Victoria Osteen, Christian Hedonism, and Worship

There’s been a wave of controversy surrounding a video that’s been circulating on the internet of Victoria Osteen making this statement:

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize that, when we obey God—we’re not doing it for God, I mean that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning. So I want you to know this morning, just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church and when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really; you’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.” (Watch it here)

On the surface, this seems exactly like something we would expect coming out of Lakewood Church. Osteen has practically become the poster boy for the “prosperity gospel,” and certainly no one is shocked to hear this coming from his wife, Victoria. However, before we raise our torches and grab our pitchforks, let’s take a closer look at the statement that Victoria is actually making.

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize that, when we obey God—we’re not doing it for God, I mean that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.”

The impetus of John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, is in this phrase: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Piper calls this “Christian Hedonism” because it’s centered on the pleasure of the Christian. The concept is very simple: God is our ultimate joy and happiness. We receive pleasure by being in a close relationship with him, and because of this, he receives pleasure and glory from us. Like any love relationship, you are the happiest when the object of your affection is the happiest in you. Simple.

Victoria is right when she says that “God takes pleasure when we’re happy.” This is true when our happiness is in him. That’s the key. She also says that “when we obey God, we’re doing it for ourselves.” Again, answer is yes and no. We obey God because we want to please him, and because the benefits are incredible. What are the benefits? The benefit is God himself. The greatest reward or benefit we could have is more of God.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

“So I want you to know this morning, just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy.”

We should always do good because it is good to do good. However, we should also do good because Christ is good, and our desire is to be more like him. I don’t think Victoria is saying “do good for yourself,” because that would imply solipsism, and rule out altruism. I hardly think the Osteens would agree with this. The line of thinking goes like this: “Do good because you benefit from doing good.” However, going back to Christian hedonism, we do good most importantly because it pleases our Father. And when he is pleased, we are pleased as well. Christianity is always other oriented, which is why the two greatest commandments are to 1) Love God, 2) Love people. But the personal benefits from this are tremendous. This is why Christ says that “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) because we are happier when we are less consumed with ourselves. And we are happiest when we are pleasing God.

“When you come to church and when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really; you’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.”

This is the one statement that I believe is the most difficult. Piper says that “Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.” Another definition of worship by William Temple says that “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” So first and foremost, all worship is an expression of the joy and beauty of God through the outlet of praise. Of course, the worshiper benefits from the worship—but they are merely a conduit of praise to the one worthy of being praised. The worship is not about them, it’s about God. But the idea being Christian hedonism is that we are so pleased by God, that worship naturally ensues. And when worship naturally ensues, God is pleased by us, which is followed by us being pleased in God, and so on.

I think on the surface, it’s very easy to dismantle Victoria’s statement and label it bad theology. But my first reaction to the video was that not all of what she’s saying is totally wrong. It’s poorly stated, yes. In fact, the most important pieces of the equation are left out. Thousands of people are going to walk away thinking that God wants them to be happy in material things, or that worship is first about them. These are both dangerous conclusions. We should be happy that God has blessed us with material things, while remembering that these material blessings are meant to point us back to God. We should enjoy worshiping God, while not forgetting that the very nature of worship is centered on the joy of who God is.

The fact of the matter is this: If we all were diligent in our theological studies, there would be no Lakewood Church (the way it is now). But before we pat ourselves on the back, remember that most of us are still participating in the prosperity gospel, because we use God as a means to an end all the time. We think that by serving him in church, or by tithing, that God is going to bless us materially. This is the prosperity gospel. Service to the church and giving tithes is a form of worship. It is not a way to receive material blessings. It is a way of reflecting the beauty and glory of God’s worth back to him. The fact of the matter is that God says that he will provide for us what we need (Matthew 6:25-26). Nothing more and nothing less is promised. And what we need is him. His kingdom is not of this world, and ours shouldn’t be either.

Westboro Baptist Church, Homosexuality, and Lust

Chances are, if you asked the average American “What are the two most controversial topics floating around in the public sphere today?” they would likely say, 1) Abortion, 2) Homosexuality. Both issues have their roots deep in the soil of human liberty. Both issues are passionate, sensitive, and worthy of our careful reflection and examination. I always write my posts from a Christian perspective, and it seems almost comical for me to write a post about abortion or homosexuality for this simple reason: regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, you probably already know the stance that most Christians take on these issues. However, I want to take a moment to discuss the topic of homosexuality in a way that I hope will not be trite; instead, I hope this will add another dimension to the overall paradigm. In this post, I’m not attempting to make an argument for or against homosexuality (though I will briefly state the premises of the argument), but I will actually be addressing Christians for the simple reason that I would like to level out the playing field on this topic. In a future post, I plan to address Matthew Vine and issue forth a couple of points on homosexual practice—but this post is about homosexual principal, and I’m gearing it towards heterosexual Christians. The point that I hope to make clear is that homosexuality presents a paradox that must be understood by Christians. This is not a political post, but a post regarding morality, spiritual blindness, and hypocrisy. Let me begin by stating the basic argument against homosexuality.

The Classic Argument:

As Christians, we believe that the Biblical perspective of marriage entails one man and one woman in a special and exclusive relationship, separable only through death (Matt 19:4-6). The beautiful image of Christ and his church casts a symbolic shadow—called marriage—which represents Christ’s love, sacrifice and commitment to his people. Within marriage, the freedom of sexual practice between two individuals is permitted and encouraged. Keep in mind, (from a Biblical perspective) marriage is the only circumstance under which any sexual expression is permitted by anyone, and the parameters for what makes marriage legitimate are clear. This is the well-known, explicitly stated, hard-driven message and argument against homosexuality.

Chances are if there is a drop of conservative Christianity in your blood, you stand by this argument.

Westboro Baptist Church (www.godhatesfags.com) has done an excellent job chasing the red herring by completely misunderstanding the actual issue behind homosexuality, all the while flaunting their arrogance and self-righteousness for the world to scoff at. You wouldn’t see them with a “God Hates Heterosexuals” sign; despite the fact that heterosexuals are also, you know, sinners. Somewhere along the line, we’ve cherry picked certain sins to get excited about, and left other destructive sins unnoticed.  The gospel leaves no room for hypocrisy in our lives.

The real problem behind homosexuality is a problem that we all have: The real problem is lust. And if you aren’t careful, you’ll be duped into believing that mere external sexual expression is the real issue, when it is, in fact, not.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

This is a verse we almost wish wasn’t in the Bible, because the sting is deep and the pandemic is rampant. It hurts because Jesus is essentially saying that any lustful thought is equivalent to adultery—and adultery was not handled well by Jewish authorities back in the day. In fact, the same penalty pronounced for homosexuality is also given for adultery. Now this puts every one of us on trial, facing capital punishment. The verdict is clear: you are an adulterer, and I am an adulterer. Everyone is an adulterer. And we are adulterers because of our lust. Be slow to cast steep judgments on homosexuality, when heterosexuality has caused so much pain and disease as well. I’ve heard many men describe homosexuals themselves as being “sick” and “twisted,” all the while completely oblivious to their own perversions. I am not advocating homosexuality, but I am trying to even the playing ground. When Christ speaks of adultery or sexual perversion, he is speaking of a condition in every human heart. Many people have wondered why Christ is silent on the subject of homosexuality. What we need to realize is that his message transcends homosexuality, and goes straight to the root of all sexual immorality.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

And such were some of you. If you’ve ever had a lustful thought, you fit at least two of the criteria above. Paul might as well have said, “And such were all of you.”

The true issue is the lustful bent of the licentious heart that is in all of us. Tim Keller once said, “Homosexuality is not what sends someone to hell, any more than heterosexuality is what gets a person into heaven.” What separates a person from God is the heart. As heterosexuals, we must realize that our sin is no more permissible than the homosexual’s. And we are all guilty. So before we go too far, let us first remember the dirt in the arteries of our own heart. Otherwise we’ve deceived ourselves.

Let me make one final note as I conclude this post:

Many people will have a hard time understanding the Law within the Bible, thinking it to be harsh and impossible to keep. But maybe it’s because we don’t understand its purpose. Keeping the Law does not make a person clean and pure. Ravi Zacharias once put it this way: “We see the Law as a mirror. And it reveals to us the dirt (sin) on our faces. But you do not use the mirror to clean the dirt off of your face. We need something else to do the job.” And the key is here: “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” We cannot be clean by effort alone.

Reflections on Social Media and Persecution

It’s a tremendous privilege to be a citizen of the United States. Many of the privileges that we have slip by unnoticed, and it’s very easy to forget the freedoms we possess by being part of a nation that claims that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The US is by no means perfect—which is precisely what we should expect by a nation inhabited by imperfect people—but we cannot deny the fact that as Americans we have a greater potential for comfort, success, and the fulfillment of dreams than any other nation in the world. We should be on our knees thanking God for that privilege every day. The social media phenomenon that shadowed the turn of the 21st century is useful because it unveils the subtle expectations and freedoms that we often take for granted. Freedom of speech is the first example that comes to my mind. I’m free to post just about anything I want without any fear of the government intervening. Social media also highlights our ignorance of the outside world and our sensitivity to differing opinions, which leads me to state the obvious: we are a sheltered people. Christians in the US are especially sheltered, because to be called a Christian in other parts of the world is a damning title. Before we start feeling too sorry for ourselves, let’s not be so blind as to think that only Christians suffer persecution—there are many faiths and non-faiths that have been killed for standing up for what they believe (or don’t believe) in. But let’s face it, we’re sheltered. Too often do I see fellow Christians challenged in their theological beliefs on social media, and upon cornered, resort to saying things like “I see that you disagree, and this is exactly what the Bible said would happen.” It’s almost as if we see disagreements as being intrinsically disrespectful, and the people that make them as being opponents of truth. I have even seen fellow Christian liken online disagreements to social persecution.  This is troubling to me for numerous reasons.

People have been martyred for ideas and statements since the human race has been in existence. Socrates was forced to drink poison, and Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross. You have a negative comment on a theological statement you made on Facebook. Hopefully we can see the difference here. If it seems petty and naive, that’s because it is. I have even seen Christians post belittling and pharisaical messages on Facebook, and upon encountering resistance, they wave the flag of persecution. They believe they are martyrs for the truth and the backlash response they get is proof. Even worse, many Christians will make claims about some controversial matter, and upon facing resistance, have no idea how to back up their point Biblically. They either take verses out of context, or they provide no verses at all. This is dangerous. Just because you and I are Christians, does not mean that every opinion about morality or truth is golden. I’ve seen fellow Christians make claims about a subject that the Bible would be at odds with. If you cannot back up a claim that you say is in the Bible, with a verse from the Bible, then you probably aren’t making a Biblical claim.

We cannot simply use the Bible as a way of corroborating our moral agenda. If someone disagrees with your moral agenda, do not be so quick to cry “persecution!” We are not martyrs. We do not know what it looks like to be shunned for our beliefs. Our freedoms and our access to technology have spoiled and sheltered us from knowing what it is like to truly be marginalized. Not only this, but some people face backlash on social media because their arguments are actually poorly formed, contradictory, or fallacious. Other people face opposition because their comments are blatantly offensive or ruthlessly judgmental. Though the gospel can be offensive, too often it’s not the gospel that’s being communicated–it’s  you. And it’s me.

If we are going to take heat, let’s make it count, and let us not be fooled into thinking we’re being persecuted simply because of truth. That may not be the case. We may be unloving, and we may even be wrong. Check your motives, and check your Bible; and “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18). Let us “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), because it is by our love that people will know that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). There is a right way to communicate truth, and there is a wrong way to communicate truth. There are times when truth will be offensive regardless. But let us make sure that we are truly speaking truth. And when disagreements rise from the result of our writings, lets invite open and honest discussion. It is a beautiful freedom that we have. But let us be sure not to play the victim. And lets certainly not call it persecution.

Jesus Christ: Madman or Messiah?

Regardless of what you choose to believe, you cannot possibly say that Christ was simply a moral teacher. CS Lewis articulates this point better than I ever could:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

To give a practical example of the quote above, consider some of these claims:

“Jesus said to them ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” –John 8:56-59

“… Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” –Mark 14:62

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” –Mark 8:31

There are men in psychiatric wards who claim to be god, and make predictions of their resurrection. No one would give a second thought to a person’s claim to deity unless their predictions came true, and were indeed, miraculous.. This is why Christianity hinges on the evidence of the resurrection. If the evidence is lacking, the Apostle Paul even said that Christians of all people should be pitied.

No moral teacher could make the kind of claims Christ made and keep his integrity unless the claims were true and his predictions actually happened. We associate people claiming to be god to liars and lunatics for the simple reason that they fail to back up these boisterous statements. Therefore we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking we can have a Jesus who was simply “a good man” or “a wonderful teacher” but was never raised from the dead. He would be a liar. It is here that I would agree with Christopher Hitchens when he says, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” If Christ’s claims to be God was false, then his message should be disregarded. Remember that his purpose was not to instill a higher morality into his followers and the rest of the world. We don’t see him picketing homosexual events, condemning alcohol or boycotting Disney. Morality was not the issue. The issue is whether Christ is the way, truth, and life. Therefore we must choose based on the evidence of his claims: madman or messiah?

“Christ did not come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.” –Ravi Zacharias

God Does Not “Exist”

The world will never be rid of theism. Nor will it ever be rid of atheism. From this point onward, the question, “Does God exist?” will be prevalent in the minds of human beings. This will forever spawn generations of believers and those who do not believe. For those who ponder the idea of God, there will always be certain difficulties in understanding who, what, or how he is. One of the most difficult problems that a person can have with the concept of God is how he came into being. After all, who created the creator? In this post, I’m going to examine a classical philosophical argument concerning the existence of God. My conclusion is that God does not necessarily exist. Before you write me off as a heretic and close out my page, I encourage you to bear with me for a few paragraphs. I promise to be short but sweet.

Existentialism: Existence precedes essence. In other words, “I exist; therefore I create my own meaning.” Existentialism has had many difference faces throughout history, but the concept remains the same. I decide what truth is. I decide what I am. I decide what is right in my own life. The term can be traced back to Heraclitus, who was a pre-Socratic philosopher. He once made the statement, “You never step into the same river twice.” What he meant by that was that the river is in a constant state of flux—it is constantly changing. The general idea is that nothing is ever the same because everything is changing. To exist means to be constantly changing. This concept would later be adapted by Plato, who made the distinction between being and becoming. The term being corresponds to essence—which is something that does not change. The term becoming corresponds to existence, because to exist means to be in existence, which means to be in a state of constant change. Second by second everything is changing. The second law of thermodynamics explains this in regards to energy, deprivation, and degradation. Again, to exist means to change. Additionally, to exist, something must become, which logically means that something must be created. This is where many people run into problems understanding the existence and origin of God. How could he just exist and not have a beginning?

Simple. God does not exist (in the classical philosophical terms), he simply is. When Moses asked God what he should call him, God profoundly stated, “I Am who I Am.” (Exodus 3:14) He is not bound to existence in time, or space. He doesn’t exist because he has no beginning or end. He doesn’t exist because he is immutable (unchanging). He is beyond existence—he simply is—and therefore, beyond our full comprehension. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world…” (Romans 1:20). God is being, not becoming. He is I Am not I Was/Will Be. His state of being is infinitely beyond comprehension, and existence is not a word worthy of his description.

Reciprocal Marriage: How Should Husbands and Wives Treat Each Other?

A lot of major issues that people have with the Bible are directly related to people taking verses out of context. Often times, this results in confusion and occasionally even abuse. Let’s face the facts: slavery in North America was “justified” in God’s name, as were the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts and so on. We could never deny that horrible things have happened when people distort and abuse a source of power; the Bible being no exception. Marriage is a Biblical institution. Therefore, commands in the Bible regarding marriage are fully capable of being distorted and taken out of context, which could also easily end in confusion and possibly even abuse. I want us to take a brief look at a few common commands in the Bible regarding marriage and iron out some areas of concern that I’ve heard before.

Ephesians 5:33 “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Q: Does this mean that wives are exempt from loving their husbands and that husbands are exempt from respecting their wives?

A: The first thing we need to is understand the Biblical perspective of marriage. Ephesians 5 points out that human marriage is a representation of Christ’s relationship to his church. Paul rightfully labels this as a “mystery,” and shows us that our marriages are a mere shadow of the God’s relationship with his people. So does this mean that wives are required to love their husbands? Well, does the Bible command that we are to love God?  Of course! Jesus says in Matthew 22:36-40 that loving God is the greatest commandment! Therefore, if marriage is a representation of Christ’s relationship to his people, where Christ is the husband and his people are the wife, then the answer is obvious. Wives are called to love their husbands as well, because we (the church) are called to love God. We see this explicitly in Titus 2:4 where older women are told to teach younger women to love their husbands. This is not a suggestion, but a command.

Regarding husbands, we see that they are to love their wives as they do themselves. This verse calls for a little introspection: “Would I feel respected by my wife if she did not love me?” The answer is no. Love is a foundational human need. I must also ask myself: “Would I feel loved by my wife if she had no respect for me?” Absolutely not. So, if I am to love my wife as myself, and I need love to feel respected, but I also need respect to feel loved, then the answer is obvious—I am to respect my wife as I respect myself.

Therefore, if we isolate these verses without taking the greater picture into context, we have lopsided, unbiblical marriages. Unfortunately, we could easily see how confusion and abuse could ease it’s way into marriages if we do not study the meaning and purpose behind marriage as it is laid out in the Bible. This is not God’s design. Husbands must love their wives by also showing them respect. Husbands must treat their wives as themselves, and husbands want respect. Therefore, they respect their wives. I would love to meet a wife that is disrespected by her husband that still feels loved. Likewise, wives must love their husbands. Marriage is a symbol of Christ and his church, and the greatest commandment is for the church to love Christ. Iit would be difficult for a husband to feel truly respected if he wasn’t loved. Marriage is not totalitarian. The design for marriage is mapped out from the early pages of scripture to the end. While the Bible does lay out specific roles within marriage, let’s not take important passages out of context or think little on the subject.

1 John 4:1

A Reflection on my First 7 Months of Marriage: An Honest Critique of Misconceptions

There are mixed perceptions on the concept and value of marriage in our culture. Some people are eager to jump into it and begin a new stage of life; others have little or no faith in the institution. Some people have made it their goal in life to get married; others are reluctant to make such a binding commitment. Whether you spend your time day-dreaming about living life with your future spouse (regardless of whether or not you’ve met them yet) or shudder at the thought of spending a lifetime with someone, I hope to be able to shed light on serious misconceptions that I’ve had about marriage, and misconceptions that I’ve heard other people express about marriage. This is not a call for people to be single, nor is this delusional honeymoon-phase jabber. My hope is that whether or not you are single, dating, engaged or married, that this will be insightful and encouraging regardless of your marital status or future dreams. Keep in mind that as I write this, I’m writing this from the perspective of a 23-year-old Christian male. My goal is to be as open and honest about my experience as I can. So, without going any further, here is my reflection on the first 7 months of my marriage, and a critique of misconceptions that have come along with it:

Misconception:  If I get married, it’ll fix problems I have in my current relationship.

Every relationship has problems because nobody is perfect. Everybody has a past and everybody has baggage. However, if you’re currently dating someone or engaged, don’t fool yourself into thinking that marriage is going to fix notable problems in your relationship. In my experience, it actually makes problems more visible. You’ll be around that person more than you’ll be around anyone else. Prior to being married, you likely lived apart from each other. If you needed some time to work things out in your head, you had it. But now that you’re living with your spouse, you are forced to deal with these issues as they arise. There is no retreating at this point. If you have problems, begin working on them now. Marriage will not fix your relational problems, it will magnify them.

Reflection: You’re more selfish than you thought you were.

I know it seems hard to believe, but you’re actually quite selfish—and I’m selfish too. Marriage is an excellent avenue to pursue if doubtful of your own personal depravity. You’ll continually surprise yourself at the things that make you angry. You’ll continually want to put yourself before your spouse. You’ll be very quick to point out what’s wrong with your spouse, and very quick to defend or justify yourself when they point out things that are wrong with you. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned in marriage is that I’m more selfish than I thought I was.

Misconception: After I get married, I’ll never deal with lust again.

Lust is something that has been criminally swept under the rug in the church. It’s rarely addressed because it makes people uncomfortable. And it makes people uncomfortable because everyone deals with it and it’s embarrassing. However, lust is much like being selfish or prideful or angry. It never goes away despite changing circumstances. But unlike selfishness, pride, or anger: lust has an appetite. I’m going to take a little extra time to unpack this, since it’s not very often that it’s talked about or preached. Sex within marriage is wonderful, but it won’t transform your mind. You won’t wake up on your wedding day with promiscuous thoughts, and then wake up the day after your wedding with the mind of a saint. Because lust is a hunger, it’s not likely that it’ll ever be completely extinguished. But you can control whether or not you feed it. At this point I practically beg my fellow men not to marry just for sex. If you only marry for sex, you will find yourself disappointed. Your wife is a human being, and you are with her forever. Lust is an appetite, and it likes variety. If the top 5 things on your “List of Things I Want in a Spouse” are all physical attributes, I beg you to rethink and revise your list. Of course you should be physically attracted to your husband or wife- but don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will forever destroy the possibility of lust in your life. We have a tendency to idolize sex in both our culture and the church, and it’s done a great deal of damage. In our culture, we idolize sex because we idolize pleasure. In the church, we idolize sex because we idolize abstinence. The common denominator is that both of these approaches idolize sex. Sex, as wonderful as it is, is not worth your worship. Be prepared to fight lust after marriage. The stakes are much higher now.

Reflection: It’s hard to love.

Everyone wants to love and to be loved. That is a natural human longing. But what I’ve learned through marriage is that love and being loving can be incredibly difficult. When I was dating my wife, it was easy for me to do things for her and to make sacrifices for her because my love for her was actually really selfish. I wanted her to feel loved so that she wouldn’t leave me. I was addicted to feeling loved by her. Now that I’m married, I’m much less worried about her leaving me, and if I’m not careful, I find myself being far less motivated to express my love towards her unlike I did when we were dating. My wife and I both have tendencies towards stubbornness (though I embarrassingly outscore her in this area). So when we’re both being stubborn about an issue, my initial reaction is get mad and stomp off like a child. Instead of loving my wife through a conflict, I love myself. My reaction should be to love her into loveliness, but I’m often far more concerned about getting my point across than being a loving, understanding husband.

Misconception: If I marry the right person, our conflict will be minimal.

You’ve heard that you never marry the right person- and that is true to some extent. The word “right” in the context is ambiguous and broad. As a disclaimer, let me say this: my wife and I get along better than I get along with anyone else—and we still don’t always get along. Conflict is natural, and you will have it. But when we talk about the right person, we often talk about a submissive person—someone who will never push our buttons or disagree with us. But could it be that the right person is also the person that lovingly calls you out on your massive shortcomings? Nobody likes to be called out. It hurts our pride. It breaks our hearts. But it needs to happen from time to time. Marriage should improve the individual. Sometimes we’re improved by understanding that we aren’t as great as we thought we were. A spouse can do a great job at giving you these little subtle reminders. So the “right” person doesn’t exactly mean the “easy” person. Don’t marry a jerk, but don’t marry someone who is afraid to stand up to you either. A good relationship is not a relationship free of conflict. Many bad relationships are conflict free because one person decided that it just wasn’t worth the effort anymore. You’ll see a good relationship when you see two people who handle conflict in a good way. Redefine your definition of “right,” and don’t be fooled by this misconception.

Hopefully this will provide some insight and encouragement to you regardless of your marital status. The Biblical concept of human nature is that we are all selfish at our very core. Marriage is a shot in the arm of sanctification that is often painful. However, let’s not buy into pessimism and say that it is all difficult. The closer my marriage represents Christ’s sacrifice for his bride, the richer and more fulfilling my relationship becomes with my wife. It’s always in times of selfishness that my marriage is the most difficult. I encourage you that if you are single: do not idolize your singleness. By idolizing singleness you actually idolize marriage. If you are married: do not idolize your marriage. By idolizing your marriage you idolize your spouse. If you idolize your spouse, you set them up for failure, and you set yourself up for disappointment.

Jesus defined love as sacrifice. What I’m learning is the more I sacrifice, the more I love. And the more I love, the more I sacrifice.