Bill and Melinda Gates announced this week that they are divorcing after twenty-seven years of marriage. Forbes reports that their split could yield the largest divorce settlement on record, eclipsing the $35 billion breakup of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott. Yesterday we learned that they have hired “a team of high-profile lawyers” to handle their divorce.
The couple created the $50 billion nonprofit Gates Foundation, one of the biggest philanthropies in the world. It gave $5.1 billion in 2019 to fight “poverty, disease, and inequity around the world.” While the couple has pledged their continued commitment to the foundation, the New York Times reports that “people in its orbit worry that an acrimonious split by its founders could cloud the nonprofit’s plans.”
In other words, the marital struggle of a single couple could affect billions of people they have never met. Their story is a parable for our day.
God loves the family
I have been writing lately about the priority of personal morality for our public witness. The same is true for our public relationships. Many years ago, a wise counselor in the ministry told me, “The best way you can love your church is to love your wife. And the best way you can love your wife is to love your Lord.”
God loves the family. In fact, he invented it. He knew that “it is not good that the man should be alone,” so he made “a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). His Fifth Commandment teaches children to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). His word likewise calls parents to teach his word “diligently” to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). And he calls husbands and wives to love and serve each other (Ephesians 5:21–28) with honor and integrity (Hebrews 13:4).
Jesus’ first public miracle was not walking on the water or raising the dead but blessing a wedding (John 2:1–11). His commitment to marriage was inviolate: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
However, we cannot give what we do not have. Since love is the first “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), I cannot unconditionally love my wife unless I can share with her the unconditional love of God. She and I can truly forgive each other, encourage each other, and support each other to the degree that we experience and share the forgiveness, encouragement, and support of Jesus.
The danger of “Friends”
My wife often reminds those she teaches that a strong marriage is the best example we have of the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him. His word likens the union of husband and wife to the union of “Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). A day is coming when the “new Jerusalem” will come “out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2; cf. 19:7).
It is no surprise that Satan is attacking Christians’ marriages and families these days. He knows that sexual sin not only devastates our spouses and children—it also devastates our witness. And it is more endorsed by our culture than ever.
As I noted recently, secular society today is committed to the lie that personal “authenticity” is the pathway to personal and social flourishing. This “authenticity” extends to sexual relationships of all kinds. Evangelicals often focus on LGBTQ issues, but Gallup estimates that only 4.5 percent of Americans self-identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Heterosexual sex outside of marriage is tempting for far more people in our sexualized society.
For example, an estimated 51.1 million people watched the final episode of Friends when it aired on this day in 2004. The sitcom debuted ten years earlier, telling the stories of six friends who struggle with young adult life in New York City.
Here’s one reason for the show’s long-running popularity: its obsession with sex. A journalist calculated that the six characters had sex with eighty-five different people who appeared on the show. This number does not count the sexual encounters that are implied but not described in a script.
Of course, Friends did nothing to warn of the damaging consequences of sex outside of marriage. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Pediatrics criticized the show for “glamorizing sex while hardly mentioning its downsides, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” And the consequences of divorce are clear and damaging as well.
Renewing our vows
My mentor was right: the best way to love my wife is to love my Lord. Today’s National Day of Prayer has chosen a perfect theme for our time: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Our intimacy with Jesus empowers and protects our intimacy with our spouses. His promise is clear: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Jesus assured us, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5a). However, he also warned us that “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b).
Are you abiding in Jesus today? When last did you “draw near to God” in Scripture, prayer, confession, and personal worship? When will you again?
When Janet and I were married in 1980, our pastor led me to make these vows my commitment to her:
I give to you the pledge of my love and of my trust.Whatever may be our blessings, or our troubles,I give myself to be yours, and yours aloneFor as long as we both shall live.
As I was preparing this Daily Article, the Holy Spirit led me to repeat these words to Jesus.
And to invite you to do the same, right now.