I am both overjoyed and terrified to share this post with you. I am overjoyed because what I am about to share with you has been one of the greatest discoveries of my life. I am terrified to share this post with you, however, because I know this post will be misunderstood and I will be personally maligned. The joys of what I am experiencing have been stirring in me for quite some time, but have only become clear recently.
I believe this is a vitally important article for you to consider and read carefully. I would ask that you DO NOT skip ahead, or skim any part of this article, but to read this with a spirit of openness and sensitivity. Before I share some news with you about my own marriage that some of you might find disturbing, I need to begin this conversation by talking about ‘shadows’. I will then talk about a new glorious reality that will seem to good to be true.
In Praise of Shadows
Shadows are greatly loved by many. After all, if all you have ever seen are shadows, how do you know they are really shadows? Until we see what the shadow points to, the shadow is the only reality we know and experience. As you can imagine, the attachment to those shadows can be quite strong. Not only can the attachment to those shadows be strong, the shadows often become idols. This has been the case for the best of our God given shadows.
The Old Covenant is filled with beautiful shadows and pictures that point to a greater reality. Jesus Christ is the greater reality. It took some time, however, before that greater reality was revealed. Unfortunately, many of the people to whom those shadows were given put their identity in those shadows. As a result, when the reality came to ‘overshadow’ the shadows, a great offense rose up among the people who idolized the shadows.
The scriptures tell us that the law was a schoolmaster pointing us to Christ. Thankfully, Christ fulfilled the law for us so we can move on to the greater reality of Himself that the law points to. A great example of this is the Sabbath. Instead of one day of physical rest, Christ ushered in a way of life within Himself that brought us into a spiritual lifestyle of rest seven days a week (Hebrews 4). Being ‘in‘ Christ means we are now living inside of the very one who is the personification of the sabbath. This is simply one example among many.
Those who did not understand this new reality were deeply offended. They accused those who were operating in this new reality of violating God’s law and statutes. The accusations brought against Paul are a great example of this. His response to these false allegations can be seen in His letter to the Galatians.
One of the main problems with the institutional religious system is that it is built entirely upon Old Covenant shadow thinking. Institutional Christendom is built upon a selective hierarchical priesthood, an external ‘temple’ mentality, and religious devotion to external forms of rule (law) keeping all in the name of ‘obedience’. Idolization of Old Covenant ‘shadows’ thrive in such a context.
Because the religious system is not practically awake to the radical reality of the New Covenant, devotion to the ‘shadows’ are simply repackaged using New Testament terminology. A simple observation of what is focused upon in the institutional religious system can be quite revealing.
The Sacred Cow
In the Old Covenant, a beautiful shadow was introduced that points to a glorious new reality.
Of all the shadows that point to Jesus Christ & His bride, human marriage & sexuality is the chief shadow that our Father crafted together to point to the greater reality of Christ & His bride. As you probably know, it is quite the bond. It can be difficult to imagine anything greater than marital sexual intimacy.
When Jesus came on the scene, he was interacting with a strong patriarchal society that placed great value on marriage and family. A man’s family & wife defined him within the social order. A woman’s husband, or lack thereof, defined her as well.
We need to understand this in order to truly appreciate the radical nature of the New Covenant reality that Jesus ushered in. He seemed to refer to His disciples as His true family over His own human mother and brothers. There is a profound reason He did this, and it was a radical departure from the Jewish culture He belonged to.
In the same way, Jesus upset the proverbial apple cart when he let us in on the future of marriage. No one saw it coming. He ruined Valentine’s day cards forever when He responded to a question about marriage in the next age. Here is what He said:
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:30, NASB)
Can you believe it? No marriage in the next age. That passage used to really mess with me. I used to wonder how sad of an existence it is going to be not being married to our spouse in the next age. How would we relate? Would our relational potential be a step down in the next age? After all, what could be better than true intimacy with our spouse? If that is taken away from us, what will we have left?
Like most of institutional Christendom, I couldn’t deal with that strange reality right now, so I figured I would simply deal with that after I’m dead. For now, I was taught that marriage was the highest relational reality that exists in this age, so I better make the most of it. I read many books about having a great marriage. Many ministries were developed around helping folks focus on their families. Being a great dad and husband was the topic of many a sermon series. I was taught that getting married and having a family is the height of evangelical existence.
Although I tried real hard to fit into that culture, I never could come to terms with this focus on marriage & family as being the goal of our existence. Then I read something that Paul wrote which sent me into a tail spin. Here is what He said:
…I wish that all men were even as I myself am (single)… (1 Corinthians 7:7a, NASB)
WOW! Wishing that everyone could be single is quite a statement considering the patriarchal religious society he came from. Obviously not everyone can be single as the rest of the chapter indicates, but that didn’t stop Paul from wishing that everyone could be single!
You certainly don’t see this verse on post-it notes around the office, or on Thomas Kincaid calendars. I have heard this passage from 1 Corinthians 7 explained away more times than I can count. As a married person, I found this passage offensive as it seems that Paul is indicating we have settled for second best by being married. Many single people also hate this passage as they deeply despise their own singleness and wish they could be married. How could Paul wish such a thing on anyone?
I’m convinced that Paul didn’t wish singleness on everyone simply because of logistical simplicity, however. He was living in the entirely new reality of the New Covenant that brought married life into proper perspective. In the New Covenant, married life is no longer the highest reality. There is something higher, more fulfilling, and eternal.
The Future Of My Own Marriage
I have some news to share with you about my own marriage. Some of you are going to find this disturbing. Even though I love my wife, and she loves me, our marriage is not going to last. As a matter of fact, it’s coming to an end. Please hear me out. We are not getting a divorce. We are very much committed to our marital relationship until we die. We love each other very much, but the marital way we currently relate to one another is simply not going to last. As Jesus indicated, marriage is temporary, but love is eternal.
Heaven Is Coming Down
Jesus prayed that His Father’s kingdom would come down to the earth just as it is in heaven. The Father’s kingdom fully dwells in the person of Christ, and this Christ now dwells inside of us. When we live by His divine life within us, we are getting a taste of the future heavenly age now! We were all made for love. We were made to receive love, and to express love. Although the marital relationship is a shadow of the context of love, there is a higher and eternal context in which this love was meant to flow.
The New Testament Ekklesia
The New Testament ekklesia (church) was meant to be an eternal community of brothers and sisters who are united in love (Christ). They are to be of one mind. They are to be of one purpose. They are to dwell in unity. They are to bear one another’s burdens. They are to be patient with one another and prefer one another above their own lives. They are to rejoice with one another, and honor one another. It is like a good marriage on steroids.
The church depicted in the New Testament were so in love with one another that they couldn’t stop regularly spending time with one another. The scriptures tell us that they met together daily in their homes sharing meals and communing together around Christ’s life. They didn’t do this out of a sense of obligation or duty. They actually were compelled to do this because of their deep love for one another. This is a radical kind of love that the world knows nothing about.
When a community of people try to manufacture this kind of a heavenly reality by *human* life, however, two disastrous things usually occur. First, the idealization of such a heavenly community quickly gives way to disappointment and discouragement. It won’t be long before that group begins to bite and devour one another.
The other disastrous thing that can occur when communities of people attempt to relate to one another outside of religious laws and boundaries is sexual immorality. Some of the communities depicted in the New Testament had these issues. As you can see, it can be easier to simply live our lives more devoted to the ‘shadow’ of human marriage and family than this new heavenly reality among brothers and sisters.
So, is it possible that a community of people can intimately relate to one another in the genderless way that Paul talked about in Galatians 3:28 without sexual immorality?
Is it possible that a community of people be so in love with one another that they regularly share meals, burdens, and life with one another without being coerced to do so through manipulation, law, and guilt?
Is it possible that a community of people be so in love with one another that their love outlasts and outshines the bonds of human family & marital love?
The New Commandment
Jesus gave us a new commandment. There is something that made this commandment new, however. It is a new commandment because it is not like the old commandments. Jesus came on the human scene and did something entirely new that no human being had ever done before.
As a human, He loved with His Father’s divine love dwelling in Him.
This love broke down and transcended the cultural relational barriers between the sexes. This love broke down and transcended the socioeconomic barriers that people had been born into. Jesus was not married, but I promise you his relationships and interactions with people were not a step down in regards to intimacy, but a step up.
A *new* commandment I give to you, that you love one another: *just as* I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34, ESV, emphasis mine)
Wow, this is quite radical. We are to love our brothers and sisters in the *same way* that Christ loved us. It is through this NEW commandment that we are able to engage in a heavenly love with our brothers and sisters in church life.
It is very important that we recognize *how* Jesus loved others. He did not relate to people through religious legalism and law. He did not wall Himself off from others out of fear of falling into sin. Neither did Jesus interact with the opposite sex in a fleshly or sexual way despite the fact that the indwelling life within Him caused Him to interact with women in ways that completely violated the norms of his society. His love and interaction with others transcended the flesh altogether.
- Loving like this is new.
- Loving like this cannot be done in the flesh.
- Loving like this will bring offense and accusation from the flesh & world.
- Loving like this is fearless.
- Loving like this is from a future heavenly age.
- Loving like this is possible NOW because of the indwelling life of Christ.
Broken Wedding Rings
As I have been pondering the eternal nature of love, as well as the temporary nature of the human marital relationship recently, my wife came home and shared some interesting news with me. She told me that her wedding ring broke. I was stunned. I knew the Lord was speaking to us through this situation. The timing was certainly no accident.
Before I could share with her what I had been dwelling on, she shared what the Lord had communicated to her about this incident. She told me that the Lord spoke to her heart as soon as the wedding ring broke. He told her that she had been defined by her human marriage to me. In the past, her identity had been wrapped up in being my wife. Like all marriages, however, this identity was only temporary. The Lord desires to give her a new identity that is eternal. Her new identity would be united to the eternal bride / wife of Christ. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! What a beautiful Christ we truly have.
What I am NOT saying
I can already hear the objections, the offenses, and the “yes, but…”. Please hear the heart behind what I am saying, however. I am certainly not saying that human marriage is not important or beautiful. I love weddings. I love love stories more than anything. I am married and love my wife deeply. I recognize that we are still living in an age in which the shadow of human marriage is still ordained by God and is very important.
The husband wife relationship is special and unique. Marriages should be protected, preserved, and cherished. This post is not meant to be an exposition on good human marriages, however. There are literally billions of blogs, books, sermons, and ministries devoted to that topic. This post has an entirely different aim altogether.
The point of this post is to take marriage down off the ‘stage’ of idolatry that the religious system has put it on. The idolatry of marriage is a hinderance to life in Christ in the New Testament church. As long as we see human marriage as the highest way of relating, then every other relationship will by default be seen as lesser. This is devestating to church life.
The New Covenant radically changed this. The New Covenant does not abolish marriage in this age, but it certainly transcends it. We now have the ability to love one another in an eternal way that is actually greater and longer lasting than human marriage.
I’d like to leave you to ponder a few questions:
Does the thought of not being married to your spouse in the next age bother you? Why do you think that is?
Did you know that your spouse will be your brother or sister in Christ long after they will be your spouse?
Does the non-sexual / marital way that we will relate with one another in the next age seem like a step down to you in regards to relational intimacy? Why do you think that is?
How might our focus and devotion to that which is temporary negatively affect the desire that the Lord has to bring this future heavenly community to the earth now?
What is the highest form of love?
For His future reality in this present age,