Seed of Abraham

John 8:39-41

They answered and said unto Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.

But now ye seek to kill Me, a Man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.

Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to Him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

We Be Not Born of Fornication | Present Truth Ministries

This conversation becomes more tense with every word. The Pharisees’ ears were stopped up with their self-righteousness, their complete lack of understanding. And their anger was growing. Who did this ridiculous bumpkin from Nazareth think he was, anyway? Telling them they were not the spiritual seed of Abraham!

“Yes, Abraham IS our father!” they retorted. They didn’t seem to understand at all what Jesus was saying. He was simply speaking the plain truth, and it enraged His audience.

“If you were indeed the spiritual seed of Abraham, you would be doing his works. Instead, you want to kill Me for telling you the truth. Abraham did not behave in such a manner! You? You do the work of him who is your spiritual father!”

“Well, at least WE are not born of fornication! GOD is our Father!”

There is that old accusation again, along with the shaming and judging. Being born of fornication was not acceptable. It removed the rights of Jesus to claim His royal lineage through Mary and Joseph to the throne of David.

In the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus was nothing more than the offspring of a carnal act between Mary and—-well, who knew, really? Maybe Joseph. Maybe some Roman soldier.

Jesus knew exactly what they were implying. What He says next deserves a post of its own.

NO Fornication!

Ephesians 5:3. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints:”

Yesterday I mentioned that the worship of the goddess Diana was corrupt with sexual sin. It was so much a part of the culture that very few were not affected by it.  Here, Paul steps up to the plate, so to speak, and tells the Ephesian believers that there must be NO such behavior for them. No kind of impurity or greed should be evident in their lives.

I’ve been thinking about the struggle it must have been for some of them.  Steeped in a religion that not only encouraged sin, but also demanded it, they must have  been amazed at what the apostle was teaching them. It was a complete 180 change for them. Their families who were not believers would have questioned them about their lack of participation in Diana-worship.I’m sure there was mockery and derision, and perhaps threats of  disowning them from the family .Maybe there was physical retribution. They may have lost their jobs and become outcasts.

This  command was far more than just  a directive against sexual immorality. I required a complete change in lifestyle that would affect everyone the Ephesian believers  were related to and knew in the community.

Works of the Flesh

Galatians 5:19. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.”

This is a really good graphic, and it will take you to other passages dealing with this awful list of the works of the flesh, which are clear and apparent (manifest).  I’m going to do a vocabulary list here, each word defined as it was in the original language.

  1. Adultery:  gr. moichos, having to do with a male partner. Adultery is considered to be extramarital sex.
  2. Fornication: gr. porneia, the root word of our pornography. Defined as harlotry, including adultery and incest.  We tend to consider fornication as sexual immorality outside of marriage, although these words are sometimes used interchangeably.
  3. Uncleanness: gr. akatharsia, meaning impure, demonic, foul, unclean. 
  4. Lasciviousness: gr. aselgiea, meaning impious, wicked, ungodly,licentious, filthy, wanton. 

It is notable that the first four things on this list all touch on sexual uncleanness. The first thing Adam and Eve noticed after they sinned was their nakedness.  It had not been a problem to them before. Satan, in a moment, turned and twisted  the beauty that God had created and made it something to be ashamed of. The selfish nature of man shows up in all manner of sexual immorality today, just as it always has. There is nothing new here.

Come back tomorrow for more of this really awful list, but don’t be discouraged.  There is a remedy!

Divorce

Matthew 19:9. “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

I don’t think you can know how much I have prayed over this verse, wanting to teach it correctly and clearly as I can. This is such a hot- button issue in our churches today. Many people have been hurt because they’ve been made to feel they’ve committed the unforgiveable sin if they divorce for any reason other than adultery or fornication. I would just like to point out two things:  One, divorce is NOT the unpardonable sin.  Attributing the miracles of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the unpardonable sin. It is denying the deity of Christ (Matthew 12:31-32). Two, if we had not descended into so much selfishness, lack of love for God and His Word; if we had not adopted a secular, hedonistic worldview into Christianity and into our churches, divorce would not have become so common among believers. We would not be  having discussions about the rights or wrongs of it.

One more thing, and possibly the most important, is that God forgives. He is the God of second chances, the God of reconciliation and restoration. There is no reason a divorced or divorced/remarried person or couple cannot serve in the church in several capacities, once there is no question about their commitment to Christ.

Now, let’s look at the verse, understanding that there is much disagreement about the translation and application of all the scriptures that deal with the issue of divorce. As you’ve probably discovered by now, I’m pretty much an advocate of taking scripture in its literal sense.

In the Old Testament, adultery was punishable by death. Jesus, as the the divine Lawgiver, the great “I AM,”  now gave a new law about divorce.  He said it was wrong, except for the cause of unfaithfulness. There are those who dispute whether or not this so-called “exception clause” actually belongs in the verse.  That is beyond my reach to discern.

If a person divorces for any other reason, that is wrong; the person who marries a wrongly-divorced person is committing adultery.

That seems very harsh to us, in this age of backward thinking, when hundreds of thousands of dollars can be spent on a wedding but there is little or no preparation for the marriage.  We have to keep in mind what the symbolism of marriage is. It is the picture of Christ, the Bridegroom, Who gave His life for the church, His bride. It shows the sacrificial nature of the love required of the groom, and the reverent, respectful love the bride is to give in return for His servant leadership.

When I have a couple in my office who are only inches from the cliff of divorce, I always go to two places in scripture. The first place is I Corinthians 13, the great “love chapter.”  The second is to Ephesians 5, which talks about the filling of the Holy Spirit and how that filling affects a Christ-centered marriage. Most husbands don’t seem to realize that the submission they seek from their wives could easily be theirs if they would simply obey scripture themselves, loving their wives sacrificially, nourishing and cherishing them as their own flesh.

Submission to that kind of love is easy. It is not a burden, because sacrificial love is not arrogant, demanding, and overbearing.

Please note that there is no condemnation to hell in Matthew 19:9.  There is no demand that people be  cast out of the church and shunned. There is no standing in haughty self-righteousness and holding our sacred white robes away from those who have sinned as we have not.  I’m afraid most of those attitudes have come straight from the hearts of prideful people who have indeed made sexual sin the most horrible sin of all.

Again:  God is the God of reconciliation and restoration. We need to consider that when we feel the need to judge a behavior that we ourselves have not committed.

Divorce

Matthew 5:31-32. “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement; But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

Talk about a hot-button issue!  I’ve been dreading having to write about this. I want to assure you that I do NOT have all the answers; I do NOT look with judgment/condemnation on people who have divorced and remarried.  I am extremely thankful to have been married to the same godly man for nearly 44 years.  I do not take it for granted, especially in this age of the first marriage often being the “trial” marriage.  Way too many couples spend thousands of dollars on the wedding, all the while agreeing that if it doesn’t work out they can just get divorced. What a travesty that is compared to God’s plan for one man, one woman, for life.

I’m not even going to bring in all the other scriptures pertaining to this topic.  That’s for another time, another discussion. Instead, I’m going to do my best to go through these verses in their context, with the history made clear.

There had been great laxity about divorce and remarriage among the Jews for a very long time. Talmudic law allowed for marriages to be dissolved on almost any pretext. Here is an interesting website to get you started reading about this subject:

http://www.jewfaq.org/divorce.htm

Remember, Jesus’ audience was primarily Jewish at this point.  They understood that divorce was relatively easy to obtain, In these two verses, Jesus raises the bar quite high. He is teaching that a man who divorces his wife for anything less than fornication (sexual impurity) is causing her to commit adultery.  Furthermore, any man who marries her is also committing adultery.

Please don’t shoot the messenger!  Before you click off this blog in hurt or anger, I’m asking you to stay with me a little longer.  There are some things we need to take away from this passage.

First, God’s view of marriage is sacred, holy, and pure.  It is pictured in Ephesians 5 as the relationship between Christ, the Bridegroom; and the Church, the bride. It is to last forever.  The godly bridegroom loves his wife sacrificially, as  Christ loved the Church.  He loves and cares for her in the same way he loves and cares for himself.  The wife then responds to him by arranging herself under his authority, and she respects him as the godly head of the home.

Divorce destroys that symbolism.

Second, let’s talk about what we often refer to as “the exception clause,” saving for the cause of fornication.  It is of great interest to me that the gospel of Matthew is the only place this exception is mentioned; and it is mentioned by Jesus as the King, the ultimate lawgiver. We will see it again in Matthew 19. Still, the meaning has been debated left, right, up, down and sideways ever since Jesus uttered the words.  Clearly, I’m not going to resolve the issue.  As with my previous post, I believe that God’s Word is its own best defense.  We need to seek the peace of the Holy Spirit in these matters.  Here is an article that I felt was well-balanced:

http://www.godspointofview.com/public/articles/except_for_the_cause_of_fornication.htm

Now to finish this post, I’m going to do a little op ed writing.  It seems to me that in at least some arms of Christianity, we have demonized divorce to the point of being THE WORST SIN anyone could ever commit.  Please understand that I’m not downplaying the seriousness of divorce.  It’s one of my least favorite issues to deal with in my work.  Everyone loses, no one wins, and if there are children, they are permanently scarred.

Some women endure horrendous abuse, physical and every other kind of abuse, for years before finally finding the courage to leave.  The Bible doesn’t mention how these types of situations are to be handled, but there are some principles that can guide our thinking.  Again, this topic is for another time.  Maybe I’ll address it at some point in my “Counseling Issues” category.

Finally, divorce/remarriage is not the unforgivable sin. That dire act is described in Mark 3:28-29. “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme; But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”

To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to attribute the works of Jesus to Satan (Mark 3:22). In other words, it is to deny Who Jesus is; that He is the Son of God, Messiah, King of Kings. It is to claim that His power was from Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.  Such blasphemy is not to be forgiven.

So.  While we guard our own marriages, get help if things are coming apart, do our best to keep our relationship strong and centered on God, let us not be quick to judge and condemn others who have experienced the excruciating heartbreak of divorce. They need our compassion, not our condemnation.

Abstain from Fornication

I Thess. 4:3b. “. . . .that ye should abstain from fornication.”

We talked about this yesterday, but I feel a need to be more specific about what the word fornication involves.  It is what we English teachers would call a collective noun; that is, a noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit. For example,  the word team is a group made up of individual members. The same is true of an audience, congregation, club, society, and so on. Fornication, then, is a noun denoting several types of illicit sexual behaviors. 

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the word used in this verse is porneia, from the root words porneuo, porne, and pornos.  Pornos  indicates a male prostitute, and denotes  debauchery among men. Porne is the feminine of pornos, indicating harlotry or female prostitution. (Included in all these words, and very important especially in the culture Paul addressed, was the practice of idolatry.)

Porneuo means to act the harlot; to indulge the unlawful lust (of either sex); to practice idolatry; to commit fornication. And finally, in the verse we’re looking at today, porneia encompasses all  harlotry, including adultery and incest; and including idolatry. 

One of my favorite sources, D. Edmund Hiebert (The Thessalonian Epistles) has this to say:

“Fornication was one of the conspicuous forms of immorality in all areas of the pagan world. It was regarded as a matter of indifference and even defended as a necessity of nature, like eating and drinking. The well-known proneness of the pagan gods to sensuality had a degrading influence on public morals.  Fornication received ritual sanction in some of the religious cults of the day. Adultery was a common subject of poetry and all the arts were employed to make it a pleasing and seductive practice.” (p. 167)

 

Then, as it should not now, Christianity was not to adapt its moral standards to the practices of contemporary society. Rather, Christianity should stand in utter contrast to what the unbelieving world deems as acceptable, normal, and up to each individual to decide. Because of the sanctity of marriage and the marital bed, Christians were to remain abstinent until marriage; after marriage, sex and sexuality were to remain sacred to the married couple.  

The so-called “new morality” that was fostered by the hippie movement of my generation is really not new at all.  The idea that a couple needs to “try out sex” before they get married in order to prevent divorce is laughable.  Certainly the statistics on the success of those who cohabit before marrying  bear out the fallacy of the idea that practicing sex before marriage prevents divorce.  Here is just one link among many, many others that will show you what I mean: http://www.rayfowler.org/2008/04/18/statistics-on-living-together-before-marriage/

It is also important to point out here that fornication is more than just illicit sex.  It covers the whole gamut of sexual indulgence, from pornographic pictures, books, movies and  magazines to topless dancers and the sex slave trade. We live in an evil world. We MUST be vigilant in our exposure to it, to the way it influences our thinking, dress, behavior and entertainment choices.

Years ago, I heard a speaker at a women’s conference say that if you’re going to err, it is better to err on the side of the conservative. We should choose to go too far in the direction of purity than in the direction of impurity. 

The Will of God

I Thess. 4:4. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.”

Important:  The will of God; sanctification, abstain, fornication.

This is not Paul’s opinion. It is the clear will of God that we stay away from all forms of sexual impurity. We live in a culture and a time in which sexual impurity has become nothing more than a relative term. I hear comments like, “You have to follow your heart; you have to do what’s right for YOU!”  almost every day that I work. The same philosophy is promoted by movies, TV, music, literature—an endless barrage of “do your own thing.” 

But the Bible says it is God’s will that we abstain from fornication.  How clear is that?  Let’s take a look at the words. 

God’s will: This is not merely God’s opinion, preference, or a choice He is giving us to make.  He wills it.  He demands it. It is a clear path He has pointed out for us to follow. 

Sanctification:  hagiasmos has the basic idea of being set apart for or dedicated to God because of the atoning work of Christ.  It is not the state of holiness, but the process of being made holy, becoming in character and conduct that which God desires us to be. He is holy. We are to be becoming holy, as He is. The next several verses clearly line out the practical aspect of growing in holiness of character. Specifically, we are told to abstain from fornication, to know how to posses one’s own vessel, and to avoid wronging a brother. 

Abstain: To hold one’s self off from, to keep away from. The word includes the idea of constantly keeping aloof from fornication. It indicates that we must choose to be mindful, aware, alert to temptation; we must choose to go the other way, to never let our guard down for a moment. 

Fornication: The word is used here to denote every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.  That concept, unlawful sexual intercourse, raises problems in our society because, really, nothing is unlawful any more. So we need to spend a little time figuring out how this applies to believers. 

In his book on I Thessalonians, William Alexander states that moral evils are always spiritual evils of the first magnitude. I never understood this idea as well as I do after spending several years in the counseling office.  People who have been victimized by sexual abuse are fundamentally changed in their hearts and souls.  It is so traumatizing that it can take years to recover, even for a believer.  Sometimes it is even harder for a believer because of the lingering sense of guilt suffered by the victim.  But that is a subject for another  post.  My point here is that all sexual sin is both a moral and a spiritual issue. 

We are not told that Timothy reported any specific instances of immorality in the Thessalonian church. This warning seems to be more of a preventive nature than of rebuke. However, sexual license existed in full measure then, as it does now. The warning was timely and important. 

There is nothing new under the sun. The lax moral climate in which we live is not new.  It has existed since before the Flood, and will continue to exist until God binds Satan forever.  The thing believers need to understand is that we cannot shape our own ideas of morality on the basis of what the unbelieving world says is okay. We must not adapt our own practices to the practice of contemporary society, not matter how we rationalize our desires. If God says it’s wrong, then it’s wrong. 

I Cor. 6:13-20 teaches  that our bodies belong to God; they are the temples of the Holy Spirit.  We are not our own; we are bought with the blood of Christ; we are to keep ourselves pure from sin. 

So let’s be specific.  What does the word fornication cover?  “All forms of illegal sexual intercourse” is pretty broad, unless we understand that God’s Word states clearly that sex is a holy and precious gift meant for a man and his wife; that it symbolizes the relationship between Christ the Bridegroom, and His bride, the Church.  It is not sinful in that context; indeed, it is to be celebrated, valued, enjoyed. 

Anything outside of that context is sin. 

We’re going to take a closer look at the word fornication tomorrow.