Here are my notes from a recent seminar at City Church on the upcoming election
1. We must be committed to the welfare of our nation
a) We are ‘resident aliens’ in the world. The Christian recognises that this world is not our home but we are not to despise it either. Jeremiah 29:7 ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (NIV).
b) Government is God’s idea. To punish wrong and commend good
1 Peter 2:13-14 – Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men. Submission to authority is part of our witness to the world. It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the talk of foolish men.
Romans 13:1-7 – v.1-2 The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.
We should be better citizens than unbelievers because we have a higher motive than they. They submit to authorities because they fear punishment if they do not. We submit because we want to honour God – recognising that they are his means of common grace to restrain evil.
1 Timothy 2:1-3 ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour.’
When Paul urges us to pray for Kings and all in authority. John Stott comments ‘this was a remarkable instruction, since at that time no Christian ruler existed anywhere in the world.’
What to pray for? That we may live peaceful and quiet lives. Stott: ‘only in a well-ordered society is the church free to fulfil its God-given responsibilities without hindrance.’
What are these responsibilities government are to uphold?
• Freedom of religion – that enables me to grow in godliness and holiness
• Freedom of speech – that allows me to proclaim Christ through evangelism
Wisdom on government from Proverbs:
When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; When the wicked rule, the people groan – Proverbs 29:2
By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down – Proverbs 29:4
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, For the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; Defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9
Conclusion We cannot expect, so we must not ask, a secular government to govern according to Christian principles. But we should pray that government will protect the vulnerable, reward good and punish evil and allow Christians to get on with being Christians without interference from the state.
2. The privilege of democracy
Many Christians in other parts of the world can only pray for a change of government. We have an opportunity to shape government!
3. Should Christians vote?
Yes. By voting:
a) we can demonstrate that Christians make the best of citizens because we recognise that government is a gift of God
b) we can give thanks to God for the good government that we enjoy. Under any of the main parties we will enjoy fundamental freedoms and privileges that many Christians are denied elsewhere.
c) we should take the God-given opportunity to elect a government that it will govern according to God’s purposes for it.
B. How do we decide who to vote for?
1. Look to elect government that will function according to God’s standards: Here are just SOME of the questions you could consider.
a) Protection of the vulnerable
• Do you believe that marriage provides the most secure and loving environment in which to raise children? Should that be reflected in the tax system?
• Should euthanasia be legalised? What care should be provided for the elderly?
• Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?
• What legislation do you propose to limit the damage caused by harmful greenhouse gases and other causes of environmental damage?
• What is your policy on Asylum seekers and on migration?
• Do you agree in principle to the idea of shared days off for families? Should there be legislation to enable this?
• How do you define an ethical foreign policy and do you think that the UK should pursue one? What commitment can you make that further progress will be made to ensure that developing countries can be genuinely set free of the burden of debt?
b) Protect religious liberty
• Do you believe churches should be free to employ only Christians?
• Should there be a law against incitement to religious hatred?
• Should the right of Christians to freedom of speech be protected?
c) punish wrongdoers
• What solutions do you propose to violent crime in our society?
• What steps should be taken to rehabilitate young offenders?
• Do you support the reintroduction of the death penalty for murder?
d) prevent the spread of sin
• Do you think the law on cannabis should be liberalised?
• Are you in favour of compulsory sex education for primary school children?
• Do you support tougher controls against the broadcasting of pornography?
2. Try one of the websites designed to help you see which party manifesto is most aliened with your own convictions.
3. Consider the character of the candidates
a) For a list of your candidates visit https://yournextmp.com/
b) To discover if there are any hustings you can attend visit http://meetyournextmp.com/
c) Personal beliefs and practices cannot be separated from public life. Do they have a record of lying, adultery, misleading parliament, etc… If you want to know how your last MP voted on a range of ethical and moral issues then visit www.christian.org.uk/election and follow the links.
Here Ed Welch speaks about the book and his own experiences of helping those with depression.
(HT: Andy Cheung)
Each one of these 24 e-books from Desiring God are free for you to read!
In my reading this morning I came across this section from a sermon on 1 John 1:1-4 by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843). M’Cheyne is perhaps best known for his advice in a letter he wrote that the key to transformation in the Christian life is ‘For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ’. The extract from the sermon on 1 John 1:1-4 applies this call to consider Christ to the daily battle many of us face in fighting our fears and anxieties.
Learn the true way of coming to peace.-It is by looking to manifested Jesus. Some of you think you will come to peace by looking in to your own heart. Your eye is riveted there. You watch every change there. If you could only see a glimpse of light there, oh, what joy it would give you! If you could only see a melting of your stony heart, if you could only see your heart turning to God, if you could only see a glimpse of the image of Jesus in your heart, you would be at peace; but you cannot,-all is dark within. Oh, dear souls, it is not there you will find peace! You must avert the eye from your bosom altogether. You must look to a declared Christ. Spread out the record of God concerning His Son. The Gospels are the narrative of the heart of Jesus. Spread them out before the eye of your mind, till they fill your eye. Cry for the Spirit to breathe over the page, to make a manifested Christ stand out plainly before you; and the moment that you are willing to believe all that is there spoken concerning Jesus, that moment you will wipe away your tears, and change your sighs for a new song of praise.”
One of my favourites is April 8th, Spurgeon on fear.
‘I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me’ Psalm 23:4.
Behold how independent of outward circumstances the Holy Ghost can make the Christian! What a bright light may shine within us when it is all dark without! How firm, how happy, how calm, how peaceful we may be, when the world shakes to and fro, and the pillars of the earth are removed! Even death itself, with all its terrible influences, has no power to suspend the music of a Christian’s heart, but rather makes that music become more sweet, more clear, more heavenly, till the last kind act which death can do is to let the earthly strain melt into the heavenly chorus, the temporal joy into the eternal bliss! Let us have confidence, then, in the blessed Spirit’s power to comfort us. Dear reader, are you looking forward to poverty? Fear not; the divine Spirit can give you, in your want, a greater plenty than the rich have in their abundance. You know not what joys may be stored up for you in the cottage around which grace will plant the roses of content. Are you conscious of a growing failure of your bodily powers? Do you expect to suffer long nights of languishing and days of pain? O be not sad! That bed may become a throne to you. You little know how every pang that shoots through your body may be a refining fire to consume your dross—a beam of glory to light up the secret parts of your soul. Are the eyes growing dim? Jesus will be your light. Do the ears fail you? Jesus’ name will be your soul’s best music, and His person your dear delight. Socrates used to say, “Philosophers can be happy without music;” and Christians can be happier than philosophers when all outward causes of rejoicing are withdrawn. In Thee, my God, my heart shall triumph, come what may of ills without! By thy power, O blessed Spirit, my heart shall be exceeding glad, though all things should fail me here below.
Although there are many differing views on marriage and divorce among bible-believing Christians the majority of evangelicals Christians continue to maintain that biblical divorce is permissible on 2 grounds; that of adultery (Matthew 19:9) and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. (1 Cor. 7:15).
The leading evangelical theologians of the 1640’s set forth this position in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 24:6, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage.
If divorce is not possible for anything but adultery or desertion then does that compel a spouse to stay in a relationship that is dangerous or abusive?
What about an abusive marriage relationship?
Having read numerous books on divorce I have yet to find an author who defends the idea that God calls on us to stay in the home when in an abusive relationship. Don Carson goes so far as to say that if a wife lives in fear of physical harm because she has been threatened or even actually suffered physical abuse the church is ‘pastorally mandated to secure her safety.’ Indeed in certain circumstances it may even be right to call the police and to seek to have charges pressed.
I’ve personally known spouses who have stayed in abusive relationships sometimes for the sake of the children. But I want to make it clear, if you or your children are in danger of physical harm then the Bible does not tell you to stay.
But does an abused spouse have the right to divorce?
Some would say that a spouse in such circumstances does not have a ground for divorce. Rather he or she, having moved out of immediate danger, is to work with the elders of the church to seek a true repentance on the part of the guilty spouse and a restoration of the marriage.
But that is not the view of the elders at City Church. Some appeal to the arguments presented by David Instone-Brewer from Exodus 21 (see this earlier post on his view and my concerns). For myself I am persuaded that in a situation where a spouse refuses to repent and reconciliation is humanly impossible that divorce is permitted as a logical and necessary deduction of the teaching we find in the New Testament.
How would I justify divorce on the grounds of abuse from the Bible?
I believe that an abusive relationship where there is no evidence of repentance is a form of desertion by an unbelieving spouse. Theologians sometimes refer to it as constructive desertion.
In the church we are to take sin seriously and that includes sin within a marriage. Jesus instructed his disciples as to what should happen if someone refuses to repent of sin as a Christian. We read in Matthew 18v.15-17, If your brother sins against you,go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
What Jesus insists on is that sin, even sin between a married couple in their own home, is the responsibility of the church. The church’s role is to call to account those who are guilty of wilful, deliberate, and persistent sin. And those who refuse to repent are to be treated as unbelievers. Jesus says treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
We also read in 1 Timothy 5:8, If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
There will be times and circumstances where it is right and appropriate to say to someone who claims to be a Christian that by their actions they have denied the faith and they are to be treated as an unbeliever. And that would seem to apply to spouses who abuse their spouses.
Now the goal of such church discipline is their restoration to the faith and reconciliation to their spouse. However where no reconciliation is possible, for example where the guilty spouse wants nothing more to do with the church, it would seem appropriate that after a time of delay and when all prospect of reconciliation has gone then the innocent party in the marriage is free from their marriage because they have been abandoned by an unbelieving spouse.
We considered the conclusion of English theologians of the Westminster Assembly earlier in this post and one of the greatest Puritan preachers of the previous of the previous generation was William Perkins. In his work on the Christian family he said:
Like unto desertion is malicious and spiteful dealing of married folks one with the other. Malicious dealing is, when dwelling together, they require of each other intolerable conditions …if the husband threateneth hurt, the believing wife may fife in this case; and it is all one, as if the unbelieving man should depart. For to depart from one, and drive one away by threat, are equipollent.
As elders at City we would argue that there are two grounds for divorce but the second ground of dissertion may extend to abusive reationships even where both parties profess a Christian faith. If, after investigation by the church, we conclude that, to use Perkins language, intolerable or abusive conditions are imposed on a spouse and the guilty party is unwilling to repent the innocent party may seek a divorce.
That would certainly seem to cover incidences of violence, threats of violence, it may also include extreme or prolonged psychological abuse or emotional trauma, intimidation, alcohol abuse, perhaps even chronic gambling addiction.
Extending this second ground is fraught with difficulty and there can be few if any hard and fast rules. But as elders in our position paper we will be setting forth three sets of circumstances where we believe that the church is able to recognise a divorce as biblically sanctioned.
1. Adultery within marriage permits the believer to instigate a divorce
2. Abandonment or desertion by unbelieving spouse permits the believer to recognise the end of the marriage (even if they formalise that in a divorce).
3. Abuse which results in constructive desertion permits the believer to recognise the end of the marriage (even if they formalise that in a divorce).
David Instone-Brewer is a scholar based in Cambridge who in 2002 wrote a book entitled Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible offering a radical new interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. A second, popular-level book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities was written in 2003. For a summary of his views and something of the controversy it has sparked you can read his Christianity Today article here, a Time Magazine feature here and John Piper’s response here.
In essence, Instone-Brewer’s argument is that although on first reading it looks as if Jesus is setting out his total position on divorce, in telling us of one ground for divorce, porneia, Jesus is in fact not telling us everything he believes on divorce in this one text. Rather, he is, in fact, only giving his interpretation on one particular debate amongst the Pharisees over one aspect of divorce.
The key passage often debated by the Pharisees of Jesus day is Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
The key phrase is in verse 1: “something indecent” (erwath dabar). The exact meaning of the phrase is difficult to capture, and the Jews argued about it constantly. The phrase is actually used a chapter earlier in Deuteronomy 23:12-14.
You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you
Kevin De Young comments ‘it seems to mean something repulsive, something indecent. But it’s not a precise phrase. Because of this ambiguity, two different rabbinical schools emerged. On one side was the more conservative Shammai school, and on the other, the more liberal Hillel school, both well known around the time of Jesus.‘
And Jewish history records their dispute. For in the Mishnah we read: The School of .Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything. And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.
Essentially, in reference to this same verse the Shammai Pharisees emphasized “indecency” whereas the Hillel emphasized “anything.” For the more conservative school of Pharisees only the indecency of adultery justified divorce in Deut. 24v.1 where as for the liberal school of Hillel there was effectively no-fault divorce because this verse allowed a man to divorce his wife for pretty much ‘anything’.
Instone-Brewer argues that once we understand the debate that was raging between the two schools of Pharisees we see that what the Pharisees are doing in Matthew 19 is not asking him to give us his total view on divorce but simply to declare where he stood in relation to the debate over Deut. 24:1. So all we should conclude from Matthew 19 is that Jesus sided with the conservative Pharisees in his interpretation of this verse.
According to Instone-Brewer, when the church thought that Matthew 19v.9 set out Jesus’ thinking on divorce, the church was mistaken. We’ve misunderstood Jesus.
The second argument Instone-Brewer presents is that in the Old Testament law we find another key text for thinking about divorce. A place where Scripture gives further grounds for divorce can be found in Exodus 21:10-11.
If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.
Instone-Brewer argues that in the Bible we find four grounds for divorce. Adultery from Deut. 24v.1 but also forms of marital neglect as set out in Exodus 21, namely, a failure of a husband to provide food, clothing and marital rights (sexual intercourse).
We could represent, somewhat simplistically, the following views on divorce at the time of Jesus according to the thesis.
|Liberal Pharisees||Conservative Pharisees||Jesus (according to I-B)|
|Deut 24 ‘Any cause’||Deut 24 – AdulteryExodus 21 – Failure to provide food, clothing or marital rights (sex)||Deut 24 – AdulteryExodus 21 – Failure to provide food, clothing or marital rights (sex)|
The picture Instone-Brewer presents therefore is one in which Jesus believed that which a conservative Jew of his day believed on four grounds for divorce (although he did disagree with them in other respects when it came to divorce and remarriage). Which results in a view of Jesus in which he permits multiple grounds for initiating a righteous divorce; adultery and a failure to fulfil marital obligations of food, clothing or sexual intimacy.
What should we conclude about Instone-Brewer’s thesis? I find it problematic and I will sketch in outline form six reasons as to why I cannot reconcile his view with a reading of the text.
1. An argument from silence. It is as John Piper and others have pointed out an argument from silence. Nowhere does Jesus say anything about further grounds for divorce other than porneia. Instone-Brewer himself says ‘all these arguments suggesting that Jesus allowed other Old Testament grounds for divorce are arguments from silence, and so they must be treated with caution.’
Instone-Brewer argues that was because in Matthew 19 Jesus is answering a specific question about his reading of Deut. 24:1. But in Jesus’ teaching on the sermon on the mount Jesus is not debating with the Pharisees nor answering any of their questions put to him on divorce. He is setting forth his own agenda in putting forth his teaching on divorce and he says, Matthew 5:31-32. If he had thought there were other grounds why would he have not said so here?
In Divorce and Remarriage in the Church Instone-Brewer says that Jesus ‘probably’ believed that Exodus 21 permitted further grounds for divorce. I’m always a little concerned when someone tells me what Jesus was thinking but cannot show me that from Jesus’ own words.
2. Jesus contrasts his own righteousness with that of Pharisees. In the same sermon on the mount Jesus calls his disciples to a higher standard of living than that of the Pharisees. In Matthew 5v.20 he says ‘unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ He doesn’t say unless your righteousness surpasses that of some of the Pharisees.
3. Jesus confronts the Pharisees. On a more general point from the gospels, whenever we see Jesus interacting with the views of the Pharisees in the gospel he always, without exception, opposes them. Nowhere do we find him siding with a sub-set of them.
4. The shock of the disciples to Jesus’ teaching. In Matthew 19 Jesus’ teaching prompts a shocked response from his disciples (v.10). After they hear Jesus’ words limiting the grounds of divorce they say to one another ‘if this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’
Is it really likely that Jesus’ siding with one group of conservative Pharisees over a more liberal group sufficient reason to explain their shock and surprise? Would it be enough for them to have really concluded that it is better not to marry? Surely it is the more natural reading of the text that their surprise is best explained as a response to his prohibition on divorce for any ground other than adultery.
5. His argument has received no support. When we last looked at Instone-Brewer’s thesis as a church back in 2005 it was pointed out that because it was so new it was hard to gauge what response it would receive. A further 9 years on that is not the case. Many have looked carefully at his argument and I haven’t found a single conservative evangelical scholars who has embraced his position. Theologians, with bigger brains than me (!), such as Don Carson, John Piper and Andreas Kostenberger have carefully considered it and rejected it.
6. Our doctrine of Scripture. No-one in the church has ever advocated Instone-Brewer’s interpretation of Jesus’ words in 2000 years of church history and the reason is, according to Instone-Brewer, that we have not understood Jesus’ words in their Jewish context. He argues ‘in some cases we will completely misunderstand the text if we do not know the background’ and he sees Matthew 19 as a clear example of that principle. However, if 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is to be taken seriously then surely we must have reason to believe that Scripture is both sufficient and perspicuous. Extra-biblical material may fill in some detail when it comes to our understanding of Scripture but can it, as Instone-Brewer maintains, change our understanding fundamentally? I suggest that is a step too far.
Having considered what it means that God hates divorce in an earlier post we now need to recognise that
The holiness of God means that he permits divorce ¬
Although God hates divorce we also find in the Bible that in a world marked by sin God does in certain, exceptional circumstances, permit divorce. There can be times when it might be right to end a marriage and in a future post I’ll say more on which situations God permits divorce.
In Matthew 19 we see Jesus at odds with the religious leaders of his day. As we read v.4-8 the difference in attitude is obvious.
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
Did you notice that crucial difference in the thinking and attitude of Jesus over against the Pharisees? The Pharisees said that in the law of Moses there were certain circumstances which required a man to divorce his wife. The Pharisees said ‘Moses commanded that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away.’
Now Jesus only agreed with them in part. For Jesus knew that the law of Moses did not command divorce. As John McArthur says ‘God never commands it, endorses it, or blesses it.’ But Jesus says (v.8) ‘because of the hardness of human hearts God does permit it.’ In this statement Jesus affirms that divorce is possible and it is possible to divorce without being sinful.
I guess that means it is really important to realise that if a divorce takes place between a couple who are members of the church, although we can be sure that it is as a result of sin, we are not saying that both parties are to blame. In fact it is quite possible in situations of divorce that one party is innocent of sin. At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel ,1:19, we read ‘because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.’
The church has far too often been quick to condemn all who divorce and we can be quick to judge others with no knowledge of the facts. In the face of wilful, persistent, unrepentant sin it can be the most godly thing you can do to divorce and the single strongest indicator that this must be the case is the fact that God himself initiates divorce against unrepentant adulterous Israel. In Jeremiah 3:6-10 we read;
During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.
We saw in the previous post that God’s amazing patience, revealed in his dealing with Israel in the book of Hosea, is a model for our marriages but so also is his radical holiness.
Real love is not a pitiful acceptance of others — sin and all. Lines have to be drawn and they are drawn as an expression of love. Tough love means telling the person you love that there are limits to what conduct is acceptable in your relationship. If someone seeks to mock God by deliberately breaking their marriage vows divorce is a righteous act and one the church should be willing to, with a heavy-heart, support.
The mercy of God means that he permits divorce
Divorcing a spouse does not sound like a mercy but in many instances it has proved to be the only action that has brought about a true repentance. As someone has written ‘helping others to face up to responsibility without protecting them from the consequences of their own decisions is what tough love is all about. Setting limits as to how far we can reasonably go in helping our spouses allows God to work His loving discipline in their lives.’
And that is exactly the principle we find at work in God’s own covenant commitment to Israel. When God divorces Israel he sends her away – for a long period of separation – even as he is at work to see that relationship restored. Back in Jeremiah 3, In the very same chapter where God says he has divorced Israel, the Lord also proclaims, 3v.12 and again v.14 ‘return faithless people for I am your husband….I will choose you and bring you to Zion.. .at that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel.’
And God’s mercy is seen in relation to the innocent victim of divorce as well. God permits divorce out of loving concern for an innocent party in a marriage. We will return to the issue of re-marriage in a future post when we turn to the questions of what are the biblical grounds for divorce and when, if ever, is it right to remarry. But God’s concern for the innocent party means, at the very least, she is not bound to stay in the home with an abusive spouse, nor is she bound to her marriage if deserted by an unbelieving spouse, nor forced to stay in a marriage in which her husband is sleeping with other people.
God permits divorce out of loving concern for spouses who are victims of abuse and adultery.
But whether we are single, married, divorced or widowed – whatever our situation – the extraordinary truth that we rest upon today is that God is a God of complete faithfulness to us. Despite Israel’s repeated spiritual adultery – God’s plan to raise up a saviour for us from the Jews – is gloriously fulfilled in Jesus. God could have given up on us – but his covenant love and covenant promises remain secure.
In future posts we will consider in what situations Christians are permitted to end a marriage and if and when the Bible permits remarriage. In this post I simply want to address the question, ‘what does God think of divorce?’
1. The faithfulness of God means that he hates divorce – Malachi 2:10-16
God is a God of faithfulness who keeps his covenant promise with us his people. Would you turn back to that first reading Malachi 2:10-16. The Lord God hates unfaithfulness in all of its forms and here in v. 11 he accuses Judah of having broken faith.
v.14. You ask why? It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her. She is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his.
God is against us when we divorce wrongly. He is against us because we are breaking faith with him when we break faith with our spouse. That is why we read v.16 I hate divorce, says the Lord. The Lord is a witness against us when we wrongly divorce.
If God hates divorce then we must do all we can to remain faithful and protect our marriages.
When Jane and I were dating, as a birthday present, she spent far too much money on me when she bought me a bonsai tree. I was thrilled, really genuinely delighted. I admired it showed it off to others, talked about it at work, but I didn’t have a clue how to look after it. And rather than feed it and water it, prune it and tend to it – as a result of neglect – I killed it. A lack of thought, care and attention and within months it was dead.
Now marriage is a living thing and if you don’t give it the time and attention it needs and deserves you might just kill it. No-one sets out to get divorced. I haven’t met a Christian who’s got married thinking it might not survive. But we ought to fear the death of a marriage.
Look what Malachi says, not once but twice,
v.15 ‘guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.’
How do you know that out of love you fear the break-up of your marriage? It seems to me you will do 3 things
i) Prioritise your marriage.
Perhaps the biggest threat to a marriage is simply putting other things before it. In 20 years of marriage I can tell you there have been times when that has been true of my marriage. So, block out time for each other, take regular holidays, keep date nights and please pray together. For Jane and I that was not always top of our agenda but for the past 4 years we have prayed together practically every day, . Make time for sex in the marriage, speak tenderly to each other – remind each other of what you really like and appreciate about each other.
Feed your marriage or you’ll kill it. And watch out for the very subtle and hidden danger of mistaking working in your marriage for working on your marriage. Many marriages give the appearance of strength because husband and wife are busy sacrificing and serving but not for the sake of the marriage but for a purpose that ought to be subordinate to the marriage. That could be building a home, raising a family, pursuing a career. It’s not enough to have a shared goal that keeps you busy if you are not directly working on your marriage, building intimacy, enjoying each other. Being busy together is just not enough.
ii) Protect your marriage.
Protect it from other good things e.g. church-activity, work-overload, the competing demands of the children. Can I say that it is one of the most important things you can do for your children to demonstrate to them in ways they understand that your marriage comes before their demands. That could be in simple and small ways such as not letting them interrupt a conversation.
Protect it from bad things – by taking sin in a marriage seriously. Have accountability software – men in particular watch out for pornography. Think of Joseph & Potiphar’s wife. Joseph didn’t go looking for trouble, but trouble in the form of sexual temptation found him and he knew to flee. Be on your guard against office affairs.
iii) Find support for your marriage
Most importantly find support from God. As well as praying together it a habit to pray together, make it a godly desire to pray for your spouse. Giving thanks, praying for spiritual growth. And find support from the church. As a church we want to offer pastoral support at the earliest possible opportunity for any marriage in difficulty.
How many people die of diseases who simply present too late to the doctor. A friend of mine had a growth on his neck. He was a bright student, physically strong, he thought he was immortal and he was naive. But he and I were also doing a summer camp together and a doctor was part of the team. Over the 10 days he kept saying to him, ‘get that checked out,’ because he kept saying it, the message stuck.He got back, got it diagnosed, it was cancer, but because it was caught in time the operation was successful and he made a full recovery.
If something in your marriage is not quite right – get it checked. Don’t be embarrassed. The most dangerous thing you can do in a marriage is think that divorce could never happen to you. In the Bible we also find a second reason why God hates divorce. Not just because he is faithful but also because he is forgiving
2. The grace of God means he hates divorce – Hosea 1 & 3
Nowhere does the Bible demonstrate that lesson more than in the book of Hosea. John McArthur in his book The Divorce Dilemma writes ‘the entire book of Hosea is a picture of God’s forgiving and patient love for his people. A love that is dramatized by the prophet Hosea’s forgiving and patient love for his wife Gomer.’
Hosea the prophet is sent to the northern kingdom of Israel and as part of his witness to Israel God calls on Hosea to deliberately choose for his wife someone who will be unfaithful to him.
In Hosea 1:2-3 we read these words ‘when the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.’ So he married Gomer.’ Israel, committed spiritual adultery against God and God is rightly angry with their unfaithfulness. He is angry, like a wife who comes home to find another woman in bed with her husband.
But God’s response to Israel’s sin is not to terminate the relationship. Rather, as one commentator puts it, his tactic is ‘the artful strategy of an ardent lover. He intends to allure her, rekindling the romance they enjoyed in their early years together…He will entice her. He will draw her back.’ The marriage will be saved because of the gracious and forgiving nature of God’s love.
And once again we see Hosea called upon to live this love out in his own marriage. So, Hosea 3:1-4
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” 4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. 5Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.
God is determined to renew his marriage with Israel.
Martyn Lloyd- Jones said ‘God has never anywhere commanded anybody to divorce’. Even after serious sin, even after repeated covenantal unfaithfulness divorce is not inevitable. Not for the Christian. You see in the gospel God has given you resources to stay in a marriage even when others who are non-Christians might leave. Now this is not to say that Christians should passively accept unfaithfulness on the part of their spouse. This is not to say that we should be indifferent to sin in a marriage. Wherever there is sin we should call on each other to recognise it, confess it and repent of it. But where there is true repentance then restoration is possible and should be worked for –to the glory of God.
Some of you know that at first hand. You’ve witnessed parents working through issues of serious sin. Maybe even in your own marriage. And you’ve found that where there is true repentance – grace triumphs over sin! Just think what a powerful testimony it is when by God’s grace we are able to forgive and forget and re-build marriages on a foundation of grace. It brings glory to God that with the grace of God we are able to overcome sin.
As elders we believe that divorce ought to be avoided if at all possible. And that means that we will always discourage divorce and work wherever possible towards reconciliation because that is our experience of God’s love for us in the gospel. You see the Bible calls on us not just to honour our vows but to exhibit the character of Christ in our lives.
In the next post we will see that although God hates divorce he also permits it.
Most Christians recognise the importance of sharing our faith with our family and friends and yet little thought goes into how we go about it. Let me suggest this simple model (adapted from some material by Oivind Augland on church planting movements.)
The two steps we need to take are to recognise 3 crucial ingredients to our personal evangelism and then consider the 3 sets of relationships between the ingredients that can help us be most effective.
1. Be spiritually available to God. The heart of personal evangelism is a heart that is ready to serve God. We won’t make ourselves available to others unless we are already ‘available’ to God. So make a desire to speak of Christ a measure of your Christian walk, asking that he would use us and speak through us as well as asking that we would be bold and clear, making the most of every opportunity in evangelism (c.f. Col. 4:2-6).
2. Build your number of friendships. Some of us have natural opportunities to build our base of contacts or acquaintances; maybe our work constantly introduces us to new people or we meet other parents through our kids. That said, building a friendship base require us to go beyond occasional casual conversations to the kind of relationship that marks out friendship. That could mean choosing to initiate conversation by a) sharing more personal information, b) asking thoughtful questions, c) remembering important information eg what someone said they were planning to do at the weekend, the names of their family members, interests and hobbies,etc. d) managing your timetable so that you are more likely to cross paths eg arriving at the school gate at the same time each day, looking for the same assistant at the checkout, e) offering support, help, advice (as appropriate).
3. Spend time with friends. There’s not much point having friends if we don’t invest in those friendships. Like much of life its a choice between the best thing to do and a good thing to do. For Christians stuck into church that might mean we’ve made a default choice to spend most of our time with Christian friends (and church meetings!) and neglected our friends and neighbours around us. Unless we make them a priority chances are we’ll continue to give our energies to church-life. If Christ has commanded us to go and make disciples then maybe the balance needs addressing.
3 sets of relationships
Put these things in place and we’re on our way. But there is something to be said for exploring the relationship between the circles (see the diagram below).
1, Prayer is where our being spiritually available to God and building friendship circles overlap. Our commitment to build friendships and be used by God is seen in our daily decision to pray for those we would like to build friendships with. Pray for opportunity and wisdom.
2. Discernment might well describe the relationship between being available and growing relationships. We can’t possibly be spending the kind of time we might like with all of our non-Christian friends and relations. So as we pray we ask God to help us discern who to give our time and energies too and which relationships to pursue.
3. Action is where building the friendship base and nurturing those relationships kick in. That means being intentional and being proactive in these relationships. We need to clear our diaries, change our priorities, be proactive in extending invitations as we seek opportunities to share Christ.
Putting all of that together and we have ‘MI’ or maximum impact.
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