Marriage Builders and Rebuilders
A Ministry to Those Separated or Divorced
Often I am asked by a divorced person, “Can I remarry?” In return, I ask, “At your wedding, did you vow ‘till death do us part’ or ‘till divorce do us part’? Didn’t you also vow ‘for better or for worse’?”
Making a vow is a very serious matter. Scripture makes this clear: “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” (Eccl. 5:4-6) (See also Ps. 56:12; Prov. 20:25.)
Marriage vows are made not only to each other but also to God. To your partner you vow to be faithful to the marriage, and to God you vow to be faithful to His message behind your marriage. A vow made to God by a man and woman and confirmed by the woman’s father cannot be treated lightly. (See Num. 30:3-4.) If a husband divorces his wife, she is free from his rule, but she is not free from the law of God. “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.” (Rom. 7:2-3)
Understanding God’s View on Marriage
Marriage of a man and woman was conceived in the heart of God. When God saw Adam lonely and incomplete in the Garden of Eden, He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18) After making Eve, God presented her to Adam, and he said, ‘“This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.’ (Gen. 2:23-24)
Because God made woman out of man, and they are joined together in the intimacy of marriage, God says they are consequently one flesh. What God joins together (by His design), man is not to separate.
Marriage is more than a man finding a mate. It is used throughout Scripture to illustrate the union that exists between Christ and the Church, His Bride. (See Matt. 9:14-15; Jn. 3:28-29; Rom. 7:1-4; Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 21:2,9; 22:17; 18:23.) God uses marriage as a human object lesson that illustrates Christ’s love to an immature Church. (See Eph. 5:32.)
You might, then, view marriage as a life-long dress rehearsal for the eternal relationship that is to exist between Christ and the saved through all the ages. Christ has no intention of abandoning or divorcing His Bride; therefore, He wants the model of that relationship (marriage of man and woman) to picture the same relationship.
Understanding God’s View on Divorce
Because God views marriage as the relationship that exists between Christ and the Church, He does not take lightly our casting off of the marriage vows and divorcing our spouse. “Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth (God is present to witness the vows made at a wedding) against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offering? Take heed then, to your spirit, and let not one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel. ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’” (Mal. 2:14-16)
Therefore, to divorce your spouse and remarry prior to your spouse’s death, God calls adultery. Four times in Scripture God warns that to marry a divorced person while their spouse is still alive is adultery: Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:17-18; Rom. 7:2-3.
Troubled marriages and divorces are running rampant in our society, and even in the church. Many in the church may secretly like to end their marriages and start over. But what will happen if you remarry and give the appearance of happiness and of God’s apparent blessing on your marriage? Unhappy married onlookers will conclude, “Why shouldn’t I do the same? It worked for them. Why shouldn’t it work for me?”
One of the greatest hindrances I have in talking people out of a divorce are their friends who tell them how happy they are since they have divorced and remarried. Based on this on happiness alone, God cannot bless your remarriage at the altar. If He were to bless such a marriage, He would only be weakening the marriages of many others.
When debating the right of a man to divorce his wife, the Pharisees used Old Testament Law to justify divorce and remarriage. Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures to emphasize the permanence of marriage since the beginning of time. (Matt. 19:8)
Staying Single After Divorce
Divorces today happen for a number of reasons. Divorce is a sin, albeit, forgivable. Some people use 1 Corinthians 7:15 as a proof text for being able to remarry after divorce. But the spirit of the Scripture teaches that we are to remain single after a divorce until our former spouse dies.
· “The wife should not leave her husband, but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
· “Are your bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” (7:27)
· “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is.” (7:39-40)
1 Cor. 7:13-16 deals with a Christian whose unbelieving spouse left because they did not want to live with a Christian. “Not under bondage in such cases” does not establish remarriage, because remarriage would be contrary to the whole spirit of the chapter. It is a challenge for the believing partner to pray for spiritual peace in their unbelieving spouse. Verse 16 clearly explains this: “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”
When a Christian has an unbelieving partner who leaves, the Christian demonstrates a lack of faith by marrying someone else and cuts off the possibility of God saving the partner and reestablishing the marriage. God permitted divorce for those who were backslidden in heart. Should that allowance become the rule for those who love God and who are living by the power of the Holy Spirit?
What About the Exception Clause?
Many people have used the exception clause in Matthew 5:32 (“except for the cause of unfaithfulness”) as an allowance for remarriage. A closer examination of the passage reveals that this was an allowance Jesus gave for divorce, not remarriage. On the same topic in Matthew 19:8-9, Jesus reaffirmed, “but from the beginning it has not been this way.”
Though this is an allowance for divorce, unfaithfulness does not necessitate divorce. I have helped with a number of couples work through the pain of marital unfaithfulness to strengthen the marriage. To work through the pain of unfaithfulness, yet not divorcing, is to demonstrate the patient, forgiving love God demonstrated towards unfaithful Israel, and the unfaithful Church portrayed in Hosea. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, prostituted herself, yet God told Hosea to wait until God turned her heart around and she came back home. The book of Hosea is a beautiful model of how to work through such pain.
In addition to this, there is strong support that the exception clause of Matthew 5:32 is in reference to three other conditions. Clear allowance for the dissolution of the marriage in each of these three conditions gives us clear direction as to what the exception clause refers.
· Incestuous marriages. 1 Cor. 5:1 states there was a man in the Corinthian church who was married to his father’s wife. This was condemned by Paul as an incestuous marriage. Such a marriage was to be dissolved. Incestuous relationships are also condemned in Leviticus 18.
· Sodomite marriages. A marriage between two men was condemned in Leviticus 18:22.
· Betrothal unfaithfulness. If a man found that his wife was not a virgin at the time he married her, he was given the option in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 to divorce her. This was the very situation Joseph thought he was in when he discovered Mary was pregnant during their engagement. Here is the true setting of the word “fornication” in the exception clause.
Goals Of A Rebuilder
1. Rebuild a heart that seeks after God.
The tendency for a divorced person is to seek the approval of others and to look for a new life partner. I encourage you not to do this. Instead, use the hurts and heartaches of your broken marriage to draw you closer to God. When earthly friends fail us, it motivates us to all the more put our delight and trust in the Lord. The benefit of seeking the Lord is that He will be working at our side when we strive to come in harmony with those whom we have offended.
“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Prov. 16:7) (See also Ps. 66:18; Lam. 3:40; Jer. 17:10.)
2. Rebuild the true picture of marriage that was in the mind of Christ.
Since God designed marriage as an example of our relationship with God, to change marriage standards would alter the truth taught in the Scriptures. God requires Christians to protect the marriage relationship.
3. Rebuild communication with your former spouse.
The key to rebuilding communication is learning what offended the partner in the first place. Time is often needed to sort out reasons and clarify the hurts. Don’t give a defense to their responses; just listen sincerely and express appreciation for their willingness to explain. Don’t pressure them to return to the marriage, though you would like that to happen. Whatever happens, you must purpose to be the person God wants you to be, no matter what the cost. Point out that because of your insensitivity you have not fully understood your failure in the past relationship. Explain that this lack of understanding will cause you to make the same mistake again in other relationships. Patiently communicate and watch for changes in your former spouse. Faithfully visit, help, and support your children. Build love for your partner by voluntarily investing things of value in your partner’s life., with no motive of personal reward. This voluntary giving is the key to conquering bitterness and building love. Do not begin dating anyone else. Make it known that you don’t intend to “look around.”
4. Rebuild better communication with the parents-in-law.
Ask for their forgiveness. Bring the children to their home during times of visitation privileges. Show your genuine concern for their son or daughter. Ask them to help you understand the full extent of your offense in the marriage. Do not even whisper any blame or accusation against your former spouse. Expect that every word you say will get back to your former spouse, amplified and even distorted. Use this “grapevine” system to express praise and gratefulness, even if they refuse to talk to you.
5. Rebuild your original marriage when possible.
God wants children to see that marriage problems, no matter how critical, can be used for good and can be overcome. They can be a motivation to build character, to learn power in prayer, and to gain new grace to do God’s will. One key to rebuilding a marriage is to involve the extended family. As many of the family as possible should be involved in rebuilding a fractured marriage and in giving support to the children during a time when they are separated from a parent. One of the most important ways they can be involved is to set aside special times for fasting and prayer as they call on God to bless the family. If your former spouse is being unfaithful to you and is having sexual relationships with anyone else, pray a “hedge of thorns” around them (Hosea 2:5-7). Pray specifically that they become confused in their unscriptural way of life; that their lovers will lose interest in them and leave; and decide to return to their spouse and restore the marriage.
6. Rebuild a teaching relationship with your children.
Your first responsibility is to clear your conscience with your former spouse, and then ask your children to forgive you for your offenses against their mother or father. Don’t place any blame on your former spouse, but explain to your children how God is teaching you and correcting areas in your life. You must win the confidence of your former partner by demonstrating to your children your ability to build loyalty to, and appreciation for, their mother or father. Expect that both praise and criticism will reach your former partner through your children. Plan ahead for your responses to any of their anticipated complaints about how things used to be when the marriage/family was falling apart. Set appointments to do things they would enjoy doing. Relax and be yourself; be a good listener; give your full concentration to each one personally.
7. Rebuild standards in the church.
Many people have adopted a theology of personal convenience rather than of conviction when it comes to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Those who have experienced a broken marriage have a most important message and ministry in our day: To reinforce Scriptural standards on marriage and divorce in the church. I urge you to raise up God’s standards on marriage. This will give redemptive value to the heartache of your divorce. Learn the Scriptural reasons why a we should not divorce and that a divorced personal should not remarry while the former partner is still living. Be ready to share those reasons with those God brings across your path.
8. Rebuild your life testimony so as to strengthen marriage.
Such a life testimony will explain how God is taking our human weaknesses and is transforming us by His grace into the character of His Son. The first step in doing that is to remove all guilt connected with the divorce. Guilt dulls our spiritual senses and hinders our ability to love God or others. The second step is to conquer all bitterness. Confess it as sin and go to Jesus for the cleansing of His blood. The third step is to invest voluntarily in the life of your former spouse (time, money).
Divorce And Remarriage
People have asked me if it’s OK if their former spouse remarried, divorces, and wants to remarry them. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 clearly states that this is an abomination to the Lord, and brings sin on the land. This gives us all the more warning not to remarry, because by doing so, we are permanently cut off from all possibility of restoring the original marriage. The New Testament is silent about the subject.
Then there is the question of leaving a present spouse and try to restore your first marriage if you have divorced and remarried. Once again the above passages state that God forbids this. God would want us to confess our sin of adultery (marriage after divorce, Matt. 5:32, 19:9), receive His forgiveness, and become completely committed to the current marriage we have vowed before God. In addition to that, switching marriage partners would be devastating to the children. God would want you to remain in your current marriage, reaffirm His standards on marriage, and teach those who are considering such an option to remain in their current marriage and rebuild any damaged relationships.
Can an innocent party remarry after divorce? The only allowance, Scripturally, is if their former spouse dies. One other possibility might exist; that is where a former spouse remarries. Since Scripture does not allow them to get back together after the union with a second spouse, the unmarried spouse is then freed from the bonds of that marriage and may, thus, remarry.
Marriage was conceived in the heart and mind of God. It is His design, therefore, when lived by His blueprint, it receives His abundant blessings. What is needed today is men and women committed to that blueprint. The sanctity of marriage and the fabric of our churches and nation are torn when we make allowances for our convenience and desires. Therefore it is a strong admonition to us to not enter this life-long relationship too quickly, or when we are too immature. But when the selection is guided by God, mutual joy and fulfillment will result, and that too is a design of God. When the marriage is damaged by divorce, God needs believers who are committed to be rebuilders who still uphold His standards of marriage.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought to love their own wives…nourish and cherish (her), just as Christ also does the church.” (Eph. 5:25-29)
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ …And one of the seven angels…came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.” (Rev. 21:2-4, 9-11)
Portions of this material were adapted from the Rebuilders Manual by Bill Gothard