By David McKee
“Children…honor your father and mother;” “but if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (Ephesians 6:2; I Timothy 5:8) … unless your father and mother become an emotional or financial burden. Then you can, “for the sake of the kingdom of God,” walk away from all responsibility towards them (Luke 18:29).
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” “Fathers, bring up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord.” “Admonish the young women to love their children.” “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (Psalms 127:3-4; Ephesians 6:4; Titus 2:4; I Timothy 5:8) … unless your children become an emotional or financial burden. Then, “for the sake of the kingdom of God,” you can walk away from any responsibility you have towards them (Luke 18:29).
“Render to all their due;” “owe no one anything;” “do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety for debts; if you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take away your bed from under you?” “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ ‘no’” (Romans 13:7a, 8a; Proverbs 22:26-27; James 5:12) … unless making the payments for your house becomes an emotional or financial burden. Then you may, “for the sake of the kingdom of God,” walk away from the responsibility and obligation of paying what you owe on your house (Luke 18:29).
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her;” “what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Ephesians 5:25; Matthew 19:6) … unless she becomes an emotional or financial burden. Then you can, “for the sake of the kingdom of God,” divorce her and sever all responsibility towards her (Luke 18:29).
Hopefully, as you have read the above statements (aside from the Scriptures), you thought them to be completely absurd. Unfortunately, this is the very reasoning that is being put forth by some. In a clumsy mishandling of Scripture that would have our Savior contradicting Himself; this reasoning would have Jesus permitting what He has already forbidden; and would allow one to walk away from any number of responsibilities – all “for the sake of the kingdom of God.”
Each of the above scenarios addresses Jesus’ statement in Luke 18:29, which says, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left (forsake, lay aside, send away, give up) house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God…” The word left is the same Greek word that is translated, divorce, in I Corinthians 7:11b, which says, “And a husband is not to divorce his wife.” So we have our Lord acknowledging that it may be necessary, “for the sake of the kingdom of God,” to divorce one’s wife. It is where we go from this point that is important.
When looking at all that Jesus taught on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, what circumstance would ever make it necessary for one to divorce his wife for the sake of the kingdom of God? In other words, for the sake of doing what was right, when would it ever be necessary to divorce one’s wife?
The only circumstance that is ever presented by our Lord which would necessitate divorce is the adulterous marriage. “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Matthew 19:9; cf. Ezra 10; Mark 6:17-18). Do we not properly teach that those who are married to a mate to whom they have no scriptural right, would, in a demonstration of true repentance, need to divorce their mate? In doing so, one would have complied completely with the teaching of our Lord in doing what was right and would have “left his wife for the sake of the kingdom of God.”
But some brethren fail to stop at this one circumstance in which it is necessarily inferred that one must leave their mate for “the kingdom’s sake,” and proceed to introduce other, “optional” applications. Mike Willis, in his sermon entitled, “When is Divorce a Sin?” properly identifies the adulterous marriage as a condition that would demand that one leave (divorce) his wife for the kingdom’s sake. In the same sermon, however, he steps out onto unholy ground (without scriptural foundation) to state a number of other conditions that might make it necessary for one to divorce his wife for the sake of the kingdom.
1. Under II-B-3 of the sermon, he stated http://www.mentaldivorce.com/mdrstudies/WillisOnBiblicalPuttingAway.htm:
a. A person may have to divorce his mate to break an unscriptural marriage (Matthew 19:9). In this case, one is divorcing for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.
c. A person may be in a marriage relationship in which his mate runs up bills which he has no intention of paying. In this case, one’s responsibility to God to pay one’s bills would demand that he not be supportive of his mate’s ungodly behavior (Romans 13:8).
e. There are some cases in which one must leave to have physical and emotional health. One’s obligation to serve God would require him to preserve his physical and emotional well being.
2. (Concluding the section under II-D, dm) If one must separate from his mate in order to serve his God, that is exactly what he should do!
For financial and emotional reasons, one can feel compelled to divorce his mate and can do so for the kingdom of heaven’s sake?? Do bear in mind, dear reader, that what may be an emotional burden to one person and a financial burden to another falls into a chasm so wide and gray that we would never be able assign definable limits. Apparently, Mike Willis would simply have us support them and embrace them as they make such a courageous stand for “the sake of the kingdom of God.” Also bear in mind that the one doing so is walking away from the responsibilities and obligations given to him by God when he came into the marriage.
But let us see if this is the sense of what Jesus is saying in Luke 18:29. Without bringing in the wealth of Scripture that would condemn the sin of divorce itself, let us apply Mike Willis’ reasoning to the other aspects mentioned by our Lord in this passage to see if we can consistently make application. If the one who “left his wife for the sake of the kingdom of God” could do so for financial or emotional reasons, we must be able to apply this equally to the other aspects mentioned, as our Lord applied it equally to all.
Consider the Scriptural application compared to Mike Willis’ reasoning.
(1) “Left house…”: As a Christian, one may have to change occupations to a lower paying job, and as a consequence, sell his house and move into a less expensive one, or an apartment, or to a new location altogether. Such a one will have left his house for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).
However, applying Mike Willis’ reasoning consistently, would allow one to walk away from the responsibility and obligation of paying for one’s house when doing so becomes a financial or emotional burden that interferes with one’s service to God. Overextend yourself financially, and you can walk away from it all for the sake of the kingdom of God.
(2) “Or parents…”: When one’s parents or brothers forbid the worship and service of God and stand opposed to it, and the relationship cannot continue as long as one remains a Christian, then such a one will have to sever those relationships; leave parents and brothers for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matthew 10:34-37). If one’s Christian parents or siblings fall away and have to be disciplined, one will have to sever the relationship while they remain in their sin. Such a one will have left parents or siblings, as the case may be (Matthew 18:15-17; II Thessalonians 3:6; I Corinthians 5:1-13).
However, with consistent application of Mike Willis’ reasoning, one could leave parents or siblings when they become a financial or emotional burden. Such a burden would generally arise during sickness or elderly years. However, if one feels that the care being given during such times has become an emotional or financial burden which would negatively impact one’s “physical and emotional health,” one may, for the sake of the kingdom of God, sever oneself from those obligations and duties.
(3) “Or children…”: When one’s children (obviously grown children) oppose one’s service to God and the relationship becomes intolerable, one may have to sever the relationship for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matthew 10:34-37). When one’s grown Christian children fall away from God and choose a life of sin, one may have to sever the relationship for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:15-17; II Thessalonians 3:6).
Nevertheless, according to Mike Willis’ reasoning, we could conclude that when the children become a financial or emotional burden (which is usually in their early years), one can, for the sake of the kingdom of God, walk away from one’s God-given responsibility and duty to one’s children (the foster system is full of such children).
Brother Willis has not advocated the above applications, and I doubt that he would go that far today. However, if we make the mistake of thinking our Lord was granting one the right to divorce his wife for the sake of the kingdom of God due to financial or emotional reasons, then we must be able to consistently apply that conclusion to all other areas of that verse (Luke 18:29). But if we understand that one cannot walk away from his God-given obligation and duty to pay his debts (for his house), to care for his parents and children, simply because they become an emotional or financial burden, how can we apply it to the wife and let one walk away from her when she becomes a financial or emotional burden? When do any of these areas not present an emotional or financial burden to some degree? If we accept Mike Willis’ reasoning, then we have the introduction of a modern-day Corban, and for some, being a Christian just got a whole lot easier.
We will, however, have to live with the fact that this modern-day Corban is just like the one Jesus addressed in His day (Matthew 15:1-8). Both involve setting aside plain divine teaching for the teachings of men. Both allow for the setting aside of God-given responsibilities and duties so that one may pursue his own selfish desires.
I would imagine that in many cases, being married to a non-Christian is an emotional burden. To be married to a spouse that hinders, ridicules, and mocks one’s service to God would be a painful burden to bear. Yet, when Scripture addresses this very scenario, the divine command is to remain with that spouse in the hope of converting him through one’s godly influence (I Corinthians 7:16; I Peter 3:1-6).
If some who are married to a non-believing spouse were to follow Mike Willis’ teaching, the door would be wide open for them to walk away from the emotional burden of such a relationship. And according to Mike Willis’ teaching, they could do so “for the sake of the kingdom of God.” It sounds noble and self-sacrificing until one considers our Lord’s teaching and finds the very opposite to be true.
One finds language where Jesus speaks of one who has “left his wife for the sake of the kingdom of God.” But rather than applying the circumstance which our Lord granted for doing so (getting out of an adulterous marriage), men such as Mike Willis introduce language that is in clear violation to what is taught elsewhere in Scripture.
How could Jesus forbid all divorces except for when one is putting away an unfaithful spouse (and by inference, getting out of an adulterous marriage), and then turn around and grant the right to divorce when one’s spouse becomes an emotional or financial burden? When Scripture teaches that a spouse is to remain with such a one, how can men introduce teaching that would allow one to walk away, rather than remain?
Jesus accused the Pharisees of His day of having “made the commandment of God of no effect” (Matthew 15:6b) as they held to their present-day Corban. Jesus, in attributing one of their reasons for doing so, quoted Isaiah by saying that they were, “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9b). Let us not be fooled by this modern-day Corban. The simple teaching of our Lord is being assaulted from so many sides. Let us be found true to Him in all that we do.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To illustrate how Mike Willis’ influence is already having a leavening (corruptive) effect on fellow GOT associates and friends, please acknowledge the following quotes. – Jeff
“Now let me just inject one other thing here, and that as I was reading a couple days ago and, I ordered this material and I was reading this book on Divorce and Remarriage, and here was a brother who takes the position; now listen to this, that there’s only one reason why a person can separate, not divorce now, but separate from his mate. I Corinthians 7 verse 5, and that’s for fasting and prayer, and that’s to be by consent just for a little time, and that they come together lest Satan tempt them for their lack of self control. And he said there’s only one reason.
Well, again, he doesn’t understand what the Bible teaches: Luke chapter 18, verse 29 plainly teaches that a man (and it could be a woman), but here’s a man who leaves his house, his parents, his brethren, his wife, his children, for the kingdom’s sake. Now, friend, there’s another reason that you can separate for the kingdom’s sake. If you can’t live a Christian life by staying with a marriage partner, then Jesus stated, taught in Luke 18, verse 29, that you can leave, and for the kingdom’s sake.” Weldon E. Warnock, [12-5-04 Radio program (WJLS 99.5 FM, Beckley WV) sponsored by the Beech Creek church of Christ, Meador, WV.] Play Clip!
“I was reading one brother here a few days ago and he said, well, she could call the law. She, he takes the position that only one reason for separation; that’s temporarily for fasting and prayer, and if a wife was being beaten by her husband, she could call the police. Well, you call the police, you’re going to take him off to jail, and that’d be a separation, wouldn’t it? So that’d be a second reason. Nah friends, listen: we should stay together. Marriage is for life, and where there should be reconciliation, there should be adjustments, and there’s give and take and so if at all possible, stay together. But sometimes it’s not possible, because of the circumstances. And indeed, the Lord gives the innocent person the right to separate and maybe even a legal divorce, depending on the situation. Well, we’ll not to take any more time up on that.” Weldon E. Warnock, [12-12-04 Radio program (WJLS 99.5 FM, Beckley WV) sponsored by the Beech Creek church of Christ, Meador, WV.] Play Clip!
“Brother Keith Greer recently reminded us of some applications of the Bible’s teaching on MDR over which brethren disagree even while they maintain agreement on the divine pattern of one man and one woman for life, with one exception (Matt. 19:4-6, 9). The differences in application he noted were:
When conscience compels a brother or sister to hold fast to one application over another, and truth is not violated by doing so, we are to respect their conscience and not press our different (though equally sound) application to the point of division. That is the ‘side’ of Romans 14 we must not forget. We must remember to receive one another when there is dispute over ‘doubtful things’ instead of pressing personal scruples to the point of forcing the violation of conscience and rupturing unity in the body of Christ.” (emp. jhb). Joe Price, [The Spirit’s Sword, 10-10-04]