Guest Post: Psalm 143: Just Don’t Be Silent

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

What do you do when faced with a frustrating situation? Have you ever tried to make your point and people just won’t listen? Have you ever expected something to happen, only to be disappointed once again? Been relentlessly targeted as a scapegoat or overlooked for someone else? For better or for worse, I usually go silent amidst a time of frustration. Usually this works to my benefit, stepping away from the situation, gathering my thoughts, and only responding if necessary and in an appropriate way. Honestly, I usually come up with the perfect way to respond way after the opportunity has passed.

However, there is one relationship where silence does not work to solve anything. That is in my relationship with my Lord. If the Lord convicts me of an area of sin in my life or if I am not understanding what the Lord is doing in a situation, or if I grow weary in the waiting, the emotions of anger and frustration well up within me. “Fine. I’ll just step away,” my heart says, cowering from the uncomfortable nudging of the Lord through His Holy Spirit. Away is the exact opposite direction I need to be going. When the Lord nudges me or stretches me or upsets my comfortable sin, I must realize His workings and then run fully TOWARD him. This is where we find David in Psalm 143.

This Psalm begins with three requests made by David to the Lord. The first request David makes is, “Lord, hear my prayer”.  If David teaches us anything through his life and through his writings, it is to call out to the Lord. Make your requests! No matter how big or small the topic, trivial or life changing. So very often I find myself worrying sick over something before I realize that I have not even talked to the Lord about it. Yes, He knows my heart, but how much more does He want to hear from me? There is no time day or night, mid-day or midnight that is off limits to talk with God. God promises throughout scripture that he will hear us. Take Him at His word.  Be like David and make your requests known to Him who controls and creates everything.

Secondly, David asks, “in your faithfulness, listen to my plea.” He directly relates God listening with God’s faithfulness. The Lord hears and, in turn, listens to us, not because of how great we are or how important our words are, but because of Who He is. He is faithful to His people. When we talk with the Lord, He reminds us of that faithfulness and usually that reminding encourages us to trust him more. The process goes like this…the more we stir up our own thoughts and allow our words to fester in our mind, the more we rely on our own understanding of the situations around us. However, when we make our prayers known to the Lord and seek His face, we acknowledge our need for Him. And when we call to Him, we experience his faithfulness in listening to us. When we understand that faithfulness, it spurs us on to trust him more.

Lastly, David says, “in your righteousness, answer me.” This is the third request made by David as he begins this Psalm. When we cry out to God, we can be sure that he not only will hear and listen, but He will answer. However, sometimes the problem lies in how he answers. We want God to answer immediately or along the lines of our understanding. We cannot see in the moment how limited that expectation is. Just like God listens out of his faithfulness, he answers out of his righteousness. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”  As we wait for his answers, we humble ourselves, lay down our desire for control, and trust His righteousness.

David continues in the rest of the Psalm to describe his struggles and the hard situations that encompass him. He lays it all out before God. He ends the Psalm with the declaration of “I am your servant”.

At the end of the day, every believer lands at that same admission. We are His servant. He listens, loves, and cares for us in His gracious mercy because of who He is, and we should trust and rely on Him because of who we are.

Protecting the Church’s Money

1024x1024“If you are at a church that collects money, someone is stealing.” That is how a guest speaker in my Family and Church Financial Stewardship class opened his lecture on protecting the church’s money. My students were dumbfounded as he recounted a few stories ranging from stealing quarters out of a drink machine to embezzlement. Honestly, the first time I heard him give this lecture several years ago, I was surprised myself. Unfortunately, I am not surprised any more.

Just this week a former minister at Houston’s First Baptist Church was indicted for embezzling over $800,000 from the church between 2011 and 2017. News outlets report that he spent the money on family vacations, groceries, and a doctoral degree from a Bible college.[1]

Why would anyone do this?

This is a difficult question to answer. On some level, we can probably start by looking to the Tenth Commandment. In Exodus 20:17 we read, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Most people do not wake up in the morning plotting how they can steal money from the church. It starts as a problem with the heart, coveting what they do not have and contemplating how to use someone else’s resources to attain it. The desire starts small but blossoms into an uncontrollable passion to take what is not your own.

James describes the progression of sin this way: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Temptation leads to lust. Lust conceives sin. Sin brings forth death. That is why we must examine our hearts. We often allow something to grow and fester in our hearts that ultimately leads to sin and death. We need to stop it at the heart level.

How can we protect the church’s money?

This is a central question of the class I mentioned earlier. I think we all want to believe that everyone who handles the church’s money can be trusted implicitly. However, if that were true, tragic situations like the one in Houston would never happen. Here are a few principles that will help prevent such situations.

  1. Evaluate the character of those who handle the church’s money. When it comes to ministers, we see a very explicit character trait related to money. As part of his list of qualifications for pastors, Paul states, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, . . . free from the love of money” (1 Tim 3:2, 3). Paul gives further instructions to Timothy later in the same epistle. He states, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim 6:9-10). The evaluation of character needs to be an ongoing process. At the same time, we cannot make simple assumptions about someone’s character. Just because someone is wealthy does not mean he loves money. Conversely, just because someone lives modestly does not mean she is free from the love of money. We need to begin by evaluating our own hearts and then judge the character of those with access to the church’s monetary resources. Using people of good character to handle the church’s resources is a good place to start.
  2. Build accountability into the money collection process. This principle assumes that your church has a process for collecting, counting, and depositing money. Even with many churches collecting a significant portion of their budget online, there still needs to be a process for handling cash and checks for any number of transactions and gifts. Building accountability into the system includes having more than one person handle the money at all times. No single person should be responsible for collecting or counting the money. This is unwise on the part of the church and the one collecting or counting the money. Just a few weeks ago, I was tasked with collecting money at church for some choir shirts. I collected the money in a very public place and then had someone else help me count the money. Then we both signed a paper with the amount of money we collected divided up by the denomination of bills. Such a process protects the church’s money and the reputation of the individuals collecting the money.
  3. Limit access to the church’s money. While your church certainly needs multiple people collecting and counting the money, you do not want everyone involved in the process. Limiting access to the church’s money includes have a designated group of people who rotate through the collection and counting process. In addition, limiting access means there are only certain people who can write checks or use a church credit card. While it may seem easy to pass out a credit card to everyone who might need one, this opens the door to unauthorized transactions. I admit that having to get reimbursed for an authorized expense can be frustrating, but I can also attest that I am very intentional about making sure that the transaction is authorized in advance and that I submit a receipt in a timely fashion when my money is tied up in the process.
  4. Conduct a regular audit. Depending on the size of your church, the complexity of an audit will differ. However, every church needs to perform an audit, preferably by an outside firm, on a regular basis. This appears to be how the situation at Houston’s First Baptist Church was discovered. The church released a statement saying that it discovered “a limited set of suspicious financial activity.” This activity led to a full investigation that uncovered “multiple deceptive and difficult-to-detect techniques” used to embezzle missions funds from the church. Having a firm not connected to the church perform an audit will ensure objectivity if suspicious activity is discovered.

These basic principles are not going to fix all the problems a church may have with protecting money, but they are a step on the right direction. Ultimately, we have to remember that no church is safe from having money stolen, but we need to take necessary measures to prevent it whenever possible.Family and Church Financial Stewardship Class

If you are interested in the class mentioned above, STWLD 3603: Family and Church Financial Stewardship will be offered in the spring 2019 semester both on campus and online. Current Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students can register for the class with the Registrar’s Office. If you are not currently a student, contact the Admissions Office about applying to become a student.

[1] Samantha Ketterer, “Ex-minister accused of stealing $800K from Houston’s First Baptist Church,” The Houston Chronicle, December 11, 2018; David Roach, “Former Houston’s First minister admits embezzlement,” Baptist Press, December 11, 2018.

Post-Election Perspective from Proverbs

wf_logoThere is no doubt that our elections have become more contentious in recent years. We have seen and heard extreme reactions to both victories and losses. I just finished listening to Hillary Clinton’s recent book, What Happened, which gives her perspective on the current state of American politics and why she lost her presidential bid in 2016. She highlights a number of trends that we can all agree upon regarding politics: the parties are less likely to work together, many candidates appear to be more extreme in their positions, and the electorate is reacting more strongly to those candidates.

At the same time, we have to remember that the current state of politics is really nothing new. We may have enjoyed a relatively calm period of political engagement and goodwill in the years following World War II, but the current state of affairs is very similar to the partisan politics immediately after George Washington’s presidency.

How should Christians respond in these politically divisive days? I think we can gain some perspective from the book of Proverbs to help us walk through these times.

  1. Remember that God is sovereign over our elected officials. Sometimes we are tempted to lose perspective when an election doesn’t go our way. If you vote in enough elections, your chosen candidate is going to lose. I had some friends and acquaintances who won their elections last night and some who lost. I sent a congratulatory text to a friend who won his election, and his response demonstrated a godly perspective. He said, “These nights always challenge whether my belief in a sovereign God is absolute. But no doubt He is, and I am grateful He has allowed us to serve….” We often focus on the human side of the election, but we need to remember that God is sovereign. In Proverbs 21:1 we read, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We may vote for our preferred candidates, but God still controls the hearts of our leaders. They are like streams in his hand. Whenever he wants to redirect them, he simply moves his hand.
  2. Do not gloat over the loss of your opponents. As I drove through my neighborhood this morning, I passed by a property that has dozens of signs in the yard. I don’t always agree with the approach of this property owner, but I often vote for some of the candidates that are promoted by his signs. This morning there was a new sign with a picture of Beto O’Rourke, who lost a close election to Senator Ted Cruz. Printed on the sign was a message mocking O’Rourke and those who voted for him. This sign is an example of gloating over the defeat of a political opponent. I don’t believe Senator Cruz authorized such a sign, but the attitude of the property owner appeared to be on full display. This sign communicates the intent to revel in someone else’s loss. That is not a biblical perspective. Proverbs 24:17 tells us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Whether the enemy is a political opponent or a military threat, we are not to rejoice in his defeat. From a political perspective, we still need to work together with those on the other side of the aisle to accomplish good for our communities, states, and nation.
  3. Pray for wisdom for our government officials. Whether our candidates won or lost, we need to pray that our governing officials have godly wisdom to rule righteously. We never know how God might choose to use a particular elected official, but we know he is honored when that official governs with wisdom. Proverbs 8:12-16 state, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly.” These verses describe several characteristics we desire in our government officials—prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, and justice. And they all flow from wisdom. Let us pray for those who were elected yesterday to have godly wisdom so that they can judge rightly.

No matter where you fall along the political spectrum, I hope you can see that these proverbs give us some perspective for thinking through the results of the election.

Preaching and Social Ministry

This post first appeared on Preaching Source at http://preachingsource.com/blog/preaching-and-social-ministry/.

Social ministry is often forgotten in evangelical preaching circles. In our desire to clearly communicate the life changing truth of the gospel leading to salvation, we sometimes overlook the real-life needs of individuals who need both spiritual and physical nourishment. Social ministries include provision of food, shelter, clothing, safety, and skills for life. These are ministries that help people day-to-day and can meet a physical need while opening the door to spiritual needs.

The reasons I hear for neglecting social ministry in preaching is a fear of replacing the gospel of salvation with a social gospel. We have seen this before in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century, but we have probably swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. There needs to be a healthy balance between preaching for salvation and meeting people’s physical needs.

How can we preach the gospel and affirm social ministry without running the risk of falling into the errors of the Social Gospel?

1. Have a biblical perspective on social ministry.

The prophet Micah gives us a clear admonition regarding social ministry as he proclaims, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8). In the immediate context of this verse, Micah compares justice and kindness with the rituals of worship. Micah asks, “With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Mic 6:6–7). The prophet clearly states that God desires more than just the ritual process of worship. This was true for ancient Israel, and it is true for us today. We should do more than just lead our people in worship on Sunday morning. We also need to lead them in acts of justice, to love kindness, and to walk in humility. This includes serving others, particularly the less fortunate in our communities.

2. Start with biblical examples of social ministry.

If you don’t know where to begin with encouraging your people toward involvement in social ministries, start by pointing them to biblical examples of social ministry. One example comes from the early days of the church in the book of Acts. Luke records a conflict that arose among the believers in Jerusalem regarding social ministry to widows. In Acts 6:1–4 we read, “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” These verses record a situation of real need—widows were in need of daily provision of food. There was also a conflict because the Hellenistic widows were being overlooked in preference for the Hebrew widows. Rather than neglecting this need, the apostles led the congregation to appoint people who could faithfully serve the widows. This freed up the apostles to continue in prayer and the ministry of the Word, but I have no doubt that they addressed this in their teaching of the young congregation at Jerusalem.

Serving widows is a good place to start for a biblical example of social ministry, but we could also include orphan care (Jas 1:27; Exod 22:22), benevolence (Matt 6:1–4; Ps 82:3; Isa 58:7), medical needs (Luke 10:30–37; Jas 5:14–15), and many other forms of social ministry. Most of these needs are right in front of us; we just need to take the time to address them. In your preaching, encourage your congregation to look around them for needs that they can meet. Perhaps they can serve as a reading tutor in a local school or provide meals for the hungry. Such needs exist in almost every community.

3. Use social ministry as an open door for further ministry.

Social ministry can serve as an open door for further interaction with those whose needs we are meeting. A hot meal and a cup of water can serve as the means to starting a gospel conversation. However, we must not view social ministry simply as a means to the end of evangelism. Serving those in need is a worthy ministry even if it does not result in salvation. At the same time, we must not simply meet physical needs without addressing the spiritual need. We need balance in our approach.

In addition, meeting an immediate physical need may lead to further opportunities to help those in need provide for themselves. There are numerous examples of ministries that help people get back on their feet so they are no longer dependent on social ministries. Find these ministries in your local context and highlight them in your preaching as opportunities for people in your congregation to get involved.

We should not be scared away by social ministry. Instead, we need a biblical perspective on how to encourage our churches to meet physical needs while also addressing the spiritual needs of people in our communities.

To Save or Not to Save?

chicklet-currencyDue to my role as the Eklund Chair of Stewardship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, students regularly ask me about financial stewardship. Some of the basic advice I always give relates to budgeting, paying off debt, and saving. I am happy to report that many students take my advice and begin the journey of taking control of their finances. This is not just an economic issue, but I believe it is a spiritual one as well.

Unfortunately, the culture often teaches the opposite of what I try to pass along to my students, particularly at a time when many people believe the economy is surging ahead with no end in sight.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the rate of savings among Americans has dropped to a 12-year low. The article states, “Soaring stock prices and improving job prospects have set Americans off on a spending splurge that is cutting into how much they sock away for retirement and rainy days.” As net worth has risen over the last decade, people are spending more of their lifetime savings. This could mean drawing money out of retirement accounts or tapping into their home equity to make purchases.

The net result is that savings has decreased. The WSJ article continues, “The saving rate was 2.4% of disposable household income in December [2017], the Commerce Department said Monday. That was the lowest rate since September 2005, not long after then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan began warning about froth in housing markets. The saving rate had risen to 6.6% when the recession ended in June 2009.”

In my Family and Church Financial Stewardship class last week, we focused on a number of passages from Proverbs that speak about how a wise person should view money. Proverbs 6:6-11 gives us a lesson from the world of insects related to the topic of saving for the future. These verses read:

Go to the ant, O sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise,
Which, having no chief,
Officer or ruler,
Prepares her food in the summer
And gathers her provision in the harvest.
How long will you lie down, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest”—
Your poverty will come in like a vagabond
And your need like an armed man.

The ant recognizes the need to save for the future when the present is bountiful. We are in a historic time of increase in the stock market, and for many the economic boom holds great promise for the future. However, we have seen booms before and they are typically followed by busts. The question for us is whether we are storing up like the ant or sleeping away these bountiful days like the sluggard. Notice that the sluggard does not see his poverty coming. It hits him like an armed man seeking to steal all he has.

At the same time, we must be careful not to put our trust in the financial resources we may amass during our lives. Jesus tells a parable about a rich fool who trusted his riches rather than the Lord (Luke 12:16-21). Jesus says:

The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

There is a balance to be struck between preparation and abundance. The sluggard of Proverbs 6 did not prepare for the future, but the rich fool of Luke 12 trusted in the abundance of his riches. We must pursue wisdom in discovering where the balance is between these two examples. Both refusing to save for the future storing up treasures on earth are foolish. I pray we pursue contentment between these two extremes.

_________________________

Harriet Torry, “With Stocks Surging, Americans Are Saving at 12-Year Low,” The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2018.

Family and Church Financial Stewardship

Stewardship Class PromoEven though I have spent most of my academic career teaching courses on ethics, one of my favorite courses that I teach is actually in the realm of stewardship. STWLD 3603: Family and Church Financial Stewardship is a fun class to teach because I get to see my students implement the concepts they are learning on a weekly basis.

As you can tell by the title, the course covers two major areas of financial stewardship–the family and the church. In the first half of the class, we consider what the Bible says about financial stewardship and how to apply those truths to our lives. We also handle some of the unique components of financial management for ministers including housing allowance and ministerial taxes.

The most practical assignment for this section of the class is the family budget analysis. Students are required to track every expense for two months, categorize those expenses, and then analyze their expenses. This is the first step to building a workable budget. Many of my students have never tracked and analyzed their expenses, so this is the first time they get a clear picture of how they use their money. Students are regularly surprised by what they find and begin making changes immediately.

When we transition to the part of the class on church financial stewardship, the focus is on how to build a church budget and how to protect the church’s money. New seminary graduates often do not have the luxury of going to churches with multiple staff members where someone takes care of the finances. In most cases, the new pastor also has responsibility of managing the budget with the assistance of a volunteer committee. For that reason, it is imperative that they learn how to budget for the church.

In addition, protecting the church’s money is also a crucial element. I once heard a friend of mine who is a church administrator say, “If you serve at a church that collects money, someone is trying to steal it.” The longer I have been around churches, the more I realize he is correct. Whether it is someone taking coins out of the soda machine or a staff member embezzling millions of dollars, the reality is that our churches’ money is vulnerable. Therefore, we need policies in place to help protect money and promote integrity in the handling of money.

As you can see, this class covers a wide range of topics related to financial stewardship. My students are also thankful that they do not have to listen to just me for the semester. This semester’s guests include John Cortines, co-author of God and Money (one of our textbooks), Stephen Osborne, senior relationship manager at Guidestone Financial Resources, and David Hain, executive pastor at Birchman Baptist Church.

I encourage as many students as possible at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to take this class. The class is offered on Tuesday/Thursday at 1:00-2:15 this semester. I also just received approval to offer it in our flexible access format so that students can take it without being on campus. If you are interested in the class, please contact the Registrar’s Office.

The New Marriage Battleground: Polygamy, Polyamory, and Open Marriage

polygamyThis post originally appeared on Theological Matters at https://theologicalmatters.com/2017/10/10/the-new-marriage-battleground-polygamy-polyamory-and-open-marriage/.

Students who have taken my Christian Home class are familiar with a diagram I draw on the board each semester. In this diagram, I visually depict the difference between polygamy and polyamory—two marriage arrangements that contrast monogamy. I then tell my students that such arrangements will most likely be legal in the United States in just a matter of years and that the church will need to be prepared to address them.

The timeframe for normalization of these alternative marriages may have accelerated in recent months as a series of articles have been published touting the advantages of various forms of multiple marriage. It is important for us to understand what these are and to critique them from a biblical perspective.

The Marriage Alternatives

Until the last couple of years, laws in the United States only recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges opened the door to same-sex marriage. Now we see a push for different types of marriage that infringe upon monogamy.

Polygamy is a marriage arrangement where one individual is married to multiple partners. Historically this is primarily a man married to multiple women. This form of marriage is the one most clearly set up for legalization through the Obergefell decision.

Polyamory literally means “many loves” and describes “consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners.”[1] Polyamory differs from polygamy because all partners can be in multiple marriage-like relationships. While a recent Christian blogger has stated that polyamory is not about sex,[2] the basic premise of this type of relationship is that the various partners are in multiple intimate, romantic, sexual relationships.

Open marriage is the third alternative in the marriage battleground. This arrangement involves couples in the marriage being open to romantic, sexual relationships outside the context of their own marriage. In some respects this is similar to polyamory, although the outside relationships may not be formalized as marriage. Proponents of open marriage argue that as long as both spouses are in agreement with the arrangement then it does not break the fidelity of the marriage bond.

The Battle Ahead

Are these marriage alternatives really going to become mainstream? Numerous articles have appeared over the last year promoting these different marriage arrangements. New York published an article promoting consensual nonmonogamy.[3] The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed philosopher Carrie Jenkins about her new book What Love Is and What It Could Be in which she promotes polyamory.[4] NPR even ran a story about the cultural moment for polyamory stating, “Lately, I’m seeing ‘polyamory’ everywhere. It’s not a new word or concept of course, but it seems to be having a cultural moment.”[5] Polygamy is popularized on the television shows Sister Wives and Polygamy USA.

From a Christian perspective, progressive Christian blogger Chuck McKnight is currently publishing a series of blog posts promoting polyamory and open marriage based on a “love-based ethic” in which our ethical actions are judged by only the question of whether they are loving. McKnight believes that polyamory can be loving and therefore not biblically prohibited.

The Christian Response

In response to the cultural push for acceptance of these marriage alternatives, Scripture gives us a couple of clear ideas about marriage.

Scripture communicates a consistent message about the monogamous nature of marriage. Beginning in Genesis, we see that God’s design for marriage is a comprehensive, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. Genesis 2:24 provides this divine commentary on the nature of marriage:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

God designed that the man (singular) would be joined to his wife (singular) in marriage. All subsequent descriptions of marriage relate the ideal of monogamy. While there are examples of polygamists in the Old Testament (for example, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon), their polygamy is not depicted as ideal. In fact, their polygamy is the source of great strife and conflict in their homes. Despite the presence of such polygamy, the overwhelming testimony of Scripture points to monogamy as the standard. Both Jesus and Paul affirm the monogamous standard. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 and then describes two becoming one flesh. He never inserts a third or fourth individual into the marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul states, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul clearly communicates the idea of monogamous marriage here. The message is consistent throughout Scripture.

Any departure from monogamous marriage is a form of sexual immorality. Scripture consistently condemns adultery, but two specific passages come to mind in response to the current challenges to marriage. In Romans 7:3 we read, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. . . .” Paul describes a standard monogamous marriage (a wife with one husband) and equates any union with another man as adultery. In addition the author of Hebrews tells us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

If Scripture depicts God’s design for marriage to be monogamous, and if any departure from monogamous marriage is equated with adultery, then the various alternative marriage arrangements—polygamy, polyamory, and open marriage—are all forms of adultery that are subject to the judgment of God. Therefore, Christians should not endorse these forms of “marriage,” nor should they tolerate them within their midst. Just as Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for tolerating the man who had married his father’s wife, we too should rebuke those who promote and tolerate such distortions of God’s design for marriage.

[1] Rhonda N. Balzarini, et al., “Perceptions of primary and secondary relationships in polyamory,” PLoS ONE 12 (2017).

[2] Churck McKnight, “What Polyamory Is Not,” Hippie Heretic (September 11, 2017).

[3] Drake Baer, “Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love,” New York (March 6, 2017).

[4] Moira Weigel, “‘I Have Multiple Loves’: Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory,” The Chronical of Higher Education (February 3, 2017). Carrie Jenkins, What Love Is: And What It Could Be (New York: Basic Books, 2017).

[5] Barbara J. King, “A Cultural Moment for Polyamory,” NPR (March 23, 2017).