Adultery: An Exploration of Love and Marriage

by Robert and Mollie Brow

Chapter 7

How Does the Holy Spirit Empower Our Loving?

Romans 7:14-8:9

 For this chapter we begin with an assumption which we cannot prove, but for us is a fact of experience. The kind of love marriage which we have outlined is only possible by drawing on resources from outside oneself. We will in a moment name these resources as the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We compare that to the inspiration which great artists, composers, and leaders admit they receive for their work. But there are obviously many artists who receive inspiration without calling the source of their inspiration the Holy Spirit of God. And similarly we imagine there are many who receive help from outside themselves in living out their marriage without even calling themselves religious.

 The ancient Greeks admired nine kinds of art that needed inspiration to move the artist out of average ordinariness into divine excellence. They called them epic poetry, lyric poetry, love poetry, comedy, tragedy, dancing, sacred song, history, and astronomy. Each of these had a different muse that must be called upon, or even wooed, for the creative help that was required. Their names were Calliope, Euterpe, Erato, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Polyhymnia, Clio, and Urania.

 We do not believe that the Holy Spirit would be the least bit offended by being viewed as a group of nine wise ladies. Nor do we think he would have said "I am sorry you have got the wrong number" to the members of the various Indian tribes across North America who used to call upon the Great Spirit for wisdom in their hunting, tribal affairs, and peacemaking.

 But we prefer to think of God as three persons eternally united by love. That is because we could not conceive of God as love if he were just one solitary person. Day by day we find ourselves experiencing God as parent when we run to him as a little child. The Son is the one we address as the friend who walks with us as lord, shepherd, healer, forgiver. And the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, guidance, inspiration, and much else, from the deepest levels of our heart. We might not be able to explain how three persons can be one. The nearest picture we can think of would be an ideally perfect family where a man, a woman, and a child so loved one another that their love leaves them free to be different but totally one.

 The Jewish people of the Old Testament used the word ruakh, which means wind or breath or spirit. And they described their great artists, political leaders, male and female prophets, and wise persons as moved by the wind or spirit of God. [Exodus 35:30-34, Judges 3:10, 4:4, 6:34, 13:25, Proverbs 2:2, Isaiah 61:1, Ezekiel 2:2, 3:12.]. In the New Testament the early Christians recognized the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in their churches from the Day of Pentecost, which was just fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus.

 The Book of Acts is often called The Acts of the Holy Spirit. When the apostles appointed the first leaders of the church in Jerusalem they said "Select from among yourselves seven men full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task."

 [Note: Acts 6:3. These leaders are often called deacons, but it seems to us that they were more like the first elders of the Greek speaking Hellenist Christian synagogue in Jerusalem] We cannot imagine that the first Christians, with their astonishing new vision of love and marriage, failed to call upon the Holy Spirit for inspiration in their family life.

 As we think about the inspiration needed for the kind of love marriage we have outlined, we are struck by the words of Paul. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." [Galatians 5:22-23] It seems to us that these nine fruits of the Spirit are precisely what every marriage needs to move out of ordinariness into divine excellence. A woman who was offered a man full of those nine beautiful fruits could hardly ask for more. The Greeks called upon the Muses for the nine arts that they valued. We do not deny that the Holy Spirit can help us in those artistic directions, but in this book our concern is to receive inspiration for the art of loving that can save a marriage from adulteration. The term art is important. Love is not a craft, or a technique that can be learned, or like painting by numbers. God is love, and loving the way God loves is the greatest art of all. Painting, composing symphonies, and creative writing can be forced, dull, unappealing. And all great artists know that receiving inspiration from outside themselves is what can suddenly move them into the unexpectedly beautiful. How then do we look to the Holy Spirit to work this miracle in our marriage?

 Paul calls it a mind set. "Those who live according to the flesh keep setting their mind on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit keep setting their mind on the things of the Spirit." [Romans 8:5] Here instead of the NRSV we are using a literal translation to emphasize the Greek present continuous tense. Instead of clarifying how this mind set is achieved, preachers often read this contrast in a legalistic way. They tell us to avoid what they call fleshly behavior, and try a bit harder to do what they define as spiritual things. They fail to grasp the radical nature of the model change from one way of living to the other.

 Paul very frankly tells us his own experience. He had tried very hard to obey all the Old Testament laws with the precise interpretations he had learned in rabbi school. He was zealous and he had confidence he could achieve what was required by his upbringing and efforts. "If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law blameless." [Philippians 3:4-6] In his fleshly attempt to please God he seems to have been blind to the prophecy of Ezekiel with its promise of the new heart and Spirit that was so evident among the Christians he was persecuting. [Ezekiel 36:26]

 When he began to learn Jesus' interpretation of heart righteousness [See Chapter 2 and Chapter 6] he discovered a struggle between his new heart longings and his unruly instincts. "I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh. I can will what is right but I cannot do it" [Romans 7:18]. We could very roughly define the flesh in modern language as the set of instincts, drives, and emotions that we receive through the genes of our parents. Since these are designed and given to us by God, they are good and necessary for us. But our instinct of self-protection does not naturally give us the love that turns the other cheek or loves enemies. A cat has the instinct of comfort, which does not make it go the extra mile. And when she is in heat a cat is not naturally faithful to the male that fathered her last lot of kittens.

 So it seems to us that what Paul is saying is that, like a horse about to be trained for show jumping, the flesh is good and natural but it has no desire to do what is needed for the required excellence. It will fight, and buck, and turn back from the bars of the fence. In that sense Paul goes on to say "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." [7:19] In other words his God given instincts did not want to take him over the water jumps and high fences of turning the other cheek, loving enemies, going the extra mile, taking up a cross, praying according to the mind of God. And he found himself unable to force them. "I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" [Romans 7:22-24] This inability to be what we long to be is what Martin Luther called the bondage of the will. A horse only engages in show jumping over five bar fences because it is trained to do so. It is not a natural expression of its instincts. Similarly humans can be educated to learn the superficial manners of loving. But as Christians who read the New Testament we find ourselves called again and again, and in many different ways, to attempt the high fences of loving and sacrifice. And manners do not take us very far. As a result of his conversion Paul had every desire to love God with all his heart and his neighbors as himself. He would even like to love his enemies and pray for them. He certainly longs to make the wonderful good news known to people all over the Mediterranean. But he finds his flesh rebelling.

 In another letter Paul makes a distinction between works of the flesh which are all within our power and fruits which we cannot produce by trying. We can easily be immoral, worship an idol, engage in witchcraft, make enemies, start a quarrel, be envious, get drunk, have an orgy. [Galatians 5:19-21] But love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are fruit and they can only be grown by the Spirit. [Galatians 5:22-23]. And these are precisely the fruits that we need for God's kind of love in our marriage.

 Obviously nobody is totally devoid of all these qualities. Some people are by nature kinder, more optimistic, and self-controlled in some areas than others. Paul's point is that if we find a lack of fruit in our lives we cannot conjure it up by the flesh. For genuine long term love in marriage we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And seeking inspiration is a matter of setting our mind on it, or as the Greeks called it wooing the Muse. That is why he explains "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." [Romans 8:5]

 The apostle's use of the word mind is important. Our minds are constantly active. Sometimes we set them to working at a particular task which demands our full attention. We play chess, try a new recipe, type a letter, cut down a dangerous tree, To park our car in a narrow space we had to concentrate, but as we drive on the highway or do any routine work our mind is freed to move in all sorts of directions. We might set our mind to remember a name or think through a particular problem. Or we can free our mind to daydream which is another word for imagining. We imagine dream houses, a new business venture, trips abroad, a family gathering, the outline of a Sunday School lesson, meeting a person we found attractive, getting fired, growing old.

 Setting our mind on the flesh as opposed to setting our mind on the Spirit is however not a question of what we are thinking about, as if some topics were fleshly and some spiritual. The contrast is between two ways of transforming our behavior or character. Say we have a bad habit, or a fixation on another person, or an unloving or unforgiving attitude that is adulterating our marriage. We can set our mind to change by our own will power, and there is no doubt that some people have immense strength to change themselves. We all know that such people are not the easiest people to live with. That is what Paul seems to call setting the mind on the flesh.

 Instead of these futile, frustrating, and even deadly efforts, the apostle invites us into the model shift which has changed his life. He suggests we set our minds on supernatural inspiration. Paul's secret seems to be first bringing the unacceptable behavior or character trait as is in all its starkness to the Holy Spirit. Then listening to hear the Spirit's response, especially as he clarifies what is good and bad and indifferent in what we are doing. Thirdly asking the Spirit to deal specifically with what needs changing. Fourthly leaving the changing to occur in his own time and in his own way. And most important of all watching what happens and giving thanks as changes in attitude begin to occur.

 Finally we should note the implications of Paul's model shift in our concern for our partner. If it is true that creative change can only take place by the Spirit, then there is no point in trying to force others to improve. We have to protect ourselves from enemies, and those who try to walk over us, and even our partner if his or her behavior is abusive, by assigning clear predictable consequences for unacceptable behavior. But that is very different from a judgmental attitude designed to produce guilt and the changes that we have in mind. Equally depressing are those who undertake to take us in hand and improve us. "There is much that needs changing in this animal, and it is my job to take him to obedience school and nag him into changing." That works well with horses and dogs, and to some extent children before their teens. But it is resented by adults, and there is no evidence that constant nagging ever effected a healthy long term change in a marriage.

 But the alternative to nagging is not indifference. All around us there are pleasant people who have no time for God but they are kindly tolerant of the imperfections of their friends, their partners, and their own tiresome faults. They just put up with the limitations of human nature and care nothing about transformation. The creative approach is on the one hand to accept others for the present as they are with all their faults, and at the same time look in faith to the Holy Spirit of God to change them. We ask the Holy Spirit to do in others, and our partner in particular, what we ask him to do by inspiration in us.

 This is the heart of genuine intercessory prayer. Rather than being passive and indifferent, we quietly watch and pray and love without meddlesome interfering. And when a small improvement occurs we rejoice and are very thankful. Which is why it seems to us that a good prescription for healing the adulterations of marriage is again from Paul. "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" [Philippians 4:6,7]. We would however add that a love marriage needs the mutuality described in Chapter 3. And the most important kind of mutuality is that of being able to pray together before God. We can often express in prayer what we could never say to each other. And hearing one's partner expressing to God a sense of weakness or failure, and longings for inspiration and change, is the most powerful spiritual aphrodisiac we know. Norman Vincent Peel used to say that of the thousands of couples he had counseled he had never known a marriage end in divorce if the couple prayed together. There must be exceptions to that fact but we ourselves have never known one. More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of, but especially in marriage.

 God is love. This book has explored some ways in which Jesus the Son of God revealed that kind of love to us. The Father is a loving parents who sets up our environment to hunger for that love through the experiences of our life. And the Holy Spirit is willing and powerfully able to create that love in us. There is no need for adultery, or the adulteration of any part of our marriage.

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