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Life Matters

Part 5: Finding that place of grace

Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church

(3/10) Today we continue with Part 5 in our series, "Life Matters" as we are going through the book of 1 Corinthians, and what we find this week in 1 Corinthians 7:10-24 is that Paul’s church had a lot of questions about divorce and remarriage for Christians. Again I believe this topic is one of considerable interest for the church of Jesus Christ. And again this topic is so applicable to Christ’s community because as followers of Christ… as those who ascribe to His teaching… those who fellowship with Him… and those who love as He has loved… we need to know the plans He has for us.

As Jeremiah said, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Yet we find, as we get into the issue of divorce and remarriage, that roughly half of all marriages will end in divorce. And that those who remarry… 66% of those marriages will end in divorce. So as Christ’s Church I believe we need to find that distinctive quality that would set us apart from our culture. And as followers of the one who both created us and instituted the marriage covenant… as those who trust the one who "plans to give you a hope and a future" we need to turn to His Word to us. And I know that as we receive his Word today we will find that place of grace.

So reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, let’s read together from the Word of the Living God in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, at verse 10.

"To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to." NIV

The Bible says in Proverbs, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses" (Proverbs 27:6). I pray that you would consider me a friend, that you would trust me, and that I may have a word of encouragement for you today. You see once again we’re getting into some heavy stuff in God’s Word; not a lot of comedy, but a lot of real down to earth teaching, and I hope that it’s practical and beneficial to each one of you whether you’re single, married, widowed, or divorced.

In our culture today the whole divorce epidemic tends to cause fear. Should I marry? Can I trust this person? Will it last? Is marriage a good thing?

And this morning some of you struggle with the pain of longing to be married, looking forward to being married, but having concerns and fears because you came from a divorced home, or maybe its just because you live in a nation of no-fault divorce. And so this is a very real issue, and let’s just be honest and acknowledge that each of us are touched by divorce.

You see the great myth of divorce is that by getting divorced, it’s over… but it’s not over… it just got really complicated… that it. It’s never going to be over. There are still the kids, so you’re never going to be done with each other. Those kids are going to grow up, and then they’re going to get married, and then you’re going to be at the wedding together. And you’re going to have to see each other on holidays, and your grandkids are going to be there eventually. So divorce doesn’t end anything… you still have life together… you still have the results of your past life together... It’s not done... It’s just complicated. And what was happening in the church in Corinth is that people had become Christians, but they were still sick of each other, they wanted to throw in the towel, and they wanted to get divorced.

And so the question was presented to Paul "Well, what about Christian marriage? What about divorce? What is biblically acceptable in the eyes of God?"

So that is what we are dealing with in 1 Corinthians 7.

1. What about marriage?

So the first question is what about marriage? And let me just put this out there first, God made marriage for one man and one woman, and we’re in Maryland, so I have to say that. Marriage is for one man and one woman. That’s what God says in Genesis chapter 2. It’s not good for the man to be alone, so God makes a woman. God brings them together. God initiates their relationship. God officiates the first wedding ceremony. And the man and the woman marry. That’s the way God intended marriage to be…. for one man… one woman… one lifetime… that’s the way it’s to be!

Secondly, God made marriage with the intention that it would be marked by oneness. That’s why it says in Genesis chapter 2 that the husband and the wife became one flesh. And interestingly, that same word one, is used in Deuteronomy 6:4; where it says, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, he is one." So in the same way that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, are mysteriously one God… the husband and wife are one… and as Paul says in Ephesians chapter 5… it’s a mystery. They are somehow, supernaturally, mysteriously one flesh. One person!

And so then what this means is that you’re supposed to remain together, not go back to two. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 19, "What God has brought together we should not separate." And this oneness means is that emotionally, physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually you’re one… you’re one person. So no longer are you two people. That’s why traditionally a woman takes her husband’s last name. That’s why they live in one house. That’s why they have one bank account. That’s why they worship one God. That’s why they have one set of values… they’re one.

And that oneness is not intended to be broken. So God made marriage for a man and a woman to be one, and to come together in covenant. Proverbs 2 and also Malachi 2 refer to marriage as being a covenant. Now a covenant is different from a contract…

A contract is, "I agree to provide this. You agree to provide that. And if at any point one of us does not fulfill or accomplish what we have agreed to do in the contract, then the contract is null and void, and we are no longer partners." It’s a business agreement.

But the Bible speaks of marriage as a spiritual covenant… a covenant is, "Even if you don’t make me happy, I am staying, because I am committed to you. I love you." And that is why at a wedding we have witnesses. We have other people and we also have God as a witness; as we enter into covenant. And that’s why every year anniversaries are celebrated, to remind ourselves and celebrate the covenant of marriage. That’s different from all other relationships. That’s why my wife and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage this August… it’s not a contract; it’s a covenant. I love her, I’m devoted to her, and I’m committed to her… no strings attached… it’s a covenant.

2. When is divorce acceptable?

So when is divorce acceptable? We know that in the Bible God tells us "I hate divorce," (Malachi 2:16). That is God’s emotional feeling about divorce and some of you who are divorced, your parents are divorced, or your friends are divorced, you hate divorce too. God knows that… God knows that it is painful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s expensive. And it changes the course of your life. That’s why God intended marriage for one man, one woman, in covenant forever because He has "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). God hates divorce.

I remember when I was dating Dana, one of the things I asked her was, "Do you believe in divorce?" And she said, "No, I don’t." So I was like, "Neither do I, and I want you to know going in to this thing, when I get married I’m locking the back door… there’s no way out… one way or another, we’re going to find happiness together. We’re going to live together… and we’re going to work it out."

Now let me assure you that this doesn’t mean that marriage isn’t hard. And I’m not going to hang out all my dirty laundry, but we are two imperfect people living together and again I assure you that living with me is less than peachy. I have a complicated life. It’s hard and I understand that.

So when is divorce is acceptable in the eyes of God? What is a legal God honoring divorce? In what circumstances is it possible?

The first one is the most simple… its death. 1 Corinthians 7 and Romans 7 both say if your spouse dies, it’s over. It’s not like, a "Weekend at Bernie’s". You’re not going anywhere if your spouse dies. It’s over. I love my wife dearly and she loves me, but if one of us would go to meet Jesus, the marriage is over. There’s no debate!

Another reason you can get a legitimate divorce is adultery. Now, in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 22, if you committed adultery, they killed you… you were stoned to death. So you didn’t have to get an attorney… it was pretty simple. That’s how it worked. If you commit adultery, you die, and that meant you didn’t need to get a divorce. Your spouse is dead – it’s over.

Now, in the New Testament, adultery is not punished by death, but it is possible to lead to divorce. Jesus uses the word "adultery" in Matthew 5. It’s a Greek word that refers to a breach of the covenant. It’s the abandoning of the covenant. The word is porneia and it’s a word that means more than just adultery; it can refer to anything from drug abuse, to the occult, to sexual abuse, addiction, or perversion.

Jesus says in Matthew 19:8, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."

Divorce is not supposed to happen, but when there is adultery, the non-Christian leaves, there’s unfaithfulness, there’s hardness of heart, sometimes divorce happens… because of sin. It’s not God’s intention, but when people won’t repent of sin, won’t change, won’t apologize, won’t get help, eventually sin leads to death and the marriage dies.

3. Working through our differences

But the Bible says, in 1 Corinthians 7:17: "Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him."

God’s plan is for us to work through our differences. So if you’re single? Don’t seek to be married. Are you married? Don’t seek a divorce. I know that’s not easy, so we need to talk… we need to work together… you know last week we talked about what’s legal and what’s moral… we need to bring this before God… we need to study the circumstances biblically to see if there really is grounds for divorce. And if there is not reason for divorce, maybe we should work towards church discipline, with the goal being repentance and reconciliation. So we’d work together on the marriage… we’d try to make it better… we’d try to find that place of grace… that would be our goal. We would work toward keeping that family intact. That is the goal… but… we accept that sometimes sin happens and it doesn’t go that way.

Does this mean that a Christian must endure a relationship that is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive? No way! Not at all. So it may mean that there is a separation. We may need to get that person out of that unsafe environment… and we need to try to bring this other person to their senses. To bring them to repentance, so that they would get treatment… so that they would get fixed up… and that we would make certain the situation is safe. And then we think about reconciliation, but not before we are assured there is safety.

And I know there are some of you are sitting here today, you’re single, and you’re like, "How does this apply to me?" Well, let me just say this: first of all, people are complicated. Relationships are complicated. Marriage is complicated. Divorce is complicated.

So we are going to cheat a little… and I mean that in a holy way… let’s peak ahead… and maybe you already did… but let’s look at verse 24 and following… The Apostle says, each of you "should remain in the situation God called him to." And verse 25, "Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this" (1 Corinthians 7:24-28).

If you’re single, like Paul says, "I want to spare you this." Be content… remain in the situation… retain the place in life that the Lord has assigned you to… because God has called us to live in peace.

If you are single… don’t so want to be married… don’t be so impatient… that you lower your standards and just rush into marriage, because it’s supposed to be a lifetime commitment and a covenant with God. Take it seriously… children could be brought… probably will be brought into that relationship. And think of the implications, for generations, if you make a poor and foolish decision.

For those of you who do fall for someone, and you love them, and you want to be married, go through premarital counseling. Don’t go to Vegas. Go to pre-marriage class.

Remember the bride groom… remember Jesus above all. He died and rose to take away sin. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the answer. So we remember Jesus’ body and His blood shed for our sin. We work toward God’s best… that’s what we work toward… but let’s give God a little time to see what He has planned… let’s see what he might do, because ultimately our hope is in him.

And you see God has a unique plan for each one of us that is beyond our understanding and immeasurably greater that our expectations. Way back in the very beginning of time… in the Garden of Eden God revealed to Adam and Eve His will or plan for their lives. Yet in love and only as a perfect father could, He also gave them the choice to obey, because He is a loving Father and a gracious God. Knowing that His way was right, God still allowed Adam and Eve to choose the wrong way. They made the wrong choice, but He still loved them and forgave them. They found that place of grace and He will do the same for you today.

I know that there are days when the will of God seems completely wrong. I know there are days when our relationships seem to be falling apart around us and we simply don’t understand. Every day seems to be filled with darkness. We don’t know what to do… our hearts are paralyzed by fear... we’re treading water in the waters of life, and we’re longing to see the Lord coming to rescue us. And it’s in those desperate times that we must choose to trust God even though our faith is small and we cannot understand what is happening. We must trust Him because His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And one day, every one of our questions will be resolved as we see His perfect plan unfolding in our lives.

For the Lord has said, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Today set aside your plans. Lay down your expectations. And look for God to meet you at that place of grace with power and victory in His hands. Amen.

God bless you!

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