Explaining Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage
By Sophia Christiaan | July 22, 2022 | www.instituteoflove.net
The church is full of people who see the Bible and God as one big rule book to follow. That would be true if we were still under the Old Covenant’s Law of Moses with the 10 Commandments. But, to understand the Bible correctly, we must first divide the Old from the New and find the “rules” for each of these groups. If we were Jews living in the Holy Land and Jesus had never come to earth to die and resurrect, the Old Testament laws would have still been in effect. Yet, we are not Jews, and Jesus did come, and He did commence an entirely new lifestyle for believers in God. This time, it is not done through difficult laws that carry heavy punishments if not followed, but rather this life is about living under the control of the Holy Spirit and therefore constantly growing in grace, love, peace, joy, and good deeds. In this new life, there is victory over sin, not punishment for sin, because Christ took upon Himself the punishment for our sins when He died on the cross.
With this in mind, it is frustrating that the church has been so slow to catch on to the realities of what kind of life they now live under the New Covenant. It is mind boggling that most preachers still don’t even know or deliberately don’t preach a “before” and “after” the cross! If they had, churchgoers would understand that the New Testament is to be read with the preconception that people no longer should feel afraid of God and His laws. In essence, it is no longer an issue of what we “can” or “cannot” do as Christians, but rather if what we do pleases the Lord.
Even with the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, believers are not under condemnation. Jesus is grace, and that is why he didn’t judge or condemn the woman at the well or the woman caught in the act. We are not saying there is no such thing as sin, but that we are not looking through the glasses of sin, finding faults with our brothers and sisters – even ourselves – to judge, accuse, and punish. We are just looking to grow in grace and holiness, becoming more like Christ every day. As with all sound doctrine, the point is to understand the essence of Christ; His grace, mercy, love, and to determine what are those things (sins) we do that separate us from Him. Marriage by itself is not always right. Divorce is not always wrong. Remarriage is not always a no-no. We are not rule-creatures under the New Covenant. We are true God-pleasers, because we are living through the power of the Holy Spirit to do things we normally couldn’t do, and God’s marvelous grace is there to teach us how to have victory over sin in every area of our lives.
You see how there is a shift in our whole outlook on life? From being devastated over our failures, to relying on God’s grace to help us overcome. From keeping rules not to get God’s punishment, to seeking to please God from a loving and trusting heart. From knowing we cannot get it right, to knowing that God will help us in our shortcomings.
Let’s look at some of the headlines we normally hear Christians clinging to (in guilt and fear) when it comes to marriage and divorce, and see if we can’t explain what the Word really says, so they can release those heavy burdens that come from having misunderstood God’s Word their entire life, shall we?
- THE FAMOUS STATEMENT, “GOD HATES DIVORCE”
When God said He hates divorce in Malachi 2, it wasn’t a blanket statement for all divorces. God was clearly saying that He hates it when faithful women are abandoned and abused by unfaithful husbands, who then go on thinking they are still on good terms with the Lord. Furthermore, keep in mind that this Old Testament passage is not addressed to the believers in the church in and under the New Covenant, and therefore it doesn’t pertain to them.
You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows.
Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”Malachi 2:14-16
- JESUS’ TEACHINGS WERE ACCORDING TO AND UNDER THE LAW
Jesus was sent to teach “the lost sheep of Israel,” meaning the “Jews,” about the Kingdom of God being manifested on earth through Himself (Matthew 15:24). When Jesus taught on marriage, he did so in response to and according to the (mindset of the) Law of Moses on this subject. He had not died yet and commenced the New Covenant of grace. His teachings were also not instructions for the Church since the era of the Church had not yet begun.
Speaking to the Pharisees (under the Law), Jesus answered “according to” the Law. He was merely reciting Torah.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.”Matthew 19:8-9
Again, in the Sermon on the Mount, speaking to His disciples and the multitudes, Jesus recites the Law of Moses (quoting Deuteronomy 24:1). In the last sentence, Jesus is adding the technicalities of what divorcing would mean for the divorced woman and anyone she would marry – according to the Law of Moses. In other words, He simply describes the domino effect of the divorce, not coming with a brand-new rule. And remember, the context is still “under the Law,” (which means it doesn’t apply to believers under the New Covenant)!
“You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.Matthew 5:31-32
- THE APOSTLE PAUL’S RULES FOR MARRIAGE IN HIS CHURCHES
In the light of building a church community in Corinth and dealing with many questions from new believers, whose lives had been radically changed by converting to faith in Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul laid down some ground rules for them to understand how to manage their new circumstances in the life of faith. If you read the entire chapter 7 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, you get the overall sense that he was trying to settle some of the most pressing issues regarding relationships and positions. Verse 17 is a good indication of this:
Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches.1 Corinthians 7:17
So, when the Apostle Paul was addressing married couples, he was merely saying that they shouldn’t automatically think that they should leave each other just because they had become Christians. We must understand that the Corinthians were completely blank in the area of the things of God and had to be taught everything from scratch.
But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.1 Corinthians 7:10-11
Under the New Covenant, we live under grace. The Apostle Paul was addressing these relationship issues, not to lay down a new rule book, but in the efforts to “spare” the believers from problems. He himself was single, and to him, it was the most convenient way to live, knowing how difficult the Christian life and marriage could be. Throughout 1. Corinthians 7, this is his viewpoint. Does that mean every believer should be like him, single, unmarried? Of course not.
Marriage is a gift, and singleness is a gift. The very first thing to settle before going into the various questions of who can marry who, is which gift you have.
But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.1 Corinthians 7:7
This is where I will make, perhaps, the most important point in this study: Under grace, it is God’s will that matters, not rules or someone’s past! If God wants you to marry a twice divorced woman, for instance, doing so will be done in obedience to Christ! Even Jesus broke the Law when he healed on a Sabbath, saying that He was Lord over the Sabbath!
The Apostle Paul gave some rules for his churches, because the people could not understand grace properly. The problem he had at the time, which is the same problem we see in the church today, is that as people listened to the message of grace, they took it to mean something it didn’t. Paul corrected their thinking here:
You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial.1 Corinthians 10:23
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.Galatians 5:13
Paul explained how to see marriage in the light of coming to faith in Christ and learning what moral boundaries are acceptable within the body of Christ. It was rules for their benefit, not to be seen as commandments – like the 10 Commandments for instance – that brought punishment and sin awareness.
In verse 39, the Apostle Paul simply states what is considered normal practice in the eyes of the Lord. If two believers love each other and follow the way of Christ, it is normal for them to stay together until death does them part. Naturally, the woman can remarry if her husband has died.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord.1 Corinthians 7:39
Paul had to spoon-feed the Corinthian believers the most basic Godly morals because of the pagan, idol-worshiping culture they came out of. He wasn’t binding a woman to her husband as a life sentence! He was trying to say that, as Christ-followers, we don’t have a habit of exchanging partners throughout life, like they might have been used to under Roman/Greek culture in Corinth. We commit to marriage, and we stay faithfully with the person God has given.
- DEFINING WHAT IS CONSIDERED A “BELIEVER”
Nowadays, Christians divorce as much as unbelievers do. But to tell you the truth flat-out, most believers are not true Christians. True Christians hear the voice of the Shepherd, Jesus, and follow Him. The Bible says they produce good fruit and go from glory to glory, meaning they constantly get better and more blessed and more holy. They don’t live a lifestyle of sin and defeat, but are every day led into the truth by the Holy Spirit. We cannot say that about most Christians today, and mostly this is because they have “come to faith” but have never been born-again by the Spirit and become a totally new creature, completely changed, and washed by the blood. They live a pseudo so-called Christian life, but they don’t know the Lord and they never grow spiritually because they are funneled into churches, that teach Law and bring them under the bondage of Law and sin. True Christians, however, are known by their sincere love, true joy, and peace within. These “true” Christians follow Christ and does not waver between Christ and the world. They are done with all sinful behavior and seek only to obey the Lord in all things.
So, basically, if someone claims to be a believer but doesn’t live with the Lord, that person is a deceiver. If this deceiver has married a Christian under the pretense of also being a Christian and the person later divorces the deceiver because they found out that the person wasn’t a true Christian, it cannot be a sin to divorce, but rather a blessing since the person has seen their error in marrying this false believer to begin with. If anything, the sin would be in marrying the person in the first place, not in divorcing them. Obviously, this would not apply to two devoted believers who both produce good fruit, but rather when someone who has claimed to be a believer turns out not to be.
I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.1 Corinthians 5:11
They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight. They are a disgrace and a stain among you. They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals.2 Peter 2:13
If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.1 John 2:4-6
Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable an disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.Titus 1:16
This is important to know, because basically, every divorce in the church comes down to whether someone is a Christian or not, since we know that the Bible doesn’t pertain to unbelievers. Then it also makes sense why the Apostle Paul was so specific about what to do if one spouse is a believer and the other isn’t. Let’s see what he taught.
- BELIEVERS MARRIED TO UNBELIEVERS
Under the New Covenant, and speaking to the Corinthian Church, The Apostle Paul wisely taught that there must be an “agreement” as to how to proceed in a marriage if one spouse becomes a believer. We derive this from the words “willing to continue,” indicating that there has to be a “talk” that settles this issue. Given that the newly believing spouse’s priorities had changed to wanting to live a holy life, Paul was saying that the couple can stay together if the unbeliever is okay with it (and/or even wanting to go in the same direction) or split up if the believer’s faith will cause problems for the unbeliever.
“If a fellow believer has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her.”1 Corinthians 7:12b
Notice that there is no problem with divorcing when one spouse becomes a believer and the other doesn’t, and they decide to split because of the believer’s faith.
“But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.”1 Corinthians 7:15
- MARRYING THE WRONG PERSON HAS CONSEQUENCES
Is there such a thing as a right or wrong person to marry? Some people say we are free to marry anyone we choose, while others claim that God has one special spouse for everyone. Either way, if the marriage is brought together by fleshly desire and not by the Holy Spirit, the marriage will suffer. If someone married without God’s consent, they can fix the situation by asking forgiveness and surrendering the marriage into God’s hands and asking Him to cleanse and restore it or separate them if that is His will. Any marriage that is put together by the Lord’s direction will flourish and grow spiritually both together and individually despite earthly troubles along the way, because it has been “given” by the Lord.
When someone has married the wrong person, it may indicate that they have a wrong spirit themselves and is not following the Lord, or that the person they married pretended to be someone they were not. Either way, marrying or even being around an evil person has the power to corrupt someone’s good behavior. That is why it is crucial to let the Lord choose your spouse for you, as He will always lead His children to a life of peace and joy.
Even in the Old Testament, it was clear that God wasn’t pleased with certain marriages:
“No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel.”1 Kings 21:25
“The men of Judah have defiled the Lord’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. May the Lord cut off from the nation of Israel every last man who has done this and yet brings an offering to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”Malachi 2:11b-12
- WHAT IF TWO BELIEVERS DIVORCE EACH OTHER?
A true Christian lives with God and is led by His Spirit. He or she will never be led into something that is not going to be a blessing for their lives. So, if they are in a dysfunctional marriage, it is either because God did not join them together with their spouse to begin with, or because one or both parties refuse to obey the Word of God when it comes to practicing godliness in their role as a husband or wife. But, if both claim to love the Lord and obeys the Word of God, there is no reason for them to have such irreconcilable problems that they will lead to divorce. That would make no sense! Again, we see. that marriage for believers will only work out when both are dedicated to the Lord and willing to serve and live as the Word of God advices them to. (See Ephesians 5:21-33).
Most churches teach that the minute the priest lays his hand of blessing upon a bride and groom, their union will be blessed from that moment on. This is just flat-out false. Most people enter relationships with people the Lord never told them to, and when they later divorce, it only attests to the fact that God does not bless everyone who marries. It must be joined by God to be blessed. As Jesus said, what God joins together will not be split apart.
Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.Matthew 19:6
- IS REMARRYING A SIN?
As we can see, it will lead to confusion if we just collect all individual teachings on marriage in the Bible and put them together without rightly dividing them and applying the proper context. So far, we can conclude that 1) Jesus spoke according to the Law of Moses, which is not in effect for believers under the New Covenant, 2) Any and all Old Testament laws and regulations does not pertain to believers under the New Covenant, and 3) The Apostle Paul brought rules to follow, but not as commandments like those under the Law that no one could perfectly keep.
For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.Romans 3:20
If we were back to keeping rules and commandments, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to install a New Covenant; He could have just kept the Law of Moses in effect.
The question of remarrying is if Jesus meant to say that whenever someone divorces and remarries, they are committing adultery. The answer is yes, but only if they are still under the Old Covenant Law of Moses, which no one today is! For those, who are under the New Covenant, the Law does not apply to them.
You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.Matthew 5:31-32
Under the New Covenant, however, divorce it is not labeled as “adultery.” That was a term that was used in the Torah to describe the sinful aftermath of a wrong divorce. Adultery is now the act of cheating on your spouse, and that is definitely a sin! But one person’s wrong action against you, doesn’t make you sinful or cursed in any way. That is why a divorcee is free to marry again.
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worships idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people – none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Can it still be a sin to remarry? Yes, of course, but only if they marry someone God has not given them! Again, God must be the one who joins them.
Any selfish act is a sin, including if someone divorces one spouse just to be with another, or any other sin. However, even in this situation, there would be forgiveness and grace for anyone who admits and repents of this selfish and wrong act, just like with any other sin. What happens next with the couple, there are no set rules for; God decides if they stay together or not.
If a believer divorces their believing spouse, and then later remarries, that is not automatically a sin. Every situation and every relationship is different, and all aspects of the marriage must be evaluated before we can judge if it was a warranted divorce. However, wouldn’t it be an indicator that things are not going to work out if one person is already out? Does it really help to force that person to stay?
(Please note, these church rules are not meant for worldly people, who marry and divorce as they please. They are only meant for believers to make sure they live a life of peace with their spouse.)
- THE TIME GOD HIMSELF ORDERED DIVORCE
Very rarely mentioned, in the Old Testament Book of Ezra, God tells more than 300 Israelite men to divorce their pagan wives and send them away along with the children. This proves that God doesn’t hate divorce as much as he hates unfaithfulness to Himself and His holy ways. In other words, if a divorce is necessary to restore order, God has absolutely no problem with it.
Then Ezra the priest stood and said to them: “You have committed a terrible sin. By marrying pagan women, you have increased Israel’s guilt. So now confess your sin to the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do what he demands. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from these pagan women.”Ezra 10:10-11
They vowed to divorce their wives, and they each acknowledged their guilt by offering a ram as a guilt offering.Ezra 10:19
Each of these men had a pagan wife, and some even had children by these wives.Ezra 10:44
Scripture quotations are taken from the New Living Translation Bible.