Divorce and divorcees are viewed by the church as unholy. Yet God divorced Israel for her unrepentant godlessness. God’s divorce action against Israel cannot be unholy because God is most holy. If God, of whom it is said is Holy, Holy, Holy, divorced his bride because she was so unholy, then should not God’s children follow their heavenly Father’s example? So why does much of the church prohibit unequally yoked divorce? The Old Testament could not be more clear in its teaching that separation between the godly and the ungodly is necessary because the ungodly will pull the godly into idolatry, which is also called spiritual adultery.
Pastors routinely use Christian divorce rates as a proof of the declension in the church. But should they be doing this? Christian leaders commonly place divorce alongside sins listed by the Apostle Paul as “the deeds of the flesh”, but Paul never included divorce in any list of sins, and God’s Word does not call divorce a sin nor does it prohibit divorce.
In six separate lists Paul mentions 45 sinful behaviors that he describes as belonging to those who are not part of Christ’s church. Divorce is not among them. Paul and the other New Testament authors mentions many more sins, but divorce is nowhere called a sin in the Word of God. Paul’s listed sins:
- Carousing (2)
- Drunkenness (5)
- Sexual promiscuity (1)
- Sensuality (2) [living to please your five senses]
- Strife (2)
- Jealousy (2)
- Immorality (3)
- Impurity (2)
- Greed (2)
- Filthiness (1)
- Silly talk (1)
- Coarse jesting (1)
- Coveting (3)
- Idolatry (4)
- Sorcery (1)
- Enmities (1)
- Outbursts of Anger (1)
- Disputes (1)
- Dissensions (1)
- Factions (1)
- Envy (1)
- Fornication (1)
- Adulterers (1)
- Effeminate (by perversion) (1)
- Homosexuality (1)
- Theft (1)
- Reviling (3)
- Swindling (2)
- Lovers of Self (1)
- Boastful (1)
- Arrogant (1)
- Disobedient to Parents (1)
- Ungrateful (1)
- Unholy (1)
- Unloving (1)
- Irreconcilable (1)
- Malicious Gossips (1)
- Lacking Self-Control (1)
- Brutal (1)
- Haters of God (1)
- Treacherous (1)
- Reckless (1)
- Conceit (1)
- Love Pleasure-Not God
- Religious without God (1)
Paul was fond of portraying sins that would not be found in the children of God. Why? He wanted believers to know who was and who was not in the body of Christ. Why? Since it is an explicit command to the Church, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers”, and since so many false confessors would flood into the churches over the centuries, Paul, guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wanted Christians to know the difference between those in Christ and those who are the natural man, of their father the devil, worldly, unregenerate, etc. If God’s children do not know the difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate, then how could they obey this great command? Yet Paul never called divorce a sin. Neither does Jesus or any author of scripture. And Paul spoke extensively on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7, yet did not call divorce a sin.
The Word of God properly places divorce as a provision of God’s laws to protect innocent spouses and to prevent further sin. Therefore the proper category for divorce is alongside church discipline, rebuke, reproof, punishment, and even giving a so-called believer over to Satan with hopes that he will repent and believe. This entire category could be called “God’s prescribed means of dealing with sin in the Church”. This category is chiefly concerned with the punishment/restoration of the unrepentant and the protection of the innocent, which are in essence two halves of the same coin.
Godly men and women lament the scarcity of church discipline, but inexplicably decry every divorce. Yet, both are similar actions belonging to the same category in scripture. Both remove the leaven from the body of Christ. Both have been abused by wicked people. Both are greatly under utilized by the church. When a church member is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, then appropriate church discipline will always result in the expulsion of that individual from the body of believers because he is a danger to the body. Divorce performs the exact same function in Christian marriages and families that church discipline does for the church.
So then, it is no surprise that the very people who hate to follow through with God’s command for church discipline also hate God’s gracious provision of divorce? Whether they are uncomfortable with confrontation, lack trust in the Lord to bring about a good outcome, fear being called judgmental, lack wisdom and spiritual discernment, have a lax and slothful oversight, favoritism or just not wanting to be drug into the kind of fight that godless people seemingly enjoy, most churches never or rarely do any church discipline and most churchmen get away with repudiating divorce by classifying it with sins listed in Scripture when, in fact, divorce is never called a sin anywhere in the word of God.
In both cases churchmen remain sitting when they should stand up for battle. Scripture refers to believers as soldiers and provides them with the full armor of God. Christian leaders are under Christ’s command to protect and feed the flock. Instead most Christian leaders take a let go and let God approach to these difficult situations involving unrepentant sinners within their flocks. This disobedient, slothful approach says that if God wants the brother or sister to be set free from a godless, treacherous spouse, then God can always take the life of the wicked spouse or redeem him/her.
This is decidedly not the approach that the great apostle Paul took. He said, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14), and “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” And “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus…Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:4-7). It is the Christian’s task to clean out the leaven, which means to actively remove unrepentant sinners from their sphere of influence.
Perhaps divorce actions have been improperly categorized because they can be and often are messy, but church discipline is also frequently messy. Whenever unrepentant sinners are exposed to the light and held accountable for their sin they will usually fight back with wickedness (contentiousness, lies, accusations, threats, deceptions, disputes, quarrels, comparisons, attempts to divide the church, self-defense, etc.), which pulls the Christians involved into the mire…a very uncomfortable circumstance for believers. It matters not whether this unpleasant duty is a church discipline action or a divorce action the goal is the same…remove the leaven. The outcome of obedience is peace, which is God’s desire for his children.
It is easily understood why church leaders do not enjoy church discipline. It is equally unpleasant to go through a divorce with an ungodly spouse, and with the current mindset of most Churches unequally yoked divorce is made all the more difficult because Christian leaders turn upon and attack the Christian who is seeking to obey God’s call to separate from the godless. Understandably, Christians hate the difficult work of separation, but as soldiers they must fight the good fight even when the immediate battle is difficult and unpleasant. It would be great if the Church would get on the same page, but that will never be the case this side of heaven. Individual churches and individuals must take upon themselves these difficult tasks because scripture prescribes these measures when unbelievers are in the midst of the people of God.
The heart of this article is that the divorce of an unequally yoked spouse is not a sin and should cease being treated as though it was listed in any of Paul’s “Deeds of the flesh” passages. Divorce is not classified as a sin anywhere in the Bible notwithstanding Malachi 2:16, Matthew 5 and 19, and 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 all of which have articles addressing them rather extensively on this blog. Divorce in general, and especially unequally yoked divorce, is properly classified in God’s word under “God’s prescribed means of dealing with sin in the Church.” Divorce belongs to the same classification as church discipline, rebuke, being removed from leadership position, restoration and even giving the unrepentant sinner over to Satan with hope that repentance will ensue.
It is well established that divorce is an allowance in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21 & 24), and Jesus did not annul or overturn that law as many understand from Matthew 19. Jesus said:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).
In Matthew 19 Jesus did not say that the Pharisees were guilty of divorce. Of course he would not say that because Jesus knew that divorce was permitted by God’s law—it is not a sin. Jesus said the Pharisees were guilty of adultery because they wanted to cover up their adultery with illegal usage of God’s legal divorce provision.
A comparison will help clear the muddied waters. Suppose the Pharisees exchanged their desire for young, gentile wives with a desire for young, unpaid servants. If they asked Jesus if it was permissible for them to adopt gentile children, but their real motive was to force the children into unpaid labor, then Jesus would have said they were guilty of human trafficking, enslavement and child endangerment. But, in this example, Jesus would not have said the Pharisees were guilty of “adoption”. In the same way, the Lord Jesus did not say they were guilty of “divorce”. It is inconceivable to think that the church would have treated adoption as a wicked sin through the centuries, yet this is precisely what the church has done with God’s provision for divorce. God’s gracious provision of divorce should in no way be diminished because people abuse it. God understood that since the fall people’s hearts were wicked and innocent partners would require relief from wicked spouses. For this reason Jesus called these hypocrites adulterers. If God’s word understood divorce to be sin, then Jesus would have simply said the Pharisees were guilty of “divorce”.
The Pharisees were merely trying to cover up their adultery with God’s legal provision of divorce. Jesus showed their argument to be nothing more than a rouse. He understood that they were not asking about divorce as it is allowed in the Law, but they were asking whether or not legal divorces could be obtained without just cause. So he said anybody who would carry out what the Pharisees had devised would be an adulterer because they were divorcing faithful Jewish wives in order to have sensual Gentile wives. Jesus, knowing that the Israeli wives had provided no just cause for their husbands to divorce them, saw the adulterous hearts of the Pharisees as the actual motivation for these divorces, which is why he said they would be committing adultery.
Christian leaders beware of the glibness with which you disagree and continue holding your unbiblical view on divorce. Both God’s law and Jesus tie judging people wrongly to unjust balances and weights in the market place. God’s law reads, “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights…” (Leviticus 19:35-36 underline mine). And in his Sermon On the Mount Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye” (Matthew 7:1-3 underline & bold mine)? Do you have an answer to the Lord’s question to the Pharisees? Try to answer it before reading further.
Jesus is using an analogy to teach about judging others. It is easily understood that if a street vendor is selling food items using a false scale or balance and deceitful weights, then he is cheating innocent consumers. Jesus is saying that the religious leaders do the same to the people of God by changing God’s standards or laws by which men are to measure themselves. In context, Jesus was saying that with their false standard of measure the Pharisees’ were twisting God’s Laws in their attacks on Jesus and his apostles for healing on the Sabbath and picking grain from fields as they traveled on the Sabbath, yet at the very same time these religious leaders refused submission to the very Son of God who was standing right in front of them.
So then, certainly one log in the religious leaders’ eye today is using a man-made standard of measure that restricts God’s allowance for divorce. Divorce is protected in God’s moral law. What right do you have prohibiting it for the people of God? God does not want his people bound together with unbelievers, but you have restricted them from accessing God’s allowance of divorce that would allow them to repent of their unequally yoked marriages. Millions of new unequally yoked marriages take place because the church, contrary to the will and Word of God, has made an allowance for Christians in such marital relationships.
For this reason, young people have no fear of disobeying God by getting unequally yoked because the church long since stopped church discipline for this sin. In fact, the church has gone so far as to call repentance of these relationships the sin rather than being in a divinely forbidden marriage. Because of this widespread sin in the church a pall of darkness is placed upon all who have divorced wicked spouses even though they are the few who follow God’s provision. God forbid the church continues this lunacy. The people of God are suffering for it. Families are suffering in unspeakable ways. The church is largely becoming indistinguishable from the world in large part because of this sin. This sin has played a significant role in the destruction of the institution of marriage which is now taking place. Churches are so full of unbelievers that the believers are being corrupted by the bad company IN THE CHURCH. Brethren, these things ought not be this way. “CLEAN OUT THE OLD LEAVEN.”