For Better or For Worse: What the Bible Says about Divorce
by Betty Miller
What are the spiritual consequences of divorce? Is there scriptural precedence for a divorced person to ever remarry? Can a divorced person fill a place in ministry? How are we to deal with those who have suffered in this area? With so many extremes being taught on this subject, it is difficult to have the proper perspective of this problem in the church. In this teaching we will examine how to deal with these complicated issues, in a spirit of both righteousness and mercy.
In today’s society, divorce is a fast way out of an unpleasant situation. In the United States, roughly half of all marriages now end in divorce. This statistic is almost as high in the church as it is the world. What are we to make of this flood of broken covenants that wash across our land? Many are drowning in its tide, beaten by their own broken words and failure. Some are dying under a flood of guilt, while others sail merrily along, unaware that their boat is rotting and will soon sink under the waves. Is there a cure for this marital epidemic of broken promises, blame, guilt, un-forgiveness, discontent and wounded children? Can God truly heal even the most broken of marriages?
Although God hates divorce, He loves the divorcee and will help all who call upon Him. He wants to teach us how to love the way He loves. The definition of true love is “God is Love.” Unless God is brought into a marriage they will never experience true love. People can experience an emotional feeling we call “love”; however, this is only one aspect of love in a marriage. The kind of love that is needed for any marriage to be successful is the God kind of love because this love is not a selfish love. God’s kind of love, loves even when that love is not reciprocated. One attribute of love is faithfulness and loyalty. A Christian marriage is based on trust in God and each other.
Love Is A Choice
Another thing we must understand about love is that it is a choice. True love is not something we trip into and out of easily. God’s love for us endures all things and does not change, even when we do. He doesn’t love us for measuring up to a certain standard. He loves us because He is love Himself. There is not one thing He does that is not motivated by love. When we fail, He does not reject us, but in compassion reaches out to restore us. Though He sees the hardness, blindness and hypocrisy in our hearts, He still loves us. He loves us enough to not overlook these things, because He knows they will destroy us. He loves us with a consuming, passionate, holy, jealous and gentle love. He loves us so much that he continually offers us forgiveness, comfort, encouragement, peace and joy. Finally, Jesus showed that He loves us more than His own life when he laid down His life for us.
Because He loves us in this way, so we also are to love each other. Nowhere is God’s love for us better illustrated than in marriage.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present the church to Himself in glorious splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such things–that she might be holy and faultless. Even so husbands should love their wives as (being in a sense) their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and carefully protects and cherishes it, as Christ does the church. Because we are members (parts) of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is very great, but I speak concerning (the relation of) Christ and the church. However, let each man of you (without exception) love his wife (being in a sense) his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband–that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him and loves and admires him exceedingly. Ephesians 5: 25-33 (Amplified Bible)
In this verse, we see that the union between man and woman is a portrayal of the divine romance between Christ and the Church. The only reason man and woman are attracted to each other and desire to build a life together, is because this principal is true in a spiritual sense. The natural realm is an illustration of the spiritual realm, and all spiritual truths existed long before the natural ones were manifested. In that same way men and women seek each other to become one, so our spirits are also seeking oneness with God – and He with us.
Just as Eve was brought forth from Adam’s side, so the church was brought forth from the wounded side of Jesus. We are “bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh.” God is a “family man” seeking to establish a union of love between His son Jesus and His Bride, who is the church. Together, they will rule His creation and bring forth many offspring, just as Adam and Ever were originally commissioned to do.
God hates divorce because it is a perversion of the holy picture of the His Son and the Church. This is also why He hates homosexuality, sexual promiscuity and other sexual and gender-related sins. All of these have their source with the Evil One who seeks to pervert all of God’s truths until they are a twisted lifeless shamble of what they once were. When God’s truths are twisted, instead of being instruments of life and freedom, they become tools of death and destruction. What can bring us the greatest happiness can also bring us the greatest sorrow. God took a great risk when He put so much power in love. He knew it could both heal – and hurt – us more deeply than anything else He created. Yet, if this is true for us, it is even more true for God Himself. He also, is deeply touched and wounded by love. Yet, because He is willing to risk His very heart for the sake of love, so we must be willing to take that risk as well. He is our example. God’s love alone has the deepest power to fulfill us. However, it can only fulfill us to the extent that we use and understand it properly – and we cannot know true love unless we know God.
The Ultimate Sacrifice of Love
The most basic principal of true, godly love is this: Love lays down its life for others. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
This “laying down of our life” can be manifested in many ways. Basically, it includes loving others more than ourselves, thinking of their welfare, honoring them, forgiving them, wanting the best for them, etc. This is to be practiced for both those who love us and those who hate us. Furthermore, this is to be a way of life – not an occasional mood, when we are feeling benevolent towards the world! Love is a deliberate choice.
Generally, the farther away one is from us, the easier it is to love them. We can love them in a broad way. The closer we get to someone however, the more they are magnified to us. We see both their faults and strengths more clearly. It is here that love must become a choice. Will we continue to love them despite their failures, or will we back off? Because marriages are the closest of all relationships, they are also tested the most. If we have found that we are peering at our mate continually through a magnifying glass, it may be time to step back a bit and refocus on the “big picture.” Likewise, if all we see is the “big picture” we can lose the intimacy in the foundation of marriage. When we peer closely at our loved ones, their faults are magnified, but so is their beauty as well. We need to continually seek the Lord for His perspective, so we can see the loved one through His eyes of love and mercy. After all, He sees us closer than anyone, and yet still loves us!
By studying God’s love for us, we can learn that love takes work, patience, commitment, faithfulness, and the willingness to take a risk. How different from the way the world tells us love is – an effortless, easy emotion! Emotions are a beautiful part of love, but nonetheless, they are only a part. They are the frosting on the cake, the harmony on the melody, the bloom on the flower. They cannot stand on their own, but rest on and grow from something else entirely.
The Spirit of Division
There is a rampant spirit of division in the earth today that is seeking to destroy not only marriages, but all of our relationships. We must recognize this attack of the enemy and resist it. Satan especially seeks to destroy and belittle marriage, because of its spiritual parallel between Christ and the Church. It is our responsibility to recognize that the real enemy is not each other, but the devil and our own sin. Blaming each other or even our own inability, is the easy way out. Through Christ, we can do all things. He makes us strong where we are weak. He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us. He gives us tools to overcome the enemy. In short, He gives us all we need. Every time we overcome the spirit of division with love and forgiveness, we bind the enemy and grow stronger ourselves. The following verse is an excellent list of spiritual tools that will overcome any attack of division:
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing: knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 1 Peter 3:7-12
It is understandable how those outside of Christ end up with broken homes, but how sad it is that now Satan is even destroying the homes of God’s holy people. Perhaps it is because we have not been taught how to overcome the enemy or die to self. Whatever the reasons, there are many who are on the brink of, or have already suffered the trauma of divorce.
Those in bad marriages should not use divorce as an escape just because they are in an unpleasant situation, but should seek God for the healing of their relationship. The Lord desires to use such circumstances for redemptive purposes. He wants to heal and deliver the partner that is not committed to Him. This is perfect soil for the growth of the fruits of long-suffering (patience), faith and love to take place in the mate who is hurting due to lack of love in the marriage. God’s kind of love can overcome in the situation, and a mighty miracle of healing can come to that marriage and home.
What About Those Who Have Already Been Divorced?
First we must call divorce what it is – sin. Then we must look to God’s Word to see how He deals with this, or any other sin. Divorce causes one to commit the sin of adultery.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Matthew 5:31-32
Now let us look at a case concerning a woman who was caught in the act of adultery and see how the Lord deals with her.
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him, But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. John 8:4-11
From this account we see the Lord extending mercy to this woman and forgiving her of her sin. We also notice that He made an important statement, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
The Lord treats all sins alike as far as redemption is concerned; sin is sin. The answer to every sin problem is the acceptance of Jesus and His sacrifice that cleanses us from sin. If we turn to Jesus, no matter what sin we commit, we will find forgiveness and mercy. The Lord did not say she had not sinned, but forgave her and admonished her to “sin no more.” The sin of divorce is not the unpardonable sin. No matter what sin we have committed in our lives, whether it be lying, cheating, stealing, murder or divorce, Jesus made a way for us to be cleansed and forgiven. When the Lord forgives sin, He also ceases to remember it. God’s love and forgiveness is so different from man’s. Hebrews 10:17 says, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
What About Remarriage?
Yes, divorce is a sin. We can plainly see the damage it does to the lives of all involved. It is straight from the pit of hell. Yet, there is hope and forgiveness for the divorcee. Satan often lies and tells people that God is doing the separating, but it is not God. God is not the author of divorce. However, His Word does give instructions to those whose unbelieving mates desire a divorce.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 1 Corinthians 7:13-15
If this happens, the mate that is left is not under any bondage to this marriage. He is free to remarry should the Lord lead him to do so.
Much conflict about Christians remarrying has arisen in the church because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9:
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Hath ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh? What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. Matthew 19:3-9
The Lord points out that those who divorce their mates have “hard hearts.” God did not mean for divorce to happen. In the beginning His perfect will was for man and woman to remain married their entire lifetimes.
Does this statement of Jesus leave no room for remarriage? This verse has brought much bondage on those who have not looked at this Scripture in the light of the entire Word of God. First of all we must understand that the Pharisees here were attempting to trick Jesus into disagreeing with the Mosaic law so they could discount His ministry. Jesus knew this. Because the question asked here was in regard to divorce, Jesus quoted the perfect law concerning it. He, being perfect, could do no less.
Had the Pharisees asked him, “Master, is it permissible to lie or steal?” He would have quoted the perfect law in regard to these sins. Exodus 20:15-16: “Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Jesus also knew that man was not perfect and that man would fail, so other portions of His Word deal with the problem of sin. Man could not keep the perfect law; he failed. But the perfect God made a way for imperfect man to be forgiven of his sins through the blood of Jesus. Therefore, no matter what sins we have committed, we can find forgiveness and cleansing through Christ. He not only forgives the sin of divorce, but because of His perfect forgiveness, He forgets the sin and it becomes as if we had never committed it as far as He is concerned. Praise God! We have a new start in Christ as the old is wiped away.
However, emotional healings are still needed for all who come out of split homes. In divorces, children suffer as much (or more) than their parents. God is healing and restoring those who seek His way. Those who continue in the world will only suffer more heartache until they allow the Lord to completely rule in their lives. God alone can “pick up the pieces” and put them together in a second marriage. Without God, a second marriage will only compound the existing problems. Men and women should seek God diligently in regard to this important step in their lives. Only by following God’s plan and His Word will marriage be the fulfilling and beautiful relationship it was meant to be, regardless if it is a first or second marriage.
The Lord has a compassionate heart and He wishes us to have the same attitude toward those who have committed this sin. In fact, the Word of God deals with any transgression of the law as a serious offense. It matters not how big or little we might consider the sin to be. In God’s eyes, sin is sin, and all sin must have the same remedy of Christ’s cleansing. If we point our finger at other’s sins without dealing with our own, we are bringing judgment upon ourselves.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. James 2:10-13
From this Scripture, we see that if we commit that least sin (one point), we are still guilty of the whole law (murder, adultery, etc.) Therefore we should not judge those involved in the sins of divorce and adultery without mercy, or else we will be judged the same way. We could be judging others critically in this area while committing the same sin in our hearts.
One can commit adultery without divorcing his mate, as this sin can be committed in the heart. “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We are to minister to others compassionately in the area of divorce, for we have all sinned and fallen short of His perfection in many areas of our lives.
Can Divorced People Minister?
To ban people from ministering because they have suffered a divorce or to deny them the privilege of a Christian marriage is not in accordance with God’s nature. If people have repented of their sin of divorce, then in God’s eyes their sins are gone and forgotten. The true church should have the same compassion and understanding in its heart.
Some use the Scripture in 1 Timothy 3:2 to disqualify those who have been married before from ever becoming an elder or bishop. “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” The reason for the specification of “one wife” here was that in Christ’s day some were still practicing polygamy. Christ’s teaching was calling people back to God’s original plan of one man for one woman. In the Old Testament, polygamy had been introduced to God’s people by the nations around them. The Lord had to purge His people from this evil as well as one of “divorce for every cause.” The hardness of man’s heart had led him a long way from the intended purposes of God.
However, we are warned in Scripture that we are not to use our liberty as a license to sin. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Divorce is never God’s highest and best. Those in ministry who would lightly seek a divorce and desire to continue ministering, need to examine their hearts. Any obvious sin such as divorce can definitely weaken our testimony. If we are recently divorced, or in the in the process of one, or having marital problems, it would be good for a season to step down from any and all positions of leadership within the church. We can do very little good in our public life if our personal one is in shambles.
However, because God makes all things new, there is a new day of ministry, even for those who have been divorced. He can restore the worst of marriages and restore the worst of sinners. The question He asks of us is, “Are you willing?”
If we are willing to believe and submit to God, nothing shall be impossible! Amen!
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13: 13
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Topic: What the Bible Says about Divorce and Remarriage
Related Topics: What the Bible Says about Sex Before Marriage; Scriptural Prayers for Marriages; Choosing a Mate; Submission in Marriage; Disciplining/Spanking Children; Forgiveness; Healing; Scriptural Prayer for Healing; Scriptural Prayer for Protection