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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Intimacy and Covenant-Love

This series is a continuation of my journey though the book, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence”. I am on Chapter 2.

I love what Piper draws out from Genesis 2 and 3 regarding marriage and being naked and unashamed. Prior to their rebellion against God, Adam and Eve experienced being naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:24). After their fall, their nakedness caused them shame, so they sewed fig leaves together to make garments for themselves (Genesis 3:7). After the Lord confronted and rebuked Adam and Eve for their sin, He Himself clothed them with animal skins that He made for them (Genesis 3:21).

In Chapter 2 of “This Momentary Marriage”, Piper particularly examines Genesis 2:24 & 25: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Piper asks what is the point of the man and woman being naked and unashamed in Genesis 2:25? While Adam and Eve did have perfect bodies—free from the effects of sin, disease, pain, and death--Piper suggests that Adam and Eve’s unashamedness pre-fall had nothing to do with their perfect bodies. He points out that physical perfection is not enough to produce unashamedness: “…no matter how beautiful or handsome your spouse is, if you are cranky, unselfish, or unkind, you can make comments in a way that shames the other person. Not being ashamed in a marriage relationship takes more than being physically perfect; the one who is look at you must be morally upright and gracious. Otherwise he or she can find a way to shame you. So mere physical perfection would not be enough to eliminate the possibility of being shamed” P. 32

Rather than being a result of their perfect bodies, Piper suggests that Adam and Eve’s unashamedness about their nakedness was rooted in the security of covenant-love. He says, “The first way to be shame-free is to be perfect; the second way to be shame-free is based on the gracious nature of covenant love. In the first case, there is no shame because we’re flawless. In the second case, there is no shame because covenant love covers a multitude of flaws. (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Cor 13:6)” P. 33.

Upon breaking covenant with God and consequently with each other through the fall, Adam and Eve felt shame over their nakedness. I love this explanation from Piper: “The foundation of covenant-keeping love between a man and a woman is the unbroken covenant between them and God—God governing them for their good and they enjoying him in that security and relying on him. When they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that covenant was broken, and the foundation of their own covenant-keeping collapsed. They experienced this immediately in the corruption of their own covenant love for each other. It happened in two ways. And we experience it today in these same two ways. Both relate to the experience of shame. In the first case, the person viewing my nakedness is no longer trustworthy, so I am afraid I will be shamed. In the second, I myself am no longer at peace with God, and I feel guilty and defiled and unworthy—I deserve to be shamed….In the first case, I am self-conscious of my body and I feel vulnerable to shame because I know Eve has chosen to be independent from God. She has made herself central in the place of God. She is essentially now a selfish person. From this day forward, she will put herself first. She is no longer a servant. So she is not safe. And I feel vulnerable around her, because she is very likely to put me down if that puts her up. So suddenly my nakedness is precarious. I don’t trust her anymore to love me with pure, covenant-keeping love. That’s one source of shame and self-consciousness. The other source is that Adam himself, not just his spouse, has broken covenant with God. If she is rebellious and selfish, and therefore unsafe, so am I. But the way I experience it in myself is that I feel defiled and guilty and unworthy. That’s, in fact, what I am. Before the Fall, what and what ought to have been were the same. But now what is and what ought to be are not the same. I ought to be humbly and gladly submissive to God. But I am not. This huge gap between what I am and what I ought to be colors everything about me—including how I feel about my body. So my wife might be the safest person in the world, but now my own sense of guilt and unworthiness makes me feel vulnerable. The simple, open, nakedness of innocence now feels inconsistent with the guilty person that I am. I feel ashamed. ” P. 35-36

I loved this insight from Piper and I believe it speaks not just to the barriers to physical intimacy in marriage, but also to the barriers to emotional intimacy and transparency in any relationship. I believe that these barriers leaves us with two options: 1) hiding to cover up our sin, living in shame and guilt, and retreating from pursuing others; or 2) confessing and repenting of our sin, living in freedom with our identities in Christ, and engaging in pursuing sacrificial love in the face of our vulnerability before others.

Adam and Eve chose to hide, live in shame and guilt, and retreat from God and each other. Piper describes this process: “So they tried to close the gap between what they were and what they ought to be by covering what is and presenting themselves in a new way. From their standpoint, this was the origin of hypocrisy. It was the first attempted—and totally unsuccessful—snow job.” P.36

Piper then goes on to discuss the fact that God Himself makes Adam and Eve garments of animal skins. Piper asks the question of why God would do this, “Was God aiding and abetting their pretense?” Obviously, the answer to that is “No”. Piper suggests that in clothing Adam and Eve, God was affirming that Adam and Eve were not who they were or who they ought to be. As such, it is proper that we wear clothing now.

“God ordains clothes to witness to the glory we have lost, and it is added rebellion to throw them off. And for those who rebel in the other direction and make clothes themselves a means of power and prestige and attention-getting, God’s answer is not a return to nudity but a return to simplicity (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:4-5) Clothes are not a means to make people think about what is under the clothes. Clothes are means to direct attention to what is not under them: merciful hands that serve others in the name of Christ, beautiful feet that carry the gospel where it is needed, and the brightness of a face that has beheld the glory of Jesus.” P. 37

Piper also directs us to the compassionate and redemptive nature of God in the act of clothing Adam and Eve. God’s act of clothing them is “not only a witness to the glory we lost and a confession that we are not what we should be, but it is also a testimony that God himself would one day make us what we should be. God rejected their own self-clothing. Then he clothed them himself. He showed mercy with superior clothing. Together with the other hopeful signs in the context (like the defeat of the serpent in Gen. 3:15), God’s mercy points to the day when he will solve the problem of our shame decisively and permanently. He will do it with the blood of his own Son (as there was apparently blood shed in the killing of the animals of the skins). And he will do it with the clothing of righteousness and the radiance of his glory (Gal. 3:27; Phil 3:21). Which means that our clothes are a witness both to our past and present failure and to our future glory. They testify to the chasm between what we are and what we should be. And they testify to God’s merciful intention to bridge that chasm through Jesus Christ and his death for our sins. He will solve the problem of fear and pride and selfishness and shame between man and woman with his new blood-bought covenant.”


As Piper points out, God’s vision for marriage in this life is still oneness, even post-fall. He directs us to Mark 10, where Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 in speaking to the Pharisees about marriage: “6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Being naked and unashamed flows from covenant-love. Covenant-love enables intimacy and unity.

Taking Piper’s insights beyond marriage, I would say that the barrier to intimacy in every relationship is rooted in our inability to understand the pursuing, vulnerable, and sacrificial covenant-love that Jesus has for us and models for us to live out in relationships with others. Even while we broke covenant with God through our rebellion, God made a way for us by a new covenant with us through Jesus. We were poor, naked, wretched, and blind in our sins and our sin separated us from God. Because of our sinfulness, we were not as we ought to be. We needed to be clothed in order to be with our perfect God, and yet we could not clothe ourselves because all of our works are inadequate (they are fig leaves) and tainted with sin. So instead, the Son of God shed His blood to atone for our sin. Jesus is who He ought to be. Jesus has always been who He ought to be. Jesus was a worthy sacrifice to pay the price for our sin—to bring justice for the injustice we caused. If we trust in Jesus, we get to be clothed by God with the righteousness of Christ. If we trust in Jesus, we are part of God’s covenant people, lovingly adopted as God’s sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ. This covenant-love is scandalous and its power transforms and empowers us! If we grow in our understanding of God’s covenant love for us, we will grow in intimacy with God and with others.

1 John 4

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The beauty of growing in intimacy with God is that He shows us perfect love. He is the definition of perfect love. Perfect love drives out fear. We have no reason to fear knowing God and exposing ourselves to God because we will not be rejected, condemned, mocked, or despised by our perfectly loving God because our sin and shame is covered by Jesus. (Not only that--He already knows everything about us! We may try to hide ourselves from God, but He sees it all!) If we trust in Jesus, when He looks at us now, He sees Jesus’ Righteousness, not our imperfection and sin. How beautiful it is that we get to have honest, sincere, authentic, and true relationship with God because of Jesus!

Relationships with people, however, involve risk because we are not perfect and we do not love perfectly. We do not know how people will respond to our love. Sin makes us vulnerable to rejection, condemnation, mockery, apathy, and hatred from others. Our sin makes others vulnerable to these things when they open up and reach out to us. Yet, we are called to engage with people nonetheless. Jesus willingly made Himself vulnerable and indeed suffered rejection, condemnation, mockery, apathy and hatred from men. Jesus is our example of how to engage in risky love--pursuing, vulnerable and sacrificial love. Jesus was rooted in the glorious covenant love of His Father. In the same way, God’s love is our only solid foundation in enabling us to not only survive the damage that will inevitably be done to us by others as we risk ourselves in love, but to also keep loving in the face of it.

In this lifetime, marriage is the most intimate human relationship we will ever have, but it is still just a shadow. We are practicing for heaven where we will witness firsthand the glorious unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and we will get to participate in that unity with God and with each other!! I’ll leave you with John 17, which is one of my most favorite passages of Scripture. Read it with special note to: 1) the glorious oneness (intimacy, love, fellowship, submission/headship, equality, united vision, etc.) between Jesus and the Father; and 2) Jesus’ loving desire that we would be one as they are one.

John 17

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

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