Forum Class August 8, 2004

Restoration and Renewal (Ezra 9-10)


From Ray Stedman: "Ezra was a most remarkable man, a priest of the line of Aaron. In chapter 7, verse 6, we are told:

...this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses which the Lord the God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him. (Ezra 7:6)

Wouldn't you like to have that written of you, "the king granted him all that he asked"? What kind of man is this, whom a heathen gentile king regards so highly that he will give Ezra anything that he asks? The secret of this man's character is given in verse 10:

...Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, (Ezra 7:10a)

That is something else isn't it? We may be Bible students. But are we Bible doers? study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ezra 7:10b)

As a result, Ezra could ask anything of the king and the king would grant his request. Now this man is a man of the word. Therefore, God sent him to Jerusalem to strengthen and beautify the temple. That is the work of the word of God in our lives. It strengthens and beautifies within us the place of our fellowship with God. Ezra came to Jerusalem and found an incredible condition. In chapter 9 Ezra writes:

After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost." (Ezra 9:1-2)

What does this mean? They were simply starting the whole wretched mess all over again. This is what had broken the strength of the nation before. This is what had undermined the power of God among them and finally dispersed the people, broken up the tribes, and separated them into two nations. At last, as they had carried on this idolatrous practice, God had delivered them into the hands of their captors. Now, after seventy years, they hadn't learned a thing. The flesh never changes. No matter how long you walk in the Spirit, you will never get to the place where you cannot revert to the worst you ever were, if you depart from dependence upon the Spirit of God. They are right back to the same old ways. Ezra, in verse 3, says:

When I heard this, I rent my garment and my mantle, and pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat appalled...until the evening sacrifice. (Ezra 9:3-4)

It was unbelievable. As the book nears its close, Ezra prays to God and confesses this great sin. In his graciousness God moves in the hearts of the people. The leaders come in broken-hearted contrition to Ezra and acknowledge the wrong. A proclamation is issued. The people assemble together. It happens to be a day when it is raining, but despite the rain, the people stand, thousands of them in front of the temple, and confess their guilt -- the fact that they had disobeyed God -- and agree to put away the wives and children they had acquired outside the will of God.

Now this is a hurtful thing, isn't it? It isn't easy. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "If any one comes to me...does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children...he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) Our relationship with God comes first. It doesn't mean that a man is to put away his wife today. This is a symbolic teaching. It means that we are to put away whatever stems from the flesh, which is always pictured by these Canaanite tribes in the land. But we love the flesh, don't we? We like to feel angry and resentful toward others. We love to nurse a grudge, cherish feelings of bitterness, or keep an unforgiving spirit burning away in our hearts against someone. We love it! We don't want to give it up! These things can cause physical ailments in us. Perhaps more than fifty percent of the nervous and physical problems that we suffer are due to wrong attitudes. But when someone points it out to us, we would rather go on having the problem than change the spirit or the attitude. It is hard, isn't it? It was hard for the Israelites to put away their wives and children, but they realized that the only chance of being restored to the place of fellowship with the living God and finding the power of God manifest once again among them, was to be obedient to his word. Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away...If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off." (Matt. 5:29, 30) Be ruthless in these things. Put them away.

As the book nears its close, Ezra prays to God and confesses their great sin. In his graciousness God moves in the hearts of the people. The leaders come in broken-hearted contrition to Ezra and acknowledge the wrong. A proclamation is issued. The Jesus meant when he said, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children...he causes you to sin, cut it off." (Matt. 5:29, 30) Be ruthless in these things. Put them away. (From

Relevance for Living as Christians today under the New Covenant

WATCH OUT FOR THESE, by Ray C. Stedman

One of the most abused verses in the whole New Testament is Verse 17 of Chapter 6 of Second Corinthians. Many people fear and avoid it; others use it as a kind of club to clobber anyone who violates any of the common taboos of fundamentalist Christianity:

"Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean..." (2 Cor. 6:17a)

When I was a young Christian this verse was widely used by Christians to justify a kind of evangelical monasticism, a total isolation from the world. It was so artificial and so mechanical that it actually allowed a form of worldliness to come into the church that poisoned its life and paralyzed its testimony. Much of the revolt of youth a decade ago resulted from the sterility that was found in churches because of the misuse of this verse. I want to examine it with you in its context this morning.

Note especially the loving atmosphere in which this exhortation is set. This is part of Paul's description of what he has called the "ministry of reconciliation," (2 Cor. 5:18). This is a ministry that belongs to every single believer, without exception. We are all called to be "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20), beseeching men to be reconciled unto God, reminding them that God is not imputing their trespasses against them. He is not angry with them because of their sins, but he is beseeching them to turn to him that he might heal them and restore them in his love.

Paul described the nature of this ministry in the closing verses of Chapter 5, illustrating the pattern of it in the very moving description of his own life. Now he confronts the obstacles that will invariably defeat us if we are not careful to obey this injunction from his hand. There are two of these obstacles in this passage. One is found in the first three verses, beginning with Verse 11, the restricted affections; and the second, defiling compromises, in Verses 14 and on. Let us look at those. First, this problem of restricted affections, Verse 11:

Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return -- I speak as to children -- widen your hearts also. (2 Cor. 6:11-13)

Paul loved these people in Corinth, and he has manifested that love in various ways toward them. He has demonstrated it, as he says here, by two special things. "Our mouth is open to you," he says. That means he communicated with them; he told them what was going on in his own life; he shared with them his feelings, his struggles, his failures, his pressures, his problems, and he let them know where he was. That is always a mark of love. To open up to someone is to love him. Contrariwise, to close up and not communicate is to violate love.

As I travel around the country, I find this is probably the number one problem in churches today. Christians actually think it is right for them to be closed in on themselves, to be private persons, unwilling to communicate who they are and how they feel and where they are in their lives. That, of course, is the way of the world. The world teaches us to be private, to let no one see who we are. But we need to understand that when we become Christians that is the one thing we must not do. We must learn to open up to one another.

Paul loved these Corinthians. He tells us he manifested toward them the unmistakable marks of love: "Our mouth is open ... our heart is wide." The open mouth is a symbol of full communication. He has opened himself to them; he has hidden nothing. They are fully aware of his problems, his struggles, his fears, and even his failures. He has just informed them anew of his dangers and hardships and yet of the resource he looks to for deliverance and support -- "the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God," (2 Cor. 6:6b-7a). To communicate with this openness to another is to love him, for total love is total sharing. Now he wants them to love him back in the same way -- not for his benefit but for theirs.

Here is the problem with many churches in this country. They are filled with Christians who will not open up, will not communicate their needs and struggles to one another. Their mouths are not open. "Our heart is wide," he says. What does he mean? Well, he means there is no favoritism; he included the whole congregation. He was not merely loving the nice people among them. He loved them all, the difficult ones, the ones who were struggling, the hard to get along with ones as well. There were no pre-conditions that he demanded before he would love somebody in the congregation, either. He accepted them as people. Though he knew their struggles, their weaknesses, their heartaches, their failures and their resistance, still he loved them.

The problem was that they were not loving him in return. This is the problem in churches, in individual lives, in homes, in families and in marriages today. It is a failure to understand the reciprocal nature of love. Love is a two-way street. It always is; it is inherently so. Love requires a response. Paul was loving them, but they were not loving him back. They were closed; they were unresponsive; they were coldly self-contained toward him. And the result? Paul puts it in one word: They were "restricted." What does that mean? It means they were limited; they were bound; they were tied up by themselves; they were imprisoned within the narrow boundaries of their own selfish lives. As a result, they could not experience the richness of life.

Now that is what I find is wrong in many, many places and among many individuals today. They are Christians, but their lives are cold and barren. They are lonely, oftentimes. They are bored; they find life hardly worth the living. They have to struggle to get up in the mornings, to make themselves go on. Why? Well, Paul puts his finger right on the problem. It is not that they are not being loved. There are people reaching out to them and trying to touch them and help them, but they are not responding, and love that is not reciprocated can go no further. To be loved is to be given an opportunity to step into a new and wonderful and greater experience of life; to be freed, in a sense. That is what love does. When you love a child you free him. He relaxes, he begins to feel himself. We have all felt this. So, to be loved is to be given an opportunity to step into freedom, if you respond. The fulfillment of that opportunity depends on you. You are given the opportunity by the one who loves you, but you lay hold of it by loving him back.

That is why Paul pleads here with these Corinthians: "Oh! Corinthians, widen your hearts unto us. You are not restricted by us. You are restricted by yourselves, in your own affections. If you really want to experience the richness of love, then love back when you are loved." This is one of the most important lessons we can ever learn in life. Love must respond. When you are loved what do you do? Do you love back, or do you say, "Oh, what a wonderful feeling! I hope they will keep that up?" Do you expect it all to come to you without a reciprocal response from you? No, that is impossible. Love must respond. C. S. Lewis said a wonderful word, which is helpful at this point:

To love at all is to be vulnerable.

That, of course, is what keeps us from loving back. We are afraid we are going to risk something, and we do. He goes on:

Love anything and your heart will continually be wrung, and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your own selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.

That is why people who do not learn this great lesson, to love back when they are loved, live in a little hell of their own making. So Paul ends this with this loving, fatherly appeal: "In return -- I speak as to children -- widen your hearts also." If they begin to love back, that will enable them to share themselves, to open up, to communicate how they feel, to begin to respond with affection as well. They will begin to live. That is what Paul wants.

I find that often in many congregations Christians are cold, frigid. They are tied up in themselves. They sit in services and do not even speak to people. Oftentimes this is encouraged as a kind of reverence, supposedly, but God is not interested in that. He is interested in people who are open and responsive to one another. This coldness is what turns young people off. They come to our services and they are so cold and formal, oftentimes, that they are not interested; they are repelled by that. When congregations learn to be open, responsive, warm, loving and reaching out, it is always exciting. Young people are attracted to that, and they will come. That is what the apostle is after here. It is a great feeling to be loved. We want it to increase, but we ought to understand that it cannot increase until we respond. Even God cannot love beyond what we let him love us. He loves us and he is constantly displaying that love in a thousand and one ways, but we do not feel that love until we respond to what we already have. That is what he says. Until we begin to talk to him, and tell him how we feel, and express gratitude and thanksgiving back, we cannot grow and increase in his enriching love.

Do you see now why Jesus said, "The greatest commandment of all is 'Thou shalt love the Lord, Thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength,'" (Matt. 22:36-38)? It is because God has already loved us and displayed it in providential care, supplying food and shelter and clothing and family concern and friends, and all the richness of life. In our salvation he has provided the lifting of the awful sense of guilt and rejection and has given us a sense of worth for our feelings of unworthiness. He has given us a sense of belonging to a family, of having a purpose for life. He has given us a challenge, a new power and a new relationship. All those are gifts of love, therefore, we are to respond continually, and as we respond more and more we experience more of the same.

This is what concerns Paul here. So he urges the Corinthians, "Open up, communicate, show acceptance. It is basic to all else."

That is Problem #1. If you do not respond to love, then do not wonder if your life remains cold, barren, lonely, empty and meaningless. When you are loved, deliberately love back and life will begin to expand.

Let us look at Problem #2 now, the problem of defiling compromises. Paul says in Verse 14:

Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall he my people." (2 Cor. 6:14-16)

Now, we are taking the obstacles that hinder the ministry of reconciliation. One of them, as we have seen, is restricted affections, holding ourselves in to ourselves, keeping ourselves private people. The second is defiling comprises, getting involved with unbelievers in ways and associations that limit us and keep us from being what we ought to be.

Paul puts it here, "Do not be mismated with unbelievers." "Mismated" is literally the term, "unequally yoked." (That is how the King James Version puts it.) Do you know what a yoke is? We are all familiar with the covered wagons of the last century by which our forefathers crossed the plains. Usually they were drawn by yokes of oxen. A yoke is a wooden frame or bar with loops at either end, fitted around the necks of two animals which tied them together and forced them to function as one. That is what Paul speaks of here. He is thinking of Deuteronomy 22, where the Law says, "Do not yoke together an ox and an ass," (cf, Deut 22:10). That may seem strange to us, but God was concerned that they not tie together two animals of a different nature.

I have never seen an ox and an ass yoked together, though once when I was traveling in the Middle East I saw a farmer plowing his field with a camel and a donkey. It was almost ludicrous to watch. The camel was three times the height of the donkey, and his legs were three times as long. He was striding along at a rather slow pace for him, but the little donkey was running as fast as he could to keep up. The farmer kept beating him all the time trying to get him to keep up. It was cruel. Both animals obviously were miserable; they hated being tied together like that.

This is what the Law reflects. It is a cruel thing to yoke together two things of incompatible natures. This is what Paul has in mind here. What he is saying, of course, is there are certain associations that Christians have with unbelievers that constitute a yoke, and these associations are a certain cause for misery and shame in a Christian's life. We are to avoid them. They will hinder us, limit us, bind us and keep us from enjoying the fullness God has in mind for us. They are like trying to mix oil and water. It is impossible. You can see this by the illustrations he uses.

First, he says, "what partnership have righteousness and iniquity?" Literally, the term is "lawlessness." What partnership can a right-loving person have with somebody who does not care anything about rightness? What partnership can a heart that loves fairness and justice have with someone who cares nothing for truth, who refuses all authority and does what he pleases? That is a certain formula for heartache.

Then Paul says, "Or what fellowship has light with darkness?" Those are the two most opposite things we know anything about. Christians are said to be light. Unbelievers are in darkness. It is not anything superior about the Christian that gives him light. It is simply the fact that he, as an unbeliever himself once, living in darkness, has come to the light, and now he is "light in the Lord" (Eph 5:8), as Paul puts it in Ephesians. Light is ever, in Scripture, a symbol of understanding, of an awareness of true reality. Now imagine someone who sees life clearly, and understands what is happening, joining himself or herself to someone who lives in ignorance of life, who lives in an illusion and fantasy and blind selfishness? That is a formula for disaster, for much pain, suffering and heartache, isn't it?

Then the apostle goes further, "What accord has Christ with Belial?" Belial is another name for Satan. It is a word that means "worthlessness," and it refers to Satan and his activities. What he does is always worthless. It never has any enduring value; it disappears; it is a froth, it is gone in an instant. Here, then, are the two great captains of the opposing philosophies of life, Jesus Christ and Satan, Belial. I remember reading, in the history of the Civil War, several instances where brothers found themselves on opposite sides in the conflict. In every case they were fearful lest they should run into each other and have to face the possibility of having to kill each other. This is similar to what Paul is suggesting here. A Christian joined in a yoke to a non-Christian lives in fear that some day their ultimate loyalties must clash headlong; sooner or later they are going to have to face a showdown in these areas. This, therefore, is opening the door to great distress of heart.

Finally, Paul says, "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.'" This is one of the most powerful, the most beautiful descriptions of the glory of Christianity, the fact that God dwells in his people. Some years ago there was a theological conflict which came into prominence called, "The Death of God Movement." Certain theologians were teaching that God had actually died. But that movement did not last very long. God had not died, of course, they had simply lost his address. They did not realize that God lives in his people. That is where you find him. The glory of Christianity is the revelation that our bodies are the temples of God. In that holy temple, he lives; therefore, we are to be guided by his principles in worship and in service. Imagine a person who, as the temple of God, is joined to another person who is the temple of an idol. If you do not worship the true God you worship a false god, and behind the false gods, the idols of any generation, Paul told us in First Corinthians, are demons. Therefore, you are trying to link together the worship of God and the worship of demons. But this is an absolutely impossible thing. That is why Christians everywhere are warned against certain associations.

The great unanswered question, I am sure, in everyone's mind this morning is, "What is a yoke?" Is a business partnership a yoke? Is a union membership a yoke? Is marriage a yoke? Is a date with a non-Christian a yoke? We have to he careful here, because, as I suggested at the beginning of this study, this verse has been pushed way too far in that direction. There have been some who have taken it as justification for withdrawing from the world, from contact with non-Christians, and building a wholly Christian life from the womb to the tomb without making any friends or even contacts with non-Christians.

That is a violation of other verses. Paul in this very letter has told us we are "ambassadors for Christ," (2 Cor. 5:20). We are to be in touch with the world. We are to be contacting them with friendship and openness and love so that they are ready to receive our word, "Be reconciled unto God." You cannot do that over a chasm. You have to move in with people. It was Jesus himself who told us, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves," (Matt. 10:16). That is where Christians are to be. We are not to withdraw from the world. Well, then, what constitutes a yoke that we are to avoid? Now, not all associations are yokes, but yokes have two characteristics by which we can always identify them. The first one is that a yoke is not easily broken. It is a kind of permanent relationship. When you yoke two animals together they are bound together; they do not have any choice. Uncomfortable as it may be, they must do things together.

This is why the church has always taken this passage to refer to marriage, especially. Marriage is that kind of a yoke. It is a relationship that cannot be easily broken. The Law, the state, society is involved in marriage. This is why that "little piece of paper," which we hear spoken of so condescendingly today, is a very significant thing, because it rightfully introduces all the rights of society into a relationship between a man and his wife. This is why, in First Corinthians 7, Paul tells us that marriage is to be "in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39), and warns against forming wrong marriage relationships with non-believers. Now he recognizes there that there are some who already are in that kind of relationship for one reason or another, and, if they are in it, they are not to break it, that is the point. There is a way of living within a "yoked" relationship, rising above it by faith, so that they can walk in godliness. But the wording of this verse here is, "Stop forming yokes. Don't continue to enter into relationships like this." And marriage is clearly a permanent yoke that is not easily broken.

I know that it is easy to be drawn into these relationships. Oftentimes our feelings are attracted to people, as people, and we tend to discount the dangers and to feel that everything is going to work out all right. Young people especially are tempted many times because of love and feelings of affection to enter into a yoke of marriage that is wrong. They sometimes rationalize themselves out of it. I see it happening all the time. But Paul is warning about something that is a deadly danger to faith. Some years ago I remember reading a prayer addressed to God that a girl had written in her diary on her wedding day:

Dear God, I can hardly believe that this is my wedding day. I know I haven't been able to spend much time with you lately with all the rush of getting ready for today, and I'm sorry. I guess too, I feel a little guilty when I try to pray about all this, since Larry still isn't a Christian. But Oh! Father, I love him so much. What else can I do? I just couldn't give him up. Oh! you must save him some way, somehow. You know how much I have prayed for him and the way we've discussed the gospel together. I've tried not to appear too religious, I know, but that's because I didn't want to scare him off. Yet he isn't antagonistic and I don't understand why he hasn't responded. Oh! if only he were a Christian. Dear Father, please bless our marriage. I don't want to disobey you, but I do love him, and I want to be his wife. So please be with us, and please don't spoil my wedding day.

It was a sincere prayer, but it was a very sadly mistaken prayer. Though she did not realize it, what she was really praying was something like this:

Dear Father, I don't want to disobey you, but I must have my own way at all costs. For I love what you do not love, and I want what you do not want. So please be a good God and deny yourself and move off your throne and let me take over. If you don't like this, all I ask is that you bite your lip and say nothing and don't spoil my wedding day. Let me have my evil.

That is really what she was praying, isn't it? And I am sure she went on to discover, as thousands and thousands of others have, the wisdom of the apostle's words here, "Stop being mismated with unbelievers."

Now the second mark of a yoke is that it constrains someone; it does not permit independent action. There is something that forces you to comply with what the other one wants to do, whether you like it or not. Any kind of relationship that does not permit a believer to follow his Lord in all things is a yoke. Even a friendship can be a yoke. If it is the kind of possessive friendship in which you feel you cannot do what God wants you to do because you will offend your friend, then that is a yoke and it must be broken. God must have first place. We are his temple and he longs to bless us, as these words go on to show us. Paul here gathers together a group of texts from various parts of Scripture and quotes them:

"Therefore come out from them, and be separated from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall he my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17-18)

We are back again to this whole reciprocity of love. God's love is saying to us, "Look, I am here to enrich you. I want to make you my royal son and daughter. I want to be a Father to you, a tender, loving, careful, concerned, powerful Father to you, but I can't do it while you are still giving all your affection and all your ties to something else." Therefore, break the yoke, that is what he is saying, in order that you might experience the richness of God. As we have already seen, love to be enjoyed must be responded to, but you cannot respond if you are clinging to an association that is going in another direction. Though God's love is waiting to bless us, we cannot feel it, and enjoy it, until we turn from the yokes that bind us. Notice Paul's final appeal, Chapter 7, Verse 1:

Since we have these promises, beloved, [Hear the endearment of that word. He is not speaking roughly, harshly. This is a loving exhortation.] let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)

Who is it up to? Well, it is up to you, isn't it? Cleanse yourself. God cannot do this. Love cannot constrain you to love back. It can only plead, beg and entreat. You have to make that decision; you must break that yoke. If you are tied with some friendship or relationship that is dragging you down, then you have to break that; you must decide to give it up. God will not take it away from you. You have to decide that, and if you do, you make holiness perfect.

Now do not misread that. Many people have. They think that means that if you turn away from all the unclean things in your life, and give up the ugly, dirty things you may have stumbled into, that you are then making yourself holy. You never do that. Holiness is a gift God gives you right at the beginning of your Christian life. As Romans 12 tells us, "present your body a living sacrifice, [already] holy, acceptable unto God," (Rom 12:1b). God made it that way. You are not trying to be holy; you are holy; that is the point. But the holiness is perfected, it is made visible by acting like the one you have become, someone who is himself, herself, the dwelling place of God. That is the appeal the apostle makes here. What a loving appeal it is, that we free ourselves from all these limiting, restricting, binding relationships, and be the men and women God has called us to be. That is what this world is waiting to see. ( (1980)


What does Christian separation mean? Your effectiveness as a Christian hangs on your concept of what separation means. Perhaps most of our personal and church problems would be solved if we had a biblical concept of what it really is. This question of separation has been a bone of contention among Christians for many, many years. Though I believe that the Scriptures are very clear on the matter, still I am sure that we will not solve all the problems in this article. But we do want to take a good look at the subject.

You won't read very far in the New Testament without becoming aware of some very pointed warnings to Christians concerning their danger from the world around them. Second Corinthians 6:14 is a very well known passage.

"Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty," (2 Cor. 6:14a, 6:18).

These words, "come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Cor. 6:17a) have been nailed to the masthead of many denominations and church groups as the supremely important idea that Christians should heed in these days. Then we have that very strong passage in First John 2:15-17:

Do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof, but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

James comes out with probably the strongest word of all along this line for he says very flatly and plainly:

You adulteresses! Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Who ever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4b)

Christians have rightly taken these passages very seriously. They have recognized that the Lord would not speak so plainly if there was not something serious involved. They've remembered the sad words of Paul concerning one of the young men who traveled with him: "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world," (2 Tim 4:10). Christians have often had reason to see that a worldly Christian is a useless Christian. He is of no value to the world, and no good to God. No man can serve two masters!

So Christians, as a result of these warnings, have, through the centuries, drawn up lists of things they considered worldly. Naturally, their ideas have differed widely on these matters. Whenever people had difficulty with some temptation or some particular type of recreation or some activity which gave them trouble, they learned a lesson from it, or thought they did, and marked that particular thing down as worldly.

So there came into being a great many different lists of worldly things, varying widely because of the different places of origin. As a result of this, we have today certain folks in the South called "hook-and-eye Baptists." They were given that name because they believe that buttons are worldly and that the proper biblical way to fasten your clothing is not with a button but with a hook and eye. So the button-wearing folks are worldly in their estimation, and the hook-and-eye people are spiritual. And they mean it! They're quite serious about it. It's as much a worldly thing to them as some of the things on your list are to you. And they feel quite as upset over violations as you do when your standards are transgressed.

Standards differ widely in Christian circles about many things. Drinking beer by Christians is very normal in places such as Germany. They think nothing of having a glass of beer with their meals. Nobody thinks they are unspiritual because of it. But in this country, it's quite a different matter. Here, beer drinking is almost always considered a worldly thing for Christians.

I have been in parts of this country where people regarded mixed bathing with horror, that is, boys and girls going swimming together, even though they were all clad in quite acceptable bathing suits. It was the mixing of the sexes that was reprehensible. They thought it was terrible. Yet, in most places in the West, mixed bathing is not frowned upon at all. We consider it quite a normal, natural thing, and few would regard it as wrong. There are places in this world today where lipstick is called "devil's grease" because some Christians are sure the devil is behind the lipstick business.

Now, I have mentioned things that most of us would laugh at as being considered worldly. I have touched upon a few of the things that are on our particular lists. The point I want you to see is that others may be just as disturbed about these things as you are about the things on your list. And they, as we, pass along our taboos from generation to generation.

We all have a tendency to think that the things that we have been taught while we were growing up are inspired truth. Few of us have ever taken time to check these with biblical principles as to whether they are really true or not. I am afraid that many of us often mistake our prejudices for convictions. It is a very easy thing to do. But we must remember that it is not what we have been taught, or what our fathers believed, or the way we were raised that is the standard of Christian behavior, but what the Word of God says. Always! And if what we are taught is not in accordance with the principles declared in the Bible, then we had better review our standards and our thinking in accordance with those principles.

This is a very simple thing to say, and we all agree with it, but it is hard to carry out. If we follow it through, we will discover that it will make some great changes in our lives. One result of this habit of categorizing things as worldly, and making an index of that which is right and wrong in the Christian life, has been that, today, nine out of ten Christians have mental lists of do's and don'ts. They call these lists their "Christian standards." And solely on the basis of such a list they blithely determine whether they are worldly or spiritual.

Now I don't wish to suggest that there are no Christian standards. There are necessities along that line, and those standards once arrived at in each individual life must be carefully adhered to. What I am saying is that the method by which we determine those standards must be in accordance with the Word of God and not simply our upbringing.

Now then, since most of the things that are on your particular list (and on mine) are being done by the unsaved, worldly-minded people around us, there comes a tendency for us, consciously or unconsciously, to avoid temptation by avoiding worldly people. There comes a marked tendency to withdraw, to seek our own crowd, to create our own little separate world -- a world that is as complete as we can make it, with recreation, and education, and all that we need from the cradle to the grave. We create our own smug, airtight circle in which we live, and which we have set up to run competition to the "worldly" world outside.

Now, ultimately, that kind of thinking produced the monasteries that appeared in the Middle Ages. Men decided that the way to avoid the temptations of the world was to completely seclude themselves from it, so they built high-walled monasteries and lived their lives inside, and thus sought to avoid the world.

Today we do not build walls of brick and mortar in order to avoid these things, but we still have walls of thought and seclusion that are almost equally effective. In this way, we become 20th century monks, doing this very same thing. And the worst tragedy of all, in my estimation, is that we are passing all this on to our young people. We are handing along these conceptions, as they pick up our way of life and our way of thinking. Instead of teaching them to overcome evil, we are teaching them to avoid it. They are not learning how to fight the good fight of faith. We do not know how to fight it ourselves, many of us, so how can we tell them? How can we show them?

Now what are the results of this type of separation? I do not speak from hearsay or from mere observation on this matter. I speak from very sad experience. An experience born of at least ten years of my Christian life that I now consider almost utterly wasted, because I was thinking and acting along these very lines.

Here were the results in my own life. I am confident, from observation, they are the results in other Christians' lives who think like this. The first result is a terrible sense of boredom and frustration. Life becomes pale and uninteresting, especially Christian things. You just go through a routine. You go to church and go through a set formula of things you are supposed to do, but there is nothing very gripping, very fascinating, very challenging about it. Life becomes very boring. The challenge is gone.

Why? Because there is no sense of danger! There is nothing which demands a response from a young Christian faced with that kind of thinking. He is protected. He is sheltered. His life is arranged in such a way that the temptations are reduced to a minimum, and, consequently, he becomes bored and frustrated and feels no challenge. Life becomes very lackluster.

When we sense this in our lives, we often try to correct it by creating false challenges. "Come on, let's win the attendance contest," and we get all excited about the attendance contest. Or, "Let's gain a reputation in our church for having a tremendous missionary program, and let's parade the figures in front of us all through the years as to how much we are giving for missions," and so we create false challenges and false goals. Not that these things are wrong in themselves; the trouble is, it is done as a group, and the personal challenge in the individual life is gone.

You remember what Peter Marshall said so graphically, "Today's Christians are like deep-sea divers, encased in suits designed for many fathoms deep, marching bravely forth to pull plugs out of bathtubs."

That is putting it rather incisively, isn't it? But it is true! We are taught all the resources of the Christian life. For what? To win attendance contests with! To build buildings with! The challenge is artificial, the goal is sub-Christian. Perhaps this is the major reason why our Christian young people today (and I say it sadly, because I see it in my own church) are so lethargic, so lackadaisical, so utterly pepless about their Christian lives. We find difficulty in getting them to avoid the things on our lists any longer. They would rather feel some of the stimulation and challenge and temptation of the world than to live such colorless, lackluster lives. God made youth with a desire to dare. It is no less so with Christian youth.

The second result of this isolationist separation is a tremendously increased amount of worldliness in Christian living! Does that seem strange? It is a paradox. Christians isolate themselves from the world to avoid worldliness, and it inevitably results in more worldliness.

You see, if you really believe that the only worldly things are those on your mental list, and you are careful to avoid them, then the result is you let down your guard at other points, and the world begins to seep in in a thousand places, unrecognized by you. Instead of being worldly in the ways that are on your list, you are worldly in a thousand other ways, all of them equally bad. The truth is that worldliness is not a matter of things, of doing this, or not doing that. But worldliness is a matter of the attitude of the heart, the attitude of life in thinking and dealing with things. If we would just learn that, what a difference it would make.

Let me see if I can illustrate that: If you ladies wear a new dress in church in order to attract attention, that is worldliness! You are trying to attract attention to yourself, just as the world continually seeks to do. The fact that you do it in church makes no difference whatsoever. If anything, it makes it more reprehensible. If the opinions of others mean much to you in this matter of dress or conduct, then you are worldly. You may never drink, dance, smoke, or go to a nightclub; but you are just as worldly as if you did. On the other hand, if you wear a dowdy, out-of-style dress to church in order to be thought spiritual, that is worldliness, too. The dress, you see, has nothing to do with it. It is the attitude of the heart, the motive behind the act, that constitutes worldliness.

If you must have a new car every year in order to keep up with the style, that is worldliness, pure and simple. If you need the car in your business for some reason, and you are quite honest with yourself about it, that is another matter entirely. For this reason, no one else can sit in judgment on you in such a matter. But the Lord knows the heart, and if you trade your car each year just to be in style, you are worldly.

If you are hurt because people do not notice you, that is worldliness. If a TV program conflicts with something that you know the Lord wants you to do -- your attendance at church or prayer meeting, or to help your neighbor -- that is worldliness. You have chosen that in place of the Lord's will.

Now I am not trying to make up new lists for you. If I kept on, you would soon stop me and say, "Why the way you talk, everything is worldly." And you would be quite near the truth. For everything is worldly, if the heart is concerned with the approval or disapproval of those around you, just as everything is spiritual when the eye is single unto the Lord. This is a tremendously important point. Read what John says again,

...all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh [that includes eating and drinking and sleeping and wearing clothes or whatever your body desires to do], the lust of the eyes [that includes the desire of anything you want to buy or possess, good, bad, or indifferent], the pride of life [the vainglory of life, the fighting for station, for promotion, for advancement], is not of your Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16)

What does he mean by that? He means that everything is worldly if your attitude is worldly, but if your attitude is "of the Father," nothing is worldly. You see what he is getting at? This is why Paul said:

"All things are lawful to me, but there are three limitations: I will not be brought under the power of any, all things are not profitable for me, and all things do not help others." (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23)

Those are the only restrictions. Everything else is fine. This is why we must not make up lists of "things" which we regard as inherently worldly and evil in themselves. Each of us may have our own personal areas into which, under God, we cannot enter. There are certain things you cannot do, or do not want to do, not because someone else does not want you to, or because you think the church will frown on it, but because you feel the Lord does not want you to do this. But that must be decided individually.

What makes a thing worldly? Listen to John again, "All that is in the world ... is not of the Father," (1 John 2:16). That is the thing! You exclude the Father from your thinking, and when you do that you are worldly, no matter what you do. You do some act or take some step or make some plans without the Father, without taking him into consideration, or concerning yourself with his will. That is worldliness! It may be a perfectly innocent thing in itself, but when you exclude the Father, it is of the world.

So the making of lists only increases worldliness. We then let down our guard about the things that are not on the list, and, as a result, we become saturated with the world, steeped in worldly thinking, worldly acts, and worldly deeds. And he that is "a friend of the world is an enemy of God!" (James 4:4b).

Now the third great result of this type of thinking is a noticeable lessening of the spirit of sacrifice in our lives. When we avoid worldly people because we are trying to avoid worldliness, we also lose most of our opportunities to give of ourselves for Christ's sake. This process of withdrawing into our own watertight Christian circle of affairs results in people becoming insensitive and unsympathetic and eventually smug and complacent in their views toward others.

We can get all worked up over missionaries ten or twelve thousand miles away, but people can live right next door to us and be perishing in their spiritual agony, and we do nothing. That is worldliness. It results from this business of thinking we can live our own lives; that we can withdraw from the world and create our own Christian world and live within it. Consequently, we have changed the Lord's words, "Go ye," into "Send ye," and we think if we are sending out people to the mission field, this is the adequate answer to our own responsibility. But the Lord did not say, "Send ye." He said, "Go ye into all the world," (Mark 16:15). And I don't think he meant that only geographically; I am sure it is meant psychologically, as well. Go into all the ways of the world, into its thinking, into its attitudes, in order that you might understand and have some sympathy with the poor dying wretches who live next door to you that are in the world and lost in the world.

This is one of the most tragic things about our Christian lives. We become disobedient Christians: We forget our own personal responsibilities in witnessing. We talk about witnessing, but we seldom ever do it. We are embarrassed about it. We confess in moments of honesty that we are very ill at ease in this process of trying to witness about Christ. We really feel little enthusiasm for it, yet this is what he asks us to do.

We are supposed to be imitating our Master who gave up all things, who pleased not himself, who laid down his life in order that he might win the lost worldlings to himself. But when it comes to us, we don't want to give up an afternoon of golf, or a night of bowling, or open our homes, or even give up some time on Sunday to do something to win these lost ones. And we justify it all by the excuse, "They are so worldly that we have nothing in common with them."

Isn't this the truth? Doesn't this describe us? When I think sometimes of our comfortable, easeful, luxurious lives, and then read in the Scriptures about those early Christians who loved not their lives unto death, I tell you I grow sick with the very shame of it. Why have we lost the spirit of glad sacrifice? I think it is due greatly to our view of separation which has built a shell about us, so that we no longer see the need for our help. This is the terrible tragedy of it. We are living in the midst of people who are dying for what we have, who are hungry of soul and are putting bullets through their heads, jumping off bridges, turning on the gas, and living in utter misery year after year after year. And they don't live 10,000 miles away. They live two blocks down the street, two houses away, right next door to us, behind us, all around us, and we don't see the need for sacrifice!

We have become deaf in the cries that surround us. We have become indifferent to all hands that reach out from every side. We have taken the place of the Pharisee and the Levite in that parable of the Good Samaritan, who each passed by on the other side of the road when they saw the wounded traveler, lest they become defiled themselves by helping him. That is not the modernist or the liberal. That is the fundamentalist Christian, who is so concerned about being defiled with worldliness that he has lost touch with the world. He is no longer interested in helping worldly people, in meeting their problems, in becoming friends with them and meeting their needs.

Now there are many people who sense the hypocrisy of this kind of living, and they try to remedy it by going to the other extreme. They rush out and begin to mix with the world in every way. They drink cocktails, and take up card playing, and small gambling, and learn how to dance, and thus try to live in with the world. Now, again, I am not trying to make lists of taboos, please don't misunderstand me. I am simply trying to characterize the thinking of many who react to Christian isolationism. They adopt the world's standards and the world's values in the hope of being some influence to the world for Christ. The result of that is always tragic. When we become like the world, we lose all our power to influence the world.

I remember reading of a boy who had a cage full of sparrows, and he thought it would be nice to teach the sparrows to sing like canaries. So he bought a canary and put it in the cage with the sparrows. After a couple of weeks, he came running to his mother and said, "Mother! The sparrows are not singing like the canary. The canary is now chirping like the sparrows!"

That is the inevitable outcome of becoming like the world in order to reach the world. If you want to see the folly of a life like that, go out and stand by the shores of the Dead Sea and look at the cheerless, dreary, lifeless waste. Then go read the story of Lot who moved into Sodom in order to win it and influence it by his life, and see what he lost as a result. That dreary desolation stands as a mark of the folly of moving in to be like the world.

Well, then, what is the answer? How do we reach the world and still not be like it? The answer is, we must learn to live on a frontier between these two extremes. We must learn to be in the world, but not of it. We must be in the world, we must seek out worldly friends and deliberately cultivate their friendship. We must invite them into our homes, and go into theirs. We will have to ignore some things that are irritating to us, their habits, their ways of thinking and talking. But we must make friends with them. We dare not shut ourselves away from the perils and dangers and dilemmas of the world around us. Our Lord forbids us to! We must be in the world, seek worldly friends, but we must not be like the world.

The word that we need to emphasize is not separateness, that is, if you think of it as withdrawing. But the real word, and perhaps the best translation here is distinctiveness. We are to be distinct, different. DARE TO BE DIFFERENT! We must be in the world like our Lord was -- in it up to the hilt. But, like him, we must never live under false colors. We must not think like the world. Our attitude is to be different, our values must be different, yet we are to be with them.

We are to be out-and-out Christians. Distinct, but not distasteful. We are to be sheep among wolves, as our Lord said. That is, we are not to stay in the sheepfold. If we do, we are disobedient, for he sent us out of the sheepfold. He wants us out among the wolves!

"But," you say, "isn't that dangerous for sheep to go out in the midst of wolves?" Yes, it is. Of course, it is. But that is what makes it gripping and vital. That is exactly what makes the Christian life so revolutionary, so interesting, challenging, stimulating. It is the danger! The Lord wants us to live on a frontier where we are constantly under subtle attack, yet he knows we will be safe among the wolves and we become the instruments by which some of the wolves become sheep like ourselves.

"But," you say, "isn't this difficult? Doesn't it present a lot of problems? Aren't you constantly having to make adjustments and make decisions, and wouldn't it be so much simpler just to avoid the whole matter?" Of course it would. But where did we get the idea that we are here to avoid difficulty. Jesus said, "I am come to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!" (cf, Luke 12:49). Whoever said the Christian life was to be easy? That is the whole trouble with it. We have made it so easy that we have few problems any longer, and so we have no power. Our Lord wants us to have problems. He wants us to be constantly wondering what to do about a particular situation and to think it through, and test solutions according to the Word, and pray our way to an answer that satisfies and works. He likes us to live that way. That is what makes life challenging and interesting. Any other approach becomes boring and meaningless.

Let me share with you a brief paragraph from a letter that came recently from a woman in Southern California. She says:

My husband is getting rather fed up with church. He is from a very strong Christian family, and was a strong Christian himself. But now he says to get ahead in the world, and make the kind of money he wants to make, you can't be a full-time Christian, because you either give up all you've got to follow Christ's claims, or you're not worthy. Since he's not worthy, why go half-way? I can't make him see otherwise.

This is a common tragedy. Here is a modern prodigal son who has chosen to go out from the father's house, seeking the things he wants, and he doesn't realize that what he really wants is to be found only in the father's house. And he's going to have to learn by going down into the pig-pen, or by drinking of the empty, unsatisfying cisterns of this world; how barren and meager such living is. This man is choosing a dead-end street, and when he gets to the end of it, there will be nothing to do but to turn around and come back. But, though we pity his choice, let me say I admire his honesty. This young man has seen that the Christian life is insipid and tasteless if it is only lived half way.

Let me bring you another quote from another source, that says it much better than I. The author writes very penetratingly about the problem of the Christian and the world. He says:

To sum up, the Christian's vocation is to be in the world, but not of it; to represent Christ in it and to intercede on its behalf because it is under judgment (this is the Christian's priesthood), to identify himself with its sufferings but not with its attitudes, to bring his influence to bear upon the world's life without being corrupted by the world's ways; to stand on the frontier, holding forth the Word of Life, and so to love and obey that Word that he has been delivered from the evil one and sanctified in the truth. Such a calling involves a cross. The man who separates himself from the world and seeks to escape it does not know the cross. The man who submits to the world's pressures and loses his distinctiveness as a Christian does not know that cross. The man who seeks to be in the world, as our Lord was in it, but shows that he is not of it because he is a Christian and in Christ; that man will find his cross. It's only the disciple who follows Christ in both these respects who has a cross to take up.

Now, let me say, if this sounds hard, and harsh, and unappealing, it is because you do not have your own values straight. Let's be honest now. Is God right, and is the Bible right when it says this world is passing away, and is really very unimportant? Is it really peanuts to us, this world in which we live? If so, than it's the easiest thing in the world to live a Christian life. But if this world's things mean much to us, it's a hard and grueling thing to be a Christian

But Christians have seen the truth. They have the light. They're not to be interested in pancakes, primarily, any more; "... we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal," (2 Cor. 4:18).

Then let's be done with nursery stuff. Let's be done with kindergarten, with playing children's games. We've a man's job to do in this world. We're co-laborers with God. Do you know what that means? We're to supply the hands and feet and the voices that he needs today. Every day should see us at the task of binding up the broken-hearted; of bringing sight to the poor, sightless, blinded creatures that live next door to us; of leading thirsty men and women to the waters of life; of bringing beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning, and bringing happiness and harmony into the desolate homes that are all about us today.

Are you willing to be expendable for Christ? Are you willing to count not your life dear unto yourself, but put yourself out to make friends with these wonderful people? To put up with all their irritating ways and for Christ's sake go after them no matter how little they encourage you? To learn to talk about storing up pancakes until you can find an opening to talk about more wonderful things? And, to pray and invite them over, and pray again and invite them over again, and pray again until you see the darkness lift and God's Spirit write the name of Jesus on that savage breast? Are you willing to do that?

I'll tell you what will happen when you try it: You'll learn first of all the wonderful thrill of a Christian life! How challenging it can be. How wonderful it can be. And then you'll discover how utterly inadequate you are for the job. Then you'll come to your pastor, or to some other Christian leader, and you'll say, "I tried to say something to so and so and I made an awful botch of it. Could you show me how to study my Bible so I'll know the answers?" You'll be at prayer meetings because you'll realize the power there to reach behind the mask of this world and open up doors that can't be opened any other way.

You'll become an effective Christian when you begin to live this way in dependence on Christ. And do you know what else? You'll discover what Christian separation really means! (from --1956)

Regarding the related subject of LEGALISM see --1972)

ANSWERS ON DIVORCE, by Ray C. Stedman (from 1978)

In the seventh chapter of First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul leads us into confrontation with one of the major social problems of our day, and that is the breakup of marriages. Next month my wife and I will be celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary. It is rather rare to find that kind of a long-lived marriage these days, though once it was commonplace. In fact, it seemed to me when I was a young man that almost everybody I knew had been married for 30 or 40 years.

The divorce statistics are frightening: It used to be that here in California we led the whole nation -- two out of three marriages break up -- but now that same figure is becoming true of the nation as a whole. And in many other countries divorce rates are climbing with similar frequency. Last night I saw a cartoon in the newspaper that showed a father speaking to his daughter just before her wedding. He said, "Try to make it last, dear, at least until I can pay for the wedding!" I think that summarizes the attitude of many today toward marriage.

Yet with this widespread and frightening increase in marriage breakup, we are really only repeating the conditions that were true in Corinth when this letter was written. Divorce was rather rare in Jewish communities then, but in these great Greek cities such as Athens and Corinth, and other Roman cities, divorce was a frequent thing. Even women could divorce their husbands and did so very easily in those days, so that here in Corinth the apostle addresses a condition that is very much like we have right here in California, and in America, today. And his word to us in this chapter is right on target. He understands the pressures behind the breakup of marriage; he is thoroughly familiar with the acceptance of divorce by the world around, and the temptations this creates to Christians to take what looks like an easy way out of an unhappy or difficult marriage. He begins in Verse 10 of Chapter 7 with a word about marriage in general:

To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) -- and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Cor. 7:10-11)

There the apostle begins with the fundamental position of Scripture on marriage, and that is that marriage is intended to be for life. God's intention in giving marriage to our race was that a man and a woman should live together, as the marriage vows put it, "for better or for worse" (either one), "until death shall us part." Therefore, marriage was intended to be for life. Wives are not to leave their husbands, difficult as a marriage may become; husbands are not to divorce their wives even if they appear to be almost "irreconcilably incompatible," to use modern terms about the breakup of marriage.

There is no quibble possible about this. This is not a passage you can debate as to what the apostle means. He comes right out and makes it crystal clear; it is not in doubt in the least degree. Furthermore, this statement rests upon the most solid foundation. Paul says, "I charge you this," and here he uses a term he very seldom employs. The full weight of apostolic authority is brought to bear on this question. "As an apostle, an appointed spokesman of the Lord himself," he says, "this is his word to us." Then he goes even further back to the Lord's own recorded words and quotes the teaching of Jesus himself on divorce when he was here in the flesh. These are recorded for us in the 5th and 19th chapters of Matthew, and in the 10th chapter of Mark. Three different times in the Gospel the account is given of our Lord's words in this regard.

Now some have misunderstood what Paul is saying here. They take it to mean that when he says, "He says something," and, "The Lord says something," that Paul's word is at a lower authoritative level than the Lord's. But that is to misunderstand entirely what the apostle is saying, for both the word of an apostle and the direct word of the Lord are equally authoritative for all who are Christians. An apostle only gives what the Lord himself has already given him. Apostles do not invent doctrine, nor are they free to add to what the Lord has told them or take away from it. There is no difference of level here between the apostolic word and the word of the Lord. The contrast is not between the inspired teaching of the Lord and the uninspired teaching of an apostle, but rather the contrast is between what the Lord himself uttered directly and what he has uttered indirectly through his apostle. In either case the authority is the Lord.

I want to make that as clear as possible because of some confusion that abounds today about the authority of an apostle. After the service, therefore, do not come up and hand me someone's book, How God Led Me to Leave My Wife and Children, because I do not believe that God leads in that regard. He has made very clear both in the New and the Old Testaments what he thinks of divorce. In the Book of Malachi God comes out and bluntly puts it, "I hate divorce," (Mal. 2:16). God did not intend divorce to interrupt marriages.

Having said that, it is also necessary to say, and it is also true, that God permits divorce. "Oh," you say, "you mean God permits what God hates?" Yes. Of course he does. All of life is made up of much of God permitting what God hates. God hates sin, but he allows it to continue in our race and he allows people to make wrong decisions even though he hates the decisions they make. We are faced everywhere in Scripture with the permissive will of God. This is on par with the scriptural statement that God is not willing that any should perish. Yet many do perish. All those who do not come to some believing faith in Jesus Christ will perish -- they are already perishing. Though God is not willing that any should perish, he does allow it to happen, and this is the same thing here. There is a place, therefore, for divorce.

It was not Moses who permitted divorce in Israel; it was God speaking through Moses. Many refer to our Lord's statement (referred to here by Paul in this passage), when the Lord was teaching on marriage and divorce and he said, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted divorce," (cf, Matt 19:8). Many have read that as though Moses initiated the whole process, that it was Moses who thought up divorce. Now Moses, a prophet, is like one of the apostles. He is a spokesman for God, and Moses had no authority and no right to interpose his own desires or understanding or will over what God had said. Therefore, it was not Moses who decided to let people get divorced; it was God who spoke through Moses, and thus permitted divorce. Any realistic handling of the problem of marriage and divorce must face the fact that God does allow divorce, and under some circumstances permits it, and permits remarriage after divorce. We have to put it within that context to begin with.

The Lord himself acknowledges this. He says it is hardness of heart that creates conditions that can lead to divorce. What is "hardness of heart?" Well, it really means a stubborn willfulness, a refusal to listen to what God has to say and a determination to do it your own way. That is a hardened heart. A soft heart is one that is open to instruction, one that is willing to listen to what God is saying and to try to obey it and to walk softly before God expecting him to help fulfill what he has asked. That is a softened heart. A hardened heart is exactly the opposite. It is one partner or the other, or both, determining that he or she is not going to pay any attention to what God has said. They want their own way; they want it the way they have chosen, and they want it now. That is a hardened heart.

You see it in the case of Pharaoh of Egypt, back in the days when Moses was sent to him. He hardened his heart; he determined to do it his way; he refused to give heed to the God of Glory who was speaking to him and insisted on carrying it out according to his own desire. That kind of condition, a hardened heart, can turn a marriage into a living hell. It can make it so unhappy, and so dangerous, even, that one partner or the other feels that he or she must leave. And Paul seems to be facing that here. He has that in view when he adds the words, "the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does ..." That is a recognition that some marriages are almost impossible to bear up with.

I have counseled wives who have sat before me with both eyes so black and swollen they could not see out of them, with bruises all over their bodies because their husbands had beaten them up. Now when that occurs -- sometimes even to the degree that their lives are threatened -- there is no reason why a woman should have to live under those conditions in marriage, and it is perfectly proper for her to leave for a while. Sometimes it is the only way of bringing a husband to his senses, and the apostle seems to face that, but he adds some very strict controls. He says, "if she does, let her remain single..." The marriage is not broken just because it has become impossible to go on with. If she leaves even for a temporary separation, or, if it is a long continued problem, even if she gains a divorce, yet in God's sight the marriage is not broken.

Remember we are not dealing with the Law as Christians: We are dealing with God and reality and what is ultimately true, regardless of what the fluctuations of the Law may allow. In God's sight the marriage is not broken, therefore, "let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)." In other words she is not to remarry because that would create a broken marriage involving, in this case, some form of adultery. Therefore, while her mate lives and remains unmarried (or while his mate lives and remains unmarried, because this would apply to a man as well as a woman), she or he is not to remarry, for there is always the possibility that the grace of God can work to restore and reconcile that marriage.

I could recount to you several instances of wives (in a couple of cases husbands), who have waited patiently through years of single life with little hope apparent on the surface that their mates would ever be changed. Yet God in grace has changed them and their marriages have been restored after years of brokenness, and gone on to happiness and joy. There are some right here in this congregation who have gone through that. So the apostle's word is, "There is no ground for remarriage when a divorce occurs on the basis of incompatibility of such a degree that it makes the marriage impossible. They are to remain single, with the possibility of reconciliation."

"Well," somebody says, "what about sexual infidelity? I understand that breaks a marriage. Didn't Jesus say that if there is adultery, sexual infidelity, that a marriage would be broken?" And the answer is, "Yes. He does say that." Three times in the Gospels it is recorded that our Lord says that divorce is wrong unless it be for adultery, for sexual infidelity. That does end a marriage. "Well," you ask, "why doesn't Paul mention that here?" I think the reason is because he has just dealt at length with the subject of sex in marriage. He has pointed out how central the sexual union is to marriage. He has even warned couples not to defraud one another, not to refuse it, not to stay away from sexual union very long, because it is central to the working out of God's purposes in marriage. It has valuable lessons to teach us when understood properly and when used according to the Word of God. Therefore, Paul does not dwell on that point because he has just referred to our Lord's teaching on marriage and divorce. I am sure he felt that this exception that the Lord himself granted was widely understood and known, and so he does not mention it.

It would be absolutely unthinkable that Paul should hope to change the Lord's own teaching by a deliberate ignoring of the exception the Lord granted. Paul would never do that. He saw himself as bound by the word of Jesus, and what Jesus said must ultimately stand. So there is that principle granted in the Word of God, that recognition that infidelity destroys a marriage.

But it can be repented of and it can be forgiven. There are marriages represented here this morning where couples have been on the very verge of a breakup because of sexual infidelity, but that has been repented of and their mate in God has forgiven them, and a marriage has been restored and gone on to a new level of beauty and enjoyment that they never had dreamed was possible. I have seen it happen many times. But if it is not repented of, or it is a repeated pattern that occurs again and again, then there is no question but that does break a marriage. Divorce granted on that basis frees an individual to remarry again because the previous one has been ended by the infidelity of the partner.

Now among Christians -- actually, among all men -- divorce is not permitted on any other grounds. And God expects Christians, above all, to obey what he has to say along this line. Therefore, the word of the apostle here clearly is, "Work out your problems within marriage. Either that, or, if you cannot conceivably do so and a divorce occurs, then remain single." I think that is crystal clear.

God did not design marriage to be beautiful and happy, necessarily, right from the very beginning. Very few marriages are. God designed marriage as a kind of a locked room into which he thrusts a couple who think they know each other very well. He turns the key in the lock, throws the key away, and says, "Now get to know each other, regardless of what happens." That is what marriage is for. It is to provide an unbreakable bond, a security within which you work out the difficulties that may arise. Therefore, the modern view of divorce as a kind of an escape lever that you pull when you do not like the way things are going is absolutely contrary to the Scriptures and the teaching of God.

So Paul has answered questions in this section about the married and the formerly married. Now he takes up what he calls "the rest" by which he means mixed marriages, marriages in which one partner is a Christian and one is still non-Christian, and, in the case of marriages here in Corinth, probably pagan, and associated with idol worship. He says, Verse 12:

To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated ["sanctified" is the word] through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?" (1 Cor. 7:12-16)

Again in this section Paul is not speaking of two levels of authority. He simply means when he says, "I say this, not the Lord," that the Lord had not, in the days of his flesh, spoken directly to this issue, but after his resurrection and in the many appearances which he had made to the Apostle Paul he had given him counsel in this area. Therefore, what Paul says comes with equal authority as with the Lord himself.

It is clear here in this passage that marriage is not just for Christians. I have had couples come to me, and say, "Well, we got married when we were still non-Christians." Or I have had individuals say, "I got married before I became a Christian. Now I have become a Christian, and I do not think that first marriage was 'in the Lord,' therefore, I think I ought to be able to get a divorce." They imply by that that marriage really is only given to Christians. But it is not. Marriage was given to the race. Non-Christians get married as well as Christians, and God recognizes these as valid marriages. Paul's argument through this is that becoming a Christian after you have been married does not change your marriage at all; it is still a valid marriage.

I think the problem had arisen because of what Paul had said, or taught, in Corinth that is reflected in Chapter 6 where he speaks about "your bodies are members of Christ" (cf, 1 Cor. 6:15), and how wrong it was to take the members of Christ, the physical body that belongs to Jesus Christ, and to involve it with the temple prostitutes of Corinth. That was a defiling act, and perhaps many had inferred from that that any kind of sexual union with an unbeliever was a defiling act -- that now you have a marriage where one is a Christian and the other is not and the Christian in that marriage is saying, "Do my sexual practices in marriage mean that I am taking the members of Christ and defiling them with an unbeliever?" Paul's assurance is, "No, you are not." As Hebrews says: "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled," (cf, Heb 13:4). The marriage, therefore, remains unchanged. "In fact," the apostle says, "a wonderful thing occurs. Instead of defiling, it is the other way around; it is the believing mate that, in a sense, sanctifies the unbeliever." Now that does not mean "saves them" or "regenerates them." That is always an individual matter left up to the individual faith. What it means is no defilement is involved when sexual union occurs in such a marriage, but rather it sets the unbeliever apart for a special treatment by the Lord; there is a strong exposure to a loving witness that is very difficult for him or her to resist, and it may very well ultimately lead that unbelieving mate to the Lord.

There is a woman in our congregation here whom I have long admired because, for years, she has been married to a non-Christian, and she has lived a godly life before her mate and her children. As a result of her own godliness, most of her children have come to the Lord, but her husband still resists. And it is very difficult for me to understand how he is able to resist through the years because of the witness that he has to face -- not pressuring, not embarrassing him in any way, but a quiet, loving, proper Christian witness. And this is what the apostle says. There is the possibility extended in a mate remaining in such a marriage that his or her unbelieving mate will come to Christ, and very likely the children as well. Therefore, they are set apart in a special relationship, husband and children alike, or wife and children alike, and that is a marriage, then, that needs to be preserved. Now what if the unbeliever does not like that? What if he or she resents the fact that his or her mate will not go along with the same standards that he or she has? What if he or she is angry and upset all the time because of the new-found faith, or the growing faith, of his or her mate, and he or she decides not to stay in that marriage any longer? Well, the apostle says, "let the unbeliever depart." It may cause much heartache; these things are so close to us they can hardly be carried out, sometimes, without much heartache. But, "let him depart," Paul says. In such a case the brother or sister is not bound.

I have carefully checked all the commentaries available to me on this passage and have found that almost unanimously all the commentators agree that phrase, "not bound," means that the marriage has ended and that remarriage is permitted by the Christian involved in that kind of a liaison. The reason the apostle gives is that "God has called us to peace." Continual antagonism between two people of different faiths resulting in a constant chafing of one or the other in the marriage is not good. If the unbeliever takes the initiative (that is the qualification that must always be present), and wants to leave, then do not saddle him or her with legal restrictions or economic barriers that prevent him or her from doing so. That is what Paul is saying.

Now that is supported by Verse 16. (By the way, I now must take an entirely opposite view from the way I have understood that verse previously.) Paul says, "Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?" I grew up with the idea that that meant to hang onto the marriage at all costs. Do not let him or her go because there is still the possibility that you might reach through and he or she will be saved. But taken in its proper context it is a reference to "Let him depart," and it is an argument in support of it. What the apostle is saying is, "Do not try to force him or her into regeneration. You cannot know that you are going to save him or her if he or she stays in the marriage. You cannot know that he or she is going to believe if you hold onto him or her legally, regardless of his or her desire to leave." So his argument is: God has called us to peace rather than continual bickering and quarreling in this area, and in that particular case of a mixed marriage if the unbeliever desires to depart, let him or her depart. The final paragraphs teach us how to handle conditions that are difficult, in marriage or any other realm of life. Verse 17:

Only let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. (1 Cor. 7:17)

Paul means by that that this is not something peculiar to Corinth. This is a rule that should apply to Christians anywhere, both in every place and in all of time. Therefore, it is applicable for us today here in California as it was in Corinth. In other words, where you are is not an accident. God put you where you are. You may not even yet be a Christian, but that does not mean God has not been at work in your life. Paul said that he discovered after he came to Christ that he had been "separated unto Christ from his mother's womb," but he never realized that until he was on the Damascus road and found Jesus there. Yet through everything that was happening in his life, though he was a wild radical, a revolutionary anti-Christian breathing out threatenings and slaughter, God was at work to bring him to the place and the time when his conversion would occur.

And that is true of you too. God has assigned you a place in life, and you have made a lot of choices along the line to get there. God has worked through your choices, not to control you so that you had to do something, but to allow you free choice and yet work it out. Therefore, you are where God wants you to be. "Do not fight it," Paul says. "Stay in the place where God has assigned you; he has called you there." Called you to what? Why, this very letter tells you. It opens with the word in Chapter 1, Verse 9:

God is faithful, by whom you were called... (1 Cor. 1:9a)

Into what?

...into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:9b)

That is our calling, and that inner fellowship is the means by which strength may be obtained to live in difficult or disturbing circumstances. That is the argument the apostle has throughout this passage.

He does not mean by this, however, to keep on doing no matter what you were doing when you became a Christian. You may have been a madam in a house of prostitution. You may have been a professional gambler, or a bootlegger, or a bank robber, and God is not saying, "Now that you are a Christian, keep on being a Christian bank robber." He does not mean that. He is not talking about occupation; he is talking about relationships, and he goes on to show you what he means. Verse 18a:

Was any one at the time of his call already circumcised? [i.e. "Was he a Jew?"] Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. (1 Cor. 7:18a)

That is what some of them felt they had to do. In James Michener's book The Source, he tells about a young man who was a Jew and who wanted to become like the Greeks, so he went through a painful surgical operation to remove the marks of circumcision. This was common in the Greek games where the athletes competed naked. Paul says you do not have to remove those marks. Verse 18b:

Was any one at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. (1 Cor. 7:18b)

Bodily marks that indicate a former commitment you made are insignificant; they do not have to be removed. I know Christian men who are embarrassed to take their shirts off in public because they are tattooed. They probably had it done when they were young, in the Navy, and drunk! Now they see how foolish it was and they wish they could get rid of it. Paul says that is neither here nor there. Circumcision, uncircumcision, tattooed, untattooed -- it does not make any difference. The key to your life is not your outward looks, but what is going on in your heart, between you and the Lord, and the relationship you have to him. Verse 19:

For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. [By trust in the power and the life of God.] Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Cor. 7:19-23)

That is a very insightful passage. Paul is dealing here with the common problem of slavery in that day, and yet what he says is interesting. Basically, what he says is, "To be a slave or to be free is not the overriding consideration of life: it is what you are inside that counts." In the novel Roots, and in the television portrayal of that book, it was very evident that some of the slaves who were believers in Christ were much more noble, more loving, more compassionate, more understanding, demonstrated more integrity than their "free" masters. This whole passage calls us to the fact that that is the true freedom.

Now Paul is not denying the possibility that God may so arrange things that an opportunity for freedom is given. If so, "Take it," he says. Basically, it is a gift of God. Christianity, though it is revolutionary, it is not designed to be radically so. It is not a violent overthrow of systems of the past, but it is clear that it is, in practice, designed to free one from within. This is what the apostle is saying. So if you are in a situation that is difficult to handle, and hard to bear, remember that is only external; it is only temporary and passing, and you can be free in Christ in a most beautiful and effective and influential way. So Paul closes with these words, Verse 24:

So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Cor. 7:24)

Those are key words: with God -- regardless of what your situation may be, even it you cannot change it, even if it is a so-called "difficult" marriage, remember that God is able to meet you right where you are and to fill your life with love and joy and peace despite the struggles. The struggles themselves will help you do it if you understand them as God's choice for you. So, Paul says, "... do not become slaves of men." How do you become slaves of men? Well, you do when you conform to the world around, when you let the opinions of the secular writers shape your judgments as to what you ought to be in marriage, or whether you ought to get a divorce or not. You are becoming a slave to men, instead of to the Lord, when you do that. When you follow after teachers in the church and think of one as being better and preferable to the other, you are becoming a slave of men. When you give way to the secular pressures to sexual infidelity you are becoming a slave of men. Do not become slaves of men, Paul says, but remain where you are, "with God." (from

The Law of Moses: Principles of Separation

Exodus 23:20-33 "Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars. So you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will take sickness away from the midst of you. No one shall suffer miscarriage or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beast of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land. And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River. For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. "They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you."

Exodus 34:1-17 And the LORD said to Moses, "Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke. So be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to Me there on the top of the mountain. And no man shall come up with you, and let no man be seen throughout all the mountain; let neither flocks nor herds feed before that mountain." So he cut two tablets of stone like the first ones. Then Moses rose early in the morning and went up Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him; and he took in his hand the two tablets of stone. Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. Then he said, "If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance." And He said: "Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods. You shall make no molded gods for yourselves.

Deuteronomy 7:1-26 "When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly. But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire. For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them. Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all those who hate you. And you shall destroy all the peoples whom the LORD your God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity on them; nor shall you serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you. "If you should say in your heart, 'These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?'-- "you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: "the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover the LORD your God will send the hornet among them until those who are left, who hide themselves from you, are destroyed. You shall not be terrified of them; for the LORD your God, the great and awesome God, is among you. And the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will deliver them over to you, and will inflict defeat upon them until they are destroyed. And He will deliver their kings into your hand, and you will destroy their name from under heaven; no one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them. You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it; for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.

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August 8, 2004.