This past Sunday I preached a very difficult sermon on the subject of divorce. Matthew 19 tells the story of Jesus being pressed by the Pharisees who come demanding answers as to whether it's right or wrong. Of course Jesus sniffs out their motives before they ever even ask the question - they want to trap Him & alienate Him, and they want to continue to feed their self-righteousness. While my prayer was definitely that many who were present who've been wounded and scarred by divorce might find healing, restoration, forgiveness, (maybe even repentance), I felt very overwhelmed for weeks now that the person(s) the Lord was burdening my heart for most were those who were standing at the precipice of making this decision - of deciding "I'm done. I quit. I give up!" - and quite possibly needed the Holy Spirit to whisper to them one last time, "Don't give up!" I'm still praying that this happens, as I know there are couples and families who are still fighting this battle. But this morning as I read in Ezra, I felt very compelled to encourage a very specific group of people: pastors.
Many of the Jews had gone directly against God's command prohibiting them from intermarrying with other people groups. (See Ezra 9) This wasn't a racist or prejudiced prohibition - it was a spiritual one! Ezra was grieved by this. So much so that he confesses "I tore my clothing, pulled my hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked." And if I'm being honest, while I haven't found myself ripping my hair out or my clothes into pieces, I have been fairly devastated and shocked in the last days at how many pastors and ministers have walked away from the covenant they made with their spouse and with the Lord. I just don't get it!
[Please hear me loud & clear: I don't write this to pass judgment, condemn, or dig up dirt that has already settled. There are several pastors and ministers in this town where I live who have walked through this. I am NOT their judge, their probation officer, their conscience, or (most importantly) the Holy Spirit. What I am is a human, often jacked-up, stained but cleansed, forgiven man seeking after the heart of God. He has called me not only to preach His Word, but to live it and to "patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage" God's people through right teaching. Even other pastors!]
Back to Ezra. As some of the Jewish leaders come to Ezra with this horrible report, the last thing they share with him is the straw that breaks the camel's back - it's the knockout punch that sends him to the mat. They tell him, "To make matters worse, the officials and leaders are some of the worst offenders." Soak that in for a moment.
I know there's this really feel-good vibration these days that comes from someone preaching and leading from a history or experience of "I've messed up myself". But let me say this as compassionately, yet as bluntly as I know how: the Lord hasn't called us to be the guinea pigs of caving in to sin or to temptation - He has called us to holiness! (See 1 Peter - ALL of it!) And again, these are not words from a heart of judgment, but of pleading with those of you that the Lord has called to pastor, equip, and lead others - those of us He desires to fashion and refine so that we can shepherd others - GUARD YOUR LIFE! Guard your heart, protect your marriage and your family, and KNOW for a fact that the Enemy desires nothing more than to simply plant a seed of destruction that will wreak havoc on your life and your ministry. He doesn't discriminate with his lies. In fact, he probably makes up even better ones for you & me. Why? Because if I bite the bait he's put on the hook...anyone will.
If you're not a pastor (or even if you are) there is probably someone in your life that you consider YOUR Pastor. With all the love and courage that the Holy Spirit can fill your heart with, go to them, encourage them, and demand of them that they PROTECT THEIR MARRIAGE! If you're worried about how they might receive this exhortation, remember that worry is not a fruit of the Spirit. And if your pastor rejects this word or act of admonition, then we may already have a problem. And don't forget Peter's words of warning: (1 Pt. 5:8) "Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour. Take a firm stand against him...." Please, don't wind up as a victim. We are called to be "more than conquerors"! If we're not actively fighting this fight, then we've already decided to be defeated.
1 Corinthians 7