How Should a Pastor Treat His Wife? (Miller)

Image result for letters on clerical manners "samuel miller" A pastor’s marriage is a very important part of his life and ministry.  A pastor should be an excellent Christian example of what it means for a husband to serve, cherish, nourish, and love his wife in a humble, Christ-like way.  Samuel Miller (d. 1850) gave some outstanding advice along these lines:

As a clergyman ought to be the most pious man in his parish, to go before all his people in the exemplification of every Christian grace and virtue, so he ought to make a point of being the best husband in his parish; of endeavoring to excel all others in affection, kindness, attention, and every conjugal and domestic virtue.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some clergymen, who preach well on the duties of husbands and wives, are, notwithstanding, austere, harsh, tyrannical, and unkind in their own families. Whenever this is the case, it can seldom fail to be known – and, when known, can never fail to diminish, in some degree, their official influence.

But, I need not say, that your daily and hourly happiness, still more than your reputation, will be involved in this matter. It would be unseasonable here to attempt even the most cursory detail of conjugal duties. Suffice it to say, that if you should not love your wife enough to make the most unceasing attentions and kindness to her delightful ; if you should not have an affection for her so strong as to prompt you to be continually contriving something for her happiness, even at the expense of self-denial and sacrifice on your part; if the feelings of your heart should not spontaneously dispose you to bear with her infirmities, to cover her faults, to comply with all her reasonable wishes, and to respect and honor her in the presence of your family, as well as of strangers – I say, if you should not have a love for your wife which will prompt you, without constraint, to do all this, it will be vain to give you counsels on the subject.

I appreciate how Miller said a pastor should show his wife much affection, attention, and kindness.  It’s also good advice for a pastor to continually seek to make his wife happy which means he must practice much self-denial and make sacrifices for her good.  And, of course, the pastor must forgive his wife and bear with her faults, knowing that he too has many faults.  If a pastor doesn’t love his wife this way, his preaching and teaching on marriage will be done in vain.

The above quote is found in Samuel Miller’s Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits (G&C Carvill: New York, 1827) 410-411.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


Marriage & the Mystery of the Gospel: A Review

Since our culture has a very distorted moral compass when it comes to marriage and sexuality, many Christian authors and publishers have been giving us quality resources to help us think biblically of these things.  Ray Ortlund’s new book, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel is one of these quality resources.

This book isn’t a lengthy and detailed exploration of what the Bible says about marriage.  Instead, it is a short and concise overview of the Bible’s teaching on marriage.  In the first and longest chapter, Ortlund walks through Genesis 1-3 to talk about marriage as instituted before the fall and what happened to it after the fall.  The second chapter, which is around 2o pages, is a brief look at some marriage texts in the Law, the Prophets, and Wisdom literature.  The third chapter is where Ortlund explains a few prominent NT texts that talk about marriage, ending with Revelation 21.  The final chapter is a six page defense of biblical marriage in light of culture today.

I appreciated this book because it is what it says it is: a short (100 page) study of the biblical view of marriage.  Ortlund takes the historic Christian view of gender and marriage, a view that is a minority position today.  He does a nice job centering the book on the gospel and the fact that marriage is not a prison, but a God-given blessing.  The contents of this book are solid and based well on Scripture.

I have to admit that this book covers the same material that many other Christian marriage books cover.  Other marriage books on my shelves are very much like Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel.  If you’ve read other books on the historic view of Christian marriage, you might not need this one (unless you want to review what you’ve already read elsewhere).  Sorry if I’m being too blunt, but I like to point out what endorsements usually don’t!

In a word, although this book is like other books on the topic, it is a solid, concise resource that summarizes the biblical view of marriage.  May God use these good books on marriage to help his people stand firm on the truth, believe it, live it, and love it!

Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016).

Shane Lems

Selfishness and Marriage (Keller)

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on marriage with the depth and wisdom of Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.  I appreciate how he talks about our culture’s selfish view of marriage.  Today, many people think of marriage and romantic relationships in terms of self – what they get out of it.  Turns out that this selfishness is actually the major problem in many marriages (Christian and non-Christian):

“In Western culture today, you decide to get married because you feel an attraction to the other person.  You think he or she is wonderful.  But a year or two later – or, just as often, a month or two – three things usually happen.  First, you begin to find out how selfish this wonderful person is.  Second, you discover that the wonderful person has been going through a similar experience and he or she begins to tell you how selfish you are.  And third, though you acknowledge it in part, you concede that your spouse’s selfishness is more problematic than your own.  This is especially true if you feel that you’ve had a hard life and have experienced a lot of hurt.  You say silently, ‘Ok, I shouldn’t do that – but you don’t understand me.’  The woundedness makes us minimize our own selfishness.  And that’s the point at which many married couples arrive after a relatively brief period of time.”

Keller then notes that at this point there are two paths to take.  The first is deciding that your hurt and woundedness is more fundamental than your selfishness.  You believe that if your spouse does not see your wounds and try to help you, it’s not going to work.  The marriage could then end, or it could go on with emotional distance growing due to a cease-fire and not talking about the problems.

Another path – the better one – is “to determine to see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouse’s.”

Why? Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it.  So each spouse should take the Bible seriously, should make a commitment to ‘give yourself up.’ You should stop making excuses for selfishness, you should begin to root it out as it’s revealed to you, and you should do so regardless of what your spouse is doing.  If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.”

Of course, this is based on the gospel: Jesus went to the cross not out of selfishness, but out of selflessness, to give his life for sinners.  The more we understand how Christ graciously served us this way, the more we will be able to graciously serve our spouses, not our selves.

The above quotes are found on pages 63-64 of Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.

Shane Lems

How Church Bullies and Abusers Deceive Us Sadly, there is such a thing as a church bully.  He’s the guy who manipulates, pressures, blames, and coerces people to follow his ideas or agenda (for example, see what happened to Peter in Galatians 2:12).  This kind of person is very similar to an abusive husband (or wife – but most of the time a husband): he plays mind games on his wife, plays the Bible trump card of submission and patriarchy, and tricks people along the way with his compulsive lies.  One big question is, “How do church bullies and abusers deceive us?”  The answers to this question are important.  Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood have some helpful answers.  I’ve listed them below and edited them for length.  (Note: Crippen and Wood specifically talk about abusive people, but many of these points could also apply to church bullies.)

1) They create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion.  One of the most common effects of the abuser’s tactics is the creation of a cloud of chaos and confusion around him.  Victims will tell you what it’s like, though early on they can’t even articulate it.  Abusers have many ways of promoting doubt, chaos, and confusion for those who are in their world.  Of course, as is true of all the abuser’s tactics, the purpose of this chaos is quite calculated.  Confused people are easier to manipulate.

2) They make the real victim(s) crazy.  Abusers frequently work to make their victim begin to doubt their own perceptions.  A person who no longer fully trusts in what their senses tell them is a person who is very easy to control.  For example, many (if not most) abusers play dual roles.  One moment they are charming, the next moment evil.  This makes the real victim believe (or start to believe) she’s crazy.

3) They play the victim.  Abusive people are often wickedly cunning in garnering pity for themselves.  One of their favorite methods of choice for garnering this pity is what is called, ‘playing the victim.’  The abuser’s goal is to have people perceive him as the victim instead of the perpetrator.  Then they shift the blame to the real victim.

4) They twist words.  The abusive person is truly adroit in his ability to alter the victim’s words, morphing his/her statements into an altered reality that makes her look like a fool, or crazy, or even abusive herself!  (As a side, when an abuser/bully twists words, it goes together with tactics 1-3 above – spl)

5) They gather allies.  One of the most formidable weapons of the abuser is his ability to use tactics such as playing the victim, lying, and manipulation to with the people in the victim’s relational sphere over to his own side.  He alienates them against her by convincing her relatives, children, friends, and co-workers that she is the real culprit in their marriage difficulties.

6) They minimize the situation.  The goal in this is to make the abuser’s deed less serious than it really is.  Red-flag identifiers of minimization are ‘just’ and ‘only.’  For example, “I didn’t mean it…no harm was done.  I was only joking.”  The abuser will thus neither accept responsibility for his deeds nor will he acknowledge that they are evil; he minimizes everything.

7) They are experts at maintaining a double standard.  What is right for him is wrong for her.  He can spend all the money he wants, but if she spends anything, he punishes her.  He can speak angry, hateful, sexist words to her, but if she raises her voice she is being cruel.  He can treat the children very harshly, but if she loses her temper, she is a terrible mother.

8) They change the rules.  The abuser keeps his victim guessing about what he wants, how he will react, or what time something is going to happen.  He acts unpredictably and inconsistently to keep the her more focused on him, dependent on him, and unable to make her own plans or have her own thoughts.  He does this to maintain tyrannical control.

9) They project their thoughts onto others.  This means the abuser accuses his victim and projects his mindset upon her, but does it maliciously and on purpose.  Because he uses people, he thinks she does too.  Because he is unfaithful to her, he thinks she is unfaithful to him.  Often to unmask this you simply have to listen to his accusations against his wife: most likely they are the exact things he actually did to her.

As you can see, this is a very serious issue.  If it happens in the home, it can lead to physical and mental torture, pain, and harm.  If you’re a layperson in the church, watch out for these people!  These aren’t Christians who have a tender conscience and need your open arms and open homes.  In fact, it’s best to stay away from such people.  If you’re a pastor or elder in a church, these bullies and abusers are the people from whom you have to protect the flock!  Be alert for people like this – don’t fall for their deceitful tactics.  Be sure to protect the real victims, which is promoting biblical justice.

On this topic I highly recommend this book: Crippen and Wood’s book: A Cry For Justice.  The above edited quotes were taken from chapter 3.

shane lems

Marriage, Sex, and Moral Nihilism

Here’s another helpful excerpt from one of Chuck Colson’s previously unpublished short essays:

“We have an absolute duty to start training our children in [the] biblical worldview when they are just beyond the toddler years.  They’ve got to start understanding that there are some basic truths in life, and that if we abandon them, the whole scheme of living unravels.  And marriage is a great example, because very, very few evangelicals, at least that I talk to, have ever heard of marriage talked about this way.  They see it as a covenant with one another and with God – the more devout see it that way – but very few people see it as part of the structure of life built into the fact that God has created us and given us, in His Word, an understanding of man and woman as one [in marriage], and why that is so, and the purpose of it.

“…But if we teach kids that sexual expression is just a matter of personal preference, that sex doesn’t have any moral component, nor does it have any natural or physical order to it, that we are whatever we want to be and may gratify ourselves any way we feel like it, then it’s impossible for marriage to be limited to a man and a woman.”

“In a very short time it will be impossible to preach that homosexual behavior is a sin.  How do you teach that something is a sin when society is saying it is simply a legitimate choice?  This is the camel’s nose under the tent.  This is why the homosexual issue is about a lot more than gay rights.  It’s about deconstructing the moral order of society, and the people behind it know that.  They really are moral nihilists at heart.”

Charles Colson, “An Absolute Duty,” in My Final Word.

shane lems

Did Jesus Forbid All Divorce?

 Is every instance of divorce sinful in God’s sight?  Did Jesus forbid all divorce?  Does God hate all divorce?  The answer to each of these questions is the same: No.  God himself “divorced” Israel for her spiritual adultery.  Also, I mentioned last week that a good translation of Malachi 2:16 is “If one hates and divorces,” Yahweh, Israel’s God said, “he covers his clothes with crime,” Yahweh of the Armies said.  However, the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels can be confusing because he seems to be saying different things (cf. Matt. 19, Mk. 6, Luke 16).  How do we view these Gospel passages on divorce?  David Instone-Brewer has a helpful solution: by understanding them in light of their Jewish context.

Instone-Brewer notes that some Jews (Hillelite rabbis) believed that they could get a divorce for “any cause” based on Deuteronomy 24:1-4, while other Jews (followers of Shammai) argued that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 only allowed for divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality.  With this debate in mind, the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce to test him.  In Matthew 19:3 the Pharisees’ question is: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”  They were referring to Deuteronomy 24 and the Jewish debate over the text.  Here’s how Instone-Brewer discusses this:

“According to the standard [Bible] translations, such as ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ the Pharisees appear to be asking Jesus if he thought divorce itself was lawful or not.  But the question ‘Is it lawful to divorce?’ would have been an illogical one.  To the Jews ‘divorce’ referred to a procedure that is defined in the law of Moses – and the law of Moses cannot be ‘unlawful!’  However, if you translate the question ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for ‘Any Cause’?’ it makes perfect sense.  The rabbis wanted to know what Jesus thought about the new ‘Any Cause’ type of divorce and how he interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1.”

“Actually in the account of this episode in Mark, the rabbis do appear to ask the illogical version of the question, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ (Mk 10:2).  There is a simple explanation for this: anyone reading Mark in the first century would have mentally added, ‘for “Any Cause”’ to complete the question, because everyone at the time was talking about it.  It was like someone today who asks, ‘Is it lawful for a sixteen-year-old to drink?’  In itself this is an illogical question, because without anything to drink we dehydrate and die.  Therefore we mentally add ‘alcoholic beverages’ to the end of the question to make sense of it, but it would be pedantic to actually ask the question in this form.  In exactly the same way a first-century Jew would have mentally added, ‘for “any Cause”’ to the end of the otherwise illogical question in Mark 10.”

There is a lot more to this discussion, of course, and it is somewhat debatable.  However, I think Instone-Brewer is on the right track here; this does help read the divorce verses in Mark and Luke in a way that meshes well with Deuteronomy 24 and the Jewish context.  This reading also helps us see that Jesus and Paul did not disagree on their when they gave scriptural grounds for divorce.

For more info, see Instone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (p. 58-9 is where the above quote is from), and his more scholarly and lengthy work, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context.  I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but these are helpful resources on this very difficult topic.

shane lems

Christians and Same-Sex Attraction






Homosexuality is an inherently difficult topic for Christians to discuss and address.  And it’s a thousand times harder to discuss in our culture, where sexuality is all messed up.  Sam Allberry has written a short book that will help Christians navigate this topic with a biblical mindset: Is God Anti-Gay?  In just 85 small pages, Allberry does a lot of good (and brave!) work in the area of Christianity and homosexuality.  Here are three reasons why I highly recommend this book:

1) It is biblical.  Allberry walks the readers through the basics of God’s will for marriage and sexuality.  Even though he struggles with same-sex attraction, he knows that God’s Word teaches that marriage and sex are meant for man and woman.  He also knows that if a Christian does not marry a person of the opposite sex, the only other God-pleasing alternative is singleness in a sexually pure way.  Allberry clearly echoes Scripture: we cannot tell people that God accepts homosexual relationships, even if they are monogamous.  Through many years of prayers, pain, counsel, and struggle, Allberry himself has chosen at this point to remain celibate.  I commend him for walking this difficult road with an eye on Scripture and pleasing Christ.

2) It is pastoral.  I was delighted to hear Allberry’s gentle and kind tone throughout the book.  Too often Christians address the topic of homosexuality without compassion and empathy.  But both are evident in this book.  Very clearly Allberry notes that same-sex attraction and homosexuality are not unforgivable sins – they are not the worst sins in the world.   It’s not like homosexuality is the “chief” sin of our day.  Jesus’ blood doesn’t just wipe away sins of anger and pride and idolatry – it also wipes away sexual sins.  There is definitely hope for people struggling with homosexuality.  And as Allberry noted, the church should state this loudly and clearly.

3) It is a needed resource.  Even though I don’t struggle in this area (I do struggle in plenty of other areas, however, so I can’t cast any stones!), I was very glad to read this book.  It gave me some new insights on how to view homosexuality.  For example, there is a difference between a gay lifestyle and same-sex attraction.  “Gay Christian” is probably not the best term to use.  For Allberry, it is an identity issue: he does not identify himself as a gay person; he identifies himself “in Christ;” he is a Christian who has to fight the sin of same-sex attraction much in the same way that I have to fight anger and doubt and about 100 other sins I don’t want to publicize!  Christians do have besetting sins, we do have “thorns in the flesh,” but we find hope and strength in Christ – and we find our identity in him as we repent of our sins.

If you’re a Christian who wants a brief and helpful discussion of this topic, please get the book.  Elders and pastors will need to read it as well to help them in their shepherding and counseling.  If you’re a Christian who is struggling with same-sex attraction, please get this book.  Your sin is forgivable; you are not a “lesser” Christian because of your struggles, and God loves you just as much as he loves his other children who struggle with their own plethora of sins and weaknesses.  The ground is level at the throne of grace.  Thankfully, one day all God’s people will be free from all the sins that burden them.  Until then, we’ll have to struggle forward together.  This book is a big help in that area: Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay?

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi