Everyday Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis – a brief review


The West is changing. As it become less Christian and more secular, Christians must adapt and respond. The church must realise that we are no longer central to the culture but marginal to it. This broad exposition of 1 Peter equips the church to be a community whose witness will change lives. It explores the Four Liberating
Truths, and draws on some good work on life in post-Christendom.

Welcome to post-Christendom

Stuart Murray, (cited on p.21) mentions seven transitions for the church as it moves into post-Christendom:

from being at the centre to being on the margins;
from majority to minority;
from settlers to sojourners;
from having a privileged place to being part of a plurality;
from controlling to being a witness in a culture controlled by others;
from maintenance to mission;
and from institution to movement.

The focus of this book is the last two transitions so that Christians may be effective missionaries in our post-Christendom culture. Chester and Timmis turn to 1 Peter, written to Christians who are aliens and strangers. It is a letter from exile (in Rome) to exile (in Asia), and it is the perfect letter for mission in the west today. 1 Peter therefore forms the thread running through this book.

The main chapters are as follows, with brief notes:

1. Life at the margins (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Outlines why growing secularism is an opportunity to develop Christian witness that is unmuddied by nominalism. The other main points of this chapter are summarised in my opening above.

2. Everyday Community (1 Peter 1:3-2:8)

As missionaries in a strange culture, we need to ask ‘missionary questions’. When we do so, we see how futile it is to witness through laying on cool events that can never be as cool as those put on by a multi-million dollar entertainment industry. We are to bear effective witness by being a distinctive community, where love is the distinctive element.

3. Everyday Pastoral Care (1 Peter 1:22-2:3)

Those born anew by the imperishable word are born into a new community. Note that it is commitment to the word, rather than to community itself, that builds community (see p. 68). And an enduring word nurtures an enduring community.

This section is brilliant. We are to be family to those who are ‘un-family’ in a hostile culture. We are to crave pure spiritual milk of the word for bringing about change. Tyndale is mentioned p. 72. Everyday pastoral care (74-86) means that we are all involved in the care of each other:

    1. We pastor one another in daily life
    2. We pastor one another in community: ‘change is a community project’
    3. We pastor one another over a lifetime: it takes time
    4. We pastor one another with grace: not as hypocrites but as one sinner with another
    5. We pastor one another with the good news

We need therefore to hear these four liberating truths:

  • God is great so we don’t have to be in control (he is sovereign)
  • God is glorious so we do not have to fear others. (This is about the fear of the Lord over the fear of man)
  • God is good so we do not have to look elsewhere.
  • God is gracious so we do not need to prove ourselves

[These four were first introduced in Tim Chester’s You can change p. 80ff]  In a very helpful section, the authors apply this approach to anger; and even more helpfully to the work of pastoring When we fail to believe any these truths we will either overpastor (because we don’t think God will do it) or underpastor (because we don’t think God will see it). There is some very good stuff in this chapter.

4. Everyday mission (1 Peter 2:9-3:16)

Church is about who we are, living distinctly. It is a community rather than described by institutions and structures.

In Exodus 19.4-6 the whole People of God are to be priestly:

The law is missional in intent, defining the distnctive community life that will draw the nations to God (101)

In 1 Peter 2.9-12 Peter again brings us to Mount Sinai and again we are called to commend God to the nations through our lives (102)

“Our lives are the evangelistic events” (104 epmhasis original).

Nevertheless, good works need proclamation (cf. 1 Peter 2.9)

Pages 106-108 work through the ‘8 ways to be missional’ and introduce what the authors call Stealth church: church under the radar. The church as bodies of people rather than storefronts; and the need to find new patterns for public deeds (see quotes from Huntsberger 111-118).

A gospel community may form part of a church: it is a network of relationships not a weekly event.

Also contains this, my favourite quote:

Old Testament citations in the New Testament are like hypertext links. You click on them to discover more than meets the eye (101)

5. Everyday evangelism (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Requires patience, and awareness that most people are at 1-2 out of ten on the scale, when our church-events-based outreach is aiming at those who are at 8/10 on the scale (0 = no Christian faith, 10 = Christian).

We need to discover the ‘gospel story’ that people live by: for instance the Slimmer’s gospel (139) is what drives a slimmer to look for life transformation by wieght control. The Good News (about Jesus) transforms this (143). We need to find ways to proclaim the 4 Liberating Truths to them. More good stuff here!

6. Hope at the margins (1 Peter 3:8-5:14)

How we survive persecution and trust in the goodness and care of God. The sign of the hope of glory is that we are willing to suffer and to break with sin (4.1f.). Holy living will lead to (a) malice, slander, abuse (3.16, 4.4); and (b) questions and opportunities (3.15-16, cf. 2.12, 15; 3.1-2).

Everyday church means being generous in areas that our culture will find puzzling and challenging:

1. Material generosity,

2. relational generosity (community relationships need forgiveness, and time);

3. Leadership (leaders have a crucial role to play when believers are under pressure p. 170);

4. Prayer

If we think we are central to gospel growth then our activity will always seem more urgent than prayer (p. 172)

Prayer is not a support activity to mission, It is itself a frontline activity (p. 174)

7. Conclusion and the next steps

How to get started, and an introduction to Crowded house as a series of everyday gospel communities that gather together on a Sunday.

Everyday Church: mission by being good neighbours by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis


Biblical Theology of Singleness


Singleness is a crucial element in the witness of God’s church to the Kingdom of Heaven. It flows from the whole Bible’s teaching on singleness, marriage, and the coming age. This biblical theology of singleness is rarely if ever preached: but it should be. Here are notes from what I said yesterday. I mention sources at the end.

Singleness and the Bible (2012)

Readings: Genesis1.26-28, Matt 28.16-20; Luke 20. 27-40

‘Gotcha!’ questions

You might have caught the exchange a few days ago between Dr Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, and Professor Richard Dawkins, atheist-in-residence and evolutionist. The debate was about what counts as a ‘proper’ Christian. Giles Fraser countered that, presumably, a ‘proper’ atheist would know the full title of Charles Darwin’s famous book. Dawkins agreed, but was then unable to give the full title, and was left red-faced. My point is not to gloat at Dawkins’ embarrassment (which is not right), nor to idolise Dr Fraser (with whom I don’t agree on many things), but to illustrate the kind of position that the Sadducees were hoping to put Jesus into when they asked him this question:

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.  (Luke 20:27–28)

They are right. The OT indeed teaches that if a man dies without leaving children, it is his brother’s duty to provide him with some. It is called Levirate marriage. We’ll come back to it later.

The non-magnificent Seven

Sadducees did not believe in life after death (that is why they were sad, you see!). They wanted to make Jesus look ridiculous because he not only taught that there is a resurrection, but also that taking part in it depended on being his disciple!

So they pose this tricky scenario:

Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”  (Luke 20:29–33)

Poor woman! How will Jesus get out of that one? Here is his answer:

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.  (Luke 20:34–36)

In other words, there won’t be marriage in the resurrection life! Those of us who are married may find this a bit sad (I will try to come back to this later). Jews who were steeped in the worldview of the Old Testament would have been devastated!

Singleness in biblical perspective

We need to see the shock of Jesus teaching so that we can make biblical sense of singleness.

Too often Christians assume that because marriage is important, singleness is either a plan B, or it’s a transitional state. When we listen to Jesus’ teaching, we find that it is neither a plan B, nor a transitional state. Indeed it is marriage that is temporary and transitory. Marriage is still good – but crucially, singleness is also good. Jesus neither married nor had children, yet he was fully human and greatly blessed by God. Paul was either unmarried or widowed, and he too was fulfilled and blessed. Both taught that it is good to marry, and it is good not to marry. That is unusual.

The Shock of Singleness: it proclaims the impermanence of this world

Jesus’ shocking teaching on singleness comes because there is another world to come.

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.  (Luke 20:34–36)

We learn about the birth of this age in the early chapters of Genesis. As the pinnacle of his creation, God made man and woman. He made in his image, and gave us this command:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  (Genesis 1:28)

Three reasons to marry and multiply

There’s the very first commandment: go and multiply! It is a duty to marry and to have children so that the earth may be filled as God commands. That duty is now made difficult because of the effects of sin: we are alienated from God, distanced from each other, and at war with the natural world. But the duty remains: to marry and multiply.

There is a glimmer of hope given to Eve in Genesis 3.15, where God promises that one her descendants, a son of Eve, will finally overcome the serpent, satan, and thus conquer sin. So there is now a double reason: to fill the earth, and to find the saviour.

God makes a covenant with Abraham that through his descendants there will be great blessing. We know that this blessing will come from his most famous descendant, Jesus. Here then is third reason to marry and multiply: filling, saving, blessing.

If the covenant blessings are passed on through the family line, then it is vital that no line should die out. We see something similar with aristocratic families: the blessed Downton Abbey is about ensuring that the Earl of Grantham has a male heir, otherwise the line and the title will die out.

This explains some features we find in the OT:

  • Zelophehad was a man with five daughters but no sons. When he died the daughters ask Moses:

Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”  (Numbers 27:4)

Moses allows the family name and line to continue through the daughters, so that the line would not die out.

  • second, there is Levirate marriage that the Sadducees posed to Jesus: if a man dies without leaving children, his brothers must rally round so that his wife produces a son for her first husband’s line:

The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.  (Deuteronomy 25:6)

  • third, one of the most serious sanctions against an individual in OT Israel is that the whole family should be ‘cut off’ from their people: if a man leaves no descendants and the line dies out, he is cut off from the people. It’s a very serious sanction.

All this must have made life uncomfortable for both the unmarried and the childless in Israel. Not only did you have the mother asking ‘no boyfriend yet?’, and the mother-in-law ‘no children yet?’ but for your spiritual welfare the Rabbi was also on the case of getting you married and multiplied! For couples who could not have a family this loaded guilt on top of pain! The clear OT teaching is that there is a duty to marry and multiply.

The shock of singleness

It is therefore a very great shock when Jesus says that there isn’t marriage in heaven, and you don’t have to marry and multiply in this life either. It overturns everything the Jews have been taught to cherish.

Jesus says it because something better is coming along:

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.  (Luke 20:34–36)

Life in this world is fading and failing. We will all die, and most of us will decay on the way there. When Jesus died, he was raised to new life beyond death, never to die again. Nor indeed to decay.

Mission rather than marriage

We enter this life her by being born of a mother: by water and blood. We enter the new life, the life of the age to come, by second birth, by the Holy Spirit. It is what we call conversion.

In this age, the earth is filled and subdued when Adam and Eve’s descendants marry and multiply. But in the age to come, the new earth is filled with disciples added by mission:

… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

This changes everything. What matters is not children, but disciples. And therefore mission is a priority over marriage and multiplication. Which means that in this life, there is no longer any need to be married or have children in order to be obedient and blessed.

Of course marriage still matters, as I hope I made clear recently. And Christian marriage is the setting in which children may be born and nurtured in the fear of  the Lord, in other words, to be brought up as disciples of Christ, and to make the gospel promises their own. Nevertheless, marriage is not ultimate. It is passing: it is transitory; it is impermanent.

There is no marriage in the age to come. Those of us who are married  will see our marriage give way to a far greater relationship – the marriage between Christ and his bride the church. I daresay we will see each other, but if there is a spouse, it will be Christ.

The message of singleness: it proclaims the Kingdom of God

Let’s take a moment to see how this makes sense of the Bible’s teaching elsewhere. I can only touch on a couple of areas, but I hope they will help persuade you.

OT Eunuchs and Barren women

We saw that under the Old Covenant, it was a duty to marry and multiply. But what if you could not? As we saw, there is both pain and guilt for women and men who were in this position.

The prophets hold out hope for those who cannot have children:

Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD.  (Isaiah 54:1)


Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”  And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.  (Isaiah 56:3–5)

Isaiah is not saying that Christians will have less difficulty having a family that OT Jews would. Not at all. He says that barrenness is replaced with the possibility for all of bearing spiritual children. The woman who can’t have physical children can have many, many, spiritual children: and the man (eunuch) who cannot father a line of descendants will have a line that will never end. Those spiritual children are disciples.

There is a scene in C S Lewis’ book the Great Divorce in which the narrator visits Heaven for a day trip. He sees a great procession. Who’s that?, he asks. ‘No-one you would know. She was unknown in her previous life, but here she is a great figure. And following this little old lady is a long line of those she cared for.

That’s a small picture of how, in heaven’s eyes, spiritual children that will follow our procession, whether we were their physical parents or not.

Tim Keller writes:

There was no more radical act in that day and time than to live a life that did not produce heirs. (meaning of marriage 195)

Now we see why the single and the childless disciples must be valued alongside the married and the parent disciple. Singleness is not a plan B; and it is not a transitory phase. It is in fact a picture of what we will one day all be if we are in Christ Jesus.

How does all this help us with the practice of singleness and with godliness within singleness?

The Practice of Singleness: it proclaims the adequacy of Christ

1. Singleness is not Plan B. If this church has ever said that, I want to repent of it as clearly as I can. If the church idolises marriage, it will encourage singles to believe their life is on hold until they marry. That is not the case.

2. Contented singleness, like contented marriage, finds its adequacy in Christ. Married people – we must not rely on our spouse to fulfil our hopes, which on Christ can fulfil. And singles who might marry, you must not rely on your dream of marriage to fulfil your hopes: only Christ can do that. Living this way will exalt Christ! Here’s Tim Keller again:

Without a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that always creates pathology in their lives. But singles, too, must see the penultimate [impermanent] nature of marriage. If single Christians don’t develop a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Jesus, they will put too much pressure on their dream of marriage, and that will create pathology in their lives.(Keller Meaning 198)

3. The church needs both marrieds and singles if we are to understand the glory of God’s gospel:

Marriage has its unique potential for magnifying Christ that singleness does not have. Singleness has its unique potential for magnifying Christ that marriage does not have. To God be glory in the Christ-exalting drama of marriage and in the Christ-exalting drama of the single life. (John Piper This momentary marriage 114 – reviewed here)

4. Single people as well as married people will have struggles over purity – although the struggles are different. If the whole church needs the witness of holy singles and holy marrieds, then we must struggle for holiness for the sake of the church. One way we blend holiness with family is to greet one another as brothers and sisters, and to make sure that the relationships are indeed holy. Paul’s advice to Timothy was Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. In other words, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do with your sister!

May Christ be exalted in your life – whether you are single or married.

A note on books about singleness

The main, and wonderful, resource is Barry Danylak’s Redeeming Singleness reviewed here. At the end of the review I mention a couple of other books on singleness.

I should also add that the books on marriage by Christopher Ash (Married for God) and Tim & Kathy Keller (The meaning of marriage) both have excellent chapters on singleness.

The more people believe in hell, the more apt they are to create heaven on earth


Here’s an intriguing connection:

The more people believe in hell, the more apt they are to create heaven on earth. And the less people believe in hell, the more apt they are to turn this world into the very hell they deny. None of the monster-dictators of the twentieth century – Mao (China), Joseph Stalin (Russia), Adolf Hitler (Germany), Idi Amin (Uganda), or Pol Pot (Cambodia) – believed in the life to come let alone hell. Because their pride was completely unchecked by fear of eternal accounting, they created the closest thing to hell on earth that history has to date witnessed.

William P Farley Gospel Powered Humility p. 95

Marriage and the Bible


Last Sunday (5th Feb 2012) I preached on Marriage in our series on issues from the early chapters of Genesis. It was a timely sermon for our day. Readings: Genesis 2.15-25 and Romans 1.18-32. In time the audio should be available on the church website http://www.sgw.org.uk

There’s a neat handout: Issues Marriage and the Bible 2012 (Handout)

Introduction: Marriage under fire

British society is changing. And it is changing fast.

The ONS said the types of families with children “changed significantly” between 2001 and 2011, with 62 per cent of children now living with married parents, 14 per cent with cohabiting couples and 24 per cent with a single parent.

British attitudes are changing too. Civil partnerships give same sex couples virtually the same rights as married couples. The government has now moved to allow Civil partnerships to be registered in Churches (at present it will not be in Church of England churches). Now there is to be a consultation in March about redefining marriage to include same-sex marriage.

It’s a huge change, and Christians have responded in different ways. The head of the Roman Catholic church in England has spoken out against redefinition of marriage. The Archbishop of York (deputy head of the Church of England) also spoke against. He said:

“Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” [says Dr Sentamu.] “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.”

He has faced considerable criticism. Which means that the church will be rocked by debate, while the government juggernaut rolls on.

How should we respond? We will need to make up our own minds as Christians, and as a congregation. It seems to me that we have two responsibilities:

  • first as citizens we need to influence the whole of society for what we think is best for everyone, whether they have a faith or not. We do this through our vote which influences the actions of political leaders.
  • Second, as disciples we must discern what is God’s pattern for holy Christian living, and submit to it so that we can find his blessing.

If we are to do this faithfully, we must get to grips with the Bible’s teaching on marriage, and understand why the definition of marriage should remain that it is

‘… is the public, exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman.’

I have several points, of unequal lengths!

1. Marriage is a Gift

Marriage is a gift from God. It is introduced by God in Genesis 2. When Jesus refers to this passage he says:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4–5)

Marriage between a man and a woman springs from the nature of God’s creation of humanity as male and female. Because marriage is God’s idea, it is not up to us to redefine it.

When something is our idea, we can redefine it. For instance the metre (as opposed to the cubit or the foot) is our idea. We thought it up, and we can change it if we choose. (I would avoid air travel for a bit, until engineers have fully mastered the change!).

When something is a given, we cannot change it. For instance, the length of the day is set by the motion of the earth around the sun. We can’t decide that the earth will move faster around the sun – its not up to us.

Marriage is a given from the creation that God made. That is why it is not up to us to redefine it. This has been the Christian position for a long time. Thus the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s introduction:

Holy Matrimony … is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; …

It is a Gift from God. It is not for us to redefine it.

1b. So Why do people think they can redefine God’s gift?

Quite simply because they don’t care for God. Marriage was instituted ‘in the time of man’s innocency’, which means before the fall, before the time related in Genesis 3 when man rebelled against God and his rule.

The nature of sin is that we don’t want God telling us what to do. The effect of sin is that we can’t see straight morally. This is what Paul explains about our world today when he writes:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Romans 1:24)

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  (Romans 1:26; see also verse 28)

This is serious, because it means our desires are not a reliable guide. Not even sincere, loving desires that appear good to every other observer. God alone is the judge of right and wrong, and that is why Christians must let the Bible teach us about marriage.

2. Marriage is for Service (v 18)

Marriage is fundamental to who we are as human beings. We are made in God’s image:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28)

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  (Genesis 2:15)

BUT Adam cannot fill and subdue the earth on his own! That is why

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  (Genesis 2:18)

He needs help that none of the animals can provide. He needs another human being, made in God’s image. So God makes woman.

Why didn’t God make another man? It’s not as one little girl thought. In her mind, God looked at Adam and thought, ‘I can do better’, and he made Eve! That is not the reason. Another man would not do because another man could only double the workforce. And Adam needs much more help than that.

Eve is more than another pair of hands. Yes, she brings complementary gifts to fill out the image of God. Significantly, she brings the ability to multiply the workforce. God could have made us like amoebas or worms, able to reproduce on our own. Instead he made us in such a way that we need a male and a female for reproduction. Adam needs Eve if he is (they are) to fill the earth and subdue it. Marriage is for service, and more precisely it is for workers. Children is an integral part of God’s purpose for marriage.

Again, this is not a new thought. In the 1662 BCP, it is given as the first purpose for marriage:

First, [Marriage] was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Few of us will naturally like the idea that marriage is for service. It challenges a couple of ideas that we cherish because our society holds them dear:

  1. Marriage is about ME. This is the view that marriage is a lifestyle choice about making us happy. (A good marriage will make us happy!). This view leads us to make unwise choices.
    What happens if instead we ask, ‘how will my marriage serve God?’
    – if you are not married but might marry some day, then you have the freedom to ask, ‘will marriage to this person enable me to serve God better than I do as a single person? And will I help them to serve God better than as a single person?’ (If neither of you is single, then stop right there!). It is obvious that a mixed marriage, where one partner does not share the other’s Christian faith is going to be compromised. Either your faith will be central and your spouse will be pushed to the margins; or your spouse is central and your faith will be at the margin. That is not a pattern for Christian service is it?
    – if you are married, have you considered and prayed about how your marriage, both of you, can serve God?
  2. Raising rebels is good. Marriage should therefore be open to the possibility of having children. But there are several way we need to qualify this:
    1. Simply having children doesn’t help because all sinners are born as rebels. They will not fill the earth and subdue it unless they know God and have a heart to serve him. Raising rebels is no good. Our task is to raise disciples. That is a parent’s task, shared by the whole church.
    2. Not being able to have children is a right grief. It is painful, often the more so because it is hidden. Your grief is the frustration of a desire that is part of God’s design.
    3. The biology of same sex unions means they are not able to have children. That is the sense of Romans 1.26 stating that these desires are unnatural or against nature.

3. Marriage is for Life v24

Marriage is a covenant about the future, not simply a snapshot of the heart at the moment.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  (Genesis 2:24)

When I take a wedding, one of the first questions I ask the couple is:

N, will you take N to be your wife?
Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her,
and, forsaking all others,
be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

Notice that I don’t ask ‘do you love her’. It’s not about how they feel at that moment (although a feeling of love is a good start!). It’s not about now but about every day from now.

I fully realise there are some for whom this is going to be difficult because you have experienced the collapse of a marriage. This is not about heaping further guilt on you. This is about reminding all of us who are in marriages that married love is an act of will and not simply a state of heart: it’s about deciding to put the marriage first, especially when we don’t feel like it. That is why the question is a wise one:

N, will you take N to be your wife?
Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her,
and, forsaking all others,
be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

The effect of sin is to make us think in the opposite direction.

  1. We think we can live together as long as it’s good. Cohabitation (living together) is all about how we feel now. When it stops being good, you simply move on. But when you move on, you leave a bit of yourself behind. Sex in a relationship is the glue that holds it together, and will be part of tearing up when you break up. It needs the security and commitment of a covenant bond to flourish.
  2. We think we can bless what God has called sin. God made sex for marriage, and made the covenant of marriage as right the place for sex. Only sex within a marriage is holy and good.

Here’s the Book of Common Prayer again:

Secondly, for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

If only sex within marriage is holy and good, then any sexual relationship or activity outside of marriage is not holy and not good.  Sex before marriage, casual sex with no relationship, sex outside of marriage (adultery), pornography, all of these are wrong, and none of these can be blessed by God as a holy lifestyle.  And that included same-sex sexual activity.
Here is the problem with the blessing of civil unions: however loving the couple find themselves to be, and however committed to one another and even to an exclusive union, it means blessing sexual activity that God has called sin.

4. Marriage is for Joy 

All this seems fairly heavy so far. Rather like a chore – shopping.

(A married couple had been out shopping at the mall for most of the afternoon, suddenly, the wife realized that her husband had disappeared. The somewhat irate spouse called her mate’s cell phone and demanded: “Where did you go???” The husband calmly replied, “Darling, you remember that jewelry shop where you saw the diamond necklace and totally fell in love with it and I didn’t have money that time and I said, ‘Baby, it’ll be yours one day’?” Wife, with a smile blushing, said, “Yes, I remember that, my love.” “Well, I’m at the Home Depot next to that shop.”)

While we need to talk about the issues, let’s not forget that marriage is the gift of a good God. When Adam first saw his wife, he was thrilled:

The man said,  “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  (Genesis 2:23)

It has been called the first love song in the Bible. Valentine’s day is coming up soon. I see from the newspapers that you can get a card from Asda for 7p. If you think that still looks a bit cheap, you can put a love poem inside it. If you’re stuck, here’s one!

Their marriage, far from being a straightjacket, was the way they could flourish

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.  (Genesis 2:25)

The point about being ‘naked’ is that they were vulnerable: but in each other’s company they felt safe. That is the point of the marriage covenant: it is a relationship that should provide the security to be vulnerable, and yet be safe. Here is the Prayer Book again:

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

We don’t always feel that safe though, do we? We think that …

  1. We must look after Number One. Companionship gives way to competition; joy to sorrow. Love for the other turns into a competition: looking after Number One.
  2. Waiting is for wimps Keeping sex for marriage alone has never been either easy nor popular. It is harder and more unpopular today than at almost any other time in history. So why does God require it of us? Because he knows it is best for our blessing and our flourishing. It is an issue of trusting the goodness of God.

The defence of marriage

We have covered a lot of ground because we need to. I hope this has outlined the biblical teaching on marriage, and why biblical Christians will continue to defend marriage, and will continue to resist the blessing in church of either civil unions or same-sex marriages. And that may well be unpopular.

There is so much more to say, but let me finish with this final thought

5. Marriage is for Some

I have spoken positively about marriage because the Bible, and especially the Old Testament is so positive about it. But it is not the only holy and blessed way to live. It would be a mistake to conclude from what I have said that only through marriage can we experience what it means to be truly human. No. We need marriage and we need marriages. But we do not all need to be married to flourish in Christ.

Jesus particularly was positive about singleness. All of us are born single. Many of us will die single. There will not be marriage in heaven. Marriage is a temporary state for us. Whether we are single or married, we can know God, serve God, and be blessed by God in that state. Marriage is good. But it is not the only good. We’ll find out why in a couple of weeks’ time in the talk on Singleness and the Bible.