Is it lawful?
Sometimes a question reveals a wrong motive that is underlying.
By way of illustration; If a young man asks me; “How far can I go physically with your daughter?” I know already that this guy’s not the guy for my daughter.
He should be asking different questions like; “How can I glorify God? How can I honour your daughter’s integrity and purity? How can I respect her and keep her for her wedding day!”
That guy’s asking the wrong question! So I might even reply with a question of my own; “How much do you value your life dude?” And urge him to think twice before ever messaging my daughter again.
The Pharisees come to Jesus while He is teaching, with a question of interpretation regarding the Law and marriage, divorce and remarriage. Their intention was to ‘test/trap’ Jesus (Mark 10:2). It’s worth remembering that when seeking to understand this passage.
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – wrong question! Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s wise, never mind godly.
Take Wing-suits as a silly example (check this link out if you’ve never seen this sort of thing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbcbjMhvjEs) It is lawful to throw yourself off a mountain, but it doesn’t make it wise?
Or think of smoking marijuana, it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it a wise or godly thing to participate in. Likewise, gambling is legal but not wise and is discouraged in Scripture.
So with just three examples, it is clear that something being legal is a poor indicator of whether or not it is wise or godly.
So with the Pharisees asking; “Is it lawful…” they were barking up the wrong proverbial tree and in so doing revealing their sinful hearts and the patriarchal culture of the day.
Jesus answers them, asking them what Moses said on the matter and knowing their Pentateuch they reply in effect that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives by giving them a ‘certificate of divorce’. The debate of theirs they were trying to trap Jesus in was probably over what constituted ‘indecency’ in the wife that made it legal for a husband to divorce his wife (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Jesus’ response shows that the law given by Moses was meant to limit evil being committed against women not to give reasons for men to eject themselves out of their marriage vows! A ‘certificate of divorce’ was a way of limiting the evil being committed against women and was not God’s good plan for marriage from creation (Mark 10:6) but due to sin and hardness of heart of men and women (Mark 10:5).
Some Pharisees were teaching that men could divorce their wives for ‘any and every reason’! God never intended that there be any divorces, much less divorce for any and every little reason or because someone else was catching their attention. Their question reveals a sinful motive.
Jesus reaffirms God’s plan as found Genesis (Mark 10:6-9); In marriage, God intends for a man and a woman to leave mom and dad to be ‘glued to’ one another in such a remarkable way that those two people become one flesh, no longer two but one. (Genesis 2:24)
And so because of this remarkable one-flesh union that God creates when a man and a woman get married, human beings should not separate what God has joined together.
Jesus answers them, not with a legal answer but reaffirms that God intends marriage to be for life! That was God’s plan from the start of creation, Moses had to introduce a law because of sinful hearts, but God’s plan for men and women and marriage has not changed one iota.
And so, in the house, Jesus explains further to his disciples that anyone who does divorce their spouse, separating what God has intended to not be separated is doing what God is not pleased with.
So much so, that to go and marry another person is to ‘commit adultery’ meaning that God sees the first marriage as still being joined together (Mark 10:11-12)
I can hear you wanting to interject; ‘But….!’
Remember that Jesus is correcting a wrong, sinful attitude that is underlying the question; “Is it lawful…”. Jesus has answered that question emphatically – God’s plan for men and women is that when they marry it is for life, a covenant that holds through life’s storms, through the up’s and down’s of married life, that creates a context of love, vulnerability and commitment.
And that covenant is sacred to God. Our culture treats marriage like a ‘social contract’ that is only valid while the ‘parties’ are getting what they want from the marriage.
Much like the social contract, one might have with your hairdresser – you really like your hairdresser, you always go to the same one, until they mess your hair up one day and then you are free to walk out and end the social contract.
God doesn’t treat marriage in that way and nor should we. Jesus takes us back to something far more beautiful, more robust and more romantic – covenant love that endures through anything. Covenant love that if broken for any and every reason is a major problem in the eyes of God.
- If you are not yet married: Choose today to pursue God’s ideal for marriage and not the way of the world. God’s plan for marriage is beautiful, it’s not easy, but it is beautiful and will bless you richly if you do marriage God’s way with God at the centre of your married life. Pray for your future spouse now and pray that God would prepare you and keep you for each other and help you to find each other.
- And if you are already married: Remind yourself of those covenant promises you made to each other before God, your family and friends. Find them, pray through them together again, recommit yourselves to them! Those promises were not about romance but absolute statements of commitment and love that are what you’ll need in dark or difficult days to hold you together and see you through.
- And if on some issue in life you find you’ve been asking questions of legality, stop and ask yourself if that is really a question you ought to, or want to be asking? Is it a question you would want Jesus to answer?
- Lastly, in all things a great question to ask is; ‘Jesus show me your will in this thing, what will please you?’
Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)
This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.
That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.
But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!
Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.
And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!
‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!
Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.
Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.
What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!
Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ” This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!
In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.
So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.
But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.
Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.
Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.
Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.
- Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
- Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
- Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.
“Marriage is a long-term binding commitment epitomised in a covenant.” – T.Keller
In Jesus’ day, the institution of marriage had been eroded by the sinfulness of men and women to the point that marriages were discarded for ‘any and every reason’ by some.
As a result, there was a debate amongst various schools of rabbinical teaching as to what God’s will was regarding marriage and divorce with some being very permissive and others taking a stronger view of lasting covenant.
The Pharisees approach Jesus looking to draw Him into their debate, with some seeking to trap or test Him; “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (vs2)
Jesus answers with a question; “What did Moses command you?” (vs3). Here Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where Moses gave some regulations for divorce. The Pharisees summarise saying that Moses permitted divorce.
Jesus then teaches them that divorce was never part of God’s original plan for us, but that broken covenants are now part of our sin-wrecked world and human experience because of our hardness of heart (vs5). Jesus explains that Moses wasn’t encouraging divorce, rather regulations regarding divorce became necessary because of sin.
Jesus then teaches those present about God’s original design for marriage:
- Marriage is heterosexual (‘God made them male and female’ vs6)
- Marriage is supernatural (‘two shall become one flesh’ vs8) (‘what therefore God has joined together’ vs9)
- Marriage is a covenant promise (the word is not in this passage but the concept is) that is not to be broken
Jesus’ day seems so similar to our day when it comes to the brokeness of marriage and how far our experiences are often from God’s original purpose. Today, for many, marriage is not considered as the only God-ordained context for all sexual relationships. In addition, marriage itself often resembles a consumer-contract more than a covenant promise.
Consumer-contracts are merely agreements that remain in force as long as both parties feel that their needs/objectives are being met by the other party and any failure to deliver or change of desired objectives is grounds for breaking the contract as it is no longer serving its purpose.
A good example is the ‘relationship’ (consumer-contract) you have with your hairdresser. You like your hairdresser, might even love them, you’re committed to them, you only go to them to do your hair. But that ‘commitment’ is only one bad experience away from being broken. In reality, what is really happening is you’re committed to them as long as they do what you want them to do for you. It is not a relationship, it is a self-serving consumer-contract that hold reserve the right to terminate whenever terminating it serves you.
Although you won’t hear many talking like this about marriage, it is in fact the default for many these days when it comes to marriage, and it was the same in Jesus’ day – that’s how far we are from God’s ideal.
A life-long covenant promise however is what Jesus and all of Scripture reveals is God’s desire for us in marriage. Unsurprisingly, God’s way of covenant promise has incredible benefits for marriages:
1) Covenant makes love deeper because it enables a covenant relationship to grow rather than consumer-contract relationship
2) Covenant creates a cradle of security allowing for true relational vulnerability and allowing for true sacrificial service of one another
3) Covenant creates stability through tough times, and gives you something solid to hold fast to when storms hit
4) Covenant gives freedom as you are not ruled by your feelings anymore, you’re not just a slave to the moment, to impulses, to feelings. You’ve made and keep these promises in-spite of feelings which makes you a truly free person.
5) Covenant provides a reason & a resource to resolve conflicts
A marriage relationship founded on a covenant promise provides the foundation for intimacy, stability, freedom and beauty!
How do you view marriage? Consumer-contract or Covenant-promise?
Which raises a question; “What should you do when your experience doesn’t match up with what you read is God’s will for you in Scripture?”
- Do you bend your interpretation of Scripture to line up with your experience?
- Do you begin to disregard Scripture?
- Or, do you repent if any repentance is needed and ask God to help your life to get restored back a place where it more closely resembles what is His revealed will for you?
Because of the brokeness of our world and our lives due to the fall and due to our sin and the sin of others against us, it is highly likely that your experience of marriage up to the present hasn’t been what God’s intended plan was for you. If that’s your story, may I urge you;
- To repent and make changes if you have been treating your marriage as a ‘consumer-contract’ rather than as a ‘covenant-promise’.
- To renew your covenant-promise commitment to your spouse if you’re married.
- To come and be prayed for to allow God to begin to heal you, if you have broken marriage(s) already.
- To honour marriage highly if you’re not married or not yet married, and to keep for marriage only, that which God has created for marriage alone (sexual relationships).
- To repent and make changes if you have been sinning sexually, to come approach leadership so you can be loved and helped to honour God in this area of your life.
What does God want from you and I as believers? There are times in our lives when we are not always certain of the answer to that question. Maybe you’re in a place of needing to make decisions and you’ve asked God for Him to reveal His specific will to you and at the moment you honestly could say that you don’t know what God’s will is in this thing that’s before you…
And yet here in today’s passage, Scripture affirms with absolute conviction and clarity what God’s general will is for all of us.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
The direct translation of the last word translated as ‘sanctification’ can also be translated as ‘holiness or purity’. God wants everyone of us to be pure, to be holy, to be more and more like He is. Note how this is an absolute and unqualified statement, it is always God’s will for all of us, it is not relative, it does not change.
In the passage, Paul zero’s in on an issue that many in Thessalonica seemingly battled to be pure in and an issue that many today still battle to be pure/holy in – sex.
Our world is awash with loose morals, the prevailing sexual ethic of our day is something like ‘everything is permissible as long as there are two or more consenting adults!’
Sadly, God’s moral law found throughout Scripture which makes it clear that there ought to be no sex outside of the covenant of marriage is disregarded by many both in and outside of the church.
The whole realm of sexual purity is one of those areas in which so often many of us could not be described as being pure or holy. But this is not God’s will for us.
Rather, God wants us to;
“…abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”
And what is meant when the bible says God wants us to abstain from sexual immorality?
The Greek word used here is broad and so includes all sex before marriage and or outside of the marriage covenant between a husband and his wife.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be re-sensitised! We often see sex as a personal choice, and in one sense it is and yet God through Scripture warns us abundantly clearly that to engage in any sex outside of marriage is against God’s will for you.
More than that, the passage goes on to warn us saying;
“the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” (vs6)
God is not unmoved by our ‘personal choices’, rather we grieve and anger God when we live as the unsaved person does, when we do not keep ourselves sexually pure before Him. This is a solemn warning, and warnings are of no use unless we take note of them and adjust accordingly.
So let’s not be like those who do not even know God, let’s not be guided by passions and lust but rather let’s be those who desire to please God and because we do want to please God, let’s be those who control our own bodies (vs4) and keep our bodies pure and honourable before God who sees everything.
What does God want? He wants His children to be sexually pure.
And what if we haven’t been?
The good news is that we have been given the most amazing gift by Jesus – we can always repent and He will forgive us because He died in our place for our sin. But, repentance requires that we change, that as Jesus said once to a woman caught up in sexual sin we are to; “go and sin no more.”
Do you need to repent? You can! You will be forgiven!
But then you need to make changes with the help of the Holy Spirit.
And if you need help, speak to someone in leadership you can trust.
What does God want?
He wants us to be sanctified, to be transformed more and more into the perfect holiness of our Saviour Jesus.
A great article I can highly recommend.
I can not think of an area of life in which men of all ages seem to battle more in. No other thing seems harder for men to choose God’s way of wisdom in, than the area of women, relationships & sex.
There are guys everywhere, who have literally ruined their lives & the lives of others because they have not feared God enough, have not been wise enough to embrace God’s wisdom with regard to sex & relationships.
Proverbs 5 is written from the perspective of a father speaking to his son. As a father he knows how beautiful, powerful & yet potentially destructive sex can be and so he is wanting to impart wisdom to his son regarding this area of life that is so full of pleasures yet can lead to so much pain & ruinous consequences if God’s instructions are not followed.
1 My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
2 that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
It’s wise to learn from life experience but it’s even wiser to learn from the experience of others. Had this father messed up in this area of sex & relationships? Are there painful personal experiences informing his exhortations to his son?
Often the problem for men in this area is that our desires are so strong that men often aren’t guided by their heads, but rather close their ears to wisdom regarding these matters and simply follow their desires.
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey…
What does the ESV translation mean by ‘forbidden woman’?
It’s important to say that there is NOTHING about women that makes them any more or less capable of evil than men are. Although both Proverbs 5-7 do warn men of certain women whom they will encounter in life, women who will be a temptation to them, the phrase translated ‘forbidden woman’ does not communicate that women are evil in some general way.
So what does this phrase communicate? ‘Forbidden woman’ is especially helpful when one considers that it describes the relationship of all women towards those men who are not their husbands.
The wise advice here to the son is that any woman who is not his wife, or is not his wife yet or is in fact someone else’s wife – all such women are forbidden to him in terms of any sexual intimacy or arousal of any kind.
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,and her speech is smoother than oil,
4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
6 she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
All sexually tempting situations promise much (with smooth talk and sweet honey), however in the end are bitter in reality and lead to ruin, even death itself!
What a contrast! Pleasure, delight promised, pain and death delivered.
7 And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
8 Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
The father’s plea to be attentive is repeated and broadened to include other sons too. The father’s advice is keep away, far away! Don’t mess around, don’t even go close to this type of temptation and sin, steer well clear.
Don’t put yourself in compromising situations, don’t kid yourself that you’re strong enough, that you can handle the temptation. Don’t even go close.
I remember in our long days of courtship, how Nadine and I needed to make some decisions, needed to resolve to avoid certain situations, to not even go near to them in order to remain sexually pure leading up to our wedding day.
We loved driving around the beautifully romantic Cape Town peninsular, spending hours talking and just enjoying the sights and lights of Cape Town.
But we didn’t want to go even near to temptation, so we resolved to not stop the car after dark! After-all, if I was driving that meant at least ¾ of my limbs had to be involved in driving the car.
I have been to Zambia and seen the mighty Zambezi river in flood pouring over the 108m high Victoria Falls. It is 1.7km wide at the Victoria Falls with 6million litres of water per second flowing over it when it is in flood! The column of spray from that waterfall can be 400m high and seen over 40km away. I have been in a boat on that river while it was in flood about 10km upstream, with two 90hp motors struggling to keep us from being washed downstream towards the falls…
I think that the whole area of sex is a little bit like this mighty river and it’s waterfall. If going over the edge of the falls is sexual sin then dipping your toe in the river upstream of the falls or even going for a swim or a paddle is like dabbling with sexual temptation and arousal, going near the door of her house.
Far too many men have told themselves they are strong swimmers or paddlers, told themselves that they can handle paddling on this river! Only to be swept away in a moment of passion and swept over the falls of sexual sin.
Men like to think they are in control. We like to think we can handle situations, wisdom says, this river of sexual arousal is SO strong you’re kidding yourself if you think you can paddle around in it and not be swept over the falls which leads to great pain, shame or even death.
So, work it out, work out how not to even go NEAR the door of her house, whether that is a literal door or a metaphorical door some action/activity your should avoid, steer clear of.
9 lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
11 and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
12 and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.”
Vs9-14 reveal where temptation ultimately leads us. We end up giving ourselves to others who take our honour, life and strength from us so that in the end of our life we are left groaning and our bodies even are consumed. These verses reveal the true consequences of forbidden sexual arousal and sin; regret (vs12-13), ruin (vs14) and shame in the community (vs14).
15 Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Satisfy yourself within your own marriage, keep your love exclusively for your spouse, don’t spread yourself around like cheap water flowing in the gutters. And if you’re not married yet, keep yourself for that day, for that one relationship so that you won’t ruin what you want before the time and end up damaging the very relationship God intends to satisfy you with.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
I love God, and I love the bible! I love how God is not anti-fun, not anti-sex or anti-pleasure but totally for it. In fact it was God who designed us for pleasure, God who invented sex and gave it to us. However, God gave it with specific instructions for use so that it would be for building lives and marriage and not tearing down life.
Vs18-20 ends with a section of exhortation about sexual fulfilment in marriage, it’s sex as God intends it for you and for me! God’s plan for you is that you be fulfilled with amazing sex in marriage with your wife/husband! There’s a hint here even that God’s plan is even for you to get married while you are still young (vs18) so you can enjoy youth together with your spouse.
If this is God’s plan for you, if God’s plan for you is fulfilment in marriage then wisdom says, God says – don’t be intoxicated, don’t embrace any forbidden woman (vs20)! Dipping your toe in that river which leads to death and regret and destruction of marriage is to poison yourself and poison your marriage or your future marriage.
If you’re married, known this, that there is nothing like satisfied sexual intimacy in marriage to protect you from external sexual temptations! In this Proverb we are instructed to rejoice in sexual intimacy with our own wives, captivated by her beauty, delight in her breasts continually and be intoxicated (drunk) with her love and our mutual lovemaking…
When you are truly fulfilled and satisfied as God intends you to be as a married man, you are fortified against the allure of the forbidden woman. After all, why would you sin against God, sin against this one you love, why would you damage this most precious person and the relationship that you already have, why risk all that which is truly good and God-given? Temptation looses it’s power when marriage is good and godly.
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.
(Proverbs 5 in ESV translation)
Lastly, remember, in all these things, just in case you think you’re hiding something, thinking that no one will know about it – don’t kid yourself thinking that what you do with a forbidden woman is secret or unseen. A man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he, God ponders all man’s paths.
Wisdom as the bible defines it had nothing to do with cleverness, skill, ability or age, even though personal experience is a valuable potential contributor to wisdom if interpreted in light of revealed truth. Wisdom is a matter of heart orientation to God, out of which flows the desire to please God by our choices and actions.
And here’s the thing, when we are wise, when we fear God as we ought, when we desire to please God with our lives – we end up being the one’s who are blessed because God is a good God and His desires for us are good. So be wise in this area of sex.
By Gareth Bowley