Has God Called You to Peace?
“If the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.”—1 CORINTHIANS 7:15.
1. Scripturally, how should marriage be viewed?
JEHOVAH never purposed that wedlock should lead to heartrending separation or divorce. Marriage was to be a lasting ‘one-flesh’ bond, resulting in joy, rest, and peace. (Genesis 2:24; Ruth 1:9) In general, the Scriptures counsel married people to remain together, even if one mate is a Christian and the other an unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) Moreover, treacherous dealings that result in severing matrimonial ties make one morally accountable to God, who ‘hates a divorcing.’—Malachi 2:13-16.
2. How do Christians view separation and divorce?
2 Human imperfection and other factors have sometimes led to separation or divorce even among baptized servants of God. Because of the high regard Christians have for wedlock, however, usually these steps are taken only after persistent efforts to hold marriages together. In this regard, God himself set the supreme example. As the “husbandly owner” of ancient Israel, he endured centuries of stubbornness, rebellion, and spiritual adultery on the part of his people. (Isaiah 54:1-5; Jeremiah 3:14-17; Hosea 1:10, 11; 3:1-5) Only after they went beyond the point of reclamation did Jehovah cast them off as a nation.—Matthew 23:37, 38.
3. (a) For what Scripturally permissible reasons might a Christian separate from a marriage mate? (b) Scriptural divorce is possible under what circumstances?
3 At times, congregation elders are approached by fellow believers desiring help with serious marital problems. The elders are not authorized to tell anyone to leave or divorce a marriage mate, but they can point to what God’s Word says about these matters. As shown in the preceding article, separation is Biblically permissible in a case of willful nonsupport, extreme physical abuse, or the absolute endangerment of spirituality. It has also been noted that Scriptural divorce with the possibility of future remarriage to another partner is possible if a mate has committed “fornication,” which embraces several forms of immoral sexual relations. (Matthew 19:9) Naturally, separation or divorce should not be a foregone conclusion, since it may be possible to restore marital peace, and even adultery or other forms of fornication can be forgiven by an innocent marriage partner.—Matthew 5:31, 32; compare Hosea 3:1-3.
4. (a) Briefly summarize what Paul told married Christians at 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. (b) When can it be said: “God has called you to peace”?
4 As we noted in the previous article, the apostle Paul urged married Christians not to leave their mates. (1 Corinthians 7:10-16) In view of Paul’s words, if an unbelieving mate chooses to remain with his Christian marriage partner, the believer should try to help him spiritually. (1 Peter 3:1-4) His conversion would do much to make the home a place of rest and peace. Yet, if the unbeliever objects to the faith of his believing mate so strongly that he chooses to separate, what can the Christian do? If the believer tried to force him or her to stay, the unbeliever might make the situation so disagreeable that the Christian would be totally robbed of peace. So in the interests of peace, the believer can let the unbeliever depart. (Matthew 5:9) Only when an unbelieving marriage partner leaves can it be said: “God has called you to peace.” These words cannot rightly be used to justify separation of two Christian mates on unscriptural or frivolous grounds.
5. What questions now merit our consideration?
5 Every separation or divorce has its individual factors, and no “formula” covers every case. But what problems may a separated or divorced Christian face? What can be done about them? And how can others be of help?
Emotional or Sexual Needs
6. As regards problems, what can be said about separation or divorce?
6 Scripturally allowable separation or divorce will solve some problems. But such steps basically result in trading one set of problems for another. For instance, one divorced Christian said: “I can’t help thanking Jehovah that now I have peace.” But she admitted: “It’s not easy raising children as one parent. And sometimes one can get very lonely and depressed. Even sexually it’s not easy. One has to adjust to a whole different life.”*
7. Why should a Christian think carefully about the consequences of separation or divorce?
7 If a Christian has a choice, therefore, he should think carefully about the possible consequences of separation or divorce. For example, consider emotional needs, perhaps a woman’s desire for male companionship. (Compare Genesis 3:16.) A divorced woman may have strong hopes of remarriage. Some desire release from a trying marriage, but are they ready to accept the possibility that there may not be an opportunity for remarriage?
8. (a) In view of 1 Corinthians 7:11, to what should separated Christian mates give prayerful thought? (b) What needs should not be minimized when considering separation or divorce?
8 Paul wrote: “If she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:11) With some effort, it may be possible for a woman to ‘make up with’ her husband or ‘be reconciled to’ him. If Christian mates have separated, then, they should give reconciliation very serious, prayerful thought. Moreover, they should not ignore the fact that sexual impulses may pose a danger. How is God likely to view them if their failure to become reconciled should result in a fall into immorality? Illustrating this danger is the experience of a certain baptized woman. After a divorce, she began dating a worldly man, soon became pregnant, and was disfellowshipped. Although she was later reinstated, her experience emphasizes the need for caution and prayerful reliance on Jehovah so as to avoid ‘sinning against God.’ (Genesis 39:7-12) It is also obvious that emotional and sexual needs should not be minimized when separation or divorce is initially considered.
Loneliness Can Be Lessened
9. How might we help separated or divorced Christians to combat loneliness?
9 If separation or divorce is unavoidable, the resulting problems will have to be faced. For instance, loneliness is a serious problem for some separated or divorced Christians. What can others do about this? Well, congregation elders and others can show spiritual interest in such individuals, seeking to encourage them. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:14.) Among other things, we might occasionally invite these persons and their children to our home for a modest meal and upbuilding conversation with our family. It is not necessary to spread a banquet, for “better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it.” (Proverbs 15:17) The evening might include the relating of experiences enjoyed in the ministry or a group study in preparation for a Christian meeting.
10, 11. (a) In what other way might a separated or divorced Christian be helped? (b) What reason is there for caution?
10 Having the divorced or separated parent and his or her children join your family in the field ministry can also help them to cope with loneliness. Of course, others cannot take the place of the missing parent, but one divorced Christian woman said: “The difficulties of raising my children without a man in the house have been minimized considerably by the assistance of elders and servants in the congregation who have tried to compensate in practical ways.”
11 Yet, there is reason for caution. One sister admitted: “Since my son is fatherless, a brother very kindly took an interest in him. . . . I began to see how kind and generous he was to my son, and wrong desires began to develop within me. It was just like David developing a wrong desire for something that was not his.” (2 Samuel 11:1-4) Although sexual immorality did not occur, this woman became ashamed of her thoughts and flirtatious actions, sought Jehovah’s forgiveness, and broke off association with the brother. How well this illustrates the need to reject wrong desires and “avoid any semblance of evil”!—1 Thessalonians 5:22, The New American Bible; Galatians 5:24.
12. A person might lessen his or her loneliness by taking what positive action?
12 Loneliness may be lessened by doing things for others. “If you are busy reaching out and helping others, there is no room for self-pity and loneliness,” said one sister whose marriage ties had been severed. Such “reaching out” by a separated or divorced person might include inviting a family to one’s home for an evening of spiritually upbuilding association. If this is rarely possible for financial or other reasons, you might visit and encourage the sick or others. You might also be able to help the elderly with their shopping or various chores. Give of yourself in such ways, and you will have increased evidence that “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
13. What is another aid to overcoming loneliness?
13 Another aid to overcoming loneliness is regularly taking the initiative to join fellow believers in the Kingdom-preaching work. “At times, I do feel lonely for a husband,” admitted one sister, “but with my increased field-service activity and the new freedom to associate with the brothers and sisters, these periods are very infrequent and short-lived.” Regular house-to-house witnessing may lead to return visits and home Bible studies with interested people, some of whom may become dedicated servants of Jehovah. Of course, overcoming loneliness is not our reason for engaging in the ministry, but that may be one effect of this joyous and blessed activity.—Proverbs 10:22.
14. What activities should have a good effect on separated or divorced Christians?
14 All of Jehovah’s people can benefit spiritually from sharing in the ministry, participating in Christian meetings, and ‘seeking first the Kingdom.’ (Matthew 6:33) Since these wholesome activities have a fine effect on Jehovah’s servants in general, such pursuits can upbuild separated or divorced Christians too. No, these activities will not solve all their problems, but they should improve their outlook.
Prayer Plays a Vital Role
15. Prayer can play what role in the lives of those who must adjust to singleness once again?
15 One Christian sister who had to adjust to singleness once again was helped by “keeping busy in field service . . . and visiting the ill, elderly, and inactive ones.” But she added: “Whenever I feel lonely, I do visiting and pray for strength, knowing that Satan is very busy.” Yes, heartfelt prayer is vital if integrity to God is to be maintained. The prayers of separated or divorced Christians can include requests for Jehovah’s spirit and its fruit of self-control so as to keep sexual impulses in check. (Luke 11:13; Galatians 5:22, 23; Colossians 3:5, 6) Moreover, since the making of decisions once made by a husband may pose problems for some separated or divorced women, they may also need to pray for God’s help in deciding matters wisely and coping with various trials.—James 1:2-8.
16. In connection with separation or divorce, what might be said about feelings of guilt?
16 Feelings of guilt may prove to be trialsome. One Christian admitted: “The guilt that you feel during a divorce, even if you are not the guilty party, can be overwhelming.” Of course, guilt feelings are understandable if separation or divorce occurred because one unjustifiably refused to fulfill marital obligations. (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) But if separation or divorce took place for a Scriptural reason after prayerful thought, it would be fitting to pray for Jehovah’s help to overcome unwarranted guilt feelings. It may be added that congregation elders should be careful to give Bible-based counsel and not weight their advice in such a way that a Christian is made to feel guilty about obtaining or permitting a Biblically allowable separation or divorce.
Guarded by “the Peace of God”
17. What can help all Christians to be happy and stable in this troubled world?
17 Separated or divorced Christians often have unique problems. Yet, to some extent, “the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of [our] brothers in the world.” (1 Peter 5:6-11) For example, persecution affects all who serve Jehovah, and most Christians face financial or health problems, disappointments, temptations, and so forth. Like other witnesses of Jehovah, therefore, the separated or divorced Christian needs to keep meeting spiritual needs by Bible study, regular meeting attendance, active field ministry, a rounded-out life of sacred service, and constant prayer so as to remain close to Jehovah. (Matthew 5:3) Failure to do so would jeopardize the spirituality of any Christian, whereas ‘seeking first the Kingdom’ gives each loyal witness of Jehovah a notable measure of happiness and stability in this troubled world.
18. What questions and steps merit serious thought by separated Christian mates?
18 Our spiritual stability depends on personal application of God’s Word. Therefore, if you are a Christian separated from a marriage mate who is also dedicated to God, have you taken to heart Paul’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 7:10-16? Particularly if the separation has continued for some time, you would do well to make reconciliation a matter of earnest prayer. You might also ask yourself: What does Jehovah expect of me as a married person? Should not Christian mates harmonize their lives with divine requirements for those who have entered wedlock? Could it be that we are not experiencing Jehovah’s blessing because we have failed to honor our marriage vows? Just think of the good that might be accomplished if you were to discuss matters humbly, pray earnestly, and work diligently to apply God’s Word in life. How fine it would be if the two of you could resolve your marital problems and again enjoy life together in a home of rest and peace!
19. According to Philippians 4:6, 7, what precious thing can all servants of Jehovah enjoy?
19 All faithful servants of Jehovah need and can enjoy something precious—“the peace of God that excels all thought.” As Christians, we can have this treasured peace if we heed Paul’s words: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:6, 7.
20. (a) What is “the peace of God”? (b) Regardless of our marital status, what should we do?
20 That peace is God-given tranquillity and calmness, even amid the most trialsome circumstances. It stems from a close relationship with Jehovah and a knowledge that we are doing what is pleasing in his eyes. Those possessing “the peace of God” permit his spirit to motivate them, and they are not overwhelmed by anxiety. Why? Because they know that nothing is allowed to happen to them that is not by divine permission. (Ephesians 4:30; compare Acts 11:26.) So whether we are single or married, separated or divorced, let us cherish “the peace of God.” And may we have the same confidence as did David, who declared: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you yourself alone, O Jehovah, make me dwell in security.”—Psalm 4:8.
For a discussion of one-parent families, please see The Watchtower of September 15, 1980, pages 15-26.
How Would You Reply?
□ Under what circumstances can it be said: “God has called you to peace”?
□ How can loneliness be lessened?
□ What role should prayer play in the life of a separated or divorced Christian?
□ How would you define “the peace of God” that guards the hearts of single, married, separated, or divorced servants of Jehovah?
[Picture on page 29]
Prayer can bring all faithful Christians “the peace of God” that will guard their hearts and mental powers