The Case for Lawful Divorce, Part 2
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
1Â Corinthians 7:10-17
Three teachers fully expound the Scriptural position on divorce: Moses, Christ, and Paul. Each teacher refers to the previous teacher, expounding, explaining, and expanding on the prior lesson. This does not infer that there are three different laws of divorce, nor does this author make such a claim. Yet there are three distinct teachings. These three must not be viewed in isolation: together, they comprise Scriptureâ€™s teaching on divorce.
Nevertheless, these three teachers address three different realms: the civil, the Christian, and the New Testament Church. Moses shows us how the civil government should treat divorce. Christ teaches the Christian how he should view divorce, giving the Christian attitude towards divorce. Paul teaches how divorce should be handled in the context of the New Testament Church. In the civil realm, Moses demands that a legal procedure be followed, which includes a bill of divorcement. As Christians, Christ says that we must have the right attitude â€“ a Christian attitude â€“ towards divorce; that believers should never seek divorce, should never want it, should never say â€œwhen can Iâ€¦?â€ Referring back to the Law of Moses, Christ teaches that if you follow the legal procedure for any cause other than fornication, then you are committing adultery. Christ is very clear on this. Hard hearts seek divorce, but from the beginning it was not so, for God created man male and female, and joined them together as husband and wife with no other options. New hearts seek reconciliation, want to maintain the marriage if at all possible.
Having expounded on the Law of Moses and the teaching of Christ in the last installment, we now look to the teaching of Paul regarding divorce. It should be noted first that Paul does not write a separate law of divorce. Rather, Paul applies the law of divorce to a different area. It should also be noted that Paul wrote this passage under the inspiration of God. This passage is part of the â€œall Scripturesâ€ that are given by God, and the passage does not alternate between inspired teaching and uninspired teaching. In verse ten, Paul says, â€œyet not I, but the Lordâ€ meaning that Paul is first addressing the teaching of Christ regarding this issue. In verse twelve, Paul says, â€œBut to the rest speak I, not the Lordâ€¦.â€ That is not to say that Paul was giving extra-biblical teaching, nor is it to say that this was only Paulâ€™s opinion, not to be considered of equal authority with Scripture. Paul is here addressing an aspect of divorce which Jesus Christ did not deal with. So, he makes a distinction between his teaching in this passage and previous teaching on divorce. Yet, this passage and the truths taught in the passage carry the full weight and authority of Scripture, for it is the very words of God.
We should also note that this is the first passage on divorce that is addressed to converted Gentiles. Regardless of the spiritual condition of Jews in Christâ€™s time, they understood the Law of God in ways that Gentile converts would not understand it. The Jewish understanding of the marriage covenant and of unequal yokes would be very different from the Gentile understanding. In addition, the Gentile converts usually came with a lot of baggage, particularly converts in Corinth. Unconverted spouses of Corinthian converts would bring with them a Pandoraâ€™s box of problems. The fact that the spouse stayed was not always a blessing. Worse, some spouses abandoned their converted mates. Still worse, some continued to worship regularly and frequently in the temple of Aphrodite. The immorality of the Corinthians was legendary, and it is not difficult to guess at the issues Corinthian converts were dealing with.
Paul offers help and guidance to these converts, lest they should be a law unto themselves, arguing that the Word of God must guide and govern them rather than the feelings and frustrations that came with the current circumstances. So,Â 1 Corinthians 7 gives us a third and final perspective of divorce, which we might call the New Testament Churchâ€™s law of divorce (as Paul said, â€œand so ordain I in all churches).
PAUL EXPOUNDS ON THE TEACHING OF CHRIST (1 CORINTHIANS 7:10-11)
Once again, the teaching on divorce is set in the context of teaching on fornication and marital fidelity. The question arose because converts remained married to infidels. Was it permissible for a believer to remain unequally yoked with an unbeliever? As has been mentioned previously, there was an instance in Old Testament History when the people were obliged to put away their heathen wives (Ezra 10:3). Did this set a pattern for all unequal yokes?
Letâ€™s say that a man converts, but his wife refuses to convert, or even to attend church with him. She is disobedient. If she were in the church, she would be subject to church sanctions. Does he have a right to put her away? Suppose a woman converts, but her husband mocks her faith, continuing in drunkenness and all manner of fornication. Is she obligated to leave him? What about the case of a Christian young man who, in a rebellious frame of mind, marries an unsaved girl. Suppose that in time, he repents and seeks restoration. Following Ezra 10:3, should he be required to put away the unequal yoke?
Paul answers that question for us, beginning with the general rule for all Christians regarding divorce. Our Lord, with his own mouth, forbad such separations. â€œI command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.â€ Notice verse 11: But and if she departâ€¦ Contradiction? Wasnâ€™t Christ forbidding divorce in any case? Then why the allowance? Why give any instruction for those who choose to depart? The Bible doesnâ€™t say thou shalt not kill, but and if you killâ€¦ If divorce is absolutely sin in every case, then why say this? Clearly, Paul is reminding us of the right attitude towards divorce, as taught by Christ. Believers do not want divorce, do not seek divorce, but seek reconciliation. Paul reminds these converts that they must not separate for any reason other than what Christ allowed. If they must separate, they must do so only with the intention of reconciliation, or remaining unmarried. Ultimately, Paul commands the converted spouse to maintain the marriage at all costs.
It should be noted here that often when a husband or wife converts, they become very cantankerous. They want to preach at their spouse, to apply all they have learned at church to their unsaved spouse at home. They tend to take copious notes during the sermon time so that they can re-preach the sermon when they get back home. Some even refuse to have any part with the unsaved spouse. This is ungodly. It demonstrates a religion that is on the surface, but not in the heart. It shows a desire to impress fellow church members, and proves that the convert has no real heart for the Lord.
Those who have unconverted spouses must remember the place of compassion and true religion in the Christian life (James 1:26-27). If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter how godless our neighbor might be, then we certainly are to love our spouse, though unconverted, as we love ourselves.Â 1 Peter 3:1-4 would be a good text for the new convert to read and meditate on. Especially converted wives should take note of the fact that the sweet spirit and Christ-like attitude of the godly wife will affect the unconverted husband. And in fact, her godly spirit will affect him more than her pietistic tokens of godliness.
PAUL EXPANDS ON THE TEACHING OF CHRIST (1 CORINTHIANS 7:12-17)
As was said earlier, Paul is not speaking on his own here, nor is he saying that the next few verses will be uninspired or lesser inspired than other teaching. Rather, Paul here intends to address an area that Christ did not previously address. Particularly, in the case of converts, if the unconverted spouse is willing to honor the marriage vows, let the saved spouse stay with the marriage. In urging this, Paul teaches several important concepts. First, that by no means does conversionÂ dissolve the marriage. Quite the opposite. When one spouse converts in a previously unregenerate home, the marriage should grow that much stronger. In fact, if anything, the new Christian is forbidden to desert his wife. Secondly, marriage relations with an unsaved spouse by no means defiles a person (v. 14). Are they unequally yoked? Yet this unequal yoke does not defile the believer (Titus 1:15). The relationship is sanctified by the holiness of the believing spouse.
But what if the unbelieving spouse deserts? According to verse 15, the believer must neither prevent his deserting nor contest the divorce. In such a case, a brother or sister is not in bondage. The word for â€œbondageâ€ in verse 15 is a much stronger word than the word for â€œboundâ€ in verse 39. In verse 15, the bondage means â€œenslaved,â€ and indicates that the converted spouse is set free, is no longer enslaved by the yoke of marriage in the case of the unbeliever who deserts the marriage. Thus, the deserted spouse is free to remarry. In verse 11, the spouse who deserts the marriage for fornication is told to remain unmarried or else be reconciled. But God treats the deserter differently from the deserted here. The deserter seems to never be free. The deserted can be free after all possible attempts at reconciliation have failed.
In order to belabor the point, and for the sake of clarity, we should mention that we have a similar situation when a church member deserts his spouse. A few years ago we had a horrible case of abandonment in our church, where a man in the church abandoned his wife, abandoned his children, and refused to repent. After numerous meetings with the pastor and deacons, and after every attempt at reconciliation failed, we told it to the church, and when he refused to hear the church, the church removed him from membership. In a case like this, the Bible gives a very clear command.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Once the church â€œloosedâ€ this church member, he became as an unbeliever, and according toÂ 1 Corinthians 7:15, his wife was free.
But Paul is never anxious for divorce, and neither am I. Thus, Paul reminds us that God has called believers to peace (Romans 12:18). The believing spouse must always remember that they could (or perhaps should) be the instrument of the otherâ€™s salvation (v. 16). And besides, Paul charges, we must always be content (v. 17). How many divorces are caused by covetousness?