Growing a strong church one member at a time

Lesson 6 - I am divorced and remarried. Is that ok?

One of the biggest challenges faced by the church today is the erosion of the family.  God has ordained only three institutions; the church, government and the family.  Each of these institutions is extremely important but all are built on the foundation of the family.  In our society today the family is treated as disposable.  "Irreconcilable differences" is the basis for many marriages ending in divorce and is employed without specific fault therefore becoming known as the "any cause" clause.  Our culture fully accepted allowing divorce for "any cause," but what does God have to say on the matter?  In this lesson we will take a close look at the topic of divorce through the inspired Word of God.

Hate is a strong Word and is typically not considered in the same thought as God.  We like to think of a God whose total make-up is that of love.  However, God does hate some things but few of these are actually called out by name.  Divorce is one of the things the Bible mention that God specifically hates.  Malachi 2:16 gives us an overview of God's feelings when a husband and wife chose to separate themselves in divorce.  This verse does not say, as some would suggest, that God hates people who have been divorced.  It is clear, however, the act of divorce is not pleasing to God.  Before we make any decision in our lives where God has expressed to hate, we should tread very carefully.  An example we may understand is a parent loves his child even though the child may do things that the parents hates.  In this case a child should carefully consider his actions knowing his father's feelings.  We too should ensure all options are exhausted before pursuing divorce as an option knowing our Father's feelings.

What did Jesus say?
In Matthew 5:31-32 Jesus was preaching His "sermon on the mount."  These verses contain the following Word's of our Lord, "Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'  But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."  This statement was made to the masses that included people of all religious "levels" including the Pharisees.  The instruction Jesus was imparting seems to the Pharisees to be in contradiction to the practices within the Jewish faith so when an opportunity arose they asked Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" in Matthew 19:3 (notice the similarity between their question and our term irreconcilable differences?  Let's review Christ's answer in detail:

Matthew 9:4 - And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female"

It is extremely important to note here that Jesus was reestablishing the original plan and desire of God all the way back to creation!  Back beyond the Jew laws and customs, back beyond Christianity, back beyond the customs of other nations, back beyond all man made ideas, all the way back to want God wanted in the beginning.  We will return to this thought a little later.

Matthew 9:5-6 - and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh
So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.'

There are distinct roles here.  One, the man (and conversely the woman) shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.  He is not to be assigned to her.  He is not to be forced upon her.  He is to freely leave his place within the family unit of his father and mother, and join himself into a new family unit with his wife.  The man and wife should them live as an independent unit not returning to mother and father even when times are tough in their new home.
The second role here is God's.  He (not the preacher, judge, witnesses, etc) though His Holy power joins the man and woman together into one newly ordained family unit.  It is also ONLY God that can undo what He has done.  No preacher, judge or lawyer can do so.

This allows the husband and wife to continue their role and become one flesh through sacred and protected the act of physical sex.  

Matthew 9:7-8 - They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"
He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."

The Pharisees are still looking for a loop hole but Jesus closes any opportunity for misunderstanding when He describes the heart of the Jewish nation as hard and restates that God's original law will now once again reign over the family institution.

So then the question is when, if ever does God undo what he has done by joining to people together in marriage?  The answer is on verse 9.

"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."

When a marriage partner violates their role of being "one flesh" with their spouse, a sacred bond and trust has been broken between husband and wife as well as God.  This renders the innocent partner at liberty, but not under obligation, to depart from the guilty party but it is God who ends the marriage (look at verse 6 again).

Our God is eternal but man is bond by the clock.  So the questions are often asked like:

"How long does the guilty party have to wait before they can move on and get remarried?"
"What is a person finds themselves divorced for reasons other than what Jesus instructed and then comes into contact with the gospel?"

Returning to our thoughts in verse 4 and 8, men from all times have always been subject to what Christ presented as His doctrine including those today who are divorced, remarried without scriptural authority, and then study the gospel and obey it.  There is no "grandfather" clause for people who were living in a sinful relationship to continue to do so after they become a Christian.  Ignorance of God's law is not an excuse to continue to live in a sinful situation.  As an example, imagine a non-christian person living in a sinful relationship with a marriage partner they should not have.  Are they guilty of living in sin?  Yes.  So how does that change if they obey the gospel and are forgiven for a sinful life if they do not change their life?  Some folks today want to make the act of divorce itself the sin.  When husband and wife are signing their names on the paperwork at the courthouse that is the sinful act, so they say, and after that is over they can ask for forgiveness and then move on with their lives freely seeking another spouse.  That is not what Jesus said and does not makes sense because we know the God is the only one who can grant the divorce.  If, therefore, it is the divorce itself that is sinful then it is God who is sinning and this is not possible!
'Til Death Us Do Part
The martial commitment lasts as long as both partners live upon the earth, with the only exception noted above at which point God ends the marriage.  Jesus stated very clearly in Matthew 22:30 that the martial relationship does not extend beyond the grave.  When a husband or wife dies the remaining spouse can no longer fulfill their martial obligations to one another (sexual, leadership, caring, homemaking, etc).  In short, the God ordained relationship is dissolved because the earthly parties can not fulfill their family responsibilities any longer.  God is still the one who ends the marriage since He was had dominion over when we live and when we die.  In Romans 7 Paul was explaining that the Old Testament Law was no longer in effect over the lives of man.  He uses the martial relationship to explain how the obligation of the law was met with Jesus' death comparing it to the death of a husband who would have also met his obligation to his wife (note too that the church is called the bride of Christ in 2 Corinthians 11:2).  When a man's wife dies he can freely take another.  If a woman loses her husband to death she too can remarry as long as her new husband is "in the Lord."  1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.  Well what about the man you may ask.  Can he marry a nonbeliever?  The answer is no.  2 Corinthians 6:14 says that a Christian should not be "unequally yoked" (or joined together) with a nonChristian.  This is never more true then when discussing marriage.  If more people had this is mind when they started their homes, there would be far fewer issues later.

We still have a timing question like we did above.  Can a couple separate with an earthly divorce, where no adultery has taken place, and the surviving partner marry again after the death of the other.  Some in the church title this "the waiting game."  This title, however, is man-made and is not scriptural based.  The Bible is clear that a man and woman are bound together in marriage by God.  The only release from this bind comes at death or adultery.  If a couple separate under the above scenario and stay pure before God their marriage is still bound in Heaven and can only be broken through death or adultery.  Once broken the surviving or innocent party is free to seek another Christian mate.

The death of a spouse does not free an adulterer to seek another mate since that marriage was already dissolved by God when the adultery occurred.  A person in this situation has broken a sacred bound between their spouse and more importantly God.

The Pauline Privilege

Some will point to 1 Corinthians 7 and declare they have found a loop hole (sound familiar to Matthew 9?).  This is not the case.  Like Matthew 19 we will look at this passage thought by thought and see that the teaching of Christ hold firm.

1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

It is important that we keep in mind that Paul was answering a question that was delivered to him by the church at Corinth.  Although we can not know for sure exactly what their question was the context of Paul's answer give us a fairly clear picture of what they were asking.  As we read these verses try to jot down a few notes about what you think the question may have been.  This will help to understand what is being taught better.

Before we discuss the first verse let's begin with the end in mind.  Read verse 26.  The church at Corinth was facing extremely difficult times.  They were being persecuted fiercely by the cruelest of torture.  Whole families were being murdered and members were forced to watch as their loved ones died.  This living situation must be understood to fully grasp what their question may have been and it also helps frame Paul's answer.  In verse 1 he says "it is good for a man not to touch a woman."  Understanding the situation in which they were living can you think of why this would have been a good idea?  Perhaps it was because when they persecutors came to the door not having a family would have made to easier to escape.  Or maybe immature Christians were being convinced to publicly renounce their faith to save a family member from torture and death.

2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Although there were good reasons to remain single in Corinth Paul first want to ensure the Christians there avoided sin.  If a person was not able to control themselves sexually, Paul instructs them to find and take a spruce to "render" themselves to one another.  Again keep in mind that some folks look at this chapter trying to find a loop hole around Christ's teaching while Paul's focus remains on keeping people as close to God as possible.

This passage also has instructs for husbands and wives to submit to one another.  Too often we hear husbands and wives make jokes about withholding sexual relations from one another for selfish objectives.

6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.
7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am;
9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Here Paul does, for the first time, something unusual.  He gives us his uninspired opinion that remaining single, as he was, was an easier life to live as a Christian.  If you think about Paul's lifestyle and his demands on those closest to him (perhaps it was a family who John Mark left the mission field to return to) it makes sense.  He was a traveling missionary who did not have to worry about a wife and family as he traveled where he wanted, when he wanted as directed by God.  Still he wanted all to avoid sin and take a spouse if needed.

10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband.
11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.

Here Paul returns to authoritative direction.  Makes sense since these teachings seem to mirror the Lord's exactly.

12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.
13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.

Paul here now addresses the married "rest" which here represents those who were not unmarried and those who not parted from their spouse and are now living single (these were mentioned in the previous verse).  Living with an unbelieving mate is a difficult task.  There are issues with priorities of time, energy and especially the rearing of children.  Even still Paul wants Christians to avoid divorce and stay with such a spouse.  No Pauline privilege here.

The word sanctified in verse 14 denotes a spouses "cleanliness" in the martial relationship.  Paul here is stating that the old law, which required Jews to marry only Jews, does not apply and that the marriage bound, which was ordained by God, supports the union.

15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.
16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

There may be cases in which an unbelieving partner can not bear the burdens that having a Christian spouse entails.  In this case Paul says to "let him depart."  Notice who is given permission to take action.  Not the Christian, but the non-Christian.  Christians should not put up a bitter fight by refusing to allow them to leave, nor should they cast their spouse away.  The hope here, as stated clearly in verse 16, is for the resistant spouse to see the gentle spirit of their Christian mate and return to them (notice verse 16 stills refers to them as the husband or wife) and eventually share their faith.  This principle is not unlike those taught to the disfellowshipping of a errant child of God.  Again, this verse offers the Christian no Pauline privilege in contradiction to what he and Jesus have already established as the ONLY reason to divorce and then remarry.  One may say that the privilege extended here is to the unbeliever, who has the right to leave the marriage, but this does not stand the test of reason because they are not yet compelled to be bound by any teachings of Paul on this matter or any other.

"It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:" "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."
"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?"
"And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?"
"For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?" "But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house."
"And he arose, and departed to his house." "But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men."
"For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."
"The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord."
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?