Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WSSID Chapter 4 - Sounds Like A Prayer List

The summary of this chapter sounds like it would be worth writing down on a note card and sticking in your Bible or prayer book.

Resolve with me, with God's help, to:
  1. Be more suspicious of yourself than your spouse. In humility, suspect yourself.
  2. Look in first – the log before the speck. In integrity, inspect yourself.
  3. Embrace the fact that your spouse doesn’t ever make (tempt? yes!; cause? no!) you sin. You should also embrace the fact that he/she is a divinely chosen tool to heat up the sludge in your soul so you can be purged and purified and grow in grace. How loving of God?! (please don't read that in a mocking tone!)
  4. Be more aware of/Focus more on God’s undeserved grace than your spouse’s shortcomings and failures.
If we humbly and prayerfully resolve these things, do you think that our gracious God just might honor them and meet us with the very grace he promised to give to the humble?

Road #4: Focus on Undeserved Grace, Not Unmet Needs

What is the real problem in your marriage?
  • Is it unmet needs?
  • Is it that he/she doesn’t fill your little love tank?
That's what many of the books you'll read (even from the Christian bookstore) will tell you.
If that's the real problem, then what's the solution? 
  • If she would just learn your love language and fill up your tank…and you would learn hers and fill up hers…
  • If she would just scratch your back with more frequency and accuracy…and you scratched hers, then everything would be fine. 
No more conflict. No more sin. Right? Isn't the source of our conflict and quarrels really our unmet needs?

Notice - if we buy this explanation, the problem is outside of us
  • If he/she would just fill me up!  
  • If I could just fill him/her up. 
Notice also - if we buy this explanation, we are looking to ourselves for the solution.
But according to Scripture, the source of angry words, unforgiving looks, and cold shoulders is not unmet needs. It’s unsatisfied desires. (72)
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:1-2, ESV)
With a sentence or two, James masterfully shifts our entire paradigm from something we’re missing (an unmet need) to something we’re doing (passionately desiring something we’re not getting). Lurking beneath our unmet needs are desires demanding satisfaction. We “desire but do not have. (73)
And according to Scripture, the solution is not in ourselves! It is in Jesus! It is in the power of the gospel at work in sinners who humble themselves and draw near to a loving God who promises grace to the humble. Watch how James 4:1-2 leads into James 4:6-10:
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Once again, we need turned around. We need to head down Road #4 - focusing not on unmet needs, but on undeserved grace. That road promises more and more grace - grace greater than our sin. And that's good news for sinners who've said "I do."

Road #3: Admit that Circumstances Only Reveal Existing Sin

I once read a quote by Amy Carmichael (missionary to India who became "Amma" to hundreds of girls she rescued from cult prostitution and cared for at her orphanage) that hit me between the eyes. It has stuck with me ever since, and Beth and I remind each other of it often. You may have heard me quote it.
a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.
We love to blame our sinful reactions and attitudes and words on others and/or our circumstances. How often have you said or heard things like this:
  • "Well, I was tired..."
  • "I didn't have time to collect myself..."
  • "She just knows how to push my buttons!"
  • "I was fine until he..."
  • "It's just the way I was raised..."
  • "I've just always had a temper." (Good observation, Sherlock! And your point is?)
  • "They just drive me crazy!"
 Ever since the Fall ("It was this woman you gave me!"), these reactions are endemic. Harvey calls us out: 
Blame-shifting is what I do when I basically know I’m guilty and am just trying to convince myself or someone else that maybe I’m not.
You see, your wicked heart and mine are amazingly similar. They both crave vindication. They want to insist that something else made us sin…something outside of us…beyond our control. Aha—our circumstances! (70)
He then gives a helpful illustration from the world of lawn care. His son once started the lawnmower with a loose oil cap. Once the engine heated up, the oil started spewing everywhere. Harvey uses the illustration like this:
This might be a helpful illustration for understanding the operation of remaining sin. Original sin filled the “engine” of our hearts with the “oil” of depravity—dark, greasy, and staining everything it touches. Circumstances come along and heat the engine. When the engine is hot—when events in our lives test our hearts by stirring anger, lust, greed, etc.—whatever is in the engine spews out. The heat (the circumstances) did not fill the engine with oil, it simply revealed what was in the engine. (70-71, emphasis mine)
He then gives some examples (this is right where we live):

To the husbands:
Husbands, you jump in the car only to find (sigh) that the gas gauge you’ve reminded your wife about (hmmff) is on empty again (seethe). What’s happening? … The complaint and contempt that’s filling your mind—is that caused by a gas gauge or by your wife? No, it’s simply showing you the impatience that was already in the engine of your heart. The heat just stirred it up and made it obvious. (71)
To the wives:
Wives, for the hundredth time (eyes roll) he has walked up the steps (groan) without touching the pile of clothes that obviously needs to be taken upstairs (disgusted gaze). What’s happening as the accusation, “at least he’s consistent at being lazy,” slips out under your breath? The engine’s heating, the cap is loose, and an oil spill is on its way! (71)
I love how Harvey then stops for second and directs our gaze to Jesus. What happened when things heated up for our Savior? There was no black sludge in his heart. Nothing spewed out. This man betrayed by a friend. He was deserted by all his friends. He was repeatedly denied by his most vehement follower. This man was beaten and flogged unjustly. He was hanging unjustly on a cross. Mere creatures he had made were spitting at him and mocking him. If anyone had a “right” to retaliate, it was he. And what came out? “Father, forgive them...” and “Today you will be with me in Paradise”! Oh, how we need to "fix our eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2) if we are going to "have the attitude of Christ" (Philippians 2:5)!

Let's learn this 3rd road well! Our spouses/our marital conflicts don’t CAUSE us to sin. They REVEAL the sin already present in our hearts.
John Bettler has said, “Your spouse always hooks your idol.” … I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “I never had these problems before. This must be my wife’s fault.” The truth is, I’d always been a blameshifter—it’s just that after getting married there were so many more good opportunities to express this fault!” (69)
Let's be honest. We are inveterate blameshifters. We need to train ourselves to humbly suspect and honestly inspect our own hearts first. But that's not all. Harvey really starts to push us toward a new perspective as he drives home the application of the sovereignty and wisdom of God in all of this:
God will create opportunities to reveal and then deal with sin that keeps us from living in wisdom.” (68, emphasis mine)
Your spouse was a strategic choice made by a wise and loving God. Selected by him, for you, from the beginning of the world, your spouse is an essential part of God’s rescue mission for your life. Often a spouse plays his or her part by raising the engine temperature and heating the oil. But if we’re wisely honest we will realize that God is behind it all, revealing the familiar sin so that it might be overcome by amazing grace.” (71, emphasis mine)
Are you beginning to see how radical this reorientation is?! Are you beginning to imagine how things would change if you and your spouse got this (or even how things would change if you got it)?! Your spouse…with all his/her imperfections…is one of God’s chosen tools of sanctification in your life! And don’t flatter yourself! This is a two way street!

Whether we like it or not, God is more committed to the shaping of our character into conformity with Christ than he is committed to our comfort (I learned that one from my mom, but see also James 1:2-4). When God gives us the gift of marriage, there are always two sinners saying "I do." If we have eyes to see it, the places where we "hook" each others' idols and heat up each others' engines are gifts from a wise Father who loves us enough to sanctify us, whether we like it or not.

All praise to the All-Wise God who loves us enough to give us not what we like, but what we so desperately need! Amen?

Road #2: In Integrity, Inspect Yourself

Harvey is definitely directing us to take the "low road" in this chapter. It's a humbling journey. But let these words encourage you to keep traveling if and when you are tempted to make a u-turn:
...Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5-7, ESV, emphasis mine)
Beware the roadblocks of pride that keep us from traveling with our spouses in a God-glorifying direction. We must stop pointing the finger in accusation and start probing our hearts in self-examination.
…a common tendency we all have: we often want to fix our marriage problems by “fixing” our spouses. Later in this book we’ll examine more closely what to do when love requires that we address the sin of our spouses. But in marriage that’s not the place to begin. Scripture does not give me permission to make the sins of my spouse my first priority. I need to slow down, exercise the humility of self-suspicion, and inspect my own heart first. (65-66)
This is just what Jesus taught us:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite (we need to hear that...and let it sink in!), first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, ESV, emphasis mine)
Harvey draws out a humorous, but wise implication when he writes: 
If you have a beam sticking out of your eye and you try to remove a speck from your wife’s eye, “Just approaching her brings pain.” (66)
We all have conflict in our marriages. And almost always do both sides contribute sin to those conflicts. Harvey encourages us to use our imaginations:
What would happen if you evaluated that conflict in light of [Mt 7:3-5], and your spouse did too?
What if, to you, the log (not the speck) was yours…and to your spouse the log (not the speck) was his or hers? Would one of you be wrong? Would that be a misapplication of this passage? I don’t think so. I think it’s exactly what is supposed to happen!
Jesus is not concerned here with which of you is more at fault in a particular instance. His emphasis is your focus…. In light of who we are compared to God, and because of the reality of remaining sin, it is nothing more than basic integrity to consider our sin before we consider the sin of our spouse. To do otherwise lacks integrity. It’s hypocritical. (66-67)
Have you ever noticed how we are prone to make extremely confident assertions and judgments regarding our spouse’s sin, motives, and contributions to our problems?

Have you also noticed that, strangely, we are SO non-committal and excusing and uncertain when we speak of our own sin, motives, and contributions (if we admit them at all!). Have you ever said anything like this:
  • “Well, I might have…
  • “I probably could have…
  • “I guess I could have…(and there's usually a big "but" somewhere following soon after!)
  • “I probably didn’t…
Can I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is there good reason for me to be a bit suspicious of myself? 
  • Do I think it would make sense to humbly suspect and honestly inspect myself before I suspect and inspect my spouse?
  • Have I ever considered the possibility that my assessment of my wife’s/husband’s motives (heart) and reasons (thinking) was/is less than perfectly accurate?
  • Have I ever considered the possibility that the “uncertainty” of my self-assessments and my squishy confessions were/are really guilt-evasion -- not (oh-so) humble concessions for the sake of the peace?
If we get the truth here, it will help us guard against driving into the ditch (or "up the off-ramp") of pride and self-righteousness.
…avoid the off-ramp of self-righteousness. Integrity calls you to suspect and inspect your motives. Are you really doing this to bless, encourage, and help your spouse? Or do you actually have a strong interest in chalking up a few points for the home team? Do you hope to be proven right? To be vindicated? To emerge as spiritually superior? Who are you intending to serve—your spouse or yourself?
So if you find yourself on a speck hunt in your marriage, it’s probably because your suspicions are misdirected and you’re inspecting the wrong spouse. Marriages flourish when both partners learn to stay on the narrow road of integrity. I want to suspect and inspect my own heart first. That is where I will discover, not only the most obvious sin, but the only sin I can directly change. (68)
 Amen. God help us.

Road #1: In Humility, Suspect Yourself

Do you have holy suspicion of your own heart?

Listen to Harvey: 
This may be a shocker, but we should be suspicious…selectively, permanently, and internally. As the worst of sinners, in the day-to-day conflicts of marriage, I should be primarily suspicious and regularly suspicious of myself! To be suspicious of my own heart is to acknowledge two things: that my heart has a central role in my behavior, and that my heart has a permanent tendency to oppose God and his ways.
 This is an area where you have to train yourself. The humility of a healthy self-suspicion definitely does not come naturally. (64)
Think back to your last conflict. Were you at all manipulative or evasive? Did you ever blameshift or deflect? Did you minimize or exaggerate at any point?

Do you think there’s reason to have a healthy degree of suspicion of your own heart? Of course we should. And this should not surprise us.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)
Who can discern his errors? … Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:12-14, ESV)
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24, ESV)
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2, ESV)
Can you imagine what would happen in our marriages (seriously, take a second and just imagine) if, when conflict started to brew and break out, husbands and wives humbly started down this road together. The blood-bought peace of the Prince of Peace just might rule in our hearts and in our homes.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18, ESV, emphasis mine)
Harvey, like a master traffic cop, leads us through the intersection of road #1 onto road #2 when he says: 
Wisdom connects integrity to humility in a pretty simple way. If you suspect yourself (humility), you are more likely to inspect yourself first (integrity). (67)

When Sinners Say I Do - Chapter 4 - "Taking it Out for a Spin"

This chapter is about putting our biblical theology into gear. You need to notice how Harvey wisely builds one chapter on top of the other.
  1. We are all theologians (chapter 1). All of what we do flows from what we believe about God (for good or ill!). 
  2. We are all sinners (chapter 2). We really are as bad as the Bible says we are. The sooner we embrace that fact, and the sooner our sin becomes bitter to us, the sooner (and more often!) we will run to our Savior, and the sooner marriage will inevitably be sweetened by God's grace. 
  3. Sin creates war (chapter 3). That is it's nature. It creates conflict within our hearts (see James 4:1-2). When we don't fight it and put it to death (see Gal 5:13-26), it breaks out and creates conflict in our relationships.
So, what do we do?!

As we put our theology into gear, Harvey gives us four roads on which we can get about anywhere we need to go in our marriages (he actually changes the metaphor to 4 "gears" - 1st gear, 2nd gear, etc., but we'll stick with roads).

This chapter is so important that I think each of these four roads deserves separate treatment. So, each of the next four posts will be one of the four roads Harvey directs us down as we seek to navigate life and marriage to the glory of God.

UPDATE: By the way, I hope you notice how these principles apply not only to marriage, but to all of our human relationships!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Great Question To Be Decided

Our family recently finished reading the book Behind Rebel Lines by Seymour Reit. It's a book about the Civil War spy Emma Edmonds.

In 1861, Lincoln called for volunteers as the war broke out. The roles that women could play were relatively limited. Emma didn't let that stop her. She posed as a man and eventually risked her life multiple times as a spy behind rebel lines (eleven times to be exact!).

What motivated Edmonds to take such risks? She wrote a memoir (entitled, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army) shortly after the war ended. On the first page she answered that question:
It was not my intention, or desire, to seek my own personal ease and comfort while so much sorrow and distress filled the land. But the great question to be decided was, what can I do? What part can I myself play in this great drama?
There is a greater war and a greater drama. And there is a greater sorrow and and a greater distress. What questions are we asking? And what are we deciding?

8 Days Left - Adopted For Life For Free

For the month of February, christianaudio is offering Adopted For Life by Russell Moore as their free download.

I mentioned a little about this book here back in November shortly after Adoption Sunday.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Your Critics Flatter You

About 2 weeks ago, I posted these quotes from the hammer-pen of Jonathan Edwards that strikes quite a blow to our pride. Bill Hughes recently sent me a link to this post by C.J. Mahaney. In it, he shares a Spurgeon quote that has "served [him] big time when it comes to personal criticism." It sounds to me like a big hearty "Amen" to what Edwards was saying. Here you go:
Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth. (Charles Spurgeon, sermon, “David Dancing before the Ark because of His Election,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 35.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

You’ve Never Had “Marriage Problems”

From pages 50-51 of When Sinners Say I Do (boldface emphases mine): 
If blaming your spouse for actually causing your own sin sounds maybe just a little suspect, how much stranger is it to blame the marriage itself? Is it just me, or do we all do that sometimes?
“I’m fine when I’m at work,” a spouse might say. “It’s not until I get home that the battle begins.” How easy it is to use the phrase, “We’re having marriage problems,” as if the marriage created them.
“Hey, bro, can you pray for me? My marriage is having some problems (or stranger still, some “issues”). Oh, me? No, I’m fine. Just gotta deal with these marriage problems, you know what I mean?
locating the source of your marriage problems in your marriage is like saying the Battle of Bull Run was cause by some really troubled farmland. The battle was fought on farmland, but its cause lay elsewhere.

When Sinners Say I Do – Chapter 3 – “The Fog of War and the Law of Sin”

Key Ideas:

This chapter is about better understanding the nature of sin and learning how to respond to it.
The nature of sin is war. Sin creates war—war with God, war with others, and war within yourself. (46)
War with God (Rom. 8:7; James 4:4; Rom. 5:10)
War within yourself (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:23)
War with others – like, say, your spouse (James 4:1-2)
The cause of our marriage battles, friends, is neither our marriage nor our spouse. It’s the sin in our hearts—entirely, totally, exclusively, without exception. (51)
Our real opponent is not on the opposite side of the bed, but within our hearts. (58)
(Reminder: Dave Harvey did a number of short videos summarizing the contents of the chapters. This video covers chapters 2-4.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More On The Verticality of Sin

Genesis 39:6-9
...Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me."
But he refused and said to his master's wife,
"Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"
Joseph talks a lot about Potiphar in this exchange: "my master has no concern about anything...he has put everything...in my charge. He is not greater...than I am, nor has he kept back anything." We might expect him to end with, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against my master?" Well, in a sense, that's exactly what he said.

Joseph knew that all sin is vertical. All sin has to do with God. As John Piper says in Future Grace, "Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied in God." So, Joseph did not answer her, "How then can I do this great wickedness after all my master's done for me?" or, "How then can I do this and jeopardize my job security?" or, "How then can I do this - what if you get pregnant?" or, "How then can I do this - what if it gets going through the grapevine?" or, "How then can I do this - what if we get caught?"

What's your reasoning like when you are tempted? Especially in the dark and private moments when no one is around and no one will know. How much does God factor into the equation? How vertical is your temptation-resisting reason?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Back To Our Point of Reference...with Bonhoeffer

After I quoted this in the message a few weeks ago, Susan Quigley copied two pages from the new Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxes for me.

She drew my attention to an extended quote from Bonhoeffer's letter to his theologically liberal brother-in-law Rudiger Schleicher. He had the following helpful advice regarding our approach to the Bible (pp 136-137):
First of all I will confess quite simply—I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book; that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism.... Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us along with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible….
          If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross… This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament….
          And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way—and this has not been for so very long—it becomes every day more wonderful to me.  I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer. (emphasis mine)
Jesus said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When Sinners Say I Do - Video Summaries

I just discovered yesterday the YouTube page that Sovereign Grace Ministries put together a couple years ago for the When Sinners Say I Do book. On the page, you'll find a series of videos in which Dave Harvey summarizes the contents of the book. I'll try to remember to link to the corresponding video in weeks to come, but if you'd like to get caught up, here are the videos for the Preface, Chapter 1, and Chapters 2-4.


"I Have Something To Say To You" - Luke 7:47 for Marriage

In Luke 7:36-50 we find the account of Jesus' visit to the home of Simon the Pharisee. While they are reclining at table, a "woman of the city" (i.e. a prostitute) comes and lavishly displays her repentant heart and love for Jesus. Simon is put off. Jesus rebukes him with a little story and its application to the events of the dinner party. In verse 47, Jesus says
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven--for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.
The point is not: “Too bad for you, Simon. If you’d have sowed your wild oats a bit more, I could have forgiven you a bit more, and then you’d be a more loving person.”

Jesus is saying: There is a direct correlation between how much you love and how much you know/are aware of the greatness of your need for forgiveness. If you are out of touch with reality and think yourself a pretty benign, amateur, lightweight sinner, then mercy is not worth much and neither is Jesus. Little (need for) love from Jesus begets little love for Jesus (and others). If, on the other hand, you are in touch with the reality that you are a malignant, professional-grade, heavyweight sinner, then mercy is priceless and so is Jesus. Much love from Jesus begets much love for Jesus (and others). The something Jesus had to say to Simon just might have something to say to sinners who've said 'I do'.

Jonathan Edwards - Resolution #8

If you've never read the famous "Resolutions" that Jonathan Edwards penned in the course of his 19th year (1722-1723), you should. Resolution #8 has stuck with me ever since I read it over ten years ago. I thought of it again in reference to chapter 2 in When Sinners Say I Do. Here it is:
Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
And a similar thought from his "Thoughts on the Revival":
Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble saint is most jealous of himself. He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints...and to be quick to notice their deficiencies. But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts.... Pure Christian humility disposes a person to take notice of everything that is good in others, and to make the most of it, and to diminish their failings, but to give his eye chiefly on those things that are bad in himself.
Just imagine what would happen (in our lives, relationships, marriages, families, church, etc.) if we resolved to walk through life with this orientation of soul!

Note on 1 Tim. 1:15

When I read through chapter 2, I wrestled a bit with Harvey's interpretation and application of 1 Tim. 1:15. What is Paul referring to and is Harvey over-applying it a bit? So, when we covered this chapter last Friday, I spent a few minutes talking about these issues. It turned out that some other men had asked the same questions.

What I was concerned about was the possibility that some might hold the chapter at arms' length (or worse still, dismiss it altogether!), on account of a difference in interpretation. I didn't want that to happen with such an important chapter. So, in case any of you reading this need the same qualification, here it is. 

The meaning of Paul’s statement “of whom I am the foremost” may very well be in reference to his pre-conversion life. Note the context of 1 Tim. 1:12-16:

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,
13         though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.
But I received mercy
because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,
14                                 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me
with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am the foremost.
16                     But I received mercy
for this reason, that in me, as the foremost,
Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience
as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Paul seems to reason along similar lines in 1 Cor. 15:8-9:
Last of all, as to one untimely born, [the Lord Jesus] appeared also to me [on the Damascus Road]. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
All that being said, Harvey's interpretation could be right. Paul didn't have to use the present tense (i.e. he didn't say "of whom I was foremost"). Either way, the point that Harvey is making in this chapter is true (and incredibly important!). It is the point made in Luke 18:9-14 when the danger of self-righteous comparison is compared to the appropriate beat-your-breast, “God be merciful to me, a [literally ‘THE’] sinner” posture before God (and could you imagine Jesus approving of the tax collector coming into the temple the next day - or 10 years later for that matter - and speaking like the Pharisee?!). It is the point made when Jesus exhorts us to deal with our logs before we try to remove others’ specks. It is the point made when a wicked servant forgiven an infinite debt strangled a fellow servant over relative relational pocket change. It's the point Jonathan Edwards made in resolution #8 of his famous Resolutions (see the next post). So, bottom line: we dare not dismiss or hold at arm's length the truth of chapter 2!

Isn't it just possible that the very self-righteous attitude Harvey is warning against could take a legitimate interpretive question and use it like a judicial technicality to throw the case out – even though (or better yet, precisely because) the defendant is guilty?!

When Sinners Say I Do – Chapter 2 – “Waking Up With the Worst of Sinners”

Key Idea: Until sin be bitter, marriage may not be sweet. (38)

“Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” (Thomas Watson, quoted on p16)

When sin is bitter, then Christ becomes sweet. When Christ is sweet, marriage will inevitably be sweetened.

Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed. (Spurgeon, quoted on p38)

Key Passage: 1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (see next post for a quick qualification)
With the passing of each day, two things grew larger for Paul: his sinfulness in light of the holiness of God, and God’s mercy in the face of his sin. (36)
In any conflict, I must first look in and stop buying the lie that the problem is always “out there” in my/our circumstances – like finances or health or kids, or “out there” in my spouse – like when I say (or think), “if only s/he would (or wouldn’t)…” or “S/he’s the real problem in this marriage!”

Harvey gives the illustration of Rob and Sally, whose issues are typical of many marriages:
Rob and Sally have been Christians for a long time. Like many couples, they have each adopted certain assumptions about how the other should behave, and they each feel they have certain needs that they think the other should meet. And although they attend church and live conscientious Christian lives, Rob and Sally are experiencing serious marital conflict. …
Here are just a couple of examples. Rob says he needs respect, but all he seems to get are Sally’s critical comments each evening when he comes home from work. Sally says she needs Rob to reach out to her and provide her a greater sense of security in their marriage, but all she seems to get is Rob’s passivity day after day. … The problems emerge when, several times a week, they rehearse each other’s failures, reiterate their demands for change, and repeat (with slight variations) the kind of hurtful remarks they’ve been tossing back and forth for months. Curiously—and tragically—Rob and Sally both feel vindicated by many of the marriage books they’ve read, books which feed their sense of justice denied and seem to legitimize the needs they feel so deeply. (39, emphasis mine)
What does the cross have to say to these sinners who’ve said “I do” (and the rest of us)?
The cross makes a stunning statement about husbands and wives: we are sinners and our only hope is grace. Without a clear awareness of sin, we will evaluate our conflicts outside of the biblical story—the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross—thus eliminating any basis for true understanding, true reconciliation, or true change. Without the gospel of our crucified and risen Savior our marriages slide toward the superficial. We begin to make limp justifications for our sinful behavior, and our marriage conflicts end, at best, in uneasy, partial, negotiated settlements.
But once I find 1 Timothy 1:15-16 trustworthy—once I can embrace it with full acceptance—once I know that I am indeed the worst of sinners, then my spouse is no longer my biggest problem: I am. And when I find myself walking in the shoes of the worst of sinners, I will make every effort to grant my spouse the same lavish grace that God has granted me.” (40-41, emphasis mine)
Harvey then goes on to make it clear that all our sin – even though it is so often played out on the horizontal plane of our relationships – is against God. All sin is vertical.
The big deal is that my sin is not first against me or my marriage. All sin is first against God. And that changes everything. (41)
To accept the designation of “sinner” is to acknowledge who I am in relation to God. It also says who I am not: I am not a neutral actor. (41)
When I speak a critical, unkind word to Kimm in front of our children, my sin is to some degree against the children. Obviously, it is to a much stronger degree against Kimm. What I need to see, however, is that this sin is most strongly, and therefore primarily, against God! And that is something it has in common with every other sin that has ever been or ever will be committed. Every sin, however small or great its apparent impact on people, violates the purity of the perfectly just and holy God. Sin is always aimed first and foremost at God (Dt. 9:16; 1Sam. 15:24; Ps. 51:4). (41-42)
See also Jer. 2:11-13 to ponder the real evil of our sin.

Therefore, if all our sin is ultimately and primarily against God…and if (from last week),
Marriage is not first about me or my spouse. Obviously, the man and woman are essential, but they are also secondary. God is the most important person in a marriage. Marriage is for our good, but it is first for God’s glory. (25)
THEN…we must ask ourselves why we do what we do in our marriages.
  • Why do you confront sin in your spouse?
o   To gain the moral high ground?
o   To get back at your spouse for times s/he’s embarrassed you or been critical?
o   To shift the spotlight from your failures to hers/his?
o   Or, for the glory of God and the good of your spouse? (Oh, how easy it is to whitewash our selfish agendas with these words!) 
  • Why do you encourage (flatter?) your spouse?
o   To butter him/her up? Is it ever a set up for your real agenda?
o   To manipulate in order to get what you want?
o   To soften the blow or bad news you’re about to deliver?
o   Or, to give thanks to God and point out to your spouse his gracious work in your spouse?
  • Why do you pursue resolution (or give up) in conflict?
o   To win or prove your point?
o   To just “get it over with” so you can watch Sports Center or “get some sleep?”
o   To get her/him off your back?
o   Or, because it is the gracious reflex of being reconciled to God by the Prince of Peace?

Harvey recounts this helpful example from his own marriage:
Several years ago I became aware of a subtle, destructive habit. Whenever I sensed I had sinned against Kimm I would go to her, confess, and seek to resolve the situation. Looks pretty good when I put it that way, doesn’t it? But I came to realize that my goal was far from noble. I wanted a quick and efficient restoration of our relationship so I could stop feeling bad and get on with “more important things.” In other words, the confession was basically a tool I was employing for my own sake. No wonder, then, that I was often left with a shallow haunting feeling that I now believe was the kind prompting of the Holy Spirit.
After a time of prayer, I recognized that God had been surprisingly forgotten in my words of apology to Kimm. I saw that I had been almost completely unconcerned with the fact that my sin had been first against God, and that I stood guilty before his infinite holiness. I had regarded my sins as errors, or at worst, as “little sins” that required little consideration of my heart. My real goal was simply a kind of marital damage control, not an honest accounting before my Heavenly Father. But by God’s grace I began to see, as J.I. Packer says so well, “There can be no small sins against a great God.” (42, emphasis mine)
All this is pretty humbling stuff. But don’t forget what God promises to the humble:
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (see 1 Pet. 5:5-7; James 4:1-10; Isa. 57:15; Isa. 66:1-2)
That blood-bought grace is the most powerful marriage-sweetener on the market! When sin becomes bitter, Christ will become sweet...and so will our marriages.