Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Divorce and Remarriage

Is there a time when divorce and remarriage are Biblically acceptable?

God Hates Divorce
The short answer is, No! There is never a time when God is pleased with an exploding family. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). He says that the man who divorces his wife is covering his garment with violence. He is stripping the land of a union that Biblically can only be torn apart by death. Divorce is a terrible terrible blight on the land. We would do well to study our Bibles to see God’s opinion of marriage and covenant and the destruction of what God has joined together (Mt. 19:6). Divorce is never a good thing.

Hard Hearts
The longer answer is that men’s hearts are hard because of sin and so God has allowed divorce (Mt. 19:8). But he has not allowed it in the sense that if you want to divorce your wife or husband, God is happy with it. He has allowed it in the sense that he knows that people sin and that they sin in ways that make their lives, without repentance, unlivable.

Having said that however, does not change certain facts about marriage and divorce. God established marriage between a woman and a man in such a way that when they are bound together in matrimony, the two people become one person (Gen. 2:24). This is a verbal, vow based commitment and it is ratified by a sexual union. Marriage is only marriage if it includes these two things: vows and sexual relations. Consequently, it ordinarily takes both a stated desire for divorce and a sexual act to destroy a marriage.

This is what lies behind Jesus statements about divorce in Matthew 5 and 19:

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. (Mat 5:32 ESV)

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Mat 19:9 ESV)

If a man divorces his wife—states that he doesn’t want to be married to her any longer, the Greek word means literally to “dismiss, send away”—but she has not broken her covenant vows by sexual immorality, he causes her to commit adultery. In order to not commit adultery by remarrying, there needs to be prior adultery in the relationship. In other words, a man may not divorce his wife, and by analogy a wife may not divorce her husband, unless she has already broken the covenant by committing sexual immorality.

Divorce Causes Adultery
The question arises as to how being divorced causes a wife to commit adultery. This is because until the last 100 years in North America it has been impossible for a single woman to live unless she either sells herself or marries again. Selling herself is obviously sexual immorality. Marrying another man causes her to commit adultery because she was never properly divorced in the first place. Simply countermanding the marriage vows does not allow the divorced person to remarry without consequence. The real marriage, vows and sexual union, were never “properly” broken.

Jesus is assuming, therefore, that the teaching on divorce includes or assumes that consequent remarriage will transpire. Remarriage except for the case of prior adultery causes adultery to occur for the first time. And, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:32, “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” as well.

So, back to the question: Is there a time when divorce and remarriage are Biblically acceptable?

Sexual Immorality
Divorce is not Biblically proper, but in a sinful world, sexual immorality destroys the marriage covenant. Divorce is not mandatory, however. A man whose wife has committed adultery can and if possible should forgive her and restore their marriage. If a person’s heart is so hard that he cannot, or will not reconcile to his wife and he deems it necessary to put her away despite God’s opinion of the situation, he will be causing her to commit adultery—because she will be remarried—and he will be committing adultery himself—because he will also be remarrying. If they will not repent and be forgiven, the only Biblical option, to avoid adultery, is to remain single until they can be reconciled to their spouse.

If a man has sinned by divorcing his wife in a sinful way and realizes his sin, he must confess his sin, and repent of it. Repentance would include confessing the sin to his ex-wife and doing everything he can to repair and restore the relationship. If she has committed adultery, either by being remarried or by other sexual indiscretion, he is free to remarry someone else, but only in the Lord. If she is remarried, he may not ever marry her again. But if she is not married, even though she may be living in a sexually immoral way, he can marry her, but only after she becomes a Christian and repents of her sin.

If the marriage was destroyed because of sexual immorality in the first place, the marriage covenant has been destroyed. If a divorce has occurred, the man is free to remarry without fear of committing adultery.

Desertion or Abandonment
There is one more area of ungodly living regarding divorce that needs to be mentioned. What if a Christian is living with a non-Christian? Perhaps they got married as two non-Christians and one gets converted. Or perhaps one was in sin when she got married and has since repented and wants to walk with God now. The answers to these questions are found in 1 Corinthians 7:

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (7:12-16 ESV)

This passage says that if the unbeliever wants to live with the believer, the believer must not try to get away from the unbeliever. The reasons given are that the believer sanctifies the unbeliever and the unbeliever may come to Christ for salvation.

It goes on to say that if the unbeliever does not want to stay with the believer and he or she leaves or abandons the believer, the believer is not enslaved to the marriage. The Greek word the ESV has translated enslaved is translated bound in other translations. What the believer is enslaved to or bound to might be argued about, but it seems clear from the context that Paul had the marriage in mind. The believer must stay with the unbeliever until or unless the unbeliever wants out of the marriage and then the believer is not required to try to maintain the relationship.

If the unbeliever shows his or her desire to not be married by leaving the believer, it would appropriate for the believer to file for divorce against the unbeliever, if the unbeliever hasn’t already.

One other point about the word translated enslaved and/or bound is that Paul used the same Greek word is used later in the chapter. In verse 39 he said, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” The word bound here is the same Greek word as the word for enslaved or bound in verse 15. Here the woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but in context if he were an unbeliever and he abandoned his wife, or sent her away, she would be free to divorce him and marry another.

In conclusion God hates divorce in all its manifestations. However, man is sinful and gets divorced. In every instance where the bible talks about divorce it always assumes remarriage. For those divorces that were not precipitated by sexual immorality remarrying is adultery. For those that were caused by sexual immorality, remarriage is not adultery. In cases where a Christian is married to a non-Christian and the non-Christian either abandons or kicks out the Christian, the Christian is free to divorce the non-Christian and remarry.

All the remarrying that are in accord with Biblical warrant, i.e. those that are not producing more sin, are to be done in the Lord with great hesitation and wisdom.

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