May 8, 2009 by Stacy McDonald
A new book by John MacArthur
Ever since publishing our family’s testimony, Beauty for Ashes, I have received numerous emails from women who are relieved to know there is hope for them (Jeremiah 29:11) – that although they may have been forsaken by the husband of their youth, God will never leave them nor forsake them. And neither does He leave them in bondage to man made doctrines.
As many of you know, James and I are passionate about God’s purpose for marriage and family. It is our highest desire to see God glorified in the midst of this rebellious generation. We invest much time and effort attempting to strengthen and equip the Christian family with God’s Word, and helping them to apply it to their daily lives.
So at first glance, it may seem strange that we would even mention a book discussing what God’s Word says about divorce. However, I believe that the way we view divorce (and remarriage) says a lot about how we view marriage. For instance, in John MacArthur’s new book, The Divorce Dilemma: God’s Last Word on Lasting Commitment, he lays out four main views on divorce:
1. The secular view (which, sadly, even some professing Christians embrace) which says that divorce and remarriage is allowable for any reason at all.
2. No divorce for any reason, ever.
3. Divorce “under certain circumstances,” is allowed; but, “no remarriage is allowed – ever- at any time, for anybody, for any reason.”
4. The last view is that “biblically, both divorce and remarriage are possible, but only under certain circumstances.”
Each of these positions communicate different messages pertaining to the way we as a church view the permanency and importance of marriage, as well as the importance of passing on a godly legacy to our children.
So which option is the biblical one? In chapter one, Pastor MacArthur asserts that the answer can be found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He points out that “Jesus was confronting the sins of the Pharisees” and “unmasking their hypocrisy.” Not only had they attempted to exchange God’s standards for their own, but they had twisted Scripture to fit their own views (and wicked desires): “A majority of the Pharisees decided that any husband ought to be able to shed his wife whenever he wanted.”
He goes on to say:
“The people, guided by their leaders, tolerated divorce and remarriage for any reason. Jesus’ response in verse 32 is that God does not permit divorce except for one very specific reason. The exception is important. Notice that while Jesus was plainly confronting the Pharisees’ too-lax attitude toward divorce, He expressly recognized an exception: ‘except for the reason of unchastity…’”
As MacArthur explains more fully in a later chapter, “Jesus was speaking of the kind of serious unrepentant sexual sin that represents a full-on assault against the sanctity of the marriage union and irreparably fractures every vestige of trust and intimacy.”
And read his following statement carefully:
“Some Christians, with the good motive of wanting to halt the social ills of divorce, would prefer to ignore or explain away the exception clause and insist that divorce is never permissible, period. But we can’t outthink Jesus and must not make the Law more rigid than He did. We need to deal honestly with everything He taught, and not add to or subtract from his Word. Let’s explore further to see exactly what He said about divorce and why.”
I have heard it argued that it is better to err on the side of stringency (never allowing divorce or remarriage) rather than to err on the side permissiveness (allowing divorce and remarriage for any reason). But I would contend that both are equally harmful and both dishonor the institution of marriage. One view leaves intact marriages open to devastation; while the other view forbids marriage to the faithful spouse whose union was stolen from them.
The disposable view of marriage that is prevalent in today’s culture is tragic; and it is heartbreaking that even many professing Christians support this dishonest view of marriage. However, when we place thousands of “grace widows” under the man-made bondage of perpetual celibacy and deny them their Christian freedom to remarry we communicate in a way that marriage is not all that important after all.
In The Divorce Dilemma, Pastor MacArthur does an excellent job of defending the permanency, beauty, and holiness of marital oneness, while balancing it with the Scriptural reasons why God made the allowances He did for divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances.
Each chapter is well organized and engaging. Pastor MacArthur is thorough in his exegesis without being the least bit wearisome. The last chapter includes a helpful Q and A, which includes the following answer given to someone who asked how to help a friend who has biblical grounds to remarry, but feels she would be violating the vows she made to her husband if she were to marry again. John MacArthur answers:
“I would begin with 1 Corinthians 7, commending her for understanding and applying two of Paul’s main themes: that it can be good for her as an unmarried woman to remain single, and that it is best for her to be content with her current marital status, not quick to change it.
“Then I would ask her to read verse 15: ‘If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases,’ asking her, ‘Since God does not consider a woman in that situation to be bound to her marriage vows anymore, would it be right for the woman to consider herself still bound?’
My hope is that she will see that no one has a higher regard for what is right than God does. Then I would apply the same reasoning toward the exception clauses
regarding adultery in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. I would go back to 1 Corinthians 7 and encourage her to consider before God whether she has been
specially gifted with singleness (verses 7-8) or not (verse 9). May her gifting, not false guilt, be her guide.” (Emphasis mine)
An interesting and powerful finale’ to the book is a letter of rebuke written by the father of a forsaken woman to her adulterous husband. This letter, written lovingly, firmly, and pointedly was instrumental in this man’s eventual repentance and restoration to his family.
I believe that whether or not you have been touched by divorce, The Divorce Dilemma is a must read for everyone. I believe it is crucial that leaders and laymen alike, with Bible in hand, read this refreshing and balanced book. Thank you Pastor MacArthur!
The Divorce Dilemma: God’s Last Word on Lasting Commitment by John MacArthur, Day One Publications (April 2009)