By Simon ManchesterSunday 4 Oct 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
I’m not sure if you’ve heard the old story before of the man who goes to Toastmasters, and he draws his topic out of the hat and his topic is sex. And he gives really a very excellent talk, it’s informed, witty and helpful. But when he gets home and his wife says, “How did that go?” he’s just too embarrassed to tell her what he spoke on. And so, quite dishonestly, he says to her, “I spoke on sailing.” The next day, in the street, a man came over and said to the wife, “You know, your husband gave a fantastic talk last night.” She said, “I don’t know what he knows about it, he’s only ever done it twice. The first time, his hat fell off, and, the second time, he went completely overboard.”
I say that to you with some reluctance, because I want to ask you, as we come to the Song of Songs, part 2, whether it is an embarrassing subject, the subject of sex. We have been kind of bombarded by sex for 50 years in a fairly intense way and, for Christians, it’s not a dirty subject, it belongs in the privacy of marriage. And that’s why this little series of four, on Sunday mornings, in the Song of Songs, is a little bit of a surprise for us because the book is quite descriptive of intimacy.
We’re looking at this over four Sundays. I told a friend, this week, that we were doing the series, he said, “Would it not be better to read that book privately?” And I thought to myself, “well, it could be good to read privately, but who’s going to read it profitably?” That’s why we’re trying to do it together on these Sunday mornings. And the aim of the series is that our relationships with one another would be blessed and our relationship with the Lord Jesus would be even more appreciated.
Last week, I pointed out that it appears the book was written by King Solomon at the end of his life as he looks back over many relational failures.
And he’s written this book as if to say, “Now, I’m going to present you with a couple who do their courtship properly. Don’t do,” says Solomon, so to speak, “what I did, which is to use power and force and control to get what I wanted. No, do it this way.” And so, he presents a couple who relate graciously and tenderly and effectively which, of course, is the way God treats us.
So the book, is a pointer, a signpost to God who relates perfectly to us. He’s the perfect groom to the bride who is his people, and every human marriage is a reminder of that. Therefore, if you leave this morning and you say to yourself, “What do I get out of that particular sermon?” I want you to ask yourself two questions. One, “Do I have Christ as my bridegroom?” And two, “Has he been good to me?” I think if the answer is yes to the first, it will be yes to the second.
You may not be in a marriage situation this morning. You might be thinking, “This is a bit of a tedious series, a bit of a waste of a series,” but I want to remind you that, if you were this morning in the best marriage in the world, your great marriage would still be a fairly rusty signpost to Christ. And each of us must remind ourselves that if we have Christ, then he outweighs all human relationships. He does, and it will be seen to be true.
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So if you read the book as just a physical book, it’s just about a couple and their intimacy, you’ll fail to remember that the book is a signpost. If you read the book as just a spiritual book and you interpret all the intimacy in very spiritual terms, you’ll fail to realise that God actually is the giver of intimacy.
What we saw last week is the couples speak, in the first two chapters, very tenderly to each other, very affectionately, and very reassuringly. And today, we come to what is, undoubtedly, Chapter Three and Four, the wedding. I have divided the two chapters, Three and Four, it’s quite a lot to do in our few minutes but we’re going to attempt to move quite quickly.
The first bit of Chapter Three I’ve called the fear of losing. The last bit of Chapter Three I’ve called the joy of the wedding. The first bit of Chapter Four I’ve called the praise of seeing. And the last bit of Chapter Four I’ve called the time of loving.
The Fear of Losing
Listen to verse one, this is the girl, the girl in the relationship, there’s a boy, there’s a girl, and she says, “All night long, on my bed, I looked for the one my heart loves. I looked for him but I did not find him.”
Now, this is almost certainly a dream, it’s a bad dream. We’re told that she is on her bed, she spends the night on her bed. Even though she talks in the dream about going down the streets, it’s obviously a dream on her bed. And notice she’s on “my bed,” they do not share a bed yet.
In this bad dream, it is as if she fears to lose him, it’s quite close to the wedding, and she’s just in her mind running down the possibility of everything going wrong. “What if he leaves? What if he doesn’t show up? What if he has decided to run away?” Those of you who have experienced anything of hurt in love, or loss in love, will know that it can be very painful. If somebody has left you, if somebody has rejected you, there is a sense of panic, a sense of pain and grief. Because, as soon as you commit yourself to somebody, you open your heart to them and there is a possibility of your heart being greatly hurt.
Now the alternative, of course, is to just have a really closed and blocked heart.
C.S. Lewis famously said these words,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be run, possibly be broken. If you wanna make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Then it will not be broken, but it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
What a powerful comment. And God himself opens his own heart to his people becoming a groom to a very fickle bride like us, and he obviously experiences great hurt as a result of this. And he turns the hurt in on himself, and he pays for our fickleness, that’s how greatly he loves us. And it is a great privilege when you become a Christian, and you belong to Christ and here’s your bridegroom, that you belong to somebody who says, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”
Well this girl, in Chapter Three, does fear losing her boy. In her dream, she goes looking for him, she says, “I will search.” A little bit later, she says, “I found him, and I held him, and I would not let him go.” Why does she search? Well, because she doesn’t wanna give up easily, she finds which is a great joy to her, and she holds because she’s not going to lose the one she loves. And you’ll know that these are words which have very great and pregnant meaning for the gospel because there is one who searches like a shepherd and finds successfully and holds and does not let go. So even though we’re very fitful and very forgetful, we are in the grip of a saviour who takes us from start to finish.
I want you to notice, in passing, that the girl has a desire which is not evil. God has given us good desires. We should not torture ourselves because we have desires. I think it was the Mormons who said once that, if you see a pretty girl walking down the street or you see a handsome man walking down the street, I think their slogan was, “Look once, or you’re not a man, look twice, and you’re not a disciple.” Which is just a neat way of saying, “Be normal. How can you miss that somebody is attractive? But what you do with your second look and your third look is the big question.” And God has given us good desires, and we need to ask him to help us that they might be channelled in the way of his will.
So there’s a lovely of prayer, in the prayer book, that goes like this, “Oh God, for as much as without you, we’re not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts,” that’s a wonderful prayer. “As much as without you we’re not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.” So this girl takes initiative.
One of the commentators, a man called Douglas O’Donnell, obviously has a fine sense of humour and he reflects on this particular girl, and he says, “She’s obviously not a wallflower standing in the corner with her Victorian gown on fanning herself. She goes after her man.”
And Douglas O’Donnell reflects on a lady coming to church without her husband and she goes home to the husband, and he’s sitting at home reading the paper. And he says to her, “How was church?” and she says, “It was fine.” And he says to her, “What was the sermon about?” And she says, “It was based on Song of Songs 3, that the woman should take a more active role with the husband.” And he puts his paper down and says, “What time is church next Sunday morning?”
Which I think is a good word in season. Well, God has provided this woman with the right man, a good man, and she says to her friends, again, Chapter Three, Verse Five, “Don’t you rush into a relationship too quickly because I have had to be patient and wait.” A couple of times this little phrase comes up in Chapter Three, Verse Five, “Daughters or bridesmaids or friends, don’t rush into a relationship and, certainly, the activity of the relationship too quickly.”
The Joy of the Wedding
Secondly, the joy of the wedding. Look at Chapter Three, Verse Six, she says, “Who is this coming up from the desert perfumed?” Verse 6, “With Solomon’s carriage, escorted by 60 warriors?” Now, what are we going to make of this?
Well, suddenly, she pictures her wedding in spectacular terms. This is probably dream number two, and she’s lying on her bed, and she’s thinking about her wedding day, and she regards the wedding that she’s about to be a part of in fantastic royal terms. She describes herself, Verses Six, “Who is this,” it’s a little phrase that comes up a number of times in the book and always refers to her, and she pictures her wedding procession in royal style.
She’s in Solomon’s carriage, she’s got Solomon’s soldiers escorting her as if her funny little wedding is going to be absolutely unbelievable. And her boy, Chapter 3, Verse 10, is the king, the shepherd boy is her king.
Now, this is not just a girl getting excited about her wedding, although girls are much smarter with their weddings than boys. I’ve taken hundreds of weddings in this building, and I think it’s fair to say that the woman usually is more aware of what’s happening, usually is more organised and, possibly, even more, excited than the boy. He’s looking forward to the honeymoon, but she’s looking forward to the wedding. And she sees her wedding to the shepherd boy as having all the greatness of a royal wedding. In other words, she takes the simple ceremony that she’s about to be a part of and she invests it with spectacular pomp and ceremony. And she’s right to do so because she is seeing her wedding as God sees her wedding. It’s not the outward, that’s the dream, but what is real and inward is very great.
So let me ask you this question, would you rather have the sort of wedding that was had by Charles and Diana, 37 years ago, where you’ve got tremendous expense and massive TV coverage and unfaithfulness from the start running through the marriage, tension, friction? Or would you instead have the most straightforward wedding in the world where a couple actually love each other and have a love of God and the grace of God in their hearts?
I think you know the answer is pretty obvious. One of the great tragedies of weddings today is that a couple who have no knowledge of Christ and no understanding of grace and no love of God in their hearts are trying to make up for it with massive outward things. And what is more powerful than a couple who have no great outward plenty but a profound inward blessing from God?
God sees through the false wedding to the true wedding, and she is seeing her simple wedding with the blessing and the power which God himself invests.
Now if you’re a Christian and you’re reading these verses, you have to remind yourself that God always sees things differently from the world and that we need to see things with the eye of faith and not with the eyes of sight. So if you’ve got a Christian friend, here this morning, you’ve got to remind yourself, “I’ve got a Christian brother or sister,” that is a royal relationship. This is a relationship we are in the same company of the king, Jesus Christ, and we’re going to the same destination together, it’s a royal relationship, it’s not just a casual relationship.
If you have a spouse, you must see your marriage in terms that God has invested your marriage with the incredible significance, deep and wide and long and high and wonderful. Above all, you have to remind yourself, whoever you are this morning, that there is a bridegroom called Jesus Christ who came searching for people like you and, if you’re a believer, he found you, and he holds you, and he’ll always hold you and he’ll take you all the way forward, and you say to yourself, “I belong to him.”
And you’ll see that the Book of Revelation, the little reading we had at the end from Chapter 19, reminds us that there is coming a bridegroom and a bride and a dress and a reception and a ceremony, which is going to make every earthly wedding look ordinary. And you and I have been brought into it by the gospel, and we’re going to arrive at it by the grace of God. So that’s the joy of weddings, she sees her simple wedding in spectacular and appropriate terms.
The Praise of Seeing
The couple is together now, and he begins to describe how pretty she is. She says, “Your eyes, your hair… Beautiful.”
He lists seven things about her, seven, from the head to the waist. Quite appropriate. And he describes her as very beautiful. Later, in Chapter Seven, he’s going to describe her from the feet right up to the head. And as we saw, last week, the language of the Song of Songs is not the sort of language that we would use to say to your spouse, “You have hair like a flock of goats,” or, “teeth like a flock of sheep,” and, “I’m especially pleased that you have no teeth missing.” May not go down that well. But he’s picked words that she understands. She’s picked words from their world, and you and I need to pick words from our world because these are words that actually have a lot of abundance and a lot of attractiveness.
Now, this is always how we must communicate with one another. I’ve been reading this wonderful book called “The Bible in Australia” by Meredith Lake.
Meredith Lake is a fine scholar, a Christian scholar. And if you see her book in the bookshops, “The Bible in Australia,” it’s a tremendous read because, from the scriptures that were put on the first fleet and all the tracts and the prayer books, right through to the Bra Boys walking out of the surf at Maroubra with “my brother’s keeper” tattooed across their chest, she documents all the ways in which the Bible has been absorbed into the Australian culture.
And the missionaries that came and did their mission work with the indigenous people learned the languages so that they could communicate. And she points out that it’s many of the missionaries who learned the languages who preserved the languages of the indigenous people when others might have lost the language.
And she describes, in the Creole Bible, how the translators have taken the famous phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” and they’ve translated it like this, for the Creole people, “the Lord is good stockman who always minds about me.”
Language appropriate, perfect, and that’s what the boy is doing here. He praises her and, when he finishes praising her, she feels praised.
Notice also, and I’ve found this particularly interesting, that he uses words which have got theological weight. So every time he uses a word to describe her, it has a significant place in the Bible. I’m not sure how much to make of this. But do you notice that he describes her in terms of a dove, think about that place in the Bible of the dove, the sheep, the scarlet ribbon, the shield, the tower?
It’s as if possible he’s looking at her and saying, “Everything about you reminds me of how blessed by God I am. I’ve got the blessings of God.”
Now I want to ask you friends, as he looks at his girl and describes her as perfect, he says, in Chapter 4:7, “You have no flaw in you,” does he actually think she’s perfect and is she actually perfect? And if she is perfect, how long is that gonna last?
It’s an important issue, isn’t it? If his love for her hangs on her physical perfection, the relationship is doomed. And any girl or boy who is under pressure to present perfectly to be loved is under unbearable pressure.
It does seem to me very sad, don’t you think, that people today believe that if they’re gonna be loved, they’re gonna have to do something drastic, either with the cosmetics or with the gym or with the surgery, “Because that’s the only way I’m going to be loved.”
I remember seeing an ad in a magazine once, and it was a picture of a guy standing in front of a mirror in his boardshorts, and the girl was standing, in front of the mirror, in her bikini. And the guy is quite a paunchy guy but, in the mirror, he sees himself as an absolute stud. As we do. And the girl is really very attractive but, in the mirror, she is quite paunchy. And I just thought to myself, “This is such a classic reminder, isn’t it, of the pressure that is on some people, perhaps especially the women of this world.”
Well, this is where the gospel is so important. The gospel, which is being kicked out of our world, is the message to our world that says that there is a lover who loves you even if you’re unlovely. And this has got nothing to do with cosmetics, it’s got nothing to do with the gym, it’s got nothing to do with performance, it’s got to do with Him loving us.
That’s why Deuteronomy 7:7 is that famous verse where God says,
“I loved you because I loved you. You didn’t win my love with your greatness, you didn’t win my love with your godliness. I gave it to you. You didn’t drag it down, I gave it to you. Like sunshine, I gave it to you.”
And that’s why a Christian can love a fellow Christian who’s not easy because God is able to give us special patience and kindness for that person. That’s why a parent can love a child who’s not easy. That’s why a spouse can love a spouse who’s not easy. That’s why a nurse can love a patient who’s not easy and why a teacher can love a pupil who’s not easy. Because you can be looking at the most difficult person, the most diseased person, and God can give you a love for that person which is just supernatural.
Yesterday, I visited a man who’s getting very close to the end of his life. And he’s just a skeleton but his wife looking at him across the room is utterly besotted with him. The physical changes have made no effect at all and God’s love, which has been demonstrated to us in Christ who came when we were unlovely, is the same love which, by the Spirit, is able to fill and rule our hearts.
Billy Graham said, “If I ever stop loving my wife, I’d get down on my knees, and I would not get up until I loved her.” So there is the fear of losing, there is the joy of the wedding.
The Praise of Seeing and The Time for Loving
Thirdly, there is the praise of seeing and, finally and quickly, there is the time of loving. Chapter 4:8, through to 5:1, is the most erotic part of the book and every commentator, I think, is right to say that it is the wedding night.
First of all, in Chapter 4:8, he calls on her to leave wherever she is and come to him. And he uses language which is very dangerous, he says, “Come down from the hills, leave the lion’s den, leave the leopards haunts,” as if to say, “leave the dangers and come to me, I’ll look after you.”
In Verse 9, he begins to describe the love, which he has for her and she has for him, in very intoxicating terms. She talks about it as perfume, he talks about it as perfume and wine and honey. It’s very, very intoxicating. He calls her his bride. He uses the word bride six times and only here, in the book, as if to say, “We’ve waited for this, you’re my bride. Let’s now enjoy God’s gifts.” And if the word bride is not enough, he calls her my sister three times, which I think means we’ve now got the closeness of a new family together.
Now she’s obviously kept herself for him, you see that in Chapter 4:12, “She is a new garden, she’s a new spring, she’s a new fountain,” she’s kept herself for him, this is the idea of God’s plans. Those of us who’ve fallen and failed in this area will need to ask for the mercy of God, but you’ll see that this is God’s ideal.
I want to say to you today, that we’re being told, here in Song of Songs, what all scripture says which is that sexual intimacy is God’s gift for a married man and a married woman only. Outside the relationship of a married man and a married woman, sex is disobedient. And if you’re doing sex, if you’re enjoying sex and it is outside of a God-blessed marriage, you are fighting your maker. You’re being disobedient to His word, you can expect no peace from him, you’ll be restless, you can expect no favour from him.
If you keep that trajectory to the end, the Bible warns, you may miss out on the kingdom of God. You cannot walk two roads, your road and His, you’ve got to bring everything under the control of Christ. And when you do, you’ll find mercy for every failure, and you’ll find peace in every blessing.
So here is the spouse, the groom speaking to his wife in very beautiful terms, it’s not dirty. He sees the relationship of intimacy as a gift and not a sin, something to be enjoyed, not endured. Do you remember the famous comment of Lady Hillingdon? You’ve have heard this before, who was an aristocratic British lady.
And she wrote in her journal of her husband,
“Charles calls on my bedchamber two calls a week. And when I hear his steps outside my door, I simply lie down and close my eyes and think of England.”
Well, there we are, how to endure a physical relationship. If that didn’t make any sense, I’ll explain it to you at the door as we’re leaving. By contrast, she says, Chapter 4:16, “Come to my garden,” and, Chapter 5:1, he says, “I will.” It’s put very tenderly, in very godly terms, and they are both happy.
I know you’re a little shocked by this series but let me just conclude by saying, the whole thing points us very much to Christ.
Whatever our earthly relationships and whatever God gives us and whatever God puts us through, this whole book points to Jesus. He is the ultimate groom. He seeks his bride, he searches for her, he finds her, he keeps her. And we are engaged to him today, there is a wedding feast to come. If you want to know how to respond to him, it’s obvious how to respond to him properly. One, he proposes to you and, therefore, you must listen to his proposal.
It comes in the gospel, “Come to me. I,” says Jesus, “want you to be mine in relationship.” Take up his proposal. Get down on your knees and give yourself to the king of grace and the king of glory. Give yourself to him, that’s how you respond properly.”
But then, secondly, for most of you here this morning, I’ve been reflecting on this, “How do I respond to this?” And the answer is I think that I want to avoid like the plague having a cold, distant relationship with Christ. By the grace of God, I have a relationship, I want a good relationship. I don’t want a cold, distant relationship, I don’t want a rebellious, unhappy, restless relationship. I wanna respond to him.
So I put myself in the shoes of the girl, and I say to myself, “She desires her groom.” Well, when God works on us, we desire Christ.” And then, you look at her, and she says, “I am absolutely overwhelmed at the idea of the wedding.”
When God works on us, we say what he’s done for us is unbelievable.
“He looks at her, and she stands in his love.” And we say to ourselves, “Through the gospel, I stand loved by Christ because he loves me.” And then, finally, you see this girl, she says, as she thinks about the day of the wedding itself, the night of the wedding, she says, “How close I am.” And we, by the gospel, by the grace of God, we say that we could not be in a better closer relationship with Christ than to know Him. So let’s respond to Him with much gratitude and warm devotion.
Let’s pray. Our Father, we thank you for giving to us, in this book, a picture of a romance which is very precious, and a signpost to the Lord Jesus even more wonderful. We pray that you would fill us with gratitude for all that he has brought to us and we pray that it would translate into all our relationships. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.