August 12th, 2005
“I promised you to one husband, to Christ….” (2 Corinthians 11:2)
You have to think that Melvyn Reed knew it was coming one day. It was a secret too big to keep forever, though he managed for seven years.
Melvyn was recovering from triple bypass surgery in the hospital in London, and his wife showed up to visit him. That's ordinary enough. But shortly after that -- his wife stopped by. And then, a little while after that - well, his wife came to visit. It didn't take Jean Grafton, Denise Harrington, and Lyndsey Hutchinson long to put their heads together and figure out that they were married to the same man: Melvyn had married Jean in 1966, Denise in 1998, and Lyndsey in 2003.
Three marriages in five different decades. Wonder what he was doing in the seventies and eighties?
Melvyn tried to stagger their visits. He tried to set things up so that none of his three wives would be at the hospital at the same time. He must have been doing that his whole life: constructing his life in such a way that none of his wives would discover his little secret, his divided loyalties. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to live that way? (Wonder if that contributed to his heart surgery?)
How would you answer if they both expected your presence at the same time? What credible reason could you give for long absences? I wonder how Melvyn chose where to spend Christmas, or explained to the other wives where he was? That day in the hospital was inevitable; it was unavoidable that one day the parts of his life that Melvyn had tried to segregate would crash loudly and catastrophically into one another.
That's the problem with divided loyalties. They never divide neatly or easily, do they?
“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus once warned. But though we shake our heads and laugh at Melvyn Reed's thinking he could get away with bigamy - polygamy, actually - when it comes to our loyalties to Christ many of us do the same kind of thing. We commit spiritual polygamy, our loyalties divided between our commitment to Jesus and our entanglements with the world. It's not that we set out to do it, but if we're really honest we can't exactly say that it's unintentional, can we? By and large, our loyalties are divided because we choose to divide them. We try to live compartmentalized and subdivided lives because like Melvyn Reed we convince ourselves that by doing so we can honor our commitment to Jesus while still enjoying some of the worldly attitudes, comforts, and pleasures that catch our eye.
How else can we explain the reality that statistically American evangelicals -- people who claim to follow the Jesus who loved the poor and called the rich to account -- give an average of about 2% of their income to church and charitable causes while paying 20% interest every month on the nearly $10,000 of credit card debt they're carrying? Follow the money and you find the truth; many of us are living with loyalties divided between Jesus and what we've been deceived into believing is our minimum standard of living. And to live with the incongruency we've partitioned off our financial situations from our walk with Jesus. We just keep him and our money from meeting.
Or if it's not money, maybe it's work. Maybe it's easier to be successful at our jobs if we lower our ethical standards, and so we've just learned not to allow Jesus to enter our offices. Some of us don't let Jesus into our marriages so we don't have to love our spouses like he would have us love them. Maybe we don't let him meet our friends, or perhaps our sexual partners, because we know that those relationships reflect our divided loyalties.
Maybe our spiritual polygamy is reflected in what we watch, or listen to, or where we point our internet browsers. Maybe it's made obvious in how we speak, or in our attitudes toward people of different races, or in our lack of patience with our kids.
Too many churches are torn apart or compromised by believers with loyalties divided between Jesus and status quo, or Jesus and power, or Jesus and personal agenda. We lose credibility - no, Christ loses credibility - when the world sees his people living obviously divided lives. And the world is fairly astute in noticing; they understand better than we think that Jesus requires complete obedience from his followers, and it stands out to them when they see us trying to serve two (or more) masters.
I have a t-shirt, one of those novelty “Christian” t-shirts that are so popular. It has a logo on the front that looks pretty much identical to Calvin Klein's “CK” logo. But where Calvin has his name written on either side of the logo, my shirt has “Christ Is King.” When I got the shirt years ago, I sort of liked it. Now, I'm not so sure. You have to look pretty closely to realize that it's not a Calvin Klein t-shirt.
A small thing, I know, but it makes me wonder how close people should have to look at my life to see that Christ Is King. Not very close, I think, and that's why I need to be merciless in tearing down the partitions that keep Jesus out of parts of my life. That's why I need to confess to him the spiritual polygamy I see in myself and take what steps I need to take to deal with it.
Maybe you need to do the same. Rest assured that you're not hiding anything from the Lord by keeping him out of certain areas of your life. You're only making it easier for you to live with it. And delaying the inevitable. One day the partitions will be knocked down and we'll all give account for our divided loyalties. Far better to admit it now and trust in Christ's love and grace.
Take a good look at your life. Welcome him especially into those parts of your life that you know don't please him. Until you do, things will never change. Until you do, you'll continue to try to serve two masters.
Aren't you getting tired, anyway?
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