Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Suggested Hymn Tune

A friend of mine recently posted a version of Psalm 46 from the Psalter on his blog, set to the tune by Samuel Ward most commonly known as "America the Beautiful." I like Ward's tune and think it fits the theme of "America the Beautiful" quite well. I found it less satisfying when accompanying the truth of Psalm 46. My mind kept seeing images of flags and fireworks for some reason.

So I set out to try my hand again at composition, something I have not done in quite some time. I have considered poking a needle in my eye as an alternative to putting for a hymn tune for critique. But I decided the risk of cyber pain is marginally better than the risk of ruining a contact lens. And perhaps critique might enhance any further attempts (or discourage them as the case may be).

So here, for whatever it's worth, is my suggestion for a hymn tune that might fit the themes of Psalm 46 with some propriety.

I think the themes of Psalm 46, while directed specifically to Israel, have great encouragement for the church and should draw forth genuine worship as we contemplate the greatness of God who sovereignly rules over this world and who invites our confident rest in him as he pursues his own glory among the nations.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Some Second Thoughts on the First Exception

It is commonly held among conservative evangelicals that the Bible gives two “exceptions” to God’s plan that marriage is “one man, one woman, one lifetime,” (though there are a multitude of various incarnations of the answer to the divorce/remarriage question). The two exceptions are adultery (Matthew 19:3-9) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). (As a side note, it is interesting to hear some expand “desertion” into all manner of things such as sexual abuse, physical endangerment, and the like as an effort to justify divorce in a difficult situations. However, that’s not my topic here.)

My thoughts are on the first exception: adultery. Most people see the “exception clause” of Matthews 19:9 as the equivalent of Jesus saying, “Divorce is sin, unless you divorce a spouse who has committed adultery, in which case it is not sin.”

In recent months I have been giving more thought to this, and wonder if we have too easily overlooked the import of the previous verse which says 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.” (Matthew 19:8)

Jesus was answering the question, “Is divorce permissible for any reason?” (v. 3). Various resources can give you the history of divorce in the rabbis’ teachings, so I will not indulge that here. Nor do I want to give all the various options and arguments on the issue of “acceptable divorce.” I want rather to zero in on v. 8 and the phrase “the hardness of your heart.”

Setting the Table

First, let us note that under the OT Law, divorce was clearly permitted. We see this from regulations regarding how a divorcee was to be treated (Deut 24:1-4) and from regulations that forbade divorce (e.g. Deut 22:19, 29). Furthermore, Ezra commanded the people, presumably with the approval of God, to divorce their foreign wives (Ezra 10:11). Finally, you have Jesus himself confirming that Moses (meaning the Mosaic Law) permitted divorce (Matt 19:8).

The surface reason for divorce could have been many things. A great amount of focus has been placed on Deut 24:1 and the “some indecency” (NASB; Hebrew reads ervath davar, or “nakedness of a thing”). There have been many suggestions made as to what exactly the indecency was, but none are completely conclusive. It is possible that it was the forniciation of Matthew 19:9

In v. 8, Jesus identifies the root reason for the Mosaic regulations on divorce as “the hardness of your heart.” In other words, whatever the indecency was, the divorce was driven by the hardness of one’s heart—harboring sinful resentment that was driven by hardness toward God and His plan for marriage that would lead to the dissolution of the marriage.

Considering Jesus’ Exception

Jesus moves seamlessly from “the hardness of your heart” to the exception clause. The question is, “What exactly was Jesus saying?” I think it impossible to say that Jesus was here forbidding remarriage in any circumstance. The grammar seems to mitigate against that, and Jesus connects remarriage with adultery in the case of divorce (cf. Mark 10:1-12, which omits the exception clause). He could well be permitting remarriage only in the case of adultery, but it seems he is permitting it at least in case of adultery. How this ties in with 1 Corinthians 7 must be saved for a later date, especially since it is not the focus here.

What exactly is the exception clause connected to? Some say it should be connected to divorce, others to remarriage. The reflection of the last year or so has led me to conclude that the exception clause should be connected to “the hardness of your heart.” Divorce, even in the matter of indecency (whatever that is) is because of the hardness of heart. It was not the way God intended it from the beginning (Matt 19:8).

Jesus is saying that Moses permitted divorce is matters of sexual immorality perhaps short of adultery (some indecency) because your hearts were hard. You were unwilling to forgive and restore. It is true that the Mosaic Law contained the death penalty for adultery (Lev 20:10), and that has led some to say that this means that the indecency cannot be adultery since an adulterer would have been dead and thus ineligible for divorce. However, the death penalty was not always carried out for adultery (cf. David and Bathsheba). However, the precise identification of the uncleanness is unnecessary for our purposes, since we are not under the Law, and since our focus is on life in Christ.

How Should a Believer Respond to an Adulterous Spouse

We need to turn to the New Testament, to discern God’s will for divorce for us.

Let’s begin with this simple statement: If the spouse is unrepentant, 1 Corinthians 7:15 is the controlling passage. An unrepentant spouse gives evidence of unbelief since they are unwilling to repent of sin. Remaining in the marriage means, at the very least, cutting off all adulterous relationships. It need not necessarily involve inward repentance, since an unbeliever is being considered. If they refuse to cut off the adulterous relationships, then they show themselves unwilling to stay in the marriage. If they are unwilling to remain in the marriage, the “innocent partner” is free. They are not required to try to save the marriage. In fact, they can’t save it. It takes two to make a marriage. It is my view that “not bound” means they are free to remarry.

On the other hand, if the spouse is repentant, Ephesians 5:25 and Ephesians 4:32 are the controlling passages.

First, we establish from Ephesians 5:25 that spouses are “to love their wives as Christ loved the church.” Though the passage makes this statement specifically about husbands, it is hard to imagine that Christ has a lower standard for how the wife should love the husband. The point of Ephesians 5:22-31 is on function in the relationship, not mutual responsibility of love. I believe the “love as Christ loved the church” is applicable to both parties in marriage (cf. Titus 2:4). Ephesians 5 is merely addressing the function of leadership, rather than only the nature of love.

Second, from Ephesians 4:32 we establish that forgiveness is mandated by Christ for every believer, regardless of the wrong committed. The standard is “Forgive, just as God in Christ forgave you.” The standard by which God has forgiven us through Christ is the standard by which we are to forgive others.

This leads me to two conclusions.

1. Pursuing divorce is ultimately incompatible with Christ’s love for the church. It is impossible to “love as Christ loved the church” while at the same time willfully pursuing a divorce. Christ’s love for the church is unconditional. It pursues the one loved and covers the sins of the one loved. A divorce willful divorce refuses to pursue the one who is supposed to be loved, and refuses to cover the sins of the one supposed to be loved.

2. Pursuing a divorce is ultimately incompatible with “forgiving as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is a promise, not about our mental ability to forget, but about our volitional choice to treat someone in a particular way. The best definition of forgiveness is found in the writings of Jay Adams, among others. (See Adams, From Forgiven to Forgiving). He defines forgiveness as a promise to treat the forgiven as if the offense had not happened. It is a promise to refuse to bring it up to use it against the forgiven to yourself, the person forgiven, or any one else ever again. The very pursuit of a divorce is using the thing supposedly forgiven as a basis for further action. If we have forgiven someone, we have chosen not to treat them in light of that sin, and therefore cannot pursue a divorce because of it.

Answering Common Objections

The objections that could be offered are numerous, but most are very similar. I will anticipate a few of them here.

1. Christ gave permission for divorce in cases of adultery.

Answer: First, it is not clear that Christ is giving permission for divorce, as much as he is giving a concession to divorce. Why a concession? Because your hearts are hard. Because you are unwilling to live in obedience to God in the matter of forgiveness. In other words, you can pursue a divorce, but in so doing you will reveal an unwillingness to live life God’s way. You will reveal that your heart is hard. God will certainly concede to let you live in such a state. But it is no the way he intended it to be.

2. Forgiveness does not mean you have to stay in the marriage.

Answer: It depends on what one thinks forgiveness is. As defined above, forgiveness is a choice about how we will treat someone else. Our forgiveness is modeled on the forgiveness of God in Christ. When God forgives us, he does not break the relationship. He does not say “I forgive you, but I can never have a close relationship with you again” (cf. Sande, The Peacemaker, p. 202). He forgives us and restores us. It is true that there are temporal consequences of sin. The old example is getting drunk and losing your leg in a car accident. Forgiveness won’t bring your leg back. But it won’t cost you your relationship with God either.

It seems when you talk to people about this, there is one stock example that frequently gets used, especially among the fraternity of pastors: “When the church treasurer steals money, you forgive him, but you restore him to his position as treasurer.” This analogy is used to say “When your spouse commits adultery, you forgive him or her, but you don’t have to restore them to the previous position of spouse.” Really? Let’s examine the analogy.

However, I would suggest this analogy fails because it addresses a different type of relationship. Church treasurer is not a life-time commitment (or at least its not supposed to be). Spouse is a life time commitment made before God, your spouse, and others. I remind couples “When you got married, it was a promise for better or worse, until death do you part. This is the worse. Keep your promise for God’s sake.”

This analogy also fails in its outcome. When a treasurer steals money and then repents, he is not disciplined from the church. (At least he should not be.) His privileges may change, but his membership in the body does not, yes, even must not change. In marriage, an adulterous spouse will reap consequences. They will always live with the knowledge of what they did, and the pain that it caused. Their family will suffer. They will see the hurt and distrust in their spouse’s eyes. They may have to live without certain things, such as computer access or cell phone use, if those things were used in the commission of adultery. They may have to break off friendships if those friendships helped to enable the sin, either by encouraging it or covering for it. But how, in the name of “Christ’s love for the church” and “forgive as God forgave you” can they be cut out of the relationship? How can one say “I have forgiven” when their actions demonstrate that they still hold the sin against the other party? God does not do that us, so how can we do that to others?

The truth is that failure to divorce does not mean that there are no consequences. In fact, it heightens the consequences in some ways. But since God’s forgiveness does not remove us from the relationship with him, our forgiveness cannot insist that a person be removed from the relationship with us.

To this teaching, I have heard one good response. When confronted with this teaching, I was told, “I am not God.” That gets to the heart of the matter. Perhaps the real reason for the lack of forgiveness and restoration is an unwillingness to be as radical in the treatment of others as God is in his treatment of us.

3. It is unkind to ask an “innocent partner” to stay in a marriage with a spouse who committed adultery.

Answer: Why? It is unkind to ask an adulterous spouse to cut off a relationship that they greatly enjoy and receive benefit from? Of course not. Nor is it unkind or unmerciful to call an “innocent spouse” to obey God’s command to love as Christ loved the church and forgive as God forgave us. Calling people to obedience is never unkind. In fact, failure to address the underlying causes of selfishness and lack of Christlikeness is unkind. It allows people to go on living with what may very well be an idol of “ideal marriage” in their heart, driving their decisions.

Furthermore, our obsession with comfort and lack of suffering is an epidemic that drives our decisions. Sin brings suffering. Sin in marriage is no different. Whether the sin is adultery, or anger, or selfishness, or one of the multitude of others sins, it will bring suffering in the marriage. To pursue divorce to avoid suffering with a repentant adulterous spouse is to refuse to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

In what must be some kind of divine irony, 1 Peter 2:21 begins a section on Christ’s suffering for us leaving us an example. The very next passage begins with “in the same way” and talks about marriage. In other words, Peter connects Christ’s suffering with marriage, even with disobedient spouses. The truth is that marriage involves suffering, both for my sin and the sin of my spouse. Avoiding suffering should not be our goal, just as avoiding suffering was not the goal of Jesus.

By looking to Jesus, we can teach that suffering is a part of life whether in marriage and family, church, community, or any other sphere. Pursuing a divorce to avoid the suffering of having to “look at and live with my spouse” is failing to follow the example of Jesus. Restoring the relationship and suffering with your spouse is the way to follow Christ’s example.

4. By divorce, one can get away from the problems, such as daily having to look at my spouse.

Answer: No, you will not get away from it. You will wake up every morning in an empty bed and be reminded why you are there alone. You will trade the kids back and forth, a constant reminder of the problem. Indeed, you will simply exchange one set of problems for another set of problems.


Christ’s love for the church is unconditional, effectual, and purifying. It covers sinfulness and restores the relationship. It refuses to treat us as if we had sinned. It offers complete and unconditional forgiveness. It is true that it does not take away temporal consequences. But neither does staying in a marriage in which your spouse committed adultery. Building the marriage is Christ’s plan, even when there is sin.

Christ’s love for the church calls us to an uncommon demonstration of marital love.God’s command of forgiveness calls us to an uncommon and unexpected demonstration of marital love. Those “innocent parties” in adultery have a unique opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ and the work of God in their lives. They can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that others will never be able to.

May our marriages be about the gospel, more than they are about our comfort. May our lives be about God and our spouse, rather than about ourselves.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

On the Cross of Christ

Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his just judgment and (if left to themselves) lost, and that Christ crucified who bore their sin and curse is the only available Savior. Or we emphasize human potential and human ability, with Christ brought in only to boost them, and with no necessity for the cross except to exhibit God's love and so inspire us to greater endeavor.

The former is the way to be faithful, the latter the way to be popular. It is not possible to be faithful and popular simultaneously. We need to hear again the message of Jesus: 'Woe to you when all men speak well of you' (Luke 6:26). By contrast, if we preach the cross, we may find that we are ourselves constantly hounded to the cross. As Erasmus wrote in his treatise On Preaching: 'Let him (sc. the preacher) remember that the cross will never be lacking to those who sincerely preach the gospel. There are always Herods, Ananiases, Caiaphases, Scribes and Pharisees'
From John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 347-48.

For the past year, I have acted on a suggestion from a fellow blogger (who I cannot recall), to take some time every Saturday night to read on the cross of Christ, the atonement, or some related subject. It helps to remind us what Sunday mornings are about.

So I have been reading Stott's The Cross of Christ. I have found a great encouragement in it. I have found that I miss this reading time on the weeks that I don't get around to it. Many times, I have started to blog on some poignant comment from Stott, but did not do it for various reasons. Tonight I finally did.

I would highly recommend this practice to my fellow pastors and preachers (who aren't pulling Saturday night specials).

Monday, March 05, 2007

On the Degradation of Sensibility

We live in a "National Enquirer" kind of world. News is determined not by serious consequences but by titillating effect. News is determined not by whether or not it affects someone's life in a substantial and serious way but by whether or not someone will watch it.

The need to generate ratings, to win the sweeps, has led to creating news rather than reporting it. Quite simply, much of what finds its way onto news broadcasts is simply not newsworthy.

We have 24/7 of Anna Nicole Smith, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. We have Hollywood couple with their own names—TomKat, Bennifer, Brangelina. How stupid is the world we live in when this stuff is interesting?

Now you do not even have to be a star to get this kind of attention. The Menendez brothers, Scott Petersen, and Stephen Grant became household names because they killed someone ... brutally (as if that somehow matters ... What exactly is a brutal murder and how is it worse than any other kind?).

As citizens, the quality of civil discourse is not improved by the silliness and stupidity of the soap opera that is the lives of these figures.

As believers, our Christian usefulness and spiritual walk is not helped by diving into the gutter, not even in the name of prayer. "Pray for _____________" is nothing but sanctified gossip, with a dash "I thank thee that I am not like ___________" thrown in for good measure. Do not misunderstand me. I believe firmly we should be willing to get our hands dirty in the lives of others for the sake of ministry. However, that dirt should come from people with whom we have actual influence.

There are some things that are just unfit for human consumption, much less public consumption. It's not because they do not hold interest. It is because they hold the wrong kind of interest. Let these people live in peace. Do not inflict the rest of us with their nonsense.

It degrades our sensibilities, and our sensitivities. It's not that I am offended by such nonsense. I could not care less. It is that I am amazed that anyone thinks these types of stories have the least bit of redeeming social value, much less spiritual value.

The depth of our minds can be seen by the things that captivate our attention. Which leads me to conclude this: No head first diving in this culture. It is a shallow world.