What Does Paul Really Teach About Marriage?

What Does the Apostle Paul Teach About Marriage?

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 7:7-16

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.

Why would Paul suggest that being unmarried is superior to being married? (That is not what he says!) God already established in His Word, that marriage was a gift to the whole human race. We read the Genesis account, where we saw that Marriage was ordained by God before sin entered the World.

What did the Old Testament Teach About Marriage?

The Old Testament writers uniformly emphasized the blessedness of marriage, and specifically, what a wonderful gift from God it was, to have a good wife.

Proverbs 18:22 says “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 points out the value of the teamwork, and the mutual support, saying,

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

The writer (Solomon) says teamwork can pay rich dividends. Also, there is safety in having a teammate. You will  help one another, and lift one another up when things are tough. He says fellowship with another keeps both people warm. This is true, whether in the sense of “physical warmth,” as in sleeping and being chilled at night, or in the spiritual sense, where each can encourage the other, rather than loneliness becoming a problem.

The Third Strand

And he finally points out that the Lord is the “third strand” in a Godly team. (He does not spell it out, but I believe that is the intent.) Many people claim the “third strand” in this passage is their progeny. However, that would be more than three strands, usually. And, besides, children are sometimes the reason for the breakup of a struggling marriage. (People fight over a variety of things, but how they plan to raise their children is a frequent issue.)

But, if the Lord is the ever-present “third member” in the marriage, then the marriage will probably survive. It will weather the struggles and hardships of life and be stronger for the experience.

Is There Such a Thing as a “Bad Marriage?”

The Old Testament writers also cautioned (in 1st Samuel 25:3; Proverbs 21:9 etc.) that a bad marriage was really a bad thing. It does not say that they were wrong to marry the person. It says their spouse’s character turned out to be bad. And the resulting marriage is very unhappy.

It is important to carefully consider the person you intend to marry. Watch and see how they handle relationships of every kind. How do they treat their parents? And how do they relate to their siblings and their extended family? How do they treat people in business dealings? And, how do they deal with money issues, in general? How do the values they claim to embrace work out in their real life? And, how do they deal with people who mistreat them? How do they respond to God’s Word?

What are the Responsibilities of Marriage?

The Old Testament writers also make it clear (by example) that a man is responsible for his wife and children. (Witness Jacob’s struggles, while working for his father-in-law, and his fear for them as Esau approached.)

The New Testament confirms this idea. 1st Timothy 5:8 says that a man who will not provide for his family “…has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” What an indictment against those who willingly fail to shoulder the responsibility of a family!

Paul did not take lightly the call of duty to a family. He only points out that if you do not have that responsibility (and if you can function reliably while single), there is additional freedom to serve the Lord, as you are unhindered by other relationships.

The Rights of Apostleship

In 1st Corinthians 9:1-6, Paul points out that the other apostles were married. It seems that their wives may even have traveled with them, at least some of the time. As we see the struggles Paul faced in his journeys, it seems obvious that it would have been much more difficult, had he been also worried about his wife.

(But Paul states that he chose to forgo marriage, and he also chose to forgo other privileges he could have claimed as an apostle. He frequently served unsupported by the churches. The other Apostles may have asked for and received support, as seems to be implied in this passage.) Paul had the right to do as the others did, but he chose not to do so.

Paul felt freer to serve the Lord because he had only himself to risk, and to direct. He only suggests that there is a real advantage to unmarried life IF one is capable of living that way.

Not Everyone is Gifted to Live That Way

But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

If the desire for sexual intimacy is so great that the single person is constantly distracted by it, then he says they should feel free to marry, (or to remarry, as the case may be.) He is not denigrating marriage, at all: He only suggests that, if one is capable, then it is fine to work alone. He likens the constant stress (because of desire) to “burning” with desire. The solution?  They would be better advised to marry. Not everyone can work effectively unmarried.

A veteran missionary Steve Karum, who worked with his wife in Thailand bluntly warned the single men in our missionary training, saying, “Thailand is not a good place for a single man! The temptations will be strong and constant, from every direction.” That was wise counsel. He was not “questioning the power of God” to keep such a man safe: he was echoing the counsel of God, in this specific passage!

Divorce Is Not An Option, as a Rule

Next, he confirms that married believers are not to divorce.

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

God Hates Divorce!

Any of the Jewish believers would undoubtedly have remembered Malachi 2:13-16. God says, “13And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

16 For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The Jews Understood the Warning

They knew what that prophecy meant: it said that God was rejecting them (and their sacrifices,) because they were rejecting their wives, whom they had married young, but who now, perhaps, seemed less attractive. They knew that! But Jesus had to rebuke the Jews of His day, anyway, saying that they were not to break a union established by God.

In Luke 16:18 He says, 18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Jesus made it clear that divorce is not acceptable for believers. It destroys something that He Himself established as an enduring “picture” of Himself and His Bride, the Church.

Paul reiterated this teaching: he also reminded them in verse 10 that it did not originate with himself, but that the Lord had taught extensively on the matter, during His Earthly ministry.

A New Concept

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord:

Jesus did not address this in His earthly ministry.Paul is the first to teach this specific concept. But it is still God’s Word. Paul does not suggest that this portion of the epistle is “non-inspired.” Rather, he only recognizes that the Lord did not speak about this issue during His lifetime.

If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

In a later letter, (2nd Corinthians 6:14-16) God warns believers to “be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” This would certainly include a warning not to marry unbelievers, but such unions certainly have happened. And, occasionally, it is because, in a marriage that began between two unbelievers, one partner becomes a believer, while the other resists God’s Grace. Either way, if you find yourself married to an unbeliever, you are called to love that unbeliever, treating them as your precious friend, and faithfully loving and blessing them. You are not to break your covenant by leaving them. Covenant-breaking is wrong behavior, in every case.

Why? What is the Hope?

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

The word “sanctified” does not mean “saved”…it means “set apart for a purpose.” Could it mean that God will exert extra effort to persuade that rebellious partner? Possibly: It is not a guarantee, of course, but consider this: as long as you two are bound in the bond of marriage, and as long as you continue to pour out the Love of God upon them, they have a better chance than virtually anyone else! They are seeing and experiencing the reality of the Living Christ, as He works through you.

But, if they just can’t stand the transformation they see in you, so they reject you along with the Savior, then you cannot force them to stay. If they insist upon leaving you, and initiate a divorce, over your protests, then be at peace. Let them go. You are no longer bound.

15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

However, so long as they are willing to stay, the believer is commanded to endure the spiritual mismatch, and to pray for their salvation…and, sometimes it happens!

HERE is the Hope!

16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Consider the joy a husband or wife experiences when their unsaved spouse also chooses to trust in the Savior they serve. Now they are a true team, blessed by God! Now they can serve together in harmony! They can bless one another and be blessed in return! The blessing of their lives can overflow to bless others, and together they can shine as a witness of God’s Grace.

I have known several couples where this exact situation occurred. The transformation in their lives and the lives of their families was profound and permanent.

But for those who are happily married, he has given instructions in the earlier passage and parallel passages elsewhere, as to how to inherit God’s blessing within that relationship. We pray that all of us will learn to walk with the Lord in such a way as to have His approval and blessing.

Lord Jesus, please implant Your Word upon our hearts in such a way as to make us continually responsive to Your leading. Allow us to have a stable walk with You, and live for Your honor.

What do we Know about Marriage?

What do we Know about Marriage?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

Genesis 2:22-24; John 2:1-11; John 4:17, 18; Ephesians 5:21-23; 1st Peter 3:1-9; etc.

Introduction:

In light of the fact that we “just happened” to be studying John 2:1-11 (the Marriage feast at Cana) at the same time as Brennan and Addie were getting married, it seems appropriate to talk about Marriage as a concept. But not much is really said about the subject, here, in John 2:1-11.

There are certain passages which are “traditionally” quoted in regard to marriage as a concept, pointing out the fact that it is not only designed by God and ordained by God, and blessed by God, but that it is Holy to God. It is important to Him! I’d like to explore why that is the case: Why is marriage so important to God?

Origin of Marriage

One of the passages frequently cited is the actual origin of marriage, as part of the Creation. It was not a simple “mating” of two members of the “animal kingdom,” as humanists would have us to believe: there was something special that God ordained, here in Genesis 2:22-24. KJV

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

That passage is cited in virtually every Christian wedding, as evidence that marriage is God-ordained, and blessed by God, etc. But we seldom discuss why it is something special to God.

Examples of Marriages…Good and Bad

We also tend to cite John 2:1-11 as evidence that Jesus honored marriage, and we correctly point out that He performed His first public miracle at a wedding feast.

What about the example cited in John 4:17, 18…”the Woman at the Well?”

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.


You see, just “living together” does not constitute marriage. Jesus did not say, “you have had five husbands and you are working on a sixth:” He said, “the one you have now is not your husband.” So, we see that there is a standard for marriage, and apparently it varies wildly across the thousands of different cultures in the World. Some cultures require lots of ceremony: others require a simple statement of intent. Some have laws protecting women, whereby, if you spend the night with them, you are married, like it or not. Some are even more strict…if you lure her away with you, and she goes, you are married, even though you never even got out of sight of the girl’s family!

I remember reading of a missionary’s account of such a situation: A young man was interested in a young lady, and evidently believed she was also interested in him. The young fellow crept through the underbrush of the jungle, to the edge of her family’s garden and beckoned the young girl to follow him: and she did, but before they had escaped into the jungle the girl’s mother spotted them and furiously ran to catch up with them. She raged at them, and beat both of them savagely with her digging tool, but she finally went back to her field alone: they were married! So the standard exists everywhere, but it varies a great deal, in appearance.

A Hidden Purpose for Marriage

The Genesis passage is also quoted by God, in Ephesians 5:21-33, almost as a footnote, as the Apostle Paul gives revelation as to how husbands and wives are to relate to one another:

21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

We usually use this passage along with other similar passages, to teach about the marriage relationship. That is a good thing to do, and that is the intentof those verses. But look more closely at what was said, here: Remember that this is God’s Word, not just Paul’s opinion: and He says that the verse He quoted from Genesis demonstrates that marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and the Church! We know that; it has been taught many times over. But look at when that pattern was given: it was given before sin entered into the world!

God knew ahead of time that humans would fall into sin, and that Jesus the Messiah would die for the sins of the whole human race, and that those who trusted in Him would enter into a relationship that is unmatched anywhere in the Universe: That the Holy God who created them would actually indwell those who trusted in Him; that they would become one with Him, as a body is One with the Head. And we can see that He was already committed to that relationship before sin became an issue. He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” (Revelation 13:8) And, we knew that! But He was also already committed to being the Bridegroom, long before the Bride existed!

In 1st Peter 3:1-9, we see an amplification of the commands given in Ephesians 5, along with a warning to the husbands that if we ignore this command, it will affect our relationship with God.

1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

A Two-way Relationship

So, when we choose to respond to one another rightly in marriage, as God teaches, we are demonstrating that Holy relationship between Christ and the Church. Consider the implications of that statement. It goes two ways: it means that the love and respect spoken of here are supposed to be in our relationship with our spouse; but it also gives some insight as to what is available in our relationship with Jesus! It means that, as we learn to walk with Him, there is a partnership being built with Him: one which can actually be enjoyed on a daily basis, and one which we can be excited about, as we work with the Bridegroom, doing His work.

Wives working with their husbands to build a physical house are excited to see it growing into a habitation for the two of them and their family. And usually, they are excited about decorating it, furnishing it, and making it a home, not just a well-built structure. That is why we sometimes refer to such a person as a homemaker…Most men do not naturally think in terms of “making a house a home.” They want it solid, functional, code-compliant, attractive, etc., but they frequently have little imagination beyond that. I do not think I am unusual when I say that, without Ann’s touch, our house would not be nearly so much a “home” as perhaps a “cabin,” or a “hunting lodge,” or something. Possibly even just a “workshop with living quarters attached.” But Ann works constantly to make it a pleasant habitation for us: because of her, and her work, it is a home.

Proverbs 14:1 says that “every wise woman builds her house.” She works to strengthen her household, her home, her family. It goes on to say that a foolish woman “plucks it down with her hands.” She behaves in such a way as to tear down the relationships that make for a secure home environment for all of her family.

Proverbs 31:10-31 describe a woman who is wisely, diligently building up her household. But, if we consider the fact that the Church is compared to the Bride, and that the Marriage relationship is specifically called out as a picture of Christ and the Church, then we can gain some insight as to how the Church is supposed to be carrying on the business of God, here on earth, and pursuing the agenda He has laid out for us.

God says that He is building His Church, and that He involves us in the building process. He says “That which every joint supplieth” is what is strengthening and building up that “Habitation of God” that He has designed us—The Church—to be, for Him.

So, Why is Marriage Holy to God?

Marriage is Holy to God, because it is a living demonstration of the relationship He wants with every believer. So, we need to think about what we are demonstrating: He says we are to Love one another, and that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We see one another as fellow-heirs of the Grace of Life in Him. We love one another with the Agapé Love, in Him. God describes that Love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:

Please notice that not one word in this passage has anything to do with “feelings:” this is not about romance; it is not about emotions, or how we feel, at all. Every single descriptor in that passage is an action word: a verb. They are things we can choose to do. That also means they are things we can fail to do. Every moment, we either choose to do them or we fail to do them. And it is a choice, whether a conscious choice, or not.

Ephesians 4:1-3 tells us how to relate to one another, knowing that we are not perfect. It says we are to “Forbear one another in Love.” It says we are to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” God created that unity: all we can hope to do is to keep that unity. We are to accept one another as the imperfect humans that we are, looking through the veil of human frailty to see the beauty of the Person of Christ within. God has chosen to set aside our sin, nailing it to the Cross with Jesus. He no longer sees us as sinners, but as His precious saints: holy, and members of His Bride. We need to see one another in that light as well.

Marriage is Permanent, just like our Salvation

Jesus assures us over and over in the Bible that our position in Him is secure forever: His Blood at the Cross has forever made us holy to God. In light of that, your marriage is to be secure for life. Never leave one another, nor even “threaten to leave:” that is a gross denial of Christ.

We may be angry with one another sometimes (hopefully it is quickly resolved, and peace is restored,) but we are never to even imply that we might sever the relationship as a result. That is what our vows are about in marriage. That is why we say, “as long as we both shall live.” Jesus will never abandon his saints. We are never to abandon our loving commitment to one another.

Jesus Himself addressed the permanence of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6.

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.


Jesus made that pretty clear, didn’t He? But, are there exceptions?

Exceptions

There are passages that seem to make exceptions: Jesus said “Except for the cause of fornication…” Well, there are two different words in Greek, just as there are in English, for premarital sexual sin, and extramarital sexual sin. One is called “fornication” in scripture, the other is called “adultery.”

You see, in their culture, “betrothal,” or “engagement” was such a serious agreement that it required a divorce to break an engagement. (We take engagement pretty lightly by comparison.) Sexual sin during the betrothal period was called fornication, just as it would have been without that engagement. This was the only exception Jesus gave.

This, by the way, is the reason Joseph was about to seek a quiet, secret divorce from Mary, when he found out she was pregnant: He thought she had committed “fornication.” And, he would have been behaving correctly, as Jesus said; but God sent the angel Gabriel to clear up the matter: Mary had not sinned.

Joseph believed God and, by faith, he went ahead with the wedding. (Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.)  Joseph lived the rest of his life with others believing he had sinned. Mary lived the rest of her life with others thinking she had sinned. Only the two of them knew the real truth.

Conclusion:

How you view marriage as a concept will affect how your marriage actually functions. If you (both Husband and wife) see it as God sees it, you will find it a total blessing, as you work together in partnership with the Living Christ. If you do not see it that way, nor choose to live that way (and, yes, it takes two,) then, to whatever degree you vary from His plan and purpose, the marriage will suffer accordingly. The World has long abandoned God’s values, and rejected them wholesale: so, marriages and husband-wife relationships suffer, everywhere in the world.

We are to demonstrate the reality of Christ to the World through our marriages, as well as through our spoken testimony and our overall behavior. This is a key example of what it means when Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love one to another.” The love that others can observe in action between you and your spouse is one of the two criteria Jesus gave to the World, by which to judge the church. Love is one, and Unity is the other. How you respond to your husband or wife will proclaim to the world the nature of your relationship with Jesus. Give that some thought!

Lord Jesus, all of us desire to have fruitful lives and peaceful, joyful, loving marriages. Grant us the wisdom to apply Your Word to our lives in such a way as to build that reality in our lives. Make us the men and women You have called us to be, and enable us as Your ambassadors.

Instructions to Believers: Part One

Instructions to Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 1/10/2018 THCF 1/14/2018

Hebrews 13:1-6

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews for many months, now: there have been seven comparisons made, comparing Jesus to all of the important facets of Judaism, with the constant conclusion that “Jesus is better”, because He is the fulfillment of all the promises, the real sacrifice, the real temple, the real Sabbath. Indeed, the central theme of the whole book has been that “Jesus is better.”

There have also been seven warnings, in increasingly stark terms of judgment to come, for those who have pretended faith, but never have made Jesus their Savior on a personal basis. Those who have “gone along for the ride”, giving lip-service to belief, but who have never seen themselves as guilty sinners, needing a Savior, and who have never claimed Jesus’s blood as the full payment for their own sins, are facing eternal loss. We are warned to examine ourselves to be sure that our faith is personal: that we have seen ourselves as guilty sinners before a Holy God, and that we have placed our dependence on Jesus as our only hope for redemption.

The writer (Paul, we think) addresses several seemingly unrelated issues, in closing. He raises no more points demonstrating the superiority of Christ, now, nor any further warnings against false or partial faith. He simply addresses the believers and the need for practical holiness in their lives, as well as the practical outworking of the Love of Christ.

Love is the Foundation

 1Let brotherly love continue.

The phrase “brotherly love” in this verse is actually the Greek word “philadelphia”. Contrary to popular wisdom, the word “Philadelphia” does not mean “The city of brotherly love.” It just means the “love of the brethren”. The city in Pennsylvania is simply named “brotherly love”, though the reality, there, as is true in most cities, pretty much makes a travesty of the concept.

The believers are to love one another as family. This is one of the only two places where “love” is used as a command, and it is not the Agape love in question. Every other place where love is commanded, it is the fully committed, altruistic Agape Love that God demonstrated at the Cross. When John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…” it does not mean “God loved the world SO MUCH…”, but “In this manner God loved the World: that He gave His only Begotten Son.”

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

It is interesting to me that the very next idea mentioned is the strangers…the word usually translated “hospitality” is “philoxenia”, meaning the “love of the stranger”. It means taking care of the needs of those with whom you have no natural bond of friendship, doing so simply because of your relationship with Christ. Here the word for hospitality has been spelled out, as a phrase: “entertain strangers”—love those, care for those to whom no such favor is due from a natural viewpoint, as there is no relationship. They are a stranger to you.

The only two examples I can think of when humans actually fed or cared for angels were Abraham and Lot. And in those cases, it was the same two angels. (Abraham had three, but one was the “Angel of the LORD”—actually the pre-incarnate Christ. The other two left Abraham and went to find Lot.) It’s possible that there are other examples, but those two stand out in Biblical history. Sampson’s parents could be another, I suppose, but that was a little different.

Quite honestly, I have never practiced hospitality with this in mind; I have never “hoped to see an angel.” I have simply met the need because there was a need to be met. As far as I know they were all bona fide humans. I do not think, either, that there is any doctrine here that “angels are all around us, masquerading as humans,” though many popular Christian books hint at that idea. Is it possible? Certainly…but, in general, what would be the point?

The word for “angels” (Greek “aggelous”) just means “messengers.” In Hebrews chapter one, they are described as spirits, specifically ministering (serving) spirits, sent out “…to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.” I do not think I understand much about angelic beings, mainly because the Scripture does not tell us very much. I also do not trust extra-biblical sources about such subjects, simply because there has been so much folklore about angels and the spirit world, from the beginning of time, which is virtually all false. I prefer to take God’s Word alone on such subjects, and leave the speculation to others. God tells us to cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. (2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5)

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.

The Writer brings up some specific needs, here. Persecution had already begun against the Church. The believers were already being arrested and imprisoned for their faith. God reminds the Hebrew believers that the Body of Christ is one Body. (Compare 1st Corinthians 12:12, 20-22) We need to see one another’s needs as being our own needs. We should be as fervent in prayer for another brother or sister as if we ourselves were the one experiencing the adversity.

What about Marriage?

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

God has always rejected Promiscuity. Marriage, although it has been the center of much debate in recent years, was the only relational gift God gave to the human race before sin entered into the world. It was, and is, literally, undefiled. It is not a human invention or tradition, though it has been overlaid with thousands of years of human traditions, differing wildly from culture to culture. It was not inaugurated by humans at all, but only continued in one form or another, sometimes quite corrupted, sometimes not. We are to preserve it in an uncorrupted form.

I have had people tell me that if a man and woman cohabitate, then “they are married, in God’s eyes.” That is not true: remember what Jesus told the Woman at the Well: “Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband:’ for thou hast had five husbands and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that thou saidst truly.” (John 4:17, 18) There are several things we can get from that comment, beside the obvious fact of His supernatural knowledge (which in itself is not surprising when one considers that He is God, in the flesh.)

The first thing I can see is that Jesus recognized both divorce and remarriage: though he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and considers the whole practice of divorce and remarriage adulterous, he recognizes it. He did not say, “You have had one husband and have been committing adultery with five men since then.” He said “you have had five husbands.” Those were legitimate marriages. Jesus himself said so, though he did not approve of the divorces.

But the other side of that fact is that He definitely does not recognize “living together” as marriage. He said “…he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” So cohabitation is definitely not marriage. Then what is marriage?

Marriage is a social contract between one man and one woman. (Yes, God recognizes polygamy, too, but does not approve it as a practice. He said it was intended as one spouse, and is to be a lifelong commitment.) Marriage is that state in any given culture (not just a fringe sub-culture) within which a man and a woman can, because of that social contract, live together with the full approval of the whole culture.

In some cultures it is pretty simple. In others it is quite a complex problem. In Mexico, (I am told by friends who are Mexican citizens) the state does not recognize a marriage by the church, and the Church does not recognize a marriage by the state. You have to have both authorizations, in order to be recognized by both. (Something wrong with that picture, I think, but that is how it is.)

In at least some (of the many) tribes in New Guinea, if a woman leaves with a man, for the purpose of becoming his wife, she is married to him. For example, I was told of a situation where a young man crept out of the jungle near the sweet-potato field where his sweetheart was working with her mother. He managed to attract her attention, and persuaded her, through gestures, to run away with him. She left the field, and headed off with him. The mother realized what had happened, and chased after them with her digging stick, caught them, and beat them both quite savagely…but eventually she went back to her field alone. They were married. She absolutely did not approve, but she recognized that the commitment had been made.

In our culture (USA), one needs a “marriage license” in order to have a marriage that is recognized by (for example) the IRS, but I have never heard of a church not recognizing a civil wedding as being valid, though, as a culture, we may prefer church weddings.

In some cultures, a dowry is paid by the bride’s family to the groom. In other cultures that is reversed, and a bride-price is paid by the groom to the family of the bride. In our culture neither is practiced, but there are cultural norms as to “who pays for what.” (Weddings, Receptions, etc.)

The Results of the Promise of God

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

#1 – No Fear of Loss

There are some words in Old English which have pretty dramatically changed meaning: “Conversation” is one of them. The Old English word “conversation” invariably meant “way of life”, “lifestyle”, and “behavior”, or some related idea. In one instance it comes from a word meaning citizenship—where we live—but in all the others it means “how we live”. In this particular instance, alone, the Greek word is “tropos,” meaning “way, or manner, or lifestyle.” Several of the other occurrences are related words.

So the Writer warns, here, against avarice, or greed—specifically the “love of money.” The word for “covetousness”, here, is the Greek word “philargurion”; (literally, “the love of silver”). And on what basis does he say that we are to abandon our fixation on money? The fact that we have the promise of God that he will never abandon us, but will continually sustain and uphold us.

The love of (or obsession with) money is not limited to misers, greedy capitalists, or whomever: It is not limited to the wealthy. Once, early in our marriage, I was out of work because of huge layoffs, and my wife was newly pregnant with our first child. I was absolutely consumed with the fear of failing to provide for my little family. During that time, my very first waking thought, each morning, and my last waking thought at night was “What can I do to make some money?” I was not trusting God at all! When it comes to fixating on money, it does not have to be riches: it could only be the rent. The one, we condemn; but the other we commend as “being responsible as a Man,” etc. But when that passion for earning, saving or possessing is all-consuming, and it has turned your heart away from a steadfast faith in a faithful Creator, then it is sin, whether great or small. The amount of money is not the issue; the heart response is. The root is unbelief.

#2 — No Fear of Abandonment

“…for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

There is a very interesting translation “glitch” here in this passage. There is nothing at all wrong with the translation: just with the language. In English, if we use a “double negative,” technically speaking, it renders a positive. For example, if I said, I will not never leave you, and will not never no-how forsake you”, in English, it would be simply laughably poor grammar, and there would be real question as to whether I was promising not to leave, or promising to leave!

But in Greek, you can strengthen a negative by compounding negative prefixes…and that is what is done here, in Greek. The Writer does not employ separate words of negation, but rather he uses multiple prefixes which each further negate the verb, so that the literal translation would be something similar to, “Let your life be free from the love of money, for he himself has said (and it stands on record) ‘I will not, I will not ever leave you! I will not, I will not, I will NOT ever forsake you!” It is an emphatically strong statement of commitment!

#3 — No Self-Dependency

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

Because I had turned my heart away from God’s supply, and I saw my sustenance as being only my responsibility, and so I was far more concerned with earning money than pursuing the imperative of my dependence on the Grace of God, I could not confidently say, “The Lord is my helper”, and I very definitely feared the possibility of losing our little home (a single-wide mobile home.) Yes, there were extended family members who, undoubtedly, would have stepped in and rescued us (and in fact, did, at various times and to various degrees, during that year,) but I saw it as being entirely my responsibility, and I bitterly desired to carry that load myself.

But sometime during that time of near-poverty, I recognized the meaning and practical application of 1st Timothy 6:9, 10 “But they that will be (desire to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown man in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all [kinds of] evil, which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” I saw myself as being in danger of doing just that. I saw other related verses, such as the passage here in Hebrews 13, and I recognized that, while I had always thought of “covetousness” as being primarily a “rich man’s disease,” it is, in truth, a human failing. I am guilty, simply because I do not trust God for my financial and physical well-being, nor for the well-being of my family. I want a “do-it-yourself” security. I have to confess it as sin.

The roots of this sin go deeper than just our human frailties: Isaiah 14:12-14 tells of Lucifer’s fall into sin, completely rooted in self-will, self-importance, self-expression, and self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we attempt to dethrone God, and declare ourselves to be the fountain of all we are and have. People boast of being a “self-made man”, and the like. There is even a poem, Invictus, whose closing lines declare “I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!” (What arrogant folly!) But am I not doing essentially the same thing when I turn away from an active dependence on the living God, and attempt to be self-sufficient? Yes, I am!

There is nothing wrong with working: we are commanded to do so. There is nothing wrong with seeking to care for our families: we are commanded to do so. But we are constantly warned to remember the True Source of all things. Proverbs 3:5, 6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and He shall direct thy paths.” We glibly quote that passage, but don’t we consider the real implications.

This is something for us to think about! So, ponder it! Meditate upon this passage, and consider how it may apply to your own experience. Next time, we will expand further on this passage.

Lord Jesus, Free us from self-will, from self-sufficiency, and from self-reliance. Teach us to walk with you in faith, trusting you for all things.