Monday, January 23, 2012

Solomon on Sexuality

This week as I've studied for our second sermon on the seventh commandment, I ran across this account: William Bennet, an author and former senior official to President Reagan and George H.W. Bush once attended a wedding in which the bride and groom vowed to remain together, “as long as love shall last.” Bennet said this – "I sent paper plates as my wedding gift." (From The Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio).

Today the divorce rate is still going strong, and many are preparing for divorce through no fault divorce and prenuptial agreements. Sexual infidelity is shockingly high among married couples, with more and more average couples saying that they have or would engage in extramarital sex if they had the opportunity. Sadly Premarital sex is hardly even a question among many teens.

In contrast to all this Proverbs tells us by way of appeal, by command, and by vivid example a simple message: run from sexual sin with all your might. Put sexual intimacy in the place where God has promised the blessing to be found – within the protection of God-honoring marriage. Proverbs deals extensively with this subject. Here are just a few places:

Prov. 1 –embrace wisdom

Prov. 2 – Seek wisdom: it will keep you from sexual sin

Prov. 5 – Drink water from your own cistern, rejoice in the wife of your youth

Prov. 6 – The one who commits adultery destroys himself

Prov. 7 – The case study of a man who lumbers like an ox into adultery

Why is this here so much about sexuality found in Proverbs? Remember, this is Solomon. This is the man who had so many women in his bed he could have had sex every night for more than two years straight and not been with the same woman. That’s a frightening thought. Perhaps the only thing more frightening would be trying to keep all those women happy! Solomon learned the damage of sexual sin at great personal cost.

But there is a larger reason for the Bible's teaching on sexuality: Sex is one of God's greatest gifts. He devoted an entire book of the Bible to the fundamental "goodness" of properly sanctified sexuality (Song of Solomon). God designed you as a sexual being to enjoy this gift in its proper sphere. He is a good God who loves to give good gifts to His children! (By the way, that doesn't mean that sex is perfect even in the context of marriage. Because of the effects of the fall there will always be some struggles and difficulties, but that is a topic for another article).

The witness of the Bible seems to reveal that God has even a larger purpose for sexuality mainly because He has a larger purpose for ordaining marriage in the first place. The late Edmund Clowney put it this way:

"God did not fish around for some image to use to show his people what His love is like, and then stumble on marriage as the best one to convince them to return to Him in covenant devotion. He did not recognize the power of married love and determine to use sexuality as the strongest figure. No. God planned it the other way around. The Lord placed in us at creation deep sexual emotions so that we might understand the jealousy of His love for us and the joy of jealousy in Him... such deep seated jealousy is right and good, evidencing the natural instinct that God has placed in us as human beings to desire 'one true love.' God created that instinct so that we would better understand his faithful love to us." (How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments, by Edmund Clowney)

Do you see Clowney's point? God created marriage, and sexuality in marriage to be a high definition picture of His love for you. Ephesians 5:25-27 may well have this in mind:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."

It seems that the love, proper marital jealousy and the sexual desires that come with marriage were created in us by God to help us understand His love for us. Don't shy away from this because it seems odd to relate sexual desire to God's love for us! The point is not that God's love for His people is sexual in nature. No, rather the point is that God wants us to know what it means to be deeply and wholly devoted to someone so we might better understand what it means for the church to be His bride. When Paul says "husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church, he invites us to see Jesus as a model for our marital love. But He also wants us to experience deep desire for and devotion to another person so that we might better understand His love for us and our calling to love Him in return. God has given us a desire for "one true love." And He is the only one who can perfectly fulfill that desire!

As we continue to think about sexuality in our sermons, let's never think that this is just about sex. God wants us to see His jealous, holy and perfect love for us, and He's given us concrete pictures (such as marriage and sexuality) to help us better understand the profound mystery of how Christ relates to us, His people.

Pastor David

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

John Murray on Romans 14:5 and the Weekly Sabbath

Romans 14:5 “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

Pastor David referenced Romans 14:5 in last Sunday’s sermon as a text that is often cited as evidence that the 4th commandment no longer applies to Christians. It is stated that Paul is teaching in Rom 14:5 that all days are alike for the Christian, and thus implying that the 4th commandment which requires observance of a “special” day is now a matter of indifference. A popular study bible expresses this view in its commentary on the verse: “What is remarkable is that the Sabbath is no longer a binding commitment for Paul but a matter of one’s personal conviction. Unlike the other nine commandments, the Sabbath commandment seems to have been part of the ‘ceremonial laws’ of the Mosaic Covenant…(and) are no longer binding on new covenant believers.”

Despite the surface plausibility of such an interpretation, I do not believe that Paul’s intention was to set aside the 4th commandment for Christians. In what follows, I summarize the arguments of Systematic Theologian John Murray, who addressed this very question in an appendix of his Romans commentary. First, Murray lists several implications of adopting the interpretation that Romans 14:5 abolishes the weekly Sabbath:

1. The 4th commandment then no longer has binding authority upon Christians. The observance of one day in seven would be abrogated and in the same category of other ceremonial rites of the Mosaic economy. To insist on observing a Sabbath day would be just as ‘Judiazing’ as to demand the continuance of the Levitical feasts.

2. The first day of the week would no longer have any prescribed religious significance. It cannot properly be regarded as the Lord’s day in distinction from the way in which any other day of the week is to be lived in devotion and service to Christ.

3. Observing the Sabbath as a day commemorating the Lord’s resurrection would then be a feature of the weak brother! The strong brother would be one who recognized that observing a weekly Sabbath was unnecessary.

Next, Murray lists several reasons against interpreting Romans 14:5 as abolishing the 4th commandment:

1. The Sabbath is a creation ordinance and did not begin with the Mosaic Covenant (Gen 2:2-3. This is a key point, note how the Study Bible quotation above assumes that the Sabbath originated with the Mosaic Covenant). Further, to assume that the Sabbath no longer applies is to assume that the pattern provided by God himself in the work of creation and which Christ declared is a benefit for man (Mark 2:27-28) no longer has any relevance for the regulation of man’s life on earth. It also assumes that only 9 of the 10 commandments have authority for Christians, of which there is no evidence at all.

2. The N.T. recognizes the first day of the week as having a special significance because Jesus rose from the dead on this day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2, Rev 1:10). If Paul in Romans 14:5 implies that all distinctions of days has been obliterated, then there would have been no legitimacy for the early church and apostles to recognize the first day of the week as the Lord’s day in this way.

3. Romans 14:5 is best understood as referring to the ceremonial holy days of the Levitical institution. This understanding fits perfectly in the context of Romans 14 and with the teaching of Scripture as a whole. To include the weekly Sabbath as falling under the scope of Paul’s statement goes beyond the exegetical warrant of the text and contradicts clear principals that are embedded in the total witness of Scripture.

Bottom Line: We still have 10 commandments, not 9