When Marital Peace Is Threatened
“A wife should not depart from her husband; . . . and a husband should not leave his wife.”—1 CORINTHIANS 7:10, 11.
1. What was Jehovah’s purpose regarding marriage?
JEHOVAH GOD united the first human pair in wedlock and purposed that this one-flesh bond should last. It was to be a blessed union that would result in their happiness and in the producing of righteous offspring, all to God’s glory.—Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:24.
2. What is one factor that leads to the severing of marital ties?
2 That ideal marital arrangement was disrupted by independent thinking and sin. (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12) In fact, a spirit of independence is one of the factors that leads to the severing of marital ties today. Thus, in the United States during 1985, there were 5 divorces—compared with 10.2 marriages—per 1,000 people. In 1986 a report from Moscow indicated that only 37 percent of the marriages in the Soviet Union last three years and that 70 percent end within a decade.
3. (a) What can cause marital strife? (b) In regard to marriage, who is the main peace-wrecker?
3 A spirit of independence can cause marital strife. It also inhibits spiritual development, for “the fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions.” (James 3:18) But who is the main peace-wrecker? Satan. And how sad it is when any of God’s servants “allow place for the Devil” and thus fail to enjoy homes of rest and peace!—Ephesians 4:26, 27.
4. When Christian mates have severe marital problems, what should they realize and what should they do?
4 When Christian mates view separation as the only solution to their marital problems, they are in danger of succumbing to Satan’s devices, and there is something seriously wrong spiritually. (2 Corinthians 2:11) God’s principles are not being applied fully by one or both of them. (Proverbs 3:1-6) So they should promptly make prayerful efforts to resolve their differences. If these seem irreconcilable, congregation elders can be consulted. (Matthew 18:15-17) Although these men are not authorized to tell fellow believers exactly what to do about their marital problems, they can direct attention to what the Scriptures say.—Galatians 6:5.
5. On what basis is divorce with the possibility of remarriage to someone else Scripturally acceptable?
5 If the marital situation is so bad that the Christian couple is even considering divorce, the elders can point out that divorce and remarriage are Scripturally acceptable only if one’s mate has committed “fornication.” This term covers adultery and other forms of immoral sexual relations and perversions. (Matthew 19:9; Romans 7:2, 3; see The Watchtower, March 15, 1983, page 31.) Yet, what if “fornication” has not been committed but marital peace is seriously threatened? What do the Scriptures say about legal or de facto separation?
Paul’s Inspired Counsel
6. (a) What is the essence of Paul’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11? (b) How should Christian mates resolve marital problems?
6 In an effort to help a Christian couple whose marriage ties are threatened, the elders can direct attention to the apostle Paul’s words: “To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11) Christian mates should be able to settle their problems, making allowances for human imperfection. No problem should be so great that it cannot be resolved by praying earnestly, applying Bible principles, and showing the love that is a fruit of God’s spirit.—Galatians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
7. (a) If Christian mates do separate, what is their Scriptural position? (b) The separation of two married Christians might have what bearing on service privileges?
7 But what if Christian mates do separate? They must “remain unmarried or else make up again.” Unless it is a question of divorce obtained on the grounds of “fornication,” neither of them is Scripturally free to remarry. In view of this and the “prevalence of fornication,” it would be good for them to “make up again” without delay. (1 Corinthians 7:1, 2) It is not the business of the elders to demand that the man and the woman end their separation, but they may not qualify for certain service privileges because of their marital problems. For instance, if a man “does not know how to preside over his own household,” he evidently lacks the ability to “take care of God’s congregation” as an overseer.—1 Timothy 3:1-5, 12.
8. What is the substance of Paul’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 7:12-16?
8 Stress is laid on preserving a marriage even if only one mate is a believer. Paul wrote: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her; and a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband. . . . But if the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace. For, wife, how do you know but that you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know but that you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) If the unbeliever chooses to depart, the Christian will let him go. But the believer, hoping that the unbeliever may be won over to Christianity, will not initiate the breakup. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, apparently stayed with her unbelieving husband but imparted spiritual instruction to her son.—2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15.
Grounds for Separation
9, 10. (a) In view of 1 Timothy 5:8, what is one basis for separation of marriage mates? (b) What should appointed elders do if a Christian man is accused of refusing to support his wife and children?
9 Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 encourage marriage mates to stay together. Yet, some, after trying very hard to preserve their marriage relationship, have finally decided that, in all conscience, they have no choice but to separate. What may be the grounds for such a step?
10 Willful nonsupport is one basis for separation. When entering wedlock, a husband assumes the responsibility of providing for his wife and any children they may have. The man who does not provide for members of his household “has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) So separation is possible if there is willful nonsupport. Of course, appointed elders should give careful consideration to an accusation that a Christian is refusing to support his wife and family. Stubborn refusal to support one’s family may result in disfellowshipping.
11. What is another basis for separation, but what might make the situation endurable?
11 Extreme physical abuse is another basis for separation. Suppose an unbelieving mate often gets drunk, becomes enraged, and causes the believer physical harm. (Proverbs 23:29-35) Through prayer and by displaying the fruitage of Jehovah’s spirit, the believer may be able to prevent such outbursts and make the situation endurable. But if the point is reached where the health and life of the abused mate actually are in jeopardy, separation would be allowable Scripturally. Again, congregation elders should look into charges of physical abuse when two Christians are involved in the troubled marriage, and disfellowshipping action may have to be taken.—Compare Galatians 5:19-21; Titus 1:7.
12. (a) How might the believer’s spirituality have a bearing on the question of separation? (b) What is suggested if a very unhealthy spiritual state exists in a Christian home?
12 Absolute endangerment of spirituality also provides a basis for separation. The believer in a religiously divided home should do everything possible to take advantage of God’s spiritual provisions. But separation is allowable if an unbelieving mate’s opposition (perhaps including physical restraint) makes it genuinely impossible to pursue true worship and actually imperils the believer’s spirituality. Yet, what if a very unhealthy spiritual state exists where both mates are believers? The elders should render assistance, but especially should the baptized husband work diligently to remedy the situation. Of course, if a baptized marriage partner acts like an apostate and tries to prevent his mate from serving Jehovah, the elders should handle matters according to the Scriptures. If disfellowshipping takes place in a case involving absolute endangerment of spirituality, willful nonsupport, or extreme physical abuse, the faithful Christian who seeks a legal separation would not be going against Paul’s counsel about taking a believer to court.—1 Corinthians 6:1-8.
13. Under what circumstances may separation of marriage mates be warranted?
13 If circumstances are extreme, then, separation may be warranted. But flimsy pretexts obviously should not be used to obtain a separation. Any Christians who do separate must bear personal responsibility for that action and should realize that all of us will render an account to Jehovah.—Hebrews 4:13.
A Wise Step?
14. (a) What problem is separation likely to create? (b) How may separation affect children?
14 Prayerful thought should be given to problems that separation is likely to create. For instance, a one-parent family seldom provides what two-parent families can in balance and discipline. And separation may have an impact on children similar to that of divorce, regarding which the journal India Today reported: “Sheena, with large eyes that seem to take in the whole world, is six. Her parents divorced two years ago after an ugly court battle. Soon after, her father married another woman. For a year she got bad attacks of asthma and constantly sucks her thumb. She lives with her mother in South Delhi. The mother: ‘My sadness has travelled to Sheena. . . . She misses her father. . . . She is more mature than most children her age. But she has these uncontrollable bouts of crying, as if she wants to take out something from within her. School was a problem. Children can be so cruel. Often, she retreats into a world of make-believe: she makes up a story about all of us going out together for her friends.’”
15. What effect may separation have on a Christian husband or wife?
15 Often, separation does not work out well for a Christian husband and wife either. They soon learn that without a mate or the children there is a gnawing void. Not to be ignored are the pressures resulting from separation. Will it be possible to care for matters from a financial standpoint or otherwise? And what if the strain of separation results in a fall into immorality? Jesus said: “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matthew 11:19) Especially when both mates are Christians, what is worked out through separation has sometimes proved to be very unwise.
Work to Resolve Problems
16. Christian mates who find their marital peace threatened should do what?
16 Christian mates who find their marital peace seriously threatened should discuss their differences in a manner befitting those who serve God. And they surely ought to make allowances for imperfection. (Philippians 2:1-4) But what else can be done?
17. How can displaying wisdom in connection with material things contribute to marital peace?
17 Displaying wisdom in connection with material things can contribute to marital peace. To illustrate: After considering his wife’s negative viewpoint, a man may decide, nevertheless, that it is wise for his family to move elsewhere. This may seem advisable for economic reasons, but it may also enable the family to advance Kingdom interests by serving where the need is greater. (Matthew 6:33) His Christian wife may not favor the move because she would be leaving behind her parents or familiar surroundings. But she will be wise to cooperate fully with her husband, who is the head of the household and has the responsibility of determining where his family will live. Moreover, her submissiveness and loving cooperation will contribute to domestic peace.—Ephesians 5:21-24.
18. What opportunities do Christian mates have to do things together?
18 Family peace flourishes and problems seem less serious when marriage partners do things together. For example, Christian mates have splendid opportunities to work with each other in the field ministry. If they do this regularly and take their children with them, the entire family will benefit. There may also be various opportunities to strengthen the marriage bond by sharing in other wholesome activities especially enjoyed by one mate or the other.
19. Headship of what kind will promote family peace?
19 Properly exercised headship will strengthen marital ties. Of course, the mature Christian husband will not be a dictator. Rather, ‘he will keep on loving his wife and will not be bitterly angry with her.’ Jehovah expects him to exercise loving headship. (Colossians 3:18, 19) In turn, such headship promotes family peace.
In Divided Households
20, 21. How may reasonableness prove beneficial when peace is threatened in a religiously divided household?
20 Being reasonable aids in resolving marital problems between Christian mates. (Philippians 4:5) But reasonableness is also important if peace is threatened in a religiously divided household. If an unbelieving husband tries to prevent his Christian wife from serving Jehovah, she may endeavor to reason with him, tactfully pointing out that she accords him religious freedom and she should logically receive similar treatment. (Matthew 7:12) Though she is to be in relative subjection to her unbelieving husband, God’s will must be done where there is a conflict. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Acts 5:29) Surely, attending Christian meetings three times a week is not excessive. But the believing wife may find it wise to be at home on other evenings and to schedule much of her field ministry during hours when her husband is working and the children are in school. With reasonableness and good planning, she need not “give up in doing what is fine.”—Galatians 6:9.
21 Reasonableness extends to other matters too. For example, a person has a right to practice a certain religion. But it would be reasonable and wise for a Christian wife not to place her Bibles and Bible study aids where a strongly opposed husband might object. Conflict may be avoided if such publications are kept among her personal effects and she studies them privately. Of course, she must not compromise on righteous principles.—Matthew 10:16.
22. What might be done if disruption of domestic peace centers on the religious instruction of the children?
22 If disruption of domestic peace centers on religious instruction of the children, the believing wife can tactfully arrange to have them accompany her to meetings and in the field ministry. But if the unbelieving husband and father prevents this, she can teach the children Bible principles so that when they grow up and leave home, they are likely to pursue true worship. If the husband is the believer, as the head of the household, he has the Scriptural obligation to raise his children as Christians. So he should study the Bible with them, take them to meetings, and teach them in the field ministry. (Ephesians 6:4) Naturally, he should be kind, loving, and reasonable in dealing with his unbelieving wife.
Maintain Peace as a United Family
23. If marital peace is threatened, what may prove helpful?
23 Since marriage partners are “one flesh,” they should live together in peace according to God’s arrangement for married people, especially if both mates are Christians. (Matthew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5) But if marital peace is threatened in your case, prayerfully review the foregoing Scriptural points. It may also be helpful to think back to the time of your courtship. How hard both of you tried to do what was right and lay the basis for a happy union! Will you now make similar efforts to hold your marriage together?
24. What attitude should Christians have toward wedlock?
24 Christians united in wedlock have a wonderful gift from God—their marriage! If you live up to your marital vows and maintain integrity to Jehovah, before you is the righteous new world in which heartrending separation and divorce no longer will plague mankind. So show gratitude for wedlock as a figurative “threefold cord,” with Jehovah as a vital part of it. (Ecclesiastes 4:12) And may all members of your united household enjoy the blessing of family happiness in a home of rest and peace.
What Are Your Answers?
□ How would you epitomize Paul’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 7:10-16?
□ What are valid reasons for the separation of marriage mates?
□ How may Christians resolve problems when marital peace is threatened?
□ In religiously divided households, how can reasonableness contribute to peace?
[Picture on page 23]
Christian mates whose marital peace is threatened should discuss their problems in a manner befitting those serving Jehovah