Restoring the Boundaries of Love, Part 2
Perhaps no one is better equipped to fix something than the one who made it. God knows best how to fix what He created. He made boundaries because He knew their benefits. His universe works within the laws of nature and within the laws of love for people (Romans 13:8, 10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). When we cross boundaries and break things God made for our good, He is willing to work with us to fix them.
Boundaries Restored: Fellowship with God
In His infinite wisdom, God knew the benefits and risks of reason and choice. God shared His capacity for knowledge and reason even though some would deny Him on the basis of reason He created for their benefit. God gave Adam and Eve a choice to stay within or leave fellowship with Him. He gives their descendants a choice to come back in.
To restore and clean something badly broken and soiled often requires tools, bonding and finishing more powerful than those used in the original creative process. God initiated the process of restoring fellowship and did something new, powerful and very costly. He came into the world in the vulnerable body of a man, Jesus Christ. Jesus offered this body and shed His blood on the cross for the sins of the whole world. God showed His power over the enemy of death introduced in the garden by raising Jesus from the dead.
God gives everyone the choice to respond to the gospel that can bring them back within the sphere of His love and holiness. Restoring the boundaries of love in all arenas of life begins and continues with this decision to respond to the gospel. Sanctification is a joint effort. God cleanses us "by the sanctifying work of the Spirit" (1 Peter 1:2) and His Word: "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (John 17:17). We in turn "cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).
The gospel restores fellowship with God and His people, "His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:26-27). Christ dwells in His people by His Spirit (our theme edition in March 2012 will be on the Holy Spirit). Fellowship with God in the New Testament church is built on the unity of His Spirit: "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14); "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2).
Boundaries Restored: Marriages
This profound mystery of unity through the Spirit that binds Christians together parallels God's will for the unity of husband and wife: "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate'" (Matthew 19:6; Ephesians 5:21-33). Marriage is a three-way commitment between God, husband and wife. It is a holy place of protection and peace: "God has called us to peace" (1 Corinthians 7:15). As God designed muscles to rebuild in rest, Marriages require times for husband and wife to grow together in peace.
Through life's inevitable trials, faith in God and submission to Jesus as Lord will strengthen couples to overcome and bind them together. Jesus' example of forgiveness, grace and patience through injustice and suffering is a constant strength and buffer from despair and selfishness. His gospel empowers forgiveness and self-sacrifice.
Marriage requires work. A couple from the Middle East where arranged marriages are common was asked why their arranged marriage succeeded. They said that, unlike common western expectations that romance will sustain a marriage, their marriage was happy because they expected it to be work. In the west, the marriage of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria was a prominent example of an arranged marriage that worked because love was a conscious decision to act for the other's good. The point is not that we arrange marriages but that we work at them. "Love is a verb" as well as a noun. It is not only something people are in but what people do. Love acts for the other's benefit.
In many cultures the burden of love in a household rests upon women. Working mothers are expected to be "super" moms. As it often does, Scripture turns modern ideals on their head. Husbands are not only to provide spiritual leadership in mutual submission to Christ (Ephesians 5:21-23), according to Paul, in a Christian marriage, love's initiative rests upon the husband: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for herů. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies" (Ephesians 5:25, 28). Here is a perpetual challenge for husbands to love like Christ. Wives will find it easier to respect and submit to the spiritual leadership of Christ-like husbands. Children seeing Christ in the home like this have a strong and stable foundation on which to grow.
Boundaries Restored: Family in Society
Our society is in an unprecedented social experiment. In 1900, when 80% of Canadians lived on farms, a twelve year old boy walking home from school probably thought about crickets and frogs along the road and the chores waiting at home. Today, a twelve-year old boy coasting home on a skateboard while plugged into a smart phone can be exposed to the best and unfortunately the worst of the world. What his parents protect him from at home he can easily see undercover from his friends.
There are no easy answers. Total social withdrawal or reckless abandonment are impossible extremes. The world that young Timothy faced in Ephesus had huge temptations and distractions. Paul wrote to parents in this environment about their children, to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4 "nurture and admonition" in KJV, "training and instruction" in NIV). Training and discipline require sustained effort by parents, especially fathers. The Word of God and godly parental examples create an inner thought world and set of values in children that, coupled with the power of God's Spirit and the blood of Jesus, are the only true antidote to sin. It is no coincidence Paul's admonitions are followed by a virtual description of God's spiritual armour that should excite the imagination of young people.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that God foresaw the need for a "text message" that is more important and meaningful than all others, one that is available in every electronic format. From the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century and the use of the codex (spine-bound books with pages) in the first century, God has always seen that His Word is available in the latest cutting-edge technology. It can be heard on a smart phone on the way home from school.
If children are going to become mature Christians they must learn to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14) and think deeply about every modern ethical dilemma based on the principles of Scripture. Parents today will have to be more vigilant than ever to help them, be Christ-like role models and communicate at every opportunity. Parents must live lives worthy of honour. Being engaged in the community of God's people is indispensible. The kingdom of God must continually have an interface open to society and balance the risks of association with the obligation to model and share the love of God.
Boundaries Restored: The Earth
The relationship of church and earth today is more complex than Israel and the land. On one hand, all that God created is good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). On the other, God promised to destroy the earth and provide "new heavens and a new earth" (Isaiah 66:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1). Christians are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and much New Testament teaching, particularly John, highlights enmities between Christians and the world. Christians have been accused of laissez-faire to abusive attitudes toward the environment because God gave His people "dominion" over the earth to "subdue" it (Genesis 1:26, 28; Psalm 8:6). God's apocalyptic promise to "destroy those who destroy the earth" (Revelation 11:18), however, indicates God has not forgotten earth's inherent goodness.
Closer examination of God's delegation in Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 provides a possible way out of this dilemma. Goodness and kingly rule are inherent in God's sovereign nature. His creation reflects His goodness. His rule is benevolent, for the benefit of others. Since we are created in His image, designed to reign with Him, our king-like rule of the earth can be as benevolent as His. That is, we can use the earth's resources to benefit everyone in ways that are not harmful, what we commonly call sustainable. This understanding of benevolent kingly-rule takes us beyond the idea of stewardship accounting to the higher plane of working in harmony with God and His purposes and created order.¹
Another good reason to care more about the earth today is that people outside the kingdom of God do. Many are very knowledgeable about it. In reaching out to them, we should be able to talk intelligently with them about ecology and how to be better trustees of the goodness God invested in the earth and the people in His image who depend on it. While God created the earth so some regions are more productive than others, God's concern for justice for the poor is to be a concern for the wealthy.
Deciding to live within the spheres God creates for us will not stop society's relentless efforts to erase His boundaries. The lives of Boaz and Ruth, Mordecai and Esther, Zacahrias and Elizabeth show, however, that it has always been possible to find peace and holiness amidst social and political chaos as in the days of the Judges and the great pagan empires leading up to and surrounding Jesus' arrival on earth. God always provides paths of righteousness.
God is always present within and around us through His Spirit and His Word. By them we discern what leads to peace and unity from what separates. While no "created thing in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:39) our own decisions can. It is our moment by moment responsibility to keep things from coming between us and God.
God's most important commands are based on His nature: love, be holy, give, forgive, honour, glorify, be merciful, "live at peace with one another" (1 Thessalonians 5:13; "YHWH shalom," the Lord is peace, Judges 6:24). ² God commands us to do and be what He is. Many of God's most important commandments involve relationships with others. Living within the boundaries of His love includes sharing His love with everyone, those inside and outside of fellowship with Him, and those closest to us in our homes. The power to love comes from God. His supply is inexhaustible.
¹ A balanced study of Genesis 1 and New Testament perspectives can be found in Christopher J. H. Wright's book, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, 103-145, 182-211.
² My thanks go to Joel Stephen Williams of Florence, Alabama, for his insights into the relationship between God's character and His commands.