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Part Thirteen – Practical Matters on Divorce & Marriage

 

The final chapter in our study on marriage, divorce, and remarriage has to do with the practical aspects of this subject. In a day and society in which divorce and remarriage are considered a legitimate course of action not just for unbelievers, but for believers as well, how we apply these principles can be a challenging task. In the years I have been a pastor I have had to face this challenge many times. Frequently the outcomes have often been unpleasant. I remember a co-worker at a factory, who had chosen to leave his wife of 25 years to marry a younger woman. When I told him I could not remarry him he never spoke to me again. There have been several who left the church because I could not condone what they were doing. Many of the ones I spent extensive time helping as they went through their divorce have been quick to brush me off when they desire to remarry. Some who strongly agreed that God does not permit the divorced to remarry within a year or two have totally changed their mind as the desire for companionship grows stronger.. 

Very few that I have counseled during and after divorce spend any time studying the Scriptures to see for themselves what God has to say on the matter. This is true even when I share with them literature and notes on the subject. All too often when they are considering remarriage, I will ask them if they have studied the matter out and I get a very vague answer if I get any answer at all. It is all too clear they have no real interest in knowing what the Scriptures have to say. They have already made up their minds about the course they are going to follow. To study the Scriptures on this important matter might bring them to discover that their will is contrary to God’s will. Therefore they are satisfied to leave the status quo as it is. The old idea of “what I do not know can not hurt me.” It is the norm to justify their actions with what seems to be legitimate arguments. Such as:

1) “I can’t believe God would allow me to meet and fall in love with someone so wonderful if God is opposed to me getting remarried.” I wonder if that is what Samson thought when he met Delilah or David met Bathsheba.

2) “Many good Bible preachers and teachers who see no problem in believer’s remarrying. There many varied interpretations of this passage therefore there is no way of knowing for sure what God’s will is.” This could be said of just about every doctrine of Scripture but does not nullify the exhortation to believers to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” 2 Tim. 2:15

3) “I know other believer’s who have remarried and God is greatly blessing them. Surely God would not bless someone who has chosen the wrong path.” God blessed Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon but they paid a heavy price for being married to more than one woman.

4) “I can’t believe that God would be so calloused as to require a believer to live the rest of their lives single after divorce. God is not that type of person!” However the same God calls some to be a paraplegic for live or to be diabetic or a lot of other unpleasant things.

5) “I have tried to remain single, but it just isn’t possible. God will understand my need to be remarried.” Whatever happened to Paul’s words about God’s grace is sufficient and makes one strong in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

The problem with these arguments is they leave out the most important element, what does God have to say on this matter? We can not justify our actions based on what others say or do, or on our personal view of God and his will. God’s will can only be determined by the leading of His Spirit through His written Word. How easy it is to fall into the habit of justifying our sinful behavior when we want to disobey our God. Let us be reminded of the word of Paul in 1 Cor. 4:1-5. Our judge is God.

It is the frequency of negative responses that places such great stress on pastors and church leaders these days. When we consider that in the first 1940 years of the church the overwhelming position was no remarriage after a divorce. However in the last 40 years the majority view has done a 180 in permitting divorce, not only in the case of adultery but for all causes. The question that must be asked is what has brought about this radical change? There can be only one of two possible explanations. Either some new information has come to light that shows the church was in error for almost 2000 years or the church has become so accustomed to the world’s values it has lost a sense of God’s will. Since there has not been any “new light” on this subject we must draw the conclusion that the change is a product of worldliness. No pastor enjoys telling a hurting member that God’s course is to remain single nor does he find it pleasant to know that if he takes a stand on this matter he faces the probability that those members and their family will leave the congregation. However, as Paul wrote, we as pastor/teachers are required of God to preach the Word “in season” (when it is popular) and out of season (when it is not) (2 Tim. 4:2).

In dealing with potential volatile issue, let me give some practical biblical advice.

1) To the Pastors and Church Leaders

a. We should teach God’s principles to our congregations whether it is popular or not. It is the easy course for us to avoid speaking on this topic but it is not the prudent course. How are the people God has given into our care to know God’s will unless they are taught (2 Tim. 4:2)? Paul says that we have a responsibility to do this regardless of the prevailing wind at the time. Let us remember that by avoiding this matter or speaking what the people want to hear may buy us the present favor of our congregation, however, we will ultimately be held accountability to God (1 Cor. 4:1-5; 2 Cor. 5:10; James 3:1).

b. We should set the example in the way we walk before our congregations. As Paul lays out the guidelines of who may serve as the leadership of the church, so it the leaders are to be those who have set the example of being committed to one woman for a life time. With this said we should not allow those men to serve who have fallen short in this matter. (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9)

c. We should reach out and seek to aid those under our care who are undergoing marital difficulties and who are considering a divorce. In doing so, we must be careful not to force our help upon them for they must be willing to receive it. Likewise, as we help, we should always keep in mind that usually there are two sides to the story. Many a mistake has been made when decisions are made based on only a one sided testimony. With that said, we still must take the initiative to try to help rather than wait for them to come to us. With much pray and God’s help the couple may be able brought ultimately to reconciliation.

d. We should take steps to discipline any believer who is sinfully abusing their covenant with their spouse. This would include having an adulterous relation with some one else, neglecting a spouse’s needs, abuse whether it be physical, mental, or spiritual and any other sin that causes the marriage to break down.

e. We should be cautious about bringing discipline to bear on a separating or divorcing couple even when they refuse the help of the leadership. The reason I say this is that God evidently makes provision for a couple to separate (1 Cor. 7:10-11). Though this is not the ideal yet it may be a necessity at times. Take for example the woman married to an alcoholic husband who refuses to acknowledge his drinking problem and the neglect and abuse that comes from it. Separation and/or divorce may be the only avenue that the wife may have to protect herself and her children and to drive home the seriousness of her husband’s behavior and his need to get help. With this said, it would be appropriate in light of the problems the couple are having to consider temporarily removing them from any areas of ministry and service they may be involved in. This would be especially true if it is taking place in the marriage of a Pastor or other Church leader.

f. Remarriage should be dealt with as a sin: As we saw earlier, God forbids any divorced individual to remarry after a divorce as long as their mate is still alive. Discipline begins with the pastor and leadership pulling a brother/sister aside and war them that the path they are choosing is contrary to the will of God. If the individual refuses to heed the warning of the leadership the individual should be then taken to the congregation for further action (Matt. 18:15-17). Several important points should be noted at this point.

i. The level or degree to which an unrepentant member can be disciplined is determined by the Congregation. If the congregation has not made a public statement of its position on this matter in its constitution or set a policy or precedence in previous situations, one will probably be limited in the actions that can be taken toward the sinning member. It is for this reason that the pastor and spiritual leadership should instruct the congregation concerning God’s will on divorce and remarriage seeking the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to their hearts. They should encourage the people to adopt the same stand as God does and it should be written down in the By-Laws, Doctrinal Statement, or Constitution of the Church. Because this is such an emotional issue and people are slow to change, it may take sometime to bring a congregation to a point of accepting God’s will. It should be also noted the taking of such a stand should not be aimed at what has transpired in the past but rather on what is taking place in the presence and future. The idea, “well we have not required that of others in the past so will we not be setting up a double standard” must be answered that we have learned that our past actions were wrong and thus we are making corrections to align us with God’s will in the future.

ii. Minimal actions to be taken: Even if the congregation is not ready to accept the biblical position there are still some important steps the leadership of the church can take. The pastor should refuse to perform remarriages and the leadership should prohibit the remarriage from taking place in the Church. If it is allowed to take place within the Church facilities it is in essence giving the remarriage the approval of the congregation. People need to see that there are consequences for disobeying God’s commands. Likewise, church sponsored wedding showers, congregational invitations whether posted, in the bulletin or made from the pulpit should be avoided. To permit these activities is to give this disobedient act the approval of the congregation. If individuals want to do this on their own the church should caution them about what message they are sending the wedding couple. However, it is my opinion that individuals who proceed with a wedding shower should not be disciplined. 

iii. Discipline should be done with humility of heart and brotherly love with the goal of repentance and reconciliation. It should be shown in our discipline that we have the well being of the individuals in mind as we seek to get them to depart from their sinful plans.

iv. Be prepared to pay a price: The taking of a stand against remarriage after a divorce and if a course off discipline is the followed, it is almost a given that there will be a lot of negative fall out! You maybe called names, you may be slandered in the community, those in the community will think you are carrying religion to far and of course there is always the possibility that some will leave. All of these things were not a problem 40-50 years ago when the church as a whole believed that such a practice was sin. However today, Christians are rebellious against God’s commands in this area and when will see any intervention of love as an unwarranted and unwanted attack. Let us remember the prophets of Israel in the Old Testament and what they suffered when seeking to turn Israel away from their sinning ways unto the path of obedience. To be willing to stand for God is to take on the sufferings of our Lord. Sometimes the greatest suffering comes from the Saints rather than the lost.

2) To Family and friends. One of the most difficult questions to deal with is what to do when one’s close family or friend has chosen the path of divorce and remarriage? Where does one draw the line? What is appropriate and what is not? 

Pastors are not immune to this problem. My wife and I have had to face this very question as several family members have either married divorced individuals or have been divorced and have chosen to remarry. The problem we faced is we do not want to condone their sin but yet we still want to show them that we still love them and care for them. We want the channels open so that we might minister to them further in the future.

The first time it happened to us, a close family member had decided to marry a divorced individual who was not even a believer. At the time we were uncertain if the family member was a believer but if they were, they were guilty of two sins. There was the sin of the being yoked unevenly with an unbeliever and the sin or remarriage after divorce. My wife was approached by the relative asking if I would do the ceremony. After an awkward pause and a quick prayer, she shared with this relative that I can not perform such marriages. To her surprise the relative accepted the answer and selected another minister. Now the question was do we attend the wedding. After a long time of sole searching and prayer, we decided that God wanted us to attend. The relative understood how we felt about what they were doing but we wanted to communicate to them that we still cared for them as an individual.

This is a decision that I believe every believer must make on their own. One situation may be different from another and so one’s decision and actions must be weighed on a case to case basis. I believe it is at this time that we must rely heavily upon God’s guidance through His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. What I would do with an unsaved relative or friend would probably be different from what I would do for someone who clearly knows what the Bible teaches and is determined to disobey God anyways. In each and every case we must communicate to our family member or friend what our position is about their decision lest they misunderstand our actions as our approval. 

I have attended a hand full of such weddings. It has been my policy to attend so that they understood I still loved them and I am still there for them if they need me. I have chosen not to give a wedding gift because I felt it would be taken as a sign of approval.

Finally, what should I do with a couple who are remarried? The deed is done and one can not unscramble the egg. As a pastor I minister and treat them in the same manner I would anyone else God places under my care. Likewise, all believers should seek to forgive and move on. We pray that they will someday come to the point of understanding the sinfulness of their decision and will seek God’s forgiveness through true repentance.