Nobody wants to discover a parallel between their Valentine’s Day sweetheart and a horror movie plot. The reality is, it happens. It happens more than we would like to admit actually. Defined as “a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence”, even a quick look at domestic violence’s statistics would be enough to make the average person uncomfortable.
1 in 4 – The number of women who will be in an abusive relationship at some point in their lives.
1 in 7 – The number of men who will be in an abusive relationship at some point in their lives.
10 Million – The number of children exposed to domestic violence every year.
The sad reality of these statistics is that they will not end.
Men who were exposed to domestic violence as children are 3-4 times more likely to perpetuate abuse in future relationships as adults.
Women who were exposed to domestic violence as children or in past relationships are at a greater risk of being victims in abusive relationships throughout their lives.
3 simple ways to prevent your Valentine’s Day and current/future relationships from becoming a horror story plot are to:
1) Define Love
2) Eliminate Grey Areas
I. Define Love
This is probably the wisest statement I could make in this thread. YOU MUST DEFINE LOVE…and I don’t mean the Webster or Oxford kind of definition. Although 1 Corinthians 13 is often times referred to as the “Love” chapter, the greatest definition for love actually comes from the book of 1st John. Specifically, chapter 4 of 1st John goes into great detail of how “love” ought to be understood, and ironically it has nothing to do with marriage, gender roles, and emotions, all of which have us up in arms attempting to define what healthy ‘love’ is or looks like. When we define love, we have to look to its source, to its point of origin, and verse 8 makes the bold proclamation that “God is love”. Often, we want to jump to an egocentric self serving ideology on “love” and look at how “I” benefit from its beauty and blessings. The problem with this is it is an incorrect definition. Just as there is no “I” in ‘team’, there is no “I” in ‘love’. As Christians, one of our biggest mistakes is making the proclamation that “God is Love” under the presumption that ‘Love’ is the constant and ‘God’ is the variable. This is very important for our theology on God. If we are not careful we will unknowingly create a hierarchy, where God is dependent upon his attributes and not his attributes being dependent upon him. Ultimately, God is the constant and love is dependent. God is the unchangeable constant and love is designed and defined by him. The reason a definition of ‘love’ is so paramount is because we are living in a world that has so perverted it. To further make the point, Fight The New Drug, an anti-pornography organization that “sends its message across borders of religion, political beliefs, and social backgrounds by presenting it as a public health issue,” recently released a blog that revealed some startling details about the word “love” and its influence in society today. In short, the word “love” was the most used word in porn site comments in 2014. [click here for full blog]
Again, we must define love by its true source and not a self serving longing for an anti-single life. We can only truly understand ‘love’ because God shows us what it is – him. In relationships today, with a healthy definition of love, we have nothing to fear because a healthy ‘love’ is centered around God. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.We love because he first loved us.” (John 4:18-19)
II. Eliminate Grey Areas
I would be lying if I said that the primary influence for this blog wasn’t the upcoming release of the 50 Shades of Grey movie in theaters on Valentine’s Day. For those that may be unaware, 50 Shades of Grey is a Twilight series fan fiction that in 3 years is already one of the fastest selling books of all time. The 50 Shades story traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. The story graphically chronicles the abusive relationship between Ana and Grey (ironically named “Christian”) where throughout the story Grey forcibly strips Ana of her purity through verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and degradation. In a culture where the elimination of domestic violence has been made a national morality campaign, I’m honestly shocked that this story is even popular. Unfortunately however, the effects this story has on the relationships of those who justify it as intimacy are yet to be fully understood. Michigan State University published a study in the Journal of Women’s Health in September 2014 titled “Fifty Shades is Associated with Health Risks in Adolescent and Young Adult Females”. The results revealed that females who read at least the first novel (but not all three) were more likely than nonreaders to have partners who shouted, yelled, or swore at them. When compared with nonreaders, females who read all three novels were more likely to report binge drinking in the last month. I think it is alarming when there are health risks involved in riding a roller coaster, but I think it is even more disastrous when there are very real health and relational risks with simply reading a book. Again, the power this book has is yet to be fully understood.
Now what do “Grey” and “Grey areas” have to do with you and relationships? Obviously most sensible men and women will not be attracted to an individual who finds pleasure in abusing them. Grey areas never start out that violently. Grey areas are those lines you cross with an individual; they are when you push the fence with what is allowed and not allowed in your relationships. In ministry, especially in youth and college ministry, grey areas are the hardest things for ministers to define. When it comes to the topics of sexuality, alcohol, tobacco, music/movie genres, language, and even literature, there are a lot of Grey areas. Should parents let their kids have cell phones, when is language an issue that needs to be addressed, do we allow dating or courtship, is alcohol really an issue – these are all questions parents and Christians are trying to answer. Most of the time, the answer is not what we want, so we create these grey areas to justify what we want and not what God is calling us to. Peter addressed this very topic in his first letter, saying “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (2:9-12). A grey area is where light and dark collide; it is an undetermined void that is clear of any form or boundaries. When this undetermined void invades your relationships you are destined to walk from grey to night. Unfortunately we cannot completely avoid the darkness because we are fallen and stuck in a fallen world. In that fallen state, we love the actions that keep us in the darkness. John Piper says it best, “We are sinful not because we are victims of darkness but because we are lovers of darkness”. So how do we eliminate the grey? By walking out of it. Think about that for a second. How often in your life do you cross the lines of appropriateness justifying what’s acceptable, all the while trying to find the exact line of when it becomes sin? We do that with everything, especially with relationships.
Eliminating Grey means we turn around and instead of pursuing the line, we distance ourselves so far from it that we can’t even fathom what the nit and gritty definition of it is. That is eliminating grey. Walking into grey means you are unequivocally walking into darkness because only darkness makes the light grey, not vice versa. Darkness is defined as the absence of light, so when you walk into grey you are walking into that absence. So what does it look like to walk into the light? C.H. Surgeon addresses this, saying “The more Holy a man becomes, the more he will loathe and mourn over the remains of indwelling sin”. Basically, the more holy a person walks, the more they will hate the grey they are departing from. Eliminate those grey areas, all 50 Shades of them, and walk into the light.
III. Examine Fruit
This is probably the simplest, yet broadest point that can be made, but it is important for the two preceding points. It can even protect them from becoming a problem that must be dealt with in your relationships. Thinking about it, prior to engaging in a relationship (intimate or friendship) ask yourselves these two questions: 1. Will this relationship negatively or positively affect my definition of Love? or 2. Will this relationship force me to enter into potentially moral or relational grey areas? When you examine the fruit that you produce as well as the fruit of those in your peer or social groups, what do you find? You probably will understand what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 15:33 concerning “bad company” and “good character”. Paul then makes the command to “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning” (15:34). I make this reference because if we are honest with ourselves and our current societal philosophies, we are in a drunken stupor of morality. What is even more alarming is we classify that stupor under the umbrella of “Christianity”. The current cultural definition of Christianity has made Matthew 7:1 and “judge not” its mantra. It is as if with constant repetition and confident vigor we believe it becomes more foundational. We allow this acceptance of sin through the elimination of accountability/discipleship. In a desire to “love all” and “accept all”, we have loved all forms of evil and have made them acceptable practices through this “judge not” campaign. We see this most prevalent with the “grey areas” we mentioned in the previous point. For example, I cannot say anything about homosexuality because I must “judge not”. I cannot say anything about racial or reverse racial injustices because I must “judge not”. I cannot say anything about politics, welfare, government assistance, creation sciences, or etc because I must, “judge not”.
In contrast, it is possible to “love” someone and hold them accountable. As a husband, I hold my wife accountable and she does not view it as the message of a hateful oppressor. It is possible to “love” someone and “disciple” (or “discipline”) them for the growth of a healthy relationship. As a son, my parents discipled me in order to train me up in wisdom and sound faith. Think about it this way: Examination = Enlightenment + Encouragement. One brings to life the issue or error that must be discussed (enlightenment), then they motivate healthy change for the benefit of all parties involved (encouragement). We see this in the context of Matthew 7:1, but the problem is we are so blinded by the “judge not” billboard that we always miss it. In the immediate context, one brings to enlightenment that both parties have obstructions that need to be removed, then leadership by example is the encouragement to walk through communal maturation. From a broader context, we really see the elements of an examination of fruit. Matthew chapters 5-7 are all part of a greater discourse known as the “Sermon on the Mount”. Chapter 7, after the judge not subsection, enters into a different section in verse 15 about false prophets. In verse 16 we see the precursor, “You will know them by their fruits” with the affirmation in verse 18 which says, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Within the context that says “Judge Not” come two commands to “recognize” or examine the fruit we all produce, so obviously it is important. We all would be wise to truly grasp the reality that examination for the purpose of the enlightenment of sin and an encouragement to return to purity is not judgement. Judgment is when that bad tree, bearing bad fruit, is ultimately destroyed and is thrown into the fire.
What kind of fruit should we be examining? Simply put, all of it. Paul outlined the good fruit as well as the bad fruit in Galatians 5:19-25, “Now the works [or fruits] of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit [That which we are to be looking for] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” The end of that passage provides a great summary. If we “live by the Spirit, let us also KEEP IN STEP with the Spirit” [Emphasis added]. “But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.” Joshua 23:8. Cling to the Lord, obey his commands, keep in step, and ultimately remember to: Define Love, Eliminate Grey Areas, and Examine Fruit.
Soli Deo Gloria,