Question: What does the Bible teach regarding consecrated Christians and divorce?
Answer: Jesus gives various regulations regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19: 1-9. In v. 9, and in Matthew 5: 31, 32 and Luke 16: 18, He taught that the only reason recognized by God for which a consecrated Christian may seek a divorce is adulterous unfaithfulness of his or her spouse.
Divorces take place frequently today, with often little or no reason given. Many countries make divorce easy by granting “no-fault” divorces, whereby a divorce is granted by petition of either spouse, in which no reason for the divorce is required to be given. Strictly speaking, there are no “no-fault” divorces, for usually there is plenty of fault and failure on the part of each spouse. Among those securing “no-fault” divorces are many who are not willing to put forth the necessary efforts to solve their individual and joint marital problems, who live selfishly and in many cases refuse to go with their spouses to get Christian advice and counseling from elders and others who are qualified.
If a spouse insists on a divorce, the partner in many cases may think best to accept if a suitable, equitable property settlement can be arranged. But if thus divorced, either by a regular divorce or a “no-fault” divorce, the consecrated Christian would not be free to remarry except on the one condition given in the Scriptures – adulterous unfaithfulness. If a consecrated Christian’s spouse, whether unconsecrated or consecrated, secures a divorce for reasons other than adultery, this does not give the consecrated Christian freedom to marry again. The innocent consecrated partner is free to remarry only if the spouse has broken the marriage contract, his or her marriage vows, the “one flesh” relationship, by cohabiting with another, either without marriage or in marriage and if a divorce court decree has been obtained, or so long as the divorced mate lives.
But while adultery is the only reason recognized by God by which a consecrated Christian may seek a divorce, Jesus did not state that adulterous unfaithfulness of the spouse must of necessity cause the wronged one to separate from the offender or seek a divorce, though he or she may do so. The wronged spouse should carefully consider refraining from separating and seeking a divorce, especially when the offender manifests repentance and a firm assurance that he or she will not repeat the sin (John 8: 11) (1 Corinthians 5: 1-5, compare 2 Corinthians 2: 6-8). The welfare of children, if any, should be carefully considered. Husbands and wives should have a forgiving attitude toward each other (Colossians 3: 13), and each should make an earnest effort to prevent and reconcile differences and to continue together for life in the marriage relationship.
Pastor C.T. Russell wrote in The New Creation, pp. 499-507 that each consecrated one should seek diligently in every proper way to stay together for life with his or her spouse in the marriage relationship. When serious marital troubles arise, no spouse should quickly think that separation and/or divorce is the only solution. On p. 506, he wrote: “The believer is to seek and to attain the grace of the spirit of love that will enable the endurance of practically ‘all things,’ and to be profited thereby – to grow in grace under such conditions, by cultivating the Spirit of the Lord and its various graces. But there is a limit to all things, and beyond that limit it would not be proper to go. Beyond that limit the influence upon the unjust companion would be injurious instead of helpful.
“Each must decide for himself what is the proper limitation of submission in such matters. His own conscience must decide, after that conscience has been educated by both the letter and the spirit of the Divine Word [italics ours]. As growth in grace is attained the trials may become more severe; but there should be a larger capacity for endurance with meekness, and a larger amount of ‘the spirit of a sound mind’ with which to determine when the point of unendurable severity and injury is reached. Grace from on high is needed, is promised, and should be earnestly sought under such conditions – James 1: 5.
“If there be real cause for separation, the believer must see to it that the cause is not in him. The Spirit of Christ in him is to make more gentle, more humble, more peaceable, more prudent, more wise, more longsuffering, more patient, more loving and more kind day by day” (p. 504, par. 2).
In some cases a spouse, especially an unbelieving one, will depart (1 Corinthians 7: 15), or a consecrated one may find conditions truly unbearable (in some cases with life in serious danger) and take up a separate home. But this should not to understood to signify that simple desertion or even complete abandonment by a mate would grant liberty to a consecrated one to get a divorce and to marry another. “Nothing in this advice should be understood to cultivate impatience or a readiness to take offence and feel injured. Love demands that all bearable treatment shall be borne and that if evil has been rendered for evil, in word or in deed, the wrong shall be considered offset and condoned” (pp. 505, 506, top).