How Do We Handle Divorce and Remarriage Issues in Our Church?
My marriage is a bust. My wife and I are fighting constantly. I wonder why I ever married her. I feel that my love for her is gone. We have been to counselors many times but nothing seems to help. I think all the fighting is scarring our children. They are upset, scared, and confused. I know we are damaging them. I want out; but I am a Christian and I am afraid that God will punish me for getting a divorce. Can you give me some guidance? Specifically, what does the Bible teach about divorce? I am struggling with whether to stay in this marriage or to get out. I want a divorce but I don’t want God to desert me if I do something wrong.
“Composite of scores of questions from people for divorce guidance over the years”
I grieve for you and your and wife. Neither of you intended when you took your wedding vows to one day get a divorce. I know this is one of the most painful times you will experience in life and the potential for loss is already causing you much grief, anger and depression. I want you to know that I feel deep sorrow for the hurt you are going through. So is Jesus. You mentioned that God may punish you. I think more of God weeping for you than waiting to punish you if you do wrong. You have my deepest sympathies.
Divorce is rampant world-wide. So, you are not alone. In fact, recently a sign was hung in a Hollywood jewelry store that rather sums up the problem in America. The sign said, “We rent wedding rings.”
Julie and I were in a Middle Eastern country recently and were talking with a person who was criticizing the soaring divorce rate in America as a sign of the decadence of our country. He mentioned that America grants more divorces than in the rest of the word combined. I said to him, “It is culturally unacceptable for people to get a divorce in your country, isn’t it. He agreed. Then, I said, “But how many people would get out of their marriages if they could?” Silence…Happy marriages are no more abundant in the Middle East than they are in America.
Divorce was a serious problem in Jesus’ day, too. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32): “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce;’ 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.”
In Matthew 19:3-12 Jesus expands on this basic teaching by saying that Moses allowed divorce because so many people couldn’t live with the rule. Jesus also added that some were choosing not to get married so they could better serve without distraction in the Kingdom.
The liberal attitude toward divorce in Christ’s day was result of 2 things: (1) a blatant ignoring of Genesis 2:23-25 about total commitment of the total person for the total lifetime; and (2) a biased interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 about a man divorcing his wife for anything that displeases him. The word “displeasing” really refers to sexual impurity as explained in Deuteronomy. 22:16-19. The more strict interpretation is the one Jesus was referring to in Matthew 19:8-9.
God’s will is that people should not divorce! Society cannot survive on the dissolution of the family. God’s will is for husbands and wives to stay together and grow together. In fact, God says, “I hate divorce,” God says in Malachi 2:16; then, He goes on to say, “and I hate a man covering his wife with violence.” Some have interpreted this verse to expand the rules justifying divorce to include physical abuse (as well as mental abuse and cruelty).
The principle Christ laid down is that the only grounds for divorce is marital unfaithfulness. However, as Paul teaches, there are other passages and principles that come into play as well (like Malachi two).
By the way, divorce is not the unpardonable sin. (The unpardonable sin is rejecting the prompting of the Holy Spirit to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior.) Martin Luther: taught “Let Christians know that by their divorce they cease to be Christians and become heathen and are in a state of damnation.” For Luther, divorce cost a man his salvation. I find no justification anywhere in the Bible for his declaration. God can certainly forgive the sin of an unjustified divorce.
At the opposite extreme from Luther are the people today (like the liberal view of many rabbis in Jesus’ day) who teach “no fault” divorce for any cause!
I do not wish to condemn anyone or to create unjustified guilt. But, I do wish to acknowledge that divorce is at best a failure in the Kingdom of God. Marriage is no light affair. The hope of the world rests upon the solidarity of the family. Modern pressures upon marriage and the fact that “everyone’s doing it” are not legitimate excuses for passing off Jesus’ words as being outdated.
Too many couples approach marriage with the attitude that, if the going gets rough, they can always divorce. The Christian approaches marriage with the attitude that divorce is out of the question; therefore, when the going gets rough, he or she concentrates on overcoming the problem instead of dissolving the relationship. However, as we shall see, I believe that the Bible teaches that there are times when a marriage is so “over” that it is best to admit failure and start over.
WHAT ARE THE BIBLICAL GUIDELINES FOR DIVORCE?
1. “Pornea” Is Always Grounds For Divorce (Matthew 5:31-32).
“Pornea” is the Greek word for sexual sin. Obviously our word pornography is a “derivative” of the word. If your partner has committed an act of fornication, without a doubt you have scriptural grounds for divorce. “Pornea” is more than adultery. It includes such sexual sins as incest, prostitution, bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.
We need to be careful in handling pornography in our pornographic society. Pornography as we know it hardly existed in Jesus day. Books filled with pictures of sexual acts and nudity didn’t exist in Jesus day. Just because a person my glance occasionally does not mean there is grounds for divorce. That behavior is a sin—like so many others. Consider that the person caught in the trap of porn is addicted and needs counseling and help to get freedom. Look at them as victims who have sinned but need therapy and accountability and are worth “saving” and not abandoning.
2. “Pornea” Never Necessitates Divorce. The theme of scripture is always reconciliation.
Reconciliation has always been God’s way of dealing with relationship sin. Of all people, Christians should work out their differences and reconcile.
3. Christian Couples Are To Remain Married (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).
Christian couples are to uphold God’s ideal of the permanence of marriage. If anyone has power to work out marriage problems it is Christians! Christian’s have Christ’s power and life of love. Christians have Christ’s power to forgive.
4. Nevertheless, When A Divorce Has Occurred Between Christians, Only Two Options Are Available (1 Corinthians 7:11).
According to Paul Christians are either to remain single or be reconciled to their marriage partner. If a Christian’s ex-husband or ex-wife has remarried then remarriage is permitted.
5. The Willing Departure Of An Unbeliever Is Grounds For Divorce (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
If you’re a Christian and you’ve been married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever wants out of the marriage, then let them go. You are no longer under bondage. You have the right of remarriage.
6. A Christian Married To An Unbeliever Is To Remain Married And Help Lead The Unbelieving Partner To Christ (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
7. Biblical Divorce Always Includes The Right To Remarry (1 Corinthians 7:15 And 7:39).
If your divorce is right, then remarriage is always right. Divorce, God’s kind, always dissolves the marriage–and the right of remarriage is in place. The question is, has there been Biblical divorce? That’s the whole issue!
God views divorce the same as he views death–a complete cutting off. If you have grounds for divorce, then you always have grounds for remarriage.
8. It Is Always Sin To Remarry Without The Proper Grounds For Divorce (Matthew 19:8-9).
It doesn’t matter what situation we may bring up, if we have no Biblical grounds for divorce, it is always a sin to get married again. This is obvious, but, the guilty party in a “Pornea” marriage is not free to remarry. Sin doesn’t set us free after all.
9. It Is Always Sin To Marry Someone Who Has Been Divorced Without Biblical Grounds (Matthew 5:32).
10. In Certain Cases It Is God’s Will To Remain Unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 27, 39-40.
Christians who divorce are not free to remarry. When society is crumbling it is better not to marry. Widows must consider that at times remaining a widow is better than remarriage.
11. Death Of A Partner Severs Responsibility. There Is Freedom To Remarry (1 Corinthians 7:39-40).
12. A Decision To Accept Christ As Savior Affects Our Position Before God As To What Happened In The Past.
Were you married and divorced 13 times before you became a Christian? That is in the past! Our position before Christ really makes a difference. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” It’s no surprise when people lost in sin get caught up in all sorts of sins. Things become different when we’re saved!
WHAT IF I HAVE ALREADY BLOWN IT? Pick up the pieces of your broken life and start over (John 8:1-11).
Maybe you’ve been divorced and are now remarried. But, you didn’t have any Biblical grounds! What do you do? Does God hate you? Will God forever withhold blessing from my life?
If you’ve remarried without scriptural grounds for divorce you may be tempted to ask, “Do I have to divorce my present husband and try to straighten it out with my original husband? NO! God says, “I hate divorce.” Another divorce won’t straighten it out but only complicate matters! If you divorced without scriptural grounds and then remarried, there is still forgiveness and hope! (Isaiah 1:18 and 1 John 1:9 and 2:1).
Perhaps it might be of interest how I treat and advise couples in the throes of divorce. First, I try to comfort them in their pain because I know they are hurting desperately. Second, I advise them to do everything possible to fix their marriage—including working with close Christian friends and receiving good Christian counseling. My experience is that many Christians receive much counseling, but are still unable to reconcile.
Second, I review with them the Biblical grounds for divorce as mentioned above. I cannot apply these principles to their own hearts. These issues are between them and God. I can advise; but the final conclusions are between them and God.
Third, seldom do I advise one partner or another to get a divorce; but, I have done it. When physical, mental, or verbal abuse is bringing irreparable harm I advise them to leave immediately for their own safety (and often for the safety of the children).
Fourth, when a marriage is obviously dead, I advise people on the basis of John 8:1-11 to pick up the pieces and start over. John 8 is the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery and the men who want to stone her. Jesus forgives her and as He sends her on her way He advises her to stop her sin.
Some marriages are caustic for one or both partners. Get out and start over; the long-term damage can be devastating. By the way, some people shouldn’t be married. Many mental disorders are incompatible with successful marriages.
As I give guidance concerning the Biblical guidelines for divorce I remember that that every marriage is an individual thing; no two are alike. Marriages can’t be grouped into categories and treated as such. Each one needs individual care, understanding, and attention.
Remember: God’s ideal is the total commitment of the total person for the total life (Genesis 2:18-24).
Remember: Jesus is in business of picking up pieces and starting over again (John 8:1-11).
To all of you who have asked me throughout the years about marriage and divorce I hope I have shared helpful Biblical teaching that will give you guidance. For all of you I hope for happy and fulfilled marriages that last a life time.