This monthís question is a paradox in many ways. On the one hand
it addresses a very simple issue. At the same time, it is
extremely complex. It is at the same time easy to answer and very
difficult. Someone asks, ďAs we reach out to take the gospel to
our friends and neighbors we will inevitably come across those who
are divorced and/or remarried. What do we have to offer them?Ē
The reason I say this question is a paradox is because the
more I study the Bible, the clearer its message it becomes to me.
However, the more I deal with people the more complex their
situations become and the more difficult the scripture becomes to
apply to practical situations. It is easy to answer in the sense
of saying what the Bible says. It is difficult because at every
turn people ask dozens of questions to muddy the water. I do not
believe I have all wisdom or knowledge. However, I would like to
share with you what I believe is the Bible answer to this
question. As with all of our question and answer sessions, if you
believe I have missed anything I am more than happy to sit down
and study this more fully with you. As we consider this question,
we will do three things. First we must learn why this question
matters; second, what we have to offer; third, what we should
advise those who are divorced and/or remarried.
Why does this question matter?
cuts right to the heart of why this question matters. God hates
divorce. In Mark
10:2-9, the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful to
divorce. Jesus said that God created male and female. God expected
the man to leave his father and mother and join his wife. Jesus
then explained that God joined them together and man is not
allowed to separate them. Please carefully note the question that
was asked and the answer. The question was can we divorce.
Jesusí answer was, ďNo.Ē This question matters because
divorce is a sin.
This question matters because according to Mark
who divorce and marry again are guilty of adultery. According to Hebrews
13:4, adulterers will be judged.
5:32 and Matthew 19:9 provide one exception to this
general rule. Divorcing oneís spouse because the spouse
committed sexual immorality is not a sin. Further, if one divorces
a spouse for sexual immorality, the one who did not commit
immorality will not become guilty of adultery by marrying again.
Please note that Jesusí teaching on marriage is not based
on the Christian covenant or on New Testament doctrine. Rather,
Jesusí teaching is based on Godís initial institution of
marriage. Despite the claims of some today that the law I have
just described is only for Christians, we must recognize it as
Godís universal moral law for marriage. This was Godís law
from the beginning and it continues to be Godís law today. Under
the Old Covenant, God made exception to this universal law, yet no
one today is subject to that Old Covenant exception. Rather, all
are under Godís universal moral law that divorce is wrong.
This question matters then because when we meet someone who
is divorced and/or remarried, we may very well have met someone
whose sin has separated and is keeping them separated from God no
matter what else they might be doing religiously.
What do we have to offer those who are divorced and/or
We have the same thing to offer those who have committed
the sin of divorce and the sin of adultery as we have to offer
those who have committed any other sin. We have Godís
sanctifying word. As Jesus prayed of the apostles in John
17:17, sanctification comes through Godís word which is
truth. Many today are just like the Sadducees of Matthew
22:29. They err because they do not know the scripture.
Even among Godís people some are in this same boat, being
destroyed for their lack of knowledge as Hosea
4:6 demonstrates. There are many who have committed the
sins of divorce and adultery because they are simply unaware of
the truth. We have the sanctifying truth of God that can set them
Further, we have Jesus to offer them. According to Isaiah
59:2, our sins separate us from God. Divorce and/or
remarriage separate us from God, destroying our relationship with
Him. But Jesus died that we might be forgiven and be reconciled to
Peter 3:18; Colossians 1:21-22). Regrettably, we are all
too often afraid to say anything to people about the gospel
because they are divorced and/or remarried. However, we must be
more concerned about their eternal souls than their marital
happiness. Keep in mind that marriages do not last into eternity (Matthew
22:30) but a relationship with Jesus will. We have that
eternal relationship to offer.
What must we teach the divorced and/or remarried who would
We must teach them the same thing we teach everyone else.
If they desire to have their sins washed away, they have to hear
the gospel (Romans
10:17). They must believe that Jesus is the Christ and
confess their faith (Romans
10:9-10). Further, they must repent of their sins and be
baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts
2:38). The key in all of this is repentance. Repentance of
sin means rethinking and turning away from the sin. If we know the
person has divorced and/or remarried, what must we teach them in
order to help them repent?
What should we say to the divorced?
To the one who has divorced a spouse because the spouse
committed sexual immorality there is no need to say anything. This
was no sin and does not affect their relationship with God (Matthew
5:32; 19:9). Marrying again will not affect their
relationship with God either, assuming they marry one who is
scripturally allowed to marry.
To the one who committed sexual immorality and was put away
for it, we must encourage them to remain unmarried, unless they
are able to reconcile with their initial spouse (Matthew
5:32). Marrying anyone else would be adultery. This
reconciliation assumes the original spouse has not lawfully
married someone else.
To those who are divorced for some reason other than
fornication we must turn to I
Corinthians 7:10-11. Those who are unlawfully divorced are
told that they must either stay unmarried or be reconciled to
their original spouse. Allow me to expand on this verse a little.
Paul simply stated the two available options without prioritizing
them. I know there is some controversy surrounding the following
point, however I ask you to please consider it. If it is a sin to
end the marriage relationship, then it seems to me that repentance
means more than simply admitting the divorce was wrong. When the
person married, he or she made a vow before God that bound them to
their partner until death (Romans
5:4-6 expressed the importance of vows. If a person breaks
a vow, repentance does not mean simply saying the act of breaking
the vow was wrong. It means reestablishing that vow in order to
keep a commitment to God. Remember that the one who is able to
dwell in Godís holy hill is the one who swears or takes a vow to
his own hurt but keeps the vow anyway (Psalm
15:4). As one further illustration, what would repentance demand if we were speaking of theft? Would it demand
simply admitting the theft was wrong or would it demand restoring
what was stolen to its rightful owner if possible? In the same
way, repentance from divorce would demand reestablishing the vows
if possible. However, their lawful partner may not be willing to
reestablish the relationship. In that case, the Christian must
remain unmarried. As I
Corinthians 7:15 indicates if the other partner refuses to
be married, then the Christian is not obligated to try to maintain
the marriage. However, they are not free to remarry as I
Corinthians 7:11 demonstrated.
What should we say to the remarried?
Again, to the one who remarried after divorcing a spouse
because the spouse committed sexual immorality we do not need to
say anything. They have not committed a sin and their marriage is
no threat to their relationship with God (Matthew
To the one who was put away because they committed sexual
immorality and has married again and to those who have been
divorced for some reason other than sexual immorality we must show
5:32; 19:9 and let them know of their present adultery.
They are in an unlawful marriage. They must cease the adultery.
The only way to do so is to get out of the marriage which is
defined as adultery. Further, while the Old Testament laws were
different regarding marriage, we do see what God expected of His
covenant people if they entered an unlawful marriage in Ezra 10:10-11. They had to end these unlawful marriages. Please
also note that according to Ezra
10:44, some of these had children in these unlawful
marriages. Yet they ended the marriages anyway.
Through these means we can bring sinners in relationship
with Christ. We must remember that this is not about upholding
some doctrinal position. This is about helping people go to
heaven. Further, we must remember that a person may be in a happy
unlawful marriage, but that marriage will only last until they
die, then they will have to face their Creator and judge. We must
be concerned about peopleís souls above our concern for their
temporal happiness and above our concern over whether or not they
The thrust of our question was really about personal
evangelism. In this question as with all aspects of evangelism, we
remember that very few will repent and walk the difficult and
narrow way (Matthew
7:13-14). Just as many do not want to give up
homosexuality, drinking, hatred, outbursts of anger, covetousness
and materialism, many will not want to give up unlawful marriages.
However, our duty is simply to teach people the truth as God gives
us opportunity (I
Corinthians 3:5-6). I can tell you from experience that
there are some who will be willing to give up all of these things
in order to serve the Lord and have their sins forgiven. There are
even some who are willing to give up unlawful marriages to do so.
When they do, do not feel sorry for them. Because of their
repentance salvation has come to them and eternal life is in their
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ