Marriage As Worship
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 7, 1997
Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
"Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterers and all the sexually immoral."
Marriage Is Worship
What does marriage have to do with worship? We have been studying worship that is acceptable to God and in Hebrews 12:28 we read, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'" That exhortation to worship is not speaking about worship in the narrow sense of worshiping God only when we gather together in his name; rather, that exhortation governs all of life. Marriage and home life are part of the whole of life, and so the exhortation here is that we honor and worship God in our married life.
Hebrews 13:1-3 told us that we must worship God in terms of brotherly love. We must love our brothers who are strangers to us, we must receive them as guests into our homes, and we are to help our brothers who are prisoners. When we thus show love for the brethren we are worshiping God acceptably. We will be approved of God for doing so and our King will say to us one day, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me."
In Hebrews 13:4 the writer tells us that we should also serve God acceptably in our marriage. Christians have no freedom to live their married lives for their own pleasure. Our married lives should be consecrated for the glory of God.
We understand this verse, not as an indicative, but as an imperative. The Greek text reads, "Honorable the marriage." Because the verb is not expressed, we would like to take this as an imperative as in verse 1, meaning as a command. We could, therefore, translate this phrase as "Marriage should be honored by all," as the New International Version does, or "Let marriage be held in honor by all." The word timios, which is translated "honor," also means precious. So we could also translate this verse in this way: "Let marriage be considered precious by all." This is true. Marriage is very honorable and precious and should be treated in that way. In fact, we see reflection of that view of marriage in Proverbs 31:10 where we read, "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth more than rubies."
The Dishonoring of Marriage
It is interesting to study the views Christians held of marriage throughout church history. Sadly, marriage was dishonored by theologians and the church before the Reformation. For many centuries the church was influenced by the Manichean heresy, which taught people to despise all pleasure and their physical bodies. Adherents of this heresy, which began in the third century, posited that most matter is evil, including the human body, and Christians must therefore treat their bodies harshly. Theologians who were influenced by this view taught that any pleasure was evil and Christians should practice asceticism. As a result of this teaching there were people who would close their eyes rather than view the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, snow-capped mountains and flowers. Such people did not want to enjoy anything, including sexual pleasure even within marriage.
Such asceticism was taught by the church, but read 1 Timothy 4:3 where Paul warns us against doctrines of demons which despise marriage by forbidding it. Such despising arises from a denial of the doctrine of creation. When we study the Bible, which gives us the doctrine of creation, we learn that creation is not evil because God created all things. Therefore, matter cannot be evil, and, in fact, God himself called his creation very good.
The Early Church Fathers
However, this view that sexual love in itself was evil and that it did not cease to be evil even in Christian marriage prevailed in the church until the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The early church fathers Tertullian and Ambrose preferred the extinction of the human race to its propagation through sex. Another church father, Origen, had himself castrated before his ordination. Ambrose expressed this view: "Married people ought to blush in the state in which they are living."
Virtually all the church fathers praised virginity as being superior to the state of marriage. The brilliant philosopher St. Augustine was a Manichean before his conversion, and in his writings he frequently praised married couples who abstained from sex altogether. He also is credited with saying that sex is permissible within marriage but sexual pleasure is sin!
This despising of sexual relations within Christian marriage is also demonstrated in some early theologians' interpretation of the parable of the sower. They said that those who produced a hundred times what was sown were celibates and virgins; those who had a sixtyfold increase were widows who refused to remarry or married people who abstained from sex within marriage; and those with a thirtyfold increase were Christians living in the married estate and practicing normal sexual relations. Some theologians who were interested in the promotion of the holiness of the church also recommended that married Christians abstain from sex five days per week.
Even the great theologian Thomas Aquinas objected to the sexual act. He said it subordinated one's reason to one's passions. Other theologians argued that marriage and adultery are not intrinsically different. Gregory of Nyssa opined that Adam and Eve had been created by God in paradise without sexual desire, thus implying that sexual desire is a result of the Fall. That view, of course, is pure fabrication but such views prevailed in the early church. Thus, by the fifth century the church prohibited clerics from marrying. Throughout early church history celibacy and virginity were considered higher and holier than the married estate.
Even Erasmus, a contemporary of Luther, said this: "Ideal marriage is one in which the couple lives without sex." Up through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Roman Catholic church glorified virginity and celibacy so much so that the Council of Trent denounced those who said virginity was not superior to marriage.
The Reformation Brings Change
The Reformers and their descendants, the Puritans, were responsible for the liberation of marriage, sex, and women from their despisers. Now, that is not what modern people would like us to believe. Many modern people think that Puritans opposed sex and any type of pleasure. However, when we study history, we see that such an idea is an absolute lie. Puritans were serious students of Scripture who submitted to its supreme authority. Because of that, they affirmed what the Scripture affirmed, which is that marriage should be held in honor and that sex in marriage is holy.
The Puritans did not accept these views of Thomas Aquinas and others. They did not agree with Aquinas when he said, "The birth of a girl is the result of a male embryo going wrong" and "Women are mentally as well as physically weaker than men and more prone to sin." They did not agree with Aquinas' view that "Husbands may correct their wives by corporal punishment if necessary" and "Children ought to love their father more than their mother." Why did the Puritans reject these views? Because they were not biblical. And at this point I would like to recommend two books to you on Puritans: A Quest for Godliness by J. I. Packer and Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken. These works will give you a very good understanding of Puritan life and belief.
The Biblical View of Marriage
What, then, is this biblical view which considers marriage honorable? In the Westminster Confession of Faith we read,
I. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.
II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.
III. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry who are able with judgment to give their consent: yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters; neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIV, sections 1-3)
The Bible tells us that God ordained marriage. If God ordained it, God honors it. From the book of Genesis we know that God created woman as the crown of all creation and as a companion for man. There we also read that God created woman from man--bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. "For this reason," the Bible says, "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). That is what God said--one in spirit, mind, emotions, actions, and one in body. So marriage is not a contrivance of human society. Its author is God himself. It is God who joined Adam and Eve together in marriage, and it is God who joins men and women together even today in Christian marriage. Jesus said that in Matthew 19:6: What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.
Marriage Is Honorable
Jesus himself honored marriage by teaching about it in Matthew 19. There he cited Genesis 2:24 in defense of monogamous marriage and in opposition to divorce. Jesus Christ honored marriage by attending a marriage in Cana of Galilee, blessing it by his presence and producing excellent wine for the celebration of this marriage. Jesus Christ honored marriage by receiving little children from their mothers and blessing them. God the Father honored marriage when he instituted it in paradise before the fall of man and gave Adam and Eve the mandate to increase and multiply.
We should honor marriage and family because it alone is the foundational divine institution. Without the marriage of men and women there could be no church or state. Marriage is also to be honored, according to St. Paul, because it illustrates the most glorious relationship possible--the mystical union which exists between Christ and his church. This amazing, everlasting communion and relationship with Christ the Head of the church from whom we receive all good things is symbolized by marriage.
Marriage is also to be honored because man is incomplete without woman and woman is incomplete without man. Marriage completes that which is lacking--completeness in either spouse. Professor Jay Adams spoke of this when he said, "Marriage is a covenantal arrangement between two persons to become each other's loving companion for life. They contract each other from ever being lonely so long as they live" (Jay E. Adams, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, [Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980], 13).
The Puritans said that marriage was also to be honored by all because of its threefold purpose. The first purpose of marriage is the biblical idea of companionship: "It is not good for man to be alone," God said in Genesis 1:18. The second purpose is that married people may live in chastity--conjugal chastity. In other words, marriage prevents people from committing immorality. The third purpose of marriage is children--the propagation of the race.
According to the Bible, then, the ideal life is not celibacy or virginity, but rather married life that lasts for one's lifetime. Marriage is to be honored and it is not scriptural to forbid marriage and require celibacy. That is a heresy, as we said before, which the Bible calls a doctrine of demons. Marriage is to honored also because one of the qualifications of being a bishop or pastor is that he be the husband of but one wife and that he manage his household well. An honorable married life is required of a pastor to manage the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, although modern culture despises marriage and promotes and glorifies easy divorce, adultery, lesbianism, homosexuality and every form of sexual irregularity, marriage is to be honored.
Choosing An Honorable Spouse
Because marriage is ordained by God and to be honored, we must understand how to choose an honorable spouse for an honorable marriage. Proverbs 31:10 told us that a wife of noble character is priceless, and in Proverbs 12:4 we read that such a virtuous woman is her husband's crown. Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord." In other words, when a man seeks and finally finds a woman of noble character, it is a precious and good thing, demonstrating grace from God. This speaks about prayerful seeking: "Seek and ye shall find." Proverbs 19:14 tells us "A prudent wife is from the Lord," and every Christian born of the Spirit should qualify to be a noble spouse.
When choosing a spouse, then, let us listen to the Puritans. The following is some advice they would give.
- Look at the other person's reputation. Everyone has a reputation and in Proverbs 22:1 we read the worth of having a good name: "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." Find out what is the reputation of this man or this woman in society, in school, in church, and at the workplace. Whether you like it or not, there will be a reputation. If you look for it, you will find it.
- Look for looks. Now, this is not speaking about external beauty; rather, it means to observe whether a person is humble or proud, whether he or she has a look of humility or a look of arrogance. I would add this: Look for someone with a beatitude look, one of whom it could be said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
- Examine the speech. The Bible says, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Does the man or woman speak godly wisdom or worldly foolishness? If you listen, you will be able to find out, if you are godly yourself.
- Look at the manner of dress. Does the other person dress modestly, or does he or she dress in keeping with the latest worldly, vain and revealing fashion?
- Look at the company that person keeps. Birds of the same feather flock together. What kind of friends does she or he hang around with? You can receive a lot of understanding by observing another person's friends.
- See if he/she is a Christian. A Christian ought to marry a Christian. So the question is: Is the person a Christian in heart and in fact, or is he or she just a Christian by mere profession? I warn you: Be not unequally yoked. You must be able to share your faith with your spouse.
- Examine the person's character. Character is the beauty of mind. It matters more than the external beauty of body and face for marital happiness. You can read about godly character as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, beginning with verse 22. But for a more realistic assessment of a person's character, you have to go still further. You must get to know the other person by eating with that person, walking with that person, working with that person, playing with that person, talking with that person, laughing with that person, and so on. Only then will you discover a person's character.
What other advice did the Puritans have for those seeking an honorable marriage? Other things being equal, they would recommend looking for someone of similar age, similar social position, similar wealth, similar intellectual ability and so on.
The Puritan View of Married Life
The Puritans wrote much about the honorable married life. Thomas Gataker said, "There is no society more near, more entire, more needful, more kindly, more delightful, more comfortable, more constant, more continual than the society of man and wife, the main root, source, and original of all other societies" (Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books, 1986] 42). He also wrote, "A good wife being. . . The best Companion in Wealth; the fittest and readiest Assistant in worke; the greatest comfort in crosses and griefes;. . . And the greatest Grace and Honour that can be, to him that hath her" (Thomas Gataker, A Good Wife--God's Gift, 1637, p. 166).
The great Reformed pastor Richard Baxter said, "It is a mercy to have a faithful friend that loveth you entirely. . .to whom you may open your mind and communicate your affairs. . .And it is a mercy to have so near a friend to be a helper to your soul and . . . to stir up in you the grace of God." (Ryken, p. 43) And a man named John Downame wrote, "God the first Institutor of marriage, gave the wife unto the husband, to bee, not his servant, but his helper, counsellor and comforter" ( John Downame, The Plea of the Poor, 1616, p. 119).
Richard Baxter also counseled husbands and wives in terms of their duties:
"The common duty of husband and wife is,
- Entirely to love each other; and therefore chose one that is truly lovely. . . ." and we must remember he is speaking about loveliness of character, not face ". . .and avoid all things that tend to quench your love.
- To dwell together, and enjoy each other, and faithfully join as helpers in the education of their children, the government of the family, and the management of their worldly business.
- Especially to be helpers of each other's salvation: to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good works: to warn and help each other against sin, and all temptations; to join in God's worship in the family, and in private: to prepare each other for the approach of death, and comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal.
- To avoid all dissensions, and to bear with those infirmities in each other which you cannot cure: to assuage, and not provoke, unruly passions; and, in lawful things, to please each other.
- To keep conjugal chastity and fidelity, and to avoid all unseemly and immodest carriage [conduct] with another, which may stir up jealousy; and yet to avoid all jealousy which is unjust.
- To help one another to bear their burdens (and not by impatience to make them greater). In poverty, crosses, sickness, dangers, to comfort and support each other. And to be delightful companions in holy love, and heavenly hopes and duties, when all other outward comforts fail."
(Richard Baxter, Works, Vol. 4, p. 234)
A Christian husband had a special duty within marriage. Do you know what it is? J. I. Packer tells us,
It was the husband's responsibility to channel the family into religion; to take them to church on the Lord's Day, and oversee the sanctifying of that entire day in the home; to catechise the children, and teach them the faith; to examine the whole family after each sermon, to see how much had been retained and understood, and to fill any gaps in understanding that might remain; to lead the family in worship daily, ideally twice a day; and to set an example of sober godliness at all times and in all matters. To this end he must be willing to take time out to learn the faith that he is charged to teach." (J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990], 270)
Biblical Authority in the Home
What is the authority structure that should function in a Christian home where marriage is honored? The Bible tells us that in Christ men and women are equal, as we read in Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 11:11,12. There is no difference in their standing with God, and, in fact, some women are better in terms of intelligence, understanding, and various other gifts than their husbands.
Yet in the function of a Christian home there is a hierarchy: The man is under Christ, the woman is under her husband's authority, and the children are under the authority of their parents. (PGM) Now, I know this is not what our modern culture tells us, but I believe in the Bible, not in modern culture. A wife's submission to her husband is voluntary and analogous to the voluntary submission of Christ to the Father, though the Father and the Son are co-equal. The husband's leadership is rooted in his submission to Christ and, therefore, his leadership will be in love and godly wisdom, which will be a delight to a godly wife.
A Christian home, therefore, is one in which marriage is honored and true love flourishes. Each person is governed by the cross of Christ, meaning by true self-sacrificing love. Such a Christian home life is possible because we are filled with the Holy Spirit, who, in turn, pours out into each one's heart superabundance of God's love.
With this love we can live in a Christian home, and in the strength of this love a husband will direct the affairs of his home in wisdom. He will become the best husband, the best father, and the best teacher in his home. He will sacrifice himself freely, thus providing, protecting, guiding and teaching all those under him. In the strength of the same love of God his wife will voluntarily and delightfully submit to the godly and wise leadership of her husband and fulfill all her functions. What about the children? In the strength of God's love that comes to them also, children will obey their parents in all things and so grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Didn't Jesus say, "If you love me, keep my commandments"? So love leads, love submits and love obeys. Such a house is a Christian home, and such a married life is always honorable.
Judgment for Marriage Despisers
Hebrews 13:4, therefore, tells us that marriage should be honored by all. But Hebrews 13:4 tells us something else. In the latter part of verse 4 we read that God will judge those who despise marriage. In the Greek it says, Pornous gar kai moichous krinei ho Theos--fornicators and adulterers will be judged by God.
Now, you may want to ask the question, "What is the difference between fornication and adultery?" Pornea is the Greek word for fornication, and pornos means a fornicator, from which you have pornography. Pornea, or fornication, is a word that encompasses all sorts of sexual sins and sexual irregularity, but moichea , or adultery, is a term that deals specifically with the introduction of a third party, male or female, into a marriage. In other words, moichea is more a technical term for the introduction of a third person into the marriage bond.
The point we need to keep in mind is "for God will judge." If you read the Greek text, you notice the word for God, ho Theos, appears last in the sentence. This means there is emphasis put on that word. In other words, if you are despising marriage, you may escape detection and judgment by your wife or your husband or the society or the state. But there is One who sees all and he will surely judge, condemn, and punish you. That is the emphasis in that verse.
What Is Adultery?
Questions 70, 71 and 72 of the Shorter Catechism tell us about adultery. Question 70: "Which is the seventh commandment? Answer: The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery." Question 71: "What is required in the seventh commandment? Answer: The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor's chastity, and in heart, speech, and behavior." Question 72: "What is forbidden in the seventh commandment? The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions."
Now, marriage is God's design and institution. And as we said before, it is the primary, foundational institution for the church as well as for the state. God blesses Christian marriage when we honor it by obeying God's commandment, and, in my view, God also blesses the marriages of unbelievers when they marry because they are rendering obedience to God's institution. But if we despise marriage and violate God's law of marriage, this text guarantees that God will judge us.
We must also understand that fornication and adultery include being chaste in thought as well as action, as we read in the Shorter Catechism. Do you remember how Jesus himself interpreted the seventh commandment in the Sermon on the Mount? He correctly said that if one looks at a girl and lusts after her in his heart, even though nothing happens externally, that person has committed adultery. God knows what is going on in our heart and thoughts. The resurrected Lord of the church has eyes like blazing fire.
Adultery Defiles Marriage
God hates the sin of adultery and fornication because they defile marriage. Adultery, as I said, is the introduction of a third party of either sex into a marriage, which is a violation of the very concept of marriage. But God wants us to honor and worship him in our marriages.
In Leviticus 18:20 we read, "Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her." A person can do such things and come home, but he is bringing defilement to his marriage and his marriage bed. Such a person defiles Christian marriage, even if the corruption is only of the thought life.
Now, the ancient Greeks and Romans liberally practiced all sorts of sexual sins. They thought marital fidelity was an unreasonable demand, especially for themselves. Greek and Roman men required their wives to be faithful in marriage, but they themselves practiced adultery, prostitution, and temple prostitution with prostitute priestesses. Many of them also had concubines.
Our modern culture glorifies adultery, fornication, lesbianism, homosexuality, bisexuality, pedophilia, and pansexuality. Modern culture glories in every kind of sexual irregularity. But the Bible honors monogamous lifelong marriage. God opposes all who oppose and despise marriage through adultery and fornication.
God Is Judging and Will Judge
God is already judging those who despise marriage. Millions are suffering physically and psychologically from STDs, meaning sexually transmitted diseases. People are dying in the middle of their lives. Smoking takes away about seven years from one's life but certain homosexual practices take away more than thirty years of one's life.
God is judging, and people are suffering and dying, yet many refuse to change their behavior and beliefs. They hate God's counsel as revealed in the Bible in reference to the proper expression of and legitimate use of sexuality. Marriages are breaking up, and many children are suffering the ravages of divorce, becoming scarred for life. Many of these children, in turn, also begin to practice sexual immorality. It is a vicious cycle. Our society has degenerated so quickly that the law now says adultery, fornication and pornography are all okay. But God says it is not okay, and God will judge you if you do these things. You can fool your wife, your husband, your pastor, or your boss. But God sees it all and is judging.
Proper Sexual Expression
What is the proper view of sexuality? It is that sexual expression in marriage that is pure and holy, no matter what the church fathers speculated about it. God says sex in marriage is pure and undefiled, and that we are to keep it that way. So as married people we must obey the Scriptures regarding sexuality in marriage, especially what we read in 1 Corinthians 7 and Proverbs 5. All married people should read those passages.
In 1 Corinthians 7:3 we read, "The husband should fulfill the marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband." Do you remember that one of the purposes of marriage is to prevent unchastity and immorality? Conjugal chastity is achieved, not by sexual abstinence, but by a regular coming together of husband and wife in sexual union in obedience to God's law.
In the early days of New England a wife complained that her husband was not obeying God. She complained first to her pastor and then to the whole congregation that her husband was neglecting their sexual life. What did the church do? It excommunicated this husband who had dishonored marriage by despising the biblical law regarding sexuality in marriage.
What If We Have Dishonored Marriage?
Did you know that adultery is forgivable? Every sin is forgivable. Thus, God forgave David his sin of adultery. Jesus forgave the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and told her, "Go and sin no more." Christ died for our sins, and let me guarantee you that true repentance and faith in Christ secures forgiveness of all sins, including the sins of adultery and fornication.
It may be that, as a Christian husband or a Christian wife, you have defiled your marriage by adultery and fornication. It may be that you have done so even through thoughts in your head that were contrary to the biblical law of marriage. If this is true, I counsel you to repent truly of your sin. Ask God to forgive you, and ask your spouse to forgive you. Then you shall be forgiven, the joy of the Lord shall flood your soul once again, and the Lord will repair and bless your marriage. God is able to repair the marriages of people who repent and ask him for help. Jesus Christ is Savior, and he came to save us from our sins.
Hebrews 13:4 teaches us that even in our married life we must offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. I exhort us to worship God in our marriages and home lives, thus serving God acceptably.
What If We Despise Marriage?
Perhaps you do not want to pay attention to the latter part of Hebrews 13:4. If so, let us examine some other scriptures. In Galatians 6:7,8 we read, "Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction."
In Ephesians 5:9 we read, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity." And in Ephesians 5:6 we find, "Let no one deceive you with empty words. . ." Hollow philosophy! Empty words! "Go ahead, everything is all right. Enjoy your life. There is no judgment, no God." Such empty words began in Genesis 3 when the serpent said, "You will not die." So verse 6 tells us, "Then let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them."
I was recently talking with some people and they said, "Well, we did everything but our clothes were on." The brilliance of that argument. Do you think God will be impressed? These are empty words, aren't they?
In 1 Corinthians 6, beginning with verse 9, we read, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
Let Us Honor Marriage
The writer to the Hebrews told us to let marriage be held in honor by all, and keep the marriage bed, which is a euphemism for sex, undefiled. You and I have a responsibility to maintain the purity of marriage. And then a little warning is given to us: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
We all know how to rationalize immorality into something reasonable. I have done it and you have done it. But God will not be impressed with our brilliant rationalizations. Therefore, may God help us to do the right thing and worship God in our homes, especially in our married lives. And may we be warned that our God, who is a consuming fire, will oppose everyone who despises and dishonors marriage. May we honor marriage by doing what we are supposed to do in the strength of God's love which he has already poured out in abundance in our hearts. Amen.
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Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
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