Both the Old and New Testaments reveal the damage caused by Adam’s willful choice to rebel against God’s commands (Gen 2:15-17; Genesis 3). The fall from innocence of Adam and Eve, and the entry of sin into God’s creation, has had a disastrous effect upon:
- the created universe (Rom 8:20-22)
- all plant life (Gen 3:17-19)
- all animal life (Isa 65:25)
A. DISTORTION OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS
At the Fall, Adam and Eve lost their sinless harmony of relationship with God (Gen 3:8-10). Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other also began to deteriorate as Adam blamed and accused his wife for his own choice to disobey (Gen 3:12). They entered into a life of separation from, and struggle with, the rest of God’s creation (Gen 3:17- 19, 23, 24).
Because of this distorting effect of sin on all human relationships, God had to take drastic measures to reorder the lives of now-fallen human beings (Gen 3:16-19).
To the woman God says that her pains in pregnancy would be greatly increased (v.16a). Remember that the woman was created to be man’s helpmate and the joyful mother of children (Gen 1:27,28; 2:18,23,24). But after the Fall, having a large family with many children was going to become more difficult.
Next God says to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (v.16b). Though there is some difficulty in correctly translating the original Hebrew in this verse, the best interpretation is as follows: “Desire” in Genesis 3:16 is not sexual desire; rather, it reflects the presence of sin distorting what God had created woman to be.
As discussed previously, God had made woman as a “helper” to man (2:18), to rule with him in daily life (1:27,28). Sin, however, allowed the entrance of wrong desires. A woman’s fleshly desire would now be to seek independence from the man – even to possibly desire to rule over him.
In order to better understand this, let us examine the same Hebrew word for “desire” as it is used in Genesis 4:7. In this instance, God is explaining to Cain the power of sin and that sin’s “desire is for you”. God then tells Cain, “but you should rule over it” (4:7). Sin would desire to rule and control Cain, but God tells Cain to instead rule over sin (which, sadly, he does not do).
In Genesis 3:16, God tells Eve that Adam will “rule over” her. God is not, however, commanding Adam to dominate Eve; rather, He is describing a change produced by the distorting power of sin in human hearts and human society. God’s original created order had now been drastically changed. Because of sin, woman would now desire to rule in the place of authority. Man would have to strive to resist this attempt, and was to “rule over” the woman.
The full effects of sin’s distortion are clearly seen in Scripture and in the world around us even to this day. The Bible account of Jezebel shows the extreme results of a woman giving in to the desire to dominate (1 Ki 16, 18, 19, 21; 2 Ki 9). There was much heartache and destruction caused by sin that was out of control in Jezebel’s life. To this day, there are women who desire to dominate and control their husbands, their relationships and their circumstances. Their families and many others suffer from this destructive behavior.
In this same Biblical account, the story of Jezebel’s husband Ahab shows the results of a man giving up his God-given responsibilities (1 Ki 21:1-16, 23-26). The abandoning of his role also had tragic consequences. Even to this day, men who give in to human and fleshly tendencies react to responsibility by “letting someone else take it”. A man may not lead his family properly, or may not work to provide for his spouse and children. He may want to blame his wife or his circumstances for his own failures. He may even try to cruelly dominate and control his wife. In some cultures, women are treated as animals or as possessions to be traded or sold. This is the tragic result of sin having its way in a person’s life.
All of this is quite different from God’s original intent at Creation. Man and woman were made to complement one another and co-rule together. Adam had been given a certain amount of authority over Eve as he was created first and named her twice (Gen 2:21-23; 3:20). However, it was not an authority to dominate her, but rather lo be a servant/leader to her. God gave Adam the responsibility to love and cherish Eve, to protect her, to provide for her, and to lead her and their family. And God gave Eve the responsibility of supporting and helping Adam in all of his God-given responsibilities.
The relationship God originally intended for man and woman was not threatening or difficult for them. They both understood that God designed the marriage relationship for their mutual blessing. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve walked in the beauty and simplicity of a God-ordered marriage. Man lovingly cared for his wife, and she graciously received his care and gave her support back to him ruled together, loving and supporting one another.
However, the entrance of sin allowed for the entrance of distorted desires. Man and woman would now have to struggle with the consequences of sin, which included competition, striving, selfishness, dominance and rebellion (among other things). Their natural, human tendencies would now be different than what God had originally intended for them. Woman would desire to dominate or control; man would desire to abandon his place of leadership – or would strive in his own strength to regain his place of leadership by dominating his wife or behaving cruelly toward her.
Things would now be much more difficult for men and women. Even after the entrance of sin, God reminded Adam that he still had the responsibility to provide for his family, but that it would be through hard labor (Gen 3:17-19; 1 Tim 5:8). Man’s shortened life would be marked by labor and toil, woman’s by pain in childbirth; and they would both suffer the painful distortions caused by the entrance of sin into the husband/wife relationship.
CHRIST’S REDEMPTIVE WORK
The tragic effects of sin on the marriage relationship are still very evident today. One might be tempted to feel discouraged and hopeless about the possibilities in marriage.
But we have the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to encourage us!
Christ’s death broke the power of sin and the curse upon mankind (Rom 5:12-21). Christ came, died as a sacrifice, and rose again to restore people to a personal relationship with God (Col 1:19-23). Full relationship with God had not been possible since sin’s entrance into the human race at the Fall. All of mankind lay under the curse of sin (which is death and separation from God) until Christ came to set the captives free (John 8:34-36; Heb 2:10-18).
Before receiving Christ, we are spiritually “dead” in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-3). But when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, our spirit becomes alive (Eph 2:4-10). The spiritual blinders that covered our eyes and kept us from seeing God and His ways are now removed. We can live very differently than we did before receiving Christ.
Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for our minds and hearts to be transformed and renewed (Rom 12:1, 2; Eph 4:22-24). We can repent of our sins, be forgiven, and be restored little by little into the kind of people God originally intended men and women to be (2 Cor 3:18).
The Scriptures tell us that we, as Christians, now have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). His will and His ways can now enter our thoughts, and we can understand what God wants us to do. We are a “new creation” and the “former things are passed away” (2 Cor 5:17). What we once were before Christ -and how we once thought – can now be completely different.
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. We now have His power to help us deny our sinful and selfish desires; we are no longer slaves to sin, but free to live according to God’s original design. We can choose not to take offense, but be understanding and quick to forgive. What a difference Jesus Christ and His Spirit can make in our marriage!
As a man and woman submit themselves to God’s transforming and renewing work by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are changed from the inside out. As they are returned more and more into the image of God, their marriage will also become more of what God intended marriage to be at Creation.
Jesus came to restore what had been lost through sin. Jesus’ work was one of restoration and redemption. We have a great hope that no matter what has happened in our past, it can be healed, redeemed and restored. We can be free of the bondage that results from sinful and destructive behavior.
Many New Testament scriptures encourage redeemed believers in Jesus Christ about what is now possible in relationships with others, and especially in marriage. We can love each other as Christ loves us (1 Cor 13; 1 John 4:7-11). We can be patient, kind and gentle (Gal 5:22, 23). It may take time and hard work to deny our fleshly desires and become more Christ like; but it is well worth the effort, since we can then enjoy good and godly relationships with our spouse and others.
B. GOD’S STANDARDS DO NOT CHANGE
Sin may have distorted the standards men and women have for marriage. But God’s standards for marriage have NOT changed.
Genesis 1:27, 28 and 2:18, 21-24 show us what God intended the marriage relationship to be. Other Bible passages, however, show how sinful human beings have distorted the marriage relationship.
- Polygamy -Having More Than One Wife
This marriage practice was first seen in Genesis 4:19. Beginning with Lamech, sinful humanity’s decline from God’s created order can be clearly seen in marriage.
God intended the marriage relationship to be a vital union between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24; see also Matthew 19:5; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).
Scripture reveals that polygamy (multiple wives) was practiced by the Patriarchs (Gen 29:21-30) and by many of Israel’s kings (1 Sam 25:43; 27:3; 30:5-18; 2 Sam 2:2;5:13; 12:11; 19:5; 1 Ki 11:1-11). This was against the commands of God’s law (Deut 17:17). This practice continued in Israel even in the time of Christ.
It is important to remember that polygamy (taking multiple wives) is never sanctioned by Scripture. God’s original design – for one man and one woman to be joined in the sacred covenant of marriage for a lifetime -is still His ideal.
This is certainly in accord with the Creation account. We also see this in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, who likened God’s relationship with Israel to a faithful husband married to one wife (Isa 54:5,6; Jer 3:14; Hos 2:19, 20).
The New Testament never sanctions having more than one wife. In fact, one of the requirements for leadership in the New Testament Church is that a man must be “blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2).
- Solving The Problem Of Polygamy
Today, polygamy is still practiced in many places; perhaps even in your church there are those who have multiple wives. Since God’s original ideal at Creation was for one man to be married to one woman – and since this is still the pattern for New Testament believers – what can you do to counsel those who have multiple wives?
They certainly should not be condemned or removed from your church. They most likely acquired multiple wives before they became Christians.
However, no man who is a committed disciple of Jesus Christ should be attempting to have more than one wife. But if a man already has more than one wife, what should he do? Should he divorce or send away all but one wife? What about the children? What does Scripture recommend?
The problem of polygamy in the Church is a difficult one. But there are principles we can learn from Scripture that will guide us as we sensitively and obediently follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
First, James 1:5 tells us that “if any of you lacks wisdom; let him ask of God, Who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
With this Spirit-given wisdom, let us look at some scriptures together. 1 Timothy 5:8 reads, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” This clearly shows that it would be a violation of Scripture to not provide for all wives. Even though having multiple wives is not what God intended, the husband is still responsible for the women he married and the children they produced. Those women have surrendered their independence by marrying that man, and their children are his responsibility as well.
Scripture does not forbid a man who has multiple wives, or any of his wives, from participating in church meetings. Scripture does, however, forbid a man who has multiple wives from becoming a leader or elder in the church (1Tim 3:2).
- Divorce In The Bible
God hates divorce. “For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garments with violence,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously'” (Mal 2:16).
It is essential to remember that, whether or not you were a Christian when you got married, marriage is a sacred covenant to God. It is a lifelong joining of two people into “one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This means that each partner – both husband and wife – must maintain, promote, support and preserve the commitment of marriage as a lifelong relationship. This is how God designed marriage to be.
To initiate divorce is to do violence to God’s order for the marriage covenant (Mal 2:16).
Because marriage is a covenant relationship established by God, He makes available all the love, wisdom and power of a covenant keeping God! He is committed to help keep and protect marriage. God established marriage, and He stands behind marriage with all of His power and authority. Marriage can be weakened and hurt only when we ourselves allow lust, covetousness, neglect, “busy”ness, anger, selfishness, pride or other sin to interfere in our relationship.
Jesus Himself also stresses the sanctity of the covenant of marriage. Jesus reinforces God’s ideal of a lifelong and unbroken relationship between husband and wife (Matt 19:4-6).
Why does God so strongly oppose divorce? It is for the same reasons God opposes any sin. First, sin is a violation of God’s moral order as revealed in His Word, the Bible. Sin is a direct rebellion against the expressed will of God. Therefore, any sin committed -no matter how well justified or rationalized -is first and foremost against the holy Person of God Himself.
Second, sin is severely destructive to the person who participates in it! This can be clearly seen in the case of divorce. Much brokenness and pain occurs in the sinful behavior that leads to divorce. Both the husband and wife suffer from hurtful words and selfish actions. This is the result of tearing something apart that has been welded together – both pieces are badly damaged. In addition, the children of the divorced couple also suffer, and can be emotionally damaged and hurt.
God hates divorce not just because it is wrong. He hates divorce also because of the sin, brokenness and pain that cause divorce and result from it. It grieves God to see children without the care and provision of both parents. God hates the betrayal of adultery. He hates all that comes with divorce.
God does hate divorce – but He does not hate the people who get divorced. God understands that people are distorted by sin, and that we bring sin and brokenness into all of our relationships. He knows we sometimes give in to our lustful desires, or make very bad decisions in the midst of conflict He does not approve of this behavior; therefore He has provided a righteous way of escape when we are tempted (1 Cor 10:13).
But when a man or woman choose their own selfish way, God understands the painful consequences of that sin. Therefore, there is some important discussion regarding divorce and remarriage in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 explains a procedure by which a husband may divorce his wife. This passage does NOT give a divine sanction for divorce, and should NOT be used as a blanket excuse for divorcing one’s husband or wife. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the sad fact that, because of human sin and brokenness, divorce has occurred among the Israelites.
One group of Pharisees in Jesus’ time interpreted the “uncleanness” of Deuteronomy 24:1 to mean adultery. Thus, according to this group, adultery provided the only reason for divorce. But another group of more liberal Pharisees claimed that you could divorce a woman “for just any reason” (Matt 19:3), even just for personal dislike.
Jesus responds to both claims by reinforcing God’s covenant principle within marriage (Matt 19:4-9). He points out that the only reason God allowed Moses to permit divorce was the harness of human hearts (Matt 19:8). In every broken marriage covenant there is a heart hardened against one’s mate, and against God’s desire for marriage.
The difficulties and challenge”‘ encountered in every marriage could ultimately lead to divorce. IF a husband or wife follow their natural, fleshly inclinations and allow their heart to be hardened.
But Jesus reminds us that a hardened heart is not the best way. God is the One Who joins people in marriage, and He can change and soften hearts. Restoration of the marriage is always the best solution. Jesus strongly supports God’s original creation design and states bluntly, “They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:6). Jesus makes it clear that believers must strive to preserve the marriage bond.
Scripture does allow a single exception for divorce: If one spouse commits sexual immorality, the other spouse does have grounds for divorce (Matt 19:9). However, even in this case, Jesus makes it clear that divorce was not God’s original desire for marriage. “From the beginning” He reminds us, “it was not so” (v.8b). God is seen throughout the Scriptures as a God of redemption. He is the One Who provides the grace for repentance and forgiveness to bring people and situations back into wholeness. Thus, restoration of a damaged marriage, NOT divorce, is clearly God’s highest desire.
PAUL’S TEACHING ON DIVORCE
Paul also confronts the issue of divorce and remarriage in his first letter to the Corinthian church. In Corinthians 7, he gives both general and specific instructions regarding marriage relationships.
Like Jesus, Paul affirms the sanctity of the covenant relationship of husband and wife; he therefore reinforces the permanency of the bond of marriage.
Paul makes it clear that a Christian wife or husband should not depart from their marriage. “Now to the married l command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7:10,11).
But Paul, realizing the potential for human failure, mentions that one spouse might still depart (v.11). However, if a Christian husband or wife departs from the marriage, they are not to marry someone else (1 Cor 7:10, 11). [Note: Though Paul addresses this from a woman’s perspective, the principle applies to both men and women.)
If the husband and wife do not reconcile and therefore choose to live apart, they are to remain single (not remarry) and celibate -in other words, Scripture forbids them from engaging in any sexual activity with another person. They may only remarry the spouse they divorced; or, if one dies, the other is then free to remarry another believer (1 Cor 7:39).
It is God’s desire that a husband and wife be reconciled to each other. It is God’s desire that forgiveness, reconciliation and renewed commitment to the marriage covenant be the primary goal of the husband and wife.
- Marriage To An Unbeliever
What if a Christian is married to a non-Christian (unbeliever)? Paul, as a founding apostle appointed by God (1 Cor 1:1) and writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.
(NOTE: Paul does say in 7:12, “but to the rest I, not the Lord, say…”Jesus did not address this issue, so Paul does. It is important to remember that Paul was speaking with an anointing and authority no other person has today. There are modern-day apostles but they do not function with the same authority as did Paul or the other New Testament apostles. Paul does go on to say in 7:25, “Now concerning virgins [single adults]: I have no commandment from the Lord [as to whether they are supposed to marry or not]; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy” (see also 7:40). No other person has the authority or a “word” that is at the same level as, let alone supercedes, the written Word of God. The Bible is complete, and should never be changed, added to or subtracted from; read and memorize Revelation 22:18, 19)
The Bible is very clear that NO believer in Jesus Christ should marry a NON believer in Jesus Christ. This would make them “unequally yoked”. [Study 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 for more on this subject.]
However, in 1 Corinthians 7:12- 16, Paul deals with the issue of a believer who is already married to an unbeliever. It is likely in the situation Paul describes that one spouse became a believer after the marriage took place. Or, unfortunately, in spite of the very dear scriptural warnings against it, a believer sometimes disobeys and marries an unbeliever.
Paul gives the following guidelines for a believer who is married to an unbeliever:
- If the unbeliever wants to remain with the believing spouse, then the couple should definitely remain married (1 Cor 7:12,13). The believing spouse can possibly be a holy influence on the unbelieving spouse, and likewise on the children (vs.14, 16).
- If the unbelieving spouse initiates a divorce, then the believer is “not under bondage” to keep the marriage together (v.15). (Paul does not comment in this passage as to whether the believer is then free to remarry.)
Scripture makes it clear that divorce is NOT God’s best for His people. Those who commit themselves to live by scriptural principles in marriage will not consider divorce as an option.
However, because of the presence of sin in human hearts, many people – including, sadly, some Christians – may feel unable or unwilling to keep the marriage covenant.
But remember – divorce is allowable only in the case of sexual immorality or if an unbeliever departs and divorces the believer. Even in these instances, divorce should be the last option.
REMARRIAGE FOR THE BELIEVER
The Bible does not allow for many of our modern ideas and practices concerning divorce and remarriage. Many people mistakenly believe that a believer who has divorced for any reason can remarry. But this is not the case. The Scriptures teach us that a Christian can remarry only when:
- His/ her first spouse committed sexual immorality and the marriage ended in divorce (Matt 5:32; 19:9)
- His/her spouse has died (Rom 7:3)
Some may add that a spouse abandoned by an unbeliever can also remarry: “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases” (1 Cor 7:15). This verse does state that the abandoned spouse is “not under bondage” (they are free from marital obligation to the spouse that departed). But it does not state whether or not the abandoned spouse is then free to remarry.
We must carefully consider the consequences of our actions when contemplating marriage, divorce or remarriage. God has made it clear that marriage is a serious covenant, intended to be made once for a lifetime. According to the Bible, Christians do NOT have the option to divorce and remarry, except under very limited circumstances (as already discussed).
The destructive effects of sin in people, and thus in their relationships, can create terrible circumstances in a home. Terrible arguing or violence may take place, leading to harm or physical abuse. This is NEVER acceptable behavior for believers. But when these situations do occur, the Bible does not specifically address what a marriage partner is to do. HOWEVER if there is sinful behavior that threatens to destroy a marriage or harm a family member, help should be sought out immediately. Through counseling, prayer, and biblical teaching on godly and loving behavior, people and their marriages can be protected and preserved.
WHEN IS REMARRIAGE A SIN?
Despite the clear instructions of Scripture, there are still occasions when Christians break their marriage covenant, and divorce outside the limits of what Scripture permits. Often, remarriage to another person follows. Sadly, the desire for a different marriage partner is often why a spouse divorces.
Jesus addressed divorcing for the purpose of remarrying in Matthew 5:31, 32 and 19:1-9. He was speaking to the Pharisees, who were divorcing their wives for the sole reason of marrying another woman. Jesus made it clear that this behavior is unacceptable for both men and women – neither should ever consider divorce so that they can marry another.
Those who divorce and remarry outside of what the Bible permits have, as Jesus said, “committed adultery” (Matthew 19:9). They have broken their marriage covenant without scriptural cause; they have then added to their sin by marrying another and thereby committing adultery.
Many believers are mistakenly taught that this type of unscriptural divorce and remarriage is acceptable. It is NOT! Divorce without scriptural cause, followed by remarriage to another, is a serious sin.
Once a believer faces the fact that he/ she has committed this type of adultery, he/she must:
- come to God in true and heartfelt repentance
- ask for God’s forgiveness and be cleansed of this unrighteousness
- humbly and prayerfully consider what else they should do to make right the wrongs they have committed (such as providing for the children they may have abandoned from a prior marriage).
IS A SECOND MARRIAGE VALID?
Though remarriage under unscriptural circumstances is not God’s ideal, the Bible does seem to indicate that a second marriage is a valid covenant.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 describes a woman who has been divorced because of “uncleanness” (v.1). The Bible says that when she remarries, she “becomes another man’s wife” (v.2). Thus, the Bible acknowledges that the two became husband and wife in covenant marriage, even though it was her second marriage.
However, believers must be warned that they cannot continue the pattern of divorce and remarriage based on selfish desires and unscriptural terms. If they do, they are destroying their Christian character and making themselves displeasing to God – and they will surely account for such willful rebellion against God and His Word.
As a church leader, you must be wary of men or women who claim to be believers, yet have been divorced and remarried numerous times for unscriptural reasons – especially after they have learned what the Bible teaches about the subject. They may appear godly, or even to have gifts for ministry. But if their lives reflect unrighteousness (Matt 7:15-20; 2 Tim 3:1-9) and a lack of repentance, they may attempt to pull others into their adulterous behavior.
DIVORCE IN OUR UNSAVED PAST
There may be some in your church who were married and divorced before they received Christ and became His disciples. This is very common in our world today.
Before Christ comes into their hearts, people are led by their sinful and selfish desires. This can result in many broken marriages and emotionally wounded people.
Once people receive Christ as Savior, their sins are forgiven (Eph 1:7; Col 2:13). God even declares that He has forgotten their former evil deeds (Heb 10:17). Everyone who receives Christ has become a new creature, with a new nature. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17).
Self-condemnation over sin committed before salvation is NOT from God, and is not pleasing to God (Rom 8:1). We can -we must receive God’s full forgiveness purchased for us on the Cross by His Son, Jesus Christ.
It is unfortunate that new believers may have divorce and adultery in their past. They can rarely go back and fix the wrongs they have done. But they must realize that these things are part of the darkness of their unsaved past. As a “new creature in Christ” they must now “walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8) – through good works (Eph 2:10), setting a Christ-like example (1 Tim 4:12), and witnessing for Christ (Acts 1:8).
Some preachers have said that a new Christian who is divorced and remarried should divorce their current spouse, and try to reconcile with their original spouse. But this would mean dissolving yet another marriage covenant.
Paul exhorts that we should be “forgetting those things [sinful deeds] which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” and “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13,14).
The issue of divorce and remarriage is a very difficult and painful one. Scripture does not give us a detailed set of rules that cover every possible circumstance. However, the Bible does give clear principles for how we should live our lives and conduct our relationships as believers.
When instructing and counseling the people in our churches, we must speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). We must then pray for the Holy Spirit to convict them, and for God to lead them into obedience to His Word and will. Sin is to be repented from and abandoned, not accommodated or allowed.
It can be a very painful and difficult process for people to acknowledge their sin and repent. Yet the Lord’s grace is sufficient, even for this.
Remember: Divorce never needs to occur if we diligently follow God’s principles for marriage and relationships. Every Christian, married or not, needs to daily invite the presence, power, love and wisdom of God’s Spirit into his/her heart, home and relationships – as well as diligently study God’s Word and follow its instructions for relationships. This will give us the wealth of God’s divine resource to draw upon, and will enable us to keep our marriage covenant and maintain a godly relationship with our spouse.
- The Church Leader: Setting A Godly Example
You are a church leader. Therefore, you have an even greater responsibility to understand, and consistently live by, the Word of God. You need to give your marriage the kind of work and loving attention it needs to become a shining picture of Christ’s love for His Church (Eph 5:22-32).
You are not perfect, so your marriage will probably not be perfect either. But you should always strive to grow and improve in your walk with God. As you are transformed and renewed in your mind (Rom 12:2), you will become more Christ like – more like God wants you to be. This will make you a more loving, faithful, devoted spouse – and thereby strengthen and deepen your marriage relationship.
As a leader, you represent God and His ways to the people you lead. When you are faithful to your spouse, you will be a powerful illustration of God’s love and faithfulness to His people. This will assure those you lead that they can and should always work to improve their marriage – to love more, give more, and serve more than ever before.
TEACH OTHERS ALSO
As a church leader, you must never encourage or try to justify divorce. You must encourage those who are experiencing marital difficulty to give and express forgiveness in their marriage. Forgiveness is one of the primary keys to a successful marriage. [This subject will be covered in more detail later in this teaching.] God desires reconciliation of relationships.
But what if there are people in your church who are divorced? What should you as a church leader do?
Be careful not to, like the Pharisees, treat divorced people in a condemning way. Instead -while upholding the standards of Scripture – reach out with God’s love and mercy to help them be restored to wholeness. Remember, although God does hate divorce, He does not hate the person who is divorced. God’s love and forgiveness are fully and freely available to all who have failed or sinned, when they call upon Him in repentance (1 John 1:9).
There is so much confusion and improper teaching on the subject of marriage and divorce. This is complicated by the careless approach some people have to the marriage commitment today. Sadly, in many countries, the divorce rate for Christians is just as high as for non- Christians. This should never be!
But because of this, many people find themselves in very difficult and complicated situations. They may have been divorced and remarried several times; they may have children from many spouses, etc.
They finally come to a point of repentance, realizing that they have not lived their lives according to God’s Word. What, then, is the best way to counsel them about what they should do from now on?
In John 8:1-11, Jesus shows us how to minister forgiveness and restoration without compromising the godly principles of Scripture. The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to try and trick Jesus, so they asked Him if she should be stoned. He replied, “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (v.7). When the crowd departed, having been convicted of their own sinfulness, Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (v.11).
It is clear that the woman was living an adulterous lifestyle. But Jesus declared the truth to her, and then exhorted her to stop sinning and go her way. She couldn’t change what she had done in her past; only Jesus’ forgiveness could do that. But she was to stop her sinful behavior, and change her lifestyle from that moment forward.
People can rarely go back and fix the problems their sinful or unwise behavior has caused in their own lives or in the lives of others. But they can repent and receive God’s forgiveness for their sin. Then, having repented, they can begin to live life according to the Scriptures from then onward. If there is something they can do to fix the problems, and alleviate the pain they have caused, they should of course do that (for example, supporting the children of their previous marriage).
God will give them the wisdom and grace they need to move forward in their walk with Him, and make good and godly decisions that are based on His Word and His will.
- Sexual Standards For Christian Marriage
Our ability to have a sexual relationship was something God created. It is important to remember that it was God Who created them “male and female” (Gen 1:27). God gave man and woman the ability to share sexual intimacy, and to enjoy it. Sexuality is part of God’s loving plan for marriage.
But sexuality, when used improperly, can cause pain and destruction in our lives and the lives of others.
….. To understand this more dearly, think of sex as though it were fire.
Fire is a helpful tool that God gave us. Fire enables us to cook our food and thus stop our hunger. Fire gives us light and warmth. Fire can protect us by keeping away predators. Fire can be used to forge or make tools or objects of beauty.
But in order to provide these benefits, fire must be controlled. It must be used very carefully and kept within proper limits. At the right time, in the right place, and in the right situation, fire is a blessing and a helpful tool.
But what happens if fire gets out of control? It could destroy your food, your belongings, even your entire house. Fire out of control (at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the wrong situation) can cause great harm and destruction – even loss of life.
Like fire, our sexual nature and drive was given to us by God. He intended it to be used at the right time, in the right place, and in the right situation. The Word of God gives us very dear instructions on how our sexual nature is to be used in order to be good and beneficial, instead of harmful and destructive.
The Bible states very dearly that the ONLY time, the ONLY place, and the ONLY situation in which sexuality is to be experienced and expressed is within marriage, between a husband and a wife. All other sexual encounters are sin (iniquity) in the eyes of God. Sex outside of the marriage relationship is sin and must therefore be rejected by every Christian believer.
Please take a moment now to look up the following Bible passages: Exodus 20:14; Proverbs 2:10-19; 6:23-29; 7:6-27; Matthew 5:28; Romans 6:10-13; 12:1, 2; 13:14; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 13-20; Galatians 5:16-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 John 2:15-17; Revelation 21:8.
These are just a few of the many Old and New Testament passages about proper and improper sexual behavior. Take the time to study each one carefully.
It is important to understand that the Bible – and thus God Himself – does not regard human sexuality as something dirty, profane or bad. Rather, the Scriptures reveal that our sexual nature is created by God, intended by Him to be a blessing within the marriage union.
HEALTHY SEXUAL FULFILLMENT IN MARRIAGE
The scriptural view of human sexuality is based on the following concept: Marriage should reflect the loving relationship between God and His people. Therefore, faithfulness and grace-filled sensitivity are called for from both husband and wife.
Many Old Testament cultures (and many cultures today) had one set of rules for men, and a different set of rules for women. Often in such cultures it is considered acceptable for a man (married or unmarried) to do whatever he wishes in order to satisfy his sexual desires; women, however, are restricted to sexual activity with their husband.
But the Bible teaches that adultery (sex with someone who is not your spouse) is a sin, whether committed by a man or by a woman. This sin was punishable by stoning in the Old Testament (see Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:18). The New Testament speaks just as strongly against adultery (Gal 5:19-21), though not making it punishable by stoning.
We, as Christian men and women, must remember that the Holy Spirit has come to live in us (2 Cor 1:22). We are supernaturally joined to Christ and His Body (1 Cor 6: 17; 12:13,14). Our physical body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19). Therefore, we must keep our physical body holy (1 Cor 6:13-20).
The physical body of every Christian man and woman is to be a holy instrument of God (Rom 6:12,13; 2 Tim 2:19-21) to be used ONLY in a godly way. Our body is NEVER for sexual activity with anyone other than our own husband or wife (Heb 13:4).
The unholy use of our bodies for immoral sexual behavior – and the unholy use of our hearts and minds for lust or adulterous fantasies – violates the holy image of God in which we were created.
What then is acceptable and healthy in the sexual relationship between a husband and wife within marriage? Following are some key Biblical principles to help answer this important question.
God created both male and female (Gen 1:27) for more than just producing offspring. He created them to help and complete one another. They are to enjoy companionship, friendship, and the intimate sharing of a life-long loving relationship.
The life-long unity of a husband and wife in marriage – their loyalty and faithfulness to each other – is symbolized by their physical (sexual) union. The bonding that occurs at this basic and intimate level will confirm, maintain and enhance this life-long unity.
The sexual union of a husband and wife deepens the bond between them – their “one-flesh” unity – and is therefore sacred and holy to God.
IS SEX UNHOLY?
There were some in New Testament times who thought it was more “spiritual” to not allow sexual intimacy in marriage. Some even went so far as to forbid marriage (1 Tim 4:3). Paul addresses this issue, and states that such teachings are “giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1).
Paul addressed a similar situation when he wrote to the church in Corinth. Some of the Christians there had begun to believe and teach that followers of Christ were not to marry. Those who were married were being told to abstain from sexual intimacy in order to have a “purely spiritual” relationship.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives godly marital counsel to the Corinthians and to us:
“Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:3-5).
Paul makes it very clear that neither the husband nor the wife should withhold sexual intimacy from their spouse. The sexual relationship is an important part of the marriage union. Both partners are to freely and willingly participate. However, Paul does give three conditions for a married couple to temporarily stop sexual activity in marriage (v.5):
- It should be by mutual consent (they should both agree).
- It must be for a limited time (not too long)
- It should be for spiritual reasons (not out of selfishness, anger, resentment, etc.)
There are other times in the lives of a married couple when sexual activity might be temporarily set aside – for example, during the latter stages of pregnancy, or if one spouse is ill or disabled.
In the Old Testament, sexual activity during the time or a woman’s menstrual cycle (“impurity”) was considered inappropriate (Lev 15:19, 24).
There are times when sexual activity in marriage may or may not be appropriate. But the important issue is that both the husband and wife need to walk in grace and sensitivity to each other. Both should be willing participants in sexual activity, and not feel forced upon or unduly pressured. Both should also agree together when deciding that sexual activity will be halted for a season.
It is important for a husband and wife to dearly communicate their needs and desires to each other about everything in their marriage. This is especially important when dealing with something as intimate and personal as their sexual relationship.
Human sexual needs and desires were meant to be satisfied – and can be satisfied – within the bond of marriage. Sexual relations are the seal and symbol of commitment and intimacy in marriage. The sexual part of the marriage relationship helps maintain that commitment and deepen that intimacy.
Our human sexual nature was created by God. Since He made us this way, He intends for us to use and enjoy our sexuality as He has instructed us. God made us with the ability to enjoy many different sensations. We can see colors, taste food, appreciate beauty, and feel emotions. Our Heavenly Father “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17).
God also gave us sexual desires, to enjoy within marriage. Read the Song of Solomon; it is a joyous celebration of intimate love in marriage. The fact that this book is included in the Holy Scriptures helps us understand that God wants us to have an exciting and fulfilling relationship with our spouse. He made us that way and gave us that ability. There is no guilt or shame in having a joyful sexual relationship within the godly bond of marriage.
A HELPFUL GUIDELINE
There is a passage of Scripture related to sex in marriage that can sometimes be misunderstood: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb 13:4a). What does the writer mean by this statement?
This statement is best understood as an exhortation for a married couple to protect their intimate union from perversions (“fornicators and adulterers”, v.4b).
However, it also serves as a reminder that sex between a husband and wife within marriage is not given specific restrictions in the Bible; it is instead given much freedom. To live in this freedom, however, requires a guiding principle. The principle that should guide a married couple in their sexual relationship is this:
A married couple is free to experience and express whatever their sexual desire is with each other, as long as it is by mutual consent and agreement – and as long as it does NOT include sexual practices forbidden in Scripture (see the next section of this article for more about this).
Remember, sexual activity is a way to physically express love to your spouse. So the chapter in the Bible devoted to love – 1 Corinthians 13 – is an excellent guide for sexual intimacy. Ask yourself: In the sexual part of your marriage – and in all areas of your marriage -are you:
- Patient and kind?
- Not jealous or proud?
- Not conceited or rude?
- Never self-seeking or insistent on your own way?
- Not oversensitive or holding a grudge?
- Not counting up past wrongs?
- Believing the best of your spouse?
- Protective, trusting, patient?
Take some time to read and study 1 Corinthians 13. Pray about your relationship with your spouse. Ask the Lord to shape you into the kind of person that will be a blessing to your spouse. The Lord will help you!
SEXUAL PRACTICES PROHIBITED IN SCRIPTURE
- Sexual activity outside of the marriage relationship is strictly forbidden by God.
This includes both sexual activity before marriage (fornication) and sexual activity with someone other than your spouse (adultery).
It does not matter what your circumstances are. The Bible permits sexual activity ONLY between a husband and wife. There are no exceptions!
God made us, and He knows how we will best be fulfilled and protected. HE is the One Who established the boundaries for sexual activity -for our blessing.
To realize the terrible consequences of sex outside of marriage, just look at the circumstances in the lives of so many people today. Much of the disease and pain and many of the problems afflicting people and their families have come from willful disobedience to God’s commands. He dearly instructs us to keep sexual activity between a husband and wife only. Tragedy and destruction will result if we use our bodies and desires in a way that God never intended.
- Homosexuality (sexual activity with a person of the same gender, such as man to man or woman to woman) and sexual intercourse with animals are strictly forbidden in God’s Word (see Leviticus 18:22- 24; Corinthians 6:9-11).
- Prostitution is also forbidden in the Bible (see Leviticus 19:29; 1 Corinthians 6:15-20). Most of the Old Testament references to prostitution concerned the use of male or female prostitutes in pagan and idolatrous religious rituals. This practice of prostitution is especially deplorable since faithfulness to the covenant relationship of marriage is a picture of God’s love and faithfulness to us.
The New Testament adds an especially important reason to avoid prostitutes. If we are members of the Body of Christ, how can we join His members (ourselves) to a prostitute? ( see 1 Corinthians 6:15- 20).
- Galatians 5:16, 17 clearly states that our natural “flesh lusts against the Spirit” and that the flesh and Spirit are “contrary to one another”. Our natural, fleshly desires fight against godly, spiritual things. This is a very real battle that we all fight. But we can decide to honor the Holy Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Rom 13:14; Gal 5:16; 1 Pet 2:11).
As Christians, we have the Spirit of God within us (1 Cor 3:16). Therefore, we must not practice fleshly lusts specifically listed in Galatians 5:19-21. In addition to adultery and fornication, the list includes “uncleanness” (this covers all types of sexual defilement) and “lewdness” (a brazen display of unclean sexual behavior).
Some try to justify sexual intimacy between unmarried partners based on a “commitment to” or “love for” each other. This goes against the holiness of God and the Biblical standards of purity. It is never right to indulge in or arouse sinful lust, or to participate in unbiblical behavior (Eph 4:17- 24; 1 Pet 4:2, 3).
- The Bible does not comment specifically on the activities of pornography and masturbation (sexual stimulation of oneself); however, these activities are symptoms of a much deeper problem that the Bible does address.
Jesus said that He came to “fulfill” the Law (Matt 5:17). This meant in part that He came to reveal the true meaning of the Law of God. Jesus warns that entering His Kingdom requires a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matt 5:20). What does He mean?
Jesus was emphasizing the absolute importance of a righteousness of the heart -not just an outward display of legalism or religiosity like the Pharisees had. The Pharisees were concerned only with an outward show of righteousness – how they appeared to others. They practiced an outward conformity to the letter of the Law, but inside they were still unrighteous and unchanged.
Jesus called instead for inward righteousness in the hearts of men (see Matthew 23:23-28 for more of Jesus’ words about this). Our concern should not be how godly we appear to others, but how godly our heart is in the sight of God. “The Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
With this understanding, let us look at Matthew 5:27, 28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
The Law expressly forbids adultery. But Jesus explains that the act of adultery is a result of lust that is already in the heart. The sin did not begin with the act of adultery; it began first in the thoughts of the mind and intent of the heart. Jesus acknowledges that the Law can control outward human behavior to a certain extent. Yet He clearly shows that God is concerned with the inward content of the heart and mind.
In Matthew 5:27, 28, Jesus reveals that the desire to commit adultery is still adultery – even if it lacks the opportunity to actually do it. The sin is not just the act of adultery; the sin of adultery also includes the lustful desire in the mind and heart that lends to the act of adultery. The Pharisees’ legalistic attitude stressed outward actions, but ignored the sinful desires of the heart.
Jesus is not referring to the momentary lustful thoughts that can sometimes come into the mind. Such thoughts should be quickly repented of and the mind immediately returned to righteous thoughts (see 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:2).
Jesus is, however, addressing lingering imaginations –such as lusting for a specific woman or desiring impure actions with her. Indulging in prolonged sexual fantasies reveals impurity in a person’s heart and mind. These imaginations and fantasies are sinful and must be repented of and changed – before they lead to even more destructive and sinful behavior.
Much of what is in the mind must first enter through the eyes. This is especially true of men regarding sexual matters. What a man looks on with desire will enter his mind, influence his thoughts and affect his behavior. It is significant that the Greek word in the New Testament for “prostitution” (porneia.) forms the root word for “pornography”. When one looks at pornography (sexual pictures), it enters the mind. A person who looks at pornography is virtually prostituting himself with someone who is not his spouse. This is why Jesus calls it adultery (Matt 5:28).
Continued use of pornography and sexual fantasy will affect our behavior. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
Therefore, “keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23).
The things that we persistently think upon will change our behavior, our lives and our destiny. This is why it is so important to obey Scripture when it exhorts us to think about things that are pure, godly and Christ-like (Phil 4:8; see also Romans 12:1,2; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Ephesians 4:22-24).
The Bible instructs us to give place to the Spirit, and not to the flesh (Gal 5:16-25); to not yield the members of our body to sin, but rather yield them to Christ (Rom 6:12-14). Based on these and many other Bible verses, we can confidently conclude that pornography and masturbation have no place in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The commandments of God regarding sexual immorality are given through His own loving character. He does not want to deny us pleasure or joy; He is the One Who has equipped us to experience it!
However, He knows how we are made. Since He is our Maker, He knows how we will function best. He is fully aware of the damage and brokenness that result from disobeying His divine instructions regarding our sexual behavior.
God’s laws and principles are given to protect us and to enable each one: of us to have a fruitful fulfilling, joy-filled and lifelong relationship with our spouse.