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Divorce and Remarriage: What Does the Bible Say?

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Question:  Dr. Luginbill, Do you have any teachings on the subject of divorce and remarriage? I know the Bible says if a man leaves his wife and marries another he is committing adultery. I have been divorced but am now remarried, blessed in that marriage, and actively involved in a church ministry. I have a friend whose husband walked out on her and I would like to know the scripture says about remarriage in such issues as well. So this topic is of great concern to me. If you have any information on this subject I would greatly appreciate it. Your articles are a great help to me in my studies. I thank God for your sharing with all.  Thank you,

Response:  Divorce-remarriage is certainly one of the top ten difficult issues for Christian ethics and behavior - or at least should be. I have struggled with these problems for some years and think it entirely appropriate for dedicated Christians to give this set of issues very careful consideration, ideally before the fact of being under pressure to divorce, or remarry, or remarry someone who has divorced. For when dealing with such tremendously emotional issues, personal interest, involvement and pressures can affect how we think about such matters, and, even if we are entirely in the right, may cause doubts and guilt, if we have not come to conclusions we are dead set on before the fact.

I deeply appreciate the humble and honest tenor of your question and the background information you give. I think that it is only with just such honesty and humility that we as Christians can hope to come to grips with difficult questions like this. This is the case even for those who are not suffering personally from some aspect of this issue. If, for example, one is committed to life-long celibacy, or if one is blessed not to have made a mistake in choosing a partner or a series of mistakes in ruining a marriage (and likewise blessed to be married to someone of whom both these things are true), it might be very easy to slip into a judgmental, self-righteous frame of mind. That would be a mistake. Given the nature of the times and the society in which we live, the chances of oneself, or one's children, or one's close friends never having any issues on this score are extremely remote. For many reasons, such as the degeneration of society, the increasing lack of commitment to biblical principles on the part of Christians, the increasing level of temptation and of opportunities for behavior destructive to marriage, the increase in the level of modern pressures – all of which seriously militate against marriage – and especially the removal almost all societal taboos against divorce, to name just a few of the more prominent causes, marriage is today a very long odds bet, and an issue about which no Christian can afford to put his/her head in sand and pretend they are and will always be "invulnerable" to such forces.

Secondly, on the point about prior mistakes, believe me when I tell you that I know what you mean - and so does any other honest believer. We have all made mistakes, we have all sinned, we are all sinners. This doesn't excuse sinful conduct by any means, but it is a fact. Ideally, as we progress in the Christian life and come to follow the example of our Savior ever more closely with each passing day, we do indeed sanctify ourselves, our lives, our behavior, for that is one of the things that we have been called to do (Heb.12:14), that is the "defense" in the Christian life, just as the ministries we have been assigned constitute  the "offense", and both are a part of our spiritual growth, both based upon learning and applying the Word of God. Regardless of our mistakes, however, God in His great mercy deals with us where we are. If we sin, we are disciplined for it. When God punishes us, it hurts - no doubt about it. And if we are wise, we will avoid putting ourselves in harm's way again. If we don't get the message the first time, He is loving and just to give it to us again. BUT that doesn't mean that we are to live lives filled with guilt. Far from it. We rejoice in the fact that we are "sons of God" and when punished, punished as sons. We rejoice in the fact that the real price for our sins was paid in full by our Master, and the discipline received for sin is something else again - an incentive for avoiding such things in the future given by a loving Father (not an atonement for wrong done - Jesus did that, and He was the only One who could).

So if we have made a mistake in marriage (or in anything), to get back to the topic, well, we have made a mistake. As your testimony verifies, that does not mean that God is done with us nor even that He is done blessing us, for, as Solomon testifies, "There is no man who does not sin" (2Chron.6:36). I am in a position to validate this point from my own experience as well, and I trust there is not a Christian who cannot. So when it comes to marriage and divorce and re-marriage as past accomplished facts, it seems to me that Paul's perspective is the only one to have regardless of the history of how things came about:

"Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.  Yet if you do marry, you have not sinned."
1st Corinthians 7:27 NIV

That is to say, the time to worry about "the right to remarry" is before remarrying, not after having remarried. For whatever one may think about 1) the right to do so, 2) the advisability of doing so, or 3) the consequences of doing so (if so be the marriage was unwarranted), all these issues are entirely academic after the fact, because, once a marriage has been contracted, the principle of "one flesh" applies: "what God has joined, let no man put asunder". This may seem unfair to some contemplating certain remarriages who may feel themselves restrained and others forgiven after the fact. It is only apparently so. For if anyone has ever done anything as a Christian outside of the will of God, it always went worse for him/her than staying in the will of God - we may take this as a matter of complete faith. David was incredibly blessed in his marriage to Bathsheba, and line of Christ comes down through this couple by way of their son, Solomon. But, of course, David did not avoid the intense discipline of God for everything he did wrong (his discipline went on for 14 years). This is a principle that many Christians often conveniently forget - God blesses us and disciplines us, often at the same time. If we would be perfect in our behavior, we would only receive blessing, and even those things in our lives that seem to be hard (resisting a desire to marry someone scripture tells us we shouldn't, an unbeliever, for example) would only turn out for blessing in the end. Like the hypothetical case of the Christian who against all advice and direction of scripture marries an unbeliever and goes through hell on earth for many years before the spouse converts - had that Christian waited, it may very well be that conversion would have come sooner and the believer would have been spared the discipline that comes from failing to follow what we know is God's will. But in both cases, the Christian is blessed, and through perseverance of faith can accomplish God's will for his/her life. The point is that sticking with God's will avoids pain and suffering, as well as potential threats to faith that might otherwise have to be encountered, but God is God regardless, even when we fail:

"This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything."
1st John 3:20 NIV

Down to some specifics about what is and is not the will of God in these matters:

1. Paul told everyone to "stay where you are" in terms of marital status (1Cor.7:20; 7:27). That is scriptural advice. I can only give the same and point out that this statement is true no matter how one got to whatever the present status may be, and true even if the present status is uncomfortable, but ...

2. But Paul also recognized that for many people being alone was not a viable option because of fleshly temptations, and that fact must also be taken into serious consideration (1Cor.7:9). Forbidding people from marriage is thus a very bad idea, and is actually a characteristic of some present day cults as well as of the ascetic false teaching of the Tribulation (1Tim.4:3).

3. And there may very well be circumstances that justify remarriage. No one doubts that widows and widowers can do so (Rom.7:1-4). So in the case of a death, marriage is not binding. Paul also says that divorce is legitimate when an unbeliever walks out of a marriage (1Cor.7:15-16), a fact that begs the question (not, apparently directly answered by Paul in context) of whether legitimate divorce under such circumstances does not constitute a death, so to speak, and so allow remarriage. That seems almost certainly to be the case, for example, where the injured party had to suffer the unfaithfulness of his/her partner (cf. Matt.5:31-32).

In conclusion, I believe it is fair to say as you have experienced that God does bless in marriage, even if one has questions about their track record on these things. As Christians who are trying hard to do the will of God, we would like everything on these issues to fall into neat and easy categories; we would like for the issue of divorce and remarriage to be both completely spelled out and easy to accept. This isn't the case, no matter what interpretation one puts on these and other difficult passages, and that is so for a very obvious reason: the subject of divorce and remarriage almost always comes up only as a result of some bad decision (of bad judgment if not out and out sin). And as we all know only too well (or should, given the common human experience) one bad decision inevitably leads to more, because it puts a person in a compromised position. Whenever we are forced by our own past mis-steps to act from weakness instead of from strength, well, at the very least we can expect to experience some extremely uncomfortable moments, even if we make a point of doing everything we can to chart the best course.

Regaining the high ground is always a difficult thing. But even if we have erred, we may be sure that our Savior is for us, and that we are forgiven by His blood.

In short, I would certainly not tell your friend that she should not remarry. I would also be careful not to encourage her to remarry, especially if she is solid in her own mind that to refrain is the best course for her and is possessed of the self-control necessary to persevere in that course. However, from a pastor's point of view, I would also not allow a culture of self-righteousness to sprout up that said, in effect, all those who have remarried are somehow living in sin, living in adultery - this is a horribly disastrous and wrong notion, and, if left unchecked, has the potential to destroy an entire church and many lives in the process. There are times, as mentioned above, when it is completely legitimate to remarry, times when, in my estimation, it is open to interpretation (being the business of the two parties involved in the sight of God) - and even when it may have been a bad idea to remarry, once it's been done, it's been done, and must be treated by all just as God treats it: the two have become one flesh. So while I would not wish to communicate to anyone that they should not take the issues of remarriage very seriously before the fact and consider with extreme care and circumspection the advisability of their actions, the reality is that many Christians do get remarried (and often have a scriptural right to) and God still uses them and blesses them. It is therefore not the place of the local church or individual Christians to sit in judgment on them about it - it is a matter strictly between them and their God.

These are difficult matters, but nothing is impossible with God. If we keep trusting Him, He will bring us through.

Please also see the following links:

No Grounds for Divorce?

What does it mean in 1st Corinthians 7:14, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified"?

More Divorce and Remarriage

Feelings of Guilt about Remarriage

A Conversation about Divorce and Remarriage

Marriage of Believers and Unbelievers.

I hope you will find this answer of some help - it is given in the love of Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

 


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