BLOG: Submission & Divorce, Part 2


Submission & Divorce, Part 2: The Root of The Question
Companion blog to “Q&A with Pastor Steve: Submission & Divorce

Last week, in the first eighteen minutes of “Q&A with Pastor Steve: Submission & Divorce“, we learned that the Ephesians 5:18-24 reference about wives submitting to husbands doesn’t mean wives are less than husbands.  We learned that husbands actually have more of a responsibility to submit than wives.*  Regardless of marital status, we are all commanded to submit by thinking of ALL others before ourselves.  There is no gender in view here.

If you claim Christ and sign on the dotted line to be in covenant marriage with another believer, then you are acknowledging that you understand and agree with how God is going to arrange headship.  If indeed you really don’t agree, then you shouldn’t set yourself up for the sin of intentionally living out of God’s ordained order.  It won’t go well.  Just don’t get married until you and your intended absolutely understand and love what God is offering.  Your heart towards the matter is not hidden.

Marriage isn’t about happiness, it’s about holiness.

Blogger Gary Thomas states, “marriage isn’t about happiness, it’s about holiness.”  Don’t believe that?  Think about all the times that you have to dig down deep to fight your flesh and live as Christ would have you to live at work or in line at the grocery.  At the end of a rough day you head home to your spouse.  All is great.  Then there comes that moment (or two) where you need to put your spouse first in some way and you’re just not feeling it.  Will you crash and burn (sin) here or will you call upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen your obedience (in submission) to get up off the couch and help make dinner?

What happens when ‘submission’ is abused and someone gets treated less-than?

When this happens, we need to deal with the abuse head-on.  We don’t need to throw out the principle of submission altogether just because someone decided to be a jerk.  If we just turn a blind eye to the abuse of Biblical submission, we may very well be condoning sin in the life of a believer.  That’s not loving.

Sure there are times when you can forebear the small stuff like someone forgetting your birthday or not saying hello to you on the street.  But if it’s a pattern and/or frequency of unloving behavior that you are building up resentments to, then it must be addressed lest you sin.  Also, if it’s dangerous, illegal, or an obvious sin against God, you must address it for everyone’s sake.  You must weigh these situations out very carefully.

Getting guidance is, without exception, crucial.  I’m not saying go gossip (sin) and tell all your friends and family so you’ll get sympathy and feel justified in whatever path you decide to take.  That just causes more problems.  You’ve got to get Biblical council to deal with Biblical issues (sin).  Notice: I didn’t say “Christian counseling.”  There is a difference.  Biblical counseling includes your pastor and elders.  “Christian counseling” could be anyone claiming to be a Christian, possibly with a degree in counseling, giving you their personal opinions and advice instead of God’s explicit instructions found only in the Bible.  If confronting another Christian for the first time using God’s plan (Matthew 18), don’t just wing-it.  Make an appointment with a Christian elder who has had experience in Biblical restoration (aka church discipline).

You’ll say, “Why didn’t anyone ever give me these tools before now?”

If you want to get started immediately on understanding the amazing Biblical principles that can stop the threats to your relationships, here’s an extremely quick-read: Handbook of Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member by Jay Adams.  You can get it used for under $3 on Amazon.  My husband and I used the Biblical restoration tools of Matthew 18 to completely restore a two-year broken relationship in our family that involved six stubborn adults.  Everyone involved would tell you how much more solid the relationships are now due to following Matthew 18.  Yes, it was painful and we felt like giving up many times in the process.

God’s perfect relationship-fix (Matthew 18) is almost never taught in churches today.  I was taught that following Matthew 18 was taking an offensive, holier-than-thou, approach that would make people feel bad and push them away from Christianity.  Well, you bet your britches it’s a holier-than-thou approach.  God’s ways are holier-than-thou because “thou”(you) isn’t holier than God.  We’ve got to stop thinking we know better.  A Christian should always appreciate a loving rebuke.  There is no God-approved work-around for sin.  That’s why He gave such a detailed plan to handle every relationship mess that we can get into and elders to help us.

Marriage is one of the most confusing relationships for Christians because we often see marriage as something that serves us and our needs instead of sanctifying us for Christlikeness.  Conflict born out of a lack of submission to one another can be seen as hopeless, with divorce the only option.  Maybe that’s true.  Maybe it’s not.  Please read Divorce and Remarriage .  This is a comprehensive guide to divorce.

When should you not submit?

If someone in authority asks you to do something God forbids, then you do not submit.  Whenever an authority forbids you to do something God requires; you do not submit.  This includes any authority, such as government, church, work, or marriage.  It is also important to note that submission is not based on just treatment by the “authority.”  Sometimes the authorities over us are 100% wrong in their words and actions toward us but that does not give us a Biblical right to reject our command of submission.  No, this is where a Christian is given grace to withstand the injustice or fear.**  Christians have the unique privilege of turning to either Biblical restoration if the ‘authority’ is Christian or the government (police/courts) if they are not Christians.  Did you think you had to feel hopeless and do nothing about injustice because the world tells you Christians have to turn the other cheek or if they don’t, they’re not Christians?  Boy, does that get taken out of context a lot! Christians have the most options, the best options.***  Submission can be a burdensome trial for believers but we know we can “count it all joy.”

Q: At what point does God allow a woman to leave an abusive husband and remarry?

We have to find the root of this question before we deal with the fruit of the question.  The root of the question is, “Does God ever permit divorce?”  Yes, He does.  He allows it based on sexual immorality or desertion by an unbeliever.  It’s important here that you not just skim over these two conditions and hear me say, “adultery and he/she moved out.”  There is way more to it than that and this is where you need to seek Biblical council to understand whether or not God commands you to stay in the marriage and deal with the injustice or whether God will allow you to get away from it.  You don’t need to be making this decision based on your feelings or what society believes is right.  Start right now by reading Divorce and Remarriage before you give emotional thoughts and sin room to breed.****  Your covenant marriage belongs to God and He alone can allow it to become void.  What do you want more; to be free from the pain and disappointment or to be lined up with God’s perfect will for your life?  The answer lies in your hunger for Christ.

What is sexual immorality?

It is any sexual impropriety done outside of sexual intimacy with one’s husband or wife.  Sexual impropriety is any abuse of God’s design.  Pornography is an example, but so is not having sexual relations at all with your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).  This is not moral behavior in the realm of a covenant marital relationship, thus it is immoral.  Did you ever think this was a legitimate reason for divorce?  Yet another reason why speaking to your pastor or elder is critical.  They know tons more than you.

What is desertion?

Pastor Wilson makes it clear that the desertion in view is some sort of desertion that comes before any divorce and doesn’t necessarily mean “not there.”  Soldiers at war or spouses on work trips are examples.  From the opposite consideration, you could have spouses who are physically there but have deserted the marriage in other ways.  So how does “desertion” break the covenant of marriage?  1 Corinthians 7:15 makes it clear that it has to be an unbeliever,  or someone the church declares as an unbeliever, who has in some way (physical or mental) left the marriage in order for “desertion” to be Biblical grounds for divorce.  These situations are so varied and need careful, almost forensic, consideration.

So to answer the question posed above about a woman in an abusive marriage, the church has to be involved in order to determine how or if the principles of divorce (sexual immorality & desertion) are at play or are not.  The church, your church, does not get a pass on helping you out with this.  You, the believer in the troubled marriage, don’t get a pass on bringing it to the church because “God has called you to peace.”  We must stop the horrible witness so many professing believers are showing the world in regards to covenant obedience in marriage.  Got problems? Get help!

I hope you will subscribe to this blog and keep learning all God has to teach through these lessons taught by Pastor Steve Wilson of Grace Community Church.

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Other Resources:
Video – Wives with spiritually immature husbands,, episode 1799
Free Kindle Book – The Exemplary Husband, by Stuart Scott, John MacArthur (Foreword)
Free Audiobook – The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace

*1 Peter 3:1-7
**1 Peter 3:8-17
***Romans 8:28
****Matthew 5:31-32, 19, 1 Corinthians 7