Jesus’ Subversive Kingdom – Part Eight

If our discipleship methods don’t reach the whole person—spirit, soul, and body—it’s not discipleship according to Jesus. If we only train our brain without dealing with what’s going in our soul, we won’t experience the freedom Jesus came to give us.

What’s so subversive about this is that religion tries to attain righteousness by modifying outward behavior. Jesus says the opposite. Righteousness comes from the inner transformation of the soul. Dallas Willard talks about this New Testament term:

It’s the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow. But not the reverse. A special term is used in the New Testament to mark the character of the inner life when it is as it should be. This is the term dikaiosynē.”  (The Divine Conspiracy, p.144 *)

Righteousness, or dikaiosynē, according Jesus, is what it looks like to be fully human. He goes below the surface-level “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,” probing the depths of our “iceberg” with surgical precision, marking out the underlying negative issues that shipwreck relationships and keep us from “loving our neighbor as ourselves.” 

Again, the six relational root issues He deals with in Matthew chapter five are:

  • Anger – vs. 21-26
  • Sexual attraction (lust) – vs. 27-30
  • Marital dissatisfaction – vs. 31-32
  • Influence through manipulation (vows) – vs. 33-37
  • Revenge – vs. 38-42
  • Hating our enemies – vs. 43-48

These issues reveal a dehumanizing trajectory away from other-centered, self-giving love. Anger leads to murder; lust leads to adultery, and adultery leads to divorce. Revenge and enemy hatred are also on this same  trajectory. They all involve the degradation and objectification of human life made in God’s image and who have infinite value to Him (Matt.13:45-46; John 3:16).

We looked at anger and adultery of the heart (lust) last time. What naturally follows this is marital dissatisfaction as it relates to divorce.

Marital dissatisfaction and divorce

What’s important to realize here is the context. Jesus is dealing with how divorce was used with regard to the Law, and how this relates to actual righteousness.

31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. (Matt.5:31-32 *)

I think you can see just how subversive Jesus’ statement is to our “no-fault divorce” culture today! To even quote Jesus here is to subject yourself to public ridicule or be accused of legalism.

But, again, context is the interpretative key here. Jesus has just established the trajectory of violence and sexual lust (vs.21-30).  We also need to remember that Jesus’ standard of morality is not based on the deed but on the condition of the heart.

So, in this context, Jesus is interpreting the “spirit” of the Law as opposed to the letter (2 Cor.3:6). He’s saying to the Pharisees that their manipulation of the Law with regard to divorce doesn’t solve the problem. You still have an adulterous heart. And, until we let God deal with the heart problem, nothing actually changes.

There are legitimate reasons for divorce, including sexual immorality brought up here, and dangerously abusive behavior. It also takes two people to deal with their issues. Even if one is willing to do whatever it takes, the other may not be willing.  Paul addresses this in 1 Cor.7:12-15. We are not to be put under legalistic bondage in these cases.

But regardless of the situation, Christians who’ve experienced divorce must see it as a failure on the part of one or both to follow Jesus (“hardness of heart” – Mark 10:2-12).  Again, this is not to condemn us if we’ve had a divorce, but to reveal something not functioning properly in us that Jesus wants to heal if we will let Him.

There’s very few things more damaging to the human soul than going through a divorce because of how it shatters godly soul ties and brings such brokenness to everyone involved, especially the children.

My wife and I have counseled many Christian marriages, including those who ended up in divorce. In almost every case one or both walked away from the marriage because they refused to let go of their anger and/or let Jesus deal with their own brokenness. The problem is, the divorce didn’t solve the problem! It just compounded their brokenness.

Nonetheless, God’s grace brings total forgiveness and healing and wholeness. So, as Paul, said, we’re not in bondage to the letter of the Law. And there are cases where someone who has allowed Jesus to heal their wounded soul after a divorce finds a healthy spouse and their subsequent marriage is a happy one. God allows “do-overs,” even though there are still negative repercussions from the failed marriage.

This is why, no matter what our marital situation is, it’s always in our best interest to bring our brokenness to Jesus so we can be healed. This is especially important before entertaining a divorce. We should carefully consider these negative consequences, and reconcile, if possible.

We will look at manipulation and control next time.

* New King James Bible translation. All emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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8 Responses to Jesus’ Subversive Kingdom – Part Eight

  1. This is an area of much confusion. When I was a deputy sheriff (before moving to fire department) I talked with quite a few abused women. Several told me that their ministers used the above verses as proof that they were not free to leave a physically abusive marriage. My response to them was to get out of there as quick as possible. God would never condone them being a punching bag and that the spouse was not living up to his end of the covenant agreement.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Exactly right. This is just one of the many dangers of using verses like this legalistically, especially when it comes to abuse. It’s total manipulation and misogynist fearmongering. And we wonder why people have problems with the church!

      I also had a very strange thing happen in the opposite way. A woman came up to me one time after a service and got in my face, telling me that women shouldn’t be allowed to speak in church, quoting 1 Cor.14:34. I tried to tell her that this verse was talking about maintaining order in a meeting (don’t speak in tongues for the whole church to hear if there’s no interpretation, stay silent if you have a prophetic word while others are prophesying…vs.28-33), and not about women in general. The irony was, she was speaking! 🙂 I did all I could not to point this irony out to her. Needless to say, she finally found a good legalistic church to belong to and we didn’t have any more trouble with her.

      The sad truth is, most abusive churches and cults thrive on either over-literalizing a verse and/or taking it out of its context.

    • Unfortunately, many flock to legalistic churches because it satisfies their works mentality.

    • Mel Wild says:

      That is so strangely true! It seems many prefer the confinement of a cage to the wide open spaces of God’s grace and love. The irony is, they’re actually not surrendering to Jesus at all! They are hanging on to their own insecurities and fear, maintaining their need to be in control (or be controlled), and to be able to judge other’s weaknesses based on their strengths. It’s pretty sad, actually.

  2. Amen,Mel. Well said and perfect. I like to say, “you can’t divorce me,myself,and I.” So if those 3 are messing with your marriage, just keep in mind you’ll be taking them all with you.

    I laughed at your tale of the woman speaking in church. I saw that happen once! A woman was so mad she stood up and started telling the pastor he was all wrong. Today I remember that and laugh at 1 Cor.14:34, thinking, well of course women shouldn’t speak in church, like carrying on and gossiping during the service, like yelling at the pastor when he’s trying to talk, like arguing doctrine during worship songs you don’t like, like deciding church is a good time to lecture your kids about why they should clean their room……well, duh. Makes perfect sense to me.

    It’s sad how legalism can pervert scripture and make it into something ugly. It’s so important to know the Author and the Finisher of our faith because He is the One who gives the words their context. Actually, He is The Word. 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks. And, as it’s said, wherever you go, there you are! I love how Jesus basically puts us in a room full of mirrors and tells us to work on the person in front of us. Too bad we have our eyes closed most of the time.

      Yes, legalism is trying to follow Christ without love in relationship. It’s a dysfunction all it’s own!

  3. Cindy Powell says:

    “We also need to remember that Jesus’ standard of morality is not based on the deed but on the condition of the heart.” Yes. Always. How is it that this sounds (and actually is) so simple but we make it so complicated? I have much to say about how the church deals with the area of divorce, but I’ll spare you! Somehow we are still able to enforce the letter of the law, yet have no problem dismissing the heart of it. I think Jesus called this straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel 🙂 I heard someone say once that all divorce is caused by sin, but not all divorce itself is sin. Simple way of summing it up. Just keep kicking those sacred cows–on both sides of the divide! Good stuff!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Cindy. Yes, we humans have an amazing ability to complicate the simple, strain the gnats, and basically get it all backwards!

      “I heard someone say once that all divorce is caused by sin, but not all divorce itself is sin.”
      Amen. That’s a great way to put it. The “spirit” of what Jesus was dealing with was the use of the Law that allowed men to kick their wife to the curb if she didn’t please them. Women had no rights whatsoever. It was about the adulterous heart. But it wasn’t intended to keep someone in a prison when a marriage was beyond repair. It takes two people to make a marriage work and the only person we have any control over is ourselves. We are only responsible for our half of the situation. And even when we’re the problem, it’s an opportunity to let Jesus heal what’s broken in us. God called us to freedom, not bondage.

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