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Category Archives: Doctrine

“Does It Does Really Matter What One Believes” Ephesians 4:1-6


*Appreciation to Marvin Bryant for many great thoughts…

A few years ago a man and woman in Long Beach, California stopped and bought some fried chicken for a picnic. When the clerk took their money she somehow, mindlessly, enclosed a large stack of the cash register’s money in with their food. When they arrived at the picnic spot and found the money, the man instantly said they had to return it, which they did.

The frantic manager was thrilled to meet someone of such honesty. He wanted to call the newspaper and have the man’s picture and story printed. The man refused, which is even more impressive as long as you think it was due to his humility. But the story turns sour when you find out the reason he didn’t want to call the newspaper is that the woman he was picnicking with wasn’t his wife but was in fact someone else’s.

That sick feeling you have right now is why we need to be genuine as God’s people…this “thing” we’re doing here is not about ritual or numbers, but we’re seeking to be a church that belongs to Christ…individuals who want a high moral standard that includes lifestyle, attitudes & beliefs.

From the front page of some website:

“…is part of a fellowship of independent congregations known as the churches of Christ, with roots in the Restoration Movement. We seek to shed our individual differences and unite on the simple truths of the New Testament. We are far from accomplishing this ideal, but we do seek to follow God’s word in an open and authentic way.
   “We are not a perfect church. We are a church where imperfect people can connect with a perfect God, where people can grow together, learn together, and serve together. We are each unique members of Christ’s body, using the gifts His Spirit provides to build each other up, lift up Jesus Christ in this community, and reach the world with the Good News! We’d love for you to join with us on this journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.”

 Beliefs matter.  Jesus confronted the Sadducees regarding their disbelief on the subject of the resurrection in  Matthew 22. He stopped their ‘trap’ but he also exposed the error of their belief.

When Apollos began to preach the word of God in Acts 18-19, he was “off” on the subject of baptism and it was corrected.

We are to use wisdom and grace in building people up and bringing people into the “way of the Lord more perfectly” (Acts 18:24-28; Col. 4:5-6; Eph. 4:29).

(Acts 18:24-28)  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. {25} He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. {26} He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. {27} When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. {28} For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) 5  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
6  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) 29  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Which beliefs matter? Is it what the elders offer as “official church policy?” Do you have to follow lock-step with everything the preacher or favorite Bible class teacher presents? Of course not!

We will have our own ideas about many subjects, but on some subjects there can be no real discussion, if it fits in the area of God’s Word and it is clearly given by direct command, necessary inference, or is based upon the teaching in the 1st century of the apostles of Christ.

Right doctrine is essential to right living. It is impossible to live a faithful Christian life without knowing biblical doctrine. Doctrine simply means teaching, and there is no way that even the most sincere believer can live a life pleasing to God without knowing what God Himself is like and knowing the sort of life God wants him to live.

When people say, “Don’t talk to me about doctrine—just let me live my Christian life!” they are revealing their ignorance of the way the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer.

“It makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you live right” is a similar confession of ignorance. It does make a difference what you believe, because what you believe determines how you behave!

The main idea in these first sixteen verses is the unity of believers in Christ. This is simply the practical application of the doctrine taught in the first half of the letter: God is building a body, a temple. He has reconciled Jews and Gentiles to Himself in Christ. The oneness of believers in Christ is already a spiritual reality. Our responsibility is to guard, protect, and preserve that unity.

Most denominational members would be surprised to discover that their chosen religious affiliation is less than 500 years old. Many people assume that the church of which they are members is ancient in origin, divinely ordained, and a part of the church revealed in the New Testament.

It doesn’t always occur to them that there were no denominations in New Testament days. When the church was established in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, there was one church with Christ as the head and the apostles as pillars of faith as they did exactly what Jesus had trained them to do.

That church was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence. The kingdom came with power (Mark 9:1) when the Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:8).

The gospel was preached, sinners responded to that resurrected Savior, they repented, they were immersed in water for remission of sins, and they began the Christian walk.

How simple! And how tragic today that so many have changed that simple beginning with their own ideas and teachings. How thrilling it is to find people in the Ukraine (for instance) who were given Bibles in years past and began reading it and with little or no help from outside teachers, became New Testament Christian and began worshipping in ways God approved through the apostles and first century Christians.

 At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

Jesus prayed that His followers would be united (Jn. 17:21-23).

(John 17:20-23)  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. {22} I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: {23} I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 Those who cause factions are to be rejected

(Titus 3:10)  Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.

Men who cause dissensions are to be avoided

(Romans 16:17)  I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Tim Stafford (OCC professor) tells of a minister who used a jar full of beans in teaching. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right.

He then turns to the list of their favorite songs. “And which one of these is closest to being right?” he asks. The students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste. And the teacher agrees.

But then he asks, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?” Always, and amazingly, he gets the same answer, from old as well as young: they say choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song than knowing the # of beans in the jar.

IF that is true, then what we believe has more to do with what we like or what we will not accept. The issue of God’s authority is taken out of the equation!

One of the main reasons that cults in our day have had such an impact on the world is their unity. Disharmony is not tolerated. Though misguided, misused, and often totalitarian, such unity is attractive to many people who are tired of religious uncertainty, ambiguity, and confusion.

Few of us who have attended church for a number of years have not been in or known of a congregation where there was a split or at least serious quarreling. The problem has existed in the church from New Testament times. The Corinthian believers fell short of the Lord’s standards in many ways, and the first thing for which Paul called them to task was quarreling.

Quarrels are a part of life. We grow up in them and around them. Infants are quick to express displeasure when they are not given something they want or when something they like is taken away. Little children cry, fight, and throw tantrums because they cannot have their own ways.

(James 4:1-2)  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? {2} You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.).

What the Lord laments and opposes, Satan applauds and fosters. Few things demoralize, discourage, and weaken a church as much as bickering, backbiting, and fighting among its members. And few things so effectively undermine its testimony before the world.

The church we see in the New Testament was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence.

At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

God is much more desirous of people being saved, than of their being condemned

(Ezekiel 18:23)  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

 (John 3:17)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 (2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2018 in Church, Doctrine

 

Great Themes of the Bible: Forgiving Others


(Luke 6:27-36 NIV)  “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. {29} If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. {30} Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. {31} Do to others as you would have them do to you. {32} “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. {33} And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. {34} And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. {35} But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. {36} Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus assumed that anybody who lived for eternal values would get into trouble with the world’s crowd. Christians are the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-16), and sometimes the salt stings and the light exposes sin. Sinners show their hatred by avoiding us or rejecting us (Luke 6:22), insulting us (Luke 6:28), physically abusing us (Luke 6:29), and suing us (Luke 6:30). This is something we must expect (Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12).

How should we treat our enemies? We must love them, do them good, and pray for them. Hatred only breeds more hatred, “for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20, niv). This cannot be done in our own strength, but it can be done through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22-23).

We must not look at these admonitions as a series of rules to be obeyed. They describe an attitude of heart that expresses itself positively when others are negative, and generously when others are selfish, all to the glory of God. It is an inner disposition, not a legal duty. We must have wisdom to know when to turn the other cheek and when to claim our rights (John 18:22-23; Acts 16:35-40). Even Christian love must exercise discernment (Phil. 1:9-11).

Two principles stand out: we must treat others as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31), which assumes we want the very best spiritually for ourselves; and we must imitate our Father in heaven and be merciful (Luke 6:36). The important thing is not that we are vindicated before our enemies but that we become more like God in our character (Luke 6:35). This is the greatest reward anyone can receive, far greater than riches, food, laughter, or popularity (Luke 6:24-26). Those things will one day vanish, but character will last for eternity. We must believe Matthew 6:33 and practice it in the power of the Spirit.

Luke 6:37-38 reminds us that we reap what we sow and in the amount that we sow. If we judge others, we will ourselves be judged. If we forgive, we shall be forgiven, but if we condemn, we shall be condemned (see Matt. 18:21-35). He was not talking about eternal judgment but the way we are treated in this life. If we live to give, God will see to it that we receive; but if we live only to get, God will see to it that we lose. This principle applies not only to our giving of money, but also to the giving of ourselves in ministry to others.

Do you pray for God to transform your heart, purify your behaviors, and make you more like Christ? I pray for these things in my life. And in order to answer our prayers, God has created the church and put us in it with the full awareness that it would be a world of offense — where we could deal with hurt feelings, slights, and wrongs from one another in the Spirit-empowered world of forgiveness.

The popular concept of unity is a fantasy land where disagreements never surface and contrary opinions are never stated with force. We expect disagreement. So instead of unity, we use the word community.

We say, “Let’s not pretend we never disagree. We’re dealing with the lives of [thousands of] people. The stakes are high. Let’s not have people hiding their concerns to protect a false notion of unity. Let’s face the disagreement and deal with it in a godly way.”

The mark of community — true biblical unity — is not the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of a reconciling spirit. I can have a rough-and-tumble leadership meeting with someone, but because we’re committed to community, we can still leave, slapping each other on the back, saying, “I’m glad we’re still brothers.” We know no one’s bailing out just because of a conflicting position. Community is bigger than that. [1]

It isn’t just one church’s leadership team but the total Body of Christ that needs to know, keep in consciousness, and strive to live the community principle. All of us get offended at times. All of us give offense. But we are the family of God and must learn to live together in true biblical unity, in authentic regard for one another, in community.

We will need to help one another to remember our commitment to oneness in Christ. Community is too valuable in the church to let careless words on a bad night rupture a relationship. And the same is true for our families and friendships, for classroom and workplace. This means that we have to learn to take responsibility for our actions and to forgive one another. If the church can’t model forgiveness, who can?

One philosopher compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night. The colder it gets, the more we huddle together for warmth. But the closer we get to one another, the more we prick, stab, and hurt one another with our sharp quills. Then, in the lonely nights of life’s winter, we eventually begin to draft apart and wander out on our own. There we freeze to death in our loneliness.

Those Challenging Texts

The Word of God calls the church to an option the world cannot receive. Christ challenges us to forgive one another for the stings and punctures we inflict on one another. Then we can stay together and share the warmth of God’s presence.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the multitude: You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matt. 5:43-46).

To reinforce the same theme, he came back to the matter of how people should treat one another with respect and forgiveness. Still in that same sermon, he told his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” Matt. 6:12). At the end of the model for our prayers that includes this petition about forgiven people practicing forgiveness, he added, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).

One day Peter asked Jesus about this matter of forgiving others and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” Trying to be like his Master, Peter doubled the teaching of certain rabbis to the effect that three times was the limit to forgiveness — then added one more for good measure. “Up to seven times?” he offered. He must have been shocked by Jesus’ reply: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:21-22). Then he gave one of his memorable parables.

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents [footnote: millions of dollars] was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [footnote: a few dollars]. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.”

But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matt. 18:23-35).

Finally among these challenging texts, read the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

What These Verses Mean

To understand the meaning of these texts, it is probably necessary to say first what they don’t mean. They certainly don’t mean that evil should be minimized or that both it and its aftermath are less than terribly, terribly painful. Child molestation, physical abuse, or verbal-emotional assault leaves scars that have to be dealt with in an adult’s life. Addiction to alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling, and the like are behaviors that can be treated under a disease model; they are also sins that devastate not only their perpetrators but innocent people as well.

These texts don’t mean that the victims of evil need to understand or justify why someone acted as he or she did. They don’t mean you should not grieve, be angry, or feel betrayed by your victimizer. They don’t mean you should just stuff down what has happened, try to forget about it, and wait for time to heal your wounds. And they certainly don’t mean you should feel guilty about the offense you have taken about an evil that has been done to you. A glib “I’m over it!” or a quick “You’re forgiven!” is sometimes both a lie and an affront to the process that is true forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is a process — “a journey of many steps,” as one put it.  These biblical texts do mean at least the following:

First, the seriousness of what has happened must be named, accepted for its true nature as an offense against holiness, and brought to God for help in confronting. No more denial. No sweeping it under the rug. No pretending it didn’t happen. Just honesty in bringing it into the light of God’s healing power. Write down in journal or letter form what happened; writing seems to be therapeutic to many who have undergone severe trials. Find a trusted counselor or mature Christian friend with whom to share your story in confidence.

Second, grieve the things you have lost because of what has happened on account of someone’s sin against you. Innocence. Trust. Family. Money. Respect. Self-respect. Name and lament what has been stolen from you by someone’s prejudice, lie, or unjust treatment. Weep over it; tears are even more therapeutic than writing. But stop short of throwing a pity party for yourself. That’s not helpful and only delays healing.

Third, remember that you are a forgiven person. God was once offended by your trespasses against him, and he grieved both your behaviors and the condition of your heart that permitted you to persist in them for a time. A man was called to his employer’s office. She played surveillance tapes to him that showed he had put money from the cash drawer into his pocket. The least he could expect was a blistering dismissal and knew it was possible that the police were on the way. She asked him to explain what they had just witnessed on a TV screen. “I stole from you,” he mumbled as he looked down at the floor. She told him she was not going to press charges and then asked, “If I take you back, can I trust you?” The shocked-and-conscience-stricken man assured her that he could be trusted but said, “There’s no reason you should give me a second chance. Why would you?” “You’re the second person who has messed up and then received pardon in this company,” she said. “I was the first, and I’m showing you mercy because it made all the difference in my life.”

Fourth, decide to forgive the person or persons who have hurt you. Forgiving another is ultimately a unilateral action. You don’t forgive because the person has stopped doing wrong or undone the harm done to you. You don’t forgive because you either have or ever will blot out the painful memories of what happened. You don’t forgive because the person has been penitent or asked to be forgiven. You forgive in order to honor the will of God and his Spirit-presence in your life. And you forgive in order to take back the control of your life that someone still has because of their evil and your ongoing absorption with its aftermath. One person recommends sitting in front of an empty chair, visualizing the person who has done the evil, and saying aloud, “I forgive you, [name of the person], for [identify the specific things that have hurt you] and take back the control of my life that has been yielded to you since those things happened — so I can give everything in my life to God’s redemptive and healing love.”

Fifth, pray the matter to closure. Maybe you pray something like this: “Holy God, because I am forgiven and accepted in Christ, I want to live in obedience to you and to follow my Lord’s example of forgiving others. By the power of your Spirit-presence at work in me, I choose now to forgive [the person] and to close the book on the sins [the person] committed against me. More than that, I ask you to bless him/her with whatever will draw him/her close to your heart. Bless [the person] with the love you have shown to me through your Holy Son. I take back the ground Satan has had in my life because of hatred or the desire for revenge against [the person] and surrender it to Jesus. Take away bitterness, and give me peace. Take away emotional and spiritual torment over these things, and let me live in forgiven-ness and forgiving-ness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” You can’t pray this prayer at the beginning of the process of forgiveness, only at the end.

Sixth, because you mean what you have done at that point, put it behind you. If the person or persons who did the wrong to you are still in your life or still among those with whom you must interact at work or church, accept them by the mercies of God and without expecting or attempting to change them. Get on with your life, and keep no souvenirs of your past bitterness. You’ve broken the cycle of sin leading to thoughts of revenge resulting in more sinful actions. It has been broken with forgiveness.

Conclusion

On a Saturday afternoon last spring, 13-year-old Michael Hirschbeck put on his Cleveland Indians batboy uniform and went looking for his hero. His hero is Roberto Alomar, the All-Star second baseman who made a lot of us baseball fans angry in the fall of 1996 by spitting in the face of an umpire who had just called him out on strikes. When Michael found him, he threw his arms around him in a big hug.

The most startling thing about this episode is that Michael is the son of John Hirschbeck — the umpire Alomar spat upon in that ugly incident. Alomar apologized for what he did, and Hirschbeck publicly forgave him and committed himself to a process of healing and restoration. The baseball player has since worked to support the umpire’s foundation to find a cure for a rare disease of the brain (adrenoleukodystrophy or ALD) that took the life of Hirschbeck’s 8-year-old son John Drew in 1993. Michael has the same genetic disorder.

“Maybe God put us in this world to help somebody beat this disease,” says Alomar of the ironic reconciliation. Maybe he did. Or maybe he put them in this world to remind us of the grace that touches all who witness it in seeing the offended embrace the offender.

You can’t walk with Christ while carrying a grudge. Lay it down. Put a reconciling spirit of forgiveness in its place. Let offended and offender embrace — and know they are on the same team now for the sake of defeating Satan’s schemes.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2018 in Doctrine

 

Great Themes of the Bible: Humility


(Luke 14:7-11 NIV)  When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: {8} “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. {9} If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. {10} But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. {11} For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sabbath Day hospitality was an important part of Jewish life, so it was not unusual for Jesus to be invited to a home for a meal after the weekly synagogue service. Sometimes the host invited Him sincerely because he wanted to learn more of God’s truth. But many times Jesus was asked to dine only so His enemies could watch Him and find something to criticize and condemn. That was the case on the occasion described in Luke 14 when a leader of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner.

Jesus was fully aware of what was in men’s hearts (John 2:24-25), so He was never caught off guard. In fact, instead of hosts or guests judging Jesus, it was Jesus who passed judgment on them when they least expected it. Indeed, in this respect, He was a dangerous person to sit with at a meal or to follow on the road! In Luke 14, we see Jesus dealing with five different kinds of people and exposing what was false in their lives and their thinking.

The Pharisees: False Piety (Luke 14:1-6)

Instead of bringing them to repentance, Jesus’ severe denunciation of the Pharisees and scribes (Luke 11:39-52) only provoked them to retaliation, and they plotted against Him. The Pharisee who invited Jesus to his home for dinner also invited a man afflicted with dropsy. This is a painful disease in which, because of kidney trouble, a heart ailment, or liver disease, the tissues fill with water. How heartless of the Pharisees to “use” this man as a tool to accomplish their wicked plan, but if we do not love the Lord, neither will we love our neighbor. Their heartless treatment of the man was far worse than our Lord’s “lawless” behavior on the Sabbath.

This afflicted man would not have been invited to such an important dinner were it not that the Pharisees wanted to use him as “bait” to catch Jesus. They knew that Jesus could not be in the presence of human suffering very long without doing something about it. If He ignored the afflicted man, then He was without compassion; but if He healed him, then He was openly violating the Sabbath and they could accuse Him. They put the dropsied man right in front of the Master so He could not avoid him, and then they waited for the trap to spring.

Keep in mind that Jesus had already “violated” their Sabbath traditions on at least seven different occasions. On the Sabbath Day, He had cast out a demon (Luke 4:31-37), healed a fever (Luke 4:38-39), allowed His disciples to pluck grain (Luke 6:1-5), healed a lame man (John 5:1-9), healed a man with a paralyzed hand (Luke 6:6-10), delivered a crippled woman who was afflicted by a demon (Luke 13:10-17), and healed a man born blind (John 9). Why our Lord’s enemies thought that one more bit of evidence was necessary, we do not know, but we do know that their whole scheme backfired.

When Jesus asked what their convictions were about the Sabbath Day, He used on them the weapon they had forged for Him. To begin with, they couldn’t heal anybody on any day, and everybody knew it. But even more, if the Pharisees said that nobody should be healed on the Sabbath, the people would consider them heartless; if they gave permission for healing, their associates would consider them lawless. The dilemma was now theirs, not the Lord’s, and they needed a way to escape. As they did on more than one occasion, the scribes and Pharisees evaded the issue by saying nothing.

Jesus healed the man and let him go, knowing that the Pharisee’s house was not the safest place for him. Instead of providing evidence against Jesus, the man provided evidence against the Pharisees, for he was “exhibit A” of the healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord knew too much about this legalistic crowd to let them escape. He knew that on the Sabbath Day they would deliver their farm animals from danger, so why not permit Him to deliver a man who was made in the likeness of God? Seemingly, they were suggesting that animals were more important than people. (It is tragic that some people even today have more love for their pets than they do for their family members, their neighbors, or even for a lost world.)

Jesus exposed the false piety of the Pharisees and the scribes. They claimed to be defending God’s Sabbath laws, when in reality they were denying God by the way they abused people and accused the Saviour. There is a big difference between protecting God’s truth and promoting man’s traditions.

The Guests: False Popularity (Luke 14:7-11)

Experts in management tell us that most people wear an invisible sign that reads, “Please make me feel important”; if we heed that sign, we can succeed in human relations. On the other hand, if we say or do things that make others feel insignificant, we will fail. Then people will respond by becoming angry and resentful, because everybody wants to be noticed and made to feel important.

In Jesus’ day, as today, there were “status symbols” that helped people enhance and protect their high standing in society. If you were invited to the “right homes” and if you were seated in the “right places,” then people would know how important you really were. The emphasis was on reputation, not character. It was more important to sit in the right places than to live the right kind of life.

In New Testament times, the closer you sat to the host, the higher you stood on the social ladder and the more attention (and invitations) you would receive from others. Naturally, many people rushed to the “head table” when the doors were opened because they wanted to be important.

This kind of attitude betrays a false view of success. “Try not to become a man of success,” said Albert Einstein, “but try to become a man of value.” While there may be some exceptions, it is usually true that valuable people are eventually recognized and appropriately honored. Success that comes only from self-promotion is temporary, and you may be embarrassed as you are asked to move down (Prov. 25:6-7).

When Jesus advised the guests to take the lowest places, He was not giving them a “gimmick” that guaranteed promotion. The false humility that takes the lowest place is just as hateful to God as the pride that takes the highest place. God is not impressed by our status in society or in the church. He is not influenced by what people say or think about us, because He sees the thoughts and motives of the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). God still humbles the proud and exalts the humble (James 4:6).

British essayist Francis Bacon compared fame to a river that easily carried “things light and swollen” but that drowned “things weighty and solid.” It is interesting to scan old editions of encyclopedias and see how many “famous people” are “forgotten people” today.

Humility is a fundamental grace in the Christian life, and yet it is elusive; if you know you have it, you have lost it! It has well been said that humility is not thinking meanly of ourselves; it is simply not thinking of ourselves at all. Jesus is the greatest example of humility, and we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to imitate Him (Phil. 2:1-16).

The Host: False Hospitality (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus knew that the host had invited his guests for two reasons: (1) to pay them back because they had invited him to past feasts, or (2) to put them under his debt so that they would invite him to future feasts. Such hospitality was not an expression of love and grace but rather an evidence of pride and selfishness. He was “buying” recognition.

Jesus does not prohibit us from entertaining family and friends, but He warns us against entertaining only family and friends exclusively and habitually. That kind of “fellowship” quickly degenerates into a “mutual admiration society” in which each one tries to outdo the others and no one dares to break the cycle. Sad to say, too much church social life fits this description.

Our motive for sharing must be the praise of God and not the applause of men, the eternal reward in heaven and not the temporary recognition on earth. A pastor friend of mine used to remind me, “You can’t get your reward twice!” and he was right (see Matt. 6:1-18). On the day of judgment, many who today are first in the eyes of men will be last in God’s eyes, and many who are last in the eyes of men will be first in the eyes of God (Luke 13:30).

In our Lord’s time, it was not considered proper to ask poor people and handicapped people to public banquets. (The women were not invited either!) But Jesus commanded us to put these needy people at the top of our guest list because they cannot pay us back. If our hearts are right, God will see to it that we are properly rewarded, though getting a reward must not be the motive for our generosity. When we serve others from unselfish hearts, we are laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20) and becoming “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

Our modern world is very competitive, and it is easy for God’s people to become more concerned about profit and loss than they are about sacrifice and service. “What will I get out of it?” may easily become life’s most important question (Matt. 19:27ff). We must strive to maintain the unselfish attitude that Jesus had and share what we have with others.

The Jews: False Security (Luke 14:15-24)

When Jesus mentioned “the resurrection of the just,” one of the guests became excited and said, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The Jewish people pictured their future kingdom as a great feast with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets as the honored guests (Luke 13:28; see Isa. 25:6). This anonymous guest was confident that he would one day be at the “kingdom feast” with them! Jesus responded by telling him a parable that revealed the sad consequences of false confidence.

In Jesus’ day when you invited guests to a dinner, you told them the day but not the exact hour of the meal. A host had to know how many guests were coming so he could butcher the right amount of animals and prepare sufficient food. Just before the feast was to begin, the host sent his servants to each of the guests to tell them the banquet was ready and they should come (see Es. 5:8; 6:14). In other words, each of the guests in this parable had already agreed to attend the banquet. The host expected them to be there.

But instead of eagerly coming to the feast, all of the guests insulted the host by refusing to attend, and they all gave very feeble excuses to defend their change in plans.

The first guest begged off because he had to “go and see” a piece of real estate he had purchased. In the East, the purchasing of property is often a long and complicated process, and the man would have had many opportunities to examine the land he was buying. Anybody who purchases land that he has never examined is certainly taking a chance. Since most banquets were held in the evening, the man had little daylight left even for a cursory investigation.

The second man had also made a purchase—ten oxen that he was anxious to prove. Again, who would purchase that many animals without first testing them? Not many customers in our modern world would buy a used car that they had not taken out for a “test drive.” Furthermore, how could this man really put these oxen to the test when it was so late in the day? His statement “I go to prove them!” suggests that he was already on his way to the farm when the servant came with the final call to the dinner.

The third guest really had no excuse at all. Since they involved so much elaborate preparation, Jewish weddings were never surprises, so this man knew well in advance that he was taking a wife. That being the case, he should not have agreed to attend the feast in the first place. Since only Jewish men were invited to banquets, the host did not expect the wife to come anyway. Having a new wife could have kept the man from the battlefield (Deut. 24:5) but not from the festive board.

Of course, these were only excuses. I think it was Billy Sunday who defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” The person who is good at excuses is usually not good at anything else. These three guests actually expected to get another invitation in the future, but that invitation never came.

Having prepared a great dinner for many guests, the host did not want all that food to go to waste, so he sent his servant out to gather a crowd and bring them to the banquet hall. What kind of men would be found in the streets and lanes of the city or in the highways and hedges? The outcasts, the loiterers, the homeless, the undesireables, the kind of people that Jesus came to save (Luke 15:1-2; 19:10). There might even be some Gentiles in the crowd!

These men may have had only one reason for refusing the kind invitation: they were unprepared to attend such a fine dinner. So, the servant constrained them to accept (see 2 Cor. 5:20). They had no excuses. The poor could not afford to buy oxen; the blind could not go to examine real estate; and the poor, maimed, lame, and blind were usually not given in marriage. This crowd would be hungry and lonely and only too happy to accept an invitation to a free banquet.

Not only did the host get other people to take the places assigned to the invited guests, but he also shut the door so that the excuse-makers could not change their minds and come in (see Luke 13:22-30). In fact, the host was angry. We rarely think of God expressing judicial anger against those who reject His gracious invitations, but verses like Isaiah 55:6 and Proverbs 1:24-33 give a solemn warning that we not treat His calls lightly.

This parable had a special message for the proud Jewish people who were so sure they would “eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Within a few short years, the Gospel would be rejected by the official religious leaders, and the message would go out to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and then to the Gentiles (Acts 10; 13ff).

But the message of this parable applies to all lost sinners today. God still says, “All things are now ready. Come!” Nothing more need be done for the salvation of your soul, for Jesus Christ finished the work of redemption when He died for you on the cross and arose from the dead. The feast has been spread, the invitation is free, and you are invited to come.

People today make the same mistake that the people in the parable made: they delay in responding to the invitation because they settle for second best. There is certainly nothing wrong with owning a farm, examining purchases, or spending an evening with your wife. But if these good things keep you from enjoying the best things, then they become bad things. The excuse-makers were actually successful people in the eyes of their friends, but they were failures in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is a feast, not a funeral, and all are invited to come. Each of us as believers must herald abroad the message, “Come, for all things are now ready!” God wants to see His house filled, and “yet there is room.” He wants us to go home (Mark 5:19), go into the streets and lanes (Luke 14:21), go into the highways and hedges (Luke 14:23), and go into all the world (Mark 16:15) with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This parable was the text of the last sermon D.L. Moody preached, “Excuses.” It was given on November 23, 1899 in the Civic Auditorium in Kansas City, and Moody was a sick man as he preached. “I must have souls in Kansas City,” he told the students at his school in Chicago. “Never, never have I wanted so much to lead men and women to Christ as I do this time!”

There was a throbbing in his chest, and he had to hold to the organ to keep from falling, but Moody bravely preached the Gospel; and some fifty people responded to trust Christ. The next day, Moody left for home, and a month later he died. Up to the very end, Moody was “compelling them to come in.”

The Multitudes: False Expectancy (Luke 14:25-35)

When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were expecting the wrong things.

Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving lost souls, He wants His house to be filled (Luke 14:23); but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price.

A “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is “apprentice,” one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesus Christ and is used 264 times in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible (“that My house may be filled”), but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly; and in the three parables He gave, He made it clear that there is a price to pay.

To begin with, we must love Christ supremely, even more than we love our own flesh and blood (Luke 14:26-27). The word hate does not suggest positive antagonism but rather “to love less” (see Gen. 29:30-31; Mal. 1:2-3; and Matt. 10:37). Our love for Christ must be so strong that all other love is like hatred in comparison. In fact, we must hate our own lives and be willing to bear the cross after Him.

What does it mean to “carry the cross”? It means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12:23-28). A “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives. The Christian who called his noisy neighbors the “cross” he had to bear certainly did not understand the meaning of dying to self.

Jesus gave three parables to explain why He makes such costly demands on His followers: the man building a tower, the king fighting a war, and the salt losing its flavor. The usual interpretation is that believers are represented by the man building the tower and the king fighting the war, and we had better “count the cost” before we start, lest we start and not be able to finish. But I agree with Campbell Morgan that the builder and the king represent not the believer but Jesus Christ. He is the One who mustcount the costto see whether we are the kind of material He can use to build the church and battle the enemy. He cannot get the job done with halfhearted followers who will not pay the price.

As I write this chapter, I can look up and see on my library shelves hundreds of volumes of Christian biographies and autobiographies, the stories of godly men and women who made great contributions to the building of the church and the battle against the enemy. They were willing to pay the price, and God blessed them and used them. They were people with “salt” in their character.

Jesus had already told His disciples that they were “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). When the sinner trusts Jesus Christ as Saviour, a miracle takes place and “clay” is turned into “salt.” Salt was a valued item in that day; in fact, part of a soldier’s pay was given in salt. (The words salt and salary are related; hence, the saying, “He’s not worth his salt.”)

Salt is a preservative, and God’s people in this world are helping to retard the growth of evil and decay. Salt is also a purifying agent, an antiseptic that makes things cleaner. It may sting when it touches the wound, but it helps to kill infection. Salt gives flavor to things and, most of all, makes people thirsty. By our character and conduct, we ought to make others thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that He alone can give.

Our modern salt is pure and does not lose its flavor, but the salt in Jesus’ day was impure and could lose its flavor, especially if it came in contact with earth. Once the saltiness was gone, there was no way to restore it, and the salt was thrown out into the street to be walked on. When a disciple loses his Christian character, he is “good for nothing” and will eventually be “walked on” by others and bring disgrace to Christ.

Discipleship is serious business. If we are not true disciples, then Jesus cannot build the tower and fight the war. “There is always an if in connection with discipleship,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “and it implies that we need not [be disciples] unless we like. There is never any compulsion; Jesus does not coerce us. There is only one way of being a disciple, and that is by being devoted to Jesus.”

If we tell Jesus that we want to take up our cross and follow Him as His disciples, then He wants us to know exactly what we are getting into. He wants no false expectancy, no illusions, no bargains. He wants to use us as stones for building His church, soldiers for battling His enemies, and salt for bettering His world; and He is looking for quality.

After all, He was on His way to Jerusalem when He spoke these words, and look what happened to Him there! He does not ask us to do anything for Him that He has not already done for us.

To some, Jesus says, “You cannot be My disciples!” Why? Because they will not forsake all for Him, bear shame and reproach for Him, and let their love for Him control them.

And they are the losers. Will you be His disciple?

Pride vs. Humility

Pride is the sin above all others that humans cherish, defend, and rationalize. We are proud of country, proud of education, and proud of achievement. We are proud to be recognized in public and to be sought out privately. We are proud of family name, company title, and educational rank. And it is not only the world but perhaps even more especially the church of God that fosters this haughty spirit. We are proud of our denomination or the claim to be un-denominational. We are proud of our own congregation of believers. We can quickly become sectarian, exclude others as unworthy to be included in our fellowship, and hold all who are different under judgment and in contempt.

Lest anyone misunderstand or misrepresent what I have just said, let me hasten to say that our English term pride is rather ambiguous. The word may be used to refer to healthy and honorable things. For example, there is a pride in self and family name that has helped some of us avoid the most shameful snares Satan has set. There is pride in country that brings us to our feet when the National Anthem is performed and causes young men and women to serve in the military. There is pride — we most often use the term “self-confidence” here — that allows one to acknowledge gifts from God, put those trusts to work for his glory, and expect him to use them for holy purposes. There is even pride in — we would probably choose “dignity of” or “respect for” — one’s faith heritage that anchors her to noble motives and worthy perspectives.

There are, indeed, at least two kinds of pride. One is the polar opposite of humility and shows itself in self-centeredness, eager criticism of others, impatience, self-pity, and the willingness to steal God’s glory by taking credit for things he has given to or done in a person’s life. This evil quality in one’s heart shows itself as condescending treatment of others. It generates enmity in families, strife in the workplace, and division in churches. It brings people to isolation and loneliness — which they interpret, of course, as standing on principle or defending the faith. This is the unhealthy and sinful pride so constantly denounced in Scripture. Just think of a few texts from Proverbs: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (11:2). “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice” (13:10). “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (16:5). “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18). “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor” (29:23).

There is a virtuous sense of pride, however, that may be thought of as the polar opposite of stigma, shame, or personal insignificance. Jesus most certainly did not lack confidence, was not intimidated by challenge, and was not ashamed of his racial stock, social position, or religious heritage. Life didn’t threaten him. Critics didn’t deter him. Failure in the eyes of the world did not destroy his sense of identity as the faithful Son of God. He could bill himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and still be determined, strong, and courageous. The healthy and indispensable pride every believer needs is referenced several times in Paul’s writings. At least twice in writing to the church at Corinth, he spoke of taking pride in the people of that church: “”I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you” (2 Cor. 7:4a). “Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (2 Cor. 8:24). He wrote to Christians in Galatia to encourage them to personal spiritual responsibility and said: “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else” (Gal. 6:4).

By the same token, it might also be helpful to point out that there are also distinctions to be made about humility. The genuine humility of Christ’s obedience to the divine will (cf. Phil. 2:8) stands in sharp contrast to the pseudo-humility some people offer in the name of religion. Paul censured some people who were trying to make ascetics out of the church at Colosse by writing this: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23).

The Practical Meaning

Let me see if I can pull all this together. Let me try to fix the distinction between healthy and unhealthy pride, genuine and false humility. Let me offer you some things that might help us fix humility as a meaningful goal for our lives. It is, after all, a virtue to pray for but for which we can never give thanks.

Spirituality is learned and virtues are developed only in the frustrations of living. We have put Christianity in church buildings, Sunday School classes, and books, but it is first and foremost an experience-related faith. When we come to our buildings, attend our classes, and read the books, we should be reminded that we are then only reflecting on, getting perspective about, and getting ready to face again the realities of life. Christianity isn’t calm reflection and beautiful sunsets. It is Christ’s Spirit-presence in our midst on what is often a battlefield. Sickness, poverty, setbacks, discouragement, accidents, mistakes, ignorance, failure — these are the everyday terrain for the battle. Satan, death, sin — these are the specific tactics of evil that are trying to destroy us.

Failure is one of life’s best teachers. We are conditioned by our culture to see success and achievement as desirable and mistakes and failures as unpalatable. The reverse may actually be closer to the truth. Failure keeps us humble, and humility is frequently a good thing in the Kingdom of God. The devil would have a field day in ruining anyone’s character, spiritual life, and relationships, if he could grant that soul unbroken success in life. If churches and individual believers would be more honest about our failures and sinfulness, I suspect we’d be more effective in reaching unbelievers. No wonder the obvious strugglers and mess-ups avoid places where everybody puts on a happy face in order to look pious on Sunday. They get the impression they’re the only sinners in the crowd. Oh, we don’t have to become a group outdoing one another with tales of woe and sinfulness. But we can and must be honest about our weakness, failures, and sinfulness in order to avoid a holier-than-thou attitude. Peter sinned. Christ sought him out to forgive him. And Peter spent the rest of his life helping other sinners. There’s the model for all of us. Failure keeps us humble and honest with one another. It makes pretending unnecessary.

Be gracious in your triumphs and even more gracious in others’ failures. I was once called to help another church deal with a serious moral failure by its most visible and notable member. Sitting in a den with four elders of that church, I asked each to voice his most urgent concern. “We have to preserve our reputation in this town,” said one. “We have to serve notice to our own members that we won’t tolerate this sort of nonsense,” said another. “I just want him to know there is no excuse for what he’s done,” said the third, “and that he has set this church back ten years.” When the final brother spoke, it was softly and with tears. “God graciously rescued me from the same sort of humiliating failure thirteen years ago,” he said. “I am painfully aware every day of my weakness and vulnerability that would take me there again.” I asked him to be the one to take the lead in trying to reach that erring brother and quoted these words from Paul: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Know that your relationship with God is entirely of grace. No matter what gifts, triumphs, or successes you have had in this world, you have no ground of boasting in what you have done before God. Even if you stand head and shoulders above your fellows, you fall far short of his divine perfection. Jew and Gentile, black and white, male and female, company president or federal prisoner, top of the heap or lower than a snake’s belly — right standing with God is a gift of grace. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22-24). We have no status or claim in ourselves. Everything is God’s gift to us through Christ. We stand only because we are in him.

Conclusion

John Bradley was one of six men forever immortalized in the famous photograph and now-equally-famous Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. He helped raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. He never talked much about that event. When asked about his heroism on Iwo Jima, he would only say, “I just did what anyone else would have done” or “I was just doing my duty.” In the only taped interview he did on the subject, this was his comment: “I saw some guys struggling with a pole. I just jumped in to lend them a hand. It’s as simple as that.”

It was only after his death that John Bradley’s son learned from government documents what happened around that event. It was hardly as simple as his father had left him to think. Neither his wife nor son had known what happened half a century before. His wife would later say that he talked with her about it only one time — on their first date, for “seven or eight disinterested minutes and then never again in a 47-year-marriage did he say the words ‘Iwo Jima,'” she said.

Two days before the flag-raising, Bradley’s company was penned down by enemy fire on the beach. On February 21, 1945, with screams of the wounded and dying all around, Bradley saw a fellow-Marine fall wounded about 30 yards away. He was a Corpsman and immediately sprinted through what the official report called “merciless Japanese gunfire” to stabilize the wounded man and drag him back to safety. A few days after the flag-raising, he became a casualty himself when an artillery shell drove hot shrapnel into his feet, legs, and hips. Eyewitnesses said he would not tend to his own wounds until he had taken care of other wounded Marines around him.

All his life afterward, Bradley kept these exploits essentially private. He didn’t write about them. He didn’t sell his story to anyone. He didn’t even tell his wife and children what he had gone through. He insisted that he “really didn’t do much” and said simply, “I was just doing my duty.” Remember this story. We’ll have occasion to return to it later.

———-
[1] This story is taken from James J. Bradley, “‘Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue,'” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 2000, p. A18.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2017 in Doctrine

 

Great Themes of the Bible: Christian Unity


Christian unity is a hot topic. There have been a number of inter-church “Unity” services and other cooperative events which often include both Catholics and Protestants. These trends and events raise the issue, What is the basis for Christian unity? Should we feel comfortable to join together in the cause of Christ? Some of you may have wondered why I do not endorse or participate in “ecumenical” activities. Here are a few thoughts that I hope will clarify and enlighten:

Unity-logo-unity-32506259-1344-1000Biblical truth on essential doctrines, not “Christian love,” must be the basis for unity. I often hear, “Jesus said that the world will know we are Christians by our love and unity, not by our doctrine.” The implication is that doctrine is both divisive and secondary to love.

But a careful reading of John 17 will show that Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” (17:17). To sanctify means to set apart or make separate. We are to be set apart from the world because we hold to God’s truth.

Satan, the master at deceit, has many servants who claim to be Christian, but who deny fundamental biblical truth and thus are not truly Christian

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NIV)
13  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
14  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
15  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
  

1 John 2:18-27 (NIV)
18  Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
19  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
20  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
21  I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.
22  Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son.
23  No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
24  See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.
25  And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.
26  I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.
27  As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Jesus warned of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing

Matthew 7:15 (NIV)
15  “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

One of the main duties of shepherds (pastors) is to guard the flock, which involves warding off the wolves (Acts 20:28 (NIV) 28  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.).

They also must exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict

Titus 1:9 (NIV)
9  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it…plus many references to “sound doctrine” in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus).

If a person or church knowingly denies or distorts the essential Christian doctrines about the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the way of salvation, or the inspiration and authority of the Bible, we are not one with that person or church, in spite of their claim of being Christian

Galatians 1:6-9 (NIV)
6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7  which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

We are warned not to do anything to endorse such false doctrine.

2 John 1:8-11 (NIV)
8  Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
9  Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
10  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.
11  Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. Rather, we must refute it.

While we must never compromise sound doctrine, we must hold to truth with wisdom and love. It’s not always easy to distinguish essential doctrines from those that are important, but not absolutely essential for defining orthodox Christianity, so we must be discerning. Also, we may draw lines for personal friendship differently than we would for church unity or cooperation.

It is not our place to judge the salvation of a person who differs with us doctrinally (unless he or she clearly denies the faith). Some may be truly saved and yet greatly deceived on some important doctrinal or practical issues. We can be cordial toward the person, and yet register our strong disagreement with him on the particular issue.

We must show grace toward those who are young in faith, who may be confused on certain doctrinal issues

Acts 18:24-28 (NIV)
24  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.
25  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
26  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
27  When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.
28  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

We must be patient, kind, and gracious toward those who differ with us on non-essentials. Perfect knowledge is not the requirement for fellowship, since none attain it this side of heaven. We must always be on guard against the spiritual pride that causes us to delight in proving that we are right and others are wrong. We can demolish a brother with our correct doctrine and thus sin by speaking truth without love. But we must never sacrifice essential truth on the altar of love. They cannot be separated.

My desire is that we work with all who truly know Christ to speak the truth in love, so that we all grow up in all aspects into Him (Eph. 4:15). But to join our church in cooperation with other churches which profess to know Christ but deny core biblical truths is to violate the biblical teaching on maintaining sound doctrine and holding to God’s truth.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Doctrine

 

Lordship


jesus-is-lord-of-my-lifeWhy do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

“Last year I falsified my income tax return, and I haven’t been able to sleep since. Enclosed is $125. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.”

Jesus has called us to be different. He has described Christians as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” He has pointed out that the Christian and non-Christian communities are fundamentally different.

John Stott put it this way, “The world is like rotting food, full of bacteria, which cause its disintegration. The followers of Jesus are to be the salt of the world, arresting its decay. The world is a dark and dismal place, lacking sunshine and living in shadows. The followers of Jesus are to be its light, dispelling its darkness and its gloom.”

Jesus then went on to show how different Christians are: Our righteousness is to be deeper, reaching even our hearts.

John Stott summarizes it this way, “Our love is to be broader, embracing even our enemies. Our giving and praying and fasting are to be genuine, not for show. For our treasure, we choose that which lasts for eternity, not that which disintegrates on earth.”

” I think the church needs to lift its head up to heaven, repent of its small mindedness and ask God for a fresh vision of who the Lord Jesus Christ is. Without a God-given vision, we will not have the hope, the strength, the rationale, the wherewithal to move forward in personal holiness and witness for the Lord; effort without vision is like making bricks without straw—it’s just drudgery, like living in an old town where all it does is rain day in and day out.”

Can we dream for a moment about what God could do in our homes, communities, countries, world with one man fully committed to him?” What could the Lord do with our lives? With the lives of our friends? He is “the Lord” you know!

But any vision from God begins with a vision of God. So we begin by repenting from all known to sin and turning wholeheartedly to God; we turn from our worthless idols to the true and living God. And Lord we say to you, our King: “Please show us yourself in ways we could never have imagined (Jeremiah 33:3).

Fray Luis (Luis de Léon) was an Augustinian monk who lived from 1527-1591. He was imprisoned for many years during the Spanish inquisition, but his work lives on. He is well known for his commentaries on Song of Songs and Job, for his mystical poems, and for his great work, The Names of Christ.

In this latter work, he discusses why Christ is given so many names in Scripture: “Christ is given so many names because of his limitless greatness and the treasury of his very rich perfections and with them the host of functions and other benefits which are born in him and spread over us. Just as they cannot be embraced by the soul’s vision, so much less can a single word name them. Just as he who pours water in a bottle with a narrow and long neck does so drop by drop so the Holy Spirit who knows the narrowness and poverty of our understanding does not give us that greatness all at once but offers it to us in drops, telling us, at times something under one name, and some other thing at other times, under another name. Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah, the Bright and Morning Star. He is the Branch, the Messiah, the Son of God, Son of David, and the Lamb. He is also the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.” [1]

He Is Sovereign Creator — John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 1:2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 1:3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

I am reminded of a cute story that brings home the fact that the Lord Jesus created the entire cosmos from nothing: there was once a brilliant scientist who prided himself on his brilliant discoveries. He had won several awards for his creative abilities and was world renown for all his skill. But it was not long before it went to his head, as it would with any of us. On one occasion he was taken with the idea that he was just as powerful as God. He turned his eyes to heaven and proclaimed in the hearing of the Lord that he too could create a man just like the Lord had done. In his infinite playfulness, the Lord descended to take the scientist up on his claim. The Lord said to him, “So, you think you can make a man just like I did.” “Yes,” was the confident assertion. “OK,” said the lord, “Go ahead and give it a try.” The brilliant scientist, delighted with the challenge and confident in himself, reached down and picked up some dirt…. Immediately, however, a voice came from heaven: “No, no. Get your own dirt!”

He Is the Sovereign Sustainer

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

At this moment, there is a reason why all things hold together and the entire universe doesn’t collapse in a heap. It’s because of Christ and the power of his word.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Eph 1:10).

He Is the Sovereign Redeemer

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

God is the divine lover. He just can’t stop thinking about us. Was the Lord married during his earthly ministry? No. But did you know that he has always wanted to get married? He left home, went to the worst part of town, won a bride for himself and now is in the process of wooing her into his arms. In Revelation 19 the apostle John proclaims that Christ will come and take her (the church) to be with him forever…ah yes, the love story is complete…bride and groom together forever!

He Is the Sovereign Judge

What did Abraham say about God in light of the incident with Sodom and Gomorrah? “Will not the judge of the entire earth do what is right” (Gen 18:25)?

A remarkable television programs vintage aired on PBS entitled “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace” is an introduction to the life of a remarkable martyrs of recent times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German minister who joined the German resistence when the evils of Naziism became apparent. He was arrested in 1943 for plotting against Adolf Hitler and hanged at Flossenberg prison on April 9, 1945. [2]

The film is framed by Hitler’s demand that German citizens swear a type of allegiance that Christians could only render to Christ himself. Bonhoeffer is pictured in Berlin in 1939 as the film opens:

”. . . let’s not delude ourselves that if we take the loyalty oath to Hitler it means they’ll let us worship in peace. The Nuremberg laws are an attack on Christianity itself. Adolf Hitler demands nothing less than total commitment. He’s the elected chancellor, yes. But more than that, he considers himself der Fuhrer and as “the leader” he craves to be the conscience of every living German. But his claim upon us is a claim that a Christian can only accept from Christ himself.”

Thus Bonhoeffer and a small group of friends, ministers, and students refused to take a loyalty oath. He helped write a document called the Barmen Declaration that called on Christians to remember that their first allegiance is to Christ alone. He and other German churchmen who refused to accommodate their faith to the evils of Naziism left the state-supported churches and created what came to be called the Confessing Church.

One who watches the film comes to understand what Bonhoeffer meant by writing that “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient, believes.”

The Earliest Confession

The martyrdom of such persons as Stephen, the apostles and Polycarp is predictable in one sense. If one truly believes that Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, that one’s own identity is defined by him, and that one’s welfare is better served by dying for Christ than by betraying him to save one’s own neck, it is to be expected that there will be occasional martyrs for Jesus’ sake.

When a man or woman gives heart, soul, mind, and body to him, Jesus Christ becomes not only that person’s Savior but also his or her Sovereign. That is, a saved person acknowledges the right of Jesus Christ to own, command, and reign over him. Thus such texts as these in the New Testament:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Rom. 14:7-8).

The term “lord” (Gk, kyrios) basically affirms a position of authority for someone. To the Greeks, a kyrios is one who has the right to rule over another. But there is a related-but-quite-different Greek term that is also translated into English by the same term “lord,” despotes.

The difference in the terms is critical. Despotes sometimes carried with it the notions of harshness and unpredictability. A pretender and usurper might be despotes to those he ruled.

Kyrios, on the other hand, points to one who has legitimate authority and who uses it appropriately. Only the person with the lawful right to rule could be kyrios.

How did Jesus get his “right” to rule over us? How do we know he is not a usurper? “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Rom. 14:9).

Tom Boyd tells the story of a woman who was a member of his church. She was a bit flamboyant and eccentric in some ways, but Boyd was impressed with the depth of her commitment to Christ. He was having dinner at her home one evening, and his hostess had him engaged in animated conversation about some biblical theme. In the midst of the conversation, the woman’s teenaged daughter — perhaps a bit frustrated with the tone of the conversation — asked, “Mother, why do you talk about religion all the time?”

The girl’s question brought an ominous silence to everyone’s conversation at the dining table. Her mother paused dramatically, pushed her chair back, stood up, and said, “Every morning before you are awake, I rise and walk into the living room. I lift my arms and ask, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ The answer always comes back: ‘Not you!’ That’s why I’m religious. Because I am not in charge!”

That lady understood something critical to faith. A truly spiritual life begins with the understanding of Sovereignty, Lordship, and the Right to Rule. We are not in charge, and from that understanding we can proceed to align ourselves to the One who is.

Case Studies

The defiant unbeliever Robert Ingersoll was belligerently assailing Christianity in a conversation with Lew Wallace. Wallace, himself an unbeliever, said, “I am going to read the New Testament and find out for myself.” For six years, he pored over the pages of Scripture. When he had finished, he said, “I have come to the conviction that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of the Jews, the Savior of the world, and my own personal Redeemer.” Wallace proceeded to write the book Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

C.S. Lewis underwent a similar conversion through diligent study. An agnostic who became a prolific apologist for Christian faith, he once wrote: “Jesus was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — hatred, terror, adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.”

He is right. And the posture of adoration is the one adopted by those who, like the apostle Thomas, fall at Jesus’ feet to exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28; cf. Rev. 1:5; 19:15-16). This exclamation is more than a posture or verbal formula. It is a life commitment that shows itself in changed values, new priorities, transformed behavior.

Take the case of Jack Eckerd, founder of the Eckerd drugstore chain, as a case in point. He was walking through one of his stores and notices the magazine racks with their glossy copies of Playboy and Penthouse. Though he was retired from active management at that point in his career, he called the president of the company and urged them to get rid of those publications that degraded women by exploiting them as sexual objects.

The president protested that substantial amounts of money were at stake. Eckerd, himself the largest single stockholder in the company, stood to lose money by such a decision. But he remained firm in his newfound conviction. He prevailed, and the magazines were removed from all the stores that were then operated under the Eckerd name — 1700 stores at the time! When he was asked what motivated him to press for such an action, Eckerd replied, “God wouldn’t let me off the hook!”

Conclusion

Bonhoeffer published a book titled The Cost of Discipleship in 1937. In it he attacked what he called the “cheap grace” of the German churches. It was a view of grace, he said, designed merely to make people comfortable with their weakness and sinfulness.

By contrast, “costly grace” carried with it the presumed obligation of discipleship, obedience. He insisted that “it is only through actual obedience that a person can become liberated to believe.” Faith and obedience, he argued, are ultimately all but indistinguishable, “for faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” [3]

That is ultimately the point of claiming Jesus as one’s Lord. It is a pledge of obedience. It is the surrender of one’s total life to God. It is not the mistaken belief that following the rules exactly will bring one to heaven but the abandon of a lover’s commitment that says I will do anything that would honor or please him.

Bonhoeffer’s commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ sent him to the gallows. Yours will more likely send you home, to the workplace, or back to school with a renewed sense that your obligation is not to yourself, the bottom line, or being cool.

It is to prove that you have understood the words of your Savior that it would be foolish to try to call him “Lord, Lord!” and not do what he has commanded.

[1] As quoted in Peter Toon, Spiritual Companions: An Introduction to the Spiritual Classics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 124.

[2] An excellent summary of the life and writings of Bonhoeffer may be found in Susan Bergman, ed., Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), pp. 155-168. One who has never read the works of Bonhoeffer owes it to himself to read such classics as The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1990), p. 93.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2017 in Doctrine

 

A presentation on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage by Leslie G. Thomas



I was blessed a few years back to be on a church staff in Tennessee with Leslie G. Thomas, a wonderful Christian man with a brilliant mind. The following material was shared with me during that time, and I am pleased to present it now. Brother Thomas did not pretend to have all the answers, but he wanted to contribute to the discussion.

A study of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage

by Leslie G. Thomas

(Matthew 19:3-9 NIV)  Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” {4} “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ {5} and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? {6} So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” {7} “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” {8} Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. {9} I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

 (1 Corinthians 7:1-5 NIV)  Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. {2} But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. {3} The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. {4} The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. {5} Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.


MARRIAGE–ORDAINED BY THE LORD

The institution of marriage is as old as the family of man. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, even in Paradise; and he formed and gave woman to man, that she might be a help meet for him. Or, as the marginal note has it, a help answering to his needs.

And inasmuch as the marriage relationship was ordained by God, we may expect to find his law regarding the institution in his book, the Bible. The only way any person can know what that will is, is for him to search the scriptures and seek to understand all that the Lord has said about this relationship.

Jehovah’s will regarding the duration of the marriage relationship may be learned from Genesis 2:18-24, and especially from verses 18 and 22-24.

As long as a man “cleaves to his wife,” the bond which binds them together will never be broken, as long as they both shall live.

It should be noted, however, that the statement of God’s will for the marriage relationship, just referred to, was made before sin became a reality in the lives of his people. If mankind had remained faithful to Jehovah, his will thus expressed, would have sufficed. But sin, in human experience, created a problem, which had to be dealt with as time moved forward.

The fact that it became essential for God to say more regarding the marriage relationship, because of the presence of sin in the lives of his people, means that the divine will involves more than Jehovah’s original statement included, and that the over-all subject has necessarily become more inclusive. Or, to say the same thing in another way, God’s law regarding marriage, like many other laws in the Bible, is both basic and supplementary, (See Genesis 2:18, 24; Matthew 5:21-31,19:3-12; Rom.7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-17, 39; and other related passages).

It is impossible therefore, for one to know God’s will regarding the marriage relationship, without considering all the information which has been revealed regarding it.

The passages of scripture cited in the preceding paragraphs plainly teach that it was God’s will from the beginning, that a man and a woman, as husband and wife, be joined together for life, that is, that nothing be allowed to put them asunder except death. Jesus himself, however, mentions one cause in Matt.5:32 and Matt.19:9, for ending the relationship, other than death, if we understand the implication of his language. And while the reason to which Jesus refers appears to be a valid one in the sight of God, for severing the marriage bond, it remains true that Jehovah never intended that such a reason should exist.

But, and let this always be kept in mind; when sin entered into the picture, the Lord gave further instruction, to be followed in dealing with this new development. This is what is meant by the cumulative character of God’s law regarding the marriage relationship. This is also the significance of the basic and supplementary nature of God’s law regarding the marriage institution. Basic, when God first revealed his law regarding the marriage relationship; and supplementary, when additional regulations were added, as circumstances required their inclusion in the over-all inspired teaching on the subjects in question.

The marriage relationship, at its deepest and most fundamental level, has been described as a personal-sexual-spiritual relationship, which was ordained and instituted by Almighty God himself.

The divine purpose of the marriage relationship includes

(1) The welfare and the fulfillment of the social and physical needs of the two people involved (Gen.2:18,24; 1 Cor.7:1-5),

(2) Procreation, that is, the generation and production of the human race. (Gen. l:27, 28a).

The three prime points of emphasis in the marriage relationship are

(1) The unitive character of the relationship (Gen. 2:24; Mark 10:4-9)

(2) the procreative phase (Gen. 1: 27f)

(3) the analogical aspect of the union (Eph.5:22-23) apparently in the order just given.

That which has just been said indicates that God’s design in the sexual intercourse on the part of the couple involved, has two specific purposes, namely, (l) to make the two “one flesh,” and (2) to reproduce human beings. Or, to say the same thing in another way, the sexual relationship makes “one flesh” a reality, while it only makes reproduction a possibility,

Jesus, who has the final authority in the divine arrangement, goes back to the statement of God’s original will regarding the marriage relationship, and reaffirms that basic concept. And in doing so, our Lord makes it plain that the institution of marriage is designed to meet the physical and social needs of the human race, insofar as the matrimonial union is concerned; and that its obligations are supreme.

Marriage, in its Biblical concept, is an honorab1e estate (Heb. 13:4) and inasmuch as God has always had a uniform law regarding marriage for his people, it is certain that his will is for Christians to marry those who are in covenant relationship with him. (Cf. 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).

It is true that the last passage, just cited, does not apply exclusively to the marriage relationship; but it certainly does include it, C. R. Nichol and R. L. Whiteside, in commenting on 2 Cor. 6:14 say: “In 2 Cor. 6:14 we read, ‘be not unequally yoked with unbelievers.’ This does not refer directly to the marriage relation; but it does prohibit our joining with unbelievers in such a way as to make common cause with them. Marriage is a joining together in the closest possible way, and there is no other relationship where the contracting parties have so much in common. How then, can a believer make common cause with an unbeliever, in a relationship where the two become one, without violating the spirit, if not the letter, of Paul’s solemn injunction? [1]

GOD’S LAW REGARDING DIVORCE

The question of the ideal marriage relationship, or, which is the same thing, the matrimonial bond which God originally ordained for the human race, is both clear and distinct. Jehovah is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe; and when he states a law without qualifications, that regulation must be adhered to at all times and under all circumstances.

But when a law is divinely given, and subsequent conditions require that further revelation be made regarding the situation in question, then both the original statement of the law and the additional regulation which is set forth in the inspired record, must be taken into consideration when applying the divine will to a given case.

If God’s original law regarding the marriage relationship had never been modified, it is certain that no permission for a divorce would be granted. But, as has already been pointed out in these studies, when sin entered into the picture, further regulations regarding the marriage bond were made known by the Lord.

This additional information was eventually extended all phases of the gradual deterioration of the marriage ship, including the final and complete dissolution by a divorce decree. This leads us to ask: WHEN DOES GOD SANCTION DIVORCE ?

The first thing that should be observed in this connection is that God, at no time and under no circumstance, has ever wanted his people, whom he created both originally and anew, to divorce their married partners. (See Malachi 2:16; Deut. 24:1, 22; 13-21; cf. Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-17, 39).

Jehovah approves divorce only after one party to the marriage bond has committed fornication, or adultery, thereby giving the innocent party the right to take the necessary steps to terminate the marriage relationship, which had existed between them. (See Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9)

The term “divorce,” as used in these studies, refers to the complete severance of the ties which bind a married couple together. And this, in turn, requires that we understand just what is involved in an acceptable marriage, that is, acceptable to the couple in question, the state, and the Lord.

A scriptural, and therefore an acceptable, marriage, is the blending of the lives of two eligible persons, of the opposite sex, into one through:

(l) mutual agreement on the couple’s part

(2) legal authorization on the part of the state, thereby giving the couple the legal right to live together as husband and wife

(3) sexual cohabitation, by which God makes them one flesh. (See Matthew 19:4-6)

Marriage, in the sense described in the preceding paragraph, is a status or condition which, although originating in a private agreement, is not capable of being terminated by the couple’s repudiation of their original agreement. This is true because of the interest of the state, society, and the children who are born to them, if any, to say nothing of regard for God’s law requires that certain permanent duties and obligations be placed upon the couple involved, and be continuously discharged by them.

Notwithstanding the plainness of that which has just been said, regarding that which constitutes an acceptable marriage, the word “eligible” should be carefully considered and thoroughly understood. This is true because not every person of legal age is eligible, in God’s sight, for the marriage relationship

The list of people who are not eligible for that relationship include:

(1)   those who are not capable of performing the functions peculiar to the marriage relationship – eunuchs, for example (See Matt. 19:10-12; cf, 1 Cor. 7:1-5)

(2)   those who have living companions, that is, those who have not been scripturally divorced. (cf. Mat.5:31-32; 19:9) [2]

It should be noted however, that the Lord’s people, that is, Christians, are under further restrictions with reference to the eligibility for marriage, which are not applicable to the world as such.

For example, a Christian is not free to marry an unbeliever, that is he is not free to do so with the Lord’s favor. (1 Cor. 9:5; 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). No one who deliberately disobeys the will of the Lord, with reference to any issue, including the one now under consideration, can hope to meet god in peace at the last day (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).

The sin of fornication (or adultery) creates a breach in the marriage relationship so far reaching as to permit the injured party, with God’s approval, to take the necessary steps to terminate the marriage bond.

Reconciliation, of course, is possible, if the guilty party will comply with the terms of forgiveness. But if the wrong doer continues his sinful practice, the innocent party would become one with the sinner in his immorality if the marriage relationship between them is continued. (cf. 1 Cor.6:15-18).

But in view of the sinful conditions which have come into the world, and which have precipitated the divorce problem, there appears to be another side of the issue, which should be considered in this connection. This particular problem involves that which is frequently referred to as the “mixed marriage” situation.

It was pointed out in the previous chapter that God always had a uniform law regarding marriage for his people. It is not certain therefore, that what is referred to in 1 Cor. 7:12-15 is, indeed, a case where a believer actually married an unbeliever.

It is very probable that the situation was something like this: Two unbelievers were married, and later on one of them became a Christian, something which did not at all please the unbelieving companion. (cf. Matt.10:34, 39). After obeying the Gospel, the believer may have reasoned something like this: If it is wrong in God’s sight for believer to marry an unbeliever, would he be pleased if a newly converted chi ld of God continued to 1ive as the wife (or husband) of an unbeliever. [3]

The apostle Paul, however, settles that question insofar as the believer is concerned, in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. The unbeliever, on the other hand, makes no effort to please God, and already stands condemned in the Lord’s sight. (Cf. John 3:18).

The unbeliever, in the case cited by Paul, apparently did not choose to live as husband and wife with the Christian companion. He, therefore, elects to depart and leaves the deserted believer without marital companionship. What now is the status of the latter?

There have been, through the years, discussions regarding the phrase “not under bondage” in 1 Corinthians 7:15. The controversy usually has centered around the meaning of two Greek words in verses 15 and 39, namely, douloo and deo, respectively.

Neil Lightfoot has made some comments regarding these issues which appear to be most satisfactory and sound. He feels that the view which he has set forth “meets the linguistic and contextual demands of the passage,” which evidently is correct. Dr. Lightfoot’s comments follow:

  • ‘Not bound to the marriage bond’ fits the broad context of chapter 7 on marriage.
  • ‘Not bound to the marriage bond’ fits the immediate context of these verses on marriage ties. In such a case (literally ‘in such cases’) the brother or sister is not bound (vs.15) cannot mean any less than in other cases the believer is bound. In what cases? The context suggests the answer. If the unbeliever agrees to continue the marriage, the believer is bound. If the unbeliever does not agree to continue the marriage, the believer is not bound.
  • ‘Not bound to the marriage bond’ meets the necessary linguistic requirements. It is true that douloo in other places in the New Testament is not used of marriage. But only one thing determines meaning-context. Not lexicons, not other passages, only context! And the context here argues that douloo refers to marriage.

In another context, 1 Corinthians 9:19, edoulosa (from douloo) is the opposite of ‘free’ (eleutheros); and in still another context, 1 Corinthians 7:39, dedetai (from deo) is the opposite of ‘free’ (eleuthera). From this one might conclude that douloo (enslave) and deo (bind) are equivalents in meaning.  I think they are; but in the final analysis douoo means what it means only in the context of 1 Corinthians 7:15.” [4]

Both Christian and matrimonial unity are required by the Lord. If both are Christians, in the case of the latter, then both are responsible for maintaining marital unity, If only one is a believer, as in the case cited by Paul, then it is the obligation of the child of God to make every effort to see that such unity characterizes the couple’s lives. (cf.1 Peter 3:1f).

But when it becomes evident that the unbeliever’s departure from the believing companion is permanent, or, which is the same thing, unalterable, then the two principles, underlying two inspired passages of scripture, appear to make clear the believer’s status, with reference to the right to be married to another person, with the blessings of the Lord.(Cf. 1 Cor.7:39).

A principle is that which inheres in anything and determines its nature. The two passages of scripture referred to are Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Cor.7:1-5.

In the case of the innocent child of God, in Mat.18:15-17, it is clear that he has no further obligation to try to maintain unity with the “brother” who refused all overtures of reconciliation. And, in as much as it is God’s will, as written in the Corinthian letter, that because of fornications, each man is to have his own wife and each woman is to have her own husband, there does not appear to be any escape from the conclusion that the permanently deserted believer is completely free from the matrimonial bond which previously bound the two together in God’s sight.

CLARIFICATION OF SOME RELEVANT ISSUES

It has already been pointed out in these studies that the sin of adultery creates a breach in the marriage relationship so grave and far reaching as to allow the innocent party, with God’s approval, the right to take the necessary steps to have the legal aspect of the marriage bond revoked.

It is, of course, the prerogative of the innocent offended one to try to bring the offender to repentance and to extend forgiveness. It is also the right of the condemned offender to repent and seek forgiveness. If two such people really love each other and are willing to try to please God and help each other, the matrimonial relationship can be fully restored, and each treat the other in such a manner as to regard the sin in question an incident of the forgotten past.

The term “adultery”, strictly speaking, may be defined as a voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and one of the opposite sex, who is not his or her lawful spouse.

There are instances in the scriptures where it appears that a distinction is made between adultery and fornication. (For example, 1 Cor. 6:9, where both terms are employed in describing previous sins of the Corinthian brethren). It also appears however, from Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:9, that Jesus uses the two terms interchangeably.

Furthermore, our Lord looks behind the overt act of adultery and makes it abundantly clear that the very thought in the heart, if such a person longs for such a relationship, with a person of the opposite sex, other than his own married partner, is the crime of adultery. (See Matthew 5:27-28; 1 John 3:15).

AND THIS TOO, IS ADULTERY

When a person has been divorced from his or her companion, for any reason which God does not recognize and approve, and is married to another individual, both parties who compose this new union are guilty of adultery in the sight of the Lord.

That which has just been said is true, regardless of whether or not the third person in the triangle has been married before; for the simple reason that no single individual can commit the overt act of adultery alone. The language of Jesus on this subject is as follows: “It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you that everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adultress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)

Charles Foster Kent, in commenting on the word of Jesus says, “Again we are impressed by the directness and sanity of Jesus’ teaching. What we have here is not so much a command as an unvarnished statement of fact: to secure divorce in order to remarry is simple adultery. From the earliest days human society has recognized that adultery is the most deadly and the most unsocial of crimes, for it destroys not only the integrity and the happiness of the two immediately involved, but also lays in ruins the home, the foundation of all society.” [5]

Two questions are often raised when the two statements of Jesus, just quoted, are read, which deserve consideration just here, namely, (l) the state or the situation of the offenders with reference to the sin of adultery; and (2) the sense in which a man makes his divorced wife an adulteress.

“COMMITTETH ADULTERY” versus LIVING IN ADULTERY

It should be carefully noted that Jesus does not say that the parties involved in the unacceptable marriage, that is, a marriage which is unacceptable to God, are living in adultery. The Lord simply says that they “commit adultery,” when they enter into an unacceptable marriage relationship. Or, to say the same thing in another way, when a person is divorced contrary to God’s will, and then marries another individual, they both become guilty of the sin of adultery. And they will continue to be guilty of adultery until they secure the Lord’s forgiveness.

The reason for the sin of adultery on the part of the couple, who marries against God’s will is simply this: The divorce which was obtained by one (or both) of the principles involved in the marriage which Jesus condemns, only revoked the license which the state granted the man and his divorced wife, thereby giving them the right to live together as husband and wife.  The state could only undo that which it did in granting this right. It could not revoke that which God did in making the coup1e “One flesh.”

The person who divorced his wife (or husband) on grounds other than fornication or adultery, was still married to the former spouse; and was therefore just as guilty of adultery as would have been the case if either had gone outside the marriage relationship and had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex, with no marital connection.

Whether or not the guilty couple continues to live together as husband and wife, or separates, has nothing to do with the sin of adultery, which they have already committed and for which they are already guilty. Separation will in no way 1essen that sin.

Practically all Bible students readily admit that adultery outside the marriage relationship, on the part of one member of a matrimonial union, gives the innocent party the right to take the necessary steps to break all the marital ties of human responsibility which bound them together. And when that is accomplished, what scripture may be cited, or what logical argument offered, which will lead to the conclusion that the innocent divorced person is still bound to the one who obtained the divorce?

Adultery, in the latter case, is the reason for concluding that the divorced person who was left behind, and the one who obtained the divorce and married another individual of the opposite sex, contrary to the Lord’s will, are no longer “one flesh” in God’s sight. And it must always be kept in mind that only God, who made them one flesh in the first place, can “undo” all that which he did when the acceptable marriage was consummated: (See the discussion in chapter 2 on What constitutes an acceptable marriage).

If anyone wants to ask why a married couple, such as is being considered here, is guilty of adultery when they engage in sexual intercourse, the answer, in addition to that which has already been pointed out, may be clearly seen in the language of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, namely: “And he said unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery.(Mark 10:11-12)

The adultery in question is not a sin which involves only the couple themselves. It is also against the person who was divorced for a reason not acceptable to the Lord. This is true, as already pointed out, because the tie which bound the divorced couple together, had not been severed by God’s revoking that which he had done in making them one flesh.

It should not be difficult therefore, for a thoughtful person to see that the only way that such a couple could continue in sin, that is, continue to commit adultery when they engaged in sexual intercourse, would be for the marriage bond to continue to hold the person who divorced a spouse, and his former mate, together. Or, which is the same thing, that the original marriage remain intact in spite of the adultery, which, the New Testament teaches, destroys such a union.

Thus, when the sin of adultery has been committed against an innocent person who has been divorced, the tie which bound the former partners together is completely severed, and the marriage relationship which existed between them is as if it never had a being. The husband and wife who married against God’s will, have become “one flesh,” for the scriptures plainly teach that God makes two people one who are joined together sexually, even if the woman in question is a harlot (1 Cor. 6:16) or the man’s lawfully wedded, or acceptable, wife. (Matthew 19:4-6)

The same original Greek word, kollao (or kollaomai) is used in both passages just cited. Thus, the two people who are joined together sexually, are “one flesh” in God’s sight, regardless of the union’s moral status. They are literally glued together in the sight of the Lord.

In the expression, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” the original word for “joined” is sunezeuxen third person aorist indicative of suzeugnumi. [6]

A.T. Robertson in commenting on the expression, as used in Mat.19:6, says: “Note ‘what’, not ‘whom.’ The marriage relation God has made. ‘The creation of sex, and the high doctrine as to the cohesion it produces between man and woman, laid down in Gen., interdict separation.’ (Bruce). The word for ‘joined together’ means ‘yoked together, a common verb for marriage in ancient Greek. It is the timeless aorist indicative (sunezeuxen), true always.” [7]

If one should wonder as to whether or not the man who is joined to a harlot should remain with her, he would do well to listen to the apostolic admonition, “Flee fornication,” for that is a sin without the marriage relationship, which is always wrong. But, where is the New Testament teaching, either by direct command, approved example, which is applicable to the question now under consideration, or necessary inference, which requires a husband and wife to separate, even though their marriage should never have taken place?

 “MAKETH HER AN ADULTERESS”

When Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you that everyone that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28), he did not mean that such a man had actually and literally committed adultery with the woman, by lustfully looking upon her; but that the real act in question was potentially present.

Webster notes that “potential is applied to that which does not now exist but which is bound to exist if the present process of com1ng into being is not arrested.” [8]

The lustful look, therefore, is the first step toward the criminal act. But if that first step is never taken, the man in question will never be guilty of committing adultery. (cf. 1 John 3:15 James 1:13-15).

It appears that it is according to the principle just referred to that a man makes his wife, whom he had no right to divorce, an adulteress.

A man, therefore, who divorces an innocent woman, just because he does not want to live with her, or in order to marry another woman, places her in a situation which, if she is not extremely careful, will lead her to look lustfully upon another man, or to try to extricate herself from an embarrassing situation into which divorce has placed her, by marrying another man and thereby actually becoming guilty of adultery “and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Mat.19:9b).

A man cannot commit the actual sin of adultery alone; and this implies that the woman who joined him in the sexual experience, is equally guilty of the criminal deed.

An innocent victim of a divorce which is contrary to God’s will, can, of course, live the Christian life, without the stigma of adultery, providing she conducts herself according to God’s will. (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:5-8). (But if she yields to the temptation mentioned above, she must, of course, bear the responsibility of her own sin, in spite of the fact that her former husband placed her within reach of the tempter, who always tries to destroy the souls of responsible people).

All of that which has just been said presupposes that the man who divorced his wife, for some reason unacceptable to God, has himself remained free from adultery in all his relationships.

However, if the man who put his wife away contrary to God’s will, has become guilty of adultery in any way whatsoever, that changed the situation with reference to his divorced wife. All the matrimonial bonds which formerly bound her and her former husband together have now been totally severed, and she is as free from that marriage re1ationship as she was before any steps were taken to make her and her husband who divorced her “one flesh” in God’s sight.

THE QUESTION OF MOTIVE IN SEEKING A DIVORCE

Before discussing the motive which prompts one to seek a divorce, one should make sure that he understands fully the precise meaning of the term, “divorce.”

If one will carefully study that which the scriptures themselves say about divorce, which was permitted under Moses, it will not be difficult for one to see that the marriage bond which bound the couple together, was completely cancelled or annulled, so that both parties to the divorce were free to marry another person of the opposite sex. (See Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

A divorce which is granted today by the state, does nothing more than revoke the permission which the same power gave the couple, to live together as husband and wife. The state has absolutely no right or power to undo that which God did to make the couple one flesh.

Thus, when a man and a woman mutually agree to become husband and wife, their next step is to apply to an authorized agent of the state for a license which will permit them to live together as husband and wife. When that request is granted and the provisions properly executed, the couple becomes husband and wife, in so far as the state is concerned Such a couple, thus far, has only potentially become one flesh in God’s sight. If the man should die before the couple comes together sexually, the woman would, indeed, be his legal heir, because the license to live together as husband and wife, had been granted and duly executed.

Such a couple, however, does not become “one flesh” until they come together sexually. Karl Ludwig Schmidt, in commenting on proskollao (from pros and kollao) says, “Mt.19:5 text rec. and Eph. 5:31 use it according to sense 2, of kollaomai denote sexual intercourse. In the second passage this shows how close is the relationship between Christ and his –ekklesia.”[9]

All three of the steps just referred to are essential to an acceptable marriage. It should always be kept in mind therefore, that only one or both of the couple can decide that they do not want to live together any longer as husband and wife. If they should seek a divorce, only the state can set aside the permission which it gave them to live together as husband and wife. But the matrimonial bond which bound the couple together, will never be completely severed until God grants his permission, thereby declaring that all marriage ties between them no longer exist.

With the present day meaning of divorce in mind, there does not appear to be any evidence in the New Testament which justifies the conclusion that divorce, in and of itself, is wrong. But we can be reasonably certain that the lord is not pleased when conditions arise which make such a procedure expedient (cf. Mal. 2:16)

The Hebrew word shalach, in the passage just cited, refers to the putting away of a wife, or, which is the same thing, to divorcing her. [10] (Cf.Deut.22:19, 29; 24:1-3; Jer.3:1).

It could be possible that two people, who are married to each other, are so completely “mis-mated” as to make living together in peace virtually impossible. Such a couple should never have been married to each other in the first place. But having become husband and wife, they can either continue their stormy career together, or they can agree to go their individual and separate ways. (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

If such a situation should arise, it might be deemed wise on the part of one or both of them, for legal and business reasons, to obtain a divorce. It is doubtful if any informed and thoughtful person would contend that such people as the couple just described, could not live the Christian life, in their single status, and thereby please the Lord. But if divorce is obtained, by either the husband or the wife, on any-ground other than fornication, a marriage to another person, of the opposite sex, on the part of either the husband or the wife, is strictly forbidden by the Lord, if freedom from adultery is to be continued and enjoyed.

That which has just been said is true because the bond which holds them together, that is, the bond which God himself brought into being and recognizes, was not severed when the legal divorce was granted.(The man and woman in question, notwithstanding the divorce, are still husband and wife in God’s sight. And as long as that relationship continues, that is, so long as the Lord recognizes their union, neither party to the marriage bond is free to marry another person. (Cf. Luke 16:18)

 FOLLOWING INSPIRED INSTRUCTIONS

A divorce is obtained on the grounds of fornication when that is the prime reason for seeking it. That, indeed, may not be the reason which is stated in the public petition. But if the sin of fornication does not exist, and if that is not the principal reason for seeking the divorce, then the person requesting the decree will have no right to claim such grounds as the basis for marriage to another person, of the opposite sex, during the lifetime of his or her former mate from which the divorce was obtained.

There may be valid grounds for substituting reasons for divorce, other than fornication, if indeed such reasons, along with fornication, actually exist, and are recognized by the state as being just and adequate reasons for breaking the marriage tie.

For example, one seeking the divorce may hesitate to subject his or her former mate to public exposure as an adulterer or an adulteress, as Joseph had in mind to deal with Mary. (See Matt. 1:18-19) And then there might be innocent children, innocent parents, and other close relatives for whom the petitioner for the divorce seeks to lighten the blow, so far as the public is concerned. But the one seeking the divorce must never leave the impression on the minds of those who know about the fornication that that is not the prime reason for asking for the divorce.

THE PRINCIPLE ILLUSTRATED

Jehovah himself has made it plain that it is not always necessary for the uninformed public to know all the facts of, and the motives for, that which is being done in accordance with God’s will, under a given set of circumstances. The principle just referred to is set forth in the first part of the 16th chapter of First Samuel, namely: “And Jehovah said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from be i n g king over Israel? Fill thy horn with oil and go: I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehamite; for I have provided me a king among his sons. And Samuel said, How can I go if Saul hear it he will kill me. And Jehovah said, Take a heifer with thee and say, I am come to sacrifice to Jehovah. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt annoint unto me whom I name unto thee. And Samuel did that which Jehovah spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably; I am come to sacrifice to Jehovah: sanctify yourselves and come to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 16:1-5; Read also verses 6-13).

The prime purpose for Samuel’s going to Bethlehem, as Jehovah instructed him, was to annoint a man to become king over Israel. But when the prophet called God’s attention, humanly speaking, to that which he, Samuel, considered to be a grave danger to the prophet’s life, Jehovah gave him a secondary reason for making the trip to Bethlehem.

And, it is interesting to note, it was the secondary reason which Samuel assigned for his presence in the city. Or, to say the same thing in another way, God gave Samuel more than one reason (the principle reason) for going to the home city of Jesse. The principle purpose of Samuel’s going to Bethlehem was to annoint one of Jesse’s sons to be king over Israel. The secondary reason was to prevent Saul from suspecting that another king was being selected to replace him, and also to allay the fears of the people of Bethlehem.

There was no false deception in that which Jehovah authorized Samuel to say regarding his mission to Bethlehem. And it in no way prevented the prophet from carrying out his original and primary purpose in going to Bethlehem.

And so, in keeping with the same principle, if legitimate circumstances warrant the action, it appears that a person may endeavor to obtain a divorce, on the ground of fornication, while stating in the public petition that he, or she, is seeking the divorce because of desertion, or some other valid reason, which the state recognizes and accepts as grounds for divorce, if such reasons actually exist. It would, of course, be entirely erroneous to allege a reason for the desired divorce which has no foundation in fact.

 “HANDLING ARIGHT THE W0RD 0F TRUTH “

The idea that fornication is a sin, of sufficient magnitude to bring about a permanent break in the marriage relationship, is based on Matthew’s report of the teaching of Jesus. (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:9).

The exception mentioned by Matthew is not in the recorded accounts of Mark (Mark 10:11-12) and Luke (Luke16:18). If it can be proved, therefore, that Matthew’s version of the Lord’s teaching is not correct, then one must conclude that a divorced person does not have the Lord’s approval to marry another individual, of the opposite sex, during the lifetime of the mate who has been put away.

The question just raised, however, is one which belongs to the realm of textual criticism. But it appears that the weight of Biblical scholarship regards Matthew’s report as being both genuine and authentic.

A.T. Robertson notes that “McNeil denies that Jesus made this exception because Mark and Luke do not give it. He claims that the early Christians made the exception to meet a pressing need, but one fails to see the force of this charge against Matthew’s report of the words of Jesus. It looks like criticism to meet modern needs.”[11]

It appears evident therefore, that when Jesus made the statements recorded by Mark and Luke, now under consideration, he was declaring, or setting forth, a basic concept, namely that as long as both parties to a divorce remain free from fornication, or adultery, neither one has the God-given right to another person. But if and when one of them commits adultery, or fornication, either outside the marriage relationship, or enters into a forbidden union with a third person of the opposite sex, the other party to the divorce has the right to consider the former marriage bond severed; and that he or she is as if the first marriage had never taken place.

Each of the four Gospel writers had a purpose in putting together the information contained in their respective narratives. No one is justified in drawing a final conclusion regarding any scriptural subject which they treat, until all the evidence on the issue, that is, all the evidence contained in the scriptures, has been duly considered. When that is done, one can know that he has the truth on the subject under consideration.

 REALIZING SIN AND SEEKING FORGIVENESS

In these days, when the divorce evil appears to be steadily in creasing, the question of the status of those people who have entered into a marriage which is unacceptable to the Lord becomes an issue of major importance.

That which has just been said is especially true of those people who have any desire to do that which the Lord requires, (Cf. Matt.7:21-23), either in becoming children of God, or in living the Christian life. The Lord’s teaching with reference to adultery, incurred by those people who enter into a forbidden marriage relationship, is both plain and decisive, namely: “It is said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you that everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-31)

No one therefore, who believes the teaching of the scriptures, need any further proof to convince him that eternal destruction awaits those who are guilty of adultery, because of a marriage relationship which is unacceptable to the Lord, as indicated in the scriptures quoted above, unless they are able to secure his forgiveness. (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

There are many people today who have entered into a forbidden marriage relationship, following a divorce which was unacceptable to the Lord, who were not aware of the fact that they were sinning against God, when they became one with another marriage partner. Such people probably did not know the Lord’s teaching on the subject now under consideration. Or it may be that they were under the impression that when a divorce is granted by the state, they are free to marry another person.

Furthermore, there are apparently some people who do know better than to marry another person, following a divorce which the Lord does not approve, but who yield to the temptation to form another union. Such people find themselves entangled in the meshes of sin, from which they feel there is no escape. And even if escape is possible, life, as they view the situation, would have little further meaning for them. Not everyone who reads the Bible understands the implications of its teaching.

The apostle Peter, for example, says, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. “(2 Pet.3:15 16)

The problem therefore, with which these studies are concerned, is with reference to that which is required of those people, who have formed a marriage union with another, following divorce unacceptable to the Lord, and who desperately want to gain his favor in this life and to live with him in the world which is to come. Let us begin, then, with a consideration of THE TERMS OF FORGIVENESS FOR ANY SIN.

In the case of an alien sinner, that is, one who has never been redeemed from the power of the evil one:

(l) Such a person must first learn of the Savior, the only one who can redeem him from the bondage of the devil; and he must put implicit faith in him as such. (Mat.28:19a; John 8:24; Acts 4:12).

(2)   With a firm belief in Christ as the Savior from sin, one must repent of his sins, that is, he must change his attitude regarding any sin which is known to him. (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30-31)

(3)   The penitent believer must perform whatever acts of obedience which the Savior requires of him. (Heb.5:8-9; Rom.5:8-9; Acts 6:7). (Read Acts 2:37-39; 22:10,16).

In the case of the erring Christian, that is the child of God who has fallen back into sin after his initial redemption from the kingdom of darkness; (Colossians 1:13):

  • The disobedient child of God must confess, that is acknowledge, or admit, his sin. (1 John 1:8-9)
  • He must repent of, that is, change his attitude toward whatever sin which he, as a Christian, has committed, or of which he is guilty. (Acts 8:22a).
  • It should be obvious to any thoughtful person that no one is going to repent of a sin concerning which he wi11 not admit his gui1t. And it is for this reason that confession of sin must precede repentance.
  • The erring child of God who has confessed his sin, and repented of it, must then ask the Lord for forgiveness. (Acts 8: 22b) .

The sincere and diligent seeker after the Lord’s plan for saving the lost will have 1ittle difficulty in understanding that which is involved in any of the requirements listed above, unless it is with reference to repentance. Therefore, in the light of this possibility, it is in order to ask: WHAT IS REPENTANCE?

The word “repent” is a translation of the Greek word metanoeo, which means “to change one’s mind,”[12] “to have another mind,”[13] “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider.”[14] Our English word “repentance” is a translation of the Greek noun metanoia, which means “a change of mind.”[15]

Our English “repentance” answers to the Latin resipisco, which means to recover one’s senses, to come to one’s self. This thought is forcefully illustrated in the case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:17a) and indicates the true meaning of sin. Sin is lunacy; and every sinner is, in reality, a moral lunatic. This is to say that the sinner is beside himself, is not behaving like his true self, but is under the influence of the evil one.

Repentance is not forsaking sin; that is the result of repentance. Repentance is to have another mind regarding sin; to think differently concerning it; to reconsider one’s action which resulted in sin. All of this implies a true knowledge of sin, a conviction regarding its true nature, that is, its wickedness. It also implies the feeling of guilt, and an awareness of its condemnation and its terrible consequences.

Repentance means that the sinner changes his thoughts regarding his wrongdoing, and his attitude toward that which he did which displeased the Lord. Genuine repentance is brought about by Godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10; Romans 2:4) and results in a reformation of life. (Matthew 3:8).

A reformation of life implies that the penitent’s manner of living, in so far as it is wrong, will be changed with reference to God, his fellow man, and himself, to the extent of his ability. This course of action naturally leads one to ask, Does repentance, with reference to a marriage to another person, following a divorce which is unacceptable to God, require a separation on the part of the adulterous man and woman, and a subsequent life of celibacy on the part of the couple involved?

It should be kept in mind, of course, that only God can separate a couple after they have become husband and wife. The state may grant a legal dissolution of the marriage relationship, but the couple is still married in God’s sight, as long as neither of the marriage partners has been guilty of fornication. (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9)

To illustrate the principle now under consideration, a young woman may marry a young man against her parents’ wishes. But when their desire to live together as husband and wife has been legalized by the authority of the state, and they have come together in the sexual relationship, they are as certainly married to each other as they would have been if they had had her parent’s blessings.

In just the same way, when people marry against God’s will, they are just as certainly married in God’s sight as they would have been if all the three, requirements of an acceptable marriage had been met. Or, to say the same thing in another way, such a marriage is as much a valid union in God’s sight as it would have been if the couple had had his approval.

The reason why a divorced couple, whose divorce is unacceptable to the Lord, commits adultery when either is married to another person, is because the original “one flesh” in God’s sight remains unbroken. The same guilt of adultery is incurred just as it would have been, if either of the married partners had gone outside the marriage relationship and committed adultery with another person.

It has already been pointed out that adultery on the part of either member of a marriage union, is sufficient to destroy that marriage relation. And, unless repentance is forthcoming and reconciliation is perfected, the one sinned against has the God given right to take whatever steps are necessary, in order to make certain that the original marriage relationship no longer exists.

It is the sin of adultery which the unacceptably divorced couple commits against a former married partner (Mark 10:11,12) which must be repented of and forgiven, if the two people in question are ever to be restored to the Lord’s favor.

The couple who married against God’s will cannot undo sin; but they can change their attitude toward it, ask Lord to forgive them, and sincerely resolve that they never be guilty of such a transgression again.

FURTHER CLARIFICATION OF THE ISSUE IN QUESTION

When people who are not familiar with the scriptures, profess their inability to understand how it is that a man and woman who have been properly married in the sight of the state, are guilty of adultery when they come together as husband and wife, there are some who quickly say that such a condition is easily understood if one will only read the testimony of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, namely: “It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you that everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (Matt.5:31-34)

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her when she is put away, committeth adultery.”

But it is a fact worthy of serious consideration that many of the people who cite the passages just quoted, are not very convincing when they attempt to set forth the teaching of the Lord, with reference to the whys and wherefores of this sinful situation. It is not simply that the couple in question commit adultery when they come together as husband and wife; they also sin against at least one other person, in precisely the same way that a husband sins against his own wife when he goes outside the marriage relationship and commits adu1tery with a woman who is not his wife.

The fact is, the couple in question would not be guilty of committing adultery when they come together as husband and wife, if at least one of them was not still married to the divorced companion.

The truth just stated is made perfectly plain by the Lord himself, as may be seen by reading Mark 10:11-12,  namely, “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband and marry another, she committeth adultery.”

The language of the apostle Paul should also be helpful in this connection:

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But, because of fornications, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and come together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency.”(1 Cor.7: 1-5)

When an acceptable marriage has been consummated (1) by the couple’s desire and agreement to seek marital union, (2) by the state’s license or permission for the couple to live together as husband and wife, and (3) by God’s making them one flesh, when they came together sexually; such a union can be dissolved only by each of the three principles who had a part in perfecting the union reversing the action. No one can act for the others in this respect.

Thus, when a couple, one or both, decides that they will no longer maintain their matrimonial union, the next step will be to petition the state for a legal divorce. Most states have multiple reasons for granting a divorce; but unless the petitioner is seeking the divorce on grounds which are acceptable to God (Matt.5:31-32; 19:9), the couple will remain married in God’s sight, regardless of the divorce which the state grants.

Only God can completely dissolve the “one flesh union,” once it has been formed by him. Therefore, if either member of a divorced couple, the grounds of whose divorce is unacceptable to God, marries another person, they will be guilty of adultery when the latter couple comes together sexually, simply because at least one of them is still married to a divorced companion in God’s sight. Not only does the offender commit adultery against the God-recognized wife, by having sexual relations with a woman whom God does not recognize as his lawful wife, (Mk.10: 11-12), he also deprives his “God-recognized wife” of her God given dues, as clearly set forth in 1 Corinthians 7;1-5. (See verses 10-11).

 A FALSE PREMISE AND AN ERRONEOUS CONCLUSION

Some Bible students contend that a couple who marry, following a divorce which is unacceptable to the Lord, not only commit adultery when they come together sexually, they continue to commit adultery as long as they live together. Or to say the same thing in another way, they are living in adultery as long as they live together. But it is a fact, capable of being demonstrated, that no Bible student has ever been able to cite a passage of scripture which says such a thing.

The Lord’s teaching in Matt. 5:31-32 and 19:9 clearly states that such a couple commits adultery when they come together sexually; but the passages just cited do not say that such a couple continues to commit adultery as long as they live together sexually.

If a man goes outside the married relationship and commits adultery with another woman, remains impenitent, and rejects all overtures his wife may offer for a reconciliation, practically any Bible student would readily understand that his innocent wife would have the God-given right to seek a divorce from her sinful husband, and thereby bring to an, end their married relation ship. That, of course, would leave her free to marry another man if she so desired.

And in a similar vein, if a man divorces his wife, for any reason which is not acceptable to the Lord, he remains “one flesh” with his divorced wife, in spite of what the state does. And if he marries another woman, he and his new wife will be guilty of adultery when they come together sexually.

Adultery is adultery, however or whenever it is committed. And if adultery outside the marriage relationship, gives the innocent wife the right to take the necessary steps to terminate the matrimonial union, why doesn’t adultery, following an unacceptable divorce in the Lord’s sight, free the divorced wife from the marriage bond, which bound her and the husband who divorced her together? What reason, scriptural or otherwise, can one offer, which unmistakably shows that a divorced couple are still “one flesh” in God’s sight AFTER the husband who divorced her committed adultery with his newly acquired wife?

The only way that a married couple can commit adultery when they come together sexually, is for at least one of them still to be joined matrimonially with a companion who was put away. But if such a bond has been dissolved by the Lord himself, following the act of adultery, how would one go about proving by the scriptures that the couple in question continues to commit adultery when they engage in sexual intercourse?

It appears quite certain, therefore, that the assertion frequently made by some Bible students, to the effect that a couple who marry contrary to God’s will, following a divorce which he did not approve, continue to live in adultery as long as they stay together as husband and wife, is a false assumption.

And equally erroneous is the claim, widely made, that such a couple as the one now under consideration, must separate and live lives of celibacy, before they can hope to have the Lord’s forgiveness for their adulterous conduct.

No one who reasons from a false premise, will ever to reach a sound conclusion. Neither of the assertions mentioned ed above is true; and it is, therefore, impossible for conclusions drawn from them to be true.

Sin is sin, whatever may have been the specific act involved; and the sin with which the Lord charges any person, must be recognized, repented of, and a request made for the Lord’s forgiveness. In the case now under consideration the sin is that of adultery, brought about by a marriage, which follows a divorce for a reason which God does not approve. (Matt. 5:31-32; 19: 9) .

But someone is ready to ask, If repentance in such an instance does not require a separation of the couple involved, what then does it require? The answer to this question is both clear and simple: The requirement is exactly the same as in the case of any other sin.

Repentance is a change of mind, and when one genuinely repents of his sins he changes his mind, or, which is the thing, he manifests a different attitude regarding that was displeasing to the Lord.

And so, when anyone repents of adultery, as set forth by the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:31,32 and 19:9, he changes his mind, or attitude, toward his unacceptable marriage, which followed a divorce the Lord did not approve, and comes to realize fully that he sinned grievously against God and has divorced mate (Mark 10:11,12, 1 Cor.7:1-5), and if it were possible, he would undo everything he did which was wrong. Furthermore, he resolves that no such sin will ever occur in his life again. It is this kind of person that God can, and does, extend mercy.(Cf. Isaiah 66:2b).

Things have happened,  in such situations as are now being considered, which can never be undone. It could happen that in some instances a couple could be persuaded that they should separate. And, if they actually went through with it, that by no means would indicate that they genuinely repented of the wrongs they did.

A couple, for example, might feel that they should be a part of a congregation of Christians; and so, being told that they would not be fellowshipped as long as they remained together, they decide to separate in order to be acceptable to the brethren. This could easily be done WITHOUT any repentance whatsoever.

The leaders of a congregation of Christians have both the right and the obligation to refuse Christian fellowship to any person who refuses to submit to baptism, as a condition of salvation; because such submission is clearly taught in the scriptures. But there is not a single passage in the entire New Testament which evenly remotely says that a couple who committed adultery, because of a marriage which followed a divorce that did not have the Lord’s approval, should separate and live lives of celibacy during the remainder of their time here upon the earth.

It appears fair to assume that the Jewish people during the New Testament period frequently abused the law which Moses gave regarding divorce and remarriage.(Deut.24:1-4; Mat.19:3-12). And it is also fair to assume that there were couples, among the many thousands who were baptized during the early days of the church, who had violated the principle set forth by Jesus in the Matthew passage just cited.

But what apostle or New Testament church eldership ever required such a couple to separate, before baptism was administered or Christian fellowship was extended? People today who insist on such separation, should remember that it is just as wrong to make a law where God has not made one, as it is to break a law which he has made.

NO MAN CAN BE SAVED BY HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS.

It is always right, when a person finds himself guilty of a sin in God’s sight, to make every possible effort to learn how he may gain the Lord’s favor in having his sins forgiven.

The Jewish people, during the age of Moses, undertook to solve this problem by a scrupulous observance of the laws under which they lived. But inasmuch as no wholly human being was ever able to keep the law of Moses perfectly, that method of getting oneself into right relationship with God was never successful.

This situation, in fact, is what the apostle Paul discusses in a portion of his letter to the Philippians. After recounting some of his own attainments, which were achieved under the law, and which he had relied on to gain the Lord’s favor (See Phil. 3:1-6), the apostle to the Gentiles had this to say: “Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuge, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of m1ne own, which is of the law, but that which is through faith 1n Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

And what was true of the law of Moses is also true of any other legal system. It was never the purpose of any mere law to justify anyone., The apostle Paul says again: “I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought.” (Ga1.2:21; Cf. Romans 3:19-20).

It is well to note that the article “the” before the term law, is not in the original text in Galatians 2:21. This implies, of course, that the reference is not to the law of Moses exclusively, but to any legal system. The whole context teaches that no one can ever be declared righteous in God’s sight, apart from faith in Christ Jesus. The prime purpose of “law” in the text now under consideration, is to make people realize that they are sinners in God’s sight. (Read again Romans 3:19-20)

That which has been said 1n the preceding paragraphs adds up to this one great truth, namely; Man, at his very best, is helpless in God’s sight. He is a sinner, condemned to die, without mercy. But because of God’s great love for him, a way has been provided whereby the sinner can be forgiven  and can be looked upon, in heaven’s sight, as if he had never sinned. Jesus Christ has become the savior of all who will accept him as such, that is, those who believe 1n him as God has ordained, and then do as the savior commands. Such people will be declared righteous before God, and can enjoy his full and complete fellowship. (Cf.1 John 1:6-7)

Many sincere, but bewildered, people have been brought to the realization that they have entered a marriage relationship which God does not approve. These relationships include a believer yoked with an unbeliever, and a marriage in which one or both of the couple had a divorce which was unacceptable to God.

One hears relatively little about the believer who has disobeyed the Lord in this manner, but a vast number of professing Christians do not hesitate to say that a couple who marry, with a divorce charged against one or both of them, which the Lord does not accept, must separate and live a life of celibacy, before they can be saved.

The evident reason for the viewpoint just referred to, is the fact that those expressing it are under the impression that such a couple commits adultery every time they come together sexually. But what those who demand a separation overlook is the fact that such a couple would not have been charged with adultery in the first place, if at least one of them was not still married, in God’s sight, to a divorced partner at the time the sinful couple were married. Such a couple as is being considered here, will continue to be guilty of adultery only so long as the previous marriage bond remains intact.

It has already been pointed out in these studies that adultery, on the part of either one of a married couple, who remains impenitent and unresponsive to the overtures of reconciliation, is sufficient in God’s sight, to break the marriage bond which bound the couple together. Therefore, if adultery outside the marriage relationship will destroy the matrimonial tie, what reason, scriptural or otherwise, can be cited as proof that a divorced couple is still bound together matrimonially, after one of them commits adultery by marrying again? Adultery is adultery, however or whenever it is committed.

Therefore, if neither party to a marriage contract is married, in God’s sight, Ito another person, by what authority does one conclude that they still commit adultery when they come together sexually? This, in spite of a marriage unacceptable to God, which resulted in adultery when the couple first came together as husband and wife in the new union.

Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that no man has the right to “put asunder” what God has joined together. The term “WHAT”, as previously pointed out in these studies, has reference to “the marriage relation which God has made.” This should be sufficient to convince even superficial readers, that only God has the right to sever the marriage tie, when once the couple has been made “one flesh” by him.

Whether or not, therefore, a couple who are guilty of adultery because of an unacceptable marriage in God’s sight, are forgiven, will depend on that which GOD tells them to do rather than upon what others, including themselves, think’ that they should do. Any human being, therefore, who succeeds in separating a married couple, whom God has made “one flesh” simply arrogates to himself a right which alone ,r esi des in God, and will, of course, be responsible for his ungodly conduct when the Lord comes to judge his people. (2 Cor.5:10)

There are, apparently, some people who deny that such a couple as is being considered here, were ever married in God’s sight. But Jesus says that they were married. (Matthew 19:9). If a man who joins himself to a harlot, is one flesh with her,(l Cor.6:16), by what authority does one say that a man who marries a woman, is not one flesh with her? Furthermore, the terms “cleave” in Matt. 19:5, and “joined” in 1 Cor. 16:6 are from the same Greek root, namely, kollao, or kollaomai.

The situation in 1 Cor.6:16 describes fornication, outside the marriage relationship. The situation in Matt. 19:5 has to do with the marriage relationship. The law of the Lord plainly teaches what to do in the case of fornication (l Cor. 6:18). But where does the Lord command a married couple to separate, and live lives of celibacy?

 A SOVEREIGN HAS THE RIGHT TO DO AS HE PLEASES

It should always be kept in mind that no sinner can do anything to merit his salvation, or, which is the same thing, to secure the forgiveness of his sins. Whatever anyone may do in this respect must be classified as acts of obedience, and that must always be done in response to that which the Lord has ordained for the disobedient person. Or, to say the same thing in another way, no one but an inspired messenger can tell the sinner what he must do in order to have his sins forgiven. (John 20:21-23).

Here is the testimony of the scriptures: “For by grace have ye been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest any should boast” (Eph.2:8-9)(KJV)

“Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5)

When a sinner manifests the right attitude toward the Lord, as evidenced by his genuine faith and repentance, and is willing to do that which he, by divine authority, is told to do, he has the right, following his obedience, to expect the forgiveness of his sins and to enjoy fellowship with the Lord and his people. (Luke 15:11-24).

“Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.

Even as David also pronounceth blessing upon the man unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works, saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” (Romans 4:4-8)

And so, if people who have acted contrary to God’s will, and have involved themselves in rebellion against him, will manifest the right attitude toward him, as demonstrated by genuine faith and repentance, and by obedience to his divine will, the Lord will ascribe, or impute, righteousness unto them.

That which the Lord does for sinners is NOT because they deserve such treatment, or have earned it; but because God, in his infinite grace and mercy, wills it. Such people are then, in the Lord’s sight, as if they had never sinned, or, which is the same thing, they are declared to be righteous. (Cf. The prodigal son with the elder brother (Luke 15:11-32).

Suppose a man, with no financial resources, should steal a million dollars in currency from another man; and should, that very night, have the entire amount destroyed by fire. Later on the man who stole the money, comes to view his deed in a different light, that is, he comes to realize that he sinned grievously in taking the money as he did. With this change of mind regarding his sin, he resolves to make restitution, to the extent of his ability. He determines to make this restitution his first and only priority, and resolves to turn over every dollar he earns to the man he has wronged.

That determination certainly shows a good spirit on the part of the sinner. But the question is, could he do that which he has resolved to do, that is, could he turn every dollar he earns over to the man from whom he had stolen the money? Would the Internal Revenue Service permit him to carry out his firm resolution, and thereby pay no federal taxes on his income? Would the state, to say nothing of God, allow the penitent man to neglect his family by failing to provide for them, as well as for his own needs, without taking some action?

This is enough to show that the life of the average person is characterized by complicated relationships; and if the man now under consideration does that which is pleasing to the Lord, he must render to all their dues. It is never right to follow the principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul. (Mat.22:21). God nowhere authorizes his people to fail to meet their obligations in one area in order to pay a debt in another. A man therefore, cannot turn over every dollar he earns to one whom he has wronged, however worthy his motive may be, without mistreating others. Other people have rights which must be satisfied, as well as the man against whom the crime was committed. And in a similar way, the marriage relationship does not consist solely in the mutual agreement which the couple in question made. God also, and the state have a part in it.

But suppose the man, from whom the million dollars was stolen, observes the “changed attitude” on the part of the thief, and learns of his determination to give every dollar he earns in payment of the debt. Would it be out of harmony with the principles of justice and mercy for him to assure the man who had wronged him that all is forgiven, and that he does not have to turn over a single dollar of his earnings in payment of the debt? (See Mat. 18:23-35)

If such a thing should be done by the man who was wronged, it would it be proper and right to continue to regard the penitent man as a thief?

If that which has just been said is correct, then it is possible for a man to repent of his sins, and be forgiven, without undoing his wrongs and making restitution, especially in matters beyond his control and in which others are involved.

The sinner is required to do the very best he can do, without violating the rights of others. Furthermore, if the benefactor could, under the conditions named above, justly forgive the offender after the money had been destroyed, he could, under the same conditions, forgive him without the money’s having been destroyed, and permit him to keep it for some useful purpose.

Such a course would not be contrary to the principles of justice and mercy. (See again Matthew 18:23-35). And if such a thing should be done, it would not be proper and right to continue to regard this man, who had done the wrong, as a thief

NO man ever harmed another person by restoring some thing he was able to return to its rightful owner. And no one ever mistreats another person when he quits lying about him. Such things are personal matters which concern only the individuals involved.

But when it comes to the marriage relationship, there are others involved besides the couple in question. And there are circumstances under which God can, and does, show favor to some, which others have seen fit to criticize, because they do not think that these deserve it!

God himself is a sovereign ruler. He can show mercy to people who desperately need it, because of sins which they have committed, which are impossible to undo; and he does not harm anyone else by his benevolent action. And so, in the words of A.M. Toplady: Not the labor of my hands Can fulfil the law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow; All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and thou alone.

WHEN FAITH BECOMES THE WAY

When a person lives with an idea for a considerable length of time, and is supported in his viewpoint by a vast majority of people in whom he has confidence, it is very difficult to get him to change his mind. This was the situation with Saul of Tarsus before he met Jesus on the Damascus road. The same thing has been true of others, the number of whom is countless.

The man who later became the apostle Paul, in speaking before king Agrippa, said, “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Acts 26:9).

It should be noted that Paul said, “I verily thought with myself.” The original term from which the word “thought” comes is dokeo. Thayer, commenting on the expression, says, “I seemed to myself, i.e. I thought.”

Paul’ s attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ was based on his opinion regarding him, that is, on what he thought about him, (Cf. Proverbs 23:7) rather than on the truth concerning him.

So, as long as people hold on to their opinions regarding fundamental Bible issues, instead of searching for the whole truth concerning them, erroneous attitudes will continue to be manifested toward them. Only the truth can make men free from error. (John 8:32)

Much of the confusion relative to the questions regarding divorce and remarriage, is due to the failure to distinguish properly between opinion and faith. Each of these words has a peculiar meaning, and should be used to designate a distinctive idea.

The Random House Dictionary defines OPINION as follows: “A belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce certainty.”

A Standard Dictionary of the English Language has this definition: “A conclusion or judgment held with confidence, but falling short of positive knowledge.”

That which has just been said should be enough to show any reasonable person that one can never be positive in his opinions, for there will always be an element of doubt. Opinions, after all, are only what people think; and we should always keep in mind that Jehovah says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(CF Isaiah 55:8-9)

FAITH, on the other hand, has been defined as a disposition of mind by which we hold for certain the matter affirmed. The element of doubt marks the chief difference between faith and opinion. The element of doubt always accompanies opinion, but is never present in the case of genuine faith. (Heb.11:6; Rom. 10:17; Luke 8:12). No one should claim that he has genuine faith, regarding any issue which may be under consideration, until he is sure that the full light of divine revelation is permitted to shine upon that particular subject. Or,to say the same thing in another way, when all that God says regarding any subject is brought into full focus, believed, and accepted as the truth, then there can be no doubt regarding the subject being considered. The fact is, genuine faith is so strong that it is sometimes regarded as knowledge.(Acts 2:36; 2 Corinthians 5:1)

It appears that there are some people who have thought for so long that people who have an unacceptable divorce in God’s sight, charged against them, and who marry another person, and thereby commit adultery, must cease to live together as husband and wife before they can obtain the Lord’s forgiveness of the sin, that it is next to impossible to get them to change their minds regarding the issue.

It is always commendable, of course, for people to want others to do right; but it is never right for such people to endeavor to set the standard, according to that which they think is essential for achieving right relationships with the Lord. God will forgive the sins of any person, including the ones now under consideration, if they will manifest the right attitude toward him and do that which he commands them to do.

But, one may ask, if God allows people who marry against his will, to remain together, would that not encourage people to be careless about committing the sin of adultery, especially with reference to divorce and remarriage? That would not be true if people are correctly informed regarding the nature of sin (Heb. 3:13). Does the promise that people who obey the gospel will have their sins forgiven (Mk.16:16) encourage people to engage in sin until they have satisfied their lustful desires, before availing themselves of the Lord’s offer of mercy?

The man who trifles with sin, and refuses to consider will, cannot be saved, regardless of that which he may concerning the issue now under consideration. (See Romans Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26 31).

Jesus says that it is the truth which makes one free (John 8: 31-32). If people are taught the truth regarding the nature of sin, as set forth in the scriptures just cited, they will come nearer doing that which is right than they would by having impressions made on their minds, with reference to the sin of adultery, which are not in keeping with the Lord’s teaching on the subject.

The story is told of a preacher who, while reading his text, mistook the word “balances” for “bellows,” and, in keeping with the idea suggested by the latter term, he pictured the Holy Spirit as a great bellows, blowing a spark of love in a man’s heart into a great flame, and the mighty results which followed!

After the meeting was over a man approached the preacher and said, “The word in your text is BALANCES, not BELLOWS,” Whereupon the preacher said, “Please do not say anything about it for I did better with BELLOWS than I would have done with BALANCES.”

It appears that some people seem to think that it is sometimes more effective to try to influence people with certain ideas about the sin of adultery, brought on, by a marriage such as Jesus referred to in Mat.5:32 and 19:9, which they have long been taught, and which they accept as being the truth, although they cannot cite any scripture to justify their conclusion, than it is to declare unto such sinful people exactly what the New Testament teaches, and which can be read in the plain and simple language of the inspired text.

If what the Lord himself has said on the subject does not have the proper effect on sinful people, then it be foolish to suppose that what we can say would be any better. Everyone who attempts to deal with the subject of adultery, following a divorce which is not acceptable to God, and a marriage which he does not approve, should make an earnest effort to determine whether or not his views on the subject are the result of that which the scriptures themselves teach, or whether he is being influenced by puritan views, and the accumulation of public opinion, which have been brought about by imperfect knowledge, inadequate thinking, and loose reasoning.

ONE ONLY IS THE LAWGIVER AND JUDGE

A series of articles on Divorce and Remarriage by J.D. Thomas, (Also published in book form), was published in the Firm Foundation, beginning with the Feb.7, 1978, issue. A rather positive statement was made in the closing sentence of the first full paragraph in column 2, page 7, of the April 11 installment. Attention is hereby directed to it: The paragraph reads as follows: “Repentance is a must before any sin can be forgiven. It is a change of will which is big enough to bring about a change of conduct. The change of conduct involves restitution of the original status insofar as it is possible. In no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit of his sin.”

It is fairly certain that few, if any, thoughtful Bible students will question that which Dr. Thomas says in the first three sentences of the paragraph just quoted. But many will feel that the professor ran out of bounds, insofar as the area of truth is concerned, when he wrote the fourth sentence.

No thoughtful follower of Christ wants to see sinful people reap the fruit of their sins. But when it is asserted that there is no way in which the sinner can keep the fruit of his sin, and then the assertion is used to convince certain people, particularly divorced people who marry against God’s will, to follow a course of action for which there is neither precept nor example anywhere in the New Testament, it is then time to examine the statement in the light of the facts in the case.

Suppose for example, here is a man who steals several thousand dollars from his employer. He uses the money to start a business of his own, which proves to be very successful. After a number of years of continued prosperity, the man who stole the money comes to himself, and resolves to get himself right with God, He is fully aware of the fact that he cannot get himself right with God until he makes things right with the man from whom he stole the money. With this view of the issue in mind, he goes to his former employer, confesses his sin, and presents him with a check for enough not only to repay the amount he stole, but also sufficient to include compound interest from the time of the theft to the present.

He then humbly and sincerely asks his former employer for his forgiveness, which is gladly and unconditionally granted. The two men became friends again and both expressed the hope, and pledged their whole hearted efforts to the end, that the entire sinful action be completely relegated to the background, and never be brought up or mentioned again.

Would either God or the man who had been wronged, demand or even suggest, that the former thief be denied any further fruit from the business, which was brought into being as a result of his wrongdoing?

Another man, for instance, was born and reared in Nashville, Tennessee. His parents were faithful Christians and he, along with them, habitually met with the saints at their usual place of worship. The son, however, for some reason never became a Christian himself. While yet in his twenties, the company for which he worked transferred him to Atlanta, Georgia, And, true to his practice in his home city of Nashville, he immediately began meeting with the Lord’s people in Atlanta, Not long after he began his association with the Lord’s people in Atlanta he met a young woman whom he greatly admired. He asked for a date with her and it was not very long before their interest in each other became mutual, It soon became obvious that the subject of marriage would certainly have to be discussed,

As time and events moved forward, the young woman told the young man that it was her understanding, based on the teaching she had received, along with her own study of the issue, that the Lord expects, and so teaches, that his people marry those who are in covenant relationship with him. She further told him that it was for that reason that she could not bring herself to agree to marry him, as long as he was not a Christian. Soon after this the young man’s business took him back to Nashville for several weeks. When he returned to Atlanta and saw the young woman, he told her that he had obeyed the Gospel while in his home city, and that now he was a child of God.

That news, of course, made the young woman very happy, and his participation in the worship service increased her joy. It was not long after that before they announced their engagement and set the date for their wedding. Their marriage was solemnized in due time and they were very happy, as they began their life together.

A few months after their marriage the young husband told his beloved wife that he had a confession to make to her. She, of course, wondered what had happened. Here is what he told her: “I lied to you when I told you that I had become a Christian while I was in Nashville.”

The young wife was both shocked and crushed. Her husband however, hastened to tell her that he had sincerely repented of his terrible sin, and that he really wanted to obey the Gospel now, and make a sincere effort to live the Christian life. He also told her that she had demonstrated to him what it means to live the Christian life, and that he desperately wanted to join her in that effort.

When the young husband asked his wife to forgive him for his deception, and fulfilled his pledge to obey the Gospel of Christ, she readily and joyfully granted his request. They were both very happy with the results, and really began doing together that which they believed to be the Lord’s will for them.

The “fruit” of this young man’s sin was the wife whom he obtained by lying. But after doing all that he could to make things right, with both God and his wife, will any thoughtful and honest follower of Christ contend that he can no longer keep his wife? Or, which is the same thing, “keep the fruit of his sin?” Liars and fornicators are listed in the same category of those who will be lost. (Revelation 21:8).

The “fruit” of his sin, mentioned by Dr. Thomas in the sentence now under consideration, has reference to the wife which a man married, following a divorce which God does not approve.

This is to say that the man in question must separate from the wife who became “one flesh” with him, following the divorce which the Lord did not approve, if he is to find peace with God. The reason for this action, according to professor Thomas, is the fact that “in no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit of his sin.”

It has already been pointed out that there are some instances in which people can, and do, keep the fruits of their sins, following their effort to make things right with others, according to their ability. And if that which has been said is correct, it is doubtful if the most ardent advocate of the separation theory will question its correctness.

It will have to be admitted therefore, that a proposition which is sometimes false, should not be used to motivate people to do something for which there is neither precept nor example in the entire New Testament. The statement, “In no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit of his sin,” is neither a true premise nor a sound conclusion.

Efforts are often made to convince people that instrumental music should not be used in Christian worship today. An example of our reasoning is thus: We are plainly told by inspired men just what we should do, namely, “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” (Eph.5:19). And we usually add: singing is divinely authorized by the specific statement of inspired men, but the use of mechanical instrumental music is not mentioned by them as being in the worship of a single congregation.

If this same principle is applied in the case of repentance and the forgiveness of sin, the issue should be made plain. People are plainly told in the scriptures just what they must do in order to obtain the forgiveness of their sins and the Lord’s favor. But there is not a single congregation referred to in the New Testament, which refused fellowship to people who genuinely repented of their sins and did what they could to make things right with God.

There is not a person today who can turn to the New Testament and point to a single congregation, where a couple who had married, following a divorce which the Lord did not approve, were told that they would have to separate and live lives of celibacy, before they could have their sins forgiven and enjoy fellowship with the Lord’s people.

There are some sins which simply cannot be undone, regardless of what people may try to do about the matter.

Stealing was common in New Testament times and, when possible, the object stolen should be returned. But even in such a practice as that, it would be impossible for the sinner to correct his sinful deed. A man, for example, might steal the affections of another man’s wife, with the result that a divorce takes place, and the woman in question later marries another man. The man who caused all the trouble comes to himself, and seeks to make things right with both God and the man he injured. What can such a man do?

Obviously the sinner cannot restore the affections he stole, but he can obey the divine injunction, “Let him that steal no more,” (Eph 4:28). This same inspired teaching also be applied to material things which were stolen and cannot be replaced.

People, therefore, can repent of sins which they cannot undo; and when that is done, requests can be made for forgiveness, which will be granted by the heavenly Father. No one has a right to inject another requirement for forgiveness, which is not clearly stated in the New Testament.

THE SCRIPTURES ARE SELF SUFFICIENT

Thomas B. Warren notes that “any doctrine which implies a false doctrine is itself false.” This principle may also be stated in the following way: “Any doctrine which depends upon a false premise, is itself false.”

Dr. Warren’s statement quuted above, is the first sentence in his article on Divorce and Remarriage. Both he and Dr. J. D. Thomas argue that if a couple marries, following a divorce which the Lord does not approve, they will have to separate and live lives of celibacy before they can obtain the Lord’s forgiveness and 1ive in his favor. Dr. Thomas, in writing about the necessity for such a separation, says emphatically, “In no way can the penitent sinner keep the fruit his sin,” that is, continue to live with the woman he married against God’s will. Apparently this is also the view which Dr. Warren has of the issue.

It has already been pointed out in these studies that there are certain circumstances under which people can “keep the fruit of their sin;” and that, of course, clearly implies that the statement regarding the inability of the penitent sinner to keep the fruit of his sin, is not true.

If this is the case, then it also follows that the requirement for absolute separation, in unacceptable marriages, in God’s sight, is not true either. Correct conclusions do not come from false premises.

Apparently some people think that those who contend that repentance of the sin of marrying against God’s will does not necessarily require separation and a life of celibacy following, are, in reality saying that it is perfectly all right for people to seek such a status, and then be allowed to remain therein, following their repentance, with God’s approval. Such a view is certainly contrary to the understanding of the people who teach that which the Bible says regarding sin and repentance, which seeks God’s forgiveness and fellowship with him.

There are at least two things which need to be said in this connection: (1) People who hold to the view just referred to, do not presume to formulate a law where the Lord has not made one. (2) People who deliberately and high handed1y go against the will of God in such matters, are placing themselves in a position of wilfull sin; and it may be impossible for them to be brought to repentance. (Heb.6:4-6; 10:26-31)

FOCUSING ON THE ISSUE

Sin is sin, wherever it is found, and it must be repented of before forgiveness can be obtained from the Lord. People who marry against God’s will, can be separated without repentance; and it is altogether possible, indeed very probable, that many such couples have been pressured into doing that very thing.

Such action, of course, would in no way lead them into fellowship with God, but would serve only to expose them to further temptation. (Cf.1 Cor.7:1-5) People who have married against God’s will, should be led to understand what the sin is for which they should repent. At least one of them had a part in breaking up a marriage, which had been sealed by God himself. And at least one of them was still married, in God’s sight, to the person who had been divorced, it was because of the existence of the previous relationship that adultery was committed when the newly married couple came together sexually.

Adultery, especially on the part of impenitent people, has the effect of breaking the marriage bond, in God’s sight. A woman’s lawful husband, for example, might go outside the marriage relationship and commit adultery with another woman. If such a man remains impenitent, and rejects all overtures of reconciliation with his wife, his innocent spouse would have just cause in God’s sight, to seek an end to the ties which bound her and her sinful husband.

Just so, according to the same principle, a man who divorces his wife, for some reason which is unacceptable to the Lord, and then marries another woman, both he and his new wife become guilty of adultery when they come together sexually, with the result that the marriage tie, which bound him and his divorced wife together, is completely severed.

Adultery outside the marriage relationship, on the part of a married partner, who remains impenitent and who refuses all overtures of reconciliation, is no more potent in severing the marriage tie which holds a couple together, than adultery which is committed in an unacceptable marriage, following a divorce which God did not approve. Adultery is adultery in either case, and that is the one sin, according to the teaching of Jesus, that gives the innocent party the right to regard the marriage tie as being completely severed.

But, says one, “committeth adultery” in Mat.19:9 is in the present tense, and that implies continuous action. Which is the same as to say that such a couple would continue to commit adultery every time they came together sexually. But just suppose that the couple never comes together again sexually. The verb Jesus used would still be in the present tense. But it could not, in such a case, refer to continuing sexual activity since none is taking place. Surely this implies that future sexual relations have nothing to do with the significance of the tense of the verb in question.

It is the sin of adultery on the part of the couple who married against God’s will, that will continue to be charged against them, until they seek for and obtain the Lord’s forgiveness.

SPEAKING FOR THE LORD

When people profess to speak for the Lord, with reference to such matters as demanding separations of couples who marry against the Lord’s will, and lives of celibacy, along with refusing fellowship to those who genuinely repent but do not dissolve their marriage, they should be absolutely certain that they have a “thus saith the Lord” for their action.

People who divorce and marry again, against God’s will, must repent (1) of breaking up a marriage contrary to God’s will, and (2) committing adultery in the remarriage. They cannot, themselves, undo their marriage; but they can repent of the sins which they committed, and ask God for his forgiveness.

It is through the knowledge of the divine revelation that we have all things that pertain to life and Godliness.(2 Pet.1:3-4) If all penitent believers who married against the Lord’s will must separate and live lives of celibacy before they can enjoy “life and godliness” and “become partakers of the divine nature’, in what part of the record of that revelation can they find that information, either by means of a direct command, an approved example, or a necessary inference?

The inspired scriptures furnish the man of God “completely unto every good work,”(2 Tim.3:16-17), which is the same as saying that a scripture statement removes any question about a matter where then, is the record, in any form, whatsoever, which makes it unmistakably clear, that God requires all couples who marry against his will, following divorces which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy before they can be pleasing unto him?

The average person, with an unbiased mind, can read the inspired scriptures for himself and learn how to become a Christian and serve and worship the Lord as a child of God. But d will take more than an average mind, even with expert help, to find the clear and unmistakable teaching of the New Testament for breaking up the marriage of genuinely penitent believers.

God’s people should learn not to go beyond the things that are written, (1 Cor.4:6; 2 John 9). And with this firmly fixed in one’s mind, let him ask, which of the New Testament writers or speakers wrote or said anything about the necessity of couples, who married against God’s will following divorces which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy before they can be forgiven by the Lord and enter into fellowship with him and his people? Or how would such a couple, who desperately want to please the Lord, go about finding that information?

And so, with the warning of the apostle John in mind, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son (2 John 9) let the proponents of the “separation theory” point out the chapter and verse in which Jesus, or anyone whom he authorized to speak or write, said anything whatsoever about the necessity of couples, who married against God’s will, following divorces which he did not approve, separating and living lives of celibacy before they can enjoy the Lord’s favor and have the hope of living with him in the glory world? The echo answers, “WHERE?”

The best thing that can be said about the efforts of those who contend for the “separation – celibacy” theory is that they are uniformly characterized by doubt and uncertainty.

If one wishes to convince others that baptism is a condition of salvation from alien sins, he has scriptural basis for his effort. (Mk.16:15-16; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). But where is the scripture which teaches plainly and unequivocally that God requires penitent couples, who married against his will following a divorce which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy for the remainder of their time on earth, before they can receive the Lord’s forgiveness and have the hope of eternal life with him in heaven?

It is interesting to note that no one, to date, has ever been able to cite such a passage from the Holy Scriptures.

CONDITIONS IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES

The nature of the marriage relationship which was ordained by God, and re-affirmed by Jesus, should be fairly clear in the minds of people who read and discuss the New Testament teaching on the subject.

A fairly simple definition of the institution of marriage may be stated in the following words: Marriage, as ordained by God in the beginning (Gen.1:27f; 2:18-24) is the blending of the lives of two eligible persons, of the opposite sex, into the closest of all human relationships, and which, in the will and providence of God, is expected to continue until the bond which binds them together is dissolved by death.

This is the marriage relationship which Jesus discussed with the Pharisees and his disciples in Matthew 19:3-12, and it should always be kept in mind that this is the only kind of “marriage relationship” which is recognized and regulated by divine authority. To speak of homosexual, bisexual, group, and other types of sinful relationships, under the guise of marriage, is only to becloud and confuse the issue. This kind of misinformation tends only to draw the minds of people away from that which the New Testament actually says about the subject.

The marriage relationship which is pleasing to God is begun (1) by the mutual agreement of the couple to 1ive together  as husband and wife; (2) by the state’s permission, or license for such cohabitation; and (3) by God’s sealing and ratifying the marital contract, when the couple come together sexually. It is in this way that the couple becomes “one flesh.”

Not only is that which has just been said true, it is also true that the marriage bond can be broken and totally destroyed only by the same three participants, who brought the union to perfection. No one can undo the part in the marriage relationship which was done by another. Only God can make the final break complete.

Neither God nor the state, in any way whatsoever, encourages the couple to repudiate their mutual agreement to live together as husband and wife. The repudiation of the couple’s mutual agreement is the responsibility of one, or both of them alone. It should also be noted that such a repudiation of the mutual agreement, whether by one or both of them, is the first step in the divorce process, if indeed it comes to that.

Divorce, as that term is generally used today, has reference to the “delegalizing” of the state’s permission for the couple to live together as husband and wife. This is all the state can do in the divorce process; and no one else can do that for the state. It appears that the majority of people are under the impression that when the state grants a divorce, the couple in question are released entirely from the marriage tie which bound them together. And, feeling that way about the matter, they feel that they are free to be married again to other mates.

Such a viewpoint as that just referred to, totally ignores God’s part in the marriage process. No marriage which is acceptable in God’s sight, is fully consummated until God acts to make the couple one flesh. And it should always be keep it in mind that no one but God can completely and finally dissolve the union, which he alone finalized. And it is for this reason that people are guilty of adultery when they marry other mates, following a divorce which God does not approve. Such people are still married to their divorced mates until God makes the final dissolution.

Homosexuality, unnatural sexual relationships, and adulterous practice s, are clear1y and specifically condemned in these inspired words of the New Testament. (Rom.1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Such people, therefore, stand clearly condemned, until they repent of their sins and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. Furthermore, no child of God is authorized to baptize an impenitent couple who married against the Lord’s will, following a divorce which he did not approve.

At least one member of the couple who married against the will of God, following a divorce which he did not approve, is guilty of breaking up a marriage which he did approve. When such a couple comes together sexually, following their marriage ceremony, they are, according to Jesus, guilty of adultery. (Matthew 19:9).

These are sins they must repent of before they are ready to be baptized for the remission of their sins. People need to be taught the truth, before they are ready to obey the Gospel. (See John 8:31-32).

AT GRIPS WITH THE POINT IN QUESTION

(Matthew 19:3-12 NIV)  Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” {4} “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ {5} and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? {6} So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” {7} “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” {8} Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. {9} I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” {10} The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” {11} Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. {12} For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Moses, because of sinful conditions which prevailed in his day, and apparently continued unchecked until the time of Christ, suffered, that is, permitted, not commanded, Jewish men to put away their wives, if they found something objectionable in them.(See Deut.24:1-4) There is no indication that women were granted the same privilege, with reference to their husbands.

Jewish teachers were not agreed as to the actual cause, to which the words of Moses referred; and that fact led to widespread differences of opinion and gross abuse of the permission, which the great lawgiver had granted.

  • Rabbi Shamai, for example, interpreted Deut.24:1f to mean that a man had the right to divorce his wife only on the ground of immorality or unchastity.
  • Rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, allowed just about any cause; the wife burning her husband’s bread for example.
  • Rabbi Akiba, to give another viewpoint, held that the expression, “if she find no favor in his eyes,” actually permitted the husband to divorce his wife if he found a better looking woman![16]

With that kind of teaching abroad in the land during the time of Jesus here upon earth, and during the days of the early church, it does not require a great degree of imagination for one to conclude that many divorces were granted among the Jewish people.

This appears to be a reasonable conclusion when one takes into consideration the fact that selfish people like to have their own way, and that it is much easier to accept the popular viewpoint. Even the disciples themselves questioned the wisdom of one’s marrying, if the privilege of divorce was denied him. (See Matthew 19:10).

THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP REAFFIRMED BY JESUS

Moses, in Deut. 24:1-4, did not issue a command for men to divorce their wives, whom they did not want to keep. He merely allowed, or permitted them to do so, under the conditions which the lawgiver named.

The original Greek term from which we have “suffered” in Matthew 19:8, is epitrepo, which, according to Arndt-Gingrich, means to permit or allow. (Cf. Mat.8:21).

But Jesus makes it perfectly plain in Matthew 19:3-12 that the permission granted by Moses is no longer valid. Instead, all people who marry in this present age, are subject to the original law, which was ordained by Jehovah God in the beginning.

It appears from Mark’s account of the Lord’s discussions with the Pharisees regarding the divorce issue (Mark 10:2-12), that when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they asked him a question regarding the issue which he had discussed with the Jewish leaders. The question apparently had to do with the permission of a man to put away his wife. (Cf. Mat.19: 10).

The Lord’s answer to the disciples’ question is twofold in its nature: (1) Not all men have room in their hearts for the teaching of Christ on the subject of marriage and divorce. Only those who are willing to follow the lord, can be certain of having his teaching to guide them in the way they shou1d go. (Cf. Proverbs 3:5-6).

(2) Celibacy is the exception, and not the rule, in normal living in human society, A eunuch is a male who is free from sexual desire, either as a result of birth, having been castrated by human hands, or one who is able, by his own willpower and spiritual motivation, to practice self control.

The apostle Paul apparently had the ability just named, but he clearly recognized that not all men, even among the Lord’s people, have the gift of continency. (See 1 Cor.7:1-9)

While the expression “this saying” in Mat.19:11, evidently refers to the whole of the Lord’s teaching, on that occasion, it is quite possible, and even very probable, that the closing sentence of verse 12,”He that is able to receive it, let him receive it,” is primarily concerned with the Lord’s remark concerning those who “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.’

There are, doubtless, many people who fit into this category. But it is a noticeable fact that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any other New Testament writer, encouraged any but the most devout to undertake that kind of life. (Cf. 1 Cor.7:25-38).

A. T .Robertson, commenting on the expression, “but they to whom it is given,” (Mat.19:11) says; “It is a voluntary renunciation of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus recognizes the severity of the demand as going beyond the capacity of all but a select number. It was a direct appeal to the spiritual intelligence of the disciples not to misconceive his meaning, as certainly the monastic orders have done.” [17]

David Brown, in his remarks regarding the teaching of Jesus on marriage and divorce, says, “If the sanctity of the marriage tie, as the fountain of all social wellbeing, is to be upheld among men, it must be by basing it on the original divine institution of it; Nor will those relaxations of it, which corrupt ingenuity introduces and defends, be effectually checked but by reverting, as our Lord here does, to the great primary character and design of it as established at the beginning.”

“Let those who reverence the authority of Christ mark the divine authority which he ascribes to the Old Testament in general, and to the books of Moses in particular, in the settlement of all questions of divine truth and human duty (v.45); nor let us fail to observe the important distinction which he draws between things commanded and things permitted-between things tolerated for a time, and regulated by civil enactment, to keep the barriers of social morality from being quite broken down, and the enduring sanctities of the great moral law. (vv. 8,9).

“When our Lord holds forth the single life as designed for and suited to certain specific classes, let Christians understand that, while their own plan and condition of life should be regulated by higher consideration than mere inclinations or personal advantage, they are not to lay down rules for others, but let each decide for himself, as to his own master he standeth or falleth. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men.” [18]

Not on1y is it fair to assume, as pointed out earlier in these studies, that divorce and remarriage were widespread among the Jewish people during the time of Christ and the early church, due to the liberal interpretation of Deut. 24:1-4; we also have the testimony of Josephus: “He that desires to be divorced from his wife for .any cause whatsoever, (and many such causes happen among men), let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife anymore; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of divorce be given she is not to be permitted to do so: but if she be misused by him also, or if, when he is dead, her first husband would marry her again, it shall not be lawful for her to return to him.”[19]

All Bible students know, of course, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that all men stood in need of his salvation. After all preparation for the great work of saving the lost had been completed, and under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, the first invitation for lost men to accept the Lord’s offer to save sinners, was extended on the Pentecost of Acts 2.

A monumental crowd of people heard that first gospel sermon, proclaimed in its fullness, and they, after being taught the truth regarding the risen Christ, were told to save themselves from that crooked generation by accepting the Lord’s terms of salvation, as may be seen by reading Acts 2:37-40.

And so a pertinent question is, did the apostle Peter, or any of the apostles, into whose hands the word of reconciliation had been committed (2 Cor.5:19) or anyone else who was authorized by the Lord to do so, make known the fact that certain types of sinners, such as those who were divorced from their mates for reasons which the Lord did not accept, and were married to others against the Lord’s will, would have to separate and live lives of celibacy for the remainder of their lives here upon earth, before the Lord would accept them as his people, and before they could enjoy Christian fellowship with other obedient believers?

Or does one suppose that there were no such sinners among the three thousand who were baptized on that day of Pentecost or among the multiplied thousands who were added to the church later on? When, indeed, was the first time that divorced and remarried sinners were told that they would have to separate and live in a single state for the rest of their lives, before they could, or would, be fellowshipped by other followers of Christ? If there is no specific and unquestionable evidence on this subject in the New Testament, and among the early churches of the Lord’s people; how is it that twentieth century individuals and congregations of the Lord’s people have seen fit to require such a rule, and cling to such teaching so tenaciously?

CIRCUMSTANCES ALTER SITUATIONS A SUMMARY

A young man and a young woman of marriageable age, for example, go to a place agreed upon and engage in sexual activities, which results in their having committed fornication, or adultery. A week later they are married, and go to the same room, and upon the very same bed, engage in sexual activities with the result that no such sin is charged against them. The difference between the two incidents is clearly seen as being a matter of the circumstances surrounding them.

Suppose this same man goes outside the marriage relationship and commits adultery with another woman. His wife hears about it and endeavors to bring her husband to repentance He remains impenitent and refuses all overtures for reconciliation. His innocent wife, because of his adultery, would clearly have the right, if not, indeed, the obligation, to take the necessary steps to see to it that their marriage tie is completely severed.

Again, suppose this man remains faithful to his wife morally, but decides to divorce her on the basis of a reason, or cause, which is unacceptable to the Lord. He breaks his part of the mutual agreement, which he and his mate made before their marriage, to live together as husband and wife.

He petitions the court and is granted a legal divorce; but what he does not realize, apparently, is that he is still married, in God’s sight, to the wife whom he divorced. This man, thinking himself to be free to marry again, does indeed marry again. He and his new wife come together sexually, with the result, according to Jesus in Mat.19:9, that they commit adultery.

It appears difficult, apparently, for some people to understand how it is that a husband and wife commit adultery when they engage in sexual activity. The answer to this puzzling problem is simply this; the man was still married to his divorced wife, while he was thinking that he was married only to his second, or new wife. But regardless of what he thought (Cf.Isa.55:8-9), he was still married to his divorced wife in God’s sight. And it was because of his relationship with his divorced wife that adultery was committed in the activities with the newly acquired wife.

But adultery is adultery, however it is committed, and it is the only sin which the Lord recognizes as being sufficiently deadly to result in the complete destruction of the marriage tie. The man who divorces his wife, for some reason which is unacceptable to the Lord, has already seen to it that their mutual agreement to 1ive together a s husband and wife has been destroyed, and he has succeeded in getting the court to revoke their marriage status. And so, with his adultery, resulting from his second marriage, he has provided the Lord with sufficient grounds for breaking the original marriage tie completely. He now has absolutely no marital relations with his divorced wife.

If the man is no longer married to his divorced wife, that is, in God’s sight, where is the evidence to be found, scriptural or otherwise, to support the contention that a man who is married to his own wife, and nobody else, commits adultery with his wife each time they come together sexually?

But, says one, Jesus used the present tense “committeth adultery” in Mat.19:9, and that implies a continuation of the act. But suppose, as was pointed out earlier in these studies, that the couple in question never comes together sexually again. The verb would still be in the present tense. This should be enough to show one that the reference is not primarily to a continuance of sexual activity, but rather to the fact that the guilt which the couple incurred when they first came together sexually, will continue until they turn to the Lord in penitence and secure his forgiveness.

The requirements of repentance have not changed since they were announced when the New Testament was in the making. They are exactly the same today as they were then.

If repentance today requires couples who have married against God’s will, following divorces which he did not approve, to separate and live lives of celibacy, the same thing was true of people who lived during the days of the apostles. But it is a fact today that no one can cite the unqualified teaching of the inspired word of God which makes that doctrine unmistakeably clear. It would be much better if the Lord’s people today would humbly allow him to be the sole lawgiver and judge in such matters.

There are many people today who have been denied fellowship among the Lord’s people, following their repentance for h a vi n g broken up marriages, and for having united with others against the Lord’s will, who have either “quit the church” or gone to other religious bodies, which are not mentioned in the New Testament.

Somebody is going to be held responsib1e for these tragic consequences just referred to, And those who have denied fellowship to penitent believers, may well ask, “Lord, is it I?”’ This is true especially, since there is no clear cut teaching in the New Testament regarding such a practice.

The term “clear cut,” is defined, “Having a sharp distinct outline; sharply defined; concise and distinct.” Exa mples of this type of teaching in the New Testament may be illustrated as follows:

BAPTISM A CONDITION FOR SALVATION FROM ALIEN SINS

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to tile whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”(Mk.16: 15-16) .

“And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16).

“Which also doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (l Peter 3:21).

 WE MUST FORGIVE IF WE ARE TO BE FORGIVEN

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespassesd”(Mat.6:14-15) .

“So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not everyone his brother from your hearts.” (Matt.18:35; Read also verses 21-34).

If anyone believes that the New Testament is the inspired word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and is willing to accept each passage for what it actually says, there is no possible way for such a person to misunderstand, or misinterpret, that which is contained in the scriptures cited above.

Now, in what part of the New Testament can one find such CLEARCUT instruction, which unmistakeably teaches that penitent people who cannot undo such sins as divorcing a mate for some reason which God does not accept, and marrying another mate, which the Lord did not approve, should be denied Christian fellowship among the Lord’s people?

When people do what the Lord commands, In order to become his children, and when disobedient children, who sin against his will, meet his conditions for forgiveness, they are accepted of the Lord and should be accepted by those people who claim to be loyal followers of Christ.

May the Lord have mercy on all of us who try to learn what his will is, seek to practice it ourselves, and endeavor to influence others to believe and obey that which is written! 


[1] C. R. Nichol & R. L. Whiteside: Sound Doctrine, vol. l, 6th. Edition. Pg.54-57. Nichol Publ. Co. Clifton, Texas.

[2] G.C.Brewer: Contending for the Faith: Page 69ff Gospel Advocate Company; Nashville, Tennessee

[3] C. R. Nichol, R. L. Whiteside: Sound Doctrine, Vol.1, pg.57. 6th. Edition. Nichol Publ. Co. Clifton Texas.

[4] Neil Lightfoot: Abilene Christian University Lectures 1982. A NEW ERA IN WORLD EVANGELISM; Page.160. ACU Bookstore.

[5] Charles Foster Kent: The Social Teachings of the Prophets and Jesus, pg.243f. Chas. Scribner’s Sons, New York,1928

[6] The Analytical Greek Lexicon, Article – suzeugnumi. S.Baxter and sons Ltd. London. James Pott & Co. New York.

[7] Archibald Thomas Robertson: Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.l. pg.154. Richard R.Smith Inc. New York. 1930.

[8] Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms – First Edition. Article Latent. Pg.496. G. & C. MerrIam Co. Springfield, Mass.

[9] Karl Ludwig Schmidt: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol.3. Articles, kollao & proskollao. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Mich.

[10] Francis Brown, S.R.Driver and Charles Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Article shalach, 3, Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston & New York.

[11] A.T. Robertson: Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 1, Pg.47, Richard R. Smith Inc. New York-1930

[12] Joseph Henry Thayer: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Article, metanoeo, Zondervan; Grand Rapids.

13 Robert Young: Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Article, metanoeo, Funk & Wagnalls Co. New York.

[14] James Strong: Greek Dictionary of the New Testament. Article, mefanoeo, The Methodlst Book Concern. N.Y.

[15] William F. Arndt, Wilbur F. Gingrich: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Article, metanoia. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.

[16] CF, Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; iv, viii,23.

[17] A.T. Robertson; Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. l, pg. l56. Richard R. Smith Inc. New York-1930.

[18] A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments; by Jamieson, Robert,  Fausset, A.R. and Brown, David, Vol.5, Page 98, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1945.

[19] Josephus; Antiquities of the Jews: Book 4, chptr.8, Par.23.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2017 in Doctrine, Marriage

 

Seven Things That God Hates Series: A Heart That Devises Wicked Plans


Prov. 6:16-19 (NKJV) These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18A heart that devises  wicked plans,  Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

swerveAll we need to do is read the news on the internet or watch the local television news to  be aware of, or at least reminded of, how evil men will spend their time devising wicked plans.  Let’s examine God’s feelings about this subject and how we can avoid finding God’s disfavor, but rather his favor.

What direction do we find from God’s Word?

(Genesis 6:5 NIV)  The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

(Psalms 34:6 NIV)  This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

(Romans 1:30 NIV) “…slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents…”

God Is Concerned About The Heart. Implicitly, this passage teaches that God knows all things and that nothing escapes his attention.

(Ecclesiastes 12:14 NIV)  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

(Matthew 15:18-20 NIV)  But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ {19} For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. {20} These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'” God looks at the roots, and not just the fruit.

(Romans 1:32 NIV)  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

How To Overcome This Sin.

(Isaiah 32:7-8 NIV)  The scoundrel’s methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just. {8} But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.

(Matthew 10:16 NIV)  I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

(Matthew 12:43-45 NIV)  “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. {44} Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. {45} Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

(Luke 16:8 NIV)  “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

(Ephesians 3:20 NIV)  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,

(Philippians 4:8 NIV)  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

Let’s begin to trust God more to do what he said he would do.  Let us plan, devise, and pray for great things. Let’s stop expending energy in useless and trivial pursuits, but rather let us meditate, devise, and work out ways to further the cause of Christ.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Doctrine, God

 
 
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