Thursday, March 19, 2015

"Should we stay together?"

1 Corinthians 7:10-16 - To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.  If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

“Should we stay together?” a question that will occasionally surface in the course of a marriage. Whenever in a rough spot, one of the first things people do is start considering their options. ALL of them. So let me ask – are you (or someone you know) contemplating the last option – divorce? … H. Norman Wright, in his book, “Always Daddy’s girl,” offers this brief testimonial written by a young woman whose parents chose THAT option:

"Come into the living room, children. We have something we need to tell you." That's how our parents told us they were not going to be together anymore. After they told us they were divorcing, I sat under the table and my mind replayed again and again the words my father said. I didn't know then what it all meant, but I soon learned. After Dad left, I looked through the drawers where he kept his clothes and found an old sweat shirt he had left behind. I hid it in my room and kept it for years. I would cling to it when I was lonely for him. My father came back to see us a few times, but his visits became less and less frequent. Finally his visits stopped completely. I always wondered where he went. I wondered if he thought about me very much. I hoped that he did. But I guess… I'll never know.”

In his book, “the Death of Marriage,” Pat Conroy says: “There are not metaphors powerful enough to describe the moment when you tell your children that their parents are getting a divorce… To look into the eyes of your children and to tell them that you are mutilating their family and changing all their tomorrows is an act of desperation I never want to repeat… It felt as though I had doused my entire family with gasoline and struck a match.”

Divorce is NOT the "solution" people THINK it is. Author Earl Grollman believes divorce can be more traumatic than death. He says, “The big difference is, death has closure – it’s over. With divorce, it’s never over.”

It has been my experience, after hundreds of hours of counseling friends on the brink of divorce, that there are 3 common triggers to marital problems:

Unrealistic Expectations. Somehow, before marriage we convince ourselves that THIS person will make us happy. They are everything we “want” in a mate. And though we may see a thing or two that causes concern, we throw caution to the wind and take the plunge. But once the marriage vows are exchanged, reality reveals THIS person CAN’T make us happy.

Which leads to the second trigger – Critical Comments. In our disappointment with our spouse’s inability to make us happy, we then criticize them. Reminding them of their faults and failures over and over again... putting them down… disrespecting … comparing and insulting them.

And the third divorce trigger is Neglect of the Spiritual, which actually tops the list. We are naturally selfish and tend to obsess about what we perceive as emotional and physical deficiencies in the relationship. Little things get blown out of proportion. Secondary issues become paramount. Walking with the Lord is the only way to truly combat that selfishness.

So, when our marriages are in trouble, what would the LORD have us do?

Our text provides insight. While Paul does not deal with every possible scenario, he does provide 3 cases for our consideration - offering principles that we can apply to OUR situation - helping us find the will of God. 3 cases:

The first case deals Separation. Listen to what he says in vv. 10-11 “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

It would appear that Paul offers THIS counsel to Christians, who, may have been saved AFTER they were already married. With all the talk going on in that church about it being better to be single than married, maybe they asked Paul if they should separate so they could BETTER serve the Lord. Or maybe the things that brought them together when they were lost no longer had a place in their lives, causing them to wonder if perhaps their incompatibilities justified separation. Or maybe for some, their marriages had simply become intolerable. What should these folks do?

Paul tells them that God is not in the business of breaking up a family so that we can find what we THINK might be a better match or so that we can better serve the Lord. In God’s eyes, the marriage vow is a lifetime commitment.

“BUT,” someone might ask, “is separation not a better option than divorce?” Since divorce is a permanent solution to temporary problems, wouldn’t it be better to separate? At least there is still the hope of reconciliation. And that is often the intent. “Let’s take a break until things cool off and we can work things out.” It sounds reasonable. But, coming from an outsider’s perspective, I want to give you 6 reasons why I think separation is a BAD idea:

1. Because separation is one step away from divorce.

2. If one often resorts to such extreme measures to solve problems, it can lose its effectiveness. It doesn’t take a person long to detect subtle forms of manipulation in their mate. When one has established a pattern of over-reacting every time there is a problem, separation might be seen as one more reason you shouldn’t be taken seriously.

3. The counsel of others in their lives. Someone will end up planting seeds of doubt about the relationship and will advise you to end the marriage. You will hear, “Getting a divorce was the best thing I ever did,” OR “If they did that to me, you better know I would leave.” What is intended as “support” for their friend actually invites destruction upon them.

4. Separation is a bad idea because it plants the thought – “I CAN make it without you.” Never doubt Satan’s ability to interfere in the reconciliation process. He is a destroyer by nature and delights in destroying families just like yours every day.

5. Separation is not a good idea because of the message it sends your children – that relationships are disposable – that commitments only mean something if you are happy.

6. You are vulnerable to developing emotional attachments with others when you are separated.

Having said THAT, IF separation IS chosen, Paul says that the couple is to remain emotionally uninvolved with others in the hopes that reconciliation MAY occur.

The word, “reconciled” carries the idea of “a change” from feelings of hostility to feelings of friendship. Often this word is used to describe our relationship with God. When we are not right with God, we are hostile to Him. But God offers to reconcile lost sinners to Himself through the sacrifice of Christ. This reconciliation requires a change of attitude, where the lost man says, “Lord, I have been wrong. Please forgive me.” THIS is the action Paul is describing between a separated husband and wife. Both partners are to remain pure and are to seek God’s help on behalf of their marriage; hopefully it will lead to a change of attitude.

Case #2 deals with the subject of Mixed Marriage vv.12-14 – where one person is a Christian and the other is lost. Marriage is difficult and calls for constant adjustments, EVEN when the couple shares the same convictions. Love, communication, and patience help overcome these difficulties, but when ONE becomes a Christian without the other, a whole new set of problems develop. The Lord prepared us for the impact of the gospel on family life when He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” - Matt. chapter 10.

When ONE becomes a Christian, suddenly there is the difficulty of living with a person who no longer shares the same values, goals, and purposes in life. One has been born again and desires to serve God. The other is still in the flesh, filled with all the patterns and passions of the old life. Yet in SPITE of this fact, Paul advises Christians to STAY TOGETHER.

2 primary issues come to mind that might have brought up this subject:

#1) The Christian might have been afraid that being married to a lost person would pull them down spiritually. And it is CERTAINLY TRUE that a person will find it difficult to be involved in church when they are married to someone who doesn’t share their love for God. That’s why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” And

#2) they may have joined a fellowship where there were godly men and women who were single and may have thought that they would be much better suited with one of them than with their lost mate.

Two very good reasons to leave – but NOT reason enough, says Paul.

He provides two basic reasons for staying in this marriage.

1) Because honoring your marital vow is important.

2) Because someone in your family might be won to Christ now that God has invaded that home. The family dynamic changes when a person gets right with God. The Holy Spirit is NOW in that home. The unbelieving spouse may remain in their unbelief, but it will be a lot harder as they see Christ in you. The more you become like Jesus, the longer they see your goodness and godliness, the greater the chances they will be saved. If you leave, the likelihood of them becoming Christians is slim.

And finally, Case #3, after having dealt with the issue of separation and mixed marriage, he now deals with the subject of Abandonment in vv. 15 and 16. Listen to it, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”

So, what if you become a Christian and your spouse no longer wants to live with you? Paul says, “let them leave.” Now listen, that doesn’t mean that you are to pack their bags for them or apply so much pressure that they WANT to leave. But if they can’t live with a person who no longer shares those old goals and dreams, Paul says, “Let them leave.” It’s called abandonment. And Paul provides an important bit of information when he says, “the brother or sister is not enslaved.” In other words, they are free, at that point, to marry a believer. They are not under bondage to make it work. They are not “doomed” to remain single.

But then he follows with the words, “God has called you to peace.” Don’t let the divorce get ugly. Don’t make a fool of yourself trying to make them stay. If they are bent on leaving, let them leave. This is God’s word on separation and divorce.

Now, setting all the emotion aside, it is a fact that divorce happens; yes, even among Christians. I would also remind you that scripture says God "hates" divorce. God never intended the institution of marriage to suffer the way it has. His desire is for marriage to be joyful and fulfilling and a commitment that lasts a lifetime.

With that understood, there ARE times when divorce IS permissible. While every effort should be made to salvage the relationship, divorce is not - I repeat - NOT the unforgivable sin.

Should we stay together? YES!!! If at all possible, YES!!! But you are going to need the Lord to be FIRST if your marriage is to be all that it can be. Without the Lord, trivial stuff becomes too important. Without the Lord in His proper place, your marriage cannot be all that God intended it to be.

Is YOUR marriage all that God intended it to be? Maybe you desire God’s best and you need His help. You need to spend time with God, asking Him to help you – committing yourself to go about things God’s way instead of YOUR way. There is no time like RIGHT NOW to begin that process.