How To Preach On Marriage, Divorce, and Singleness
Marriage, divorce and singleness can be some of the most difficult but rewarding subjects we cover in our preaching and teaching. I generally preach through books of the Bible, and these subjects come up quite often as I do so. At other times, I have chosen to specifically address these subjects as part of a topical series. Either way, these messages always seem to draw more attention and scrutiny than others. The following are ten things I have learned about preaching on these subjects.
- Don’t avoid the subject. Preaching on marriage, divorce and singleness can feel like entering a minefield. Besides creating controversy, few of us really enjoy offending people. But these are issues that are immensely significant in people’s lives and the Word of God has lots to say about them. We are called to preach the whole counsel of God. If we avoid the subject we fail to fulfill our calling.
- Don’t compromise or apologize. God’s Word has some very clear—cut things to say about marriage, divorce and singleness. We dare not compromise his Word and we need not apologize for it. For example, when it comes to marriage, it is good to remind people that God invented it. It was his idea! Therefore, it stands to reason that we should listen to what he has to say in this area.
- Understand the culture. As preachers, we should not have our heads in the sand. We should study our culture and communicate to our people as one who knows how people think in this area and why it makes sense to them. For example, many single adults live together before marriage because of the financial pressures of maintaining two homes. We may not agree with that decision, but at least we can acknowledge the reality of their dilemma.
- Show compassion and empathy. There is a great deal of pain, hurt and brokenness in this area, either in people’s family of origin or their current family. Some of that pain has resulted from their own sin and some from the sin of others. If you want people to listen to some of the more challenging things God has to say in this area, it is crucial that you come across as a person who identifies with their brokenness and cares.
- Be real. One of the ways you can show that you understand their pain and brokenness is by sharing your own personal struggles and failures in this area. Obviously, you need to exercise discernment as you do that. The pulpit is not your own confessional, but there is a place for appropriate transparency and vulnerability.
- Don’t betray confidences. If you are going to share anything about your own family, be sure that they know what you plan to say and give you their permission to share it. Whether it is family or friends, never betray a person’s confidence when using examples or illustrations.
- Acknowledge unique scenarios. One of the biggest challenges of preaching on these subjects is there are so many unique scenarios that don’t have easy answers. For example, the Bible seems clear that the only two legitimate reasons for divorce are infidelity or abandonment. But what about physical abuse? Does this constitute a form of abandonment? While you cannot possibly address all of the issues, you should at least acknowledge that they exist and try to give people a wise framework for making hard decisions.
- Point them to additional resources. Since you cannot address every situation, you should point people to other resources that can help them, such as counselors, mentors, books and conferences.
- Don’t glorify being married or being single. Some believers want to glorify marriage while others want to glorify being single. The fact is, both are legitimate callings and both have their own challenges. While marriage does seem to be the norm for people, we should never forget that both Jesus and Paul were single adults!
- Preach that no one is beyond God’s grace. You will preach to people who have experienced failed marriages. You will preach to single adults who are involved in inappropriate relationships. But they are listening to you because in some way God is at work in their life. You must proclaim God’s grace to them through the work of Jesus on the cross. You must give them hope for both forgiveness and change. Think of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV).