Marriage Is Not About You; Divorce Is All About You


Let’s talk about how marriage is not all about you, but divorce is.

The prophet Malachi is proof that there truly is nothing new under the sun. In the prophecy that bears his name, he charged the religious people of his day (the groups that would later become the Pharisees) with a trait that is uncomfortably common in the church today.

Malachi told the Israelites that they were religious … but self-centered in their family lives. This was demonstrated by their behavior in marriage: “The man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with injustice” (2:16 CSB).

Here’s what was happening: Many of the Jewish men had taken a fancy to foreign women, who worshipped other gods, and they were marrying them instead of godly Hebrew women. Some were even divorcing the wives of their youth to marry these women.

God confronts them in two ways. “First of all,” he says, “your marriage was a covenant you made before me, and it was supposed to reflect my love. Second, one of my primary intentions in your marriage was to raise up godly children” (cf. Malachi 2:15).

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But the Israelites had started to look at marriage as if it were all about them and their wants and desires.

In Malachi’s day, as in ours, divorce was not usually the problem; it’s the fruit of the problem. The root is a life that is self-centered. The problem is that people go into marriage looking for someone to complete them or make them happy, and when their spouse quits doing that or gets difficult to live with or they meet someone they think might do it better for them, they get divorced.

This self-centered approach to marriage even affects how a lot of people think about children. They think of in terms of what they want and what will add enjoyment to their lives. Most people still want a kid or two in our day. But as our society has gotten more self-centered, we’ve tended to have less children. After all, kids are inconvenient. They make life messy. They’re expensive. (Veronica and I sometimes refer to our kids by names like “Beach House” and “Corvette Collection” because of how much they cost us each year.)

I get it; kids are tough. But if the only purpose we have for our children is accessorizing our lives, we’ve gone terribly off course. One of God’s primary purposes for marriage is producing godly offspring for the purpose of his kingdom. If we’re more concerned with our standard of life than God’s intentions for our family, Malachi has a harsh word for us.

I can’t judge your heart. And I certainly don’t want to imply a hard-and-fast correlation between holiness and family size (which is often outside of our control). But I can ask you who are married or thinking about getting married to consider: What is your motive for having kids? Is it to accessorize and add value to your life, or is it about God’s kingdom?

If we’re more concerned with our standard of life than God’s intentions for our family, God has a harsh word for us.

Marriage and family are not about us. They are about God. But when we make them about us, divorce becomes a lot more common and kids become a preference.

When I know that marriage is about God, I’ll stick it out in hard times, because I know God’s name, not my needs, is the ultimate thing of importance.

I’ll understand that God can bring himself glory in my marriage by giving me a peaceful, harmonious relationship—but he can also bring glory to himself by enabling me to love someone with grace even when she’s difficult, because that’s how he loves me.

God says that he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) because it tells the world a lie about his love. When we divorce because we are no longer getting along or because our spouse is no longer making us happy, we tell the world that God’s love is like that—that he loves us based on how sufficiently we meet his needs. The divorce problem we have in the church isn’t just bad for our families; it’s feeding the world a deadly deceit.

Marriage is supposed to be an earthly picture of God’s love. I hear of couples who divorce because of “irreconcilable differences.” All I can say to this is that Jesus has all kinds of “irreconcilable differences” with you and me. But he loved us anyway, and through his persistent grace he changes our hearts. Now we get a chance to demonstrate God’s love in our marriages in the way we unselfishly serve and love our spouse.

Couples don’t fall out of love. They fall out of repentance. They don’t falter in their passion for each other; they falter in their worship of God.

Let ours be the generation that begins to reverse this trend. The stakes could not be higher.

The Problem of Divorce

J.D. Greear
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J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (2015), Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011), Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013), and Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014). See more from Pastor J.D. on Facebook.