Monday, September 27, 2010

Concerning Divorce and Remarriage

TEXT : 1  Corinthians  7:10,11
TITLE :  Concerning Divorce and Remarriage 
DATE PREACHED  :  The Lord's  Day  , 26th  September 2010

And now concerning marriage and divorce …
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
It is very likely  that everyone  gathered here today has been affected by divorce  -  some directly ; you may  have gone through a divorce or you may be the children of divorced parents. Others may have  walked through a divorce with a close friend.   Few people  can say  that they come from a family where no divorces have occurred. Looking at our membership list in preparation for this sermon, I  know that many of you have been affected  by divorce.  Some of you have been severely traumatized  by divorce.
Divorce  is undoubtedly one of the  most painful and most lonely experiences  in life.  It is like  a death in the family, and sometimes  it is worse than a death. The actual divorce  is not  what hurts  so much – it is what leads up to it.  The actual divorce often comes as a relief. But it never actually  solves problems.  Your partner may be physically removed from you, but you have children and you have  a shared memories and a  shared  history. And  once  divorce occurs  you  are left  with so many  unspoken questions in your mind:  

  • Did  I commit  the unpardonable sin by divorcing ?  
  • Does God still love  me  ? (A number  of you here have actually come to  know and love God  in the time  of your divorce proceedings) .
  • Have I sinned by remarrying ?
  • May I remarry ? 
  • How will the church  think of my divorce ?  Will I be rejected?   
Speaking on this subject is  very difficult, because divorce is not an academic issue. And  Christian theologians and pastors  are not always  agreed  on this matter either.

Let us go  then to the Scriptures  and let us begin by understanding the context: 

V.10:  “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband   …”
The governing principle in this text is  not Paul’s opinion, but   a command from the Lord Jesus  rooted  in  the OT teaching. Paul is  reaffirming  what the Lord  Jesus  has  already stated so very clearly : A marriage  is not made to be broken, because God hates divorce ( Mal. 2:16 NIV). And if  divorce should take place, you must  expect  pain – much pain ! You might as well  tear  off an arm  or rip out an eye. It is  very, very painful  to  dissolve  a covenant relationship .

Now Paul applies this teaching on divorce  in two areas  :
(i)          A  Christian marriage  ( vv.10-11)
(ii)      A marriage where a believer is married to an unbeliever  (vv. 12-16) . We will  consider this  subject   next time , although I will make a  brief  comment  upon this  text also .



Vv. 10-11 : The principle  stated here is this  -  "The wife should not separate from her husband… and the husband should not divorce his wife."   The Lord’s command, upon which Paul  bases his teaching  is found  in Genesis 2: "a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh." That is  the fundamental position of Holy Scripture. Marriage is the profound, exclusive and permanent  union of a man and a woman. 
This  holy, pre-fall  institution  has been challenged  ever since the fall. Since the fall sin   has  separated  us from God and one another (Genesis 3). The godly  ideal of marriage  is now assaulted by sin  and unbelief. So we find that, in  order to regulate  life in a sinful, fallen world   Moses  deals  with  the matter  of divorce and remarriage in Deuteronomy 24.  It must be made very clear that  this does not mean  that  Moses  instituted a new  rule. Divorce always  remains  wrong in God's  eyes, but the  human realities  must be faced. In this regard we  must also observe Jesus’  very clear statements on this matter,   prohibiting  divorce in principle,  and if it is  persisted in,  He attributes this  to a hardness of heart.
He  permits  divorce  in the case  of  adultery.   (Matthew 5:31-32  and in Matthew   19:3-9). Nothing  damages a marriage as much as adultery.  Every time  someone  has  a sexual relationship outside the bonds of marriage  he / she  practically get married to that person.  It is the position of     1 Cor. 6:16 , where Paul explains: “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For as it is written, The two will become one flesh .”  It is clear that the Bible equates  every  sexual  act  as  an act of marriage.

But now in addition to this exception, we see that  Paul  brings in  the aspect  of  the  “mixed marriage“,  in which  a believer is married to an unbeliever  (7:15 .  Paul  thinks that it is permissible  for the  Christian to let go of a n unbelieving partner who no longer desires to continue with the marriage.   Please  note, that in this case he says  “I,  not the Lord... “  (v.12).  Paul has no  direct word from the Lord in this matter, but he is using his Christian  mind  in this matter to determine  another legitimate cause for divorce.  In his case this would amount to apostolic authority – a special authority  which he would have derived  from  the Lord by virtue of his calling, and that is why  this rule is also  part of the Word of God  for us.  

What else must we observe concerning this  statement?  Paul is  not  here writing a position  paper on the subject of divorce.  He is simply  responding to a question asked of him by the Corinthians. Allow me to briefly remind you  concerning that which we have covered so far :

(i) We saw  in 7:1-5  that some married people   had begun to believe that abstention    from sexual intercourse  was a matter  of  virtue.  They thought that by marital abstention they would become more spiritual.

(ii)   From such thinking it is only a matter of one step to the next . If sex is no longer important in your marriage, then the next step  would be to consider  to free yourself from the bond of marriage  with the view of focusing on one’s spiritual life. There is some truth in  the fact that single people have more time to spend with God, but  NEVER at the expense of  undoing  one’s covenant  marriage. Paul says  in effect ,    "If you are married, you ought  to  remain married,  and therefore you need to stick to the terms of marriage" .
That is the context here !


V.11  : “(but  if she does, she should remain unmarried (Gr. agamos) or else be reconciled to her husband) “. This  addresses the matter of  remarriage.
It is interesting that  Paul speaks  about  the  wife leaving the husband, which appears to  have been the predominant  situation, but the  instruction here surely applies to both wives and husbands.  
At face value the position is that  divorced  people  are not free to remarry. They  may  however be reconciled to one another .  

Now consider  the other  relevant passages on divorce and remarriage again:            

(i)         Deuteronomy 24:1-4  : Here  is the situation  of a woman  divorced by her husband because “he has found some indecency in her.”   Upon  divorce she then  marries another man who then  either divorces her or dies, so that she is single once more.  She then  meets her first husband  again, who shows an interest in her,  but  here  the Word say,   she cannot  marry him again, because she  was “defiled”.   The  issue here is that in the meantime she had become the wife of another man.

(ii)      Consider also Matthew 5:31-32  : Jesus, if anything, is even  more prohibitive about remarriage: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” .

(iii)      And in  Matthew 19:8-9  the Lord Jesus  says: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery”. Jesus  makes it very clear that  remarriage  brings you into the  area of adultery .

Going back to our text (1 Cor. 7:11), the point being made is that should divorce occur, the divorced couple ought to remain unmarried; otherwise, they are guilty of adultery

What is the main thing that these passages  are teaching  us ?

It clearly teaches  that sexual union  makes or breaks a marriage.  (note once again the implication o1 Cor. 6:16). Sexual union is not merely  a part of marriage.  It is an exclusive  sign and seal of the couples’ union.  If it  is practiced  outside the marriage covenant,  it defiles one  before God. 

What  must  we  do with this information?   
The major  message is  this:  

  • There  can  be no easy divorce; 
  • There can be  no   remarriage – apart  from  the grace of God !

6   Applications  :

1.  Do not  accept  your culture’s view of divorce.  Our culture regards divorce as an inevitable  and unfortunate experience. It is casually said :  

  • Oh well,  people make mistakes”  
  •  “I guess that just got married  just  too young”  
  •  “You know people  change… they might be  right for one another at one time but as each person changes over time, they no longer fit together.”                                                    
These  are  common views  of our culture concerning  marriage and divorce.  Very light and very flippant!   The problem is that these views  may have an appearance of worldly wisdom, but they do not adequately deal with  God's  purpose and design of marriage. They do not deal with the theological realities of divorce.  They always opt for the easy way out. Don’t buy into your culture’s  views !

2.  Have a very conservative  attitude  to divorce :  Before the  1960’s, the  time following the 2 world wars of the  1900’s,  divorce was  relatively scarce.  Couples  who had  difficult marriages  continued to  work it out – not always well, and certainly  not  always  in a  God glorifying  manner, but they did not divorce easily.  They also  generally  had  profound respect  for the vows they had made  - something  which is very uncommon today.  You  simply cannot trust  a person’s  word  any longer  - not even a Christian's word!  How one perceives the nature of marriage  (e.g. a covenant made under God  and   sealed with a vow) is the most important factor in keeping a marriage together. I will always encourage you to  persevere  in your marriages as long as I humanly can. When you must divorce , to use the words of Jesus , “it will be because your hardness of heart.”   We therefore ought to  have  a  conservative attitude towards divorce  and remarriage . 

3. Can you live with a difficult spouse ? ( this will be dealt with more comprehensively  in our next sermon) Yes you can !    And if you should ask, "Would  God ask  someone  to remain in an unhappy marriage for years?"   He may very well!  He asked terrible things of His Son and He has, through the ages, asked very difficult things of His children. Christians  in history  have  often  had to endure heavy sorrows for His sake. Some have even died for the sake of His name!   Whatever we may  not understand, and whenever we complain  to be   “unfair” -   remember always that  there  is a heaven  and a place of rest ahead of you.  Most  married  people in this auditorium   will not be  alive in  30 to 50 years time. Where  will you spend eternity? If you are a Christian, endure - have an eye on heaven, the world of   perfect love and eternal joy. You are  able  to  endure  hardship  much better  when you can see the  end in sight – knowing that  in due course   you shall be delivered from all this. 

4. Work on your marriage   in all   aspects:  Make your marriage  the key  priority after  God. Remember that  loving your spouse is  also an expression of loving God  with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Your  spouse is not  simply an  extension  of  your  life. Many marriages unfortunately work that  way.  Many may say, "I have friends for  companionship, and  the church for spiritual upliftment, and  a   job for self-fulfillment, and my spouse for physical pleasures."     This is not a  biblical view  of life and marriage at all! 

Your spouse (apart from Christ)  is your best friend, your spiritual  uplifter, your best encourager  and your best  companion. Many marriages  very sadly  know nothing about such  companionship. They are simply relationships of convenience.  
So if you are falling short  of this biblical  goal , then I urge you to work on your  marriage. If your marriage  is going through a difficult patch ,  get help, perspective and encouragement   before it is too late. Find it here in your church –  from your elders,  and your brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. 
Sadly, most marriages  where  I have been  asked to help as a “last ditch”  attempt  have failed because  one or both spouses at that point have already passed the  line of no return. 
Seek help!

5. And  if your marriage has  failed ?  

(i)   Face up to the marriage’s failure and your role in it.  This is an essential gospel principle.  Until you can  own  your sinful  part in  your divorce,  you   cannot become a recipient  of grace and mercy. God  calls  you to repentance and surrender.   If you simply  shift blame on your former spouse, then  you are probably filled with unforgiveness, and so you will  remain deluded about yourself and  so fail to really grasp the gospel.  You will fail to grow in grace.  But a  willingness  to admit that you had a share  shall quickly  bring you  into a state of grace.

(ii)  Accept the consequences of your failure.  Divorce is  always painful. Accept that. Thankfully it  doesn’t go on forever, but it does for a while.  Remember  that divorce is the death of a relationship and therefore it  hurts.   Accept that divorce is messy.  Accept that  divorce causes turmoil.   Accept the consequences , and depend on God’s  Grace  with all your might .  This brings me to the last point:

6.    Is  God’s Grace sufficient for you  in such circumstances?  

The answer is: “Of course!” Christ came to save repentant sinners. The gospel is for repentant sinners. No one ever receives  the grace of God because they are worthy of it. No one is worthy, because no one is  righteous.   So cast yourself  freely upon the mercy of God  and let Him surprise you  with  His manifold  tokens  of  love.  

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