Category Archives: Marriage and Family Counsel

Rise Up, My Love (274): True Love is Priceless

Song of Solomon 8:7 “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” Why? Because love is priceless! Love is worth more than any and every material treasure, and the lover will accept no substitute for the object of his love…not even money, although the love of money has probably confused and destroyed more people than any other idol (I Timothy 6:10). If a man would try to buy love with “all the substance of his house”—everything he possessed— He would be despised for reducing love and the person from which it comes to an object. If you set the price of love at a billion dollars, you would reduce it to nothing. By its very nature love must be given. Sex can be bought; love must be given.

As you might guess, I read every book I could get my hands on while studying the Song of Solomon, and today I want to share two quotes if you’ll forgive me. Craig Glickman explains things so well in his book, A Song for Lovers: “The attempt to buy a person’s love is an attempt to reduce that person to an object, to deny him that which makes him a person in the image of God—his voluntary choice of the one whom he will love. So if a man offered a girl all the wealth of his house for love, it would be a great insult. It would be an attempt to depersonalize her. For her to accept would be her greatest degradation, and in reality it would almost be legalized prostitution. Person hood precedes love. In depersonalizing, we destroy it. Love is not an object to be bought because it is priceless” (Glickman, 101).

Harry Ironsides, in his classic Addresses on the Song of Solomon, relates the heartbreaking account from many years ago of a seventy-year-old millionaire who negotiated with an ambitious mother for the hand of her eighteen-year-old daughter. After the wedding, the elderly husband lamented, “I am her sorrow” (Ironsides, 120-121). The old man had been unable to buy her love, and all his money had satisfied neither of them. There is no substitute for love! Love cannot be bought. It must be given.

This should be a sublime comfort to us as the objects of God’s love and favor, because that also means that no bribe of Satan can ever tempt God to give us away now! If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, God has taken us into his kingdom and loves us as he loves Christ. Positionally, we are already one in him and with him, although we won’t experience this relationship fully until he brings us to himself in heaven. No accusation against us is great enough to undo the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and change God’s love. We have been bought and paid for! God will chasten us when we sin and prune us like plants into greater fruitfulness, but even these actions are proof of his love for us: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19). We are secure. We are loved with everlasting love. Nothing will ever separate us from his love, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

 

Rise Up, My Love (273): Of Flames and Fountains

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” Fifteen years ago, when I wrote this commentary, I spent nearly a year on this verse alone, I guess because there was so much road repair that had to be done spiritually in my life in order to move on. I am reminded of the verses in Isaiah 62:10 and 40:3: “Prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people,” and, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”   I had been moving along, trying to build a straight road for my Lord, when all of a sudden a found a huge boulder blocking the path! The stumbling stone was misplaced affection. I was expecting others to remain perfectly loyal to me through thick and thin, and I was allowing failure to unravel me. This is wrong.

We must keep our eyes on Christ at all times and our relationship with him paramount. It is true that friends and spouses are to remain faithful, but it is inevitable that all people will be faced with the temptation to be unfaithful, and people respond very differently to this type of challenge. Our job as a spouse is to address evil with compassionate firmness without sinning ourselves.   The amazing thing is the power of sin to breed sin. Proverbs 6:24 reminds us that “jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” If our eyes get off the Lord and on to our spouse, the partner’s failure is a tremendous catalyst for us to yield to some sin…be it unfaithfulness, or unholy anger, pride, hatred, revenge, or a host of other evils. “Be ye angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). For years I was troubled by a spirit of jealousy (Numbers 5:14).   Sometimes my jealousy was justified, and sometimes it was not, but it caused me constant pain, and my husband—for whatever reasons—was unwilling or unable to reassure me when I would doubt him. Truly, jealousy is cruel as the grave. The heat of it sparked in me a fire of wrath and hatred that I’ve never experienced in any other situation. It may seem a trite saying to repeat, “If you play with fire, you’re sure to get burned,” but jealousy is a wild fire which burns like Sheol…like the fires of hell…like the continuous burning, smoldering fires of gehenna, the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. “The coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” Surrender your jealousy to God and make Him the center of your affections. If your love for everyone else is like “hatred” by comparison, then you’ll always be able to love God and others freely. But, if you allow any other person to become the focus of your greatest concern and attention, you will end up with a misplaced affection that robs you of peace and joy, and you will end up feeling volcanic anger toward the person you thought you “loved” when they fail you. God alone is the source of true love and the fountainhead of unsullied joy.(P.S.—I’m happy to be able to share with you that today Alan and I are doing very well in our marriage. He is a loyal and reassuring husband, and I’m very glad to be married to him!)

But What if You’re Unhappily Married?

This past week, I’ve been thinking about the fact that life, marriage and dealing with our sexuality is a perennial challenge for all of us, whether we’re straight or gay, and I remembered this little devotional from Timothy Campbell’s pull-no-punches book, Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree. To  me, it hits the nail on the head! I hope it encourages you too:

“Shocking News for Unhappily Marrieds”

“I’ve been unable to find anything in traditional wedding vows or in the Bible that allows for the breakup of a marriage because either party is unhappy… Selfishness has no place in a marriage. Self-denial does…

“The Bible takes a high view of marriage, comparing it to the mystical union between Christ and all believers. Husbands and wives can experience the love bond our Lord has with every person of faith, a love that is enduring, forgiving, sacrificial, giving, and expressed often. This kind of love is ever seeking the happiness of others in the family, not its own happiness.

“In worshiping God with our families and laboring to provide for them, we reach the end of our search. What we’ve been looking for isn’t in breaking from family responsibilities to pursue some romantic dream with another person, but in selflessly carrying out our obligations to those we’ve pledged to love.

“In the path of duty, we stumble onto happiness.” Roger Campbell

“Envision a quick make-up after every shake up.” Roger Campbell

Love “beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things
” (
I Corinthians 13:7).

For more information on this really wise and witty book, check out my review:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/everywhere-you-go-theres-a-zacchaeus-up-a-tree/

 

Rise Up, My Love (271): Poison Apples

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Jealousy is cruel as the grave…” This verse stopped me for months when I was originally studying the Song of Songs (now fifteen years ago). My husband and I had just come and gone on our thirtieth wedding anniversary celebration, and even though we’d  enjoyed a really happy vacation together, from the deepest part of me I felt the heat of this verse. There is nothing, nothing, in our relationship that has come close to causing as much pain and anger as jealousy.  (Again, we’re now just about to celebrate our 45th anniversary, and we have a much better relationship, but I could still experience jealousy in a flash if provoked!)

What does it mean to be jealous? Jealousy is “fearful or wary of being supplanted; apprehensive of losing affection or position…vigilant in guarding something…intolerant of disloyalty or infidelity.”* Are you jealous of your spouse? All of those above definitions fit me painfully well. I didn’t know I had a jealous bone in my body until the night my husband-to-be first kissed me, but from that night to this, I have been amazingly jealous of his affection. I had (erroneously) thought that I would never kiss anyone but my husband, and I hoped he would also save himself completely for me.

My beloved husband-to-be totally disagreed with such a policy and kissed me without permission one night as we were saying goodbye for yet another semester of college where we would be separated for months. He had drifted away from the Lord at the time, and we had a very tenuous, unstable relationship. As soon as he left, I sat down and cried. I wasn’t at all sure this was the guy I wanted to marry! I knew Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” I’d even composed a song about it. I knew I could never marry anyone unless he was a Christian who not only “believed” but had truly surrendered his life to Christ. I also cried because I felt violated. How dare he rob me of my “purity?” (Note: Kissing is not fornication; the fact that I didn’t want to kiss anybody but my husband was my choice, but it  was going beyond what the Bible teaches.)

Looking back, I realize that I was being “over righteous,” which is what Solomon warns against in Ecclesiastes 7:16, but I didn’t understand the sin of my own pride, which led to great heartache, just as predicted: “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” I cried because I felt like he didn’t respect my boundaries and needs, and I felt like he didn’t really love me. And, I cried because something deep inside me said, “This is the guy you’re going to marry.” I don’t know where that came from, but I do know that on the heels of that sense came the thought, “and he doesn’t care one bit about maintaining purity…his or yours.”

Looking back, I know the last part was a Satanic deception, but I fell for it. I cried, but I became angry and then extremely jealous of his affection. When he casually wrote a few weeks later saying he and his roommate had taken in another roommate who was female, I thought the worst and decided to get revenge. I fell into Satan’s trap and thought, “I’m going to marry this guy, and he’s totally trashing himself.” (Which, by the way, was not true, but you know how Satan loves to deceive us!) I failed to heed Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” I failed to heed Romans 12:19, which teaches clearly, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” Why? Because only God can mete out vengeance and still retain his righteousness… because only God is perfectly just and holy.

For humans, vengeance is a beautiful, poison apple that—if eaten—will plunge the victim into a sleep of death. In fact, for twenty-five years I felt like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, living a death, awaiting true love’s first kiss to undo the damage. Did Prince Charming ever come to my rescue? Yes, but I learned that the real Prince Charming is Christ. He is the one whose kiss breathes life into our withered souls. He is the jealous God who desires and demands our total allegiance, and he is the only one we can ultimately trust to be unswervingly faithful to us. If we truly fulfill the first command, and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, it takes the poison out of experiencing the pain of human frailty and imperfect fidelity.

For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24).

*The American Heritage Dictionary, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992), 964.

Rise Up, My Love (270): Strong As Death

Song of Solomon 8:6 “…for love is strong as death…” The word for strong is ’az meaning “an irresistible assailant” or “an immovable defender.”* It is used in Judges 14:18 to refer to superlative strength: “What is stronger than a lion?” In Numbers 13:28 ’az is used to describe the giants in the Kadesh Barnea who were so fearsome that the children of Israel refused to enter the Promised Land.

Love has a strength that is as irresistible and unconquerable as death. Notice that in this text, love and death are not being put in contest with each other, as if to test which is greater. It is a comparative rather than a superlative statement. Love is being likened to death. How is love like death? In its universal strength and power. Just as death is a universal experience that cannot be denied, resisted, or subdued, so is love. Death comes to all, and God—who is love—comes to all, showering mankind with new mercies every morning…the warmth of sunshine and the blessings of rain…to begin a list that has no end.The fear of death is a universal experience, and we have inborn instincts to avoid its pain. The desire for love is also universally felt, and we all have inborn drives to acquire its pleasure. Unfortunately, we often fail to understand how to avoid the pain and acquire the pleasure! The answer really has something to do with that “God-sized hole” in the human heart that only God can truly fill, first described by St. Augustine over 1700 years ago.

World around, people stand in awe of the power of love and death. Of course, they mostly seek love and shun death, but thinking people acknowledge the existence of both. People may deny death…for a while, but eventually all men come face to face with death, and often those who have tried to deny it find death before those who acknowledge and avoid it! People may deny love…for a while. But, ultimately, all men will come face to face with Love…if not in this life, then in the next, because we are told that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Oh that men would taste and see that the Lord is good during their tenure here on this earth!

“Love is strong as death.” This is an amazing statement when you stop to think about it, because it doesn’t have any qualifiers. The Scripture doesn’t say “true love,” or “the best love,” or even “sometimes love.” It is simply saying that real love, by definition, is invincible and cannot be conquered or put off, any more than death can be.In our day and age of convenience friendships and throwaway relationships, this definition should be inscribed on our foreheads at birth…and carved deeply into the heart of every bride and groom. When we are tempted to give up on someone we think we love, remember that real love never stops pursuing any more than death gives up pursuit. When our hearts would fail us, we must align our heads with the Scripture and make our actions conform to God’s truth.

Consider the definition of love given in I Corinthians 13. True love behaves in the most wonderful ways! Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or brag. It is not proud or inappropriate. It is not self-seeking or easily angered. It thinks no evil and does not celebrate evil. Rather, it celebrates the truth. It bears all things, believes everything, and is unceasingly hopeful. It endures everything and never gives up or fails.

That is love. And, it is strong as death. I wonder how many of us understand or know how to love. My best attempts at loving others fall dismally short of this definition. No wonder disillusioned unbelievers sometimes think that real love doesn’t exist. Outside of God’s love, there is no such experience of pure love. As C.S. Lewis expressed it: “When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been…within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.”When we experience real love, we experience God, and when we see the face of love, we are looking into the eyes of God! My love, like unrefined gold, is full of impurities. Oh, I may feel that I have great love for others, but when I examine my ability to love my husband…the one on earth who deserves my purest love…I find that I fail in every area. I am not always patient. I am not always kind. I am not always humble. I do want my way sometimes (many times!) and become very frustrated and angry when I feel that my needs are being ignored. I suspect my husband’s motives sometimes. I certainly don’t bear all things and always believe the best. I can remember a time when I wished one of us would just drop dead, and I didn’t care whom. My husband even had to endure hearing me verbalize such miserable unlove!

Here we are approaching our forty-fifth anniversary, and I still fail at times! Almost fifty years of trying to learn how to love, and I still don’t have it down pat. Will I ever get it right?? Despite our greatest desires and best intentions, it appears that we will continue to struggle to love better until the day we see Jesus face to face and are conformed to his image.

In the meantime, every time we feel the power of true love—however transitory it might be—we know that we have experienced God. This is part of the eternal life that all humans crave with every cell in their bodies, and because of this, we will struggle on, continuing to seek love just as we struggle on continuing to shun death. Love is indeed “strong as death.”

* G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 170.

Would You Like to be Able to Avoid the Greener Grass Syndrome?

I don’t believe any marriage between two human beings can be made “affair-proof” any more than any product is 100% waterproof or unbreakable. Do you?

For instance, I have a nephew who heard that his mother’s diamond ring was “unbreakable,” and so he was surprised (and distraught) when he hit it with a hammer and broke it. Humans are frail, fragile creatures capable of great love…and great failure. Only God is perfect and unfailing in his faithfulness. Still, I think this book is an excellent resource for couples, not only those who have failed to keep their marriage vows, but also for those whose love is (at present) strong and steady.

The author, Nancy Anderson, had an affair early in their marriage, although she and her husband walked the painful path through confession, forgiveness, restoration…and have now been married forty years. That makes her more and less qualified to give advice, but before you stop reading based on her character being suspect, let me share what her father had to say when he heard that she was planning to file for a divorce: “No, you’re not!…Happiness has nothing to do with it…You’re acting like a selfish child, and we won’t support you in this separation. The only way we’d ever support you is if you’d exhausted all possible ways to save your marriage.”

Hard words from a girl’s father, but isn’t that exactly what we should all say in such a situation? I thought the book was worthwhile just for the example of how God will intervene when godly parents stand on biblical principles rather than caving in to their kids’ wishes.

The book explains the difference between saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness, the importance of earning trust, and the power of “planting hedges” of protection around your marriage that are rooted in Christ. I’m going to share the six “hedges,” but only to inspire you to read the book, not so you think you know everything and therefore don’t need to study further!

Anderson uses the mnemonic device, HEDGES:
*Hearing: listening and speaking with patience and understanding
*Encouraging: helping each other
*Dating: keeping it fresh and fun
*Guarding: agreeing on your boundaries—and enforcing them
*Educating: becoming an expert on your mate
*Satisfying: meeting each other’s needs

Nancy shares a plethora of ideas about how to build safety and health into your marriage…ideas I liked so well that I’ve been implementing some of the ones that were new to me! Also, she includes excellent teaching on “Affair Repair” and how to recover when there’s been a major breach in the relationship.

Whether you’re trying to figure out what went wrong or would like to build a stronger, sweeter, more satisfying marriage, I highly recommend this book. What a great way to start out the new year!

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:9)

Rise Up, My Love (268): Sealed and Safe

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:” What is a seal? It is something that stands as a visible confirmation of a finished transaction. In a way, it is a contract. It bears the impress and often the image of the contractor. Here are some enlightening points gleaned from Tenny’s invaluable Biblical encyclopedias:
* “The earliest method, as far as one knows, to distinguish a person’s property was by use of the seal; this kind of seal has been found in Neolithic settlements in Mesopotamia.”
* “The earliest seal developed from an amulet and therefore maintained some of the amulet’s magical power. The seal would deter anyone from breaking open the sealed object for fear of the evil that might overtake him.”
* “Though the principal use of seals was for signing documents, they were also used to make safe for shipment jars containing valuable papers or goods.”
* “The unbroken seal was evidence that the merchandise was intact upon arrival” (1).

Wow! Let’s consider Tenny’s commentary in spiritual terms. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 we are told that God “hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” In Ephesians 1:14 and 4:30 we are told that the Holy Spirit himself is the seal…that we have been sealed by “the Holy Spirit of promise” until “the day of redemption.” God is the contractor; he has contracted us to himself in love for our redemption, and he has sealed us with his Holy Spirit of Promise…which bears the impress and image of our invisible Creator, revealing his nature to us and guarding us until the day of our complete redemption, payable upon our death!   Notice also that the seals possessed some assumed “magical” powers which would deter tampering lest evil overtake the one who opened the seal. God’s power is not “magical;” it is beyond magic and imagining…God is all-powerful—omnipotent! It is absolutely correct that every man should fear to tamper with one of God’s elect children…to attempt to “open” or defile his bride! Consider the awesomeness of the judgment that will befall you should you become entangled with sin yourself or attempt to ensnare another believer in a web of sexual immorality or any type of sin. Woe to us for even allowing our minds to wander!

Yet, from time to time we are tempted, and then, with the songwriter of “Come Thou Fount,” our hearts cry out: “Prone to wander—Lord, I feel it—prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart—O take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.” “Set me (the Lord Jesus) as a seal upon thine heart.” We are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. All we have to do is open the eyes of our hearts and see the seal that is there. Make the spiritual reality more real than the physical reality.

No wonder the Israelites used to carry Scripture portions on their foreheads and their arms. They were making God’s commands literal realities. Can we do less? We do not typically walk around with Bible verses on us (although I always keep a Bible in my purse), but we can keep our love for Jesus as a seal upon our hearts by memorizing and meditating on his Word. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Perhaps Solomon’s father, the man “after God’s own heart,” modeled a worthy example of how to set the living Word as a seal upon our hearts in Psalm 119:11: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”   As a last point of spiritual parallelism, note that the seals were used to make jars safe for shipment, and an unbroken seal signified that the contents of the jar had arrived intact. What a beautiful picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives! Not only is he our seal, but he is also the one who provides for our safe conduct from this world to the next, serving as guide (John 16:13), teacher (John 14:26), and comforter along the way (John 15:26), bearing us up on eagles’ wings to bring us safely to the Father (Exodus 19:4)!   Are you familiar with the way eagles teach their young to fly? Eagles build their eyries (nests) very high in the tops of tall trees near water or on high cliffs in the mountains. When the parent perceives that the eaglet is prepared to fly, he will push the fledgling out of the nest, immediately diving beneath him as the young bird flaps and struggles to fly. If the eaglet is unable on the first attempt to learn to use its wings to support itself and fly, the parent will literally soar up underneath his fledgling, bearing it up on his own wings so that the young eagle doesn’t dash itself to pieces on the rocks below. In the same way, our faithful, loving Holy Spirit bears us up on the wings of his love as we struggle to learn how to fly spiritually through this world.

Oh, Lord, thank you for the wonderful seal you have given us in the person of your Holy Spirit! Thank you for his ministry in our lives! Thank you that he bears us up on eagle wings to bring us safely home to heaven and you!

(1) Merrill C. Tenny, ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp., 1977), Vol.5, 322.