How Should Christians Respond to the Current Worker Shortage?

I do not usually reflect on and write about current events per se, but this headline regarding an alarming trend that has been taking place for the past couple of years made me take notice.

About two weeks ago, television host Mike Rowe was a guest on “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, as reported on Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/media/mike-rowe-sounds-alarm-declining-work-ethic-reflection-hideous). Rowe raised the issue of a “lax work ethic in the labor force and a growing number of able-bodied men not seeking a job.” He that said 7 million men between 25-40 are “not only not working but aren’t even looking for a job. That’s never happened in peacetime – ever.”

Rowe mentioned that economist Nick Eberstadt wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that the country is facing an “unprecedented peacetime labor shortage, with employers practically begging for workers, while vast numbers of grown men and women sit on the sidelines of the economy.” (See https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-americans-work-after-pandemic-retire-males-age-payments-covid-vaccines-pandemic-income-stimulus-consumer-11662138942.) This observation grieves me deeply.

Undoubtedly, among these seven million Americans, there must be a large number of Christian men and women who have opted out of the workforce. I want to plead with and challenge my brothers and sisters in Christ with this word of encouragement: you have unprecedented opportunities right now to add light to the darkness and salt to a decaying world by bringing God’s presence with you to work.

Urging for the unemployed

I know these have been unprecedented and difficult times. If you are currently not employed and have stopped looking, I have to ask, “Why?” What are you doing? “What are you waiting for?”

It could be that you are going to school full-time. That is clearly a full-time job in itself. If you are taking care of young children or aging parents, that can also be a vocation for a season. Also, if you are renovating your home or starting a business, those are obviously worthy pursuits as well.

However, if you are not working or looking for work because you haven’t figured out what you want to do when you grow up and are depending on others to provide for you, I strongly urge you to take a serious look at the time that you are wasting. This is not the abundant life that God has planned.

Please do not hesitate any longer. There are jobs available everywhere. Find something that you are mildly interested in doing where you can trade your time for money and that is useful to others, i.e., brings peace to this world. Humans were created, equipped, and called to work. (See Gen. 1:26-28.) God is a worker. We were created in His image. God designed us to stay busy. Moreover, God invites us to be His coworkers to continue the creation project. It is what makes society flourish. You and I have been given a garden of Eden somewhere that we need to tend. No one else can do it for you.

Working is one way to demonstrate the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-40). We show our love for God by using the unique talents, passions, and experiences that He gave us. Work is also a means for us to love our neighbor by meeting their physical, emotional, mental, social, or spiritual needs.

William Placher, in his book, Callings asks us to consider the following: “If the God who made us has figured out something we are supposed to do, however—something that fits how we were made, so that doing it will enable us to glorify God, serve others, and be most richly ourselves—then life stops seeming so empty; my story has meaning as part of a larger story ultimately shaped by God.”

Warnings for those who refuse to work

If you have lost your motivation to reenter the workforce after an extended absence, consider this.

In 2 Thess. 3:6-12, the Apostle Paul instructs the church in Thessalonica to keep away from those who are idle by choice. He states that if a man does not want to work, he should just go hungry.

R. Paul Stevens, in Work Matters states, “The sluggard knows nothing of the creation mandate, that work is good, that work is part of our God-imaging dignity … In short, the idler has no theology of work. Realizing neither the intrinsic value nor the extrinsic value of work, the sluggard refuses to see work as a gift, a calling, and a blessing.” Christians would do well to consider and accept these ideas.

Wisdom for those who are waiting to change jobs

The current worker shortage that we see in this country may be a blessing in disguise for some. Let me address those who have been suffering in a bad work situation, and are waiting on God’s timing.

It appears that with the massive shortage of workers, now might be the perfect time to take that step of faith and go after another job. It could be in the same field or you could make the transition into an entry level or mid-level job into a field that you have no experience in but you would like to. If you feel a “holy dissatisfaction” with where you spend the majority of your time, perhaps now might be your optimum time to follow your passion since your employment prospects look fairly promising.

Closing thoughts

Here is my final word of encouragement if you are stuck taking an unintentionally long break from employment or are stuck in a job that you no longer find fulfilling. If you don’t do something radical right now, you just may miss out on one of God’s greatest blessings that He has planned for your life.

Can you imagine waking up excited to get dressed and head to your job because you feel it in your heart that God provided it just for you. You know that He has a plan and a purpose for you, that He has prepared you for this position, and that He will give you the strength and wisdom you need to get through every trial and overcome every temptation. You sense His presence at work every day. You see Him use you to meet the full spectrum of basic human needs all around you. You realize that God is actually loving people through the work that you do. And, when you go home at the end of the day, you know that you made a difference and that what you did contributed to the Kingdom of God.

This is not a dream. This has truly been my experience for many years. It can be a reality for you, too.

If what I said applies to you, then I strongly encourage you to get moving. I can guarantee that your Christian faith will grow exponentially as you walk with God on this journey to fulfill your calling. If what you read applies to someone you love, I pray that you will have an opportunity to share with them some of these life-changing truths that should help to set them free from the trap they are in.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served for 20 years on active duty and has worked for the past 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written nearly 200 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

God Can Restore What the Locusts Have Eaten

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” Joel 2:25.

(Note: This article was published in the Christian Grandfather Magazine blog.)

This glimpse of hope from the OT came to mind as I thought about the many blessings that my adult children and their children are experiencing that my wife and I and our children did not experience.

As we are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday where we have the amazing opportunity to have all three of our kids come home for the first time in several years due to the pandemic, I was thinking of how good God has been to this first-generation Christian family over the past four decades plus.

Let me contrast the pattern of brokenness that the second and third generations face as a consequence of divorce in the first generation with the God-given blessings that children and grandchildren receive in a family where the parents are happily married. I also want to put the spotlight on God, who in His lovingkindness can restore what was taken. I invite you to join me as I share this redemptive story.

The fractured life with divorced parents

My wife and I both came from divorced families. Her parents divorced when she was 13 years old. Mine got divorced when I was in college. So, when we got married and had kids of our own and we wanted to visit “Grandma and Grandpa”, they were living in separate households married to someone else. During the holidays, we usually had to choose whether to spend time with Grandma and her husband or Grandpa and his wife or split the time in half, visiting each one separately.

After my parents’ divorce, spending a holiday with my entire family of origin (my brother, two sisters, their families, our mother and father) never happened. The times my siblings and I were all gathered together were rare. I can probably count them on one hand. Few three generation pictures were taken.

Because I did not see my siblings very often over the years, we drifted apart. There was no family patriarch or matriarch who were still married who arranged family gatherings to pull us all together. As a result, my children did not get to know their aunts, uncles, and cousins on my side very much.

My wife’s experience was far worse. Her parents divorced at a critical time in her development. As the oldest of three children, she became the de facto mother to her brother and sister on many occasions to compensate for her mother’s absence as she struggled to survive. She had to be the responsible one.

Not only did we suffer as adult children of divorce, but I know that our children suffered as well. They had twice as many grandparents, which was always confusing. They were not role models for our kids to look up to. As my wife and I continued to deal with the aftermath of alcoholism, neglect, and adultery that we saw first-hand in our parents, our children’s perceptions were impacted. Those who have gone through similar circumstances will understand the depth of our pain and disappointment.

I hope that I painted a vivid picture of the swarm of locusts that came into our lives, year after year. This was the hand that we were dealt. Due to Adam’s and Eve’s sin, the sins of our family members and others, plus our own sins, we live in a fallen world. Our experiences are not unique. This is a common tale. Thankfully, this was not the end of the story. God intervened, as He always does.

The secure life with happily married parents

In God’s perfect timing, my wife and I each had a friend who prayed for our salvation. They brought us to a place where we could hear and respond in faith to the good news of Jesus, and we were saved.

In the midst of this mess in our respective families of origin, my wife and I began our faith journey. God, in His mercy and grace took us both through these emotional trials, taught us how to forgive, brought healing, and enabled us to create a marriage and family based on solid biblical principles. We made a choice who to serve: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Over the years, we have seen God’s power to deliver us from a dry desert into the promised land.

Please don’t misunderstand. My wife and I were far from perfect. We had to figure out how to live as husband and wife. We started out by doing the opposite of what we saw in our parents’ marriages. There was no alcohol or unfaithfulness. We learned to resolve conflicts through honest communication and agape love, not by giving the silent treatment or shouting. God gave us wisdom through His word.

I worked hard to do the one thing that husbands must do – love their wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Of all the things he could have directed, why did Paul single out this command? It’s obvious. This is the hardest thing for men to do and the most important thing for women to receive. My wife worked hard on the one thing wives must do – submit to/respect their husband (Eph. 5:22). This is clearly the hardest thing for women to do and the most important thing for men to receive.

Once we had children, we had to learn a whole lot of things about parenting that we did not know. We figured it out one day at a time and made it up as we went along. We taught them to obey their parents and they learned to do that. Now they honor their parents and they are teaching their own children.

As my wife and I lived out our Christian marriage over nearly 42 years, we showed our children what right looks like: not perfection, but direction. Two lonely sinners saved by God’s grace became ONE.

My kids stay in touch with each other on their own, but my wife and I facilitate holiday gatherings and family reunions. Now, when the kids and grandkids come to visit Nana and Grandpa, they only have to go to one place. They see a team, united by their faith, resulting in a joyful Christian marriage. They see that we love their mother and father and they know they are loved, which gives them security.

God is the one who can restore what has been stolen

My purpose in sharing these very personal experiences and reflections here is not to put the spotlight and what we have done to bounce back from adversity. Far from it. My purpose is to glorify God.

Here is a sweet text that my brother sent me while he was waiting for his flight home after spending the weekend with our family at my surprise 60th birthday party a few years ago: “So glad I came to see you and everyone. What a blessing. . . Never would have guessed the ‘brokenness’ of our collective parents’ relationships would have resulted in what appears to be two generations of family wholeness.”

God is the only one who can work all things for good (Rom. 8:28). God is the one who specializes in bringing restoration, healing, recovery, hope, and strength to overcome to His children who trust in Him and follow His word. He alone has brought into our family light out of darkness, confidence out of fear, and joy out of despair. He has graciously done that for our family, and He can do it for you.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served for 20 years on active duty and has worked for the past 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written nearly 200 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

I Only Did Paperwork for the Navy

(Note: This article was published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

I had a conversation with my father-in-law in September. He reflected on his time in the Navy on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean in the late 1950s during the Cold War. Although he is proud of his service to this country, said something to the effect of, “Well, I only did paperwork.” Like many Veterans, I think he may feel that his contributions were not that significant in this nation’s defense.

I also had a recent conversation with two Soldiers that work with me. I reminded them that we often support and defend the U.S. Constitution by simple tasks such as answering the phone or making a PowerPoint slide. By working hard for the leaders we are assigned to serve, we enable them to do their jobs, which does have a significant impact on promoting peace and stability in the world.

I have written two articles for Veterans Day before. (You can read them here and here.) As we think about our veterans this year, I invite you to consider the ways that each Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, and Marine has contributed to our Nation’s defense, no matter what their occupational specialty was.

A personal illustration

As a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical specialist assigned to a military police company in Korea from 1988-1989, I did not believe that maintaining our protective masks and other equipment or conducting training had any eternal value. During this tour, I read a life-changing book, Your Work Matters to God, by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. I did not know that I could love my neighbor in whatever job I was given as long as I was committed to working “as unto the Lord”.

The authors ask, “Can you see how a biblical view of work redefines how you think about your job? As God’s coworker, you can enter the workplace with a tremendous sense of God’s presence and the conviction that God’s power is at work in you to accomplish His work on behalf of other people.”

Flash forward to 9/11, when America came under attack. In response, a number of Army Reserve and National Guard units were deployed overseas. In God’s timing, I was assigned to a training support battalion in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose mission was to assist these units. My task was to provide technical training and logistical support to hundreds of Soldiers that were going into harm’s way. I knew that my job provided an opportunity to love God and love my neighbors, since it directly involved taking care of Soldiers and accomplishing the mission of the units in which I served.

An Old Testament team of teams

One of the best accounts in the Bible that demonstrates the value of individuals contributing to the team is found in the narrative of how the Israelites built the tabernacle. In this great story which begins in Exodus 25, we see Spirit-filled artisans working together on a divine project that displays the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work, what I call Immanuel labor. God worked in them in to work through them so that those around them could experience His presence.

This project would require a team of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen. These chosen people with special occupations that Yahweh called upon were artisans and construction workers, what we would call “blue-collar” workers, or in the military, these would be enlisted. These are the kinds of talented people that would be needed: carpenters, metalworkers, stonemasons, those who could make all kinds of furniture, jewelry, curtains, garments, embroidery, and perfume. Every one of these laborers were necessary to get the tabernacle done safely, on time, and under budget. Their work mattered to God.

The big picture was that the tabernacle they built would be the centerpiece of the Israelites’ temporary home in the wilderness. Wherever they would go, the presence of Yahweh would rest on this portable temple.  It would be the place where “They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them, I am the LORD their God” (Ex. 29:46).

Next, let us take a brief look at a New Testament passage where a similar pattern emerges, that each individual’s contributions are worthy of respect and are invaluable to the success of the whole.

A warning from the Apostle Paul

As part of a recurring discussion addressing unity in the local church, Paul taught on the value of each member of the body of Christ. In 1 Cor. 12:12-26, Paul compares them to parts of the human body. He instructs those who see themselves (in their own assessment) to be small and insignificant. His admonition to them is this: don’t discount your contribution or wish you were some other part.

Paul understood the value of each members’ contribution. Each one has purpose and function. The whole body cannot do what it needs to do without the work of each individual part. In the same way, members of a unit, ship, or team can accomplish the mission only when each one does his or her job.

Your work had a far-reaching impact

It is easy for some people to miss the impact of their contributions to their unit of assignment. The personnel paperwork that my father-in-law did for his ship would have made it possible for sailors to get paid, to go on leave, to get promoted, to receive evaluation reports, to put awards they earned into their official records, and to ensure their families received life insurance should something happen. Those actions increased the readiness and morale of that unit, which enabled them to do what they were designed to do, to protect our assets at home and abroad. This mountain of paperwork that was generated, handled, approved, sent up, and filed was necessary to take care of people who mattered to God.

I don’t know what job you did in the military, but I do know that the mundane work you selflessly did to take care of people, equipment, plans, or operations kept your unit moving forward. I thank God there were people like you to maintain the justice work that God needed done in this world.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served for 20 years on active duty and has worked for the past 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written nearly 200 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

Next Slide – How Can We Quickly Reestablish Our Fellowship with God After We’ve Sinned?

I was inspired a few weeks ago while teaching my class on chapters 5 and 6 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession. These chapters explain the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work, using numerous examples from both Old and New Testaments. As I facilitated a discussion on how to respond when we lose our sense of God’s presence due to our sin through repentance and confession, I was reminded of an attention-getting term I learned from a crusty old sergeant major whom I served with in the Republic of Korea nearly 20 years ago.

This senior leader had a habit of saying something positive immediately following a mentoring session where he provided some constructive criticism or just plain chewed me out. When he was done with his one-way conversation with me, he would say, “Next slide.” What he meant was that he was done with the confrontation and that we were moving on to something else. If I saw him later on that same day, there would be absolutely no mention of our discussion. It would never come up.

During my class, I was able to apply this mentoring tool to how God deals with us after we have confessed our sin to Him, in accordance with what we are taught from 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us for all unrighteousness.” Once we bring our sin to the throne of grace, humbly acknowledge ownership of it, express our desire to turn from it, thank God for the forgiveness that we have through faith in Christ, and ask for strength to resist the temptation in the future, I believe the Bible teaches that God says to us in essence, “Next slide!”

I sense that many Christians do not consistently experience the presence of God in their life due to not knowing how to deal with their own sins. I wrote an article on my blog a while ago on how to reestablish our fellowship with God after we find that we have sinned, which I also included in my book. I also wrote an earlier article on resting on God’s forgiveness and grace. Let’s go a little bit deeper here so that my brothers and sisters in Christ will know for sure how to return to fellowship with God quicker and more frequently as a recurring practice so that they can experience God’s presence daily.

What does God say about His followers?

The starting place for this discussion must be our new identity in Christ. Do you know who you are?

Here are some of the irreversible changes that happen to us when we become Christians:

  • The Spirit of God brings them to life in order to see the gospel clearly (Eph. 2:1-5)
  • We become His children (John 1:12)
  • We are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17)
  • We have eternal security: No one can take us out of His hand (John 10:28-29)
  • Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ find complete forgiveness (Acts 2:38)

What does God say about our sin?

For some reason, a lot of Christians do not understand the doctrine of justification. Simply put, forgiveness of our sins is based on Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross where He paid the penalty for all of your sins and my sins, past, present and future. It is not based on what we do or do not do.

In Ps. 103, David tells us what happens when God forgives our iniquities. David exclaims, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:11-12).

The prophet Jeremiah says something similar in a passage describing what will be normative in the New Covenant when the Messiah comes: “I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). This verse is quoted in Heb. 8:12 and 10:17. We are in those days right now!

What is the purpose of confession?

I have written about Psalm 51 in a previous article, but let us take a fresh look at it.

Please read this psalm that was written by David in direct response to his sin with Bathsheba. His confession involved asking God for mercy (Ps. 51:1). He wants to be washed clean (vv. 2, 7, 9, and 10) so that his fellowship with God can be restored (v. 12). He knows that he sinned against God.

In Psalm 32, David reflects on the blessedness of experiencing God’s forgiveness. He states, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1). He paints a picture of how he felt before and after confessing (either the big one mentioned above or other sins in general, we do not know). “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Ps. 32:3-4). He confessed his sin, God forgave him, and his guilt was gone (Ps. 32:5).

Regarding 1 John 1:9, which we discussed above. It is important that you understand and accept that you don’t receive God’s forgiveness after you confess. You already have it if you are His child through faith in Jesus. What you are doing when you confess is reestablishing your fellowship.

Brother Lawrence understood the value of confession. In a letter he penned, he wrote: “I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Touched with a sensible regret, I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands that He may do what He pleases with me. The King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat as His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence.”

How can we daily rest in His grace and mercy?

Once a Christ-follower understands who they are in Christ and how God sees their sin, all they have to do from that point forward is continually confess their sin as soon as the Holy Spirit convicts them. After that, all they need to do is to rest in His mercy and grace and acknowledge His presence.

In order for us to remain in a continuous state of rest we must acknowledge that what God’s Word says about sin, about the new creations that we are in Christ, and what forgiveness truly means, regardless of how we feel. We may not feel like we are forgiven, but we are. We may think that God is disappointed in us and will judge us later for our sins, but He is not, and He will not.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is our high priest. As a result, he exhorts us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” whenever we need to do so (Heb. 4:15-16). There, we will find God’s mercy (not giving us what we deserve) and His grace (giving us more than we deserve).

While I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ as a young college student, I learned about “spiritual breathing”. I was taught that whenever I sinned or a sin was brought to my mind to confess it (exhale) and then ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit (inhale). After practicing this technique for the past 40 years, it has become a habit. Some days I have to confess more than others, but it works.

In closing, I want to encourage those who constantly struggle with guilt, shame, or being hesitant to enter into God’s presence after confessing your sins to practice what we read earlier. You can come confidently, boldly, unashamedly to God’s throne because it is characterized by grace. We don’t deserve forgiveness, but He gives it freely because Jesus already paid the penalty for all your sins.

Understanding that you are forgiven completely whenever you sincerely repent and confess your sins will quite naturally lead you to imagine God saying to you, “What sin?” and then, “Next slide!”

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served for 20 years on active duty and has worked for the past 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written nearly 200 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

The Triune God is a Worker

(Note: The article that follows are some excerpts from chapter 3 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.)

Some preparatory remarks might be appropriate before I describe how each member of the Godhead works. I believe in an orthodox Christian view of the Trinity which is usually articulated as “One in essence; three in persons.” I tend to lean more towards the threeness rather than the oneness, which might differ from those whose Christian experience is lived out by relating to mostly one member.

Work is good because God works

One of the foundational concepts of a Christian theology of work is that work is intrinsically (by nature, fundamentally, or inherently) valuable. This is true mostly because God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are revealed as workers. This is in direct contrast to the common but false belief that work itself is part of the curse. This is an incorrect view because God reveals that He is a worker in Gen. 1:1 and the Fall of man where work is cursed by God is found in Gen. 3.

First, as was mentioned, in Gen. 1:1, God is introduced to us as a worker. He created the heavens and the earth. In this creative process, God specifically did two things that only He can do. He made something out of nothing, and He brought order out of chaos. In Mastering Monday, John Beckett indicates, “God’s nature was, and is, to work. This key aspect of his identity stands in stark contrast to other world religions whose god or gods are passive, abstract, and inactive.” 

In Gen. 2:2-3, we see that the word work is used of God no less than three times. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” It does not say that work was hard for God. It only states plainly that God worked. He was active in the process of creating. He did it all.

Tim Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, reminds us that when God’s work of creation was complete, He found delight in His work: “God finds what he has done beautiful.  He stands back, takes in ‘all that he has made,’ and says, in effect, ‘That’s good!’ Like all good and satisfying work, the worker sees himself in it.” The fact that the creation is good will be important later.

Moreover, God continuously works to sustain His creation. In Acts 14:16-17, Paul preaches, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (See also Ps. 65:9-13 and 104:10-31.)

Let me expand on this idea of God being a worker. I will explain how each member of the Trinity functions as a worker, which reinforces this concept that work is intrinsically good.

The work of God the Father

Let us start with God the Father. In Exo. 15:11, we see that there is no one like God, who works wonders for His people. Later, in Exo. 34:10, we read that Yahweh expresses his covenant love and faithfulness to Israel. He will do awesome work for them. And He does.

The book of Psalms has a lot to say in this regard. In Ps. 8:3-6, David declares that God’s work is reflected in His creation. (See also Ps. 19:1 and 102:25.) In light of the wonders of the universe that God made, David marvels at the fact that God created mere humans to rule over His creation, putting all things under their feet. The idea that we are God’s coworkers to rule over and care for creation is found in the first two chapters of Genesis, as we will explain shortly.

In Ps. 111:2-7, God works to show His grace, mercy, providence, power, and faithfulness. David, in Ps. 139:13-16, acknowledges that Yahweh created him, gave him life, and knows what will take place in his lifetime. In Ps. 143:5, David ponders the work God does as Creator and deliverer, which reflects who He is. This gives us hope for the future, causing us to trust in and worship Him.

We read from the prophet Isaiah that “we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8). God sovereignly works in the circumstances and hearts of His people to prepare them to do His work and to mold them as He desires to fulfill His purposes.

Skipping to the New Testament, the beloved apostle John emphasizes that God the Father is a worker. In John 5:17, Jesus said that God is always at work. In the epistles Paul comforts his readers in Rom. 8:28 with this truth: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In Phil. 1:6, Paul confidently reminds the church in Philippi that God “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This is the work of sanctification. Quoting Ps. 102:25, the writer of Hebrews reminds the church that God’s creation of the world is identified as “the work of your hands” (Heb. 1:10). The Bible clearly demonstrates that God the Father is a worker who will continue to work in us, with us, through us, and all around us.

The work of Jesus

Let us now look at Jesus the worker. I want to focus on His work as the Son of God.

Throughout the Gospel accounts, but especially in the synoptics, we see Jesus working primarily as teacher and healer. In Matt. 11:5, Jesus replied to John the Baptist’s disciples, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Even the Pharisees acknowledged that Jesus’s healing ministry was work. They called attention to it when it was done on the Sabbath (Luke 13:14).

John 1:1-3 paints a vivid portrait of Jesus being present prior to and at creation. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (See also Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:2-3.) In John 4:34, Jesus said that His food, that which gave Him nourishment and satisfaction, was to do God’s will and to finish the work that His Father had called Him to do.

In John 5:17, when Jesus healed a lame man at Bethesda, He stated that His Father was always working and that He also was working. Jesus explained in John 5:19 that He does that which He sees the Father doing. Jesus mentioned in John 5:36 that the work He was doing was because God the Father had given it to Him to finish. Later, Jesus said, “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10). In John 17:4, Jesus stated in His prayer that He completed the work the Father gave Him to do. The work Jesus finished was the work of revelation and redemption.

The work of the Holy Spirit

Next, we need to examine the work of the Holy Spirit. Grudem’s Systematic Theology highlights, “The work of the Holy Spirit is to manifest the active presence of God in the world, and especially in the church. This definition indicates that the Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity whom the Scripture most often represents as being present to do God’s work in the world.” Note once again the connection between work and God’s presence.

In Acts 1:8, we read that the Holy Spirit would work through the church. We see the results of the Spirit’s work in those who heard Peter’s Spirit-filled message, where 3,000 changed lives were added to their number. The apostle Paul writes in Col. 1:28-29 that he proclaims Jesus by admonishing and teaching everyone so that their faith may be complete. Paul acknowledges that he is only able to work hard by the power of the Holy Spirit, who works in him and in those he teaches. In 2 Thes. 2:13-14, we observe that Paul reminds his readers that they have been chosen and were called to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, we have one verse that shows every member of the Godhead working together.

In 1 Thes. 2:13, Paul is thankful that the church in Thessalonica accepted God’s Word, which is described as being at work in those who believe. This living Word of God came from the Father, was revealed by Jesus, and was given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God has always used His Word to transform lives. Its power is still effective in every believer’s heart and mind today.

I trust that these passages will cause you to see the value of the ordinary work you do. Because God is a worker, all legitimate work that we do is good. Additionally, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continue to work to sustain the creation. God has graciously chosen to use us as His coworkers to rule over, care for, and expand His kingdom on earth. Our work matters as God works through us.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served for 20.5 years on active duty and has worked for the past 14.5 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written nearly 200 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

Are We Invaluable or Just Valuable?

(Note: This article was published on the Christian Grandfather Magazine blog.)

In a short conversation I that I had a while back with one of my assistant operations officers, I discovered that the word “invaluable” had a surprising connotation. It grabbed my attention and made me want to consider addressing it as a faith and work topic in a short article for my blog. I invite you to take a look with me into this impactful word. It may change the quality of your work.

A brief grammar lesson

The prefix “in-” is often used like the prefix “un-” to describe the opposite of the root word. For example, incompetent, incomplete, and inaccessible mean not competent, not complete, and not accessible

In the word “invaluable”, it is not used in this way. It actually conveys the meaning that something is more than just valuable; it is something that is so valuable that we cannot function without it. Two little letters make a huge difference.

If you are a valuable employee, you help your team accomplish the mission. If you are invaluable, they cannot accomplish the mission without you. It is the difference between a B+ effort and an A+.

What does this look like at work?

Let me describe in a little more depth how my assistant operations officer made herself invaluable.

As I recall, as I prepared her evaluation, I observed that this young Army captain had displayed a higher level of job performance than most. She was making a difference, on a consistent basis, which set her apart from her peers. She made it hard to see her leave for her next assignment.

She didn’t just wait for things to happen, or say, “What’s happening?” She made things happen. She took the initiative. She proactively asked me what she could do to take things off my plate. She worked directly for the Chief of Staff on complex projects so that I did not have to deal with them. Every day, she reached out to every person on our team to make sure they were okay. She was a leader. She brought energy, enthusiasm, and a spirit of excellence to every task she was assigned.

Working wholeheartedly as unto the Lord

When I saw this kind of invaluable effort put in, I observed that she put her heart into her work.

When Christian workers focus on working “wholeheartedly as unto the Lord” and when we work in the presence of the Lord, God actually works through us to bless our employers. (See Gen. 39:2-5, which describes Joseph while he worked for Potiphar.). When we do that, we become more than just valuable to the organization; we become someone our employer depends on to get the job done. Nehemiah is another classic example of an ordinary worker who worked in the presence of God, as unto the Lord, and with all his heart because God had already worked in his heart. (See Neh. 2:12.)

The Apostle Paul teaches the church in Ephesus what wholehearted work looks like in Eph. 6:5-8. Paul tells slaves (AKA employees) to “obey your earthly masters” (AKA employers) “with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. . . doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” The concept he wants us to grasp is to do all our work for Jesus, not merely for our employers. This means that we put in the same quality of work when they are watching us or when they are not. (See also Col. 3:22-24.)

My challenge (to myself included) is to decide to put our hearts into our work, wherever God has called us to work as an employer or employee, whether it be as a student, stay-at-home parent, teacher, factory worker, running a business, or even in government. Your motivation is not to be better than everyone else or to get ahead in your chosen field. Your purpose is to use the gifts God gave you to serve, giving Him all the glory, and letting Him bless others through your work.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served for 20.5 years on active duty and has worked for the past 14.5 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written nearly 200 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.) He has been a featured guest on several podcasts and radio programs: The Author Inside You (Jul 19), The Authors Show (Aug 19), WORD-FM (Jan 21), Making it Work (Jan 21), Family Radio (Jan 21), and Moody Radio (Sep 22).

You Will Enjoy the Fruit of Your Labor

During a conversation about a year ago about how God had blessed our respective adult children, I remarked to my wife’s sister that I was glad she was enjoying the fruit of her labor. In using the word labor, I was referring to the hard work over two decades in raising her three children. It was only after I had said it that I recognized that since she had given birth to these kids, there were labor pains involved.

God’s promise to Israel

I recalled a verse from the OT (Ps. 128:2), where God offers hope to the Israelites during their captivity. Yahweh said that there would come a day when they would once again “enjoy the fruit of their labor”.

In context, these Israelites, as a consequence of their own rebellion towards God, were taken abruptly into captivity. They were forced to leave their farms and homes for a land far away. Their captors went back to Israel and took the harvest and their homes from them. Thus, the Israelites did not get to enjoy the fruit of their own labor. Someone else, who did not put in the hard work, enjoyed it instead.

God was reminding them that a day would come, after their long captivity, where all would be restored.

Our own captivity

So, let’s bring this into a contemporary context. How would you feel if this was your experience?

Can you imagine completing a major construction project and then someone else receiving all the credit and the bonus that came with it? Can you fathom writing a book and having someone else’s name on the cover? These examples highlight the pain of losing the benefits of what you worked so hard to achieve.

These situations may be extreme. However, don’t we all face disappointment when we don’t reap what we think we have sown as a result of our labor? How does a farmer feel when the crops don’t measure up to last year’s? How does a student feel when he doesn’t get the grade he thought he deserved? How does a parent feel when a child makes a bad decision or doesn’t live up to their potential?

We need to be reminded that in the time in which we find ourselves, in-between Jesus’s first and second comings, work will be harder than necessary due to Adam’s sin, everyone else’s, as well as our own. However, we must never forget that Jesus will return one day. When He does, everything will be restored.

God’s promise of restoration

One might say that sometimes our work seems to be fruitless. One might say that our efforts are in vain.

The writer of Ecclesiastes certainly understood this concept quite well. He observed that “the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 2:17).

However, there is a great promise in one of the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament that should give us hope in the same way as the promise we read above in Ps. 128:2 gave hope to the Israelites. Paul exhorts, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

My wish is to exhort you in a similar fashion. I realize that some of us may feel like we are also in captivity, exiled to a foreign land or even wandering around in a desert place where there is no hope. If this is your experience right now, you should be reminded of Jesus’s word of encouragement to His disciples: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

God promises that there will come a day, perhaps sooner than you expect, either in this life or the life to come, when all things will be made new. There will be no sorrow, no pain, no limitations, or no injustice. The work that you did, with the Lord, in the Lord, and for the Lord will not have been done in vain.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He has completed 35 years of active federal service, including 20 years on active duty and over 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 190 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage? (Part 3)

(Note: My purpose for this study was to get a better understanding of this topic to help an old friend in order to ease his mind about the possibility of remarriage in the future. I have broken down this study into three parts. In Part 1, I looked at Matthew, chapters 5 and 19. In Part 2, I shared my findings from Mark and Luke. In Part 3, I will unpack 1 Corinthians 7 and present my conclusions.)

1 Cor. 7:10-16, 27-28

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? . . . Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

Summary

In chapter 7, Paul lays out some detailed commands for marriage. In verses 1-7, he confronts a view that was common at the time which advocated celibacy in marriage. In verses 8-9, Paul advises the unmarried and widows to marry if they cannot remain celibate. Then, he gives two commands to those who are married. The first one in verses 10-11 lines up with what Jesus taught in the Gospel accounts above: A wife must not separate from (or divorce) her husband. If she does, she must either remain unmarried or reconcile with her husband. Paul adds that a husband must not divorce his wife. 

Second, in verses 12-16, Paul expands his authoritative teaching on marriage beyond what Jesus taught. Paul addresses a common situation where one marriage partner was a Christian and the other was not. If a Christian man marries an unbeliever, and as long as she is willing to stay married, he must not divorce her. The same goes for a Christian woman with an unbelieving husband; she must not divorce him. However, Paul explains that if the unbelieving spouse is not willing to stay married and leaves, the spouse left behind is to let them leave. This would apply to both husbands and wives. 

The conclusion Paul offers is that the spouse left behind is not “bound in such circumstances”. This is normally understood to mean that he or she is free to remarry. In verses 27-28, Paul offers some wise counsel: if you are married, do not seek to be unmarried. If you are unmarried, don’t seek marriage. But if you do, you are not sinning.

Personal observations

I have to wonder if this counsel would also apply to two believers, where one spouse wants to leave the other. The result is the same; the marriage covenant is broken. If not, why not? What are the principles that would apply in all situations? 

Commentary notes

In Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views, Wenham observes, “Paul makes three points here. First, his teaching is based on Jesus’ teaching (“not I, but the Lord”). . . Second, couples should not divorce each other. Third, if one does leave the other, she should not remarry. Paul does not actually say that a husband who divorces his wife should not remarry, but this is surely implied.”

William A. Heth, in his response to Wenham, concludes, “When readers encounter ‘exceptions’ in New Testament divorce texts like Matthew 19:9 (‘except for marital unfaithfulness’) and 1 Corinthians 7:15 (‘A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances”), there are really only two ways to interpret them. These exceptional situations either permit (1) divorce but not remarriage, or (2) divorce and remarriage. I would contend that the most natural assumption first-century readers would bring to these texts is that a legitimate ground for divorce is specified, and a valid divorce left permission for remarriage.”

Heth summarizes, “The majority view among evangelicals today is that there are two grounds that would permit divorce and remarriage, namely, marital unfaithfulness and desertion by an unbeliever. Both are violations of marriage as a covenant made between two individuals” (p. 59). Later, Heth points out that “Valid or legitimate divorces included the right to remarry, and no one in the first century denied remarriage to innocent victims of divorce.”

Heth notes, “The most natural reading of the exception Paul makes in this situation is that it frees or ‘looses’ the believer from the obligations of his or her marriage covenant. It points to a valid or legitimate divorce. . . Paul’s ‘a believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances’ indicates that the believer is free to consider remarriage when abandoned by the unbelieving spouse. . . Given Paul’s Jewish background, a good case can be made that he envisions the remarriage of the deserted party if he or she so chooses.”

Keener, in his response to Heth, takes a broader view of divorce and remarriage, adding abuse to the list of exceptions. Keener counsels his readers, “let Scripture’s principles guide us to a deeper relationship with God that helps us discern what is consistent with biblical principles, even when we lack explicit biblical statements.”

Keener later states, “I have often argued that the Bible permits remarriage for the innocent party whose partner abandoned or proved consistently unfaithful to them. . . I believe that the NT exceptions point us to principles that can guide us in some extreme situations the NT writers did not directly address.”

Keener addresses Paul’s advice believers who have a non-believing spouse who wish to leave them. Keener asks, “Why does Paul feel free to apply Jesus’ words this way? Probably because he understood the character of Jesus’ teaching better than most of us do today. . . Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was a general principle to which there might be exceptions.”

Conclusions

After prayerfully reading, studying, and meditating on these key verses on divorce and remarriage, I can conclude that there are several viewpoints out there that have solid biblical support. Some views are more restrictive; some are more permissive. The commands that Jesus and Paul give are “hard sayings”. They are meant to emphasize the original design, purpose, and permanence of marriage.

Jesus clearly taught that divorce “for any reason” contradicts the one man, one woman, and one flesh covenant of marriage. Adultery clearly can sever this covenant relationship irreparably. Divorce is not required in such circumstances, but it is certainly is justified. The partner who is left behind is no longer bound in this marriage covenant because it was broken.

Paul’s command to the Christians who had unbelieving spouses was given for similar reasons. If the unbelieving spouse does not wish to be married to a believer and leaves, this can sever this covenant relationship irreparably. Divorce is not required in such circumstances, but it is certainly is justified. The partner who is left behind is no longer bound in this marriage covenant because it was broken. 

Keener observes, “The two explicit biblical exceptions, adultery and abandonment, share a common factor: they are acts committed by a partner against the obedient believer. That is, the believer is not breaking up his or her marriage but is confronted with a marriage covenant already broken” (p. 110).

Thus, I can conclude with reasonable (but not absolute) certainty that since Jesus and Paul both taught that when the marriage covenant is irreparably broken by the sinful act(s) of one partner, and divorce is the result, then the other partner is free to be remarried. If the abandoned partner has exhausted all efforts at reconciliation, and if the partner that left is unrepentant, then they are free to pursue a godly relationship in the Lord with another Christian who is also free to be married or remarried.

****************

(Update: My friend has not remarried since I presented gave this research paper to him. However, he was relieved to know that remarriage may be a valid Scriptural option for him in his particular situation if the Lord led him to the right woman.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He has completed 35 years of active federal service, including 20 years on active duty and over 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written over 180 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage? (Part 2)

(Note: My purpose for this study was to get a better understanding of this topic to be able to help a friend, to ease his mind about the possibility of remarriage in the future. I have broken it down into three parts. In Part 1, I looked at Matthew, chapters 5 and 19. In part 2, I will present my findings in Mark and Luke. In part 3, I will unpack 1 Cor. 7 and give my conclusions.)

Mark 10:2-12

“Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’”

Summary

(Note: This is a parallel passage with Matt. 19:3-9.) 

The Pharisees tested Jesus by asking if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. He asked them what Moses commanded. They replied that Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife. Jesus clarified that Moses allowed that due to the hardness of their hearts. He took them to Gen. 2:24, to remind them of the original design and commitment of marriage. 

Jesus added to the words, “and the two will become one flesh”, with, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Later, Jesus taught to His disciples that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. Here (not in Matt. 19), Jesus adds that this command also applied to women equally. He states that if a woman divorces her husband and marries another man she commits adultery.

Personal observations

It is not clear if the same status (committing adultery) applies to the spouse left behind. It could be argued either way.

Commentary notes

Wenham, in Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views states, “Mark’s form is unusual in that it envisages a woman taking the initiative in divorce proceedings, which rarely happened in first-century Palestine.”

Luke 16:18

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Summary

(Note: This is a parallel passage with Matt. 5:32.)

This simple statement of Jesus that any man who divorces his wife and remarries another commits adultery and that a man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery does not have any context, as it does on Matthew. It is merely listed all alone with one or two other things that Jesus said in-between some parables.

Personal observations

In the culture, this command protected women and children by limiting the options of men who would selfishly initiate a divorce. It also reflects Jesus’ view (stated clearly in the Matthew passages) that marriage was intended to be permanent. Those who divorced their wives for any reason (outside of marital unfaithfulness) were committing adultery because their divorce was not legitimate, and therefore they were still one with their original spouse.

Commentary notes

Wenham mentions that it is worth noting that Jesus seems to imply that “divorce does not break the marriage bond, so that sexual relations with anyone but one’s first spouse is adultery” (p. 26).  Furthermore, Wenham observes that the implication of Jesus’ teaching is that “A woman is not free to marry any man after divorce. If she does, she commits adultery. In other words, she is still bound by the vow of exclusive loyalty to her husband.”

Regarding the question of why Mark and Luke omit the exception clause stated in Matthew 5 and 19, Heth, n Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views observes, “Perhaps they did so because the exceptions were obvious and well known to the original audience. No one in the first century prohibited divorce altogether.”

In his Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, Turner concurs, stating, “Matthew retains the authentic dominical exception clause for his Christian Jewish audience because of the connection with Deut. 24:1-3 whereas it is omitted by Mark and Luke, who are writing for mainly Gentile audiences.”

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He has completed 35 years of active federal service, including 20 years on active duty and over 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written over 180 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage? (Part 1)

Four years ago, I offered to do some in-depth biblical research on this topic for an old friend who was struggling to make sense of all the wide range of viewpoints that he had been hearing on this very personal topic. It was more than a mild interest. His wife had left and divorced him. He wanted to know if he could consider dating and getting remarried down the road without committing adultery. 

My method was to examine the teachings of Jesus concerning divorce in Matthew, chapters 5 and 19, the parallel passages in Mark 10 and Luke 16, and the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. I also read Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views, which was extremely helpful. My goal was to develop a better understanding of this controversial topic so that I could present my research and conclusions to this friend, in order to ease his mind about the possibility of remarriage. 

I will break this study into three parts. In this first part, I will look at Matt. 5 and 19. In part 2, I will discuss Mark and Luke. In part 3, I will unpack 1 Cor. 7 and present my conclusions. Perhaps what I learned may help someone else who has gone through a divorce and is unsure what the Bible teaches.

Matt. 5:31-32

It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Summary

This is Jesus’ first teaching on marriage. It is given in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). This teaching lines up with other teachings where Jesus raises the standards of the Law, getting to the heart of the matter (i.e., hate is equal to murder). Jesus contrasts what was written in the Law with what He brings through the New Covenant. He uses the same formula here; “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .” Jesus said that a man who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to be an adulteress and that a man who marries this woman commits adultery. 

Personal observations

The divorced woman becomes an adulteress if one assumes she gets remarried, which is confirmed in the second part, addressed to the man who marries her. Jesus identifies the only exception that justifies a divorce and remarriage – marital unfaithfulness. It seems ironic that if there was no adultery prior to the divorce, then it would be considered adultery due to the remarriage following the divorce. This seems to imply that if one does get divorced for any other reason besides unfaithfulness, the only two options for both partners are that they be reconciled or remain single. 

Jesus does not address the situation where a woman divorces her husband. In this culture, that option was not available to women. In pastoral counseling, one wonders how to counsel those who are divorced unbiblically and then remarried. Are they in a constant state of adultery? Should they divorce in order to reconcile with their original spouse?

Commentary notes

Gordon J. Wenham, in Remarriage after Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views, observes that “Matthew 5:32 is unusual in that it says the act of divorce causes the woman to commit adultery. How can divorce by itself cause adultery? The most likely explanation is that the woman will be forced by economic or social pressure to remarry. The husband who initiates the divorce has thereby himself caused her to break the seventh commandment. All the blame is being transferred to the man.”

Craig S. Keener, in his response to Wenham’s position emphasizes, “The exception clause is appended to divorce rather than to remarriage because it is the validity of the divorce that establishes the basis for acceptable remarriage. If the text allows a divorce as valid, it also allows the remarriage to be valid. A remarriage is ‘adulterous’ by definition if – and only if – the divorce was invalid. . . . Valid divorce, by ancient definition, conferred the right to remarry.”

David L. Turner, in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, summarizes Jesus’ position well: “According to Jesus, a man who divorces his wife for any reason other than sexual infidelity causes her and her potential future spouse to commit adultery. If there has been no sexual infidelity, there can be no real divorce. If there has been no real divorce, there can be no remarriage, and additional sexual unions are adulterous” (p. 171). Turner adds, “As the defined eschatological teacher of the law, his interpretation is based on the original divine intent for marriage, not the expediency of the moment.”

Matthew 19:3-9

“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’ ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ ‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Summary

(Note: This is a parallel passage with Mark 10:2-12.)  

Jesus strategically refers to God’s original stated purpose and implied permanence of marriage found in Gen. 1 and 2, which overrules the Pharisees’ focus on the Law, allowing divorce for any reason. (See Deut. 24:1-4.) After the Pharisees ask Jesus another test question about why Moses gave a command regarding divorce, Jesus sternly tells them that it was given due to the hardness of men’s hearts. He adds that it was not this way from the beginning, alluding once again to Gen. 1 and 2. His point is that divorce was counter to the original design of marriage, which was to last a lifetime. Finally, Jesus states that a man who divorces his wife (except for marital unfaithfulness) and marries another commits adultery.

Personal observations

In the new kingdom and covenant of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, this is indeed a higher standard than the one written in the Law. In this passage, Jesus radically applies the principles on marriage found in Gen. 1 and 2 to the present day. I think He is saying that the God who brought Adam and Eve together to become one flesh is the same God who now brings men and women together in marriage. They are not just two independent people anymore. They are unified by God for a purpose, to build a family in order to expand God’s kingdom on earth, and, as the Apostle Paul will teach, to mirror Christ and the church. (See Eph. 5:22-32.) 

As I look closer at the contrast between what God originally designed for marriage and the way the Pharisees viewed it, I see that when Jesus quotes Gen. 2:24, He may be reminding us that there is a leaving that is appropriate and essential – the leaving of one’s family of origin to cleave to one’s spouse.  After this, there is not supposed to be a leaving of one’s spouse. Marriage is something that God takes very seriously. When a man and woman get married, God makes them one. We are not to undo what God did. Understanding the purpose of marriage is supposed to affect our view of divorce and remarriage.

Commentary notes

Keener notes that when Jesus references God’s purpose for marriage in Gen. 2:24, Jesus’ intent was to prevent His followers from “breaking up their marriages”. However, Keener wonders if it addressed “those whose marriages are broken against their will?”

Keener further indicates, “The issue in question in the hyperbolic image of remarriage as adultery is whether the person remains married to his or her original spouse in God’s sight. Therefore, Jesus’ allowance of divorce in case of the spouse’s unfaithfulness must permit the innocent party to remarry subsequently, since the divorce is valid, and the person is no longer married to the adulterous spouse.”

Turner argues that “the view that both divorce and remarriage are permitted in the case of infidelity seems more likely. If divorce does not convey freedom to remarry, it is essentially meaningless.”

(Note: Click here to read Part 2.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is passionate about helping people with ordinary jobs experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He has completed 35 years of active federal service, including 20 years on active duty and over 14 years as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written over 180 articles on faith and work topics. One hundred of these articles have been published on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, The Gospel Coalition, and Christian Grandfather Magazine. (See list of published articles on Linktree.)