God Wants More For You. So Do We.

Are There Circumstances in Which Divorce is Allowed?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 39

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, welcome back everybody. Let me say a quick word of apology for being absent recently. My family and I, we were on vacation and it was a much needed vacation for us, but now we are back and so we’re here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, are there circumstances in which divorce is allowed? That’s a good question. So as we begin this discussion, I want to make three things abundantly clear. First, God designed marriage to be a lifelong covenant commitment between one man and one woman. We read this as early as Genesis 2, 24.n The Bible says, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. So notice that God’s design for marriage is for one man and one woman to be joined together, becoming one, and staying that way for the duration of their lives. In other words, divorce was never part of God’s plan at all. In fact, God feels so strongly about the husband and wife remaining together that he literally gives a portion of his spirit to bless the union. We read in Malachi 2, 15, Did he not make them one with a portion of the spirit in their union? So God gives himself to people in their marriage unions with the intention that they would stay together forever. So that’s the first thing that we need to make clear is that God created marriage to be a lifelong covenant commitment between one man and one woman for the duration of their lives. The second thing that we need to make abundantly clear is that God hates divorce. Malachi 2, 16 says, I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel. The Lord hates to see a broken covenant, which is what marriage is, and so he hates divorce. Regardless of the reason for the divorce, God hates divorce. The third thing that we want to make clear here at the start is that God’s desire is always for reconciliation in marriages that could end in divorce. In other words, even though there are some biblical allowances for divorce, which we’re going to get into in just a little bit, it’s God’s desire that no marriage would ever end in divorce. One reason for that is because we learn in Ephesians chapter 5 that marriage is meant to serve as a visual reminder of the gospel. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the groom and his people are his bride. So in a Christian marriage, husbands are meant to imitate Jesus and love their wives as Christ loves the church, and wives are to submit to and love their husbands as the church submits to and loves Jesus. And so our marriages are meant to be a picture of Jesus’s union with the church. Now listen, our relationship with Jesus isn’t perfect, and that’s our fault, by the way, not his.Too often we are adulteresses, we are unfaithful, we run after other things and love other things more than Jesus. But listen, Jesus doesn’t abandon us in those situations. He pursues us time and time again. And we see a picture of this in the story of Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer, knowing full well that she would be unfaithful to him. And when she was unfaithful and tried selling herself off as a prostitute, again, God tells Hosea to go and buy her back, literally go and redeem her, go and pursue her again, love her again, even though she has been unfaithful to you. And it serves as a picture of God’s faithfulness to his people. Even when we go astray, God always pursues us and draws us back to himself. The same is meant to be true of our marriages. Even if the marriage is hard and falling apart and could be ended in divorce, it’s God’s desire for husbands and wives to be reconciled to each other as Jesus reconciled us to God. So we have to understand those three things before we can even begin this discussion of when divorce is allowed according to the Bible. We need to understand that God intends for every marriage to be a lifelong covenant commitment. We need to understand that God hates divorce. And we need to understand that it’s God’s desire for husbands and wives to be reconciled to each other. So with those three things in mind, we can now begin to consider the biblical allowances for divorce. And there’s some debate about whether or not there are actually two allowances for divorce or just one. And so we’re going to start with the one that’s universally agreed upon, and that’s sexual immorality. The Bible says in Matthew 19, this is Jesus speaking, he says, I say to you, whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery. Now that same thing is said in many other places throughout scripture, but that’s Jesus saying that divorce is permitted in situations that involve sexual immorality. It’s important to note that the Greek word used there for sexual immorality is the Greek word pornea. I think we can all hear a very familiar English word there, but that word pornea, it literally is a word that refers to sexual sin in general. And so the Bible says that if a spouse is engaged in some form of sexual sin, divorce is allowed.It’s not encouraged, it’s not required, but it is allowed. So let’s say for instance, if a spouse watches pornography or pornographic type media, which features a lot of nudity or sexually graphic scenes, or if a spouse has had an affair or has engaged in some other sort of sexual sin, the Bible does allow for divorce. Now before we say anything else, I want to remind us again of the three important truths that we have to keep in mind. God intends for marriage to end only by death, God hates divorce, and God’s desire is for reconciliation. I keep saying these things and you’ll hopefully bear with me for being repetitive, but I keep saying them because what I don’t want to happen is I don’t want someone to listen to this and realize that their own spouse has committed this type of sin and then rush to get a divorce. Please remember that God desires for every marriage to be restored and renewed and for spouses to be reconciled. He doesn’t give up on us and abandon us when we fail Him, and He desires that we as His people imitate His character.And so sexual sin is the first allowance for divorce that we read about in the Bible. The second allowance is abandonment, and we read about this in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, verses 13 through 16. This is what the Bible says. 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? Now notice immediately that this passage addresses mixed marriages, that is, marriages between believers and unbelievers. The Bible says that if a believer is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever leaves or abandons the believer, then the believer is freed from the bond of marriage and can be at peace. And so we need to note a few things here about this passage. First, the Bible is making clear here that a marriage should not be ended just because a believer is married to an unbeliever. So sometimes people say, well, I married an unbeliever, therefore I need to end the marriage. And the Bible is saying here, no, actually you do not.And in fact, that is not an allowance for divorce in the Bible. In fact, the Bible is saying here that often in these mixed marriages, the unbeliever is one to the Lord by the conduct and faith of their spouse. They may be the one who is instrumental in leading their spouse to salvation. And so the Bible does not allow for divorce simply because a believer is married to an unbeliever. Second, the abandonment must be physical, meaning the unbeliever must physically leave the house and the relationship. That’s what the Greek word refers to here. It’s a physical leaving. And I point that out because sometimes this verse gets applied too broadly. And some say if a spouse has checked out emotionally or emotionally or spiritually abandoned their spouse, then divorce is permitted. They’d say, okay, well, they have abandoned me emotionally. They’ve abandoned me spiritually. They have checked out of the marriage. That should be an instance when divorce is allowed, correct? And the Bible is saying, no, actually that’s not the case. The abandonment must be a physical abandonment. And third, we have to remember that these verses specifically apply to mixed marriages between believers and unbelievers. Sometimes people try to apply these verses to Christian marriages in which a believer might leave another believer, but that would be a wrong application simply because the Bible specifically identifies the situation it’s addressing as being mixed marriages. However, there is an interesting situation in which abandonment can apply to Christian marriages. For instance, for one believing spouse to leave another believing spouse would be a sin. The two wives are to be joined together as one flesh and live together. The exception I would say here would be if there is physical abuse in the relationship and the abused spouse needs to get away for safety reasons. But excluding abuse, in this situation, the believing spouse who has left has committee sin by leaving their spouse. So then we need to appeal to Matthew chapter 18 in which Jesus talks about church discipline and how to deal with sins within the church and the sins of believers. You’ll remember that a person must first go and talk to the person who has sinned one on one and call them to repent of their sins. If the person who has sinned does not listen or repent, then a person must then take one or two along with them to talk to the sinner again and call them to repent. If the person still doesn’t listen or repent, then the sin must be told to the church and the church is encouraged to call that person to repentance. The Bible then says that if the person won’t even listen to the church, then they are to be to us as an unbeliever. That’s exactly what it says in Matthew 18, 17. If the person has not followed through with any of the church discipline process, if they have not been obedient to it, if they have not responded to it, if they have refused time and time again to repent and they are continuing in their sin, the Bible says they are to be to us as an unbeliever. So don’t miss that. If the believing spouse who left refuses to repent and return to their spouse after the church discipline process is followed, then that person is to be considered an unbeliever. And since the person would be considered an unbeliever who left, then divorce would actually be permitted in that situation. So those are the two allowances for divorce in Scripture. Divorce is allowed in circumstances of sexual immorality and in situations involving abandonment. However, remember this please, that God’s desire is for every marriage to be restored and renewed and for spouses to be reconciled. If a situation happens in which a divorce is biblically allowed, it is never encouraged or required. We ought to remember God’s love for us and His faithfulness to us, how He constantly pursues us and seeks us out even when we abandon Him and even when we are unfaithful to Him.Now I know this is hard for us to do because we aren’t God, but I know for a fact that His grace is sufficient for you and can see you through any situation. So if you’re going through one of these situations in your own marriage, I would encourage you to seek out the counsel of your pastor or pastors. That’s one of the reasons they’re there. It’s to counsel you and to help you through times like this. Seek them out for help and wisdom and counseling. But most of all, I would encourage you to seek out God who can get you through absolutely any situation in your life. Thanks for the question. I really appreciate it and I look forward to answering more in the future.