I want to say that I respect you as one of the foremost Bible teachers of our day. You have helped me immensely over the years. I pastor a small church and for the most part, things are going well, but there is one situation that I need your advice on. A few years ago an older couple started coming to our church. I was under the impression they were married but found out later that they’re just living together.
Apparently, they want to get married but haven’t yet for financial reasons. She draws a pension from her first husband’s estate and if she remarries she will lose her pension.
My question is: how should I handle this? I pray for them continually but wonder if I should confront them about this issue. I believe in grace, but as a pastor, you have to deal with things sometimes even when you don’t want to. They are great people. I’m always amazed at your insight and would greatly appreciate any advice you could give me.
There are many older couples in this situation. They’re afraid that the financial penalty they would pay for getting married would put their survival at risk. This fear stems from a lifetime of financial self-reliance that’s no longer possible to maintain. While the Bible teaches us to obey the laws our government enacts, I believe the Lord judges us by the motives of our heart, and marriage is a matter of the heart. Some people who are legally married don’t act like it and aren’t fooling the Lord. Others are deeply committed to one another and meet all the Bible’s standards for marriage, even though the state doesn’t consider their relationship a legal one.
But another important question is whether they’re in effect stealing from her former husband’s estate. If in their hearts they’re married to each other and living as man and wife, then they may be violating the intent of her pension by accepting the money.
I would suggest raising these questions with them to see whether they’ve considered them. Hopefully it will lead to a discussion on how when we honor the Lord, He will not dishonor us, and you’ll be able to help them make sure their relationship is acceptable in His sight. I suggest using Matt. 6:31-33 as a basis for your discussion.