Recently I heard a sermon from a popular televangelist. Now, this man is a part of the growing Epicurean movement in the former Calvinist and Evangelical churches in America. Neo-Epicureanism has found a way to create a fascinating dynamic tension between Stoicism and a sort of “Enlightened” Hedonism (ref. Enlightened Self Interest in any encyclopedia). They blend the sharply defined dualism of the stoics and Gnostics with a licentiousness that changes disobedience of Christ, from a damnable failure, into a mere character flaw that can be overlooked in anyone. Overlooked, so long as they are popular with the people of a given congregation. This is similar to the pride the Corinthian Church took in their perversion of grace and forgiveness. A grace that allowed a man to live in an incestuous relationship with his mother, without censure from the congregation.
This strange belief system lead the speaker to do something that I would respect a great deal if it were coming from someone with a sound doctrinal approach to interpreting scripture. As I have pointed out numerous times, some of the most politically and socially narrow belief systems come from the most liberal of interpretive forestructure. In other words, a liberal doctrine like that of the reformation theologians leads, inexorably, to a legalistic dogma like that of the puritans. And incidentally to a complete failure of the popular piety to reflect that rigid dogma.
The beauty of this particular sermon was that it violated some of the legalism of the speaker’s own tradition, by delving into the topic of human sexuality from the pulpit, in a marginally graphic way. By using popular slang as a system of euphemism, he was able to do this without causing his audience to rout. And, he made some very astute points with regard to the Biblical view on sexuality.
Now, most liberal theologies, like the puritanical theologies of the reformation or the ascetic Gnosticism of the Roman Catholic Church, lead one to censure human sexuality and censor any reference to or education in the proper view and habits of the Biblical Christian. Dictates are made, but they are inevitably a list of “don’ts” and these “don’ts” are made up of the worst and ugliest behaviors, in the view of the theologians of the given church body. Lists of “do’s” are given no attention and are viewed with the same prurient attitude that a preadolescent takes toward the subject (lot’s of giggles and blushes, or angry censure and accusation).
This televangelist avoided that prurient behavior by rediscovering that the “Sex is a beautiful gift from God” doctrine naturally requires a more exhaustive exploration of scripture than is found in the church today. Sex has been left to philosophers, educators and medical personnel to explain and teach, when it is the natural topic of scripture. Scripture spends more time speaking about sexuality in both prophetic dictates and in narrative accounts than most any other topic. If reading the bible doesn’t lead to discussions of sexuality, then you aren’t reading honestly and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, do we want psychologists and educators teaching our children how to engage in sex, when all those kids have heard is a list of “don’ts” that are supposedly going to send them to hell?
This minister, was rightly lead to broach the subject and he did a credible job of euphemistically walking tiptoe around the sensibilities of some people, while essentially instilling the basic principal that sex within marriage is not a thing God grudgingly allows so the species can be perpetuated. Instead, he pointed out that God ordained sex as component of the first commandment of all time, preceding, “Don’t eat from the tree of Knowledge.” This command precedes the fall of Man, the flood, The Passover, the Law and the Resurrection — and yet it has been reiterated and expounded on after each of these events. God wants you to be sexually active and married. Heterosexual activity glorifies and pleases God. In point of fact, it is an act of worship and obedience, and Christ himself warned us that those who censure marriage and marital sexuality are false prophets.
As the speaker developed this idea, he happened onto the fact that the Law of Grace often shows intensification of the requirements made on a Christian. Where before the fall there was one standard, we see greater expectations and higher standards instituted at the fall, the flood, the death of Sodom and Gomorrah, the reception of the Mosaic Law (Torah/Pentateuch), and the coming of Christ; a natural progression, (Heilsgeschichte or history of salvation) in direct proportion to the increased grace meted out with each revelation of God.
So, where grace doth abound, expectations of a righteous and holy God do more greatly abound. This is pointed out by Jesus in different ways, but two that stand out are the attack on Jesus preachments against divorce and lust by Pharisees. In the divorce passages, he says before you were allowed to do thus and so, for the reason of your own weakness, but now “I bring you a better way.” This minister pointed out that there is a parallel in the discussion of lust, where Jesus says you have been taught thus and so “but I say if a man commits lust in his heart he is guilty of adultery already.”
There are similar treatments of moral imperative salted throughout Jesus’ ministry. These two, however, can leave a student theologian grasping for some means to reconcile the passages and reassure himself that Jesus hasn’t contradicted himself. Let me assure you he has not.
The apparent contradiction resides in the fact that Jesus said divorce was not allowable for a Christian, except in the case where the believer’s spouse has committed adultery. Given that lust is unavoidable for the teenaged, and usually the twenty something male, this would seem to indicate that every marriage is invalidated a priori (before the fact of wedding). What’s more, although I cannot speak to the mind of young women, I suspect that the fascination with muscular athletes and large appendages is far from platonic, or even innocent.
These factors would seem to obviate and invalidate the preachments on divorce by our Lord. Worse yet, the narrative of Jesus encounters with the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery, seem to broach an even more direct contradiction given the common interpretation of these events and the strategic amnesia toward certain statements made to these women by Jesus.
Much ado is made of Jesus’ challenge that “he who is without sin” should cast the first stone, and yet he, Jesus cast none. I wonder sometimes how the scene would have played out if the accusers had acknowledged Jesus’ sinlessness and demanded that he indeed begin the stoning. The passage might have taken on a very different dimension, and I would like to have heard Jesus’ answer to them. But, cowardice and unbelief won the day and, when Jesus looked up, he lacked the testimony of even two witnesses. Therefore, he sent her on her way in accordance with the Law of Moses. “For, by the mouth of two or three witnesses let a thing be established.” He did give her an inflexible admonition that is conveniently forgotten by most citations of this passage.
If this were a genuine contradiction and Jesus were preaching in favor of adulterers, the whole of the new testament would collapse as just so much historical text. In the minds of some people this is what happens. Let’s examine that premise however. What did Jesus mean when he said that the lustful person has committed adultery. Is lust, in fact, a sin limited to married men? No, we hinted earlier that there is reason to believe that women are capable of lust. On top of that, common sense and recent legal cases tell us that people lust more often before marriage than after, with the celibate suffering most of all.
If you read closely you begin to notice that the term used is adultery not just sexual immorality and not fornication. So an unmarried woman who is celibate unmarried and virginal, but who dreams of a man with gentle hands stroking her bare flesh in an intimate way can’t be married because she is guilty of adultery. Does this reading make sense? Not even a little.
There is a scriptural dichotomy dividing sins of the flesh from sins of the heart. We see this in the old testament where unbelief in God, Lust, desire for what doesn’t belong to you, even lack of sufficient affection for God are sins which bring judgment and damnation. They do not however incur civil or punitive penalties, to be applied by other people or by the state. They are terribly serious sins committed against God alone.
God is depicted in midrash and therefore in the New testament as a bridegroom to the corporate body of believers. This is a metaphysical or spiritual principle that is seeded throughout Jesus’ ministry. So in this sense, any sin against God is by definition a form of adultery. This idea is developed in Jeremiah 3, where God depicts the northern Kingdom of Israel as one of two wives, Judea being the other. He makes a great deal of the fact that he “divorced” himself from the northern tribes because of their sin and unbelief. Then in a twist, he divorces himself from Judah and remarries Israel because the Levites, Jews (Judah and Benjamin), and Simeonites, are going through the motions of serving him but are corrupt and sinful despite their profession of faith.* This initiated the Jilted husband motif that is a factor in the prophets and proverbs and Jesus uses it liberally in his sermons.
For this reason Marriage is sacrosanct to the believer. It is an earthly type in the midrashic sense for the relationship between God and the congregation of his believers. But similarly, in the New Testament there are ways in which we can violate this get or covenant of marriage in a way that tempts God to divorce us. This is the adultery that Jesus is referring and it is a heart condition. When you lust, or even covet your neighbors new car, you have committed adultery in your heart. Even if you have never married, it is adultery against God, the father and lord of all creation. It is adultery against Jesus as Christians are the bride of Christ .
However, since it is an activity of the heart, and not a sin of the flesh, it is not a sin against one’s present or future spouse. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a sin against God is lesser than a sin against your spouse. When God divorces people or nations, lives are lost and souls are damned to eternal exile from God’s presence (fate far worse than death). But what it does clearly show is that, your spouse is not entitled to divorce you because you have lusted after another.
In fact, Jesus clearly indicated that when a person divorces an adulterous spouse, the faithful spouse has shown an unforgiving and hard heart in defiance of Jesus’ commands. The faithful but unforgiving spouse has made it through the eye of a technicality, but is not in right relationship with God. They have succumbed to legalism and selfishness. They get their freedom from the adulterer, but loose the opportunity to bring that spouse home to Christ and have a long way to go in repairing their relationship with Jesus.
Is there a point where divorce becomes necessary? There are some simple guidelines to follow in these cases:
- When the threat to your children, or your life due to sexually transmitted diseases, or the hardening of your hearts due to the loss of intimacy threatens bodily harm — you have to weigh the consequences of your actions and prayerfully seek God’s guidance. He won’t be happy with divorce (Mal 2:15-17;Jer 3:1), but being certain to get permission first will go a long way in preserving your relationship with him. Bear in mind that remarriage to a third party is only possible for a spouse who has not committed adultery prior to divorce.
- Be sure that you have not retaliated against your spouse by engaging in adultery as well. If you are both guilty, neither has the moral high ground and neither has the authority to seek divorce. In that case, divorce itself is adultery and you both will suffer. In fact, when you are the victim of an adulterous spouse, do not seek companionship from anyone who is a potential sexual partner. You will inevitably find yourself embroiled in one form of adultery or another. You will not be able to get good guidance from God because you will be distracted by ungodly impulses.
- If both spouses are Christians, you really only have the option of mutually agreed upon separation. And it must be mutual agreement. Divorce is really not an option. If a new believer has a spouse who is not a believer at the time of the divorce, and has never professed Christ, the non-believer is free to divorce the believer and in this limited case the Apostle Paul has granted, by the authority of the spirit an a priori (before the fact) annulment with the words “it is as if your were never married.”
Ultimately, the reason the question of divorce comes up so often is the rebellious nature of western society. Divorce cannot subside from the words of God’s prophets because God’s people have become so corrupt and self-righteous they challenge the Corinthians of the first century. Where in Corinth they were proud to be so forgiving and loving that they allowed a man to attend services, knowing that he was sleeping with a woman who was his mother or stepmother — today, homosexuals and pimps are welcomed and the unbiblical proverb is cited that church is where sinners belong. This is the same licentiousness that Paul took 3 chapters in 1 Corinthians (ch.s 4-6) to challenge.
The most disheartening thing is the fact that the corruption has grown to such proportion that it is commonplace to find ministers of the gospel who are themselves living in a parody of marriage with a spouse who was formerly married and has divorced without benefit of the biblical standards on divorce. In other cases homosexuals, gluttons and the patrons of whores are standing in pulpits on a Sunday morning, officiating at communion, while preaching that men who have succumbed to reviewing pornographic images are guilty of adultery and therefore subject to divorce.
Talk about Pharisaic hypocrisy. These Corinthian Family Values are strangling the life from the church and destroying the testimony of its people. It’s time for the people of God to discover how to make their yeahs be yeahs and nays be nays, such that “I do” at the altar is genuinely binding even during the worst of times, just as the oath of marriage says. Life long marriage even when you decide at some point you may have chosen the wrong spouse, needs to be the rule not the exception. And that “wrong” spouse should never be made to know that they were wrong. The believer has access to a supernatural font of love and compassion. If Jesus can die on a cross for you, you can make a loving home with your spouse. If you can’t and you abandon your spouse, you become responsible to God for their sex life (Matt 5:22), however sinful it may become. Imagine living out a life walking in the spirit and, when you face God, losing out because you were so hard-hearted you divorced your husband for reason that he snored or wasn’t hardworking enough to suit you.
When you break a vow, even a marriage vow, you are under condemnation, and Calvinist Dualism heresy aside, God will hold you accountable both in this life and in the next — even if you are a believer, and even if you can legitimately stand and say, “Lord didn’t I preach in your name, didn’t I heal the sick, didn’t I cast out demons.” Of such Jesus spoke in the “Parable of the Sower”. They are the shallow ground. In fact, they do convert to Christ, but in the end they fall away and are damned. Repent. As we all must. Your immortal soul is at stake.
God bless you as you seek him in spirit and in truth.
* There is a third clause in that passage where Jeremiah reports God’s intention to merge the pagan Israelis, Righteous Gentiles and Judah and corporately refer to all of them as Jews.