CHOOSING A MARRIAGE PARTNER
And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, saying, “Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan (Genesis 28:1)”. Many a man has learned since that time that he might have been blessed if he had NOT taken the wife he chose. Isaac, knowing well the people of Canaan, was convinced that none of them could be a suitable wife for his son. He was right, although his information incited Esau to increase the already violent enmity toward his hated twin brother. Verse 6 of the same chapter tells us of Esau’s actions when he saw “that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-Aram, to take him a wife from thence, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, “Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.” Esau, already like a she-bear robbed of her whelps because of the incidents pertaining to his birthright and his blessing, took vengeance. He “saw that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother”. Moreover, he saw that “the daughters of Canaan pleased not his father.” So what did he do? He took two more of those women, descendants of his uncle Ishmael, and married them. Spiteful rejection of his parents’ counsel!
In the case of Jacob’s marriage conduct, we are all blessed until this day through his descendants, and in particular his Descendant, the Lord Jesus himself. Not only did Esau mar his own life, but in the centuries later God was to say of his offspring,… “Esau have I hated, and made his mountain a desolation, and gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness” (Malachi 1:3).
This story which is threaded throughout the Bible is but one of the ways God tells us about the blessing of a well-chosen marriage. Those of us who have experienced one can breathe a sigh of relief when we remember. Others we have seen are like one man I know: he made an unfortunate marriage in his youth, and both the marriage and the misfortunes continued for more than 50 years. His life was constant misery, but he kept the vows of his youth. He promised to take care of that woman as long as they both lived, and he did. In his later years he returned to the church and his boyhood faith, even over the protests of his wife and at the expense of ridicule from her lips whenever he went to services. He persisted. She died. Later he married and now with a Christian woman he has a second chance.
INHERITING A BLESSING
Have you noticed the ways the Bible speaks about blessing? There are many. One covetous man asked Jesus to interfere with a will, saying, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). The inheritance we seek is incorruptible, undefiled, unfading, and reserved (see I Peter 1:4).
Peter mentions another dimension of our inheritance – there are some causes or conditions involved. Here are his words: “Finally, be ye all like minded, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humble minded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but contrariwise blessing: for herunto ye were called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (I Peter 4:8-9).
The inheritance spoken of here is somehting we can begin to enjoy, even in this life. We do not have to wait until the dawn of the coming age to share this blessing. It can be ours beginning now! And the “recipe” for this is given in the words of the text. Let us outline the words; We must all be 1. Like minded 2. Compassionate 3. Loving as brethren 4. Tenderhearted 5. Humbleminded 6. Not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling. 7. But on the other hand, bige back blessing when we are reviled. Then comes the inheritance: 8. That ye should inherit a blessing.
Esau had a bitter disappointment when “he would have inherited the blessing” (Hebrews 12:17). He desired the blessing; he longed for it; he “sought it carefully with tears.” But he was rejected. Measure Esau’s character and attitude against the verses of I Peter 4:8-9, and it is easy to see that Esau did not have the proper ingredients of life with which to enjoy the blessing. And we are all warned not to be such a person as he was.
When we think upon friction we have seen (or are seeing) among brethren; when we consider the “ingredients” which will help us inherit a blessing, we may have cause for repentance. Let us not forfeit a blessing by any harsh, impenitent attitude toward others. And as we inherit blessings of God’s approval and enjoyment of fellowship with God’s people, we can look forward with joy to that inheritance that is incorruptible and eternal – blessings without end in the blessed world of bliss with the Lord.
MEEK AND LOWLY IN HEART
The preacher was warming up to his climactic statement. He had been telling us about the need to be humble. He said with a wry smile, “Humility is that wonderful quality, which, when you think you have it, you have just lost it.” His audience chuckled at the witticism. Both the hearers and preachers should have known better, but clearly they did not. Think a moment: How could we enjoy the blessing of Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” if we adopt the preacher’s viewpoint? If we thought we were meek, that meant we had just lost that quality. We had also forfeited the blessing that can’t be true.
Again, we are told in Scripture that Moses was meek above all men that are on the face of the earth (see Numbers 12:3). That was written by Moses, at the inspiration of God. Just as the passages which detail the sins of Moses are true, so is this one. Sometimes a writer is spared from praising himself, as in the case of Matthew. He tells about a supper at which Jesus was present, but we learn from Luke 5:29 that Matthew (there called Levi) left everything to follow Jesus, then made a great supper for the Master.
Our Master said of himself in that wondrous invitation, “I am meek and lowly in heart…” (Matthew 11:29). Had Jesus lost his humilty? No, no, no.
Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, naming them as witness, that he had served the Lord “with all lowliness of mind” (see Acts 20:19). Did he forfeit that lowliness in so saying? No, no, no.
We are taught, each of us “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom 12:3). Isn’t that a command to think of ourselves as we ought to think? Absolutely – “so to think as to think soberly…”
To put it my way, we should try to think of ourselves as we really are, magnifying neither our faults nor our good qualities. That surely is true humility, it will inherit the blessing, and it will glorify the Lord.
BLESSINGS OF JOSEPH
When Jacob called his sons together as he was near death, he left a marvelous benefit for them. He promised Joseph that his blessings would come “even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee, and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee” (Genesis 49:25).
Failing to thank God when He blesses us has been compared to a pig, fattening on the acorns that fall from an oak tree. The pig prospers but never looks up to see the source of his blessings. Are we like that?
The details were spelled out for Joseph: “with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that coucheth beneath, blessings of the breast and of the womb…” (Genesis 49:25 the rest of the verse).
What a promise! The boy who was hated by his brothers, sold by his brothers, sold to his cousins, enslaved by the Egyptians, has such wonders in store for his offspring! How was the tribe of Joseph blessed by the sky above? Rains in their seasons, perhaps. Sun in its splendor and benefits daily. How was he blessed by the ocean? The details are not given. We were blessed here only last night by a shower that resulted from a hurricane which has spent its force. Blessings of the breast and of the womb signify healthy mothers bearing and nursing healthy children.
Jacob went on to say to Joseph that these there the blessings of “thy father,” evidently speaking about himself. He said that those blessings “have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors (ancestors) unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” And he made it strong and specific: “They shall be upon the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren” (Genesis 49:26). Joseph’s brothers could threaten him, put him in a pit, sell him to traders – but they could not separate him from God’s blessings! Let us remember this. When we feel that only God is our friend, that will never be true, but even if it were true, He would still be enough.
THOU ARE BLESSED OF THE LORD
“Thou are now the blessed of the Lord…” (Genesis 26:30). Do you remember who sid that, and to whom he said it? The speaker was Abimelech. He was speaking to Isaac. Isaac was not impressed. He asked Abimelech, “Wherefore are ye come unto me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you” (v. 27).
The trouble had started over some wells Abraham had dug. After Abraham died, the servants of Abimelech had stopped the wells (Gen. 26:18). That was a curious thing in that land, where water is scarce. Perhaps those folk wanted to prevent anyone else from being benefited by the wells. So there was strife between Isaac’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Gerar (Gen. 20:26). Why was there strife? Isaac’s servants had re-dug a well; Abimelech’s men would say it was theirs. What did Isaac do? He kept digging wells until they quit arguing with him. Dig. Argue. Dig, Argue, Dig-finally a well called Rehoboth – which means room. Isaac named it, and gave God the credit for giving him room in the land.
When Abimelech came to Beersheba, he seemed prepared to fight, since he brought his army captain along. What did he see? A peaceable Isaac, then Abimelech made his speech: “We saw plainly that the Lord was with thee.” Now we’re back to where we started. Abimelech proposed a covenant. Terms? That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good (well, nothing except stopping up the wells and claiming all the water rights) and have sent thee away in peace; thou art now the blessed of Jehovah” (Gen. 26:29). Isaac – bless his gentle heart! – ignored these specious claims, prepared a great feast, they ate and drank, swore that there would be peace between them. How did this affect Isaac? That SAME DAY Isaac’s servants reported finding water in another well – and that is how Beersheba got its name: the well of the oath.
Do you suppose that if you and I dealt in such a fashion with our enemies that they might become our friends? And then even they would be “the blessed of the Lord”.
It is not unusual in today’s papers to find the lists of divorces granted, and to see that they out number the total of marriage licenses issued in the same period. Respect for marriage has declined. Unions that will not be approved by the Lord (if we judge by what the Bible says about them) continue their ugly course. There is no longer general shock about these conditions.
There is a very old remedy for many of these problems, and the remedy has to do with a special kind of blessing. The words are, “Let thy fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of thy youth…” (Proverbs 5:18). The entire section from Prov. 5:15ff, deals with this truth. The “fountain” in the passage is the body of the man, which is capable of producing children. Therefore “rejoice in the wife of they youth” completes the sense of the command. Here one positive command sets aside the evils which result from ignoring the words. To see the vileness of those things, read more in the same section (Proverbs 5:20-23).
How then does one keep the command, “Let thy fountain be blessed”? Simple: Be faithful to your wife. Rejoice in her. Praise her. Trust her. Provide for her needs, emotionally as well as materially. Be a good husband, and your fountain will be blessed.
BLESSEDNESS BY THE HANDFULS
When Moses had broken the tables of the law, he called for the Levites. “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me.” Every Levite answered his call. They were told to go throughout the camp and kill “brother, companion, neighbor…son, brother…” Notice the commands: “Take every man his sword…Consecrate yourselves.” (Read the story in Exodus 32:25-29).
Now look carefully at the end of verse 29: “…that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.” In this series we have found many texts about receiving God’s blessings. This one has a grimness about it. Kill your own friend? Your neighbor? Your father? Your brother? Why do such a thing? So the Lord will bless you.
The principle involved here includes God’s hatred of sin. Sometimes my antipathy to sin is lessened because the sin is my own, or that of someone else dear to me. God is not swayed by any such human traits. GOD HATES SIN. The corpes of 3000 people are grim evidence of the tact. The New Testament confirms the witness: God was grieved with them because “they had sinned…their carcasses fell in the wilderness” (Heb. 3:17).
The angry stroke of God on Ananias and Sapphira makes this truth vivid (Acts 5:1-11). Let us ask ourselves, how do we feel about sin? Is the sin less evil because we did it, or one of our family committed it? No, no, no. Sin must remain exceedingly sinful (see Romans 7:13).
Is there a clear conclusion to be drawn? There is. We must take the sword of God, his two-edged powerful sword, and use it against all sin. The Levites filled their hands with their swords. We fill our hearts with the Word.
And when we use it to punish sin – our own, or anyone elses, we shall also be blessed. Elders, think it over. Do not let sin control the church which you serve, without your giving all your power to oppose the evil. Then the whole church will gain the blessing. Let none of us use the sword for carnal purposes – that itself is sinful. But let none of us hold back from using God’s sword, even with aching hearts and tear-filled eyes. God will give the blessing and we will receive it.
PRAYERS FOR THE ELDERS
Perhaps prayers are offered in behalf of elders in a proportion that would rank along with prayers for the sick. This is appropriate, because the welfare of the flock depends upon the help which the shepherds are willing to receive from the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus. And sometimes specific prayers are found in places we do not suspect. While the prayer in Phil. 1:9-11 is for all Christians, let us review some of it with elders especially in mind.
THAT YOUR LOVE MAY ABOUND YET MORE AND MORE. So many problems are dealt with in elders’ meetings, so many times that try the soul have to be faced, that love may grow cold or disappear. Love is needed, love that has special qualities:
A. IN KNOWLEDGE. Surely the love of elders must be balanced between love for people and hatred for the sins of the people. It must be balanced when some influential brother or sister has an axe to grind, and is quite willing to use an elder (or all the elders) to achieve the desired goal. Elders, don’t be taken in.
B. IN ALL DISCERNMENT. Maturity and experience should enable elders to learn to make distinctions that are valid. Such conduct may not always appear consistent, yet it may be necessary. If love for truth is consistent, application of details may vary to the advantage of all concerned.
C. SO THAT YE MAY APPROVE THE THINGS THAT ARE EXCELLENT. Without love which filled with knowledge and discernment, elders may settle for mediocre programs, vague goals or none at all. “Keeping house” for the Lord when CLEANING HOUSE is the real need.
D. THAT YE MAY BE SINCERE AND VOID OF OFFENSE UNTO THE DAY OF CHRIST. When this prayer is answered there will be no power struggles among the elders, no attempts at manipulation allowed within the eldership, no matter how large the contributor/objector may loom in the situation. Re-read the story of the Ephesian elders, from whose number men arose who had the desire to draw away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:30).
E. BEING FILLED WITH THE FRUITS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, WHICH ARE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. The result of love applied with discernment will be fruitbearing eldership and congregation. It will then be evident that the fruit borne is that which is produced by the Lord when we cooperate with Him – not by our feeble and faint flounderings.
F. UNTO THE GLORY AND PRAISE OF GOD. How thrilling to work with men whose earnest desire is to glorify the Lord! How thrilling to be part of the congregation which has this basic view of its duties and privileges!
These suggestions are an effort to include the bishops in specific ways in the application of “to all the saints…with the bishops and deacons…” (Philippians 1:1). It could be helpful to call a meeting of deacons and study prayerfully for practical applications of these requests to the work and attitudes of deacons. And let each of “ordinary members of the church” make the same kind of searching study to apply to ourselves. Surely the Lord will bless us when we do.