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, 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premarital sex, adultery and divorce (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Exodus 20:14; Malachi 2:16; Matthew 19:3-9) as hopelessly outdated.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, 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). In contrast, Proverbs 14:12 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). 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).
Perhaps King David summarized it best: "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven" (2 Samuel 22:31). GN