Sermon on the Mount Bible Study

The Sermon on the Mount ~ Lesson 6

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Matthew 5:27-32

Questions to Consider

1. Briefly review the “middle parts” (ex: merciful, poor in spirit) of the Beatitudes, the “salt and light” passage, and the “heart of the law” passage in Matthew 5:1-12, 13-16, 14-20. Now read 27-32 in light of those passages.

Summarize, in your own words, the main idea of 27-32.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists the traits that define Christian character. In much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount He fleshes out what many of these character traits look like when walked out in “real life”. Which of the traits (the “middle parts” – there could be several) listed in the Beatitudes is Jesus expanding on in 27-30 and 31-32? How?

How do lust, adultery, and unbiblical divorce bland your saltiness? (13-16) How can crucifying your lust and being faithfully devoted to your husband make you saltier and brighter?

2. Review from our previous lessons (links above) the idea that the Sermon on the Mount is to the New Testament / new covenant what the Ten Commandments were to the Old Testament / old covenant.

How does Jesus refer back to the Ten Commandments in verse 27? How do Jesus’ phrases “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” verbally transition the people from their focus on outward obedience to the letter of the law to zeroing in on the attitude of their hearts and the spirit of the law? Explain how refraining from lust and being faithful and committed to your marriage is the heart of the law (17-20) behind the seventh and tenth Commandments. Connect these passages with 27-32. Where should our outward, behavioral obedience to Christ spring from?

3. Review: Examine again the “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” proclamation. Who had the people heard it (the law) said by? Who taught them the law? How does Jesus saying, “But I say to you…” establish Jesus’ supremacy over the Pharisees, scribes, priests, etc. Imagine you’re one of these Jewish leaders and you’re hearing Jesus say this. What might your initial reaction be?

Recalling our Sermon on the Mount / Ten Commandments motif, how might Jesus’ “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” proclamation have evoked images of Moses as lawgiver, and signaled to the Jewish leaders and people that the better Moses was here?

4. What is “lustful intent”? (28) Make the connection between lust, adultery, and divorce. How could lusting after someone else eventually culminate in divorcing your spouse?

5. Notice the progression from temptation to commission of outward sin in 28-30:

  • Sin of the e_____(28a, 29) leads to…
  • Sin of the h_____(28b) leads to…
  • Sin of the h_____(30)

Which sexual sins does this progression apply to? Which other sins does this progression apply to? Is it fair to say that this progression applies to all sin? Explain what Jesus means by gouging out your right eye and cutting off your right hand as it applies to this progression from temptation to commission of outward sin. How can removing things in your life that are conducive to temptation and sin stop this progression?

6. Using your cross-references for verse 31, what were the Old Testament parameters for divorce? Why, according to Jesus, was this allowance made?

A spouse’s “sexual immorality” (usually adultery) (32) is one of the biblically permissible reasons for divorce. What is the other? Study these passages. How is marriage symbolic of God’s relationship with His people? If marriage symbolizes how God (the “husband”) cares for His people (His “bride”), what does divorce (for unbiblical reasons) say about God? About His people?

Compare 32 to Matthew 19:3-9. Why is divorce so closely tied to adultery? Who joins two people together and makes them one in marriage? Besides divorce due to adultery and abandonment1, what is the only other way God considers a marriage dissolved? Do man’s scribblings on a piece of paper (“certificate of divorce” for unbiblical reasons) change the fact that God still considers those two people married? How does this better help you understand Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:6: “What God has joined together, let not man separate.”? How does this concept help you understand why, in unbiblical divorces, God considers remarriage to be adultery?


1I know at this point many of you have “Yeah, but…” and “What if…” questions about abusive marriages and/or your own divorces. We can’t deal with those properly here. I would encourage you to use your cross-references and concordance to search the Scriptures about divorce and rightly apply them to your questions, and to get wise counsel from your pastor. If you are currently being abused: please get to a safe place and reach out to your pastor, the police, or another appropriate person for help. Getting to a safe place is not a sin, and it is not the same as an actual divorce.


Homework

  • Read my article The Mailbag: Is Lust a Sin for Women, Too? and study the Scriptures therein.
  • Think of one pernicious sin in your life in which you can see the progression of: sin of the eye>>sin of the heart>>sin of the hand. Explain how each of these steps are fleshed out in your particular sin. What is something you could remove from or add to your life that would make it more difficult for you to be tempted to commit this sin? Prayerfully develop a plan or strategy to “cut off your right hand / gouge out your right eye” (metaphorically speaking) in this area and begin implementing it this week.

Suggested Memory Verse

Abuse, Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: Must I reconcile with my abusive ex-husband?

I was in a very volatile marriage to an abusive, lost man and I was also lost at the time. There was violence in the marriage which caused me to run away and divorce him out of fear. This was seven years ago and I have not seen nor heard from him since.

I have recently been saved and have repented of all my past sin and divorce1. I do understand that God hates divorce, and why, and that He would want me to reconcile with my ex-husband, if possible. But I am terrified about inquiring of my ex-husband because of the abuse I experienced. I don’t want to go back to him, if he’s even unmarried currently. I want to move forward in my new life as a daughter of God in the situation I am currently in – where He called me.

Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven? I did write my ex a letter that I sent to his parents’ address asking for forgiveness (for sins I had committed against him) about a year and a half ago and I believe he knows where he could find me if he wanted to reconcile; I have heard nothing. I have had nightmares about all this. Part of the reason we don’t live in the same town is I didn’t want to be found. I was so lost in my sin until God opened my eyes and now I cannot change my past and that has left me feeling helpless and hopeless.

First, I just want to take a moment to rejoice with you that God has brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light! Welcome to the family! I also praise Him for rescuing you out of such a terrible situation and placing you in a safe environment. I hope by now this wicked man has been brought to justice and is no longer able to harm anyone.

OK, let’s take this one step at a time, for you and for any others who may be in a similar situation…

I was unable to glean from your email whether or not you are now joined to, and faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound church. If you’re not, that’s step one for many reasons: a) God commands it, so you’ll want to be obedient to Him, b) all Christians need training in the Scriptures and fellowship with our brothers and sisters, c) you need to unlearn all the ungodly ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others that the abuse taught you and replace them with godly, spiritually healthy ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others, and d) you need pastoral counsel about this particular situation you’ve asked me about.

If you haven’t yet found a doctrinally sound church and need some help, I would encourage you to go to the blue menu bar at the top of this page and click on the Searching for a new church? tab. When you get there, study up on the resources under “What to look for in a church,” and then begin exploring the many church search engines to find a good church near you.

Once you find a solid church (or if you’re already in a solid church), step two is to set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling. You need a shepherd who can walk through this situation with you face to face, long term, and can take the time to listen to all of the details. Binding up the wounds of injured sheep and tending to them while they heal is part of a shepherd’s job.

Next let’s take a look at some of the biblical issues.

You are correct in saying that, if possible, it’s God’s desire for a husband and wife to reconcile. But the only way that would be possible in your situation is if your ex-husband:

  • has thoroughly and completely repented of all of his sin (including, but not limited to, the abuse and violence)
  • has trusted Christ as his Savior,
  • has joined, and is faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound local church
  • is bearing fruit in keeping with repentance as witnessed by doctrinally sound mature brothers and sisters in Christ at his church (in other words, we can’t just take his word for it that he’s changed)
  • and all of this has been going on for a significant amount of time (like, at least year or two, not last week).

One of the things you should discuss with your pastor in counseling is whether or not, and how, to find out if your ex-husband has gotten saved and is living a repentant life that honors Christ. If he has not written you back or attempted any contact in the past seven years, chances are he is still lost and unrepentant.

This is another reason it’s important for you to be in a good church – you should not be the one to approach, or have any contact with, your ex-husband. Even if you’re not worried for your physical safety, clearly, contacting him would traumatize you at this point in your life. If any research is to be done into your ex-husband’s spiritual condition, it should be done by your pastor, elders, a deacon, or whoever your pastor designates as the wisest choice.

If it is discovered that God has graciously saved your ex-husband (and all of the items I bullet-pointed above are true of his life) and he has not remarried, then your pastor, his pastor, you, and he will have to put your heads together and figure out how to proceed biblically from here. And I imagine that will involve a lot of time and intense counseling before any decisions can be made.

You should not return to your ex-husband if he is unrepentant and/or still unsaved. (And if your pastor tells you that you should or you have to, you’re at the wrong church. That’s pastoral malpractice.) Notice I said “return to,” not “reconcile”. To be reconciled is for two people to be made right with one another. It’s for two people to come together in agreement to forgive past hurts and move forward together in a peaceful and harmonious relationship. Two people. That’s what the word “reconciled” means. In other words, you cannot be reconciled to someone who will not be reconciled to you because he still wants to hurt you.

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Amos 3:3

Returning to your unrepentant ex-husband is not only unwise for the sake of your own personal safety, but consider what the Bible says about you – a Believer – voluntarily2 entering into a marriage with an unbeliever:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

2 Corinthians 6:14-15

While this passage doesn’t apply exclusively to marriage, marriage is one of the relationships it does apply to. If we are not to yoke with unbelievers in ministry, or enmeshed business relationships, or close friendships, how much more should we not yoke with an unbeliever in the most intimate relationship of all – the oneness relationship of marriage?

You alluded to “remaining in the state in which you were called,” which is an excellent point Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:

So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

1 Corinthians 7:24

The basic idea Paul is trying to convey here is not that you shouldn’t make Zacchaeus-like restitution or apologies for sins you’ve committed whenever that’s possible, but that you can’t undo your pre-salvation past (just like Zacchaeus couldn’t undo the fact that he cheated people in the first place). And you don’t have to. That was nailed to the cross, and it stayed dead and buried when Jesus came out of the tomb.

That’s precisely why you shouldn’t feel helpless and hopeless. That is our help and our hope: Jesus did for us what we so desperately needed and could not do for ourselves. He took our sin, our shame, our disgraceful past away – as far as the east is from the west – and dressed us in His royal robes of righteousness, making us clean and right with God to walk in newness of life! No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

Not only that, this bit about remaining in the state in which you were called comes right on the heels of verse 15, which says:

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.

1 Corinthians 7:15

Your unbelieving ex-husband is separated from you. Let it be so. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” you might say. Keep the peace that God has blessed you with by not opening up this can of worms and unnecessarily creating what could be a volatile situation.

You ask, “Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven?”. No, honey. It means God blessed you with good sense that still works. If this were a situation in which you divorced a godly (non-abusive, obviously) husband for your own selfish, sinful reasons, subsequently got saved, and still refused to be reconciled to him, there would probably be some issues of sin that your pastor would need to counsel you about. But getting saved, honoring all of the Scriptures mentioned above, and refusing to poorly steward the mind, body, and spirit God blessed you with by pointlessly putting them back in harm’s way? That demonstrates that you have repented and been forgiven and that God is hard at work healing you and renewing your mind.

Now, go make that appointment with your pastor.

1The reader stated that she “repented of…my divorce”. I did not deal with biblical and unbiblical reasons for divorce in this article because the focus of her question was, “Where do I go from here?” not, “Did I sin by divorcing him?”, and if she did sin in some way by divorcing him (and I’m not saying she did), she has already repented of it. But I do want anyone reading this to know that if you’re in an abusive relationship, it is not a sin to get yourself and your children somewhere safe. Getting to a safe place is not the same thing as getting a divorce. If you are being abused, get to safety immediately and call your pastor for help.

2This is not a proactive instruction to currently married people to divorce their unbelieving (non-abusive) spouses. Paul deals with that in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (DivorceCare, When are they men?, Touring unbiblical churches…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar can be a helpful tool!

In these potpourri editions of The Mailbag, I’d also like to address the three questions I’m most commonly asked:

“Do you know anything about [Christian pastor/teacher/author] or his/her materials? Is he/she doctrinally sound?”

Try these links: 
Popular False Teachers /
 Recommended Bible Teachers / search bar
Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring It Out on Your Own
(Do keep bringing me names, though. If I get enough questions about a particular teacher, I’ll probably write an article on her.)

“Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?”

No. Here’s why:
The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?
The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

“You shouldn’t be warning against [popular false teacher] for [X,Y,Z] reason!”

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections


I’m wondering if the DivorceCare support groups are good?

I’ve never been to a DivorceCare group or been a part of a church that hosted a group or used its materials, so I’m strictly drawing on what I’m seeing on their website.

The DC statement of faith is biblical, if minimalistic.

The format of meetings is for the group to watch “a video seminar featuring top experts on divorce and recovery subjects” and then discuss it, support group style. So, I took a look at the list of seminar experts. I don’t recognize half or more of the names, but of the names I do recognize, most are biblical counselors (the biblical counseling world has a reputation for being generally doctrinally sound), and two or three are pastors and Bible teachers I wouldn’t recommend but aren’t heretics either (if they’re teaching strictly on issues of divorce, I’m guessing what you’ll get from their videos is pretty much in line with Scripture).

So, all of that to say, as far as the materials DC provides, I don’t think you’re going to be taught major doctrinal error if you choose to participate. However, I’m guessing these groups vary widely depending on who is leading them and how good or bad that person’s/church’s theology is, so that’s a major component to take into consideration.

Having said all of that, I would not recommend that you participate in a parachurch organization for help getting through a divorce. It’s not their job to do that, it’s your local church’s job. Your pastor should be counseling you and/or your spouse to reconcile if that’s at all possible, and counseling you in other ways if not. Your Sunday School or Bible study class and other church family should be supporting you, helping you, and walking through this difficult time with you. When Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens,” it’s talking to the church, not a parachurch organization or a support group. And you need real live, “Call me any time, day or night,” church family to do that, not a bunch of strangers, not an expert on a screen. I think people who choose a parachurch organization like this are going to miss out on a lot more than they realize.

Furthermore, while counseling people who are going through a divorce is a good and necessary thing, it concerns me that so many churches are putting so much emphasis on post-divorce programs when what they should be throwing most of their energy into is preventing divorce by:

  • preaching and teaching biblically about marriage and divorce
  • extensive pre-marital teaching and counseling
  • encouraging, strengthening, and enabling healthy marriages
  • intervening and helping couples in marital distress
  • treating initiating and pursuing divorce for unbiblical reasons as the sin the Bible says it is
  • commencing with church discipline for church members who are initiating and pursuing divorce for unbiblical reasons.

Churches that proactively support and protect marriage this way will rarely find the need for divorce counseling.


I agree that Scripture is clear about women not teaching men the Scriptures. At what age are males considered to be ‘men’?

It’s an insightful question, and one that there’s no hard and fast “exact age” answer to. I think most of us would probably agree that pre-teens and under are children, not men, and I hope that most of us could agree that males in their mid-20s and upward are men. It’s those pesky teens to early 20s ages that throw a monkey wrench into the question.

Males ages 18 to early 20s may, in some cases seem like boys, but for this question, I think the common grace of American law (if you’re an American) can help us feel confident defining any male over 18 as a man. If American law treats a person as an adult at age 18 with regard to crimes, voting, marriage, property, etc., should the church be treating them as children?

So now we’ve narrowed our window of potential “men” down to age 12 or 13 to 17. And for that narrow window of ages, I’m going to refer you to question 13 of my article Rock Your Role FAQs:

What about teaching the boys in my church’s youth group?

Women should not serve as youth pastors. The Bible restricts pastoral and elder roles to men.

As to teaching the Bible to co-ed groups of minors (in Sunday School, as a youth helper, etc.), there is no hard and fast rule, but my recommendation is that a good time for women to break from teaching boys at church is around the time they start middle school. In the Bible, boys traditionally moved from childhood to adulthood at age thirteen. Jesus exhibited growth toward manhood and engaged the rabbis in the temple at age twelve. Of course, these are both anecdotal and neither means this age is the basis of any sort of law for Christian women about teaching boys, but there seems to be some wisdom there- a good rule of thumb. Once they hit their early teens, boys really need the guidance of godly men who can lead by example and teach them what it means to grow into godly manhood. When it comes to teaching adolescent boys at church, it’s much less about what women are “allowed” to do and much more about the best way to grow godly men. Only men can train boys to be men.


Over the years when we have visited various cities, we have toured old churches, several of which have been Catholic churches. Our main interest has been the architecture of the buildings along with the historical aspect. We have never participated in a church service, only informational tours. I was wondering if you have an opinion of Christians touring Catholic churches.

For someone who is genuinely saved, and in no danger of being wooed toward false doctrine simply by walking through a beautiful building and listening to a tour guide, I don’t think that’s problematic at all. Simply being in a building and learning about its structure and history doesn’t mean you agree with what happened there. I mean, if you toured Auschwitz, that would not mean you agreed with or supported what happened there, right? When I was in Egypt several years ago, I toured (as far as women were allowed to tour) a mosque. If I were in Salt Lake City, I would certainly check out the Mormon Tabernacle. If I were in Rome I would visit the Vatican. There’s nothing sinful for you personally about going to places like these to view the architecture or learn something about the religion or customs any more than it would be wrong to read about those things in a book.

If your conscience doesn’t bother you about taking the tour itself, and you’re not worried about your theology veering off course, there are only two ways I can think of that this could be a problem, biblically. First, if there’s an admission fee to tour the church, what is that money supporting? Speaking for myself, I could not knowingly pay a fee that would, in any way, support a false religion or the spread of it. Second, would entering one of these buildings somehow hurt your witness or be a stumbling block to someone who knows you? That would really depend on the other person, the situation, etc., but that is something you should take into consideration.

I would suggest that you look for opportunities for evangelism during these tours. Leave a tract behind if there’s a way to do that without littering (the ladies’ room is usually a good spot). Before you leave, take a moment to silently pray for the salvation of the people who go to church there (or work there, or are on the tour with you). If there’s an opportunity to ask a simple gospel-centered question or make a biblical comment during the tour, take advantage of that (don’t interrupt or argue, don’t lecture or debate, don’t do “gotcha” questions, and be sweet – you’re scattering seed, not waging war).

Enjoy your trip, and I hope you learn a great deal.


Michelle, are you going to be at the G3 Conference in January 2020?

I wish! I’d love to be there, but I don’t think it’s going to happen this time. It’s a wonderful conference, and I highly recommend it for everyone who’s able to attend. Y’all have fun!

(I will be at the Cruciform Conference next month, though! Find me and say hi!)


Thoughts on the Evangelical Presbyterian Church? Is that a denomination you would “approve of”? I like all of your stuff and we are looking for a new church home.

Thank you for your kind words. I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard of that particular denominational niche. Coleen Sharp over at Theology Gals is my go to resource for all things Presbyterian. I would recommend you join the Theology Gals Facebook group and ask over there. I’m sure you will get much better information than I could give you.


So there are women in my home who enjoy, unaware, the teachings of Rohr/Shirer/Enneagram/journaling/meditation/etc. I’m not sure I really have a voice anymore in their spiritual pursuit outside of prayer. Do you have any strategies or a playbook of sorts on how to navigate through this season of life?

(This question comes from a gentleman.)

I’m so sorry for the difficult situation you’re in. It is always sorrowful and frustrating to watch those we love chase after ungodly things.

You say “there are women in my home,” so I’m not really clear on whether these women are your wife, daughters, sisters, other relatives, female boarders, etc. I’m also unclear on whether or not you are the head of the home (husband/dad).

If you are not the head of the home (i.e. these women are your mother and sisters or other relatives or non-relations over whom you have no biblical authority), continue to pray for them and set up an appointment with your pastor for counsel on how best to handle this situation.

If you are the head of the home, I’m sure you know that God has given you the responsibility of being the spiritual leader of your household. I’m honored that you reached out to me for help, but learning to lead well is going to be a long road of face to face discipleship that must take place in your own local church with your pastor and brothers in Christ there. As a woman, I am neither equipped, nor would it be biblically appropriate for me to walk you through this long term and through a computer screen. There are no magic strategies for a quick fix, but your church family can help you work through the “playbook” – the Bible – as you grow in Christ and in spiritual leadership. I would strongly recommend that you set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling and, definitely continue to pray for these women.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Remarriage After Salvation

 

Prior to getting saved, I had married and then divorced. Once I became a Christian, I married my second husband. God has blessed us with children and we have been married nearly twenty years. What is your take on a second marriage when your first is before becoming a Christian?

Whew, this is a tough question! It’s a really good one to ask, too, because the simple act of wondering about it indicates a desire to be obedient to God and an understanding that, in most cases, divorce is a sin- one that God takes just as seriously as other sins. And I think we forget that sometimes because divorce has become so prevalent in our culture and, sadly, even the church.

The reason this is a tough question is that there’s no particular Bible verse that specifically says, “Yes, it’s OK for you to marry again if your divorce was prior to your salvation,” or “No, it’s not OK.” So, we have to glean what we can from the Scriptures we have.

There are two main topics we need to examine here: what the Bible says about divorce and what the Bible says about salvation. We need to work backwards a little bit, so let’s start with divorce.

It is helpful to start off by reading what Scripture says about marriage and divorce. The central passages are Genesis 2:18-25, Malachi 2:13-16, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-9, and 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. The Bible specifically cites two¹ biblically allowable grounds for divorce in the New Testament: adultery and abandonment by an unsaved spouse.

God does not require divorce in these situations. Indeed, as far as it depends on the Christian spouse who has been sinned against, and is possible, forgiveness and reconciliation – especially in light of how much Christ has forgiven us and reconciled us to Himself – should be the goal. I personally know of marriages that survived these situations and have brought much glory to God and hope to other couples as a result. Yes, it’s excruciatingly hard. No, it’s not fair. It was hard and unfair for Jesus to go to the cross for our sin, too, but He was willing because of His love for us and for the Father.

Seeking a divorce for reasons¹ other than these two – such as irreconcilable differences, “falling out of love,” etc. – are not allowed by Scripture for Christians.

But our sister asking the question wasn’t a Christian when she got divorced. How does that factor in?

Here, we need to recall the nature of salvation- the foundational differences between a lost person and a saved person. First Corinthians 2:12-14, John 14:23-24, Hebrews 11:6, and Romans 3:9-20 help us understand that – while a lost person might sometimes be able to outwardly behave in a way which appears to comply with Scripture – that’s not obedience to God. Obedience is an action of the heart that is made possible only by the transformation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Only saved people are transformed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which means only saved people can obey God and His word. So, not to over-simplify, but, basically, everything lost people do is sin because they are in a spiritual state (devoid of the Holy Spirit) that renders them unable to be obedient to God. This means that our reader’s divorce was sinful – regardless of whether or not it was for one of the two biblical reasons – because all of her behavior prior to salvation – divorce, driving a car, giving money to charity, eating breakfast – sprang from a heart that belonged to her father, the Devil.

(I know that’s pretty heavy, so if you’re not grasping it, or find yourself in disagreement, I’d encourage you to go back and read over the Scriptures I’ve hyperlinked above.)

But when someone repents and trusts Christ as Savior, all of that sin gets wiped out instantaneously. The old has gone, 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us. Salvation is more than just new life, it’s also a death. It’s a death to sin. Death to the old man, the old desires, the old ways, the old thoughts. That whole sinful ball of wax gets crucified – nailed to the tree – with Christ, and dies. Including that divorce.

And when Christ resurrects us from that death, we are born into a new life. Baptism is a beautiful, visible picture of this invisible spiritual truth: we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk with Him in newness of life. The old has gone. The new has come. A new life. A clean slate. Life has just started for this sister. There is no biblical reason she should not have married a godly husband.

In closing, there are a few things that don’t pertain to this particular reader’s question (since her divorce, salvation, and remarriage are already a done deal), but which might be pertinent to others in similar situations.

1. This reader did not ask whether or not she should leave her second husband (nor does she want to- she is happily married). She already knows that would be wrong, and she’s correct about that. We don’t fix one sin by committing another.

2. If this reader had asked me this question prior to marrying her second husband. I would have urged her to first explore the possibility – depending on the circumstances¹ and with intense pastoral counseling – of reconciliation with her first husband. That is what 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 is all about.

3. Marriage is a huge thing. Divorce is a huge thing. Remarriage is a huge thing. Whatever your particular situation might be, search the Scriptures about it, ask God for wisdom and direction, and get wise counsel from your pastor.

4. This was a challenging question to answer. I’d like to thank my husband and two of my pastor buddies for their help. Thanks, guys. Y’all are awesome!


¹Physical and sexual abuse within marriage is a serious issue, but it was not a factor in this particular reader’s question, so I am keeping the scope narrow and not addressing the issue of abuse in this article. If you are being abused, please get yourself and your children to safety and seek help. If you know someone who is being abused, help her.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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The Mailbag: Can a divorced man be a pastor?

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Is it OK for pastors to be divorced?

Not just any man is qualified to be a pastor. The Bible sets forth a specific list of requirements for pastors and elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. One of these requirements is that he must be “the husband of one wife.” Unfortunately, this phrase has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that pastors and elders must be married (which would exclude never married, divorced, and widowed men) or that pastors and elders must never have been divorced for any reason.

I pretty much agree with John MacArthur’s position in this article, which helpfully explains that the phrase “husband of one wife” actually means “a one-woman man,” not “never divorced,” or “wife required.” Unlike MacArthur, I might not say it’s “extremely rare” that it would be OK for a pastor to have a divorce in his past, maybe just “rare.”

I really think we need to look at it on a case by case basis, especially if the man was divorced for one of the two biblical exceptions: the wife’s infidelity (Matthew 5:32) or an unbelieving wife divorcing him (1 Corinthians 7:15). Although I respect an autonomous church’s right to set whatever policies it deems appropriate (as long as those policies don’t violate Scripture), I, personally, don’t think it’s right to deny a man the office due to his wife’s sin that he had no control over and may have done everything in his power to prevent.

I also think we need to look at how long ago the divorce took place and whether it happened before or after the man was saved. What about a man who was divorced 30 years ago due to one of the bibilical exceptions, but has been a godly husband to his second wife for the past 25 years? What about a man who was divorced 30 years ago, subsequently got saved, tried to reunite with his ex-wife but was rejected, married a godly woman, and has been a godly husband to her for the past 25 years? There are prohibitions against being a drunkard in the biblical qualifications, too. Would we deny a man the office, if, prior to salvation, he was a drunkard, but got saved and has been sober for 25 years? These are issues churches should work through prayerfully when considering a candidate.

A man already in the office of pastor/elder who goes through a divorce should step down for a significant period of time. If the divorce was for unbiblical reasons, he has probably disqualified himself. But even if it was for biblical reasons, he needs time to heal and to focus on helping his children. For the same reasons, I don’t think a man who has been recently divorced should be considered for the office.


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.