Our study on marriage turned to the topic of divorce this week. The goal was to understand Gods intention for marriage, to examine the biblical reasons for divorce understand why divorce happens.
We start with the design of God for marriage – which is really a no-brainer.
Firstly according to several very clear texts in scripture we see that Gods design is that a married couple should not divorce. Jesus cites Gen 2:24 when he answers the Pharisees question on divorce in Matt 19:4-6. In that passage he says “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” The point of this is clear – God joins couples in marriage and man should not separate them.
Bearing in mind what we saw last time – that marriage serves as a picture of what God wants with man, it is understandable that God doesn’t support divorce.
Depending on which translation you read, Mal 2:16 has some strong words to say on the matter of divorce. Generally the passage is translated something along the lines of “‘I hate divorce’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and the one who is guilty of violence’ says the Lord who rules over all” (NET). In this translation it seems to be telling us that God hates divorce – simple and clear.
However the ESV and the HCSB translate the passage slightly differently – “For the man who hates and divorces, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts”. Obviously the meaning of the passage changes significantly with this translation. Both translations seem to fit the context (IMHO). For a discussion of why the ESV is different, take a look at this post – if you are really interested, check out the 25 page article by the translators linked from that post.
Regardless, it is clear that indeed God does hate divorce – it is contrary to his plan for marriage and violates the message God wants people to understand about himself from the picture marriage provides.
However, regardless of what Gods plan is, divorce does happen. We are all human, and humans are sinners and thus prone to breaking every law that God sends our way (Rom 3:20, Rom 3:23). The Bible, however, is clear that there are legitimate grounds for divorce. Before we look at these there are obviously two ends of the divorce paradigm, one where you do the divorcing and one where you are being divorced by the other spouse.
Going back to the study we did on responsibility and commitment we recall that we are responsible for our own actions – not those of the other person. We each will be give an account of ourselves before the Lord. With this in mind, Paul had some pertinent instruction for the Corinthian church in
In the case that you are doing the divorcing, there is only one circumstance where that is acceptable in Gods eyes. We see this clearly in 1 Cor 7:10-16 where Paul is addressing the question of what should happen if a person becomes a believer but their spouse does not – should that person leave their unbelieving spouse? Paul’s answer in verse 12 is “if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her”… the next verse explains the same for a believing wife. However, (verse 15) “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”
As a believer we should do our best (and be interested in doing our best) to uphold marriage, and to preserve the witness of marriage to the world, thus in such cases it does not mean that we should just flippantly allow the marriage to disintegrate. We should do our best to maintain the relationship and if anything, becoming a believer should make a positive change in the relationship. If the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave – it should be because they are rejecting Christ – not you.
In addition to this being an issue when someone becomes a believer, it can also be an issue at any stage for any of us. The church has more than its share of apostate believers. These are the people who often do just enough to appear to be believers, however they are tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30) and planted by the enemy in order to destroy the testimony of the church. These are often those who make lower standards acceptable and by their lives demonstrate a lack of reverence for the Lord and a lack of change, which in turn causes believers to lower their standards, thus reducing the power of the testimony of the church. Many of these people never realize that they are an apostate – often they may simply say that they tried “Christianity” and it didn’t work – the sad truth is that in many cases an apostate is as deceived as those that they deceived.
Thus, in many cases an apostate would leave not only the church but the entire lifestyle that they had beforehand including their spouse. In this case, again the believer is to be at peace, the Lord will judge the other spouse.
1 John 2:19 says that “they went out so that it might become plain that they all are not of us”.