Posts Tagged 'divorce'

The Days of Our Lives, Part 1

days

In America today, the largest demographic group is the Millennials – people born between 1980 and 2000.  As near as we can tell, there are upwards of 80 million of them, and not all of them are living in their parent’s basement, although many are.

In addition to that curious characteristic, here are a few things that characterize Millennials:

  • They are the most educated demographic in Western history;
  • They are technologically savvy, with mobile tech their passion;
  • They are civics oriented;
  • They are “conscious capitalists;”
  • They are less patriotic and more global in their thinking;
  • They are entrepreneurial;
  • They “pragmatic idealists,” believing in making their “dreams come true.”
  • They are socially liberal;
  • They are team players;
  • They are waiting much longer to get married;
  • They are non-religious but spiritual.

When we “baby boomers” understand how Millennials think and how they view their world, the things they say on YouTube and Twitter, how they vote, and why they don’t go to church make all the sense in the world.  As Christians, we need to understand something else:  The Bible speaks to the needs of Millennials, as it does to every other demographic.

Millennials, marriage, divorce, and the single life

Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If that is how it is, it is better not to marry!”  “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps.  Some are born without the ability to marry, and some are disabled by men, and some refuse to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone who can, accept my statement.”  (Matthew 19:10 – 12  | TLB) 

Jesus had been talking to some Pharisees about marriage and divorce.  As was their style, these religious types had asked Jesus some tricky questions in order to trip Him up.  But they were not prepared for this Jesus’ full-throttled endorsement of marriage.  It came about like this:

Some Pharisees came to interview him and tried to trap him into saying something that would ruin him. “Do you permit divorce?” they asked.  “Don’t you read the Scriptures?” he replied. “In them it is written that at the beginning God created man and woman, and that a man should leave his father and mother, and be forever united to his wife. The two shall become one – no longer two, but one! And no man may divorce what God has joined together.”   (Matthew 19:3 – 5 | TLB) 

The Pharisees belied their view of marriage in the question they asked Jesus.  To them, marriage and divorce were a matter of legislation; to them it was about the law of the land.  But Jesus set them straight by taking them to the origin of marriage:  the Bible, and in particular, He went back to the very beginning, the book of Genesis.  While the Pharisees expected Jesus to talk about Deuteronomy and the law of Moses,  Jesus’ view of marriage predated Moses and was connected to the creation of man by God.  By our Lord’s reckoning, marriage is not the product of a particular culture or of a society’s evolution, but a creation of God Himself for man. 

And this is what Millennials, and in particular Christian Millennials, need to understand.  Marriage is based on the fact the God created “them” male and female, and “on that account” (KJV) of that, a man leaves his parents and shall become literally “glued” to his wife.  That’s a truth so subtle, most Bible readers miss it.  A man leaves home primarily to become forever (in life, anyway) attached to and identified with a woman!

But Jesus goes even further by indicating that no human being can break the bond between a man and woman that God Himself has created.  The implication of verse 5 is that any man who divides what God has, by His own creation joined together,  not only divides up two people, but he separates those two people from God’s will.  And that’s a serious thing!

Marriage is serious, but the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t think so.  They, not the Americans, were the first to make divorce easy.  Originally, God’s concession to His people was that a divorce was permitted only on account of adultery.  But by now, a man could get a divorce for just about any reason.  Jesus, now talking to His disciples, said this:

Jesus replied, “Moses did that in recognition of your hard and evil hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.  And I tell you this, that anyone who divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery.”  (Matthew 19:8, 9 |TLB) 

Jesus isn’t teaching His disciples about divorce, but about the serious, spiritual nature of marriage.  The disciple’s view of marriage, like that of Millennials of today, was shaped by their society.  They couldn’t get their minds wrapped around what the Bible really said about the issue.  What they said to Jesus proved that they didn’t yet have a Biblical worldview, but a secular worldview.  Essentially, their argument to Jesus was this:  If adultery is the only charge a husband can bring against his wife, isn’t it better to just stay single?  Making a statement like that shows that the disciples still thought that their societal norms carried more weight than the Bible and God’s will.  It wasn’t that the disciples were against marriage, but that they were reluctant to give up the Jewish ease of getting rid of a wife.  This whole exchange gave Jesus the chance to exalt marriage in order to show the seriousness of it.  Being in a committed marriage relationship is God’s plan for most people since the days of Creation, and the only way that happens is with the help of God:  “Only those whom God helps…”

Millennials and purity 

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins people commit are outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.  (1 Corinthians 6:18 – 20 | TNIV) 

This is good advice for people of almost any age, but especially for Millennials.  In Paul’s day, Corinth had the deserved reputation of having a very immoral culture.  It was full of prostitutes and sex was a part of the local religious worship services.  Paul had become known as the preacher of the Gospel of freedom, and here’s how that sounded to the Corinthians:

You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  (1 Corinthians 6:13 |TNIV) 

Paul was the master at theological tight rope walking.  He had written to another congregation this:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1 | TNIV) 

But that freedom FROM sin didn’t mean freedom TO sin.  To the Corinthians who were concerned about what kinds of food to eat, freedom in matters of what to have for supper did not equal freedom to pursue immorality.  Which, apparently, was happening.  In verse 13, Paul quoted a saying that was popular in Corinth:  “Food for the stomach and stomach for the food, and God will destroy them both.”   Even though God is mentioned, this saying is about as far from Biblical reality as you can get.  That saying equates something temporal – food – with something permanent – the body.  The body is permanent in that at some point in the future, it will be resurrected.  The Corinthians had a misunderstanding of the resurrection, which the apostle addresses in depth in chapter 15.  But for now, he barely hints at it by linking their ignorance of Christian resurrection to their treatment of the human body.  The body, contrary to what the Corinthian Christians thought, is just as eternal as the spirit and the soul, and therefore it should be treated as something of infinite value. 

Unfortunately, the secular view of the body prominent in Corinth found a home in the church.  That tendency to view the body as unimportant was behind three separate issues Paul addressed in this letter:

  • A immoral member of their congregation involved in a heinous sexual sin, 5:1 – 13;
  • Lawsuits among believers, 6:1 – 11;
  • Sexual relations with prostitutes, 6:12 – 20.

Paul’s overriding point in these three separate issues is that a Christian can’t do what he wants with his body.  Each of the three issues he dealt with involved serious immorality.  The Christian was set free, but that freedom had nothing to do with getting involved with any kind of immorality, sexual or otherwise. 

Millennials tend to think a lot like the Corinthian Christians.  They are not in church and a lot of them have never been exposed to the teachings of Scripture and are therefore unaware of what it really says about issues, in this case, the issue of the human body as it relates to  moral purity.  “It’s my body, it’s my choice,” is the rallying cry of the Millennials.  And yet it isn’t.  Verse 15 drives home a point:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!  (1 Corinthians 6:15 | TNIV) 

In the context of this chapter, this verse makes it clear that union with a prostitute incompatible with the unity that exists between the Christian and Christ.  Immorality has a dreadful, real effect on the Christian that it doesn’t have on the non-Christian because the Christian has been united to Christ, but having sexual relations with a prostitute unites that Christian to her!

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”  (1 Corinthians 6:16 | TNIV) 

The Corinthians and Millennials, and indeed Christians from all age groups, need to understand that the unity achieved by any immoral sexual union is greater than they imagine.  It’s not just a physical union but a spiritual one.

But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.  (1 Corinthians 6:17 | TNIV) 

A born again Christian is in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ – it’s a comprehensive union of both spirit and body.  The material and spiritual are one in this relationship, which is why immorality is a sin against the body and against God because the body is the temple of the Spirit and has been bought by the blood of Christ.  Therefore, nobody – no Corinthian and no Millennial – is free to do what he wants to with his body.

The ultimate purpose of the body is to manifest the character and person of God, not one’s own lusts.

 

 

 

1 Corinthians, Part 5

Every healthy man should have trouble with 1 Corinthians 7:1. I know I do. What in the world was Paul thinking when he wrote this –

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”. (1 Corinthians 7:1. TNIV)

When you read a verse like this, you just know Paul must have had something else on his mind; he couldn’t have meant for any man to take it literally. Or could he? The TNIV did the right thing by placing this severe admonition in quotation marks. That means that Paul is actually quoting something he has read – specifically a sentence from a letter that prompted this letter we call 1 Corinthians. That letter from the Corinthians to Paul no longer exists. That’s too bad because it would be nice to know the details about what “matters” they wrote to the apostle about. One of the great difficulties in understanding the context of almost any letter in the New Testament is that we are reading only one side of a conversation. Reading most of the New Testament letters is like listening to one side of telephone conversation; you have to almost guess at what the other person is saying. Let’s make a few observations about the conversation between Paul and the Corinthians.

General context

The church in Corinth had a lot of problems, but to their credit they seemed to know they were in trouble and sought help from Paul. Today, we’d send an email or make a phone call to get help or advice, but back in Paul’s day, letter writing was the only mode of long distance communication available. In their letter to him, they wrote about problems they were having with some of their members. Paul replied to their letter with 1 Corinthians, answering their questions and concerns and he also dealt with additional issues he heard about concerning this church from other sources.

So, the first 6 chapters of this letter could be considered a “bonus” from Paul, in which he dealt with issues they hadn’t asked about. In the first four chapters, Paul dealt with divisions in the Corinthian church. In chapter 5 he wrote about a new morality that must replace their old morality because of their new faith in Christ. In chapter 6, the nature of Christian liberty was discussed in relation to what Christians should and shouldn’t do or eat and why.

But it isn’t until chapter 7 that Paul gets into the nitty gritty of answering their questions to him. As to what the issue was, Charles Erdman notes:

It seems certain that some in the Corinthian church regarded marriage as an absolute duty, Others considered the marriage state as an inferior moral condition, a weak concession to the flesh. Still others held that by accepting Christ, all existing social relationships, including marriage, were dissolved.

As Paul approached these three disparate views of marriage within the Corinthian church, he approached them from the practical standpoint, not the moral point of view. In our culture today, we view almost everything from an emotional point of view – feelings are exalted and emotions are given far more weight than objective truths. That’s why so many Christians misunderstand Paul’s teachings here in chapter 7. He’s being practical. He is not being emotional or romantic. That’s why you don’t read the word “love” anywhere in chapter 7, even though the chapter is all about marriage!

The truth is, however, Paul had a very lofty view of marriage. In Ephesians 5:22 – 28, he used marriage as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

But here with the Corinthians, Paul cuts right to the chase, being as blunt as he could, as he sought to straighten these people out.

Abstinence: Not necessarily good

There were some in the Corinthian church, probably Greeks, who had come to view marriage, and in particular sex within marriage, as a concession to the flesh. In other words, if a Christian were strong enough, he wouldn’t need to get married because he would be able to control his sexual desires. That’s the idea behind the sentence in quotes in 7:1. In fact, while Paul was in all likelihood quoting from their letter, they themselves were probably quoting from a popular Corinthian philosophy. Paul put the kibosh on this philosophy –

But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2. TNIV)

That’s an interesting response to their question. Basically, Paul told spouses to have sex with their own spouses (and by implication, not with somebody else’s spouse!). What was the “sexual immorality” taking place in Corinth? The whole culture was sexual in nature. Even the pagan religions were all about sex, and in particular sex with the temple prostitutes. No doubt there were some (hopefully not many) married men in the Corinthian church that took trips to the local pagan temple to indulge their sexual desires. You can see how both of these odd religious and philosophical ideas could cause trouble in the church. So in a single verse, Paul made it clear that Christian couples should only have ONE spouse, not several, and they should be having sex only with that one spouse.

The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:4. TNIV)

Paul actually did women a great service here. In this time, women, and wives in particular, were viewed as possessions, not people and certainly not life partners. Paul elevated the status of women. The Corinthians were not to live or love like the pagans around them and a Christian husband needed to be aware of the needs – all the needs – of his wife! You could probably hear a pin drop as this part of the letter was read aloud in the Corinthian church. At a time when women were considered as slightly more than nothing, what Paul wrote was a stunning, revolutionary departure from the norm. To these men in the Corinthian church, the idea that they had an obligation to meet any needs, but especially the sexual needs of their wives must have been hard to swallow, having been steeped in cultures (Jewish and Greek) that exalted men and disregarded women.

And the wacky idea that “men shouldn’t have sex with women,” is all but destroyed. Paul does make one “concession,” though. If you’re going to abstain, do it for only a single reason: a spiritual one.

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:5. TNIV)

The idea of abstaining from sexual relations with one’s spouse for any reason other than carrying out God’s will is done away with.

A gift nobody wants

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:7. TNIV)

Here is “practical Paul” writing. There are two ways of interpreting this verse. The first one says that Paul was unmarried, and his wish was that all Christians would remain unmarried. The “gift” Paul referred to here was the gift of remaining single for a lifetime. This interpretation says that being married is the natural state and that being single in the gift. That may be the case. The other interpretation says that Paul is referring to his ability to completely control his sexual desires. He saw this ability as a gift from God that, unfortunately, not all believers have been given. So his wish, then, was not that all Christians should be single but rather all Christians be able to control themselves. Yet he recognizes that this ability is very difficult for some. I prefer this second interpretation; it seems more natural to his argument.

Unmarried and widows

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8, 9. TNIV)

Here is more practical advice: for unmarried (or single) people and widows, it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. That’s actually a good way to translate verse 9. If certain Christians – in this case, single people and widows – are really, really, really wanting to get married, then they should. If people lack the gift Paul had (the gift to control his sexual desires) then they should go ahead and get married.

Now, we understand that Paul is addressing one church and at a particular point in time. He’s not writing to your church or to you personally. He’s addressing a strange situation that arose in the Corinthian church, a church riddled with problems, including problems of a sexual nature. To encourage people to marry just so they can have sex would be irresponsible, although that itself is one factor to consider. Is it a major factor? I guess that depends on how passionate a couple may or may not be. But this goes back to what Paul wrote a few verses back: each spouse should make sure the other’s sexual needs are being met.

Married people: Christians

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11. TNIV)

Paul next set his sights on the married folks in the Corinthian church. The wives are addressed first, but that may be because in that church (not in your church, necessarily), wives were the ones ready to pack their bags and leave their husbands. This is not Paul’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, but rather his advice flowed from Christ’s views on divorce and remarriage; Paul simply applied it to the situation in Corinth at that time. Christian Corinthian wives shouldn’t leave their husbands, but if they do they need to (1) come back and be reconciled to their poor husbands, or (2) stay unmarried.

The Christian Corinthian husband also had an equal obligation to his marriage. The big problem in Corinth was that divorce was free and easy, as it was in all cities under Roman rule. Roman law made divorces easy to get and Jewish law made divorces easy to get as well. So, you think marriage is in danger in 21st century America! In first century Corinth marriages were viewed as temporary arrangements, even in the church.

Mixed marriages

In spite of the now-well known saw, “do not be unequally yoked,” apparently there was large contingent of the Corinthian church that was. Probably these mixed marriages were the result of one spouse converting to Christ while the other spouse remained unsaved. In such cases, there was a teaching that said the believing spouse is not bound to remain married to the unbeliever. What a minute, declared Paul! That’s not right! His advice is based on this –

God has called us to live in peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15b. TNIV)

His advice concerning these mixed marriages was simple: Stay together as long as you can live at peace with your unbelieving spouse. The reason?

How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:16. TNIV)

Paul is nothing if not pratical, even in matters of the heart.

CHRISTIAN ETHICS, 5

Three (Ethical) Hot Potatoes

So far in our study of Christian Ethics, we have looked at what the study of Christian Ethics is all about: living according how the Bible says we should live. If we take that as our starting point, it naturally follows that if we are living as the Bible says we should live, then we won’t be living the way the world says we should live. Granted, there are times when the world’s standards of ethics will be the same as Biblical standards; but many times the Biblical standards of ethical living will be very different from those of the world. As Christians, when presented with a choice of living “up to” the world’s standards or up the Biblical standards, there really shouldn’t be a choice; Christians should automatically make the Biblical choice. Sometimes Christians will choose the worldly ethic because they “didn’t know” what the Bible taught. This is a poor excuse, as are most excuses, given what the Bible itself says:

He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Making the right ethical choice is a measure of Christian maturity, and it is also a measure of our dedication to the Lord in terms of our obedience. Here is where “the rubber meets the road.” Here is where we show the world (and the Lord) whether we take our faith seriously or not. Which way we choose to go will answer the questions:

  • Do I take the Word of God more seriously than my own personal views?
  • Will I follow the Bible’s guidelines for my life or make up my own?
  • Will I be guided by the teaching of Christ? Or will I be guided by the latest whims of culture?

1. Divorce and remarriage

The first ethical hot potato is the subject of divorce and remarriage. Given the high rates of divorce in the Church today, we might think this is a new problem. The Bible, however, shows us otherwise. Divorce was a big problem during Jesus’ time. The Pharisees knew it was a big problem and so, as they did often, used this big problem to cause problems for Jesus.

(a) Marriage, Matthew 19:3—6

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When asked an exaggerated question about divorce, notice what Jesus did. Instead of addressing their question directly, He circled around and approached it from a different direction. Instead of discussing divorce, Jesus went right back to the very beginning to discuss what God intended marriage to be all about based on what Scriptures says. The way the Pharisees asked the question showed they had no idea what marriage was all about. In their minds, the man was in total control—he could divorce his wife; divorce was all about him. Jesus went right back to Genesis to demonstrate three things: (1) marriage was God’s idea; it was not an invention of human beings. If this is true, then shouldn’t God have the right to establish the rules? (2) Marriage involves both a physical and an emotion separation of adult children from their parents. Jesus mentions the man, not the woman, to present an eternal principle based on the Pharisee’s question; they asked it from the man’s perspective, so Jesus answers it the way they asked it. (3) When a man and a woman unite in marriage, their sex disappears. When Jesus says “one flesh,” He turns around and negates any privileges (perceived or otherwise) that the Pharisees think a man has.  Both partners have equal standing in a marriage, although different responsibilities.

So, the first part of Jesus’ answer deals strictly with God’s idea of marriage. He concluded this part of the answer by succinctly stating that it is God’s rules that apply, not man’s made up rules. If God unites a man and a woman in marriage, them no human being as the right to separate them.

(b) Divorce, Matthew 19:7—9

Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The Pharisees needed more, and they used the Law of Moses to corner Jesus. Based on what Jesus just told them, how would He answer a question about the Law of Moses? Was Moses wrong? The context in which this question was asked needs to be taken into account. At this time in Jewish history, there were two schools religious thought about divorce. One school taught that there was one and only one justification for divorce: adultery. The other school taught there were many reasons for a man to divorce his wife. Although Jesus’ answer sounded like He was taking one side over the other, in fact Jesus took His Father’s side.

As far as Jesus was concerned, divorce was allowable (though not necessary) only in the case of adultery. To 21st century Christians, that sounds a little strict, but positively draconian to unbelievers! Imagine if this was the “law of the land!” There would be riots in the streets for sure. However, this is God’s wish for His children; the world, on the other hand, will do whatever they want and their ethic in this matter should not be the basis for the Church’s. As strict as this may sound to us, consider how freeing it must have sounded to the Jews of Jesus’ day. The revered Law of Moses taught this:

If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22)

Originally, death was the punishment for adultery. When Jesus came, the punishment for adultery—death—was done away with. From now on, the punishment for adultery would be divorce. Most people don’t look at divorce as “punishment” for anything! In fact, most of us probably look at divorce in the opposite light; something that solves a lot of problems. But in God’s view, divorce is not good; it is a punishment.

Men and women are different; Jesus was well aware of all the differences: physical, emotional, mental, and so on. In Judaism, divorce was allowed on account of a “hard heart.” A “hard heart” is a way of saying “irreconcilable differences.” In Christian marriages, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of both partners, “hard hearts” and irreconcilable differences shouldn’t exist. In a Christian marriage, where adultery hasn’t occurred and even when it has, those issues that cause one’s heart to harden should be dealt with Biblically, being guided by Christ’s “law of love.” Have you ever asked yourself why holding a troubled Christian marriage together is so important to God? It’s because a Christian marriage is supposed to reflect the kind of relationship that exists between God and His people and between the three Persons of the Trinity. To soil those images that the world sees is to ruin our witness, and is to do God a terrible disservice; it is putting your wants and desires above those of God.

(c ) Unequal marriages, 1 Corinthians 7:10—16

The first part of this passage deals with Christian marriages, and Paul’s teachings are pretty simple:

A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (verses 10, 11)

Paul’s position seems to go a step further than Jesus’. While Jesus taught the importance of working out problems and remaining together, Paul’s taught the Corinthians that if a wife left her husband for reasons other than adultery, then she, the one who left, needed to remain single. This was Paul’s solution to an ongoing problem that existed in the church at Corinth; apparently Christian wives were leaving their husbands right and left. Verse one is a qualifier, which seems to limit the strict interpretation of this admonition to the historical, local problem in Corinth:

Now for the matters you wrote about…

It is difficult to imagine this particular admonition applying in every situation where abandonment occurs; when only one partner remains, there really is no marriage. Paul’s point for all generations: work at restoring the marriage no matter what. However, at some point, other measures need to be prayerfully considered when the abandonment issue cannot be resolved. This would seem to indicate the presence of at least one “hard heart” in the marriage, and that brings us back what Moses taught regarding the allowance of divorce on account of that hard heart.

The remainder of this passage concerns mixed marriages, where one spouse is a believer and the other is not. Again, Paul is addressing a problem in the big and busy church at Corinth, but the principle is one that endures, because it is a mixture of common sense and Biblical truth:

  • Where one spouse is a believer and one an unbeliever, if they can live in peace within the bounds of marriage, then they should remain together. An unequal marriage does not have to result in divorce.
  • If an unbelieving spouse decides to leave his believing spouse, the believing spouse is free from the marriage.

The key to Paul’s theology of marriage/divorce/remarriage is summed up in verse 15:

God has called us to live in peace.

2. Christians and government

(a) Government, Romans 13:1–7

As Christians, we are called to set the example for others to follow. This extends into our relationship with society around us, and in this case, with the governing authorities. The essence of Paul’s teaching on this subject can be found in a couple of locations in the New Testament, but here the issue is that of living in an orderly society. Paul’s teaching here is pretty remarkable when we consider that he and his people were living under the domination of a corrupt Roman regime. To make matters worse, the corruption of the government was well-known. In spite of that, Paul was able to write what he did. In summary form, here is what Paul taught:

  • People need some form of governance, God understood this even at the beginning. While self-governance and very limited government may be good things, anarchy is not. People, all people, need laws and officials to enforce those laws for the good of society. Many of our elected officials may fall far short of their responsibilities, but that does not negate their divinely ordained purpose.
  • There are no exceptions to the rule. If you live in an orderly society, then you must obey the rules of that society or face punishment. For example, you may not agree with how your town spends your tax dollars, but you still have to pay your taxes.
  • Even if your country is being run by corrupt officials, you are obligated to respect their office, if not their person. Why? Because God has ordained that office, if not the person who occupies it. Ethically, we have no option. Granted, that can be difficult to do. Fortunately, in America we have elections, and we are allowed to register our disappointments with our elected officials at the ballot box and, in fact, we are able to hold peaceful demonstrations in the interim. So, there are lawful ways in our culture to remain faithful to the teachings of Paul but to also to demonstrate how we may feel about our elected officials (or elected dictators; take your pick).

Now, there may be times when it is impossible to respect and obey governing officials. For example, if their laws contravene the Law of God, a Christian has a sacred duty to obey the holy Law of God and face whatever the consequences may be. We have a Biblical precedent for this. One time, Peter and John were ordered by the authorities to stop preaching and teaching Jesus. When they refused to do so, they were hauled before those same authorities where they said this:

We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)

(b) Rulers, 1 Timothy 2:1—4

If you think what Paul told the Romans is a big pill to swallow, what he told Timothy is really hard to take:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Pray for your elected officials; that is the best thing you can do.  That obviously does not mean that you ought to pray for their success if their policies are anti-Christian or harmful to society as a whole.  In such a case, the Christian ought to pray that such a leader be frustrated in his attempts to implement his agenda and at the same pray for that leader to seek wisdom and have a change of heart.

3. Worldliness and stuff

(a) Materialism, inside and out, 1 john 2L15—17

It can be tough to live in a society that places such a value on “stuff” when our mandate is the exact opposite. The guiding principle is found in 1 John 2:15—17:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

While there is nothing wrong with ambition, finding ultimate fulfillment in anything or any person other than God is wrong and is unethical for a Christian. The principle John lays out is this: our lives on earth are less than a drop in the bucket of eternity. Our lives are temporary and the things we so often covet and obsess over are just as temporary. From possessions that break and wear out, to success and fame which are so fleeting, there is nothing of permanence on planet earth. It is so easy to get caught up in worldly philosophies and pursuits that make us forget where our priorities should rest and where our citizenship really is—heaven.

(b) The key is contentment, 1 Timothy 6:6—9

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

Land, houses, cars, swimming pools, clothes, investments, and all the other things human beings work so hard to obtain are not sinful or wrong in and of themselves. In fact, a thing like wealth can be good for the individual who has it because he can do more for himself, his family, and the kingdom of heaven. The problem is when the acquisition of wealth (of any form) is all we think about it.  When we start to do that, those sometimes very worthy and worthwhile things become little more than idols and the means of our destruction.

The secret, as Paul told Timothy, is simply contentment. Contentment is not settling for less for the sake of laziness or some kind of perverse satisfaction brought about by depriving yourself of something. Contentment is understanding the difference between what we need and what we want. It is recognizing that God can and does provide all we need to live and all we need to do is put our lives in His care.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


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