First of all, no matter what view one takes on the issue of divorce, it is important to remember Malachi 2:16: “I hate divorce, says the LORD God of Israel.” According to the Bible, marriage is a lifetime commitment. “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). God realizes, though, that since marriages involve two sinful human beings, divorces are going to occur. In the Old Testament, He laid down some laws in order to protect the rights of divorcées, especially women (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Jesus pointed out that these laws were given because of the hardness of people’s hearts, not because they were God’s desire (Matthew 19:8).
The controversy over whether divorce and remarriage is allowed according to the Bible revolves primarily around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. The phrase “except for marital unfaithfulness” is the only thing in Scripture that possibly gives God’s permission for divorce and remarriage. Many interpreters understand this “exception clause” as referring to “marital unfaithfulness” during the “betrothal” period. In Jewish custom, a man and a woman were considered married even while they were still engaged or “betrothed.” According to this view, immorality during this “betrothal” period would then be the only valid reason for a divorce.
However, the Greek word translated “marital unfaithfulness” is a word which can mean any form of sexual immorality. It can mean fornication, prostitution, adultery, etc. Jesus is possibly saying that divorce is permissible if sexual immorality is committed. Sexual relations are an integral part of the marital bond: “the two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31). Therefore, any breaking of that bond by sexual relations outside of marriage might be a permissible reason for divorce. If so, Jesus also has remarriage in mind in this passage. The phrase “and marries another” (Matthew 19:9) indicates that divorce and remarriage are allowed in an instance of the exception clause, whatever it is interpreted to be. It is important to note that only the innocent party is allowed to remarry. Although it is not stated in the text, the allowance for remarriage after a divorce is God’s mercy for the one who was sinned against, not for the one who committed the sexual immorality. There may be instances where the “guilty party” is allowed to remarry, but it is not taught in this text.
Some understand 1 Corinthians 7:15 as another “exception,” allowing remarriage if an unbelieving spouse divorces a believer. However, the context does not mention remarriage, but only says a believer is not bound to continue a marriage if an unbelieving spouse wants to leave. Others claim that abuse (spousal or child) is a valid reason for divorce even though it is not listed as such in the Bible. While this may very well be the case, it is never wise to presume upon the Word of God.
Sometimes lost in the debate over the exception clause is the fact that whatever “marital unfaithfulness” means, it is an allowance for divorce, not a requirement for it. Even when adultery is committed, a couple can, through God’s grace, learn to forgive and begin rebuilding their marriage. God has forgiven us of so much more. Surely we can follow His example and even forgive the sin of adultery (Ephesians 4:32). However, in many instances, a spouse is unrepentant and continues in sexual immorality. That is where Matthew 19:9 can possibly be applied. Many also look to quickly remarry after a divorce when God might desire them to remain single. God sometimes calls people to be single so that their attention is not divided (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Remarriage after a divorce may be an option in some circumstances, but that does not mean it is the only option.
It is distressing that the divorce rate among professing Christians is nearly as high as that of the unbelieving world. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and that reconciliation and forgiveness should be the marks of a believer’s life (Luke 11:4; Ephesians 4:32). However, God recognizes that divorce will occur, even among His children. A divorced and/or remarried believer should not feel any less loved by God, even if the divorce and/or remarriage is not covered under the possible exception clause of Matthew 19:9. God often uses even the sinful disobedience of Christians to accomplish great good.
A Summary and Questions to Ask on Divorce and Remarriage
The issue of divorce and remarriage is not only a painful reality, personally and pastorally, but is also a very difficult subject exegetically. Help is found in reading Jay Adams’ Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible. Even if you end up disagreeing with his conclusions, it’s a model of biblical and logical and pastoral reasoning.
The following is his summary and checklist:
1. is a divinely ordained institution
2. is the first and most fundamental institution
3. is covenantal and binding
4. is a covenant of companionship
5. is the place for true intimacy
6. is to conform to the model of Christ and His church
1. always stems from sin
2. is not necessarily sinful
3. always breaks a marriage
4. is never necessary among believers
5. is legitimate on the grounds of sexual sin
6. is legitimate when an unbeliever wishes to divorce a believer
7. is forgivable when sinful
1. in general, is desirable
2. is possible for a divorced person
3. is possible for a sinfully divorced person through forgiveness
4. is possible only when all biblical obligations have been met
5. is possible only when parties are prepared for marriage
1. Are all, one, or none of the parties Christians
2. Who wants the divorce?
3. On what grounds?
4. Does this party really want a divorce, or only a change in the situation?
5. Has 1 Corinthians 6 been violated?
6. Has sexual sin been present?
7. Is there acceptable evidence for such sin or only hearsay and/or supposition?
8. Has church discipline been applied? (Matt 18)
9. If so, what was the outcome?
10. Is there repentance/forgiveness?
11. Is reconciliation required?
12. Does an unbeliever want the marriage to continue?
13. Has a former spouse remarried another?
14. Did any church fail to handle a divorce/remarriage properly?
15. If so, how? And what must be done to set this straight?
16. Is the believer in a state where the church may declare him/her free from all obligations and, therefore, free to remarry?
17. If not, what more needs to be done to bring about this condition?
Divorce Prevention Results When There Genuine Is Repentance and Forgiveness
This is also against the larger church leadership thoughts and teachings both past and present of which I present three authorities from the present:
1. GRACE COMMUNITY CHURCH DISTINCTIVE (John Macarthur divorce excerpt) “… all believers should hate divorce as God does and pursue it only when there is no other recourse. With God’s help a marriage can survive the worst sins… Therefore, the believer should never consider divorce except in specific circumstances and even in those circumstances it should only be pursued reluctantly because there is no other recourse. … After all means are exhausted to bring the sinning partner to repentance”
2. As Billy Graham says, under the only “Conditions Under Which Divorce May Be Permitted…When a spouse is guilty of sexual immorality such as adultery or homosexuality and has no intention of repenting or seeking God’s forgiveness, and living in faithfulness to his or her spouse.”
3. John Piper, “Well, has the church ever committed adultery? Like, daily? So, how a Christian husband (wife) can say to a penitent adultery-committing wife (husband), “You did it, and that breaks it! It’s over, and so I’m going to officialize it at the court.” I just don’t see how any Christian husband (wife) can talk or feel that way toward a broken and repentant wife (husband). And I think that even if she (he) isn’t broken and repentant that he (she) should wait and wait and pray and pray. That is a hard teaching.”
Is there no other recourse except the allowance of divorce? John MacArthur, John Piper and Billy Graham agree that divorce should not be pursued if there is repentance from sin. John MacArthur further says, “In all of the references to divorce whether directly or indirectly, God never sanctions it, God never commends it, God never approves of it, and God never puts His stamp on it. He only acknowledges that it exists as a concession to sinful people. In fact God sets forth the example of Hosea and Gomer and God’s own heart in the issue would be that if you have an adulterous situation even that far into your marriage, it’s even that severe in your marriage rather than seek a bill of divorcement, seek to do what Hosea did and that is to forgive and redeem the guilty partner.”
ADULTERY — willful sexual intercourse with someone other than one’s husband or wife. Jesus expanded the meaning of adultery to include the cultivation of lust: “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
But this (divorce) is not Jesus’ ideal, which is: it is better still not to divorce even when there is adultery (so Mark and Luke) (cf Heth and Wenham pp. 123–6).
What this means in practice is that adultery should not be jumped on too quickly by the offended partner as the foolproof and complete justification for initiating divorce proceedings today. Schweizer adds a pastoral note: ‘The very infidelity of one of the parties can, for example, bring about a crisis in which both may communicate with one another and thus find the way back together.’ If the offended partner reaches too quickly for a divorce, he ‘would then be missing the chance, given him by God, of recognising the failure on his part that has driven his partner to infidelity and miss the chance of doing something about it’.
The Old Testament picture of adulterous Israel shows clearly that if she is guilty, she should repent and seek reconciliation (e.g. Jer. 3:12–14). This is precisely what Hermas also demanded of the adulterous and divorced wife:
‘If then,’ I said, ‘sir, after the wife is sent away, the woman repents, and she wishes to return to her own husband, she will be taken back, won’t she?’ ‘Indeed,’ he said, ‘if her husband will not take her back, he sins and brings upon himself a great sin … This is the reason why you were commanded to remain single, whether husband or wife, because in such cases repentance [by the adulterous and divorced partner] is possible’ (Mandate, 4.1.7–10).
Question: “My mate was unfaithful to me. Should I stay with my mate? I don’t trust myself to make the right decision because of my painful emotions.”
Answer: Before you make this decision, ask yourself these questions:
— Is this a onetime lack of judgment or a repeated lifestyle?
» If it is a lifestyle, then it is an issue of character.
» If it was a onetime act, then it is a single act of sin.
— Did your spouse take responsibility—or blame you or someone else?
— Is there true repentance—a godly sorrow—or is there simply sorrow only at being caught?
— What has been done to make restitution? What is your mate doing to avoid straying again? Has all contact been broken?
If recent attitudes and actions are positive, you have the potential for genuine reconciliation and a healthy, productive marriage.
Yes, we can fall easily and quickly into this sin. However, we have a faithful and merciful God who shows Himself always ready to restore His unfaithful partner, and this should be our posture toward those who have fallen into this sin. We must guide them toward repentance, being careful that we do not fall ourselves, showing His mercy and love.
Finally, we must be willing and ready to forgive and restore again to usefulness those who are hurt or cause hurt. We must teach our children, not only with words but with deeds, that they would see our faithful marriages reflect the relationship of Christ and His church, that the way we live will, indeed, make the faithful, covenantal, invisible God visible before the eyes of all. Adultery is an idol for destruction. It must be replaced with the Gospel of sovereign grace. ■
Second, the church must respond to the sin of adultery in a priestly manner. We must strike the proper balance between the heinousness of adultery on one hand, and the mercy and grace of God in forgiving truly repentant adulterers on the other.
Adultery is not the unpardonable sin. After all, Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11). But those who commit adultery must confess and repent of it. David was caught in the act by God! What did he do? Did he lie, cover it up or run away? No, he confessed his sin (Ps. 51). Even so, one who falls into adultery must do as David did, with the assurance that if he confesses his sin God will forgive him (1 John 1:9). And if the sin becomes public, he should humbly ask forgiveness of those against whom he sinned—his spouse, his family, his church.
Those who have been sinned against, as impossible as it may seem, also must for give repentant sinners. If God can forgive us our spiritual adulteries against Him, cannot we, by His grace, forgive those who have sinned against us? Jesus said, ‘ “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’ ” (Matt. 6:15). What does it mean to forgive? Does it mean to forget? No, it is to remember a brother’s sin against him no more. As Jay Adams says, it is to promise not to raise the matter up again, not to tell others about it, and not to dwell on it in your own mind. The key to forgiving is knowing how much you have been forgiven of yourself. One who has stood amazed at the grace of God in forgiving his sins can do nothing less than forgive another who sins against him.
The church must also forgive the repentant brother or sister. In 2 Corinthians 2:7–8, Paul instructs the Corinthian believers to forgive and comfort the guilty person and to reaffirm their love for him. That means that upon true repentance the congregation must not raise the matter again, talk about it to one another or dwell on it in their own minds. The church must embrace the sinner as the Father welcomed home the Prodigal Son.
Billy Graham says, divorce or separation should only happen “…When a spouse is guilty of sexual immorality such as adultery or homosexuality and has no intention of repenting or seeking God’s forgiveness, and living in faithfulness to his or her spouse.”
John Piper says, “Well, has the church ever committed adultery? Like, daily? So, how a Christian husband (wife) can say to a penitent adultery-committing wife (husband), “You did it, and that breaks it! It’s over, and so I’m going to officialize it at the court.” I just don’t see how any Christian husband (wife) can talk or feel that way toward a broken and repentant wife (husband). And I think that even if she (he) isn’t broken and repentant that he (she) should wait and wait and pray and pray. That is a hard teaching.”
All the above church leaders agree that divorce (or, separation) should not be pursued if there is repentance from sin.
John MacArthur further says, “Divorce is allowable for unrepentant adultery… In all of the references to divorce whether directly or indirectly, God never sanctions it, God never commends it, God never approves of it, and God never puts His stamp on it. He only acknowledges that it exists as a concession to sinful people. In fact God sets forth the example of Hosea and Gomer and God’s own heart in the issue would be that if you have an adulterous situation even that far into your marriage, it’s even that severe in your marriage rather than seek a bill of divorcement, seek to do what Hosea did and that is to forgive and redeem the guilty partner.”
“You know, it took 700 years before God divorced Israel. That’s pretty patient, isn’t it? Now I sometimes have to counsel with a couple and maybe the husband has committed adultery or the wife has committed adultery. And the partner says, “How long do I tolerate this?” Well, God waited 700 years before He divorced Israel. There’s some kind of message in there, isn’t there? That somebody’s sin isn’t immediately an excuse to dump your partner if there’s repentance, if there’s penitence. And the classic illustration is the relationship between the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer, who became a prostitute. Yet he went into the slave market and when he found her penitent, he brought her back, after years of adultery. She was actually stark naked being sold off as a sex slave, when he embraced her, took her back and treated her as if she was a virgin.
Divorce certainly for the cause of adultery, yes but only after extended patience. And that’s why through the years, and this has gone for years and years, I’ve always said there is a grounds for divorce in the Bible. It is adultery. But it is that adultery that is continual and impenitent and it just goes on. And your patient for a while but it becomes apparent that there’s an impenitent heart and that’s the option you have. Just make sure you demonstrate a measure of patience as Hosea did, as God did with Israel, in case God should work repentance in that heart.”
“We believe that’s affirmed by the fact that God actually divorced Israel for adultery. But we also believe there’s an attitude conveyed by Hosea and Gomer, illustrated in God and Judah, there’s an attitude conveyed in the prophet Isaiah here, that God, though He separated from Judah, was immensely patient waiting for the repentance and the restoration. That’s sort of the high ground that God takes. And I don’t expect that God wants us to wait 700 years or maybe even seven years. But I think there needs to be some exercise of patience to see what God might do.”
When God Can’t Forgive
Do you know when God can’t forgive?
Is there a Christian obligation to forgive when there’s no repentance?
Can there be forgiveness without reconciliation?
What are you to do in a situation where there’s no sign of repentance and reconciliation seems impossible?
How does God look upon the person who doesn’t repent?
How are repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation related?
Does God call me to forgive someone who hasn’t repented?
Can I forgive without being reconciled?
What should my attitude be towards someone who shows no sign of repentance?
Does God forgive sinners who do not repent? No He doesn’t. God’s forgiveness is always tied to repentance. What happens to those who don’t repent? You will die in your sins – not be forgiven nor reconciled (John 8:21). God can’t give what you won’t receive by you not opening the door of opportunity through repentance.
The prodigal son journey began with repentance. Repentance is something that develops over time. We don’t realize or see the full extent of our sin right away but only a little bit if it. We begin to take ownership of our sin as we see our sins more clearly over time – i.e. the gradual sun rise from morning to noon over time.
Repentance is turning with as much as you know of yourself from as much as you know of sin to as much as you know of God.
Repentance is not a onetime act but is a deepening process throughout life as I come to know more about myself, more about what sin really is and more about God. As I see more clearly and as God gives me more light, my repentance deepens. John Calvin says, “the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance”. There is never a time in this life where we see the full extent of our sins against God but only a growing in that knowledge. We will also never realize the full extent of our offenses against others either. The whole of the Christian life is a growing and grasping of the truth of who God is, what sin is & of whom I really am.
How should we respond to a person who begins to repent? The prodigal son shows the father eagerly coming at the first sign of repentance. God embraces the first sign of repentance. That is what people who really want reconciliation will do. At the first sign of repentance you go rushing out to greet it. Repentance isn’t easy. If we’re really interested in reconciliation then it’s important to affirm any progress that’s being made even when the prodigal is still some distance from home.
In the situation of conflict with another don’t ask if there is full ownership. Ask if there is any ownership. Is there anything in the process where reconciliation can begin? If there is, then ask how can I go out to meet it? The best way to help them on their journey home is to assure them that they are welcome. Thank God that’s how He has reached out to you and to me. God does not ask the question “is your repentance complete”? (It never is in this life). He asks the question, “has it begun”? And as it’s begun He meets us. That’s how repentance and forgiveness are tied together with God.
Can I forgive without being reconciled? The answer is found in the question, “Does God ever forgive without being reconciled”? Is there any evidence showing where God forgives but has the attitude that says, “I forgive you but I don’t want to have anything to do with you ever again. ” the answer is No.
God has joined forgiveness & reconciliation together just as He’s joined repentance & forgiveness together. The reason God forgives is so that there may be reconciliation. We get into trouble when we try to separate what God has joined together. Forgiveness involves the reconciling of two persons – one who repents and one who forgives. Reconciliation is where the lines of repentance & forgiveness meet. You can’t have reconciliation without repentance and you can’t have reconciliation without forgiveness. Reconciliation occurs with the joining of forgiveness being offered and then having that forgiveness being received by the one who repents.
How does God treat those who have no sign of repentance? He doesn’t say, “Let’s forgive him anyway.” What does He do? He loves them as He does with all His enemies. That’s what we are to do. Love them & pray for those who persecute you.
God is seeking reconciliation. Where does that lead the relationship if He just forgave His enemies with no sign of their repentance? What God does is love His enemies and by winning His enemies with His love there can now be reconciliation because there is forgiveness which is at the heart of reconciliation. This is important for us to understand in situations of alienation, enmity and conflict that exist in human relationships. Love your enemies. He wants us to win our enemies to a place where they become our friends.
The problem we have today is that we’ve bought into a cheapened view of forgiveness – A view that’s divorced from repentance and doesn’t lead to reconciliation – Forgiving but never reconciling. By separating reconciliation from forgiveness we’ve made forgiveness cheap because it doesn’t cost us much. And we’ve made reconciliation unusual because we don’t feel that we need to worry about it. We’ve torn apart what God has put together.
In heaven, all who have been forgiven will be reconciled. If that’s true in heaven then should we not do what we can to move in that direction here on earth? The more we move in that direction the more we will mirror the heart of our Father in heaven and bring joy to His heart.
The world can’t see forgiveness but it can see reconciliation.
What should then be my attitude towards someone who shows no sign of repentance? The answer is in asking, “How does God show himself to those who have no sign of repentance”? He shows compassion & pity. This is how Christ calls us to be towards the unrepentant. He doesn’t say to forgive your enemies but rather, to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Jesus prayed for the Father to forgive those who crucified Him. He didn’t announce their forgiveness – He didn’t declare them forgiven. They weren’t looking for forgiveness or wanting it. How can you give that which will not be received? Forgiveness is always tied to repentance and reconciliation. It is both given & received. If it’s not received, it can’t be given.
God wants you to mirror His compassion. What do you feel for that person who’s unrepentant in light of eternity? Wouldn’t you want them to come out of their blindness and into a position where forgiveness & reconciliation are possible? Compassion reflects the heart of Jesus. We grow in compassion by praying for those who’ve wounded us & those who are difficult for us.
How do we love our enemies? We pray for them. You don’t have to be locked into bitterness against the one who shows no sign of repentance. You can pray for them. Then your heart will become soft as compassion grows. Then you’ll be ready to forgive at the first sign of repentance in them.
Compassion may be the very thing that brings about a change in the person who has wounded you (Romans 2:4). God draws us and moves us by His loving kindness, compassion and love. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. He does this reaching out to us so that we may receive all that He has for us – the gift of forgiveness & enjoy reconciliation with Him.
Do you feel distant from God? He hasn’t hidden Himself from you. He’s come near to you through Jesus & wants to reconcile with you. God isn’t against you. His nail pierced hands reach out to you. He’s offering a costly forgiveness that leads to reconciliation. He wants to make you a son or daughter & wants to have a relationship together with you. The manger & the cross show that God offers forgiveness in Jesus. If you will draw near to Him in repentance, you can receive what He wants to give. The lines of God’s forgiveness and your repentance can meet at the cross today resulting in reconciliation to God.
Fruits of Repentance
The apostle John names several practical tests that may be used to determine the authenticity of faith—including such things as obedience (1 John 2:3-6; 3:1-10), sound doctrine (1 John 2:21-28; 4:1-6), and love for the brethren (1 John 3:14-19; 4:7-11). Those are some of the fruits of true repentance.
Repentance is turning with as much as you know of yourself from as much as you know of sin to as much as you know of God.
The Bible talks about “godly sorrow,” and this is the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.
Three distinguishing marks of genuine repentance: 1. You have light (understanding) from God about your sin; 2. You have desire (hunger) for God to obey; 3. You have faith (trust) in God for His forgiveness.
Three practical applications in how to use these three distinguishing marks of genuine repentance:
1. Use these marks as a guide for discerning true repentance in another person. i.e… “He says he is sorry but how do I know that he has really changed?” – (you are wanting to know if it is safe to trust). “She says that she has come back to the Lord but how do I know her repentance is real?”. What are the criteria to use to answer these questions? How do you discern how to answer these questions? These are important questions for us as Christians and elders of the church in the issues of church discipline, restoration and trust in regards to responsibility.
How do you measure true repentance? You look for the distinguishing marks of true repentance to determine the type of questions to ask such as: does this person have light from God with regards to what they have done – Do they see it clearly? Is there ownership? Have they faced it without excuse or evasion without blaming other people and without trying to trivialize it or minimize it? Do they hate, not only what came as a result of their actions but hate the sin itself? Is their focus on their own pain, reputation like King Saul’s was or are they taking genuine ownership for what they have done like King David? Do we see a desire with the person to walk more close to God? Is there evidence of a new commitment and hunger for the word and prayer? Are there changing patterns that we see that reflect a drawing near to God in this person’s life? Is this person laying hold of the grace of God as one who evidently and deeply believes the gospel? When you see these things (distinguishing marks of true repentance) you have every reason to be joyfully confident that real and lasting change has happened and will continue to happen in their life.
2. These distinguishing marks are useful as a guide for deepening repentance in our own lives. What are you to do about the sin that you have fallen into again and again and again – the repeated sin? Your repentance needs to be deepened. The distinguishing marks can be used as a guide to how to proceed – i.e… Do I really see this sin as God sees it? Have I felt the weight of this thing that I keep doing as Jesus felt the weight of it as He was dying for my sin on the cross? Do I hate this sin honestly as much as God hates it or is there a secret part of me that still cherishes it and holds on to it? Have I really faced the darkness in my own soul that makes me keep behaving like this? Am I sincere in my desire to walk with God and am I ready to embrace the gospel in this regard to trust Christ for forgiveness not as some form of cheap grace that allows me to go out and do the same thing again but recognizing that this forgiveness flows from His pierced hand to me for this sin. Do I in embracing the gospel therefore believe and trust in the power of His Spirit that I may overcome it and gain victory over it in the days that lay ahead.
3. These distinguishing marks are useful in directing our prayers in how to pray when you find yourself in great sorrow. Ask God to deliver you from their worldly sorrow from where that sorrow might take you. Ask Him to give you light as you examine your heart. Ask Him to walk with you by His Spirit as you commit yourself to the path of obedience. Ask Him to give you hope as person who truly now in your sorrow embraces the gospel. Godly sorrow brings repentance. This gets you on the path to a transformed life and salvation. It will leave you without regret.
Pastor Colin Smith –
Key Bible Verses:
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. 
For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Co 13:11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ga 6:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Co 2:6–8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Co 5:17–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
People sometimes say in an angry tone that they have forgiven past offenses, but their obvious bitterness betrays them. Unforgiveness can lodge in your heart and hide from you. The following questions will help you examine your heart to see if you need to forgive someone:
1. Do you still secretly hope that someone will get what he/she deserves?
2. Are you still talking negatively about this person to others?
3. Do you indulge in fantasies of revenge—even mild ones?
4. Do you spend time mulling over what he/she did to you?
5. How do you feel when something good happens to him/her?
6. Have you quit blaming this person for how your life has turned out?
7. Do you find it difficult to be open and trusting with people?
8. Are you frequently angry, depressed, or bitter?
9. Do you find it difficult or impossible to thank God for your offender?
Let God examine your heart. Does He find any unforgiveness there?
Genuine forgiveness is not a feeling but an action. If you find it hard to forgive others, the following four guidelines can help:
1. Acknowledge and confess an unforgiving spirit. No, it is not always easy to forgive. We are sometimes the target of tremendously hurtful offenses. However, we are not accountable for other people’s behavior; we are responsible only for our own. God commanded us to be loving, forgiving people. If we are unforgiving, that is our problem and no one else’s. We must repent of this sin and ask God to help our unforgiveness.
2. Release the other person. Make a conscious decision to release the offender in your mind. If you find yourself reliving details of the upsetting behavior, force yourself to stop.
3. Forgive the offender forgetfully. By keeping details fresh in your mind, you trap yourself in a cycle of pain. Choose instead to separate the individual from the painful memory.
4. Forgive with finality. True forgiveness is complete. This means that you cannot “forgive” someone and then continually bring the subject up. Forgive them and move on.
If you’ve been nursing a grudge, pray for the strength to forgive. Then do it!
Forgiveness is an act of the will that involves five steps.
We Are Forgiven
First, we must recognize that we have been totally forgiven. Most people get hung up on this point. That is the reason I have explained in such detail the foundation for forgiveness. Paul sums it all up beautifully: “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God” (Rom. 6:10).
Once we understand the depth of our sin and the distance it put between us and God, and once we get a glimpse of the sacrifice God made to restore fellowship with us, we should not hesitate to get involved in the process of forgiveness. To understand what God did for us and then to refuse to forgive those who have wronged us is to be like the wicked, ungrateful slave Jesus described:
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.” And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.” So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.” He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
Then summoning him, his lord said to him. “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?” And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
We read the parable and think, How could anyone be so ungrateful? But the believer who will not forgive another is even more guilty and more ungrateful than that slave. The first step, then, is to realize that we have been totally forgiven of a debt we could never pay and thus have no grounds for refusing to forgive others.
Forgive the Debt
The second step is to release the person from the debt we think is owed us for the offense. This must be a mental, an emotional, and sometimes even a physical release. It involves mentally bundling up all our hostile feelings and surrendering them to Christ.
We can accomplish this in one of two ways: either by meeting face to face or, like Jill did, by using a substitute. Both work equally well, but one may be more appropriate than the other. In cases where a person is dead, lives far away, or is totally unapproachable, it will be necessary to use the chair–substitute method.
The third step is to accept others as they are and release them from any responsibility to meet our needs. I am sure we have all met people who have placed the responsibility for their acceptability on us or someone we know. You may be like that yourself. Certain people can make or break your day depending on the amount of attention they pay you. This is a common trait in people who are unable or unwilling to forgive. But when we decide as an act of the will to forgive, we absolve others of any responsibility to meet our needs.
View Others as Tools of Growth
Fourth, we must view those we have forgiven as tools in our lives to aid us in our growth in and understanding of the grace of God. Even with all my Bible knowledge and education, I cannot understand and appreciate the grace of God as Jill can. Though she would not go through what she has been through again for a million dollars, neither would she take a million for what she has learned about her heavenly Father.
Joseph certainly understood this principle. After all his brothers did to him, he was able to forgive them. He saw them as the instruments of God to get him to Egypt and to be in such a position of power that he could save his family when the famine destroyed all the crops. So when his brothers fell down before him, fearful of what he might do to them to get even, he said,
Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you [speaking of his brothers], you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.
The last thing we must do is to make reconciliation with those from whom we have been estranged. This will vary from situation to situation. But if there is a family member, distant relative, former employee, or maybe an ex–friend we have avoided because we had hostility in our hearts against that person, we need to reestablish contact. We may have to begin by apologizing. Regardless of how we go about it, we must do what we can to restore fellowship with those who hurt us. Once our forgiveness is complete, reconciliation will be much easier. In fact, many people I have counseled have rushed back to estranged friends and relatives to reestablish contact. Once the barrier of unforgiveness is removed, all the old pleasant feelings can surface, and there is actually joy in the process of restoration.
After completing the five steps in forgiveness, we should pray this simple prayer:
Lord, I forgive (name of person) for (name the specifics). I take authority over the Enemy, and in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit, I take back the ground I have allowed Satan to gain in my life because of my attitude toward (the person) and give this ground back to my Lord Jesus Christ.
We don’t have to pray this prayer word for word, but it is a suggested model to use when dealing with forgiving someone. It is essential to name the person and what is being forgiven.
What If It Happens Again?
What if the one we have forgiven hurts us again? What if the very same thing happens again? Will it make what we’ve done any less real? At first we will no doubt feel hurt, bitter, or angry—or maybe all three. Satan will remind us of our past hurts. We may be tempted to doubt the sincerity of our decision to forgive that person.
If this happens, it is important to remember that forgiveness is an act of the will. The initial decision to forgive the person must be followed by the faith walk of forgiveness. Standing firm on the decision to forgive that person and applying additional forgiveness, if necessary, allow us to replace the hurt and the defeated memories with faith victories. The new offenses can be forgiven as they occur without linking them to past offenses, which have already been forgiven.
It is equally important to remember that forgiveness is for our benefit. The other person’s behavior may never change. It is up to God, not us, to change that person. It is our responsibility to be set free from the pressure and weight of an unforgiving attitude.
We Will Know We Have Forgiven When …
Several things will occur once the forgiveness process is complete. First, our negative feelings will disappear. We will not feel the way we used to feel when we run into these people on the street or in the office. Harsh feelings may be replaced by feelings of concern, pity, or empathy, but not resentment.
Secondly, we will find it much easier to accept the people who have hurt us without feeling the need to change them; we will be willing to take them just the way they are. We will have a new appreciation for their situation once the blinders of resentment have been removed from our eyes. We will understand more why they acted and continue to act the way they do.
Third, our concern about the needs of the other individuals will outweigh our concerns about what they did to us. We will be able to concentrate on them, not on ourselves or our needs.
Forgiveness is a process that can be painful and at times seem unending. Whatever our pain, whatever our situation, we cannot afford to hold on to an unforgiving spirit another clay. We must get involved with the process of forgiving others and find out what it means to be really free. If we will persevere and keep our eyes on the One who forgave us, it will be a liberating force like nothing else we have ever experienced.
Steps to Forgiving Others
The following is included to facilitate personal application of chapter 8.
1. Understand that forgiveness is not
• Justifying, understanding, or explaining why the person acted toward you as he or she did.
• Just forgetting about the offense and trusting time to take care of it.
• Asking God to forgive the person who hurt you.
• Asking God to forgive you for being angry or resentful against the person who offended you.
• Denying that you were really hurt; after all there are others who have suffered more.
2. Understand that it is often unwise to forgive face to face. This tends to make the other person feel “put down” and make you look holier–than–thou.
3. Select a time and place when you can be alone for a season of time.
4. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind all the people you need to forgive and the events you need to forgive them for.
5. Make a list of everything the Holy Spirit brings to your mind, even if it seems trivial to you. (Do not rush through this step; allow the Holy Spirit all the time He needs to speak to you.)
6. Take two chairs and arrange them facing each other. Seat yourself in one of the chairs.
7. Imagine that the first person on your list is sitting in the other chair. Disclose everything you can remember that the person has done to hurt you. Do not hold back the tears or the emotions that accompany the confessions.
8. Choose by an act of your will to forgive that person once and for all time. You may not feel like being forgiving. That’s all right. Just do it and the feelings will follow. God will take care of that. Do not doubt what you have done is real and valid.
9. Release the person from the debt you feel is owed you for the offense. Say, “You are free and forgiven.”
10. If the person is still a part of your life, now is a good time to accept the individual without wanting to change aspects of personality or behavior.
11. Thank the Lord for using each person as a tool in your life to deepen your insight into His grace and conforming you to the image of His Son.
12. Pray. This is a suggested prayer to pray as you “talk” to each person:
Because I am forgiven and accepted by Christ, I can now forgive and accept you, _______ , unconditionally in Christ. I choose now to forgive you, _______ , no matter what you did to me. I release you from the hurts (take time to name the hurts), and you are no longer accountable to me for them. You are free.
13. When you have finished praying through the hurts you have suffered, pray this prayer of faith:
Lord Jesus, by faith, I receive Your unconditional love and acceptance in the place of this hurt, and I trust You to meet all my needs. I take authority over the Enemy, and in the name of Jesus, I take back the ground I have allowed Satan to gain in my life because of my attitude toward _______ . Right now I give this ground back to the Lord Jesus Christ to whom it rightfully belongs.
1. Confession. This word is composed of three Greek terms. The first is a preposition meaning out of, indicating something out of our innermost being. The second means the same as. The third word, logia, means to speak words. The idea is that out of our heart we would say the same thing. It is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament. In Luke 22:6, it describes Judas’ consenting to betray Jesus. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus said, “I thank You, Father.” Jesus was agreeing with the Father about something. Philippians 2:11 proclaims that one day every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord. In today’s text, the word occurs in the sense of declaring out of our hearts that we agree with God about our sinful condition. Yet confession is not enough to receive forgiveness. Notice in Mark 1, after confessing they were baptized with a “baptism of repentance.”
2. Repentance. This means to change your mind or heart. In a physical sense, it means a change of direction. Forgiveness comes when I confess and repent, turning from my sin. Second Corinthians 7:10 contains a formula, a logical progression, about this: “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation . . . but the sorrow of the world produces death.” There are two kinds of sorrow over sin. Godly sorrow, a brokenness over sin, leads to a change of life and brings deliverance. Sorrow that doesn’t lead to repentance doesn’t lead to deliverance but to destruction. It’s not enough to say, “I’m sorry.” I have talked to people who were sorry they got caught. Sorry they embarrassed themselves. Sorry because of consequences. That’s not godly sorrow.
3. Characteristics of Godly Sorrow. How do we distinguish godly from worldly sorrow? Second Corinthians 7:11 identifies seven characteristics of godly sorrow: “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner:”
A. What earnestness. This implies taking a matter seriously. Godly sorrow wants to do the right thing. Worldly sorrow wants to avoid further consequences.
B. What clearing of yourselves. This carries the idea of shame for what we have done and a desire to rectify the situation.
C. What indignation. Being genuinely upset at ourselves.
D. What fear. The idea is that it is not easily forgotten. We don’t close the door too quickly and go on.
E. What vehement desire. A readiness to see justice done, which includes accepting consequences and punishment for my sins.
F. What zeal. Eagerness to turn things around in our lives.
G. What vindication. This implies a readiness to set things right. The Living Bible says: “You went right to work on the problem and cleared it up.”
4. Fruit of Repentance. In Luke 3, John the Baptist told the crowds, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” The man with two tunics should share with someone having none. The tax collectors must stop extorting money. Unless we demonstrate fruit accompanying repentance, we’re still a brood of snakes—that was John’s message! To really welcome the Messiah, we must confess our sin, agreeing with God about our condition, turning from sin to receive His forgiveness. The result will be fruit suited to repentance.
Conclusion: We sometimes think God flippantly forgives everyone, just because He’s God. Even Christians say, “I know my choice is against the teaching of Scripture, but I’m so unhappy; I know God doesn’t want me to be unhappy. I’m going to do it anyway and trust Him to forgive.” May I remind you that genuine forgiveness cost Jesus His life on the Cross? Get alone with God today and ask Him: Is there something in my life, Lord, that I need to repent? Are there paths needing straightening? May God give us godly sorrow leading to repentance.
 Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. 1995 (R. F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison & Thomas Nelson Publishers, Ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
 Cornes, A. (2002). Divorce and Remarriage: Biblical Principle and Pastoral Practice (204). Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications.
 Cornes, A. (2002). Divorce and Remarriage: Biblical Principle and Pastoral Practice (207). Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications.
 Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Adultery: The Snare of an Affair (22). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.
 Tabletalk Magazine, September 2000: Defiling the Body. 2000 (11). Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 Tabletalk Magazine, September 2000: Defiling the Body. 2000 (56–57). Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (57). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (61). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Stanley, C. F. (1991). The gift of forgiveness (113–119). Nashville, TN: Oliver Nelson.
 Stanley, C. F. (1991). The gift of forgiveness (181–182). Nashville, TN: Oliver Nelson.
 Morgan, R. J. (2002). Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook (2003 Edition) (44–45). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The Unfaithful Spouse: Should I Divorce or Try to Reconcile?
Joe Beam, Chairman, Beam Research Center
“Everybody in my family tells me to divorce her. My Mom will be furious if I don’t. She called Shelly some pretty bad names. Called the guy she was involved with worse names. She insists that I file immediately.”
“Why haven’t you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’m hurt. Deeply. But we had fourteen years together. My kids don’t say anything, but I can see how worried they are. They don’t know the details, of course, but they know things are bad between Shelly and me. If I divorce her, do I tell ‘em what their mother did? And do I lose my kids if I divorce? Mom says that a good lawyer can take the kids away from her because of what she did, but I don’t know…”
“Yeah, you have a lot to consider. What do you really want? If you could just snap your fingers and get it, what would you wish?”
“I’d wish she never met Jarrod. That she hadn’t gotten involved with him.”
“Uh-huh. But since you can’t change the past, how would you change the future? Again, what it is that you truly want?”
“I want this to be over. I want my wife to love me. I want peace and trust and security. I want what I thought we had but turns out we didn’t…”
I could put a name to the man in the conversation above. Actually, hundreds of them. If you prefer, I could change the pronouns and provide hundreds of women’s names instead. Since 1994, we have worked with thousands of marriages, many affected by infidelity, though all the other problems have been represented in quantity as well. Control and domination, addiction, anger, step family difficulties, in-law problems, and more lead people to contact us for help. They do not always call to seek help to save their marriages; sometimes they call because they feel confusion about whether they should divorce or try to reconcile their marriages.
When offended spouses ask my counsel, I suggest they consider five things as they make their decisions.
First, do not allow your family or friends to make your decision.
We need our families. We need them even more during times of crisis. We want their support, love, and understanding.
However, following their advice in trying times may lead to poor consequences.
When we hurt, those who love us also hurt. Because of their love for us, they can become very angry and bitter toward the person who caused our pain. Often, that creates within them strong negative feelings about that person. Therefore, they usually do not wish us to continue in a relationship with the one who hurt us. Instead, they want to protect us from the offender. Because the safest route to our not being hurt by that person again is to end the relationship, those who love us may want us to do just that.
Sometimes their urging us to end the relationship actually is the wisest course of action. However, sometimes it is not. Their love for us may blind them to the possibility of rescuing the relationship and the benefits that reconciliation brings.
If your spouse has hurt you – especially by infidelity – bask in the love and security of your family and friends, but seek advice about how to deal with your straying spouse from wise and experienced people who do not carry your hurt in their hearts.
Before making your decision about divorce or reconciliation, seek balanced counsel rather than biased counsel.
Second, do not try to hurt the one who hurt you.
A woman who caught her husband in his second illicit relationship packed her things and her children and moved back to her hometown. In a phone conversation, she told me that her friends wanted her to do everything she could to destroy her husband’s reputation as well as annihilate him financially. When I inquired whether she intended to do so, she replied that she told her friends she had enough hurt on her own and did not need to take on theirs as well.
I told her how impressed I was with her maturity. She understood a principle that many seem to miss: Vengeance leads to bad decisions, and bad decisions lead to bad consequences.
Vengeance attempts to make the other person hurt as badly as you hurt. It never fully satisfies because you can never be sure that the other person hurts as badly as you do.
Demand justice, but forego vengeance. Vengeance may hurt the other person, but the emotional damage it does to you may be far worse. Collateral damage, such as the long-term effect on your children, financial stress, or dividing your mutual friends, may well be the worst of all. Vengeance usually hurts the vigilante more than the intended target.
If you intend to hurt the one who hurt you, you will not make a wise decision about whether you should divorce or reconcile. If you wish to make the best decision for your future acknowledge your hurt, but do not let your pain cloud your judgment.
Make the choice that benefits you, your children, and your future, rather than a choice that ultimately hurts you more. To do that, acknowledge your hurt, but do not focus on repaying the hurt.
Third, consider your spouse’s heart.
A woman sat in my office after discovering her husband’s infidelity. She talked about how her family, especially her father, wanted her to divorce her husband and, in the process, punish him severely for what he had done. After we talked about the danger of heeding advice from family and friends, and the detriment to her own heart and soul if she sought vengeance, I asked her a question.
“Is he a bad man who did a bad thing or is he a good man who did a bad thing?”
She inquired as to why I would ask that question. I explained that good people sometimes do bad things, but that if they are at heart still good people, they may be worth rescuing. Good people who regret bad behavior and want to make things right tend to be better people than they were before their indiscretion.
“So,” I asked, “Is he a good man worth taking the risk to rescue, or a bad man that you should get away from and stay away from for the sake of you and your children?”
She decided he was at heart a good man. She took the chance, and they worked out their problems. They have a strong marriage today.
If you find yourself wondering how to tell if a person is good or bad, I suggest you evaluate how he or she was before the infidelity or other bad behavior. Obviously, a person committing adultery is not doing a good thing, though the adulterer temporarily may have deluded him- herself that the unfaithfulness is not wrong. However, if at heart the adulterer actually is a good person – one with strong morals and sense of right and wrong – likely he or she eventually will come to regret the infidelity and seek to make things right. Therefore, rather than considering only the present situation, consider who your spouse is and has always been. That may provide insight into what he or she will be in the future.
If the straying spouse has ended the illicit relationship and wants to make the marriage work, that usually means that at heart she or he is a good person. If the straying spouse continues in the infidelity, he or she may still be a good person at heart who in time will come to his or her senses and regret the unfaithfulness. If you have any reason to believe that your spouse is a good person who did a bad thing, it may well be worth the risk to try reconciling.
Before making your decision about divorcing or reconciling, consider your spouse’s heart and evaluate whether he or she is worth rescuing.
Fourth, think of the future as you make your decision
Suzy Welch wrote the book 10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea. She explains that when making a decision one should consider the impact in the short- and long-term. She suggests considering the consequences of your decision in 10 minutes, in 10 months, and in 10 years.
If you could rescue your marriage and make it good again, what could be the consequences to you, your children, and your spouse in 10 minutes, in 10 months, and in 10 years? On the other hand, if you divorce your spouse, what might be the consequences in 10-10-10?
Our experience with thousands of marriages indicate that if a couple can work out their difficulties, learn to forgive, create the right boundaries to prevent future problems, and do the things that make love grow, the marriage will be stronger after the affair than it was before the affair. No, the affair did not make it stronger. The “wake up call” and the subsequent building of a solid relationship made it stronger.
In considering 10-10-10, realize that being divorced does not automatically guarantee finding a new mate. Forgiving and reconciling can lead to a better marriage than before. Divorcing leads to being alone if you do not find another mate.
Even if you do find another mate, that relationship also has risks. Every relationship does.
When considering 10-10-10 in making your decision to reconcile or divorce, think of the effect on your children in ten years. Children do better when they grow up with their biological parents. Additionally, holidays, seating and honors at your children’s weddings, potential half-siblings, and many other matters will become part of their lives as well as yours if either you or your mate marry someone else.
Divorce or reconciliation both have consequences now, in a few months, and in the years to come. Think carefully about whether to end the relationship now or to risk another try at making it work well.
Fifth, seek the proper help
If you think you may reconcile, find the right help. Forgiving and reconciling do not happen naturally.
Help in Understanding How It Happened
It requires understanding how the infidelity occurred so that boundaries can be set to prevent it ever occurring again. Sometimes gaining that understanding causes pain in both the betrayer and the betrayed. Realizing why your spouse developed an emotional bond with another person can be extremely painful. Beyond that, you may face your own flaws if you happen to discover any unwitting contributions you made to situations that opened the possibility of unfaithfulness. That does not mean that you take responsibility for your spouse’s adultery, but that you recognize any of your marital imperfections.
Help in Putting the Marriage Back Together
Deciding not to divorce requires understanding how to forgive and reconcile. Reconciliation occurs in phases. It starts as a decision and, if done well, develops into an emotion. Learning how to make the decisions involved in the reconciliation process and knowing how to evaluate the process as it happens is very important.
Ultimately, the goal is not to reconcile for the sake of reconciliation, but to learn to love deeply.
There are many professionals who can help you through deciding whether to reconcile, and then, if you wish, to actually accomplish the reconciliation. They can help you love again and have a better marriage than you had.
Joe Beam is a best-selling author and chairman of Beam Research Center, an organization that provides marriage help to hurting couples. For more information on his workshop that saves troubled marriages that are in danger of divorce, click here.
Publication date: September 28, 2012
A New Beginning from Brokenness
by June Hunt
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
A. What Is the Biblical Perspective of Marriage?
• Marriage is a covenant agreement in which a man and a woman are legally and spiritually joined together as husband and wife.
“She is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his.” (Malachi 2:14–15)
• Marriage includes the uniting of two, one male and one female, into one flesh.
“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
• Marriage is to be a reflection of God’s covenant commitment to His people.
“I [God] will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.” (Hosea 2:19–20)
• Marriage is a picture of Christ’s sacrificial love for His bride, the church.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
• Marriage is designed to be permanent until the death of one of the partners.
“By law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.” (Romans 7:2)
• Marriage is a covenant commitment that should never be broken.
“Has not the Lord made them one?… Do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:15)
Question: “When I married, my husband and I weren’t Christians. Now that I am a Christian, is it acceptable in God’s eyes to divorce and marry a Christian?”
Answer: No. From the beginning, marriage has been an institution initiated by God. Any divorce results in breaking a covenant bond that God has established. The lifetime marriage contract has been transcultural from the most pagan tribe to the most advanced civilization.
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)
God’s Heart on Marriage
• God presents marriage as good and worthy of His favor.
“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22)
• God sees the person you married as being the right life partner for you.
“They are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:6)
• God portrays marriage as a picture of the sacrificial love of Christ (being willing to lay down your personal rights for your mate).
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
• God is not as concerned with your circumstances as He is with building your character.
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
• God promises to meet all the needs that your mate cannot provide.
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
B. What Is the Biblical Perspective of Divorce?
Legal Divorce … a judicial declaration that terminates the marriage contract
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ ” (Matthew 5:31)
Emotional Divorce … the result of a hardened heart toward one’s mate, creating an inability to give and receive love
“Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’ ” (Matthew 19:8)
Question: “I’ve read that in marriage ‘two will become one flesh’ (Mark 10:8). If my spouse and I get a divorce, would we not simply become two people again?”
Answer: Imagine two pieces of construction paper glued together—one red and one blue. If you try to separate the bonded paper, both will tear, leaving blotches of blue on the red and splotches of red on the blue. In marriage, two people “leave and cleave”—they are spiritually glued to each other. If the two are pulled apart, there are consequences that last a lifetime.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mark 10:7–9)
Old and New Testament Word Definitions
• An Old Testament Hebrew word for the concept of divorce is shalach, which means “to send away.” This Hebrew word is used in Jeremiah 3:1, “If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again?”
• The Old Testament Hebrew verb garish means “to drive out, cast out or put away.” This Hebrew word is used in Numbers 30:9, “Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her.”
• The Old Testament Hebrew noun kerithuth, referring to a legal bill of divorcement, is derived from the root word karath, which means “to make a covenant.” This Hebrew word is used in Deuteronomy 24:1, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.”
• The New Testament Greek word used for divorce is apoluo, which means “put away, release, dismiss or let go.” This Greek word is used in Luke 16:18, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
• Another New Testament Greek word, apostasion, is derived from aphistemi, which means “to remove, to revolt or to desert.” This Greek word is used in Mark 10:4, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
God’s Heart on Divorce
• God hates divorce.
“ ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” (Malachi 2:16)
• God does not see legal divorce as dissolving the “one flesh” spiritual bond in marriage.
“Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)
• God may close His ears to the prayers of one who breaks a marriage covenant.
“You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” (Malachi 2:13–14)
• God does not permit divorce just because a mate is not saved—the unbeliever becomes sanctified through the believing spouse and could become a Christian.
“For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.… How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:14, 16)
• God’s heart is for reconciliation even if there has been a divorce.
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10–11)
C. Is There Biblical Provision for Divorce and Remarriage?
Bill of Divorcement
• The document of divorce was originally a legal certificate clearing a woman of the stigma of adultery, thus protecting her position in society.
• The legal divorce was created to protect the innocent, usually the woman when her husband sent her away for reasons other than adultery. (An adulteress would have been stoned.)
• The divorce document gave women the legal status to remarry.
• If a husband sent his innocent wife away without the Bill of Divorcement and she remarried, he would have caused her to commit adultery because her original marriage vows had never been severed.
• Jesus made it clear that the Bill of Divorcement was a law written only to regulate the result of sin—a hardened heart, which destroyed the most sacred relationship—marriage.
Question: “Is there any provision in the Bible for divorce and remarriage?”
Answer: Yes. Most theologians believe that the Bible makes allowance for divorce in two situations.
— Sexual infidelity
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
— Physical abandonment
“If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
Question: “Before I became a Christian, I divorced and remarried. Should I divorce my second spouse and go back to my first mate?”
Answer: No. The Bible clearly says that remarriage to the first mate is unacceptable after marriage to another. God’s heart in giving these commands was centered around the need to caution a man concerning the consequences of putting away his wife.
“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 24:1–4)
• A faithful spouse is given permission to divorce a mate for marital unfaithfulness (fornication).
• This permission was given to protect the faithful spouse.
• The Greek word for marital unfaithfulness is porneia, which means “any illicit sexual intercourse.”
• Sexual infidelity is an act that automatically breaks the marital covenant.
• Jesus does not advise divorce, but allows it. Some people are led to stay in a marriage and pray that the unfaithful spouse will repent.
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.… I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
(Matthew 5:32; 19:9)
Question: “I feel that my mate has deserted me emotionally. Is this a biblical reason for divorce?”
Answer: No. As painful as rejection is, the abandonment passage in 1 Corinthians refers to the physical desertion by an unbelieving mate.
— The believer should not manipulate the unbeliever to stay in the marriage, nor should the believer manipulate the situation in order to drive the unbeliever away.
“If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
— The believer is not held accountable or bound if deserted by the unbeliever.
“A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
— The believer is called by God to live in peace.
“God has called us to live in peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
— The believer should realize that the unbelieving mate might be saved through the marriage relationship.
“How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16)
— The believer should not eagerly pursue remarriage, but rather should wait for the Lord to reveal His calling.
“Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.” (1 Corinthians 7:17)
Note: Desertion is discussed in Scripture only in reference to an unequally yoked marriage.
“If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.” (1 Corinthians 7:15–17)
God’s Heart on Divorce and Remarriage
• God guards and protects the faithful spouse in a divorce.
“He guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” (Proverbs 2:8)
• God allows divorce and will accomplish His ultimate purpose for you.
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
• God promises to meet all your needs.
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
• God requires self-examination when you have experienced divorce.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5)
• God’s heart is to bring “new life” out of the devastation of divorce.
“ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Question: “If I have suffered an unwanted divorce, initiated by my mate, am I free to remarry?”
Answer: God’s heart is for reconciliation, but if your spouse has remarried, then you are free to marry. However, God has a specific plan for your life, and you need to seek His wisdom when considering remarriage.
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.… If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:8–9, 15)
Question: “Which is more devastating—divorce or death?”
Answer: While divorce and death both can be devastating—sometimes divorce can be more devastating. With death, reminiscing is predominant, but with divorce, rejection runs rampant. With death, memories may be precious, but with divorce, memories are painful. And with death, there is closure, but in divorce, especially when children are involved, the consequences can last a lifetime.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
Stages of Response to an Unwanted Divorce
Lost income, long soup lines and loss of lives—it was called The Great Depression. Even the hopes of farmers were dashed as the sky darkened and swarms of locusts devoured the crops. Similar devastation also descends on the heart of a spouse who hears the words, “I want a divorce.” Days become dark and dreams are devoured. The drought never seems to end, yet God tenderly speaks to the one who is deserted.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”
The initial stage is a whirlwind of emotions including guilt, depression and low self-worth. As the winds of rejection sweep away years of investment, identity is eroded, and the ground you once stood on is swept away. This time of turbulence can last up to six months or more.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
|• Denial||“Divorce happens only to other people.… This can’t be happening to me!”“You don’t really want to go through with this.”|
|• Embarrassment||“I can’t let anyone know this is happening.”“How can I face my family and friends”|
|• Loneliness||“I never knew I could feel so lonely, even when I’m with others.”“No one can understand this pain.… I feel like my heart is ripped out.”|
|• Rejection||“Am I so undesirable that you won’t try to make it work?”“I suppose there is nothing about me to love.”|
|• Fear||“Financially, what is going to happen to me?”“I’m afraid I’ll be alone the rest of my life.”|
|• Anger||“I hate you for hurting not just me, but also the rest of the family.”“God, You could have changed his heart.… I know You could have stopped it!”|
A stage of adjustment begins when you recognize the need for change. As you get on with the demands of life, you begin to deal with your emotions honestly and turn your eyes inward for personal growth. If you root out resentment and allow your Redeemer to restore your heart, your life will be fruitful again. This time of transition can last from six months to two years or longer.
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.”
• During this time of transition you should be …
— Refusing negative thought patterns
— Recognizing the divorce is not all “your fault”
— Receiving God’s love and acceptance
— Reflecting on the relational dynamics of the marriage
— Repenting of personal sin and selfishness
— Relinquishing your rights and beginning the process of forgiveness
— Readjusting to life without a mate
This stage flows with deep waters of inner strength. Although many broken hearts are never restored because of bitterness or harboring hatred, new beginnings can bloom in time if your hope has been replanted through knowing God intimately and walking in His ways.
“I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate.”
• During this time of new beginnings you thrive by …
— Knowing that God is in control of your circumstances
— Knowing that God cares about every detail of your life
— Knowing that God has brought you through a character-building process
— Knowing that you can do nothing on your own, but that strength comes from Christ, who lives in you and develops in you His own character
— Knowing that you would not trade who you are now for who you were before the divorce
— Knowing that life is full of joy and promise
— Knowing that God wants to use you as a representative of His love in the lives of others
Growth is not a gradual upward line. The normal pattern for emotional, mental and spiritual healing will consist of moving in and out of the three stages of turbulence, transition and thriving. Don’t think something is wrong with you or become discouraged when you fall back a few steps or if you seem to be in pain longer than someone else. A broken arm takes time to mend and is tender to the touch, but healing and help is found in the Lord.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
Question: “Why is the divorce rate so much higher now than it was fifty years ago?”
Answer: Situational ethics has rejected moral absolutes (clear-cut right and wrong) by rationalizing sin. The influence of the world on our values makes divorce appear to be not only an acceptable solution but also the best solution to marital difficulties.
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
A. Surface Causes of Divorce
• An Adulterous Generation
— lacking strong moral convictions
— taking advantage of “easy” divorce laws
— living as man and wife prior to marriage
— striving for financial and material gain
— seeking fulfillment in a career
— looking for self-centered happiness
— emphasizing personal rights
— experiencing identity issues, midlife crisis or empty nest syndrome
— missing a sense of meaning and purpose to life
— believing in the myth of the ideal marriage
B. Root Cause of Divorce
• The Hardened Heart
“Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.”
Common Relational Dynamics That Often Lead to Divorce
|The Hardened-hearted Spouse||The Heavy-hearted Spouse|
|• Feels dissatisfied with marriage and determines the other partner is at fault||• Is completely unaware of partner’s dissatisfaction with the marriage|
|• Allows some event (could be minor) to trigger a desire for a divorce||• Is unaware of the event or of any personal responsibility for wounding partner in some way|
|• Does not openly communicate the anger but the dynamic of relating is affected||• Is aware of a difficult dynamic of relating but copes with partner’s reactions|
|• Keeps a running mental journal of perceived injustices from partner||• Is aware of partner’s negativism but not able to identify the exact problem|
|• Remains aloof and brooding while looking for a reason to break up the marriage||• Continues to disappoint partner without being aware of it|
|• Decides suddenly to leave because of a crisis or some outside interest||• Is in total shock that partner is even contemplating a divorce|
|• Initiates pressure for the partner to get a divorce||• Resists a divorce and attempts behavioral changes|
|• Feels completely justified, becomes resolute and determined to get a divorce||• Feels guilty, becomes defensive and then completely devastated by the breakup of the marriage|
|“He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 36:13)||“I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.” (Psalm 38:8)|
“There is no love in my marriage. Life is so short, I have the right to seek happiness and personal fulfillment elsewhere.”
God wants me to love and respect my mate by drawing on the resources of His indwelling love and strength. I will look to God to provide personal fulfillment.
“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
iv. steps to solution
A. Key Verses to Memorize
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
Freedom from Guilt!
• Confirm your need before God. v. 25
“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.”
• Confess and reflect on your own sins. v. 26
“I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees.”
• Commit yourself to understanding God’s truths. v. 27
“Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.”
• Confirm your sorrow about the loss. v. 28
“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.”
• Claim your need for God’s guidance. v. 29
“Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law.”
• Choose to follow God’s will for your life. v. 30
“I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.”
• Cling to God’s truths, especially when evil seems to triumph. v. 31
“I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame.”
• Cherish your freedom that is found in the Lord. v. 32
“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”
Question: “Why do I feel guilty when I’m not the one who wanted a divorce?”
Answer: Even though you are the innocent party, in marriage everyone makes mistakes. There may be unconfessed sin in your life for which you are accountable.
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
C. Freedom in Forgiveness!
Once you have overcome personal guilt, you are free to forgive others. Whether you are working toward a reconciled marriage or painfully accepting your partner’s remarriage, forgiving those who have deeply wounded your heart is the key to unlocking the door to “new beginnings.”
“If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Follow God’s correction course.
• Know that nothing happens to you that has not first passed through the loving hands of God.
• Know that God has not caused your spouse to leave, but He is working through the situation for your benefit.
• Know that both you and your spouse share some of the responsibility for the situation.
“He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.” (Proverbs 15:31)
Own your personal sins and seek God’s forgiveness.
• Do I have a submissive spirit or am I strong willed?
• Do I have a grateful spirit or am I critical and perfectionistic?
• Am I patient and forgiving or am I easily angered?
• Am I honest and trustworthy or do I seek to deceive?
• Do I praise others or do I slander and belittle?
“I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
Recognize your need to confess and seek forgiveness.
• Seek sincerely to understand how you have hurt another.
• Speak only about your offenses.
• Keep your statement simple.
“My heart has convicted me of how deeply I have hurt you. Although I am undeserving, I want you to know I am genuinely sorry for (name the offense). Will you forgive me?”
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
Give only a good report.
• Avoid saying any unkind words about your spouse.
• Avoid belittling the other parent in the eyes of your children.
• Avoid seeking sympathy from friends and relatives.
• Avoid self-centered conversations.
• Avoid talking about the difficulties of others without their approval.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Identify the unmet needs of your ex-spouse.
(Know your three God-given inner needs.)
• Was your mate searching for unconditional love?
• Did your mate lack a feeling of significance and importance within the marriage?
• Could your mate have needed more emotional security within the relationship?
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)
Vow to pray for your ex-spouse.
• Pray for the salvation of your ex-spouse.
• Pray for your ex-spouse to let the Lord meet inner needs.
• Pray for Satan to have no power.
• Pray for the bondage of sin to be broken.
• Pray for protection from outside evil influence.
• Pray for godly influences to enter the life of your ex-spouse.
• Pray for godly repentance, even if your ex-spouse remarries.
“I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Expect God to be working on your behalf.
• “Thank You, God, for coming into my life and leading me in the way to go.”
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)
• “Thank You, God, for coming to my defense.”
“He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me.” (Psalm 18:47)
• “Thank You, God, that You bring the guilty to justice.”
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
• “Thank You, God, for promising to provide all my needs.”
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31–33)
• “Thank You, God, that You answer prayer that is according to Your will.”
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14–15)
• “Thank You, God, that You will protect me from trouble.”
“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7)
• “Thank You, God, that You will be the other parent to my children.”
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)
• “Thank You, God, that You will take the place of my mate.”
“For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5)
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”
D. Freedom for New Beginnings
Beginning again may mean an opportunity to rebuild a marriage based on new understanding and new goals, or it may mean rebuilding hope into a life that has been broken by sorrow. In either situation, God has a wonderful new beginning for those whose hearts are given to Him. From the soil of failure sprouts “new life in Christ.”
“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.”
New Life in Christ
• Your new identity (married or single) is in the Lord, not in a position or in another person.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
• You are complete in Christ, not an incomplete single if you don’t remarry.
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9–10)
• Your happiness comes from inner attitudes, not outer circumstances.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3–12)
• Your purpose in life, married or single, is to glorify God.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
• You have the resources to forgive your ex-spouse and others who have hurt you.
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
• You have the strength to overcome temptations when you are living in the power of Christ.
“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:14)
• You are free (if you are single) to be concerned with things of the Lord.
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:32–34)
• You have shared in the sufferings of Christ and can be an effective witness in the lives of others.
“Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19)
E. Freedom to Minister
“Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
(1 Timothy 4:12)
Do’s and Don’ts for Helping Others
Don’t counsel others when you are walking through your own spiritual wilderness.
Do … Be a living example of having Christ’s strength as your strength.
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
Don’t give advice based on your personal opinion.
Do … Know God’s heart on marriage and divorce.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
Don’t encourage dating and remarriage—especially when the former spouse has not remarried.
Do … Share God’s heart on reconciliation and contentment.
“If she does [divorce], she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:11)
Don’t criticize or judge the offending spouse.
Do … Encourage the wounded spouse to rely on the Lord to bring healing and justice.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:3)
Don’t reinforce feelings of self-pity, bitterness and injustice.
Do … Encourage keeping a journal of feelings, then releasing the pain to the Lord.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)
Don’t allow those you counsel to become too dependent on you.
Do … Help those who are hurting to rely on God’s unconditional love and acceptance.
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.’ ” (Jeremiah 31:3)
Don’t be the only source of counsel.
Do … Share how to meditate on God’s Word and listen to God’s voice.
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ” (Isaiah 30:21)
Don’t assume that the pain of divorce is over.
Do … Reach out during the most difficult times—evenings, anniversaries, holidays and birthdays, social gatherings with couples and at times when the children are with the former spouse.
“Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you—better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.” (Proverbs 27:10)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
(2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
|My Prayer of SurrenderDear Heavenly Father,
Thank You for the fact that I am Your child and I am precious to You.
As my perfect Father in heaven, You see all, know all, and You have complete control of all things.
You are sovereign over all my life.
Because Your very nature is love, there is nothing that can happen to me that does not first pass through Your fingers of love.
You are wise enough to plan the best course for me and powerful enough to fulfill what You have planned.
I will rest in Your love and protection as the Orchestrator of my life.
I choose to trust You with the events of my life, knowing that You will use them for good.
I surrender my partner to You, Lord.
I will not demand my mate’s time and attention or love and understanding.
I will look to You to meet my needs and give what is best for me.
I also surrender my children to You, Lord.
You love them more perfectly than I possibly can.
I trust in Your loving care to meet their true needs.
I surrender all thoughts of self-pity and revenge when I am dealt with unjustly or harshly.
When my mate fails to be concerned or considerate, I refuse to harbor a critical spirit, for I know that a bitter root will bear bitter fruit.
Thank You, Lord, for the presence of Christ in me to be my strength.
I rest in Your promise that, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
Loving Lord, I give all control of my partner’s life to Your control. I yield my will to Your will.
Thank You for being completely trustworthy.
I pray this prayer, placing my total trust in Jesus.
Only through Christ will I be able to remain true to this commitment.
I pray this prayer, placing all my hope in Him. Amen.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®.
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. Understanding People: Deep Longings for Relationship. Ministry Resources Library. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.
Dobson, Edward G. What the Bible Really Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. Old Tappan, N. J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1986.
Hershey, Terry. Beginning Again. Rev. ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986.
Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.
Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.
Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008
Knorr, Dandi Daley. Splitting Up: When Your Friend Gets a Divorce. Heart & Hand. Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1988.
Marshall, Sharon. When a Friend Gets a Divorce: What Can You Do? Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.
McGee, Robert S. The Search for Significance. 2d ed. Houston, Tex.: Rapha, 1990.
O’Brien, Welby. Formerly a Wife: A Survival Guide for Women Facing the Pain and Disruption of Divorce. Camp Hill, Pa.: Horizon, 1996.
Smoke, Jim. Growing through Divorce. Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1995.
Smoke, Jim. Living Beyond Divorce: The Possibilities of Remarriage. Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1984.
Supanic, Ronald M., and Dennis L. Baker. When All Else Fails. Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1986.
Thompson, David A. Counseling and Divorce. Resources for Christian Counseling, ed. Gary R. Collins. Dallas: Word, 1989.
West, Kari. Dare to Trust Dare to Hope Again: Living with Losses of the Heart. Colorado Springs, CO: Faithful Woman, 2002.
Whiteman, Thomas A., and Randy Petersen. Starting Over: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Rebuild Your Life after a Breakup. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Piñon, 2001.
Zodhiates, Spiros. What About Divorce? Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG, 1984.
 Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Divorce: A New Beginning from Brokenness (13–21). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.
Final Thoughts on Divorce From Church Leadership
- John Macarthur divorce excerpt, “… all believers should hate divorce as God does and pursue it only when there is no other recourse. With God’s help a marriage can survive the worst sins… Therefore, the believer should never consider divorce except in specific circumstances and even in those circumstances it should only be pursued reluctantly because there is no other recourse. … After all means are exhausted to bring the sinning partner to repentance”
- Church Leadership affirms, “Divorce May Be Permitted…When a spouse is guilty of sexual immorality such as adultery or homosexuality and has no intention of repenting or seeking God’s forgiveness, and living in faithfulness to his or her spouse.”
- “Well, has the church ever committed adultery? Like, daily? So, how a Christian husband (wife) can say to a penitent adultery-committing wife (husband), “You did it, and that breaks it! It’s over, and so I’m going to officialize it at the court.” I just don’t see how any Christian husband (wife) can talk or feel that way toward a broken and repentant wife (husband). And I think that even if she (he) isn’t broken and repentant that he (she) should wait and wait and pray and pray. That is a hard teaching.
Is there no other recourse except the allowance of divorce? John MacArthur and Church Leadership agree that divorce should not be pursued if there is repentance from sin. John MacArthur further says, “In all of the references to divorce whether directly or indirectly, God never sanctions it, God never commends it, God never approves of it, and God never puts His stamp on it. He only acknowledges that it exists as a concession to sinful people. In fact God sets forth the example of Hosea and Gomer and God’s own heart in the issue would be that if you have an adulterous situation even that far into your marriage, it’s even that severe in your marriage rather than seek a bill of divorcement, seek to do what Hosea did and that is to forgive and redeem the guilty partner.”