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In our recent series of midweek articles, we have discussed the Biblical sexual ethic, the permanence and exclusivity of marriage, and the problem with adultery. Now, it’s time to discuss one of the hardest batches of truth in this series: what the Bible says about divorce.
This is a hard batch of truth for two reasons: 1) Because the Spirit has shown us the where hard lines of right and wrong are drawn on these matters, and 2) because many of us find that these teachings are fraught; emotionally hard to hear and hard to think about for a variety of reasons.
The Bible does have enough to say about this matter for us to clearly understand that divorces have never been God’s intention for married people. When Jesus was asked whether divorce is approved by God, the conversation went like this: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said:
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Mt. 19:4-9)
His words call for little explanation or clarification. They come down to a few core points:
- Divorce is not God’s intention for married couples. It breaks a union that is put in place by God (see Gn. 2:24). The intent was always that they would be joined by God and therefore not separated by mankind.
- Divorces have happened often throughout the history of God-fearing people groups, but they are not an equally valid option in the plan that God put in place. Jesus’ perspective on the Law of Moses’ teaching about divorce was essentially: “Yes, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives under certain circumstances, but that was never what God intended for you.”
- A divorce is always a bad thing. Sometimes, it is the lesser of two (or more) evils that can present a path through a particular situation, but it’s never morally neutral or morally good. That doesn’t mean that every person who experiences a divorce is at fault for it. Nor does it mean that every divorced person has sinned by getting divorced. But it does mean that in every divorce situation, something has gone wrong. It is never a thoroughly good thing in the eyes of God.
Jesus’ teaching on the subject is a concise recapitulation of what we would learn from elsewhere in the Bible. Jesus quoted the words from Genesis and showed how they ought to be instructive to all of his followers. And Malachi said, “the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.” (Mal. 2:16) And it’s the same in the New Testament. Admittedly, some of what the apostle Paul wrote about marriage and divorce is unclear, especially in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. But even in that context where some things are unclear, the apostle’s underlying assumption is that married Christians will stay together (“To the married I give this charge… the wife should not separate from her husband…and the husband should not divorce his wife.” [1 Cor. 7:10-11]). The choice—and it is a choice—of whether to stick with one’s spouse or not is something about which God has spoken clearly. The command, with one exception mentioned in Scripture, is to stay with our spouses through the whole of life.
Now, there is one circumstance of which the Lord spoke in which a person may divorce their spouse righteously (the exception previously mentioned). It’s this: one who is the innocent party in a marriage that has been adulterated may righteously divorce the guilty spouse. Jesus said this in Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:9, and other passages in the Gospels which repeat these same occasions (cf. Mk. 10:1-12, Lk. 16:18). And it’s important that our awareness of this righteous exception leads us to be compassionate toward our Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered a divorce resulting from a spouse’s infidelity. Theirs is a pain that should be handled with compassion and care by the church. We will address the topic of the difficulty that many of them face in overcoming a perceived stigma from their Christian family in another venue, but for this writing, let it suffice to say that those whose life pathways have led them through this door should NOT be treated as guilty, damaged, or spiritually inferior because of it. They have suffered the consequences of someone else’s sin, and they are not the guilty ones. The Lord said that their divorces are righteous ones.
Divorce is something that married Christians should not even consider as an option, except, as Jesus said, in cases of sexual immorality. Among those of us who are married, our default position should be total devotion to faithfulness in our marriages, with no consideration of a way out. Does that sound like a lot to ask of a person? Yes, it does. And we’re not the first people to think so. The apostles answered Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 by saying, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Mt. 19:10) Essentially, they were saying that if marriage is going to be so permanent, even in bad times, then maybe it’s better to just never enter one. While that wasn’t what the Lord was teaching, it does belie the great weight of commitment that is the warp and woof of godly marriage.
A few other things are worth a quick, passing mention:
- Divorce is a sin of which a person can repent and be forgiven (like any other sin).
- People have often said that, “Half of all marriages end in divorce,” but that isn’t true any more. In fact, it may never have been true. The method used for the initial study that revealed that truth were almost certainly mishandled, and things have actually trended in a better direction in America since that stat was first published.
- Christians should think of being committed to our marriages rather than stuck in our marriages. One can understand why the difference in verbiage would make a big difference in our daily lives.
- Homosexual “marriages” are not something that God recognizes as holy; likely he does not even recognize them as marriages. And so in the case of two people of the same sex who are ostensibly married to each other, when one or both of them come to Christ, that “marriage” would need to be ended, including a legal filing of divorce if that was what was required by the laws pertinent to them at the time. A similar rationale would apply in cases of transgender people’s relationships when they come to Christ and repent of the old ways of their former life.
- If you and your spouse find yourselves struggling to make good things happen in your marriage, and especially if you worry that your only options are either divorce or a life of marital misery, then make some time to click here and listen to this sermon for some good starting guidance toward repairing the relationship.
As God’s people, we want to protect ourselves from the evil of divorce. God’s intent was that a man and a woman become one flesh, cling to each other through all of life, and that mankind does not separate what God has joined together.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4)
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." (2 Tim. 1:5)
Moms and dads, by default, we will be the most influential figures in the lives of our children. That doesn't mean that they will always follow our prescribed paths for them, but it does mean that we—by divine appointment—have an outsized influence upon their thinking, their habits, their words, and their life story. And because that's true, we have a responsibility to be deliberate with that influence. The instruction to fathers and the example for mothers that are quoted above remind us of the simple truth that those who believe in Christ have a God-given commission to teach our faith to our children.
So, here are a few pieces of advice in that regard.
1) Don't abdicate your responsibility to the school, to the internet, or even to the church. They may be valuable supplements to their lives, but non of those are a substitute for godly parenting—not even good things like Bible classes or involvement with other young Christians. No matter who instructs them, you must choose to be their most present and most well-connected teacher. Guide them into a love for God's word, guide them into a commitment to excellence in all that they do, show them the importance of selflessness and humility in relationships, and instruct them in truth so that they readily recognize and repudiate falsehood.
2) We need to be aware of trends in the world. Because the world is often not shy about their desire to interrupt the influence that parents have on kids, particularly for Christians who actually hold Biblical teachings with conviction. (Here's one piece of evidence to back up that claim.) So just be aware. Listen to the educational philosophy of their schools and to new rules and policies that are put into place. Paranoia is very seldom helpful, but alertness is always good. “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” (1 Pet. 5:8) So let's pay close attention and make sure that we can maintain our God-given charge to be the primary influences that they need.
Ultimately, this is about us doing our dead-level best to bring up children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. That's a project of epic proportions that God has given to us, and so we'd better be devoted and prayerful without ceasing if we're going to get it right.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate, in a vote of 61 to 36, passed what is called "The Respect for Marriage Act," which effectively attempts to redefine marriage by federal law to recognize same-sex marriages nationwide. And you might be thinking, "Didn't the Supreme Court legalize same-sex marriage across the country back in 2015?" Yes, they did. But what we're seeing now is the movement by the entire legislative branch of our government to put that precedent into codified law throughout the land. That the law is called "The Respect for Marriage Act" is profoundly misleading—even intellectually dishonest, because its first outcome is to repeal a previous federal law ("The Defense of Marriage Act" from 1996) that did respect marriage for what it is: the exclusive union of one biological man and one biological woman (although no one felt the need for the word "biological" in that sentence back in 1996). The new law was supported by all Democratic senators and 12 Republicans, had support from plenty of activist groups and even a few religious bodies (including the Mormons, oddly enough), and now all it lacks to become the law of the land is a signature from President Biden, which he will almost surely provide soon. All of it serves to "not only do [these unrighteous things] but give approval to those who practice them." (Rom. 1:32)
How should Christians respond to news like this? What does it mean for our daily lives of faith and for our outlook on reality and for our place in society? Well, those are big questions that probably deserve more long-form writing, but here are four short responses to help us process all of it today:
- In our daily lives, we will probably feel very little substantial change right away. But Christians everywhere are already well aware of the not-so-subtle support of all activities and lifestyles connected with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ideologies all around us. It comes to as a gradual process of a few isolated incidents at a time, and we will likely continue to see more of those episodes in the course of normal life. A gay or lesbian married couple as next-door neighbors, more and more LGBTIQ+ characters in shows and movies, a coworker who invites us to witness their marriage to someone of the same sex, a city hall building that hangs a rainbow flag over the front of the building (this example is a current one in Colorado Springs), and more direct promotion of these sinful behaviors targeted to our kids. The challenges will likely continue to increase, and we need to remain resolutely committed to Scripture's teachings that God intended marriage to be the exclusive and sacred union of one biological man and one biological woman for their whole lives. There's a lot more to be said for how we talk about that conviction, but it's nothing that would ever diminish the import of our conviction about God's word.
- Christian couples need to value our own marriages and treat both the institution of marriage as well as our own spouses with the utmost honor. The world may enact policies and plans that undermine the integrity of God-ordained marriage and the selfless, holy love that ought to be characteristic of it, but Christians will still shine as lights out of darkness if our marriages demonstrate the love and respect of Christ and his church (see Eph. 5:33). Our examples in that closest of relationships will be one of the many ways that we can shine with Christ's light and let others see the glory of God (Mt. 5:16).
- These new developments at the federal level will very likely cause some challenges to religious liberty in the U.S. Back in 2015, when the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision was handed down, Justice Samuel Alito asked the U.S. Solicitor General how he thought that the decision would affect Americans' religious freedom, and he responded, "You know, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue." Yeah, it is. There will be challenges for religious schools and other parachurch (i.e. religious, but not church-connected) organizations who attempt to hold their religious convictions consistently (there already have been, and not just for Christians), and there will probably be challenges to Biblically-convicted churches themselves for the teachings they espouse on the subject. What will we do? Well... First, we will not be scared of Christianity being stamped out. Jesus said that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his church (Mt. 16:18), so Christians shouldn't be worried about losing in the grand scheme of history. Second, we should help our communities make decisions in favor of truth. Our votes, letters to the editor, or speeches in the school board meetings may be against the tide of the masses, but if we're speaking the truth, God will see that it's heard. And third, churches and their leaders need to be thinking ahead about how we will continue to hold on the truth, even if it costs us our charters, our tax-exempt status, our facilities, or some of our members when we do so. If things get dramatic enough that we lose everything to persecution, we will still have God, and he will not leave us or forsake us. And so we need to be mentally prepared to hold up the book and stand on truth for God's glory, no matter the cost.
- And all of this reminds us why we can't put our trust in anything other than God for surety in this life. If the Proverbs are going to instruct us to trust God more than even our own minds to get us through life (Prov. 3:5), then we for sure want to trust him above any government entity or worldly philosophical view. Only he is trustworthy enough to teach us the truth about every situation and circumstance. Only he can show us how to leave the darkness of error and live in the light of truth. Let's put our faith in him completely and exclusively.
There is a steady pace to the changes that we're seeing in our society. Many of the proponents of the new law about marriage have said that this is an important first step toward affirming LGBTIQ+ Americans, and that they believe there is more work to do. That's problematic because it forgets that this is not nearly the first step toward affirming those sinful behaviors and also because it warns us that more similar advances of the LGBTIQ+ agenda are likely ahead of us. But, in whatever we face in the present or the future, we know that God is with us, that he is righteous and unchanging, and that our perseverance to the end with him will grant us the reward that he promises.
- Dan Lankford, minister
By now, the news is known far and wide about the mass shooting that took place at an LGBTQ+ nightclub this past weekend, leaving 5 people dead and 25 hospitalized. For our church family, this one hits very close to home. The crime scene—Club Q—is only a 10-minute drive from our church building. And so, while all events like these stir our emotions, the geographical proximity of this one makes it impossible for us to ignore.
So how should Christians respond to this event? Here's some Biblical perspective that can help.
First, Christians mourn for the lives that were lost, for the injuries that were received, and generally for the violence that was done. We pray for healing for those who are still recovering in hospitals. We pray for comfort of the families whose loved ones were killed. And we pray that violent events like these can be prevented and that God will hasten the day when things like this don't happen anymore. We care sincerely about those who've been hurt, and we mourn for a community that has witnessed such violence.
Second, Christians acknowledge that the place where this happened is a place where immorality is not only allowed but all-out celebrated. It reminds us of the apostle Paul's indictment of people who do wicked things everywhere, both because they do wicked things and because, "they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Rom. 1:32). I think for some believers, the fact that violence happened here might seem like divine judgment on sinful people and wicked behaviors. But it's just not possible to say for certain whether the violence was brought about by God's providential hand. It is possible, however, to know that God condemns all sorts of actions and beliefs connected with the LGBTQ+ revolution because he has said so.
So the question is: Can we recognize the immorality of the patrons and purveyors of Club Q and also mourn the loss of life and care about those who were injured? Yes. And as Christians, we must do both. We must always care about people, and especially people who are lost. And we must also maintain a firm stance in the divinely-spoken truth about right and wrong. They're both an important part of our calling.
So pray for our community. Pray for the families of the deceased and for those whose injuries are healing. And also, think about how to speak Biblical convictions on matters of right and wrong. Pray for our communities leaders. Don't be calloused to the pain that people suffer, but don't let compassion push us to change our convictions on God's plainspoken truth.
Can Christians do both? Yes. And we must. "...that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life..." (Phil. 2:15-16)
- Dan Lankford, minister