The world is terribly confused about divorce because the world is even more confused about the nature of marriage! In Christ’s day, divorce was a matter of considerable controversy. Today divorce is quite common, but the pain, scars and confusion it leaves behind can impact individuals and families for a lifetime. How we respond to such subjects can say a great deal about us as Christians!
Hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:31-32: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Here are some observations I pray will be helpful for individual Christians and for churches in dealing with marriage and divorce.
- Married love is to be grounded in God and His love – married love is to be a “living picture” of Christ’s love for the church (cf. Eph. 5:25-33). The fact that the world does not know this is understandable; however, the fact that many Christians seemingly have forgotten it isn’t. Marriage ultimately is not just about us and our spouse (as important as that relationship is) – it’s about us and our God! Because of the preciousness of the relationship, marriage likely requires more love, prayer, and work than any other outside of our relationship with God Himself. There is a God-centeredness that is absent in too many marriages, including those between Christians!
- It appears that many in the Lord’s day (and ours) were preoccupied with the grounds for divorce when Jesus was especially concerned about the place of marriage (cf. Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:1-9). If one comes to this text primarily looking for reasons to divorce, one is missing the overall point of the passage. Although the world may say “yes” to divorce for what appears to be any and every reason (cf. Matt. 19:3), the Lord prohibits reckless permissiveness by well-nigh prohibiting divorce altogether – with the exception clause being the only “exception” given.
- It also seems many tend to think of divorce as a “command” when the exception clause actually is a concession (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). “Except for fornication” or “sexual immorality” is the biblical concession giving one the right to put away the guilty party, but it is not demanded. Even with such a serious sin, there can be forgiveness and reconciliation. The practice of real Christianity is life transforming. And when couples are willing to love and honor both God and their relationship with each other, it’s amazing what God can do. One wise preacher said to me, “I never talk with anyone about divorce without first speaking to them about God’s design for marriage and about the possibility of reconciliation.”
- Churches need to “ramp up” healthy biblical instruction concerning marriage and the family. Divorce and remarriage not only impacts individual lives and families; it often impacts churches. There is a genuine need for greater vision and intentionality, especially on the part of congregational leadership, in this regard. Godly instruction and mentoring can mean much to couples struggling in marriages and who may be contemplating divorce. Shepherds also need to so know the sheep they care for that they often see “danger signs” and can help before marriages break up. The best defense against low views of marriage is good biblical teaching and seeing great marriages modeled.
- We must do a better job of balancing truth (what’s right) and love (what’s godly and compassionate) concerning marriage and divorce (cf. Eph. 4:15). Please understand where I am going with this. One extreme brethren can go to is to be far too casual and dismissive of the whole scenario. Our Lord certainly was not! Nor should those of us be who are blessed to wear His name. Truth must be declared and upheld. On the other hand, one might go to another extreme that is strong on truth but weak on love. People who are hurting and desperate in their marriages may be hearing from some of us, “Well you messed up your own marriage. Now fix it. You made your bed. Now you have to lie in it!” Really? Might it be that some who are biblically sound on the matter of marriage and divorce are considerably less “sound” in helping to provide needed resources, counseling, time, support and the personal touch?
Individual Christians and churches must be willing to speak up concerning God’s will on any and every subject (1 Pet. 4:11). And we must be just as willing to step up and to show the love of Christ to all (John 13:34-35).