So this coming Sunday, we will finish The Sequels sermon series that we’ve been going through for the past 3 months. It’s a series that has gotten more feedback than any one I’ve ever done, and I’m glad that I’ve done it and that it will be over. But what is interesting to me is that the question I get more than any other is Why talk so much about marriage and singleness?
I think that’s a great question to ask…the Bible.
Have you ever noticed how much the Bible talks about or implies how important marriage is? The Bible insists that while the married life isn’t for everyone, marriages exists for everyone.
Have you ever noticed how in Deuteronomy 24, God tells all the men that they have to serve in the Army…except for one group? It’s the newly married guys, they don’t have to serve in the army, because they are serving God by serving their wives. Does that strike anyone else as strange? No nation that I know of still does this? We’ve all seen the pictures of husbands and wives being torn away from each other by war. But God refuses to do this.
In fact, God seems to think that the best way that newly married Husbands can serve Him is by serving their wives. Their marriage is their ministry.
Because their marriage isn’t just for themselves.
Think about the Bible for a second, it starts off with a young married, naked couple who blame and disobey. The context for the first sin was marriage, and the main metaphor in the Bible for sin leans on marriage. The Bible calls sin adultery.
I think that is just fascinating.
Why Be Good?
In the letter to the Romans, Paul is trying to help this church learn the best motivation for obeying God. He doesn’t want them to do it out of some attempt to obligate or control God. i.e. “If I don’t steal God will make me rich.” But he also doesn’t want them to just think that Grace means they can live however they want.
Paul is trying to answer the question that everyone is asking, even if we don’t know it. “Why should I be good?”
In his letter to the Roman Church, Paul is writing a community filled with both Jewish people and new Gentile converts, and both groups are leaning to different sides.
So Paul starts off his conversation by talking about how Sin leads to death. This is an important factor, because the Bible is constantly reminding us that “We will reap what we sow.” And the reason that God tells us not to do certain things, is because they will lead to Death. Thousands of years before Vince Gilligand introduced the world to a High School Chemistry teacher “Breaking Bad” by cooking meth, Paul is telling us how that story ends…with death.
But then Paul moves into talking about sin as slavery. I think this is an even more appropriate word for us today. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends talk about Grace, and I realize that the way they use it the word could be used as a synonym for Freedom. Grace to many of us is seen as a kind of relief from some kind of oppressive religious rules.
But have you noticed how so often, what starts off as an expression of freedom quickly can become a master? The vices that we religious people use to express our freedom, like tobacco, pornography, or gambling, lead us to a new sort of bondage?
But then Paul turns to a third illustration to talk about why to live differently in light of grace, it is the logic of love.
In Romans 7:1-6, Paul says our Spirituality is like a marriage.
In his great book, “What’s so Amazing about Grace” Philip Yancey tells a personal story to summarize Paul’s line of thinking:
When he was younger, Yancey spent an entire Summer learning basic German in order to get a Master’s Degree. For five nights a weeks, three hours a night He basically memorized all the basic word endings and how to parse German verbs. This was especially disheartening because it was a language he knew he would never use again. It was all for a degree. But looking back on it, Yancey wondered if there was any other way he would have done that.
What if the school registrar had promised him, in advance that he’d get a passing grade, and that his diploma had already been filled out. Would “grace” have compelled him to have studied? Not a chance.
This was the problem that Paul confronts in Romans, and what every church member confronts to this day.
But notice where Yancey takes this:
What would inspire me to learn German? I can think of one powerful incentive. If my wife, the woman I feel in love with, spoke only German, I would have learned the language in record time….I would have stayed up late at night parsing verbs and placing them properly at the ends of my love-letter sentences, treasuring each addition to my vocabulary as a new way of expressing myself to the one I loved. I would have learned German unbegrudgingly, with the relationship itself as my reward.”
Here’s the thing I know about us religious people, guilt and shame can get us to do anything. Our Greed, our attempts to manipulate God, through some kind of If/then contract, we’ll work tirelessly for that.
But that leads us to become a certain kind of person an older angry brother, we start to judge everyone else who’s not living out the contract as well as we are.
And then, on the other side, there are those of us who have discovered “Grace” But we’re no better!
Do you know what researchers have found out about “Grace” Christians? They’ve found out that people who feel forgiven of their sins, don’t tend to serve and work toward making the world better.
We religious people either ignore the love of God, or take His love for granted.
But every now and then, I’ll meet someone who loves and serves the world well, not for God to love them, but because they know the expansive love of God.
And you want to know what those people are?
I want to be a saint.
I want to be able to love and serve God for who He is.
Not for what He can give me.
There are lots of good reasons to do the right thing, and to try and make the world a better place, but the greatest of these is love.