Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

 

Ruth 1:1-5

Elimelech Moves His Family to Moab

Recently, this past week, I had someone make a comment on a blog that I had written about two and a half years ago, yeah, that’s right. Two and a half years ago. So, the dude really must’ve been examining my blog space to find a blog from two years ago to take issue with me. This blog from two years ago was about the wonders of the grace offered us through Jesus Christ. I used myself as an example of the wonders of grace and how grace is superior to legalism. In that blog, I noted that according to Scripture that divorce is a sin. The only reason that God gave Moses rules about divorce was to regulate the way that it was handled. Since God’s people were stiff-necked sorts, God wanted to ensure that women were treated properly in this distasteful and sinful marriage breaker. Under the law, divorce is sin. Plain and simple. It is validated by Jesus himself. In Luke 16:16-18, Jesus says,

 

 

 

16 “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.[a] 17 But that doesn’t mean that the law has lost its force. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned.

 

 

 

18 “For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

 

 

 

Under the law, I stand condemned as does my wife of the past 7 ½ years, Elena. We both have been married twice before. However, both of our previous marriages (two for her and two for me) each began prior to each of accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord. That does not make divorce any less sinful, but it does go to our motivations for marriage. It does go to the fact that we did not have Christ at the center of our lives at the times that we were choosing our spouses during those years. We were not Christ followers during those years. I did not come to Christ as my Savior until near the end of my second marriage (which crumbled under the weight of her adultery, my mistakes with money, and the death of her oldest son). Elena came to know Christ as her Savior about six months before we got married (as we sat in the small group meeting at our pastor’s house when we lived in California). Under the law, we both stand condemned. Under the law, we are sinners because of our divorces even though the marriages began when we were rebels against God and we chose poorly as to who we should be married to. Under the law, we are condemned as should have no access to God or to worship in the temple. We should be excluded from the people of God because of just this one sin much less a lifetime of other sins committed. According to my commenter at my blog, my mention of how God can redeem a second or third marriage is giving him the thought that he could steal money from a bank, beg for forgiveness from God, and then say that because he begged for forgiveness that it validates the stolen money as OK to spend. I think this fellow missed the whole point of the blog which was that God is in the redeeming business. Elena and I did not steal anyone’s spouse when we met. We were already divorced when we began dating but that does not minimize the sin of divorce for us. We are condemned by this sin alone and, like I said, not mention that we have mountains of sin that convict us as well. On our own merits, we stand convicted before God for the sins that we have committed. We do deserve a sentence to hell on the merits of our divorces alone. We can’t pretty that up or make that right or go back and change. According to the law, yes, we should be excluded from the pleasures of God’s righteousness. We should be excluded from heaven. We should have no claim to enter the gates of heaven on just this one sin alone. Just this one sin. What are we to do? How can we fix this? How can two sinners who have these sordid, sinful pasts that we cannot undo before the Lord before we met one another. How do we reconcile our sinful past to the purity required before God?

 

 

 

Grace is the answer. It is through Jesus sacrifice on the cross for all sins of all time that we can now approach the throne of God. Jesus paid the price and the penalty for our sins, past, present and future. I get the commenter on my blog is afraid that people abuse grace. I get that. But you have to ask the question that if a person claims grace over his apparent and unrepentant practice of sin, then, you may have to question their salvation to begin with. However, those that are truly saved have the Holy Spirit come to dwell in us and changes us from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit’s working in my soul, I know that my past divorces are sin and it is because of just the divorce sins alone that I stand convicted by God and condemned to hell on my own merits. In the absence of the Holy Spirit, I would see that my divorces were OK and find reasons to justify them just to make myself look good. It is through the Holy Spirit that I am convicted of that sin and it pushes and prods me to make this marriage my last no matter what comes at it. I will no longer duck and run when our marriage hits a rough space. I will work on it and get through it. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ on the cross that I stand pure before God and the everyday working of the Holy Spirit that we become more and more like Christ every day. So, just as Peter stood convicted before Jesus for something he could not go back and change, Jesus asked this obvious sinner to feed His sheep. Jesus redeemed Him. Jesus made him useful to the kingdom. Jesus does the same for us through the cross. We can have our marriages that are sinful in the sight of God be made clean and holy through repentance and through grace. That is what makes for the joy of salvation and sanctification. We made free from the penalty of our past. We are given new life. We are made children of God. He can make the foulest clean!

 

 

 

What does this have to do with the passage at hand today? It has everything to do with it. Let’s read Ruth 1:1-5 together now and then I will explain:

 

 

 

1 In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.

 

 

 

3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.

 

 

 

In this passage, we see that Moab was the land east of the Dead Sea. Moabites, who were related to Israel through Lot (Gen. 19:37), occupied parts of central Transjordan at various times. It was one of the nations that oppressed Israel during the period of the judges (see Judges 3:12 and following verses), so there were tensions between the two nations. The famine must have been quite severe in Israel for Elimelech to move his family there. It is a demonstration of how sometimes we compromise our beliefs to get what we want or think we need.

 

 

 

Marrying a Canaanite or anyone who previously occupied the Promised Land was against God’s law. Moabites were not allowed to worship at the Tabernacle because had not allowed the Israelites pass through their land. If an Israelite married a Moabite woman, they would have been prevented themselves, even though they were Israelite, from worshiping at the Tabernacle because of their marriage. Sometimes, when we are in desperate circumstances we compromise our beliefs and that is what we see here. Desperate times had come but as God’s chosen people, these Israelites, even in the land of Moab, should have set the standard for moral living for other nations. However, they mixed in with the culture and even married into it. How often do we compromise our values to just fit in with the culture around us? How many times have you and I stood quiet when people were Christ bashing and we should have stood up and said something? How many times do we commit sins that we try to justify later as being OK? How many times do we ignore God’s Word because we are in desperate circumstances? How often do we do an end around on God’s Word because that’s the easiest way from Point A to Point B. All of us stand convicted on this point. We have all sinned and grieved the Spirit of God. We have all made mistakes that somewhere down the road the Holy Spirit makes us want to throw up over the kind of person that we used to be.

 

 

 

Here in this passage we see that something bad happened that was against God’s law for the people of ancient Israel – to marry outside God’s chosen people, to marry into cultures that did not worship God. And, that is something that Elimelech’s sons did. They marry the wrong kind of person according the law. They clearly did this. There was no hiding it or justifying it. They compromised because of conditions. They went against God’s own law because of their situation. Bottom line, they stand convicted. Bottom line, they broke the law. However, because of the redemptive nature of God’s love and because Naomi and Ruth had such great faith, they were eventually redeemed from the horrid life that they were going to have to live. Because of their faith, they were rewarded. Because of their faith, the bad situation that began with a sin of marriage to the wrong crowd, God actually redeemed it. God made Ruth, who was from the wrong side of the tracks…I mean….wrong side of the Dead Sea, into one of the great women of the Bible. God made Ruth into part of the lineage of King David. She was his great grandmother. She also became part of the earthly lineage of our Savior and our Lord, Jesus Christ. She became part of God’s family and the line through which Jesus’ earthly family came. Her marriage was born in sin but it was redeemed. She would not have come to know God had it not been for this apparent mistake or sin of marrying outside the people of Israel. God used this mistake of the past because of the faithful obedience of Ruth after she came to know God and turned it into something beautiful.

 

 

 

No matter where you are at right now in life. Murderer. Idolater. Adulterer. You name it. God can redeem it and make it part of His plan. Your past you can do nothing to change. All you must do is admit before God that you are a sinner and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross as punishment for your sins that you personally deserve. And proclaim with your mouth that He is indeed the rightful one to do this because He is the Son of God and that as the Son of God He arose from the dead to give you victory over sin and death and you will be saved. You will be redeemed. Your sins are forgiven through your repentance and revulsion over your past sins. Your sins are forgiven through the grace that covers them at the cross. You are now redeemed. You are now made new. Through the Holy Spirit, you will come to repent and be grieved over each and every sin you commit from now on and you will be changed from the inside out by Him. Through the Holy Spirit, you can see how we really do deserve hell in the absence of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit process of sanctification, we are made useful to the kingdom. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, we see joy of our salvation as we stand at the precipice of what was our eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Through Jesus Christ, we are pulled back from the brink. Through Jesus Christ, we are made clean. By God’s grace, we are made into a part of the kingdom of priests. By God’s grace, we are made part of those who are useful to God in bringing about His kingdom here on earth.

 

 

 

Yes, I am a sinner. Yes, thank God, I am redeemed. Yes, thank God, he has made my marriage clean. Yes, thank God, He has made two mistake-makers into a couple that is useful to His kingdom. No cheap grace here. Changed lives here. Joy here at what God has redeemed, made clean, and made part of the fabric of His redemptive plan. Joy here at God taking filthy rags and clothing them in the embroidered cloak of grace.

 

 

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Deuteronomy 24:5-7 (Part 2 of 4)

Miscellaneous Regulations

Newlyweds. Holding hands. Opening doors. Hugging up. Snuggling up. Complimenting. Little notes. These are the early days of marital relationships. Then, life happens. The daily grind happens. Paying bills happens. Him leaving his underwear by the clothes hamper instead of in the clothes hamper happens. Her taking two hours to get ready to go somewhere happens. It takes a lot of energy in those early days to maintain that honeymoon state in a marriage. Eventually, because of familiarity and because of the humdrum of life, we fall away from those cute little (and sometimes nauseating to the outside world) displays of affection during the early part of marriage.

 

I think that both the giddy early days of marriage and the seemingly less-frenzied years later are necessary parts of the development of a couple’s marriage. I am not saying that we should not continue to try to go over the top showing our spouses that we love them in later years but we should not automatically assume that our marriages are in trouble just because we are not pawing over each other all the time like when we were newlyweds. Yes, if we are doing things that let our spouse now that we love them then we need to get back to it. But, a lot of our over the top stuff in the early part of marriage is induced by the newness of the physical relationship and the passion that it creates. That kind of passion that comes in the early parts of marriage is simply not sustainable. That is why it is important that we marry someone who can be our friend as well as our lover. My mom, celebrating her eternity in heaven now for 6 ½ years, used to tell me that “you need to marry a woman who can be your best friend in the living room as much or more than she is your best friend in the bedroom!” Long-term love simply cannot be based on physical passion. It is not sustainable. That is not to say that there should not be periods of passion in marriage that is older than a year. Passion comes and goes. And you appreciate it when comes back but do not think the world has ended when a cycle of passion has ended in a long-term marriage. It comes and it goes. But is your spouse your best friend. Can you communicate with her with just a look? Can you look at him and know just by the way he looks back at you that you are the most important thing in his life? Can you have conversations about anything? Can you enjoy silence together and just enjoy being in the same room with them? Do you look forward to just spending time with your spouse? Is your spouse your best friend? These are the things that kept our grandparents and the generations before them married for 50 plus years. They were best friends. Are you best friends with your spouse?

 

When you think of best friend, does your spouse come to mind? When you think of life without your spouse, does it send a chill through your soul? We all get older, fatter, and wider than we used to be as we grow older. Is your love for your spouse dependent on how good their physique is? Do you want a divorce just because they don’t look as good as they used to? Have you looked in the mirror lately? Neither do you! If you fall in love with someone just because of their body shape, then, you are not in love at all. Do you love your spouse’s soul? Does your wife give you a feeling of home and of comfort and of unconditional acceptance? Does your husband make you feel like a princess and feel protected and cared for and secure? Do you love your spouse’s soul? When you love someone because there is a soul connection not just a physical one that’s when you’ve got something.

 

When we look back on our marriage and all that we have been through together as spouses, can you think of having to do it with anyone else? The shared history of a husband and wife is another thing that makes a marriage more than just physical entertainment. The heartaches, the triumphs, the problems with kids, the accomplishments of our kids, the family times that were and are priceless that are remembered forever, the later years of freedom as the kids leave home, the experience of grandkids, all this collective history. When you look back on it all and you think, man, I could not have made it through it all without that lady right there or that man right there, then that’s true love. Love endures. Love is being afraid of what life will be like when he or she passes on before us. Can you say that about your spouse? If you can’t, then, please seek help for your marriage.

 

My wife and I have been married for seven years now and we have been together as a couple for almost a decade now. And, yes, that passion in our marriage now comes and goes. But she is my best friend I can honestly say. Sure, we have annoying little habits that we annoy each other with. But, I would not take anything for the relationship that we have. I enjoy being in her presence. We have communication where we can make each other laugh with just a quirky look. We have been across the country and back together. We have stories that define our relationship. We have dreams of our future that we both believe in. We have stories about our lives together than are priceless gems that bring smiles and laughter. We have history. When I think of life without her if she passed away, I would feel lost. She makes my life so easy. She takes care of me. She loves doing that. It is not a chore to her. Whatever would I do without her. We love each other in a basic soul kind of way. I know her soul and she knows mine. How could I ever live without that if she passes before me? That’s marriage. She is my best friend and when I think of the future events of life, she is there. It’s not just me there. She is there too. She is part of who I am at the soul level. Thus, future thoughts include her being by my side without question.

 

Marriage is important to God. There is no doubt about that. With that in mind, let’s read the passage, Deuteronomy 24:5-7, and for this morning let’s concentrate on Verse 5:

 

5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.

 

6 Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a person’s livelihood as security.

 

7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

Why do you think that God exempted men from pretty much all social responsibilities outside the home during the first year of marriage? It must be pretty important to God that a husband be home with his wife during this foundational time for a marriage. It was important to God that even though Israel was going to be at a constant state of conflict with some enemy that required a standing army that a man should have a formative time for his marriage to his wife. God sees marriage as the fabric that hold society together. If we don’t get it right from the beginning then society itself is in danger.

 

Much of the troubles that we see in today’s world is because marriage is no longer important as a life-long institution. We change marriages like we change underwear. We have kids with different names from their mother. We have kids with different names than their father. You need a scorecard to keep up with what kids belong to what marriage if the child was even born in wedlock to begin with. Our destruction of marriage as an institution is the basis of many of our social ills today. We have so cheapened marriage that is no longer the purview of just a man and a woman. Anybody can marry anybody today. I can marry a cat if I want to based on the way the Supreme Court’s ruling reads.

 

But real marriage, the lifelong commitment, the marriage that God intended between a man and his wife, that real marriage was what was so important to God that he made special provision for the incubation of it at its beginning. If God takes it take seriously so should we.

 

Let us be a people that holds out for the marriage that God intended for us. Let us be a people who marry because we have looked at the woman that we are in love with and we see best friend as much as we see lover. We see a person that touches our soul just by being beside us. Let us be a people that chooses our spouses wisely. Let us be a people that can love for the long-haul. Let us be a people who place the needs of the marriage before the needs of ourselves. Let us be a people that are purposeful about letting our spouses know that they really do touch our soul. Let us be a people that loves our spouses even when we are having disagreements. Let us be a people that submit ourselves to the good of our marriages. Let us be a people as Christ followers that people look at and say that’s the kind of marriage I want.

 

Marriage is of high importance to God. Marriage should be of equally high importance to us. So much so that we  choose our spouses wisely. So much so that we choose that person that we can be friends with outside the bedroom as well as in it. So much so that we see their happiness as important or more important than our own. So much so that we really just love them deep down in our soul. So much so that they complete us. So much so that we cannot imagine the past or the future without them.

 

As Jim Gallagher, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Vero Beach, FL, said in his blog entitled, “Happy Marriage,” says,

 

Whether you are a husband or a wife, perhaps it is time to make an effort to invest in the happiness of your spouse. Instead of thinking of all the ways you’ve been  disappointed,  why not spend time thinking of ways to pour love into your spouse, and see if the God who parts the seas, is able to put life into your relationship.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 5:11-31 (Part 3)

Protecting Marital Faithfulness

Evvvvverybody loves Raymond. It was famous sarcastic line of Raymond’s brother, Robert, when it seemed to him that Ray was living a charmed life compared to him or that he was getting the short end of the stick in life compared to Ray. It was even the title of the show. As most people who watched the show, one of Ray’s most consistent complaints on the show was the lack of frequent sexual relations with his wife, Debra. She complains most often that after a day of taking care of three children all day long and then taking care of Ray, she is frequently too tired for sex. It is a common complaint among mothers with small children and validly so. It’s God form of birth control! Tiredness from taking care of little ones. In an episode recently that I saw that I had forgotten about where the kids are a little older and can more easily take care of themselves than earlier in the show’s run, Debra seems inordinately, how should I put it, “frisky”. At first, Ray is enjoying the extra “attention” but, being a comedy show, his brother and some of his buddies start to put ideas in Ray’s head about why she is so suddenly frisky. They ask him if anything has changed in their routine of life. Ray thinks for a bit and says that Debra had recently been going to an aerobics class at the local fitness club or YMCA or something. After finding a brochure from the class, he sees that the instructor for the class is young, buffed, chiseled looking young dude. The hilarity of the episode is how Ray becomes jealous and busts into her class and, of course, being Ray of Everybody Loves Raymond, he makes a complete fool of himself. The irony of the episode is that throughout most of the series, he complains about not getting enough sex but never questions Debra’s loyalty to him, but in this episode he’s is getting what he always wanted but it makes him suspicious that Debra has designs on the aerobics instructor and is just using him as the release for her desires for the instructor. Being a comedy show though, Ray and Debra resolve the issue where Debra says that getting more exercise and getting back into shape makes her feel better about herself and when she feels better about herself she feels better about other things, if ya know what I mean. They make up and the last thing we see as the episode fades out is Debra and Ray racing up the steps to the bedroom.

 

Everybody Loves Raymond was one of the funniest and most popular shows of its day. It was funny because it made fun of real life situations. The sexual politics of marriage when you have small children was always one of the real life issues that they dealt with in the show and they did so in a light-hearted and funny way. In the real world, sex is a real issue in marriages and it does not always get resolved in a single episode of life. Sexual fidelity, infidelity, and sexual jealousies are real things and real issues in marriages. But let us drift back in time to the biblical era and look at what is happening in our text.

 

To our modern sensibilities this text seems extremely sexist. Twenty-first century American women want to cry foul when they read this text. Even men of today would look at this text and wonder why men were not subjected to the same test. To us, it seems extremely discriminatory toward women. One of the dangers of reading the Old Testament is that we come at it with our 21st century predispositions and worldviews. We must recalibrate when we read this text and read it with an understanding of the culture of the times. Let us remember that in most Old Testament era societies (and in a certain sense all the way up to the mid-20th century), woman were treated with far less respect than they are today. In cultures that surrounded the people of Israel, women were mere chattel. They were treated like possessions that could be treated any way men wanted to treat them. Women had no rights. Men could abuse them in any and all ways without punishment. A woman could be tossed to the street for no reason practically at all. With no rights to property, women were at the mercy of the men of their societies. Women put simply in biblical era societies that surrounded the people of Israel were treated no better than the family’s cattle.

 

However, God, with the people He called to be His own, the Israelites, was establishing a society that lived according to His rules. And, in progressing his people toward a society where women would eventually be considered equal to men, He understood the world as it was and put plans in place to begin protecting women from the ill treatment that they have received at the hands of men.

 

Even though this passage seems archaic and chauvinistic to us, it really was a protection put in place for women. In the absence of God’s law, the Israelites would have assumed the customs of the world at that time. If a man even simply suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he could toss her to the curb and replace her just like that. He could abuse her physically, emotionally and so on simply on suspicion without proof and could get away with it. God put this procedure in place to protect women not single them out. What we must take away is not viewing this as archaic but evidence of God’s desire to protect women, his most beautiful but yet most delicate of His creations.

 

For a man in Israelite society under God’s law, he would have to be really, really sure that his wife was being unfaithful to him to invoke this ritual at the tabernacle. Not only would he be testing God if he was wrong, he would, of course, alienate his wife if she was innocent. Not only would he be putting his family on public display before God and the entire Israelite society, but he would look like a complete and utter fool if his wife was innocent. A Israelite man would then have to think long and hard about this issue before invoking the ritual. This is a far cry from being sexist toward women. God is actually protecting them from unfounded jealousies. Further, the ritual would help control men too. If a woman was found guilty of her husband’s suspicions, the man with whom she was committing adultery would be exposed as well.

 

God’s interest here is not to expose women but to protect them. God’s interest here is to preserve marriage and to punish infidelity. God’s interest here was to produce and orderly society that is not consumed by sexual sin and the destruction that it causes.

 

These were the things that I thought about today when I read through this passage for the third consecutive day. Let’s re-read it again together here:

 

 

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

 

16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

 

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

 

23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

 

29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”

 

Sexual sin is destructive to society. It is destructive to families. Just look at our world today. Single parent homes and blended families. Each of these types of situations are fraught with problems of their own. Children in single parent homes are more likely to get in trouble at school and with the law. Blended families have destructive forces working against them called my kids vs. your kids that lead to anger, jealousy and destruction. Sure there are marriages that split up for reasons such as physical and emotional abuse but the vast majority of marriages split up over sexual sin. It is considered the norm nowadays to have been married and divorced at least once. Kids with different names than the one on the mailbox. Moms with kids but multiple fathers. Dads with children by multiple mothers. Child support payments. Visitation rights. Whose got the kids this weekend. Kids watching parents battle over them as if they were a car or a boat, a possession. Figuring the logistics of holidays. Kids caught in the middle. It’s all insane. And I have lived it myself. Married. Had kids with my first wife. Divorced. Remarried to a woman with three small boys. Blended family. Jealousies ripping that marriage apart. Divorced again. Luckily, in my third, it is a marriage where we both have decided to live our marriage God’s way. But, I have lived the insanity of divorce and remarriage as the result of the sexual sins of myself and my previous wives. Neither myself or my previous spouses were immune to the rampant sexual sin of our day. And, we accept this as the norm of life now. And, we Christians are no better than anyone else in this regard. The divorce and remarriage rates among Christians are just as high as the general population. I have seen sexual sin destroy families, active families who served and cared, in our fellowship to the point that they no longer are willing to come to our church because of perceived shame.

 

So, to me, this passage is not some sexist, chauvinistic, archaic piece of God’s legislation for a time gone by that no longer applies to us. What we must take away from this passage is that God is serious about marriage and serious about the protection of the marriage estate. God shows us that marriage is His most important institution and that He wants it preserved. He wants us to think long and hard about the curses that come with sexual sin. It should make us think long and hard about marriage. God want our marriages to last so let us think long and hard about whether we truly love someone or are just sexually aroused by them. Sexual sin rips marriages apart. It wears on the fabric of society. It creates problems that destroy societies. The sanctity of marriage is important to God. It is the closest thing to our relationship with Him when marriage is done right by us. God takes marriage serious. So should we. Take that away with you when you read this. Don’t get hung up on reading 21st century sensibilities into the Old Testament era. Really look at what God is saying here. Take that away. Live that.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 19:1-12
Jesus Teaches About Marriage & Divorce

Baby mamas and baby daddies. Sex without marriage. I was having a discussion yesterday with my oldest daughter about a class that she had to go to about pregnancy as part of her own journey in pregnancy. Yes, my oldest child is about to give me my first grandchild. She and her husband, Curtis, to whom she has been married to for almost 7 years now, are about to have their first child together. But at this class, my daughter was one of the few married women in the class. It was shocking to her that in our Southern society where we once prided ourselves in adhering to acceptable social conventions that we now live in a society where all of that has broken down. There is a growing trend toward simply having babies outside of marriage. There is less stigma attached to it than ever before. Even greater than that, sex outside of marriage is not considered a big deal anymore. Before you think me high and mighty, before and my first two marriages, I have justified my participation in this scene. Sex is how I validated my inner value when I was not married. I didn’t think of it as sin because that is just the way the world is now, I would say to myself. Sex and dating are almost a given in today’s world. Our churches are full of otherwise wonderful single Christians who are participating in premarital sex and it’s not just teenagers.

It is virtually all adult singles. Even Christian singles have had multiple sexual partners to whom they never married. In a recent study by ChristianMingle, an internet dating service for Christians, they found that “A majority of single Christians are rejecting biblical doctrine by choosing to have sex before they are married. Sixty-one percent of self-identified Christian singles said they are willing to have casual sex without being in love, while only 11 percent said they are waiting to have sex until they are married.” With that background, let us read Matthew 19:1-12 again, one last time, with eye toward what it means for those who are single (pay close attention to vv. 10-12):

19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 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?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 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’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Wow! The standard is pretty high. In response to His disciples saying that if marriage is an institution with such high standards of behavior then it is better to not marry. Jesus answer indicates that Jesus taught that singleness and marriage are both acceptable to God. This means that marriage is not commanded of anyone, neither is abstention from marriage, even for the sake of the kingdom of God. For some, as the disciples expressed, ‘it is better not to marry.’ But others could find celibacy too hard to handle. The ability to function effectively as a single person had not been given to them. For these people, marriage would be preferable to singleness. The standards for sex according to the Bible are pretty high indeed, regardless of being single or married. If we marry, we are expected to be married for life. If we are single, we are expected to wait until marriage to have sex, as it represents the only situation in which sex is acceptable. If there is ever a sin for which the vast majority of us stand condemned it is this one. How do we live up to such a high standard in a society that glorifies sex almost as a sport or at least as feature of any relationship?

I guess the first thing that we have to do is to understand that sex is an overpowering human urge. Yet, we live in age where we are told to do what feels good to us. One of the hallmarks of the fruits of the spirit is self-control or self-discipline. In our culture today, when it comes to sex, there is no longer self-control when it comes to sex. Single parent families. Children with different last names than their mothers. Government service agencies overrun with meeting the needs of single mothers. Fathers who have fathered multiple kids by different women and some who have never met their own kids. This is not a black or white thing, it is a culture thing. Even we as Christians, as I cited the Christian Mingle survey/study, are failing miserably in this area. How are we to change things in this area? It seems almost as the biggest insurmountable problem that we face as Christians. As I said we are failing miserably in holding up the high standards of marriage and sexuality. Even as a Christian myself, I know that if I was ever single again, this would again be my most significant challenge as Christ follower. Having sexual relationships as a single person is so easy these days. It is certainly not looked upon with any disdain by society so it would be easy to fall into that trap again. It’s OK. Everybody’s doing it and it feels good so it’s OK. It’s certainly easy to sit her as a married Christian and say that if I was ever single again that I would have self-control. That’s a hard sell when we are so programmed toward sexual conquest just by our nature and certainly by our culture now. We must recognize our weak spots and seek Holy Spirit guidance.

How to change even the culture around sex even for us Christians I have no clue how to change other than to say that we should aspire to higher standards. We should not say that just in this one area that it is OK to be like the culture. Easier said than done. We must first quit equating sex with love. Sex is the fulfillment of bodily desire but it is not love in and of itself. How many times have you, as a man or a woman, been brought you lowest because of the end of a relationship when you were dating that hurt 10 time more because sex was involved? Help us Lord to be the change in our society. We have seen what unrestrained sex has done to our society. I think that we must examine as Christian what sex is in our relationships. It is not the end game. It is the prize. One of the unique things about my marriage now is that because of my job situation while we were dating was that I ended on the West Coast and she on the East Coast. We are a bi-coastal couple for the vast majority of our dating years. You know what? It forced us to become friends because by simple logistics physical intimacy was off the table. For two people who had defined their personal value by and through sex all of their lives (which caused us to choose unwise marriages for us as individuals previously), the fact that we had to learn to talk and learn to be friends first was unique. What a difference it has made in our marriage. We see our friendship as important as our sexual relationship. It takes a lot of pressure off of sex as the glue that holds us together. In past marriages, sex glossed over a lot of problems. Maybe this is the approach that we should be taking as singles is that we must have some self-control and want to find out a whole lot about a person before we even entertain the idea of sex with them. Sex should never be the basis of a relationship. Friendship between lovers should be the goal first. If you can’t be friends with them outside the bedroom then we should never entertain thoughts of bring them into. Sex clouds incompatabilities between potential mates. I can attest to that. Two marriages and many failed relationships in between were often clouded with sex over content. Am I compatible with this person? Can I be friends with this person? Would I be hanging out with this person if I was not in a sexual relationship with this person? These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves when it comes to sex. Access to sex from a person should never be the reason we get married either. If more marriages were based on being friends first then maybe just maybe the divorce rate would go down. In our society though and even among Christians, we are blinded by sexual passion as love. When passion fades and you are not friends with the person you married, then, the trouble begins. Then, we start throwing away marriages like we throw away and old pair of worn out tennis shoes. Let us, as Christians, lead the way in defining that first comes friendship, then comes marriage, and then comes sex. It is going to be a tough sell. I know that. It’s going to be a tough sell even among Christians. We have got to sell our own people on it first before we can sell it to the world. The only way that we win the battle here is through prayer first for Christians to find our way to Jesus’ ideal for singleness and marriage. Through prayer to change our own hearts first then the culture’s.

So, here we have it. Jesus says that marriage is like those dangerous jobs that only the highly skilled are qualified for. Marriage is only for those that are not faint of heart. It is a lifetime commitment, according to Jesus. There are few outs for marriage. Let us change the culture of the culture of marriage today. Let us change the culture of the culture of singleness today. Let us see marriage as something tough to enter into and that it must be to a person that I can be friends with not only in the bedroom but outside it. We spend more time outside than we do in it, but we tend to marry today based on those brief encounters rather than the long haul of being outside the bedroom. Nobody said being a Christian was easy. In fact, it is the hardest job you will ever love. We are pruned daily and we are expected to be in the world and not of it. We must be the ones to set the example here and not just say because the culture is doing it and it is an insurmountable problem that we might as well join in. God help us. We must have His help. Father lead us and convict us and help us live by the standards that you have set for marriage and for singleness. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 19:1-12
Jesus Teaches About Marriage & Divorce

Here we are! We move to Matthew 19. Jesus begins his journey toward His fate in Jerusalem. He is headed toward greater and greater controversy that will lead to His crucifixion. As soon as He crosses the Jordan, the controversies begin. This controversy that is brought before Him is one that we deal with today on so many levels.

And, one of the reasons that it is my preference to walk through books of the Bible from beginning to end instead of doing topical blogs as some do is that you cannot avoid the tough stuff when you do. It forces you to deal with the sometimes uncomfortable subjects of life that the Bible presents to us. When you write topically, you are controlling what you write about whereas when you follow a book from beginning to end, the Bible controls you. There are certainly room for both and there are times when topical preaching is a must. But it is my preference to let the Bible control what I write about. Today, we begin a passage that is like driving down the highway and you see a wreck ahead but yet you have no side roads to take and you must come upon the wreck. Here we are. We must stop and get out and examine the wreck and figure out what happened here. There are three topics that we must address when reading through this passage and we will take three blogs to do it. It’s going to be an uncomfortable ride for us but here we are at the scene of the wreck that Matthew has brought us to. We cannot avoid by switching to another book of the Bible. We are here and we must deal with these three topics – divorce, homosexuality, and the sexual aspects of being single. Wow! These are three hot button subjects that we must deal with and we begin with divorce.
19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 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?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 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’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Divorce was an issue then and it is an issue now in today’s society. Here in this century, we have often heard the statistics. According to Psychology Today, in a 2012 study, they found that 50% of first marriages end in divorce. When we are talking second marriages, the statistics jump to 67% of marriages. If you are in your third marriage, the statistics jump to 73%. This is not the design for healthy societies that God desires for us. It was not what God desired for ancient Israelite society and it is not what He desires for us. We can learn much from what Jesus says here. The Pharisees’ question may reflect the opinion of Hillel, a rabbi who allowed divorce for the slightest reasons on the basis of Deut. 24:1–4. He was opposed by another teacher, Shammai, who regarded only gross indecency as proper grounds. Jesus’ answer transcends this debate about Deuteronomy and returns to the order of creation by God. Jesus views divorce as a fundamental denial of God’s created order and the nature of marriage.

The Pharisees were talking Deuteronomy and Jesus was talking early Genesis. The Pharisees were talking post-Fall of Man and Jesus was returning them to the ideal that God had for man in marriage before man screwed everything up. Genesis was the plan and Deuteronomy was the reaction to the screw up. Deuteronomy has trying to take a people out of an unholy world into a holy one. It is an attempt to clean man up and make him more holy. The sin in the garden sent things spiraling out of control in the world and God said in Deutoronomy, this is how you return to holiness. Jesus skillfully avoids the Hillelian camp vs. the Shammaian camp controversy over divorce by backing up the argument to God’s ideal. He did not get mired down in the controversy of who is right on divorce but rather He steps above the fray and says the real thing is this. It is like the parent who has to tell his kids that neither one of them is right as they point fingers at each other as to whose has committed the worse crime against parental rules. Dad has to say whoa, whoa, whoa. Both you kids know that “x” is the standard of behavior that I expect of you and you guys are arguing over who violated the “x” worse. God’s ideal for marriage is not that it would end in divorce. We may debate over divorce in churches and what is acceptable and what is not in divorce, but Jesus reminds us that divorce was never a part of God’s original pre-fall plan for our lives.

In ancient Israel around the time of Jesus’ ministry, divorce was a rampant problem and people were getting divorced just because. Sound familiar. Get tired of your wife or husband. Get a divorce. In Jesus’ day, it was particularly perilous for a woman to be thrown out and divorced by her husband. Women did not have property rights in those days and if they were without a husband they could become destitute if they did not have a husband and to return to have to return to one’s own family was considered shameful. Women could be thrown out on the street and end up dirt poor and potentially have to resort to prostitution to survive. So, Jesus reminds them that divorce was not part of God’s plan from the beginning and was not to institute divorce as an institution. Jesus shows that Moses in Deut. 24:1–4 was not giving a justification for divorce, but making provisions in the event of divorce. Malachi 2:16 tells us that God hates divorce but provision was made in Deut. 24:1-4 that, in a fallen world, it does exist. Where it does exist, God wanted to make sure that it was difficult to achieve. Only in cases of sexual sin was it to be allowed in Israelite society. The Greek word for what we call in English, “sexual immorality”, is fairly broad, including a number of sexual sins besides adultery. In this clause, Jesus recognizes that marital infidelity potentially destroys the marital tie between spouses and is, therefore, ground for legal divorce. However, divorce is not mandatory and reconciliation is what God desires.

In the book of Hosea, we see God’s plan of reconciliation and redemption. On a grand scale, the book of Hosea is symbolic of the relationship between Israel and God. The nation had “whored” itself out to other gods but God pursue Israel and wanted to redeem her from her idolatry and take her back to be His people again. On a personal level, you can also see God’s plan for marriage as well. We are to seek reconciliation. We are to demonstrate restraint when it comes to ending our marriages in the event of sexual sin. We have to put away our seemingly rightful indignation and wrath. We may even be ridiculed by others when we attempt to reconcile our marriages in the wake of sexual sin. Our pride may tell us to try to destroy the other person for having hurt us in this way. But if we have tried in every possible way to reconcile our marriages but one partner refuses to end their sexual sin, which happens in this fallen world in which we live, Jesus says that this and only this reason is grounds for divorce.

What does God want for marriage? He wants it to be something that lasts and endures like God’s love for us. God loves us even though we are not perfect. We should love our spouses even when they are not perfect or not meeting the standards we have set for them. We often have the idea in our minds of what our perfect spouse should be but we are human and we can never live up to some ideal of the perfect spouse. God’s love for us endures even though we are not perfect. So should we be about our spouses. God loves us even though we rebel against him. I am sure that it makes Him grieve at times to continue to love us when we act as if He is the farthest thing from our minds and when we seem to be blatantly thumbing our nose at Him. But He loves us anyway. Just as Hosea loved Gomer through her harlotry. We should be this way about our spouses. We should seek reconciliation before devastation. We should seek to repair before we destroy. We should seek to mend instead of rip. We should make every attempt possible to restore our marriages just as Hosea did with Gomer. That’s tall order. That is what God desires is forgiveness instead of pride. What God? Am I supposed to reconcile with my husband when he is actively having an affair with another woman? Am I supposed to reconcile with my wife when she is out living the party lifestyle and seems to be enjoying having different men in her life on an ongoing basis? We are called to grant forgiveness. We are called to try our best to save our marriages through loving responses to unloving situations. Only when our spouses are unrepentant and unwilling to give up their sinful sexual behavior are we allowed to divorce them. In those cases, the unrepentance may be a sign that our spouses were never Christ followers to begin with. That my friends is where we need to back up to. If Christ followers are supposed to seek reconciliation even in the face of hurt and we are to love like Hosea even in the face of that which hurts us to the core, we might ought to think long and hard about getting married or getting married again.

Maybe, just maybe, if we knew that God calls us to be as loving in our marriages as He is toward us even in our rebellious state, maybe we would think longer and harder about getting married. Maybe we should make our first test in seeking out a partner as to whether they are Christians or not. That should be the deal breaker of all deal breakers for us. For if our potential spouse is not a Christian, then, the likelihood that they will be unrepentant when it comes to marital problems is increased. We should make marriage hard to get into. We should have high standards for who we marry and marry because we love this person as friend not just because they give us sex. We should make sure that the person that we are dating is someone that we can be friends with outside the bedroom as well as inside. We must make sure that the person is of high character and one who sticks to his or her commitments. Let us make marriage hard to get into because it is God’s desire that it be for life. It is to be a symbol of God’s love for us. When we marry, it should be given the hardest consideration of any decision that we make in life. There are high standards that we must uphold as man and wife in marriage. Let us think long and hard before we do instead of doing it on a whim because of sexual desire as many people do today. The standard is expressly stated in 1 Corinthians 13 where it says:
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 1 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Pretty high standards for marriage. The way it should be. May we think long and hard before we ask a woman to marry us and may women think long and hard before they accept any proposal of marriage. Let us make sure that when we marry it is to a person that we are willing to spend the rest of our days with. God desires that marriage reflect His love for us. That’s a pretty high standard. Amen and Amen.