Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage
How can the church help?
This is not easy. The church at Corinth faced the problem of a man who had an immoral relationship and wished to be part of the church. He had married his stepmother. (Some believe he had not married her but was having sexual relations with her.) The Apostle Paul wrote the following in response:
"It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. . . . In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. . . . Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (I Corinthians 5:1, 4, 5, 13).Although excommunication is not an easy work, it is a necessary work toward those who sin by joining themselves in relationships God has forbidden.
2. The church can help those who wish to repent of adultery by being forgiving and supportive.
"Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him" (II Corinthians 2:6-8).This instruction in Paul's second letter to Corinth is apparently in regard to the same man as Paul formerly had instructed the church to excommunicate. It is evidence of the value of church discipline. The man had repented. He had left his sinful relationship. And now Paul instructs the church to forgive, support, and confirm their love toward him.
When a person repents of former sin and desires to do what is right is no time for holding grudges and giving the cold shoulder, no matter how loathsome the former sin. Genuine repentance calls for genuine forgiveness and restoration.
3. The church can help people resolve tangled marriage relationships by avoiding carnal speculation and rumor.
"Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people" (Leviticus 19:16).The fallen mind has a fascination with evil reports. It also has a tendency to assume evil and to put things together in the worst construction. Knowing these tendencies and the deceitfulness of the heart, Christians should avoid talk about the sins and problems of others. When they need to discuss others' failures and sins for the sake of dealing with them, they should do so with clarity and openness, but with fairness and kindness as well.
Christians need to evaluate and make conclusions and even to exercise discipline, but they are to do so with the mind of the Spirit, according to truth and love, not with suspicion, condemnation, or evil speaking.
Christians can do great damage by wagging their tongues at a time when they are dealing with those who have immoral entanglements. It is a time for seeking God, a time for prayer, a time for using discretion in what to say to whom and for what reasons.
4. The church can help those who are working out proper relationships by giving tangible help and support.
"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked" (Acts 4:32-34).In the context of this Scripture, many were turning to the Lord. We can assume that among the new believers there surely were those whose past lives had been immoral, though no specific list is given of the former sins of this multitude. The point is that the believers met one another's needs with the resources they had. They considered it not only an obligation, but a joy, to share thus with one another.
People who are straightening up their former immoral relationships have needs. They may need housing and financial help. They may need baby-sitting help. They may need transportation. Even if their material needs are adequately taken care of, they have deeper needs which are just as real. They need people. Loneliness is invariably a problem when marital companionship is missing, and it is especially poignant for those whose past relationships have been characterized by rejection, failure, and hurts. The church can help by visiting and by inviting these people into their homes.
5. The church can help those working through tangled relationship problems by arranging for the older to teach the younger.
"But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded" (Titus 2:1-6).Some of this elder-to-younger teaching can be informal in the normal round of visiting and hospitality. It can be, but it likely won't be unless there is instruction and encouragement for it to be so.
Beyond this, however, it is healthy for the church to arrange for appointments between the older and the younger as the need may be. Such an "appointment" may be the informal suggestion to an older Christian to spend time with a younger Christian. It may be the recommendation of the church or church leaders for an older person to counsel regularly one who needs help. It may be regular Bible studies, arranged either privately or under the direction of the church leaders. In any case, such arrangements can be of tremendous help to younger Christians in general and those working through marital entanglements in particular.