Category Archives: Relationships

Does the Bible Permit Divorced Persons to Serve as Church Leaders?

 

I recall a man in a church who was known and respected by everyone. He volunteered to help when people were in need and provided wise counsel when people were struggling. At a congregational meeting, his name was put forward as candidate for elder. But an objection was raised: 20 years earlier he had been divorced after his wife left him for another man. Even though he’d been faithfully married to his current spouse for many years, some in the congregation wondered if his election as a church leader would violate the standard set by 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. (niv)

A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. (niv)

In Greek, the expression translated in most English Bible versions as “husband of one wife” actually reads “one-woman man.”

Some believe this passage implies that anyone who has ever been divorced and remarried is not permitted to serve as an elder or deacon. But this assumes that being a “one-woman man” means never being divorced. And that isn’t always the case.[1]

A number of other considerations must be taken into account in the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy and other New Testament passages. The “one-woman man” standard doesn’t stand alone; it is part of a larger group. First Timothy 3:2-7 seems to teach that a person’s suitability to serve as a church leader rests not only on one qualification, but many. An elder must be:

 

         blameless

         temperate

         self-controlled

         respectable

         hospitable

         an apt teacher (teachable)

         not given to drunkenness

         gentle

         not quarrelsome

         not greedy or covetous

         a good manager of his household and children

         a seasoned believer

         of good reputation with outsiders

 

A couple of additional thoughts:

First, the criteria for church leadership doesn’t seem to involve sins committed prior to conversion. The apostle Paul, for example, persecuted the church and participated in the murders of Christians prior to his conversion, yet he became one of the most influential church leaders of all time.

Second, a fair evaluation of an individual should take all circumstances into account. Are those who have struggled to preserve their marriage after being abandoned by an unfaithful spouse really in violation of the “one-woman man” principle?[2] Not likely.[3]

[1] Many scholars believe that this phrase is talking about current character rather than past performance. According to this line of thinking, a twice-divorced person who has been faithful to their spouse for 15 years may be more suitable to serve than a never-divorced person who habitually fosters inappropriate relationships with persons other than their spouse.

[2] Jesus himself acknowledged that sexual sin was legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11).

[3] If a person’s suitability on the basis of one qualification comes into question, his evaluation should continue based on all of the rest. If a local congregation knows that a man’s divorce had truly biblical grounds or occurred prior to his conversion so that he can be considered “blameless” (1 Timothy 3:2) and well-qualified upon the basis of all the other criteria, he can be considered a “one-woman man.”

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How can we helpfully respond to the prodigals in our lives?

When people we love abandon us, it can be painful. The pain seems magnified when the person is also leaving, or seems to be leaving, their church and their faith. When this happens, it is natural to feel angry and confused. But for the Christian, the call is to move beyond the initial pangs of emotion to something that will reflect the light and love of Christ.

Jesus offers us two visions of how we can react through the parable of the prodigal son: the father and the dutiful eldest son. Their reactions to the lost son’s return can instruct us as we engage with and respond to those who have abandoned the church.

The father, who could have easily become bitter from the hurt his youngest son inflicted, chose to forgive and offered the returning son open arms instead of a closed heart. He didn’t question his son about the sins he had committed. He didn’t ask his son to promise or do anything in order to be welcomed back. The father’s pain did not overpower his capacity for love.

On the other hand, the eldest son’s heart was full of bitterness and a sense of injustice, feeling that his lost brother did not deserve to be welcomed back. How easy it can be to react this way. How easy to ask, “Why does he (or she) deserve my love and rejoicing?”

When the prodigals in our life return to church for a holiday service or a wedding, how will we react? The unconditional love of the father for the lost and returned seems almost impossible for us to emulate…almost. As long as we think of emulating the Father’s unconditional love as our duty, we aren’t very likely to do it, and we run the risk of becoming like the older son. But love is not merely our duty; it’s our destiny as followers of Christ.

The church is the body of the risen Christ in the world. Something new and powerful happened when Jesus rose from the dead. It was the start of God’s Kingdom—His new creation breaking into our fallen world. And one day, when Jesus returns, he will finish that recreation. Until then, God calls us to reflect the reality of His future Kingdom in the present by how we relate to each other today.

When people leave the faith, we can react in a way that reflects old way of the fallen world as pictured by the eldest son, remaining “faithful” but all the while growing resentful and self-righteous in our dutiful obedience; or, we can react like the father, taking the new creational path of love, peace, and reconciliation, longing to pour our love out to those we have lost.

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Can domestic abuse be non-physical?

Yes, it certainly can. Often, verbal or other types of non-physical abuse are not considered abuse. However, consider this brief definition: Domestic or intimate partner violence/abuse is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors by an adult — male or female — including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion used against current or former intimate partners.

Domestic abuse can take many forms and they all should be taken seriously. Here are some examples of abuse that are not necessarily physical:

Verbal abuse involves belittling, demeaning, or threatening speech that is meant to manipulate or coerce one’s partner or spouse. Verbal abuse often carries the threat of physical violence, but not always.

Sexual abuse includes coerced sex through threats or intimidation or through physical force, forcing unwanted sexual acts, forcing sex in front of others, and forcing sex with others. But it can also be accomplished by withholding sex and intimacy as a means of control.

Psychological abuse can involve isolation from others (including family and friends), excessive jealousy, control of activities, verbal aggression, intimidation through destruction of property, harassment or stalking, threats of violence, constant belittling and humiliation, threats of physical violence or harm, creating a situation of total economic dependency, and financial enslavement.

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Is It Biblical to Use Birth Control?

The Bible neither advocates nor condemns the use of birth control because it was written long before modern methods of contraception were developed. Consequently, the Bible’s silence cannot be used to argue for or against birth control’s use.

Like many issues in life, God seems to leave it up to us to decide how to honor Him in this matter. God could have plainly stated: “All families must have five children; no more, and no less.” That would have ended the issue. But He chose not to, because He allows for personal choice here. But the freedom to choose necessitates wisdom. Wise couples will take into consideration their emotional, medical, and financial limitations as they seek God’s wisdom when having children.

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How can I help my teenager deal with abusive dating relationships?

While there are no simple fixes, there are several things parents can do to help their kids deal with abusive relationships. These ideas might help.

Take the time to talk with your teenager about abuse — what it is and how to deal with it. Let them know that they are far too valuable to accept abuse. It is never acceptable for anyone to manhandle or verbally abuse them. Then take the time to help them identify abusive behaviors and patterns to be avoided.

Abusers often try to isolate and control their partners. This is one of the first warning signs that your son or daughter may be in an abusive relationship. If you suspect abuse, lovingly encourage your child to surround themselves with friends and family members — this is a time to press into relationships, not recoil from them. Encourage them to get active in church, volunteer with organizations, and expand their interests.

Don’t accept the excuses your son or daughter makes for their partner’s abusive behavior. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind. Yelling, pushing, possessiveness, insults, and intimidation are signs of control. Remind your child that they have the power to end this relationship now. Everyone deserves to be respected because everyone is precious in the eyes of God.[1]

(Adapted from Live Right Now)

[1] Psalm 139:17–18

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