The Question of Divorce, Part 4

Title: The Question of Divorce, Part 4

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pqvNEnVWUYa0Be3omLfpikGGdO8Kbn_qiJFWtYbfVFVS1KJfFNWv-I0QTonPORn98ASjtJJk4zLA/8-31-08thequestionofdivorce4.mp3%5D

Text: 1 Corinthians 7:10-16

Time: August 11, 2008

For the past few weeks we’ve been examining what the Bible has to teach about marriage, divorce and remarriage. We’ve looked at some key passages in God’s Word dealing with these topics, such as Matthew 5 and 19, and Romans 7. Now today, I’d like to deal with another important passage on marriage, divorce and remarriage – 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, “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. 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?” Now there’s a lot in this passage – some of which we won’t get into today. But there is also much we can explain because it deals directly with the questions of marriage, divorce and remarriage. In previous messages I explained that God’s original intent for marriage was one man, one woman, for one lifetime. Divorce is not in God’s plan for marriage. There is no mention of divorce in the original bringing together of Adam and Eve in the first marriage. That’s because divorce was to have no role in that marriage or any marriage. But due to human selfishness and sin, divorce happens sometimes, so God makes an allowance for it in certain strict circumstances. Now today, divorce is done for any reason or no reason at all. Today there really doesn’t have to be any reason other than one or both spouses don’t want to be married anymore. Well, that is not God’s plan. Due to human sinfulness, God allows for divorce in cases of adultery and abandonment. But even in these cases, God doesn’t command divorce, he just permits it as a last resort. So let me spend a little bit of time explaining the allowance by God for divorce in the case of abandonment – that is, when an unbelieving spouse refuses to live with the believing spouse and simply leaves the home. What can a believing spouse do in such a case? God permits divorce and remarriage under such circumstances. Let’s examine this further.

First, in the case of marriage problems, separation is sometimes an option in order to eventually work things out instead of a divorce taking place. 1 Corinthians 7:10, “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.” Today, many people are separated from their marriage partner, but it’s not for the purpose of working out a reconciliation, but rather, it’s in order for the paper-work to go through on the divorce proceedings. That’s not right. The reality is that marriages, practically all marriages at one time or another, will have their problems. Whenever two sinful, selfish human being live in that close a proximity to one another there are bound to be problems that develop from time to time. Even many otherwise healthy marriages go through bumpy times. I’m sure divorce has crossed the minds of most married couples at one time or another. Ok, what is the procedure for going through rocky times within a marriage? Start thinking divorce? Start talking divorce? No. But a lot of times people today don’t seem to know of any other categories in marriage other than happily married or divorced, but there are really other options for a married couple, one of which the Apostle Paul mentions in this passage. He first counsels that they should not split, or separate when they go through disagreements or differences: “A wife must not separate from her husband.” The first and ideal process is to stay together under the same roof and talk it out and communicate their concerns and work it out while living together. Today, practically speaking, there may be need for counseling with the local church pastor, or, if need be a professional Christian marriage counselor. But ideally all of this takes place with the man and woman together, living under the same roof. But what if the issues are so big that one or the other feels that it’s impossible to work things out while living together? Then Paul’s counsel is separation if it comes to that: “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.” So then, if the problem becomes too great, the couple may need to separate temporarily in order to work out their problems without the pressures of living together. But this separation is only to be temporary while they work out their differences with the long-term goal of total reconciliation. In this state of separation, they are to live like single people. Assuming there are no legitimate grounds for divorce by either one, they must remain separated working towards reconciliation. They are not permitted to divorce: “A husband must not divorce his wife” because there is no proper grounds for divorce. To divorce without grounds and to remarry is to commit adultery, a grave sin. During the separation they must remain without companionship or be reconciled. Separation is perfectly acceptable as a process for bringing about a long-term reconciliation, and should be used – if needed — by all couples struggling with a troubled marriage, especially before they start contemplating or talking divorce. But there’s more.

Second, the simple fact of a marriage between a believer and a non-believer is not grounds for divorce. 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, “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.” In other words, simply because a believer and unbeliever are married together and don’t agree on the most fundamental questions of life – God, eternal salvation, etc. – doesn’t give grounds for divorce. In other words, the conversion of one spouse to the Christian faith shouldn’t be the necessary cause of a marriage break-up or divorce. Yes, there is the Bible passage that asks, “What fellowship has darkness with light, with an unbeliever and believer?” That question raises a profound issue, but it doesn’t give justification for divorce. Why is the Apostle Paul addressing this concern? Because back then, like today, there were mixed marriages where one partner was a believer and the other was not. The temptation on the part of the believer was to somehow justify getting out of marriage to an unbeliever because of the obvious incompatibility and conflict between faith and unbelief. But Paul wants to make it clear that as difficult as it may be to live with someone who doesn’t share the common Christian faith, or maybe even ridicules or mocks faith in Christ, still, that alone is not grounds for divorce. We are reminded of the passage in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. God hates divorce in Old Testament times, he hates divorce in New Testament times, he’s always hated divorce, he hates divorce today, and always will hate divorce. Becoming a Christian who happens to be married to an unbeliever shouldn’t be the cause of a divorce. It will bring difficulties into the life of the new believer, but that’s all part of the difficulties of living the Christian life in general. We are not allowed to escape our problems by sinning and taking the easy way out. I’m aware of Christians who have done just that. They got tired of constantly battling their unbelieving spouse on matters of faith, so they simply got tired of it and divorced. That is not acceptable, according to the Apostle Paul. Sometimes Christians are called to suffer for the faith. We shouldn’t think of suffering as only relating to persecution and martyrdom. It might be a Christian is called to suffer marriage to an unbeliever. If that is the case, let us all pray for the grace to endure. But marriage to an unbeliever is not grounds for divorce. But there is another situation that is grounds for divorce.

Third, if the unbeliever leaves the marriage, in that case, the believer isn’t bound to the marriage and may divorce and remarry. 1 Corinthians 7:15-16, “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?” So in this situation, it isn’t the believing spouse that gives up in attempts to reconcile, it’s the unbeliever. The believing spouse must be willing to stick it out no matter what the obstacles or challenges may be, but the unbeliever usually has no such motivation because it’s simply easier to call it quits and move on. That’s the attitude in our society today – if a marriage runs into trouble, if the marriage requires great sacrifice and investment of time, energy and effort, many people will simply feel it isn’t worth it and bail. That’s the easy way out that many people take. Look at all the divorces that take place, millions every year, 50% of all marriages ending in divorce in the U.S. Now Paul’s instructions to a Christian believer married to a unbeliever is to remain married if at all possible and continually work for reconciliation when there are disagreements and divisions, especially for the children’s sake, if there are any. But what happens if the unbeliever simply gives up and isn’t willing to work to make the marriage work? Should the Christian insist that they both live together despite the unwillingness of the unbeliever to do so? According to the Apostle Paul, speaking under inspiration of God as a prophet of God, the answer is No. The Christian isn’t bound to a marriage partner that refuses to reconcile and who moves out with the intent of divorce: “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.” Of course, even after the unbeliever leaves, there is still the possibility that God can change his heart and lead him to faith in Christ and eventually back to the believing spouse and reconciliation of the marriage. So the believer while not bound to the marriage should continue to pray and work towards reconciliation if possible for a while, for a length of time. The believer should not immediately divorce, if that’s possible. And even after divorce, should not immediately remarry, in order to hold open the possibility of reconciliation with her former spouse. Of course, if the unbeliever remarries, then the believer is totally free to remarry as well, since the potential for reconciliation is broken by the unbeliever with the formation of a new one-flesh union. But if no such one-flesh union has taken place, the believer should still pray and work towards reconciliation and the restoration of the marriage. Although, eventually, obviously, it must be assumed that an unbeliever will in fact form such a one-flesh union either legally in marriage or immorally through fornication. And if this in all probability has happened, the believer is certainly free to remarry even though the former spouse might not have officially remarried. The marriage covenant in the eyes of God was broken nevertheless.

What the Apostle Paul, the teachings of Jesus, and other instructions in the Bible do for us today is give us a framework to process the many questions that marriage, divorce and remarriage pose in our modern times. We don’t have to go on the basis of our feelings or gut instincts or intuition – all common methods of the pagan, secular world today. We can use objective standards to measure whether something is right or wrong. The sad things today is that many Christians dismiss or discard clear biblical teachings on marriage, divorce and remarriage, and live just like the pagan unbelievers in this area of life. It’s as if the Bible hadn’t given instructions or that God hadn’t spoke on these matters. Even many Christian churches today don’t seem to have any clear direction to give people because these same churches don’t put forth the Bible as the absolute standard for right and wrong. Instead, many pastors and church leaders use the same sinful and fallible intuition and instincts that the secular world uses. That’s why so many Christian marriages are ending in divorce just like non-Christian couples. It isn’t enough to know what the Bible teaches on marriage, divorce and remarriage; we must live out these truths every day. To begin with, Christians who are married should realize that God hates divorce and because God hates divorce they should too. We live in a world of sinful people who actually like divorce – at least, like the option of divorce if things don’t go as they planned in the marriage. But Christians must take the opposite view – hatred for divorce. Not hatred for divorced persons, but hatred for divorce or the break up of a marriage. Next, Christians who are married should determine to do everything within their power – with God’s help as well – to hold their own marriage together, whether they are married to a Christian or a non-Christian spouse. Each Christian should determine to not become just another divorce statistic. Each Christian should see that marriage is their opportunity to witness the light of Christ in a society filled with much darkness and despair. Divorce is just more of the same pagan darkness. A Christian should do everything they can to be a light in the midst of the darkness, not become part of that darkness with divorce. I’ve often told a couple thinking of divorce that perhaps the greatest witness they can have as Christians in this sinful, dark world is to work hard and stay together as man and wife in marriage. After all, one of the symbolic meanings of marriage in the Bible is to witness to the love of Christ towards his earthly church. So in order to be a good witness for Christ as Christians, we must do all we can do in order to preserve our marriages. And then, only as a last resort, to be seldom used, there is the option of divorce under the two strict grounds which I’ve outlined above.

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