I have been intrigued by this subject for a while because it is a major social trend.  Many people view cohabitation as a trial run for marriage to see if they are compatible. About 10% of couples in the USA claim to fall into the cohabitation category (a higher number have attempted cohabitation with marriage being a future option) but in many European countries the percentage of those currently cohabiting much higher – in the 15% to 30% range.  The USA is currently headed in a clear direction toward more people cohabiting as a precursor to marriage or an alternative to marriage.

Cohabitation is another issue that can be difficult to write about because many people have done this or are doing this. One of my primary reasons for writing this is to help people avoid pain.  I have approached the subject from both a Biblical and statistical perspective.  Obviously the Bible is quite clear on the issue (see Hebrews 13:4 and II Timothy 2:22 below), but I was shocked at the degree to which the statistical data backs up what the Bible teaches.

If you take 100 couples who are practicing cohabitation, 5 to 10 of them will cohabitate for longer than 10 without breaking up and without marrying, 45 of them will have a “premarital divorce” – meaning that their relationship will not make it to the marriage ceremony.  Of the 45 who do marry, 33 of them will get a divorce (almost 75%)!  This leaves 12 couples out of 100 that have survived cohabitation and will still be married after 10 years.  If you include the higher estimate of 10 for couples that maintain cohabitation for longer than 10 years without marrying, then you have 22 out of 100 couples that are still together 10 years later.*

Based on those numbers, I think all would agree that the odds do not favor cohabitation.  We can also clearly state that 40 to 50 % of all marriages end in divorce.  So just getting married is not the solution. According to Michael McManus who wrote a book on the subject, premarital sex is also a huge factor. They took 233 couples who agreed to stop having sex until their honeymoon and went through premarital counseling.  A decade later only 7 of those couples were divorced or separated.  Overall the Church has been very slack in this area and the statistics prove the consequences with the divorce rate of church service attenders being about the same as the general population.  Church leaders need to set people up to win by speaking the truth in love and setting clear expectations.

Problems with cohabitation:

1.  It does not work because you cannot practice permanence.

2.  “Pre-marital divorce” is often as painful as regular divorce.

How to put yourself in a position to win:

1.  Do not have premarital sex, or if you are sexually active then stop having premarital sex.

2.  Do not cohabitate, or if you are cohabitating then move out.

3.  Get premarital counseling that is not “fluff”.  You need to do this with someone or a couple who will tell you if they think it is a bad idea for the two of you to get married.  The counseling should be very practical and talk openly about subjects that you will face in your marriage: sex, money, communication, future plans, thoughts on kids etc…

4.  Included in the counseling have a marriage inventory taken so you can see compatibility or the lack thereof.

5.  Be involved in a Bible teaching church and in that church have REAL relationships where you have honest and serious communication.**

What if we were cohabiters and/or had pre-marital sex?  Does that mean our marriage is doomed?

Absolutely not!  The grace of God is sufficient and available.  In every marriage the couple should keep an eye on their relationship.  If your marriage is becoming frayed then asking a married couple you respect to be a mentor couple can be a great idea.  Marriage counseling may be necessary for some.  It is better to admit weakness now then to go through divorce later.  

* Michael McManus “Living Together: Myths, Risks, and Answers”

** In many churches these types of topics are very difficult to approach because the church is either legalistic making it almost impossible for people to be honest about their struggles.  Or the church is carnal and has no standards and expectation for behavior; therefore, sin is overlooked or even promoted. In both cases gossip often ruins the day.  Church leaders must insist on a loving, gracious, honest, and confidential environment if we are to make real progress in these areas where losing has become the norm.

Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…”

II Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

God is not being mean when He gives us these imperatives.  He really does know what is best for us!

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Understanding the Scriptures (Part 2)

How we interpret Scripture is of immense importance because our words and actions are born out of our beliefs.  A good method of biblical interpretation that is consistently applied will greatly increase our understanding of Scripture.  We will find ourselves in greater agreement with God and less prone to disagree with Him due to our cultural influences, preferences, and whims. Which method should be used?  You have 3 basic choices:

1. Not God’s Word Method – People who follow this method do not believe the Scriptures are God’s Word.  They believe it was written by people apart from God’s inspiration; therefore, the content and teachings of the Bible are not necessarily right.

2. Allegorical Method – The allegorical way of thinking is not new.  It was begun by the Greeks and passed on to the Alexandrian Jews.  The Alexandrian Jews used the story of Abraham as an allegory.  They claimed that Abraham’s journey to Palestine is really the figure of a Stoic philosopher who leaves Chaldea to become enlightened, and to marry Sarah is to marry abstract wisdom.  This school of thought moved its way into the post apostolic Christian church, “and largely dominated exegesis until the Reformation” (See Bernard Ramm’s book Protestant Biblical Interpretation pages 24-28).

3. Literal Method – The literal method takes the Scriptures literally wherever it makes sense to, and then figuratively where the literal does not make sense.  

Here are a couple of simple examples:

Matthew 12:1, “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.”  

We can take this to mean exactly what it says.  Having a knowledge of the Old Testament law concerning eating food as you walked through a field and knowing the Biblical regulations for eating this on the Sabbath and Jewish traditions at the time of Jesus are all helpful.  However, the method of a literal interpretation is the foundation for a proper understanding.

John 10:7, “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.’”

Still using the literal method interpretation we can determine that Jesus is not wood fibers and that four legged fury animals that say “bah” do not walk through him.  Jesus is making known that He is the access point for the abundant life.  The sheep are obviously people.  

Coming to a correct understanding of what Jesus means when He says, “I am the door,” can be consistently applied to similar statements by Jesus like, “I am the bread of life,” or “I am the vine.”  Being consistent in interpreting Scripture is of great value. 

In part 3 we will look at some helpful principles in using the Literal method.

The purpose of seeking to understand the Scriptures is to know clearly what God has said and by that to know Him and His will more intimately.  In this endeavor, we must be very careful concerning our process of interpreting the Scriptures.  Here are some helpful points to keep in mind.

1.  God is the author of Scripture with man as the instrument of the writing.  God allows the writers personality to be maintained in the process; however, the content is His (II Timothy 3:16-17, II Peter 1:12-21).

2.  Since God is the author, His Scriptures do not contradict each other.  Most apparent contradictions are sorted through with a little effort.  If more difficult ones remain for the reader it is not because of the inadequacy of Scripture, but of the inadequacy of the reader’s understanding.

3.  We must strive to keep our culture, preferences, church traditions, and personalities out of our understanding of the text.  We must strive to allow the Scriptures to teach us the truth and then apply that truth to overcome our preferences and personalities, to give us a truthful perspective of cultural issues, and to define/redefine our church traditions.

An example of what not to do would be found in Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper.  He paints the scene according to his European 14th century view of Christianity.  Therefore he gets many things wrong in the painting.  How they were seated, the type of furniture, the type of dinner wear, the clothing, the hair, the time of day etc…are wrong.  Is it important?  Consider that over 500 years later, when we think of what it was like that night, most people have Da Vinci’s painting in mind more so than the biblical and historical picture of what it would have been like to have seen it first hand.  Even if you view the painting’s consequences as a non-issue, you have to agree that method of work can have great consequences on issues of doctrine and morality.  Particularly for those of us who teach from the Word of God, we must take with great weight that our words are painting concepts and beliefs that often have serious consequences for the hearers (James 3:1)

4.  Our method to understanding the Scriptures must be consistent.  We cannot use one method for some texts and then a completely different method for other texts.  We will look at various methods in part 2.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you will find no less than 30 distinct parables given by Jesus. Therefore it is important to understand what a parable is.   A parable is commonly defined as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  It can also be described as a story that uses everyday events and activities to teach a spiritual lesson.  Parables are not intended to be a record of particular historic events but rather to share a familiar experience that the listeners can identify with.  

Parables generally have 1 dominant point.  It is important to seek out that main point.  Many people have a tendency to want to find a spiritual parallel for every item, person, and number in a parable. The problem with this desire is that the main point of what Jesus is saying is often missed.

In some parables it is simple to find that dominant point even on the first read.  However, with others more study is needed.  The follower of Jesus can be confident that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a sincere heart, and labor in the Word that the point Jesus’ intends to make may be found.

Do you have a questions about parables in general or a question about a specific parable you have read recently?  If so, feel free to leave a comment.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:13-16).

The key to interpreting these verses in James is to determine if the words sick and healed are of a physical nature or a spiritual nature. The Greek words could be used either way to describe a physical sickness or a weakness of spirit. An important fact that tips the scale in favor of a primarily spiritual condition is the promise, “the Lord will raise him up.” Practical experience has shown us through the centuries that as hundreds of thousands of believers in Jesus have called for the elders of their churches to come and pray for their physical diseases that sometimes the person gets better and sometimes they do not. However, in all cases where a believer is spiritually weak or in sin, if he humbles himself and confesses those sins God will “raise him up” and cleanse him (see James 4:7-10 and I John 1:9).

Important observations:

  • the spiritual weakness could be a result of going through hardship or because of sins committed – in either case the individual has a responsibility to ask for prayer from the leaders of his/her local church.
  • it takes humility to admit weakness and ask for prayer – but it is THE path to strength
  • accountability is crucial to our spiritual growth – without confessing our sins to God AND one another our spiritual health gets hammered
  • anointing with oil was a common cultural practice in the writers day to give refreshment. While anointing with oil is surely an acceptable practice today, we could also substitute it with many things…washing the persons face with a warm washcloth or giving the person a cup of hot tea are two examples.
  • the prayers of a righteous person accomplish much – here is a great truth and a call for the leaders of local churches to make sure they are in close communion with God.

Testimony:

In our church we have a groups of guys and a group of ladies who meet at 5:30 AM one morning a week to pray together. Part of the prayer time is confessional. It is a humbling thing to know that the person you are praying with could write down a detailed list of your sins from the previous week; however, it provides a needed accountability, helps keep short accounts with God and our church community, and develops a needed trust.
We have also seen God use this time in powerful ways to “accomplish much” in and through our lives. How will a church change after a few months of this? As the Scripture tells us, “much more than we could think or ask.”