I would like to begin our study today a little bit differently by asking you to bow with us in prayer before we begin this morning if you would. (Our heavenly Father we are so grateful to you for what you have done to make it possible for us to call you our Father, to remember a gift already given to us and to sing about it and to be touched by the relationship we share together in your family. Thank you Father that as a father guides his children, you have offered us your guidance and your word. Thank you that in the manner of your family, we have families that bless our lives. Help us this morning to encourage and strengthen our families by leaning upon the guidance of your word. Give us wisdom. We pray in Jesus name.)
A Vacation Bible School is family time in so many ways, and we are dealing with a circumstance right now in our world where family is under discussion in a strong way. Both politically and culturally there are debates as recent as this morning's news shows about what family means. I know also that many of our own families face particular kinds of struggles or difficulties that range all the way from health concerns to financial pressures to other kinds of stresses that bear down upon us. For all of those reasons, I thought it might be a good time for us to adopt the theme of our Vacation Bible School - Mission Possible - and to use a great passage of scripture to apply that idea to our homes.
We want to use Hebrews 13, verses 4-6, as a basis for our thinking, and we are going to notice some helps for homes that occur here in this passage. The Hebrew writer, having encouraged his readers all the way through this great epistle to remember how they have been blessed in Jesus Christ says to us all here, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep you life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" In that reading, there are three great sources of strength for all of our families.
The first one is a certain commitment that you will notice mentioned in verse 4. It is a commitment to honor marriage and the marriage relationship, a commitment to honor marriage such that it makes us unwilling to open up our thinking to the consideration of other choices or options. Notice that the Hebrew writer says simply, "Let marriage be held in honor among all." The word for honor which is used here means to be considered valuable, to be held to be precious, to be recognized as costly. The idea is that something is worth to you whatever you are willing to pay for it. And if marriage is to be held in honor, then it means that for us as God's children, we attach such high value to the commitment we made to each other in marriage, that we are not willing to sell it out for something else.
Marriage is to be honored because it is a covenant relationship. A covenant means that there are vows involved, promises made, and that those vows are to be kept, even if it is costly to do so and even if it does require precious things of us.
Marriage is also to be honored because it is a divine gift to us. When God made us, the Bible says in Genesis 1, verses 26 and 27, that he made us in his image and that he made us male and female. That means that we are therefore able to love and it means that we are able as men and women to compliment each other as we walk through life together. Genesis 2 suggests how God made the woman and the man for each other and then he brought them together and then scripture says, "A man is because of that to leave his father and mother and is to be joined to (or is to cleave to) his wife and the two of them are to be one flesh." They are to become a unit, in other words, a partnership in which they are ready to face life. Honoring marriage means that we recognize that it is a gift of God that involves a covenant with each other which is to be upheld regardless of the costs.
The Hebrew writer enlarges on that point, or explains it, by saying, "Let the marriage bed be undefiled." That is, honoring marriage involves understanding that the marriage relationship is so unique and so intimate and so precious that it is not to be tainted in any way. If you look at the two terms that he used here, it would suggest that defiling marriage might involve moving in before marriage or moving out after marriage. Notice that the word for "sexually immoral" means that here is a general kind of sexual behavior which disregards the honor of marriage, which disregards the fact that God meant for that relationship to exist inside a covenant, inside a commitment that two people have made in honor before God and before their fellow man. The word for sexual immorality which is used here or be translated "fornication" in some of the versions or even back to the King James, "whoremonger." It meant someone who is so enslaved to his passions, his physical passions, that he is unable to even consider right and wrong and he is unable to let his bodily desires be ruled by something outside of himself, namely the Father's will.
On the other hand, the word for "adulterous" means here is an individual who has made those marriage vows and who counts them then as so meaningless that they may be based on feelings or other desires, cast aside and forsaken. There is a debate that goes on in some circles now about what adultery involves. Is it merely the physical contact with someone besides your wife or your husband, or is it merely the breaking of the vow? I want you to notice something about how Jesus himself used this word. In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus taught on the fact that God intends for our behavior to be ruled by not only God's will, but also true hearts. Jesus said in Matthew 5, verses 27 and 28, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." What is it that he has committed when he looks on another person with the intention of using that person for his own lust? Committing adultery in his heart involved the sexual act or the sexual union with someone other than his or her mate. In Matthew 19, when Jesus discussed marriage and when he used this word, he said in verse 9, "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." In that case, it seems obvious that not only the sexual union with some other person is at stake but also the vows which have been made are in question.
Whenever we, then, in our lives and our behavior, disregard God's will for marriage before marriage, or whenever we disregard God's will for marriage after marriage, we are tainting or defiling something which is very precious, which is divine in its origin, and which involves the closest and dearest of humanity.
The Hebrew writer says that in honoring marriage, then, we must remember that God will judge. God has to judge something which is a betrayal of his own nature. He, by nature, is a God who is characterized by steadfast love. So when we give up steadfastly loving, then that is to ignore God's nature. God has to judge things that are hurtful to the people whom he loves. When we ignore his will on something so tender and precious as this, then we are engaging in things that will necessarily hurt some husband or wife or some son or daughter or some brother or sister of somebody. God has to judge things that in long term are not good for people. The Hebrew writer then assures us that if we start with that kind of conviction, we will have a strength about our families that will be important.
Virgin Fry of Houston, Texas wrote something that says what I am trying to say here. He wrote, "From God's viewpoint, marriage that is treated lightly is problematic. Many are unwilling to commit to taking marriage vows seriously and everyone, the workplace, the extended family, the children, the schools, the neighborhoods, pays dearly. Marriage provides the richest, deepest relationship possible between husband and wife. As a publicly joined couple, they live together, they learn to adjust to each other's quirks, then the joy of giving and receiving becomes precious. The stability of having a faithful, loving spouse is an unimaginable anchor in this tumultuous world. The effort, sacrifice, the being there through thick and thin, it is all worth it. As Joseph Barth has said, marriage is our last best chance to grow up." Then brother Fry observed, "If you have experienced a broken marriage, may you experience renewal, healing, and true fulfillment. If you are in a marriage now, may it be your first priority." That is really what we are saying. Marriage is to be honored in all.
The second great source of strength for our families is a certain kind of contentment, A contentment that allows us to resist some of the forces that make us think that we would be happier in our lives if we just had ______ (and you fill in the blank). Notice that in verse 5, the Hebrew writer says, "Keep your life free from love of money." Love of money is covetousness. It suggests a dissatisfaction with what we have now that causes us to distrust the promises of God and to try to seek after our fulfillment somewhere else with something else. Now, of course, in physical things, it involves merely a love of money. But the same principle applies to families in many other ways. Bob Russell, for example, in something he wrote about covetousness said, "Some of you are perfectly content living in your house until you go to a home show where some architectural marvel is on display. Then you come home discontented with your own house. Some of you are perfectly happy with your mate, but then you go to a party and see someone else's spouse who is more attractive, more romantic, more intelligent, etc. and you come home critical and envious. Some of you have wonderful children, but when you see the other children who get better grades or are mor athletic, you churn with envy and discontent."
You see the point, don't you? When we begin to focus on what we don't have in our own families, we can fall victim to a discontent that gives us a wandering eye and an unhappiness with where we are and a willingness to consider some of Satan's options. It is amazing how many times in the New Testament, especially in Paul's writings, covetousness and sexual immorality appear side by side. Ephesians 5, verse 5, is one great example that you might look at and consider.
How do we win the victory over those kinds of temptations? The Hebrew writer says, "Be content with what you have." Contentment means to develop an independence from outward circumstances that causes us to not let our state in life and our satisfaction with life depend on what somebody else is doing or what something else is happening around us in our lives. Contentment means that we are more willing to consider what we have than we are to focus on what we don't have.
It is interesting that in Matthew 19, as Jesus discussed marriage and divorce, etc. there, the Pharisees came to him kind of setting a trap and wanting to know if it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason and marry someone else. It was a loaded question, and they meant for it to be that way because there was then, as there has always been, a debate going on about things like that. It is so interesting to me that Jesus refused to answer, it seems, on their grounds. He almost said to them, "Why are you coming asking me for a way to put away your mates? Why are you so interested in a question like that? Why don't you focus instead on the permanence of the relationship and go out and act that way? If it is true that we often get what we have focused on, why not focus on that and pursue contentment? The problem, of course, is that contentment is a hard thing to possess.
Richard Carlson, in the little book he wrote entitled "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff," gave 100 short principles to remember to relieve the stress in our lives. One of those 100 I noticed is what I said a minute ago. That is, "think on what you have instead on what you don't have." But he says he had a friend, a friend and his wife, who after years of planning and saving and all of that, built their dream house. He went to visit them the next day. They were talking about what they were going to do different if they ever built another house. Contentment is a tough thing to possess.
I noticed that Dallas Willard, a professor at U.S.C., has written to the effect that if we are to do what's right, then in our minds what we know to be true must win the victory over our emotions. In other words, if we are going to do right, our convictions about what our heavenly Father has said has got to win out over our feelings, especially in the low times when Satan is trying to invade our contentment and work on our dissatisfaction to make us willing to give up. Then will what we know our God wants win the victory? Or will our feelings and the suggestions of the evil one erode those convictions and cause us to give in?
The first strength for family comes from commitment. The second strength for family comes from contentment. And the third source for strength in our families that this writer suggest is confidence - the kind of spiritual confidence that gives to our families the resources to meet the challenges of everyday life. Sometimes it makes me feel ashamed at how little it takes for me to get all upset and to think that the world is about to come to an end. Do we have the spiritual resources to meet the demands that life will bring down upon us? The Hebrew writer is saying that the first two things that we have talked about, the commitment and the contentment, come from this one and that is the spiritual confidence that is here.
Notice, if you will, at the end of verse 5, "He has said," (that is God) "I will never leave you nor forsake you." And it is interesting when God said that. At the end of Moses life and the people have been forty years in the wilderness and it looks like they are never going to be able to take possession of what God has promised them, and now their great leader is about to finish his journey with them - he is not going to cross the river with them - Joshua is brought forward and in Deuteronomy 31, verse 6 and then again in Joshua 1, verse 5, this is the statement that is made from God. "Joshua, you go do what I have called you to do and I will never leave you nor will I ever forsake you." That is God's promise.
He says that, the Hebrew writer says, so we can say, "The Lord is my helper." The word for helper is a very vivid word originally. It meant that if you in a military conflict called for reinforcements and those reinforcements came to stand there in the battle line with you, then you had this word, you had a helper. And what it is saying is we realize in our family, that as we face the challenges of life, we are not in it by ourselves, but our Father is our helper. We can confidently say "I will not fear. Therefore, what can man do to me?" One of the best comments on that verse in the Old Testament is Psalm 27, verse 1, "I won't fear because God is my stronghold." And one of the great comments on it in the New Testament is Romans 8, verse 31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?"
When challenges and pressures come on our homes, depending on where our confidence lies, the challenges will either draw us closer or they will drive us apart. I can't help but be moved by something that Joyce Hardin wrote: "The two marriages began very much alike. Both couples were young and attractive. Each eagerly anticipated a long and full life together as they exchanged the traditional vows. The phrase "in sickness and in health" seemed out of place in the presence of such obvious strength and vigor. But within a few months, both couples were faced with crisis. One young wife began to complain of a pain in her leg. The husband of the other couple injured his back and the diagnosis for both was the same - cancer. The first couple reacted with fear and bitterness. They saw no hope. When the wife returned to the hospital to have her leg amputated, she went alone. Her husband had filed for divorce. The second couple began by asking for God's help. They prayed for healing but even more, they prayed that whatever came, they might face it with love for each other and faith in God. Both marriages ended with a funeral. In one there had been only pain and broken vows. For the other, there had been love, joy, peace, and faithfulness. More important, there had been victory. Christ had made the difference."
Three sources of strength for our homes: commitment to the honor of marriage, contentment with what we have been given, and confidence in the precious promises of our heavenly Father. May they encourage me and may they encourage you and your family this week.
What a joy and a blessing it is to be in God's family. We have sung about that. And if honoring family means to count it as precious and costly, then you and I can see how precious it is what God has provided for us. At the cost of his own beloved son, he has given us the power to become his children, John 1, verses 12 and 13. By depending on what Jesus has already done for us to the point that we are willing to repent of our own selfishness, and to be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, he can raise us up as his adopted children. And then as we walk with our heavenly Father in the light, he can go on cleaning us up every day so that finally we can be at home with him. Maybe you are here this morning and you would like to begin that journey. If we can help you, won't you come right now while we stand and sing?