Jan 09 2007
What is marriage supposed to be and why do so many of the marriages in our culture seem to fail? Exactly what are people looking for when they enter into an agreement that was intended to last a lifetime? Are non-believers held to a different standard than that of those who profess a saving faith in Jesus Christ?
And what do we do in the case of divorce and remarriage? Do Christians get a second or third chance at marital vows? What are the repercussions of multiple marriages as it relates to our marriage partners, our children, and our relationship with God?
What do we do in cases of abandonment, abuse, and infidelity? And what happens if the divorce was primarily our fault? Does the Lord just “Get Over It” and let bygones be bygones? And in our relationship with Jesus Christ, do we as Christians sometimes take the position that it might be easier for us to get forgiveness rather than permission?
The preceding thoughts can open up a Pandora’s Box in today’s church, which may help explain why we typically don’t hear too many sermons on the subject. But the issues are very real and discussing these concerns is absolutely vital for the body of Christ.
The short answer is no. God does not just “Get Over It” and His view of marriage is that of a permanent bond between a man and a woman. Let us also not forget that our relationship to our spouse is a reflection of Jesus Christ’s relationship to His church. For reference, let’s read Ephesians 5:21-33.
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
It is interesting that we currently live in a culture where, in essence, scriptures like the ones listed above are scorned. If one was to even make an attempt at promoting the idea that marriage is not an even, 50/50 split, where both parties have equal say, we would be ridiculed and called chauvinistic and arrogant. The biblical concept of a wife submitting to her husband in all things, (unless it is against the Law of God), and the husband loving and caring for her as Christ loves and cares for His church is a despised doctrine in today’s society.
But this topic, among others in the marriage arena, needs to be submitted to the Final Authority, (and that being the Word of God), if we are to find any lasting resolution to the ever expanding issue of divorce. At this time, Christians in the United States have basically the same rate of divorce as that of non-believers. How is this possible? And while we understand very well that all teaching and preaching needs to be tempered with mercy and grace, it is statistics like this that may help shed some light on why the Bible seems to take a fairly firm position on the subject.
At any rate, let’s move on with some of the questions that were just mentioned and see if we can find a healthy, biblical approach to the marriage relationship.
1) What is Marriage?
Marriage is a union of a man and a woman that is so complete that the Bible refers to them as becoming one flesh. Each one of them however, has a different intended purpose and function. Now then, this does not mean that one is more important than the other, only that they have different responsibilities. For the scriptures state in Galatians 3:26-29;
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
And 1st Corinthians: 11:11-12 also reads;
1st Corinthians 11:11-12
11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
According to scripture, the man is to be the “Head” or “Leader” of the house which, by definition, entails a great deal of responsibility as this means that his primary purpose is to be accountable to the Lord for the nurturing, care-giving, and welfare of his family. And this “nurturing” has to do with his family’s spiritual welfare as well as their physical needs. He should also consult and give careful attention to the advice of his wife, as her primary responsibility should be to prayerfully support him in his decisions.
It is no “light burden” for the husband that fears God to embrace this task. Knowing full well that the man of God should take the lead when it comes to raising his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, being as responsible as he can for their financial and physical needs, considering often his wife’s needs, taking to heart carefully her suggestions and advice, and all the while knowing that the final decision on important matters will rest with him.
The primary duty of the wife, as has been stated, is to prayerfully give her love, energy, support and encouragement to her husband. This includes being sensitive to his physical and emotional needs as a man, teaching the children to obey their father and respect his wishes, tutoring them in the ways of the Lord, and carefully advising her husband in the important decisions that he will have to make.
And having been married for almost 18 years now, I have become increasingly aware of the difficulties and pressure that these duties place on our wives. You see, as men, we have the good fortune of having to be accountable to a God who is beyond making mistakes. Our wives, however, are labored with the task of giving their support to husbands who can prove their ineptitude on a regular basis. And this can be a difficult area for wives as it relates to the temptation to circumvent their husband’s leadership.
2) What are People Looking for?
There are a number of things that people may look for in a marriage. These can include companionship, relational stability, sexual needs, financial support, wanting to start a family, etc. These are all very normal reasons for seeking out a spouse and God’s word does not discourage those that wish to get married. (We will list a number of passages to this effect shortly.)
However, there may be one very crucial item here that many couples are not looking for in a marriage. And this, I believe, may be the single most contributing factor to the escalation of broken vows. The one item on the marriage agenda that many of us may not be ready to accept is Selflessness. It is in the opinion of this writer that Self-Centered goals and dreams are at the heart of our divorce problem.
In short, if we are not willing to embrace the idea that bringing Selfish goals, ideas, and ambitions into marriage will most likely yield disastrous results, then we need to take careful inventory of our hearts and lives before entering into a marriage agreement. Because once the vows are taken, we are no longer the center of our own universe, (not that we ever really are in the light of God’s word), and the Lord happens to take these vows very seriously.
3) Believers & Non-Believers:
Are born again Christians, as well as non-believers, held to the same standards as it relates to divorce and remarriage? This can be a difficult area to address because typically, those who do not profess a saving faith in Christ may have little or no understanding of what the Bible clearly teaches on this subject. And the way in which they perceive God in general can be extremely varied and different than what the scriptures teach us.
Even though I am a strong advocate of Paul’s letter to the Roman’s, which details at length that men instinctively know the truth of God in their heart, his letter goes on to say that because of our separation from God our hearts are hardened and therefore blind. Having this understanding, it may be easier for us to see how the unbeliever can sometimes take such an unbiblical view of right and wrong. Now having shared these thoughts, there are still a couple of things that do shout out to me.
The first is that even though unbelievers may have a different mindset regarding marriage, most of them, at least in our culture, would be hard-pressed to argue that they misunderstood the promises they made before God and man when they took their vows. They knew very well that they were making a promise that was meant to be permanent. This requires no special dispensation from the Lord.
The second item is pretty clear cut. And that is that Born Again Christians have no defense whatsoever. If we were believers when we entered into marriage, then we understood, or should have understood, fully what the ramifications were. And I think that most believers would have a difficult time defending the position that we are not held to a higher level of accountability in general.
4) Divorce & Remarriage:
Alright then, here is where it gets tough. This is where we get to see what the Bible says about marriage. And keep in mind that this writer was not involved when these words were written. I didn’t lay the foundation for God’s view of marital relations. He laid that foundation Himself.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
(Note: A Parallel Passage to this can be found in Mark 10:2-12)
1st Corinthians 7:1-16
7:1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
12 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. 13 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. 14 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.
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. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
(Note: Over the years, a lot of “Hair Splitting” has taken place regarding the “Interpretation” of the preceding verses. This is fairly typical and is to be expected. But the passages are clearly stated and reiterated at length.)
5) What are the Repercussions?
I think it could be accurately stated that the physical and emotional effects of divorce are fairly self evident. In our current cultural setting, those of us that have not been touched in some way, shape, or form by the pain and anguish of divorce are few and far between. The broken hearts of spouses and children, the increased financial burdens, the bitterness and strife, and the loss of any sense of stability and trust within the family unit are overwhelming.
The devastation within the family structure is often such that putting “Humpty Dumpty” back together again is a near impossibility. And above all else, it is the children who pay the price. Their young hearts and minds both crave and need the Trust, Stability, and Love that is absolutely vital for their future wellbeing. They are left feeling alone and abandoned by the very people they trusted.
Shame on us, shame on us for being so selfish and self centered. And now we claim that Jesus Christ was too strict when He gave us His instructions on marriage. But maybe, just maybe, He knew the full extent of the wickedness of our hearts. And it may be that He just nipped it in the bud and we don’t like it very much.
6) Abuse, Abandonment, & Infidelity:
The passages we have covered do allow for separation from our spouse under certain circumstances. And as we have seen, the text is pretty clear. If we find ourselves in a truly abusive relationship, or if there has been abandonment or infidelity, then yes, for the Lord has called us to live in peace. There are situations that occur where there is simply no other recourse other than to separate ourselves from our partner.
But, we are also called to remember the words of Jesus when He spoke of the hardness of our hearts. The point is this; there are times when divorce is necessary, but we also know that if we want something bad enough we will find a way to justify it. And please make note that our motives are not hidden from His eyes.
Dear friends; marriage is hard work. And if we allow ourselves to consider the possibility of a Plan B, there is a good chance we’ll take it when things get tough. Stay close to the Lord, and allow Him to examine your motives when trouble and strife begin to work their way into your marriage. If we allow Him to work, and if we don’t get ahead of God, we may very well find that He can restore our relationships.
7) Forgiveness or Permission:
And now, here’s the Big Question we’ve all been waiting for. And the question is this; “In light of my particular set of circumstances, am I allowed, in God’s sight, to get remarried?”
The difficult, and yet accurate, answer to this is that I can not tell you. Nor, can anyone else for that matter. There are some things in this life where each one of us will have to give his, or her, own account to the Lord when the time comes. There are times when the offenses of a particular person, or persons’, are very obvious. But then the questions arise of what happens if those individuals genuinely repent before the Lord.
Are these people sentenced to a life of celibacy and loneliness? And what happens if there are children involved? Are they to go through life without the possibility of a stable, two-parent home?
And again, it is my conviction that each man, or woman, will have to pray earnestly for direction is this area. However, and in closing, there are some items that we can mention that are very biblical and appropriate. And these are as follows:
A) Since the scriptures we have looked at leave room for the possibility of irreconcilable differences, as it concerns our relationship with Jesus Christ, we would be very foolish not to err on the side of caution as it relates to the issues at hand. And taking the approach of looking to the Lord for forgiveness, rather than permission, will most likely prove to be a lesson in futility.
B) The Lord is very much aware of what our needs and desires are. If we will prove to Him that, in all things, we will keep Him first and allow Him to lead us He will most certainly accomplish His will for our lives. And this will be done on His timetable, not ours. But be advised, when you sincerely ask Christ to take the reigns of your heart He will take you up on it.
C) The last items I have here are a few passages from the Old Testament. I hope and pray they minister to us.
15 Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
16 Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
17 Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
18 May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer–
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?
Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?21 For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD,
and he examines all his paths.
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.