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Divorce and Remarriage

by Bruce Lackey (1930-1988)

Bruce LackeyAs we consider the subject of divorce and remarriage, it is most important that we approach it with the proper attitude. 1 Peter 4:7-8 describes the three-fold attitude that we need, especially in these last days as we look for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ: "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins." The three attitudes which he emphasizes here are being sober, watching unto prayer, and having fervent charity. We might say, simply, that we need to think, pray, and love.

When he says "be ye therefore sober," that obviously means to think. Don't let anything cloud your mind, hindering your ability to think straight. We cannot give in to our feelings, or to sentiment, or to public opinion, or even to the particular needs of our closest friends or family. Thinking properly would be thinking according to Scripture.

Then, we are to pray. We must seek the Lord's wisdom about this matter.

Then, of course, love. It is a serious mistake to develop any kind of a scriptural opinion which causes us to hate or snub people, to look down upon them, or fail to love them. That would be an improper use of the Word of God. In these days, as we look for the return of Christ, that will be an increasingly serious problem. In Matthew 24:12, as the Lord described these days, He said, "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." Therefore, in these days, we have to think and pray much about loving others in the Lord.

As we approach the subject of divorce and remarriage, let us ask the Lord to help us to think scripturally and love one another.

1. Malachi 2:14-16 makes it clear that God hates divorce.

"...the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away..."

There can be no doubt about what the Lord means when He said "putting away" that it is just another term for divorce. It is vital to know what God's attitude toward divorce is, especially when we see other Scriptures which give permission for the very thing that God hates!

Why would God hate divorce? All of us can think of situations where we are sure that divorce was the proper thing to do; in some cases we are sure that it was the only answer to a very unhappy situation. At the same time, all who have dealt with people who have gone through a divorce realize that it is always the children who suffer most. That is exactly the reason which God gives here for hating it. Verse 15 tells us that God made one (that is, one woman for one man, as He did in the Garden of Eden) that He might seek a godly seed. God is interested in children being brought up in the nurture and admonition of Himself.

Many people disagree with that, saying that the children are better off with a single parent, or with a new parent, than being in any unhappy home. At first this seems reasonable, but the years have taught us, even unbelievers who deal with children's problems, that it is an unsettling and detrimental thing for children to be shuttled back and forth between parents who have custody or visitation privileges. How often have we heard a parent say, "I dread to see the children go to visit their father (or mother) this weekend, because I know they will get into some kind of ungodliness, or will return being adversely affected by it all."

In many cases, the children will follow the ungodly parent rather than the one who is trying to obey the Bible. Divorce did not prevent that from happening.

2. God's original plan for marriage was that there would be no divorce.

In Matthew 19 this was made very clear in a conversation between Christ and the Pharisees. In verse 3, we should note that they were asking the Lord about Deut. 24:1, which was the only verse giving permission for divorce. However, rather than explaining that verse, Christ first referred to Gen. 1:27 and 2:24 by saying, "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?" (Matt. 19:4-5). Then He applied the two verses by saying, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (v.6). Thus, God's original plan, that which He did "at the beginning," was one woman for one man, becoming one flesh, and cleaving to each other. The important thing to notice is that when the Pharisees asked about Deut. 24:1, Christ did not explain that verse; rather, He went all the way back to Gen. 1 and 2 to show God's original plan.

Why, then, did God give permission for divorce in Deut. 24:1? That was the very question which was asked by the Pharisees in Matt. 19:7, "They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" That brings us to the verse in question, and to point number three.

3. God did permit divorce for one reason.

Deut. 24:1-2, "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." Here is clear permission and instruction about divorce and remarriage!

The problem of interpretation, for the Pharisees, was that phrase in verse 1, "some uncleanness." Did it mean immorality, or any thing that the man might have disliked about his wife? Such had been the controversy through the years between rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel, and those who followed one or the other. The Pharisees were asking the Lord Jesus which interpretation He agreed with. However, they had a serious misunderstanding about the passage which is seen by their question in Matt. 19:7, "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement...?" Christ corrected them in the next verse by saying, "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives." "Suffer" in Scripture means to permit; we must note that there is a great difference between a command and a permission.

Sometimes in Scripture, God permitted things that He did not command (such as polygamy).

Sometimes people object to that as an inconsistency in God. Why would He do that? Christ explained: "because of the hardness of your hearts." Then, it is most important to see that He immediately said, "but from the beginning it was not so." God made changes in the various dispensations; He changed what He required man to do, from one age to another; He also gave permissions in one age that He did not give to others. Until He gave the law through Moses, man could offer sacrifices to God anywhere, but in Deut. 12:5-14, He required them to come to a particular place, and to that place only. Now, in our age, we do not even offer such sacrifices!

Clearly, then, God has changed His requirements and permissions for mankind from age to age.

The commands of the law were not meant to be permanent, but temporary, for Israel during those years while they awaited the coming of the Saviour. God knew, of course, that when Christ would come, He would be the Lamb of God which would take away the sin of the world. The Law was temporary, and that includes the permission about divorce.

4. This permission about divorce was only for the dispensation of law.

To prove this point, let's back up one chapter to Deut. 23, and read verse 1. "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD." Everyone understands that this was temporary; no one tries to enforce this rule today, when a person wants to join a church!

Another prohibition in that chapter that people do not enforce today is found in verse 2, "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD." Similarly, no one enforces verse 3, which prohibits an Ammonite or a Moabite from entering the congregation of the Lord. These were obviously temporary, since Christ commanded us to go and preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to follow Him.

Everyone realizes that about chapter 23, but many ignore this matter when they get to chapter 24!

5. Christ's plan for the church age is not found in Matthew 19, but in 1 Corinthians 7.

How can we be sure of that? By remembering that Christ lived under the dispensation of the law (see Gal. 4:4, "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law..."). Thus, He observed the passover, one of the regulations of the law of Moses, but we are certainly not commanded to do so today. Christ explained Deut. 24:1 to the Pharisees because they were still under the law. The four Gospels record many places where the Lord Jesus dealt with local and temporary matters which affected them, at that time, in that place, but not us today.

We are obligated to do as Christ did with the Pharisees: distinguish between what God gave through Moses for Israel during that time, and what God's original plan was. In other words, we must "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).

The Teaching of 1 Corinthians 7 about Divorce and Remarriage

Almost all of 1 Corinthians 7 is devoted to the subject of marriage and the various problems that attend it. Verses 10-11 show that God's plan for us today is the same as it was in the beginning:

And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."

"Let not the wife depart from her husband...let not the husband put away his wife..." clearly shows that God does not want divorce. However recognizing that some people will divorce, in spite of what God wants, He admonishes that the wife who departs has only two options: "let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband." Perhaps He had in mind a situation where a husband was physically harming the wife and/or children, or where their lives were threatened. Or, He might have been thinking of situations such as those today in which one person can get a divorce whether the other partner wants it or not. In such a case, the options are clear: remain unmarried or be reconciled.

If God permitted remarriage today, this would have been the perfect place to state it; as a matter of fact, this is the place that it would have been absolutely necessary to state so.

We note that Paul said, "yet not I, but the Lord;" this was not merely what Paul thought, but what God commanded.

In verse 12, "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord..." Paul did not disclaim inspiration, but rather taught that he was dealing with a matter which Christ did not mention while He was on earth.

We should remember that Christ told His disciples, in John 16:12-13, that He had not told them everything, because they could not have absorbed it.

He said that the Holy Spirit would come and reveal more of Christ's truth; this situation in 1 Corinthians is a fulfillment of that. While on earth, the Lord Jesus did not say anything about a believer being married to an unbeliever. That was left for Paul to deal with.

(If we were to remove all verses in which a writer said "I say...I think," etc., we would not only have a mutilated Bible, but would deny the prophecy of Christ in John 16:12-13 and the statement in 2 Tim. 3:16 that all Scripture is inspired. Let us note, also, 1 Cor. 2:13, "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth." Then, in 1 Cor. 7:40, he obviously referred to Christ's promise of John 16:12-13 when he said, "I think also that I have the Spirit of God." Finally, 1 Cor. 14:37 is conclusive. "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.")

1 Cor. 7:14 gives one reason why divorce should not occur: the unbelieving partner is sanctified by the believer. "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband." A second reason is that the children would be sanctified, also.

He goes on to say, "...else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." What a great privilege it is for one person in a family to be saved! The presence of one Christian in a family brings the blessing of God, which would be impossible, otherwise. To say that the unbeliever is sanctified does not guarantee his salvation; to say that the children are holy does not guarantee their salvation, either. Sanctified and holy do not necessarily mean to be saved or purified or made better. A good example of that is 1 Peter 3:15, where we read that we are to "sanctify the Lord God" in our hearts; obviously, we cannot improve the Lord.

We sanctify Him, but we certainly do not save or purify Him! To sanctify means to set something or someone apart, to be different from all else.

Thus, to sanctify the Lord in our hearts is to give Him a place which is different from all else, obviously, above all else. Another good example is Deut. 7:6, where the Lord said that Israel was a holy nation. We know that not all of Israel were saved and they certainly were not all pure, but they were different in the sight of God from all other nations.

In a family where at least one member is saved, that family is set apart, different from other families which do not have any believers in them, in this respect: not only can they hear the gospel, but can also see the effects of it in everyday life. How few in that heathen world had that privilege! In our day, nations and tribes are still pagan; Christians are either nonexistent, or are quite few. That would be like the situation which existed in Corinth when the Holy Spirit inspired this epistle.

A family which had at least one Christian in it would have a better chance of being saved than otherwise.

Therefore, Scripture is admonishing the believer not to leave the unbelieving mate. We can imagine what a problem it would have been to be married to an idolater, especially when we learn that idolaters participated in fornication as a part of their worship.

What conflict there would be, also, in religious discussions in the home!

How easy it would have been to get into heated arguments about funerals, etc. Even though such conditions might have been miserable to live in, the Bible says that the unbeliever should not depart. Reason? 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?

God is interested in saving people! He knows that believers can win others to Christ, especially when they live with them and demonstrate the benefits of the gospel, daily. Our problem is that we not only are not very zealous about soulwinning, we also do a poor job of living Christ in everyday activities.

But, verse 15 is taken by some Christians to give permission for divorce and remarriage, when it says, "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister in not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace." Does the phrase not under bondage free the divorced person to remarry? A little common sense will show that it does not. Even if we consider this writing to be uninspired, there would be no way that a sane person would make a statement in verse 11 and then contradict it in verse 15. In verse 11, he gave only two options to the divorced person: remain unmarried, or be reconciled. Why would a person limit the possibilities to these two, then add another a few sentences later? No intelligent person does things that way. Then, when we remember that these words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is ridiculous to think that the Spirit of God would set down a requirement, then change it thirty seconds later. We certainly have not gone from one dispensation to another in four verses!

What, then, does verse 15 teach? Simply that, when the unbeliever leaves, the believer has no further responsibility to be the proper wife or husband to that departed one. To understand the necessity for this we need only to remember that, even in our day, a divorced man sometimes returns to his estranged wife and wants to spend the night. Sometimes a Christian woman thinks that she should permit such, since she did not seek the divorce in the first place. But this verse teaches that the believer has no responsibility of marriage toward the one who has departed. The departed husband may not return and expect the wife to be obedient, unless there is a reconciliation. The departed wife may not return and expect to be provided for, unless there is a reconciliation.

In a similar way, some Christians interpret verse 28 to permit remarriage after divorce, when it says, "But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned..." The same reasoning applies. Even from a human standpoint, no one would make a regulation in verse 11 and then change it in verse 28.

Add inspiration, and the argument is strengthened.

God's plan for the church age is no divorce. If a divorce does take place, He certainly does not permit remarriage. The only possibilities, if a divorce occurs, are indicated in verse 11: either remain unmarried, or be reconciled. That may seem to be very difficult, even harsh, for God to make such a demand, but there are many passages of Scripture which teach that if we follow the Saviour, we are going to have to make some sacrifices. That is the missing requirement in modern Christianity! We are trying to formulate a Christian life that is nothing but a bed of roses; we insist on pleasure and comfort, believing that, if we obey the Bible, everything will be good and easy. Such a life is not taught in Scripture.

Consider the following:

Rom. 12:1, "...present your bodies a living sacrifice..."

Luke 9:23, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."

Each one who is serious about obeying the Lord will have to make a sacrifice in some way. God calls on some to make financial sacrifices; a great many of God's choice servants have to get by on very little money.

Others must sacrifice health, as Paul did in enduring his "thorn in the flesh." Others are called upon to live without a mate, when divorce occurs, doing without a family, which many others are permitted to have.

No doubt the Saviour had this in mind when He said, "...and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." (Matt. 19:12).

6. Conversion does not change the prohibition regarding remarriage.

Some Christians believe that since we become new creatures when we are converted, with old things passing away and all things becoming new (2 Cor. 5:17), the new believer is free to remarry a Christian if the divorce took place before conversion. The fact that this is not true is seen in 1 Cor. 7; in four places, the Lord says that we should remain in the situation in which we were saved. Consider:

Verse 17, "But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called everyone, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches." The word "called" does not mean "called to preach," or "called to be a missionary," but "called to salvation." 1 Cor. 1:9 and many other verses use the word called" to describe what God does when He convicts us of our sins by the preaching of the gospel, and saves us.

He applied that command to circumcision, then repeated: "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." (v.20). Another application was made regarding being a servant or being free; then the statement was repeated in verse 24, "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." Then he applies the very same command to the state of marriage in verses 25-26, rewording the command in verse 27, "Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife."

7. The remarried person is not "living in adultery."

We often hear that phrase, but it is not found in Scripture, to my knowledge. It is true, according to Matt. 19:9, that adultery is committed when the divorced person remarries, but it is improper to say that such people are continuing to live in adultery every time they come together.

Reason? 1 Cor. 6:9-10 says that neither fornicators nor adulterers shall inherit the kingdom of God.

(It will not do to say that a person could be saved without having an inheritance in the kingdom of God, because Rom. 8:17 says, "...if children then heirs." Therefore, to inherit the kingdom of God is the same thing as to be saved.)

Perhaps a person committed adultery at a second marriage before conversion; if so, then 1 Cor. 6:11 describes that person as "washed... sanctified... justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." They are not "living in adultery" any longer.

But what if the remarriage takes place after conversion? If they were "living in adultery," they would lose eternal life, an impossibility because of such promises as John 6:37, "...him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." Also, I John 1:9 would not be true; they could not confess their sins and be forgiven.

Sometimes people try to solve this problem by saying that such persons should cease having physical relationships altogether, so that they will not be guilty of adultery. However, such a situation would be a contradiction of 1 Cor. 7:2-5, which tells the husband and wife that they should not deny themselves to each other, unless they agree to do so for a limited time, for the purpose of fasting and prayer. Then, they are to come together again in order to avoid being tempted by Satan.

If a Christian is guilty of remarriage, he or she should confess it as the sin of adultery (not lightly or frivolously, but realizing the seriousness of the sin) and receive God's forgiveness. Then, that Christian should believe God's promise in Heb. 10:17, "And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Additionally, that Christian should never refer in a joking manner to divorce and remarriage; never try to excuse it; never consider it as an unimportant matter.

8. Repentance Brings Forgiveness.

1 Cor. 7:11 refers to the divorced person as unmarried. The repentant, forgiven Christian should be accepted by believers and loved, just as we saw in the beginning of this discussion from 1 Peter 4. We must have fervent charity toward one another.

The repentant, forgiven Christian should not be limited in his Christian service, except as the Scripture limits him. The pastor and deacon should be "the husband of one wife," according to 1 Timothy 3. Regarding other offices, we should not put limitations on people which Scripture does not put. For instance, God requires certain things of those who would be teachers, according to 2 Tim. 2:2 and other places, but nowhere says that the teacher must be the husband of one wife. If God had wanted such a limitation placed on others, He would have stated so in Scripture. 2 Tim. 3:17 says that the inspired Scripture will make the man of God "perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." Therefore, the Bible says all that needs to be said about working for the Lord.

Of course, there may have been a situation where a divorce took place and affected many people in the church or the church community. In such instances, great care must be exercised. When feelings have been hurt and there is still unforgiveness, such a person is not qualified for leadership in the church. If the thing took place in a remote location, so that the local people are not affected and the local ministry is not hindered, the remarried person might be considered for a place of leadership in the church [except for pastor and deacon, as has already been noted], if the other qualifications are met. A vital consideration in all this is what that person's attitude toward the divorce and remarriage is. This was discussed under the previous point.

In closing, we would be wise to consider Prov. 14:9: "Fools make a mock at sin." We must not have a frivolous attitude toward sin, no matter what the world thinks about it; no matter what Christians might say about it. If I have been divorced and remarried, I must not have a joking attitude about that. I must realize that the remarriage constituted the sin of adultery and that it needs to be confessed and forgiven. Once I have been forgiven for it, I should not brood about it, but at the same time I should not treat it lightly when the subject comes up. I should always advise others against divorce and emphasize that single people should think of marriage as a lifetime proposition.

In the same way that a drunkard who has been forgiven should advise people not ever to take the first drink, I should encourage people to consider marriage as a lifelong commitment.

Likewise, every Christian should have the attitude toward those who have been divorced and remarried which is described in Eph. 4:32, "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." The only person who can do this is one who knows what it is talking about. Do you know that God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you of all your sins? Have you come to the Lord Jesus Christ as a hopeless, hell-bound sinner, receiving Him as your Lord and Saviour? Is salvation, to you, forgiveness from sin, for Jesus' sake? Are you trying to make a deal with God and earn His forgiveness with religious activity? That is the wrong way; that is salvation by works.

When God saves, He does it for only one reason: because of what the Lord Jesus Christ suffered for us on Calvary's cross.

Rev. 1:5, "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood."

Salvation from sin is when we come to Christ and believe on Him, asking God to forgive us for Jesus' sake. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.

If you have done this, you know the joy of being forgiven. Now you are responsible to exercise that same attitude toward others.

"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

Previously published by David Cloud in "O Timothy," vol. 6, issue 1, 1989. Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061.

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