Tag Archives: Friend

Courting rules: how to respect a Christian man in the style of Ephesians 5

I have been thinking a lot about Christian women and respect lately, and reflecting over some of the things that I have experienced with different ones that either worked or did not work. Unfortunately, it is crunch time at work, so I might not be completely coherent in this post, but I thought I would write something out anyway.

There are times when the Bible suggests a way that Christians ought to behave, and one of those cases has to do with wives giving respect to husbands in the marriage:

Ephesians 5:21-33:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

26 to make her holy,cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—

30 for we are members of his body.

31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I think it’s important for us to think about how to implement the specification that the Bible sets out for men and women in marriage. The Bible sometimes sets out rules and goals for expected behaviors, which become moral obligations for anyone for follows Christ. It is up to us to convince ourselves through study that the Bible has authority to speak to us. And it is also up to us to decide the most effective way to achieve the goals that the Bible sets out. This post proposes some tips for women who want to learn how to respect men, based on my experiences of what makes me feel respected as a man. I think this is beneficial for single women, as well, because it allows them to arouse the interest of a man by performing good actions.

A bit about me

There are some things you need to know about me before we can talk about what what women do to me that causes me to feel respected.

Here are some things that I want to accomplish:

  • Be able to have a stay at home mother to raise our children so that they will know God, be moral and achieve great things for God in areas that matter
  • Be able to fix the problem of anti-intellectualism in the church by training more and more Christians in apologetics and worldview, including politics, economics, etc.
  • Be able to have a presence at the university, e.g. – by being a Christian professor, or by supporting Christian scholars, or by sponsoring Christian scholars to speak and debate at the university
  • Be able to speak, write or teach about apologetics and worldview to the general public, for example people who read my blog or my co-workers, so that they either learn how to do it, or become more respectful of Christianity and its founder
I am actually working on all of those things, and many of the decisions and sacrifices that I’ve made so far have been to achieve those things at a higher level.

Things that women do that make me feel respected

1. Work

The first thing that really works is listening. I really feel respected when a woman listens to me explain my thoughts and feelings. This is especially true when I am talking about my work and my work day. When it comes to my work, I feel respected when a woman listens to me explain what I am doing. This allows her to be able to support me more because she understands what I am saying when I talk with terms like “unit tests”, “web services”, “source code repository”, etc. The more time she invests in understanding software engineering (what I do for money), the more supported I will feel. I feel a lot better making sacrifices (studying hard things, working weekends, volunteering at work) when those sacrifices are understood, encouraged and supported. For example, I felt respected recently when I was working on the weekend and could not speak to a lady I really wanted to speak to. Instead of getting upset about my absence, she started making suggestions on how I could be more effective at work, by bringing healthy food so I don’t go to the vending machine or my co-workers’ candy dishes, by asking me about my progress every few hours. I feel respected when I can talk about my work and then be encouraged and supported in it.

2. Plan

Another area that is important to talk about is my plan. I like it when I can tell a woman the specific experiences that I had that cause me to have the plan that I have. For example, my struggles getting apologetics into the churches that I’ve attended have really soured me on church leaders. Another thing I like to talk about are the Christian scholars who are my role models, and how I try to emulate them, and I want my children to emulate them, too. One lady I was speaking to has been studying areas that I care about on her own through books, lectures and debates and then going out into the world and engaging with the people around her. Sometimes just a few people, and sometimes with large groups. Recently she told me that she would like to start a group in her church to study useful books with them. This made me feel very respected. My goals matter to her, and she is trying to help with them on her own initiative, and with her own strategies. Note that women who want to respect men may find that it is useful to learn certain skills in order to be more effective at helping men with their plans. For example, she might study investing and start investing her own money, or she might study science apologetics and then engage her co-workers and friends with scientific arguments for Christian theism. She should find out what areas matter to him with respect to serving God and then come alongside him and help him.

3. Roles

A final area that is important is my roles as a man. I have been a Christian for a long time now, and I have noticed that many Christian women in the church are basically secular in the way that they choose men. Many Christian women are guided by their emotions, by pop culture notions of romance, and peer approval – even the approval of their peer group. According to the Bible, men are supposed to be the main provider for their families. So, I made the decision early in my life to prefer work to academics – so I have actually been earning money since the time I was 12 years old. My grades were As, but I was always working part-time, and in the summers. The money I earned went straight into investments, so that I would be able to afford two degrees in computer science (BS and MS) and have a nest egg saved for marriage. I had $9,000 before undergraduate school and $16,000 after, with no debts and a car. I chose computer science over English literature, because I knew that computer science was a more reliable way to earn a living. Marriages run more smoothly when money isn’t a concern, so I had to take practical steps in order to avoid a known risk factor for divorce.

But women also have a role related to providing. Their role is to prefer men who take that provider obligation seriously. I feel very respected when a woman takes the time to ask me about my education, research, employment, and investments. Our culture today doesn’t value men taking their provider roles seriously. Instead, many women prefer men who will not be able to exercise the authority in the home that comes from being a competent provider. They sometimes prefer to see all choices in education and work as equal, so that no man is more respected than any other man based on education, earning and saving. I see a lot of Christian women going after men who are much younger than they are, with non-STEM degrees, who have no savings, and no practical plan for financing a marriage – much less a homeschooling stay-at-home mother. That is disrespectful of the provider role, and I believe it stems from the desire to not acknowledge male leadership. When a woman minimizes the education, career and savings of the man, it diminishes her regard for his ability to navigate the world and take responsibility. Many women want to be swept along by impressions of confidence and superficial indicators of success. But this is not wise: a man who has a gap-less resume and an investment portfolio is a good provider, and a man who lives with his parents at age 30 is not – even if he is confident, has a deep voice, nice shoes, big shoulders, and a square jaw.

To treat unequals as equals in this important area is disrespectful and unBiblical – it disrespects the Bible’s mandate that the man be a good provider and instead substitutes an emotional/pop culture/peer-approval standard of what counts as a good man. Additionally, women need to have an understanding of the external conditions that strengthen a man’s ability to take on the provider role. To respect a man acting as a provider also requires voting for policies that support a man’s ability to work (e.g. – less regulation on business, lower corporate taxes) to keep what he earns (lower income tax, lower inflation) and to spend it the way he sees fit (privatization of health care, education, etc.) – and these issues need to be studied, not checked off on a checklist as “we agree”. Studying economics and politics in depth, and being political active, are ways for women to respect men in their provider role. Women need to take action to enable policies and laws that promote liberty and prosperity. They should not be supporting policies that promote the redistribution of wealth, or reward irresponsibility and dependence. They should not support policies that punish men who work hard at being providers while rewarding men who refuse to be providers.

It also helps when a woman studies hard topics on her own – math, science, engineering and technology – and builds up her own investment portfolio. It helps her to be able to be respectful to a man because she understands exactly what he studies and exactly how hard work is and exactly how hard it is to save money in a society creeping towards socialism. A woman who experiences sacrifice and hardship herself is more likely to respect a man who does the same in order to be ready for marriage, even if she eventually gives up work when there are young children to raise. And this works for other male roles. For example, men who guard their chastity in order to protect women from infidelity should be respected for making that decision. It’s important for women to study marriage research, e.g. – how factors like chastity and church attendance and cohabitation increase or decrease marriage stability, so that they have reasons and evidence to prefer men who choose to make that sacrifice.

Men also study moral questions like abortion and marriage, as well as spiritual areas like apologetics and theology, so that they can advocate for the victims of abortion and marital breakdown. Again, women must study the research on these issues so that they are able to prefer men who can do this over men who can’t. Christianity is not a checkbox and you cannot equate someone who understands these issues with someone who doesn’t because both attend church. When a woman puts in the effort to study apologetics, moral issues, economics and foreign policy, then a real man feels respected – because he knows that she has a standard for judging him that is a true measure of his ability to be a husband and father. It is important to treat a man who takes his male roles seriously differently from other men who do not take those male roles seriously.

Conclusion

One of the best ways to respect a man is to speak highly of his abilities in all 3 of these areas to others. If women are careful about the man they choose, then they should be able to speak highly of him with others. When a woman praises a good man, it is a signal to other men about what they should be doing in order to impress women. To change the culture and to encourage men towards marriage, women must be intentional about who they celebrate and why they celebrate them. It also helps if they understand what policies make marriage a more realistic undertaking for men, and then advocate for those policies. Again, this requires reading things like economics and law to understand what challenges a man will face from government and ideologies (feminism, socialism) should he choose to marry, and making sure that those challenges are reduced. A man feels respected when a woman has developed a detailed understanding of what marriage is about and how society needs to change to support and respect men who choose to marry and become fathers. The Bible says that divorce is morally wrong, so it is up to men and women to make decisions that reduce the risk of divorce. We can’t just float through life relying on our emotions and thinking that God has a secret, mysterious plan and there is nothing for us to do. Usually, that attitude will just make us avoid learning and avoid making hard decisions to prepare for marriage, and that will not do – we are responsible to avoid divorce, and we have to make an effort in order to achieve that goal.

If any of my female readers are interested in learning about men and what men need in order to act competently as protectors, providers and moral/spiritual leaders, you can take a look at Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” as well as Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages“. And don’t merely read the books – put it into practice by advocating for men and marriage from church to university to workplace to courtroom to government. Make plans to show that you respect Christian men who know what they are doing and why. Don’t rely on your emotions to guide you – this is more of an obligation requires training, recon, planning and execution. (The same way that a man prepares to love a woman and then loves her – because women need love just like men need respect). Men pay attention to women who respect them, and it’s much better for women to get attention from men by learning about them and helping them than by trying to bypass respecting the man to get attention by leveraging appearance and sexuality to get attention. And, of course, some men cannot be respected, so don’t choose one of those.

J. Warner Wallace: is the idea that you should only evangelize your friends Biblical?

Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek
Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek

A recent post from the Please Convince Me blog analyzed whether it is normal for Christians to only evangelize their friends.

Excerpt:

We typically only share our faith with people we know, so it’s shouldn’t surprise us that these are the people who come to know something about our faith! But does it have to be this way, and more importantly, is this approach consistent with what the New Testament teaches?

In order to answer this question, we needn’t go further than the words of Jesus. During His earthly ministry, Jesus commissioned seventy-two of His followers to travel from town to town, announcing, “The Kingdom of God has come near” (Luke 10:9). Were these disciples told to engage only people they already knew? Hardly. In fact, Jesus warned these budding evangelists that they would be in unknown, often dangerous territory; He told the group they would be “lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). Later, after the Resurrection, Jesus commissioned His apostles with a more sweeping directive: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It’s clear that the expansive geographic parameters described by Jesus would require the apostles to move quickly beyond the limits of their friends and acquaintances.

And that’s exactly what the apostles proceeded to do. Paul repeatedly entered unfamiliar synagogues to announce the Good News to Jews who were strangers to Paul (i.e. Acts 13:13-42 and Acts 18:4-5), and he frequently evangelized “on the streets” from town to town to Jewish and Gentile groups he did not know (i.e. Acts 13:44-52 and Acts 17:16-21). In fact, there are very few examples of friendship evangelism on the pages of Scripture.

I gently reminded the students that they needed to see strict friendship evangelism for what it truly is: a natural, fallen, human response to the fear of discomfort and worldly judgment. Most of us are more concerned with how we will be perceived (and the discomfort we might feel) than our godly responsibility to share the Gospel.  Jesus has a message for us: Get over it. Get comfortable with discomfort. The more we talk about Jesus and reflect His nature and mission, the more likely the world will hate us (John 15:18-16:14). The more we stand up for the truth, the more likely the world will put us in a tough spot (Matthew 10:17-23). And the more we are ostracized by the fallen world around us, the more joy we ought to feel to have been given the opportunity to stand up for something more than our own immediate personal comfort (Luke 6:22-23).

See, I think the problem is that Christians, when they evangelize, are not equipped to do anything more than talk about their personal experiences and preferences when it comes to evangelism. The problem is that asserting that your experience/preference is better than someone else’s experience/preference is uncomfortable. Especially if their preference makes them happy and makes them act nicely. That’s why evangelizing people is so intimidating for us – because we’re never telling people about facts that are true or false out there in the real world. It’s not controversial to tell someone that their belief about the world out there is wrong. That’s why I prefer to talk about public, testable data – like whether the universe began, or how to make a protein, or where the Cambrian animals came from. That’s just like discussing anything else.

The publication of the new Darwin’s Doubt book that was on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list is a good example of something to talk about safely. Although I might intimidated about trying to talk about feelings, sinfulness and religious experiences with people, I don’t mind talking about science with people. It’s much easier to talk about facts and evidence that about my personal experiences. People understand that and they aren’t intimidated by it, because they feel that they can disagree with factual claims and participate in the discussion.

For example, if I am talking to a Hindu, I’ll show him the papers that argue against the oscillating universe model which is part of the Hindu religion. I don’t even have to mention Hinduism, Christianity or religion. And then he has to come back to me on that factual claim. But it’s a lot easier for me to tell him he’s wrong about facts than to tell him he’s wrong about religious preference claims. Think about it – you disagree with strangers and acquaintances all the time about facts, and you’re not scared of that. I tell people they’re wrong about computer science stuff every day. Why is it any different to tell them that they’re wrong about facts that happen to be related to the claims of different religions? It’s the same thing! That’s why it’s so important to speak about facts with strangers. It’s normal. It’s not weird. It’s easy to say “You need to get your facts straight, because not knowing the facts is causing you to commit to the wrong religion”. That’s doable. Even with strangers.

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.

More:

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.

More:

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.

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.

More:

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.

More:

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.

Study: fathers are important for the development of children’s brains

Fathers and children
Fathers and children

The study was reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Dr. Braun’s group found that at 21 days, the fatherless animals had less dense dendritic spines compared to animals raised by both parents, though they “caught up” by day 90. However, the length of some types of dendrites was significantly shorter in some parts of the brain, even in adulthood, in fatherless animals.

“It just shows that parents are leaving footprints on the brain of their kids,” says Dr. Braun, 54 years old.

The neuronal differences were observed in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is related to emotional responses and fear, and the orbitofrontal cortex, or OFC, the brain’s decision-making center.

[…]The balance between these two brain parts is critical to normal emotional and cognitive functioning, according to Dr. Braun. If the OFC isn’t active, the amygdala “goes crazy, like a horse without a rider,” she says. In the case of the fatherless pups, there were fewer dendritic spines in the OFC, while the dendrite trees in the amygdala grew more and longer branches.

A preliminary analysis of the degus’ behavior showed that fatherless animals seemed to have a lack of impulse control, Dr. Braun says. And, when they played with siblings, they engaged in more play-fighting or aggressive behavior.

In a separate study in Dr. Braun’s lab conducted by post-doctoral researcher Joerg Bock, degu pups were removed from their caregivers for one hour a day. Just this small amount of stress leads the pups to exhibit more hyperactive behaviors and less focused attention, compared to those who aren’t separated, Dr. Braun says. They also exhibit changes in their brain.

The basic wiring between the brain regions in the degus is the same as in humans, and the nerve cells are identical in their function. “So on that level we can assume that what happens in the animal’s brain when it’s raised in an impoverished environment … should be very similar to what happens in our children’s brain,” Dr. Braun says.

Read the whole thing.

I think this is important because we hear so much today that marriage can be redefined, that having one of each parent doesn’t matter, that live-in boyfriends and stepfathers have the same motivation to care for a woman’s children as the biological father does. We don’t want to make judgments, even if setting boundaries is better for children. A child’s well-being is enormously affected by the woman’s choice of biological father.  You can’t have it both ways – either we are going to judge women who choose men who don’t have the desire to commit to marriage, and do the father role, OR we are going to take things away from children by encouraging women to choose men based on “feelings” instead of abilities. Lowering moral standards and removing moral obligations hurts children. It sounds so nice when we tell women, “you can do whatever you feel like, and just forget about responsibilities, expectations and obligations”, but letting women be guided by their feelings harms children. My stock broker makes me feel uncomfortable because he knows more than I do, and does not respect my opinion. But I pay him to make investment decisions for me. I mustn’t let my pride get in the way of letting him do his job – a job he is more qualified than I am to do. Let him do his job.

Here’s a related question: Are biological fathers or unrelated men more dangerous for children?

This article from the Weekly Standard answers the question.

Excerpt:

A March 1996 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics contains some interesting findings that indicate just how widespread the problem may be. In a nationally representative survey of state prisoners jailed for assaults against or murders of children, fully one-half of respondents reported the victim was a friend, acquaintance, or relative other than offspring. (All but 3 percent of those who committed violent crimes against children were men.) A close relationship between victim and victimizer is also suggested by the fact that three-quarters of all the crimes occurred in either the perpetrator’s home or the victim’s.

A 1994 paper published in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies looked at 32,000 documented cases of child abuse. Of the victims, only 28 percent lived with both biological parents (far fewer than the 68 percent of all children who live with both parents); 44 percent lived with their mother only (as do 25 percent of all children); and 18 percent lived with their mother and an unrelated adult (double the 9 percent of all children who live with their mother and an unrelated adult).

These findings mirror a 1993 British study by the Family Education Trust, which meticulously explored the relationship between family structure and child abuse. Using data on documented cases of abuse in Britain between 1982 and 1988, the report found a high correlation between child abuse and the marital status of the parents.

Specifically, the British study found that the incidence of abuse was an astounding 33 times higher in homes where the mother was cohabiting with an unrelated boyfriend than in stable nuclear families. Even when the boyfriend was the children’s biological father, the chances of abuse were twice as high.

These findings are consonant with those published a year earlier by Leslie Margolin of the University of Iowa in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect. Prof. Margolin found that boyfriends were 27 times more likely than natural parents to abuse a child. The next-riskiest group, siblings, were only twice as likely as parents to abuse a child.

More recently, a report by Dr. Michael Stiffman presented at the latest meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in October, studied the 175 Missouri children under the age of 5 who were murdered between 1992 and 1994. It found that the risk of a child’s dying at the hands of an adult living in the child’s own household was eight times higher if the adult was biologically unrelated.

The Heritage Foundation’s Patrick Fagan discovered that the number of child-abuse cases appeared to rise in the 1980s along with the general societal acceptance of cohabitation before, or instead of, marriage. That runs counter to the radical-feminist view, which holds that marriage is an oppressive male institution of which violence is an integral feature. If that were true, then child abuse and domestic violence should have decreased along with the rise in cohabitation.

Heritage also found that in the case of very poor children (those in households earning less than $ 15,000 per year), 75 percent lived in a household where the biological father was absent. And 50 percent of adults with less than a high-school education lived in cohabitation arrangements. “This mix — poverty, lack of education, children, and cohabitation — is an incubator for violence,” Fagan says.

Why, then, do we ignore the problem? Fagan has a theory: “It is extremely politically incorrect to suggest that living together might not be the best living arrangement.”

The moral of the story is that it is a lot safer for children if we promote marriage as a way of attaching mothers and fathers to their children. Fathers who have a biological connection to children are a lot less likely to harm them. We should probably be teaching women to choose men who have a certain tenderness towards people they mentor or nurture, as well. These things are not free, you have to persuade women to value the male tendency to want to lead / guide / mentor. A lot of social problems like child poverty, promiscuity and violence cannot be solved by replacing a father with a check from the government. We need to support fathers by empowering them in their traditional roles. Let the men lead. Swallow your feminist instincts, and prefer men who take seriously their role of leading others upward.