God’s Heart on Marriage and Divorce
In this fast changing world, believers must be made aware of how much of the world’s standards have crept into the Church... hence the reason for this series, “The Church Needs to Know”.
Let me ask you a question: “Does it bother you that Christians everywhere are compromising the Word of God and conforming to the world’s lifestyle, to the point that it is acceptable today, even for pastors and leaders, to get divorced for such reasons as discord, differences of character, self-justification, legalistic influences, spiritual manipulation, hurts, unforgiveness, etc?” This is definitely an area where the Church has allowed itself to be influenced, not only by the ways of an unbelieving world, but also by Christian leaders writing books, often justifying their own, very subjective, experiences, and who, by taking the option of divorce, have opened the door for believers to do the same. But let us look instead at what the Word of God has to say on this subject.
Marriage under the New Covenant
In Genesis, God instituted marriage. However, marriage under the Old Covenant, with its multiple wives and letters of divorce, cannot be compared with marriage under the New Covenant, after what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross. God’s plan for us, as born-again Christians, is to live with our husbands and wives until ‘death do us part’. In Mark 10:2, the Pharisees tried to test Jesus because He had been challenging their legalism on so many issues, asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus showed them that, under Moses and the Law, God had ‘allowed’ divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, (Mark 10:5); but that under the New Covenant, things would be different. In Matthew 5:32, He states plainly what is expected of all New Covenant believers: “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery .” ‘Except sexual immorality’ obviously does not mean when one partner happens to fall into sin and commit an act of adultery or infidelity. It speaks of a person being backslidden and living in sin, and determined to continue in immorality. In allowing divorce in that very specific case, Jesus does not take away the fact that the other partner needs to humble himself or herself and forgive. This can only truly happen when we accept the way of the Cross. The Bible, therefore, is clear: under the New Covenant, there is no justification for divorce apart from very specific cases... otherwise it devalues what Jesus Christ accomplished at Calvary!
I am certain you have noticed that the Church has lost its conviction in this area, behaving as though the Gospel were something that changes with the times. The Church, including pastors and leaders, rightly didn’t accept divorce a few decades ago, but it has now become common in churches today. What has happened? Surely it is because the gospels being preached today have changed and have no power to deal with such issues. Obviously, they no longer bring the same conviction as before. This is why a return to the preaching of the Cross is vital if we want to see Christian families united and the rate of divorce dropping in the Church. The ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is causing hearts to be drawn to material things instead of seeking spiritual maturity. It does not edify, and certainly is powerless to confront the deep inner issues that believers today face. Christians today often want a simple solution to marital problems, an easy way out. They divorce for trivial reasons such as: “She won’t submit to my authority; he isn’t spiritual enough,” or worse, “We no longer fit together, our vision and ambitions have changed...” It is obvious they cannot be hearing the right gospel, as the true Gospel would lead them to assume their responsibilities towards one another.
The ministry of the husband
Allow me to expand on the amazing revelation Paul had about marriage in Ephesians 5. The relationship between a husband and a wife is the only one in the New Testament that is paralleled with the relationship Jesus has with His Church. Paul declares boldly that “AS Christ loved the church and gave His life for her, SO a husband should love his wife.” Jesus humbled Himself, took the form of man, was obedient unto death even the death of the Cross. That is the attitude Jesus is asking of a husband towards his wife. That is the ministry of the husband; like Jesus, he is called to lose his rights and his life for his wife. This is the key to a successful marriage.
God’s order for marriage
The ministry of the wife, however, is compared to that of the Church. Paul states that just “AS the church submits to Christ, SO the wife should submit to her husband.” So, when the Church – you and I – understands what Jesus did for us on the cross, in other words His love manifest for us, we can love Him in return. We could not love Him before we felt His love for us. Can you see the order of things here?
It is clear, therefore, that the husband has a greater ministry and responsibility than his wife in the marriage, since his ministry is compared to Christ’s whereas the wife’s is compared to the ministry of the Church. If the husband first responds to his calling, as Jesus did, he will automatically reap an attitude of submission from his wife. Obviously, the submission of the wife is not conditional; but when the proper foundation is laid, the husband can expect his wife to submit to him. However, even if the wife does not do so, he should still continue to give his life for her, and trust God for a miracle in her heart. At the end of the passage, Paul quotes the Old Testament verse, “For this reason’ a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” ‘For this reason’ means that being united in marriage is the sole purpose behind a man and a woman leaving their parents. Therefore, God’s heart for marriage is for a husband and wife never to separate, but to remain united for life. When we obey God’s instructions, He is faithful to perform miracles.
The husband of but one Wife...
May I say that there are many specific scenarios in marriage not mentioned in the Bible. In our own church, we have experienced different situations over the years, and have learnt to deal with them individually, with grace and truth. In every case where the brother or sister has taken the road of the Cross, and allowed repentance to do its work in his or her heart, we have seen victories in their lives and in their service for the Lord. And, let me just add that God is not a God of the second or third chance. It does not mean that He rejects those who have divorced and remarried.
But, at the same time, we cannot conclude that this means it is acceptable to go that route. His plan has always been for a husband to have one wife and He has provided the means for that by sending Jesus in the form of man, to die on the Cross and conquer sin in the flesh. It is up to us to give up our lives as a sacrifice so that our flesh can be crucified. A man who divorces and continues in ministry as if nothing has happened, can never expect to carry the same anointing in his service for God, until he stops justifying his decision and repents of having divorced his wife unless, of course, she has given her life over to adultery.
The key to restoration
So, if I have touched on any of your experiences, it’s not too late. God can restore you and your ministry, if you are prepared to acknowledge that you did not act in line with God’s heart and Word, but according to the desires of the flesh, and possibly entered into a wrong relationship. However, you must come before God in true repentance; according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, with a readiness to do whatever He asks of you... even if that may mean returning to your original spouse.
Remember that the Lord isn’t interested in reasons or explanations about what your partner is like, or what he or she may have done. He looks at the heart of man. There may well be relationships that are beyond repair; but, in all cases, God still desires a pure, humble, forgiving, and repentant heart. Then again, so many more are repairable, provided we make room for repentance and forgiveness to bring restoration in the relationship. This can only happen when we are prepared to deny ourselves and take up our cross.
The Cross is God’s provision for a successful marriage!
I trust that these few words have helped you to look at marriage as God sees it.
This article is based on the message: ‘God’s Heart on Marriage and Divorce’ from the series ‘The Church Needs to Know’ by Miki Hardy. To order the CD or DVD, contact CTMI Media on: 071 241 1016.