“But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
In Matthew 19, the Lord touched on two difficult issues with which His church has struggled and contended ever since: Does divorce exclude people from usefulness in the kingdom? Do the saved have to keep the Law?
He addressed the first subject with the Pharisees while His disciples were listening in (19:1-12). The second subject He addressed to a man identified as “a rich young ruler,” but again, overheard by the disciples.
Are divorced and lawbreakers excluded? (Part III will take up the second question, the matter of the Law.)
Before moving on, let’s revisit the subject of adultery and adulterous remarriages. I feel a need to add a word or two.
First, the text. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
That appears pretty open and shut. But it isn’t.
My wife and I are still learning about marriage.
Bertha and I were both 76 years old when we married. I’m five months older than she.
But don’t take that the wrong way. In no way are we old. We are not infirmed, crippled (thank the Lord!), or elderly. We both still work. She teaches English for a local community college and teaches online for a Christian university in Indiana. I’m retired, but always on the go to preach and sketch people for events. I write (blogs, books, articles for various publications) and watch a lot of sports on television (and she’s all right with that!).
We are loving our lives.
Bertha and I were each married 52 years, she to Pastor Gary Fagan, and I to Margaret Ann Henderson. God took Gary to Heaven in May of 2014 and Margaret eight months later. Bertha and I met in February of 2016, and were married a year later.
When Margaret and I married, she was just short of 20 and I was 22. We were both children with hardly a clue what we were doing. An accounting of the mistakes we made would fill an encyclopedia. I’ve not asked Bertha about her and Gary who married about the same time. But I’m confident she’s a different person now from the 22-year-old who stood beside Gary and took the vows.
Who wouldn’t be different? We live and learn.
“I could wish everyone were like me.” — Paul (I Corinthians 7:7)
That the Apostle Paul was either a lifelong single or widowed seems to be the consensus of scholars.
There’s an old joke about a committee telling a young pastoral candidate why they would not consider him. “You’re not married.” He responded, “The Apostle Paul was not married.” A member of the team said, “Yes, but he couldn’t stay out of jail long enough to take care of a wife!”
It’s not that pastor search committees are against singleness. Every member of the search team either is now or has been single at some point. It’s rather that they believe marriage has a good effect on a man, and they prefer a pastor who has the balance in his life which only a loving, faithful, dedicated female can provide.
Also–let’s admit the obvious here–they’re deathly afraid of what might happen if the preacher starts dating someone in the congregation! Horrors.
Jimmy, a single pastor, tells me churches fear the notion of calling such a person as their shepherd for various reasons:
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either falls, the other will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when no one is there to lift him up…. And if two lie down together, they keep warm. But how can one be warm alone?” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)
A friend whose wife died several years ago said to me recently, “I don’t ever plan to marry again. If God has something different about this, He will let me know. But I’m a long way from anything remotely like that.”
His reason for telling me that? Probably so I’d quit trying to come up with a good match for him.
Bertha and I have been married 15 months. We love this time of our lives so much–we were each wed for 52 years before the Lord took Gary and Margaret–we wish all our friends could share the joy!
Every pastor is faced by the dilemma of whether to marry certain couples. And I’m not referring to the scarier twosomes that come in, where the immediate answer is “Sorry; not in this lifetime.” Some of the decisions get complicated real quick.
I had honestly forgotten about this one until it popped up in my journal from 20 years ago. A friend recently filled me in on the rest of the story.
A highly respected pastor friend called me from another state. A couple from his church wanted to be wed in my city, some 200 miles away. Would I be able to do the ceremony? A simple enough request. That happens a lot. New Orleans, where I lived from 1990 until October of 2016, seems to be a wedding destination for a lot of people. One time the bride’s family was from New England and the groom’s folks lived in Texas. So, New Orleans was a convenient spot for everyone to meet in the middle.
So, nothing complicated about this request, I assumed. The wedding would be at a hotel and my congregation would not be involved at all.
I cleared the date on my calendar, called the groom and we set up a time for the bride and groom to visit in my office.
A day or two later, in chatting with someone from that pastor’s city I happened to mention in passing that I would be doing this wedding. She said, “Oh no. You are? You don’t know?”
Did you hear about the senior couple who got married and spent their honeymoon getting out of the car?
It’s funny only if it doesn’t apply to you.
Since it appears we’re now doing a brief series on the subject of seniors remarrying, we thought there should be a place to record things that made us laugh, the silliness that has kept the fun in our relationship.
Oh, one more thing before we go on. Keep in mind that lovers often laugh at things no one else would, that they have secret, little inside jokes based on something said early in the relationship, and so not everyone will find what follows as humorous as we did. And that’s perfectly fine. We’re not going into the stand-up comic business.
Bertha and I had not been seeing each other more than one week, but already knew the Lord was in this. In one of our nightly (8 pm) phone calls, she said, “What would be a deal-breaker for you in this?” One would think this would bring a serious response from me. But my mind doesn’t work that way.
“Two are better than one…” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
It was for good reason the Lord said “It is not good for man to be alone.” He who made humans knew them. “He knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Genesis 2:18 and Psalm 103:14)
The Heavenly Father knows we need someone in harness with us.
Ever try to row a boat with one oar? By stroking only on one side of the boat?
Without the counterbalance of the other oar, we tend to get off course, to go in circles, if you will.
Most of us need marriage. We are better people as a result of being joined in wedlock to someone different from us, someone who loves us, but who sees life from another angle and brings their own perspective into every issue.
Consider this a word in favor of marriage and remarriage.
Bertha and I were married to our spouses–Gary and Margaret–for some 52 years each. The Lord took Gary to Heaven in May 2014 and He took Margaret in January 2015. While we had never met each other’s families, Gary and I had been friends since seminary in the 1960s. Bertha and I met for the first time on February 15, 2016. We were married on January 11, 2017 after eleven months of visits (we lived 200 miles apart), phone calls, texts, letters, and all the usual stuff.
As I sit at the laptop typing this, our marriage is two weeks old. I recommend it!
A child expresses dismay that her grandmother is thinking of marrying again. She may say this, or perhaps it goes unsaid: “How can anyone take grandpa’s place?” Her older siblings are surprised to think of grandmother going to bed with another man. “And at her age!”
An adult son expresses dismay that his father is thinking of marrying again. He may voice this, or perhaps it goes unsaid: “He’ll end up marrying some young thing who will walk off with our inheritance!” His sister adds, “Mom has a dog for companionship. What does she need with a man? I thought she was beyond that.”
In an article on this website, I told how Bertha Fagan and I met last February 15 and quickly came to see, in the words of Psalm 118:23 that “this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight.”
Making plans for marriage–at some point; we’re still undecided as to when–is certainly exciting and more than a little scary. A relative said, “I admire your courage.” I thought to myself, “Courage is the right word. It takes courage to uproot your lives, sell your homes, downsize your possessions, and merge your existence with another person for the last years of your life.”
It takes faith.
There are so many issues, questions to be settled, matters to be determined before we take that step.
Now, everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner til death…. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises…. And of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. –C. S. Lewis, “Christian Marriage” in his book Mere Christianity.
In the wedding vow, we promise to be true to our beloved “so long as we both shall live.”
But what we do not promise and probably could not keep even if we did is to always be “in love” with the other.
Say what? How’s that?
C. S. Lewis says, “A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.”
But shouldn’t we always be in love? Isn’t that the goal?