For our present study, I wish to call your attention to the matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Our study is not a pleasant one, but an essential one none the less. It is one of great controversy, but this has not always been the case. Once, a time existed in our nation when divorce was seldom known and hardly a preacher anywhere dared to question the word of God on the subject. Times have changed. People today have a propensity for divorce. And, with the rising number of divorces occurring in our families, among our loved ones, and in our churches, some of our preachers, elders, and churches have changed their feelings on this matter.
Times may have changed, but the Bible has not. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). God has said, “I am the Lord, I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6). The same can be said for His word which “lives and abides forever” (1Peter 1:23). The same can be said for those who faithfully keep His word as “he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). The word of God will read exactly the same on the day of final judgment as it does right now. Jesus teaches us, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him, the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
It is not for us to change the word of God, but for the word of God to change us. Regardless of how many preachers or elders may argue with or question the word of God on this matter, we are not going to be judged by them or their words. We are going to be judged by the Lord and His word. His say on the matter should be our greatest concern. His word on the matter is the final authority whether we agree with it or not.
In the very beginning of time, the sacredness and blessedness of marriage was understood. God viewed His wonderful creation and was pleased with everything He made, with one exception. He said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” God desired then, as He desires today, for man to marry and have companionship with woman. Adam, the first husband, understood that the woman created from his rib was “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones.” He said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
From the very beginning, we find stated that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s sad that we have to pause for a moment in our lesson and point out something as clear as that, but these are the times in which we live.
A biblical marriage is a natural union between a man and a woman. Anything otherwise is unnatural (Romans 1:26-27). Marriage is a union of man and woman, husband and wife, which involves both parties leaving father and mother and becoming one flesh, a new family. Jesus adds, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
Marriage is a covenant made between the husband and the wife and is to be honored for life. “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband” (Romans 7:2).
“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).
Marriage is a union that should be “until death do us part.” The Scriptures establish the fact that marriage is between a man and woman, who become one flesh, and are not to be separated by any man. The Scriptures teach us that death is the only possible means of a separation between a husband and wife which would not involve sin being committed by someone involved.
The Bible teaches us that wives are to submit themselves to their own husbands, as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:21). Likewise, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).
How many more marriages do you think we would see honored “till death do us part” if both parties involved would simply honor the Golden Rule and treat each other as they would like to be treated? If we would just do that, and live that way, we could end this lesson right now and go no further. We would have no need to talk about divorce or remarriage. But, it is because we do not treat one another the way we should that we must proceed to our second point, the subject of divorce.
It has been said that murder destroys lives, while divorce destroys families. I believe this is true. God hates divorce. Read with me from Malachi 2:15-16: “…Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Sometimes I meet people who believe they can divorce, so long as they do not remarry. But, God hates divorce. A marriage must not be torn asunder. We should work to save our marriages at all costs. As spouses, we should be more forgiving. We should be more encouraging. We should be more giving and more understanding. We should be more patient and longsuffering. We should seek to live in such a way that it is a great joy and pleasure for our spouse to be “one flesh” with us. We should establish our homes on the principle of the Golden Rule.
However, sometimes a spouse can be downright sinful and violate the marriage bed through their fornication and promiscuity. For this cause, the Lord granted one exception for divorce. “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (“fornication,” KJV), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Christ gives us one exception that would cause God to accept and grant a divorce, which is “porneia” or “illicit sexual intercourse.”
The Pharisees came asking Christ, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matthew 19:3). They did so “tempting Him.” Upon His answer, they continued, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” Jesus answered, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication (“Sexual immorality” is not a good translation. “Porneia” literally means “illicit sexual intercourse.”), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8-9).
The Law of Moses permitted divorce, but this was not God’s plan from the beginning. The Law of Christ takes us back to the original purpose of the union and states only one reason for divorce – fornication. Also note that fornication is the sexual act. Adultery is the unscriptural union that takes place after an unscriptural divorce. And from Solomon we read, “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32).
The disciples responded to Christ’s teaching by stating, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Now, consider the Lord’s reply. He did not back down from what He said. Rather, He put things in the proper perspective. He said:
“All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb [someone incapable of sexual activity from birth], and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men [castration was a practice among some], and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
A eunuch for the “kingdom of heaven’s sake” would be one who has abstained from a marriage relationship in order to please God. You find an example of this when the children of Israel returned from Babylonian captivity, only to begin intermarrying (again) with the various heathen people of the area (Ezra 9:1-2). You would think that they would have learned that lesson by now! But here again, they entered into God-forbidden marriages, mingling Israel’s seed with others, while taking up the abominable practices as before.
Ezra described this act as a “transgression” (Ezra 9:4). A transgression is a sin against God’s law (1 John 3:4). Their marriages caused them to sin against God’s law. In this case, it was the Law of Moses. Ezra commanded them to put away these wives according to the law. Read their response with me:
“Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large congregation of men, women, and children assembled to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, ‘We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the counsel of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also will be with you. Be of good courage, and do it” (Ezra 10:1-4).
Let us continue reading from Ezra 10:10-13:
“Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.’ Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, ‘Yes! As you have said, so we must do. But there are many people; it is the season for heavy rain, and we are not able to stand outside. Nor is this the work of one or two days, for there are many of us who have transgressed in this matter.’”
They said, “…there are many of us who have transgressed in this matter.” Some use this as an argument to turn a blind eye today. They say, “But there are so many people who are in an unscriptural marriage, that we cannot ask them to change.” This was not the attitude of Ezra or of the guilty people. You either want to serve the Lord or you don’t. They decided to obey God, “And they gave their promise that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they presented a ram of the flock as their trespass offering” (Ezra 10:19).
Read also Ezra 10:44: “All these had taken pagan wives, and some of them had wives by whom they had children.” The fact that children were involved did not negate the sin. How sad it is when we drag our children into our sinful decisions and victimize them. They are the real victims here! But, when a sin is committed, that child needs to learn from their parents how to address that sin. They need to learn repentance firsthand.
Some decide to live their lives as they please. They have the same attitude that Jeremiah faced in the long ago: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth…” (Jeremiah 44:16-17).
Paul dealt with the issue of divorce as well (1 Corinthians 7:10-16). Paul begins by essentially restating the Lord’s words, saying, “A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Why should they remain unmarried? Jesus has said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery…” Paul was counseling them to refrain from a divorce that would lead to adultery. The guilty, departing party had no Scriptural right to remarry.
Paul adds, “If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13). Christians are not required to marry only because of faith. Hence, the marriage bond is not to be broken only because of faith.
He continues, “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). The case at hand is one in which a brother or sister is forsaken by a disbelieving spouse. The implication from verses twelve, thirteen, and sixteen is that they are departing because they are not pleased to dwell with a Christian spouse. This passage does not suggest a departure for any reason. It does not suggest a divorce between Christians. And, it does not suggest a marriage to a third party.
Two other possibilities remain – reconciliation and remaining unmarried (see v.11). “Bondage” herein appears to refer to a greater subjection to the disbelieving spouse than to Christ. Christians are not bound to keep the marriage covenant above the covenant they have with Christ.
Let us now focus on the possibility of remarriage. A marriage to another by the innocent party is permitted in the case of fornication or in the case of death. Jesus has said, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Paul has said, “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).
A marriage to another by the guilty party or without fornication being involved is adultery; for “…whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
Adultery is a sin in which people live. “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man” (Romans 7:2-3). How long was this woman living in adultery? The Bible says, “As long as her husband lived.”
In Galatians, Paul wrote concerning the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). The very first “work of the flesh” Paul mentions is adultery. What is adultery? “Whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” What is the consequence for this sin? “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).
Adultery is a serious matter. Adultery makes the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage so serious. Men and women should marry knowing God’s will on the matter, knowing their soon-to-be spouse’s marital history, and that the marriage covenant is to be kept for life.
We cannot continue divorcing like we’re doing. Families are being wrecked, children are victimized, and churches are devastated. We cannot continue allowing false doctrine to be taught on this subject. And we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand, remain silent, and make this the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy of the church.
God’s word can be easily understood by a willing and honest heart. Marriage is between a man and a woman (preferably faithful Christians) for life. God hates divorce. Fornication is the exception granted by Christ for a divorce. Unless a divorce occurs for the cause of fornication, any remarriage will result in adultery.
Adultery will cost you your soul – forbidding you entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Adultery is a sin. As with every sin, man must repent. Man cannot repent of this sin and continue living therein. To repent of the sin of adultery, a person must come out of that union which is causing the adultery.
It could be that someone giving attention to this lesson is currently living in adultery through an unscriptural divorce and remarriage. Let us repeat the words of Christ, “and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matthew 19:12).