John MacArthur on Divorce: We Can't Edit God

Pastors should not be afraid of offending their followers with the message that God hates divorce despite churches having congregations that often reflect the same alarming rate of divorce as the general population, said theologian and pastor John MacArthur.

"We have one responsibility as pastors and that is to teach the word of God. We don't have an alternative. We can't edit God. That's the wrong thing to do," said MacArthur during a recent broadcast on Focus on the Family Daily.

"We have been called into this ministry for the purpose of disseminating to our generation the truth of the word of God. We have no other message. I have no other message than what God has put in the word," he added while discussing the subject with FOTF President Jim Daly.

MacArthur, who is the author of more than 150 books including The Gospel According to Jesus, was asked by Daly why Christians struggle with divorce.

"When you look at divorce it's a very difficult thing in our culture because the culture has played so loosely with it," Daly said during the interview. "Even within the Christian church we have struggled to be committed to our marriages.

"People that look at us and see a divorce rate of 35 to 40 percent … it doesn't feel right, does it?"

MacArthur answered, "The bottom line when we talk about this is to remember the first person comment from God himself: 'I hate divorce.' And that's the bottom line. God hates it because it is a violation of the one flesh for life union by which righteousness is passed from one generation to another, and also by which the relationship between Christ and the Church is demonstrated and symbolized in the world."

When a marriage is shattered there is loss on all fronts, he insisted.

"Not only does that union breakup, the question of passing righteousness to the next generation falls under terrible duress. Then, you have lack of clarity about the Church and its relationship to Jesus Christ. It's all tied together. In any case, divorce always has negative ramifications even when it is justified," MacArthur said.

Daly and MacArthur discussed the reality that the institution of marriage has been under attack by evil since nearly the beginning of the human race.

"You don't even get out of Genesis before the enemy starts to tear at the fabric of society – marriage," said MacArthur, who is the pastor at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.

He said the ultimate question for Christians and non-Christians alike is: "What does the Bible say?"

"Marriage is an act of God. It's a work of God even between unbelievers," MacArthur explained. "God has ordained marriage – one man, one woman for life for the well-being of society. Even as a common grace it's the best for a culture and a society in any case, whether or not they become Christian."

However, he said for spouses who are Christians they have "the responsibility to be obedient to what the word of God says about marriage and about divorce, with the promise that if you are obedient God will pour out a blessing on that obedience."

MacArthur was asked by Daly what he observed to be the most prominent problems among all the married couples that he has counseled over the course of more than 35 years of being a pastor.

"Sin and selfishness, and a lack of forgiveness will devastate any relationship," he answered. "We all have to deal with sin. We all have to deal with selfishness, but the final breaking point is the absence of forgiveness.

"In the end, the destruction of any relationship comes down to whether or not you can forgive because we are going to need to be forgiven. We have to forgive each other in our marriage. We have to forgive each other as we work together in the Kingdom," he added.

MacArthur said the Scripture is clear on the only justifications for divorce.

"One is adultery – that is sexual sin in the marriage – sexual relationships with someone other than your spouse. The other one is when an unbeliever departs. The Lord recognizes that there may be an absolutely impossible situation," he said.

Divorces that are biblically based are for the purpose of allowing for remarriage, MacArthur explained.

"The whole reason for divorce is so that the person is not shamed. It is a vindication of the innocent person for the very purpose of remarriage."

Daly asked, "How do you handle couples who do not have a biblical reason for divorce?"

"You have to believe that obedience brings blessing. You have to trust God. Obedience produces not just minimal blessing, but great blessing. So your choice is dump your spouse, take the low ground, and forfeit the best that God has or take that sinning and penitence spouse who doesn't want a divorce and says 'I'm sorry, forgive me, show me grace' [and wants to] restore this relationship and believe God."

He said that forgiving a spouse is taking the "spiritual high ground.

"We live in a world of dominating selfishness and everyone wants what he wants or she wants [and] forget God," MacArthur said. "The love that forgives and the love that restores is a dimension of love that is beyond the love that doesn't have to do that."