Marriageability, Not Foolish Fixups

In a previous post I dealt with Foolish Fixups and in another I mentioned marriageability in the context of Achieving Adulthood for Adultescents. My personal experience is that those who attempt Foolish Fixups never consider what the scripture teaches about marriage. Moreover, churches as a whole do not take sufficient time in preaching and teaching to prepare adolescents, post adolescents and single adults for a godly Christian marriage. It always seemed to me that there was more on dating, which relied on the experience of the married couple doing the teaching. It also seemed to me that there’s this strange obsession to keep single adults from kissing before either engagement or marriage.

Very often, I’ve found that older, married Christian women seem to be very obsessive about fixing up single adults. To be fair,  though I’ve met pastors who are just as determined in this obsession – but I’ll deal with that later. As far these women, there is a ministry which the Bible explicitly sets out for them in regard to the younger women in the congregation. In regard to adolescent girls and single adult women, it’s reasonable to apply this passage as giving them responsibility for the marriageability of the younger women in the church, since the character qualities they are to teach deal primarily with marriage and family. It’s my belief that Christian men would take the initiative more and pursue Christian women who were schooled by this scripture, and foolish and obsessive fixups would recede into obscurity.

“Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way that they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:3-5).

Here are some ways that I can see this working out in practice and the problems that I’ve seen in the church that happen when this passage is not being followed.

  • Teaching by word and example how to avoid being slanderous.

    One of the immediate disqualifications that I’ve had in my own dating life for assessing marriageability of a potential partner is finding out that a woman is vindictive and slanderous. I’ve known professed Christian women who slander the men that they are or were dating to others, sometimes even to those who may be influential in the spiritual or professional life of the man they are or were dating, when they are going through difficulties or after a breakup. I’ve known others who acted flirtatious to the face of single Christian men but were slandering them behind their backs. And the tragedy is that there were older Christian women in their lives who could have corrected them and stopped this vindictive slander. And there is little doubt in my mind that married Christian women who slander their husbands behind their backs and others throughout their lives learned that habit much earlier, perhaps even from older Christian women who knew better.

  • Teaching by word and example how to live and grow without addictive behaviors and outside and beyond the secular social culture and party culture.

    In an earlier post on the life and death of Jessie Davis, I wondered how a young woman who had been part of an evangelical church could have become involved in such a downward spiral in her life. It seemed to have started with getting involved in the party culture when she left for college. Since the older women were themselves to be examples of reverence and sobriety, it looks like she never received this kind of guidance and example. I wonder how many of the older women in our churches teach and show how to live in reverence and sobriety.

  • Teaching by word and example how to act lovingly toward a husband and children.

    One of the fallacies that some Christian leaders perpetuate sometimes is that the Bible never teaches a woman to love her husband and children, but assumes that it will come naturally. Not true! It teaches that exact thing right here. In fact, one of the signs of last days godlessness is that people will be ‘without natural affection’ (II Timothy 3:3 – the true meaning of the word that is translated ‘without love’ in the New International Version). It’s reasonable to assume that a young woman or single adult woman who grows up in the atmosphere of II Timothy 3:1-5 will need instruction in this area.

    I think that one part of this teaching by word and example will be also how to avoid putting a career, a job or even a ministry in the church or a sense of missionary calling ahead of the responsibility to love the husband and children if a woman takes on marriage and family responsibilities. My own thought is that that this can be a huge, unstated obstacle as to why many single Christian women in ministry and missionary positions do not find husbands; they have lived and acted so independently in the pursuit of their ministry in the church or missionary service that they do not prepare themselves for genuine partnership in marriage and parenthood. They have lived by themselves and tried to do it all by themselves for so long that a husband would find himself subordinate to and less significant than his wife’s pursuit of a ministry in the church or missionary service. In fact, in their single lives, they have made the blunder that many male pastors have made over the years, in making the ministry in the church or missionary service a higher priority than spouse and family.

  • Teaching self control and purity by word and example.

    I’ve often been appalled how much Christian women try to manipulate Christian men with flirtatiousness, even single women with single men with whom they intend no long range dating and marital prospects. It’s also unbelievable how much some married Christian women will try to interfere in the life of a single adult man where the Bible gives them no authority and they demonstrate no wisdom. In addition, this command of purity and self control needs to be contrasted with the many Christian women who are slaves to secular soap operas and romantic novels.

  • Teaching diligent homemaking by word and example.

    During my years in seminary, I noticed how many Christian women who were hoping to be married and serve as married women had few skills in cooking and cleaning. Even if these responsibilities were to be share strictly 50-50 in their prospective home, they still did not have the skills and experience to be competent, let alone excel, in fulfilling their own responsibilities in the home. (Note that most church kitchens are unused for most of the week and often during normal church hours. Why are they being used more to teach some of these life skills in addition to the Bible teaching available in the church?)

  • Teaching kindness by word and example.

    The Bible also says, “A kindhearted woman gains respect . . .” (Proverbs 11:16). I’ve noticed a tremendous absence of this quality often in Christian women who want and crave respect and significance. Pursue kindness and compassion with wisdom, and see if you find what your looking for on that path.

  • Teaching by word and example how to follow the godly leadership of a godly husband.

    I cannot see how an older married or widowed woman that encourages a younger woman to go aggressively after single men or conspires in a fixup scheme with a single adult woman is doing anything that encourages this quality. It seems to me that what is being taught is that a woman needs to trick, trap and manipulate a man into a Christian marriage. More than once I’ve felt that these schemes are being hatched by the wife of a henpecked husband, and that she was seeking for me to become the henpecked husband of her single adult woman friend. Moreover, these tactics seem to sabotage a man’s desire and responsibility to take the initiative to pursue a woman whom he finds desirable and marriageable.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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Foolish Fixups

Updated!
 
About two decades ago I left the grounds of the Christian camp where I was, as a pastor, required to put in my week of service (Russian katorga). I went off to lunch by myself in the middle of the week. The reason that I left was because at every meal since I had arrived someone was trying to fix me up with some single woman that that person knew somewhere. Yes, I was single at the time, and have remained so. The constant fixup attempts in every conversation became unbearable, and no one seemed to be interested in anything else.
 
One of the biggest obstacles to single people — the never married, divorced and widowed — becoming involved in the mainstream of church life is this horrible tendency of some in the church to try to fix up any single man or woman that they might happen to meet with any other single person of the opposite sex that they might happen to know. This, and the habit of isolating singles off in their own little groups, are what I would say are the reasons that many single people find churches difficult to attend and become involved with.
 
Here are the reasons why I find this habit foolish.
 
  • It is an attempt to play God in the life of another believer. The Bible says, ‘ . . . a prudent wife is from the LORD’ (Proverbs 19:4; see also 18:24, Isaiah 55:8-9).
  • These fixups are often attempted with utter indifference to the expressed wishes and desires of those who are the objects of the fixups.
  • The marriages of those attempting the fixup are often not very stable nor appealing on scriptural grounds.
  • The fixups are often attempted with utter disregard for differences in age, spiritual maturity, vocation, and education that would obviously make a long and stable marriage extremely improbable. Sometimes this is even utter disregard for the matter of personal salvation, where one of those in the attempted fixup is not even a believer in Christ.
  • Sometimes the fixups are attempted with utter disregard for the actual issues in the life of one or both people involved in the fixup. For instance, I have consistently refused dating and long term relationships with women who have problems with obesity. It is not out of a desire to humiliate them, since I have rather sought to treat them as sisters in Christ. Rather, it is because I do not find obesity attractive, and, as a gym rat myself, I have sought to keep myself physically fit and healthy for many years now. Dating relationships are not fixes for obesity, vocational instability, addictions, or personal immaturity, but rather these issues need to be addressed as preparation before a stable dating relationship and possible Christian marriage.
  • Often the person attempting the fixup becomes obsessed with the outcome, and tries either to force or manipulate a relationship where neither party really wants one. The pride and self justification of the person doing the fixup becomes involved with trying to force an unwanted and unscriptural outcome in the life of other adults, without the wisdom nor the authority to do so.
  • Sometimes this behavior seems also to be characteristic of those attempting to enhance their own reputation, and this is evident where those attempting the fixup talk about it with others in social situations.
  • There is almost no relationship with the person doing the fixup, or whatever there is is extremely shallow and superficial. The person attempting the fixup usually knows almost nothing about me first hand, and has never attempted to build a relationship over a period of time to attempt to get to know me well. This person never knows much about my spiritual history, my dating history, my goals for the future, and so on.
  • Extremely immature behavior, most comparable to those in their early teens, often comes from the person attempting the fixup, such as girlish giggling or smarmy smirks.
  • Sometimes refusal of a fixup even results in disgraceful, vindictive slander. For instance, in two of the three times in which professing Christians have slandered me as being a homosexual, it came after I refused that person’s attempted interference in my dating life. (Homosexuality has never even been a serious temptation to me.)
  • I’ve often found that the most determined people who attempt fixups are those who were married shortly after high school and who cannot imagine that adulthood, maturity and singleness can coexist in the same person. I can only wonder what these will say to Jesus when they meet face to face.

I cannot believe that this kind of behavior can be excused as springing from love, since love is not proud, does not act inappropriately and is not self seeking (I Corinthians 13:4-5). Because of this, my own personal policy is that I do not accept attempts at dating fixups, and I strongly refuse anyone who persists once I have made my wishes known. Unfortunately this still does not stop some extremely devious and stubborn people, and they will attempt an ‘end around’ around this refusal. This policy, though, is not open to negotiation.

I have heard some accounts from fellow believers on some fixup attempts that did succeed. Those who attempt the obsessive kinds of fixups which I have just described almost never follow even one of the common factors for success. Here are the common factors that I’ve noted in their stories.

  • The person attempting the fixup usually has usually come to know both parties well over a long period of time. He or she knows the spiritual history, dating history, and goals and desires for the future of both parties. There’s a genuine relationship of deep Christian love already in place.
  • The person attempting the fixup usually speaks to the man first, and allows him to call the woman, make the introduction, seek a safe first acquaintance date for lunch or a cup of coffee, etc.
  • The person attempting the fixup does not let his or her ego or reputation become involved with the outcome; there is no obsession with ‘getting those two together.’ If the two parties do not hit it off, it is not a personal defeat or a black mark against the reputation of the person who made the fixup. Moreover, the relationship that this person built with both parties continues as before despite the relationship not blossoming into marriage.
  • Finally, you never hear about the fixup except from the one or both of the two people who have found the fixup to be successful. The person who attempted the fixup does not boast about it or talk about it to others.

In other words, the person attempting the fixup in this case is acting much more in tune with Christian maturity, wisdom and scriptural love. The fixup was not the priority. Following Christ and mature, respectful consideration for the single brother in Christ and the single sister in Christ were the priorities.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Breakup Excuses in Dating, Engagement and Marriage

On a Focus on the Family radio broadcast I heard James Dobson mention the five most common excuses that he heard for abandonment and divorce of a spouse. I managed to copy down four of them:

  • The marriage was wrong in the first place, most commonly because the abandoning partner claims that there was no real love in his or her heart when the marriage took place.
  • The marriage was not healthy, and abandonment and divorce would be better for both partners in the end.
  • Because of all the fighting, divorce and abandonment will be better in the long run, especially for the children.
  • The abandoning and divorcing partner claims to have prayed about it, and is claiming God’s approval.

What struck me when I was listening to the program was how much these excuses paralleled the excuses that I’ve heard both first hand and second hand for breaking up in a dating relationship or engagement.

What I remember from the broadcast is that these were viewed as smokescreens for reprehensible conduct and shifting of blame to the other partner for the abandonment and divorce.

Over the past two decades or so there have been some voices within the evangelical community critical of the practice of dating as the method for selection of a marriage partner. I personally do not believe in the validity of some of these criticisms, but I think that this is evidence that many couples during their years of dating do pick up habits of abandoning temporary romantic relationships and excuses for doing so that undercut their commitment to making their marriages permanent. They simply have a series of escape routes from relationships pre-programmed into their brains from previous temporary romantic relationships that come into play when the current marital relationship becomes dissatisfying for some (usually fixable) reason.

I don’t believe that these marriages were necessarily entered into with the view that they were in the same status as a casual to serious dating relationship or marriage. But it may well have been that those involved took the ways out that they knew from their previous experience.

Here are some ideas that come to me as I consider this.

  • Teaching on dating and marriage within youth and college age groups could well include warnings that dishonest ways of abandoning a dissatisfying dating relationship can have a lasting legacy on how a person treats the permanent, lifetime commitment of marriage.
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone ever in the evangelical community mention ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) as the standard of communication within dating relationships, especially when it comes to parting ways – or rather, putting the relationship back on the level of casual friendship of brother and sister in Christ. In fact, many of the dating stories that I’ve heard even in a teaching context contained a good deal of dishonesty and intentional misleading of the potential partner.
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community when teaching on revival and spiritual renewal ever speak of confession to God of the sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness during dating relationships, even when there was no sexual transgression involved. Yet even after many years this unconfessed sin may weigh down the conscience.
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community ever speak to confession to a past dating partner of sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness when teaching on restitution and confession of sin to each other. Yet these kinds of sinful behavior break hearts, cause untold amounts of grief, and even in some cases lead to suicide or attempted suicide. (No such confession need ever simply be the unburdening of a conscience or imply under any circumstances a desire for restoration of any kind of romantic relationship. Rather, I would encourage any such confessions be made in the presence of a spiritual leader or current spouse, if the person is already married.)
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community mention anything in a preaching or teaching context about unrequited love, the devastating breakup or the heart broken as a result of what I could call relationship breakup trauma, except for the divorced. Simply acknowledging the real hurt that is often lingering in the hearts of many single people, and Christ as the healer of broken hearts, could be a way for churches and pastors to build a bridge of hope and healing to many single people who are either suffering silently in the pews or neglecting church attendance because preaching and teaching ignores those who are single and hurting. (There is one highly rated book by an evangelical author on unrequited love: Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love by Laura A. Smit. )

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part VI: The Resolution of Romantic Gridlock

Lover: 5:1a: Conclusion to the Celebration of Married Love: The chapter break was most insensitive to the flow of the dialogues, since the first two verses of chapter five are the summation of the time of intimacy of chapter 4.

The past tense of the verbs, and the first person singular shows that here Solomon declares his personal satisfaction and fulfillment from the time of intimacy with his Shulammite bride in answer to her invitation in 4:16 to enjoy her love to the fullest.

Friends: 5.1b: This choral interjection of the “friends” (the “daughters of Jerusalem”) would seem to intrude on the lovers’ intimacy and privacy. Perhaps it would be best visualized as a call from outside to their bedroom window (which would be covered with a wooden lattice, not a glass pane or metallic screen).

Beloved: Verses 2-9: Second Dream Sequence: Romantic Gridlock and How to Get Around It

Visualize the Shulammite sitting in a circle with the other young women of Solomon’s court and relating this dream. The dream is a kind of lesson for them and for her.  This is one of the most humorous passages in the entire Bible! Romantic gridlock can make potent comedy, but it can also bring real disappointment, discouragement and pain. In addition, in some ways this dream is also more realistic than the first one that the Shulammite narrates in 3:1-4.  It demonstrates some of the real problems of romantic gridlock that occur even in godly marriages. The motive for the narration of the dream within the context of the Song of Songs would be her desire to resolve a possible situation of romantic gridlock within her own marriage, and conceivably through the mouth of the Shulammite Solomon is teaching everyone something about the resolution of this problem.

V.2: the lover’s hurry to come into her bedroom: note the haste in his voice, as expressed in the quick repetition of the terms of endearment to her, and contrast this to the patient buildup to the time of intimacy from the previous chapter.  Note also the apparent appeal to her compassion in the statement of his being wet and damp from the night air.  Whether this was realistically how Solomon acted at one time or another, it demonstrates that even the greatest lover may have times of ineptitude and insensitivity. What effect should this have on the expectations of spouses, real or potential?

V. 3: The daintiness of the bride: the Shulammite’s thoughts are not for the satisfaction of her poor husband, but for her own cleanliness.  Apparently the floor was either packed dirt or stone, either of which would have dirtied her. Note the conflicting moods and concerns of the lovers.

V. 4:  With most unSolomonic wisdom, the king attempts to get in the door without her assistance.  As this happens, she begins to warm up to his presence and eagerness.

V. 5:  The Shulammite goes to open the door — after having taken a stop to dip her hands in some perfume!

V. 6:  But, by the time she opens the door, he is gone. Apparently he had been discouraged and disappointed prematurely by her delay, and had gone away.  Disappointed herself, she tries to call for him, but he does not come. Whether he was out of earshot is not clear.

V. 7: This time in the dream the city guards treat her like a night thief, and beat her to send her home and “teach her a lesson.” What lesson do you think she actually learns from this?

V. 8: Apparently the dream had the real effect upon her of stirring up her love for Solomon all over again. Perhaps she had the fear that somehow he was actually feeling what he had experienced in the dream. Perhaps she felt that the dream was an indication or warning that somehow she had given him some disappointment through a perceived rebuff at some time.

V. 9: The Shulammite gives the charge to the other women, to tell him her passion for him if they should meet him. In effect, after the resolution of the romantic gridlock within her own heart,  she asks them to become her go-betweens, as she seeks to resolve the romantic gridlock, real or feared, between herself and Solomon. Contrast this to the forwardness she showed in 1:7-8, where she approached him. Perhaps she herself felt some shame and embarrassment at a supposed rebuff.

5:10: The  teasing reply of the friends to the plea of the Shulammite, on why they should be the bearers of the message to him. Do you think that it was right for the Shulammite to seek the assistance of her friends in the restoration of her love life? What guidelines can you come up with from what has preceded this in the Song of Solomon and from scripture as a whole? What is the difference between godly counsel and ungodly interference?

5:11-16: The Shulammite’s description of Solomon emphasizes how he is attractive to her. It is doubtful that she did not expect that these words would not be filtered back to him in one way or another. The occasion calls forth her own powers of metaphorical description, as she reflects back to him how handsome he is to her in terms reminiscent of his own praise of her. Like her, his face is tanned, with black hair, with soft and expressive eyes.

The use of gems  in her description requires some explanation. Chrysolite is a yellow topaz like mineral, and its inclusion with gold emphasizes the tanned appearance of his arms and legs which would have been exposed to the sun outside a tunic or robe. The torso would have a lighter, untanned appearance like ivory, since it would not normally be exposed to the noonday sun. Sapphire is lapis lazuli, a green semiprecious stone valued in the Ancient Near East; the modern sapphire was practically unknown. It is unclear what features of his body would compare to this gem, but the comparison was common in ancient epic and love poetry. Like him, she is describing the appeal of him to her, as he was created to be. Apparently there was as much physical attraction in her for him as there was in him for her.

1. Note how the Shulammite describes Solomon as her friend. What part would the actions and attitudes of friendship, rather than mere romantic overtures,  have on the resolution of romantic gridlock? How does she attempt to appeal to his need, rather than inflame his attraction to her?

2. This  passage suggests one way in which one can learn to express one’s love to a spouse more effectively: by noticing and echoing back the expressions of love which come from the spouse. It is reasonable that the lover would express love in a way in which might reflect the way in which he or she would in turn like to be loved. What can you think of in the attempts of someone of the opposite sex to express love to you that can teach you how someone of the opposite sex might want love to be expressed to him or her? What scriptural principle of conduct does this reflect? If there is a spouse or potential spouse in your life, what would you say are the ways that he or she most needs and seeks for you to give him or her affection?

3. The use of gems and metal in the Shulammite’s description of her husband also suggests a masculine muscularity to Solomon. Earlier in the discussion of feminine beauty, I wrote, “Such areas as diet, exercise, cleanliness, courtesy and tact, and an inner joy and tranquillity have much more to do with the qualities of physical attraction  . . . Moreover, an appreciation of oneself as the creation of God himself should be an encouragement to seek to bring out one’s potential for physical attraction to a level which honors him, your [spouse] and yourself as his handiwork. See Psalm 139:13-14:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

Physical beauty is not to be the sole criterion of one’s attraction to the opposite sex, and it can lead to vain self absorption with one’s appearance. For a believer in Christ, though, this does not lead to vanity as long as it is a sign of respect for oneself as God’s creation . . .  How would this relate to a Christian man seeking to keep himself well groomed and physically fit, and attractive to a spouse or potential spouse?

Concluding question: Why do you think that the Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to include this chapter in the Song of Songs? What message does it hold for godly couples of all ages?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part V: the Husband as Lover and the Wife as Responder

First Soliloquy of the Lover: a Pattern of Gentle, Tactful Wooing: 4:1-15:

This is a scene of sexual arousal. It happens within the bonds of marriage, and is therefore in line with the purpose of God for the way in which he has made men and women to respond to each other.

Solomon begins his soliloquy with the admiration of the beauty of his bride. He admires:

  • In verse 1: the softness of her eyes (the comparison is to the common wood pigeon)
  • In verse 1: the beauty of her black hair (goats in the Middle East are usually black)
  • In verse 2: her perfect white teeth (unusual in an era before dentists)
  • In verse 3: the appeal of her mouth (red with lip coloring)
  • In verse 3: her forehead under her veil (olive skinned and tanned like the skin of a pomegranate). Note here also her wearing the veil (or rather, headdress or “hair covering” ) of a married woman. This further confirms the legal marriage of the man and the woman here.
  • In verse 4:  her neck with a necklace of teardrop shaped plates of silver (looking like a tower hung with shields).
  • In verse 5: he continues with his admiration of more intimate features of her body.

Note that he begins with his gaze into her eyes, and begins to describe her beauty from her face downward. In the privacy of the bedroom then he begins to describe the beauty of her body whose modesty is normally shielded by clothes.

The graphic sensuality and sexuality of this chapter is fatal to the allegorical view of the Song of Songs as a depiction of the love of Christ and his church. The love of Christ and his people is not of this nature. Note also the visual arousal of the man by seeing his wife. Here the way in which he has been created to experience his arousal finds its fulfillment. She is God’s masterpiece for his private admiration and enjoyment (as he is for her also).

In verse 6 Solomon signals that he is willing for this time of intimacy to last all night. In verse 7 , moreover, with the eyes of love, he sees no flaw in her. All this is noteworthy for its gentleness, delicacy and care with which he deals with his bride.

Solomon may well have been in his thirties during the time that this was supposed to have taken place. The Shulammite bride may have only been in her early to mid teens — the usual age for women to be married among the ancient Israelites.Thus, the Song of Songs depicts his wisdom, delicacy and tact in dealing with a beautiful teenage bride. The possible age difference seems strange to a modern reader, but it would have not been unusual in the Biblical era. It does demonstrate the kind of masculine gentleness and tenderness which a husband can imitate just as well with a woman more his age, as is more usual in our day and age.

In verse 8 Solomon gives an invitation to his bride which is admittedly difficult to interpret. Since the areas which he refers to were forested areas with wild animals, it could be a playful way of saying, “Come to me, you wild country woman.”

In verses 9-11  Solomon goes on to declare his romantic infatuation with his bride. Much has been written about the pitfalls of infatuation by evangelical writers, but one thing is clear here: its existence within the bonds of marriage is in line with God’s purpose.

Verses 12-15 are Solomon’s comparison of his bride with a garden and a flowing fountain. Verse 12 is noteworthy for its declaration of her exclusivity for him. (Although Solomon has already professed his utter infatuation with her, it is unfortunate that he could not have likewise professed his exclusivity for her.)

Excursus: The Christian man as a loving husband: God’s provision of an example

One of the problems of men becoming loving husbands is often their lack of an example to follow. One of the most influential images of a man upon a man’s understanding of his own identity over the past generation has been that of man as provider. Thus, many men have considered their duties fulfilled as husband and father with the provision of a steady paycheck. Another image prevalent is that of man as hero (either in war or in sports). Biblically, the image of manhood is man as a son of God by faith in Jesus Christ. This adds another dimension onto that ruling metaphor for the Biblical definition of a man’s identity, to man as loving husband. The married man who follows Jesus Christ is not fulfilling God’s purpose for his marriage or his manhood unless he begins to allow himself to be molded into the kind of  loving husband that he can be by the grace of God. Here God gives an example of marital wooing of a woman as a part of that image.

Single men can likewise find something to learn here about becoming a loving husband, not in action, but in developing and demonstrating the potential. This is the purpose of premarital wooing of a woman: not in seeking any sort of sexual intimacy before marriage but in wooing her toward the commitment of marriage by giving her the assurance of the potential of being a loving husband after marriage.

1. Seek to be gentle and delicate in your admiration of the beauty of your wife.

2. Protect her modesty by being careful to admire in the bedroom what should only be exposed there.

3. Compliment her strong points (and ignore/overlook her weaker points).

4. Express admiration of her and your feelings about her in making the loving invitation to intimacy.

The sweet surrender of the bride: 4:16: The bride gladly expresses her surrender to the loving invitation and advances of her husband. Use your imagination for what tone of voice these words would have been spoken.

Wives: consider how you respond to your husband’ advances. Have you been pettishly rejecting? Or have you been tiredly apathetic? Or joyfully enthusiastic?

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part IV: The True Depth of Married Love

Introductory note on the Song of Solomon: its inclusion in the Bible and its value today:

“Can we suppose such happiness unworthy of being recommended as a pattern to mankind, and of being celebrated as a subject of gratitude to the great Author of happiness?” — Johann David Michaelis, 19th century German pastor and theologian

Beloved: 3:1-5: the Shulammite bride apparently recounts a dream of seeking her husband (note the parallel to the dream recounted in 5:2-7). Apparently her dream was that she could not find her husband in bed with her so she went into the city at night to seek him. It would have certainly been unusual for a woman to be out at night alone in the city in the ancient world. Apparently this reflects the subconsious depth and reality of her longing for her husband.

The watchmen (the city guards) were apparently unable to help her. Once she found him, though, she took him to her mother’s house (not the palace bedroom) for a time of intimacy. This conclusion to the dream matches the fantasy she recounts to her husband in 8:2, which reinforces the narration of this dream as an expression of wish fulfillment.

Note the repeated description of her husband: the one my heart loves. Since “heart” meant the seat of thought, the intrusion of this desire for her husband into her dreams demonstrates the depth of her passion for him.

  • The principle of subconscious awareness and desire

The depth of married love is such that it affects our thoughts even when we are not conscious.

In the Bible, dreams are often considered as communication from God: the dreams of  Jacob, Joseph, Pharoah, his cupbearer (the “butler”) and his baker, Nebuchadnezzar, and Joseph the earthly father of Jesus all come to mind. This is an indication that there was also an awareness that these dreams had other meanings. Here it would be more in tune with the modern psychological theory that dreams also express subconscious desires and fears.

Our dreams likewise sometimes depict the fulfillment of our subconsious anxieties, desires and fantasies without being clearly prophetic. It is not superstitious or overly introspective to give consideration to what is in one’s dreams. Many times the dreams depiction of our own anxieties, desires and fears can assist us to understand what is truly on our minds, especially if they include a spouse. Once we can understand our anxieties, desires and fears, we can then confront them in the light of scripture in the presence of the Lord.

Friends: 3:5: a refrain which has already appeared in verse 7: not to try to manipulate love prematurely. Here it seems to reflect the reality that true marital love cannot but show itself in one’s innermost thoughts and desires.

3:6-11: It is not clear who the speaker is here. The verses describe the return of Solomon to Jerusalem with his new bride. The opening question is literally, “Who is this woman . . . ” Her swarthy color from her tan is suggested by comparing her to the column of smoke, but the perfume also stamps her as having been richly endowed by the king.

Without undue spiritualization, this may be seen as an illustration of the wonder of salvation, of the person who has come from the status of sinner and yet still exudes the savor of Christ from his life, because of having been chosen and loved by the king.

The king came back with his royal carriage and retinue of picked warriors (like the ‘mighty men’ of his father David) to bring her to his palace. He wore a new crown for this wedding, the gift of his mother Bathsheba. In ancient weddings the groom went from his home with a group of his friends and relatives to the house of the bride to lead her back to his home, and the king himself did so with his royal procession for this bride.

The retinue of picked warriors demonstrates the king’s care for protection of himself and his wedding party also. The journey from wherever the Shulammite was really from — if from ‘Shulem’ in northern Israel — would be dangerous even for a royal party without suitable protection.

The use of the special carriage also shows the concern of Solomon to use his very best for this special occasion.

For the king this was a special time of joy — a marriage of love and not of politics.  He wore a special crown perhaps as a precursor of the later custom of wearing crowns at Jewish weddings.

The mention of this ceremonious return of Solomon with his bride certainly seems to reflect a literal event. The details are in harmony with what scripture, ancient history and archaeology depict of the early years of Solomon’s reign. The description of the royal carriage of Solomon certainly fits his elegant tastes and interest in fine horses.

  • The principle of remembrance of the first affirmation of the commitment

The wedding ceremony is the public declaration of lifetime love and commitment before friends and relatives. A private recall of the ceremony and reaffirmation of the vows, just between husband and wife, from time to time could be a suitable accompaniment to stir up the romance and recapture the romantic awareness of newlyweds. Here are the vows from the traditional ceremony:

Husband: “I … take thee . . . to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer,  for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according  to God’s holy ordinance and thereto I give thee my troth (promise).”

Wife: “I . . . take thee . . . to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to cherish, and to obey, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth.”

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part III: PUSHING THE RIGHT BUTTONS

Beloved: 2:1: The Shulammite bride playfully describes herself as a wildflower (the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys were flowers that grew and blossomed without artificial cultivation), in short, as a natural beauty in the way that God created her.

  • The principle of godly self understanding

The believer in Christ, man or woman, can be assured in being the creation of God, of his handiwork in his or her appearance.

Do you appreciate the natural features of beauty which are part of the way that God created you? What would you say your strengths are? In what areas could you realistically achieve improvement?

Such areas as diet, exercise, cleanliness, courtesy and tact, and an inner joy and tranquility have much more to do with the qualities of physical attraction than the artificial enhancements of makeup, etc. Moreover, an appreciation of oneself as the creation of God himself should be an encouragement to seek to bring out one’s potential for physical attraction to a level which honors him, your husband and yourself as his handiwork. See Psalm 139:13-14:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

Physical beauty is not to be the sole criterion of one’s attraction to the opposite sex, and it can lead to vain self absorption with one’s appearance. For a believer in Christ, though, this does not lead to vanity as long as it is a sign of respect for oneself as God’s creation, and as long as it does not lead to begrudging or demeaning any other woman in regard to her looks. The cautions of the Old and New Testaments about judging inward character from outward appearance and pursuing outward appearance at the expense of inward character were never intended as a warning against all outward adornment and physical enhancement.

Lover: 2:2: Solomon takes up and expands her playful self description as he describes her as a lily among thorns in comparison to the other women. For Solomon himself, this could be the expression of his preference for her above all the other women in his harem; among political and other marriages, apparently this was a marriage of love.

  • The principle of total commitment above all others

Whatever past or present rivals, the spouse needs and should be given reassurance of the total commitment of his or her partner till the end.

“Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8).

Does your wife know that you prefer and are committed to her passionately, completely and utterly above all the other women in your life that you may encounter? Have you told her something to the effect that no one else has a hold on you like her? What kinds of actions can you do to demonstrate this, to give her a deepening sense of security that she and no one else has
your love now? This is especially necessary, for both husbands and wives, where there may have been some sort of past rivals for the love of the spouse. This means offering reassurance where the spouse has definite knowledge about past rivals (never dredge anything unnecessarily from the past).

Beloved: 2:3-13: the Shulammite’s  first soliloquy: vv. 3-7: the bride’s description of their lovemaking: she echoes her preference and commitment to him above all rivals. She further declares her enjoyment of his presence and love. In their bedroom (the banquet hall for their feast of love) the banner (the metaphor drawn from the tribal standards over the camp of each tribe) is love; the reason that he has led her to the place of intimacy to come together is love. Her passion for her husband is so intense that it drains her energy (apples were believed to be an aphrodisiac in the ancient world). The description of his embrace in verse 6, then, seems to describe their sexual embrace. She then concludes with a verse that will be a repeated refrain in 3:5 and 8:4.  Her charge to the other women in verse 7 seems to be for them to allow marital and romantic love to awaken and arouse itself naturally, through a process of mutual attraction and affection.

  • The principle of feminine passion: a woman of God can be passionate for her husband within the will of God.

1. Feminine passion: Does your husband know that you likewise prefer him, being with him and his love, to that of any other man? Are you secure in knowing that the reason that he brings you into your bedroom is love? Does your passion for your husband at times seem to leave you weak and drained (but happy)?

2. Feminine attraction and affection: Do you demonstrate the joy of mutual attraction and affection, rather than demanded or manipulated expressions of affection? Often immaturity will lead a person to expect an instant response to one’s overtures of love, rather than waiting for the partner to understand and respond.

See Ecclesiastes 7:26 for the picture of the manipulative woman and her repulsion to a godly man:
“I find more bitter than death
the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap,
and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare.”

vv. 8-13: the wife the recounts the invitation of the husband as he came to seek and win her love. His enthusiasm is like that of the male deer or gazelle in the rutting season. The song seems to picture her in a garden courtyard of the palace women’s quarters, and he comes eagerly to invite her to a time of intimacy. He calls her by pet names, and tells her in effect, “Spring is in the air, and it is the time for our love also.”

  • The principle of romantic invitation

The initiative for love is not a demand for self satisfaction, but a gracious, tactful, enthusiastic and playful invitation for mutual satisfaction.

Husbands: note the gracious and enthusiastic invitation that Solomon brought to his bride. A real man need not fear to wax poetic in his passion for his woman, since he is secure enough in his manhood to speak to her at her level, in a way that pleases her, and not to make his sexual overtures a matter of macho posturing.

Wives:  how do you respond when your husband takes the time and puts in the effort to be truly romantic with you? Do you find his enthusiasm and passion for you exhilarating and encouraging?

Lover: 2:14-15: this is probably a continuation of Solomon’s invitation which began in verse 10, rather than a separate speech interrupting the bride’ s soliloquy, which would then continue to 3:11.  Note that verse 15 continues the mention of the blossoming vineyards which began in verse 13.

Apparently the first reaction of the bride is shy and coy, and she hides her (blushing?) face from him and gives no answer to his first invitation. He speaks of her voice and her face — the aspects of her person open to public view. It is not until they are together in the privacy of their bedroom that he begins to describe and compliment other aspects of her person. Verse 15 is admittedly difficult to interpret. The little foxes (the common red fox, not the jackal, which this word can also mean) eat grapes (remember the fable of the fox and the “sour” grapes?), and so they can spoil in one night a vineyard over which one has long labored. So perhaps this verse is saying, “If there are any little problems on your mind that might hinder our time of intimacy, let’s catch them and take care of them right away, rather than lose the enjoyment of a marriage and intimacy on which we have spent so much time and effort.”

  • The principle of constructive dealing with distractions and difficulties

“[Love] is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (I Corinthians 13:5).

Husbands: perhaps your wife is shy and coy when you begin your sexual and romantic overtures; do you have a playful, tactful and gentle manner of drawing her out? Are you ready to deal with the things on her mind that may seem trivial or little to you,  but important to her, before you begin a time of intimacy? In other words, are you willing to go to the bedroom after a heart to heart conversation and time of prayer for your concerns first?

Beloved: 2:16-17: verse 16 is an expression that will be repeated as a refrain in 6:3. It refers apparently to their one-flesh relationship and her perception and pleasure in his enjoyment of her. This is one of the wonderful aspects of their love, that they take pleasure in pleasing each other as much, if not more, than pleasing themselves.

  • The principle of romantic and sexual mutuality

The intention in Biblical marital love is to satisfy the partner as much as oneself.

“[Love] is not self seeking” (I Corinthians 13:5).

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone, but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him along, but also to his wife” (I Corinthians 7:3-4).

1. With what objective do you go into your times of sexual intimacy with your spouse? Do you go to please only yourself, or do you go to provide your spouse with the highest sexual enjoyment you can give him or her?

2. How do you respond to your spouse when he or she is seeking intimacy but you may not be immediately ready for such a time? Do you seek to respond and “get in the mood”?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.