Continuing my summary of what was presented last weekend to the Trinity Baptist Young Adults Retreat, I want to write today about relationships. New Testament relationships are about more than purity but they are certainly not less. Purity is vital even if it is not easily attained. There are many distractions and voices attempting to draw us away from clear-cut biblical norms in this area of our lives.
While there have always been struggles in this area (see 1 Tim 6:11), there are unique challenges today. For example, singleness is something that more young adults have to deal with longer than in previous generations. According to Jennifer Marshall in Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of the Single Life in the Twenty-First Century, 6 of 10 women are not married by age 24 and 3 of 10 are not married by age 30. This prolonged single period creates addition pressures on both young men and women.
But purity is worth striving to attain. Matt 5:6 tells us that the pure in heart see God. Heb 12:14 says that without holiness no one will see the Lord. Purity and its relative holiness are not optional in our lives as Christians. But the attainment of purity requires discipline. It will not happen without effort on our part. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to will and to act in accordance with his good purpose (Phil 2:12-13). God's work and our work go together.
In this regard a slogan from the nutritional world applies: "You are what you eat!" Applied to purity this means that we are what we read, watch, listen to and the company we keep. Or to quote another slogan: "Garbage in, garbage out!" By referring to these quotations I am not suggesting that we must leave the world altogether in order to be holy. But it does mean that we must be discerning. The pendulum has swung far from where it was when I was a boy being raised in a much more restricted environment and Christian community. In more recent years some Christians have discovered what they like to think of as their "liberty in Christ." This is not all bad, but there are dangers. With liberty comes the risk of going too far and inadvertently ensnaring ourselves.
The goal of all our relationships should be to honor God in everything (1 Cor 10:31). If we are to do this we must conduct ourselves according to his word and the Bible has lots to say about relationships particularly in the New Testament letters. My concern is for healthy, balanced relationships. We must avoid extremes including a kind of domineering male headship that is mistaken by the unwary for the biblical headship. Domineering men or women are a distortion of what God intends for his people. So are passive men and women. Neither do we want egalitarian blandness that denies the most obvious differences between men and women. God made us to complement one another. We are to treat one another in accordance with the "golden rule" (Matt 7:12) and with Christian love and respect (Rom 12:3-5; Phil 2:1-4. This is radical in our day.
To help us in this regard God has given us patterns to follow. We are part of the family of God and building on that new covenant reality we are to treat those who are older as fathers and mothers, and those who are younger as brothers and sisters with all purity (1 Tim 5:1-2). If these patterns were adhered to the quality of our relationships, and the communities on which they are based, would dramatically improve immediately.
Next time: I want to address the practical matters of cliques and inclusion, boundaries and genuine friendship.