He Loves Me/He Loves Me Not: Looking at Love from the Bible’s Perspective
Carolyn McCulley: We’re going to be looking at the issues of life and love and singleness and pursuit through biblical lens in today’s session called, He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not. It’s encouraging, isn’t it? Well, that is the title that was given by the woman who decided that Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? It was also a good title for her own first book. So you can tell I’m not very skilled at titling anything. (Laughter)
Yes, I am the author of a book about singleness and the greater biblical femininity. At the time my pastor suggested that title to me, I thought it was a really good one. Only later on did I come to realize that women would buy other covers to put on that book to read it in places like the subway, or they would be in bookstores saying, “You get it.” “No, you get it.” “No, you get it.” (Laughter)
Anyway, a memorable title, but it’s all my fault. My publisher tried to warn me, but I didn’t listen. Titles are very important. So, here we are with He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not.
What I want to start out with is kind of an interesting observation that I made in looking at general pop culture. I like to look at what’s happening in media trends. I’m not only an author, I’m also a filmmaker, and so I kind of track what’s going on in the culture.
A couple of years ago, two books came out that really stirred the conversation, the dialogue about the relationships between men and women, and each in its own circles really caused quite a stir. The first one was a mainstream book. I’m not necessarily recommending it to you, but I’m just fascinated by the reaction to it. It was called He’s Just Not That into You. It was by one of the writers of the TV show, Sex and the City. Again, not a show I am recommending . . . just an observation of the culture.
It was one married man’s attempt to try to explain to his single female friends the behavior of other men. I thought it was so interesting because, as a writer of a show that contributed to the ongoing confusion over the relationships of men and women, in the background he’s talking to his fellow episodic TV writers about their own lives, having to explain that when men are uncommunicative, rude, and selfish, it’s just that they’re not that into you, and you don’t need to make so many excuses for them. His main point was if a man is interested, he will pursue. You don’t have to make excuses for him.
This book came out, and later on it became a movie. I was fascinated that this general argument of basic human courtesy needed to be made. One other point fascinated me, too. In one of the chapters, the author acknowledged that though the women’s movement had made great gains, in his perspective (again, this is not a Christian book), they were capable of doing many, many things now. The fact was that men themselves had not changed. His essential point: Men will work for what they value.
Now, since then, I’ve noticed the same message in popular teen films, movies like Seventeen Again or Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! In these films, the young men plead for the young women to set some boundaries. In fact, one character in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! urges the young woman he’s interested in, he says, “Guard your carnal treasure.” He sees another guy making the snake moves on the girl he’s interested in, and he wants her to have some standards and to have some boundaries. So he says this really hilarious and awkward phrase, “Guard your carnal treasure.”
I’m thinking, “These are thoughts and phrases in mainstream movies. Right? They’re not even in the Christian circles, and yet here are people trying to sort out the wreckage in the relationships between men and women.
Now, why is this happening? I think it’s a backlash to third-wave feminism. Are any of you all aware that we are living in the midst of third-wave feminism? All right—a couple of hands here. Most people wouldn’t. It’s not an organized movement like second-wave feminism was of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 70s, or the first-wave which was essentially in the 19 th century, organized around women’s right to vote and a host of other issues.
By the way, if you’re not familiar with this history—I’m not going to go into them today, but they’re what I explore in my book Radical Womanhood. In that book I’m explaining the history of the feminist influence. In doing the research for it, I came to understand some of the changes that happened in our culture in the 1990s that have contributed to what we see all around us of the hyper-sexual, aggressive female character.
I’ll just give a brief foray here so we can understand the setting in which we are currently existing. During second-wave feminism, when I was not a Christian, when I was a feminist in college . . . I know, it’s amazing I’m going to speak to you about being a feminist in college in the 80s when I’m still only officially 29, but just go with it, okay? (Laughter) I love the fact that you all still laugh at that lame joke! Thank you very much.
But back in the 80s when I was a feminist in college, the big concern was about the fact that pornography denigrated women. There was this uncomfortable alliance between feminists and Christian evangelicals. They were working together on the presidential commission against pornography under Attorney General Edwin Meese. Being on the same platform together, they were, like, “How did this happen because we don’t agree on anything else.”
In the classes I was taking, and this was before the Internet, before, largely, even cable in a lot of cases. Cable penetration wasn’t that great in households. Pornography was something you had to go get in your car and drive to to get it, or have it mailed to you in a brown paper wrapper. At the time, women were very concerned about how pornography denigrated women, made them objects.
This was really foreseeing into the future some of the terrible ramifications of this without knowing what was going to happen with the rise of the Internet which would deliver it straight to your door and/or in your shopping mall, in your Abercrombie & Fitch catalog that comes to your house, and the windows at the mall—any place you go in this highly pornographied society now.
For those of you who are in your 20s and younger, we didn’t used to live like this. You used to actually buy clothes that would cover your whole body. You didn’t have to buy, like a zillion other layers. Now, admittedly, the clothes were not always great. I remember we wore big shoulder pads and big floppy bows, imitating men’s neckties, etc. There were fashion collisions along the way, but nonetheless, there was also a higher standard of modesty.
Somewhere in the 90s, this all began to change and in part, it was the backlash of the daughters of second-wave feminists who were tired of hearing the mothers talk about the permanent victim ideology and mentality that happened because second-wave feminists are always saying, “Oh, it’s patriarchy that’s the problem” or “It’s men who are the oppressors,” and this and that.
Their daughters said, “You know what? I’m not down with that. I’m going to flaunt my own sexuality. I’m going to flaunt my own body. I’m in charge of it. You can’t tell me what to do, and men need to just manage themselves.”So third-wave feminism came about to not only be pro-pornography and be pro-sex, but also to aggressively change the definition of gender and marriage.
So we’re living in the midst of this, and it’s not politically organized in the way that the second-wavers were when they were marching down the streets with their placards and signs, etc. You could definitely say, “There’s a political movement afloat.” But you feel it in every aspect of our culture today, and you get it in your songs and in your pop culture and in your media messages, in shows like Sex and the City and Girls Gone Wild where the prior standards of restraint and modesty have been thrown out the window.
That’s the culture we live in now, and you then build in this mix of He’s Just Not That into You. Women have been given all kinds of false ideas about how relationships should work. It’s like, “Well, if I just go out there and flaunt myself, he’s really going to value it. Right?” He might take advantage of it, but it doesn’t mean he values it, and that’s what is taking some of these men to tell women in this confused society.
So that’s the first book that I mentioned on the mainstream media book, He’s Just Not That into You. There was also another book that came out around the same time in Christian circles, and I do recommend this one. It’s by the author John Ensor. It’s called Doing Things Right in the Matters of the Heart. It’s a great explanation for young men and young women about what God’s perspective is on the relationships of men and women—Doing Things Right in the Matters of the Heart.
In this book John Ensor is using the analogy for young men, encouraging them to be proactive, comparing them to hunters in the woods. He made this offhand comment about even though men are supposed to be the pursuers and initiators and be the hunters in the woods, sometimes women have to encourage men by rustling the leaves to let them know they’re there. (Laughter)
Well, that just set everything right, right? I mean, we all just focused in on that one sentence. “What do you mean ‘rustling leaves’? What does that mean? What can I get away with?” Then it became a big joke. If any woman was doing anything really obvious, the others would just roll their eyes, and we’d be like, “Oh, she’s rustling her leaves.” There were some friends who were leveling entire forests saying, “I’m here!” (Laughter) It became a big joke.
He came and spoke at our church, and I submitted the question, “Would you please clarify that comment?” But he never did. I think it’s because there aren’t any rules, just wisdom foundries, and that requires following God, but I like my rules just like everybody else.
So you have people on both sides trying to explain and help people in this confusion of relationships that we exist in now. Then suddenly I get thrown in the mix, having written my first book on singleness, which was just trying to encourage women in the fact that you’re fully feminine and you have a full biblical function as a woman of God even as you’re single. There isn’t any sort of magical conferring of biblical femininity and womanhood on you if you get married. Otherwise, you’re like in the waiting room of adulthood. That’s not the case.
So I walk through the example of the Proverbs 31 woman applying it to single women. What I didn’t realize is that while I’m over here talking to you all that there was going to be this little group of younger men. I tell them, “I’m not your mother figure; I’m your big sister or aunt.” But they’re friends of mine with a major age gap, who would come to me saying, “I’m really interested in this girl. What do I do?” etc. So I ended up being kind of a cheerleader and an encourager for them.
My main messages were usually, “Talk to her and pursue.” But I came to find out (they call it my ‘client ministry’) So in my ‘client ministry’ I came to find out that godly men take the issue of relationship very seriously, and I will confess to you my own sinful judgment that when I became a Christian at 30, I learned these new standards. They actually are age-old standards that really hadn’t changed all that much, it was just me learning them. I realized if men have the responsibility to initiate and pursue, then I was like, “Okay, then, come on. Let’s go. Let’s go.” I found myself really struggling with sinful judgment going, like, “So, what’s up? So why are we all still single? Get a move on!” (Laughter)
When my ‘client ministry’ started, I began to realize that if you are operating in godly church circles or godly campus fellowship, you should not actually be aware of how often men pursue and get shot down because if we’re godly single women, we’re not trashing the brothers—right?—we’re building them up. Even if they come to us and our answer is “no,” we should still build them up because they’re our brothers in Christ.
Unfortunately, through my ‘client ministry’ I was finding out this wasn’t always the case. Here were young men coming in to talk to me that I just thought were to bond, and they were coming in after getting shot down. They were really discouraged or fearful of stepping up to the plate again.
Even if we only operate out of self-interest, ladies, we ought to be a lot more kind to those who come to us and we don’t accept because there’s somebody somewhere else who is dealing with our future husband, hopefully. If they would be kind, then maybe it wouldn’t take so long for our husband to lick his wounds and get back on the horse and come and pursue us. Right?
Now, I don’t want to motivate anybody by self-interest. I would rather motivate you by the gospel. But sometimes we have to start with self-interest and then move to the higher plane. The higher plane would be this: Because of the redemption of Christ, we are forever brothers and sisters with everybody who calls on Jesus as their Savior.
So you’re going to interact a lot more with the men that you are not going to marry than with the one man that you will. Statistically speaking, most people have a few more relationships before they get married. Some people meet their husbands right away, and they get married. But more often the case is that you have the opportunity to interact with men and decide whether or not you’re going to leave that man more built up in Christ or more discouraged.
There was one man . . . I always say, “I hope he doesn’t hear my examples over the Internet” because it would probably embarrass him. But there was one man who came to my church. He had come from Australia in the dead of winter. So it’s summer in Australia, and he’s all tanned. He’s got his surfboard, a great Aussie accent, he was a former model, and I said, “Oh, my, my, my, there’s going to be trouble in churchland today.”
He shows up and says, “Hello!” The boys are like, “Break his surfboard, guys. Get him. Go!” He’s a great guy, though. But it was so funny to watch like this swoon of women as he walked through the church. Even the little 15-year-olds and 12-year-olds are riding their bikes by his house, like, “Hi!” And I’m, like, “Oh, boy. We’ve got problems.”
So here’s this man, in my estimation and many others’ estimation, a big man on campus . . . golden boy. And he becomes interested in somebody, and he comes to talk to me as part of my ‘client ministry.’ He says, “What should I do?”
He was interested in the pastor’s daughter, and I said, “Oh, boy. You better pipe up to her father quick.” He said, “Really? Do I have to?” I said, “You don’t have to do anything, but the wise thing would be to make your very evident interest known and to get above board.”
Just watching him wrestle with this—the fear of rejection was a very real thing. This is what I’ve come to understand through my ‘client ministry:’ While early on when I was first writing this book and starting to speak on singleness, I was telling women that we glorify God by waiting on Him and trusting Him. I’ve since learned that my brothers glorify God by risking rejection.
I had no idea the power of rejection and the fear of that over their lives, and it carries through into many other things, like marriage. The happiest marriages are where the man really feels his wife has his back, that she will build him up. Even though she lives with him and knows how flawed he is firsthand as a sinner, she doesn’t hold that over his head all the time. He’s not obligated to perform perfection for her. She will still esteem him simply because he’s God’s gift.
I think this is helpful for us even in our single years and our dating years to understand that if you get married, or if you are currently married, you have a gift from God which you are going to be stewarding and for which you are going to give an account to the Lord one day. How did you build up and invest in this man who was given to you? That is a great way to start thinking about your dating relationships now. It’s not a matter of it being all about you.
I’m not without sympathy. I can understand the confusion that can come in this whole area of: How do we guard our hearts? How do we build up guys around us? How do we say “no”? How do we say “yes”? What do we do?
It’s a mess, and there’s no perfect formula. You know why? Because it’s sinners interacting with sinners for things that they want and sometimes want a whole lot, want too much, and it’s become an idol. That’s when we have to extend graciousness to one another and not expect perfection, not expect a perfect practice (“This is how we do things”). But we give leeway to those who are attempting to be godly and attempting to navigate this mess that we currently have in the state of our relationships.
I think for women, where we start with, is the whole concept of dating in our minds. This is a phrase that a friend of mine developed, and I pinched it because I thought it was great. How often do we look at a guy, and we like him, and we begin to date him in our minds. Right? We start putting a claim on him, like, “Mine. He’s mine. Yes, any minute now, he’s actually going to speak to me. It’s going to be good.” (Laughter)
This is not just a modern problem. Anybody here a Jane Austin fan? Sense and Sensibility? More of you need to be reading and watching Jane Austin. I want to see more hands next time. I’m a huge Jane Austin fan. Anyway, what I love about her is that she has such a keen understanding of human nature, even back in the day. In this movie . . . what? movie? Okay, much to the great discouragement of literature fans everywhere, I admit I’ve only watched Jane Austin and not read her—sorry. (Laughter) I do have her on my iBook, though. So one of these days in my free time I’m waiting for, I’ll get around to reading it.
But anyway, in Sense and Sensibility, there are two sisters—Eleanor and Mary Anne. Mary Anne is the impetuous younger sister who looks at the reserve and restrain of her older sister with disdain and says, “I want to be living a passionate and loving life.” She raises some early interest from this dashing young man named Willoughby who gives her every impression of the fact that he’s intentionally pursuing her and that he has some future in mind. She goes against the counsel of everybody else to be restrained and a little more guarded in her behavior at a time when that could really cost women a lot. It turns out, after all these convolutions that Willoughby is not actually pursuing her.
As she’s sorting through this embarrassing wreckage of her infatuation, her older sister asks, “Did you have an understanding?” That was their quaint expression for, “Had he actually opened his mouth and given you any verbal indication of his intentions and interest?” Mary Anne realizes with a start that she had no such promise and in sad dismay, she looks at her sister and says, “It was every day implied but never professedly declared.”
In fact, as we see clearly in the movie, Mary Anne had been pursuing Willoughby herself, based on her assumptions about his actions, but she had no such assurance of his intentions. She gambled and lost.
Now, if you’ve ever gone through a situation like this, you may have renewed appreciation for the cautious counsel that we single women often hear of: Guard your heart. A show of hands—anybody ever heard that? Guard your heart. Yes, okay. Nearly uniform.
Now, I find that it’s very easy to interpret guarding your heart. It’s kind of a self-protective way to look at your emotions, to guard your affections, as though you can lock them up in a tower some place and keep from being hurt. I think that’s how we often tend to think of that phrase. We tend to think of love and affection in that way as kind of being parceled out and measured out to people, “You get a little bit.” I think, if we look in the Scriptures, we’ll see that the Bible has a much, much higher standard.
What I want to do right now is have you close your eyes. I’m going to read you a passage that you have heard many, many times. I don’t want you to think of this passage in terms of where you’ve heard it, the context of where you’ve heard it. I actually want you to be thinking about somebody that has hurt you or disappointed you or let you down.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV).
Now, you can open your eyes. This standard of love never ending is what’s supposed to be coursing through all of our relationships. Through the relationships that we hoped for and the ones that disappointed us, through those who’ve hurt us, through those who have never hurt us, through the relationships we hoped for and never happened, the ones that happened and then didn’t go forward, to the ones we have and we wish were different, love never ends.
In Don Carson’s commentary on 1 Corinthians, Showing the Spirit, he emphasizes this passage this way. He says,
Love is not self-seeking. Love does not merely seek that which does not belong to it. It is prepared to give up for the sake of others even what it is entitled to. In personal relationships, love is not easily angered. That is, it is not touchy with a blistering temper barely hidden between the surface of a respectable facade, just waiting for an offense—real or imagined, at which to take umbrage.
Christian love always endures or possibly endures all things. It always trusts, which does not mean it is gullible but that it prefers to be generous in its openness and acceptance rather than suspicious and cynical. Love hopes for the best, even when disappointed by repeated personal abuse, hoping against hope and always ready to give an offender a second chance and to forgive him seventy times seven.
Love perseveres. When the evidence is adverse, love hopes for the best, and when all hope is repeatedly disappointed, it still courageously waits.
I’m undone by that last point: “Love perseveres. When all hope is repeatedly disappointed, it still courageously waits.” That’s an expression of the kind of faith that Janet Parshall was talking about this morning with Elizabeth and Zechariah, that waiting on God even when giving up prayers to Him constantly on an area where all you’ve received is “no.” Their faith increased, which meant their love increased. You can’t have faith in a God you think is not loving or good.
This brings us back to this much higher standard. When we talk about guarding our hearts, we see, when that phrase is used in Scripture, it’s not about manipulating what we want. It’s about understanding the motivation that exists in our own heart.
The first time I found the phrase, I found it in Proverbs chapter 4. If you want to, you can go ahead and open to that. It’s in verses 20-23. If you don’t have your Bibles with you, I’ll read this to you. Proverbs chapter 4, verses 20-23 read this way in the NIV:
My son, pay attention to what I say [listen closely to my words]. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, [for it is the wellspring of life].
The wellspring means the source for the beginning of the place where a great river is one day going to take place. So the wellspring is that tiny little trickle at the beginning of a mountain stream that eventually becomes this huge raging river that dumps into the ocean.
Isn’t that the same concept of the things we store in our own heart? Either we’re storing up good thoughts about God and other people, which manages to bubble up and overflow in the kindness of our hearts and in our charitable thoughts and actions, or it becomes a place where we’re rehearsing the sins of others. “He always does this. I know he’ll do it again. I know he will. I can’t believe he did that. Can you believe he said that?”
And on and on and on, and then it all comes out in this great big gush of sin later on. The kind of fighting that men just really love when we’re in a conflict over “x” but we bring in the history of “y,” “b,” “a,” “d,” “c,” and they’re, like, “What? We’re having this conflict here?” But because we’ve been rehearsing the sin, we manage to just bring the whole history with us. By the way, don’t do that. It makes guys crazy. Stick to the topic of the conflict.
Anyway, if we are storing up righteous thoughts before the Lord in our heart, then the overflow of our heart will be something that glorifies Jesus. This is what He was speaking of in Matthew 15 when He said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness and slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone,” in response to the Pharisees who were very high on the practice of ceremonial washing (verses 18-20, ESV).
What He’s saying is, “All your little outside rule-keeping isn’t what keeps you from being defiled. It’s the things you’re thinking about and storing in your heart. That’s the gush of sin that comes out.”
So in application of our relationships, an unguarded heart is a defiling heart, and everybody we’re dealing with, whether it’s somebody we’re currently in relationship with or somebody we’re hoping to be in a relationship with, the overflow of our heart is gushing out on them.
Sexual immorality—stored up in the heart. If you want to have wise and God-glorifying boundaries in your relationships, it begins with what you’re entertaining in your thought life and what you’re storing away in your heart.
I know over and over again we hear the issues brought to us in the church about modesty and immodesty. I know it can cause, especially in some of the young girls, to roll their eyes. But I say if you understand the implications of what third-wave feminism is about . . . They’re saying that there is no God-given boundaries to our sexuality. “We can do whatever we want with whom or whatever we want at any time.” Then you understand that a modest woman is making a statement for not dowdy fashion but for God’s glory and for understanding that there’s wisdom in the way we dress ourselves. It helps to guard the eyes of our brothers in church.
Do you know how many times guys have spoken to me saying, “I’d hoped to come into the church and find that I can have a rest from guarding my eyes, but it doesn’t always work”? We should be thinking, “Why in the world are we tempting somebody who’s supposed to be in church to worship God by showing too much skin or not being aware of how our clothes are hitting our bodies?” It might be fashionable, but fashion is dictated by a worldview that is not a godly worldview. That’s my little discourse there on modesty.
Bringing it back here to guarding your heart. So how do you guard your heart when you are disappointed, when you are wrestling with bitterness because you keep asking God for marriage, and He hasn’t brought it about, and your other friends are getting married, and what’s wrong with you? Well, the apostle Paul teaches us a little bit about this. Whether he was married once and didn’t have a wife when he wrote some of the epistles, or whether he was a lifelong single is not easily determined, but what we do know is he did not have a wife at the time he was writing this in Philippians 4, verses 4-9. He says,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (ESV).
So here the apostle Paul helps us to reconcile the imperative command of the Old Testament to guard our own heart and the Lord’s warning about the sinful overflow of our heart. Ultimately, it’s the peace of God that truly guards our hearts and minds. Because of His grace at work in our lives, we can apply the practical advice found in this passage.
The first thing is: Rejoice in the Lord. Are you disappointed? You can rejoice in the Lord because He will not disappoint you. He pursued you and made you His own, redeemed you and cleansed you and has given you a promise for all of eternity of His unchanging love. That’s a pretty good reason to rejoice in the Lord.
Therefore, you can let your reasonableness, and other translations call it gentleness, be evident. We don’t have to be women who swallowed our spatulas. We don’t have to have that tension in our lives. We can be gentle.
I can remember a season when the Lord was just grinding this into me. It seemed like there was this incredible amount of deadline pressure, and everybody I was close to seemed to be having major dramas and issues. I felt like, “I don’t know how I’m going to get all this done and be a good friend, sister, aunt, whatever to people who need my attention.”
The Lord just had His thumb on me: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. It’s not about you. I’ll help you get done what you really need to get done on My schedule, My to-do list—not all the other things you’ve added—and you can be gentle.” Gentleness radiates out when we’ve been storing up good thoughts about God and others in our own hearts.
Don’t be anxious—there’s no reason to be anxious. The Lord will provide what you need. Now, I’m standing up here, and I’m talking to you as a woman who’s 47, not 29. Okay, so I want to tell you that I understand. For those of you who are younger than I am, you’re looking at me, and you’re going, “Oh, no, it’s the ghost of Christmas future! Please, God, no!” (Laughter) Why do I know that? Because when I was your age, I was looking at women just like me and doing the same thing. It’s okay, I understand.
But I want to tell you, if you’re that age, and you’re worrying about what God has for you in your future, there’s no grace. The grace that you have is the grace for today. Whatever happens to you in the future, God will give you the grace for that, too.
And your friends who’ve gotten married at young ages and seem to be having the golden life, God doesn’t tell any of us our futures because they will undoubtedly have trials, too, because trials are pretty much guaranteed in this life. The one who has gotten married, and you’re wondering why you’re not getting a spouse may in twenty years be burying her husband or child or have her own health issues or foreclosures or financial dramas, or whatever it is.
I tell you, there’s a generosity to reaching middle age and getting older than that. You start to realize that into every life there’s a lot of trouble. If an opportunity to trust God in singleness is the biggest amount of suffering you have to go through, then bring it on. It’s not that bad. In fact, it can be good if you’re trusting the Lord and being fruitful in it.
Having passed the age of bearing children, a lot of people assume, “Well, hey, are you still interested in getting married?” I’m like, “Of course! Marriage and motherhood are two different things. I know we’ve lumped them together, but . . .” You know, I’m cruising funeral homes now and going, “I’m sorry you lost your wife. Here’s my card.” (Laughter) Widowers . . . man, they go like this (snap). You’ve got to jump on board quick. Okay, I really am joking. To anybody who’s recently lost their spouse, I know that sounded insensitive. I’m sorry.
Just like Elizabeth and Zechariah, the hope is never to leave if you really desire something from the Lord, but you will find that He will be good to you even in sustaining you in the midst of the long seasons of “No,” or “Not now.”
There is grace for whatever you are called to by the Lord at the moment to go through it. So don’t waste the time that you have now being all stressed out about your future. Enjoy what you have now, and every person who has ever been married will always say, “I wish I had done more with my singleness.” We’re single looking at them, like, “Ugh.” But it’s true because there are opportunities and blessings in ever season of life. We need to understand that and maximize that for God’s glory and for our own good. There are good things about every season.
So you have these longings, and, again, we find in Philippians 4 . . . what do we do? We’re not anxious. Instead, we pray to the Lord who is at hand. God is not way far away across the other side of the universe that we have to be going, “Hello! God! Hi. It’s me. Over here. Remember me? I’ve been praying about a husband.” “Oh, yeah. Are you still single? My bad. Sorry.” (Laughter)
No. Our God is present, and He is at hand. He is very close to us. He knows what’s on our hearts before we speak a word. Our prayers are prayers of constant streams of faith. “God, You’re good. God, I know You hear me. God, I know You’re working out my best.”
But we live in a fallen world, and when we expect perfection in this world before the new heavens and the new earth, we’re not going to get it. We have sin and decay and death, but we have the promises of a new heavens and a new earth and this great bright hope and many, many blessings, even so, in the midst of a fallen world.
So in all of these situations, as we pray to the Lord, we rejoice. We thank Him; we can trust Him; we express our requests to Him, and we think about whatever we can find in any situation that is pure, honorable, true, noteworthy, commendable, praiseworthy, excellent, etc. As we meditate on those things, we will find that the supernatural peace of God does come to guard our hearts and minds. We’re no longer churning in our bitterness and sin because we’re rehearsing the sins and failings of others. Instead, we can be charitable and gracious to our fellow, weak, fallen creatures who are just like we are, weak and fallen.
We see how important it is to guard our hearts from stockpiling sin. So let’s talk about looking at a proper perspective on the good gifts that we desire because they can have just as much of a pull as rehearsing sin as wrapping our hearts and minds and thoughts around something to such a degree that we’ve made it like a toddler collecting his toy yelling, “Mine!” when you’re trying to get it out of their hands.
Now, here’s the tricky thing about God’s good gifts: When we pray, our hands are open to the Lord, and we’re saying, “I’m not clutching something. My hands are open to You to put in my hands the gifts You want to give me. I will maintain this posture of worship before You until You do.” But we have this habit of taking what’s good and clutching to it.
I don’t think there’s a better description than that than what is found in this book called Instruments in a Redeemer’s Hands by the author Paul Tripp. What he says is,
The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way that they tend to grow and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. Desires are a part of human existence, but they must be held with an open hand.
The problem with desire and sinners is that it first morphs into a demand. “I must.” Demand is the closing of my fist over desire—even though I may be unaware that I’ve done it. I’ve left my proper position of submission to God. I have decided that I must have what I have set my heart on, and nothing can stand in the way. I’m no longer comforted by God’s desire for me. In fact, I’m threatened by it because God’s will potentially stands in the way of my demand.
There is a direct disappointment between expectation and disappointment and much of our disappointment in relationships is not because people have actually wronged us but because they have failed to meet our expectations.
So he talks about this continuum where we start asking for a good gift or need; we re-label it into a demand, closing our fists around it, and we say, “This has to be met.” There has to be an expectation and on the continuum, and as the expectation rises, if it doesn’t come about, then we have this disappointment that leads to the crushing end of punishment.
In its most extreme, punishment is murder. But often we commitment bloodless murder in the way that we operate as judge and jury and start shunning somebody else because they might as well be dead to us. They’ve disappointed us. “Speak to the hand. I don’t know who you are. I’m not talking to you.” Silent treatment. “Who? Not there.”
It’s that ark. What started out as something good, and it’s a good thing. Let me make this point now. It’s a good thing to desire marriage. God was the one who created marriage, and it’s actually a good thing to desire sex, too, because despite what third-wave feminists think that they’re pro-sex, God’s actually pro-sex. He’s the one who created it and gave it to us as a gift, but He also knows that outside of His good boundaries how much it can burn us. So God is pro-sex. He knows what it’s about. It doesn’t catch Him by surprise. “What are they doing?” He knows.
So you can desire these things within the proper boundaries, but when you start to think that you can’t possibly live unless you have them, you start this ark that ends in punishment. Either speak to the hand of God, or speak to the person who disappointed you. It’s sometimes both.
I think also we need to understand as women we have, maybe potentially, a special temptation in this area of sinful judgment—meaning, “I know without asking you a whole lot of questions exactly why you did what you did.” I’m judge and jury. “I know why you did it, and I can punish you, and I don’t even need to talk to you about it.”
Part of this comes from the fall in the fact that we have a desire to dominate and control the people in our relationships—notably in marriage, but also you can see it happening in motherhood as well. Part of this is because what Genesis 3:16 records for us is a distortion. After the fall, there’s a distortion of the roles that men and women had in the Garden of Eden. What Adam and Eve enjoyed in their relationship was distorted when Satan came to tempt.
There’s Adam standing by passively, like, “Do, do, ta do. Yep. Eve wasn’t around when God gave us the rules about this tree. I told her about it, but now that the snake’s here, I’m just going to stand here silently and not say a word while my wife is deceived. In fact, when she tastes the apple and hands it to me, I’m going to take a bite, too.”
So the passivity that was shown there is something that men can tend to wrestle with, and I’m speaking very broad strokes here. I recognize that, but men can tend to wrestle with the don’t-get-me-involved aspect, and the don’t-make-me-risk-anything-I-don’t-want-to-be-rejected aspect. Right? Whereas, we are very quick to be, like, “Hey, is that good for the eyes? Is that good for wisdom? I think I’ll just take a bite of it right now. Yes. I don’t care what the rules are.” (Laughter)
We can see that in our relationships, too, with others because of what it says in Genesis 3:16, “And God said to the woman, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing. In pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'”
God wasn’t saying that this is the way it should be. He’s saying this is the way of what will happen in your relationships because of the fall. Instead of loving leadership, now there will be sinful domination by men. Instead of intelligence-supported followership and teamwork from women, instead, there will be this desire to master and dominate.
That word desire, we often think in terms of sexual desire, but in this context, there are those who would argue that that word tashuwqah—and it’s the same word used in Genesis 4:7 when God says to Cain, “Sin is crouching the door, its desire—tashuwqah—is for you, but you must rule over it.” In that context, there are theologians who argue that that desire is sinful domination.
It’s not like, in this case, sin is crouching the door waiting for you. It’s not like in our relationships we’re crouched at the door waiting, but sometimes we can feel that way, too. Right? “You just wait until we get home. I’ll give you a piece of my mind when you get here.” You know?
That desire to dominate can be in our relationships, and it leads to sinful judgment. We’re not actually, perhaps, murdering like Cain and Abel, but we are sort of cutting off relationships in our minds.
Now, how do we combat this temptation of sinful judgment in our relationships? I think one of the things to recognize is that by becoming Christians, we’ve been given a new set of eyes. In essence, we have gospel eyes. We’re able to look at all the problems of sinfulness and failings and weaknesses in ourselves and in others and recognize that God is about changing those things, and we can have hope for others.
We can put on our gospel lenses, so to speak, and see hope in a situation and encourage people to change rather than beating them down. “You’re always . . .” and “You never . . .” Those kinds of broad conversations.
How about in our dating relationship? I think, if you’re a veteran dater, you understand. I think one of the biggest challenges is the fact that it can be tempting not to allow one man to stand and fall before you himself. In other words, you tend to drag in everybody else who’s ever disappointed you, your whole history, and slap it on this one guy. We can’t do that.
Your past may have had some terribly disappointing things, but you must compartmentalize and put that in the past and look with wisdom and discretion, not being an idiot. If your friends are coming to you or family members are coming to you asking you some questions about his behavior or intentions or possibly hints of abuse, you need to pay attention to that. But what I’m saying is that more often than not, those more serious situations aren’t what’s in our relationships.
What’s more often is, “He didn’t call. He didn’t call. It’s just like the last guy. The last guy didn’t call either. And now this guy isn’t calling. Oh, I’m all upset.” So you’ve worked yourself up into a snit, and when he calls, you’re like, “What?!” He’s like, “What did I do?”
We have to allow each man to be his own man in the relationship with us. We also need to remember that we are the biggest sinners we know. We know ourselves fairly well, and as a result, we’re far more aware, or we should be far more aware of our own short comings and weaknesses than we are of other people’s—which includes our temptations to pride or fear or anxiety or whatever else it is that colors our relationships with others.
Here’s, I think, an important tip. I learned this from one of my good friends. It’s the importance of asking questions versus making assumptions. This is a practical outworking of what humility looks like in our lives when we’re busy not trying to be sinfully judgmental. If you’re convinced that you’re an omniscient human being, you don’t need any information. But I’ve got a news flash for you: There’s only one omniscient human being, and that’s not us. So, if we’re not God, then we have to assume that we don’t know the whole picture, and then we have to ask some questions.
“You know, I thought maybe we had an understanding that you were going to call me by Thursday. Did I misunderstand something? Okay, how does that work? This is how this affects me.” Having this adult, mature conversation rather than just not answering his call or ducking or being disappointed or snippy when he does call or whatever else.
In other words, assuming that you don’t know what has happened, and asking questions instead, and also keeping in mind that weakness is not the same thing as willful sin. Some people will struggle with certain weaknesses. They are tempted by fear or anxiety, or whatever else, and they’re working hard at being godly, but they have this weakness. They’re not trying to willfully sin against you. You’ve got to be gracious in these areas where people who are trying hard not to maybe bite off more than they can chew or those who are trying conversely not to be lazy.
We need to encourage people. As women, we carry a lot of influence in our words, a great deal of influence. We can either use them to tear down the men around us, people around us in general, but I’m speaking in this case of relationships with men and women, or we can build up. If we’re using our words wisely, we’re going to emulate the biblical model of Abigail.
In the Old Testament in 1 Samuel chapter 25, she has the opportunity to make good where her husband Nabal was foolish. Now, if you know the story, Nabal was named for his name—fool. That’s what Nabal meant. Now, can you imagine going to dinner parties and you’re going, like, “Hi. I’d like to introduce you to my husband, Fool. Fool, this is my friend . . .” All her life she’s married to a man whose character traits are known to everybody in the world, not only by his actions but by his name, and he lives up to it by dissing David.
I won’t go into the whole background there. But in essence, David had looked out for his property and came for a little reward, and Nabal dissed him. This meant bloodshed, and Abigail’s servants were wise enough to have known that Abigail herself was a woman of godly initiative. They came to her and said, “You’ve got to do something, or we’re going to face slaughter.”
She was prepared for the festival for the sheep shearing time, and she had an amazing amount of food lying around, like 200 raisin cakes or something. I’m thinking, “Who has that in their house?” But she was ready. So she loads it all up on her donkeys, and she goes out to meet David. The first thing she does is get down off her animal and bow low before him. This is what she says to him, the first thing is: “I know that God has called you to be king over Israel.”
Now, this is in the time period between David’s anointing and his actual coming to the kingdom, which is probably pretty confusing to him, too. Like, “Hello. God? Um, what’s happening here?” Abigail comes to him, and she says, “I have heard that this is what God is doing.” So she first affirms her faith and his faith in God who is good and will accomplish His plan.
Then she says to him, “And when you become king”—and this is Carolyn’s condensation—“When you become king, do not enter with bloodshed on your hands.” So she says, “Be a godly man. Be that godly man who is worthy of Him.” She calls him to a higher standard, and he immediately sees the wisdom in what she says.
Now, Abigail is described as being both beautiful and intelligent, and I’m sure David saw how beautiful she was when she got off that donkey. I’m sure he was checking her out because he’s a guy, but he does not commend her for her beauty. He commends her for her godly, proactive initiative and wise words and intelligence—in so many words.
It’s her character that draws him to her and her wise words that call him to be a better man than he was starting out to be that day. He relents, and he repents. He does not go forward with the bloodshed, and when Nabal dies a few days later, David shows up to claim her to be his second or some other wife. That’s okay, we have some problems with polygamy, but nonetheless, David knew a good thing when he saw it.
So, if we’re wise women who know how to build up others in our relationships—both the ones that don’t come about and the ones that do, the ones that we hope for and the ones that end, the ones that go forward and the ones that are cut off. In all of those cases, we believe that love never ends, and we can speak with graciousness and encouragement, we can be wise women of the Word and in our words just like Abigail.
There’s this quote that Charles Spurgeon gave in a message that I quote often because it just speaks to me. I think it’s important in our friendships in our dating relationship and marriage.
As we grow in grace, we are sure to grow in charity, sympathy, and love. We shall, as we ripen in grace, have greater sweetness toward our fellow Christians. Bitter-spirited Christians may know a great deal, but they are immature. Those who are quick to sensor may be very cute in judgment, but they are as yet very immature in heart.
He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust and he, therefore, does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more. He overlooks 10,000 of their faults because he knows his God overlooks 20,000 in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it.
When our virtues become more mature, we shall not be more tolerant of evil, but we shall be more tolerant of infirmity, more hopeful for the people of God, and certainly less arrogant in our criticisms.
Our God is a multi-tasking God. It’s amazing how, in any given situation, He can be working through our own temptations of pride and fear or whatever else, and somebody else’s temptations to pride and fear, and the circumstances of our life, and manage to work it all out so in the end so we look back and go, “Wow! How did He do all that?”
He’s not us. He’s not a finite creature with finite attention span, energy, and time. He’s an incident-creator God. In any of our relationships where we can feel wronged, He’s working on both sides, and over time, in godly people, you will see even in the ones in which you’ve had the most conflict, people will grow and change because that’s what our God is busy doing—conforming His people to the image of His Son.
Now, let me just stop here and say, I’m speaking of the most garden variety kind of conflict in our relationship. I am not speaking of physical abuse. Okay? That is a different kind of sin that needs a different kind of biblical application. Somebody who is abusing, whether in marriage or outside of the marriage with somebody else, needs to be freed from being ensnared in that sin. Sometimes that freedom means church discipline, legal discipline, or whatever else is needed to remove them from that situation and to deal with the consequences of their sin. Okay?
But even in the case of abusers, there is hope that God can change people. In our current society, we can either glorify it in the sub-culture of our music or pop culture, or we can give it an extreme label in the sense that nobody can ever repent from this and grow and change. They can. Okay? I don’t condone it, and if you’re aware of it in your friends, you need to ask good proactive questions.
If you’re aware of it in yourself, you need to go and ask. Even if it comes down to situations of pre-abuse in your relationship—by that I mean, no overt hitting or striking, but pinching and little weird things, and you’re like, “That’s not really loving. That’s a little weird”—shoving, pushing, kind of the edges of anger. You need to ask discerning questions, and you need to be in accountability relationships with others who can help you see the red flags. What I’m speaking of, of these kinds of relationships here, I’m talking about the disappointments that happen emotionally. But I want to be clear that I wasn’t speaking of giving a path to physical abuse.
So our God’s a multi-tasking God. As we look into the future, we have the opportunity, by putting our full trust and faith in Him, to guard our hearts because we understand that, just like ourselves, our brothers in our churches are a work in progress.
There’s a learning curve to leadership. You can’t expect a single 18 or 22 or 25-year-old to lead as gently, wisely, and compassionately and boldly as a married 50-year old man who’s had the benefit and counsel of a wife for a few years. You’re going to see young men swing and miss sometimes. This is where we can be gracious in our relationships with guys and gracious in our relationships when we’ve got our eyes on somebody over there, and the brother over here comes and asks us out, and we’re not at all interested.
There is a friend of mine who was once really, really angry in that situation. I looked at her, and I said, “Why are you angry?” She’s like, “I don’t know why this guy came to me. I’m interested in this other guy.” And I said, “Okay, then what we’re really dealing with is you’re angry at God because this other guy here who did pursue you, he sees you as a great prize. He sees you as being the thing that’s over his head while you’re looking at somebody else as being the guy that’s over your head and out of your league. You’re angry because somebody you’re judging as not being in your league actually piped up. Right? Isn’t that what we’re going for here?”
There’s no need to be angry. Be kind. Be encouraging. Be honoring. You don’t have to say “yes,” if you’re not interested. Build him up, and by building him up, I don’t mean by going on and on and on about, “You’re so wonderful. I’ve noticed you doing this and that and this and that.” No. Talk about a guy who’s being, like, “Why did you say ‘no’?”
There was a season in my church where almost all the women, when they’d decline a relationship, would say, “I don’t have faith for that.” That made the guys crazy. “What do you actually mean by that? Does ‘I don’t have faith for that’ mean I’m ugly or I’m obnoxious? What is that?” It literally meant, “I don’t have faith for that,” but it wasn’t helpful.
So seek the counsel of your brother, your father, the pastor, or somebody to help you to find the good words. Get one or two good sentences—you don’t have to give a lot of detail in either direction. Build them up; tell them why you’re not interested at this point, and thank them for stepping out. Make them feel good. They’re going to get to know that they weren’t wanted, but leave them feeling more encouraged if at all possible because you’re building up somebody else who was also bought by the blood of Jesus.
Finally, I want to encourage us that in guarding our own hearts from expectations and hopes and idolatry, that we have the opportunity to continue to trust God in the fact that love never ends. We may not have what we hope for and pray for now, we may be in the tangle of disappointed relationships, relationships that ended, or ended relationships that never started, but we have the assurance, going back to 1 Corinthians 13, that the Holy Spirit can help us to be the one who is not angry or irritable or boastful, envious or resentful. Because we have the assurance of Christ’s love never ending, we will never be rejected, and we can be patient and gracious toward others.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, rejoices with the truth. Love never ends.”
So, I’d like to pray for you all today, and I’d like to ask that this verse be pressed deeply in our hearts as the way to consider our lives before Christ and not just what we hear at a wedding ceremony where we’re most often likely to hear it. I don’t think that’s what Paul was intending when he wrote about this. He was talking about love within the body of Christ, full of all glorious wreckage of sinners trying to live life together before God.
I want to encourage you that God is fully trustworthy to be able to answer your prayer, fully trustworthy to be able to surprise you in the goodness and the grace that He gives you. More importantly, no matter how our sovereign God orders your steps and orders your life, you have no reason to look into the future and fear Him because He has removed all fear of condemnation and punishment. You have nothing to fear from our Lord because of what Jesus has purchased for you on the cross.
So as a result, He’s fully worthy of your trust, and you will find that even if your life devolves differently than what you hope for now, there is grace to enjoy the years as God unfolds them. Life is very brief, and the longer I live, the more I realize how fleeting our years are on this earth.
Ladies, you have just a few decades to earn the eternal rewards that will decorate you for all of eternity, to earn the rewards that in your crowns you will cast before Jesus at His feet one day, praising Him to be the Light and the Lamb of all salvation.
Your life will, no doubt, turn out a little differently than you had hoped. But in the end, when you see Him face to face, you will say it was all worth it because you will look back and see how, in the unexpected circumstances and turns of your life, how God used that in ways that you’re not even aware of now. You won’t know, I believe, until eternity, and we have all of eternity to look back and see how God’s glory worked out in our lives.
I’d like to pray now.
Father, thank you for the fact that love never ends. Thank You that You’ve called together a people to Yourself, brothers and sisters to be joined in family with You forever and ever and ever. Lord, I pray that this motivates us to be gracious and others-oriented in all of our relationships—in friendships and dating relationships, engagements, marriage.
Lord, I thank You for the women who are assembled here who are from many walks of life. I pray that You would apply by the power of the Holy Spirit the wisdom that You seek to put in each woman’s life, that You would cause all my foolish statements to be forgotten, and that what will be remembered will be how great and glorious You are and how fully trustworthy You are.
Help us to navigate the tricky path of holding our hands up in worship before You with the desires that we have in our hearts, keeping them from being idols, Lord. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.