Category Archives: Rethinking Marriage

Most visited blog post on this site is…

It’s a little post from about three years ago. It is an issue that I know I could be wrong about, but it is not an issue, as a pastor, that I can be on the fence about. I have, however, come to see the issue in what I believe to be a more mature light. I used to kind of have a mindset that I wanted to correct everybody in the Christian church on it (so immature!). God has helped me to repent from that. I do not ever bring it up anymore unless asked. In fact, if I could do it over, I would not have written that post (as if anybody really cares).

I am in a very small minority as far as I can tell. My view may be more popular in more Fundamentalist kind of circles, but not in mainstream Reformed circles (again, so far as I can tell). And certainly I am like an alien in the mainstream Evangelical tradition.

That is why I find it fascinating that people keep clicking on that post. Now, to put that in perspective, we are talking an average of about 3-4 views a week. But no other post from this site even comes close.

Just a few thoughts in reflection:

  • Marriage/divorce/remarriage issues are way more personal than they need to be
  • I am guessing a lot of people are wrestling with the meaning of “one-woman man” because my view is a lot stronger than people wish
  • People from all over the world have clicked on that post; people all over the world are wrestling with that issue
  • Christians have a good sense that “one-woman man” cannot be separated from the rest of the Bible’s teachings on divorce/remarriage
  • I want someone to shoot my view down. Really.
  • If you can’t shoot it down, I want people to stop getting mad at me about my view. Really.
  • You should never leave a church over this issue. Never.
  • Regardless of what God’s view of divorce/remarriage is, all believers– regardless of marriage history– are completely forgiven in Christ, clean, righteous, holy, perfect in God’s sight. That truth should make everyone sing, regardless of what I think “one-woman man” means, regardless of whether you or I ever become elders or deacons in a church. Do not let this issue distort all the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ.

How far is too far?

Stop asking that question. Stop thinking that question. It almost always comes in the context of young people wondering how much physical intimacy unmarried people can have before they cross the line of sinning. Perhaps many Christians wonder that question in regards to alcohol or smoking or other supposed “vices.” For our purposes, let’s just think in terms of physical intimacy before marriage. That’s one we can sink our teeth into, and then I think it would apply to all other areas of life.

For a Christian to ask that question reveals at least two things:

  1. A legalistic heart- Classic legalism believes a person can be righteous in God’s eyes through good works. It also believes every sin you commit makes you less righteous in God’s eyes. In other words, legalism completely ignores the gospel of Jesus Christ, which says, “God considers you righteous no matter what, all and only because of the righteousness of Christ!” A “gospel” heart will not mess around with questions about “how far is too far”, or “how much more can I do to make God even happier with me” for that matter. A “gospel” heart will overflow with a passion for upholding marriage in high honor, at all costs, because marriage promotes the gospel, and because a redeemed heart wants to obey God out of love.
  2. A legalistic church- if Christians are messing around with that question it is probably because the culture in their church is one promoting the above heart.

If, at the end of the day, you are trusting in Christ alone for salvation, and you in response to the gospel want to honor marriage, and if you are curious what you should teach others about pre-marriage relationships, just see my previous posts about holding hands 🙂

But seriously, stop asking that question, and stop cultivating that question.

Do you really mean “till death do us part”?

I know that none of us stick to our covenants perfectly. We all make promises– even covenantal promises before God– and break them, maybe even break them daily. This is why the gospel is so great! Jesus died for all my sins, including my breaking of promises.

Still, it is one thing to have my broken covenants forgiven; it is another thing to not really mean what I say when I made a covenant. I wonder how many married couples really mean “till death do us part” when they stood before the altar. If you are considering marriage, is that what you intend to say at the altar?

It sounds pretty straight forward: “I am committed to you until death.” In other words, “this marriage is created by God, and God is the only one who can end it, and the way He ends it, is death.” Not only is that straight forward, I think it is the biblical teaching on marriage. And it is a great picture of Christ’s commitment to the Church, a marriage which beautifully was created by the death of the Bridegroom, and will never end.

So is that what you mean when you say, “till death do us part”? Or do you actually mean, “till death do us part, or till you cheat on me, or till you do things that make me never able to trust you again, or till God leads me away from this marriage, or till (you fill in the blank for all of your “acceptable” separation/divorce clauses)?

I am not here to argue divorce-remarriage issues today. I just am trying to argue for a little more honesty at the ceremony. Then through God’s means of grace stick to it.

It is a sin to hold hands before marriage, part 3

“Why is it ok to hold hands during engagement?” You don’t get to ask that until you agree with me. If you want to charge me of inconsistency within my view that’s fine, but my view is not wrong because I might be inconsistent within it. If you say, “ok, I’m persuaded,” then you can help me think about consistency. Until then, let us just keep trying to persuade each other of  the truth.

Some have accused me of adding to the Law of God. I get it. But is that a fair critique? I believe God wants us to uphold the sacredness of marriage, for the sake of Christ and the gospel (Hebrews 13.4). Implication: any affection that you would show only your spouse should be reserved for your spouse. Hardly a stretch, is it?

But you might say, “no, having a girlfriend or boyfriend is ok.” Please show me the text of Scripture that talks about girlfriends and boyfriends.

You might say, “holding hands is ok, as long as you don’t kiss.” Or, “kissing is ok, as long as you don’t french kiss.” Or, “French kissing is ok as long as you don’t touch private parts.” Or, “anything is ok as long as you don’t have sexual intercourse.”

Where do you fall in that spectrum when it comes to dating relationships? And how did you come up with that standard? Am I really the one adding to the Law of God?

It is a sin to hold hands before marriage, part 2

I have chosen the title that I have chosen to get more people to read. And I think it has worked. I do believe what I have posted as the title of this post, but I also am using “holding hands” as representative of the greater problem, namely, romance outside of marriage.

This is a part of my repentance. I do not believe I upheld marriage well before I was married, so I am simply trying to live out repentance here. It has been interesting in some of the pushback and some of the conversations that have sprung from the last post. A couple issues worth tackling:

  1. Christians seem so afraid of the “sin” label– we sin way more than we realize. So it is really not that shocking to me to call something sin if it does not meet God’s standard of perfect righteousness. I believe the only way to uphold the sacredness of marriage is to reserve all the benefits (that are exclusive to marriage) for marriage. Anything outside of that is sin. Some have accused me of adding to the Law of God. I would simply respond by saying that none of us believe we are only commanded to obey the things that are explicitly stated in Scripture. We all believe that the necessary implications of Scriptural commands are also commands, don’t we? That is all I am arguing. If I am wrong, I will repent. I am open to being persuaded. But I am not wrong just because you disagree with me, or just because most of 21st century Christian America disagrees with me, am I?
  2. Christians have gotten very confused on the issue of commitment– I understand this whole thing is not a simple issue, but I do think the idea of commitment is fairly simple. When two people are dating, they are not committed to anything but finding out if they want to marry each other. They are not committed (or intending) to marry each other. If you were intending to marry each other, you would marry each other. So engagement is the intent to marry. Dating is not the intent to marry. And until you actually intend to marry, you should treat each other like brother and sister. But once you decide you want to marry, then go for it, by God’s grace. Don’t commit to commit to marry; commit to marry! What am I missing here?

I would highly recommend Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Hiestand and Thomas. They do a good job of laying out all the ways God intends for men and women to be in relation to each other.

I really do invite feedback and pushback. Please do not just tell me you disagree with me. Tell me why. Use Bible. And certainly, please do not just tell other people that you disagree with me and get mad about it. Let’s try and think through this together. The glory of God in marriage is at stake.

It is a sin to hold hands before marriage

I am all about not adding to the Law of God. So, in my mind, this is not that.

Hebrews 13.4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” The second half of that verse is fairly simple. But the first half seems under-appreciated by most. Is the author of Hebrews simply saying, “If you have no sexual intercourse outside of marriage, then you have completely upheld marriage in God’s eyes”?

My guess is most of you agree that it is more than just the physical act of sexual intercourse that is forbidden outside of marriage. But if you do not guard all of marriage, you will end up drawing arbitrary lines. You will end up asking the (foolish) age-old question, “how far is too far?” like when a drunkard asks “how much wine is too much?” or a sluggard asks “how little work is too little?”

I say, “let marriage be held in honor among all!” Any benefits of marriage outside the covenant of marriage is sin in God’s sight. It does not honor marriage. This includes, and is not limited to, any romantic actions. Our kids are supposed to be able to look across the congregation and be able to tell who is married (or at least engaged) and who is not by the way couples act. We should be scandalized by seeing non-married couples holding hands without a ring on their fingers (or at least a ring on hers).

I fear non-married “couples” are one of the biggest blindspots of our generation. Let me be clear that dating outside of marriage is not sinful (how else are singles to get to know one another?). Romance is. The reason any of you cannot fathom dating without romance is because you are so defiled by our culture’s view of romance outside of marriage being ok! If someone can prove to me that holding hands is necessary to figure out if you want to marry someone, then by all means, I will repent.

But if you are married, and you would never hold hands with someone who is not your spouse, then you already deep down agree with me. Let all of marriage be sacred in your sight. It helps people understand Jesus’ devotion to His bride.

What is the meaning of “one-woman man” in 1 Timothy 3?

I believe the Bible teaches that Christians must only marry Christians, that there may be cases that arise where separation/divorce is acceptable, and that remarriage is only acceptable and profitable in the case of widows/widowers. Some of the key texts are Genesis 2.24, Deuteronomy 24.1-4, Matthew 19.4-6, Luke 16.18, and 1 Corinthians 7. It is in the context of that teaching that I understand the phrase “one-woman man” when Paul lists the qualifications of overseers/elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 (as well as Titus 1). If Jesus and Paul intended to teach that one man and one woman are united by God until God ends the marriage in death, then “one-woman man” is not so obscure of a phrase.

Andreas Kostenberger, a great trustworthy scholar, has written a fine book called God, Marriage, and Family: rebuilding the biblical foundation. He would disagree with me. He is a scholar. I am not. But I have been a little disappointed to find that he has not addressed some of the strongest nuances of the differing views on this phrase. In other words, I think he addresses all the differing views generally, but not any one specifically. And by doing that, there are arguments from the other angles that could be missed (not necessarily a weakness in his writing, but just a disappointment for what I am wrestling with).

He has strong reasons for interpreting “one-woman man” to mean “faithful husband.” But here are some arguments against three of his reasons in particular:

  1. He says that Paul could have said “never been divorced” (or against me, “never been remarried”) instead of “one-woman man” (which everyone agrees can be translated “husband of one wife”), but could not Paul have said “faithful husband” as well?
  2. He rightly argues that “one-woman man” is not Paul’s prohibition of polygamy. But then he argues that it could very well be a prohibition of having concubines, which he says was common. I think the text of the NT screams silently against that as being a common practice among Christians. Plus, as with other qualifications, would having concubines be acceptable for any Christian? Not every Christian must be apt to teach, but no Christian could have ever been ok to have a concubine.
  3. He also seems to assume that men or women who had a spouse die, and then remarried, have become people who have had more than one spouse. He would say in my view, that should disqualify widowers who remarry. But I say again, what if the biblical view in general on divorce and remarriage is that a Christian’s marriage only ends when God ends it in death? You are a “one-woman man” if you only remarry after your first spouse dies. If she is alive when you remarry, you are a “two-woman man”, obviously.

My goal is not mainly to argue about divorce and remarriage in general, but only to show how my view of “one-woman man” makes sense. I tire of Christians making fun of me for that. I desire to take these texts seriously, and would love for a little more unity to happen in this area by God’s grace, and I think that ONLY happens through conversations like these.