What's in for me? When somebody asks us or tells us to do something, we naturally want to know what we can expect and how we will benefit from a particular course of action.
We might ask ourselves how this applies on a spiritual level. What's in it for us if we decide to obey God's instructions in the Bible?
This is an important question when it comes to sex, marriage and religion. Of course, these questions are not new. People have been asking them for a long time.
More than 2,500 years ago the prophet Ezekiel noted that his own people were saying that "the way of the Lord is not fair" (Ezekiel 33:17 Ezekiel 33:17Yet the children of your people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal.
American King James Version×, 20). Just as in our day, people didn't like being told what to do—even by their Creator. Paradoxically, many would rather choose their own way than follow the path that produces the greatest happiness.
Many people see God's instructions to avoid premarital sex, adultery and divorce (1 Thessalonians 4:3 1 Thessalonians 4:3For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication:
American King James Version×; Exodus 20:14 Exodus 20:14You shall not commit adultery.
American King James Version×; Malachi 2:16 Malachi 2:16For the LORD, the God of Israel, said that he hates putting away: for one covers violence with his garment, said the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.
American King James Version×; Matthew 19:3-9 Matthew 19:3-9  The Pharisees also came to him, tempting him, and saying to him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?  And he answered and said to them, Have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,  And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall join to his wife: and they two shall be one flesh?  Why they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.  They say to him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorce, and to put her away?  He said to them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you, Whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and whoever marries her which is put away does commit adultery.
American King James Version×) as hopelessly outdated. Conventional wisdom claims sex is no problem as long as it takes place between consenting adults and as long as the participants take precautions against venereal disease and pregnancy.
As for religion, some of the same people view it as unnecessary as long as one strives to be a good person.
This highly subjective approach tempts some to describe God's way as simply one of many equally valid ways of life. But is it?
In recent years researchers have tried to discover the underlying principles that lead to successful family relationships. This kind of examination is something God Himself approves. Concerning one biblical principle, God says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows" (Malachi 3:10 Malachi 3:10Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, said the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
American King James Version×, New American Standard Bible, emphasis added throughout).
Notice this helpful tip: God recommends proving His way by doing it. Why? So we can immediately realize the benefits of obedience without paying penalties for disobedience.
What are the results of research into family relationships?
Concerning divorce, "A 1989 American Demographics report stated, 'Many studies show that broken marriages create stress, resulting in weight changes, stomach upset, fatigue, appetite loss, headaches, nervousness, nightmares, difficulty in sleeping, and tension. No wonder divorced men and women are more likely than the married to suffer from chronic conditions, acute illnesses, and injuries' " (Current Thoughts and Trends review of Focus on the Family, September 1994, "Believe Well, Live Well," Marianne Hering).
A happy marriage brings more benefits than divorce. Too bad that not everyone is willing to follow the Bible principles that avoid divorce and promote happy marriages.
What about attending church? A Heritage Foundation study concluded: "Churchgoers have lower rates of depression, alcohol/drug abuse and criminal activity. Frequent worshippers have longer, happier marriages. Religious women even have better sex lives than agnostics. Regular church attendance reduces a person's blood pressure by 5 millimeters—enough to reduce the mortality rate by 20 percent . . . Among black teenage girls, religious practice sharply reduces the rate of premarital sex and pregnancy" (Current Thoughts and Trends review of Dallas Morning News, "Religion Is Good for Your Health," Maggie Gallagher, Feb. 12, 1996).
A University of Nevada study reported that "black men in prison come almost exclusively from one group—those who never went to church or who stopped going at about age 10" (ibid.)
This line of research confirms that God's way really is best. The Bible long ago said as much. Speaking to ancient Israel, God imparted some valuable advice: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19 Deuteronomy 30:19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
American King James Version×). In contrast, Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
American King James Version×adds, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."
What about premarital sex and living together before marriage? "Statistics demonstrate that cohabiting couples are 33 percent more likely to divorce than couples who don't live together before marriage. Women who are virgins when they marry are far less likely to divorce than women who are not" (Current Thoughts and Trends review of U.S. News and World Report, May 19, 1997, "Was It Good for Us?," David Whitman).
Two University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologists came to a similar conclusion after analyzing the cohabitation and marriage patterns of 13,000 adults. ". . . Couples who live together before marriage experience higher levels of marital conflict and do not communicate as well. Such couples were less committed to marriage and saw divorce as more likely than those who had not cohabited prior to marriage (Current Thoughts and Trends review of Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 54, 1992).
With such positive support for God's instructions for families, it is puzzling why so many disdain the teachings of the Bible. David Larson, a senior researcher with the National Institute of Mental Health, admitted: "I actually believed the evidence would indicate religion was harmful, but I found almost no empirical data supporting the idea" (Current Thoughts and Trends review of "Holy Health!," Christopher Hall, Christianity Today, Nov. 23, 1992).
Mr. Larson explained that studying the effects of religion on health is considered academically incorrect unless the study purports to show harmful effects of practicing religion. In a personal survey of evidence reported by prestigious psychiatric journals, he found that "in over 80 percent of the cases reported in the journals religion was beneficial to the patient." He also found that "religion also plays a preventive role as well as a curative one. Out of 20 different alcoholism studies, all but one found that religious commitment kept people from developing drinking problems. Without a single exception, 16 studies on suicide indicated that a religious person is significantly less like to take his or her own life" (Christopher Hall).
Even though not all will accept it, such research that affirms the benefits of following God's instructions should surprise no one. Living God's way enhances one's life.
Almost 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
American King James Version×). Later the apostle Paul noted that "godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8 1 Timothy 4:8For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
American King James Version×).
Perhaps King David summarized it best: "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven" (2 Samuel 22:31 2 Samuel 22:31As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him.
American King James Version×). GN