Marriage And Divorce
By Brian Anderson

I think we can all readily agree that the modern problem of divorce has hit epidemic proportions. In fact a few years ago I read that a jewelry store in Southern California was actually renting wedding rings! The problem of divorce has been getting worse and worse as the 20th century has sped by with very little, if any, relief in sight for this problem. Along with divorce comes multiple other problems, including the breakup of families, insecurity, loneliness, estrangement of children, and single parent families.

This is the dark and rotting world that we as Christians have been thrust into by our Lord to be salt and light to. The question all of us must ask is "How ought we, as Christians, respond to this problem?" Well, let's see what our Lord had to say about this particular subject. In Matthew 5:27-32 Jesus has just been talking about the sin of adultery. Here He gives us one of the greatest causes of adultery -- unbiblical divorce. Jesus teaches us here that if a man or woman divorces and remarries, they are committing adultery in that new relationship.unless there has been unchastity in the first relationship. The Lord does not recognize or honor the new relationship. The old bond is still intact as far as He's concerned. As we consider the subject of divorce, I need to say up front that this is a most difficult subject to deal with, because individual circumstances differ so widely, and it is very difficult to make general pronouncements as to the will of God in all situations. But let's see if we might by God's grace discover some general principles which will help us as we relate to this problem.

1. The Old Covenant Law of Divorce

"And it was said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal'." Jesus is quoting here from Deut.24:1-4.

Under the old covenant, the purpose of this law was to place the emphasis on the fact that if a man were, for some trivial reason, to send his wife away and give her a certificate of divorce, then if the husband that she remarried died or divorced her, he could never again take her back. This law would cause him to stop and consider before he made a hasty decision to divorce his wife. Remember, in that culture the woman was regarded almost as a thing, a piece of property, and the man was in complete dominion over his wife. If she did something indecent or if she found no favor in his eyes, he could send her on her way, but at least this law would make him think twice about doing it because if he wanted her back again, it was too bad.

The law speaks of the husband finding some "indecency" in his wife. What does that word refer to? Well, it's the same word used in Deut.23:12-14 "You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you lest He turn away from you." There is no reference here to sexual sin but rather the idea of repulsiveness is uppermost. The camp was to be clean and attractive because of God's presence. This phrase is rather general and seems to cover anything and everything the husband might deem repugnant. The word cannot refer to adultery because the adulterer was to be stoned, not divorced.

In Matthew 5:31, the Rabbis had taught that the whole point of this law was that if a man divorced his wife he must give her a certificate of divorce to make it legal. But that is NOT the emphasis. The emphasis is that IF he gave her a certificate, then he was not allowed to remarry her.

The Mosaic Law put restrictions on Jewish men. A man couldn't just divorce his wife over some trivial thing and then get her back after his temper cooled off! The Law taught him that he must not make a hasty decision. He must make sure he knew what he was doing and what the consequences would be. The certificate was a very minor point in the whole law.

This law protected Jewish women. The certificate stated that the reason for the divorce was not unfaithfulness. Thus, she could not be stoned. It was handed to her in the presence of two witnesses who could testify to her innocence of adultery if the matter ever came before a court.

But why would God allow divorce in the Old Testament for indecency? Jesus tells us in Matt.19:7-8 that it was because of the hardness of their hearts. This law was given to unregenerate sinners under the Law. Now Christ deals with regenerate saints under grace. The Law was to put restrictions on sinners so that sin would not be expressed to excess. Christ allows divorce only for unchastity. The Law of Moses allowed what Christ refused to allow. Why? Because there has been a change of covenants, bringing a change in laws (Heb. 7:12 "For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also") The specific covenant laws, under which any individual lives, are the basis on which one must order his life and by which one will be judged by God. Israel and the Church have different canons of laws on divorce because they live under different covenants.

2. The New Covenant Law Of Divorce

"But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Mt. 5:32

Jesus teaches us very clearly here that divorce is sinful except for the cause of unchastity. The Greek word for unchastity is "porneia". It means "any kind of sexual perversion." It is not the word for adultery, but a broad and general word. It is used of incest in 1 Cor.5:1; homosexuality in Jude 7; adultery in the Septuagint version of Jer.3:1,2,6,8; and prostitution in Jewish extra-biblical writings. It is translated in the New American Standard Bible as unchastity, immorality, fornication, and wickedness. It would include any kind of sexual perversion such as homosexuality, prostitution, adultery, incest, or bestiality that would break the marriage bond. God says that two become one flesh when a man and woman are married, but that one-flesh bond is violated as a result of unchastity.

There are three Biblical reasons for a marriage covenant to be dissolved:

1) Unrepentant Sexual Perversion: God would have received spiritually adulterous Israel back if they had repented of their covenant breaking. So too, God would have us forgive and accept back a repentant spouse. If our spouse's unfaithfulness is ongoing and they are not repentant, that is just cause for divorce. I Cor. 6:16 tells us "Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For he says, 'The two will become one flesh'." Gen 2:24 says "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." In the case of sexual perversion, the one-flesh union has been broken.

2) Physical Abandonment: 1 Cor.7:12-16 says "But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consent to live with her, let her not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace..." What is this bondage that Paul refers to? I believe it means that the believer who has been abandoned is not under bondage to a life of singleness and loneliness. They are free to marry in the Lord. This is only in the case of an unbeliever leaving a believer and not for two believers. It is also not for emotional abandonment. The context makes it clear that physical abandonment is meant. In this case also, the one-flesh union is broken because of the desertion.

3) Death: "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord." (1Cor.7:39) Again, the one-flesh union is broken because of death. But notice, that the surviving partner is free to remarry ONLY in the Lord.

Notice the results of sinful divorce: Divorce makes the woman commit adultery. Why? Because she depends on a man for her livelihood. She must remarry to survive. But God does not recognize the new union as a legitimate marriage. The previous marriage covenant bond has not been broken. Whoever marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. Why? Because this woman has no right in God's eyes to be divorced. According to this, there are a lot of people running around in relationships that God has not sanctioned.

Let's seek to apply Christ's teaching now to various classes of people:

1) Those Who Have Never Been Divorced:

If that describes you, you need to recommit yourself to the permanence of marriage. In God's eyes there are millions of people running around in new marriages that He does not recognize. They are illegitimate and He considers them to be committing adultery. If you don't want to participate in adultery, you must think awfully hard before getting a divorce. We must erase the word "divorce" from our vocabulary with our spouse! It is not an option in the Christian marriage. Whatever happens, no matter how bad it gets, we must be committed to finding a solution and making it work through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. Each one of us must have that kind of commitment to God and to our spouse. Do you? Are you absolutely committed to making your marriage work? Are you committed to hanging in there through thick and thin as you promised in your wedding vow "For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live?"

2) Those Who Have Been Divorced On Scriptural Grounds But Not Remarried:

According to Mt.5:31-32 you are free to remarry, but only "in the Lord." This means if you choose to remarry, you are only free to remarry a Christian. Oh, the misery and pain that so often comes from not heeding this command!

3) Those Who Have Been Divorced On Unscriptural Grounds But Not Remarried:

"But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away." (1Cor.7:10-11) Basically this passage teaches that you have two options: 1) Be reconciled to your husband whom you have divorced, or 2) remain unmarried. You are not free to remarry. In the eyes of God, you are still one flesh with your ex-spouse. If you are divorced, and your spouse remarries or is in sexual relationship with another person, you would be free to remarry, since he/she has broken the one-flesh union, yet, only in the Lord.

4) Those Who Have Been Divorced for Unbiblical Reasons and Have Gotten Remarried:

Some of you have divorced and remarried in the past before you were converted. For you to divorce your present spouse and to go back to your first spouse is unworkable and impossible. Furthermore it would promote more sin, heartache, family break-up, and misery which would not bring glory to God. The first step for you is to recognize that your divorce is a sin. Have you ever confessed it as such and repented of your divorce and for committing adultery? You need to. Yet, though it is sin, it is not the unforgivable sin. If you have confessed it and repented of it, it's under the blood of Christ. You are a new creature. Old things have passed away. All things have become new. You need to walk in that newness of life and resolve, by God's grace, that it will never happen again. (1 Cor. 7:17-24)

5) All Married Persons Regardless of Your Married State:

There is a lot of wisdom to that old saying: "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!" The best way to prevent a divorce is to build a strong and healthy marriage! But how? Well, let's see what the Scriptures have to say.


1) Understand Your Wife: 1 Pet.3:7 says "You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." You must realize that she is a weaker vessel. I believe this verse refers not to spiritual, moral or intellectual weakness, but physical weakness You must protect, take care of, and provide for her. Do you make sure she is safe? Do you make sure she is provided for? Do you do work that is too heavy for her?

2) Honor Your Wife: 1Pet.3:7 tells us to honor our wife as a fellow heir of the grace of life. We must regard our wife as our spiritual equal. She has equal access to God, equal privileges and equal standing in Christ. Do you ask her opinion on spiritual matters? Our wives ought to be our best counselors! Do you carefully weigh her thoughts and insights when making spiritual decisions? She is a fellow heir!

3) Love Your Wife: Eph.5:25-28 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word...So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself." This command speaks of sacrificial love. It means putting her before yourself, laying down your life for her. Would you give up your life for your wife? If so, do you do it now in a multitude of little ways? Do you help her around the home with the dishes, changing the diapers, picking up around the house, vacuuming, setting the table, giving her a day off or a night out with her friends?

4) Nourish Your Wife: Eph.5:29 "...for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.." As men, we nourish our bodies. We make sure we are well fed and healthy! But do you show your wife the same care? Do you seek to meet her emotional needs by simply talking with her? Do you have open communication? Do you spend some time at least once a day talking with her? A call from work during the day can speak volumes to her regarding your care for her! What about her spiritual needs? Are you doing anything to promote her relationship to Christ? Do you talk about the things of God with her? Do you pray with her? Do you read the Bible together? Do you set aside money for Christian books, retreats, and tapes for her spiritual growth?

5) Cherish Your Wife: How often do you tell her that you love her? The number one thing a woman needs is your love. Do you show your love by writing notes, bringing her a special gift, or planning a date night? I would encourage you to plan 1 or 2 night trips together periodically, especially when you have small children, in order to let her know how much she means to you.


Wives as well are given many injunctions in Scripture. 1) They are to Submit to their Husband: Eph.5:22-24 says "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church; He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." As he is called to love her, she is called to submit to him. Are you willing to allow your husband to lead you without being bullheaded and stubborn? Are you willing to allow him to make the final decisions when decisions must be made and the two of you are not in complete agreement? Are you willing to make your opinions known and then just pray for him? 2) They are to Respect their Husband: Eph.5:33 says "Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband." The word respect literally means "fear, deep reverence". It speaks of having a high opinion of him. Do you respect him? That is the man's #1 need. He needs his wife to say, "Honey, I respect your judgment. This is what I think we ought to do, but I'll leave the final decision to you." He needs to feel that she looks up to him, respects him, and will willingly follow his leadership. Do you make him feel that way?

3) They are to Love their Husband: Titus 2:4 says "...that they may encourage the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children...". Do you? Love is a commitment, not a mushy sentimental feeling. The proof that you love him is shown when you hang in there in spite of his many faults, mistakes, and personality quirks. Do you demonstrate your love by serving him, and going the extra mile to make sure his needs are met?

This is the way to preserve a happy home so there never will be a divorce! We need to recommit in our hearts to obey God and then experience happy homes. You cannot be effective in ministry unless your marriage and family is in order. May God give us grace! May our marriages be so different, that it will cause the world to take notice and be drawn to Christ!

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