Category Archives: Marriage and Family

Power struggles and how to get beyond them

When a marriage relationship or a church community seems to be stuck or even falling apart, it is probably because we are not listening. We must be having trouble hearing one another.

There are often many reasons  for our lack of hearing. But the biggest reason of all must be not listening to Jesus. He is calling us into a transformation that allows us to listen, hear, and love like He does.

It is a strange problem. Jesus wants to nurture us into our true selves, which sounds great, but we resist going there. We have trouble letting Him get through a sentence without feeling threatened and either butting in with an objection or turning away. We have a power struggle with God and everyone else.

Friend or servant?

I was pondering a few power struggles I had identified last week when Julie reminded me of John 15. I have been thinking about our conversation ever since. In that account, Jesus calls his disciples into an intimate relationship with him, like branches in a vine. He warns that a disconnected branch will wither and die. But He assures the disciples that withering is not the destiny for his friends. He tells them he is no longer going to call them his “servants,” as if they were people who merely fulfilled a master’s bidding. They have matured into His “friends,” someone who knows His business and can bear the fruit of love that comes from a renewed life. Most of us have a hard time hearing what Jesus is saying, just like we have a hard time with our other intimates — there are reasons for this.

Continue reading Power struggles and how to get beyond them

Parenting as a community

Some people saw “parenting” in the title of my post and never got further than the title. They are not a parent at all, or not a parent of young children, so they are skipping this post because it is “not about me.” At some level, that’s OK, since we don’t have to be universally responsible for everything. But children are not just a subject, they are not merely an activity, they are members of the body of Christ.

Children are not of age to make a covenant, so they are not those kind of members of the body. But they are members by virtue, generally, of being present with their parents. As a result, they are the special charges we are all given to nurture into faith until they can make an adult decision to walk with Jesus with us. If you ignore them, or you don’t think they are watching you ignore them, you will not only miss your opportunity and shirk your responsibility to care, you may actually prove to be a detriment to their development. (Did you listen to Into the Woods last year?)

parentsWe are parenting as a community. One way or another, we will all be parenting when children are around in the church. This is how it should be. We are the family of God, after all. The church is either a great environment where everyone, children included, can be connected to God and form a secure attachment — or not. We want to be a church who…

  • encourages everyone to care for our weakest people: the children,
  • helps parents with their difficult and crucial ministry to their children,
  • helps parenting households in an individualized society to develop practical ways to share their burdens
  • opens doors for including new parents in the systems we come up with to share the load.

How are we doing with village parenting?

At recent meetings of Circle of Hope, we openly talked about how we are doing with nurturing this environment. For the most part, we thought we were doing pretty well. But we were criticized for letting children be invisible, and for letting parents get stuck in being isolated, as is often the society’s habit — since we are supposed to be self sufficient individuals, and, by extension, self-sufficient families.

Adults tend to go through our meetings looking for connections that please them and opportunities that satisfy a main question they ask of every circumstance: what’s in it for me? Advertisers have been appealing to this self-interest so relentlessly since they were born, that it is hard not to see it as a natural reaction. So they often look  over the heads of the children (which is easy to do, right?) assuming there is nothing down there for them. They miss that children not only have things to offer as people, if you listen to them like they are listening to you. What’s even better, caring for children develops the love of God in us. Caring for the vulnerable and enlightening the lost are the main activities that expand our hearts to receive more of the Holy Spirit and become our true selves. It never makes sense to overlook a child.

A few years ago we began talking about “village parenting.” Mainly we were talking about the parents getting together and living as the community they are in regard to their children. Parenting can be so hard for most of us that we need our extended birth family and our extending family in Christ to come alongside. Many people don’t have a birth family who is available, (or who they want to be involved and making they mess they made the first time), so their family in Christ is very important. Many children do not have a functioning family or a family in Christ, so we are a great place for them to learn to attach to people and to God when we invite them in. “Village parenting” is an important skill for everyone to learn. It takes a village to raise a child in Christ.

Hillary Clinton made the point about villages and children in her famous book. She got her image from an African proverb but we got our point from Acts 4:32-35. We rewrote that passage for parents and have been working on doing it ever since. This would be ideal:

All the parents were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that their personal resources for parenting were the only resources they had, but they shared with each other. With great power the parents continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in their families, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy parents or children among them. For from time to time those who had resources of time, materials, organizing and imagination shared them. The little they had individually became more in God’s hands, so that all the needs were attended to.

Even if you are not a parent, you’d want to get in on that, wouldn’t you?

God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. Last night Peter was telling us at BW that the Spirit is consistently delivering pure spiritual milk to us newborn babies who long for it. Following Jesus is all about family. A lot of people who may be insecurely attached to their own parents and who may not have a secure attachment to God as a result, like to make following Jesus into something they can control or do in their typically avoidant way. But Jesus redirects our outlook from our preoccupations and points back to the children, even the troubled child still unfinished in us or the newborn babe anxiously longing for spiritual milk. We need to be like a child ourselves, a loving, longing child of our loving, longing parent. When we are parenting as a community, all of us, not just the people with children, we are in step with God, who has made us with great instincts for love, which are often unleashed by those needy little people among us.

2014 #4 — Marriage in the new creation

**Circle of Hope upgrades their teaching all the time, so this post is old now, in some ways. The new work is even better!** Here is the link to the latest.

For the next few weeks, Thursday is TOP TEN of 2014 day. This is the #4 most read post of 2014. Last June I tried to keep our conversation about sexuality going by publishing a variation on the theme of our statement we made after our lively “Doing Theology” session in the spring.

All year we have been trying to get out of the congress-type polarization of the Church’s dialogue about sexual expression and get into the grace of staying focused on everyone’s redemption. I think we are doing a good job. The pastors came up with a statement on marriage in March and taught it to the cell leaders. I think it is a good summary of where we have come so far. This post is based on that statement. What follows are three big points about marriage and sexuality and some basic ideas that might help apply them.

We need to keep the love chapter where it belongs

The apostle Paul places his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit is making the body of Christ out of the Lord’s followers (1 Corinthians 12-14). He does not place it after his chapter on marriage (1 Corinthians 7), which he could have easily done. The placement is important to note. Paul fully respects marriage as part of the order built into creation, but it is not equally important in the new creation.

In Christ, we are all bigger than the traditions that used to make up our identities. For instance, when Paul is talking to the church in Galatia about their temptation to follow the Jewish law he says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and “what counts is the new creation” (Galatians 5:6, 6:15).

When we are talking about the new traditions people are making and legislating about marriage and sexuality in our era, it is important to remember that what counts is the new creation. How I relate to everyone who is finding their way: relationally, sexually and otherwise, is based on this kind of thought: “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

There is more to you than your marriage or lack of one

Making families is great, but the ultimate in family comes from relating as brothers and sisters in Christ and respecting God as our true parent. That is a reality that takes the work of our Savior and the power of the Spirit to experience.

Jesus affirms the oldest teachings in the scripture about marriage (Matthew 19:5-6). Elsewhere in the New Testament we are taught that marriage is to be honored by all; all the Bible writers assume they are talking about a relationship between a man and a woman, lifelong and exclusive. At the same time, marriage is not considered the ultimate expression of love and commitment; love and commitment come from Jesus and are most fully realized in the body of Christ.  Within that inspired and diverse body, composed of everyone who can name Jesus as Lord, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” Every Jesus-follower is honorable and must be honored because each is given “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:5-7).

Our relationships with God through Jesus Christ are what define us. Our ultimate identity is not about how we are married or how we have sex, just like it is not about where we live or any other labels the world may slap on us.

The Church has slapped some labels on people, too.

Circle of Hope’s way of responding to our era’s new approaches to sexual expression has been based on the spirit of the preceding teaching from the Bible. At the same time, we know that the church has rarely been a safe place, historically, for sexual nonconformity. Many people have been oppressed and injured. One of the reasons people are deserting the church in vast numbers these days is not just because the members of the church do not live in the Spirit or do not express new creation life, it is because the church is even more oppressive than the world!

Because of this reality, we have tried to be even more careful to welcome every person as they are, no matter where they are on their journey, and have been committed to walk with them as they discover the fullness of what God has for them. We don’t do this just because people won’t like us if we don’t; we do it because Jesus is doing the same thing with us! Especially in regard to how people experience marriage, we don’t need that to be a big issue when we first meet someone. After all, we think that the best place to find fullness as one’s true self is as an honored member of the body of Christ, not in a sexual relationship, married or otherwise. So we try to keep our focus where the focus should be.

Some people might prefer a detailed policy statement

Our approach requires a great deal of love and personal commitment, not just careful adjudication or implementation of regulations. As Jesus-followers we need to love real, complex people with an unfolding future, not just organize identities as if we were the Social Security Administration. We want to have faith that requires our best — and loving people as they are will require our best. Being personally gracious and hospitable takes a lot of time and patience, but the  commitment it takes to work out our love in the ways we are directed is worth it.

Here are some basic applications of the scripture that answer questions people have about what we are talking about:

What about the pressure to choose a sexual identity? Sexual arousal is a characteristic of a person, not their identity. How we respond to our arousal and the feelings themselves tend to be fluid and are subject to the same temptations and maturation as are all our ways. Jesus is Lord of all our feelings and ways. We seek to honor each person as they experience their feelings and find their way along their unique journey as a member of the body of Christ.

What about the increasing experience of living together as sexual partners before marriage? Generally, sexual expression should happen within a relationship founded in a marriage covenant. Couples who cohabit as sexual partners without a public commitment should consider themselves married. Likewise, if they break up, they should consider themselves divorced. The rights the nation gives or withholds regarding marriage and other relationships are superseded by our life in faith as part of the new creation.

What about same sex attraction? Jesus followers who have same sex attraction are no less honorable than anyone else. They are going to work out their sexuality in a variety of ways, as they are convicted and gifted.

  • Some will choose celibacy and struggle alongside Jesus and Paul.
  • Some will choose to have a committed relationship that can be a faithful response to their desire.
  • Some will marry a person of the complementary gender and not express their other attractions, as all married couples are called to do.
  • Some may struggle with what to do and others may cause struggles with what they do.

There does not need to be one approach to marriage and sexual expression that supposedly meets the needs and aspirations of all people. The key to unity in diversity is the work of grace that enables disparate people to manifest the Spirit for the common good.  We all experience brokenness, sin and loneliness in our loves; so we will bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). What counts is the new creation.

Marriage in the New Creation

**Circle of Hope upgrades their teaching all the time, so this post is old now, in some ways. The new work is even better!** Here is the link to the latest.

All year we have been trying to get out of the congress-type polarization of the Church’s dialogue about sexual expression and get into the grace of staying focused on everyone’s redemption. I think we are doing a good job. The pastors came up with a statement on marriage in March and taught it to the cell leaders. I think it is a good summary of where we have come so far. This post is based on that statement. What follows are three big points about marriage and sexuality and some basic ideas that might help apply them.

love never fails, marriage includedWe need to keep the love chapter where it belongs

The apostle Paul places his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit is making the body of Christ out of the Lord’s followers (1 Corinthians 12-14). He does not place it after his chapter on marriage (1 Corinthians 7), which he could have easily done. The placement is important to note. Paul fully respects marriage as part of the order built into creation, but it is not equally important in the new creation.

In Christ, we are all bigger than the traditions that used to make up our identities. For instance, when Paul is talking to the church in Galatia about their temptation to follow the Jewish law he says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and “what counts is the new creation” (Galatians 5:6, 6:15).

Continue reading Marriage in the New Creation

Let’s look at this cohabitation thing again — You’re married, right?

I heard a common story from a new friend last night. As far as she knew about church people, “living together” was so frowned upon that she and her boyfriend suspected they would be ostracized if they got involved in Circle of Hope.

I said to her, “You guys are married, though, right?” She said, “Yes.” (This is not a transcript of our conversation, but that was the gist).  What stood in the way of the official ceremony was money. They did not have wealthy or supportive parents; they did not have the money for a big party, money for the ring, the dress, etc.; plus, she wanted to feel more established financially before they made a commitment. This story is so common it seems to represent a new rite of passage into adulthood.

cohabitors

Care about people where they are

The “principle Christians” sometimes criticize Circle of Hope, as a whole, for our acceptance of people who are “cohabiting,” like my friend is. The implication is that we should consider these people taboo until they get themselves corrected. Instead, we apparently just let people have sex, willy nilly, and encourage people to sin. (Really, that’s gotten back through the gossip chain).

But, in truth, we’ve come up with an alternative. We care about people the way we meet them. So we usually get to know people who are cohabiting and ask them if they are married. Most of the time, if they aren’t just sharing an address, they say “Yes.”

I think people need to make a public covenant and have the benefit of a church-sanctioned marriage for any number of reasons. I’m not sure they need the government involved in their marriage at all – if they see that as an advantage, fine. But if they have taken one another home, and we all know they are a “they,” I don’t feel out of line by acknowledging their marriage.

Cohabitation facts

Like I noted in a former post, cohabitation has increased dramatically in recent decades in the United States. It climbed from 500,000 couples in 1970 to nearly 6.8 million couples in 2009. It looks like most young adults today will, at some point, live with a sexual partner outside of marriage. The stats say that a majority of couples now cohabit before they marry. Often their parents encourage these “trial runs.” It looks like a generation with so many divorced parents is deciding not to get divorced by never getting married.  It is a new era with a host of new issues to sort out.

Many Christians think the 21st century increase in cohabitation without legal, covenantal or public recognition devalues marriage and undermines its goals. If recent research is a true indicator, Americans, as a whole, have not fully decided whether they agree or not.  Sex is easier now. The capacity to marry for love (as well as be unfaithful) provided by birth control shook old foundations and new foundations are being built in response. Divorce is easier. In 1900, two-thirds of marriages ended with the death of a partner, particularly when women died during childbirth. By 1974, divorce surpassed death as the most common way to terminate a marriage. By the end of the 20th century, divorce was considered both a common and culturally acceptable way to terminate marriage. It is easier to be “abnormal” now. Since the 1960’s, cohabitation, premarital sex, and out-of-wedlock childbearing have become increasingly common and culturally acceptable.

Although the contours of marriage have changed over time, the definition has not.  Americans still overwhelmingly define marriage as being sexually exclusive and lifelong, even though many break their vows. They are pulled between opposites and are still sorting things out. They want the connection of marriage, but they have slowly become accustomed to being individualistic and consumeristic. They want the security and safety of marriage, but they still want all their choices unencumbered. They want to marry or exclusively cohabit, but then have extramarital sex or divorce, even though they no longer have to get married. “Freedom” is the slogan, but they seem to still be pondering with the Apostle Paul: “Yes, everything is permissible. But not everything builds up!” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

What is the best way to marry?

Even though there are very few negative social consequences for breaking former sexual codes by not being married, Americans overwhelmingly choose to marry, eventually. Even same-sex couples want to marry and thirteen states will allow them to do it legally. I don’t think I can answer all the reasons why people mate the way they do, but I do want to respond to what is happening with grace and discernment.

It is an interesting era. I am watching it as something of an outsider, since I and my Anabaptist tradition do not tune our faith to the varying pitches of government music or the society’s dance. As far as I am concerned, state and federal government definitions of marriage do not necessarily serve to increase the integrity of marriage as an expression of faith. I don’t think legislation on sex, finances, or even procreation will protect marriage enough to make it work. It takes commitment. I don’t think couples need an excessive wedding ceremony or a legal document to make a commitment. But I do think they need the sanction and participation of a living community in Christ to make a long-lasting covenant that is centered in the covenant we keep with the Lord.

As a church, we have not fully answered all the questions (including the ones that come through the gossip chain): Do believers need a wedding ceremony or a legal document to make a commitment? Does the covenant need to be made in traditional ways — especially now that many of those mostly-extra-biblical ways are becoming discredited?

A new look at the spectrum of how people, in general, are changing marriage from contract to cohabitation might come up with some advantageous ways to adapt:

  • Maybe we could free some people from the ceremony trap — some people don’t marry because they are saving for the bling and the spectacle! Just stand up during the Love Feast; we’ll marry you and you can have a big party on your fifth anniversary.
  • Maybe we could honor people by acknowledging their cohabitation before they enter their covenant publically. That would be something like the way we embrace people as members of the church community before they make a covenant with the body.
  • Maybe we should more clearly express our understanding that people who have sex are, essentially, married, albeit poorly and dangerously. But then, some of them are better married than some people who live together with a publically affirmed covenant.
  • Maybe we should stop keeping secrets. Why should someone feel like they are secretly married just because they have not jumped through all the sometimes-arbitrary hoops? Why shouldn’t we help people have healthy, godly relationships with the people they are living with?
  • Maybe we can help people who are getting married to relax about it and not try to meet the demands of the wedding industry. That might encourage others to celebrate the relationship they have made with more freedom and less stress.

Here are some more blog posts and pages about marriage:

The Marriage Story (August 2012) http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-marriage-story/

Keep Talking about How Your Lover Is Doing with Jesus (April 2012)

Monica and the new marriage (June 2011)

Go Ahead and Marry (2000)

Related articles

Genesis 2: The Marriage Story

On Saturday we opened up the topic of marriage at our leadership training. There is a lot of change coming to fruit in U.S. society regarding marriage and the changes can be very confusing. Some of our confusion came to my attention when a cell asked me for a “private session” to talk about cohabitation and same sex marriage. When we had talked over some of their issues, one of them finally asked, “So Rod, what is marriage?” I’m not sure why the question surprised me, but it did. I realized we had some theologizing to do. Their thinking had been colonized by the philosophies of the age that did not recognize Jesus; they needed to talk. So let’s keep talking, here — gently. Arguing about intimacy and sex is never a good idea, in my opinion.

This is some of what I was saying on Saturday.

Understanding marriage starts with a story, not a definition.

Though U.S. laws and philosophies demand otherwise, any wisdom about marriage is going to start with a story; and it will be one about relating to God at the center of it. Some people connect with congregations of the Church and one of the first things they ask for is the congregation’s definitions surrounding sexuality to see whether it is tolerable. If that is you, I can only ask that you are patient with our Bible-like ways. If you ask Jesus, “What is marriage” he will probably tell you a story. Marriage is too mysterious and too full of God to reduce it to a definition one can control and fight about. U.S. society has no center, so it is in a constant fight about definitions that become laws. The kingdom of God just does not work like that.

Genesis 2 is a marriage story

marriage of Adam and Eve

One of the first stories about marriage is in Genesis 2, where the Bible collects tales about the creation of the world. Among the many things that Genesis 2 is, it is a marriage story. I think we learn three things from it:

We are not alone in our garden, God is with us.

I suppose when God presented Adam with Eve, the man could have responded in other ways than with the wonder he expressed. He could have said, “What in the world is it?” Likewise, Eve could have whispered to God as they walked down the aisle of Eden, “Are you sure you know what you are doing?” Instead, Adam and Eve went with the miracle and trusted God for what was being created.

God expresses the Trinity’s character by creating us male and female in the Lord’s own image. Our coming together, is a mysterious, complete picture of who God is as we love one another as male and female. This is not the only way the image of God in us is revealed, because it happens when I love my children or comrades, too, and it happens when I choose to be my true self in the Spirit. Obviously, Jesus and Paul are not married and recommend their condition as a way to be married to God, so to speak. So people who are not married must not feel like they are missing out on the heart of the matter. But marriage is a basic way we creatures show how we are made in God’s image. The story of creation ends with marriage being the “moral” of the story: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). One of the basic reasons for the story was to explain why people get married and how God is with us in that.

Marriage is a primary way we come to our wholeness.

We all might know that in the story of Adam and Eve they get in quite a bit of trouble together. They make some choices that have some severe consequences. Their oldest children are not very well put together. I don’t think the whole clan has fully figured out how to be human for the first few chapters of the Bible, if then. In this process of sin and redemption, crime and wonder, marriage is a central crucible for growth. It is a laboratory for learning love. It is a crucible because it contains some volatile stuff that needs a gracious container to mature in. Many of us have blown up the lab a couple of times, and we know what I am talking about.

Yes, marriage is for romance and pleasure, but those elements are not enough motivation to sustain a love that can suffer like God’s. Personal satisfaction (whatever that moving target is!) is not enough to make a marriage worthwhile over time. If marriage is a practical process of learning  how to be a human who can be his or her true self in Christ, how to be a person who is able to come together in a kiss that is packed with mutual care, then we are getting somewhere.

Marriage is a primary way we fulfill our purpose

Some people think that Adam and Eve just wandered around in the garden hanging out, naming new animals and fruit they discovered. Not entirely. It says they were given the garden to “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). They were partners. They needed each other. Then sin made their work even harder! They were charged to be fruitful and cover the earth — have children, create community, keep the earth in shape, develop humankind. They had a whole earth to explore and tend and an eternity to do it. Their relationship had innate purpose. Just as God created them in a purposeful way, with love and goodness in mind, they were to be creative and purposeful.

Some of us have had relationships in which having the relationship was the goal of the relationship. Perhaps one partner was the avoider and one partner the pursuer — that often keeps couples occupied. Maybe both partners surprised themselves and their mate by discovering new issues they had with intimacy — that often gives people something to do. All relationships are challenging, but relationships with nothing else in life but the relationship are even more difficult. No person can be our “everything” – thanks for the confidence in me to think I could be, but no thanks. Being made for more than a relationship with your mate is not an either/or thing. Having a purpose should enhance intimacy.

How do I think community is created?

There is a lot to learn from the story. On Saturday, we began by thinking about what our parents’ marriages had been like. How did they bring us into creation? It makes a big difference to how we think we are to function in it. We are part of their ongoing story. If the family was eating forbidden fruit all day, it makes a difference.

If you are considering making a marriage covenant, are attached to a regular sexual partner, or are cohabiting, I think it is crucial to understand the story you are writing. When mating, Jesus followers probably want to match the creation/re-creation story in significant ways, since we are in the process of creating a new community with two people  at the center, and we are leading the community of the church in significant ways by what we do.

These days people tend to have

  • sealed off love (don’t connect too much) or
  • solace love (hang on for dear life), when what we want is
  • synchrony love (mutuality and understanding).

We tend not to know our own story too well, or to even think we should have one. We are more reaction than action. The marriage story in the creation story encourages good meditating. It causes us to consider how God is in everyone’s picture. It helps us make sensible choices in relation to others. Nice work, spiritual ancestors!

Keep Talking about How Your Lover Is Doing with Jesus

The biggest impediment to keeping faith with Jesus might be a good man or a good woman — or at least a man or a woman who wants me.

I have often wondered out loud how long it will be before a new follower of Jesus is derailed by a new unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes it seems like such a person is sent to the newly-faithful to see how faithful they want to be!

Almost everybody wants to love. The newly faithful are good to love. It is ironic that just as they start accessing a deeper way to love, the very thing that faith unleashes is the very thing that can do faith in! Jesus saves a needy person, brings them into community; they get stabilized and processed a bit, and they immediately use their newly softened heart to connect to someone who disconnects them from Jesus! Or if the person is OK with Jesus, in the abstract (in the, “It’s so cute that you are a Christian,” kind of way), they disconnect their sweet believer from the community and mission that is not that cute. This is a significant struggle right now all over our network.

Figuring out how faithful people mate has been a struggle from the beginning. Paul, in particular, talks about it quite a bit in the Bible. He really gets into the subject with the church in Corinth, Greece. He has a lot to say in his letters to his dear friends about how they are relating, and we have been pondering his revelations ever since. This is the group to whom he writes the famous 1 Corinthians 13 about love. This is the part of that chapter which is often excerpted for weddings:  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

When Jesus frees a person to love like this, they are a very attractive mate! Many people are glad to receive the Jesus-like love of a Jesus follower as long as the lover doesn’t bring Jesus along with His love. And many people who love like Jesus are very hesitant to unhook from a person who doesn’t like Jesus precisely because they have learned to hope and persevere in love like Jesus!

Maybe that is why Paul wrote again in 2 Corinthians 6 about being overly involved with people who are not involved with Jesus. He says not to get “yoked together” with unbelievers, like mismatched farm animals trying to get some plowing done. Animals that are yoked conform to each other’s ways or they constantly chafe under the yoke. When it comes to followers of Jesus connecting with people following something else, it can be a bad situation for both parties. When a Christian is intimate with an unbeliever, it is like inviting someone to defile the “temple of the living God,” Paul teaches, since the Spirit of God resides in His people. Paul is not saying that an unbeliever is all bad or that he or she can’t be loved and redeemed. He’s saying that they don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into, and they should not be lured into taking it lightly. Likewise, the believer should not try to hide their light so an unbeliever is comfortable in their dark, as if that were possible, anyway. It is not good for either party. Something has to live or something has to die.

Paul has a long discussion about what to do about these situations in 1 Corinthians 7.  The message of Jesus has come to Corinth and there are quite a few marriages and engagements among the new believers that have been impacted, so Paul wants to talk about what to do. His main advice is that if a person can manage to not get entangled in sex and marriage at all, that’s a good thing. But I don’t think he really thinks that is going to happen for 95% of the people, so he tries to help sort things out. He says that people who are married when they come to faith should stay married. Don’t desert your mate just because they don’t come to faith. But if they leave you, don’t feel bound to them; let yourself move on. To people who aren’t married when they come to faith he says it would be just as well to stay unmarried, because if you get intimate with someone, they are going to hold sway over you – heart, mind and body; who they are is going to make a big difference in who you can be. So if you need to get married (and that is a good thing), make sure that Jesus can live with the person you marry. It is better to stay single than to be yoked to someone who is uncomfortable being yoked to Jesus.

Like Paul feels the need to talk to his loved ones about the specifics of making love relationships, about marriage, and about how they are having sex, we need to keep talking, too. The love of God poured out on us in Jesus is making us whole and setting us free to be our true selves. It is also making us very attractive to people who need our love, and many of them have no clue about the bondage they are in and the false selves to which they are committed. We need to be honest with ourselves about the limits of who we are in Jesus. We need to be honest with our lovers about what relating to us really means. We’re going to love them; that is what we do. But so is Jesus, and they need to let him be in the relationship, since He’s not going anywhere.