Making Sense of Marriage and Divorce

Let me start by stating that in writing this I am not trying to create a law for our church, and neither am I trying to state an opposing argument to the teachings of others on the subject.  Instead, I’m responding to a need.  Divorce is epidemic.  I’ve heard statistics of anywhere between 35 to 50% of marriages end in divorce (though the exact figure is actually harder to calculate than one might think.)  In addition, this article is not intended to bring condemnation on you, regardless of your past decisions or the situation with which you are currently in.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:17 that “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.”  This means that you shouldn’t abandon your marriage or change your status simply because of new information.  Instead, keep seeking the Lord and make the best of your situation.  The grace of God is sufficient for your circumstance.  With that being said, my audience is specifically Christians considering divorce, Christians who have gone through a divorce in the past, and believers that are considering entering into a relationship with another believer who was divorced in the past.  I want to encourage you to read and stay with the article all the way through, I truly believe that the Word is good news for the hurting.

 TO THE DIVORCED AND THOSE CONSIDERING DIVORCE     

In Malachi 2:16, God clearly says, “I hate divorce.”  I think this is important to point out right from the beginning.  God is not for divorce.  It isn’t the best option.  If you are considering divorce, I believe that you should do whatever you can to reconcile your marriage.  Most at this point say, “I’ve tried that and it didn’t work!”  Perhaps you won’t like what I have to say next.  There are circumstances where scripture permits divorce, which we’ll discuss shortly, but never does scripture permit divorce for the following reasons.  

1.)                Because you aren’t happy.  It isn’t the job of your spouse to make you happy.  Happiness is a choice; even in prison, Paul was able to operate in the joy of the Lord.  Seek out pastoral help to gain insight and principles in order to positively affect your marriage and restore joy in your relationship.

2.)                Because you fell in love with someone else.  According to scripture, this is called adultery and it’s one of the greatest enemies to marriage.  Every single one of us has to confront evil desires that try to draw us away from our mate.  James admonishes us to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (4:7) Proverbs 27:20 states, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.”  If you just allow yourself to follow every single feeling or attraction that you have, you’ll always be blown around like the wind.  If you leave this relationship, because you “fell out of love”, you’ll leave the next one the same way.  Love is a choice and marriage is a commitment to choose to love your spouse, even when it’s hard.

3.)                Because it’s challenging or difficult.  People seem to have this misconception that the problems in their marriage are the result of being with the wrong person.  This isn’t the case, regardless of God’s will, that person became the right person the moment you said, “I do”.  Our difficulties stem from our self centeredness.  Proverbs 13:10 in the KJV states that “only by pride cometh contention.”  This means that pride is the cause of the contention and strife in your relationship.  This shouldn’t condemn you; instead this understanding should encourage you and equip you with the power that you need to end strive forever in your marriage.  Get it at the root, partner with your spouse to end self centeredness in both of you.  (If this does offend you, it is probably a good indication of where the source of the pride is coming from.)

4.)                When your spouse wants to stay married to you.  This is assuming that your spouse isn’t or wasn’t unfaithful and that they aren’t potentially harmful to you physically.  1 Corinthians 7:12-13 says, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”  If your mate, even if they aren’t a believer, is willing to work with you and live with you, you shouldn’t leave them or divorce them.  Obviously there are cases when the situation is unsafe due to substance abuse or violent abusive tendencies.  In these situations, it might be necessary to separate for the sake of safety, but still I believe God’s best would be to pursue your mate’s emotional well-being and to seek reconciliation and healing.  Divorce in these situations should be an absolute last resort.

             Under the Old Covenant, in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the law gives instructions on divorce and remarriage.  It says, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.”  Jesus added to this in Matthew 19:8, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.  But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 

            Jesus’ teaching was so strong on this topic that it caused his disciples to say (in verse 10), “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  Jesus’ disciples thought if the rules are this tough, it’s better to never get married!  Regarding this, John MacArthur states, “The rabbis had taken these laws and broadened them to permit divorce for virtually any reason.  Under the rabbinical laws, if a wife displeased her husband in any way, he was entitled to divorce her.  Jesus stated that this was never the purpose of Moses’ Law.  In fact, Jesus teaching on divorce was given specifically to refute the rabbinical loopholes.” 

            Jesus strategically used the law to expose the sinfulness of the self-righteous Jews of his day.  As Paul says, in 1st Timothy 1:8-9, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.  We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels…”  Jesus took the Law to the extreme and used it to expose those that were trying to use the Mosaic Law to promote their own selfishness and agenda.  The teaching of Jesus stopped them in their tracks. 

            Paul later clarifies the doctrine of the church regarding marriage and divorce in 1St Corinthians 7:10, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  Some might be surprised to find that the commands for marriage and divorce are actually stricter under the New Covenant, but at the same time, grace abounds.  Paul essentially states that divorce isn’t permissible (except for marital unfaithfulness), but that if you DO get a divorce, you should remain unmarried.  In this passage, God speaks against divorce and then in the same breathe speaks love and hope for those that find themselves caught in the wake of it.  But it’s only when combined with 7:8-9 that we see the full picture of this grace.  The King James Version puts it this way, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.  But if they cannot contain, let them marry:  for it is better to marry than to burn.” 

            Paul says that if you’re unmarried or a widow, that it’s best to remain that way, but if you cannot, it is much better to marry than to be bogged down by feelings of lust, loneliness, and dissatisfaction.  The word for “unmarried” in the Greek, means simply that – unmarried.  It’s different than the word for a virgin, and doesn’t seem to take into account the person’s history or past.  Essentially, Paul is stating that regardless of your past, it is better to marry, than burn with lust and passion. 

            It is so hard to make blanket statements about this though, because situations do vary considerably.  Even in writing this, I’m well aware that someone might try to twist certain liberties or permissions to their favor to do what they want to do.  At the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for that.  My intention is to speak to those that are trying to do the right thing, to follow God’s word, and to break free from the guilt and condemnation associated with their past.  If you are married and considering divorce, seek solid biblical counsel.  Remember, it took time and effort to create the hurts in your relationship and in the same way, it’ll take time and effort to bring healing and to regain intimacy.  Don’t give up early, don’t rush the process.  Give it time and healing will come.  God is faithful!

 DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

            First off, if you haven’t yet, read the section above, as I believe it will give some biblical insight into the nature of divorce and God’s perspective on the issue.  Beyond this, it’s important to note that divorce typically (almost always) is the result of two people’s shortcomings and failings and not just one party.  At times, when one party has an affair or files for divorce first, they typically are seen as the “bad guy” (or girl).  But in divorce, everyone loses, and no one leaves unscathed.  And really no one really knows what goes on inside of a relationship between two people and we need to be careful of making quick judgment calls as to fault, etc.  As the saying goes, it does take two to tango.  Often times one’s behavior is simply a response to the others behavior.  You treated me like this, therefore, I’ll do this, and so on it goes.  As marriage counselor Emerson Eggerich calls it, they enter the “crazy cycle”, spiraling downward until someone eventually can’t take it anymore and the relationship is inevitably dissolved. 

            We need to be honest with ourselves and with those that you are in relationship.  If you’re divorced, it’s okay to take ownership of your short comings and your mistakes in the relationships.  You’re human – and we all make mistakes.  Some mistakes have greater impact and consequences in our lives, but as Romans tells us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Take ownership and learn from the mistakes of your past.  In fact, simply blaming the entirety of your divorce on your ex, does little to help your new husband or wife.  They would be much better off knowing realistically what caused the problems in the relationship.  If they really love you, they’ll want to understand and work with you through these struggles or past tendencies.  Except in extreme cases, there are most likely things that both parties could have done differently to salvage the relationship.  The exception would be in extremely abusive relationships, either physically or emotionally, where one party is being victimized.  As tragic as these situations are, many of them (note not all) could have been avoided all together, by not rushing into a relationship without taking time to really know the other person and their past.  In no way though does this excuse the abusive person from their behavior, but should serve as a warning as to the danger of rushing into relationships or just naively assuming that “once we get married they’ll change”.  In entering marriage, you should assume that the person will never change and in fact, their problems are likely to get worse.  After all, while dating we are on our best behavior. 

            Often times, I’m asked if as a Christian, it’s okay to marry someone who has been divorced, (Earlier I dealt with if it’s okay as a divorce Christian to get remarried which in some ways is the same answer.)  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV), “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled from her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  For obvious reasons this teaching isn’t very popular. 

            Paul starts off in this passage and tells the church, as a charge from God, that husband and wives should not separate from each other.  This is God’s best.  Marriage is supposed to be a picture of God’s love towards us.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, many have ignored this charge or been unable to live under it.  But Paul (and the Lord) anticipates this, and states, “But if she does”.  And then he goes on to give instruction that if someone does divorce, that she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  I personally think that it’s important to point out that these instructions were given to Christians within the church.  Personally, I believe that if divorce or remarriage happened prior to a person coming to Christ, then Paul’s instruction aren’t applicable.  It is also important to note that Paul was not writing to the person whose spouse divorced them, but rather to the Christian person who filed for divorce and decided to leave.  If they are leaving for reasons other than physical abuse or marital unfaithfulness, then they should remain unmarried.  Marriage should be treated with the highest level of respect and not abandoned lightly.  This charge should make someone considering leaving their marriage for superficial reasons think twice and should be a motivation to try to make it work.  Unfortunately, many ignore this and leave anyway.            

            Throughout scripture, marriage is used as the closet analogy of Christ’s relationship with the church.  Scripture tells us that even when we are unfaithful, that He will remain faithful to us.  We would do well to learn from Christ as to how to love our spouse and have a successful marriage.

 God’s Grace in Marriage and Divorce

             Some of you might ask, so where is God’s grace in all of this?  Obviously, as with anything, it is ever present and is sufficient towards us in all ways!  First off, if this is the first time you’ve heard any of this teaching or you’ve recently became a Christian, or you’ve been divorced before and are now remarried, engaged to be married, or are wanting to get remarried someday, I don’t believe Paul’s words are meant to condemn you or to restrict you from enjoying your life as a Christian.  Beyond all of this, the Bible teaches that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Are you divorced and later became remarried?  Stay as you are, there is grace for you.  Did your spouse divorce you?  You are free to remarry.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:15, “A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstance.”  As a Christian, did you divorce your spouse for reasons other than abuse or their unfaithfulness?  Repent and realize your mistake, God’s grace is sufficient for you.  The best case scenario would be to restore your failed marriage (assuming they haven’t yet remarried).  If you divorced your spouse prior to becoming a Christian, you are not bound to your previous life, God’s grace is sufficient for you.  You are free to marry.  Are you considering marrying someone who is divorced?  If, as a Christian, they divorced their spouse for reasons other than what scripture provides, how do you know that they will not do the same to you?  This is not a situation to enter into lightly.  Seek the Lord for wisdom in what you should do.  As I think about this, really the only person who might be offended by this teaching is the believer who is currently thinking of divorcing their spouse for ungodly reasons.  And for that, should you not be offended?  If that is you, repent, change your heart and seek counsel on how to restore your marriage.  But if you do get divorced, I tell you the same as Paul states, you are not to get remarried; for you are making that choice now with full knowledge and with rebellion towards the truth.  As James reminds us in 4:6, “But he gives us more grace.  That is why scripture says:  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

lucasmiles

  1. Bryan left a comment on November 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Incredible article Luke. Great message for all couples since all of us have to navigate through storms in our marriage from time to time. Would love to do a study on why some marriages survive storms and others do not. I’m guessing those who have surrendered themselves to the Lord and taken on the additional responsibility of renewing their minds make it through the storm far more often than those who live by worldly standards.

  2. Gwen Lilly left a comment on November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Lucas–have you heard Bertie Brits’ teaching? This truly helped us in our marital struggles when we first began listening to the TRUE Gospel of God’s unconditional love, grace and mercy in June of 2010–in fact, this message was our first Dynamic Love Ministries message. I listen to it every couple of months–as the revelation is driven deeper into my heart :))

    http://dynamicministries.com/component/preachit/video/431-bellville-marriage-and-divorce-in-the-grace-perspective-part-1

    http://dynamicministries.com/component/preachit/video/432-bellville-marriage-and-divorce-in-the-grace-perspective-part-2

    Loved your article and appreciate your heart for people–~~Gwen Lilly

    • lucasmiles left a comment on December 12, 2011 at 12:58 am

      Gwen, hey I finally ended up listening to the links that you posted. Good stuff…always love hearing Bertie.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.