Resolving the two questions of Matthew 19: Divorce and the Law (Part II)

“But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

In Matthew 19, the Lord touched on two difficult issues with which His church has struggled and contended ever since: Does divorce exclude people from usefulness in the kingdom? Do the saved have to keep the Law?

He addressed the first subject with the Pharisees while His disciples were listening in (19:1-12).  The second subject He addressed to a man identified as “a rich young ruler,” but again, overheard by the disciples.

Are divorced and lawbreakers excluded?  (Part III will take up the second question, the matter of the Law.)

Before moving on, let’s revisit the subject of adultery and adulterous remarriages. I feel a need to add a word or two.

First, the text.  In Matthew 19:9, Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

That appears pretty open and shut. But it isn’t.

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Rethinking the divorce issue: Let’s start believing the Scriptures

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Most SBC churches I know have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a church member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon.  I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.

The qualifications for deacons are found in I Timothy 3:8-13.  Verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  The “one wife” business, of course, has been interpreted in a dozen ways, everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all  (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades; sorry, Charlie!), to no in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.  On a related subject, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 where qualifications for pastors are found.  If verse 11 refers to the deacons’ wives there should be something earlier about pastors’ wives. But there isn’t. So many a church has decided verse 11 is referring to women deacons.  (Argue all you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)

The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.

So, why then do our churches so consistently insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?

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Reality and Fantasy: If we don’t know the difference, we’re in trouble!

In his book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, actor Michael J. Fox points out that some people take far too seriously what they see on the screen:

No matter how fantastic a move’s premise is, there are always a special few who buy in and accept the (craziness) at face value, like the hoverboard (seen in his 1985 movie Back to the Future). I’ve fielded more questions about hoverboards than any other aspect of the trilogy.  Otherwise sane people were convinced that these devices actually existed, especially after (Director) Bob Zemeckis made tongue-in-cheek comments to the press about parent groups preventing toy manufacturers from putting them on the market (this resulted in hundreds of kids calling Mattel, demanding hoverboards for Christmas).  Believe me, if someone had actually devised and manufactured a flying skateboard capable of propelling a surfer on an invisible wave of air, he didn’t let me in on the secret.  It could have spared me from hours of dangling like a flesh-and-blood Pinocchio.  Alternately strapped into every manner of harness, hinged leg brace, and flying apparatus the most sadistic special-effects engineers could devise, my foot stapled to that pink piece of plastic, I spent hours attached to metal cables, swinging from sixty-foot cranes, back and forth across the Courthouse Square set.

People believed those things existed?  Apparently there is no boundary outside which some people will not stray when it comes to gullibility.  If it’s on the big screen, it must be true.  This is a variation of a greater truth: If it’s on the internet, it’s automatically true.

This is where we all roll our eyes.

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Crisis Management: How to keep our people during a crisis

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

We can’t say the Lord didn’t warn us. Although, clearly, some did not get the word.

In Matthew 10:16-42 our Lord is preparing His people for their future ministry with its pressures, persecutions, betrayals, and conflicts.  He tells us how things will be, what to expect, and what actions we should take when bad things occur.  To our shame, our people are rarely taught this, and thus are blindsided when turmoil erupts in a congregation.

And so, when the enemy attacks the church, God’s people panic and flee like chickens in the barnyard when a hostile dog arrives.

We all pay a big price for our failure to prepare the people.

It’s a familiar story, one which I heard again today.  When the pastor resigned suddenly due to his own foolish behavior, many in the congregation panicked and went into a tailspin.  The leadership wants to carry on the program, but people are leaving the church in droves.  What to do? Can anything be done at this late hour to keep members from jumping ship?

The best time to act is two years ago. (“Oh, thanks a lot, wise one.  You’re a big help!”)

Seriously.

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Things to know–and not to know–about Bible prophecy

“But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of Heaven, but My Father only” –Matthew 24:36.

“But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  –Mark 12:32

Make a list of what we do not know concerning the end times.  What we put on the list would tell a great deal about us.

One of the greatest Bible teachers of the past fifty years is (or has been) Dr. Warren Wiersbe.  Once, when he was asked to speak on Bible prophecy, he began with this disclaimer:  “I used to know a lot more about prophecy than I do now.”

I appreciate that.

What Dr. Wiersbe was saying was that in his earlier years, he sounded forth with certainty on matters about which he knew little.  But with maturity came a healthy dose of humility.  In time, he was able to say just as confidently that “I do not know” concerning some of these prophetic subjects.  That’s what maturity and integrity do:  Admit when they do not know something.

I’m personally convinced that no one has all the answers to the mysteries of Revelation.  The only way, of course, to prove that assertion wrong is for the events to proceed to unfold just as someone has predicted.  Until then, every Bible teacher who sounds forth claiming to have the answers does so by faith.

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Our faith may be in Christ, it may be (also) in Scripture, but it just as easily could be in ourselves, as I suspect is true of some of the most dogmatic interpreters.

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You came to mind again today; I prayed for you.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” –Philippians 1:3

I remember you…from time to time.

Some people I think of often and reflect frequently on what they mean to me. Other people, I have a completely bizarre remembrance.

I’ll be somewhere and see an old friend of forty or fifty years ago and think, “I always loved him (or her) so much. Why have I not thought of them in all these years?”

I’ve been in a cemetery for a funeral and spotted the gravestone of a friend of bygone times and had the same thought.  “They were so precious. I would love to see them! Why have I lost them in memory?”

Recently, I read a novel about a character with perfect memory.  When something happened that required him to revisit a past experience, he had no trouble.  He would activate his memory and return to that moment in time, recallingl every detail, every word spoken, every nuance.  He could read the license plate of a car, could tell you the temperature, and give you as accurate a rendering of that moment as though he were standing there at that moment.  In the book, this was a special gift.

But it’s not.

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What really strong people do in critical times

“When I am weak, then am I strong.”  –2 Corinthians 12:10

Jackie called me the other day.  He and I were classmates in high school but we’ve not seen each other in forty years or more.  We soon picked up the conversation like we were together last week.

He said, “Joe, my wife died ten days ago.  I am having a hard time dealing with it.  I know you’ve been through this when your wife died.  Can you talk to me?”

Wow.  Such a courageous thing he did, to reach out and ask for help.  I do not have words to say how much I admire him for this. (We talked for 30 minutes and prayed together.  Then, I sent him the book on grief my wife Bertha and I wrote last year about the deaths of our spouses of 52 years.  I’ve prayed for Jackie ever since.)

Asking someone for help takes courage and strength.  I’m well aware it feels otherwise, like we’re at the end of our rope and cannot think of anything to do.  But only the truly strong person will ask for help.  Most people will suffer in silence and pay the consequences.

Only. The. Strong. Will.  Ask.  For.  Help.

It’s another one of those truths which people call counter-intuitive.  That is, it might appear to be a sign of weakness, but it’s something only the truly strong can do.  Like yielding to the bully on the highway.  A weaker person would give vent to his anger and try to teach that guy a lesson. But the strong person knows no one can teach that guy anything, it’s not worth risking one’s own life to do, and his goal is to arrive at his destination safely. So, he controls his anger and goes forward safely.

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Half right; totally wrong: Shallow things religious people say

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.  –Titus 2:1 

We hear them all the time.  Something about these oft-repeated claims just does not seem right, we think.  So–let’s look at a few of them.

One. “Christianity is not a religion;  it’s a relationship.”

Sounds right, but it’s wrong.  Ask yourself one question:  As a follower of Jesus, that is one in a (ahem) relationship with Him, would it be all right if I joined a religion and became a Buddhist or Taoist or a Jew or a Muslim? After all, as a Christian I’m not in a religion as such (according to this thinking) and there would be no reason not to.   Of course those religions are incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ.

“The way of Jesus Christ”?  What we call The Christian Religion.

Friend, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well….

A religion may be defined as a systemized practice of worship involving a God, a place or places of worship, a system of beliefs, and in most cases exclusivity (that is, it claims to hold The truth).

Sure sounds like the Christian faith to me.

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Friends of the Cross

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:  whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things.  For our citizenship is in Heaven….  (Philippians 3:17-21).

There is a reason each of the four gospels devotes at least a fourth of its chapters to the final week of Jesus’ life on earth.  His death-burial-resurrection is the heart of the story.

The cross is not just the heart of the story; it is the story!

In Philippians 3, Paul weeps over church members who claim to be authentic and present themselves as leaders and teachers but are actually “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  He does not say specifically what these trouble-makers are doing.  Often, when Scripture is silent on something crucial like that, I suspect it means the Holy Spirit does not want us to camp out on what these offenders did, lest we become too narrow in our focus.  Enemies of the cross of Jesus can be found across Christendom today and their emphasis may be entirely different from the shenanigans of the First Century.

Scholars think that in context, because of Paul’s indictment of them (their god is their belly, etc) these “enemies of the cross” were probably libertines, forerunners of the Gnostics, or Judaizers. Or both.  The first group taught that since they were saved anything they did afterwards did not matter, which brings great shame to the cause of Christ. The second group held that they were saved by their works.  In each case, the result was  to undermine and nullify the work of Jesus on the cross.

After all, if we go right on in the same wickedness and debauchery after being saved as before, what was the point of the cross?  And if we are saved by our good works, why did Jesus go to all the trouble of dying for our sins?

The good-time charlies and the rigid Pharisees are both enemies of the cross and have no place in church leadership.  (Let the church pay attention to this!  Everyone may enter the church without changing their lives; but only the faithful and godly should be given leadership positions.)

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They criticized the pastor. So, being a great champion for God, he resigned.

“Christ also suffered for us…when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:21-25).

Quotes on enduring criticism abound.  Go online and pull up a chair.  Here are a few we found in a few minutes….

–The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.(Elbert Hubbard)    -You can’t let praise or criticism get to you.  It’s a sign of weakness to get caught up in either one. (John Wooden)   –A critic is a legless man who teaches running. (Channing Pollock)    –You are a glorious shining sword and criticism is the whetstone.  Do not run from the whetstone or you will become dull and useless. Stay sharp.  (Duane Alan Hahn)

Pastor and church leaders:  You do not want to live and work where there is an absence of criticism.

You think you do. But you don’t.  Only in the harshest of dictatorships is there no criticism.  But in a free society–like ours–criticism abounds.  If the society is indeed free, much of the criticism is fair, just, and well deserved.  Likewise, much of it will be unfair, unjust and unmerited. A leader who survives has to develop discernment in order to know what to ignore and what to treasure and learn from.

A friend texted:  “Joe, write something about criticism!  Some good pastors are resigning because not everyone in the church likes them!”

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