So you had an affair. Now what?

restoration

Yesterday I wrote from the offended spouse’s position on adultery.  But there are two sides to every story.  There are two players in marriage.  If one spouse is cheated on, then the other spouse is the one who cheated.  If you have come to God for salvation, confessed your sins and begun a Spiritual walk with Him, then chances are high that the Holy Spirit has been all over you throughout your experience of infidelity.  As with most sin, it did not start big, some naked woman did not just jump in your bed.  Perhaps a love scene in a movie caught your attention and you curiously sought out pornography, which after a while could no longer satisfy your desires so you sought out a living person.  Perhaps you reconnected with an old friend on Facebook, and after a few messages decided to meet up just to check in and say hi.  Perhaps you found yourself at lunch at the same restaurant as that hottie at work, and both being alone you decided to sit together and slowly lunch became a habit, and then lunch turned into a relationship.  Yes, it is possible that you intentionally went out looking for a rush outside of your marriage, but much more common is the “it just happened” story.

The first step in moving past any infraction is the recognition of the sin.  God says that any infidelity is sin:  fornication, pornography, a one-night stand, an ongoing affair and even lust.  We all feel badly when we get caught in our sin, and thus we must examine ourselves to see if our sorrow and grief is because we got caught or because we recognize our sin and its offense to God.

We also cannot justify ourselves in our sin.  There is no excuse before God for any sin, and that includes infidelity.  Will your spouse not be with you?  Perhaps you are serving in the military and are serving overseas for long periods of time.  Perhaps your spouse is incapable for the time because of an illness or injury.  There is always a back story, and usually a reason that some people might use to appease their guilt, but when you have fallen into sin it is of utmost importance that we recognize it, confess it, and leave it there.  God does not justify the guilty, nor should we.

“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”

– Prov 17.15

After we have confessed our sin, we then begin the long process of restoration.  Unfortunately, in the church today, adultery and divorce are the scarlet letter from which people are rarely restored.  Usually such a one will have to find a fresh start, move somewhere where no one knows him, find a new job and new church, and keep his secret until enough years have passed that he has proven himself “of good reputation”.  But this time of restoration and reconciliation is one of the greatest privileges and benefits of the Church body.  If your church is harsh and judgmental towards a repentant sinner, then spearhead the change!  Everyone who has been forgiven must forgive one another when they repent.  The greater we recognize our own guilt and condemnation before God, the more we can pour out grace on one another and push one another on to holiness.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

Scripture teaches us that sexual sin is indeed a “special” sin, in that by doing it you sin against your own physical body.

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

It is also the primary offense which allows people to divorce their spouses (Matt 5.32).  But it is not special in the sense that it will bring any extra judgment or disqualification upon you.  If a person has broken any of the Law of God, he is guilty – and that unto eternal damnation  – be it lying, greed, murder or infidelity (James 2.10).

Therefore, once we recognize and confess our sin, we must also recognize that there is nothing that can separate us from God, no sin that He will not forgive, and no sin that can forever disqualify us from serving Him.  Perhaps the most beautiful example of this reality is King David.  He was God’s chosen man, he served God tirelessly throughout the years that he was waiting to be appointed as king after Saul.  God blessed him, and he prospered. While the nation was at war, he saw another man’s wife taking a bath and he called to have her brought to the palace.  He slept with her and she became pregnant.  In an effort to try to cover up his sin, he had her husband brought home from battle so that he could sleep with her and believe the baby to be his, but the man was so honorable that he would not be with his wife while his men were fighting.  David’s response?  He had him killed.  That way he could marry the woman and have her for himself.  After all of this had taken place, David confessed his sin and repented, and while there were consequences for his sin, he was still king and still called, by God, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13.14).

Now, even if you have been engaged in an ongoing affair, I highly doubt that you have had your partner’s spouse murdered to cover up your affair.  And if you have, then there is still hope for you!

God can and will restore anyone who repents from his sin.

Before we move directly into fighting the sin, the offending spouse must also recognize that this is indeed grounds for divorce.  The offended spouse is required to forgive the offending spouse, but the trust may be broken to the point that the offended spouse chooses to leave, and is Biblically free to do so.  This is simply the consequence of the sin that the offender must be prepared to accept.  If the offended spouse does not choose to leave, then the road to restoration will probably be a long one.

Moving forward will require trust to be rebuilt and temptations to be fought.  Accountability and instruction will be key here.  In short:  get help.  We are given the body of Christ to hold one another up, to push one another on, and to help one another out.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 – Heb 10.23-25

Chances are extremely high that there is someone in your church who has walked where you are walking.  Whether your marriage has remained together or not, if there is any variation in demographic within your body, someone has fallen and been restored.  If not, then your pastor will know of someone, or a solid counselor.  Confess your sin to such a one:  someone who can help you grow and hold you accountable.  And then set for yourself a structure of accountability.  When someone else knows your sin, you are much less likely to commit it again.  And when you know someone will be asking you directly about your temptations and weaknesses, you are even less likely to give in.

Replace the sin with something God honoring.  If you have been indulging in pornography, focus that time and energy into getting to know and enjoy your spouse again.  Find a hobby, pursue your spouse or pray.  We must have a “go to” when we are tempted.  The immediate response should be claiming the promises of Scripture and prayer to redirect our minds and hearts, and then another activity in its place.  If you intentionally fight for your marriage in the wake of those desires, you will achieve the goal:  restoration.

Understand also that trust takes time to be rebuilt, and you will need to be an open book to your spouse.  Answer any questions they have, and allow time to grieve.  If the offended spouse does choose to remain in the marriage, the expectation is to forgive.  The affair cannot be held over the head of the offending spouse forever, there must come a time when the marriage moves on.  The offended spouse will probably find help and counseling from the spouse of the person who is counseling you.  Meet as a couple with that couple who has found victory.  Or meet as a couple with a counselor or pastor.  Reconciliation is two sided and unforgiveness is not acceptable.  The offending spouse, however, cannot lord this over the offended spouse.  Patience will be key.

There are many books that have been written on the topic, and it is not my intention to exhaustively walk a marriage through restoration.  Simply to note that infidelity is quite common, even within the Church, and there is hope both for the marriage and for forgiveness.

It used to be believe that once someone has broken his vow of marriage, he is forever of ill repute.  The pious would quote the guidelines for Church leadership and automatically disqualify anyone (and usually only those) who has fallen into sexual sin.

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.”

 – 1 Tim 3.2-3

Some would even go so far as to say that the offended spouse, after choosing to leave the marriage, would forever be disqualified from serving God for having been divorced.  They would say, “You are no longer above reproach” – forever.  I have heard this very statement with my own ears.   Isn’t interesting that to such a one, the God of all grace can forgive every sin except infidelity?  And such a one would label divorce the unpardonable sin, when God Himself is the one who gave us instructions for how to rightly utilize divorce?

Do not listen to such a one.  In fact, run hard the opposite direction if someone tries to tell you that you are no longer fit to serve God.  Yes, it will take time for your reputation to be restored and for your office to be returned, but in the same way God loved, kept, forgave and used King David, He can and will love, keep, forgive and use anyone who repents.

This is a very serious sin, but God is infinitely bigger and is not shocked.  He can forgive; He will restore anyone who turns to Him.

So your spouse had an affair. Now what?

broken trust

When you are young and in love, you are dating your best friend and could never imagine a major problem coming your way.  You have a magical engagement experience, you spend months planning the wedding of your dreams and going through premarital counseling to make sure that you are prepared for this major life change.  You take thousands of pictures.  You spend every moment together.  You say “I do” and then go away on a lavish vacation to spend your first week together as husband and wife.  You envision a lifetime of bliss, building a life with your love.

As the newness wears off, you grow comfortable with one another, you develop habits and routines and you settle into life.  Some bad habits might form.  You get busy with work and children.  You have your hobbies, your spouse has hobbies, and time just continues to pass by.

Then the unthinkable happens.  You get the news that will forever change the way you view marriage, love and life.  Your spouse has been unfaithful to you.

Now what?

We, as the Church, need to not only talk about this, but be ready and prepared to help people walk through this tragedy because it is happening every day.  People are crushed.  Lives are shattered.  Dreams are lost.  It is happening outside of the Church, and it is happening within the Church.  It is now almost a daily occurrence to hear about a pastor or a Christian leader confess to infidelity.  People who are in the Church will need to be supported and encouraged in the aftermath, and if we learn to love well, people outside of the Church can come to find salvation and healing within our communities as well.

There is no greater breach of trust than infidelity.  Even if the marriage relationship is sick or imbalanced, the covenant that was made at the beginning offers a sense of hope and security.  But when one partner in a marriage enters into an inappropriate relationship outside of that marriage, the damage caused and the pain inflicted is unthinkable.

And we must be ready to respond.

First and foremost, we must turn to Jesus.  I know it sounds cliche, but God is the God of all comforts, He will wipe every tear away, and He can heal the brokenhearted.  If your spouse has been unfaithful to you, know that it is good and healthy to respond emotionally and to grieve.  You will be angry, you will be hurt, you will be mad, you will cry, you will want to lash out.  God hates sin, God punishes all sin, and He does not cover up or make peace with sin.  It is not only normal, but it is right for you to hate the sin of infidelity.  It would be wise, however, to find a safe place where you can process these early emotions – with trusted friends or family, who will let you process in whatever way you need to process and still point you to God.  That way you can be angry, but not sin in your anger:

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

– Eph 4.26-27

It is important to not make any major-life decisions in the emotional response of the news.  Give yourself time to get yourself together, and let those trusted friends and family members support you and hold you accountable.

Once the shock wears off, you then have to decide what to do.  If you are a Christian, then the Bible is your authority and you must understand what God has to say about forgiveness, infidelity, divorce and remarriage.  Infidelity and divorce are discussed much more clearly than remarriage, but it is extremely important that every decision we make we do so with a clear conscience and direction for the Lord through Scripture.

What does forgiveness mean?  Is this something you can move past?  Will you remain in the marriage?  Are you Biblically allowed to leave the marriage?  Will you marry again?

Forgiveness is a difficult topic, especially when discussing a grievance as gross as adultery.  Biblical forgiveness is the reconciliation of a relationship that was broken by sin or an offense.  You can read more extensively about that here.  We see, therefore, that God does not forgive everyone – only those who confess their sins and repent, asking for forgiveness.  If this were not the case, then no one would go to Hell.

Does that mean we are justified in refusing to forgive?  Unfortunately, no.  We are sternly warned that as believers, if we do not forgive one another then God will not forgive us (Mark 11.25-26).  Part of the salvation experience is recognizing our guilt before God and experiencing His forgiveness which we do not deserve.  When we recognize the gravity of our guilt and the price Jesus paid to buy our pardon, we will respond in forgiving one another.  It may take time, and it will not look the same for everyone, but if the cheating spouse asks for forgiveness and repents, then we must forgive the offense.  If the cheating spouse never confesses or repents, we still must be ready and willing to forgive.

Does this mean that we have to remain married?  Jesus clearly taught that infidelity is grounds for divorce:

“…but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

– Matt 5.32

Interestingly enough, the word that Jesus uses for “unchastity” is Greek term that means any kind of sexual immorality, such as fornication, prostitution, adultery, incest, etc.  Thus we clearly understand that adultery is not limited to an ongoing emotional and sexual relationship.  It could be the employment of a prostitute, getting a happy ending at a massage parlor, or a one-time offense with a known person or stranger.  Many even argue that it could also include an addiction to pornography and masturbation.

We know that God hates divorce, but God also knows that not only is it a reality, sometimes it is the only way to move forward.  I argue here that divorce is not a sin, but a reality for which God gives clear instructions in utilizing.  Thus, if you are in a marriage and your spouse is unfaithful to you, it is a Biblical and understandable response to leave the marriage.  It is expected by God to forgive – to intentionally and deliberately “release feelings of resentment or vengeance (a psychologistst definition)” towards your spouse, but you are not required to remain in the marriage.

You may, however, choose to forgive and restore the marriage.  Some people are able and willing to move beyond sexual infidelity and restore that relationship.  Perhaps you have been married for years, you have many children, and the damage caused by breaking everything apart would be too much to bear on top of the infidelity, and the spouse is genuinely repentant and willing to get help!  Jesus does not command divorce in the circumstance of infidelity, He merely allows it.

We see, in fact, that God uses the example of a man who forgives his cheating spouse as an example of the love that He has for us:  with Hosea and Gomer.  You can read more about that here.  Restoration of a broken marriage will be a long road.  It will require trust to be rebuilt, it will require accountability and vulnerability.  The offending spouse will need to be ready and willing to answer questions, find someone to regularly check in and hold him accountable and intentional effort on both sides to move forward in relationship.  It will not be easy, but it is possible.

What about remarriage after divorce?  This is where Scripture speaks less, and thus there is great controversy.  The Old Testament allows for a person to be remarried, but can never return to the original spouse.  Jesus obviously assumes remarriage when He discusses divorce:

“…but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

– Matt 5.32

One would only be committing adultery if she marries after an un-allowed divorce.  To remain celibate, obviously would not be adultery.  This is also why Paul gives the extra teaching that if a couple separates for reasons other than adultery (or abandonment), that they should only come back to one another when the differences are reconciled (1 Cor 7.10-11).  Paul also teaches, however, that if a marriage is lost because of abandonment, then the believing and abandoned spouse is free to remarry:

“Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.”

– 1 Cor 7.15

Thus, it seems clear that in the situations where the covenant has been broken by infidelity or abandonment by a non-believer, one would be free to remarry.

Processing the pain of infidelity and divorce is worse than losing a spouse to death.  In death, the remaining spouse is confident of the love that was shared, and is left only to grieve the loss.  In infidelity and divorce, the offended spouse has been hurt on the deepest levels of betrayal on top of grieving the loss of the spouse.  While there are many helpful books and tools already written, this grieving process will look different for everyone.

We, as the body of Christ, need to be intimately familiar with the Biblical teaching on these difficult topics.  Infidelity, sexual promiscuity and divorce are rampant in our culture.  We must learn how to respond to both the offender and the offended in these situations out of Biblical truth and love.  We are tempted to gossip and to judge the situation, but we must chose to love and encourage instead.  The person whose spouse has left will lose many friends because people do not want to take sides, they are uncomfortable hanging out with a single person, or they just don’t know what to say or do.

We, as the Church, must always take sides against sin.  This does not mean that we alienate or condemn a repentant believer, but we always fight against sin in our own lives and in other’s lives.  Otherwise it will kill us.

So let’s get dirty.  We all know the reality of infidelity and divorce.  Most of us have witnessed it within our own families.  It is going to happen, so let’s be prepared and not shocked when we see it.  Let us intentionally offer a place to stay and a place to grieve to those who have been hurt.  Let us intentionally offer a place of counseling and healing for those who have fallen and repented.  And let us intentionally hold accountable those who have sinned and choose to remain in that sin.

If it happens to you, I pray that you have a healthy Church family who can and will embrace you and support you.  Press into God, give yourself time to grieve and process what is going on, know the Biblical truths, prayerfully process the next steps for you and your family, and intentionally fight the overwhelming temptation to sin in response for how you have been sinned against.  Find solid, Biblical counseling (I highly recommend the ACBC), and remember that God is in control, He is the God of all healing and comfort, and He will give you peace.  You will smile again, I promise.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

– Ps 34.18

On Church Leaders and Affairs, Part II

judas

Yesterday I reflected on the reality that pastors, church leaders and missionaries are human, are elevated to a position of authority and are thus tempted and tested more intensely than lay Christians, and I encouraged Christians to remember that our faith is not in our leaders but in Christ.  I suggested that if someone else’s (anyone else’s) failure or apostasy causes us to doubt or abandon the faith then our faith is in the wrong person.  It is on this point that I want to reflect more deeply today.

What if you happen to be married to the pastor, church leader or missionary who is unfaithful?  Or what if someone in the church hurts you personally and deeply?  How do doubt and faith balance out when it is in our own homes?

First of all, there are two types of people who will fall into these life-altering sins:  those who are saved and will repent, and those who are not saved and will not repent.  Since it is impossible for us to truly see the heart of another human being, sometimes there will be people in the Church who say they are Christians – who may even think they are Christians, but they have never been pushed to the point of true testing and true conviction.  A person can sin – and can sin greatly – when he is a believer, but when He does sin the Holy Spirit will convict him, he will confess his sin, he will repent of it (stop doing it and change), and he will seek the help of the Lord and other believers to help him walk in holiness.  But those who are not truly saved will cherish a sin more than they love God or desire salvation.  When they are pushed to the point of decision to obey God or embrace their sin, they will choose the sin.

There are pastors who have affairs and will repent, will seek the help of accountability partners and friends to root out all temptation from their hearts, who will confess to their spouses and churches and who will grow.  There are also pastors who have affairs and choose the affair, the pornography, the new lifestyle over their faith.  They might appear repentant, they might say the right words – but that is often only because they have been caught.  Usually, however, they choose the sin and throw everything else away.  When the rubber hits the road, they love their sin more than they love God and/or their spouses.

God’s response and our response to these two types is very different.  Consider Peter – one of the greatest evangelists and church planters in history – and Judas – the disciple who was damned for his betrayal.  They both walked with Jesus for three years.  They both preformed miracles in his name.  They both learned from Jesus intimately, and at the end, they both denied Jesus.

Judas:

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.  From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.

– Matt 26.14-16

Peter:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”  But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”  When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”  A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.”  Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.

– Matt 26.69-74

Both Judas and Peter regretted what they had done:

Judas:

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!”  And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

– Matt 27.3-5

Peter:

And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

– Matt 26.75

And lest we pick on these two too critically, let us remember that all of the disciples were scattered and fell away on that night:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’

– Matt 26.31

What was the response of God and the result of these two failures?  Judas was damned, and Peter – just a few months later – began the very first Church planting movement.

Judas:

“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

– Matt 26.24

Peter:

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

– Matt 16.18

The Church is commanded to respond in the same way to leaders and non leaders who fall into sin.  If someone is unwilling to repent, Jesus taught us that we should kick them out of the Church and declare them unbelievers (Matt 18.15-18).  If someone is willing to repent, then we restore them gently, understanding that we are all capable of sin – both small and great.

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

– Gal 6.1

When it is within your home, if your own spouse cheats on you, Scripture gives very clear instruction.  I have written on this extensively here:  Is Divorce A Sin?  But, can we doubt in those situations?  Doubting is natural and a part of the faith journey.  We will all walk through season of doubt and questioning.  And some of those seasons will be stirred up because of the failure of those people we value and establish in our lives as teachers, guides, friends and spouses.  John the Baptist was, according to Jesus, the greatest man to ever live (Matt 11.11), and when he was facing death at the hands of Herod, he doubted Jesus and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the real deal.  Jesus responded gently, kindly and with compassion:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:  the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.  And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

– Matt 11.4-6

Jesus will meet us in our moments of doubt and struggle when we turn to Him honestly and beg Him to reveal Himself to us.  If we try to test Him out of unbelief, He will not respond, and our wicked hearts will be revealed as unbelieving.  But when those difficult times come, when our spouses cheat on us, when our pastors fall, when someone to whom we looked for Spiritual guidance proves himself to not be a believer, Jesus will comfort us and walk us through it.  Being hurt, struggling to forgive, and doubting are a natural response to being hurt on such a deep level.  But our faith is proven by our response:  do we turn to Jesus, or do we become calloused and jaded?  Do we press into the Word, or do we throw it all away?

Can God use someone who has fallen so greatly?  Absolutely.  The greatest sin is to deny Jesus, and Peter did that three times.  And within months He was leading the first and only movement.  He was the point man, the main preacher.  1 Timothy does give us clear qualifications for church leaders, and they are mostly character assessments.  Can someone who recently had an affair be of good reputation?  That is for your church leadership to decide.  But we do see the example of Peter as God immediately forgiving and restoring Him.  King David took advantage of a married woman, got her pregnant, tried to cover it up, and when he was unable to had her husband murdered and married her.  After all of this, God called him a “man after his own heart”.  One is not forever ruined for sinning.  He must repent, however.  One can be revealed as a nonbeliever for his choice of sin over God.

So while the structures of God for such situations are outlined in Scripture to teach us how to handle them, that does not mean that our emotions and responses will not be confused.  It is a difficult thing to see someone abandon God, their families, and/or the church.  And while God will give grace to forgive, to restore, or to remove such a one from the church, it will be confusing and difficult to understand.  This is why we must turn to God, we must focus on Him, we must cling to Him, and we must put our faith fully and only in Jesus Christ and the cross.

Faithful to an Adulterer?

heart

“I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded [husband/wife], to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

It has become common these days for people to write their own marriage vows, but most of us can still quote and know the traditional Christian vows composed some five hundred years ago.  After the aforementioned covenant to one another, the officiator usually makes the statement:

“You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings.  What God has joined, men must not divide.  Amen.”

The pomp, materialism and joy of the wedding ceremony often overpower the severity and implications of these statements today.  But they are composed on Biblical foundations and are not to be entered into lightly.  The purpose of marriage is to represent the union and relationship of Christ to His Church:

“For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.  So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”

– Eph 5.23-33

This all sounds really great.  Husbands, love and cherish your wives.  Wives, respect and honor your husbands.  Both of you, put each other’s interests and desires before your own, and serve selflessly – be ready to die for one another and to be pure and holy before God through daily, small and personal sacrifices like cooking, doing the dishes and working.

Sounds easy enough, right?

God knows the selfish and sinful nature of man and the nature of His church, “prone to wander, prone to leave the God [we] love”, so he gives us a radical example of the depth of His love for us.

Gomer.

There was a prophet named Hosea.  “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord’” (Hosea 1.2).   God directed Hosea to marry a prostitute.  And it appears that the children she bore during their marriage were not his children, but were results of her continued harlotry (Hosea 1.2; 2.4, 5).  She left Hosea, who had redeemed her from a life of prostitution, to return to the streets.  She loved the life of harlotry.

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”  So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley.

– Hosea 3.1-2

This passage is packed full of significance.  For one, the price Hosea paid to buy Gomer was 15 shekels of silver and 1.5 homers of barley.  Historians note that the value of the barley would have been another 15 shekels, totaling 30 shekels of silver which was the normal price for a common slave (Ex 21.32), but the barley was a disgrace and the offering given for one accused of adultery (Nu 5.15).  No one wanted Gomer.  She was sold as a common slave.  Publicly shamed for her prostitution.

The second, more notable illustration here is the fact that God commands Hosea to love Gomer – the same way that He loves Israel, even though they turn to other Gods.  They, we, are spiritual adulterers.  The Bible is full of this pungent analogy, regularly saying that Israel “played the harlot” after other gods (Jdg 2.17; 8.27; 8.33; 1 Chr 5.25; 2 Chr 21.11; etc.).  It is understanding our union to Christ through the body of the Church that we realize both the intensity and implications of our bond with Christ and also the depth of betrayal when we serve other gods, when we worship another or when we neglect our relationship with Him.

But he loves us.  He buys us back in our disgrace, in our filth, and in our sin.  And he tenderly, affectionately cares for us and redeems us.  He does not lock is in a back room, he does not hide us in shame.  No, he washes us clean in His blood – He takes the reproach upon Himself so that we are pure and stand in His righteousness before God and the world.  He redeems us and establishes us in a place of honor:  His bride.

Do you realize that this is the Biblical expectation and the level of commitment within the vow of marriage?  “What God has joined let no man separate” (Matt 19.6).  God, in the Old Testament and Jesus, in the New Testament both offer the provision of divorce for someone who has been sexually unfaithful within the bonds of marriage.  And Paul expounds that if an unbelieving spouse (or one not submitting to the commands of Scripture) leaves and divorces the believing spouse, the believing spouse is free from the covenant and may remarry (Deut 24.1-4; Matt 19.8-9; 1 Cor 7.10-16).  But this is only a provision established because of our hardness of heart and inability to forgive as Christ forgives.

Unfortunately we fail.  Miserably.  Even if both spouses within the marriage are seeking to the best of their abilities to abide by the instructions and exhortations of Ephesians 5, we will never love so purely and perfectly as God loves us.

This is not an intentional discourse on the provisions, requirements and foundations of divorce.  I am meditating on the glory of a God who would knowingly choose a bride, me, who is going to time and time again deny him, either in action or in spirit.  Even to the point that I would be Spiritually bankrupt, for sale in an auction to any false god that would take me, and He only has to pay the cheapest price for a worn out, disgraced slave that no one wants.

Over.  And over.

Jesus says that “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7.47).  The more we realize the depth of our depravity, spiritual harlotry, tendencies to wander and affinity to place our affections elsewhere, the more deeply we embrace the fullness of His love and forgiveness.  What greater stimulus to push us on to love and devotion than understanding the love with which He loves us?  Let us press on to honor Him, in everything that we do so that He has no need to come redeem us from the streets again (1 Cor 10.31; Col 3.17)!

There is a mystery within this gift of salvation.  We are promised in Scripture that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1.6).  Jesus Himself states that “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6.37), and “all that the Father has given me, I will not lose one” (John 6.39).  Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3.18).

If you are in Christ, your sins were decisively covered at the moment Christ died on the cross, and you will not and cannot lose your salvation.  He will not lose even one of whom the Father has given Him.  But in the sanctification process, while we are living on this earth, we will fall.  Our “flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5.17).  We are at war with our flesh, and at times we will suffer tactical defeats in battle, even though the war is already won.

But Jesus redeems us.  He loves us.  He does not pay for our sins or save us over and over, but He calls us back from our harlotry, and cleanses us and presents us as holy and blameless before the Father.  So come to Him.  Let us put away our false gods, our distractions, the sins that so easily entangle us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, setting our eyes on Jesus – the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.1-2).

If you enjoy fictional, interpretative literature, I highly recommend the book by Francine Rivers called “Redeeming Love”.  It tells the story of Hosea and Gomer in literary form, taking liberties with the character’s thoughts and interactions, but grasping the depth of the affection God has for us and the impact it should have on our hearts.  Let us love Him purely today.

Is divorce a sin?

divorce

Unless you live under a rock, you have heard about the uproar over the state of Indiana filing a religious liberty act recently.  People are in a tizzy defending their personal beliefs and crying discrimination and persecution, and I saw someone publicly state that remarriage after divorce is a sin, equatable to same-sex marriage.  But what if someone made the statement that divorce is not, in and of itself, a sin?  I am sure that everything you were taught as a child is swelling up inside of you to either vehemently disagree or to strongly affirm our culture which degrades marriage as a casual commitment.  But stop to consider what exactly divorce is:  It is the legal breaking of a marriage.

When God gave His Law in great detail in the Old Testament, He spoke of divorce as as assumed part of culture.  Marriage was a very serious covenant by which people were bound together.  Adultery (having sexual relations with a married person) was a sin that was punishable by death (Lev 20.10).  Fornication (having sexual relations with an unmarried person) was a sin and the man was forced to marry the woman, with no option of divorce (Deut 22.19).  The guilty man also had to pay a large fine to the girl’s father for the public disgrace of his sin.  All other marriages were breakable, under the Law, if the man “found any inadequacy in [his wife]”, though it was regulated that he could not remarry her if she had married another man and then divorced him too (Deut 24).  Sins on the spectrum of disobeying your parents to murder were all punishable by death.  But divorce was not.  It was not even a grounds for judgment.  It just was.

When the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, and they were falling into exile, God used divorce as an analogy for how He was responding to His people:

“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.”

– Jer 3.8

Israel fell into captivity first for having no godly king and no remnant of believers who were honoring God.  Judah remained a nation longer, as they had a few godly kings, though they ultimately met the same fate.  God, in describing His actions of sending them into exile, painted the analogy of having divorced Israel (for adultery), and his second wife, Judah, did not heed Israel’s example and was divorced too.

God hates divorce.  Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that divorce is pleasing in God’s eyes.  Marriage is a picture that represents the way God loves Christians.  God loves His bride, and that in a special way!  He does not love everyone the same; He chooses, cherishes, washes, purifies and prepares for His bride.  The Church is His bride, and He will not divorce us the way that He “divorced” Israel.

Because of this, He gives us instruction for how husbands and wives are supposed to love and serve one another:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.  So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.  FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.  This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.  Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

– Eph 5.22-33

God takes marriage seriously.  He gave us marriage for a purpose:  our sanctification.  It paints the picture of our future marriage to the perfect bridegroom; Jesus Christ.

But God also gave us divorce and takes it seriously.  Because of the way that the Old Testament Law was written, divorce was being abused.  People were divorcing for “any reason”, which is understandable, if you read only the letter of the Law and do not understand the heart of the Law.  It was in response to this abuse that Jesus gave His shocking (to both their culture and ours) commandment:

“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

– Matt 5.31-32

Jesus raised the standard.  In this passage He gave clear teaching that divorce should only be practiced in the case of adultery.  Divorce is a God-given protection for the spouse who has been cheated on.  The offended spouse has a way out.  The offended spouse may not be able to move past the hurt.  The offended spouse may not want to risk the ramifications of being with an adulterer:  physical – STD’s, emotional – such as abandonment and self worth issues, spiritual – inability to remember that Christ is the perfect spouse.  God gives divorce to a spouse as His protection from a broken covenant.  Jesus also states that marrying someone who has been divorced, apart from His instruction, is committing adultery.  It is sinful and it is wrong.  The assumption here, obviously, is remarriage.  A person is not committing adultery if he divorces and never remarries and/or has sexual relations again.  A person commits adultery if he divorces apart from God’s instruction and remarries.  But Jesus clearly states that adultery is grounds for divorce.

Paul gave more instructions on the matter:

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.  But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.  Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.

– 1 Cor 7.10-15

This is where the very difficult topic of abandonment and unrepentant sin come into the conversation.  Jesus gave us strict and clear instructions for Church discipline in Matthew 18.  If a professing Christian spouse is abusing or harming his wife or family, it is the responsibility of the church to intercede for the offended spouse.  In short, one person from the church is instructed to confront this person.  If the abuser does not repent, then the confronter is supposed to go back a second time with another person or two.  If he still does not repent, then the confronter is supposed to take it to the church as a whole and the whole church then confronts the abuser.  This typically happens in a member’s meeting at a church.  If the person will still not repent and make amends, then the church is supposed to kick the abuser out of the church and consider him a non-believer.  Why?  Because we are submitting to the church for our spiritual leadership and the sign of being a Christian is to obey God.  If a person will not obey God, He has no grounds to call himself a believer and he should be treated as such.

Through this process the marriage is either restored, or we are left with a believing spouse, under the protection of the church, with Biblical grounds for divorce:  abandonment.  If an unbelieving spouse abandons a believing spouse, according to Paul, the believing spouse is free to divorce and remarry.  You cannot force a non-believe to function by the mandates and commands of Scripture.  On occasion you will have a married couple where one claims Christianity and the other does not.  The difference of faith is not grounds for the believing spouse to leave or divorce the non believing.  But should the non believing spouse leave, then the believing spouse is not bound.  We have the instructions of Church discipline for the sake of those who would claim to follow Christ but do not obey Him.  Otherwise people would be left in impossible situations where their very lives could be in danger.  That is not the purpose of marriage.

Divorce is a provision of God for the protection of spouses against the sin of adultery or unrepentant sin and abandonment.  Divorce is not always a sin.  How can that be?  Consider sex.  Sex is a gift from God that is a good and beautiful thing within the bond of marriage.  Sex outside of marriage, however, is a sin that was originally punishable by death!  Divorce for the wrong reasons was never punishable by death and was never defined as a sin.  Thus divorce, in and of itself, is not necessarily sinful – however, it must be overseen and governed by the authority of the Church.  It must be worked out in it’s Biblical place; like sex.  This is for the protection of the believing spouse.

Why do I write this?  We, as a church, have fallen into two, polar opposite categories of error when considering the topic.  One side lives like the world, considering the marriage covenant to be flippant and divorce casual.  God hates divorce and He wants it to be entered into very cautiously and under the leadership of the Church.  The other side thinks divorce itself is wicked and there is never grounds for it, and would consider anyone who has been divorced for any reason to be disqualified from service to God.  You can have murdered someone and become a missionary or pastor in their congregations, but not a deacon or elder if your spouse had an affair and left you.

There was once a couple who applied to one of the largest missionary organizations in our country.  They had grown up in the secular world, met each other, fallen in love and got married.  They had a few kids, and grew apart and divorced.  While they were divorced both the man and woman came to saving faith in Jesus Christ.  They came back together, reconciled and got remarried after becoming Christians.  He became a pastor of a church and a leader in the community.  After retiring, the couple wanted to spend their golden years serving the Lord as international missionaries and they applied to the mission board that their church supported through their denomination.  The mission board told them that they could not be missionaries because they had been divorced.

This is wrong, people.  Divorce is not the unpardonable sin.  Divorce is not even sin for the offended spouse in the case of those who have handled it Biblicaly.  Divorce is always the result of sin, but for the innocent party in such circumstances, it is not a sin.  Even as such, there is no sin that God defines as the scarlet letter that forever disqualifies one from service.

You might object by observing the qualifications for deacons and pastors found in 1 Timothy.  I challenge you, however, to consider the entirety of the requirement and the culture receiving instruction:

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.  Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.  Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.  For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

– 1 Tim 3.8-13

Every qualification here is character-oriented.  Men who seek to serve the church must be beyond reproach.  Husbands of one wife simply means what it says, “one wife”.  Men, even in the Old Testament, had multiple wives.  Men in this society could have and sometimes did have multiple wives, so Paul gave instruction to Timothy that deacons and elders must have only one.  He does not say “was never divorced”, and he focuses on character:  of dignity, speaking truth, managing his household well.

We are promised in Scripture that any confessed sin that has been addressed and for which amends have been made is forgiven.  Consequences may follow a gross sin, like jail time for murder or guilt after an abortion, but no sin forever makes one guilty before God.  None.  And no sin forever marks one of poor character.  God is in the business of changing character.  Even the man who abused, cheated on or abandoned his wife can come to salvation, repent of his sins and be saved.  He can even serve God when he reaches a level of maturity in his faith and is known as a man above reproach and of good character.

Divorce is not the unpardonable sin.  Divorce is a provision from God for spouses who have been cheated on or abandoned by a non-believer.  Paul tells us that such a one is free from the covenant, and therefore free to remarry.  If two Christians separate for a time, they are not free to remarry, they are charged to reconcile their differences, provided the stimulus for the problem is not adultery.

Think carefully before you point fingers.  And if you find yourself needing the protection and leadership of your church, go to your pastor!  If he will not follow the steps of Church discipline with you, then find another Church who will.  God has given us the body to hold us accountable, to take care of one another, and to step in when we need someone to step in.

If you have divorced apart from the Biblical guidelines and remarried, do not fret.  Forgiveness is still available to you.  You must confess your sin, and you must repent of it, but you can be forgiven.  Apologize to your previous spouse, confessing your sin, and make amends where needed.  This will allow healing on both sides, but honor your new marriage.  God is bigger than divorce.  It is not the unpardonable sin.  You can be forgiven, even if you did sin in your divorce.

Is Divorce Always A Sin?

divorce

How much time have you spent thinking about, and studying what God has to say about divorce?  As the culture changes, many people now consider marriage a non-permanent endeavor.  We get prenuptial agreements, we think marriage is meant for our happiness, and we file for divorce when things get tough.  “We can just divorce if it does not work out” is a common mindset walking down the aisle.  However, if you run in conservative circles, you might have the understanding that divorce is a sin; there are never grounds for it, anyone who has been divorced has a scarlet D embroidered on their foreheads, and they are forever of bad reputation.  Within the church walls, divorce has become the most heinous and unforgivable of sins, forever disqualifying someone from service to God and honorable repute.

Perhaps the most well known verse about divorce is found in the final book of the Old Testament:

“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts.  “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

– Mal 2.16

This passage is dynamic in that the people of Israel were experiencing silence from God and they were continuing to go to the temple and offer sacrifices and weep before the Lord, seeking his presence and answers, but God refused to listen to or regard them.  This was a direct consequence of the way that they were treating their wives:

“This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.  Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring?  Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.”

– Mal 2.13-15

These men had mistreated their wives – “dealt treacherously with them” – and so God refused to listen to them.  We actually see the same teaching in the New Testament as well,

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

– 1 Peter 3.7

But in summary of the bad relationship that was going on between husband and wife, God makes the clear and bold statement:  “I hate divorce”.  This is a unique expression for God.  Many things He says He hates, but they are also labeled as an abomination and therefore sinful:

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.

– Prov 6.16-19

But divorce He simply says He hates.  He does, however, make provisions and instructions for how and when to use divorce:

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

– Matt 19.8-9

Jesus explained that marriage is work of God joining to flesh and making them one (Matt 19.7), and Paul explained extensively that marriage is intended to be a picture of the union of Christ with His Church.  Because of the nature and intention of marriage, it is not meant to be broken.  God hates divorce.  It breaks what He has united and it defames the picture of the union of Christ and His Church.  But because we are sinful, because we can have hard hearts, and because we are incapable of loving and forgiving as God does, He gives us the option of divorce in a select few circumstances.

If one spouse has been sexually unfaithful to the other, the faithful spouse may divorce the unfaithful.  The unfaithful one has broken the covenant through the act of adultery, and while it would be best for the couple to forgive and to be restored, God does not require that of the offended spouse.  In the Mosaic Law, adultery was punishable by death, and consequently set the neglected spouse free, but now we are given the option of freedom from the covenant without the slaying of blood.  The Mosaic Law appeared to give more leeway for divorce, in that adultery was punishable by death and yet there was still an option for divorce when the spouse was found to have “any indecency” (Deut 24.1-4).

This is why the Pharisees were trying to question and corner Jesus:

“Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

Jesus tightened up the teaching.  Adultery is the only covenant breaker between believing spouses.  Paul adds a dimension to the teaching as well,

“And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.  Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.”

– 1 Cor 7.13-15

This is regularly defined, in short, as abandonment.  However, the deeper reality here is that if two people are bound by the bond of marriage and one follows Christ while the other does not, the believer is incapable of forcing behavior upon the nonbeliever.  Unless he is compelled by faith in Jesus Christ, we cannot expect our spouse to obey the Scripture.  Therefore, the believing spouse should not divorce the unbelieving spouse, because he knows the teaching of Scripture, he knows that God hates divorce, and he should strive to honor, love and cherish his wife and be a good witness.  If the non-believing spouse reaches a point in the relationship where he is ready to leave, then the believing spouse has no grounds by which to compel him to stay.  And quite frankly, you cannot have a marriage unless both spouses remain in the relationship.

Many churches call this issue abandonment in general, because for a spouse to leave without the grounds of adultery is direct insubordination to God and therefore defines the leaving spouse as a nonbeliever because,

“You will know them by their fruits.  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

– Matt 7.16-17

And also,

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”

– John 14.23-24

When utilized and preformed according to Biblical instruction, divorce is not a sin.  It is extremely difficult for the offended spouse to walk through the process of divorce without sinning, especially as we understand the love of God to be one that would redeem a sexually unfaithful spouse (Faithful to an Adulter?), but the sinning of slander or any other action does not nullify the allowance of divorce for unfaithfulness or abandonment.  Divorce on any other grounds is a sin because it is the breaking of a covenant by refusing to love and forgive as we have been loved and forgiven.

If a person is in an abusive relationship where their safety is in jeopardy, then separation is allowable while the church pursues the abuser to Biblical repentance, as outlined in Matt 18.  If the abusive partner will not repent, then it is the responsibility of the Church to remove him from the Church and protect the weaker spouse.  It is also the responsibility of the Church to step in and pursue the abandoning and disobedient spouse to repentance – but to remove him from the Church if he will not submit to God’s authority and teaching.  The Church is intended to play a dynamic role in defining the freedom and offering protection for the offended spouse:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

– Matt 18.15-18

The Church is given both the responsibility and the power to call people to repentance and regard them nonbelievers when they will not repent.  If a person chooses to abandon his spouse for any reason other than adultery, he is to walk through this process, and either submit to God and restore the broken relationship by loving his spouse as God loves the Church, or be excommunicated.

When the Church plays its intended role in divorce, and when one has walked through the process Biblically, not only is he not guilty of sin, he is not tarnished or disqualified from service to God.  We have all sinned and when we are found in Christ we are redeemed of any and all sin.  If we are not overcome by a character flaw, or of bad reputation for habitual sin, then we meet the requirements of Biblical service as outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus.  Being a murderer, being divorced, being a thief, or one who has served time in prison for any offense, does not forever stain one as “not above reproach”.  There is no unpardonable sin in God’s eyes, and if He has redeemed us and set us aside for His service in any form, then no man can declare it otherwise.  We must be mature in our faith and above reproach with no obvious character failures:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

– 1 Tim 3.2-7

Understanding the Biblical teaching of grace and forgiveness, we must understand the statement “husband of one wife” as in regards to polygamy.  If one can be divorced and set free to remarry without sin, then it cannot be a disqualification for service to God.

This is an extremely difficult and sensitive topic, as most of us have been touched by divorce in some form or another throughout our lives.  I highly recommend, for further study, the extensive explanation that The Church at Brook Hills has composed for their members:  The Gospel and Divorce.

Have you ever been abandoned?

abandonment

Have you ever been abandoned?  Has someone who had a role of responsibility or commitment in your life just walked away?  Said that you were not worth the effort, or simply found someone else to love or chose to live life without you?  Perhaps it was your father when you were a child.  Or a spouse after a few (or many) years of marriage.  Maybe your partner left you in the line of fire.

Not everyone has gone through the heartbreak of being thrown away.  Praise God for that.  If God has placed people of integrity in your life who fulfill their commitments, love God and love you well, then praise God for that blessing!  If God has placed people in your life who have thrown you away or abandoned you, may I offer this simple, yet profoundly deep promise:

“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”

 – Heb 13.5

This promise that the author claims for believers in their daily walk with God is a direct quote from the Old Testament,

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

– Deut 31.6

When we read the Old Testament, we must be careful to investigate the context and not over apply promises that were made to the people of Israel as promises guaranteed to us.  Sometimes those promises are not for us.  But this promise, one of the most glorious of promises in Scripture, we see taught to the church as a whole in the book of Hebrews, and we see that it is the character of God to care for His own, so we can boldly claim with confidence and rest in His promise that He will never leave us.

Ever.

You cannot hurt God’s feelings too badly.  You cannot be too ugly or too undesirable.  You cannot alienate yourself from Him, if you have come to Him for salvation and are repenting of your sins.  When you keep stumbling into the same sin, even though you hate it and are trying to die to it, if you confess it He will forgive it.  He will not bring it up in the next fight.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1.9

We have a tendency to allow our life circumstances to shape our personalities, dispositions and psyches.  Some people have erroneously allowed themselves or others to distrust God or rebuke Biblical pictures of God because of their experiences.  For example, some people say, “I do not want God to be my father because my own father abandoned me when I was 2.”  Or, “I do not understand the father relationship because I never had a father.”  Others revile the imagery of Christ as the bridegroom of the Church because of an abusive husband, or one who has an affair and is unfaithful.

But this is an immature response, and one that looks inward instead of outward.  Even if you have not been abandoned on such an extreme level, we have all been sinned against.  And playing the victim, expecting people and God to fail you is fundamentally a lack of faith.  If you are always the victim and the world is out to get you, you need to take a reality check.  Look at the suffering around you, and better yet, consider the suffering of Christ.  You have not suffered in His likeness.  Count your blessings.  If you expect people to fail you, and are a bitter cynic, then you need to turn your focus on Jesus.  Yes, people are going to fail you.  Everyone will fail you.  But we have failed God infinitely worse than any human being will fail us, and if we embrace His forgiveness and redemption, then the onus lays squarely on our shoulders to offer the same grace and forgiveness to others.  He who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7.47).  If you expect God to fail you, then you have never encountered God.

Trust issues are real.  I am not trying to convey that they are not or that they are easily conquered.  If you have been abandoned, the scars run deeply and the hurt and pain will resurface at unexpected times throughout your life.  But the way to heal, to fight the fear, and to grow with God is to fight the emotions with truth.  God has promised us that He will never abandon us.  He is by your side every moment of every day.  The Holy Spirit permanently indwells you upon the moment of coming to faith.  He will empower you to trust and obey.

So go ahead.  Fight the fear.  Feel the depths of the pain and let it remind you of the vast love that the Savior has for you.  And that which no one here on Earth can even come close to matching.  In fact, God’s love for us is so perfect and pure that compared to Him and His love, the unfaithful abandoning father is not that dissimilar from the faithful earthly father.  God is that infinitely good.

Thank Him for your blessings, and let your trials and hurts remind you of His infinite goodness.  Cling to the promise, He will never leave you, and trust Him.