Rev. Kit Billings
February 8, 2004
This coming Saturday, February 14th is Valentines Day…a day reserved for love. Love, of course, comes in many varieties doesn't it? We may be blessed to feel love for the Lord, or love for our friends, love for our family, love for heaven and the church (and therefore for God's Divine truth). And we can feel the greatest interpersonal love of all can't we, for another human being within genuine marriage love, the love of one man for one woman, which is chaste, holy and pure. Lastly, we can feel love for ourselves too—that sense of caring deeply for one's self given that we are a child of God and the “apple of God's eye.” This coming Valentines Day I pray that you will feel and celebrate many types of love, which our Creator enjoys so much sending our way.
Given that our Bible lessons today are dealing with honoring marriage as divinely inspired and that it is a sin to commit adultery, I'd like to speak with you today about the Seventh Commandment and God's will that we are to honor marriage on all levels of life.
First, on the natural degree of truth this Commandment warns us that we are not to break the marriage covenant by committing sexual adultery, for this is an abomination toward God and is a sure-fire way to break our partner's hearts in the worst of ways. This also applies to single people being warned not to sleep with a married person's spouse. Unfortunately we live in a society that has learned how to sexualize just about everything. Music, entertainment, advertising, television programming, spam email, and the list goes on. We live in a society that tries at every turn to take a lighted match to the bundles of lusty natural affections within the unregenerate human mind, hoping to ignite the passions of our natural sexual cravings. Sex and passion are good, but only when held within the spiritual ideals of marital love. New Church Christian theology celebrates the many beautiful delights of a good, intimate and growing marriage relationship—in our church we honor the core principles of marriage in the Bible. The Bible, of course, does not use the term intimacy. Instead, it speaks of oneness in marriage, a oneness that has been designed to meet our need for companionship and completion and to relieve the loneliness that is part of being human. In her article titled “Intimacy: A Realistic Approach” Gloria Perkins writes:
The principles [of marriage] are these: Leave all else; cleave unto each other; become one flesh. And the result: You can be naked and unashamed before one another.
The marriage relationship of one man to one woman is one of the Lord's holiest creations and was designed by God to be a committed and faithful relationship. We read in Hebrews 13:4 “4Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Our church teachings undergird this by stating that marriage is a relationship based within the Lord God our Creator as our spiritual center, which is fed by His love and nourished by the goodness and truth of God's holy Word, by prayer and worship, as well as by deep, ongoing spiritual growth and regeneration. Both the Old and New Testaments describe marriage as an awesome blessing wherein “the two shall become one, so then they are no longer two but one.” The Lord is wonderfully clear here. He did not say where three or four should become one, but two. God goes on to express that the husband and wife are not to be separated, and also that we are not to adulterate (or make impure or unclean) the special, holy bond and relationship we have with our marriage partner.
Indeed, a good marriage is a gift, a blessing from God our Divine Father.
Our church teachings have an enormous amount to say about the greatness of marriage love, that unique and beautiful depth of feeling, connection and friendship which contains all of the most precious delights of life. That is, when a husband and wife are both living a spiritual way of life, and both are committed to dealing with their own evil issues and temptation battles instead of hurting each other deeply by ignoring one's self-centeredness and our tendencies to falsify what is good and true. What we know of marriage love in the New Church is that like so many things in life it is something that must start out in a more immature degree and grow into angelic marital love, which for most of us will not be fully reached until after death when our spiritual regeneration can be completed.
Marital love is designed by God to be passionate—a special kind of fiery love between a man and woman that begins to show its rudiments when two people first find themselves falling in love. Our theology expresses that marital love contains such passion in it because there are things about a person of the opposite sex that seem to open up certain depths of joy, mystery, love and energy which is much more difficult to get to by ourselves. Put simply, each gender has the power to help the other gain better entrance into one's own inward depths of humanity. Men and women have an amazing ability to help each other experience love and wisdom joining together, which happens to be the root of why God made us to be able to join sexually, as we become “one.” In heaven, for example, we learn that at a distance married pairs there appear to be one angel-person. Upon closer proximity, however, the one angelic person becomes distinctly two individuals—one woman and one man who are deeply wedded to each other in marital love.
Men and women are complimentary in nature, and while both sexes are so wonderfully human and made in God's image, each is so utterly distinct and different from the other. As Swedenborg wrote, “In a word, nothing whatever is alike in them; and yet in the least things there is what is conjunctive. In the male the masculine is masculine in every…least part of his body; and also in every idea of his thought, and in every particle of his affection. In like manner the feminine in the female.” Given these inherent differences of spiritual make up, when a man and woman fall in love and marry, they represent the most wonderful image of love and wisdom joining together. This reality God has made is not to be adulterated.
Thus, we are born to inherently want and need someone of the opposite sex, a person with whom we can relate, enjoy a sense of mutual vision in life, to laugh and play with, and most of all to grow together in God with. Certainly, this theology is not saying that leading a single life is wrong or unfulfilling—it's simply saying that we can attain the deepest degrees of love and spiritual growth within a marriage that is growing, and also that at a fundamental level the genders deeply need each other.
Our deep inclination to want to join with someone of the opposite sex derives its power from very deep spiritual forces and energies. First of all from the Lord's immense love for His people. The Bible refers to the Lord as the Bridegroom and the church His Bride—the passion with which God cares for His Kingdom of Heaven and the church which supports it flows inherently into growing marital love. Thus, the marriage of the Lord with His Church lives within the marriage of one man to one women. Marriage is holy, in part, because it represents the marriage of God with His Church…with His people. Let us note, here, that both the husband and wife are “God's Bride” so to speak—neither sex is inherently better than the other. We both receive God within us as a wife receives her husband.
On another level of spiritual application, what truly feeds a good marital relationship is the marriage of love and wisdom within each partner, in other words, the marriage of charity and faith. All people, either married or single, must not forget that the Seventh Commandment symbolically warns us against adulterating the marriage of what is good and true from God's Word within our hearts, minds and daily lives. Honoring marriage on the spirit-level of life means we need to keep the “heart and faith fires” burning inside of us, or we tend to stagnate. This application of the Seventh Commandment holds true for either married or single people.
This is what Jesus meant by the truth that we commit adultery on the spiritual level of life when we think lustfully about another person outside of our marriage relationship or about a married person's spouse. If we commit this sin, then we adulterate the holiness of marriage as God's Word defines it. People become tempted, often, to seek out extra-marital affairs when things get dull and lifeless at home and in the bedroom. How easy it is for husbands and wives to ignore their issues and marital problems, and let themselves begin to drift apart. Ignoring and denying relationship issues creates unhappiness and distance, and not meeting our spouses healthy sexual needs breaks God's wisdom on the natural level of cleaving unto each other and becoming one flesh. As one woman wrote: “When my marriage began to seriously lose its sizzle, I found myself feeling drawn to this kind and interesting man at work. At first there was some `harmless flirting,' then going out to lunch, and then those long gazes and hugs that went a bit too far. Thank God I saw the blooming affair before it fully struck, and I decided to talk with my husband about what I had done. It was extremely painful to do and to admit to him that I was greatly attracted to another man, but we are determined to get to the bottom of our interpersonal doldrums and rekindle our love and our marriage. I may have broken the spiritual degree of the Seventh Commandment, but I'm sure glad I didn't corrupt its literal sense.”
One can see the enormous importance of trying well at an early age to discover the kind of person we truly are and what healthy, invigorating and meaningful living is for us so that one's dating life (if marriage is our ideal) will bring one into contact with a compatible soul.
The Seventh Commandment, in its deepest application to life, calls us to make sure that the church of Jesus Christ remains married to Him, and therefore to the holiness, the goodness and the truth of God and His Word. The lifeblood of marriage love is vivified by the marriage of goodness and truth on every level of life.
This is saying that what we learn in God's Word about the importance of compassion, of caring for the poor and the oppressed in the world, of the importance of forgiving people who trespass against us, about not cultivating hatred and anger, about the blessing of loving and caring for children, about children honoring and loving their parents, about being sure to maintain our saltiness and tastiness in God's mouth, about telling the truth and not coveting what belongs to someone else, about learning to be abundantly full of God's love and wisdom so that we cannot but beam from inside as a lamp placed upon a hill-------all of these things and many more flow from what is good and true in God and are meant to be enjoyed and developed here on earth. The marriage of love and wisdom in living a good, Christian life is meant to remain that way----healthy, committed and faith-driven. Such spiritual marriages within our minds are not to be adulterated. Whenever we allow the temptations from hellish spirits to divorce the truth of good living from the love it is mated to, then we break the spiritual degree of the Seventh Commandment and commit adultery on that level of life. “Thou shalt not disconnect nor adulterate the good things of life from the truth that gives them their form and structure.”
A friend of mine, who is divorced, once shared with me that it tore her heart in half to begin her divorce process, and yet since her husband was determined to use and abuse both alcohol and drugs, it was better ultimately to “pluck out the eye than to lose the whole body.” In other words, her husband was deeply adulterating what was good and true in the marriage by first of all adulterating his own goodness and wisdom inside of him as a man. His wife tried and tried to get through to him for years, but he was steadfast in his sinfulness and selfishness. Personally, I do not like divorce at all, but sometimes it's better to cut off a gangrene leg rather than let it destroy the whole life of two people.
We read about the marriage of what is good and true in The Book of Hosea in the Old Testament where the Lord ordered Hosea to marry a common prostitute so that Hosea would be able to understand what God feels like when His church was determined to adulterate its relationship with God. In many places in the Bible the Lord used the language of whoredom and adultery to describe Israel's willful departure from good spiritual living and how they kept on worshipping idols of other nations. Their wicked ways and hardened hearts adulterated their relationship with God.
In Ezekiel we read, “Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember Me--how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. But you [O Jerusalem] trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband.” Remember now that the Lord's church on earth is called God's Bride and Wife. And given how the Pharisees and Scribes had falsified God's Word, Christ (in Matthew 12:39) called them “an adulterous generation.”
It is easy to stray from the truth and invite false thoughts and impure affections into our hearts, yet God says to us, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” We break the Seventh Commandment as well when we allow abusive and hurtful feelings to fully have their way with us which counter God's mercy and forgiveness of us. Sometimes we can be tempted to emotionally sleep with unhealthy feelings that want to tear us apart and destroy our God-given sense of self-worth and dignity, or our relationships with others through anger, impatience, foulness or bitterness. Both in the Old and New Testaments we are awed by the enormous love and compassion that God has on His people…upon His Church. The Hebrews kept on breaking God's heart by breaking His Laws and showing faith in other gods, yet the Lord continued to forgive them and promise restoration. Ultimately, God came down to our earth-plane and restored things in Christ Jesus.
Well, my friends, we are the Lord's Church today—you are the Lord's Bride and Wife. You are deeply loved and esteemed and called into holiness in life with God. Yet how often we do not think of ourselves as the Lord's lovely Bride, whom He cherishes and honors. We must be careful not to allow our hearts and minds to get way too friendly with feelings and thoughts that are hurtful and destructive, ones that make us hard-hearted, selfish, perhaps self-degrading, condemning or dead toward the Lord and the deep beauty and wonder of life.
The Lord calls us to honor marriage on all levels of life—the marriage of the Lord and His people, the marriage of good spiritual feelings and thoughts, and the marriage of one man and one woman. Amen.