Today is Father’s Day. And, as you can imagine, I heard a Father’s Day sermon at church. The speaker was a church member who was a director head of a ministry at the church, whom I will refer to as “Jim” in this post. Brother Jim was the guest speaker today for the Father’s Day message.
His sermon was basically about fathers being examples for their children, teaching them about the kingdom of God, the things of God, as well as modeling that in their lives. “First things first” seemed to be the mantra of the sermon.
However...as you can imagine, there’s always gonna be a criticism. Usually, I rarely just comment on church experiences for the sake of so doing. Normally, I have a point in mind that I wanna make here at the blog. And today’s sermon feeds right into that “need” of mine to correct wrong thinking in the church.
Brother Jim started to talk about how tradition can keep us from doing what is right, and he pointed to Matthew 15, where the Pharisees reinterpreted honoring their parents (Mosaic Law) as, “we can dishonor our parents ON THE CONDITION THAT we’re taking the money we would give to them and give it to the temple” (Matt. 15:3-6). He used this to then launch into a discussion of how, as believers, we go against what God’s Word says. This suddenly turned into a rant about the issue of divorce, where some people feel the need to divorce, but God’s Word tells us, “what God has joined together, let no man separate” (see Matt. 19:5-6, NKJV).
And then he used his own life as an example of how his wife went against how most people interpret the Word of God: he said,
“my wife knows what it’s like to be abused, called every name in the book, etc. She knows what it’s like to lose job after job, with me leaving the house on Friday and not being found until the following Tuesday. She knows what it’s like to go to the grocery store to buy groceries or to the bank to pay bills and be told, ‘There’s no money in the account.’ And there was no money in the account NOT because we didn’t have enough...but because her husband was a drug addict. Yet and still, SHE STAYED. Why? did she stay because she believed I would get saved? Did she stay because she thought I would be a better husband? No---she stayed because GOD’S WORD TOLD HER TO STAY.”
Really? God’s Word told her to stay? His only proof for this was Matthew 19:5-6---
“‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:5-6, NKJV).
Now, on the surface, this looks convincing. I mean, does it not say, “What GOD has joined together, LET NOT MAN SEPARATE”? However, there’s a problem. This is a prooftext FROM the passage, NOT the passage in its entirety. Let’s zoom out from these verses and look at how they fit into the larger context.
After Jesus words in verses 5 and 6, the Pharisees question Him: “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” Jesus said, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (v.8).
True, divorce was not an original part of God’s plan. However, does Jesus condemn divorce? Not entirely. Read these words:
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, EXCEPT FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery”(v.9).
Notice the words in caps? “Except for sexual immorality...” These are the grounds within which divorce is allowed. The word for “sexual immorality” in the Greek is “porneia,” which can mean here “fornication, unchastity, unlawful sexual intercourse,” according to the Zondervan “Reader’s Greek New Testament, Second Edition.”
So, back to brother Jim. Jim did not expound the text in its entirety; instead, he picked out verses 5 and 6 and neglected verse 9. This is a result of bad exegesis. Verses should never be read out of context in this manner.
Secondly, Jim overlooked the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 regarding Christians who are married to unbelievers:
“But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: if any brother has a wife who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him...but IF THE UNBELIEVER DEPARTS, LET HIM DEPART; A BROTHER OR A SISTER IS NOT UNDER BONDAGE IN SUCH CASES. BUT GOD HAS CALLED US TO PEACE. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 15-16, NKJV)
In the words of Paul here, if an unbeliever decides to leave their Christian spouse, the Christian spouse should let them---because we are called to be at peace, not to war and fight and retaliate. Throughout my life, I’ve heard some people say, “Well, these are the words of Paul; Paul is the one who said this, not Christ.” Well, Paul did say them: however, Paul also said, “and I think I also have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40), which shows us that he certainly believed what he was saying was in line with the Word of God. So in such cases of unbelievers filing for divorce or adultery, divorce is permitted.
These are two instances biblically, where exceptions for divorce are permitted; why then, did brother Jim not touch on these? Why did he claim that ANY divorce is unbiblical? And why did he make it seem as though any divorce for the two permitted reasons above is just “mere tradition” of a godless society??
Last but not least, he told his testimony regarding his wife remaining in their marriage. And I think it is honorable and noble. I think that Jim’s wife is a phenomenal woman who has been given such grace and inner strength by God Himself. But at the same time, I can give an example of a case where the wife stayed and the marriage ended due to her cold-blooded murder by way of her husband.
My mother worked with this woman, a friend of hers named “Shirley.” Shirley was a dear friend of my mother’s. Shirley and mom were real close, sisters in Christ, fellow sisters at heart, who could always talk about anything. Shirley started coming to work in the finance department with bruises on her, noticeable bruises. The women in the finance department began to talk with Shirley over lunch, to convince her to get protection, leave this guy, and tell the police what was going on. The women wanted her to leave her husband, to go get help for herself (to save her life) and for her husband. The women (including my mother) feared that Shirley would die at the hands of her husband if she didn’t. Shirley told them she couldn’t leave her husband because he vowed to kill her and her family if she left. For the sake of her family, she decided to stay in this unhappy marriage. Sometimes, you just don’t know what’s going on in the lives of people you meet, even if they do wear a smile...
Well, one day, her husband (a self-professed Christian), told her that he was quitting his drug habit. He wanted her to hide his drug money, not give it to him---even if he wanted the drug money. So Shirley did as asked; she refused to give him the drug money. One night, he came home and started asking again, but she resisted (as he had told her to do). He continued to ask, she continued to resist. She resisted until he got a baseball bat at home that he had, bashed her head in, until he killed her; and then, he sat down, Shirley’s body laying on the floor before him, and ate dinner as if he had done nothing wrong.
I know this story is chilling and so tragic; but I had to tell you this because I think the world needs to hear it. Brother Jim can easily stand in a pulpit and preach about how his wife stayed with her husband; but there are some cases when staying in a physically abusive relationship does more harm than good. Shirley was in her mid 40s at the oldest; and if she had ran from her husband and gotten governmental protection, she might be here with us today. Her attempt to protect her family was noble, but she lost her life in the process.
Shirley needed to flee her marriage. And I think that some spouses, because of the depravity of man, are forced to do so today. Divorce is not something that the world should applaud; it’s not something that we should chant for from the rooftops; but it is something that sometimes, serves as, in the words of Robert Frost, “the road less traveled by,” that some must take for their sake, the sake of their children, and so forth.
God can restore broken marriages. That’s the message I wanna leave with you in this post: that God can fix what is broken, even marriages headed down the drain. However, God will not fix every mistake humans have made on this earth. After all, if the power of human choice means anything, we have been given the right to make choices whether good or bad...and those choices have major impact on us and those around us (for either good or bad). Since humans chose wrongly in the Garden, we have suffered the consequences of it ever since...and divorce falls in this category of consequences. Failing to teach properly on divorce, or preach properly on the subject, only misleads those who sit under us.
I’m all for godly, successful marriages; at the same time, though, I’m for the truth of God’s Word. And a woman who has spent every night for the last 15 years without her husband (a husband who is sexually active with other women) has the God-given right to unite herself to someone else. After all, her husband divorced her through his adultery, did he not?