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    Aug 23, 2016

    Week 12: Divorce

    Series: Marriage

    Category: Core Seminars, Children, Divorce & Remarriage, Marriage, Parenting


    There’s no question that when it comes to divorce and remarriage, we’ve come to a topic that is at the same time both difficult and unfortunate. It’s unfortunate, because where divorce has occurred, sin has occurred. And it’s occurred in such a way that a covenant union has been broken. A relationship is torn apart in divorce, and there’s no way that’s not tragic and painful. It’s difficult, because though the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage is clear in its broadest outline, when we descend into the particulars of any given case, the application of Biblical principles is not always obvious and rarely is it easy.

    In response to the pain and difficulty of divorce, the world has opted for the soft approach—the no-fault divorce (i.e., it just didn’t work out and nobody’s at fault). In fact, the world assumes that assigning blame and responsibility just makes a painful situation even more painful, so why bother? On the other hand, some Christians have taken the approach that the best and most faithful thing to do is to cut through the apparent exceptions and nuanced teaching, and take the simple and clear statement that God hates divorce at face-value. These Christians assert that divorce is simply not an option for Christians, and that if divorce occurs, remarriage is never allowed. That’s certainly simpler, but is it faithful to God and his revealed Word?

    In fact, the place to start is God’s clear statement that he hates divorce. That’s found in Mal. 2:16: "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel… and we’ll look at that more in a moment. But what we need to understand is that God hates divorce, but not from a safe and smug, self-righteous distance. No, God hates divorce the same way a divorced person hates divorce, not as a disinterested third-party, but as one who knows the pain of divorce personally. For the fact is, God himself is a divorcee. In Jeremiah 3, we read,

    NIV Jeremiah 3:6 During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. 8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.

    God knows what it means to be betrayed and forsaken. And God knows the pain of divorce. So as we consider in this class what He has to say, we want to remember that He does not speak to us on this matter from a distance. Rather he speaks to us through Christ as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, including the grief of love betrayed and love forsaken. And it’s precisely into that context that His Word comes to us as a Word of truth and hope.

    1) What is divorce?

    Divorce is the dissolution of a marriage

    • Marriage exists when there has been a sexual union in the context of a covenantal oath. Ephesians 5:22-33 lays out the covenantal context, and speaks of a one-flesh union. Divorce breaks or dissolves that union.
    • Malachi 2:14 describes divorce as a “breaking of faith” with your covenant partner: “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.”
    • Of course, many things violate the marriage covenant (such as sin) and can be characterized as “breaking faith.” And whenever the covenant is violated, the marriage is violated in some degree. But not every violation calls into question the fundamental one-flesh status of the covenant. Some things do however strike at the very heart of the covenant and its obligations.
    • In Jeremiah 3, God referred to Israel’s adulteries. Having intercourse (being one flesh) outside a covenantal relationship is not a marriage, though if between two unmarried people, it may obligate a marriage. But when a married person commits adultery (when they form a one-flesh union with someone aside from their wife) they are in effect repudiating the exclusive union with their spouse.
    • Paul uses one flesh to describe a man's relationship with a prostitute in 1 Cor. 6:16: “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." The point isn’t that he’s now married to the prostitute. Rather the point is that he has engaged in a covenantal act of union with someone he’s not united to, and how utterly abhorrent and inappropriate that is.
    • Divorce, in the Bible, therefore, is the public and formal acknowledgement that the union has been broken, and the covenant is dissolved.

    2) What does God think of divorce?

    God hates divorce

    • It is the breaking of a covenant: the ultimate lie about God's character (faithfulness) and the way He relates to His people
    • Malachi 2:11-16 gives us two reasons why God hates divorce,
    11 Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob —even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty. 13 Another thing you do: 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. 14 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. 15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

    • Reason 1: God hates divorce because it impairs parents' opportunity to raise godly offspring. Notice vs. 15. Remember a central purpose of marriage is to produce godly offspring.
    • Reason 2: God is a covenant-keeping God who hates divorce because it is a breaking of a covenant. When a covenant is made, God’s desire is for it to be kept and for us to persevere in it; not to break it. In Malachi 2, the covenant is broken between God and Israel.
    • Reason 3: God hates divorce because it destroys the picture of covenant faithfulness. In Matthew 19:4-6 we read,

    "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

    Jesus warns that what God has put together, no man should judge himself allowed to separate. It is as if Jesus where to say, “If God put this together, how dare you (a mere human) consider separating it?” The quote from Genesis 2:24 that Jesus uses is the same that Paul appeals to in Ephesians 5 and relates to the mystery of Christ and the church. Remember from Eph 5 that human marriage is a picture of a greater spiritual reality—a picture of Christ and his relationship to the church. God hates the falsehood that divorce entails, i.e., the lie that is told about the relationship of Christ and his church when two people separate what God has joined together.

    3) Is divorce always a sin?

    The world says it never is. Some Christians have said that it always is. The elders of this church believe the Bible teaches that though divorce is always the result of sin…

    Divorce is not always a sin for both parties involved

    • There is biblical teaching both condemning divorce and accepting it. In Matt 19:8-9, Jesus goes on to both condemn divorce in general, but allow it in the case of adultery.
    8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

    • “ always a sin for at least one of the marriage partners. It may be a sin for both. Nevertheless, it is sometimes an act of righteousness for the offended and innocent party”
    • Now to talk about an innocent party in the matter of divorce is to talk about relative, not absolute innocence. The innocent party may be innocent about the final point in dispute, for example, adultery. But that is not to declare them innocent of all sin leading up to this point. For example – A man who commits adultery after living for years with a wife who was emotionally and physically distant. Her sin is real, but does NOT excuse his unfaithfulness.

    4) What are the biblical grounds for divorce?

    • Biblical grounds are never meant to be a proof text to self-justify leaving a marriage. “Ah! Here it is! Now I can divorce him.”
    • Rather, they lay out the covenantal nature of marriage and provide framework for reconciliation.
    • As God demonstrates in the book of Hosea (reference?), even in the face of adultery, divorce is never required, but only allowed. The option is always there to forgive. And in fact, the Bible seems to allow no reason for withholding forgiveness in the face of repentance. Nevertheless, in a fallen world, repentance is often absent. In that case, there are two basic categories for biblical grounds for divorce:

    (1) Matthew 5:31-32, 19:8-9 (see also 19:3-8) : “…except for marital unfaithfulness…”

    5:31-32 – 31"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
    19:8-9 – 8”Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

    • Greek word translated “adultery” is porneias and applies to more than just sexual intercourse between a married person and someone else. It refers more broadly to sexual immorality, or what we might call sexual infidelity.
    • Infidelity strikes at the heart of the covenant – for a marriage is a covenant surrounding a sexual relationship, a covenant that is pictured by and protects an exclusive intimacy.
    • So what constitutes infidelity? Certainly adultery does. But what about the use of pornography? What about an affair that is purely emotional? What about the growing trend of on-line virtual affairs? Here we see that even a clear principle can be difficult to apply. This is why divorce, if it’s to be considered, should be considered with counsel and direction from the elders of your church and other wise parties. This is not a matter of checking a box, but ultimately a matter of public judgment by the church.
    • But when such a judgment is made, the innocent party, in such a case, may (not must), without sin, divorce his/her spouse.
    • If a godly reconciliation is possible, it should be pursued.
    • Does the wronged partner have to stay with or reconcile to the guilty party to forgive? No. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness can be and often must be extended unilaterally. But reconciliation requires both parties to be involved, willing to take responsibility for their own actions, and repentant of their own sins.

    (2) 1 Corinthians 7:12-15: “…if an unbeliever departs, let him depart…”

    12To 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. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For 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. 15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

    • The issue that Paul raises is covenantal desertion where the departing spouse is a non-believer.
    • If the non-Christian is willing to live within the Christian understanding of marriage, he is sanctified. The unbelieving spouse is not saved; but the believer is used in the marriage as a means of grace and Christian influence on the unbelieving spouse. The hope is that one day the unbeliever might be saved because God used the believer in this marriage.
    • But if unbelieving husband decides to desert his spouse, the Christian is not bound. Not bound means they are no longer obligated to stay in the covenant; they are free to remarry, stay single, or reconcile;
    • After thinking through this issue, along with study and prayer, the elders believe that certain forms of abuse, including physical and/or sexual abuse of spouse or children is within the category of desertion (because stopping the abuse requires physical separation, and is therefore a breaking of the covenant, etc.). Why? Because we consider this sin such an egregious evil that it rises to the level of breaching the covenant.
    • Now, does one fight, or one blow constitute physical abuse? How long does abuse have to go on before professed repentance and contrition is proved spurious? Once again we quickly see that even when the principle of desertion is clear, but its application can be extremely difficult, and requires patient and humble counsel and direction.
    • Nevertheless, we want to be clear that Christians have tolerated evil things because they think their marriage vows require them to. Marriage vows make us unselfish, and willing to bear much in love; but they do not set aside the Word of God. Nor do we honor God’s Word by making it more strict and dogmatic than it in fact is.
    • There is a growing trend in the evangelical culture to ask if other things fit into this category of dissertation—financial abandonment or not caring for material needs; verbal or emotional abuse; no longer willing to have sexual relations; etc. Rather than saying a definitive “yes” or “not” to any of these, it is better to say that wisdom, direction and counsel must always be sought out as each marital situation can be very different. While these other factors are less clearly a breach of the covenant (compared to physical or sexual abuse), they can clearly be contributing factors to a possible dissertation.

    5) When can someone who is divorced remarry?

    • It depends.
    • Because the biblical grounds for divorce are narrow – and must apply as a prerequisite for biblical remarriage, divorce and remarriage is clearly prohibited in most instances (except for adultery and desertion):
    Matthew 19:9, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
    Mark 10:11, “He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.”
    Luke 16:18, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
    1 Corinthians. 7:15, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”

    • But Paul writes that the believing man or woman is not bound in a circumstance where the unbeliever leaves (1 Cor. 7:15; read in light of v. 11 for extra credit).
    • The one who wrongs, not the one who was wronged, should pay the penalty.
    • This is why remarriage after an unbiblical divorce makes the person who remarries commit adultery. They are engaging in a sexual union that is inappropriate and that they have no right to engage in (Matt 5:32).
    • On the other hand, this is why the party to a biblical divorce is free to remarry without sin. Having dissolved the union according to God’s word, they are now free to contract a new union, according to God’s word.
    • Bottom line: the divorce must adhere to God’s word: if there’s been a violation of the covenant, it is legitimate to recognize that and act accordingly: ”If the divorce is godly recognition of the other person’s rebellion against God, then it is not rebellion against God. But if the divorce is initiated without any basis in the Word of God, then that divorce is sin.”

    Pastorally, and as a church, how should we respond to divorce? Just as God did: with truth and compassion. On the one hand, we need to be clear on the Bible’s teaching. And we need to do so long before that teaching is needed. This is why we have this class. This is why we try to put young married couples in young married small groups. We want to prevent divorce by building strong marriages from the start. That is why I run a yearly marriage workshop. That is why the pastors devote so much of their time to marriage and pre-marital counselling. It’s why we hope you, as married people, are reading the books we recommend, and are involving others in your marriage, to build you up and hold you accountable. We want to be a church that proclaims the truth about our covenant-keeping God, with our words, and with our marriages.

    On the other hand, we want to respond with compassion. Divorce is the result of sin, and all of us have some acquaintance with that topic—if not personally, we all have relatives or friends who have gotten divorced. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin, even if in this life it has some on-going consequences. Instead, we want to hold out the hope of the gospel to those whose lives have been broken by divorce. Both the hope of forgiveness for those whom reuniting with an ex-spouse is no longer possible. And the possibility of reconciliation to those who are separated and even some who are divorced. WE should never forget that the God of Jeremiah 3 is also the God of Hosea 3.

    Hosea 3:1 The LORD said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes."

    You and I know what it is to be reconciled to God, though we deserved a certificate of divorce from him. We want to be people who hold out that same hope to those who have known the pain of divorce, both the hope of reconciliation with God and the hope of reconciliation with their spouse, through and because of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who died to reconcile that which was torn asunder by sin.