“So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” Malachi 2:15
Divorce! In one sense the word is worse than death. In another sense it has become such a common word, some don’t even bat an eye when it is spoken.
What Causes Divorce?
Ask a group of divorced men and women what caused their divorce, and you often will hear, “My spouse and I drifted apart and lost touch with each other, and soon had nothing in common.” Oh, divorces may use different words, but the gist is frequently the same. One woman recently put it this way: “Somehow that which attracted us to each other now repels us.” Why the complete change of heart? Many reasons could be listed. Here are a few:
Lack of communication
Different sexual expectations
The reasons are endless, but in reality there is only one reason – a refusal on the part of either husband or wife, or both, to carry out their “role” in marriage.
The Husband’s Role
The man’s role can be summed up in one sentence: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Paul goes on in that chapter to explain what kind of love he’s talking about.
It’s Sacrificial Love.
The Bible says that Christ “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). This means a husband should go to any length and breadth to love his wife – even giving his life for hers, if need be.
It’s a Cleansing Love.
Christ loved the church, “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26). This means a husband should do all in his power to protect the purity of his wife.
It’s a Nourishing Love.
The Bible says, “no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:29). Similarly, as the leader in his home, the husband is to spiritually nourish his wife.
It’s a Caring Kind of Love.
Paul also says he “cares”. A wife can live without a lot of things, but not without knowing where she stands in her husband’s value system. First, he must wholeheartedly love the Lord. Then, he must cherish his wife. When a husband neglects or refuses to fulfill his God-given responsibilities, he ends up downgrading his wife. He leaves her feeling unloved, unprotected, vulnerable, spiritually deprived, and uncared for. Believe me, no woman can live long that way.
The Wife’s Role
Her role also can be summed up in one sentence: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). This command suggests there is a hierarchy within marriage, as in most of life. The Bible goes on to state that the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church.
Submission means a woman acknowledges her husband as the God-ordained head of their union. It means that ultimately God has called the husband to make the final decision in matters pertaining to marriage. Submission does not mean a wife must subject herself to anything her husband asks her to do. She has no obligation to “submit” to his demands if those demands are contrary to God’s Word. Nor does submission mean a wife cannot express her opinion. In contrast to Pilate (Matthew 27:19), a wise husband listens to the counsel of his wife.
In a healthy marriage, the husband rarely overrides his wife’s counsel, wishes, or advice. Instead, he seeks what’s best for her, for them, and for the family as a whole. In any other area of life, a good leader does the same thing. But admittedly not all marriages are healthy. If one or both spouses are failing to carry out their God-given roles, is divorce inevitable? Is it even an option?
How God Views Divorce
Scripture is clear about what God thinks: “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16). Those words don’t even need to be interpreted. God hates any attempt to break the covenant of two He has joined together.
Jesus taught the permanence of marriage as well. When the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking Him if it were lawful for a man to divorce his wife, Jesus told them: “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” (Matthew 19:8-9).
It is interesting to me how Jesus took the religious leaders of His day right back to God’s original plan for marriage. Originally, it was to be a permanent “until death do us part” covenant relationship. There was no provision for divorce. Moses eventually gave instructions about divorce because men were divorcing their wives, contrary to God’s wishes.
God’s original plan is outlined for us in the book of beginnings, Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
In the New Testament, both Jesus and the apostle Paul used this same verse when they taught about the permanence of marriage. Paul also makes it clear: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): a wife must not separate from her husband…And a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). These and other passages make it clear that God’s will is that once the marriage bond has been established, it is not to be broken.
Grounds for Divorce (and Remarriage)
But the question is often asked: “Does God prohibit divorce altogether? Aren’t their some circumstances under which God’s Word permits divorce?”
Yes, in two instances Scripture teaches that divorce may be permissible. The first is sexual unfaithfulness of one’s spouse, whether heterosexual or homosexual infidelity. “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). The term “adultery” refers to a married man or woman having sex with someone other than his or her spouse. This is referred to ask the “exception” clause.
Please understand that Jesus is not commanding you to divorce if your spouse has committed adultery. As a Christian, you must forgive him or her and you may opt not to divorce, especially if your spouse repents. In other words, adultery doesn’t automatically sever the marriage relationship, though it blemishes it severely. Jesus said essentially the same thing: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
Those are the only two reasons given in Scripture. Jesus permitted divorce in cases of sexual unfaithfulness, but in no way did He say divorce is an automatic given. The second area where divorce is permitted is when one’s non-Christian partner decides to exit the marriage. “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” 1 Corinthians 7:15
This means if a person is married to an unbeliever, and the unbelieving spouse decides to leave the marriage, and does so, the believing partner isn’t “bound” to that marriage. Again, the verse is suggesting not that the believer must pursue divorce, but that he or she may if the situation isn’t corrected.
Remember, the obligation to forgive and stand for your marriage takes precedence over your “right” to divorce your spouse. Having an unbelieving spouse is not, in itself, grounds for divorce. The Bible is clear here: “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.” 1 Corinthians 7:12b-13
From a Christian perspective, divorce is to be avoided at all costs, since God “hates divorce”. Perhaps the following questions and answers can help clarify some of the issues revolving around divorce and remarriage.
What if I’m the victim of ongoing physical abuse? Isn’t that grounds for divorce? Not biblically, but you do need to remove yourself from the situation and seek protection until your spouse has repented, forsaking his or her violent ways.
May a divorced person remarry? Yes, if you were divorced because your spouse would not repent of his/her ongoing sexual infidelity, or if your unbelieving spouse decided to desert you.
What if my divorce wasn’t on biblical grounds, but it was prior to my salvation? Am I free to remarry? Yes, if your previous spouse has died or already remarried. If he/she hasn’t remarried, reconciliation still may be possible. That you are a Christian now may actually increase the likelihood the two of you can be reconciled, especially if you were the one who initiated the divorce. Begin by seeking your ex-husband or ex-wife’s forgiveness.
What if I got divorced before I was a Christian, married someone else, then became a Christian? Should I divorce my second spouse and go back to my first spouse, if he or she hasn’t remarried? No, Scripture teaches you should make the best of the marriage you’re in now (Deut. 24:1-4). Leaving your second spouse to remarry your former spouse would dishonor the Lord. Two wrongs never make a right.
If I don’t love my spouse anymore, isn’t it wrong to remain married, even though I have no biblical grounds for divorce? It’s never “wrong” to remain married, since marriage is a covenant between you, your spouse, and the Lord. Besides, love is a choice. You can learn to love your spouse again by doing loving things for him or her. “Feelings” of love will follow your obedience in this area.
Consequences of Divorce
Divorce never solves problems, but it sure creates a few. Consider these consequences of divorce:
It Creates Severe Economic Difficulties
I have never known divorce to improve a couple’s financial situation. Just the opposite. I recently asked a prominent attorney what an average divorce costs. He said before it’s all over, it will cost half the price of an expensive new sports car! After the divorce, the economic impact is even more severe. The cost of maintaining two households is exorbitant. Often, the woman’s standard of living plummets the worst.
It Creates an “Unprotected” Species
When a couple divorce, the woman no longer is under the God-ordained umbrella of protection her former husband was supposed to provide for her. She becomes a “sitting duck” for the onslaughts of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
It Plagues One’s Conscience
A man who divorced his wife told me he still feels a sense of shame, guilt, and terrible disappointment in himself for initiating that divorce twenty-one years ago. Most divorcees feel a sense of ongoing shame. Even though God forgives any and all sin, the consequences of a divorce initiated on unbiblical grounds never end.
It Sets a Precedent for Your Children to Someday Divorce their Spouses
More than half of all couples filing for divorce today had at least one parent who ended his or her first marriage in divorce. Even though they know the pain of divorce firsthand, the children of divorce are more apt than others to end their own marriages in divorce. So the consequences of divorce affect generations to come.
It Increases the Probability of Ongoing Failure
This doesn’t mean that if you’re divorced, you’re doomed to a life of failure. But it is true that divorces fail in other areas of life more frequently than non-divorced men and women.
It Increases the Chance of Entering into a Non-biblical Marriage
Studies indicate that people who go through a divorce are more likely than not to marry again. Most will enter into an unbiblical union. Significantly less than fifty percent of those marriages are likely to succeed.
It Creates a Horrible Loneliness that Can Lead to Sin
Say what you will, but divorce brings a deep sense of loneliness, even for the person who initiated the divorce. If unchecked, loneliness can lead to immorality. One man confessed to me that a divorce he did not want produced so much pain and loneliness that he pursued a new relationship much too quickly. That relationship, thought to be above-board in every way, led one Friday night to sexual sin. Ashamed and guilt-ridden, this man ended up telling his own children that for the first time in his life, he had sex with someone who was not his wife. Why? It all began with divorce!
Counsel from God’s Word
If your divorce isn’t final yet: Maybe as you read this, divorce proceedings are pending. If you have initiated those proceedings, withdraw them at once. “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” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). It is contrary to God’s will to initiate divorce unless you have biblical grounds.
Solomon was right: “haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5). Don’t proceed rashly. Instead, ask your partner to forgive you for filing divorce papers, and withdraw them quickly.
If you are already divorced, and you and your spouse have not remarried: the circumstances may look hopeless, but remember, you and God make a majority. On the basis of Ephesians 4:32, decide today to forgive your spouse, and ask him or her to forgive you. Remember, regardless of why you are divorced; God wants you to pursue reconciliation. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17).
If you are already, your spouse has remarried, and you haven’t: if your divorce was a biblically allowed divorce, you are free to remarry, but only in the Lord. (Matthew 19:3-9)
If you are already divorced and remarried, and your spouse hasn’t remarried: do not divorce your spouse and return to your former spouse. That would only be adding sin to sin. Repent over your remarriage (if you weren’t biblically eligible to remarry), then know God has forgiven you. Make the best out of your present marriage and put Christ in the center of it. (Matthew 6:33)
If you are divorced, not yet remarried, and your divorce wasn’t biblically allowed: do not marry someone else. That would be adultery. (Mark 10:11). You have two choices. Either reconcile with your divorced spouse, or remain single (1 Corinthians 7:11ff)
If you are divorced, but you didn’t want the divorce: the question comes up, “Am I biblically eligible to remarry?” Even if you didn’t want the divorce, God wants you to pursue reconciliation of that marriage. If and when your ex-spouse remarries, you are free to marry, but only another Christian.
If your marriage was broken by adultery, however, and the adulterer precipitated the divorce, you are free to remarry, in the Lord.
More Biblical Counsel
1 Corinthians 7
1 Peter 3:1-7
1 Corinthians 13