Joan was 19 when she married Sam who was 22. A couple years later, Joan and Sam attended an evangelistic service and both responded to the gospel and were baptized. Both of them grew as Christians and eventually Sam became the worship leader at his local church. Their church taught that Christians should never divorce but said the exception was abandonment or adultery.
Secretly though Sam and Joan were having problems in their marriage. Sam never really loved his wife and he wanted to be free to marry someone else. But because of his beliefs about divorce he knew it wouldn’t happen. So Sam constantly berated his wife about her weight. Joan worked out, she lost weight, she stayed on diets constantly but no matter how much more attractive she became, he still said she was fat and ugly. Eventually Joan left him, and Sam was still the hero of the church family and shunned Joan for divorcing him. Sam got exactly what he wanted…he got a new wife and kept his ministry position in the church.
Matt was a professional sinner. He grew up on the streets and became a member of the Crips gang. He dealt drugs. He slept with prostitutes. One night he shot and killed a teenager and was sent to prison for 20 years. While he was in prison Matt heard the gospel for the first time. His life radically changed overnight and he became known as preacher-man in prison. After 12 years he got an early release and wanted to go into ministry full time. The church that he began attending took him in, trained him and he had a powerful ministry.
John, on the other hand, attended that same church. John had never been in jail, never killed anyone, never slept with a prostitute and never dealt drugs. But he was divorced because his wife one day just decided she didn’t want to be married anymore and she walked out on him. John, was remarried to a wonderful Christian woman, and felt called to the ministry too, but because he had been divorced, they taught that he could never be in ministry. But Matt who had murdered and slept with prostitutes could be in ministry because he had never been divorced.
Stories like that happen in church ALL THE TIME.
Because divorce is so prevalent the church wants to answer by laying down the law even harder. “We have to curb this trend of divorce!” What most don’t know is that even the LAW was more lenient than most churches today! I want to curb the trend of divorce too, but I also want to curb the trend of false guilt, legalism and fear that the church sometimes uses to accomplish it. I am also not trying to talk anyone INTO divorce. We do counseling to KEEP people married.
WHAT DOES GRACE SAY ABOUT DIVORCE?
There is not enough space for me to go into every passage in the Bible that refers to divorce but I do want to introduce you to some passages that you might not have known existed.
First of all, there is a phrase that is taught over and over again that says “God hates divorce!” How many pastor’s and Christians have taught that. It says that the very act of divorce is something that stirs hatred in God at the core of his being. The implication of that is that since God hates divorce it can never be the will of God for any Christian person to ever be divorced. Let’s look at the in passage in Malachi 2:16 where that comes from and open up a can of worms:
- King James Version: For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth PUTTING AWAY: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
- New King James Version: “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates DIVORCE, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”
- American Standard Version: For I hate PUTTING AWAY, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, and him that covereth his garment with violence, saith Jehovah of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
First of all let me say that the common Hebrew word for the legal act of divorce is not used here. It is the word for putting away. It doesn’t say that God hates divorce. In other words it is not the legal act of divorce that is the problem. What he said he hated was when a man hates his wife, acts treacherously with her, treats her with violence and the act of putting the spouse in that position while putting her away without divorcing her.
God is saying, “I have an issue with men who mistreat their wives and put them into the position of being “put away” (which we will see more of shortly). I have an issue with men who who manipulate situations or force the wife to leave.” He is not addressing divorce. He is addressing abuse. He is commanding the men to not deal treacherously and abusively with the spouse. He is addressing the cause of the divorces not the divorce.
If you think he is addressing divorce you will come to the conclusion that it is never the will of God for a Christian to get divorced because you think it says God hates divorce. But that is not what it means here. Divorce is hard enough without making God your enemy too. Divorce is not evil…sometimes staying in an abusive marriage is evil.
I come from a long line of divorces, 20+, my father 6 times, my mother 3, my grandmother 4 times, so someone could say I am being easy on divorce because I have seen so much. Actually, it would be the other way around, because I have seen the hurt, the absentee parents, the fighting and the impact.
But I have also seen the hurt, suffering, pain and lives that have been destroyed because people stayed together. There are children who have been sexually abused by parents, physically abused, and families left destitute from alcoholism who have WAY worse problems than those who come from a broken divorced home. Legalism about marriage can actually be dangerous!
Some churches will teach you that it is always the will of God for you to stay in your marriage. Yes, you should fight for your marriage. Most of the time couples divorce because of years of layers of judging the heart of the other person. Yes you should get counseling and as much as it is within you be at peace with all men. But it is never the will of God for you to remain in a physically, mentally abusive situation. There is no special crown in heaven for you because you allow yourself to be abused to the point that a spouse kills you and think that was some demonstration of love. Forgive me, but that is a demonstration of the spirit of stupid!
Did you know that in Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8 it says that God divorced Israel? Did you know that? If God hates divorce in and of itself, then he broke his own rule, violated his own character. He demonstrated that there are times when it is right and good to get a divorce.
Did you know that in Ezra 10, the Bible says that God commanded the Israelite men to get divorces from their pagan idolatrous wives. He actually commanded divorces. So divorce in and of itself is not evil. It was sanctioned by God and commanded by God in certain circumstances.
There are actually laws in the Law about how to divorce in a way that is not abusive and makes sure that each party parts ways in the best way possible. (Deut 24:1-2, ASV)
Now right about now some of you may be thinking I am trying to promote divorce. No, I’m trying to promote truth. The truth is, if the only reason you are staying married is because you think God is going to get mad at you, or your fear of shame… then you are staying married for the wrong reason anyway. You have already gone and religious fear is holding your marriage in place.
DIDN'T JESUS HAVE STRONG WORDS AGAINST DIVORCE?
But wait a minute. Didn't Jesus have some strong words about divorce? Did he? Let’s look at those too. Now we need to understand the culture of Jesus day and the context of Jesus’ words or we will, like many others, misinterpret what Jesus was teaching.
First of all, in Jesus day there were some Jewish sects like the scribes, the Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Qumran community that all had different ideas about divorce. Some taught that you could never divorce for any reason whatsoever. Others, like are recorded in the teachings of Rabi Hillel, said that a man could divorce his wife for any reason (Mt 19). So in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 Jesus addresses this subject. Notice how he starts:
19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Do you see Jesus purpose here in this sermon? In verse 19 his point is to say, "hey guys, I am going to expose how you break even the smallest parts of the law and you teach other people to do the same. I am going to show you that unless you find a righteousness beyond what the scribes and Pharisees are offering, you can’t even get in to heaven.” This whole sermon is about Jesus taking the Law and the ideas that twist the law and saying, "I’m going to apply it to you on a heart level so that you know you can never enter heaven based on keeping the law." That way they will hunger and thirst for HIS righteousness.
That is why he says, You say, you shall not murder, but I say if you are angry with your brother without a cause you are in danger of the judgement. He takes the law to the heart level and shows the impossibility of any man to say he will go to heaven. He said, “If you even look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery with her already.” He exposed them to the truth that at a heart level under the law, they may not have broken the commandment to not commit adultery, but they did break the commandment to not covet your neighbor’s wife.
But what is the heart he is trying to get to when he talks about divorce. Because many translations don’t bring this out, I want to use one that does:
Matthew 5:31-32, (ASV) 31 It was said also, Whosoever shall PUT AWAY HIS WIFE, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.
This is a highly debated passage along with Mathew 19 where he teaches about the same thing. The Pharisees were TESTING HIM. Many teach that Jesus is saying that the only reason you can divorce is because of adultery. That is not what this passage means. Jesus is still talking about the heart of the LAW.
Did you notice the difference between put away his wife and a legal writing of divorcement? Just like in Hebrew, there are two different words used here. To put away was to put her out, like a marriage separation with no support for her, and no where for her to live. And in the days of the OT, the days of Jesus, and even today in Israel there is still a treacherous practice that Jesus was addressing. What was it? A man would put her away instead of divorce her. If he divorced her he would have to give back the dowry he received from her family, but if he just put her away, he wouldn’t have to give it back. It was an end-run for greed.
So now the wife has no money, she has no way to support herself so her only recourse is to remarry. But she can’t remarry because he didn’t divorce her. So the men were putting the women in a position to try to marry anyway which caused her to be in adultery. Look at Luke where Jesus was dealing with this again:
Luke 16:14-20, (ASV), 14 And the Pharisees, who were LOVERS OF MONEY, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him. 15 And he said unto them, Ye are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 16 The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fall. 18 Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery.
Joseph and Mary
Don't forget Joseph and Mary. Joseph was going to "put her away" secretly not divorce her. In this case, remember that they were betrothed but had not consummated the marriage. So his intention was that he was trying to be as honorable as possible with this seemingly "cheating" wife of his.
Let me say again, I am not trying to persuade anyone to get a divorce. Marriage is the basic building block of society. It is the place where the Bible says godly children can be raised up. It is the place where God puts two people together for the purpose of companionship, partnership, and physical intimacy. I want to fight for every marriage! God cares about marriage!
But there are times that people resist what God is trying to do. According to Jesus in Matthew 19 divorce was not how it was supposed to be in the beginning…BEFORE THE FALL but he conceded that there are times when people have hard hearts. There are people that are absolutely not compatible with each other. There are times when physical and mental abuse are a violation of the covenant of companionship, partnership and physical intimacy. There are times when divorce is actually a good thing.
So if God permitted divorce under the law because of hard hearts and God divorced Israel, and God even commanded divorce sometimes…let’s quit judging people who are divorced. Is God somehow less sympathetic under grace?
Do you realize that the more you preach the law to someone the more you actually empower sin? 1 Corinthians 15:56 says that the strength of sin is the law. Maybe the reason the divorce rate is higher in the church than in the world is because in the church divorce is preached as sin so much! Just a thought!
Did Jesus condemn the woman who was caught in adultery? Was the break up of your marriage your fault? Then take responsibility and receive the fact that Jesus doesn’t condemn you. It is the power of “no condemnation” that will empower your heart for healing.
Did Jesus tell the woman at the well to go back and remarry the first husband to make things right and then he would accept her? Anytime you have to figure out loopholes on how all this works, you are reasoning from the law, not from grace.
No, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ demands that we help people fight for their marriage and if need be to recover from divorce…without heaping guilt, shame or condemnation on anyone!
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE FREE ARTICLES LIKE THIS, PLEASE SIGN UP WHEREVER YOU SEE THIS:
If you found this message helpful, would you share it with others? Thank you.