The Word of God and Divorce

It is prayerfully hoped that this teaching will clarify matters on the subject of divorce and show the positions as seen within the Holy Scriptures. There are a number of good books written by scholars, pastors and teachers on this subject and so this teaching is not meant to be a totally definitive teaching. It is concise and to the point but does not go into examples or case studies. As we all look through the glass dimly or where understanding or illumination grows and increases then we shall see that there are different positions between believers on this very evocative and distressing subject. We therefore need to try and keep the ‘bond of unity’ with graceful disagreement and seek the truth together. Satan loves to divide the brethren and has been quite successful over the years! 

To look at divorce then, we must look at the position before and after conversion – when repentance has taken place.

Before Conversion:

The unbeliever before coming to know the Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour is within the kingdom of darkness and is therefore blinded by the god of this world – the Devil (see 2 Corinthians 4:4). Upon receiving Jesus as Lord they are then transferred into His glorious Kingdom of Light and as such are now subject to the Holy Scriptures which contain the law, commandments, precepts, statutes and ordinances of a Holy God.

We can therefore judge with righteous judgement that if a sinner has been divorced several times over, all their past sins including divorcing and remarrying are forgiven at the point of conversion. What they now do will be recorded and they shall give an account as it is written. (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). If anyone would disagree with this then they are judging another saints salvation and put themselves forward as judge instead of the Lord, who categorically states that all our sins are forgiven upon repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus who gives new life. The old has gone and the new has come as 2 Corinthians 5:17 states – ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ (All verses quoted are from the King James Version).

What if the new believer has not re-married, what is the position. There are three scenarios:-

1) They seek out their divorced husband or wife and give them the Gospel and if they have not remarried then seek to remarry before God upon conversion of their ex husband/wife.

2) If their previous husband/wife has remarried then they are free to marry again but should be guided by the scriptures. (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

3) They can choose to remain a single person before the Lord but should still give the Gospel of good news to their previous husband/wife that their sins may also be forgiven upon repentance.

After Conversion:

We now turn to the Scriptures and the words of our Lord Jesus:

Matthew 5:32. “But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife , saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

All believers now have to accept that there is a condition or clause given by the Lord himself where one believer to another or to the unsaved husband/wife who has committed fornication within marriage now has the right to divorce the other. The Lord Jesus now repeats this instruction later on in:-

Matthew 19:3-10. The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every reason?”

And He answered and said unto them, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female.
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together; let not man put asunder.”
They say unto Him, “why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?”
He saith unto them, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.
And I say unto you, whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

What we as believers must now recognise is that the Lord Jesus has spoken of divorce (shall put away) and remarriage (and shall marry another) within His reply as He knows that people who divorce will want to remarry. Very few would be eunuchs unto the Lord. No where do we have a verse teaching us from the Lord or through the apostles that the innocent party cannot remarry. This is therefore a very hard position for anyone to adopt and then to put over someone else for the remainder of their life when they are the innocent and offended party within the marriage. The sin is not theirs and neither can they carry it or be the burden bearer. Secondly, we are now to pay attention to the Lord Jesus and what He says. Moses permitted but now we have, “I say unto you …..” Again it is important that all believers (Jew and Gentile) who are one in Messiah must adhere to the teachings of the Lord Jesus.

The grammatical structure is really quite plain and simple in its meaning or rendering –

1) A man can only put away his wife if there is fornication within the marriage.

2) In His reply the Lord Jesus speaks of remarriage. He does not forbid it within these instructions and so we must see something else which many seem to miss where He repeats the above commandment in:

Mark 10:11-12. And He saith unto them, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeh adultery against her.”
And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”

Luke 16:18. “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

Immediately we should see that the Lord does not give the ‘except for’ condition – which is fornication. Twice in Matthew in chapters 5:32 and 19:9 the Lord Jesus states there is a single and only a single clause by which a man may divorce his wife, that being fornication within marriage. She has soiled her body and the marriage bed and has deliberately broken her vow to love only him.

There are two things we now need to reflect upon:-

1) If we did not have the two verses within Matthew re fornication then the verses in Mark and in Luke would prohibit divorce totally. However, we do have them and all of us must acknowledge this.

2) We are also told that all Scripture is given by inspiration from God (see 2 Timothy 3:16) and so why has Mark and Luke omitted the ‘except it be for’ condition in Matthew 19:9.

The answer is because of the love, grace and patience of God in wishing to see forgiveness and reconciliation in His saints. The only conclusion we can come to is that, even though adultery or fornication is permissible grounds for divorce and remarriage, it is still better to try and salvage the marriage if possible. In other words if the believer can forgive and forget then they have shown the highest form of love and forgiveness just as God is doing with Israel. She is the Wife of Jehovah (see Isaiah) just as the Church is the Bride of Christ. God is patient and has been waiting a long time and so we should try and do the same so that one day after the passage of time reconciliation is seen.

3) If the pain of betrayal is too hard for the innocent party to bear then in love the Lord Jesus permits divorce because of and only because of fornication which is adultery within marriage.  

What about mental or physical cruelty? This is a matter for the elders and corrective measures through counselling. A period of separation may be necessary but each case must be judged separately and with righteous judgement before the Lord. It is a matter of prayer, knowledge of the scriptures, wisdom, witnesses and discernment. No woman should have to put up with unreasonable behaviour on a long term basis from the man who is supposed to have the paternal, provider and protector ministry within the marriage. No man has the right to make his wife suffer mentally, physically, spiritually or socially within the bond of marriage. He is to love his wife as his own body. Ephesians 5:28. (So ignoring his wife or giving her little time or attention, or staying up late watching TV or playing computer games, going out a lot with the lads, or sports mad etc is not the outworking of the ‘one flesh’ in harmony but pure selfishness, for the husband is acting like a bachelor instead of a married man).

Neither is he to be bitter towards her. Colossians 3:19. (So if a man is going to be a man let him be one and so rule with love and understanding within the marriage and home. A secret bank account, a secret lover, secret sins (watching or reading pornography), telling lies on an on going basis, swearing and/or drinking heavily will surely shipwreck any marriage). 

A wife then is looking for romance and fulfilment through a life of togetherness, through love, with understanding and growth seen within the marriage. In other words til death do us part! There is no one more loyal than a woman towards her man within a marriage. Why? Because her desire will be for her husband – Genesis 3:16.

The other side of the coin is then the actions of the wife towards her husband and so the above works both ways!

There are some other scriptures that we need to be very aware of:-

Romans 7:2-3. ‘For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress though she be married to another man.’ (cf 1 Corinthians 7:39)

Here the apostle Paul quite plainly teaches that a woman cannot leave her husband and marry another. However, the Lord Jesus has already given an ‘except for’ condition being adultery/fornication, and Paul now gives another clause, this being where death has separated them and the remaining believer may remarry if they so wish. If the Scripture is broken then the woman or man is to be known as an adulterer and adulterers will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (see 1 Cor 6:9). Some within the Body of Christ have broken this commandment of the Lord through the pen of Paul to their own public shame and eternal peril. God will not be mocked as it is written and in 1 Corinthians 14:37 Paul writes, … ‘the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.’ There will be no excuses on the Judgment Day!

Within any marriage there can be problems, there will be good days and bad days, but it is for better or worse, for richer or poorer, the highs and the lows of life, but we can always work it out through love, understanding, patience and forgiveness. Time is a healer through these things birthed in our great God.

Communication is the key to a sustainable marriage:
through the Lord,
through Love and
through Loyalty to one another.

We can see that the Lord has communicated His instructions to us and His love to us through His Son.
We are to love one another and this is achieved through loyalty, seen through purity, holiness of life, and obedience to the Word of God.

There is one final passage regarding marriage instructions found in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16.
We can divide these verses into three parts:-

1) Verses 8-9 are for the unmarried and widows, no one else!
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.
But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

2) Verses 10-11 are for the married believer –
‘And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, let not the wife depart from her husband.
But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.’ (NB. Again we see that reconciliation is being looked for by the Lord).

3) Verses 12-16 are for the believer who is married to an unbeliever.
‘But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by her husband: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy.
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.
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou , O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife.’

(These verses do not nullify the wisdom of God through what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 but rather should be seen as what to do when one person within a marriage becomes a believer and the other does not. The wisdom of God is again seen through the passage of time in that Paul states that the believer should remain with the unbeliever because in time they may come to a saving faith, because of God’s foreknowledge, through prayer and giving the Gospel along with our lifestyle in Christ Jesus).

Finally then, what if the believing husband or wife commits adultery/fornication within marriage. The innocent believer is free to remarry if they have divorced and it is always better for the innocent party to wait for the other to seek the divorce. The sin becomes theirs twofold, however, down the line true and sincere repentance may be seen and so they shall be forgiven. But can they remarry? The answer is no and so no amount of scripture twisting or humanistic reasoning can be put forward. If the husband is not dead then the wife is not free as we saw in Romans 7:2-3. Once you make your bed you have to lie in it as the saying goes. We know the rules and so we are without excuse. Of course, if the innocent party has not remarried then reconciliation could take place. Again, the Lord and time can see healing of the heart.

In conclusion then, the Scriptures are our guide and all sufficient rule for our faith and our conduct in this life and the life to come. Amen.

Date : 30/11/-0001    

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