Marriage and Divorce
A. If You Are Married to Another Believer
Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let no man put apart” (Mt. 19:6). What Jesus was saying in this verse is that if God puts a marriage together, no man has God’s permission to “put it asunder.” There are many couples “joined together” by ministers paid to perform a marriage ceremony, but this is not what Jesus meant by being joined together by God. A marriage joined together by God is a marriage that God approves of, and there are many marriages performed by ministers that do not have God’s approval.
Confidence that God has approved of a marriage will encourage both marriage partners through very difficult times and serve as an anchor for a marriage tossed about by the trials of this life. Paul warned those who were considering marriage that, even if their marriage was approved by God, they “will have trouble in the flesh.” Nevertheless, he added, “If you marry, you have not sinned.”There are many adjustments and compromises that will have to be made in order to have a happy marriage, regardless of how well matched a couple is. You should not fear that you have done something wrong by marrying who you marry just because you are going through a difficult time of adjustment. You need only follow God’s simple counsel for married believers in order to have a peaceful home.
Solomon said, “Whoso finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). A man with a wife who trusts in Christ possesses great riches. “Her price”, wrote the wise man, “is far above rubies.” And he is a fool who fails to value such a wife very highly.
Paul wrote to the believing wives (Eph. 5:22-24),
Submit yourselves to your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Assembly, and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the Assembly is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Peter echoed this godly counsel when he wrote,
You wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that if any obey not the word, they also without the word may be won by the [conduct] of the wives, while they behold your chaste conduct coupled with fear. . . . This is the way, in the old time, the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands. Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him ‘lord’, whose daughters you are, as long as you do well.”
Simply put, the Lord expects his married daughters to behave themselves with humility, sobriety, and purity. The phrase, “trusting God” means, for you as a married believer, to rear your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord and to submit to your own husband “as unto the Lord.”
A wife who is belligerent and domineering is akin to a curse that is to be avoided at all costs. “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman,” observed Solomon (Prov. 21:19). It is a fascinating insight into Solomon’s nature that he would compare a contentious woman to a continual, irritating drip (Prov. 19:13; 27:15), something akin to what is often called the “Chinese water torture”. It is easy to see that Solomon, wise as he was, was the type of man who would be driven to distraction by a leaky faucet!
Agur, a prophet and a wise man, bluntly stated that quarrelsome wives are a plague to the earth itself (Prov. 30:23). It is good news for you believing wives that you need never resort to contentiousness, for the way for you to accomplish what is right is simply to do as your heavenly Father has commanded you to do. Otherwise, you will not accomplish good; you will only exacerbate whatever problems exist, as any number of frustrated wives can bear witness.
To believing husbands, Paul wrote,
Love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Assembly of God and gave himself for it. Men ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. . . . Let every one of you so love his wife even as himself, and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
Eph. 5:25, 28, 33; cp. Col. 3:19
Peter gave these instructions to believing husbands:
You husbands, dwell with [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honor to the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.
So, the Lord demands more of his married sons than he does of his married daughters, for there is more humility and self-sacrifice required of the husband than of the wife, just as more self-sacrifice was required of Christ than of his followers. Simply to “submit yourselves” is easy, but to be required to give yourself as Christ gave himself is a demanding responsibility. “To whom much is given, much is required,” said Jesus. And though the husband’s appointed place as head of the family seems lofty, we should not lose sight of what is required of one in that position. It is a position that requires a high degree of humility and devotion.
Is God a Romantic at Heart?
Fidelity to the marriage covenant is expected of both the husband and the wife. At times in ancient Israel, Israelite men infuriated the Lord by forsaking their Israelite wives for the more sensual heathen women. God felt very deeply the pain of betrayed wives in Israel, and He was vehement in his denunciation of their unfaithful husbands:
Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and has married the daughter of a strange god. The Lord will cut off the man that does this.
Then, speaking of the many forsaken wives in Israel, God gives a heart-rending description of their tearful pleas to Him, adding a stern warning to the unfaithful husbands:
And this have you done again, covering my altar with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that He regards not the offering any more, or receives it at your hand. Yet you say, “Why?” Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your companion, and the wife of your covenant. And did he not make one [in marriage] . . . that He might seek a godly seed? Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none of you deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
God was insistent that women in Israel be cared for and treated honorably. If a man took one of his slave girls to wife, but later was displeased with her, he was forbidden to reduce her again to the status of a slave. If the man insisted that she leave his house, then she was allowed to be redeemed by her own family. If he had betrothed her to his son, then from that time, “he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.” If the man took a wife in addition to the former slave-girl,“her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage [i.e. marital relations], he shall not diminish” (Ex. 21:8-11). So, even a wife from the lowest stratum of Israel’s society was to be cared for and shown the respect due her honorable position as a wife.
But even more revealing of God’s love is God’s commandment concerning the treatment of young heathen women who were taken captive as spoils of war:
When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and desire her, that you would have her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and pare her nails. And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in your house and bewail her father and her mother a full month. And after that, you shall go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.
And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall let her go wherever she will. But you shall not sell her at all for money. You shall not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
Is it not an indication of the compassion of God for the defeated, the downtrodden, and the helpless, that He would command His sons to allow a young Gentile woman time to recuperate from the trauma of war before taking her to his bedchamber? Does that not indicate a holy tenderness toward those who have never known God? I think it is particularly impressive that the time God required Israelites to give to those captives for mourning was the same amount of time that God gave Israel to mourn the death of Moses (Deut. 34:8). Pain is pain.
There are many biblical examples of God’s care for and love for His married daughters in Israel. The modern notion that women were considered as nothing and were scorned, with God’s approval, is a result of ignorance of the Scriptures. The Lord kept the hand of evil men back from their corrupt designs, demanding rest for slaves and animals at least one day in seven, demanding provision for the poor from everyone’s fields, justice for the outcasts, even if they were from a foreign land, and honor and provisions to be given every wife, even if she came from the lowliest home or from a foreign land.
Moreover, God would not permit newlywed men in Israel to fight the battles of the Lord or to conduct any other business that would take him from his wife for at least one year after they married – not for the man’s sake, but for the young woman’s sake who had so recently been taken from her father’s house to be his wife (Deut. 24:5). God is the best friend that new brides have ever had. Indeed, God’s commandments concerning young married couples leave the impression that He is a romantic at heart.
“Marriage is honorable in all”, wrote the author of Hebrews. That is a reflection of God’s heart towards marriage, for in the Bible, God has shown us how to honor and enjoy that sacred institution. May God grant us the grace to do as He directs.
There is no real controversy that I know of, concerning the conduct that God requires of His children who are married. Fidelity, purity, and charity are godly attributes never properly lacking in the life of a believer in Christ. The controversies concerning marriage and divorce – and there are many – center on issues related less to the issue of marriage itself than to the issues of divorce and remarriage.