Divorce, as every serious student of the family knows, is not a purely modern phenomenon.  After the Babylonian exile, the Jewish nation experienced a rash of divorces.  The prophet Malachi expressed God’s great displeasure with the situation in Israel.  According to Malachi, God no longer looked with favor on the Israelites’ worship.  The Jews wanted to know the reason.  “Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously; yet is she your companion, and the wife of your covenant.  And did not God make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And why one? That he might seek a godly seed.  Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none of you deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.  For the Lord, the God of Israel, says he hates divorce: for one covers violence with his garment, says the Lord of hosts: Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously” (Mal.2:13-16).


Edward Gibbons’ well-known set of books, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, asserts that one of the causes of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was the dissolution of the family.  Divorce was even more rampant in ancient Rome—if you imagine it—than it is in the United States.  Women’s ages were not always given in the number of years they had lived, but in the number of marriages they had consummated.  Some of the Roman wives had been married as many as thirty times, even more than Elizabeth Taylor.  No wonder Rome ceased to be the mightiest power on earth.  Could the same happen to the United States of America?


The United States government began to keep statistics on marriage, divorce and remarriage toward the end of the 19th century.  In 1890, the total number of divorces in the United States was 5,000.  I can almost hear the preachers in the late 1800s saying from the pulpits: “The homes in America are in deep trouble.  In one year there have been 5,000 divorces. We must do something to correct this great evil.” Incidentally, almost all religious groups—even those in which almost anything goes today—in the 1800s strongly condemned divorce.  Back then most denominational leaders had strong convictions against divorce, except where sexual immorality was involved.  I could give you many references to prove my last statement, but I shall take time to give just one—Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1952, a reprint). Albert Barnes wrote his comments on the book of Matthew in 1832.  For more than thirty-five years, Barnes was the preacher for the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.  Will you please listen to what Albert Barnes wrote on Matthew 19:9—the passage that teaches that remarriage may take place only if the guilty party has been guilty of sexual immorality?  Jesus said, “And I say unto you…” “Emphasis should be laid here on the word I. This was the opinion of Jesus—this he proclaimed to be the law of the kingdom—this the command of God forever after.  Indulgence had been given by the law of Moses; but that indulgence was to cease, and the marriage relation to be brought back to its original intention.  Only one offense was to make divorce lawful.  This is the law of God, and by the same law, all marriages which take place after divorce, were adultery is not the cause of divorce, are adulterous.  Legislatures have no right to say that men may put away their wives for any other cause; and where they do, and where there is marriage afterward, by the law of God, all such marriages are adulterous” (p.195)


In contrast to the 5,000 divorces granted in 1890, there were 1,000,000 divorces in the United States in 1976-one million. In several jurisdictions in our country (Memphis, Tennessee, for example), there were more divorces in 1976 than there were marriages.  Tragically, we are fast becoming a nation of divorced people.  In the congregation I attended before I left for college, there was not one single divorce—not even one.  I knew of only one divorce in our entire community.  As everyone in my audience knows, the situation regarding divorce has radically changed in the past fifty or sixty years.  There has been a very slight improvement in the last five or ten years, but not enough to brag about.  There is still much work to be done.


In today’s lesson I shall list and discuss briefly some of the causes and consequences of divorce.  One of the major causes of divorce is inadequate preparation for marriage.  Many young people and some not quite so young approach marriage with less knowledge of the responsibilities of the relationship than of the latest musical hit.  How may churches and homes have made an effort to inform young people of the enormous duties of husbands and wives?  If doctors, airline pilots and other professionals were as poorly prepared for their work as many young people are for marriage, our whole culture would be in grave danger.  Yet being a good husband and father, mother and wife is far more difficult than being a doctor or an airline pilot.


Several years ago I learned of a couple that got married after they had met only one time.  I am aware that such impulsiveness occurs during times of war, but this was not during wartime.  One marriage counselor was asked: “Do you think divorce is too easy?”  He replied:  “No, I think marriage is too easy.”  He meant that young people are able to get married with no preparation, no credit rating, no human skills and no reasonable moral values.  Most parents want their children to have good marriages, but they do not provide the information and inspiration young people must have to succeed in their marriages.  It is my judgment based on many years of reading and on observation that the best influence parents can have on their children is to be good married partners and good parents.  I want my sons to love their wives as I have loved Molly and as she has loved me.


Building stable and lasting marriages is unquestionably more difficult in our generation than it was a half century ago.  The moral and spiritual conditions in our culture constitute a major threat to marriages.  When young people look around in their communities and even in their churches, they see dozens and dozens of couples that are divorced and apparently living with no guilt.  Many of the divorced couples are intelligent people, leaders in their community, in their churches and very pleasant to know.  Divorces by parents make it much easier for children to divorce.  I can understand why that would be true.  Most of us think our parents are special people.  We reason somewhat as follows:  “since my parents were good people and could not get along in their marriage, it is no disgrace for that to happen to me.”


Movies, television, popular songs, books and magazines glorify divorce or at lease the behavior that leads to divorce.  Our popular entertainment media depict sexual immorality and divorce as if they not only are normal but desirable.  Many of the movies and television programs feature men and women who change partners almost as often as they change clothes.  I am fully aware that the stories we see on television and in the movies are just that—stories—but anyone who thinks these programs have no bearing on people’s conduct, especially on young people’s conduct is ignorant of what controls people’s thinking.  Thinking determines behavior.  In the words of Dr. Richard Weaver, professor of English at the University of Chicago:  “Ideas have consequences.”


Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article for The Spiritual Sword, an outstanding journal edited by Alan Highers and published in Memphis.  My assignment was “Recipe for Longevity.”  Molly and I had been married just over fifty-three years.  I now quote two paragraphs from the article.  “Molly taught girls’ and women’s classes for many years.  She also counseled young women who were having difficulties in their marriages.  She stressed many biblical truths relating to marriage, but the one she most often discussed was commitment.  Molly would have agreed with psychiatrists Paul Meier and Frank Minirth that “love is a choice,” but she would have argued even more forcefully that “love is primarily a commitment”—a commitment to God almighty and to one’s marriage partner.  In spite of any differences we experienced, Molly and I were committed to one another for life.  There was never any discussion of separation or divorce.  We fully planned with God’s help to live together as husband and wife until death separated us.  And to my great sorrow, death has separated us for a time.


“Maggie Gallagher is a syndicated columnist with Universal Press and the author of two highly acclaimed books, Enemies of Eros and The Abolition of Marriage.  Linda Waite is professor of sociology at the University of Chicago.  These two distinguished authors have teamed up to write an outstanding book, The Case for Marriage:  Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (New York:  Doubleday, 2000). This book continually emphasizes the great advantages for most people of being married.  They write concerning commitment:  ‘When you marry, the public commitment you make changes the way you think about yourself and your beloved; it changes the way you act and think about the future, and it changes how other people and other institutions treat you as well’” (p.17).


Tragically, many marriages are literally on the rocks even before the ceremonies are completed.  Hundreds of couples marry with little or no intention of staying married.  They will stay together until someone more attractive comes along. Some marriage ceremonies include these words: “We will continue our marriage as long as we both shall love.”  But every psychiatrist, psychologist, preacher and marriage counselor hears in counseling sessions:  “I just do not love her any more.”  We must remember that love is an essential ingredient of a good marriage, but it is not an essential ingredient of a valid marriage.  When you marry, God expects your marriage to be permanent.  You should make a commitment for life.  Those who fail to make such a commitment will likely experience a divorce or two or three or four or more.


Many young people enter marriage with unrealistic expectations.  They have watched too many movies or read too many romantic novels and expect to have smooth sailing for the rest of their lives.  What if a woman expects here husband to spend many hours with her but he plans to spend much of his free time hunting or fishing or playing golf?  Do you think that could cause trouble?  If you are expecting your partner to be perfect, you are expecting what will never happen.  Since we all sin and come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), we know we are not perfect and our spouses are not perfect either.  How can two imperfect people make a perfect marriage? 


Immaturity on the part of the husband or of the wife can lead to difficulties, including divorce.  The scriptures have much to say about not being mature.  Paul informed the Corinthians: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babies in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto you were not able to   bear it, neither yet now are you able.  For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men” (1 Cor. 3:1-3)? Paul pled with the Corinthians:  “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be children, but in understanding be men” (1 Cor. 14:20).  Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to act like men (1 Cor. 16:13-14).


A guy or girl who behaves in immature ways during courtship may seem attractive as a life’s mate, buy they do not help to build stable marriages.  In my book, Restoring God’s Pattern for the Home, I have included four chapters with the title, “Marriage Is for Adults Only” (pp.207-258).  In one of the chapters I have quoted some very wise observations from Dr. Paul Poponoe’s book, Marriage Is What You Make It (New York: Macmillan Company, 1952).  Dr. Poponeo mentions the fact that in some states very young children can marry.  He then says, “But real marriage, the effective union of two personalities, is scarcely possible except to two persons who have grown up—a physical maturity is not the most important element. Emotional maturity is a decisive factor in marriage, and does not necessarily go with physical growth” (p.28).  In his book, Modern Marriage (New York: Macmillan Company, 1943), Dr. Poponeo points out: “One of the main reasons for failure in marriage is that people who have not grown up try to make a child’s game of it” (p.1).


For the last few minutes of our time today, I shall mention some of the consequences of divorce.  The sad truth is:  Divorce has adversely affected all segments of society—the home, the church, the school and governments—local, state and national.  The very fabric of society has been weakened because of the breakup of so many families.  To deny that fact is to be inexcusably ignorant of what is occurring in our nation. 


Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, family counselors and others who work with children and young people are almost universally agreed that children of divorce are more likely to engage in sexual promiscuity, in violence, in crimes against property, such as vandalism and theft and in other anti-social and criminal activities.  A summary of the effects of divorce on children has been provided for us in the book. Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade after Divorce (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1990) by Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a San Francisco psychologist, and Sandra Blakeslee.  Prior to Dr.Wallerstein’s research, many psychiatrists and psychologists believed that the effects of divorce on children would not be long lasting.  Dr. Wallerstein found that the effects of divorce “do not vanish at the two-year or five-year mark, or as we are discovering, even after the ten-and fifteen-year marks.  For many people, the feelings and memories of marital rupture are vivid and fresh ten and fifteen years following the breakup…The consequences of divorce…may endure for a lifetime” (p.28).


A few years ago I delivered a series of lectures at the East Tennessee School of Preaching” in Knoxville.  The lectures were entitled “Threats to the Home.”  In one of the lectures I mentioned the fact that the effects of divorce linger for many years in the lives of the children.  At the conclusion of that lecture, a man in his seventies told me that he had never gotten over his parents’ divorce which occurred when he was a child.  Do parents have a right to behave in ways that adversely affect their children for years to come, maybe as long as the children live?


I do not want to leave the impression that nothing can be done about the tragedy of divorce in our country.  I have a few suggestions that I hope and pray will be helpful.  Good home life, including specific teaching about marriage, divorce and remarriage should go a long way in remedying the situation.  Parents must set the example of what it means to be good parents and good spouses.  What is more powerful in the lives of children and adults than good examples?


Churches must do more in educating people than has been the case for many years.  Churches ought to conduct seminars or workshops on marriage and family.  They also should have classes on the family on a regular basis—not just every ten or fifteen years.  Millions of our young people have never been taught about courtship, mate selection, parenting and other phases of family life.  Do we think they just naturally know these important phases of life?


In some sections of our nation, parents should consider home schooling, or if available, a Christian school.  When the public schools teach moral values that are contrary to what the parents accept, the parents must counteract the influence of the schools.  If that means removing their children from public schools, so be it.


Parents must control what their children see on television and in the movies.  They should learn what songs their children are hearing on radio and on CDs.  In many cases, what children see and hear is the very opposite of what the parents and the churches are teaching.


Finally, all of us—parents, academic scholars, religious and political leaders—must work diligently at strengthening marriages.  Is there any question in your mind that God will hold us accountable for failure to do so?


I pray that God will give us the courage to help the next generation of Americans to have better marriages than the current generation.  Will you join me in making marriages what God wants them to be?


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

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