Having considered in a previous post what God thinks about divorce the next question we face is in which situations does God permit divorce? It’s important that we recognise that Bible-believing Christians have always held a variety of views. Andreas Kostenberger’s God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation provides an excellent summary of arguments for and against various views. Recognising that godlier people than me have arrived at different conclusions suggests that a certain humility and generosity of spirit is required in presenting our own personal conclusions. In fact what gives us the freedom to disagree as evangelicals on secondary issues is constantly remembering and holding dear just how much we do agree on in relation to Christ and the gospel.
The first thing that we can say is that if we take the Bible seriously then we will accept that
1) Christians cannot divorce unless a spouse is at serious fault
In Matthew 19v.3 we read Some of the Pharisees came to Jesus to test him ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? Jesus’ reply is a categorical ‘no’. In v.8 he answers 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.
What Jesus insists upon here is that God does not recognise the category of ‘no fault’ divorce. His words also rule out divorce for what we might call ‘irreconcilable difference.’ Indeed, if ever there might be permission granted to separate from a spouse on grounds of irreconcilable difference we might think it would be found in the situation where someone comes to faith in Christ and their spouse does not. In addressing this question Paul insists that the Bible calls us to faithfulness to our marriage vows, even if we made them before coming to faith in Christ. Paul says to Christians – stay married to your unbelieving spouse.
1 Corinthians 7:12-14 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
Every marriage will go through difficult times but if a marriage can be honouring to God even after one spouse comes to faith in Christ then the gospel calls on us to work through circumstantial changes and remain faithful.
Having seen that we are not free to divorce simply because marriage is hard or circumstances change, what Jesus does affirm is that
2) Christians can initiate a righteous divorce if their spouse is sexually immoral in marriage
In Matthew 19v.9 Jesus says ‘Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ The word ‘marital unfaithfulness’ is the Greek word porneia and it is the word often translated elsewhere in the Bible as sexual immorality.
Why does Jesus use the word porneia? It is a catch all term for any kind of sex outside of marriage – heterosexual sex, homosexual or bestiality. So Jesus rules out any form of sex outside of sex with our spouse.
Why does Jesus single out sexual immorality as the one ground for divorce? The most likely reason I suggest is that sex with someone who is not my spouse is a unique violation of the ‘one-flesh’ union. Kevin De Young has said ‘Sexual sin breaks the marriage covenant because sex is the oath signing of the covenant. Having sexual experiences with someone other than your spouse is like trying to sign on someone else’s dotted line. That breaks the covenant and is a ground for divorce.’
So, what should we conclude from Jesus words in this passage? Two important conclusions flow from Jesus’ teaching here.
Firstly, it is vital to healthy church life that we remember that whilst every divorce is the product of sin, not every divorce therefore sinful because Jesus permits divorce under this one exceptional circumstance.
Second, Jesus words also mean that marriage is not indissoluble. Never God’s design but A marriage really can end. When Jesus says “What God has joined together, let no man separate” he implies that the couple can be separated. This will become important when we consider in a future post whether or not God permits remarriage.
Is this all that the Bible teaches on divorce? Most evangelicals believe that this is the only ground under which Christians might initiate a righteous divorce. But in that second passage read to us this morning we find Paul giving a second ground in which a marriage may come to an end in God’s eyes. Not one in which the Christian has initiated divorce but one where the Christian has in effect been divorced by an unbelieving spouse.
3) Christians may accept an unrighteous divorce by an unbelieving spouse
Having called on Christians to stay in their marriages with unbelieving spouses Paul goes on to say 1 Cor 7v.15 ‘but if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.’
Under the Roman law of the first century it was not necessary to consult a lawyer and go to court to get divorced. It was enough to simply abandon the marriage. Walking out with no intention of returning was to divorce your spouse. In our culture we differentiate between separation and divorce but neither the Bible nor Roman law made such a distinction.
Paul teaches that if a spouse is abandoned by their unbelieving partner, and if it is clear to all that the deserting spouse does not intend to return, the church should recognise that a marriage has come to an end even if the innocent spouse is the one who has to legally begin the divorce proceedings.
Some have tried to find an irreconcilable contradiction between Jesus and Paul at this point. But a closer examination of the two passages reveals that far from contradicting each other they complement each other because they address two distinct questions.
Jesus is answered the question ‘when can I as a Christian, under God, initiate a righteous divorce?’ Paul is answering the question ‘what should I do as a Christian, if I have been wrongly divorced by my unbelieving spouse? ’
Evangelical Christians agree that these are the only New Testament texts that address the issue of divorce but in our next post we will consider the work of David Instone-Brewer and his contention that Jesus held to certain other grounds for divorce found in the Old Testament.
What exactly is God’s purpose for marriage?
In Ephesians 5.31-32 we read ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.
For many people marriage is a total mystery. Maybe it’s a mystery to you that anyone would want to make the kind of commitment that marriage requires. Some of us might question why anyone would ever want to give up their freedom it that way. Maybe it’s a mystery for you that people still think marriage works – you’ve experienced marriages that have been painful or come undone.
When Paul uses the word mystery he doesn’t so much mean something that is beyond our understanding. By mystery he means something that is hidden and must be revealed. The word mystery could equally be translated ‘secret’. In other words Paul wants us to know the secret of marriage. What could be more important to us not only to know what marriage is but what it is for.
So what is the secret of marriage?
Paul says the secret, v.32, is that marriage is ‘about Christ and the church.’ We can’t understand God’s purpose for our marriages, as believers, unless we look deeply at the relationship between Christ and the church. What on earth does Paul mean?
I’ve used this illustration at a few weddings recently but I think it captures something of the idea. A 2000 piece jigsaw is hardly a wedding present many people would put on their list. But imagine I gave a couple a 2000 piece puzzle but without the box. You know that if you can only put them all together they would make a beautiful picture. But what is a puzzle becomes more of a mystery when there is no picture on the box to look at – you just don’t know where to begin.
In our culture marriage has become like a jigsaw without the box. We just don’t know what we’re meant to be making of it. Now think what pressure that puts relationships under, when you are competing to make different things of the puzzle. Inevitably it leads to stress and conflict.
But the Bible insists that the key to marriage is to understand that the picture on the box is here in the Bible. We know that there is a day still to come when God will have a relationship with his people so perfect, so intimate, so loving that the nearest we come to it on earth, the only way we know how to describe it is a marriage. Christ and the church are made for each other, they will share eternity together in a perfect relationship.
Marriage now is about re-creating in our lives a picture of the marriage that is still to come. The pieces become the picture on the box. Marriage and the gospel inform each other. And we see that idea all of the way through the passage. Five times our passage Paul says to husbands look and learn from Jesus (vv. 23, 24, 25, 29 and 32). He tells us that Christ is the head of the church, that Christ loved the church by giving up his life for her. We learn that he cares for the church by feeding it and sustaining it and that the living Christ is united to his church for all time. And then Paul says six times look at the church and learn, (vv. 23, 24, 25, 27, 29 and 32). Christ is the head of the church; Christ loved the church, he feeds it and sustains it and the living Christ is united to his church.
In our society so many solutions are offered to the challenges of marriage. The state might try to offer tax incentives – appealing to our pockets. Self-help books and agony aunts insist marriage works when we stand up for our rights in a relationship. Paul’s radical message is that husband and wife, by looking to that gospel, learn to give up their rights. The power for Christian marriage comes when wives give up a right to autonomy and independence and husbands give up their right to self-interest by dedicating their lives to the good of their wives.
As we grapple with this passage we find Paul’s key to healthy and happy marriage lies in God, the gospel and his purpose for Christian marriage in the world. Paul will tell us let the gospel inform your marriage and let your marriage glorify the God of the gospel.
Next time ‘why should wives submit to their husbands and what does that look like?’
What is marriage?
There can be no doubt that one of the most significant events of 2013 was the passing of legislation by Parliament re-defining marriage. At the heart of the debate, whether acknowledged or not , was the question ‘what kind of relationship is marriage?’ And the reason that Christians and our non-Christian friends have found ourselves talking past each other and have failed to find any common ground is simply this; in our society there has been a silent revolution that has taken place over the past 40 years or more in which marriage has ceased to be understood as a covenant and come to be understood as a contract.
What is the difference?
At the heart of the idea of marriage as contract, Tim Keller argues, is the idea that personal fulfilment and individual happiness. So much so that therefore ‘we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs.’ Many might talk of a marriage being over because ‘we have fallen out of love,’ or ‘have drifted apart.’ Marriage vows still give the impression that marriage is a covenant – huge life-long promises are still made – yet the change in mindset that has also seen the introduction of no-fault divorce demonstrating the reality that marriage in our culture is a contract masquerading as a covenant.
Unlike a contract, in covenants we bind ourselves to another ‘come what may.’ The relationship, rather than personal fulfilment, is the centre. Keller argues that perhaps the only covenantal relationship that we can still relate to in our culture is that of parent and child. Parents put the child and the relationship ahead of individual happiness and comfort. Parents sacrifice and serve and seek the well-being of the other ahead of their own. It’s practically unthinkable to imagine someone coming into work announcing that their relationship with their kids was over. Well until relatively recent times it was almost as unthinkable that the marriage relationship could end.
Here’s a table showing how the change from covenant to contract has impacted marriage. In 2011 there were 117558 divorces, in 1860 there were 103. After the 1969 reform act the figures grow exponentially. Why was divorce so rare for so long? Because in our culture marriage was regarded as a binding covenant.
At least three things flow from this biggest redefinition of marriage away from covenant to contract.
1. Falling marriage rates. The reason people say marriage is ‘just a piece of paper’ is because they are viewing it as an economic contract. Whether or not to marry at all is now really no different from going into the phone shop and weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of a contract phone vs. pay as you go. Co-habitation is simply pay as you go. So the table tracks that general decline over 40 years.
2. General acceptance of no fault divorce ad steep rises in divorce rate. Again, that’s what the table shows us.
3. Freedom to redefine marriage and therefore who may enter the relationship. Why should we exclude same-sex couples who wish to make their commitment to each other if marriage is a contract the terms of which we define. And now that same-sex marriage has been accepted by society it’s not surprising that growing numbers of people want polygamous relationships recognised too. Why should we limit a love agreement to 2 people? So in Brazil last year a civil union was established between a man and two women.
What does this mean for Christians and their view of marriage?
The real danger for us in establishing healthy marriages will probably not come from the challenge presented by the re-definition of marriage that took place last year but the cultural shift that represents the redefinition of marriage from covenant to contract over the past 40 years. What tv and Hollywood have done to redefine marriage is far more likely to shape the way you think about marriage, even your own, than recent events.
Tim Keller writes ‘the very idea of ‘covenant’ is disappearing in our culture. Covenant is therefore a concept that is increasingly foreign to us, and yet the Bible says it is the essence of marriage, so we must take time to understand it.’
For, as we will see in our next post, Jesus says marriage is not a contract but a covenant.
This Sunday at City Church we started a nine week series entitled Marriage, Divorce & Singleness. I gave the following 5 reasons for making this our focus at the start of the new year.
1. Understanding for a world in confusion. In our times no-one seems really sure as to what marriage actually is. We need God’s word to shed light on this topic with some urgency and in doing so we will find that God’s word constantly challenges the values and wisdom of our culture.
2. Preparation for the future. We need help to make wise choices and decisions about marriage. Whether we are in a marriage or thinking one day about marriage we need to understand God’s purpose for marriage. What should we be working towards to fulfil God’s ‘mission for marriage.’
3. Healing for the past. For some of us the very thought that we will be tackling subjects that are the cause of much personal unhappiness is a reason to be concerned. Maybe you have been a victim of divorce. For some of us it will be hard to be caused to reflect on an unhappy singleness (through all this talk of marriage!) after having worked so hard to learn to accept it. Well, the series is not here to dredge up hurts of the past and this series is certainly no witch-hunt designed to highlight past sins that have been repented of, but we do want to bring to God our past and seek understanding and a gospel perspective that allows us to move on with renewed joy in our hearts that the gospel is bigger than our past.
4. Wisdom for living well today. We need practical wisdom and advice on getting it right. We will be thinking through how we should live whilst maybe wanting to be married and waiting to be married and yet being single, how to know whether and when to marry. In what ways we should invest in and strengthen our marriages if we are married. What to do if we are struggling in marriage and how to resolve difficulties. Whether and in what situations we might even end a marriage.
But I want to say right at the start that it would be a big mistake to think that the reason we’re looking at this topic is to focus only on human relationships. Our real goal in this series is that we might all say by the end of it we know our God better and that we have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the gospel.
5. Insight into the gospel. We need to understand how the themes of marriage, divorce and singleness point us to the very character and purposes of God in Christ Jesus. The truth is, whether we’ve ever thought about it or not that marriage, as a gift of God is given to teach us about our future.
The Bible might begin with a wedding between a man and a woman but it ends with a wedding between Christ and his bride, the church. Whatever our views on marriage for this life, we cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that if we believe the Bible then one day, perhaps very soon, we will all be married.
In Revelation 19 we read these words
Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was give her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
The Christian life IS marriage preparation. Our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the new creation is one of perfect union, intimacy and blessing that the only way we can get close to it in this life is to understand God’s gift of marriage.
In the next post we will look at why marriage is in crisis in our culture and how the real and radical redefinition marriage took place not in this past year but 40 years ago.
In marriage preparation at City Church we ask engaged couples to complete the following questionnaire on their expectations for married life. It’s one we adapted and added to from a questionnaire I did 20 years ago in my marriage prep. classes at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate.
Our approach is to ask the couples to complete the worksheet separately and then talk through their conclusions with each other. We don’t then go through the answers, question by question, with them in marriage prep. classes but we do ask them to talk through with us any areas of significant disagreement or uncertainty.
Expectations in marriage worksheet
A. Spiritual life
1. Where and when do you generally read your Bible and pray?
2. Do you expect to have devotional times together? How often?
3. How important is God in your life? How is this manifest?
4. Are you growing as a Christian? In what ways do you envisage your spouse being able to help you grow? Be specific.
B. Daily living
1. Are you a ‘morning’ or ‘evening’ person? What time do you like to go to bed in the evening and get up in the morning?
2. How important are music, radio, TV, social media, surfing the internet and computer games to you? Do you think anything will need to change when you are married?
3. If you were given £25,000 what would you do with it as a couple?
4. From the list below, what jobs around the house do you expect to do, what might you share with your spouse and what do you expect your spouse mostly to do?
Mowing the lawn, Car maintenance (if relevant), Washing up
Cooking, Cleaning the toilet, Food shopping
Ironing, Paying the bills, Wiring a plug,
Unblocking a drain, Sewing on a button, Changing the bedding
Doing the washing, Driving the car (if relevant), Taking the bins out
Husband will do:
Wife will mostly do:
We will share:
5. Do you expect to keep some secrets from your spouse? For example:
- Private letters?
6. In what areas do you expect to disagree most? For example:
7. Is there anything you feel it will be difficult to discuss with your spouse? Are you willing to try?
1. How would you like to celebrate your first wedding anniversary? What about your tenth?
2. How do you view your (future) in-laws? How often will you visit them? How often will they visit you?
3. What about your own parents? How often will you visit them? How often will they visit you?
4. How often would you expect to speak to your parents and other close family?
5. How do you think your relationship with your parents will change once you’re married?
6. How might your parents and in-laws be cared for in old age?
7. How do you view your future spouse’s friends? Will you encourage these friendships?
8. How many evenings a week would you expect to be:
- Out, with your spouse?
- Out ,without your spouse?
- In together, with friends?
- Left at home alone?
- In together, alone?
- Out together, just the two of you?
9. How important is time on your own to relax? Do you relax best in the company of others or in your own company? Do you think you will need time alone when you are at home or on holiday together?
1. How was Christmas for you growing up?
2. What traditions did you have as a family that you would love to keep/prefer to lose?
3. Do you look forward to the Christmas season?
4. How would you like to spend your first Christmas together?
5. How might you balance time spent with your respective families over the years?
1. What makes you nervous or afraid at the prospect of having children?
2. If you are able to have children, how many children would you like? How important would financial considerations feature in your thoughts? What other factors would apply?
3. How long would you like to wait before trying for children?
4. How would you respond if you became pregnant on honeymoon?
5. What would be your top three priorities for your children?
6. What is your view about infant baptism?
7. Do you anticipate parenting in a similar manner to which you were brought up? Why or why not?
8. What sort of education would you want for them?
9. How do you see your responsibility as regards ‘bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6v4)? How about your future spouse’s responsibility?
1. What areas of church life do you currently serve in?
2. Are there any responsibilities you should consider giving up once you are married?
3. What particular contributions to church life do you anticipate having as a married couple?
4. In what particular ways do you want to serve God together? Be specific.
5. How do you want God to use your marriage and home?
6. What part will hospitality play?
G. Communication and Conflict
1. Are you good at communicating “basic” information: diary planning, phone messages, short- and medium-term plans? If not, how will you improve?
2. Are you good at the kind of communicating that builds and strengthens intimacy? Do you think you need to improve at making space for that in your relationship?
3. Do you think your spouse does? How can you help?
4. Do you find it easy to talk about things you are struggling with? How can your spouse help you?
5. How good are you at “speaking the truth in love”, saying difficult things in a loving way?
6. Are you willing for your spouse to be frank with you regarding any personal habits you have that they find unpleasant or simply unhelpful? How best might they address or initiate the subject?
7. How do you respond to conflict? Do you go quiet, sulk, become argumentative, become defensive?
8. How do you anticipate resolving conflicts?
9. Do you consider your future spouse to be good at communicating? How could they improve?
10. Do you consider yourself to be good at communicating? How could you improve?
1. What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time? Is this something you plan to continue to do when married? Would you anticipate your spouse being involved in this? How?
2. How often do you expect to have a holiday? What would you expect these to look like?
1. What is your attitude towards work? Do you find it difficult to stop working? Do you find it difficult to switch off after work?
2. How important is having a career to you? What expectations or hopes do you have for your career?
3. How would you respond to an expectation from an employer for you to work overtime, or increase your hours?
4. How do you feel about the role of housewife and mother? As a mother, how soon would you consider returning to paid employment, if at all? As a father, how would you feel about your wife going back to work?
1. What standard of living have you been used to?
in your childhood
2. What expectations do you bring into marriage in relation to this? Do you expect a steadily rising standard of living?
3. What debts do you have?
4. What about savings and assets?
5. What is your attitude towards money? Do you generally save up before buying larger items, or do you buy these on credit and pay back?
6. When you buy something, do you prefer to pay more for quality instead of pay a lower price?
7. Do you budget carefully?
8. Are you giving to the church in a disciplined manner? What will that look like when you are married?
9. Will you have a joint account when you are married?
10. Do you plan to save together? How much? What will these savings be for?
11. Will you maintain a savings account, pension, life insurance?
12. Who will be in charge of the money when you are married? Who will be responsible for paying different bills and how?
13. Do you expect to talk about every purchase you make, set a threshold for this, or each be free to spend what you want?
14. How much money do you think you ought to spend on holidays?
1. Do you expect to be living in Birmingham in 5 years? What about in 10?
2. What are your priorities in choosing where to live?
3. How important to you is where you live and what sort of house/flat you live in?
- In 10 years?
- At retirement?
4. What sort of home would you expect in 5 years’ time?
5. How important is it to you to be buying your own home?
6. How much of a practical handyman/woman are you? Do you enjoy doing things around the home, for example: putting up shelves, mending things, decorating, making curtains, etc.?
7. How tidy are you? How important is it for you to have a clean and tidy home?
1. Try to write down in a sentence or two about why you want to get married and why to this person in particular?
2. How do you hope being married to your spouse will benefit them?
3. How do you hope being married to your spouse will benefit you?
4. What could undermine these benefits?
5. How often do you expect to have sex?
6. Where would you turn to if you were having problems with the sexual relationship within your marriage?
7. Do you think romance is important? How do you intend to be romantic towards your spouse?
8. How will you keep God central in your marriage? How might you keep a check on that?
Notes for discussion
If we were in any doubt that the introduction of same-sex marriage would change the very nature of marriage for everyone then we are in no doubt any longer. If we were in any doubt that the introduction of same-sex marriage would weaken rather than strengthen the institution of marriage for everyone then the recent remarks of Baroness Stowell put that, too, beyond doubt. Baroness Stowell, who speaks for the Conservatives in the Lords on equalities issues, confirmed that faithfulness in marriage is not to be a requirement under the proposed legislation for same-sex relationships. Rather, issues of fidelity would be up to each couple to decide for themselves.
As the law stands, for heterosexual couples adultery has always been a grounds for divorce. The proposed legislation for same-sex marriages will not include the same provision.
Quite simply there are only three options for the government:
1) In order to maintain a level-playing field an adultery clause has to be added to the proposed legislation but how do you define adultery in some homosexual relationships? Hence the governments decision not to include it.
2) Or to maintain a level-playing field adultery has to be removed as a grounds for divorce for heterosexual marriage
3) Or we accept different definitions for marriage depending on whether you are gay or straight.
David Burrowes MP in the Telegraph article said: “This goes against everything the PM has said about his desire to try and strengthen marriage by extending marriage to same sex couples.”
“If the legislation is not urgently amended, it signals the abolition of the law of adultery. It will create an adulterer’s charter across both types of marriage, which far from strengthening this great institution will do irreparable damage to it.”
(HT: Christian Institute)
I took a marriage preparation session for a number of engaged couples at our church last week. There were lots of things I would have been very happy to discuss not least all of the many practical issues that a couple face as they get ready to marry. But rather than start there I wanted to start with the biggest issue facing any human relationship: Am I willing to let this person change me?
Tim Keller in The Reason for God writes: One of the principles of love – either love for a friend or romantic love – is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want ‘freedom’ of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways. You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up personal autonomy.’
For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way. Both sides must say to the other, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.’
In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means sacrifice for me.’ If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others.
In summary: As God has changed for you, so you can now change for him.
That’s exactly what we find in a passage like Philippians 2:1-18.
2:5-11 tells of Christ’s willingness to leave the glories of heaven and become a man, taking the form of a servant, being willing to die, and to die on a cross (a cursed death – the worst death). From the highest place it is possible to be, at the right-hand of God, Christ now occupied the lowest place it is possible to be, cursed on a cross.
Either side of these verses are a call for our relationships with one another to be utterly transformed by this gospel pattern.
So, 2:2-4 we read: make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (NIV).
And 2:14-15: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (NIV).
The power to live well in a marriage comes from our willingness to change and to let our marriage partner be God’s change-agent. Christ’s willingness to change for us gives us every reason to change for him and to let him use others to do exactly that. As we learn to welcome change and to say to our marriage partners,for Christ’s sake, I need you to change me to be more like him so our marriages grow stronger.
Mark Vernon has written a really helpful myth-busting piece for Valentine’s Day. Here are some of his key conclusions could have been written by a Christian and they certainly serve to highlight how both Christian and non-Christian alike can go badly wrong when living according to the myth of Romantic love. Here are three of his key insights.
1) When we think that there is someone out there who can ‘complete us’ we are looking in the wrong place if we look for that in a person. Marriages can be extremely happy and do offer many blessings but when we marry we marry fallen, sinful human beings just like us. If we want someone to ‘complete us’ what we’re really asking for is someone to be God for us. He alone can provide ‘true love’. Vernon points to the conclusion of philosopher Simon May when he says:
There is a spiritual dimension to this romantic addiction too. The philosopher Simon May has proposed that while many have given up on God in the West, we still long for the unconditional love that God used to offer.
But godless, we seek instead unconditional love from our fellow humans. We make them gods, and of course they fail us. And then love turns to hate.
2. When we put that kind of expectation on ourselves, our spouse or on a potential boyfriend or girlfriend we ask them to do the impossible and they will always be a disappointment to us. We risk damaging the relationship if we want perfection. We risk never entering into a relationship if we wait for ‘the one’ who alone is perfect.
3. We need to recognise that love is a decision rather than a feeling or destiny.
The pressure to find ‘the one’ is socially corrosive because it idealises love, rather than understanding that love is made not found. Love is made in the gritty ups and downs of being with someone who is as flawed as you.
All of this said we should still celebrate human love and that should include romance; flowers, candle-lit dinners and all. What we mustn’t do is ask Romance to be our god for God alone IS love.
Tim and Kathy Keller deconstruct the cultural myths that surround marriage and give a gospel answer.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
Preaching through a series on the 10 commandments on Sunday we reached the 7th . Yesterday I posted the first part of the sermon on the relationship between sex and marriage. Today the second part looks at God’s purpose in the 7th commandment.
What is the 7th commandment?
The seventh commandment reads ‘You shall not commit adultery’. Pretty much every Jewish adult who first heard those words of God would either have been married or engaged to be married. Every adult could expect to be married by the age of 20. So in that culture the biggest challenge to honouring God with your body was remaining faithful to your spouse. But the commandment clearly speaks against all kinds of sexual sin.
Paul in Ephesians says ‘ Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity.’ The word there for sexual immorality is porneia and refers really to any sex outside of marriage.
So why is faithfulness in your marriage so important to God?
We’ve been learning over again in this series is that each of the commandments that call on us to ‘love our neighbour’ depends upon a more fundamental commitment to ‘love God’. There is a right and necessary ordering of the commandments. It is the nature of our relationship with God that compels us to remain faithful to our spouse.
Covenant faithfulness in marriage is an expression of our covenant faithfulness to God. As God is faithful to us and as we are to be faithful to him so we are to exhibit the character of faithfulness in all our relationships, especially marriage. As his people so we want to be like him, to say to the world how great it is to have God as our God and so being faithful to our promises is part of saying thank you to God for being faithful to his.
I was at a wedding a while back, chatting to a non-Christian couple. They asked how long my wife and I had been married and at the time it was something like 10 or 11 years. One of them was surprised that having married so young we had lasted so long and then the other commented ‘it’s only the Christians who stay married.’ Sadly, in a fallen world marked by sin that is not always the case but it often is.
Our faithfulness in marriage is a reflection of God’s faithfulness we reflect God’s character as the faithful one who loves us with a never-breaking love. A husband and a wife are in their marriage to model the exclusive relationship between God and his people.
What makes adultery so serious it is both one and the same time a betrayal of a spouse and a denial of our God.
In Genesis 39:9-10 Joseph refuses to betray Potiphar by sucombing to the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He refuses out of loyalty to an earthly master. But more fundamentally he recognises that to break a human marriage is to ‘do a wicked thing and sin against God.’
The 7th commandment is given by God to protect marriages, to protect children in marriages and to protect God’s own name and reputation in the world.
Jesus and marriage
No wonder then that Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6 issues a solemn warning that it is God who joins a couple together in marriage. Through marriage they are now to be considered as one person (v.6) and therefore Jesus issues a command ‘let not man separate.’ It is not that it is impossible but rather that it is should not happen.
And the consequences for those who do break this commandment are serious. In the book of Hebrews Christians are reminded of the seriousness of honouring God with their marriages. 13:4
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Yesterday we saw that sex outside of marriage damages ourselves. Today that it dishonour’s God and we are warned judgement awaits those who dishonour God through adultery or sexual immorality.
Tomorrow’s post looks at how we all break the 7th commandment and how through Jesus we can keep the 7th commandment.
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