Some Thoughts about Permanency in Marriage

Our culture hates marriage. They hate it by re-defining it, by abusing it, by belittling it, and by not committing to it. And unfortunately, professing Christians also send terrible messages about marriage as well. I’m not sure what to make of various statistics about the divorce rate among professing Christians being the same as among unbelievers, and I don’t really care all that much, because any divorce among Christians is too much. I mean, even if you’re someone who believes that divorce is acceptable at times, you surely wouldn’t say it’s desirable or good. It often means there has been major tragedy or unfaithfulness, and it’s often an incredibly uncomfortable picture of the indwelling sin left in believers.

But, marriage matters to Christ, and it is beautiful to him, and it is incredibly valuable to him. And if this is true, then marriage should be of the utmost value to Christians as well. Whether single or married, marriage should be held in honor. It should be loved because Christ loves it, and it should be protected, because Christ protects it.

Now, I’m not trying to say that singleness is inherently worse than marriage or anything like that. I don’t believe that, but I believe with all my heart that a single Christian should highly value marriage, even if they will never be married this side of heaven. And the reason is that for single people, singleness is only temporary – we all end up married if we are in Christ. And not only that, but we end up in a marriage that is the anti-type of all marriages. So, even single people should love marriage.

And all of that to say – I hate divorce.

I am what they call a “permanency guy”. What that means is that I believe that people should actually keep their vows when they say “till death do us part.” I believe that people should never get divorced. I believe that marriage is intended to be permanent – till death.

So…go ahead and let that sink in. I know that for many, that’s a shocking idea. The thought that no one should ever get divorced is absolutely foreign to our culture, and unfortunately, even the majority of churches would find this idea appalling. But, God says he hates divorce, and I’m not big on condoning things that God hates.

The “permanence in marriage” position, simply stated, is this: no divorce, and no remarriage after divorce. It is truly “till death do us part” marriage. We believe that if your spouse dies, you are free to re-marry, but not before then.

And again, I know that’s radical, but Christianity is nothing if not foolishness in the eyes of the world. Being holy and living radically requires that we look strange to the world, and in a world where divorce is normal and acceptable (even planned from the get-go sometimes!), to say that divorce is always wrong is considered narrow-minded and insulting. And again, even most professing Christians today would look at this and see something crazy.

I have spent time teaching on this issue and discussing this with many people, and in those times, I’ve dealt with this issue more exegetically. I’ve dealt with 1 Corinthians 7, and with the supposed “exception clauses” in Matthew 5 and 19. I’m not convinced by any of them, especially considering that I think there is more clear teaching that should help us interpret more confusing passages. And there are very well-written, very scholarly discussions of this issue that show why we need not see Christ allowing for divorces that he declares he hates.

But, I’m not writing right now for the purpose of making a large defense of this belief, I just want to offer up one simple thought, and this thought is why any teaching that allows for divorce seems totally non-sensical to me.

Marriage is a picture of the gospel, it is a parable of the union we have with Christ. It is a living picture of Christ and his church, so how in the world could it ever be ok to mar that image?

Husbands are required to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her, and although I know that husbands will fail at this, how could it ever be ok for them to willingly neglect this command? How could it ever be ok for a man to say to his wife “hey, I’m supposed to love you like Christ loves me. I’m supposed to lay my life down for you, I’m supposed to never give up on you, in order to paint a picture of how Christ never gives up on me. I’m supposed to love you unconditionally, but instead, I’m going to refuse to love you through this, and instead I’m going to destroy the picture I’m supposed to paint by telling a lie about the gospel – I’m getting rid of you.”

How is that ok?!?! What kind of counselor who’s really thought through these implications of divorce could turn to a man and say “you’re supposed to love your wife like Christ loves the church, but you don’t have to.” How is there such rampant neglect for Paul’s command to husbands, and by inference, wives?

If marriage is a picture of the gospel, and it is, then divorce is the anti-gospel. The gospel is Christ saying “I promise to love and cherish you, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, as long as we both shall live.” But divorce says “I promised to love and cherish you till death, but it was conditioned upon how faithful you would be to me.” Divorce paints a broken picture of the gospel that says that Christ only loves his bride upon certain conditions and character qualities present in the bride. But the gospel is the news that Jesus loves his bride apart from any conditions or character defects in her.

How can we who love the gospel behave so intentionally hateful toward this representation of it?

All the exegesis aside (although very important), I’ve never understood this. I’ve never understood how a man could so intentionally and willfully neglect so great a command. I’ve never understood how a counselor who professes Christ’s unconditional love toward his bride could tell a husband it’s ok not to reflect that in his marriage. It’s just unfathomable to me. We tell people to love their neighbors, and to love their enemies, but we turn and tell them it’s ok not to love their spouses as Christ loves his bride? As Paul says – God forbid!!!

No, marriage is a picture of the gospel, and so it MUST be permanent. You can divorce your spouse when Christ divorces his! But as long as he’s promised to never leave or forsake us, we are called to do the same for our spouse.

Of course we will fail, and sometimes we will intentionally fail, but that is far different than saying it’s acceptable to fail.

Keep your vow – till death parts the two of you, you stay faithful to your spouse. And when it’s times of sickness, and when better turns worse, remember that the strength to stay faithful comes not from your earthly spouse, but from your heavenly one, who laid down his life and took it back up again, in order to live forever with you.

 

(Note #1: I’m not dealing here with what we would believe about a spouse who’s stuck in an abusive or dangerous relationship. We of course would never advocate staying in a situation like that. Removing yourself from a location, or having to watch your husband go to jail, though extremely terrible, are still different than abolishing the marriage covenant. You may have to remove yourself from your spouse’s proximity, but that is not the same as getting a divorce).

(Note #2: I’m also not addressing what we would believe if your spouse DID divorce you. We believe that you still shouldn’t remarry, unless your ex dies. This is something that we’ve dealt with more in other teachings). 

(Note #3: Finally, it’s important to state that we don’t believe that if you have already gotten remarried, that you must divorce your second spouse and return to your first. Some people teach this, but the problem is that they are still advocating for divorce. If you are remarried, then we would say repent of believing that divorce was acceptable, and commit to your spouse, because to divorce them, even for the purpose of returning to your first spouse, still requires divorce, and God hates divorce).

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