Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Attorneys: Our Blog

Please Follow Our Blog, LIKE US on FACEBOOK and RETWEET Our Articles!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Bible and Divorce







Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matthew 19:6).



Note: This is part one of a two-part online Bible study on marriage, God and divorce. Be sure to also read Reject Unscriptural Reasons for Divorce, taken from www.dougbrittonbooks.com

Bible study on God and Divorce: Introduction

Complete commitment to your marriage provides a foundation of dependability and trust. It takes you through tough times and steers you toward godly solutions. A lack of commitment erodes your strength, determination and resourcefulness. It can lead to tragedy.

Marriage can be compared to a marathon race. If you don't commit yourself to running the distance no matter what the cost, your chances of dropping out along the way increase. But if you are determined, you will find unforeseen strength to overcome every obstacle.


Embrace God's attitude about marriage and divorce

The Bible says that when two are joined together in marriage, they are no longer two, but one (Genesis 2:23-24; Mark 10:8), and that God hates divorce. You and your spouse are "one" no matter how poorly your marriage is functioning. Divorce, in God's eyes, is not an option except in specific situations—and even then, forgiveness and rebuilding are usually best.

Study these Scriptures to see how serious the Lord is about divorce:

"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel (Malachi 2:16).

What God has joined together, let man not separate ... I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matthew 19:6, 9).

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery (Mark 10:11-12).

If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).

My wife Skeeter and I would probably not be married today if God allowed divorce. Early in our marriage, there were times when each of us wanted out. But, after we became Christians, neither of us sought divorce because we knew it was sinful. This knowledge held us together through difficult years and pushed us to improve our marriage. Now, as we enjoy a happy marriage, we are grateful for God's commands against divorce. We needed them.



Do not rebel against God

It is hard for this online Bible study to overstate how much God hates divorce. Jesus said that to divorce for unscriptural reasons and then remarry is to commit adultery. Yet many people who profess Christianity play games with God by divorcing and then cruising along as if God did not mind. They often continue to attend church and engage in "spiritual" activities or ministries, thinking everything is fine. They look good on the outside. But read what God says about them:

You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant (Malachi 2:13-14).

In other words, when you divorce for unscriptural reasons, you drive a wedge between yourself and God, for you are rebelling against him.


Realize that divorce has consequences

Unscriptural divorce always brings painful consequences. Not only do you distance yourself from God when you divorce, you also damage your spouse, wound your children, injure other family members, hurt friends, set the stage for future pain for yourself and bring shame upon the name of Christ.

When you do things God's way, things work out best. On the other hand, when you disobey God, problems eventually come. If you divorce for unscriptural reasons, the odds are high that you will regret it before you die. You are certain to regret it when you stand before God.


Never say, "Let's divorce"

Suggesting divorce without scriptural reasons opens the door to sin. When you are broke you would never say, "Let's rob a bank." Along the same lines, when you are unhappy, do not say, "Let's divorce," "I don't see why we should stay married" or "You'd be better off without me."


God and Divorce — Does God ever allow divorce?

Although the Bible stresses the importance and permanence of marriage, it permits divorce in two circumstances.

1. Divorce is allowed for sexual immorality.

Jesus said you may divorce if your spouse is sexually unfaithful. Notice, however, that he did not command you to divorce. He merely said it is permissible.

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matthew 19:9).

Jesus said God only allowed divorce in the Old Testament because of the hardness of our hearts (Matthew 19:8). Some people think this means Christians never should divorce since Jesus took away our hard hearts when we were born again. However, this contradicts what Jesus said in Matthew 19:9. He would not have given an exception unless he meant it.

However, it is usually better to rebuild a marriage than divorce.

There are many marriages in which the offender asked for forgiveness, the betrayed partner forgave and the two successfully rebuilt their relationship. The process was painful and involved hard work, but the results were worth the effort. God was glorified and they ended up with great marriages.



2. Divorce is allowed if an unbeliever leaves.

If you are married to an unbeliever, it is God's desire for you to stay married (1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 16; 1 Peter 3:1-6). However, if your unbelieving spouse leaves, you "are not bound."

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).



Divorce is not permitted for "emotional desertion."

Some say the previous verses justify divorce even if their spouse does not physically leave home. They state they are free to divorce if their mate has been unpleasant, financially irresponsible, sexually unavailable, emotionally removed or physically violent. How do they come to such a conclusion? By saying that their spouse "left" or "deserted" them emotionally.

Such logic twists the clear meaning of the above passage, not to mention God's commands throughout the New Testament. Paul was writing about leaving physically. We all are married to imperfect spouses and at one time or another could justify divorce because of "emotional desertion." Let me invite you to read Part 2 of this study on God and divorce, Reject Unscriptural Reasons for Divorce.


Are there any other times God allows divorce?

The guidelines in this online Bible study on commitment, God and divorce cover the vast majority of the situations I have encountered as a marriage and family therapist. However, there are may be times when it’s hard to know what to do. For example, if your mate is jailed for physically abusing you, this could qualify as a time when divorce is permissible since your unbelieving spouse left you.

If you are unsure about your circumstances, talk with a wise pastor or counselor—someone committed to helping you discover how God’s Word applies in your situation, not someone whose basic philosophy is, "If you're unhappy, divorce."


What if you have already divorced?

If you divorced for unbiblical reasons, particularly if you were a Christian when you did so, you need to face the awfulness and seriousness of your sin. Do not pretend that divorcing your spouse was not sinful or that it somehow was okay with God. It was not.

I am extremely concerned for Christians who divorce and remarry for unscriptural reasons and are not willing to face the largeness of their sin. When we choose to sin, we harden our hearts toward God and his commandments. Then rather than genuinely confessing, we justify our actions. People say, for example, "I know it was a sin, but it was the only thing I could do." Or, "We live under grace, not law." Or, "I knew it was wrong, but Jesus told me he would forgive me if I did it."

Nonsense. It was not Jesus who told them it was okay to divorce. He commanded us not to divorce and added that if we divorce for unscriptural reasons and remarry, we commit adultery (Matthew 19:9).

The Bible uses stinging words to describe those who justify sin by saying "We live under grace." Remember Jude's words:

They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (Jude 4).

Walt said he knew the Bible condemns divorce, but planned to divorce Shelly anyway because "God is a forgiving God." Shelly protested the divorce and wrote letters pleading for another chance. His response, even as he went through the divorce proceedings, was to give her angry speeches, saying she must forgive him because she was a Christian. He divorced her, married another woman, and now attends church as if nothing happened.

Margaret told her husband Richard she intended to divorce him and then marry a man who was divorcing his wife. She said they planned to approach their church and ask forgiveness after marrying. She clearly was playing games with God and choosing to rebel against his Word. Her planned "repentance" was a sham.

I could go on and on describing people's rationalizations for divorce. For example, some say, "After I divorce and marry someone else, we will commit adultery the first time we have sex. After that it won't be adultery."

Those who justify sin will not be so nonchalant when they stand before God in judgment. He is not impressed by our excuses.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

If you divorced your spouse for unscriptural reasons and you both are Christians, you probably should pursue restoration of your marriage if neither of you has remarried. Seek counsel from a Bible-believing pastor before you make a decision.

If you were a Christian when you divorced and have married someone else, confess that you started in sin. If you truly confess, Christ will forgive you (1 John 1:9) and help you deal with the mess you created. By truly confess, I mean to (1) genuinely face the awfulness of the sin of divorcing and (2) acknowledge that if you could make the decision again you would not divorce. Anything else would be half-hearted and come short of genuine confession.

After confessing your sin, do not divorce your present spouse to remarry your previous mate. You cannot undo the effect of sin by sinning again.

There is hope in the Lord, even in this ungodly situation. When we disobey God's Word, we suffer. But when we honestly and humbly confess our sins, Christ helps us put the past behind and press on. As Paul wrote:

Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

However, do not be nonchalant about "forgetting what is behind." You have harmed others and need to do what you can to promote healing. At the least, you probably should apologize to your ex-spouse, children, close friends and church. When you offer an apology, do not make excuses. Be sure to respond with understanding, patience and love if others do not forgive you.

Let me close this section of this Bible study by offering the example of Skeeter and myself as an encouragement. We married because she became pregnant. We started our marriage in a bad way and suffered many unpleasant consequences. However, we eventually turned to God and confessed our sins. Although we had to deal with the consequences, we also experienced the grace of God and have enjoyed an ever-growing and deeply satisfying marriage. When you genuinely confess your sins, God builds mansions out of ashes.



There is hope in the Lord

Many people say divorce brings freedom. That is no more true than the serpent's promises to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-5). Living according to God's Word provides true freedom—the freedom of a clean conscience, freedom from the tyranny and consequences of sin and freedom to enjoy God's love.

Even if you think you are stuck with a miserable marriage for the rest of your life, take heart. God loves you and wants the best for you. His commands are for your good. Build upon the truths in this online Bible study by going to the Word itself. As you read the Bible and grow in the Lord, you will discover principles to help you live with satisfaction and joy regardless of your situation. You will also learn many ways to transform an unsatisfying marriage into a great one.

Note: This is part two of a two-part online Bible study on marriage and divorce. Be sure to also read Commit to Your Marriage, taken from http://www.dougbrittonbooks.com/

What the Bible Says about Christians and Divorce
Although the Bible is clear about divorce, many of us—Christians and others—have been sorely tempted by thoughts of it. It's easy to understand why, since many of us go through times of intense unhappiness in our marriage. Yet God's position is unmistakable. He hates divorce.

"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel (Malachi 2:16).

What God has joined together, let man not separate . . . I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matthew 19:6, 9).

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery (Mark 10:11-12).

If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).

Does God ever allow divorce? There are two possible scriptural exceptions to the Bible's commands about Christians, marriage and divorce. You can read about them in part one of this two-part online Bible study.



Common unbiblical reasons (or excuses) for divorce

The following are some common, unscriptural justifications people give for divorce. Feel free to substitute "he" or "she" where appropriate. As you read, ask yourself if you ever say or think any of these things. If you do, ask God for forgiveness and strength to stop.

"I married the wrong person."
Maybe you did marry the "wrong" person. If so, you are not alone. Many of us married someone we should not have, married under poor circumstances or married at the wrong time. But even if you sinned when you married, you cannot fix it by divorcing, for you would be sinning again.

Read the example of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). David had sexual relations with Bathsheba, arranged to have her husband killed and then married her. This was a terrible way to start a marriage and they suffered because of it.

Although David and Bathsheba's marriage started in sin, God did not tell them to divorce. In fact, read Matthew 1:6 and you will see that their son, Solomon, was one of Joseph's ancestors. (Joseph was the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus.) Although we suffer terribly because of our choices (Galatians 6:7-8), God can bring unforeseen blessings out of our sins.


"I love someone else."
I remember one of the first times someone told me he was divorcing because he loved someone else. Jeremy had been active in his church for many years, but he planned to leave his wife and children because he thought he had fallen in love with a woman on the job.

He and his coworker had worked together on a project for several weeks. When it was completed, he took her to a celebration party at a friend's apartment, leaving his wife at home. They drank wine and danced. As Jeremy held her in his arms, he found himself "falling in love."

Many other married men and women have told me of falling in love with someone else, someone they thought really listened and cared. You, too, may have met someone at work, the grocery store or even church who seems more attentive and respectful than your spouse. The Bible gives clear instructions about how to deal with such situations:

First, do not think about, fantasize or plan how to sin (Romans 13:14). Remember, Jesus said that to divorce and then marry someone else is to commit adultery. Resist the temptation and concentrate your thoughts on what is right and pure (Philippians 4:8).


Second, avoid tempting situations. Jeremy should have stayed home or taken his wife to the celebration party.


Third, do not flirt, "innocently" touch others or make comments that could be interpreted as meaning you are available.


Fourth, be guided by the true love that comes from God, not the "love" that comes from your flesh. If you really love someone, you do not do anything that might cause him or her to sin. If Jeremy really loved his coworker, he would not have attended the party--for her sake as well as his own.


Fifth, when opportunities for sin present themselves, flee (Genesis 39:6-23; 2 Timothy 2:22). Cut off the relationship. Do not lay the foundation for tragedy.


Sixth, unite with (or cleave to) your spouse (Genesis 2:24) and build a good marriage.



"I don't love my mate," or, "I've fallen out of love."
The Bible tells husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25) and wives to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). Biblical love is seen primarily in choices, attitudes and actions, not in emotions. True love is based on our promises to God and to each other, not on how we feel at the moment.

Many marriages have been transformed when people discovered they could choose to love. Study 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, a passage that describes true love. You will see that not one verse describes love in the emotional terms you might expect.

The good news is that once you choose to practice the Bible's love principles, you also begin to experience emotional love.




"My mate doesn't love me."
It can be crushing to think you are unloved. Yet our love should not depend on being loved. Jesus said:

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:44-45).

Since Jesus said to love your enemy, you can be sure he wants you to love your husband or wife, no matter what. Think about Christ's example. He loved those who rejected him.

How can you do this? Only with God's help. Sincerely ask him to help you follow the love instructions in 1 Corinthians 13 and you will see your attitude change. God will bless your obedience to his Word and, as time goes on, you will probably see your mate respond to your love.




"I'm so unhappy. This can't be what God wants."
Most people divorce because they are desperately unhappy. By disobeying God's Word and taking things into their own hands, they think they will find happiness. They pay a huge price. When they disobey God, they turn away from the source of joy--Jesus Christ.

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11).

If you think God doesn't want you to be miserable, you're right. However, he wants you to seek relief his way, not by sinning. The solution is to turn to the Lord and his Word--to learn how to experience his joy whatever your situation (Philippians 4:4; James 1:2).




"We're incompatible," or, "We have grown apart."
You may think that you and your spouse have incompatible personalities. Or you may not share similar beliefs, values or interests. Perhaps your sex life is unsatisfying. Whatever the frustration, the answer is to learn how to flourish in your situation while working to improve it, not run away.

My wife Skeeter and I have extremely different personalities, talents and interests. During more than three decades of marriage, we have had to accommodate hundreds of differences, large and small. As each of us has sought to learn from the other and to value our differences, we have both gained richer lives.




"I want to develop my ministry."
Harold longingly told me about the ministry he had with single adults before he married. He said that after marrying, he was so distracted by problems with his wife that he didn't have time for his ministry. He was sure God wanted him to divorce and move back into the ministry.

I hope you can see how foolish this argument was. Harold was telling God he planned to disobey him so he could serve him!




"We were not married in God's eyes."
Some rationalize divorce by claiming they are not really married, saying, "All we have is a piece of paper." What a creative solution! Using the same logic, I could disavow any legal contract if I later decided God had not approved of it. My word and the authority of the law would no longer have a hold on me.

This obviously is not the way God looks at things. Examine again the example of David and Bathsheba. There is no question that their marriage was not God's perfect plan, yet God did not have them divorce. Once you marry, you are married.




"He's not saved," or, "She's not a good Christian."
Even if your spouse is not a Christian--or is a lukewarm Christian--God says not to divorce. Instead, he calls on you to pray for your mate, be a great example and win him or her to Christ through your love.

If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him … How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 16).

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives (1 Peter 3:1).




"I don't have peace."
Some justify divorce by saying, "I don't have peace and God called me to peace." They are right when they say God wants them to experience peace. But they are wrong when they think they can get it by disobeying God's commands and seeking peace in their own fashion.

Imagine a harried mother telling her child, "I don't feel peace, so I'm leaving you and getting some nicer children." Or imagine a man in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean saying, "I'm getting seasick" and jumping out of the boat. Divorcing your spouse to find peace is just as foolish--and just as serious an error in God's eyes.

Don't commit sin to find peace. Instead, seek God's peace in your circumstances. Jesus said:

In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).




"She would be happier without me."
Your mate may be unhappy, but don't use this as an excuse to divorce. You are not being noble or loving if you do. You simply are sinning. The noblest thing you can do is obey God. Stay in your marriage and work at making it the best one possible.




"We serve a forgiving God. He will forgive me."
The Bible never encourages us to sin while simultaneously claiming God's forgiveness. You can count on his forgiveness when you genuinely confess your sin, not when you harden your heart and disobey him.

God's Word is full of warnings about professing the name of the Lord while rejecting his commands. Read Malachi 2:13-14 again. God says that in spite of tears, weeping and wailing, he "no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands" because of divorce.




"We are living under grace. We serve a God of love. Don't be legalistic."
Jude forcefully refuted this when he wrote that if you "change the grace of our God into a license for immorality," you "deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 4). Paul also denounced this argument when he wrote:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2).

When you divorce for non-scriptural reasons, you are actively rebelling against God. Study Hosea 7:13-14, 8:2-3, 9:4 and Amos 5:21 for warnings to those who claim to seek God but choose to sin at the same time.

No one is perfect (1 John 1:8). If we could not ask God's forgiveness, we would be without hope. But don't play games with the Lord by saying you love him while at the same time disobeying him.




"Divorce is no worse than other sins."
This excuse goes right along with "We serve a forgiving God. He will forgive me." People who use this argument often have two points: (1) No sin is worse than other sins and (2) everybody sins from time to time, so what's the big deal?

If you think this way, you open the door to a world of sin, for you excuse sin so easily.

The argument that "divorce is no worse than other sins, so it's okay to divorce," is nonsense. We should look for ways to please God, not excuses to disobey him. Read God's call to holiness in Leviticus 11:44, Romans 12:1, Ephesians 5:4-5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:7. When you choose to sin, you put a distance between God and yourself. That distance grows because you have hardened your heart to his voice.

Further, in some crucial aspects, it's not true that no sin is worse than other sins. Read Malachi 2:13-16 again to see the forcefulness of God's condemnation of divorce. Also read 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 in which Paul highlighted sexual sins because "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19).




"He is physically abusive."
There are situations in which you should take action to protect yourself. Physical abuse is one of them. A man cannot begin to understand the emotional harm, not to mention the physical damage, which he inflicts when he abuses his wife. The same is equally true with a physically abusive woman.

It is often wise to separate when physical abuse occurs. The purpose of separating usually should not be to lay the foundation for a divorce, but rather to (1) prevent further violence and (2) provide adequate time for the couple to receive biblical counseling to build a solid marriage. (Are there times when divorce is permissible for physical abuse? This is discussed under "Does God ever allow divorce?" in Part 1 of this online Bible study.)

Other appropriate responses to abuse include talking to your pastor, calling the police or getting a restraining order. It is okay for a Christian to appeal to the civil authorities. Read in Acts 25:11 about the time Saul claimed his rights as a Roman citizen when he was mistreated.




"I committed a sexual sin."
From time to time, I hear someone say, "Since I had an affair, our marriage is over and I'm free to divorce." That's not what the Bible says. If you committed adultery, your spouse is free to divorce you. It doesn't work the other way around.




"He committed "mental adultery."
If your spouse longingly stares, or seems to stare, at someone else, don't say, "He looked at another woman lustfully. According to Matthew 5:27-28, he committed adultery in his heart, so I can divorce him." This would be a misuse of the Scriptures. To use the same line of reasoning, I could take someone to court as a murderer for getting angry with me (Matthew 5:22 and 1 John 3:15). These passages are written to strengthen us against lust and anger, not to justify legal actions.




There are hundreds of additional "Christian" reasons (excuses) for divorce.
The list of reasons people give for divorce is endless. For example: "He's an alcoholic." "She won't make love." "He's mean to my kids." "She smokes." "He's emotionally abusive." "She pushed me away." "I can't trust him." "God doesn't want me in an unhealthy relationship."

If you say such things, apply the same scriptural principles discussed earlier. Although you may face heartbreaking problems, they are not biblical reasons for divorce.

God loves you and will help you in your situation. Learn to "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Trust him and follow his commands; he will help you through your hard times.



There is hope in the Lord
Many people say divorce brings freedom. That is no more true than the serpent's promises to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-5). Living according to God's Word provides true freedom--the freedom of a clean conscience, freedom from the tyranny and consequences of sin and freedom to enjoy God's love.

Even if you think you are stuck with a miserable marriage for the rest of your life, take heart. God loves you and wants the best for you. His commands are for your good. As you read the Bible and grow in the Lord, you will discover principles to help you live with satisfaction and joy.

There are many things you can do to improve your marriage. This free online Bible study, Eight Keys to a Great Marriage, shows practical steps to transform your marriage. If you want to dig deeper, any of the eight books in the "Marriage by the Book" series provides extensive, easy-to-read help.

No comments: