Monday, January 19, 2015

The Seriousness of the Sin of Remarriage after Divorce, part 3

This is a series of posts designed to convince people of the Biblical truth that remarriage after divorce is adultery and that the fact that the modern American Christian church has by-and-large rejected this teaching is proof that it is in a state of apostasy.  This article is the third in the series.  Click here to read the first article.

Too Legalistic?

The preacher in my church once gave a sermon on legalism and defined it as “when you care more about rules (or commandments) than you care about people”.  Actually, loving people comes second to loving God (Matthew 22:36-40).  And I would consider legalism to include more than just that.  But for purposes of this discussion, I will use his definition.  I will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am absolutely not being legalistic at all.  The probability is greater that I am not a real person, but only a figment of your imagination than the probability that I am being legalistic on this issue.
Suppose a homosexual couple came to your church and asked if they could become members of your church and asked if their homosexual lifestyle would be accepted in the church.  The elders of the church might tell them “no” and they may quote scriptures about the sinfulness of homosexuality to back up their decision.    But the homosexual couple could say this: 

We have been “married” for years and over the years we adopted many children.  We fed, clothed and nurtured these children.  We gave these children a good education and taught them to be honest, responsible, caring and compassionate.  Some of them have already grown up and have become good, hardworking, taxpaying citizens.  It might have been better if they had both a mother and a father to raise them, but if we hadn’t adopted them, they may have had no parents at all.  We realize that the Bible talks about homosexuality as a sin in some places, but you have to take other parts of the Bible into consideration like the Golden Rule, “do not judge lest you be judged…” and things like that.  You are asking us to break up a family unit which has been helping children for many years.  You are legalistic.  You care about your rules more than you care about people.

What would you say to this?  The right answer is to still say “no”, but why?  Why isn’t this a legalistic position?  The answer is that there are commandments which are moral absolutes.  There are also some other commandments in the Bible which we are not to take as moral absolutes.  If we do, then we are being legalistic.  As an example (Luke 13:15), Jesus taught that it is not wrong to pull a donkey out of a pit on the Sabbath (Israel was under the Old Covenant at that time).  In the New Testament, there are a lot of commandments about women.  They should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), cover their heads when they pray or prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5), not wear jewelry (1 Peter 3:3), and be silent in the church (1 Corinthians 14:35).  There is also a commandment not to have meals in the church (1 Corinthians 11:22).  These are not moral absolutes and they should not be taken as black and white.  There are ways that you could take these commandments too seriously and in a way that would be caring about the commandment more than you care about people.
So how do we know when a commandment is a moral absolute and when we must be careful not to take it too legalistically?  First, we must realize that it is God, not us, who decides which commandments are moral absolutes and which are not.  Second, we must realize that, for each commandment, the answer to this question lies in the Bible.  In order to get a correct answer, you must throw away any preconceived ideas that come from what just seems right to you (Proverbs 14:12), what you have always been taught (Jeremiah 9:5, 14), or what the majority of so-called Christians believe (Matthew 7:14).  That last reason is an especially flimsy one since the position of the majority of self-professing Christians in this country on many issues (including remarriage after divorce) has changed in the not too distant past and most likely will continue to change in the future.  You should instead answer this question by paying attention to how the commandment is worded, the context in which it is found, and what else the Bible has to say about the subject.  Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this commandment?” and “What will happen to someone who disobeys it?”  Then find the answer to these questions in the Bible, and not by relying on preconceived, manmade, visceral ideas.
Returning to the example of the homosexual couple, consider those two questions.  Romans 1 clearly teaches that homosexuality is dirty and degrading.  I Corinthians 6:9-10 teaches that homosexuals will not inherit into the Kingdom of God.  There is only one other place for them to go.  That is why you can say unequivocally that it is unacceptable to accept an unrepentant homosexual couple into the membership of the church.  When someone’s eternal salvation is at stake, this far outweighs all other considerations.  This is why the other circumstances that were passionately appealed to by the hypothetical homosexual couple should be disregarded as completely irrelevant.  How else would you know that this is the right thing to do?
But Jesus does not just say, “if you are divorced, then don’t remarry”.  He calls it adultery.  This is one of the sins listed in I Corinthians 6:9-10 right along with homosexuality.  Anyone who does it is in the same boat as the homosexual.  Does it make any sense to say, “I will help someone to commit adultery because I care more about them more than I care about the commandment”?  How foolish! 

What I have written so far should be enough to convince you.  But I have mountains of more evidence to prove my point.  There is another sin which Jesus also calls adultery.  Matthew 5:27-28 says,
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Does it make any sense to say, “I am going to give some guy some pornography or help him to get his jollies looking at some other man’s wife because I care about him more than I care about keeping this commandment?”  Then why should the other kind of adultery be any different?  Why is it that remarriage after divorce is the only form of sexual immorality that is not considered dirty and degrading? 

I have heard some people say that they threw away their computers in order to overcome their addiction to internet pornography.  Is this too extreme?  Were they being legalistic?  I would hope that anyone reading this would not think so.  But just in case you do, I quote the verses following the commandment against lusting after women.  Matthew 5:29 says,

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 

If that verse doesn’t convince you that Jesus is talking about a “black and white” issue, not subject to arguments against legalism, then nothing that Jesus could have said would convince you.  There is no stronger warning against sin anywhere in the Bible.  The verse indicates that one should take extreme measures to avoid the aforementioned activity and nothing in the Bible says this more clearly, strongly or urgently as this verse.  But Jesus doesn’t stop with eyes.  Matthew 5:30 says,

And 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.

Verse 29 clearly goes with verse 28.  But what does verse 30 go with?  Read the next two verses!

It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

When you are reading Matthew chapter 5 you might immediately forget verse 30 while you are reading verses 31 and 32.  You might think that God wants you to mentally place an impenetrable wall between verses 30 and 31 so that nothing on one side of the wall has anything to do with what is on the other side of the wall.  If this is what you believe, then ask yourself, “Do I believe this because it is an application of a reasonable hermeneutic, or do I just not want to believe what Jesus is saying?”  Matthew chapter 5 is the first portion of a sermon preached by Jesus—the Sermon on the Mount to be exact.  It is not just a random collection of wise sayings or weak platitudes put in some random order.

We have the expression “to take one’s hand in marriage”.  In verses 33-37 Jesus tells us not to take oaths, something that is done by raising one’s right hand (c.f. Genesis 24:2-3).  The next thing Jesus commands starts out like this:

       If anyone slaps you on the right cheek...

First an extreme warning against sins committed with the hand, and then three sins in a row that are committed with the hand!  Notice that Jesus did not say, “…if your hands cause you to stumble…”  The expression is not “May I have your hands in marriage”.  And when you take an oath you raise your right hand, not both hands!  In every case, the hand is singular, not plural.  Yet there are many other places in the Bible where it explicitly mentions sins that are committed with both hands (Numbers 24:10, Deuteronomy 21:7, Judges 14:9, 2 Kings 19:18, 2 Kings 22:17, 2 Chronicles 32:19, 2 Chronicles 34:25, etc).  Even though this paragraph is definitely the weakest of all my arguments, it is very hard to believe that this is just a coincidence.  But I’m not done.  So far I have only examined the context of the first of the seven passages condemning remarriage after divorce.  There are still mountains of more evidence in the other six!

At the beginning of Matthew chapter 18, Jesus speaks of the value of children.  Jesus values them very highly.  When someone sins against a child it does more harm to them than to an adult.  That is why Jesus levies such a harsh statement against those who do it.  Everybody knows that divorce harms children.  But nobody talks about the damage done by remarriage after divorce.  Do you really think that a child of a divorced parent who remarries outside God’s boundaries won’t be more prone to commit sexual immorality because of it?  What if a child asked you about one the seven passages?  How would you explain it without nullifying the whole of Scripture?  You may teach your children that marriage is sacred, but if your actions don’t match your words, it probably won’t do any good at all.  And everybody talks about how bad it is for a homosexual couple to have joint custody of children as opposed to a “one man, one woman” household.  But there is more than one way for a child to have two dads.  Is one really that much more unhealthy than the other?  Better to have only a single parent than two adulterous ones.

After the verse about it being better to have a millstone put around your neck than to cause a child to sin, Jesus makes statements about it being better to remove body parts to avoid sinning than to be cast into hell similar to the statements in chapter 5 verses 29 and 30.  Then at almost the beginning of the very next chapter (Matthew 19:3-12) there is the second of the seven New Testament passages which condemn remarriage after divorce.  Then Jesus immediately returns to talking about the value of children (Matthew 19:13-15), which completes the circuit tying it back to the beginning of the previous chapter.  It is very clear that three ideas are tied together: remarriage after divorce is a sin, causing children to sin is a sin, and the idea that a sin can be so bad that one should prefer to remove his own body parts rather than to commit that sin.

In Mark 9:42-10:16 there is the same sequence.  First there is the commandment about causing children to sin and the millstone around the man’s neck.  Second there are the “body parts” verses.  Third, there is the commandment against remarriage after divorce.  And fourth Jesus ties it all together by returning to talk about the value of children.  The only difference is that these verses are even closer together than in Matthew 18-19.  There are only a couple of other verses in between. Mark 9:49-50 says,

Everyone will be salted with fire.  Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.

If in our church, it is acceptable for people to change sex partners as much as they want as long as they have good intentions in the eyes of the elders, get counseling, and sign a worthless piece of paper before each one, then how are we any different than rest of world?  Like salt, the church is supposed to preserve things.  Marriage is one of those things.  But as it stands, we may as well be condoning cohabitation without marriage.  The salt has lost its saltiness.  As long as we are not following God’s Word, there will be at best a reluctant uneasiness, not real peace with one another.  This is because words like “till death do you part” and “and long as the both of you shall live” don’t mean anything at all anymore.  So why would you take anything else that anybody says seriously?

Despite that Luke was a doctor, there aren’t any verses about removing body parts in his gospel.  But immediately after Jesus’ teaching in Luke 16:18 against remarriage after divorce, there is a parable about a man being tormented in Hades because he would not repent.  This is not exactly what you would expect as a follow up to a non-“black and white” commandment like women should be silent in the church or women should not wear jewelry.  Immediately after this parable, there in Luke 17:2 is again teaching about the millstone around the neck and causing children to sin.  This is too much to be coincidence.  Note that Luke’s gospel does not include anything about divorce itself being sinful—only remarriage after divorce.  Thus there is nothing in Luke to connect Luke 17:2 to a commandment against divorce, only remarriage after divorce!

To summarize, the following facts are true:

1.      According to both Jesus and the apostle Paul, remarriage after divorce is adultery and adulterers cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.
2.      There are exactly three passages in the Bible which speak of it being more profitable to remove parts of your body than to have your whole body cast into hell because the parts of your body cause you to sin. 
3.      These three passages are the clearest, strongest and most urgent warnings against sin in the entire Bible.  They clearly indicate that Jesus is speaking of sins that one should go to extreme measures in order to avoid.
4.      A commandment against remarriage after divorce appears within the context of all three of these passages.  This is not true of any other commandment.
5.      Matthew 18-19, Mark 9-10 are probably referring to the same incident (and possibly also Luke 16-17), but Matthew 5 was definitely a different occasion.  Thus the three passages represent at least two instances in which Jesus condemned remarriage after divorce and gave the heaviest of all biblical warnings in the same breath.
6.      A very harsh warning against causing children to sin appears in each of the three synoptic gospels.
7.      Every time this harsh warning appears, there is always a commandment against remarriage after divorce within its context (sometimes before and sometimes after).  But there is not always a commandment against divorce itself.
8.      Every time a gospel writer records Jesus condemning remarriage after divorce, there always a warning about damnation within its context.  Such juxtaposition is recorded in four places which represent at least two occurrences.
9.      If you look up the non-“black and white” commandments which I mentioned earlier (or any others you might find) you will never find within their contexts even an implicit reference to damnation (such as a warning about sinners not entering the Kingdom of God), much less the word “hell”, “Hades” or the like.

Given these facts, read the last few words of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:27-31:

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

You have even more than Moses and the prophets.  You have gospel of the New Testament.  If this isn’t good enough to convince you that remarriage after divorce is a “black and white” sin, then nothing that Jesus (the One who rose from the dead) could have said would have been good enough to convince you.  This legalism argument is nothing but a visceral reaction (i.e. gut feeling) against the truth.  

Click here to continue reading.

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