107 – A History of Feminism

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In contrast to my last post about femininity, it’s worth addressing feminism, as femininity’s counterpoint.  More specifically, modern expressions of feminism tend to be the greatest opposition to authentic and biblical masculinity, which is why I’m writing about this in the first place.  But to have a fair discourse on the subject, we must understand that not all feminism can be lumped into one category.  That being said, consider the following:

  1. First Wave Feminism – This started as early as 1848 with the first Women’s Conference in Seneca Falls, riding on the coattails of the abolition of slavery.  Its primary focus was toward equalizing legal rights and acquiring the right to vote.  This phase lasted through the 1950s.
  2. Second Wave Feminism – Although the first wave was about very basic legal rights, from 1960-1990 the range of issues opened up drastically.  Significant targets that were affected included representation in the workplace (from 24% in 1953 to 76% in 1990), reproductive rights (ex. Roe v. Wade), and a redefining of family roles, such as converting the term “housewife” (which had been around since the 1200s) into “homemaker” in the ’70s and ultimately “stay at home mother” by 1990 – each of these drastically altering the expectations of non-working women and how they related with their husbands and their authority within the household.  The crowning achievement of the second wave was the institution of no-fault divorce laws, beginning with California in 1969.
  3. Third Wave Feminism – Lasting from 1990 until 2008, the feminist goal here was to abolish all gender role expectations and stereotypes, treating men and women as having no appreciable differences.  Whereas second wave feminism condemned female involvement in things like pornography and public displays of sexuality, much of the third wave encouraged it, believing it was a sign of women finally embracing their sexuality, as men had already done.  The focus became less political and more about transforming individual identity, which carried over into the LGBT movement.  There also became an underlying current of female independence – not  needing a man to get by.  This enhanced and encouraged female promiscuity because monogamous marriage was no longer a goal in and of itself; rather, financial independence and sexual expressiveness took its place.
  4. Fourth Wave Feminism – From 2008 to the present, feminism now exists predominantly on social media platforms for the uplifting of women and degradation of men.  To quote wikipedia, “the internet has created a ‘call-out’ culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be called out and challenged immediately with relative ease” – yet any effort to call out women for misandry (female degradation of men or masculinity) is not tolerated.  Any signs of traditional or historical masculinity are shamed as misogyny or otherwise deemed threatening.  Social campaigns began gaining traction by using inaccurate or exaggerated slogans that stir up emotional reactions rather than assessing facts.  Out-of-context title-shaming (“You’re a sexist!” or “mysogynist!” or “chauvinist pig!”) became the norm for manipulating social behaviors through crowd mentality.
  • Fourth wave feminism has also been credited for the rise of the Social Justice Warriors – men who promote socially progressive views in order to win the approval of women.  They believe that by supporting the underdog they will be seen as a “hero of the commoner,” earning them admiration from the fairer sex.  In short, they exchange or rationalize away genuine critical thought for a boost in their reputation, known as virtue signaling.

CHURCH RESPONSE

What should the Christian think about all of this?  The Bible does not take a hard-nosed stance on the viability of some of the early feminist movement.  The church’s ability to maintain biblical intergender dynamics is not dependent upon the political climate the church lives in – if the men leading the church are strong enough to function within their own framework of operation apart from political pressures.

In fact, the overall tone of Scripture assumes that Jesus and the apostles never sought political revolution as a means of enacting biblical changes in a society in the first place.  So, if the general public wants to stray away from God, we have no imperative to change what they’re doing – our only imperative is to ensure those within the Church continue to live in godliness.  That said, there is no prohibition from getting involved in politics, and I imagine God would be well-pleased if someone could enact the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21) from the top to make the world a little more as He would prefer.

The problem is that many church leaders throughout America are more concerned with getting people in the door than pursuing godliness.  This is why we see so many churches watering down the Gospel, preaching prosperity through faith rather than the cost of being a disciple, and ultimately failing to show any interest in the fulfillment of the great commission itself (which they redefine as “invite someone to church” – i.e. get them in the door).

MY RESPONSE

As noted above, I don’t like to be the one to stand in the way of non-Christians from their sin.  I can’t stop non-Christians from sinning.  The Bible tells me that everything they do is sin, so stopping one sin only leads to another.  Even to that end, I can’t even distinguish what is sin and not.  Is a monarchy sinful as compared to a deomcracy?  These are political structures that don’t have a moral character.  What about feminism or matriarchy as compared to masculism or patriarchy?  As Paul says quite boldly in Romans 14:14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

So, from a political landscape perspective, is feminism sinful?  No, it’s just an ideology.  But if it is implemented in a manner inconsistent with godliness and biblical teaching or done for wrong motives, then yes, it’s sinful.  Unfortunately, the modern stereotypical feminist does not appear to be maintaining these attitude from a place of godliness, although I’m sure there are some who can and actually do – at least the best we, as fallen humans, know how.

To that end, I fully embrace first wave feminism and much of the second wave.  I start to reject feminism when it left the legal arena and moved into dictating how families should function, as the Bible prescribes this quite clearly.  From a political perspective, the world can proceed as it likes.  “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

MODELS FOR ENACTING CHANGE

With the above in mind, there are two primary models for enacting change, if one does want to respond to the rapidly changing political climate:

Top-Down

This approach says that people follow positional leaders at the top, who have at least the appearance of authority. Because the masses view themselves as powerless to fight the system or are otherwise easily manipulated by marketing and propaganda from the top, the only real way to change the culture of a society on the whole is to transform the leadership so that everyone else will follow. Specifically, through political tactics, social media campaigns, journalism, etc. awareness can be raised to the degradation of masculinity in society, including within the church, and with enough numbers, finances, popular faces, and overall support, leadership will have to take notice and start changing the rules, otherwise people with right views can be elected into leadership to change things from above. When this change from above occurs, society will follow.

Although we don’t see Jesus or the apostles employing this tactic in Scripture, it is certainly a popular one among most Christian organizations. For example, the Christian Legal Society, Alliance Defending Freedom, and International Association for Religious Freedom all target the political sphere in order to effectuate a positive change in the culture for Christians+. Within my own ministry association, the Navigators Church Ministries teaches that the best way to change a church culture into one of disciple-making is to start with the pastor, have him reach the elders, and move on from there.

Bottom-Up

The alternative to the top-down approach is the discipleship model, which is what we do see Jesus and the apostles employing. It is a very long and difficult process and is often rejected because it does not reap immediate or fast-paced results and often goes so far under the radar in its earliest phases (sometimes intentionally) that it’s hard to see from a logical standpoint how it could ever truly change a culture. The premise is that by reaching one other person, the following year you and that other person can now reach two more, and then it multiplies to 4, then 8, then 16, then 32, then 64, 128, 256, 512, etc. – and after enough time and generations of multiplication, the growing numbers become hard to ignore.

Perhaps the most central aspect of the bottom-up model is that the few who are sold-out on the vision that they want to see enacted at large must be living it out in their own lives.  We must be a shining beacon of the model example of what we are asking the rest of the world to do – and we must show them that it works.

Comparing the Two

Where the top-down approach often leads to hollow compliance and external motivators (i.e. people following because they have to), the bottom-up approach leads to dedicated compliance from internal motivators (i.e. people following because they want to and believe in the cause). As a result, proponents of the bottom-up approach believe that this system leads to greater authenticity within the culture and is thus less likely to be uprooted by a sudden change in political climate (which can explain why Christianity has survived throughout countless political movements), whereas the top-down proponents would argue more along the lines of the difficulty of turning around a ship, even from the captain’s chair – and specifically that hollow compliance is better than no compliance at all.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of how you view feminism or how to enact change, it’s important at least to be moderately informed and to know what social factors are influencing the way you experience life.

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106 – The Value of Femininity

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I know, a post about femininity in a series for men … what’s with that?

Feminists complain that a biblical marriage structure devalues women, making them little more than their husband’s work mule.  To their credit, there are many men who sinfully and shamefully view their wives this way – a means to an end, rather than as a cool glass of water after working outside in the blistering heat all day.  Of course, there is some responsibility on the woman to be this cool glass of water and not a porcupine running amok in the house, getting all prickly when her man comes near.  Nevertheless, here are some reasons why a man should embrace and encourage his wife’s femininity.

1. It’s Not About Us: Someone recently asked me, “What’s the value of femininity to a man?” and my answer was this: Your question assumes that God organized masculinity and femininity for our benefit, but it’s really about Him.  Although all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28), God has higher purposes (Isaiah 55:8).  In this particular situation, God’s higher purpose is that through marriage he is trying to establish a parallel for how the Christ-Church relationship would operate.  So, he created men and women uniquely in order to demonstrate the role that we, as Christ’s bride, are meant to fulfill in relationship with Him, while also giving men the opportunity to display the type of masculinity that Christ employs with us.

Establishing this parallel is God’s first and primary purpose in creating the genders differently – to reflect Him to the world, not ourselves.  So, even if there is no value added to the man from his wife being feminine (an “if” I hope is never the case!), it still makes sense that she should be feminine all the same – in order that the parallel would be further established and understood by those around us as we reflect Christ to the world.

2. It is Not Good for Man to Be Alone: God said it in Genesis 2:18.  Men have an internal compulsion in our hearts to want to have a wife who complements us.  Except the rare few Jesus references in Matthew 19:11-12, it is not enough to be a godly man.  Before the fall, God designed man to be ineffective without a wife by his side.  God literally took a rib from Adam to symbolize that he would not be complete without her uniting back with him as one flesh.  As with the first point, this is meant to symbolize how greatly Christ longs for the lost – to be in relationship with them, just as men so desperately long to have a woman in relationship with us.

More to the point here: God created men to need a feminine woman to help point us toward that eternal longing that we otherwise try to suppress (see Romans 1:18 et seq.).

3. To Understand the Church: In Ephesians 5 Paul makes it clear that the husband-wife relationship is parallel to the Christ-church relationship.  If we do not understand the value of femininity in our wives, we would abandon the value of the feminine attributes the church must adopt as Christ’s bride.  This is where many church leaders in America have lost their way – they are trying to run the church like Christ’s husband, with Jesus as the bride, rather than the other way around.

Why does the Church do this?  Because modern feminism (post soon to come) makes it the norm that a bride runs the show and the husband follows along implementing her plan of action.  Is it any wonder, then, that most of the Western Church devises its own plans and schemes for how it should operate and so quickly abandons the mission of disciple-making that Jesus preached, modeled and commissioned his bride to fulfill?  We have said, “No thanks, Jesus.  That’s not what we envision for this relationship,” and then run off to focus on things like avoiding sin, meeting social needs, puffing our heads with theology, etc. – not that any of these things are bad; but they are no substitute for following the mission our groom laid out for us.

4. Fulfillment of Roles: If a man lacks a wife (particularly a godly one), it’s extremely difficult for him to fulfill his role as Christ’s bride.  Most people require a physical, tangible earthly example of what God expects so that when we start looking to our spiritual relationship with God we can have an “A ha!” moment in figuring out our individual duties to Christ.  Even to the degree of the physical relationship for its own sake, femininity is essential toward enabling and inspiring a man to be able to do what he was designed for: to provide, protect, etc.

5. For the Children: Despite what culture would have you believe, most child psychologists and statistical researchers agree that if a child lacks both a mother and father figure (read: masculine and feminine influences), their ability to function productively in society suffers greatly.  There is much writing in books and blogs about the degeneration of discipline, ethics, morality, etc. from one generation to the next – and many people connect this to two things: (1) absent fathers, or (2) mothers who are trying to function like fathers, and thus there is no genuine femininity in the home.

6. Femininity is Attractive: It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or girl.  I remember reading several case studies on brain reactions to videos and images of all kinds, and the conclusion was that everyone had positive emotional responses when they were shown a feminine woman as compared with flat/non-responses to seeing a man or a masculine woman.  Because people respond to femininity more strongly than masculinity, the husband would do well to appreciate and praise his wife for her feminine ways.  After all, this is how a family can make the best impression on outsiders for the sake of fulfilling their God-given mission of disciple-making.  For more on making a good impression on outsiders, see 1 peter 2:12, 2 Cor. 8:21, 1 Timothy 3:7, and Romans 15:1-2.  When a woman is godly, other women think, “I wish I could be just like her!” and other men will see the marriage and think, “I wish I had what they have!”  Femininity makes this possible and much easier to earn that level of respect than raw masculinity and power struggles within the home.

7. Masculinity is Not Enough: There are some things that masculinity simply cannot do effectively.  For a man to maintain his direction and mission in life, he must sacrifice certain qualities and traits about himself to get the job done.  Inviting femininity into the home allows someone to fill in the gaps where he is weak – and this benefits the man by not having to try to work beyond his ordinary bounds.

8. Enjoyment: Simply put, sometimes it’s just pleasant to be around a feminine woman.


A friend of mine commented on this topic recently with a story about how he was in the military.  “Military life is hard,” he says.  But why?  “The training is tough!  Ok but so is the gym.  The food ain’t good!  Ok, but it ain’t that bad either.  And its’ free food!  We have no freedom!!!  True true.  Or perhaps there is another reason?  … THERE ARE NO WOMEN.”  He goes on:

I can never forget the atmosphere the first time my company saw women, after a month of isolation.  Apparently they hired dancers to entertain us: not the stripper-kind of dancers but the graceful, cultural kind.  Everyone was so excited, almost electric!  The mood is suddenly different.  Everyone slept happy that night; the “tough guys” stopped acting so tough all of a sudden, not in a “nice guy” way even.

And the girls weren’t even that physically attractive!  We all knew that.  But they smiled; they are graceful, they are so feminine, and they reminded us of something… It was good.

Everything is better with women around.  Well, when she’s being feminine, at least…

I can’t help but agree.

Now, I know I haven’t done much here to define femininity.  Women, if you’re reading this, first off: go away!  This is a male space.  But if you choose to continue anyway, check out the book Captivating, by John Eldridge.  I’ve also heard great things about a book called The Surrendered Wife, but have not yet read it myself – I just hear it’s a good resource that empowers women to embrace femininity against the grain of a culture that tells women to be more like men.

More to the point: Men, you need to read Captivating so that you know what great value your wife has to offer and how to lead her into becoming the type of woman God designed her to be.  Don’t turn a blind eye or resent your wife simply because she doesn’t live up to your expectations.  Learn to appreciate who she was designed to be and make it easier for her to keep being that.  When you fail to lead, you force her to step out of her femininity to make up for your failures.  Stop that.  Don’t train your wife to be more manly.  Putting that pressure on her is the opposite of loving and cherishing your wife.


Now, I could write another post on why femininity is beautiful and wonderful for women themselves to embrace and how this is actually more beneficial to them than trying to take charge in the relationship – and if women were my target audience, I would.  Suffice it to say that a woman will be happiest when she is functioning as God designed her to be.

What is that?  How does the Bible define femininity?  I could reference Proverbs 31, as most do, but to show that biblical femininity has not changed much from old testament to new, let me reference 1 Peter 3:1-7:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

202 – Lifting and Diet

Diet And Exercise

From a Christian perspective, the biggest issue among men is pornography or sinful lust, so I wanted to cover that first in this 200 series. The next things I think many Christian men struggle with are sloth and gluttony. So, although there may be more fun posts down the line, let’s hit the big ones right off the bat.

As previously noted, taking care of your body is essential and should be motivated by your internal desire to do right by God with what He’s given you.  See 101 for that. So, how do we do this?


Biblical Context

A few things up-front: Proverbs 24:5 says, “A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might.” Why? Because wise people know how important it is to be strong and given the pros v. cons, you’d have to be pretty dumb to choose to be weak when strength is an option. Similarly, even for women, Proverbs 31 describes a desirable woman saying, “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.”

In all of this, though, remember the lesson of 1 Timothy 4:8 – “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”


LIFTING

So, how do we acquire physical strength? I’m not going to pretend to be a personal trainer, but I’ve talked to many personal trainers, I’ve researched a lot more than I’d like to admit, I’ve observed personal trainers in action, and I’ve learned by trial and error myself.  Am I in perfect shape yet?  No.  But I’ve made enough headway that I don’t think I’m speaking without some weight behind my words.

It’s been pretty well proven within the fitness community that a person can accomplish more in 45 minutes of lifting if you know what you’re doing than you could otherwise accomplish in 2 hours of making it up as you go. My preferred method is the 5×5 workout with a few bonuses mixed in. The premise is you do at least 3 out of 5 types of lifts for 5 sets with 5 reps of each set, rotating which ones you do each time you’re at the gym. You should always set the weight at something where you cap out at 5 or less. If you can only do 3, that’s actually better than using less weight and doing 5 (most of the time). Between the following 5, you’ll hit most every important muscle group in your body. Here are the lifts:

  • Bench press – I always start with this one because it’s my favorite. When the bar is all the way up, I like to tuck my shoulders in a little to push it up an extra inch or so. I feel like this works the pecs even further. This hits pretty much all of your upper-body muscles, but with a particular focus on the pecs, triceps, and front shoulders. It hits back shoulders, upper-back, sides of the chest, and biceps as secondary muscles. For maximum gain, the flat bench is ideal. If you feel like your lower pecs need to be rounded out better, work in a decline bench as one of your sets, but this hits less muscle groups overall, so don’t make it a habit. Don’t worry about inclined bench, as those muscles will be hit later.
  • Squat – This is usually hailed as the king of all lifts, hitting the most major muscle groups. As its primary targets, it hits the hamstrings, quads (back/front upper-legs), butt, and the back muscles along the spine. I like to do calf raises at the end of each repetition to hit my calves as a primary too. Secondary muscle groups include abs and all parts of the outer (i.e. non-spinal column) back. Good form is key here. This one really won’t help like you want it to if you mess up the form. Watch some videos if you need to.
  • Shoulder press – I usually just drop a few plates from my squat and go right into this one – pick the bar up from chest-high and lift it over your head until your elbows lock, drop it to below your chin and repeat. I find it works better if I look straight ahead rather than tilting my head back. It also is best to keep your back vertical, not leaning back. This works your biceps, triceps, shoulders, upper-pecs, and upper-back as primary muscle groups (this is also why you shouldn’t waste your time with an inclined bench press if you’re using this routine). Secondary groups include the mid-back and outer chest region, as well as possibly your abs as stabilizers if you can keep your back straight.
  • Dead lift – This is my least favorite one and it seems to overlap with other exercises too much, but I do it anyway. Some people suggest it’s even more vital than the squat and may actually hit more muscle groups. I find it works best if, once I am fully upright, I pull the bar just a bit toward my upper-waist while simultaneously doing a calf raise. Primary muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, shoulders, triceps, abs, butt. Secondary: upper-back, biceps, calves.  Be careful of straining your lower back.  Form is essential here.
  • Standing Barbell Row – No special tricks here – just do it. Lean forward, pull the bar up to your chest, and drop it back down. Primary: all things back, shoulders, neck, triceps. Secondary: abs, butt, and quads for stabilization.

If time permits, between each of the above I’ll also try to work in some declined sit-ups, usually doing 3 sets of 25 in a given workout – do more if you can. The abs aren’t directly targeted in any of the above, so I like to pinpoint them in particular. Also, if I’m too lazy on a given day to do calf-raises with any of the above weights, I’ll bounce some sets in periodically throughout my routine.

After 5 months of doing the above (trying for at least 3 days a week, but for a while I was doing 5), here’s my progress:

  • Bench press: 165 to 285
  • Squat: 185 to 350
  • Shoulder press: 95 to 155
  • Dead lift: 185 to 350 (I just repeat whatever I squat)
  • Barbell Row: 115 to 275

Cardio

It should also be noted that I run 2 miles everyday before lifting (with one day off as an exercise Sabbath). I usually start at 10mph on a treadmill and every .15 miles I lower the speed by .5mph. This keeps me motivated – because I know if I can just make it a little longer it’ll get easier and easier. It also naturally builds in a decent cooldown before lifting, as the last 3 cycles are all under 5mph (i.e. walking pace). If I’m really tired, I’ll use one of my sub-5 periods as a breather after finishing 9 or 8.5, then crank it back up to whatever would have been next – remembering not to redo that low-level period that already got used up. I try not to make the breather my 3.5, as that (being the lowest) should really be my final cooldown and really only accounts for .05 miles (i.e. 1/3 of everything else). All of this usually takes around 15 minutes or less.

If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll do a full 5k, running .25m for all full mph markers (i.e. 10, 9, 8, etc.) and .2m for all the half markers (i.e. 9.5, 8.5, 7.5, etc.). Once again, this finishes on a 3.5mph cooldown, which will be less than the .2 you’d expect to be doing (it’s actually .15 – so don’t sub this one in the middle). This whole routine finishes your 5k in about 30 minutes … which isn’t going to win you any awards, but it’s a nice pace before a heavy lifting session.

On the chance I don’t make it to the gym, when it was still warm outside I would run a 10k (i.e. 6.2 miles) outdoors. Why not a treadmill? Because outdoor running requires muscle to propel your body forward, whereas treadmill running is literally just rotating your legs. Treadmills are great for getting your heart rate up and keeping it there, but it’s no substitute for actual outdoor running if you’re on a pure cardio day. Plus, if I’m at the gym where the treadmills are anyway, I have no excuse for not lifting.  When weather doesn’t permit, look up an exercise video on YouTube that lasts about 45 minutes.

I still have a long ways to go due to weight, but I’ve dropped my non-treadmill 5k time from 41 minutes (back in February) to 24:56. Between cardio and lifting, my entire time at the gym is about 90 minutes. Including driving time, that’s about 2 hours.


Dieting

There are lots of good diets out there. Here are a few that have worked well for me when I’m committed enough to follow through despite holidays and family get-togethers:

  • Daniel Diet – If I feel like being biblical, I’ve sometimes (rarely and for only a short duration) done the Daniel diet. I’ll assume most of you are familiar with this, but you can get more info here.  Don’t do this when doing heavy lifting, though, as you really do need more protein to keep your muscles rebuilding.
  • Adam and Eve – This is similar to a paleo diet, but it basically says: If Adam and Eve could have eaten it, eat it; otherwise, don’t. The idea here is that we’re only eating foods that God originally gave for mankind to eat (including out-of-the-garden, so meats are allowed here).
  • Whole30 – I did this and found it to be of benefit. The point of the diet is to figure out which foods your body reacts negatively to. So, to do this you remove virtually anything that could possibly cause inflamation or other internal health problems. By the end of 30 days, your body should be clean and you should notice fairly quickly if certain foods are causing you to lose energy, feel bloated, or react negatively in some way, so you know to cut those out of your diet more permanently. This is pretty good for figuring out what your own personal diet should be after your 30 days are over, as most other diets won’t target your own personal biology the same way.  The Whole30 cannot appropriately be maintained indefinitely, particularly during a high-energy-output workout routine.
  • Keto – I’ve done this off-and-on. It’s basically a more intense atkins, less intense Whole30 … but there’s a lot more to it than that. go to r/keto for far more information. This tends to work well for rapid fat loss when combined with lifting, and it’s designed for sustainability (unlike the Whole30, which is only designed for 30 days).

 

Good luck and get motivated!

201 – Healthy Desire v. Lust

Desire

Let me start by issuing a reminder that this is a series for men.  Women, read at your own risk.

That said, the 100-level content is designed to give a background theory or road-map to what I know to be true of relationships.  I openly invite critique and challenge to anything you read.  But the 200-level content is meant to get more into the nuts and bolts of it all.  It will focus more on practical advice for living out the concepts that 100-level content discusses.  Given its prominence as a problem for an overwhelming majority of men, I don’t want to shy away from the topic of lust.

WHAT IS LUST?

When Jesus says in Matthew 5:28, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he’s using the words epithumeo for lust and moicheia for adultery. This is different from the word porneia that he gives as the exception for divorce.  These three words, oversimplified, go something like this:

  • Epithumeo: coveting; desire coupled with unfulfilled intent
  • Moicheia: adultery, as defined in their culture (which is a little different from how we view it, but not too too far off)
  • Porneia: any sexual sin, part of which is adultery, but it also includes things like rape, sexual denial, homosexual acts, bestiality, incest, etc.

To be clear, epithumeo does not mean “lust” in the way we think of the word today. It’s actually the same word that Exodus 20:17 in the Septuagint (earliest known Greek translation of the OT) translates as, “You shall not covet [epithumeo] your neighbor’s wife.”

Biblically, the idea of coveting is not merely any old desire. It’s an I would if I could mentality. If you see your neighbor’s cow and think, “If I knew I wouldn’t get caught, I’d totally steal his cow!” that’s coveting. If you see it and think, “Dang, that’s a great cow. I wish I had a cow like that. But I don’t … oh well.” That’s not coveting. That’s desire.

Desire is healthy. Coveting is not. It’s really that simple. If we were to stifle all of our desires and pretend we never wanted anything that anyone else has, we would totally lack all ambition in life and fail as a species. Paul saying things like, “Run in such a way to win the prize!” (1 Cor. 9:24) makes no sense if we’re not allowed to desire something we don’t yet have.

It’s worth noting that “lust” in and of itself is not sinful – but it’s hard to say that without clarification because the word “lust” comes with so much connotation in modern English that 99.99% of uses of the word are going to be in reference to the sinful kind.  To that end, let me say this:

  • Lust, by definition, is any strong or intense desire.
  • It is perfectly appropriate and not sinful to lust after your wife.
  • You can lust after things in a non-sexual way.  In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis talks of a world where people are so depraved with hunger that they put a pork chop on stage and gradually unveil it as people salivate with lustful desire.
  • The Bible condemns epithumeo (lust/coveting) over another man’s wife, but it also condemns epithumeo (lust/coveting) over another man’s property.

The heart behind any type of coveting is very telling as to whether or not you have crossed the line from healthy desire into sinful lust.

DRAWING THE LINE

Here’s my simple test for discerning whether you’re lusting or not (in the context of sexual desire, of course):

  • Is the object of your desire not your spouse?
  • If there were no earthly hindrances to gratifying yourself with the object of your desire, would you do it?

If the answer to both questions is yes, then it’s sinful lust. If the answer to either question is no, then it’s not sinful.

For the record, if you want to expand this test to any form of lust, simply change the first question to: Is the object of your desire lawful for you to have and/or use as you desire?

EXAMPLES

Assume someone is just looking and not necessarily touching himself or anything (which de facto proves point 2).

  • She’s only a character on the screen; she’s not a real person; I can’t have sex with a screen. If she stepped out of the screen and into your bedroom, would you act on your desire?
  • I don’t know where she lives – it’s probably the other side of the world. Okay, if she knocked on your door and walked in your bedroom, would you act on your desire?
  • I keep eyeing my girlfriend; she’s getting me hot, but there are too many people around right now, which helps me keep control. If you were alone, would you have sex with her right then and there?
  • There’s not enough time, so I’m just looking.If you got a free pass from all of your deadlines, would you then proceed?
  • You’re alone with your girlfriend on the couch making out. No one else is around, you have no deadlines, you’re super into it, but you’re afraid if you try to go further she might say no, so you exercise restraint. If you knew for a fact she’d say yes, would you go for it?
  • Suppose she would say yes and you’re extremely confident of this, but you’re afraid of what your mom might think if she found out. If you knew for a fact your mom would approve, would you do it?
  • Suppose everyone would approve of this, but you know you’re not married and you don’t want to ruin your self-sense of moral superiority. If you knew your self-sense of moral superiority could not be tarnished by sleeping with your girlfriend, would you do it?
  • Suppose everyone would approve, you have no worries or concerns about it, you’re appropriately humble, but you know that it’s wrong to sleep with someone outside of marriage because God said so. This isn’t lust – it’s appropriately self-controlled desire. Why? Because it’s not an “earthly” hindrance.
  • Suppose you know God wouldn’t want you to do it, but you also have the moral superiority thing going on, you’re also afraid of her saying no, you’re also afraid of what people would think if they found out, etc., and so in that situation you would refuse, and it is impossible to discern which of these hindrances would be primarily responsible for your refusal and you are not sure if “honoring God” alone would be enough (but it might be, you just don’t know) … This is probably sinful lust. At the very least, you know you’re being reckless with your thoughts because you don’t know whether or not you would be able to restrain your desire if all of those other things were removed. As such, you’re exposing yourself to temptation without knowing if you can resist on the right motives alone – and that itself goes against the grain of the command to “flee from temptation,” rather than the repeated condemnation the Scriptures give to our efforts to justify our temptations and desires on some legal technicality.

CLARIFYING INTERNAL MOTIVATORS

As noted above, one of the “hindrances” can be internalized humanistic motivations. For example, “I’d feel really guilty afterward” is a hindrance that’s usually not a righteous motivation.

This gets me a lot of heat in Christian circles, but I fully believe that all forms of feeling “guilty” are not from God – that Jesus came to free us from guilt. So, when pastors talk about “guilt” as a healthy reaction to sin that keeps us motivated to avoid sin, I usually object and say something like this:

No, trying to avoid guilt is a humanistic motivation that places our own internal emotional state as an ultimate priority. Our reason for living should be our faith, hope, and love. Romans 14 says anything that does not come from faith is sin. So, if your motivation is a desire to avoid negative feelings, you’re really doing it for yourself, not for God, and that’s sin – and that applies to all negative feelings, not just guilt. The better option is simply to eliminate this guilt and negativity from your life altogether. After all, you’re already forgiven – why bother feeling guilty when God has already declared you “not guilty”? Then, live in that freedom out of appreciation for the verdict he rendered, not for fear that he might undo that verdict and somehow make you feel or be guilty again.

Sadly, many people think they’re in “honoring God” mode, when in reality, if the circumstances were right, that alone would not be enough to hold them back. The temptation of having some porn star in your bedroom without consequence, without guilt, without anyone finding out, etc., and she’s all over you … “honoring God” simply wouldn’t be enough of a motivator for as many people as would like to think it would be. As a result, many people force themselves into that last bulleted example/category in the hopes that creating ambiguity can give them some wiggle room.

Now … the thing that gives context to all of this is that actual self-gratification in any of these circumstances proves that you actually would act if you had the opportunity because you are acting. So, if the thought leads you to masturbate, then it’s sinful lust, unless the object of your desire is your spouse … in which case it would not be sinful lust (although there’s debate over whether or not it would fall under some other kind of “sin” category – and I won’t address that question here).

ACTION POINTS

So, what are men to do with this knowledge?

  • Be mindful of your state of desire; don’t turn a blind eye to what you want and why, or how quickly you’d act if circumstances permitted.
  • Don’t put yourself into situations where your desire will escalate beyond healthy levels.  Know yourself and your boundaries/limits.
  • Don’t shame yourself for feeling and experiencing healthy desire – this is counterproductive and leads to sexual repression, which will ultimately cripple a marriage and be obstructive to your ability to fulfill your mission alongside your spouse.  At the end of the day, living in shame and guilt is being in a state of sin, just as lust is.  So, even if you don’t know which side of the line you’re on, just do your best to follow God and let him be the one to worry about it.  After all, that’s what the Gospel is all about – finding freedom in Christ, not fretting about breaking the law.
  • Learn to be content with what God has given you.  Read and memorize Philippians Chapter 4 (the whole book, really).  Once you’ve mastered contentment, develop thankfulness.  And once you’ve mastered that, learn to be overjoyed.
  • Set a clear goal and road-map for your mission as a man.  With a clear destination in sight, you will be less allured by what other people have that you might want, or what you don’t have that you would otherwise try to get.  Know where you’re going and what you need to get there and stick to the plan unless God calls an audible.

105 – Life Path of a Relationship

Relationship Graph

A few years ago I developed a series of graphs to explain life-cycles at different layers of interactivity (all of them can be found here). The above is the one that relates to intergender relational dynamics.  It is the culmination of most everything I’ve learned in analyzing marriage after marriage in my career, as well as my experience in ministry over the last couple decades. It has resonated soundly with groups I’ve led, couples I’ve counseled, and men I’ve discipled.

Before getting started, it’s worth noting that this graph does not measure time.  One phase could be 3 months and another take 8 years – and people move forward and backward at their discretion, so we can never consider the length of time a couple has been together and pinpoint where they “should” be or “likely are” on the graph at any given time.

For context, this graph was originally created for the purpose of explaining to Christians how so many couples get to what I call a “main event” in the marriage: when one spouse sits the other down and says, “Things have to change or I’m gone.” I’ve since adapted it for a few other purposes as well, as is the purpose of this post.


Lower-Left Quadrant – Meet and Greet

Everyone starts with absolutely no joint affinity or purpose because there’s no relationship – you’re strangers. Then you meet and become friends. Even if you’re dating right after the first interaction, you’re really just purposed-friends at that point. You still have to go through all the same phases that a non-dating friendship would involve, which is predominantly about learning as much about each other as possible.

During this phase, your relational affinity (especially when you’re dating) should be increasing like wildfire. If it’s not, why are you still with him/her? The result of the rapid relational connectivity growth is a risk of alienating others. There’s a common trope about the guy who drops all his buddies as soon as he finds a girl, and girls go through similar things. Also, even when you are around people together, the lovey-dovey aspects of your public interactions may cause people to not want to be around you. But these ongoing interactions with others are what will ground the relationship in reality and are quite necessary for the relationship to grow in a healthy manner and at a healthy pace. Too much exclusivity is dangerous, most notably to the degree that it sets a bad precedent for having joint friendships after the marriage.

The relationship doesn’t move very far along on the “purpose” axis because the only real purpose during this phase is to discern whether or not you’re going to get married. The actual emotional connectivity/affinity, however, moves very quickly. There should actually be some minor ups and downs, but this shows the overall trend.

The biggest and most common mistake people make in this phase is the assumption that the rapid increase of relational affinity will equate to a successful marriage. They have ignored the “purpose” axis altogether or assume that it will just work itself out. As a result, people dive head-first into bad relationships and get in too deep to the point where it’s hard to back out.


Upper-Left Quadrant – Falling in Love

As the relationship becomes more serious, it dives deeper than a friendship. Everything is sunshine and rainbows as you start to uncover deeper truths about how the other thinks, what their passions are, how they respond to different situations, etc. You’re still learning, but it’s less about discovering new things and more about enjoying what you have together.  This is commonly known as the “honeymoon phase.”

That degree of relational affinity continues to rise until you get married. If I were smarter when I made the graph, I would have made that green circle much larger, as the actual peak could be either before or after the wedding, but you get the idea all the same.

Shortly after the marriage, the couple starts figuring out how their marriage will function. Interactively, things stay positive for a while, but as basic life obligations set in, the affinity decreases, albeit still pleasant.

Before the wedding, the risk is still the time-restriction and lovey-dovey alienation. After the wedding, most couples end up isolating themselves from the outside world, not because they’re spending so much time with each other or too touchy-feely that it makes people gag (as with the last phase), but because life obligations increase and restrict time. You’ve suddenly got a mortgage to worry about, kids to feed, a couple car payments, shuttling kids around, etc.

Most people really start figuring out an actual relational purpose during this phase (albeit, it’s never a good one), so there’s a lot more horizontal motion on the graph. There’s also a huge swing in affinity that happens as the honeymoon phase starts to die out.


Lower-Right Quadrant – Figuring Out Your Purpose

As stress increases, people start living out of obligation and not desire. In the previous phase, the stressors affected the relationship, but not necessarily your mood. In this phase, you’re actually feeling the stress and living not out of enjoyment, but out of obligation. The result is that you hit a “main event”, where you’re either going to get divorced or something’s going to change. Every marriage hits a main event – sometimes several. Personally, I’ve had 3 main events that I know of in my marriage (and I bet my wife remembers more!) – the most recent being about 3 years ago, immediately before developing this graph, which I crafted (in part) to show how my wife and I got through it. Although we’ve certainly still argued, we haven’t had a main event since.

For most people, their “purpose” is something akin to making a lot of money, having their dream home, x number of kids, a great sex life, vacationing at all their ideal spots, etc. This is an actual purpose, but it’s a really bad one. The “main event” precludes a couple from getting any further in these purposes because they’re not able to enjoy them together. As long as they stay in the lower-right quadrant, any and all progress on the “purpose” meter will actually stagnate or fall backward. They may even be stuck in one point on the graph for a very long time, never moving up, down, left, or right at all. This non-motion usually happens immediately before the “divorce/turning point,” but never after.

When a marriage hits the lowest point, there are usually 3 things that will happen:

First: Divorce

Divorcing is basically trashing this whole chart and starting over with someone else, beginning at ‘start’ all over again. Because virtually 100% of relationships hit a main event, all you’re really doing is hoping that when you do hit this point in the next relationship it won’t hit as hard. Most people either (1) numb themselves to divorce or (2) numb themselves to the stress so they can tolerate more before hitting that main event.

Second: Regress

This is the most common answer I see, and it’s also the least useful. Although I don’t condone divorce, at least some people do learn from their mistakes and improve on round 2.  The regression mentality is something like this: “We used to be happy back in the upper-left quadrant, so let’s figure out what we were doing back then and find ways of returning there.” Result? Blow your savings on a vacation, kill your budget to get more frequent baby-sitting, ignore mowing the yard and cleaning the house to have more time for date-nights, etc. The bottom-line is that you’re sacrificing the pace at which you’ve been progressing forward in order to glide backwards up that affinity line again.

Most people will successfully get back in the upper-left quadrant again, and the more resources they throw at it (i.e. spending their forward progress on the “purpose” axis), the further back (and up the affinity axis) the’ll go.  But as a rule, you can never get further than the marriage/honeymoon point because the higher you get, the more resources it takes to make the next step up. The law of diminishing returns sets in. I should note here: everyone’s mileage per resources may vary. Some people might not have to expend a large % of their resources to get 3/4 the way back again, whereas for others they might need to exhaust their entire life retirement contributions to do it (I’ve seen it happen many times).

Eventually, the resources run out (or you’re not willing to expend any further) and you end up sliding forward again. It can happen at a slow, steady pace because you’ve had a nice recharge and that lasts you for a while, or it can be all at once as soon as the fun stops. Regardless, people always hit the “main event” again.

Many people regress repeatedly every time they return to the main event, sometimes even beforehand because they can see it coming. But each time you regress you’re losing more resources. So, if you’ve been incredibly financially successful, you might be able to afford keeping this up for a long time – even forever. But for most people who have more traditional income fluctuation degrees over time, it means that the next “main event” will hit harder than the last because you have less resources to get you up that hill again. Also, even for the wealthy, they’re losing their time with every cycle, which is a precious resource that cannot be self-generated.  [When we get to the 400-level content we’ll dive into another illustration that will show the danger of repeating this cycle over and over again.  Stay tuned!]

Third: Progress

The last option is the rarest one to see happen, but is the only one I’ve seen with a lasting solution. That solution is to begin operating together for a common mission. That mission can never be: “make $[x], get a dream house, have [y] kids, get crazy awesome sex, and visit [z] places in the world.” This is not a sustainable life purpose because all people will find when they achieve it they are still not satisfied, and when that’s all people are shooting for, your forward progress will always plateau.  It also leaves nothing left for when the purpose is accomplished. Those are things that held your affinity at the “marriage” bubble, but it’s not going to work going forward. Instead, your purpose has to go beyond you.

Personally, I believe the only true purpose is the one Jesus gave us: disciple-making. If that’s not your purpose (or at least part of it), then you won’t get the satisfaction from God that comes with fulfilling what he put you here to do, and the result is that you won’t be satisfied with each other. That said, I don’t discount the possibility that other purposes can work – but it’s always got to be something bigger than you and your spouse. Your own internal spiritual well-being (even together) is also insufficient and will not provide that satisfaction, so when couples have “get closer to God together” as their purpose, they ALWAYS end up sorely disappointed in the long-term.

My Example

When my wife and I were at a “main event” a few times, we refused the divorce path and fiddled with regression in very small ways to no avail, always returning to the “main event,” and in quick succession (all 3 happened over only 2 years; we’ve been married for 9). We didn’t spend much resources, so didn’t get much return – and I’m glad we didn’t waste more effort on that process!

At the time, I had already (since before we were even married) been committed to the vision of disciple-making, but I only knew how to do this alone, not in my role as a husband. My wife intellectually understood the vision, but had not yet connected with that purpose in her heart. I was a terrible leader and didn’t know how to awaken her heart. I didn’t know how to invite her into what I was otherwise doing in isolation – and to be honest, I kind of liked the isolation.  Why? When I saw that we weren’t on the same page, our relational affinity plummeted and we lost any actual emotional, physical, or spiritual attraction to one another. Fulfilling my mission in isolation was often an escape – not an opportunity to reconnect with my wife.

A couple years ago I stopped being so passive. I started leading and became more independent of her emotional reaction to my pursuit of the mission God gave me (and you too!). I removed her as my emotional center and made it Christ, putting his mission for me as my priority. This caused a lot of friction in our relationship, embittering her toward the idea of discipleship. But (and this is a story for another day), when I finally accepted that God meant this mission for us and not just me, and proceeded to invite her to participate as part of a joint venture, things started changing for us.

At first, she became individually invested and began filtering her conversations with other women through a discipleship lens. This helped, but did not actually solve our problems. This was a necessary step, but living the same mission independently wasn’t going to cut it.  We had to be working together, rather than being individually invested alongside each other. Although we still have our struggles, I find myself “in love” with my wife again, rather than merely loving her. Instead of regressing or giving up, we started pushing forward. Our progress in life did not decrease – it kept increasing, and this time I believe it caused our relational affinity to grow again.


Upper-Right Quadrant – Thriving

The relational interactions and emotional connectivity changed very rapidly – almost as fast an increase as when we were dating. Those fuzzy romantic feelings came back, and my heart starts skipping every time she mentions inviting new couples she’s met to come over for dinner or things she’s said at women’s groups based on conversations we’ve shared (if only I were so good at expressing this!).  We were finally being productive together.  I was alive!  I found myself actually attracted to my wife again. It was like falling in love all over, but instead of “marriage” being a destination, our eyes were now on God’s Kingdom in the vein of Matthew 6:33.  Although it’s still a struggle, we both understand that our purpose in life is not about ourselves – it is to selflessly pursue God’s purposes.  We live not for ourselves, but for a Kingdom that transcends our own marriage.

CAVEAT

Now, I should note that this whole path only affects one aspect of the relationship.  People have emotional fuzzies and sexual tingles.  Tingles without fuzzies won’t last; but fuzzies without tingles becomes obstructive to your purpose.  Living in the upper-right quadrant only fixes the fuzzies.

I say this because I read on various anonymous social media platforms a constant refrain: “Our marriage is perfect in every way, except we’re not having sex.” Most people say that not realizing how imperfect their marriages actually are, thinking sex will be the magical cure. In reality, sexual dissatisfaction is a symptom so large that it obstructs one’s sight from all the other problems behind it.  It is not the disease itself.  As noted in past posts, the primary disease in the marriage is when a man fails to live up to the being the leader in the relationship that God has called him to be.  That’s right, men: it’s your fault.  Accept responsibility and trudge ahead.

Understanding this relational life-path is meant to help you, men, figure out where your relationship is at so you can plot a course to move it forward rather than facing regression or abandonment.  Realistically, even when you’re living in the upper-right quadrant, you will still face regression periodically.  We are still imperfect, weak humans who often try to rely on our own strengths instead of God’s power.  But with a proper dead-lock in the mission of disciple-making as a joint venture and not an individual undertaking between spouses, even when regression does occur, you should still be able to remain in the upper-right quadrant – and you’ll know that the way toward resolving your relational affinity is not the path that most people take to the left of the turning point.

104 – Non-Negotiable Attraction

33985-fight-couplefighting-marriage.1200w.tn

I’ve talked some about cultivating desire, which leads to intimacy. But a few points need to be clarified:

Axiom 1Attraction cannot be negotiated or will-powered into existence.

Axiom 2You can’t fix your wife; you can only fix yourself.

Axiom 3: The follower is a reflection of the leader, not the other way around; if she looks at you as a reflection of her, she’s leading and you’re failing.

Axiom 4: If you have marriage problems, they almost always can be traced to your failure to lead properly.

Axiom 5Some people won’t respond, even if you do fix yourself and lead rightly; and it’s okay to let them walk away if they insist.

Interestingly, all of these principles are found straight in the Bible, which can re-affirm that we do right by following them.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

I don’t care if you’re Calvinist or Arminian – we all agree that humans are sinful from birth and cannot be saved (read: reconciled relationship with God, the way he wants) unless God draws him (John 6:44). We may disagree with what that “drawing” actually is, but the core principle is there. Hebrews 11:6 goes another step: “And without faith it is impossible to please God.” Isaiah 64:6 clarifies, “Even their good deeds are as filthy rags.” Genesis 6:5 makes this bolder: “Every inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil all of the time.” In Romans 3:11, Paul re-frames the human condition in the context of relational desire and pursuit: “No one understands; no one seeks God.”

In short, if God wanted a healthy relationship with us he could not sit by and wait for us to come to him. We were utterly incapable of doing anything that would genuinely please him.  He has to be the one to draw us. Even when we try and think our motives are pure, our hearts deceive us and we are really doing wrong if it’s of our own effort (see Proverbs 14:12, 16:2, 21:27, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 8:8). Jesus even says boldly in Matthew 7 that some people think they’re doing right by Him, but in the end he tells them, “I never know you; away from me you evildoers.”


TOTALLY DEPRAVED SPOUSE

This is how we must imagine our spouses.  Hear me out … I’m not saying women are more sinful or depraved than men.  I’m suggesting that one spouse’s desire for the other is something she’s powerless to overcome of her own will-power and that it takes the leader in the relationship to create the solution.

Wives will not enter into right, reconciled relationships with their husbands (read: genuine desire for their husbands, the way we want) unless the husband draws her. In reality, God can change her heart in the absence of our efforts, but it’s idiotic to make that assumption without a prophetic guarantee. I know I prayed endlessly for God to change my wife. The response I got from God was, essentially, “Forget that, go change yourself.” So, I ask:

ONE – How many of you have endured disrespect, sexlessness, unreasonable demands, etc. from your spouse and just hoped that without you doing anything different they would magically change?

TWO – How many of you have had your spouse try to ask for your help, initiate sex, or serve you around the house, but totally killed the mood because you knew their motive was out of duty and not desire?

Now you know how God feels! God doesn’t bargain for our obedience. He doesn’t negotiate for our love. He knows this would be futile because we are INCAPABLE of loving and desiring him of our own will-power. In the same way, our wives are INCAPABLE of loving and desiring us of their own will-power.  We must make ourselves desirable to them and invite them into a reconciled relationship with us, as God does with his church.


DON’T FIX, BE FIXED

Fortunately, God’s pretty smart, so he gave us the answer. Pop quiz: which did God say was the answer to our sin and depravity?

  • (A) Screw them, they can all go to hell!
  • (B) I’ll just magically fix them because I love them!
  • (C) I’ll just keep waiting until maybe someone down there figures out how to solve this problem!
  • (D) Maybe I can negotiate with them: I give them heaven, they give me sinless perfection!
  • (E) I’ll put the responsibility for their salvation on myself, be perfect myself, set the example by myself for what I expect, own all the crap and sin in the world myself, and let them respond to who I am, taking on my identity through my being in them, rather than me trying to “fix them” as they are.

[Obviously the answer is E!]

Instead of fixing us, God became an example to us of what a “fixed” human being looks like. That was incredibly alluring! Everywhere he went, people were drawn to him. When you fix yourself, people are drawn to you. In Jerusalem, Cana, Capernaum, the gym, the grocery store, and the park … people turn their heads and notice the one who is living as a “fixed” and right person who “has it all together.”


THE BREAK-DOWN

Let me split this up into pieces.

I’ll put the responsibility for their salvation on myself

Husbands, if you want to make your wives right with God and with you, the responsibility for accomplishing this is on you, not them. Just as God determined that the responsibility was his and not the church’s to figure out, so it is with husbands and wives.

be perfect myself, set the example by myself for what I expect

I will forever refrain: “fix the man, not the marriage.”

own all the crap and sin in the world myself

Take responsibility for leading is not enough.  You must also take responsibility for things that go wrong in the family. Jesus bore the church’s sins. Not just the ones he thought weren’t so bad … all of them. So, when your wife screws up, don’t shift the blame. You’re the captain. Ephesians 5:23 literally sets up the metaphor that you are “God” to your wife. I love what Brother Lawrence said when he was convicted with sin: “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is you who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss” (Practice of the Presence of God). Husbands, this is part of leading your wives.  Accept that it’s your responsibility – your failed leadership – when they fail.

let them respond to who I am

God doesn’t force every person on the planet to respond to him. He’s OI (outcome independent). He accepts the fact that some people will reject him, and yet this actually glorifies him even when people reject him! He loves them and cares about their salvation, but his framework for leading the universe is unaffected by their rejection of him. He doesn’t push them away, but he certainly lets them walk away, or never approach to begin with.

Instead, the focus is on letting people respond to who he is as expressed by all the things he has done for us, most notably through the Gospel. Salvation is about responding to what God has revealed to us about who he is. It’s not about us; it’s about him.

taking on my identity through my being in them, rather than me trying to “fix them” as they are

The result of being “saved”: after we have responded to true biblical manliness from God, his bride (the church) fits within his framework, taking on his identity rather than trying to craft one for itself. God does not fix our broken identities to be like his, nor does he condone us maintaining an identity that is separate and distinct from him.

Similarly, we, as husbands, should not fix our wives’ isolated identities; rather, we should be offering her a new identity – one that reflects the fact that she signed on as your helper on a mission that’s bigger than either of you alone.  Anything else is counterintuitive to cultivating intimacy.  We cannot have a koinonia oneness bond” if we decide to have independent and separate identities and lives. God opens up his framework and says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9). To reword that slightly: “Jesus is the door to God’s frame; whoever goes through Him will rest securely in God’s framework for operating the universe,” which includes working all things for the good of those who love him. That’s what you want your wife to do with you!

But none of this can be done if you are trying to lobby for your wife’s desire, as if we could overcome the sinful nature on our own in the absence of God’s help.  No more thoughts of bargaining with your wife.  No more, “If I do this, you do that.”  Just lead and let her learn to trust you.  Start with “I do this” and let her figure out the “you do that” part on her own as she learns to respond to your invitation – as she sees that you are a fixed, whole man in Christ and you are offering her adoption into that identity.

103 – Desire Cultivates Intimacy

stages-of-intimacy

The goal of Christian relationships is to develop a oneness bond with someone in all areas of our being: physically, emotionally, and spiritually – not just one or two. Although it may not be the best technical definition, it really helps me to understand it this way: Intimacy is a oneness bond created by internalization of external things.

THREE TYPES OF ONENESS/INTIMACY

Ephesians 4:4 says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” In short: physical, spiritual, emotional. Paul acknowledges the need for unity among believers by saying, “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:2). Of the things above, the only one he leaves out is physical oneness. Why? Because marriage is the only context in which the true, perfect oneness trifecta can exist. Here are examples of how this can play out for a Christian:

  • Physical – Sex is deeply intimate. It is literally an external man becoming internal within the woman, making the two become one.
  • Emotional – Heart-to-heart conversations are intimate. There are external situations that are discussed that the listener/recipient internalizes, fostering empathy and creating a common heart.
  • Spiritual – Communion is intimate. It is taking external bread and wine/juice and internalizing it (Jesus’ body and blood entering into us) in a context that is meant to be shared with those who are also one with Christ, creating a unity between fellow believers, including spouses, because of Christ in us (more on this later).

THREE TYPES OF LOVE, BORN FROM INTIMACY

In the Hebrew, there are three core words for “love,” all found in Song of Solomon.

  • Raya – a friendship that says, “We do things together, we get along great, we have similar interests, and we enjoy each other’s company. I am excited to be around him/her.” [Although it’s not exact, the Greek equivalent would be a combination of agape and phileo.]
  • Ahava – a commitment that says, “No matter how bad things get, I will always be by your side and will remain faithful to you.” [Greek pseudo-equivalent = pragma.]
  • Dod – a passion that says, “I long for you and can’t wait to see you every day; to be with you, close to you, and united with you. [Greek pseudo-equivalent = eros.]
    • Raya = emotional oneness; Ahava = spiritual oneness; Dod = physical oneness

In our biological, scientific word, there are actually three chemical levels that affect these.  So, if you want to do some more reading and research, check out Dopamine (Raya), Oxytocin/Vasopressin (Ahava), and Testosterone (Dod). A lack of any one of these types of love creates problems that I see in my practice of divorce law repeatedly:

  • No Raya = boring couples who get isolated and feel like their relationship is going nowhere; great sex and strong commitment don’t fix their day to day living
  • No Ahava = spouses cheating on each other. If the sex and friendship are great, but there’s no strong commitment, someone will leave when the next best thing comes along.
  • No Dod = dead bedroom for the rest of your life.

If you combine two of these things together, such as a lack of dod and a lack of ahava, the sexlessness is what will initiate the commitment break (i.e. divorce). If someone lacks both raya and dod, it will be the boring monotony that does the couple in. If raya and dod are lacking, you might remain married, but it will be purely a roommates-relationship with ever-increasing hostility and cold-shoulders.


Koinonia

It’s worth a brief pause to describe spiritual intimacy in greater detail, as this is the most elusive subject. Spiritual bonds can be formed in the context of physical and emotional connections. For example, 1 Cor. 6 and 2 Cor. 6 both talk about how sex makes you become spiritually one with someone, and also implies that whoever else you are spiritually one with is being bound to that link as well, specifically citing trying to create a oneness bond between Belial (demon/idol) and Christ when a Christian and non-Christian sleep together. Other passages like Ezekiel 36:26 imply a connection between the heart and the spirit.

But there are also purely spiritual connections, which tangentially impact physical and emotional aspects of relationships. The word the Bible uses for this in many examples is Koinonia. Most often, that word is translated as “fellowship.” But it carries a context of what that fellowship entails that goes deeper than the English translation would imply.

The Greek word for “communion” used in many translations of 1 Cor. 10:16 (more currently: participation or sharing) is Koinonia. This term is most commonly used in Scripture to reference a oneness bond, usually formed in the spirit. Consider:

  • “You were called into fellowship with His Son” (1 Cor. 1:9)
  • “What fellowship has light with darkness?” in the context of two people becoming one flesh (2 Cor. 6:14)
  • “May the … fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
  • “In view of your fellowship/participation with the Gospel” (Philippians 1:5)
  • “Any participation in the Spirit” in the context of being “united” with Christ (Philippians 2:1)
  • “So that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ … If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:3, 6-7).

I can’t read any of these passages and rationally assume that they are talking about a general friendship, the way “fellowship” is usually understood.  Instead, these concepts are very reminiscent of Jesus’ saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Similarly, Jesus asks beginning in John 17:21:

That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.

Jesus isn’t talking about “unity” in a “let’s all get along” kind of way that we tend to think of it today. He literally means a oneness bond between our spirits that goes deeper than simply “getting along” or even merely acting in unison for a common purpose.


RELATIONSHIP AND IMPACT

In his book Understanding People, Dr. Larry Crabb (Christian psychologist) suggests that all people are driven by two core longings: (1) relationships and (2) a need to have an impact on our world. The first is derived from the fact that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The second is from the fact that even before the fall God gave us a world and He intended us to use it. Note that even before the fall, the command was to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). That meant humanity was destined to leave Eden regardless of the fall. People need to know that what they do matters and will leave a lasting impact because God created us not as idle dummies, but for a purpose that we must live out.

In more practical marital terms, fostering relationships requires developing healthy comfort-building skills (empathy, reliability, trust, affection); having an impact on our world requires developing healthy alpha skills (one-track-mind, confidence, maintaining composure in the face of testing, strength and determination). A man is best able to foster physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy with his wife when he is living in light of these core longings and expressing them in a manner consistent with God’s original design for humanity. As I said in 102, he made our libidos dependent on this to some base degree.

I have found throughout my life and marriage that it is impossible to experience healthy intimacy if we are not living out both of these.

  • I can be the greatest preacher who ever lived, sharing the Gospel all over the world. That’s a huge impact on eternity! But if I try to do this as an isolated effort, I will feel sorely dissatisfied – not because God can’t satisfy me, but because he decided when he created me that he wanted me to require other human relationships to satisfy me as well (Genesis 2:18). This may come in the form of a spouse, but it doesn’t have to (Matthew 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:7). If I lack this relational connection with God’s people (spouse or otherwise), I will be sorely missing an aspect of my relationship with God that will prevent me from experiencing intimacy with my creator.
    • To be clear: I challenge you to look through the Bible and count the number of examples of people having a corporate relationship with God (ex. on a national level, church-level, small groups, praying together, etc.) as compared with having an individual, personal relationship with God. Although our present church culture idolizes the personal relationship aspect of our faith (because our culture idolizes individualism and the church followed suit), God has always intended us to relate with him predominantly in a corporate fashion, hence creating Eve to be one with Adam so they could be with God together and not independently.
  • Similarly, I can have the best spouse in the world and more close friends and family than I know what to do with – not just superficial relationships, but close and meaningful ones. But if I’m just spending all my time swapping emotional baggage and uplifting hearts with no actual active effort to do what God put me here to do, I will lack a fulfilling relationship with God.
    • To be plainly logical, sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). Failing to do what God has commanded us to do is sin – not just in the negative commands, but the proactive ones as well (James 4:17). A prime example: God commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). If I’m not establishing a lifestyle of disciple-making, I am not having the impact on the world that Jesus intended me to have. As a result, I am in sin, and this separates me from God. Sure, arguments could be made that Isaiah 59:2 might be about a pre-salvation impact of sin, but there’s more than enough to back up the fact that post-salvation does have an impact on our spiritual intimacy with God as well.

Now I want to be clear: we cannot compartmentalize these two desires and expect to be fine. I cannot say, “I will have an intimate relationship with my wife, but will make disciples with my church buddies.” This simply does not work. God intended the two to be inextricably linked. An effort to separate them will also be a type of compartmentalization of our relationship with God.

How many men or women like it when you have a highly emotional connection through a very deep and intimate conversation (emotion), but get mad at your partner when that doesn’t lead to sex (physical)? That’s because our desires aren’t meant to be compartmentalized – they’re meant to function in balance and unity. Likewise, if you have a deeply emotional connection with God, but that’s not compelling you to share your faith, there is a serious problem and the intimacy you’re feeling might only be one-way, just as the intimacy the wife feels in that emotional conversation isn’t received the same way by her husband when it does not escalate into a physical connection as well.


CONCLUSION

If we want to experience true intimacy (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), we must be seeking godly relationships and working within the context of those relationships to have an impact on our world. We must have a koinonia-type oneness bond with one another. Although we can have this type of bond with brothers and sisters in Christ in general, it is only with our spouse that we can share all aspects of intimacy. These aspects should not be compartmentalized, but should function harmoniously for the purpose of doing what God put us here to do.

It should go without saying: as intimacy develops in one area, it is more likely to overflow into other areas, but this does not happen magically by itself – the man must be intentional about facilitating this in the relationship. Good Christian marriage/relationship strategy could be as simple as fostering intimacy and addressing core longings where your efforts are currently at their weakest.

  • For guys who are predominantly comforters, you might not be weak in the “relationship” side of things or expressing raya or ahava, but you need to start taking measures to work on your physical traits or alpha qualities such as your dod appeal or proving that you have something to offer the world and not just something to offer your spouse.
  • For guys who are predominantly alpha males, you might not have much trouble leading the relationship and fostering physical attraction, but if you want to keep your wife around and cultivate the intimacy necessary for her to help you on your mission, you’d better start showing some empathy, affection, and reliability within the relationship.