There are very few issues that have such potential for explosive interaction. It is an issue that I have visited on several occasions over the course of my ministry. In dealing with different passages of Scripture the issue has arisen. In dealing with practical problems in people’s lives the issue has arisen.
I come from a background where divorce was never countenanced. Both sets of my grandparents remained married till death. My parents have remained married. My wife’s parents have remained married. All three of my brothers continue to be married to their first wives. Most of my married cousins have only been married once. With the exception of two or three Aunts my life has been relatively untouched by divorce. I count this as among one of my greatest blessings.
Having addressed this issue on several occasions and having studied it on several more occasions I know that it is a complex and complicated problem. An issue wherein there is a great deal of disagreement.
Is divorce ever appropriate?
What about separation?
What about unbelieving spouses?
If divorce is ever appropriate, what are the Biblical grounds?
If there are Biblical grounds for divorce does that automatically provide grounds for remarriage?
How should a husband or wife deal with a difficult situation with their spouse?
What about physical, emotional abuse?
Is there a legitimate stigma that accompanies divorce?
Are divorced Christians proper candidates for all ministry opportunities?
If a divorcee remarries are they committing adultery?
Are they living in adultery?
Can you be one flesh with more than one person?
The whole question of innocent and guilty parties?
This is just a few of the questions that can be raised. Then there is the plethora of passages that touch on divorce and remarriage. Frankly it can be hard at times to make “heads or tails” out of it all. It is certainly an issue that requires us to be as dispassionate as possible to be able to come to grips with the truth of the matter. We must want the mind of God on the matter. If we are not careful we will feel compelled to hold up our own standard or, on the other hand, defend the actions of someone we know and love.
Quite frankly if God sees fit to allow divorce in some cases I don’t have a problem with that. If God sees fit to allow remarriage in certain circumstances I don’t have a problem with that. If God forbids all divorce under any circumstances I am OK with that. If He allows divorce and forbids remarriage I am OK with that. God instituted the family in the Garden of Eden and because He did so He can govern it as he sees fit. My real concern is to understand what he expects in this area as best I can and then live according to that ideal.
The first problem is where to start??? The Old Testament has quite a bit to say about divorce and even remarriage. The New Testament addresses the issue in several places and in several different contexts.
I suppose no one could find fault with starting with what Jesus said. I think in doing that we have a good chance of properly understanding the Old Testament teaching concerning this explosive issue. Certainly Jesus would not contradict anything in the Old Testament. If any thing I think we could say that Jesus would elevate the standard, this seems to be his pattern. Under grace the level of expectation rises. See Matthew chapter five.
Matthew 5:31,32 - 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.
Matthew 19:3-12 - 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 he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
Mark 10:2-12 - And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
Luke 16:18 - Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
What are the facts that we gather from what Jesus said?
In the Old Testament if women were put away they were to be given a writing of divorcement.
Jesus said whosoever puts away his wife causes her to commit adultery.
Jesus said whosoever marries her that is put away commits adultery.
The exception is if they put them away because of fornication.
When questioned by the Pharisees Jesus takes them back to the beginning.
A man is to leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.
The couple becomes one flesh.
They are no longer two but one.
Jesus said what God hath joined together let not man put asunder.
They ask Jesus why Moses commanded to give a writing of divorcement.
Jesus informs them it was because of the hardness of their heart Moses allowed it.
Jesus again takes them back to the beginning and says in the beginning it was not so.
Jesus said he who puts away his wife and marries another committeth adultery.
Jesus said he that marries her that is put away commits adultery.
Again the exception is if they put them away because of fornication.
The disciples understand this to be a hard saying.
Jesus admits that it is a hard saying.
Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement and put her away.
Jesus said this was only because of the hardness of their hearts.
Again they are taken to the beginning.
The couple becomes one flesh.
They are no longer two but one.
Jesus said what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
His disciples asked him again of the matter in private.
Jesus said whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.
Jesus said if a woman put away her husband and be married to another she commits adultery.
I believe these are the fact. Now how are we to interpret these facts? Here is where we must be careful.
It seems clear that Jesus is doing two things. He is raising the standard from the Old Testament. He is reminding them of the original order and what God intended from the beginning. When God created Adam and Eve it was not his intentions that they at some point go their separate ways and find another partner. God intended for them to stay married for life. This is God’s original intent. The fact that weak, sinful flesh has a difficult time living up to this ideal does not mean it does not exist.
The whole divorce/remarriage issued has gotten way out of hand. Men were divorcing their wives for the slightest offence. If there is any permission for divorce it is only in the case of fornication. To marry someone who has been divorced is to commit adultery. Is this a hard saying? Yes, it is. Which brings me to the real problem. People are not nearly as sober minded as they ought to be when they are choosing a spouse. In a culture of divorce you don’t need to be. If it does not work out, or you become unhappy, or your spouse isn’t what you expected you can rid yourself of them and find one more to your liking.
1 Corinthians 7 is another passage that deals extensively with the issue of divorce and remarriage.
In verses 1-5 Paul states the responsibilities each couple has in relation to intimacy.
In verses 6-9 Paul is asserting the possibility of celibacy.
It is at this point that we get to the heart of the matter.
1 Corinthians 7:10,11 - And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Well, for sure these verses only provide for two choices 1. Remain unmarried, 2. Be reconciled.
1 Corinthians 7:12-14 - But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
Believing spouses should not leave their unbelieving spouses. Clearly the believing party has a sanctifying effect on the unbelieving party.
1 Corinthians 7:15 - But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
A believing spouse has no responsibility to retain an unbelieving spouse. The believing spouse is not accountable for the departure of the unbelieving spouse.
1 Corinthians 7:16 - For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
It could be that the believing spouse may be the instrument of God to save the unbelieving spouse.
1 Corinthians 7:25-28 - Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
We are legitimately loosed from a wife only through the death of the wife. It is difficult to see him speaking of the divorced in this context when he spelled out the two choices earlier in the chapter, reconciliation or remaining unmarried.
1 Corinthians 7:39 - 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.
What is it that breaks the bonds? Death. If the husband be dead she is at liberty to marry whom she will.
What about finding yourself in a really difficult marriage.
Well, I think my initial response to this is difficult marriages are made just like good marriage. It must be kept in mind that the making of a marriage begins with choosing a spouse. This cannot be discounted for it is the most critical aspect of whether one will have a good or a bad marriage. Inevitably in a discussion of divorce and remarriage there begins to be talk of the innocent and guilty party. The one thing I have observed is that who is innocent and who is guilty is in the eye of the beholder. The reality is there are no innocent parties when a marriage comes apart. If my marriage were to fall apart I would not be able to claim innocence because I have not always been the kind of husband that I should have been. My wife would not be able to claim innocence because she has not always been the kind of wife she should have been.
Again the Bible speaks to the issue of difficult spouses.
1 Peter 3:1-7 - Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
The disobedient husband can be won by the conversation of the wife. I believe the principle applies the other way around as well. This is a compelling passage albeit difficult at times to apply. The most compelling feature of the passage is the very first word “likewise”. Why you ask? Because it is referencing what has gone before. Take a look!
1 Peter 2:18-25 - Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
Servants are instructed to be subject to their masters, not only the good masters but the froward also. It is a thankworthy thing if a man endures grief suffering wrongfully. It is no big deal if you are buffeted for your faults but if you do well and suffer that is acceptable with God. Christ is our example in this regard. He was the truly innocent party and yet suffered at the hands of sinful men. Then comes the word “likewise”. So if you spouse is unreasonable and harsh and difficult continue to fulfill your role. If you suffer wrongfully at the hand of your spouse it is a thankworthy thing and it is acceptable with God. Remember Jesus is your example here. Is it hard? Of course! It is right? Of course!
I am in the process of memorizing Romans seven. Verses two and three provide some insight into the matter of divorce and remarriage.
Romans 7:2,3 - For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
It seems clear!
Can divorced/remarried people be forgiven and serve. Well, of course they can. It is no different than any other sin in that sense. They can be forgiven and should be forgiven at what time genuine repentance has been observed. The problem today is that many will not admit that they have sinned but instead seek to justify the actions. I have had divorced people take an active role in the church that I pastor. Things like leading singing, teaching bible classes, preaching, singing special music, treasurer, etc. . . Of course there are certain things they could not do because the Bible forbids it. For example if one desire the office of a Bishop then he is required to be the husband of one wife. I think we have done our culture a major disservice by completely denying there is a stigma associated with divorce and remarriage. If the church is unwilling to hold the line on this matter and insist on the original pattern just as Christ did then there is certainly no stopping the deterioration we see in the home.
Should families be broken up so that they can assume their original spouses? To contend for such a thing seems to be absurd on the face of it. This would only create more problems. Where failure has occurred the right thing is to go on from there and do right. Make right what you can and do what you can to see that the failure is not perpetuated in the next generation.
These are some hastily thrown together thoughts that certainly do not answer all the questions about this issue, if they even can be.
The bottom line for me is that Jesus said lets get back to the beginning if we would do that I think we would be making a positive move. One man and one woman for life!