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The Means to the End
December 20, 2006
Not too long ago my youngest sister began dating a guy who seems to have made her all twitterpated. Shortly after she started seeing him, she drove up to Canada to spend a few days with my family. I took the opportunity to try to impart some big-brotherly wisdom to her. I told her that I have known a great many couples who began dating as Christians and who set strict limits about how far they wanted the physical limits of their relationship to progress before marriage. These couples all wanted to remain pure until their wedding night, avoiding intimate physical contact. And yet, almost unanimously, they failed. Speak to Christian couples today and I’m sure you’ll find that the majority of them will admit regret that they went “too far.” Whatever limits they set for their relationship fell by the wayside at one time or another. This is not to suggest that all Christian couples engage in premarital sex. However, I think most Christian couples begin marriage with some regret, some guilt, that they have exceeded limits they felt would be easy to maintain.
The problem, I explained to my sister, is that, while Christian couples are generally well-intentioned and truly do desire to remain pure, they do not place the proper safeguards in their relationships. They are committed to a noble end, but do not have the same level of commitment to the means that will allow them to achieve that end. They are committed to the end, but not the means. What I told my sister was that she has little hope of avoiding sin if she and her new boyfriend do not take the proper measures now. They must ensure that they are never alone in a home; they must ensure that they do not park their car in some dark and isolated place just to sit and talk; they must have some sort of accountability to their peers and parents. And so on. Without certain safeguards the result is inevitable. They will sin and, if the relationship lasts and they decide to marry, they will enter their marriage with guilt that could so easily have been avoided. If the relationship does not last, they will eventually enter marriage with another person carrying baggage they have no right to carry. Either way, committing to the means and the end will save them from both the actual sin and from its consequences. Committing to the end by committing to the means will safeguard their relationship.
After I spoke with my sister I continued to dwell on this theme of means and ends. I have recently been struck by Proverbs 24:30-34, a passage that hints at how Solomon wrote his famous proverbs.
I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
As Solomon looked at the sluggard’s field and received instruction, I looked at relationships I have seen, relationships that have led to sin, guilt and sin’s consequences. “Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.” I received instruction about my own life.
What I came to see is that there are many areas of my life where I am more wholly committed to an end than to the means of achieving that end. I can think of my desire to pursue holiness. It is an end I desire with desperation, and yet one that, when I honestly assess myself, I have to admit that I pursue with only half-hearted determination. I know this because I can look at the means I have put in place to reach the end and see that, without some serious realignment, they will never lead me to the end I desire. The same is true of my desire to be a good husband and a good father. I know what the end is that I desire to achieve, and yet know that I have not dedicated the appropriate attention to the means of reaching that end. I will never be the husband, father or Christian I want to be without giving more attention to the means.
It seems to me that the primary means of achieving all three of these goals - being a better husband, father and Christian (to name just three emphases) - is to begin with a great emphasis on reading the Bible, meditating upon the Scriptures, and spending time with God in prayer. Only by committing myself to pursuing a relationship with God can I be who I want to be and who God created me to be. There are changes I’ve made to my life after talking to my sister and learning something about myself. There are changes that remain. I trust that God will continue to guide me and to challenge me.
It just so happens that a new year is approaching. The start of a new year is a perfect time to examine my efforts in living this life a day at a time, emphasizing the means even more than the end. Perhaps you feel like I do, that you need to focus on the means of attaining godliness. Here are a few resources that may help us as we pursue the end we know God desires of us.
Crossway recently released two great devotional books from D.A. Carson entitled For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word. Here are links to Volume 1 and Volume 2. A new devotional by John Stott called Through the Bible, Through the Year also looks well worth reading, though I have not yet had time to read through it.
If you’d prefer to simply study the Bible without another person’s comments, perhaps an ESV journaling Bible would come in handy. They are available in leather and hardcover. The ESV offers several daily read plans which can be read on the site. Each also has a link to the audio if you prefer to listen to the Bible. They also offers RSS feeds of each of the plans and even offer a daily podcast that for only $19.95 will provide three one year Bible plans over the course of three years. Each day the daily reading will be delivered to your iPod or computer.
And, of course, there are nearly unlimited numbers of resources from days past. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotions are never disappointing. J.C. Ryle’s daily devotions are exceptional. And on and on. As Christians are certainly not lacking in resources to promote godliness.
As 2007 approaches why not spend some time examining whether you have committed not just to ends, but also to the means that will help carry you to those ends. You may just find, as I have, that you are looking too far towards the horizon while ignoring the day-to-day graces that will carry you to the future you desire.