Functional Obedience

In her recent book, The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce, Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained researcher, confutes the widely held belief that the divorce rate among Christians is generally the same as that of non-Christians. Indeed, her eight-year investigative study, which analyzed multiple sources dating back for decades, dispelled a number of widely held myths about marriage. Among the notable findings from her work are: the divorce rate is not at 50% and never has been; the divorce rate has been steadily declining since its height in 1981: and the divorce rate is significantly lower among Christians who regularly attend church, pray, and read their Bibles.

So, let’s stop believing and disseminating bad information.

Let’s stop believing and disseminating bad information.

Feldhahn’s research also revealed that the one common denominator among failed marriages is a loss of hope. She concludes that the dismal marriage statistics that have erroneously been heralded by everyone from the media to the clergy have created a pessimistic outlook regarding marriage that is unfounded and contributes to the negative perceptions many people have about marriage.

It is certainly nice to hear, though not at all surprising, that following biblical mandates leads to more stable marriages. Of course, even at the more realistic figure of 30% that her research has revealed, the rate of divorce is still unacceptably high.

However, despite the renewed confidence that following our Lord’s instructions leads to more stable marriages, we must be careful not to allow that to be our driving motivation. Our rally cry isn’t, “Follow God’s instructions because they work better than those of the world.” God has not given us His Word to make us more happy. Those things may be true, but they are at best only secondary.

God has not given us His Word to make us more happy.

To be sure, following God’s guidelines would be wise for Christians and non-Christians alike. But, our obedience must be based on more than just pragmatic negotiation. We don’t follow God’s instructions simply because they work out best for us; we follow them because He issued them. Otherwise, when the world proposes something that “works better,” we may find ourselves enticed by ungodly alternatives.

Even if we were still lumbering under that oft-repeated marriage misperception, the answer would not be to stop following God’s prescription for marriage to look for something better. Because, as His followers, we don’t base our obedience on expedience, functionality, utilitarian logic, or even, dare I say it, Supreme Court validation. Instead, we passionately pursue God’s directives because He said them.

We don’t follow God’s instructions simply because they work out best for us; we follow them because He issued them.

Even as Commander Norrington refused to believe Jack Sparrow, “because it was Mr. Sparrow who said it,” we as Christians follow our Lord’s Word because it was He who said it. That way, we’re not unbalanced by the passing fancies of statistics or over-published pessimism. Instead, my hope is built in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Deron Biles

Deron Biles

Dean of Extension Education, Associate Dean for the Doctor of Ministry Program, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Biles serves as Dean of Extension Education and teaches in the School of Theology. He is married to Jaye and has four boys.
Twitter: @deronjbiles
Deron Biles

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