Last week we wrote about Jesus’ teachings on divorce, which can basically be summed up as: don’t get a divorce. Marriage is permanent, so getting married to someone else after a divorce could be considered adultery. The goal should be to reconcile with your one spouse when possible.
But, you may say, what about when there is abuse? Adultery? Abandonment? What if you get divorced and then become a believer—are you supposed to go back to your unbelieving ex? There are many difficult scenarios that might cause someone to consider divorce, and I feel for anyone who has endured them. Let’s look at some of these painful scenarios and consider what Scripture would have us do.
What about when there is abuse?
If your spouse is abusive, it’s often best to create physical (geographic) separation, with the support of other Christians and lots of prayer for your spouse to change. God does not want you facing violence from a spouse, but God’s best would ultimately be to change the heart of your spouse and give you a restored marriage that honors Him.
When we talk about “pursuing reconciliation,” in extreme circumstances that can look like safely separating and beginning to pray for God to save your spouse. It does not mean moving back into a violent situation.
We have seen God change the hardest and most wicked of hearts. I know that in these circumstances it can seem like it’s impossible that they will ever change. But Jesus said that “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
What if one spouse is not a Christian? Or one becomes a Christian after divorce?
This common but very difficult situation is why we teach single Christians to only date people who love Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:14). However, if you are already in a marriage where only one person is a Christian these verses apply:
If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. – 1 Corinthians 7:12b-13
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. – 1 Peter 3:1-2
God’s heart is for everyone to know Him. Your relationship (or lack thereof) with God has eternal consequences, which outweigh even a lifelong commitment like marriage. God may use the faith of one spouse to show His own love for that person and awaken their faith. Pray for your spouse, and attempt to show the love you have been shown. This will be difficult, and requires walking in dependence on Christ, His people, and His Spirit.
What if one spouse abandons the other?
But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. – 1 Corinthians 7:15
This is a debated verse. Does it mean the abandoned, believing spouse is free to marry someone else? I don’t know. I do know God’s best would be reconciliation between the husband and wife, and reconciliation between the estranged spouse and God. It’s also clear that God has called you to peace. Would you consider praying for your spouse?
What about when there is adultery?
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. – Matthew 19:9
Does Jesus give an “out” in Matthew 19:9 for spouses who have been cheated on? Some believe that yes, He does. But others believe that Jesus was referring only to adultery during the betrothal period, before marriage.
See, in Jewish culture, breaking off a betrothal or engagement required actually getting a divorce. The only circumstance where such a broken engagement was allowed was if you discovered your fiancé was “sexually immoral” or had committed “pornea” (the word Jesus uses here). It is interesting that Jesus uses the word for sexual immorality and not the word for adultery in marriage, which appears later in the verse. It is also worth noting that Matthew was written to a Jewish audience who would have known about the betrothal period, whereas Mark and Luke, which were written to a different audience, did not include this exception clause when relaying the same story. For a fuller explanation, you can podcast the message we did on the subject.
Either way, though, both sides of that debate generally agree that reconciliation is always preferred to divorce. Adultery is terrible and painful. If this is apart of your story it will take time and work for healing to take place on both sides. But our God is bigger than adultery, and we have seen Him time and again take marriages with this painful past and bring them to full restoration. Would you consider praying for God to work in your heart and your spouse’s heart to bring healing and restoration?
A final word:
This topic is difficult and highly debated. But what’s not up for debate is this: God loves you. He is crazy about you. He wants to give you life. Whether you are single, married, divorced or somewhere in-between, He loves you. He never planned for divorce; in fact He says He hates it. But He doesn’t hate the divorced person. He loves them.
It might sound like Jesus is idealistic when He talks about marriage and divorce. But remember who He is. Jesus is in the business of changing lives, and there is nothing He can’t do. If your situation seems impossible, He’s exactly the One you need to turn to.
If you have been through a divorce and need to process through this more, we’d love to help. Please check out Watermark’s DivorceCare ministry, which also meets on Tuesday nights.