The last two chapters in the book of Hebrews are designed to apply faith. It is important to understand that there is a sense in which you cannot apply these things without understanding what has come before. In other words, unless you truly understand the gospel: that we are a mess but God has come to rescue us through Christ. When we turn to Him He gives us a new heart and will begin, through the Holy Spirit, to lead us in a new direction. If you don’t read these practical commands in light of the gospel then you will be trying to earn your salvation by doing these things (resulting in great frustration). We do these things not to EARN salvation or forgiveness; we seek to do these things to live as people of God’s Kingdom; we are striving to live OUT our salvation. Please keep this in mind over the next several weeks as we look at some very practical commands.
This morning we look at two very significant commands that address areas that are major issues in our culture: marriage and contentment or Marital Infidelity and Material Idolatry. These things were problems in the first century and they continue to be difficult areas in the present. Let’s listen to God’s wise counsel when it comes to marriage and the material.
The first thing we are told to do is honor marriage.
4 Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.
Marriage is under attack. Not only are the courts seeking to redefine what a marriage is; marriage as a committed relationship is under attack. There are a number of illustrations of this fact,
- The concept of “no-fault” divorce and “irreconcilable differences” has made divorce easy to obtain
- Internet Pornography is a huge business. Anyone can bring perversion into their homes via the Internet. Estimates are that over $60 BILLION dollars is spent each year on pornography. And the influence of freely accessed pornography is much worse.
- One of the recent best sellers was 50 Shades of Grey which glorifies recreational sex and sexual perversion.
- Sites on the Internet offer the opportunity to get “hooked up with married women”! Adultery is being advertised on Facebook!
- Many television shows and movies make casual sex with multiple partners seem commonplace and what happens naturally on dates.
- There is a sharp rise in the number of people who are choosing to live together apart from marriage (including within the church). They are having kids and raising families together but not in a marriage relationship.
- Romance novels sell over 1 BILLION dollars a year. Most of these books create pictures of relationships that are unrealistic and actually undermine marriage!
In this environment the words of the Bible scream a contrary message: marriage should be honored. This command addresses two different areas. First there are those who think the idea of marriage is archaic. They see no reason to “ruin a good relationship by getting married”. They ridicule the whole notion of one man and one woman committing to each other for a lifetime. They call it unnatural. To speak in this manner is to dishonor marriage.
Let me grant that having a wedding ceremony does not guarantee commitment. In fact, originally the marriage ceremony was a man “took his wife into his tent”. In other words when you were intimate with someone you were considered married in God’s eyes!!! (Paul seems to argue this same concept in 1 Corinthians 6:12ff). Intimacy was not designed for “recreation”, it was meant to tie two people together in a way that nothing else can do. If two people “supposedly” love one another, why do they not want to publicly declare their commitment to another (have a marriage ceremony)?
God designed marriage so that a man and a woman could experience a depth of love that is possible only by commitment. Marriage was meant to be an object lesson to help us understand the depth of love that God has for us. We can’t do this apart from the committed relationship that we call “marriage”.
Marriage is dishonored when people take the vows of marriage, or commitment, lightly. We promise that we will work through problems, we will be faithful to each other, we will support each other, and we will do so no matter what comes upon us: financial pressures, illness, or any other kinds of change of circumstance. To toss this aside simply because you have “found a better offer” completely destroys the idea of commitment.
Unfortunately, we all know that marital infidelity is rampant in our society. Every one of us likely knows someone who is or has been ensnared in or wounded by infidelity. This dishonors the estate and covenant of marriage. N.T. Wright observes:
“The pagan world of the first century was every bit as sexually promiscuous as the Western world of the twenty-first century, and Christians are called today, as they were then, to stand out, to be deeply counter-cultural, at this point. The writer warns that God will judge those who flout his intention for the gift of sex, using it as a plaything rather than the deep, rich, satisfying bond between husband and wife that it was meant to be. This judgment will not necessarily be confined to the life to come. In fact, as thousands of novels, plays and poems bear witness, it is all too frequent that those who degrade themselves and other people by indulging in sex outside its proper context carry bitter regrets and long-lasting emotional scars.”
We can be unfaithful in many ways. When we become intimate physically with another in any way we violate the marital trust. However we are also unfaithful when we give to someone else what we should be giving to our spouse. For example: if you flirt with someone who is not your spouse you are cheating on your spouse (some vows talk about forsaking all others for being committed to “you and you alone. You should be flirting with your mate!)
If you spend the night texting someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse you are taking intimacy from your spouse and giving it to someone else. If you go out with another couple and spend the night talking with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse; if your conversation at home starts to focus on all the other men and women you see during the day . . . you have substituted others for your spouse. That is a form of infidelity. It dishonors marriage.
These seem like “innocent things” but they aren’t. They are, if you will, “pre-cheating”. They cause you to take a few steps toward marital unfaithfulness.
We honor marriage when we view it as a sacred trust; when we understand it to be a covenant not simply with our spouse but also with the Lord. We honor marriage when we understand that it is meant to show us a picture of what it means for God to be committed to us and we to Him. Marriage is a spiritual act.
Honoring marriage is not going to be easy. First, of all, people will ridicule you. Sometimes we all dishonor marriage by the things we say: “Oh, you are getting married? Well you better have fun while you have the chance!” Or we talk about “the old ball and chain”. We ask people if they have thought about “running” before they walk down the aisle. In other words, we have created a picture of marriage as a “sentence” or “curse”. This dishonors marriage.
Second, when you try to honor marriage you are going to be tempted. Satan is not going to simply stand by. He will place all sort of obstacles in front of you. He will whisper in your ear that “there is nothing wrong with finding happiness” (this is a common excuse that doesn’t take into account the fact that the premise that sin leads to happiness is wrong!)
However, when we are willing to honor marriage we will discover a depth of love the world does not understand; that most people don’t even know exists.
Let me say something to those of you who have been through a divorce. The failure of your marriage can be forgiven just like everything else. If you have made every effort to save your marriage I believe you can come to the Lord, confess your failure and then move on.
I can’t think of anything that is more beautiful than a husband and wife who are still in love after 50-60 years. I see those people hold hands or even exchange a look that reveals a love that is mesmerizing. This is an illustration of love that shows us what “can be”. It is a love worth fighting for.
5 Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,
“I will never fail you.
I will never abandon you.”
6 So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper,
so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?”
The second command again runs against everything we are taught and everything our society preaches to us. We are told
- New is better than old. If you have something that is old you had better replace it with something that is more cool. Sadly that is not only preached about material possessions it also seems to be true of people (get a new spouse, install younger people in leadership), ideas (new is always better than old), and even in styles of worship.
- The more you have, the more “valuable” or significant you are
- The more you earn, the more important you must be
- The bigger your house, the better home you have
- The size of your portfolio will determine how well you can enjoy life.
Ads in print and in the media proclaim these things again and again. The whole point of advertising seems to be to make you feel you “need” something that you don’t currently have.
Weddings, Birthday parties and Christmas events are growing in expense at an alarming rate. Apparently, it is believed that the more you spend and the better the party, the more enduring the marriage, or the greater your love must be! I hope you can readily recognize that these things have no correlation to each other.
A recent study reported,
- American consumers are $11.74 TRILLION in debt
- $882.6 billion of that is credit card debt
- The average consumer with credit card debt owes $15,000
- Americans owe $1.3 trillion in student loans
- We owe $8.14 trillion in mortgages.
We are living well beyond our means. And here is the key question: How many people do you know who are truly happy? How many are genuinely content with life? We have more stuff but are not happy therefore: stuff does not bring happiness.
The Bible gives us two commands here: “Don’t love money” and “be satisfied with what you have.”
6 true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. 7 After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. 8 So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.
9 But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
We misquote the Bible when we say, “Money is the root of all evil”. That is not what the Bible says. It says, “1For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) It is the LOVE of money. It is in essence when the desire for money or for the stuff it buys as the motivating force of our lives. Money becomes a stumbling block when we look to money to give us the meaning, satisfaction and motivation that can come only from the Lord.
We complain sometimes because we are struggling in life. We wonder why God is making it so hard for us. But the truth is, we are making it hard on ourselves! We buy what we don’t need and are constantly comparing ourselves with others. In truth we are comparing our possessions with the possessions of others and then we draw conclusions about our value and worth. God is not making it hard on us; our insatiable desires are making it difficult.
Psalm 73 captures the right attitude for living:
23 Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever. (Psalm 72:23-26
The key to contentment is realizing that once you are right with God you have EVERYTHING that you need. Not only is the Lord the source of life, happiness, peace, and fulfillment. Not only is He the One who gives us worth. . . .HE is what we truly want and need. We are not longing for stuff (like we think we are), we are longing for Him. Once we truly find Him we can be content because we have what we need.
May I make some humble suggestions on how to combat the love of money and the lust of the material in our lives?
- Spend more time reading the Bible and thanking God for His gifts than you do browsing through catalogs or shopping.
- When you feel you “need” something ask yourself if you REALLY need it. Remind yourself that slavery to the material is idolatry, not “success”.
- Before making a purchase ask: what will I NOT be able to do if I make this purchase?
- Challenge yourself to pursue contentment and to discover how little you really need to live.
- Strive to be generous rather than consumptive . . . discover the superior joy of giving.
We have been swimming up stream today; swimming against the current of contemporary thinking. We do so because we believe God is right even when it contradicts our feelings or our desires.
The home is the foundation of our society. When the foundation crumbles the rest will soon follow.
These two commands are related. We are to honor marriage and that involves knowing contentment with our spouse. And one of the greatest stressors on a marriage is debt and disagreement on the use of money. If we can get these two things in line, life would be better.
Peace, Joy, love, Happiness, and satisfaction can only be found in the Lord. When we truly know and follow Him we discover that we have everything that we need. And, if we pay attention, we will realize that we also have everything that we want. Everything after this, is just whipped cream.
 Excerpt From: N. T. Wright. “Hebrews for Everyone.” Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. iBooks.