The First Great Christian Institution – Part Three


Ephesians 5:21-33Theme: Marriage.This week’s lessons teach us that when the institution of marriage crumbles, society crumbles.  LessonPat Williams, who was the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball team, and who has written a marvelous book on the revitalization of his own marriage, called Rekindled, said to me on one occasion, “Jim, what is happening? Every week, it seems to me, I hear of another prominent marriage breaking up.” He said that to me in a week in which a popular and very influential woman evangelical writer and lecturer had left her husband to go off with a man who had worked for a Christian publisher. It’s a good question: what is happening? What is happening is that marriage is in trouble as it has been in no previous time, at least in American history.
Now, I’m speaking of the attacks on marriage. And I’m starting with the world, and I’m proceeding to the church. And as I talk about these things, the situation gets worse and worse. And yet, I haven’t even yet come to that which I consider most insidious and dangerous. What I’m finding is that there is an approach to this subject that is being used today by Christian people in an attempt to get the church on their side in providing an excuse for dividing or dissolving their marriage. You say, “Well, how is that possible since the Bible speaks so clearly on the subject, saying that marriage is of God? And God hates divorce.” Well, it works like this. In First Corinthians, the seventh chapter, verse 15, Paul is speaking to a situation in which a believer is married to an unbeliever. Now, he doesn’t specify how that happened. It may well be that it was a case of two unbelievers, one of whom was then converted. That would provide the situation. At any rate, that is what he’s talking about. And he says that in that situation everything should be done to keep the marriage together. The believer certainly should not dissolve it. But, he says, if the unbeliever departs, then let him or her depart. The Christian is not bound.
Now that is an obvious statement. It takes two to tango, we say. It takes two to make a marriage. And if one won’t sustain the marriage, in the final analysis having done everything, there is probably, at least in many situations, nothing more to be done about it. The unbeliever will depart. Divorce is inevitable. But then, this command in 1 Corinthians 7:15 is coupled with Christ’s teaching about reconciliation or the failure to achieve reconciliation, which is found in Matthew 18:15-17. There the Lord is speaking about disagreement between brothers. And he says, where that happens, where there is hostility or anger, every attempt should be made to provide the reconciliation. It should be done one-on-one first of all. If one of the parties proves recalcitrant, then there should be a representation of the church – we would say, in the form of several elders who go to visit the recalcitrant party. And then, if at that point the person who is refusing to be reconciled still refuses, rejecting the counsel and admonition of the church, that one is to be treated, says the Lord Jesus Christ, as a publican and tax collector. That’s to say, to be treated as an unbeliever.
What we have found happening is this: people take the first of those texts, which has to do with letting an unbeliever depart, and couple it with the second of those texts, which has to do with treating a recalcitrant person as if he or she is an unbeliever. And the argument goes like this: If I can’t get my spouse to be reconciled to me on my terms after having called upon the church to be active in the reconciliation, I therefore have the right to treat my spouse as an unbeliever or regard him or her actively as such and dissolve the marriage. You see, what happens in that case is that the church, and the elders, and the leaders, who in obedience to God must be on the side of saving marriages and facilitating communication, are manipulated into being on the side of one party who actually is desiring to have the marriage terminated. That’s a sad thing. But that is happening today. And it’s happening, I must say, with the advice and counsel of people who are Christians and who are active in the business of counseling those with marital difficulties.
Study Questions

How do people in bad marriages sometimes attempt to misuse the church?
How is Scripture often misapplied today to excuse divorce?

ApplicationIs there need for reconciliation in any of your personal relationships? Meditate on the Christ-mandated means for reconciliation in Matthew 18:15-17. Have you taken these steps–if called for in your situation? If not, speak to your elder or pastor about your particular dilemma, asking for guidance in how to apply Matthew 18 to the problem.

Study Questions
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