During one week a month ago, I received three telephone calls from men who were being carried along unwillingly to a divorce they did not want. All three candidly admitted that to one degree or another their negligence was a factor. The three were not connected with one another in any way, and so far as I know they were not aware of one another.
Each was in deep distress. A harsh new reality had broken upon them in full force when the divorce papers were served. And all three seemed ready to fight for the recovery of the marriage though they each feared that their marriage might be beyond saving.
Three such calls within a single week bring home to me how pervasive divorce is in our culture. And they remind me yet again how painful it is to dissolve a marriage. But they have also made me reflect on the church’s calling in helping to reduce the number of dissolved marriages by fostering healthy marriages within a domestically healthy congregation.
There are congregations that are accepting this mandate. But I believe many more should self-consciously do so. In fact, thousands of Christian congregations on this continent are still in the position to be the front line defenders and protectors of the institution of marriage.
What can these congregation do to develop a sub-culture in which marriage continues to be held in honor while some among them who have experienced the dissolution of their marriage through unfaithfulness, desertion, or some other cause are being ministered to? Can marriage be affirmed and individuals whose marriages have failed find real healing within a loving congregation? If so, how?
I. SERMONS. The Lord’s people must never underestimate the power of their pulpits. Every great Christian forward movement in history has been advanced by empowered preaching. If sermons are mined from the deep veins of the Scriptures, are well prepared, seriously undergirded by prayer, and preached with passion, they have the capability, under God, of strongly reinforcing human marital commitments.
But one sermon a year will not be enough. If we will allow them, the Scriptures will bring us often to some aspect of this truth about marriage and family. However unrelated to marriage they may seem on the surface, sermons on God’s covenant love in Christ, the grace of loving relationships, the power of forgiving and being forgiven, the grace of putting others first, repentance, bearing one another’s burdens, etc., — all such anointed sermons will have a substantial bearing on this precious relationship called marriage.
II. SUNDAY SCHOOL OR SMALL GROUP MINISTRY. Sadly, Sunday School has fallen on hard times in recent years. But where it is still carried on seriously, it provides remarkable opportunity to bring home to young and old alike the same timeless truths mentioned above locked into the sacred Scriptures. Due to the more informal, relational nature of these ministries, in a Sunday School class or small group, truth can be delivered in bite-sized chunks, reinforced by dialogue, and released into person’s lives by spoken commitment.
Consider key Bible passages that are able to shape the understanding of young and old alike. The story of Adam and Eve -– always the starting point — shows what God intended marriage to be at the time of Creation (Gen. 2). The search made by Abraham’s steward for a wife for Isaac was at every point God-guided (Gen.24). In the Proverbs there are the warnings to the young against sexual promiscuity (Prov. 7, etc.). On the other hand, there is the beauty of physical love under the right circumstances set forth in the Song of Songs.
And in the Gospels we have the sobering words of Jesus about divorce (Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12: Luke 16:18). Epistles give us laws for the Christian family (Eph. 5:21-6:4). And in various other places in the Bible, marriage seems the ever-present metaphor to show us God’s covenant love for his people.
The pulpit and the Sunday School or small group – what a strong alliance for the shaping of a congregation’s views and practices relative to the institution of marriage! What a wonderful provision for the union of preaching and teaching! These are two good starting places for war against the destructive forces that attempt to plant shallow or erroneous views about marriage in the minds even of believers every day in our world.
If troubled partners from three dissolving marriages should seek my prayers in one week, retired as I am, this is enough to awaken my prayers afresh for churches everywhere to mobilize their spiritual resources in the realm of marriage and family.
Later this week I will continue my thoughts on this crucial subject. Please check in again on Thursday. And feel free to add your comments or questions to this posting.
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