56. Moral Ethics (1)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  56.  Moral Ethics (1)

Heb 13:4   Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

God’s design: In the next two verses we find two examples of what I will simply call moral ethics. The first is about marriage and sex and the second is about attitudes about money. One of the things many people do not like about the Bible is that it lays down specific rights and wrongs according to God’s design for mankind but people do not like being told what that design is and therefore what is behaviour running contrary to it.

Design for Marriage: Perhaps nowhere is this rebellion against God’s design seen as clearly today, as in the whole question of marriage in the Western world. Marriage design is seen in the earliest pages of the Bible: “A man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) One man plus one woman who separate themselves from their families and become a new single unit, a foundation stone of civilisation.

Oneness: The apostle Paul spoke of the oneness that comes from this uniting suggesting it is far more than merely a physical uniting. The Message version is particularly good at expressing what he wrote: “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modelled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realise that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Cor 6:16-20). In other words, what you do with your body is important to God because your body houses the Holy Spirit and when there is a legitimate God-blessed union of husband and wife, there is a unity that includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. THIS is God’s design order and therefore anything less than this cannot receive His blessing.

The failures of Co-habitation: Living together and having sexual relations without commitment is what today is referred to as co-habitation, not only a sign of rebellion against God but also a sign of lack of security. Surveys of cohabitation clearly show that such relationships are more likely to break up than marriages and, even more, those who cohabit before marriage but then get married, are more likely to break up than traditional marriages.

Features of Divorce: When Malachi said that God hates divorce it wasn’t only referring to spiritual breakup but also to marriage breakup because God knows the harm that is done to individuals when there is a marriage breakup and, even more, the harm that is done to the children of such a family breakup. Jesus confirmed the Law of Moses that permitted divorce but only because of the hardness of heart of the individuals concerned who cannot receive counsel and help and grace to restore that which has been damaged by infidelity.

Adultery: Infidelity in respect of marriage is called adultery, the crossing the boundaries of a marriage so a sexual relationship occurs between a member of the marriage and a third party. God’s feelings about this are quite clear: You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex 20:14). General prohibitions against immorality are found in the New Testament (see 1 Cor 6:9 and Eph 5:5) The apostle Paul spells it out: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thess 4:3-7)

Again his instructions as to how to take control of yourself is are clear: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Col 3:5,6) and “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Eph 5:3)

It is sometimes suggested that in the modern church in the West these instructions are often forgotten or ignored. If we do, we do so at our peril for there will come an accounting before the Lord. There are no excuses; merely because others live and behave in ways contrary to God’s ways,  that gives no allowance to us to do the same. This may become one of the key ways that Christians stand out from unbelievers and in so doing they will reveal a better way.

God’s order for Pre-Marriage: Many modern young people appear to have no sexual boundaries and as, many a TV series has shown, find it incredibly difficult to find love. Starting a relationship in God’s order of things starts, I would suggest, in becoming friends which is a meeting at intellectual and emotional and social levels. Physical intimacy may begin before marriage but consummation should always be left to after the marriage. Anything less than this leaves guilt and fear.

The teaching here by the writer to the Hebrews is ultra clear: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”   i.e. marriage is a relationship God-style and anything less than that may mean adultery or simply immorality (anything outside marriage) and that means being answerable to God and that may be painful. Let’s not go that way!

31. Tamed Tongue

Meditations in James: 31 : Inability to Tame the Tongue

Jas 3:7,8   All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

There is often perceived in men or women a pride that says, “We are the peak of evolution and we can do anything. We can harness energy, use technology, bring health and longer life. We can manipulate atoms and genes and even create life. We are the lords of the universe.”  They may not say it in so many words, but those are the sentiments that the pride of man brings out.  In daily life, especially when we are young, we wake up in the morning feeling good, the sun is shining and everything is going well, and we feel invincible. And then we speak unwisely and harshly, and the world turns grey as the ugly truth is revealed: I can’t even control my tongue!

So far we have observed James’ descriptions of the tongue as he shows us that although it is small it can determine our path. He’s also pointed out that although it is small it has the power to wreak havoc and destruction. The warnings are clear: if only we would learn to harness our tongue we could use it to bless and build, encourage and energise, congratulate and create. But there is the problem and it is that which James focuses upon now; we can’t control it!  He will go on to suggest what needs to happen but for now he focuses on this terrible truth.

People use their minds to train themselves to be able to do great things. They discipline and stretch their physical abilities to be healthy and strong, but when it comes to focusing on harnessing something as small as the tongue, we find it is a different thing.  Singers can control their vocal cords. Ventriloquists can produce words without apparently moving the mouth, but when it comes to the words themselves and the emotions that are behind them, we seem so often completely unable to be in control. Words come out we wish we’d never said, feelings were expressed that cause hurt and upset, and once out cannot be put back in the box.  James makes us think about the natural world.  We can capture and train wild animals that seem so large and aggressive, but when it comes to something as small as the tongue, we are helpless it seems.  The tongue seems to have a life of its own at times and it seems impossible to tame it.

There are so many self-help books on the shelves of bookshops today, even books on how to say things nicely, but however many books we read, on a bad day we realise we are still not in control of this small part of our body which, as James says, seems so full of restless evil.  We can start the day out, full of good intentions.  We can make New Year resolutions, but it doesn’t take very long for a situation to arise where we find our mouth speaking out strongly and hurtfully.  If we had a hidden TV camera team filming us all day and every day for a month, how many of the words that were recorded would we be happy to be seen on the small screen?  In seeing it being replayed, how many times would we regret the words and wish either that we had said nothing or had said it differently?  Perhaps it takes a wider judging audience to face the truth about ourselves. That is what James is trying to do, to get us to think about our speech and face the truth about ourselves, because until we do that we will not see the need and if we don’t see the need we will not turn to the Lord for His help.

That’s what Scripture does so often: show us our need, show us our potential in God, so that we go to Him for His life changing power.  That is James’  aim, and that is why we continue to consider these things.  But focussing on two verses gives us a limited view. Yes, it helps us see our need but it doesn’t explain WHY and it doesn’t give us answers. For the ‘why’ of our tongues actions we have to go back again to what Jesus said about our mouths: For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Mt 12:34).  Yes, this is the truth.  The mouth reflects what is in the heart, what is there deep inside us. The heart is our state of mind and will. It is the innermost reach of our personality, the cause of what we think and feel. It is in many ways a mystery. Why do we have these inner inclinations, which sometimes conflict with what outwardly we’d like to be? Yes, when we think about it, we’d like to be cool, calm and collected, able to answer every unkind word from others with graciousness, able to respond to every hostile question with wisdom.  Yet, we find, so often it isn’t like that.  Why is that?  It is because our heart has not been changed.

At the centre of the New Testament teaching is the recognition that to be Christians we have to die to ourselves, we have to die to self.  The call is to put God first, then others next and ourselves last.  It sounds a good theory and when it works we find we are most blessed, but so often self pushes to the front.  The difficult truth is that the heart is only changed by difficulties. ‘Character’ is another expression of what the Bible refers to as the heart, the way we truly are.  Paul said, we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;” (Rom 5:3,4).  Our character is formed as we learn to endure in difficulties.  You’ll know how much the Lord has formed your character, how much He has moulded your heart, by the words that come out of your mouth when the circumstances are difficult and people are not being nice. At that point, your mouth will reveal what God has been able to do in you. Now there is a strange thing. It is only as He is able to do things in you, and that is determined by your willingness to let Him do it, and that is a matter of will. Don’t focus on the tongue. See it as a revealer of what you’re like inside, but having done that, ask the Lord to transform you on the inside. That’s what this is really all about.