The following questions were surfaced during our series on Marriage: Renewing the Wonder in God’s Design.
What if I was divorced before I became a Christian? Am I an adulterer according to the teaching of Jesus?
Yes. But you were much worse than simply an adulterer. You were a liar, a thief, a blasphemer, a rebel, and much, much more. The Bible declares your condition as being at war with God. And, due to your sinfulness, you were under the wrath of God (John 3:36) and you would have been subject to His eternal wrath should you have died. You had lived in rebellion to God by rejecting His rule in your life both actively (through willful sin) and passively (through disregard of God and ungratefulness to God). BUT, amazingly, God loved you and because of God’s love Jesus was judged in your place! The sin of divorce (along with all the others) was put onto Jesus in order to satisfy the wrath of God and pay the price that God’s holiness demanded. In other words, God treated Jesus as if He were an adulterer so that He could forgive you and make you His child: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21
It is an amazing truth that God has forgiven all of your sins, including the sins committed prior to becoming a Christian. Therefore, you are no longer seen as an adulterer, but as a child of God! Make your heart happy with the knowledge of this truth! You are forgiven! Now go and tell others of the love that God has for them and that forgiveness that can be theirs too!
Should a person need to seek a divorce if they become a Christian in order to not be “unequally yoked?”
No. If someone becomes a follower of Jesus and is in a marriage covenant with a person who is not a follower of Jesus, they are to stay in that marriage. It is not God’s will for them to separate, but to live by Kingdom values in the marriage in order to impact the entire family:
If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But 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. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? 17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 2 Cor. 7:13-17
What if I am dating someone who is divorced but that person was divorced for “acceptable” reasons of unfaithfulness of their former spouse? Is that right or should they remain single?
The apostle Paul is addressing the “unmarried” in I Cor. 7:8 and the most common understanding was that these “unmarried” had not been married. However, I believe the principle of the “exception clause” puts a person (who has been divorced for Biblical reasons) in the same category as the “unmarried” in this passage. Therefore, I believe Paul’s teaching to the unmarried would apply to this question:
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. I Cor. 7:8-9
Therefore, if the divorced person cannot maintain self-control in regard to their sexual desires they are free to remarry and I do not believe they are guilty of adultery. Likewise, the person marrying a divorced person in this situation is not guilty of divorce on the same ground that the divorce was within Biblical parameters.
What if a Christian woman is living with a Christian man who has beaten her and who has been abusive to the children? Doesn’t she have the right to divorce him?
This is a very difficult question to answer given that I do not know the details with the level of clarity that situations of abuse often demand. However, the question is a fair one so I will do my best.
The Apostle Peter is writing to a woman who is married to a non-follower of Jesus Christ. Peter tells this woman to:
… Be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. I Peter 3:1-5
So, a wife is supposed to seek to model Kingdom values for her husband and not seek to have an easier life by divorcing him and finding a Christian man. With that said, there is never any excuse for a husband to abuse his wife. So, while the wife should not pursue a divorce, she should take advantage of the authorities and relationships that God has established (i.e. the police, the church) to find a haven of protection and support. She should pray and ask for others to pray for her husband that he would repent of his sinfulness of abuse. I would counsel a period of separation under which the Elders of the church would direct the details and provide support within a holistic plan for reconciliation. The Elders of the local church should get involved in the situation and confront the man and offer counseling and discipleship as needed. If repentance and reconciliation is refused is rejected by the husband, then the wife should pray for her husband (as well as the entire church as part of a process of church discipline) and not seek to be divorced. She should not seek to reconcile either due to the possibility of being subject to more abuse. Over time, if the husband refuses to change, the wife should not pursue divorce, but pursue the mercy and grace of God to change her husband. If the husband rejects reconciliation to the church and his wife and divorces his wife, then he should be expelled from the church (see I Cor. 5:1-13). The wife is free to remarry given she did not break her covenant oath to her husband, but her husband severed the marriage oath and, therefore, guilty of sinning against God. The wife should not be held responsible for the husband’s egregious sin and punished for his evil.
What if the wife of a faithful husband has had multiple relationships outside of marriage and yet wants to remain in the marriage (has repented and sought forgiveness)? When is he compelled to divorce her due to the continual heartache and damage occurring to the family?
He is never compelled to divorce his unfaithful wife. Rather, through his continuing faithfulness the husband is given a rare and unique opportunity to show the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father toward us: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
The entire message of Jesus regarding the values of the Kingdom transcends personal hurt and feelings of betrayal to mimic the heavenly approach of God toward us. (See 6:14-15, 31-33, 7:12, 24-27). We see this illustrated in the lives of Hosea and Gomer. Regardless of her rejection of the covenant she made before God to be faithful to Hosea, God commanded him to take her back. It is a picture of the way God continually bought back faithless Israel and a model for us today. Although divorce is permissible (as stated above based on the exception clause of which I will write on next) it should never be the first line of action. We counsel people to model the character and priorities of Jesus Christ in all things. And, in so doing, the fame of God will radiate through their life. Forgiveness of a person who has wronged you is one of, if not THE most, powerful evidences of God working in ones life:
Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
How has much and how often has God forgiven you ..? You are called to act this way toward others who have wronged and sinned against you.
What if the wife or husband is not fulfilling their marital responsibility whether it be financially, emotionally, and physically, etc., isn’t that “cause for divorce?”
Husbands and wives has a covenant responsibility to each other:
…It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I Cor. 7:1b-5
There is no place for resentment and reprisal in the marriage covenant. To do so is to reject God’s desires and to play-into the hands of the Enemy. The self-giving, self-denying love that is to flow within the marriage relationship is a picture of the very Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are some who would apply the admonition of Exodus 21:10-11 to this marital situation: If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.
It would seem that this passage provides for a woman to divorce in a situation in which a man refuses to provide support within the framework of the marriage relationship. Although, the context of this passage of Scripture is not applicable today (given the context of polygamy), I do recognize some principles in application to a husband or wife refusing to fulfill their marital duties. Suffice it to say that I would reserve the right to consider the application of this passage (along with the other Elders of GF) on a case-by-case basis. I do not believe this passage necessarily provides a clear-cut application for spousal neglect.