Waiting on Love
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Philip Graham RykenPhilip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals...more
Phil Ryken helps us understand the deeper meaning behind the Song of Songs by walking us through each chapter. He also reflects on his honeymoon and their first disagreement.
Waiting on Love
Bob: For us to understand God’s purposes with marital intimacy, Dr. Phil Ryken says we need to first understand what he calls “the beauty of the why.”
Phil: God’s design is for life-long love relationships, which are bound together in covenant promises to be sealed and secured with sexual intimacy—this is part of God’s design. These are the most sacred vows that you can take to another human being. It makes sense then that God would want something to secure and seal these; but if you seal the wrong relationship, or seal the right relationship at the wrong time, that design is disrupted. What was intended to actually bring greater security to a relationship actually, now, brings greater threat to it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. There is great beauty in God’s design for marital intimacy, and it’s all built around the idea of the covenant. We’ll spend time talking about that today with Phil Ryken. Stay with us.
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I’m just curious with what we’re going to be talking about today, Dave. Have you ever done a sermon series at your church, in 30 years of pastoral ministry, on the Song of Solomon?
Phil: Will you?
Dave: Yes! I have a book that I can reference. [Laughter]
Ann: Now, that we have this book we’ll do it.
Dave: Honestly, we’ve talked often about marriage—often about sexual intimacy, from a God-perspective—and referenced different parts of the Song of Solomon—have never walked through it like this book.
Bob: —like Dr. Phillip Ryken does, who joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Phil: Great to be with you.
Bob: Phil Ryken is the president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Your new book, The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs, about the Song of Solomon—you told us this comes from a series of chapel messages you did. I’m wondering, “You’re talking to college kids about the Song of Songs?”
Phil: Yes; you know, I do different things in chapel each year. Interesting—my daughter was a sophomore at Wheaton that year
Ann: Oh, that’s interesting.
Phil: She had a freshman on her floor, who I don’t think she knew who she was yet, say: “Is this just me? Or is it really embarrassing? [Laughter] Dr. Ryken is talking about the Song of Solomon in chapel.” She said, “You think it’s embarrassing for you?!”
Bob: So, tackling this with college students—
Phil: Yes; oh, they need it. College students are thinking a lot about love, sex, romance, marriage—just all of these topics. And they’re also thinking about: “How do I grow a love relationship with Jesus Christ? What does that look like?” This book, in so many ways, is touching the bases.
Bob: When you get into the passages about picnics in the Song of Solomon, and you’ve got a room full of college students—
Phil: One of the things we did was—I asked our theater group if they could present the Song of Solomon dramatically, each passage before I would speak on it.
Phil: There were four students: two men and two women. Mark Lewis, is the director—did something really smart at the beginning—he said, “Given the content of this book, I don’t want to put one person in one role so they’re kind of associated with that.”
It wasn’t presented as a kind of drama; it was presently, dramatically, by these four students. They wore very simple, almost rustic clothing. One of them always brought a guitar. Some of the lyrics they actually did as songs that they composed themselves. It made the whole thing come alive. You realize: “Oh, this is a love song; that’s what this is. This is poetic. I can see the story.”
I remember one particular day—there’s a conflict that comes up in the middle of the book. One of the men spoke his last line, and he walked off the stage, and walked right out of chapel—you knew: “This relationship is broken.” The whole thing came alive. Then, when you teach after that, people have seen it; they’ve felt it; they’re into it. It turned out to be a great experience.
Bob: There you go—a little pro tip for when you teach through this.
Ann: I was going to say, Dave—“Could you guys come and do that at our church?” [Laughter]
Phil: Why not? Probably; we probably could. I mean, those students have graduated now. I think there may actually be video content. You may be able to find this on YouTube or something like that.
Ann: I love that you tackled this—because in our culture, what college students are exposed to—it’s great that you’re giving them a biblical view of God’s love for us, of a marriage relationship, and relationships in general. Way to go!
Phil: Thank you. Here’s what I think. A lot of students on Christ-centered campuses, like Wheaton College, or Christian students that are at secular institutions—they know, at least, some of the do’s and don’ts that the Bible talks about.
I was talking with my kids this week. We’ve got five children; four of them are still at home. Our junior high daughter had a concussion; she missed the sexuality and relationships section—
Ann: —at school?
Phil: —at school/at a Christian school. Her older sister just said: “Oh, basically, don’t have sex before marriage—that’s it. Once you have that, that’s what it is.” I’m sure it [presentation] was actually much more comprehensive, nuanced, complete. [Laughter] That’s an example; they know, or they think they know, the biblical do’s and don’ts.
What they don’t know is the beauty of the why—the beauty of God’s design for our relationships. If you don’t understand, and have not sensed and experienced the beauty of the why, then, when the culture is telling you the do’s and don’ts are in the wrong place, you don’t have a defense for it. It’s just a rule; it’s not something you’ve understood in a deep way.
I don’t know any better place to understand the beauty of the why, in human relationships and our soul’s relationship to God, than the Song of Solomon.
Dave: You’ve got to go there, now, that you’ve mentioned that—it’s in your book—Song of Solomon 2:7: “…do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” What’s the beauty of the why? Why not?
Phil: That’s an interesting refrain, because it comes up several times in the book. There’s so much to say, but it comes up in a beautiful way. It’s one thing, for example, to have your dad tell you, “This is where the boundary line is.” It’s very different if there’s a young beautiful woman, who’s obviously caught up in the passion of romance, and she’s the one telling you, “Do not awaken desire before its time.”
It’s a repeated warning or caution in the book, and that’s the biblical way of putting exclamation marks on something. We don’t have exclamation marks in Hebrew and Greek; we have repetition—so repetition really stresses that for us.
What’s the beauty of the why? Partly, it is—God’s design is for life-long love relationships, which are bound together in covenant promises to be sealed and secured with sexual intimacy. This is part of God’s design. These are the most sacred vows that you can take to another human being. It makes sense, then, that God would want something that would secure and seal these; but if you seal the wrong relationship, or seal the right relationship at the wrong time, that design is disrupted. What was really intended to bring greater security to a relationship actually now brings greater threat to it.
One of the ways I love how Song of Solomon develops this is—this woman, who gives these cautions/this woman, who has been deeply in love with a man that’s been true from the opening verse—this whole thing is headed toward marriage. She is not saying, “Hey, don’t go there,”—like intimate relationships are bad, or you shouldn’t have passion, or sex is some kind of bad thing. The whole book is showing you: “She’s heading in this direction in this relationship. She just wants to make sure it has the proper safeguards and boundaries around it so that it can flourish.” That makes a big difference.
Bob: As we think about this book and the romantic love that it pictures, does it concern you that the average age for young men getting married today is 29 and for women it’s 27.5?
Phil: As somebody, who got engaged when I was 18, I guess, yes! [Laughter] Maybe I was 19; we married very young. Our parents did as well. Yes, it concerns me for a lot of reasons. We definitely live in a deferred commitment culture. People want to keep their options open.
We have a lot of students in our home for this or that—a lot of things we do for students on the campus of Wheaton College. I rarely do anything, where I’ve got to have an RSVP—I’ve got to know exactly how many people are coming. I just plan everything—it’s very open-ended: “Hey! Come if you can. Bring a friend if you want. If you have to leave early, that’s fine.”
It’s that kind of culture, where people, even on small commitments, have trouble like making commitment/following through because something better might come along—let alone the important, sacred vows you make in marriage. It does concern me. I think it’s deferred commitment. I think it delays some of the purposes that God has for us in relationships. I also think it opens the door to sexual temptation in ways that are damaging for our culture.
All of that said, some people are called to marriage much later in life; that’s a beautiful thing. I have a good personal friend, who married for the first time at age 70, and it was awesome. It’s not about this age or that age.
I think, when you see it as a culture—and you don’t see people making that commitment—it’s concerning to me for several reasons. Ann and Dave are in pastoral ministry; they’ve got a front row seat for this too.
Dave: Sometimes, it is right for a couple to wait; but there is a fear that’s really real out there. People are afraid to marry, because they’ve grown up in a divorce culture. People are waiting and waiting. I think a lot of them don’t ever want to get married.
Ann: I think, too, that’s why we were married young—I was 19; Dave was 22. What we’re passionate about is equipping couples, before coming into marriage, to have some tools that they can pull from—to have this relationship with God—of knowing how He comes in, and centers us, and gives us real hope, and proper expectations.
Phil: I’d tell any couple that’s in any kind of relationship at all: “You need to have a mentor.” That’s like one of the first questions: “Who’s your mentor? Who’s walking through this relationship with you?” When you have somebody in your life like that—that can show you some of the how and can say to you: “You know what? By God’s grace, you can do this. Doesn’t matter what your family background is. By God’s grace, you can do this,”—people need that kind of hope and encouragement.
Bob: All of our kids were married before they were 25. I hear the argument in the culture today that says: “They’re not ready. You’re not mature.” I don’t know: “The frontal cortex is not fully-formed yet,” or “They don’t have the maturity to do this.” I go, “We are selling young people way short when we say they’re not ready, at 21, to be able to make a bond and a commitment and live that out.”
Phil: I hear people on cerebral cortex, because I have a couple young men that I’ve raised in our household. It’s a process; [Laughter] it’s a process. I would never want to rush someone into marriage that they’re not ready for.
I think, when you make a marriage decision, you’re definitely not making a decision about who measures up to your standards or who’s good enough for you, which is subtly the way a lot of people think, maybe especially men. You’re actually making a decision about who you will become. You have to be able to look another person in the eye and say: “By God’s grace, I can make a commitment to you. I believe that what will happen in our lives, as a result of this commitment, goes far beyond anything we could experience.” Those are the kinds of things to be thinking about as you’re approaching the possibility of marriage.
Ann: You share a story in your book about a couple, on a honeymoon, who went through a real tragedy.
Phil: Who would this couple be, Ann? [Laughter] And what have you been doing, ready my book?
Dave: You wrote it, so let’s hear about it.
Phil: Ann’s talking about an experience that Lisa and I had on our honeymoon. Different pastors have different approaches to things. I don’t do that much self-disclosure from the pulpit; but when I do it, it’s because I know that it’s really going to help people understand the Bible and really apply it.
One of the stories I shared here is about an argument that we had on our honeymoon. I don’t remember what the argument was about; Lisa may. I almost never remember what our arguments are about, which is kind of a signal that it really wasn’t all that important.
Bob: —that you’re not paying attention, maybe. [Laughter]
Phil: Well, yes; maybe—[Laughter]—that it really wasn’t all that important.
I think it is also a sign: “Hey, it was resolved,”—like—“You don’t need to think about things that are resolved—you’re not holding on to them; you’re letting them go.”
I use that illustration because—you get to the middle of the Song of Songs—everything seems to be going along great. This couple—they’re in love; they are speaking to one other words of affection; they are noticing the attributes of one another that are admirable. There’s a beautiful reciprocity here; there’s a symmetry to the relationship. You see as much of the strength of the woman and the beauty of the man—you see all of that in this relationship.
Obviously, they’re married; because there’s been a procession/a wedding procession. There has been the exchange of vows and now the language is: “This is my sister; this is my bride.” So, obviously, we’re in a different context—this is not courtship; it’s marriage.
Then, shockingly, things break down. There’s a breach in their intimacy. She closes the door on him. By the time she opens the door, he’s gone and doesn’t want to come in—that’s real life there. I think for all of it—and this is one of the reasons to really get into the details of the Song of Solomon—because for all of the beauty there, and all of the romance, there’s also a lot of reality in some of the struggles of life. I think it happens to all of us in our relationships. Maybe that’s a good word for somebody listening today.
Bob: Wait a minute. All you’re going to tell us is: “We had a fight on our honeymoon,” and “I don’t know what is was about”?
Phil: Ann didn’t actually ask me a question; she just like referred to it, so—
Bob: Give us the details. What happened on the honeymoon?!
Dave: There was a condo in Vail, Colorado. Let’s hear about it.
Phil: There was. Actually, it was such a great honeymoon experience. People were generous with us and gave us a place to enjoy.
Lisa tried to kill me on our honeymoon, actually—[Laughter]—that’s not in the book. We went on a hike up a very dangerous place. I’m like, “This really does not seem that safe,”—I’m kind of scared of heights. We made it up this place. When we came back down, I noticed—actually, that wasn’t the path; the path is over here. [Laughter] There were other people, looking over the edge; and they were like, “You came up that?!” [Laughter] I’m like, “Yes; yes we did!” Anyway, we had a great experience on our honeymoon in all kinds of ways—a lot of special memories there.
We had this argument; I stormed out. As I was dealing with that with the Lord—and walking through that with Him, out in the parking lot nearby—I just made a commitment: “You know, if there’s an issue, we’re going to work it out. Obviously, I need to go back in there. We need to work this through,” which we did. That was really what came out of that experience for me—is that kind of commitment.
I don’t know if I talk about it in the book or not. One thing that’s been key for us, as couple, we take what Paul says in Ephesians very literally: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” If you can work out today what comes up today, you’ve got a fresh slate tomorrow; and you’re able to go on in life. We’ve tried to operate with short accounts that way all through marriage.
Ann: It’s just a good reminder that, even on a honeymoon, things can go wrong. Throughout life, that can happen and will happen. That doesn’t mean you’ve married the wrong person; that doesn’t mean your marriage will be wrecked—but that is part of the normalcy of marriage.
Phil: For sure, it doesn’t. One thing it would be interesting to ask—at a marriage conference, or a retreat, or something—like: “How many people here had an argument on their honeymoon?”
Ann: We’ve done that.
Phil: I bet it’s a lot of hands.
Ann: So many hands.
Phil: What I say, when I’m doing pre-marriage preparation with a couple, working with them on their relationship—one of the things I like to ask is, “Tell me what your experience is of conflict and argument, and how have you worked that through?”
It really worries me if I hear, “We don’t have any arguments.” Okay; well, we really don’t know much about this relationship yet. What I like to see is conflicts that are worked through in a way that builds up the relationship. If you’ve got that, so many other things are going to fall into place as well.
Dave: Let me ask you this—you said, after that honeymoon fight, you’re never going to walk out again; you’re going to go back. Has that been true?
Phil: Yes; I think it has been. The number of times, when we have a conflict now—compared to when we were first in a relationship—I mean, it’s just so different. It’s so different as time goes on. Partly, I think, over time, you’re just less self-centered. There are a lot of things you’re able to work out. Yes; we work things out; we work things out if we’ve got a thing to work out.
Dave: My wife’s the kind—when I walk out, she just follows me—she’s right behind me, saying, “Come back here and fight like a man.” [Laughter] That’s, literally, what she says.
Phil: What about personal space? [Laughter]
Ann: I don’t know what that is.
Bob: So, as a reader is reading through the Song of Solomon—somebody in their regular Bible study—they get to this book; they open it up—they really do need some kind of a guide to take them through this rather than trying to read it cold; don’t they?
Phil: I would say, “Yes.” On the one hand, the main themes of Scripture are so clear, that any person, who is diligent in reading the Bible, and reading the Bible again—I think of my grandparents were only educated up through the eighth grade—they were profound readers and students of the Bible. There weren’t many topics about any area of life that my grandparents could not give rich biblical wisdom to, so I don’t like to oversell the use of tools and things.
But, boy, it’s such a help, when you’re reading any book of the Bible, to have some tools that say: “Here’s something to notice,”—like—“Look at this...” Then you can see that it’s actually there. I think the more difficult a book is, maybe, the more helpful the tools are.
Song of Solomon is written in poetry; that doesn’t always come naturally to people. By the way, 40 percent of the Bible is written in poetry; so, if you want to be a student of the Bible, you’re going to need to learn how to read poetry and think about poetry. You really have to slow down; you’ve got to take in the images—it touches a different part of your brain.
Bob: You’re reading the Bible as literature; right? [Laughter]
Phil: Yes; reading the Bible as literature, which my father taught me to do. I think it is helpful to have those tools.
I want to come back to our listeners, Bob; because you tried to distract me with my own troubles. [Laughter] I want to say—people, who are listening, that are in a place where they’re in a broken relationship: “God has grace for you; God has mercy for you.”
Now, if you’re in a broken relationship, it takes more than one person to bring healing and reconciliation to that relationship. God can bring grace, and healing, and reconciliation in His relationship with you in the context of that broken relationship. As you walk with Him in forgiveness and repentance, you’re going to see the Holy Spirit do amazing things.
Bob: Well, you don’t know this, because you haven’t had the chance yet to read Dave and Ann’s book, Vertical Marriage, but the thesis of that book is—if there’s something wrong in the horizontal relationship, we can trace that to there being something wrong in the vertical.
Dave: Yes; look at Bob. I like how you’re promoting our book. [Laughter]
I will say this about your [Philip’s] book. I really think this is such a helpful book, because it’s the journey of a couple. You’re walking us through the Song of Songs. I’m thinking of pre-married couples, and married couples, and parents with their kids—it’s like you want a book that will help you walk through: “What does a love relationship look like, all through marriage and conflict?” and “How is that similar to our walk with God?”
That’s why I loved your book; it does both, concurrently, together. You can’t miss that they’re tied together—you did such a good job with that. I would highly recommend it for anybody to read. You want to know what it looks like from beginning toward the end?—here it is.
Bob: You want to do a deep dive into these eight chapters in the Bible?—this will help you do that deep dive. I’ll tell you—it’s a great deep dive to do; because you can read the Song of Solomon in 20 minutes, and you’re done. You’ll read it, and God will speak to you while reading it; but you’ll scratch your head on some stuff and go: “How do I understand…?” “What does that mean?” “What’s going on here?” This book will help answer a lot of those questions. It’s a book we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order a copy. Again, the book is called The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs by Dr. Phil Ryken. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or call 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Don’t forget—while you’re on our website, or when you get in touch with us, find out about a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway that is coming near where you live this fall. Block out the weekend, and register this week or next week, so that the two of you can get some time away together, focus on your marriage, understand better what God’s Word has to say about your marriage, and strengthen your relationship.
The Weekend to Remember is all about helping couples draw closer together to move from isolation to intimacy—that’s our goal. For the last 40-plus years, we’ve had millions of couples, who have attended one of these getaways and found help and hope for their marriage. Again, if you register this week or next week, you save 50 percent off the regular registration fee as a couple. That’s available to FamilyLife Today listeners.
You can go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com to take advantage of that special offer and to get more information about the getaway; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can answer any questions you have over the phone or get you registered by phone. Again, that’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” We hope to see you this fall at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue talking with Dr. Phil Ryken about this wonderful book in the middle of our Bibles, the book of the Song of Songs and how we can better understand what God is teaching us through His Word. I hope you can join us back for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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