This week's Bible Study - February 14, 2016
Distinct in My Relationships
Quotes of the Week:
In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.
These past few lessons have been based on what should make us as believers distinct from the world in which we live in. Unfortunately, for many believers, the only real distinction is that they attend church as opposed to those who never attend. Certainly, being at church can help anyone learn more facts and potentially make changes in life, but church attendance does not make one a believer any more than going to the zoo makes one an animal. This is not to say that there are not millions of believers in our country and even more in the world who do desire to make changes to become distinct, but we all know that we have not done a really good job at being different than the world. In fact, for many, the desire seems to be to 'fit in' more than the desire to be set apart.
The date of this lesson is February 14, Valentines Day. In many ways, it seems wrong that the planners of these lesson chose the subjects discussed for this weekend, but they are about relationships, and they are about love….not in the way we would typically think of it for Valentines Day…but in the real world - real marriages struggle. Primarily, this talks about the aspect of marriage and what God's ideal for marriage is, or maybe better stated, what it should not be. However, there are many points that are important for us to remember in all of our relationships as well. Specifically, this lesson talks about Jesus' view toward adultery and divorce. Both of these are rampant problems within and outside the church today. Oh, it may not be that adultery would seem to be prevalent in the church, but you don't have to look too far to find someone that has fallen prey to this sin. Additionally, we know that divorce has been a huge problem in our world today, and it is just as prevalent in our churches as well.
There are some people that will not want to put a lot of focus on these two issues, as they believe that it may not be a problem in their lives. However, we will find that Jesus' view of adultery is more than an extramarital affair. There may be others who have failed in these areas in their past, and for a believer, it can be the source of much lingering guilt and shame. Lessons such as these or sermons they hear in church are painful reminders of who they once may have been. Others wonder how anyone could do these things, thinking themselves to be immune from such issues in life. When we begin to think we are above any sin and point at others who have fallen, we need to realize that none of us is free of the stain of sin. While some sin may have more external consequences and be known by more people, than others, we all have fallen, and it is only by the grace of God that we can ever be restored (but thank God, we can be restored!).
We see leaders who fall in sin, and we can hardly imagine how that could have occurred. However, we only need to look back to the life of David in the Old Testament to realize that God's view of us is not based on how good we are, but how we seek Him over a lifetime. We can read the great stories of David and how he became the King and how he defeated Goliath. We can read many of the great Psalms that were penned by him. But, we can also read about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and then, in an effort to cover it up, how he had her husband Uriah, who was faithful to Bathsheba and to his king, placed in the front of the army so that he would certainly be killed in war. If it was just that story, it may be Uriah who we would say that we need to emulate, but as you know, David is termed to be "a man after God's own heart".
So, lest we are guilty of presuming our own thoughts above God, we must remember that God desires those who truly seek Him. He desires a relationship - even with those who have failed, but turn back towards Him. As we read and study this lesson, let us be mindful that God uses His word to speak to us, about us, and when we begin to use His word as a weapon and a way to punish others for their past mistakes, we are certainly misusing the word of God. I wonder how many times scripture has been used to justify the cruelest of behaviors - which certainly grieves the heart of the very God who inspired it.
In this passage, Jesus speaks to the subject of adultery. Just as in the previous passage on murder, He began by saying "you have heard it said". The Jewish people knew what the Scriptures said. That wasn't the problem. The problem was their narrow definition of what it said. I believe we can be much the same, knowing what God has said, but looking for any loopholes so that we can make what seems to be a 'cogent' argument to ourselves that we are exempt. It may not be in the area of sexual sin, but many seek ways to skirt giving, submitting to the government or others, forgiveness of those who have failed them, or any of numerous other subjects.
For some people, at the base level, adultery is similar to murder. They believe that it could never happen to them and they look at disdain with others who have allowed this in their lives. However, statistics bear out that this has impacted many more people than we would like to admit. For those who have been guilty of this sin, there is forgiveness, but there are certainly profound consequences associated with it. Some marriages can rebound from an affair and actually be better than they were before, and others are unable to make that comeback. Regardless, a scar has been left on the hearts of those involved and while time can lessen the severity of the pain, only God can truly heal the people.
There are others who may have never committed adultery, but to Jesus, the issue of looking at a woman lustfully is already committing adultery in one's heart. I have traveled a lot for business and I am constantly amazed at the looks that some men give to women in the airport. It may be one thing to realize that someone may be attractive, but the looks often seem to go way beyond that. Certainly this is not true for every man in an airport, or at the mall, or in a store, or anywhere else, but I believe that many who read this have seen the same things happening. Jesus calls that adultery.
The issue of pornography has become a huge issue in our day, although I would imagine it has been an issue for all of history. This used to be associated with seedy stores in dark parts of towns or magazine racks that were hidden and out of the way, but today it has become so mainstream that it seems like it is everywhere. Anyone who has access to the internet can be bombarded by this type of material, even if they are not even actively searching for it. Certainly, most of us would agree that pornography is wrong, but some act as if they can participate in it as long as they never commit the physical act. I've heard some men say that it doesn't matter where they get their appetite, as long as they get their dessert at home. Certainly, they are equating a physical relationship as being wrong, but they act as if there is no problem with mental stimulation. I've also heard commercials that have just come out and said it - it's only sex. Jesus speaks directly against that type of thinking.
It's not just pornography or looking longingly at another person, but a general mindset that happens. I enjoy listening to sports talk radio often, but even there, the tenor of the conversation can get way off topic too easily. Sexual innuendos are often thrown around and sometimes it can be absolutely blatant. You would think that this only occurs in the male population. However, that isn't necessarily true. Before a previous Super Bowl, one radio station wanted married women to call in and say whether they would rather sleep with Tom Brady or Eli Manning (the two opposing quarterbacks). Really? It doesn't matter if it was married women calling in about sleeping with certain athletes or celebrities or married men calling in about sleeping with female celebrities, etc, it's still wrong. How would you feel if you heard your spouse call in and weigh in on their choice?
If you want to act like adultery is just the act of an extramarital affair, you can continue to think that, but you must realize that this is the thinking that Jesus was speaking against (over and over). This theme has been evident over the past several lessons, and in most of Jesus' teaching altogether. Jesus tells us that it is not about what we do (or don't do), but it is about who we are. Certainly, the person you are will be reflected in your behavior, but it's not the behavior that Jesus desires. It is your heart. And, in this case, are you only focused on the specific act of sexual sins or are you also taking inventory of your thoughts? We tend to forget that sin, in its base form, creates a form of a whirlpool in our lives. It tends to drag us down and we end up needing more and more to 'get our fix'. Most of us tend to think that we can control our sin, but over time, we learn that we are truly controlled by our sin and eventually it does get exposed. That is a painful process, but we can't change what we won't acknowledge, so that 'exposure' can actually be the first step in healing our brokenness.
Jesus went from saying what adultery truly is in the heart and then in these verses He gives us some 'practical advice' to avoid such issues. He states that if your right eye causes you to stumble, you should gouge it out and throw it away, as it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. He went on to say that if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Wow, this would likely solve the problem. If you had a problem looking, I suppose that gouging your eye would move your focus elsewhere, and if you had a problem touching, cutting of a hand would solve that problem too. However, there are things that you can do that can be of help that are much less drastic. The problem is often that when we are presented with what I would call a besetting sin in our lives, we begin to think that we can "will" ourselves to not be bothered by it anymore. When I say besetting sin, I am referring to a sin that you keep going back to. At some point in time, you realize it to be wrong and you truly want to stop, but you find yourself continuing to go back. For some, it could be in the area of gossip, as they may get a real rush from being the one with the stories. For others, it could be in the area of rage, which can rear its ugly head over and over. For some, there are addictions to things like alcohol, drugs (both legal and illegal), pornography, shopping, overspending….. Only you know yourself and you are the one who can truly answer if you have such sin in your life.
We all need other people in our lives with whom we can be gut level honest and with whom we can be accountable. Others are often needed to help remind us that we need to stay focused, or else we tend to fall back into our sins on our own. In some cases, it may require dedicated counseling to seek the root of our problems, so that we can deal with the issues that continue to plague us. Many churches have programs called "Celebrate Recovery", in which people with various forms of addictions seek relief from power over their lives. Do you care enough about others in your life to seek help, when it is beyond your own capability to control aspects of your own life?
The key is to do what you need to do so that these ugly areas of life do not become your focus, leading you to make decisions that can have dramatic consequences (on yourself and others). Some people have found other ways to work past issues, but our prayer for you is that the words of Jesus will help you to see that it is crucial that you do whatever needs to be done to make the necessary changes to your life.
Jesus then continued to the issue of divorce. Interestingly, areas of sin that are sexual in nature often are a major contributor to divorces. At times, it is the sin itself and other times, it can be the inability to get past what has occurred. Under Jewish law, it was said that if a man could find any uncleanness in his wife, he could easily get a divorce. The woman had no rights - she could not divorce her husband, but the husband could divorce for any reason. They interpreted the command in the way that they wanted to interpret it, regardless of the original intent. As we have already discussed, this is similar to how many people view Scripture today. They determine their answer, and then they search for any passage that will give them what they want. When will we realize that this is not a game?
There were two schools of thought on divorce in their day. Under one, the law was very strict in that school of thought, a man could divorce a woman only if he found out that she wasn't a virgin when he married her, or some other sexually related sin issue came up in their marriage. In the other school of thinking, a divorce could be based on anything - the way she cooked or the things she cooked. Or it could be anything else about her that he didn't like.
We have certainly seen divorce become a bigger and bigger issue today. Just about everyone has been impacted by a divorce in one way or another. It could be that you yourself are divorced, your parents are divorced, your children have divorced, a sibling is divorced or perhaps a neighbor or close friend is divorced. Certainly and unfortunately, it has become prevalent and commonplace in our society. Many people enter marriage with divorce stated as an option, from the very start. Some people have expectations of what marriage should be and when it isn't what they thought, they want out. In many ways, as believers, we see what God intended, and rather than working on being that type of person, we will point out the areas of our spouse's life that are not in line with God's standard. In some respects, our churches have actually brought harm to marriages by raising expectations to the "ideal", as if most marriages are without problems. Here's a new flash - every marriage has issues, but the most important thing is to deal with them before they begin to destroy the marriage.
Divorce is a problem in our churches. Given this fact, how do you think the church should deal with divorce? Pre-marital counseling should be a must!!!! There are too many young couples who get distracted planning a wedding that they fail to plan for a marriage. The church should do more than just encourage commitment - they need to provide help when there are problems. The easiest time to save a marriage is before it gets to the brink of divorce, which is when most people seek some kind of help. Often, marriages in the church are assumed to be good, so when one couple starts to have problems, they don't want to draw attention to themselves and 'rock the church boat'. Some churches have taken such a stance on divorce (and other issues) that anyone who has had an issue at any point in their past begins to feel very unwelcome. It is as if we don't know how to minister to those who have failed. How tragic is that?
Issues such as divorce don't happen in an instant. You don't just wake up one day and it happens. It is based on many things that were not handled well over the course of days, weeks, months or even years. When we think of how we are called to be distinct in the way we live, it is no wonder that problems fester and grow and grow, because we are so far from what Jesus says we need to be (and we seem to be largely un-phased on a daily basis). We don't handle problems in our own lives or perhaps we do everything under the sun to avoid even the appearance of conflict in our marriages. Yet denial never cures anything. If you are thinking that you have the perfect marriage….you are on a slippery slope.
You may have a really good marriage but don't allow complacency to gain a foot hold. You must be purposeful in everything you do. We encourage you to seek other married couples who are willing to be transparent about their successes and failures. Put yourself around those who want to have a great marriage. Get counseling if needed (and every marriage I know of could benefit from that on at least some level). Read books about marriage and talk to each other about what you read. If a book says a man's number one need is sex or that a woman's number one need is security…ask your spouse if this is true and LISTEN to their answer. Communication is a key aspect to any good relationship but it is vital to a strong marriage. On the other hand, there can be such a thing as too much communication….except that it isn't with your spouse - it's sharing every single problem within the marriage to anyone else who has ears to listen. While it can be helpful to share with a close friend or two, there are problems when co-workers and neighbors and family members and others are told intimate details of problems that never should have been shared. When this is done, a totally one sided picture has been painted that is usually over inflated, sprinkling in partial truths along the way. And if it is 'always the other persons fault', people begin to realize that the one telling the story is as much of a problem in the marriage as the spouse that they keep talking about. Young people do this by calling mom or dad and venting about their spouse and a recent argument. And then the fight is over and the couple makes up….except that mom or dad wasn't around when the conversation occurred and didn't hear the 'I'm sorry and I was wrong' - they only heard the negative about their son or daughter in law, and those thoughts can take root and create resentment. So 'sharing' needs to be thought about and done in a very guarded manner.
Part of the vows that most of us who are married took says that we will honor our spouse above all others; that we will respect them and cherish them - and maintaining their dignity and respect is a key aspect of following those vows. If your spouse has failed in any of the 'big' areas and you say you have forgiven them and chose to stay in the marriage, but you use that sin against them like it's your get out of jail card - you are violating your vows. If you tell others about your spouse's sin - years after it occurred - you are violating your marriage vows. The thing we don't like to think about is that the marriage covenant is not just broken when a spouse commits adultery - the spouse that chooses to stay has a responsibility as well - and just because you stay doesn't give you the right to hold it over the other person. That is unbiblical and when that occurs it is now the unforgiving spouse who is breaking the marriage covenant. If you think you can stay and be reconciled, and you try, and then you realize it just isn't going to happen….then leave and move on with your life. But for heaven's sake, don't think you get some prize for staying and making not only yourself miserable, but your spouse and potentially your children as well. No one gets into heaven by playing the martyr for the rest of their life! There are biblical grounds for divorce and if you ever find yourself in that position you need to diligently seek God as to whether you leave or stay. But once that decision is made and committed to God and years and years go by….you don't get to wait and use that 10 or 15 or 20 or 30 year old sin as a justification to now leave. There is no good 'excuse' to get a divorce, but there can be so many excuses provided when someone is intent on it. And as silly as this may sound, PLEASE don't file for a divorce unless you mean it. Getting a divorce is not how you 'get someone's attention' - it's how you end up on the losing end of a very costly game. In fact, treating your marriage as a game is a guaranteed way of ending up in a miserable marriage or in one that ends. One doesn't have a successful marriage by making veiled threats of leaving or divorcing. There are times where a separation is needed, but hopefully that time apart is used as a time for counseling, and very focused attention is given to determining whether or not the marriage can be saved. And yes there are people who get divorced and eventually do get re-married, but no one should file for divorce with the expectation that your ex-wife or husband will come chasing after you. Divorce is final - it is not a 'temporary state' of existing separate as husband and wife - it is permanent, so unless you are certain that is what you want, don't go to the attorney and file those documents. You might just end up getting what you didn't think you would.
As we said in the beginning, divorce is a part of the church, which means divorced people area a part of the church. We need to be very careful as to how we treat those individuals, as we can end up hating the sin and hurting the people involved, when we should be hating the sin and loving those impacted by it. Finally, no one but the couple knows everything about their marriage - successful or not. So going back and deciding to play judge and jury in failed marriages is a very dangerous and potentially hurtful thing to do. We need to learn to leave that marriage and the man and woman affected by it, with God. It is His responsibility to deal with each of them as He sees fit. All He has asked us to do is to love them.
When we refuse to be the people that we are called to be, we invite many other problems into our lives. If it hasn't occurred in your life yet, there will come a time when you will realize that Christianity is not about the verses you memorize or the platitudes that you can recite. As I heard recently, from one who had gone through immense suffering in her life, this is not a drill! When you hit the end of who you are, you realize whether or not all of those verses you learned and the things you have heard have meaning or are valid or not. Each of us will hit the point where we realize that 'it is not a drill'. Are you prepared, or as prepared as you can be?
We like to point out when others have failed in major ways. I'm not sure what it is in us that seems to enjoy watching others fail. Unfortunately, you can point in many directions and find moral failures galore. However, we realize that none of us has truly sought God in the manner that He deserves to be sought and we all have failed Him. Often, it is through failure that people are drawn back to God. None of us would choose to replay failures in our lives, but in retrospect, we begin to realize that it was in our failure that we learned who God really was.
One other point that bears mentioning concerns how we deal with all sorts of issues in the church, or as a believer. There are things that we should stand on and where possible, we should try and promote those things in our society and culture. The problem comes, though, when we get so focused and outraged on certain public sins, while turning a blind eye to other atrocities that may be happening to individuals. For example, some will rail on homosexuality or divorce or other sins, but will refuse to confront unfair treatment of others, or allow lies to be propagated about others. There are many people that are hurting in our churches and at times, their hurt is magnified by members of the church (whether intentional or not). Often gossip and lies can literally destroy people's lives or at least their character in the eyes of those who hear. When we allow this to continue by being silent, but take strong stances against societal woes, it is no wonder that people are not falling over themselves to 'be like us'.
While there are many things that could be said about the subjects of this lesson and their impact on relationships; it really comes down to this. Who are you, really? Are you truly a person who is seeking God in all areas of your life, or are you playing the game? Only you can answer that question for you. It seems such a logical answer that we know that we should be the men and women that God has called us to be. Yet, we find that is much harder to make happen than it is to say. Our prayer - for you and for us, is that we will all strive to be the people God has called us to be, and by being authentic, that we can avoid these pitfalls and obstacles in life.