God’s Tests

Abraham had been preparing for approximately 50 years, on the hills and slopes of his life, for his final triumph of faith. He was tutored patiently through all the previous tests and experiences of his life. Now comes the final.

Let’s recap his lessons to this point.

#1: The Trust Test—12:14. Abraham learned he could trust God when he didn’t have all the facts or know where he was going. (He teaches us to do the same.)

#2: The Tent and Altar Test—12:8-10. Abraham learned to believe the promises of God and to be a productive follower, even while he waited for the promises of God to be fulfilled.

#3: Failure Tests—12:10-13:2; Gen. 20:12-13. Abraham learned even failure can be a good teacher and can prepare you for what is ahead. He learned he could trust God for his protection and provision.

#4: The Finance and Resource Test—13:5-12. Abraham learned to have great confidence in the Lord’s provision, even when he was living in less than ideal circumstances. He also shows us that not having all we want may shield us from many temptations, e.g., Lot living in Sodom.

#5: The Warfare and Family Tests—14:1-17. This experience taught him he could trust God in the greatest of challenges—even insurmountable odds—and God would provide a victory. Even when our families are in trouble, we can trust God to provide us with the solutions and wisdom for their dilemmas.

#6: The Praise Tests—14:21-24. This experience teaches Abraham and us that even in success there will be moments of temptation to take the praise for ourselves, or to give the praise to someone else.

#7: The Giving Test—14:20. Abraham learned a tithe willingly given to the work of the Lord is a thankful acknowledgment that the provision we have received is from God. (See Heb. 6:20-7:4.) How are you thankfully acknowledging God’s provision?

#8: The Faith Test—15:5;17:1-21. Abraham learned to trust in God’s promise for his family, even when he couldn’t see how it might happen. If we believe God’s promise, no matter how unlikely it might seem, then God will reveal to us more insight into His plans and desires for His people.

#9: The Obedience Test—17:9-27. Abraham learned when God calls us to a covenant relationship, He requires evidence of our commitment: our obedience. (See also Gen. 21:4.)

#10: The Intercession Test—18:17-33. Abraham learned our responsibility reaches beyond our immediate family, and includes the need to intercede for those we know who are living outside the will of God, especially our extended family.

#11: The Patience Test—Gen. 21:1-4. Abraham learned to have patience for God’s promises. With each test Abraham was gaining experience on the foothills, developing perseverance. As he was tackling the lower mountains, they were preparing him for a greater challenge. Then God said, in essence: “Now Abraham, tackle Moriah. I think you are mature, not lacking anything.”

It is important to see that God was testing Abraham with the most severe type of positive command possible. Think about it:

God was not testing Abraham’s reason. No! God was testing Abraham’s willingness to obey without seeing any rationale.

Summarizing all the tests is the question with the most value: Would Abraham put God’s desire ahead of his own feelings for his son and obey, even though he could not see the reason?

This was no snap quiz. There were insurmountable obstacles to Abraham’s obeying:

His own reasoning powers

His love for Isaac

His love for Sarah (the boy’s mother)

His knowledge of who Isaac was (the one through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled)

His knowledge of the character of God.

Remember, Abraham pleaded—on the basis of what he knew God was like—that God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:25) If we were to give Abraham a grade or award on his test, it would be found in John 14:21. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. What a wonderful reward for all who obey and show their love; they will experience the love of the Father and the Son in a more complete way. They will understand his love better. And best of all, “(I)…will show myself to him.” What a reward: to have Jesus reveal Himself to us.

Gen. 22:1-2—Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am, he replied. 2] Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.

Can you imagine how shocking it would be for us to hear these words? I cannot even imagine how I would have felt, had I been Abraham. But I am not Abraham, and it’s important for us to understand that these statements make no sense at all unless we see them through Abraham’s eyes. Even seen through his eyes, it is easily the greatest test of his life, certainly one of the greatest tests anyone has ever had to endure.

There is one very special key here that will help us to unlock and apply this incident. Without this key, you and I will miss the enormity of these events and how we might learn from them.

It is essential to understand what the word “test” means. “Some time later God tested Abraham“—v. 1a. It doesn’t mean to tempt or test to do evil. James 1:13 teaches us, When tempted, no one should say, God is tempting me.For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…” So Abraham was not tempted by God; he was tested by Him. “Test” (tested—”nagah”) means to try, or prove, or to be approved. God, knowing what Abraham was made of, intended to prove and approve him as good.

(Incidentally, this is the first time the word “test” is used in the Bible. It is always significant when a word is used for the first time in Scripture.)

Note that God never tested Abraham’s nephew, Lot, in the same way he tested Abraham. Why?

It is already obvious what was in Lot’s heart. (Let me tell you his story). Genesis tells us all the lesser tests in Lot’s life that he had failed.

God presented a more difficult test to Abraham because he, unlike Lot, was prepared for a test of this magnitude. This test did not come out of the blue, but was preceded by many previous tests, experiences and preparation.

Time and again Abraham was challenged to surrender to God’s plan and Word, and in the process was prepared for this test.

Recognize the Signs of Burnout

Learn to Recognize the Six Warning Signs of Burnout by Mike Gillespie

I’ve logged 18 years as a youth minister—18 years learning to outsmart a ministry nemesis that’s claimed many of my friends. That enemy is burnout. Two decades ago, I scoffed at the possibility; now I don’t. That’s because I’ve paid a high price for ignoring the warning signs of burnout in my ministry. As you read my story, take a moment to evaluate your ministry. Remember, if you think you’re safe from burnout, you’re probably its next victim.

Warning Sign #1: THE SUPERMAN SYNDROME

Early in my ministry, I was sure hard work was all I needed for success. I felt confident because I already had a good work ethic. Because of my naiveté, I didn’t realize the church will let you work as many hours as you want. There’s always something more to do. A 45-hour week quickly stretched to 50, then to 60, then … I thought I could be everything to everybody.

I was particularly vulnerable at youth council planning sessions. We scheduled retreats, lock-ins, and trips with little recognition on my part of what it’d take to pull them off. The kids loved that about me, so I succumbed. My favorite refrain: “Sure, we can do that.” One summer, I committed to participate in five group trips and lead two week-long children’s camps. “Sure, I can get it done.” BUNK!

I’m learning to work smarter, not longer.

ASK YOURSELF: Am I obsessed with getting it all done? Is hard work a sign of successful ministry to me?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #2: THE FATIGUE FACTOR

How many times in the last six months has a church member said, “You look tired.” Hey, there’s no hiding it. All those all-nighters, retreats, program planning meetings, and visitation trips add up. It surfaces in your posture, your eyes, your energy, and your enthusiasm. It roars out at people you work with in the form of irritability, sarcasm, and cynicism.

I’ve leaned to appreciate people who tell me when I look tired. I take it as grace. I get some rest, lighten my calendar, and recommit to my exercise routine. I understand that I’m no good to anyone when I’m tired. Excuses such as “That’s what ministry is all about” are simply dumb. Recently a youth group member bluntly told me, “Hey, you look tired. Get some rest.” I did. It helped. I’m psyched again.

ASK YOURSELF: Do people notice that I’m tired a lot? Have I looked in the mirror lately and moaned, “I’m tired”?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #3: MISHANDLING DIFFICULT PEOPLE

All of us work with difficult people. Every church and every denomination has them. Sometimes I think God has “overblessed” me with them.

Difficult people demand a lot of attention. They’re high-maintenance people. It takes patience and energy to respond well when they come at you with another passionate agenda. How you deal with them can indicate impending burnout.

I recall an intense father who had demanding views and a biting, sarcastic attitude. I worked with his two daughters. I monitored how I reacted to him. Sometimes I was highly effective and could work through his criticisms positively. Other times I was poisoned by his attacks, and lingering bitterness got the best of me.

What did I discover? It all had to do with ministry energy. When I was in “martyr” mode, I was much less effective with him. When I was energized, I never took his stuff personally.

ASK YOURSELF: Do difficult people often get the best of me? Do confrontations linger and absorb me emotionally?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #4: SPIRITUAL LETHARGY

When we balance our emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, we set in place a foundation for more effective ministry. Experience has taught me that spiritual needs are easy to neglect. That’s why I started taking a yearly hiking vacation in the Colorado Rockies. God has worked on me powerfully on those back-country trails.

As youth leaders, we’re always praying for kids, preparing Bible studies, preaching, and so on. And we expect we’ll find nourishment by spiritual osmosis. That just isn’t true.

To meet my spiritual needs, I must pursue prayer, reading, and quiet time apart from my ministry. If I don’t, my kids know. How? I lead Bible studies like a dictator instead of with them. Group prayer times are legalistic and boring. And I’m pharisaical—I mean I go through the religious motions while neglecting the Holy Spirit’s power.

ASK YOURSELF: Do I tend to overlook my own spiritual nurture? Am I feeding myself so little spiritual food that I’m unable to nurture others through my ministry?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #5: AVOIDING PERSONAL GROWTH

If we don’t pursue opportunities for professional growth, we grow stale. And when burnout is lurking, we lose interest in upgrading our skills.

Professional growth is important to me for two reasons: (1) I value professional relationships with ministry colleagues. When I plan activities or brainstorm ideas with friends, or when I join support groups, I stay fresh. (2) I appreciate good training opportunities. I use my continuing education allowance to upgrade my skills. I particularly like events that teach me new strategies, not just clarify what I already know.

I’ve not always put an emphasis on professional growth. I realize those were times when the burnout bug was like a tick trying to burrow in. Don’t neglect opportunities for professional growth. If you do, that’s a burnout warning sign. (Or worse, you think you know it all already!)

ASK YOURSELF: Do I see professional growth as just another impossible expectation that must be sacrificed for “the important stuff”?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #6: NEGLECTING PERSONAL NEEDS

Have you learned that ministry needs always take priority over personal needs? Then you’re in for troubled times.

I know you could use “take up your cross and follow me” as debate ammunition. But I also know that, at times, I’ve neglected myself, my family, and my friends. And I believe that’s a sin. What a joke—we punish the people we love most to do God’s work. That’s stupid theology.

If you make ministry your mistress, you’ll fizzle quickly. I’m grateful I learned before it was too late that God’s hopes for my ministry aren’t the same as my own expectations. But I’ve paid dearly for neglecting myself, my family and friends.

ASK YOURSELF: Do I neglect my needs because of ministry demands? Do I neglect my family or friends because the church needs me?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Mike Gillespie is a veteran youth minister who’s grappled with burnout throughout his career. He lives in Kansas. This article first appeared in the July/August 1996 issue of Group Magazine.


Preventing Burn-Out

Learn to off load emotionally.

Learn to say ‘No’

Be alert to desperate feelings and understand their implications

Eat a regular and balanced diet

Make time for meaningful relationships and fellowship

Exercise regularly

Maintain a devotional life

Get sufficient sleep to provide rest for the body

Maintain a regular sabbath rest.

Why God Hates Divorce

My sermon title today, “Why God Hates Divorce,” calls for some careful preliminary analysis. In fact, there are four things I want to point out by way of introduction. First, the title presupposes that God does indeed hate divorce. I feel confident in making that assertion because God Himself said so. Mal. 2:16 reads, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel . . . . So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”

But second, I hasten to point out what the title does not say, namely, “Why God Hates Divorced People.” There is no such assertion in the Bible, and there are, in fact, many places where the Bible flatly contradicts such a notion. Now there are a few people who might be called “perpetrators of divorce.” By that I mean they consciously and intentionally use the divorce laws to free themselves of unwanted responsibility or to enable them to get into a new relationship that seems more exciting. Such individuals God may indeed hate. But I am convinced that most divorced people are victims, not perpetrators.

In many cases both spouses in the same divorce are victims–victims of Satan’s lies, particularly the myth of the greener grass, victims of ignorance concerning God’s principles, victims of a lack of resources to deal with the problems in their marriages, victims of a spouse who refuses to work on the marriage. They don’t want a divorce; they hate the thought of being divorced, but they just don’t know any way out of the trap in which they find themselves.

Now when I call these people “victims” I am not trying to relieve them of responsibility for their situation. Nearly all of them made some bad decisions somewhere along the way which led them into court. But I am trying to enter into their pain and grant to them the fact that in most cases this was not a willful act of rebellion toward God. In fact, so convinced am I of the pain and trauma that divorce produces that I have taken out of my vocabulary the term “divorcee”. I speak instead of “the one who has suffered divorce.”

Third, while God hates divorce, it is not by any means the only thing God hates.

Prov. 6:16 reads, “These are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

And there are more. I did a word study throughout the OT and discovered that God hates idols and images (Deut. 16:21,22), He hates all who do wrong (Ps. 5:5), He hates the wicked and those who love violence (Ps. 11:5), He hates robbery and iniquity (Isa. 61:8), He hates the burning of incense in the worship of other gods (Jer. 44:4), He hates religious feasts and burnt offerings when the hearts of His people are not right (Amos 5:21), and He hates the plotting of evil against a neighbor (Zech. 8:17).

Now the reason I mention these other things God hates is not to minimize the hatred God has of divorce, but to help those of us who have not suffered divorce realize that divorce is not a unique sin that makes a person unredeemable in the sight of God or unusable in the church.

Fourth, it is important to note that while God hates divorce, He does not forbid all divorce. In fact, under certain very restricted conditions God expressly permits it. I must assume that in those situations God hates what brings about the divorce (namely unrepentant sexual sin) more than He hates divorce. This morning I do not have time to talk about the exceptions to God’s principle of “no divorce,” but I have written a rather lengthy paper on the subject, which I would be happy to share with anyone who would like to study the issue. In fact, I have a few copies available here this morning.

There may be a tendency for some to think this subject is irrelevant to them. I think not. Those who have never married need to think about God’s hatred of divorce before they decide to make a covenant before God and man “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part.” God takes our vows very seriously.

Those who are now married need to know this before they even think about seeing a lawyer to solve their problems.

And those who are divorced need to realize that a second marriage is twice as likely to end in divorce as a first one, and God hates second, third, and fourth divorces too!

Even the secular world is beginning to wake up to the seriousness of the problem of divorce in our society. Every year over 1 million Americans get divorced, and the statistics get worse each year because the children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves. Larry Bumpass, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, projects that 60 percent of recent marriages will eventually end in divorce. (The Emmaus Journal, 1993, p. 23).

A Michigan state legislator is attempting to reform that state’s no-fault divorce law. The law is so lenient, he said, “it is easier to divorce my wife of 26 years than to fire someone I hired one week ago.” No-fault divorce laws allow a marriage to be dissolved for almost any reason, even if only one party wants a divorce. The result has been skyrocketing divorce rates. State Rep. Jessie Dalman has proposed reforms. If one partner wants to reconcile, then the one who wants a divorce will have to prove fault. Also, the law would give more power over the division of assets to the partner who wants to reconcile. If there are children, the parents would have to prove that the divorce is in their best interests.

But making it harder to get a divorce, while probably a step in the right direction, is not the only way to tackle the problem. On February 9 Clarence Page’s syndicated editorial in the Post Dispatch was entitled, “Easy Marriage, Easy Divorce.” After discussing the pros and cons of no-fault divorce, he wrote,

Fault or no-fault, divorce is no fun. But the solution is not to be found at the back end of the problem, which is bad marriages. Let’s look at the other end. Instead of making it harder to get divorced, I think we ought to make it harder to get married. Worse than the no-fault divorce is the no-sweat wedding. If easy divorce cheapens the institution of marriage, so does easy marriage. We have waiting periods for gun purchases, mandatory training for drivers’ licenses, but nothing at all for two people who want to do the most important thing human beings can do, which is to create other human beings and raise a family.

I appreciate what this Michigan State Legislator is trying to do, and I agree here with Clarence Page, but of far more importance to me is what almighty God, our Creator, has to say on the subject of divorce. What I want to ask and to answer this morning is this: Why does God hate divorce?

Because divorce violates His perfect plan for His highest creation.

Paul Stolwyk spoke very clearly and profoundly last Sunday about God’s blueprint for marriage: One man and one woman united permanently in a relationship of commitment, companionship, fellowship, service, and love. Divorce was never in the original blueprint for the home. Not only is that implied in the Genesis account, it is clearly stated by Jesus. He said in Matthew 19:8: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” It is also made clear in our primary text for today–Malachi 2:10-16:

Have we not all one Father ? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? {11} Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. {12} As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty. {13} Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. {14} You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. {15} Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. {16} “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

In this text the prophet takes the people to task for their spiritual unfaithfulness and for their unfaithfulness to their marriage vows. Spiritual and physical adultery are often linked in the Bible; indeed they almost always go together. A man in the process of divorcing his wife without biblical grounds recently told me, “I’ve never been closer to Christ.” Frankly, I don’t believe it, and there’s nothing in his actions or attitudes that would suggest fellowship with God. Yes, there are tears, but the tears remind me of the tears here in verse 13: “You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.”

In Malachi 2:15 the prophet goes back to the beginning of creation and the institution of marriage. “Has not the Lord made them one,” i.e. one flesh? He had enough breath of life or creative energy to have made many wives for Adam. Why then did He make only one? Monogamy was His intended design, in order to raise up a godly offspring. The author’s point is that divorce clearly counteracts the original purposes of God to establish an extended spiritual family here on earth. “So,” says Malachi, “guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith.”

God’s plan is, by definition, the best plan. How could it be otherwise? If He is the God of Scripture, the infinite, eternal, omniscient God of wisdom and power and love, would He devise a plan that would not be good for His children? Would He demand permanence in marriage if that permanence interfered with our welfare and our happiness? Jesus answered that question emphatically in the Sermon on the Mount. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” And marriage is one of the greatest gifts God has given to His creation.

But, you say, there’s nothing godly about my marriage. It’s miserable, it’s unhappy, it’s degrading. Do you mean to tell me that God wants me to stay in this for the rest of my life? Of course not! God doesn’t want you to be in a miserable, unhappy, degrading marriage for even five more minutes! But there is an alternative to ending a lousy marriage–that’s to find healing for it. I know there are a number of couples here this morning who have seen their marriages healed. I’m talking about marriages that were once in very serious trouble but today are solid, happy, and fulfilling. In fact, in a moment I’m going to ask some of you to stand as a testimony to God’s grace, if (1) your marriage was once so troubled that you thought about divorce, but (2) God has healed your marriage to the point that divorce is out of the question and you would call your marriage solid. If that describes you, would you be willing to stand right now?

Friends, does God heal today? We have some miracles standing before our eyes here this morning–miracles of God’s healing power. Thank you, please be seated. By the way, I’m sure many of these families would be happy to share with you how God healed their marriage. There is hope.

The spirit of our age is a spirit of shallow, temporary commitments and instant gratification. The spirit of our age demands that a marriage relationship meet our needs and achieve our goals quickly and painlessly. If it doesn’t, then we have the right to abandon it and find one that will. As followers of Jesus, however, we need to listen to the Spirit of God, not the spirit of our age, and the Spirit of God states that divorce violates His perfect plan for His highest creation.

Because divorce involves the breaking of a covenant.

The concept of a solemn covenant is at the heart of Malachi 2. There was a spiritual covenant between God and His people, and that covenant served as the symbol for the marriage covenant. All marriages whether civil or religious include the recitation of some kind of vows–statements and promises of mutual commitment before God and man. When a man and a woman marry, they do not say, “Till divorce do us part,” they say, “Till death do us part.” They almost always promise to stay together “for better or for worse.” Although the couple may be non-Christians, God hears the vows made and will judge them for promises not kept.

Do you know how serious covenant-breaking is to God? Listen to a few of the literally dozens of passages that speak about God’s attitude toward those who break covenants and vows. First, Lev. 26:14ff:

But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you. If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit.

Three more times that chapter goes on to say, “If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me . . . further evil will come upon you.”

Then consider Eccles. 5:4-6: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ (Boy, I’ve heard that a bunch of time in marriage counseling!) Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?”

In order to illustrate all the more graphically the heinousness of divorce, Malachi uses three phrases in chapter 2, verse 14 to describe the victim of divorce: “Wife of your youth,” “your partner,” and “the wife of your marriage covenant.” One commentator writes,

She whom you thus wronged was the companion of those earlier and brighter days, when in the bloom of her young beauty she left her father’s house and shared your early struggles, and rejoiced in your later success; who walked arm in arm with you along the pilgrimage of life, cheering you in its trials by her gentle ministry; and now, when the bloom of her youth has faded and the friends of her youth have gone, when father and mother whom she left for you are in the grave, then you cruelly cast her off as a worn-out, worthless thing, and insult her holiest affections by putting an idolater and a heathen in her place.

Of course, this cuts both ways, for there are as many women violating their marriage covenants today as men. God hates divorce because divorce involves the breaking of a covenant.

Because He loves people and doesn’t want them to suffer the pain that divorce inevitably produces.

Divorce, friends, is ugly. Even under the best of circumstances it causes great pain. When a husband and wife get married they become one flesh. That’s the essence of marriage. When a husband and wife get divorced that one flesh is torn apart. There’s no painless way to tear one’s flesh apart. God knows that, and that’s why He hates divorce.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md., categorized life’s most stressful events and found that divorce ranked third behind the death of a child and the death of a spouse. (Industry Week, June 23, 1980, p. 81). Some people I know who have experienced all three would rank divorce even higher.

What I do not understand is why so many will endure all the emotional pain, psychological pain, financial pain, family pain, loneliness, bitterness, and dozens of other kinds of suffering that divorce produces, but they won’t seek marriage counseling, or if they do, they won’t engage in the hard but rewarding work that can bring healing to a troubled marriage.

I think God has a special love for those who have been divorced against their will, as well as for their children. Listen to Psalm 68:4,5:

Sing to God, sing praise to his name,

extol him who rides on the clouds–

his name is the Lord–

and rejoice before him.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,

is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families. (and one of those special families is the church).

Now tell me, do you think God is offering here to be a father to those made widows and orphans by death and not those made widows and orphans by divorce? God hates divorce because He loves people and doesn’t want them to suffer the pain that divorce inevitably produces.

Because He loves children, and children are devastated by divorce.

Children are the silent victims of divorce. Always. One mother I know who divorced her husband to marry another man tried to convince me that her children were doing well; in fact, she had convinced herself that her children were better off with their time and love divided between two homes than they would have been had she stayed in a loveless marriage. Leaving aside the fact I have already mentioned–namely loveless marriages can be healed–this woman is simply deluding herself. I know her children, and her children are hurting, and they are hurting more because of the divorce than they ever would have hurt had she stayed in the marriage. You could never convince me otherwise.

Children of divorce hurt when they are small. I had a little preschooler in this church come to me three weeks ago and tell me she thought she was going to die. I believe the trauma she was experiencing is related directly to the fact that her daddy has moved away and she doesn’t know if he is coming back. Every S.S. teacher and every public school teacher will tell you about the pain inflicted in the lives of small children when mommy and daddy go separate ways. In many classrooms today the number of children who live with both their natural parents in the same house is a distinct minority. And we are surprised at the behavior problems?

Children of divorce hurt as adolescents. Newsweek magazine, February 19, 1996, reported that teenagers from broken homes are more likely to drop out of school, have children out of wedlock and have poor mental health. This week Pastor Bruce has been working with a social worker in our church who specializes in counseling the adolescent victims of divorce in the public schools. They are working on establishing a thoroughly Christian version of that curriculum here in the Church so the children of broken homes can talk out their special issues and find support from one another.

Children of divorce hurt even as adults. My wife’s parents divorced when she was 8. As divorces go it was one of the better ones. Her parents remained civil and there was no attempt on the part of one of them to paint the other as the bad guy. They both lived in the same city so the children had plenty of access to both parents. Her mother and her stepmother became friends and to this day they remain friends, even though her dad died in 1994. We can all have Thanksgiving Dinner together and there is no tension or difficulty. Furthermore, Jan came to faith in Christ through her stepmother, so the best thing that ever happened to her was a result of her parents’ divorce. That’s why I say that as divorces go, this was one of the better ones.

But does that mean the divorce of her parents left no scars? Don’t believe it for a moment. Some of the toughest things we have had to deal with in our 32 years of marriage are the result of that decision of Jan’s parents long before I met her. She has done an amazing job coming to grips with those issues (to say nothing of the problems I brought into the marriage) and her healing is nearly complete, but the question I would ask is this: “Does a child deserve to pay that price so the parents can find a quick escape route from the pressures of life?” And remember, this was by no means a typical divorce. The scars left when mom and dad are bitter and angry or when one of them just abandons the family or even when one moves out of town are infinitely more severe.

God hates divorce because He loves children, and children are devastated by divorce. Now I wish to conclude with one more point:

Because God hates divorce, we should hate divorce and reject it as a solution to the trials we face in marriage.

I’m not talking here about the person whose spouse is guilty of persistent, unrepentant adultery. Jesus addressed that situation in Matthew 5:31,32 with some special instruction. Nor am I talking about the person who because of his or her commitment to Christ has been abandoned by an unbelieving spouse. Paul addresses that situation in I Cor. 7 with some special instruction. But I am talking to nearly everyone else. If God hates divorce, we should hate it. If God says “no,” we should say “no.” If God says, “With me all things are possible, I can heal your marriage if you are willing to live by my principles, invest the necessary effort, and trust me,” then we should say, “Yes, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

I want to close today with a letter I received on Tuesday. I asked permission from this couple and they said I could read it to you. I showed it to Paul and after reading it he said, “You don’t even need to prepare a sermon. Just read the letter.” Well, I thought that was a bit drastic, especially since I had already prepared my sermon, but I do want to read the letter.

Mike,

I wanted to drop you a note and let you know that I have really enjoyed the messages on the family the last couple of weeks. I also want to say that I appreciate your comments and your beliefs on the subject of divorce and how much God hates it! Having a degree in theology from a Christian college and having worked in the “arena” of (a certain evangelical denomination that shall remain unnamed), I have witnessed many ministers dancing around the subject. It is refreshing to see ministers stand in the pulpit and preach what God’s Word says, not worrying that someone will be “offended”–I think a better word is “convicted.”

Having been through a divorce I see the destruction that it does–not only to the two married individuals, but the children, the in-laws, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, friends, associates–it seems to be a never ending “ripple” effect that touches so many people. It is a devastating move that cripples the family emotionally, spiritually, financially, educationally, etc. I have seen the effects on my 3 « year old son; it is so sad to see him grieve for our past mistakes.

My wife and I are still moving in the direction of reconciliation. We both feel very comfortable with each other and have worked through a lot of garbage and hope to put our family back together the way God intended it to be. Our counseling has gone very well and we really enjoy each other. There have been some arguments, etc., but we have actually been able to work through the situations very well. It has been work but it has been fun–we are making it fun!! I look forward to getting our family whole and healed!

Please continue to preach God’s Word as you have. I wish sometimes that I could stand on a mountain and shout a warning for people not to go down the road that we did. Thank God for giving us the opportunity to “make it right”–most don’t get that chance. Mike, please continue to warn the families at E. Free that God hates divorce and it is not the “way out” that most people think it is. I know there are cases that people are in danger and they need to be removed from a situation, but our society has made divorce look like a cure-all for marriage problems–it’s not! It just causes much more pain and destroyed lives.

God bless, and he signs his name.

This couple is here this morning, as they have been for most of the last two months. They were here together on December 31, the morning Ben and Debbie Mudd shared how God had brought Ben to his knees through their divorce, how he had accepted Christ, how he had prayed for reconciliation, and how their relationship was healed. The Mudds were remarried in November. God used that testimony to convince this couple that God could do it again. He is working in their lives and I look forward to officiating at a very special wedding in God’s time.

Marriage is like a garden. Neglect it long enough and it will become a jungle, replete with lions, tigers, and snakes. Friends, if your “garden” is looking a little shabby, now is the time to pull some weeds. If it seems beyond you, get a gardener. There is much at stake. If you see friends of yours that are in trouble, encourage them to get help and get it now.

Reconciliation between two people, whether they are in a troubled marriage, or already divorced, or whether they are just co-workers who can’t get along, or church members who have a personality conflict, or individuals who have racist feelings toward one another,

reconciliation between two people is possible only because God has first reconciled us to Himself. In II Cor. 5:17-18 we read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

God sent His one and only Son to the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice, God extends to us the free gift of reconciliation–He becomes our friend. But He does more–He gives to us the ministry of reconciliation, the privilege of bringing others to the Cross, but also the privilege of breaking down the walls that separate us and finding healing for all our relationships.