On several occasions I have been approached by women who really are pretty fed up with their husbands. Some women have a right to be fed up. Sometimes they are struggling along, trying–really trying –to be godly wives and, for some reason or excuse or other, their husbands are just determined to make Christianity hard for them. Husbands, sometimes, flatly refuse counsel. Sometimes husbands just will not step up to the plate and be spiritual leaders in their homes. Most of the time, of course, they’re not leading because, well, you just can’t lead where you will not go. Sometimes husbands are verbally abusive to wives and children or perhaps they are never home due to complete absorption in career or sports. It’s just tough sometimes to keep hanging in there.
Sometimes, though the scenario is different. Sometimes the women who are having a difficult time in marriage are in relationships that were sinful in the first place (Matthew 19:9).
So every now and then, a wife will come to me and explain why she never should have married her husband in the first place. She will elaborate on why he did not have a biblically approved reason (fornication of the spouse as per Matthew 19:9) to divorce a former wife. “Thus, his marriage to me is an adulterous union,” she says. She will go on to tell me how bad things have gotten in the relationship (There is no intimacy or there is pornography.There is yelling or there is a lack of communication and tenderness, etc…) In short, she will tell me all the things that have gone wrong with her adulterous marriage and that, now, after all these years and all this misery, she wants to do the right thing and divorce her husband.
I was reminded of this scenario as I was reading the book of Daniel earlier this week. Have you ever noticed that character named Melzar in chapter one? He was the steward of the king who was responsible for the princes Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He was the one who was supposed to make them eat the king’s meat. But Daniel persuaded Melzar to give them a ten day trial–to allow them to eat just pulse and water–and see if they weren’t just as healthy as the other princes.
As you will recall, at the end of the ten days, they were fairer and fatter than the others, so, in view of the fact that the pulse was producing the result that would make Melzar look good to the king, He allowed the four Hebrew princes to continue eating the pulse–the God-approved diet.
Notice that Melzar’s compliance to the will of God had nothing to do with trust or devotion to God. In fact, we have no indication that he even believed in Jehovah. His motives were purely mercenary. He saw that God’s way was in his own best interests, so he did this diet thing God’s way.
So, am I saying that a woman who is living in an adulterous marriage, but fails to repent until that marriage falls apart, should remain in that miserable marriage? No. At whatever point one decides that she is violating the will of God, she should stop disobeying. I am saying that repentance is sometimes complicated when procrastinated.
What if Melzar had come to trust God and had decided to do the diet God’s way BEFORE the ten day trial? Well, then his compliance to God’s system would have been obedience, plain and simple. But because his decision was predicated by proof that compliance was in his own best interest, he was actually acting in his own behalf, rather than in submission to God.
What if a woman decides to get out of an adulterous marriage when she learns the gospel, but is desperately in love with her husband? What if he is loving, funny, handsome and caring? What if he is everything she wants, but she know she has no right to be married to him? Well, then, her sacrifice of the adultery she commits is a real act of submission. It is a huge price to pay, in this life, for eternity with Jesus. Would anyone question whether or not such a woman was penitently submitting to the Lord?
Whatever the right thing to do is, it is still the right thing whether it results in relief or misery. But when one searches her heart, she must be sure that she is being obedient because she loves the Lord; not merely because she wants to escape a situation that is burdensome emotionally or physically. It is just harder to clear the conscience when my repentance comes at a convenient time for me. Can I be forgiven when repentance is delayed until it benefits my current lifestyle? If I am truly penitent as I turn from sin, I can. But convincing myself of my own sincerity may be the difficult and haunting aspect of my life changes. Pragmatic repentance may leave little room for godly sorrow.
If you need to repent of some sin, do it now. Procrastination often muddies the water. It can become extremely difficult to have the godly sorrow that works true repentance, if our sorrow is such that would characterize even someone who is of the world (II Corinthians 7:10). The sorrow of the world works death.
If I do the right thing because of some present torment, I may risk eternal torment. If I do the right thing and suffer for it, I will be glorified with Him (I Peter 4:15,16).
Melzar’s decision to allow the diet of pulse was quite different from, say…the three Hebrews’ decision to stand when the music played. Melzar chose what would insure his own prosperity. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose what would get them in a very heated situation very fast. True submission is not outcome-based, at least not in the short term. True submission is eternity-based.