Summary: Seventh in a series exploring life crisis, based on the promotional materials provided by Outreach in their "Who Cares" campaign. This message explores the life challenge of divorce.
(Extensive inspiration for the sermons in this series derived from the sermon samples in the "Who Cares" promotional series by Outreach Ministries.)
I opened with the following poll, asking respondents to keep their hands down until all the options were shared. Then there was a simultaneous raising of hands which revealed the impact of divorce church wide.
- Have you ever been or are you going through a divorce?
- Do you have an immediate family member (mom, dad, brother or sister)going through or previously divorced?
- Do you have a close friend, neighbor or co-worker going through or divorced?
- Raise Hands
Some Seemingly Positive Conclusions to Such Results:
For example. One might say, “Well, we are all in the same boat on this topic.” Not only in the church, but outside the church. In fact, famous pollster George Barna’s research shows that divorce in the church is just as common as it is outside the church. In the church 33% of marriages end in divorce. Outside the church, the number is 34%. And it doesn’t differ much in the Bible belt. In fact, the south is second in the nation in divorce. The south has a divorce rate of 35%, just behind the west at 38%, and leading the Midwest and the Northeast geographically.
So we are all in the same boat, which can lead to a second seemingly positive reality, that being that there is no longer much of a stigma to being divorced. It is pretty common place. Not as shocking or disturbing to people as it once was.
Of course, those are just “seemingly” positive conclussions. And they are way out numbered by the actual challenges presented by such statistics, not the least of which ironically enough is that there is not much of a stigma. And being in the same boat just means we are all in the same pain. Pain often felt similar to this (Who Cares Video).
Margaret Atwood is quoted to have said, “A divorce is like an amputation: you survive, but there’s less of you.”
Maybe the greatest challenge to the issue of divorce in the church today is not the lack of stigma, or the commonality of it, but the greatest challenge just might be the fact that the Biblical teachings on divorce are tough.
So people will wonder –
- What will Pastor Chip say are legitimate grounds for a divorce?
- Will pastor say that once you get a divorce, you are not allowed to remarry?
- If you do remarry, will he say you are committing adultery?
- What if my spouse is not a believer?
- What if I was not a believer when we got married, but I am now?
A tough issue with plenty of tough questions. So let’s open with a unique prayer that asks God to prepare us with an open heart for what He might have to say on this issue. (Pray)
Well, let’s go the authority. Let’s look at what the Bible would offer on divorce. Divorce is nothing new. In fact, it was common throughout the ancient world, usually favoring the man. So the Law did not establish divorce, it already existed, but the law attempted to bring justice to an existing practice of the day. That is an important distinction. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 24 (read verse 1 to 4).
Here we find Moses speaking of a certificate of divorce which will set the tone for centuries of debate inside and outside the church regarding divorce. Apparently the husband was to initiate the preparation of this official document dissolving the marriage. He could have it written if he found any “uncleanness” in his wife. No one knows exactly what “uncleanness” meant. In that day it would normally be a term linked to sexual behavior or promiscuity. But whatever the case, it was sufficient grounds for divorce.
Time goes by. This “certificate of divorce” has seemed to open the door to legitimately ending a marriage, and then we come across a rather widespread practice of divorce that seemed to move it from the realm of occasional teaching to actual common practice. Apparently what happened is that a substantial number of husbands in postexilic Judah were “dealing treacherously”, as the Word of God describes it, by divorcing their wives.
Then in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we can find not only the cause of many divorces, but even the suggestion that two great leaders of the day were challenging the men of the land to “put away” the wives that they had married.
Turn with me to Ezra 9 (read verses 1 through 4). Ezra cries out to God, and subsequently calls all the men of Judah to Jerusalem, and issues an order. Ezra 10:10 (read through verse 11). He is basically commanding the men to divorce themselves from the Canaanite women and other peoples of the land as a means of cleansing the nation and returning to the covenant of God.