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Divorce Is Not An Option

Malachi 2:16 - "For I hate divorce," says the Lord.
"If things don't work out we can always get a divorce." All too often these days we find that this is the unspoken attitude of persons contemplating marriage. The "old-fashioned" ideas of "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part" don't carry much weight in our society any more. My life and my happiness and my fulfillment are what's important. And besides, if both partners more or less agree to a divorce, why not? Why should two potentially dynamic individuals stifle themselves by trying to grind it out in an unhappy marriage over the years, only to remain static and unfulfilled and miserable? Divorce would be so much better in the long run! This present-day concept of marriage may sound reasonable, but it's definitely contrary to the Word of God. Growing Christians must be extremely careful that they don't become brainwashed by current social thought. Our culture is constantly exerting enormous pressure on us. If we're not careful, we can be gradually and unknowingly conformed to our culture's way of thinking. Any Christian who is considering marriage in the near future (Yes, that could be you!) needs to be reminded that according to the standards of Scripture, divorce is not an option when the honeymoon is over.

Divorce is not a biblical option because the Lord says, "I hate divorce." It is significant that this verse comes to us from Malachi, which was written at the close of the Old Testament period (5th century BC). Even though divorce had become commonplace in Israel by this time, God had in no way "lowered" or changed His standard with the passing of time. God gave His concept of what marriage is to be when He brought the first man and woman together in the beginning. God declared that "a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Man was not to separate what God had joined together. That was our Lord's comment about the divine institution of marriage. (See Matt. 19:5-6.) How can we dare to make divorce an option--unless we have a low view of God and His Word?

Divorce had raised its ugly head within the circles of God's people as early as Moses' day. Most likely the people of Israel had picked up the idea of "divorce on demand" during their long stay in Egypt where divorce was prevalent. While it's true that the Law of Moses did permit or tolerate divorce (see Deut. 24:1-4), this allowance was certainly not in the original divine design. In fact, when our Lord Jesus was questioned about this section of the Law (Matthew 19:7-9), He made it clear that divorce was never a divinely-sanctioned option--"it was not this way from the beginning!" Notice that the Lord even changed the wording of the Pharisees' question in order to drive home the point that divorce was man's idea, not God's. They asked, "Why did Moses command...?" Jesus answered, "Moses permitted..." The permission was not because God approved of divorce, but because man's heart was hard--stubborn and perverse. Divorce has never been a God-approved option--before the Law, under the Law, or under Grace. The sins that God in His grace forgives don't become any less sin than they were "from the beginning."

Our Lord went on to declare that divorce was tantamount to adultery (Matthew 19:9). The strictness of the "narrow" view is confirmed by the disciples' shocked reaction in verse 10. In light of such Scripture, can any Christian reasonably take a more lenient position than the Son of God did? If Jesus is Lord, then divorce cannot be an option--regardless of changes today in concept, culture or church.

The Lord Jesus gave one exception only to the no-divorce rule--only one! If one partner in the marriage is unfaithful to the other, then divorce is permitted. This permission was not given to encourage divorce, but rather to expressly forbid it for any other cause. The reason that divorce is permitted for adultery is that this sin is of such a nature that the very concept of marriage is broken. Marriage is consummated when the man and woman become "one flesh" in physical union (Genesis 2:24). When physical union takes place outside of marriage, the "one flesh" reality still holds, as specifically stated in 1 Corinthians 6:16. Thus, in the case of adultery, the original divine yoke is broken, and divorce is permitted as a legal recognition of the break which has already taken place in the sight of God. The unfaithful partner will one day have to answer to God Himself for daring to sever the bond which "God has joined together" (Matthew 19:6).

Why does God hate divorce? One reason is that the severing of the divine union distorts the important truth that God wants to convey through marriage. God ordained marriage not only for the purposes of propagation and enjoyment, but also to model the relationship between God and His people. The constant and permanent love and care and forgiveness that God extends to us is to be replicated in marriage. This concept isn't the wishful thinking of some romanticist who's removed from the real world, but rather the direct teaching of Scripture. In Ephesians 5:22-33 husbands and wives are commanded to reflect the love relationship between Christ and His Church (vs 22-29). The truth of our forever union with Christ is to be portrayed in the bond of marriage (vs 30-31). What a mind-blowing revelation! No wonder the Scripture calls the "one-flesh" reality a great mystery (v 32).

Divorce shatters the picture! The wonder and beauty and depth of the love relationship between Christ and His Church cannot be communicated through a broken marriage. When problems develop in a marriage (and no marriage is without its tensions), every effort should be made to restore the perfect model. These efforts can even become part of the picture, since Christ works at our relationship by continually loving and forgiving and restoring His Church, with all its imperfections. Working marriages can reflect this dynamic relationship, but divorce can never mirror the on-going relationship between us and the Lord. For this reason, even in the case of unfaithfulness, the ideal solution would be forgiveness rather than divorce. (Read the book of Hosea.) Yes, although divorce is permitted for the faithful partner, it is not demanded. Restoration and reconciliation rather than divorce is a far better picture of how God deals with His people. We can praise God that He doesn't opt for divorce every time we are unfaithful to Him.

"But is it worth it all?" some Christians ask. "Why shouldn't I get a divorce anyway? Sure I'll admit that it's wrong, and that God's beautiful picture will be messed up, but my marriage isn't a beautiful picture anyway. And divorce is better than years and years of unhappy marriage." Or, "I'll just be one of many forgiven divorcees in heaven. And don't tell me you haven't made a lot of mistakes yourself--you just happened to `luck out' in your marriage." This kind of commentary is common among Christians these days, and it contains a certain logic. Yes, we all make mistakes, but it's shallow thinking to equate "mistakes" with selfishly and deliberately separating "what God has joined together." Looking at the context of Malachi 2, we see that the Lord is addressing the Israeli men who were divorcing the "wives of their youth" for their own selfish reasons. The same was true of the conduct of the 1st century Pharisees--the historical context in which our Lord made His comments in Matthew 19. With these contexts in mind, the comments in this paper are not primarily addressed to a faithful partner who has tried to keep a marriage together, perhaps even through years of unfaithfulness or abuse. They are directed towards those believers who selfishly think that "It's God's will for me to be happy" and think therefore that they are justified in their deliberate, disobedient walkout. There's no way that kind of thinking can come out of the Bible. Is it possible to be really happy in this life if we deliberately and selfishly sever a divine bond, bring pain and anguish to others, and go directly against the will of God? What about the eternal future? Will we have to "shrink away from Him in shame at His coming" (1 John 2:28)? Our position in eternity should certainly carry more weight than our pleasure now. And what about the pain our selfish actions bring to the One who unselfishly gave His life on our behalf? Won't it be worth it all to look into His eyes some day and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?

Many of you may not be married yet, and may be asking at this point, "Why all the concern?" Let's just say that it's preventive counseling rather than crisis counseling. If, through this writing, a few growing Christians see the importance and seriousness, as well as the wonder, of marriage then it will have served its purpose. Since God hates divorce, then we can be sure that he is equally concerned about helping us make the right choice in marriage. Don't rush into marriage! Wait on God for His choice, and remember Proverbs 3:5-6. The Lord knows our needs and our desires. "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4).

Some of you who are reading this are married and may even now be struggling to keep your marriage together. Remember that God is still a God of miracles. As He can heal a diseased body, so He can heal a troubled marriage. He can even give you, supernaturally, a new love which was never there before! Working at marriage is not easy, especially when divorce is convenient and no longer carries much of a stigma in our culture. God's Word teaches that divorce is not an option. For many Christians this is a hard doctrine to swallow. It doesn't sound like something a "loving God" would decree! But sound doctrine is not always easy to handle. Paul challenged Timothy to endure sound doctrine, as well as hardship (2 Timothy 4:3-5). Timothy was told that the time would come when many Christians would not endure sound doctrine. They would prefer to listen to teachers who were preaching what they wanted to hear. How true today! Many Christians refuse to endure the doctrine of marriage as taught by our Lord Himself. Growing Christians are challenged to submit to the Word of God and recognize that divorce is not a biblical option.

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