DIVORCE

Before we consider the topic of divorce and remarriage, we must state a basic premise of the Christian faith:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

When we come to Jesus, the slate is wiped clean. We are new people in him. Our sins are forgiven; they will not be remembered against us any longer. Now, that does not mean that all the temporal obligations and commitments into which we entered before we became Christians we are now free to break: But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." (Luke 19:8, 9)

In other words, if I owe someone something, it is still my obligation to endeavor to repay him. And that includes alimony and child support payments as well. But I am no longer under this as a curse, but as a blessing. My debts belong to Jesus, even as I do. Whether I am able to repay or not is Jesus' problem his burden not mine. And my repayments are not made to embittered, ungrateful people; they are offerings made to Jesus because I love him and want to glorify his name by a good testimony.

So I am a new person: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17) God always deals with me where I am not where I was. God never wrings his hands and says, "Well, if only you had not divorced." God is free to bless me today, regardless of what has happened in the past.

Divorce is a sin; God even says that he hates it: "I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. (Malachi 2:16) But divorce is not the unpardonable sin. God forgives us, and he puts our past behind us.

That doesn't mean that everyone who is divorced should go out and start a new marriage. Some divorced people should; others should not. 1 Corinthians 7 will shed some light on this. But the important thing to remember is that you don't need to look down on yourself if you are divorced. Everyone in this church is a sinner; we have all made mistakes, and we don't look down on you. God doesn't look down on you; the church doesn't look down on you. Why should you?

As believers, we always stand on the threshold of the blessing of God. God wants to bless us, and he wants us happy and fulfilled no matter what we have done, even if we have left our spouse and run off and married the person with whom we were committing adultery.

The great question is what does God want me to do starting today? If I am currently married, regardless of how I came to be married, what should I do? If I am separated or divorced, what should I do now?

There is a very basic principle about marriage: A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. (1 Corinthians 7:39) Paul's statement goes back to the very beginning: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24) It is this verse which Jesus comments on in Matthew 19:6: So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. This gives us insight into what Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:10: To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.

Marriage, therefore, is a permanent thing. It is something done not simply by two people, but by God himself. This is the teaching of the Old Testament; this is the teaching of the Lord Jesus himself. Therefore once it is entered into, regardless of how it came to be entered into, there is no way mere human beings can dissolve it: not the married couple on their own, not the church, nor any civil authority. God alone can undo the union. That is why we should be so cautious before we marry someone.

Notice what Jesus' disciples said once they grasped what the Lord was affirming: The disciples said to him, 'If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.' (Matthew 19:10)

They said this in response to what Jesus said about remarriage after unscriptural divorce: I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

We may not like what Jesus has said, but can there be any doubt as to the meaning of what he said? Remarriage after unbiblical divorce is adultery; and it is adultery because God does not recognize the divorce; he regards the marriage as still intact. The state may claim to dissolve the marriage; a church may claim to annul it; but if God has not dissolved it, any involvement with anyone else other than one's spouse is adultery. There are only two choices for those who are separated or divorced for other than biblical grounds: reconciliation or celibacy.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord) A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11)

What are the three ways in which God himself frees a person from the obligations of the marriage covenant? The first is death. The second is when the spouse commits adultery (Unscriptural divorce followed by remarriage is adultery, too.) The third is when an unbeliever because of his hatred of the Lord Jesus refuses to live with the believer.

The first way in which God dissolves a marriage is by the death of one's spouse:

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (Notice, however, the last clause, because it is absolute. It applies to every Christian who is contemplating a serious relationship with another person: he must belong to the Lord. Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39)

The second way in which God dissolves a marriage is when one's spouse continues in the sin of adultery:

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

If words mean anything at all, Jesus is here giving freedom to divorce when one is married to someone who commits adultery. Adultery ought to be forgiven. Anyone who is a Christian has the ability to put this behind him and grant complete forgiveness. But where the adultery is persistent, where there is no remorse, where the adulterer makes it clear that he has no intention of quitting his sin, then continuation in such a marriage makes a mockery of marriage divorce is God's remedy in such an intolerable situation.

The third way in which it appears God dissolves a marriage is when an unbeliever, out of his own hatred of Jesus, refuses to live with the believer. Notice what the Holy Spirit says through Paul: But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15) In other words, Paul is strongly implying that the bond of marriage is broken in this way.

Paul is not encouraging us to push the unbeliever to leave quite the opposite:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:11-16)

There is a special relationship that anyone who is close to believer has. God said that he would bless those who blessed Abraham. He said that even Sodom would be spared for the sake of the ten righteous. He told the exiled Jews to pray for the prosperity of the lands into which they were exiled, even Babylon, for as the unbelievers around them prospered so would they.

Rather than the believer being contaminated by the unbeliever, God promised the opposite: For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)

This is not something the unbeliever will always positively respond to, but God promises it none the less. This may aggravate the unbeliever, and he may leave. But the promise is still true, even when it seems that there is no way it could come true: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved and your family. (Acts 16:31)

When two people marry, they promise that they will be loyal to one another. Almost always they mean it. But circumstances change, and human nature is weak and sinful. In time the best of intentions can wither with the lack of nurturing love. How sad that is! How cynical and bitter we can become when so betrayed! But there is one who will never divorce me: the Lord Jesus. He will never abandon me:

I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Joshua 1:5) For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. (Psalm 94:14) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

 For further reading and see Pastor John J. Hughes' article, which is also in PDF.