— FOREWORD —
No other subject in Christianity today sparks more controversy than this one. Dealing with the facts of it is no way to win friends and influence people. Today the subject is so explosive that pastors, counselors, teachers, and even families are afraid to approach it. Police exercise great caution when dealing with domestic violence from it, and one could seek no better formula for splitting a church, a society, or even a nation. History proves that all have happened, some of them many times.
Be that as it may, the cold truth of it sits there on the pages of Holy Writ in words so clear they have to be simply ignored to get around them. As such, its only option is to give birth to convenience. Isn’t that just like fallen humanity? If anything in Scripture fails to fit what our flesh craves, then, like a screaming baby in wet diapers, we squeal for anything convenient to comfort us.
So if you don’t want to hear this inconvenient truth, I suggest you stop here, but with this reminder: marriage predates all human history, starting with the creation of Adam and Eve. It belongs to humanity itself, not just Christianity. God laid down the indelible rules to govern them when he created the first male and female, with not one shred of evidence in Scripture that he changed the principles that govern them, except only one because of the sin factor. The reason for today’s confusion in the matter is that those principles simply got buried in human convenience.
— PART 1 —
Marriage between a man and a woman is infinitely more than a legal bond; it is a sacred bond in God’s sight, broken only by sin. Before sin entered God’s creation, “marriage” as we call it, was an indissoluble fusion of a male and a female into what God termed “one flesh.” It is vital to the subject that we understand the chronological sequence of this establishment of human existence on the earth. The sequence is this: immediately after the orderly setting up of a place for humanity to exist, God created Adam, and then provided a crowning touch by forming Eve from Adam’s body to be his “help meet,” a soul mate and partner in the divine task of occupying the earth. He fused them together into “one flesh” made of two complementary persons, perfectly equipped in spirit and body to fulfill God’s purpose for humanity’s very existence, “To fear God and to keep his commandments,” because “that is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). What was that duty? They were to “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Genesis 1:28).
So here in a single paragraph is the unvarnished essence of exactly why God sees the binding of a male and a female into “one flesh,” that is, the marriage bed, as being very sacred to his own person and plan. Please read with great care! This was, and yet is, what God expects of all humanity, none excluded, and to which all humanity will be held accountable in judgment.
God’s divine order assigned to all humanity in the first couple is very explicit. Read it again: Be fruitful, multiply, replenish, subdue, and have dominion. Male and female were each fitted in soul and body to compliment one another into a oneness of flesh toward that task. It cannot be accomplished any other way. Little wonder that ancient Jewish women saw barrenness as a curse. Notice the logical flow: all of the domination must flow from replenishment, which must flow from multiplying, which follows the command of fruitfulness. Here then is the core truth of marriage:
One flesh multiplying itself toward becoming a multitude of God’s faithful subjects, continuing to multiply and glorifying the Divine Creator of life, toward eternal ends which humanity has yet to fully realize.
The marriage bed is therefore a sacred place in God’s sight. I repeat, the marriage bed is a sacred place in God’s sight. If we lose sight of that first truth of marriage, we have lost sight of what God says marriage is all about! A violation of that oneness of flesh is, to God, a very serious offense. By his standard it is not so easily dissolved. In fact, as we will see later, God allows only one reason, and only one, as grounds to dissolve it.
In perfect Eden, there were no such things as unfaithfulness, sin, adultery, bad marriages, and divorce. Only after sin entered did those imperfections come to bear on the sacred institution of marriage. But it is vital to the study of it to settle in our minds that the sacred institution of marriage precedes the entrance of sin into humanity. To miss that basic principle of marital truth is to wander in endless confusion in the subject. To maintain that perspective brings order to the subject; without it is to splinter it into millions of opinions; one, in fact, for each and every situation. One might use today’s familiar term to describe it, “situational ethic’s,” that is, “if it feels good, do it.” To focus on its institution prior to sin throws the spotlight upon God’s simplicity of it; the focus after sin carries an endless baggage of utter confusion born of convenience.
This brings our focus to Jesus’ plain and simple statement of Matthew 19:8. The Pharisees thought to trap Jesus in his words with the thorny subject of marriage and divorce. Jesus brushed it aside by saying Moses allowed a writing of divorcement because of “the hardness of their hearts,” and then he blew away all their arguments with the simple phrase, “but from the beginning it was not so.” The word “beginning” here can only refer to God’s original Edenic institution of marriage, which God called “one flesh.”
Then Jesus continued on the subject, and what he spoke then and there should end all speculations on the subject. For the first time since Eden, God added to the subject of “one flesh” a principal truth to accommodate the sin factor. The Lord is the champion of innocence. What he said guards the innocent party in a marriage where willful sin is introduced. We should read very, very carefully what he said here, and then carry that principal truth close to our bosoms as we study the subject of marriage and divorce. He said:
“And I say unto you, whosoever 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” (Matthew 19:9).
Think carefully: Jesus would not have said those words to Adam and Eve before they sinned, and yet they were indeed married into “one flesh.” Yet here he does say them, but with one added phrase to make saying it meaningful to depraved humanity, “except it be for fornication.” That short verse containing that short phrase is filled with bewildering complexity unless one centers on the principal truth and all the truth it infers. (We should observe that Scripture’s inferred truth is equally valid in inspiration. For example, when Jesus invited Peter to come to him walking on the water, the inference is that Peter could have indeed walked all the way to Jesus on the water, or else Jesus would not have asked why he doubted (Matt. 14:25-31). To think otherwise is to accuse the Lord of an insincere invitation).
In order to see the inferred truths of Matthew 19:9 quoted above, let us give inferred proposals of the verse in two ways. Keep in mind that the results of the divorce are what immediately follow it, because as time passes after it, many complications can take place to change the original results. These proposed inferred truths are the results before the complications (such as remarriage) takes place.
Also, bear in mind that Jesus is teaching a principal for all time, which includes the universal freedom inherent in his Gospel across the lines of both sexes. So in this verse he addresses the male’s side, but the inference introduced by his Gospel includes females. The truth of it applies even if we switch the male and female roles in Jesus’ principal. For instance, instead of “put away his wife” it is equally true to say “put away her husband,” and so on through the verse.
In our first proposal, the wife has indeed committed fornication. Follow the inferred truth through the proposed verse:
“Whoever shall divorce his wife who has indeed committed fornication against him, and remarries, does not commit adultery. And whoever marries his divorced wife does not commit adultery because God recognized the divorce from her first Husband because she committed fornication against him.”
Now look at the inferred complications: the Lord only gives the offended husband permission to remarry. He might opt to stay single. Thus the possibility is there, if he is of a mind, to later remarry the same wife whom he divorced. But what if she is now divorced again so as to leave her second husband to remarry her first one? Such complications seem endless, and that is only a minor one. To unravel such a problem, keep your eye on the only exception Jesus gave. For brevity’s sake we will not do that here.
Our second proposal is based on the wife being innocent of the sin of fornication:
“Whoever shall divorce his wife who has not committed fornication against him and remarries, is himself guilty of committing fornication against her. And whoever marries his divorced wife is not guilty of committing adultery with her because God recognized the divorce the instant her first husband remarried and fornicated against his innocent wife.”
But look at the inferred complications: until her divorced husband remarries, or otherwise defiles their marriage bed, God does not recognize the divorce, even if the civil law does. If she remarries before her first husband defiles the bed, God will not recognize her remarriage, but rather sees it as fornication against her real husband, thus legalizing their divorce in God’s sight. On the other hand, as soon as her first husband remarries, her remarriage becomes acceptable, but she must genuinely seek God’s forgiveness for remarrying before her first husband remarried. If she doesn’t, it remains unforgiven sin, even though she is legitimately remarried. Again we can see how the ongoing complexity seems endless.
The one thing on which to focus as the key to sorting out right and wrong in any given circumstance, is the one principal truth that there is only one exception by which God will recognize a divorce and remarriage: fornication. It always comes down to that.
These indelible truths, then, present a timeless, immoveable base to which all arguments must be firmly attached, or else they will eventually utterly destroy the very foundation of marriage. That immovable base is simply God’s holiness, that is, an act that violates God’s pristine character. If any of our arguments are not firmly nailed to that source, they will be flawed at the root. Always, the question must be, does it violate God’s immutable holiness? Will God be pleased, regardless of how the husband or wife feels about it? If both parties dedicate themselves to honor God in their troubled marriage, things can be worked out. If not, they can’t. It is just that simple. It all comes down to God’s view of that marriage bed. Unless the marriage bed has been defiled, according to Jesus’ precise words, there are no grounds for divorce no matter what anyone thinks, or what any man-made law might dictate. God’s sacred, personal holiness will not be violated without bitter consequence. If we are to realize true perspective regarding marriage and divorce, it behooves all humanity to understand who God is in his person and character. The ignorance or violation of that timeless truth about God is the true culprit in the runaway divorce rate among Christians.
An in-depth study of God’s holiness, his chief attribute toward humanity, would fill a large volume. Such a study would not find room in this article. We will only mention that God’s mandate of Genesis was vitally tied to his integrity of purpose in creating humanity. God’s divine integrity is itself his character of utter purity, that is, his holiness. To violate what he deems sacred to his purpose in humanity is a personal affront to his revealed character. Insulting God is no way to win his favor, the only road to happiness.
Here, then, is the best approach to gaining insight into God’s mind concerning marriage.
The generations of humanity have passed through many unique complications because of the complexity of depravity, leaving church leaders, politicians and counselors of every sort, searching Scripture for direct application. But society’s rules and laws change drastically, and so we must seek for principles of truth, which were underlying the direct application, and then apply those principles to our own unique situation today. Those principles are perpetual through all time and are divine principles that always apply.
Again, the first principle of truth toward any solution to solving any problem issuing from human depravity is always, first and foremost, God’s divine attribute of absolute holiness. That is, his integral being, focused upon his purpose in creation.
If it crosses swords with God’s character of utter purity, it is no solution worth considering. It behooves us all to be true to God’s revealed mind on the matter, not one’s own mind, not that of a friend, a counselor, a pastor, or any other, but God’s mind, as he has clearly revealed in Scripture. Look at it this way: Since God’s holiness is the purity of his very person, it is a divine, irrevocable, eternal standard, an immutable law for all time and eternity, both spiritually and naturally. That law is what makes the whole of existence itself a reality. God always operates toward humanity in that framework, and the better we understand that and adhere to it, the happier we will be as humans. Therefore, look again at the core truth of the divine purpose in marriage. Tampering with God’s divine multiplier the “one flesh” factor, the marriage bed, is to tamper with his integral purpose of humanity’s existence in the first place”
One flesh multiplying itself toward becoming a multitude of God’s faithful subjects, continuing to multiply and glorifying the Divine Creator of life, toward eternal ends which humanity has yet to fully realize.
— PART 2 —
Now in regard to fornication being the only grounds God recognizes as justification for divorce, since nothing is hidden from God, it suddenly becomes vital to the grounds that whoever opts for divorce must also know what God knows about it. Strong suspicion is not enough. Look at it this way: the stakes here are eternal salvation. If the grounds for filing for a divorce are not proven beyond doubt, the divorce might not be valid in God’s sight, and so whoever remarries on the strength of it is guilty of adultery and could die in sin. Given the right circumstances, until death it could be said that they are dead while they live. Sadly, many people, Christians included, stand guilty before God today, and are dead while they think they live. They might even be happier with their new wife or husband, but in God’s mind he might see them as yet “one flesh” with a previous mate.
So it is with God in declaring a husband and wife to be “one flesh.” It is wrapped up in his divine purpose of creating humanity. His mind in that matter is resolved and has been “from the beginning,” as Jesus put it in Matthew 19:8. That one and only reason for divorce in verse nine is God’s mind and indelibly stated for all humanity, saved or lost, and so is a divine principle through all time in which all judgments in the matter must be attached in order to have any worth. Regardless of all the complexities the human tragedy presents, when we string that principle of truth through it, other truths assemble themselves into a meaningful pattern, which respect God’s mind in the matter.
Some will surely bring Romans 7:1-3 to bear on the subject to prove that the Christian wife can never remarry until her husband dies, regardless of how he treated her. But look more carefully at this passage. Notice the parenthetical statement, “for I speak to them that know the Law.” Note this in conjunction with Paul’s subject: he is speaking to these Roman Jews concerning their deliverance from the Law to the Gospel of Christ. Chapter 6, verses 28-33, describes their deliverance. Then he illustrates what has happened to them in this transition. The “Law” referenced in 7:1 is the Mosaic Law. Paul is saying with great clarity that the symbolic “husband” of verse two is the “Law” of verse one, and the wife of the same verse is the Christian who has been set free from bondage to her husband, the “Law” of Moses, and now lives free in Christ.
Looking more closely, Paul was a former Pharisee, and a very successful one. No one knew the “Law” better than himself. We see then that Paul assumes a position exactly like the Pharisees of Matthew 19:3, 7, but makes the transition in his illustration to the Gospel in the Christ of 19:9. We are forced to consider Jesus’ words of 19:8, and adopt instead his stated exception of 19:9. In the Gospel, then, the wife is not bound to her husband until he dies. It depends on how he treated her. We can truly say of this, “freedom is not free,” simply because we have to make moral decisions, and sometimes this is very costly. All of this is compacted into Jesus’ amazing statement of 19:9. He cut away all the slackness the Jewish priesthood had added to favor the man, but at the same time provided one exception to guard the victim of unfairness. That one exception is all there is. That is God’s mind in the matter, and, according to Scripture, he has not changed it.
FIRST CORINTHIANS 7. Many Gospel truths crowd this chapter, but we will cover only what is relative to our topic of separation and divorce. It is vital to the study that we grasp the setting and times of its writing; otherwise, interpretation of it can lead to legalism. This is always a challenging subject in any age of humanity for the simple reason of changing societies, cultures, knowledge, traditions, and more. A great many things can be brought to bear on it, causing much confusion as to what is right or wrong in the matter.
Such is what Paul faced when he wrote to the Corinthians. That city was steeped in great sexual depravity, with many gods of sex, and temples dedicated to it. Society had been born and raised in it, practiced it, and worshiped its pagan gods. And so it was throughout the Roman Empire, but especially in the Macedonian area. It was literally who they were, but their lives radically changed when the Lord entered. Suddenly they were faced with great changes, all marking them as peculiar among their neighbors. Paul, then, was breaking new ground, as we can easily see by such verses as 6, 10, 12, 17, 25, and 26. Verses 26 and 29 are noteworthy: persecution of Christians was either happening or imminent, but Paul and the other apostles also believed the coming of the Lord was near.
Such were the times and issues behind Paul’s every word. But one other vital point must not be overlooked: there were only Pentecostal churches in existence at this early date. Later in the same letter Paul would be writing about this in chapters 12, 13, and 14. It was crucial that the Holy Spirit dwelt among them in Pentecostal fashion to exercise his gifts if they were to endure these times of molten persecution. The 13th chapter describes the catalyst that was to bind them together into Pentecostal oneness, namely, agape love. Paul’s only aim here in chapters 1 through 11 was sharpened to preserve the bond of love among them so that God’s Holy Spirit could live and work in them to direct his churches. That, friends, is an enduring principle of truth, transcending all the ages of the Church. Of all the areas of life, marriage is one of Satan’s favorite targets for the destruction of the local church. Why? Simply because of all areas of church life, marriage, the Christian home, is where agape love (that is, the sacrificing of oneself to benefit our mates and children), is an absolute must, or else unhappiness will make the union virtually unbearable. If we set chapter 7 squarely on that foundation, we will not have near the struggle to understand it.
The very first principle we must bear in mind is the principal Paul considered as he wrote. You see, Paul’s ministry was downstream in time since Jesus spoke specifically about the subject of divorce (Matthew 19:1-9). No matter what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we can be perfectly assured that Jesus’ words would have been his guiding principle and assumption. Verse 39, for instance, must be read with Matthew 19:9 in mind, together with Jesus’ stated exceptions. Paul believed, according to verse 40, that he had the mind of God’s Spirit in his opinions concerning marriage, separation, and divorce, but we must remember with care that the mind in Paul was filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus when he spoke Matthew 19:9.
Our subject of separation and divorce begins at verses 10 and 11. Paul does not speculate here, but he says this is what the Lord himself commands (verse 10). Be careful: These two verses are dealing with Christian couples. If the husband of verse 11 had been an unbeliever, Paul would not have admonished him to not divorce her. He covers the situation of mixed marriages later in verse 15, not here. Therefore, Paul is telling Christian couples that it isn’t God’s will that they separate, but if they do because their unhappiness cannot be reconciled, then they are not to remarry, either of them! But again, we must consider Jesus’ exception of Matthew 19:9, because If either of the separated couple commits adultery against their separated spouse, the innocent spouse then has a Scriptural right to a divorce, according to Matthew 19:9. If a separated spouse should decide to remarry, they would first have to divorce their separated spouse without cause, in which case such a marriage is not recognized by God, and the sexual encounter from such a “marriage” is then, in Jesus’ words, “adultery” or “fornication” against their innocent spouse. Such adultery then falls back on the head of the adulterous spouse, and is now grounds for the innocent spouse to remarry. Guilt, innocence, and license works both ways, depending on which one commits adultery, and which one is innocent. Again, Paul’s grand point in all of this is peace, harmony, and agape love in the church body, with a view to releasing the Spirit of God to freely work his will among them.
Beginning with verse 12, Paul now addresses yet another aspect of separation and divorce, that is, mixed marriages. This is what “the rest” means in verse 12. But note very carefully the grounds from which he directs his remarks: “…speak I, not the Lord.” That remark should be coupled with verse 40, “… I think also that I have the Spirit of God.” We should realize that what Paul said in verses 10 and 11 was an imposed rule regardless of circumstances; while these “speak I” verses are Paul’s own spirit-inspired wisdom for “the present distress,” verse 26. I suppose we could say this passage is Paul’s “situational ethics” on the topic of mixed marriage.
As already mentioned, at that time sexual freedom of every sort was ordinary and worshiped through gods of sex. Now Paul must deal with these new believers who had many and difficult questions requiring guidance and a code of ethics in many matters, including marriage, child rearing, the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, and many more.
One of the first trouble spots was the problem of unbalanced homes, where only one spouse surrendered their life to the Lord. Paul was in the uncomfortable position of establishing ethical rules for their unique problems during times when laws, threats, and opportunities were imposed upon the Christians, so that their coming together for worship and fellowship did not hinder the work of the Comforter among them. His work was uniquely important to their divine purpose, and still is today. We can therefore rest assured that whatever rules Paul imposed on “all the churches” (verse 17), none of them superseded the creative principle of Genesis 1:28, and reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 19:9.
Verses 12 and 13 deals with a peaceful but unbalanced marriage. Paul says just because their spouse is an unbeliever, it is not a valid reason to end the marriage, and that an unbalanced marriage is still a marriage in God’s sight (v. 14). The unbeliever comes under the umbrella of God’s will, and the children from it are considered by him to be from a union above reproach.
But the rub comes in verse 15. There are questions by many as to what is meant by “Not under bondage.” Some believe it means the marriage bond is broken, and the Christian is then free to remarry. The temptation to think that way is quite natural; those whose unbelieving spouse departed will find it most convenient to agree with those who say they now have a Scriptural right to remarry. But do they? No, the Scriptures do not support that view. The overriding principle truth running through all of these verses is expressed by Jesus in Matthew 19:9. Whether or not the Christian spouse is released from the marriage depends on whether the unbeliever was guilty or not of fornicating before or after they left.
Furthermore, It is a mistake to consider Paul’s words “not under bondage” to mean an additional exception besides fornication as Scriptural grounds for divorce, because this is under Paul’s heading of “speak I, not the Lord” (verse 12). Rather, Paul, in keeping with Jesus’ exception, would be compelled to assume the rule of verse 11 where divorce is the subject. Paul’s inferred truth in verses 12 through 16 is that a mixed marriage in itself is not a good enough reason to divorce one’s unbelieving mate. He means if the unbeliever refuses to live with a believer, the believer should not make a spectacle of it in the church and community, but rather to let them go in “peace” (verse 15), meaning that the peace of Christian fellowship and love should not be disturbed, giving room for God’s Spirit to work freely among them. The “peace” of such an atmosphere could even lead to the salvation of the unbelieving spouse (verse 16). In most cases, however, the unbelieving spouse will immediately plunge into another sexual relationship, which is a Scriptural ground for the believing spouse to be released from the marriage bond.
It is important to also mention that there are some who use verses 17, 20, and 24 to believe the “one flesh” marriage bond existing before salvation is effectively dissolved at the point of salvation. That is, no matter what tangled marriage webs a couple bring into their salvation, they are to simply forget the former marital status and go forward in their current status. But this is not necessarily the “fix-all” some would have it to be. In the first place, the verses cited are not about dissolving a previous marital status, but about preserving the former work of God. This is the meaning of “as God hath distributed” of verse 17, and of “abide with God” of verse 24. Paul is saying the work of God that brought salvation is no excuse in itself to undo God’s sacred work of the past. That is the meaning in verse 18. Again, according to Genesis 1:28 marriage is truly “made in Heaven.” “One flesh” was not just for Judaism and Christianity, nor any other religion or no religion, but for all of humanity! The plain and natural truth of it is being acted out as we write in a world of males and females dancing the mating instinct.
Think carefully about this. Jesus told the Samarian woman at the well (a sect hated by the Jews), that her current mate was not her husband because she had had five husbands! The inferred truth would have to be that her real husband yet lived, and in God’s sight she was still married to him, not the man she was sleeping with. The point, you see, is that God’s attention was fixed on the ‘one flesh” factor, not any civil law allowing her to live with another man (John 4:15-18).
Tangled and difficult though it may seem, God expects repentant sinners who give their lives to him, to diligently seek his will toward readjusting their lives to please him. But this is not as complex as we may think, because in most cases the unsaved life is filled with relationships that, in themselves, dissolves the “one flesh” factor. In such cases perhaps it is perfectly in order for a newly saved couple to go through a re-enactment of the marriage ceremony before a minister of the Gospel, thereby dedicating themselves that way to God. But again, God’s will should be carefully sought beforehand so as to be certain that the mating is within God’s will of “one flesh.”
We should be reminded that God is not the hardened taskmaster many think him to be. He gets no pleasure in laying grievous yokes upon us, but is full of intentions toward our pleasure and happiness. It is never a waste of time to diligently seek his will in all things for our lives, including marriage. But that is just the point: We must seek God’s will, not a so-called divine will carefully crafted to suit our own.
— PART 3 —
SEPARATION. First Corinthians 7:10, 11 speaks of Christian marriage as commanded by the Lord. Verse 11 says, “but if she depart…” Obviously the meaning is that under some conditions it is permissible for her to “depart,” in effect separate, so long as she “remains unmarried.” She has two choices then: “remain unmarried,” or, “be reconciled to her husband.” Meanwhile, the Christian husband also has strict orders: he is forbidden to “put away his wife,” Scriptural language for “divorce.” With that we should be reminded that what is true of the male is also true of the female. Paul could just as easily have began, “Let not the husband depart from his wife,” and so on through both verses.
It seems today when the subject of marriage and divorce is discussed, separation itself gets ignored. It shouldn’t, because it figures heavily into the depraved human condition, including imperfect Christians. There is no such thing yet as perfect Christians, since our corrupted flesh must yet put on incorruption (I Corinth. 15:50-54). But it should never be assumed that separation means a divorce, although it can certainly contribute to it. Nor should separation be seen as a sin, but only as an arrangement of convenience within marriage. In fact, many reasons may exist for such an arrangement; one being incompatibility, but other reasons can be health, employment, children, and the care of parents or offspring. Other Scriptures might be cited to support this, but we need not travel beyond the seventh chapter of 1st Corinthians.
“Incompatibility” is certainly a possibility in all too many marriages. Really now, doesn’t It seem silly to say a man and a woman who couldn’t get along during courtship ever chose marriage in the first place? But after all, the dance of courtship is always the art of showing one’s best side to impress a prospective mate. That’s why the one word that most characterizes that first week of every marriage is, “Surprise!” No, people marry because they truly believe Mister/Miss Perfect will make them happy. It can easily be said of this that incompatibility arrives on the scene after marriage. It may be that skeletons in personal closets come rattling out after the honeymoon, in which case “for better or worse” go rattling into them instead. In virtually every case of incompatibility, it arises because one or both partners develop rigormortis of the spine and flat refuse to make the needed changes for the sake of the marriage. Both parties may indeed love God, yet one or both might not find it in themselves to change for the sake of the marriage. The outcome will quite naturally be a stormy Christian home, one, in fact, where one or both are distracted from their personal Christianity.
The essence of what Paul is telling the Corinthians is that such a stormy marriage might fit the need for a separation for their souls’ sake, especially that of the children, but only for the Lord’s sake, so that they might give themselves to him. It may be that later they can have a better mind on the matter and be reconciled into a peaceful union and serve God together. At any rate it must be understood that neither should seek a divorce. If they do, fornication might enter the picture, giving the innocent party the spiritual right to a divorce, thus ending the marriage. Sadly, the children are the big losers in that case, besides the precedence set to trouble coming generations of the family.
With this observation, let us be reminded again of Paul’s whole purpose in writing these things: it was to bring a peaceful, loving atmosphere to the Corinthian church so that God’s Holy Spirit, “the Comforter” might operate his Divine will among them toward evangelizing planet Earth with “The whole Gospel for the whole world.”
While verses 10 and 11 were for Christian couples, verses 12 through 16 are for mixed marriages. But as seen previously, the subject of divorce is not the main topic. Rather, it is separation. Verse 12 rules out divorce (“put her away”). We have previously noted that verse 15 does not mean divorce, (“not under bondage”), but rather, not under an obligation to create unrest in the church by resisting a separation. No, they were to, shall we say, “hold them with an open palm,” to do as they please. Why? Because God has not called us to unrest and friction among us, “but God hath called us to peace.” Perhaps, Paul adds, the loving treatment will save the departing unsaved husband or wife (verse 16).
No, separation is not God’s best for us, but it can be a way to bring some peace. In some cases, the imbalance in a marriage can be due to one party’s refusal to serve God, and whose attitude is such as to jeopardize the soul of their mate before God. Such a condition can be severe enough to merit a separation for one’s own soul’s sake. It can never be God’s will that we lose our souls for the sake of the marriage. But such a reason is cause for careful soul searching to make certain we’re not using it dishonestly to justify a separation, possibly a divorce.
PHYSICAL ABUSE. Certainly the battered spouse should be protected, and should certainly leave such a condition. One might even rightly seek a legal bill of divorce from a civil court for protection. Nevertheless, be very careful here if fornication is not a factor, God will not recognize such a divorce, even though his mercy will allow a separation. God is not a tyrant, but is the very source of mercy, compassion, understanding, and protection. As complicated as it may seem, however, without fornication in the picture, the sacred marriage bond between a man and a woman, once made, can never be broken. It supersedes depravity because it was a creative act of divine holiness upon the very institution of humanity itself before man’s birth of depravity. It is who we are. Nobody can change it simply because the creature cannot undo what our Creator did by fiat. It is eternally distant from us. Without sin, there wasn’t even the possibility of breaking it. With sin, there can be only one reason for it: fornication.
ABANDONMENT. Civil law has many provisions to divorce the guilty party, but God’s law gives only two: death and fornication. This makes it a problem for Christians who care what God says about it. But abandonment does not necessarily mean such an offending spouse completely disappears. In most cases information can be acquired concerning the status of the missing spouse, whether they are dead or remarried. In some cases, however, they might disappear without a trace and cannot be found. This, of course, can be a serious problem for the abandoned spouse, even one in which there seems to be no solution. Only God knows the solution, so in this case it is perfectly in order to go straight to him and present our dilemma, and then wait for an answer. Of course, the civil courts will grant a divorce, freeing the abandoned spouse to remarry, but conscientious Christians must be careful to seek God’s will in the matter.
Finally, in regard to all the difficulties divorce and separation bring to us, it behooves us to bear in mind that, contrary to some Christian teachings, God did not foreordain the nightmarish bowl of spaghetti known as separation and divorce. No, we brought it down on ourselves! It isn’t God’s fault that marriage can turn into a nightmare; it is ours. He never intended any married couple of “one flesh” to peel off and go their separate ways. He even went the second mile to prevent it by having his New Testament scribes to record his mind of how each spouse should treat their mate, as well as their offspring (Eph. 5:21-36; 6:1-4). No, we brought these nightmares down on ourselves through our own devices, and it is only by falling at his feet in humble repentance that we will find workable solutions.
We say that with this last warning: Young people can save themselves from life’s most painful hurts if they simply look before leaping into marriage. It is of vital importance that they first be filled with an avid pursuit of God for fulfillment of his will in themselves (instead of a rabid pursuit of a wife or husband), and so allow God himself to send a mate of his choice, and in his own good time. After all, it seems safe to say that virtually every mate in a broken marriage will agree that it would be better to never marry than to marry the wrong mate. You must have a life of your own in God before God can send you a soulmate to complement what he has already started in you. If we miss that in our reckless courtships, then get ready to reap what is sown, for God’s law of sowing and reaping works every time! Meanwhile, it is a true saying, “Oh what tangled webs we weave!”