DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Marriage Transformation (1 Peter 3:1-7)

At first glance, the passage that we just read has absolutely no application to anyone sitting here. The apostle Peter was writing to address Christians in circumstances that no longer exist, at least not here. He was actually writing to address the intersection of two circumstances, and my guess is that nobody here lives at this same intersection.

The first circumstance is a patriarchal society that looked down on women - a society that no longer exists. In Peter's day, women were classed with slaves as inferior beings. Wives were expected to follow their husband's religions, whatever they may be. A husband could legally throw out babies that he didn't want to keep, visit a prostitute, and generally make his life miserable for his wife if he chose to. He wasn't allowed to beat her, but there's no doubt that it was a man's world.

The other circumstance was a wife's conversion to Christ. Women were coming to Christ before their husbands, which created huge problems. The fact that she would be adopting any religion other than her husband's would look like an act of open rebellion and would cause the husband embarrassment. People would accuse him of not properly managing his household. When his wife attended worship without him, with people who were not her husband's friends, it wouldn't look right. In a patriarchal society, a wife's devotion to Christ could cause huge problems in her family.

At the intersection of a patriarchal society and a wife's conversion to Christ, there were huge problems. Peter writes to address this problem, as well as a related one for husbands. So here's the issue for us today: nobody here lives at this intersection. Some of you may be married to an unbelieving spouse, and you deal with all of the issues that come from that. But thankfully we live in a society that values women. Sexism still exists, but our view of women is radically different from back then.

So what does this passage have to teach us? A lot - not just for those who are married, but for everyone here. Peter teaches us how to transform our marriages, and what he says will completely transform your marriage as well as any other relationship.

Let's look at what Peter says and how it applies to us.

The Context: Tensions in Marriage

The context of Peter's passage is that the wives and the husbands that he addresses are experiencing some tension in their marriages. The tensions are mainly because one spouse believes and the other one doesn't, which as we've said could cause all kinds of problems. So there's a whole other level to what Peter says here.

I've lived something personally and seen it in other couples. When my marriage is going well, it's not hard at all to be loving and considerate with my wife. Not at all. It just comes easily because there is no stress in the marriage. Things are going well.

But Charlene and I have been through periods of stress in our marriage as well. Most marriages eventually reach these dry periods, or even periods of crisis. It's incredibly hard to be gracious and loving and considerate in those times.

When we prepare couples for marriage, most people are pretty confident in their relationships and that things are going to go pretty smoothly for them. Eventually every marriage reaches that point in which there are tensions and hurts, and things are not easy.

Most of us who are married here know that marriages go through periods of tension, and worse. Some of you are married to unbelievers and know some of the stress that causes. When you're going through tensions and stress in your marriage, how do you respond?

How to Respond

The normal way that we respond to tensions in marriage is to focus on what our spouse is doing wrong, or to assert our own rights. It wasn't easy for these wives. Their husbands were resistant to the gospel. They may have ridiculed the message and insulted the wives. It may have even been impossible for the wives to speak of their faith to their husbands. How do you respond under these circumstances?

Some of us may be facing this exact same situation. For others of us, it's broader. It falls under the same general category of being treated unfairly or unjustly. John Piper says that it's about how to respond when your husband is not a Promise Keeper. You've heard about Promise Keepers? It's an organization that encouraged men to make commitments like honoring Jesus Christ, pursuing vital relationships with other men, building strong marriages, supporting the mission of the church. But he says, "Some Christian women are not going to have promise-keepers for husbands. They're going to be married to non-promise-keepers." What do you do when your husband is not the man you hoped he would be? When your wife is not the woman that you hoped she would be?

Peter says in verse 1, "Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands." That's not at all what you hoped it would say! When you are the victim of injustice, when you are experiencing stress in your marriage and you are even the victim of ridicule and unfair treatment, the last thing that you want to do. But Peter says that is what wives are to do, and he repeats it in verse 5: "For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands."

I bet you there are alarm bells going off right now. We object on the basis of thinking that submission is sexist, that we live in more enlightened times. But it's interesting that Peter doesn't base submission on a woman's role. He bases it on Jesus Christ. Verse 1 says "in the same way." In the same way as what? In the same way as he mentioned in the previous chapter, and it's all based on the submission of Jesus Christ to injustice. In the previous chapter Peter wrote:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. "He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)

Why submit? Not because you are inferior in any way. Not because you're a woman. Submit because that is what Jesus did for our sakes. The one to whom all people should have bowed willingly lay aside all of his rights and allowed himself to be mistreated for our sakes. And we who are privileged beyond belief can willingly lay aside our rights and our privileges for his sake. We are called to imitate Christ in willing subjection to service. The call to submit isn't based on sexism; it's based on imitating what Jesus did when he lay aside his rights for our sake. The call for a wife's submission is part of a larger call for submission from all Christians in different ways, as we'll see in a moment.

We need to be really careful here that we understand what submission is. Some have taken this idea of submission and twisted it to teach that women have to put up with any behavior. There is nothing in this passage that sanctions abuse or suggests that women should subject themselves to that kind of treatment. If abuse is taking place in marriage, submission does not mean that you put up with the abuse. You don't. It's entirely appropriate to get help and to take steps to put an end to the abuse.

John Piper has studied this passage and come up with a really helpful list of what submission is not based on these verses:

  1. Submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says.
  2. Submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the wedding altar.
  3. Submission does not mean avoiding every effort to change a husband.
  4. Submission does not mean putting the will of the husband before the will of Christ.
  5. Submission does not mean that a wife gets her personal, spiritual strength primarily through her husband.
  6. Finally, submission does not mean that a wife is to act out of fear.

Well, what is submission? Submission means that you are willing to lay aside your rights and imitate Christ's example in serving others, even when it's not easy. It means surrendering ego. As Karen Jobes writes, it is "the resolve to live one's entire life totally committed to the well-being of one's spouse in every decision."

And by the way, it's something that is offered but never demanded. A well-known evangelical leader said, "I believe in a wife submitting to her husband, but I don't believe the husband ever has the right to demand it...In fact, I know when I am unworthy of it, she does not. My responsibility as a husband is to be worthy." A wife's job is to live one's life totally committed to the well-being of her husband.

And in case the husbands think they're off the hook, Peter writes in verse 7: "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." We'll get to that weaker part in a minute, but notice that Peter says the exact same thing to husbands. Be considerate. Treat them with respect. See them as spiritual co-heirs. Peter is writing to men who have all the power in the relationship at that time, and he's telling them to treat his wife as a sister in Christ, as an equal partner in God's grace.

He says things like spend time with your wives. "Live with them." Somebody's said, "Nothing will transform your marriage like time." It is the currency of relationship. He said, "Be considerate" which means to understand your wife. Get to know your wife, her needs, her desires, her wants. Learn what she likes, what she doesn't like. Somebody's said, "You've got to have a Ph.D. in your wife by your tenth anniversary." If you don't know where to start, ask your wife. Sit down, and make it safe, really listen without responding, and ask, "Is there anything that I could learn that would make me a better husband?" "If our marriage could improve in one area, what would that be?"

"Treat them with respect," Peter says. Honor her. Praise her. I promised you that we'd talk about the weaker partner part. Women back then were in a weaker position of power than men. Women are weaker physically. This is not a reference to strength of character, morality, or mental power. Understand her needs, when she doesn't feel safe.

See her as an heir with you of "the gracious gift of life." That means to share with her in all the good things that life brings. Make sure that the blessings of your life are flowing to her equally. See yourselves as heirs of God, partners. As his children, we can expect to inherit his blessings. Do life with your wife. Share it all. Open up to her and share yourself with her. Live your life totally committed to the well-being of your wife. As somebody's said, you can complain about your wife for a few years, but after ten years you're responsible for the wife you've poured yourself into.

Don't forget, by the way, that Peter isn't writing to people who are on second honeymoons enjoying candlelight dinners. He's writing to marriages that are full of stress. He's writing to wives whose husbands don't understand their commitment to Christ. He's addressing marriages with tensions.

The last thing in the world we want to change when our spouse lets us down is ourselves. We want to put all our energy into changing them. Peter says that the best way to change them is to change yourself by laying your rights aside and putting the well-being of your spouse as your priority, even when they don't deserve it.

Here's why. A godly husband can transform a wife. A godly wife can transform a husband. Peter says in verse 1, "they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives." The best way to change your spouse is to change yourself - or more accurately, by allowing God to change you. As verse 4 says, it's about having your inner life changed. The best way to respond to stress in marriage is to allow God to change you - not your spouse, you.

And by the way, this applies to every relationship in your life as well. We're called to follow Christ's example in all of our relationships. We don't need to be concerned with maintaining our rights. Like Jesus, we can trust our heavenly Father, the righteous Judge, to do that. We are privileged beyond imagination, but we don't have to hold on to our privileges. We can offer our lives in service as Christ offered his life in service for our sakes when we didn't deserve it.

How?

Well, all of this is good, and I think we'd all agree that marriages would be better if we did this, but how? Nobody acts this way naturally. There's not a person here who naturally thinks this way in the middle of a marriage conflict. There are some of us here who would love to live this way, but we just don't know where to start.

Peter tells us how we can change to be this kind of husband, this kind of wife. It's to keep going back to Jesus that he mentioned in chapter 2, right before this section:

"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. "He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25)

The only way to love this selflessly is to meditate on and bask in and live under the love of the ultimate spouse, the one who loved us even more selflessly, who put up with injustice, insults, and even death so that we could live. And when we're really gripped by the love of the ultimate spouse, Jesus Christ, he himself will give us the power to follow his example. The Bible tells us that he at this very moment is in heaven interceding for us.

The only way to live like this is to be so captivated by the love of Jesus Christ for us when we didn't deserve it, that this same love will spill out all over our lives and into the lives of our families. The best way to respond to stress in marriage is to allow God to change you, and the best way for God to change you is to bask in what Jesus has done for you and live your whole life in light of that reality.

Let's pray.

Father, thank you for the One who had every privilege, and the worship of every creature in heaven, who willingly lay all of that aside to come to earth. He willingly suffered injustice and took upon himself our sins so that we could be forgiven, and by his wounds we have been healed.

May our lives be so transformed by what Christ has done for us that it changes every relationship we have, including our marriages. We pray this in the name of the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, Jesus Christ. Amen.

All of Life is Repentance (Ezra 9-10)

We're coming to the end of the book of Ezra today. Ezra's a book about the completion of the second Temple and the return of God's people to Jerusalem after the exile, at the lowest point of their history. You can summarize the theme of Ezra in one word: restoration. And so we've been talking about what we can learn about restoration in our own lives.

Today we come to the end. The end of a book is when we usually expect that the crisis has been resolved and things are looking up. In this case, the crisis of the exile and the destruction of the Temple has been resolved, but there's a fresh crisis.

The fact that Judah faces this crisis after all that God has done to restore them teaches us something. We never arrive, at least not in this life. The crisis they faced is a crisis that we continually face.

I don't want to preach this passage today so much as walk us through it in three stages. I'd first like to look at the problem, then I'd like to look at confession, and finally I'd like to look at the resolution to the problem. The problem, the confession, and the resolution. In between each of these sections, I'd like to give us some time to reflect and even to respond to what we're going to read.

The Problem

Ezra 9:1-2 says:

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, "The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness."

Here's the problem. "The people...have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices." They have intermarried with the neighboring peoples. The prophet Malachi, who lived at this time, even hints that people had broken their marriages to marry daughters of foreign gods.

Let's be clear about what the problem was not. The problem was not interracial marriage. That's a good thing for us since one of the things that makes Richview unique are the number of interracial marriages we have, which is a great thing. The concern with marrying outside of Judah was not racial; it was religious. Verse 1 mentions "detestable practices." Deuteronomy 7 says:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations...and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.

The problem wasn't racial; it was religious. The problem is that they were not distinct from the practices of other nations, and their worship was compromised. They were expressing their devotion to pagan gods as well as to YHWH. A Jewish settlement at Egypt at this very same time went through the same problem, and was gradually assimilated and disappeared. When God's people lose their distinctiveness and compromise on the worship of YHWH, they eventually become assimilated and disappear. Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot" (Matthew 5:13). When we lose our distinctiveness, we lose our relationship with God and we lose our usefulness.

Notice the end of verse 2. "And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness." Not all of the leaders, of course - it was leaders who raised the concern in verse 1. But there is a danger that the very people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders are instead leading the way toward disobedience. That's one reason, by the way, that you need to pray for those in leadership. The Bible tells us that they're going to have to give account for your souls, and those who teach are especially going to be held to a higher standard. When they go off track, they can lead the way toward unfaithfulness.

So let me pause right here. The problem is unfaithfulness. The problem is that God's people don't always act as God's people. They aren't distinct from the ways of the world. What's our problem?

Ron Sider wrote a book recently with the subtitle Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? He suggests that we have the same problem that the people in Ezra's day did. We are the same as our non-Christian neighbors in rates of divorce, premarital sex, domestic violence and use of pornography, and are actually more likely to hold racist views than other people. We suffer from materialism, individually and even as churches. Our charitable giving has decreased even while our income has risen. Although today's North American Christians are collectively the wealthiest Christians in the history of the world, we don't take care of the poor, he says. And on it goes.

What is our problem? In what ways are we being unfaithful as the church at Richview? What I'm talking about here is conviction. Now listen, there's a good and a bad way to go about this. I'm not asking you to wallow in guilt or to beat ourselves up this morning. Instead I'm asking for us to pray with the psalmist: "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

And we can do this without feeling insecure. Tim Keller says:

The gospel gives you psychological freedom to handle the wrong things that you will do. You won't have to deny, spin, or repress the truth about yourself. These things don't make it impossible to know who you are. Only with the support of hearing Jesus say, "You are capable of terrible things, but I am absolutely, unconditionally committed to you," will you be able to be honest with yourself.

I'm going to invite you to spend a few minutes praying, especially in the context of our whole church but maybe also personally, the words of the psalmist on the screen. "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Confession

When Ezra heard about the problem, his response was extreme. Ezra 9:3-4 says:

When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.

Then after hours of this, he prayed a prayer of confession. Some call Ezra's prayer the "theological high point of the book." It is a magnificent prayer.

I want to notice a few things. Ezra prays as if the problem is his. Ezra identifies with the people in their sin and sees the sin as a collective one, even though he personally wasn't guilty. I've noticed a huge difference in churches between the people who say, "They have a problem" as they point a finger, and those who say, "We have a problem." When we're part of a church, the community of God's people, we confess our corporate sins together, even though we personally may not be guilty ourselves.

Ezra begins his prayer with a general confession. "I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens" (Ezra 9:6). He then remembers the sins of previous times (verse 7), recites God's mercy and goodness (verses 8-9), further confesses Israel's sins (verses 10-12), and then appeals to God (verses 13-15). Listen to how he ends his prayer: "Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence" (Ezra 9:15). In a way there is no resolution, no solution. Ezra just throws himself on behalf of the people on God's mercy and confesses his sin before God.

A denominational leader recently talked about the churches that had turned around within his region. He said none of the churches turned around until the people got serious about prayer. He said:

In our churches, often the turnaround began when we said to the church, "Call a day of prayer." And here's how the day of prayer started. We had the pastor and board stand and lead in prayers of confession, asking God to forgive them for being a disobedient congregation and not taking seriously the great commission to make disciples.

A pastor friend of mine started a church in Portland. They only ever grew to about forty or fifty people for the first few years, all of them Christian. One day the pastor, Rick, realized that he only hung around people who were like him, who shared the same views, held the same belief. He read every how-to book on how to reach people, and began to realize that the problem wasn't really a how-to problem. It was a want-to problem. He didn't want to reach out to those who were unlike him. He really didn't care.

He decided to call for a weekly meeting, every Wednesday night, to repent - something, he says, that was pretty hard to market. They began to meet and to repent of the fact that they didn't care, that some of them hated their neighbors. They continued to pray this way for nine months. They confessed, just like Ezra confessed. And it eventually led them to change their hearts.

When God really begins to move in a group, it often begins with corporate confession. When we confess, we reach new levels of honesty. "For him who confesses, shams are over, and realities have begun" (William James). Confession prepares us for what God is going to do among us. Max Lucado writes:

Confession does for the soul what preparing the land does for the field. Before the farmer sows the seed, he works the acreage, removing the rocks and pulling the stumps. He knows that seed grows better if the land is prepared. Confession is the act of inviting God to walk the acreage of our hearts.

David wrote:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord."
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
(Psalm 32:3-5)

We've already asked God to reveal areas we need to deal with. Let's spend some time confessing them before the Lord.

[silent prayer]

Prayer of Confession:

Merciful Lord, we confess that with us there is an abundance of sin, but in you there is the fullness of righteousness and abundance of mercy. We are spiritually poor, but you are rich and in Jesus Christ came to be merciful to the poor. Strengthen our faith and trust in you. We are empty vessels that need to be filled; fill us. We are weak in faith; strengthen us. We are cold in love; warm us, and make our hearts fervent for you that our love may go out to one another and to our neighbors. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Resolution

Ezra concludes with a chapter that can only be called disturbing. Someone has said that it's the most distasteful chapter in Ezra, and ranks among the most distasteful in the whole of Scripture.

At the end of chapter 9, Ezra has prayed, but there's really no solution offered. Everyone is still overwhelmed with guilt and there's no suggestion of what to do. It's looking hopeless.

Then somebody comes up with an idea. Ezra 10:3-4 says:

Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it."

And this is exactly what they did. We learn in this chapter that 110 had taken foreign wives, and some of them had children.

The problem is that this seems unusually harsh. It seems extreme to require these marriages to be dissolved. We have no idea what provisions, if any, were made for them. There are even debates about whether or not they chose to do the right thing.

If you want to see something ugly, the effects of sin are always ugly. Justice here looks incredibly harsh, and it conflicts with our sense of the loving thing to do to these foreign wives and children.

But then we see, in the middle of the ugliness, some hope. Verse 19 says of some of those who were guilty, "They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering." They put away their wives, but then they availed themselves of the provision that God had made for sin in a sacrifice.

It was a sacrifice, of course, that anticipated the sacrifice that Jesus would one day make. Why could God forgive these people's sins? We know that sin has a cost. Somebody has to pay it. We know this instinctively. Whenever we do something wrong, it comes with a price - a price that's too steep for us to pay. Many of you have paid a part of the cost of the sins committed by others. It's why you have scars, why you've been hurt. Sin always has a cost, and someone has to pay it.

But the one who paid the ultimate cost was not the wives or children in Ezra's day. The one who paid the ultimate cost for their sins was Jesus. "God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood," Paul writes (Romans 3:25). "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, his first thesis said, "All of life is repentance." If there's one thing Ezra teaches us, it's that the work of restoration is never done. Just when you think we're restored, another issue comes up that needs dealing with.

But when we see how accepted and loved we are because of Jesus, the more often we'll repent. And the more we see our own flaws and sins, the more electrifying and precious God's grace will appear to us. God's grace will drive us to confess our sins, and our sins will drive us back to the beauty of God's grace found in Jesus Christ.

Sin and its consequences are ugly, and the only cure for the depth of the ugliness of sin is the beauty of the cross. That's where I want to live. Let's pray.

We thank you this morning for the cross.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners' gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
'Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
And grant to me Thy grace.

Thank you, Lord, for the cross. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.