Category Archives: Sin

When to Say “I’m Sorry”

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The arrival of our first child often makes us doubt the theological accuracy of the sinfulness of man…for a couple of months. It does not take long before the addition of another sinner into our family to, in fact, clearly reveals the sin that is bound up in every person’s heart. Our little ones never have to be taught to rebel against mom and dad. As soon as they are mobile they begin asserting their own wills and when it runs counter to ours, the mentality is often: “Too bad for you, dad!” If the Lord blesses us with more than one child, these transgressions begin accumulate and pile up, and we must learn to deal with them. To navigate these waters it is important to understand the difference between saying “I’m sorry,” and asking forgiveness.

To say “I’m sorry,” is to make a statement of regret. It is an acknowledgment that we have caused something to happen and we wish we had not. In this statement of regret something is missing: acknowledgement of guilt. That which is lacking forms a proper gauge for when this expression should be used. Not all actions effecting others are sinful. For example, when we are holding a cup and it slips out of our hand and shatters on the ground, we were not being careless neither was breaking the cup our intention. It was an accident. A simple “I’m sorry honey. I’ll clean it up,” is a sufficient response. In other words, we say we are sorry when we accidentally do something do another person. However, there are times when saying “I’m sorry,” is not adequate. In fact, to say “I’m sorry,” in response to sin actually tries to minimize the sinful intent of our behavior.

One of the things that must be present in dealing with sinful behavior is an acknowledgment of guilt. In Psalm 32, David is dealing with the right process of confessing sin to God. He does not tell us to tell God of our regret, but says the following: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” David acknowledges his specific sins to the Lord and waits for his forgiveness. The same process is set before us in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is  faithful and just to forgive us our sins and  to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What is true in our relationship with God is also true in human relationships. When we have willfully sinned against our wife, or children, we should acknowledge our sinful ways to them and wait for them to grant forgiveness. We have to admit that we did exactly as we intended at that moment, and ask that they would graciously set our sin against them to the side.

In the conflicts in our homes this distinction is important. Too often our children will be content to express regret in saying “I’m sorry,” without any acknowledgment of guilt in asking forgiveness. We must teach our children to follow the right biblical pattern when it comes to addressing sin between them and God and them and people. Have them acknowledge their guilt before the one they offended, and wait for them to forgive. This process impresses what true repentance is on our children instead of minimizing their sin by allowing them only to express regret.

Cultivating My Child’s Covetous Heart

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“A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business…(H)e has scarce time to eat his meat, but no time to pray.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 176)

Last article we saw how a covetous spirit is evidenced in us when we begin to neglect the spiritual aspect of living in pursuit of the common, or worldly. When we begin neglecting our private or corporate worship these are clear signs that we are longing more for the things of this world than for fellowship with God. But we are not only responsible for our own covetous desires. We also bear some responsibility to those who live around us. In no relationship is that responsibility more obvious than between parents and children. And yet, however well-intentioned we may be, there are ways we, as parents, contribute to a spirit of covetousness in our children.

  1. Failure to teach contentment. It is difficult to teach contentment in our western culture. Our children are constantly being bombarded with commercials and catalogues which encourage them to want just a little bit more than they already have. From our children’s perspective, every commercial and catalogue will present them with something they “need” rather than just “want.” 1 Tim. 6:6-10 clearly teaches a love for the riches of this world is destructive. The apostle’s list of needs is quite small: food and clothing. We have to teach this truth to our children and show them how grateful we are for what God has already provided. We can do so by speaking about how the Lord has blessed us beyond measure. This action may seem insignificant, but it will make a big impact.
  2. Failure to teach our children to love the heavenly things. So much of what we model to our children is caught rather than taught. We can constantly tell our children they need to set their eyes on the things above, but unless our actions corroborate this teaching, our children will learn to ignore our words and look simply to our actions. We have to model being heavenly minded in our work and play. We have to lead our children in faithfully study and practice of God’s word. We have to lead our children to value the Lord more than anything else including the fleeting riches of this world.
  3. Failure to restrain the lusts of their flesh. When we give our children unbridled access to their heart’s desire, we are training them to direct all their energy to the pursuit of those things. It could be sports, arts, play time, book learning, or anything else. As parents it is our God-given responsibility to set limits for our children. If our children are always allowed to pursue their own desires, this pattern of behavior will follow them into adulthood. If we insist our children participate in the work of running the family, cheer for their siblings’ successes, do special things for their mother on Mothers’ Day and a host of other options, they will understand they are not the center of the universe, a helpful disposition to encourage contentment rather than covetousness.

Covetousness is one of the great sins of our time. And it will show up in our hearts and our children’s hearts. However we do not have to encourage them in this regard. Instead let us set them a healthy example which they can follow as their little hearts are shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit.

Cultivating My Covetous Heart

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“A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business…(H)e has scarce time to eat his meat, but no time to pray.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 176)

Ouch! Thomas Watson sure knows how to make it hurt! But just because it hurts doesn’t mean it is not worth considering. Watson’s statement is one that could be applied to all of us on some days. We are all covetous by nature. Like book-ends in God’s Moral Law, both the 1st and 10th commandments confront us with our motivations and loves. Because of their nature, these two commandments summarize our disobedience to the other eight. When we take the name of the Lord in vain we elevate our own desires over the Lord’s thereby setting other gods before him. Or when we steal, the seed form has already long been growing within us: covetousness. We covet when we want something we do not have. So, are you covetous? Are you leading your children toward covetousness?

In this article we will deal with our hearts. In the quote above, Watson makes a distinction between a man’s valuation of his appetites versus his fellowship with God in prayer. It is a sobering assessment, to be sure. I am not seeking to quibble about the kinds of work does and their corresponding demands. I think the Christian street sweeper is as engaged in glorifying God as a pastor and I know this work can be demanding. My questions are designed instead to help us see if we are drifting into sin in our pursuit of our worldly work. We are prone to covet the world’s power, wealth, popularity and success. Certain decisions will reveal our heart’s desire to have taken on a sinful, covetous turn.

The first and tenth commandments remind us we may worship no other gods and should be content with what God has given. So when we find ourselves neglecting God in prayer, we have forgotten these commandments. I cannot give definitive answer on the “when” and “how much” of our private worship, but I can definitively say we should. If only we would apply the same level of intensity to our pursuit of God as we apply to our attempts to win a promotion or raise at work. This very issue is on Watson’s mind when he describes the man who does not consider any amount of hours spent satisfying his appetites to be enough, but does not even begin praying. This inconsistency shows there is a war of loves being waged in our hearts and the good side is losing. We direct our most intense efforts toward that which means the most to us. What will we love more? The flesh or our Lord?

Overloading ourselves with worldly business can also be recognized when we miss corporate worship to take care of our regular employment. God commands one day in seven be given him for the activities relating to his worship. Absenting ourselves from corporate worship should flash a huge red flag in our minds. This decision indicates we want the world’s recognition so badly, we are willing to take from God’s time and apply it to our businesses or jobs so we might gain it. When we begin to make these kinds of choices we are demonstrating a priority: we want the things God has not given us and will pursue them at all costs.

Certainly we must repent of our own covetousness, but we also should guard ourselves against teaching our children to do the same. More on that next time.

Dealing with Sin Is More Than Saying “I’m Sorry.”

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Our relationships are marred by our sins. This truth should not surprise us because of the corruption of our natures. Yet Christ, in his word, calls us to be discontent about and turn away from our sin (Cf. Luke 13:1-5). As part of the gift of our salvation, Christ provides us with the grace to respond to our sin. This process is summarized in the doctrine of repentance and it is a gift from God.

When God converts us he causes us to deal with our sin. In our families, our children sin against each other and under duress they may mutter and grumble, “I’m sorry,” as unintelligibly as possible to get dad off his back. We may try to handle our transgression against our wife this way. Let me suggest that this process is not a manifestation of repentance. At best it is an expression of regret, but it is not repentance. So what does repentance look like? To help us we will look at Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 15.2. There the Biblical doctrine of repentance is summarized as:

  1. Recognizing sin for what it is. When God saves us, the scales over our spiritual eyes are removed. We see our sin for what it truly is: rotten fruit that is born by our rotten souls (Cf. Luke 6:43-45). This recognition will rightly cause us to cry to God for forgiveness. However, repentance not only makes us sorry for sin, but also causes us to hate it. This hatred is not simply regret, guilt, or dislike. We know we sinned. And we know our sin is intentional, filthy and odious before the Lord. Repentance leads us to acknowledge these things. Muttering a half-hearted “Sorry.” communicates neither regret nor hatred of sin. Do we ask God to help us hate our sin? Do we humble ourselves by acknowledging our guilt by asking for forgiveness? Let us not minimize our sin by simply saying we are sorry. Let us acknowledge our sin what it is: intentional and filthy.
  2. Fleeing to Christ for mercy. In repentance we learn to recognize that, though our sin may have consequences in our relationships, it is primarily sin against God. Our sin makes us guilty in his sight, deserving his just punishment. When God shows us this truth he, though his Spirit, enables us to flee to Christ for forgiveness. More significant than reconciliation with the people we have offended is reconciliation with the God. Let us not skip over confession of sin in our private prayers with a generic acknowledgment that we have sinned. Let us name our sins and confess them (Cf. Psalm 32:3-5). Let us ask the Lord to remember steadfast love, that he would shower his mercy on us.
  3. Committing to new obedience. Repentance is not a daily revisiting of the same sins so we can get off the hook. We may struggle mightily with sin, even besetting sin, but part of repentance is learning to love sin’s opposite. Sin is lawlessness (Cf. 1 John 3:4), and its opposite is obedience to God’s law. If we struggle with pride, repentance teaches us humility. If we struggle with lust, repentance teaches us purity. If we struggle with greed, repentance teaches us generosity.

We should never trivialize our response to sin in repentance. Expressing passing regret is not repentance. We must learn to see the filth of our sin, to hate it with all our hearts, to flee to Christ for his mercy, and to turn then to a new obedience.

Our Problem with Princes

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The purpose of this post is not to define the biblical doctrine of marriage. My assumption is that the biblical view of marriage between one man and woman is correct, pure, righteous and not to be changed. Instead, I want to make some observations about how we, as Christians, can respond to the June 26, 2015 decision from the Supreme Court of the United States changing the definition of marriage.

First, we can revisit our understanding of the doctrine of God’s providence and sovereignty. The civil magistrate is an appointed agent from God for the purpose of protecting good and punishing evil (Rom. 13:1-4). This agent has rejected God’s word in favor of the clamoring of culture. That, however, does not mean that God is caught flat-footed. Proverbs 21:1 tells us: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” The Supreme Court’s decision is not outside of God’s providential governing of the world. The Westminster Confession of Faith tells us God governs even over the sins of men, ordering and governing them to his own holy end (See WCF 5.4). God is not in heaven wringing his hands over these disorderly justices. He turns their hearts whichever way he wills. We do not know the final destination of this chapter of history, but we know God is in control of it.

Second, we should be humble, not self-righteous. Biblically, it is sinful to pervert the God-ordained institution of marriage. But the church has to guard herself against the self-righteousness of the Pharisee: “I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:9-14). The only difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Unless a person is changed by the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. All people, by nature, are deserving of God’s wrath and judgment. The most loving and humble expression toward our fellow man is to tell them of the salvation offered in Christ. They, like you at one time, are in need to hear that sin leads to death, but that death has been swallowed up in victory for those who have placed their faith in Christ and his perfect work of atonement.

Third, we should be convicted of our prayerlessness. In prayer we express our complete dependence on God. Whether Arminian or Calvinistic, in prayer we recognize that our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). The church has not been fervent in seeking God’s face in protecting the institution of marriage. We have not wrestled as Jacob did. We have not said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26). Let today be the day we start fervently to pray to the Lord again.

In these days, turn to the Lord for security and do not look with confidence to the princes of our land. The solution to our nation’s sin problem is not found in the right politician. As the hymn “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O My Soul” reminds us, they will die, to dust returning, and their purposes shall end. Instead, the cry of Scripture is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and his will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The Sabbath. Now What?

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My experience has been that there is a tendency within the church not to take the fourth commandment as seriously as the other nine. There are a variety of reasons for this, some with better intentions than others, but as we conclude our examination on the Sabbath we should make sure we take a proper biblical view of the significance of the Sabbath.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, a 17th century summary of many of the doctrines taught in Scripture, summarizes our obligations on the Sabbath as follows in #60:

“The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.”

This definition is often too narrow even for the most conservative Christian. They will throw up their hands and say, “Who can live to such a standard!” and contend Westminster is returning to legalism, or the burden of the Old Testament administration of the law. However, we have seen before that the obligations of God’s law do not change in transition from the Covenant of Works to the Covenant of Grace. Only the one who will obey them to grant life to God’s people changes. Since the 4th commandment is part of the moral law, its standard does not change. In addition, it is absolutely true that you cannot live to such a standard. That is the entire point. Neither can you live to the standard of the other nine commandments. However, our failures in part do not justify our neglect of the whole. The Lord cares about the Sabbath as much as the other commandments which we can see in the penalties he assigns to its breech.

God gives the outline of what should and should not be done on the Sabbath in Ex. 20:8-11 and Deut. 5:12-15. However, the penalties for breaking the law are given a little later. When God gives the penalty associated with breaking the Sabbath, he assigns it the highest possible value. To break the 4th commandment is a capital crime for Israel. It is on the same plane as murder, kidnapping, adultery, blasphemy and other such heinous sins. This penalty is not merely theory for the Lord, but he commands a man who collected sticks on the Sabbath to be put to death for it (Cf. Num. 15:32-36). Later on the neglect of the Sabbath would be one of the sins of the nation of Israel that led to its death in exile (Cf. Ezek. 20:12-13).

God cares deeply about his Sabbath and so we should be wary of discarding it. For some Sabbath observance may be a new idea, for some it may be a neglected idea, for some it may be a traditional idea. As we look at Scripture it should become for us a delightful idea. The Sabbath preserves for God’s people the centrality of worship in the governing of our time. Is it any surprise that the world should want to eliminate its practice? In the Westminster Larger Catechism the pastors of the 17th century sought to impress the significance of the Sabbath by saying that, “Satan with his instruments much labor to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it (the Sabbath – GG), to bring in all irreligion and impiety.” (WLC #121).

Now, church, let me ask. Since we have turned our back on the Sabbath in the last 50 years, do we have more or less commitment to Christ’s church? Are there more or less time dedicated to the corporate worship of God? Do people have a higher or lower regard for God as a result? I think the answers are clear, and it makes me wonder whether Satan and his instruments are temporarily being given their way to show us the results of the neglect of the worship of God.

The Purpose of the Sabbath

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In our consideration of the Sabbath seen that the fourth commandment is part of the moral law given by God. These laws reflect the very character of God and turning against them is to turn against God. This moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments (Cf. Deut. 4:13). Since the Sabbath is part of the Decalogue, this commandment is also binding for today. For the sake of time, I am assuming the arguments for the transfer of the Old Testament Sabbath from the seventh day to the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, on the first day of the week. I do that so we can take time to understand the purpose for God giving the fourth commandment instead.

There are three main reasons why God gives us the Sabbath:

First, Exodus 20:8-11 teaches us that God gives us the Sabbath so we might imitate his rest after he had finished his creative work. Each week again, we remember God’s rest and imitate him. Our rest draws us back to the six days of creation when God made all things. He is the creator of all things and therefore is Lord of all things. Nothing in this world falls outside the realm of God’s sovereign power. Considering this truth helps us to remember our obligation to him.

Second, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 teaches us to remember something else: the Exodus. There Moses says Israel is to obey the Sabbath because God led them out of Egypt. In the New Testament economy we have a similar exodus experience. It does not involve sand, tents and Jericho, yet the exodus is just as significant. By God’s grace, we are led out of our bondage to sin to the blessed hope of eternal redemption. We are led out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Cf. Col. 1:13). On the Sabbath we are called to remember our redemption.

Third, because of our propensity to be satisfied with hollow, outward obedience, God also directs our motives for the day. In Isaiah 58:13-14, we are told we ought not delight in our own pleasure but instead delight in the Lord. The function of Sabbath is, in fact, to help us turn from our normal orientation toward the Lord. We know from Romans 12:1-2 that all of life is worship to God, but in a special way, God sets aside the Sabbath for the purpose of worship: a special day for delighting in the Lord.

The Sabbath, then, functions as that weekly reminder of our eternal obligation to the Lord because we are his creatures, his gracious redemption of our souls from Satan’s kingdom and the worship we should give him on this special holy day. So what happens when we neglect the Sabbath? We eliminate the God-given reminder of who we are to live for. Instead of that weekly, central reminder that God is the author of all time, God becomes one of the choices we may make when it comes to using our time. We will work when we want, play when we want, travel when we want, sing when we want, and worship when we want, if at all. Skeptical? Just look around and ask yourself whether the church has flourished or faltered since she turned her back on the Sabbath.

Take Time to Find Yourself…It’s Not What You Think

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At the beginning of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin begins by identifying true wisdom as consisting primarily of our knowledge of God and man. Specifically he states that “Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 1.1). We could spend a long time investigating that statement, but let us briefly consider its significance.

In the first pages of Scripture God’s greatness is established. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” However creative we may think ourselves, none of us can speak and bring worlds into existence. But not only does God create, but throughout Genesis the patriarchs are led, protected, corrected, and preserved by the Lord. He made the world, brought the flood, called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to bless all the families of the earth through him. It is only God’s greatness and goodness that establish these things.

Scripture, on the other hand, does not present man in the same light. Eight verses after God finishes expelling man from the Garden of Eden the Bible records its first murder. A few verses later, we are introduced to Lamech, the first polygamist and boastful murderer. The patriarchs don’t fare much better. Noah is a drunk, Abraham is twice willing to give his wife to another to save his own skin; Isaac copies his father’s survival technique. Jacob does his best to live up to his name, which means deceiver. Ten of his  sons dabble in a host of wicked behaviors, all in the first book of the Bible. So how does all this help us?

To understand both God’s holiness and man’s depravity means we understand the greatness of our salvation. It is good for us to meditate on both those truths. Especially for those of us who have had the blessing of learning our faith on our parents’ laps, we can begin to grow numb to the message of Scripture. It is in seeing the discrepancy between God’s holiness and man’s depravity that we realize the greatness of our love. Let me illustrate in a limited way by looking at human relationships. We can think of the times when we have been most deserving of our spouse’s, siblings’ or friends’ anger. Yet it is when they return our unkindness with kindness that we realize how much they love us. If Scripture only taught us of our wickedness we would despair. If the Bible only taught us about God’s goodness, we would lose our awe of him. It is in knowing both God’s goodness and our depravity that we see the greatness of God’s gift of redemption. And understanding the greatness of this gift will lead to a daily rejoicing in our salvation, expressed in a commitment to taking every thought, word and deed captive in the service in Christ’s kingdom.

Civil War at Home

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When we hold our newborns in our arms they look completely perfect. Even their little baby cries are cute and adorable (mind you, not at 3 a.m.). When we look at them it is difficult to imagine any sin in them at all. But when our little angel(s) grow older, original sin becomes apparent very quickly. Biblically speaking, sin and its manifestations in our children should not surprise us. As parents, we cannot eliminate sin no matter how well intentioned we may be. However, parents are called by God to work to apply biblical truth to our children’s lives. We are called to raise up our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). So what do we do when our children begin to argue? In family arguments there are a host of sins that our children can choose to commit. However, most of these sins can be placed in two broad categories: unkind speech and unkind action.

  1. Unkind Speech. The moment we hear unkind speech in our home we must stop the offending child. We should give a verbal rebuke to our child and remove him from the social setting. He is not able to handle to freedom in that moment. For children aged 3 and older, part of the resolution process should also involve the offender seeking forgiveness. Not a half-hearted apology, but a sincere asking for forgiveness for sinning against their brother with their unkind words. By requiring the specifics of the sin to be verbalized, our child will recognize the nature of their sin more clearly. Not only are we to correct the sin, but we are also to encourage the opposite virtue. In this case, we should help our children encourage their siblings. Point out successes of siblings and help them complement their brother. Have the family attend siblings’ sporting events and recitals and cheer for them. In other words, we should find ways to have our children’s words build up, not tear down.
  2. Unkind Action. When children stick out their tongues, hit, bite, pinch or any other physical assault that may take place in the normal course of our parenting day we should “throw the book” at our sweet little sinner: corporal punishment at a young age, or strong consequences if our children are older. Though unkind speech is certainly unacceptable, laying hands on a sibling represents a significant step along the path of sin. Instead of using their hands for destruction we want to teach our children to use them for strengthening. We should encourage our children to hold the door open for each other, or help lift up a smaller sibling when they have fallen. Teach them gentleness when the baby sibling arrives in the family. And when these opportunities arise, tell them, “This is a good way to use your hands. You are helping your brother!”

Sin should not surprise us. However, we should not allow sin to fester unaddressed in our families. We must train ourselves to correct the sin and instruct our children in the opposite virtue.

Love Your Spouse by Loving God

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Christian marriage, like all of life, is shaped by self-denial. There is, of course, an understanding among most adults that we cannot always get our way in human relationships. However, I’m talking about something a little different: the denial of self in pursuit of our daily worship of God. Romans 12:1 teaches we are, by God’s mercy, to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The motive is not inward, but an act of worship toward God. As John Calvin has said, that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory.” (On the Christian Life, Chapter 2, Section 1). Glorifying God should happen in all of life, so what shape does that take in our marriage relationships?

  1. Think Sympathetically. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Our Heavenly Father is all those things and, as his adopted children, we are to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). All people are a little irritating at times, but think on that which is excellent: the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse. Think of the ways your spouse has been used by God to bless and sanctify you. In doing so, you give glory to God for the goodness he has worked in your spouse.
  2. Communicate Graciously. So often we communicate our love for each other according to our own preferences. We should instead take account of the likes and needs of our spouse in a kind and tenderhearted way (Eph. 4:32). If your wife needs help managing the children we are not expressing concern about them when we buy them our favorite cordless drill. That purchase was made for you, not her. God calls us to love our fellow man as ourselves. Since our spouses are included within that category, we should honor the Lord in our expressions of affection by being tender-hearted as he commands.
  3. Serve Selflessly. The first years marriage, Lisa and I would argue about who worked harder. We were both convinced we were shouldering the bulk of the family’s load. Obviously we were thinking of our own glory instead of God’s. Yet he commands us to “through love, serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). The most important question is not whether you are working harder than your spouse, but whether you are effectively and selflessly performing your God-ordained role. In doing so you give glory to God.

The Bible tells us we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reflection of the content of your heart can only be seen by what you do. It is not most clearly seen in what we do when we know everyone is watching, but around the one person most likely accept us despite all our warts and sins.