Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Divorce (Part 2)

In our series on Jesus’ shocking teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we come to His teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her A certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

It’s clear enough to see what Jesus said, which was discussed in Part 1. Let us now explore some questions about what was unsaid.

1. Do Jesus’ teachings apply to everyone, or just Christians?

Many have tried to make it easier on people by saying that Jesus’ teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage only apply to those who are Christians. Therefore, if someone breaks this commandment outside of covenant with Christ, he or she is not accountable for it.

First, there is nothing in Scripture that indicates that those outside of covenant with Christ are not accountable for their sins. In fact, if Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to them, then who are the lost? I was under the impression that those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus will receive judgment (2 Thess. 1:6-10).

Notice how Jesus presents His teachings on divorce in Mark’s gospel.

And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Mark 10:11-12.

“Whoever” applies to whomever, just like it would in other Scriptures (cf. John 3:16).

Second, we also cannot say that this teaching applies to Jews only. In Matthew 19, Jesus was not trying to present Jewish understandings of the Scriptures. If He were, then He would have enforced the punishment of adultery, which was death, instead of permission to divorce.

So, Jesus’ teachings on this subject are universal.

2. What if my husband or wife lusts in his or her heart for someone else?

Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). A woman whose husband that has used pornography may ask, “Since my husband has committed adultery in his heart, may I divorce him?”

The simple answer is, no, not on those grounds. The sin committed during lust is an inward, non-physical act. It is very serious in the sight of God and anyone else affected by it, but it is not the same as πορνεία, which is, “voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.” Only the person lusting is active, and the other person is passive, and in some cases of lust, ignorant and innocent; therefore, fornication has not occurred.

3. Am I trapped, then?

What about those whose marriage is in serious trouble, but neither party has committed adultery? First, let us be reminded that God hates divorce, and so should we (Mal. 2:16). God understands, however, that there are things that trouble marriages other than adultery.

For instance, in 1 Corinthians 7, if a believer is married to a nonbeliever, and if the nonbeliever is unwilling to dwell with the believer, the marriage can be separated. In this case, neither is permitted to divorce the other, and neither is permitted to marry another person, but they are permitted to live separately.

Let it be said that in the case of an abusive marriage, both parties need to seek help, and the victim should seek safety away from the abuser immediately.

4. What if someone becomes a Christian after entering into an unbiblical second marriage?

In this case, does Jesus’ blood make an unsanctioned, unbiblical marriage an acceptable marriage?

And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Mark 10:11-12.

Again, this applies to “whoever,” and not just the Christian. Notice the literal translation: “she is committing adultery” The KJV says committeth. Whenever you encounter a verb with that suffix (eth) in the KJV, it indicates a continual action.

John 3:16 talks about whosoever believeth on Him. Faith is not a one-time action, but a continual one. Therefore, when people stay in an unbiblical marriage, they continually commit adultery.

So, what is someone who is continually sinning to do in order to enter covenant with Christ? What would a fornicator, drunkard, or thief be told to do? Repent, which comes from godly sorrow and involves the ceasing from sin, and turning to Christ (2 Cor. 7:9-10; Acts 26:20)! In the case of one who is committing adultery in an unbiblical marriage, he or she should repent and turn to God.

5. What should I do?

Someone is looking at the perfect law of liberty as a mirror, the way James describes. He now realizes the mess his decisions have put him into. What should he do? When the disciples had this question, they concluded, “it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Jesus said that in some situations, that’s true.

For those who would sin by beginning or remaining in a relationship, Jesus would teach them to become celibate, that is, refrain from sexual activity (Matt. 19:12). In other words, there have been those who have made drastic decisions and deprived themselves of temporary happiness in order to stay pure for Christ.

Previously in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that if something in your life causes you to sin, it would be better for you to lose it, in this case an unbiblical relationship, than for you to lose your soul (Matt. 5:29-30).

6. But doesn’t God want me to be happy?

In an emotional response to such difficult teachings of Christ, many have thought either Jesus just wants to see me unhappy, or Jesus will make an exception for my unbiblical marriage, because I am “happy” in it, and God wants me to be happy.

God does not provide eternal joy in return for sinful lifestyles. Instead, He provides gladness to the disciple who is storing up treasure in heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12.

This logic of, “God wants me to be happy, and therefore, He will make an exception for my relationship,” is flawed from the beginning. Should we make an exception for those who are “happy” living together before marriage? What about the thief who has built a comfortable and “happy” life off of the wealth of others? What about the person who gains happiness by abusing others? No, and so it applies to the one who is living in adultery.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

7. What if it’s too late?

You may be looking at Jesus’ commandments and saying, “It must be too late for me.” An example may be a man who divorced his wife several years ago for reasons other than adultery. First Corinthians 7 would teach that this man has two options:

  1. Remain unmarried.
  2. Be reconciled with his wife.

But she has now moved on, moved away, and started a family with someone else; therefore, reconciliation is impossible. Is it too late to feel complete again?

Christ is the provider of true hope and completion. Are you breathing? Do you have blood running through your veins? Do you have a sound mind? If so, that’s an opportunity for you to respond to the gospel! It’s not too late.

No matter the situation we have gotten ourselves into in the past, Jesus can provide a new life through the new birth. Does that mean the consequences will disappear? In many cases, no. A murdered who repents will not be able to bring his victims back to life. The blood of Jesus does not immediately undo damage to relationships.

However, you can still be given a new life today by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Won’t you respond?

Conclusion

I know there are more questions to explore with this topic, but I am sure they can be answered by faithfully looking at Jesus’ teachings and applying them consistently. I also know that anyone who speaks on this subject so straightforward may be charged of being insensitive.

If I have been insensitive, first, please don’t hold that against Jesus. He came to this earth because of His sensitivity toward sin and His love for you. Second, please accept my apology. My goal was to teach the truth with heartfelt conviction, not with heartless attacks.

Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Divorce (Part 1)

We all live under different forms of authority: parents, government, teachers, supervisors, God, and even ourselves. The Scriptures teach there is spiritual value in self-control. What you do in life is under the authority of your mind–your decisions–and your decisions are shaped by your knowledge, your feelings, your current situations, and your experiences.

What is the hierarchy of authority in your life? Isn’t that the key question? The answer to this question will dictate how you respond to other authorities. When two authorities conflict with each other in your life, which one will you follow? Obviously, the one that is higher on the list.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges His disciples to get their priorities (their authorities) straight. Is God number one? Will you subject yourself to your own thoughts and feelings or to the One who has your eternal best interests in mind?

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her A certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

The other five sayings Jesus addresses begin something like, “You have heard…” (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43). However, when we get to this subject, Jesus simply says, “It was said…” Why does He not mention that they had heard about this? Was it that case that people were not teaching on the importance of marriage and the seriousness of divorce? Was it the case that, in the first century, there was no need to teach on God’s plan for marriage from the beginning? Whatever the case may have been, Jesus knew that this subject had to be addressed.

If you think Jesus teaches somewhat strictly on this subject, you’re not alone. On a future occasion when Jesus speaks on this subject, Jesus’ disciples are shocked.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her A certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it. Matthew 19:3-12.

The disciples are so affected by Jesus’ teaching that they conclude it would be better to not marry. Jesus does not agree with their sweeping statement, but He does give credit to them that, for some people, it is better not to marry.

When Jesus brings up the ideal circumstance and His new covenant teaching on divorce and remarriage, don’t fall into the temptation to wish for Jesus to be like Moses. Some might want to bring back the permissions of the Law of Moses to be able to divorce a spouse for other reasons other than sexual immorality. However, are they willing to be consistent? Would they also want Moses’ punishment for one found committing sexual immorality, which was stoning to death? Let us accept both Christ’s law and His grace.

“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” Malachi 2:16.

If God hates divorce, we should too.

The word translated in Matthew 5:32 as unchastity in the NASB is πορνεία (porneia). Of course, this is where we get our English word, pornography. It means “sexual immorality, fornication, illicit sexual acts.” In the context of the marriage, if one of the partners commits unchastity/fornication, it is called adultery, because fornication includes adultery. As we saw in the previous study, the English definition of fornication is “voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.”

So, what does Jesus say? He says that when you say, “I do,” you are committing to that person for life. He also says that the only reason you are permitted to divorce the person you have committed to for life is if he or she breaks the marriage covenant through illicit sexual activity with another person. That’s it. If you divorce anyway, and you remarry, you are committing adultery, because you had no biblical right to put your spouse away in the first place.

It does not matter what human law permits, Jesus’ word on this subject will continue to be binding on all. In order to enforce this point, Jesus appeals to God’s plan from the beginning (Matt. 19:4). God’s plan supersedes culture. Jesus came to restore God’s plan from the beginning. We should share this goal with Christ.

Consider this: If divorce were permitted for any reason at all, as many societies say it should be, then where is the sanctity and value of marriage? Why is it that most of us would value a glass chalice over a paper cup? One is made with disposal in mind. If you enter marriage thinking that you can always throw it away later, you devalue it.

Also, where would the seriousness of adultery be?

When any society sinks to such a level that complete freedom of divorce for any excuse permits as many husbands or wives in quick succession as desire may crave, any command not to commit adultery becomes a farce. Harold Fowler (Matthew Vol. 1. 1968.)

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her A certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

There have been hundreds of questions thrown at these verses. In Part 2, I will endeavor to answer seven of them. But let us remember that no question we ask can detract away from what Jesus said, which was said quite clearly.

 

Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Adultery

As I mentioned in my previous article, Jesus sets forth a challenge in the Sermon on the Mount: be different. Jesus even sets a challenge for Himself. He told His audience that day that He came to earth to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).

There is part of that challenge that is strictly Messianic, meaning, only Jesus was able to fulfill the Law by living it perfectly. Only Jesus was able to fulfill the prophecies about the Prophet who was to come into the world.

Yet, there is the other part that we ourselves can participate in.

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12.

Are you ready to take up this challenge? Can you be a part of Jesus’ mission to create fulfillers?

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19-20.

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48.

Between these two high callings, Jesus gives some shocking teachings that require courage and dedication to the cause of Christ. To move forward in our study, we need to make the commitment of a true disciple.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30.

Marriage, as God defines it, is a sacred bond. It is the first inter-personal relationship He ever created. Woman was made for man, and man is incomplete without woman.

Jesus says a lot about marriage. The one phrase that is and should be repeated at every Christian wedding is what He said in Matthew 19:6: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.

What happens, however, when a third person is introduced into the one-flesh bond? The first time the word adultery is found in the Bible is within the cited commandment: “You shall not commit adultery!” (Ex. 20:14). The punishment? Death for both parties involved.

To say that God takes marriage seriously is true, but that may be an understatement. God understands the wrenching heartbreak people feel when relationships are destroyed by adultery. If this is news to you, read through the book of Hosea, and read God’s reasonings for punishing the nation of Israel in the book of Jeremiah (31:31-32).

The people listening to Jesus on this occasion would have heard this commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” well enough. But did they understand it? Perhaps, like murder, the religious teachers spent inadequate time on the feelings and intentions that usually lead to sin. Sure enough, the commitment of adultery is wrong. What about the heart?

…but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28.

Let us define our terms. There are some Greek words that are flexible, and context helps us understand the correct translation into English. There is no ambiguity with the word translated “adultery” in this passage. Every time “moicheuō” appears in the New Testament, it is translated as the act of (commitment of) adultery, which can be defined as: “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse” (Oxford).

The word lust is a bit more flexible than adultery. It has been translated as covetousness (Acts 20:33), craving (1 Cor. 10:6), desire (Matt. 13:17), longing (Luke 16:21)and lust. Sometimes, it’s even used for spiritually healthy feelings (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1). In the context of Matthew 5, however, lust would be a sensational craving that produces unwholesome and sinful thoughts. It has to do with sensational cravings of someone’s physical being who is not your spouse.

Let it be said that attraction is not the same as lust. Attraction, the recognition that someone has desirable qualities, is as universal as its opposite, disgust, the recognition of undesirable qualities. A woman may see a man and say, “He’s handsome.” She may then notice some other things about him and say, “I also like how kind he is, and how good he is with children.” In other words, she’s saying, “I’m attracted to him.”

The question is, where does it go from there? She could pursue these feelings in a very godly way, so long as he is eligible for her. Or, if she employs no self-control, then it could become sinful, or lustful, very quickly.

Without attraction, God’s first commandment to the first married couple would be difficult to fulfill. He told them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Attraction aids in the fruitfulness of the earth. With lust, however, God’s creation is distorted, and a man or a woman is stripped of the image of God and turned into a spirit-less, physical body.

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17.

John says the things in the world fall into these three categories. Two of them are related to this subject: the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes.

The child of God who, every day by discipline of the heart, submits more to God according to His word bears the Holy Spirit’s fruit, which includes self-control (Gal. 5:16-25).

When we become Christians, we are publicly professing our belief in the spiritual. We recognize that there is more to our body; therefore, there is more to everyone else’s, too! When we lust, we are are looking at the person according to the flesh and denying the faith that teaches of the spiritual.

Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad…
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, 16-17

A Christian is committed to no longer recognizing anyone according to the flesh. If you struggle with this, wake up daily with the words of Job on your lips: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman [or man]” (Job 31:1, NIV).

The question is still here: are we willing to take drastic measures?

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5: 29-30.

Sometimes we want to go quickly to the question, “Does Jesus mean for me to obey this commandment literally?” First, no, He doesn’t. If He did, we would have seen examples of self-mutilation carried out by the inspired apostles, the prophets, and the first-century church in Scripture, but we do not. Obeying this literally renders the world half-blind and half-paralyzed. Plus, what good is it to pluck out one eye, when one more would remain?

When we jump to this question right away, at best, we are distracted from the commandment. At worst, we begin to justify a lack of action when stumbling blocks are present. After all, we are not to take it literally.

So, what did Jesus mean? Do whatever it takes to remove stumbling blocks from your life. Therefore, if you find out that “whatever it takes” actually requires the loss of a body part, then follow through, “For it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Truthfully, though, “whatever it takes” is sometimes more painful and difficult than it would be to tear out your eye with a dull, wooden spoon. Do you struggle with sorcery? If so, do what the new Ephesian Christians did in Acts 19–burn your books that equal to five million dollars in today’s money. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it? Do you struggle with pornography? Cut off all access to the internet. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it?

Maybe we need to first take a step back and ask a simpler question. Do you struggle with lust? Even simpler is, do you struggle? I’m afraid that many of us, when we see a spiritual weakness, we begin saying, “I struggle with such-and-such.” Yet, struggling requires much more than just admitting you have a problem.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:1-6.

Do you recognize a problem in your life? Take it to the next step, to the point of struggling, or striving against sin. Can you honestly say that you are actively fighting against the temptation of lust?

Conclusion

Do you want to participate in Jesus’ fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets? If so, treat others the way you want to be treated. How do you want people to see you, as merely an animated body (or as slang puts it, a “piece of meat”)? Or do you want people to see you as someone who bears the image of God, and for that reason, you have inherent value?

Regard people with spiritual eyes. Do not reduce a person to the flesh. Remove anything in your life that hinders your growth in Christ and causes you to stumble in your walk.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38.

Our righteousness must surpass that of the most apparent religious people around us. We are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It’s easy enough to say, “That’s impossible!” But with Christ by our side and the Holy Spirit inside, it’s even easier to say, “That’s possible.”

The things that are impossible with people are possible with God. Luke 18:27.

Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Murder

Christianity is meant to be different. It is to be different from other religions and different from the way this world thinks. The Old Testament prophets continually spoke of a different and better kingdom that was coming. The first word preached by both Jesus and John the Baptist was, “Repent!” which is a commandment to change… or be different than the way you were before. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7), Jesus calls His disciples to, not surprisingly, be different.

Primarily, Jesus teaches us to:

  1. Be different than the standard of the world.
  2. Be different than the standard of religious teachers.

Consider how beautiful the world would be if everyone followed the teachings in this sermon. Jesus gives such a standard that he is able to say, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). He concludes this section of His sermon with, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Such high callings!

Context

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets (see Luke 24:44). The last words He uttered on the cross were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Entire books of the New Testament were written to teach Christians that Jesus and His New Covenant are better than the Old Law and have made the Law of Moses obsolete (i.e. Galatians and Hebrews). Jesus didn’t destroy the Law; He fulfilled it.

What Jesus was saying was, “Your religious teachers have twisted and abused the Law and the prophets. Let me explain to you perfectly what the Scriptures mean.” Jesus then begins six contrasts of what the religious teachers of the time were saying, versus what God is saying. In this article, we will study the first one, where Jesus presents His divine take on murder (Matt. 5:21-26).

You have heard…

You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” Matthew 5:21.

“You shall not murder.” These people would have heard this from the Ten Commandments. Is Jesus about to annul one of the Ten Commandments? By no means!

It seems that the teachers of the time were saying that simply the commitment of murder was wrong. Perhaps the teachers had forgotten that the Law defined murder as an act that resulted from hatred, or at least, the intention of murder in the heart (Num. 35:20-21).

You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.
You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:16-18.

But I say…

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, “You good-for-nothing,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matthew 5:22.

Being guilty of the court, in Jesus’ eyes, requires only one thing: anger. Deuteronomy 16 and 17 put forth Israel’s court system, which Jesus refers to here. Murder is easy to see and convict, but how is anger to be judged in the court system? There are, of course, different types of anger.

Some translations have, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger…” (see KJV and NKJV). There is what people have called “righteous indignation.”

God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. Psalm 7:11.

Just as God is one who hates sin, when one of His children exemplifies the heart of Christ, he or she will also hate sin.

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Jude 22-23.

When Jesus saw the money changers at the temple, He responded in anger. Yet in all of His “righteous indignation,” Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15). We have the same calling–the one to be angry, yet without sin.

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Ephesians 4:26-27.

To call someone raca (KJV), or, you good-for-nothing (NASB), insults the Creator, who saw in His good will to create everyone for somethingWhen we let anger take its natural course, it boils inside of us. Where there is the presence of anger and a lack of self-control, there is the presence of insult and lack of love. According to Christ, putting down someone’s life, skill, and cognitive ability condemns one to the fiery hell.

Therefore…

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Matthew 5:23-24.

So, what’s the application of all of this? Verse 23 begins with, “Therefore.” Based on what Jesus says in verses 21 and 22, be reconciled to your brother.

The Law of Moses taught the Israelites to “not appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Deut. 16:16). Sacrifice was the way to worship, forgiveness, and reconciliation. However, it didn’t work by itself. Along with the sacrifice, three other things were to be present–intention, purity of heart, and repentance.

The longer one lives in Christ, the longer he or she develops a deep love for the work of God among men, which is boiled down to reconciliation. There should be no wonder, then, why Christ requires reconciliation to be exercised within our relationships with all others who also worship God.

Of course, there is no physical altar in the Law of Christ. Christ is our sacrifice. However, we still approach the same God in worship, and we must not appear before the Lord stained-hearted, or in other words, while ignoring broken relationships within the body of Christ.

Scenario: You come before God, and like the tax collector in the temple, you realize your sins are laid bare before a holy God. You then remember of how you have offended a brother or sister in the previous week. What are you to do?

  1. Leave your sacrifice.
  2. Go.
  3. Be reconciled.

Is that the trend today? Unfortunately, we live in a day where victimization is exalted, where parents treat their children like the world revolves around them, where culture teaches that you’re entitled to your heart’s desires. If we’re not careful, and if we’re not intentional, this world will shape us, and the gospel will not. When there is offence, the world says, “Leave the relationship.” The Master says, “Leave your sacrifice.”

In case you’re justifying yourself by saying, “So-and-so is not offended at me; I’m offended at him; therefore, I’ll share this article in hopes he will read it and come to me for reconciliation!” don’t be so hasty. First, there are other Scriptures that command even those who are “innocent” to initiate the reconciliation (e.g. Matt. 18:15-17; Rom. 12:18). But even within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus leaves no room for self-justification. If you can come to worship with a clean conscience because of your pride (“Sure, my relationship with someone in the faith is on rocky ground, but it’s his fault; he’s the offender”), then you’ve proven otherwise by your attitude. The commandment is for you:

  1. Leave your sacrifice.
  2. Go.
  3. Be reconciled.

Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. Matthew 5:25-26.

Imagine a situation where you ignore one whom you have offended. Will the situation get better by itself? In most cases, it will get worse. The longer you ignore the problem, the more awkward it gets. Perhaps while you ignore the problem, the person you have offended is busy taking things to the next level, even to the point of drafting court papers. Being proactive in fixing relationships has its spiritual benefits–it allows you to worship spiritually without hindrance. It obviously has earthly benefits, too. Settling matters before third parties get involved can prevent complicated, awkward, expensive, and undesirable results.

Conclusion

If our righteousness is to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, we must follow Jesus’ teachings against murder. Doing so includes making friends with our enemies quickly. In a culture that loves to be offended and victimized, we are to take the heroic initiative by fixing relational problems before a third party is needed.

If we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, we must:

  • Treat our brothers and sisters kindly.
  • Recognize a person’s inherent value. God created him or her to be good for something!
  • Be willing to see a friend’s point of view. Sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to see that we are the ones who are actually foolish.
  • Be reconciled to our estranged members of the household of faith so that our worship to God may be unhindered.

Do you want to be the true worshiper who worships God in spirit? How can you when you harbor hate inside your heart? Deal with your relationships Jesus’ way, and you’ll be that much closer to God’s perfection.

Restoration: A Biblical Principle

There was only one time in the history of the universe that restoration was not needed. That time was between Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 3:6, when sin was nonexistent.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:31.

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6

All of creation was affected by the sin of Eve and Adam. Of course, that does not mean that all of creation was guilty of the sin. But even we, though not guilty of Adam’s sin, are affected by it.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. Romans 5:12

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:21

Death reigns over this world, so long as sin is in it. The serpent’s goal was to deceive the woman, and through her disobedience, introduce death into the world. The beauty is this: God had a plan all along. To the serpent, God said,

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. Genesis 3:15.

Though Satan’s goal is to reign over mankind through death, God’s plan is hostile toward death. The key words in this passage are “I will…” Before turning to the woman and the man and detailing their individual punishments, before they had a chance and beg on their knees for redemption, God revealed His will to redeem, to restore, mankind.

Since that moment in the Garden, mankind has known God as the God of Restoration. When creation is separated from its Creator, it is God’s mission to restore. In that moment in the Garden, God revealed that His instrument of restoration would be the “seed” of the woman (i.e., Christ).

Many centuries passed between that moment in in the Garden and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. But even while creation waited for the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), God continued to reveal Himself as the God of Restoration. When mankind had tainted all of creation with continual sinfulness, God restored the world through a flood and the salvation of one family. When God’s people were held captive by pagan Egyptians, God restored their place of prominence in His plans. When the nation of Israel was corrupted by bad kings and false gods, the true God sent prophets to restore the nation to their first love. When the city of God was in ruins, God sent Nehemiah to begin the long process of restoration. Nehemiah is best known for his work to restore the wall in Jerusalem (Neh. 3; 6:15-19). In addition, however, Nehemiah (and Ezra), speaking for God, also called for the restoration of:

  • Confidence in the Lord (Neh. 4:11-23)
  • Fairness in trade and care for the poor (Neh. 5:1-13)
  • Understanding of the Law (Neh. 8:1-8)
  • Holy days and feasts (Neh. 8:9-18)
  • Repentance and forgiveness (Neh. 9:1-4)
  • Acceptable worship (Neh. 9:5-37)
  • National purity (Neh. 13:1-3)
  • Tithes (Neh. 13:10-14)
  • Sabbath-keeping (Neh. 13:15-22)
  • Family purity (Neh. 13:23-29)

A reading through the book of Nehemiah quickly demonstrates that God is the God of Restoration. God sets out a plan, and when His people forget it or are otherwise unable to live out that plan, He provides the admonishment and means necessary for restoration. What is the lesson for us today? God continues to provide a way for and demand restoration when His plans are forsaken.

To build is difficult. To destroy is simple. To rebuild is often the most difficult. In all of the cases that God’s servants called for restoration, pain and sacrifice were required. Money, selfishness, time, personal possessions, friends, and even marriages had to be surrendered. Was it easy? No. Was it painful? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Today, many of God’s plans have been forsaken. Marriages are treated as disposable. Godly parenting is replaced by worldly philosophies and the workplace. The question of salvation is the most confusing question in the religious world. The body of Christ has been chopped, sliced, distorted, and forgotten. Worship has turned inward, where the heart and mind of people are most important. Allegiance has been placed into the establishments of men. Restoration is needed just as badly today as it was in Nehemiah’s time. Is there hope?

We might be tempted to look at Nehemiah and Ezra as privileged, since it seems they were commissioned specifically to the task of restoration. They had “direction” from God. Do we not? What did Nehemiah and Ezra use to call the people to restoration? They brought no new revelation. Instead, they used the Law of Moses, which had already been revealed centuries before.

We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Nehemiah 1:7.

They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem… Nehemiah 8:14-15.

Now the rest of the people… are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes. Nehemiah 10:28-29

It did not take long after Jesus established His church for selfishness to creep into the body of Christ (Acts 5:1-4). As time went on, the influence of false teachers increased. Many of the epistles of the New Testament were written to Christians who were either already under the influence of falsehood or were at risk. Over and over, the Lord’s disciples were called to go back to what they had first received.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! Galatians 1:6-8.

Just as in the Garden, where falsehood has influence, restoration is required. People need to return to the original blueprints.

  • For marriage, let us return to God’s plan from the beginning (Matt. 19:1-9)
  • For parenting, let us return to the simplicity of love and admonition (Eph. 6:4)
  • For salvation, let us return to the “pattern of teaching” (Rom. 6:17)
  • For unity, let us return to the one body (Eph. 4:4-6)
  • For worship, let us return to what God seeks (John 4:23-24)
  • For allegiance, let us return to the sovereignty of Christ (1 Tim. 6:13-16)

All of this will require sacrifice. But isn’t that the call of discipleship?

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26.

When people of the 21st century destroy the home, forsake the Lordship of Christ, and denominate the church, God’s word remains the same. The opportunity for restoration is now. Hear the call, heed the call, and then begin to call others.

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Revelation 2:4-5.

Why It Matters: Romans 13 In Perspective

When I study the Bible with people, I very often inform them that the verse and chapter breaks were not in the original version of the Scriptures. It is helpful for a new Bible student to know this, so he or she can get into the habit of seeing texts of the Bible as a literary unit, instead of pithy sayings. For an illustration, I frequently point out the break between what we know as Acts 21 and 22.
When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,

The above verse is the final verse of Acts 21 (Acts 21:40).

For those who are in the habit of reading one chapter of the Bible a day, do they live in suspense for 24 hours after having read Acts 21? Paul is on the edge of a knife here! He could be killed if he doesn’t calm his audience down. What does he say!?

Most of us are thankful for the work that went into dividing the Bible into verses and chapters. The divisions are helpful in many ways. However, there are some times that the divisions can skew our understanding of certain Scriptures if we are not careful.

In my opinion, one of the most unfortunate chapter breaks in the New Testament is the one between Romans chapters 12 and 13. When read together, it is clear that the apostle meant for the text to be understood as a single literary unit. However, most people view them as two seperate ones, which can even be seen through this website. The previous theme of articles was on Romans 12. Now, this theme is on Romans 13.

So, what’s the big deal? What difference does it make to treat them as two literary units, as opposed to one? Are there dangers in doing that?

The Danger of Misapplying Romans 13

The primary danger of separating Romans 13 from its previous chapter is missing the contrast and transition between the two and misapplying the passage.

Each imperative given in Romans 12 is with the Christian in mind. Notice the end of the chapter.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him A drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21.

From there, the apostle transitions to a general, “every person,” which would include the Christian.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:1-2.

Then, Paul gives God’s reasoning for appointing governing authorities.

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honour. Romans 13:3-7.

During the entire discussion about ruling authorities, Paul does not include the Christians among them. Instead, the government is “it,” and the rulers are “they.” Is this significant? I believe so, and the significance can defeat two extremes.

There are those who would claim there are two laws in the New Testament–one to Christians and one to non-Christians. Many use this passage as a proof text. However, the difference between pronouns is not to provide instructions to different groups of people. All of the instructions in the passage are for Christians, and they were directly for the Christians in Rome. When dealing with government authorities, Paul’s point was not to instruct the governing authorities. Instead, it was to instruct Christians who live under governing authorities.

Secondly, this passage does not teach that it is a Christian’s responsibility to enforce the law. That remains the governmental rulers’ responsibility. The Christian’s job is to “be subject” to the governing authorities, in additions to honouring (1 Pet. 2:17) and praying for (1 Tim. 2:1-3) them.

John and Daniel have done fantastic jobs exegeting the first part of Romans 13, dealing with both what it says and what it doesn’t say. My job was to discuss why it matters that we know the difference. For most Bible students, it seems commonsense as to why it matters that we know what a passage says or doesn’t say. However, with Romans 13, perhaps more is at stake.

When we begin misapplying this passage to make it seem that the people of the world are outside of the law of God, then we have, at best, been distracted by the devil. Jesus’ message did not change when government officials approched Him. Peter didn’t preach a different gospel to Cornelius. God’s message is for all, although not all submit to it. Let us not get distracted from teaching men about God’s covenant offered through Jesus Christ.

When we begin misapplying this passage to teach that our responsibility is nation-building, then we have, at best, been distracted by the devil. Our purpose on this earth is not to make the community a better place. Our purpose on earth is not to ensure a prosperous and worry-free future for our children. Our purpose should be to carry on the work of Christ.

But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” So He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. Luke 4:43-44.

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. Luke 19:10.

It is God’s prerogative to appoint and destroy the kingdoms of men. It is ours to labour in the kingdom of God, no matter what earthly kingdom and authorities we also must submit to (see John’s article for help in understanding appoint and submit). So long as we are exiles and strangers to this world, our mission will not be for the kingdoms of men; it will be for the kingdom of God, and when our allegiance has been misplaced, the devil has won.

Do Not Be Conformed to the World

The Life of Christ Challenges Us to Non-Conformity

When one becomes a Christian, it does not take long for reality to sink in. Living like Jesus is difficult. Pressure and instructions come from all places, yet the one place that is supposed to triumph all is the voice of Jesus Christ. That one voice is the one that the world tries so desperately to distort, ignore, or silence. How is the Christian supposed to live up to the old adage, “You are in the world but not of the world”?

Consider deeply the character of Jesus Christ. Do your very best to put the media’s image of Jesus out of your mind, and allow the word of God to paint the picture. How did Jesus respond to each situation? How did He act toward those who were sick? Those who were sinful? Those who were hypocritical? Those who were politically powerful? Those who were hungry? Those who were dead? Consider deeply the character of Christ. Did He allow the world to shape His thoughts and actions?

During Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth, how many people did He heal, forgive, rebuke, teach, feed, and raise? We do not know. Apart from the many times the gospel authors simply said “multitudes” or “crowds,” John helps us understand the enormity of Jesus’ impact on the lives of others when he writes:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25.

It is important that we consider the character of Jesus Christ before we commit to our passage at hand, which is:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2.

Romans 12 Challenges Us to Non-Conformity

Prior to chapter 12 in the letter to the Romans, Paul teaches on the status of Israel in the eyes of God. After chapter 12, he teaches God’s view of the Gentile world and those who come into the kingdom as Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles are susceptible to the influence of the world. Though perspective is different, the temptation is the same.

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 1 John 2:16.

The words of Romans 12 have been strategically placed between the address to the Jews and the address to the Gentiles, because no one is free from the temptations of lust and pride. Romans 12 and 13 teach that all people ought to not exalt themselves. We must utilize our gifts properly. We must love genuinely. We ought to be sympathetic with those in pain. We must never retaliate. We must respond to evil with the love of Christ. We must live obediently under civil law.

We know all of that is part of the Christian lifestyle. We would know that even if Romans 12 and 13 were never written. Jesus Himself both taught and exemplified all of these imperatives and more. So, why did Paul write them? Why did he take the time to command these Christians to do what they had already committed to do? It is because all of the commandments in Romans 12 and 13 go against the natural flow of life.

If a person were to simply follow the whims of his heart and body, he would not obey a single imperative in this passage. It takes no effort to be conformed to this world. “Do not be conformed to this world” should not be treated as a commandment by itself. Instead, it should be seen as the removal of stumbling blocks on a Christian’s path of transformation.

Why Non-Conformity Is Important

Why is it important that Christians do not look like the rest of the world? Is it simply to “make the world a better place”? No. It is because Christians are to belong in a different “world.” According to many scholars, the word for world (aiōn) in this passage is sometimes difficult to translate. It is translated as world seven times in the NASB. However, it is rendered as age 20 times. Consider Galatians 1:4.

who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (emphasis added).

With the coming of the kingdom of Christ, a new culture, a new society, a new age has been ushered in. Christians have been transferred from the domain of darkness (this present evil age) into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). It is as Jesus prayed:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15-19.

Christians are living in the world and among worldly people. Yet, Christians do not assimilate into the world. Instead, Christians are transformed into the image of Christ by the renewing of the mind. Such renewal is often difficult, as the voice of the world is loud and demanding.

The voice of Christ says:

  • Make peace.
  • Return violence with love.
  • Feed your enemy.
  • Be compassionate.
  • Deny self.
  • Forsake possessions.
  • Above all, love.

The voice of this age says:

  • Revenge is sweet.
  • Hit your enemy harder.
  • Destroy your enemy.
  • Mind your own business.
  • Take care of yourself first.
  • Buy, buy, buy.
  • Love those who love you.

The will of God is to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus is to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Being conformed to this age is easy and natural, but being transformed is disciplined and spiritual (see Rom. 7:14-25).

Avoiding Worldly Distractions

In addition to contradicting the will of God, what the world offers today is also distracting from a Christian’s duty as a soldier for Christ.

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:3-4.

Among those things that distract Christians from true service for Christ are those things that appear quite good on the surface. Many well-meaning Christians spend much of their free time concerning themselves with the politics and policies of this world. Entangling oneself with such things may help “make the world a better place” (then again, it may not), but one must remember that Jesus did not call Christians for that purpose. Legislating morality is not the same thing as making disciples. Righteousness can only truly be obtained by the righteousness of Christ, not the good deeds of a society. While it is true that “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov. 14:34), Christians must remember that “nation building” take priority over, or even distract us, from faithfulness. Good works done apart from the work of Christ is vanity. Even to the nation of Israel, God’s elect people, when they did not have the right frame of mind, Isaiah was able to say, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6).

Christians must remember that the world and the kingdom of Christ are and will always be two separate domains. It is not the Christian’s job to persuade the world to be conformed to the kingdom. It is the Christian’s job to call people out of the world and into the kingdom.

Conclusion

Again, consider deeply the character of Jesus Christ. How should the Christian measure up? How would he measure up if he closely followed the imperatives of Romans 12 and 13?

The world has many things to offer. Some of them are horrendous. On the other hand, some even seem good. However, Christians will always be called to be separate from the world. The disciple is to avoid participating and being distracted by the deeds and policies of this world. He is to look more like Jesus and less like the world every day. Doing so will “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” and “please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”