The Question of Divorce, Part 3

Title: The Question of Divorce, Part 3


Text: Romans 7:1-3

Time: August 10, 2008

We are talking about what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage, or rather, what God says about divorce and remarriage, because the Bible is the very Word of God. Last week we talked about Matthew 5 and also Matthew 19; two verses that explain what marriage is and what divorce is, and what is allowed and what isn’t allowed. This week let’s look at what the Apostle Paul says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, since it isn’t just the teachings of Jesus we follow in the Bible, but also we follow the total revelation from God to us through the apostles and prophets in the whole Bible. So what does the Apostle Paul says about this important topic we are studying. He talks about it in at least two places, in Romans 7 and in 1 Corinthians 7, but today we’ll focus in on what he says in Romans 7:1-3, “Do you not know, brothers – for I am speaking to men who know the law – that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.” Here we see the simple principle of marriage that is found in the traditional marriage vows of the Christian church: “I John take thee Jane to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my troth.” I take thee till death us do part. The original purpose of God for a man and woman in marriage is one man, one woman, one lifetime, no divorce, no separation, only one man, one woman, for a lifetime. But that isn’t what we see happening today is it? Instead of one man, one woman, married for a lifetime, we see men and women marrying, divorcing, marrying again, maybe even divorcing again, remarrying or maybe not even bothering to marry, just living together as man and woman without the benefit of marriage at all. We live in a spiritually confused time, a morally bankrupt age, where people would rather follow their own foolish instincts and feelings rather than the clear and plain teachings from God concerning marriage. Well, it’s up to the Christian church to explain very clearly what God’s teaching is on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and in addition to teaching it, also enforcing it in the lives of its church members. So with that responsibility let me attempt today to explain a little more God’s teachings on marriage from Romans 7. Three observations from the passage.

First, the husband and wife are bound together in marriage until death. Romans 7:1-2, “Do you not know brothers, for I am speaking to men who know the law, that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.” This is the general principle of marriage that we see in the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate – let the husband not separate, let the wife not separate, let not anyone else separate. Why? Because God has joined a man and a woman together in a spiritual covenant for life. Marriage isn’t just a human contract, it isn’t just an agreement between a man and a woman. It isn’t just a governmental regulation for the benefit of order in society – it is that also, but it’s more than a mere human institution, it’s also a divine institution. People forget that today. People act like marriage is simply a mere human agreement or contract between a man and a woman witnessed by friends and relatives. No. It’s more than that because God established it originally in the Garden of Eden – that’s what Jesus is referring to in Matthew 19. Genesis 2:20-24, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” So we see here the original marriage plan and purpose by God Almighty. That’s the original pattern. One man, one woman, for a lifetime. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul is teaching in Romans 7 – one husband, one wife, for one lifetime. But then he goes on to point out that at the death of one of the spouses, the marriage contract is over and the living spouse is free to remarry. The marriage covenant is good only during the lifetime of both of the spouses. Marriage is not for eternity. We hear love songs and poems of love which speak of eternal marriage, together forever, etc. That’s not true according to God’s Word. In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite, it teaches that in heaven people will be like angles, neither married, nor given in marriage. So contrary to what the false cult the Mormons teach – they teach eternal marriage – the marriage covenant becomes null and void at the death of one of the spouses. The other spouse is free to remarry with God’s blessing. But this truth raises another question about remarriage. Let’s look at it.

Two, is the death of a spouse the only grounds for remarriage? Romans 7:3, “So then, if she marries another man while her husband is alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.” This passage seems to be saying that only with the death of a spouse is the other marriage partner free to remarry. But is this what it is really saying? Some churches think so. For example, the large Roman Catholic church holds that there are no grounds for divorce, and consequently, no grounds for remarriage. They arrive at this teaching by taking the ideal of marriage purpose originally intended by God – which we just read about in Matthew 19 and Genesis 2 – and making that the absolute standard, not even allowing for the exception clause for adultery that Jesus gives. So starting from that perspective, that is no divorce allowed, then of course, no remarriage would be allowed either. If you are never supposed to divorce, obviously you are never supposed to remarry after divorce. That’s the Roman Catholic position. But don’t think that they hold to that position absolutely either. They have canon law and rules and regulations concerning marriage that can be brought in to annul a marriage, they claim never was a marriage in the eyes of God. Or in other words, the Roman Catholic church uses the passage that says, “What God hath brought together, let not man put asunder,” to mean that there are some marriages that God truly has brought together, and there are some marriages that God has not really brought together, etc. Now people use this excuse all the time to justify a divorce or annulment, even Christians use this pitiful, lame excuse to get out of a marriage. I’ve heard it said so often by Christian couples wanting out of a bad marriage, “God didn’t bring us together, it was all our doing. God wasn’t in this marriage from the very beginning; we are just understanding that now. We brought the marriage together, not God. The Bible says, ‘What God has brought together, let no man separate.” Well, God never brought us together in the first place, so we are free to separate. The marriage never should have happened to begin with. We made a big mistake. God wasn’t in it.” This is the foolish excuse the world famous traveling female evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman used to try to justify her divorce. She met a married man, an evangelist, and fell in love with him. He divorced his wife and he and Kathryn married. Later on, the marriage failed and they divorced. Kathryn justified the divorce on the grounds that the marriage never should have happened in the first place. Well, that is true, there never should have been a marriage between her and this evangelist, but there was one. And the Bible teaches that when there are promises made before God, God binds the two people together spiritually in marriage. You can’t go back and say God didn’t bring them together. If they got married, God brought them together. Let’s not use excuses to get out of the marriage covenant. But let’s go back to the earlier issue.

Third, while death is the only thing that can break the covenant of marriage in the absolute sense, there is another way it can be broken in a secondary way. Matthew 19:9, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” That is, when he remarries, he commits adultery. Now Jesus gives an exception to the absolute rule that says only after the death of a spouse can the other marriage partner remarry. According to Jesus, a person may remarry even while his or her spouse is living, if that spouse committed adultery and the marriage ended in divorce because of it. Now why would Jesus permit this exception to the absolute rule? Because under the strict law of God in the Old Testament given through Moses, all adultery was supposed to be punished by death. Listen to what the Old Testament law says concerning someone caught in adultery. Leviticus 20:10, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor – both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” And Deuteronomy 22:22, “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.” We see this law being invoked by the Pharisees in John 8 when they bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They said, “The law of Moses requires this woman to be put to death, what do you say Jesus?” Of course, Jesus didn’t deny that was the law, but the fact is that even at the time of Jesus the Jews had stopped putting people to death for adultery. Except on rare occasions, it didn’t happen. What was the most common result of someone caught in adultery? Divorce. Divorce took the place of death due to adultery. Very rarely did a person get the death penalty for adultery, although it was very common to have the marriage end in divorce for adultery. God, in his mercy and grace, provided divorce instead of death in the case of adultery. Death for adultery wasn’t carried out even though it was the law in the absolute sense. Remember King David? He committed adultery with Bathsheba. Did he die, was he executed for his sin? No. He was spared by God. God extended grace and mercy. Yes, he did suffer punishment and discipline from God, but he didn’t suffer death for his sin of adultery. Well, in the same way, God permits divorce for the innocent spouse in the case of adultery. He or she is free to remarry, because after all, if the absolute law for adultery had been carried out, the guilty spouse would be dead, and the innocent marriage partner would then be free to remarry. So then, God says, “I’m not going to enforce the strict death penalty for adultery, so then I’ll allow divorce for adultery and remarriage after the divorce, since if I had required the strict death penalty for adultery, the innocent spouse would be able to remarry after the death of the executed spouse. So in this sense, God permits remarriage after divorce due to adultery, and it fits perfectly in with the absolute rule of remarriage after the death of a spouse.

Now as you can see, divorce and remarriage can get a little tricky. That’s why it’s very foolish to simply jump out of one marriage and into another marriage without being very careful as to the circumstances of each situation. People today don’t seem to realize that God is the ultimate authority; he determines what is right and wrong, what is permissible and what isn’t permissible. We get to thinking that because we have all this freedom in the United States, because the laws permit so many options, we get this false impression that God is the same way. He isn’t. There are rules, regulations, laws, and principles that we must follow or we risk putting God to the test. Remember the devil in the wilderness tempting Jesus to sin. He wanted Jesus to test God the Father, to push God’s patience by jumping off the top of the temple in Jerusalem and expecting God to rescue him. Do you remember what Jesus said to the devil? “Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, do not put the Lord your God to the test,’” Matthew 3:7. When we marry and divorce for non-biblical reasons, we are putting God to the test, we are pushing our luck, we are putting God in a corner and tempting him to strike back in his wrath. That’s a very foolish position to put ourselves in, because like the Book of Hebrews says, “It’s a very terrifying thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.” Today, there is this foolish casualness about marriage and divorce and remarriage. Our culture mocks the holy and sacred divine institution of marriage. Even Christian couples jump into and out of marriage flippantly and casually. We are missing a sober and sane attitude which we should have. I like what the old traditional church marriage ritual states, “Therefore, marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.” But instead of that seriousness, we see often the attitude of a couple entering marriage as if going to Las Vegas for a quickie marriage, in one of those gaudy so-called wedding chapels. There needs to be soberness concerning the decision to marry. And also, serious and sober thought concerning divorce. The command, “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” must be considered seriously. Are you contemplating marriage? Do so very seriously and deliberately, praying and following closely God’s Word in everything. Are you considering divorce? If so, you need to be even more careful, and follow even more closely God’s instructions concerning this major step. Don’t decide on your feelings, determine if there really is biblical grounds for divorce. If not, you simply must not divorce. If you do have biblical grounds, still, try to reconcile and save the marriage. Only as a last resort and for biblical reasons may you divorce. And then only on biblical grounds may you remarry.


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