Commitment Love

Love is often described as an emotion, a warm feeling toward another person. Webster’s Dictionary defines love as a “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties…warm attachment, enthusiasm.”[1] This works in some ways, when the object of our affection appeals to us. But when the natural affinity is gone, or the object becomes unattractive, indifferent, or hostile, emotional love fails.

There is a higher form of love that supersedes emotion. A love that derives from the individual and has little or no regard for the appeal or worth of the object. It is a love that is born out of the bounty of one’s own goodness and is marked by stability and commitment. This love always seeks the best interests of others at one’s own expense, and is not often understood or appreciated. It is this higher form of love that is described and promoted in the Bible. The Bible reveals God loves us, and we are to love Him and others.

God revealed His attribute of love to Moses, saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] and truth; who keeps lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exo 34:6-7a). According to HALOT, the Hebrew word חֶסֶד chesed denotes “lasting loyalty, faithfulness…to show loyalty.”[2] Here, God’s loyalty means He keeps His covenant promises to His people. God is faithful to His Word (see Psa 89:1-4; cf. Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18).

Another word for love in the OT is the Hebrew verb אָהַב ahav. An example is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 where Moses wrote, “You shall love [אָהֵב aheb] the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5). Here, love is an act of the will in which Israelites were to commit themselves to the Lord wholeheartedly. Concerning the word love in this passage, Daniel Block writes:

Speaking biblically “love” is not merely an emotion, a pleasant disposition toward another person, but covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that seek the interest of the next person…Just as in marriage true love is demonstrated not merely or even primarily by roses and verbal utterances of “I love you,” but in actions that seek the well-being and delight of one’s spouse.[3]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

In the life of the believer, love is an act of the will: we choose to relate to God and to other persons in a loving way no matter how we may feel. Christian love simply means that we treat others the way God treats us. In His love, God is kind and forgiving toward us, so we seek to be kind and forgiving toward others (Eph. 4:32). God wills the very best for us, so we desire the very best for others, even if it demands sacrifice on our part.[4]

The idea of commitment-love carries into the New Testament where Jesus tells His disciples, “If you love [ἀγαπάω agapao] Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love for Jesus means we are committed to Him above all else, and this commitment is manifest in a life of obedience to Him and service to others. Biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives.

As Christians, God wants us to walk with Him and enjoy His love and blessings. Our obedience is motivated by His love for us. The apostle John set the order when he wrote, “we love [ἀγαπάω agapao], because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And God loved us when we were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies (Rom 5:6-10). The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love [ἀγάπη agape] toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love [ἀγαπάω agapao] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:43-45)

But love [ἀγαπάω agapao] your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

This command cannot be obeyed if love is an emotion, for one cannot conjure up a warm affection for the one who hates us and causes injury. Emotions are part of what it means to be human. I like my emotions very much, although there are times they get in the way of good judgment and right decisions. The truth is, emotions are unintelligent. They never operate on their own, but are always tied to thoughts or actions. Emotion follows thought like a trailer follows a truck. The trailer goes where the truck goes.

Being unintelligent, emotion does not differentiate between reality or fiction. I can watch a TV show, or read a book, and have an emotional response that is triggered by fictional characters and events. I can even produce a story in my own mind that is completely fictional and have an emotional response. If I want to change my emotions, I need to change my thoughts or actions.

Emotion Follows Thought

Emotional love is not in view when Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Rather, it is commitment love, in which we seek God’s best in the lives of others. Warren Wiersbe states:

Jesus defined our enemies as those who curse us, hate us, and exploit us selfishly. Since Christian love is an act of the will, and not simply an emotion, He has the right to command us to love our enemies. After all, He loved us when we were His enemies (Rom 5:10). We may show this love by blessing those who curse us, doing good to them, and praying for them. When we pray for our enemies, we find it easier to love them. It takes the “poison” out of our attitudes.[5]

William MacDonald adds:

Jesus announces that we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. The fact that love is commanded shows that it is a matter of the will and not primarily of the emotions. It is not the same as natural affection because it is not natural to love those who hate and harm you.[6]

Now, let me be careful here. Loving our enemies does not necessarily mean we expose ourselves to their hostilities. There are clear examples in Scripture where God’s people hid themselves from their enemies. For example, Rahab protected the two spies that came to her house, for “she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof” (Josh 2:6; cf. Heb 11:31). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord and provided food and water for them (1 Ki 18:1-4). These were true prophets, for a false prophet would not have been afraid of the public hostility of Ahab and Jezebel. There were at least two occasions when Jesus “hid Himself” from an attack by the Jewish leadership (John 8:59; John 12:36). Certainly, there was no sin in Jesus’ action.

Furthermore, it’s valid to warn others of enemies who may attack and cause unnecessary harm. When writing to his friend Timothy, the apostle Paul warned him about a dangerous man who hurt him. Paul wrote, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim 4:14-15). Paul did not state what the specific harm was, but clearly he’d been marked by his encounter with Alexander and carried the memory of the hurt. As a Christian, Paul did not seek revenge against Alexander, but rather, put the matter in the Lord’s hands, saying, “the Lord will repay with him according to his deeds” (2 Tim 4:14b). Because God is the one who dispenses justice, we are commanded, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Paul knew God would deal with Alexander in His own time and way and that the punishment would be equitable payment for the harm done to him. There should be no hatred in the heart of the Christian. As Christians, we are never called to seek revenge upon those who have hurt us, but rather, to put the matter in the Lord’s hands. Scripture teaches that God repays people according to their actions, as Paul wrote, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Th 1:6).

In summary, biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives. Love is manifest by prayer, sharing the Gospel with the lost, sharing biblical truth to edify believers, open handed giving to the needy, and supporting Christian ministries that do God’s work, just to name a few.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 336.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 189–190.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 46.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 24.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1223.

Proverbs 31 – Snapshot of an Excellent Woman

The Woman of Excellence Proverbs 31 describes the woman of excellence. The phrase an excellent wife (Pro 31:10; Heb.   אֵשֶׁת־חַיִל esheth chayil) was first used of Ruth, who was described as a woman of excellence (Ruth 3:11, NASB) or a woman of noble character (CSB). Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, who married Bathsheba, who is perhaps the one who shared her wisdom with her son, King Solomon (Pro 31:1). If this is correct, then it’s possible Bathsheba saw in Ruth a template for the woman of noble character. A study of the book of Ruth reveals she was committed to God and His people (Ruth 1:16-17; 2:11), possessed a strong work ethic (Ruth 2:7, 17), listened to good advice (Ruth 2:8-9; 3:1-6), showed respect to others (Ruth 2:10), cared for the needy (Ruth 2:17-18), sought to marry a noble man (Ruth 3:7-10; 4:13), and was praised for her excellence and love for others (Ruth 3:11; 4:15).

According to Proverbs 31:10-31, the excellent wife is precious to her husband (Pro 31:10), and he trusts her (Pro 31:11). It is said, “She does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Pro 31:12). She delights to work with her hands, knowing she’s providing for the good of her family (Pro 31:13, 15, 17-19, 27). She’s a smart shopper (Pro 31:14), and savvy business woman (Pro 31:16, 24), who is recognized for her work (Pro 31:31). She uses her time well (Pro 31:15, 27), is energetic and strong (Pro 31:17), cares for the poor and needy (Pro 31:20), provides for those in her household (Pro 31:21, 27), and does not neglect her own needs or appearance (Pro 31:22). As she is respected in the home, her husband is respected in the community (Pro 31:23), and both he and her children give praise for her dignity (Pro 31:28). She has an optimistic outlook on life, as “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future” (Pro 31:25). She is also noted for her wisdom, and “the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Pro 31:26). She is the ideal wife, and though many women have done nobly, she excels them all (Pro 31:29). What makes this woman so excellent? What drives her to possess all the virtues of a godly woman, for which her husband praises her? Solomon tells us. It’s not her personal charm, which is deceitful; nor her physical beauty, which is fleeting (Pro 31:30a). Rather, it’s because she is “a woman who fears the LORD” (Pro 31:30b). This one “shall be praised” by all who know and appreciate her godliness. What is prioritized is the inner qualities of godliness and virtue that make for an enjoyable, stable, and lasting marriage. Other qualities of godly women are as follows:

I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Tim 2:9-12)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (Tit 2:4-6)

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. (1 Pet 3:1-6)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson (22 minutes)

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Being the Good Boss

Christian leadership is the overflow of a life dedicated to pleasing God and serving others so that we can together accomplish the purposes for which the Lord called us together.[1]

    I’ve been reading books on leadership; Christian leadership to be specific. Most of my time is spent in the Bible chasing down biblical references and reading the historical accounts of great men and women who served the Lord and others. What I’m looking for are those biblical qualities that reflect the highest and best in a leader. Not only do I want to possess those qualities and make them my own, but to exercise them daily with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and with people I happen to meet in society.

    Being the Good Boss In my pursuit, I have come to realize that good character is never automatic, but is consciously developed over many years of right learning and living in the midst of trials, storms, and conflicts. It’s an inescapable truth that strong character—like a strong body—is developed through training and trial. No pain, no gain, as the old adage goes. If we’re willing, we can see life’s trials as a means to make us better rather than bitter. We can willingly subject ourselves to the furnace of affliction that burns away the dross of weak character and develops those golden qualities that reflect the highest and best in mankind. And, in time, we can even learn to smile at the storm when it comes, because we know the One who sends it, and we accept that it comes with a purpose, part of which is to develop the good character that could not mature by any other means.

     But there are other forces at work in the world. Other value systems that are harmful and may lead me into destructive paths. Society is never neutral, and there are pressures that pull me to go with the flow. Sometimes that’s alright, but other times not. I realize any dead fish can float downstream with the current, but it takes someone who is alive and strong to swim against it. I want to be that person. I want to be that good person who desires to walk with God daily, and who helps and encourages others to do the same. God has granted me the privilege of being the leader in my marriage, in Bible class, and as a supervisor at work. I take these responsibilities very seriously, because I know that who I am and how I live influences the thoughts and actions of others. The following is a list of good character qualities that I desire to possess, and the list is by no means exhaustive. I see a good leader as one who:

  1. Submits to God. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Jam 4:7).[2]“I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).
  2. Resists conformity to the world. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
  3. Lives by Faith. “But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38 CSB). “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
  4. Possesses integrity. God said of king David, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psa 78:72). “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Pro 10:9). Having integrity means a person is not artificial, but is genuine in character, honest in speech and faithful to promises.
  5. Does not slander others. “The Lord states, ‘You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness’” (Exo 23:1; cf. Psa 15:3; Pro 11:3; Tit 2:7-8).
  6. Associates with wise persons and listens to their counsel. “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Pro 13:20). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Pro 12:15).
  7. Governs wisely. “By me [wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly” (Pro 8:15-16).
  8. Does not befriend immoral persons. “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Psa 1:1). “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor will I go with pretenders” (Psa 26:4).
  9. Prays often. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18).
  10. Brings stability to those under his/her care. “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Pro 29:4).
  11. Cares about justice. “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19:15). “He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).
  12. Searches to find the facts of a matter before rendering judgment. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. (Pro 18:13). “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro 25:2).
  13. Preserves the rights of others by clear thinking. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Pro 31:4-5).
  14. Educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons. “Now listen to me [Moses receives instruction from Jethro, his father-in-law]: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you” (Exo 18:19-22).
  15. Is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving and loving. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14) “I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph 4:1-2).
  16. Looks out for the interests of others. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  17. Encourages and builds others up. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for building someone up according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Th 5:11).
  18. Pursues peace rather than strife. “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psa 34:14). “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom 14:19).
  19. Recognizes his/her authority and uses it to serve others, not to tear them down. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mat 20:25-28; cf. John 13:1-17).
  20. Rebukes wickedness. “He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (Pro 24:24-25). “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Th 5:14).
  21. Is slow to anger. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Pro 16:32). “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Pro 17:27; cf. 15:18; 19:11; 29:11).
  22. Is not argumentative. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25).
  23. Uses wise and gracious words. “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice” (Psa 37:30).  “Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him” (Ecc 10:12), and “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:6).

     On a day to day basis, the good leader is one who will listen to you, stand up for you, trust you and not micromanage every aspect of your work. They communicate clearly, constantly, and in a collaborative manner. They seek your advice, listen to your concerns, and consult you on the best solutions for success. They set high expectations and encourage you to be the best you can be, operating according to agency standards, and striving for new heights of excellence. They also care about your life outside of work and want you to have good physical, social, and mental health. Lastly, the good boss can be tough when needed. They live in reality and know there are some who will not respond to their leadership, and, may be required to use their authority to reprimand and/or terminate staff; however, this is always a last recourse after all other positive strategies have failed. Overall, I see the good boss as one who lives sacrificially for the benefit of others, always desiring their success as well as the success of the agency.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Christian Gospel  
  2. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  3. What is Integrity  
  4. Biblical Qualifications for the Church Elder  
  5. Twelve Ways to Deal with the Bad Boss  
  6. Submission to Authority – Part I
  7. Submission to Authority – Part II
  8. Submission to Authority – Part III

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, On Being a Leader for God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 18.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are the New American Standard Bible.

How to Deal with Jealousy

     Jealousy is mentioned throughout the Bible both in a healthy and unhealthy sense. The word jealousy translates the Hebrew קָנָא qanah and Greek ζηλόω zeloo.[1] Though closely related terms, there is a difference between envy and jealousy. Whereas the envious desire what belongs to another, the jealous desire to protect what belongs to self. Scripture reveals that God is jealous. The Lord states, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exo 20:5b; cf. 34:14; Deu 32:16, 21; Na 1:2). This statement occurs within the context of God forbidding His people to worship idols (Exo 20:3-4).[2] Idolatry is thievery. It seeks to steal God’s glory, and He’ll have none of it. He declares, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8). Likewise, God is jealous to protect His name, saying, “I will be jealous for My holy name” (Eze 39:25), which means He is jealous to protect His reputation. And, God is jealous for Israel, saying, “I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her” (Zec 8:2). In this sense, jealousy means God is committed to the protection of His people.

People sometimes have trouble thinking that jealousy is a desirable attribute in God. This is because jealousy for our own honor as human beings is almost always wrong. We are not to be proud, but humble. Yet we must realize that the reason pride is wrong is a theological reason: it is that we do not deserve the honor that belongs to God alone (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7; Rev. 4:11).[3]

     But what about jealousy among people? Is it ever right? Yes. There are times when jealousy is right. Jealousy is born out of a strong sense of relationship that is intolerant of rivals and this can be healthy, if the rival is real and it threatens a godly relationship.[4] If God’s values are our values, and we regard as precious what He regards as precious, then His jealousy will be our jealousy and we will be angry alongside Him and seek to protect what He loves. Elijah the prophet said “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts” (1 Ki 19:10a). This jealousy—or zeal—in Elijah sought to protect what was good, namely God’s character and the walk of His people who were being led astray by false prophets. Elijah’s jealousy was provoked by his fellow Israelites, who “have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword” (1 Ki 19:10b). Paul too had this kind of jealousy for the church at Corinth, saying, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor 11:2). Paul wanted to protect the church’s purity of devotion to Christ, as they were in danger of being led astray by false teaching and into worldly values and practices (2 Cor 11:3-4). Godly jealousy seeks to protect God’s relationship with others and naturally feels threatened by anything that would harm it.

    How to Deal with JealousyBut there is a sinful jealousy that is born out of the sin nature (Gal 5:19-20) and does not seek God’s interests or the best interests of others. Sinful jealousy desires to possess and protect what God forbids. “In contrast to righteous jealousy, the sinful perversion is based on the belief that one is entitled to something to which one has no natural right.”[5] Not having a “natural right” to something means it was acquired selfishly, apart from God’s will. This can be a relationship, education, career, or material possessions. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, except that they can be pursued and possessed purely for self-interest, contrary to God’s will. If we ignore God and His will for our life, and selfishly enter into a relationship with another person, and that relationship becomes threatened by another selfish person, or the selfish actions of our partner, then we have no biblical right to protect that relationship. Jealousy will naturally arise, but it becomes a sinful jealousy if we seek to protect what was sinfully acquired.  

     Sinful jealousy cares nothing about God or others and will seek to destroy rather than protect and edify. It is selfish, irrational, and can even lead to violence. This is what happened when Joseph’s brothers sought to kill him. First, they were “jealous of him” (Gen 37:11), and their sinful jealousy led them to harm him (Gen 37:18-28). James wrote, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth…For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (Jam 3:14, 16). It was because of sinful jealousy that the Sadducees rose up in anger and attacked the apostles and put them in prison (Acts 5:17-18). This was because the apostles’ teaching threatened their pride and pseudo authority in the community. Paul had experienced jealous men who opposed his ministry (Acts 13:45), and, at times, they attacked the innocent (Acts 17:5).

How to Deal with Sinful Jealousy

     Sinful jealousy is a beast. It rears its ugly head to protect what has been obtained by sinful choice (i.e. a relationship, job, money, etc.), it operates on irrational fear, and, if left to feed on fear, will seek to destroy what threatens. To deal with sinful jealousy, a few things need to change.

     First, it is necessary to operate from a biblical perspective.[6] God is all-knowing and all-good, and what He reveals and commands in Scripture is for our best interest. Furthermore, God’s Word defines reality and helps us to understand ourselves and the world in which we live. If we’re not thinking biblically, then human viewpoint will lead the way and all thoughts and actions will be rationalized from a purely human perspective. But this is not what’s expected of the Christian. We’re called to think biblically, in every aspect of our lives, and to make choices consistent with God’s revealed will. As we study the Bible, we realize it touches all of life, including matters related to family, social issues, education, finances, politics, science, art, etc. For example, the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24), that a Christian should only marry another Christian (1 Cor 7:39), and that the relationship between the husband and wife should be loving and respectful (Eph 5:22-33). The mature Christian learns God’s Word, and then integrates it into all aspects of her/his life. Operating from a biblical perspective allows us to differentiate righteous jealousy from sinful jealousy, and to act according to God’s expectation.

     Second, as we study Scripture, we come to realize that we own nothing. Everything, including our own lives, belongs to the Lord. Scripture reveals, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1; cf. 89:11). Job understood this very well, for even when he lost his business, family, and health, he could say, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Biblically minded Christians hold nothing tightly, for we know our possessions are on loan and can be taken at any moment (this includes family members); how much more those things we acquire through sinful choices. When we come to the place where we recognize God’s sovereign ownership of our lives and possessions, we can consciously live each moment by faith, with a relaxed mental attitude, knowing He is the One who gives and takes away. And, if God decides to take something away, by faith we can accept it, deal with the sorrow, and “know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

     Third, we handle sinful jealousy in ourselves by pursuing Christian love, for jealousy cannot exist where love predominates. I’m speaking here about jealousy as it pertains to personal relationships. The apostle Paul, when describing the virtue of Christian love (1 Cor 13:4-8), writes about what love is and is not, and states in plain language, “Love…is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4). Christian love is the answer to sinful jealousy. However, it is important to understand that Christian love is never manufactured on our own; rather, it is derived from God and is part of our healthy walk with Him. It is a reflection of God’s love toward us. The apostle John writes, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). That’s the order. And what was our state when God first loved us?  He loved us when we were sinners and in a state of hostility toward Him. Paul states, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). In another place he writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). God’s great love springs from His character and not from any beauty or worth found in the object of His love. God loves because, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). Over time, as we walk with God, His love becomes ingrained within us and overtakes our hearts, and the conditional human love we’re so familiar with—that is natural to us all—is exchanged for His greater love, which is selfless and sacrificial. And God’s love is gracious in that it seeks to meet the needs of others without compensation. Grace refers to kind acts freely conferred on others, without expectation of return, and deriving its source in the abundance and open-handedness of the giver. Jesus explained this kind of gracious love when He said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). 

     God’s Word gives us the standard for love and mature believers will display it in their lives. But love does not arise automatically in the Christian life, and it is typically not the first responder in a conflict. Love is learned, and once learned, it is applied by an act of the will by Christians who choose to love others. Love is not easy, and at times can be risky because we may be hurt. This is because the objects of our love can be offensive, and at times may hurt us. Christian love is not an emotion, for we are commanded to love, and a person cannot manufacture an emotion purely as an act of the will. Emotion follows thought. We are to love others regardless of how we feel. Mature believers learn to overcome their emotions and love others according to their needs.  J. I. Packer states:

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion. It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them. It is by their active love to one another that Jesus’ disciples are to be recognized (John 13:34–35).[7]

     This kind of love takes time. It is the product of spiritual growth that occurs in the life of the believer who is advancing in her/his Christian walk. Those who know the Lord and walk with Him manifest His character in their lives. They love because He loves. They are gracious because He is gracious. They are kind because He is kind. They are merciful because He is merciful. Walk closely with the Lord and love will grow. Love as God loves and sinful jealousy will depart.

Summary

     Jealousy can be either healthy or unhealthy, depending on the motivation of the heart. God is jealous. He is jealous to protect His glory (Isa 42:8), His name (Eze 39:25; cf. Isa 42:8), and His people (Zec 8:2). When we love what God loves, then we’ll possess a godly jealousy, like Elijah (1 Ki 19:10) and Paul (2 Cor 11:2). But when we care little about God, then sinful jealousy will dominate our hearts, and we’ll seek to destroy rather than protect and edify others, such as when Joseph’s brothers tried to kill him (Gen 37:11-28), or when the Sadducees attacked and imprisoned the apostles (Acts 5:17-18). We overcome sinful jealousy by: 1) placing God’s Word at the center of our lives and letting it direct our thoughts, words and actions (Psa 1:2; 2 Cor 10:5), 2) realizing the Lord owns everything (Psa 24:1; 89:11), and that He is free to leave or take whatever we have, including possessions, family, or health (Job 1:6-21), and, 3) that sinful jealousy cannot exist in a heart saturated with God’s love, for “Love…is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Reasons why we Obey God  
  3. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  4. Learning to Live by Faith  
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer    

[1] Sometimes קָנָא qanah is translated envy, such as, “Do not envy [קָנָא qanah] a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways” (Pro 3:31), and “Do not let your heart envy [קָנָא qanah] sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always” (Pro 23:17).  The Septuagint uses ζηλόω zeloo in both instances; however, when writing about envy, the NT writers chose φθόνος phthonos rather than ζηλόω zeloo.

[2] Asaph mentions God’s jealousy when he writes, “For they provoked Him with their high places and aroused His jealousy with their graven images. When God heard, He was filled with wrath and greatly abhorred Israel.” (Psa 78:58-59; cf. 1 Ki 14:22). God’s jealousy (and anger) rises both because of the violation of a promise, and because idolatry is really the worship of demons, which destroys those whom God loves (1 Cor 10:19-22).

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 205.

[4] We must be careful not to feel threatened over an imaginary rival, for this can lead us down a dangerous road.

[5] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 556.

[6] Apart from divine revelation, we’re left to invent or borrow systems of thought with no greater reference point than ourselves, which means the foundation for knowledge is based on nothing more than our finite ability to observe and reason what is. The problem is that human perception only approximates reality but never fully encompasses or understands it; therefore, all systems of human thought are limited and subject to change (reading the various publications of the DSM prove my point). Scripture tells us why things exist, why the world is the way it is, and how to live successfully in God’s will. Any system of thought that simultaneously competes with God’s Word results in cognitive dissonance, and if not resolved, will render the believer ineffective. At the moment we believe the Gospel message and are born again, we enter into our Christianity with a lifetime of human viewpoint that must be dislodged and replaced with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. Too often, when we come to believe in Christ as Savior, we assume that God will accept our human viewpoint—which may be organized and moral—as an adequate system from which He will direct our lives. We assume He wants to rearrange the furniture in our mental home to make it more beautiful. But the reality is God does not want to rearrange the furniture in our minds; rather, He wants to tear down the entire house along with its foundation and start over. He wants to destroy all the thoughts and values that are contrary to His revealed will. But we’re required to participate in this process. We must be willing to submit to Him and begin the lifelong process of learning Scripture. This is a process that occupies all our time, every day, morning and evening, and has both defensive and offensive aspects. Defensively, we must guard our minds against worldliness that comes to us from multiple avenues such as TV, radio, music, literature, art, and conversations. Solomon tells us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). Positively, we acquire divine viewpoint through the daily study of God’s Word. David writes about the godly believer, saying, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). For, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7’ cf. 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17).

[7] J. I. Packer, “Love” Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

Divorce and Remarriage?

     I’ve recently had several people ask  me about divorce.  It’s a difficult subject, but the Bible does address it.  Scripture teaches that divorce is permissible only when a spouse offends through sexual infidelity (Matt. 5: 31-32), or when an unbelieving spouse abandons their Christian partner (1 Cor. 7:12-16).  Divorce is not required, and is discouraged if any hope of saving the marriage can be found.  Forgiveness and love is expected in the Christian toward the offending spouse.  Remarriage is permissible when the divorce is biblical (Matt. 5:31-32), when an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-16), or if a spouse dies (1 Cor. 7:39).  The believer must only marry another believer (1 Cor. 7:39).  God does not recognize divorces for nonbiblical reasons; however, if a divorced partner remarries, forming a new covenant relationship, this frees the first spouse to remarry (Deut. 24:1-4). 

     God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), yet, it is recorded in Scripture that God Himself issued a writ of divorce against His people, Israel, after they had repeatedly engaged in spiritual adultery, saying, “I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce” (Jer. 3:8a; cf. Isa. 50:1).  The metaphor of divorce here speaks of God sending the Northern Kingdom of Israel away to their destruction under the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

Note in verse 8 [of Jeremiah 3] that God divorced Israel and that it was because of adultery. The Savior’s words in Matthew 19:9 are consistent with this. He taught that divorce is permissible for an innocent partner when the spouse has been guilty of immorality. When we read in Malachi 2:16 that God hates divorce, it must mean unscriptural divorce, not all divorce.[1]

(This short article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage.)

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1000.

Living By Grace

     Each time I approach the biblical subject of grace I’m repeatedly uplifted by it, for God has shown me great grace. When I think of my life I’m reminded of Hannah’s prayer, where she says of God, “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and He set the world on them” (1 Sam. 2:8). I am that poor and needy one He has lifted. My life is full of blessing, and it is the Lord’s goodness toward me. I am in constant need of God’s grace, and He provides it.

     Grace is a characteristic of God. The Father is called “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29), and Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As Christians, when we approach God, we approach Him as One who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16); that is, One whose sovereign rulership is marked by grace. What a wonderful blessing.

     Though there are different nuances to the word grace (Heb. חֵן chen, Grk. χάρις charis), the most common understanding is that it refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[1] The basic idea is that a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7; Heb. 4:16). The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver.

     The Bible distinguishes between common grace and special grace. Common grace is that goodness God shows to everyone without exception. The Lord Jesus spoke of the Father’s grace, saying, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Sinner and saint both enjoy the blessings of God’s grace in the everyday provisions that sustain life. Special grace is that expression of God wherein He provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who trust in Christ as their Savior (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Grace and works stand in opposition to each other; for if one can, in any sense, merit what is received, then it cannot be said to be of grace (Rom. 4:1-5; 11:6).

     As believers in Christ, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24; cf. Eph. 2:8-9), and once saved, “the grace of God” instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12). Grace should mark our words and actions toward others. Paul writes, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6), and Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10; cf. Eph. 4:7-11; Rom. 12:6; 2 Cor. 9:8). In all things, the believer is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). 

     be-graciousI want to be gracious like my heavenly Father is gracious. I want to extend grace to others. This includes believers, unbelievers, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and people in society. I want to be gracious because of who I am and not because of the other person. I want to love the unlovely. I want to help the needy. I want to be open-handed with the resources God has given to me. Will people abuse my kindness? Yes. I’ve learned to expect it, and I’m okay with it. In fact, I want to manifest grace to those who deserve it the least. Is there a possibility that others may mistake grace for weakness and fail to grasp what is being extended to them? Yes. I cannot help that. My being gracious must rest upon my relationship with God and what He provides, not upon the worthiness of others. 

     So what does grace look like? It means helping the needy and expecting nothing in return (Luke 14:12-14), showing godly love (1 Cor. 13:4-8a), forgiving those who don’t deserve it (Eph. 4:32), loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44), blessing those who persecute us (Rom. 12:14), never returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:17), not retaliating when others hurt us (Rom. 12:19; cf. 1 Pet. 2:23), using our freedoms to serve others (Gal. 5:13), and speaking words that edify (Eph. 4:29). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good starting place. I pray God will teach me how to live by grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

The Characteristics of a Christian Leader

A Christian leader will have certain characteristics that guide his/her actions.  I would argue that the believer’s good character is born out of his/her walk with God and this requires knowing God’s word in order to live God’s will. 

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:1-2)

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend. (Ps. 15:1-3)

The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. (Prov. 11:3)

In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Tit. 2:7-8)

A Christian leader is marked by how he/she serves and treats others.  The biblical teaching is that one who wishes to lead must make himself/herself a servant to others.  This requires a biblical mind and an attitude of humility. 

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

“You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:13-17)

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Gal. 6:9-10)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col. 3:12-14)

A Christian leader may reprove others, but only because he/she cares about what is right and wants to promote justice.   

You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:17-18)

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you. (Prov. 9:8)

Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isa. 1:17)

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matt. 18:15)

A Christian leader will be known by the words he/she uses when speaking to others.  Rude and offensive words reveal a corrupt heart, whereas wise and gracious words reveal a good heart. 

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. (Ps. 37:30)

The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov. 16:21)

Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him (Eccl. 10:12)

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col. 4:6)

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)

A Christian leader will have a calm disposition and be slow to anger.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute. (Prov. 15:18)

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Prov. 16:32)

He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Prov. 17:27)

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)

A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back. (Prov. 29:11)

A Christian leader will know how to handle the pressures of life.  Pressures are inevitable, but worry is optional, because God has provided certain promises that help the Christian remain relaxed in the midst of adversity. 

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? (Ps. 27:1)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6-7)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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What Does it Mean to Be a Man?

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)

     What does it mean to be a man? The answers are as varied as the people who give them.  Some would point to genetics, anatomy, or character. Others measure men by their accomplishments, by the battles they fight or trials they overcome.  

     The first man (Adam) was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). He was assigned specific responsibilities as a steward of God’s creation (Gen. 2:15-18). He was created to be in a relationship with the Lord, to think and act in conformity to His character. He was also created to be in a relationship with a woman (Gen. 2:21-25), who was equally made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Since the historical fall (Gen. 3:1-7), manhood has been diminished and perverted, as men often seek to define themselves independently of God and contrary to His original design. The world has many worthless men (Deut. 13:13; Prov. 6:12-14; 16:27-28), and some have perverted their relationship with women (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:24-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). 

     There is no greater expression of manhood than the Lord Jesus Christ. At a point in time, nearly two thousand years ago, the eternal Son of God became a man (John 1:1, 14). He manifested grace and truth (John 1:17), lived a holy life (John 6:69; Heb. 7:26), faced adversity with Scripture (Matt. 4:1-11), and perpetually pleased His Father (John 8:29). He came not to be served, “but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He always spoke truth, both strong and gentle (Matt. 23:13-39; John 8:1-11), even in the face of hostility (John 8:40). Jesus Healing SickHe welcomed children (Matt. 19:13-14), cared for the sick (Matt. 8:14-16; 14:14), fed the hungry (Mark 6:35-44), and made the humble feel loved and welcome (Luke 7:36-50). The King of kings and Lord of lords manifested Himself as the Servant of servants when He humbled Himself and washed the feet of His disciples that they might learn humility (John 13:1-17). By the end of His earthly life He’d completed His Father’s work, saying, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4), then He faced the cross and laid down His life for others (John 10:11, 15, 17; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). The Giver of life has given His life that others might know His Father’s love (1 John 3:16).

     A man, in the biblical sense, is a man who models his life after Christ. He is a Christian in the fullest sense of the word. He is, first and foremost, in a relationship with the Man, the Lord Jesus Christ and has been born again into a new life (1 Pet. 1:3). As he grows spiritually, the Christian man learns to put on “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). He rejects “ungodliness and worldly desires” and lives “sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12). He continually studies Scripture in order to live God’s will (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), and strives toward spiritual maturity (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 4:11-16). He regards others as more important than himself and looks out for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4). He is filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and walks in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). He lives in fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-7), trusting the Lord to guide and sustain him in all things (Prov. 3:5-6). He admits his faults to God (1 John 1:9) and accepts the consequences of his actions. His life is constantly being transformed to become like the One who saved him (Rom. 8:29; 12:1-2). He delights himself in the ways of the Lord (Ps. 1:1-3), walks humbly (Mic. 6:8), and pursues righteousness, justice and love (Ps. 132:9; Tit. 2:11-12). He does not love the world (1 John 2:15-17), but shows grace and love to those who do (Matt. 5:43-45; Rom. 12:19-21). He shows love to other Christians (1 Thess. 4:9; 1 John 3:23), and helps the needy, the widow and orphan (Prov. 14:31; Jam. 1:27). As a son, he honors his father and mother (Eph. 6:1-3), as a husband, he loves his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7), and as a father, he teaches his children the ways of the Lord (Eph. 6:4; cf. Deut. 6:5-7). These are just some of the characteristics of the mature Christian man. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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An Evangelical Response to Same-sex Marriage

     For those who do not know, an evangelical is one who holds to the essentials of the Christian faith. The first of those essentials is an adherence to the Bible as God’s inerrant, infallible and authoritative truth. The Bible is a revelation from God to man. It does not address every subject, but what it does reveal is absolutely true about God, history, science, mankind, spirituality and morals. 

God’s Word Defines Marriage

     God’s Word reveals marriage is a divine institution and not a human social construct. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman and is intended to be for a lifetime (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-6). Marriage began with the first humans—male and female—at the beginning of time-space-history (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25). Concerning marriage, Moses wrote “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Jesus Himself stated marriage began in the Garden of Eden and is between a man and a woman (Matt. 19:4-6). 

And He [Jesus] answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning [of time and space and history; see Genesis 1-2] made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? [Gen. 2:24] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6)

     Two immediate observations come out of Jesus statement: 1) marriage is a divine institution that was given to mankind at the beginning of time-space-history and, 2) marriage is between one man and one woman. In Scripture, marriage is regarded as a holy institution. Marriage is illustrative of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Isa. 54:5), and Christ’s relationship with the church (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33). To pervert the institution of marriage—by definition and practice—is an attack on the God who gave it. 

Homosexuality is a Sin

     The Bible tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). This is true. But is also tell us, “the LORD is righteous, [and] He loves righteousness” (Ps. 11:7). God’s love cannot be separated from His righteousness. Some claim they have “love” for each other, but any claim to love that is contrary to God and His righteousness as revealed in Scripture is ultimately a false love, a selfish love, a sinful love. Sin is any violation of God’s righteous commands. The Bible plainly declares homosexuality as sinful (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-10). As such, God does not honor that which is contrary to His righteous character.

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. (Lev. 18:22; cf. Lev. 20:13)

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching. (1 Tim. 1:8-10; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10)

     Homosexuality is a sin like many other sins (adultery, murder, lying, perjury, gluttony, etc.). The internal propensity toward the homosexual lifestyle is born out of a person’s sin nature. Homosexual acts can be committed by both Christians and non-Christians. As a sin, it can be forgiven, and the Christian with homosexual tendencies can learn to live righteously as God intends. This is true for all Christians who struggle with strong sinful desires, whatever that may be, whether alcoholism, drug addiction, anger, violence, promiscuity, or anything else. 

God Loves Sinners but Hates Their Sin

     The Bible regards sin as any thought, word or action contrary to the holy character of God. The introduction of sin—both in human nature and behavior—corrupts all persons, making us totally depraved, such that sin permeates every aspect of our humanity (Rom. 3:10-18, 23; 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). The Bible teaches everyone is a sinner (Rom. 3:9). We are sinners because of our relationship to Adam (Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are sinners by nature, born with a rebellious heart (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we are sinners by choice every time we yield to temptation (Jam. 1:14-15). People given over to sin pervert God’s institutions as well as His plans for humanity.

     God loves us and desires our salvation and fellowship with Him. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And what is God’s saving truth? It is the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The greatest expression of God’s love occurred nearly two thousand years ago when He sent His Son into the world to die for us that we might have forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16-19; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14). 

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

     God is patient with us. Scripture reveals the Lord “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). This means God gives us time and opportunity to hear His gospel message and to respond to it. God is gracious toward us. “But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15). God Himself shows grace and love toward everyone, including those who hate Him (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 5:6-10). Jesus stated, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). God loves us, no matter our spiritual depravity, and He has created an open door for us to come to Him through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. We come to God with the empty hands of faith, trusting in Christ alone as our Savior. 

     God is righteous and will judge those who reject and suppress His truth. There is a serious and dire warning that God gives in His Word about those who suppress His truth in unrighteousness. Paul writes, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). When a person continually rejects God’s revelation of Himself in nature and Scripture, then God eventually gives that person over to her/his sinful passions and degrading lusts (Rom. 1:24). 

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper (Rom. 1:26-28)

     To have a “depraved mind” means a person’s thinking is grossly perverted and that right judgment eludes her/him. The final result of those who reject God is a life forever separated from Him in the Lake of Fire. At death, all of life’s choices are fixed for eternity, and if we die without accepting God’s gracious gifts of forgiveness and eternal life (Eph. 1:7; John 10:28-30), then by our own choice we’ll spend eternity forever separated from Him (John 3:18; Rev. 20:11-15). 

What is the Christian Response?

     The Christian response is to speak and act with dignity. We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are). We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), “with grace” (Col. 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Scripture tells us:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26). 

     We know God is always present, working in the hearts of others (John 16:7-11), and will use us to speak truth and share Christ to those who will listen. We also realize most don’t want to hear God’s Word (John 3:19-20), and will not accept His message (Matt. 7:13-14), so we leave them to God’s judgment (Matt. 10:14-15; Rev. 20:11-15). Whatever the response of others, our role is to know God’s will and to walk with Him.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Essentials of the Christian Faith  
  2. Living by Grace  
  3. Marriage Vows and Ceremonies  
  4. Making a Biblical Marriage  
  5. Choose a Christian Spouse  
  6. What Does it Mean to Be a Man?
  7. The Gospel Message  
  8. Atonement for Sins  
  9. I am a Sinner  
  10. God’s Mercy Toward Sinners  

Marriage Vows and Ceremonies

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a covenant relationship (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14-15; Matt. 19:6).  In Scripture, the word covenant (Heb. בְּרִית berith, Grk. διαθήκη diatheke) is used of a treaty, alliance, or contract.  The strength of a covenant depends on the person, or persons, who enter into it.  Some covenants are vertical between God and individuals or groups, and some are horizontal between people.  Some of God’s covenants are unilateral, in which God acts alone and unconditionally promises to provide and bless another, either a person or group (e.g. Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, New Covenant, etc.).  In a unilateral covenant, God will always bless the recipients, and there is no fear of God doing otherwise, because the blessing is in no way conditioned on any action by those whom God assures blessing (e.g. Gen. 12:1-3; Jer. 31:31-34).  Some of God’s covenants are bilateral, in which blessing or cursing is conditioned on obedience to stated laws (e.g. Adamic covenant and Mosaic covenant).  In a bilateral covenant, God is faithful to bless and curse depending on compliance to the agreed upon conditions set forth (see Deuteronomy Chapter 28).  God is always faithful to keep His promises in both unilateral and bilateral covenants.  In the Bible there are examples of people who made bilateral covenants among themselves (Gen. 21:27; 31:44-54; Josh. 9:15; 1 Sam. 18:3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13).  Covenants made by people are generally bilateral, depending on the faithfulness of each person to keep their promise.

In making covenants God was solemnly invoked as a witness (31:53), whence the expression “a covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8; cf. Jer. 34:18–19; Ezek. 17:19), and an oath was sworn (Gen. 21:31). Accordingly, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin (Ezek. 17:12–20). The marriage contract is called “the covenant of … God” (Prov. 2:17).[1]

     The marriage covenant is a bilateral agreement in which both persons promise, before God and others, to love each other faithfully.  It is regarded as a bilateral covenant—depending on the faithfulness of each person to each other—because God permits a way out of the relationship by divorce (Deut. 24:1-3; Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9).  A unilateral covenant would make no stipulations on the relationship.

     RingsThe marriage covenant glorifies God when the man and woman commit to love each other, to seek God’s best in each other, and to remain faithful to their promises.  Typically, marriage vows are thoughtful, addressing the reality of good and bad circumstances, the influence of wealth or poverty, sickness and health.  A vow is a promise, and a promise is only as strong as the person who makes it.  Often we vow to be committed to each other and to endure all tests and trials until separated by death.  We may not like the tests or trials that come our way, but it’s only in those situations that a person’s integrity becomes manifest.

     Marriage ceremonies mentioned in the Bible varied depending on the people and culture.  Sometimes we read about arranged marriages without any mention of a wedding ceremony at all (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; 1 Sam. 18:17).  Other times we read of great feasting and celebration during the wedding (Gen. 29:22; Judg. 14:12; Matt. 22:1-12; Luke 14:8-11; John 2:1-10).  The Bible does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, and each couple is free to follow whatever customs are particular to their culture so long as it conforms to the laws and customs of a nation (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). (this article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill F. Unger, et al., “Covenant” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

Making a Biblical Marriage

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a divine institution originally designed to permanently unite a man and a woman (Gen. 2:18-25).  It is not a human invention.  The first couple was created in God’s image to live under His provision and authority, to walk in fellowship with Him, and to fulfill the specific purpose of ruling over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28).  They were to complement each other.  All three members of the Trinity[1] were involved in the creation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-28).  “God created man in His own image [Heb. צֶלֶם tselem], in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).  Adam and Eve were special, created with intelligence, volition, and purpose.  They were created for a relationship; first with God, then with each other, then the animals and world around them.  They were to fulfill the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  Adam and Eve were created in a state of maturity as perfectly functioning adults and were gifted with brilliant minds that were able to correctly perceive their environment and to properly communicate with God and each other.  They possessed a clear sense of purpose under the authority of God.

     Genesis chapter one provides a snapshot of the creation of the first couple; however, in Genesis chapter two, we learn there was a short lapse of time between the creation of Adam and Eve (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13).  Adam, by himself, was placed in the Garden of Eden with the positive command “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).  Adam was free to work and enjoy the beauty and fruit of the Garden.  God blessed Adam and provided for him (Gen. 2:15-16), but also promised spiritual and physical death if he sinned (Gen. 2:17).  Later, both Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-8), but Adam’s sin alone would bring judgment upon himself and the world, for which he was responsible.  When Adam fell, the world under his care fell with him (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12-14; 8:22-23; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

     Originally, Adam was created sinless, with the unhindered capacity to walk with God and serve Him.  Though he was sinless, Adam was not complete.  God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).  Before God created the first woman, He took time to educate Adam about his relational incompleteness.  God brought a multitude of animals before Adam (most likely in pairs of male and female), and after observing and naming them (Gen. 2:19), Adam realized “there was not found a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen 2:20).  God corrected what Adam could not.  The Lord caused Adam to fall asleep and “took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place” (Gen. 2:21).  God then “fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22).  This was a divinely arranged marriage. 

Woman was taken not from Adam’s head to dominate him, nor from his feet to be trodden down, but from under his arm to be protected, and from near his heart to be loved.[2]

     The wife was created to “help” her husband (Gen. 2:20).  The word helper (עֵזֶר.Heb ezer) is an exalted term that is sometimes employed of God who helps the needy (Gen. 49:25; Ex. 18:4; 1 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 41:10; Ps. 10:14; 33:20).  Just as God helps His people to do His will, so the wife is called to help her husband serve the Lord and bring Him glory.  The wife is also to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33), both in private and in public.

     Sin changed humanity and the world in which we live.  Satan (a fallen angel) attacked the first marriage and tempted the man and woman to disobey God (Gen. 3:1-7).  Adam and Eve listened to Satan and rejected God’s will (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8), and sin was introduced into the human race and the whole world is now under a curse (Gen. 3:8-19; Rom. 5:12-19; 8:20-22).  Eve was deceived by Satan, but Adam sinned with his eyes open (1 Tim. 2:14).

     christian_marriageThe institution of marriage continued after the historic fall of Adam and Eve and took on various ceremonies based on ever changing social customs.  The Bible directs believers to marry believers (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-15), but does not prescribe a specific ceremony to follow, or vows to take, but leaves these matters for people to decide for themselves.  Marriage is divinely illustrative of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Isa. 54:5), and Christ’s relationship with the church (2 Cor. 11:2).  Marriage is to be holy, because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).  Marriage is to be loving, because God is love (1 John 4:16-21).

     God designed the husband to be the loving leader to guide the relationship into His will, and the wife is to walk in harmony with him (Gen. 2:18; 21-23; cf. Eph. 5:25-33).  The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25).  Biblically, this is called agape love. 

Love [Grk. ἀγάπη agape] is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)

     Agape love brings God into every relationship, provides spiritual nourishment, conforms to God’s will, and seeks God’s glory.  It stands the test of time and survives in the furnace of affliction.  It is sacrificial (Eph. 5:25; cf. Matt. 20:28; John 13:34; 15:13; Rom. 5:8; 14:15; 15:3), understanding and honoring (1 Pet. 3:7), and greater than feelings (Col. 3:19).  It is, in fact, God’s love, born in the heart of the believer who walks with God and desires His closeness. 

     God’s love comes from God, and only those who know God and walk with Him will manifest His love (1 John 4:10-21).  There is a biblical love and there is a worldly love.  Biblical love has its source in God who always seeks our best.  Worldly love is deceptive, self-serving and destructive, just as Satan is deceptive, self-serving and destructive.  We cannot give what we do not have, and only those who know and walk with God can manifest His love.  Anyone who claims to love but does not know God or walk with Him is a deceiver, and this one leads others into sin.  A successful marriage is built on Scripture and displays God’s love. 

     Where there is constant spiritual development in the life of a Christian couple, there will be the gradual manifestation of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23a).  We manifest these qualities because we walk with God and desire to reflect His character.  Walking with God means we become more and more like Him, gradually manifesting His attributes, such as righteousness (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), justice (Ps. 9:7-8; 50:6), holiness (Ps. 99:9), truthfulness (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), love (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16),  faithfulness (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 2 Tim. 2:13), mercy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), and graciousness (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10).  These attributes will strengthen the marriage, but they must be pursued intelligently and by choice. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[This article is taken from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage]

Related Articles:

[1] The three persons of the Godhead include God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14; 20:28), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).  God is one in essence (Deut. 6:4), and three in Person (Matt. 28:19; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 35.

Choose a Christian Spouse

     The spiritual life advances in a unique direction when a husband and wife are growing together in the Lord.  The spiritual marriage consists of two believers who consistently submit to God the Holy Spirit and permit Him to accomplish His will in their lives as a couple.  When two believers, a man and a woman, unite together in Christian marriage and individually choose to love and live for Christ above each other, they will have a marriage marked by the highest Christian virtues that will sustain them throughout their marriage and they will know a joy that transcends the circumstances and trials of life. 

     In order to have a successful Christian marriage, it must be God centered, biblically based, and Spirit led.  The growth of the marriage is directly proportional to the spiritual growth of each individual believer.  As goes the spiritual walk of each believer, so goes the health of the marriage.  To achieve growth within a marriage each believer must have a biblical understanding of what is foundationally necessary for spiritual success.  The Bible is authoritative to speak to the Christian marriage and it must be studied, learned and lived.  

     For strength and unity to exist in a marriage, there must be a bond of commitment, and willingness to give of oneself for the wellbeing of the other.  Believers must always guard themselves against the weakening instinct of selfishness and consciously choose to live and love sacrificially for the benefit of the marriage partner.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  (Phil. 2:3-4)

     The world often promotes a happy marriage, but God promotes a biblical marriage.  There’s a difference.  A biblical marriage is a healthy marriage, which conforms to God’s Word.  I’ve seen happy marriages that were not biblical, as the husband and wife lived in blatant sin, defying God’s Word in every way.  By worldly standards their marriage was a success, but biblically, it was a complete failure because God was given little or no place in their relationship.  I’ve also seen biblical marriages where both Christians struggled against the pressures of the world, yet they had a peace and joy that transcended their circumstances, because they trusted in the Lord and looked to Him in everything (Phil. 4:6-7). 

     Christians are to marry only other Christians who are “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).[1]  The Christian should never knowingly marry an unbeliever, for this would join someone who is spiritually alive with someone who is spiritually dead.  The unbeliever cannot be spiritual or live in God’s will, for he resides in a perpetual state of spiritual death until he turns to Christ for salvation.  The Christian who knowingly marries an unbeliever is openly disobeying Scripture and asking for all sorts of problems.  It’s better to obey the Lord and marry a growing believer so blessing can come. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Some have sought to make Paul’s command “do not be bound together with unbelievers” apply to Christian marriage (2 Cor. 6:14).  Within its context, Paul was not talking about Christian marriage, but was commanding Christians in the church not to be united with false teachers.  However, one could argue that if one should not be bound together with an unbeliever in the church, how much more does that hold true in biblical marriage?!