Recently I have encountered two instances that were very similar. One is a young man I love as my own brother, and the other was a young lady I met through a turn of events. The fundamental things these two individuals have in common are they are young, both were raised in church, and both divorced. The circumstances at to why they divorced are different, but the end result – divorce – was the same. There was something else that they shared; they were cut off by their Christian friends. The Christian divorces their spouse and the Christian friends of the now divorced Christian divorced them. This is the great divorce!
Now I hate divorce, and I believe God hates it. I do not believe there is ever a good reason for divorce. I realize Matthew 19 says that if one divorces their spouse due to unrepentant infidelities then they are not guilty of adultery. Although this is not a discourse on that passage (maybe another day), I do believe this passage teaches divorce, although permissible in some instances, is never acceptable. Jesus said that from the beginning divorce was not to be. I want to make it clear that I am not advocating, or in anyway way trying to lighten the offense. Yet the way these two individuals were treated by their Christian friends was not Christ-like in the least. Just as the individuals divorced their spouses because they didn’t know how to reconcile whatever situation they found themselves in, so the Christian friends didn’t know how to reconcile the situation so they just put away their friends.
Paul said it best: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) All too often we hear of a brother/sister in a fault and come to them more in the attitude of Jobs friends than the attitude of Jesus Christ. We reprimand them, and if they do not immediately respond as we would wish, we cut them off. Yet Paul’s words actually indicate that the restoration process takes time as he says we are to gently restore them. One doesn’t restore an American muscle car in 5 minutes, nor should one expect a 3-5 minute confrontation bring about full repentance. Divorce is complex, and when it takes place it puts every area of the life of those going through it in the shredder. It will take some time in restoring the fallen brother/sister. We will have to pour our life into them, spending time with them, loving them, and gently providing rebuke and encouragement when needed. But most Christians don’t want the hassle, or they are too frightened to deal with it. Most don’t know how to deal with it, for they are afraid that by showing too much compassion they are condoning the sin. Something Paul says helps bring it in perspective for me, “each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted”. In dealing with my fallen brother/sister I am to remember that I am just as susceptible to their sin as they are. And I know that if I had fallen as they did I would want – I would NEED – my Christian friends to gently lift me up. I would love for them to get up under my burdens with me, and help me through it all. But most Christians stand off on the sidelines and tell their fallen siblings what it is they should be doing, and all they’ve done wrong. In so doing, these sideline screamers are actually in disobedience to Jesus Christ.
I’m guilty of cutting of fallen brothers in the past, so I don’t claim perfection. But I have made observations about my own heart when I have done this and here are some things I have seen in myself.
– I thought I was better than the one who sinned and cut them off.
– I didn’t know how to deal with their sin, as it scared me and I excommunicated them
– I wanted to send a clear picture that I hated the sin, so I cut them off.
– I tried to “lovingly” go to them (albeit no real affection was there, rather pride masked in love) and since they didn’t immediately repent I cut them off.
In every instance it was my heart that was wrong as well as a faulty understanding of Christ’s work and plan in the world. At times, I failed to see me as I really am, weak. I failed to look on my brother with love and compassion. I failed to see that just as Christ gave His life for my restoration, so I am called to give mine (as part of Christ’s body) to take part in that restoring work in the lives of others – this was an opportunity to imitate my LORD! Jesus is a friend of sinners. Jesus came to Peter after being denied by him three times and compassionately looked him in the face, over a meal no less, and began His work of restoration. There was no “how could you have done this?” or “do you realize how much material you have given the non-Christian to mock Me now, Peter?!” He simply asked, “Do you love Me, Peter? Feed my sheep.” He put him right back into employment. He took that back stabbing apostle and made him a pastor! Its odd how one of the things we Christians struggle with the most is forgiveness, isn’t it?
As I’ve witnessed both of the individuals share how the “great divorce” has taken place, and saw how the hurt of their first divorce of their spouse was compounded by the second divorce of their friends, and I’ve set out to show my fallen brothers/sisters the love of their Redeemer. By God’s grace, I will attempt to gently restore the fallen, taking heed that I too may fall, and thus fulfill the law of my Savior.
May we seek to avoid the great divorce.