MY LAME MARRIAGE
What About Divorce?
It’s really interesting. When you tell folks in advance that you’re going to do a talk on divorce, you get a wide array of responses. Some folks have kind of looked at me and said, Hmm, are you, really? Let me know how that works out for you. Other folks that have been actually a little bit fired up about it, and they say, Man, we know we’re going to get something that’s going to help us protect and guard our existing and healthy marriage. There are also some folks that have been a little bit put off, maybe even a little bit fearful because they mistakenly assume that if we’re going to talk about God and divorce, that there’s going to be some kind of heavy-handed, wrath of God type sermonizing going on.
Well, I want to be very, very clear about three things that I think God wants to accomplish in our time here this morning, the first of which is hope. If you look at how God talks about marriage, about how God talks about the subject of divorce, the overriding message is one of hope. Whether you are married, maybe you are already divorced, or even considering divorce; you need to understand that God is a God of hope. The second thing that God wants to accomplish in this time is healing. There are a lot of us that have been touched firsthand by this subject of divorce. And God is very much interested in healing where that has damaged lives and marriages. And then the third thing is that I believe God wants to do something in all of us, single, married, undecided, wherever you may fall, God wants to do a work of convicting. Convicting us about the sanctity and the privilege and the responsibility inherent in marriage. And to begin this conversation this morning, I’m going to share with you the story of Tim and Elaine Duffy. Tim and Elaine are folks just like you and I, but Tim and Elaine got married, and within five years of saying I do, found themselves very personally, very practically wrestling with this question, what about divorce? I want to show you part of their story.
Tim and Elaine, if y’all will, just kind of give us just kind of a nutshell version of the beginnings of your relationship, how you-all were dating and then got married and found yourselves really and truly very personally asking the question what about divorce.
Well, we dated in high school. We were high school sweethearts. I thought she hung the moon. I knew I was going to be married to her someday. And as time went on, we did eventually get engaged to be married.
And so we started out a marriage. I grew up in a family where — Tim knew God in his family, but I knew nothing about God. And so we started a marriage where it was based on attraction for one another, and that was basically it. And we both got to a place where we were very miserable. We did not have a common ground in which to build our marriage on, and there was a lot of disappointment, lot of arguments, fighting.
Yeah. We quickly spun out of control.
Out of control is what we were.
Looking for any common ground.
And so what we thought was going to be fairy tale, romance, happily ever after, which I think everybody does when they first get married, turned into within a very short period of time and then highlighted at five years into great heartache and sorrow and was beginning to break apart. And it looked as if it was completely hopeless, completely. And we both knew, we knew it was beyond repair. And I was talking to friends, and I was getting lots of affirmation that if I wasn’t happy, I should just bail, you know, that was the answer. And I was believing it.
What precipitated the change in direction? Because your story up to this point is pretty clearly not heading down the path that you had envisioned certainly when you said I do.
So what reversed the course?
Well, I tell you, it was a point of real desperation. I don’t remember how we got specifically hooked up with a counselor, but we did go to a Christian counselor. I chatted with you about this the other day. I hated it. It was the most awful experience in my life to have to be humbled to a point of going to a counselor, because I believe I could always fix everything. But I was broken. I had come to that point. We were broken. I still loved her to death, and I just couldn’t figure out how to get our story together. So we went to a counselor. That counselor immediately came to the conclusion that we had no common ground and common form or definition for what a marriage should be.
Where were both of you at that point spiritually?
I was raised Catholic. My confirmation process, you know, at age 13, 14 years old was a significant event for me, and I believe that Jesus Christ was my savior, and I was happy with that. I think the void was that I couldn’t defend that. And so if she would ask me questions, I was lost, most totally lost.
I thought it was rubbish. If you asked me if I believed in God, I would say yes. If you asked me if I was a Christian, I’d say sure, I think so, that’s a good person. But I did not know God, and I did not know him through his son Jesus, and I did not even know that I did not know him. My mother invited me to come to church with her one Sunday. And only out of sheer desperation did I go with her, really lack of anything else to do. And I went, and the pastor talked about Jesus, and he talked about how much God loves us and what Jesus did for me and for everyone there on the cross. And he asked at that time would anyone like to come forward and accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, and I felt a hand on my back pick me up and walk me down that aisle. And at that moment, I dedicated my life to Jesus, even though there were many things I still did not yet understand. All that to say that even though I did not feel it on the outward, inward, God was beginning to change my heart.
And one day, he was out working, and I called him on the phone, and I was screaming at him and really upset with him because he was off doing his thing. And I hung up the phone, and he came racing home. And between the time he got home and the time that I had called him, I sat down — and this is right after I had made a decision to accept Christ. And I just opened the Bible to 1 Corinthians 13. And I started reading about love, and it was something I had never seen before. And it was a different kind of love than I had been living. And when he got home, I just started crying. I started apologizing and saying this is what God says love is, and I’m not doing that, and I’m so sorry.
But I read it and found that I was perfect in every way.
So to me, that was the turning point in our marriage, because then the focus was off of what can we do to what does God say we can do. And I’ll have to be honest. What he said, he said we could be reconciled, he said that it would look better than ever, that he would take the bad and make it beautiful. And at the moment, I really didn’t believe that, but he proved me wrong. So here we are today.
Isn’t that amazing? That’s just one story, one couple’s story as they wrestled with that question, what about divorce. I think you can pull out of there those three elements that we’re after in this message this morning. You see the hope, you see clearly the healing that has gone on in the last 18 years since they reached that point of crisis, and I think you can hear in their tone a very real conviction about the responsibility and the privilege that they have had to guard and protect their marriage from divorce.
Now, right up front, I have to admit to you and we need to understand that there is no way that in the time we have this weekend that we can cover every single individual set of circumstances and situation. It cannot happen. As a matter of fact, none of us in and of ourselves can accomplish those three goals of hope and healing and conviction. Human wisdom doesn’t have the capacity for that. If it did, the divorce rate wouldn’t be at 50 percent for first-time marriages and exponentially higher for subsequent unions. Folks, we have to see what God says.
I want to invite you to just open yourself up to the possibility that God has perfectly communicated truth that transcends situation and circumstance for the purposes of penetrating our lives and our hearts and getting done what he wants to get done. And so I want to invite you to just open yourself up to that this morning. You know, divorce was a very present reality even during the life and ministry of Jesus. It certainly was not as accepted or tolerated or even sometimes celebrated as it is in our culture, but it was very much a part of their lives.
As a matter of fact, the Pharisees, those kind of self-appointed religion watchdogs, used this subject to try and trap Jesus one day. They went to him and said, Teacher, you talk about commitment and love and marriage. Well, what about divorce? Because the law of Moses talked about divorce. And Jesus very skillfully addresses — I want to invite you, go ahead and pull your outlines out of your bulletins you were handed. And if you have your Bible, look in Matthew chapter 19. Matthew 19 records this exchange for us between Jesus and those watchdogs, the Pharisees. Those junkyard dogs. “Jesus replied to them, Moses permitted you.” Circle that word, permitted. “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” He says that was never God’s intent or his desire. “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife except for marital unfaithfulness,” unless she cheats on him, “and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus says, look, you’ve got to understand, in God’s economy, this thing called divorce carries with it some very real consequences, some very real baggage that I want you to be aware of, I want you to understand what’s going on. And in this response, Jesus exposes a couple of very prevalent myths that are still very much alive and well right now in 2005, some myths and some misperceptions. I call them myth-perceptions, not because I have a lisp, but because they combine myth and misperception. You see how clever that is? Myth-perception.
See, you people coming to church at 8:45, y’all are the sharp ones. Don’t tell anybody, y’all are my favorites. I’m just kidding. The common myth-perceptions about God and divorce. First of all, there’s this myth-perception that in God’s economy, divorce can be the best option. That, you know, God wants me to be happy, doesn’t he? So divorce may be the best option available. Well, that is a lie from the pit of hell. If I need to be any more explicit about that, you just stop me after the service, okay? Divorce in God’s economy is never the best option.
Now, we need to understand that in about a third of terminated marriages, there are extreme circumstances and situations. We’re talking about verbal or emotional abuse, we’re talking about adultery, we’re talking about things that take it beyond the pale. But I want to just give you this morning some stats to kind of chew on as you really and truly think about this. These are incredible. Two-thirds, almost 70 percent, of divorces end marriages that are not categorized as high conflict. 70 percent. There was a national survey conducted by the University of Texas at Austin. This is not coming from a Biblical perspective, as you might imagine at UT, although I graduated from there, but that’s not their base. One-third of respondents to this survey, one-third said that they worked hard enough to save their marriage. 67, 70 percent of people said, you know what? I didn’t really work hard enough. And the most frequently cited personal reason for the eject button on that divorce is, quote, a lack of commitment on the part of one or both spouses. That’s sobering, isn’t it?
People that have been through divorce said, you know what? In retrospect, I really did not work it. I didn’t pay the price to save the marriage. Then there are folks that have said — you know, there’s this concept of the good divorce, the happy divorce. And they say, you know what? It’s better for the kids for us to have a good divorce than an unhappy or unsatisfying marriage. The proportion of emotionally troubled adults is around three times as great among those whose parents divorced as those from intact families. Folks, we are kidding ourselves, we are lying to ourselves if we think divorce does not adversely affect our kids. Now, to be sure, God is sufficient, God can heal. And there are many, many examples of children who come out of divorced homes who grow up to become contributing members of society with growing and flourishing relationships with Christ. That’s not to say that it’s impossible. But we cannot minimize the impact of divorce.
This concept of the good divorce was first inflicted on us in 1994 in a book called The Good Divorce, How to Keep Your Family Intact When Your Marriage Comes Apart. I want you to just think about that for a second. I’ll freely admit in the interest of full disclosure, I am the child of a divorced home. That was part of my reality growing up. When I was 12 years old, my mom and dad split up. And I can tell you firsthand that keeping the family intact when a marriage comes apart is a pipe dream. I don’t even understand how that made it on the title of a book and somebody published that. If the marriage blows up, the family does not remain intact. That by definition is a contradiction in terms. So we’ve got to understand that.
Did you know that Newsweek even ran an article entitled The Happy Divorce? Now, we don’t have to have a show of hands, but if you’ve been divorced, was it really fun? Was that a happy time? That’s craziness. There’s no such thing as a happy divorce. What are you doing? I’m going to get divorced. Great. You want to come? No, I’m good. Thanks. The happy divorce. And they talked about parents who put aside their personal conflicts so they could spend the holidays together, living this lie, like everything was fine. It does not work like that. Dr. Norval Glenn is a professor at the University of Texas in sociology, and he writes this about divorce, quote, unquote, happy talk. He says, Happy talk about the effect of divorce on children may be comforting to divorced parents, and that may be the main reason for it, but I doubt that it is often comforting to the children of divorce at any age. We’ve got to understand that divorce in God’s economy is never God’s best option. It’s not.
Now, at the same time, there’s another myth-perception that runs to the other end of the spectrum, and that is the myth-perception that God says never. Never, ever, under any circumstances is divorce even allowable. And that simply is not true Biblically. God gives us three Biblical exceptions where divorce is accepted. It’s never commanded, but it is accepted. God understands human failings, and he understands what can lead to the breakdown and the disillusion of the covenant of the marriage. And those Biblical exceptions are this: First of all, infidelity. Adultery.
In the case of adultery, that covenant is broken by the partner who cheated, who broke the vows, who stepped outside of the marriage bonds. Matthew 19:9, Jesus said, “I tell you if anyone divorces his wife except for marital unfaithfulness and marries another woman commits adultery.” So that’s one exception that God has given. If someone is cheated on, then divorce is acceptable to God. It’s not commanded. And as a matter of fact, there are thousands of couples who have overcome that, who have seen the hope and the healing and the conviction of God heal that marriage. But he says it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s accepted at that point.
Also second is abandonment. If someone is abandoned and they have a spouse who just quits and walks away, God says I understand. You’re not held responsible for that person breaking the covenant of marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:15 says, “If the unbeliever,” the person who’s not a Christ follower, “If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.” God has called us to live in peace. So if you’re a Christ follower and your spouse who is not a Christ follower leaves, then in God’s economy you are not bound to that covenant and that vow, because they broke it and they’ve walked. They’ve abandoned. But now, if you are a Christ follower, be sure that you understand this, too. 1 Corinthians 7:10 through 11, “To the married I give this command.” Paul says, “Not I, but the Lord.” It’s God giving this command through Paul. “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” God says if you are a Christ follower, then you honor that vow of marriage that you made. You protect that marriage. You do everything you can to communicate the love of God to that spouse who maybe is not a believer. You use that marriage bond as an opportunity to communicate love to them.
Now, if they don’t receive it, if they don’t respond, and they walk, that’s their deal, that’s their responsibility, not yours. It is not your responsibility or your job to quote, unquote, save your husband or your wife. God does that. But they have to be a willing participant in that relationship as well. So it’s important to understand that distinction. And then he says there’s a third exception, and that is ignorance. Ignorance. If you just don’t know. If you were divorced prior to discovering the unconditional love of God, prior to entering into a relationship with Christ, then that’s exempted because that’s under the blood of Christ after you came to faith. 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, and the new has come.”
Inside of Christ, you have the opportunity to have all sin, to have all mistakes, all of those things wiped clean. The Bible says elsewhere that God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west, and he remembers it no more. So if you are one of those folks, and you look back and you go, man, that was me. I was one of those two-thirds, those 67 percenters who I didn’t quite put in the time, I didn’t do the work to save the marriage before you became a Christian, then just remember, that’s been forgiven. That is washed away by what Christ did on the cross for you. So God’s very realistic. He understands our condition. He understands what’s going on.
I think you’ll see that as you look at those exceptions, they really fly in the face of worldly common sense, you know? Like Elaine alluded to in her testimony. The world tells you, man, if you’re not happy, eject like James Bond out of the BMW. Just get out. It’s not working out. And that’s common sense. But God is all about uncommon sense. God is about applying the supernatural truths of scripture to guarding and protecting, to healing marriages. And in the time that we have left this morning, I want us to really and truly look at how that happens. What is that uncommon sense concerning divorce?
Malachi chapter 2 is a clear, direct word. God says this. “I hate divorce.” God says, “I hate divorce, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment, says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.” Jesus said in Matthew 19, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate.” You see, humanity, humanity says if it’s not working out, bail. God says no, no, no. In my power, in the power that raised Jesus from the dead, understand how healing happens. Do the work of marital repair. Look at how that happens.
First of all, reconcile through the ministry of Christ. Reconcile through the ministry of Christ. Now, this has a couple of different applications. If you are currently married but considering divorce, I want you to just be open to the possibility that God could heal your marriage, to the reality that God desires to heal it. And he desires to do that through the ministry of Christ. Look at what the Bible says. 2 Corinthians chapter 5, “All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” God reconciled us. See, did you know that you and I were born divorced? You were born divorced, I was born divorced from God. When I got here, I was disconnected from God because of sin in my life. I have it, you’ve got it. Nobody had to teach us how to be selfish, did they? How many of you ever went to class for lusting or for telling a lie? Those things just happen to us because we’re born with a sinful nature. And that means by definition that we were divorced from God. The Bible says we were adversaries, we were enemies of God before Christ. And it is in Christ that God reconciled us to himself. He did the work of reconciliation. And then he has given you and me the ministry of reconciliation to be reconcilers.
So for Julie and me, we’ve been married for 14 years. I realize that’s not an eternity. There are a lot of you that have been married a lot longer. But in the last 14 years, there have been a couple of times where we have gotten on different pages, where we’ve kind of stepped back and looked at each other and almost said, I don’t even know you. What planet are you on right now? What’s going on? And in those moments, we’ve had to step back and go, wait a minute. That’s right. We’re on the same team. We want this thing to work. We want to be united. We want to be one. And so let’s do that. Because right now, I love you, and I don’t like you. I’m not digging being around you right now. You’re bugging me. Now, those are not fun times, but they’ve happened in our home. And they’ve happened periodically in those times where we’ve got an opportunity to experience the reconciling ministry of Christ, to be able to step back and go, wait a minute, this marriage isn’t about just Mac and Julie. This marriage is ultimately about God. This is ultimately about doing something for him, about having him do something for and through us. And so it’s worth reconciling.
The other application for this is if you were already divorced. Maybe you were already a divorced individual, and you look at this and say reconcile? Mac, you don’t know the dog that I was married — I’m not reconciling to that chump. You wouldn’t say that out loud, of course, but that’s what you’re thinking, I know. In that case, reconciling is the work of forgiving, of being able to step back — it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be reunited and it feels so good, Peaches and Herb, what it means is that you are going to do the work of forgiving, that you’re going to forgive one another, that you step back and go, you know what? I was wrong. I know I did some things that weren’t right, and I choose to forgive that man, I choose to forgive that woman. That is the reconciliation ministry of Christ.
Second of all, we heal under the authority of Christ. We heal under the authority of Christ. So many times, we say I want God’s healing, I need to feel better. The key to being healed is the authority of God. That’s how God handles it. And to willingly put ourselves under somebody else’s authority, that runs counter to everything that we’re about, especially as Americans, doesn’t it? Just almost unpatriotic to think about authority. But understand, authority is how God accomplishes his purposes. That’s how God gets done what God wants to get done, is through his authority.
This dynamic was played out in the life of Jesus with a Roman centurion who sent people to Jesus asking him to just say the word for the healing of his servant. And the centurion said, look, all you need to do is say the word. I get it. Look at how this exchange plays out in Luke chapter 7. The centurion is talking to Jesus. He said, “That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But you say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority with soldiers under me. I tell this one go, and he goes, and that one come, and he comes. I say to my servant do this, and he does it. When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him. And turning to the crowd following him, he said, I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Now just as an aside, don’t you know that frosted the people who were following Jesus around, that he would lift up this Roman centurion and say this guy gets it. He understands faith. Faith and authority go hand in glove. This guy gets it. What would that be like to say Jesus was amazed at your faith? Say that Jesus was amazed at my — that would be sweet brown sugar to amaze Jesus. And this guy said, look, I get authority, Jesus. I get it. I’m under the authority my superiors. I’ve got people who are under my authority. I tell them to jump, and they say how high, sir? And so I get it. But it is under the authority of Christ that healing occurs. That’s how that happens.
When you and I recognize the rightful place of God in our lives. That’s how that healing happens. Now, for those who are married, for those who are not divorced, for those who maybe one day will be married, this last point is crucial. Protect marriage through submission to Christ. You protect your marriage, I protect my marriage by submitting to and through Christ. Ephesians 5:21. This is kind of a long passage of scripture, but it’s important that we get this. Watch what it says. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Let’s just take a time out, shall we? Submit to each other. Say that word. Submit. Submit. See, some of you can’t even get it out. And it’s not because it’s early. Submit. It goes on. You talk about wading into gator-infested waters. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the savior. Now as the church commits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Now, let’s just kind of dive in there for a second, shall we? You know what’s really interesting to me? As I’ve performed weddings for the last 20 years of my ministry, and in the premarital counseling phase, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people sit in my office across the desk from me, holding hands, just googoo-eyed and just in love, and the bride will look at me and say, we are to excited to be getting married, and we are so grateful that you’re going to do the ceremony. One little thing, no word on submission. Thanks. And then they want to move on. And I understand where they’re coming from. And so I just kind of let them have their moment. I don’t overreact. But when a woman freaks and just kind of repels against this passage, what they’re telling me is they don’t get it. They don’t understand what’s going on here, mostly because men have not explained it when they’ve been teaching and preaching. Because a lot of men have mistakenly and erroneously and one day will stand before God in judgment and left out that verse before that says submit to one another. And they go straight to, wives submit to your husbands. Barefoot and pregnant. And it’s crazy. It says submit to one another.
And before we start talking about wives, look at the progression here. He talks to both and says submit to one another. Then he talks about wives submitting. But then he says, husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church. Now, guys love to point to that well, you know, head of the family. They don’t point to it in front of their wives, but subconsciously they love to do that. Understand how Jesus loves the church. Jesus loves you and me initially through sacrifice, through serving you and me. That’s how Jesus loved us. Jesus loved us to the point of abandoning his rightful place in heaven and abandoning his rights as the Son of God and became one of us and died on a cross.