By Shawn McMullen
Charles M. Sheldon’s fictional classic, In His Steps, was first published in 1897. It’s about the spiritual awakening of a minister, Henry Maxwell, and his congregation following the death of a poor, unemployed beggar who happened into their Sunday morning worship service.
The day the man died (just a week after he addressed the congregation), Maxwell stood before an eager crowd of worshippers and invited them on a radical, one-year journey of discipleship. From that day forward, those who joined him would do nothing, big or small, without first asking themselves, “What would Jesus do?”
It’s an age-old question. Christ’s apostles must have asked it repeatedly. And they challenged other believers to do the same. (Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”)
It continues to be a valid question for churches and individual believers. And among other issues, we should ask it when ministering to those who are dealing with divorce. “What would Jesus do?”
It isn’t a perfect comparison, but Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4) may help us answer the question.
While traveling through the Samaritan village of Sychar, Jesus stopped to rest beside a well while his disciples went into town for provisions. There Jesus struck up a conversation with a woman who had gone through five husbands and was living with a sixth man. What did the Lord do?
He reached out. By asking her for a drink (and ignoring cultural protocol) Jesus showed an interest in the Samaritan woman. His simple request demonstrated that he valued her and the assistance she was capable of providing.
I’ve talked to believers who felt alienated from their local church after their divorce. Christian friends didn’t know what to say to them, so they avoided them. Church leaders made them feel as if they no longer had anything to offer in ministry. There’s no doubt that divorce calls for accountability, but in this age of grace, we must do all we can to come alongside hurting members of the body of Christ, helping them to heal and to rediscover their value in God’s eyes.
He listened. From her puzzled response to his initial request, to her uncertainties about living water and worship, Jesus took time to listen to the woman and respond to her questions. Sometimes hurting people just need a listening ear.
He introduced spiritual truth. It didn’t take Jesus long to bring God’s plan and purpose into the conversation. As we listen compassionately to those who are dealing with divorce, we must also look for every opportunity to guide them into God’s truth.
He withheld criticism. Jesus knew more about this woman’s past than she could have imagined. Even so, he didn’t begin with accusations, but waited until just the right moment to address her lifestyle. Sometimes we look at other’s circumstances and think we know more than we do. We would be wise to withhold our evaluations until they can be confirmed.
He offered hope. Near the end of their conversation, Jesus identified himself as the promised Messiah. Not only did the woman believe him, but many from the town also believed because of her testimony.
We may not always know the best way to help those who are dealing with divorce. But we do know this. When we strive to do what Jesus would do, good things happen.