“‘In your anger do not sin”” -Ephesians 4:26a & Psalm 4:4a, NIV.
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” – Matthew 1:19, NIV.
Context matters greatly in both divorce and issues of anger. In and of themselves, neither anger nor divorce are sins. God both divorced (Jeremiah 3:8) and was angry (Psalm 18:7, etc). Much more needs to be known about context before either the action out of anger or the divorce can be labelled sin.
That said, we can obviously sin in our anger or the exhortation not to sin would make no sense. Furthermore, we can sin by divorcing or Jesus’ condemnation of the liberal view of divorcing on any cause other than sexual infidelity would make no sense (see Matthew 19). Once again, context matters greatly.
I write this to confound the knee-jerk reaction to treating divorce as an action taken by morally weak or sinful individuals. The fact of the divorce does not convey the morality of the action. It just conveys the reality of situation. The couple is no longer married.
As we can see, though, from the passage in Matthew, divorce can be an action taken by a righteous man. I would add that it can be taken by a righteous woman then by extension. Circumstances matter.
Joseph is betrothed to Mary, which was much closer to a marriage than today’s understanding of engagement. When he found out she was pregnant with Jesus, Joseph was confronted with natural evidence of Mary’s sexual infidelity. We might even call it adultery taking into account the social context. Hence, he decided to divorce her quietly.
And Scripture calls says he makes the decision to divorce Mary quietly because he is a righteous man!
Thankfully, the angel intervenes and Joseph marries Mary. And we know the rest of the story.
However, I wonder how many here have heard a sermon preached about divorce at Christmas time? Has anyone heard a pastor extol the virtue of Joseph for choosing divorce? As an evangelical, it is a shocking thought. However, it is right there in Scripture.
I raise this Biblical example and parallel to challenge the teaching that divorce is sin, full-stop. Such teaching is unbiblical and very hurtful to those of us divorced after surviving the adultery of our former spouses. Faithful spouses have more in common with righteous Joseph than the treacherous, divorced Jewish men of Malichi 2. However, walking into a church today, you would be hard pressed to know that.
Malachi 2:16a where God declares his hatred of divorce is well known. But Joseph’s righteous decision to divorce pregnant Mary quickly gets passed over on our way to the angels, shepherds, and wise men.
If only we listened to God’s word more closely, we may have avoided further wounding our fellow brothers and sisters. As I say, over and over, divorce is not the issue of focus. Sin and specifically adultery is what God consistently denounces in speaking about divorce.
Let’s not confuse righteousness with wickedness and condemn the faithful spouse along with the adulterer/adulteress any more.