Divorce (Part 1): What does God think of divorce?
Written by Neil Powell
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
In future posts we will consider in what situations Christians are permitted to end a marriage and if and when the Bible permits remarriage. In this post I simply want to address the question, ‘what does God think of divorce?’
1. The faithfulness of God means that he hates divorce – Malachi 2:10-16
God is a God of faithfulness who keeps his covenant promise with us his people. Would you turn back to that first reading Malachi 2:10-16. The Lord God hates unfaithfulness in all of its forms and here in v. 11 he accuses Judah of having broken faith.
v.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. She is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his.
God is against us when we divorce wrongly. He is against us because we are breaking faith with him when we break faith with our spouse. That is why we read v.16 I hate divorce, says the Lord. The Lord is a witness against us when we wrongly divorce.
If God hates divorce then we must do all we can to remain faithful and protect our marriages.
When Jane and I were dating, as a birthday present, she spent far too much money on me when she bought me a bonsai tree. I was thrilled, really genuinely delighted. I admired it showed it off to others, talked about it at work, but I didn’t have a clue how to look after it. And rather than feed it and water it, prune it and tend to it – as a result of neglect – I killed it. A lack of thought, care and attention and within months it was dead.
Now marriage is a living thing and if you don’t give it the time and attention it needs and deserves you might just kill it. No-one sets out to get divorced. I haven’t met a Christian who’s got married thinking it might not survive. But we ought to fear the death of a marriage.
Look what Malachi says, not once but twice,
v.15 ‘guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.’
How do you know that out of love you fear the break-up of your marriage? It seems to me you will do 3 things:
A. Prioritise your marriage.
Perhaps the biggest threat to a marriage is simply putting other things before it. In 20 years of marriage I can tell you there have been times when that has been true of my marriage. So, block out time for each other, take regular holidays, keep date nights and please pray together. For Jane and I that was not always top of our agenda but for the past 4 years we have prayed together practically every day. Make time for sex in the marriage, speak tenderly to each other – remind each other of what you really like and appreciate about each other.
Feed your marriage or you’ll kill it. And watch out for the very subtle and hidden danger of mistaking working in your marriage for working on your marriage. Many marriages give the appearance of strength because husband and wife are busy sacrificing and serving but not for the sake of the marriage but for a purpose that ought to be subordinate to the marriage. That could be building a home, raising a family, pursuing a career. It’s not enough to have a shared goal that keeps you busy if you are not directly working on your marriage, building intimacy, enjoying each other. Being busy together is just not enough.
B. Protect your marriage.
Protect it from other good things e.g. church-activity, work-overload, the competing demands of the children. Can I say that it is one of the most important things you can do for your children to demonstrate to them in ways they understand that your marriage comes before their demands. That could be in simple and small ways such as not letting them interrupt a conversation.
Protect it from bad things – by taking sin in a marriage seriously. Have accountability software – men in particular watch out for pornography. Think of Joseph & Potiphar’s wife. Joseph didn’t go looking for trouble, but trouble in the form of sexual temptation found him and he knew to flee. Be on your guard against office affairs.
C. Find support for your marriage
Most importantly find support from God. As well as praying together it a habit to pray together, make it a godly desire to pray for your spouse. Giving thanks, praying for spiritual growth. And find support from the church. As a church we want to offer pastoral support at the earliest possible opportunity for any marriage in difficulty.
How many people die of diseases who simply present too late to the doctor. A friend of mine had a growth on his neck. He was a bright student, physically strong, he thought he was immortal and he was naive. But he and I were also doing a summer camp together and a doctor was part of the team. Over the 10 days he kept saying to him, ‘get that checked out,’ because he kept saying it, the message stuck. He got back, got it diagnosed, it was cancer, but because it was caught in time the operation was successful and he made a full recovery.
If something in your marriage is not quite right – get it checked. Don’t be embarrassed. The most dangerous thing you can do in a marriage is think that divorce could never happen to you. In the Bible we also find a second reason why God hates divorce. Not just because he is faithful but also because he is forgiving
2. The grace of God means he hates divorce – Hosea 1 & 3
Nowhere does the Bible demonstrate that lesson more than in the book of Hosea. John McArthur in his book The Divorce Dilemma writes ‘the entire book of Hosea is a picture of God’s forgiving and patient love for his people. A love that is dramatized by the prophet Hosea’s forgiving and patient love for his wife Gomer.’
Hosea the prophet is sent to the northern kingdom of Israel and as part of his witness to Israel God calls on Hosea to deliberately choose for his wife someone who will be unfaithful to him.
In Hosea 1:2-3 we read these words ‘when the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.’ So he married Gomer.’ Israel, committed spiritual adultery against God and God is rightly angry with their unfaithfulness. He is angry, like a wife who comes home to find another woman in bed with her husband.
But God’s response to Israel’s sin is not to terminate the relationship. Rather, as one commentator puts it, his tactic is ‘the artful strategy of an ardent lover. He intends to allure her, rekindling the romance they enjoyed in their early years together…He will entice her. He will draw her back.’ The marriage will be saved because of the gracious and forgiving nature of God’s love.
And once again we see Hosea called upon to live this love out in his own marriage. So, Hosea 3:1-4:
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.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” 4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. 5Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.
God is determined to renew his marriage with Israel.
Martyn Lloyd- Jones said ‘God has never anywhere commanded anybody to divorce’. Even after serious sin, even after repeated covenantal unfaithfulness divorce is not inevitable. Not for the Christian. You see in the gospel God has given you resources to stay in a marriage even when others who are non-Christians might leave. Now this is not to say that Christians should passively accept unfaithfulness on the part of their spouse. This is not to say that we should be indifferent to sin in a marriage. Wherever there is sin we should call on each other to recognise it, confess it and repent of it. But where there is true repentance then restoration is possible and should be worked for –to the glory of God.
Some of you know that at first hand. You’ve witnessed parents working through issues of serious sin. Maybe even in your own marriage. And you’ve found that where there is true repentance – grace triumphs over sin! Just think what a powerful testimony it is when by God’s grace we are able to forgive and forget and re-build marriages on a foundation of grace. It brings glory to God that with the grace of God we are able to overcome sin.
As elders we believe that divorce ought to be avoided if at all possible. And that means that we will always discourage divorce and work wherever possible towards reconciliation because that is our experience of God’s love for us in the gospel. You see the Bible calls on us not just to honour our vows but to exhibit the character of Christ in our lives.
In the next post we will see that although God hates divorce he also permits it.
© Neil Powell.