Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Greater Marriage Truth, Part One

The issue of adultery closely links to idol worship as evidenced in Israel’s history (Ezekiel 23). This theme is also reflected in the New Testament (Revelation 2:20–24). Idolatry is linked to sexual immorality because the two work together mutually to provide a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction that leaves Christ out totally. The simple definition of idolatry is anything that one puts in the place of Christ as a means of finding satisfaction. A believer must always search his heart with the question, is Jesus everything to me? If I were to lose everything—family, friends, possessions, health, or whatever—is Jesus enough for me? This is the basis of His radical requirements for all who would follow Him (Luke 9:23–26). 
The section before us (Matthew 5:31, 32) presents a similar twofold message. Marriage is very sacred to God, so the breaking of that bond is very serious. What must be kept in mind as we read these verses is the key verse; “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). Verse 31 refers to the Mosaic permission (Deuteronomy 24:1): “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house.” Technically, this permission is not a permission at all but an attempt to control a practice learned in Egypt. It actually limits the man who would divorce his wife and forbids him to remarry her if she has become another’s wife after the divorce. It also gave some protection to the divorced wife, limiting the reasons for divorce and necessitating legal procedure in it.
When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about the legality of divorce (Matthew 19:3–9), Jesus pointed them to the original design for marriage (Genesis 2:24). They immediately reacted, arguing that Moses gave them permission to divorce. Jesus replied that Moses permitted them due to the hardness and sinfulness of the heart. The rule is simply put; “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Divine design for marriage actually relates to God’s kingdom purposes, as demonstrated in Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ response. Marriage was originally instituted make possible the divine mandate to fill the earth with those created in God’s image. Sin spoiled this mandate. Jesus came to fulfill the original mandate to people the kingdom with those created in His image. He presented a higher calling that only those so gifted are able to fulfill—“There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12). The issue of divorce is very difficult and much debated. It is a hard saying, but Jesus never said following Him would be easy.

Being Radical in Killing Sin

Our very existence in the flesh necessitates taking very seriously the warning of the Savior in Matthew 5:27–32. Jesus later said that what “proceeds from the heart defiles a person . . . evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality,” etc. (Matthew 15:18, 19). Paul described the characteristic sins of those who walk in darkness as “orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13). “The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality” etc. (Galatians 5:19). Sexual temptation is very powerful, using very strong lures to indulge these sins. Thus, we are warned: “You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).
Judeo-Christian values have had some protective influence on Western culture; however, there has always been a consistent assault on those values. European society became openly immoral years ago, and America has followed close on her heals, much like the biblical sisters Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem) (Ezekiel 23). Israel had the Word of God and the presence of God like no other peoples; yet the lust of the flesh often overruled. “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” (under the judgment of God; 1 Corinthians 10:6–8).  
Few are aware of the moral sewer that presently engulfs even our small rural community because it is covered in darkness and whispered in private. As ancient cultures were prone to indulge the flesh, so the tendency remains to throw off restraint and pursue perversity, particularly when there is no fear of God to prevent it. However, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). Thus, Paul warns believers to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire” (Colossians 3:5). Putting the flesh to death is radical but necessary. Jesus used the same drastic language to press upon the listener how dangerous it is to give in to carnal lust, even when it is confined to just a look. “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. . . . And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:28–30). Why so radical? “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” But you say you are a believer and safe in His grace? No, “You may be sure of this, that no one who [practices these sins] has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Breaking Covenant

Marriage is a covenant commitment between two individuals making them one. In responding to the Pharisees’ question on divorce (Matthew 19:1), Jesus turned their attention to the Creator’s original design, which is that a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and, in this joining, the two are made one. The oneness is a covenant work of God and, thus, what “God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4–6). Divorce is simply the outcome of sinful man’s defiance of God, often to justify sexual urges.
Note that the immediate response to Jesus’ strong statement was a negative reaction, protesting that there must be legitimate bases for acceptable divorces (Matthew 19:7). Even the disciples had difficulty with their Lord’s inflexible position (vv. 10–12).
What is really at the heart of this issue? It is freedom to commit adultery without legal obstruction. This desired freedom is more deeply rooted in selfish need. Sexual urges are not in themselves sinful because they were designed by the Creator. However, because of sin and sin’s corruption of the mind and body, they must be governed by God as stated in the sixth commandment.
Sin is very deceitful. Often the urge to sin is very strong, but due to the shame of having to face guilt if caught violating the law, a way is sought to satisfy that urge without actually violating the law. Merely looking with lustful intent is one way to avoid shame. What Jesus wants His followers to understand by His instruction (Matthew 5:27–32) is that covenant oneness is first of all a heart issue. Murder is the taking of another’s life and is generally motivated by selfish anger in the heart. Adultery is the taking of another’s covenant oneness motivated by selfish lust in the adulterer’s heart.  
One might argue that having sex with someone who is not one’s spouse is not a covenant issue. Paul answers that objection: “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1 Corinthians 6:16). One might also argue that it takes two to commit adultery. Yes, but (and this is politically incorrect) the blame lies with the man. “Everyone [a nominative masculine singular adjective] who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
The word translated lustful intent is often translated “to covet.” It is a compound of the preposition upon or against and a term signifying a violent movement of air or fire—a boiling up. Lust is seemingly uncontrollable. Giving into it, however, is sin. In 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, Paul warns of the sin of sexual immorality. He argues that the body is meant to honor the Lord, who has raised us up and made us members of Christ. Then he asks, “Shall I take the members of Christ and make them the members of a prostitute?” (v. 15). Clearly a covenantal connection is here, not just with a wife, but also with the Lord, Himself.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Sexual Lust and Idolatry

The Sermon on the Mount corrects the wrong views of the Jews about the kingdom of heaven and covenant responsibility. People tend to view rules as oppressive, limiting one’s freedom to find happiness and fulfilment in personal desires. Eve was tempted when Satan framed God’s prohibition in a negative way—that God was preventing her from what would truly fulfill her. The truth God wanted for Eve was to understand that trusting Him in obedience would lead her to experience real joy and fullness she otherwise could never imagine.
Whenever Scripture addresses the matter of obedience, the underlying assumption is that God not only wisely establishes the rules which, if obeyed, lead to personal contentment, but also provides the grace necessary to make that obedience possible (Philippians 2:12, 13). Sin is the violation of this principle; and sin begins first in the mind. Murder, for example (Matthew 5:21–26), is not simply the act of taking another’s life, but the result of a hateful thought process preceding it. Thus, when God says that we should not murder, He is actually telling us that loving and seeking the welfare of an enemy rather than hate will bring the obedient soul true joy and pleasure. Murder, however, leads to separation from God and others, guilt, greater anger, and, eventually, judgment.
Sexual lust is a strong natural desire, a God-given drive to enable reproduction for enlargement of the race. This was the original divine mandate to Adam (Genesis 1:28). Marriage was established in the Garden of Eden as the proper venue for satisfying sexual drive (Matthew 19:4–6). Satan, however, tempts individuals that one can truly be happy and fulfilled only when they can satisfy those desires, even outside of marriage.
The heathen nations actually harnessed sexual drive as a means to promote greater devotion to their gods. This worship became a powerful lure to the people of Israel. The incident at Mount Sinai with the golden calf demonstrates how the people of Israel were influenced in Egypt to pursue this means to worship Yahweh. In the wilderness when the people camped at Shittim, the people began to “whore” (Hebrew: zanah, a verb, whose primitive root means to be well-fed and therefore wanton) with the daughters of Moab. This transgression was motivated by the Moabites’ tempting the people to sacrifice to Baal of Peor (Numbers 25). This link to idolatry is very important to understand the sins of adultery and fornication.
On the other hand, Celibacy and sexual abstinence have long played a religious role under the mistaken notion that sexual satisfaction was, in itself, sinful, even within marital bonds. That notion, no doubt, came from the Greek term for adultery (moicheuo) which had clear idolatry overtones. The Hebrew term used in the seventh commandment is naŹ¾aph (the LXX has moicheuo) and is often used to describe Israel’s infidelity to God (Jeremiah 3:9).
As we examine Matthew 5:27–30, we will see how adultery and lustful intent are rooted in human desire to be as gods, knowing good and evil.”     

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pursuing Peace

Isaiah promised that when the Spirit was poured upon His people, justice would dwell in the wilderness and righteousness would abide in the fruitful field. “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (Isaiah 32:15–17).
In the wilderness Israel fell to the temptation of the Midianites to practice sexual immorality, which, according to Revelation 2:14, was due to Balaam’s teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel. The priest Phineas acted quickly to stop God’s judgment on the nation by a plague. Phineas “was jealous with [the Lord’s] jealousy among them” (Numbers 25:10); thus, God said, “Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace” (v. 12).
The psalmist wrote, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (34:14). This charge is echoed in the New Testament: “Strengthen your weak knees [spiritual strength] . . . make straight paths for your feet [practical righteousness] . . .. Strive for [pursue] peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:12–14). When believers are exercised by Divine discipline, they share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).
The performance of mere outward service to God displeases Him. In Malachi the Lord rebuked the priests for failing Levi’s covenant of life and peace (2:4, 5). It was also a covenant of fear—the fear of the Lord. Levi, “walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity” (v. 6). The priests of Malachi’s day, however, turned aside from the Lord’s way, causing many to stumble, not being careful to pursue righteousness.
This is the heart of what Jesus said to correct the supposed righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17–20). When a Jew went to the altar to offer his gift—his freewill offering of worship—and there became aware of something that disrupted the peace of the body due to some unrighteous deed (whether real or supposed), the offeror was obligated to restore peace through reconciliation with the offended brother. This worshiper was to be like selfless Phineas who acted with the Lord’s jealousy for righteousness in the body. When he did so, he evidenced the Lord’s covenant of peace. When this occurs in the present day, the Lord is pleased and blessing settles upon the church.
The peace of reconciliation with God and with others is so important that it comes before formal worship. However, lest some think that Jesus disregarded worship, He says, First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (v. 24).
We live in a day when both worship and peace are despised. The only gauge of one’s spiritual state seems to be the self-evaluation of what makes one comfortable and at ease with himself. Thus, the Lord closes this section with what at first seems out of place, but it is rather a warning. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Reconciliation and Worship

A great deal of confusion in the reading of the Sermon on the Mount, as well as many other passages, is due to one’s failure to understand the nature of one’s relationship to God. He is God, and we are not. As God, He has established the rules governing our acceptable conduct. If we are to have a proper relationship to Him, we must conform to His expectations of us.
The grace of salvation must not be confused here. No one is saved by keeping the rules. The problem is that we have already failed in rule-keeping. Due to His great mercy, God has chosen to save a host of rule-breakers by grace through faith. Jesus Christ stood in the stead of these violators and suffered their just punishment. However, the redeemed, while free of judgment due to past offenses, are not free of the obligation to keep rules. God is holy, and those who would seek His favor must also be holy. Grace does not give one a pass to continue in the lifestyle that originally condemned him. Grace, rather, provides the enabling work of the Spirit of God to pursue obedience to His will.
In Matthew 5:21–26 Jesus reveals that anger leading to hatred of one’s brother makes the guilty party liable to judgment. The Jews were content to condemn only the external acts, such as murder and adultery, as specifically pronounced in the commandments as worthy of the judgment. What occurred in a person’s heart was not condemned. Jesus corrects the record. It is what is the heart that is the problem. “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34–37). It is the evil of the heart to leads to hatred and murder.
Matthew 5:23 begins with “so,” meaning subsequently or then, and gives the reader the Lord’s practical solution to the anger issues of the heart. The first is a matter of worship. If you are making an offering in the worship of God and, in the process, remember that your brother has something against you, you are to fix the problem first, then worship. The root issue here is peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The assumption is that the worshiper has in anger offended another in word or deed. The offender is obligated to humble himself and pursue reconciliation. Why is this important? God will not accept worship from a worshiper with a bad heart. His Spirit in grace has brought the matter to the worshiper’s memory for the purpose of repentance and confession. However, forgiveness demands that peace be restored between the offender and the offended. “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24).
Could our lack of revival and demonstration of divine power be due to our prideful refusal to examine our hearts before the Lord as to our guilt in offending others, even as we act as judge and rule that our offenses are innocent and justifiable? Has the Lord truly accepted our worship?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Righteousness and Anger

   After declaring that the righteousness necessary to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven must exceed that of Judah’s then current teachers of the law (Matthew 5:20), Jesus proceeded to give several examples (vv. 21–48). The first two were taken from the sixth and seventh commandments: “you shall not murder” (vv. 21–26) and “you shall not commit adultery” (vv. 27–30).
Six sections comprise this passage, each of which begins with some variation of “You have heard that it was said to those of old.” In each section, Jesus was not commenting on the moral law but rather demonstrating the shortcomings of the righteousness practiced by the scribes.
The section before us opens with “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. Murder is forbidden and punishable in judgment. However, lest anyone reading the law might suppose that murder was far more serious than merely expressing anger, Jesus added “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” The judgment referred to might be thought to refer only to the state’s responsibility to punish the guilty. Indeed, Jesus referenced “the court” and “Sanhedrin” in verse 22. However, imagine how overwhelmed the courts would be if every outburst of anger were treated as murder.
Jesus was not expanding murder to include anger, even though most murders occur when someone is driven by anger and rage (v. 22). Rather, the Lord argued that anger is sufficient to make one as guilty before God as one who broke the sixth commandment. They should not worry about the court; they should fear “the hell of fire.”
Some manuscripts add “without a cause, which was probably added as an interpretive note, reminding the reader that there is also righteous anger. While this is true, it is unlikely that Jesus uttered these words because most anger, even that which is often justified, is a carnal response to provocation. Most aggravations provoke in the flesh an angry response more often than a righteous reaction of spirit. Jesus is merely comparing anger and murder because both are sinful. 2 Enoch 44:3 reads, “He who expresses anger to any person without provocation will reap anger in the great judgment. He who spits on any person’s face, insultingly, will reap the same at the Lord’s judgment.” This is exactly what Jesus was saying,
Verse 22 poses a real interpretive problem. Most commentators see a progression in the seriousness of angry responses. However, the terms used here (Aramaic: raca and Greek: foolmoros) are both very mild, often used in family and friendly situations, such as calling someone feather brained or silly headed. Jesus used hyperbole to emphasize the seriousness of the matter. What some might shrug off as inconsequential and unworthy of addressing in human courts was far more serious than imagined. Jesus simply stated that as murder is sin, so is anger. The guilt of any sin subjects the sinner to God’s judgment. We must not treat anger lightly. We must not treat any sin lightly.
  Lest anyone suppose that salvation depends on such superior righteousness, be informed that, due to one's own sinfulness and guilt, no personal righteousness will ever satisfy God in the judgment. Salvation is only possible if Jesus saves the sinner by applying the fruits of His sacrificial death and imputing His perfect righteousness. This alone assures acceptance with God. However, no one would recognize his need for Christ without his first being brought to see that his own sinfulness and guilt puts him in jeopardy to God's Judgment (Acts 4:12).