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Monday, October 21, 2013

Marriage - Peace When it Breaks

This is the seventh lesson in a series on 1 Corinthians. You can read all about the series in the Introduction. I’ve broken the post into sections with journal prompts at the end of each part. These would be great stopping points. I’ve also linked the Scripture references to; click the blue font references. I’d love to hear what you’re learning in the comments!

Peace When it Breaks

So from the last lesson we learned that the ideal is to recognize God’s gifts in your situation and abide in Him there. Which is a great idea in Ideal-land. But, what do you do when that ideal falls all to pieces? There is zero doubt in my mind that you, precious one reading this, have been touched by brokenness in a marriage or almost marriage that mattered to you. It might be yours, it might be your parents’, it might be someone you watched closely assuming they were abiding in the ideal…. it’s touched us all.

I think of people close to me who have tried so hard to obey Jesus in a hopeless marriage, begging Him for healing. I think of a sweet lady who follows Jesus far away from here in a place full of spiritual darkness. As she tried to learn Jesus’ ways and bring them to her marriage she was further rejected. It’s so hurtful. Why? What then?

As you read this section of verses, I pray that you see hope.

First let’s clear up an interpretation question. When Paul says “Not I but the Lord” in verse 10 and then “I, not the Lord” in verse 12 what on earth is he talking about?

{Seriously…..anyone else get hung up here? I know it’s not just me. When I was reading through 1 Corinthians considering teaching I almost quit right here…just didn’t get it. Did not.}

Remembering the context from what we’ve studied so far and the reminders at the beginning of this post, consider these little tidbits I uncovered:

First Corinthians was written before the gospels (Prior, 123). Most scholars agree that when Paul compares his words to Jesus’ words he is referring to the publicly spoken (or for us - written) words of Jesus. When Paul instructs new believers he can’t reference Matthew 5:32 where Jesus teaches on marriage and divorce because there isn’t such a reference yet. So when he gets to verse 12, he wants to clarify that while his words jive with the teaching from Jesus and all of Scripture, he isn’t directly quoting Jesus’ words – he is following God’s leadership through the Holy Spirit and the experiences and instruction he has received so far. Still inspired by God, but not Jesus quotes. Here is what my Study Bible says about these verses, “Paul knows the oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings on divorce that were later written down in the Gospels…He carefully distinguishes between the written words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and Paul’s own understanding of how Jesus’ teachings would apply to this new situation. Paul views his admonition here as authoritative and inspired, not merely as human wisdom (See 1 Corinthians 7:40, 14:37-38)” (ESV, 2200).

I wonder, what was the original question the Corinthians wrote to Paul? I wonder about the individuals who had found this beautiful new life in Jesus only to turn around in their homes and find discord and pain because of their new attachment. There were questions; hard ones, about what to do when you are joined – glued together to someone who doesn’t have the same beliefs. Add to this that some scholars think this might have been Paul’s own experience. It was extremely rare for a Jewish man to remain single, and not allowed for a member of the San Hedrin; which was the Jewish ruling council that old Paul’s career path would’ve been targeting. (Prior, 121; Morris, 104; Blomberg, 134) We don’t know, Paul might’ve always been single, he might’ve been widowed. Maybe he’d faced the exact situation in verses 15-16; left by an unbelieving spouse when the Upside-Downness of following Jesus cost too much and seemed like lunacy. 

What we know for sure is that Paul is single and considers it a gift, yet even here he gives compassionate and redemptive advice to a man or woman who follows Jesus alone in their marriage. “Consents” in verse 13 means “pleased to dwell.” So, if you are married to someone who doesn’t share your faith, but still is happy to be married to you then you shouldn’t divorce him or her. Unshared belief on its own is not reason for divorce. Back to our lesson on abide, in that situation you serve and share and abide in Jesus praying and hoping for His Kingdom come in your marriage.

One of the troubling parts of this passage is when it brings up the kiddos. This passage says that kids and unsaved spouses are “made holy” by the believing spouse. What? That sounds kinda weird….he goes on to say that the unsaved spouse might be saved by the believing one. Whaaaat? Thought God alone is the One who makes us holy. Right? Right?! 

Right. Remember hagiazo from Week 1? It was "sanctified" in chapter 1, here it’s "holy". It means to “withdraw from fellowship with the world by first gaining fellowship with God.” (Zodhiates, 878). Read 1 Corinthians 7:14 below where I’ve added the definition for holy.

“For the unbelieving husband is made holy {withdrawn from fellowship with the world by first gaining fellowship with God} because of his wife…..”

Can you see how this might work in a real everyday life? Can you see why it’s so important that we are really, REALLY Inside Out Holy? If you are a Christian and your husband is not, then he benefits from living with you because your home and your life, your attitudes and responses are holy….withdrawn from fellowship with the world. This protects your family and opens up an example for your unbelieving husband and kids to see first hand the miracle that first gaining fellowship with God truly is. THIS is what it means that they are made holy because of you. You cannot MAKE them holy, but you can persevere in BEING holy so that they have a front row seat to the miracles that come from genuine fellowship with God.

Just as a point of application; maybe we should spend less time changing and convincing an unbelieving spouse...friend...parent...child and spend more time investing in the cementing of our own Inside - Out Holiness as a powerful example and platform for Jesus to show Himself off!

When Paul refers to the believing spouse saving the unbelieving spouse in verse 16, he’s not saying you actually have the power to save them; he’s pointing out the “human agency in salvation” (Zodhiates, 959).  You can read more about that concept in Romans 11:14, 1 Corinthians 9:22. It’s not that we save, it’s that our unity and holiness and willingness to share and serve bring people toward Him. He does the saving and the growing in the church; but He chooses to use us in the process.

Journal Prompt: What connections to you see between Inside Out Holiness described in these verses and the impact on everyday life in your home or work?

Let’s talk about when this doesn’t work. A marriage is self-destructing because of sin or selfishness or both. There is a Jesus-lover in the marriage, maybe even both of them love Jesus, but lies and deceit and sin have wreaked havoc and everyone is broken. There is no window to glimpse holiness because everyone is just barely crawling out with their lives. Clearly Paul teaches that if the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, let him – let her (15). Sometimes it’s not so easily defined.

When marriages turn into warzones, it must break God’s heart much the same as when churches turn into warzones. We are called to healing unity, remember? In the middle of this very practical answer to a very specific question, there is a nugget of hope for even the worst case scenarios.

“…in such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.
God has called you to peace.”
1 Corinthians 7:15 ESV

I hope that this is a comfort to the husband or wife who has tried everything to bring peace and satisfaction to a spouse whose appetites and insecurity cannot be tamed.
You are called to peace.

I hope that this is a comfort to the man or woman who has been wounded by well-meaning church folks trying to make a painful situation fit a criteria list with loopholes. Hurts when you just can’t check all the boxes.
You are called to peace.

I hope that this is a comfort to the parent who wrestles with leaving a dangerous and unhealthy situation as they see their children are slowly melting into sadness and hopelessness.
You are called to peace.

I hope that you, as you read this, know that peace is not just the absence of strife; it is the presence of Jesus. And He is with you. Keep abiding and keep seeking peace. Make the hard choices and do the hard things, then stick so tight to Him that you know when He says to serve and stay and you know when He says to get up and go for a season, purposing to allow discipline and healing and reconciliation to have a chance.

“Peace in the widest sense…means that “all is well” in one’s life and circumstances, which is the OT concept of shalom. Most interpreters hold that God releases the believing spouse from the twin unending distresses of a lifelong vain hope of reconciling with an unbeliever who has abandoned the believing spouse, and a lifelong prohibition against enjoying the blessings of marriage again.” (ESV, 2200)

One of the commentaries I studied said this: the Christian should “take the way of faith and expectation before the situation is given up.” (Prior, 128)

That’s exactly what we have seen throughout these chapters. Choose faith and hopeful expectation in EVERY situation – singleness, happy marriage, hopeless marriage – EVERY situation. Abide always, make the hard choices for peace as God describes it, not seeking the easy answer that makes sense; whether it’s staying or leaving.

I took this picture while on a boat on the Sea of Galilee.
This is where Jesus said, "Peace. Be Still."
to the life-threatening waves that were terrifying the disciples. (Mark 4:39 ESV)

And just as a final note; as a church wouldn’t it be wonderful if we gathered up our brothers and sisters broken by separation and divorce with less focus on loopholes and criteria lists for innocence and more focus on peaceful wholeness as a body?

Journal Prompt: Where is a place in your life today that feels broken? How does God’s calling to peace cover this place?

Live as You’re Called

Read this whole passage and then go back and read just verses 17 and 24. I’ve linked them together here. Read them together over and over again in different translations, I've included my favs in the links, be sure and scroll down to see both verses. Read them keeping in mind the lessons we’ve learned so far.

These two verses summarize this section beautifully. Be content, live YOUR life, abide with God without comparing or falling to the “someday when…” syndrome. The “someday when….” is an absolute Killer to your contentment. Stop it right now. Comparing your life and journey to another is also a Killer to your contentment. I wrote about Comparison here…..

Verses 18-19 remind us not to be religious, but to be obedient. God’s way doesn’t always make sense, but there is the promise of His abundant grace there. Trying to do what seems right only in our eyes or the opinions of others is a grace-void place that makes us slaves to men (verse 23). No, Thank you.

Journal Prompt: Read this post about contentment and comparison. Where are some places that you are comparing? What is God asking you to do in those places?

Live with Eternal Purpose in Mind

Paul is about to give some more advice that we can assume answers specific questions written to him. As he addresses questions regarding marriage and remarriage, I want you to see a thread that runs through every bit of instruction he gives - eternal purpose.

What does it look like to live with eternal purpose in mind?

In verses 32-35 especially I see this description. Living with eternal purpose in mind allows us to be free from anxieties (32a), to have undivided interests (34), and to have undivided devotion to the Lord (35). As this Corinthian church is growing, these baby Christians desperately need direction so that they can weather the coming storms of persecution. God is calling them to a life that is always mindful of the eternal. Marriage and family is wonderful and beautiful as it illustrates God’s great love for His people. Marriage and family is also demanding, and sometimes troublesome.

“Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.” (verse 28)

Here’s a day in the life of a husband I know:
He wakes up earlier than he would like to so that he can drive one child to school early for cheer practice. He rushes her out the door with a large amount of fussing, as she is late and unhappy to be awake. Then he comes home to get himself ready before he drives the second daughter to the same school an hour later. Next he goes to a demanding job and tries to work creatively, weathering interruptions and negotiations for a few hours before preparing for a lunch meeting only to be interrupted by a text from his wife. His wife who has overscheduled her day and needs help transporting kids. One of them is a child who drives, but has lost his wallet and driver’s license and also has to be chauffeured to his various activities…including lunch. So this husband leaves work and drives across town to the child’s school where he waits for said child who never shows because he went with a friend instead and didn’t let his dad know. Eventually he has to leave and go back to a lunch meeting….and it’s not even noon yet. 
Believe me, that day didn't get any less convoluted. 
This story could be a blog post in itself.

I’ve shared a silly version of what this looks like; but sometimes it’s not so funny. A wife you expected to share life with develops a physical or mental illness, a child has a learning disability that costs more in time and money than you have, a job evaporates leaving you unable to provide. There are worldly troubles. Yes, these troubles offer beautiful opportunities to see God provide maturity. Yes, they give us a chance to lead our family to follow God in faith that is wondrous and the "result of grace" gift that we talked about earlier. For most family is our calling. But for some, Paul included, singleness is the calling so that a follower can effectively chase after a truly unique opportunity to build God’s kingdom. 

There is no contradiction here, one is not better than the other - they are both God-given gifts with different troubles that ALL point us to depending more and more on Jesus. In EITHER situation and in view of the present distress…remain…keep an eternal focus…the time is growing short.

Journal Prompt: The purpose of this section of instruction is to “promote good order and to secure our undivided devotion to the Lord” (verse 35). How does your perspective need to adjust to promote good order and secure undivided devotion to the Lord?

I can't tell you how clear some of these troubling passages became once I'd spent the time to consider the history and setting of 1 Corinthians and the lessons in the first 6 chapters. It makes me so excited to get to some of the familiar passages still coming....

I love studying the Bible like this. How about  you?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Marriage What? {1 Corinthians 7:1-9}

This is the sixth lesson in a series on 1 Corinthians. Please read all about it in the Introduction. I’ve broken the post into sections with journal prompts at the end of each part. These would be great stopping points. I’ve also linked the Scripture references to; click the blue font references. I’d love to hear what you’re learning in the comments!

Marriage What? (1 Corinthians 7)

Now concerning…. 

So, now we are getting into some issues.
These folks have issues.
Don’t we all?

“Paul uses this phrase for the first time here to signal a switch from matters raised in the oral report from Chloe’s people (1:10-11) to issues raise in a letter from Corinthians.” (ESV, 2199)

This is going to be important for us to remember as we travel through this chapter. We need to keep some things in mind as we read Paul’s answers to questions from a letter we can’t read. As we interpret and apply these verses in light of other passages both in 1 Corinthians and in other Scriptures we will understand this entire teaching more fully.

Here are some things to remember:

Paul is striking a balance between extremes in the Corinthian scene. Some are using their newfound freedom from religion as an excuse to live according to any and every desire (Think – I can do what I want, God’s gonna forgive me anyway). Some are swinging to the opposite extreme and saying ALL sexuality is evil (Think – sex is super nasty and gross even if you’re married). Paul is steering us toward a balanced Spirit-led whole and good view of sexuality, singleness, and marriage.

There is not yet a New Testament as we know it. The Bible sitting next to your computer right now doesn’t yet exist when Paul answers these confused believers. They are VERY dependent on the teaching of the leaders who travel through (Remember the issues from Weeks 1-2 about being overly attached to the preacher?) and very vulnerable to the other teachings in their vibrant city.

Something that we will see toward the end of the chapter (in the section on living with the eternal in mind) is that persecution is on the horizon. Paul no doubt is beginning to see little glimpses of what the future holds for believers.

So….keep those things in the background as you study over the next two weeks. We keep cultural context in mind even as God breaks these challenging truths right into the open place of our very today needs.

Journal Prompt: This week is a very short lesson, so let's take some time to remember. Take a few minutes to look back at your past journal entries for 1 Corinthians and rewrite your favorite lesson into prayer. 

Let’s dig into chapter 7.

Oneness in Marriage

I usually link the passages in the NIV, but you gotta read this one in The Message! Don’t skip it, here’s the link….twice linked. Read it.

This is called mutuality, and it was strange, superbly scandalous and juicy for the day. As the Corinthian elder read this letter over the gathering of believers I wonder if he fanned himself or if his voice cracked as he basically said sex is for the woman as much as it’s for the man. Were there gasps? Giggles? I am sure there was blushing and shushing and likely a short prayer time at the end so everyone could get home. {See what I just did there?}

It is an obvious instruction against polygamy as well as an echo of what we’ve studied already in chapter 6 about the intimacy and “glued togetherness” of sex. Literally verse 3 says to “render unto the wife due benevolence” and verse 5 “defraud not one another” (Zodhiates, 555). In other words, when you don’t give your body fully to your husband or your wife you are not giving what you owe them, you are cheating them.

I realize this is about to get gross, but it occurs to me that this is almost the opposite of how we define cheating in marriage. {Obviously when you have sex with anyone other than your spouse you are cheating on him or her. Adultery is not funny or inconsequential. It’s devastating. Yes, I agree}. However. {This is a big whopper of a however} - have you ever considered that when you refuse or are unresponsive to your spouse’s sexual needs you are cheating them?

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that there are some very big “Except whens….” here. It’s never my intention to belittle or over generalize and there are addictions and health issues, both physical and mental, that can make this a cloudy issue

BUT in the context of a healthy God-led marriage, refusal of selfless and thoughtful sexual openness toward your spouse is cheating. This isn’t just a wifey “Sorry hun, I have a headache” issue. We have somehow been led to believe that sex is more of a guy’s thing and so men and women both use it as a bargaining chip to earn, punish, or reward. It ought not be. A Christian husband who seeks only to have his sexual needs met with no consideration of his wife's sexuality is just as wrong as a Christian wife who withholds sex.

Christian wives who struggle with this; can I offer you an encouraging perspective? There are most likely at least dozens if not hundreds of people who demand something from and drain your husband each day. There are few places where he can find Truthful encouragement. If he has a mentor or a friend that does that for him, be thankful! But there is one thing that ONLY YOU can give him. Sexual wholeness and fulfillment is a gift for your Christian husband that comes from God through you and no one else. If you struggle with withholding sex; ask God for this perspective.

The passage is very clear here that the only reason a married couple shouldn’t be having a great sex life is if they agree TOGETHER to abstain for the purpose of prayer….with the express intent of getting right back to it after the agreed upon season. Now honestly, when was the last time you called “headache” so that you could pray about something? When was the last time your husband agreed to that? Sex is for both of us. A woman’s body doesn’t just belong to her husband, but his also belongs to her.

Such beautiful equality, intimacy, spirituality is held up as ideal in these passages. Sex in marriage is built on the foundation of Inside Out Holiness, spiritual wholeness, joyous appreciation and acceptance of our bodies as God’s dwelling place, freedom from past labels, spirits and bodies freshly washed – sanctified – justified…. These foundational Truths from chapters 1-6 are the diving board.

Married folks, believe it and jump in.

Journal Prompt: What was new for you today in the discussion of these verses?


“Marriage is a gift, and singleness is a gift. Both are gifts with purpose, and both should be celebrated with contentment. Mutuality in sexual intimacy and in marriage is clarified. Sex is not the privilege of the husband and the duty of the wife, as popularly portrayed. Rather it is a privilege and duty for both, and first and foremost it should an act of beauty glorifying the unity God designed.” (Patterson, Kelley, 341).

Remember what I said in the introduction about Paul giving balanced teaching between two extremes? He’s still walking that line. When he wishes that everyone were celibate like him, he’s not knocking marriage. That would contradict what he’s already said in 1 Corinthians and what he says in Ephesians 5:22-33 and Colossians 3:18-19. In the phrase “each has his own gift from God” in verse 7; “gift” means the “result of grace” (Zodhiates,967). Marriage and celibacy are BOTH gracious gifts. And it’s clear from the following verses that if celibacy is not a gift you receive from God, then for you it’s “better to marry than to burn with passion” (7:9). I adore that verse. I don’t know why, it just cracks me up. It sounds so over-dramatic, but in reality it’s no joke. It’s a true battle and never more than in our world today.

Can I just say how nice it is that God knows us so well? How good He is to give us these instructions? What freedom there is to know that He loves marriage and sex and wants to see it building us up and not tearing us up.

There is a beautiful lesson in the middle of verse 8. When Paul says that it is good to remain single, we tend to focus on the single part and skip right over the remain part. The word remain means “to remain, dwell, endure, last, persevere, stand firm or steadfast” (Zodhiates, 935). In a favorite passage in John, the same word is sometimes translated “abide.”

Read John 15:4-11 and count the number of “remains.”

How many did you get? I see 11. Read through this passage again inserting the definition from above. Notice the repetition? It’s no accident. How we need the reminder to remain, to abide!

Now back to 1 Corinthians 7; with the establishment of Christianity only a few decades old and persecution on the horizon God wants His people to settle into Him first. Not into their circumstances and not into their relationships, but into HIM.

Are you single? Abide there; remain, dwell, endure, last, persevere, stand firm or steadfast there.
Are you married? Abide there; remain, dwell, endure, last, persevere, stand firm or steadfast there.

When discontentment comes knocking, Abide. Always abide. Always.

Journal Prompt: What does it mean to you that singleness and marriage both are a “result of grace”? How does this change how you can abide in YOUR situation?

I love this picture, while marriage always has difficult spots (as we will tackle next week); there is great joy in a God-led marriage. I wish I had truly learned the "abide" lesson earlier. Please spend some time on this, applying it to your very own situation.

This week was a glimpse of God's ideal for marriage and singleness. Next Monday, I will post the rest of the lesson on chapter 7, especially focusing on how to live out Peace when a marriage falls apart. 

I'd love you read your questions or comments.....