With the debate over same sex marriage raging in our country, an accusing finger is being pointed at Christians, and this time it's not the church as a whole, but specifically the Evangelical Church... and this time it seems to be all too true. For in rebuking those who have chosen an immoral lifestyle, whether hetero- or homosexual, many would say we have left ourselves wide open for criticism.
You see, many are so willing to point their fingers at others while excusing their own sin. As has been said before, brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. It is so easy, as Jesus reminded us, to point out the splinter in someone else's eye, while ignoring the 2 x 4 beam in our own eye:
For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:2-5 HCSB)
Let me be clear, sin is sin and there is no excuse for living in it. and this warning comes from the same world that typically doesn't even admit that there is such a concept as sin. Their finger points at the 21st Century church and says that we are just as guilty as anyone else because of the big "D" word... divorce. Here's what I'm saying, when the world points out our sin, we need to take notice. That means no lifestyle should be excused simply because it is prevalent.
Here is the truth. Divorce is tragic. Divorce hurts. Divorce destroys. Divorce is real. Divorce touches way too many lives in the church.
So, since that is the case, we need to know what we believe about divorce. Let's look at what the Bible tells us.
Moses told the children of Israel that they could divorce their wife (see Deuteronomy 24). This way of thinking was actually revolutionary in that culture. For the first time, instead of a woman being kicked out in the street, the man had to actually give her a reason and issue a divorce decree. This in and of itself gave the wife rights never before seen in the ancient near east. Still, the problem was not to offer a good outcome, but, according to Jesus, was the result of a hard heart (see Matthew 19:8).
Jesus went farther and said that the only reason for divorce was for adultery (see Matthew 19). This was a radical departure from His culture, and for most of the last 2 millennia has stood as the overarching reason for justifiable divorce. Remember, Jesus almost lost his step-father, Joseph, over accusations of immorality leveled against His own mother, Mary. Jesus would have known the history of his own birth and all the controversy surrounding it.
The apostle Paul, in dealing with the fledgling church, addressed the problem of being married to a lost man or woman who wanted to leave. His word was, if the unbeliever wants to leave, let them leave (See 1 Corinthians 7). The point is this, when there was a spiritual rift in the marriage that was irreconcilable, the Christian, in showing love, was not to force a lost spouse to live with them. They were given the allowance to release the unbelieving spouse.
This allowance was also seen in the Old Testament (You can read Ezra 10 for yourself here) as the men of Israel had married foreign women who were, by implication, also unbelieving and idolatrous. The Lord was so horrified at the weakness of these men to marry non-Israelite women who followed other gods that He told them to divorce their wives. The lesson was and is obvious, in this one and only case, divorce was not just allowed, but commanded. For just over 100 men, they had to release these wives because of their unlawful marriages. Yet out of all of the exiles, these men were still the exception and not the rule. When it comes to marriage and divorce percentages, out of 42,000 men only 112 or so took this drastic measure. If you're running the numbers, that is only 1/4th of one percent needed to divorce their foreign wives. Statistically, that means 99.75% of the men had remained faithful and had obeyed God. God saw these foreign marriages as unlawful and for these men, the proper solution was "divorce".
Chasing a rabbit here, but that may be where the statistic comes from that 99.99% of husbands and wives that pray together, go to church together, and serve together will stay together. I've always wondered who that .1% are, and there they are in the Bible. My point is, when it comes to people, there will always be exceptions to the rule.
Here's my point, divorce is not unpardonable as some seem to believe. For a believer, there are many times that they are more the victims of divorce rather than instigators of divorce. I have known godly women who have seen their husbands leave them, never to return, in spite of the reconciliation sought or the Christ-like love demonstrated. In defense of the believing church, statistically, those who are conservative, Bible-believing Christ followers are 35% LESS likely to divorce than the rest of society. So, Christ does make a difference (these most recent statistics are in a study researched by sociologists in 2012 and can be found here). This is a far-cry from what I have heard for two decades that the church's divorce rate is the same if not a tick higher than the rest of the world. Thank the Lord for that.
But need I remind you that our churches should be full of struggling people who have been shown love by those who have also been forgiven? The church is not a sanctuary for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Jesus forgave the woman at the well who had been divorced and re-married so many times that she had gotten sick of marriage and was living with her latest lover. So, what did she do once Jesus forgave her? She ran back to her friends (probably with similar lifestyles) and brought them to Jesus so they could experience the same love and forgiveness the Son of God had offered her (Look at John 4:1-30). So here's what I'm saying, divorce numbers, from the earliest times of the Christian faith, are still probably skewed toward more divorce in the church. Why? Because of the example and command of Jesus to bring broken people to Him for healing of their souls. In our defense, we are ministering in the name and the ways of Jesus by offering forgiveness, love, and acceptance for all who will come.
So Christians, we must love the hurting, the downtrodden, and the broken. We must also live as those who are different from our culture holding up the standards of godliness and morality our Lord and His word so clearly gave us. That is how we can love those who have chosen what is often a precarious and destructive path. We let them see a better way in our lives. It is the way of 1 Corinthians 12:31. That is why our example and lifestyle is so important in this world. It is the way of love. Love for our spouses, our children, our families, our neighbors, our fellow workers and students, and even our enemies. Christians, love. Love is supreme. It is God who demonstrated his own love toward us in that while we were still His enemies, He loved us (Romans 5:10). It is that kind of love that will make a difference in the world. Are you prepared for all that Jesus can do through you once you authentically, deep down love others as Christ does?
Let me close with this, regardless of your past, you can choose today to live free of the destructiveness of sin's ways and choose to follow Christ's way. Jesus Christ offers that same love. Jesus wants you to have hope, peace, and forgiveness, and grace, no matter who you are, nor what you've done. You are the one whom God loves... and there is no exception to that rule.
Pastor Trey Rhodes