It was a wonderful puff of smoke that brought about a great silence. The motor had evidently called it quits and I had to admit that I was glad. Glad also, that I had kept one of the sails up so that we could continue sailing straight into dock (I don’t think we even lost any speed!). And the motor’s death meant that I could continue with my passion for sailing. My parents had bought it for my sailboat, more for my Mum’s peace of mind at the thought of a pre-teen getting stuck in the middle of the lake, than because I actually needed it. Problem was it was heavy. It was especially heavy since it seemed to come with 180 lbs of big brother attached. With the addition of a motor my sailboat suddenly became interesting to my brother which was great, except that he wasn’t really interested in sailing so much as motoring. I was missing sailing and so was quietly glad that the motor went quiet. Now don’t get me wrong, it is not that I was against motors (or didn’t like my brother!). It is that I was passionate about sailing.
Unfortunately as Christians we are often known for what we are against that what we are for. Here is one example that I have chosen to focus on simply from its prevalence. We are known for being against sex before marriage. Many would call our lifting up of celibacy before marriage as out of touch with society and old fashioned. It is definitely out of touch with today’s society, yes. I completely understand when a couple comes to me wanting to be married, and they are in fact already living together. They are doing what seems pretty normal in society and is portrayed as very normal in the media. But is waiting for marriage for sex simply old fashioned? Should the church cave in on this one and not bother to teach otherwise like we used to? When we only approach it negatively as a “thou shall not” it does come across as old fashioned. The response is “why shall I not” and many have trouble articulating the ‘why not’. But let’s take a look at what we are actually doing by remaining celibate instead of focussing on what we are not doing as we normally do.
Let’s begin with the beauty of marriage. Most would agree that being faithful to one’s covenant partner, to one’s spouse is not old fashioned. It is beautiful. But when should that faithfulness begin? Does it begin on the wedding day? Does it begin the day of engagement? Does it begin when a couple starts dating? When should we expect faithfulness to begin? Faithfulness to one’s marriage partner is a lifelong commitment that begins at birth. What a beautiful moment in a wedding ceremony when each partner speaks of their commitment to faithfulness to each other ’till death do us part’. It is even more beautiful when the couple knows that this faithfulness has already been practised ‘since I was born’. That kind and level of faithfulness is not old fashioned, it is beautiful. You might even call it romantic.
But some will say that faithfulness itself is old fashioned. That having thrown off much Christian ethic, society should throw off faithfulness as something no longer needed or desirable, that extra-marital sex is now ‘ok’. But what if faithfulness is not important to God? Our marriage covenant is often used in the Bible to describe what God’s relationship with the Church is like, and God’s relationship with the Church is used to describe what marriage is like (see especially Ephesians 5:21-33). Both are covenant relationships. Not contracts, which are normally drawn up because you want something from the other partner in the contract. But covenants, drawn up because you want to give yourself to your partner. That is the kind of covenant God has with us as described so often and in that verse quoted so often: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV John 3:16). Now what if God had given Himself to us in His wonderful grace and mercy, but then changed His mind? His covenant faithfulness to us is not old fashioned, it is beautiful and it is something we desperately need! And so too is faithfulness to our marriage partner something that is beautiful. Society may turn its back on faithfulness within marriage, though I suspect most people won’t, but in the church we never can. It is too beautiful, we must be for it.
And so it is with many of the things we are known for being against. Dig deeper and you can often find out what we are actually for and why it matters. Do people get a sense from being around us that we against everything? That we are holier-than-thou? I’ve met Christians that give me that impression. Or do people get a sense that our passion for holiness has led us to become really beautiful people? Not a ‘you make me dislike holier-than-thou-people’ type of person, but a ‘you inspire me to be more holy’ type of person. Thankfully, I’ve met many Christians that give me that impression!