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Archive for May, 2013

“The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation” Psalm 18, v 46. 

Bob Gass writes in the Word for Today (available from UCB) that when the number 40 appears in the Bible, it always represents struggle.  Prior to starting his ministry on earth, Jesus went out into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  I can’t imagine a worse place to be tempted.  If I’m without food, proper rest and sleep, I’m not hard to tempt.  Yet that is where Jesus went, and as a man experienced the same hunger, tiredness, loneliness that makes all of us easy to prey to sin.  He chose the hardest location for the most intense period of testing of his life.  Could he have failed?  God cannot sin, but man can.  Jesus was both, so he could not, and yet could have.  I can’t give a better explanation than that. Hmanity, you and me, had only one hope for salvation, and that was Jesus making it to the cross as a perfect human being who had never sinned.  One slip up in that desert (or at any other time – as a child, when humiliated or abused for no reason), and it was over.  He would not have been perfect and would not have been able to take the punishment for us. Yet he didn’t give in, he did not sin and he went to the cross in perfection and secured our salvation.  Now we can shout out from our hearts: “blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation”.  Thank you, Jesus.

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1 Corinthians 7, v 25 – 40
“I want you to be free from anxieties”
The goodness of singleness (in relation to those who do not need or desire a sexual relationship) is not recognised, perhaps because most teachers are married and carry their personal preferences over into their teaching. But the Bible gives us a different and better picture. This is a long one, but keep reading to the end, it’s a good one! There are, or will be, perhaps four eras of marriage. Adam and Eve experienced a type of relationship that no one else since has ever fully known. While often portrayed as the first marriage, and type for marriages to follow (which it is), we need to remember that their pre-fall relationship was vastly different to that they experienced after their initial short time together. The initial union was something very innocent, loving and complementary. It was not affected by the results of the fall. Whether it was a perfect marriage, or something better than marriage I do not know. The second type of marriage was from the fall, including Adam and Eve and going right through history until the beginning of the Church age at the resurrection of Jesus. We often forget, but marriage, and including having children, was not so much an option as an expectation and duty (see Deuteronomy 25, v 5, for example). So the teaching of 1 Corinthians comes as a shock, it is extremely radical. Incidentally, the forth era will be in eternity when we will be ‘like the angels’, and not married because there will be something better. No one is totally sure as to this meaning, but we can be confident that it will be perfection, even better than the initial relationship of Adam and Eve. Whether we are single or married just now, our relationships in eternity will be even closer and better than the best we currently experience. Now to examine the radical teaching of 1 Corinthians:

V26 “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is”. It is good to be single and to remain so, because of the fact we are living in the church age, a time of waiting for the return of Christ. He could come at any moment, and we are focused on getting ready to be with Him either through His return, or by our death. And life is very often very difficult during the present age. Paul goes on to explain that marriage is a distraction, it takes our minds off serving God (and this is our one chance go get involved in God’s work of populating Heaven!) – “the married man is anxious about worldly things”. The key words are ‘in light of the present distress’. This is not our home and it can get quite nasty. Although in our comfortable western world we often forget this, for much of the world, and especially Christians, it is often really hard. This teaching is only given because of the times we live in. The Bible is not saying that all things being equal, it is better to be alone. It is staying that because things are not right, it might be better to hold off marriage. Prior to the church age, marriage was a duty. In the future, we won’t have marriage, but we will have even closer and more loving relationships. To some extent this pairing of man and woman is likely to continue. It was declared ‘good’ in the beginning and that has not changed. When the Bible suggests no marriage, it is trying to convey that the type of relationship we currently enjoy will be replaced by a better one, not that we will be separated and less close.

But, that is not to say that marriage is wrong! We are not more spiritual if we remain unmarried. “But if you do marry, you have not sinned”. It is still a good thing to do, and the most common thing to do. However, “he who refrains from marriage will do even better”. It is good to get married, and even better not to.

Now Paul finishes with something perhaps even more radical to us than the concept of staying single being ‘even better’. “But whoever is firmly established in his heart…”. This probably means firmly rooted in Christ, in a strong relationship to Him. “…being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well”. It is framed from the point of view of the man, but refers to both men and women. It gives here the example of the betrothed, or in our present culture the nearest equivalent might be engaged, or at least in a committed relationship. This is not a single person but rather man and woman who are in a relationship, love each other, and enjoy each other’s company. They are encouraged to keep each other, to stay together as they are. If they need an intimate sexual relationship, they are encouraged to get married. But if not, they continue together, and are not to leave each other.

The important point of this message is this: regardless of marriage or not, God does not, often, call us to be alone. In society today many people choose not to get married, but they are not ‘single’. They are in relationships, almost always sexual, but not as committed as a marriage. This is not healthy for people and it ends in hurt. But the point is people choose not to get married because they, apparently, can have all the fun and companionship of a marriage without the commitment. The Christian on the other hand not wanting to be sexually immoral either gets married or stays alone. That is not how God intends life for us. Even those who are single are encouraged to be in loving and committed relationships, possibly even in a state of ‘betrothal’, which would mean a very loving and close relationship between one man and one woman, filled with affection each other. It is true that this is not a marriage, a sharing of all, or a sexual union, but it is a very close relationship regardless. It should be wonderful news for all singles should God lead you towards someone of similar thinking.

Incidentally, while rare, I have known of this happen on two occasions. Those involved were thought of as ‘girlfriend and boyfriend’ and everyone wondered why they never got married. To God, and them though, it no doubt made perfect sense.

A final word is needed for those who do wish to marry and for whom this is not good news! Paul said that regarding this teaching he had “no command from the Lord” (v 25). It is an odd thing to say, after all isn’t the entire Bible God’s word? It is, and this is teaching from God, but the ‘no command’ from the Lord is highly significant. This is wise advice from God, but it is not His final command for everyone. He is leaving the door open, deliberately, so that you and I can receive a direct command from Him. This is what might be known as a ‘general rule’, but it does not apply to all. Jesus can, and very often does, give us people to marry, and we are to do so in thankfulness as a gift from Him.

Update:  With thanks to reader, Dr Elizabeth, for sending a link to this blog with further thoughts on this subject.

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