Thursday, April 9, 2009

What Then?

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. 13 And if a Christian woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. 14 For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. 15 (But if the husband or wife who isn't a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) 16 Don't you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don't you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?

We've talked about divorce, and how God is not okay with it. Today we are going to look at what happens when you get left by a non-Christian spouse. Remember, the Corinthians were new Christians. These were first generation believers, so there were some families where one spouse received the Gospel, but the other did not. If you are a Christian, you are expected to marry a Christian. (2 Corinthians 6:14 Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?) This verse is not dealing with race. I'm not sure how that rumor got started, but there is absolutely no evidence that it has anything to do with it. Simply reading it kind of proves the point. (Do not team up with... unbelievers.) I don't care if they're purple, you're going to have more in common with a Christian than with a non-Christian with the same color of skin that you have. That being said, let's go ahead and look at the first verse, and see what God has to say on the subject.

1 Corinthians 7:12-13 Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. 13 And if a Christian woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him.

When Paul says that he does not have a direct command from the Lord, he is not saying that we should ignore the following statements because they're uninspired. No. He's been quoting Jesus when he says that a woman should not leave her husband, and that she should only get remarried if she is reconciling to her husband. Now he is moving away from things that Jesus Christ said specifically while on earth. He is still under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but the Corinthians couldn't trace his statements back to Jesus.

If you find yourself in a marriage with an unbeliever, whether by way of a bad choice or because you were saved after the wedding, it is going to cause tension. Satan may very well tell you that God's will for you is to leave your husband because it does make the Christian life much harder when you're married to a player of the opposing team. Paul is saying that difficulty is not an excuse to leave your husband. We are still required to be faithful and loyal to our husbands, whether they have the same ideology that we do or not. As long as he is willing to stay with you, you should stay with him.

1 Corinthians 7:14 For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy.

A marriage can glorify God, even if one spouse isn't saved. "How can that be?" you ask. The Christian spouse can bring glory to God in the way that she/he acts within the marriage. If you've ever known a Christian who is married to someone who is not a believer, you know that it is extremely difficult to deal with a lot of the situations that come up. In that difficulty, though, there are opportunities to do things well. When such a believer relies on Christ for the wisdom and help that he/she needs, they show off the power of God. God can use such a situation for His glory. That does not mean that you should intentionally get into that marriage, though. That's just unwise. Such a marriage brings both partners tons of pain, and it usually causes the children even more pain.

Speaking of children... a Christian wife brings a lot to a marriage, and to parenting. It's a lot harder for one parent to raise Christian children, but it's harder still for two lost parents to raise Christian children. A Christian mother's prayers, biblical advice, and godly discipline make all the difference in the world. Staying in the marriage may seem difficult, and even painful for the children, when one spouse is lost. You have the very difficult task of making a good marriage out of an incomplete list of ingredients. You may not be able to do it, but there is One who is able.

1 Corinthians 7:15 (But if the husband or wife who isn't a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.)

You may get left. You may do everything well. You may choose to put away your Bible in the mornings when hubby gets up in order to keep the peace. You may quietly get out of bed on Sunday mornings, and quietly get the kids ready for church. You may pray silently over your food instead of out loud so he doesn't feel out of place. You may work very hard to make sure that you don't seem morally superior to him. He still may leave.

How do you deal with that? According to this verse, you allow him to go without a fight. When there are children involved, that's going to be completely counter-intuitive. You're going to want "what I'm due". Your friends are going to tell you about all that you deserve. You're going to look at your children, and you are going to feel hurt or angry, probably both. You're going to want revenge.

But, "God has called you to live in peace." I don't know how hard that is going to be. I have a wonderful husband, and parents with a healthy marriage. I do know this: if God tells you to do something, He is going to make it possible. He watched His Son die on the cross. Why did He do that? He did that because of our sin. When we cheated on Him (that's what sin is, cheating on our first love), He made the move to fix our relationship. He gave up the most precious commodity He has (though only for a short time), so we could be reconciled to Him. In light of that, struggling to pay the rent doesn't seem as unbearable. And even in the worst divorce situation, there is still hope...

1 Corinthians 7:16 Don't you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don't you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?

Even in the way you react to divorce and custody battles, you can be a light in the darkness. That Light can penetrate his dark heart, and that Light can bring them into an eternal relationship with the Most Holy God! How wonderful would that be? What if God healed his heart, your marriage, and your family? What a testimony to God's grace! Even if the results aren't that astounding, you can know that you did what you were supposed to do. You can know that you obeyed. You can maintain a relationship with God that can get you through anything. You can know the joy and peace that intimacy with our True Father can bring.

If you're still married to an unbelieving husband, but you're struggling, you may want to know how. How do I do that? How do I make him love God? You can't make him, but you can make it easier.

1 Peter 3:1-2 In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over 2 by observing your pure and reverent lives.

Living what you say is infinitely more effective than nagging. Loving him well, even when he isn't too lovable, can make a world of difference. Love God. Love him. Even when he's incorrect, submit to his authority (unless it's a moral issue; if it is, seek the counsel of a pastor or Christian counselor for specific advice). Be the wife God has told you to be.

Isn't it worth the chance? Doesn't God deserve for you to live the life He wants? Isn't His grace enough? How big is our God? And how good is He? Those are the questions that we silently answer when we choose to do things our way, and not His. Obedience answers those questions, too. What answer do the people around you see? What kind of a God are you serving?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The 'D' Word

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. 11 But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.

Divorce is common place in this culture. More marriages end in divorce than not, and the statistics differ very little between the members of God's Church and those outside of it. It's accepted. That doesn't make it right.

We've mentioned previously that the Christian marriage is meant to bring a physical representation of the spiritual relationship between God and His Church. That's why we have to run our marriages according to the design God has set. How, then, can we be the representatives of God to a lost world when we aren't maintaining our marriages? How can the lost people around us see the relationship God longs to have with us when our marriages end just like those who don't know God?

You may be divorced. I'm not trying to run you down. If you or your spouse is re-married, what's done is done, and there is very little that you can do about it at this point. (You may consider asking your ex-spouse for forgiveness, if you haven't already.) If you both remain single, you should pray over the possibility of reconciliation.

That thought may throw you for a loop, especially in the cases of a messy divorce or custody battle, or if he cheated or abused you. I'm not saying that you should walk up to his door and say, "I'm sorry. Please take me back. I'll do anything. Here I am!" and throw yourself on his floor. No, that would be stupid. I'm saying that you should consider the fact that God may not be done with His testimony in your lives. God can heal broken marriages.

If you are divorced, or if you are in a marriage that seems hopeless, allow me to say this: The Israelites were trapped between an army and a sea, with no place to go (Exodus 15). That's hopeless. Jesus had been dead for three days before He rose from the grave (Luke 23-24). That's hopeless. We were dead in our sins when Christ made the first move to save us from them (Ephesians 2). Dead! That's hopeless. God doesn't do hopeless. He fixes hopeless. When we assume that something is beyond repair, we are doubting the power of God.

1 Corinthians 7:11 But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.

"What? I have to be single forever?" Well, I'm still hoping that divorced readers will be able to return to their marriages. If you're the one who does the leaving, you should be prepared for a newly found call to singleness. If you just can't believe that God wants you to do that, you need to make sure that you're going by His rules and not your own. If you get left, though, I'm not sure that this passage is speaking to you. Obviously, you still have some responsibility in the outcome of your marriage, and you should still try to mend it, if possible. I'm just not convinced that you are required to remain single after your marriage comes to an end.

We don't take marriage seriously. There are too many people who don't realize the importance of marrying well. Some people don't want to leave their hometowns, and they end up marrying someone who's "as good as it's gonna get" for them. Others are just lonely, and they'll take just about anything. We have to make sure that when we enter into marriage, it's a lifelong commitment that isn't just based on love. Sure, we should definitely love each other, but we also have to make sure that we see eye-to-eye with our fiance on the fact that marriage isn't just about the two spouses, or even the spouses and their families. It's about the lost world getting a look at the truth of the Gospel.

That means a willingness to wait for the guy that God has designed for you. It means a desire for more than happiness out of a marriage. No marriage is always the source of deep happiness. Sometimes it's difficult. Every once in a while, even a good marriage can be pretty miserable. That isn't the point. The point is that God is being glorified in the way we run our homes. When we take marriage that seriously, we can usually find a way to make things work. We have to make a choice, though, to allow God to take first priority over everything else, including our dreams and romantic notions.

If you are coming out of a failed marriage, a break may be the best plan. It might be good to take some time and try to figure out what God wants you to do with your life at this point. If you've been divorced for a while, it may be time to take action and try to take your broken marriage to the throne of grace and allow God to fix it. If you are re-married, make sure that the marriage you are in now is glorifying to God. It isn't too late for this one. No matter where you are, whether happily married or broken-hearted, God has a good plan for you that can start from this moment! My prayer for you, dear Christian, is the same as Paul's prayer for the Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:16-18 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom1 and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called -- his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Gift? For Me?

1 Corinthians 7:7-9 I wish that all people were just like me. But each has his own gift from God, one this and another that. 8 I say to the unmarried and to widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am. 9 But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with desire.

Paul now speaks to the fact that everyone has been placed exactly where they are meant to be. Paul obviously sees the benefit of his own gift, celibacy, clearer than he sees the benefits of the gifts given to others. There is a great benefit to celibacy, if one is gifted in it. Celibacy allows a person to concern him or herself to the things of God completely. Any married person will tell you, marriage is work. When one is celibate, and therefore single (remember that refraining from sex inside of marriage is not a good thing), that person is able to put all of the energy that they would put toward a marriage into their personal ministry. By ministry, I do not mean paid work for a local church. Every Christian is meant to be a minister. We are supposed to be evangelizing the lost, encouraging other Christians, and discipling young Christians to grow into mature Christians.

1 Corinthians 7:7 But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. But God gives to some the gift of marriage, and to others the gift of singleness.

I can imagine Paul's thought process as he looked at all of the internal struggles that plagued the Corinthian church. I wonder how many of the problems he saw could have been resolved through celibacy. At least the issue with the man sleeping with his step-mom could have been avoided. He admits, though, that celibacy is not something that everyone can pull off. Few can in this culture. Sex is everywhere!

Marriage or singleness are both meant for the purpose of glorifying God. Married Christians should work to make their marriages an example to those around them. Wives should respectfully submit when no other solution exists. Men should be willing to die for their wives.

Singles, too, should use their lives with the same purpose. They are going to have some additional resources (if they don't have any children), such as time and money, that can be used for building up the church.

No matter where you are, what job you have, or the relationships that fill your time, you should be working everyday to use your life for God's glory and the expansion of His Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 So I say to those who aren't married and to widows -- it's better to stay unmarried, just as I am. 9 But if they can't control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It's better to marry than to burn with lust.

Paul is reminding the Corinthians that the single life isn't a lesser life. It's a great thing, if you can live the single life righteously. Most people can't. I can't.

I know, it sounds like Paul is snubbing those of us who enjoy the benefits of marriage. It sounds like the marriages he is describing are purely based on a desire for sex. I didn't marry Edwin just so we could have sex. We wanted to build our lives together, as a team.

All that being said, let's look at the Catholic church for a moment. I'm not insulting Catholics, but I do have a serious problem with forced celibacy. It hasn't ended well in many cases. There have been many children that have had to pay the price for this man-made rule. The men who committed such atrocities were told that celibacy was required in order to live a truly holy life. Most of them probably became priests because of a desire that they had to minister to people. It didn't end well, though. Lives were ruined!

Let's not pretend that the desire for sex is a non-issue. People were created with an intense desire for sex, but some were also given super-natural self-control. When Paul says that those who cannot control themselves should carry, he isn't saying that we are hugely weak when we recognize that a desire for sex is an issue for us. He's saying that there are some people that God has enabled to live their lives without sex. Celibacy is a great gift, if it's the one you have received, and it can be received at an older age. For older widows, it may be easier than for a twenty-something to remain single.

We can't allow personal pride or a desire to appear holy to dictate our lives. Not everyone can go overseas and do mission work. Not everyone can be a pastor. Not everyone can speak to hundreds of people about God's Word. But everyone can do something, and every Christian is expected to use the resources God has given them to benefit His Church. Everyone can give (some) money to mission work. Everyone can support their pastor and look for ways to serve his/her church. Everyone can tell their friends and co-workers about a God who loves them so much that He was willing to give His Son. You can... because of what He has done for us.