(Please be sure you've listened to part one before you listen to this message.) This message is the second in a two-week discussion on the painful issue of divorce. Discover biblical answers to questions like: "Is divorce ever OK?" "What about remarriage?" Or "What do you do if you are facing divorce right now?"
A Great Assurance From a Great Leader
Looks, Lips, and Lives That Leave Us Still Lacking Before the King: A Rich Lesson from the Rich Young Ruler
Adult Applications from Four Verses About 'Children'
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: The Ordeal and The Ideal, part 2
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: The Ordeal and The Ideal, part 1
Three Salty Statements to Spice up Your Understanding of and Effectiveness for Him
One for All, All for One - Just be Sure You're for Him.
Prioritization, Patience, Pithy Statements, and the Practice of Selflessness? Do It Anyway.
When Life Throws You to the Ground, Here's What to Do
The King on a Hill: Listen to Him to be Transformed
We're here this morning to continue a message that we began last week. I would not want you to hear today's message without hearing last week's message, even as I would not want you just to hear last week's message without the benefit of today.
We are working our way through Mark, if you've not been with us very long, and we got to Mark, chapter 10. In Mark, chapter 10, there was a group of men who came to Jesus and decided to test him, to set him, ask him a question. We worked through last week why Christ responded the way he did when he was confronted with the question, "What about the idea of divorce? When is it permissible?"
We saw Christ's response, and we noted that Christ in Mark 10 was not giving a pastoral response. He was responding to a group of hostile questioners who were committed to trapping him and setting him up. This is not his addressing or ministering to those who are contemplating what to do in the midst of a hard-hearted, broken relationship.
You're not going to find a lot of pastoral comments from Christ in this moment. He is addressing a specific group of people who confronted him with a question that was driven toward a certain agenda. "What's the minimum we can do so that we can do what we want, so that you and your God aren't so angry at us?"
We talked last week about a couple of things. We made some points that I'll just touch on this week. I will beg you, if you are here for the first time, go back to our tape ministry after the service, ask for a copy of last week's service. If you can't afford the two bucks, we'd be happy to give it to you. Make sure you get the context of where we were last week because we spoke specifically about Christ's response to these men in Mark, chapter 10.
We made several very key observations. We made it very clear that God hates divorce, but we made it also very clear that that doesn't mean he hates divorced persons. We talked about that in depth. Divorce is not the unforgiveable sin to the Lord, and it should not be the unforgivable sin or the unspoken tragedy in the church.
We talked about how there's awkwardness that surrounds divorce and how churches have responded a number of ways throughout the years, typically by going to one of two extremes. That is to make divorce and remarriage such an unspeakable idea that it, frankly, takes it to a place that is above even where God took the issue of divorce and remarriage in the context of his accommodation toward human sin.
More often, the church swings the other direction and just says, "Well, you know what? Let's all be honest. This is going to happen. Relationships are tough, and so we're just going to try and dumb down God's standard and just hope it doesn't happen more often. If it happens, we'll hush-hush about it and move on and move through it as quickly as we can and really not bring up the awkwardness that what you're doing might really be abhorrent to God." Also a tremendous mistake.
We wanted to make it clear that God hates divorce but doesn't hate the divorcee. He loves the people who are involved in divorce and broken relationships, calls them to repentance, and mercifully makes provision for those who come to him in brokenness, while all the while calling the hardhearted to a place of repentance.
Then we made the comment that while divorce is definitely an ordeal, just staying married is not he ideal. Jesus elevates marriage to its original place in the creation order, a place where there is communion, intimacy, love, commitment, sacrifice, tenderness toward one another, a forgiving spirit of grace, acceptance, and a passion for oneness.
He said, "This relationship is going to be elevated beyond what you would even think is normal. It's going to supersede the relationship between a mother and son, between a father and a daughter, between the immediate family unit which comes through the blessing of a womb." When you get to a place where you're ready to covenant with another person, you leave that and cleave to your new spouse for the purpose of becoming one flesh. God elevates the marriage relationship above any other relationship that we understand and know as humans.
We made it very clear that while divorce is an ordeal that the Scripture says you avoid at all costs, we were also very passionate in communicating that just simply staying married, not filing a legal document, is not the ideal. God's ideal is oneness. God's ideal is intimacy. It's just as much of a tragedy that there are a number of people in the church who are more undivorced than they are married as there are people who are divorced.
We need to call people to repentance not simply individuals who have made their way to a courthouse and filed some papers. We need to call each other to repentance who still wear rings but have slipped into a time of mutual toleration where they live independent, successful lives but for social, economic, or whatever other reason, they haven't moved forward and moved on. That is abhorrent to God because his standard is not, "A man will leave, cleave, and not divorce." His standard is, "They will leave, they will cleave for the purpose of becoming one flesh." We tried to develop that.
We put a very high call on God's institution called marriage, God's gift. How God reveals himself through marriage, how God provides for his most blessed creation through marriage, how God honors his name, reveals his person, and clarifies his purposes through this institution called marriage, through this divine gift called marriage…
One of the things I love about the Scripture is that it is a book that deals openly and honestly, and with a great amount of realism, that we don't live in a spiritual utopia. If we lived in a spiritual utopia, there would be no hard-heartedness. There would be no distance. There would be no anger. There would be no isolation. With any of us, there would be community, love, and submission perfectly dwelling in our midst as they've perfectly indwelled for eternity in the presence of the Godhead.
But the Bible knows, starting with the rebellion way back in Genesis of humankind that man started to say, "No, I think I'll do it my way. I don't really concern myself with what you think." Hard-heartedness increased, and sin accelerated with it, from Genesis 3 on. First from hiding from God and neglecting his Word, to then stopping to care for one another, to eventually murder, to then when Lamech, very shortly after the fall, said, "I don't want one wife as you commanded. I'll take a couple." From there, it just went everywhere, even until today.
What is God going to do in light of the fact that we are not living in a spiritual utopia? How is he going to handle it? What I want to do is take a look at another passage. We're going to step out of Mark for a minute because, pastorally, I can't do just what Mark says. I want to teach a biblical theology and finish a biblical theology of divorce and remarriage today.
We handled the Mark text just like it was last week, but I want to look at a very similar text this morning. It's going to be where we pick up from last week, and that is, having made very clear that God hates divorce, and making it very clear that just simply staying married is not the ideal but oneness is the ideal…What do we do in light of human sin? Turn with me to Matthew 19. We're going to answer this question: What are the exceptions?
I want to make a note here that the exceptions are not necessarily the expectation. In other words, when these things hit that we're about to go through, and you're going to see them listed in a minute, it's not necessarily required that you go forward in a certain way, but it certainly is not something that the Scripture says, "You're not bound anymore." This is God's, again, accommodation to human sin. We're going to give a sin a name this morning in context of what it looks like in broken relationships.
Let's just wrestle through. Matthew 19. It's going to look familiar because it looks just like what we saw in Mark last week, except Jesus will go a little bit further in Matthew. He'll give what is commonly called the exception clause. We'll deal with it because it's a tough little section of Scripture.
Here's what it says. It says, "And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?'" Let me just stop for a second and tell you, the issue of divorce isn't nearly as difficult to handle pastorally or theologically as the issue of remarriage is.
Divorce is a tragedy to God. God says, "I hate divorce, and I hate the man who covers his garment with violence," in the reference to Malachi 2 that we looked at last week, who instead of covering and protecting the wife of his youth, he basically assaults her and beats her with abandonment or other forms of abuse or infidelity. It follows clearly that the same is true if the woman does that to the man. God says, "I hate that. I hate that."
Divorce isn't nearly as difficult as even the remarriage issue and how you handle that. A friend of mine made this observation. He said, "There's probably nothing easier than having a position on divorce and remarriage and not being involved in the ministry." We can take these grandiose stands and make these broad, sweeping comments because we're not right there in the mess and the terror of broken relationships that are reality absent a spiritual utopia, absent the presence of what God intended.
He made reference to Andy Taylor and Barney, and there's a time when Andy looks at Barney Fife when Barney was telling Andy how to raise his kids. Andy said, "Don't you lecture me about what you'd do with your imaginary boy. You don't know what you'd do until you're where I am." That's really what I say to a lot of folks who have these great ideas about divorce. I say, "Don't be telling me about how you'd imagine your imaginary church. You don't know what you'd do until you're thrust into that place."
One of the very first things I tell young men and women who are moving toward a life of ministry, that I exhort the spiritual leaders of this church to right now get a good grip on, and I hope that these two weeks can help you do it, is you'd better figure out what God wants you to do in the context of brokenness, rebellion, hurt, anger, and divisiveness that comes up in the context of all human relationship, and specifically marriage, because you will face it.
If you wait until you're in the middle of it to try and figure out what God wants, I can tell you where you're going to go. If you wait until you're married to figure out what God's standard is for divorce and remarriage and where it's permissible for you to get out, I can promise you how you will interpret the Scriptures.
You'd better go into the marriage covenant understanding that God holds marriage at the highest of levels and that it is abhorrent to him, that he considers it cosmic treason to be flippant in relationships and to move in and out of relationships with other people. He hates divorce, the strongest word he could use. He hates the one who covers the garment of one he said he'd protect with violence. That's strong.
That being said, again, what does God do in light of human sin? Will he just maim, destroy, and kill anybody who goes that direction? Or, will he wink at sin and go, "Well, you know, I have the standard, but I'm not going to hold you to it," as I mentioned last week? Will he say, "The more you sin, the more my grace abounds, and that's a good thing"? No. What he'll do is make a merciful provision for the sinner who repents, and he will call the hard-hearted and the wicked to account.
Look at Matthew 19 as we continue. He says, "Have you not read…""You are teachers of the law, leaders of the body, and you ask me what God's provision for marriage and divorce is. I'm asking you, haven't you read the Scriptures?" Watch what Jesus says right here, and as a little bit of review, you tell me in one word what Jesus thinks about marriage.
He says, "…that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh'? Consequently, they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
In one word, what is Jesus' answer to the question, "Is it permissible for a man to divorce his wife?" In a word, "No." He says, "I'm telling you to stay with it." Remember, just like in Mark, this is Christ's response to a hostile crowd that is coming to him looking for the least bit of permission they can get to continue their behavior. What was their behavior? It was the behavior that caused God's servant, Moses, to introduce into the law a little section of Scripture which we find in Deuteronomy 24.
Let me read in Matthew, then we'll go and look where this is imported from. They said to him, "Well, wait a minute. We have read the Bible. If you tell us no, "Why then did Moses command to give her [our wife] a certificate of divorce and send her away?" **Why did Moses do that?" Jesus answers right there in verse 8. He says, "I'll tell you why.""Because of your hardness of heart…"** Now you give me one word, three letters, I is in the middle of it, that he's referring to right there.
"I'll tell you why Moses did that: because of sin. I'm not blind to the chaos that's on earth. In fact, I'm so intimately acquainted with it that I'm going to do something in a few hundred years that's going to completely blow your mind. I'm going to enter into fallen humanity; you guys will come to know it as Christmas. I'm going to deal with sin, but absent of me coming and changing and defeating evil, first in the hearts of men and then eventually with my very presence in the destruction of evil for all time, I will deal with sin. I'm going to put some firm boundaries on sin."
In Deuteronomy, chapter 24, Moses unrolled what God introduced into a fallen society where specifically those who were in positions of power and influence were being abusive. They were just saying, "I'll tell you what. If I don't like the woman, I'll get rid of her. I'll divorce her. I'll go and I'll get somebody else." It was legalized wife-swapping. They would divorce and marry so they wouldn't be adulterers. They would have their way, and then maybe they'd go back and marry this one girl because that's where their family is going to be, but in and out, in and out.
They were covering their garments with violence, Malachi says. God said, "This has to stop." So to slow down divorce and to make a merciful provision for those who were being abused and inappropriately treated, which specifically in that day and age were the women, he said, "I'll tell you what you have to do. The first thing you have to do is make a public declaration of the fact that you are divorcing this woman. You have to not just tell her; you have to tell other people the reasons why you're divorcing her."
Clearly, if it was adultery at that time, the punishment was death. So he would be free to remarry when this wicked adulterer would be executed in that society where God's name was being represented to the world. God had very strict standards for those people. He simply said, "Listen, you have to say why you're divorcing this woman. If it's because she burnt the matzah, you say that, and you'll look small. I want you to tell it publicly." Some people think that you had to go to the priest.
"Then I want you to give her those papers so she has the dignity of knowing that it's your hard-heartedness, foolishness, and lust for the flesh that's causing this and not anything necessarily that she has done, or that she might know what she's done. Then I want you to know that if you divorce her, and you go and marry another woman, and then you do away with her, you are forbidden from going back to this woman.
I am going to take a shot at you people who are trying to get away from committing adultery by marrying, unmarrying, remarrying, and going back. I'm going to say, 'Listen, buddy. If you marry somebody else so that you're not an adulterer to have sex with them, you cannot go back to that other woman, maybe the mother of your children.
If somebody comes along her and sees that you were a joker for divorcing her and marries her, and that man dies, she's still not available to you. Before you put her out, you need to know this. If you don't reconcile with her, if you go and marry another, you're done with her.'" God put a limit and some accountability in divorce and made provision for woman so they wouldn't be labeled an adulterer.
The only reason that marriage can be broken in the Old Testament was because the spouse, the one you were to cleave to and become one flesh with, was dead, either through natural causes or as a result of their sin. Period. Jesus is saying, "You guys have dumbed this way down." They had taken Malachi's verse which says God hates divorce and had changed it to be a saying in the day that says, "If you hate her, divorce her."
That's what Jesus has to say right here to these folks. He says, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted…""He didn't command you to divorce your wives; he just permitted it." When you did it, he says, "Do it this way to limit divorce." If a woman was abandoned in Israel, she very often could not remarry. She was stigmatized, and she was made to feel as if she was unable to be loved again. Often, she would be single the rest of her life. God said, "We have to do all we can to stop that abuse."
He said in verse 9, "…I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Some translations and some manuscripts, which are early copies of the Scripture, have in Matthew 19 that which we also find in Matthew 5. It simply is in the passive voice. Let me explain to you what this means.
Passive voice is a verb tense which means it's not something you do; it's something that happens to you. If you'll even look in the margin of most of your Bibles, or if you go back and read in Matthew, chapter 5, it'll say this: "If any man divorces his wife and marries another, he makes her an adulterer."
Now that's kind of hard stuff. What's that mean? How can this woman, this victim, because of a man in his sin and hard-heartedness who leaves her…? What's that mean, "he makes her an adulterer"? Does that mean God is going to judge her for being an adulterer? What he's saying here is probably just a practical reality of the day. "I hate what you do to this one who you said you would love. You stigmatize her. The only practical reason you could ever leave a woman was if she was an adulterer. So when you leave her, everybody thinks her to be that way. You make her that.
Maybe even carrying forward the idea that a woman was very dependent in the ancient Near Middle East to having her care provided for her by a relationship with a man, and so she's going to go into another relationship with somebody else. You make her move forward into a relationship with somebody who's not the love of her youth."
Let's just say that one of the options with this text is that if you divorce, you are putting on this woman a name which is cruel, unfair, and undeserved. "If it's deserved, then kill her. If it's not deserved, then don't put it on her. Do you want to know what I think of what you're doing? You are stigmatizing that woman." In much the same way, when people in our society today start to date somebody, and they have a relationship, and then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, they have this awkward conversation where they find out one has been married before.
What happens? Immediately, often there is a reaction where somebody begins to pull back and slow down and say, "You know what? Wow. There's something, now, that I wasn't sure I was ready to deal with. There's something on your cloak that I didn't see at first." There's a stigma still in our society when somebody divorces somebody else. God is not fond of us bringing that kind of heartache into another human's life.
I think, also, it's appropriate to take it just like it is here before us where it says, "…commits adultery.""If you divorce," God is saying, "for any other reason than sexual immorality…" Which is a class of sin, not just the act of intercourse but any sort of immoral behavior. This word is often used for people who adopt a godless, idolatrous view of who God is.
You begin to love another god other than the real God. What he's saying right here is, "Listen, if you divorce for any other reason than adultery…" Porneia is the Greek word, this act of physical unfaithfulness. It says then, "…you're an adulterer, and so is she." Now that's a very strong word from God.
The disciples respond to this by coming away, and they go, "Man, this is a new standard that I'm not really used to. I thought if I had a hard time with a woman, I could get out of marriage." There were two schools of thought within the rabbis. There was Hillel, which was a very liberal school, which said you could divorce a woman for any reason. There was Shammai, which was another rabbinical school, which said, "No, only for the case of adultery." You can imagine which one was popularly accepted by the people: it was the liberal view.
When the disciples heard that when they got married, there was no getting out of that marriage except for this awful act in the midst of a marriage, which doesn't require divorce, but where it's permitted because of the pain it often causes, they said to him, "If that's the case, it's better not to marry because marriage is a lot of work. It takes a lot of effort to not grow hard-hearted to one person and to have to keep working through issues with them and not move in and out of relationships. I'm not sure I really want to be that committed."
Jesus says, "Well, let me just tell you something. In effect, if you want to be a follower of mine, you will become chaste and committed for the sake of my kingdom. You will uphold my created intention. You will love, covenant, stay faithful, and work with grace, acceptance and commitment."
Let me make one other observation. The Bible, all throughout the Scriptures, makes a very clear distinction between aberrant acts of sin, or sins which are the exception, and the exceptional sinner. When you find somebody who has a pattern of their life, or is habitually is involved in unfaithfulness, where there's deceit, lies, and broken confidences and trust, and it's a pattern that happens for years, that more clearly fits under this idea of porneia.
Not the businessman who one night in Cincinnati made a bad decision that he grieves about, is brokenhearted over, confesses, asks forgiveness for, and orders his life in such a way that this will not continue to happen. It would be just like to Christ to forgive that person. The Bible doesn't require it; we cannot, as a church, demand it, but there does seem to be, in the Scriptures, a clear distinction between an exception to the character and the exceptional character. Do you understand that?
If you have somebody who has blown it in some form or fashion in a covenant relationship, it's going to cause some incredible pain. But through a series of time where there's cooling off, counseling, and confession, if God can begin to rebuild some bonds of trust and bring it back together, that speaks so much more of the nature and character of our Lord than saying, "Okay, now I have my one reason, and I'm out of here."
There are people are sitting here today who I know have done that incredibly hard work and have honored Christ. Some women who I look at, and I go, "I so respect you. You so much model the Savior for me." There are some men in this room who have done the exact same thing, and I so respect you. In light of the unfaithfulness and infidelity, you've been able to work hard to bring back that relationship and reconcile in a way that speaks only of the graciousness of our Savior.
I want to make it really clear that when there is sexual unfaithfulness, Jesus says, "That's in a category by itself." Note that the Scripture always makes an exception, especially noting those who are repetitive and habitual in sin; that's really one class. Sin is sin; one sin is enough to keep you away from the kingdom and glory of God, but whether you've sinned for a long time or whether you've sinned just once in the context of a relationship, you need to do the same thing, which is repentance.
Clearly, though, after years of deceit, brokenness, and lies, there is more difficulty in the one than the other. In the case of adultery, there is an exception. Not an expectation, not a requirement, but a provision in the midst of sin. The Bible speaks with reality toward this and just simply says, "In this case, okay."
Let's look at another exception in 1 Corinthians 7. Let's read some verses here, starting in verse 10. "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, let her remain unmarried…)" In other words, again, here's the idea: "I'm not going to legalize wife-swapping. It's just not going to happen; it's straight out." "…or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away."
Let me just simply make this observation. There are some people who are so nasty in relationships that they just can't get along. They are hard-hearted toward one another. They will not bend, they will not break, they will not serve, and they get to what we call in our society irreconcilable differences.
If you know Christ and you get to the place where you have two nasty people… In psychology they call them a rogue male and a man-eater, if you're a woman. If you are a rogue male, and you're just a nasty human being, and you're married to a man-eater or a woman who just cannot get along, will not get along, and you two come and just say, "You know what? I don't care what we say we love; I am out of here. I am moving on. I will not allow my life to be ruined anymore."
You go from just a little bit of anger, to some real frustration, to some separation, to divorce, to "I can't stand this anymore." What I tell those couples is, "You guys take one good, long, last, lingering kiss because from this day forward, you need to know something: you are to reconcile or to remain single. You are a monk, and you are a nun. If you just don't want to get along, the Scriptures are very clear. Jesus made it very clear, and Paul's referencing what Jesus just said in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16. That is, "You remain single, or you reconcile in those instances."
"But to the rest I say, not the Lord…" In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus didn't speak about this, but "I, by mercy and grace of God, filled with the Holy Spirit say that" "…if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. And a woman who has a unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her 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, through your influence, they can understand about Christ and submission to the Savior, and they themselves can become holy. Not because their mom knows the Lord, but because their mom will model for them, or their dad will model for them, godliness. So don't leave if you're not sent away, even though you're connected with somebody in a marriage where they don't love Christ."
"Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave…" Those words there are strong. If you are abandoned by that unbeliever, then you let them abandon you. If that person leaves, then you just let them go. "…the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace." This is an instance where what the Scriptures are talking about is that you're no longer required to stay as a doulos, as a bondservant, one who willingly, submissively serves another, when you are abandoned, when you are left there by your spouse who is a non-believer.
You are not bound. There is permission there for divorce, and where you're not bound, those same words are used later in this same book where you are told if your spouse dies, you are obviously no longer bound. So the implication for remarriage there is implied in the case of abandonment.
I'm going to deal with some real-life situations here in just a minute. I want to make one more pastoral comment before I do, and that is simply this: Though I cannot substantiate it from the Scriptures, everything I know about our Lord and to quote others who I agree with, God have mercy on my soul…
Where you have abuse, or when you have somebody who, though they have not left geographically, but they have left emotionally, socially, and physically, but they are going to stay in that relationship and not divorce, and they're going to expect their believing spouse or their obedient spouse to stay in that relationship because, "The Bible says you can't divorce me…"
In those issues, I will say even though you have not geographically abandoned that address and geographically abandoned that woman, it is my pastoral understanding and belief that that is abandonment. You have already put her out, and I will not let a man of disobedience hide behind a book of obedience. I will not let a man bent on evil hold another person to good, and vice versa. There is nothing that impresses God about being the last one to the judge's bench.
One man made a great observation: "The death certificate that the city issues does not mean that death has finally occurred. It is evidence that death is there." Sometimes, when a person has been so abandoned and made clear effort and tremendous commitment to do all they could to bring that person back into a marriage and a relationship the way they should be… When they have been abandoned after years, after months, with much counseling, just because that person has not geographically left does not mean that they have not been abandoned.
Abuse, adultery, and abandonment… Let me just walk through and very clearly say: Where is remarriage (because divorce is a lot easier than remarriage) not permissible biblically? Let me start with one I've already said. When there is pre-intent, where somebody is in a relationship where you use divorce as a vehicle to seek another mate… This is cosmic treason.
I'm taking phrases that I've heard other men speak this morning because this is such a delicate subject. I want you to know that I pray because I know there are literally hearts in the balance out there that are hanging on my every word. I encourage you and exhort you to study the Scriptures to see if what I say is so. I am a servant of God who does all that I can to be careful to teach to the Scriptures correctly. I am accountable for what I teach.
You as an individual, if you want to follow God, are accountable for where you go with this. You don't need a teacher, the Scripture says, but the Spirit of God can be your teacher. He will use gifted teachers to enable you and to help you. As gifted teachers, we are accountable for what we say, but you study the Scripture to see if these things are so.
In the case where somebody is using divorce as a vehicle to move into a relationship with somebody who's prettier, sexier, weighs less, has more money, remarriage there is not an option. Nobody on our staff will remarry anybody who is a rogue male or a man-eater. They will be exhorted to be single or to reconcile. It is cosmic treason; it is abhorrent to God. Is that strong enough? To use divorce as an instrument through which you can chase your little fancies and feed your flesh, God says, "I will not stand for that." As his people, we should not stand for that.
Let me ask you this: What do you do? What do you do if you're here this morning and you just got out of marriage a couple of years back? You just said, "I'm out of here because I just can't stand it anymore." There wasn't adultery, there wasn't porneia, there wasn't that kind of immorality, and maybe even in the midst of that, you found yourself looking forward to somebody else. You used divorce as a vehicle to make yourself available for them.
What does God do to you? Will he maim, kill, and destroy you right now? Or will wink at you and say, "Okay, well just don't do it again"? You know what I think he does? I think he calls you to repentance. I want to make it very clear that there's going to be consequence. There's always a consequence to sin. You have a trail of tears behind you that you'll never get away from, but God's grace and forgiveness is still available. God hates divorce; he does not hate the divorcee.
If you are here and you're in that situation and you've remarried somebody else, do you know what I say to you? You need to repent. You don't need to divorce from the marriage you're in. You need to honor God's intention in that marriage, but you need to take a serious account, and you and your wife need to get down on your knees, and you need to ask God's forgiveness. I think you need to write a letter to everybody who observed your previous behavior. I think you need to go to your previous spouse and certainly to your children, and you need to say something.
"Listen, we want God to bless our marriage, and God will not call good that which is evil. Our relationship was rooted and founded in evil, so we repent of that. We ask your forgiveness for the heartache and the trouble we caused. In foolishness, I rebelled against the ways of God. I've asked his forgiveness, and I believe I've found it. I ask your forgiveness now. As much as I'm able, I'll make restitution, but that doesn't include divorcing that one and going back. God says that's an aberration."
There is still grace that is there. That doesn't mean certain consequences go away. That doesn't mean certain rifts and pain aren't there that'll take a lifetime, and maybe even our glorification, to deal with. But do all you can do to own that sin. Name it, repent, and declare it to all who observed it.
If you know couples who have not yet done that, the Scriptures are very clear that we're to not count them as a member of our fellowship, to love them as a tax-gatherer or as a sinner, which is to say as somebody who's out of the will and fellowship of God. What do we do to those persons? We love them, we're intentional about our relationship with them for the purpose of calling them to repentance.
Remarriage, in my opinion, is not permissible when there is not confession. In our society, we have this thing as no-fault divorce. There's no such thing as no-fault divorce. There's always something that all of us contribute to in it. When you find somebody who, whatever the situation was, has been out of a marriage where they are going to move quickly forward and not deal with the ravages of that relationship that was just broken, that's a problem.
There ought to be confession. There ought to be a series of time where they own 100 percent of their hard-heartedness, they exhaust every avenue they can, whether they were divorced or whether they filed the papers, to bring about the reconciliation, and ask God to do a miracle work in their heart first. That they ought to live their life in such a way that all who observe them would consider anybody who would leave that person to be a fool.
We have, I'll tell you, some trouble in our body with folks who, in the midst of a difficult relationship, even sometimes before the divorce is final, start to emotionally bond to somebody else. Folks, that gets very, very close… I don't care how long you've felt that emotional distancing from your spouse. When you begin to do that, that gets very, very close to our first example, to that treason, to that aberrant behavior we talked about the beginning, to divorce as a vehicle to get to somebody else.
I tell folks all the time, there might be a reason to file for divorce here. That doesn't mean you have a ticket to go ahead and start dating around. No, what you need to do is learn, grow, seek repentance and community, and see what God can do to grow you up and see if you can't make yourself, by God's amazing grace, an individual that that other person would see the glory, holiness, and repentance in your life in such a way that they would come to their senses, and that God's divine desire of reconciliation be accomplished.
After a period of time…months, years maybe…when it becomes clear, the possibility of remarriage exists. Remarriage is not an option, in my opinion, when reconciliation is still a viable option. Again, this gets to the idea in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. You remain unmarried or else be reconciled. There hasn't been immorality. There hasn't been desertion. No one is looking to jump into another relationship. There's just hard-heartedness, discontentment, isolation, separation, and then folks get out of there.
To those folks, I just want to say to you, slow down. Slow down. Cool off. Sincerely seek Christ like you never have before. Hold out for a miracle as long as you can. After a period of time, at some point, if one party refuses to reconcile, then I think it's up to the body of Christ to make a call. Let me tell what makes this really difficult. It makes it clear that abandonment with a non-believer allows you to not be bound, but here's the problem. There have been people who have taken the name of Christ who then abandon their spouse. What about them?
Let me tell you again. In my understanding in this, when there are two people who just fall apart without some of the reasons we've already talked about, and one person submits themselves to the church and begins to grow and with all they can pursues godliness, brokenness, and repentance, and like I said, gets in a community and gets counsel from godly friends…
After a series of a time that that other spouse continues to be hard-hearted and there is no evidence of the spirit of forgiveness and the longing for reconciliation which is evidence of a relationship with Christ, then it doesn't take too much imagination to understand that we're dealing with somebody in this case who, though they profess Christ, has absolutely no evidence in their life that they possess a relationship with him. Let me show you what it says in Matthew 18. In Matthew 18, verses 15-17, it says,
"And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he doesn't 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-gatherer."
I am not called as a pastor or as a follower of Christ to make decisions about people's place in eternity in relationship to God. I can't do it. He's not going to phone me when one of you dies and say, "Hey, Wags. What do you think? Should I let him in or not?" He knows if you're his.
But he does tell us what to do in light of a person who is hard-hearted and continues in sin. Eventually, he says, you treat them as a non-believer. Eventually, in those instances where there is distance after a long time and every effort has been made for reconciliation, what you eventually have is, in effect, an abandonment by a non-believer.
I would beg you not to go through this course alone. Typically, what people do is show up at our door when they're already emotionally attached to somebody else, and they ask us to see the last 18 to 20 months to 10 years of history in their life of being mature in Christ and weeping, grieving, and confessing. Now they want us to just rubber stamp that new relationship. That is difficult for us to do.
We have to get to know you and understand and do all that we can to go with you to that other spouse and call them to a place of repentance, to where we understand that, yes, in fact, you're dealing with a non-believer, you have been abandoned, and we do see the exception that's permissible in Scripture. Remarriage where there is pre-intent is not an option. Where there's no repentance, whether there's pre-intent or not, is not an option. When there is reconciliation that is still a viable option, it should not be an option either.
In the midst of all of this, what is the problem? This is not so much today about finding out your situation. Let me remind you where Christ exhorts you. He says, "Let's not look for the exception. Let's purse the ideal with a recklessness and an abandonment toward that which honors me and speaks of your relationship and your being conformed into my image. That's what we want to do. Yes, I make provision for sin, and yes, I am gracious even to the sinner if they repent. But let's deal with the issue."
If hardheartedness is the problem, then tenderheartedness is the solution.Let me read you a verse in Ephesians 4:29-32 which should govern our relationships, not just in marriage but in life. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…" How many of y'all have done well at that this last week in marriage? "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification…""The building up" is what that means. "…according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear." Specifically, those who you are in a communal, covenant relationship with. "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."
Put it away. Don't go there. When you're in the middle of a relationship where that hard-heartedness begins to creep in, God whispers to you and says, "Don't go there. No, don't get hard. Come back. Repent. Be tenderhearted." The Enemy is saying, "No, don't work at it. Don't work at it; just be slow in calling yourself to any sacrifice. You need to get out of this. You deserve better. Don't be kind to one another. Don't be tenderhearted. Don't forgive that person. You do what you want; forget God's ideal."
What begins to happen is then that hard-hearted person looks out across the way, and they see somebody, and they begin to think stuff like this: "Well, if I was married to that person, life wouldn't be so hard. She appreciates me. She's tender toward me. She's kind. She understands me. She's cooperative. She's tenderhearted."
The woman might look around, and in the midst of her hard-hearted husband, she'll go, "Now there's a guy I can respect. There's somebody I can communicate with, somebody who will value me, somebody who will be tenderhearted." The Enemy just starts to say, "Go, go." You'll have friends in the church who'll say, "Hey, honey, God wants you to be happy." No, God wants you to be holy. God wants you to be tenderhearted. God wants you to work at that marriage. He doesn't want you to leave community to go find community.
Folks, that is true in a church relationship as much as it is in a marriage relationship. We had a conversation this week with some friends who were really hurt by some stuff that happened, some miscommunication, some phone calls that weren't returned, some innocent mistakes, some emails that were shut down. They started to get a little hard-hearted toward us and to tell people about their hardheartedness toward us.
We spent no small amount of time going to them and saying, "Listen, would you forgive us for the wrong we have caused you, for the hurt we have caused you? Before you run from here and start over somewhere else, that doesn't honor Christ. There might be a reason for you to worship somewhere else, but we have not come across it yet. We have not been unfaithful to Jesus Christ. We're here saying we want to reconcile with you, work this out, repent, confess, and be tenderhearted toward you, even though you've hurt us by some of the things you've said."
This person has met us, and God, in his grace, has softened their heart. We have had deep and long hours of conversation, and there's a tenderheartedness there, and there is a diligence that preserves the unity of the Spirit and a bond of peace that speaks that the Spirit of God is active in lives here. It's glorifying to him. It has taken concession, understanding, and hard work. It would have been so much easier to let them go and have them show up at another church and do well over there, but it doesn't honor Christ. That is cosmic treason.
Tenderheartedness is what God calls us to. The problem in our marriages is that. I close with this one. God has made a radical demand that you stay in relationships, and radical demands demand radical power. That radical power is only available through a relationship with God as you yield to him and say, "Lord, I cannot forgive others as you have forgiven me unless you forgive others through me, by grace. I cannot speak edifying words, but the Spirit of God can."
What Scripture tells us to do is not grieve the Holy Spirit but to be a vessel through which he can live, and I will tell you that your marriage is doomed to failure if you do not learn the secret of death to self so that Christ might live. Every human relationship is destined for destruction apart from the healing work of God and the presence of his grace.
I asked Kyle and Lucina to come up here and just share briefly about how the radical power of Jesus Christ has been active in their lives and just to share with you a real story of a real couple who went through the hardheartedness and found hope and tenderheartedness… The amazing thing is that you guys know Kyle as an elder of our church, and a number of years ago, they were in the midst of where some of you sit today.
I want to tell you that the radical power of Jesus Christ is so tremendous that he can begin to take your hard-heartedness, massage it, and make it so tender that he would hold you up as an example among the body of those who follow him. Kyle and Lucina, just share with us your story.
Kyle Thompson: Lucina and I have been married about 20 years. About 15 years ago, we reached a point in our marriage where we were living really independent lives, as Todd mentioned. We were going down the path that was going to end in divorce for us and the termination of our marriage. I'll let Lucina share where we were.
Lucina Thompson: I had so many feelings, and I had tried to tell him repeatedly how I felt. Yet every time we had those conversations, the feelings escalated. The conversation escalated. On my part, it ended in anger spewing across at him or dissolving into tears, one of the two. On his part, it ended in withdrawal, and I could see it. The minute I began to escalate and really try to make my point, he began to withdraw. The wall went up, and my feelings did not go away; they intensified.
We had no children; I was a person in the corporate world. It was very easy for me find people out there who fed that fire, and that fueled it. I began to question God. I felt trapped. We had gone into our marriage believing that God had appointed us to live our lives together, and yet, I felt so isolated and so alone. I began to wonder, "Did I make a mistake? Did I not hear God clearly?"
This simply took me to the point of saying, "This is hopeless. This marriage is hopeless. There is no hope here. I feel nothing for him." It led me to a conversation with him on a Saturday afternoon when I sat down and said, "I do not love you. As a matter of fact, I loathe you most days. I want out."
Kyle: When we had that conversation that evening and Lucina shared that with me, I was shocked. I thought we had a good marriage. It just shows how oblivious I was. I'm embarrassed to say that my first thoughts after that were really humiliation and embarrassment about, "Oh my goodness. What are the people who I work with in business or the people in church going to think if they find out I have marital problems?"
God took me through a very humiliating process, and I finally got the courage up to go to a couple in the body we were serving and sheepishly ask the man of that marriage and tell him we were having trouble and ask what we should do. He spent time with me, and she spent time with Lucina. He began to walk through and pray with me, and as we went through that process, for the first time, I began to realize that I was largely loving Lucina as she was able to meet my needs. My love for her was very performance-driven and very selfish-driven.
I had never really learned to love my wife. I didn't even know what her needs were. He took me through a process of going through the Scriptures and praying, and God really began to convict me. The neat thing was he began to give me a desire, the first time I had had the desire, to really pursue my wife and pursue how to love her. He gave me a desire to do that and started us, after five years, on a path to learning what it meant to, Ephesians 5:25, really love my wife and what God really intended for our marriage.
Lucina: I'm going to tell you that the change was not immediate. The pain was not over because he made that decision. As a matter of fact, it has taken years of hard work. It has taken years, but I can tell you now, standing here coming up on a twentieth anniversary, that I feel cherished in our marriage. I know I am loved.
Kyle has the gift of mercy. Five years into marriage, what I felt was, "He's merciful to everybody but me. There's no mercy that extends to me." But I can tell you now, standing here, he's merciful to me first. He loves me, he cherishes me, and it's only getting better.
Todd Wagner: Doesn't that speak of the divine? It's not easy, but when you see a person who, in their tenderheartedness, begins to come back, God can do the work that glorifies him. It takes divine power, divine enablement, and an obedience to the Scriptures to go to others and say, "Bear my burden. Spur me on to love and good deeds."
What most folks do when they hear, "I loathe you," is say, "You want to feel what loathing looks like? Here it comes. If you think I'm going to move toward and come toward you… What I'm going to do is make it so painful for you that you learn to behave in a way that continues to be appropriate to me." The Enemy whispers in your ear, "Go away. The grass is always greener somewhere else. Don't work. Don't stay. Go." The Holy Spirit says, "No, be kind, gentle, forgiving one another, tenderhearted."
Do you see why, singles, we tell you to be so careful with who you marry? My wife and I work at our marriage. I've told you that repeatedly. There are times when we look at this and we just go, "You know what? This is hard work, but let's just submit to God. Let's ask for his grace, and let's serve one another. Let's pray and repent. I will name my hard-heartedness toward you. Let's keep a short account and not just make it because I have to to keep my job but pursue oneness with you."
There is no perfectly tenderhearted person among us; none. If I took a survey and said, "If you're married in this room, and if you, at some point in your life, thought that there would be somebody who was better for you than who you were married to," we would bat 1.000.
Lucina, I so respect the fact that you went to Kyle and you said, "Hey, this is how I'm feeling," but that you said, "I'm staying here." At first, Lucina says, "I'm going to resign myself, because I can't divorce you, just to stay here." Then she repented of that and realized that God didn't call her just to stay in the marriage but to pursue oneness. From his end in brokenness, and from her end in brokenness, they become an example among all who believe, and so can you.
If you're here this morning, I know what's going to happen. We're going to come right down here, and you're going to come up and tell me your story and see where you fit, in our opinion. That's why we have Community Groups, godly leaders, shepherds, other elders, and other pastoral staff, to meet with you, to counsel with you, and to help you navigate through these very difficult waters of relationship and do all that we can to push you toward God's ideal where your heart is his home and where his power shines through you and where his grace is sufficient for you and evident in you.
I went long today, even for me, for obvious reasons. We got this thing out there, and we want to tell you: wherever you're at, God can forgive and wants to glorify himself in you. We want to walk with you to make that a possibility to where you can stand up as an example among those who believe yourself. We love you, and Jesus Christ loves you. We will not lower his standard, but we will tell you how low he went to restore you into relationship with him.
Father, I thank you for my friends and their patience today as many words were spent. I pray that you would comfort those who needed comforting, that you would afflict those with pain and affliction who need to be convicted. I pray that your mercy would go forth. I pray that your convicting Spirit would go forth. I pray that tenderheartedness would rule the day here. May we never be the church that holds up marriages of mutual toleration or never be a church that says, "You have to act like you have it all together here."
May we be a place, Father, where your Spirit ministers through us to one another, where marriages, through yielding to this incredible power which is your Holy Spirit, become an example to the world that Jesus is who he claimed to be, that oneness can happen, and that joy can exist in human relationships where Christ is at the center. Glorify yourself in us. May we worship you this week in the way that we treat, love, serve, and care for another. In Christ's name, amen.
Have a great week.
The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. This volume covers Mark 9:1 through Mark 10:34 and includes the 2-message series "Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: The Ordeal and the Ideal".