FROM WEDLOCK TO DEADLOCK

1 CORINTHIANS 7:10-16

The wedding was something out of a fairy tale. The beautiful bride walked down the aisle and was met by the young man who had won her heart. Before all of their friends and family, they exchanged their vows, pledging themselves to one another for life. The celebration that followed and was joyous and only ended when the newly married couple departed upon a romantic honeymoon.

As the months passed and the couple settled down in their new life together, the problems began. Little things about her began to annoy him and she began to complain that they didnít talk as much as they used to. She started sharing her problems with her best friend who listened sympathetically and he began going out with the boys on a regular basis. The evenings that they did have together were spent in front of the television set. Before long, the arguments began to escalate as their communication with each other grew correspondingly less and less. Finally one night during a particularly heated confrontation, he said that he wanted a divorce.

Different variations of this story have been repeated many thousands of times. Divorce has reached epidemic proportions in America today. Researchers tells us that fully half of all marriages end in divorce and that these numbers are virtually the same for those who claim to be Christians.

The problem of divorce is not unique to today. It was also a problem in the first century. Seneca, the Roman writer, said that women in the Empire counted their age, not by the number of consuls they had seen, but by how many husband they had been through.

The same thing was true for Jewish society. All that was required in Israel to divorce oneís wife was to write on a sheet of papyrus the words, "I am no longer married," and hand it to the wife. From that moment on, they were legally considered to be divorced.

The Mosaic Law had provided for the possibility of divorce in Deuteronomy 24. It was a passage that regulated divorce and remarriage.

When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

The Jews in Christís day read this passage and came up with two possible interpretations.

The interpretation of Hillel was much more popular, especially among those who wanted to get a divorce.

The gospels tell of how a group of Pharisees approached Jesus and asked Him which school of thought was the correct one.

And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" (Matthew 19:3).

Do you see what they wanted? They wanted Jesus to choose sides. They wanted Him to say that either the school of Shammai was right or else the school of Hillel was right. They had already assumed that it was acceptable for a man to divorce his wife. The only question was which were the legitimate terms of such a divorce. Can you divorce for any cause at all? Or must immorality be involved before a divorce can take place? Letís look at the answer of Jesus.

And He answered and said, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ĎFor this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one fleshí? 6 Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus did not choose between the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel. Instead He turned to a higher authority. He turned to the Bible. He quoted Genesis 2:24. This verse says that marriage involves two people becoming "one flesh."

Do you see what Jesus is saying? He says that there is no place for divorce within Godís pattern for marriage. He does not say that it is okay to divorce for any reason and He does not say that it is okay to divorce for immoral impurity. He simply says that there should be no divorce.

Marriage is two people becoming one. You cannot divide one. It is an indivisible number. You can only cut it up in pieces and thereby cause great harm.

If I walk up to you and say, "Iím going to cut you in half and make you into two people," what would be your reaction? You would be horrified! And so also, you ought to be horrified by the very idea of divorce.

The Pharisees understood what Jesus was saying. They understood He was saying that divorce is not good for any reasons. They understood Him to be declaring that marriage is permanent.

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" (Matthew 19:7).

Do you see the rebuttal of the Pharisees? If it is true that marriage is supposed to be permanent, then why did Moses tell people to get divorced?

The Pharisees had missed one major point. It is that Moses did not tell people to get divorced. The question of the Pharisees was a loaded question. It was like asking someone, "Do you still beat your wife?" They asked, "Why did Moses command people to be divorced?" But Moses did not command divorce. He did not advocate divorce. Instead he regulated remarriage after a divorce had taken place. He said, "If a divorce takes place an a remarriage follows, the original couple are never permitted to marry each other again. Jesus points this out in verses 8-9.

He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matthew 19:8-9).

Jesus says that Moses allowed for divorce because of the hardness of menís hearts. When, because of such hardness, there is immorality, then Moses permitted a divorce to take place. Outside of such a case, there was to be no divorce.

As Paul writes his first epistle to the Corinthians, a number of years have passed since Jesus had that conversation with the Pharisees. Churches have been planted throughout the Roman Empire and Christianity has come to Corinth.

Within this new church are people from all sorts of social and moral backgrounds. There are Greeks who have previously worshiped at the Temple of Aphrodite atop the Acrocorinth. There are Jews who believed that it was alright to divorce oneís wife at the drop of a hat. There are married people who are having problems and who are looking for a way out. There are those who are married to pagans who arenít sure what they ought to do. Paul writes to set the record straight on the issue of marriage and divorce.

 

CASE #1 - TWO MARRIED BELIEVERS

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

The first case with which Paul deals is that of two believers who are married and who are not getting along.

This tells me something about Christians. It tells me that being a Christian is no guarantee that you wonít have problems. Christians have problems just like anyone else. We do harm to one another when we pretend that this isnít so.

The church ought not to turn its back on the reality of marital problems. Rather the church ought to be a place of healing that can put broken people and broken marriages back together again.

Paul has some very real things to say about some very real people. He gives some very specific instructions:

  1. Instructions from the Lord: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord (7:10).
  2. Paul does not have to give the instructions any new teachings about divorce. The Lord Jesus has already said all that needs be said on this subject. That teaching continues to stand firm. It is the simple statement that there is to be no divorce.

  3. Commanded to Stay: But to the married I give instructions... that the wife should not leave her husband (7:10).
  4. This is very clear. The wife is told that she is not to leave her husband. The word "leave" (corizw) is the same word that Jesus used when He said, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matthew 19:6). This is a reference to divorce.

  5. Commanded to Remain Unmarried: But if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband (7:11).

Paul realizes that divorce might be unavoidable for a Christian. We are fallen people who live in a fallen world. This does not change just because we are Christians. There are instances in which a Christian might be married to another Christian and still be forced into a divorce.

In such an instance, Paul has one command. It is that there be no remarriage unless it is a reunion of the broken marriage.

Do you see the principle? It is one of RESTORATION. It is that the Christian woman is to do all in her power to rebuild the broken marriage. To this end, she is to do one of two things:

Does that sound harsh? Does that sound as though Paul is being unreasonable to women? He isnít. To the husband of a Christian marriage, Paul has an even stricter injunction.

  1. A Command to Husbands: And that the husband should not send his wife away (7:11).

The Christian husband is told in no uncertain terms, "Donít divorce your wife!" This flew in the teeth of all common practice. Secular society told people, "You donít need to stay married to your wife if you are incompatible. You owe it to yourself to find someone with whom you can be happy." Both Jews and Romans made a regular practice of divorce.

This tells me something about Biblical morality. We are to be unaffected by the moral standards of the world. What was true in Paulís day is also true today. Divorce is still as wrong today as it was then.

 

CASE #2 - MARRIAGE TO A SATISFIED UNBELIEVER

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).

The second case with which Paul deals is that of a mixed marriage. One of the partners is a believer and the other is not. The Bible warns against Christians marrying non-Christians.

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (1 Corinthians 6:14-15).

We are not to marry unbelievers because we have nothing in common with them. We operate on a different frame of reference. It is unseemly that we should become one with someone who does not share our identity in Christ.

However, there were those in Corinth who were already married to an unbeliever when they came to Christ.

A man goes to the marketplace and meets a Jew named Aquilla who shares with him the message that Jesus died and rose again from the dead. He hears the gospel and he believes its message. He comes home all excited and tells his wife of what he has done. She listens patiently and then replies that she isnít interested in fairytales.

What is to be his reaction? He is joined in marriage to an unbeliever. He is a child of God and he is united with one who is a child of Satan. Should he seek a divorce? He knows that Jesus spoke against divorce, but Jesus never dealt with the subject of a mixed marriage like his. Certainly these are different circumstances.

Back in Old Testament times, Ezra had commanded those who had married pagan wives to divorce those wives and abandon the children by those marriages (Ezra 10). Are believers today called to follow that same example?

  1. A Command from Paul: But to the rest I say, not the Lord (7:12).
  2. Some commentators have tried to take this to mean that Paul is now giving his own opinions instead of speaking to Godís word. This is not the case. He makes the point that this is an addition to the teaching of Jesus. Jesus did not deal with the situation of the believer who is married to an unbeliever. Paul has already cited the teachings of Jesus and now he says, "Here is something that Jesus didnít cover, so I am giving you some further instructions."

    Paul cannot quote the words of Jesus in dealing with this issue because Jesus had never given any teaching on this issue. Thus Paul gives new instructions that had not formerly been presented.

  3. A Command to Remain: If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away (7:12-13).
  4. To the man who has a wife who is an unbeliever and yet who desires to continue living with her husband, Paulís command is, "Do not seek to be divorced."

    What is true for the Christian man is also true for the Christian woman. The principle is clear. The Christian is not to initiate a divorce.

  5. Reason for the Command: For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband (7:14).

Being a Christian who is married to an unbeliever is rough. But it need not make that Christian defiled. Quite to the contrary, the very opposite ought to be true. The unbelieving partner is sanctified by this union to a believer.

Does this mean that you can be saved by being married to a Christian? No. But it does mean that God has set apart the family of a Christian for some special blessings. This is not a new teaching. God has often blessed unbelievers because of their association with believers.

In the same way, the presence of a believer within a marriage is able to bring Godís blessings upon that union.

  1. The Effect upon Children: For otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy (7:14).

A child is not saved just because he has a Christian parent. But he is set apart for some special blessings. He is set apart for prayer. He is set apart to witness a Christian life up close. He is set apart to hear the message of the gospel.

 

CASE #3 - MARRIAGE TO AN UNBELIEVER WHO WISHES TO DIVORCE

Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:15-16).

The third case with which Paul deals is also that of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. This is the case in which the unbelieving partner initiates the divorce proceedings.

Case #1

Case #2

Case #3

Two married believers

A believer who is married to an unbeliever

The unbeliever remains

The unbeliever leaves

Stay Married!

Stay Married!

Allow them to leave!

  1. The Principle of Peace: Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace (7:15).
  2. I have seen situations where a person comes to Christ and the unbelieving partner is so antagonistic toward this conversion that he seeks a divorce. In such a case, the Christian is instructed not to fight it. The principle is that God has called us to peace. If we can peaceably live with that unbelieving partner, then we are to do so. But if that unbelieving partner wants to bail out of the marriage, we are to let him do so and we are not to fight him in his quest for a divorce.

  3. The Principle of Freedom: The brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases (7:15).
  4. In such a case where the unbelieving partner has initiated the divorce, the believer is not under bondage to the marriage vows that were taken. I take this to mean that he or she is now free to remarry.

    If this were not the case, then it seems that Paul would have repeated his injunction that "if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband" (7:11).

    Situation

    Her desire

    Action

    Result

    When a Christian has an unbelieving wife

    She wants to go

    Let her go

    He is not bound

    She wants to stay

    Let her stay

    He is bound

  5. The Possibility of Conversion: For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (7:16).

The Christian who has an unbelieving spouse who wants out of the marriage might be tempted to argue, "If I permit this divorce, then who will be there to witness to my partner and bring him to the Lord?" Such a question is valid, especially if the unbelieving spouse is inclined to be positive toward the situation.

On the other hand, this is not a reason to attempt to force an unbelieving partner to remain in a marriage for which they have no desire to continue. In such a case, that spouseís evangelism and conversion might be out of your hands. It is now in Godís hands. It always way, whether you realized it or not.

These have been difficult teachings. It is one thing to say that marriage is to be permanent, but sometimes it is another thing to live up to such a standard when you are "in the trenches." The world certainly does not live up to such stringent standards. But we are called to be different. We are to be like Jesus Christ. This includes the honoring of Godís institution of marriage.

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