What is the will of God in these situations?
If you read the bible carefully you will be in no doubt that God hates divorce. However, there are some marriages which God hates more than divorce and it is important to know when you’re supposed to persist and when you’re meant to let a relationship go.
Some churches and preachers are promoting a strange mixture of hyper-grace alongside legalism and in order to do this they attempt to divorce the Old Testament from the New Testament. For example, if you listen to John Piper you’ll hear him say that divorce is not allowed under any circumstances on pain of condemnation, yet out the other side of his mouth he will preach that people are saved no matter how badly they sin. Those two teachings are antithetical. They literally cannot coexist logically.
The early church didn’t have the New Testament to begin with, and instead normally referred to the original Hebrew scriptures in order to discern the truth from God alongside the gospel message of redemption through grace alone and following the new commandments of Jesus: love God and love one-another (on these hang all the law and the prophets – Matthew 22:40). As it is written in Hebrews 13:8, God is the same yesterday, today and forever, which means that His rules were not arbitrary and His will towards us is unchanging. The Apostles regularly quoted the scriptures of the Old Testament in the writing of the new one.
Therefore, we can confidently discern the heart of God by using both testaments, and that is exactly what we’re going to do.
Before we get started: this is an examination of the scripture and not a replacement for seeking God’s will in your own life. Sometimes marriage and divorce are not God’s intention for us, and often even when they are, we must have patience and wait upon the Lord for His timing and His will. The most important aspect of the Christian walk is submission and obedience to the Holy Spirit, which means that you are led by God and not by your own desires. It took me a long time to write this particular blog post because I was waiting upon the Lord for discernment in which teachings are biblical and which ones are not. This research was done carefully and slowly as well as prayerfully so that I could see what the Spirit wanted me to know. The outcome is not what I was expecting, and I was prepared to submit to whatever I came learned, and I would suggest for others to do the same.
How Many Chances?
How many chances should you give someone? This is a bit like asking how long a piece of string is because there’s no formula in the bible or in life generally. Relationships are not built that way. Even when it comes to God we don’t really know how many times we can willfully disobey and sin against Him before He will be done with us, which is why we should never trample the grace of God if we value the relationship and marriage is supposed to be the same.
If your fiancé came to you before the wedding as asked speculatively how many times they were allowed to cheat on you before you divorced them, that would be a bad sign for the future of the relationship. When the Christians who believe in both OSAS as well as only one marriage for life without divorce (no matter how bad it is) try to push their theology onto other people, you can be sure it stems from the same tree of thought. These seemingly antithetical theologies are actually more aligned than you might think. They preach that God will never cut you off no matter how you degrade the union, and they preach the same thing for marriage. No degradation is too despicable in their eyes. You’re trapped for life, and so is God. This is their excuse for behaving badly and assuming they can get away with it, but God does not operate in the realm of evil.
That being said; never berate yourself for giving people opportunities to fix things, even if they refuse to do so. God is gracious and longsuffering, so if you are the same way it’s not a bad thing. Sometimes people beat themselves up after divorce and think it was so stupid for stay for so long, or they think that they’re a sucker for putting up with such bad treatment. Never be ashamed of having loved too well. It speaks highly of you, and adds condemnation to the other person.
Obviously, when it comes to dating it’s better to cut things off quickly if the other person shows traits which are not aligned with biblical principles of love. You are not obliged to date anyone, ever. However, if you are already in a relationship, do what God did with His people and let them know what your standards are, how those standards are not being met, and then a timeline for when you expect to see improvement. God has standards, and we need to have standards too – both for ourselves and those around us.
God is a Divorcee
Let’s clear this one up to start off with. God really does hate divorce, not because He insists that we stay in bondage under a covenant with someone, but because the only reason for divorce is abuse and broken trust as well as uncertainty for any children involved. If a marriage is ending, you can be sure that at least one of them abused the other or abused the children. Jesus made this plain when asked about divorce.
Matthew 19:3-9 (NKJV) The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted 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; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
Why was Jesus so strict about this teaching? Because the Pharisees had been permitting divorce for reasons which were cruel and detrimental to the women. This type of divorce was a form of abuse in and of itself. He wanted people to take their responsibilities within marriage seriously and not just discard the other person on a whim.
When we enter relationships it is important to understand that it requires willing participation by both parties in order for it to work, but it only takes one of the spouses to break the covenant or introduce evil to the marriage. Where does that leave the other person who entered into marriage in good faith and with every intention of keeping their promises? Are they damned if their partner divorces them and they want to remarry, or already have remarried?
You cannot force someone to stay with you any more than you can prevent someone from robbing you if they have a will to do so. There is a limit to the extent of the precautions we can take to prevent something which is not within our control. The risk of marriage is that we place ourselves into the hands of another person and we hope that they deal honestly and mercifully with us.
The covenant between God and the church is likened to a wedding where we are the bride and Christ is the bridegroom. God is entirely faithful and good to us, and in return we are expected to be faithful to Him and turn away from sin. This is a mutual relationship where both parties are involved. We place our trust in God to deliver us and remain faithful to Him in the interim.
The church is technically God’s second marriage covenant. Why? Because His first wife was unfaithful and hard of heart.
Jeremiah 3:6-10 (NKJV) The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 50:1 (NKJV) Thus says the Lord: “Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce, whom I have put away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? For your iniquities you have sold yourselves, and for your transgressions your mother has been put away.”
God became man in the form of Jesus of Nazareth and came to dwell among us in order to salvage His marriage to Israel and offer a new marriage covenant which would be easier to keep and would expand the household in heaven. However, the offer was rejected by the leaders of the nation, even though the old covenant was being dissolved and they could not hold onto it. In the past God’s people were redeemed by virtue of their lineage and the law, but now they must choose individually to be yoked to God and could only be offered this grace through Jesus.
They tried to keep their marriage under the law and reject Jesus, despite the fact they had been divorced, or were considered spiritually dead in the eyes of God and therefore no longer married.
Romans 7:1-6 (NKJV) Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.
Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
Under the old law of legalism people would be killed immediately for adultery or they would be chained to an abusive spouse until one of them died. It was a literal, physical death. In the age of grace people no longer die on the spot when they sin (unless you count Acts 5, which was a warning shot from the Holy Spirit); instead God considers them to be spiritually dead and storing up wrath for themselves unless they repent and turn to God as seen in the parable of the prodigal son:
Luke 15:32 (NKJV) “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
Under the new covenant we die to our sins in order to be born again, which means that we forsake our former existence of being one of the walking dead in the world of flesh and enter into spiritual life. In John 8:37-47 Jesus tells the Jews that being the seed of Abraham is not proof of salvation and people can only fall into two categories: children of God and children of Satan. There are many Christians who are born-again later in life and often they are already married, or already divorced, but their current and/or former spouses are not of God.
I Corinthians 7:10-15 (NKJV) Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.
But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.
So although God hates divorce, and asks that we take marriage seriously so that the family is kept intact and the children are protected, He does not expect us to remain in bondage if the marriage cannot be saved. This is especially so in the case of people who are adopted children of God, but who are married to children of Satan.
In some situations, an unbelieving partner is not a recipe for disaster… if they respect your relationship with God and if they are otherwise not abusive or manipulative. That was the caveat Paul used in his letter to the Corinthians. I’ve seen marriages work when a non-Christian spouse is supportive and encouraging. It is possible.
However, I have also seen situations where a spouse sneers at the believer and actively works against their walk with God. They seek to undermine their partner’s faith for a number of reasons, but most of it comes down to one major factor: control.
God does not want His children to be yoked to the children of Satan (which is everyone who has not been born-again in the Spirit) because God’s kingdom is undermined by bringing in the enemy just as much as a family is undermined by a spouse who works against their partner.
Mark 3:24-25 (NKJV) If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
There are situations throughout the bible where God expressly forbids marriage to particular people because those people are not following God and will lead the believer astray.
II Corinthians 6:14-18 (NKJV) Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Therefore; “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
I was married to a man who was a functional alcoholic and physically assaulted me on a regular basis for years. He used all of our resources, including what I earned, to lavish other people with gifts and grand gestures, bending over backwards to please people and expecting me to do the same. I was only there to serve his purposes, not to be treated like a valuable teammate with needs of my own. When it came to difficult decisions, he ran a mile from them and left all of the hard stuff to me while he lived the high life with friends on our grocery money. In terms of being unequally yoked, I was dragging a dead, bloated body.
I should never have married him in the first place, and the warning signs were there from early on if I had been willing to face the hard truth and walk away. He would cancel dates whenever he had a better offer, ignore me at social events, or promised to drive me home at night but drank too much and left me stranded instead.
It probably sounds harsh to say, but the reality of my ex-husbands character at the time (I can pray that it has changed since) was to be untrustworthy, weak, and completely given over to gluttony and lust. This does not make a reliable partner, nor a good parent and I am grateful that God did not see fit to bring children into that situation.
If I had been Christian at the time, I might have had better understanding of how God feels about being tied to the wrong person. However, I had been raised by an abusive mother and I thought this was the best I could expect from love. The spiritual implications of what I was joining my flesh to were unknown to me, but are clearly outlined in the bible.
Deuteronomy 7:2-4 (NKJV) … when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.
These types of unions are considered un-Godly, which means that God has not brought these people together. When Jesus said that no one should interfere with a Godly union, that did not mean that every marriage is sanctioned by God in the first place, it simply means that other people should not be involved in a marriage, nor seek to destroy it with the understanding of men instead of the wisdom of God.
Often, we make our own choices of spouse based on criteria which the world tells us are the recipe for a good marriage. Things like lust, greed, fear, pride, envy, spite… there are so many bad reasons why people get into relationships and then stay in them.
How does God deal with situations where someone has entered into marriage with a spiritually dead spouse who walks in darkness, disobeying God?
Ezra 10:10-11 (NKJV) Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.”
Malachi 2:11 (NKJV) Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah has profaned the Lord’s holy institution which He loves: He has married the daughter of a foreign god.
In these situations, the unequal marriages were so abominable to God that God Himself demanded divorce.
So while there are cases in the bible of people coming from other countries and successfully marrying God’s chosen people, such as Rahab and Ruth, this only worked because those people believed in God and desired to follow Him. In other situations, like King Solomon and Sampson, having a spouse who was pagan ended in disaster.
Something you need to know is that not everyone who goes to church is actually a born-again, spirit-filled follower of the true and living God. I have seen and heard a number of situations where people go to church just to find a spouse and then immediately return to their worldly lifestyle, demanding their husband or wife does the same.
Even the early church had to deal with tares growing up among the wheat:
Titus 1:15-16 (NKJV) To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
What people say and what people do are two different things.
One of the most interesting preachers who is sadly no longer with us, Derek Prince, used to say that he encountered witchcraft constantly within the church and it was characterized by three key behaviours: manipulation, intimidation, and domination. A Christian walking in the Spirit does not manipulate or intimidate other people in order to have dominance over them, but someone who’s heart is darkened will justify any means of having their own way instead of God’s way.
God is not an abuser who uses coercion to control people. That’s Satan.
When it comes to dating and relationships, you cannot put any stock in what someone says to you because words are easy and can be faked, but a person will show you who they are with their actions. We need to spend time observing how people conduct themselves before we yoke up with them for life, but what do we do if we are already bound to someone before they reveal their true character?
Some people want to supplant God in your life. This isn’t just a spouse, but sometimes also friends and family. They believe that they are god and they don’t answer to a higher authority than themselves, which is why they engage in the spirit of witchcraft. This then leads to all kinds of evils from psychological abuse, to physical abuse, to lying, cheating, stealing and threats when they cannot have their own way.
When they’re caught in their treachery they make a pretense of repentance in order to continue having their way without consequences, but there is no change of heart. Fortunately God sees into our hearts and knows the truth.
I Samuel 15:22-26 (NKJV) So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”
Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.”
But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”
God doesn’t share with the children of Satan, nor does He acquiesce to the will of man and He is prepared to sever ties with people who willfully disobey.
You are bought and paid for with the blood of Jesus Christ and you are only loaned to the people in your life if they also obey the voice of God. If there are people in your life who a trying to corrupt your walk with God, you can be sure that God will weed them out and this can include a spouse.
Matthew 10:34-39 (NKJV) “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Throughout the bible, the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. He can bestow blessings, or He can withdraw them if people prove themselves unworthy of the honour. Make no mistake: if you are an adopted child of God, you are a blessing in other people’s lives because you bring the love of God to them. He doesn’t continue to cast His pearls before swine, and the kingdom of God and the body of Christ are pearls of great price.
God will dissolve your marriage if He sees that you are heeding the ways of an ungodly spouse more than you are obeying Him. Legalism is not the definition of following God. Instead, God reserves the right to make judgements about your situation in order to preserve your eternal soul, including divorce if He sees fit. In that situation, you need to heed His voice and do His will.
Does God hate divorce? Yes. Does God hate abominable marriages? Yes; sometimes even more than He hates divorce.
For this reason, it may not be the will of God for you to marry or remarry. Being lumbered with the weight of a person dead in sin is no joke. Diligently seek the Lord before entering or re-entering into a marriage.
A Godly Union
When people have been abused in life, they often don’t understand that God sees them as beloved and precious. It can be difficult to believe that God wants to give us blessings when all we have known is torment and pain from the people who claimed to love us.
Matthew 7:7-11 (NKJV) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
While tribulation is part-and-parcel of following Christ, it is not sent to us by God as a punishment. It is entirely from Satan in response to seeing the love we have from the Father which he has rebelled against and rejected because God didn’t allow Satan to be evil in his ways without consequences.
Love is not indulgent of evil. That’s kind of the point of hell.
A Godly marriage is not punctuated by evil deeds done against one-another. Instead, it should be based on the definition of love which we find in the bible… from BOTH parties, not just one. You can’t have a functional marriage with just yourself. Ephesians gives us a great outline for marriage based on mutual respect and care.
Ephesians 5:33 (NKJV) Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Marriage should fundamentally resemble the two commandments given to us by Jesus Christ:
Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
If you are married to someone who is breaking both of these commandments by not loving God and not loving you, then you are yoked to an unbeliever (regardless of what label they try to put on themselves) and you are free to divorce and remarry.
God intended for us to have companionship, even though marriage is only necessary in the material realm and does not have any purpose in heaven, so remarriage is not out of the question, and is supposed to be beneficial to the people involved.
Genesis 2:18 (NKJV) And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NKJV) Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
While Christians have the blessing of agápē love from God and philia love from other Christians, there is no condemnation regarding eros love when it is within the context of a marriage sanctioned by God.
I Corinthians 7:8-9 (NKJV) But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
It’s not wrong to want to be married or to have a family of your own, but the legalism camp are attempting to prevent anyone from divorcing when it is necessary, and they also seek to prevent the divorcees from remarrying. This is the spirit of antichrist attempting to enslave us to the old law so that we will be disqualified from grace.
I Timothy 4:1-3 (NKJV) Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
When a church gets bogged down in legalism, they prevent people from listening to God and following His plans for their life through discernment of His will.
Matthew 23:13-15 (NKJV) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
I have no idea if God has any plans for me to remarry, but I am sure that whatever sins I have committed in the past are forgiven, and I know that He will not lead me into sin, or force me to go back into an abusive marriage. God does not give His children evil gifts, not does He chain them to children of Satan.
If by coming to Christ (or remaining true to Christ) you have lost your spouse, do not look at this as a punishment from God, but see it as His saving grace in your life. He will prune things away which do not serve the kingdom and He will replace them with things that do.
On that you can depend.
Unless otherwise noted, scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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