Matthew chapter nineteen tells the story of the Pharisees confronting Jesus concerning the issue of divorce. Not only were the Pharisees promoting easy divorce, but they also represented a system that was completely male dominated. Therefore, a man could divorce his wife for literally any cause and send her away without property, support, or children. This is how far they had fallen from God's original plan, but they were convinced they were justified in their brutal practice that disposed of women on a whim and left children insecure and emotionally scarred.
Here is what the text in Matthew 19:3-9 (NKJV) says:
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?' And He answered and said to them, 'Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning "made them male and female," and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.'
They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?' He said to them, 'Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.' "
In response to the Pharisees' attempt to get Him to sign off on their convenient divorce philosophy, Jesus refuted their position and restated God's original plan for marriage in Genesis 2:24. Not only did He oppose them with the Word of God, but He also dropped on them the bombshell that God doesn't recognize a divorce unless there is sexual immorality involved. Jesus told the Pharisees that their practice of giving certificates of divorce for "just any reason" was a human act without divine approval. In other words, what they thought was legal divorce and remarriage, God saw as rebellion and adultery.
Also, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that marriage in its essence is not a legal union; it is a spiritual bond that is created by God. Therefore, marriage is sacred, and anyone who works to separate a marriage, except for immorality (also, in 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul includes abandonment) is interfering with the work of God and is sinning. I realize that many of you who are reading this article may be taken back by this text in Matthew nineteen. We live in a culture of convenient divorce and disposable relationships, much like in the days of Jesus. Because of this, many people think man has the legal right to change marriage to his liking with the stroke of a legislative pen. Anything that is legal is acceptable - right? Wrong!
Most of us have grown accustomed to the normality and legal ease of divorce. We are no longer shocked when people divorce, and we even have many support systems to help people recover from it. Even though I realize there are victims of divorce who didn't want it and need love and care to help them heal, there is also in every divorce at least one person who is sinning against God by violating a holy union. These people don't need divorce recovery; they need divorce repentance. They have selfishly separated a sacred covenant. They have denied a fellow human being the same blessings of forgiveness, love and loyalty that have been freely and faithfully granted to them by God.
Even though God isn't a God of condemnation, He is a God of absolute truth and eternal standards. The reason He holds so tightly to His standards isn't because He is a cold, legalistic taskmaster. It is because He is a wise Father who loves His children and reveals His Word to them to help them succeed. Trusting God and accepting His Word brings success. Mistrusting Him and rebelling against His Word brings failure - in the case of marriage, divorce. Malachi 2:16 tells us that God hates divorce. We must not make the mistake of thinking that He hates people who have been divorced. He loves people who have been divorced. He simply hates the act of divorce because of the damage it does to the people He loves so deeply.
The Pharisees were giving in to easy divorce because they thought the Biblical plan of marriage no longer worked. Jesus told them that their hard hearts were the reason it didn't work for them, and He stood His ground to defend God's original and only plan for marriage. America, like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, is denying that marriage works anymore. We openly mock it and mistrust it, and the statistics prove it. Fewer adults are married in America than ever before. The marriage rate has dropped 44% in the past four decades, and if the trend continues, we are quickly approaching a day when the majority of Americans will be unmarried.
I don't know if you've noticed, but even though people throw rocks at marriage, the options to marriage don't work. Being single for a lifetime is the pits for most people, because only a small minority of people can accept a celibate lifestyle. If you are sexually active and single, you live a life of insecurity, fear of disease and lack of intimacy. Also, research proves that the rage of the 90's, cohabitation (living together outside of marriage), compounds every problem of marriage. Cohabitation increases the likelihood of abuse, infidelity, break-up (before and after marriage), and virtually every problem people try to avoid by living together instead of marriage or before marriage.
So then, we are back to marriage. Okay, let's say we buy into the fact that marriage is the right thing to do. But what if things go wrong? We've got to have a back door opened so we can get out if we have to - right? You know, once we get married, we have to at least entertain the possibility of divorce in case things go badly - to keep us and the children from suffering. Even though we don't intend to go through a divorce, after all, it isn't the end of the world. Sure, it means a tough year or two, but after that, everyone's better off - right? WRONG!
According to a book called Second Chances by Sandra Blakeslee and Judith Wallerstein, everyone in a family affected by divorce is still suffering ten years later - especially the children. In their book, which chronicles years of extensive research into the long-term effects of divorce, they astutely observe that even though no-fault divorce may be a legal truth, it is an emotional lie. Also, they recognize that divorce is the only area of life in which we use children as bullets against each other. Their secular research reveals the sinister nature of divorce and the fallacy of the belief that divorce is less painful than a difficult marriage. Unless a marriage contains sexual immorality of a serious nature or significant abuse, divorce is a more painful solution that the problems it tries to solve.
Marriage isn't perfect, but it works if you enter it with an awareness of its spiritual nature. It is a blessing if you pray and prepare yourself for it. Marriage works if you submit yourself to the authority of God and make His Word the foundation for your marriage and family. It gets better every year, and the pleasure, friendship and intimacy grow when you make marriage a priority and keep it surrendered to God. Sure, there are problems, but because of your faith in God and commitment to the marriage, you can work through your problems, which makes your relationship even richer and your marriage stronger. The best marriages I've ever seen aren't the storybook, "happily ever after" type - because those don't exist. The best marriages in the world are made up of two very different people who commit to God and each other and weather the storms of life together with their hearts anchored in their common faith.
If you've been divorced and you were an unwilling victim, I pray God's healing grace for you, and I hope your future is full of joy. If you are a child from a divorced family, you understand better than I do how painful divorce is. I pray God will heal you and give you the grace to succeed in marriage and to see it through His eyes, not the eyes of your past. If you are divorced and realize you were a willing party to it and were wrong, you need to repent to God and change your attitude about marriage. If you do, God will forgive you. Divorce isn't the unforgivable sin. He will forgive your mistakes if you sincerely repent - which means being willing to submit to Him and change your ways.
Let me summarize. Marriage is still God's best plan, and it still works when we honor His Word. Divorce is hell. God loves us enough to tell us the truth and to not agree with us when we are deceived. The devil hates us and tells us lies to get us to reject the truth and self-destruct. Divorce is one of his lies. It is time for us to see divorce for what it is and to reject it from our vocabulary as we embrace God's plan for marriage.
Author & one of America's leading authorities on family and marriage relationships,
Jimmy Evans is Founder & CEO of MarriageToday. He and his wife, Karen, host MarriageTodayTM, a national television program. Jimmy is the author of many resources including the books Marriage on the Rock, Freedom From Your Past, 7 Secrets of Successful Families, and Resolving Stress in Your Marriage. He also travels nationwide presenting life-changing truths for couples through his marriage seminars and conferences. Jimmy and Karen have two children and two grandchildren.