Lesson 33: Submission to God Saves Marriages
Here is another example of how submission to God saves marriages. Many people often state, “I have fallen out of love with my husband (or wife). He or she has done so much awful stuff, I just don’t have feelings for him/her anymore and never will again.” Then they proceed to either live in that depressed condition for the rest of their lives or, most likely, divorce him/her and find somebody else they can “really love.”
The fact is, God does not give a person a “get-out-of-the-marriage-free” card just for falling out of love, simply because He has made a way possible for that person to fall back into love. That way is submission to God. If, following our example above, a wife or husband will submit themselves to God’s principle of truth that marriage is permanent, if s/he will submit their damaged and dead feelings to God for Him to revive them, if s/he can be willing for God to give them love for their spouse again—then God can restore it. He will direct their steps until full love for their spouse has been restored.
The problem many spouses have is that they are not willing—that is, not submitted—for God to give them love again for a husband or wife whose past behavior has so destroyed their love. An offended wife often feels too proud to even want her love for her husband to be restored; it might make her look humiliated before others. An offended husband often feels the same way. So s/he goes on saying, “I have fallen out of love with you, and I don’t think I can ever love you again.”
One famous pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson, in 2015 filed for divorce from his wife of 21 years (with three children) because their marriage was, in the words of their counselor, Paul Tripp, “irreparably broken.” Both spouses had cheated, supposedly the wife first, then the husband. “Sadly,” the counselor reported, “there are times when the trust is so deeply broken and patterns so set in place that it seems best to recognize that brokenness, cry out for God's grace, mourn, commit to forgiveness, rest in the truths of the Gospel and with a grieved heart move on." So in other words, are we to assume that their marriage was beyond God’s ability to fix and restore it? God Himself found it impossible? Of course not! Jesus truly can fix anything, even a horrifically broken marriage between two horrifically broken people.
So when a marriage seemingly cannot be fixed and is “irreparably broken,” that simply means that one or both parties are not willing for it to be fixed. Somebody has refused to radically submit to God. Somebody is holding on to their selfishness and justifying their sin. See original story here. See the continuing saga here.
Restoring trust requires a person to first trust in God. Why? Because trust always involves a large degree of risk and uncertainty, which most people simply are not willing to subject themselves to, especially after they have been so badly hurt by their spouses. But in order to please God, allow Him to rebuild trust and love, and restore the marriage, each spouse simply must be willing to make themselves vulnerable again until reconciliation is achieved. Self-protection, hiding your sins, and lack of repentance simply do not constitute radical submission to God, no matter how justifiable it might seem to be.
In 2013, another famous pastor, Ron Carpenter, Jr., of the Redemption World Outreach Center of Greenville, SC, whose wife of 23 years had cheated on him for many years, refused to even consider reconciliation until God spoke to him through Jesus’ words in Mark 10:5: “Moses let you divorce your wives” but it was only “because of the hardness of your hearts,” i.e., “your condition of insensibility to the call of God” (Amplified). He said that God told him to call his wife at the rehab facility she had checked herself into and promise her that he would not abandon her. Out of what he said was a "sheer fear of God" and not "lovey-dovey feelings," he did what he felt God wanted him to do. And their marriage was successfully restored. See story here. Together, they now sponsor, among other ministries, “Marriage Rendezvous” Conferences.
But take another look at Jesus’ true attitude against divorce in Matthew 19:8-9 (NIV): “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’”
Or, from The Message: “Jesus said, ‘Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hardheartedness, but it is not part of God's original plan. I'm holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else. I make an exception in cases where the spouse has committed adultery.’”
Most Christians miss one of the main messages in this passage. They faithfully quote the “Exception Clause,” which gives them the right to divorce because of sexual immorality. But they fail to see that the whole reason divorce was given in the first place was because of their hard, rebellious hearts! They fail to realize that just because they biblically can divorce doesn’t mean that they must or should divorce. Obviously, Jesus expects them to do everything possible to reconcile and restore the marriage, which is God’s “original plan.” Divorce is not His “original plan” and is always the absolute LAST resort.
How could it be otherwise? Wouldn’t the God who plainly states, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16 NLT), desire most of all that troubled spouses reconcile and keep their marriages intact? Knowing that divorce steals, kills, deeply wounds, and destroys souls (and bodies and minds) that God deeply loves and gave Himself for, wouldn’t His biggest desire be to avoid divorce at any cost, no matter what the problem?
He is a God of love, forgiveness, second chances, reconciliation, and restoration. Wouldn’t He expect the couple to do everything within their power to fix the individuals and fix the marriage before dissolving their marriage covenant, which, by the way, is symbolic of and patterned after His own love covenant with His Bride, the Church? So even though He provides an exception to get out of a marriage, His true desire is that the couple fix themselves, whatever the problem, and save the marriage. Too much is eternally at stake.
If, in the Spirit of Christ (humility, forgiveness, love, and willingness to do God’s will), each partner practices radical submission, they will reconcile and restore the marriage. But if, in a spirit and attitude contrary to the Spirit of Christ, they harden against each other and cannot reconcile, then they should each realize that the indictment is against them: their own “hardness of heart” is what prevents it. The cause of the divorce is no longer what one or both of the partners may have done, but their unwillingness to be reconciled. Their own “insensibility to the call of God” (Amplified), in which they cannot or refuse to hear the Holy Spirit and the heart of God, makes reconciliation and restoration impossible.
And no true Christian would be comfortable facing God with hardness of heart, a condition that Jesus condemns according to this passage. Actually, they should “Examine [them]selves to see whether [they] are still in [and true to] the Christian faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5 God’s Word) ), because it now involves their own relationship with God Himself.
This is exactly the meaning and appropriate application of Ephesians 5:21: “Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ (‘fear of God’ in the KJV). The next verse requires wives to submit themselves to and reverence their husbands, “as unto the Lord.” And in verse 25, husbands are required to love their wives “even as,” i.e., to the same degree, “as Christ loved the Church…” The reason a married individual treats his/her spouse with love or reverence under all circumstances is because that individual loves God, fears God, and wants to please God and measure up to His standard—independently of the spouse’s actions. The fear of God and the desire not to displease Him keeps him/her in the marriage.
True agape love for one’s spouse means that an individual cannot give up on their spouse any sooner than God gives up on us for our own repeated failures. Perhaps a temporary separation might be feasible for safety (as in abuse) or co-dependency (as in addiction), but the goal should always be to fix the problem or the person, then counsel and work together for reconciliation.
This is especially true if children are involved, because divorce affects them traumatically and permanently. "The kids will adjust," selfish adults always say, and, true, the kids do adjust, but almost always in a negative way. Evidence shows that parental divorce causes major problems for children that last into and throughout adulthood:
- 50% of children of divorce move into poverty after the divorce (see here.)
- Teens from divorced households are 3 times more likely to need psychological help (see here.)
- Study after study has shown that children from divorced families suffer more physical ailments and perform at a lower level academically (See reference for previous bullet point).
- Children of divorced parents are roughly two times more likely to drop out of high school than children from intact families. (McLanahan, Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps, Harvard University Press 1994.(See here.)
- A study of children six years after a parental marriage breakup revealed that even after all that time to make the “adjustments” their parents expected them to make, these children still tended to be “lonely, unhappy, anxious and insecure. (Wallerstein, “The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 1991)
- People who come from broken homes are twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who do not come from broken homes. See here.
- Children of divorce have relationship problems: they have a 26% lower rate of getting married in the first place. See here.
- After they do get married, the risk of divorce is 50 percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home, and 200 percent higher risk when both of them do (Nicholas Wolfinger, professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah and author of Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages, quoted here.)
Of course, some people think that some of these stats are old and outdated, and the increasingly-common practice of joint custody of the children has changed the negative consequences associated with divorce. However, here’s another very alarming, relatively recent stat about our young people (19-25 years old) in America: One-half (50%) of them have a diagnosable mental health disorder [e.g., personality disorders (obsessive, anti-social and paranoid behaviors), depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, self-injury, and substance/drug abuse, etc.], almost all of it being traced back to their broken, ill-formed, dysfunctional, and collapsing families. See the reports here and here.
Knowing these facts, it is truly unbelievable that so many Christians still dissolve their marriages at a tragically alarming rate. There is no way in the world God is pleased with this, but apparently, they don’t seem to care. Pleasing themselves is more important than pleasing God.
HELP By Erica Campbell of “Mary, Mary” (with Lecrae)
Verse 2: “…Said ‘I do,’ but to tell the truth, Sometimes I don't.
But it ain't about my will. It's all about what You want. Family used to be first, things getting worse in my home...”
I have always openly admitted that my wife loves me today, not because I have been such a perfect husband who never caused her any pain or made her cry, but because she loves God more than she loves me. He talks to her and enables her to come back and keep loving me, in spite of me being me. I consider myself to be a very good husband, but even the best husband can be an awful trial sometimes! If my wife did not love and fear God so greatly and want to please Him so badly, she would have walked out on me (or killed me) a long time ago!
So then, it is her submission to God and her love for God, not my perfect goodness, which has kept us together, through the rough times and normal storms of life, for more than forty years. It’s something between God and her; sometimes I seem to be somewhat incidental! On occasion she has even plainly said it: “I’m really not forgiving you because I feel like it, but because I love God and I want to stay in fellowship with Him.” Only God knows how much I really appreciate Him for doing me this favor! And she would say the same thing about me.
Now all of this works for this simple reason: Marriages fail because somebody in the marriage is being selfish. It may be one or both parties. One partner might be reacting selfishly to the selfish actions of the other. But radical submission to God removes selfishness from the entire life of a Christian, including his or her marriage. Radical submission causes a wife to reverence her husband no matter what and a husband to love his wife unconditionally. Thus, when neither party insists on living selfishly, their marriage becomes indestructible. They can truly stay together “as long as they both shall live.”
Because divorce among Christians is always an indication that selfishness in one or both partners prevailed, anyone considering marriage to a divorced Christian should be extremely careful. How does one determine that the selfishness that wrecked the first marriage is not found in the divorced person you want to marry, especially knowing that a divorce is never the fault of only one partner? How do you know that the person you want to marry does not have a hard, spiritually insensitive heart and fails to listen to the desires of God?
How would you know that they have truly identified why their first marriage failed, what fault was their own, and how they will prevent it from happening all over again? Have they learned any lessons, are they repentant (if need be), or are they just switching partners without any major changes happening within themselves? Have they truly experienced inner healing from the hurts that drive and influence them now? Are they whole now or still fractured and broken? Have they forgiven and been forgiven? Are they submissive to God? It pays to be very careful in these situations!
- List several reasons that today's Christians use to justify ending their marriages and discuss how radical submission would help them overcome.
- What do you think is God’s attitude about the high rate of divorce among Christians?
PRAYER:Almighty God, Redeemer, Restorer, Eternal Salvager, God of mercy, and also, Creator of Marriage, the ultimate human relationship: It is with humble hearts that we bow and acknowledge that, in spite of Your sacrifice to heal our relationships, so many times we persist in destroying them. Forgive us for our failures in the area of marriage. Especially forgive the Christian Church for failing to hold a higher, more rigorous standard for our people regarding marriage, allowing them to be selfish, hardhearted, insensitive, and contrary so often to Your original desires. Forgive us for our individual failures. Let there be a mighty spiritual renewal among us concerning marriage, for the benefit of families, society, and Your Kingdom as a whole. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.