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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Divorce

This Isn’t the Kind of Wedding Surprise You Want!

Saudi Wedding

It’s not often you get to see a Bible story play out in real life. But one just did!

I just read a story about a wedding in Saudi Arabia that was arranged by the bride and groom’s parents. They had never laid eyes on each other until after the ceremony.

When the bride lifted her veil, the groom said:

You are not the one I had imagined. I am sorry, but I divorce you.

Pretty crazy, right?!?

There’s a story in the Bible that is just like this. It’s the story of Jacob wanting to marry Rachel but being surprised when he was stuck with Leah.

So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, and they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed. I want to sleep with her.” So Laban invited all the men of the place to a feast. That evening, Laban took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and he slept with her. And Laban gave his slave Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her slave. When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Wasn’t it for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?”

The difference here is that Jacob does the honorable thing to his wife and does not divorce her, even though he was tricked into marrying her. The Saudi husband had no such notions of honor and said, “I’m outta here!”

There is something to be said about people who stick to our word and follow through with our obligations. Our world is more and more becoming a “throw-away” world where we discard the things that displease us no matter what the consequences. Our focus is more on what makes us happy rather than doing the right thing.

I hope you never get tricked into marrying the wrong person. Chances are you’ll never find yourself in this specific situation.

Still – wherever you find yourself – don’t give in to the throw-away culture. Be a person of honor. Do what you say you’re going to do.

Do the right thing, even if it’s not the thing you wanted to do.

Calling It Quits: What Jesus Says About Divorce

Unhappy CoupleSomeone once asked me if I could describe the Gospel in just two minutes.

Yes. You see it all comes down brokenness. We are broken people and we live in a broken world. But brokenness isn’t God’s design or intention. It’s the same when it comes to marriage. N.T. Wright notes that anyone who even reads the words of Jesus out loud will most likely be called mean, unforgiving, Pharisaical, or worse. Jesus said:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Many people swing into two camps that are polar opposites: on the one side you have people who say, “I can be a good Christian and pursue divorce and get remarried.” On the other side you have people who stick to a very literal and rigid reading of Jesus’ words.

And we cannot deny the words of Jesus. He clearly says in Mark 10:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

At this point everyone who is divorced or who has been affected by divorce in some way shuts down, turns off their ears, and stops listening to the message.
That’s what often happens.

But that’s because preachers who read the words of Jesus in this case never go all the way with the Gospel. Hear me out.

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

These guys have no real concern about understanding God’s truth about marriage and divorce. Jesus is now in the area that John the Baptist had been when John condemned the behavior of Herod marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. John told Herod, “This is not right!” But that’s just John. He tended to get emotional.

In fact, you could say he lost his head.

When the Pharisees approach Jesus they’re trying to put in in a tough spot on Herod’s turf – wanting him to make a declaration about marriage and divorce that will get him killed. But Jesus doesn’t fall for it.

He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

In the ancient world the certificate of divorce was a way of saying that the husband gives up his right and claim on the woman. Another man can have her without fear of the husband coming after him. There’s only one passage in the Torah that explicitly addresses divorce. Deuteronomy 24:1 says,

“If a man marries a woman, but she has become displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her on her way from his house.”

And Jews fought about what this passage meant. A hundred years before Jesus was born there were two major schools of thought. Those who followed Rabbi Shammai said that “something improper” meant infidelity. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel said it could be anything that displeases the husband – even burning the soup.

They missed the bigger picture.

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

The law passed down from Moses doesn’t declare divorce right or wrong – it simply assumes that divorce is a fact of life and seeks to protect the wife. The certificate of divorce meant when she remarried she would not be accused of adultery. But Jesus tells them that this was not God’s original design and intent.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The problem is not with God’s ideal or the Law – the problem is with people and their hardened hearts. We are broken people who live in a broken world. That means we will do broken things to each other. This is not the way God designed it to be – it’s a sad fact of brokenness.

And Jesus does an amazing thing here. Instead of simply ruling out divorce he elevates the idea of marriage. It’s not about how and when you can split. Jesus says that the way God designed human marriage to work is for two to lose their individual identities and understand that they are now part of the same person. Jesus puts marriage on a whole new level.

If this is God’s design and intention, who is man that we should split it up?

And that’s where most preachers stop. And people listening who have suffered through a divorce shrink lower and lower into their seats. But that’s not the end of the Gospel.

You see, the Gospel is about restoration and reconciliation. The Gospel says, “You matter enough to God that He paid the price to fix your brokenness – a price you could never afford.”

The Gospel says, “The only thing that is unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

That means that divorce, though not God’s design and desire,
is not an unforgivable sin.

That means that, as a divorcee, you can rest assured that God still loves you and that you are not separated from Him because of your marital status.

That means that, as Christians, we can treat friends and family with love and respect even when they have gone through divorce and remarriage.

The Gospel is bigger than all of us, and God’s grace reaches farther than we could ever imagine. We are called to be people of reconciliation and restoration. When we deal with people who are divorced or going through a divorce. When we live the life of a divorcee. God’s grace reaches to us all and calls us to act towards each other with that same grace.

‘Cause it’s only when we’re acting with this kind of grace
that we’ll see true reconciliation and restoration happen.

Related Posts:
Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak and Separation
I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

Preventing Extramarital Affairs: Part 3

Marriage ConflictToday we continue in the series on preventing extramarital affairs. Remember, this is not about picking on men. Infidelity is a problem that both men and women need to get a hold of. God wants us to thrive in healthy and happy marriages, and we do great damage to that His design when we let infidelity creep into the relationship. This topic can get a little blunt – obviously it’s not for kids… 🙂

So, tip #3 for preventing infidelity:

Set boundaries on sharing and hearing about intimate marriage issues with people of the opposite gender.

The intimate details of a relationship belong within the confines of the relationships. It would be highly inappropriate if I were to share with another woman any private information about my marriage. Not only is it not anyone’s business, but it would be a betrayal of my wife.

I have heard people justify their behavior with lines like, “But he’s such a good listener and I need to unload my relationship problems somewhere.” Ba-lo-ney. If you’re having problems with your partner the appropriate person to talk to is YOUR PARTNER!

This actually mirrors a biblical principle Jesus taught about resolving problems between people. Rather than blab about our problems to others we ought to be handling problems directly with the person/people involved.

Handling your relationship problems directly with your partner might not feel as good as venting to a friend. It can feel good when a friend of the opposite gender listens and comforts us. But such behavior leaves us vulnerable to inappropriate emotional connections and infidelities.

Rather than talking about your relationship woes, you should always seek to mention your partner positively. And, on a practical level, Dr. Rosenau mentions that “avoiding secret emails or phone calls, controlling sexual talk and joking, and preserving modesty” are important tools to preserving strong boundaries with members of the opposite gender and preventing infidelities.

Our mouths and minds lead us down the road to infidelities long before our bodies get there. The Bible cannot speak strongly enough about the power words have. We set the course for our lives by how we talk and to whom we talk. If you want to protect your relationship, make sure that you never speak negatively about it to others. Only speak positively. Deal with the negative elements in the appropriate time and place and with the appropriate people.

For additional reading, see A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Dr. Douglas Rosenau – don’t worry, it’s a Christian book 😉

Related Posts:
Preventing Extramarital Affairs: Part 1
Preventing Extramarital Affairs: Part 2

Preventing Extramarital Affairs: Part 2

fighting couple

Today we continue in the series on preventing extramarital affairs. Remember, this is not about picking on men. Infidelity is a problem that both men and women need to get a hold of. God wants us to thrive in healthy and happy marriages, and we do great damage to that His design when we let infidelity creep into the relationship. Over the next few months I’ll be sharing some practical tips on how we can actively work to prevent affairs in our marriages. This topic can get a little blunt – obviously it’s not for kids… 🙂

So, tip #2 for preventing infidelity – Keep all sexual fantasies that you intentionally create focused on your partner.

Dr. Douglas Rosenau says:

Your sexual thought life needs to be carefully disciplined. Sinful lust and acting out sexually are encouraged by obsessively making people sexual objects or continually fantasizing about a person…outside your marriage.

Within the boundaries of marriage, just about anything goes between willing partners. I’ve talked to people who believe that it’s morally wrong for a married couple to do anything other than basic baby-making. But there’s nothing in the Bible that condemns a man and woman in a married relationship from exploration and variation. As long as both partners are willing and the sexuality stays within the marriage.

The moment things move beyond the married couple it becomes wrong.

Jesus talked about the matters of the heart and fantasy/lust:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

While adultery is often seen as a sin of ACTION, Jesus changes things and now makes it a sin of the mind and heart. Dang – He ain’t playin’!

If we want to maintain healthy marriages that are free from infidelity we need to be intentional about not letting our minds wander and think about people who are not our spouses. This includes pornography (men, listen up) and some romance novels (ladies, do you hear me?). It can include television shows, movies, magazines, and music. It can include the people you encounter in the store or people you see while driving down the street.

Keep your mind to your partner and you’re a big step to preventing infidelity in your marriage.

For additional reading, see A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Dr. Douglas Rosenau – don’t worry, it’s a Christian book 😉

Related Post:
Preventing Extramarital Affairs – Part 1

Preventing Extramarital Affairs: Part 1

Unhappy Couple

I recently officiated a wedding. Part of my wedding message was about God’s design that marriage be a permanent covenant, not merely a part-time gig to try out until you get unhappy or something else comes along.

At the reception a gentleman who attended the wedding was talking to my wife and me and thanked me for including that part in my message. He commented that many people seem to think marriage is something you stick with while it is convenient then bail when the going gets tough. He said in the decades he and his wife and had been married there was a time when they thought they weren’t going to make it. My wife and I looked at each other and I said, “We had a time like that, too.” To which this gentleman replied, “Most couples go through something like that, I think.”

And it’s true. Any long-term relationship will have rough patches (some rougher than others). There will be times when we want to call it quits. But marriages can survive even the tough times – if we’re smart about it. And nothing is stupider or more difficult to overcome than an extra-marital affair.

Before you start accusing me of bashing men, research shows that infidelity is not limited to men. The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy released some startling numbers.

Percent of men who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had 57%
Percentage of women who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had 54%

This is a problem that both men and women need to get a hold of. So over the next few months I’ll be sharing some practical tips on how we can actively work to prevent affairs in our marriages.

So, the #1 tip to preventing affairs – Make a decision and commit to the idea that you will never have an affair. No circumstance can justify infidelity, so simply decide that an affair is never an option, no matter what happens in the marriage. The Bible indicates that there is something powerful in putting our minds to something.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:1-5)

I have friends who are hard-core road bikers.

No. Not
Easy Rider

I’m talking
Peleton

They tell me that the racer’s vision is HIGHLY important to the direction of the bike. Where your vision goes your bike will start to move in that direction. Where our brains our bodies will follow. If we take the Apostle seriously then we need to keep “our minds on things that are above.” Decide that infidelity is not an option in your life. Stay tuned throughout the series as we cover more tips for preventing affairs.

For additional reading, see A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Dr. Douglas Rosenau – don’t worry, it’s a Christian book 😉

Related Posts:
Preventing Extramarital Affairs – Part 2

Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak & Separation

fighting coupleThere’s really nothing funny about divorce. No humorous little anecdotes can ease into this conversation. I’ve never met a divorced couple that was untouched – unscathed. The truth is that divorce hurts. As a pastor I wrestle with helping people discover God’s ideal and standard regarding marriage and divorce on one hand and then trying to find a Christian way to live after the divorce is final.

Truth be told, I find that the biblical perspective on divorce is really unpopular. People don’t want to hear what God has to say if he conflicts with what they want to do. I recently preached on divorce in my church. I have a habit of letting my church know in advance what the messages will be about (it helps get people in a mindset to receive the word for that day). I know of at least one person who intentionally skipped church because, as a divorced person, he didn’t want to listen to God’s perspective. This saddens me – that he felt we couldn’t have an honest discussion about God’s ideals without feeling judgment and condemnation. No one is perfect, and divorce is merely another sad reality of broken people living in a broken world. But we should still know what God’s ideals are. So here’s my take on what the Bible says:

First – divorce is NEVER God’s ideal. His preference is for a lifetime commitment, a covenant, between one man and one woman. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says:

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

But even the Bible has some “exception clauses” that recognizes that broken people live in a broken world and end up breaking relationships. One of the divorce exceptions is, in the event of infidelity, the victimized spouse has permission to divorce and start life over. The Apostle Paul notes that if one partner abandons the other then the abandoned spouse is no longer bound.

All said and done, while divorce is NEVER God’s ideal – God recognizes that it happens. So you’re divorced. Now what?

  1. As much as possible, reconcile with your ex. WHAT?!? Not my words, but the Apostle Paul’s. The Christian life is about forgiveness and grace, so as much as you can try to reconcile.
  2. Ask God to help resist hatred, resentment, and bitterness towards your ex. You may be hurt and your ex might have acted in horrible, villainous ways. You can’t change the past, but you can work on your present attitude.
  3. Forgive and ask forgiveness for your role in the divorce. Sometimes a spouse is a real dirtbag and does damage to you. Sometimes there are two sides to the story. In all honesty, ask yourself what role you played in the divorce. You may need to seek forgiveness for your part.
  4. Continue to behave in kind, Christian ways. This one is HUGE. I’ve seen so many people forget how to behave decently when it comes to an ex. Mean talk, back-biting, and hurtful words come easily. Swallow them. Don’t do it. Keep your mouth shut. Behave in kindness and do nothing out of anger or hate. It’s about your behavior before God, regardless of what she did (or what he did). Here’s your model – follow Jesus’ example as he still behaved decently and sought forgiveness to the people who terribly wronged him.

Though divorce is a serious matter in God’s opinion, it’s not an unforgivable sin. God shows a lot more grace to people and their brokenness than we show to each other. If you have found yourself in a divorced status I hurt for you. It is not God’s desire for people to hurt each other and split. If you are divorced please know that you are not a “second-class citizen” in the church. You matter to God just like everyone else.

Through it all remember that God desires us to live in strong, healthy, and committed relationships. If you’re married and struggling, God can mend broken hearts and restore relationships. If you’re divorced and hurting, God can renew you from this point on and you can begin living in God’s grace, building healthy relationships from here on out.

No matter who you are – you matter to God.

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