It’s easy to be offended by the title isn’t it? Well, that’s understandable. The usual interpretation of ‘kept woman’ is a woman of questionable morals, right? A married man’s dependent mistress, or someone who trades sexual favours for financial support?
Well, that’s the world’s version of a ‘kept woman’, but who says we have to define everything by the world’s standards? Long before that socially unacceptable image of the ‘kept woman’ emerged, there was another ‘kept woman’ of an entirely different character. So for those with fingers already hovering nervously over the delete button (c’mon you know who you are), I hereby boldly declare a radical makeover for the phrase “kept woman”. You will never think of a “kept woman” in the same way again!
For anyone still with me I want to pose a question: how did you get here? No, seriously, how did you get here, to this set of circumstances that define your daily life right at this moment? Depending on perspective, some of us may be tempted to answer through hard work, perseverance, or sheer good luck, but none of those would be entirely true. For we who are Christ followers there is only one correct answer: we have arrived at this place and time solely because He has kept us.
No doubt there have been hours, weeks or possibly years of agonising heart piercings along the way. There have also been periods of seemingly endless sunshine where we knew we were deeply blessed and God’s favour poured tangibly into our daily existence. Then, inevitably, the storm clouds would roll in once more and we would brace ourselves to ride out whatever uncertain deluge they would release on us. No one can look at another’s life journey and really understand either the depths or heights of the spiritual valleys and mountaintop revelations they have experienced. Each Christ-bought life is unique in that way. Both despair and euphoria are lonely places where our only constant companion can be the Lord.
We can, however, testify collectively to one common experience: that whatever has come and gone for us as individuals, we are each here because Christ alone has kept us.
The Bride of Christ is a kept woman, not in the worldly use of the phrase, but kept willingly and unconditionally by Love Himself. Love Himself sustains her, for indeed that is what it means to be kept by Him: to be sustained, nurtured, protected, guarded and cherished. Love Himself refuses to let go of her. There is no storm, no flood, no fire, no pain, no anguish through which the Bride can pass where she is not held in the Bridegroom’s indomitable embrace.
Song of Songs describes this ‘keeping’ power of Christ like this:
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with cakes of raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am lovesick. His left hand is under my head and his right hand embraces me.
I like the older word the KJV uses for this hidden place inside Christ’s sustaining power: “stay me…..”. When the darkness closes in He stays us, when the mountain looms before us, He stays us, when circumstances would crush us, He stays us. His left hand of justice lifts us above condemnation, shame and all that assaults our minds (head), while His right hand of blessing enfolds us, reassuring us that He is all we will ever need. He keeps us because He alone has the power to keep us (1 Peter 1:5).
Realising that we, together and individually, are this beloved ‘kept woman’ can prove confronting. The unpredictable nature of life experiences and the complexity of human relationships combine to teach us life is not safe, love is not trustworthy. We seek independence and self-reliance so that we may protect ourselves from pain and trauma. We believe our emotional security lies in exercising personal control over as many aspects of our lives as possible, so that is what we set out to do. The world applauds us, teaching us to value self-sufficiency and be proud of our ability to make our own way in life. The last thing we want to be is dependent on another for our happiness, our prosperity, or our daily needs. The concept of needing to be “kept” affronts our self-image and exposes our pride.
Yet being ‘kept’ is exactly where the Beloved wants us. Independence is not known within the Godhead where each divine member abides in continual inter-dependence with the other two members. Christ knew what it was to be kept by His Father and the Holy Spirit during His time on earth and it was Christ who kept His Bride and committed her to His Father’s keeping (John 17:11-12). Together the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are irrevocably committed to continually keeping and sustaining those who belong to Christ.
The Bride has been brought to the banqueting house, or more literally to the house of wine. A banner has been raised above her head that proclaims the name of the One who has claimed her as His own. His name is Love. In this place she discovers the beauty of continual communion with her Beloved. She longs to be sustained, kept, nourished by “raisin cakes” which speak to us of bread mixed with the fruit of the Vine (John 15:1). These were a food used in sacrificial feasts and represent for us the Bread of Life, Christ Himself. She is refreshed by His ‘apples’, the unblemished fruit of His character (Gal. 5.22-23). As the depth of the Bridegroom’s love for her gradually dawns on the Bride she is overcome, becoming ‘lovesick’.
May we become increasingly lovesick for Christ. May we find rest in His deep and abiding love for us, may we learn what it is to be sustained by Him only. And may the world and the principalities fearfully behold this new ‘kept woman’, the pure Bride of Christ emerging unashamed and without reproach, indisputable proof of her Beloved’s keeping power.
Lover of my soul, You have kept me in sunshine and You have kept me in deepest darkness. You have kept me when I didn’t want to be kept. You have kept me when I foolishly believed I was keeping myself. You have kept me when I thought I would die, and You have even kept me when indeed I wanted to die. And now I know you will keep me whatever comes or befalls me, for Your love is such that You can do nothing less. If I am honest I admit that it is exceedingly humbling to find myself so absolutely and unconditionally ‘kept’. So teach me the way of Love!