Thanks Be Unto God “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)
There are innumerable things for which we could—and should—give thanks to God. But there are three notable gifts mentioned by Paul in his letters to the Corinthians in which he was led to use this particular exclamation: “Thanks be to God.” We shall do well to look at these great blessings, and then—like Paul—pour out our own thanks to God for them!
The first is in our text above, giving thanks for God’s gift of victory. And what victory is that? “Death is swallowed up in victory” (v. 54), and death has lost its terrible sting for the believer, for Christ conquered death forever when He died for our sins and rose again.
The second is similar yet goes beyond even the first gift: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14
By the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ, we are enabled to triumph over circumstances and “shew forth the praises of him who hath called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). But the greatest gift of all is Christ Himself! Therefore, we join with the apostle Paul as he exclaims, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The value of this gift is beyond language to describe, “unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). The Lord Jesus Christ is both our Creator and Savior, giving us triumphant peace and joy in life, and eternal victory over death. Thanks be unto God! HMM
The common trends in dating today are more likely to prepare you to get divorced than to enjoy and persevere in marriage.
Dating is an intentional pursuit of marriage, not casual preparation for it. Unfortunately, many of us are being told we must date early and often if we ever want to be ready for marriage. For instance, one popular Christian dating book reads, “Dating is an incubator time of discovering the opposite sex, one’s own sexual feelings, moral limits, one’s need for relationship skills, and one’s tastes for people.” Sounds practical and reasonable on the surface. Until you think about putting yourself (or your daughter) into someone else’s “incubator” for a few months, or years, while he or she tries out their “sexual feelings” and “moral limits.” We put too much of ourselves at risk in dating to donate our hearts to someone’s romantic experiment.
The truth is we have given dating far too much credit, and far too much power in our pursuit of marriage. And because we misunderstand and misuse dating, we end up making more and greater mistakes in our search for love.
Wait to Date?
Wait to date until you can marry. That’s my advice for the not-yet-married, reflecting on my personal experience (and failures) in dating and on years of walking with others falling in love (and often falling harder out of love). In short, if we are dating in order to marry, we need to be ready to marry before we begin dating.
“The trends in dating today are more likely to prepare you to get divorced than to enjoy and persevere in marriage.”
I definitely do not expect everyone to agree with me. Godly wisdom is a wide stream, and God’s word often allows us to apply his heart and wisdom in remarkably different ways, even in dating. But one common point of pushback puzzled me. It came in many forms, but it goes something like this:
Dating is indispensable preparation for marriage. How else will young men and women learn how to love their future husband or wife without dating?
I say it puzzles me even though I’m sure I could have preached that verse as a teenager to anyone who would have listened. I bought the message in middle school: If dating is a critical education in relationships and romance, and we want to be married, then we should date early and often. So, I started paying tuition, registered for classes, purchased the textbooks, jumped into relationship after relationship, and never looked back — until I wanted my money back.
My problem was that I subtly treated each new relationship — each potentialmarriage — like a mini-marriage.
Lab Rats in Love
Dating is not eighth-grade marriage. The men or women we date are not a series of lab experiments that prepare us to be a better husband or wife. The relationships are real relationships, and the people are (most likely) someone else’s future husband or wife. A dating relationship is not a marriage covenant, but the spiritual and emotional stakes are still high. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that the liberties many of us take in dating are more likely to harm our future marriage (and our significant other’s future marriage) than they are to prepare us for marriage. We cultivate the “mini-marriages” that subtly undermine any real marriage God might eventually give us.
Again, dating is primarily pursuit, not preparation. Dating well is not mainly looking for how, but for who. Like other experiences in life, dating will prepare and mature us in one way or another, but we don’t date in order to prepare ourselves for someone else. God prepares us for marriage in a thousand other ways that are not spring-loaded with the risks, obstacles, and difficulties of dating.
“Dating is primarily pursuit, not preparation. Dating well is not mainly about looking for how, but for who.”
For example, far better than experimenting with romance and intimacy for ourselves would be to spend lots of time with marriages we respect and admire. Instead of “studying” for marriage by only giving ourselves away to other lovesick single people, we give ourselves to observing real-life, faithful, and happy husbands and wives. Instead of making out in the basement or watching more chick flicks, we could find creative ways to help families we want to learn from.
I am not saying you should not date. The vast majority of us will have to date in order to get married, at least in the West. It’s simply how most people find a spouse today. I’m just not convinced dating is necessarily preparing us — heart, habits, character — for marriage. I’m not discouraging you from dating, but encouraging you to date with clarity and purpose, and not as an experiment. My advice is not necessarily to marry the first person you date, but to date in a way that serves the person you marry one day.
How Dating Prepares Us
If dating did prepare us for marriage, what specifically would those relationships prepare us to do in marriage?
- To relate romantically to someone of the opposite sex?
- To plan better dates — food, places, activities?
- To express affection effectively?
- To buy the right kind of flowers, or candy, or jewelry?
- To carry on meaningful conversations?
Dating indeed may prepare us to do each of these things incrementally better than if we had never dated. Experience almost always teaches us something. The problem is that at the end of each relationship, we have learned how to love someone, but that someone wasn’t our spouse. We prepared ourselves to marry our ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, and then we never got married. We cultivated love emotionally and exclusively, learned specifically how to love each other practically, and then we walked away. And then started the whole process over with someone else.
So, instead of preparing ourselves for marriage, we actually prepared ourselves, practically speaking, to walk away from marriage. Dating really prepared us for divorce.
Something You Never Hear
Still don’t believe me? Have you ever heard a husband openly celebrate his wife’s past dating relationships? Have you ever heard a wife mourn that her husband didn’t date more people?
How would we communicate if you hadn’t spent all those hours on the phone with Rachel? I’m so thankful you learned how to be a better kisser with Greg. Where would our marriage be if you hadn’t bought all those flowers for Susan?
Husbands and wives do not talk that way. If a husband or wife does celebrate their spouse’s past relationships, it’s almost always because of what they didn’t do — not because that other relationship was a “valuable learning experience” on the way to marriage.
Think about that. We might talk freely about how much dating will prepare us for marriage before we are married, and then we almost never talk about our dating relationships after we’re married. Why? Because dating does not really prepare us for marriage, especially if we treat it like a trial run or a test drive.
How God Prepares Us
What does God say about what it looks like to be prepared for marriage, and how do those things map onto what we see and experience in dating today? The clearest picture we have in the Bible comes in Ephesians 5:22–33. If you want to prepare yourself for your future husband or wife, you need to learn how to practice these five graces in marriage:
- To be utterly and fiercely exclusive (Ephesians 5:31).
- To become one spiritually, emotionally, and physically (Ephesians 5:31).
- To submit our desires and preferences totally to someone else (Ephesians 5:21–24).
- To work hard for someone else’s purity (Ephesians 5:26–27).
- To die to ourselves for someone else, even if it costs us everything (Ephesians 5:25).
Does that sound like the dating scene we see today? Does that sound like your dating relationships? It does not sound, look, or smell like most of my dating experience. That’s mainly because Ephesians 5:22–33 was written about marriage, not about dating. We’re not meant to experience those five points with several men or women, and then more with our spouse. God meant for us to experience them with one person, within the safety and intimacy of a promise — within a marriage.
By all means, if we want to be married, we should prepare ourselves to be married. But we don’t prepare ourselves for true, lifelong romance by experimenting with lesser, short-term romance. We prepare ourselves for deeper, fuller, longer-lasting romance by becoming more like Christ. If we want to be as happy as humanly possible in marriage, we practice loving others like he loves us. And the ways we prepare ourselves to love like him will look very different from every other trend in dating.
1. Prepare yourself to love exclusively.
When we say “exclusive” today, we typically mean one person at a time. We immediately think of our mini-marriages. For instance, someone could have been divorced five times and still be “exclusively” dating someone today. I think we can all agree that is a shallow and superficial way to think about exclusivity. Exclusively dating boy after boy, or girl after girl, looks less and less exclusive over time, and robs us of at least some of the exclusivity we might give a spouse one day.
“If we misunderstand and misuse dating, we will end up making more and greater mistakes in our search for love.”
Instead of treating each new relationship like a mini-marriage, cultivate a ferocious and truly exclusive love for your future husband or wife — even though you do not yet know who he or she is. As you relate to your boyfriend or girlfriend, always assume they are not your future husband or wife until he or she is your husband or wife.
2. Prepare yourself to serve others selflessly, and not satisfy yourself.
Prepare yourself to serve, and not be served (Mark 10:45). Marriage requires our gladly dying daily to ourselves for the sake of another, while dating more often looks like stuffing ourselves to death at someone else’s expense. We storm the free all-you-can-eat buffet, but forget someone else is always paying.
If we want to love our future spouse well one day, we must learn to live for someone other than ourselves now. We are all born knowing how to take care of ourselves (Ephesians 5:29). We all need to learn how to set ourselves aside for the sake of others — to postpone our own gratification in order to protect and serve our current boyfriend or girlfriend (as well as our future husband or wife).
3. Prepare yourself to wait patiently.
“Now” might be the defining word in modern dating — love now, titles now, touch now, sex now, marriage now. Every moment of unfulfilled desire pulses with tension in our bodies. Yes, “he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22), but only when he finds her in God’s time and in God’s way.
Impatience drives as many of our missteps in dating as anything else. Romance, marriage, and sex are really good gifts from God, and like every other good and perfect gift we receive, we have to submit to God’s timing and God’s terms to truly enjoy them. If you encourage your cravings for instant gratification in dating, you will be lost in the day-in, day-out, lifelong pursuit of marriage.
4. Prepare yourself to pursue purity fiercely.
The pursuit of purity does not stop when you get married. It’s not a saddle single people are forced to wear. It’s a burden blood-bought men and women love to bear (1 Corinthians 6:18–20).
“If we learn to treasure Jesus more than love, sex, and marriage, we will date, marry, and make love differently.”
The not-yet-married are told over and over again through Bible-pounding law and menacing scare tactics — shame, pregnancy, and STDs — to guard their purity. And the Bible does warn us, in no uncertain terms, about sexual immorality and impurity (Ephesians 5:3, 5). But the greatest and most effective motivation for your personal purity — single or married, young or old, new believer or veteran — is not potential consequences, but potential joy.
Prepare your heart to treasure Jesus more than love, sex, and marriage, and you will date, marry, and make love differently. And the differences will make all the difference for your happiness, and for your future husband or wife.
In this lab, John Piper reminds us that we have a refuge in times of trouble, safety amid life’s storms. Only a fool curses the shelter and runs into the eye of the storm.
Some questions to ask as you read and study Job:
- Do you know people who walked away from God because of suffering? What did they believe about God that led them to reject him?
- Watch the lab. What was Job’s wife’s error? Why were her words so foolish?
- What might you say to someone who is on the verge of walking away from God in response to their suffering?
Principle for Bible Reading
When you see LORD spelled in all caps, it signifies the use of God’s personal name, Yahweh. Revealed in Exodus 3:14 (“I AM”) this name is not a generic title (e.g. king, boss, president) but his personal name (e.g. John, Paul, Peter) given to those in covenant with him.
I am an impatient person. I don’t like waiting. I get annoyed by slow drivers in fast lanes. I audibly sigh when I get into a long checkout line. I am quick to remind wait staff in restaurants that I’m waiting to be seated or served.
“Could it be that what we are waiting for is more important to us than God?”
Those are trivial situations, yet I still find it hard to wait. There are bigger, much more important issues that I’ve waited for as well. I’ve waited an agonizingly long time for healing from my post-polio. For clarity on which path to take in an important decision. For restoration of a difficult relationship. For a dear friend to return to faith. For each, I have waited long past the time when I thought my requests should have been answered. For many serious requests, I’m still waiting.
I take comfort in seeing that people in the Bible, like Abraham, grew impatient too when their prayers and promises didn’t materialize as they’d hoped.
What Only God Could Do
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And then there was silence. Nothing happened for eleven long years (imagine where you were eleven years ago). Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and well past her childbearing years.
After more than a decade of waiting, they both assumed that perhaps they needed to act on their own to fulfill the promise of God. So, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and had Ishmael. For a while, they thought the promises would now come true through Ishmael.
Thirteen years later, God told them Sarah would bear a son, Isaac. They had waited so long, neither of them believed God was going to do it now. Abraham was decidedly unenthusiastic at the proclamation. After he audibly laughed and inwardly doubted, Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18).
Abraham had figured out a way to have heirs on his own. The thought of waiting, being wholly dependent on God, wasn’t part of his plan. He wanted God to bless what he had done, rather than wait for what only God could do.
Why We Give Up Waiting
That’s what I often do. I don’t like waiting. I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what’s going to happen. And then I want to move ahead. Abraham wanted God to bless Ishmael so he could have descendants through him. God had something different in mind, something that unfolded to Abraham over time — something impossible in the eyes of man.
“Don’t shortcut what God has for you.”
Honestly, often I want Ishmael too. I want the thing I can figure out, that I have control over, that doesn’t require waiting and trusting.
What do we do when, like Abraham, our waiting for days turns into months, which turns into years, which turns into decades? Do we turn our heart away from God, who seemingly never delivered what we’re waiting for? If that happens, could it be that what we are waiting for is more important to us than God?
What God Denies Us
What is happening in our waiting? Is it just an empty space between our prayers and their fulfillment? No, in our waiting, God does his deepest work.
God is sanctifying us and teaching us to trust him. Sometimes we get what we are waiting for, and we rejoice and are grateful. Other times, we never see that fulfillment on earth, and we are drawn closer to God as we continue to seek him.
God has not forgotten us. It’s not that our requests are unimportant. He will answer them in his own time (which is also always the best time for us). He sees what we cannot see; he knows the potential dangers and snares he is protecting us from. While we’re waiting, God is with us. He aches with us, cries with us, comforts us. He meets us in our pain and uses all our struggles for our good. One day, we will thank him for everything that he gave us, and denied us, on this earth.
Pass on the Humanly Possible
Waiting is good for us. It’s painfully easy, however, to grow weary and take matters into our own hands because it’s taking too long. It’s tempting to look for Ishmael, to provide for ourselves, to meet our desires our own way. It may feel like we’re simply finding another means to an end, but God is in both the means and the end. Don’t shortcut what God has for you. Don’t give in to disillusionment. Don’t settle for Ishmael when God has Isaac for you. Isaac was the son of laughter and promise, the fulfillment of all God had said. Isaac was worth waiting for.
“One day, we will thank him for everything that he gave us, and denied us, on this earth.”
Isaac requires faith. It’s scary to let go of a sure thing and wait for something that may not materialize. We’re afraid we’ll be left with nothing, wondering why we waited at all. We may reason that something is better than nothing, and so we are satisfied with Ishmael. It meets our needs. But Ishmael will never fulfill us because Ishmael is what we do in our own strength. And we have no ability to satisfy our deepest desires. We need God to do that. He may do it through miraculously fulfilling what we asked for, or he may do it by denying what we asked for and giving us more of himself. Either way, we will find joy because we have him.
What is your Ishmael? What are you tired of waiting for and tempted to take into your own hands? What are you afraid to let go of because it seems that something is better than nothing? What are you trusting God for?
Don’t settle for what is humanly possible; wait for what only God can do.
Every marriage is either Christian or idolatrous. And two married Christians can be idolatrous, without even realizing it.
The difference between Christian and idolatrous is giving versus demanding, enjoying versus using, sharing versus manipulating. It’s the difference between humbled gratitude versus undiscerned selfishness. But every marriage, injured by unfair expectations, can be healed through the grace of awakened sensitivity. Every marriage can become honoring to Christ and life-giving to the husband and wife.
Two biblical insights open up new possibilities for every marriage.
Privilege of Marriage
One, the privilege that marriage is: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
That is the biblical definition of marriage, from all the way back in the garden of Eden. “One flesh” is one man and one woman, walking hand in hand through their life in this world, sharing together an all-encompassing union of total belonging. No other relationship is like this. Healthy friendships have boundaries, but marriage brings a man and woman together in complete vulnerability with no shame (Genesis 2:25).
“Every marriage is either Christian or idolatrous. And two married Christians can be idolatrous, without even realizing it.”
I want you to see the glorious privilege of marriage — your marriage. When God expelled us from the garden after Adam sinned, he didn’t take his gift of marriage back. He let us keep it. And even though a long time has elapsed since then, our marriages today are not ninety-ninth-hand, at best. Jesus saw our imperfect marriages as sacred and inviolate, at the same level as the perfect marriage of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:3–6).
So, your marriage is your little remnant of the garden of Eden. Inside the circle of your one-flesh union, where only you and your spouse completely belong, God wants you to cultivate your own personal outpost of Eden into something beautifully Christian in the world today.
But how can we do that, especially long term over the years? That leads us to the second insight.
Resource of Christ
Two, the resource that Christ is: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Life is not in you. Life is not in your spouse. The life we all long for is in Christ alone.
His life is our light, illuminating our otherwise dreary existence. His life is more than a bare power surge; his life awakens us to purpose, hope, wisdom. In Christ, we stop dying so much and start living more. In Christ, we stop being so clueless and start growing in awareness. This is just who he is and what he does.
If we believe he is our life, and open ourselves up, our marriages will change. We will stop loving our spouse too much — which, in reality, isn’t too muchbut rather wrongly, like an idol — and we will start loving Christ more. When that happens, we actually start loving our spouse better.
His Love Through Hers
The reason your spouse is not your life and your light is that he or she cannotbe those things. That wonderful person you married is, and can only be, secondary, derived, contingent, dependent, and easily exhausted — like you.
Only Christ is, and always will be, primary, original, free, powerful, and eager — unlike you both. When two sinners step inside the circle of the one-flesh union and cultivate there an even deeper union with Christ, they become relaxed about themselves and each other, they become happy about Christ, and Eden reappears in the world today — a Christian marriage.
Here is one way this insight opens my eyes. When I take my precious wife in my arms, the love I experience from her is not from her alone. It is also the love of God through her. The fact that the love of God is coming down to me through her doesn’t mean that that love stops being divine. It is still the love of God — which makes my wife all the more wondrous in my eyes.
Her love is the moment-by-moment gift of his life, and his life is the light that floods each moment with meaning I never would have grasped if the experience were limited to and defined by the human only. Realizing this, I am moved toward gratitude for her and worship of him, and I find myself on holy ground — Eden today.
First Things Put First
Not only does Christ himself make a marriage truly Christian, as we look to him, but he also guards a marriage against idolatrous instincts and impulses.
As I remember that it is Christ alone who gives my wife and me all our life and light, I don’t need my wife to be more than she can be. I can receive our life together as the glorious miracle it is, and marvel at how present Christ is with us. Our imperfections are the very place where he dwells the most meaningfully.
“Every marriage can become honoring to Christ and life-giving to the husband and wife.”
A marriage is not Christian because two Christians get married. A marriage becomes truly Christian as two Christians keep looking to Christ for the wherewithal each needs moment by moment. It isn’t a matter of practical tips, though I suppose there is a place for that — like training wheels on a child’s bike. But far more, it’s a matter of seeing him, with the eyes of faith, real-time as a husband and wife walk together through each day. It’s a matter of rejoicing that he is present with you, he is sharing his life with you, his light is banishing the darkness from the sacred circle he has given the two of you.
I’ll let C.S. Lewis have the last word: “When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. . . . When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”