The Garrison of Peace
20 Thursday Aug 2015
20 Thursday Aug 2015
18 Thursday Jun 2015
Posted Biblical Counseling, Philippians, Preachingin
Biblical Counseling, Church Conflict, Conflict, Exegeting the Heart, Outline, Philippians, Preaching, Sermon Outline
[This is the mere introduction and outline of a sermon. Notice that a sermon is not a merely commentary upon a text, but is a means of changing how one thinks and desires. The application must flow naturally from the transformation of the heart. A good sermon and biblical counseling must have the same ends and means (Dr. John Street calls it ‘expositional counseling’).]
In Philippi, something had gone wrong. There were two women whose conflict had over-spilled the banks of their relationship and was now flowing through the streams of the church. The bitter water had reached into Paul’s prison, and from that prison he did more than resolve the issue, he set out to rebuild their heart.
Now, we have no idea why these women fought: Paul does not even mention the particulars of their conflict. But it is just that way with fighting: when the war is over we have the scars, but we don’t know why we drew our sword.
Paul loves this church dearly. He thanks God for them in every remember (1:3); he prayers for them with joy (1:4); he is certainly God is working in them and for them to the end that they will be “complete” (1:6, 2:13); he “holds in [his] heart” — which is an endearment he offers to no others; he “yearn[s] for [them] all with the affection of Christ Jesus”; they are his partners in the work of the Gospel (1:5).
Therefore, Paul’s heart must have been torn in two when he heard from Epaphroditus of the conflict. Sorrow upon sorrow had been heaped upon Paul, and now he had his friends in rivalry with one-another.
Now, if we were to seek to work here, we would likely put our effort into the facts of the conflict and the possible solutions. But Paul doesn’t go there (at best he leaves that for later, 4:3). Rather, Paul runs at the root of the conflict: They have lost sight of how the story ends.
Paul is no therapist or life coach. He is an apostle and pastor. Paul’s orientation is toward that Day:
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9–11 (ESV)
In Paul’s understanding, that Day transforms how he thinks about this day. His own imprisonment is redeemed, because it has “served to advance the gospel” (1:12). It is not that he is not under pain and pressure: in fact, his sees death and life in the presence of Christ as the only resolution to his pain. However, he does not shrink from the pain and trial, but rather can still rejoice for the cause of Christ’s glory (1:18).
He then turns to the Philippians and tells them that their suffering is a grace of God:
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29–30 (ESV)
Paul is not merely seeking to resolve their conflict: he is seeking to remove the grounds for their conflict. Think of it this way: Come the “day of Christ” what will this matter?
Suppose a young lady will be married in a few months. It is the common lot of such women to work and sacrifice and plan and worry as she prepares for that day. She will deprive herself of pleasures and rest, and she will do so joyfully because she so anticipates that day.
Paul is preparing his friends, his family for “the day of Christ”. He thus works to recast their present troubles as future blessing. Like a bride preparing for her wedding, he tells that they may suffer troubles joyfully: not because the trouble is no trouble, but because the end is so joyous and certain.
Here are three of the means Paul uses to restructure their hearts, their desires, their thinking and willing and affections: First he tells them that end which they desire is certain. Second, he gives the example of his own life, how he willingly has lost everything in his work to gain such a day. Third, he tells them to pray, meditate and then act as those who are willingly preparing for that day.
First, the end is certain: Philippians 2:4-11
Second, Paul’s own example: Philippians 3
Third, Pray, Meditate, Act with Joy. Philippians 4:4-9
[In each of three sections, note the implied obstacles to believing and acting. E.g., in Phil 3, Paul speaks of his joyful loss of all things. We so treasure our immediate goods that we fear losing them and thus will fight to keep them. Paul counters that line of thought by explaining how he works through such desires. The second point, in particular, should do the work of responding to objections. Now someone here will say, But if I try to reconcile with X, I might lose Y.]
20 Tuesday Jan 2015
Posted Ascension, Edward Taylor, Literature, Philippiansin
ascension, Carmen Christi, Edward Taylor, Philippians, Philippians 2, poem, Poetry, Puritan Poetry
View all ye eyes above, this sight which flings
Seraphic fancies in chill raptures high,
A turf of clay, yet bright Glory’s King
From dust to glory angel-like to fly.
A clod immortalized, behold,
Flies through the skies swifter than an angel could.
In this poem, Taylor meditates upon Philippians 2:9:
Therefore, God has highly exalted him
And bestowed on him the name
That is above every name, (10)
So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
In heaven and on earth and under the earth
(11) And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the Glory of God the Father.
The lines come at the end of the famous Carmen Christi (Song of Christ) which speaks of the Son of God prior to his incarnation (being God), willing became incarnate, suffered and died, was buried, resurrected and then ascends. Verse 9 begins the account of Christ’s ascension, that is, his ascending to the right hand of majesty on high to be seated as king.
“Eyes above”: all the heavenly realm.
Seraph: an angelic being. Isaiah 6:2:
Above him [the Lord] stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.”
“A turf of clay”: Jesus Christ was a human being with a rational human soul: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2).
“Yet bright Glory’s king”: Even though a man, Jesus was also God incarnate, and thus the King of Glory:
Psalm 24:7–10 (ESV)
7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
9 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah
“A clod immoratlized” Jesus having risen from the dead, dies no more:
Romans 6:9 (ESV)
9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
24 Thursday Jul 2014
Posted affliction, Biblical Counseling, Fear, Meditation, Obedience, Philippians, Prayer, Resurrection, Thomas Mantonin
anxiety, Biblical Counseling, Hope, Paul, peace, Philippi, Philippians, Philippians 4:6, Prayer, Resurrection
(This is the second part of a lesson on anxiety).
COUNSELING PROBLEMS AND BIBLICAL CHANGE
BIBLICAL SOLUTIONS FOR ANXIETY, PART TWO
WHEN THE BIBLE DOESN’T WORK
The “go-to” text for anxiety is found in Philippians 4:6
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (ESV)
The faithful and trusting Christian prays, Dear God take away my fear and fix my trouble. He then lays down to sleep, but only tosses and turns throughout the evening. Come the morning, he feels tired and anxious and complains that somehow the promise of Philippians 4:6 “doesn’t work.”
Now it would be a serious charge if a promise of God truly failed. However, as we shall see, using Philippians 4:6 like a magic-charm does a grave disservice to Scripture and has needlessly troubled the faith of many broken Christians.
The impulse to trust the promise is correct. Trouble in not in the trust or in the promise. The trouble stands in the misunderstanding of the promise.
Let’s consider our problem. First, note something about the text. It should shows up in the fourth chapter, which means it was preceded by three chapters. It is in the sixth verse of the four chapters. It is followed by 15 verses in the fourth chapter.
Let’s say you bought an assemble-yourself piece of furniture from Ikea. You lay the materials out on the floor. You take out the manual, turn to the fourth page, go down a bit on the page, read one line of instruction, perform that step, close the book and step back. You wanted a desk, but instead you have a plastic clip attached to a piece of wood. You complain that the instructions “don’t work”.
When we pluck a single verse from an entire letter, we should not be surprised if it does not “work”. The trouble is even greater: The verse concerns the matter of “prayer”. The Scripture says a great deal of prayer which help inform our understanding of this command. As we should know, “prayer” entails more than a mere recitation of words.
04 Monday Mar 2013
Posted Biblical Counseling, Philippians, Uncategorizedin
1 Timothy 6:17-19, Abound, Biblical Counseling, Comfort, Contentment, Ease, Ecclesiastes 7:14, Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, Mark 8:34-38, Philippians, Philippians 3:12-16, Philippians 4:12-13, Philippians 4:14-19, poverty, Proverbs 30:7-9, Riches, Robert Buchanan, The Book of Ecclesiastes Its Meaning and Its Lessons, Uncategorized, Want, Wealth
Paul writes to the Philippians:
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
We can understand why Paul would need to learn how to live with being brought low. But the idea that “good” could be something which would require wisdom and learning seems positively foreign. Consider the words to a popular Christian song
Blessed be your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the worlds all as it should be
This is contrasted with the “road marked with suffering”. I don’t mean to push too much weight onto a song which was not written to bear too much scrutiny (I think of the ghastly graduate thesis where a poor student tries to wring some semiotic significance from a pop song). But the given of the song is that getting what I would like (even if it is not a sinful thing, merely a matter of comfort) is how things “should be”. For the Christian, isn’t everything “as it should be?”
In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
Ecclesiastes 7:14. Both want and fullness present trials:
7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:7-9. Melanchthon explains:
In prosperity, men become reckless; they think less of God’s wrath, and less expect His aid. Thus they become more and more presumptuous; they trust to their own industry, their own power, and are thus easily driven on by the devil.—
Buchanan draws out this point at greater length:
Alas! that prosperity, instead of thus drawing the soul nearer to the great fountain of all blessedness, should, on the contrary, serve so often only to wed it more closely to the world! It is in this way that “the prosperity of fools shall destroy them” (Prov. 1:32). As was exemplified in the case of Israel of old, “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness: then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.” Therefore the Lord said, “I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be” (Deut. 32:15, &c). Solomon himself had painfully illustrated, in his own personal history, this fatal tendency of outward prosperity to alienate the heart from God. The wisdom, and wealth, and power with which the Lord had so remarkably endowed him, became his snare. In that dark season of spiritual declension he tried to be joyful. He said in his heart, Go to; I will prove thee with mirth. He withheld not his heart from any joy; from any joy, that is, but one. He had ceased to joy in God. And how empty and unsatisfying did his earthly joys prove! Of the best of them he had nothing better than this to say, “It is vanity.” When he, therefore, with all this experience, says, “In the day of prosperity be joyful,” let us be well assured he does not mean us to repeat his own error; but rather that, taking warning from that error, we should turn every blessing we receive, whether temporal or spiritual, into a fresh argument for stirring up our souls and all that is within us, to praise and magnify the great name of our God.
Robert Buchanan, The Book of Ecclesiastes Its Meaning and Its Lessons, 1859, 259-260.
Of the two, ease and mirth are the more dangerous:
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
How then did Paul learn to abound? Did he merely consider the end of death? No, he writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
In what does Christ strength Paul? By rightly valuing all the things of this life. He happily receives gifts and comforts as gifts from The Lord which will prosper those who give them (Philippians 4:10 & 14-19). But Paul does not fall into the trap of trusting in such things:
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19. He sees a thing for what it is — uncertain. But he also sees something better:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Philippians 3:12-16. Thus, the answer is not enforced poverty. The answer is not a grimace and growl. We may learn how to abound by realizing that even gaining the entire world cannot compare with Christ:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?
38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
16 Saturday Feb 2013
Posted 1 Peter, Colossians, Ecclesiastes, Hope, Ministry, Philippians, Romans, Servicein
1 Peter, 1 Peter 1:12, 1 Peter 3:4, Bridges, Charles Bridges, Christian Ministry, Church, Colossians, Colossians 3:24, despair, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 1:3, Encouragement, Ephesians 6:1-3, Galatians 5:15, Holy Spirit, Hope, love, Ministry, Philippians, Philippians 2:14-18, Romans, Romans 12:15, Romans 8:20, Service, The Christian Ministry, Vanity
Having discussed the discouragements of ministry, Bridges lists out six encouragements of the work. Yet, none of the encouragements pertain to the personal ease and rest of the minister. Rather, each “encouragement” actually entails throwing oneself into the work and seeking nothing beyond Christ’s glory.
First, anyone who actually knows the work and understands the impossible demands the ministry may despair. When a married couple comes into the office tottering on divorce; when a parent comes weeping over a child’s life, the minister willing to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), fears that he too will break. When professing believers bite and devour (Galatians 5:15), the grief seems that it will overwhelm. Yet, as Bridges notes:
“How encouraging is the recollection of our office, as the ordinance of Christ, and as the standing proof of his love to his Church. For will he not honour his own institution, and secure its appointed end in the glory of his name and the happiness of his Church?”
Christ’s will complete his work; therefore, Christ’s minister need not despair.
Second, and related, Christ does not build his church through our human efforts alone — as if our skill and wisdom would raise the spiritually dead. Yet, as Bridges notes, it is the Spirit who works through us to perform our ends, “The life-giving Spirit” employs our Ministry as the vehicle of conveying his Divine influence “to open the blind eyes,” and to quicken the spiritually dead.”
This is not too much to say, for note, as Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:12, that the Holy Spirit communicates to God’s people through ministers of the Word, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
Third, if we are true ministers, then our greatest joy will be Christ’s glory — indeed that will be our true hope and seeing our Lord exalted will be our pleasure, “The blessed fruits of the Ministry in winning sinners to Christ, and stamping his holy image upon their hearts, are most refreshing. The subsequent walk also of this renewed people in the faith, hope, and love of the Gospel, forms our ground of unceasing thanksgiving to God, our chief joy, and the very life of our life.”
We see this very joy and encouragement exemplified in Paul who rejoices in the Gospel proclamation. Paul, speaks of his imprisonment as a positive good, because “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (1 Peter 1:12).
Here is the key to such encouragement, Paul defined his good in terms of Christ’s glory. Therefore, the advance of the Gospel brought Paul joy. Thus, the encouragement of the Christian minister can only lie in the glory of God in Jesus Christ. If we seek encouragement in personal ease, or comfort or praise, we will be continually discouraged. Thus, like Paul, we must pursue the work without complete, willingly spending our lives for Christ, knowing that our work is not in vain:
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:14-18.
A moment’s reflection should help to draw out his encouragement: imagine a man or woman who comes to the end of life and wonders, What was the point of all my work, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 1:3.
The creation subjected to futility (Romans 8:20), throws up work which can never profit. But work done for the glory of the Creator cannot be lost: we can rejoice in our labor, because it is not in vain (Philippians 2:16). By seeking our good and encouragement beyond ourselves, the Christian can rejoice in all his labor.
A further point: such minister is not restricted to the “pastor” — it is a promise to all Christian service to Christ. The Christian who graciously bears the brutality of a painful job and vicious employer knows, “that from The Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving The Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24). The wife who graciously lives with a husband who “does not obey the word” are “in God’s sight very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). The child who honors his parents for the Lord’s sake will receive a promise fulfilled (Ephesians 6:1-3).
07 Monday Jan 2013
Posted 2 Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Hope, Philippians, Preaching, Puritanin
2 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 5, Brooks, Death, Ecclesiastes, enjoyment, Ephesians 6:12, faith, Heaven, Hope, joy, Philippians, Philippians 1:21, Preaching, Puritan, The Believers Last Day His Best Day, Thomas Brooks
The first post on this sermon can be found here:
That a believer’s last day is his best day; his dying-day is better than his birthday.This will be a very sweet and useful point to all believers. I shall first demonstrate the truth that it is so, and then make some use of this point to ourselves.
1. That death is a change of place. A believer when he dieth, he doth but change his place; he changeth earth for heaven, a wilderness for a Canaan, an Egypt for a land of Goshen, a dunghill for a palace. 2 Cor. 5:2-6; Phil. 1:21-23.. We be not in our place, and therefore we groan to be at home—that is, to be in heaven, to be in the bosom of Christ, which is our proper place, our most desirable home.
2. That death is a change of company. The best that breatheth in this world must live with the wicked, and converse with the wicked, &c.; and this is a part of their misery; it is their hell on this side heaven. Ps.12:1; Jer. 9:2; 2 Pet.2:7-8; Heb. 12-22-23….Oh, but death is a change of company. A man doth change the company of profane persons, of vile persons, &c, for the company of angels, and the company of weak Christians for the company of just men made perfect.
3. Death is a change of employment. …The work of a believer in this world lies in praying, groaning, sighing, mourning, wrestling, and fighting, &c. And we see throughout the Scripture that the choicest saints, that have had the highest visions of God, have driven this trade; they have spent their time in praying, groaning, mourning, wrestling, and fighting: Eph. 6:12, … The truth is, the very life of a believer is a continual warfare, and his business is to be in the field always. They have to deal with subtle enemies, malicious enemies, wakeful enemies, and watchful enemies; with such enemies that threw down Adam in paradise, the most innocent man in the world, and that threw down Moses, the meekest man in the world, and Job, the patientest man in the world, and Joshua, the most courageous man in the world, and Paul, the best apostle in the world, &c. A Christian’s life is a warfare. …Job 14:14; 2 Tim. 4:8 ….Death is a change of employment. It changeth this hard service, this work that lies in mourning, wrestling, and fighting, for joying and singing hallelujahs to the Almighty. Now no prayers, but praises; no fighting and wrestling, but dancing and triumphing. Can a believing soul look upon this glorious change, and not say, Surely ‘better is the day of a believer’s death than the day of his birth’? Death is the winding-sheet that wipes away all tears from the believer’s eyes, Rev. 7:9.
4. Death is a change of enjoyments,
(4A) It is a change of our more dark and obscure enjoyment of God, for a more clear and sweet enjoyment of God. I say, the best believer that breathes in this world, that doth see and enjoy most of God, and the visions of his glory, yet he enjoys not God so clearly, but that he is much in the dark. … The truth is, we are able to bear but little of the discoveries of God, there being such a mighty majesty and glory in all the spiritual discoveries of God. We are weak, and able to take in little of God. Job 23:8-9
… This is our greatest burden, that our apprehensions of God are no more clear, that we cannot that our apprehensions of God are no more clear, that we cannot see him face to face whom our souls do dearly love. Oh, but now in heaven saints shall have a clear vision of God: there be no clouds nor mists in heaven.
(4B.) It is a change of our imperfect and incomplete enjoyments of God, for a more complete and perfect enjoyment of him. Job 26:14; 1 Cor.13:12 … There is no complaints in heaven, because there is no wants. Oh, when death shall give the fatal stroke, there shall be an exchange of earth for heaven, of imperfect enjoyments for perfect enjoyments of God; then the soul shall be swallowed up with a full enjoyment of God; no corner of the soul shall be left empty, but all shall be filled up with the fulness of God. … The best Christian is able to take in but little of God; their hearts are like the widow’s vessel, that could receive but a little oil. Sin, the world, and creatures do take up so much room in the best hearts, that God is put upon giving out himself by a little and little, as parents do to their children; but in heaven God will communicate himself fully at once to the soul; grace shall then be swallowed up of glory.
(4C) It is a change of a more inconstant and transient enjoyment of God, for a more constant and permanent enjoyment of God. Here the saints’ enjoyment of God is inconstant. One day they enjoy God, and another day the soul sits and complains in anguish of spirit. Psalm 61:3, 42:5, 30:6-7; 1 Thess. 4:17-18 ….. It is heaven and happiness enough to see Christ, and to be for ever with Christ. Now, oh what a glorious change is this! Methinks these things should make us long for our dying-day, and account this life but a lingering death.
5. Death is a change that puts an end to all external and internal changes. What is the whole life of a man, but a life of changes? Death is a change that puts an end to all external changes. ….All temporals are as transitory as a hasty, headlong torrent, a ship, a bird, an arrow, a post, that passeth by. Man himself—the king of these outward comforts—what is he, but a mere nothing?—the dream of a dream, a shadow, a bubble, a flash, a blast. …And then it puts an end to all internal changes. Now the Lord smiles upon the soul, and anon he frowns upon the soul. Now God gives assistance to conquer sin, anon the man is carried captive by his sin; now he is strengthened against the temptation, anon he falls before the temptation,
Death is another Moses: it delivers believers out of bondage, and from making brick in Egypt. …
6. Death is a change that brings the soul to an unchangeable rest. It is the bringing of the soul to bed—to a state of eternal rest. That is the last demonstration of the point, that a believer’s dying-day is his best day. Now while we are here the soul is in a-toss. The best his best day. Now while we are here the soul is in a-toss. The best man in the world—that is highest and clearest in his enjoyments of God—is too often like to Noah’s dove that found no rest: Rev. 14:13; Isaiah 57:1-2
…Death is a believer’s coronation-day, it is his marriage-day. ….It is a rest from sin, a rest from sorrow, a rest from afflictions and temptations, &c. Death to a believer is an entrance into Abraham’s bosom, into paradise, into the ‘New Jerusalem,’ into the joy of his Lord.
28 Friday Dec 2012
Posted 2 Corinthians, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, Edward Polhill, Hope, Job, Philippians, Puritanin
2 Corinthians, A Preparation for Suffering in an Evil Day, Affliction, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, Edward Polhill, Evil, Hope, Job, Lamentations, Philippians, Problem of Evil, Problem of Harm, Puritan, Stoic, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, Thomas Brooks
The trouble of suffering, of evil constitutes a philosophical problem with which academics (typically) wrestle. There is a second category of problem, the actual subjective experience of evil, which drives one to ask, “How long O Lord!” (Psalm 13:1).
The philosophical discussions matter little to the sufferer. While I have cherry-picked a bit, I do not believer a suffering philosopher (or a philosopher on her death bed, awaiting the prospect of eternal judgment) will be comforted by
In slightly more detail, and using ‘Pr(P/Q)’ to stand either for the logical probability, or for the epistemic probability, of P given Q, the logic of the argument is as follows:
(1) Pr(O/HI) > Pr(O/T) (Substantive premise)
(2) Pr(O/HI) = Pr(O & HI)/Pr(HI) et cetera …..
The proof of God, despite suffering, or the “hope” that no God exists who will call to account matters less than (1) what I believe to be true of reality; (2) reality, itself. In the end, most of the philosophical arguments must be wrong in whole or part, because reality does not bend to my logical construct — however, well crafted and accepted by contemporary peers.
Arguments tell us nothing that we need. The man holding a bleeding child, the woman with cancer, cannot drink analytic philosophy — it will not digest. We would sooner feed scrap metal to a baby. The metal may good its place, but it will not ward off hunger.
The responses to suffering set forth below will answer to various philosophies, but they are in a very different form.
Suffering admits of only three responses. First, one can deny the reality of evil. This will also entail the denial of good, of love and joy and peace. The Stoic denial of all response is inhuman. And while a bit of peace may be had, the resignation of a stone to the rain does not end the rain. Rain will wear away the hardest stone. The stone may not rage, but the stone does not hope.
The drunkennes of cultures, flooding the senses with nonsense to obviate the real, a pornographic violence to the sense which wears away the soul merely mimics the Stoic without a hint of character or trial:
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! 12 They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands. Isaiah 5:11-12
Thomas Brooks notes and rejects such a stoic resignation in his book The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod:
And so Harpalus was not at all appalled when he saw two of his sons laid ready dressed in a charger, when Astyages had bid him to supper. This was a sottish insensibleness. Certainly if the loss of a child in the house be no more to thee than the loss of a chick in the yard, thy heart is base and sordid, and thou mayest well expect some sore awakening judgment.1 This age is full of such monsters, who think it below the greatness and magnanimity of their spirits to be moved, affected, or afflicted with any afflictions that befall them. I know none so ripe and ready for hell as these.
Aristotle speaks of fishes, that though they have spears thrust into their sides, yet they awake not. God thrusts many a sharp spear through many a sinner’s heart, and yet he feels nothing, he complains of nothing. These men’s souls will bleed to death. Seneca, Epist. x., reports of Senecio Cornelius, who minded his body more than his soul, and his money more than heaven; when he had all the day long waited on his dying friend, and his friend was dead, he returns to his house, sups merrily, comforts himself quickly, goes to bed cheerfully. His sorrows were ended, and the time of his mourning expired before his deceased friend was interred. Such stupidity is a curse that many a man lies under. But this stoical silence, which is but a sinful sullenness, is not the silence here meant.
This may seem odd, because the Christian response does entail an element of resignation, yet it is a resignation coupled to hope — I will bear this to gain that:
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul bears with his circumstances, not by denying but by transcending:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (ESV)
A second response is to curse. Job’s wife provides a memorable example of such:
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job’s response provides the appropriate example: the Christian may not respond with cursing or anger to God’s providence. Job seeing through the secondary causes, through Satan and the bridgands, through the storm and the disease in his body, looks to the ultimate cause: God. God has given this, therefore we must willing accept this providence.
A third response is resignation without cursing coupled to hope. The poet of Lamentations does not deny the trouble brougth by God:
7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy;
8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;
9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.
10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow.
13 He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. Lam. 3
Yet he sees through the trouble to kindness of God to come:
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Lam. 3
Polhill lays this truth at the heart of his response. To perserve in the midst of trial, we have a hope which transcends our circumstance:
THE sixth direction is this: if we would be in a fit posture for suffering, we must get a lively hope of eternal life. As our life is a sea, hope is compared to an anchor, which makes us stand steady in a storm; as our life is a warfare, hope is compared to a helmet, which covers the soul in times of danger; as the body liveth spirando, by breathing, so the soul lives sperando, by hoping. A man cannot drown so long as his head is above water; hope lifts up the head, and looks up to the redemption and salvation that is to come in another world in its fulness and perfection. Hope doth three things; it assures good things to come; it disposes us for them; it waits for them unto the end: each of which will, be of singular use to fit us for pious sufferings.
Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 346.
17 Saturday Nov 2012
Posted 1 Kings, Biblical Counseling, Ecclesiastes, Ephesians, Philippiansin
1 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Biblical Counseling, blessing, Discourse Analysis, Discourse Peak, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 2, Ecclesiastes 6, Ephesians, Fearing the Lord, Humility, joy, Philippians, Self-denial, Solomon, Wealth
The sixth chapter of Ecclesiastes also ties together the strands concerning wealth and blessing which had been raised in various forms throughout the preceding chapters. It also brings the previous points together with heightened vividness. There is even a slightly different rhetorical effect in that the passage does not ask questions but rather lays out some definite conclusions. Yet when reading the passages on wealth together, it is instructive to read them in tandem with the story of Solomon’s life. Even those who reject Solomonic authorship still admit that book uses Solomon’s life as a background for at least the first two chapters.
I contend that the parallel between Solomon’s history and the commentary of Ecclesiastes persists even beyond Ecclesiastes 2:11 (where many commentators believe the parallel falls off).
The Correspondence Between the History of Solomon and Ecclesiastes
First, we begin with a brief recount of Solomon’s wealth:
11 God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king 12 wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.”
2 Chronicles 1:11-12. This astounding wealth is described in Ecclesiastes 2:3-10: money, land, buildings, pleasures, human beings (it is a recapitulation of Eden, but it also makes a perverse parallel of the parody of Eden in Revelation 18):
3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine-my heart still guiding me with wisdom-and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.
5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man.
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
However, looking back on it, Qoheleth (at the very least speaking as Solomon) can offer only a triple condemnation and despair over his life:
Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 2:11. The extraordinary wealth and bounty ending in a bitter taste well parallels the life of Solomon. First Solomon did acquire an astounding hoard of humanity and wealth:
1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love 3 He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
1 Kings 11:1-4. Yet, for all his wealth and women, he lost the blessing of God:
9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice 10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded.
1 Kings 11:1-4, 9-10. Thus the blessing became a curse in Solomon’s mouth. He had the stuff, he it seems he lost the ability to enjoy it. When reading the story of Solomon, it seems the trouble with the wealth only came at the very end, when God finally pronounced judgment upon Solomon.
Using Ecclesiastes to Understand Solomon
However, when we read Ecclesiastes as partial commentary on the history of Solomon (especially if one takes Solomon as the author, Qoheleth), one can conclude that the property did not bring contentment to Solomon.
This point becomes even tighter when we come to Ecclesiastes 5 & 6. The thoroughly negative valuation of Ecclesiastes 2:11 seems like the despair and disgust did not come until after he come to the end of his life. But Ecclesiastes 5 & 6 adds something more: it states that the “blessing” was really no blessing unless God provides an additional element: the blessing to enjoy the abundance.
Ecclesiastes 5 states the proverb that one cannot be satisfied with money:
10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Ecclesiastes 5:10–11 (ESV)
When one considers both the absurdly large household of Solomon, you think Of course! The wealth of gold and goods, of slaves and wives (human property)could not possibly be enjoyed in any sort of intensive manner. Solomon could see the harem of a 1,000 women, together with their servants and attendants, and think I must feed them all. In fact, Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 is precisely the sort of conclusion one would expect from a man in Solomon’s position.
Verse 12 casts an almost envious eye on the men who built the palaces and public buildings:
Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. Ecclesiastes 5:12 (ESV)
One must note that Solomon is not describing abject poverty – the man does have labour and is not starving. Yet, he does put his finger on the important aspect: the little bit the labourer possesses has come with the blessing of God – and thus sleep.
Ecclesiastes 5:13-17 then sets out the fear which comes from possessing property:
13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
Earlier in the letter, Solomon had raised the opposite circumstance: What if I keep my property and then leave it to a fool:
18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. Ecclesiastes 2:18–21 (ESV)
This, of course, draws another direct line between Qoheleth and Solomon: Qoheleth fears his wealth will be left to a fool. Solomon did leave it to the fool, Rehoboam – you managed to loss 10 of the 12 tribes in a single afternoon.
This is contrasted with the one who has received a blessing from God:
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil-this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20.
Yet, even at this point, one might think that Solomon did not sour on wealth and privilege until the very end of his life.
The Blessing Solomon Lacked
However, Ecclesiastes 6 puts a dagger in that theory: Ecclesiastes 6:1-3 shows that the acquisition of tremendous property and extraordinary comforts provide not real comfort with the added blessing of God to transform the external into a true subjective blessing. However, it is best to read this as not just a speculation but an experience. To see the pain of Ecclesiastes 6:1-3, we must not abstract it from an actual life.
The relationship between Ecclesiastes 6:1-3 is not merely at a general leval. When look at the precise language used to describe Solomon’s wealth as recorded in 2 Chronicles 9:22-23 and compares it to the man recorded in Ecclesiastes 6:1-3, it seems that we may be looking at the same person:
22 Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 23 And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.
2 Chronicles 9:22-23. Now consider the man of Ecclesiastes 6:1-3
1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.
Consider this closely: First, both Solomon and the man described in 6:1-3 have received profound material “blessing” from God. God says to Solomon, “I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” 2 Chronicles 1:12. The lists almost match. Moreover, as just noted, it also matches the list of 2 Chronicles 9:22-23.
Second, note that God did not promise Solomon that he would have enjoyment from all his property. In fact, God’s covenant with Solomon contains the express condition of obedience: 2 Samuel 7:14. When God blesses Solomon with the promise of material good, he makes the quality of life a matter of obedience:
And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days. 1 Kings 3:14 (ESV)
As in the NT, the matter of “eternal life” is not merely a matter of duration but of quality.
How Then May We Receive That Blessing?
This of course begs for an answer to the question, How does one obtain the blessing of the Lord to enjoy the pleasant things of this life?
First, we must think rightly about wealth and its true benefit. For this we have help of Proverbs:
10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
11 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.
12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Proverbs 18:10-12. The middle proverb of the triplet notes that wealth is an imaginary protection. Reliance upon one’s wealth is pride, which will only result in destruction. However, the one who trust in the Lord will be safe.
Second, we must thus avoid the sin of seeking protection from money; rather, we must place our hope solely in the strength of God:
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5-6. It is interesting to note that here love of money is contrasted with trusting in God:
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:24–26 (ESV)
And lest we think such talk is a mere fairy tale, the Apostle Paul gives us a picture of such in action. To make the point more plainly, God graciously – for our sakes – has Paul write from prison:
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
 The reference to a miscarriage is brutal and disturbing.
 William Varner in his excellent commentary James a New Perspective lays out the elements of a discourse peak on pages 20-28.
 Interestingly, the only wealth passage which does not seem to parallel Solomon is the man who has no other, the miserable, lonely miser (however, perhaps Solomon did at times feel himself to be lonely despite the ocean of human beings about him):
7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8 one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. Ecclesiastes 4:7–8 (ESV)
“All” Solomon must do to secure these blessings is to follow David’s example of adherence to the Sinai covenant. If he keeps the “statutes and commands,” Solomon will honor his father and thereby have “a long life.” This reference to Exod 20:12 underscores the continuity of God’s covenant with Israel, with David, and with Solomon, the new generation. It also emphasizes the conditional nature of Solomon’s kingship, an idea that is repeated every time God addresses Solomon directly (cf. 6:11–13; 9:3–9; 11:11–13). Long notes that in these four addresses “the editor-author(s) forged a kind of unity of exhortation out of the material, which then can be turned on end to become a deadly serious, twice-repeated message of conditions violated, promise lost, glory tarnished (ch. 11).”11 God’s covenant with David is eternal, but Solomon can be replaced with another “son of David” if he disobeys the Lord.
Paul R. House, vol. 8, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 111-12.
 While the text does not explicitly entail happiness, yet it does seem that a “long” and bitter life would be no blessing. This is consonant with the understanding of Deuteronomy 5:16 which corresponds obedience to covenant with long life – and thus a quality of life.
16. Prefer the Lord and His kingdom before all things, for the Divine Love and Wisdom have shown the soul that these are the fountains of life, that thus states of blessedness may be acquired in heaven, and that the soul may be led into the state of order and happiness which is designed for it by the Divine Love and Wisdom.
A. Payne, A Study of the Internal or Spiritual Sense of the Fifth Book of Moses Called Deuteronomy (London: James Speirs, 1881), 47.
Calvin commenting on Ephesians 6:3, which quotes the OT commandment likewise long life to happiness and not solely duration:
The promise is a long life; from which we are led to understand that the present life is not to be overlooked among the gifts of God. On this and other kindred subjects I must refer my reader to the Institutes of the Christian Religion; 63 satisfying myself at present with saying, in a few words, that the reward promised to the obedience of children is highly appropriate. Those who shew kindness to their parents from whom they derived life, are assured by God, that in this life it will be well with them.
And that thou mayest live long on the earth. Moses expressly mentions the land of Canaan,
“that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12.)
Beyond this the Jews could not conceive of any life more happy or desirable. But as the same divine blessing is extended to the whole world, Paul has properly left out the mention of a place, the peculiar distinction of which lasted only till the coming of Christ.
John Calvin, Ephesians, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Eph 6:3.
27 Saturday Oct 2012
Posted 1 Peter, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, Mortification, Philippiansin
1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 John 4:7-8, 1 Peter, 1 Peter 1:22, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-24, Happiness, James 1:2-4, joy, love, Love, Marriage Counseling, Mortification, Paul David Tripp, Philippians, Philippians 2:1-4, Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:13, Romans 8:29, Self-denial, Self-Examination, Self-Sacrifice, What Did You Expect
“Marriage is a beautiful thing that only reaches what it was designed to be through the methodology of a painful process” (What Did You Expect, 52).
Love is the end which God produces through the power of the Spirit: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
However, by nature, we are self-centered. The sin we possess in our flesh and the sin we produce in our lives merely build upon and increase the intensity and depth of our sinful selfishness. This selfish runs directly counter to the demands of marriage:
“What all this means is that sin is essentially antisocial. We don’t really have time to love our spouse, in the purest sense of what that means, because we are too busy loving ourselves. We actually want our spouse to love us as much as we love ourselves, and if our spouse is willing to do that, we will have a wonderful relationship” (What Did You Expect? 47).
[I remember reading of a poet who fell in love with one woman while he was already married to another. When he informed the first wife, he could not understand why she was not happy. After all, if she wanted him to be “happy” wouldn’t she be pleased with his new passion?]
Yet, our new life in Christ requires us to live outside ourselves, for love entails seeking a good which does not necessarily mean my person and private privilege:
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4
In marriage, this demand is heightened: the wife and the husband are required to sacrifice their own personal concern and give up their immediate desires in favor of the good of another. The submission of the wife, the self-sacrifice of the husband are demands of love of the most extraordinary sort. I think we do a disservice to Christian marriage when we pretend the goal of marriage can be obtained by some sort of effort and education. The demands of marriage are supernatural.
You see, the demand of marriage is a demand that requires extraordinary holiness, extraordinary mortification of sin. It is not merely a matter of communication skill, it is a matter of death to self, death to sin and life to God in Jesus Christ. Paul makes plain that the law cannot kill sin — this is a work of the Spirit:
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:12-13.
Marriage is a blessing to us in its very difficulty. The success of marriage — true success — requires holiness, it requires walking in the Spirit (consider it thus: what would marriage be like if you were to walk in the Spirit and if your spouse were to walk in the Spirit? What would be the marriage where the fruit of the Spirit did abound? Galatians 5:22-24).
The difficulty of marriage gives rise to the incessant need to seek holiness. “[T]he trouble you that you face in marriage is not an evidence of the failure of grace. No, those troubles are grace. They are the tools God uses to pry us out of the stultifying confines of the kingdom of self so that we can be free to luxuriate in the big-sky glories of the kingdom of God” (What Did You Expect? 52).
Thus, marriage is merely a particular instance of the common work of God to use trials as a means to produce conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:29). Twice in the NT, we are told trials are a basis for joy because they are means of transformation (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4).
Marriage inherently presents the raw materials for trial: the close relationship, the conflicted expectations, the differences between the sexes, the curse of Genesis 3:16, our own sin, the bad examples from which to “learn” — such things makes trial in marriage almost unavoidable.
God, then, in his goodness presents only one means of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13): we must learn to love our neighbor — and more so, our brother or sister (for my wife will be my sister in Christ long after death ends our marriage). I must learn to sacrifice my self, my pride and live for the good of another (and must do likewise). In so doing, obedience of faith creates a perfect correspondence between what I must do in obedience to God and what will produce the greatest happiness within my marriage.
The unhappiness of marriage comes from seeking to force another to become what I want. The joy of marriage comes from the mutual self-sacrifice of love.