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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 11

Marriage and Divorce

This is another subject that has been grossly misunderstood and consequently is the battleground for much confusion and division. Caught in the middle of this great controversy are many innocent people, including children.

Most of the trouble is caused by legalistic teachers who feel they are standing true to the word of God. It is the result of teaching based more upon a “holier than thou” tradition than the word of God.

Christ’s sayings to the Pharisees have been used as a proof text to substantiate much of the teaching that has caused the trouble. Matt. 19:3-9. And to this have been added numerous doctrinal ideas that have no Bible foundation whatsoever.

ERROR BREEDS ERROR

When man falls into error, he has to provide more props to support his original mistake. Error leads to more error.

Such teaching as that a remarried person is living in adultery, even after Christ comes into his or her heart, is false.

And the teaching that previously married persons who have children must cease living together as man and wife, but stay together and raise their children, is without any scriptural foundation.

Some even go a step further stating that the supposedly guilty party (married more than once) must quit their present mate and return to the first one. All such ideas are the inventions of legalistic teachers caught in the web of their own false doctrine.

God does not leave us in the dark concerning this most important subject. It is man under the influence of legalism, with his false ideas and interpretations, who has confused the issue.

Show me one scripture that says a man or woman in a second marriage must cease the marriage relationship after conversion. Show me one verse of scripture stating that such a couple should remain together and raise their children but cease the conjugal relationship. Show me a verse of scripture stating that they must leave their present mate and return to the first one. All such legalistic ideas are the vain teachings of men.

Surely the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God didn’t overlook such an important issue. It is inconceivable that the scriptures would leave us completely ignorant on so important an issue.

The “holier than thou” attitude that some have today is the result of wrong interpretation of the scriptures and a general ignorance of the subject. Part of the trouble stems from wrong interpretation of Paul’s instruction concerning qualifications for elders and deacons. I Tim. 3:1-12, Titus 1:5-6.

The statement that an elder or deacon is to be the husband of one wife leads many to believe that this applies to all former marriages. However, I am persuaded that this in not what the apostle meant at all. Due to the practice of polygamy, or having more than one wife at a time, Paul wrote these words.

POLYGAMY

An examination of the Bible, as well as history, shows us that polygamy was practiced by many nations including Israel. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Volume 18, pages 186-187, has much to say on the subject.

None can deny that the practice of having more than one wife by many Old Testament saints was a generally accepted way of life. Such notables as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon had more than one wife. There is no hint from the scriptures that this practice was frowned upon by the Lord, much less forbidden.

Beyond doubt, polygamy was still practiced during the days of Christ and the early church. I feel sure it was in the light of this practice that Paul said elders and deacons were to be the husband of one wife.

With the exception of Paul’s teaching concerning elders and deacons, there is no scripture forbidding a man to have more than one wife.

One of the problems encountered by missionaries to foreign lands today is this system under which a man is married to several women at one time. Feeling no sense of guilt or shame, many families with several wives and children are found living together harmoniously.

After conversion, the question of this polygamous state becomes a problem indeed to many missionaries who know only the monogamous point of view. I understand some of these churches have ruled that present family units be allowed to continue as they are, with the man being warned against additional wives. Of course, they are not allowed to become elders or deacons when they have more than one wife.

ORIGIN OF DIVORCE

Several years ago I was thinking about Christ’s sayings to the Pharisees in Matt. 19:3-9 on the subject of divorce and almost subconsciously asked the question, did Moses do wrong in commanding that a bill of divorcement be given when people separate?

Hardly realizing I had asked the question, I was shocked when the Lord spoke to me and said, “Moses did exactly what I told him to do.”

The Lord then explained saying that in the beginning (before sin entered), he intended that man and woman be eternally wedded together in the marriage union, but after sin entered and strife and division came, it was necessary to legalize separation with a bill of divorcement.

This was necessary to preserve some degree of sanctity and honor to the institution of marriage. Divorce was given lest man degenerate to the level of an animal with no respect for marriage whatsoever.

This at least would give legal recognition to the separation of a couple and help prevent going from one mate to another. Going from one mate to another, and sometimes coming back to the original, was an abomination in the eyes of God. Deut. 24:1-4.

The Lord himself authorized the first divorce lest man commit greater sin in transgression of God’s law in marriage.

Christ’s teaching on the subject was never intended to answer the question that had arisen in the Corinthian Church, nor for the church today for that matter. It was given solely for the benefit of the self-righteous Pharisees who made their boast in the law.

It was given simply to expose their sin and show them how far they were from keeping the law. Their mouths had to be stopped that they might become guilty before God. Rom. 3:19. Since they made
their boast in the law, Jesus gave it to them in its pure, unadulterated form.

Deceived by the traditions of the elders and the vain interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees, the Jews took comfort in thinking they were keeping the law. As law keepers, they didn’t need a savior. In their own eyes, they were righteous already.

God’s perfect law in the beginning was that the twain (man and wife) become one flesh in the marriage union. This is why the union of man and woman in marriage is a type of Christ and his church. I might add that this is still God’s law concerning marriage for believers. There is no excuse nor justification for the divorce of enlightened believers in Christ Jesus.

TRUE UNION

Marriage is not a true union until it is sanctified by the Spirit of God. It is no more a true union than a mere lip profession of faith is a true union with Jesus Christ. In true union, there is no ground for divorce. In the same sense, the Lord is eternally married to his people, regardless of their condition. Jer. 3:14.

I Cor. 7:39 says, “The wife is bound by the law (God’s law governing marriage) 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.”

It is evident that this quotation by Paul has application to enlightened believers, not unbelieving sinners. In Rom. 7:1-2, he applies this same law to “them that know the law”. Verses 10 and 11 of I Cor. 7 also have enlightened believers in mind.

Using this same principle as a type of bondage to the law of Moses before conversion, Paul has this to say in Romans 7:4, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”

If this teaches us anything, it certainly means we are set free from the bondage of the law when we come to Christ. Even as a woman is set free from the law of her husband when he dies, we become dead to the curse of the Mosaic law by the death of Jesus Christ.

A NEW BEGINNING

Out of this death comes resurrection life and a new beginning. II Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

It makes no difference what men have done while in sin and unbelief, for this was part of the old creation which is of Adam.

Christ bore in his body all our sins: adultery, murder, lying, stealing, drunkenness and idolatry. In Christ, we are as free from all this, including marriage mistakes, as if we had never sinned.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate nor abusers of themselves with mankind nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” I Cor. 6: 9-11.

This scripture certainly portrays the type of sinful humanity that God saves by his grace. Fornication and adultery, with or without a marriage license, is just plain sin in the eyes of a holy God.

Jesus agreed with the woman at the well ... she didn’t have a husband yet, but was living with her sixth man at that time. This simply bears out the great truth that when men are in unbelief, there is nothing pure. Titus 1:15.

Man in his fallen state has broken all of God’s laws and that is why he needs grace. This is why it was necessary for Jesus to die and meet the demands of a holy God that said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall surely die.”

Jesus’ death on the cross is payment in full for man’s transgression of God’s holy law. This includes man’s transgression of God’s law governing marriage. God’s law respecting marriage is as much a part of the law as “Thou shalt not steal” or “thou shalt not kill.”

God’s law, being eternal, is irrevocable. Once broken, there is no remedy outside of Christ. Since the demands of the law were met through his death, he must become our saviour.

When we come to Christ, we become part of the new creation. We make a new beginning with God as though we had never sinned or made a mistake. God saves us as we are and sanctifies our present marital status.

So far as God is concerned, we have never sinned, been married or divorced. It is all blotted out. The handwriting of ordinances that was against us (the law condemned us) is abolished through the cross. Col. 2:15.

NO MERIT

No amount of effort in keeping the law will make an unbeliever righteous. Everything done while in sin and unbelief is simply filthy rags. Isa. 64:6. Titus 1:15 says, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”

According to the above scripture, there is nothing about the unbeliever that is pure. This includes marriage and everything else that is done in sin and unbelief. It is only when the sinner repents and believes in Christ that his marriage is sanctified.

“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 they are holy.” I Cor. 7:14.

Even children born from the marriage union of unbelievers are unclean in the eyes of God. This is why Paul says, “else were your children unclean: but now are they holy.”

Only when faith comes to one or both of the marriage partners is the marriage sanctified.

DOCTRINE FOR BELIEVERS

Paul’s teaching in I Cor. 7 was given not for the benefit of the self- righteous, Christ rejecting Jews, but for believers who found themselves involved in various marriage situations upon conversion. There being no scripture that spelled out the answer to these problems, Paul went into detail to help them.

Had Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 19:3-9 been sufficient for the needs of the church, there would have been no need for Paul’s teaching in I Cor. 7. This is where we will find most of the answers to our subject.

Before we more fully consider the teaching in I Cor. 7, I would like to consider an objection held by some concerning the inspiration of Paul’s teaching.

Because Paul makes a distinction between the Lord’s command and his own teaching in verses 10-12, some feel that Paul was not inspired. This is not what the apostle had in mind. He is simply saying that the Lord has already given commandment (Matt. 19:3-9) concerning a man putting away his wife.

Since the Lord did not personally cover other areas of need, Paul was dealing with these himself. In dealing with this subject, Paul was inspired of God to teach those things not personally touched upon by Jesus (verse 40).

The ministry of Christ, being to the Jews (Matt. 15:24), left many of these needs of the church to the inspired apostle. This is why Paul is the author of at least 13 epistles in the New Testament.

As the apostle to the Gentiles, it was Paul’s responsibility to give an answer to the various questions that arose in the Corinthian Church. His treatment of the subject set a precedent and became the pattern on the subject to this day.

He begins his treatment of the subject in verses 1 & 2 by saying that it is good for a man not to touch a woman (sexually), but to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife and every woman have her own husband.

In verses 3-5 he says, the marriage partners are to be mutually considerate and not to deny each other the right to the other’s body, the exception being that they both consent to abstinence when they give themselves to prayer and fasting.

Paul says it would be better if the unmarried and widows would remain unmarried to better serve the Lord (verses 7 & 8). This same truth is also borne out in verses 32-40.

In verse 9, Paul says. “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” The apostle is teaching that it is better to marry than burn with passion. Although the Lord would have men serve him without distraction, he has in mercy provided marriage for those who cannot contain.

THE HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH

Upon entering the household of faith, a new convert oftentimes finds himself divorced or remarried. Children may or may not be involved in the marriage. The question is, what must he or she do?

Going to I Cor. 7:17 we find these words, “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.”

“As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.” This is the general rule as to what a divorced and remarried person is to do: stay as he is and serve God to the best of his ability. God sanctifies his present marital status. So far as God is concerned, the entire past is blotted out ... marriage mistakes and all.

This is what Paul is teaching in verses 17-24. He concludes in verse 24 by saying, “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”

This scripture simply means what it says. The way God calls us and saves us is the way he expects us to abide and live for him. This is the general rule governing all who come to Christ, including divorced and remarried couples.

Upon being converted to Christ, the married believer is responsible to honor and make his marriage work if at all possible. “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 a husband that believeth not and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.” I Cor. 7:12-13.

These scriptures are very plain; the believer has no right to put away his unbelieving mate so long as they are pleased to continue the marriage relationship. This is why Paul says in verse 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?”

THOSE WHO DEPART

Occasionally, when one marriage partner is converted, the one remaining in sin and unbelief will refuse to live with the Christian wife or husband. The question is, what must the Christian partner do? As already stated, the Christian has no right to put away their unbelieving mate. In fact, they should in good conscience prayerfully do all in their power to save their marriage.

If, in spite of this, the unbeliever leaves their Christian mate, there is nothing the believer can do but let them go. The Christian is not under bondage in such cases. Verse 15, says, “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.”

He is free from that marriage union, as well as all other deeds of sin done in unbelief. He is as dead to the law of that marriage by the body of Christ as he is to the law of Moses by the death of Christ.

Some would object to this and point to verses 10 & 11 as proof that this is wrong. The truth they fail to see is that Paul has two different groups or situations in mind. Verses 10 & 11 apply to enlightened believers. There is no ground for divorce when both man and wife are believers. Verses 12-15 are given for the benefit of a believer married to an unbeliever.

Let’s not forget, the law governing marriage is as surely a part of the law as “Thou shalt not steal” or “Thou shalt not Kill.” Since the believer is dead to the law by the body of Jesus Christ, he is also dead to the law of past marriages. This also applies to current marriages where the unbelieving mate refuses to continue the marriage relationship. Otherwise, Paul would have been wrong to say “A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.”

The next question is, just how free is the believer from the marriage union of the unbelieving partner that went out from him? Is he indeed free, or must he live out the rest of his mortal life without the privilege of ever marrying again?

Some misguided religionists actually teach this. Did Paul really mean a brother or sister wasn’t under bondage in such cases? If he is not under bondage in such cases, he is free. John 8:36 says, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

With the past blotted out in the precious blood of Christ, the believer is indeed free and begins a new life. He is as free to marry as if he had never been married, or as if his former husband or wife was indeed dead. In the reckoning of God, the new believer or convert is dead and his life is hid with Christ. Rom. 6:7-8, Col. 2:20 and 3:3.

Paul’s teaching in verse 2 that says “Let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband” still applies. As he teaches in verse 9, it is still “better to marry than to burn.”

HYPOTHETICAL CASE

To show you how ridiculous legalism can be, let us take a hypothetical case to illustrate what we mean. Two young women, each 21 years of age, are attending a gospel meeting and are converted to Christ.

One of them was raised in a good home and had lived a good clean moral life. However, she was swept off her feet by a convincing suitor and married at 16 years of age. The marriage only lasted three months and the young man deserted her for another woman.

Later on, they were officially divorced and the girl continued to live a good, clean, moral life until her conversion at the age of 21.

The other young woman went astray at the age of 16 and lived a very immoral life until she was converted at the age of 21. Although she had lived with several men, she had never actually married any of them.

After her conversion, they both meet fine Christian young men who want to marry them. The young woman who lived a very immoral life until conversion is told there is nothing wrong in her getting married. She has the blessing of the church and preacher upon her.

The other young lady who has lived a good, clean moral life but made the one mistake is told that she cannot marry. If she does, she will be living in adultery according to legalism.

This is what some preachers and churches actually teach today. Knowing that I have to face God in the judgment, I say to both young women: “Christ has set you free. His precious blood has cleansed you from all sin. Your past is blotted out and you are free to marry in the Lord.”

ONLY IN THE LORD

However, in beginning a new life, no believer has a right to marry outside of Christ (II Cor. 6:14). And even then, they should be led of the Lord. Much prayer, with a desire to please the Lord, is a must for those contemplating marriage under any circumstances. Where either or both the man and woman have been previously married, much heart-searching prayer is in order.

Since there are so few preachers and churches who have very much light on this subject, it is almost impossible to turn to them for counsel and help.

However, where there is a church body moving under the headship of Christ, I certainly recommend that individuals go to them for counsel and prayer. Sometimes a situation is so complicated that wisdom from the body of Christ is necessary.

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