Divorce—When To Hold On And When To Move On

Part seven from a sermon series on Real Marriage—the truth about life together, by Shane Idleman www.wcfav.org

As stated last week, only God can truly answer this question. If God is ministering restoration in your spirit, wait for it; contend for it; pray fervently for it. “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Although many great bible teachers are divided on the issue of divorce and re-marriage, one thing is certain: God will direct those who commit their lives completely to Him…this we know.

This article is written primarily for those, who by no choice of their own, are separated or divorced, and are uncertain…should they hold on for restoration, or move on. Before making any decision of this magnitude, I offer three directives.

1. First, discontinue any relationship that is not God-centered, or that seems to cloud your judgment. Sadly, countless marriages are never restored simply because of immediate involvements in other relationships. They don’t wait on the Lord. Don’t rush! I cannot stress this enough.

2. Second, pray, seek godly counsel, and allow God’s Word to direct you. Spend extended time in the Word and be obedient to it…pray and fast, and seek godly counsel. All destructive relationships, bad advice, and toxic influences must be severed as you seek direction. The alarming divorce rate leaves one to wonder who’s guiding Christians today—Hollywood or the Holy Spirit?

3. Third, again, don’t be in a hurry: “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). Restoration is a process. Don’t abort the process because you’re in a hurry. Healing and waiting on the Lord require time and patience. If it took years to damage the marriage, it may take time to rebuild…or for emotional wholeness to be restored.

One of the most difficult Scriptures dealing with divorce or separation is found in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” This clearly states that those who are divorced and/or separated, unless “scripturally released,” should not remarry.

If this Scripture was obeyed, there would be more serious consideration before marriage and a natural deterrent to divorce. There would be fewer divorces without cause and more reconciliations. Lack of regard for this Scripture has taken us to the other extreme—no fault divorce. However, if the one who left is an unbeliever, 1 Corinthians 7:15 offers direction, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”

If this verse applies to your situation, it’s wise to allow a significant amount of time to pass before considering re-marriage. Time reveals if the spouse left only for a season, or has chosen to leave permanently. We should turn to the Scriptures for direction, not look for loopholes.

Another translation of this verse says that a Christian is “not under bondage” in such a case. When a spouse leaves and has moved on with no intention of returning, God does not want the other spouse to be bound to the past—He wants us to live in peace. But does this mean that the spouse who remains is now free to remarry? Again, bible teachers are divided on this issue, but, in my opinion, the word “bondage” (douloo) is the key. If an unbelieving spouse leaves and ends the marriage, the other is released and is free to remarry. They are no longer a slave; they are released.

As a practical example, many would be single, never to marry again, if they took this verse to mean that they are to never to remarry. They would not have a new loving spouse and wonderful children. This, to me, would be true bondage. But “I say this as a concession, not as a command” (1 Corinthians 7:6). Only God can truly answer this question.

But what if the spouse who chose to leave is a believer? An entire book could be written on this, but suffice it to say that serious consideration must be taken here. Is this person genuinely a believer…or just a professor? Genuine faith is reflected in a transformed life, a love for God and His Word, sincere humility, selfless love, and an attitude of repentance? This type of love would not choose to leave unless there is genuine abuse or adultery.

When the spouse who chooses to leave does not have these characteristics, it may be safe to assume that they are not truly a believer. But, again, caution is needed here: some spouses leave because the environment is unbearable, not because they are an unbeliever.

Let me take this opportunity in closing to speak to the Christian who had no solid scriptural grounds for divorce, yet chose to leave. We would not intentionally walk into the enemy’s camp, yet this is what we do when we walk out from under God’s covering. The choices we make today will influence the quality of our life tomorrow. Sin takes us farther than we want to go, keeps us longer than we want to stay, and costs us more than we want to pay. For some, its not too late. Repent and return…God can restore your life and your marriage.