Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What About the COVENANT of Marriage?

As I shared previously, God has really been speaking to me about COVENANT. He has been speaking to many in the Body of Christ about this very subject, on many different levels. Surprisingly, one of the areas I am struggling with is that of marriage and divorce. That is a surprise to me only because I’ve never been divorced, and am very happily married. Yet, I’m struggling with the things that I see, particularly the disrespect shown to marriages within the church.

I can’t help but notice that divorce is a major issue among believers professing Christ. It is almost glanced over and accepted as the “norm” among many believers. Many of our ministry “icons” and television stars are divorced, yet very few have tuned them out or asked questions. Pastors and leaders often split without any requirements of their followers. Fornication and adultery are a common theme, yet we move on as if it’s no major issue. If a major televangelist or mega preacher were to become pregnant while preaching the Gospel, so many would rally to have them sit down and relinquish positions of authority. The same would take place if one committed murder. Yet, divorces happen among Christian leaders constantly and consistently. Nothing changes. No one “sits down.”

Why is that? Perhaps there is a sense of comfort we feel when leaders are not held accountable to covenant relationships. It somehow makes us feel justified. It allows us to maintain control without trusting God or even harder, trusting the God in another person!

Before we examine the Scriptures, let me say that my purpose for delving into this very sensitive topic is not to judge or bring condemnation to any individual. Rather, it’s to educate through the Scriptures and bring to our attention the fact that we are very quick to dismiss the Word of God in situations where it causes difficult accountability and discomfort. Most importantly, I’m bringing this up because it means something to God. If we can’t keep our vows to our spouses, how can we be committed to our Heavenly Father?

Anytime a discussion such as this takes place, we tend to major in the minors. For example, in every argument concerning abortion, we hear those who defend the murder of unborn children by asking “What about the rape victims?, when in reality, less than 1% of those who receive abortions are rape victims. The same is true of the divorce discussion. “What about the ones who are abused?” In fact, a very small percentage of “Christian” marriages cite abuse as a reason for divorce. Most of them do, however, involve finances, infidelity and “irreconcilable differences.” Hmmmm….

With that stated, let’s look at the word of God…

{Genesis 2:23} And Adam said, This [is] now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. {2:24} Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. {2:25} And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

The fundamental plan of marriage was to join two souls together, one man and one woman, that would strengthen one another in the things of God – a partnership for worship. Even before further discussion takes place, the Bible tells us about leaving and cleaving. Marriage is meant to unify a man and a woman such that they become one. In order for them to become one, as marriage ordains them to be, others need to be forsaken. A man (or woman) must leave his old ties and “cleave” or stick to his wife (or husband). That word “cleave” gives a sense of passion and responsibility that will shape the rest of this study. One who cleaves holds on tight and doesn’t easily let go. They understand the value of what they have and make it part of themselves.

The next statement is also very profound. They were both naked, but not ashamed. When two people are joined in marriage, they must be open and vulnerable to one another. What does that look like? No secrets… No reservations… No personal, private agendas… God never ordained for two people to come together while living separate lives. In order for two to become one, those two much have 100% open access to one another. I believe this foundation is already violated in many of our marriages before they begin. Without a solid foundation in the word of God, failure is sure!

Of course, the word of God deals with marriage and divorce on many levels after the initial glimpse at Adam and Eve, but let’s take a look at what Jesus said about the matter. After all, He is our Lord, Savior and master teacher.

{Matthew 5:31} It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: {5:32} But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Jesus plainly said that when a man divorces his wife, for ANY reason other than adultery, he causes her to commit adultery. Her remarriage to anyone else then causes him to commit adultery as well.

{Matthew 19:3} The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? {19:4} And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made [them] at the beginning made them male and female, {19:5} And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? {19:6} Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. {19:7} They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? {19:8} He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. {19:9} And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. {19:10} His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with [his] wife, it is not good to marry. {19:11} But he said unto them, All [men] cannot receive this saying, save [they] to whom it is given. {19:12} For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from [their] mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive [it,] let him receive [it].

Jesus’ lesson on marriage was so strict and to the point (established by Scripture) that the disciples thought it better for a man not to get married! They had a reverence for the things of God that we must regain.

To reiterate Jesus’ teachings, let’s look at Paul’s address to the church at Corinth, where he gives very specific instructions concerning the marriage covenant.

{1 Corinthians 6:18} Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. {7:1} Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: [It is] good for a man not to touch a woman. {7:2} Nevertheless, [to avoid] fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

For the record, fornication is sin. There is only one way to enjoy a sexual relationship within a holy lifestyle. That is through marriage, which is defined as a sacred, covenant union between one man and one woman. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.

{7:3} Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. {7:4} The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. {7:5} Defraud ye not one the other, except [it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

Within a marriage relationship, there is an expectation that both husband and wife be considerate of their spouse and enjoy a sexual relationship that is fulfilling and mutually beneficial. After all, neither the husband nor the wife belong to themselves if indeed, they are joined together as one. Those who are not mature enough to exercise occasional self-sacrifice are not fit for a covenant such as marriage. Again, the Scriptures speak very clearly.

Very clearly, the word of God warns that inconsistency in this area opens a door for Satan to creep into the relationship. We have seen the proof of this on a daily basis. Oftentimes, and inconsistent sexual relationship bares some percentage of the blame for divorce and separation amongst those in the church.

{7:10} And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: {7:11} But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife.

As a master teacher, Paul is careful to distinguish his “opinion or advice” from the direct command of God. He stresses that God’s command is that a wife not depart from, or divorce, her husband. If she does, she is specifically instructed to remain single or be reconciled to him. This brings us to the subject of repentance after divorce.

We know that sin is the violation of the Law of God. Repentance involves confession and a “turning away from” sin. This is very important to consider, especially when discussing the topic of divorce. As we continue examining the Scriptures, this context is very important, as a person cannot truly repent without “turning away from” the sin. So, if the sin is adultery, a person must cease adulterous acts in order to truly repent. The question then becomes, how can one repent from adultery caused by divorce?

For the sake and simplicity of this particular point, let us consider only two, consenting adults who have a relationship with God. If both enter the covenant relationship of marriage, between not only themselves, but themselves and God, true repentance can only take place after the dissolution of their marriage if they remain single or reconcile again with one another. Why? As we stated, repentance means to “turn away from” sin. Divorce, in and of itself, and for any reason outside of adultery, is a sin for those who are living within a covenant relationship with God and one another. The Scripture states then, that only two remedies, or avenues of repentance, exist – remaining single or reconciliation.

{7:12} But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. {7:13} And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. {7:14} For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. {7:15} But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases:] but God hath called us to peace. {7:16} For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save [thy] husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save [thy] wife?

Now, we see Paul making a strong recommendation for the circumstances of those believers who are joined to unbelievers. As we see today, Paul also lived in a time when the people thought that spiritual rebirth within a marriage by one spouse justified divorce from the unbelieving party. Not so!

Marriage, as stated before, is a covenant. Our relationship with God is built on covenant. We must, as the Body of Christ, reverence the gift that God has given us through the institution of marriage. It is not something that should be treated as a fad or temporary fix. We must also refrain from supporting our brothers and sisters, especially those in leadership, who abuse or neglect sanctified covenants before God. Divorce is not an open exit for those who are simply “unhappy.”

I must admit, I am asked some very difficult questions about marriage and divorce. Many of those responses are prefaced with, “I’m sorry, but that’s just not supported by the word of God.” The point is this - Our opinions don’t matter. Who are we to stand against the word of God simply because it’s tough or we don’t care for it.

Please feel free to share your questions and comments, though only in the context of Scripture. Let God be true and every man a liar!

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