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What does the New Testament teach about a believer divorcing his wife?

According to Scripture, there are grounds for a man to divorce his wife. The reason specifically mentioned is marital unfaithfulness by his wife. Under such circumstances, there is no sanction again marrying another woman.

Matthew 5:32  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Mark 10:11  He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.

However, if his wife is not guilty of sexual immorality but he nevertheless chooses to divorce her and marry another woman, then he has committed adultery against her. Moreover anyone who marries the first wife is committing adultery in God’s sight presumably because the man’s divorce and remarriage is not acknowledged by God. In God’s sight she is still married to him.

Staying single after divorce

Therefore if a man for some reason chooses to divorce his wife who has not committed adultery, he should remain single. Paul the apostle teaches the same thing in 1 Corinthians 7:11, adding that reconciliation with his wife is also acceptable in God’s sight. With regard to staying single after divorce, Jesus taught that the one who can accept this should accept it.

Matthew 19:9  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  10  The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  11  Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  12  For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others–and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

However, some believing men today cannot accept remaining single after divorcing their wives for some reason other than adultery. Life can at times present us with very difficult and complicated circumstances. In such cases an “annulment” of the marriage may be in order, in which it is considered to be invalid from the beginning almost as if it had never taken place. May God’s grace be sufficient for those very difficult situations. Forgiveness is most certainly available to those who have divorced under circumstances not in accordance with Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 7:12-13, Paul also teaches that a believing husband (or wife) should not divorce an unbelieving spouse simply because they have not yet accepted Jesus Christ.

Therefore there can be scriptural grounds for a man to divorce his wife. However, it is not pleasing to God if the reason is simply he has fallen “out of love” with his wife and has found another woman with whom he is more compatible and who can fulfill his needs. If he marries that woman, Scripture teaches that he has committed adultery in the sight of God.

“I no longer love you”

Unfortunately in today’s culture such reasons for divorce are acceptable. Such thinking has invaded the Church and it is said that divorce among believing couples approaches that among the general population. Divorce is even not uncommon among pastors and servants of God. While divorce without proper scriptural grounds can be forgiven by God, it is certainly much better if the believing couple remain married.

How can a believing man today resist the temptations offered by the world and remain happily married and faithful to his wife, thus pleasing His Lord and Savior? In this article we speak primarily to men because the author himself is a man, and because in a relationship it is generally the husband who is tempted to be unfaithful instead of the wife.

Let’s look at how the Lord sees a relationship between a man and his wife.

Ephesians 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  26  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  27  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Just as Christ loved the Church

The Lord sees the relationship between a man and his wife as parallel to the relationship between Christ and the Church. Why did Jesus love us so that He would give Himself up for us on the cross? It was certainly not because we were beautiful, charming, lovable or worthy. No, Jesus went to the cross denying his own will and obeying His Father’s will instead. Because of the Father’s agape love for us whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, He sent His Son to take up our sins on the cross.

Jesus loved us in obedience to His Father’s will. Similarly we husbands are to love our wives in order to obey the Father and to please Him. It should have little to do with how beautiful or charming or worthy our wives are. We are to love our wives in obedience to God. Therefore loving our wives is a decision and a commitment which we make consciously and deliberately. It is not a matter of feeling “in love.” That can come later. What happens when we love our wives as Christ loved the Church?

She becomes “radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” in her husband’s eyes. When a wife is treated with respect and thoughtfulness by her husband, she will be happy and content. And that kind of contentment can eventually result in positive (even beautifying) effects on her physically, emotionally, and sexually as well. “Agape” love (godly unconditional love) will be followed by philia love and by eros love. This results in a fulfilling marriage relationship.

Love can make beautiful

On one occasion I received a comment about how pretty and youthful my wife looks even though she is nearing sixty years of age. The commenter then added that “I must really love my wife”—not because she looked so pretty, but as the reason for her looking so good!

When a husband treats and teaches his wife kindly and gently despite whatever shortcomings she may have in his sight—that is, whether or not he feels she “deserves” it—the Lord is pleased and will bless the marriage. The children of the relationship, growing up in a peaceful and godly home, will benefit in various emotional ways as they mature into adulthood. It is well known that divorce takes a toll on children and can affect them negatively later in life.

Ephesians 5:28  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church–  30  for we are members of his body.  31  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  32  This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.  33  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Loving yourself

If you love your wife, you are essentially loving yourself. You will benefit in various ways by staying faithful to and loving your wife. God is pleased and will bless you. But if you fall to temptation and divorce your wife because you have found another woman, you are essentially hating yourself. The Lord will not be pleased, and there will be difficult times ahead for you. So make the right decision for yourself. Obedience to the Lord’s commands is always the best choice, not only to please Him but ultimately for one’s own personal benefit as well.

Therefore as believers we should actively and even forcefully resist the temptations from our flesh to flirt and act in an unbecoming way toward other women. One should exercise wisdom in not putting oneself in situations where such temptations become more likely.

What does it actually mean to love your wife?

This article is certainly not meant to be a marriage manual. But as we mentioned earlier, love is not a feeling but rather a decision to behave in a certain way toward one’s wife.

Believers are expected to grow the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. From among these I would encourage husbands to be patient, good, kind, and gentle to their wives. Never take your wife for granted no matter how many years you have been married to her. (She is not a piece of furniture in your house.) Rather purpose to show her affection frequently whether with words or hugs or similar behavior. Be polite to her as you would show politeness to others outside your family. Upon waking up you can greet her with a warm “good morning, honey.”

Put your flesh to death

This requires us to restrain our natural impulse to get mad and yell and criticize our wife when she falls short of our expectations during the course of the day. Marriages will deteriorate when we neglect to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our relationship. Such critical attitudes if not repented of will wound her and invariably hurt your relationship down the road. Bitterness and resentment will simmer and can turn into a cancer in your marriage. And you will end up hurting yourself. If you love your wife and always treat her kindly, you love yourself. If you are often rude and impatient toward her, you are sowing bad seed and will be hurting yourself in the end.

The world has a term to describe such behavior: masochism.

For servants of God and pastors

Those called to labor for the Lord in one of the five-fold ministries and who are married should be careful to invest time and effort in their marriage. If they are so busy with ministry that they neglect their wives, their marriages may suffer. That will certainly be counterproductive, for a bad marriage will ultimately hurt the ministry. Divorce will in most cases have disastrous consequences for a servant of God with regard to his ministry.

There are ministers of the gospel who get divorced “for the sake of the ministry” and then remarry another woman who will be a better helper for them. When there is little repentance before God and the Church and there is little effect on his ministry, then from the point of view of Scripture there is something terribly wrong—not only with the minister but with those who continue to support him.

If you love Him you will keep His commands

John 14:21  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.

The Lord commands us to love our wives. Therefore if we obey His command and indeed love our wives, we demonstrate that we indeed love Him. Seen from this perspective, can we not say that the measure with which we love our wives—whether or not they are worthy of it—is a reflection of the measure of our love for the Lord as we follow in His footsteps?