Divorcees and singles can often feel on the fringes of the church. But Jesus made sure to address their challenging situations, will we heed his message?
Pastoring Divorcees & Singles In The Church
The Lord Jesus Christ brings to the fore the reality that there will be divorcees. There will be people who find themselves outside of marriage.
Often individuals who have come out of the very crushing period that finally leads to divorce tend to lose their joy, the sense of God’s blessing and God’s presence. It’s important that we come alongside them and provide the ear in which they can pour out their woes as they are processing the healing period.
Topics & Timestamps
00:00 – A short recap on the marriage series
02:48 – Advice for pastors ministering to strained marriages
04:39 – Pastoring divorcees and singles in the church
12:36 – Pastor divorcees who are hurting
16:29 – Struggles faced by divorcees
21:47 – Pastoring those who are single
30:40 – Singleness as a gift from God
34:19 – Sex outside of marriage
38:45 – The freedoms of singleness
45:00 – Speak and minister in love like Jesus did
Top Quotes: Pastoring Divorcees & Singles
“The Lord Jesus Christ brings to the fore the reality that there will be divorcees. There will be people who find themselves outside of marriage.”
“Too many single people in our churches are sexually active outside marriage. We often only know about it when there’s been a pregnancy but that’s the tip of the ice-berg.”
“For various reasons many people have an unhealthy view of marriage. But the cause, Jesus said, is: “Your hardness of heart.”
Other Content On This Topic
Text: Matthew 19:1-12
Date preached: 8 January 2020
Location: Grace Ministers Conference, Johannesburg, South Africa
A Short Recap On The Marriage Series
Brethren as they say, all good things must come to an end except heaven. SO we’re still here on earth and hence a wonderful conference draws to on earth. I’ll invite you to turn back to Matthew and chapter 19. And as you do so let me join our brother Jonathan in expressing gratitude to you for the overwhelming positive feedback to the messages that have been given here. Not only those that have given but also on behalf of my fellow speakers in the last couple of days. The sessions that. I have had have been slightly different from those of my fellow speakers in the sense that they’ve been particularly geared towards equipping us to minister to others. Whereas as you noted, the messages that have come from the others have been about us. And they sort of cut us into shreds and bandaged us back together again for which we are most grateful. There’s been a lot of heart searching while we have been here.
But no doubt these are like two sides or two wings of an aeroplane. There is the taking heed to ourselves and there is the taking heed to our flock of God that he has brought under our care. And it’s been with respect to the second area that I concentrated. We’ve looked at the need for us to have a biblical view of marriage and to insist on teaching and preaching that in the midst of a secular world. And then yesterday I dealt with he need for us to pastor strained marriages in the church. Even though perhaps you might be an individual who has not got the vast experience as far as marriage is concerned, the people in the congregation are crying out for biblical help. And consequently it’s not so much that you’re drawing from your. rich experience but that you’re drawing from the scriptures in order to minster to them.
Advice For Pastors Ministering To Strained Marriages
I’m reminded of one individual that I specifically studied a lot about during my PHD studies and its the first Baptist leader in. Zambia. He was a leper, he didn’t he didn’t have feet, at least toes and fingers. He for the latter part of his life was on a wheel chair. He never married throughout his life. He died at the age of roundabout 50 years old. But the point is that in the research, in fact it’s been put together as a book. It’s probably been already sold out at the back there. But the person who first wrote about his life spoke about in this village church he used to spend entire days, from morning until late at night, counselling strained marriages. And the lady who wrote it, Olive Doug mentions that many marriages in the villages were saved because of this man’s efforts and work. And yet, as I said, he had never been a married man before. But it was in the use of the scriptures. So I really need to encourage all of us not to be too quick to remove ourselves from this great task. The church needs that kind of ministry and we aught to ensure that we are providing that.
Pastoring Divorcees And Singles In The Church
In this last session I’m dealing with pastoring, the title was singles and divorcees in the church. I’ve turned it round a little bit primarily because of the order that we find in our text. So I’m calling it pastoring divorcees and singleness in the church. And we’re doing so again from Matthew 19 but this time we’ll go a little beyond verse 9 and we’ll go all the way to verse 12. So let me read that section to you, Matthew 19:3. I won’t blame you. if by the end of today you’ve memorized this passage. “And pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery. The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this, receive it.'”
The Lord Jesus Christ brings to the fore the reality that there will be divorcees. There will be people who find themselves outside of marriage.
Well as you can see, the Lord Jesus Christ, although his initial answer was to basically say to the pharisees that marriage is permanent. Nonetheless they pushed him sufficiently for him to deal with the nature of marriage in a fallen world and in dealing with that he not only gave the rationale by which Moses gave the law as we saw it in Deuteronomy, but he went further to even qualify the one situation in which divorce was not only permissible but also as a consequence remarriage would be legitimate by saying that unless it is in this situation to marry another would be to commit adultery.
Well thankfully that’s not what I’m dealing with uh in this session and so we will sort of just mention that in passing however what the lord Jesus Christ does is inadvertently bring to the fore the reality that there will be divorcees. That there will be individuals who the whole process of a strained marriage finally leaves them outside marriage. There are a lot of details that would obviously have to work through but at this stage I want us to at least acknowledge that fact because you only have to be in an average church for just a few years to realize that, that soon becomes a reality. That you will have to deal with individuals that have come out on the wrong end so to speak of a marriage relationship. What can we learn from this fact?
Well first of all addressing the issue of pastoring divorcees I need to state that not all divorcees that we have in our churches need special pastoring. Not all of them the reason is simply the fact that you will discover that some of them went through divorce so many years ago that they have essentially recovered from that and they have moved on. And so to try and deal with them as though they are still hurting, as though they are still dealing with various issues related to divorce is basically taking them backwards. So I really want us to at least deal with that by the side as we proceed that not all of them need that kind of attention. However most recent victims or perpetrators who lead to divorce will have issues that need pastoral care and pastoral attention. Especially because to borrow the words of the Lord Jesus Christ here, divorce is a result of the hardness of heart. In other words sin, stubborn sin, if not in both parties definitely in one of them. And it is a well-known maxim that wherever there is sin there is suffering, it’s a matter of time. And consequently when you have a situation of divorce you will have suffering. You will have issues that somebody is going through and as a pastor one of the greatest benefits that they have is having you in their lives I’ve pulled out just a few areas that they will need pastoral care in.
Pastoring Divorcees Who Are Hurting
One of them is simply that the fact that they are hurting and there is a big possibility of them nursing a grudge especially if they are on the end of having been unfairly treated as the divorce comes about. You cannot easily overlook that. God’s purpose for human life and living was actually that we might know him and rejoice in him, the two go together. Remember the statement in the catechism – the chief end of man being to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. But often individuals who have come out of this very crushing period that finally leads to divorce tend to lose that joy, the sense of God’s blessing and God’s presence and so forth. And it’s important that we come alongside them and provide the ear in which they can pour out their woes as they are processing the healing period. But also it’s the whole question of this grudge that they have that they need to process. There are a lot of questions. Should I forgive? Should I continue like this? What should I do with what I am going through? Every time I see this person’s face either in the world in real physical reality or in my own mind there is this pain that I go through. What does this mean? It’s gravitating towards actual hatred. What should I do?
Now one of the things that we mustn’t overlook as a Christian church is that where there has been clear stubborn rebellion that leads to divorce, we must exercise discipline. The people of the world and their own church needs to see that we are not turning a blind eye in that direction. Now granted there are often a lot of details that we have to work through as an eldership in dealing with these cases but I still insist where it is obvious we need to lead the church in actual disciplinary action where there is clear stubborn rebellion against God’s word. And I also think that does help with the person who is processing the healing because they realize that this is not me as dealing with a personal issue. God’s clear view on this has also been affirmed by the church.
Struggles Faced By Divorcees
Let me hurry on to the second and that is the whole area of self-esteem. Usually individuals who have been divorced battle with feelings of being treated as garbage that’s been thrown away. The sense of self-worth is a matter that again needs to be addressed so that they see themselves as God sees them, as Christ sees them. Rather than what another individual sees them. And then thirdly there are legal battles, legal battles, often divorce goes through courts of law and sometimes the clever one the one who has hired the clever lawyers tends to get away with an unfair chunk in the process. Again it’s important for us to our pastors to pray with our members as we commend them to professional help. That we they can see that we are crying out to God for justice as they are going through this. Fourthly there is the whole area of loneliness and also difficulties usually to do with finances these often go together because the person is coming from a background of deep companionship. They’ve known what it means to always be with someone in their lives and now there is that empty space. And also with respect to finances they had an extra mind or sometimes even extra hands. We use the phrase back home, “Someone to help you stretch the Kwacha.” I suppose you can speak in terms of stretching the Rand. And now the person is alone and often even when they’ve gone through the legal process and he courts of law have said so much finances should go towards perhaps the keeping of the children, often that’s a drop in an ocean compared to what is actually needed to deal with the demands of life and living. They may have taken out loans before and now they need to process all this. Again you can pray with them and also you can commend to them a professional help.
But also and perhaps lastly in this respect it’s the conscience. Have I sinned? Am I sinning against God as my marriage has come to an end? The Lord Jesus Christ here says not only that Moses allowed you because of hardness of heart he also says whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery. And there are a lot of views concerning divorce and even evangelicals are divided about this, let alone re-marriage. And it’s important for you as a church leadership to at least have a position and to spend time with the flock of God making that position known so that you are counseling them, you are helping them to process this with God’s word before you.
So there are number of areas that no doubt demand that you don’t simply look at individuals that have gone through divorce especially in the more recent past and see it as though they have simply gone out of a job. It’s more than that. It’s the deepest possible human relationship on this side of eternity. They’ve literally been torn away with all the pain and hurt from the other person. It’s like the chopping off of a limb. Therefore we must be there for the healing process.
Pastoring Those Who Are Single
I will come back to these passages, we’ll come towards the end. Right now I want us to proceed to singles. We noted how the disciples when they heard the lord Jesus Christ speak like this and clearly suggesting in very clear words that marriage is meant to be permanent. But from the beginning it was not so and I’m unwilling, Jesus seems to be saying, to redefine marriage I want us to keep going back to the way it was fresh off the factory line, that the disciples said to him if such is the case of a man with his wife it’s better not to marry. Before I address that again I want to begin with a statement I made about divorcees that not all singles in our churches need special pastoring. There are many who have processed their singleness long ago and they are doing pretty well. They’ve gone on, they have dealt with it and let’s not go in there and start giving them the impression that they are still as it were in the hospital ward and they need attention. And some of them are simply still young. They’re going through their teenage years and as far as they’re concerned it’s the most blessed state to be in especially early teens.
However like the disciples here there are many who have an unhealthy view of marriage due to many reasons. Again the best cause for this unhealthy view of marriage is what Jesus said in verse 8, “your hardness of heart.” Perhaps they’ve grown up in the home of parents who were always quarreling and fighting. And if you never met young people who have been scarred because of this, blessed are you. But I’ve met enough of them who say, “I don’t want to get married because of what I saw in my home.” And that’s terrible but it’s still a fact. So when they are brought into the context of Christian teaching and they come to realize that marriage is meant to be permanent they say, “Okay if it’s going to be permanent I’m not getting in there, I’m not getting in there. I’m happier outside. Forget it.”
And brethren part of pastoring singles is teaching them that marriage is God’s gift to us. It’s god’s greatest gift in creation. Let’s go back to verse 4 and verse 5. “When Jesus was asked the question is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause he answered have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” He made them male and female. Why? Well he gives the answer. Look at the next statement and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” In other words God deliberately made us male and female with marriage in mind. It’s his greatest gift. It’s his general gift to all of us. Now there is a special and unique gift that he gives to towards singleness, we’ll come to that in a moment, but they need to see to be taught that despite the reality of the hardness of heart actually this is God’s greatest gift to you. And if god ever gives you a spouse, jump into the air with three hallelujahs. Rejoice and the wife of your youth. And therefore to say to them make this a matter of prayer. That the lord may lead you, that the lord may guide you, that the lord may prepare you for marriage. It shouldn’t just be left to a kind of chance happening but that it’s a matter that you constantly lay before him because it will make you or it will break you. And may it be that it will indeed make you.
So teach that but also there is a need to expose such individuals to models that show the blessedness of marriage. Invite them to your homes. That’s assuming you do have a blessed marriage by the way. Let them see the pastoral example, let them see the example of the elders, let them see the example of the leaders of the church.
I have found that young people can be extremely open and sometimes betray their own parents they come visiting and because your children are their friends they spend a few days in your home. And you’re not pretending you’re just living out life as you live it and then perhaps on their last day or maybe a week later they tell you they want to see you at church. And then they say to you that thank you for what I experienced in your home. That, that was a healing bomb to them and then they start telling you the civil war that takes place in their own homes which would have never known about because as you know Christians are good pretenders especially when they come to church in their Sunday best. Sometimes they come from an actual war zone early in the morning and then call each other honey as they are coming out of their cars. Which as we learned last night from Eli’s treatise, children hate the hypocrisy. They are not deceived at all. But now they open up to you and they say thank you they at least now see that you can actually have a marriage that is truly joyful. So I encourage that, expose them to good models.
Singleness As A Gift From God
But as I already hinted let’s also teach them that singleness is God’s unique or peculiar gift to a few people. That’s what Jesus meant here in the passage of scripture that we have just read. Look at the beginning of verse 11 and at the end verse 12. “But he said to them not everyone can receive this saying but only those to whom it is given.” Or at the end of verse 12, “Let the one who’s able to receive this receive it.” Notice the phrase let the one who is able to receive it. Not all are able to receive it. And it’s important for us to teach that to the singles in our church especially those who are running from marriage in the opposite direction. It’s important to say to them yes you may have experienced something that is terrible in your parental home or your guardian’s room and so on and so forth that does not mean that running in the opposite direction is the right thing to do because singleness is a gift a unique gift a peculiar gift.
The Lord Jesus Christ uses the picture of eunuchs and he’s obviously using that phrase in picture form or figuratively because eunuchs were individuals that were in fact castrated because of the peculiar role that they were playing in society. And often it was related to a king’s home or palace to avoid these officials. sleeping around with the queen or the princesses and so on. So Jesus is using that in a figurative way, that here are individuals who are being kept away or out of the context of sexual practice. And he is saying, look it’s not all who can do that who have the ability to contain sexual appetite. Not everyone can receive these he says. There are eunuchs who’ve been born that way, so it’s a gift they already have from birth. Then it goes on to say they are eunuchs who have been made that way by men and that’s the typical actual castration. And then the eunuchs who’ve made themselves units for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. In other words who have devoted themselves to this great cause of the extension of God’s kingdom in such a way as to put marriage out of the way. But again it’s God giving them the ability. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.
Sex Outside Of Marriage
Sadly too many single people let me add the phrase, in our churches, are sexually active outside marriage and that’s a disaster. It’s a disaster. Every so often we only get to know about it when there’s been a pregnancy. But as I say in my own church that’s a tip of the iceberg. It’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s God himself simply saying, “I’m opening the wardrobe full of skeletons and the skeletons fall out.” There are many other wardrobes whose doors are still closed but there are skeletons on the inside.
We need to say to single people that if singleness is not your gift, marry or get married because you will fail to handle or resist sexual temptation. That’s what Paul was teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. 1 Corinthians 7, that famous text. I’ll come back to it. In fact my next point will also be from there. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” It’s one of the reasons God has given marriage. It’s to give us the only legitimate sphere of sexual expression and indulgence. Single people need to realize that.
Too many single people in our churches are sexually active outside marriage. We often only know about it when there’s been a pregnancy but that’s the tip of the ice-berg.
One of the things that we’ve had to wrestle with in our own church has been individuals who are married but because of academic studies or career progression and situations end up living in two different parts of the country. And we’ve done everything possible to discourage it. We’ve kicked, we’ve screamed, we’ve cried blue murder, we’ve tried everything. In fact we did an entire seminar on it in the month of February this year which is just next month our aim is to have that material out in book form, to simply discourage what we called long distance relationships. And often the excuse is something like no but we agreed that we will remain faithful although we are apart. And we often say yes your brains agreed. But did your hearts agree? Did your hormones agree? Did your sexual appetite agree? Because that’s a different ball game altogether. You expose yourselves to sexual temptations that you then fail to handle and then you start blaming the other party when really both of you ought to share in the blame. If singleness is not your gift and it’s possible for you to marry, marry, rather than to burn with passion.
The Freedom Of Singleness
Also teach singles to use their singleness in fellowship with the broader body of Christ and in Christian service. This is what the Apostle Paul says towards the end of this chapter. 1 Corinthians 7, quite a bit of it even earlier but I’ll just begin with verse 32 to verse 35. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. “I want you to be free from anxieties the unmarried man is anxious about the things of the lord how to please the lord but the married man is anxious about worldly things how to please his wife and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the lord how to be holy in body and spirit but the married woman is anxious about worldly things how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit not to lay any restraint upon you but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the lord.” In other words singleness doesn’t mean you are still sitting on a shelf waiting for the day of action. Singleness is a day of action actually, a lot more action than you can put in as a married person because there’s so much you have to put into keeping your marriage afloat.
I was speaking earlier on concerning our first Baptist leader in the history of Zambia, single for the whole of his life. Became the foremost leader of Baptist work in 1931 and died in 1957 a year after being ordained as a Pastor. But all those years pushing the agenda of the kingdom of God and today we have the fruit. The lady herself who worked closely to him Olive Doug basically was also a single lady throughout her life. In fact she still has the uh the position of the longest serving missionary , Baptist missionary in the whole history of Zambia. She left Johannesburg at the age of 25 in 1916 and died in 1972 in Zambia. Single throughout her life but Zambian Baptists thank God for her.
And it was in those days when they didn’t have running water they didn’t have electricity, it was just in the village but she served the lord with distinction. Whenever I’ve spoken about her I get emotional she’s my heroine because of the details of her life. As she speaks like on one occasion I remember I got very emotional when I was speaking about it when while she was busy translating the bible into Lamba, she heard some noise in the background and she turned and a cobra spat in her face and she said on that day she was glad she had poor eyesight because she was wearing glasses. Finally with help they managed to kill it. And when she retired, the day she retired she was handing over a complete bible for the first time in the Lamba language to the Lamba speaking people. I could go on.
The point is let single people realize they’re not waiting for a bus, they’re not in some airport departure lounge stuck there until it’s time to board. They can spend and be spent in Christian service a lot more than married people would be. And then finally this is especially important in terms of our own ministry to single people – for women who tend to panic when they are going past what psychologically they believe is the best before date, if you understand what I mean. It’s good to ensure that there is sufficient fellowship around them that assures them that God is sovereign. H e has written out our lives and for those of us who are god’s children it is indeed His will that is best for us. We don’t know the future but one thing we know in the present let’s serve him and leave the rest to him.
Speak And Minister In Love Like Jesus Did
Well brethren let me hurry on to close, back to Matthew 19. One or two quick points there. First of all yes it is this reality of the hardness of the human heart that often brings about the need for this extra ministry especially to divorcees and to a lot of single people. It doesn’t mean as I’ve said that we should do it to everyone because some of them, in fact, will be assets, individuals helping us to minister to others in their category. As you will discover as a pastor that there will be individuals that you cannot minister to because they tend to psychologically think you have not been there yourself that’s why you’re speaking like this until someone who’s been there walks in and says, “I know what you’re going through but this is how the lord helped me.”
However it’s not simply singles and divorces as we saw earlier on it’s also those who are in strained marriage relationships because Satan works over time to destroy marriages. And we mustn’t look the other way. Satan works over time to destroy individuals through sex. We know that and therefore it’s so important for us to make sure that we are doing good pastoral work in this area, helping to keep a healthy biblical understanding of marriage. Helping the marriages that are strained to survive those difficult periods and then also ministering to those who have come out on the wrong end and those who are hesitant to move in.
For various reasons many people have an unhealthy view of marriage. But the cause, Jesus said, is: “Your hardness of heart.
I want to end by reminding us brethren that the one who was teaching this in Matthew 19 came as a Saviour not as one to condemn. He will come again to condemn. At the time he was teaching this he came as a redeemer ,he came as one to salvage that which sin had destroyed. So even as we read these words let’s not imagine some kind of hard hearted. hellfire preacher who’s simply threatening people. As he’s teaching here, love is oozing out.
He is lovingly ministering in a world that is hurting because of the hardness of human hearts. Therefore as we teach this let’s also be his voice lovingly ministering especially pardon in Christ for those who fail or who fall in sin. Even divorce is not an unpardonable sin, it’s not. We must be pointing people to a redeeming saviour. One who is saying, “Yes sin has destroyed I have come to build.”
Too many once vibrant Christians now sit in our pews like prisoners of war because they blew it at some stage in their past and we are not moving in to say to them, “Come our saviour wants to use you. Come, if there is unconfessed sin go to him go to the foot of calvary and pray that the blood he shed on the cross may wash away your sin. If there have been areas of weakness ask that he may fill you with his spirit and consequently energise you to live a life that was previously impossible.” We need to be that voice that says to such individuals, “Stop crying over spilt milk. God can still use you. God still wants to use you. Renew your walk with him through a pardoning saviour through an empowering spirit.” May we be that voice as we go back home, amen. Let’s pray.
Oh spirit of the living God be pleased to take your word out of its sacred pages and apply it to our hearts and to our lives. We’ve heard messages about the lives of preachers, help us each one to apply relevantly those messages. We’ve also had messages about our work as preachers especially in relation to marriage, to singleness to divorce. Oh God help us to be true physicians of souls, that many that have struggles in this area may thank God that they were under our ministries. Father help us to do just that for your glory and for the good of your people, in Jesus name. Amen