Tag Archives: Commitment

“The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” is required reading for women who want to marry

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

I’ve been re-reading my favorite book on marriage, and so I thought I would re-post something about it.

Sue Bohlin of Probe Ministries read “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands“, and her assessment is here.

Excerpt:

Talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger has written a book that is improving thousands of marriages: The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.{1} We need this book because millions of wives either don’t know how to love their husbands wisely and well, or they’re too self-centered to see it as important. Dr. Laura credits this dismal condition to forty years of feminist philosophy, “with its condemnation of just about everything male as evil, stupid, and oppressive, and the denigration of female and male roles in families.”{2} While the women’s movement certainly had a hand to play in the disintegration of relationships and the family, I believe the core cause is our sinful self-centeredness, just as the Bible says.{3}

Which is why we need help, and God instructs older women to train younger women to love their husband and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.{4} The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands is a great resource for learning these important values and skills.

She talks about men’s needs for direct communication, respect, appreciation, support, and sex.

And ends with this:

I can’t recommend The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands highly enough. In fact, I gave a copy to my new daughter-in-law! Let me close with one more piece of wisdom from Dr. Laura: “[M]en are simple creatures who come from a woman, are nurtured and brought up by a woman, and yearn for the continued love, admiration and approval of a woman. . . Women need to better appreciate the magnitude of their power and influence over men, and not misuse or abuse it.”{25}

Sue is the husband of famous Christian scholar Ray Bohlin, PhD, and they’ve been married for a very long time.

And here’s another summary of the book that I found.

Full text:

Dr. Laura Schlessinger has written another book that deserves a place on the best seller list with six of her other books, such as Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives and Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives. The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, from this unmarried man’s perspective, is an excellent manual for women on how to get want they want from men and marriage and, generally, how to be happy. Dr. Laura makes a number of important, practical points, based on her experience in private practice, from advising her radio callers, and from literally hundreds of letters and emails she received from men and women while she was writing the book. Here are the points that struck this writer, together with commentary:

1. Men Need Women, and This Need Gives Women Huge Influence. Dr. Laura states the point as follows: “[M]en are simple creatures who come from a woman, are nurtured and brought up by a woman, and yearn for the continued love, admiration, and approval from a woman.” Women have great power and influence over men, and wives in particular have tremendous power over their husbands. How they use this power essentially controls the relationship, because women are the masters of most relationships and marriages. That’s why Dr. Laura says that she probably won’t write The Proper Care and Feeding of Wives: wives already have most of the power and their marriages depend, for the most part, on them.

2. Women Err in Favoring Children Over Husband. A friend once told this writer that once a woman has children, her husband is relegated to the moral equivalence of a piece of furniture. How sad if this is true in many marriages. Here’s how Dr. Laura puts it: “Once wives became mothers, they had no time to be wives. The men would even compliment their wives on being great mothers, but expressed considerable pain over not being shown love, affection, or sexual interest. The typical reply from a wife challenged with this was ‘I only have time to take care of one person, and our child is that person. I’m just too tired for you.’ This puts fathers in the ugly and uncomfortable position of feeling competitive with and resentful of their children, whom they love so much.”

3. Men and Women Are Different. That men and women are deeply different ought not to be notable, but for the fact that it is so often challenged today. Dr. Laura says that society tries to make both men and women “unisex.” But men are happiest being men, and women are happiest being women, with few exceptions. The differences start to manifest themselves very early. In one study Dr. Laura mentions, a barrier was placed between 1 year-old babies and their mothers. What did the little boys do? They attempted to get around the barrier or knock it down. The little girls? They cried until their mothers’ picked them up. Men tend to respond to things physically, women verbally. In fact, the two sexes are just right for each other.

4. Not Every Thought and Feeling Needs to be Said. Women tend to be so verbal, so expressive, that they can tire out men easily unless they exercise some restraint. Dr. Laura reports that wives generally overwhelm their husbands with communication. “Husbands imagine (so foolishly) that their wives are telling them something they actually need to know because they’re supposed to do something about it. Otherwise, men can’t imagine why the ‘communication’ is happening at all. It confuses them, frustrates them, and their response is to turn off. That’s when they unfairly become labeled insensitive.” Husbands and fiances are not girlfriends or psychologists, and women who want attention should adjust their communication style accordingly when speaking with them.

5. Men Are Not Mind-Readers. Most men are not very intuitive compared to most women. Many women “get caught up in the absurdly romanticized notion that ‘if he loved me, he’d just know what I’m thinking, what I’d like, what he should say.'” If a woman wants her man to do something, she should just ask him plainly, without nagging, and show appreciation when he does it. To act otherwise, as many women do, shows arrogance and lack of respect for the husband’s difference, and it leads to unhappiness in the marriage and in the family.

6. Man Is an Embodied Soul. No, Dr. Laura didn’t put it that way; “embodied soul” is a Catholic concept. But that concept is what underlies her discussion of how important it is to a man that his wife try to keep up her appearance. What does it mean that we are embodied souls? It means that our bodies are integral parts of who we are. We are not just souls. Our bodies are not like clothing that we can take on or off. There was no time during which we had only souls and not bodies, and in eternity as well we will have bodies. It is through our bodies, in fact, that we communicate to our loved ones and to the rest of the world. One thinks of the beautiful line from the old Anglican marriage rite: bride and groom pledge to each other “with my body I thee worship.” It is ironic, but in many cases men–sex-crazed pigs in the minds of many women–actually have a truer understanding of the beauty of the body and the meaning of the marital embrace than their wives do. “Objectification” may come as much or more from the woman’s side as from the husband’s if the woman sees her own body as being separate from rather than an integral part of herself. Dr. Laura writes: “In reading all the letters from men, I was struck by their depth of senstivity about the issue of women’s appearance. It wasn’t an impersonal, animal reaction (as it is with women the men don’t personally know), it was a deeply personal one. The wife’s comfort with and appreciation of her own body and femininity, and her willingness to share that with her husband, actually fed his sense of well-being, his feeling of being loved as a husband and valued as a ‘man.'”

7. Infidelity by Omission. Brides and grooms make a number of vows, not only of sexual fidelity. Marital vows include and imply words like love, honor, protect, and care for. “[W]hen one breaches those vows by neglect, is that also not a form of infidelity? Perhaps we should start looking at the act of intentionally depriving a spouse of legitimate needs as infidelity, too, because it stems from being unfaithful to the intent of the vows.”

8. In the Bedroom. To her credit, Dr. Laura gives due place to the importance for marriage of the marital act: “The bedroom is the foundation of marriage and family.” St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, that supposedly conservative institution within the Church, put it this way: “The marriage bed is an altar.” Enough said?

9. Women Should Appreciate Men’s Masculinity. Dr. Laura relates a trip she made recently to a swimming pool. A mom and a dad were wading with their infant child. Mom held the child against her chest, cooed to him, and swooped him up and down. She passed the baby to dad. He turned the baby’s face outward and swooshed him forward and up into the air. “Mom equals protection and nurturance. Dad equals autonomy and adventure. It is the perfect balance that helps produce a functional, secure human being.” Too many women, though, act like Alice Kramdens, constantly belitting their husbands, shooting down their aspirations, treating them like children. Dr. Laura writes: “When a wife treats her man like he’s one of her children, when she puts him down or thwarts his need for autonomy, adventure, risk, competition, challenge, and conquest, she ends up with a sullen, unooperative, unloving, hostile lump.”

10. Thou Shalt Not Covet. Dr. Laura contributes a novel (to this writer) and insightful contemporary application of the commandment, “thou shal not covet.” Specifically, she understands it as a rebuke to people who want it all, especially feminists. “Perhaps the feminist notions about women having power if they do it all has obstructed too many women’s ability to realize that in real life we all make choices, and that the true joy and meaning of life is not in how many things we have or do, but in the sacrifice and commitment we make to others within the context of the choices we’ve made. The Tenth Commandment, about coveting, reminds us that none of us can have everything there is nor everything we want. Without enjoying and appreciating our gifts and blessings, we create a hell on earth for ourselves and for those who love us.”

PCF Husbands is the best basic book on marriage. Easy to read, tons of wisdom. It’s a great book for women to read to find out what men really want from a wife, and to find out what a wife should do to kep her marriage intact and satisfying. Marriage can be a beautiful thing if both people go into the relationship with the view that each person has to put in 100% effort to make it work. Understanding a man’s needs helps a woman to put in her 100%. It would be hard to take care of a parrot or some other strange creature if you didn’t know anything about what their needs and habits were. This book explains a lot of what women need to know about men.

The Economist: marriage is still the best place for children

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

I stopped reading The Economist when they endorsed the socialist failure Barack Obama, who doubled the national debt to $20 trillion in only 8 years. However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And here is one of those times.

Excerpt:

However, there is one big reason to worry about the quality and longevity of people’s intimate bonds. It is that relationships often produce children, and children are profoundly affected by how their parents get on.

You could make enough confetti for a summer of weddings with all the academic papers that show how much children gain from being brought up in stable, loving families, and how much they suffer when those families break down. Culture and customs make little difference. In Japan, four-fifths of single-parent households emerge when couples divorce—a much higher share than in the West, where people usually slip into single parenthood without marrying. Japanese children living with only one parent nonetheless perform significantly worse in school tests, just as children from single-parent families do in Europe and America. In poorer countries, family breakdown can kill. According to one recent estimate, the chance that an African child will die before turning five is about 25-30 per 1,000 for those born into stable families, but 35-40 per 1,000 for the children of single, divorced or widowed parents.

Marriage is not always good for children. They do not benefit when a parent marries somebody who is not their mother or father, and seem to suffer if the parent they live with cycles through several relationships. What they seem to need most is for their biological parents to stick together. And one strong claim that can be made for marriage is that it appears to glue parents together more tightly than any other arrangement.

This part is key, especially for those millennials who think that cohabitating before marrying makes the marriage more secure:

Analysis of one large American data set by Kathryn Edin and Laura Tach, two sociologists, shows that 27% of marriages broke down within nine years of a child being born. By contrast, among couples who were merely cohabiting when a child appeared, 53% separated within nine years—and most of the remaining 47% were married by that point. Among couples who were dating but not living together when the child was born, 81% had split up.

Again, this pattern runs across national and cultural borders. Cohabiting couples behave a bit more like married couples in countries where giving birth outside marriage is very common, such as Estonia and Norway. But they seldom attain the same level of stickiness as married couples, even after controlling for the mother’s level of education.

Cohabitation doesn’t work, because it’s basically saying that I’m going to try the other person and see if I like the other person, and that sex is required to know if I like the other person. It doesn’t really matter that you know the other person really well, because you can always get out of cohabitation just by leaving. Marriage says that I’m going to commit to the other person for life, through thick and thin. Here, both people tend to do a more thorough job of selecting their partner, perhaps even consulting fathers for advice. Why? Because getting out of a marriage is a lot harder to do, and more expensive.

In the past, I’ve blogged about some factors that can make your marriage pretty much divorce proof: things like chastity, not spending too much on the wedding, age of the man and woman at marriage, education levels of each spouse, number of people attending the wedding ceremony, isolation from other divorced people, church attendance, and so on. The truth is that you can engineer a marriage that’s practically divorce proof. But if you insist on spontaneity and following your heart, then you aren’t going to care what studies say works best.

Study explains why university women embrace binge-drinking and hook ups

College students puking in toilet
College students throwing up after binge drinking

This study is from the Institute for American Values. Despite their name, they are not conservatives. It was done by Norval Glenn and Elizabeth Marquardt.

If you download the 88 page PDF, the first few pages are an executive summary.

There are a couple of things that really struck me about this IAV study on hooking-up.

First, this one from p. 15:

A notable feature of hook ups is that they almost always occur when both participants are drinking or drunk.

A Rutgers University student observed, “You always hear people say, oh my gosh, I was so drunk, I hooked up with so and so…” Perhaps not surprisingly, many noted that being drunk helped to loosen one’s inhibitions and make it easier to hook up. A number of students noted that being drunk could later serve as your excuse for the hook up. A Yale University student said, “Some people like hook up because they’re drunk or use being drunk as an excuse to hook up.” A New York University student observed, “[Alcohol is] just part of an excuse, so that you can say, oh, well, I was drinking.”

A Rutgers University student commented, “If you’re drinking a lot it’s easier to hook up with someone… [and] drugs, it’s kind of like a bonding thing… and then if you hook up with them and you don’t want to speak to them again, you can always blame it on the drinking or the drugs.”

Other women observed that being drunk gives a woman license to act sexually interested in public in ways that would not be tolerated if she were sober. For instance, a University of Michigan student said, “Girls are actually allowed to be a lot more sexual when they are drunk…”

A University of Chicago junior observed, “One of my best friends… sometimes that’s her goal when we go out. Like she wants to get drunk so I guess she doesn’t have to feel guilty about [hooking up].”

Some reported that drinking had led them to do things they later regretted. A University of Virginia student said, “My last random hook up was last October and it was bad. I was drunk and I just regretted it very much.”

And this one from p. 30 on the effects of hooking-up on their future commitments:

A few women did see an unambiguous connection between present relationships and future marriage.

[…]Many women either saw little or no connection between present and future relationships, or their understanding of this connection was curiously flat. A student at New York University said, “[The present and the future are] connected because I will still have the same values and principles that I have now, but I just won’t be single anymore.”A number of women said that the present and the future are connected because whatever heartache or confusion they experience now gives them lessons for the future.

A University of Michigan student said, “Early relationships prepare you for marriage because it’s like, oh, what type of person do I want to be with? Oh, I’ve had these bad experiences. Or, I’ve learned from this relationship that I should do this and I shouldn’t do this.”

A sophomore at Howard University said that “I am kind of learning from a lot of the mistakes that I have made.” At a further extreme, some women saw their future marriage as the reason to experiment widely in the present. A Rutgers University student said,“I think hooking up with different people and seeing what you like and don’t like is a good idea. Because eventually you’re going to have to… marry someone and I’d just like to know that I experienced everything.”

Although it is admirable to take risks and learn from one’s mistakes, these women would probably find it difficult to explain how having your heart broken a few or even many times in your early years — or trying to separate sex from feeling, as in hooking up — is good preparation for a trusting and happy marriage later on.

And on p. 42, we learn what women think marriage is and isn’t for:

For instance, in the on-campus interviews one student complained, “[With] marriage…you have to debate everything… Why do you need a piece of paper to bond a person to you? …But I know if I don’t get married I’ll probably feel like… [a] lonely old woman… If anything, I’d get married [because of] that.”

This student went on to say that she would be satisfied to live with a man, but added that, if the man was committed to her, he would offer to marry her, and that this was the kind of commitment that she wanted. A student at the University of Washington said,“I don’t want to get married right after I graduate from college. I just think that would stunt my growth in every way that there is. I would like to be in a very steady, committed relationship with a guy.”

And on p. 44, we learn that they like co-habitation, which increases the risk of divorce by about 50% (but they don’t know that):

In the national survey, 58 percent of the respondents agreed that “It is a good idea to live with someone before deciding to marry him.” This belief often coexists with a strong desire to marry, because it was embraced by 49 percent of the respondents who strongly agreed that marriage was a very important goal for them.

[…]Women we interviewed on campus reflected a similar range of attitudes about cohabitation. Some women thought that cohabitation was a good way to test whether one could spend a lifetime with a potential partner. In such cases, women often cited fears of divorce as the reason for trying cohabitation first. A senior at the University of Washington said, “I kind of don’t really see marriages work ever, so I want to make sure that everything’s all right before [we get married]. I don’t see how people can get married without living together because I know like I have a best friend and I live with her and we want to kill each other, like, every few months.”

Other women felt that, in an age of divorce, cohabitation was a preferable alternative to marriage. A student at New York University said, “You see so [many] people getting divorces… I just don’t see the necessity [of marriage].” She went on to say, “I think that I don’t have to be married to [the] person that I’m with…. You know like… Goldie Hawn [and Kurt Russell]? They’re not married.”

But let’s get back to the drinking and the hook-up sex…

Once a woman abandons femininity for feminism, then sex is all that she can use to get noticed by a man. Men are like hiring managers, and courting is like a job interview for the job of marriage and mothering. If a woman tries to get the job by having sex with the interviewer, he isn’t going to hire her for the marriage job, since sex has almost nothing to do with the marriage job. Men have to think about things like fidelity and mothering ability when they are choosing a wife. The problem is that thanks to feminism, women have stopped trying to show their ability to be wives and mothers to men, preferring to instead act like bad boys – no emotions, toughness, hardness, binge-drinking, promiscuity. Men may be happy to have sex with women like that, but they do not commit to them for life. They’re just looked upon as feral animals, to be pumped and dumped by every man who isn’t a Christian. And Christian men are disqualified for relationships with young feminists, because we have morals.

Moreover, if a man is constantly being offered sex from feminist women during his 20s and 30s, he basically loses all the time that he could be training for his roles as protector, provider and moral/spiritual leader. He will never take on those roles if he is handed sex before marriage for free. That is the root cause of the “man-up” complaint that women make. Why don’t men grow up? Because they don’t have to. They don’t have to do a thing to audition for husband roles, in order to get sex. They just have to be “hot” and feign liberal political views. Many (most?) teenage women are giving the bad boys oral sex on the first date now. Women aren’t looking for husbands until much later, when their effort to achieve self-esteem through slutty behavior stalls out, and they realize that the whole feminist project was futile and unsustainable.

In a previous post, I explained how feminist leaders wanted to get women to drink like men, have sex like men, and to abolish courtship and marriage. Under the influence of cultural definitions of what makes a good man and a good relationship, women began to choose men to have sex with without any consideration of morality, religion, marriage, etc. This results in a cycle of binge-drinking, one-night-stands, cheating, co-habitating, breaking-up, stalking, aborting, etc., until the woman’s ability to trust and love anyone – including herself – is completely destroyed. And yet these college women somehow believe this is is “fun” and “adventurous”, that it makes them feel “sexy”, and that the experience of being selfish and seeing the worst kind of men acting in the worst possible ways, point blank, somehow prepares them for marriage and motherhood. They are told this, and they are so unable to break out of their need to “fit in” with their peers and culture that by the time they realized they’ve been had, it’s too late to fix it. And yet, they themselves made those decisions. They are responsible, whether they intended the consequences or not. No one was stopping them from investigating what was likely to happen, if they decided to play the fool sexually.

Is living together before marriage the same as getting married?

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

Dad sent me this article from the Daily Signal. Let’s look at it, then I’ll give my opinion on this research.

Five points:

  1. Cohabiting couples are more prone to break up (and break up for good) than married couples
  2. Even after marrying, women who cohabitated prior to marriage are more apt to separate or divorce than those who did not.
  3. Men who cohabit tend to make less money than their married counterparts
  4. Among young mothers, married women are more financially secure than cohabiting women
  5. Cohabiting couples report more depression and more alcohol problems than married couples

The key points for me:

1. Cohabiting couples are more prone to break up (and break up for good) than married couples.  In the May 2003 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family Study, Georgina Binstock and Arland Thornton found that, in the first year of living together, couples who cohabited were eight times more likely to end their relationships than those who were married.  In the second and third years, those rates decreased to four and three times more likely, respectively.  And when it comes to getting back together after a breakup, cohabiting couples were about a third less likely to get back together again.

2. Even after marrying, women who cohabitated prior to marriage are more apt to separate or divorce than those who did not.  One study demonstrated that for women who lived with their partners before marriage, it was 33 percent more likely for their marriages to result in separation or divorce.

5. Cohabiting couples report more depression and more alcohol problems than married couples.  Even when controlling for race, age and gender, cohabiting individuals reported higher levels of depression than married ones, 2.8 points according to one study.  In another study, cohabiting individuals were three times more likely to report having problems with alcohol consumption than those who were married, as well as 25 percent more problems than single people who did not cohabit.  Cohabiting women indicated more alcohol problems than married women—and men who cohabited said they had more alcohol problems than both married and single men.

This article from the UK Daily Mail that Dina sent me says that 9 in 10 children being born now will see their parents split by the time the children reach 16.

It says:

Nearly nine out of ten babies born to co-habiting parents this year will have seen their family break up by the time they reach the age of 16, says a study.

Half of all children born this year will not be living with both natural parents when they reach their mid-teens, and almost all those who suffer family breakdown will be the children of unmarried parents, added the report.

The study, based on figures from the national census and large-scale academic surveys, extrapolates from current trends and calculates that just 9 per cent of babies born to cohabiting couples today will still have their parents living together by the time they are 16.

The report adds that the declining popularity of marriage and the rise of co-habitation will damage the lives of increasing numbers of children.

The figures were produced by researcher Harry Benson, of the Marriage Foundation think tank, who said: ‘The report provides solid evidence that married parents are more stable than unmarried parents.

[…]The study by the think  tank, which is headed by High Court family division judge Sir Paul Coleridge, was based  on findings from the census of 2001 and recent results from Understanding Society, a government-backed survey which charts the lives of people in 40,000 homes.

The report said that in 2001, four out of ten teenagers aged 15 were not living with both parents, and among the parents of 15-year-olds who stayed together, 97 per cent were married.

The article is from 2013, but I don’t see why things would have gotten any better. We are even more supportive as a society now of adult selfishness and less inclined to take care in our courting so that children are not deprived of fathers and/or mothers through our poor decision making.

So I’ve had experiences mentoring two women who started off as Christian, fell away from Christianity, then returned to the faith. Both of them spend time cohabitating with atheist men. So when I read numbers like the ones above, I want to warn Christian parents. You should not assume that your daughter will always be a Christian when you are raising them. You have to talk to them about these issues and share these numbers with them. Although you can start by telling them what the Bible says, you have to go on from there to explain what a romantic relationship looks like between Christians, and what happens to people who reject the Bible and start having premarital sex.

What does “Christian fellowship” mean?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

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.

So here is my main point: I think that 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. If a 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. Don’t pick the people who you like for surface reasons, pick the people who you can engage in fellowship with.