Marriage & the Gospel of Jesus

My wife and I just celebrated our 9th year anniversary (12/15). In celebration of my wife and in honor of my grandmother, I decided to share some thoughts on marriage. I’m aware that this is a hot button issue, so just keep in mind that these are my personal thoughts on something I think is central to living out the Gospel of Jesus.

FYI: This was sparked by an older article from Christianity Today Magazine. You can read the article here.

We are all familiar with the great debate over marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I would like to focus my comments particularly on where divorce fits into God’s plan. My understanding is that it doesn’t.

The Epidemic of Divorce

The Christian pollster George Barna has said, “There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage.” It is now old news that, according to the most reliable statistical figures, there is virtually no difference between believers and non-believers when it comes to the divorce rate.

How can this be? How is it that Christ-followers have given up on such a central teaching of Jesus?—Reconciliation (Matt. 5-7).

I know believers that have claimed emotional abuse as their reason for divorce. Honestly, what spouse could not claim emotional abuse in marriage? All of us who are married could claim this at some point.

It must be said if there were any legitimate reasons for divorce, this would not be one of them—no matter how many well-intentioned authors and radio talk show hosts say so.

And if there is real physical abuse, there are plenty of creative ways the church can help a believer respond (and protect them) without encouraging a severing of the relationship. The church’s uncreative response to this reminds me of how she has too often shirked her responsibility to address other evils in a manner that is reflective of Christ (e.g. abortion, poverty, war, etc.).

If my grandmother, Emma, who was physically abused and cheated on numerous times, had left my grandfather, who eventually became a believer, I would not be here today. In fact, my siblings and many of my cousins would not be here either. There would no doubt be fewer folks in the kingdom of God. I’m thankful for the strength, the spiritual depth, and the persistence of this dear lady. She believed God and it paid off.

In all of the (Christian) discussions about marriage and divorce, it is rarely mentioned how destructive divorce is, for any reason. It’s an epidemic in the church today. It destroys families and the lives of people around us. It certainly doesn’t reflect Christ who reconciles and loves us without limit.

It doesn’t reflect new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Bible & Divorce

Is God looking for a way out of his relationship with us because we have abused him? I am thankful for the bond of Christ, and the promise of God’s power to reconcile all things to himself (Col. 1:19-20). And I am thankful that he still “hates” divorce (Malachi 2:16).

I believe, as the CT article suggests, Jesus and Paul were both dealing with specific questions about marriage. The biblical text is not giving us answers to all of the many scenarios about marriage and divorce that we seek today.

We certainly don’t want to start constructing arguments based off silence either, lest we think Jesus somehow believed in war and that homosexuality is consistent with the created order. Jesus didn’t directly address many things, but the core of his teachings gives us a portrait of God’s divine image and his good purposes for his creation. The Scripture is plain enough (Mark 10:1-10; Lk 16:18).

This much is true. We can debate all day long about the “exception” clause (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). However, it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to see that the biblical text is very clear that divorce is destructive and should be avoided at all costs (1 Cor. 7:10-16).

Divorce may happen, but it isn’t “allowed” any more than other radical evils. Like everything else, Jesus has revealed a better way—a higher spiritual law.

Unfortunately, I see the church easing the conscience of Christians so they can follow their flesh and turn to worldly law courts to kill their covenant vows made with God and spouse—hoping that the next marriage will stick. Christians determined to escape their unpleasant situation, will not have to go very far to find a friend or pastor willing to assist them with “biblical” and psychological reasons for terminating their marriage.

Believers should keep this clear in their mind, that whatever they believe the exceptions or allowances may be (if any), the biblical text recognizes that divorce is antithetical to the kingdom of God–plain and simple (e.g. 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 5:11-21; Col. 3:12-14; 1 Peter. 3:-1-7; etc.) You can’t simply give up on marriage and carry on with the Lord as if nothing happened.

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 Jn. 3:14).

What else would the Scripture need to say for us to get it?

Marriage as Faithfulness to Christ

I think we should make this as biblically plain as possible and do all that we can to salvage marriages–instead of spending time helping people divorce with a good conscience and God’s approval; which is unfortunately how the conversation is geared today.

There must be a way to believe in grace and still profess a thing called holiness. Many Christians have forsaken it for a hipster faith. We need to find the balance in Christ. God thinks holiness is hip. You can’t read the Old Testament and miss that one. The New Testament writers knew this well: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Pet. 1:15).

There is mercy and grace at the cross, but it must be understood, if we give up on marriage, we are giving up on Christ.

In an age where things get hard and it’s easy to leave churches that make us mad, marriages that didn’t turn out the way we hoped, and other difficult situations that hurt our self-esteem, it is critical that we show the world a different way to live. If we don’t, nobody will.

It calls for denying ourselves and showing the world that there is real power in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Lk. 9:23).

Until the church can largely affirm that, I see she has no place in telling pagans what marriage ought to be in the halls of worldly law. She has lost that right. In fact, she loses the right to say anything about the value of relationships. This issue alone may be, I suspect, why the church is losing her influence in the culture.

It may also have much to do with why Christians are leaving the church—no lasting marriages, no healthy families, so no real commitment to anything in life. We have given up on marriage as a life commitment, and we have therefore no reason to believe in a real otherworldly community of the Triune God on the earth.

Ministers of Reconciliation

I want to believe that the Lord is beginning to stir in the hearts of his people to stop this foolishness and believe that Jesus has the power to redeem what is lost and mend what is broken. Marriage doesn’t stand a chance when there is not a life covenant made that lasts as long as Christ loves the church.

Just think how different things could be if young people entered into marriage believing “this thing is forever” no if-and-buts about it. How much harder we would all work at maintaining the most important relationship of all if we understood that the Gospel itself even hinges upon the depth and the sincerity of this one relationship?

We are called to be ministers of reconciliation in every area of life. As Christians, we have not been afforded the right to select certain people who we wish to extend his mercy and forgiveness. It’s a free gift to all who will receive it. It’s a command that is central to the Gospel of Jesus (Jn. 13:34-35).

We are peacemakers, not home-wreckers.

Jesus cancelled our debts, if we want to continue receiving his forgiveness, we must forgive the debts of others (Matt. 18:21-35). It’s the only way are able to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12).

For those who have blown it in the past, I believe forgiveness and restoration is in no short supply. Begin again with the Lord today. Turn from making destructive choices and believe in the power of the Gospel of Jesus. Align yourself with the Lord’s kingdom purposes and he will intercede. Seek reconciliation, dear saints.

Our decisions have lasting consequences. May we all be reminded of the difference our choices make in God’s battle for heaven and earth. I pray that we would get our hearts right about what is most important to the Lord and press on as ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

And may our marriages reflect the beauty of the one that exists between Jesus and his bride, the church.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

9 responses to “Marriage & the Gospel of Jesus

  • john morris

    David, once again, “bingo”. Great article, and timely as usual. My wife and I just recently celebrated our 28th anniversary, and I could not agree with you any more. It has not always been easy to stay together, sometimes it has been down right hard. I know that we could have legitimately divorced before, and for all the “right” scriptural reasons. We have chosen to stay together, a much harder, but more rewarding path for sure.

    Early in my walk with Christ, I felt that my relationship with Him was “tied” with my relationship to my wife. I know He brought the two of us together, He confirmed it through His church. If I ever doubt that, I will have to doubt my own relationship with Him.

    I think an early decision my wife and I made, has been an important key to our marriage lasting. That key is, that we never, and I mean never, use the word “divorce” when we disagree or argue. It is not an option for us, it does not exist, it it off the table. If you can’t speak it, and you don’t say it, it really does not become a viable option, even in the heat of an argument. I know this is simple sounding, but it has worked well for us.

    We have also maintained a true sorrow, as we have watched so many of our, committed Christian, friends divorce over the years. It has been heart breaking to watch so many families fall apart. If it hurts us as badly as it does, I can not imagine how the Lord must hurt. Our 3 sons have commented over the years, about how our family is about the only one that they know of that still has the “original mom and dad” still together. How sad.

    Also, my oldest son, proposed to his girlfriend yesterday. I will be showing him this article today. Once again, very timely. Thanks again,for your commitment to Christ, and for your commitment to your “Bride” as well.

    Your brother, John Morris.

  • Michael Young

    I very much agree. Now I’m not a married person, or even engaged or dating anyone, but I hold to this belief in marriage and divorce.

    From my observation (a very limited and young one, at that) it seems that many young people in the church are almost pressured to marry quickly. They feel if they aren’t married then they won’t be able to get into the so-called “ministry,” or they won’t be fully a Christian until they marry. So they rush into a relationship with another person, sometimes with a fairy tale in mind of what marriage is going to look like. Then, they realize that maybe they never really loved this person. Instead they loved the emotion and the fairy tale that movies have impressed upon us since childhood. Or, they aren’t willing to bear the cross with their spouse and think that he/she is the one that needs to be “fixed.”

    So, in my opionion (only an opinion), divorce rates can drop dramatically if young people would simply seek the Lord in their late teens and early twenties. I hold to the belief that the Lord is going to bring my wife. Adam didn’t have to strive for Eve, God gave her to him.

    Thanks for the article, my friend.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Michael, I couldn’t agree more that teens and young adults should discover who they are in the Lord. I have seen this many times–people in a hurry to get married before they have truly given themselves over to the Lord and established a solid relationship with Christ. Thanks.

  • Lola

    This is an interesting read, and I have a question. What if the husband leaves/abandons the wife and keeps the wife under lock and key, that is, the man is not performing his duty as a husband. Will this be a good ground for divorce? Or should the wife continue in a marriage she receives no love, no children, no sex, no benefit of marriage?

    • David D. Flowers

      Hello Lola, thank you for reading.

      As followers of Christ, we must believe in the power of God’s love to change a person. This calls for persistent mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love extended to the person who has offended us. The Lord will continue changing our hearts in the process. I would recommend settling in your heart that you will participate in the life-changing power of God’s love, and trust in him.

      Also, surround yourself with other Christians who support you in your quest to follow Christ faithfully. You can’t do it alone. We must believe that the Lord can transform your husband with his love. It has happened many times where a follower of Christ has chosen to be a minister of reconciliation. Remember to pray continuously, for we do not battle against flesh and blood.

      May the Lord bless you as you remain faithful to him.

  • tommyab

    how do we deal with manipulative, violent, paranoid, possessive individuals who never repent (and call themselves christians) ??

    with the guidelines in Matthew 18 (how to deal with the brother who sin),… how to put this passage into practice ?

    If we have a married couple. Both christians. One of them sin by being manipulative and violent.

    The other one tell him to repent (“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”).

    If it doesn’t work, this person go with one or two brother/sister (“But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ “)

    It still doesn’t work, so this person go tell the church. (“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”)

    Then what to do ?
    1) honor the marriage and still live with that unrepenting christian ?
    2) Or obey what we are thaught in Matthew 18 and don’t have any contact with that person until either he/she goes away and asks for divorce, or he/she comes back repenting ?

    (this way of doing thing according to the teaching of Matthew 18 is the only one who will make visible the hypocrits. it’s also the good way to make the true brother come back (ex: the case in Corinth where the man was with the wife of his father… he finally repented and came back to the church) …)

    I can imagine what would happen in an traditionnal institutionnal church: never ending pastoral care and counseling sessions,… or the abused person in the couple told that it is her cross (… it’s mostly women that end up in situations like this…) and that she should be patient.

    in some situations, i think, following Christ involves separation from peoples who call themselves brother but never repent.

    • David D. Flowers

      I have to disagree with you, Tommy. Matthew 18 does not apply when it comes to sacred covenant marriage vows. In Matt. 18, Jesus was, as you said, talking about disputes/sins between other brothers and sisters in the church.

      Yes, it is regrettable that pastoral care within the organized church often amounts to what you have described above.

      Nevertheless, I stand by what I have written in this blog post. I do believe that Christ can work with a time of intentional separation in order to seek him, I have seen it do some good.

      However, leaving your spouse, thinking that Matt. 18 is a justification for it, does not honor your vows or reflect the covenantal relationship Christ has with his bride, the church.

      Jesus and Paul both treated marriage differently than an ordinary infraction between saints. We are dealing with marriage here. Therefore, I don’t think Matt. 18 is a principle that applies in the sense of separation or giving our spouse “over to Satan” as Paul said elsewhere about carnal believers.

      I think Jesus and Paul were dealing with believers (a very specific situation) who continued gathering with the church in their sin and carrying on as if all is well. Most of the time, if a person is treating their wives (spouse) the way you described, they won’t bother with the church anyway–especially if its face-to-face community.

      In most situations, the professing believer living in sin, leaves on their own. If they don’t and it comes up before the church, it may call for the church to discipline the spouse who persists in sin, but it doesn’t call for one spouse to leave the other. This is one serious way I believe the church can take action. And then rally around the faithful spouse who seeks reconciliation.

      Honestly, I think this works much more naturally in a small organic “familial” group setting than it does with the institutional church. If folks can reimagine the church as real community, they might be able to see the possibility for something beautiful to take place. How much differently could these matters be handled if the church was a tight-knit community of believers who had recklessly abandoned themselves to Christ?

      We must not lose sight of God’s eternal purpose in the church–living stones being built together into a spiritual house for God’s dwelling on the earth.

      Thanks for sharing, Tommy.

  • tommyab

    I’m not sure of what I wrote actually. Only thinking and asking question to God… while praying the prayer Jesus thaught us (“Our father…. your will be done…).

    Thanks

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