One Man, One Woman, For Life

The media continues to be full of stories about the ongoing efforts of homosexual activists to make same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states.  Professed believers are understandably concerned about this issue.  Some have openly declared their opposition, while others quietly fret over the potential consequences of this push by the homosexual lobby.  In sermons, letters to the editor, and in public displays, the biblical teachings on the subject of homosexuality are being strongly and accurately proclaimed.  This is a stand that must be taken if we are followers of Christ, but there is another, related issue that also needs open discussion.

While talk of same-sex marriage dominates the media, an equally serious problem is virtually ignored.  That subject is divorce.  We have long heard that 50% of all marriages end in divorce.  That number is actually inaccurate and is based upon faulty extrapolation of the data.  In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control reported 6.8 marriages for every 1,000 people in the U.S.  For the same year, the CDC also reported 3.6 divorces for every 1,000 people.  That looks very close to 50%, but it is an inflated number because it includes children and those who have never married.

A more accurate survey was conducted among married women in 2008.  This survey revealed that there were 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women for that year.  While this number appears to be much better than the 50% of the other survey, it is still alarming.  Part of what makes this number so much lower, however, is that more people are living together without being married.  If these couples split up, as many of them do, it is not reflected in the divorce rate because they were never married in the first place.

These statistics demonstrate that we have a serious marriage problem in our country.  A large number of people either have no idea of the biblical teachings on marriage, or they choose to ignore those teachings.  If we ever hope to make a dent in the number of divorces and live-ins in our nation, we must return to the divine plan instituted by God in the Garden of Eden in the beginning.

In Gen. 2:18-25 God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, so He did two things.  First, He brought all the animals to Adam to see and to name.  In Gen. 2:20 the scripture says Adam named all the animals, but none of them was suitable to be the helper God knew he needed.  Then God did the second thing.  He put Adam to sleep, took one of his ribs, and from it made a woman.  The woman was the suitable helper Adam needed and God gave her to Adam for that purpose.  Thus, the first marriage was instituted.

During His earthly ministry the Lord referred back to this first marriage as the example of what God intended for mankind (Mt. 19:3-9).  Although divorce was allowed under the Law of Moses, the Lord said this was only because of the hardness of men’s hearts, and from the beginning it was not so.  The Lord taught that divorce should only be because of marital infidelity (Mt. 5:31, 32).

The Lord’s teaching went beyond the incidence of divorce, however.  In Mt. 5:27, 28 the Lord went to the heart of the matter.  The Law of Moses said not to commit adultery, but the Lord said not to lust after a woman.  This is the root of the divorce problem.  If our hearts are not committed to the Lord’s way for marriage, we will sin against our spouse and sow the seeds of divorce.  On the other hand, if we commit to the Lord’s way, our marriage will be blessed, and it will last until death, as God intended from the beginning.

Fully Engaged

A recent article discussing the resurgence of muscle cars in the U.S. market noted the absence of stick-shift models from the Big Three American manufacturers.  Driving enthusiasts lament this absence because they enjoy the feel of going through the gears as they drive.  Among the reasons given for the lack of stick-shift models is the fact that automatic transmissions are much more fuel-efficient today than in the past.  In many cases fuel mileage is not appreciably increased by the use of a stick-shift transmission.

The mechanics of a stick-shift transmission are interesting.  When the clutch is depressed the gears of the transmission disengage.  This allows the driver to shift to the next higher or lower gear, as the situation may require.  Once the proper gear is in place the clutch is released allowing the new gear to fully engage the drive train.  When properly engaged, the gears allow the engine to propel the vehicle down the road.  If the gears are not properly engaged, however, the driver hears a grinding sound which signifies a problem than can result in damage to the transmission.  The gears must be fully engaged for the drive train to function properly.

This process illustrates a spiritual truth about our walk as Christians.  In order for us to make progress on the path that leads to life we must be fully engaged with our spiritual drive train, Jesus Christ.  If we are disengaged, our engine may rev at a high rate, but we won’t move.  If we are only partially engaged, our spiritual gears will grind, leaving us sputtering along with the potential to become completely disabled.  If we intend to make it all the way to the goal, we must be fully engaged with our Lord.

In 1 Pet. 2:21, 22 Peter said, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”  Peter said we are to follow in the Lord’s steps.  To do this we must be fully engaged with Him.  The mechanics of being fully engaged with the Lord can be illustrated by using the word “steps” as an acronym.  Briefly stated, the word “steps” stands for:  Serve, Tell, Exemplify, Pray, and Sacrifice.

In Mk. 10:45 Jesus said that He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  If we are fully engaged with our Lord we will serve others as He did, doing good to all and pointing them to the Father in heaven.

In Mk. 16:15, 16 Jesus told His disciples to tell the good news to all creation.  He said those who believe and are baptized will be saved.  The first century disciples told this good news everywhere they went.  We must do the same in order to be fully engaged.

Peter said that Jesus left us an example to follow.  The Lord lived what He preached.  When we live in accordance with His commands, we exemplify our faith, showing that we are fully engaged with our Lord.

On many occasions the Lord spent long hours in prayer to His Father in heaven.  He understood the importance of this spiritual connection.  We must devote ourselves to prayer each day to be fully engaged.

The central feature of first century preaching was the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  He gave His life for our sins.  We may not be called upon to give up our lives, but we must make sacrifices in our lives in order to be fully engaged with our Lord.

May each one of us be fully engaged with the Lord as we follow in His steps toward the eternal goal.

Your Will Be Done

On the night of His betrayal, after observing the Passover with the twelve, the Lord began to feel the anguish of the sacrifice He would make the next day for the sins of the world.  He took the disciples, minus Judas, into the Garden of Gethsemane where He spent perhaps as much as three hours in prayer to His Father in heaven.  The burden of His impending death was so great that Luke says, “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Lk. 22:44).

Matthew gives us the most complete account of the Lord’s prayers on that occasion in Mt. 26:36-46.  A key feature of those prayers is the statement found in v. 39.  Here the Lord said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”  We correctly exalt the Lord for being willing to do the Father’s will in this circumstance, even though He truly wished there were another way to accomplish it.  We also correctly draw from His example that our prayers should likewise express the wish that God’s will be done.

We most often express this attitude when praying for the sick.  We lay before the Father our desire that the sick person will recover, and then we add, “if it is Your will,” or words to that effect.  When we do so, what do we mean by it?  Do we say this simply because we have been taught that we should do so, in the same way that we add “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers?  Do we say this as a hedge against the sick person not recovering, so that if he does not recover we can say it was not God’s will for him to recover?  Only the person saying these words can answer these questions, but perhaps we would do a better job with our prayers if we considered what the Lord meant by this statement.

We tend to view the Lord’s statement as something of a concession, as though He finally gave up and agreed to do it the Father’s way.  This seems to be the way we use this statement in our prayers.  We tend to say, “Lord, this is what we want, but if we can’t have what we want, we’ll settle for what You want.”  A better way to look at this statement, however, would be to view it as an extension of what the Lord taught in the model prayer.

In Mt. 6:10 the Lord taught His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  In other words, we should pray that God’s will would always be done on the earth in every circumstance of life.  With this as the foundation, the Lord’s statement in the Garden of Gethsemane becomes an affirmation of the Father as the sovereign God of the universe.  It is a statement of submission and obedience that exalts God, instead of being a concession to Him. Our Lord was saying, “Father, let Your will be accomplished in this matter, in spite of my feelings about it.”

This view of the Lord’s statement exalts Jesus in a far greater way.  It shows that He was consistent in His attitude toward God’s divine purpose and will.  He not only taught His disciples to pray that the Father’s will be accomplished on earth, but He also modeled it before them in His final prayer before His crucifixion.  Even in the face of His impending death the Lord prayed for the Father’s will to be done.

If our Lord prayed in this manner, how much more so ought we to do so?  Think of how empowering it is to pray for God’s will to be done in every aspect of life.  When we pray with this attitude we are affirming the greatness and majesty of the Father in heaven, and we are acknowledging our submission to Him in a positive manner, rather than as a concession.  In everything, therefore, let us pray, “Father, Your will be done!”

Reserved For Fire

Fire is one of the most terrible forces on the face of the earth.  Whether sparked by natural causes, such as a lightning stoke, or caused by human intent or mistake, there is little else that evokes such fear.  Part of our fear of fire is due to its volatile nature and unpredictability.  We fool ourselves when we think we can control it, and from time to time we are reminded of this truth in catastrophic ways.

Fire is an indiscriminate force.  It plays no favorites.  To the degree that a substance will burn, fire will consume it.  The more susceptible to flame the substance is, the more quickly it is destroyed by the flames.  Our most solidly constructed homes and buildings are still subject to fire, if not by the materials from which they are constructed, at least by the contents we place inside them.  Human beings are especially susceptible to the force of fire.

Our bodies are composed of materials that cannot withstand fire.  Our hair is especially volatile and can ignite in a moment.  Our skin begins to burn if we stay out in the sun too long, and when exposed to flame, it almost immediately begins to blister.  Even though our bodies contain a large amount of liquid, fire can reduce them to a mere pile of ash in a short period of time.  The most painful injury we can sustain is a burn, and those whose bodies have been severely burned endure extreme pain throughout their recovery.

We generally have a healthy respect for fire because we understand how dangerous it can be.  Our fear of this powerful force makes us wary of it in life.  Even as we put it to use in our daily affairs, we exercise great caution with it lest we suffer injury or death from it.  This respect and fear of fire guides us in life and should also affect the way we think about and plan for eternity.

The reason why it should affect our thinking in this respect is because God has forewarned us that He has fire reserved for the world.  In 2 Pet. 3 as Peter dealt with those who mocked Christians’ faith in the coming of the Lord, he said, “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (v. 7).  He went on in vs. 9-10 to describe how the Lord will destroy everything in the physical realm on the last day by means of fire.  In vs. 11-12 Peter urged his readers to consider how they should live, knowing that this fire is certainly coming.

This is not the only fire that is reserved by God, however.  In Rev. 20 John was shown a vision of the judgment.  In v. 10 John said that the devil would be thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where he would be tormented day and night forever and ever.  In vs. 11-15 he described the judgment of all mankind.  He tells us that those whose names are not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death (vs. 14-15).  This is the same lake of fire into which the devil will be thrown, and all those in this lake of fire will be tormented day and night forever and ever, just as he will.

The most horrible death we can imagine is to be burned alive.  The very thought of it makes us shudder.  How much more so ought we to fear a fire which will never go out, and in which we will suffer all the pain without ever losing consciousness?  It is a terrifying thought that should move us to obedience, for this fire is reserved only for the wicked.  Knowing this truth, we must obey the gospel so our names will be in the book of life and so we will not be among those who are reserved for fire.

The Truth in Love

Many years ago, one of my professors at preaching school said this: “The work of a preacher is to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.”  At the time we all sort of chuckled at this idea, but we came to realize that this simple statement encompassed much of what we were called to do.  Our ministry was to all those who had needs, even if they were unaware of those needs.  Our ministry was to help soothe the pain of life, but also to motivate the complacent.

Unfortunately, some preachers, especially young ones, fixate on the “afflicting” side of this statement.  Their words become harsh and cutting, and they pride themselves in their perceived fidelity to God’s word by the number of people who are offended by what they say.  It is a testimony to the patience and wisdom of elders and congregations of God’s people that many preachers like this are helped to grow out of the immaturity that spawns such a harsh attitude.

Preachers, however, are not the only ones who may be infected with this attitude.  Sometimes the people in the pews can be just as harsh and cutting in their remarks and attitudes as the brashest young preacher.  The result of this kind of attitude is predictable.  Some sincere seekers are driven away from the truth because of an unloving attitude expressed in harsh terms.  They go away with feelings hurt, and we shrug and persuade ourselves that it is because they didn’t really love the truth.

We know from the scriptures that some people are not interested in the truth (Rom. 1:18; 2 Th. 2:11, 12; 2 Tim. 4:3, 4).  These people will not be persuaded to obey God’s will no matter how kindly they are entreated.  Others, however, because they do not understand the importance of truth, may be driven away by the manner in which we present it to them.  Each person will answer for his decision to obey the gospel or to reject it, but we must be certain that we do not do anything to prejudice anyone against the truth.

The great apostle Paul made a simple statement that gives us the guidance we need on this subject.  In Eph. 4:15 he said, “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”  He said we are to speak the truth, but we are to speak it in love.  When we think about it, this just makes good sense.  We have the greatest good news that the world will ever know.  It is the news of salvation from sin by the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  This is a message of love, and should be communicated as such.  Doing so does not negate or compromise the truth.

Paul himself is the example of this in his sermon on Mars Hill in Athens.  This was a city that was among the most idolatrous in the ancient world, yet as Paul began speaking he said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects” (Acts 17:22).  If he were like some today, he might have said, “You people are a bunch of ignorant idol worshipers.  Let me tell you the truth about these false gods you worship.”  Paul’s approach drew them to listen to what he had to say, even though most of them ultimately rejected his message.  The other approach would have gotten him thrown out of town before he even had a chance to speak.  Doing it the way Paul did at least gave them the opportunity to learn the truth.  This is something we must always bear in mind.

In 2 Cor. 5:21 Paul said, “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  One who begs another to do what is right is speaking the truth in love.  One who berates and offends may speak the truth, but his words and attitude rob it of its power to change lives.  Let’s always make sure we speak the truth.  But, let’s always make sure we speak the truth in love.