SOTM, part 8 - Marriage, Divorce, and Singles
First, read through Jesus’ hardcore statement on marriage and divorce in Matthew 5:31-32. Pretty stunning, isn’t it? A couple things to bear in mind here. Jesus is in the middle of a message, a sermon, if you will, that is talking about what life is like in his kingdom. So, everything Jesus is saying is meant specifically for people who choose to accept Jesus as savior and king. He’s got no say in the matters of anyone in a different kingdom. That said, Jesus is spinning off of a debate that was raging within rabbinical circles: can you divorce your wife for any reason, or are there stricter guidelines?
Interestingly, Jesus, just a few chapters later, in Matthew 19, lays out a nuanced and complete elaboration of his views on this topic, so, let’s go there. Take in Matthew 19: 3-12, and then we’ll move on. Ready? Ok. Now, in this passage, Jesus is approached by some religious leaders, and they are trying to trick him into landing in one camp of the rabbis. And Jesus will get to an answer, but before he does, he treats his listeners to God’s perspective on marriage to help set the table. And for that, Jesus goes all the way back to the beginning, literally. The beginning of the bible, Genesis, where marriage began, with Adam and Eve.
And what Jesus pulls out of Genesis is that marriage was God’s idea. He created man, but found that it was not good for him to be alone, so he made woman. He didn’t make a child, or a best buddy. He made woman. Marriage, in God’s eyes is between a man and a woman. And when it involves God’s people, God himself joins them and declares that it’s a permanent thing, never to be torn apart. The two will become one flesh—there is no longer him and her, so much as a new “them”, a new creation, a new family. And they are to hold fast to one another. This is a permanent, exclusive covenant never to be broken until death enters the scene.
The religious leaders, self-proclaimed experts in things biblical, counter with, “Well, why then did Moses allow divorce?” Jesus’ answer: "Because you guys were dirty rotten sinners; but even then Moses never commanded divorce. He only permitted it because of the hardness of your hearts. From the beginning, it was not so.”
There is something in us that actually loves a love story where two people are absolutely unbreakable, enduring all manner of hardship, never quitting, never giving up, never leaving. It’s why even guys who don’t cry will tear up just a bit in watching the first 4 minutes of Pixar’s “UP,” which recounts the life of Carl and Ellie prior to her death. Pixar knew they’d get us with that story.
And God’s purpose in marriage, in love that never ends, was so that he would be able to display through his people to the rest of the world that this is the kind of love God has for everyone in the world.
Now, only with that as a backdrop does Jesus answer the original question, and that answer puts Jesus in the strictly conservative camp. He says, “If you are a follower of mine, and you divorce your spouse for any other reason than immorality, i.e., adultery or infidelity, and you marry someone else, you are committing adultery and you’re causing your new spouse to be guilty of it, as well. Tough stuff here, no doubt. But it says something about the seriousness of marriage as seen through God’s eyes. Now, there is no absolute command to divorce even when infidelity occurs. God still loves and prefers reconciliation. I had a couple 15 years or so ago who moved to the DC area to get away from the husband’s indiscretions back home. This couple got into a bible study and got saved. The wife, forgiven of her sins by Jesus, played it forward and forgave her husband. This couple reconciled and have a fantastic marriage now. It can happen.
But it doesn’t always. Sometimes that tearing apart might happen. In addition to infidelity, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 will also note that if a spouse is abandoned, divorce is permitted. Not preferred. Just permitted.
So, what do we do, as Christians, if we now come to the realization that the divorce that happened in our lives was not for biblically acceptable grounds? What if we realize we committed adultery by marrying someone else, and worse, made our new spouse guilty of the same offense before God? Well, you don’t have to go screaming into the desert or anything. Ok, you’re married to this new person. But you’ve got this sin thing of adultery hanging over you. Do what you do with any other sin God brings to your attention. Confess it to him, ask him for his forgiveness, and trust that that sin, like every other you’ve committed, was fully paid for on the cross. Now, go forward, and make that marriage be everything God intended marriage to be—a covenant where two people love each other sacrificially and never let go until death shows up. Be the example of God’s love for his people in your sphere.
Ok, finally, Jesus has some words for people who aren’t married. It’s kinda funny, because he uses the illustration of eunuchs, and singles aren’t really eunuchs. So, think of it this way, singles in the kingdom of God follow God’s instructions on sex, which means they aren’t having it. They know sex is a thing that seals the deal of life-long covenant of marriage. And eunuchs in Jesus’ day were individuals who were not having sex. That’s the lash-up with singles. Folks who are not married, part of God’s family, and not engaged in sexual relations.
Jesus says there are three kinds of eunuchs, or singles, in his kingdom: (1) singles who have been single from birth—these are folks who have never been married, but probably want to be, or those who see that in their future. They are waiting for God to provide that perfect spouse; (2) singles who have been made singles—that is, those who have been married, but now find themselves single again. Perhaps they were made single again by divorce, or perhaps through the death of a spouse; and (3) singles who have made themselves single for the sake of the kingdom—that is, singles who are perfectly content being single for the rest of their lives and have no particular interest in being married.
Notice that Jesus does not consider singles to be half-people, or incomplete people, or people lacking in some way because they are not married. They are, in fact, full-fledged citizens of the kingdom, and fully engaged in kingdom work. This makes me ponder the state of the church—sometimes we make singles feel that they are lacking somehow if they are not married. We can almost make an idol of marriage, making singles feel like something less than a married person. That is just plain wrong. Ok, sure, there are people who are professional serial daters, people who are not grown up, people who have commitment issues—but this is not all singles. Let’s not lump all singles in the church into that bin. We’ve got to embrace singles who are followers of Christ as equal partners in the work of the kingdom as any married person. Yeah, marriage is awesome, but if God has called a person to singleness, then there’s no better place for them than that. And if God brings a spouse into the picture at some point, fine. But they are totally complete as Christians with the Spirit of Christ at work in them.
Again, remember that Jesus has been talking about what he expects to see happening among his people, citizens who have chosen to be in his kingdom. Jesus knows that the rest of the world, outside his kingdom, are going to have sex like rabbits and divorce willy-nilly. Jesus isn’t addressing them. He’s addressing his followers, encouraging us to live life to the full and experience joy to the extent that those around us might think, “Man, I don’t know what’s going on with those Christians, but I wouldn’t mind having a taste of what they’re having. They seem pretty darn happy.” So, let’s go for it. Be a city on a hill. Be salt and light to the world around you.
I have summarized some of the key points of the message here. If you want the fully message, pop onto our website at www.thesurge.cc, click on the current message series, which will be Sermon on the Mount, and scroll down to message number 8. Enjoy!!
Sermon on the Mount - Jesus on Lust
Yep, Jesus leaves no stone unturned and no pride unassaulted as he preached this message that was, actually, an invitation to join his kingdom. Today, we’re in Matthew, chapter 5, verses 27-30. And Jesus continues to reveal that citizens of his kingdom, with him as the king and his Holy Spirit residing in us, are going to begin to look more and more distinct from the world around us. So, let’s read that passage first to get the big picture for today.
Matthew 5:27-30 - You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus launches this section by quoting one of the 10 Commandments that forbids adultery. And most of his audience would have breathed a huge sigh of relief, “Ok, I’m good. I’ve never cheated on my wife (or husband).” That would have lasted about three seconds, however, because Jesus then drops the grenade, "But I say to you that if you’ve ever looked at a woman with lustful intent, you are guilty of adultery in your heart." And every hearer would have thought, “Oh, no. He just nailed me.” Sex, that magical thing God created to seal a covenant between a man and a woman, can be robbed of its beauty and by the mere thoughts and intents of a mind and heart corrupted. And we’ve all been there. It’s the addiction to lust that Jesus is calling his people to kill, all for something better.
We see the damage from lust and sex misused all around us in our culture. Watch any TV show or movie. Physical attraction or romantic interest has to, and quickly, end up in a romp in the hay. Donna Freitas’ book, The End of Sex; How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, should be must reading on how we are creating self-inflicted wounds when lust unchecked rules our lives.
And pornography has just amped a culture already on lust steroids. It used to be you had to slip into an alley for porn, but now every computer is a potential red-light district. Porn is piped right into your homes, available for men, women, and our kids. And it’s getting more graphic. I saw a Washington Post article this past week that Playboy is going to stop having naked pictures in its print edition. Why? Well, with all the graphic videos available online, mere pictures doesn’t have the appeal it once had. Heck, Playboy can’t even compete with porn masquerading as a box-office hit. Take 50 Shades of Grey—pornographic literature that glorifies abusive and oppressive sex. And that’s not some Christian flamethrower making that claim. It’s coming from professionals who work in the area of domestic abuse and any number of feminist groups.
The Witherspoon Institute, an independent research center—not a Christian outfit, by the way—reviewed the academic literature on the costs of pornography. Here’s what they concluded the research showed:
The neuroscience of pornography consumption is revealed by empirical studies. Some studies show that it undermines marital and other relationships of its users. It can make men sexually incompetent with a real partner, and for some can lead to growing attraction to images of a hard-core nature. Women not only face new expectations of sexual behavior, they also are confronted with increased chances of divorce, infidelity, and less happy marriages. Children, adolescent boys, in particular, are more inclined to violence, aggression, and sexual coercion of peers, and are more susceptible to sexual coercion by peers and adults. Adolescent girls are more inclined to tolerate emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Finally, while much research needs to be done in this area, it appears that pornography continues to be a factor in human trafficking for sexual exploitation. In summary, pornography has social costs for those involved at the primary level—consumers and producers, be they men, women, or children—and secondary level—usually women and children.
Almost to make my point, the news this past week highlighted a major law enforcement bust of a number of human traffickers in Virginia and the rescue of a couple of hundred victims—girls ranging in age from 12 to 17. Think lust isn’t unchecked right here in our own city?
So, Jesus says that we’ve got to be serious about weeding this lust thing out of our lives. Better to end up in heaven with an eye and hand missing than to get to hell whole. Pretty graphic stuff, there, eh? The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:13 that if we live according to the flesh, we will die, but if we put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, we will live. Living by the Spirit simply means to cooperate with God on the things He’s leading us to and away from.
Let’s be honest. If you’re a Christian, why are you looking at porn? Let me tell you why. Because you love it. Maybe you’d argue with me on that, saying, “Well, when I do look at it, I feel convicted and ashamed.” Yeah, but that’s not enough to stop you, is it? And that’s because your “want to” is greater than your “don’t want to.” See, to be delivered from lust and porn, you have to learn to hate it. And you won’t hate it until you grasp what it’s costing you. There are things God wants to do in your life, to give you, to bring into your life, but lust is in the way. You’ve got to get your mind around what lust is costing you.
Also, to be free of sin, you must first be forgiven of it. And you won’t ask for forgiveness for it until you hate it. God’s not asking you to hate you. He just wants you to hate your sin. And since we are to put to death the deeds of the body through the Spirit, we’ve got to be Christians, because that’s how we get the Spirit.
Now, once the Spirit is at work, he’s gonna help. And his help will normally be in two areas, and both of them are this: RUN!!!!!!!!!!!!
First, RUN AWAY!!!!! 1 Corinthians 6:18 tells us to flee from sexual immorality. So, be aware of where temptation lies for you and don’t put yourself in situations where you are going to lose. Don’t hang out with that crew; don’t go to that bar; don’t go to that party. You can pray all you want to remain pure, but then there you are, all alone with her (or him) at her house. No one else around. It’s late, and she smells so good. Dude, you have put yourself on sin’s home court, and you are going to lose. If you struggle with porn on the internet, don’t sit alone in a room with a computer. Get protection—internet software is available, get accountability.
But you also have to cooperate with the Spirit in RUNNING TO!!! The sinful affections will get driven from your heart when they are replaced by something stronger. Remember vanilla ice cream? It was the best thing ever, right? Yeah, until you had Rocky Road. You never go into a Baskin Robbins and order vanilla. Why? The affection for it has been replaced by something you have a greater affection for. So, ultimately, God makes some huge promises to Christians, his children. Pursue him and let him win you over. Let him prove that he’s better than the stuff you’re craving now. Because God is not trying to rob us of pleasure, but offering us greater pleasures.
I really have basically summarized some key points from the message on 18 October, so to get the full message, please feel free to get onto www.thesurge.cc, click on the media page, and hear the whole thing.
Jesus has some pointed comments for us on anger. We dug into this as part of our Sermon on the Mount series in a message at The Surge on 11 October 2015. The video of that message is on The Surge website, www.thesurge.cc. (Of course, if you're reading this after 15 November 2015, just click on the archive button and scroll down to Sermon on the Mount--the message will appear as part 6 of that series.) I would recommend taking in that video--it should help you grab on to why you would want to tackle anger as well as provide the backdrop for the comments below.
The goal of this blog is to assist The Surge body--and other readers--with some practical steps to cooperate with God and His Spirit to make killing anger a reality. Hope this encourages you!!
Five practical steps Christians can take to help diminish the anger issues that all too often burst forth, because, after all, life can be frustrating.
Number 1: Ponder, don't react. We act like it sometimes, but we are not simple beasts of the field. We are not my daughter's mutt that goes ape every time the mailman shows up. We do not have to react every time anger bubbles up. In fact, you have already learned to control your anger to some extent Proof, you say? Ok, how about at work? Yeah, that boss or that co-worker. You can feel anger rising up, but you don't always scream or rant or stomp or throw things when things happen at work. If you do, you won't have a job there long. No, you've learned to hold it at least until you can get to a restroom or take a walk, some place you can scream bloody murder and not get fired.
So, all we're talking about is extending the practice you use at work to other arenas of your life. Use the anger welling up as a tipoff that something is wrong. Get yourself some "be still" time--time to figure out what's really going on. Now, this is definitely hard for we extroverts, but even we can be trained. The minute you walk in and your spouse tells you she wrecked the car, or your child tells you he failed the class, or your parents tell you to clean up your room--the minute you feel the anger begin to boil, just purpose to be still. Having accomplished that, you have to have something to ponder, right? That's step number 2.
Number 2: Ask yourself what it is that you really are wanting. What is being threatened that has you angry? Are you wanting approval? Is what you really want in this situation respect? Is it to control the outcome of the situation? What is it that your heart is after here? And the reason you have to get to the bottom of this question is something James says in chapter 4:
James 4:1-3 - What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
When you are angry, it's because there is something you want, and you are being thwarted in your attempt to get it. So, force yourself to answer the question: What is it that I am really wanting here, in this moment? Approval? Control? Acceptance? Respect? Comfort? What is it you are wanting? Dig in and get to the bottom of you. Something's happened, and it has made you angry. That something has triggered something inside of you. So, focus right now is off the situation, off the other person. It's on you. What in you is reacting to the what's outside of you? Anger is just the tip of the iceberg. Look below the surface for the real story.
Once you find the answer, you are ready for step number 3.
Number 3: Repent for how you are trying to get what you really want. Ok, so you've calmed yourself down enough to ponder and ask. In that calmness, you can actually talk to yourself and hear from the God. I'm angry. I get it. What is it that I want that was being denied me, at least I think it was? Anger just shows me that I want something and I was willing to use anger to try to get it. So, we need to repent of unrighteous anger to try to get it. James also goes on to say that anger does not achieve the righteousness of God. Anger doesn't bring about righteous results. So, we need to remind ourselves that we're not going to obtain what we really want, those passions of our hearts, through anger. I need instead to repent of how I'm trying to obtain them.
Once God has us seeing our hearts the way He sees them, we're ready to move to something healthier. Step number 4.
Number 4: Preach the gospel to yourself. Ok, you don't have to look like this guy. But maybe what I'm really after, what I feel is being denied me, is respect. And the reason I want respect is because I have this need for approval and love. Well, that's only fully and ultimately met in the gospel. So, God, I'm just going to look to you now. I'm going to remind myself of who you are. I'm going to remind myself of who you say I am in Christ. I'm going to remind myself of your love for me, your approval of me, and your acceptance of me. I'm going to ask You to rule over my life with those truths. Everything I really want is actually handed to me as a follower of Christ. Why, when the Creator of all things loves me and has given me everything I need for life and happiness, do I insist on demanding it from mere people God has made, who, like me, are not perfect.
Ok, we're in a healthier place, with a saner view of reality. Time for step number 5
Number 5: Reconcile quickly. If you have, in a moment of anger, exploded, then you still need to get away to ponder, to determine what you really want, to repent of how you're trying to use anger to get it, to preach the gospel to yourself. But then you need to go back to the one you have resented or blown up at or hurt and make things right. Can you imagine what it would be like if an entire group of people actually chose to live their lives together like this? Would this community not shine like a light on a hill? Would everyone around take notice of it?
You might ask, "Dwaine, is this even possible? Is this realistic?" Well, not really, at least all by ourselves. If Jesus is not in your life, ruling and reigning over your heart, then it isn't going to happen. But, if He is, then it is realistic. Because that's the way Jesus lived, isn't it? I mean, in 1 Peter 2, we're told that Jesus is being crucified at the hands of angry men. And it says this:
1 Peter 2:21-23 - For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Amazingly, the whole message I preached is summarized in that passage right there. Because here's what Jesus is saying: "I'm being mistreated by men, threatened by men, crucified by men, hated by men, spoken evil of by men." But, according to this passage, Jesus was enduring it, knowing that He was precious to his Father, knowing that he was loved by Him, knowing that he was pleasing to Him, even as He suffered the consequence of all of mankind's sin. And it was his trust in God that ruled his heart. He trusted God for the ultimate outcome. Jesus knew that God, the Father, would be taking care of the outcome, and so he entrusted himself to God's care. He opted not to demand the respect and approval of everyone else because He knew where He stood with the Father. He chose not to retaliate because he was secure in that relationship. As Christians, this is also true of us, if we just took the time to ponder before we react.
So, in the end, the practice of Jesus, the one we've declared is not only our savior, but our king, provides an example of the pattern He seeks to make a reality as His Spirit governs our daily lives. It is possible if Jesus is your King and His Spirit is in you. What a hope we have. I'm praying that anyone who reads this might get to experience the dwindling of anger and the emergence of a peace that even we find stunning. And may we, as Christians, live out the truth of the good news we've received in such a way that others are drawn to this magnificent God we serve.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.