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  • This post is longer than normal due to its importance.

Alright, as I promised on Sunday, here is a longer explanation of divorce and remarriage.  As I said in the sermon, the Lord has not been silent on these issues and it’s incredibly important that we, as Christians, pay close attention to the Lord’s teaching in this issue.  Especially in light of the world we live in, where marriage is seen as outdated and there is so much gender confusion.  Marriages that represent Jesus and His church are desperately needed and the Lord has given us everything we need to serve Him faithfully in our marriages:  the power to change; the grace to forgive; the church to mentor/counsel/help; and His word to direct.  So, with that said, here are various things that I hope will serve you:

Previous sermons:

At CLF, by the God’s grace, we have taught on this subject before.  Here are a few previous sermons that explain much of what this blog post will have in it:

“A Remnant of Eden”

Let me start with this first…This was a quote from Ray Ortlund, who wrote a wonderful book Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel.  Some of you who went to our regional marriage conference a few years ago, will remember that statement.  Dr. Ortlund’s point was that when Jesus quotes God’s intention for Marriage in Matthew 19, He is pointing back to the created order.  Marriage is the only human institution that we have from before the Fall and it was not discontinued after Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden.  Thus, marriage is actually an artifact of Eden.  That puts marriage in a remarkably important place.  Just for a moment consider how delicately archeologists treat artifacts from past centuries and then consider how we’ve treated marriage…our current treatment of marriage has not had the same protective, deliberate, cautious, concern as the scientists dealing with bones of the past.  Just a thought.

Limited exceptions:

With the value of marriage being a remnant of Eden and marriage representing Jesus and His church’s relationship, we can understand why God intended for marriage to be for one man and one woman for one lifetime.  And we can understand, that because of the sin nature of mankind, there would be challenges to this exclusive relationship.  That why God gives us limited exceptions to this life-long covenant.  Limited exceptions would reveal to us the high value that God places on marriage.  Marriage is a BIG deal and getting into a marriage should be a BIG deal and thus leaving one should be a BIG deal.  As we will see, divorce always begins with sin, but not all divorces are sinful.  That’s a big deal because some have biblical reasons for a divorce & are not in sin when they pursue it.  But all divorces begin with some sort of sin.  But it is really important to remember that divorce is not the unpardonable sin or unforgivable sin.  The church, through the years, can take a hardline on divorce & it makes folks feel that they are wearing a scarlet letter, if they’ve been divorce.  It’s simply not true & it’s unfortunate.  Unbiblical divorces are indeed sinful but they are not unforgivable.  There is great & freeing forgiveness found in Jesus & we, as the church, should not put more restrictions or conviction on divorcees than Scripture does.  

So, let’s explore the “clear” permissible reasons for divorce:

  • Sexual Sin or Adultery, as listed in Matthew 19.  
    • The word that Jesus uses here for sexual immorality, “porneia”, is broader than pure adultery.  Jesus paints a broad portrait of all sexual immorality:  adultery, unrepentant addiction to pornography, sexual abuse, bestiality, molestation, etc. as potential grounds for divorce.  
    • And the reason for this is because sexual immorality is a fracturing of the marriage vows & a violation of the 1 flesh relationship between husband/wife.  
    • The sin of sexual immorality is of particular concern to Jesus because it defiles God’s order & God’s plan for marriage. It desecrates the sanctity of marriage & it destroys God’s created order & purposes. Further, it destroys the intimate trust that marriage is built on. 
  • Abandonment of a non-Christian, as listed in 1 Corinthians 7:15.  This is what I preached on this past Sunday.  Abandonment to the marriage covenant could be a few things:
    • It could be that they’ve left, never to return.
    • It could be that they have abandoned the care, protection & provisions of marriage, the marriage covenant & don’t really care about. For example:  it could be the spouse is refusing the marital rights of intimacy in anger & bitterness.  It could be ongoing verified physical abuse that has put the other spouse in danger of their lives.  It could be the abandoning of providing for their family & becoming a deadbeat.  
    • But the point is this:  just like sexual immorality has a bit of a wider swath than simply adultery, abandonment can as well. 
  • Now, adultery & abandonment, are the clear things given from Scripture.  What’s made things challenging through the years, as you can imagine, is the destructively creative nature of sin.  We, as humans, have come up with unique ways to “abandon” the marriage and unique ways for sexual sin that violate the marriage covenant.  Without going into details, from experience, sinful people have done some terribly destructive things to their spouses and thus to their marriages.  
  • Let me add one last thing before moving on…if your spouse has physically or sexually abused you, please contact the police.  There is literally no room for this in marriage and I speak about this in the “Husbands & Wives” sermon from last year.  

Now, let’s explore some “not-so-clear” permissible reasons for divorce.  Here’s one that I see a lot:  What about the abandonment of a so-called Christian from their marriage?  How does a Christian spouse deal with their Christian spouse who is abandoning their marriage? 

  • In my pastoral ministry, I’ve seen this more than I’ve seen sexual immorality.  This seems to be on the rise & it’s due to a couple of things:
    • The over romanticized view of marriage that our culture has thrown at us, has made marriage about emotion & romance, rather than companionship, vow-keeping & love that reflects the character of God.
    • But it’s also due to the “easy believism” that we’ve created in our churches where people can be unattached, uncommitted, & unfruitful & yet still claim that they believe in Jesus, when in reality, they are not. 
  • So, what do we do when this type of thing happens?
    • First, we must biblically confront the brother/sister who is abandoning their spouse because Mt. 18:15ff compels us to obey God.  This means that the spouse should confront them and/or brothers/sisters who know them should confront them.
    • Then, if they do not respond to that, the church leaders should confront them.  This is part of their role in pastoral ministry & part of the reason church membership is so important.  They should confront the person who is doing this & plead with them to stop with hopes that they will repent.  
    • But if they don’t stop, then the pastor/elders are to inform the sinner that they will be treated like a “Gentile & a tax collector” or in other words, “like one outside the church, an unbeliever.”
    • When that happens, then Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians. 7 help us.  After church discipline has been established & administered, the abandoning spouse will be treated as a non-Christian, who has abandoned his/her spouse.  The Christian spouse who has stayed, is now free from that marriage.  
  • What we see from this is that this is why we should not make these hard decisions on our own and this is why God has provided the church & the gift of teaching leaders.  
    • We all know that these things can be very emotional & it’s easy to let our emotions cloud our judgment. Therefore, we should be encouraged that God has not left us alone.  He has given us the church, friends who are like-minded in the sanctity of marriage & those who know God’s word to instruct us.  
    • So, if you’re a Christian & you’re contemplating divorce, let me just say to you…don’t do that until you receive biblical counsel from people who hold marriage in high regard.  
    • Remember, divorce might be permitted, but it is not required.  There might be other solutions that could help reconcile your relationship with your spouse & it is important that you explore those honestly before God with others who love God & who love you.  
  • But, this will also do something else:  it will make things more clear for the possibility of remarriage. 
    • Let me give you an example that was from Jay Adam’s book, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: Joe & Mary are Christian people who attend Church C.  Joe decides that he’s sick of all the fighting & files for divorce from Mary, who wants to stay married.  He says that they’re incompatible & they have irreconcilable differences.  So the divorce goes through & they go their separate ways. Joe goes to Church A & Mary goes to Church B.  Either of them meets a Christian person & they want to get remarried.  What happens now?  See without the church helping them, without objective support, how do they know what to do & how do they act in a way that will please God?  
    • With Jesus & Paul giving limited exceptions for divorce, this would mean that there’s limited possibilities for remarriage. The only possibilities for Christian remarriage are if the divorce was for biblical reasons.  If the divorce took place because of sexual immorality or abandonment, then according to those two exceptions, the innocent person would be free to remarry a Christian person.  But if the divorce were for unbiblical reasons, then according to 1 Cor. 7:11, they should remain unmarried or be reconciled to their ex. 
    • So let’s take up the story with Joe & Mary again.  If Church C was helping them prior to their divorce proceedings, then Church C can attempt to help them resolve their irreconcilable differences & hopefully they’ll be restored.  But what if Joe still goes through with it?  Then Church C is to confront Joe according to Mt. 18:15ff & if he still refuses to repent, then Mary would be free to remarry a Christian person, but Joe wouldn’t.  So if Church B, Mary’s new church, called & asked about Mary’s previous divorce to Joe, Church C could answer it emphatically & say that Mary was free to remarry & this would serve everyone involved.  And if Church A, Joe’s new church called Church C, then they could stop a potentially unbiblical remarriage & confront Joe about his past sin of abandoning his wife.  This benefits the body of Christ & it glorifies God.  It serves Joe & Mary when the church is utilized in these difficult decisions. 

Some challenging questions:

  • How does grace, mercy, and forgiveness play out in all of this?
    • This is a great question and one that is multi-faceted, depending on the situation.  
    • I know of marriages that have experienced one or both of the above and have stayed together and are doing well.  It required lots of grace and lots of forgiveness.  But the consequences of the mistrust has taken years to rebuild.  God gave the innocent spouse(s) unusual grace and power to work things out.  It is admirable.  
    • In my opinion, no marriage can truly thrive without grace, mercy, and forgiveness being realized and truly pursued.  When I sin against Jill, she has always been quick to forgive and has never held a grudge.  Lord willing, I believe she can say the same about me.  But where we’ve seen marriage struggle is in the area of bitterness and unforgiveness. 
  • Does divorcing your spouse for biblical reasons mean that you’re being unforgiving?  Not necessarily.  Let me explain.  
    • If there’s a biblical reason for a divorce, it is permissible, and this is part of the consequences for the sin that allowed for the divorce.  The innocent spouse is not responsible for the sin of the other spouse.  And the innocent spouse can pursue a divorce for biblical reasons, with forgiveness being granted.  
    • However, unforgiveness can be in the heart of the innocent spouse, whether they stay in the marriage or not.  
    • What I tell people in this situation is:  whether you stay in this marriage or not, you are still required by God and given the power of God, to forgive (Ephesians 4:32).  It is not easy but it is possible.  
    • And without going into too much detail, there are 2 different types of forgiveness:  forgiveness in the heart, where we do not hold their sin over them anymore and decide to not bring it up to their account to them, others, or even myself.  And there’s spoken forgiveness that happens when the sinner confesses their sin to us and asks for forgiveness.  At that point, we tell them that we forgive them.  
  • Does forgiving my spouse mean that restoration is immediate?  Again, the answer to this question is…it depends…
    • I tell couples often that restoration is trust over time. And restoration is not restoring our marriage to what it was like before the sin.  Rather, restoration is restoring the marriage to the way God intended it.  Big difference.  
    • And I tell the sinning spouse, who’s seeking the restoration, that restoration is on the pace and the timing of the innocent spouse.  They are the one that’s been hurt and therefore they need the time and emotional care to help them restore things in their timing.  This doesn’t mean that the innocent spouse can use this to manipulate or get revenge.  This restoration is to be filled with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  
  • What if someone who is already a Christian wants to marry someone who is not a Christian?  This could be in a first marriage or a remarriage.  
    • I think Scripture is pretty clear on this one.  Christians are commanded by God to marry Christians (1 Corinthians 6:14).  
    • The reasons for this are many, but here are a few:
      • An equal faith in Jesus, means you’re both submitted to the same King.  What He says matters to both of you.
      • An equal faith in Jesus, means the rules by which you live are the same.
      • An equal faith in Jesus, means you both have the same vision for life…living for the glory of God and representing your King in this earth.
      • An equal faith in Jesus, means you have similar guidelines for: raising kids, money, work, etc.  

Upcoming

This week, we’re going look at living the lives that the Lord has called us to, with contentment and joy.  We’ll be looking at 1 Corinthians 7:17-24.    

From the Cheap Seats:

To watch or listen to the sermon described in this post, please click here.

In Christ, 

Dave York

More To Explore

Musings

Present Distress

The texts from 1 Corinthians 7 have been incredibly challenging to interpret and then make clear. Much of the dilemma is cultural, but the syntax, grammar, and language also made these sections really hard. So, my prayer is that throughout this chapter, it has been clear and hopefully, encouraging and helpful.

Musings

Called by the Lord

ALL of God’s people are in ministry, at one level or another. And when Jesus enters our lives, he doesn’t expect us to move, change locations/jobs/spouses/etc., to be better Christians or be more acceptable to God.

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