How should pastors handle divorce from the pulpit? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Yesterday, my pastor did a sermon on divorce and it got me thinking that I have not written on this facet. If you’re a pastor, how should you preach such a sermon? Our text was mainly Deuteronomy 24 with some of Matthew 19. I want to state also that my pastor did a very good sermon, but since you all likely didn’t hear it for the most part, I have to repeat the things that were right and then offer other aspects I recommend.
First, marriage must absolutely be upheld as a good. This is non-negotiable. Marriage must be seen as a gift from God. That does not mean everyone has to use it, but it does mean all are to respect it. Hebrews says marriage must be honored by all. The author doesn’t limit it to those who are married.
Second, divorce is an evil. This needs some clarification. It doesn’t mean that everyone who divorces or was the recipient of divorce is guilty of an evil in this area. It means that in a non-fallen world, there will be relationships that are meant to last a lifetime that will not last that long. People will betray their vows in a number of ways.
This means that every time a divorce occurs, that means someone has along the way broken their vows. How would this apply to a woman who divorces her husband because he is absuive? Sometime along the way, he also broke a vow to love and to cherish. I can agree that a woman does the right thing in leaving an abusive husband, but it still is a tragedy that someone committed such a great evil that the union has to be dissolved.
Third, if you are the one who initiated a divorce and did so wrongfully, we must always emphasize that there is forgiveness. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. As one who attends a Southern Baptist Church, sadly, the SBC is usually among the worst in dealing with this. It is easier to let a murderer up in the pulpit than it is to let a divorced person in it, even someone who was wrongfully divorced.
This applies to any sin really. If you preach on the evil of abortion, you must always stress that God loves people who have abortions and is ready to forgive them. If you preach on gluttony or pride or homosexuality or anything else, the same applies. Grace must always be shown from our pulpits.
Fourth, if someone wants to remarry after a divorce, I think it is good to encourage them. It is true that you don’t need marriage to be complete and happy, but there are many things you don’t need that you can want and there is no wrong in wanting them. A couple could pray to God earnestly for a child wanting one. They don’t need one to be happy, but Scripture emphasizes that children are a gift from the Lord.
If someone on the other hand does not want to seek a new marriage, then we should celebrate with them in that decision. We should not treat a single person as an incomplete person nor should we celebrate when a single person gets married if we are saying “Now you are a complete person.” We should celebrate marriage itself, but we should also celebrate singleness for those who don’t desire marriage.
So if you want to remarry, you are not doing anything wrong. Marriage is a good to be celebrated. If you don’t want to, the same applies. You can still serve God as a single person. Some could perhaps serve better. It depends on the person.
Fifth, we always need some teaching on worldviews and that includes a worldview on sex and marriage. If someone wants to not get married, for example, they have to be willing to accept that they will be living a celibate lifestyle. While sex is not the only reason for marriage, it is still a reason for marriage. This is something that separates marriage from other relationships.
For our young people especially, and this I have talked about in many other posts, we need more regular talks about why sex outside of a marital covenant is not only wrong, but will cause more harm. The sexual revolution has not been a friend to society. Honestly pastors, you need to preach on the issues of sex and marriage I would say at least monthly.
Finally, we need to stress how to treat people who are divorced. There can easily be a tendency to look down on people who are divorced. I am thankful that when I went public, people knew me enough that for the most part, they knew that I was someone who always showed great love to my ex-wfe. Even today, when people tell me I loved her dearly, I always make sure they know it’s not past tense. I still want the best for her and pray for her well-being and holiness every night.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still struggles. I can be tempted to think ill of her, but I need to remember to think ill of her actions more than of her and see her as a fallen human being who God loves just as much as He loves me. If anything, this has been a great lesson to me about the grace and forgiveness of God.
In the church, this needs to be the case. A divorced person needs to be able to go to church and find love without people looking down on them or treating them as second-class Christians. Those who have not been divorced do not know how painful this is, and it definitely is. Every day, in some way, I suffer because of the fact that I am divorced.
Just yesterday, when I was working, I had a customer say to me “These ones” about something. It always bothered me when my ex said that because it struck me as a redundancy. Now when I heard it, it was just painful to hear. That’s a tiny example, but a tiny example could best illustrate the point. If a little thing can bring back a painful memory, how much more can bigger things?
Whenever we preach about any sin, we must always assume, and we could be right or wrong, that someone in the audience is struggling with that sin. You could preach on homosexuality, but you must always remember there could be someone in the audience who is struggling with same-sex attraction and doesn’t know what to do. Preach sin as sin, but always preach grace as greater than sin.
And along those lines, don’t make promises that aren’t promised. I saw last night getting set for bed a tract I picked up somewhere asking if you want peace. Now if someone wants peace with God in the sense that God doesn’t hold their sins against them and they are forgiven, that is promised. If someone wants peace in the psychological sense, that is NOT promised. If someone struggles with sin, there is no promise that God will take away that struggle in this lifetime. He might, but He might not. We cannot promise to remove the pain of divorce, but we can promise to be there in it. We should make that promise and keep it.
Divorce is hard. It is hard to teach on. It is hard to preach on. It is hard to go through. I hope these words of wisdom will help those who struggle with this. My pastor did a really good job yesterday with it. If you’re a pastor, I hope you will take this to heart from a divorced person.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)