So, You Want to Get Married?

"For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods..." 1 Kings 11:4

One of the great privileges of pastoral ministry and biblical counseling is the role of mentor and guide to couples who are engaged or considering marriage. In a culture that mocks and scoffs at the biblical vision for marriage, helping those who desire to honor the Lord and put the Gospel on display through their marital covenant is a joy (Eph. 5:32). 

But, with the privilege of sending many couples down the aisle toward holy matrimony comes tremendous pastoral responsibility. There is more to biblical marriage, we are to be reminded, than one-man-one-woman composition, romantic feelings, sexual compatibility, and similar interests and hobbies. 

Pre-marital counseling, therefore, is designed to vet an engaged couple's readiness for marriage and to honestly assess and inform them of the same. For all that pre-marital counseling is designed to be, one thing it must not be is a rubber stamp.

Just Say No (or Not Yet)

To the extent that pastors and biblical counselors influence the decision of couples to marry, they must also be prepared to provide a prophetic voice of sorts by speaking the truth in love to those who are not (or who are not yet) good candidates for marriage (Eph. 4:15).

Pastors and biblical counselors then have a type of responsibility to both caution against marriage and to withhold their participation when and if necessary. Unwise decisions for marriage must be avoided before they are made. This can be an emotionally charged but necessary action to be taken with wisdom and discernment by the one providing pre-marital counseling and received with grace by the couple in question (Heb. 13:17).

It has been said that indifference rather than hate is the opposite of love, and when it comes to pre-marital counseling, the gravity of the decision at hand demands that pastors and biblical counselors be anything but indifferent. Sometimes, saying "no" or "not yet" is the most loving answer the pastor-counselor can give.

Right Questions Yield Wise Answers

God's word provides for us an important question to be asked in the context of biblical pre-marital counseling. We extrapolate this question from a telling passage about the life of King Solomon in 1 Kings 11:1-8.

Solomon was perhaps, second only to his father, David, the most famous of all of Israel's earthly kings. Blessed by God with immeasurable wisdom, his was a kingdom marked by unmatched wealth and influence (1 Kings 4:20-34). But, for all of Solomon's great wisdom, he was not sinless. And, his sin would have tremendous influence on the life of the nation he was charged by God to lead.

One of Solomon's very public and well-documented sins was the practice of polygamy and sexual immorality. Solomon literally had hundreds of wives and hundreds of concubines. What made matters worse was Solomon's proclivity to take for himself wives from other nations which God had previously commanded all of Israel to avoid (1 Kings 11:1-3). 

Solomon's own life would become the "poster-child" for God's purpose in this loving prohibition which would be carried over by Paul in the New Testament for followers of Jesus to obey (Deut. 7:3-4; 2 Cor. 6:14). 

For Solomon, the net result of not only polygamy but wedding himself to those who worshipped the world's false gods was a life and legacy corrupted by idolatry and rebellion against the Lord (1 Kings 11:4-6). 

Due in part to his very unwise attitude toward marriage, Solomon's heart was turned away from the one true and living God. Tragically (and avoidably), Solomon became like those who worshipped the idols of nations made by human hands (Psalms 135:15-18).

What if, in his wisdom, Solomon had sought godly counsel to inform his martial decision-making and in so-doing had been forced to answer this critically important question: 

How does this relationship and potential marriage turn your heart and the heart of your potential spouse away from the false of gods of the world and toward the living God of Scripture?

Hopefully, you recognize this question as the inverse of what we are told became of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:4. It is a question that every engaged couple must answer and answer well if they are to live out Paul's foundational statement about marriage as a beacon for the Gospel (Eph. 5:32).

Taking Solomon's Advice

Among other things, Solomon is known for having been inspired of God to write much of the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs is, of course, full of wisdom sayings to help guide us in life. One of the more memorable proverbs written by Solomon teaches us that "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed" (Prov. 15:22). 

In light of what we learn about Solomon in 1 Kings 11:1-8 and about the plans we make in Proverbs 15:22, we applaud those who desire to honor the Lord in marriage by submitting themselves and their relationship to a season of pre-marital counseling.

While there is always some risk in exposing the desires of our hearts to God's word, we can always trust that He has His glory and our joy in view. 

Whether in marriage or in singleness, His desire is always to turn our hearts toward Himself in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to whom we as believers are already united and eternally wed. By seeking to live in faithfulness to His word as regards earthly marriage, we prove ourselves to be His faithful bride.

For Further Reflection

1. If you're a pastor-counselor, are you willing to say "no" or "not yet" in pre-marital counseling or do you see your role differently?

2. If you're engaged or thinking of getting engaged, are you willing to submit your plans to God's word and wise biblical counsel?

(Author: Joshua Waulk)

Book Recommendation: Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ

Dr. Robert Kellemen, Chair of the Biblical Counseling and Discipleship Department at Crossroads Bible College, is the author of Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ. Published by Zondervan, Gospel Conversations is part of the Equipping Biblical Counselors Series, and is the follow up to Kellemen's previous book, also from Zondervan, Gospel Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (you can read my recommendation of that book HERE).

As part of the Equipping Series, Gospel Conversations is concerned with providing biblical counselors with the skills they need to use the gospel in the context of soul care for teaching others how to resist temptation and respond to suffering with love for God and one another (p.15). Kellemen wrote that "Gospel Conversations provides an intensive, relational, hands-on equipping manual" designed to develop in the counselor "twenty-one biblical counseling relational skills" to care like Christ (p.15).

Kellemen succeeds in meeting his stated purposes for Gospel Conversations by providing twelve in-depth chapters and helpful appendices that unpack the one thing he asks his reader to not forget throughout the book:

We learn to become competent biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw community (p.17).

In keeping with the spirit of Kellemen's other works, Gospel Conversations is not merely a theoretical treatment of the critically important task of providing biblical soul care. It is a hands-on, practical teaching tool designed to equip the body of Christ for "face-to-face gospel ministry where we speak the truth in love to one another" (p.17). With extensive follow up questions designed for small group or individual application, Gospel Conversations has the biblical counselor's growth and maturity in full view.

The strength of Gospel Conversations is of course found in its gospel-centeredness, but the reader also benefits greatly from Kellemen's writing style and experience as a teacher. The book is accessible to most readers, yet appropriate for any setting in which training for biblical counseling is occurring. The net result, then, of a thorough reading of Gospel Conversations is a biblical counselor who is better prepared to care like Christ.

"Christ's vision for the church involves the whole body sharing Scripture and soul in gospel conversations where we help one another to become more like Christ as we endure suffering as overcomers and battle and defeat sin as more than conquerors." Dr. Robert Kellemen (p.354)

To purchase a copy of Gospel Conversations, visit Dr. Kellemen's ministry website HERE.

Weeping as Jesus Wept

Raising of Lazarus, Rembrandt
"Jesus Wept." John 11:35

It comes as no surprise to many who seek biblical counsel that life is full of "trials of various kinds" (James 1:2). From job loss, to marital strife, to sudden illness, and parenting issues, we all find ourselves searching for answers when the words of Jesus find their way home: In the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33). But, Jesus also commanded us in the same verse to "take heart," because he has "overcome the world."

Despite the promises of God that find their "Yes" in Christ (1 Cor. 1:20), we often struggle with unbelief (Mark 9:24) and tremendous sorrow. Sometimes that sorrow turns into a battle with grief, leaving even the strongest of believers asking the question, "Is my grief normal?" On occasion, feelings of guilt and shame over this deep sadness creep in, adding yet another layer of turmoil to an already troubled heart.

How then should we understand our human experience of grief, and how should we evaluate its "normalcy"?

Understanding Our Grief

The first order of business for us is to preach to ourselves the Gospel of grace, mercy, and forgiveness found in Christ alone. It is entirely possible that our grief is inordinate and disordered, revealing idols of the heart and a misunderstanding of the promises of Scripture. 

Still, this is an occasion to draw near to God and confess our deep need of Him (James 4:8), not engage in forms of spiritual asceticism and flogging ourselves emotionally over inherent failures.

Jesus said his grace is sufficient for us, and that his power, not ours, is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Once we've reminded ourselves of who Christ is and who we are (a people dependent on Him for all things; John 15:5), we might begin by taking a survey of "front-matter issues." These include, but aren't necessarily limited to: 

1) The presenting issues that led to our grief. 
  • Are they circumstantial, like the loss of a loved one or otherwise unknown? If unknown, a medical checkup may be appropriate.

2) Medical history.
  • Are there any ongoing physical illnesses that may be influencing feelings of sadness, sorrow, and grief (i.e. low thyroid function)?
3) Available resources.
  • Is there community support such as a church family or small group for the grieving person to engage?
4) Action already taken.
  • Has medical advice or other counseling been sought? If so, what was the outcome?
5) Physical symptoms.
  • What physical symptoms, if any, are being experienced (i.e. sleep loss, weight loss, headaches, etc.).
After we've inventoried these front-matter issues and sought to restore as much stability as possible in the moment, we can begin searching the Scriptures to help us understand our grief. 

Grieving is a natural part of life in a world marred by sin and suffering, and yet, as I hope we'll see, God calls us to take captive the thoughts of despair that often accompany our grief, mastering them rather than being mastered by them (2 Cor. 10:5).

Identifying with Christ

Like all other areas of the Christian life, we turn to Jesus in order to understand and evaluate our grief. The Apostle John wrote that, "Whoever says he abides in [Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6). The "walk" John wrote about is akin to the manner in which we live. This would include how we engage suffering and express grief. In this way, we can begin to understand and evaluate our sorrow with a desire to grieve as Jesus grieved, rather than as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).

How then did Jesus grieve? There are a number of passages we might turn to for examples of Jesus expressing grief, sadness, or even compassion. One such example is found in John 11:1-44. If you haven't read it lately, I'd invite you to read it again. This is where we find the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus and that famous "shortest verse in the Bible," John 11:35: Jesus wept.

While it's popular to read this story and determine that Jesus' weeping was motivated by mere empathy for Lazarus, as did the Jews who were gathered with Mary and Martha (John 11:36), a study of the original Greek reveals more emotion and force than many of our English Bible translations convey. This is very helpful to us in our suffering and as we seek to identify with Christ.

In John 11:33, we read that Jesus was "deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled." The words used there communicate something more like a type of anger at the scene unfolding before Jesus' eyes. In John 11:35, where Jesus weeps, the language used there tells us that tears streamed down Jesus' face.

What led Jesus to experience this intensity of emotion? How does his experience with grief inform ours? Below are three observations from the story of Lazarus that I'd like to share with you. My hope is that they will help you understand and evaluate your own grief:

1) Jesus wept at the corruption brought by sin into his Father's world, which God declared to be "very good" (Genesis 1:31).
  • When we weep as believers, we join Jesus in grieving over sin's corrupting influence in our own lives, whether the issue is the result of our own sin, someone else's, or natural forms of suffering, like an illness or an accident. When Jesus wept, it wasn't motivated by a simple compassion or sentimentality. Jesus was angry at all that sin had accomplished on earth.
2) Jesus wept in the vulnerability of his humanity.
  • When we weep as believers, we don't weep alone, but in our union with Christ we encounter our great High Priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:14-16).
3) Jesus wept in the knowledge and power of his divinity.
  • In our union with him, we learn to trust Christ in our grief because of his authority over sin and death, which he displayed in the story of Lazarus. We identify with Him, not our circumstances.
Pursuing Christlikeness in Suffering

This post is not by any stretch an exhaustive treatment of suffering, but I hope it introduces us to a dialogue about what it means to take even our deepest grief under submission to Christ. As followers of Jesus, we're sure to encounter sadness and loss, but even in our grief we're called to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1). 

As we learn to grieve as Jesus grieved, we're not entering into a form of legalism (i.e. grieve like Christ or else), but instead following the call of Christ to rest in him even in our experience and expression of sorrow (Matthew 11:28). In our valleys we will encounter the sweetness of our relationship with Him and discover that His promise as God to never leave or forsake us is true and trustworthy (Joshua 1:5).

Indeed, Isaiah 53:4 reminds us that the Messiah "has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." He isn't simply aware of them, but He took on flesh and carried them to the cross so that we might not believe the despairing half-truths our sorrows often preach to our hearts, but trust in Him who has the power to raise dead men out of their graves (John 11:43).

In your struggle with grief and the potential that you may be asking if your sorrow and feelings of anger are displeasing to God, remember the story of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, and seek to grieve as he grieved.

"Grief and compassion without outrage reduce to mere sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteous arrogance and irascibility." D.A. Carson

Join the Discussion

As you seek to understand your own grief and the normalcy of it, consider how your grief is similar or dissimilar to Jesus' grief in John 11 and the story of Lazarus. How might learning to grieve as He grieved encourage you in your journey?

Victims of Childhood Sex Abuse Deserve the Church's Attention

"We will remember that God waits while we learn." Diane Langberg, PhD

Those words brought me tremendous joy recently as I prepared for a doctoral course at SEBTS in counseling sexual abuse and addictions. Dr. Diane Langberg wrote them in her book, Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse. I doubt she intended them to play a central role in anyone's reading, yet I found them to be very encouraging and insightful.

In Isaiah 30:18, we read God's words to the Old Testament nation of Israel, "Therefore the Lord is waiting to show you mercy, and is rising up to show you compassion, for the Lord is a just God. All who wait patiently for Him are happy" (emphasis mine; HCSB). This verse was central to my conversion to Christianity, because it taught me that despite my years of rebelling against Him, God waited for me.

How has God waited for you?

Patience, as we see throughout the Bible, is an attribute of God, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and therefore something for us as Christians to imitate (Eph. 5:1). Far from a debated theological topic, can you imagine what the Christian life would be like without it? 

Numerous times in the New Testament alone, the Greek word for patience is used in a variety of forms, all in a positive sense, and as a command for the believer (2 Tim. 4:2). Patience, it turns out, is an important component of the Christian life and discipleship. It is no less true for the task of biblical counseling.

A Necessary Component in Counseling the Sexually Abused

In her book, Langberg identifies three core areas that are or can be deeply affected by childhood sexual abuse. These may occur individually, together, and at varying lengths of time and intensity. These "aftereffects" may include but not necessarily be limited to the following:
  1. Emotional: Guilt, shame, powerlessness, body image issues, fear of intimacy or commitment, and trust issues.
  2. Physical: Self-harm, suicidal ideation, addictions, and sexual dysfunctions.
  3. Spiritual: Distorted images of the nature of God (i.e. God as punisher, taskmaster, impotent, irrelevant, or indifferent).
Justin and Lindsey Holcomb wrote in their book, Rid of My Disgrace, that "At least one in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime." Many of these will have been childhood victims, and many will carry the scars of abuse with them well into adulthood and marriage, hidden and unredeemed.

If the figures cited by the Holcombs are even remotely true (and I believe they are), the church at large has a powerful, spiritual opponent at work in the lives of many of its people, young and old. To ignore it is to leave a dangerous wolf prowling throughout the sheepfold.

If we isolate this issue alone, how is sexual abuse and its vast aftereffects as mentioned above derailing the discipleship of earnest Christians who are suffering in silence because the church, broadly speaking, is unresponsive? Pastors and ministry leaders: in this we find a legitimate, undeniable "social justice" issue for the church, and a regrettable yet gaping-wide window into the lives of people.

Why are we, the church, choosing to do nothing?

It is my sincerely held belief that the church does not respond well to this issue because it fails to grasp how powerful a role the Gospel and community can play in the healing process of a victim, choosing to believe instead that sexual abuse is a matter that can only be addressed by "mental health professionals" according to a medical model of "mental illness."

It's often said that "God meets us in our valleys," yet when the church fails to act on this, what is communicated is "Just not that valley."

Could it be that when the Apostle Paul wrote that we are to "bear one another's burdens," that he meant nothing less than moving with care and compassion toward those who've been victimized in ways we can barely name in a public worship service (Gal. 6:2)? 

I believe this is the case.

Counseling is a Mission of the Church and Patience is a Guide

Sexual abuse can produce profound, sustained effects in the survivor that require compassionate, patient care rooted in the patient love of God for His people (1 Jn. 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:4). By not involving itself in the counseling process, the church misses out on a tremendous opportunity to love its own and evangelize the lost.

How then should the church and victims of abuse respond?
  1. The church must consider either the establishment of an intentional counseling ministry (see ACBC), or it must vet for biblical faithfulness counselors already in the community with whom it can partner. There are many critical issues to be resolved in either case, but one thing remains clear: unresponsiveness is not a biblical option.
  2. The sexual abuse survivor, especially those who have suffered in silence for many years, must prayerfully entrust this matter to God, and ask Him to provide a Christian counseling resource that can be trusted with this delicate truth. Silence and isolation do not promote healing, but leave the victim enslaved to the past.
The Practical Side of Patience

In this post, I've suggested that patience is a key to counseling the sex abuse victim. While it may feel tertiary, I assure you it isn't. Counseling the survivor will require copious amounts of patience from both counselor and counselee, depending on the individual circumstances. Neither party should expect anything more than incremental steps toward redeeming a portion of life so harmed by such horrific an evil.

But, there is hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ways unimagined by secular theories of counseling. Meaning, purpose, and value can all be discovered through a season of biblical counseling (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28). At the intersection of faith and depravity, grace conquers despair.

Even, or especially for, the sexually abused.

Join the Discussion

If we can help you or your church process an issue related to counseling sexual abuse, or any other counseling related topic, please contact us at Baylight. We'd love to hear from you.

Joshua Waulk
Executive Director