A Lily Among Thorns

The Song of Solomon is a love song.  It extols the virtues and joy related to marital intimacy in a series of alternating declarations of a husband and his wife.  The song is filled with beautiful imagery drawn from nature that describes both the wife, and the anticipation and exhilaration of marital love.  This imagery is presented in a discreet manner that raises this song far above the crude and tawdry expressions of ungodly people.

One of the most profound statements in this love song is also one of the most simple.  In SS 2:2 the husband declares, “Like a lily among the thorns, so is my darling among the maidens.”  This brief statement encapsulates the essence of marital fidelity.  In the eyes of this godly man, his wife is the most beautiful of all women.  To him she is so beautiful that all other women are unsightly in comparison.

This does not mean that this godly man does not see or appreciate the physical beauty of other women.  Instead, it affirms the place that his wife occupies in his heart.  He is so focused on her, and is so committed to her, that no other woman can draw his attention or his desire.  His devotion to his wife is so deep and pure that he cannot conceive of being unfaithful to her.

This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of marital relationships.  When a man and a woman decide to marry, they must become as singular in their vision of each other as the godly man in Solomon’s song.  The typical marriage vows contain the promise that the couple will forsake all others and keep themselves only for each other.  Unfortunately, many make this solemn promise only to begin breaking it within a short period of time.  What most would be unwilling to admit is that infidelity usually begins with nothing more than a look.  When a man no longer sees his wife as a “lily among thorns”, he is opening up his heart to the kind of impure thoughts that can lead to unfaithfulness.  He is dishonoring his marriage vows, and dishonoring the woman to whom he made those vows before God.

Solomon’s song is not the only place in scripture where marital fidelity is extolled and enjoined upon us.  From the very beginning, when God made Eve and gave her to Adam, it has been God’s divine plan that one man and one woman should be married for life, and faithful to each other until death.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus about their traditions concerning divorce, the Lord replied that such things were not a part of God’s plan (Mt. 19:3-9).

When Paul wrote about the qualities that should characterize elders in the church, one of the key elements was that an elder must be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2).  The force of Paul’s statement, however, is not just the number of times a man might be married, but rather his attitude of heart about his wife.  The Greek construction that Paul used literally means that an elder must be a “one-woman-kind-of-man”.  In other words, he must be a man who sees his wife as a lily among thorns.

This is a high and noble and worthy standard.  It is a divinely ordained attitude that must be taken seriously.  The temporal blessings for doing so are great, as Solomon’s song clearly suggests.  On the other hand, the temporal consequences of not doing so are terrible.  The physical and emotional wreckage caused by marital infidelity cannot be overstated, and the spiritual and eternal consequences are even more severe.  Solomon warns that one who pursues such will not go unpunished (Prov. 6:23-29).  Therefore, to keep ourselves from sin and from condemnation, and to properly honor the woman he married, let each of us always look upon his wife as a lily among thorns.

What Is He Worth?

bookburningofephesus

The book of Acts records three missionary journeys in which Paul the apostle was the main character.  On the last of these, Paul came to the city of Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia.  He spent the better part of three years in this city, teaching and preaching, and also performing what Luke calls “extraordinary miracles” (Acts 19:11).  The result of Paul’s preaching was that many of the Ephesians, both Jews and Gentiles, were converted to Christ.  When he left Ephesus, he left behind a fully organized congregation under the leadership of elders (cf. Acts 20:17-35).

Paul’s work in Ephesus was marked by an unusual demonstration by the newly-converted Christians of that city.  In Acts 19:18-19 Luke says, “Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices.  And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.”

The silver coins mentioned in v. 19 were probably the Greek drachma, which was the equivalent of the Roman denarius.  This was the daily wage for a common laborer.  Fifty thousand pieces of silver equalled about 137 years’ wages.  This was an incredible amount of money, and represented a significant sacrifice on the part of the ones who surrendered their magic books to be burned.  More than this, however, this action represented their complete break with their former ways in order to follow Jesus.  By burning their magic books these new Christians made an emphatic commitment to the new and living way.

For these Ephesians, following Jesus was worth giving up everything that reminded them of their former way of life, or which might draw them back to it.  The cost of the books each person gave up was nothing compared to what he or she gained by submitting to the will of Christ.  The promise of eternal life was so valuable to them that they willing, and freely, destroyed every semblance of their former ways.  Their sacrifice raises an important question for modern Christians.  What is the Lord worth to us?  In other words, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to follow Him?

We sometimes sing a song in worship that asks this very question.  It declares, “Jesus the Lord laid His glory aside, sinners to save and make whole, Freely He died our transgressions to hide, what is He worth to your soul?  All that was His for the sinner He gave, pointed the path to the goal; Sin would deprave, but the Savior would save, what is He worth to your soul?  All that He saves He will keep till the end, under His blessed control; Men may depend on this wonderful friend, what is He worth to your soul?  All who will trust Him in sunshine and gloam, shall when they reach the bright goal; Ceasing to roam be forever at home, what is He worth to your soul?”

This question is worth serious consideration.  The Lord asked it this way: “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26).  The Lord gave up, albeit temporarily, all the glory of heaven to provide the atonement for our sins.  Such a sacrifice and gift is beyond our ability to measure.  How then can we continue to cling to the vestiges of our sinful life after having been washed in the blood of the Lamb?  Eternal life is worth whatever we have to sacrifice in order to receive it.