1. Sacred covenant ordained by God
2. Specifically one man, one woman, united for life.
3. Spiritual Christian marriage: one Christian man, one Christian woman, united for life.
Thus far we have aimed to understand God's will on these matters from 1 Timothy 2:1-3:16. Today we conclude this blog series by considering God's will in culture, which is to say, God's will for Christians living in the culture as seen in 1 Timothy 4:1-6. We will first of all define briefly the marks of our culture predicted by the Holy Spirit in 1 Timothy 4:1-6, followed by a specific focus on God's will for Christians living in a culture hostile to marriage.
Predictive marks of culture. 1 Timothy 4:1-6
I will only lay out in brief the four marks of culture the Holy Spirit says characterize all subsequent cultures, specifically our own, in the days leading up to Christ's return. We know the Holy Spirit is speaking of the time immediately preceeding the return of Christ, since we similar references to such times in 2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Peter 3:3 and Jude 1:18. In short, what four marks does the Spirit predict to characterize the culture of our day:
1. Revival of paganism. 1 Tim 4:1
2. Recklessness. 1 Tim 4:2
3. Rejection of marriage. 1 Tim 4:3
4. Religion without Christ. 1 Tim 4:4
We could easily spend another two or three posts discussing each of these marks, however the third one (rejection of marriage) is what I want to spend the rest of the time focusing on today as well close out this blog series. Why? Inasmuch as all these marks must be warned about and addressed, perhaps no more visible, no more practical and no more personal battleground is being contested for in the culture and the church than marriage.
God's will for Christians living in in a culture hostile to marriage
As we already discussed above, marriage is specifically defined in the Bible. The Biblical definition of marriage (one man and one woman united in covenant for life) is a concept that is not only found in scripture, but hardwired into humanity, since we are made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:24-25) Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:3 that among other practices, culture in the time before Christ will "hinder", "forbid" or "try to stop" the institution of marriage in it's tracks. Quite literally in the original language, those who "forbid" marriage will try to "stand in the away or make it difficult" for those who want to get married or who advocate such. In Paul's first letter to Timothy, the church he pastored was located in a city where all sorts of practices and relationships were being promoted. Temple prostitution was the norm and the Roman and Greek practices of having mistresses would had been accepted in that culture. What Paul is saying is that such opposition to God's marriage standard of one man/one woman in marital covenant will grow worse and more pronounced as the time for Christ's return approaches. How so? By promoting alternative, man-made arrangements that when practiced, result in the decrease of rate of marriage and the increase of rate of practice of non-biblical relationships that are centered on man and not God. What would be some examples of non-biblical co-habiting relationships or any type of sexually-orientated arrangement outside of marriage? We could do an exhaustive listing, but for sake of time I will list a general heading and four specific examples:
1. Fornication. Any sexual relationship between a man and woman before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:17-19), or any sexual act that occurs outside of marriage. (see 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:16; 10:8; Jude 1:7) The term "fornication" is a general umbrella term that, in the original languages of both Old and New Testaments, refers to being unfaithful to God's covenant and one's covenant spouse in marriage.
2. Adultery. This act is a specific expression of fornication that has to do with any sex-act performed with one person of the opposite sex while married to another person of the opposite sex. We know that "adultery" is a specific expression of fornication from texts that mention both terms as distinct sins. (Mark 7:21; Galatians 5:19). Exodus 20:14 is the first mention of the term "adultery" and the seventh commandment. According to Proverbs 6:32, a person lacks sense when they commit this act. Think of how much adultery destroys marriages, undoubtedly creating an environment that can cause people to doubt the validity of marriage, and thus hindering it.
3. Pornography. This is a visual act of fornication that primarily entails one person attempting to gratify themselves outside of marriage and without anyone else. Jesus not only condemned adultery, but also condemned the looking upon another woman (or if a woman, looking upon a man) with lust as tantamount to committing adultery in Matthew 5:28. Why? Because the attempt to gratify one's God-given appetite through an unbiblical method pollutes that gift and leads to moral and spiritual ruin. Addiction to pornography wrecks havok on marriages, leading to physical, emotional and spiritual distance between spouses.
4. Pre-marital sex. In passages such as Exodus 22:16,17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29, we see commands forbidding pre-marital sex, which is often-times also called by the more general term "fornication". Paul tells people in 1 Corinthians 7:2-4 that if a man and a woman, who have expressed the desire to spend the rest of their lives together, are to avoid falling into sexual sin, "let every man have his own wife and every wife her own husband." 1 Corinthians 7:9 plainly states: "it is better to marry than to burn." Since the 1970's, premarital "live-in" co-habitation has increased over 500%, resulting in a slowing of rate of marriages and/or people getting married far later in life. Either way, pre-marital sex hinders marriage.
5. Same-sex unions.
This particular matter is introducing the most radical alteration of the marriage definition in all of human history. Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of the The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has noted that up until 20 years ago, no nation on earth had ever had such a thing as same-sex marriage. Christians must realize that the terms "same-sex" and "marriage" would by definition cancel each other out Biblically and by the meaning of marriage clearly defined by scripture. Even radical authors and speakers like Rob Bell, who advocates same-sex unions, has concluded that for the church to be relevant, they have to abandon their reliance upon the Bible. As shocking as Bell's statement is, his point affirms that even non-Christian advocates of same-sex unions recognize the impoosiblity of holding to the Bible and the idea of same-sex marriage. The Bible in no way affirms that same-sex sexual activity is within the bounds of God's known will. To elevate same-sex unions to the category of marriage is to discard the Divine design and make anew a relationship that derives from the heart of sinful man.
Author and Pastor Dr. Timothy Keller makes this powerful point in his DVD series - "The Reason for God": "The Bible says sex is for a man and a woman inside marriage to nurture and maintain a long-term, permanent relationship of marriage, which means polygamy, which means sex outside marriage and homosexuality are considered violations of God's will and are violations and violations of our own design. So the Bible is saying that you are missing out when you do those things. The Bible's teaching on homosexuality would be then that you are going against your own design and are missing out on the best that God has for you."
Any form of sexual sin outside of Biblical defined marriage hurts deep down due to the fact that anyone who commits any of the above acts "sins against his own body". (1 Corinthians 6:18). Moreover, fornication, if peristed as a full-time lifestyle (whether adultery, pre-marital sex, pornography or same-sex unions), could indicate an unregenerate heart, which in turn would mean that the person would suffer eternal torment with other unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 6:9)
Is there hope and forgiveness for those who are either tempted by sexual sin or who commit any form of sexual sin?
It is vital when dealing with difficult subjects such as this that we end with the hope of the Gospel. The Gospel is for sinners in need of the Savior and Lord and for saints who need power to continually turn from sin and to their Savior and Lord. What happens when someone struggles with temptation with pornography or even same-sex attraction? 1 Corinthians 10:13 states: "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." James 1:13-16 also reminds us that temptation itself is not sin, but only when we give into it by yielding to our cravings does it then become a sin. Oftentimes our fleshly side as believers will take on the trappings of the overall bent of the culture. Thus this is why sins of the flesh are often connected to whatever is going on in the world and the Kingdom of darkness energizing this world system. (1 John 2:15-17)
But now what happens if someone falls into any type of fornication? As Christians, we have the power from the Holy Spirit to turn away from such sins, as we see in Galatians 5:16 "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry outthe desire of the flesh." Romans 13:14 is very helpful to memorize - "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." But if someone does fall into such sins, 1 John 1:9 states - "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 2 Timothy 2:24-25 urges - "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." Scripture actually records the restoration of a repentant church member who had fallen into gross immorality. (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2). So even though all the various sorts of fornication can lead to broken hearts, lives and severely crippled faith, yet the true Christian will turn away from such sin and not persist in it.
Living as a Christian in this 21st century culture is far from easy. Thankfully, God has laid out His will for believers who live out their daily lives for Him as men and women, married or unmarried in a culture that needs the light of Jesus. We can praise God that we not only have clear direction from His word on how we ought to live in His will, but that He is living out and working out His will in us. (Coolossians 1:27; Philippians 2:12-13). There is hope and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and as with anyone falling into any sin, we all need to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of Faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)