A Study By
Gary Ray Branscome

"For the Lord, the God of Israel, says that He hates divorce."
(Malachi 2:16)

    God instituted marriage as a life long commitment of one man to one woman. Therefore, anyone who would break their marriage vow, either by committing adultery or by divorcing a spouse who has been faithful, is condemned by God. It is bad enough that the children of darkness destroy homes and show contempt for righteousness, but when people that profess to know Christ do the same thing it is intolerable. Nevertheless, because evil is rampant, divorce is one of the biggest problems facing the church today.


    As the political leader of Israel, Moses made a provision allowing for divorce, because he knew that hard-hearted unforgiving people can’t be forced to live together as man and wife (Deuteronomy 24:1-3). However Jesus made it plain that anyone who divorces his spouse for any reason other than immorality, commits adultery if he (or she) marries someone else (Matthew 19:9). [See also, Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18, 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.]
    Because wickedness is rampant in our land, it is all too easy for Christians to take adultery lightly. However, God’s Word makes it clear that adulterers “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Therefore, God’s directive to American churches is the same that He gave to the church at Corinth. The unrepentant must be dealt with according to the steps of Matthew 18: 15-18, or to paraphrase the Apostle Paul:

    It is reported that there is divorce among you, and more divorce than is common among the heathen. And you are puffed up and have not mourned that those who break up a marriage might be removed from the congregation. Therefore, when you are gathered together in the name and power of the Lord Jesus Christ, deliver those who are guilty of breaking their marriage vow unto Satan that being rebuked by all they might repent and thus be saved. (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-5)

     Far too many people try to twist the gospel into something wicked by using God’s grace as an excuse to sin. However, just because God will keep those who trust in Him from falling does not mean that we can sin willfully and get away with it. It is a great comfort to know that God keeps us in faith, nevertheless, He keeps us in faith by keeping us repentant, not by letting us sin. In fact, His Word warns all who sin willfully that, “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but the certain fearful expectation of judgement and fiery indignation.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)


    Whenever a marriage breaks up, if neither party has been immoral then the person who actually files for divorce is the one guilty of breaking their marriage vow. On the other hand, If adultery has taken place then the party guilty of adultery is the one who is guilty. In either case, the guilty party needs to be dealt with according to the steps outlined in Matthew 18:15-18. And if they remain unrepentant they need to be delivered to Satan with the hope that being buffeted by Satan in the flesh they might repent and be saved (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).

    Because our very nature is sinful, contention, spiteful statements, and resentment plague many marriages, and it is common for those involved in a marriage breakup to try to blame what is happening on the other party. One may say, “she is always fussing,” “he is not a good provider,” or “I do not love him anymore.” However, from a Christian point of view that just means that both parties need to work at "forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven" them (Ephesians 4:32). While nasty words and ugly behavior is sinful, such conduct is not grounds for divorce and is not what breaks the marriage vow. The vow is broken by the party that commits adultery or by the party that would divorce a spouse that has been faithful. Therefore, once the guilty party has been identified, the steps of Matthew 18:15-18 can be followed in dealing with that person.

    Since God is fully aware of the fact that living with an abusive spouse can be dangerous, He moved Paul to write, “let not the wife depart from her husband. But if she depart let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) However, His Word also makes it clear that that sort of separation does not end a marriage (Matthew 19:1-9). Therefore, those in that situation have no business nurturing friendships with members of the opposite sex, as if they were single.

    Many problems arise from the fact that our society tends to confuse romantic infatuation with love. Because of that error, many couples assume that they no longer love each other as soon as the infatuation ends. All too often they then end the marriage, only to drift from partner to partner wondering why they cannot find lasting love. Such people need to realize that love is far more than just a feeling. True love involves a commitment and a trust between two people that leads them to remain together, work out their problems, and learn to get along with each other. Love is not something we fall into, it is something we show. That is why the Bible tells us to love the person we are married to, while never telling anyone to marry because of love.

[NOTE: God may allow divorce in cases of adultery because an unrepentant spouse is a satanic influence in the home. However, when it comes to day to day differences we are to be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven” us (Ephesians 4:32). For “if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:26).]


    The Bible clearly tells us that it is wrong for a congregation to tolerate immoral behavior on the part of members. When such behavior was being tolerated at Corinth, Paul rebuked the congregation sharply and ordered them to deliver the one who was guilty (yet unrepentant) to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Applying the same rule to divorce, the guilty party must be dealt with according to God’s Word. If adultery has taken place, then the adulterer (if unrepentant) needs to be cut off from the congregation until repentance is forthcoming (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). If adultery has not taken place then the one who files for divorce is to be cut off from the congregation. And, until repentance takes place those who have been cut off are not eligible to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and should be treated as social outcasts (1 Corinthians 5:11 and 11:27, Matthew 18:15-18).


    If those who are guilty think that they can escape responsibility for their sin by going to another congregation where their sin is not known, they are only fooling themselves. Someday, they will have to stand before God and give account for their sin! However, if church discipline is to be taken seriously, as God’s Word tells us it should be, then no congregation should ever accept someone into membership without first finding out if they are under discipline by another congregation. If they are, the pastor then has a responsibility to find out if there has been repentance before approving them for membership. If they lie, it is not his responsibility, he can only go by what they say, but they will answer for it (Acts 5:4).

    Because there is a stiff-necked unrepentant spirit in our land, those who are rebuked for their sin often become contentious and arrogant, refusing to admit that they were wrong. And if that is not bad enough, there are others who mock Christian compassion by saying “I was wrong, forgive me,” when they are not sorry in the least. Yet such people must be dealt with according to God’s Word, and preachers who turn a blind eye to such sin, or welcome with open arms those who are guilty of it, are doing the work of Satan. However, we need to keep in mind the fact that the purpose of church discipline is not to punish, but to bring the unrepentant to repentance, and through repentance to forgiveness in Christ.