Archive for February 19, 2007
Via Dr. John Piper
February 14, 2007
By John Piper
Read this resource on our website.
When I read about prosperity-preaching churches, my response is: “If I were not on the inside of Christianity, I wouldn’t want in.” In other words, if this is the message of Jesus, no thank you.
Luring people to Christ to get rich is both deceitful and deadly. It’s deceitful because when Jesus himself called us, he said things like: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). And it’s deadly because the desire to be rich plunges “people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). So here is my plea to preachers of the gospel.
1. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes it harder for people to get into heaven.
Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” His disciples were astonished, as many in the “prosperity” movement should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They respond in disbelief: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27).
My question for prosperity preachers is: Why would you want to develop a ministry focus that makes it harder for people to enter heaven?
2. Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that kindles suicidal desires in people.
Paul said, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” But then he warned against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warned against preachers who stir up the desire to be rich instead of helping people get rid of it. He warned, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
So my question for prosperity preachers is: Why would you want to develop a ministry that encourages people to pierce themselves with many pangs and plunge themselves into ruin and destruction?
3. Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that encourages vulnerability to moth and rust.
Jesus warns against the effort to lay up treasures on earth. That is, he tells us to be givers, not keepers. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
Yes, we all keep something. But given the built-in tendency toward greed in all of us, why would we take the focus off Jesus and turn it upside down?
4. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes hard work a means of amassing wealth.
Paul said we should not steal. The alternative was hard work with our own hands. But the main purpose was not merely to hoard or even to have. The purpose was “to have to give.” “Let him labor, working with his hands, that he may have to give to him who is in need” (Ephesians 4:28). This is not a justification for being rich in order to give more. It is a call to make more and keep less so you can give more. There is no reason why a person who makes $200,000 should live any differently from the way a person who makes $80,000 lives. Find a wartime lifestyle; cap your expenditures; then give the rest away.
Why would you want to encourage people to think that they should possess wealth in order to be a lavish giver? Why not encourage them to keep their lives more simple and be an even more lavish giver? Would that not add to their generosity a strong testimony that Christ, and not possessions, is their treasure?
5. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that promotes less faith in the promises of God to be for us what money can’t be.
The reason the writer to the Hebrews tells us to be content with what we have is that the opposite implies less faith in the promises of God. He says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
If the Bible tells us that being content with what we have honors the promise of God never to forsake us, why would we want to teach people to want to be rich?
6. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that contributes to your people being choked to death.
Jesus warns that the word of God, which is meant to give us life, can be choked off from any effectiveness by riches. He says it is like a seed that grows up among thorns that choke it to death: “They are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the . . . riches . . . of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).
Why would we want to encourage people to pursue the very thing that Jesus warns will choke us to death?
7. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that takes the seasoning out of the salt and puts the light under a basket.
What is it about Christians that makes them the salt of the earth and the light of the world? It is not wealth. The desire for wealth and the pursuit of wealth tastes and looks just like the world. It does not offer the world anything different from what it already believes in. The great tragedy of prosperity-preaching is that a person does not have to be spiritually awakened in order to embrace it; one needs only to be greedy. Getting rich in the name of Jesus is not the salt of the earth or the light of the world. In this, the world simply sees a reflection of itself. And if it works, they will buy it.
The context of Jesus’ saying shows us what the salt and light are. They are the joyful willingness to suffering for Christ. Here is what Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:11-14).
What will make the world taste (the salt) and see (the light) of Christ in us is not that we love wealth the same way they do. Rather, it will be the willingness and the ability of Christians to love others through suffering, all the while rejoicing because their reward is in heaven with Jesus. This is inexplicable on human terms. This is supernatural. But to attract people with promises of prosperity is simply natural. It is not the message of Jesus. It is not what he died to achieve.
Via Dr. John Piper
February 11, 2007
By John Piper
Read, listen, or watch this resource on our website.
Colossians 2:13-15, 3:12-19
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. . . . 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
What we have seen in the last two weeks is that the most foundational thing you can say about marriage is that it is the doing of God, and the most ultimate thing you can say about marriage is that it is for the display of God. These two points are made by Moses in Genesis 2. But they are made even more clearly by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament.
Jesus: Marriage Is the Doing of God
Jesus makes the point most clearly that marriage is the doing of God. Mark 10:6-9, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’ [Genesis 1:27], ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” This is the clearest statement in the Bible that marriage is not a merely human doing. The words “God has joined together” means it is God’s doing.
Paul: Marriage Is the Display of God
Paul makes the point most clearly that marriage is designed to be the display of God. In Ephesians 5:31-32, he quotes Genesis 2:24 and then tells us the mystery that it has always contained: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” In other words, the covenant involved in leaving mother and father and holding fast to a spouse and becoming one flesh is a portrayal of the covenant between Christ and his church. Marriage exists most ultimately to display the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church.
A Model of Christ and the Church
I asked Noël if there was anything she wanted me to say today. She said, “You cannot say to often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church.” I think she is right and there are at least three reasons: 1) This lifts marriage out of the sordid sitcom images and gives it the magnificent meaning God meant it to have; 2) this gives marriage a solid basis in grace, since Christ obtained and sustains his bride by grace alone; and 3) this shows that the husband’s headship and the wife’s submission are crucial and crucified. That is, they are woven into the very meaning of marriage as a display of Christ and the church, but they are both defined by Christ’s self-denying work on the cross so that their pride and slavishness are cancelled.
We spent the first two messages on the first of these reasons: giving the foundation for marriage as a display of the covenant love of God. Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman in which they promise to be a faithful as husband and a faithful wife in a new one-flesh union as long as they both shall live. This covenant, sealed with solemn vows and sexual union, is designed to showcase the covenant-keeping grace of God.
A Solid Basis in Grace
That is today’s title: “Marriage: God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace.” So we are turning to the second reason I mentioned that Noël is right to say that you can’t say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church: namely, that this gives to marriage a solid basis in grace, since Christ obtained and sustains his bride by grace alone.
In other words, the main point today is that, since Christ’s new covenant with this church is created by and sustained by blood-bought grace, therefore, human marriages are meant to showcase that new-covenant grace. And the way they showcase it is by resting in the experience of God’s grace and bending it out from a vertical experience with God into a horizontal experience with their spouse. In other words, in marriage you live hour by hour in glad dependence on God’s forgiveness and justification and promised future grace, and you bend it out toward your spouse hour by hour—as an extension of God’s forgiveness and justification and promised help. That’s today’s point.
The Centrality of Forgiving, Justifying Grace
I am aware that all Christians are supposed to do this in all your relationships (not just married Christians): live hour by hour by the forgiving, justifying, all-supplying grace of God, and then bend it out to all the others in your life. And Jesus says that all of our lives are a showcase of God’s glory (Matthew 5:16). But marriage is designed to be a unique display of God’s covenant grace because, unlike all other human relationships, the husband and wife are bound by covenant into the closest possible relationship for a lifetime. There are unique roles of headship and submission, but that is not my point today. That will come later. Today I consider husband and wife as Christians per se, not on the analogy of head and body. Before a man and woman can apply biblically and graciously the unique roles of headship and submission, they must discover what it means to build their lives on the vertical experience of forgiveness and justification and promised help and then bend it out horizontally to their spouse. So that’s the focus today.
Or to put it in terms of last week’s message: The key to being naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25), when, in fact, a husband and a wife do many things that they should be ashamed of, is the experience of God’s vertical forgiving, justifying grace bent out horizontally to each other and displayed to the world.
The Coming Wrath of God
Briefly, let’s see the foundation for this truth in Colossians. We will start with Colossians 3:6, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” If you say, “The last thing I want hear about in my troubled marriage is the wrath of God,” you are like a frustrated fisherman on the western coast of Indonesia on December 26, 2004, saying, “The last thing I want to hear about in my troubled fishing business is a tsunami.” A profound understanding and fear of God’s wrath is exactly what many marriages need, because without it, the gospel is diluted down to mere human relations and loses its biblical glory. And without it, you will be tempted to think that your wrath—your anger—against your spouse is simply too big to overcome, because you have never really tasted what it is like to see an infinitely greater wrath overcome by grace, namely, God’s wrath against you.
The Removal of God’s Wrath
So we begin with the wrath of God and its removal. Now go back with me to Colossians 2:13-14, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Those last words are the most crucial. This—this record of debt that stood against us—God set aside, nailing it to the cross. When did that happen? Two thousand years ago. It did not happen inside of you, and it did not happen with any help from you. God did that for you and outside of you before you were ever born. This is the great objectivity of our salvation.
The Record of Debt Cancelled at the Cross
Make sure you see this most wonderful and astonishing of all truths: God took the record of all your sins that made you a debtor to wrath (sins are offenses against God that bring down his wrath), and instead of holding them up in front of your face and using them as the warrant to send you to hell, he put them in the palm of his Son’s hand and drove a nail through them into the cross.
Whose sins were nailed to the cross? Whose sins were punished on the cross? Answer: My sins. And Noël’s sins—my wife’s sins and my sins—the sins of all who despair of saving themselves and trust in Christ alone. Whose hands were nailed to the cross? Who was punished on the cross? Jesus was. There is a beautiful name for this. It’s called a substitution. God condemned my sin in Christ’s flesh (Romans 8:3). Husbands, you cannot believe this too strongly. Wives, you cannot believe this too strongly.
Justification Goes Beyond Forgiveness
And if we reach back and draw in here all our understanding of justification from Romans we can say more. Justification goes beyond forgiveness. Not only are we forgiven because of Christ, but God also declares us righteous because of Christ. God requires two things of us: punishment for our sins and perfection in our lives. Our sins must be punished and our lives must be righteous. But we cannot bear our own punishment (Psalm 49:7-8), and we cannot provide our own righteousness. None is righteous; no, not one (Romans 3:10).
Therefore, God, out of his immeasurable love for us, provided his own Son to do both. Christ bears our punishment and Christ performs our righteousness. And when we receive Christ (John 1:12), all of his punishment and all of his righteousness is counted as ours (Romans 4:4-6; 5:19; 5:1; 8:1; 10:4; Philippians 3:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Justification Bent Outward
This is the vertical reality that must be bent outward horizontally to our spouses if marriage is to display the covenant-making, covenant-keeping grace of God. We see this in Colossians 3:12-13, “ Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
“As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”—your spouse. As the Lord “bears with” you, so you should bear with your spouse. The Lord “bears with” you everyday as you fall short of his will. Indeed, the distance between what Christ expects of you and what you achieve is infinitely greater than the distance between what you and expect of your spouse and what he achieves. Christ always forgives more and endures more than we do. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Bear with as he bears with you. This holds for whether you are married to a believer or an unbeliever. Let the measure of God’s grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse.
And if you are married to a believer, you can add this: As the Lord counts you righteous in Christ, though you are not in actual behavior or attitude, so count your spouse righteous in Christ, though he is not—though she is not. In other words, Colossians 3 says, take the vertical grace of forgiveness and justification and bend them out horizontally to your spouse. This is what marriage is for, most ultimately—the display of Christ’s covenant-keeping grace.
The Need for Gospel-Rooted Wisdom
Now at this point, hundreds of complex situations emerge that cry for deep spiritual wisdom rooted in these gospel truths and in long years of painful, faithful experience. In other words, there is no way I could apply this message to everyone’s particular needs. Besides preaching, we need the Holy Spirit, we need prayer, we need to meditate on the Word for ourselves, we need to read the insights of others, we need the counsel of wise friends who are seasoned with suffering, we need the church to support us when everything falls apart. So I have no illusions that I could say all that needs to be said to help you.
Living Vertically, Then Bending Outward
It may help to close by giving several reasons why I am stressing covenant-love as forgiveness and counting the other righteous. Don’t I believe in being delighted in the other person? Yes, I do. Both experience and the Bible push me there. To be sure, Jesus is married to his bride the church, and clearly it is both possible and good to please the Lord (Colossians 1:10). And he certainly is infinitely worthy of our pleasure in him. This is the ideal in marriage: two people humbling themselves and seeking to change in godly ways that please our spouses and meet their physical and emotional needs or to please them in every good way. Yes. The relationship of Christ and the church includes all that.
But the reasons I stress living vertically from the grace of God and then bending out horizontally in forgiveness and justification toward your spouse is 1) because there is going to be conflict based on sin and strangeness (and you won’t be able even to agree with each other about what is simply strange about each other and what is sin); and 2) because the hard, rugged work of enduring and forgiving is what makes it possible for affections to flourish when they seem to have died; and 3) because God gets glory when two very different and very imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness in the furnace of affliction by relying on Christ.
In Christ, God Has Forgiven You—and Your Spouse
Now I will pick it up here next time and tell you about a discovery that Noël and I made. I predict that the sermon will come to be called “the compost pile sermon.”
Till then, husbands and wives, drive into your own consciences these huge truths—greater than any problem in your marriage—that God “has forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Believe this with all your heart and bend it toward your spouse.
Via Dr. John Piper
February 4, 2007
By John Piper
Read, listen, or watch this resource on our website.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Marriage and the Gospel
Marriage is more wonderful than anyone on earth knows. And the reasons it is wonderful can only be learned from God’s special revelation and can only be cherished by the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to behold and embrace the wonder. The reason we need the Spirit’s help is that the wonder of marriage is woven into the wonder of the gospel of the cross of Christ, and the message of the cross is foolishness to the natural man, and so the meaning of marriage is foolishness to the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14). For example, the atheist Richard Dawkins said last fall,
I provided . . . cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable—but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial.
These are the tragic words of “the natural man.” Those who regard Christ and his incarnation and death and resurrection and lordship over all the universe, upholding it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17), as parochial, will not see the wonder of marriage woven into this gospel. But by grace you might see it. I pray that you do. I believe God will reveal it to you if you will look steadfastly at the revelation of it in God’s word and seek the help of the Holy Spirit to enable you to see and savor the glory of Christ and his blood-bought covenant with the church, which is reflected in marriage.
Marriage Is the Doing of God, to the Glory of God
Last week we saw that the most fundamental thing we can say about marriage is that it is the doing of God. And the most ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it is the display of God. The reason it is the display of God is that in Christ, God has made a new covenant with his people. In it he promises to forgive and justify and glorify all who turn to him from sin and receive Christ as the Savior and Lord and supreme Treasure of their lives. Marriage between a man and a woman was designed from the beginning to be a reflection and display of that covenant relationship.
That’s why Paul quotes Genesis 2:24—“A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”—and then says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Leaving parents and holding fast to a wife, forming a new one-flesh union, is meant from the beginning to display this new covenant—Christ’s leaving his Father and taking the church as his bride, at the cost of his life, and holding fast to her in a one-spirit union forever (1 Corinthians 6:17).
So, I concluded, staying married is not about staying in love. It’s about covenant-keeping. If a spouse falls in love with another person, one profoundly legitimate response from the grieved spouse and from the church is, “So what! Keep your covenant.” Now it is time to probe more deeply into what this covenant keeping look likes and what it means.
Naked and Not Ashamed
To help us, and to lay a fuller foundation, we turn to the verse in our text that we did not comment on last week: Genesis 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” What is the point of that verse? Consider these two possible reasons why they were not ashamed. First, is the reason that they both had perfect bodies. So since their appearance was perfect, they did not have the slightest fear that their spouse would disapprove of them. In other words, their freedom from shame was because they had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Is that the main point?
It is certainly a true observation. When God created man he said that his creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). So the man and the woman were perfectly beautiful and handsome. There was no flaw and no blemish. Is that the point of Genesis 2:25? I doubt it. For three reasons.
Not Because of Perfect Bodies
First, no matter how beautiful or handsome your spouse is, if you’re cranky or selfish or unkind, you can make comments in a way that shames the other person. Not being ashamed in a marriage relationship takes more than being physically perfect; the one who is looking at you must be morally upright and gracious.
Second, Genesis 2:24-25 is intended to provide foundational wisdom for marriage long after the fall of man into sin. We can see that by the way Jesus makes use of verse 24. So it doesn’t seem to me that the main point would only relate to the pre-Fall situation, namely, the perfection of their bodies.
Third, verse 24 creates the relationship where verse 25 can happen. And the emphasis falls there on the covenant commitment: These two are holding fast to each other in a new one-flesh union that is not an experiment. It’s a new committed union. That is what creates the context for a shame-free marriage—not their perfect beauty.
Because of Covenant Love
So consider a second possibility for why they are naked and not ashamed. My suggestion is that the emphasis falls not on their freedom from physical imperfection, but on their fullness of covenant love. In other words, I can be free from shame for two reasons: One is that I am perfect and have nothing to be ashamed of; the other is that I am imperfect but I have no fear of being disapproved by my spouse. The first way to be shame-free is to be perfect; the second way to be shame free is based on the gracious nature of covenant love. In the first case, there is no shame because we’re flawless. In the second case, there is no shame because covenant love covers a multitude of flaws (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13:5).
I know that in Genesis 2:25 the fall into sin has not yet happened. So there are no flaws to be covered. But my point is that verse 25 flows out of verse 24 because the covenant relationship established by marriage is designed from the beginning to be the main foundation of freedom from shame. Admittedly, until sin came into the world and all kinds of physical flaws came with it, Adam and Eve did not have to exercise their covenant love to cover any sins and flaws in each other. But that was God’s design. Marriage was designed from the beginning to display Christ and the church, and the very essence of the new covenant is that Christ passes over sins in his bride. His bride is free from shame not because she is perfect, but because she has no fear that her lover will condemn her or shame her with her sin. This is why the doctrine of justification is at the very heart of what makes marriage work. It creates peace with God vertically, in spite of our sin. And when experienced horizontally, it creates shame-free peace between an imperfect man and an imperfect woman. I hope to look more fully at this next week.
But first we need to finish looking at what the text has to say about nakedness and shame. In Genesis 2:17, God had said to Adam, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” I take the “knowledge of good and evil” to refer to a status of independence from God in which Adam and Eve would decide for themselves apart from God what is good and what is evil. So eating from this tree would mean a declaration of independence from God.
In Genesis 3:5-6, that is what happens:
[The tempter says,] “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
The first effect of this rebellion against God and this declaration of independence is recorded in verse 7: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” What does this mean?
Suddenly they are self-conscious about their bodies. Before their rebellion against God there was no shame. Now, evidently, there is shame. Why? There is no reason to think it’s because they suddenly became ugly. That’s not the focus of the text at all. Their beauty wasn’t the focus in Genesis 2:25, and their ugliness is not the focus here in 3:7. Why then the shame? Because the foundation of covenant-keeping love collapsed. And with it the sweet, all-trusting security of marriage disappeared forever.
The Foundation of Covenant-Keeping Love
The foundation of covenant-keeping love between a man and a woman is the unbroken covenant between them and God—God governing them for their good and they enjoying him in that security and relying on him. When they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that covenant was broken and the foundation of their own covenant keeping collapsed.
They experienced this immediately in the corruption of their own covenant love for each other. It happened in two ways. And we experience it today in these same two ways. And both relate to the experience of shame. In the first case, the one viewing my nakedness is no longer trustworthy; so I am afraid I will be shamed. In the second, I myself am no longer at peace with God, but I feel guilty and defiled and unworthy—I deserve to be shamed. Think about these one at a time.
Vulnerability to Shame
In the first case, I am self-conscious of my body and I feel vulnerable to shame because I know Eve has chosen to be independent from God. She has made herself central in the place of God. She is essentially a selfish person. From this day forward, she will put herself first and others last. She is no longer a servant. So she is not safe. And I feel vulnerable around her, because she is very likely to put me down if that puts her up. So suddenly my nakedness is precarious. I don’t trust her any more to love me with pure covenant-keeping love. That’s one source of shame and self-consciousness.
The Broken Covenant with God
The other source is that Adam himself, not just his spouse, has broken covenant with God. If she is rebellious and selfish and therefore unsafe, so am I. But the way I experience it in myself is that I feel defiled and guilty and unworthy. That is in fact what I am. Before the Fall, what is and what ought to be were the same. But now, what is and what ought to be are not the same. I ought to be humbly, gladly submissive to God. But I am not. This huge gap between what I am and what I ought to be colors everything about me—including how I feel about my body. So my wife might be the safest person in the world, but now my own sense of guilt and unworthiness makes me feel vulnerable. The simple, open, nakedness of innocence now feels inconsistent with the guilty person that I am. I feel ashamed.
So the shame of nakedness arises from two sources and both of them are owing to the collapse of the foundation of covenant love in our relationship with God. One is that Eve is no longer reliable to cherish me; she has become selfish and I feel vulnerable that she will put me down for her own selfish ends. The other is that I already know that I am guilty myself and the nakedness of innocence contradicts my unworthiness—I am ashamed of it.
They Clothed Themselves
Genesis 3:7 says that they tried to cope with this new situation by making clothing: “And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Then in Genesis 3:21, God made better clothes for them from animal skins: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” What are we to make of this?
Adam and Eve’s effort to clothe themselves was a sinful effort to conceal what had really happened. They went on and tried to hide from God (Genesis 3:8). They were no longer innocent but were rebels against God. Their nakedness felt too revealing and too vulnerable. So they tried to close the gap between what they were and what they ought to be by covering what is and presenting themselves in a new way. From their standpoint, this was the origin of hypocrisy. It was the first attempted—and totally unsuccessful—snow job.
Then God Clothed Them
So what does it mean that God clothed them with animal skins? Was he confirming their hypocrisy? Was he aiding and abetting their pretense? If they were naked and shame-free before the Fall, and if they put on clothes to minimize their shame after the Fall, then what is God doing by clothing them even better than they can clothe themselves? I think the answer is that he is doing something with a negative message and something with a positive message.
Negatively, he is saying, You are not what you were and you are not what you ought to be. The chasm between what you are and what you ought to be is huge. Covering yourself with clothing is a right response to this—not to conceal it, but to confess it. Henceforth, you shall wear clothing, not to conceal that you are not what you should be, but to confess that you are not what you should be. One practical implication of this is that public nudity today is not a return to innocence but rebellion against moral reality. God ordains clothes to witness to the glory we have lost, and it is added rebellion to throw them off.
And for those who rebel in the other direction and make clothes themselves a means of power and prestige and attention getting, God’s answer is not a return to nudity but a return to simplicity (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:4-5). Clothes are not meant to make people think about what is under them. Clothes are meant to direct attention to what is not under them: Arms and hands that serve others in the name of Christ, “beautiful” feet that carry the gospel to where it is needed, and the brightness of a face that has beheld the glory of Jesus.
The Significance of Clothing
Now we have already crossed over to the more positive meaning of clothing that God had in his mind when he clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. This was not only a witness to the glory we lost and a confession and that we are not what we should be, but it is also a testimony that God himself would one day make us what we should be. God rejected their own self-clothing. Then he did it himself. He showed mercy with superior clothing. Together with the other hopeful signs in the context (like the defeat of the serpent in 3:15), God’s mercy points to the day when he will solve the problem of their shame decisively and permanently. He will do it with the blood of his own Son (as there was apparently blood shed in the killing of the animals of the skins). And he will do it with the clothing of righteousness and the radiance of his glory (Galatians 3:27; Philippians 3:21).
Which means that our clothes are a witness both to our past and present failure and to our future glory. They testify to the chasm between what we are and what we should be. And they testify to God’s merciful intention to bridge that chasm through Jesus Christ and his death for our sins. He will solve the problem of fear and pride and selfishness and shame between man and woman with his new blood-bought covenant.
Marriage Is a Display of the Gospel
Marriage is meant to be a display of that covenant, and that gospel. Therefore, what we will look at next time, God willing, is how a husband and a wife embody the new-covenant gospel of justification by faith and so create a new safe and sacred place where it can be said again: They were both naked and were not ashamed.
- Ark of the Covenant – The Beeb’s report last week concerning what the Israeli government is doing regarding this contentious matter caught the eye of one of my Christian buddies, who takes much pleasure in delving into Church and world history. His current thesis is that the Ark is actually at the point of excavations; that there was a previous, secret attempt(s) by the Israelis to dig underground tunnels to access it; that it is going to be one of the hot issues as the Middle East question worsens (he sees no possible, lasting reconcilliation between the Judeo-Christian persuasion of the Messiahnic Second Advent and that of Islam’s return of the Mahdi). He suggest that we are all living not just in interesting times, but also borrowed time.
- A journalist friend with one of Kenya’s leading TV station buzzes me on Sartuday afternoon, asking me to meet him at Uhuru Park. He is covering the essential reforms’ rally for his employers, but wants to use the opportunity to chat me up for old times’ sake as the many minions on Gumo and Ndolo’s lists make their noise. Several impressions of the event, but I’ll share just a few: Short of a miracle, there is no way William Omondi is going to make a return to bunge on behalf of Kasarani; it will be difficult to have a succesful opposition / ODM campaign this year without Raila Odinga; it will always be difficult to hold a succesful opposition / ODM rally without Raila Odinga (schedule handlers of the day learnt this, albeit too late in the day when they brought Muite to the podium after the former had spoken, – the crowds simply began walking away, Raila had to plead with them to listen to Paul).
- A pastor is blogging in KBW. Dr. David Owuor, about whom I had blogged last year, is also in the mix (here for his blog, and here for his official website).