The issue of divorce in Christ's day
Divorce was a major issue in Christ's day just as it is today. If it weren't, Christ wouldn't have felt the need to deal with it. Basically, many people in Judea were using a scripture to justify their divorcement proceedings. However, those precepts were written for a hardened heart people. Even then, the use of that precept was rarely used at the time of its writing. By Christ's day, however, it was rampant. There are even documents showing that men obtained divorce papers because their wives burnt their breakfast. Imagine, if your eggs were cooked the wrong way. Is that a good reason for getting a divorce? It was in Christ's day.
The rampant abuse of the sanctity of marriage led Christ to tack this statement on at the end of his commands and prescriptions about adultery. There was only one reason for a man to be able to leave his wife and vice versa:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:21)
The Standard Is Set
That is a pretty black and white standard. It's one that the people of Christ's day didn't hold, and it's one that isn't held today either. After all, what if your spouse is abusive? What if they are draining your credit and finances? What if they refuse to talk with you? Surely, there is some hidden meaning in the word fornication. It's a blanket statement, right?
The short answer is no. Fornication means what it implies: sexual intercourse that then breaks the bond that God put together. If our spouses aren't speaking to us, we need to do some praying and some counseling with a trusted and Christian expert to get to the bottom of it. If our spouse is cutting into our finances, we need to cut them off and do the above prescription. If our spouse is being verbally abusive, prayer and counseling are necessary immediately with the caveat that it's this or we're moving out until they agree to meet for counseling and prayer. Most issues in marriage can be solved with prayer and offered counseling, even with the promise of separation without divorcement if those two criteria are not met.
On Physical Abuse
It seems if Christ were going to give one special exemption here, it would be on the occasion physical abuse is present in the marriage. It is heartbreaking every time we see a woman or child (and on occasion men) being the target of physical attacks from their spouse/parent. Though Christ doesn't give us a writ of divorce for this circumstance, there are steps we can take.
Physical abuse should see us immediately separate ourselves entirely from the situation. We should even consider contacting the authorities and pressing charges, but definitely get to a safe place where the abusive partner cannot reach us. However, divorcing the individual doesn't free us from their abusive nature. Forcing them to sit in jail and consider the decisions they made is an answer. Having the courts mandate them to seek special counseling on their own until they have made peace within themselves is an answer. Waiting until they are able to show true remorse and make amends with us is the answer. Only then can reconciliation occur.
Note: Not every country will imprison a man for abusing his wife. For these women, we truly reach out to God in prayer for you that He would provide you with a path of escape.
What Marriage Is Really About
Marriage is about loving and honoring one another. In both Colossians and Ephesians, God speaks through Paul that husbands and wives on how they are to treat each other.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. (Colossians 3:18-19)
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Ephesians 5:24-25)
Note that these two statements are very similar, but they are written to two churches in different states of their development. Colossea was a new church and in need of basic development. Paul told them how to treat each other in marriage. Ephesus was an established church and had been highly influential within their region. However, they are given a similar command. Regardless of your development in Christ, the basics of marriage are basic. Honor each other and love each other. If our families would enact these two segments of scripture in our households, their would be no worry or need for divorce.
We hope you have found this very difficult discussion topic informative. If you are in an abusive relationship, we highly recommend this website as it will help you find the nearest place of refuge
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.