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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

Divorce & Remarriage In Light of Redemptive History & The Perspicuity of Scripture

  1. Introduction & Thesis

The topic of divorce and remarriage is not new to the Church but it has perhaps never before been so relevant as it is now. With the rise of individualism and the erosion of the authority of Scripture, particularly in the west, divorce has become accepted and remarriage celebrated within the Church. It is time for an honest assessment of our reasoning and exegesis as we approach the relevant texts. The pressure of culture has led to truncated arguments and complicated exegesis in what appears to be a constant quest for exceptions. Much of the research in favor of allowing remarriage fails to see the trajectory of redemptive history in regards to marriage under the new covenant, employing a somewhat pessimistic retrieval ethic. Those in favor of remarriage seem to imply that though divorce and remarriage is not what should be, it is what must be at this time. Such capitulation to the world has led to a church plagued with divorce and remarriage. And how did the church get here? By failure on the part of pastors and teachers to hold to the Scriptures when it was difficult. As should be expected this has led to much harm to the institution of marriage in the west.

The thesis of this paper is simply this, that considering the clarity of Scripture[1]and the trajectory of redemptive history, the teaching of Jesus and Paul on divorce and remarriage should be taken with the simplest reading, which is to say that Christians may never instigate a divorce, and in the case of divorce remarriage is never allowed, except by the death of the spouse.

  1. Commentary on the relevant texts in Scripture

As evangelicals the Holy Scriptures, not culture or bare reason, are the authority for all of life. This should be especially true of the institution of marriage which God set forth as his good design for mankind in Genesis 2. Marriage is portrayed as the final, crowning touch to a good creation and for God to declare something to be good it must be good. I will speak more on the subsequent fall and its effects on marriage later when dealing with the trajectory of redemptive history, but it is sufficient to say this matter is of no small importance.

The importance of the divorce and remarriage issue should strike us considering that the Gospels address it four times, twice in Matthew, once in Mark, and once in Luke. There are so many things that could have bee recorded and the fact that there is so much on divorce and remarriage in a relatively small canon, should be of note.

In Matthew 5, Matthew 19, and Mark 10, Jesus speaks on divorce and remarriage in direct connection to Moses’ allowance in Deuteronomy 24. Jesus brings up the subject on his own in Matthew 5 where he is the middle of contrasting the application of the Law under Moses with the application of the Law in the Kingdom. Matthew 5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”[2]At first glance this text seems to provide an easy out, but a couple of problems arise. One that is worth noting is the Jewish audience and the use of the same Greek root in Matthew 1:19, when Joseph contemplated divorcing Mary because of here supposed sexual immorality. Proponents of this view would argue that Jesus is allowing a dissolution of the betrothal in the case of sexual immorality, but not after consummation of the marriage.[3]It is pointed out that Jesus uses the porneia, meaning sexual immorality, instead of the more exact term moicheia which he uses elsewhere for “adultery”. This view is interesting and possible, but not necessary when the text is considered closely.[4]

Notice that Jesus says that the man who divorces his wife for a reason other than porneiacauses her to commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Therefore,“whether she became an adulteress by her own volition or by the situation forced on her, the man who married her also committed adultery.”[5]This statement by Jesus, taken prima facie, nullifies the claim that an innocent party who is put away is free to remarry. It behooves anyone looking into this debate to feel the weight of that wording in the text.

In Matthew 19 Jesus is tested by the Pharisees. They want to know if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. Quoting from Genesis 2 Jesus reveals the absurdity of divorce in light of God’s created order, exposing the ignorance of his interrogators. Their error was rooted in the fact they had taken permission from Moses and turned it into a command[6], for they said to Jesus, “Why then did Moses commandone to give a certificate of divorce and send her away.”[7]Moses did not command divorce, but permitted divorce, and the only reason he did this was because of the hardness of their hearts. It was “sin-management” you could say for a covenant community that was mixed with regenerate and unregenerate people.

Jesus ends his Matthew 19 encounter by restating the standard set in Matthew 5. And it would appear that the “loophole” of remarriage after divorce on proper grounds might stand, until you read on and see the disciples’ reaction. If Jesus allowed remarriage then his view would not have been much more radical than that of many Pharisees of the school of Shammai[8], but the response of the disciples leads us to believe that Jesus has a higher standard in mind. “The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man and his wife, it is better not to marry.”[9]Jesus did not relieve their anxiety with some quick qualifications, instead he implied that if a man cannot imagine such enduring faithfulness, then it is better for him not to get married, thus Jesus launches into his discourse on eunuchs, most likely not referring to castrated males[10]but to those who choose a celibate life or as Wenham asserts[11], considering the context, Jesus is likely including those who are divorced and must not remarry. Considering the reaction of the disciples and the context, this appears as a compelling interpretation.

In Mark 10 we have the parallel to Matthew 19 and Jesus once again roots his prohibition against divorce and subsequent remarriage in God’s original design for marriage rather than in Moses’ sin-managing permissiveness. But here we see a new wrinkle introduced that we do not see in Moses, where the woman is now the instigator of the divorce. Again, Mark’s account gives no indication of an allowance for remarriage. Notice thus far that divorce is its own sin which precipitates, in the case of remarriage, the sin of adultery.

Luke is the strictest of all of the accounts. It is worth quoting the Lukan passage in its entirety because it is so direct and succinct. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”[12]What catches our attention here is the inclusive language “everyonewho divorces his wife and marries another….” Even more astonishing is the assertion that “he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”[13]This seems to say that in a remarriage there is no innocent party. Counter to the appeals to reason made by John Murray[14], whatever the cause for divorce, subsequent remarriage is portrayed as adultery from every angle.[15]

Now we get to the Pauline discourse on this issue and the so called “Pauline Privilege” found in I Corinthians 7. Having just addressed the rampant immorality in Corinth and perhaps the tendency to react with asceticism, Paul lays out expectations for marriage and encourages singleness. After stating his desire, but not command, in verses 8-9 that the unmarried and widows remain unmarried, he gives direction to those that are married. He reflects here the teaching of Jesus that marriage is indissoluble. He says in verse 10 that the “the wife should not separate from her husband, but if she does she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband, and the husband should not divorce his wife.” The words for “separate” and “divorce” are different in the Greek here than in the Gospels, in fact Paul employs two different words here[16], but it is well within the same semantic range. Verse 11 is especially important, for it implies a time when divorce might be allowed, but clearly forbids marriage to another man.

In verses 12-16 Paul deals with a mixed marriage. His address of this issue makes two things clear: first, divorce between Christians is sin and unacceptable. Second, Paul clears an innocent party in a mixed marriage of the shared guilt of divorce, while not necessarily allowing that innocent party to remarry, rather the instruction given in verse 11 should still be considered as applying.

Finally, in verse 39, Paul says that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives and after he dies she is free to marry. You would think that he might insert a caveat like “as long as they are married she is bound.” But he makes no such qualification in this final word of his discourse on marriage.

  1. Two options given by the relevant texts

Considering the texts that we have briefly, and admittedly in a very cursory manner, examined, I want to consider two of the most likely interpretations.

  1. Divorce allowed in some circumstances, remarriage allowed in those circumstances

This has been the predominate view in much of the church since the Reformation. The reformer John Calvin[17]held to this view and some Puritans such as Richard Baxter agreed.[18]However, it is worth noting that those closer to the culture of the day, men such as Augustine[19]and Tertullian[20], both North African church fathers, held to a strict permanence view, which we will address soon.

This view, in its narrower interpretation posits that in Matthew we see that adultery effectively breaks the marriage covenant, which frees the innocent party to remarry. In response to the relevant texts in Mark and Luke, proponents of this exception clause would say that the clause is implied. “It goes without saying”, as it were, that adultery breaks the covenant, freeing the innocent party. In defense those that hold this view will sometimes appeal to places in the Old Testament where God expresses his intention to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery[21]. In those cases, God is the analogical “victim” in a marriage relationship and will therefore leave his adulteress “bride” and be joined to another.

Furthermore, in favor of this view you could argue that the exception clause in Matthew is shocking as it appears because it is more narrow than Moses’ allowance. For Moses allowed divorce for “indecency” which could be more broadly interpreted, whereas Jesus said sexual immorality alone was reason, thus narrowing the Mosaic permissiveness. Also, whereas the conservative rabbinical school of Shammairequired divorce for porneia, Jesus merely allowed it.[22]There are problems with this view, which we will see shortly.

The second ground for divorce and remarriage is the “Pauline Privilege” of I Corinthians 7. In this case, if a believing brother or sister is abandoned by their non-believing spouse most take the words “is not enslaved” to implypermission to remarry “in the Lord”.[23]Meaning they are free to marry another believer.

So there are two grounds for divorce in this view, adultery and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. And both of these, it would be argued, imply the freedom to remarry.

 

  1. Divorce allowed in some circumstances, remarriage never allowed[24]

Admittedly this has been the minority view since the reformation, but this would not be the first time a crucial truth was a minority view.[25]As Wenham points out, “The early church, up to AD 500, maintained that Christ allowed separation but not remarriage.”[26]The Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century writing that was circulated widely enough in the church that it was a disputed book when considering canonicity, directly addresses the matter of divorce and remarriage, forbidding remarriage even in the case of adultery.[27]  In American evangelicalism few have dared to take this position, but most notable among the proponents of it would be John Piper.[28]Church history is not our authority, but when the relation of the Markan and Lukan texts with the Matthean record is in question and two possible interpretations are before us, we should give weight to church history.

In defense of this view, first it must be clear that saying that divorce is “allowed” must be qualified. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever give permission for pursuing divorce, rather they clear the innocent party of guilt should they be divorced.[29]It may be argued that Matthew allows the offended party to instigate divorce, but it could also be argued that the unfaithful spouse is the de factoinstigator of divorce, especially if Paul’s instruction to seek restoration has been followed. As F.F. Bruce says, “For a Christian husband or wife divorce is excluded by the law of Christ.”[30]Furthermore, the Christian victim of divorce is given no reason to believe that remarriage is allowed in any case, because though the marriage bond be violated it is not dissolved, for it can apparently only be dissolved by death.[31]For Jesus clearly does not command divorce in the case of sexual infidelity, but rather allows it. If the marriage bond was truly broken by adultery, then any sexual relations between the husband and his wife after adultery by either party would then be fornication because their covenant would be dissolved.

Furthermore, Luke says “he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery”. If a woman divorced by her husband is truly separated from her husband, why is it adultery to marry her? Or why, in the case of Matthew 5, is a woman wrongly divorced committing adultery if she remarries? It is adultery because the pronouncement of man cannot dissolve what God has established. And as Romans 7 and I Corinthians 7 make clear, it is only by death that God ends that bond.

The conclusion is that what God has joined man cannot separate. So in a sense one must say that divorce is never allowed, though there is exemption of guilt for divorce for those that are divorced by another.[32]And if divorce is never allowed, then remarriage is never allowed. Paul seems to make this expressly clear in I Corinthians 7 when he says that if a woman is separated from her husband she is to be reconciled or remain unmarried. This instruction in light of Matthew 19 and Luke 16 makes this position the most acceptable.

This leads us to consider why this view is such a minority in the church today. We want to take care here because we all see that to be a loner theologically is never a good idea, but the reality is that until the time of Erasmus in the 16thcentury permanence was the predominant view in the church and vestiges of this reality remain in the Roman church to this day.[33]

 

  1. Egalitarianism, homosexuality, divorce, and remarriage: Cultural pressure on exegesis

Many of the arguments for the majority view sound like the same arguments made today for egalitarianism, homosexuality, and other such hot topics. Too often the question that is being asked of the texts is “When is this allowed?” Rather than asking the question, “What does God intend?” Many in mainstream Christianity look at the passages on homosexuality and by digging deep into cultural nuances and semantics, they attempt to remove stigma from homosexual relationships. As we look at much of the material on divorce and remarriage, it seems that this same approach is being taken to soften the statements of Jesus and Paul on divorce and remarriage. Perhaps it is time for us to consider that the pandemic of divorce and remarriage in the church is simply a forerunner to the sexual revolution overtaking us; a revolution that cannot be stood against as long as cultural forces are allowed to spawn unnatural readings of Scripture and complicated exegesis. This matter directs us to the next point.

 

  1. Divorce and remarriage and the perspicuity of Scripture

The doctrine of the perspicuity, or the clarity, of Scripture seems to have been left out in the cold in most dealings with this highly sensitive and culturally explosive issue. Those that hold to perspicuity of Scripture should affirm that knowing what certain rabbinical schools believed or what Roman divorce law was should not be required to understand the text before us. The same God who has supernaturally preserved his word is able to preserve it in a way which is clear, timeless, self-interpreting, and self-authorizing. To assert that extra-biblical data is needed to understand Jesus’ teaching on divorce is to undermine the doctrine of the clarity of the Bible. Complementarianism, as an example, is a clear issue when one reads the relevant texts naturally and in light of all of Scripture. Even egalitarians scholars agree with this.[34]If we accept Paul’s appeal to the created order as the foundation for complementarianism, why don’t we do the same with Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage?

The Scriptures do have a cultural context, but they are also timeless and preserved by God in order to be revealed to the simple, even to children. Knowing the Scriptures well is needed for good exegesis of them, but knowledge of Scripture alone seems to be in favor of the permanence view.

The complicated arguments should be avoided, especially when the result of those arguments could be giving license to adultery. An appeal to safety must be made here. Singleness damns no one. Paul even encourages it under the New Covenant.[35]Adultery is another story. Taken prima facie, the relevant texts forbid divorce except perhaps in special cases and they always forbid remarriage. To make the text say anything different requires some measure of eisegesis. At the very least, considering the texts, it is disturbing how confident most evangelicals are with their permissiveness.

Furthermore, a clear view of the scope of Scripture points us both back to a good creation and forward to a restored creation of which the church is to be a reflection, which leads to consideration of the next point.

 

  1. Divorce and remarriage and the trajectory of redemptive history

Genesis 2:18-25 sets forth the “good” design of God for the marriage covenant. It is this design which Jesus later appeals to. After the fall the immediate result of sin is a fracture in relationship between husband and wife, something God said would be characteristic of their fallen state. In the generations that followed perversions of God’s good design followed, such as polygamy. After God makes his covenant with Israel at Sinai, in Deuteronomy 24 we find permission being given by Moses for divorce in certain circumstances and Moses forbidding it in others. But what Moses established was not normative. It was sin-management in a community mixed with regenerate and hard-hearted people. By the time Jesus arrived the Pharisees had come to see Moses’ permission as a command to be followed, rather than a sad indictment of the state of humanity under sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus got to the heart of the matter. Then in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 he directly addressed why Moses allowed divorce, but unlike Moses, Jesus did not come to manage sin, but to do away with it. As those belonging to the kingdom inaugurated, the church is not to bow to the tyranny of sin and settle for sin management, but cry with life and lungs against the tide of rebellion, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If one considers the new covenant in Ezekiel 36 with the promise of new, soft hearts, a change in marriage should be expected. Relationships that reflect more fully the restoration to come. Jesus brought up Genesis 2 because the kingdom standard for marriage is the original standard for marriage. As those united together already in Christ believers reflect as a people the work of reconciling all things together in Christ. And “all things” includes marriage.

Under the old covenant a retrieval ethic was employed by Moses, but Jesus wasn’t interested in retrieval, he was interested in restoration. The current reality of sin does not demand that we bow to sin’s tyranny, but that we fight the good fight, even if it means being single. Sadly, the church has been content to manage sin by providing for its constrained exercise – namely through marriage that is at best disordered and possibly not even marriage of any kind.

Under the New Covenant we see a new dignity to singleness not found in the Old. So if the question is asked whether or not there is a retrieval ethic in the New Covenant for victims of divorce the answer is the glory of singleness outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. The ruin of marriage here in this age does not change the marriage to come, to Christ our betrothed. In the new heavens and earth we will be “neither married nor given in marriage, but will be like the angels in heaven.”[36]Marriage for Christians is a good thing, but it is not ultimate.[37]Our identity as Christians is not ultimately found in our status as married or single, but in our status as “in Christ”[38]. A union which God has joined and no man can separate.

 

  1. Pastoral implications and conclusion

The permanence view raises an array of pastoral questions, some of which may be answered by the previous paragraph. All of these questions are difficult, as a pastor I can testify to this. But when pastors are not faithful in one generation, they inevitably make the job more painful for the next.

If the problem of divorce and remarriage in the church is going to be changed it has to start with pastors proactively teaching on it and raising the next generation with the view that marriage is for life and that divorce is never an option for believers. For those that are divorced, there is a need for biblical teaching on the dignity and purpose of singleness in the kingdom of God. For children that are victims of divorce the church needs to compassionately shepherd them, giving them a vision of something greater.

In the meantime, we face the most difficult pastoral situation. Is there a retrieval ethic for those that have already been divorced and remarried? The answer is an uneasy “yes”.  Entering into the illicit union needs to be acknowledged as sin, but the union is still a union. Jesus still refers to the adulteress union as a marriage. It is a disordered union, but still a union, somewhat akin to the “one flesh” union that occurs when a man is joined with a prostitute.[39]Therefore, they should repent and not do it again. This is admittedly an unsatisfying response, because it could be argued that they are continuing in adultery and that a more radical repentance, such as separation may be required. Such a response is not beyond the realm of possibilities and would admittedly appear to be the more consistent, though much more harsh, view.

A clear implication is that pastors should never perform weddings for people divorced for any reason. Furthermore, if a member of a church engages themselves to a divorced person they should be warned and disciplined if they continue.  For those divorced prior to becoming Christians and wanting to get married as a believer, we must acknowledge that as the Bible treats it a marriage outside of the household of faith is still a marriage.[40]

This issue certainly raises a number of moral and pastoral quandaries. But generations of compromise always do.[41]Doing faithful pastoral ministry in an environment that has abandoned or never had the authority of Scripture is going to lead to sticky situations. So the clarion call should be for a return to faithfulness while praying desperately for wisdom. Pastors should take every case of people who are already divorced and remarried with great care and have a determined vision for the future of marriage in the church as permanent.

In conclusion, attempting to be aware of cultural pressure, in light of the clarity of Scripture, and the trajectory of redemptive history, the Bible teaches that New Testament marriage is for life, a believer may never be the instigator of divorce, and remarriage is always forbidden. Looking to Jesus and to Paul, this means that if one cannot embrace this truth they should not get married, if you are married you are in it for good, and if you are currently divorced your identity is not found in a spouse, but in Christ. May Christian marriages reflect the exclusivity and the permanence of our eternal bond with Christ.

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baxter, Richard, and J. I. Packer. The Christian Directory. Vol. 1. (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1996)

Bruce, F.F., Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977)

Calvin, John, and John Pringle. “Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids(2010).

Eden, Kathy. “Rhetoric in the Hermeneutics of Erasmus’ Later Works.” Erasmus Studies11, no. 1 (1991): 88-104.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and David Wayne Jones.God, marriage, and family. Crossway, 2010. 2ndEdition

Plumpe, Joseph C., and Johannes Quasten. Ancient Christian Writers: the Works of the Fathers in Translation. Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1946.

Murray, John. Divorce & Remarriage, RPM, Vol. 11, Num. 9 (March 1, 2009) accessed November 9, 2015, http://reformedperspectives.org/article.asp/link/http:^^reformedperspectives.org^articles^joh_murray^joh_murray.divorce.remarriage.html/at/Divorce%20and%20Remarriage

Pierce, Ronald W. Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Gordon Fee, Editors, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, (IVP Academic, 2005, Kindle Edition) Location 1989

Piper, John. “Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper.” Pages: Desiring God(1986).

Augustine, Aurelius. “‘On the good of marriage’.” Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, first series3 (1997).

Warden, Duane. “The Words of Jesus on Divorce.” Restoration Quarterly39, no. 3 (1997 1997): 141-153. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed November 10, 2015).

Wenham, Gordon J. “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 150-161.

 

[1]An objection often raised to my appeal to the clarity of Scripture is that if the issue were so clear it would not be so debated across the history of the church. I believe that the reason for the debate is not so much an issue of clarity as it is our tendency to respond to the Bible’s teaching on this in the same manner that the disciples did in Matthew 19.

[2]All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (Crossway) unless noted otherwise

[3]John Piper, Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper, Desiring God (1986) 10

[4]I personally do not consider this to be an airtight argument. I think there are clearer, more compelling arguments to be made, but this one is worth recording for consideration.

[5]Duane Warden, “The Words of Jesus on Divorce.” Restoration Quarterly39, no. 3 (1997 1997): 143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed November 10, 2015).

[6]As a command this would have been in contradiction with God’s revealed pattern for marriage

[7]Matthew 19:7

[8]A rabbinical school which interpreted the indecency in Deuteronomy 24 as being sexual in nature only and required divorce if discovered

[9]Matthew 19:10

[10]Considering the law of Moses, celibacy rather than castration is what Jesus clearly has in mind; see Deuteronomy 23:1

[11]Gordon J. Wenham, “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 158.

[12]Luke 16:18

[13]For those that address the all-encompassing language in Luke 19 with the appeal to consider Luke in light of Matthew, could it not just as easily be argued to consider Matthew in light of Luke? Is not the general rule in exegesis that the simpler, more clear text interprets the more ambiguous text?

[14]John Murray, Divorce & Remarriage, RPM, Vol. 11, Num. 9 (March 1, 2009) accessed November 9, 2015,http://reformedperspectives.org/article.asp/link/http:^^reformedperspectives.org^articles^joh_murray^joh_murray.divorce.remarriage.html/at/Divorce%20and%20Remarriage

[15]If it be argued that adultery breaks the marriage bond therefore creating the one allowance for remarriage would this not mean that divorce is required? Also, that that there would be more freedom for those than commit adultery?

[16]χωρίζω to divide, separate; αφιημι send away, dismiss

[17]John Calvin and John Pringle, “Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.”Christian Ethereal Library (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) Vol. I

[18]Richard Baxter and J.I. Packer, A Christian Directory. Vol. 1(Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1996) pg. 444

[19]Aurelius Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, I in NPNF3:406.

[20]Joseph C. Plumpe and Johannes Quasten, Ancient Christian Writers; the works of the Fathers in Translation, (Westminster, MD: Newman Pres, 1946) 13:93

[21]Jeremiah 3:8

[22]Andreas J. Kostenberger and David Wayne Jones, God, Marriage, & Family, (Crossway, 2010) 229.

[23]I Corinthians 7:15, 39

[24]John Piper, Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper, Desiring God (1986)A possible variation of this asserts the Matthean betrothal theory.

[25]Example: Justification by faith alone

[26]Gordon J. Wenham, “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 151.

[27]Trans. Lightfoot, 29:7. I recognize of course that this is not canon and therefore not binding on conscience. However, because it was so widely read it does give an indication of the early church’s understanding of the issue.

[28]Andreas J. Kostenberger and David Wayne Jones, God, Marriage, & Family, (Crossway, 2010) 230. Note: Piper holds to the “no divorce, Matthean betrothal view”

[29]Granted, Hermas, which I just mentioned, required divorce in the case of ongoing, known adultery while forbidding remarriage after the fact.

[30]F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 267.

[31]I Corinthians 7:39

[32]The topic of lawful, celibate separation for the sake safety is another issue.

[33]Kathy Eden, “Rhetoric in the Hermeneutics of Erasmus’ Later Works.” Erasmus Studies11, no. 1 (1991): 88.

[34]Ronald W Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Gordon Fee, Editors, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, (IVP Academic, 2005, Kindle Edition) Location 1989

[35]Pastorally speaking, if I take the permanence view and require that divorced people remain single, I have led no one into sin. If the mainstream permissiveness is wrong, then the implications for many pastors are devastating who will be held to a stricter measure of judgment. James 3:1

[36]Matthew 22:30

[37]For those that would retort to this with 1 Corinthians “it is better to marry than burn” offers a retrieval ethic for those divorced, they need only consider what such an argument would imply for those who burn with homosexual desire? Clearly there are some cases where celibacy is the only faithful option.

[38]Ephesians 2:6

[39]I Corinthians 6:16

[40]We do not require married couples to remarry each other when they become believer and Paul’s instruction to people with unbelieving spouses in 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear that marriage is not dependent on being in the church. However, the strict expectation of permanence or celibacy is only holding on Christians. We cannot expect unbelievers to be held to “soft-heart” standards, the permissiveness under Moses makes that clear.

[41]As an example, think of missionaries dealing with the issue of polygamy in new converts

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The Mercy in Hunger, Exhaustion, & Loneliness

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die.                   — John 6:48-50 (CSB)

In John 6, Jesus performed perhaps his most iconic sign, the feeding of the 5,000. The result of which was predictable if we understand what the Bible says about human nature – the fed crowds wanted to take Jesus and forcibly make him their king, they wanted to follow him around. Why? Because they knew they would get hungry again and they thought that they had finally found the solution to their recurring hunger. Someone who could give them endless bread.

The problem, we find out from Jesus, is that they were missing what their hunger was really telling them. Knowing the people wanted to take him as their endless bread-dispenser and make him into a king, Jesus withdrew to the other side of the lake, but the crowds, now hungry again, found him the next day. And it is there that Jesus tries to get their attention, but in doing so ultimately ends up losing most of them. Jesus tells them, “You are looking for me not because you saw the signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.

Like us all, they were hungry. They toiled to simply satisfy that hunger. But in doing so they missed what that hunger told them about their real need.

They missed the mercy in their hunger. Because what Jesus goes on to show them is that while the perpetual problem of hunger seems to say that what I need to be satisfied is bread, actually the recurring emptiness in our stomach is to show us that life is notfound in bread. This is what Jesus emphasizes when he reminds them that through Moses God gave their fathers bread in the wilderness daily, and yet they all still died![1]Bread could satiate them for awhile but in the end it could not give them life. Hunger was always meant to point beyond bread.

We know this is the case and the point Jesus is trying to make because in Deuteronomy 8:3, Israel is reminded that “God humbled you by letting you go hungry; then he gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” — Deuteronomy 8:3 (CSB)

God allowed ancient Israel to experience hunger, to know deprivation, the futility of an empty stomach once full so that when he gave them this strange bread from heaven, a bread unfamiliar to them, something that was different than they thought they needed, they would know that at the end of the day it was not bread in of itself that they needed rather what they needed was the creating, sustaining, unfading, word of the Lord.

This immediately brings to mind the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer has had wealth, wine, and women and found perpetually that the money gets spent, the buzz gets killed, and the lust is unsatiated. He concludes that everything is vapor, striving after wind. We eat, we get hungry again.  Futile.

This is something everyone has experienced and can identify with – futility. It seems cruel. Which would lead us to assume that this is judgment and in a way that is true! Genesis 3 seems to make that clear[2]. The created things we have rebelliously turned to for life will turn out to be incapable of satisfying us. And yet in this judgment we see the creation of a longing – a merciful longing. A gracious futility that Paul picks up on in Romans 8 when he says that “ the creation was subjected to futility​— ​not willingly, but because of him who subjected it ​— ​in the hopethat the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” — Romans 8:20-21 (CSB)

This hopeful futility is shown throughout scripture to be God’s gracious way of creating a longing for redemption, a longing that only he can fill. When Noah is born to Lamech, the day-to-day toil Lamech experienced caused him to hope that his son would be the one to finally bring rest.[3]In Hosea, God tells a rebellious Israel that he is going to cause her to experience deprivation so that he can tenderly remind her that wealth, crops, and military protection is not what she ultimately needed – she needed him.  But the tragedy, as we see in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, as is that we constantly misinterpret our perpetual longings. We fail to see that our hunger points beyond bread. The fact that we eat and a few hours later we are hungry again is supposed to point us beyond food. The fact that we can eat bread daily and still die is supposed to cause us to not settle for bread. And this merciful deprivation doesn’t end with our need for food.

We sleep and a few hours later we are exhausted again. We spend an evening of fun with friends, but then they all go home and we are lonely again. Our natural inclination is to think this means we just need more sleep or we just need to get to the weekend so we can fellowship with friends again. But the reality is that our hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness points us beyond the simple fix which will wear off again when the food is gone, when the day is done, and when our friends go home. To take the picture Jesus uses we see that we go to bed again, but eventually we will wear down and our bodies will give out. We see our friends again, but one day they will die and so will we.

It seems cruel and depressing, to think that the hunger always returns and then we die. The exhaustion always returns and then we die. The loneliness always returns and then we die. But here is the truth…

There is mercy in these things, because what they show us is that food, sleep, and friends can’t give us life. They are wonderful gifts, good things, even necessary, but they are terrible as ultimate things. They are good gifts but they make cruel masters, impotent gods, and empty goals.

Returning to John 6, this feeding of the 5,000 and the response of the bread-seeking crowds, is really a great picture of humanity. Everyone wants to fill their proverbial belly and they will serve whatever and whoever they think will do that.[4]We will serve, we will give our lives, to whatever we think will give us life – whatever will give us food, rest, and relationships.

But in the end, it was never bread, or sleep, or friends that we needed for life – it was for God to speak, for God to show us himself, because it is there that we would see what alone can satisfy and delight in a way that will never end and never fade. It is there alone we see and know unending life.

It is because of this that Jesus pled with the crowds looking for more bread, “Don’t work for the food that perishes, but for the food that lasts for eternal life.”[5]And what is this food, this bread that lasts forever – always satisfying and never running out? “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them.“No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again. — John 6:35 (CSB)

 Jesus, the ultimate Word from the Father[6], the one who reveals the glory of the Father[7], the one who is the eternal life[8], which in its essence is knowing God intimately[9], he stands and says, “I am what your hunger is all about! I am what your weariness and your loneliness is all about. It is all to point you to me! Bread can’t give you eternal life, but I can. Sleep can’t give you eternal rest, but I can. Friends can’t be with you forever, but I can give you eternal fellowship that even death cannot interrupt.”

I just ate lunch but in a few hours there will be a pit in my stomach, even now I am tired and prepared to warm up a cup of coffee to get me through the day, and in a few weeks I will get on a plane and experience the pain of loneliness as I jet away from my family for three weeks. But these sensations, if I will but see it, are mercies. They remind me that my soul was made to be satisfied by God, that my being was made to rest in his care, that I was made for uninterrupted friendship with my Creator.

The bread Jesus fed the crowds was never about Jesus’ ability to create bread, it was about Jesus being the bread. Bread is necessary, sleep is essential, friends are good, but all of these things point to greater realities. But we miss this constantly and this is because we have made these things ends in of themselves[10]. That is why we need to experience hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness, so that we can be awakened to hunger for God, restless till we find rest in him[11], to be brought to the place where we are able to stare death in the face and say, “To be with Christ is far better.”[12]

Let us listen to this merciful futility! And let us not live for what cannot satisfy. We must eat, we must sleep, we were made for community – but all of these things point to what is ultimate, to Christ who made God known and opened the way for us to be satisfied with his goodness, to have eternal rest in his Fatherly care, and to experience eternal fellowship in his presence. Without the cross the futility experienced in hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness would have no merciful function. The sane would simply be led to cynicism as they recognize the hamster-wheel of life that ends in death. But the cross changes everything. Because Jesus doesn’t just show us the God we were made for, he brings us to him. Our sin made a separation between us and the One we were made for, but Christ suffered for our sin – our sin of ultimately looking for life in what we crave – so that he could bring us to God. Jesus does not stand far of and cruelly show us what we need only to leave us in our deprivation. No. He uses this futility to awaken us, he shows us what we need -himself- and then he does everything that is necessary to be brought in where our soul’s hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness can be forever overcome.

So maybe when we get hungry today, maybe when we yawn, maybe when we wave good-bye, we will release a  sigh of satisfaction and praise God for the bittersweet mercies that direct us to our forever food, our unending rest, our ever-present Immanuel.

[1]John 6:48

[2]Genesis 3:19

[3]Genesis 5:29

[4]The prosperity preachers capitalize on this reality. Whereas Jesus fled across the lake from his bread-crazed constituency, prosperity preachers and corporations embrace the willingness of the masses to crown the dispensers of what their bellies crave.

 

[5]John 6:27

[6]John 1:1

[7]John 14:9

[8]1 John 1:2

[9]John 17:3

[10]Romans 1:25

[11]“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Confessions, St. Augustine

[12]Philippians 1:21-23

Church Membership & The Death Bed

Have you ever watched a show like America’s Got Talent or American Idol and grimaced when someone gets on stage who has no business being there? You watch as they face the embarrassment of being told on a national stage that they can’t sing and as the news breaks (with the family fuming backstage) the singer’s world comes crashing down in a moment. As you see this unfold time and time again, one is always left asking the question, “Why didn’t someone love them enough to tell them they couldn’t sing before it got to that point?”

I wouldn’t want to be outed as a phony on a national stage. To find out that I was delusional about my abilities. And yet, so many of us live our lives insulating ourselves from the reality about ourselves. Now whether or not you are a good singer is really irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but there are greater realities that we also avoid. Namely, spiritual realities about the standing of our soul before God and it is from these realities that we tend to hide. This is tragic, foolish, and it is dangerous. Because the truth that we see in Scripture is that every single man and woman will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ – as the writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed for people to die once ​— ​and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27) Therefore, we should not wish to face that day, be it tomorrow or fifty years from now, on the basis of our own subjective assessment of our standing before the Judge

God has not designed for that to be the case – he has not designed for us to be independent of others, he has not designed us to base our sense of justification before him on self-assessment alone. Because we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we need others and we need others because of at least three realities that we see in Scripture.

 

The heart is deceitful – We all know the familiar words “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable ​— ​who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The story of the Bible is a case-study of humanity which proves the truth of those words. Our feelings are poor indicators of our standing before God. Our heart can condemn us when the truth is that we are justified. And our heart can justify us when the truth is that we are condemned. 

When pleading with his readers, Paul will make the appeal multiple times  “Do not be deceived”. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul saw their arrogance in relation to the fruit of their lives which was disconnected from their claim of faith in the gospel of Christ. He is concerned for them that they would be deceived and so he warns them and even instructs discipline in at least one case so that a so-called brother will not be deceived.

Satan is on the hunt – We have a real enemy who roams about seeking someone to devour. He is a liar, who loves to say “peace, peace” when there is no reason for peace or to incite fear when there is reason for assurance. Whatever his angle, his aim in all his devices is to “steal, kill, and destroy”. How do you combat this deadly liar? With truth. But when you combine his lies with our propensity toward deception, we understand that we need truth to comes at us from the outside, we need people who are “speaking the truth in love” on a regular basis, combatting the lies that would either cause crippling fear or deadly calm.

Endurance is necessary – Perseverance is the most profound mark of genuine faith. And the writer of Hebrews points out that even the most radical, most godly, most genuine of Christians should have a healthy sense of their need for endurance and they should understand the role that the local church plays in that endurance. He writes that we should not neglect to meet together, that we should exercise watchfulness over each other, that we should stir each other up to love and good works, especially in light of the day of judgment. Why? Because we need to endure. Baby Christians need endurance. Seasoned saints need endurance. And we should not expect to endure apart from the means of church membership that God has ordained.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on my deathbed with only my own subjective, self-assessment of the condition of my soul. Of course I claim faith in Christ, but is there evidence of a faith that works, a love that labors, and a hope in Jesus that endures? Are there others that I have invited into my life who then in my hour of greatest need can say, “Steve, I know you are loved by God because I have seen his grace in your life. There is no condemnation for you.”

Now God has in his wisdom designed a community that provides just that – the local church. And it is membership in the local church that is God’s mechanism by which he guards from deception, strengthens our sense of assurance, and helps us endure.

Obviously, not just any so-called “church membership” will do. It must be meaningful, it must have substance, it must be something that has authority behind it which can provide safety, direction, and assurance. To merely have your name on a list is of no use.

We need…

  • Clear boundary lines – a biblical understanding of conversion. That is, we need to be members of a church where a clear understanding of how someone becomes a Christian is taught and where this is the standard for affirming an individual and bringing them into the church.
  • The expectation of discipleship – a biblical understanding of the Christian’s calling to walk in a manner that makes sense with the gospel and to be conformed into the image of Jesus is essential to avoiding deception. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice and they follow him. We need membership where our commitment to each other is a commitment to provoke each other to love and good works.
  • The practice of discipline – a biblical understanding of congregational authority and responsibility to affirm, and if needed to revoke, a person’s profession of faith must be present. We need a membership that is devoted to loving watchfulness and that is ready to affirm or rebuke/remove a member on the basis of their ongoing response to the gospel and the clear commands of Scripture. Paul could not be more clear, it is not loving or merciful to continue to certify someone as a brother or sister in the faith while they refuse to submit to lordship of Jesus. Why? Because then we become enablers of their deception.

To be at a church that does not have these things could be harmful to your soul. Don’t go to a church where you can be a member in anonymity. You need to approach church membership with the commitment to know and to be known by your fellow members. Furthermore, if you go to a church where you do not know a pastor/elder on a personal level, you need to either pursue one of the elders of that church or find another church.

Life is short, eternity is long, our hearts are weak, and our enemy is real. Therefore, we need church membership, especially as we see “the day approaching”.

One day, when the heart monitor flatlines and the respirations cease and I cross into eternity, I don’t want to walk through that door on the basis of my own subjective sense. Whether in that moment I am tempted with false hope in my goodness or the terror of doubt because of my sin, I want brothers and sisters in my life who reminded me of the gospel, who rebuked my sin, and who encouraged the evidence of God’s grace in my life. People who will hold my hand and hand me off to Jesus.

 

Descending to Ascend – A Christmas Poem

Dead and defeated

Our souls were cast down

Trapped in Adam’s cycle

With curse in place of crown

Unable to rise above

All those that have gone before

It seems our quest is futile

We have already lost the war

Happy and content

Many seem to be

To remain in woeful ignorance

Of what was designed for me

To know the Holy Sovereign

This was humanity’s call

Living in his lasting love

From this we did fall

Weak and unable

To climb above the rest

No works that we can offer

Can give us what is best

But Christmas an exception

At this happy time of year

We remember how the wayward

To Him may draw near

 

He came with what we lacked

To offer pure hands

A blessed substitution

To fulfill the Law’s demands

He came to be forsaken

By the very world he built

To face our execution

To take away our guilt

He loved what we had hated

He spoke truth instead of lies

He lived for what matters

A perfect sacrifice

Dying and rising

Descending to ascend

His purpose to remove

What would Heaven offend

Down he came at Christmas

So we could rise above

He took our life and death

So we could know Eternal love

Would Paul Trust You With His People?

Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I too may be encouraged by news about you. 20 For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; 21 all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:19-21 (CSB)

Writing to the Philippians, Paul desires to send Timothy to check up on how they were doing. Why Timothy? Because Paul says he had no one else “like-minded” who would genuinely care about the interests of the Philippian church. He goes on to bemoan that “all seek their own interests and not the those of Jesus Christ”.

Even in his day, Paul was having a hard time finding pastors and teachers who had the best interest of the church at heart, because their interest were not aligned with those of Jesus. It is crucial to see and understand, though it might obvious, that the interests of the church and the interests of Jesus are one and the same. The fulfillment of the goals and priorities of Jesus are what the church needs, and therefore, it needs leaders, pastors, teachers whose aims are aligned with those of Jesus.

Apparently, the list of those who cared about the interests of the church was quite small, which should be alarming to us and cause us to pause, check our life, our heart, our mind, and wonder:

“Would Paul trust me with his people?”

In order to answer that question, I think you take a good, hard look at the ministry of Jesus and at the ministry of Paul and you prayerfully consider if you ministry aligns with theirs in its aim and in its shape. Based on what we are trying to accomplish, based on what we teach, based on how we spend our time, would our lives and ministry be recognizable to Paul as being aligned with the interests of Jesus Christ?

A good start to this is to consider the summary statements Jesus gave for his purpose in coming to the world. This is helpful because the work of the apostles would be an extension of that ministry.[1]

One of the best, overarching statements of the ministry of Jesus, in my opinion, can be found in John 6, which reads:

“Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of him who sent me: that I should lose none of those he has given me but should raise them up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[2]

The reason Jesus came was to guarantee the eternal life of all of God’s people for His glory. This was the ultimate interest of Jesus, this was what shaped all that he did. And how would Jesus accomplish this? Through the cross.

The interests of Christ led to the cross, and this reality would profoundly shape the content of the ministry of Paul, who made it clear that he sought to make nothing known “except Jesus Christ and him crucified”[3].

Furthermore, the ministry of Jesus shaped the attitude and posture of Paul’s ministry. It took the swagger out of it.

Keeping in mind how Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”[4], we see Paul adopt this posture, eager to share not only the gospel of Christ, but his own life also, enduring labor and hardship for the church.[5]So much so that his philosophy of ministry could be summed up as “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”[6]

Informed and shaped by the gospel which he proclaimed, the ministry of Paul was directed by the interests of Jesus – which meant sacrificially seeking the salvation of God’s people through the preaching of Christ crucified. It meant loving God’s people at great personal cost, to the end that Christ would be formed in them. It meant giving yourself to see the church glorified.

And apparently so rare was this kind of ministry, finding workers who shared Christ’s interests, that Paul had no else he could really trust besides Timothy.

I wonder if Paul would trust me? Would he consider me to be like-minded?

There is much that can shape the trajectory of our ministry and flavor our teaching, but nothing will warp our trajectory or spoil our flavor more than seeking our own interests or the interests of any other besides Christ[7]. To build a reputation, to be loved, to feel justified, to get affirmation, to grow influence base, to increase the size of our church, to be relevant to the culture, to pursue economic prosperity – all of these things risk rendering us as untrustworthy servants. Every day our own interests or the interests of our culture can creep in and begin to corrode our ministry. We need to return to Christ, to the cross, we need to fix our eyes above and be daily recalibrated to his interests, which are also the interests of his church.

I am challenged by this to look to Christ, to remember how he loved me and gave himself for me, and to serve and speak out of the overflow of living by faith in that reality. It is through burning love for Christ that his interests become ours and when his interests are ours, we are in a position to serve the interests of the church.

So what do you think?

Would Paul trust you with his people?

 

[1]John 14:12, 17:18, 20:21

[2]John 6:37-40

[3]I Cor. 2:2

[4]Mark 10:45 (CSB)

[5]1 Thess. 2:8

[6]II Corinthians 4:5

[7]This highlights the reality that sacrificial service, in of itself, is not virtuous or ultimately God-glorifying. Only service that is directed by the interests of Jesus Christ is finally of any value.

Changed By Relationship

Relationships change us, for better or for worse. When Paul says that we should not be deceived, that “bad company ruins good morals” and that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”, he does so as an affirmation of what the whole Bible teaches about humanity, that is the natural, shaping power of relationships in our lives.[1].

We were made to be shaped by relationship. This is not a bad thing. It is the way we were made. Bad company corrupts us and a little bad “yeast” affects many because sin piggybacks on good things God has made and distorts them. We were made to be shaped by relationship – ultimately by our relationship with God. In right relationship to him we bear his image, mirroring his character which we know and experience in that relationship. We were made to be shaped, in what we do, what we think, in what we love, by our relationship with God. This is how we are formed into true humans. Righteousness, in heart, mind, and hands, occurs in the context of relationship because it is a reflection of what we are in intimate relationship with. This is why reconciliation with God apart from the gospel is impossible.

If it were not for the gospel – the good news that we are reconciled to God by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus alone- we would be incapable of producing the righteous behavior needed to bring us into relationship with God because it is the relationship which creates the behavior.[2]In John’s gospel, Jesus testifies that his character is directly related to his union – perfect relationship – with the Father.[3]He is not from God because of what he does, he does what he does because he is from the Father. All his actions, indeed his very will, are a direct reflection of his relationship with the Father. In the gospel message, we are reconciled to God in Christ, through his perfect obedience and flawless bearing of the imago dei imputed to us and through our sin and impurity which keeps us from right relationship with God, being imputed to Christ and dealt with on the cross. Thus being reconciled to God we are then changed in relationship with God by the Spirit through whom we experience true, personal communion with God. Put in the context of modern psychology, the answer to the “nature versus nurture” debate in the gospel is “yes” to both. In Christ we receive a new nature, and with it our status as God’s children, thereby being established in a new context for nurture – the family of God under the care and promise of our heavenly Father who has sworn our translation into the likeness of Jesus. The new nature is the ground of our transformation and provides the new context for our nurture into the image of Jesus. In Scripture this transformative relationship is referred to in many ways, such as “abiding in the vine”[4]or in Romans 8, transformation is the result of God living in us by the Spirit, which is the source of our relationship, or “sonship”. This all works to the end that just as the life of Jesus showed his relationship with the Father, so will ours. But all of this is of divine grace, for there would be no transforming relationship if we were not first brought into that relationship through the Spirit’s application of the cross-work of the Son and his perfect “imaging” of the Father.[5]

What we learn in Ephesians is that in Christ we are not only brought into a unified relationship with God, but also with others who are united with Christ.[6]This is crucial, because we see there that transformation is intended to occur only in the context of relationship, certainly with God, but also with others who also know God.[7]When one considers a biblical anthropology, this should not be surprising. Man and woman in Genesis 2, the founding seed of all human relationship, uniquely bore the divine image in community; an image that was broken when man’s relationship with God was fractured – an image which is seen in its fullness with the perfect fulfillment of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[8]Once man fell into rebellion, he was then unable to bear the image of God as an individual due to his alienation from God, which necessarily then led to a breakdown of that image in community. Which of course then we see immediately in the disunity of competing wills as self-actualization became man’s chief goal, this is exemplified in the self-serving excuses of Adam and Eve and then in the jealous rage of their son, Cain and on and on through the biblical narrative.[9]We still were made for relationship and shaped by relationship, but it was now twisted, distorted, and ultimately destructive instead of constructive.[10]Our craving for unity and intimacy is evidence of this, but without relationship with God all dreams of unity are a vapor. We see this futility expressed today as a type of counterfeit unity among humanity is only achieved through placation, domination, or an ever-increasing affirmation of individual autonomy, which history has shown cannot be sustained but always devolves into an ugly cycle of anarchy supplanted by tyranny.

But by being reconciled to God, a new kind of horizontal relationship is created – or rather, recreated, which changes us. A community made up of individuals who being in relationship with God through the gospel of Jesus are changed so that the image of the triune God begins to be reflected in community. In fact, being in relationship with God as an individual shapes us so that we seek and create community and we feel incomplete, incapable of being what we were made to be, without that community. For instance, we experience self-giving love from God in all his kindness and good gifts to us which he gives not of necessity to himself but as a free gift – a reflection of that love in creation requires a theatre for mimicking that love, such that there is no such thing as love for God without it being expressed in love for others which reflects the love we know in relationship with God![11]

The end result of being in relationship with the God who is Trinity, is that we move toward being one as a community, just as the Father and Son and Spirit are one, while maintaining our distinction as persons.[12]This inevitably molds and sharpens us, it changes us in relationship because you cannot come together to a place of shared goals, share authority, and shared love without each individual being changed to form a unique whole.

Of course the human relationship that is created by our relationship with God is what forms the church. The church is both the necessary result of our relationship with God and the context where our relationship with God ultimately becomes visible and can actually be vouched for as genuine. And it is this horizontal relationship then that by its very nature serves the end goal of a growing intimacy with God that changes us.[13]

We are programmed to reflect what we are in relationship with.[14]The dark side of this in a fallen word is that “bad company corrupts good morals” – examples of which abound in Scripture and human history, so much so that this is generally embraced as a truism across cultures. The reality is that we cannot help but be shaped by relationship – be that with friends, family, society, or our broader cultural context. But this should not cause us who have the Bible to be hopeless. Instead, we see being changed by relationship as something beautiful, wonderful, something that makes us truly human, when our fundamental relationship is that of a son or daughter of God through Christ by the Spirit; a relationship with a God that can be known, that can be observed in history, and that through knowing shapes how we think, what we value – in the end, who we are, not merely as individuals, but as individuals made for relationship with others. Embracing this has incredible implications on marriage and friendship, on our life in the church. In the west we largely believe that good relationships are those that accept us for who we are, but the Bible gives us a vision of relationships that serve to form us into who we are meant to be. And becoming what we are meant to be is something that can only occur in relationship. We were made for this.

 

[1](1 Corinthians 15:33; 5:6 ESV)

[2]John 8:34-41; Romans 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-10

[3]John 5:31-47;14:6-11

[4]John 15:7-8

[5]Ephesians 2:1-10

[6]Ephesians 2:11-22

[7]Ephesians 2:22;4:1-16

[8]Galatians 5:14

[9]One of the key ways that the image of God is reflected in community is when community us united with a common foundation and common goal, such as we see Christ having with his Father in John’s gospel.

[10]A good example would be Babel in Genesis 11:1-9

[11]1 John

[12]John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-3.12-16

[13]I will try to flush out the biblical mechanics of that in a later post

[14]Friedrich Nietzsche famously observed “the herd mentality” in humanity, however, as we might expect from a nihilist, he doesn’t see this as having any redemptive root, but is the result of human boredom with self, laziness, and indolence. Without a biblical worldview, like the preacher in Ecclesiastes, we might be tempted to also see our natures so easily shaped by our relationship to others as dark and undesirable, especially when time and again we run as a blind heard to our ruin.

Madness In Missions Methodology

The quest for the “silver bullet”.

Have you ever noticed in the movies how there is always that discovery which works perfectly, albeit magically at times, to fix the problem, provide the cure, or divert the crisis? A potion that restores youth, a hospital capsule that automatically does surgery, an arc reactor that can keep the shrapnel away from your heart, or a silver bullet that can slay the otherwise immortal.

We have an insatiable desire it seems for results and quick fixes. This desire spills over to every area of our lives. It has touched our churches and over the years that I have been serving for the cause of the gospel overseas, it has become clear that this yearning has touched our mission methodology as well. As I have read books and sat through seminars over the years, I can’t help but sense that as a church that has been given a mission -a mandate- we are obsessed with finding our “silver bullet”. In our mission methodology, like an alchemist of old, we have gone mad trying to unlock what everyone since the days of the apostles has apparently missed – the formula for explosive, exponential kingdom growth. A silver bullet to the monstrous need of the unreached.

In most cases such a search comes from compassionate hearts and a desire to glorify God. But as the methods come and go, each claiming to be more biblical, useful, replicable than the other, it seems that we need to be reminded that we have not been given the mandate of seeking a “silver bullet”.

We all end up employing some kind of methodology in missions. But we are in danger of sacrificing faithfulness to our Scriptural mandate on the altar of success, when our focus gets locked onto our methods and their ensuing results. In fact, we can become so concerned with seeking the “silver bullet”, that when we think we find it, like some miracle cure that actually makes us into monsters, we sometimes fail, and even refuse, to see the negative impact of that “miracle” method (Anyone see I Am Legend?) When our methodology seems to be working we may fail to see that our biblical basis is not as biblical as we think. And perhaps we are then inhibited from discerning the fruit from faux results.

Some Classic Examples

Books and articles, training courses and seminars abound promoting “the biblical pattern” for rapidly multiplying churches and disciples.

The Four Fields approach claims to have unlocked the “kingdom principles” in the parables of Mark 4 which will lead to the reaping of a great harvest. The “person of peace” approach looks to the sending of the 72 in Luke 10 as the pattern for kingdom expansion. T4T, “training for trainers”, uses passages like 2 Timothy 2:2 and John 4 as its model for rapidly multiplying “trainers” to take the message of the kingdom to others.

There is actually a lot of good in a number of these programs. The problem with them is that they often flow from less than careful exegesis, they are judged on pragmatic criteria, and the whole counsel of God’s word is not taken into consideration in the use of them.

For instance….

Four Fields looks to parables which describe the kingdom of God and its growth, without considering the purpose those parables were spoken – which was to expose the misunderstanding the religious leaders had of the nature of God’s kingdom and as judgment on them for their rejection of the Messiah.

The “person of peace” approach, appeals only selectively to Luke 10 as the model for kingdom expansion – the commands found there to hurry, to take no clothes, and to eat only what is served are ignored. Other methods which led to kingdom expansion, like sermons to large crowds in Acts 2, are also ignored by this philosophy.

The T4T approach appeals to 2 Timothy 2:2, without pausing to consider the context it is written in – the local church – and the qualifying requirement of “faithful men”. Not just eager men, not just willing men, but faithful men. How do you know if someone is faithful? It takes time in a community of accountability. And what are they being trained to do? To preach, something which is often downplayed or redefined because traditional preaching and the development of preachers is seen as cumbersome to rapid multiplication – which seems to be the primary virtue by which all tactics are judged in this approach and others like it.

All of these methods are promoted for their supposed source in Scripture and their proven track record of yielding results, of bearing “fruit”. (And there may indeed be fruit.) But there are some potential flaws with many of these systems which lead to other problems, some of which may not be seen until years down the road. The hurried development of “trainers” or “kingdom agents” or “men of peace”, circumnavigates Paul’s long view for the training of “faithful men” seen in 2 Timothy 2:2. The focus on obedience in “discovery Bible studies” used in the CPM approach can confuse the gospel and simply lead to the exchange of one set of religious principles for another. That same CPM system can lend to a lack of clarity on conversion which can lead to a confused identity. A lack of understanding of why we are not disciples and how we become them, leads to people claiming to embrace Jesus as “king” without clearly understanding their need for him as Savior. This leads to a deadly ripple effect which ends in man-powered religion, the people you “reached” having something no different than what they had at first.

You may disagree with all my observations but the bottom line is that no method is a “silver bullet”. No method, as long as fallen and finite people like ourselves are at the helm, is going to be perfect. This article is not being written to write off all methodologies nor to offer yet another method to the madness of mission methodology. This is meant simply to help us latch onto some guiding principles for our methods, and to hopefully get us to admit that more methods are not what we need.

The Bible promotes a mandate more than a methodology. Therefore, all methodologies must be tested as to whether or not they are faithful to that mandate.

There is a madness in mission methodology that is driven by one ultimate question: “Does it work?” Admittedly that question is always surrounded by lots of biblical language and qualifications, but at the end of the day the argument made in defense of many methods is: “It works and you can’t argue with results.” As one man promoting CPM methodologies told me, “Numbers don’t lie.” But as Pastor and author, Mark Dever, once wisely said, “Numbers lie all the time.”

If the question “Does it work?” is driving our methodology, we are in serious danger of swerving from the mandate.

We must admit that different contexts may call for different methodologies. But how do we evaluate these methods?

It has to be on the basis of faithfulness to the mandate, in light of the whole counsel of God’s word.

What is the mandate? We can certainly look at the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 to understand that, but to understand Matthew 28 we need to look at the whole counsel of God’s word.[1]

“Make Disciples”

How does someone become a disciple? Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in response to the preaching of the word of Christ.[2]

“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”

How does a disciple come to obey all that Christ commanded? In the context of the church, led by faithful, trained, and appointed men, where they are equipped to speak the truth in love so that everyone is built up to maturity.[3]

One of the problems with missions today, is that very often the simplicity of the mandate – proclaiming the glory of God in the face of Christ, displayed at the cross – is overwhelmed by the complexity of the method. I fear that in our quest for the “silver bullet”, we have ceased to be stunned by the glory of Christ which compels us to say, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”[4]

This was the heart of Paul as he drew near the end of his life. Motivated to a life of suffering by the grace he had been shown in Christ, he reminded Timothy of that hope and the necessity of speaking it.[5] “Preach the word, Timothy. And since you won’t be around forever, get some faithful men and train them to do the same thing. Preach the word to the end, that is our mandate, even if people don’t want to listen.”[6] There was no need for charts, or diagrams, or statistics, there was simply the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ which compels us to speak the word of reconciliation, resting in the knowledge that whether people receive it or not, whether we are “effective or not”, Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.[7]

Let us end the madness! Behold the glory of Christ and then proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. The woman at the well needed only mercy to release her to speak. The demoniac needed deliverance to proclaim his Savior. Peter needed grace to compel him to boldness. Paul needed love for the chief of sinners to control him. The result of hearing, believing and being transformed by the gospel is that we proclaim the gospel – this is our simple mandate. When we know the gospel, we speak the gospel, which leads to eager gathering around the gospel, resulting in transformation worthy of the gospel. This is how “the kingdom grows”, be it fast, be it slow, be it winter, or be it spring, there is no substitute for simple, genuine faithfulness flowing from a heart touched by the grace of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This is precisely what many methodologies fail to do

[2] Acts 20:21; Romans 10:17

[3] Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17

[4] Acts 4:20

[5] 2 Timothy 1:8-13

[6] 2 Timothy 4:1,6;1:12-14;2:2;4:2-4

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:14-20;2:14-16

Sustained By Glory

When Katie and I got married we had a pretty normal American, Christian life. We had a starter home we were paying the bank for, I had a good job in construction management, we had a good community group and a good church. Then about a week into our marriage, while reading the Bible together at our hotel in Sorrento, Italy, the words from Isaiah 6 jumped off the page. “Who will we send? And who will go for us?” This divine inquiry was met with the newly sanctified lips of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.” I turned to Katie and I said with moist eyes, “I think our lives are going to look different than we thought.” She smiled and said. “Okay.”

Fast forward literally 10 years from then to when I am writing this in early December 2017. We have six kids, we are on the other side of the world, we live off of support from generous gospel-partners, and this spring will mark 9 years of cross-cultural ministry in a part of the world where the unreached have converged. There have been many ups and downs, many things to rejoice in, and many things that have been and continue to be difficult. Probably among the greatest of those difficulties is what many of us face who have followed the call across cultures – which is that the people we have given ourselves to love, that we share the gospel with, that we point to Christ, just seem so hard, so unreceptive, and there just seems to be so little fruit.

What has kept us going these years and what is going to sustain us for many more? How do we keep from giving up or keep from sacrificing faithfulness out of desperation for something to “write home about”?

What I have found is that the answer to that question is found in the very passage of Scripture that God used to compel us to the field in the first place.

During a season of discouragement and wrestling with various ministry models I happened upon a lecture from D.A. Carson about the parables in Mark 4. In that lecture he necessarily spent a good bit of time looking at Isaiah 6, which Jesus quotes from as context for his parables. From Isaiah 6 Carson pointed out, and I am paraphrasing, that we often read the “Here Am I. Send me!” and then we fail to read on to see the description of the ministry that Isaiah was being given. He would preach and God would use his preaching to actually harden the hearts of his hearers! He would proclaim great promises and yet see no immediate fruit. And it was here that Carson, paused and said solemnly, “If you are not willing to accept that God may be calling you to an Isaiah ministry, you need to stay out of ministry because you’re dangerous.”

So the question is, if it wasn’t appreciable results the sustained Isaiah in his ministry what was it? What compelled him to embrace this sending into what would, for the time, be a thankless and fruitless ministry?

The answer? It is what Isaiah saw that compelled him and sustained him. He saw the glory of God. In this case, I believe he saw “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6) It was this same sight of glory that would lead John and Peter to say in the face of persecution, “We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It was this same sight of glory that sustained Stephen as the condemnation of the Sanhedrin came down on his head. It was this sight of glory that would lead Paul to suffer for the sake of God’s elect.

If your people-group is your goal, then when your ministry looks like an Isaiah ministry you will either compromise or give up or be miserable. But when your proclamation is an overflow of the glory you have seen, continuing in it is not dependent on results but on the glory itself which will never cease to shine. When ministry is an overflow of seeing glory you live knowing as Paul says, that “God… always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance  of Christ among those who are being saved  and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death  leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life  leading to life. Who is adequate for these things?  For we do not market the word of God  for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Faithful ministry is being done when we speak in Christ, from God, and in the sight of God. Secure in Christ regardless of results, proclaiming a message from God despite how foolish it may sound, and for his approval alone when everyone around us seems to demand and only be impressed by measurable results. We endure in faithful ministry when it is not driven by our outward circumstances or results, but by our communion with God. So what sustains us in faithful ministry? Seeing him. Seeing him -having him as our greatest reality, our inspiration, our prize! Where am I getting this? By reading on to chapter 3, 4, 5! We now with unveiled face by the Spirit behold God’s glory, therefore we do not lose heart in ministry, and now knowing Christ and seeing him, we consider suffering, even the suffering of seemingly fruitless labor, as but preparation as we, viewing people differently now, live as reconciliation-proclaiming ambassadors of Christ.

We get the aroma by being around him. We get the glow by gazing at his face. And we carry that aroma and we shine that radiance regardless of how it is received. And regardless of what happens – we are triumphant. Isaiah was. He didn’t get to see it. But he was triumphant.

It is the sight of the glory of God that compels us to speak. It is the sight of the glory of God that causes us to not help but endure. And it is the perfect sight of that glory which will be our prize.

I don’t ever want to lose that as my motivation for endurance. Because it is there that we have peace, we have joy, that we know that we triumph in all circumstances. It is there that we do not lose heart. We proclaim what we see, we see because God has opened our eyes and we can’t help ourselves, and if anything comes from this proclamation it will be because God will make others see, because he makes others smell the sweetness of what we have come to smell – the aroma of Christ, the glory seen in his face.

“We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That is what allowed John to endure. What he had seen and heard. In the end, it didn’t matter whether people wanted it or not, it simply overflowed and God, in ways we see and ways we cannot, will use that overflow. So look. So smell. So endure until you get what you ultimately want – to see him face to face, to breath in the aroma of his robes as he embraces you and welcomes you into his uninterrupted joy.

The Comfort of Christmas – A Poem

What do lights have to do

With the sorrow we feel

Another year passed

With new wounds to heal

 

How does a tree

Green though it be

Brings peace to my mind

When regrets search for me – and find

 

The tune of sweet carols

Bring a moment of delight

That fades in the silence

When future comes to fright

 

The gift perfectly bought

Seems to satisfy nought

Though for a moment it touches

A deeper longing – it nudges

 

The comfort of Christmas

Not found in these things

Because the world tomorrow

Terror it brings

 

Our world it is broken

We dare not deny

No pageant, no party

Can this rectify

 

The comfort of Christmas

Is the Cure of the cause

Our regrets all forgotten

The record of broken laws

 

Our longing for light

Is an aching for sight

Our love of green trees

From death, something that frees

 

Our delight in the songs

The soul for harmony longs

Our gifts that we sought

Longing for what cannot be bought

 

Joy! Delight!

Comfort now…

All of our longings in Him

May be found

 

Like light that warmly shines

He shows us what is real

The God that has made us

That in the silence we feel

 

Like a tree that is cut

Yet whose color is unfaded

He stands with eternal life

For all in Him shaded

 

Like music that soars

He has ascended above

With sacrifice perfect

To make many one

 

He purchased the gift

We could not afford

By falling for us

Under his own divine sword

 

The comfort of Christmas

Is ultimately this

The wooing of rebels

With a heavenly kiss

 

The comfort of Christmas

Is the message of peace

Because our striving against God

Can eternally cease

 

The comfort of Christmas

Divine come from above

To mend what is broken

With eternal, sacrificial love

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