Bloom where you’re planted
1Corinthians 7: Where you are right now is God’s place for you.
The believers at Corinth have some questions about marriage and divorce. They know that when they became Christians that they left much of their old life behind, becoming new people. They have some practical concerns about how their faith impacts their new life. For instance, if a person was single when they came to Christ, are they to remain single? How about believers who are married to unbelievers? Is it better to abandon their marriage rather than be married to a person who doesn’t share their faith? Paul’s answer is “where you are right now is God’s place for you.” He leans toward singles staying single, but doesn’t command it. He leans toward people who are married to unbelievers remaining married, but doesn’t command it. An individual can be a Christian in a wide variety of circumstances. Common sense tells us that this isn’t always the case. For instance, a bigamist needs to come clean and find the best route out of an impossible situation. However, in general, we can live our lives in Christ right where we are. Beyond the marriage and divorce questions there’s a solid principle here that I can take to the bank. It’s wrong for me to think, “Right now the circumstances of my life make it unreasonable for me to be a Christian. When things change, then I’ll be ready.” If living for the Lord doesn’t work where I am right now it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Right here and right now the Lord stands ready to live in me and through me.
Take Away: God loves to work in ordinary lives in ordinary circumstances.
Living with our decisions
Matthew 19: Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hardheartedness, but it is not part of God’s original plan.
The religious leaders want to know Jesus’ views on marriage and divorce and the answer he gives is stricter than they think it should be. He declares that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and that their union is to be both physical and spiritual. No one has the authority to rip apart that union. Jesus, speaking in the manner of a rabbi and with the authority of the Son of God, adds that in the case of adultery he allows (but, note, he doesn’t “require”) an exception to this permanent man/woman union. The leaders, then, want to know why Moses includes a broader divorce procedure in the Law. Is Jesus claiming authority beyond that of Moses? His answer is eye-opening. Moses, Jesus says, finds it necessary to provide for the destruction of a marriage because of people’s hard hearts. God didn’t plan for this to be necessary, but Moses sees the need and God allows it. This interpretation is fascinating. On one level, I’m interested in this situation in which God doesn’t get his way and in which he allows Moses to adjust things. If God has his own way there will never be a divorce. However, since people have hard hearts the Lord allows the Law to accommodate it. This is an interesting application of the Lord’s commitment to our free-will. The other thing that gets my attention is the strong possibility that I can, because of my hardheartedness insist on something that the Lord reluctantly allows, leaving me in a permanent sub-par situation. I’m glad we serve a God of Second Chances and I know that in him, life is good. Still, I see that the Lord won’t stop me from doing that which will bring a lifetime of pain, or at the very best, a lifetime of knowing that if not for my stubbornness things could be better for me than what they are. I’m thankful for the grace of God, but I’m also aware that I have a real responsibility to live carefully and to remain in harmony with the Lord each step of the way.
Take Away: Even though the Lord will allow it, I must be careful to not overrule God’s will in my life.
Who gets to define marriage?
Malachi 2: God, not you, made marriage.
During the exile their ancestors clung together, maintaining their national identity even in a diverse society. Now that Israel’s been reestablished in it’s own land the people have let their guard down and are breaking God’s command that they be a people set apart as his very own. They’ve married outside their own nation. They shouldn’t be surprised that when they blatantly disobey God that he withdraws his blessings from them. Beyond that, even those who haven’t mixed with other nations are treating marriage differently than God intends, making it relatively easy to toss a marriage aside if it suits them. Through his prophet the Lord declares that he’s the one who designed marriage and he hasn’t given them the authority to redefine what it’s all about. He tells them that he “made marriage” and that “his Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage.” Then he adds, “I hate divorce.” I think the Lord’s speaking to the whole institution here rather than to individual situations. He isn’t denying the possibility of divorce in a specific situation so much as he’s stating his opposition to a culture that takes marriage vows lightly. Also, it goes without saying that the Lord insists that he’s the one who defined marriage and, as this passage says, an outcome of marriage is to be “children.” While there are circumstances in which children can’t be the product of a marriage at least the potential is to be there. That settles it. Marriage is between man and woman and no majority of voters or federal court or anyone else can define it otherwise. Don’t ever doubt it: God takes this kind of stuff very seriously.
Take Away: If we want to understand what marriage is all about we need to start with the Creator of it.
The second time around
Hosea 3: God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again.”
It isn’t hard to read between the lines here. Hosea married a prostitute, they had children, but she left him to return to her previous life. That sounds pretty cut and dried but I don’t think it was that way at all. What started off as Hosea’s obedience to a surprising command of God became a series of intense emotional experiences for the prophet. Without choosing to, Hosea fell in love and for a time it seemed things were going to work out. His wife, however, had a hard time settling down into a family routine. The day came when she turned her back on her husband and children to return to her previous life. Hosea’s heart was broken. Sadly, I know too many people who can identify with the story of broken promises and marriages. No one walks away unscarred by such a tragedy. Hosea, trying to cope, throws himself into his work. That helps him cover the pain. One day at a time, he begins to get over it. If the Lord’s first communication was surprising, his second must have left Hosea in shock. God tells him to love her again. That must have seemed like an impossible command. In the time since their divorce Hosea has carefully crafted a shell about himself, insulating him from the pain she’s caused even as he hears what she’s returned to. Now, God says Hosea is to emerge from that shell and open himself up to her again; not because she’s reformed, she hasn’t, but to reflect what God has done in his relationship with humanity. Hosea’s wife will get another chance, not because she deserves it, but because Hosea loves her too much to give up on her.
Take Away: The Lord loves us and reaches out to us even though we don’t deserve it.