During the many years that I have led Bible studies, facilitated discussion groups, or taught first grade through high school seniors, I have always stressed the importance of reading a Bible passage in context. Christians, or their church, will sometimes base their beliefs on a single verse. When one takes the same verse and studies it in context, more times than not, it has been used differently than the original intent. For example, many people love to quote Revelation 3:20:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
~ Jesus ~
Many people believe this verse is about an unbeliever seeking understanding of who Jesus is. The belief is that if they opened the door of their mind to God’s word, He will come to them and save them from their sin. But when the passage is studied in context, one will discover that it is a condemnation of the Church at Laodicea for their lukewarm faith:
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked – I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
~ Jesus ~
This passage is not addressing the non-believer, but the one who knows the word of God but has chosen to live their life as they see fit. Sitting in judgement of other Christians based on one’s perceived knowledge of the Bible falls into the category of works.
The purpose of this post is not to sit in judgement of anyone, but to point out how the meaning of a verse can be corrupted by taking it out of context. The Christian church (Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, etc., as well as organisation like Bible Study Fellowship International) has corrupted God’s instructions concerning divorced believers in the church, at least according to my experience.
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
~ Jesus ~
I truly believe that marriage is a life time commitment. God does not want married couples to seek a divorce when life becomes difficult. I also believe God does not want any person to live in an abusive relationship whether it is physical, emotional, or both. God also instructs every believer to follow the governing authorities and the laws of the government. When man’s law is counter to God’s law, a dilemma is created for the Christian.
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
~ Apostle Paul ~
In Jesus’ time, the scribes and Pharisees were part of the ruling elite. The scribes were responsible for copying God’s word down to the smallest detail (this is where “every dot and tittle” originated). The Pharisees were Jews who were meticulous in their adherence to their interpretation of the Torah (the Bible’s Old Testament). The Christian church today, as well as para-church organizations (like BSF International), have many scribes and Pharisees who bring their interpretation of scripture to bear on those caught between God’s word and the laws of man placing a burden on believers that was never meant to be.
The scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
~ Jesus ~
Prior to my being faced with the decision of my Biblical beliefs verses the Family Law Court, I often wondered how a Christian couple could come to the point of divorce? Yes, I too stood in judgement. I thought my marriage would not end until death parted us. Then what I thought would never happen, happened. I was served with a stack if paperwork that threw me into a convoluted process known as dissolution. Little did I know that nearly everyone I worshipped with, studied with, served with, and taught with would turn their back on me and become scribes and Pharisees and sit in judgement. Fellow Christians have raised accusations like stones to strike me, but thankfully Jesus does not condemn me.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
~ Apostle Paul ~
One of the truths I have learned over the years, is that every circumstance has a lesson to be learned. This experience with the Court of Family Law has given me compassion for those who are forced through a divorce no matter what the reason. Jesus is the God of forgiveness, mercy, and grace. You have to look no further than the 13 men who became his Apostles: fishermen; a tax collector working for Rome; a zealot who hated Roman rule; a thief and traitor; a denier; all but one missed Jesus’ crucifixion and death; a doubter; those quick to anger; status seekers; a persecutor of the church and murderer, and the list goes on.
Of the branches of Christianity, the Catholic church, under the guidance of Pope Francis, is working to eliminate the burden of being a divorced believer. The rest of the Christian faith, as well as individual believers, need to follow his lead and look at a divorce in context and grant the same mercy, grace, and forgiveness Jesus taught.