Sin, Sex, Lust, and Adultery: H.C. Lord’s Day 41

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 41

Q 108. What does the seventh commandment teach us?
A 108. That God condemns all unchastity, and that therefore we should thoroughly detest it and live decent and chaste lives, within or outside of the holy state of marriage.

Q 109. Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?
A 108. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy. That is why God forbids all unchaste actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires, and whatever may incite someone to them.
 
 
Reflecting once again on the events and news stories of this week, I am at the same time both surprised and disgusted at how timely this Lord’s Day is. To be clear: it is a horrible tragedy that anyone would have to be the victim of sexual violence of any sort for a point about the sin and evil in our hearts to be made. I am incredibly saddened for the many women who were victims of Harvey Weinstein’s many years of preying on young actresses.
 
I also recognize that, throughout the world, this is just a minor blip on the radar of the incredible perverse things that happen day in and day out. Whether it be the prevalence of pornography in the lives of everyday people, the use of sexually suggestive imagery in order to sell products, the sexual abuse of females of all ages by friends and family alike, or the stark reality of human sex trafficking which is abundantly prevalent in societies all over the world (even if we don’t want to see it), all highlight the depravity of our world and our desperate need for a Savior. I can only imagine that the Lord looks down on His creation and weeps bitterly at the absolutely horrid things we do to those who bear His image.
 
For me, all of this points out the relevance of the Heidelberg Catechism and its teaching once again. Many of those who experienced church as a child, especially in
protestant circles, had to go to a catechism class. It was more than likely boring, something that made you wish you never encountered it again. Yet here we are, staring down another national “wall-to-wall” news story of a great person mired in the scandal of sexual sin and we see that, despite social movements to promote equality and rights, the sin described here is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of many.
 
The point that this Lord’s Day is after, is the complete teaching of the seventh commandment. “Do not commit Adultery” is just the tip of the iceberg as it were. Moses elaborates on this, and all of the other commandments throughout the first 5 books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, and Jesus teaches about it in His earthly ministry as well. It isn’t just about cheating on your spouse, it is once again about the heart of the matter: sin.

Matthew 5:27-30

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
It isn’t enough to just not divorce your spouse, though if we look at our culture today we seem to have forgotten about that as well, it’s about the sin of lust and selfishness that is involved in all of this.
 
Sin is disordered love.  All of the commandments in the Bible are summed up in properly placed love:  Love God and love your neighbor.  When the love in our life is aligned well, we see flourishing in our relationship with God and those around us.  Yet when our love is misplaced, whether it be loving yourself and our desires, loving something else more than God, our spouse, our neighbors, etc., we see sin take hold of our lives.  Scripture teaches us how to have rightly ordered love.  It is important for us to heed these teachings.  For us, this is less about rules and more about the results of a life transformed by God’s love.
 
There are two things that I think need to be said in addition to this.
 
First, this commandment has long been used to keep people in relationships that are abusive and toxic.  While I am certainly not an expert on Scriptural interpretation, I know enough about the intent of God for His people and their lives that I can say with a high degree of confidence that this commandment was never designed to victimize or in any other way trap people in abusive or dangerous relationships.  The Bible describes a God that is very near to those who are low, downtrodden, and cast out; I believe this would include those who are trapped in cycles of abuse, neglect, and any other form of danger in relationships.  Those who have interpreted this commandment in such a way as to empower the abuser and blame the victim have completely missed the point, the intent, and the deep meaning of this commandment.
 
Second, at the 2017 Reformed Church in America General Synod, a motion was made and passed to clarify the meaning of this Lord’s Day teaching to also include same-sex sexual activity and marriage between persons of the same gender/sex.  While I believe that the Bible labels such activity as sinful, and clearly defines marriage in the Christian sense as being between a biological man and a biological woman (as those determinations were made at birth), it was the spirit of the debate which was of great disappointment to many.  It would seem that Homosexuality has become just the latest sin that some are using as the test of “good Christians” vs. “bad Christians.”  This is not right or at all in the spirit of unity that the Bible calls for in God’s people.
 
A proper and full understanding of the meaning and intent of the 7th commandment is certainly a good thing.  But elevating one sin above all the rest is certainly not.  Sin is sin.  Like we talked about last week, it is important that we understand that the core of the issue isn’t sex, or guns, or wealth, or anything else, the core of the issue is sin.  The Law is designed to point out sin and in doing so also point us to the need of a Savior: Jesus Christ.  When we turn to Him and put our faith and trust in Him, we find, as Scripture says, no condemnation… only grace.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job, then, to do the work of transformation through the testimony of God’s Word in the hearts and minds if His people.  Rightly ordered love does not look like us going to each person and pointing out their sins and condemning them.  Rightly ordered love looks to those created in God’s image and calls us to love them as God loves them, recognizing that God isn’t finished with them, or with us, and won’t be until we stand together in His presence on that great and glorious day when Jesus returns and makes all things right.


1 Corinthians 7 – #marriedlife

Read 1 Corinthians 7

Paul would seem ill-equipped to talk about being married, having never been so himself.  In fact, he states often that he sees his position as being better than actually being married.  It is important to understand that Paul is not setting up an argument for people to not get married, or even to get divorced.  Rather, he is continuing in the same line of thinking that he has been for the past two chapters, to stay away from sinning and thus damaging the witness of the church and the message of the Gospel.

All of this is coming in response to the information that Paul heard about the actions of the corinthian church.  Rather than being set apart for the Gospel, as those who believe in Jesus Christ are called to be, they have been behaving in ways that not only damage the witness of the believers but are also detestable to outsiders as well.

His tone also indicates that his greatest desire for believers is to be dedicated to the ministry of the Gospel, having their lives set apart for God and their focus placed solely on Him.  Simply put, Paul says that this is significantly easier for those who are not married.  That said, he also recognizes that being perpetually single is not for everyone.

No matter where we find ourselves in life, there will be trials and difficulties that will come our way.  Being single, or married for that matter, doesn’t change that; neither is a sin.  Paul’s desire for them, though, is that their priorities would be kept straight and that God would be at the center of their lives.  When this happens, even those that are married to unbelieving spouses will see the impact of God’s love and grace on those they love.



Matthew 19 – First and Last

Read Matthew 19

Having never been divorced, I find it hard to understand the thought process that goes into divorce.  In fact, as a pastor, walking alongside people who are struggling with things I have not directly experienced is one of the most difficult things for me.

Jesus, as He continues teaching about turning from selfishness, brings in the sensitive subjects of both divorce and money.  Like those asking who would be first in God’s Kingdom, certainly a self-interested question if ever one existed, Jesus addresses other situations in which self-interest certainly can play a role.

I would not presume to cast judgment on those struggling through divorce or picking up the pieces of life after one, and do not want to paint with broad brush strokes over the experiences of individuals in relationships I know nothing about.  I believe that this passage has been used far too many times to judge and hurt, condemn, label, and nullify people’s feelings without consideration of the details of their situation.  I firmly believe that it is not God’s intention to force people to stay in relationships that are unsafe and dangerous.

As He continues to teach, Jesus challenges our notions of selfishness and self-interest.  As those who are “in Christ,” we are called to put off such temptations, to put others before ourselves.  Ultimately we are called to what Paul calls a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  This calling is a life of freedom, not being bound to our own self-interest but putting others first.  Our freedom is to love in the way that Christ loved: self-sacrificially.  What does this mean for us?  Perhaps it means not pursuing wealth, actually living out marriage vows, or giving our children the time they need and desire after a long day’s work.  Can you think of others?



Day 332: 1 Corinthians 5-9; Questions and Answers

There are two main purposes that Paul had in writing this letter to the church in Corinth.  The first reason, as we saw yesterday, was to deal with some pretty major issues that the believers were dealing with.  Some of the first things that we saw Paul addressing in this community of faith were divisions that had cropped up among them.  People were raising up the teachings of some higher than that of others and this was causing a divide among them.  After addressing that, we see today that Paul is moving on to what one of my Bibles calls “disorder” in the church.  I would say this is an understatement as the first thing that is brought up in 1 Corinthians 5 is that of incest.  To be honest, I think this passage is a bit shocking for many people to read as we don’t hear much about incest today… but issues just as horrific as this are present in church communities across the world aren’t they?

We’ve seen hundreds of clergy, religious leaders, and pastors brought into the public eye for the criminal sexual abuse that they had been committing over the course of many years.  The Roman Catholic church is still reeling from the vast number of pedophilic church leaders that were brought into the public eye over the past decade.  Even more people turn a blind eye to the domestic issues of people within our congregations as well.  Child and spousal abuse run rampant throughout our communities and we look the other way.  I wonder what Paul was referring to when he was talking about the boasting of the church in Corinth.  Could they have been honestly been proud and boasting about this man and his “father’s wife” (aka. HIS MOTHER)?  Or maybe it was that they were boasting about the great community that their church had while turning a blind eye to this particular happening.

That might hit a bit more close to home for us.  We talk often about our churches and how we can make them more welcoming, ignoring the fact that people in oppressive relationships walk through our doors every week and we do nothing for them.  Paul doesn’t mince words when he talks about this stuff going on.  “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” he says.  He says too that we need to get rid of these people; remove them from the body.  Now, I think that this may seem a bit harsh, especially for today’s standards.  What about “let him who is without sin cast the first stone?”  It is true that, even as a community of faith, we are all sinners.  Yet in our redemption through Christ’s blood we are called away from a life of sin and into that of Christ.  Anyone living in sin like this, blatantly disregarding the Word of God, ought not to be allowed among other believers who may also fall into this lifestyle.  Church discipline is one of the most difficult things that a Church has to do, and it is not the Church’s way of allowing itself to be the judge and jury, but rather something that is done in love in an effort to correct and reconcile a person or people.  Never are we called to hate the sinner, lest we would find ourselves filled with self-hatred, but rather to understand that the Love of Christ is poured our for them as well as us, in equal measures.  Corrective action such as church discipline, like that which Paul speaks of here, is ultimately meant to awaken someone to that love so that they may turn from their ways and be healed.

The second main purpose of Paul’s writing this letter to the church in Corinth is to answer questions that the church apparently asked him in a prior correspondence.  Paul makes a sharp transition towards these questions, which he will address throughout the rest of this book, in chapter seven.  These folks had a lot of interesting questions that came up for Paul.  While Paul addresses a great many things around the subject of marriage and singleness, as well as that of food that is sacrificed to idols, and even Christian freedom, all of it revolves around the same point: keeping Christ at the center of it all.  Note that Paul advice on marriage doesn’t have so much to do with marriage as much as it has to do with living a life that is pleasing to God and ultimately following and growing in Him.  Even for those that are “unequally yolked” in marriage to a non-Christian, Paul encourages them to continue in that relationship.  He says that the unbelieving spouse will be “sanctified” by the believing spouse.  There is much discussion around this topic, but what Paul writes here is quite clear.  The use of the word ‘sanctified’ is also very telling as sanctification has to do with the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.  Perhaps Paul is revealing how the Holy Spirit would be working in the lives all family members through the life of a believing member.

Paul has much to say, and I think it deserves noting here, about divorce as well.  “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  In a culture where divorce happens to almost one in every two marriages, even in the church, this is a very telling statement and I think that it stands pretty well on its own.  There are often debates about situations of spousal abuse, etc.  I would submit that these are not what is being addressed here and are special situations.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to Christian freedom.  A lot of what he says here also stands on its own and needs little explanation.  The main thrust of what he is saying is that, like he writes to the church in Rome, being free from sin and given salvation does not grant the right to live however we want.  Paul didn’t do whatever he wanted, instead he did whatever was NEEDED to win more people for Christ.  This, I think is very important, and not something that we can just do when the need strikes.  Like an athlete that trains for each game, not knowing what will happen when he or she plays, Paul too says that he did and we must work hard so that we can be ready to win people for Christ at any time, wherever we are.