When Lisa and I talked through our sermon series on marriage we considered several possible biblical couples. The list included the likes of Adam and Eve, Jacob and Rachel, David and Bathsheba, and Job and his unnamed wife. Each marriage had its own unique challenge that was not dissimilar from the challenges we face in the 21st century. But we settled on Acquila and Priscilla because of the positive influence they had as a couple for the sake of the Kingdom of God. They are mentioned in four passages from which we made four observations.
First, they were together in the marketplace (Acts 18:1-3). Priscilla and Acquila arrived in Corinth sometime after Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in AD 49 for preaching about Christ. There they met Paul who was also a tentmaker. We don’t know if Priscilla and Acquila were publicly preaching in Rome, but they certainly didn’t hide their faith in Corinth. They wore their faith on their sleeves and quickly drew the attention of Paul. They worked with Paul and opened their home to him.
In the next mention we find them together in missions (Acts 18:18). The time came for Paul to move on from Corinth, and evidently he enlisted Acquila and Priscilla to accompany him as he continued his second missionary journey. They sailed to Syria, where Paul left them in Ephesus while he traversed farther inland. Acquila and Priscilla were willing to uproot their lives and occupations for the sake of spreading the gospel on foreign soil.
At the end of Acts 18 Priscilla and Acquila were together in mentoring young Apollos. Apollos was educated in Alexandria and was a gifted communicator. They were impressed with his knowledge of Jesus the Messiah and his ability to offer an articulate apologetic to the Jews. The only issue Apollos had was that he didn’t know anything about Pentecost or believer’s baptism. Instead of publicly deriding him they privately pulled him aside and mentored him. Priscilla and Acquila invested their lives in a good man and helped him become better.
One of the unique opportunities before the modern church is the chance to have older couples mentor young couples and newlyweds. If you’ve been married 20 years or more you have a lot to offer young couples who are just starting out. Have a young couple in your home or take them to dinner. Help them understand that marriage is worthwhile and that difficulties can be overcome with faith and sweat equity.
The final mention of Acquila and Priscilla is found in the last chapter of Romans. In verses 3-5, Paul commended them for their lives together in ministry. A careful reader will note that they have returned to Rome after their eviction by Claudius. Paul noted that they had risked their lives for him. He also mentioned their reputation throughout all of the Gentile churches. He greeted them and the church that met in their homes.
So what is the value of all of this togetherness?
Serving together reminds us that marriage is more than striving to make our spouses happy or making money so we can retire or even having and raising children. Marriage is a living picture of Christ and his church.
Serving together keeps married couples focused on eternally significant things. It helps us keep life in perspective. You probably caught the fact that two of the four passages mention that Acquila and Priscilla expressed hospitality and used their house as a place of ministry. What could happen if we saw our houses as outposts for ministry and missions? How could you use your home as an opportunity to reach out?
Serving together causes spouses to challenge each other spiritually. When you serve together you are more likely to stay together spiritually than if one serves and the other does not. If you’re frustrated with your spouse’s tempo of spiritual growth, challenge him or her by inviting him or her to serve with you. You’ll be glad you did!
Here are some more findings regarding tithing in America gleaned by Brian Kluth via STATE OF THE PLATE.
I left yesterday’s post with an open ended question: How do we develop and cultivate trust in marriage?
1. Pray and read Scripture together on a regular basis. Many Christian couples who have mastered table grace have found it difficult to develop this routine with any degree of regularity, including us. It’s a hard discipline to master, because there’s always something else vying for our attention. But it does make a difference. Praying together is a tangible way to realize that life is not just about me or even us.
2. Recall God’s faithfulness in history. One of the things you may have noticed in your Old Testament readings is the frequency with which those characters recite their pilgrimage. Prayers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are an example of this. Another is the ongoing reminder of the Exodus and how God rescued them from slavery and delivered them through the Red Sea. By retelling these stories the Israelites were reminded of God’s past faithfulness. This recollection encouraged their faith in God for both the present and the future. Retelling the stories of God’s faithfulness in your marital history will build your faith in God for today and tomorrow.
3. Take conversations to a spiritual level. I recently read that we live out of two narratives. There is the narrative of what has happened, and then the narrative that I tell myself about what happened. While we may not be able to do much about the first narrative, we certainly have some influence over the second one. Too many times we fail to ask ourselves questions such as, “Where is God in all of this?” or “What does God say or think about this?” By elevating the conversation to a spiritual level we invite God to be a part of it and can begin to see his hand at work.
4. Encourage one another’s obedience to God. Lisa does this very well for me. When things happen that are difficult or disappointing, we can either join our spouse in complaining, blaming and excuse making or we can encourage our spouse to be obedient, reminding him or her of Christ’s obedience while on earth (Hebrews 5:7-9).
5. Rejoice that the struggle will make you stronger. Psalm 81:16 says, “But I would feed you with the finest wheat. I would satisfy you with honey from the rock.” God has a way of bringing forth sweet things from hard places. The difficulties we endure produce growth and develop our character. Good things come out of those hard experiences.
Admittedly, we don’t think much about Joseph and Mary outside of the month of December, and when we do, they serve the story as supporting actors to the star who is swaddled in the manger. We don’t pay much attention to Joseph because we’re not certain of the significance he plays in the story. As for Mary, Baptist just plain get nervous about any conversations concerning her.
In Luke’s version of the incarnation, Mary receives an angelic visitation to announce the work of God through her. Luke 1:29 says that Mary was “confused and disturbed” about the announcement. Lisa pointed out in last weekend’s sermon that this description was, perhaps, an understatement. There were a lot of social implications that came with this divine request. To be the mother of the Messiah would have been a fair amount of pressure, not to mention the challenge of being a pregnant virgin who would have some explaining to do to her fiancé. The angelic visitation enabled her to trust God and obey him. Fortunately, Mary did have a relative she could turn to for support. She went to stay with Elizabeth, who was also pregnant at the time with a baby who we would later recognize as John the Baptizer.
The Gospel of Matthew reports Joseph’s point of view on the event. One can scarcely imagine the conversation between Mary and Joseph as she tried to explain the story of how she had become pregnant. The Bible says that Joseph was a good man, but this news from Mary became a deal breaker for him. He must have had a lot of conflicted emotions. Perhaps he was embarrassed and a little disappointed. He may have felt a violation of trust. Yet at the same time he was a compassionate man. As a Jew, he could have surrendered Mary to religious authorities and had her stoned to death in order to save face. But he didn’t. He determined to break the engagement privately and compassionately. We don’t know if Joseph talked to anyone about what happened, or even if he had a confidant available to him. But God came to him in a vision during his sleep and that visitation enabled Joseph to participate in God’s plan. He was able to trust and obey God.
God was the common denominator between Joseph and Mary. He was and is the ultimate unifier. God had providentially brought them together and would go to great lengths to keep them together. We need to remember that when we can’t trust our circumstances, we can always trust God.
We all have problems in our marriages. Some are easily resolved with humor. But what if our problems are bigger or ongoing? Some of our problems are from Satan, who wants to disrupt and destroy our homes (John 10:10). Some problems are permitted by God and are designed to build character and faith, as when Jesus sent the disciples across the lake in a boat knowing a storm was on the horizon (Matthew 14:22-33). We have problems like Mary and Joseph. Unfortunately, we don’t get angelic visitations or visions from God. Yet, we have to exercise trust and obedience. How do we cultivate and develop trust? Tomorrow I’ll offer five suggestions on how couples can cultivate trust in God that will help them weather the storms that come.
Yesterday I posted that character leads us to make commitments that are fulfilled in the simple, ordinary acts of everyday faithfulness. Doing little things with no expectation of anything in return, acknowledging each other’s kindnesses, accepting your spouse for who he or she is, and seeking to meet your mate’s needs rather than demanding your own needs be met are some examples of such behavior.
What’s important to note from the story of Ruth is that God used her faithfulness to extraordinary proportions. In preparation for this sermon Lisa observed, “The ordinary becomes extraordinary if you do the day to day things with faithfulness.”
Ruth doesn’t know or have any way of knowing how her story will end or the legacy she will leave. As the story goes, she and Boaz marry and have kids. She would become through that union the great grand mother of King David and serve the lineage of Jesus Christ himself. In fact, Ruth is one of five women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:5).
Marriages are not built on great purchases or outstanding vacations. They aren’t developed by purchases or experiences. To say it another way, they aren’t won by the 60 yard touchdown pass. They’re built on the “three yard and a cloud of dust.” Sure, there are times when you’ll catch wind in your sails and feel effortless. But the honest reality is that marital success comes by consistently doing the small things well.
The story of Ruth is framed around brokenness and disappointment. Within the opening five verses Ruth lost her father in law, brother in law and husband. Three women are huddled together, filled with grief for their loss and fear for their future. It was at this point that Naomi determined to let her daughters in law move on with their lives. Orpah accepted her recommendation and returned to her family. Ruth, however, was determined to return to Israel with her mother in law. Her character is revealed in her impassioned plea to Naomi,
“Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:16-17, NLT)
People of character want to make commitments. They just can’t help themselves, and Ruth is no exception. In her request she made four of them:
1. I will remain with you physically.
2. I will accept your people (race) and your family as my own.
3. I will be one with you spiritually.
4. I will stay with you until death.
People of character want to make commitments, and often make bold ones. But how are they lived out? Commitment are fulfilled in the small, everyday acts of faithfulness. For example, Ruth was willing to move to Israel with Naomi. Once there, she assumed responsibility for her welfare and went to the fields daily to glean grain so there would be food to eat.
The story of Ruth provides an good lesson for those of us who are married. Marriage is, if nothing else, a series of commitments lived out th everyday faithfulness.
Abraham was now a very old man, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh. Swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:1-4, NLT)
One of the first love stories we find in the Bible is the story of Isaac and Rebekah. It all began after Isaac’s mother died. Abraham was advanced in years and recognized that he needed to arrange a marriage for his son. He deeply cared about who his son would marry and sent his servant on a journey to find just the right person. I think most parents care about who their children marry. One of the points Lisa shared with our congregation was the importance of praying for the future spouses of our children. Using Luke 2:52 as a framework, she shared these four points that frame her daily prayers for our children:
1. Pray for their mental and emotional growth. (“Jesus grew in wisdom”)
2. Pray for their physical growth and health. (“and in stature”)
3. Pray for their spiritual formation. (“and in favor with God”)
4. Pray for their character development. (“and in favor with all the people”)
What you pray for yourself, pray for your children. And what you pray for your children, pray for their spouses or their future spouses. If you read the entirety of Genesis 24, you’ll find prayer plays an important role in the process Abraham and his servant undertook to find just the right wife for Isaac. Christian parents care about marriage and who their children marry, because God cares about marriage and who our children marry.
Barna Research Group has released a new study today regarding the 18-29 year old age group known as Generation Y or the “Millennials.” According to the report, 8 million members of this particular demographic will disengage from participation in church. The survey shares some helpful insights as to why they’re leaving the church and what might bring them back. You can read the article HERE.
Two weeks ago I began a new sermon series on marriage. Marriage is a difficult topic to address, simply because more private pain is held from marriage and parenting than any other aspect of our lives. We’re not comfortable talking about our family struggles, and that isolation leads us to errantly believe that we’re the only ones who struggle with our spouses and our kids. So when marriage is addressed, congregants tend to think the preacher is speaking directly to them. Nothing is farther from the truth.
With that in mind, here’s how I’ve approached this series. First, I opted to steer away from the rhetoric of Paul and Peter. While their instructions can be very helpful, they are served without the context of story. It’s like purchasing an item that requires assembly without diagrams and illustrations. Rather than lean on Paul and Peter, I chose to develop a series based on the stories of marriages in the Bible and called it Love Stories. I believed and still believe it would be helpful to study marriage our of the story of marriages.
Another benefit of this strategy is the value of authenticity that Scripture has when it communicates the narratives of biblical characters. God presents his characters “warts and all,” and that is true of the marriages that are depicted. None of them are perfect and each of them have their particular struggles.
The other decision I made about this series was that I would team teach it with my wife, Lisa, to provide a complete voice. As a man, I am influenced by my maleness which colors everything I say about marriage and family. This is one of the interpretive challenges that Paul and Peter have. We are led to believe Paul was single at the time of his writings, however, in order to have achieved the status of “Pharisee of Pharisees,” he would have had to have been married. We don’t know if Paul’s wife died or if their was an unfortunate divorce, but for what its worth, I believe he at one time had been married. We only know of Peter’s marital status because Jesus healed his mother in law from a fever (Matthew 8:14ff), but we know nothing else of his experience. The point is that Paul and Peter, even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, give one perspective. To create a “whole voice,” Lisa agreed to share the platform with me for four weeks to preach these four sermons. It has been positive and helpful, and our congregation has been grateful for the color and insight she adds.
We have shared in the preparation as well as the presentation and have done our best to create balance and authenticity. I believe its been effective without becoming gimmick.