I (Sean) sat down one night in the Harmon home to have an informal conversation about dating, courtship, and the Bible. We recorded several podcasts in Spencer’s upstairs loft. This conversation was impromptu and unscripted.
This 10 minute podcast includes questions such as:
What does the Bible have to do with dating?
Are you against courtship?
Should couples feel pressure when dating?
What should a first date look like?
Where did you and Taylor go on your first date?
We plan on releasing several more of these conversations in the months ahead. You can subscribe to the new “Unspokenblog” podcast on iTunes or listen via SoundCloud. As always, if you have any questions you want us to discuss, we would love to hear them.
It’s a prerequisite for Christian leadership. It’s championed in Christian literature. It’s absence is a red light in romantic relationships. It’s heralded in thousands of churches every Sunday. It motivates accountability groups, is commended by Christians around the world, and is summarized in one word:
But godliness is dangerous. Not because you may be persecuted if you pursue it – although you may. Not because Satan will oppose you at every turn of your striving towards it – although he will. Not because your sinful flesh will roar in resistance as you reach for it – although it will. No, godliness is dangerous for a much more subtle reason.
Godliness is dangerous because we use the word so much. And where words are used often, assumption follows closely behind. As we continually use this word without defining it from God’s Word, vague definitions take root. As a result, people who should be pricked are comforted, people who should be freed are burdened, and at worst a culture of shallow holiness implants itself in our Christian communities.
When something is precious and being threatened, you guard it from multiple sides. The same is true with godliness. We not only need to know what godliness is, but also what it isn’t.
WHAT GODLINESS ISN’T
Godliness is not gifting. God gives his church gifts, but we should not equate them with godliness. The Corinthians excelled in spiritual gifts, but at the same time were rebuked for heinous sin (1 Corinthians 5; 11:17-22). Preaching, teaching, counseling, music, writing, leadership, persuasiveness, hospitality – all of these things can be included in godliness, but are not godliness in and of themselves.
Godliness is not personality. Godliness is not politeness, an easy going attitude, or diplomacy. Jesus was not perceived as polite by the money-changers when he turned over their tables and called them robbers. He wasn’t perceived as diplomatic when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs. He wasn’t perceived as easy-going when he rebuked his disciples. Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with Gentiles. James rebukes the rich. All of these men were godly, and one of these men was God himself.
Godliness is not knowledge. A robust knowledge of theology, a nuanced understanding of the human heart, and sharp apologetical skills does not make us godly. Knowing things makes us accountable for them. The Pharisees were men of astute knowledge, but Jesus tells them they are blind to spiritual reality (John 9:40).
Godliness is not a leadership position.The greatest cause of trembling for me as a young pastor is that I would begin equating godliness with my position rather than my character. Just because we lead a discussion group or Sunday school does not make us the godliest person in the room. Being a pastor does not automatically mean you become the holiest person in the church. No, the Bible assumes this principle: the higher the leadership, the deeper the character (1 Timothy 3:1-7). And the higher you get without deeper character the more likely you are to fall.
Obvious gifting, a dynamic personality, rigorous knowledge, and lofty leadership are wonderful. They should be affirmed in the local church lifted up as worthy of pursuit. But these qualities are not what the Bible defines as godliness. Knowing this for myself is challenging and clarifying as I aspire towards greater Christ-likeness in daily life.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLINESS
Godliness believes the truth. The fountainhead of godliness is knowing and believing the truth. Trees need seeds, houses need foundations, cars need gasoline, and godliness stands on truth. The man who follows a false map walks in the wrong direction. False teaching in the New Testament warrants swift rebuke because it leads people to sin and death. The apostle Paul calls the gospel itself the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16). The apostle Peter says godliness comes through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). This is why every saint is called to speak the truth in love to one another. (Ephesians 4:15)
Godliness is dignified. In 1 Timothy 2-3, dignity is a marker of the Christian community from the laity to the leadership. We should pray for leaders so we can live dignified lives (2:2), pastors should lead their families with all dignity (3:4), and deacons are to be dignified (3:8, 11).
Dignity is the outward reputation of a godly heart. Dignity doesn’t flow from trying to look dignified, but it’s the result of a heart that loves Christ and others. The Bible calls this living worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) or conducting yourself with fear (1 Peter 1:17). It’s a life that appreciates that gravity of their salvation in Christ, and lives a life dripping with that gravitas.
Godliness is marked by good works. The person who spends all their time in a prayer closet but never loves their next door neighbor isn’t a godly person in the Bible. Godliness is not just private piety, but public goodness. Godliness is a light that is meant to be seen (Matthew 5:16). Good works signify a godly person, and the nature of good works are to not remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:25).
Godliness is a fight and race. Godly people are marked by fighting and fleeing, racing and pushing, practice and persistence. Paul tells young Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Training involves intentionality and vigilance that monitors the areas of life that propel you towards or away from your goal. This means that godliness doesn’t come automatically to us, we must intentionally grow in it, practice it, and discipline ourselves for it.
GODLINESS HAPPENS TO US
Two parallel truths meet when we talk about godliness. The first truth is obvious from everything written above: godliness can’t be assumed. It must be understood, pursued, and intentionally fought for. Godliness doesn’t just happen to us. Yet, there is a second truth that undergirds the first truth: godliness does happen to us.
The human heart does not thirst for godliness out of the formation of new habits, but from the transformation brought about by the new birth. God’s Spirit transforms the human heart by cleansing it from sin and giving it a new nature that desires to grow in godliness (John 3:1-8). The human soul becomes tender as the seed of the gospel breaks through cement-soil hearts. May we grow in this grace that he might reap a fruitful harvest.
We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.
The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:
Marriage vs. Singleness
Should We Be in a Relationship?
Do We Have a Bad Relationship?
What if I am not a Virgin?
Should I Guard My Heart?
The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:
The Length of Engagement
Till Death Do Us Part
Loving Your New Parents
Should We Elope?
On Birth Control
The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice. Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.
Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world. We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.
We are not relational gurus. Quite the opposite. We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost. We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives. We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.
In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriagethat discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.
As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.
Perhaps you are reading through an Advent devotional this Christmas season or focusing on the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. The Bible never ceases to amaze and there are always new insights to discover in old stories.
This year I was struck by a small unexpected sentence in Matthew 1:24-25. It reads:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Mat 1:24-25 ESV)
This text teaches that Joseph obeyed God by marrying Mary (even though the child within her was not his offspring) but he did not have sex with her until after she gave birth to Jesus. The ESV uses the language of “but knew her not” as a euphemism for sex. There are other translations that read:
NAS Matthew 1:25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NAS)
NLT Matthew 1:25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NLT)
There are several things to point out from these couple of verses.
First, this is a unique situation in redemptive history. The main point of this verse is not to communicate that you should avoid sex after your wedding. There are several factors that make this situation unique – not the least of which is that the Holy Spirit conceived a baby in the womb of a virgin. There are also other Scriptures that command regular sexual activity for married couples. (1 Corinthians 7:5)
Second, the Bible (and Joseph) wanted it to be crystal clear that Jesus was not the offspring of an earthly father. Jesus is God in the flesh. His birth was miraculous. Joseph and Mary had a wedding but did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was not conceived by human relations. This was a divine act.
Third, this verse also teaches that Joseph and Mary had sex after Jesus was born. Mary was not a perpetual virgin. Joseph didn’t have sex with her until after she gave birth. There are also verses in the book of Matthew that talk about Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (See also Mark 6:3)
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mat 13:55-56 ESV)
These are all important things to point out from these verses, yet these were not the things that struck me this Christmas. What caught my attention was the self-control of Joseph.
Think about it. Joseph was a righteous man who followed the law (Matthew 1:19). He was presumably chaste and had no blemish on his record. He had waited his entire life to have sex until the proper context. He had been self-controlled because he wanted to obey God and follow the Old Testament law.
Then it comes out that Mary is pregnant with a baby that does not belong to him. He is told in a dream by an angel of the Lord that he should remain committed to Mary and take her as his wife. Joseph marries Mary… but still remains self-controlled.
He could have had sex with her and we have no indication that it would have been sinful. Yet, he chose to wait until after the birth of Jesus in order that it would be crystal clear that Jesus was not of earthly descent. Since he had a character of a righteous man and knew this was a unique divine circumstance, I conclude that he wanted to answer any possible claim that he was the earthly father of Jesus.
Joseph lived with Mary. He loved her. He saw her naked. He took care of her. He traveled with her to Bethlehem. And yet, he waited to have intercourse with her until after he helped her give birth to a child that was not his own.
Would you have been as self-controlled as Joseph? Would you have complained? Would you have grumbled? Would you have been bitter?
I don’t want to read more into the text than need be. Nor amy I trying to advocate for anything bizarre. I’m not advocating using Joseph as an example to refrain from intercourse within marriage. If you have followed my other blogs, you know I believe married couples should enjoy sex on a very regular basis.
I am saying that Joseph exerted a lot of self-control and truly loved well in a difficult and unprecedented situation.
Perhaps you need the grace of Jesus this Christmas to grow in the area of self-control. Are you single and struggling with pornography? Are you dating or engaged and struggling with purity? Are you married and having difficulty remaining sexually committed to your spouse? Use this Advent to ask God for the gift of control. Only the Holy Spirit who conceived Jesus can give us this spiritual fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:1 ESV)
The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the heart of Joseph. And I am more than confident that the Holy Spirit can do a miracle in our lives and enable us to replace any sinful desires with steadfast love.
Sean is the Chief of Staff at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017)
The Bible isn’t relevant for life if the Bible can’t be applied practically. Biblical counseling must be practical or else it will be irrelevant. This is because we obey or disobey God in specific ways. Our idolatries are not vague. Our sins are not general. When we are fearful, we think fearful thoughts in our mind. When we are sinfully depressed, we neglect real responsibilities. When we act in anger, we do things with our tongues and our hands. Thankfully, the Bible offers practical ways to overcome our sin and change us in concrete ways.
The practical nature of the Scriptures for counseling can be seen in three verses in the New Testament. Romans 12:19-21 is just one example that gives us insight into the powerful and tangible ways the Bible can be used in counseling.
Verse 19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
1) Command and Motivation
The command in verse 19 is to never take revenge. This command is simple, but it is not merely a command. In Romans 12:19, the motivation for the command is given. We should not seek revenge because this is only God’s prerogative. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and we are called to trust him instead of taking matters into our own hands. To not take revenge requires faith. The command is given and the motivation to obey the command is also explained.
Verse 20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
2) One Practical Application
Verse 20 goes beyond both the command and the motivation and moves into a practical example. If your enemy is hungry, you can not take revenge by feeding him. If your enemy is thirsty, you can fight anger by giving him something to drink. This is one practical way of fighting the urge to take revenge. Instead of giving your enemy poison, you should buy him coffee. Instead of giving your enemy a mouthful of harsh language, you should give him a mouthful of food.
Verse 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
3) Many Practical Opportunities
The practical nature of the commands of God can be seen even clearer in verse 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The practical nature of doing good in order to combat revenge isn’t bound up in giving away meals or bottles of water to your arch enemies. There are hundreds of ways in which you can tangibly show kindness instead of wrath to those who upset you. Romans 12:20 gives one practical example, but Romans 12:21 allows for a thousand other acts of kindness that are in keeping with verse 19.
Biblical Counsel is Practical Counsel
How do you give advice to others? Do you talk about God’s commands? Do you explain the motivations behind those commandments and how faith is required? Do you give practical examples to implement these truths? Do you then teach others to think of new ways to obey God when faced with a variety of circumstances?
Romans 12:19-21 is just one example of how the Scriptures are powerful and practical to help people change. It is my prayer that this text is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves: Do we counsel like the Bible counsels?
There has never been a better time to strengthen your view on marriage. The culture around us is in a continual state of flux on the issue, but the church has to get this one right. We have to hit the nail on the head and pin God’s picture up on the walls of our house. Christ is coming back and we want him to see our marriages as a beautiful mosaic reflecting his gospel.
All of that to ask, what is your view of divorce and remarriage? You must have a biblically informed view or else you will default to someone else’s viewpoint – or you will simply go with what feels right in the moment. We must be tethered to truth or else we will have nothing to hold onto when the gravity gives out under us.
Three Views and Four Gospels
There are many conversations and debates that have been taking place among Christians when it comes to divorce and remarriage. I realize I am flying into this conversation like a NASA shuttle in a meteor shower. I am picking up the conversation mid-flight, but I hope the discussion is helpful in some way.
The three main evangelical positions on divorce and remarriage are the Erasmian, Patristic, and Permanence views.
The Erasmian view allows divorce for adultery and abandonment. It allows remarriage for the innocent party and many Erasmians will allow remarriage for the guilty party as long as they repent of their sin.
The Patristic view allows divorce for adultery and desertion but does not permit remarriage unless the death of a spouse occurs.
The leading Permanence position does not permit divorce and interprets the exception clause (Matthew 19:9) as referring to fornication during the betrothal period. Remarriage is not permitted in the permanence position unless the spouse is deceased.
All of the fuss centers on the exception clause in the gospel of Matthew. It is the star in which all the conversations orbit. If you are not familiar with this universe, I recommend checking out this article here before you leave the launch pad. If you are already geared up in your suit and ready for another space walk, here is one issue for you to consider. I am convinced that the permanence position best reads the gospels horizontally and vertically.
Ladders come before Roofs
Biblical interpreters should seek to harmonize the gospel accounts. The permanence position argues that there is only one exception for divorce in the gospel accounts and this is found in Matthew 19:9 for the cause of πορνείᾳ “porneia”. The permanence position is not opposed to harmonizing the gospel accounts. Rather, the permanence position seeks to harmonize the gospel narrative while also maintaining their individual integrity. The Gospels should be read both horizontally and vertically.
To say it another way, we should climb the ladder before we walk across the roof. We should seek to understand why one of the Gospel authors selected their words – this is a vertical reading of the text. It is widely accepted that Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience while Mark wrote for Gentile audience. Naturally, you would expect these books to be different in style and construction. Mark includes words and experiences that Matthew does not and vice versa.
Reading vertically means reading a writer individually and reading horizontally involves seeking to put the entire story together. To get an accurate picture of the whole, the individual pieces of the puzzle must be examined first.
While harmonization is an important study tool, there is a danger of obscuring the original meaning of an individual text and actually missing the correct interpretation. “Although it is certainly useful to engage in horizontal, comparative Gospel reading, this approach should not be preferred over vertical reading.” (Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 149)
Should readers of the Gospels automatically conclude that Mark and Luke intended for their readers to assume an exception clause? The permanence position disagrees with both the Erasmian and Patristic perspective at the point of believing that Mark and Luke assumed their readers would expect an exception clause.
The Erasmian position is not unreasonable in desiring to harmonize the Gospel narratives. A good example of harmonization can be found when comparing the story of Jonah in Matthew and Mark’s gospel. It is possible that Mark, in typical fashion, gives a more condensed account of a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. (Mark 8:11-12)
Matthew’s account of this passage is similar, but adds an exception to Jesus’ absolute statement. But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (Mat 12:39 ESV) It could be a correct interpretation to believe that Mark shortened the account and assumed an exception in Jesus’ statements. Or it might be simply the case that this is a different conversation entirely (the context around each narrative causes me to believe the writers are not referring to the same conversation Jesus had with the same Pharisees.)
Yet this example is still not a one-to-one comparison with the divorce and remarriage issue. Matthew is not the only narrative giving an exception to Mark’s shorter account in this instance. Luke also records the exception that Jesus mentions regarding a sign to the Pharisees. (Luke 11:29 ESV)
If someone is reading the story of the sign of Jonah vertically before horizontally, they should conclude that Mark is condensing the narrative due to his typical writing style of giving an “immediate” message. When it comes to the issue of divorce and remarriage, it is only Matthew who includes the exception clause whereas both Luke and Mark do not include it.
Hasty Harmonization Harms the Melody
There is nothing in the texts in Mark and Luke that indicate those Gospel authors held to an exception for marriage. The Erasmian position must harmonize something into the text that Mark and Luke did not communicate. In order for the Erasmian position to be persuasive, it requires tangible evidence that Mark and Luke assumed the exception clause would have been common knowledge to their readers. I know we all love a good tune, but let’s not be so hasty in our harmonization – we might mess up the melody.
The permanence position of marriage offers the best horizontal and vertical reading of the gospels. It seeks to understand first who Matthew was writing to and why he would include an exception clause. Given that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, it is understandable that he would be concerned about the issue of righteousness in the Law and the issue of betrothal. It is significant that Matthew is the only Gospel writer who mentions the righteous intention of Joseph to divorce Mary for porneia. If Matthew had not included the exception clause, the readers would have been confused as to how Matthew could have described Joseph as righteous when Jesus prohibited all divorce.
This is one of several reasons why I take exception to the typical view of the “exception clause” and believe the Bible does not permit divorce. We will discuss more in future blog posts, but I hope after this space walk you are at least saying, “Erasmian, we have a problem.” I hope you will continue to explore this issue further and boldly go where you have not gone before.
At this point, you have likely seen the nightmare that looms behind the placid language of the abortion industry. While Planned Parenthood says that during your procedure “medical instruments and a suction machine gently empty your uterus,” viewers of this week’s undercover video saw arms and lungs. There is now no escaping the violence of abortion; but then again, there never was. Interestingly, many are running to the aid of Planned Parenthood’s tarnished image. “Misunderstood,” they say. “Deceptive editing,” they cry, as though smoke and mirrors were responsible for the limbs on the tray. Nothing could be further from the truth. Human beings have human hearts. And we must not forget that that is exactly what is at stake.
Yet the insanity of abortion is not just in the desperate attempts of Planned Parenthood to save face. We should expect those who love the darkness to fight to keep the light at bay. Indeed, the insanity of abortion is that followers of Jesus Christ are so deafeningly silent. What is almost unthinkable is that those who have experienced new life in Christ would not speak when God’s glorious work of creation is undone. Sure, evangelicals have taken to social media in protest. I will be the first to proclaim my deep gratitude for those who will not let this occasion be just another flash in the pan. But a merely digital pro-life position is really no gospel pro-life position at all. The silence I have in mind is not in the public eye, but that which is heard in front of the EMW Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
If you drive down West Market street on a Saturday morning, you may be caught off guard by the large crowd lining a particular stretch of sidewalk. With a momentary glance you would probably see signs that say, “Choose Life” and “Women Regret Abortion.” You would most likely hear people talking about free maternity homes and scholarships. You would definitely hear voices of pro-choicers protesting the pro-life protesters. But if you listen very closely, amidst all the noise, you may hear a faint voice pleading, “be reconciled to God.”
The evangelical presence outside this abortion clinic is meager at best. It is certainly not for a lack of effort. I have emailed every evangelical pastor in this city to request the help of local churches. Some have responded; most have not. Those who do respond typically express a great deal of hesitancy. After all, actually going down to an abortion clinic is a little extreme, isn’t it? I am forced to ask why someone so bold on their blog would hesitate to join brothers and sisters on the sidewalk where the rubber meets the road?
“I don’t know what I would say,” they respond. Brother, the Spirit gives timely words. “Does it ever get hostile?” they ask. Sure, especially for the image-bearer whose life will be snuffed out in secret. “Our church just has too many programs,” one man said. Brother, you need to repent. The clear command of the text is to open your mouth for the mute (Proverbs 31:8) and expose shameful things done in darkness (Ephesians 5:11-12). And yet, our silence is deafening. As a means of bringing the gospel to bear on this issue, our own testimonies remind us that our God is deeply committed to life. This truth necessitates our voice in these dark and shameful places.
For a believer, speaking for life need not be a difficult task. Many have expressed interest in doing more, but simply do not know where to start. The good news is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel. I direct a ministry called Speak for the Unborn (S4U) that seeks to do this very thing.We have resources available to equip local churches to start gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, compassionate sidewalk counseling ministries in their own cities. While situations differ from place to place, the framework we provide is applicable to a spectrum of contexts.
Christians can no longer hide from the horrific reality of abortion. Francis Shaeffer once said that “every abortion clinic should have a sign in front of it saying, ‘Open by the permission of the church.’” This is true, but need not be our story. The Church of Jesus Christ has been given a commission to be his ambassadors. We must go where the hurting are, and where the hurting are harming their children. While you are sleeping in, women up the road are assaulted by the lies of a Devil who is hell-bent on destruction. Whether abortion drives these women to despair or makes them feel empowered, a forked-tongue never means well. Yet by our silence, we are entrusting these women to his care.
So how will you respond to the insanity? Silence? Apathy? Excuses? Fear? You would do well, believer, to remember that you have not been given a spirit of fear, but the third person of a trinity that drives out darkness. Do not leave the work for someone else; for someone who is “cut out” for this kind of ministry. Trust me, no one is cut out for it. Fortunately, you have a Christ who is. He is able to strengthen your weak knees to compassionately walk next to a women whose child is being led away to death. He is able to sustain a Speak for the Unborn ministry in your church. He is able to give you creative ways to serve abortion-minded women in your city. But never again can you say, “behold, we did not know this” (Proverbs 24:11). Passivity is not an option when children are stumbling to the slaughter next door.