Separating oneself from offense can lead to reconciliation.
1 Corinthians 7:12-13 – But to others I am saying, not my Lord, if there is a brother who has a wife who is an unbeliever and she is willing to stay with him, let him not leave her. And whichever wife has a husband who is not a believer, and he is willing to stay with her, let her not leave her husband.
This text explains the situation Paul addresses between spouses of differing levels of faith. While typically evaluated in light of divorce, this passage actually has more to do with forgiveness than divorce. How can this be?
As usual, the issue goes back to the original language. In the Greek, the word used here for leaving or not leaving a spouse is the same root word used for forgiveness. Here are some other examples of how this word is used to demonstrate leaving something or someone.
Matthew 4:20 – Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 13:36 – Then he left the crowds and went into the house. Matthew 22:22 – When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. Mark 1:31 – And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
All of these instances of leaving something or someone are using the same root word for forgiveness. This helps understand how the concept of forgiveness was understood by the culture. To forgive means to leave or turn away from an offense. In one sense, it could be said that to forgive someone is to divorce yourself from the offense.
What offense do you need to be divorced from in order to demonstrate forgiveness to that individual? When looked at from this perspective, forgiveness can become more clearly understood and readily applied.
Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
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These commands against idolatry and adultery are tied together; one is in our horizontal relationships with our spouses, and the other is in our vertical relationship with God.
In this episode we will be exploring the topic of holiness, and how our commitment to God, first and foremost, needs to be absolute. But this relational commitment needs also to be reflected within our spousal relationships; the two types of relationships are equivocated in the Bible.
Looking first at our spousal relationships, Yeshua stated it this way:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. … “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:27-28, 31-32
Believers are commanded to never forsake our commitment to our spouses. Yeshua emphasizes that we should not even think about others lustfully in our hearts.
The topic of marriage and divorce can be very complicated. As you may know, one of my primary goals with the Core of the Bible information that I present each week is to try to keep things stated as simply as possible, and to reduce complexity where possible.
While the Bible speaks very clearly about marriage and divorce, it is also very sparse with the information it provides.
Surprisingly, marriage as an institution is never explicitly commanded in the Bible. However the concept of spousal unity is present on the opening pages of the Bible.
Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh.”
Now the word wife in this passage is actually the Hebrew isshah, which is the Hebrew designation for “woman.” This passage could therefore be more literally rendered as “the man will join with his woman and they will be one flesh.” This is the idea of one man and one woman being united together as a sacred relationship before God, in obedience to the laws of our creator. Beyond this meager description, we find no other definitions specified within the Bible regarding marriage.
We do know that historically and culturally marriage was a communal celebration that could last up to a week.
Genesis 29:22,27: “Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. … Fulfill the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you will serve with me yet seven other years.””
This passage also indicates the ancient Near Eastern people practiced polygamy, but that is not necessarily God’s ideal, as is evidenced by the confusion and strife that such situations caused.
Yeshua clarified marriage and divorce for his audience when he explained about it in the following terms:
Matthew 19:3-9: “Pharisees came to him, testing him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” He answered, “Haven’t you read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall join to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’ So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, don’t let man tear apart.” They asked him, “Why then did Moses command us to give her a bill of divorce, and divorce her?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so. I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries her when she is divorced commits adultery.””
This should also be understood in the context of the day, in which the men were garnering divorces for the slightest of infractions that a wife may have caused, such as not preparing a full meal, or working later in the field then she was expected to. The concession provided by Moses, just like the other commandments of God, had become corrupted and abused by the elite of the day.
According to Yeshua, the ideal of marriage is one man and one woman. Divorce is not a requirement, but a concession, and should be reserved only when unfaithfulness has occurred between the spouses.
The severity of this teaching which also revealed how rampant divorce had become, is illustrated by the response of the disciples:
Matthew 19:10: “His disciples said to him, “If this is the case of the man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.””
Even they had recognized that if marriage was this big of a commitment, that it should not be entered into lightly.
Now for anyone listening to this who may be divorced and possibly remarried, I’m certain there were any number of unique circumstances that have led to your current situation. And as your understanding of God‘s word grows and changes over time, you may feel differently about past decisions that were made that led to where you are now.
However, it’s important to remember that God is always willing to forgive and to provide strength and wisdom to assist those who are earnestly seeking him, right here and right now. We should all always be faithful to God‘s word as we understand it at any given time and whatever situation we are in, and allow God’s Spirit to mold us and shape us in ways that are appropriate to his purpose.
The most intimate of human relationships conveyed in what has become the institution of marriage is likened to our relationship with our Creator. Just as we should have no other intimate relationships except with our spouse, we should also have no other gods before God. These commands against idolatry and adultery are tied together; one is in our horizontal relationships with our spouses, and the other is in our vertical relationship with God.
In the Bible, adultery, while wrong in and of itself, is a metaphor for idolatry. Time and again, Israel’s unfaithfulness with the gods of the surrounding nations is compared to adultery with God. Just as the act of adultery is an affront to the spousal relationship, an act of spiritual adultery in pursuing idolatry is an affront to the holiness of God, and destroys that relationship.
As if to emphasize this point, both of these admonitions are contained within the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery,” and “you shall have no other gods before me.”
Yeshua carries these base commandments even further into the realm of their origin, in our thoughts. The wrong thoughts lead to wrong actions, and wrong actions are sin. Just like our straying eyes can cause marital unfaithfulness, when our eyes stray from the things of God to the things of this world, we can lose our perspective and make harmful choices.
Let’s gain some of that perspective by reviewing what Yeshua said, along with some historical commentary for insights.
Matthew 5:28: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
In Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, the focus is shown to be even stronger than in the English.
“To lust after her.—The intent is more strongly marked in the Greek than in the English. It is not the passing glance, not even the momentary impulse of desire, but the continued gaze by which the impulse is deliberately cherished till it becomes a passion.”
Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible adds:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery…Our Saviour in these verses explains the seventh commandment. It is probable that the Pharisees had explained this commandment, as they had the sixth, as extending only to the external act; and that they regarded evil thoughts and a wanton imagination as of little consequence, or as not forbidden by the law. Our Saviour assures them that the commandment did not regard the external act merely, but the secrets of the heart, and the movements of the eye. He declares that they who indulge a wanton desire, that they who look on a woman to increase their lust, have already, in the sight of God, violated the commandment, and committed adultery in the heart. Such was the guilt of David, whose deep and awful crime fully shows the danger of indulging in evil desires, and in the rovings of a wanton eye.”
Additionally, Matthew Poole writes the following:
We must so interpret the commandments of God, as not to extend them only to forbid or command those acts which are plainly mentioned in them, but the inward pleasing of our hearts with such things as are forbidden, the desires of our hearts after them, or whatsoever is a probable means to give us that sinful pleasure of our thoughts, or further inflame such unlawful desires in our souls.
If we carry those same principles over to the parallel concept of idolatry, we can see how damaging and destructive our lustful imaginations toward things other than God can corrupt and destroy us.
Idolatry is more than just worshiping a statue or believing that an inanimate object has power beyond itself.
The prophet Samuel conveyed how stubbornness is a form of idolatry.
1 Samuel 15:23: “For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry….”
The apostle Paul considers greed and covetousness to be a form of idolatry.
Colossians 3:5-6: “Put to death therefore your members which are on the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.”
Notice how Paul lumps in this idolatrous longing amidst characteristics of depraved passion and evil desire. These are the types of thinking that draw us away from the things of God and from staying true to the path of holiness to which we have been called.
We are urged to maintain our holiness, being set apart for the purpose of God, by keeping ourselves from being swept away by the lure of the created things that would distract us from our true purpose. Keeping our thoughts pure keeps us from these parallel sins, whether through adultery or idolatry.
The solution for both paths of sinfulness is to keep our eyes on God at all costs. Paul writes the following in one of my personally most-quoted passages of the Bible:
Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
To avoid adulterous inclinations is to be transformed by focusing on the needs and desires of our spouse based on God’s word. To avoid the dangers of idolatry is to be transformed by maintaining focus on our relationship with our Creator. Both of these remedies involve a whole-hearted commitment to another, and not to our own selfish desires. Therein lies a powerful principle of ongoing holiness.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All music in todays episode: Brittle Rille by Kevin MacLeod