REVELATION #47. PARENTHESES: SEX, MARRIAGE AND CIVILIZATION

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Even here at the end of Revelation, Jesus mentions the problem of sexual immorality. The Bible’s teaching on sex is much greater and deeper than simply “don’t do it.” In fact, the Bible tells married couples that they should “do it.” Let’s investigate the importance of Biblical sexuality together. Many people have failed in this area, but Jesus offers forgiveness and holiness to everyone who trusts in him, no matter what they have done, or not done.

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Revelation #47. Revelation 22:12-15

The second declaration of Jesus is this:

12 “Look, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to repay each person according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (CSB, Revelation 22:12-13)

I have spoken several times in this series about the preciousness of God, reward in heaven, and having Jesus as your desire, and reward. So, I won’t reiterate all of that here. Just understand that Jesus felt that it was so important, it was one of the last seven things he said to his people on earth. We should focus on the joy and fulfillment we have in Jesus, even here and now in this life.

Now we move on to the third Declaration of Jesus:

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (ESV) Revelation 22:14-15

Here we have a reiteration of what a blessing it is to have your name in the book of life. There is once more, a reminder – from Jesus himself, that not everyone is willing to have Jesus make them holy. You may have noticed that Revelation frequently mentions lists of sins. In almost every list, among other things, you have sexual immorality. I want to spend the bulk of the time talking about this, because it is very important. Some people say that Christians talk about sexual immorality too much. I say, we don’t do it often enough. Here’s why: In our culture today, no one  saying that murder is not a sin. No one is going around saying, “Hey, it’s no big deal if you lie. In fact, if you lie in a loving way, it’s a beautiful thing.” But our culture is saying that sexual immorality is no big deal, when, according to the Bible, it is such a big deal that it keeps getting mentioned, even here in the very last section of Revelation.

By the way, of course I know that this is a sensitive subject. I know that some people have already failed in the area of sexual immorality. But please stay with me as we go through this topic together. Where there is Jesus, there is always hope. He suffered and died so that you could be not only forgiven, but made holy. If you are tempted to feel ashamed, let that lead you to repentance. If you have already repented, trust what Jesus says, that he has forgiven you, and cleansed you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9)

Sometimes, we Christians make the mistake of simply saying, “Just don’t have sex until you married.” That’s true and right, as far as it goes. But it might be helpful to talk about the big picture, about why sex within marriage is good and right, and why sex outside of it is wrong and destructive. It isn’t just about sex – it is about our whole view of what it means to be a human person, created by God.

Our culture does not believe that God made the world, and everything in it. Sex, therefore (according to them), is not from God, it is just a desire to be satisfied. In our present culture, most people think that the highest good is for each individual to satisfy their own desires in whatever way they please. Therefore, telling someone whom to have sex with (or whom not) is ridiculous and offensive.

But Christians believe that God created the world, and human beings, and that he has a purpose for everything he created. Sex is part of God’s creation, therefore it has meaning, and purpose, given to it by God himself. The Bible is clear about the meaning and purpose of sex. It is a shadowy reflection of the joy that we will have when we have true intimacy with God. It is inextricably bound up in love, no matter how much people don’t want to accept that. And one of the main purposes for sex is the formation of marriages, and then families, and then societies.

When sex is channeled into love and marriage, men and women are bound together with one of the strongest forces in creation. They work together to create families, and homes. When they do that, they ally themselves with other families and homes, and become communities. Communities come together to form societies. Societies based on strong marriages in this way have always, throughout history, created stable places where human beings thrived and bloomed. Of course, no society has ever been perfect, but strong sexual morality has been the basis for the greatest civilizations of the world, benefiting millions upon millions of people. You might say that the sex-drive, channeled in a Biblical way, builds great cultures, and allows the largest number of people to be safe and happy.

If this is the first time you are hearing this, please understand that this is not a new idea. Sir Edward Gibbon’s famous work The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire outlines this quite clearly, as do other respected scholars throughout history. Gibbon, by the way, was not a Christian, and so was not biased toward this idea in any way. Instead, he simply found these facts to be true. In modern times, however, this is something no one wants to hear, so the truth has been ignored, mocked, and even suppressed.

Now, on the other hand, where sex has not been confined to marriage, societies typically come apart.  We are witnessing that very thing today in Western culture.

In ancient cultures, sex was something that strong people inflicted on the weak. The result was a lot of pain and misery. The Judeo-Christian value of sex-only-in-marriage protected women from being used and cast aside. It created a stable environment for children to be raised in an emotional healthy atmosphere. It was the Christian sexual morality that changed the world, and made it a better place for all people, whether Christian or not.

Again, today, in Western culture, we think that the highest good is for each individual person to be satisfied however they see fit. For most people, that means using sex in such a way as to be personally satisfied. That separates sex from love. It creates situations where children are raised without strong men in the picture. That alone makes those children far more likely to be poor, uneducated, and involved in criminal activities. It makes them more vulnerable to abuse. It is not an exaggeration to say that the increases our culture is experiencing in violence, drug-use, suicide, the erosion of work ethic, the general rudeness – all these are, in one way or another, largely due to sexual immorality.

As Rod Dreher, author of the Benedict Option puts it:

Unbridled erotic passion creates chaos and disintegration. Eros that submits to Christ bears fruit in the gift of children, stable families and communities.

You might say, “But I’ll use birth control until I’m married. That will fix the problem.”

However, there is more to the story. We are spiritual beings, and everything we do has a spiritual aspect to it. Paul writes that if we engage in sexual immorality as Christians, we are actually somehow joining Jesus to the act.

15 Don’t you know that your bodies are a part of Christ’s body? So should I take a part of Christ’s body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not! 16 Don’t you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, The two will become one flesh. 17 But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
18 Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. 19 Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB 1 Corinthians 6:15-20)

Sex is a deep, powerful, even spiritual connection. When you have sex, the Holy Spirit is there, within you. If it is with your spouse, this makes it a powerful force for the good of your marriage. If it is with someone else, you are literally dragging the Holy Spirit along with your sin.

When you recognize that God himself is there in the middle of sexual activity, it becomes a powerful force for blessing in marriage. When you recognize that you are dragging God himself along in the middle of your sexual sin…well, you see why the Bible mentions it so often.

Also, when you have sex with multiple partners, you bring a lot of baggage to the relationships you have. Eventually, when you get married, you are bringing all of that baggage to your spouse, and to your marriage relationship. That tends to make things difficult and complicated. On the other hand, when you follow God’s plan, you can truly say to your spouse: “You are truly my only one.” That is a tremendous gift of love, a gift of self-denial and self-sacrifice for another. It is a gift that echoes with the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Which is another point: Marriage intended to give a picture of the relationship that God has with his people. When we have sex with multiple people, we are totally ruining that picture.

There is another thing that strikes me as ridiculously unrealistic. In today’s culture, we have the idea that before marriage, sex is more or less just about personal fulfillment. People are expected to fulfill themselves sexually when and how they please. Then, suddenly, after marriage, people who have maintained that sex with multiple partners is normal and good, suddenly have to live with only one sexual partner for the rest of their lives. This makes monogamy meaningless for all, and very difficult for many people.

Sexual immorality strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a human being, created and saved by God. God will not allow his New Creation to be destroyed by the kind of self-centered use of sex so common in our culture. It is one more warning for people to abandon the idols of self-fulfillment, and pursue the joy that God has for us when we submit to His plan.

One other thing that often does not get said. This means that sex between married people is good thing, thing that can bring powerful blessing to a marriage and family. If you are married, don’t use sex as a tool for manipulation, and don’t regularly abstain unless the two of you agree to, for a definite reason. I’m not saying that on my own: I am summarizing 1 Corinthians 7:1-7. Here is one piece of it:

2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (ESV, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5)

Go read the Corinthians passage, preferably with your spouse. Most spouses have differing levels of desire, and that is something to work through lovingly. The spouse who is more eager for sex must be willing to work on other parts of the relationship. However, God’s plan is that was sex was supposed to be a normal, regular part of marriage.  Sex should not be used for leverage in your relationship. That isn’t what it is for.

There is nothing in the Bible to say that God’s plan for sex has changed. In fact, the idea that spouses should not have sex with each other is just as wrong as the idea that they should have sex with other partners.

By the way, some people try to get rid of that passage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, because at the very end, Paul, referring to only one part of what he said, writes, “I say this as a concession, not a command.” The Greek there is very clear that the “concession” is only his idea that the couple abstain for mutually agreed upon periods for prayer. All of the Greek verbs in the rest of that passage are imperative commands, given in the present tense, meaning “this is what you should be doing.” They are clearly commands, not concessions. The only thing that is not a command is the idea that you abstain for a while for prayer.  Flatly refusing your spouse is no part of God’s plan for marriage. Listen to a few of the ancient Christian writers:

You have given up your wife, to whom you are bound. This is a big step you have taken. You are not abusing her, you say, but claiming that you can be chaste and live more purely. But look how your poor wife is being destroyed as a result, because she is unable to endure your purity! You should sleep with your wife, not for your sake but for hers. (Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians)

This applies equally to husbands and wives, of course.

If a woman stays away from her husband, she will make him angry, and vice versa. That is why Paul insists that [abstinence] must be by mutual consent. (Theodoret of Cyr. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians)

Theodoret also makes it clear that these things apply equally to husbands and wives. There are not two sets of rules, one for men, another for women. We both submit to the same command of God. One more:

Great evils spring from this sort of continence [that is, married couples not having sex], if it is overdone. Adulteries, fornications and the destruction of families have often resulted from this. If a married man commits fornication, how much more will he do so if his wife denies herself to him? Unless there is mutual consent, continence in this case is really a form of theft. (John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians)

The scripture is clear. The wisdom of the ages concurs. Sex in marriage is a blessing that is not to be denied each other without mutual consent. Now, that may cause tension and friction in some marriages. In fact, it is normal to have to work through relational issues in order to have good sex. This means that God’s plan uses the power of sex as a motivator to work out your issues. It forces couples to deal with their issues, and this ultimately leads to greater intimacy and happiness in marriage.

I am not naïve. I’m sure that a great many people reading this this have already sinned in the area of sexuality.  If you have not repented, and started down a new road: well, let this be a warning to you. The passage is quite clear – if you choose to hold on to sexual immorality rather than Jesus, you will not enter the New Creation.

On the other hand, if you have repented, if you are trying to walk in the Spirit, on the path of Jesus, then listen:

3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift ​— ​ 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. (CSB, Ephesians 2:3-10)

God can redeem the past. Jesus came for this very reason: to forgive us, to cleanse us, and give us a new nature. If you have repented for your past sexual sin, then receive God’s grace and forgiveness, and move on. Trust that he has made you holy, and rely on Him to help you work through the issues you may have caused by your past behavior.

REVELATION #37. THE DIVINE MARRIAGE.

rings wedding
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Every human being longs for true, deep, honest intimacy. We want to be able to be fully ourselves, and totally known by Another Person. We long to be able to be completely “naked” – not pretending or hiding; body, soul and spirit, and in that state, be fully loved and accepted with no blemish or shadow to mar that experience. This is exactly what is being promised to us.

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Revelation Part 37

We’ve come to Revelation chapter 19. It seems clear that the praise recorded in verses one through four is all about the fall of Babylon. So, in a sense, these verses wrap up the end of the section on Babylon. We have learned that “Babylon” represents ungodly cultures and world governmental powers that stand against the worship of the one true God, and that tend to either seduce Christians away from God, or persecute them if they won’t join the ungodly culture. Therefore, before Jesus can return, before God can culminate his plan in history, he must remove “Babylon.” This, he has done. Therefore verses one through four are praising God for accomplishing this milestone. Babylon’s fall means that God’s plan can move forward.

Before we move on from Babylon I want to note that one of the big issues associated with it is sexual immorality. Now, I think that sexual immorality includes the idea of worshiping false gods. The Bible uses that imagery over and over again, as I have mentioned in previous messages. At the same time, however, “sexual immorality” is also intended to be literal – it isn’t just about idolatry, it is about sex outside of marriage. One reason that Revelation focuses on this particular category of sin is that it is an incredibly powerful way of tempting people away from God. The human drive to reproduce is extremely strong, and one of the devil’s favorite tricks is to misdirect that drive toward inappropriate places. This is one reason why John records over and over again that not only is sexual immorality sinful, but it will be severely judged at the end of all things. I bring this up because the church in the 21st century in the Western world has almost completely stopped talking about it.

But it is a big concern throughout the New Testament. It is a sin that the Bible tells us to have nothing to do with it. The following verses are just a few of many like them:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (Gal 5:19-21, HCSB)

Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them.  (Col 3:5-7, HCSB)

For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit.  (1Thess 4:3-8, HCSB)

Now in response to the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman.” But because sexual immorality is so common, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.  (1Cor 7:1-2, HCSB)

By the way, I included the last verse to show that sexual intimacy in marriage is not sinful, but it is good, and righteous. So it isn’t that sex is bad in and of itself, but it is sinful outside of marriage.

Many people believe that historically Christian sexual ethics were used to control women. This does not fit with the facts of history, nor with the teaching of the Bible. The Bible’s teaching applies to both men and women. It is just as sinful for a man to have sex outside of marriage as it is for a woman. Men must submit to this teaching, and in so doing, are made equal to women. That is crystal clear in the Bible.

Secondly, Christian sexual ethics had the actual effect of protecting women from abuse and exploitation. In ancient cultures that did not have the Bible, women were used as objects and then cast aside. Jews and Christians were not permitted to do that. Christian and Jewish women were far better off, historically, than women of other religions. This is still true today, worldwide. The women’s equality movement would have been impossible without a Christian understanding of sexual ethics and the fundamental equality of genders.

Also, historically, Christian sexual ethics were at odds with the culture around them (which is part of the main point I’ve been making).

Now, if you’re reading this and you have sinned in the matter of sexual immorality, you do not need to despair. The reason Jesus came to earth is to forgive our sins. This is not the unforgivable sin. As a teacher of the Bible, however, I don’t want to gloss over what the scripture actually says about the subject. I also want to make sure that you hear very clearly: if you put your trust in Jesus, he forgives you, and cleanses you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9). Let the past be past, and let Jesus live his life in you from now on.

The other reason I bring this up, is because of the next part of our text today. Babylon engages in sexual immorality both spiritually and literally. But verses 5-10 now show us the alternative: the Marriage of the Lamb, and His bride. Verse six begins the sixth heavenly throne room scene in the book of Revelation. This means that we have come to the beginning of the sixth (and second to last) section of the book. As we enter the heavenly throne room, as always, the air is filled with praise to God. If you have shared the Passover Seder with us, you know that the word “hallel” means “praise in ancient Hebrew. “Jah” is short for “Yahweh.” Therefore “hallelujah” simply means “praise Yahweh,” or, “praise the Lord.”

Verses seven through nine are focused on praising God, particularly, because the marriage of the Lamb has come. Unlike Babylon, the bride of the Lamb is pure. She has remained faithful to Jesus.

When the New Testament talks about “sons,” and “brothers,” that includes not only men, but women also. When the New Testament talks about “the bride of Christ,” it includes not only women, but men also. For those who belong to Jesus, all women are sons and brothers (as are the men), and all men are brides (as are the women). These metaphors in the New Testament are pictures for us.

God’s people – that is, the people who belong to Jesus – are the bride of Christ. Why do we have this picture of the people of God as a bride?

In the first place, in first century culture, particularly among poor people, the biggest, most wonderful celebrations that they ever managed to take part in were wedding feasts. If you were a Christian, it was not an option for you to participate in the various feasts and celebrations dedicated to false gods. So the only place where you might truly get a wonderful meal and be part of a joyous, happy celebration, would be at a wedding. A wedding brought to mind imagery of joy. At weddings you were free from work and toil, you were surrounded by friends, family and loved ones. For poor people especially, weddings might be the only time they ever experienced having an abundance of good food.

There are two people who stand together at the center of any wedding: the Bride and the Groom. This is their day. More particularly, it is a celebration of their love, and their union. God has promised that a day will come that will be our day: ours, and his, together. That day will celebrate the love God has for us, and the love we have for him. It will also be the day when we enter perfect union by God, unspoiled by our sin or lack of faith. Ephesians chapter 5 talks about this a little bit:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, 23 for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body.
31 For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh.
32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33

Earthly marriage is a just a shadow of a tremendous heavenly reality. As husbands and wives love each other sacrificially, it is a reflection of how Jesus loves us, and we love him. Our job, as the Bride of Christ, is to submit to Jesus. That means we obey what Jesus commands through the Bible. It means we make him the center of our lives. John also writes about this:

1 My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.
3 This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: 6 The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. 1 John 2:1-6

At the same time, Jesus is the one who makes sure that we pure, spotless and blameless. He clothes us with his own righteousness so that we can take our place in union with him, and nothing stand between us. Verse 8 says

8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:8

These words capture the perfect balance of our salvation. “It was granted to her.” This means that we did not get the fine linen for ourselves. It was given to us, bright and pure. The linen is “the righteous deed of the saints.” Actually, the Greek of that last phrase is not quite so cut and dried. It says literally that the fine linen is “the “righteous-nesses” of the saints. In other words, it not necessarily that we got the righteous-nesses for ourselves. So, all that makes us worthy to be perfect union was given to us by God. And yet, at the same time we also, put on what is given us. We prepare ourselves (verse 7).

All of this, again, stand in contrast to Babylon, who wore the clothes of a prostitute, and acted like one.

So, where do we go with this? Let’s put it in terms that make sense for us. Every human being longs for true, deep, honest intimacy. We want to be able to be fully ourselves, and totally known by Another Person. We long to be able to be completely “naked” – not pretending or hiding; body, soul and spirit, and in that state, be fully loved and accepted with no blemish or shadow to mar that experience. This is exactly what is being promised to us.

Ultimately, that longing for intimacy is a longing for the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Our real, actual longing to be fully known and, at the same time, fully loved will be totally fulfilled in our union with Jesus at the end of this present world.

If this sounds vaguely sensual or sexual to you, try not to get uncomfortable. The Bible offers sex and marriage as a way to help us understand how truly amazing it is going to be when stand before Jesus on the last (or, more accurately, the first) day. The highest human experience of intimacy in marriage is supposed to give us a glimpse – just a tiny glimpse – of how we will feel on that day with Jesus.

It is time to start getting excited about this now. So many things get in the way. This, however, is the core desire of our hearts. We need to remember that, and focus on the reality of what is to come, instead of goofing around with temporary, silly pleasures here and now. C.S. Lewis writes:

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

In other words, we do have the right desire, but we don’t always recognize it. If we would only open our eyes, so many things would remind of us our true desire for heaven. For instance, our reaction when we hear a beautiful piece of music, see a beautiful landscape, or picture, or even a beautiful person. Once again C.S. Lewis offers wisdom:

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe and it, to become part of it.

This passage today tells that that is exactly what is coming. We will be united to beauty, to pass into it, to receive into ourselves, to bathe in it and become part of it. Now, we can sing, with the angels:

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready; Revelation 19:6-7

ONE FLESH, PART II

One Flesh Part II

When you take those vows, God himself gets involved. To put it another way, it’s not just your marriage, it is God’s marriage: he is part of it; Jesus said so right here. So when you make decisions about marriage, you are not just deciding about your own life. Something bigger than yourself, bigger than your personal happiness or fulfilment is going on here.

If we take Jesus at his word, and trust him, we may have to learn that his blessings are found differently than we want, but we will receive grace and joy through them, nonetheless.

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 66

 

Matthew #66 Matthew 19:1-12

Let’s revisit what Jesus said about divorce and marriage in Matthew 19:1-12:

1When Jesus had finished this instruction, He departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the Jordan.2Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.3Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds? ”

4“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,”5and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

7“Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away? ”

8He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning.9And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

10His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry! ”

11But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to.12For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matt 19:1-12, HCSB)

Last week we considered what this means for divorce, and what to do in various situations involving divorce. But I want to move off of that topic now, because the real point here is not divorce, but marriage. In marriage God creates a one-flesh entity in the spiritual realm. We looked briefly at this last week, but I want to revisit it in depth now. So, to reiterate what Jesus said: First, marriage is part of God’s original plan and intention at creation. To put it plainly: God created marriage, and he has purposes for it. Second, marriage is made for “male and female.” If you don’t like it, don’t get angry at me – I am merely repeating Jesus’ words. Third, Jesus says that in marriage, God somehow mystically joins the man and the woman into one entity. The book of Genesis calls this “one flesh,” and so does Jesus. Finally, Jesus says that since God created marriage, and somehow joins the man and woman together into this one-flesh entity, that human beings should not undo it.

There is a lot here, so I’ll just jump in. Jesus claims that God established marriage at the same time he created human beings. From a logical standpoint, if this is true, we should find that virtually every culture in the history of the world has some sort of idea of marriage. In fact, this is exactly what we find. Some cultures have allowed men to have more than one wife at the same time, some tiny fraction have allowed women to have more than one husband at the same time. But every single culture in the world has some idea that men and women should be joined together in a lasting agreement, and that this joining is the basis for having children and creating stable families. It is only extremely recently that this idea has been questioned, and only then in one set of cultures that derives from Europe – what we might call “Western Culture.” In most cultures of the world even still, people believe that children should be born to married parents, and that marriage is an important thing that should be honored, and not looked upon casually. In short, history bears witness to Jesus’ claim that marriage is universal to human beings.

Now, I want us to take a close look at this business that in marriage, God creates a “one-flesh entity.” First, we cannot escape the fact that sex (between a married couple) is central to this idea. If you go back and read Genesis chapter two, there is no doubt that this was part of what it meant to become “one flesh.” Paul takes this for granted when he is writing about sexual morality in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20. Jesus also makes it clear here, because he says the one thing that destroys this “one fleshness” between husband and wife, is sexual immorality.

Sex is God’s gift to seal and strengthen the one-flesh entity that He calls marriage. It isn’t just a bodily function, like eating or sleeping. It has the power to create and strengthen a spiritual union. That is what it is made to do. That’s why the bible talks so much about sexual issues. This all means two things: that sex belongs only in marriage, and also that sex does belong in marriage – in other words it should be a part of every marriage. It is powerful thing that can help your one-flesh union with your spouse if you make use of it in marriage. It can tear your marriage apart if you ignore it, or take it outside of marriage.

But the one-flesh unity is more than just sex. As I have said, Jesus describes it as a spiritual union. My wife Kari and I are not just individuals any more: we are part of something that God has got involved in; something bigger than just ourselves. This is tremendously important for Christians to remember. When you take those vows, God himself gets involved. To put it another way, it’s not just your marriage, it is God’s marriage: he is part of it; Jesus said so right here. So when you make decisions about marriage, you are not just deciding about your own life. Something bigger than yourself, bigger than your personal happiness or fulfilment is going on here.

Our culture suffers from a number of extremely powerful, extremely common, delusions about love and marriage. We believe that love is a feeling. We believe that this feeling of love cannot be resisted, nor (so we believe) can it be created where it is not already felt. We believe that love is about feeling complete and fulfilled with another person. We believe that the point of love and marriage is our own personal fulfillment and happiness. We believe that out there somewhere is “the one.” By this, we mean “the one person who was made for me, who will bring me that feeling of love and fulfillment.” Some people don’t get married for fear that they may not yet have found “the one.” Others get divorced, sure that they married “the wrong one.” Sometimes, the only reason couples stay together is that they are afraid of ending up alone, but they go through a lifetime doubting whether they married the right person.

Since Western culture has come to believe such things, marriages are no longer honored or valued, and divorce rates have risen to around 50%, while unwed parenthood has also risen dramatically. The result is children who do not have the emotional stability and security that comes with being in a home where both parents are married to each other. The result of that has been increased emotional distress, increased drug use, increased violent crime, and increased poverty. I am not making this up. Long term studies on divorce and parenthood have proved these things since at least the 1990s. Once again, I am not trying to make anyone who is divorced feel badly, and of course there are exceptions – obviously, not all children of divorce turn to drugs etc.. I am merely trying to make the case that perhaps Jesus knew what he was saying when he said “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” Our culture is falling apart in all kinds of ways, and the failure of marriage has a lot to do with it.

Let me point out something that 99% of Christians today seem to miss when they read this passage. When Jesus tells these people that marriage is a one-flesh entity created by God, something that should not be separated once joined, he is talking to people who are in arranged marriages. Very, very few people in the time of Jesus chose their own spouses. Even those few who had the opportunity usually made the choice mostly based upon financial considerations and social pressures, not love or attraction. I think it would be quite safe to say that fewer than 1% of the people at that time married “for love.” That’s correct: They didn’t even get to choose their own spouses, they never even got to seek “the one,” and yet Jesus says: “God has joined you together into a one-flesh entity; don’t separate it.” Let me put it this way “the one” for you is the one you are married to right now.

This is tremendously important. Marriage isn’t all about you. God has bigger things in mind. Frequently, God uses our marriages (if we let him) to help us grow, and growing is usually a painful process. If we let it, marriage can teach us true unselfishness. It can show us how to love someone even when they don’t deserve our love. It can teach us to serve another without reward. In marriage, we can learn patience, and self-sacrifice, and compassion and forgiveness, and communication, and endurance. In marriage we develop character.

There can be a lot of fun and reward in marriage, too. But the things I’ve just mentioned usually come with struggle, effort and sometimes pain. Both the fun and fulfilling, and also the struggle and pain, are part of God’s one-flesh plan.

For many centuries, people knew that even in arranged marriages, love could grow – even what we might call “romantic love.” There is song from the classic musical, “Fiddler On the Roof.” In it, the main character, Tevya, sings a song asking his wife, “Do you love me?” They were in an arranged marriage, and had never even met before their wedding day. The conclusion of this sweet song is that they learned to love each other.

I don’t care if you are in an arranged marriage, or if you made a mistake finding the “the one,” or even if you actually found “the one”: you still must learn to love each other, and you can learn to love each other. Part of God’s plan for your marriage is to make you more holy and loving, and this absolutely means that at times, you will be made also uncomfortable. But there is also great reward in learning to love your spouse, and building on the foundation of God’s one-flesh unity.

Now, when the disciples hear Jesus’ words, and realize everything this means, their response is:

10His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry! ”

11But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to.12For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matt 19:1-12, HCSB)

I want to make sure and clarify something. When Jesus says “Not everyone can accept this saying” he means the statement “It is better not to marry.” I think this becomes obvious by what he says next, which is to discuss people who do not marry. The word “eunuch” here refers to a man who has been castrated – that is, his testicles have been removed. Some ancient cultures did this to certain boys because it made them unable to reproduce. They were sometimes used to guard important women (because there was no danger of rape or an affair). Eunuchs were also sometimes used as government officials, because they would not have a conflict of interest between their family and their duties.

Jesus says: “not everyone can live like a eunuch.” He means obviously, not everyone can voluntarily be unmarried and celibate. Jesus mentions three kinds of eunuchs Some, says Jesus, were born that way: meaning some people were born with less of a “drive,” and they can be content without getting married. He may here be also referring to homosexuals, who do not have a strong desire to marry the opposite sex. In any case, he is speaking of them figuratively as “eunuchs.” These people would still have all their “equipment” so to speak. Others, he says, have obviously been made that way by men. These are the typical eunuchs of Jesus’ times, the ones who (in those days) were taken and castrated. Third, he says, some have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. These are people like the apostle Paul, or Jesus himself, who deliberately chose to remain single and celibate so that they could better serve God. When Jesus says “Let anyone accept this who can,” what he means is, if you can go through life celibate, than do so, and use your singleness for the kingdom of God. If you can’t, go ahead and get married. Paul reiterates this very thing in 1 Corinthians 7:

6I say the following as a concession, not as a command.7I wish that all people were just like me. But each has his own gift from God, one person in this way and another in that way.8I say to the unmarried and to widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am.9But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with desire. (1Cor 7:6-9, HCSB)

 

25About virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I do give an opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.26Therefore I consider this to be good because of the present distress: It is fine for a man to remain as he is.27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.28However, if you do get married, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But such people will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1Cor 7:25-28, HCSB)

Paul is saying that you have basically two options: You can get married and become one-flesh with your spouse, or you can remain single and celibate (for those who don’t know, “celibate” means “not having sex with anyone). He is basically reiterating what Jesus said in Matthew nineteen.

It used to be that Western Culture recognized the single-celibate lifestyle as legitimate and normal. There was a place in society for the forever-bachelor or the forever-spinster. Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth I, Clara Barton (founder of the Red Cross), Jane Austen, Susan B. Anthony and Florence Nightingale are a few famous women who remained single for a lifetime. Besides Jesus and the apostle Paul, famous “lifelong eunuchs” among men include Beethoven, Thomas Aquinas, Henry David Thoreau, Isaac Newton and both Orville and Wilbur Wright. In recent times, a very wise and insightful Christian thinker and writer was Henri Nouwen. Towards the end of his life, he admitted that he was a homosexual. However, he chose to remain “a eunuch” for the sake of Jesus, and did not regret the choice. As a single man, the time he put into reflection, study and writing was a great blessing for the kingdom of God.

In contrast to the teaching of the bible, I recently read an article on the Huffington Post that described “twelve [different] terms that are related to sexual and romantic identities.” We used to have just people. Then we had “Straight” and “Gay.” Then we went to LGBT. Now, according to the Huffington Post article, we are looking at LGBTALDPZ and several more. If I had read that article fifteen years ago, I would have thought it was humorous satire, something like an Onion piece. However it is not. Unfortunately, there is no way to reconcile this. The bible teaches us to aspire to either lifelong marriage, or lifelong celibacy. Of course there is forgiveness and grace and comfort for us when we fail, there is hope of healing and wholeness when are broken, but we need to remain clear about the standard.

I’ve focused a lot on the negatives here: marriage isn’t about your happiness; if you want to be single then you must also be celibate; we are going against the grain of the culture, and so on. But I am convinced that the Lord gives us these commands because he also has tremendous blessings for us when we live by them. If we take Jesus at his word, and trust him, we may have to learn that his blessings are found differently than we want, but we will receive grace and joy through them, nonetheless.

 

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

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ONE FLESH, PART I:

One Flesh A

The Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about divorce. He gave them an answer about marriage. This teaching of Jesus is difficult for many people, but it is right here in the bible, so we’ll try and understand what he said and apply it to our lives. This is part I on the text of Matthew 19:1-12.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 65

 

Matthew #65. Matthew 19:1-12 Part I

This is one of those passages I would prefer not to teach on. However, I do my best to submit myself to the word of God, and so I will do my best to help us understand and apply this passage, no matter how hard it might be.

Actually, of course, this passage is not particularly difficult understand. What is difficult is that many Christians have either ignored it or disobeyed it at some point in their lives, and so simply to repeat what Jesus says here sounds, at first, very harsh judgmental. In fact, this can be a very sensitive subject, and someone like me runs the risk of offending a large number of people in preaching on it. Far too many preachers simply avoid the subject.

In addition, there are some Christians and churches who have applied this passage without also giving people the bigger context of God’s grace and forgiveness; and so they have erred in the opposite direction, making people feel condemned without hope.

This subject is so important, and so prone to misunderstanding, I want to take it slowly, so we’ll spend two weeks on Jesus’ words here. Just to make sure we know exactly what Jesus said, here it is:

1When Jesus had finished this instruction, He departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the Jordan.2Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.3Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds? ”

4“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,”5and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

7“Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away? ”

8He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning.9And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

10His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry! ”

11But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to.12For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matt 19:1-12, HCSB)

During the time of Jesus there was a debate among the Pharisees about how much latitude was allowed for divorce. One group held the you could get divorced for any reason, even if it was simply that you didn’t like your wife’s cooking. A smaller group of Pharisees believed that the only reason for divorce was sexual unfaithfulness. I think here the Pharisees are trying to place Jesus into their categories. They want to know which “camp” Jesus belongs to.

As he does so often, Jesus avoids their categories. Instead of talking about Moses’ command concerning divorce, he talks about the intention of God himself at creation (which of course was also the intention of Jesus, being God). This is a clear, definitive statement from Jesus about marriage; if you want to know what he thought about marriage here it is, in verses four through six. First, marriage was part of God’s original plan and intention at creation. To put it plainly: God created marriage. Second, marriage is made for “male and female.” If ever Jesus had the opportunity to affirm gay marriage here it was, but instead he affirms marriage is for “male and female,” and “man and wife.” If you don’t like it, don’t get angry at me – these are Jesus’ words, not mine. Third, Jesus says that in marriage, God somehow mystically joins the man and the woman into one entity. The book of Genesis calls this “one flesh,” and so does Jesus. Finally, Jesus says that since God created marriage, and somehow joins the man and woman together into this one-flesh entity, that human beings should not undo it.

Now, I want to unpack all this, but first we have to deal with the elephant in the room: divorce. The Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about divorce, and his answer was really more about marriage. Even so, of course he made statements about divorce as well.

Clearly, Jesus tells us that there is a very narrow set of circumstances where divorce followed by remarriage is no problem with God. In other words, in general, divorce is not what God wants for followers of Jesus. Some people from ultra-conservative backgrounds may have heard about the sin of divorce endlessly. I think more often, people are surprised to learn that Jesus generally calls it a sin, at least under most circumstances. Even so, divorce is no different than any other sin; it is no worse than anything I have ever done. It usually does have deep and long term consequences for those involved, but it is not, in any sense “the unforgivable sin.” In addition, I do not see anything here that tells us a person is sinning every day that they remain divorced from their first spouse. In other words, “the state of being divorced” is not one long ongoing sin. Like with any sin, we need to repent, receive forgiveness, and move on as we follow Jesus.

Jesus says that it is a sin to get remarried unless your spouse was sexually unfaithful to you (the word for “unfaithful” is specifically about sexual immorality). What if you have been divorced, got remarried, and you do not know that your first spouse was sexually unfaithful? It may indeed have been a sin initially to get remarried, but now that you are, I do not believe that you are sinning every day that you remain in your second marriage. In fact, I think if we would take Jesus seriously, we need to apply his words to whatever marriage we are in right now. If this is your second or third marriage, understand that today, this is your marriage. Don’t sin again by getting divorced a second or third or fourth time. Your present marriage is holy and special in God’s eyes. Make this one work.

What if you are divorced, but are presently single, and wish to get married to someone else someday? Can you get remarried even if your spouse has not been sexually unfaithful to you? It seems pretty clear to me that Jesus is saying here, “no.” God views marriage is something permanent, and he calls it “one flesh.” That one flesh entity is only broken by sexual unfaithfulness. However, even in the case of sexual unfaithfulness, it is possible for couples to reconcile and once more enter into a one flesh union; in other words, you do not have to get divorced if your spouse had an affair, but in that situation, if you would like to do so, and remarry, you are free to do so without sinning.

As a note, of course, if your spouse remarries, your one-flesh union is broken; I think the same would be true if your spouse has sex with someone else after your divorce.

I have known of several couples (friends of friends) who got divorced, but took the words of Jesus here seriously; both members of the couple remained single after their divorce. Over the years, as they sought personal healing for themselves, and continued to see each other regularly in the process of raising their kids between two separate homes, these couples eventually reconciled and married each other once more. That was only made possible because they took Jesus’ command seriously, and did not look for remarriage. That approach honors the way God sees marriage.

That is the ideal. However, we live in a broken world, and things do not always work out ideally. Perhaps you just cannot stand to be alone for the rest of your life, and you are absolutely opposed to reconciling with your spouse. You get remarried, even though you know Jesus said you are not free to do so. There is forgiveness for you anyway, grace in abundance. Pretty much anytime I sin, I know beforehand that what I am about to do is wrong, and yet I go ahead and do it anyway: that is the nature of sin. So if you happen to fail and sin in this matter of remarriage, you are not beyond redemption and forgiveness. You can receive God’s grace and move on, and know that his death at the cross was enough for that too; you can know, even if you do this with your eyes wide open, that his love for you will not change and you can receive his grace if you want it, and if you trust it. I am not suggesting that you do this. It would be a sin for you to do it. I am merely reiterating what Paul said in Romans 8:1

1Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus,2because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.3What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering,4in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4, HCSB)

No matter how weak your flesh is, his grace is stronger.

I want to say one more thing about this, not by way of condemnation but by way of advice. Whatever the situation was, if you are divorced, you need to walk through some kind of process of healing. No matter how bad your marriage was, its breakup will leave scars. And not only that, but no matter how bad your spouse was, you had at least some involvement in the falling apart of your marriage. If nothing else, you need to understand why you ever married such a horrible person in the first place, and get healing for the things that caused you to do so.

I am not saying this to assign blame, I’m only saying that divorce leaves people in a situation where emotional healing is important and necessary. If you do not walk through the sometimes-long and sometimes-difficult process of emotional healing after divorce, your next marriage will suffer greatly. We have all heard many times that the divorce rate is roughly 50%. In terms of strict numbers of marriages, this is true. However, the true divorce rate is much higher among second marriages and later. In other words, the divorce rate for second marriages is something like 75%, in large part, because people usually do not work through their issues before getting remarried. What I am about to say next is not a rule, and I’m not getting it from the bible, but practically speaking, I doubt you can really have new relationship that is truly healthy until at least a year after your divorce is final, and that would be only if you are making a conscious effort to seek healing and wholeness. If you don’t want your second marriage to end like your first, I strongly advise you to pay attention to this.

Now, the Pharisees were shocked by Jesus’ response, and they had an argument against it. Moses said they could do it, and Moses was inspired by God. Jesus’ response does two things: first, he is literally claiming that he knows better than Moses, which was a staggering claim for any Jew to make. It is one more place where he is subtly claiming to be God. Second, he lays out the reason for the divorce-regulation given by Moses: he said it was because they were hard-hearted. Both the Old and New Testaments talk about how some people are hard-hearted toward the Lord. The Pharaoh of Egypt during the time of Moses was one of those. No matter that God’s will was to set the people free, Pharaoh wasn’t having it. Some of the people of Israel became hard-hearted, and rejected God in the wilderness. Being hard-hearted means you are determined to go your own way and do what you want to do, regardless of what God wants for you.

So, some of the ancient Israelite men were hard-hearted in the matter of divorce. They were determined to divorce their wives, no matter what God said about marriage. Remember, Jesus quotes from Genesis chapters one and two in talking about God’s view of marriage – and the ancient Israelites had those scriptures also, at least orally; in fact they were probably first written down by Moses himself. So they knew how God felt about marriage, but they were hard-hearted.

In the surrounding cultures at the time of Moses, if a man didn’t want his wife, he would simply kick her out. In those cultures, there would be no place for such a woman in society. Her parents would not take her back, nor any of her family. She would become a beggar and a target for sexual abuse; she would have no provision nor protection in society. So, God said, “Look, if you are going to be hard-hearted about this, and dissolve your marriages, at least you must give your wife a certificate of divorce.” This certificate of divorce had the effect of giving a divorced woman standing in the community. She remained respectable. She was eligible to remarry. Her family could take her in with no dishonor. She could not be mistreated or turned into a prostitute. To put it another way, the Old Testament regulation about divorce protected women in a society where many men were determined to dissolve their marriages no matter what God thought. The intention was not to endorse divorce, but to protect vulnerable women when men were hard-hearted.

This is a statement of God’s great grace. He didn’t want them to divorce. They determined to do it anyway, so he said, “OK, this is how we can minimize the damage.”

As Jesus said, it was not God’s original intention. It is not his desire. But when it happens, he finds a way to bring some grace into the situation. Let him speak to you about that right now.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

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917 Canyon Creek Drive

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

MARRIAGE = GOD’S FOUNDATION FOR CIVILIZATION

divorce

God offers grace to divorcees, like he does to each and every person. In the meantime, his plan is for those who are married to stay married.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

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Matthew #17. Matthew 5:31-32

Let’s get some things out in the open right away: It’s an awkward thing to teach on the topic of divorce. To put it bluntly, the reason it is awkward is that the Bible quite clearly condemns it, and yet literally half the people who have been married in this country have also been divorced – Christians included. So I realize that what scripture teaches on this subject may offend some people, hurt others, and even tempt some people to feel condemned. I want to strongly encourage you to resist all those feelings (which are often understandable), and instead listen today to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Frankly, however, the divorce rate is what it is, in part because churches stopped teaching what the Bible really says about divorce. James 3:1 says that those of us who teach the scriptures will be judged more strictly, and so I believe I have a responsibility to teach clearly on this subject, even if I risk offending some people.

If you have been divorced, I want to plead with you to seriously consider what God says about it. I also want to assure you, on the basis of the Bible, that God certainly offers forgiveness to divorcees, exactly the same way he offers forgiveness to those who gossip and slander, to those who steal, lie, cheat, envy, lust, are selfish, or commit any other sin. Divorce has huge consequences on individuals and societies, but it is neither less nor more of a sin than any other sin. We have all sinned in various ways – not one of us is perfect, and we all deserve eternal punishment as a consequence. But the good news is, Jesus died to take the punishment for what we have done wrong, divorce included.

So please understand, when I teach on divorce, I am not singling anyone out, and I do not somehow think it is the most terrible thing anyone can do. But I have a serious responsibility to clearly explain what scripture says about it, just as I had to do with anger, and lust, and will have to do with everything else that Jesus said in the book of Matthew.

Let’s start with Jesus’ own words:

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32).

This is not the only place where Jesus talks about divorce. In Matthew 19:4, the Pharisees asked him if divorce was “ok.” He replied:

“Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said ‘For this reason a man shall 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 man not separate.”

In other words, he is saying that human beings ought not to tamper with marriage, which is a union God has created and blessed. When the Pharisees asked him specifically why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus had this shocking reply:

“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 marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

Just in case there was any question about how God feels about this topic, read Malachi 2:16

“I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel.”

Please be very clear on this – God does not hate divorced people – he hates the practice of divorce, the sin. If you are divorced and you have any doubt about whether God still loves you, please consider the cross that Jesus died on. Whipped raw with blows that had killed many lesser men, Jesus hung on the cross and drowned in his own body fluid in slow, barbaric, tortuous death. He did it for you. He had the power to avoid that terrible death – the thing that kept him there all the way to death was his love for you. When you consider that, there should be no doubt in your mind that he loves you.

Let’s think about this topic a little bit differently. Smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. There are many, wide-ranging and long-term health consequences to smoking. If you are presently a smoker, there’s no point beating yourself up because you got yourself hooked. Suppose you are suffering from the effects of smoking. The important thing is to figure out what to do now, and how to manage those health problems, now that you have them. Even if you recently got hooked, condemning yourself for the past won’t help you in the present.

On the other hand, it is vitally important to make sure that people who are not yet smokers understand that it is a really bad idea to start. Telling non-smokers to stay away from cigarettes is not the same thing as condemning those who smoke. And it is worthwhile to risk offending a few smokers in order to save others from the damage that smoking causes.

Teaching on divorce is kind of the same way. Divorce is a bad idea, most of the time. There are many, wide-ranging and long-term consequences to divorce. But if you’ve already done it, there’s no point in condemning yourself, or letting others condemn you. Acknowledge your mistake, receive the forgiveness of Jesus, and focus on what he wants to do in your life right now. And I think it is worthwhile to get the message out to others before they also experience some of the long-term problems caused by divorce.

Now that I have made people who both smoke and are divorced feel doubly bad, let’s move on. First, God views marriage as a permanent union. That’s why divorce is a sin. No matter what the laws of the government are, once two people are married, in God’s eyes they remain so until one of them dies. So if a couple divorces, and they remarry other people, in the eyes of God they are simply committing adultery. Now, I am aware that many of you reading this have already divorced and remarried. Please don’t compound the problem by divorcing again. That would only be to sin again. Do ask for forgiveness for your sinful action of divorce, and do thank the Lord for that forgiveness, and live in your new marriage as a forgiven person. The good news about Jesus is, he gives us a clean slate to work with. Jesus’ forgiveness is the answer; multiple divorces are not.

I think divorce breaks God’s heart. He created human beings to be in permanent community with each other. The means he gave to do this, is the family. And the foundation of family is marriage. When a marriage is torn apart, it destroys something God was creating. It does violence to our human need for permanent community based on love and relationship (in fact the Hebrew word for divorce is very closely related to the word for violence). It has now been proven that divorce usually has significant negative consequences on children of divorcees. In the early seventies, some ridiculous studies came out, claiming that divorce really doesn’t faze kids. Some kooky people claimed (and some still do) that divorce is actually better for the kids than a rocky marriage. But the longest most respectable study of the effect of divorce on children came out in the mid 1990s, and it showed that children of divorce struggle much more with long term depression, and they exhibit a whole host of emotional problems that stay with them well into adulthood. I think God weeps whenever divorce papers are signed. If you have had a part in putting your children in this situation, remember that God is available to them to bring them healing and wholeness. His grace and forgiveness covers this also. Commit your kids to him.

Now, many of you will have noticed that Jesus makes a sort of “exception.” He implies that when there has been “marital unfaithfulness,” it is not a sin for the partner who has not been unfaithful to divorce the other. Let’s make it clear that “marital unfaithfulness” in these passages, means simply and only, sexual activity outside the marriage. It doesn’t mean that Bob can divorce Sally because she hasn’t been “faithful” in meeting his needs for beer and backrubs. In fact the Greek word for “marital unfaithfulness” is porneia, and it means simply any sort of sexual activity with someone you are not married to. So when one partner commits adultery, the other is free to divorce. Even so, there is nothing in these passages to suggest that this person has to divorce his or her spouse, or even that he or she should – only that the spouse in this situation may do so without committing a sin. There are, of course many important factors in this sort of decision, and if there are children, they should be high on the list of considerations.

For those of you who are single, these teachings of Jesus ought to create very strong motivation for you to choose carefully when seeking a spouse. If God sees marriage as permanent, you had better start seeing it that way too. Divorce should never be “an option” for a Christian couple. This might also motivate you to do everything you can to help support the marriages of your married friends.

For those of you who are currently married, it is vital, if you haven’t already, to train yourself to see your marriage like God sees it – a permanent union until one of you passes away. When you have that viewpoint, it is possible to work through any difficulties, because you know that no one is going anywhere, that you have time a commitment on your side.

God doesn’t like divorce. It is a sin, and it breaks his heart. It violates the very way he created people to be. There is one instance where God allows it, though even then, reconciliation is God’s first choice. If you have committed the sin of divorce, be assured, it is not an unforgivable offense. But if you have never admitted to yourself and to God and to another person that it is a sin, I highly recommend that you do so right now, and ask God for forgiveness. And if you are married right now, please learn to view your marriage as absolutely permanent – the way God designed it to be.

Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you right now, and lead you.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

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THE PROBLEM WITH IGNORING GOD’S DESIGN

 

kingdavidlion

 

One of the biggest failures of David was his failure to live out God’s design for marriage and family. The fact that he ignored what God said about marriage was devastating to his children and many people around them.

 

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 2 Samuel Part 2

2 Samuel #2 . 2 Samuel 3:2-5;13-16

Second Samuel Chapters one through five give us the history of a half-hearted civil war between Saul’s family and David’s followers. But right in the middle, chapter three interrupts the war narrative to tell us briefly about the sons that David had during this time, and about his wives. There are some significant things to say about this interlude. I could have put it before or after the war discussion. Since I am writing this the week before father’s day (in the USA) I’ll cover it now, and we’ll get to the war next week.

Six sons of David are named in 3:2-5, and each one came from a different wife. The Old Testament does not offer many outright condemnations of polygamy. Yet it unflinchingly and consistently records the negative results of having more than one spouse. And there are passages that warn against it, even especially for kings.

Of David’s sons named in this passage, Chileab, Ithream and Shephatiah are mentioned only here in the history of Israel (though the same passage is repeated in 1 Chronicles 3). It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that they died in infancy or childhood; because of their absence in later genealogies it is virtually certain that they died before they themselves had children. David’s three surviving sons prove the brokenness that results from ignoring God’s intended plan for marriage and families.

The first survivor is Amnon. When he grew up he raped his half-sister Tamar, who was Absalom’s full sister. Absalom, the next one, had Amnon murdered for what he did. Later, he started a civil war with his father David, and made him flee for his life. Adonijah was a schemer who also tried to seize control of the kingdom when David was old and weak. He was ultimately executed by his half-brother Solomon.

There is one more note in chapter three concerning marriage. In verses 13-16 David demands that his wife Michal, Saul’s daughter, be returned to him. It is true that at one time, it seemed like David and Michal were in love (1 Samuel 18:20). But the marriage has been dissolved for a long time by this point, and David’s main motivation appears to be to unify the kingdom – joining the house of Saul and the house of David once more. He may have also been concerned that if Michal had any children, her second husband might claim them as rightful heirs of the throne of Israel. But her second husband loved her very much. He followed her all the way to the borders of David’s kingdom, weeping that he was losing her. This is an awful, tragic event.

It is a fact that David had many wives and many children by them. It is also a fact that the resulting family was full of greed, lust, hatred, murder, mayhem and grief. David was a man after God’s heart in many ways. But in his role as a husband and father, he failed spectacularly, as men of power and fame frequently do.

I did not plan out the texts this way, but I happen to be writing this just prior to Father’s day. So I want to point out a few things here that seem relevant to fatherhood. First, David’s failure as a father began with his failure as a husband. The strife in his family began with the fact that David ignored God’s plan for marriage, which is laid out clearly in Genesis 1 and 2 which describe marriage as the joining of one man and one woman for life. Once David ignored that, things went downhill. We might excuse him for marrying again after being separated from Michal. That divorce was beyond his control. But he continued to add wives like state-stickers on the back of a retired couple’s RV.

In those days, polygamy was a sign that the polygamist was rich and powerful. Many wives were a sign of status, sort of like a brand new Mercedes-Benz these days, only more expensive. It was expected that powerful men would have many wives. I believe that part of David’s motivation in marrying so many women was to gain respect in the eyes of his followers and in the eyes of foreign leaders. I’m sure he also wanted extra wives for other reasons, and the culture merely gave him an excuse. The truth is, David caved in to cultural pressure about marriage. And in doing so, he ignored a very clear warning from Moses that even kings were not to take many wives:

14 “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations around me,’ 15 you are to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses… …17 He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won’t go astray. He must not acquire very large amounts of silver and gold for himself. (Deut 17:14 & 17, HCSB)

There is a lot of cultural pressure on godly marriage these days also. Of course, there is the pressure to cave in and say that marriage is a joining of whoever wants to be joined, regardless of gender (or anything else). But I think the biggest cultural pressure on marriage these days is divorce. Divorce is just as much against God’s design for marriage as is polygamy. If you think it was wrong for David to have several wives, then biblically speaking, you’d better admit that divorce is wrong too. If you think gay marriage is not according to God’s plan, than you had better acknowledge that neither is divorce. The only difference is that our society accepts divorce, but not polygamy (at least not yet). It may soon accept gay marriage, or even stranger moralities concerning marriage, but we as Christians need to understand what the Bible says, and hold to it, regardless of what our culture does. There are loopholes in the law that allow unscrupulous people and companies to legally cheat and scam others. Does that mean it is OK for Christians to make money by doing those things? Of course not. Legality is not the same as morality. The law in Nevada says prostitution is legal there. Does that mean it is OK for a Christian woman to choose that for a career – as long as she lives in Nevada? Of course not. Government laws are not the same as God’s standards, and we can’t expect them to be. In the same way, it doesn’t matter what any human government says about marriage. What God says is the only relevant thing, and Jesus was sky-clear about marriage:

3 Some Pharisees approached [Jesus] to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds? ”

4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” 5 and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away? ”

8 He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. 9 And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

It would be nice if our legal system reflected our Christian morality. But there are already so many places in which it does not. If we make disciples and Jesus changes the hearts of people, they will do what is right, even if the law says it is OK to do wrong. If we all really followed Jesus and really let him use each of use to make disciples, gay marriage would not even be an issue. I wish Christians in America would quite fussing about gay marriage and instead let their hearts be broken in repentance over divorce, and over our failure to really submit to Jesus in all areas of our lives, especially marriage.

Now, what if you have already had a divorce and have remarried? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These instructions are for you right now. What’s past is past. Live each present moment in step with the Holy Spirit. If you are married now, regardless of which number your marriage is, stay married to this one. Make it work, starting now. I think this principle is illustrated (in a negative way) by what David did to Michal. He tore her away from a man who deeply loved her. David destroyed another marriage and another family by trying to “undo” his divorce. The whole thing was a big disaster, as divorce always is. We’ll learn later that neither he nor Michal were happy about how it worked out after they were married again. So don’t try to undo your present marriage, whether it is your first or your fifth.

If your present marriage is truly intolerable (and often we exaggerate how bad it is) then it does appear that you can get divorced without sinning – as long as you never marry anyone but your present spouse again. In other words, for a Christian, divorce should lead to lifetime singleness, or reconciliation with your estranged spouse. The one exception where a person is free to get divorced and marry someone else is explained by Jesus – if your spouse (not you) commits adultery. Even there, Jesus does say that you must divorce – only that you may.

But before you decide that your marriage is intolerable, I want to suggest to you that marriage is a live thing. Things will get bad – for a while. They always do. They will also get better. If you stay with it, that is inevitable too. And then they will get rocky, and then better again. That’s life. Marriage is the most intimate relationship available to human beings. Two human beings relating that closely are bound to cause trouble for each other. But they can also be a source of incredible strength and joy to each other, if they stick with it. At its best, marriage gives us glimpses into the very nature of God. At its worst, it forces us to confront our own flaws and foibles, and maybe gives us a glimpse into the heartache that the Lord feels when we turn away from him. Either way, it’s a good thing. Notice I didn’t say easy but rather, good.

When David ignored God’s plan for marriage, it led to disaster for his children. Not only did his children suffer, but many around them suffered also. In other words, David’s disregard of God’s view of marriage was not merely a personal choice that affected only him – in his case it affected hundreds of people. In fact, his son Solomon followed in David’s polygamous footsteps and it destroyed and entire nation of people.

A huge amount of research has been done concerning children and divorce. Though children often seem to bounce back and handle things well at first, the long term consequences of divorce upon children are deep, troubling, and difficult to resolve. The struggles of children of divorce range from physical health problems to emotional trauma, depression and problems with future relationships. On this father’s day, I say to dads: If you are serious about being a good father, start by being a good and faithful husband to the mother of your children.

I’m sure David was under a lot of pressure. Everyone around accepted polygamy, especially for a man in his situation. But I believe that if David had been truly willing to follow the Lord in this area of his life, the Holy Spirit would have given him the strength to do so. I know the same is true for us. I think Kari and I have a great marriage. But trust me, we have our negative times like everyone else. But the grace of God is always available to us to help us in our struggles – all we have to do is submit to God’s design and reach out for that grace.