Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Bible study: responsibilities and obligations in Philippians 1-4

Here are some parts of Philippians that speak to an issue that I think is a problem today for many Christians – self-centeredness. I have three parts of Philippians to present below on that topic.

1) The importance of fellowship – preparing to work together with other Christians towards some end:

Phil 1:3-11:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Some Christians find it difficult to “participate in the gospel” with anyone because they feel uncomfortable with responsibilities, expectations or obligations to others. In my experience, people who shun responsibilities, obligations and expectations can improve this by taking Paul’s advice – grow in real knowledge and all discernment. In my experience, I have found that people who shy away from responsibilities, expectations and obligations do so because they are afraid of failing. They are proud and don’t want to look bad if they fail to perform something that they are expected to perform. Christians should not shy away from growing though, because growing is what helps us to be better partners in the gospel. We should try to read hard things, study hard things, and take the hardest jobs we can do – so that we build up our tolerance for responsibilities, obligations and expectations. People who do hard jobs like computer programming or nursing know that that you always struggle to learn difficult things and there is always the risk of looking incompetent. But we accept the risk of looking stupid and being judged and this builds a level of comfort with responsibilities, obligations and expectations. That comfort level with responsibilities, obligations and expectations that you get from doing hard things can only help you be a better partner in the gospel.

2) The importance of not being self-centered, but instead being focused on the needs of others:

Phil 2:1-8:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And Phil 2:19-23:

19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.

Nothing very complicated here, it’s important to look out for the interests of others and to be concerned about their welfare. I think it’s a good idea to be practical about this, and instead of just expressing opinions like “I care”, try to find out what needs to be done and do it. The important thing is that it’s good to be focused on other people, and not on ourselves, and to think of the interests of others, not our own interests. That point about looking out for other people’s interests is said twice, once in each passage from chapter 2 I quoted above.

3) People who are doing good work for the Lord have needs:

Phil 4:10-18:

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

I think if you are friends with a person and they are working on some task or other for the gospel, then it’s a good idea to be sensitive to their needs, and be open to caring for those needs. Your goal should not be to make excuses for why you don’t have to do anything to help them. In my case, finances are not a problem, so I don’t have that need. I use money to supply the needs of people that I partner with in the gospel, though. Instead, I have other needs that people can help with – for example, after a stressful day of work, I am always looking for people to play games with me. Some of my friends show an interest in that, and others don’t. The good things that I do for God are not free, and it matters a lot to me whether those who know me want to listen to me and then take responsibility for making sure that I keep functioning and doing the things that I do for God. We have to have an eye out to maintain people who are doing good things for God – not just take it for granted that it will continue. Sometimes, it is not just sending money (gifts), it can be other love languages like touch, service, quality time and words of encouragement. But tuning away from the needs of others is not good for us.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What happens to your children when they arrive at university?

This Philadelphia Inquirer editorial is from famous ethics professor Robert P. George.

He writes:

When many of the flower children and new-left activists of the ’60s became professors and university administrators in the ’70s and ’80s, they did not entirely overthrow the idea of liberal-arts education. Many proclaimed themselves its loyal partisans.Now, it is true that many think it their mission to create soldiers in the battle for “social change” – aspiring ACLU lawyers, Planned Parenthood volunteers, and “community organizers.” But others resist the idea that learning should be instrumentalized. They profess allegiance to the idea that the point of liberal education is to enrich and even liberate the student-learner. That’s what is supposed to be “liberal” about liberal-arts learning – it is supposed to convey the knowledge and impart the intellectual skills and habits of mind that are liberating.Still, there is a chasm between the idea of liberal-arts education as classically conceived, and the conception promoted by some (mercifully, not all) in positions of influence in academic departments today. Many of today’s academic humanists and social scientists have a different view of what students need liberation from.In their view (what I will call the revisionist conception), it is liberation from traditional social constraints and moral norms – beliefs, principles, and structures by which earlier generations of Americans and people in the West generally had been taught to govern themselves for the sake of personal virtue and the common good. For them, it has become a dogma that these traditional norms and structures are irrational – “hang ups” that stifle our personalities by impeding desire-fulfillment.

Liberal-arts learning is thus seen as a way to undermine whatever is left of the old norms and structures. Teaching and scholarship are meant either (1) to expose the texts and traditions once regarded as the intellectual treasures of our civilization – the Bible, Plato, Augustine, Dante, Aquinas, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Locke, Gibbon, the authors of The Federalist, etc. – as mere propaganda propping up unjust (racist, sexist, classist, homophobic) social orders, or still worse (2) to show how they can be “reappropriated” to subvert allegedly unjust contemporary social orders.

Beyond this, liberal-arts learning is meant to enable students to become “authentic” – true to themselves – which means, to these liberal-arts revisionists, acting on one’s feelings and desires. For the self is understood precisely as a bundle of feelings and desires, to be acted on without regard to supposedly outmoded moral and social norms.

On the revisionist conception of personal authenticity, whatever impedes one from doing what one most wants (unless what one happens to want would be politically incorrect) is a mere hang-up. So religious convictions and traditional moral ideals are to be transcended for the sake of the free and full development of one’s personality – for example, by acting on sexual desires that one might have been “repressing.”

This is something I often encounter when dealing with college kids, especially with women who went to college and fell under the influence of feminism. Even if they come back to the faith later and want to get serious about it, there is a lingering effect of their indoctrination in college that causes them to doubt the traditional virtues and prefer to make decisions on the basis of feelings. They really, really believe in being true to their feelings, and deciding what to do on the basis of these feelings, rather then thinking about virtues like stewardship, or moral obligations in general. We are not good at loving other people, and focusing on ourselves above all does not help us to do that.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , ,

Should you marry someone who promises you that “there will be no divorce”?

I was having a chat with a friend of mine who just got out of a serious relationship and I was trying to pick his brain to find out everything about the woman he was intending to marry so I could see why things went wrong. He told me that she had told him over and over that “there would be no divorce” and that he found that very convincing, despite very obvious warning signs in the area of respect (which I wrote about yesterday).

Well. I was very surprised to hear this, and so I asked him whether he thought it was enough that this woman told him that “three will be no divorce”. He said yes. This woman had experienced the divorce of her own parents and she was resolved (by act of will) never to let that happen to her. He found that acceptable, but I didn’t because I know the numbers on this, and I know that children of divorced parents are more likely to divorce themselves. So the pain of divorce is no deterrent here.

So should we believe that people can avoid a divorce just by saying they will? I told him no. And for an example, I offered a thought experiment. I said to imagine two runners on a track who are charged with completing 10 laps. One runner is a Navy SEAL like Mike Murphy, who has been trained to run miles and miles carrying a 60 pound load. In the mountains. The other is a 300-lb couch potato whose idea of exercise is reaching for the TV remote control. Suppose I ask both runners: do you intend to finish the 10 laps? Should I believe them if they both say yes?

Look, marriage is like building a house. People can say whatever they want about their prospects for success, but the will doesn’t decide here. You have to certain skills, you have to have a certain amount of money, you have to have a plan, you have to be able to read blueprints, you have to be able to hire specialists, you understand the differences between materials, etc. When you think about it, no long-term enterprise can be accomplished by act of will. Piano recitals, math exams, investing for retirement… nothing can be done by sheer act of will.

Now with that being said, let’s take a look at an example.

An example

I found this article in the Wall Street Journal way back in 2011, but it fits my conversation with my friend.

The author, Susan Gregory Thomas, lists some of the mistakes she made that led her to get a divorce in her first marriage.

This is the first thing I saw that caught my eye:

“Whatever happens, we’re never going to get divorced.” Over the course of 16 years, I said that often to my husband, especially after our children were born.

So she is trying to express an intention here, repeatedly, to her husband. I think the point here is that she did have good intentions but as we shall see that was not enough to prevent the divorce. That’s a warning to others that good intentions are not enough.

Here is the second thing:

I believed that I had married my best friend as fervently as I believed that I’d never get divorced. No marital scenario, I told myself, could become so bleak or hopeless as to compel me to embed my children in the torture of a split family. And I wasn’t the only one with strong personal reasons to make this commitment.

I noticed that a lot of people seem to think that being compatible is very important to marriage. But I don’t think that it is the most important thing. For example, you would not expect two cocaine addicts or two gambling addicts, etc. to have a stable marriage. I think marriage is more like a job interview where there are specific things that each person has to be able to do in order to make it work. So again, she’s giving a warning to others that compatibility is not a guarantee of marriage success.

And there’s more:

My husband and I were as obvious as points on a graph in a Generation X marriage study. We were together for nearly eight years before we got married, and even though statistics show that divorce rates are 48% higher for those who have lived together previously, we paid no heed.

We also paid no heed to his Catholic parents, who comprised one of the rare reassuringly unified couples I’d ever met, when they warned us that we should wait until we were married to live together. As they put it, being pals and roommates is different from being husband and wife. How bizarrely old-fashioned and sexist! We didn’t need anything so naïve or retro as “marriage.” Please. We were best friends.

Sociologists, anthropologists and other cultural observers tell us that members of Generation X are more emotionally invested in our spouses than previous generations were. We are best friends; our marriages are genuine partnerships. Many studies have found that Generation X family men help around the house a good deal more than their forefathers. We depend on each other and work together.

So here I am seeing that she rejected sex roles, parental advice, or the moral guidelines of Christianity. Again, she is discussing some of the factors that I at least think contribute to divorce. I think that she is right to highlight the fact that she was wrong to disregard the statistics on cohabitation.

So here are some of the mistakes:

  • reject advice from parents
  • avoid chastity
  • cohabitate for EIGHT YEARS
  • embrace feminism, reject complementarian sex roles
  • thinking that good intentions would overcome every challenge

So, what does the research show works to have a stable marriage?

  • chastity
  • rejection of feminism
  • regular church attendance
  • parental involvement in the courting
  • parents of both spouses married
  • no previous divorces

Guess what? You can’t break all the rules and still succeed by sheer force of will.  If you break all the rules like that woman in the story, you can’t have a working marriage. Not without repudiating everything you believed, and taking steps to undo all the damage from everything you’ve done. You can’t keep all the bad beliefs and bad habits you’ve built up and marry them to a marriage that will stand the test of time.

A good marriage is an enterprise, and it requires that your character be changed to fit the requirements. There is no way to short-circuit the preparation / selection processes by act of will. And just because your friends are getting married, that’s no reason for you to rush into it unprepared. The best way to prepare for marriage is pick people of the opposite sex and practice marriage behaviors (e.g. – listening, helping) with them – even with people you don’t intend to marry. Take an interest in their lives and practice denying yourself to help them with their problems. That’s better than making idle promises you’re not able to keep. And this works the same for men and for women. Both people need to get this right.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: men’s success and well-being determined by relationships with parents and siblings

Astonishing post from the Art of Manliness blog. (H/T Free Northerner)

Excerpt:

Vaillant found that the men who had the best scores in these areas during their youth and mid-life, were the happiest, most successful, and best adjusted in their latter years. This is the finding of the Grant Study that has emerged most prominently: “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.”

The powerful effect of intimate relationships can be seen in a variety of factors in a man’s life, including their income levels:

  • Men with at least one good relationship with a sibling growing up made $51,000 more per year than men who had poor relationships with their siblings, or no siblings at all
  • Men who grew up in cohesive homes made $66,000 more per year than men from unstable ones
  • Men with warm mothers took home $87,000 more than those men whose mothers were uncaring
  • The 58 men with the best scores for warm relationships made almost $150,000 more per year than the 31 men with the worst scores

[…]When the outcomes of the men’s lives were analyzed, and compared to this set of criteria, it became quite clear that “for good or ill, the effects of childhood last a long time.” A warm childhood proved a much stronger predictor of many aspects of a man’s flourishing later in life, including his overall contentment in his late seventies, than either his parent’s social class or his own income. These effects are particularly striking when the men with the warmest childhoods (who were dubbed “the Cherished”) are compared with those in the bottom tenth (who were called “the Loveless”):

  • The Cherished made 50% more money than the Loveless
  • The Cherished were 5X more likely to enjoy rich friendships and warm social supports at age seventy
  • The Loveless were 3.5X more likely to be diagnosed as mentally ill (which includes serious depression, abuse of drugs and alcohol, and need for extended psychiatric care)
  • The Loveless were 5X more likely to be unusually anxious
  • The Loveless took more prescription drugs of all kinds, and were twice as likely to seek medical attention for minor physical complaints

A loving, supportive upbringing seemed to both bolster a man’s chances for success in his relationships and career, and inoculate him against future psychological distress.

[…]While parenting pundits at various times in our history have worried that a household full of unwavering love and support could turn out a young man who was too coddled and dependent,the Grant Study found that abundant familial love, when coupled with an emphasis on autonomy and initiative, actually produced the most stoical (able to keep a stiff upper lip) and independent men. Such men, Vaillant explains, had learned to be comfortable with their feelings, and “that they could put their trust in life, which gave them courage to go out and face it.” In contrast, the men from the worst childhoods turned out to be the most dependent, and struggled with taking initiative.

And most interestingly:

One of the findings of the study that I personally found most interesting, was that “a mother who could enjoy her son’s initiative and autonomy was a tremendous boon to his future.” Mothers of men who scored highly on the Decathlon of Flourishing admired their sons’ assertiveness, and boasted to researchers that their boys were “fearless to the point of being reckless,” “could fight any kid on the block,” and “is a tyrant in a way that I adore.” In other words, mothers who celebrated their boys’ boyishness bolstered their chances of achieving a successful, mature manhood.

I really recommend that everyone read this post, especially if you know a young man who you want to be influential and effective. And men who are not yet married but want to should understand that who you pick to be the child’s mother is going to have an ENORMOUS effect on their emotional well-being and their ability to succeed and provide. Good men require good mothers.

Filed under: News, , , , ,

Can a Christian woman divorce her husband if she is really, really unhappy?

So, the topic for this post is whether it’s OK to get divorced.

I noticed a lot of people getting divorced these days in the church, and trying to justify why they are allowed to divorce and why they should be allowed to pursue remarriage. So I’m first going to quote from an article from Focus on the Family by Amy Tracy.

She writes:

God is very clear, however, that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He also says, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). According to the New Testament, there are two justifications for divorce: infidelity (Matthew 5:32) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Now, I had always taken the rule of Dr. Laura for this. She says that you can get divorced for adultery and abandonment (as above), but she allows allows for physical abuse and drug addiction. But it looks like the Bible is more strict than Dr. Laura, even.

Now with that Biblical standard in mind, take a look at this post about a woman who professes to be a Christian who is divorcing her husband for unhappiness, which I found on Sunshine Mary’s blog.

Look:

So how are we to understand women like Jenny Erickson, and the many other Christian women like her, who claim that despite thousands of years of Christian and Jewish tradition, despite the clear commands in Scripture not to separate from one’s husband, despite the commandments against adultery, nevertheless the Lord God Himself has made a special exemption just for her?  Because He wants her to be happy, so if she needs to be a faithless woman who breaks her vows and becomes an adulteress, then hey it’s all good?

[…]After secretly filing for divorce from her husband, Mrs. Erickson’s pastor caught wind of the situation and attempted to discuss it with her.  When she refused, the pastor went to her husband about the situation.  Mrs. Erickson has since railed against her soon-to-be ex-husband and her now ex-Pastor because they actually had the nerve to call what she was doing a sin – which, according to the Bible, is is.  Let’s read through a few quotes from Mrs. Erickson:

Thankfully, my faith in God is stronger than my fear of men, and I feel like I’m finally getting right with Him again after years of wandering in the wilderness.

[…]Here are a few more things that Mrs. Erickson claims:

It’s odd and strangely freeing to not know exactly where I’m going to be a year from now. I’ve always been the girl with The Plan. The Plan has changed every now and then, because hey, life requires adaptation, but right now there is No Plan other than love my girls like crazy, work hard enough to pay the bills, and rely totally and fully on God.  I’m sure His Plan is better than My Plan anyway.

and

I needed a time-out for my marriage — possibly a permanent one. But every person that tells me I’m going against God’s will by separating from my husband drives me further away from wanting to reconcile with him.

Details aren’t needed. Leif is the father of my amazing children, and I want nothing more than to be his friend again someday, regardless of what happens in our marriage. But things have been very broken between us for a very long time, and it took every ounce of courage I had to take the step that went against everything my religious culture told me but somehow I knew God was telling me was right.

and

To be told that this beautiful, wonderful thing I have learned exists in my soul, this thing that gives me the strength to flip my life over when nothing else has worked, this thing that has made me braver than I thought possible, and made me rely on God more than I ever have in my entire life … to be told that this is a perversion of His plan for me?

These points must confuse a lot of women because I have heard these rationalizations used by many Christian women who are leaving or have left their husbands.  Therefore, allow me to clear up the confusion that seems to be rampant (but it really isn’t confusion, it is willful disobedience), lest any of my sisters in Christ are considering following Mrs. Erickson’s example.

God’s plan for you will never include violating anything written in the Bible.

If you hear a voice whispering in your ear, Here’s the plan; what I want you to do is... and the plan includes going against clear commandments in God’s Word, then it is not God who is speaking to you.  God’s plan for your life, sister, never includes you filing for divorce.  Not ever, not under any circumstances, no matter what your husband has or has not done, no matter what you want, no matter what would make you happy.

So, I think we (men) need to be really careful with spousal candidates (women) who claim to be Christian – we need to make sure that they really are comfortable with being led and with the authority of the Bible to overrule their feelings. In fact, you can check to see if a person takes their faith seriously just by trying to lead them to take the Bible seriously. You just have to read the Bible and think about how to live it out in a marriage, and then talk to your spousal candidate about what you’ve discovered. You want to present to them your plans and your reasons for those plans, and explain what you need them to do in order to make the plan work. This is a great way to see if they know what marriage is really about and how they feel about what’s expected of them if they marry YOU.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , ,

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