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For the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven

After years of debate, the subject of divorce and remarriage continues to be a controversial topic in the Lord's church.  In the world, divorcing and remarrying has become almost as casual as trading a car, but thankfully we have not come to this in the church. Nevertheless, the church is often touched by this problem, and we must prepare ourselves to deal with it. Sadly, some members of the church are not dealing with this problem according to the Scriptures, but instead they have accepted an unscriptural doctrine crafted and propagated by certain preachers and brotherhood publications.  It is this manmade doctrine that is the source of the controversy on this subject rather than the Lord.  Remember, "God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1Cor. 14:33).

The Scripture is clear on the issue of divorce and remarriage.  The most relevant passages in the New Testament are: Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; John 4:16-18; 1Corinthians 7:10-40; Romans 7:1-3.  It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze all of these passages, but the reader is encouraged to read them.  Here, let us briefly consider the passages from Matthew.  In Matthew 5:31-32, the Lord addressed "everyone who divorces his wife" with one exception.  Setting aside the exception for a moment, He said that everyone who divorces his wife "makes her commit adultery."  The act of divorce is not in itself adultery, so the Lord was implying that she commits adultery when she marries another.  This implication is confirmed when we consider that the Lord was commenting on Deuteronomy 24:1-3, where Moses had addressed the situation in which a man divorced his wife, and she married another.  Moses said that she was defiled, and Jesus said that she had committed adultery.  The only exception to this is when a man divorces his wife "for the cause of unchastity."  In that case, he does not make her commit adultery because she has already made herself an adulteress.  The Lord went on to say that "whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."  For this clause, He made no exceptions.

In Matthew 19:3-12, the Lord likewise addressed "whoever divorces his wife" with one exception.  Again, setting aside the exception momentarily, Jesus said that whoever divorces his wife "and marries another commits adultery."  Notice that Matthew 5:31-32 commented primarily on the wife who is divorced by her husband and her subsequent remarriage, but this passage in Matthew 19 addresses the husband who initiates the divorce.  Like her, if he marries another woman, then he also commits adultery.  (The parallel passage in Mark 10:1-12 shows that these teachings also apply if the situation is reversed, i.e., if a wife divorces her husband.)  The only exception to this law is when a man divorces his wife "for immorality."  In that case, he does not commit adultery when he marries another woman.

These teachings are straightforward and easy to understand, but many do not find them easy to apply.  In fact, when the Lord's disciples heard these words, they said, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry" (Matt. 19:10).  In reply, the Lord did not shrink away from the difficulty or compromise His message, but instead He said,

11"Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.  12For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it."

In saying this, Jesus affirmed what the disciples had inferred, which is that some people will have to be unmarried and remain in sexual abstinence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

It is this difficulty that the proponents of error on this subject have sought to avoid. By drawing distinctions between civil divorce (granted by civil government for any cause) and moral divorce (granted by God only for the cause of adultery), they attempt to find a way for a divorced woman to remarry without committing adultery.  They teach that a woman who is divorced by her husband for a reason other than her own adultery (i.e., she is innocent) is not divorced in her own heart or in the sight of God.  She therefore remains bound to her husband unless and until he marries another woman or has sexual relations with another woman.  At that time, she may divorce him in her own heart (for the civil divorce has already occurred), and then she may marry another without sinning.  This teaching has no merit from Scripture.  The passages that were given above make no distinctions between civil divorce and moral divorce.  Instead, the Lord used the terms divorce and marry in a broad sense with the common meanings that all men understand.

We all sympathize with the hardship of an innocent spouse who has been divorced without just cause, but we must not allow that sympathy to lead us to compromise and error.  Men may devise convoluted doctrines in hopes of justifying the remarriage of these divorced persons, but doing so puts their souls in danger of eternal condemnation. The Scripture is clear: adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor. 6:9-10).  By the Lord's own explanations, divorced persons who remarry commit adultery except when they divorce their spouses for adultery. Other than this excepted condition, divorced persons must remain unmarried "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."  This may be a difficult teaching, but the kingdom of heaven is worth the hardship.

Stacey E. Durham




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