Any series on marriage would be lacking if it didn’t address the issue of divorce and remarriage. For one thing, it would pass over an entire category of marriages, a category that has become commonplace in our society. For another, it would omit a fair-sized list of important Bible passages.
What I want to do with this post is build a bridge that will allow us to rightly understand what the Bible teaches about divorce and remarriage. To build this bridge, I’ll use 7 “planks” of truth. Each of these “planks” comes straight from the pages of scripture.
Plank #1: God’s ideal for marriage is one man-one woman till death do they part. This is taught in both the Old Testament (Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 5:18) and the New Testament (Matthew 19:1-6, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5,39). While it’s true that prominent Old Testament characters like Jacob, David, and Solomon had many wives, it’s also true that such polygamous relationships were never God’s will. He allowed them and even used them to further His purposes, but He never approved of them. Furthermore, even a casual study of these families will show that polygamy comes with a steep bill. It inevitably creates major problems because it evokes great jealousy among the wives.
Plank #2: God hates divorce. These are His words not mine. They are found in Malachi 2:16. Note that He hates divorce, not the divorcee. If you wonder why He hates divorce I’m guessing that you’ve never been personally touched by it. Typically, it is a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, devastating ordeal. It is especially hard when children are involved because they get washed over by the tidal wave. For that matter, so do the grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws, and other family members. God doesn’t just hate divorce because of what it does to the husband and wife; He hates it because of what it does to the rest of the family on both sides.
Plank #3: Despite His ideal for marriage and His hatred of divorce, God will grant a divorce in certain situations. One situation involves sexual immorality on the part of the husband or wife. Jesus said, “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32, 19:9).
The Greek word that is translated as “sexual immorality” is porneia. It is an umbrella term that covers every form of sexual sin: adultery (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9), homosexuality (Jude v.7), and incest (1 Corinthians 5:1). Therefore, God considers all of these sexual sins as legitimate grounds for divorce. Not coincidentally, these sexual sins, as well as that of bestiality, were forbidden under Old Testament law (Leviticus 18:1-30). So, to sum up, if a husband or a wife has any kind of sexual relations outside the marriage, God will grant a divorce to the victimized spouse.
A second situation in which God will grant a divorce involves abandonment. It must be understood, though, that this abandonment is of a highly specific nature. It is a Christian spouse being left (abandoned) by a non-Christian spouse. Writing under the inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16), the apostle Paul wrote that the Christian is not “under bondage in such cases” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Plank #4: In any case where God grants a divorce, He also grants the right to remarry, assuming the remarriage is in His will. In 1 Corinthians 7:27-28, Paul says, “Are you bound (married) to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed (divorced). Are you loosed (divorced) from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned.” As for the new marriage needing to be in God’s will, that is a standard for any marriage (1 Corinthians 7:39).
Plank #5: Unscriptural divorce creates adultery. If a person gets a divorce on grounds that are not Biblical and then remarries, that remarriage makes the person an adulterer. I realize this is a tough standard, but it’s the one that Jesus lays down in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9.
The specific example He cites in those verses assumes that both the husband and the wife will remarry and consummate their new marriages. God will see those consummations as adultery because in His mind that husband and wife will still be in marriage covenant with each other. To make matters worse, the consummations will also make adulterers of each of the new spouses.
Plank #6: There is forgiveness to be found in Christ for every sin in regards to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The little epistle of 1 John was written to Christians, and it says in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That covers the Christian who needs to seek forgiveness of sin in this area. The issue with the Christian is not lost salvation; it is lost fellowship with the Lord.
But what about the lost person? Well, we must understand that the lost person is already living under divine condemnation. As John 3:18 says: “He who believes in Him (Christ) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Really, a lost person’s sin in regards to marriage, divorce, and remarriage is just more unforgiven sin in a lifetime filled with unforgiven sin. He or she doesn’t lose any fellowship with God because there is no fellowship to lose. The point is, the lost person needs to believe in Christ as Savior and thereby receive forgiveness of all sins. God’s word to such a man or woman is: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Plank #7: Whatever singular marriage a person is currently in, God wants that person to remain in that marriage. Again I will reference 1 Corinthians 7:27, where Paul writes, “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed…” I’ll also mention the Malachi 2:16 verse where God says that He hates divorce. What I’m showing you here is that even if a husband or wife realizes that his or her current marriage is adulterous because it came after an unscriptural divorce, God wants that person to stay in the current marriage. He or she shouldn’t end the new marriage in divorce and try to remarry the previous spouse. That will just make a bad situation worse.
Alright, now that we have these 7 planks of our bridge in place we can do a little detail work on the bridge. Here now are 10 “detail” pieces that will help fill in some of the gaps. As was the case with the “planks,” each of these is based upon scripture.
1. God is the only “judge” who can truly grant a divorce. Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). The judge downtown is just a man. He doesn’t have the power to separate a couple that God Himself has joined together. That judge can provide a legal document of divorce, but he can’t make that document stand good in the eyes of God.
2. Even though there are many unscriptural grounds (incompatibility, alcoholism, drug addiction, spousal abuse, child abuse, financial problems, etc.) that people deem as worthy for divorce, not one of these is legitimate with God.
3. God does allow husbands and wives in troubled marriages to separate and yet not divorce. This should be remembered especially in marriages in which one of the spouses is truly at physical risk. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 says: “A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart (leave, separate), let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband…” Separation does not have to lead to divorce.
4. Even in situations in which God acknowledges Biblical grounds for divorce, He does not demand divorce (1 Corinthians 7:12-14). He would be pleased if the couple worked out their problems and made the marriage last.
5. In the Old Testament law that God gave to Israel, a man could not divorce his wife and then remarry her again if she got remarried and divorced after he first divorced her (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
6. Under that Old Testament law a man could divorce his wife for virtually any reason as long as he provided her with a written certificate of divorcement (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Centuries later, however, Jesus explained that God allowed this practice merely because of the hardness of the peoples’ hearts. Such divorces were never His will (Matthew 19:4-9).
7. Under that Old Testament law a priest could not marry a divorced woman, a widow, a defiled woman, or a harlot (Leviticus 21:14).
8. It is never God’s will for a Christian to marry a lost person (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Unfortunately, though, such marriages do happen. For example, one spouse might become a Christian while the other spouse refuses to do so, or perhaps a lost person might falsely claim to be a Christian long enough to marry a true Christian. Then again, sometimes Christians simply marry people they shouldn’t marry. Regardless of how such a union comes to pass, God wants the Christian to stay in the marriage and make it work. This is clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14.
9. It is noteworthy that when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands…” He didn’t say, “In God’s eyes, you are still married to each husband.” Why did Jesus word His conversation this way? It is at least possible that the woman provided each of those five husbands with the God-honored grounds of sexual immorality. If this was the case God would have granted each of her husband’s a divorce, which would have from His viewpoint left her without a husband.
10. No Christian will have to worry about any eternally lingering effects of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Jesus taught that there will be no marriage in eternity (Matthew 22:30). The only marriage will be that of the bridegroom, Jesus, to His bride, the church, (Ephesians 5:22-32).
Well, perhaps after reading all of this you feel like you’ve been clubbed to death with the Bible. If you are divorced or divorced and remarried, you might feel like a second-class person in the eyes of God. Please don’t do that. Neither unscriptural divorce nor unscriptural divorce and remarriage is the unpardonable sin. There is complete forgiveness to be found in Christ!
Even more than that, God still wants to use you in wonderful ways in His service. Think about it, if He can use a murderer like Moses (Exodus 2:11-15), an adulterer/murderer like David (2 Samuel 11:1-27), a persecutor like Paul (Galatians 1:13), and a thief dying on a cross (Luke 23:39-43), He can certainly use you.
You say, “But Russell, you don’t know how badly I’ve missed the mark on this subject.” Tell me, have you missed it any worse than that Samaritan woman at the well? She had five failed marriages on her track record and was living with a guy who wasn’t even one of the five (John 4:18). And yet God used her as one of the greatest examples of soul winning in all the Bible (John 4:28-30,39-42).
Listen, don’t let an unscriptural divorce or an unscriptural divorce and remarriage become the event that stands out as the mountaintop peak of your life. Once you’ve realized the sin in what you’ve done receive the 100% forgiveness that Jesus offers and START AFRESH AND ANEW RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE IN SERVICE TO HIM.
I don’t know if you’ve heard but the Lord is running short on volunteers. If you want to serve Him, He will put you to work! Will you ever forget your bad marriage? No. Will you have to deal with some fallout from it as long as you live? Perhaps. But everybody has things in their past they’d like to forget, and everybody is dealing with some fallout from something. So give yourself fully over to Christ and get on with your life. Stop living in the past. Realize that in Christ you really can have a joyous present and you really do have a glorious future.