“Calling, Marriage, Sex, and Singleness” Holiness: Week 3 (1 Corinthians 7:1-40)
What is the difference between ambition and discontent? We all hope to do better for ourselves in one way or another. Most of us would enjoy a higher paying job, a bigger house, and a happier family. When does ambition get in the way of our holiness? This week, Pastor Todd talks about this and how we can stay content where we are.
- Be content with your current cultural situation
- If single, be content being single for His glory until He changes your call
- Be content in marriage & endure hardship
1st Corinthians chapter 7. We are loaded down today with 40 verses of exegetical goodness that we’ve got to get through. Don’t worry. You will be out of here before 2:00, but if that’s going to happen, we’ve got to get started.
I thought about breaking this passage up into the individual subjects like singleness, and marriage, and then circumcision, and then slavery, and then widows, and that would be good. I love doing that kind of stuff, but what I started realizing as I was studying this week is that, and even before this week, that all these verses are really talking about the same thing. At the root of everything that Paul mentions as simple in 1st Corinthians chapter 7, all of these things arise out of the cesspool of something called discontentment.
What God wants us to have is contentment in all the areas of our life, and he focuses in three areas for this particular church. The word contentment simply can be described as having satisfaction where you are. We can say it like this. God has you exactly where he wants you to be today. I don’t know about tomorrow. If he wants to change tomorrow, he’ll change tomorrow. You got a job interview of something like that. I don’t know where you’re at, but I do know that today he wants you to live where you’re called in the situation that you’re in, not always wanting to be where you’re not right now.
Discontentment is like a devastating disease that it’s working its way through America and American churches. This just might be at that base of those tree of problems that you look at every single day. What a great gift it would be if he could give you that gift of contentment and deliver you from discontentment, because though contentment is finding satisfaction where you are, being satisfied with your lot in life right now, discontentment is always looking at the grass on the other side of the fence as greener. Many times when you’re doing that, you’re not fertilizing your own grass on the lawn where you are. It leaves you longing for more.
Discontentment can be found everywhere. I see it in social media. Actually, I see the opposite of social media, but I see social media causing many people today to spiral into a season of depression and discontentment.
Let me start with what I saw this week and I heard about this week. Maybe you know a young mom that this happens to or an older mom this happens to. A mom looks at a post from another mom on Facebook or Instagram, and that portrays this mom as having her house all together. Her children are like little angels in the sunshine of obedience. Everything’s perfect. For some reason, that causes us to not be satisfied with what we have, to be discontent where we are always wanting what she is portraying.
But here’s the reality. You know the sad reality is that many times, the post that sends you into discontent as a mom is coming from somebody who’s projecting a reality that they want that they actually don’t really have. It’s just a put together photo. It’s just some words on a screen. You don’t know the heart behind that post, and yet it can send you into discontentment.
But dads, you’re not off the hook either. That’s just a story I heard this week. How many times have you seen that post from that guy, or as a student, anybody, and it looks like their life is all together and it makes you go, “Hmm, maybe that’s better than what I have. I want that. I don’t want what I have”? It can happen to us all.
But the reality of social media is not everything that they show is real. Most of the time, in my experience, it’s a front. Don’t fall for the front. Everybody struggles. Be satisfied where you’re at.
Maybe for you, social media is not the thing. You don’t even have it. You’re like, “Pastor, I can’t even connect to that.” Well, maybe for you it’s that letter that you get around Christmas from that family, I mean they’re perfect, right? Right? They write in that letter. I’m not saying writing letters is bad, but they give you that update letter, and Johnny, he got that job that pays the ridiculous salary, and you’re still trying to rub two nickels together. Little Timmy got accepted into TCU with a full scholarship for being awesome, whatever that is. All the while, Bob is posting these pictures on his newsletter of shopping for that new yacht and you’re like …
Why are we so easily taken into discontentment when it shouldn’t affect us what somebody else has or what stage of life that they’re in? Satan has his hand in it, that’s why.
Here’s the real danger of discontentment. Discontentment can cause you to leave too early. I’ve seen it cause people to leave a job that they should’ve stayed at. I’ve seen it cause people to leave families that God has called them to stay committed to and endure. For what? A lifestyle that leaves them wanting more, never giving them the happiness that they’re looking for when happiness could have been found if they would have just stayed where they were in contentment in Christ.
How many times has this been proven true in lives that you know, maybe even yours? Maybe God will give you deliverance from that. I’m praying that 1st Corinthians chapter 7 God will give you contentment. Paul says things like this throughout this chapter. “Remain in the condition in which you were called.” Like I said earlier, you might just be where God wants you to be.
Now, here’s your pushback question. I’m already reading your minds a little bit this morning. “Okay, Pastor Todd, I get discontentment is bad, but is wanting more bad? Is betterment of my life, my children’s life, and maybe my family, is that bad? Is ambition bad?” No, ambition is good, but here’s your real question. If ambition is good, when does ambition turn into discontentment? “What’s the difference, Pastor, between ambition, which God can use for his glory and your free, and discontentment?”
I’ve got good and bad news. The bad news is I may not be able to isolate your individual situation, because I don’t know all of you here today exactly as you would probably need me to to diagnose where you’re at. It may not be a black and white answer right now, but I can tell you this, I can give you warning signs in your life right now that you’re losing your contentment. I can give you warning signs that you’re spiraling in discontent, and warning sign number one that I see is bitterness, bitterness towards the situation that you’re in and not wanting to be there any longer. That’s not ambition. That’s discontentment, and that’s sinful.
Let’s apply it to your job. Maybe you have this job that you don’t like. Well, let’s put it a little harsher than that. The reality of what I hear myself say and what maybe you say sometimes is, “I hate the job that I’m in.” It may be a week or it may be for years. That’s not always bad. It may show you that you don’t need to be in that job any longer. Leaving a job is not always bad. But when bitterness comes in, it changes your attitude, so much so that if your boss is seeing you drive up in the parking lot and they don’t even want to see you walk in the door because your attitude is so poor, bitterness might be creeping in. If you get to your job and you do a terrible job with your performance, and your performance is tanking because you just don’t care, bitterness is there. If it’s starting to hurt your faith, if it’s hurting your witness because all you do is whine, and complain, and say hateful things about those around you, bitterness has arrived.
Bitterness is never okay. Unforgiveness is never accepted. My advice to you if that describes the situation you’re in, find contentment where you are, because Christ can give you contentment no matter what situation you’re in. Once you’re clinging to contentment in Christ, not based on your circumstances, then you will see him instead of yourself. Then you will see others around you. He might even keep you there then and use you where you’re at, and then he will show you whether you need to leave or not.
In these 40 verses, I’m not able to go through verse 1 through verse 40. We’ll be here all day. What I want to do is break it into subjects, break it into categories. The first categories I want to discuss is verses 17 through 24, because here three times Paul lays out the main ideas for this entire chapter. He says things like, “Stay where you are. Live as you were called. Wherever God has you, that’s where he wants you.” Let’s read these verses together.
Verse 17, “Only as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.” In other words, walk where you’re called. “And so I direct in all the churches.” This applies to us today. The calling Paul’s talking about here is not a call into vocational ministry. He means your calling to Christ, your calling unto salvation. Wherever that happens and whatever situation you’re in, he says you can stay there for the glory of God. Did you know that?
Then he goes on in verse 18, “Why any man called …” Not why. “Was any man called when he was already circumcised?” Meaning already a Jew. “He is not to become uncircumcised.” That’s going to be hard to do. “Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He’s not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters, ” don’t miss this, verse 19, “What matters is keeping the commandments of God.”
Could I have the liberty to say where you are? Verse 20, “Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave?” That’s a tough one. Listen to what he says. “Don’t worry about it. But if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave is free in the Lord,” meaning is the Lord’s freeman. “Likewise, he who was called who is free is Christ’s slave.” Why? Because, “You were bought.” You’ve heard that before. “With a price.” What’s that price? The precious blood of Jesus. “Do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.”
Paul specifically here is talking about subjects that you may not understand completely, circumcision and uncircumcision. He’s talking about slavery and being free, and you’re like, “How does this apply to my life?” Well, it may not apply to you directly, but we all still have careers. We still go somewhere to work eight hours a day like a slave. We still have cultural differences. Some of you come from a Czech background. Some of you come from an African-American background. Some of you come from a Hispanic background. Some of you are like classic American, just mixed up all together. You have cultural differences. What Paul’s saying, that’s okay. The differences among us should not be hindrances to us, but they’re actually beneficial to us to show us what heaven will look like.
Did you know you can have cultural distinctions while being one in Christ? For the Jew, he says, “Don’t try to become a Gentile when you come to know Jesus just because you don’t follow everything in Judaism.” More often than not, when a Gentile came to know Christ, some of the Jews even in churches then, maybe even in some churches today, will try to get them to become a Jew and a Christian. I still see that today. Someone comes to know Christ. He come to love the Old Testament, and then they create this separation between the Old Testament and the New Testament. They think, “Well, I’ve got to become a Jew and a Christian.” No. If you’re not from a culture, you don’t have to change that culture to be a Christian. You can be a Christian from any culture. You don’t have to be 100% the same as the person next to you to be 100% Christian. That’s what Paul’s saying.
This applies not only to cultural differences, whether Hispanic, black, or white, or Czech, or whatever culture you can think of that applies to you, but he says it also applies to slavery. That was common 2,000 years ago. It was common not that long ago in our own country. Now, what he’s saying is that slavery … He’s not saying slavery’s okay. Paul is not just saying everybody should go out and get a slave, but he always knows that he can’t defeat the evil of slavery in one letter. If fact, it wouldn’t be defeated in one generation. It would take a long time for the idea that Paul is sharing here, that we’re one in Christ, to move through their culture. It would take a lot longer than that, like thousands of years, and we’re still not there yet, to move through the whole world.
Paul is saying you may look different, you may speak a different language, you may be from a different country, but you’re one in Christ. If you’re a slave, he goes, “Okay. If you can be free, be free, but if you can’t …” Like many of them would never be free who were reading this passage of scripture. He says, “Be satisfied in Christ where you are, because as a Christian, no matter your context, your still meant to live there for the glory of God to influence those around you.” Jew or Gentile, slave or free, and this applies to you today.
In fact, what Paul does here is not accept slavery or racial division. What he does when properly taught over time actually abolishes slavery and all types of division, because Paul says in any given Sunday in this Corinthian church, there could be a slave and a slave master sitting on the same row. One thinks he’s better than the other. Paul says, “You’re not. Spiritually, you are equals.” Over time, that slave owner, that prejudice man would look at his brother or sister in Christ and say, “We’re one in the same. We’re going to be in heaven worshiping together. Why do I think I’m better than you? I shouldn’t.” That’s how it works, but that didn’t happen the day after they read this text.
Let me ask you. In America, are we there yet? No, we’re not, but we’re a lot closer than we used to be. Whatever your cultural context, whatever your career, we can be one in Christ, and we should celebrate the differences. God doesn’t want us all to look the same. Did you know that? God doesn’t want us all to be white. God doesn’t want us all to be Hispanic or any color. God doesn’t want us all to speak English. God doesn’t want us all from the same country. That’s nonsensical talk. That’s the kind of talk that Hitler had.
God wants us to be spread out through different careers, and different countries, and different cultures all around the world. If you live in a country like America that has different cultures who says, “Just bring them all together,” there may be some differences and it may be hard at time, but we’re one in Christ.
Let us celebrate that and not fight against it. Each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called. See, you all can’t be called to be vocational ministers. I wouldn’t have a job. You all can’t be called to be in education. You all can’t be called to the medical field. God calls you to different places for different reasons to reach those around you.
In fact, when Christ came, and died, and rose from the dead, salvation was offered, it started where? In Jerusalem. They wanted to say there, just huddled up in Christianity in Jerusalem. God said, “No, that’s not going to work.” Listen to this. He allowed persecution to happen to scatter the church around the world, so they did. Now we have Christians in almost every cultural context on this globe. Are we there yet? No, but we keep sharing the gospel with different cultures so that we will be, because in heaven around the throne there will be all kinds of people speaking all kinds of languages from all different kinds of backgrounds of all colors worshiping the same God through relationship with Jesus Christ.
You say, “Pastor, okay. I’m starting to see how this applies to me, but can you walk me in a little further?” Sure, I can. My question to you is, might you be discontent with your culture? Might you be discontent with other cultures infringing on your culture? Might you be discontent with your career? Are you missing what God has for you where you are because all you can think about is where you want to be or who you want to be? Do you always think about another job or career while limping through yours? Are you wishing you had a different family or a different cultural background on a daily basis? Are you constantly wanting to be at another school or in a different social network? Are you constantly jealous of what others have? Does achieving the next level of the socioeconomic status in your life, does it consume you?
What I’m asking you is are you constantly discontent? If so, you need God’s help. You need to stop focusing on the negative and start focusing on the opportunity that God is giving you that nobody else has.
I cannot have a conversation with most of the people that you see on a daily basis. I am not a part of your particular career or cultural context. I might be, but for most of you I’m not. That’s okay. Be content where you are and represent God where he has sent you. Be used for his glory.
You say, “Pastor, okay, if change is necessary.” If you’re content, you’ll know it. If you’re discontent and you force change, that’s on you. But if you find contentment in Christ, he’s going to tell you if he wants you to change cultures, for example if you’re called to be a missionary in Africa. You’ll know. If you’re content in the career you have now and you’re focused on him and not just yourself, he’ll show you if he wants you to change, but you can’t hear him clearly if you’re discontent.
Step one, contentment in all areas of your life. This includes your career and your culture, but did you also know it applies to your relationships? Now we’re getting close to home literally, because this affects things that are in your home. In verses 17, 20, and 24, those ideas of remaining where you’re called, they flow through the rest of the text.
The next thing that I want to apply contentment to is the relationship of one, meaning singleness. Here’s my call. Not my call. Here’s Paul’s call to singles. If single, be content being single for the glory of God until he changes your call. Be content until he changes your relationship status. Paul himself was single. In fact, what you’re going to get if you read this text on his own this week is it looks like Paul is recommending singleness to everybody that hears this or everybody that reads this, and guess what? He was.
Why? He saw some real benefits of being single. Now, what he’s not telling you if you’re married is that you should leave your spouse to be single. Don’t apply that. That’s wrong. What he’s going to say to you, we’ll get to you in a second. He’s going to say be married. But if you’re here today and you’re single, whether it’s a lifelong call or a season, he says don’t look at it like it’s punishment. Look at the opportunity that God has given you.
The first opportunity you tells singles is that they will have an easier time enduring difficulty in a hostile world. Look at verse 26, “I think then that this is good in the view of the present distress, that it is good for a man,” I would even add in the context here or a woman, “To remain as he is<” or as she is. He’s talking about being single.
Why? Because the present difficulty that Christians were going through 2,000 years ago of persecution, not getting jobs, being hunted down and murdered, he says it’s not getting any better. It’s one thing to go through it on your own. It’s a whole nother thing to go through it as a family. Simply put, it’s harder. As a single person, for example like 10 years after Paul was writing here, Emperor Nero came onto the scene and he blamed Christians for the fire in Rome and for a bunch of other things. He would burn them on stakes. He would murder them. He would hunt them down and even kill their families. Paul kind of knew, not specifics, but knew that was coming.
As a single person, it’s one thing to say, “I’m willing to give my life and sacrifice it for my faith,” but when they start coming after your family, what’s the temptation? To deny your faith. He says it’s going to be harder. I’m not saying that being single doesn’t offer some challenges. I know it does. I know it does. Loneliness, struggle, questions. I get that, whatever stage of life you’re in, but it also offers some benefits.
See, you may have problems now if you’re single, but those problems, especially if they’re worldwide problems, those problems are multiplied when you add a family into that. When you’re single, you have your mouth to feed. Maybe a cat, or a dog, or something. When you have a family, you’ve got children you have to worry about. The Bible mandates that. “He who does not care for his own family,” Paul says, “Is worth than an unbeliever.” You must worry about your spouse. See, he’s not saying it’s better. He is, but it’s not saying you have to get out of your relationship. He’s just saying there’s some difficulties that come with marriage.
If you look at verses 36 through 38, he might throw you off. He’s like all of a sudden he’s talking about virgins. Well, because of the current distress that was going on in Corinth that would only get worse, he’s trying to talk to dads who are marrying off their unmarried, which he would call her virgin daughters. He’s like, “You need to think about that.” It’s okay if you do that. It’s okay if they get married. Now, remember this is a culture where what dad said goes, arranged marriages. You may not like it, but it’s the reality. Marriages have thrived for thousands of years like that, so don’t get so mad at it, but that’s the idea here. Dads, if you’re going to let your daughters get married, you may need to think twice, because marriage is hard.
Church family, can I suggest to you that marriage was not only hard in Paul’s day, it may be harder than ours, but marriage is hard today? Here’s some premarital counseling advice. Before you run headlong into a marriage, you need to think about what you’re doing. You need to make sure it’s to a believer of like faith. Why? Because once you get married, Paul says that’s it. Marriage is meant to last a lifetime.
The gift of singleness may help you avoid difficulty in one area, but he sees a second benefit that he thinks is even greater, one that he himself enjoys. The gift of singleness also allows one to be less distracted in their service to God. Now, again Paul’s not saying that you shouldn’t get married. He’s simply stating a fact. When you’re single, you have more time to be wholly devoted to Christ. That’s just truth. You’re not running to different children’s events for example in our society today. That’s not bad. It’s just different. You’re not consumed with all the things that a family makes you be consumed by. You actually have more time to dedicate your life to Christ.
But don’t treat your singleness if you’re single today like I see so many people treating it, like a season of selfishness. No, that’s wasting your time. Redeem the time and treat your season of singleness as a season of service. Take the time that your married friends don’t have and devote that time, instead of to yourself, devote it to God like Paul did and maybe you can scratch the surface of the impact that God had through him in your own life.
But it’s not going to happen on accident. He says you must seize it. Look at verse 33. “One who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife.” That’s not bad. “And his interests are divided.” That’s not bad. It’s just true. “The woman who’s unmarried and the virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit, but the one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”
Which one’s better than the other? He says, “I don’t have a choice.” He says, “I recommend, not the Lord’s word but mine, that you remain as you are because of these benefits.” That’s what he says in verse 7. “I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man,” this is the point, “Has his own gift from God, one in this manner,” singleness, “And another in that,” marriage. “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows that it is good for them if they can remain even as I.”
Singleness is a gift, but hear me. Singleness is a gift because it may allow you to run into less difficulty in the world that you’re in. Singleness is a gift that it may allow your heart to be more wholly devoted to Christ, but singleness should not be forced. Singleness should not be mandated, because if you do that, you’re going to fall into temptation and maybe even be a danger to others. Look what Paul says in verse 9. “If they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
My question for you today is not where do you want to be tomorrow. Where are you in your relationship status today? If you’re single, embrace it. Embrace it. Find contentment. Be used of the Lord. Don’t be selfish. Serve him where you are. If he wants you to be in a marriage covenant relationship, that is where he will lead you. You’ll have no doubt. You can’t avoid it. But if it’s a lifelong call, don’t begrudge it. Say, “Praise you, Lord. I get to serve you as Paul did.”
but when God does bring you that spouse, it’s not bad news. Again, it’s good news, because there too you can be used and there too you can find contentment. Now, here’s where it’s going to hit most of you square between the eyes. Paul believes there’s contentment in your career. Paul believes there can be contentment in your cultural setting. You need to be satisfied where he has you. Paul believes there can be contentment in singleness, and Paul says there should be contentment in marriage as well.
Look at verse 2 where he starts to talk about contentment in marriage. The first thing that he says that leads to contentment in marriage is regular sexual intimacy. Verse 2, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife.” He’s talking about sexually, okay. “And likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise,” in case you forgot, guys, “Also the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement,” meaning mutual agreement, “For a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer and come together again,” meaning sexually, “So that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Don’t miss this, church. This is huge, and I know we don’t like to talk about it in church, but Paul doesn’t mince it and he was Paul, so I’m not going to mince it either. Much of your contentment in a healthy marriage has to do with regular sexual activity. That’s just a fact. That’s what Paul is saying here over and over again. Now, he’s not saying that marriage is all about sex. We’re an over sexualized society. I’m not saying it’s all about sex. There are some couples who have, because of physical disabilities, they can’t engage in sexual intimacy, but you know what they can still have? Intimacy. But unless you have that physical disability that’s keeping you from sexual activity, and I’m not talking about the everyday headache, Paul says you need to be sexual active with one another.
Guys, this is like your favorite part of the year when I start talking about regular and often, all right. I mean you don’t get to a passage … I mean that’s clear here, right? Happiness in marriage is sexual activity regular and often. Paul says it like seven different times here. You can’t get away from it. That your body is not your own. It belongs to your spouse. Don’t deprive each other of what? Of sex. It’s needed.
Not only is this true biblically, as we laugh at it, but practically I see it every time almost that I do marriage counseling. So many of the marriages that struggle when they come with a giant issue, they don’t start talking about sexual activity. They start talking about the issues, and those are issues. We work through those issues, but you know what is a common theme in so many marriages that struggle? Sexual inactivity. Again and again and again I see it.
Paul says stop depriving each other. Don’t use sex as a punishment. Don’t use sex or the lack of sex as a punishment. Don’t use it as manipulation, but participate in it on a regular basis by mutual agreement. That’s the key to marriage, isn’t it, mutual agreement? No one’s to have their foot on their other, but standing together. You are not to dominate your relationship physically just because you’re the man or just because you’re the wife.
Think about a relationship where both man and woman, husband and wife, are sacrificing their own desires for the other person’s physical needs. That’s a beautiful relationship. What that means is regular sexual activity. Yeah, most of the time we’re like the guys are elbowing their wives, “Mm-hmm (affirmative), honey, regular and often,” and that’s a part of it. I’m not going to lie. That’s a part of it. But guys, don’t forget that your body’s not your own either. You may look at your wife and be like, “Honey, that’s kind of mine, right?” You try to say it nicely, but your body’s not yours either. Sometimes, it may mean the wife be more sexual active, but other times, guys, it means that you may need to that day participate in nonsexual affection. Again, mutual agreement.
When he does say that you stop having sex, he says it’s only for a season and it’s only for spiritual benefit, not because you’re mad at each other. Not because you don’t like each other. Not because you don’t want to be around each other. Not because the other one infuriated you. That’s not the reason for lack of sexual activity. He says the only reason that you stop in the sexual intimacy is by mutual agreement for spiritual things, like prayer and fasting.
Then he hits it again. Then you come back together. Why? To prevent Satan from having a foothold in your marriage. How many marriages have seen adultery when it could have been prevented from regular sexual activity? How many marriages that see addiction to pornography that could have been avoided through regular sexual activity? Now, I’m not saying those are the cause, no. I’m just saying those could be preventatives.
Satan wants to get in your marriage and mess it up. Prayer is how you defend. Regular Bible reading’s how you defend. Church attendance and coming together as believers discussing things, that’s how you protect it, but don’t think for a second that regular sexual activity is not another way to guard your marriage from Satan, because Paul says 100% it is.
Contentment in marriage is regular sexual intimacy, but it doesn’t just stop there. That’s just one. That’s an important one, but look at what Paul says here in verses 10 through 16. Contentment in marriage is also achieved through endurance. You can go read these verses this week, and what you’re going to see here is that Paul says … He’s already told us marriage isn’t easy. For a marriage to last, which a marriage that lasts that’s healthy that brings glory to God is a marriage that endures, a marriage that has perseverance. This is what marriage means.
I know you’ve heard me say it before. You’re like, “Okay, I get it, Pastor.” Well, I’m going to rehash it again. Genesis chapter 2. When God created the institution or the covenant of marriage, he says a man and woman will be joined together as what? One flesh. That idea is a permanent idea. Once your flesh is attached to your skin in the mother’s womb for the glory of God and by his great mind, it’s not meant to ever be taken off again.
God’s intended purpose for marriage is perseverance and endurance. When Jesus talks about it in Matthew chapter 19, the Pharisees are like, “What about divorce, Jesus?” He’s like, “Yeah, divorce, but what God has joined together let no man separate.” When Paul picks up the idea in Ephesians chapter 5, he starts talking about agape love, that your marriage is not just about happiness between each other. It’s about proclaiming the gospel to the world by how dedicated you are to one another. What kind of love did Jesus have for you? Not the love that gave up early when you messed up. No, even though he knew you would mess up, he still marched on towards Calvary and died on that cross for you and rose from the dead. His love for you is permanent. The purpose of your marriage is to display that love to the world, and the only way that you can do that is through permanence.
You say, “Pastor, what about divorce?” Like Jesus, i’m not ignorant of divorce. Neither is Paul. What’s interesting though is that Paul doesn’t give even one allowance in 1st Corinthians chapter 7 for the believing couple to be separated in divorce. You’re like, “Well, doesn’t he know the teachings of Jesus in Matthew chapter 19, that sexual immorality is a reason or an allowance for divorce and remarriage?” Of course he knows that. He’s Paul.
Why doesn’t he mention it? Because it’s an allowance, not a mandate. Even in that, Paul would say there can be reconciliation. Look at verse 10. He says even if a couple separates or get divorced, there’s still a possibility later of reconciliation. Paul has a very strong view of marriage and the permanence of marriage. Now, Jesus does give that allowance in Matthew chapter 19, but I think too many times that we run to the allowance as an excuse of getting out of a marriage when we could see God’s glory if we would just endure even for the worst of reasons.
Paul does give an allowance, but not for a believing meeting. 1st Corinthians 7, here he talks about if you’re married to an unbeliever, whether your spouse is your husband or your wife. You know the first thing he says to the couple that’s unequally yoked? He says stay. He says, “If you’re married to an unbeliever, if they will keep you, stay with them.” This is for their benefit, their sanctification, and the spiritual benefit of your children. He goes, “Stay, but if the unbelieving spouse abandons you and they leave,” he goes, “You can let them leave and be remarried.”
Church, I don’t have to tell you the allowances for divorce. I don’t have to stand before you today and give you license to get divorced, because here’s the reality. If you really want to, I can’t really stop it anyway. We live in a cultural society where no fault divorce is common. I don’t need to encourage you towards divorce. What I do need to do is call you, like Paul does here, to a higher standard.
Before divorce, would you consider endurance? Would you consider going back to counseling or counseling for the first time? I’m talking about biblical counseling. Would you consider talking about 10 or 12,000 more times before you consider divorce? For the sake of God’s glory and the proclamation of the gospel, would you consider persevering and enduring?
Then let me say, yes, there is life after divorce. No, divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Some people hear me talk so strong about marriage and try to push people away from divorce, they think, “Pastor Todd, you think divorce is the unforgivable sin.” I do not. I do not. Jesus is still Lord after a divorce. God is still God. There is hope that you can find. Many of you are sitting here today as proof of that after divorce, but let it not be so quick of an option. Don’t quit early. Endure, and God just might make a glory example out of your relationship.
I also need to say that if you’re in danger, because some people confuse this too and I want to be very clear, if you or your children are in danger, get out. Find safety, get help, and then we can talk about how God can move in the future. The first thing you need to do if you’re being sexually or physically abused, you need to get away right now, and I will help you do that. I’m not going to tell you to stay. I’m not going to judge you. I’m going to help you find safety. Once we get you to safety, then we’ll let God start working.
But you notice, Paul doesn’t mention these serious issues, does he? He doesn’t mention abuse. He doesn’t mention sexual immorality, because in Paul’s day, like many in our day, they weren’t getting divorced for those reasons or he would have mentioned it. They, like us, are getting divorced because of attitudes that can’t endure, discontentment, and wanting to get out early and quit early.
I want to tell you in the glory of God and in the name of Paul, would you consider staying? Jesus did not quit on you, and he endured the cross for his commitment to you and the forgiveness that he offers in your sin. What are you willing to endure for the sake of your commitment to your spouse and portraying the gospel love to the world that Jesus displayed for you? Be content, church. Find contentment in Christ in your cultural context, in your career, and your singleness, but also in your marriage, and let’s represent him to the world together.
May 12, 2019