Forgiveness. We know we should do it. Christians (and many others) believe God has given it. But what is it? What does it mean to forgive?

Shedding Light on Translations

The Bible uses four Greek words that have various connotations of forgiveness. The one Jesus uses in the Lord’s Prayer (aphesis) is translated in a variety of ways in the New Testament. In the Lord’s Prayer, aphesis is rendered “forgive” and “forgiven,” but almost everywhere else, it is translated, “to leave; to have left.”

Delving into Biblical Words

This Greek word (aphesis) is used to translate its Hebrew equivalent (Yo’bel) that is usually rendered as “Jubilee” in English. It alludes to the Biblical Law that required periodic forgiveness of debt. The Hebrews were commanded to “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan” (Leviticus 25:10). The Year of Jubilee restored personal liberty to those who had become slaves, and full restitution of all property also took place.

Consider this in the light of forgiveness. It’s an action that leads to release, liberty, restitution, and Jubilee. It’s about leaving something behind. We’ll explore this in greater detail later in this blog.

Another picture of “aphesis” in the Hebrew Scriptures is the scapegoat as part of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). By sending away the scapegoat, the Israelites were symbolising the leaving behind of their sins.

What Forgiveness Isn’t

Before we start looking at what forgiveness is, let’s find out what it isn’t. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you will put yourself back into a hurtful situation. Jesus’ teaching on turning the right cheek isn’t about letting someone slap you on the left cheek repeatedly. You’re not called to be a doormat for Jesus.

Over the years, I’ve heard some second-rate teaching on forgiveness. Pastors have told women in an abusive marriage to submit to their husbands, “as the Bible teaches.” It should be remembered that submission in marriage is mutual and conditional. Husbands and wives are to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). Submission is always based on love: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” and “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” No man ever beats himself up, and he shouldn’t abuse his wife either. A woman in an abusive relationship needs to get out as quickly as possible and seek safety. This is not a matter of forgiveness but of self-preservation.

Also, forgiveness isn’t forgetting – only God can do that (Isaiah 43:25). I’ve heard people say, “well, just forgive and forget,” but people don’t have that ability. It’s a Divine prerogative to choose to forget, not a human one.

What Constitutes Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process rather than an event. Each of us has the choice of when and how we forgive. Don’t be guilty of communicating clichés to others like, “just forgive them,” “move on,” “it’ll be okay.” Real-life cannot be lived by platitudes or formulae.

Forgiveness has to do with release, liberty, restitution and jubilee. In its purest form, forgiveness is about releasing another from your right to get even. It means “to leave, or to have left, your desire to punish someone for their offense against you.” Unforgiveness says, “You hurt me, and I’m going to hurt you back.” Forgiveness says, “You hurt me, but I’m going to release you from vengeance.”

Forgiveness is a choice rather than a feeling. You may still feel hurt, angry, wronged, offended, and wounded. You may feel that way for a long time during which God and time can gradually bring healing and restoration. But these feelings don’t mean you have unforgiveness. If you have relinquished the temptation to get your own back, you have forgiven. When you forgive, you will begin to experience liberty and jubilee.

If you are the one who has hurt or offended someone, then forgiveness for you will be seeking restitution.

Zacchaeus, the crooked chief tax collector, is a beautiful example of this. When he encountered the grace of God through Jesus, Zacchaeus was so impacted that he made restitution with everyone he had offended, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Can you imagine how the forgiveness flowed towards Zacchaeus from people he had ripped off? If he hadn’t responded in this way, he would never have had this experience. People would have known that he was now a follower of Jesus, but they would forever have felt angry with him for the way he stole money from them.

Restitution caused release, liberty and jubilee. True forgiveness will always have that effect.



Can you disagree and remain friends?  It’s a question I’m regularly asked especially when the debate gets a little heated on social media.  My answer to the question is, “Well, yes & no” because it depends on several variables.

It depends on the importance of what you disagree about.  For example, I have a shirt that I refer to as “my pink shirt”, but Christie assures me it’s salmon.  Now to me salmon is a fish, not a colour but does it really matter?  Of course not.  Some things we can disagree on because they really don’t matter.

Some people can’t handle disagreement, and they take it personally especially if it’s a hot topic linked to their values, worldview, or theological position!  Others either argue or withdraw.  Those who quarrel sometimes find it hard to allow others to hold a point of view that is different to their own.  They debate to convince the other person that they need to change their opinion.  When this doesn’t happen, the argumentative person can become angry, frustrated or withdraw.  Remaining friends with people like that is difficult.  That’s why the Bible teaches, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”


It also depends on how you define the word “friends”.  For example, at the time of writing, I have 4857 Facebook friends (plus 4381 followers on my public figure page).  Add to that the number of people who connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and I’d need to hire out the Melbourne Convention Centre and have a couple of sittings to fit everyone in.  But are these people really friends? I don’t know, I haven’t met most of them. 

I’m happy for these “friends” to comment and disagree, but what about when they’re continually disagreeable?  Interestingly, one of the synonyms for “disagreeable” is “unfriendly”.   I try and be patient and kind towards these people by first sending them a private message asking them to run their comments through the fruit of the Holy Spirit  (you know, things like kindness, self-control, and gentleness).  If they persist with their unpleasant behaviour, I warn them publicly.  After that, if they continue to offend, they are blocked or removed.  I refuse to allow such people the privilege of using my platform to air their nastiness.  The fact is you probably can’t remain friends with some friends who are not really friends at all.

Disagreeable Friends?

Can you disagree and remain friends?  Yes, most of the time if you disagree clearly.  State your opinion but don’t force it on others. Don’t see your goal in life as converting other people to your way of thinking. Allow others the freedom of seeing things differently to you.

Christian unity is not the same as uniformity. The Bible uses the word “harmony” to express the proper functioning of a church community.  Harmony occurs when different notes sound pleasing when they are played simultaneously.  Playing the same note over and over is boring.  Christians need to be in unity about the truths around salvation (as summarised in The Apostles’ Creed), but then they should be able to disagree about other things without breaking a friendship.  We shouldn’t have to be in total agreement on every issue to maintain harmony.

Hot Potatoes

Christians have differed about lots of things over the centuries, and nothing has changed.  We still disagree about theological and ethical issues as well as church practice:

  • Is baptism by full immersion or sprinkling?
  • Should women be allowed to teach in the church?
  • Was the earth created in six literal days?
  • Is hell really eternal torture?
  • Is the Bible the inerrant word of God?
  • Is it alright for divorced people to remarry?
  • Is it okay for two people of the same gender to marry?
  • Does the book of Revelation deal with the past or the future?
  • Which political party should I vote for?
  • What is the correct day to worship on?
  • Should we use grape juice or wine for communion?
  • Should Christians eat deviled eggs?

You get the picture! Christians disagree about lots of things, but none of the above effect a person’s salvation so why can’t we hold opposing views and remain friends?

It’s sad that, before I publish a blog or comment on social media these days I have to ask myself the question, am I prepared to lose friends over this?  Why can’t we respectfully disagree without breaking a friendship?   In fact, if you never have a conflict, you’re probably not experiencing genuine community, and your “peaceful” life could just be a sign that your existence has become stagnant.

Do Unto Others

Learn to disagree kindly and to differ without being unpleasant.  Avoid hurtful or personal comments and shun putting others down to lift yourself up.

Can you disagree and remain friends?  Well, yes and no. But if you want to stay friends, and the friendship is genuine, then the friendship is more important than disagreement.

(Take some time this week to read Romans 14 and notice all the helpful points the apostle Paul makes in helping the church work through disagreements).


Image Credits

Feature image – Even best friends have disagreements from time to timeMark Binzegger

Unless a High Court challenge is successful Australians who are on the electoral role will receive envelopes posted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from September 12 to have a say on same-sex marriage.  Responses will be due by 7 November and a result announced on 15 November.  The nation is divided on whether this is a good idea but if this is the only way forward on this issue, I encourage you to have your say and cast a vote.

In this blog, I want to outline some considerations on the postal vote that I hope will be helpful in thinking this through and having conversations with others especially when they disagree.  I also encourage you to read my blog Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage. [1]

It’s important to note from the start, same-sex marriage is not merely an “issue”.  This debate involves people – people who God loves, people made in God’s image, people who are in our churches, that you’re related to and that you meet in everyday life.

Jesus is at the heart of Christian unity

This is the most important thing to remember at all times.  Christians have disagreed on many things over the centuries and sometimes those disagreements have led to poor behaviour and outcomes.  For example, both John Calvin and Martin Luther advocated for the death of anyone they considered to be heretics (read: “anyone who disagrees with me” – sound familiar?)  While Christians don’t usually kill each other these days, there are many keyboard warriors, preachers and others whose words hurt and wound.  Jesus is at the heart of Christian unity – who He is, what He’s done and what He continues to do.  These are non-negotiable to the Christian faith.  People don’t go to heaven or hell for what they believe about same-sex marriage.

Voting is a secret ballot

I’m amazed at the number of individuals who ask others what they’ll vote in this SECRET ballot.  You don’t have to tell anyone what you intend to vote.  I heard of a pastor who, last weekend, “implored” his people to vote “no.”  It’s my opinion that this pastor is going beyond his authority in doing this.  I never tell people what I vote, and neither do I instruct them on how to vote.  The church is beyond politics.  Our message and mandate are from another place; we are citizens of heaven and called to be ambassadors who bring heaven to earth.  In any church, there will be people of various political persuasions and who have differing views on ethical issues.  Disunity occurs when church leaders fail to recognise this.

Don’t be critical of others’ relationships

My understanding of the Bible leads me to believe that heterosexual marriage is a relationship that is like no other.  The coming together of a man and a woman in sacred marriage is a covenant that reflects both the image of God and the relationship that exists between Jesus and His church.  It is a relationship where children can be born and raised by both of their biological parents.  But my beliefs do not cause me to criticise or demean other people’s relationships.  Over my 40 years as a Christian, I’ve watched the church grapple with accepting divorced and remarried people and single parent families.  We now freely welcome such people into our churches (well at least most churches). People find themselves as single parents for all sorts of reasons, and they should never be made to feel like second-class citizens. Neither should couples whom for whatever reason can’t have or choose not to have children.

The Bible often speaks critically of divorce and remarriage, but we have come to realise there are higher laws that come into operation such as “Love your neighbour as yourself” and “treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”  We need to apply these greater laws to same-sex couples and singles who want to be part of a church community and grow in their relationship with God and others.  Remember, “a Christian’s job is not to be right about the Bible, our aim should be to fulfil Scripture.” [2]  Some gay and lesbian couples and individuals have children, and the church has a responsibility to minister to those children as well.  It would not be helpful to the kids for their parents’ relationship status to be criticised by their church.

Sometimes the Bible is just not clear

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read, “the Bible clearly states …” I’d be a very wealthy man.  Sometimes the Bible is clear, but on many things, it isn’t.  A favourite book series of mine is Counterpoints by Zondervan publishers. [3]  This set contains over 30 titles that deal with many views on various subjects.  There are four views on hell, three views on creation and evolution, four views of baptism and two views of women in ministry (yes and no) to name a few.  While the Bible is clear on the unique relationship between a husband and wife, it is not as clear on some other relationships.  Read my blog, “The changing face of marriage” for more on this. [4]

Like it or not, there are various views on the six verses in the Bible that appear to condemn homosexuality.  Those who take these verses literally and at face value should not be condemned as bigots and homophobes while those who come to a different conclusion should not be labelled revisionist or heretical.  People on both sides of this debate have studied the context, history and culture of these Scriptures and come to differing conclusions.  Some people do not see these verses as condemning of loving, monogamous same-sex relationships while others do.  I encourage you to read widely and come to your conclusions – and allow others to do the same.

Beware of outraged Christians

Lately, I’ve seen an increasing number of blogs and social media posts from outraged Christians, often posted and shared with little or no fact-checking, and all they do is distort the truth and create fear.  I think that’s the intended outcome and I don’t believe that is a good way for Christian people to behave.  For example, a recent email from the Australian Christian Lobby is titled, “It’s under attack” and includes a quote from Professor Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and academic at the University of Toronto.  Professor Peterson has become somewhat of an online celebrity in speaking out against political correctness (and is making a lot of money in the process).  The ACL says, “In the wake of same-sex marriage, Canada passed a new law making it a criminal offense for you to refuse to call someone by their “chosen” gender pronoun.  Refuse to bow to such rainbow totalitarianism by LGBTI activists and you could suffer legal prosecution.”  These claims are inaccurate as another academic at the University of Toronto shows [5] but they have been shared over and over by outraged Christians who fail to check their facts.

The “slippery slope” argument also attempts to instil fear, that is, if we allow “A” to happen then “X, Y & Z” will inevitably follow.  This fear causes people to fight to protect “A” at all costs.

Not all gay people want same-sex marriage

To think that all gay people are for same-sex marriage and all Christians are against is just wrong.  I’ve chatted with some gay and lesbian individuals who don’t support same-sex marriage.  One guy told me he thought of marriage as a heterosexual institution and wanted nothing to do with it.  One thing that is important to understand is that in countries where same-sex marriage is legal there’s a minimal uptake of it.  For example in the UK, civil partnerships, rather than marriage, are still preferred by the majority of straight and gay couples.  In Australia, about 3% of the population identify as other than heterosexual.  The last census indicated there were 33,714 same-sex couples and 4,650,986 opposite sex couples.  Considering that most of the same-sex couples won’t get married, I sometimes have the feeling we’re creating a storm in a teacup – albeit a costly storm.

Everyone needs to compromise

It is my belief that sooner or later same-sex marriage will become law in Australia.  That being the case it’s of vital importance that any legislation is carefully framed.  The Australian Government has to govern for all people but in any decision there will naturally be some who are happy with the outcome while others are not.  There will be winners and losers – the winners must choose not to gloat and the losers must lose well.  In the meantime, compromises need to be made.  The trouble is that people on the extremes don’t like to compromise.  Such was the case recently when Federal Member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, along with Patrick Parkinson put forward a bill that defined two kinds of marriage – religious (sacred) marriage and civil marriage.  This bill offered widespread religious freedoms not contained in the other two bills (the Dean Smith Bill and the George Brandis Bill).  Some gay extremists, some conservative politicians and the Australian Christian Lobby rejected this Bill because they refuse to compromise.  In doing this, the losers may get little or nothing.

Finally, as mentioned previously, it’s important in all our dealings that we don’t see this as merely an issue.  This is a debate about people whom God loves.  And so any discussions have to be tempered with grace, understanding, and respect and include the Christian qualities of tolerance, kindness and patience because that reflects the nature of God. [6]



[2] Shane Willard, Getting Unstuck




[6] Romans 2:4

One of the things I love about the Bible is its honesty.  It doesn’t shy away from people’s faults and failures – or successes.  It reports the good, the bad and the ugly.  I can imagine many of the Bible’s characters, if they were alive today, cringing at what God allowed to be written about them.  I mean we only want people to know the good stuff right?  There’s Noah saying, “Really God, did we have to mention the drunk and naked in the tent incident?”  Abraham would be concerned about reports of him lying – twice!  David would be mortified over the adultery with Bathsheba.  And I could go on about Moses the murderer, Paul the persecutor and Thomas the cynic but I’m sure you get the picture.

In its honesty, the Bible never shies away from the conflicts that happen between people – even good people, Christian people.  In fact, most of the New Testament letters were written to help people work through conflict situations in local churches.   One of the most helpful stories is the reported conflict between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41) because it helps us address the question: “Who’s right, who’s wrong?”  Whenever there’s a conflict the temptation is for people to take sides (and sometimes one person is totally in the right and the other completely wrong).  But more often than not we need to sift through details, personalities, points of view, previous experiences and a host of other variables in order to get clarity on the truth.

These two great men – Paul and Barnabas – had been on a missionary trip together, teaching the Gospel and starting local churches.  They’d taken Barnabas’ cousin Mark with them but things had got too tough for the young man and “he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work” (Acts 15:38).

Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).  Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul didn’t think it wise to take him, because of his fickleness on the previous trip.  The result?  “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:39-41).

On the surface, it looks like the Bible sides with Paul, and Barnabas seems to fade from the picture.  But is that the case?  Who’s right, who’s wrong?  Paul was right in that Mark was young and inexperienced and had left them in the lurch on the first trip.  I understand his reticence to take him again so soon.  But Paul was also wrong because – as we will see – he failed to recognise the potential in this young man.  Barnabas was right because he did see the potential in Mark, but he was also wrong in that he most likely allowed the family relationship to cloud his judgment.  Remember that “Barnabas” is just a nickname.  His real name was Joseph but the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”  That’s the sort of guy he was.  You’d love to be around him because he always looked for the good in others – their potential rather than their problems.

The Bible eventually shows that both men were wrong and both were right.  God blessed Paul and Silas’ work of strengthening and planting local churches, while He also blessed the work of Barnabas who is recognised in Scripture as an apostle, a good man, a prophet and teacher and one through whom God worked miracles.  He faced persecution and risked his life for Jesus.  He was the one who saw Paul’s potential and sought him out to help at the Antioch Church.  And his ability to spot potential paid off when it came to Mark.

Later in the New Testament, we find out that Mark eventually became part of Paul’s apostolic team whom he sent to help the Colossian church writing to them to “welcome him.”  Sometime later Mark helped the apostle Peter who refers to Mark as “my son.”  It’s likely that Mark was with Peter working as a scribe for the Gospel that bears his name.  Mark’s Gospel is widely believed to be Peter’s recollection of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

At the end of Paul’s life, he wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Why was he helpful? Because Barnabas saw and developed Mark’s potential.  So who’s right, who’s wrong?  The answer is simple – both of them were.  The wise person will learn this lesson.

On many occasions during Jesus’ ministry years the religious leaders asked him questions to test, trap and trip Him up.  They failed every time of course!  One such instance was written down by Jesus’ disciple Matthew (Matt 19:1-15 NIV) when they asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

This question is basically asking Jesus which one of the two rabbinical schools of the day He personally agreed with: The school of Shammai taught divorce was only allowed if one’s spouse was unfaithful, and the school of Hillel inferred a man could divorce his wife if she burnt the toast or as another Rabbi added, “if you find someone more attractive.”  Even though people publicly supported the Shammai school of thought, the Hillel school was closer to what was general practice in society – much as it is today!

Jesus answered by appealing to God’s original purpose in marriage:

“At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt 19:4-6 NIV).

The religious leaders responded by quoting Scripture back at Jesus:

“Why then … did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matt 19:7 NIV)

They were quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled …” (NIV).

We read this sort of thing in the Bible today and are horrified by the implications, but three thousand plus years ago women were considered little more than goods and chattels.  Society was extremely patriarchal (as it still is in some countries and cultures today).  This poor woman, written about in Deuteronomy 24, is simply dismissed by her husband with a certificate of divorce and expelled from the family home.  If she has no other family to live with, she’d be homeless.  There were no social security benefits and many of these women would be forced into prostitution or begging in order to survive.  If she got lucky and another man took her for his wife then she’d be looked after, but if “her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled …” – that could only have been written by a bloke!

It’s this patriarchal boys club that Jesus challenges head-on in Matthew 19:8, ‘Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”’

Notice how Jesus’ statements are directed at the men and are aimed at protecting the rights of women.  When Moses wrote Deuteronomy he was writing in context of his culture, but Jesus contests that culture and in so doing he advances and protects the rights of women.

Author Ken Wilson writes about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 this way: “It’s God’s original intention, in general, for people who marry to stay married for life. But that doesn’t mean that people who are trapped in deeply harmful marriages must either remain married, or remain single after divorce. I’ve determined, by my pastoral practice, that it is legitimate to regard the text as descriptive, as generally normative, not prescriptive – that is, not prescribing what must happen in every case.”

It should also be noted that Jesus is probably using hyperbole here; that is, exaggerating a point in order to get across a powerful truth.  In this case, the truth is that neither marriage nor divorce should ever be entered into lightly or unadvisedly, but prayerfully and with the counsel of wise people.

That being said, since the Second World War the divorce rate has increased dramatically.  The church has wrestled with the issues of separation, divorce, single-again and remarriage for decades – and has not always dealt with them well.  Many people have been hurt and excluded by the church when it has upheld a wrong understanding of Scripture, grace, forgiveness and second chances.  I’m glad that, by and large, we have reconciled these issues and more importantly, we no longer exclude those who for whatever reason, find themselves separated, divorced and/or remarried.  As for Bayside Church, if this describes you I want you to know that you are more than welcome in our community.  Jesus loves and accepts you and so do we.

For more on this subject read my blog “Divorce and Remarriage.”

For more on this topic check out I recently spoke at Bayside Church, “Excluded From God’s Kingdom.”

There is no doubt in my mind that “in the beginning” God had a very definite view of marriage.  In Genesis 2 the woman is taken out of the man’s side (as his equal).  There is no mention of a marriage between Adam and Eve because, according to Adam, she was already “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” but, when Moses collated the patriarchal oral and written records into the book of Genesis around 1440 BC, he added the explanation, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Almost 1,500 years later, when asked about divorce, Jesus reaffirmed God’s original plan for marriage, that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”

That being said, it’s important to realise that throughout the Bible marriage is not viewed as an unchanging institution but rather as different arrangements that changed over the centuries.  For example, primitive peoples like Abraham (2000 BC or older) were endogamous.  That is, they married within their own specific ethnic group.  Abraham married his half-sister and together became the parents of an entire nation that eventually gave the Messiah to the world.

Other families were polygamous like King David who had at least eight wives.  When he committed adultery with Bathsheba, God spoke to David through Nathan the prophet saying, I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! (2 Samuel 12:8) – by implication, more stuff and more wives!

Pastor Ken Wilson in his book, A Letter To My Congregation, writes For the entire biblical period, family elders, often for economic reasons, selected marriage partners for their children. Today, this might be viewed as inconsistent with the consent necessary for legitimate marriage.  The practice of “child marriage” was allowed in the biblical era.  It was common for older men to marry younger women, including minors by today’s standards  (Joseph and Mary may have been such a couple). Today, this would be regarded as criminal abuse.  During and after the biblical era women were regarded as property.  This perspective is reflected in some biblical texts.  Today, this would be considered slavery rather than marriage.”

The word “marriage” is found only 47 times in the entire Bible although it’s clear from Luke 17:27 that marriage was widespread even before the times of Noah’s flood.

The first reference to marriage is in Genesis 29:26 where Laban tells Jacob, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.”  David’s prize for killing Goliath was for Saul to give him great wealth and “also give him his daughter in marriage and [to] exempt his family from taxes.”  2 Chronicles 18:1 records how “Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.”  Among the many nations there was no king like Solomon: “He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women” of whom he married at least 300 (Nehemiah 13:26).

Weddings are only mentioned 19 times in the Bible – the first time in 1 Kings 9:15-19 (and it wasn’t a pleasant wedding ceremony either).  Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding celebration where He turned water into wine.  Weddings featured frequently in His teachings as a symbol of the celebration of being united with our Lord in the eternal ages where “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”  In other words, marriage will have served its purpose and no longer exist.

While “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4), it’s interesting to note that the two most prevalent characters in the New Testament – Jesus and Paul – did not view marriage as the most important thing.  Both men were single and highlighted the single and celibate life as the best way to live even though marriage was expected of rabbis.  When he was teaching about marriage and divorce Jesus’ disciples observed, “it is better not to marry” and Jesus didn’t disagree.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians chapter 7 and gain insight into some of Paul’s teaching on singleness and marriage.  He writes, “I wish that all of you were as I am” (i.e. single) but then gives concession to those who can’t handle that way of living: “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  How different this is to much of the teaching and attitudes amongst today’s Christians and churches, where marriage is viewed as the highest goal to attain while single people often feel second-class and incomplete.

When Christie and I announced our engagement in 1994 someone said to me, “that’s so good, now you will be compete.”  I quickly reminded them that I “have been made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).  A lasting marriage is not two incomplete people coming together trying to fulfill their needs in another person but rather two complete people complimenting each other.  It’s not ½ + ½ = 1 but rather 1 x 1 = 1 (one flesh and one in Christ).  I used to get so tired of people (older ladies were the worst) saying to me at weddings, “you’ll be next!”  I used to get them back at funerals!

Marriage has had to be handled differently in diverse situations and cultures over the centuries.  Consider that in the first century slaves weren’t allowed to marry, but they would often enter relationships in which children were born.  We know from Scripture that some of these slaves became Christians and joined church communities.  The New Testament doesn’t address these de facto relationships at all so it appears not to have been a big deal.

Polygamy has also been a big issue over the years as Christian missionaries spread the gospel amongst polygamous peoples.  Attempts to break up these families have had many harmful consequences.  Consider the cases in PNG in the fifties and sixties where a directive was given to men with many wives that they could only have one.  Some of the men then killed the wives they liked the least so they could obey the missionaries and have just one wife.  I think a higher law comes into play in situations like this.

Christians and churches need great wisdom in this day and age too.  Families come into our churches and sometime later we find out the couple are not married.  We should not be guilty of breaking up such families but rather allow the Holy Spirit time to do His work whatever that may be.  The Lord is incredibly gracious and patient in His dealings with us all and I am so grateful.  We need to show great grace to all people in any type of relationship as they journey towards Jesus.  People who are hard and fast on the letter of the law only serve to repel people from a God who loves them.  The letter kills but the Spirit gives life!

I enjoy writing a weekly blog; I love tackling the tough topics and looking for ways to express my Christian faith by engaging with the issues of the day.  I also appreciate the interaction that we make available on the Bayside Church website as well as social media – at least some of the interaction.

Last week I wrote a blog asking the question, “Is Hell Eternal Torture?

In the blog I affirm the traditional view as the one I have always believed and taught, but also presented two other views that are held by Christian people.  I gave a reading list that contains books that present teaching on hell from various perspectives for those who would like to study further.  Some of the comments were constructive while others were critical.  How dare I suggest there are different views on hell?  Hell is eternal, conscious suffering and one day I’ll find out the truth of that – ouch!  “It’s a pretty pissy article, one that I’d expect to hear more of as time goes by. I have read the Bible, do read the Bible, done my post-graduate Theological and Biblical studies. It’s nice to present the various ‘views’ but one thing’s for sure – the contemporary church is getting more piss-weak as time goes by. Sure, they do a few nice things and dress a little more hip, but overall, pretty shallow and out of touch. The real legends of Biblical exposition are dying off and new generations of neo-Pagan, post-Christian era heretics are on the increase.”

One person commented, “I would have lived a wild life if I didn’t believe in hell – fear is a great motivator and anything less than hell being hell dilutes grace I would have thought?”  My reply, “But perfect love casts out fear. What a shame that people follow Jesus as a “get out of hell free” card. I’d hate to think my kids stayed in relationship with me because they feared the consequences if they didn’t.”

What strikes me the most from some interaction to my blogs, is the lack of ability in some Christians to have a mature, respectful discussion on Bible topics where different views are held.

Now I’m not referring to the key truths of the Bible – the things that affect a person’s salvation.  If I start writing blogs denying the deity and humanity of Jesus, or salvation through Christ alone, or forgiveness and pardon through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then please stop reading what I write.  When I speak about holding differing views I’m referring to the negotiable truths of the Bible.  I would put my blog on the three views of hell in this category.  Other negotiable beliefs include:

  • Varying opinions on the timing of Jesus’ Second Coming
  • Did creation take six literal days or is Genesis 1-2 is a poetic allegory?
  • Should women be allowed to teach in church?
  • Can a Christian lose their salvation or are we eternally secure?
  • What is the correct way to interpret the book of Revelation?
  • Is a divorced Christian allowed to remarry?

The church has wrestled with these and other matters for centuries.  Are you aware that there are four views on Christian baptism; four views on church government; four views on The Lord’s Supper; five views on how the Law interacts with the gospel; three views on creation and evolution; three views of the Millennium and six views on worship?  And this is just a small sample of the negotiable subjects on which Christians differ in belief and practise.

The problem is that most Christians never get exposed to various views.  Their church teaches ONE view – the RIGHT ONE of course – and when they hear something that differs from what they’ve always believed, they hurl insults and cry “heresy.”

I love it when mature Christians can have a respectful discussion on a variety of topics.  What a shame though, when people feel that “their” viewpoint is being threatened or questioned and they retaliate by making statements like “well I just believe what the Bible says” – like I don’t? Or, “I don’t like the Bible to be watered down to make people feel comfortable, warm and fuzzy.” Or, “if you studied the Bible you’d see the truth” – like I haven’t spent almost four decades diligently studying that amazing book! The all-time smack down though is, “when you meet Jesus face-to-face He’ll sort you out.” Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m sure He’ll have a few pluses and minuses for each of us like He did for the 7 churches in Revelation. I’m so glad I can rest in His ultimate grace and love though.

Having mature discussions on negotiable truths means that I will ask questions and listen more than speak.  It means I won’t spend the whole conversation trying to convince another person that they’re wrong and that they should convert to my way of thinking.  It means that we may respectfully agree to disagree, but we won’t break Christian fellowship and unity over something that doesn’t affect our salvation.  It means that I wont feel threatened because someone believes differently to me.

For those of you who are mature believers in Jesus and enjoy learning different points of view on various Biblical subjects, I recommend the Counterpoints Collection. It’s published by Zondervan and available online. I’ve downloaded and read a number of these books on my Kindle and found them interesting and very helpful in broadening my understanding of Scripture. With volumes featuring contributions from some of today’s most respected scholars, these books represent the very best in Christian scholarship.  Happy reading!

Someone accused me on Facebook recently of “being quiet” on the issue of same-sex marriage. While that’s not been the case, I have chosen not to engage in the vitriolic rants and raves between Christians and LGBTI people.

It appears to me that some Christians are dug down in one trench and some LGBTI people in an opposite trench and they’re just shooting at one another.  I’d like to declare a ceasefire – shooting at each other is achieving nothing other than causing hatred and anger to be stirred up – and the Christians should stop firing first!  I can’t see anywhere in the Bible that teaches God sent His Son into the world to raise up a people to be the world’s moral police.  In fact, He sent His Son for just the opposite of that – to bring peace, forgiveness, salvation, redemption, grace and new beginnings.

Firstly, let me clearly state my views on Biblical/Christian marriage.  In Matthew 19 some religious leaders asked Jesus about marriage and divorce.  In reply He took them right back to the beginning of the Book (Genesis 1:27; 5:2), “Haven’t you read … that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  When you read the account of God’s creation of people you find that God created people in His image: “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  It appears that God divided His nature between male and female so that the coming together of a man and a woman in marriage would be a coming together of the complete image of God hence “the two will become one.”  No other human relationship can reflect the image of God in the way a heterosexual marriage can.

In Ephesians chapter five the apostle Paul speaks of marriage between a man and a woman as symbolising the relationship between Jesus and the church: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (31-32).  No other human relationship can reflect the connection between Jesus and the church in the way a heterosexual marriage can.  On the basis of these – and other parts of the Bible – I believe the current definition of marriage, in the Australian Marriage Act, accurately reflects a Biblical and thus Christian view of marriage.

I believe that’s the ideal, but, we live in a far from ideal world.  Just consider again the context of Matthew 19 – a discussion on marriage and divorce.  Jesus makes it abundantly clear that a man and woman are to come together in marriage for life.  I don’t believe most people go into marriage thinking it won’t last – although there seem to be some these days who see marriage as a ten-year lease with an option to extend!  People marry with a view to staying together.  That’s the ideal, but we live in a far from ideal world.  Many people have suffered the pain of a failed marriage and all that that entails.  The church has had to work through this issue over the years and many have come to a place where divorced people are no longer viewed as second-class citizens (for more on this refer to my blog on Divorce and Remarriage.

So, with that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on the same-sex marriage debate:

1. The church doesn’t own marriage in Australia (and many other nations) – the government does.  Christians have as much of a right as anyone else to share their views on same-sex marriage, but it will ultimately be a government decision because the government owns marriage.  As Senator Barnaby Joyce rightly said, “In life, not everybody gets what they want.”  In this debate there are going to be some people who will ultimately be disappointed.

2. Many people in our society do not hold to a Biblical worldview so they simply do not understand, agree with, or want to abide by what some churches and Christians teach.

3. It is my opinion that the Western Church often idolises marriage in a way the Bible doesn’t.  Being single-minded for the Kingdom of God is the emphasis of the New Testament (1Cor. 7).  Think of Jesus, Paul and Barnabas who were all single.  I was 35 when I got married and the pressure placed on me by well-meaning married people to get married was, at times, unbearable.  I feel deeply for single people who are often put under an unnecessary burden because of the Church’s unbiblical view of the importance of marriage.  We are not married to marriage as an institution, we get married to someone we love and choose to spend the rest of our lives with to the exclusion of all others!

4. One of the challenges I’ve had with some of the “Christian” arguments against same-sex marriage has concerned what’s best for the children.  Statements have been made such as, “Children deserve to be brought up by their biological mother and father.”  True.  That’s the ideal.  But when I hear this said my heart goes out to single parents (as well as those who can’t have children) who wanted the ideal only to find out that it wasn’t possible in their case.  I greatly admire single parents who are doing their best in the toughest of circumstances.  They need our support not our ill thought through arguments.

5. Predictions of the downfall of heterosexual marriages if same-sex marriage is introduced are nothing short of ridiculous.  If your marriage and family is so unstable that two men or two women getting married will destroy yours, then you are already in deep trouble.  As for the Christian couple from Canberra who said they’d divorce if same-sex marriage were legalised – you really did a great job of letting Aussies know what the Gospel is all about hey?

6. Please let’s stop using the “slippery slope” argument.  James Dobson, a man I’ve admired for many years as the founder of Focus on the Family, made this disappointing statement on his radio program in February 2013 in the context of same-sex marriage, “How about group marriage? Or marriage between daddies and little girls? Or marriage between a man and his donkey? Anything allegedly linked to civil rights will be doable, and the legal underpinnings for marriage will have been destroyed. Now, that’s more or less a prophecy. Not a divine prophecy, but a prediction.”  This sort of statement makes Christians and the church look and sound ludicrous in the eyes of the broader community.  As for bestiality, until donkeys – or any other animal – learn to write so they can sign their marriage documents I think we’re fairly safe!  James Dobson’s statement perpetuates the “slippery slope” argument that is used in all sorts of ethical disputes.  If we allow “this” then “that” will be the automatic consequence.  But that’s not necessarily true.  I believe the words “to the exclusion of all others” will still be in the Marriage Act so there will be no room for polygamy, polyandry, polyamory, pedophilia, bestiality or any other relationship outside of TWO PEOPLE to be legalised.

7. Everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be given the dignity of that reality.  A common theme in the Bible is “Love your neighbour as yourself.” This statement is mentioned 9 times in Scripture. In Galatians 5:14 the apostle Paul says “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, everything from Genesis to Malachi – all of the 602,585 words – can be summed up in just 5 words. In James 2:8 “Love your neighbor as yourself” is called “The royal law.”  That means this is the most important commandment in the entire Bible.  What does “love your neighbour as yourself” look like when that neighbour is gay or lesbian, transgender, bisexual or intersex? Christian compassion must lead us to see what life is like in someone else’s shoes.  What is it like:

  • To be attracted to the same-sex?
  • To feel like you’re stuck in the wrong body?
  • To be born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male?

8. How would you want to be treated if that was you?  Have you ever chatted with someone who is not heterosexual and asked them what life is like for them?  Jesus’ Golden Rule is, ““Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”  The apostle John put it this way, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  You say you love gay people?  Show them!  As Brian Stevenson says in his amazing book Just Mercy, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance … you have to get close.”  It seems to me that there is massive ignorance in the church – and amongst Christians – on human sexuality.  This often leads to fear, generalisations and unkind comments.  Christians and churches need to do their homework and educate themselves on the complexity and variety of sexuality – especially on that which falls outside of heterosexuality.

For more on this aspect listen to my message “Real Christianity is accepting”.  The Christian message is not predominately a message of morality; it is a message of redemption.  Now redemption should lead to morality but I think we sometimes get the cart before the horse.  We build walls instead of bridges and keep people out of the kingdom because of our “moral” stand just like the Pharisees did.  Read Matthew chapter 23 and see how unimpressed Jesus was with this kind of attitude.

9. Christians and the straight community haven’t done a great job at looking after “Biblical” marriage.  Think of the massive divorce rates, the prevalence of domestic violence (most of which occurs in straight relationships), rampant infidelity and child abuse (children are most likely to be abused or neglected by parents).  The Catholic church, and to a lesser extent other churches and Christian schools, has turned a blind eye to the abuse of children for decades, hence it’s very hard for the un-churched community to listen to the church’s defense of traditional marriage and morals when its been so neglectful and hypocritical itself.  Further, it appears to me that some in the church seem to only defend the first part of the definition of marriage not the second part. That is met with silence: “Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”  We hear a lot about the “man and a woman” bit but nothing about “voluntarily entered into for life.”  Where’s the Church’s voice speaking out on arranged or forced marriages, domestic violence & child abuse in heterosexual relationships, and the epidemic of divorce and remarriage?  For more on this refer to my blog Marriage Under Threat.

10. The Bible teaches a hierarchy of ethics – that is, a higher law will cancel out a lower one.  What is the higher law in regards to same-sex marriage? Would it encourage greater monogamy amongst LGBTI people who want to be together for life?  What about the 33,700 same-sex couples in Australia as per the last Census?  Further to this, if same-sex marriage is legalised how will local churches respond to two men or two women who want to come and discover the grace of God as expressed in Jesus?  Should the church make this conditional on the two people ending their relationship?  What if they have children – should the church break up a family?  What is that the highest law in these situations?  These are all questions that churches and Christians need to think through very carefully.

11.  If marriage is a right then it also has responsibilities. On this “right’ Senator Nick Xenophon said, “Gays have every right to be as miserable as heterosexuals.”  I appreciate his humour but of course in every joke there is a grain of truth.  Marriage is wonderful, exciting, mundane, enjoyable, frustrating, difficult, rewarding and just plain hard work.  If same-sex marriage is legalised I hope gay and lesbian people will do a better job managing its responsibilities than many straight couples have done.

12. Can we Christians please stop making stereotypical comments about LGBTI people?  Remarks about “The gay lifestyle” and “The gay agenda” are incorrect and hurtful.  Gays and lesbians are as diverse as straight people.  Yes, there are radical gay people who have a strong political agenda.  Of course there are no Christians who are like that right?  I’ve met gay people who don’t even want same-sex marriage as they consider it a heterosexual institution.  For most LGBTI people their “agenda” is to get up in the morning, have breakfast, go to work, meet with friends, love their families, make a difference for good where they can, laugh, cry, deal with heartache, pay bills – any of that sound familiar?

Having said these things I will finish by voicing some of my concerns if and when same-sex marriage is legalised:

I’m concerned at the removing (or confusing) of the terms “husband” and “wife.”  I’m told that redefining marriage means changing the Marriage Act to remove these terms.  I am concerned that this will cause confusion.  Many couples in common law relationships currently refer to each other as “partners.”  Would this term not suffice for people in same-sex marriages? Why not allow “husband” and “wife” to remain as terms to indicate men and women in a heterosexual marriage?

I’m concerned that we will lose some terms altogether.  For example, in Spain, birth certificates use the expressions “progenitor A” and “progenitor B” in place of mother and father.  Canada has removed the concept of “natural parent” from its laws and Sweden seeks to remove the terms “boy” and “girl”, replacing them with one term.

I’m concerned that there could be an increase in lawsuits against those who, because of conscience or faith, cannot endorse, or provide services for, a same-sex union.  I’m concerned that refusing service may lead to people being punished under anti-discrimination laws.  Currently none of the bills on same-sex marriage offer enough protection of religious freedom and individual conscience.  Any legislation needs to be carefully drafted to give religious exemptions.  Similar immunities need to be provided to religious colleges, schools and social-service agencies.  Religious institutions and schools should not be punished if they teach their own beliefs about marriage.  And these provisions should also be provided for the protection of LGBTI people too.  For example, in much of the US a gay publicist can refuse to provide services for an anti-gay event – and rightly so.

Of course, if we all respected one another then this sort of legislation would be unnecessary – but there we are back in that ideal world again.



Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, a thriving community of faith located in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne.  Welcoming people from all walks of life, Bayside Church invites all people to experience the Christian faith and God.  For more information about Bayside Church:

What to Expect


Bayside Kids

Bayside Youth


More Blogs From Rob Buckingham

There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst Christians as to the proper place for judging – or not judging. I was reading a Facebook thread on the weekend on Ireland’s vote for gay marriage, and especially U2’s Bono coming out in favour of it, so you can imagine all the strong opinions that were expressed.

Some people said things like “who are we to judge? Jesus told us not to judge” – quoting Matthew 7:1.  Others suggested that we are to judge and quoted 1 Corinthians 5:12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”

A Facebook friend today asked me this question: “If I disagree with someone on life choices … does that mean I’m being judgmental? If so – should I just roll over and agree with everything so I’m not being judgmental. When is a right time to disagree?”  It’s a great question and one I hope to answer here.

On the face of it the New Testament appears to contradict itself on the issue of judging but, when you dig a little deeper and consider context, there is no contradiction at all.

Many words have different meanings depending on the context.  For example, the word “tip” can mean, “end, rubbish dump, advice, gratuity and to spill.”  The word “up” has 30 definitions.  So it is with the word “judge.”

For example, in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” Jesus uses the Greek word krino meaning “to condemn or punish.”  Whilst in Luke 12:57, He uses the same Greek word but here it means “to assess” – “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”

Paul uses the same word krino in 1 Corinthians 5:12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”  Here the word is used in the context of “assessing” the behaviour of another Christian – a guy was having sex with his stepmother! Paul is strong on this for obvious reasons and tells the church to “Expel the wicked person from among you.”  This was for a season and later Paul would write to them to welcome this man back into the fellowship. So the church was to assess this man’s behaviour as wrong (not condemn him), remove him from the church for a season (presumably he wasn’t repentant at the time) and later accept him back.  Restoration should always be the goal of church discipline (Galatians 6:12).

In 1 Corinthians 6:5-6, “Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” Paul uses a different Greek word, Diakrino meaning “to decide or discern.” Jesus uses the same word in John 7:24, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (or decision); James in Acts 15:19, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Here judgment means “assessment.”  In Romans 12:3 Paul writes, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (here judgment means “opinion”).

We are to assess things according to the Word of God but we must not condemn people with the Word.  Christians need to learn to express God’s truth without being judgmental and condemning.  We can feel strongly about something but we must never be arrogant or lacking in compassion.  Read Luke 7:36-50 and you’ll see a classic example of Jesus challenging someone’s harsh, arrogant and compassionless judgment of a sinful woman.

Now let’s go back to Matthew 7:1-5 which is often quoted out of context.  Jesus instructs His people NOT to judge or condemn others and warns that if we do “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  That’s worth bearing in mind! He then uses an analogy from His vocation as a carpenter, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”  Great questions!  Jesus goes on to define this sort of judgment as hypocritical and instructs us to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  In other words it’s okay to help someone else with his or her speck as long as we’ve dealt with our plank first!

Next time you’re tempted to be judgmental ask yourself:

  • What is my reason for wanting to correct or judge?
  • Is it for their benefit or to satisfy my pride and self-righteousness?
  • Am I more focused on condemning people than helping them?
  • Is love for them my motivating force? If people know we love them and have their best interests at heart they will be much more open to hearing our words.

Finally, remember that Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was NOT to judge people.  He said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (John 12:47; 3:16-17; 8:15).  1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “… judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.”  We would do well to heed that advice.  Some things just need to be left to the Day of Judgment when the judge of all the earth will do what is right.

Touching people is a touchy subject today. We hear so much about unhealthy touch in the news – sexual abuse by members of the clergy (people who should be able to be trusted), pedophiles and rapists, domestic violence and sexual abuse in the workplace. The list goes on. Due to these things we become reticent to give healthy touch just in case people misunderstand our motivation.  This is tragic because healthy touch is so important to all of us.

We have a biological need for touch that can be met only in contact with another human being. This was first discovered during the 19th century, when children who had been abandoned at birth and transferred to orphanages died by the thousands. They literally wasted away, despite the fact that they were fed, kept clean and protected from danger. Nearly 100 percent of the infants under the age of one died in U.S. foundling hospitals as late as 1920. What these children lacked was physical contact.

When this connection between life and touch was realised, doctors and nurses in many institutions cooperated in a plan to supply “mothering” for these children. It consisted of holding, stroking, speaking to the infant, and allowing significant periods of cuddling the child, especially at mealtimes. The results were dramatic and immediate. Infant mortality rates dropped within one year of adopting these touching practices.

Rene Spitz explored the development (or lack of development) of institutionalised children.  In the 1945 study involving human babies, Spitz followed the social development of babies who, for various reasons, were removed from their mothers early in life. Some children were placed with foster families while others were raised in institutions. The babies raised in the institutionalised environment suffered seriously. More than a third died.

Other effects of lack of touch include self-destructive habits such as overeating, smoking, nail biting, pulling out hair, self-mutilation, compulsive sex, physical violence and aggressiveness, rape, and other forms of sexual abuse or dysfunction. Over anxiousness, unsatisfying relationships, unwillingness to attend to the needs of others, self-preoccupation, excessive shyness, the fear of reaching out, and the fear of sustained intimacy. The biggest problem that touch deprivation creates, however, is a sense of alienation from ourselves and isolation from others. We see this manifested in things like boredom with, and lack of energy for, life in general, the experience of being out of touch with or disconnected from the world.

Scientists have shown that the amount of body contact in our lives plays a vital role in our mental and physical development as infants and in our happiness and vigor as adults.

Healthy touch:

  1. Helps us deal with stress and pain
  2. Helps us form close relationships with other people
  3. Fights off disease and speeds recovery times from illness and surgery
  4. Slows heart rate and lowers blood pressure
  5. Reduces anxiety
  6. Brings positive changes in attitude
  7. Improves your outlook and helps you be more optimistic

All the various kinds of healthy touch send our brain the physical inputs it needs to make sense of the world. So, along with touching other people and pets, make time to explore different textures and touch sensations such as letting cool sand run through your fingers or taking a warm relaxing bath.

Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana has found that a friendly touch reduces stress and increases release of the oxytocin, also called the “cuddle hormone,” which promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding.  Oxytocin levels go up with holding hands and hugging and lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people. The surging of oxytocin makes you feel more trusting and connected. And the cascade of electrical impulses slows your heart and lowers your blood pressure, making you feel less stressed and more soothed. Remarkably, this complex surge of events in the brain and body are all initiated by a simple, supportive touch.

Recent studies from England pinpointed an area in the brain that becomes highly activated in response to friendly touch. It’s a region called the orbital frontal cortex located just above your eyes. It’s the same area that responds to sweet tastes and pleasing smells. A soft touch on the arm makes the orbital frontal cortex light up.

Almost 3000 years ago King David wrote, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). He didn’t know the half of it. Modern science is now discovering how amazing God’s human creation really is and how we best interact with one another.  Healthy touch is a vitally important part of that interaction. Jesus understood and practiced healthy touch. All through the gospels we see Jesus bringing healing to people by touching them. He welcome and embraced children, he demonstrated the full extent of his love for his closest friends by washing their feet, his closest friend John is pictured with his head resting on Jesus’ chest.

I encourage you to look for opportunities to give and receive healthy touch on a regular basis. You’ll benefit and so will others. Love your neighbour as yourself!

There can be a great deal of confusion and questions surrounding divorce particularly for Christians.

The matter of divorce (and remarriage) is a controversial issue for which a number of statements need to be made:

  1. If you are divorced or remarried you are most welcome in this church.  You are not a second-class Christian!
  2. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) – why?  Because it breaks a covenant and causes much pain and hardship.  God has been divorced and knows firsthand the amount of hurt it causes.  Through the prophet Jeremiah God said, “I knew that the kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful and committed many sins, yet I still hoped she might come back to me. But she didn’t, so I divorced her and sent her away” (Jeremiah 3:8).  I’ve never found a person who enjoyed the experience of a divorce.
  3. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin – it is a sin, but it is not unforgivable.  However this should not be used as an excuse to escape from a marriage covenant.
  4. Divorce is not God’s ideal – but then we don’t live in an ideal world.   God’s ideal is marriage to one person for life that is why marriage vows contain the words “till death we do part.”  When questioned about divorce Jesus took his questioners right back to the Book of Genesis, “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.”  They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”  He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The Bible does give three instances where separation, divorce and subsequent remarriage are acceptable, because all three break the covenant of marriage.

1.   The case of unfaithfulness

Jesus said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  The person who is free to remarry here is the victim of the unfaithfulness not the culprit.  Also, Jesus is particularly condemning the actions of a person who commits adultery, divorces and then marries the person they committed adultery with.  A person must not commit adultery in order to get out of a marriage in order to marry someone else (Romans 6:1).

2.   The case of an unbelieving partner departing

Paul offers the following advice to believers with unbelieving partners in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” 

3.   The case of violence and abuse

It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, counselors or ministers recommending women in particular, to stay with husbands who are physically, verbally or emotionally abusive.  Ephesians 5:21-33 makes it very clear that submission is to be mutual, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies … each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”  Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in a relationship.”

These three things – unfaithfulness, an unbelieving partner departing and violence and abuse break the marriage covenant.  In most cases …

  1. Separation is advisable (at least a temporary one)
  2. Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counseling)
  3. Divorce may be unavoidable
  4. Remarriage is permissible.

When you read the title of this blog what did you immediately think of? Probably gay marriage! But that’s not what this blog is about. I believe there is a greater threat to marriage– a threat that comes from within the church itself.

Over the past few years I have been amazed to see many Christian marriages fail:

I’ve seen a Christian leader leave his wife and kids.

Then there’s the two pastors – who’ve had longstanding addictions to Internet porn and marital unfaithfulness – decide to leave their wives, children and churches.

There’s the wife who just doesn’t want to be married anymore so she leaves her husband.

I know an evangelist in the USA who’s recently been married for the fifth time – and is still in ministry. She invited us to the wedding but we were unable to attend. I told her we’d try and make the next one.

Another well-known evangelist has recently been separated from his wife of 30 years – even though they had been living in different houses for quite some time. This abusive marriage is over but the evangelist is still in ministry of course; the show must go on!

A while ago I heard that the son of an Australia Church leader was getting remarried. This young man had left his first wife because they didn’t really love each other and just weren’t happy. I asked the pastor who was doing the wedding what he thought about the Scriptures concerning divorce and remarriage. He told me he wasn’t thinking about it too much. After all, they are friends and he didn’t want to let them down. “But didn’t Jesus say they would be committing adultery” I asked. I was told, “yes, but they’ll ask for God’s forgiveness and it’ll all be okay!” It’s just that simple!

And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Marriage certainly is under threat but the biggest threat is from within the church itself, and the church needs to sort itself out rather than just playing moral policeman to everyone else.

The words of Jesus ring true on this issue: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”(Matthew 7:3, 5)

Of course I am aware that some marriages have no hope of surviving because of infidelity, abuse or someone just walking away; and my heart goes out to people who wanted their marriage to work but found themselves in a situation that was beyond their control. But what I’m addressing here is the undervaluing of marriage by some today who leave marriages because they’re “just not happy anymore.” Christian people who view marriage as a ten-year lease with an option to extend are a bigger threat to the holy institution of marriage than anyone or anything else.