Divorce & Remarriage (5)

Divorce & Remarriage (5)


Marriage is ideally indissoluble from its very nature and the divine Institution by which it is constituted. As respecting divorce and its implications, this is on accounts of the most pivotal passage in the NT; we have the combination of two clauses, namely the exceptive clause and the remarriage clause expressed in Mat 5:32; Mk 10:11; Luke 16: 18 but only in Matt 19:9 are they coordinated.

For if a man may rightly divorce his unfaithful wife and if such divorce dissolves the marriage bond, the question of remarriage is inevitably posed. Furthermore, 1 Co 7:15 would certainly face us with the question of the effect that desertion by an unbelieving partner would have upon the marital status of the deserted believer. The real crux of the question in Matt 19: 9 is, however, the force of the exceptive clause “except for fornication” it does not intimate, any more than Matt 5:32, that the man is obligated to divorce his wife in the event of adultery on her part. It simply accords the right of liberty. Canon law of the Church of England, while allowing separation for adultery, does not permit a remarriage for the parties so separated as long as they both live. If the text of Matt 19:9 is adopted as genuine and authentic, then there is considerable difficulty in holding to this position. It is the difficulty of restricting the exceptive clause to the putting away and not extending it also to the remarriage.

In God’s sight, a marital union can be dissolved only by death, regardless of how innocent one party is or how guilty the other one is. Jesus gives an exception to the above, as stated before. Could there then be situations where God requires divorce or separation? We see an Old Testament instance of this in Ezra chapter ten, where those guilty of marrying pagan wives were compelled to divorce. It must be read in the light of 1 Co 7:12-16, which seems to take a very different approach.

Nevertheless, here is a case where the divorce was not merely permitted but was mandatory. Now let’s move to the New Testament. It speaks of the importance of separating from unbelievers, those engaged in blatant, repeated, unrepentant sin. In 1 Co 5:11, for instance: “. . . you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

Suppose you are married to someone who considers the ideal is to “enjoy” both sexual unfaithfulness and the benefits of being married to you. If you knowingly allow your spouse to pursue this, does that make you a partner in their sin? Of course, you cannot prevent your partner from being unfaithful. Still, if you know what is happening, it is your decision whether your partner can enjoy marital privileges with you while pursuing extramarital sin. There are a lot of images to consider on this topic. Imagine for a moment if, in God’s eyes, marriage is dissoluble only by death; would that mean that if a woman is married to a divorced man every day that she remains married to him, she is committing adultery? Does this mean that to stop sinning, she must separate from him? Does it mean that if for these reasons she divorces him, she is free to remarry since her first marriage was not a marriage in God’s sight but an adulterous affair? One might suppose that remarrying someone you had previously divorced would be a godly way of correcting a past mistake. However, it is revealed in the Old Testament that this could be highly offensive to God, at least in some instances. It says that if a man divorces his wife and she marries someone else who then dies or divorces her, it is a gross sin for the first husband to remarry his former wife (Dt 24:1-4). It should be treated with extreme seriousness, given that it is found in the same Testament that permits divorce.

The precise situation it describes, however, might be critical. Without David divorcing his wife (Saul’s daughter), her father married her off to someone else. David took her back again (2 Samuel 3:13-16), presumably because although she had been remarried, there was no divorce of the first marriage. It suggests that each condition of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 must be fulfilled before God considers remarrying the same person an abomination. God’s commands are not always blanket statements divinely intended to cover every rare and unlikely scenario. For instance, of all the Gospels, only Matthew says “except for fornication” when forbidding divorce. Presumably, Mark and Luke regarded this as an intended exception and felt no compulsion to spell. Could there be other exceptions to the general ban on divorce that Scripture does not bother to enumerate? Spiritual matters are not discernable with human methodology, thoughts, and assumptions.

The Ten Commandments forbid coveting a neighbor’s wife but say nothing about a woman coveting a neighbor’s husband. That is a law not intended to include every possible scenario. It is an obvious instance of the Lord expecting his people to draw principles from general laws and under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and guidance. Jesus said,

Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took the consecrated bread; he ate what was lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions (Luke 6:3-6).

Jesus seems to regard this as acceptable, even though such an exception is not spelled out in the law. It is possible to sin by being too strict in interpreting God’s commands. Many devout Jews felt they were honoring the Almighty God by insisting that Jesus cannot heal on the Sabbath. It seems reasonable; after all, there were six other days in which one could heal. Nevertheless, their strict interpretation was wrong and drew Jesus’ wrath because it showed a lack of compassion. If, through too strict an interpretation of Scripture, you influenced a woman not to leave her abusive husband, could God hold you guilty of pressuring her to be molested or tormented by her husband, especially if it leads to the woman’s death? Or could you cause an abandoned partner to fall into sexual sin because you have convinced that person that remarriage is forbidden?

We must avoid being like the Pharisees and those experts in Jewish law whom Jesus accused of loading people down with burdens (Matthew 13:4). Even the apostle Paul, whose personal preference was that every Christian remains unmarried, recognized that in our sex-crazed world, celibacy is an impractical and excessive burden to lay on most people (1 Co 7:1-9). V.9 states, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” – NIV). Paul’s advice is for whoever cannot withhold their passion rather than burn and commit terrible sins; such a person should marry. Let’s not forget that God allowed divorce in the Old Testament because of people’s “hard hearts.” Does this mean that Jesus described the ideal – what we should all aspire to become, but the Old Testament described God’s understanding of practical reality in a fallen world? But Jesus himself said about his teaching on divorce, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. . ..” (Matthew 19:11). On the other hand, even in the Old Testament, the Lord says he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), so one would think that at least one partner in a divorce – but not necessarily both – would be grieving God’s heart. Nevertheless, the undeniable reality of God’s extreme compassion does not indicate whether cruelty is sufficient grounds for divorce or separation. We must weigh up the fact that the following applies to women with less than godly husbands: 1 Peter 3:1 Wives, in the same way, be submissive to your husbands so that if any of them do not believe the Word.

Moreover, this Scripture is found in the very letter that repeatedly speaks of the importance of physically suffering for Christ and tells enslaved people to submit even to harsh masters. Just as with Jesus’ suffering, there are times when our short-term suffering achieves eternal good than us having an easier life. When marrying, it is the norm to vow to remain committed to one’s partner “till death do us part” or “for as long as we both shall live.” I haven’t seen marriage vows that allow the option “until my partner commits adultery” or “until my partner marries someone else.” Perhaps the vows should have been worded differently. Nevertheless, the vows you made – not the ones you wish you had made – are the ones you have to commit to yourself. Your vow obligated you to remain faithful to your partner before God: “for as long as you both shall live.” Regardless of what your partner does?

What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). But who exactly is it that “God has joined together”? It cannot be only those who have had a church wedding because, in Bible times, there was no such thing as a church wedding. Scripture applies this Bible truth of two becoming one flesh principles even to a fleeting, sin-ridden encounter with a prostitute (1 Co 6:15-16). It might be that “what God has joined” or what God declares to be one flesh applies to every sexual encounter, no matter how contrary to God’s will that relationship is. Might it be similar to Joshua and his nation, who were tricked into making a covenant with people whom God had declared should be destroyed? The Israelites had been conned. They regretted it, utterly contrary to God’s will. Still, merely because they had made a covenant, it was so binding in God’s eyes that he insisted that they (Joshua 9) and even subsequent generations (2 Samuel 21:1-9,14) must keep that covenant in its entirety. Other nations were so furious with these people for selling out to the Israelites that they massed their armies to destroy them. It seemed an ideal opportunity for the Israelites to have their past mistake eradicated.

Without lifting a finger against these con artists, the Israelites could let heathens wipe them out, as God had originally intended. But instead, the Lord insisted that they fight to protect those with whom they had made the covenant. And to assist, the Almighty made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:1-15). There is biblical evidence that God regards sex as entering into a binding covenant. I postulate that a significant factor behind God being so strict as to who one has sex with is that he views sex as joining people together in a bond that should never be broken, no matter how much God may wish it had never happened. One of the themes threading through Scripture is that God is moved to treat us like we treat others. In Luke 6:37-38, Jesus gives us examples:

  • Do not judge, and you will not be judged!
  • Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
  • Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
  • Give, and it will be given to you. . . .

Here are some other examples:

Psalm 18:25  To the faithful, you show yourself faithful.

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Galatians 6:7. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

In addition to the above, we know that Scripture sees a close similarity or link between marriage and our relationship with God. Under Old Testament law, several sins incurred the death penalty, including rejection of the true God (e.g., Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:2,27; 24:16) and certain sexual sins – proven adultery, homosexual acts, bestiality, incest (e.g., Leviticus 20:10ff). We all know that the death of one’s partner frees one to remarry:

Romans 7:2-3 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 marriage law. 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. Of course, the death penalty no longer applies to these sins, but does it reveal a divine principle that if one partner remains unrepentant of such gross sin and is dead to God, the innocent one is free to remarry as they would be had the partner died? Or is Old Testament practice irrelevant since the person is still physically alive? Even if divorce in certain circumstances were acceptable to God, that might not mean that remarriage is acceptable. For instance, one must consider this:

1 Corinthians 7: 10-11 “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 be reconciled to her husband..”

In wedding vows, one promises to love. It is a beautiful, highly Christian concept that is often ruined by confusing it with the worldly love of romantic fiction. That is Agape love and not romantic love, which is fickle, fleeting, and selfish. It is not a virtue; the only predictable thing about it is that it quickly fizzles out. In contrast, the agape love is noble and inspires heaven to applaud you; it is a virtue of eternal worth. Ideally, we should marry not for our pleasure but God’s glory. Similarly, our decision about divorce should be based not on our ease but on what will maximize God’s glory in a problematic situation.

***read the conclusion tomorrow, Sunday, July 31, 2022


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