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Marriage and Divorce

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I am getting ready to teach in a couple of weeks what Jesus teaches about lust, marriage, and divorce because we will study Matthew 5:27-30. In this section of Matthew, Jesus reveals God's intention that his people lead a life of purity that begins in the heart and extends out to relationships with others. A life of purity is not just about avoiding external actions but also includes understanding the dangers of internal sinful desires. 

Internal and External Sins Matter to God

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said... But I say to you..." Jesus points out that sin is not just defined by our external actions but is born in the sinful flesh found in our hearts and desires.  God desires our desires and actions to be in alignment with the will of God. God does not celebrate and rejoice in hypocrisy that outwardly shows purity but internally rots us to the core. 

God Offers Forgiveness

So the truth is that as much as I can for a time control my outward actions, my own heart's sins and struggles reveal the poverty of my spirit. I need my savior. Thankfully the Bible teaches that there is full and free forgiveness received by all who repent of their sins and put their trust in God's Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:8-9). 

God Desires Purity in His Disciples

God desires purity inside the hearts and outside in actions. God prohibits divorce, with some exceptions that will be described below. God also prohibits sexual relationships outside of marriage. 

Adultery and Abandonment

Scripture uses absolute language in regards to divorce. Divorce brings damage to a family that ripples through society. Jesus does allow for the possibility of divorce when adultery is committed. Jesus said in Matthew 19:9, "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." Jesus does not require divorce in this situation. In some cases through repentance and forgiveness couples are able to overcome immorality.

St. Paul also writes about divorce and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. St. Paul says that divorce may happen to a Christian whose unbelieving spouse leaves. In a fallen world adultery and abandonment happen, sinners are going to sin. We can try to mask our past sins and self-justify our actions, but the truth is that sin is damaging to what God has designed to be beneficial. Recently, I have discussed with many pastors about how we can understand St. Paul's words about abandonment in the context of domestic violence. A man or a woman that violates marital vows with threats and actions has abandoned the marriage.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod also has published a document, Divorce and Remarriage: An Exegetical Study, which will be helpful to a person that wants to do more scriptural study on what the Bible has to say about divorce and people seeking remarriage.

What about Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence corrupts the intimacy and trust of relationships. 

The LCMS Domestic Violence and Abuse Task Force has prepared helpful resources that should be utilized in congregations to make sure no one feels abandoned or alone or resigned to forever experience abuse. One of the documents prepared includes, When Homes are Heartless: An LCMS Perspective on Domestic Violence, in which there is recognition that abuse can irreparably harm a marriage.

So, while the Church can and should continually reach out with the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the abuser, it must do so with the recognition that this does not automatically and, frequently, may not ever result in marital reconciliation and restoration. As noted above, abuse may constitute a circumstance in which the Church acknowledges the tragic necessity of divorce. Christians can and should never glibly accept divorce and, indeed, must oppose our culture’s easy peace with it. Yet, wherever divorce occurs, those who suffer it are not to be driven away, but ever drawn toward Christ and His mercies. That is even more the case when one who has suffered divorce has done so rather than to suffer violence against her life.

Can a divorced person be forgiven and remarry?

Repentance and forgiveness is necessary when sin has broken a relationship. Divorce for unscriptural reasons, and remarriage involving such persons, is contrary to God's will. No matter how heinously a person has sinned, Jesus atoned for all sin, also for the sin of adultery. Where sin abounds, grace can abound even more (Romans 5:20).

Divorced persons and people seeking to remarry should demonstrate a contrite heart and a desire to receive forgiveness and restoration.  As absolute as Scripture is about divorce, the Bible also confidently speaks about the power of Jesus to bring forgiveness and restoration into the kingdom of heaven. Where reconciliation and restoration of a broken marriage is not possible, remarriage becomes a possibility. These situations require unique pastoral care as we apply God's condemnations of sin and God's promise of delivering forgiveness of sins into the world through Jesus Christ.

More information about LCMS positions on family, marriage, and sexuality can be found on the FAQ page of the LCMS.

Posted by Evan Gaertner

Gossip is Destructive

Gossip can be very destructive to the building of community in a church and school. Gossip is an exercise of power that is used to leverage influence and change. Sometimes gossip hints at something that is true, and it can make people aware of something, but will make it hard to constructively handle the truth that is alluded to in the gossip. Gossip is a form of attack.

“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).

Gossip seeks growth of audience. Sharing news and using it to harm another person has more appeal in the presence of others. If someone starts to tell you something about another person, it is appropriate to respond, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about this person when they’re not here to defend themselves.”

If you find you are an object of gossip, you may want to set the record straight. You don’t need to defend yourself to everyone. Constantly talking about the gossip pours gasoline on discord. Gossip without fuel eventually dies out. If you want to confront the person spreading the gossip, Robert Willer, a researcher at Stanford University, suggests, “Approach the person in a sympathetic, non-confrontational way, so that you can win their sympathies.” Offering perspective can help.

It is possible to break the gossip chain, and you will gain the trust of other people, as someone who won’t spread rumors. Psychology Today, in the article “8 Things to Do If You’re the Target of Hurtful Gossip,” points that “we have a strong negativity bias: almost all of us pay more attention to negative information than we do positive information.” Negative emotions grow quickly. Being gossiped about is very painful.

“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Proverbs 11:13).

Dangers of gossip in a church or school

  • Erosion of trust
  • Builds up a response of suspicion between insiders and outsiders
  • Increase of anxiety among people as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact
  • Divisiveness as people take sides
  • Hurt feelings
  • Damaged reputations
  • Attrition due to people leaving because of growing distrust

The line between banter that shares stories of what people are doing and conversations that lead to a breakdown in community is crossed when the conversation is used to tear down another person. 

Be careful what you choose to tell people who practice in gossip, because it is more likely they will gossip about you. 

Posted by Evan Gaertner

God loves us & Meets us at the Point of our Need

The love that we have as we live together as brothers and sisters in Christ embraces each person.

God loves with an unconditional love that embraces us regardless of our circumstances. I love the parable of the prodigal son. There is so much love and vice to mine for the pattern of God's love that takes place within our patterns of sin.

The son has left his home and abandoned his past. After a time of sinful living that lives him empty, he returns to his home. He expects only to be treated as a servant in the home. He has no expectation of being treated as a son. He practices his pitch seeking employment. The waiting father sees the lost son, from far away, and begins to run with greetings for him. Sadly this love did not translate to how the  older brother treated his returned brother or his father. The older brother demanded to be recognized for his hard work. The older brother understood the framework of transaction. He worked hard, he should be celebrated. Celebration for the older son should be in response to hard work. The waiting father and the older son illustrate the differences between responses framed by love and responses framed by self-righteousness.

I hope that we will treat people the way we have been embraced by God.

How God loves us should organize our community and prioritize our tasks.

The lost generation is a term that is used increasingly to describe the children that are growing up never having any roots in a congregation. Without these roots that once grew in the soil of the church, the notion of an adult bounce back for marriage and baptism of children is described as less likely. But this generation, like every previous generation, will be redeemed by the love of God that is witnessed in the waiting father who celebrates the return of his son. People are not saved by seat time in the pew when they were kids. All people are saved by the Spirit at work through the Word of God delivering us into the righteousness of Christ.

Resentment and frustration with the generation of people who are not in church anymore sounds to me like the older son who is frustrated. The waiting father did not shout anger and silly quips on twitter about his son that left. He waited and he prayed.

We are not going to organize ourselves to reward the people who work hard. We will focus on the love of God that meets people where they are. If we are lost, God will find us and celebrate. If we are caught in pride, God will meet us there and show us our error.

God created each one of us to be in faithful communion with him. Falling and failing, we imagine we have placed ourselves outside of the boundaries of where God's love can reach. We are born sinners and we continue to find ways to sin. What good things can come from our hands? Not much, but the Holy Spirit does good and through people will bring these good works into the world. 

Our friendships grow out of our companionship but does not exist just by nearness of presence.

St. Peter was in the water drowning, and he cried, "Lord, save me." He did not need Jesus just be near him, Peter needed Jesus to grab him and lift him up.

Jesus had been walking on the water to the disciples. The disciples saw Jesus, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said. Jesus immediately replied, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Peter was invited to join Jesus on the water. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and began to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. 

God loves us and he meets us at the point of our need with his hands to catch us. Falling and failing will not erase God's purpose and will for us. God meets us when we fall into temptation. While we were yet still sinners, God loved us in Jesus. The church is not near the community, near the home, near the grief, near the sadness. With the love of Jesus, we meet people where they are at.

We purposefully meet people with love of God.

The love of God is not accidentally in the world. Our heavenly father purposefully loved the world by sending his only beloved son to die for us upon the cross. 

The purpose of sharing God's Word in this world is to make manifest the love of God in Christ Jesus. 

God has gifted us with a love that we share.

We have words to share. We have a story to tell. Faith comes by hearing. I trust that the church will always be relevant in this world. There is sin and sorrow in this world, and the love of God has come as a balm for the sin-sick soul.

Posted by Evan Gaertner