Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,
Your children like olive plants around your table.
Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. (Psalm 128:3,4)
Dad used to say, "God is no man's debtor." We give ourselves to Him; we take up our cross; we sacrifice for His Kingdom; we obey His Word: It's never wasted--absolutely never.
God's people were being unfaithful in their tithing and He sent them this message:
"You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes," says the LORD of hosts. All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land," says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:9-12)
We're to run the numbers, aren't we? God Himself demands, "Test Me now in this."
Some of us have taken the challenge. We've brought the whole tithe to the Lord, we've run the numbers, and we've found--what?
That God is no man's debtor. Whatever we give to Him He gives back in spades. Unbelievable blessings pressed down and running over.
I'm guessing this truth (and likely even this text) have been preached in your church in the past year or two. It's a perennial favorite with pastors working to meet the budget. We're thankful for Malachi's crispness and clarity when we approach the financial needs of our congregations but we seem blind to its application elsewhere.
If God blesses those who honor Him with their money, won't He also bless those who honor Him with other treasures He's placed under their stewardship? Do we honor God with our land? Our home? Our cars? What about our academic degree or administrative ability? Our children? Does God receive His rightful portion of everything He's given us, or are we penurious, tight-fisted, stingy, and sterile?
How faith-full are we with that gift? Do we use it to worship and glorify God or do we use it only for our own selfish purposes?
Right here I could make an application that would be safe and lead you, good reader, to nod your head and say "He's right. I need to work on that." But let's go beyond the obvious to our real blind spots and see where Scripture calls us to stand in the gap.
Does worshipping God with our sexuality mean only that we shouldn't masturbate, fornicate, or commit adultery? If we applied the parable of the talents to this treasure of sexuality, where would it take us? Why did God create sex and what does He claim from it?
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:27,28)
God said it wasn't good for man to be alone, so He created woman. She was made to be Adam's helpmate, the one with whom Adam shared his life. But as soon as God created Eve, he made clear that He had not created Eve so Adam could have a best friend and the two of them could live alone, in harmony and love.
Rather, He demanded that Adam and Eve live in fruitful love. They were to fill the earth with other men and women bearing His image. When He commanded Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply," He wasn't talking about their orchard or garden, but Eve's womb. Adam and Eve were to be intimate with each other in such a way as to make Eve pregnant with little ones. Adam and Eve's relationship was not to be focused inward, but outward. They were to make love and give birth and fill God's good earth with His image bearers.
But man's perverse inclination is to worship the creation rather than the Creator. Rarely is this more obvious than with sex.
God creates man's sex organ to penetrate and deposit sperm where it can fertilize an egg, but man covers his organ with rubber and refuses to make the deposit. God creates woman's sex organs to receive man's deposit and provide a safe environment for that sperm to fertilize one of her eggs, but woman uses a pill, a plastic obstruction, or a chemical poison to stop the sperm and egg from uniting and becoming a living child. God creates breasts to feed babies but both woman and man turn them into erotica. The beauty of the breast is its fruitfulness, but women avoid pregnancy so their breasts won't stretch and sag under the weight of their newborn's milk and lose their erotic appeal.
Again, the principle: Man refuses to use the gifts God has given us to worship Him, and instead we take and use them for our own selfish purposes. We spend the money He gave us but refuse to tithe. We make love with the woman He provided as our helpmate but refuse to allow that love to be fruitful.
I can hear the objections: "'Be fruitful and multiply' doesn't mean being irresponsible with the gift. My wife and I shouldn't spend her womb into penury. Where are we commanded to have as many babies as possible? The earth is filled already--are you suggesting we live in bondage to this command? If we allow our lovemaking to be fruitful without limits, our bed will become bondage and we'll end up doing less for the Kingdom of God. We believe each child should be given a certain amount of attention and training in order to grow up whole. How can we provide for our children's spiritual and emotion health when we're frazzled trying to keep up with the most basic duties of caring for a family of ten or fifteen?"
Our basic orientation is clear: Lovemaking is mostly about mutual gratification and only occasionally about being fruitful and multiplying. We have no pangs of conscience separating what God commanded be joined together--the unitive and procreative purposes of sexual union.
Remember the parable of the talents? When the master returned and found that one of his three servants had dug a hole and buried his talent there, he rebuked the servant. The servant explained his faithlessness by placing the blame on the master rather than owning it himself. As Jesus told the story,
And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours."
But his master answered and said to him, "You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents." (Matthew 25:24-28)
What a perfect picture of Christians' stewardship of the womb today. Walking by faith is risky and it's clear that God will hold us accountable for the instruction and discipline of our children. So out of fear we block the womb, sheath the rod, and claim we've done it all for our Master.
The ironic thing is that no people across history have been blessed with the wealth God has poured out on us, but no generation of the Church has been more stingy in its use of that wealth for fruitfulness and multiplication. Twenty-five hundred square foot homes that are heated and cooled; food in the dumpsters behind our supermarkets that would make our ancestors shake their heads in disbelief; automatic washers and driers; stoves, refrigerators, and freezers; educational opportunities unheard of across history; disposable diapers, high chairs, and car seats; what more do we need?
But we look at prior generations of Christians and shake our heads in disbelief. "Susannah Wesley had fifteen children. Can you believe it? The poor woman."
Poor woman nothing. God blessed her with children and those children were her glory, each of them being a gift from God. We stand gazing at her with our own children holding their soccer trophies and SAT scores in their grubby hands, and we dare to claim we have been fruitful, too? We have helped in the multiplication and filling of the earth?
No, we have hidden our lights under a bushel; we've buried our talents in the ground. Instead of asking God to pour out His blessings on us, we've asked Him to overlook our stinginess, to spare us from stretch marks, to deliver us from the evil of a fruitful womb.
Our wives plead with us for more children but we're the boss and we know the meaning of responsibility and good stewardship. "That's it honey, we're done. No more rewards. No more blessings and fruitfulness. We're going to do something for ourselves. Finally we'll be able to get ahead and save for our retirement. I'm tired of messy diapers and kids crying at night. Our last will be in all-day kindergarten soon. You'll be able to get a job and help out with setting up their college funds. Call the doctor and set up an appointment for me to have a vasectomy, would you? Won't it be nice to make love without worrying about an accident?"
God made her a woman and dignified her sex with His statement, "Woman shall be saved through childbearing" (1Timothy 2:15). But you're a practical man, aren't you?
When the Master returns, though, what exactly will you say to Him to explain the fact that during by far the largest portion of your lovemaking through the years, your sword was sheathed, scrupulously kept from your lover's womb?
There is another way. All of us could test Him in this, and see if He won't open the windows of Heaven to pour out on us blessings from Heaven that we can't number--more than the sands of the beach and the stars of the heavens.
I write this as a meditation on the announcement of James and Annie Hogue that, thirteen months after marriage, a couple months after the birth of their first blessing, Julia, and a week after Julia's baptism, God has placed another little one under their care. Lord willing, they will meet him May 31, 2007.
And by the way, as we reckon things like this today, Jim and Annie are poor as church mice. But they worship the Lord of Hosts Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
As our Lord was in the habit of say, "If any man has ears to hear, let him hear."