I love to dance, it’s obvious. There is a great feeling and expression when your body moves in rhythm with the music. But dancing with somebody can be even more beautiful. The harmony of synchronizing your moves together with someone and the music is a great art. But you will agree that while it is easier and less difficult to dance alone, it is not as fun and beautiful when dancing with someone. Dancing is like a good joke, we laugh best with someone.
So my last attempt to dance with my wife sometime last week is still ‘work in progress’. While I believe I am the better dancer, even so doing the steps with my wife is still a challenge. We step, stumble, bump and even hurt each other in the process and too often it can be embarrassing. It can feel like someone put stones in your shoe while dancing. It takes work to be a good dance partner.
Marriage is a unique dance in life. A dance of two people through the rhythms of life. The dance floor has all sorts of people- some are just still, some have fallen off, some are dancing alone, some lost their partners along the way, and some are not sure where their partners went?
Marriage starts off as an expression of Love to one another. They say Love is blind- then marriage is an eye-opener. Last week we talked about pictures. People get married with a perfect picture of marriage in their mind, then they discover they are married not to a perfect picture, but an imperfect person- when they realize they either tear up the picture or tear up the person. And a good dance is lost?
When you think of your marriage? Where are you, what pictures come to mind when you think of your dance in marriage? Scripture exhorts us in Amos 3:3- Can 2 walk together except they agree. Can 2 dance together except they are better and Stronger together?
We continue with our series Better and Stronger Together. Last week we begun this series by looking at the foundations of stable relationships- LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION. We said stable relationships begin by looking through the right camera- seeing relationships as God sees them, that when we relate as believers, it is a product of fellowship with God and therefore making fellowship with others possible. We said we need to Walk in the LIGHT- Our relationships need to be open and accountable and vulnerable, because the grace of God has hidden all our faults and lastly we said we need to exercise actions of Grace in our relationships- not being too quick to judge others.
Today we talk about Marriage. I know many of you do not remember the sermons preached on your wedding days, for obvious reasons and I wonder how many have revisited the videos to listen to the sermon, but today we revisit that sermon. I am also aware that we have those not married in this place and pray that there will be good application for you too as you listen in today. These contexts are not too far off or from you too. If anything, you might have a better chance at it than some of us who are married?
The subject of marriage is very wide and I am not an expert neither can I address it in full. Scripture speaks extensively about it and I do not think I can do justice to this subject in just about 40 minutes.
The top 3 marriage issues in Africa today are in the areas of Unfulfilled sexual relationships, Money and career and lastly extended family and responsibilities. As we look at Better and Stronger Together how can we navigate through these issues in our marriages today? Some can lead us to the conclusion that perhaps I am better or stronger alone instead of the realization that we are better and stronger together. I will address the issue of unfulfilled sexual relationships in specific
1 Cor 7, gives us perhaps the most sobering 40 verses in the bible about marriage. The first 11 chapters of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians is mostly corrective in nature. Paul spends a good deal on this first part to address some existing common problems in the church including sexual immorality that had invaded the church at that time. The last 5 chapters from 12-16, are constructive talking about the way forward. Being a young church, Paul spent a great deal in contending with some of the worldly lifestyles and beliefs that were threatening the unity of the church at that time. These things still remain true for us today.
These 40 verses will be the basis of our reading today? And I will read in part Vs1- 16, and selectively from the other verses. But take time to read in your own time.
Paul writes here addressing some very specific issues in the context of marriage relationships. He was not exactly after a theological position than giving directions on some of these issue.
There is a bigger context grounded in the Origins and Foundations of Marriage as recorded in Genesis 2: 20-25. Paul here was rather addressing the consequences and issues of failure to meet the standards of Gen. He was giving some corrections to restore, preserve and redeem the original intentions of God in creating the institution of marriage.
So marriage is not the creation of man, it is not the creation of the government, it is the creation of God. And God in this Genesis passage- God puts it as the 2 shall become one.
I want to strongly define here that marriage is a commitment between 2 people and in specific Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve (man and Woman). Ideally any man and woman can come together and live with one another on a contract basis, written or unwritten. The result is left to the 2 of them. Too often I suggest the result will be disaster.
Marriage has a legal obligation- get them right, it has societal obligations- get it right but most importantly for us it has a Sacred Obligation- Get that right. Outside these 3 I suggest you do not have a marriage but something else.
But this falls way too short in understanding God’s intentions for marriage. Scripture teaches through the relationship of God and his people, and that of Christ and the Church that for believer’s marriage is not just a contract but a Covenant Relationship that God wants to use for His purposes on earth.
Marriage is perhaps the best discipleship tool God ever designed to raise those who will live out Christ-like love in this world. What makes a Christian marriage is not because you did your wedding in the church but you lived your marriage in the church.
This is what makes Our Marriages Sacred, above the desires to live together, Christian marriages rise above legal and societal obligations. And may be some of us stopped at that. We do not pursue the Sacred/Kingdom obligation.
Our marriages as believers is a covenant relationship. In other words marriage is a commitment to a perfect God to love and live with an imperfect person for the rest of your life. This is different from a contract, which simply falls at you do your part, I do my part and if it works well and good. But a Covenant is different in that I look to a perfect God to do my part to love you, whether you do yours or not.
Too often the comment ‘Things are not working out’- is because we do not have this understanding. When we say things are not working out – it’s because we are doing marriage outside this definition. We are being selfish. We mean “I am not getting what I want”.
When God designed marriages that “It’s what I give, outside of myself in the hands of God to satisfy another person that returns to me the greatest joy. The result of this corruption of the institution of marriage is what Paul addresses here or seeks to correct here- a life of unfaithfulness, carelessness and selfishness.
First is to question whether we are intentionally pursuing this kind of marriage? Reality may hit us that some of us are in a contract arrangement and are outside the covenant? And for some we fell out of the covenant? The point of obedience will vary- how do we redeem these relationships? This is what Paul is instructing in this passage.
First the Issue of Unfulfilled Sexual relationships- This is the greatest source of universal pleasure and problem. Surrounded by a pagan society that expressed their sexuality freely and carelessly in all forms- (See background of the Hellenistic world), there was no fidelity and faithfulness, the pursuit of sexual pleasure had led to a life of unfaithfulness and immorality just as is today.
Paul notes that God has provided the solution to immorality and sexual fulfillment fully in the context of marriage. Outside marriage sex- threatens the covenant. Within this covenant Sex is pure, holy, and good and I suggest here that sex is necessary.
Indeed in the context of this covenant sex is the integration of each personality in all of his or her parts, physically, psychologically and spiritually, and the integration of each to the other. This does not take place automatically but intentionally. Both should be willing to learn and to adjust whenever and wherever adjustment is needed. To deny one another is to expose each other.
This is an area of challenge to many Christians, Sexual expression in many Christian homes causes a lot of dissatisfaction and sometimes unnecessary fights. It is true that while the objective is also to receive pleasure, the principle then to enjoyable sex is giving pleasure.
Sex is also the means of responsibility- through Sex we pro-create as God intended. Children created within this covenant as Paul, says are holy. In the event that children are not there- God provides the joy of adoption as a way of redeeming this marriage and these children are equally holy. This child bearing responsibility is part of this covenant. It is unbiblical to enter into marriage for anything less than this responsibility. Children are part of this package, whether by blood or adoption.
Allow me here to speak on the issue separation and divorce on the basis of unfaithfulness. Indeed Jesus, said in Mathew 5:32 Anyone who divorces his wife except for marital unfaithfulness commits adultery.
First Adultery is not just simply sex outside marriage but the infiltration without consent into this covenant of 3 (GOD, MAN and HIS WIFE). When the covenant of 3 is threatened. I suggest strongly under my understanding of these scriptures that
While Divorce is unacceptable, especially for believers- Unfaithfulness really is unfaithfulness first to God, then to your spouse and then to yourself by bringing someone else in this sacred covenant- that ultimately result to the breaking of the covenant and hence the provision for divorce.
But I’ll also be too quick to advice, that while it remains an option- Divorce should not be jumped into carelessly as we hear in the west- ‘No fault divorces’ but after a careful period of consultation under the accountability of God’s people-the church. Also in the event that there is perennial unfaithfulness, with no sense of remorse and further damage in the relationship- after careful counsel and prayer. Divorce therefore must be a guided process, preceded by an intentional separation for self- reflection and accountability by the Church. The reasons for separation must be equally solid especially in the context where there is excessive and degenerative abuse and threat to life.
In this case then, My position as Paul says his position, is that under these conditions Divorce is permitted and consequently Remarriage is permitted as there is nothing binding thereafter. As Paul says in Vs 15.
The second bit of this correction is perhaps the most difficult to explain. What if, or in the event I have found myself in a relationship that falls out the parameters of this covenant? What if I am married to a none believer?
Paul here instructs that while you are not bound, it calls for greater patience and strength to stay on with a duty to continuously bring your spouse to know God. In this case only the legal and societal obligations apply, this does not automatically mean that you dismiss, but on your part to apply the teachings of Christ even with a non believing spouse. This I know is not easy, but God’s grace suggest that it is possible. Your individual covenant with God can strengthen you to this contract with them.
The same is the case of polygamy- If you came to faith in the context of a polygamy, you are free to leave however under the accountability of the church and by free will consent, especially where the responsibility of children is sensitively important- you may opt to stay by the grace of God in such a marriage. However this is not the encouraged position. This is not a prescription but in the unlikely event you find yourself there…. Polygamy is not a biblical position.
I must confess that these are heavy matters, both spiritually and technically. Every situation is handled as a case by case, under accountability. We have not come up with any positions as a church, we neither seek to come up with any positions but on a case by case basis, in prayer and in counsel we will deal with these issues. To help me do this, I want to mention that we have put together a team of wise men and women who will help process these matters and give directions on our behalf. Even as a pastor, I am not able to handle these matters alone. I encourage that if you are in any of these situations, those of you who have stopped dancing- you come out and let’s walk this journey so that we can be better together.
I wish here to also celebrate that we are a Gracious Community. We believe in the redeeming, restoring power of the Gospel. Before God and in this church, despite your past and situation, You are not half a person. God’s LIFE can restore you completely. We will be glad to be used of God to be part of the process. Come let us reason together- says the Lord.
But in conclusion especially to the unmarried: We must not fall short of God’s Purpose and intentions of Marriage. We must seek not to fall short of this covenant. We must endeavor to get in right, start with the right dancing shoes, the right dancing partner and the right music. Perhaps you might just save us from the issues in this difficult passage. Those who are still dancing…keep dancing in the Lord.
Importantly- lets pray. Pray and Seek God’s will over the state of our relationships, pray and seek the best redemption of your relationship situation, pray over the results and consequences of our past marriage issues….lets pray.