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Vows and Vow Breaking (and a son’s letter to an unfaithful father)

“As a divorced person, I feel like I’m a second class citizen in my church and around my Christian friends. Why is the church so tough on divorce? It’s not the unpardonable sin, is it?”

“You’re right”, I tell them. “Divorce isn’t the unpardonable sin and Christians don’t always handle those who’ve been divorced well and I’m sorry about that. However, there are some very human, and also some very biblical reasons why divorce gets both God’s and the church’s attention, more than many other sins. And, it has to do with vow breaking.”

Vows to God

In most Christian’s lives there are only three times any of us have likely made a vow directly to God:

1. When we came to faith, we pledged our life and allegiance to loving and obeying Jesus Christ.  We made a vow to follow Jesus.

2. When we got married, each person made a vow directly to God and in front of witnesses that this vow would last, “until death do us part”.

3. When and if we had children, when they were baptized or dedicated, we, both parents made a vow to God that we would do whatever we could to assure that our children were raised to love and obey God.

Vow Breaking

I’ve never made a vow directly to God to never lust, be greedy, or never lie – perhaps I should, but I haven’t. But, I did make all three of these vows to God and he expects you and me to keep them whether we’re happy, or fulfilled or not – Period.  God takes vows made to him very seriously.

“When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Numbers 30:2

“… The Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. The man who hates and divorces his wife, says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” Malachi 2:14b-16

The person who causes a divorce and if they have children has broken at least two of their vows to God – serious business.

(By the way, these warnings do not apply to a spouse who is presently, or has resisted an unbiblical divorce and fought for your marriage.  While the vow was broken, it was not broken by you. Bless you!)

But, doesn’t God want me happy?

This is a question – I get often. My answer; “Not necessarily. God never wants us to be happy while in disobedience. He wants us faithful. If and when any of us are happy in disobedience, something is seriously wrong. We’re deluded and grieving the Spirit.” (Eph. 4:30)

A Son’s Letter to His Father

Ten years ago, I helped a college student craft this heartfelt letter to his father.

Dear Dad,

I have watched your relationship with mom deteriorate for some time.  It makes me angry, sad and frustrated all at once.  While there is never one truly innocent person and one truly guilty person, it’s clear that lately you have made some seriously bad choices which are destroying our family.  If you have any biblical grounds for divorcing mother I would appreciate you sharing them with me.

Dad, I’m writing to you not just as your son, but because we are both Christians that also makes you my brother in Christ.  As a father I have always expected you to show me Christianity not just tell me about it.  Dad, you made two promises directly to God.  The first was to Mom to love, honor and cherish her until you die.  The second was to me when I was baptized. I’m told that you promised God you would do everything you could to make sure that I knew what it meant to follow Jesus Christ.

Dad, it appears to me that you are willing to break both of those promises and turn our life upside down, just so that you can be happy.  This isn’t just about you and Mom.  Beyond the hurt, you’re causing our family; you are hurting the name of Jesus Christ.  What do you think non-Christians think about Jesus when they look at what you are doing?  How about other guys who are Christians, who are waiting to see if you get away with it so they can dump their wives and families also?  Dad, this is way bigger than between you and Mom.

I have been reading the Bible and there are several passages such as Matthew 18 and I Corinthians 5 that talk about what to do if brothers and sisters in Christ are disobedient.  While I want to honor you as my father, I also need to warn you as my brother in Christ.

Here’s one of the realities you are going to have to face.  I’ve decided that I never want to meet your new girlfriend.  Even if you divorce Mom, she’ll never be your wife before God. This isn’t a forgiveness issue for me. It’s really about me not wanting to honor something God hasn’t.

That means if you continue on this path, it’s Christmas’ either with me or with her.  This means Thanksgivings with her or me.  Please don’t show up at graduations or sporting events with your girlfriend.  Don’t kid yourself, I won’t get use to it – I shouldn’t have to get use to it.  I should always be disgusted with disobedience mine first, but also yours.  If your girlfriend claims to be a Christian, then she should leave you immediately and free you to come back to us.  Dad the choice is very simple for me.  You either care about God and us, or you care more about her.  I’ll be waiting for your answer in your actions, not words or excuses.

Dad, it’s not too late to still be a hero in my eyes.  I’ll admire you forever if you have the guts to make the tough choices and turn your back on disobedience and commit yourself to loving Mom before it’s too late.

Dad, I don’t have kids yet, but when I do I want to be able to point to you as an example of a godly man.  I found this passage in Luke 2.  The angel was talking about the mission of John the Baptist and he says, “And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.” Dad, that’s what I’m praying for you.


Your Son

Full Disclosure

In the interest of full disclosure, one of our children had a biblical divorce that she didn’t want.  Divorce has touched almost every family I know. I’m simply giving you some possible tools you can use to remind those who call themselves Christians of why God hates divorce.  So should we.

Question: What other ideas have you used to help turn the hearts of fathers (or mothers) to the Lord?

(You may be as moved by this YouTube as I was. Please watch it twice – once for someone else. The second time for you.)

Following Jesus in Real Life

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