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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Does Adultery End the Marriage Covenant?

During the last couple of sermons, we looked at the text of Matthew 19:3-9 regarding divorce and also spent some time answering some of the common questions that arise when discussing this issue.  There was one question that we did not have time to tackle, yet it is one that is common enough that I’d like to take some time to deal with it here.
As you know, the Lord teaches in Matthew 19:9 that cases of sexual immorality represent an exception to the rule that to divorce and remarry another constitutes adultery.  This leads some people to assume that infidelity effectively ends the marriage covenant and that must be why these cases represent an exception to the rule. 
Is that the case?  Does infidelity break the marriage covenant in such a way as to end it?  This is an important question.  Should the offended spouse consider himself or herself still in a covenant with the unfaithful spouse?
Scripture may not answer this question explicitly, but I believe we can gather principles that will help us to arrive at a conclusion.  As with some of the other questions we considered, God’s relationship with the Israelites in the Old Testament is instructive.  We find many times in the OT that the Israelites are described as having broken their covenant with Yahweh through their spiritual adultery: “They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers” (Jer 11:10, cf Deut 31:16-21).
We need to consider in what sense the people broke the covenant.  Did they break it in the sense of failing to abide by its stipulations?  Or did they break it in the sense of causing it to come to an end?  Or both – did their failure to abide by its stipulations result in the ending of the covenant? 
Clearly, they broke it at least in the sense of failing to abide by its stipulations.  Yahweh was as clear as crystal that the covenant required them to worship Him alone (Exo 20:3; 23:32; Deut 6:1-25; Jos 23:15-16).  Yet, they “played the whore” on “every high hill and under every green tree” (Jer 2:20, 3:1-2).  But did that failure cause the end of the covenant?  There are at least two reasons we have to say no.  First, the people were still bound by the stipulations of the covenant.  Though they violated the covenant, God still held them to its stipulations.  They were still expected to obey all of the Law.  That indicates that the covenant was not ended by their violation of it.  Second, God gave Israel and Judah a decree of divorce, only after which did He say, “you are not my wife.”  That is, it was Yahweh who officially ended the union and He did so via a certificate of divorce.
What does this tell us about a marriage in which there has been infidelity?  The unfaithful spouse has broken the marriage covenant in the sense the he or she has failed to keep the stipulations of the covenant, but not in the sense of having ended the covenant.  Though infidelity has taken place, the marriage still exists and the two members are bound by its terms.  The only thing that can end the marriage, other than death, is divorce.  As Yahweh was justified in ending His marriage to Israel and Judah, so the offended spouse is justified in ending his or her marriage to an unfaithful spouse.  It is not the violation of the covenant that ends it, but divorce that ends it.
I’d like to reiterate that while we spent a good deal of time talking about various questions, exceptions, and scenarios, we need to keep in mind that the Lord’s main point in Matthew 19:3-9 was to call His disciples to a lifelong commitment to marriage, understanding that this is God’s design for that institution.  Please remember that if you are struggling in your marriage, we want to help you.  We have a number of folks who are trained and qualified to come alongside you and help you find the hope that God’s Word offers no matter what your circumstances.  If you are a husband whose wife is not interested in counseling, we have godly men who can help you.  If you are a wife whose husband is not interested in counseling, we have godly women who can help you.  If you and your spouse agree that you could use some help, whether it is dealing with serious issues and just addressing some bad habits, we can come alongside you as well.  Please let us know.  We would love to help.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

His All-Powerful Love

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer 32:27)

At one time or another, we have all been frustrated by a lack of power.  We have wanted to do something - achieve a goal, heal a loved one, or perhaps end a trial - but we were prevented by our own inability to act.  As human beings, we have limitations.  We are not always able to do what we want to do.

God has no such limitations.  He is able to accomplish all His holy will.  He is all-powerful, or omnipotent.  This is repeatedly affirmed in the Scriptures.  When God reiterated His promise to Abraham that he would have a son by Sarah, who was old and barren, He said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen 18:14), the implied answer being, “of course, not!”  And sure enough, one year later Sarah gave birth to Isaac.

In Numbers 11, when the people grumbled against God because they had no meat, the Lord vowed to give them meat for a whole month, “until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you” (11:20).  Moses wrongly assumed that the Lord would provide this meat from their own flocks and herds, which would never be enough for the whole nation to eat for a month.  God replied, “Is the LORD’s power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not” (11:23 NAS).  The result was a spectacle I would love to have seen.  The Lord caused a wind to spring up and carry quail from the sea and dump them around the camp of Israel so that quail were piled waist-high for a day’s journey in every direction!  

In Luke 1, when the angel came to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High, she replied, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” He said, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37).  There are many other passages that could be consulted, but the uniform testimony of Scripture is that God is able to do anything He purposes to do.  

We should note that this is not the same thing as saying that God can do anything.  There are some things God cannot do.  He cannot lie (Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2),  be tempted or tempt others (Jas 1:13), or deny Himself (2Tim 2:13).  He cannot do anything inconsistent with His nature, which is why we should understand omnipotence as His ability to accomplish all His holy will, rather than the ability to do anything.

What might God’s omnipotence tell us about His love for His people?  Remember that love is valuing the highest good of another.  God desires our highest good.  That God is omnipotent indicates that He is able to accomplish our good.  Last time, we looked at how God’s knowledge and wisdom benefit His love for us.  They indicate that He knows what is best for us and He knows the best way to accomplish it for us.  His omnipotence means that not only does He know what is best and the best way to accomplish it, but He has the power to accomplish it!  There is nothing that can stand in the way of God working good for those He loves.  

Without His unlimited power, God would only be a really nice guy with great intentions, but no ability to come through on those intentions and possibly no ability to keep the promises He’s made.  That God loves us is only good news because it is this God who loves us.  All of His other attributes coalesce to make His love as powerful and certain as it is.  

Consider the things facing you today.  There are people in your life who have promised you things that they may not have the ability to accomplish.  But there is One who has never made a promise that He cannot keep.  There is One who will never fail to love you by working good for you.  What affect should the knowledge of God’s all-powerful love have on your outlook on your current circumstances?  Think on these things.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

God's Omniscient, Omnisapient Love

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.  (Psa 139:1-4)

As we continue to consider how God’s various attributes help us to understand the qualities of His love for His people, we must look at two attributes that are closely associated, His omniscience and omniscience.  That God is omniscient means that He knows all things that can be known, that is, everything actual and possible, past, present and future.

When we say that God knows all things actual we mean that He knows all things that exist and happen.  Psalm 147: 5 teaches that “His understanding is infinite.” Job 37:16 says that He is “perfect in knowledge.” Perhaps most explicit is 1 John 3:20, which reads, “…He knows everything.” He knows every bird and every star (Psa 50:10-11; Luke 12:6-7; Psa 147:4).  He knows our prayers before we pray them, our thoughts before we think them, our words before we say them, and every intention of our hearts (Matt 6:7-8; Psa 94:11; 139:1-4; Heb 4:11-13). 

He not only knows everything that actually is, but also all things possible, which means that He knows all the possible outcomes of all contingencies.  In Matt 11:21-23, the Lord Jesus chastised the Jewish cities where most of His might works had occurred, saying, “If the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  There are similar examples in 1 Samuel 23:11-13 and 2 Kings 13:19.  

God knows absolutely everything that can be known, therefore we say that He is omniscient.  Most of us are already familiar with that term, but what is omnisapience?  For God to be omnisapient is for Him to be all-wise.  Wisdom is the application of God’s infinite knowledge to accomplish the best ends by the best means possible.  God’s omniscience makes His omnisapience possible.

After recounting God’s plan of salvation via the election, rejection, and return of Israel, Paul marvels at the matchless wisdom of God: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  (Rom 11:33-34, cf. Eph 3:10).  God is so wise that His foolishness is wiser than men (1 Cor 1:25).

What do the attributes of God’s perfect knowledge and wisdom mean for His love for us?  It is easy to see the connection if we understand God’s love to be a commitment to our highest good.  That God knows all things means that He not only knows us inside and out (Psa 139), but He knows with absolute certainty what is best for us.  He knows what we need before we need it.  He knows what we need far better than we do.  His knowledge equips Him to envision the best ends for us.  

His wisdom equips Him to accomplish those ends by the best means possible.   Some of us may never doubt that God intends to do us good, but we may struggle with His means.  Difficult trials don’t always feel “right.”  We may think that there must be a better way for God to do us good than through this particular trial or that one.  But the truth is that God is always accomplishing what is best for us, and He is doing it in the best way.  

Consider what God would be like if He was loving but not all-knowing and all-wise.  We might expect salvation history - and our lives - to be a series of well-intentioned messes.  God would desire to do us good, but He would often be wrong about what that good is and how to accomplish it.  If God were loving but not knowledgeable and wise, we could never have faith that He would certainly do good for us.  We could only have faith that He wanted to.  

That the God who loves us is omniscient and omnisapient means we can bank on the fact that God desires to accomplish our good, that He infallibly knows what that good is, and that He will accomplish it in the best way possible.  If we believe that, it will make our current trials seem far less dark and far more promising.  

What does God’s all-knowing, all-wise love have to say about your current circumstances?  Think on these things.