22 Years of Music & Dance

Each time an anniversary is celebrated (or Mothers’ Day), this passage would readily come to mind:

“Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
‘Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.'” Proverbs 31:28-29

Of course, in the earlier years, this passage did not apply as fully as it does now. Our eldest will turn 19 in a month, and our youngest will be 8 tomorrow. As a wife and mother, Serene has given so much of herself to the marriage and the family.

This year, these verses came through a little differently.

Just a few days ago, we received news that a fellow homeschool mother had passed away. It was very sudden. One day Jenny was unwell, and the next day, she suffered a heart attack. She was only 62.

Last night, on the eve of our own wedding anniversary, Serene and I attended the wake service. The passage the family had picked was Proverbs 31:28-29. Jenny was a mother to eight children, all grown up now in their 20s and 30s. Jenny and her husband, Guo Nang, were homeschool pioneers.

At the wake service, they screened a video which the children had produced for their parents’ 38th Wedding Anniversary. It showed how they met and how their family grew, one child at a time. I can’t begin to imagine how her husband was feeling as he watched the video. The eldest son broke down as his wife put her arm around him to console him.

I fought to hold back tears. Yes, I felt much for Guo Nang and the children. But more than that, I couldn’t bear the thought of having the same predicament happen to me and our children. Yes, I know all the promises we have as Christians. But I would still be devastated if Serene were taken from me.

I don’t mean for this to be a morbid post as we celebrate our 22nd Wedding Anniversary today. Instead, it is a poignant reminder for us to never take each other for granted. And more specifically, for me to never take Serene for granted.

However and wherever the Lord has led me, Serene has fully supported me every step of the way. When I first received the call (2000) to go into full-time ministry, Serene was ready. When I finally stepped out (2004) to be a bible school student, Serene was with me. When I took on the challenge to lead a school of ministry (2007), Serene bore the load of looking after the little ones. When I accepted the role of being a pastor (2008), Serene accepted that there would be nights and weekends she had to soldier on without me. When I left everything to start Archippus Awakening (2014), Serene stood squarely behind me, recognising that pioneering work would be tough and demanding. Through it all, Serene continues to watch over the needs of the children and the task of homeschooling.

Thank you, Serene. I am sorry for the times I have neglected you and taken you for granted. I appreciate you and everything you have done and are doing for me and the children. I love you and I thank God for you. I declare Proverbs 31:28-29 over you. At the same time, I have also experienced the truth of Proverbs 19:14 in you:

“Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers,
But a prudent wife is from the Lord.” Proverbs 19:14

Thank you for 22 wonderful years! God willing, we will get to celebrate many, many, many more years of Music & Dance together as the Lord allows us, by His grace. Blessed 22nd Anniversary!

A Marriage Seminar on Valentine’s Day

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It was meaningful that a marriage seminar should be held on Valentine’s Day. As such, I was so encouraged by the 66 who chose to spend that special day with us. “Building Marriages on the Rock” started at 9am and promptly ended by 3pm – leaving the couples time to rest and go for their romantic dinners 🙂

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As always, after the teaching sessions, I would lead couples in a time of forgiving one another. Thereafter, they would pray together, seeking the Lord’s enablement to build their marriages on the Rock of Jesus Christ that each would bring Him glory and honour. This, really, is my favourite part. For most of us, we don’t take time to acknowledge our faults and to seek our spouse’s forgiveness. It was such a tender moment, but so beautiful. You can sense the slight discomfort but at the end, tears flow as words are exchanged, followed by hugs.

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Significantly, this year, Serene and I would celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary on 11 March. About two years ago, I had written in my journal my intention to offer “Building Marriages on the Rock” as part of our anniversary celebrations. Although I had forgotten that little journal entry, God didn’t. It was only when Roslyn of TPMC invited me to conduct this at her church that I remembered. This is not to say that Serene and I have a perfect marriage. We are just so thankful for the opportunity to share our lives with others that they may be encouraged and to know that we all serve a good and faithful God!

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With Roslyn & Jerome of Toa Payoh Methodist Church

 

Here are some comments from the participants:

“The session was very insightful for us as newly engaged couple. As Christians, we definitely benefited from a Christian authority figure, Henson has both reinforced our Christian beliefs as well as clarified our roles as husband and wife in future. One such example is the role of a wife to be submissive, we always thought it was granted that a wife should be submissive but we learnt that submissive-ness is an attitude, not a role. And we can only achieve this by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. We’ve also been further strengthened in our conviction by Henson’s passion for Christ. We cannot be worldly and Christ-like at the same time. Christ must be the only one we looked to in our marriage and our lives!” Nick & Michelle

“Thank you for the wonderful seminar! Indeed there are several things I am reminded of and several I have neglected. Yet there are several which I have deliberately ignored :/ I especially like the way you talk about God’s purpose in marriage. The marriage is not just between my husband and I but it is with God! And to glorify Him in our union!” Jaime Hang

“Desmond and I have been married for 10 years. Sometimes, when we attend such courses, people think we are facing problems that’s why we are going for courses to get help. :-I I think this workshop is for all married couples, especially those who are having it good and want to make it better. Many times, I realise those really having problems will not want to get help, and those who have been married for a number of years think they know it all, know what makes things tick and there is nothing with their marriage they need to fix. But more often than not, their relationship have stagnated and become functional and they are actually too shy to attend workshop on marriage with their spouse. They are ok with parenting workshops though 🙂 One important takeaway is that the husband is the leader and the wife is the helper. Actually, we know that already. Its the putting it to practice! I think most chinese couples have the tiger mum and the tiger wife syndrome, (I am not so bad really 🙂 🙂 ) so the wife ends up leading and the husband just lets the wife be, to avoid a bigger mess. We promise to remember and apply this and also to walk together in our christian walk, and also lead our children. What we have been doing is that I have my own relationship with God and Desmond has his own relationship with God. I am so glad that this workshop has helped us realise that we, as a couple, must have a relationship together with God too.” Desmond & Teresa

“I like the bible verses which support every point discussed. They are appropriate and have weightage. Afterall they are God’s word. It is not that we don’t know them. It is just that I didn’t measure up to it. I do see my ‘fault lines’ which were glaring to myself. So yes I see the plank in my own eyes. It is a timely reminder for me to learn to be submissive and to recognise my role as a wife. There are many times I fall short of the marriage covenant. Today’s session is very relevant in many aspect of my marriage journey. When Henson recited the marriage vows, it brought me back in time – 15 yrs ago. ‘Ya Hor’ I did say those words in my ‘glorious wedding’ in front of God, my family and friends. Then I realized that “hey, how come I didn’t ‘tahan’ when put to the test? The course set me thinking, align my thoughts back to God’s – lest I forget what I declared before … my solemn vows. The last part of the session touches my emotion and being. To hear my husband and myself seeking forgiveness for our shortcomings is good for our souls. Immediately we forgave one another on the spot.” Li Hwa

Building Marriages on the Rock: Saturday 14 Feb at Toa Payoh Methodist Church

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At the invitation of Toa Payoh Methodist Church, I have another opportunity to share “Building Marriages on the Rock” again; on Valentine’s Day, how apt! Not only that, this year, Serene and I celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary 🙂

Here are some comments after I taught across three weekends at Full Gospel Assembly:

“”Building Marriages on the Rock” was very helpful for my husband and I, as newlyweds. It reminded us of the many things we learnt at our premarital course. Lesson points preached over the three weekends should be taught over and over again, even to couples who are married for decades, because these are things that people tend to lose sight of. We forget what God’s design and purpose for marriage is and become more concern about how or what I could gain from the marriage. I was especially encouraged to think about the specific purpose of my marriage and inspired to paint a bigger (and ever growing) picture to include the church family (and all that belongs to Him). Henson lives out what it means to be the head of the union and we were so blessed to have him come share with us how this beautiful blessing is for everyone!” Evie Tham

“The sermon series, “Building Marriages on the Rock” was one of the best series I’ve heard on the subject of marriage.  The messages were well put together and Rev Henson presented very clearly the biblical view of marriage, God’s design and purpose for marriage and the roles of husband and wife.  I was challenged when he shared about the wife’s role as a helper to her husband.  The most powerful part for me was when the altar call was made for husbands and wives to come forward to renew their vows and ask each other for forgiveness.  When the busyness of life takes over especially when kids are added to the family, it is so easy to slip into the task mode and lose the intimacy as husband and wife.  When we came forward and Rev Henson led us to renew our vows, we felt the Holy Spirit rekindle and strengthen our love once again. That was a God moment that I would never forget.” Angeline Lim-Sundram

“The “Building Marriages on the Rock” series is one of the most inspiring and anointed teaching on marriage we have ever heard. It was scripture-based, clear, applicable, anointed and deeply insightful. As a husband, I was particularly struck about the segment about the role of a husband – that he was to be joined to his wife. That the man should take the lead/ initiative in going towards his wife – be it in conflict resolution, making decisions etc. I was also deeply moved by the covenantal picture of marriage – that our marriage is a covenant not unlike the covenant that God keeps with his people. Huge implications indeed. It has spurred me to think of what lengths am I going to to keep this covenant relationship strong!!” Jay Tan

“Having both grown up in church, ideas around what biblical or godly marriage looks like was not foreign to my fiancee Rachel and I. But we’re also a couple that believes God is always doing a new work and bringing a new word, and He’s never done with us. Some thoughts that spoke to us during this season, especially while we were planning for our wedding and married life together, included: The idea of a three-fold cord not being easily broken. It was a powerful picture of the beautiful meshing of three (God-woman, God-man, man-woman) relationships as well as the visual analogy of three threads being plaid together, and a great reminder that it is paramount for a husband and wife to prioritize their individual love relationships with the Lord alongside their relationship with each other. One other thing that struck me was the idea of a man leaving his father and mother and transitioning into his own position as leader of a new family and responsibilities to his wife. I believe anyone in this transition will face similar challenges that require navigating, both with self and with his parents, as a man “breaks away” from the previous family and all that comes with it in this very necessary and God-ordained process. The sharing from Building Marriages on the Rock gave me hope and deposited a very freeing word in my heart, giving me comfort that though it was a tough thing to navigate around, that these were necessary processes of change and that there was a growth process God was taking myself and my parents through. We truly serve a God who promises in His word that all things work together for good!” Dalton & Rachel

TPMC Building Marriages on the Rock

If you’d like to attend this seminar on Saturday 14 February 9am – 3pm, please register directly with Roslyn Sim of TPMC (email: roslyn.sim@tpmc.org.sg). Feel free to share this with other couples too.

Thanks for praying for me as I prepare to share on this very critical issue. Today, more than ever, the institution of marriage is under tremendous attack. Sadly, Christian marriages are not exempt from the pressures of life and the many distractions that contribute to pull couples apart. For sure, it’s not just tips and tricks we need to get by. We need to return to God’s original design and purpose for marriage that we may fully understand our roles, firmly grounded on the Rock of Jesus Christ. Amen!

Ashley Madison in Singapore: When Even Negative Publicity Is Great Publicity

The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2013, B4.
The Straits Times, Thursday, 7 Nov 2013, B4.

It is not surprising that Ashley Madison is pushing its way into Singapore despite protests. But does this concern the website that promotes extra-marital affairs at all? Does it even bother them that our minister has openly declared that such websites are not welcomed in Singapore? Absolutely not!

And that is precisely the point. Evil has no regard for morals! They don’t care one bit. Greed knows no bounds. As far as they are concerned, it is a legitimate business and as long as there is a demand for such services, they will supply it. Simple Economics101. And being the devious website it is, even negative publicity is great publicity. They just got thousands more hits for free.

In today’s online world, sadly, anything goes. The authorities can attempt to block it but there are still ways around it. In these last days, we must be aware that evil will stop at nothing for the time is short. We who know and understand biblical prophecy must not be caught off-guard. These things will take place at increasing and alarming proportions! Let’s face it. Regardless the efforts and restrictions of the government, needful and helpful as these may be, it is the sinful lustful heart of the individual that must still be dealt with. Businesses like Ashley Madison know this only too well and are capitalising on it big time.

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In my post, “Say No to Ashley Madison in Singapore“, I remarked that Christians have a responsibility to speak out in the public arena against such filth. At the same time, in our private lives, we must determine to work at our marriages and families, refusing to give any ground to the evil that pervades our society more and more.

I believe we will see more of Ashley Madison, or the likes of it. Whilst I do not support it one bit, I must be careful not to give them all the credit. In some crazy sense, the founder of Ashley Madison is not inaccurate when he said that the breakdown of marital cannot be entirely attributed to his website. With or without this website, sin rules in the lives of those who have not known the saving work of Jesus Christ. Clearly, the wages of sin is death; and in this case, it is bringing death to marriages and families. It is only the transforming work of Jesus in men and women that will make the difference.

As a minister, it breaks my heart to see marriages and families affected and devastated by such adulterous liaisons. I will do my part to help as many as possible, sharing with them the hope and victory they can have in and through Jesus. That, I believe, would be time and energy better spent than giving more publicity to Ashley Madison.

To join the petition against Ashley Madison in Singapore, LIKE the Facebook Page “BLOCK ASHLEY MADISON FROM CORRUPTING SINGAPORE“.

The Divorce Dilemma 3: What Would Jesus Do?

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Read: The Divorce Dilemma 1: Matt 5:31-32 and The Divorce Dilemma 2: Pastoral Exhortations

As I considered how to conclude the message, the Lord led me to two familiar accounts in the gospel of John. The first is found in John 4 where Jesus met the Samaritan at the well; and the second, in John 8, where He was forced to deal with a woman caught in adultery.

John 4:1-42 The Samaritan woman at the well has had five husbands and at the point of meeting Jesus, was in a relationship with another man. We are not told whether the five ex-husbands were dead or alive, although we understand there is shame in this woman, which explained the visit to the well at the odd time of the sixth hour. After meeting Jesus, she suddenly becomes the village evangelist!

John 8:2-11 With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus never disputed the adulterous act at all. He knew that she was guilty and thus allowed anyone without sin to cast the first stone. As her accusers left, the woman was found alone with the only One who was sinless, who could execute the judgment of death due to her. Instead of the weight of stones, she felt the weight of His love and grace as He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

What Would Jesus Do? Whenever divorce is taught or discussed, the ones who have divorced or remarried obviously have the most questions. And it is so easy to be drawn into such a discourse and be forced to provide some answers. I wish John could have been clearer so there would be no debate as to how to handle such cases. And yet, I believe Scripture is deliberately silent so that we won’t have a one-size-fits-all biblical precedent for this at all. Once again, what we have are principles:

Principle #1: Dealing with Our Thirst Instead of addressing her broken relationships, Jesus addressed her thirst, one that can only be satisfied in and through a relationship with the One who is the fountain of life. Similarly, our thirst for love, for acceptance and for affirmation cannot be found in relationships, only in Jesus. Jesus must be the centre of all marriages. If not, we too will go from “well” to “well”, never satisfied to drink from our own cisterns (Proverbs 5:15-20).

Principle #2: Dealing with Presumption After her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman excitedly declared Jesus as the Christ to all. That sounds really good but could she still be living in a wrong relationship with the man? After all, Jesus did not condemn her at all. Similarly, we can mistakenly presume that just because we are in church, or serving in some capacity, makes everything ok, that we don’t need to deal with our sin. Not at all!

Principle #3: Dealing with Sin How we all love the words of Jesus when He said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you.” But let us not miss the second phrase, “Go and sin no more.” We might even presume that the first cancels the second; that no condemnation gives us permission to go on sinning. No! “Go and sin no more.” Experiencing Jesus’ love and grace must lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4), to turn from what is wrong to what is right, that leads to salvation (2 Cor 7:10).

My friends, Jesus is the only One who can satisfy. Before we met Jesus, we didn’t know any better and we all made mistakes, resulting in undesirable and broken relationships. But after meeting Jesus, we have no more excuse. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we now live for Him and desire to live as He commands, as enabled by the Holy Spirit. To this end, we must be prepared to deal with any area of our lives that is not pleasing to Him. May we set ourselves and our relationships right so that these may bring honour and glory to Him!

Related Posts: The Divorce Dilemma 1: Matt 5:31-32 and The Divorce Dilemma 2: Pastoral Exhortations

This is just an excerpt of the sermon “The Divorce Dilemma” preached at Covenant Vision Christian Church on 8 Sept 2013. Hear the full message at Covenant Vision Media Centre or download the podcast from Covenant Vision Christian Church Audio Podcast. It should be uploaded by 13 Sept.

The Divorce Dilemma 2: Pastoral Exhortations

IMG_5789In The Divorce Dilemma 1: Matt 5:31-32, all I have laid out are what has been drawn from the teachings of Jesus in Matt 5:31-32 and Matt 19:1-10 concerning divorce and remarriage. Let it be clearly stated once again that Jesus was really addressing the issue of adultery.

At this point, it is perfectly understandable that there are now more questions than there are answers. However, these cannot be addressed generally over the pulpit or in an article as such. Rather, these are best dealt with personally and directly, taking all factors into careful and prayerful consideration as we seek to remain obedient to the Lord’s commands.

Yet, through the preparation of the message, I felt it would be helpful to provide some pastoral exhortations. Having heard what the Lord has said and taught, what does it mean for us and how should we conduct ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ? Allow me to do that by way of addressing the different groups of people and the various stages of relationships.

1. Pre-Marriage: God views sexual purity very seriously.

To the singles, those seeking to be in a relationship or presently in one, keep yourself pure for your future spouse. Treat all as brothers and sisters, not as sex objects. Stay accountable with leaders and others in the church community.

Beware of exposure to a highly-sexed world which promotes fornication, sexual experiences and co-habitation. Avoid going on holidays or trips alone. Don’t think that you are that strong to resist sexual temptation. If you engage in any of these, according to Jesus, you have already opened the door to fornication and adultery. Don’t compromise your walk and your marriage!

While waiting for the right one, don’t just pray for a godly spouse. Instead, pray and prepare yourself to be a godly spouse. In the meantime, serve the Lord with all your time and energy.

2. Marriage: God views marriage as a permanent union broken only by death.

After deciding to follow Jesus, who you choose to marry is the next most important decision you will make in your life. Believers are to marry “in the Lord”, preferably one who loves Jesus and not just one who wears a Christian label. Don’t rush into anything; but don’t delay or procrastinate either.

Beware of buying into a “marriages made in heaven” philosophy. However romantic this sounds (especially to you ladies), don’t fall for it. This only sets you up to look for the one when you are unhappy in your marriage. Be convinced that the one you married is the one. So choose and decide well. Seek godly counsel.

There is no perfect spouse. But your spouse will be the perfect one to spur you towards Christlikeness.

Be convinced that you only have one shot at it — for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do you part.

If you have an unbelieving spouse (or a back-slidden one), all the more you must shine for Jesus and be the salt that preserves and flavours the marriage. Don’t nag them into the Kingdom but win them over “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1-6).

3. Singlehood: God loves the singles too!

Yes, the marriage institution is to be promoted, celebrated and protected. It is upon godly marriages that godly families will form the bedrock of society. However, this does not mean that singlehood is less honourable or to be frowned upon. Scriptures remind us that some are called and gifted to be single and some choose to remain single (as did Paul).

Dear single brother or sister in Christ, you are not second-class citizens at all! Do not feel condemned or less special. Our Heavenly Father loves you dearly! Determine to live for Jesus and not just for yourself. Keep yourself pure and holy. Devote your time and energies to serve the Lord and to serve others. You can do so many things for the Jesus and His kingdom that those who are married are unable to do.

4. Divorce: God hates divorce. Don’t use it to justify adultery.

This word should not be in a Christian’s vocabulary at all. Remove the back door for this is not an option to be considered. Husbands and wives, stop threatening each other with divorce. You are only prophesying and confessing it over yourselves!

Forgiveness and reconciliation are to be the order of the day for Christian relationships, especially marriages. Be aware of and acknowledge the “hardness of your heart”. But know also that in Christ, God has removed the heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. We have been given the Holy Spirit to enable and change us.

Acknowledge that when two imperfect people come together, there will be challenges as both travel the road to sanctification. Learn and determine to always see one another through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Remember that we have been forgiven, and so we forgive.

Every marriage can be redeemed and restored in and through Christ! If you need others to walk with you, seek godly counsel and help.

5. Adultery: Sexual Immorality is sin. Full stop. Deal decisively with lust!

Remember that in Matt 5:31-32, Jesus exposed the intentions of deceitful hearts, using divorce as a guise to be adulterous “legally”. Adultery is committed when lust is not dealt with! Therefore, safeguard yourself against this “lust” for another person other than your spouse.

Rely on the Holy Spirit and not on your own strength. Flee pornography and internet temptations. Beware of workplace relationships and romances. Beware of ex-flames which may be rekindled over Facebook. Be accountable to others.

Dear single Christian women, beware that you do not fall for a married man and commit adultery. I have come across too many who too readily throw themselves at such men, especially when they are Christian and appear godly. Please do not be blinded, dear sisters! If he was really Christian and godly, he wouldn’t be in a relationship with you in the first place.

The best safeguard is to build your marital relationship by understanding what covenant really means. Re-introduce yourselves, share, talk, pray and be great friends. Sexually, physically, intimately and sacrificially, serve and enjoy one another as husband and wife. Serve the Lord as a couple so that you share a common Kingdom purpose.

Related Posts: The Divorce Dilemma 1: Matt 5:31-32 and The Divorce Dilemma 3: What Would Jesus Do?

This is just an excerpt of the sermon “The Divorce Dilemma” preached at Covenant Vision Christian Church on 8 Sept 2013. Hear the full message at Covenant Vision Media Centre or download the podcast from Covenant Vision Christian Church Audio Podcast. It should be uploaded by 13 Sept.

The Divorce Dilemma 1: Matt 5:31-32

IMG_5789It’s open knowledge that divorce rates have been on the up. And sadly, the Christian statistic is not much better than that of society. My personal opinion is that divorce has not been preached or taught enough over the pulpit, resulting in ignorance and a certain license amongst believers as they presume the grace of God allows for that since “God understands”.

With such mindsets, any appeal to Scriptures is tantamount to going back to the Law (or legalism) and that probably explains why most pastors would rather not handle this hot potato for fear of being branded a Pharisee. Add to that, the laws of the land do not regard divorce or adultery a crime. Subconsciously, this affects the way we view these topics too, presenting another huge obstacle to overcome.

Notwithstanding the above, as disciples of Jesus Christ, it is the words of Jesus we must heed. Let it be stated clearly that to hold firmly to Jesus’ words does not make one a Pharisee at all. On this point, Christians must learn to distinguish between the “You have heard that it was said” from the “But I say to you” phrases. And that is precisely the intent of this article as we address a highly controversial issue of divorce, drawing from the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5:31-32.

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” Matt 5:31–32

The Issue is still Adultery These two verses are a follow-on from Matt 5:27-30 where Jesus addresses the command “You shall not commit adultery”. Going for the jugular, He reveals that a lustful intent to possess a woman renders one adulterous. Clearly, this comment is directed at married men who craved for another other than their wives. But Jesus doesn’t stop there! He takes the teaching further and declares that adultery is also committed when divorce takes place. In those days, divorce had become commonplace as was remarriage. Men were simply dumping their wives so that they could have another woman “legally”.

It has been said The Law of Moses (Deut 24:1-4) allows the man to dismiss his wife simply by giving her a certificate of divorce. Although this seems to favour the man, it was actually to protect the woman. Abusing this provision, men with promiscuous lifestyles would dismiss their wives at will, usually wrongfully and unjustifiably. Without a certificate of divorce, the woman would be deemed as adulterous and thus be liable for judgment resulting in death by stoning. By the time of Jesus, two rabbinic schools of thought were prevalent. The House of Shammai held the stricter view that divorce was allowed only on grounds of sexual immorality. The more lenient House of Hillel allowed divorce for any reason. For example, if a woman burnt the husband’s breakfast, the man could dismiss her!

But I say to you In response to this, Jesus declares, “If you divorce your wife, you cause her to commit adultery. You are responsible for her sin! And if you marry such a one, you commit adultery too!” (paraphrase) To understand Jesus’ point, we must understand what marriage is according to God’s original design and intent. For this, we must turn to Matt 19:1-10 where the same issue is addressed not as a general teaching but as a direct response to the Pharisees’ question (remember that these were the ones whose interpretation Jesus countered in Matt 5:31-32). Quite apart from desiring to know Jesus’ position on divorce, I believe the Pharisees had a secret intention of justifying their own divorces.

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ ? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matt 19:4–6

Marriage in God’s Eyes Jesus goes back to the beginning, way before the Law was ever given to Moses, quoting from Gen 2:24. It is almost humorous when Jesus challenged these so-called experts of the Torah, “Have you not read?” Stated clearly, the man is “joined” to his wife and “the two shall become one flesh”. The Hebrew word for “join” or “cleave” literally means “glue”. Simply, in marriage, God’s superglue holds the two together, so closely and tightly that “they are no longer two but one flesh.” In God’s eyes, the marriage is a permanent union, a covenant that is broken only by death (cf Rom 7:2-3). That explains the clause “until death do us part” in the wedding vow — a phrase many readily declare but few, I suspect, understand its significance, much less regard it as a solemn vow before God and witnesses. Jesus then says, warns rather, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The Hardness of Hearts Refusing to acknowledge this, the Pharisees appealed to the Law of Moses again. Since the subtle nice guy tact didn’t work, Jesus told them plainly, “The problem is with your hearts! If Moses didn’t allow divorce, you would have killed your wives to get out of the marriage! This is definitely not God’s original intent and design!” Matt 19:8 (paraphrased) Then Jesus issues the exact “but I say to you” teaching as He did in Matt 5:32, Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

Except for Sexual Immorality This little phrase has been taken as Jesus’ proviso for divorce, almost like a loophole or an escape hatch, hence the need to examine it in greater detail. Allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, we must consider the parallel instructions of Jesus in Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:11-12.

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. Luke 16:18

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Mark 10:11–12

As Luke and Mark were written primarily to the Gentiles, the phrase in question “except for sexual immorality” is not mentioned. Note also in Mark, it is the woman who divorces her husband and not vice versa. This was prevalent in Gentile practice but not allowed for in Jewish Law (observation: today, women are the ones filing for divorce). The point is simply this: Matthew was written to the Jews and Jesus was addressing a Jewish problem. In doing so, He was in fact clarifying the understanding of Deut 24:1 where the word “uncleanness” was used. This was a very broad term that encompasses shame, nakedness and indecency. No one was really clear what it covered and as long as the woman “finds no favor in [the man’s] eyes”, he could write her a certificate of divorce!

Porneia & Moichea Jesus uses two different words to make His point, porneia and moichea. Technically, porneia includes all forms of sexual immorality, including fornication, bestiality, homosexuality as well as adultery. In this regard, in most English translations, “sexual immorality” is not wrong. However, when taken in its Jewish context, I submit to you that it is not accurate. Instead, I believe Jesus was referring to fornication or inappropriate sexual activity before marriage. This clause addresses the case where a man has been deceived into thinking his wife is a virgin, but finds out that she had been promiscuous before, or unfaithful during betrothal. In such a case, he is allowed to dissolve the marriage (as in the case of Joseph when he found that Mary was with child, cf Deut 22). It cannot refer to “adultery” or “marital unfaithfulness” (as in NIV) otherwise why would Jesus say that such would be caused to commit adultery? If the woman was already adulterous, she cannot be caused to commit adultery because she already has. To Jesus, in Jewish culture, this is the only legitimate ground for divorce. Whether Jew or Gentile, we must not miss the point that God views sexual purity before marriage very seriously.

Reason or Excuse? Drawing from the above, if not for the reason of fornication, and considering a more relevant Gentile context, there is really no other reason that justifies divorce at all. To the Jews, Jesus cancels the Mosaic concession for men to discard their wives at will just so they can take another woman. Jesus warns the man that he is responsible for the woman’s sin of adultery if she remarries, if he does not honour the marriage covenant. In no uncertain terms, Jesus warns the man to think twice before using the divorce card too easily and conveniently to get another woman. Is it not interesting that today, adultery is not the most cited reason for divorce but unreasonable behavior, irreconcilable differences, incompatibility, financial issues, falling out of love, etc? Jesus is really saying, “Stop calling these reasons when they are nothing but excuses!” For the kingdom subject, for the disciple, for the Christian, divorce is not an option. Even Paul builds on Jesus’ standard of no divorce in 1 Cor 7:10-13. And this is possible if and when couples are willing to forgive and to reconcile. Surely it is no coincidence that the discourse on marriage and divorce comes immediately after Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness in Matt 18:21-35. How things become so much clearer when read in context.

Divorce & Remarriage or Serial Wife-swapping? As we have seen, because of the hardness of hearts, the same have exploited Moses’ concession for divorce and interpreted it as a permission to dump and change wives. As long as a spouse was viewed unfavourably, the divorce card was played so that remarriage was made possible. The issue is really not divorce and remarriage but serial wife-swapping. Jesus exposes this and calls it as it is — ADULTERY. According to God’s divine order, the marriage covenant still stands. A divorce may legally dissolve a marriage in civil courts, but not spiritually. The bond of marriage remains! And anything other relationship outside of the marriage is adultery, leaving only two options after divorce — either reconcile or remain single.

It’s Better not to Marry! This explains the disciples’ exclamation in Matt 19:10, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” There is no escape hatch, no 30-day trial period! Notice that Jesus does not dispute their understanding of His teaching at all. Instead, Jesus cautions them that not everyone has been called to singlehood or celibacy (Matt 19:11-12).

I am fully aware that not everyone will agree nor be happy with what has been presented. I guess the Pharisees felt pretty much the same way when Jesus said what He said. I would encourage you to search and study more deeply and not just go on impressions or what you would have liked the text to say. Jesus’ standards may seem difficult and impossible; but remember, He also calls us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt 5:48). Thankfully, He also enables us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you have read this far, you’d probably have many questions, most of which are situational which cannot be addressed here. I don’t apologise for that because that was never my intention. The objective was to understand the words of Jesus that we may more accurately obey Him and guide others. And I hope I have assisted adequately in that exercise.

Now, as a disciple of Jesus, you must seek Him for yourself that He may direct you accordingly. May the Lord bless and enable you!

Related Posts: The Divorce Dilemma 2: Pastoral Exhortations and The Divorce Dilemma 3: What Would Jesus Do?

This is just an excerpt of the sermon “The Divorce Dilemma” preached at Covenant Vision Christian Church on 8 Sept 2013. Hear the full message at Covenant Vision Media Centre or download the podcast from Covenant Vision Christian Church Audio Podcast. It should be uploaded by 13 Sept.