One major problem in American Christianity is divorce. The problem is so prevalent that it is now on par with more worldly culture which encourages divorce as a readily available option (not to be confused with saying “desirable option”). This immensity of the problem has cause major backlash, that proof-texting Christians have pursued verses to counter this negative trend, leading to negative trends in their own right.
Matthew 5:31 is the primary text for combatting divorce. The grounds, according to Jesus is Adultery. There is some context to remember in this case. First that the men were the ones being addressed since they held the power to divorce and women did not. Second, the adultery charge gets double meaning since many of God’s laws address taking care of women in marriage and not leaving them to die. The reason for this was that women generally were not able to survive on their own and divorce was practically a death warrant since it left them to their own devices for survival (such as prostitution). Jesus is here addressing the men who would dismiss their wives over things like burnt toast or being too unattractive. Though our culture is very different and more egalitarian, there is still application for today, since many divorces end up in huge legal battles the end up hurting both of the spouses and children if any. We Christians must learn that God’s heart is not oriented towards harm, but is instead for peace. If we are His ambassadors, we must make His peace the center of our homes.
1 Corinthians 7:10-17 is an interesting passage that is not preached as often. In it Paul says that two believers must stay together if married. Paul also says that if someone does leave another believer somehow, then they must remain single. He must have been thinking of Christ’s passage on adultery and marriage (Matthew 5:31-32 & Luke 16:17-18). He doesn’t call her an adulterer however, even though she is divorced. If there is a non-Christian involved, they must stay if the opposite party is willing. It makes no mention of pagan prostitution practices, which would be considered adulterous in the Biblical tradition. The Christian practices holiness and brings it into the home , which was a form of evangelism. However, if the unbeliever told them to leave, then they may leave (if a woman, they would have no choice and it would be up to the church to take care of the shamed woman). Obviously, Paul has some almost confusing statements when considering Jesus’ words. We must keep in mind that evangelism and peace towards others was a major goal of Paul’s. Christians must honor each other’s marriages and not try to shame them. Even an unbelieving spouse must be shown grace and peace. We must work hard to love those we marry, and not in the sense that we stick it out and maybe some happiness will come of it. We are supposed to love them so much that we would strive to bring them joy and celebration over this wonderful union.
Luke 16:17-18 brings some perspective on adultery and divorce. In this section Jesus says all parties commit adultery if a divorce takes place. Jesus is addressing the entrapment and systemic evils that the Jewish people were practicing in those days. The problem was that the men were charged with the caring of women, but if evil men are told to care, they care in the only way they know how, and that is in selfishness. Such evil needs to be combatted. When the Church begins to confront these evils, we begin to imitate Christ’s mission to convict people of treating another person with evil intentions and being a shelter for the oppressed. The main sin being addressed is adultery, which was expressed by prostitution or seduction. Prostitution and seduction, however, was usually a last act of survival after divorce or in some other desperate circumstance.
The problem in the church is legalistic tendencies to entrap the abused party by placing laws based on misunderstood texts. This leads to a few points to consider about the mind of the person involved in this issue (some of this comes from a recent Greg Boyd sermon on the matter):
1) Abuse of people runs rampant and is not limited to the couple directly involved in the marriage due to legalism. Legalism has rules to simply say no to divorce with no concern over the details of the situation. The legalist makes the surface text about adultery the only legitimate circumstance (Although they usually focus on the Gospel passages and ignore the 1 Corinthians 7 passage). The receptive parties of these rules, if they find themselves in a miserable situation, pray that the other will commit adultery. This would give them a loophole to escape the marriage. This shows the legalist perspective on divorce leads to a desire for escape that does nothing to reflect Christ to others and seeks the selfish desires.
2) The abused people end up scared of the spouse, the religious leaders, or the Bible. The fear of the spouse is natural and should exist. The fear of the Church or the Bible is not healthy, since it is a fear that says, “Keep silent, and accept your fate,” as if God has designed an evil, inescapable plan for marriages. The Bible actually preaches otherwise.
3) Legalism also leads to a negative perspective on divorce. People either have to stick it out in misery or run away in misery. This is not a biblical approach to marriage, especially when Adam says of Eve in Genesis the partner is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” Yes, loyalty is the driving factor of the institution of marriage, but it does not mean the marriage is a cold, distant relationship. We can know each other on many levels, including, but not limited to, mental, emotion, and physical.
One more passage to consider about marriage is Matthew 22:23-30. In this passage, we see that after the resurrection there will be no marriage. The only relationship that will be recognized is the one that makes us loyal to God. No one else will hold any sway over us. The point to realize in this verse is who or what are you loyal to? Does this institution hold your loyalty over God? Does it hold so much control over you that you would oppose God’s will in order to support this holy institution? We must keep loyal to God. It is only in that loyalty that we will know how to handle divorce, adultery, abuse, and marriage.
What are your perspectives on marriage and divorce? Are we in an inescapable system? Or is their mercy in the Kingdom of God?