Divided Loyalties

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Divided Loyalties

Psalm 45

Ode for a Royal Wedding

To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song.

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;

I address my verses to the king;

my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of men;

grace is poured upon your lips;

therefore God has blessed you forever.

Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,

in your glory and majesty.

In your majesty ride on victoriously

for the cause of truth and to defend the right;

let your right hand teach you dread deeds.

Your arrows are sharp

in the heart of the king’s enemies;

the peoples fall under you.

Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;

you love righteousness and hate wickedness.

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.

From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;

daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;

at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear;

forget your people and your father’s house,

and the king will desire your beauty.

Since he is your lord, bow to him;

the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,

the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth.

The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;

in many-colored robes she is led to the king;

behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.

With joy and gladness they are led along

as they enter the palace of the king.

In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons;

you will make them princes in all the earth.

I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;

therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.

Romans 7:1-6

An Analogy from Marriage

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

Our relationships are sacred. Indeed, they may be the only thing that we take with us from this world into eternity. Most of the time, these relationships are a joy and a source of strength and encouragement to us. However, our relationships are not equal in value or type. Some are more sacred and more dear than others. When we are pulled between different relationships, each testing our loyalty, we encounter a conflict that may be second to none other in our lives. These divided loyalties prompt some of our most difficult decisions and often create the deepest scars we carry with us through life.

There are several Christian models of how to prioritize your relationships into a hierarchy. The models are usually neat and clean, all beginning with God at the top, and a big category at the bottom labeled “Everyone else” as a catch-all category. In between these two are a small group of categories, often including spouse, family, friends, church, and work relationships. These get shifted around a little between models, but marriage is almost always under God, and work is typically placed near the bottom. The differences in the models highlights the conflict we all face in an anything-but-ideal world. Life does not always fit into neat packages. Sometime (oftentimes) work provides for family and needs to be prioritized to ensure that family can continue to exist. Some work relationships take on the roles of family – particularly with people who serve in the military or on regularly traveling teams. It is hard to prioritize relationships that you spend little time with over those you spend almost all your time with, and the lifestyles of Christians cannot always match the work and family ethic of farmers in the mid-20th century.1

The bigger struggles we get into are over where “church” relationships fit into this picture. The American experience places family above church – including children, parents, and sometimes further extended family as well. If conflict arises between family (who may not be Christians) and the church, the American thing to do is typically side with family and find a new church. This conflict can get ugly, particularly when those church relationships have become spiritual family for some, and in some ways deeper and more intimate that family related by blood. Guilt abounds in these conflicts and there are rarely resolutions that suit everyone.

The worst kind of conflicts occur when we perceive that those church relationships (or family, friends or anyone else really) are pulling our loyalty away from God. The “live and let live” mentality, that can sometimes work on a temporary basis when families or friends have significant differences in values, does not work well in the Church… although it has been and continues to be tested through the ages. Usually that impression is a silent acknowledgement of the end of the relationship and often begins a grieving process before the actual break. It is like family of a person suffering under Alzheimer’s disease, who cannot remember who they are. Although they may continue to care for them, the grieving process starts before the body dies, and then surges again during the actual funeral. “Live and let live” more like “disconnect, build a fence, and let die.”

Almost all of the Christian reformers of the Church ended up choosing this as their resolution in their struggles with their church relationships. Some of them tried to stay together more than others. Some of them had been together with their church longer than others. In every case though, it was like a marriage – people trying to be faithful to God and to each other, and sadly, some of these could not find reconcilliation. I want you to hear this clearly: in my perspective, marriage vows are sacred, and although (as Jesus says Himself) God allows for divorce, it is never the ideal plan, so then when we separate in those conditions of conflict and irreconcilable differences, we can be pretty confident that we are not functioning in an ideal of God’s grace. At the end of the day, breaking ties with a church is giving up on a relationship.

There is good news though in the midst of all of our mess. God does not give up on us. Nor does He give up on our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ. He who brought us together, holds us together, nurtures, and sustains us through all the challenges we face. He gives His grace to us freely, in order that we might share it with each other. No matter what the situation, if we can catch sight of God’s grace in our situation, we can find a way to grow in a way that blesses everyone in and all around the situation.


  1. Interestingly enough, much of the 21st century New Monastic Movement has promoted lifestyle changes that embrace the work and family ethics of earlier farming life, while maintaining a more liberal (or at least broader) theological spectrum.
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