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By Abigail Dodds — 9 months ago
In many ways, we were a natural fit. My would-be husband and I both loved Jesus, studied his word, cherished worship through song, desired many children, longed to be hospitable, and valued the home and the wife’s joyful place in it. We both had Scandinavian heritage and understood the barbs that flew between Swedes and Norwegians. We both prized hard work — with an openness to risk-taking endeavors.
As an engaged couple, with all we had going for us, it was hard for me to imagine what bumps we might face as we started down the road together. But that’s only because I underestimated how real and stubborn indwelling sin is. I thought external bumps in the road would be the obstacles — circumstances like finances or health issues or job difficulties — when really it was our own flesh that presented the biggest problems.
Reflecting back on the first years of marriage and family, I commend three principles to ease the bumps and grease the wheels of joy in Christ in your marriage and family.
1. Let God Define ‘Normal’
We all come from unique backgrounds. Even two people who share a similar heritage, like my husband and I, have had vastly different childhoods. I grew up with 27 first cousins. I became an aunt at 14 and can’t really remember a time we didn’t have young children around our home (even though I was the youngest child in my family). My husband had four cousins and had rarely encountered an infant or toddler at close range prior to marrying into my family.
This made for very different ideas of what “normal” felt and sounded like. I grew up on an acreage in a blue-collar town that bordered several rural communities. My mom grew up on a farm. My husband grew up in a first-ring suburb of a major metropolis. His dad grew up in the big city. We had very different conceptions of what the “outdoors” was for. For him, it was mainly for recreation and enjoyment — for hiking or biking or kayaking. For me, it was mainly for work — for mowing or burning the burn pile or doing animal chores.
Our former “norms” can enrich our marriage, adding interest and laughter and providing opportunities to take something that’s been passed down and make it new. Or they can threaten the allegiance of our hearts. If what was normal to us in our childhood becomes the ultimate standard for our marriage, we have misplaced our loyalties. We need to be led by the only authoritative and inerrant guide to life and marriage that we have:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
Including every good work in the sometimes thorny first years of marriage.
In marriage, God is making something new: a new one-flesh union, that is, a new family. And when a husband and wife let God’s word define normal, the wife willingly comes under the leadership of her husband in submission, as Scripture directs her to reflect Christ’s church (Ephesians 5:22–25). Her family of origin may aid that process or hinder it, but in either case, a reprioritizing happens. For the husband, it means looking to Christ as the standard by which he loves and leads his wife, and adopting his previous family’s practices only inasmuch as they accord with Christ.
“If God’s word is the norm, the authority, you will have solid common ground on which to stand, come what may.”
When I was young, my mom gave me one primary piece of advice when it came to choosing a husband: “God’s word must be his authority.” It’s key advice for men and women, and I gladly pass it along to you. If God’s word is the norm, the authority — not the culture, not your friends’ opinions or your family’s traditions, not Netflix or social media — you will have solid common ground on which to stand, come what may.
2. Stay in Step with the Spirit
Paul tells the Galatians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25–26). It may seem unlikely for two people who love each other and have committed their lives to one another “for better or worse” to fall into conceit, envy, and provocation of one another — and yet it’s common enough in marriage.
The lies of the world have primed us to believe that men and women are on two separate teams in life. Team Women must advocate for women, and Team Men (in a bit of irony) must also advocate for women (although many rebel against this). This means that, at least for those of us raised in the United States or the West, women are expected to compete with men. From a young age, girls are taught that how they rank is a function of whether or not they are beating the boys. This way of thinking infects both boys and girls.
And while that attitude may lie dormant during dating or courtship, it will rear its head if not dealt with. In a husband, this can look like unrealistic expectations for his wife — treating her like another man who shouldn’t have any significant differences from him. For example, he may expect her to earn what he earns, or overlook the inherent vulnerability of pregnancy and caring for small children. In a wife, this can look like pulling out the measuring stick to keep track of all the ways she’s getting a raw deal compared to him. For example, she may envy the occasional out-to-eat work lunches while she eats with the kids at home, or she may resent that the care of small children falls mainly to her.
These are deadly attitudes to maintain in a marriage. When we marry, the Spirit of God does something amazing: he makes us part of a new team. I was blessed to join Team Dodds — not Team Women, or Team Men, or Team Me. When something wonderful happens to the husband, the wife rejoices as though it has happened to her, because it has. When something difficult happens to the wife, the husband nurtures and defends her as though it has happened to him, because it has.
How do we keep in step with the Spirit in marriage? By prayerfully and regularly confessing our sins, and by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, with a special focus on Christ — his life, his words, and his ways (1 John 1:9; Romans 8:5). We walk in the Spirit of Christ when we conform to the way he’s designed the marriage: “‘a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5–6).
3. Share Your New Life with Others
My husband and I were married in June 2002. By October, we were taking a class to join our local church. At the same time, we opened our home (the upstairs of a duplex) to host a small group of singles and couples. I was 21 and still finishing college. It may have seemed a bit premature for us to join a church we were so new to, or to host a small group made up of mostly strangers, but the church had a need and we were eager to help. We didn’t join the church or host a small group primarily as ways to establish a stronger marriage, but looking back, they were important in shaping the patterns and priorities of our life.
“The hospitable people I know are hospitable with little and with much, in small spaces and in big.”
Many young families think that hospitality will sprout when the timing is right — when they get a bigger place, or when the kids aren’t so little, or when the finances aren’t so tight, or when they get that one room cleaned out. I’ve never seen it happen that way. The hospitable people I know are hospitable with little and with much, in small spaces and in big, among babies and boomers, in a dirty kitchen and a clean one.
Sharing your home with others — making food for them, stretching your grocery budget on their behalf, letting them into your bathroom, cleaning up after their messes, inviting them into your thoughts through conversation and listening to theirs — is shockingly intimate in a world where embodied presence is becoming rare. Paul tells the Thessalonian church that “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). When we invite others into our home, we give them a bit of “our own selves.”
When a husband, wife, and their children offer their home and their “own selves” to others through hospitality, they are not robbing time or resources from each other; they are gaining by giving. Hospitality forms a family identity that is not navel-gazing, but focused on sharing the love of God in practical ways with others. I can think of little else that will form and establish a Christian family to be joyful and robust in the Lord for decades to come than to practice sharing your life with others. Don’t let your home or marriage or family be only private.
“Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). A husband and wife who have made God’s word their norm and who are keeping in step with the Spirit will have much to share with others. Open your doors and welcome many to come taste of Christ’s goodness at your table.
By John Piper — 3 months ago
What should we think of flashy pastors? That’s the question this Monday morning from a listener named Emily. Emily writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, thank you for sharing your wisdom with us all on this podcast. Recently, social media accounts have surfaced and gained quite a bit of attention which show numerous well-known pastors wearing extremely expensive and flashy clothes, shoes, watches, etc. These accounts have raised controversy about whether these leaders are justified in doing this.
“Many say they should be able to use the money they make however they please. Or that these items are gifts. But others are offended by their luxurious lifestyles and argue that regardless of how a pastor obtains these things, they should still be demonstrating humility and reverence toward their congregations and toward those who are struggling to simply survive. Many think their lavish lifestyles discredit Christ. First Peter 3:3 seems to allude to this issue. But I’m curious, what other texts of Scripture speak to this? And where do you stand on it all?”
Well, there’s no question where I sympathize here. My sympathies have been made clear over the years with regard to simplicity and wartime lifestyle. I get angry when I see pastors flaunting their luxury as if it were a compelling testimony that Jesus is more satisfying than what money can buy. Baloney. It’s appalling.
So let me say loud and clear, right off the bat: nobody is drawn to Jesus as the spiritual, saving, satisfying treasure of their souls by the luxurious lifestyle of those who supposedly preach the word — nobody. What people are drawn to in preachers who make much of their luxury is the hope of luxury. That’s what they’re drawn to — the hope of luxury.
Go and Tell
This is not Christianity. Christianity is to be drawn to a crucified and risen Savior whose greatness and beauty and worth in himself are so admirable and so satisfying that the heart cries out with the psalmist in Psalm 63:3, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life.” Yes, and everything in this life. You cannot commend the truth that Jesus is better than money by giving the impression that you live for money.
“You cannot commend the truth that Jesus is better than money by giving the impression that you live for money.”
A decisive turn happened in redemptive history with the coming of Jesus that makes it invalid to use the lavish temple of the Old Testament, the priestly robes, the gold-plated utensils, and the lavish curtains as a model for contemporary church buildings or Christian living. It’s invalid. The Old Testament was by and large a come-see religion. The Queen of Sheba was breathless at the wealth of Solomon. But the New Testament is largely a go-tell religion.
Unlike the Old Testament, the Christian church has no temple, no geographic center like Jerusalem, no ethnic identity like Jewishness, no theocentric civil structure that puts people to death for impieties. We are a pilgrim people, exiles and refugees scattered among the nations with the grand mission given by the Lord Jesus to make disciples of all the peoples of the world. And we’re not done with that.
Not All That Glitters
This revolutionizes the way we think about money and use our resources. It all tends toward the simplicity of wartime living, where we strategize to glorify God by finishing the Great Commission and evangelizing our cities and showing love to our neighbors. The New Testament is relentless — it’s just amazing; just read it — in pushing us toward simplicity and economy for the sake of Christ and away from luxury and away from affluence and finery. For example:
Luke 6:20, 24: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . . But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
Luke 8:14: “They are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.”
Luke 9:58: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Luke 12:15: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Matthew 6:19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
Matthew 6:25: “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?”
Luke 12:31: “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”
Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.”
Luke 14:33: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 18:24: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
James 2:5: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”
That’s the refrain over and over and over throughout the whole New Testament, and even in those places — and there are only a few — where wealthy Christians are directly addressed, like 1 Timothy 6:17. The message is to be thankful to God for all of your legitimate enjoyments, and be filled with good deeds for those who have greater need than you.
In other words, there’s just no encouragement anywhere in the New Testament that we should accumulate and accumulate or increase the symbols of our wealth by what we wear, what we drive, and where we live. The man who builds bigger barns for what he doesn’t need is a fool. He’s a fool, Jesus says (Luke 12:20–21). The gist is this: be content with a relatively simple lifestyle. (And I say relatively because I know that virtually all Americans are rich, because the rest of the world — or two-thirds of the world — lives so close to the edge.)
“Be content with a relatively simple lifestyle.”
So, I’m talking about a relatively simple lifestyle. Make as much money as you please, and give what you don’t need for the sake of the glory of Christ and the spread of the gospel and the care of the suffering. Most of the New Testament revolves around three main concerns when it comes to teaching on money: (1) how to display the value of Christ and the gospel, (2) how to meet the needs of the lost and the suffering, and (3) how to avoid the soul-destroying dangers of wealth. So, just a word about each of those.
Treasure in Toil
First, how to display the value of Christ and the gospel. Paul said in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing [value] of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He wanted to live in such a way as to show that his heart was satisfied with Christ and not captured by the idol of greed. So, he worked with his hands rather than give any impression that he was fleecing the churches. First Thessalonians 2:5 says, “We never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed.” We weren’t using our ministry as a cover-up for our love of money.
To the elders in Ephesus, he said, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me” (Acts 20:33–34). To the Corinthians, he said, “We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word” (2 Corinthians 2:17). To Timothy, he said, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). And then he just laid it down for all pastors that they must not be lovers of money (1 Timothy 3:3).
Now the point of all those words was to remove every obstacle to believing the gospel, and to show the superior worth of Christ over all earthly possessions, and to set an example for the believers of self-denial and a happy embrace of sacrifice for the sake of love. Because, as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Anybody who’s been walking with Jesus for any amount of time knows you’re going to be happier and sleep better at night the more generous you are — the less selfish you are.
Live to Give
The second main concern of the New Testament and possessions is how to meet the needs of the lost and the suffering. Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:33).
Paul said, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Isn’t that amazing? In other words, don’t steal, and don’t just work to have — work to have to give. There are three levels. You can steal, you can work to have, and you can work to have to give. And he says, “Go there, Christians — go there. Live there. Live to give.”
Christians are going to inherit the entire world and everything in it. We could spend a whole session on 1 Corinthians 3:21–23. You have everything, Christian. You don’t need to grasp for it now. You’re going to get it in a vapor’s breath. This little world’s going to be over. The present world is lost without the gospel. Millions are suffering. This is the age for radical generosity and sacrifice, not the age for luxurious living.
Finally, number three, the last concern with possessions is how to avoid the soul-destroying dangers of wealth. Jesus says it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24). Paul said, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). Oh, goodness. How clear can Jesus and Paul be about the dangers of accumulation and accumulation?
So, I say it again: it is appalling that those who claim to be faithful ministers of the word of God would flaunt their luxuries — just appalling. It turns Christ from a beautiful, all-satisfying Savior into a broker who gives us what we really want — money and comfort.
By John Piper — 5 months ago
We go to school to learn. And when it comes to prayer, we sometimes need to be enrolled in the school of prayer — God’s school of prayer. And that school of prayer is described for us in the Old Testament, in a book we don’t go to very often: the book of Zechariah. It is there that we find a key text in John Piper’s understanding of how we learn to pray: Zechariah 13:8–9, a text never mentioned on this podcast — until today. Here he is to explain the importance of this text in a sermon he preached to his church in the final days of 2008, looking ahead to the new year of 2009. Here’s Pastor John.
Okay, Zechariah. Do you know where that book is? Second-from-the-last book of the Old Testament. If you go to the end of the Old Testament and flip back about four pages, you’ll be there. Zechariah 13:8–9, and we’ll wrap it up here with this. What did I get hit with in Zechariah that gave this message the twist it’s now getting on prayer? I don’t think I’d ever seen this before.
Refined by Fire
This is a couple of verses about God’s school of prayer. If you’re not praying the way you should, then probably he’s going to sign you up for this. Let’s start at verse 8: “In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive.” So stop there. Don’t worry about when this happens in history right now. Just leave that one aside. Just look at how God works.
He takes the whole, and two-thirds of them perish. They get wiped out. God saves a third. So you’re in that third if you’re a Christian. Symbolically, you’re in that third. God’s remnant — faithful, imperfect, weak, lousy pray-ers — he saved them.
What’s God’s remedy for their weaknesses? What’s his school of prayer? Verse 9: “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.” Now notice carefully what’s happening, because this is surprising. In his great love, he rescues them from the whole and he includes them in his elect third (symbolically third). He’s got a third, and he loves them. He saved them. He didn’t let them perish. And then he takes his loved ones, his cherished, the apples of his eye, and he puts them in the fire.
“God rescues us from the flames of hell and puts us into refining flames.”
Why? Now, this is normal Christianity. Do you think, “Well, that’s the Old Testament; he doesn’t do that anymore”? Listen to 1 Peter 4:12: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” That’s crystal clear. This is normal, not strange, Christianity. God rescues us from hell and puts us in fire. Got that? That is normal Christianity. God rescues us from the flames of hell and puts us into refining flames. Why?
School of Earnest Prayer
Now I don’t want all the answers from all over the Bible. I just want the answer from verse 9 — and it’s crystal clear, and it’s simple, and narrow, and small, and big, and huge, and glorious. It’s about prayer. So let’s finish reading verse 9: “I will . . . test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them.” That’s all. Nothing about getting their sex lives burned clean, nothing about getting their money mismanagement burned clean, nothing about getting their power struggles and relational mess-ups fixed. Just this: “Then they’ll call on me, and I’ll answer.”
God puts us in the fire to awaken earnest prayer. This is a plea now. I’m pleading with you. This verse is in the Bible to help this plea that I’m about to make to you come true. I can’t make it come true. This verse — by God’s grace, with his power — can make this come true. I plead with you not to be among the number who gets sent to this school, which is designed to awaken prayer, and the school becomes the very reason you abandon prayer.
“God puts us in the fire to awaken earnest prayer.”
Thousands go to this school and turn on prayer. “If he treats me like this, I’m not going to ask him for anything, because I asked him to keep me out of this, and he didn’t do it.” The very school designed to produce depth, trust, and God-focused, man-diminishing, worshipful prayer is turned on its head, and the school is hated. I’m pleading with you: this verse is in the Bible to help that not happen. That’s why it’s here, so that when you look around you, and the flames are burning, and you wonder, “God, what’s up?” — this is up. This is up. Don’t teach him how to teach. Submit.
Enfeebled by Prosperity
Let me close with a quote from John Calvin. I read Calvin on this text, because next year is his five hundredth birthday, so I’m poking in Calvin a lot these days. This is what he said, and it’s more true today than it was when he wrote it: “It is therefore necessary that we should be subject from first to last to the scourges of God [the fire] in order that we may, from the heart, call on him, for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we cannot make an effort to pray.”
If that’s not the American church, I don’t know what is. We are enfeebled by prosperity so that we can scarcely make the effort to pray, because so many other good things, prosperous things, right things, fill our powerless lives.
So would you resolve with me that this simply will not happen to you in 2009 — “this” meaning that our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity so that we cannot make the effort to pray? Would you resolve with me that that’s not going to happen? I’m not going to let that happen, whatever it takes. I’m not going to be enfeebled by my prosperity. I will put in place whatever it takes.
May the Lord be gentle with us in the fires of 2009, because they will come. I hope you don’t turn on him when they come.