Tag Archives: Commitment

Why don’t men talk to women about commitment and marriage any more?

Painting:
Painting: “Courtship”, by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)

I saw this essay from a young woman named Jordana Narin who is explaining how she feels about not being able to talk seriously to a man she had sex with. She is a radical feminist and has a useless, easy degree in creative writing.

The essay was published in the radically leftist New York Times.

First kiss:

I met [a guy] at summer camp in the Poconos at 14, playing pickup basketball by day and talking in the mess hall late into the night. Back home we lived only 30 minutes apart, but I didn’t see him again until 11th grade, when we ran into each other at a Halloween party in a Lower Manhattan warehouse.

[…]Under the muted flashes of a strobe light, we shared our first kiss.

She spent her first kiss on a guy she barely knew at a party, with no relationship context.

And this is how they talked:

We stayed in touch for the rest of high school, mostly by text message.

[…]Every time his name popped up on my phone, my heart raced.

Still, we were never more than semiaffiliated, two people who spoke and loved to speak and kissed and loved to kiss and connected and were scared of connecting.

Where is this relationship going? This boy has no job and no savings and no proven record of steady work – and therefore he cannot marry anyone.

More:

Two years after our first kiss, we were exchanging “I’ve missed you” messages again. It was a brisk Friday evening in our first semesters of college when I stepped off a train and into his comfortable arms.

He had texted weeks earlier on Halloween (technically our anniversary) to ask if I would visit. We had not talked since summer, and I was trying to forget him. We had graduated from high school into the same inexpressive void we first entered in costume, where an “I’ve missed you” was as emotive as one got.

Long gaps in between text messages – they have nothing to talk about, and there is no goal. Nevertheless, they are away from their parents, and so she had sex with him, losing her virginity to a man she was not married to.

And then:

Naïvely, I had expected to gain clarity, to finally admit my feelings and ask if he felt the same. But I couldn’t confess, couldn’t probe. Periodically I opened my mouth to ask: “What are we doing? Who am I to you?” He stopped me with a smile, a wink or a handhold, gestures that persuaded me to shut my mouth or risk jeopardizing what we already had.

On the Saturday-night train back to Manhattan, I cried. Back in my dorm room, buried under the covers so my roommates wouldn’t hear, I fell asleep with a wet pillow and puffy eyes.

The next morning I awoke to a string of texts from him: “You get back OK?” “Let’s do it again soon :)”

Yes. She had sex with him because of text messages, Facebook comments and because he “missed her”. Not because he had presented his resume and balance sheet to her father, dated her for many months, bought her an engagement ring, courted her for more months, bought her a wedding ring, then walked down the aisle with her.

Why is this happening?

There’s an interview that goes with it on the radically leftist NPR web site, but I saved a copy of the MP3 file here in case it disappears.

Moderate Christian Rod Dreher comments on the interview:

I wouldn’t have understood the full scope of what this young woman is saying in her essay without the interview, which is short. In the segment, Narin says that men and women in her generation don’t have actual romantic relationships anymore. It’s all casual, non-committal sex. “Nobody knows whether their own feelings are real,” she says.

[..]She tells the interviewer that there’s lots of making out and sex, but nobody wants to be emotionally vulnerable to anybody else.

[…]“Everyone in college uses Tinder,” she said, referring to the wildly popular dating and hook-up app. “You can literally swipe right and find someone just to hang out for the night. There’s no commitments required, and I think that makes committing to someone even harder, because it’s so normal, and so expected even, to not want to commit.”

In a different time, my grandparents, my great grandparents, they might have thought they were missing out on casual sex,” she says. “But since my generation has been saddled down with that, we kind of look to the past and say well, wasn’t that nice. I think both are optimal. I’m a huge feminist, and I think women should be able to do whatever they want to do. If a woman wants to have tons of casual sex, she totally should. But I think that there should be the option. And they shouldn’t be gendered, women and men. But there should be the option of being in a relationship.”

Right. Young women like her who have swallowed radical feminism hook, line and sinker don’t want to “miss out” on casual sex right now, but they want to get married “some day” – after they have a lot of fun traveling and doing exciting, fun things.

But what do they think marriage is?

This:

Look at the lyrics:

You got that 9 to 5
But, baby, so do I
So don’t be thinking I’ll be home and baking apple pies
I never learned to cook

After every fight
Just apologize
And maybe then I’ll let you try and rock my body right
Even if I was wrong
You know I’m never wrong

And know we’ll never see your family more than mine

Even when I’m acting crazy
Tell me everything’s alright

This is what women today understand marriage to be. They expect to be pursuing their own careers, not supporting their husbands and raising children. Most feminists view the roles of wife and mother as demeaning. They aren’t interested in supporting or respecting a man who provides for them – they just want him to say yes to whatever they feel like doing – fun and thrills.

The woman singing expects to win every disagreement because, like the song says, she is never wrong. The lyrics also say that sex is conditional on whether the woman feels happy. When it comes to visiting family and holidays, she lets us know that her family is more important than his. And she is allowed to act crazy, which could involve a whole host of selfish, wasteful, narcissistic behaviors, (e.g. – skydiving, ziplining, surfing), and he is just supposed to celebrate and maybe pay for it. For the rest of his life.

How do men respond to these radical feminists?

Most men are not interested in committing to, or discussing commitment with, radical feminists. Men will have sex with a radical feminist, (not me, but other men), but they will never commit to them. Why not? If a man’s role is just to please the “huge feminist”, then there is no reason to commit to her. Radical feminists believe that relationships are about their plans and their needs. They are not interested in responsibilities, expectations or obligations to men or to children. But men, even secular men, understand that they must not marry a woman who thinks that relationships should impose no obligations on her. Men play dumb with women to keep the sex coming, but there is no way they would commit to such women.

Now there is one exception to this rule, and that’s young, naive men. If a woman is a “huge feminist” then she might be able to get attention from a doormat man without having to give him sex. Typically, these men have no work experience, no savings, are much younger, and are so desperate for attention that they do what Meghan Trainor says in the song: apologize, grovel, condone craziness and selfishness, etc. Although a woman may think she wants a man like that in the short-term, in the long-term, those men prove unattractive and unsatisfactory.

In order to be masculine, a man needs to be a good moral leader and a good spiritual leader. And that means that he needs to call a woman higher, away from her self-centeredness, so she can serve God and serve other people. He cannot just agree with whatever crazy, emotional thing that she thinks up that is fun, thrilling and bound to fail. A good leader has experience as a provider, protector and leader that he brings to bear on decision-making, and proven ability achieving and leading others to greatness. I think women with low self-esteem will be interested in men who are doormats, but that is not the solution to the commitment problem. A doormat man does not have what it takes to provide and lead a family.

New study: cohabitation produces far inferior outcomes to marriage

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
Is cohabitation the same thing as a lifelong marriage commitment?

This study is from the American College of Pediatricians.

The Stream writes about the study:

The American College of Pediatricians recently published a paper, Cohabitation, which cautions adolescents and young adults about the negative consequences of cohabitation for both themselves and their children, and urges parents to teach their children about the advantages of waiting until marriage.

More young people are now first cohabiting than are marrying without prior cohabitation, yet research shows that, rather than being a stepping-stone to a healthy marriage, living together before marriage (cohabitation) makes couples more likely to break-up and more likely to divorce if they do marry. It results in lower marital satisfaction and increased negative communication.  Cohabiting couples spend less time together; men are more likely to spend their time on personal pleasure than do married men.

Commitment failure:

Cohabiting couples are now less likely to later marry than 40 years ago. Controlling for other factors that increase risk of divorce, marriages preceded by cohabitation are still 50 percent more likely to end in divorce.  (Some recent studies challenge this, but are scientifically flawed and omit the raw data.)  Also 27 percent of cohabitations dissolve without marriage in the first three years.

Domestic violence:

Cohabiters commit increased violence against their partner. Women are nine times more likely to be killed by a cohabiting partner than by their husband. Severe violence is four times as common among cohabiting couples; any violence is nearly 50 percent more common among couples cohabiting before marrying and doubled among couples continuing to cohabit after five years.

Alcohol abuse:

Men who cohabit without marrying in 5 to 10 years have more than double the rate of alcohol abuse as married men; women who cohabit without marrying have 4 to 7 times the rate of alcohol abuse as married women.

Infidelity:

Cohabiters, both men and women, have rates of infidelity in the preceding year more than triple that of married spouses. Among the married, those cohabiting prior to marriage were 50 percent more likely to be unfaithful as those marrying without cohabiting.

Poverty:

Poverty is more common among cohabitating women and their children. Their male partners have both a higher unemployment rate (15 percent vs 8 percent), and work less hours if employed.

Abortion:

Cohabitating women are ten times more likely to have an abortion than married women, and suffer from its associated mortality and morbidity. In fact, 89 percent of women who have had abortions have at one time cohabited; 40 percent have lived with three or more men. Abortion also puts future children at risk, especially from extremely premature birth.

Harm to children:

Children who survive also suffer due to parental cohabitation.  They have increased risk of losing a parent to divorce or separation, possibly multiple times.  Children born of cohabiting parents are over four times more likely to suffer separation of their parents by their third birthdays (49 percent) than those born to married parents (11 percent).

[…]Nearly one-third of couples enter into cohabitation with a child from a previous relationship, as do half of those cohabitating for six years or longer. Children living with a parent and unmarried partner (live-in boyfriend) have 20 times the risk of sexual abuse and eight times the risk of all maltreatment compared to children living with married biological parents.  Even if the couple marries, stepchildren have over eight times the risk of sexual abuse and triple the overall risk of abuse of neglect. Girls living with a stepparent had 60 percent higher risk of being raped than girls living with their biological parents.

Depression:

Women in cohabiting relationships have more depression than married women, and poorer responsiveness to their children’s emotional needs.  Children whose mothers are depressed have increased cortisol responses to stress (which may explain their increased hypertension in adulthood). Children with unmarried mothers are half as likely to be breastfed, leading to higher rates of asthma, pneumonia, ear and intestinal infections, diabetes, obesity, and lower intelligence.

Please believe me when I say that you should click through to the Stream and read the entire article.

So what do I want to say about this in my 500 words? Well, I want to say that the cohabitation issue is a good opportunity for us to reason about whether there should be any rules around sexuality and relationships.

Our culture is absolutely poisoned right now with a kind of feelings-oriented non-judgmentalism that prevents debate. Everything has been reduced to people feeling “offended” and using the power of government to stifle debate. Nowhere is this more evident than on the university campus, which is the source of the problem. This hyper-tolerance and emotional non-judgmentalism leaves people open to making poor decisions that cause self-destruction and harm to others. As a result, young people are blindly accepting a script for sexuality and relationships from the culture, e.g. – Hollywood, celebrities, and ideologically-driven academics. A script made by professional story-tellers insulated from the consequences of their ideas.

As Christians, we seem to have so much trouble talking to young people about rules around sexuality and relationships. So many young people think that premarital sex is benign. That cohabitation is no big deal. And that redefining marriage cannot be opposed. Christian parents and pastors are not preparing themselves to discuss these things with young people. If there is a battle of ideas, and one side shows up with a bunch of feelings and lies, that side still wins – if the other side doesn’t show up at all. Don’t be so focused on your career and your own self that you fail your children by failing to discuss and debate with them about the issues. Don’t assume that just because your children look OK on the surface that there are not serious questions underneath.

There is so much I could say about this problem of talking to young people. As I argued in a previous post, I truly believe that apologists should not neglect these social / cultural / fiscal issues. We have to study them and know how to argue for our values using secular arguments and evidence, such as you see in the study above. Once young people have decided that Christian teachings on sexuality (e.g. – chastity, courting) are primitive and irrational, or worse, then getting them to accept Christianity becomes that much harder. And that goes double for marriage. If they think that cohabitation, no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage and gay adoption are opposed for no other reason than blind prejudice or even hatred, then we’ve lost before we even begin to make our first philosophical argument.

Why do some people not move in together before marriage?

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
Is cohabitation the right way to build lifelong married love?

I find Lindsay’s blog useful for getting a bird’s eye view of marriage. I like it because she and her husband Doug are running such a tight game plan and it’s clearly working. It makes me feel good about not blindly following the culture’s rules for relationships. One of the cultural norms that’s really popular these days is cohabitation.

Here’s a post by Lindsay about cohabitation.

I’m going to quote some stuff from her post, and you see if you catch sight of something she is talking about that is missing from relationships today:

Marriage is meant to be a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman in which they physically, spiritually, and emotionally bond to become one. This bonding of the entire self only works properly when all other options are permanently rejected. It is the nature of erotic love to include only two people. Each person has only one self and can only give that self wholly to one other. In order to bind oneself so tightly to another, it is necessary to forego binding in that way with any other at any time. Thus true love requires commitment.

[…]A person who is “keeping their options open” is not exhibiting love.

Marriage is designed to be a safe and loving environment for the sharing of self. When two people commit to each other before sexual intimacy, they affirm that their love for the other person is not contingent on bedroom performance (or anything else). True love says “I love you, whatever the cost may be, no matter what I may find out about you in the future, and nothing you do will ever change that.” When two people who have remained sexually pure commit to one another in marriage, they show the ultimate expression of love. They commit to one another without reservation, without exception clauses, without knowing everything, but having decided that whatever they may learn will not induce them to reject the other person. It takes courage and sacrifice to love like that. But anything less than full commitment is not true love. Conversely, cohabitation before marriage is not an environment that builds love and trust. Cohabitation, as a “trial period,” says to the other that they better measure up or else. It is an inherently selfish relationship that objectifies the other person. The emphasis in cohabitation is on getting what you want out of the relationship, which is the exact opposite of the emphasis in marriage, which is giving of yourself for the good of the other person. What is loving about taking pleasure in another’s body with the understanding that you may simply walk away if they don’t please you enough?  Cohabiting couples end up evaluating each other’s merits rather than giving of themselves. Their relationship is based on scrutiny rather than acceptance. Such an environment is not likely to build a healthy and lasting relationship.

Cohabitation before marriage also takes the joy of discovery out of the first part of marriage. The first few months of marriage are meant to have a lot of surprises. The newlyweds should have fun finding out what the other likes and how to please one another in an environment of mutual trust and commitment. There should be an air of excitement as they try new things together for the first time. Experiencing new and intimate things with the other person under the umbrella of a marriage commitment takes much of the performance pressure off and is crucial in building a strong and lasting bond between them. It allows both partners to be themselves without fear of rejection since the other person has already committed to them for life.

Contrary to everything you heard in the culture, romantic love is not about getting your needs met by someone else who is “perfect” for you. It’s about making a selfless commitment to love someone no matter how much he or she changes, no matter how much he or she fails. The point of the relationship is not to have happy feelings, it’s to enjoy building your little castle around this other person who is building his or her castle around you. Marriage is about enjoying the intimacy that you are building up by making an exclusive promise to that one person, instead of being distracted by everyone else, and even your own changing feelings.

People who know me well know that I have a pet bird. His species normally lives 15-20 years with excellent care. Mine is now 27 years old. When I would fly away to interviews in other cities, I would always get emotional when coming home and flying over my home airport – because I knew he was waiting for me to come home. In graduate school, I would call home from the computer lab to see what he was doing. I can completely understand why women hate leaving their children during the day. Now, I always had big plans for him, like teaching him to talk and teaching him to be toilet-trained. And I spent a lot of time with him trying to get him to do those things. Sometimes he learned, but sometimes he didn’t. I see lots of other birds of his kind who are younger on Youtube. Some can talk and do neat tricks. But my bird is my bird, and because he is mine, I am loyal to him. He is the only bird in the world who flies towards me instead of away from me. He is the only bird in the world who sings to me when I come home.

Love isn’t about thinking about what you can get that’s better than what you have. It’s about making commitments and enjoying the experiences you have together, and how you build familiarity and intimacy with this one other person. I really think that what premarital sex and cohabitation teaches people is to enter relationships with one eye on the exit, and sabotage things at the first opportunity. What break-ups teach you is how to prepare for break-ups, how to hold back, how to not trust, how to separate your feelings from touching, how to not be vulnerable, and how to not invest in other people because something is “wrong” with them. It’s sad that it’s come to this. Everyone seems to be jumping straight into sex thinking that this is what relationships are about, and they are ruining their ability to marry and find out what relationships are really about – giving each other a sense of safety and belonging. What’s much more important than compatibility and happy feelings is the ability to make a commitment that survives disappointments.

Should you marry a woman who is pro-choice, pro-divorce or pro-gay-marriage?

Young, unmarried women celebrate gay pride
Young women celebrate gay pride: do they understand marriage? are they safe to marry?

Let’s take a closer look at what these three views mean for you as a future husband.

Pro-choice:

Let’s start by talking about sex, because you can’t have an abortion without sex. So, the right way to view sex is that it’s something that should be confined to marriage. Sex is so non-trivial that it should only be done after a couple has committed to each other for life. Feelings of being “in love” cannot ground sex, because feelings come and go, but marriage is for life.  The function that sex provides in a married home is that it relieves stress, affirms the unity of the marriage, and communicates love to the man in particular. Sex is not to be used before marriage as a way of getting what you want without having to promise to love the other person for a lifetime, no matter what.

Again, it’s not how you feel about the other person that matters, because feelings change. What matters is whether you are willing to make that commitment to take responsibility for another person’s needs, regardless of how you feel. Sex makes sense in a relationship where both people have promised to do that. And both people should have some kind of track record at doing that in their past, since accepting responsibilities, expectations and obligations is not something that just gets turned on and off by a wedding.

When a woman says that she is pro-choice, what she means is that sex is something completely different than what I just described. A pro-choice woman thinks it should be OK for a woman to have pre-marital sex for recreation – outside of the boundaries of a lifelong, exclusive commitment to marry. Since people don’t usually have pre-marital sex when they are sober, this is probably going to mean drinking a lot to break down her judgment, and to give her a way of getting out of the responsibility and feelings of guilt – “that wasn’t me, it was the alcohol that I freely chose to drink”. Premarital sex is about a woman choosing a man apart from his ability to commit to performing the roles of husband and father for her. She is not giving sex to a man who committed to her, she’s giving sex to a man who is hot and fun and will give her thrills and tingles and will make her friends so envious.

So what happens when this recreational sex results in a pregnancy? A pro-choice woman believes that it’s OK to murder another innocent human being in order to escape the normal, natural consequences of her own choices. Is this view of sex as recreational and commitment-free compatible with the needs and goals of a marriage-minded man?

Not only is this recreational, me-first, fun and thrills view of sex not compatible with marriage, but it’s not compatible with having children either. A woman who thinks that murdering an innocent child is an acceptable way to insulate herself from obligations and responsibilities is not a good woman to marry. A pro-choice woman will not be able to handle the needs of  a child, because she thinks that her happiness comes above self-sacrificial service to others.

Pro-no-fault-divorce:

The first redefinition of marriage before gay marriage was the enactment of no-fault divorce, which allows one spouse (the woman, 70% of the time) to exit the marriage for any reason, or no reason at all. These no-fault divorce laws were pushed through by two groups on the left: feminists and trial lawyers. They both stood to gain from no-fault divorce. Trial lawyers stood to make a ton of money from the divorce trials. Feminists objected to the traditional marital roles: sole male provider and stay-at-home wife and mother. By making it easier to divorce, they basically encouraged women to not think through who they were choosing to marry, since they could easily get out of it now. A woman who can get out of a marriage easily does not think rationally about whether the man can perform the traditional male roles. It enables her to reject her father’s guidance and just marry based on her feelings – the man’s appearance, peer-approval, cultural standards of what men ought to be, etc. No-fault divorce is like winning the lottery for a woman: she gets alimony AND child support.

If a woman supports no-fault divorce, it means that she does not want to be roped into responsibilities, expectations and obligations that require self-denial, self-control and self-sacrifice. Women who support no-fault divorce typically have the view that life is too unpredictable to logically connect causes and effects. They think that the most reliable way to choose a man is through their feelings, not by measuring his abilities against objective criteria like the traditional set of {provider, protector, moral leader, spiritual leader}. What this means for you is that if their feelings change, then they will divorce you. A woman who thinks that her feelings can predict whether an enterprise like marriage is likely to succeed or fail is a divorce risk. She will rely on her feelings to motivate her to perform in the marriage, and will expect you to make her feel like doing her jobs. You can’t get involved with that. Your job as a man is to protect, provide, and lead on moral and spiritual issues, not to make her do her job by making sure she always feels like doing it.

What if a woman says she opposes divorce – can she still be a divorce risk? Yes. If she has an overriding desire to be happy in other areas of her life that is so strong that it causes her to avoid hard things. If she studies easy subjects, prefers easy jobs, spends more on vacations than investments, etc. Avoid women who prioritize thrill-seeking behavior, like going out, getting drunk, hooking up, or doing pointless, expensive activities like sky-diving, zip-lining or surfing. They are not going to be content with married life, because they don’t value the end result of a good marriage over their own desire to be free of constraints and to have happy feelings. Whatever duties they have in the marriage will never get done, because they are not used to committing to do hard things, and then doing them, regardless of how they feel. Prefer women with a history of doing the right thing, even if they don’t feel like it.

Pro-gay-marriage:

What does it mean to be in favor of removing the requirement for two complementary genders in marriage? Well, what it means is that there is no design to marriage such that the male and female nature need to balance each other out. Same-sex relationships tend to exhibit characteristics that not favorable for the needs of children, e.g. – higher rates of domestic violence, non-monogamy, etc. I don’t think it’s a good idea to redefine marriage in a way that undermines the norms of natural marriage, e.g. – pre-marital chastity, exclusivity, permanence, and focusing on stability for the sake of the children. If your candidate thinks that raising children without a father or without a mother is “marriage”, they don’t understand marriage.

Any children who are raised by a same-sex couple will be automatically deprived of either their biological mother, their biological father, or both. Biological parents are naturally going to have an additional interest in the child, since the child contains their genetic material. And of course children do better when they are raised in a stable home. Anyone one can see that children of divorce do worse without their father. And orphans who go without a mother during their childhood – especially the first 5 years – do much worse than children raised by stay-at-home moms. So, either way, same-sex unions impose a lot of stress and strain on kids.

So should should marry a woman who thinks that it is OK to put the needs of selfish adults over the needs of vulnerable children? The answer is no. Any woman who puts the needs of selfish adults over the needs of innocent, vulnerable children is certainly not going to treat YOU well as a man. You are much less adorable and cute than any child. You’re big and hairy, and most women think you can take care of yourself. So naturally, a woman who thinks that children shouldn’t get their needs met is certainly going to think that you shouldn’t get your needs met, either. You want a woman who is prepared to put aside her own selfishness desires for the sake of the children. She has to believe in adults sacrificing their own desires for the sake of the children. Otherwise, not only will your children suffer, but you will as well.

Conclusion:

So we have seen 3 character traits in women that marriage-minded men should avoid. I just want to tell you that I have seen all 3 of these beliefs in women who claimed to be Christians. You cannot take the words “I am pro-life” to be a sign that she is really pro-life. You have to go deeper, and look for an understanding of the logic of the pro-life case, and pro-life activism. You cannot take the words “I oppose divorce” as a sign that she really opposes no-fault divorce. If her life is focused on pursuing pleasure by relying on her emotions, and then breaking promises and dismissing obligations that don’t feel good, then she is a divorce waiting to happen. You cannot take the words “I oppose same-sex marriage” as proof that she opposes same-sex marriage. If her view of relationships is that adults should do what they want, and the kids just have to adjust, then the risk that she will put herself above the children’s needs – and your needs – is there, regardless of what she says.

Watch out for women who say that their emotions are “God speaking to them”. That is a huge red flag, especially if their past shows evidence of poor decision making, e.g. – debt, abortion, unemployment,  drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, etc. You are looking for a past that shows long-term commitment that overrides feelings. This is not something that can be decided by will or emotions, it has to be a habit cultivated over a lifetime.

Love another Christian just because of the fellowship of the gospel

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. When I study Philippians 1, I use D. A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers” commentary.

Here is the part I want to talk about today:

Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,

in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now just read that and reflect on how passionate, and even unstable and emotional Paul sounds about this love he has for this church. Ask yourself this: what is the basis for these feelings? Read it again, and write your answer down. I’ll tell you mine in a minute.

Now here is D. A. Carson.

He writes:

As often in his letters, Paul begins with a warm expression of thanks to God for something in the lives of his readers. Here the grounds of his thanksgiving to God are three in number, though all three are tied to the same theme.

The first is their faithful memory of him. The NIV reads, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1: 3). But others suggest “I thank my God every time you remember me,” or something similar. The original is ambiguous. For reasons I shall not go into, I think Paul is referring to their remembrance of him. Later on he will thank the Philippians for remembering him so warmly that they sent funds to support him in his ministry. But here the vision is broader: he perceives that their interest in him is a reflection of their continued commitment to the gospel, and that is why he thanks God for them.

The point becomes explicit in the second cause of his thanksgiving: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .” (1: 4– 5). Their “partnership in the gospel” injects joy into Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving: “I always pray with joy,” he writes. The word rendered “partnership” is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. What precisely does the word mean? In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26).

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God.

[..]Implicitly, such an apostolic stance asks us what gives us our greatest joy. Is it personal success? Some victory for our children? Acquisition of material things? “I have no greater joy,” John writes, “than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Paul reflects exactly the same attitude. Paul adds, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . .” (Phil. 1: 7). Probably this was written against the background of Stoic influence that was cautious about whole-life commitments, especially if they involved the “passions.” Be cool; do not be vulnerable; do not get hurt. But that was not Paul’s way. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” Paul insists, regardless of what the contemporary culture says. “I have you in my heart”: my whole life and thought are bound up with you.

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So strongly does he want the Philippians to recognize his devotion to them that Paul puts himself under an oath: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1: 8). The significance of the oath is not that without it he might lie. Rather, he puts himself under an oath so that the Philippians might feel the passion of his truthfulness, in exactly the same way that God puts himself under an oath in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There the point is not that otherwise God might lie, but that God wants to be believed (Heb. 7: 20– 25). So Paul: God is my witness “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Here is no mere professionalism. Nor is this an act, a bit of showmanship to “turn them on” to the apostle. Rather, it is something that repeatedly bubbles through Paul’s arguments. It recurs, for example, in chapter 4: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4: 1).

Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn’t mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.

What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains? None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.

Does what Carson writes make you think of the Lord of the Rings book 1? (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) It sounds like Christians are supposed to band together in common purpose in order to complete a quest. They are not supposed to just be hanging out to pass the time. There is planning. There is cooperation. There is danger. There is achievement. There is adventure. I think that he loves the church in Philippi because they have entered into this fellowship of the gospel with him.

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Already in verse 4 Paul has insisted that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. Now he gives us the content of his prayers for them: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God” (1: 9– 11).

[…]Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love that Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable. Of course, Paul is not thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He is not hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

[…]Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1: 10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He cannot be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Now for my thoughts.

I want all of you reading this to do one thing for me. I want you to completely abandon the criteria you are currently using for who you will be friends with and adopt Paul’s criteria. I want you to put your gospel-related activities at the center of your life. Do not neglect your other practical duties like making money and saving money and so on, but when it comes to your passion, where you take risks, where your long-term goals are – I want you to put the gospel at the center. And I do not mean mere proclamation of simple statements, I mean apologetics and Christian worldview – including politics, economics, etc.

Now, that’s not my main point. My main point is that I further want you to stop choosing who you will associate with based on worldly criteria. I want you to think about the people around you who are the most willing to put the gospel first and I want you to take up those people as friends. I want you to talk to them, to share with them, to encourage them, to confide in them, to listen to their confessions and to generally love them in the traditional ways that Christians love, e.g. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You need to fellowship with them – invest in their enterprises, and let them invest in yours, too. This is real love according to the Bible.

We need to stop looking at other people on the surface level – age, skin color, wealth, clothes, etc. – and start to dig deeper underneath to find out where each person stands with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our criteria should not be present ability. We should choose those with desire, intensity, and willingness to learn hard things. The first person you should invest in is the person who wants to learn to defend their faith to non-Christians using the best available evidence. If that person can demonstrate their desire to do grow in knowledge and depth of insight, you should be spending your time, money and effort with that person first.