It's not up to you [3]

The last time I wrote about this was way back in March, and I was on a roll because of a thing or two I had been reading - mostly about people who had marriage problems or relationship problems. For anyone who wants to know, there is a part of me that gets sick-angry over failed marriages, and there's another part of me that is heartbroken. If I could do anything in the world besides lead everyone to Jesus (and I’m not doing that yet – not hardly!), I would save every marriage that's being driven on the wrong side of the road from its clear path of destruction.

And that said, I've already told you that the church has a responsibility to make a big, noisy sound of encouragement and discouragement to anyone in a failing marriage - because, as I have named these posts, it's not up to you to decide what marriage ought to be about. Marriage ought to be not just fidelity but covenant-keeping, and demonstrating our identity in Christ - that is, we keep our promises because of who we are. We do not break them because we have can not decide that the promises aren't who we are anymore - or who we think we ought to be. Thus: encouragement to keep the vow one has made before God and our fellow believers from the church.

But what about "discouragement"? I say that here to mean that there is a part of this that is up to you - which is, you personally. It is up to you to be conformed to God's word - especially if you are a Christian. In Romans 6-7-8, Paul makes the extraordinary case that we might sometimes do things we don't want to do, and that sometimes there are things that we don't want to do that we do, but guess what? You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

If you are alive in the Spirit, your body ought not to be dead in sin. Said another way, you won't have a hard heart - especially to someone to whom God has joined you. Because specifically, it is your hardness of heart that will not allow you to stay with that other person.

That's what Jesus said, isn't it? "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives". But what else? "But from the beginning it was not so."

"But cent, you insensitive Baptist slob," comes the reader who has been offended, "my spouse left me. My spouse is cheating on me. The Bible and Christ say without a doubt that I am off the hook, right? Or are you going to look down your nose at me for being the one who was violated?"

Listen: it is unequivocal that Jesus himself said that in the case of adultery, there is something else going on; Paul also said that if an unbelieving spouse leaves a believer, let him (or her) go. So it seems that cent's big mouth is bound to get him in trouble again, and I am sure it will. That being obvious, before I make my next two points, let me offer some caveats:

[1] if you are already divorced, and you divorced over adultery (one way or the other), I am not talking to you. I can't change the past, and neither can you. End of story.

[2] if you have been divorced by an unbeliever, I am not talking to you, either. Again, what's done is done, and you can't control somebody else - and you can't expect an unbeliever to act like a disciple of the living God.

That said, think about these examples for a second: how does Christ define adultery? Is it a very nuanced definition of adultery which includes all manner of sensual gymnastics, but excludes kissing, hugging, moon eyes, hand-holding and whatever? No: it's a sharp-edged definition that takes all doubt out of the picture --
    27"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

    31"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Completely brutal! Where's the love in that, right? Your sin is in your heart, in your motives, in your lustful thoughts - so every man reading this blog is an adulterer, and many of the women are, too.

"yeah, but ..." right? Yeah, but that's not the same to me as if my spouse made kissy-face with another person, or worse.

Listen: it's not up to you, remember? It's not up to you to decide what the definition of adultery is. So on the one hand, it's not up to you to decide if your spouse is unfaithful, and on the other hand, it's not up to you to decide if you yourself are unfaithful.

It's not up to you. See: this is why this post is not for people already divorced. This advice has to start way in front of the place where you're trying to decide which lawyer you're going to call, or how you're going to goad your spouse into divorcing you.

The problem in marriage – which we will all have to deal with eventually – is that your heart is hard. You. You are the one with a hard, sinful heart. And the solution to hardness of heart is only one thing: Christ-likeness.

Wives: the church is the body of Christ, and submits to Christ the way His body ought to submit to Him. (Eph 5:23-24) Think about what a statement that is! In what way did Christ’s body submit to Him? It suffered an ignominious death when it in fact deserved glorious exaltation. Christ was obedient in spite of injustice and scorn from those who ought to be worshipping Him.

Now, the alarmist is going to say, “cent, you’re advocating that women stay with their husbands until they are killed by their husbands, aren’t you? Aren’t you saying that because a woman is a sinner she deserves to die at the hands of her husband to show her Christ-likeness?”

No, in fact, I am not. I’m not arguing about the extreme cases of violence and brutality, either physical or mental: I’m arguing about the average Joe-and-Mary cases of divorce which are, for the most part, for the emotional and social expedience of one or both of the people involved. These divorces are because of the hardness of the heart of one or both spouses, and they are a disgrace.

And that said, men, Paul has much more stern words for you: Love your wives as Christ loves the church, as you would love your own bodies. That is, love her in spite of what you think is sinful or offensive. Love your wives for the sake of sanctifying her. But notice: that’s not a love of attrition where you love her by correction and denial: it is a love of example (Eph 5:2), and sacrifice (1 Cor 15:3), and patience (2 Pet 3:9), and intention (Acts 2:14-41). Christ loves the church by giving himself up for her. What about you? Do you give up a round of golf for your wife, ever? How about even 10 minutes of TV at night?

What that takes is not a square jaw and a steel-eyed determination: what that takes is a heart of flesh which is willing to be poured out on purpose. That’s not a soft, soppy, effeminate view of the Gospel – because a soft, soppy man doesn’t have the heart to be a living sacrifice for his wife. He’s just a wet rag.

So my point is this: if you actually understand the Gospel, divorce ought to be out of the question. And be clear that it’s not out of the question because your spouse, by heavens, needs to be reformed. It is out of the question because you yourself need to be reformed, and the best place to do that is seeking Christ-likeness inside the bounds of the union God has established.

Marriage is the place for you to see what the love if Christ is really like by learning to demonstrate it to another human being. Can you do it? With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.