I’m currently in a six month eldership process at my local church. This series is taken from questions asked during the process.
You are counseling a couple, who claim to be Christian, that are sleeping together and believe they are “married in their hearts”. They would like to become members of your church. Describe how would you handle this couple, including how you would address the issue of being “married in their hearts?”
I’d start by listening to them about their relationship with Jesus. If they want to become members and they do not know Jesus then who cares right now if they’re living together? There’s bigger fish to fry…this needs to be a salvation conversation.
If it is clear to me that they are both believers in Jesus then I would tenderly, yet firmly bring up the issue of living together. I’d start by making clear this conversation is not connected to their salvation. I’d let the guy know that I consider him a brother in Christ just as much as I consider our pastor a brother in Christ. I’d let the girl know that I consider her a sister in Christ just as much as I consider the wives of the pastors.
I would then talk to them about how the goal for all of us as members of our church is to sharpen each other so our lives could more and more make much of Jesus. I’d let them know how my wife and I have been very desperate for Jesus…we’re both sinful people…but we want to live life in such a way that it is clear to our kids, neighbors, co-workers and family that we are about Jesus. I’d tell them that they have an amazing opportunity right now for their relationship to clearly be about Jesus.
When I feel like they are tracking with me and I sense the Spirit has hopefully prepared their hearts to hear His truth then I’d share Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” I’d share how at the time this was written the people couldn’t get away with saying, “We’re married in our hearts.” We are not people who can separate our hearts from the rest of us. At the time this was written it was very popular for people to be platonists. This meant that people, following the philosophy of Plato, would separate their physical lives from their heart (spiritual life). So their “hearts” would honor God spiritually, but their bodies would go visit prostitutes. Jesus knew this was wrong…this is why Jesus gave us the command in Luke 10:27 that we need to love Him with our entire bodies…not just one compartment.
I would warn them that if they are willing right now to be “married in their hearts” there is a high statistical chance that they might be married to someone else in their hearts later. If they end up getting married, having kids, but 10 years from now there’s someone at work who seems like the true wife you were supposed to marry. Satan can mess with your head and convince you that you are physically married to your wife but in your heart married to your co-worker. I would warn them that the stakes are really high for their marriage to be a giant spotlight on Jesus. I’d warn them that I believe they are leaving the door open for Satan to have a foothold in their relationship.
I’d tell them we love them too much to allow them to become members right now. We strongly consider them brothers and sisters in Christ but we believe this is an area for Jesus to do some powerful stuff before they become members. I’d share a story about some friends who were living together and had a really rocky dating relationship…they then were radically saved and decided to move into separate places and live for a year in different homes before getting engaged and married. They publically made much of Jesus. They got married with a solid foundation on Jesus and then some terrible health problems entered their relationship. They’ve been married 7 years now and love Jesus and each other more than ever because they re-built their relationship solidly on Jesus.
I’d encourage them to spend a few days fasting together and praying asking God what He would like them to do in order for all their friends and family and future children to know that they are consumed by Jesus and they will do whatever He asks of them. I’d want to listen to them…possibly dialogue a little more but then set up a follow-up meeting the next week to see what God communicated with them as they fasted and sought Him. My prayer for them is they would come up with something far more beautiful and powerful for God’s glory than if I set up some rules or policies for them.
How would you counsel this couple?