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Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Matthew 19:9: The Clear Exception

In response to the previous article, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not Matthew 19:9 really does give us one situation in which an innocent spouse can divorce and remarry with the full blessing of God. I see no way around the passage.  The clause “except it be for fornication” is there for a reason and does not conflict with all the other passages that explicitly state, in various wordings, that marriage is for life. That’s why the exception clause is there. It’s there because marriage is holy and sanctified. Marriage is for life and the one who breaks that vow in fornication has trodden on the most sacred human-to-human vow. He or she (the one who has fornicated) can certainly be forgiven and restored to favor in every situation. He or she can and must be forgiven when penitent. In fact the forgiver(s) will be overjoyed at the penitence. But the restoration to position in the violated home is clearly the one place where the injured spouse is left in a decision-making place. I suggest that the injured spouse is the one human who can discern what is best for the holiness of his/her home at this juncture. 

It has been argued that the penitent spouse is often spurned by the church; but, conversely, I have seen the penitent spouse welcomed back into the body with open arms on MANY occasions. The family of God, is ready, willing, praying to be able to forgive. We want that! But forgiveness has never been the same as restoration to position. It is just not the same. The forgiven child molester will not be placed in the preschool again. The forgiven drug dealer and addict will not be hired as the pharmacist. The convicted, but forgiven perjurer/forger will not be the FBI agent again. God allows restoration in the home, but he does not demand it. He demands forgiveness and the Christian wife longs to forgive and have the trust she once had or at least thought she had. But the passage is clear. She gets to discern and decide about the restoration. She often has innocent souls to consider and she alone can look at the past patterns of insincere (or sincere) penitence as she decides.  Many times, the forgiveness and restoration has occurred on multiple occasions and children are suffering. It’s interesting to think about the cycle of lying, fornication, hurt to children, etc…that could prevail in the life of a married man who is a womanizer, for instance, if there were never the Scriptural ability to stop the cycle of injury/restoration. Restoration without some extended consequences snd rehabilitation is enabling the addiction. 

We cannot take the liberty that is expressly given in this passage away from the innocent spouse. Christ’s words do not negate the passages which state that marriage is a life-long bond. But he does give one exception. That exception does not have to be mentioned each time the life-long nature of the bond is emphasized. 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

A Big Decision and A Family’s Support

During the last few weeks, I’ve tried to help a few women carry the burden of grieving over their husbands’ infidelity. When a Christian woman discovers that the man with whom she has chosen to walk though life, is walking through the most intimate part of life with another woman, the devastation and trauma is greater than that incurred upon the death of a spouse. I believe the Lord knew that the innocent spouse would almost always be the person on the planet who would best be able to discern whether or not a wayward spouse was broken and penitent–whether or not there was a reasonable hope for future fidelity and faithfulness. I believe that’s the reason He grants that innocent one the option (the choice) of divorce and of, one day, marriage again (Matthew 19:9).

As I spoke with one sweet woman recently, she said, “It’s just so hard for me when people in the church think I should just be able to go on as if nothing has happened. They think he’s repented because he came before the church, so I should be able to just go on in our home and be happily married, when, in reality, my husband is unwilling to make substantive changes in the lifestyle that led him down a destructive path. I feel as if they think I am the one who is sinning when I consider divorce, at this point.”

Another woman I met a few months back, wrote this:  “The hardest part was the “advice” of other ministers and Christians that felt I was harsh and unforgiving. But sadly I had suffered in silence for many years and unintentionally covered his indiscretions and trusted his words. The biggest “piece” that people don’t understand is that one mistake is not ‘one mistake’ in an otherwise ‘beautiful marriage’ where infidelity is concerned. It means someone has been lying to you about the most integral and important part of your marriage for months or years and you did not see it. It’s almost like a serial killer who presents themselves as loving and kind to everyone else. That sounds harsh but that’s how it feels. You can’t be a great person but lie and deceive the one you owe the most honesty and respect to.”

Today’s post is not intended to encourage divorce after adultery has taken its toll. I know that, for children and even for spouses who have been subjected to the ultimate pain, there can often be the greatest healing inside the violated marriage. This is the case when there is an acute brokenness over sin and a strong desire to follow God’s plan for restoration; seeking accountability and being willing to pay any price to be holy and have a sanctified marriage.

But I am saying that we, as God’s people should recognize and honor the God-ordained prerogative given the innocent spouse to make that huge call about whether or not to reconcile. We can give counsel when asked. We should pray fervently for wisdom for the hurting spouse. But we should be careful not to subject the spouse who chooses divorce to our harsh judgment. That innocent party is likely experiencing life’s greatest pain as she reaches for her church family. She should be comforted and supported even more than ever before.

God, himself, gave us a picture, through Jeremiah, of the incredible hurt caused by adultery, when he used the physical unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah to allegorize spiritual adultery.  He even spoke of the “return” to God, the one with Whom she had a covenant. He said the return was not with the whole heart, but in pretense.

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 3:6-10

Sometimes, the deceit is very deep and the penitence is very shallow. Whatever is the case, the spouse who has remained faithful is given the Biblical right to make a life and eternity decision. His or her family in the Lord should be as accepting of that as is the Lord, Himself.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  Matthew 19:9.

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Wayne Jackson on the Marriage Covenant

Our grandson, Ezra, asked us recently if we have Bible time at night even if Papa and I are just all by ourselves. “If there are no kids at your house, do you still have story time…really?” The answer is an emphatic “Yes.” Glenn and I are currently reading passages nightly from a wonderful book called “Notes from the Margin of my Bible” by Wayne Jackson. They are excellent conversation starters if you like to discuss the Word and they call us back to the reality that the Word of God never becomes outdated or out of touch. 

Last night, we read this piece from Malachi and our brother Jackson. In the middle of a marriage/divorce crisis in the body of Christ, I wanted to share it with you. It was pertinent to the fallen nation of Israel five hundred or so years before Jesus lived. It was pertinent to the words and audience of Jesus in Matthew 19:9. It was pertinent to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. It’s pertinent to us today. 

The Marriage Covenant

One of the sins prevalent during the days of Malachi (about midway through the fifth century B.C.) was the dishonoring of marital vows. With their lives so out of harmony with divine law, God was repulsed by his people’s phony tears and meaningless sacrifices (2:13). Why was the Lord so disgusted with his people? Because the Israelite men had had been dealing treacherously with the wives of their youth. This breach of fidelity violated the covenant the man had made with his spouse—a covenant that had the interest of a third party, God himself. He had been a witness to the arrangement. 

This passage contains an important implication. Marriage is a contract witnessed by God, into which a man and woman enter, agreeing to be husband and wife. 

Consider this question: if a man and woman merely live together in fornication, are they married? No, for they did not make a marriage covenant. When Jehovah described the unique relationship that He had with the nation of Israel, he declared: “I sware unto you, and entered into a covenant with you, said the Lord Jehovah, and you became mine” (Eek. 16:8). So, in your margin, write True marriage invokes a contract to be husband and wife.

One should be impressed with the solemn manner with which the Creator views the marriage bond. He hates divorce (2:16) and allows it only on the basis of fornication under the New Testament system (Mt. 5:32; 19:9).

(And if the Christian Courier is not on your go-to list when you re studying your Bible, you should add it! It’s a gold mine for diggers!

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Porneia in Matthew 19:9

The purpose of Matthew 19:9 was the protection of the marriage institution. Sandwiched between a discussion of the permanence of marriage using the “one flesh” words from Genesis 2:24 and a discussion about eunuchs, the passage is rather obviously about physical acts of fornication on the part of a spouse, that give the only reason accepted by God for exiting a marriage and entering another.  When we say that the viewing of pornography is porneia–that it constitutes adultery– thus allowing for the spouse of the viewer to be free from the marriage bond and remarry another, we cheapen the institution God was protecting in the passage. Further, if the temporal consequence of lust-in-the-heart is freedom to dissolve my marriage, then the temporal consequence of hatred in my heart is the same consequence that’s due to a literal murderer (same context as “whoso looks on a woman to lust” in Matthew 5 and then in 1 John 3:15). In other words, if the pairing of Matthew 5:28 and Matthew 19:9 give license for a spouse who is guilty of lust to be divorced for adultery, then the pairing of Matthew 5:21,22 and 1 John 3:15, surely would subject the man with a heart of hatred to the same consequence as if he were a literal murderer. 

The big problem in both of these scenarios is the ambiguity of the thought processes described. When does one cross the line into hatred? Can any woman reading say she is absolutely sure she has not ever hated anyone? Would I then say I might be a murderer, but I’m not sure. It’s easy for us to see that a literal murderer is not the same in every respect as one who has committed the sin of actually killing someone. in a similar way, the lust of the heart is a sin having various degrees. Which man could say he is certain that he has never had a lustful thought about anyone?

If “sexual immorality” in Matthew 19:9 indeed does include any act of immorality that is of a sexual nature (not just physical sexual activity), I would, as a woman, need to be very careful to be able to assert that I had never stepped outside the boundaries of purity in my dress, my language, my overtures, etc…for, if I have erred in any of these ways, my husband could certainly put me away, for those “acts of immorality” that are most definitely in the arena of sexuality.

God put Matthew 19:9 in our Bibles to protect our marriages. If Matthew 19:9 is an effective door of exit for anyone whose husband has ever committed the sin of lust, then may the most conscientious of our godly men, be at risk of losing their marriages because of some lingering glance or lust of the heart? Could the homes of our congregations be destroyed in wholesale fashion, without displeasing God in the “putting away” of husbands who have, at one point or another, been guilty of  impure thoughts or momentary lust of the heart? 

This argument that Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 5:28 make for an acceptable (to God) reason for divorce and remarriage is fallacious and extremely destructive to our families and the kingdom. “Sexual immorality” is an unfortunate translation of “porneia”. 

I recommend this article for your consideration. It is deeply rooted in Scripture and in wisdom from above that is pure and peaceable (James 3:17).

Pornography is an awful sin and it is doing just about as much damage as any tool the devil has at hand to destroy our next elders, our marriages, our innocent sons and our congregations. It must not be ignored because it is a spiritual malignancy that quickly grows to stage 4. But it is not the porneia of Matthew 19:9.

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Outcome-Based Obedience?

womanOn 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.

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Early Detection: One Divorce in Your Church is Too Many

Last night I spoke on the topic “What to Do When You First Think There Might Be a Marriage Problem.”  That was a tough topic for me because you do not want 200 ladies to leave the room in horror because they all see some of the symptoms you list as signs that there may be marital problems. On the other hand, every counselor has lamented “If only we had recognized this earlier, the marriage might have been saved.”  So finding the balance was important and challenging.

Here are a dozen indicators I mentioned that may signal a growing problem in your marriage. Some of these are very serious and should be immediately addressed. Some can find compromise or resolve more easily with early detection. But if several of these are occurring simultaneously in your world, find help yesterday. Your marriage, children, souls and service to the Lord are worth all expenditures to address the security of your sacred union.

1. Sex is not occurring regularly between the two of you.
2. Your conversations together are not deep and meaningful, but superficial.
3. You take separate vacations, by choice.
4. One of you has an attraction to someone other than your spouse. You find yourself looking forward to being in his/her company and you want to look nice for that person.
5. One spouse’s hobby is off the radar in terms of dedication to it, and/or money and time spent on it. (Money may be spent on the hobby that is needed for bills, etc…)
6. Arguments are never settled, but are allowed to “pile up” and resentment mounts.
7. One spouse is afraid of the other.
8. A spouse is caught in lies.
9. There is some part of a spouse’s world to which the other is denied access (can be computers, phones, or a room in the house).
10. A spouse is secretly on the computer in the night.
11. A man is able, but unwilling to provide financially for his family.
12. There is any child abuse occurring in the home.

May God grant us wisdom and boldness to find His grace and fulfill his holy purposes in our marriages. He is so good to provide the plan for this earth’s ultimate happiness. May we follow his blueprint in joy all the way home!