Summary: Biblical teaching on divorce: though divorce is not a good thing, it is sometimes permitted.
Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "I read where one wife plans to divorce her husband as soon as she can find a way to do so without making him happy." Friends, Arnold may have read that, but in real life, divorce is no joke. It seldom brings happiness to anyone. Most of us are aware of the devastating effects that divorce has upon children. It is not good for kids to see their father or mother, at best, every other weekend. Studies continue to show that low grades in school, drug abuse, criminal activity and other negative behaviors are far more common among children whose parents have been divorced than among those whose parents remain married. A recent study found that the loneliest group of adults consists of men whose parents were divorced before they (the men) were six years old. Divorce doesn't make children happy. Adults experience great pain in divorce too. Though it is seldom the fault of only one party, one spouse usually ends up feeling abandoned and rejected and bears those scars for years. Sometimes the spouse who initiated the breakup also has regrets as a new marriage doesn't turn out as well as expected, and the children blame him or her for destroying the family.
Another place where divorce causes great harm is in the church. When a marriage breaks up, there can be conflict in a church as people inevitably side with one partner or the other. There is controversy within churches on how to deal with people who are divorced. There is one Baptist General Conference church in Wisconsin which had a terrible split because the pastor believed that someone who had been divorced should not be allowed to serve in any capacity in the church. Other times folks have become very upset when a pastor refuses to perform a wedding ceremony for an individual who has been married before. People who have gone through a divorce sometimes choose not to attend church because they are afraid of how they will be treated. Many churches and individual Christians have a hard time knowing how to respond to divorce.
We as Christians need to develop a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches on this topic. In dealing with this issue, it seems that people are prone to make one of two mistakes. The first is to ignore what the Bible teaches. There are some folks who claim the biblical attitude toward divorce is too harsh, and that we need to develop more compassionate guidelines to deal with these situations. I think that is silly. If we are not going to listen to what the Bible says about divorce, we really don't believe in the authority of Scripture. If we reject the Bible as God's Word for us, we are in a religious and moral wasteland with no way of knowing what is true, right or good. Even though the New Testament was written almost 2000 years ago, it continues to provide the moral standard by which Christians are to live, and we need to be willing to follow its guidelines on divorce. The second mistake I see Christians making is to oversimplify and distort the biblical teaching. I know some Christians who say, "God hates divorce. No one should ever get divorced. If you do divorce, you must never remarry. End of discussion." This morning you will learn that I don't believe that is what the Bible teaches. Now, I don't expect everyone to agree with my interpretation. I have argued with some of my best friends on this issue, but I do think we as Christians need to take time to carefully look at what the Bible says and make sure we are not distorting God's Word on this important subject.
What we are going to do today is look at 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. Though there are other texts which deal with divorce, I believe this passage accurately sums up the main points of what God says in His Word on this topic. Since our journey through 1 Corinthians has brought us to these verses, it seems like a good time to tackle what is a tough issue. Before we do that, let's pause and pray that God would help us understand and apply His Word today.
What we are going to do is note the main points that God makes through the Apostle Paul, and then talk about practical applications of what is taught here. I would summarize this passage in two main points. 1) Divorce is not a good thing. A Christian should not divorce his or her spouse. 7:10a To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):.. What Paul says is something which Jesus Himself taught while He was on earth, in Matthew 5:31,32 and other texts. 7:10b A wife must not separate from her husband. For some reason Paul starts with a wife leaving her husband, which was not very common in his day, and at the end of Verse 11 he adds, "And a husband must not divorce his wife." It goes both ways. He does give one qualification. 7:11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. There is no reason to think that this doesn't apply to both husbands and wives as well. What he's describing here is somewhat like what we call a legal separation. A wife is no longer with her husband, but she is not free to marry someone else. Her options are to stay single or go back with her husband. It is difficult to guess what type of situation Paul is thinking about here. Perhaps it could be an abusive relationship of some type. Whatever the case, separation is permitted, but not divorce.