A question about divorce:
One big question from me:
When marriage was blessed in the name of God (Mat 19:6), is divorce “allowed” especially when a third person involved (Mat 5:31-32, Mat 19:7-9)?
Sometimes even we have forgiven and give second chances (which unfortunately it didn’t work), but losing trust probably can never be restored. So if there’s no reason to be together again, how a marriage should be salvaged even though it may force us into life of unhappiness and full of distrust/lies? That would probably be worse, moreover if children are involved.
Thank you for your very important question. Indeed, divorce is one of the greatest problems of this age, as people go deeper and deeper in their rebellion against the Will of God and corrupt the image of God in them more and more.
It’s clear that the following expressions in your question have the following meanings:
“Marriage was blessed” = God has joined a man and a woman together in the covenant of marriage.
“a third person involved” = adultery.
First of all, let’s examine the first verse in your question:
“so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6)
In this verse there are very basic and important truths that we should understand very well before we begin to think about divorce or about anything that is in relation with the blessed covenant of marriage.
Let’s see those important truths in this verse, one by one:
1. Who is the one who joins a man and a woman together in the covenant of marriage?
The verse says: “God has joined together”. It is God who joins a man and a woman together in the covenant of marriage, and not a human. There is a misunderstanding among many Christians: they think a Priest or a pastor can marry them or can join them together in marriage. But the Bible clearly says that no human can join them together nor can he separate them. Marriage is not only for Christians; for instance, a Muslim man and a Muslim woman who are married before a sheikh are not less married than a Christian couple married before a Priest. Since the beginning of creation, the only one who had the right to join people together in marriage is God, and this is the fact for all humans in all religions. The minister of that religion or Faith (Priest or pastor or sheikh…) or the representative of the government (in case of civil marriage) are only the witnesses of that marriage, and they are not the ones who join those two people together in marriage. Only God can join them together. You are married before a Priest or a sheikh or a pastor, and not by them. But in common language we say that “the pastor married us”, and that means that we stood before the local church of Christ, and that the people of God with their pastor were the witnesses of our marriage, and God joined us together.
One may ask how God joins a man and a woman together in the covenant of marriage and makes them one flesh. The Bible answers: By His Word. He says, and it happens. This is the way God does everything: By His Word. Let’s read this together:
“For the married woman is bound by law to her husband so long as he is alive; but if the husband should die, she is clear from the law of the husband: so then, the husband being alive, she shall be called an adulteress if she be to another man; but if the husband should die, she is free from the law, so as not to be an adulteress, though she be to another man.” (Romans 7:2-3)
In this passage you see that there is a law called “the law of the husband”. God by His Word joins a woman to a husband, and she’s bound to that husband by that law so long as the husband is alive. This law was revealed since God created Adam and Eve, and said: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) What you just read is the Word by which God joins a man and a woman together in the covenant of marriage. Nothing and no one else joins them together. If while the husband is alive she goes and becomes the wife of another man, whatever are the reasons, she will be called an adulteress. Only if the husband dies she can be the wife of another man without being an adulteress.
So, in brief, God joins a man and a woman together in the covenant of marriage by His Word or truth, and they are joined together until death. This is the Will of God concerning the covenant of marriage.
2. They are no longer two, but one flesh.
The above verse (Matthew 19:6) says also that this man and this woman who were joined by God in the covenant of marriage are no longer two, but one flesh. Your wife is your flesh; she’s your body!
Let us also remember a very important truth here: That marriage is the image of the unity of the Church with Christ. Evolutionists and materialistic scientists have deceived themselves and others when they considered humans as animals. The truth is that humans are not animals. No animal is made in the image of God. Everything in us is an image of the Nature of God, and we have corrupted that image in the Fall. One of those aspects of the image of God in us is marriage. No animal ever gets married! It is a big sin against the covenant of marriage to compare it with the interbreeding of animals! It is a shame and a big proof of the corruption of the human heart to reduce the covenant of marriage to sexual relations! Marriage is an image of the unity of Christ with His Church, and this is a very holy mystery (the union of Christ with His Church):
“for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.
This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:29-33)
“Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”
But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1 Corinthians 6:16-17)
Marriage should be built on the unconditional and sacrificial love with which Christ loved the Church. It’s the same love of Christ that gives and sacrifices without asking for anything in return.
We will see what all this means concerning divorce after a few paragraphs.
3. Who can separate the married couple?
No one but God. Matthew 19:6 clearly says that no human has the right to separate what God has joined together. So divorce is a big rebellion against the Will of God. Only God has the right to separate what He has joined, and He does that in one way: death. Only in death that one flesh is separated legally.
After we have clarified these basic truths, we can pass to the discussion of divorce. But if we are not well convinced about the above truths, let us not try in vain to understand the rest. Moreover, let us not even pass to the rest of this article if we are not convinced of what God says in Matthew 19:6, as this truth has the biggest impact on our true understanding of marriage and divorce, as we will see.
What does all this mean concerning divorce?
1. and 3. As God is the one who joins a man and a woman together in marriage, then divorce is a rebellion against the Will of God. A man who decides to divorce his wife places himself in the place of God who alone has the right to separate what He has joined together. If Adam didn’t fall in sin, there would not be any divorce in the history of humanity. All sins and spiritual problems are the result of Adam’s rebellion. And what was the deception that was behind the rebellion of Adam? Answer: “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) Man wanted to be the master of his “destiny”, and to be independent of his Creator. You commit the same sin of rebellion when you decide to divorce. God has decided that only death can separate you from your wife, and you decide to change this rule! And this is a big rebellion. When you do this, you commit adultery, a sin against the covenant of marriage.
2. and 3. As they are no longer two, but one flesh, then how can you ever separate them? Indeed, divorce is an impossible thing! Nothing but death can make separation. In the Bible, “death” means “separation”: the physical death is the separation of the soul from the body, and the spiritual death is the separation of a human from God who is the source of spiritual life. And nothing but death can legally separate this one flesh that was made one in marriage.
So as a married man, wherever you go and whatever you do, your wife is with you, united with you, and no one can make a separation. Whenever we talk about your body, we are at the same time talking about her body; whenever we talk about her body, we are also talking about your body. Whatever happens to her body, the same has happened to your body in the sight of God, and whatever happens to your body, the same has happened to her body in the sight of God. This is why “The wife has not authority over her own body, but the husband: in like manner also the husband has not authority over his own body, but the wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:4)
Now, if you really understand this truth in its deep spiritual sense, you will know how much important this truth is in our understanding of divorce. Indeed, once you understand this very important truth, you will see what Jesus was explaining when He said that by divorce there is an adultery that happens! Let’s see this together.
“But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, not for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery; and he who marries one put away commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
This is indeed one of the verses that you mentioned when talking about the “third person involved” or adultery. In fact, our Lord went beyond the word “adultery”, and He used the word “fornication” which is larger that “adultery” as we will see.
This verse says that if you put away (i.e. divorce) your wife, and you marry another, you commit adultery. As we have seen above, when you decide to divorce you make rebellion against God’s Will and you sin against the one flesh or the covenant of marriage, and that’s adultery. As your wife is one flesh with you, then when after divorce you go and marry another woman, you are in fact taking your previous wife’s body with you into that sinful relation with the other woman, which is a big abomination. That’s adultery. And as your wife is one flesh with you and is not legally separated from you before God, then whoever marries her after divorce commits adultery with her, as she’s still married. And the Lord even goes further than this in another passage where He speaks about divorce:
“But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except for cause of fornication, makes her commit adultery, and whosoever marries one that is put away commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)
If you put away your wife, she’s not alone responsible of the adultery that will happen when she marries another man, but you also are responsible: you make her commit that adultery! Why? Because you both are one flesh! Whatever happens to her happens to you! More: If you commit adultery while still married, you make your wife also commit adultery, as you both are one flesh. If she commits adultery while still married, she sins against your body too. And Jesus even goes beyond all this, as the standard of God’s Holiness is much higher than any of us may think: He says that even looking to a woman with lust is adultery! “But I say unto you, that every one who looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Then whether married or not, when you look to another woman with lust, you have already committed adultery with her. For instance, if you watch or read pornography, you commit adultery with every woman you see or read about! The same is true about women too, of course. So imagine what a big adultery is the sin of pornography that is destroying lives and marriages in these days! And the same commandment applies to women in a larger manner. The verse says that whoever looks to a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her in his heart! Then if a woman seeks lustful eyes, whether with her indecent behavior or with her immodesty or in any way, she’s participating in that adultery!
Notice that the lack of depth in all these truths is the main reason behind the disrespect that the people of our generation have toward marriage. Indeed, many people even misunderstand this “except for cause of fornication” in Matthew 5:32 and “not for fornication” in Matthew 19:9. They think that this means that in case of fornication one has the right to divorce his wife, while Jesus was saying the exact opposite!! First, make sure to notice that Jesus didn’t say “except for cause of adultery or marital unfaithfulness” as many people like to read it. He used the word “fornication” which means any sexual immorality. It’s the Greek word “porneia” from which we have the English word “pornography”, and it means any sexual immorality. What kind of sexual immorality passes through your mind? Well, whatever it is, that’s fornication. So if Jesus indeed meant to say that you have the right to divorce your wife and that your wife has the right to divorce you in case of fornication, then each time you look to a woman with lust for her your wife would have the right to divorce you! If in any way you watch pornography, then your wife will have the right to divorce you! If your wife is immodest and makes other men lust for her, she commits adultery or marital unfaithfulness with other men, and thus you would have the right to divorce her… But Jesus was not saying this. Jesus said that in case of fornication the adultery already happened, so divorce doesn’t add anything new to adultery other than your rebellion against the Will of God concerning marriage. Except for the cause of fornication from your side or from your wife’s side, you commit adultery and you make your wife commit adultery when you divorce. But if fornication happened, then adultery already happened, and thus you only add your rebellion with divorce. If you join yourself to a prostitute while married, the sin against the covenant of marriage has already happened, especially that you have made yourself one flesh with a prostitute against the Will of God: “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”” (1 Corinthians 6:16)
And as marriage is the image of the union of Christ with His Church, then divorce involves a theological problem concerning the truth that this image expresses. If you say that divorce is “allowed”, then you say that Christ may put away the Church, whatever are the reasons. Jesus will keep His Church and will sanctify her with His Word, and He will not allow that sin destroy the union that His Church has with Him. In the same way, a Christian does all things to keep the union of the one flesh that was made one in the covenant of marriage and does not consider divorce which is a rebellion against God’s Will and an adultery against that one flesh.
The above is the spiritual deep meaning of marriage and divorce. You notice of course that a natural man who is not born of the Spirit cannot understand these things, as God says:
“But [the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
So don’t expect a person who is not born of God to understand these things; he actually thinks they are folly! And even if he wants to agree with them, he will agree in a legalistic way and not in the Spirit, and so he will try to keep these things as a law and not with love for God. Therefore, the natural man tries to find justifications for divorce, as by nature he hates all what God loves and he loves all what God hates.
Now, let’s see some justifications that people try to give in order to make divorce “acceptable”…
Can anything justify divorce?
In fact, this question can be asked in another way: Can anything justify lack of sacrificial love?
For a real child of God nothing justifies rebellion against the Will of God.
Marriage makes you one flesh with your wife. Now, imagine you find out that you have a virus in your body, and you say: “OK, now I must kill this body, as there is a virus in it…” Imagine! This is not a wise thing to say (not to say more about it…) On the contrary, the Word says: “for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church” (Ephesians 5:29) If you really respect the fact that you’re one flesh with your wife, you won’t even think about killing this one body, whatever is the “virus” that is in it. On the contrary, you try to find a healing to that body, and you seek to kill the virus. In other terms, you won’t even consider divorce as an option.
You see that this kind of problems arises when one of the members of the couple is an unbeliever or a false believer. Such a case happens when a true believer marries an unbeliever or when one of the members of the couple repents and believes in the Lord Jesus after marriage. As God loves His children, so He warns us not to enter under such a yoke as marriage with an unbeliever: “Be not diversely yoked with unbelievers; for what participation [is there] between righteousness and lawlessness? or what fellowship of light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) So a believer must be very careful when choosing a wife. In fact, he must not be the one who chooses a wife, but he must rely on the Father of all graces and good gifts to choose for him a wife. The same is true for a believer sister. A believer knows that, before taking the step of commitment under the covenant of marriage, he needs to pass time with the Lord, seeking His Will in prayer and fasting, as only the Lord knows the best for us. But if you became a believer after marriage while your wife is still an unbeliever, you will have such problems too. Now, in all cases, sacrificial love, and not divorce, is the solution.
Having this principle of unconditional love in you, you will know how to solve with love and by God’s Grace any problem that may threaten your marriage. When mistreated, you will bear patiently, and you will pray for your wife, remembering that you also need forgiveness from her in many cases when you just think she’s the one to blame! Usually, the one who seeks divorce puts himself in the position of the innocent victim who has forgiven again and again and has given second chances, while in reality he also has done many sins against the covenant of love. And if you’re a real child of God, you won’t put your trust on anything good in your wife, but on the Grace of God that alone can make your wife a person who is sanctified to God. You can’t expect that your wife will naturally want to do God’s Will. As we have seen above, a man naturally wants to do the exact opposite of what God wants. So you will rather pray that the Lord may save your wife and lead her to the truth. In some cases, an unbeliever husband is led to faith by the faithful example of a sanctified wife, as the Word of God says:
“Likewise, wives, [be] subject to your own husbands, that, even if any are disobedient to the word, they may be gained without [the] word by the conversation of the wives, having witnessed your pure conversation [carried out] in fear; whose adorning let it not be that outward one of tressing of hair, and wearing gold, or putting on apparel; but the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible [ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price. For thus also the holy women who have hoped in God heretofore adorned themselves, being subject to their own husbands; as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose children ye have become, doing good, and not fearing with any kind of consternation.” (1 Peter 3:1-6)
All this needs a really godly life in obedience to the Word of God by the Spirit. Many choose the easier way of divorce, but that’s not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to love your spouse, to do good to her, to sacrifice much, and keep fighting for your marriage! This involves suffering and prayer, and struggle and fasting, and love will give you the strength.
In some cases, of course, the mistreating of the spouse becomes so extreme that the victim may need to take some extreme steps. If he/she is a believer, these extreme steps will not reach sin or divorce. By the Grace of God, he/she will try to find a way out that is not against the principle of love. He/she may need to physically stay away from the spouse in case of physical threat. The same may happen in case of psychological or spiritual abuse. But in each case, one should seek to know the Will of God, and not to act selfishly. And, of course, divorce is out of question, and remarriage is not even to be thought about. The Word of God is clear about these things.
You say that trust may never be restored… Well, that’s true as long as you put your trust on a capability in your wife to change herself. But, as I said above, you should put your hope in God alone. God alone can save your wife from the slavery to sin and thus restore your trust and her love and respect and faithfulness to you. But as people think selfishly, so they try to find a way out from the covenant of marriage in order to marry another man/woman. And we have seen that this is an adultery: if you divorce your wife and marry another woman, you commit adultery.
Besides this, you say that there may come a time when there is no reason to be together anymore… Well, is not the covenant of love, the covenant of marriage an enough reason? Is not your love for your wife an enough reason? If you really love your wife unconditionally, you won’t wait for something in return from her in order that you may consider that there is a reason against divorce. And even if you couldn’t really see the reason to stay with your wife, then does this give you the right to separate what God has joined together? Not at all.
It is to be noted that true love will not choose lies and deceptions as a solution, as I said above. If you really walk in love, whatever is the problem that threatens your marriage, that will not lead you to live a life of lies.
And a misunderstanding that many people have is that God called us to happiness. NOWHERE in the Bible it is said that we are called to fleshly happiness in sin. If you’re a child of God, you won’t be happy in sin; you won’t be happy in divorce. “There is no peace for the wicked,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 48:22) We are not called to an easy life of happiness in sin. On the contrary, we are called to a life of joy in the Spirit, and this means to carry our cross and to follow the Lord in the way of the cross: “because to you has been given, as regards Christ, not only the believing on him but the suffering for him also” (Philippians 1:29) And the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) What a big lie is this that says that Christians are called to a fleshly happiness!!
So the only way to save your marriage, to avoid the sin of divorce, and to save your children from all the consequences of such a sin, is sacrificial love. That’s the same love with which Christ loved us when we were still His enemies with our sins, and He came and gave His life for us!
A natural man does not have this love. This is a supernatural love, called “agape” in the Greek original of the New Testament. That’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22), and man cannot have it naturally. You need to be born again to have this love and to understand the logic of this love that the world cannot understand.
This was in brief the most important points concerning marriage and divorce. This is a subject about which volumes can be written. And each case or problem should be studied alone, according to what we have seen above from the Word of God. If you need more clarifications or have additional questions concerning the same subject, please do not hesitate to share with us below.
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ