Being a model church

What makes a model ministry? How can we be the church that God wants us to be? [Think about these questions for just a moment.] At Mobberly, we have a mission – people leading people into a life-changing, ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ. In that, we are engaging our community for Christ. We have come a long way in this endeavor but we still have even further to go. Interestingly, our efforts to be a model church are addressed rather nicely in 1 Thess 2:1-12. In this passage, we will learn from Paul and his coworkers how to work toward a model ministry. We will see that a model ministry is dependent upon each and every individual doing his or her part. Paul tells us that this can happen when we serve Christ with pure and parental hearts. In these verses, Paul says, “A little example can have a big influence.”
1. Serve Christ with a pure heart (2:1-6).
In this section, we will see that Christian ministry can be fruitful when it is carried out with a pure heart that desires to please God. In 2:1-2, Paul explains that God blessed his ministry because of his willingness to preach Christ amidst persecution. He writes, “For you yourselves know, brethren that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.” The word “for” that begins 2:1 indicates that the material in this chapter is the basis for the preceding material in chapter 1. The main point of chapter 1 was Paul’s thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ faith and dynamic witness. The ironic climax of 1:6-10 was that Paul and his coworkers did not need to preach Christ as much in the areas where the Thessalonians faith had spread (1:8). Consequently, his visit was “not in vain.” On the contrary, it was quite fruitful! Verse 2, then, gives the reason (not a contrast) for Paul’s claim in 2:1. Paul’s coworkers were fruitful because they proclaimed the gospel even in the face of persecution.
In 2:2, Paul states that they had “suffered and been mistreated” in Philippi. That is a bit of an understatement. In Philippi, Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, and their feet fastened in stocks. It had not only been an extremely painful experience but humiliating as well, since they were flogged naked in public, without trial, and in spite of their Roman citizenship. After this, most of us would have taken a vacation or found an excuse not to minister ever again. But Paul and his coworkers headed to Thessalonica where they met up with more strong opposition. Yet, they didn’t say, “We better pull the punch in our preaching so that we don’t offend anyone.” Instead, they preached the Word with no-holds-barred! These guys were animals! In Thessalonica, the attacks were probably coming mostly from without. The Jews, who were jealous of Paul’s success and opposed to his message, stirred up a bunch of rabble rousers and the city authorities against Paul, so that he had to leave town. They even followed him to Berea, 50 miles away, to stir up opposition there.
Acts 17:4 reports that a number of leading women in the city had believed after hearing Paul preach. Perhaps the husbands of these women were saying, “Paul is just another religious huckster like we see come through here all the time. How could you be so dumb as to fall for what he said? He’s just out to make a buck or to con women into sleeping with him. Don’t be so gullible!” To answer these charges, Paul asserts and defends his own integrity with the aim of defending the gospel and of urging the new Christians to walk worthy of God. Steven J. Cole, “Becoming Men of Integrity” (1 Thess 2:1-12): 3-4.
But before we get too excited about Paul and his men, we must note that Paul declares they had boldness “in our God.” It was not their own boldness—it was “in God.” He gave them their boldness.
It is also worth noting that the term “opposition” is the Greek word agon—from which we derive our English word agony. Agon is an athletic term that suggests intense effort and strenuous exertion in the face of hostility and conflict. The Greek world was familiar with athletic contests, and Paul often used this idea to illustrate spiritual truths (see 1 Cor 9:27; Phil 3:13-14; 2 Tim 4:7). Paul used this same word in Phil 1:30 where he pictured the Christian life as an athletic contest that demanded dedication and energy. It had not been easy to start a church in Philippi, and it was not easy to start one in Thessalonica. Cf. Col 1:29 where the verb (agonizomai) is used in much the same way.
This reminds us that ministry to others, the work of leading people to Christ and helping them grow in Christ, is a contest, a spiritual struggle. It is not an easy job—it is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding and draining. Nevertheless, it has been said, “The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.” So what are we to do in the face of opposition or indifference?
(1) Refuse to be intimidated. One of the reasons Christianity is so ineffective in our culture is that we are easily intimidated. In other words, we are more scared of people than we are Jesus. Today, will you pray for “holy boldness?” Will you ask the Lord to help you to boldly proclaim at work or school this week?
(2) Rely on prayer. Persevere in prayer despite discouraging circumstances. Will you write down two names this week—one unsaved and one saved—and then begin praying for these two people?
(3) Stay the course. Don’t stop sharing Christ and living the Christian life because people reject you. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep on doing what you are already doing, whether anyone pays attention or not. If you keep serving with a pure heart long enough, sooner or later it will pay off. Our Christian lives and ministry are all about perseverance. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:3-6, Paul details how to serve with a pure heart. Since Paul was being grouped in with religious charlatans and hucksters he responds to personal attacks against his own ministry. Interestingly, these attacks have continued to be levied against Christianity for the last 2,000 years….sometimes legitimately and other times illegitimately. He writes, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (2:3). In this verse, Paul debunks three accusations surrounding his ministry.
First, Paul’s ministry did not come from error; rather, it was grounded in God’s Word. This is how you can judge a ministry: is it grounded in the truth of God’s Word? An effective ministry is not based upon preferences, opinions, or musings…it is based on God’s truth. The one great advantage that Christians have is that our holy book is accurate. Even though people attempt to find contradictions and errors in the Bible, their attempts are always foiled. In fact, many of Christianity’s greatest detractors have become believers during their quest to disprove Christ or His resurrection.
Second, Paul’s ministry did not come from impurity for he was a man of purity. In this context, the word “impurity” is broader than sexual immorality (cf. 4:7). The NIV is probably right to render the word “impure motives,” alluding to such evils as “ambition, pride, greed, and popularity.” Paul is saying, “I am ‘above reproach’ in every area of my life and ministry.” We can measure the impact of God’s Word upon any group of people by the spiritual caliber of the spokesman. Water flows through pipes. If the pipe is rusty, the water may flow but there will be discoloration and sediment in the water. It will taste of the pipe. Often God’s Word will not taste right if the messenger is unclean.
Third, Paul’s ministry did not come from deceit for he was an honest man. The word “deceit” was originally used of a fisherman who deceives a fish with a lure. Secular Greek literature also used “deceit” for a tavern keeper of the ancient world who would water down the wine of an inebriated person. There are those who also water down the Word. Paul didn’t use trickery or slick salesmanship to sell the gospel, assuring people of things that the gospel never promises. Getz comments, “Here’s where we are dealing with a delicate balance. Jesus stated that we are to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). He also taught His followers how to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matt 4:19). But this in no way gives us license to be cunning, crafty, and tricky.” 51. Sometimes, in an effort to get people to receive Christ, we tell them how Christ will solve all their problems, but we don’t tell them the hardships and cost of following Christ. So they come to Christ under false pretenses. When their problems don’t go away, or grow even worse, they grow bitter and fall away.
Paul’s words in 2:4 mark a stark contrast: “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.” I like what Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Paul and his coworkers have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” Therefore, they are responsible to proclaim Christ to anyone and everyone who will listen, regardless of what others think or say. The contrast Paul makes is between pleasing men and pleasing God, who examines the heart. In making this claim, Paul is not saying that he did not care how he lived in front of people or what they thought about his way of life, but that he just answered to God. Sometimes you hear men say, “I don’t have to answer to people; I just answer to God” as an excuse for not being accountable. That’s not what Paul meant. In fact, he repeatedly appeals to their knowledge of his blameless life. He simply argues that the dominant goal in his life and preaching is pleasing God above all else.
Let’s suppose that you have been feeling sick lately. When you go to the doctor, he administers a test. The results are not good. The outlook is grim, but the disease is treatable if you get started now. What do you want the doctor to do? If he tells you truth, you’ll be devastated. If he doesn’t, you’ll be dead. Would you rather have him sugarcoat the truth or even lie to you? Or do you want to know the whole truth about your condition? I know the answer for me. When I go to the doctor I want to know the whole truth, even if it hurts. But what if he says, “I want to spare you pain?” I would tell him, “Doc, tell that to my wife and children at my funeral.”
When life and death issues are at stake only the truth will do. When it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Therefore, Christians must be people who hold to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity. A little example can have a big influence. When you and I live for Christ with our lives and our lips, the world can be changed.
In 2:5, Paul continues to detail how to serve with a pure heart. He writes, “For we never came with flattering speech.”
Dale Carnegie once said, “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”
In preaching and ministry many leaders want to tell people what they want to hear. It is easy to say, “You’re a victor, a child of the king, and God wants you healthy, wealthy, and wise.” That’s a popular message and one that many people want to hear. But it is flattery and it is not the gospel.
Cubic zirconium is a mineral that is hard, optically flawless, and cheap. It resembles a diamond so closely that sometimes only a trained eye can tell the difference. But it isn’t a diamond—and that’s the point. A similar comparison exists between true compliments and flattering words. They may look alike, but one is sincere and precious; the other is insincere and cheap. We must ensure that we tell the truth when we minister in God’s name.
Paul also says in 2:5 that he never came with “pretext for greed—God is witness.” Always remember, if the apostle Paul was accused of greed we must expect that we will be as well. Have you ever been accused of greed?
Paul concludes this section in 2:6 with these powerful words: “nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” For the second time in three verses, Paul brings up pleasing men. Here he says we did not “seek glory from men.”
Our aim must always be to glorify God and please Him. If people are pleased in this process, praise God! But this is not a criterion by which we are to judge our ministry (cf. Gal 1:10).
[Paul’s exhortation has been serving Christ with a pure heart. Why is this so important? Because only when we please God will we see lasting results.]
2. Serve Christ with a parental heart (2:7-12).
In this second section Paul explains effective ministry. To draw this out, he uses paternal metaphors. This is important because some believers have lost family relationships for believing in Christ. In this light, Paul’s extensive use of parental and family images is significant. Through the use of such language he essentially portrays the congregation as a new family, whose relationships substitute for those that have been broken or lost. In 2:7, he compares his pastoral work to that of a nursing mother. Paul writes, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” Instead of the common word for “mother” (meter), Paul employs a term with the specialized meaning of “wet nurse” (trophos), someone who suckles children. The use of wet nurses was widespread in the Greco-Roman world, and ancient writers typically portrayed the wet nurse as an important and beloved figure. Since the original text refers to this woman nursing her own children, Paul has in view here the natural mother rather than the hired wet nurse. Yet he uses the unusual term trophos because this metaphor of a nursing mother underscores his sincere love for the Thessalonian Christians. A hired nurse competently cares for the children in her charge, but she cherishes her own children even more.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of mothers is that they are gentle. This is a lovely image that goes against the grain of our mental picture of the apostle Paul. Of all the words we might use to describe him, somehow the word “gentle” doesn’t come to mind. Strong, determined, zealous, and impassioned—yes. But gentle? Nonetheless, there it is. Gentleness is not a quality often respected today. We tend to value tough, strong, assertive leaders. But none of us likes to be bullied; we’d all rather be loved. Thus, Paul illustrates his relationship with the Thessalonians by describing the bond between a nursing mother and her child. Just as a mother nourishes her child through her own body, so Paul as a spiritual parent nourishes his children in the faith with the Word of God.
In 2:8 Paul writes, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” The word “affection” (homeiromai) is only used here in the NT; however, in Greek literature it was a strong term of affection related to parents longing for children who have passed away. We need to have a heart of compassion and tenderness for others. It takes the gospel, plus us. People will listen to our message when they know we care about them. The old axiom is that people do not care how much we know until they know how much we care.
For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them in the foyer about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. We then share a responsibility to share our lives with new Christians.
Paul was not too shy or too proud to be an affectionate person. Although he had only recently got to know these Thessalonians he had taken them into his heart, and wanted them to know how much he loved them. They were foreigners to him. He was Jewish and they were Macedonians. But Paul did not let any kind of cultural differences bother him. He is a citizen of God’s worldwide church, and so are they. He loves them with the love of Jesus.
In 2:9 Paul writes, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” If you read 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it clear in that passage that he doesn’t consider it wrong for a man to live off the preaching of the gospel. And in 1 Timothy 5 he says that an elder who both rules and teaches is worthy of “double honor,” which presumes that elders would in fact be paid for their work. But he himself apparently worked in secular jobs wherever he went so that he would be free of any accusations about his motives. His work ethic was exemplary.
Tragically, many Christians give Christianity a black-eye because of their poor work performance. This is a crying shame, since work is an expression of worship and it also serves as a powerful witness. This week, will you go to your cubicle or your classroom or home and work as unto the Lord? As you work your daily grind for the glory of God the mundane and monotonous nature of your work can become extraordinary in its kingdom impact. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:10 Paul writes, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” The word “devoutly” speaks of inward affections toward both God and man; the word “uprightly” refers to their outward behavior toward God and man; and the word “blamelessly” is the overarching result of being holy and righteous. Paul means to say that no one could make an accusation against him and make it stick. No one could say, “Aha! I gotcha!” To be “blameless” means to live in such a way that no one can successfully make a serious charge against you. It means living in such a way that anyone who finds fault with you would have to tell a lie to do it!
Paul continues his train of thought in 2:11 where he writes, “just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.” Paul says that he behaved with the Thessalonians as a father with his children. “Exhorting” speaks of pressing upon God’s people the need to live a life of godliness. Often, this takes the form of a rebuke. “Encouraging” points to progress where a spiritual father might say, “I see your growth. I am watching your steps of faith beyond your comfort zone. You are moving toward your potential. I believe in you. I am proud of you.”
“Imploring” is the strongest of the three since it suggests the idea of insisting or requiring that a certain course of action be adopted. This is where we challenge people to cross the line of faith or press on in the faith. We urge people to make a decision once they have been exhorted and encouraged.
Not long ago, I read an interesting statement about the difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers tend to worry about their children’s safety and security; fathers focus on their children’s success. A mother frets over things like tender loving care while fathers push their children hard because they know we live in a world where failure is easy and success difficult. Both are absolutely necessary—in raising children and in serving the Lord.
The purpose of this entire section comes to a crescendo in 2:12b: “so that you would walkin a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (cf. 4:1). Paul exhorts the church to walk in a worthy manner. Spiritually speaking, this is putting one foot in front of the other and taking steps of forward progress. For this, Paul doesn’t give them a list of rules, rituals, and regulations. Instead, he urges them to become like Jesus in their character and conduct. This is simply responding to God’s call upon our lives.
Paul refers to “His own kingdom.” We must temper and tune our lives to this calling. We adjust ourselves to God; He does not adapt Himself to us. We could accept a call to many kingdoms. Those kingdoms would compete for our commitment and these false allegiances will lure us away from our ultimate purpose. Many philosophies will pander to our baser motives. God designed us for the highest calling. The chief end of Paul’s ministry is a church that is obeying God. Fascinatingly, the word translated “glory” (doxa) here is used in 2:6. In this way, the theme is repeated. If I know that it is God’s kingdom of glory I am being called into, then I will not be so worried about the praise of men. It is the eternal kingdom of the glory of God that I’m being called to, and therefore I want to live a life worthy of Him. This type of life is not a means of earning God’s favor. On the contrary, it is clearly a response to God who calls us to Himself. Paul’s prayer is that we would express our gratitude to God for who He is and all He has done, in the form of a thank you card.
Spiritually, you may be nursing, crawling, walking, or running. The important thing is that you’re moving forward in your maturity. If you are growing, God is pleased. He wants the best for you. He yearns for you to be conformed to the image of Jesus. He will not stop until He accomplishes this in you. Today, will you respond to Him? Will you take small steps that will help you grow as a spouse, a parent, a worker, a church member? You can be used by God to make an eternal difference in your home, work, and church.

Choose to be pure

A young Bosnian couple was incredibly unhappy with their marriage. Consequently, Adnan and Sana each turned to online chat forums. Adnan chatted online at work, and Sana chatted from an Internet café. Each spouse found a willing online listener with whom they shared their marriage problems. Adnan and Sana felt loved, nurtured, encouraged, and understood. Both spouses felt that they had finally found their real soul mate. Eventually they decided to meet up with their online chat partner. They arranged to meet outside a shop and both would be carrying a single rose so they would know the other. Shock of all shocks, Adnan and Sana discovered that their perfect partner was their own spouse. (Adnan was chatting with “Sweetie” and Sana was chatting with “Prince of Joy.”) Instead of reconciling and rediscovering their love, both are filing for divorce—with each accusing the other of being unfaithful.

What a sad, but true story. This Bosnian couple failed to keep their promises to one another. Their Internet affair wasn’t something that just happened overnight. It was a case of “internal affairs” stemming from restless hearts. In Matthew 5:27–37, we will discover that, “Integrity is a heart matter.” Jesus explains that if we are to be people of integrity we must control our hearts and our minds. He provides two means by which God’s people can be people of integrity.

1. Deal radically with your passions (5:27–32). Jesus compels us to do whatever it takes to be men and women of purity. In 5:27 He states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.’” Jesus quotes the seventh commandment, in Exodus 20:14 (cf. Deut 5:17). Upon hearing these words, Jesus’ audience must have felt pretty smug. Jesus, however, shocks His listeners by raising the bar on their ancient sexual standards. In 5:28 He declares, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus’ words make it clear that adultery is not limited to the physical act. Looking lustfully at another woman breaks the bond of oneness that a man has with his wife. This goes against the familiar statement used by husbands and wives, “You can look, but don’t touch.” Jesus says, “Don’t look and don’t touch!”

It is important to note the word “look” (blepo). This word is a present tense participle that can be translated “keeps looking.” Jesus is not talking about a glance; He is talking about a gaze. The first look doesn’t get us into trouble. It’s the second look. It’s the third look. It’s that case of whiplash as you walk about in the mall or that prolonged look in the rearview mirror while you are driving.
But let’s be very clear: Sexual desire was given to us by God and is portrayed in the Bible as a good gift. Admittedly, the gift is often labeled “Handle with Care,” but sexual desire comes from God. There is no sin in sexual attraction. It is not wrong to notice physical beauty in the opposite sex, but it is wrong to take that person to bed in our minds. We are constantly “on” as sexual beings. It’s not a matter of choice; it’s a matter of being human. In today’s world, attractive men and women are everywhere. You can’t escape it! Everywhere you look there is temptation lurking. To complicate matters, Satan takes what was intended to be good—sex in the context of marriage—and tempts us to use God’s gift outside of marriage. Granted, you can’t stop Satan from tempting you, but you can put a stop to the temptation at precisely that point. Martin Luther (1483–1546) said it well, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop that bird from building a nest in your hair.” You can say, “I will not think about that. I will not entertain that possibility.”

A man in his 80s said, “Lust is powerful. Even though I am in my eighties, I still struggle with lust and I can’t do anything about it. Although I spend my days working the land, far removed from women, I still live with my mind.” His lesson: the most important sex organ is the brain. Actions, habits, character, and attitudes all start with a thought and thoughts are fostered by what we choose to take into our minds. Integrity is a heart matter.

So how can a person control his or her sex drive? This is a question for the ages! Fortunately, Jesus is a step ahead of us. He anticipates this question and provides an answer. In 5:29–30 Jesus says, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” The first issue that must be resolved is: Are these verses figurative or literal? I can assure you that these verses are figurative. Otherwise, this sermon would be a case of the blind leading the blind. After all, no one is perfect in his or her purity.

Now stop and think about these verses. If you were to gouge out your right eye and chop off your right hand, the problem remains. You would still ogle with your left eye and fondle with your left hand. Cutting off your hand or plucking out an eye doesn’t keep you from committing mental adultery. So should you pluck out your left eye and cut off your left hand as well? No! We still have a mind’s eye, and in many ways that is the most dangerous eye of all. Since evil arises in the heart (Matt 15:19), amputation cannot cure lust. Jesus is speaking figuratively, employing a figure of speech called hyperbole, which makes a point through an exaggerated statement. You remember what your mom said: “I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate.” Christ is not saying, “Cripple yourself”; He is saying, “Control yourself!” Take radical steps to deal with your passions. Consider the following suggestions:

o Recognize you are vulnerable. Don’t think you are stronger than Samson, godlier than David, or smarter than Solomon. You too can bite the dust sexually (1 Cor 10:12). Make sure you are humble and don’t look down upon those who have failed in the sexual realm.

o Meditate on Scripture. Like in football, the best defense is a good offense. Defeating lust requires an all-out, aggressive saturation of our minds with God’s Word.

o “Flee” temptation. Twice in the New Testament, we are commanded to “flee” sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18; 2 Tim 2:22). Don’t try to be a man or woman and stand there and wage war against your flesh. Your flesh will conquer you. If your flesh doesn’t break you down, I can assure you that Satan can and will. Be like Joseph in the Old Testament and flee the scene (Gen 39).

o Watch your input. Consider the shows and movies you watch. Take stock of your Internet surfing. Avoid Internet porn like the plague. Ask yourself, “If Jesus were present, would I be watching what I am watching?”

o Dress thoughtfully. Modesty is incredibly important. But this works both ways. Guys like to hammer on women for immodest dress, but they will sport tank tops, muscle shirts, and short shorts. This is a double standard. Women may not be as visually stimulated as men but they aren’t dead either. We must guard one another from sin.

o Tell someone else. Remember, there is NO sin in being sexually attracted to someone else, but when you mull the attraction over in your mind and fantasize about the person, then you have sinned. Tell a friend of the same sex who you are attracted to and ask for accountability.

o Maintain eye-contact. This keeps you from looking a man or woman up and down or allowing your eyes to fall on a particular body part. It also shows proper respect and esteem.

o Think consequences. Remember the severe damage that sexual immorality can bring. Sex before marriage or outside of marriage can destroy your marriage and your ministry. Furthermore, it brings shame to God. Don’t allow yourself to go there.

The alternative of not dealing decisively with sexual sin is hell. No one can measure up to this standard. It is better to deal with the issue of sin by acknowledging sin and the One who paid for our sin on the cross. The standard for Jesus’ kingdom is perfection. The only way we can reach perfection is complete forgiveness and justification through Christ. The standard of perfection is God’s own character. If you have been less than perfect sexually speaking, will you receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers? It’s as simple as acknowledging your sin and believing that Jesus’ perfect person and work paid the penalty for your sin. Integrity is a heart matter. Let Jesus give you a new heart today.

In 5:31–32, Jesus continues His discussion of what constitutes adultery. Many people assume that Jesus transitions to focusing on divorce; however, His real point is that an unbiblical divorce is the moral equivalent of adultery. Jesus explains: “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery [if she remarries]; and whoever marries a divorced woman [a woman who has been divorced for something short of unchastity] commits adultery.” In 5:31, Jesus refers to Deut 24:1–4, which permits divorce for “some indecency” (ervat davar). This Hebrew phrase means “nakedness of a thing.” Although this phrase can include adultery, it typically refers to some gross sexual impropriety short of adultery. (In the Old Testament an adulterer was stoned to death!)
In Israel a man divorced his wife simply by giving her a written statement indicating that he divorced her. It was a domestic matter, not something that went through the courts, and it was quite common. In most cases a divorced woman would remarry another husband, often for her own security. Jesus says that new marriage, whether from the perspective of the divorcee or the one marrying her, is adulterous. Although a certificate of divorce has been given, Jesus is saying that God does not view the divorce as having occurred. In other words, a certificate of divorce does not annul the marriage. Instead, it causes you to commit adultery. You can’t commit adultery unless you are married. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is saying, “Everyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery except in the case in which she has already committed adultery herself.” Again, this discussion is not about divorce, but adultery. Jesus forbids divorce except forporneia (“unchastity”) which is translated “sexual immorality” (ESV, HSB) or “marital unfaithfulness” (NIV). Since “adultery” has already been specified by another word (moicheuo; 5:27–28), porneia must be something less specific than sexual infidelity but, following the Mosaic intention, more than something frivolous. It is likely that porneiaincludes any sinful activity that intentionally divides the marital relationship. Jesus states unequivocally the sacredness of the marital relationship but allows divorce to protect the non-offending partner and to protect the institution of marriage from being a vulgar sham.

Yet, even in the case of porneia, reconciliation and forgiveness are always to be the goal in a Christian marriage. If all attempts at reconciliation fail, then divorce is possible; but it is not the first step, and it is not mandatory. The spouse that is victimized by adultery or some other deviant form of sexual unfaithfulness may have the right to file for divorce, but he or she is certainly under no obligation to do so. The freedom to divorce was never to be a mere device for “serial monogamy.” Marriage is supposed to serve as a reflection of the faithfulness of God. Divorce is a concession by God to the sinfulness of man. God’s ideal is the stability of permanence in marriage. We need to be reminded of this again and again. It is easy to think that our next spouse will make us happy; however, it doesn’t always work out that way. Every person I know who has gone through divorce has experienced greater pain than they imagined. Many seek to relieve their present pain in marriage only to find a greater pain in divorce. This is not to mention the greater social issues such as the harm children suffer for the loss of a parent.

Can I get on a small soapbox for just a moment? Many Christians vehemently oppose homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage on the grounds that it destroys the family. Although, I too adhere to marriage between one man and one woman, I find it disconcerting that Christians aren’t up in arms over adultery and divorce among believers. If you look in terms of damage done to the children of America, you cannot compare what the homosexual movement has done to what adultery and divorce has done to this society. In terms of consequences to children, it is not even close!
However, I need to balance these words by urging you to treat those who are divorced with love and respect. It is especially important to be sensitive to those whose marriage was dissolved by their spouse’s unfaithfulness. We must always remember that God’s heart breaks for those who are divorced, who have placed their marriages in peril by succumbing to sinful situations or whose lives have been upended by an unfaithful or irresponsible spouse. We must continually affirm the permanence of marriage while at the same time offering full mercy and forgiveness for those who have suffered from failed relationships.
[Jesus says, “Deal radically with your passions.” This is critical because sexual immorality can destroy your spiritual well-being and your marriage. Jesus now follows His words on adultery with a few choice words on oaths and vows.]
2. Honor your commitments because you are committed (5:33-37). It’s not a coincidence that Jesus’ words on subduing our immoral passions are followed up with words on honoring one’s vows. After all, committing adultery and divorce involves breaking the most solemn vow—marriage. Jesus declares, “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (5:33-37). In 5:33, Jesus paraphrases several Old Testament passages prohibiting the failure to fulfill one’s vows. He also forbids swearing upon anyone or anything to add certainty to one’s oath. It is important, however, to recognize that Jesus isn’t suggesting that all oaths are wrong. In a court of law, a person is operating under the jurisdiction of governing authorities that are trying to establish human norms. To submit to taking an oath is complying with those norms and, by extension, is submitting to God (Rom 13:1–7; cf. Heb 6:16–18). Furthermore, the Bible records that God the Father and the apostle Paul swore to impress His truthfulness on people. Jesus also testified under oath as did Paul. So we must dig deeper to determine what was happening in Jesus’ day. Most likely, there was a casual use of oaths. Perhaps people were attaching “in the name of God” or “as God is my witness” to everyday promises—the pledge to buy a cow, the vow to visit a relative, or the commitment to pay a debt. We make false oaths today as well when we say: “I sweaaaar!” “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother’s grave!” “I swear on a stack of Bibles!” “I cross my heart and hope to die!” All these attempts at persuasion are fabrications and dishonesty. If we have to use an oath to convince someone of our integrity, we are behind the eight ball from the start.

It has been said, “Oaths arise because men are so often liars.” We live in a world where lying is so commonplace that we don’t know whom to trust. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to be radically different. True speech must be a part of our character. We should not need to confirm our statements with an appeal to a higher authority. Our word should be enough (cf. James 5:2). The bottom line is this: We don’t tell the truth because we have taken an oath, we tell the truth because we are truthful.
When Chris Spielman played for the Buffalo Bills, he was everything a middle linebacker should be: tough, strong and smart, with passion, total commitment and loyalty to the game. He played the entire 1995 season with a torn pectoral muscle that he sustained in the season opener. But football took a distant second place in his thinking during the 1998 season. He chose to stay home. He cooked, took care of his kids, and cared for his wife—by choice. Stefanie, Chris’s wife, was struggling through the stark reality of breast cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy, and nausea were Stefanie’s opponents. During her fight Chris was at her side. He even shaved his head (to match his wife’s hair loss during chemo) to help his kids understand. Spielman’s actions supported his “family before job” credo. When he was asked by a reporter if he’d consider a return to the Bills late in the season Spielman said, “I’d play in a heartbeat, but what kind of man would I be if I backed out on my word to her? I wouldn’t be a man at all.” Football fans saw Spielman as a man because of his aggressive, leave-it-all-on-the-field style of play. But what really makes him a man is his personal sacrifice and unending commitment and loyalty to his wife and children.
A good test of our credibility starts at home. When you promise your spouse you’ll do something, does he or she believe you? Does your child believe you? Our integrity depends upon our follow-through. Jesus’ disciples were called to be promise keepers. Are you a promise keeper? Have you maintained your purity, not merely physically, but mentally as well? Are you devoted to your spouse for better or worse? Are you a man or woman of your word? Can people count on what you say? Integrity is a heart matter.