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Life Theology

Jesus Is More Than a Marriage Ref

When we read Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:1-9 (or Mark 10:1-12), it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of who can get divorced for what reason. I did that extensively once—I wrote a position paper on divorce in seminary. But I think in the context of what Matthew (and Mark, of course) is doing in his Gospel, this passage goes beyond petty details. After all, the major Pharisaical schools of thought liked to quibble over details. That was their speciality.

But Jesus is more than a marriage ref. He is attacking the very heart of Pharisaism. That’s one of Matthew’s goals throughout the gospels. Look at what Jesus does.

After some Pharisees ask about what constitutes a legitimate divorce (v. 3), Jesus starts by saying, “Have you not read?” Jesus challenges them on the authority of the Scriptures. Haven’t you ever read what God said? Of course they’ve read it. They have it memorized. Every word. But Jesus isn’t looking for information. He knows they’ve read it. But do they obey it? Jesus’ question pierces through their me-centered approach to marriage and everything else for that matter. It’s one thing to affirm the Bible is God’s word. It’s another to obey it.

Then Jesus tells them the word they most certainly have read: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” The climax of creation is God making humans “male and female.” It’s not one gender or the other.  God’s creative design was for a man and woman to be joined, not separated. “Can I divorce my wife for any cause?” (see v. 3) shows that the Pharisees get God, creation, image of God, and marriage all wrong.

Then Jesus goes for the jugular. The Pharisees appeal to Moses. Well, why did Moses command men to give divorce certificates to their wives? Jesus answers, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” At the heart of Pharisee belief was not self-sacrifice and forgiveness. It was ruthless justice and self-justification through strict adherence to the law. Moses’ law never commanded divorce, but allowed it and did so to keep vulnerable women safe in a society full of sinful Pharisee-type husbands.

This me-centered theology led to me-centered practice: what is the minimum she can do to me so that I can get out of this? That’s the crux. Jesus does say that divorce is allowable in the case of sexual immorality (v. 9), but his point is not so much to preside over divorce proceedings as it is cutting to the heart of a selfless, religious people who think they are honoring God’s law when, in fact, they are breaking his heart.

What’s going on in the bigger picture? The Pharisees are a microcosm of Israel who left their true Husband, Yahweh. And Jesus is going to show them that he is that true Husband. He’s on his way to Jerusalem, after all (16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19) to die for his Bride, forgive her (even of grievous sin!), wash her clean, and work mightily for her holiness—not kick her out in the cold. This is what Paul makes clear in Ephesians 5.

To the Pharisees, marriage was not about giving yourself up for the good of your spouse. It was about demanding and taking from your spouse so that you would be served. Jesus flips this on its head and shows that the religious elite truly have hard hearts, not obedient ones. Jesus will give himself up so that we come to see what marriage is all about—one man and one woman joined together before God in a loving, harmonious union of self-giving, forbearance, and forgiveness that points to a greater marriage: God’s with his people (cf. Hosea 1-3; Rev. 21:1-4).

Now the application for us becomes a bit more obvious—even for those of us with good marriages. I have never asked what’s the minimum Carly can do to me so I can send her away. But there’s a slice (sometimes a big one) of Pharisaism in my heart—and probably in yours. I too often make my marriage about me and what I can get out of it rather than about us and what I can give to my wife. I confess that my heart (which is Jesus’ point, after all) is all too ready to “send her away.” Not with divorce papers. But in the subtle, mini-divorces of angered silence, frustrated tones, sarcastic comments, and blame shifting.

If you think Jesus’ teaching about divorce is only for those with a marriage on the rocks you are fooling yourself. While we are asking what’s the minimum our spouse can do so we are justified in our literal divorces or metaphorical mini-ones, Jesus goes the distance to love his Bride by giving himself up for her. He’s saying, “It’s your hard heart that moves you send your spouse away when they wrong you. But I’m moved to run toward you and lay down my life for you, though you have wronged me.”

From the beginning, marriage was meant to be a living drama of God’s love for his people. His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always, and forever love,” as someone once wrote. That’s the kind of love he has for us. That’s the kind of love he wants in our marriages.

Categories
Life

StartMarriageRight.com

Most couples spend months–or even more than a year–planning for their wedding day.  Though it’s not proven through sociological research, I believe girls start sampling center pieces when they are 11.  What happens after the big day? A couple will spend the rest of their life together. At least that is the hope.  Does anyone plan for that?  

With divorce rates skyrocketing each year, it’s becoming clear to even secular Americans that something isn’t working with the way people do marriage in our culture. And if you’ve bought divorce insurance before your wedding day, I’m willing to bet you aren’t starting holy matrimony off on a good foot.

That’s where StartMarriageRight.com comes in.  It’s a website of Christian conviction and it’s goal is not for couples to have a glorious wedding event; it’s for them to experience a lifetime of covenant love together as husband and wife. What makes a marriage last? It’s not common interests, patience in hard times, and letting your wife pick your home decor (though that might help). It’s primarily about building your marriage on a secure footing: Jesus.

On their site you’ll find articles about various topics couples deal with, a Q & A page, the blog, and other resources. And on the front page, there’s a link to a “Love Language” quiz. If you don’t know what your love langauge is, I recommend you find out.  

Start your marriage right.  And if you have already been married for one year or 30, chances are if you are like me, you still have a lot to learn. 

Disclosure: The ideas, advice, books, ministries, and any other content found on StartMarriageRight.com might not necessarily reflect my theological convictions and practical opinions.

Categories
Life

Bad Dads and Brunch

Two weeks ago, Carly and I were at Panera Bread for a brunch-time with the Lord.  We sat across the aisle from a dad with his young son.  This kid was pretty energetic, talkative, and pretty cute.  I’m guessing he was no older than seven.  At first glance, I thought, Cool, a dad on a brunch hang-out with his son.

Then I actually paid attention.

At first, I’ll admit.  Their whole interaction distracted me from reading the book of James.  But as the dad and his son interacted, my heart couldn’t help but break.  I don’t know if there was significant amounts of eye contact.  Dad acted as if his son was a burden.  Dad could have cared less about the crazy stories his son told him — the kind only a seven year old can tell.

The boy seemed like a fun little conversationalist.  Dad seemed no more engaging than a freshly painted wall.  The boy asked Dad to take him to the bathroom.  Dad sharply replied, “Can’t you go yourself?”  “Show me where it is,” the son asked.  Dad got up.  “Over there,” he pointed.

This guy didn’t have a ring on his finger.  Maybe he just didn’t wear one?  No.  Multiple times I heard him say to his son, “Your mom,” and the boy once said to his dad, “When will I come over your house?”  He’s just a guy who divorced a woman out of convenience or got her pregnant and left.

This young boy needs a good dad.  He needs a dad who loves Jesus, reads his Bible, romances mom, works hard, and looks his son in the eye and speaks as if he is talking to the most important person in the world when it’s brunch at Panera.

Sometimes I wonder what’s worse: a bad dad who ignores his son at Panera or just flat out leaves him before he’s even born.  My heart says that there might be less pain in the latter.  I’m a little tardy for a Father’s Day post, but to my dad, Tim Pruch, thanks for being a good one — a God-glorifying one.  Thanks for taking us out, paying attention to us, and loving (and still loving us) like we mean the world to you.

Categories
Life

Jesus and John and Kate Plus Eight

This is a good article from Christianity Today  on the popular TV show John and Kate Plus Eight.

Here’s an excerpt:

When the first few episodes revealed the earning potential of this “everyday family,” Jon & Kate Plus Eight became a brand name that was packaged and sold. And many Christians were happy to comply by opening up their wallets and their fellowship halls. When the network and the couple were not satisfied with the money generated through high ratings and book sales, the Gosselin home was filled with product placements and the children were filmed for long hours each week. All the while many (though not all) evangelicals watched with undiscerning eyes. Somewhere along the line we, like Jon and Kate, seemed to forget the warnings of 1 Timothy 6:9-10:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (NRSV)

Categories
Life

Widows, Remarriage, and Gospel Community

My sister asked me yesterday about 1 Timothy 5 and Paul’s rules for remarriage.  I had never really “studied” this passage before, but I figured I’d post my thoughts here in case some of you had questions as well.  She and her fiance emailed me this question:

We both understand that basically Paul is saying that, in his opinion, to stay unmarried is better for the sake of Christ, but if you feel the need to get married, it’s okay.  However, for me…if I were reading this while in that predicament, I would feel a bit judged.  I feel like he’s saying that it is a weakness to remarry after my husband dies, just because I can’t handle the sexual temptations.  [Then] I’d be looked down upon.  It seems [that] he has a harsh tone.

Here’s my response:

The context of this chapter is Paul giving Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus (where Timothy was pastoring).  All Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), so this has application for our lives.  But on level one, it’s very contextual and it has ramifications for the Ephesian church first.  That’s why I call it “Level One.”

On this first level we are taught about how different age groups and life situations (married, single, divorced) should be influenced by the gospel, by the church community.  Verses 1-2 talk about respecting older people in the church and how we should treat younger people.  Verses 3-8 talk about honoring widows and how the church is to provide for them.  Paul says in verse 8 that if any man does not provide for his family (he is particularly thinking of a man who has a widow who is a family member) or his household (wife and kids), he’s really acting worse than an unbeliever.  In practice, Paul says, this man has denied his faith.

Paul goes on in verses 9-16.  He says, “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband” (ESV).  This word “enrolled” in Greek is katalego which means something to the extent of “to be on a public support list.”  In other words, there were widows who needed food, money, and shelter and so the Christian community helped those women.  Churches still do this today to some extent.  This is one way of influencing widows with the gospel.  Widows who are eligible for support, as you can tell from verses 9-10, are godly women who show that they live out the gospel.  In Romans 13, Paul talks about the submission to authorities, but he gives a blanket statment, in my opinion, in verse 7 when he says, “Pay…honor to whom honor is owed.”  Not everyone is deserving of honor.  Some people need to be mocked and/or rebuked for their ridiculous religiosity and Pharisaical lifestyle.  These widows, however, were owed honor because of their conduct.

In verses 11-16, Paul shifts his focus to “younger widows.”  These are women who are younger than sixty years old (cf. v. 9) but have had their husband die.  It would appear that Paul is saying it’s bad for them to marry again, but that’s not what he’s saying because verse 14 says quite the opposite: “I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.”  It certainly would be permissible for a woman who is older than 60 to marry, so long as they are not enslaved by the idea of marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12).  The key to understanding this passage is this phrase “when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry” (v. 11).  These widows are not like the widows in verses 9-10.  These particular widows (the younger ones) are passionate about something other than Jesus and because of this, they “incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith” (v. 12).  Furthermore, some of these women were not learning to be good wives who “train the young women, love their husbands and children, are self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (Titus 2:4-5).  They were learning “to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only [being] idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Tim. 5:13).  Evidently, there were women in Ephesus who got divorced, were helped by this support system offered by the church, and then reneged on their commitment to stay single by marrying an unbeliever.  The “passions” referred to in verse 11 may not be sexual temptations.  They might be the worries of the world like Jesus refers to in the Parable of the Sower.  They may be insecurities about being single.  It may be the fact that she doesn’t want bare minimum [i.e. church support] as a widow in a church system but that she wants a sugar daddy to take care of her.  It doesn’t seem that sexual temptation is [solely] the context here.

So in verses 14-15, Paul responds (my paraphrase), “I want them to marry a good man, have babies, manage their home, and not give Satan an opportunity to take them from the gospel community.  After all, some have already gone after Satan by marrying an unbeliever!  They have abused our support system!  Look at them now!”  That’s why in verse 16 Paul gives this command, “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them.  Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows.”  In the purest sense of the word, a widow is someone who has no help in the world (see 5:3-5).  If a widow has family members who can help, then she isn’t as underprivileged as a woman with three kids, a dead husband, no parents, and no siblings.  That’s really bad!  That’s a situation where the church needs to offer support and food and shelter and day care and vacation time.  If everyone who was a widow came to the church and asked for help, the situation that Paul described in verses 11-15 would happen all of the time.  He says, “We have to prevent this.  So if you have widows in your family, take care of them so they don’t come to us.  We love them and want them to be godly, but we can’t be burdened with widows all of the time.”

So what’s Level Two?  Level Two is for us today.  It’s our 21st century contextualization.  I think that our application is that we need to encourage marriage to women if they are widows, only if the man is a member of the gospel community and follows Jesus.  Marriage is good.  Paul is not judging anyone that they’d be less spiritual if they married after being a widow.  It’s as if Paul is asking the pointed question: “What’s better?  To be single and on financial support from the church or to burn with [any kind of] passion and be unequally yoked to an unbeliever and go after Satan and false religion?  I think it’s better to be single!”  So, Paul doesn’t want the church to support women who are young and widows for the very reason that he wants them to get married (v. 14)!  Marriage would be more sanctifying for them than to be on support from the local church, if the alternative was to be supported and then marry an ungodly man and take his religion (which is what many Christian woman did in the first century).

The second application is that if a woman is a widow, she needs family support.  Family is the first line of defense.  The third application is that if she is truly a widow (meaning she is completely alone in this world), then our local church communities must live out the gospel in a way that provides for them so that they experience Christ there and have no desire to leave the Christian community and “stray[ed] after Satan.”