The Myth of Mr/Ms Right – The Relationship Challenge #2

Read: Ephesians 5:21-27

2 peas in a pod 300x203

Not sure if it has happened to you, but as one who goes to his fair share of weddings, some of my worst wedding experiences have not been with bride or groom, or the in-laws.
The worst times are when you are seated, next to someone’s obnoxious relative.

They have probably only been invited because they are the filthy rich, or they’ve whinged their way onto the guest list, or they own a beachfront villa which the happy couple are hoping to nail for the honeymoon.

I remember one experience where we’d been making small talk over a not too shabby main course when Uncle Bruce leant right in and said, eyeball to eyeball, ‘can I talk about something with you?’ For the next hour or so lectured me on the evils of food additives, conspiracy theories about supermarket domination, and underhanded government policies of diet control. What was I supposed to do? I realised I was trapped. I started hoping someone would ring me with news of a tragedy and I would have to leave…

I walked away thinking, ‘don’t worry about food additives, the conversational style (which I call ‘the Tsunami’), was enough to give me hives!

The last thing you want is to get stuck with someone you can’t stand.

That’s why we talk about compatibility when it comes to relationships. People dream of Mr or Ms Right, who will come along and steal their heart. Behind that whole dream is a belief that if you find the right person, compatibility will just follow.

The Myth of Compatibility

This dream of Mr Right involves the idea that there’s one person out there who will make all my dreams come true. But look at what’s happening there:

It’s all about “me”.

I will have fun.

I will be happy.

I will find true love.

Tim Keller, in his book ‘The Meaning of Marriage‘, identifies some problems with this ‘me centred’ view. The first is that the other person will probably also be operating with the same “me centred” view of relationship.

Keller’s pretty right: Just about everybody out there is hoping for someone who will make them happy, who will sweep them off their feet, who will be the man or woman of their dreams.

The next problem is that when two people are both operating from a ‘me centred’ perspective, they both come with a relational vacuum. And when you add one vacuum to another vacuum, all you get is a stronger vacuum. A great big sucking sound.

Christian counsellor Lawrence Crabb uses a different image. He says, people who are looking for someone else to change their lives and meet their needs have a parasitic view of relationship. He calls it a ‘tick on a dog’ relationship. And then he adds, ‘the only trouble is that you have two ticks, and no dog.’

This doesn’t mean we should jettison all hope for compatibility. Neal Warren says
“The most stable marriages are those that involve two people with many similarities.”

And some will know, when two people go through pre-marriage counselling here at Gateway, we use a questionnaire which, while it does not determine compatibility, it does identify areas of agreement: where a couple have similar views and expectations. Compatibility is important. But what’s more important is that compatibility rests on the best foundation.

Christ’s selflessness

The Bible says the best way to build compatibility in your relationship is to share your relationship with Jesus. That’s what we read about in Ephesians 5.

We read about submitting to one another.

About loving one another.

About giving up oneself for another.

These words come in the context of what has gone before:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:29–5:2, NIV)

In other words: you are in relationship with Jesus, let his relationship with you define all the others. Let the character of Jesus’ relationship with you define all your other relationships. And the first way we see that is in a call to selflessness.
To give up your rights.

Are you thinking about relationships? What kind of relationship you might have in the future? As a Christian you need to understand that the Gospel of Jesus is a direct challenge to the ‘me first’ view of relationship, so common in our culture.

In Jesus’ culture, his alternate culture, his new life, it is ‘them first’, ‘the other first’.

Are you really saying I should let them go first? Put their needs before mine?

Not a popular notion, is it?

In a world where people are taught from an early age to be themselves, that their wants matter, that they are important, this idea of serving another is confronting and disturbing. People think it’s humiliating. Condescending. ‘Why do I have to think less of myself?’

Keller has the sound bite here: “It’s not thinking less of yourself. It’s just thinking of yourself less.”

When Christ calls us to submit to one another, he is calling us to put the needs of the other first.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV)

Now I know someone will point out that in v.22 the word ‘submit’ is used for what the wife must do, and in v.25 ‘love’ is used for what the husband must do. As if the husband does not have to submit to the wife.

What we need to understand is that in the original, the word ‘submit’ does not occur in v.22. Verse 22 is really a run on sentence from v.21, and translators borrow the verb ‘submit’ – quite properly – from v.21.

What all this means is that submission, as defined in v.21, is essentially a mutual thing. And this idea of mutual submission as expressed in v.21 defines what follows.
It is misusing this passage to assert that submission is what the wife has to do, and love is what the husband has to do.

So understanding that submission is something for both husband and wife, we understand this is a call to both of them to place the needs of the other above their own. This can only come at a considerable cost to the giver.

We see this in Philippians 2. Jesus submitted by placing the needs of his people, their rescue, above his own claim to glory, honour and power. He made himself a servant of the church. He made himself your servant. Your slave.

We read about submission in 1 Cor 13. In that great chapter on love, a whole lot of things are said about love. And one of the things said is this:

“Love… is not self-seeking…” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

Can you see what this would do to our quest for compatibility? It totally reverses the typical direction.

We move from “I’m looking for someone to meet my needs and make me happy” to “I’m looking for someone I can serve, someone whose needs I can meet. I want to do whatever I can to make them happy.”

The words “I want” are replaced with “I am here to love you and serve you – your needs matter more than my wants. I want to help you thrive. I submit everything I am and everything I have to your needs.”

Christ’s sacrifice

Can you can see why this is such a challenge? Here we are, thinking that it’s all about us, and then in the Gospel we learn it is not actually about us at all. Tim Keller is right to say:

All Christians who really understand the gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to people

A radical change, friends. A change the penetrates right to the heart, right to the core of who we are and how we live.

How does this change happen?

Well, it is not simply using Christ as a model. It is being in relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is having His Holy Spirit poured into your life through this relationship with Jesus.

“… be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV)

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV)

This change comes to those loved by Jesus, those whom he has given himself for. To those who bow the knee to his rule, who bow to the transformation of their life and their values, who are empowered and enabled by His love.

Once again, Keller:

Without the help of the Holy Spirit, without a continual filling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. … It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.

Did you catch that last sentence? “It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.”

You want relationship grounded in compatibility?

It can only happen, you can only do this with Jesus’ supernatural power, his redeeming grace, his enabling Spirit empowering you.

Imagine that! Through his death and rising, Jesus enables a change, a complete change of life direction. A complete change!

From me first, to them first.

From my wants, to their needs.

From my happiness, to their growth, to them thriving.

I stop thinking about myself first, and I make their needs more important than my own.

For those of us who are married: think about how this would change your relationship.
Think about the areas of tension or disagreement in your relationship. That argument. That disagreement with your wife. That clash with your husband.

Jesus says to you, right here, right now, “I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

Are you listening?

“I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

Jesus is saying: “I want you to be prepared to do all the giving, all the letting go.”

The emphasis becomes ‘how can I make myself, my interests, my behaviour, my love, compatible to theirs. How can I direct my entire self to serving them?

Isn’t this revolutionary?

You may ask, how far do I have to go with that? Do I really have to bend that much? Give up that much? Go that far?

Well, how far did Jesus go? God’s word is crystal clear:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8, NIV)

This revolutionises relationship, doesn’t it? To count myself as nothing. Take the nature of a servant.

It changes the whole sense of waiting for Mr Right, and exposes it for the myth it is.

Single people: It’s not true that there’s only one person out there for you. There are any number of people out there with whom you could form a healthy relationship.

Relationship is not about you finding the right person. It’s about you – through Jesus, like Jesus, in the power of Jesus’ selflessness and sacrifice – being the right person.

Sex – The Relationship Challenge #1 – Eph 5:3-4

Reading: Eph 5:1-20, specifically vv.3-4

Couple

We’re into a new series here. We’re looking at how our culture, its current expectations and morality, impact on how we form male/female relationships. I want to say at the outset, this is not a series for marrieds only. The material we cover will be relevant for anyone thinking about relationships: for teens working out the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing, for young adults, for singles.

The Problem with Sexual Freedom

Today we want to start with sex. We want to start there because our culture is so obsessed with it.

Many would argue the sexual liberation that came in the 1960s was in large measure a good thing. It freed people from a lot of guilt and repression, and gave people the opportunity to explore the wonder of human sexuality.

But now we have inherited a problem: Sex is all around us. The human body – typically female – is placed beside all sorts of advertising to arouse interest and create the subliminal message that if you buy the product, she will be interested in you. That may sound ridiculous, but the advertising industry knows this is how it works. Check this sample from the UltraTune company.

Go to the movies, and you will be confronted with sex – unless it’s G or PG. Without serious discernment, people might think the Hollywood view of sex is just how it is and should be.

Sex sells music and media. Last year I went into the local Telstra store to buy a new phone. While I was waiting there was a clip playing on the DVD screen of a naked woman at a demolition site. Turns out, it was Miley Cyrus singing Wrecking Ball. My previous experience, limited as it was, with Ms Cyrus was her song ‘Achey Breaky Heart’ and Hannah Montana. But there I was in the Telstra Shop, trying to think about my phone, but thinking about stuff I didn’t want to think about. Miley Cyrus did not begin this trend. She’s following in the footsteps of Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and further back to Jazz vocalists like Billie Holiday. Sex sells. And it’s everywhere.

Melinda Tankard Reist, an Australian journalist and speaker, campaigns regularly against sexual objectification of women, pornography, prostitution, and the sexualisation of children, particularly in advertising. She has also written about the child beauty pageants, where on some occasions very young girls are primped with skimpy clothing, spray tans, full make up, and coached in pseudo sensual moves to impress the judges. Who would ever want their little girl to be presented like that?

And then there is the porn industry. Worth over A$2bn per annum, the proliferation of internet porn is having a terrible impact on relationships. Many of us might be horrified to know that kids typically get their first porn experience in their teen years through unsupervised computer use. It’s all just a couple of mouse clicks away.

Concerned researchers and therapists are saying the prevalence of porn is starting to change our idea of what is normal. A young person sees what happens on screen, and they can think this is the way sex is and should be done.

The trend towards the increased degradation of women in porn means we run the risk of becoming desensitised to depictions of sexual violence. We also raise the very real possibility that a generation of young men and women will come to view the humiliation of women as a normal part of sex…

[Sarah McKenzie, Why the New Porn is Hurting Women, SMH, Mar 02, 2011]

Other researchers talk about the brain’s neuroplasticity: how regular consumption of porn actually starts to remap neural pathways within the brain, so that the regular porn consumer wants more, and wants it more intensely than before.

Cambridge University neuropsychiatrist Dr Valerie Voon has recently shown that men who describe themselves as addicted to porn (and who lost relationships because of it) develop changes in the same brain area – the reward centre – that changes in drug addicts.

[Norman Doidge, Brain scans of porn addicts: What’s wrong with this picture? The Guardian, 27 Sep 2013]

Pornography is about violence and degradation of women. The porn lobby disputes this, but the research is out there about how so called porn stars are regularly subject to abuse and dehumanising behaviour. And when this is often the first experience of sexual behaviour a young person might have, you have to ask what impact that is going to have on future generations. I fear many of those bills are yet to be paid.

So while there may have been some advantages to sexual liberation, our sexually saturated society, the advertising imagery, the sexualisation of children, the objectification of women and young girls, the movies, the easy access and sheer prevalence of internet porn ought to trouble us deeply.

Here’s the reality: These lies about sex are wreck relationships, destroy marriages, damage children, and lock some men and women into destructive bondage.

How will we ever have a healthy view of sex in a world like this?

How can we ever prepare our kids for healthy relationship when they are up against that?

What are we to do?

Sex in Scripture

As Christians, we turn to God, and we listen to his word. The Bible presents sex as a gift from God, a perfect part of his creation. Before the fall, sex is beautiful and perfect. When God brought Eve to Adam, his alone-ness – the only thing recognised as ‘not good’ in God’s creation (Gen 2:18,20) – is gloriously overcome.

“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.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:23–25, NIV)

We can see in these few verses that sex, and fulfilment, and marriage, and togetherness are all part of the same package. God designed relationship, and in particular marriage, to be the best context for sex. This makes sense: sexual intercourse is the greatest act of vulnerability a man and a women can ever undertake. They give themselves to one another in full nakedness of body and soul. God designed sex to be glorious, wonderful, and full of ecstasy. He did not intend it to be routine, like brushing your teeth or washing your face. This greatest act of human vulnerability requires the greatest context of God given security: faithful marriage.

With human rebellion in the fall, all sorts of estrangement dysfunction and challenge entered the picture. But even there, even in a fallen world, a husband and wife can enjoy sex gloriously and wonderfully. The Song of Songs is a celebration of the deepest love between a man and a woman, husband and wife. As they live under a gracious God, sex can be redeemed and transformed into something that fulfils a marriage and honours the God who gave it.

Not even a hint…

But that does not mean all is well. Even among God’s people, sex can be used poorly, wrongly, and destructively.

Paul wrote to the Ephesian church at the height of the Roman empire. These people were immersed in a culture as sexually saturated as ours. Temple prostitution, differing marriage practises, differing relational norms, meant Christians 2000 years ago were confronted with a challenging culture. So Paul wrote to this young church and called them away from sexual immorality.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:3–4, NIV)

Those words may surprise us. He doesn’t just say ‘stay away from temple prostitutes, from the men women sexworkers. He doesn’t just say ‘marriage is the better place for sex’. He says ‘there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality.’

You can see the breadth of his intention right there in the context: lewd acts, smutty humour, filthy language. We would say dirty jokes, sexting, suggestive social media posts, porn. As people who are imitating God (Eph 5:1-2), that stuff has no place in our lives.

We should take note here. Some of the things you see on Facebook fit right into this category. Some of it from people who call themselves Christians. And some of it is from some of us. It doesn’t happen that often that I wince at something someone here has written, but it does happen. As followers of Jesus we should know better and we should want better.

But it’s not just social media, or puerile party humour, or the movies we watch. There is incredible pressure on Christian people to simply absorb the sexual culture, and forget about God’s call on their lives.

As I mentioned, sexual activity statistics in the church are not that different to people who do not have a faith background.

25% of young people in Gr 10 have engaged in intercourse

50% of young people in Gr 12

The troubling thing is that those figures are 12 years old…

Then there’s the issue of Christian couples moving in together before they are married.
Almost everyone else does it, so the pressures on Christian people to do the same are intense.

Many argue that cohabitation assists with developing compatibility. Interestingly, research does not bear that out. And it does not bear that out because the idea of compatibility as something that simply ‘happens’, or something that just ‘clicks’, is a myth (but that is another sermon in this series).

What people fail to understand is that sexual intercourse before marriage complicates relationships down the track.

Sex is spiritual. It affects you to the core of your being. It takes two people and bonds them so that, as the Bible says, they become “one flesh.” Even if you try to keep it impersonal, as a one night stand, that experience – that partner – will remain with you for the rest of your life. The partner won’t be a living, loving presence, however. The partner will hang on as a ghost. By ‘ghost’, I mean memories so strong that you can almost touch them – memories that interfere with your life.

[Tim Stafford, Worth the Wait]

Sexual promiscuity benefits no one. Speaking of the ‘look’ she developed in her Wrecking Ball clip, Miley Cyrus recently cited Irish singer Sinead O’Connor as one of her role models. She wasn’t counting on Sinead O’Connor writing a public reply [warning: language alert when reading full article]:

Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. Its really not at all cool. And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.

This is why God commands “there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality among you…”

We know, this is not just a young person’s issue. That command comes to us all in Christ’s church

And you might say, ‘hang on, the church doesn’t own me!’

And you are right. The church does not own you. Neither are you owned and beholden to the expectations of the church community. They do not own you either.

But here’s the thing: Jesus does

Scripture says:

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:18–20, NIV)

Jesus went to the cross to free you, not only from sexual oppression and messed up understandings of sexuality. He suffered in your place and paid the penalty for your sin and rebellion. And he did that to bring you into the fullness of life and relationship with the father (see Romans 6:4).

His call for you is not to assert your independence all over again, and rebel against his loving leadership, but to follow him and with his help restore his gift of human sexuality.

Redeeming Sex

Scripture says

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable,” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–4, NIV)

Or as Eugene Peterson translates

“God wants you to live a pure life. Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity. Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body,” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–4, The Message)

So, how do we redeem sexuality?

How would human sexuality come to expression in a way that delights the God who gave it?

The first thing to note is that Jesus has already paid the price and won the victory. In his death and rising, and with us submitting to his loving Lordship – in his power – sexuality can be redeemed and restored.

Scripture’s call to ‘put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature’ (Colossians 3:5) comes in the context of some of the most astounding verses ever to fall on our ears

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3, NIV)

As a follower of Jesus, you are not on your own in this. He lives in you. His Spirit is in you. And his desire is to draw you into life and lead you int his wholeness.

As a Christian, you express this new life by honouring God with your body and how you behave sexually.

First, negatively:

1. Set personal limits when with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Agree together to keep sexual activity for marriage. The greatest vulnerability requires the greatest relational security

2. Set personal boundaries. Commit to staying away from internet porn and other areas of temptation. Find an accountability partner who can view your history and ask tough questions. Consider internet accountability software.

3. If you’re struggling with internet porn, or any other form, seek help. Your pastor. A trusted friend. A counsellor. Most of all, seek the help of the Lord who gave his life for you on the Cross and who raised you to life in his resurrection. Do not waste time. Do not procrastinate. Do it now.

4. Everyone else may be doing it, doesn’t mean you must. Other people living together? Doesn’t mean it’s right or good or you need to do it. Other people drive irresponsibly. Other people swear. Other people steal stuff from their boss. Other people bend the rules on their tax return. Doesn’t mean it’s OK to follow their example. God’s word says, Don’t conform to the pattern of this world, but in Christ and in view of his mercy, be transformed by the renewing of your mind and your body (see Romans 12:1-2)

Positively:

5. Commit to respecting the beauty of the opposite sex. Respect him or her as a person beyond any sexual attraction or physical beauty. Recognise that primarily the thing that adds value to relationship is character. Not what you do, but who you are. Outward beauty fades, character will mature

6. Desire the better: what is holy and honourable. Commit to honouring God in your sexual behaviour (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, Titus 3:1-11)

7. Recognise that sex is a part of love, and at the core of love is selflessness. If anything, Jesus reminds us that love is not about receiving, getting, but giving and blessing. For the Christian, sex becomes a way to give of yourself, not to get satisfaction

8. Do not be overcome by the evil around us, but overcome evil with good (see Romans 12:21). While we try to counter a sexualised and increasingly degrading sexual culture, we need also to create a better picture, a new model through Jesus’ Gospel. Through his good news we seek to reflect his new sexual good.

9. Is God calling you to change? Then confess to him. Turn around. Ask him, through the power of Jesus, to turn your life around. Seek his help above all, he will answer you

10. Finally, who of us can cast a stone? Who has not slipped, fallen, or intentionally rebelled? Who has not struggled with our sexualised culture, with porn, with lust, with the false intimacy offered by our world? We all stand under the Cross in need of grace and forgiveness.

Remember, our God is an exceedingly gracious. His love knows no limit. His faithfulness is everlasting.

The cross and the resurrection of Jesus remind us that God seeks to bring us to life, to give us new birth. Sexually, to have a new start.

Past sins are washed away. In Christ, there is no condemnation (see Romans 8:1-4).

Accept Jesus’ good news, and step into the new good of His Kingdom.

Recommended Reading:

Lewis Smedes: Sex for Christians. Written for the person who wants to think about sexuality and what it means for us as human beings. The date of publication may turn you off (reprinted 1994), but it needn’t. This book is widely recognised as the definitive statement of human sexuality from a Christian perspective. There are lots of more current works on dating, what a couple can do and what they should not, but I keep returning to this great book for its wisdom, grace, and deep appreciation for the things of God. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Best book on marriage:
Timothy Keller: The Meaning of Marriage. Cannot praise this book too much. A ranging discussion of the marriage passages in Ephesians 5, Timothy Keller never disappoints. If every married couple read this book and put it into practice, the world would be a different place.

If you’re thinking about what relationships are all about, H. Norman Wright’s “Relationships that Work – and those that don’t” is well worth your time. Wright is a long respected authority in marital therapy and counselling. His work is easy to understand, incisive, and wonderfully informed with Scripture.