Christian Contentment

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me”Philippians 3:10-13

In this passage, Apostle Paul writes to the church which he planted in Philippi and thanks them for their support.  He then lets them in on his secret for contentment whether he has little or more. He says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Here we notice that contentment is a quality that we learn. None of us is naturally born a contented person. Sin has caused our hearts to be dissatisfied all the time. However, the more we grow in our knowledge Christ the more we become contented. Second, notice also that contentment does not always corelate with how much we have. When we have less, we should guard against the discontented spirit which tells us that we will be happy only when we have more. When we have more, we should guard against discontentment which never says “enough” but “more is better.”

Paul further brings us to the secret of contentment in verse 13, “I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me.” Sadly, this is one of the most abused or misunderstood verses in the Bible. I have seen athletes using this verse to mean that they can excel in sports through Christ. I have heard students who are about to write exams quoting this verse and assuring themselves that they will do well in the exams through Christ. Now it is true that without Christ we are nothing (John 15:5). It is also true that athletes and students can do well only if the Lord grants them success. However, the context of this verse has to do with facing plenty or hunger; having things in abundance or lacking things. Paul says he can thrive in any of these situations through Christ who strengthens him. The secret of contentment is Jesus Christ. 

All of us will pass through seasons in which we have more and other seasons in which we have less. How do we remain contented? It is through Christ alone. When we have little, we can be contented by reminding ourselves that even though we might not have some things we want we have the greatest treasure in Jesus Christ. And when we have more, we can also be contented by reminding ourselves that whatever we have in this life cannot be compared to our greatest treasure, Jesus Christ.  Christ reminds us in Luke 12:15 “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Life consists in Christ and not in possessions of this life.

In addition to knowing that Christ is our greatest treasure, we can also be contented in every situation by learning to differentiate between needs and wants. Sadly, many of us confuse the two. We often tend to view our wants as needs.  But needs are those you cannot live without while wants are those you can live without. Food is a need because we cannot live without it. But dining at that fancy restaurant in town is a want.  We can live without ever eating at the fancy restaurant. Charles Spurgeon put it well, “True contentment consists not in the largeness of our possessions, but in the fewness of our wants” The fewer wants we have the more likely we are to be contented in Christ.

Discerning the Lord’s Call to Pastoral Ministry

It is not uncommon for me to meet a young man who would like to discuss more about pastoral ministry. Oftentimes the young man is contemplating or even convinced that the Lord is calling him to be a pastor. Now this always excites my heart because as per the Lord’s command we are to pray for more laborers in his harvest (Luke 10:2). The next thing that follows from such a conversation is the question: but how do I know for sure that the Lord is calling me to pastoral ministry? Here is my answer.

First, the man that the Lord is calling to pastoral ministry or any Christian ministry must also be the man that the Lord has called to himself first. In other words, the first thing is to be sure that you are a converted man. Be certain that you know Jesus Christ in a saving way. Sadly, church history is not void of men who went into pastorate while unsaved. But that is not supposed to be the case. Don’t be a Judas or a Demas who went into pastorate with hearts of stone. As you know it did not end well for them (Matt. 27: 3-10; Phil. 1:24 cf. 2 Tim. 4:10). It is important to seriously consider this caution from the old Puritan Richard Baxter, “Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others.” Here Baxter captures the heart of the matter well. I think one of the greatest tragedies in the world is a pastor who calls on others to know Christ the Savior and yet he himself doesn’t know him.

Second, prayerfully go through the qualifications of an elder or pastor in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 and see if you meet them. In these two passages Paul begins by affirming that a desire to be a pastor is a noble desire. But the desire alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by a life and conduct that honor and glorify God. He then goes on to list requirements to be met by those desiring to serve in pastoral ministry. Sadly, we are living in the world that often values more what we are able to do than who we are. But in the eyes of God who we are before him is more important than what we can do for him. In ministry holiness is essential. An ungodly minister is an eye sore to the Church of Christ. So, examine your life and conduct in the light of these two passages. Now this doesn’t mean that you should be sinless to serve the Lord then no single Christian on this side of heaven would qualify.  However, there should be a notable growth and continued desire and work to grow in these areas. Sanctification is progressive. A man who is not growing or is not interested to grow in these areas is not fit to be an under-shepherd of God’s flock.

Third, you must have a burning passion and God’s gift to preach and teach the gospel. Are you convinced that the only hope of this lost world is the gospel of Jesus Christ and you are not ashamed to preach it (Romans 1:16)? Do you feel like Apostle Paul that “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16)?” If the answer to these questions is a resounding yes then it could be that the Lord is calling you to the pastorate. Coupled with the burning desire to preach the gospel should be a gift to enable you to preach or teach it. Of course, the gift will be sharpened with time and experience but at least you should have a gift to be able to stand in front of people and speak (preach or teach). You might never be gifted like John Calvin, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, or Conrad Mbewe just to mention a few gifted preachers (and many of us are not) but you should still have a gift to communicate the gospel clearly and persuasively. I strongly believe that those that the Lord calls he also equips for the calling (Jeremiah 1:6-10).

Fourth, get involved in your local church. In discerning whether one is called to ministry we consider both what is called internal and external call. The internal call is the sense that one has that the Lord is calling him to ministry. However, internal call alone is not enough. One also needs an external call which is a confirmation from other Christians that they too are convinced that the Lord is calling you be a pastor. For this to happen you need to be active in your local church. Volunteer to be a greeter, teach children’s Sunday school, offer yourself to help with youth ministry if your church has one, volunteer to lead Bible studies when the opportunity arises. If your pastor or elders offer you a preaching opportunity readily accept it with humility and gladness.  As you serve your local church fellow believers will also be able to approve your desire and gifts for pastoral ministry. It is a great blessing when what you sense inside is also echoed by fellow believers who know you well.

Fifth, resources permitting get seminary or Bible college training from a sound and solid institution. Bible and theological training is necessary for ministry. Granted they are some people in the past and present who have served the Lord faithfully as pastors without going to seminary or Bible college. However, they are the exception rather than the rule. Jesus taught and trained his apostles for three years before he commissioned them to preach, plant, and pastor God’s people. Paul mentored Timothy and Titus before granting them pastoral responsibilities. In some circumstances it might not be possible to go to seminary or Bible college. In that context it is important that you bring yourself under the mentorship of a mature and godly pastor for a period of time. Learn and drink from the well of his life, work, and experience until you both feel that you are ready to begin pastoring on your own.

Sixth, the final confirmation of God’s call upon your life should come from the church. After successfully completing your seminary or Bible college training or mentorship under a sound and faithful minister and elders, a congregation of God’s people must call you to pastor them. It might be a church that is without a pastor, a group of believers who would like to plant a church, or a church that has a pastor or pastors but need one more pastor. This is also part of the external call. If you are planting a church, you don’t just make yourself a church planter. You must be sent by another church or ecclesiastical body. One thing that often breaks my heart is how some young people are ending up in ministry here in Malawi. A young man gets converted and in no time, he thinks that the Lord is calling him to pastoral ministry. He starts planting a church with no accountability and little or no training at all.  This is no doubt a recipe for disaster. Often that young man ends up shipwrecking his faith and bringing the name of the Lord into disrepute. Every pastor needs a confirmation of the church that the Lord rather than himself has called him to shepherd and feed Christ’s flock. This confirmation of the church will also encourage you when you pass through difficult seasons of ministry. When you are tempted to throw in the towel, looking back at the confirmation of the church encourages you to press on knowing that your calling to ministry was not an illusion but that God approved it through the external call of his people.

In summary, the one who is called to pastoral ministry must first and foremost be called to the Savior, Jesus Christ and should feel the fire in his bones to preach and teach the gospel of Christ. This is the internal call. This desire should be confirmed first by his local church and eventually by a church that calls him to minister to them. That is the external call. Both calls are needed to discern if the Lord has called one to be a pastor.

PS: It is due to my desire to help young men discern if the Lord is calling them to pastoral ministry that our church, Christ Presbyterian Church established a pastoral internship program. If you believe the Lord is calling you to be a pastor let me encourage you to consider our program. To learn more check here

Are the Blessings that Unbelievers Enjoy from God Given Through the Holy Spirit?

Emmanuel Okpor from Nigeria writes:

Hello Pastor Confex,

I have a pressing question. We have seen and heard of unbelievers experiencing something of God’s mercy. Things like healing; escaping death by the whiskers; having a premonition of impending doom and being able to make the right decision just in time to escape tragedy and many more. On the positive side, these unbelievers also enjoy success and come up with innovative solutions that alleviate human suffering and make communities healthier and more peaceful.

Sir, will it be correct to say these unbelievers were being led by the Holy Spirit to accomplish these things (even though it is clear from scriptures that they don’t possess the Spirit of Christ)? Yes, God’s mercies extend to them too, but is it through the agency of the Holy Spirit? If not, then what categories are there to help us explain the goodness they experience and express?

Dear Emmanuel,

In answering your question let me start by highlighting that the Bible is clear as you have already pointed out that the Holy Spirit does not indwell unbelievers (John 14:16, 17). Nevertheless, he can still work in them. One work that is clearly explained in the Scriptures is to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8).

Now as for unbelievers experiencing God’s blessings like healing, protection, and success in their work or in the world we need to consider God’s grace. The Bible shows us that there are two types of God’s grace. Theologians describe them as God’s common or non-saving grace and Gods’ special or saving grace. God’s common grace is the one he gives even to unbelievers and enables them to enjoy his blessings that are not attached to salvation in Christ. Some examples of these blessings from God’s common grace include sunshine, rain, fruitful seasons, food, God’s kindness and many good things (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17; Luke 6:35; 16:35). I believe we can also add to the list God’s protection, healing, and success as you have mentioned in your question. God’s special grace on the other hand is his saving grace which Paul describes well in Ephesians 2:8, 9 when he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

So according to the Bible, the blessings that unbelievers receive and enjoy in this world are a result of God’s common grace. But the Bible is silent on whether they are given directly through or by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I would not say that they are given through him without any scriptural support. Having said that let me also add this caveat: unbelievers should not be content with God’s common grace. They should cry out to God for his special grace in their lives because the blessings of God’s common grace can become a curse if they blind them to their need for God’s saving grace in Christ. A good example that readily comes to mind is the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. The rich man was pumped up with worldly blessings and never sought spiritual blessings of salvation in Christ. In the end God called him a fool for he worked so much for the bread that perishes while neglecting the bread of life that lasts forever (John 6:27). He laid up for himself treasure in this world but was not rich toward God (Luke 12:21).

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

The Dark Night of the Soul

The dark night of the soul is a phrase used to refer to the period that a Christian experiences mental, emotional or spiritual anguish. This is a time that a Christian goes through a prolonged period of depression that reduces  him or her to the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I thought about this phrase this week when I read in the local papers that the Malawi Police reported that 58 people committed suicide in the month of October alone this year. I also thought about all these souls just before they decided to take their own lives. In their own minds they had reached a point beyond hope. They also felt helpless. They were convinced that their darkness would never turn into light. In despair they resolved to end their lives.   

Now I don’t know whether some of them were believers. But I would not be surprised if I learn that some were because as already pointed out even Christians are not immune to dark nights of the soul. One Old Testament believer experienced and expressed it in Psalm 88. This psalm is one of most depressing expressions of despair in the Bible. The psalmist despairs of life as he experiences pain, betrayal, loneliness, and darkness. Unlike all the other psalms of lament which end with praise or expression of hope in God this Psalms begins and ends with gloom.

The Psalmist laments, “My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength…You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep…my eye grows dim through sorrow” (vv. 3-6). What the psalmist is seeing all around him is darkness and death. He even says it at the end of the psalm that “my companions have become darkness” (v. 18).

The psalmist also feels completely abandoned by God. “But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless” (vv. 13-15). There is no greater agony for the soul and body than to believe that God has forsaken you.

Now, dear Christian, when you go through the dark night of the soul know for sure that you are not alone. Fellow saints before us have gone through similar experiences. More importantly consider Christ who literally went through it too. From Gethsemane sorrows to the three hours of darkness on the Friday afternoon he died (Luke 23:44-49). In the midst of our darkness let’s pray for grace and faith to see the Light of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ. He can never be overcome by darkness no matter how thick it is. But he is also able to sympathize with us having fought and overcome darkness himself as the author of Hebrews testifies, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Apostle Paul further testifies from his own experience that the Lord is able to deliver us from those moments in which we despair of life itself. In 1 Corinthians 2:8-10 he writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” 

Sorrows and dark nights are inevitable for various reasons some which are best known by God alone. But deliverance is also guaranteed for those in Christ. May the Lord help us to never believe that our darkness is thicker than the light of the gospel. If you are experiencing a dark night of the soul, please talk to a fellow faithful Christian or a pastor. Some cases of depression might require medical help, never hesitate to seek one when needed.  

My dear unbelieving friend who is feeling hopeless and helpless. You might even be contemplating suicide. Here is hope! The one and only sure and steady anchor in the storms of this life is Jesus Christ. He calls out to all of us who are wearied down by the sorrows and burdens of this life to come and find rest in him. May you not linger. Please talk to any faithful Christian or pastor near you. You may also contact me via this blog.

Why Doesn’t God Just Destroy Satan Right Now?

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A few Sundays ago, after preaching at church, one of the children in our church accompanied by his mother approached me to ask a question that had been bothering him for some time. “Pastor Confex,” he began, “we know that God is good and all powerful but Satan is a bad and mean guy. Why doesn’t God just destroy him right now? Then all things would be fine in this world.”

My mind raced as I tried to figure out an answer. I should admit that although I have never seriously considered this question it is not uncommon one.  Atheists or those who don’t believe in the existence of God tend to rephrase it condescendingly: If God is good and all powerful why doesn’t he destroy evil and Satan in the world?

To begin with, no single passage of Scripture answers this question explicitly.  However, gathering from various passages of Scripture we can deduce what the biblical answer is. First let’s remember that Satan is a defeated foe. Christ defeated him on the cross. Apostle Paul tells us that God in Christ triumphed over rulers and authorities (Satan and his demons) by disarming them on the cross (Col. 2:15). Also, the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 in which God declared that Christ will crush the head of Satan was fulfilled on the cross and in the resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, Satan’s work in the world is limited by God’s power. If God had not been restraining Satan, the devil would have done more harm than we currently see and experience (Job. 1:12; 2:6; Luke 22:31-32).

But still, that doesn’t entirely answer the question, does it? If Satan is defeated, why is he still causing havoc in the world?  Why is he still tempting believers into sin, deceiving, stealing, killing, and destroying? Theologians describe Christ’s victory on the cross as “already but not yet.” Satan is certainly defeated and disarmed but the full effects of this defeat are yet to be experienced by God’s people. However, at the second coming of Christ, we will experience them fully when Christ will ultimately judge and throw Satan into a lake of fire where he will never be able to harm God’s people again (Rev. 20:10).

I think that it is when we reflect on the already but not yet victory of Christ over Satan that we might see why God is not completely destroying Satan right now namely to glorify himself more through the ultimate defeat of Satan. I believe that when Satan is ultimately thrown into hell, we will be able to glorify God more because for first time in our lives we will experience a world without temptation, sin, and death and we will appreciate these blessings more having lived without them here on earth. This I believe is one of the reasons why God is allowing Satan to live until his final judgement comes.

Is it Unchristian to Withhold Forgiveness to Unrepentant Offender?

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The men of our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, meet every other Saturday morning to discuss various biblical and theological topics. A couple of weeks ago we were discussing the biblical topic of forgiveness with guidance from a lecture by the late Dr. R.C Sproul, Dealing with Difficult Problems: Forgiveness. As always it was a wonderful time of studying what God’s word says on the topic as well as the fellowship thereafter.

Most of our discussion centered on whether a Christian should always forgive even when the offender has not repented or apologized for his or her sin. In other words, is it unchristian to not forgive an unrepentant offender? As you might have guessed there were two major positions that the men took. Some argued that as Christians we should always forgive unilaterally (without repentance from the offender). Two passages of Scripture were quoted to support this position. Luke 23:34 in which Jesus Christ prays that the Father would forgive those who are crucifying him, and Acts 7:60 in which Stephen prays a similar prayer for those stoning him to death.

The other men however argued that while Christians can choose to forgive unilaterally the Bible does not command us to do so. A Christian can choose not to forgive until the offender is repentant. A good example is God the Father himself who forgives a sinner only when the sinner has repented of his sin. Also, Luke 17:3 underscores repentance as a necessary condition for forgiveness, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

I hold to the latter position. However, I need to give two clarifying points. First, there cannot be any debate that the Lord requires Christians to be forgiving people because Christians are forgiven people. The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) clearly drives this point home. So, when an offense is committed against a Christian and the offender comes to ask for forgiveness a Christian has no any other option but to forgive. Second, I also believe in the wisdom of Proverbs 19:11 in which God’s word encourages us to overlook an offense.

However, in cases where it is impossible to overlook an offense the Christian does not have to forgive if the offender is unrepentant. Now this begs the question: if the Christian withholds forgiveness from unrepentant offender won’t he or she be creating a fertile ground for bitterness in his or her own heart which God’s word forbids in Hebrews 12:15? To guard against resentment toward unrepentant offender the Christian needs to observe two steps in forgiveness.  Ken Sande discusses these steps in his book, The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. The first step is having an attitude of forgiveness and the second is granting forgiveness.

Having an attitude of forgiveness means by God’s grace you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you. You choose not dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word, or action. Instead, you pray for the other person and stand ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents. This attitude protects the Christian from bitterness and resentment, even if the other person takes long time to repent.  The second step of granting actual forgiveness will, of course, require repentance as I have already pointed out.

As to the gracious act of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen, (Acts 7:60) it is worth noting that both Jesus and Stephen prayed to God the Father that the Father should forgive the people. It was not Jesus or Stephen himself who granted the forgiveness. Similarly, I believe that we should pray that the Lord would enable us to love those who have offended us and also that the Lord may grant them godly sorrow over their sin and a true repentant heart.  

What is the Difference Between “Soul” and “Spirit”?

Bernard Chikoko from Tanzania writes:

Dear Pastor Confex,

Would you please help me to understand the difference between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ from a biblical perspective. Thanks.

Dear Bernard,

Thank you for your question. It is a good one!

Let me begin by highlighting that the Bible emphasizes on the unity of man. As a whole person man is to love and glorify God in whatever he does. However, Christians do differ on what constitutes man. Some believe that the Bible teaches that man is made up of body and soul. This in theology is called dichotomy view.  Others believe the Bible teaches that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. This in theology is called trichotomy view. Historically dichotomy has been the predominant view of the Church.  

I hold to the dichotomy view because I see that the Bible uses the words “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably. In some cases, we read in the Bible that when a person dies his/her soul leaves the body (Gen. 35:18; Luke 12:10) while in other cases the same Bible tells us that when a person dies his/her spirit leaves the body (Eccl. 12:7; Luke 23:46). But there is no single verse in the Bible that says that when a person dies his/her soul and spirit together leave the body. Further, some verses speak of man as being made up of body and soul (Matt. 10:28) while others speak of man as being made up of body and spirit (James 2:26; 2 Cor. 7:1).  The parallelism in Mary’s Magnificat (Song of Praise) in Luke 1:46, 47 is also worth noting: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (ESV).  The words, “Soul” and “spirit” are here used interchangeably just like the words “the Lord” and “God my Savior.” This is abundant proof that “soul” and “spirit” are the one and same thing.

However, those who hold to trichotomy view often cite verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 to argue that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (ESV).

In response to the argument that these two verses are teaching that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit I would say that 1 Thessalonians is using “spirit and soul and body” to emphasize the entirety of our being rather than teaching trichotomy view. This form of emphasis can also be seen in the words of Jesus Christ in Mark 12:30 in which he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (ESV). Jesus is not here teaching that man is made up of heart, soul, mind, and strength rather he is emphasizing that we must love God with all our being.

Similarly, Hebrews 4:12 is not teaching that the soul is different from the spirit rather it is emphasizing the power of God’s word to penetrate into the depths or innermost parts of our being and convict us of sin. This innermost part of our being is in this verse described or emphasized by using the terms, “soul,” “spirit,” “joint,” “marrow,” “thoughts,” and “intentions.” On a lighter note, if the sword of God’s word is able to divide “soul” and “spirit” then it would be more accurate to say it also divides “bone and marrow” rather than “joint and marrow.” But the author of Hebrews’ intention is not to distinguish two things that are different but to emphasize on the penetrating power of God’s word.

I hope this helps.

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

She Concealed Her HIV Positive Status from Her Fiancé Until Three Years Later Into Marriage. Can the Husband Divorce Her Now?

A friend writes:

Mavuto (not his real name) married his wife, Stella (not her real name), about three yeas ago. Both of them are unbelievers but they attend our church regularly. Some years before they met, Stella tested positive to HIV/Aids and she began taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to enable her live longer. When she met Mavuto, Stella concealed her HIV status from him. Eventually they exchanged marital vows. Now it’s been over three years after their wedding and Mavuto has just discovered that Stella is HIV positive and taking ARVs. Mavuto feels cheated; he is very angry and wants divorce.  He has come to me for Biblical counsel. How do I best help him?

Well, brother what a sad and hard situation. I am so sorry to hear this.

First, it is always important to remember that marriage is God’s gift to all people including non-believers. But a marriage between two believers will be very much different from a marriage between two unbelievers. One of the things you will notice (or you expect to notice) in a marriage of believers is honesty while non-believers might not always be honest to each other. The case before you is an example of a marriage that is not guided by God’s word. It is driven by selfishness and dishonesty.

Next, God’s will for marriage both for unbelievers and believers is that once you get married you should remain with your spouse until death separates you (Matt. 19:5-7). God allows divorce only on two grounds: adultery (Matt. 19:9) and desertion (1 Cor. 7:13-16). Adultery is when husband or wife sleeps with another woman or man. Desertion is when unbeliever has become a believer and his/her spouse who is unbeliever doesn’t want to stay in the marriage. In this case, the unbeliever is allowed to leave the marriage.

So despite that there was deadly deception at the onset of Mavuto and Stella’s marriage, they do not have a Biblical ground for divorce. What Stella did was evil and serious dishonesty but the Bible does not regard deception as a ground for divorce. So, I would share the gospel with this couple and encourage the wife to repent of her deception before God and ask for forgiveness from God and her husband. I would encourage the husband to forgive his wife and continue to love her. I know this is hard but it’s only the power of the  gospel that would remedy this situation.

Mavuto being unbeliever might disregard this biblical advice. That is beyond your control and there is nothing you can do about it apart from continuing to love and pray for them that the Lord will grant true repentance and enable them to believe in the gospel of Christ for their salvation.

I hope this helps.

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

Thank You.

Could Physical Abuse Be a Biblically Valid Ground for Divorce?

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Last year I was involved in helping a family that had lost their daughter at the hands of her husband to get some justice. It is believed that the husband beat her to death. A few months ago, news came from Nigeria that a gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, died allegedly due to physical abuse from her husband. One common denominator in both of these deaths was that both husbands professed faith in Christ. There were also active members in their respective churches. The question that I have heard in general and one that has been put to me in particular is: how should the church handle cases of physical abuse that are persistent and life threatening? Does the Bible have anything to say on this issue?

First things first. The Bible is very clear that marriage was designed by God to glorify him and for the good and enjoyment of husband and wife (Genesis 2:18-25). Further marriage life is supposed to be lived in love and submission. The husband should love his wife sacrificially and wife should submit to her own husband in everything (Ephesians 5:22-33). So, the Bible does not condone any form of violence or physical abuse in marriage. In fact, any form of abuse should be alien to a Christian marriage. However, because of sin marriages experience evils like physical abuse.

Furthermore, God’s plan for marriage is that it should last one’s life time. It’s never pleasing to God to see any marriage lasting shorter than that.  But because of man’s hardness of heart or sin, God’s word allows divorce on two grounds: adultery and willful desertion. Adultery is when the husband or the wife has sexual intercourse with someone else other than his or her spouse. If the wronged party opts for divorce because the marriage bed has been defiled, the Bible allows him or her to legally divorce the other party (Matthew 19:3-9).

Willful desertion is mainly in a context of a couple who got married while both of them were unconverted. If along the way one of them becomes a Christian, the converted person should not seek to leave the marriage. However, if the unconverted one wants to leave the marriage he or she should be allowed to do so (1 Corinthinas 7:12-16). In the case of those who got married while professing faith in Christ, this ground is applied when one of them willfully abandons his or her spouse and despite the church’s intervention and continued call to him or her to repent and return to his or her marriage he or she refuses.  In this case then divorce is allowable if the deserted person desires it because the deserter has proved that he or she is not a believer as initially professed.   

On the face of it, the Bible seems not to regard persistent and unrepented physical abuse that is also life threatening (by the way most physical abuse if not checked quickly escalates to life-threating) as a valid ground for divorce. However, I believe physical abuse falls under the ground of willful desertion. Allow me to explain. The abusive spouse creates an environment in which his or her partner is not safe to live in, and if this persist the abused person should leave the marriage, with guidance and counsel from the church, to protect their own life as we are all commanded in the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13).  The abusive partner should be reputed as the deserter even though it is actually the abused that has left the marriage.

I should be quick to qualify that the decision to leave a persistent abusive partner should not be arrived at haphazardly and lightly. It should always be done with the guidance of one’s church. When church leaders establish that physical abuse is recurring in a marriage, they should recommend a temporary separation for the safety of the victim. Physical abuse in most circumstances being a crime under state laws should also be reported to the relevant authorities by the abused. On their part, the church leaders should further bring under discipline the abusing partner and counsel him or her with the hope of bringing him or her into repentance and eventually restoration. If there is no repentance then the church should proceed with excommunication. Only after a suitable length of time and a sufficient process of church discipline should a divorce be recommended on the basis of willful desertion by the abusive partner.  I believe that no single elder or pastor would arrive at this decision painlessly. Divorce is one of the most serious affronts to the dignity of marriage; however, in a situation that an abusive partner is unrepentant, the pastor and elders should not hesitate to recommended divorce with tears and sorrow.

Delighting in the Sabbath

When approaching the discussion of the Sabbath we need to acknowledge the various debates it creates. There is a debate on whether the Sabbath has changed from Saturday in the Old Testament to Sunday also called the Lord’s Day in the New Testament. While I believe in the latter, I should grant that there are brothers and sisters in the Lord who believe in the former. But that’s not what this post is all about. There is also a debate on how Christians should observe the Sabbath. Now the Bible is very clear that the Sabbath is the day of rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-13; Acts 20:7). There should not be any debate about it. Yet good and godly Christians differ on what this rest entails. While some believe that rest should include refraining from recreational activities others believe that Christians can still engage in recreational activities on the Sabbath. Again, this post does not intend to go into that discussion.

This post is about delighting in the Sabbath. God speaking through Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 58:13-14 says,

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The context of this exhortation is that God’s covenant people are rendering half-hearted worship to God. For example, at the beginning of the chapter the Lord rebukes their fasting which instead of being a time that they humble and devote themselves fully to God they continue sinning against God and one another. It is hypocritical fasting. Then in verses 13-14, the Lord draws their attention to another aspect of worship namely the observance of the Sabbath. Similarly, God’s covenant people are observing the Sabbath with lukewarm devotion. Instead of resting and worshipping God, they are using the day for their own pleasure. Now some have understood “pleasure” in the verse to mean recreational activities while others think it means normal daily business. Whatever view you hold, one thing that is clear from the verse is that God’s will for the day is that his people should observe rest; hence, he calls them to repent of their religious formalism so that they may enjoy God’s covenant blessings.

The Lord goes further to challenge his people to delight in the Sabbath, “Call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable.” Matthew Henry commenting on the verse writes,

“We must not only count it a delight, but call it so. We must call it so to God, in thanksgiving for it. We must call it so to others, to invite them to come and share in the pleasure of it; and we must call it so to ourselves, that we may not entertain the least thought of wishing the sabbath gone that we may sell corn.”

The 19th Century Anglican Bishop, John Charles Ryle also agrees with Henry and notes,

The Sabbath is God’s merciful appointment for the common benefit of all mankind. It was “made for man” (Mark 2:27)…It is not a yoke, but a blessing. It is not a burden, but a mercy…It is good for man’s body and mind…Above all, it is good for souls.”

So here are five ways that we as Christians can call the Sabbath a delight. First, we can call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that when we rest on the Sabbath, we mirror God our Father who rested on the seventh day despite not needing rest. Our Father does not get tired (Isaiah 40:28). He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4), yet in Genesis 2:2-3 we read: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done.” One of the greatest desires that lie at the bottom of a child’s heart is to be like his father, especially, a good father. A child regards his father as the hero no matter what others think of him. Similarly, as God’s children our greatest longing should be to be like our Father. He rested on the seventh day so we should do likewise with great delight.

Second, we should call the Sabbath (first day of the week) a delight by realizing that it is a day in which God completed the work of our redemption in Christ.  On this day, Christ delivered a killer punch on our greatest enemies. Death died, Satan was disarmed, and sin was conquered. At our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, before the worship service begins, I gather with some members to pray for the service and other needs of the congregation. We often beginning by reminding each other that this is not only a day of worship and rest but it is also a day of celebrating the greatest victory ever accomplished for man.

Third, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that on  this day we do not only enjoy rest and worship our God but also rejoice in the assurance of God’s blessings in our endeavors for Christ. O. Palmer Robertson says it beautifully in his book, The Christ of the Covenants,

“(The New Covenant) believer does not first labor six days, looking hopefully towards rest. Instead, he begins the week by rejoicing in the rest already accomplished by the cosmic event of Christ’s resurrection. Then he enters joyfully into his six days of labor, confident of success through the victory which Christ has already won.”

Fourth, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that by keeping it we demonstrate our love for God. The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) requires us to observe the Sabbath. As the moral law the commandment is still binding on all Christians. So, when we rest and worship on the Sabbath, we demonstrate our love for God (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:3).

Last but not least, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that it is a foretaste of our eternal rest in glory. On this side of heaven, we endure various sorrows. However, the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:9 reminds us that “There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people” in which all sorrow, pain, thorns, and thistles will be no more. It is that eternal state in the new heavens and earth where “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  

The Sabbath should be a delight for all God’s people. It was made for us and for our good. In our bustling world in which the six days of work seem no longer enough, we should resist the urge to go along. There are many great blessings that come with delighting in the day as I have endeavored to show above. May we always look forward to Sabbath with great pleasure and never with the thought of it as being a killjoy.