Repairing the Ruins of Lost Purity (and a note on singleness)
(This article is a follow-up to the recent two-part series on Marriage and Divorce.) In typical Jesus fashion, Jesus raises the bar on the requirement for purity in marriage as he sheds light on an Old Testament passage from the book of Deuteronomy. The passage seems to allow for a man to divorce his wife if she “finds no favor in his eyes.” Instead of affirming a popular view of “divorce-for-any-cause”, Jesus explains that this allowance was made, not to a husband who falls out of love, but for a husband who discovers that the wife he has been pledged to has not been chaste prior to their marriage. It was a way of stopping a marriage before it really got started because of a lack of sexual purity. In other words, Jesus explains that a blessed marriage is one in which the man and woman have reserved their “nakedness” for one another – even before they met.
Of course, that pretty much leaves most of us feeling a sense of our own failure. Our society views casual sex as a normal part of dating. So what hope is there for a Christian carrying a burdened past? Can he (or she) enjoy a blessed marriage, one in which true nakedness can be enjoyed with his (or her) spouse? The short answer is yes, because of the power of the gospel. The long answer explains how the gospel gives us hope. This is what I want to spell out below and comes from a further examination of the passage in Matthew 19. This is good stuff that, for the sake of time, did not get into the sermon series.
After Jesus raises the bar on the purity requirement and condemns the “any cause” divorce, the disciples feel the weight of it and say in verse 10, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Its as if their saying, “Hey Jesus, you’ve set the bar too high! How can anyone ever hope to have a blessed marriage if this is the case?” Jesus doesn’t resolve the tension right away. Instead he takes the opportunity to explain that staying single is not an option that most people have. Singleness is a special calling that God gives to some, no doubt. But most of us are designed to be married. We are designed to be completed by a spouse. Thankfully Matthew doesn’t leave us hanging too long. In a scene a few verses later (verse 15) Jesus is greeted by a rich young man who wants to know what he must do to be saved. The conversation leads to Jesus calling him to sell all he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. The rich man went away sad because he had a lot of wealth and couldn’t part with it. In a teaching moment for his disciples Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The disciples are astonished and respond, “who then can be saved?” It is a question that bears a similarity to their conclusion about marriage which, paraphrased, is “who then can enjoy a blessed marriage?” Jesus’ answer works for both conclusions/questions: “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.”
There is hope for those who suffer from guilt in their past. There is hope to be cleansed of their impurity and made clean again. But that hope rests entirely on the work of God. Many try and workout their own cleansing. They put themselves through self-inflicted emotional pain, thinking somehow that by berating themselves they can overcome the impurity. Or they make vows to God to be better from now on. But we can neither pay the debt our impurity deserves or do enough good to wash it away. Only the blood of Christ shed on cross has the power to remove the stain of our impurity. The apostle Paul explains it like this, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” What is impossible for man is accomplished by Jesus.
Jesus’ work of washing not only covers the impure but serves as a model for the restorative work needed in our marriages. We imitate Christ when we forgive. Forgiveness means choosing not to “make our spouse pay” by shutting him out or cutting him down. In other words, forgiveness is about covering his debt yourself. Forgiveness is the way you walk the path toward restoration with your spouse, the path that Jesus already paved with his blood. Is there any surprise that Jesus teaching on this topic immediately follows Jesus teaching on forgiveness in the previous chapter? It’s amazing how these things fit together…