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When Marriages Go Bad

• Greg Boyd

Divorce happens. In this sermon, Greg speaks on when marriages go wrong. With divorce rates nearly the same inside as outside of the church, it is important to have a Kingdom understanding of divorce and remarriage, and how to answer the question: “When is it ok to divorce?”

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Marriage can be difficult, and Greg is no exception to this rule. 16 years ago, Greg and Shelley were very close to divorce. While they had been married for a long time, they had a void that they had simply washed over and filled with other things. When this void came to a head, they faced the possibility of divorce. Many people are facing or have faced the same situation in their marriages.

Divorce happens in our world, and it happens at roughly the same rate inside and outside the church. It becomes very important to understand divorce and remarriage from a Kingdom framework. The purpose of marriage is not to make people happy. There is happiness in marriages, but marriages should not be abandoned simply because a person is unhappy. At the same time, a marriage should not be endured because of some rule. A successful marriage requires work.

Divorce is not a new hot-button issue. In 1st century Judaism, Jesus was posed with the same question that many of us face today—when is it ok to divorce? There were two main schools of thought back then. The first said that it was ok to divorce a wife for any reason. The second said that it was only ok to divorce a wife if she committed adultery. Note that only men could divorce women in this context. Jesus, however, responds by showing these two schools that they are asking the wrong question.

Jesus begins by quoting Genesis and saying that the ideal for marriage is that two become one. He goes on to say that God gave humanity divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. Effectively, the Pharisees were asking Jesus to name the best path for hardening their hearts, which is always the wrong question. He responds by giving them the path filled with grace and God’s ideal, for both those that are married and those that are divorced.

God honors the breaking of covenants as much as the making of covenants. When humans get divorced, he honors that, but it is certainly not his ideal. He wants marriages to last. Yet, he allows divorce because people are fallen and their hearts are hard. There are no grounds for feeling righteous about a divorce.

The right way to view divorce is through the eyes of grace, not legalism. If we view it through the eyes of legalism, we would all be adulterers. Jesus said that even thinking about having sex with someone else is committing adultery. We all fall short of the legalistic view of marriage—none of us has it right, even the single people! Therefore, we must view divorce through the eyes of grace because we condemn ourselves if we don’t. The same grace that allows us to marry in spite of our adultery by thought or deed is the same grace that allows remarriage for a divorced person. We can’t feel righteous about divorce and remarriage, but we can accept the grace that allows it.

God is not a cosmic judge who is out to make sure we’re all following some list of rules. He is not a legalist. Instead of tiptoeing around the landmines of the law, we should be dancing with God through his grace. We should also allow this same grace to others so they may feel free to dance with God. Jesus could have been legalistic when it came to divorce, yet, he simply points out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He takes them back to God’s ideal, shows how both views of righteous divorce are fallen, and he proceeds to show them the right path of grace in a fallen world. It’s all about God’s grace, and we should never get caught up in technicality disputes. That would be asking the wrong question.

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Divorce, Marriage

Sermon Series: Relatively Speaking

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Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 19:9

    9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

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11 thoughts on “When Marriages Go Bad

  1. Jill says:

    For the first time at WH church I walked away really confused and would like thoughts or idea’s from others.

    I have a friend who is almost at a 3 year mark of trying to make a marriage work. Her husband is a non-believer but says he wants to work on it. This marriage is toxic for my friend. He had an affair, he doesn’t help out with the one child they have, he buys expensive cars and clothes, etc. Yes, he says he wants to try and work it out, yet his actions show no such thing. But because she has such a strong faith she continues to work on it. At this point she is ready to end it and I believe all she needs is the courage to leave. But, had she been listening to this, I think she definitely would have walked away thinking she needs to keep trying. Here’s where the confusion comes in; how long do you take up your cross? Is she supposed to stay in this as long as he wants to try to work on it?
    In the first relatively speaking sermon (A Family Affair) he talked about the importance to our Abba Father and living your life with kingdom people. How does a person in a bad marriage such as this do this when the one person she shares the most time with isn’t a Kingdom person?

    Other thoughts would be so appreciated.


  2. Greg Boyd says:

    Tough question Jill. In fact, its an IMPOSSIBLE question to answer in a venue like this. I can only share four brief points. 1) I would encourage your friend and her husband to find a GOOD counselor quickly. 2) I would encourage you and your friend along with any other kingdom people who are involved in her situation to remember that you know what a person REALLY believes and REALLY wants by what they DO, not by what they SAY. Talk is cheap. The man SAYS he wants to “work on” the marriage. But what do his ACTIONS say? 3) I would encourage you and this same group of friends to practice the imaginative prayer exercise I talked about in my “will of God” sermon series a few months back (http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/imagine). Over a period of several weeks, commit to seeking first the kingdom and then prayerfully envision the “future” of your friend staying married and then the “future” of her leaving. All other things being equal, the “future” you all envision that ministers the greatest sense of “rightness” is the one Abba desires for his daughter. And 4) Keep being a great friend to this poor lady. She needs you!

  3. Jill says:

    Thank you for your comments, I really appreciate the 4 points! I talked with her yesterday (before I read your reply) and the situation is worse then I thought, if that’s possible. He refuses counseling. He gets mad when she wants to pray for their situation, he gives her money when he sees fit, he will only watch THEIR daughter if he has a 3-4 day notice, if even then, and the list goes on. His talk is very cheap! Fortuantely, she has such a stong faith and that has truly been her saving grace in this. I like the idea of the imaginative prayer and so will she. I will revisit the sermon from 8/21/11 (What’s God thinking) with her and gather up a few Kingdom friends to pray with her.

    Thanks again!

  4. Anita Avers says:

    Jill, I am a marriage and family therapist. I recommend that the counselor your friend seeks is not only a Christian, but also specializes in sexual addiction.

  5. Michael H. says:

    Dr. Boyd,
    this message is well articulated and thought-provoking. You say at one point that Jesus and Paul do not apply their teaching socially. Why then does Paul say that the divorced woman “must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband”? (1 Corinthians 7:10, NASB) Wouldn’t it be more honest just to say that Jesus and Paul are wrong and be done with it? Isn’t this the same argument that is made to evade Jesus’ Pacifism: that it represents an ideal that “cannot be applied socially” or perhaps (a la dispensationalism) is really only a way to show that we can’t reach the ideal and are in need of grace? What becomes of all this talk of accepting the radical implications of Jesus’ teaching on issues like pacifism, contra compromising Christendom theology?

  6. Unknown says:

    I hate my marriage with a straight passion. My husband has been sleeping around for the past 3 years. Has no remorse. Wont leave. Dont apologize. It’s just a sad mess. He lies about literraly everything. Things goes his way or no way. He is so quick to talk about me…ect. But, when its time for me to ask him a question its not the right time or he just dont want to hear it. If I say something thats disrespectful to him or out of order..I will get hit. I hate this man with a passion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Dear Unknown,

    Your situation sounds like an absolute nightmare! I’m so very, very sorry to hear about your struggles, but saying that seems hollow and insignificant when compared with what you’ve described.

    Please know that if you’re open to it, our Care staff would love to help you in whatever way they can. Feel free to contact Marsyl Warren at either mwarren@whchurch.org or 651-287-2053 and she can get you connected with the right people.

  8. Duane says:


    I believe your position on divorce and remarriage is very convincing, but you do not address Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 which seems to be pretty explicit as far as instruction in a specific situation. How do you interpret that particular passage?

    Thank you.

  9. markmw says:

    As to the question of 1 Cor. 7:10-11 which Duane and Michael H raise, my guess would be that the woman should remain in her unmarried state if she left the husband and she was mainly the one who violated the marital, covenant agreement. If she left her vows, her vows should still remain in effect, so to speak, until she receives her husband again.

    So if a wife divorces because the husband has forfeited his vows made to her (through adultery, abuse, etc.) then the divorcee is free to marry whom she wishes after her divorce. But if she has violated the vows because she simply does not prefer him any more, she should remain unmarried or go back to the husband. This is because the vow must not be completely set aside; it should always mean something.

    Just my opinion, and frankly it is tenuous because Paul doesn’t seem to address this in as much detail as I do here. Neither does he hold up the same standard for the husband as he does for the wife, and this is puzzling, since they both took vows. Was Paul referring to a particular relationship here that the Corinthians were asking about?

  10. Torrey Johnson says:

    I was not a good husband. I said awful comments to my wife and turned to porn. No matter how I feel my wife was to me my actions were not right. For ten years I have been working on and have been changing, begging we go to counseling. I have always loved my wife but the love I showed and desired to convey went unwanted. I do not blame her, I was not good. I was mad at her for not filling my needs, for not loving me. I did not know how to love her. I just wanted to love her and for her to love me. And it went all wrong.

    She gave me many warning signs of her unhappiness but i was too stupid to see how hurt she was. On July 28th 2014 my life ended when she told me she is leaning towards leaving. A week later God waked me on the head turning my eyes inward to see the filth inside me. Repentance and change was immediate. It was refreshing to be clean but depressing my wife does not see it. The hurt is too great.
    Thankfully I am still in the house but the end is near. A week or so ago she asked me to listen to When Marriages Go Bad I believe to understand why she is leaving. I was given great hope listening to the sermon. It mainly talked about restoration, don’t bale and work on the marriage. Greg’s testimony was powerful to me. The latter part scares me because it speaks of God’s grace to remarry.

    I don’t know what to say. I believe she is using the sermon as a reason to leave me and remarry. Did I miss something? Did she miss something?

    I will not give up, all I see is how wonderful Julie is.

  11. Michael Johnston says:

    Marriage is a complex relationship, not a mathematical equation. It experiences immense joy and gut-wrenching pain. Marriage is as real as real can get. I’m so thankful that God, in His infinite wisdom, designed our walk with Him to be all the same things, minus the pain part (at least in His pre-fall ideal). I bring this up because if there is one central message that is the backbone of this whole message it’s that God is not into rules–He wants our heart and our commitment (faith). It’s incredibly important to consider His will in whatever decisions we make regarding marriage and divorce, the fall-out from the decision to stay or go will have huge implications on our own lives and the lives of others close to us. That said, if a situation is unbelievably toxic and hopeless, I do not believe God will condemn anyone for grievously walking away from it. Sometimes that is the most loving thing we can do, even for the one we’re walking away from. God does this Himself! Regardless of what you choose to do, seek His heart for the situation. Really, prayerfully consider what He wants you to do. Is there any hope? Is there even a small chance of real reconciliation? Ask Him to give you peace in your decisions… then make your decisions in love and grace, and live the rest of your life trusting that your intentions were good and the decisions you made were the best possible decisions in that moment–live with peace knowing that you did all you could do to make the right decision. Then go live and love and glorify God the way He created you to. Blessings brothers and sisters!

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