Ask a Pastor Ep. 31 - Remarriage, Spanking your Children
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This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Director of Young Adult Ministry, Josiah Leuenberger about remarriage in the bible and spanking your children.
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Kurt Bjorklund: Hi, welcome to Ask a Pastor. This is weekly content that we produce with questions that you send in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Today, I'm joined by Josiah Leuenberger.
Josiah L.: Hey there.
Kurt Bjorklund: Josiah serves as part of our adult ministry team here in Wexford, and has just been a great addition to our staff. And we're going to talk about just a couple of questions that you've all sent in. So here's the first question, and this is a challenging question, and just so you know, Josiah ... usually I give these questions to people like a week ahead of time, they get a chance to think about it. Josiah had like eight minutes to think about this, so we'll see what Josiah has in the tank here.
Josiah L.: Yeah, we'll see, huh?
Kurt Bjorklund: In terms of that. So here's the question. "I have a question regarding the verse in Luke 16:18, 'Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.' Is the intent of this verse to convey that whomever you marry, first marriage, obviously, that if you divorce for reasons other than adultery that in God's eyes, you're still considered as one and still married? And if you remarry for reasons other than adultery that it's considered adultery if you remarry? I realize that this topic is very controversial, but how is remarriage regarded in the bible?"
Kurt Bjorklund: So Josiah, if somebody comes to you as somebody who is helping to lead a congregation and says, "Hey, how do I understand this?" And usually when people ask this question, it's not in theory. Usually this is a very personal question, and I meet a lot of people who want to do the right thing, they want to honor God, but also, a lot of times, want out of their marriage and are looking to say, does my desire to get out of this marriage fit into any of these exceptions or clauses? So help us understand that.
Josiah L.: Yes, sir. Well, thanks for having me back on the podcast, and I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt, but I feel like these are questions that I need to be ready to answer at any time, honestly, and as the person asking me this question mentioned, adultery is something that the bible would deem as biblical grounds for divorce. That marital unfaithfulness to your husband or wife. That is a biblical grounds for divorce, and there are some other things that we see in scripture that would indicate that that is permissible.
Josiah L.: Something like your spouse was a believer and then chose to forsake their faith, and now they've abandoned you. That would be a biblical ground for divorce as well. I also believe that abuse, whether that's physical, emotional, or sexual would be a biblical ground for divorce as well.
Kurt Bjorklund: So where do you get that biblically?
Josiah L.: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: Because some people would say, "I want to agree with you, but I don't see it in the text."
Josiah L.: Yeah. So the way that I would see that is that someone who is a repentant follower of Jesus Christ is not going to be living in a pattern of sin, such as abuse. So if someone is dangerous, if they're putting their spouse at risk by being an abuser, to me that would be an indicator that they're not living the life of faith. So certainly in that kind of situation, safety would be the priority, whether that's for the husband or the wife, and so maybe that would begin with a time of separation because I would say that anytime restoration is possible in a marriage, that would be something that is honoring to God. So all because there is a biblical grounds for divorce does not mean that divorce is required.
Josiah L.: Certainly restoration would be favorable for both the husband and wife or children if that's part of the equation as well. But I do not think that scripture would require a husband or wife to remain in a marriage that was abusive, especially if that would be something where long-term restoration, repairing that relationship has been sought, and there is unrepentant sin on the behalf of someone that claims that they were a follower of Christ, but is not showing that that's true of them in their character and conduct.
Kurt Bjorklund: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Josiah L.: What do you think about that?
Kurt Bjorklund: Well, that issue specifically is probably the most complex of it. So just in the big picture, let me just make a few comments. First, I think most people would say adultery is a reason that you can divorce and remarry and they base that on the exception clause that Jesus gives. It's both in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19, where Jesus says, "Except for," and the NIV translates it "marital unfaithfulness", some of the older translations say, "Except for fornication." I actually believe that that word means something other than adultery, and the reason I believe that is it's the Greek word porneia from which we get the idea of fornication, sex before marriage would be the strictest definition, but the word moichao, the Greek word moichao appears in the same passage, which is the exact thing this person is talking about when Jesus says, "If you do this, you'll commit adultery." So if Jesus had wanted to say adultery is the reason that you can divorce, and if you do it, you commit adultery if you remarry, he would have chosen the word moichao because it's used right there, but he chose the word porneia, so what does that mean?
Kurt Bjorklund: It means one of two things. It means either Jesus' restriction was probably more narrow than we want it to be, or it was more broad than we tend to think of when we think of adultery. So some people have looked at that and said, "The exception clause only occurs in Matthew. It doesn't occur in the more gospels that speak to the broader audience." The people of the day who weren't Jewish. So Matthew being Jewish, the fornication language, porneia, referred to the betrothal period, therefore, since betrothal had a certificate of divorce, like Joseph and Mary, Joseph giving her a certificate of divorce even though they hadn't married, therefore, that's what it's referring to. So it's saying roughly into our engagement period today that if you find your spouse-to-be has cheated on you in that period, then you can divorce them, but once you're married, no longer.
Kurt Bjorklund: I don't buy that. That's the more restricted view. I think porneia was actually a broadening word. Porneia is a word that speaks of any sexually deviant behavior, and it seems to speak of it in any kind of persistent time. So my take would be, as somebody who has looked at this and studied it over the years, is to say that when Jesus says, "Except for," and again, the NIV says "marital unfaithfulness", actually it's a broader phrase. He's saying anything sexually deviant that you persist in over time. Now, here's what's hard about that. What does that mean and what does it mean to persist in it? Does this mean that if your spouse says no to your sexual advances for years that you can say, "That's sexually deviant." Does this mean if they yell at me once and make me feel belittled that that fits into this? And that's the same issue with abuse. I would find abuse inside that word actually because I think to physically abuse somebody is to take somebody's sexuality and physicalness and use it in a way that it wasn't intended, so I would see that fitting into that.
Kurt Bjorklund: What gets harder is verbal abuse. Where do you take verbal abuse? And what I have seen a lot of times over the years is people who want to feel justified in leaving their marriage will say, "You know what? They're verbally abusive." And then you start to ask questions about what that means, and it's a really slippery slope once you go down that path. Now, is there ever a time when verbal abuse is enough of a thing where somebody should leave? Absolutely. But it's a much harder thing to discern than what we often want to get to. So I think one of the things I've become comfortable with is if somebody asks me this question saying, "My job isn't to tell you whether or not you qualify, my job is to help you understand these ideas in scripture, and you're the one who has to stand before God and give an account."
Kurt Bjorklund: So I can't tell you-
Josiah L.: That's a wise way to handle it.
Kurt Bjorklund: A lot of times whether or not the 27 times that your wife yelled at you constitute ongoing verbal abuse, or if the two times, or if the 270 times. I don't know. What I know is there probably is a line in there somewhere, but only you know, "Am I trying to get out of this marriage because I no longer want to be in this marriage?" So, "Am I looking for an exception or a way to get out?" Or, "Am I really taking a biblical exception and saying, 'This allows me a way to get out.'?" So porneia is kind that first exception. You eluded to the other, 1 Corinthians 7 talks clearly about somebody who is deserting, a non-believer deserting a believer, that's clear. I'd also say if a divorce and remarriage has happened pre-faith, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "When somebody is in Christ, they're a new creation." So somebody was married, divorced, and then comes to faith and wants to remarry, I wouldn't say, "Oh, you're committing adultery."
Kurt Bjorklund: But what we've done in the larger Christian culture is we've said, "Divorce for any reason and remarrying any time," and I think what's at view here is to say there is a time when it is right to divorce or separate, but not to remarry because you're still praying for and hoping for reconciliation. So what I encourage people often to do is to say, "If it's not entirely clear that you have biblical grounds to leave and divorce, then it's not entirely clear that you have grounds to remarry." So if you say, "This is so bad, I can't stay in this situation." Then get out of the situation, but don't remarry. Pray for, and learn, and yearn for a reconciliation.
Kurt Bjorklund: And what you often see is that when that's unacceptable to somebody, they usually go to a different church, they usually then say, "I'll go somewhere else where they'll just remarry me, no questions, and they don't know my story." And everything else. And that's when I say, "That feels like that's a reason that you were looking for rather than saying, 'You know what? I really want to honor God.'" And God can do great things in painful situations if we choose to be obedient rather than simply saying, "I want out because this is hard."
Josiah L.: Yeah. Absolutely. I think when it comes to remarriage, something we talked about is that remarriages are fine, and it's a desirable thing if its come from a biblical justification of biblical means, this divorce, but I think that sometimes I have seen people rush into remarriage, and that's been a difficult thing for these folks. I think that it's important for people to maintain the same standards in looking for a marriage partner.
Josiah L.: When they're considering remarriage, it can be a really difficult place to be, especially for a parent with kids to be divorced and living single, but I would counsel just as anyone who is engaged or dating, it's unwise to live with your partner before you become married. Whether that's in a dating time of life or engagement. So I think that being discerning, making sure the person you're marrying is not only someone who is a believer, but someone who is a healthy person and ready for a relationship is just absolutely critical. And I would also just counsel to be, not only be patient, but be wise in timing, knowing that there are dynamics related to your kids, your family, and just a right time to pursue remarriage. Even if you do feel like you found that person that God has for you moving forward.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. And I would say as a pastor, sometimes some of the happiest occasions I've been part of are remarriages where it is right and the person is getting another chance to find and foster love. And that is such a joyful celebration, when somebody has come out of an unbiblical, unhappy marriage. But again, sometimes I think we rush too quickly to say that's the solution, and part of what gives marriage strength is you take away the threat of leaving. And as soon as you introduce the threat of leaving, you destabilize something, and you no longer are both able to come into that with full authenticity, and that's part of why I think the bible makes such a big deal of not divorcing, except for these clauses, these reasons, because once you start that game, then it's always an unstable platform that you're working from.
Josiah L.: Yeah, that's a great point.
Kurt Bjorklund: So again, that would be my reason to say that's why I think it's here and why it works just to say, "We're in this no matter what comes." Because your spouse, no matter how good they are, will let you down, they'll disappoint you, they will frustrate you, and you will do all the same to them and more, and so without saying, "We're committed to being together through those ups and downs, through those highs and lows." You really don't have a marriage. What you have is an arrangement.
Josiah L.: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: And I've talked about this before, but it's the difference between a covenant kind of relationship and just kind of a commitment for this season or a contract. A contract I enter into, and as long as it's good for me, as long as it's good for you, we do it. If you hire me to mow your lawn, if I provide that at an acceptable price-
Josiah L.: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: Then you keep having me mow your lawn. As soon as you get somebody better or who does the job better, you move on from the contract to somebody else. But if we covenant together that I mow your lawn forever, which I'm not suggesting, then we work through whatever is working or not working.
Josiah L.: Absolutely.
Kurt Bjorklund: In a way that's so different.
Josiah L.: It's like, I remember reading a statistic in Tim Keller's Meaning of Marriage with couples in pre-marriage counseling, and he shows that oftentimes couples who said that they had considered a divorce and chose to remain married were very glad they made that decision because the problems that seemed so urgent to them about divorcing ended up being things that were actually a benefit to their relationship in the long run because it caused them to communicate at a deeper level and to really transparently and with vulnerability work through some of those deep heart issues that were causing them conflict.
Josiah L.: So when you put the relationship first, you say, "We're in this together. We're going to seek to forward our relationship even in those difficult times." Often, those difficult times end up being those things that are best for you in bringing you closer to one another and closer to God in the long run. Even though they are incredibly difficult and you would never want to go back.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. Absolutely. Anything else you want to say on that?
Josiah L.: No, that's great. Thanks.
Kurt Bjorklund: All right, so here's the second question. "Is spanking a wise choice for disciplining a child? I see the Proverb that says, 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.' Is this a reference to spanking? I also hear many current psychologists who say physical punishment is really damaging. What is best?"
Josiah L.: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: So what's your understanding, take, on this?
Josiah L.: First of all, I will not claim to have more knowledge than a psychologist on this topic, but I do think scripture has something to say about discipline, and it does appear in scripture that discipline is a vital task in parenting. And I think that discipline really is a reflection of love. You can see in Hebrews Chapter 12, "The Lord disciplines the one He loves. He chases everyone He accepts as His son." So I think for us as parents, we're to love our own children, and in doing so, we're to discipline them. And one of the things that I want to point out, that Proverb referenced in the question here, "Spare the rod, spoil the child." That's actually a paraphrase of a biblical Proverb that's very much a misrepresentation of what's actually said. The verse is Proverbs 13:24, "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."
Josiah L.: So I think the core of that Proverb is really that discipline is done out of love, and it's done in love. So what that means is, in regard to this question, can spanking be an appropriate means of discipline? Sure. I think so. And personally, it was for me growing up. But I think that spanking must be done as correction founded in love and not in anger, and an important qualifier that I would say stems from that is it must never cross the line into abuse. Spanking, founded in love, not in anger, must never cross the line into abuse, and I think that what the line is there is it's really a matter of intent and force. The spanking as a disciplinary measure done in love. It could cross the line into abuse if it was motivated by anger, but it can be a way of correction done in love in an appropriate manner. So I think that's where the differentiation is there between spanking as discipline out of love and spanking as something that could be physically abusive.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Well, thanks for the clarification on that verse. That's well put, and I think your conceptual framework for that is good and well thought out. I would add this, and that is, I think if and when physical punishment is used, spanking, it should obviously be rare, it should obviously be toward a last resort. And what I mean by that is if you spank a child because they do something they can't control or they make a mistake, that's not loving, that's a whole other issue. Defiance, though, sometimes the only way to break defiance might be severe consequences. As a parent, I would recommend trying a lot of things before going there, but here's something that I have learned over the years, and my wife and I have actually practiced this with our kids, and I would say this is way more important than spanking. And that is something we call first time obedience, meaning if you say to your child, "This is something I want you to do." Expect it and demand it the first time.
Kurt Bjorklund: If you've ever been out in public, and you see a parent who is like, "Hey Billy, don't do that. Hey Billy, don't do that. Billy. Billy, I mean it. Don't do it. Billy. I'm serious. Billy, one, two, three. Billy, get over here." What are you doing? You have taught Billy long before that moment in the store that you aren't serious until you count to three, until you threaten a spanking, until you get all the way down this path. What's much more effective is that if you say something, that you follow through on it immediately, and you'll rarely get to the point of ever having to say, "I need to do something more severe." Because you're dealing with stuff right away.
Kurt Bjorklund: The reason you get to that is because you've trained your kids to say, mom and dad aren't serious until they count to three, until they threaten me, therefore, I don't have to really obey until then. And then the one time you finally say, "I've had it. I'm furious that this child won't obey me." You move the line and little bit, and then you end up disciplining in anger, and it isn't a positive experience. But if you're very clear about expectations and say, "This is what will happen if you defy." Or something, and again, you should have a lot of things besides physical discipline in this, in terms of your consequences, then you put yourself in a place where you're not fighting that battle all the time.
Kurt Bjorklund: What's hard as a parent is your children are ... they require you to get off your soapbox, and that's what my wife and I used to say to each other all the time when our kids were a little younger and this was a thing. If we would say, "Hey, don't hit your brother. Don't push your brother." Don't ... whatever. Well, sometimes in order to enforce it, you actually had to get up off the sofa, go across the room, and deal with it in the moment, and it would be easier just to let it go, but then you're training your child to obey you on the third, fourth, fifth, sixth time, so you might as well train them to obey you the first time, and it will alleviate, I think, a lot of that challenge and that issue.
Kurt Bjorklund: So yeah, it's definitely a challenging issue, but one that certainly when you look at the Proverbs and scriptures, I think you can see that there's at least some wisdom to say don't be afraid to discipline in whatever means necessary to get a child on a path when they're young. And when they're old, they'll rejoice in it and be thankful for what you gave them in that. Any other thoughts on that?
Josiah L.: No, I really liked your point that it is a last resort, for sure.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Well thank you for jumping in today, Josiah. Again, if you have any questions for Ask a Pastor, feel free to send them to email@example.com, and we'll be happy to address them in a coming episode.