6th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Ah Valentine’s Day. The stores are full of romantic red hearts, cards, chocolate and flowers. Did you know that Valentines Day is the 2nd biggest card giving day of the year? Just behind Christmas. Where did Valentine’s Day come from? The origin is actually quite mysterious. According to history.com there are several possibilities. In the 3rd Century apparently Emperor Claudius of the Roman empire found out that soldiers fought better when they didn’t have wives and families so he outlawed young men from getting married and apparently a priest named Valentine continued to perform marriages for young men and women in secret and was subsequently put to death. Another possibility is that an imprisoned Christian fell in love with a jailer’s daughter who would visit him and he would send notes to her and his last letter before he died he signed “from your Valentine.” Whatever the case may be, today Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, love, and relationships.
Interestingly the assigned readings for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany all have something to do with love and relationships and specifically the marriage relationship. What we’re going to look at this morning is a small part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Jesus has already said things like we looked at last week- how we, as His people, are to be salt and light for this decaying and dark world. Now Jesus is teaching us further what else it means to be a Christian, to be someone bought and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Specifically, in the portion we’re looking at, with regard to the 6th commandment.
Let me start off this way: if you were to ask most people in the world what it is that they want in life, what it is that they are after, what it is that drives them to do the things that they do, what will they say? The most common response you’re going to get is: “I just want to be happy.” Why do people lust? They think that will make them happy. Why do people commit sexual immorality? Why did David sleep with Bathsheba? Because he thought it would make him happy. Why do people get divorced or do things that break a marriage? What will their answer be? “I just want to be happy.” You’ve heard it, you’ve felt it. It’s as if the one guiding principle I have in life is: whatever I feel makes me happy, that is what I’m entitled to do. You see what that’s done? That’s made my happiness more important than anything else, made my happiness more important than God’s will, my happiness more important than God Himself. So everyone has this deep longing for happiness. But true happiness is only found in having true peace and true peace comes only from God.
And that’s foundational. You have to know that to understand God’s intention for marriage and what He wants marriage to be. What Jesus is building on here when he talks about lust and when he talks about divorce is what God has designed marriage to be. God designed marriage to be a covenant relationship. The sexual relationship is only to occur within that covenant relationship.
Well, what is a covenant relationship? It’s a relationship that is far more loving and intimate that just a legal relationship, but at the same time it’s also far more binding and enduring that simply an emotional relationship. You see, so many in our society treat marriage like a consumer relationship. You have a consumer relationship with a certain store you shop at. But if the quality of the product doesn’t meet your standard or the price goes up, you’ll bail on your relationship to the store. In a consumer relationship, you’re always looking for an upgrade. In a consumer relationship as soon as you have to put out more than what you take in, you cut your losses, you bail on the relationship. In other words, what you’re saying is, “My needs are most important, you keep adjusting to me, my needs are more important than the relationship, if I can get my needs met elsewhere, I’m gone.”
You see, it’s all about MY wants, MY needs, what I think will make ME happy. My wants are more important than the relationship. What is common about each one of the things that Jesus talks about here? What’s common about adultery, lust, and divorce? Each one is turning God’s incredible institution of marriage into a consumer relationship.
But the way God has designed marriage from the very beginning to be is a covenant relationship. In a covenant relationship the relationship is more important than my needs, wants or feelings. What a covenant relationship says is, “I will adjust to you, because I’ve made a promise, a vow, a commitment and the relationship is more important than my needs. My needs are less important than maintaining the relationship. That’s what marriage is. Now, if two people both treat their marriage like a consumer, it will fail. If one is a consumer and the other is a covenanter, the covenanter is going to be exploited. But if both are covenanters, think about that!
If you treat marriage like a covenant, think about what that means. First of all, you have a zone of safety. You can be yourself with your spouse. If you’re in a consumer relationship, you’ll always be trying to sell yourself, market yourself, you’ll need to perform, you need to meet the other person’s needs and if you don’t, they’re out. But in a covenant you can be yourself, there’s a commitment. Second, in a covenant relationship, ironically when you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow. Here’s an example of this I think most of you will understand. The other covenant relationship other than a husband and wife is between parents and children. What do you do with children? You give, and you give, and you give, it’s not a consumer relationship at all! You adjust to them, you get up in the middle of the night for them, change their dirty, smelly diapers, help them when they’re sick, they drool on you, you give and give to them and they don’t really give you anything in return. But there develops a deep, rich love and feelings for them. See, so many people would have a much happier marriage if they just commit to their marriage like they do with their children, because if you commit in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow. Lastly, if you have a covenant relationship, you have freedom. If you’re in a consumer relationship, you constantly need to feel it, if I don’t feel the love, if I don’t feel this relationship is meeting my needs, I’m out of here.” You’ve really become a slave to your feelings, you’re puppet on the strings of your feelings. If you want to be free from the control of your feelings, you make a covenant, a promise, a commitment.
What do we have in each of these three things Jesus talks about? Adultery, lust, and divorce. It’s all turning marriage into a consumer relationship. Any kind of sex outside of the covenant of marriage is only harming you. If you live together outside of marriage, you’re really basing your entire relationship on a condition. It’s a consumer relationship. You need to keep proving yourself, auditioning yourself, marketing yourself. The reason most people live together before marriage is to see if they are “compatible,” but all that’s just a nice way of saying, “I’m trying to figure out if this person is good enough to marry or whether I could do better.” Adultery is putting my needs, my wants, my desires before the relationship. Think about lust, think about pornography – it’s totally self-focused, you don’t even have another person involved, and yet it causes deep problems with your spouse or if you’re single with any future relationship you may have. Think about divorce. Think about the person who breaks the marriage bond through sexual unfaithfulness or abuse of any kind. It’s totally operating with a consumer relationship mindset- my wants, my desires, my feelings are more important than the relationship.
And what’s the final result? What’s the final result for putting my needs, my wants, my desires, my feelings before God’s will, before what God wants? Jesus tells us, “It would be better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” That’s the outcome. If I commit adultery, if I have sex outside the covenant of marriage, and don’t repent, I’ll go to hell. If I lust, if I use pornography and do not repent, I’ll go to hell. If I break my marriage through sexual unfaithfulness, through abuse, through giving up on my marriage and do not repent, I’ll go to hell. And the word that Jesus uses for hell here is “Gehenna.” It pictured a place outside of Jerusalem that was the garbage dump, it was a place of constant burning. It gives the idea of a place of unquenchable thirst and unfulfilled longing.
You see, if we walk away from God, if we walk away from what Jesus says, if we lose God, if we view marriage from a consumer relationship point of view, if we’re driven by our feelings, what we get is unquenchable thirst and deep longing. You see, if you’re looking for happiness in life and you look apart from God, if you look to external things- like adultery, or lust, or divorce or anything in this life, you’re always going to be lacking, you’ll be doomed to a constant searching, a constant longing.
We’re all searching for happiness, but true happiness is found in true peace and true peace is found only in God. Only one thing is going to satisfy our deepest longings in life. If you want true happiness, don’t look to adultery or lust or divorce or anything in this life, look to Jesus. You see, He entered the ultimate covenant relationship with you. He didn’t say, “You adjust to my needs.” He adjusted to your needs for the sake of the relationship. He went to the greatest lengths to save you- taking on human flesh, suffering, dying on a cross. For what purpose? Not for His benefit, but for yours- to rescue and redeem you, to make you ready for the eternal wedding supper of the Lamb in eternal life, to be your true Spouse, to satisfy your deepest longings. That’s true romantic love! And when we have Him and when His love is the most important thing in our life, then we can be single well, we can be married well, and we can give true romantic love. Amen.