Christian response to divorce, part 3

March 21, 2006

What have we learned so far? Simply that the church is not doing a great job at holding marriages together and that the Scriptures do not have a lot to say on the subject of divorce. But the most revealing statement on divorce is one the Bible fails to make: The Bible never calls Divorce a sin.

You can search until the cows come crashing through the door, and you will not find divorce called a sin. But I will say this: Divorce is often the result of many sins, some too hidden to see and some too numerous to count. And, divorce can often lead to sin.

There are some who divorce so they can “legally” have sex with others. This fits in that same category of sin as those who have abortions as a means of birth control. It certainly isn’t that common and most of us (I hope) would see both of those decisions as sinful and self-absorbed. Certainly anyone who divorces their partner because they don’t want to love them any more is sinning. The decision not to love is the greatest sin of all (if it is possible to rate sins…this one has the most consequences). I remember hearing Ravi Zacharias saying that he received an invitation to a wedding where they promised to “love each other until our love runs cold”. As a response, he sent paper plates as a wedding gift. Appropriate. As believers in Jesus, we are not told we have the “option” to love our spouse.

In Matthew 19, however, we do have an interesting problem. When asked why Moses commanded marriage, Jesus says:

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Mt 19:8). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

As I showed last time, this is not a blanket statement about all divorce. It was dealing with the tendency of some Jewish men to divorce their wives in order to have “legal” sex with another woman. They were dumping their wives willy-nilly, without any thought that they were doing wrong. The Sermon on the Mount also tells us that looking upon a woman with lust is committing adultery with her. Adultery is an attitude of the heart, and not brought about by a legal decree. If someone divorces to try out sex with others, they are the same as the people who lust after other women without divorcing. Jesus is saying that divorce brought about by the callous planning of a husband to get another woman is just wrong. Notice in this passage it does not mention women. So does that mean if a woman divorces her husband this doesn’t apply to her? The reason that Jesus doesn’t mention women here is because women didn’t have the same options of divorce in his day. What this tells us is that this teaching on divorce was tailored specifically for this kind of situation and not for every divorce imaginable.

Sin causes divorce. Violence tears away at the covenant. Infidelity shows that someone has already left the covenant. Abandonment is unarguable: If they will not stay, we cannot make them. This is especially true now in America where “no-fault” divorces can be filed and the partner can say nothing of it. Lying breaks marriages. Lovelessness breaks marriages. Both of these are sins. Alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, bitterness, rage, abuse all are sins that ruin marriages. However, that doesn’ t mean that everyone is guilty of sin in a divorce.

Jeff left his wife for another woman and did this while his wife was 8 months pregnant with their fourth child. Was she a “sinner” because he divorced her? Would she be held guilty if she married again. Bob molested his 7-year old son. His wife caught him and pressed charges. In all of the court trials, Bob would not admit abusing his son. He never repented. In the courtroom, he accused his wife of being a “cold fish” as part of his rationale for unloving behavior. He then claimed after being found guilty of molestation that his wife’s “religious abuse” drove him to it. Are we to believe that she was an equal partner in the charade that their marriage became? Joe came home one time to find out that his wife had packed up and left. Their 16-year old son reported that mom claimed it was because Dad worked too much. Joe found out a week later that she had moved in with her lesbian lover. She wouldn’t allow him to tell their son, and filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences”. To this day, the son believes that the dad was the reason the divorce happened.

All of these people, and hundreds of others that I personally know were the victims of someone else’s sin. Yet each of them also had to give up positions of leadership they held in the church because they were now part of the pariah group called “the divorced.”

I was at a convention some years ago where we were deciding on how divorce should affect the license of a pastor. An old friend of mine got up and spoke and eloquently painted the picture that every instance of divorce needs to be handled differently. He was in tears (as we all were) by the time he sat down. On the flight home, I was seated beside him on the plane. We talked about our years together when he had been a professor in seminary and I was one of his students. We talked about his wife’s death from a short illness and his son’s suicide as a result of losing his mother. I could tell in the conversation he had worked through a lot of the pain. Then he told me of meeting a wonderful woman who was bringing such incredible joy to his life. He went on and on about her qualities and her devotion to the Lord. He never thought he would love another woman again, but….well, loneliness is everything it’s cracked up to be.

Then he paused. “But, I can no longer be a pastor if I want to be with her. You see Mike, she’s divorced.” Thoughts of the Prince of Wales giving up the British throne in the 1930’s came to mind; British law states that the heir to the throne cannot marry a divorcee. The woman my friend was marrying had been together for two years with her first husband and endured his physical abuse and alcoholism. That had been some thirty years in the past. Now she had met this lovely man and they wanted to share their love with one another in a covenant relationship. The church loved them both. But once they loved each other they were part of that shunned group because of her divorce.

When did divorce become a sin? Why have we, in our striving to categorize people, lumped all divorcees into the same category? I think it stems from our desire to get a slot to fit all of life into, neat little convenient slots so we’ll know how to think in advance without ever thinking in real time. Or some variation on that theme.

What is so wrong with treating every divorce uniquely? What is wrong with doing what Jesus did in the above passage and treat contemporary problems as they show up instead of looking for “one size of divorce fits all”? Marriage is not spandex.

Here are five rules I propose for treating the divorced among us. I believe these fit the 2006 church and the culture around us without being legalistic:

1. Those who get a divorce should be allowed time to heal and shouldn’t be pressured to be involved in regular ministry for the first year of that healing process.
2. The children of divorcees should be “adopted” by the congregation and opportunities should be taken to listen to their anger and fears.
3. Both parties of the divorce should be encouraged to stay in the church if possible (perhaps attending different services). They then should be asked to get involved in post-divorced recovery and prayer.
4. Husbands should be encouraged to submit their finances to a mentor in the church who will help them go above in beyond in providing for their family. In divorce, most men’s expendable income goes up and the woman’s expendable income goes down. Usually by about the same percentage. The church can aid in the equitable distribution of funds.
5. If the divorce cannot be prevented (and sometimes it cannot), the church can have a time when the family is prayed for and where all church members are encouraged to help in the practical necessities of life.

Next time, I want to talk about what the church can be doing to help heal the hurts of divorce and how to prevent more divorces from happening.


  1. Thank you Pastor Mike. Your blogs have brought tremendous healing to my heart. You have all helped me through this difficult time in my life & for that I am grateful. Thank you for your prayers.


  2. Breanna: Divorce is a difficult time for everyone concerned, but especially for mothers with small children. I hope that the encouragement you receive from God’s people more than outweighs the few that have other opinions and approaches to divorce

  3. Breanna, in this difficult time pray that the Lord will keep your heart soft and keep your eyes focused on Him. Choose to keep your eyes on the Lord during this time when some say hurtful things. Choose not to believe the lies of the enemy (because he’s throwing many at you now). Continually ask for prayer and never think you are asking to many times for prayer covering during this season in your life.

  4. Thank you very much. I have been struggling with being alone. It is not easy. There are days I want to cry & days I am happy. Ultimately, I have noticed in myself that I have a huge desire to serve & to be obedient & yet, at the same time, I expect to be, for lack of a better word, disposed of. Like ‘you’re done here,’ ‘you didn’t do this enough or that enough’. I spent the last 9-10 years of my life telling myself that I did something wrong to make him cheat on me, to make him talk to other women, to make him desire other women. I turned myself inside out for him to desire me, which he said he did, but ultimately, he did not. I struggle with my self-worth in this area.

    Since coming to Gateway, I have felt & found that though I felt completely & utterly rejected on every level possible, that God did not reject me. God did not dispose of me & other Christians did not as well. They just reacted the only way they knew to, unfortunately. I have found a new family & for that I am grateful beyond comprehension.

    Thank you again.

  5. is it wrong to divorce my husband? i dont want him to touch me because he doesnt touch me in a loving way, its a sexual way. he drinks everyday and chews tabacco. he absolutly repolses me in every way. he was sober for a year when we got married and he is a christian. i cant imagine going on married with the bad feelings i have. i truly feel they will not go away. it hurts to say, but i think i truly hate him. my 5 year old told me something that he did something to her and i want to beleive her but he cried and said it was not true. im so lost…this is not a way to live. please help if you can.

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