Genesis: The Book of God’s Kingdom – 09 (“The Ordinance of Marriage – 03”)
We continue with “The Book of Genesis”, specifically with the Covenant of Creation and the “Ordinance of Marriage.”
We have studied “The Creational Order of Marriage” and we have looked at some background of marriage and divorce in Old Testament times (e.g. the two Schools of thought – that of Hillel and Shammai); some current divorce rates and then we specifically explored how Jesus feels about divorce, as well as the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees’ with reference to Deut.24 and Mark 10:4.
Today we will be looking at…
o Exceptions to the Rule.
o Relationships with Unbelievers.
To refresh our memories – I remind you, that this topic is part and parcel of our study on the book of Genesis and that we are busy with the covenants that God made in the beginning and we saw that we have two main covenants, namely, “The Covenant of Creation” and “The Covenant of Redemption.”
So, we know that God hates divorce and we also saw that marriage was designed by God to be a visual representation of Christ’s relationship with his Bride, the Church (Eph.5). We as Reformed Christians acknowledge the fact that Christ will never, ever brake this relationship (this covenant) between Him and His bride. With this in mind, we must always remember, that we as Church – we as individual saved believers, are never and can never be fully truthful to Him our Bridegroom (1 Joh.1:8) and when we are untruthful, He will forgive us, shower us with His grace and love and He does this over and over again. The prerequisite for this ongoing forgiveness and grace, is that we must repent of our sins and not repeat the same sin over and over, or consciously and deliberately sin and then want forgiveness afterwards – we cannot and must not play with sin, because God hates sin ~ “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Ps.5:4).
We must always keep the words of Joh.8:11 in mind, where Jesus spoke to the woman who was caught in adultery (remember – the punishment for adultery was death by stoning) ~ The Pharisees wanted Jesus to condemn her, but He said in vs.7 ~ “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After the Pharisees heard that, they went away and Jesus asked the woman in vs.11 ~ “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” If we therefore, sincerely confess our sins and turn away from it, the Lord ~ “…is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Joh.1:9).
3. SCRIPTURE READING:
Matt.19:1-9 (ESV) ~ “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? 4He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. 7They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” And Matt.5:31-32 ~ “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
3. EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE:
When looking at divorce and the grounds for divorce there are different viewpoints amongst Evangelicals. There are the “hardliners” (e.g. John Piper) and the “latitudinarians” (e.g. John MacArthur). There are also various viewpoints amongst these two main schools of thought, e.g. you will get people amongst the “latitudinarians” that believe that the only grounds for divorce, is fornication and a situation where one partner who is an unbeliever, wants to divorce, the believer in the marriage must let him/her go. Then there is a group amongst the “latitudinarians,” that says that there is a third reason why believers may divorce and that centres around the whole issue of abuse (when I’m using the word “violent” or “abuse” – don’t only think physical, also think emotional and mentally).
I also want to mention the fact that there are even situations (or churches) where some of the leadership is “hardliners” and some are “latitudinarians.” In Bethlehem Baptist Church where John Piper was the pastor for many years, he and a handful of the leadership were “hardliners” and the majority not, and in the end, after many years of discussion, the leadership formulated a policy with the “latitudinarians'” viewpoint as official policy.
Let us look briefly at the different viewpoints:
o The Hardliners: The “Hardliner’s” viewpoint boils down to the words in Ecc.9:9 ~ “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” They say that there is a reason the traditional marriage vow includes the phrase “till death do you part,” because God intended it to be a commitment for life – during good times and bad and therefore there are NO grounds what so ever for divorce. Piper calls this his “radical, crazy, conservative, narrow, hard-nosed, very needed view in our divorce-happy culture.”
The “Hardliners” use Matt.5:32 and 19:9 as their point of departure ~ “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt.5:32).
The “latitudinarians” base their viewpoint for grounds to divorce mainly on these verses and they call these verses, the “exception clauses.” The “hardliners” however, don’t see this as an exception clause, because of the use of the Greek word πορνεία (porneia) and they say that this Greek word refers to “fornication,” i.e. “sex prior to marriage.” In other words, Jesus is not saying, when He forbids divorce and remarriage, that a sexual sin before marriage should keep you from marrying. And He did that because Joseph and Mary were in that situation in Matthew, which is the book in which these “exception clauses” occur. At least Joseph thought Mary was in that situation (because she was pregnant before they were married and he knew that he did not sleep with her), and so he was going to put her away and not marry her, because he was a just man and didn’t want to marry someone who “porneia” outside wedlock. And Jesus is saying, “I don’t have that situation in mind when I forbid divorce.” As a result of this way of reasoning, the “hardliners” do not believe that there is an “exception clause,” except if a man (or woman) finds out that his/her spouse had an intimate relationship with someone else before their marriage. Therefore, the believer should never consider divorce and if he divorces, he may never ever marry again, because that results in him/her committing adultery and the one that marries such a divorced believer also commits adultery.
They (i.e. the “hardliners”) also refer to Eph.5:25 where Pauls says ~ “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Then they ask the question, “Has Christ ever divorced the Church, for the Church’s adultery?” They refer to marriages in the Old Testament that was sinful and unacceptable to God, e.g. there were polygamy and concubines involved in many marriages, but still there was no divorce amongst these Old Testament figures. In similar fashion, God never divorced His people for these corrupt marriages – yes, He has put them in exile, but never forsook them.
o The Latitudinarians: When it comes to grounds for divorce, the “latitudinarians” also refer to Matt.5:32 and 19:9 (the two “exception clauses”). The first is found in Jesus’s use of the Greek word (yes, you’ve guessed right) πορνεία (porneia). They say that this is a general term that encompasses sexual sin in general, such as adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and incest – in other words, sexual immorality in general. When one partner violates the unity and intimacy of a marriage by sexual sin – and forsakes his or her covenant obligation – the faithful partner is placed in an extremely difficult situation. After all means are exhausted to bring the sinning partner to repentance, the Bible permits release for the faithful partner through divorce.
The second “exception clause” is found in 1 Cor.7:12-16 ~ “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”
The second reason for permitting a divorce is in cases where an unbelieving spouse does not desire to live with his or her believing spouse. Because, “God has called us to peace” (vs.15), divorce is allowed and may be even preferable in such situations. When an unbeliever desires to leave, trying to keep him or her in the marriage may only create great tension and conflict. Also, if the unbeliever leaves the marital relationship permanently but is not willing to file for divorce, perhaps because of lifestyle, irresponsibility, or to avoid monitory obligations, then the believer is in an impossible situation of having legal and moral obligations that he or she cannot fulfil. In such cases, the brother or sister is not under bondage and is therefore no longer obligated to remain married and the believer may file for divorce without fearing the displeasure of God.
I’ve already said that there is a second group amongst the “latitudinarians,” that feels strongly about the fact that there is a third ground for divorce and that is when a spouse is or becomes dangerously abusive (not only physical abuse, but also mental and emotional abuse).
Although the Bible is silent on the issue of spousal abuse as a reason for divorce, it is obvious what God expects a marriage to look like (Eph.5:22-33), and abuse is contrary to everything godly. Physical violence against a spouse is immoral and should not be tolerated by anyone. No one should remain in an unsafe environment, whether it involves a family member, friend, employer, caregiver, or stranger. Physical abuse is also against the law, and civil authorities should be the first ones contacted if abuse occurs.
Furthermore, the Bible does not use the words emotional abuse, but there are plenty of characteristics of emotional abuse addressed in Scripture. Emotional abuse can take many forms, including verbal assaults, threats, and insults; and non-verbal rejection, neglect, and isolation – when these behaviours are recurring, they become a pattern of emotional abuse. The most common victim of emotional abuse is a spouse, a child, or a friend who loves the abuser and is unwilling to walk away from the situation.
We have examples of emotional abuse in the Bible: Abigail was almost certainly married to an emotionally abusive husband – Nabal is described in 1 Sam.25:3, 14 and 25, as “harsh and badly behaved…” We also find other examples in Scripture of emotional abuse, e.g. King Saul (1 Sam.20:30), etc.
1 Cor.13 also makes it clear that emotional abuse is wrong ~ “Love is patient and kind… it is not arrogant or rude, etc.” (1 Cor.13:4-5). According to the Bible’s definition of love, should an emotional abuser be silently tolerated? Does love require that one overlook the abuse and “persevere” through the pain? The answer to both these questions is “no.”
God allows divorce in the event of abandonment and adultery, but even those circumstances do not automatically trigger divorce proceedings; divorce is still a last resort. In the case of infidelity, it is better for two Christians to reconcile than divorce. It is better to extend the forgiveness and love that God freely gives us (Col.3:13). Reconciliation with an abuser, however, is far different. Reconciling with an abusive partner depends completely on the abuser proving his or her reliability, which could take years – if it happens at all. Separation from an abusive spouse is likely to be long-term.
This third group believes that marriage is a covenant, the terms of which are the vows. Habitual, unrepentant, violation of those vows destroys the covenant and entitles the wronged spouse to divorce, though does not require it. In other words, as in the case of an adulterer and an unbeliever, the abuser, also forsakes his or her covenant obligations.
The Bible also sets out covenant-destroying sins, of which desertion and abuse is one ~ “…but if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (1 Cor.7:15). Abuse is a form of desertion because the evil conduct violates and repels the victim.
I must admit to the fact that this ground for divorce cannot be based directly on Scripture – we cannot quote specific verses to justify divorce on grounds of abuse, but we can justify it by looking at the whole context of the Scripture, e.g. the whole issue of the sanctity of life; the fact that God hates and forbids murder (that includes emotional “murder”), etc.
The “latitudinarians” who adds this third ground for divorce, believe that a Christian who is in an abusive situation, has the right to leave such a relationship. Amazingly, many believers (especially women) remain in such relationships and live in the hope that things will improve. Some believe that it is their Christian duty to submit to this treatment because, in the case of women, their husband is “the head of the house” and their marriage vows are important. This is a distortion of an important truth concerning family relationships and the roles the partners should be playing. It is true that God has made the man the head of the home, but there are laws of God that are equally important.
We have already referred to the Biblical view of the headship of the man to the woman which is defined in terms of the relationship that Christ has to man and God has to Christ. Christ has taken upon Himself the obligation to be our Saviour and Redeemer. As a result of this relationship with us, He takes the initiative to care and protect us. True headship therefore includes the responsibility to think about and take the initiative in advancing the true wellbeing of the other person in the relationship. The role of headship is not one of ownership and superiority but of friendship and equality.
Just as we have a responsibility to respond to Christ by loving Him and obeying His laws, so the wife responds to her husband who acts as true head – not a bossy, unbiblical tyrant – and seeks to advance her husband’s interests. Any other notion of headship is not Biblical.
God doesn’t hate the legal process of divorce; he hates the sins of desertion, abuse and adultery that cause marriages to break down.
Marriage involves the mutual submission of both partners as a voluntary act of companionship (Eph.5:21-22). Order, structure and headship emerge in the family as each partner serves the other (Eph.5:23-24). Sacrificial love should be extended to each other, modelled on Christ’s total commitment to the Church (Eph.5:25). This nurturing, caring love includes physical and emotional nurture, care, tenderness, provision and protection (Eph.5:28-29). The marriage relationship should reflect Christ’s relationship to the Church (Eph.5:32). Christ’s love for us provides us with a model for relationship with each other. Marriage is therefore a covenant that ensures that both parties will be committed exclusively to each other.
If these elements no longer pertain, the covenant of companionship fails. If a caring and loving relationship is damaged, the marriage contract is broken, because it can only remain in force as long as both parties keep faith with each other. If one party does not comply to the agreement and rejects all appeals to return to the conditions laid down, the contract fails.
The sixth commandment says ~ “You shall not murder.” The word “murder” is used as a figure of speech to cover all forms of violence. Jesus said in Matt.5:22 ~ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Physical violence, but also “emotional murder”, breaks the sixth commandment. Sin is committed and the covenant of companionship is dishonoured. It is absolutely unbiblical for any marriage to be violent or for you to stay in a home where violence is present. As a Christian, you have an obligation to seek protection for yourself and your children if your husband is violent. It is your responsibility to retreat from such a situation.
Last but not least, unlawful divorce, adultery, spousal abuse, and neglect are so evil because of marriage’s revelatory purpose. Each of these violations, in their own way, convey untruths about God’s relation to His people, especially when they occur in Christian marriages. Adultery or abuse on the part of one of the spouses who is a professing believer conveys that Christ is unfaithful to His own and has so little regard for His bride that He is willing to injure her.
While God created marriage; loves marriage and says that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church, Jesus didn’t die to save marriage. He died to save people. He sacrificed His life to protect His sons and daughters, and hates when they are abused, violated, and humiliated, particularly in a relationship that is supposed to picture Christ and the Church.
Denying legitimate divorce e.g. for a woman, who suffers at the hands of a man whose actions mock servant leadership and so blaspheme the name of the Christ whom he is called to represent and allows such an unrepentant man to continue in his abuse and blasphemy, is unbiblical, furthermore it is a breaking of such a man’s wedding vows – “till death do you part.” If we want to value and treat marriage rightly, we need to think about Jesus! His care for His Church is not an abstract idea. We see it lived out in the Gospels every day in purity, tender care for e.g. widows. Christ’s love for His Church found very concrete expression on the cross – willingness to die to save His beloved people.
When we address the whole issue of remarriage after divorce, we must again, distinguish between the “hardliners” and the “latitudinarians.”
o Hardliners and Remarriage: The “hardliner’s” viewpoint on remarriage is short and straightforward and they base it mainly on Matt.19, Luke 16 and Mark 10. They believe that no married person has any grounds for divorce and therefore has no right to remarriage after (in their eyes, illegitimate) divorce. And if such a person divorces and remarries, both that person and the person with whom he/she marries, commit adultery.
o Latitudinarians and Remarriage: As we’ve already seen, our Creator allows divorce in certain circumstances, because in this fallen world gross sin often destroys the trust upon which the foundation of marriage is established.
The first ground for divorce according to the “latitudinarians” as we have already seen, is to be found in Matt.19:9 ~ “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” We see two things here: First, if the one spouse commits adultery (or sexual infidelity if you want) with someone outside the marriage, the innocent spouse may file for divorce and is not sinning by divorcing his/her spouse, and the innocent party is allowed to remarry.
The second thing that stands out here, is that a person who divorces illegitimately, or on unscriptural basis, commits adultery when remarrying, and the person who marries this divorcee, also commits adultery.
Acts of “porneia” grossly betray the one-flesh covenant as we find it in Jer.3:1 (“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the Lord”). We must however also note, that Jesus does not mandate divorce when a spouse commits adultery, He only permits the offended spouse to divorce. More often than not, the wisest action is to save the marriage, if the offended party is willing.
The second ground for divorce is separation of the unbeliever. Paul says that if an unbelieving spouse wants out and departs, the believer is then free. Now Paul doesn’t define what free is. Does that mean free just to let him go and then live a life of celibacy and singleness? Some people take that view. I think that Paul means free from the marriage contract, from the oaths and obligations; that person is now considered single and, I would say, free to remarry.
I’ve also mentioned a third ground for divorce, namely abuse. When it comes to remarriage after abuse (again – remember: When I’m using the word “violent” or “abuse” – don’t only think physical, also think emotional and mentally), it becomes much more difficult to motivate remarriage from the Scripture and therefore I could not find anybody who says that abuse is a ground for divorce, who can also positively say that such a person can remarry – this is a very grey area and my personal feeling is that it is better to be “safe than sorry” and I would advise people who divorce on grounds of abuse, rather not to remarry.
There is however one thing that is for certain and that is that a spouse that divorces from his/her spouse on the grounds of abuse, cannot remarry the abusive spouse again, because that would be tantamount to marrying an unbeliever if there was no genuine confession of sin and a radical “born-again turnabout” – remarriage in this case will take time in other words.
5. RELATIOSHIPS WITH UNBELIEVERS:
Speaking of believers and unbelievers, according to 1 Cor.7:39 [“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes (and then this part…), only in the Lord.”]. As well as 2 Cor.6:14-15 (“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?”). A believer and unbeliever are not allowed to get married and therefore not even allowed to be in a long-term dating and/or pre-marital relationship. Why? Because, dating on a more intimate basis or be involved in a permanent relationship has the aim to eventually get married and create expectations with the unbeliever that a marriage will result out of the relationship and the danger also exists that the believer in such a relationship will get emotionally more and more attached to the unbeliever and will want to get married to him or her eventually – and a believer is not allowed to marry an unbeliever.
6. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
What does the Bible say about marriage? It says that marriage is a blessing given to us by God to make our lives richer and more fulfilling. It says that a good marriage not only draws us closer to our spouse, it can also draw us closer to God. “He who finds a wife [or she who finds a husband] finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord” (Prov.18:22).
What is my position? In short, I see myself and identify myself with the “latitudinarians,” and with the inclusion of the third ground for divorce, namely “abuse.”
How must we handle divorcees and people who are in the process of divorcing a spouse? We must be sensitive; we must be supportive if there are grounds for divorce; we must pray for divorcees and in addition, we must always keep Jesus’ words in Matt.18:21-22 in mind ~ “Then Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven'” (also see Luke 17:3-4).
We are to come along side divorced people while they grieve and while they, where ever necessary, repent of anything that needs to be repented of and that we stay by them through painful transitions. We should fold them into our lives and help them find a way to enjoy the forgiveness that there is in Christ. Strengthen them for a new kind of obedience which is also in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s the first way.
The second way of loving, caring and showing compassion is to articulate a hatred for divorce and to show as fully and as compellingly as we can why God hates divorce and do everything we can to help people avoid it. It is not easy to do or follow both these ways, because some feel that when you are doing the first you’ve been lax on the second and some feel that when you are doing the second you’ve been unkind in regard to the first. But, if you neglect either you’re not a fully loving person.
Lastly, when a fellow-believer is in sin when it comes to either or both divorce or remarriage, we (all of us – without exception) have the obligation to get involved in that person’s life and address the sin in that person’s life.