Contributor: Leye Olayiwola
Last week, we started on a three part series titled “Teaching on Marriage”. We considered Paul’s counsel, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, on issues pertaining to sexual relationship in the context of marriage. The unmarried were counselled to avoid the stronghold of sexual drive and advised to marry if they are of marriageable age. Married couples were also counselled to fulfil their marital duties to each other since they both do not have any authority over their respective bodies. We will continue on this series by considering God’s stand on the controversial issue of divorce and separation. Is divorce really an option? Is separation allowed? If yes, on what grounds? Under what circumstances? What is the relevance of Jesus’s reference to the beginning? These and many more shall be our focus today.
1. Remain married permanently (vs 10-11)
In this disputed section, Paul urges Christian spouses to remain married. Paul gives instructions that are from the Lord Jesus who spoke about the permanence of marriage (Matt 19:6-9; Mark 10:5-12). Divorce is not an option—neither for the husband to divorce his wife nor for the wife to divorce her husband. It is worth noting that there is a parenthetical statement in verse 11 (“but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband”). It is possible that Paul may have been making a compassionate provision for an abused woman. This seems to indicate that God Himself is acknowledging that some marriages, even between Christians, are so difficult and so unwholesome and so degrading that divorce is the lesser of two evils. Put this way. God is more passionate for the soul than the institution. Remember, Christ did not die for an institution. He gave His life for the redemption of souls. God will rather a person in an abusive marriage be saved than die in an abusive marriage. However, for the believer who divorces his believing spouse there are two options: singleness or reconciliation. Remarriage to a different spouse is not biblically permissible.
Also note that the permission of divorce and the issue of certificate of divorce (Deut.24:1-4) was by Moses. Jesus confirmed this in Matthew 19:3-9.
“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
As we will also see in the next verses here in our text, Paul also said in his opening of verse 12;
“To the rest I declare—I, not the Lord [since Jesus did not discuss this]……”
If you are married, God’s intent and expectation is that your marriage goes the distance. This means when (not if) there are problems in your marriage (which has been lingering and building castles in your home), it is imperative that you go to the leadership of the church before it’s too late. Too often, couples run to the pastors and elders when their marriage is on life support and nothing can be done to salvage it. Yes, God can and will work miracles, but it is wise to include Him in our marriage trauma before it’s too late.
2. Marriage between a believer and unbeliever (vs 12-16)
In 7:12, Paul distinguishes between his own apostolic instruction and Jesus’ teaching during His earthly ministry. Paul deals with a situation about which the Lord gave no instruction in his earthly teaching.
a) Now it is very important for us to recognize that the mixed marriages Paul is addressing here are the by-products of the conversion of one of the partners. When these two individuals got married they were both unbelievers; now one of them has become a Christian. This section does not apply to a believer who violates God’s law by knowingly marrying an unbeliever. For such a person to appeal to this passage would be like a teenager killing his parents and then appealing to the judge for leniency on the grounds that he’s an orphan.
b) In 7:12-16, the discussion is not about a believing spouse initiating a divorce. Instead, the unbelieving spouse initiates the divorce. The general principle in 7:12-16 is that those who are married are to stay married (i.e. the believer should remain married to the unbeliever). But although the believer should not initiate the divorce, if the unbeliever should do so, the believer is no longer bound to the marriage. This is stated in 7:15, where Paul writes that the believer is “not bound in regard to marriage” (i.e., free to remain single or to remarry).It is however expected that the believing spouse should be more focused at winning the unbelieving spouse to Christ through his or her chaste character according to 1 Peter 3:1-6 instead of desiring to get rid of the unbelieving spouse.
c) In 7:39-40, there is a conceptual parallel where a wife is said to be “bound” (a different word in Greek, but the same concept) as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is “free” to marry as she wishes, only in the Lord. If the parallel holds, then not bound in 7:15 also means “free to marry another.”
d) Two motivations that Paul brings out for remaining in an unequally yoked marriage are the spiritual benefits that accrue to your family (7:14) and the hope that you may win your spouse to Christ (7:16). Paul says that the unbeliever is “sanctified” (i.e., set apart for God’s blessings) on account of the believer. Salvation does not change the marriage state. If the wife’s becoming a Christian annulled the marriage, then the children in the home would become illegitimate. Instead, these children may one day be saved if the Christian mate is faithful to the Lord. Paul also holds out hope that the believing spouse may influence the unbelieving spouse to believe the gospel.
e) A godly and bible based counsel will be for a Christian whose unsaved spouse has divorced him or her to remain unmarried as long as there is a possibility that the unsaved person may return. However, if the unsaved spouse who has departed remarries, I believe the Christian would be free to remarry since, by remarrying, the unsaved partner has closed the door on reconciliation. Remaining faithful to your marriage blesses your spouse and children to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom.
3. Stay put indefinitely (vs 17-24)
Paul now departs from commenting about marriage to offer more general considerations about one’s overall situation in life. But since he continues with issues concerning sexuality in 7:25-40, we cannot interpret the present section as unrelated to the marriage issues just discussed. In order to explain the general principle he has been trying to communicate in the previous verses about marriage, Paul uses two other less urgent issues (circumcision and slavery) as examples. His main point is that after experiencing the call of God, each person should remain in the situation he or she was in at the time of that call. Becoming a Christian does not mean totally revamping one’s social status. Do not seek (or pursue) marriage; do not seek (or pursue) singleness; do not seek (or pursue) divorce to the detriment of your happiness and fulfilment in life. In fact, do not actively seek any change in social status!
Three times Paul insists that a believer is to remain in the situation he or she was in at the point of faith in Christ (7:17, 20, and 24). This means that a Christian does not have to seek “the right situation” in order to enjoy Christian freedom or to serve God’s call effectively. We should serve God where we are until He calls us elsewhere.
Again, Paul’s overarching point in this passage is God is happy when we are content. If you are single—be content, if you are married—be content. Whatever your stage in life, be content.
The rate of Divorce (and separation) in the church is as high (if not more than) as it is in the contemporary world. The fact that this has become quite rampant in the church or the world does not nullify God’s stand on divorce. God hates divorce! Yes, He does. Why? Because the joining between a man and a woman is a permanent one. Jesus said in Luke 16:18;
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Why? Because Divorce does not nullify the bond between a man and a woman after they are married. This is a very hard one to comprehend or accept in this modern day. So what is the remedy? It is the responsibility of each and every one of us as believers to train up our children in the fear and way of the Lord. We all want our children to marry God fearing men and women. The question and the challenge is this. How many of us are really God fearing? And how many of us are really ready and willing to raise God fearing children? The church is becoming a difficult place to find suitors for the singles. We can however make a difference by investing time in raising and building godly virtues in our children. We can make a difference.