9 – Divorce
SADLY, marital problems are very frequent today and may happen to men and women who are committed disciples of the Lord Jesus. We need to know what to do when they occur and what the Bible teaches us about the breakdown of a marriage. The first thing is to pray about it, and to keep on praying. Ideally we should do this together with our husband or wife and we should pray as soon as we are aware of any problem. It is also advisable to seek help from within the ecclesia. This may be difficult but we should seek out a wise brother or sister with whom we can share the burden of our problem and who can help us see the right thing to do. If there is no one locally who can help, then it may be possible to write to a brother or sister in another country for advice.
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11)
This passage (a command from the Lord) clearly teaches that, for brothers and sisters in Christ, divorce is contrary to his commandments and that remarriage to another partner should be out of the question.
We have seen in Matthew 19:5, 6 that God intended marriage to be the union of one man and one woman for life, and from Malachi 2:15,16 that God hates divorce; so as a general rule the Bible forbids brothers and sisters in Christ to divorce their partners and remarry someone else. Is there any exception to this general rule?
Some sincere Christadelphians feel that in Matthew’s Gospel the Lord Jesus Christ makes an exception and permits divorce for marital unfaithfulness, although others, just as sincere, feel that because of the original word used, Jesus is only referring to the betrothal period before the marriage was consummated (e.g. Mary was found to be with child during the betrothal period with Joseph - Matthew 1:18, 19). On two occasions Jesus said:
“Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
Similar thoughts are expressed in slightly different words in Matthew 5:32. Just how these words are interpreted becomes a matter of individual conscience and we must prayerfully decide for ourselves what they mean for us and how we interpret them.
If we believe that Jesus docs not forbid divorce for unfaithfulness in a consummated marriage, then we must go about it in as Christlike a way as possible. In other words, we must not divorce our partner as soon as the adultery is committed. That would he quite contrary to his caching. It is our duty to be patient, gentle and forgiving. We must even love our enemies.
So if, for example, a brother’s wife commits adultery, he must do all in his power to win her back to him. And he must do this in a spirit of humility and kindness, not behaving like a judge.
First, he should ask himself, “Is it partly my own fault that my wife has sinned? Have I done something that has provoked her into doing this?” Usually, if a man is really honest with himself, he will realise that he has not been a perfect husband. He will think of ways in which he might have treated his wife better, and he will want to be a better husband in future.
In this humble spirit he should try to persuade his wife to repent and to return to him. If she does, he should take her back and forgive her. Afterwards he should never talk about the sin she once committed. True forgiveness menus forgetting the past.
Even if she refuses to repent, he must not give up. He must keep trying to regain his wife for a long time (see the example of Hosea in Hosea 1-3).
Only when it is quite certain that she will not repent should he give up trying. For example, if she joins herself firmly to another man and has children by him, then her former husband must face the sad fact that his marriage has completely broken down.
What should he do then? Without any doubt, the Bible principles we have looked at tell us that he should remain unmarried for the rest of his life. By so doing he would show that he respects these principles of Christian marriage: one man, joined to one woman, for a whole lifetime.
Unfortunately, many men are not strong enough to stand the strain of living without a wife for the rest of their lives. This seems to be why Jesus makes his exception. He understands our human weakness, and he does not put upon us a burden so heavy that we cannot bear it.
So a brother whose adulterous wife has left him long ago and will not come back is given leave to take another wife. He is not advised to do so, because it would be better if he did not, but the Lord recognises his weakness and his need to marry again if he cannot manage without a wife. Similarly, a woman whose adulterous husband has left her permanently may also be given leave to marry again, although the ideal is to remain unmarried.