The Bible on Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage
By Pastor Doug Batchelor
Happily Ever After…
In light of the recent royal marriage extravaganza between Prince William and commoner Kate Middleton, many still remember the wedding of the millennium: Diana Spencer to Prince Charles.
Widely billed as the fairytale story of a beautiful girl who marries a prince, the royal wedding was broadcast around the world to a television audience of 750 million, while 600,000 people lined the streets just to catch a glimpse of Diana en route to the ceremony.
Diana wore a pricey dress with a 25-foot train, and the guest list read like a “who’s who” of the world’s richest and most famous citizens.
It was a wonderful picture of hope and promise, but a lavish wedding does not a loving marriage make. As we all know, within a decade the “wedding of the millennium” unraveled into just another miserable marriage that ended in sordid stories of infidelity and divorce. What made it even sadder was Diana had herself come from a broken home. Her mother had divorced her father when Diana was very young. On the day Diana’s mother left the house, she said to her little girl, “I will be back very soon.”
“Very soon” turned out to be never, and that event deeply impacted Diana for the rest of her short life. In fact, after Diana first met Prince Charles—who apparently was actually going out with her sister at the time—she told her friends that she was going to marry him. Her friends wondered how she could possibly know that. Diana responded, “Because he’s the only man on the planet who is not allowed to divorce me.”
Sadly, no human promise, wisdom, or wealth can keep a marriage together; sin has infected our lives too much for that. But the Bible has the keys to make a marriage a happy and productive one—and avoid the scourge of divorce.
Most Sacred Institution
On January 3, 2004, pop star Britney Spears shocked her fans when she impulsively married her childhood friend Jason Alexander in Las Vegas.
Within 55 hours the marriage was annulled.
Spears said, “I do believe in the sanctity of marriage; I totally do.” But she confessed, “I was in Vegas, and it took over me, and, you know, things got out of hand.”
One obvious reason many people so recklessly jump into marriage is that they figure if it doesn’t work out they can just as quickly jump out. The solemn vows, they reason, are just a required formality.
However, the Bible is not silent regarding the sanctity of marriage. How could it be silent when marriage was created by God? We should expect that the Bible would come with some strict guidelines about what is permitted to cancel a marriage. The many civil and religious laws established to preserve marriage exist because of the high priority of the institution.
After all, how important would marriage be if it could be so easily dissolved? If you could be released from this solemn covenant for the most trivial of reasons, then marriage itself would be trivial—and, as we’ve noted already, this is exactly what’s happening in our culture because marriage is so easy to escape.
Salvation is also a sacred covenant. We might have cause to worry if God honored His covenant to save us the same way many people these days honor their marriage vows.
Fort Knox is one of the most heavily guarded locations in North America. Why? Because its vaults contain approximately 4,600 tons of gold bullion. However, grocery stores are not built like small fortresses—with thick walls, armed guards, and complicated safes—to protect bubblegum. The value of what is inside a location is often best revealed by the level of security protecting it.
It’s the same with marriage. God has placed a formidable wall, a holy hedge, around this institution in order to protect it precisely because it is so valuable, so sacred, so important. The marriage vow is not like children on a playground making fanciful pledges like, “Cross your heart and hope to die.” When a man and woman get married, they are committing themselves to each other in the strongest possible terms. It is a solemn oath made in the presence of God, meant to last as long as those two hearts keep beating in stereo. “For You have blessed it, O Lord, and it shall be blessed forever” (1 Chronicles 17:27 NKJV).
Joseph Campbell said, “A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. … Marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you are not married.”
But what if you are thoroughly convinced that you married the wrong person? Does the vow still need to be kept … really? Psalm 15:1 says, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” In other words, who will go to heaven? Part of the answer is found in verse 4: “He who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (NKJV). It’s talking about a person who has made a promise he doesn’t really want to keep anymore, but he keeps it anyway because it was a promise.
It’s someone like Jephthah, who promised to dedicate to the Lord whatever came out of his gates when he returned home victorious. (See Judges 11:30, 31.) He likely thought it would be a goat or a cow, but it turned out to be his daughter. Who could have blamed him for taking back that pledge? Yet with a broken heart, he kept his vow, and she was given to serve in the temple for the rest of her life without marrying.
When you stood at the altar and made your vow, did you not know that someday your husband or wife might have days when they act grumpy and look frumpy? Did you never consider that their outward beauty and rippling muscles would eventually sag? They might even snore or someday grow senile and need your constant care. There is no excuse for abandoning your sacred vow because it hurts you.
Remember, the kind of love spoken of in the Bible is an unconditional love. “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’ ” (Jeremiah 31:3 NKJV). This is the way Jesus loves us. It’s not because we are always lovable, but because He has chosen to love us despite our failures. It’s not a love driven because of what you do for Him. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39 NKJV).
It’s a choice to love regardless of whether or not a spouse is always lovable.
Inseparable love? That’s commitment.
Martin Luther said, “The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.”
One Plus One Equals One
The deep-sea angler is a very interesting ocean fish.
The female is about as big as a volleyball. On the other hand, the male is disproportionately small, like a black jellybean with fins. He has small hook teeth that he uses to bite the female of his dreams and attach himself to her. Once attached, his blood vessels actually join with those of the female—and he will spend the rest of his life merged with her like an extra appendage, getting all of his nourishment from her body in return for fertilizing her eggs. The flesh of the two fish eventually fuses, and they remain permanently connected.
This might not be the most elegant word picture, but it adds new meaning to the Scripture, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Consider the word “cleave” used in this verse; it comes from the Hebrew word dabaq, which means “adhere” or “glue.” In other words, husbands and wives should be super-glued together in their marriage.
There are several ways that a husband and wife become one flesh. The most obvious is when their chromosomes blend together through an act of love to form a new creature, a child made in their image. However, whether or not they have children, this oneness also applies to the spiritual, mental, and physical aspects of their lives and partnership.
According to researchers at the University of California in San Francisco, when a man and woman engage in sexual intimacy, the hormone oxytocin is released, which helps bond the relationship. Oxytocin has been shown to be “associated with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people.” When it is released during sex, it begins creating an emotional bond between individuals. Oxytocin is also associated with mother/infant bonding because it is released during childbirth and breastfeeding.
Let’s be clear though: When a man and woman get married, becoming “one flesh” is far beyond sexual or chemical. Emotions, dreams, responsibilities, and relationships are all melded together. We have all heard stories of how difficult and dangerous it can be to separate conjoined twins when arteries, nerves, and organs are shared. Likewise, separating what God has joined together seldom happens without great risk.
A man and woman in marriage become so closely united in purpose, being, and existence, it is as though they were literally “one flesh.” And two lives so intertwined cannot be divided without causing great pain, emotional bleeding, and scarring. That’s why divorce is always so devastating.
Tips for a Happy Marriage
No question: Marriage can be challenging. But as we have seen, it is intended to be a wonderful gift from God—a blessing, not a burden. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22 NKJV).
The key, of course, is communication.
There is a story about an old man and his wife who were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary—50 years of married life. Having spent most of the day with relatives and friends at a big party given in their honor, they returned home. They decided, before retiring, to have a little tea with bread and jam. Seated in the kitchen, the husband opened up a new loaf of bread and handed the end piece (the heel) to his wife. After a long pause, she exploded, saying, “For 50 years you have been dumping the heel of the bread on me. I’ve held my peace, but enough is enough. I refuse to take it anymore, this lack of concern for me and what I like.” On and on she went scolding him. The husband was absolutely astonished at the tirade. When she had finished, another long pause drifted between them. Finally, with misty eyes, he softly said to her, “The heel is my favorite piece.”
I say again: Communicate!
Every marriage faces challenges, some big and some small. Life is precious and short; therefore, focus on the larger battles, working through them as a team while letting go of the incidentals that, in the big scheme of things, don’t really matter. If you are going to pick something apart, make sure it’s worth the effort. Unfortunately, unresolved arguments are a big issue in marriages, often leading to divorce. Therefore, unless the issue is something significant, learn to let some things roll off your back. When you do discuss the big stuff, wait until you’re alone. If the children feel like they’re in the bleachers of a boxing match between mom and dad, it can be very troubling.
Below are a few more points that can help make marriage the blessing it was intended to be. Some of these tips might sound like fortune cookie clichés, but they are true nonetheless.
First, one of the most crucial aspects of marriage is practicing forgiveness. Ben Franklin said, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards.” We need to learn to apologize when we are wrong—and if we’re smart, we might find something to apologize for even when we know we are right.
As we have been forgiven by God, we should also forgive our spouses, even when they don’t deserve it. “Marriage,” someone said, “is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness.” That’s what biblical forgiveness is all about: forgiving the undeserving. If we don’t learn to forgive, marriage, if it survives, will be like purgatory.
But you might be asking, “How can I love and forgive a person when they have hurt me so deeply? After I have seen their dark and ugly side. How can I love them when they demonstrate so little love for me?” As you think about these questions, keep in mind these are the very questions Jesus can ask about each of us. Despite our selfishness and sin, He loves and forgives us. He gave His life to be one with us. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NKJV).
Second, just as the Bible teaches that we are sinners, we must accept the fact that we are married to someone who is physically, emotionally, and spiritually damaged by sin. Get over it. Your spouse has faults. Marriage is the art of two incompatible people learning to live compatibly. Pray your way through his or her faults. You might have to live with those faults, but you don’t have to obsess over them. If you do obsess over them, they will eventually eat you and your marriage alive. A perfect, holy God, through Christ, accepts us as we are; you, who are hardly holy and perfect, must do the same for your spouse. God then transforms us by love. If you would see change in your spouse, exemplify His life and love in your life (Ephesians 5:28).
Don’t always think of yourself first. As fallen humans, our default mode is “Me, Me, Me.” Like a compass that always points inward, our first impulse in any situation is to think of ourselves and of our own needs, survival, and comfort before anyone else’s—and that, unfortunately, includes our spouses. Try, through God’s grace and Spirit, to put your spouse before yourself just as Christ put us before Himself. Such an attitude can, and indeed will, do wonders for any marriage.
And just as Christ put Himself in our situation, for He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes (Hebrews 4:15). In other words, when a tense situation arises, step back for a few moments and try to see things from your partner’s perspective. How does this situation impact him? Why would she feel as she does? It’s amazing how this understanding can alleviate a lot of stressful situations that will inevitably arise in a marriage.
Schedule quality personal time together. Time is the stuff of which love is made. Dry dishes together, pull weeds in the garden as a team, or anything else that will bring you together. Remember that immediately after God made marriage, He made the Sabbath—creating a time to build the relationship.
“When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5 NKJV).
Every marriage has its own set of challenges, and no formula guarantees success. But through these simple principles, one can go a long way in helping make marriage better and better as the years go by.
One divorce is one too many. That was not how things were supposed to be. Marriage is sacred. If you understand that it is sacred, you will do everything you possibly can, in God’s grace, to protect it—making it a commitment for life.
So make up your mind now to say in the words of Ruth:
“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16, 17).