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Ways to Die for Your Spouse

Last year was a crazy year—I got married.

As a “new husband” trying to score brownie points with my wife (and also because I wanted to get our first Valentine’s Day together right), I had been thinking of ways to “die” for my wife (Ephesians 5:25). It doesn’t necessarily mean an actual physical death, but it sure will feel like it on some occasions!

These were some of the ideas that came to my mind:

Do Little Acts of Love

My wife is a teacher. Every day, she wakes up three hours before me in order to reach school before 7 a.m. My sleeping habits on the other hand, are terrible. I don’t usually sleep before 1 a.m.—a habit that started in my student days.

So one of the things I try to do—with much difficulty—is to wake up earlier occasionally to have breakfast with her near her school, especially if I know she has a long day ahead. On other days, I pack little containers of food for her to bring along to work. I figured since I usually stay up late, I might as well spend the time doing something nice for my wife.

Little acts of service like these show our willingness to go the extra mile to spend time with our loved ones. So go ahead, surprise your spouse with little acts of love, and I am certain he or she will notice and be touched.

Be Gentle

One of the challenges of marriage is that it throws two people with likely contrasting lifestyles together.

So they clash.

We are often warned of this “clash of cultures” in marriage preparation courses. With things like differing sleeping habits and whether we squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or bottom of the tube, marriage requires us to make new discoveries about each other—and not all may be things we like!

Through my many interactions with my wife, God reminded me that I have much to work on. Gentleness has never been a strong suit for me—I am the sort who usually speaks my mind, and usually not too tactfully. Be it communicating something or receiving feedback, I have a terrible tendency to be quite blunt.

But Paul and Peter gave great advice to husbands:

“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Col 3:19)

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Pet 3:7)

So to my fellow husbands out there, play nice. Be understanding and gentle, even if that is not the usual you. If not, you may have to be doing much of the following . . .

Say Sorry

Apologizing would be the death of most men (most humans, for that matter). A recent sitcom I watched reinforced this in a humorous way. The wife in the sitcom wanted to invite a couple over for dinner, certain that her husband would love to meet them. However, her husband was not particularly thrilled; he believed he did not need more friends. When they finally met, both husbands realized they shared many common interests and hit it off right away. But because the husband did not want to admit to his wife that she was right, he would not tell his wife whom he was meeting whenever he met the other husband.

I’m pretty similar. I would rather get into an argument than admit I’m in the wrong, which often sees me bickering with my wife even in scenarios where I am clearly in the wrong (think leaving unwashed bowls on the computer desk for hours after eating).

Recently, in a thought-provoking interview with online ministry Desiring God, Ajith Fernando, the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, said: “Until I apologize, I am a bad example to my family . . . For a Christian, apologizing should not be a big deal, because we get our identity from God—and that identity is a gift that has been given through grace.”

Many times, I don’t want to admit an error or something is my fault because of pride, image, or reputation. Ajith’s quote prompted me to correct my thinking: “If our identity was in our performance, then apologizing would be a big deal. But our identity comes from grace. When we do wrong, grace is hindered, and we can’t live without grace.”

Dying to our pride and humbly apologizing to our wives, whether in little or big squabbles, tells our wives we are committed to working things out and that we recognize God has been gracious to us.

The Mystery of Marriage

One of the first few things I learned during our marriage preparation course is that marriage is a one-of-a-kind journey of sanctification like no other. It is a journey where two sinful human beings come together in the Lord and sharpen one another.

One key thing I’ve learned about being a husband is that headship as described in the Bible is not about the right to command or control. It is the responsibility to love like Christ: to lay down my life in servant leadership. Holiness as a husband means spending yourself for your wife. It is costly. For me, it is a lot about giving up the comforts and bad habits of singlehood, and realizing that I now share a life with another who is equally wondrously made.

Marriage is a journey of the constant death of two individuals, that they may become one in Christ. So to my brothers out there, would you die for your wife?

So I Quit My Comfortable Job

It wasn’t an easy decision. I was comfortable where I was.

Besides, I had spent more than half a decade in this environment. My workplace was basically the same university I had studied in—a leading educational institute of higher learning where there were many opportunities to develop myself. It was meaningful work too; my job scope involved engaging and developing youth to become future leaders. I was blessed with an amazing team of colleagues and bosses who cared greatly about the growth of each and every staff.

For the career-driven young Singaporean with aspirations and ambitions, this seemed to be the ideal place to be. It was the perfect resume filler that could open many future doors.

And yet, I kept having a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I guess the Community Involvement Programme* (CIP) system had made a big impact on me. Ever since my first volunteering stint at a day activity center for seniors, I had always felt a calling to do something for the community, especially the underprivileged. The subsequent years in college serving in many voluntary activities continued to fuel my passion, allowing me to see more and more of the “neglected” part of society. That discomforted me, yet the “rational” side of me told me that was not where one can make money. So I chose a comfortable job at my university doing what I had experience in. I chose what was convenient.

Somewhere between my work and the daily grind, however, I began to feel lost. (Perhaps this is the problem with us millennials—we’re always unsatisfied. The grass is always greener on the other side.) I felt like a cog in a big machine: I felt like I didn’t truly have a say, and that my work didn’t have any real impact on society. Sure, one could argue that the people I worked with would go on to be great leaders of the future. But I wanted to get my hands dirty rather than sit comfortably in an ivory tower with clean hands.

Many of us would probably prefer to be stuck in the rat race forever, than step out and face uncertainties. We hate uncertainty, we see no meaning in it, and we’re afraid of the regrets and sacrifices we might have to make if we pursue our dreams. We’re afraid that we might be naïve, and that we won’t be able to retire wealthy like our successful friends who didn’t make “stupid” decisions. This fear weighed heavily on my mind, as I was getting married the very same year. Weddings in Singapore can be expensive, not to mention housing loans for our future home. Chasing dreams don’t feed you.

As I struggled with my thoughts of stepping out of the rat race, I faced many well-meaning “advisors” along the way. “Why don’t you take the first few years to accumulate wealth? When you’re rich enough, you can give even more?” “Hoard grain! Tear down your barns and build bigger ones to store surpluses! Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry!” (Luke 12:18-19)

But my issue with such thinking was this: when is enough truly enough? Doesn’t the Lord feed even the sparrows that neither reap nor store away in barns (Matthew 6:26)? What happens if our lives are taken from us before we’ve stored sufficient grain (Luke 12:20)?

I spent a long time weighing the options. One day, my fiancée asked me, “Haven’t you always wanted to work in or start an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization)? How have you been moving towards that?” At that moment, it finally hit me. I was running away from my calling, and that was why the niggling doubt never went away.

We all know what happens when people run away from their calling. I, for one, got eaten by the giant fish of guilt. And like He did with Jonah, God was now calling me back to the road that I needed to take.

I am now almost into my third month at Habitat for Humanity—a non-profit Christian housing organization that aims to eliminate poverty housing worldwide—and it has been an eye-opening journey. I see a different side of Singapore almost every day; a side without the glitz and glamor. I witness people who were dealt a bad hand in their lives, finding dignity amid their difficulties. I see passionate people from all walks of life joining hands in giving hope to the disadvantaged.

Most of all, I am glad to finally be part of this, with my hands deep in the soil.

*The CIP is a compulsory programme for students of all levels in Singapore, where they have dedicate a stipulated number of hours to participate and be involved in community service.

5 Commonly Misquoted Verses

When Jesus was tested in the desert, it was the Word of God that He employed to counter the evil one’s various temptations. When faced with ups and downs in life, we too often recall verses to remind us of truths to hold on to. And when friends go through tough times, we also send them encouraging messages with “relevant” verses.

The Bible is sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Correctly used, it is a prized weapon that can parry and counter-attack the devil’s strongest blows. But as an article by American minister Brian Orme—the founding editor of ChurchLeaders.com and Faithit.com—puts it, misusing and misquoting it is like fighting with the butt of the weapon instead of the blade. It’s just not effective, and sometimes possibly silly!

One of the biggest mistakes that many make is quoting the Bible out of context. Here are five of the most commonly misquoted verses that I have encountered—and misquoted myself as well.

1. Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Christian motivational posters in locker rooms often use this as a tagline. But this short and powerful passage is no excuse for us to foolishly attempt to set Guinness World Records.

A look at the context will reveal that the writer, Paul, was locked up in prison when he wrote this. In his tumultuous voyage across Europe, Paul had also endured various hardships (v.12), which included shipwrecks, imprisonment, starvation, poverty, and physical injuries. Despite his circumstances, he experienced the joy of serving God and God’s provision, which enabled him to endure all these and remain content. This passage was his personal declaration of contentment amid times of desperation, and of his faith in times of trial.

As Brian points out in an article, “4 Awesome Bible Verses Christians Love to Misquote”, “This passage is not a clarion call to go out and accomplish great feats of strength, but a beautiful reminder to pursue faith and trust God in the midst of the ups and downs of a life given fully to the cause of Christ.”

2. Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This passage is often used to comfort others by describing the pain of the moment as part of a bigger plan. Don’t worry about getting fired—God has a better job waiting for you out there. Right? Apparently not.

If we examine the context, we will see that Paul is dwelling on the theme of living by the power of the Spirit. He is talking about putting to death our sinful deeds and learning to conform to Jesus’ image; it is in this context that God works for our “good”.

The end of the passage gives us a glimpse of what this “good” might be (v. 30). It is not health, wealth, or physical well-being, but something far more glorious: the sanctification process that completes us in glory. The recipients of this “good” are those who are “called” and those who “love God”. With this reminder that glorification awaits those who are called, Paul encourages us with a final guarantee that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ our Lord (v. 39).

Let’s not settle for the narrow promise of things turning out for the better. God doesn’t just promise better; He promises glorious.

3. Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Such words of comfort! Or are they? On the surface, this seems like a perfectly fine verse to encourage people who are suffering. I have—too often—used this verse to encourage people going through difficult times as well.

An initial reading of this verse may give the impression of a promise of a bright future, rosy paths, and straight roads in this journey of life. Some might even go one step further to say that it promises prosperity.

The thing is, this verse was in fact addressed to a specific group of people in a specific setting. The folks receiving the promise were Israelites who were in exile—a result of their disobedience—and who had earlier received false prophecies of freedom (v. 4). Further examination of the context (v. 10) will reveal the thorns beneath this rosy picture of deliverance: the Israelites will be delivered, but only after 70 years in exile!

Jeremiah 29:11 may not be a suitable verse to assure you of a solid rice bowl, career development, or even emancipation from suffering. But it is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and love.

4. Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

This verse is often cited to suggest that we should not interfere, evaluate, or criticize others. Period.

But it comes after the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), which had, among other things, compared how the world and false prophets live, with how disciples of Christ ought to live. Matthew 7 continues the theme, giving instructions on how disciples should judge, as compared to how the Pharisees did. In this sermon, Jesus teaches His disciples to distinguish between the hypocritical, self-righteous judgment of the Pharisees, and the humble judgment that comes from God.

Rather than a commandment not to judge, this is actually a guideline on how to judge. We are to use the same measure in the judgment of others as we use in our own lives. Matthew 7:1–6 lays out more guidelines on how we are judge others.

5. Matthew 18:19-20 – “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

These verses are often used in dimly-lit venues of worship, to assure the congregation of Jesus’ presence amid them.

But when Jesus was assuring His disciples about His “presence”, He was speaking on the issue of church discipline. In this context, “anything” referred to corporate decisions made by His disciples on an errant brother. God’s promise was that He would stand behind the decision as long as it was made in accordance to His will. A little too harsh to start a group prayer or worship session with, don’t you think?

Of course, we know that God is Emmanuel, and definitely with us. We can be assured that even if we are worshipping or praying alone in our own rooms, Jesus is there with us. After all, where can we flee from his Spirit?

It is said that there are three principles for sound exegesis of the Bible: Context, context, and context. We should read at least four to five verses before or after the verse in question, in order to get a proper, accurate understanding of the point of the passage.

To heed the call of 2 Timothy 2:15—to be “a workman . . . who correctly handles the word of truth”—is not an easy one, but there are many resources (e.g. good books, study Bibles, Bible teachers) available.

What are some other misquoted verses that you have encountered?

For Whom Do We Take a Stand?

Whenever we think about overcoming challenges, the story of David and Goliath comes to mind. It shows us that God is the one who empowers the weak, humbles the mighty, and gives us the victory.

While we know the account of the duel between the teenaged David and Goliath well enough, perhaps we should also consider David’s encounters with his older brother Eliab and King Saul, and how they responded when he volunteered to fight the giant. Before David could face Goliath on the battlefield, he first had to face the doubts of those around him.

We may not have to fight giants like Goliath today, but perhaps we have faced the same kind of skepticism from our peers and elders when we try to follow God’s will. How often are we told not to do something because we are too young, too weak, or too immature? David could have backed down when faced with such disapproval. But he knew that God measures His servants by a different standard, and this gave him the confidence to step forward.

David was the youngest of eight brothers. Those of us who are younger siblings probably know what this means. Coming from a family where three of your eldest brothers are already frontline fighters alongside the king while you got stuck with tending sheep back home would probably do wonders for your self-esteem. Not to mention having to endure constant put-downs from your older siblings. Eliab, David’s oldest brother, was quick to do just that, sarcastically telling him to stop trash-talking and get back to minding the sheep. Yet this distinct lack of support from his own family did not stop David from volunteering.

David wasn’t a champion fighter, or even an ordinary soldier. He was a shepherd boy, too young to report, like three of his older brothers had, for mandatory military service. He definitely wasn’t very impressive. When Goliath saw David, he saw nothing more than a young boy, glowing with health and somewhat handsome perhaps, but certainly not someone that looked capable of defeating him in combat. In contrast, Goliath was three meters tall and furnished with an impressive array of equipment—complete with an armor bearer to help carry the lot. Even King Saul, the tallest man in Israel then, was reluctant to challenge Goliath.

King Saul voiced his doubts openly, telling David that it was impossible for someone so young and inexperienced to defeat the veteran Goliath. Yet this public skepticism from the king himself didn’t stop David from accepting the haughty Philistine’s challenge.

Was David crazy, stupid, or just rebellious? I think not. I think what made the difference was what, or whom, David was standing up for. We definitely should not be taking stands merely for the sake of it, on things that do not matter. But David wasn’t being reckless or foolhardy, because he was standing up for something, or someone, that mattered more than anything else.

David knew that God was far more powerful than any Philistine, giant or not. He also knew that God values a willing and trusting heart in His servants, above strength, experience, and even maturity, and can perform great deeds through even the most humble of them. He had learned these truths through long experience, defending his flock against predators. God had protected him many times before when he faced down and defeated lions and bears. Confidently, David assured King Saul that God would grant him the victory. And ultimately he triumphed.

In taking a stand against the mighty Philistine, who had terrorized the people of Israel for the past 40 days, insulted the brave warriors of the land, and mocked the army of the Most High—David reminded everyone that ultimately, God was the mightiest of all and would deliver victory through his faithful servants, no matter how young and powerless.

For whom do we take a stand?