Tag Archives: divorce

Is the Wife Required to Submit to an Abusive Husband?

More than a few Christian wives endure years of terrible mistreatment at the hands of an abusive husband because they genuinely want to follow God’s calling to “submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24). Many assume or have been taught to believe that submitting “in everything” includes submitting to abusive behavior.

It’s important to understand the setting in which Ephesians 5 calls for submission. Specifically, Paul urges wives to submit “as the church submits to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24). This qualification gives meaning to the kind of relationship and leadership that is in view. Just as Jesus expanded the definition of leadership to center around the heart of a servant (Luke 22:25-27), Paul actually spends most of this section emphasizing that husbands are to sacrificially look after their wives as Christ gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:23-33). Of course, no husband perfectly lives up to Christ’s example just as no wife perfectly submits to Christlike leadership, but the submission Paul speaks of in this passage presumes that a husband desires and strives to follow Christ’s example of loving, servant-heart leadership.

While Paul is clearly calling for women to submit to husbands who are committed to looking out for their well-being, we can safely say that Paul would not counsel a wife to submit to an abusive husband. A marriage that is marked by a pattern of abuse of power and control is altogether different from the kind of relationship and servant leadership Paul had in mind when he called wives to submit to their husbands.

Marital abuse is a harmful distortion of Christ’s leadership and a violation of the marital vows to “love, honor, and cherish” that calls for a radically different response than submission (See the ATQ article What Is a Godly Response to Domestic Abuse for an Abused Wife?). Perhaps that is one reason why, even in a time when women were not highly regarded, the book of Esther features Queen’s Vashti’s refusal to submit to her drunken husband’s command to parade around like a trophy in front of his intoxicated and lewd male guests (Esther 1:2-12).

To read more about physical and nonphysical abuse in marriage and some ways to deal with it in a biblical manner, please feel free to order our booklets When Violence Comes Home, When Words Hurt, and God’s Protection Of Women.

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Does a Wife Whose Husband Views Pornography Have Grounds for Divorce?

Does Matthew 5:27-28 give a wife who finds that her husband views pornography grounds to seek a divorce?

Only God understands the pain that many women feel when they discover that their husbands are looking at pornography. Many wives are hurt by this discovery. They become angry and filled with personal doubts.

Women in this situation often find themselves on a difficult road, especially if there has been a pattern and history to their husband’s involvement. Betrayal of the marital trust cuts deep into a woman’s soul, and many have found that it takes time to learn to trust again.

Some have had husbands who slowly re-earned trust by doing whatever it takes to bring an end to the practice, by not blaming their wives for their own wrongs, and by patiently accepting responsibility for the emotional pain and struggles with trust they’ve created for their wives.

It’s never easy for a wife to walk this road. While some are committed to stay married and work through the pain and mistrust, others take a different course by appealing to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28 , citing them as grounds to seek a divorce. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Their contention is understandable. Since their husbands sexually lusted over women while looking at pornography, then they are guilty of the sin of adultery. And because adultery is grounds for divorce ( Matthew 19:9 ), they believe they have grounds to seek a divorce.

They may have a case — depending on the severity and extent of their husband’s problem. A husband who is into severe forms of pornography such as pedophilia or sadomasochism has likely sunken into such a deep level of perversion that it causes just as much devastation as physical adultery. Of course, a husband who refuses to give up his affair with any form of pornography is blatantly betraying his covenant with his wife. Generally speaking, it is only a matter of time before he seeks to act out on the lust he’s been cultivating in his heart through pornography. In such cases, a wife has a basis to appeal to the words of Jesus as grounds for divorce too.

Realistically, however, if Jesus meant to imply that sexually lustful thoughts were grounds for divorce in every case, then every husband could be divorced on that basis. What husband can say that his mind has never wandered into sexual lust of some kind. As we try to understand the implications of Jesus’ words, we must remember the context in which Jesus spoke about sexual lust and adultery. Jesus’ main point wasn’t to give a wife wholesale grounds for divorce. He made the link between lust and adultery primarily to make the point that sin is more than mere behavior: it is also a matter of the heart.

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Does the Bible Permit Divorced Persons to Serve as Church Leaders?

Bible students differ in their interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12 . In Greek, the expression translated in the Authorized Version “husband of one wife” actually reads “one-woman man.” Some pastors believe this passage teaches that a man who has been divorced or widowed and subsequently remarried should not be allowed to serve as an elder or as a deacon.

Others believe that marriage is an actual requirement for a man if he is to serve as a deacon or an elder. Still others allow a remarried widower or a single man to serve as a deacon or an elder but believe that this passage bars a man from serving in these roles if he has been divorced and remarried.

Because of the wide range of possible interpretations of the “one-woman man” criterion, it’s important to view it in the context of the other New Testament standards for the selection of church leaders. In addition to being a “one-woman man” (husband of one wife), 1 Timothy 3:2-7 lists all of the following qualifications:

  • blameless
  • temperate
  • self-controlled
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • an apt teacher (teachable)
  • not given to drunkenness
  • gentle
  • not quarrelsome
  • not greedy or covetous
  • a good manager of his household and children
  • a seasoned believer
  • a good reputation with outsiders

A reasonable interpretation of “one-woman man” is one that is in agreement with the other criteria.

Jesus named adultery the only basis for divorce and remarriage( Matthew 5:32 ; Mark 10:11 ). What if a man were divorced prior to his conversion? Would the “one-woman man” requirement forever exclude him from church leadership, while a converted murderer or embezzler would be eligible? What if a Christian man and his children were abandoned by an unfaithful wife, in spite of his extraordinary efforts to preserve their marriage? If he has biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage, consequently remarries, and meets all of the other leadership standards in the view of his church, would his divorce and remarriage permanently exclude him from a position of leadership?

The key point in interpreting the “one-woman man” standard is that when a single qualification can be reasonably interpreted in a variety of ways, it becomes necessary to understand it in the light of the entire list of qualifications. If a local congregation knows that a man’s divorce had truly biblical grounds and considers him “blameless” and well-qualified upon the basis of all the other criteria, they may consider him a “one-woman man” even though remarried.

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