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Question #1: 

Can you please speak on the subject of domestic abuse and divorce according to God's Word? My path has been excruciatingly painful for many years, but the stones thrown by church members and believers have been just as painful since my sons and I sought refuge and I filed for divorce. Interestingly, since that time, I have only received mail by "believers" who have viewed my actions as sinful. Every single letter or e-mail had the same common thread; they all used God's word to beat me - and no one asked me a question. "Why?" Or, "What's your story?" Or even, "How could you?"

I read in your e-mail archives that you have many responses on the topic of divorce but have not yet published. I can seriously understand why. Please advise.

Thank you so much, Dr. Luginbill.

Response #1:  

I am pleased to make your acquaintance – though I am sorry to hear of the difficult road you have had to travel.

Let me first express my sympathy about your treatment at the hands of so-called Christians. To heap sorrow upon sorrow against someone who is already doubly suffering – from the abuse and the need to separate – is despicable and in no way Christian. In my considered opinion, a church composed of people who are so quick to judge and so slow to show compassion is not much of a church. Perhaps you should consider a separation there as well.

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers."
Luke 6:43-44 NIV

The first thing I try to make a point to do whenever someone shares with me a story of abuse is to counsel immediate separation. As you may know from your readings at Ichthys, I am generally loath to give any specific advice for a variety of reasons, but on this subject I feel it is my duty. No woman should be expected to stay in an abusive situation. For her own sake and safety – and especially if children are involved – she should separate. And given the fact that human beings only very rarely change – especially if we are talking about a spouse who proclaims his Christianity even while engaging in abuse – the separation should in most all cases be seen as the new permanent state of affairs. People find it difficult to live together for all manner of reasons especially given the unique pressures of modern life, though in some rare cases they do reconcile for the good. Where abuse is the reason for the separation, however, I am not personally aware of any such case. In all the instances I have ever heard of where there was a reconciliation after abuse the abuse began again anew after a short hiatus. That is pointless – and dangerous.

Having separated, what next? In our present Christian culture and in our society the difference between separation and divorce is significant, but in the Bible they are generally the same thing (compare 1Cor.7:10 with 1Cor.7:11 in, e.g., the NIV). I think it would be a complete misreading of the intent as well as of the letter of scripture to feel that one should refrain from formalizing a permanent separation through divorce:

(13) And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. (14) For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (15) But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.
1st Corinthians 7:13-15.

If there is abuse, there is no peace – and peace is what God has called us to. If there is abuse, the husband who is inflicting it is acting as an unbeliever rather than a follower of Christ. We are told to love our wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph.5:25)! And we are also told that if a man does not provide for those in his household he is "worse than an unbeliever" (1Tim.5:8) – and beyond argument, at least by my lights, abusing one's spouse and children is far worse than not providing for them. Finally, it says here if the other party "leaves", the believer – the true follower of Jesus Christ – "is not bound in such circumstances". Regardless of who technically "leaves" the house, it is the "leaving of the marriage" which is the key. A person who begins to inflict abuse on his spouse and children has "left the marriage". A pattern of abuse over a significant period of time means unequivocally that the marriage is dead. To separate and divorce at that point is only to face reality – and to take prudent action to protect one's own life and one's children.

We all make mistakes in this life and we all sin. Sometimes, however, the suffering we receive is not a result of our own missteps at all but a burden given to us to glorify Jesus Christ (something Job's poor friends did not at all understand). But regardless of how we got to where we are in this life, if we are alive, we can still use that opportunity to keep growing up in Jesus, to make progress in the Christian life that glorifies Him, and to serve our brothers and sisters in the Church (the true Church) through the gifts we have been given.

Never look back. Never second guess. And never underestimate the unfathomable mercy, goodness, grace and faithfulness of the One who put death to death that we might have eternal life through faith in Him.

In Him, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – He is our Redeemer in every way.

Bob Luginbill 

Question #2:  

Dear Sirs,

I propose that the purposes for the "exception" clause are two fold:

1) During the espousal period, although no marriage ceremony has taken place, the couple is considered married. Note Joseph was thinking about "putting away" Mary even though they had not yet been married at a marriage ceremony. Here a letter of divorcement would have been appropriate for the cause of "fornication" committed BEFORE the marriage ceremony had taken place.

2) If a man marries a woman, expecting her to be a virgin, and entering the marriage ceremony, she falsely assures her husband to be that she is indeed a virgin, at the marriage ceremony, God as their witness, DOES NOT join them together, for she has committed an act of fraud against her newly married husband. As in civil law a contract can be rescinded for acts of fraud committed when entering the contract and also for "no meeting of the minds", God protects the innocent party to the marriage by not joining them together for the cause of "fornication" committed Before being legally marriage. Since her deceitful lie could not be found out until after the marriage ceremony had taken place, a divorce or annulment would have to be performed to legally put her away from him.

However, if a man takes a woman to be his bride knowing that she is not a virgin, and still agrees to marry her, then at the marriage ceremony God does indeed join them together. He can not divorce and remarry for he would be committing adultery.

Response #2:

Good to make your acquaintance. It would be odd beyond passing if this very complicated interpretation you suggest were true and yet Paul, for example, still felt no need to clarify our Lord's statement at all when he wrote very extensively about marriage matters in 1st Corinthians chapter seven (indeed, your view would seem to me to conflict quite noticeably with many of the things he has to say in that passage). After all, the New Testament was written not just to those operating under Jewish cultural norms and the Mosaic Law but to gentiles as well (and the procedures for marriage and betrothal in the non-Jewish Mediterranean world were at the time of its writing, while similar in some respects and in some places, certainly not subject to any sort of uniform code or unified practice as was the case in Palestine).

This view of yours sounds very similar to the standard (somewhat legalistic) interpretation I was fed in seminary many years ago. It does not, however, match up with the context of Matthew chapter 5 where Jesus is finding fault with his legalistic, self-righteous and unbelieving contemporaries not for their conduct in treating women/wives in betrothal or immediately after marriage, but for divorcing them long afterward – no doubt only because they wanted "new wives". These men who question Jesus are not trying to get out betrothals scot-free, but out of longstanding marriages where their partners are not at fault.

It is to that situation – longstanding marriages rather than betrothals or night-after complications – that Jesus applies the exception in Matthew 5:32. If a spouse puts the marriage to death through "a matter of unfaithfulness" (Greek logos porneias; Matt.19:9: epi porneiai), then divorce is authorized (viz., because the marriage has been put to death by the party committing the unfaithfulness).

This interpretation, by the way, is also backed up by the Old Testament reference which our Lord is quoting, Deuteronomy 24:1, where not only is there no betrothal in view but the Hebrew also suggests a situation where some time has passed between the consummation of the marriage (the "and it came/comes to pass" formula of unspecified future time), and the subsequent 'erbhat dhabar, literally "the nakedness of a matter", which has resulted in the husband becoming "unpleased". Jesus' clarification is an interpretation of this vague Hebrew phrase (left vague out of sanctified discretion according to the cultural norms of Moses' day) meant to eliminate Deuteronomy 24:1 as an elastic escape clause. That is the use to which the misinterpretation of the verse was being put by our Lord's contemporaries, but He restores for us the true meaning: it takes an act of complete unfaithfulness (as in adultery) to allow the offended party to divorce and remarry according to the Law. The latter two qualifications are also important to consider in any attempt to interpret and apply this verse (so that even getting a correct interpretation of this passage is not going to answer all questions Christians might have about this complicated topic). In Jesus' day, remarriage would be necessary for a divorced woman in many cases in order for her to survive after being thrown out into the street (this is how the offending husband "makes" his ex-wife "commit adultery"); but if there is no remarriage on the woman's part (a common enough situation in our own day), then there would certainly be no adultery on the part of a woman who is wrongly divorced or wrongly divorces her husband, whatever the circumstances surrounding the divorce.

And of course we are now under grace, and not under the Law. Christians living in Christian love need no highly legalistic interpretations to understand that marriage is serious business and that divorce is inadvisable except under the most extreme situations. The problem with the approach you are taking – apart from the fact that it is a misinterpretation of scripture (something that always carries with it consequential side-effects) – is that it would, if adhered to, result in some Christians staying in marriages when they should not do so. A woman, for example, who finds herself in serious physical harm from her spouse would be ill-served by an interpretation that would make her a bad Christian for getting out while she still can – especially if by staying she is seriously injured or worse.

I find it somewhat ironic that our Lord's purpose of putting the lie to a hyper-legalistic and fundamentally incorrect interpretation of scripture designed to allow some to do what they wanted to do in spite of scripture is being replaced in some quarters by an another hyper-legalistic and equally wrong interpretation of scripture designed to prevent others from doing what they have every right to do – and may need to do for their spiritual welfare, and in some cases to preserve life and limb.

Here are some links wherein I have tried to cover all the ins and outs of this thorny issue, and I would ask you to please consult them first if you would like to reply:

No Grounds for Divorce?

A Conversation about Divorce and Remarriage

Jephthah's Daughter, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

Christian Divorce and Remarriage

What about Christians who Remarry?

Divorce and Remarriage: What does the Bible say?

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #3:  

Thanks for your reply. I am sorry if my explanation seemed complicated. Pursuant to their state law, any party to a marriage can divorce, for abuse, personal safety, or for whatever reason. The Lord Jesus commands couples not to divorce; and God the Father hates divorce, as you have often noted in your answers. The Lord Jesus knew couples were going to divorce even against the Will of the Father. Jesus therefore let the parties to a divorce know what happens spiritually when they divorce and remarry. Setting aside the exception clause, there can be no disputing the fact that if a party divorces and remarries, he/she commits adultery- according to Jesus. When Jesus addressed the Jewish audience, the exception clause, was presented. When Jesus addressed the gentile audience, the exception clause was omitted. This is very obvious. Jesus’ message to the gentile audience was the same as presented to the non-exception clause couples- to divorce and remarry is to commit adultery. We know what Paul’s thoughts are in 1st Corinthians chapter seven. But what did the Lord Jesus command in 1st Corinthians chapter seven?

1CO 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

1CO 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

Then Paul gives his thoughts on the matter:

1CO 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord…

Jesus’ message is the same- wife, husband stay married. However, wife if you depart, remain unmarried or return to your husband. Husband, God still really wants you to not divorce you wife- don’t divorce her; however implicit from the above, if you also disobey and divorce her, remain unmarried or return to your wife. Jesus’ message remains the same throughout- if married stay married. If you part, remain unmarried or be reconciled. There is an expression in the military, "What is your reason; there is no excuse".

JOH 8:31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

MT 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: MT 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

LU 13:23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, LU 13:24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

We live in the age of grace as most will readily tell you as they continue to sin. To divorce and remarry is to sin. On judgment day there will be many reasons why people divorced and remarried- they will be told, based on Jesus’ words, I believe, that those reasons are no excuses, for they knew what The Father hated and did it anyway. Some call the above way- married, stay married, if divorced don’t remarry- legalistic; the Lord Jesus called it- the narrow way. In this age of Grace we must constantly remind ourselves that the Lord Jesus said that FEW are going to be saved.

RO 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? RO 6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

1CO 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 1CO 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 1CO 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Notice how the ones who have been washed and sanctified are the ones who were adulterers, not the ones who are practicing adultery.

Also:

HEB 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, HEB 10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

"I find it somewhat ironic that our Lord's purpose of putting the lie to a hyper-legalistic and wrong interpretation of scripture designed to allow some to do what they wanted to do in spite of scripture is being replaced in some quarters by an another hyper-legalistic and equally wrong interpretation of scripture designed to prevent others from doing what they have every right to do -- and may need to do for their spiritual welfare, and in some cases to preserve life and limb".

What is written in the Scriptures is, by design of God, written to keep his chosen from going to hell; it is written to show them the will of God and if they do as written, it will prevent them from doing what they have no right to do. Many do what they think they have a right to do. Many are those who are going to hell. Nowhere in the Scriptures, has the Lord Jesus given a gentile the right to divorce and remarry. He can always divorce or part to preserve life and limb, but has no right to remarry. As far as his spiritual welfare is concerned, if he divorces and remarries he commits adultery, Jesus’ words, not mine. No adulterers shall inherit the kingdom of God- God’s words, not mine. If what I have written sounds legalistic it is because, to many, the words of God and Jesus sound legalistic.

No reply is needed.

Response #3: 

It is an occupational hazard of legalistic interpretation of scripture to be complicated about things that are simple and simple about things that are complicated. Your explanation of the exception on divorce which Jesus gives in Matthew 5:32 (and similarly Matt.19:10) was overly complicated because it was wrong; your overall understanding of what scripture says about divorce, marriage, remarriage and related issues is overly simplified because it is equally wrong.

In your previous email, you said nothing about remarriage (or damnation, et al.), but here you have "let fly", and without the same discipline of expression which your previous communication contained. A reply is, in fact, necessary, because, as I had expected, your true purposes here range far beyond what you had let on in your earlier communique. Misinterpreting the scripture is bad enough; telling people they are going to hell unless they adapt to your misinterpretation is something that no doubt will affect your personal evaluation at the judgment seat of Christ.

To a certain degree, I understand the line of reasoning which says that these are serious matters so that Christians need to be turned away from sin and error in regard to marriage, divorce and remarriage by warning them in the strongest possible terms. However, if in the process of carrying out such "good intentions" the scriptures are distorted, take care that worse sin and error does not result. I have made the point repeatedly in discussions of this sort that one of the consequences of telling Christians who are in a marriage which for one or both parties is not their first that "they are committing adultery" is the likelihood that, through the guilt they then feel if they accept your interpretation, they will feel compelled to end the marriage. Many people who hold your or similar views have no qualms about giving just that advice. You do not go quite that far here, but, after all, concluding that those who remarry are going to hell leaves those who are already remarried little option, assuming they do not want to "go to hell". Please note first and foremost that by putting this pressure on married Christians who do not come up to your personal standard in this matter, you are pushing them to divorce. And you have admitted that God hates divorce. I hope you can appreciate the inconsistency of your position, at least on some level.

Divorce is one issue, remarriage is another, and it is an additional problem of your second email that you conflate the two in a very inconsistent way. Divorce was allowed under the Mosaic Law, and Jesus Himself sanctions it without qualification if unfaithfulness is the true reason for it. Please note: our Lord's comment about a new marriage being an act of adultery is concerned with remarriages which follow illegitimate divorce, and He says nothing about divorce after remarriage at any time (nor is that to be found anywhere in scripture). If one wishes to get legalistic about it, unfaithfulness can cover quite a lot of ground, and adding Paul's allowance of divorce in cases of unbelief where the partner is not willing to put up with his/her partner's Christianity adds another dimension. That is just to say that what may seem simple to you may not be so simple in fact.

I try to make a point to say in discussions of this sort that if we stick with scripture, God's first best will for any Christian, generally speaking, is to stay single, but if the Christian marries, to stay married, but then if the Christian divorces, to stay single. By the time we get to remarriage, the average Christian has already asserted his or her will over God's advice a number of times. Based on the above, there is not much doubt that the default position for divorced Christians is that even in a clear case of having a "right" to remarry, staying single even so falls into the "all things admissible, not all things profitable" category of application. However, it is still "better to marry than to burn", so that even in a clear case of having no "right to remarry", it would be difficult for you or anyone else to prove conclusively that marriage is not a better option than staying single (the least bad of two bad choices as is often the case in this world after we have complicated our lives as we all eventually do). We accept the fact that we should follow God's first best will; but it is also the case that we want to avoid falling into such a gross pattern of sinning that our faith is swamped and we genuinely do come to lose our salvation. For many Christians, denying them any possibility of marriage out of an overzealous application of one set of scriptures while ignoring others is a spiritual death sentence (because the sin they are likely to fall into thereafter can compromise their faith). Going even farther and telling those who have already remarried to divorce is beyond obscenity, for it not only destroys a marriage (whatever you may think of it personally), but it also plunges not just the person you convince with your interpretation but also their spouse and their children into desperate straits (and will have many ripples of negative consequences throughout their families, church, and acquaintances as well).

There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.
Proverbs 6:17-19

Yes, God hates divorce. But according to the above He also hates, even abominates, pride, lying, murder, wicked intentions, false witness, and the spreading of strife. I have no reason to believe that you would even consider shedding innocent blood, but please tell me how such misleading teachings on marriage, divorce and remarriage (not to mention on what constitutes salvation and on what basis people go to hell) are not prideful, mendacious, malevolent, perjurious (in witnessing against scripture), and divisive? Bible-believing Christians recognize full-well that they are not perfect and own up to their mistakes; they make a practice of confessing their sins whenever they fail, of repenting of their bad behavior, of making whatever amends they can for the wrongs they have done, and of getting back on track and striving not to keep making the same mistakes. But taking one area of sinfulness and suggesting that a person who commits said sin (and we are not in agreement about precisely what is or is not sinful here as I have said), strikes me as the height of self-delusion. What mercy can someone who does this expect from the Lord regarding all of these other areas where they themselves have committed abominations but are willing to completely deny mercy to others, leading them, if they but follow, to contort and possibly even destroy their lives in order to conform to a false standard which has not even begun to be thought thoroughly through?

Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
James 2:13 NIV

According to your analysis, King David is in hell while you expect to go heaven. This must be the case, for he not only committed unequivocal adultery with Bathsheba, but then had her husband Uriah murdered (after unsuccessfully and very sinfully trying to cover up his sin), and afterward shamelessly married her in the bargain (and never divorced her so, by your rule, continued to commit adultery throughout the rest of his life). Yet David is a man "after My own heart", the Lord tells us – clearly, not in this matter, but the terrible sins that David committed did not cost him his salvation. Make no mistake, David suffered grievously as the result of his sins. He was chastened severely by the Lord for some fourteen years, lived to see his eldest murdered by his favorite and his favorite try to depose and kill David himself (just the highlights here). So please do not think that if anyone should violate any of the Lord's commands and sin in any way that said Christian is going to "get away with it". No one ever "gets away" with any sin (and that includes all sin, not just adultery). It may seem that way to us sometimes in our very limited view of such things, but God, of course, knows better. You don't have to worry about this. Anyone who has remarried without a right to do so will receive whatever discipline the Lord decides is appropriate – but that is for Him to say, not you:

Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Romans 14:4 NIV

Hell is reserved for those who reject Jesus Christ as their Savior, not for sinners. If hell were the depository of sinners, we would all be bound for that destination no matter what we do here on earth. Praise be to God that Jesus died for all of our sins – even adultery . . . even pride, lying, false witness, arrogance, fractiousness, ill-intent and hypocrisy!

Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."
Matthew 19:8 NIV

Commonly overlooked in discussions of this passage is the critical context. When asked about divorce, our Lord Jesus goes back to the first marriage of Adam and Eve, a marriage brought about by God for our first parents in the perfect environment of the garden of Eden. We are no longer in Eden. We now find ourselves in the midst of a sinful world and we ourselves have sin resident in our very bodies – and will until the resurrection. "Hardness of heart" to some degree at least will therefore continue to plague us even after salvation. As believers, we should and we can fight against this clouding up of our heart by continuing to grow spiritually through believing the truth of God's Word, by aggressively applying that truth to our lives, by confessing our sins when we slip and fail. But we are not going to be perfect even though that is the standard to which we are called. As with many of our Lord's teachings directed towards His highly legalistic and unbelieving contemporaries, the main purpose of the truth He gave them was not to try and reform their disreputable practices regarding marriage and divorce, but to lead them to the truth of the gospel. Anyone who had been pricked to the heart by realizing they were not "perfect in the Law" through what Jesus teaches in this context would naturally have to further realize that no fleshly means of salvation was possible, that what they needed was a Savior (not another divorce). All those Pharisees who had not divorced and not remarried are in hell . . . unless they subsequently believed in Jesus Christ; the ones who were guilty on this score and recognized that fact through our Savior's piercing words are in heaven . . . if they responded by embracing the grace He offered through faith in Himself.

This certainly seems to be the way the disciples took it, considering what they say in the verse directly following Matthew 19:9 (which also contains the exception):

The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.
Matthew 19:10-11

There is so much more that could be said here, but time would fail me in trying to straighten out the multiplicity of errors this latest email contains, the very odd and incorrect idea that Jesus spoke to gentiles in one of these passages and Jews in another, the idea that those who have remarried are "continuing to sin" (whereas any "adultery" is connected to the act of remarriage and not to normal sexual relations in a new marriage which each party is obligated to continue or violate scripture), the self-serving mention of "no adulterers shall inherit the kingdom" when in the very next verse (1Cor.6:10) Paul includes, e.g., "the covetous" (and there is no human being who does not continue to commit this sin from time to time), etc.

Suffice it so, as a favorite, now departed, former seminary professor of mine was famous for saying, "You have completely missed the point of the passage".

I recognize that my tone here has been tough, but in my view that was necessary. Few things are as spiritually dangerous (or as reprehensible) as laying an unbearable burden on others which one is in fact unable even to budge oneself.

But He said, "Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
Luke 11:46 NASB

I beg you to reconsider your positions in light of all that scripture has to say, for your own sake as well as for the sake of others.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior in whom we are saved by grace through faith,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Let's just agree to disagree. I am not a pastor, however God did send me into a woman's life in order to advise her not to divorce and remarry- what she intended to do. She was a Christian, and she said she had a right to divorce her husband because she saw him lusting after another woman- he had committed adultery in her eyes and as such, she had a scriptural right to divorce and remarry. I prayed with her and asked God to strengthen their marriage. God hates divorce and for some reason, deep within me, I hate it also. Why I don't know. I have been married for many years; had many difficulties and as in most marriages, had, in my mind, many reasons to divorce my wife on numerous occasions. However, when I married I made a pact with myself that I would never divorce for any reason. I stayed married many years not because of my wife but because of my commitment to God. I knew God hated divorce, and I would be true to His will even when my will was to separate or divorce.

I understand about sin and forgiveness of sin. However I, myself, can not sit on the side lines on this issue. I have seen the devastation that divorce causes; and remarry only adds to it. So given the opportunity, I will inform those contemplating divorce, what I have read on the subject, and how God views it. That's me. We all are going to stand before the Lord Jesus someday. At least I will be able to say, "Lord I tried to save as many as possible. I told them Your Will. I did as I thought you would have had me to do".

When I told that woman that it was not His Will that she divorce, it definitely did not comfort her, for being a Christian, she was looking for a scriptural way out of her marriage. I told her" As a Christian, what will be your testimony to others if you divorce? How will you be able to consul others on marriage, when you are divorced? How are you different from the world?" She looked but had no answer.

Sorry for the tone of my last email.

Again, no reply needed.

Response #4:  

I certainly have no problem with advising those who are married to stay married – that is certainly biblical, especially if it is not a case of one party having definitively destroyed the marriage beyond any reasonable hope of repair, and not a case of serious potential danger in continuing through abuse.

And I certainly also have no problem with advising those who are separated/divorced against remarriage – that is certainly biblical as well. I think both of these principles are very clear from scripture and, along with the principle that marriage is problematic in the first place for those who want to follow Jesus with all their heart, ought to be the starting points for any discussion of these matters. As I always say, according to the Bible, 1) don't get married; 2) but if you do, don't get divorced; 3) but if you do, don't get remarried; etc.

I likewise find it to be a real problem for the Church and for the individuals in question in particular when/if a church or group or pastor or counselor lend themselves to validate anything and everything a person wants to do on these issues with little real concern for what the scriptures say.

That said, there are some complicating factors as we have discussed, and I also, personally, make it a point to be very reluctant to be dogmatic in areas where the scripture includes expressed and definite qualifications. That is to say, 1/2/3/etc. are the starting points, but all three/etc. have exceptions which sometimes have to be considered.

I think your personal application is fine and very honorable, and I have no problems, as I say, with counseling others to do what in most cases is not only the honorable but the best thing (i.e., 1/2/3/etc. above). Where I do have issues is with how you seem to be expressing the penalty for violation of the ground-rules as you see them (i.e., "Lord I tried to save as many as possible").

First, without question it would be wrong to suggest that a person is going to hell for divorcing (or remarrying, etc.) – all sin alienates us from God, but only unbelievers go to hell. Christians deserve the entire truth from counselors, elders, teachers, pastors, and adding to the truth is sometimes even worse than not telling it at all in the first place. Second, there is also the issue of how to handle those who have gone ahead and divorced anyway and/or gotten remarried anyway even in cases where they were unequivocally wrong to do so. Judgment and discipline are the provinces of the Almighty and are not up to us. We can certainly look at a situation and conclude that trouble is the result of wrongful actions, but since 1) none of us is without sin, and 2) none of us is supposed to be judging our brothers, and 3) all of us are supposed to forgive everyone everything, and 4) we just might be wrong and not possess all the facts about the situations we are evaluating like we think we do, it behooves us not to intervene after the advice we have been asked to give and have given is not followed.

I don't think you ever stated or suggested that a "wrongfully married" couple should divorce, and that is good. Such actions seem always to make things even worse as it is usually a case of guilt or remorse – or a seeking a new opportunity – which is taking over rather than any true effort to please the Lord, and the harm such additional divorces can cause is significant. And, again, it is just possible that we don't have all the facts.

Thank you for your conciliatory tone. I also apologize if I came on a bit strong in my prior email. I get to see all sides of this question and have witnessed the harm on the back side as well on the front if and when the truth gets distorted.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Bob,

Thanks for your reply. I think we are basically in agreement. However I also believe basically in the following article that I found on Internet: http://genestone.net/archives/16

You can read it, if you so chose. It covers the subject of "Can a born again Christian go to hell? Yes."

Thanks again for your time and patience.

Response #5:

Thanks to you as well. I most definitely do teach that "once saved, always saved" is a dangerous heresy. Please see the links:

The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security.

The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security II.

The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security III.

However, many people are wrong about the scriptural details on this, and the blog you linked to certainly falls into that category – and dangerously so, for whenever the truth is misconstrued, a person is apt to find themselves led into the wrong path (even if their motives are otherwise pure).

It is true that we have a relationship with Jesus, and it is true that the relationship can be ended – by us. A foolish thing even to consider and a terrifying thing to contemplate. But how is it ended? It is not a question of "love", and scripture never addresses the issue in those terms. We are not saved by "loving Jesus". Indeed, we only love Him in the first place because He loved us first (1Jn.4:19). We are saved by believing in Him.

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
Hebrews 10:39 NIV

It is all about faith. Believers are saved – all believers. Unbelievers are not saved – all unbelievers. As long as we really do have faith in Jesus Christ, we are saved. If we ever stop believing in Him, we have indeed lost our salvation. Sin is a part of the picture because it is through surrendering to a life of sin that our faith is dimmed and may be quenched. When we sin, it alienates us from God as we turn away from Him in our hearts. If we continue to do so long enough and strong enough, we will get to the point of not believing, not wanting to face Him since we know we are disobeying Him. That is the process of apostasy. However, gross and continual sin may not lead to apostasy (but to the sin unto death in the case of believers who refuse to stop believing – but also refuse to stop sinning); or in many cases a person stops believing for other reasons (love of the world, disappointment in tribulation, etc.). But in all these cases, faith is the primary issue, not love and not primarily sin (except to the degree that it negatively affects faith):

And those [whose seed of faith fell] on the rock do receive the Word with joy when they hear it. However these [types] have no root [to their faith]. They believe for a while, but in time of testing they apostatize (aphistantai) [i.e., they stop believing].
Luke 8:13

As our Lord makes clear, it is the failure of faith which results in a person falling away, not the commission of sin per se (whatever the sin).

Without question, any sinful activity or bad decision which runs counter to scripture puts a believer at spiritual risk, but teaching that one category of sin you or I may find particularly offensive will cost a person their salvation is a serious misstatement of what the scriptures actually teach (and that is not going to be good for anyone).

You can find out more about this at the following links:

Apostasy and the Sin unto Death, the Conscience and Sanctification

Apostasy and the Sin unto Death (in BB 3B)

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6:  

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

A brother in Christ who is highly involved in ministerial duties at his church lives with his girlfriend, and they're not married. I didn't tell him he was sinning because I don't know, but I did tell him that it is a dangerous living situation because it could lead to temptations and sin. He tells me that he's been doing quite good and hasn't had sex with his girlfriend for quite some time. I thought that if he had slipped up before, who's to say he is not vulnerable to it again. I believe (I may be wrong) John MacArthur stated implicitly that living together as singles is sin. Is this true?

God Bless,

Response #6: 

Given the implications of two members of the opposite sex sharing living quarters in our fairly affluent society, I would say that at the very least this probably sets a very bad example which a church leader would want to avoid. It would be difficult to maintain that the practice is ipso facto "sinful" (since as you suggest it's the illicit behavior that usually accompanies the shared quarters that constitutes the sin), but in our society and under normal circumstances it would also be difficult to maintain that such behavior does not violate the Romans 14 "law of love" (cf. also Rom.13:10; 1Cor.8). After all, if a church leader has no problem living with someone of the opposite sex, won't the consciences of others in the church be weakened into being more likely to do the same thing? And in their case, they may not have the same willpower to stay away from sin. It would also be difficult to maintain that there are no circumstances under which such an arrangement might not be permissible. In times of natural disaster or intense persecution, plague, famine, economic catastrophe, etc., there may be instances in the future where few Christians even in this country will have the luxury of living alone. I am not saying this to recommend the practice you ask about – I would hope (and somewhat expect) that even in such extreme situations there would other alternatives that would avoid a one-man one-woman not-married situation. What I am saying is that, while those contemplating involvement in such a situation need to take into account not only the actuality of sin and the temptation to it but also the message it sends to others, it is also true that those outside contemplating the situation from outside need to exercise some discernment in order not to fall afoul of the scriptures which condemn judging others. After all, it is just barely conceivable that the persons involved here are not in fact guilty of gross sin but only of extremely bad judgment.

Hope this helps!

In Jesus our dear Lord whom we ought to strive to please in all things,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Dear Professor,

I wanted to ask your opinion on the marriage between a believer and a non-believer. As you pointed in your response, some souls will not respond to God's word and I would like to ensure that my decisions are guided by God's words. I have done some research on the topic already, both on your website and others and found no clear cut answer to my dilemma (well, I found some, but I'm wondering whether they do apply to me and whether some of the interpretations of the Bible are correct in the first place), probably due to my limited understanding of the scripture. Also, I'm making the mistake of seeking pieces of evidence to support my own desires, rather than examining what the Bible says with open heart.

On one hand we should not "be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." (2 Corinthians 6:14), which some perceive to be a clear recommendation that a believer should not marry an unbeliever. Paul's recommendations for widows are also made in a similar vein (1 Corinthians, 7:39) and some bring the Old Testament passages to support the claim (1 Kings 11:1-12, among others). This should be enough to convince anyone, but there is also some evidence to suggest that such a marriage is not a sin in itself, even though may lead to a sin. If it was a sin, then Paul wouldn't be giving the recommendations he is giving in the first letter to Corinthians (1 Corinthians, 7:12-14), but would rather demand an immediate cessation of such a marriage, knowing that the spiritual growth and well being of the believer will definitely and inevitably be damaged, rather than providing inspiration and influencing the non-believing spouse (I must say at this point that I'm aware of the naivety of the approach where we assume we will help the other person come closer to God).

Another question I wanted to ask you relates to your recommendation regarding future Bible study. I'm currently reading the articles from your website, which has become my daily routine and integral part of spiritual growth. I have a strong desire to progress as much as I can both with regard to spirituality and knowledge and I'm wondering, what would be the best next step forward.

Apart from your articles, I thought whether I should maybe start some study of ancient Greek and Hebrew (I wouldn't be able to devote too much time to it, so it would be a slow process), or maybe focus for example on studying ancient history in order to understand the context of the events described in the Bible. I'm aware that mastering two ancient languages is a huge task and maybe one that I shouldn't even start considering time constraints, and more benefits could be derived from a different type of study. You have been going down this path for a long time now, so please let me know what you would recommend. I know that 'the time is short' and I would like to make best use of it, I know that God has given me some gift to understand things and I would hate to be the servant who dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

Finally (I apologize for such a long email), I wanted to ask whether you would consider allowing your website (or at least some articles from it) to be translated. As I mentioned to you before, I'm Polish and having spend the majority of my life in a 'catholic' country, where faith and spirituality are often dead and religiousness is one of fete and usually doesn't go into the depths of ones' soul, I feel that your articles could be very valuable. Unfortunately, many Poles don't speak English and those who do, have not developed this ability to a level sufficient to enjoy your website. Please let me know your view. I understand that if such endeavor was to be taken, it would require great care.

In Christ,

Response #7:  

Always good to hear from you. On the topic of marriage, it seems there is no great need to write you a lengthy epistle since you have all the important issues very well in hand and have provided here a concise and accurate picture of what the Bible says and what it does not say. This is a personal decision you have to make, and I always try not to give people direct advice in situations where the facts and circumstances need to be personally evaluated as is the case here. I will confine myself to two observations.

First, Paul allows that the best thing for any Christian, especially any Christian who desires to produce the maximum possible crop for our Lord, is to remain unmarried (1Cor.1:7; 7:7; 7:33-34). However, in the same context that greatest of the apostles also makes it quite clear that for the vast majority of Christians remaining single is not a realistic option (and that sinfulness is the likely result if they try to go against what is hard-wired into their natures: 1Cor.7:2; 7:9). Indisputably, therefore, it is right and proper for Christians to marry, and, since that is the case, we can be sure that God is involved in the process of bringing the "right two" people together at the right time. Therefore, as in all things wherein we seek His guidance, patience, faith, prayer, responsiveness to scripture, and seeking His will and not our own are keys to "doing it right". This is a very difficult thing to get right, of course, because where our emotions and our desires are so heavily involved it is very hard to be objective. The Lord presented Eve to Adam, and in Old Testament times a person's parents were generally (though not always) the ones who made the decision about choosing a life partner for their child, not the child him/herself. Rebecca made Isaac a wonderful wife; Jacob who chose for himself, however, had plenty of problems with Rachel and Leah et al. Nevertheless we do not doubt that both men, the one for whom a wife was chosen and the one who chose for himself, received just what God had planned for them to receive. Still, personal choice is at the root of the blessing in the first case and the heart-ache in the second. Whenever we go God's way we do so with blessing; to the extent that we go our own way, even if God eventually means us to go down that or a similar road following His guidance, we are going to have at least a modicum of trouble along with any blessing God may in His grace bestow upon us anyway.

Secondly, in that same critical chapter in 1st Corinthians Paul says "If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married." (1Cor.7:36). While the parallel to our modern situation is not exact for a number of reasons, there is a point here which I have stressed in the past in many of my writings on the subject of divorce, namely, the point of personal responsibility in commitments made to others. If a person has married, there is a responsibility to the other party which cannot be dissolved merely by claiming that the other person is a not a believer (1Cor.7:12-16). Likewise, in the quote above, Paul allows for this sense of commitment and responsibility in the case of those who are essentially engaged to be married. Believers should takes such commitments seriously. In the case of those who have been betrothed, Paul tells us in the power of the Spirit that they are not in fact required to go through with the wedding if that would violate their consciences, but he also tells us that if the man "feels he ought" to marry, then "he should do" so and "has not sinned". In such cases, only the person(s) involved can gauge what the true level or commitment and responsibility is and what the proper course of action is as a result. But it certainly is true that once relationships are formed and commitments are made, these should not be treated as if they were nothing nor dissolved willy-nilly for light and transient reasons. These are hard choices in difficult circumstances and come about as the result of many prior decisions which cannot be undone. Only those directly involved have any chance of "doing what is really right now", and only in the power of the Spirit.

As to future efforts, well, there are "different gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries, but the same Lord; and there are different results, but the same God who brings about all results in all cases" (1Cor.12:4-6). All Christians need to continue to grow spiritually through taking in the Word of God by reading their Bibles and by accessing a good teaching ministry, to progress spiritually by applying to their lives the truth of scripture they have learned and believed, and to produce a crop for Jesus Christ. The last element depends much upon the particular gifts a person has been given and the particular ministry into which they are led by the Lord. These are very much God's decisions made in combination with our level of willingness to respond to Him, but they are also very much things we largely have to figure out for ourselves. Anything a person learns, especially anything intrinsically valuable (such as language or history, especially biblical language and biblically related history) is useful. In our finite time and with our finite energy and resources, however, we always have to make tough choices about such things. As I have said before, any Bible teaching ministry should be founded on as much Bible reading, systematic theology, mastery of Greek and Hebrew, and familiarity with the ancient world and church history as possible. But in the case of all other ministries, even closely related ones, a person's preparation and efforts should be calibrated according to what he or she will actually be doing. The Church is one Body, and we all help each other (ideally), so that not everyone has to learn Hebrew, not everyone needs to spend all their spare time in prayer, and not everyone is required to devote considerable effort to administrative duties in the Church – and not everyone has to translate the Bible and useful Bible study materials into another language. Indeed, no one can do everything, even if they had the time. I would be absolutely thrilled if after due consideration you were to consider it part of your charge to translate some of these materials into Polish – but not at the expense of the true ministry God has for you.

Best wishes for all your soul-searching – may the Lord lead you to every good and right decision to the glory of Jesus Christ our dear Lord.

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #8:  

Dear Professor,

Thank you for another reply - I continue in my studies and keep you and your ministry in my daily prayers.

I again wanted to ask you for the prayer. I need to finally resolve a very important issue: whether or not to honor a (non-marriage) commitment to a person made before I was saved.

I certainly need God's guidance on what to do. I want to commit to Bible study and I understand that staying single could be very helpful, as it has been. On the other hand, I feel responsible.

I'm aware that Paul's recommendation is to stay single, even if, as far as I'm aware, most of the apostles were married. I certainly see very clearly now how being married or not married is not the most important thing, even though for many years I had been entangled myself in this worldly cultural perception that it is indeed the case. I wish my decisions in the past were different, but I dwelt on them long enough. The reality is that after all these years of mistakes and spiritual blindness on both parts there is no perfect solution, I just want to choose one that is best in God's eyes and I would like to ask you for prayer that we may indeed finally arrive at such a choice.

With constant prayer for you and your ministry and in our Lord,

Response #8:

You clearly have a command of the scriptures and the doctrinal issues – I can only reiterate some of the main principles. As Paul makes clear in chapter 7 of 1st Corinthians, even though it is theoretically better to remain single, in practice most are not gifted to be able to do so without undue trouble and temptation (e.g., vv. 2; 7; 36). In the western world, marriages seem to go better when the couple is the same age, same culture, and same religion. In our context, believers ought to marry only believers (2Cor.6:14; cf. 1Cor.7:39b), but even if two people are both nominally Christian or even of the same denomination, it does make a difference whether or not they are equally committed to serving Jesus Christ. And, even if all these lights are "green", as Paul tells us, "But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this" (1Cor.7:28 NIV).

Personally, I have known of many cases where a good Christian wife was, to all appearances, an incredible blessing and wonderful help to her husband in full-time ministry:

He who finds a wife finds a good thing And obtains favor from the LORD.
Proverbs 18:22 NASB

However, this verse may also be translated:

He who finds a wife [and] who finds a good thing [in so doing] obtains favor from the LORD.
Proverbs 18:22

I think this is the point. A good wife is a blessing that comes from the Lord. In antiquity, the "search" was usually up to our parents. Now we do our own "searching" and without doubt may do a better or a worse job. The question "is this the right person for me?" is one only you can answer. You certainly will have my prayers for a good decision, both before and after.

In hope in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #9:  

Greetings. You helped before and I have another theological question...actually questions. At Bible study, we were discussing Luke. I posed the question of when the marriage of Mary and Joseph occurred. In my research, and from what I know about ancient Near Eastern marriage traditions, the betrothal is the covenant and contract. So, Mary and Joseph were married and once Gabriel came with the annunciation, they lived together, married, as husband and wife?

Now my second is about the schism between Protestant and Roman Catholic views of Mary. In Protestant tradition, Mary, though "blessed and highly favored", is but a vessel. In Catholicism, Mary is the Immaculata? And a perpetual Virgin? From where did the unnamed sisters and the brothers James, Joseph, Judas, and Andrew come? Is this tradition of perpetual maidenhood a result of the view (some hold) that all sex, even within the covenant of marriage, is base and sinful? Therefore, the vessel through which the Word made flesh came into the world would not be defiled by such?

It's a lot, I know. Thank you for any insight or guidance. We meet again on Wednesday Bible Study, but answer when you have time.

Thanks again.

In Christ,

Response #9:

As to your first question, it is true that betrothal was very important in antiquity generally, especially in the Jewish and Greco-Roman civilizations. It was, however, still just that, namely, a betrothal and not a marriage, and there were many reasons why the "contract", as you put it, might be annulled or never fulfilled (Paul spends a good deal of time in 1st Corinthians chapter seven on that topic, for example). As to the specifics of Mary and Joseph's wedding, scripture does not say when that took place but it does say that they were not married when Jesus was born (i.e., Mary was still "espoused" to Joseph when they made the trip to Bethlehem: Lk.2:5). This makes a good deal of sense because until Jesus' was born, Joseph was determined not to consummate the marriage (Matt.1:25). I have more on various aspects of this question at the following links:

The Events Surrounding Christ's Birth

Mary, Joseph, and Nazareth

As to the status of Mary, one can trace this emphasis on perpetual virginity in opposition to the scriptures back to pagan religious emphases in the Greek world as can be seen from its importance in the genre of the Greek novel which had its heyday just prior to and overlapping the period of the New Testament (and they were fighting about this issue very early on in the history of the church). Tradition has everything do to with why the RC church is so heavily invested in this false doctrine. Mary has a huge place in their cult and without her being some sort of demigod I think their religion would collapse. As to Jesus' siblings, yes indeed there are many indications from scripture that it was only until Jesus' birth that the marriage between Joseph and Mary was not consummated, and having numerous children is certainly one such indication! The RC position is that the passages in question are talking about "Jesus' cousins", not His siblings, but that does not pass even an initial grammatical "sniff-test" in the original Greek (as they know quite well). Here are some things I have written on that score:

Jesus' Siblings

More on Jesus' Siblings

Mary Full of Grace?

Apologies for not getting to this sooner. I hope it is of some help to you nonetheless.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Hello, my husband was a pastor of a Christian congregation until he recently decided to renounce Christianity. He now refers to himself as an Israelite. His belief is that we are to keep as much of the law of Moses as possible (ie, Sabbath, dietary laws, feast days, etc) and hints that the New Testament is unreliable due to mistranslations. I want to submit to my husband, but I don't want to get into this false religion and lose my salvation. I have been praying for him, but he is determined that he's right and that he's seen the "light". We fight about this so much that we're near divorce. What should I do. I have refused to go to their Torah study on Saturdays and l have been trying to find a local church.

Response #10:  

Good to make your acquaintance. This development you report is a very common trend nowadays, and to my mind a very disturbing one. As Christians, we have been freed from the law of the letter and are now under grace, the law of love (Rom.6:14-15; 13:10).

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Galatians 2:14 NIV

Since even the apostles did not "keep the law", since it is impossible to keep the law (because, just for example, the temple is no longer in existence), and since much of the law foreshadows Christ's sacrifices so that "keeping it" is really "crucifying the Son of God afresh" by proclaiming, in effect, that Jesus' work on the cross was not sufficient to propitiate our sins (Heb.6:6), it is most distressing that so many Christians today are turning away from grace in this way. I have written quite a bit about this in the past. The following links will give you much information and lead to further links (including specifics about Sabbath and festival observance):

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism I

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism II

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism III

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism IV

The other issue you ask about should, in my view, be considered in light of the following:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse [your] hands, [ye] sinners; and purify [your] hearts, [ye] double minded.
James 4:7-8 KJV

It is very true that Christian wives are commanded to submit to their husbands (Eph.5:22; Col.3:18), but all Christians are commanded to submit to God (quote above), to other Christians who are working hard for the Lord (1Cor.16:16), to all legitimate secular authority (1Pet.2:13), to their elders (1Pet.5:5), and to the Christian pastors they have chosen to follow (Heb.13:17). So whatever else this submission of wives to husbands may entail, it is clear that it does not involve doing anything which conflicts with good, sanctified, truly Christian behavior. If a husband commands a wife to renounce her parents, that clearly conflicts with the submission required by 1st Peter 5:5 (and many other verses); if a husband commands a wife to abet him in a robbery, that clearly conflicts with the submission required by 1st Peter 2:13; and if a husband commands a wife to believe something that is not true, well, that is most certainly a violation of the submission required by James 4:7-8, 1st Corinthians 16:16, and Hebrews 13:17 – not to mention the entire tenor and tone of all of scripture, not to mention her free will, not mention that such a thing will endanger her eternal life.

Simply put, Christian wives are responsible to submit to their husbands, Christian or not, in respect to all legitimate commands. Clearly, if a rogue government were to take over our country and command us to commit murder against some unfortunate group, we should not do so by any means, and we would not be violating 1st Peter 2:13 because in the hypothetical case the command would be illegitimate. Similarly, the submission commanded of Christian wives does not trump everything else the Bible has to say. Christians must continue to live like Christians, no matter what circumstances they find themselves facing in this world. That entails doing what Christians must do (growing spiritually through the Word of God, praying, helping other Christians through the ministering of their spiritual gifts, etc.), as well as refraining from what Christians must not do. That entails staying away from sin, sinful activities, and any sort of idolatry or non-Christian worship.

I am sorry to hear that this situation has brought you so much trouble and that it has troubled your marriage. 1st Corinthians 7:13-16 deals with the situation of believer to unbeliever marriage. The essential point is that a believer in such a situation should stay married if possible, that is "if he (i.e., the unbeliever) be pleased to dwell with her" (v.13) But what if the husband (for example) is not willing to dwell with his wife because he disapproves of her Christianity? "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace" (v.16). These verses take it for granted that no believer is going to give up belief and salvation for the sake of marital peace, and also make it clear that if the unbeliever is unwilling to allow the believing spouse to be a Christian, the Christian spouse is free to let the unbeliever "depart".

The particulars of your personal situation and the best way forward are things that only you can know with God's help. With the aid of conscientious Bible study (which you are seeking), the guidance of the Holy Spirit, much prayer and the application of Christian love to every aspect of this matter, I am confident that the Lord will lead you to every right decision and grant you deliverance through His Spirit, whatever that deliverance may entail.

Submission is important. Following scripture on every point is important. Maintaining one's marriage in a viable fashion is important. Maintaining marital peace is important. But paramount in all these things is the preservation of one's relationship with Jesus Christ. For a true believer, that relationship must come first, come what may in all other issues great and small.

I hope the above is helpful in some small way. I do promise to say a prayer for you. Feel free to write me back.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior in whom alone we have eternal life.

Bob Luginbill

Question #11:  

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

I have been married for a year and currently separated from my wife. There is no legal separation, only a mutual agreement to separate. We have been quarreling for a couple of months and we felt like it's time to reassess ourselves and pray for it.

I want to know if we did the right thing, if not please let me know what are the things that need to be done.

Regards,

Response #11:

Good to make your acquaintance – although I am very sorry to hear about your troubles. As to your question, as far as I know scripture doesn't say anything about mutually agreed upon separations, especially if they do not turn out to end in divorce. We live in very difficult times and marriage is a difficult thing to get right at all times. As I often say, it is not for me to comment on particular situations and decisions made by other people, especially when I have very few of the facts. These are very personal matters, and I am certainly encouraged by your seeking of the Lord's will in these things, not only in prayer but also in consultation with scripture and Bible teaching. The Bible does mention separation in 1st Corinthians chapter seven, but that is, as far as I can tell, unilateral separation by the unbeliever in a mixed marriage. The Bible has quite a bit to say on the topic of divorce, but even so it is not a "simple" matter to understand all it says aright (see the links below). I know of no scripture which would preclude a temporary separation, and, for what it is worth, a temporary separation seems preferable to destroying the marriage and the relationship, especially if it is done in a godly way (as certainly seems to be the case here from what you have shared with me).

Continue to seek the Lord's will in this. I know from scripture and personal experience that He always provides a solution for those who do set themselves to wait for His deliverance, no matter how long it may take (and I also know the pain that comes from rushing in and doing things one's own way).

Here are some links that discuss related matters from various aspects:

No Grounds for Divorce?

A Conversation about Divorce and Remarriage

Jephthah's Daughter, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

Christian Divorce and Remarriage

What about Christians who Remarry?

Divorce and Remarriage: What does the Bible say?

Marriage of Believers and Unbelievers

May the Lord show you the right path.

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob Luginbill

Question #12:  

Dear Dr. Luginbill:

What constitutes marriage, biblically speaking? Does a premarital affair equal a marriage? And what about if a person is subsequently married? Is that "second" marriage then illegitimate in Christian terms?

I ran across a website which, beginning with Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6:16, asserts that sexual intercourse alone makes a man and a woman married to each other in God's eyes. If this is true, Jesus' teaching about divorce (putting away) affects many people who don't even realize they have been "married" before. I have attached the link to this (long) piece.

http://home.flash.net/~billtess/index.html

You may not have time to look at this. If that is the case, I certainly understand. I have read some (all) of the other emails about divorce/remarriage posted on your site. I know that there is not any scripture that tells persons to divorce from second marriages, but it seems to me that if a person were committing adultery as a consequence of a first marriage even if that were a prior affair, then God would want it to stop.

Thank you in advance for your time.

Response #12: 

Good to hear from you. I want to commend you for your obviously genuine desire to pursue a sanctified life for Jesus Christ. It is not easy to ask questions like this, but the fact that you are asking is a very clear indication of both the sincerity of your heart and your honest desire to do what God would have you to do - this is sound, biblical approach (Is.66:2; cf. Ps.51:17; 2Cor.7:8-12), and you are to be commended for it.

I did get a chance to look at the website linked in your e-mail. Although I did not spend a copious amount of time there, I did spend long enough. The first thing I would point out about this site is that the individual (and it seems to be an individual) does not reveal anything at all about himself (and I guarantee you it is a "he"). Even were I to be in total agreement with the content of such a "blind" site, I would never recommend it or join fellowship with it: if one is going to pronounce on the Word of God, one should stand up and admit who they are, where they are coming from, what their associations are, and what qualifications they have as a basis for the authority they are claiming. In other words, I would rank the authority of this site as "zero".

Let me start with the first basic proposition. Marriage is marriage. I am well aware that there a variety of different interpretations out there in the ether, some even from a scholarly perspective. But in my view, based upon the original languages of both Testaments, what I know of the cultural parameters of the ancient civilizations involved, and, most important, what I understand from the pertinent scriptures, marriage is marriage. That is to say, we all know who is married and who is not – because it involves an official, public, legal ceremony and binding contract. The same was true in the ancient world. For example, when Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn.4:4-26), He says at one point, "Go call your husband", and when she responds "I have no husband", Jesus tells her "You are right when you say you have no husband". Immediately after this our Lord says "You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband". The implications for your question are profound. This woman, in Jesus' words, had been married, five times in fact, but now was not married ("You have no husband"). And although she was living with a man, he was not her husband. This can only mean that she had not married this man in a legal marriage ceremony, and in Jesus' eyes, that meant she was not married to him at all. Moreover, although scripture does not say, the odds of the previous five husbands all being dead are extremely remote. The only way one can honestly interpret these verses is that for our Lord (and thus for us), marriage means marriage (i.e., a binding, legal ceremony as defined by the state and culture of the time, just as it always has been). Further, assuming any one of the previous five were alive, after divorce, the marriage is over. Finally, living together with someone, or having relations with someone, is not a marriage.

This means, of course, that those who take the horrendous and anti-biblical position that worries you are dead wrong in every way. Indeed, if it were any other way, what should we think? If someone comes to Christ from a very secular life-style that involved sexual relations with multiple partners over time, then, according to this absurd theory, they would be married to them all. And it is certain that those multiple partners had relations with other people too, so they are also married to all the people they have ever had relations with or are legally married to now with the result that they are all in one big group marriage. If care is not taken, almost everyone will end up being married to almost everyone else. And to take this absurdity to its final absurd outcome, if marriage is forever to the people with whom we have previously had relations, then what is the problem? If we are married to them, then why can't we go on having relations with them and be justified in God's eyes, no matter what the legal reality may be? After all, we are "married to them". So it doesn't matter that we are legally married to someone else at the same time. As long as we are married in this other sense, we are free to have relations. The ultimate logic of this position that removes the legal aspect of marriage from marriage is that we would be allowed to have relations with anyone we have ever had relations with in addition to whomever we are currently legally married to. Because even if we are not married to them legally before we are nonetheless still "married" to them now. Although, in my view, the Bible discourages polygamy (and certainly it commands us to conform to the laws of the state in which we live which, in our case, does outlaw multiple legally contracted marriages), it does not outlaw it (even in the New Testament: cf. 1Tim.3:2; 3:12), so not even this complication can be adduced as a measure of control to the problem outlined above. So if we do accept the absurd hypothesis that "sexual relations = marriage", we could just relax and accept the fact that we are married to multiple people and can have relations with them without sin whenever we want, and if we get interested in someone else, no problem, because after we have had relations we will be married to them too.

I certainly do not wish to give anyone the impression that sexual sin (or any sin, for that matter), is of small consequence. Jesus words about being "one flesh" are designed to show the importance and the sanctity of marriage in God's eyes. The idea that a man could willy-nilly divorce his wife for any cause and move onto the next woman leaving the first one in the lurch (and in the patriachical society of Jesus' day this would be very much the case for the woman), was and is an abomination. Jesus' purpose in this statement is clearly to support the institution of marriage and to show His listeners what the proper attitude of heart ought to be: "love and care for you wife, husband (and vice versa), and do not take this commitment sanctified by God since the creation of mankind lightly, for God does not". The purpose of this statement is most definitely not to level unresolvable guilt upon all but the most chaste of human beings.

The conscience is a very important human asset, quickened at the fall as a necessary compass without which we would have no hope of recognizing our shortcomings in God's eyes and so become motivated to return to Him on His terms. Feelings of guilt, therefore, are beneficial when properly interpreted, motivating the unbeliever to seek Christ, and the believer to seek forgiveness through confession and repentance after lapsing into sin. But guilt can be a monster when it is allowed to burst beyond the proper bounds that the truth of scripture set for it. We are all sinners (1Ki.8:46; Job 15:14; Ps.143:2; Rm.3:23; 5:12; 1Jn.1:8-10). But Jesus died for all our sins on the cross. He was "made sin for us" (2Cor.5:21; cf. Rom.4:25; 1Pet.2:24) so that we could be cleansed of all our sins and be righteous in God's eyes, not by our own works, but by God considering us righteous on the basis of what Christ did for us. And how do we get this forgiveness, this righteousness not properly our own? Through faith (Rom.3:22-24; 8:1).

At some point, we have to accept in faith the fact that God has forgiven us. We all sin, therefore we all need to admit it to ourselves and confess it to God from a contrite heart (1Jn.1:5-10). When we do repent and confess, we need to understand that God has accepted us back into fellowship, not because we are special, not because He is impressed with our emotional reaction, and certainly not because of any penance we have done (God forbid!), but because the Father places the highest value upon the work done by His Son on the cross (see the link: "John's primer on sin"). Jesus' blood spilt for us is the basis for our initial redemption and all our subsequent cleansings (cf. Jn.13:1-10).

Sin is no small matter, it is true, and God does indeed discipline us for all our transgressions, and, reasonably, more so for worse, more willful, and more chronic infractions, but He does so as a loving Father training up His children (Heb.12:7-13), not to crush us and destroy us, but to teach us and to help us. If we sin, when we sin, we are going to regret it - if not from conscience, then certainly from punishment. But as soon as we turn and confess, we enter back into our Father's good graces, back into fellowship with the Lord who bought us, who loved us so much He went through a life of suffering of which can not now know even the thousandth part. And all the discipline we endure for our sinning is turned to the good. His anger does not last forever, and in the morning there are songs of joy (Ps.30:5).

David committed adultery with another man's wife, a trusted and trusting subordinate, then had the man murdered to cover up his sin. You know the story. David was severely chastised. As a prophet of God and the man that the Lord has set over His people Israel, one cannot imagine how he could have been more culpable - how could anyone have born a greater measure of responsibility for such crimes and for such sins? But God forgave him (2Sam.12:13b). Considering the 14 years of horrendous trouble David endured as a result, this story is certainly not a recommendation for high-handed and willful sin. But it does illustrate God's forgiveness of those who love Him and repent of their sin (2Sam.12:13a), and it is well to point out that during that time David was still king, still writing Psalms, still enjoying the prosperity God gave him, and even learning and growing from the discipline that continued to come his way.

Guilt can be a very powerful force for good, but also for ill. All cults know this, and there are very few cults or cult leaders who do not have an almost instinctual grasp of the principle that guilt is probably the easiest and quickest way to motivate good people to turn away from common sense and fall in behind the cult. For once you accept whatever the cult says about whatever it is that makes you feel guilty, you hand over the only possible solution, the only hope for redemption to the cult - let's be clear here - not to the Bible or to the One whose Word the Bible is.

I don't know you personally, and the details I have about your situation are necessarily limited, but from what I do know it is quite safe to say that you are married to your husband, and that he is the only one to whom you have ever been married. If you sinned in your past, you are in this respect no different from any other member of the human race, including all of your brother and sister Christians. Sin is not a small issue, and we are indeed called to live holy lives, lives of sanctification wherein sin's hold upon us becomes less and less as we grow up spiritually in Jesus and more and more put His truth to work in our lives. We will never be entirely free of sin - it is always crouching at the door, but we can through the Spirit gain the mastery and avoid the terrible consequences of gross and willful disobedience such as befell that great believer David.

My advice to you, clear already I would imagine from the content of this e-mail, is to let the past rest in peace in the past, and to put away the pangs of conscience for things long since turned to dust. We would all like to have been perfect. We all have some skeletons in our closets. We all, from time to time, are tempted by the evil one to look back and attribute present misfortune to sin long passed (even Job did this [wrongly]: Job 13:26). But like any other test of faith, we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to put what we know by faith ahead of everything else, no matter what our eyes tell us, no matter even what our conscience may say, especially when we know through the eyes of faith that it is now long out of date.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 NIV

By this we know that we are of the truth, and before Him we persuade our heart, that if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows everything.
1st John 3:20-21

Put your heart in God's hands and move on in faith in Jesus Christ.

In the One who died to redeem us from all our sins, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #13: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill:

Thank you for your quick and thorough reply. You are very kind.

I want to believe what you have pointed out — that marriage is marriage (and we all know whether or not we are married). I am troubled that (among other things) by this issue. Can it be true that someone who has an affair can be forgiven and move on, but that a person who legally marries the other party is "stuck for life"? It seems illogical. And unfair.

So what do you think Paul meant by his "one body/one flesh statement" in 1 Corinthians 6:16?

Still trying to work it all out...

Response #13:  

My policy in all things is to put scripture first and leave what I may think or feel far behind in second place. In my experience, even things which seemed "odd" or "unfair" or even "somehow wrong", but accepted in faith, ultimately all have turned out to make a great deal of sense as more and more of the truth of scripture became clear. For me, Jesus' explanation of the situation is decisive. I don't see how anyone could have been more clear than He on the occasion mentioned, and one certainly couldn't ask for a better authority.

But let's take your argument, namely, that it seems prima facie unfair that someone who has not committed to marriage can so "easily" be free of the situation. In my view, that is only true in the limited legal sense. It occurs to me that your example is evidence enough that there are consequences for behavior that go far beyond what the world may see. Our heavenly Father knows us far better than we know ourselves, and He is well aware of how best to discipline us to make us understand the gravity and the wrongness of what we have done. Given that you are still burdened by your experience, it does not seem to me that you got off "scot-free" by any means. On the other hand, it is also true and an extremely important thing whether or not someone takes the step of making a solemn commitment in actually getting married. One of the major societal problems we have is that people nowadays do not seem to be taking their commitments as seriously as they did in the past. Getting married is no small thing in God's eyes, and that is true even if it seems less binding to contemporary society than was true in the past (compare the gravity of taking oaths in the Old Testament and the corresponding advisabilty of not taking them if one is prudent).

Ideally, yes, getting married is getting "stuck for life", and, again, ideally, this will be a blessing for two people who behave honorably, especially for two Christians who do their best to follow the guidance contained in scripture of maintaining love and honor for each other. There are cases where disaster strikes, but in my experience and observation, God also knows how to deliver His children, even out of the lions' den. Marriage is difficult, and sexual promiscuity is against God's law, so we would all do well to be very deliberate about getting married, and prudently abstinent where all other forms of sexual relations are concerned. But we are human, after all, and so we sin, and we make other mistakes too which may not be sinful but can also cause us grief. Praise God that He watches over us for good, delivering us many times from disastrous relationships, and forgiving us for others! He knows how to help us in marriage, and how to discipline and heal us in sin.

As to 1st Corinthians 6:16 and following, the point Paul is making here is that porneia, sexual misconduct of all kinds, is an especially deadly and damaging type of sin. It can be devastating in a variety of ways, and you are certainly neither the first nor the last to experience that. The example of consorting with prostitutes is chosen here by Paul not only because it was a particular problem in Corinth (where religious shrine prostitution was a major industry), but more specifically precisely because it was clearly not marriage. Paul is saying to these offending believers (and to all of us who may be involved in or tempted to any sexual sin) that to do such things is to behave as if one were married when one is not, and that is a violation of the most basic human institution ordained by God, that of marriage. So to the extent that we understand how important marriage is in legal terms, and how important it is to God (hence the quote from Genesis), to that extent we come to understand that it is no small thing to engage in the sexual privilege that belongs only to marriage when we are not married, and to that extent we will be careful to follow Paul's advice and "flee fornication". Again, if this verse were teaching that we became "married" when we did such things, there would no longer be any offense since we would have passed over the threshold of marriage by our acts (and would be heir to its privileges).

I hope this is helpful to you in trying to work through this difficult time. One of the problems with sexual involvement - one that younger people in particular do not understand until it is too late - is that one really can't expect to have a sexual relationship without also having an emotional one, and that the emotional after-effects, residue, and "bonding" that takes place in illicit affairs is always going to be an experience for the worse. The best we can do after the fact as Christians is to put ourselves into the hands of our loving Savior and merciful Father and trust for the healing that God can bring.

Yours in our Lord Jesus.

Bob L.

Question #14:  

Dear Dr. Luginbill:

But is Jesus in His teaching on divorce differentiating between marrying and becoming one flesh? He does say "Whosoever puts away his woman/wife and *marries* another...". He acknowledges that another *marriage* has taken place, but that marriage still does not make the sexual involvement legitimate. He calls it adultery. (Or perhaps I am just interpreting it that way. He does not actually say, "Whosoever puts away his woman/wife and *marries* another and then lies with her...) Perhaps it is the action of marrying. I don't know.

So the question, I guess, really is this: When does God join a man and woman? What does leave (as in *leaves* his father and mother) mean?

Somewhere on your website you made the point that you dislike the kind of game some people play in trying to argue and find legal points to prove a position. I don't wish to do that. I want to know the truth. What you have kindly written makes sense, and I hope it is right.

So, if I may ask yet another question on a related note: What is your translation of Leviticus 21:7 and 14 (verses regulating marriages of Levites). Does it refer to prostitutes (as in paid prostitutes?) or women who have committed fornication?

Thank you again for your time and thoughtful answers. I pray that the Lord will continue to bless your life and work.

Response #14:

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouraging words.

People who divorce without any justification and then remarry put themselves in a very awkward situation. From your e-mails, you make it clear that you have read my responses about this problem, so I will just say here what is pertinent to your question, namely, a marriage is a marriage, and a divorce is a divorce. A bad marriage has it consequences, and an unjustified divorce has its consequences. Regardless of how much I love the Lord, if I marry someone who is not a Christian in full knowledge of that fact, I am doing something against God's will, but I have still committed myself to God and man as married to that person. Scripture is clear on this point that one is not given the "green light" to divorce for that reason after the fact (for it is not even advisable to do so if the marriage is otherwise sound even for those who are saved while married to an unbeliever: 1Cor.7:12-14). And regardless of how much I love the Lord, if I divorce someone without any scriptural justification, especially when this puts them in a difficult situation, then marry someone else, it is the same as committing adultery against them. But that does not mean that in order to fix the situation I should now divorce spouse #2, or that I can withhold what is due (1Cor.7:3-5). What it means is that I have put myself in an awful situation by my own doing, and the marriage I am in is still a marriage, even though I didn't have the right to divorce in my prior marriage.

In all such matters, we need to understand two things above all: 1) God is holy, and He demands our respect and obedience, and will not allow our transgressions to go unpunished; 2) God is merciful, and He understands that we are but flesh and is ever ready to forgive our transgressions based upon the saving work of our Lord Jesus. As with many things in scripture, both of these principles are 100% true even though they may seem not to be so in the world's logic, and if we overemphasize either or forget either we do so to our spiritual peril. If we focus unduly on God's mercy and forgiveness to the exclusion of His holiness and intolerance of sin, we will find ourselves emboldened to do things that will result in terrible consequences, both divine and temporal. On the other hand, if we focus unduly on God's demand for holiness to the exclusion of His mercy, we will torture ourselves to the point where our faith can endure it no longer, and may well fall away to get out from under the emotional pressure. One thing I know about our God and I will shout it from the rooftops: He does forgive our sins, and He does provide a way out of the most impossible and intolerable messes, messes we have cooked up for ourselves through our own folly, sin, and disobedience. If we really do return to Him with all of our heart and make Him and His Son our Lord Jesus the focus of our lives, then He always will and always does show us mercy and forgiveness, bring healing and repair, and make the end better than the beginning, often just when we fear that we have come to the end through our own mis-steps.

Leviticus does enjoin members of the Jewish priesthood from marrying any woman who is not a virgin (cf. Lev.21:14). By implication, this means that other men (i.e., 99% of the Jewish male population) were not enjoined from marrying widows, or divorced women, or women who had otherwise previously had sexual relations. The heart of the person is what really counts, their love for the Lord (or lack of it).

In the line of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find Ruth, a gentile who was widowed then remarried, Bathsheba, a woman who had committed adultery then was widowed by murder, then married her co-adulterer, Tamar, a woman who had tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her by pretending to be a prostitute, and Rahab, a prostitute by trade who later turned to the Lord and married an Israelite. In my view it is far from being an accident that these things happened or that they are so purposefully recorded in scripture – and right at the beginning of the first gospel (Matt.1:4-6). We do not find here any condoning of sin of any kind, but what we do find is a very pointed object lesson in that sexual impurity from a variety of causes did not stop God from using the women so named from having prominent places in the line of His Son, the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Love for the Lord is more important than any past circumstance or past mistake, (1Pet.4:8), for He has already died for them all.

Rest assured that I do not consider your e-mails an exercise in legalistic wrangling, but instead I see them as what they are: an earnest attempt to know the truth of God's Word and be at peace in your relationship with Him.

In Him who has left us His peace, a peace that passes all understanding, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #15:  

I am being pressured to go through with an arranged marriage (more the exception than the rule in this country). I have been fending it over for over a year, but my family is becoming increasingly upset with me. They are not believers and they get extremely angry whenever I mention Jesus. My wish is to live for Jesus, and I know that this marriage will complicate things greatly. Your prayers and guidance are appreciated.

In Jesus.

Response #15: 

I'm sorry to hear that you are experiencing so much antagonism and trouble for your faith, but I am very heartened to hear that you have the issues clear in your own mind. Scripture of course does not prohibit marriage; it prohibits prohibiting marriage (1Tim.4:3). In our culture over here in the states, most Christians have a difficult time understanding 1st Corinthians 7:25-38 which is all about arranged marriages. In Paul's day, the Greek custom was for parents to arrange marriages for their sons and daughters very early on, sometimes right after the birth of the baby girl. Clearly, in such cases it would be many years before the contract could be consummated. Paul is very clear in that context that a Christian man is not obligated to marry the woman to whom he has been long engaged; he has a right to remain single. He also says that it is not wrong for the man to marry "his virgin" if in his heart he feels "he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry [her]" (1Cor.7:36 NIV). Paul's "bottom line" on this is as follows: "So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better" (1Cor.7:38 NIV). What is not specifically stated in the context is the really critical point in regard to your situation, namely, the overarching principle which Christians are to follow in these matters is that if we marry we must marry "only in the Lord" (1Cor.7:39; cf. 2Cor.6:14-18). That is to say, believers, if they marry, must only marry other believers. It is folly, moreover, to make the assumption that even with the best of intentions or the greatest of love it might be possible to "convert" one's opposite number after marriage: "How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? " (1Cor.7:16).

Needless to say, when it comes to matters of the heart many Christians make mistakes great and small, innocent and culpable, out of ignorance or arrogance (I am certainly not without experience of that myself). In my own country, the issue of marriage and divorce and remarriage is a matter of great concern to the vast majority of my fellow believers (as you may have gleaned from the website), whereas in antiquity and in other cultures it was/is not so great an issue because divorce was unusual and remarriage (except for widows and widowers) even more rare. Our liberty in this country has allowed many of us to "pierce ourselves with many pangs". Those who marry unbelievers find they have "sinned in haste" but have much leisure to repent. Once married, however, they are not allowed to divorce their spouses, just because now, after the fact, they have become concerned about their spiritual status: "If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him." (1Cor.7:12-13 NIV).

Even in the best of marriages, moreover, as you rightly discern, the fact of being married complicates one's Christian ministry: "An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided" (1Cor.7:32-34 NIV). Nevertheless, the vast majority of human beings are incapable of the special self-restraint and ability that is necessary to live life alone for someone who wishes to stay single in order to serve Jesus better; in most cases, staying single just means more temptation and distraction and neurosis induced by loneliness, and the tension this untenable state produces for most people is worse than the complications one is trying to avoid (1Cor.7:7-9 NIV). So while married people "will have many troubles in this life" that single people will not have to face (1Cor.7:28), most of us do not have what it takes to remain single. Paul tells us "It is good for a man not to marry" (1Cor.7:1 NIV), and then quickly adds, "But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" (1Cor.7:2 NIV).

There is also this: "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord" (Prov.18:22 TNIV). I would not share this verse with most of my correspondents since most Christians in this country have bought into the notion of "romantic love", the idea that finding "just the right person" is the key to happiness in life – a notion one would think that the vast array of evidence to the contrary abroad in our society would at least partially dispel. I bring this verse to your attention because you clearly are approaching the issue from a holy and circumspect perspective. In the history of the world there have been some very good marriages (believers to believers), and there are instances in scripture of women being great assets to their husbands' Christian ministries and partners with them in those ministries (Prisca and Aquila, notably). I have occasionally observed that in my own experience as well (although the contrary is more common, in my opinion). But you are very right to be hyper-cautious in this matter, especially since you are not the one doing the choosing.

Please do not underestimate the effectiveness of your own prayers in this either. God hears those who are close to Him, and all who desire to be close to Him are given ample means of drawing near as you very clearly are doing. This seems to me from my admittedly distant prospect a test of your determination to put the Lord first by doing things His way or not at all. Please don't let your parents' insistence wear you down. As I recall, Samson let Delilah wear down his resolve so that he finally acted against his own better judgment, and we all know how that story turned out.

I will most certainly keep you in my prayers in this matter and ask the Lord to grant you the continuing courage and resolve to keep doing the right thing regardless of the pressure.

Yours in the One who keeps pouring the power into us to think and to do all that He requires, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #16: 

I believe you are correct that this marriage thing is a test, and it has turned into a real difficult one too. Satan has planned a "perfect" plot. The good thing is that the choices are obvious and not subtle. With each right choice I make, I break a dozen "innocent" hearts. With one wrong move I axe my own feet. To make the right one is very difficult, and very easy to make the wrong one.

In Him,

Response #16:  

While it is always good to hear from you, my friend, I am saddened to hear of your continuing trials on this account. As I wrote you before, marriage is a legitimate human institution set up by God for the entire human race, believers and unbelievers alike. Believers, however, are exempted from the necessity of marriage in principle. In reality, most of us are unable to live a chaste life outside of the institution of marriage and for that reason believers are certainly allowed to marry – but only other believers. The chances that an unbeliever who marries a believer will convert are very low; the chances that a believer who marries an unbeliever will suffer spiritually for it (above and beyond the divine discipline that comes from violating God's will in this matter) are very high.

I know it is easy for me to say these things from far away and not being under the pressures you face, but I do so for your own good. You are being tested. It seems to me that you have so far handled yourself in a reasonable and godly way. You have given no one any indication that you are willing to do anything against your beliefs, but you have not behaved with disrespect either. Ultimately, it is important for you to remember that your free-will and your faith are under your control – and that they are intimately connected. No one can force you to marry someone you should not marry; they may be able to hurt and harm you in many ways; they may be able to put so much pressure on you that you suffer for it considerably. However, there are times when God and His truth have to come first. In your country and in your culture, it is not easy to be a Christian; but for those who have chosen Christ, the opportunities to witness for Him in doing what is right, and the spiritual growth and reward that attend thereto are greater as well.

I will continue to keep you in my prayers. Remember this scripture:

You have not suffered any testing beyond normal human [experience]. And God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your capacity, but, along with the test, He will grant you the way out, so that you can bear up under it.
1st Corinthians 10:13

But there is also this one as well:

Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
1st Corinthians 7:27-28

In hopes of hearing that God has granted you "the way out" quickly and with as little pain and trouble as possible.

Bob L.

 

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