His intentions for mankind.

I said earlier that marriage is a sacramental term as well as a theological one. The reason for this is found in the book of Ephesians that tell us that within marriage a husband should love his wife as Christ loved the Church. The same passage then continues to tell us that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. For the Christian believer the whole story of Jesus Christ, His death, resurrection and return are bound up in the concept of a groom returning for his bride. It’s an exciting picture, it provokes anticipation and wonder at the God of the whole universe choosing to come and claim that which doesn’t deserve Him, to be His bride. Above all it is a picture of overcoming triumphant love! To the Christian believer this understanding, this picture within marriage is precious. To the Christian, marriage is the opportunity to live under God in a way that fulfills His will, that allows us to relate one with another in the same love that we have been loved with and to look forward to an ultimate consummation of our relationship with God in what the Bible calls ‘the marriage supper of the Lamb’.

If you believe in Jesus as Lord and God, and are trusting in His redemption through His sacrifice on the cross, then this is wonderful beyond measure! If you don’t have a faith in God, then it will be of no value and will more than likely confuse you immensely. That in itself is understandable.

If all that I have said makes no sense, then I would gently suggest that whatever your persuasion, a civil partnership would be a more true reflection of your faith or choice not to believe. If you don’t believe in God, do you really wish to take on a commitment that is so bound up in Biblical concepts and that at its heart is done before God and in God?

If what I have said does make sense, then take heart that in marriage we have a wonderful microcosm of Christ and the Church – it is imperfect, but it carries with it the hope of eternity!

It is this positive and high view of marriage that causes Christians to defend the definition laid down in the Bible, and also causes Christians to affirm that the state has no authority to redefine that which God has already defined. This does not prevent the state from providing a civil partnership program that is open to all. The state can also insist that Christians must partake of civil partnership as well as whatever religious ceremony is involved, but it cannot redefine a God ordained institution.

If the state chooses to redefine marriage in such a way that Bible believing Christians cannot in good conscience enter into it then those Christians, for whom this is fundamental to every aspect of our faith, will be relegated to the sidelines of society and in secular terms barred from that which they, more than any other part of society, believe in.

Please read this as my attempt to portray the positive understanding of marriage within the Christian Church – it is not intended to condemn or demand, it is simply presented as a statement of faith, a reaffirmation which I believe is much needed. It is written unashamedly from a Biblical perspective, because, for me that is the only one possible. Please accept my faith in God and His revelation of His will through the Bible as the basis for my belief, and my freedom to express this for all to consider. For those who wish to look, the passages that I referred to are to be found in Genesis 2, Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5.

Gladden the Soul of Your Servant

Since God first placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with the tree of life to eat of our relationship with God has been one of complete dependence. God is our Creator, our Provider, our Saviour. The Psalms are full of expressions of this dependence on God, couched in Hebrew poetry and song. The children of Israel were fully aware of their dependence on God, and of His amazing provision throughout their history, oftentimes in spite of their disobedience.

Psalm 86 sums up this attitude of dependence: it’s not one of obligation or duty on God’s part, and it’s not one of grumbling expectation or demand on our part. Rather, it is the creature turning his face to the Creator in anticipation of the good that will come from seeking Him. “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” (Psa 86:4 ESV) is the cry, and the expectation. Why? “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.” (Psa 86:5 ESV)

In the day to day wants and needs we so often forget that what we most need, and what God most wants to give is His blessing, His goodness, the gladdening of our souls as our amazing God abounds in His love towards us. So, let’s call on Him, expecting that He, in His mercy and grace will gladden our souls!