Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage


Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives , submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Here we have the calling of the Lord for the woman, to be subject to her husband for life just as the church is subject to Christ. It is difficult to conceive of a stronger way to put this into words. The woman does not appear to have any prerogative to pursue the divorce of her husband so long as he is even minimally upright with her. She is to remain faithful to him as his helper and servant so long as the Lord gives her breath. She is to seek to please him in her life with him, submitting to him with purpose and earnest sincerity in all things so long as it is not in direct conflict with the commands of God found in the written Word. She is to seek out his will, yielding to his will instead of her own in each day of their life together. She has no right to belittle him, nag him, pressure him, deny him, manipulate him, or defraud him. This is binding even upon women who have stubborn and insensitive spouses, such as Nabal in the case of virtuous Abigail. Though some churches and authors touch briefly upon this subject, it is only understood, at best, in a painfully superficial way. The calling of God for a woman appears to have become almost entirely smothered in the liberal feminism of our day. Most churches, as in the days before the struggle for civil rights in America, follow blindly along with the brokenness of the culture without hesitation or concern.

Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.

The call for husbands to love their wives could not be more plainly stated than this, nor more beautifully. The thought of a husband lightly pursuing a divorce from a woman with this kind of love in his heart for her is simply inconceivable. One would think that there would be nothing at all a wife could do to disrupt this type of love. If she is remotely reasonable, this is certainly the case.

The husband is to love his wife; he is to have and demonstrate affection towards his wife based on admiration and / or benevolence. In loyalty and unselfish concern, the husband is to freely accept his wife and seek her good. Husbands are to love their wives faithfully in the same manner and with the same kind of love that Jesus Christ has demonstrated for His elect, the Church. Jesus Christ gave everything to purchase His bride, and will stop at nothing to protect her and promote His oneness with her. He is as interested in her welfare as He is in His own: she is part of Him.

However, even Jesus Christ will not tolerate adultery, disrespect, and coldness in his bride. He does warn her, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love… Repent… or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." (Revelation 2:4-5) Jesus Christ will eventually put away a church that continues in disobedience, disrespect, and coldness toward Him. His love is deep and infinite, but His toleration of sin in His bride has some very solid limits to it and He expresses them clearly. Likewise, when a husband has done all he can for his bride to make their relationship work, he need not feel forced to make her stay by his side. If she chooses to be apart from him, he has the liberty to close the door to her and let the marriage go. He need not depart from His Lord to serve her in order to make her stay, nor remain in a state of frustration and brokenness after her departure.

Ephesians 5:26-7
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or
wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Jesus Christ died for His church to separate her to Himself, to see her purified and brought to maturity and wholesomeness. Jesus Christ will present the Church to Himself; He is preparing her for Himself and will work patiently and persistently with her to make her perfectly suited to Himself as His wife.

Ephesians 5:28
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth
his wife loveth himself.

In the same manner as Jesus Christ loves the church, a husband should love his wife, taking care of her needs even as he takes care of himself. The same affection and interest that a man shows towards his own welfare, both physical, emotional, and spiritual, he should consistently show toward his wife. Since he and his wife are one flesh, and she is dedicated to promoting his welfare, when he blesses and nourishes his wife he makes her all the more capable of being his helper. Her interests and needs should be just as important to him as his own needs, and he should make as much of an effort to satisfy and bless his wife as he makes for himself.

Ephesians 5:29
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the
Lord the church:

Every man takes regular care of his own physical needs, and is deeply interested in his own personal welfare, in the same manner as Jesus Christ pursues the welfare of the Church.

Ephesians 5:30
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

We are part of the body of Jesus Christ, and that is the reason He cares for us with the same interest that He cares for Himself.

Ephesians 5:31
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife,
and they two shall be one flesh.

Because of the love of Jesus Christ for the Church, and His purpose to become eternally one with her, a man should separate himself from the authority of his initial family and make a new family with his wife in which they are unified in body, soul, heart, mind, and spirit.

Ephesians 5:32
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

The marriage of a man and a woman is an earthly picture of the marriage of God with His people.

Ephesians 5:33a
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as

Even though his marriage is a picture of eternal things, let every husband treat it as reality and make no difference between his own needs and the needs of his wife. He should always protect her and seek her welfare as his own. When she is distressed, he should try - with the same earnestness he would expend if he himself were distressed - to find a way to help her, and bear patiently with her faults. (1 Peter 4:8)

What should the husband do when his wife is persistently defiant, insolent, rebellious, disrespectful, argumentative, critical, condescending, sarcastic, disobedient, contradictory, neglectful, careless or otherwise irreverent? As we have seen, he is to rebuke her, chasten her as needed, and continue to walk firmly and wisely as the head of the home. He is not to cower in fear of her, or become brutal and vengeful in his response to her. The husband is to maintain an attitude of strength (1 Cor 16:13, Eph 6:10), peaceableness (Matt 5:9, Col 3:15), power, love, and sound mindedness. (2 Tim 1:7)

It would appear, in considering all of the scriptures at hand, that there are no common conditions that would allow a Christian man to initiate the breakup of a marriage and the separation of a home without being in disobedience to the call of his Lord in his disposition and attitude. Except under very unusual circumstances of prolonged and determined rebellion in the wife, if a Christian man is to endure a lawful divorce in the power of the Holy Spirit, it must be with the agony of having to endure such a divorce beyond his personal control at the hand of his spouse, whilst seeking for the spiritual restoration of his spouse and the reconciliation of the marriage until it is completely broken by the unbeliever. This brokenness may come without the wife formally pursuing divorce, being content to abuse her husband,  defying and defrauding him the natural comforts of marriage indefinitely whilst enjoying his provision and protection. This is also a state of divorce... and a husband may indeed proceed to pursue a legal action that is consistent with this state if that is his desire. Once the marriage is broken, the call to love and oneness is no longer applicable to the believer: the believer is no longer duty-bound to love their former spouse in any manner above the love that they should have for any other person in general.

Colossians 3:19
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Husbands are to guard against being harshly reproachful, sharp and resentful with their wives. They are to put away cynicism and deep-seated ill will, and promote unity, tenderness, and lovingkindness in their homes.

1 Timothy 3:2
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

Polygamy is again addressed here, as being improper for an official or leader in the New Testament Church. A man with more than one wife generally evidences a lack of understanding of the purposes of marriage (although this need not necessarily be the case). For example, God acknowledged Abraham's behavior in his home as quite godly: "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." (Ge 18:19) Even with this honor, indicating Abraham was apparently a very good husband to Sarah for the most part, it appears Abraham missed the essential purpose of his marriage: his taking of a multitude of concubines is inconsistent with God's design of one flesh in marriage. David also, a man after God's own heart, married a multitude of women and evidenced a deep lack of understanding of the purpose and function of marriage. It can be seen to be his primary flaw and would have rendered him unfit to be the pastor of a New Testament church, even though he is the greatest king that the nation of Israel ever knew. He passed this weakness on to his son Solomon and this flaw soon became the ruin of the nation.

Men with this disposition to want more than one wife are not in a place where they can be good examples to the husbands under their circle of influence in the church. A man must be able to demonstrate a godly love for his wife in the home, and be open and earnest in being one with her in his heart. If he is not so, either in his demeanor in the home or in the fact that he has multiple wives, it is likely that his home will be in at least some significant disarray, and that his marital troubles will be a keen distraction to him in his ministry to the saints. It is therefore appropriate that a pastor or elder be married to only one woman, and that he have a healthy marriage to her, in order for him to be appropriately suited for the type of public work required in ministry to the flock of God.

The question naturally arises as to whether a man who has been divorced by a wife, or who has himself divorced his wife, and has remarried, is unfit for the office of a bishop. This topic is not addressed specifically anywhere in the Scriptures, unless it is addressed here in this text. It appears that a man who is married to one woman… is married to one woman, regardless of how many women he has been married to before her. Strictly speaking then, divorce and remarriage does not disqualify a man from this work.

However, it is also plain that a man who has been married multiple times might be failing in some major portion of his character and be unfit for the bishop's office based on this, and this should be carefully considered when such a divorced man is being examined for the office of a bishop. However, anyone living in a church community functioning as God intended would know this man's character in his home, so this would not generally be an issue. However, such churches are quite few and far between... being completely foreign to what most western believers understand the church to be. Believers at this time did not live in isolation from one another, commuting for miles one day a week to play church together; they lived together in community. They knew one another. Any man failing badly in his marriage, for whatever reason, would be openly known to the church… and quite likely the reason for the failure would be plain to the saints as well, whether in the husband or in the wife or both.

Consider also that if this passage is to be construed by such strict application to imply ineligibility of a divorced and remarried man then one must disqualify widowers which have remarried. Further, one must also exclude those with the gift of celibacy which have never married at all, since the formal requirement is that he be "the husband of one wife." This also applies to widowers which have not remarried. In any such case, it could be claimed that any man not presently the husband of one wife is ineligible for the bishoprick. Such conclusions are evidently unreasonable.

It appears, then, that the fact that a man has at one time been married to another woman will not matter in this regard; so long as he is currently married to only one woman, this will suffice. Of course, this is the letter – the spirit of this precept will imply that such a candidate for the office of bishop also evidence a faithful heart toward his one wife, loving her solely and entirely, and that he not be prone to a polygamous wantonness in his heart.

Titus 1:6
If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

This parallels the previous instruction exactly. Certain who are familiar with the Greek words behind the idea of a man being "the husband of one wife", promote the idea that a man is unfit for the work of the office of a bishop if he has had any desire to be married to more than one woman during his entire lifetime. There is no indication that this is warranted in this text, and such an application appears to be against the rest of the Scriptures. Titus 2:3-5
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discrete, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

Let no husband think that he can have a good testimony of the grace of God in his family unless his wife is obedient to him, unless she is meek in the hands of the Lord to walk in holiness in their home. The husband cannot cause this to happen himself, and he is not entirely responsible for his wife's behavior simply because he is her head. It is necessary that the older women instruct and encourage the younger women to walk appropriately in their homes, and provide godly and consistent examples in their own lives, marriages, and families.

This instruction is invaluable in the health of the church. It takes precious little to discourage most women from walking in quiet godliness in their homes; let no saint of God be caught bringing this type of discouragement into a home or a church. Godly teaching on the place of women in the home ought to be found regularly in the life of the church; and it should be championed by the elder women as role models. Poor examples here spread quickly about the Christian community and permeate the life of the church unless they are dealt with openly, as in the case of Vashti. Such damage is wrought by the disobedience of wives in the home that it tends to public blasphemy of the Word of God and the open shaming of the saints of God in their witness to the world.

At the same time, by way of balance, let not a wife think that she can induce her husband to obedience purely on her own strength either. This walking in godliness in her home, to encourage her husband to seek the Lord and walk with Him even if he is not, should be her prayerful and earnest desire each day and she should be regularly encouraging her sisters in the church in this same virtue.

1 Peter 3: 1-6
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Wives of disobedient husbands are given instruction here about how to act in their marriages and homes. They are instructed to be meekly subject to their husbands, even in the face of their husband's imperfections and errors. While women are not to approve of sin, neither is it their place to instruct their husbands with authority or demand obedience on the part of their husbands. They are to win their husbands to obedience by being obedient themselves, by being chaste, respectful, and obedient in their homes.

Sarah is given as an example of a godly woman submitting to her husband. Recall that Abraham and Sarah were separated twice due to Abraham's distrust and fear of the heathen, where Sarah was taken from her husband's side and placed in the equivalent of a harem for the sexual exploitation of a foreign king. Even in this, as wrong as Abraham was in requiring this of her, Sarah was obedient and cooperative with Abraham. While Abraham was clearly wrong in this, it is not apparent that Sarah was wrong to permit him to do this to her, though it must have been extremely difficult for her to go along with it. So long as she was not being forced to sin, she appeared willing to cooperate with him. It was perhaps her deep prayers for God's mercy in this time of her husband's indiscretion that preserved her purity and allowed her to be restored to Abraham untouched by her temporary "husbands."

Even though Sarah is given as an example of godliness, we do not find that she was perfect. She laughed in unbelief at her Lord's word to Abraham concerning the miraculous conception of their coming son, she lied directly to her Lord about this laughter when Abraham was confronted by the Lord about it. Sarah failed her husband in prompting him to marry Hagar and have children by her, and she afterwards put all of the blame on him for her sin when things went badly, and demanded that Abraham throw Hagar out of the home, along with Hagar's son Ishmael, apparently violating Deuteronomy 21:15-17 in her own heart. Even so, in spite of her mistakes, she is still shown to be a model of virtue in her attitude towards her husband. It is certain that no woman is perfect, but those who are earnestly seeking to live for the Lord in their homes ought to be striving to live in this manner described by Peter.

A common reaction to the Lord's call to women in this is one of disgust and rebellion, and it severely impacts the quality and stability of marriage in western cluture. How is it that women are encouraged in our day to not be too good to their men so as not to spoil them? while men are taught to pamper their wives at any cost in order to keep them happy? This is a device of the wicked one. A reasonable man is much more inclined to appreciate and love a wife who is walking in godliness and trying in every way to help and please him than one who flaunts her selfishness and temper to get her way. There is nothing wrong with a woman being meek and quiet and obedient in her home. It is consistent with the principle of love and the fruit of the Holy Spirit: there is no law against it. What grounds do women give for their tantrums other than selfish convenience?

Granted, some husbands will take a godly woman for granted and treat her less than what she deserves; more brutal and unreasonable men may perhaps even beat a good woman and be unfaithful to her without being provoked by her in the least, but this is not a warrant to discredit the duty of the woman to be a holy servant to her husband in her home. She need not try to protect herself by becoming selfish and obstinate; God has made a righteous way of escape for her if her husband becomes intolerably abusive to her.

Should a woman claim that being good to her husband promotes evil in him, the very same accusation could be made of unreasonable women who take good husbands for granted and abuse them similarly, yet this is seldom seen as a valid reason for a man to be less loving with his wife and to treat her harshly so that she will treat him well. A woman need not think that a mentality of holiness promotes evil in her husband and that she must depart from holy living in her home in order to be loved and appreciated. There is no more reason for the woman to think this than there is for a man to conclude that if he really loves his wife and cares for his wife as his own self that she will become intolerable and wicked in the home. As women can testify of horrible men who abuse godly women, there are godly men who can testify similarly of the abuse of horrible women. Let this not be an excuse for anyone to depart from the ways of God and His pattern for living in the home.

1 Peter 3:7
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

The husband should take time to study his wife, to know her, to seek to understand her needs. A woman's needs are quite different from that of a man. The husband should honor his wife's frame as the weaker vessel, not demanding of her more than she can reasonably bear and treating her with a common deferrence and respect. Both spouses are to always maintain an attitude of humility and thankfulness for the goodness and grace of God in their married life together.

1 Peter 5:5
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

The husband and wife are both to maintain an attitude of humility in the home, not being proud or haughty, not arrogant or assertive or vain, each reflecting a state of deference and submission to the welfare of the other.

Revelation 2:4-5
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

The Lord Jesus Christ sends a message to His wife, a local church, the Church of Ephesus. He tells her that He has a problem with her because she has allowed her love for Him to wither. He commands her to repent and to walk with Him as she did at the beginning of their relationship. He threatens her if she will not do so, telling her that He will come to her without warning... and remove her from her position as His wife.

As we conclude this study of the marriage relationship, as we near the end of God's Word now, we find this incredibly halting text. It arrests and sobers us with an abruptness and clarity that is seldom found elsewhere in God's Revelation. It serves well as a summary of all that we have discovered, and places all of our findings into a holistic perspective.

The first thing one might discern from this text is that the love relationship of the Lord Jesus Christ with a corporate expression of the Church is a conditional relationship. His love-commitment for the Church is not unconditional. Though the paternal relationship of God with His children as individuals is evidently unconditional, as clearly seen in texts like Romans 8:35-39 (" Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."), the text before us quite plainly indicates that the "marital" relationship between God and the Church, as expressed in any local community of the saints, is conditional and perhaps even fragile. If it is not maintained with diligence it can end quite abruptly.

This relationship between Jesus Christ and the corporate expression of the Church is a relationship between God and a group of people involving divine intimacy and communion beyond what is commonly experienced between lone believers and the Godhead. As a group of Christians may begin a love relationship with God and enjoy incredible intimacy and blessing as a community in God, so they may grow traditional and lukewarm, callous to the breath of their divine Love and taking Him for granted in their meetings. Their focus moves from the Blesser to the blessing, and they lose their taste for corporate intimacy with their God, presuming they are safe to expect continued blessing from Him without continuing to walk with Him in love as they did at first.

When a loveless heart festers in the Church, God warns the Church, His bride, of her state... and threatens her. He may use various means to do so, and perhaps continue over an extended period of time. If she does not heed His warnings, He eventually departs from her and leaves her to her religious mechanisms, effecting a divorce from His bride and leaving her dry and lifeless.

This is the love of Jesus Christ for His Church: it is intense and it is conditional. It begins with mutual love and the expression of mutual sacrifice, His reaching out to her in love through His atoning work for her members, and her responding in corporate obedience, worship and passion... willing to receive His correction and even to suffer for Him as she lives committed to His pleasure.

As this relationship begins, so it continues. Jesus Christ never fails in His covenant with the Church, to minister to her and to guide her and to give her abundant life in the depth of His passion for her. He also calls her to a high standard in this relationship: God does not tolerate open rebellion, any intentional commitment to sin, or to lukewarm loveless motion. It is when the Church grows unthankful, disobedient and callous that her relationship with her Husband is threatened.

If the threat made by Christ to end this marital relationship with the Church is not at first obvious, one should consider that the candlestick that Jesus will remove represents the Church herself:  " the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches." (Rev 1:20) To threaten to remove a candlestick is to threaten to remove a church. To remove a church is to cause her to cease to exist as a church. To cause a church to cease to exist as a church is to have her disband, or perhaps to have the Lord depart from her permanently and remove the presence of His Spirit from her. If she continues in this state, as a religious organization, she is no longer with her husband and functions as His enemy rather than as His bride and companion. This compares to a husband divorcing his wife and ending his marriage. Both parties continue to exist, but the marital relationship is completely destroyed and is likely replaced with one of enmity and distrust.

Further evidence of the conditional nature of this relationship is evident in the instruction of God in response to offenses and sin in the Church. "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." (Matt 18:15-17) When someone intends to pursue sin and cause offense in the church, he is to be put out of the church. Such sin is not to be tolerated in her midst. Privileges of active membership in the local body of Christ are not granted unconditionally but hinge upon a general disposition of being a peacemaker and obedient to the divine Word. This is to prevent the Church from becoming corrupted by evil influence, polluted with unbelief and rebellion, and thereby threatening her ultimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is this conditional corporate God-man communion, not the paternal relationship used to picture the redemptive aspects of individual salvation, that is expressed in the earthly relationship of marriage. The marital relationship contains similarities with this divine relationship, as well as differences.

In marriage, certainly, we must consider two sinners, not just one. Unlike Jesus Christ, husbands may indeed fail in their proper marital responsibilities. Wives in earthly marriages experience sin and failure in their husbands... something the Church never fears in her heavenly Master. Husbands may neglect their wives, and defraud them the comforts and blessings of regular intimacy and communion, even becoming cruel, malicious, and wantonly destructive.

As we have seen, God's Revelation provides for the protection of the wife under extreme circumstances and gives her solid instruction in her marital responsibility in light of the sinfulness of her husband. What we see here in this text is further elaboration upon the dynamics of the husband's response to sin in his wife... something in which we have found little explicit instruction up until now.

It is commonly taught that the only condition considered appropriate grounds for a man to seek divorce is adultery. Yet, what of the wife who grows cold and thankless, taking her husband for granted and using him for a life of ease, convenience, and comfort... defrauding him the common intimacy appropriate in marriage and distancing herself from him, disobeying him, defying him and walking with him in haughtiness, dominance, and rebellion... rather than in godly reverence? Does such a woman indeed threaten the permanence of her marriage in the sight of God?

Common encouragements to husbands enduring this wickedness imply such coldness is something they themselves must have promoted in some manner, something they now deserve for not loving their wives enough. Husband's may certainly foster such coldness at times, but we must remember that wives are sinners too...

Regardless of the source of such coldness, the defrauded husband is told by modern counselors to love his wife unconditionally and permanently, regardless of his wife's behavior... even though the marriage did not begin in this type of unconditional love. The husband is eventually given the choice of this unpleasant end for as long as his wife remains unrepentant for whatever reason, or to sin against his God by loving his wife less than Jesus Christ loves the Church... and looking elsewhere for a woman who is willing to walk with him in peace and love. Where, when, and how did this notion of un-conditional love enter the picture? We have here in this letter from Jesus Christ to the Church an indication that such instruction is unwarranted.

If we simply take a step back, take our blinders off for a minute, and take a good look at the marriage relationship, we perceive that it begins with conditional love. A man does not marry a woman blindly, without regard to her attractive appearance, her loving disposition, and her godly character. What attracts him to her in the beginning is what he expects her to continue to offer him during the marriage: respect, obedience, passionate intimacy... doing him "good and not evil all the days of her life." (Pr 31:12) Likewise, a woman is not drawn to a man who is selfish and inconsiderate of her needs, irrationally demanding, one who is callously domineering and physically abusive. What she is drawn to is gentleness, patience, his willingness to care for her and provide for her, and to his delight in being with her and sharing his heart with her. Most any wife expects her husband to continue in this general pattern... at least to some degree. How appropriate is it to expect unconditional love to sustain a relationship that is conceived conditionally?

When either a husband or a wife turns from the pattern of behavior that initially encouraged the marriage they immediately begin to damage its health. As we perceive in the divine reality, of which marriage is simply a picture, there is nothing unconditional about this relationship... either as it begins or as it continues. Evidently, if not cared for consistently, a marriage can end... at the discretion of the husband... quite abruptly, unpleasantly... and appropriately.

All relationships are not conditional: unconditional earthly relationships do in fact exist, but they are not generally formed from choice. The parent-child relationship is one notable unconditional relationship. Once a parent or a child, always a parent or child until death. While the nature of the parent-child relationship may involve an extreme range... it is truly an unconditional relationship... and it often contains an unconditional love... especially from the parent to the child. It is little wonder then that God continually illustrates His ultimate redemptive relationship with mankind in terms of the parent-child relationship, but it is significant that He never does employ this type of analogy in His relationship with the community of the saints, of which marriage is a picture. Perhaps it is without thinking that this type of unconditional love has been supposed in the marital relationship.

Certainly, given God's general intentions for the marriage relationship expressed clearly throughout His Word, a husband taking marriage lightly and walking away from his wife at the first little inconvenience is absurd. This was apparently the intent of the Pharisees in their challenging of God's pattern of marriage. It is unquestionably evident from any serious study of God's Word that both husband and wife are encouraged and commanded to intensely pursue loving intimacy and oneness in their marriage. If they will both follow God's pattern they will be blessed: God's commands are not grievous.

However, we live in a sinful world and people tend to walk as selfishly as they are conveniently permitted. Such tendencies decimate marriage and leave sincere spouses struggling in the most intolerable ways, both husbands and wives. While modern evangelical teaching largely ignores the responsibility of the wife, even turning a blind eye to her divorcing convenience, this same mentality goes to the other extreme with the husband, demanding that he tolerate emotional abuse and neglect as a manner of life if his wife is so disposed. However, there are limits to what God calls each spouse to endure, and these limits reflect the frame and design of each gender, as well as their position in God's created order.

Limits are well-defined for women very early in the Revelation of God, and are reinforced solidly throughout it, serving to protect women from severe neglect and physical abuse on the part of the husband, as well as making their marital responsibilities as wives quite plain. However, the guidelines for men in divorce have been very general, seemingly permissive, with very little explicit elaboration.

Clearly, God has never intended for men to treacherously divorce their wives at a whim, and He commands a husband to love and provide for his wife in a sincere and consistent manner. He does permit a husband to divorce his wife, but condemns treachery and unfaithfulness. In allowing for divorce, He gives very little additional guideline as to when it is appropriate for a man to pursue divorce. How do we consistently interpret these principles and apply them in a marriage?

In the New Testament, God indicates that divorce is to be in the context of a devastation on par with fornication and adultery (Matt 19:9), and gives us an indication of how this devastation manifests in the relationship: "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." (Mark 3:25) Fornication and adultery on the part of a wife cause a deep division in the unity of the marriage. Such sin can be forgiven and overcome, but there are instances when such behaviors cause a man's home to be irreconcilably divided. Evidently, such devastating division can also spring from other sources, explaining why God's instruction to men in divorce seems much more permissive and general.

It is here, in this text at the end of the Revelation of God, where we have further elaboration upon the much more general guidelines given to men. In the example of Jesus Christ, we find that if a wife remains indifferent toward and rebelliously neglectful of her duty to her husband while he attempts to walk in intimacy with her, the husband may evaluate this condition and determine if he is willing to live with this abuse of his love and for how long. Prolonged and deliberate sin on the part of a wife divides the relationship just like adultery and fornication do and there is evidently a limit to what a man must tolerate. This is further confirmation of what is sensed from an overview of the entire revelation of God: "Marriage was made for Man, and not Man for marriage."

Such a decision about how much abuse to tolerate cannot generally be made once and permanently by a husband, by definition, but must of necessity lie along a continuum of experience as he contemplates the nature of his wife and his prospect for a long and rewarding relationship with her. There are good days and there are bad days, and certainly times when either or both of them are simply "out of character." It is evidently unwise to pursue divorce due to a single instance of domestic conflict; such a decision should be based upon the general potential for health in the marriage.

Such deliberation may continue over a long period of time, being reflected upon with great heaviness and concern in the midst of a broken marriage. Ending a marriage is not pleasant, especially for men in our day, and should be considered permanent when pursued... unless the conditions initiating the divorce change appropriately and the wife has not remarried. Evidently, a day may come when the husband decides that he has "had enough," perceives that the marriage bond has been completely broken by his wife, and so moves to bring the formal, civil, legal expression of the marriage relationship into line with reality and end the marriage officially. This is exactly what Christ Jesus does with a church that commits herself to disobedience and lukewarmness... and the decision cannot generally be reached in a more predictable and deterministic manner than He Himself has expressed it: "I will come unto thee quickly."

In view of this, in following the pattern evident in this text, to prevent wanton and spontaneous disregard for the marriage institution, such a move on the part of a husband should at least be precipitated by a clear warning to a rebellious, unloving wife. The warning should clearly communicate to the wife that her behavior is unacceptable and that it has become a very real threat to the permanence of the relationship. A life of defiance, irrational contention, unrepentant disrespect and arrogance, overt haughtiness, and similar sins serve to destroy the essence of the marital relationship, causing irreconcilable division, destroying intimacy and mutual trust just like fornication and adultery... which are merely physical sins that devastate the marriage indirectly whereas these emotional and spiritual sins affect it directly. Such sin is intolerable to the health of any marriage... and therefore to its permanence. A husband who finds himself questioning the health of his marriage bond due to such sin should inform his wife that he is doing so and why.

In the presence of such sin, a call to repentance, accompanied when possible with specific instructions about how to correct the unacceptable behavior, should be communicated by the husband to the wife in a firm and respectful manner with the motive to preserve the relationship and restore it to health and wholeness. This communication should be in private at first, and time given for reflection and repentance. If the wife is incredulous and obstinate, or inappropriately unresponsive, the reproof and warning should be taken public according to the Lord's general guidelines for dealing with offenses. (Matt 18:16) Any prolonged response from the wife that does not humbly acknowledge the husband's concern and move her fearfully and reverently into place is likely to end any indecisiveness on the husband's part concerning the marriage. The husband should be prepared for either type of response with a sober purpose to respond prayerfully and accordingly.


The Scripture is replete with instruction and example in this most intimate and controversial of topics: marriage, divorce and re-marriage.  In summary, here are the relevant principles as I understand them from the Scripture:

  • Both husbands and wives should do everything within their power to see that their marriage is as healthy as possible: husbands should love their wives, provide for them, and care for them in the same manner and with the same interest that they care for themselves.  Wives should love their husbands, reverence them, submit to them, and obey them.  Both should seek to minister oneness in their relationship physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • A husband may not divorce his wife for the purpose of obtaining another woman as his wife.  In doing so he commits adultery against his wife.
  • A husband may properly divorce his wife if he feels that he has come to permanently disfavor her for any reason, if he does not find within himself the ability to minimally care for her and love her as a husband should love his wife. This should only be in extreme cases where the wife is severely obstinate or rebellious, or has become impure.  In any case, the devastation caused by the wife must be in degree comparable to that caused by fornication and adultery: rendering the marriage relationship entirely irreparable and irretrievably broken. If in this context the husband is seeking the grace of God to love his wife and is unable to find this proper care for her in his heart, then his decision to divorce is appropriate. It should be considered irrevocable and final before he follows through with it. When he does put her away, he is to verify his intent in writing to his wife, expect that his wife will remarry and become permanently alienated from him for life when she does.
  • A wife may be set free from her husband's authority if she is being severely neglected in her husband's provision of proper food, clothing, and/or marital relations. This should be only in extreme cases where the husband is mercilessly refusing to provide these things for her or is being ridiculously neglectful, not in cases of family hardship, prolonged sickness, times of war, famine, etc.
  • A wife may be set free from her husband's authority if she is being severely physically abused to the point of being maimed, or in some manner equivalent to this degree of wanton malicious torture or abuse.
  • There are no other conditions, other than the above two, that allow a woman to be set free from her husband's authority.  Technically, she is not to be the judge of these matters herself, nor is she to divorce her husband on her own authority, but judgment is to be determined by the consensus of lawful authority above her husband, such as equivalent to a pastor or local government.  Given that communities do not generally exist today which understand these principles, either civil or spiritual, a woman may certainly find herself with no proper authority to set her free when she is being abused or neglected.  In my opinion, she should act in a manner consistent with how such a community would treat her, and take initiative herself when it is needful.
  • Once a woman is properly divorced by her husband or set free of the marital bond in accordance with God's provision, she is free to remarry. She is bound by the law to him for life in all other cases.
  • God is enduring the treacherous divorce of Israel, His first wife, yet enjoying a Gentile bride while she is gone. 
  • A man should only marry a divorced woman who has been legitimately set free from her previous husband's authority according to the Law.  Unless God has actually sanctioned the divorce, anyone taking the separated woman to wife will be committing adultery, and will continue in that state for as long as such a relationship is permitted. Such relationships should be ended immediately and without compromise.

The standards and expectations in this matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage are manifestly different for women than for men.  Explanations concerning the various differences in the roles and freedoms given to men and women in matters of daily life; in matters of the church, community, and country; and particularly in this matter of marriage, divorce and remarriage, can be found in the following principles:

  • Man has a higher spiritual rank than woman. "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." 1 Cor 11:3 
  • Man represents a higher glory than Woman. "For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.  1 Cor 11:7"
  • The source of Woman is Man. "For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man." 1 Cor 11:8
  • Woman's purpose is oriented in Man. "Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man."1 Cor 11:9
  • Man was formed first. "Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was first formed, then Eve…"  1 Timothy 2:11-13
  • The first sin was committed by Woman.  "…And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." 1 Timothy 2:14.
  • Part of God's curse upon Woman for having been the first to sin against Him, and for drawing her husband into sin with her, was that Man would rule over her explicitly as a master: " He shall rule over thee."  Genesis 3:16
  • God designed Woman as the weaker vessel, not intending her to carry the responsibility and burden of leadership and headship: "Giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel." 1 Peter 3:7

In the Bible there are many marriages recorded in various levels of detail.  Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, Lot and his wife, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel and his two servant-wives, Moses and Zipporah and the Ethiopian woman, Job and his wife, Ahab and Jezebel, Nabal and Abigail, David and Michal and Bathsheba and Abigail and Ahinoam and…and... , King Ahasuerus and Vashti and Esther, Mary and Joseph, John and Elizabeth, Phillip and Herodias, Aquilla and Priscilla, etc. Of the marriages that we have any real detail about, nearly all were troubled to some extent, some more than others.  In addition to the divorces commanded under Ezra and Nehemiah, only two other marriages  that we know the particulars of properly ended in divorce: Ahasuerus and Vashti, and Abraham and Hagar, although it is quite possible that Moses and Zipporah were eventually divorced as well. John the Baptist insisted on the divorce of king Herod from Herodias, who was improperly separated from her husband Phillip and married to king Herod. This stand lead to John's death at the hands of Herodias.

Many things can be learned about the complexities, blessings, and difficulties of marriage by studying the lives of the above men and women, and by meditating on the trials and experiences that they had.  There is a continual flow of wealth for us as we seek God's life for us in this.  In both His instructions and commands to us, and in the stories and experiences that He has revealed for us in His Word about how others before us have lived, in nothing do we find our Lord contradicting Himself in what He has condemned and in what He has blessed in all of His written Word.  The most profound of these is what He Himself is enduring as a Husband of Israel, and what a great privilege it is to be of the Gentile bride.  May He give us grace to accept what He has shown to us in His Word, to seek more revelation and understanding and wisdom from Him, in order that we might both to live by it ourselves and encourage others to know and love His ways.