The divorce dilemma (1 Cor. 7: 10-16)




ИмеThe divorce dilemma (1 Cor. 7: 10-16)
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10To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):


Paul is not saying this is my opinion not God’s

He is saying I can’t quote Jesus at this point but here’s God’s perspective


A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.


The norm again, God’s design for marriage, is for it to last a lifetime

If divorce occurs the people involved should stay unmarried unless they can be reconciled and remarry


12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.


Now wait a minute you might say: Aren’t Christians not supposed to marry non-Christians?

Doesn’t Paul say this later in this chapter and again in 2 Corinthians 6?


Yes he does.


But what we in all probability have happening here is that when Christianity came to Corinth

sometimes one marriage partner became a Christian but the other one did not


And so the debate that seems to be going on here is probably two fold:


1) If I was an unbeliever and I came to faith should I divorce my unbelieving parter?


That’s the primary question and Paul says: “NO! Do not divorce your unbelieving mate.”


But there may also be something else going on


You may remember from two weeks ago that apparently some in Corinth were advocating

abstaining from sexual relations in marriage


It is possible that what is going on here is that some became Christians and decided

that they should not have sex with their unbelieving mate


Obviously this would put their marriage in jeopardy

and we saw that Paul said that Christian’s bodies belong to their mates


They are duty bound to meet their mate’s sexual needs

and they will not be contaminated by doing so


Indeed Paul goes on to say


14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.


Now nobody knows for sure exactly what Paul means,

exactly how unbelieving partners are sanctified by believing partners


But the view that makes the most sense to me is that rather than thinking that the unbelieving mate

is going to make them unholy


Christians need to see themselves as having a holy impact on their unbelieving partner


As David Garland (288) suggests:


“The Corinthians’ worry about these marriages could stem only from some anxiety

about potential defilement by intimate union with an unbeliever, particularly an idolater.


Paul turns this apprehension on its head by reassuring them that Christians sanctify

their non-Christian spouse.


The Christian united to Christ brings the non-Christian partner into a sphere of holiness

that somehow neutralizes the non-Christian’s potential to contaminate the Christian.


In other words, ‘clean’ trumps ‘unclean’ in this relationship.”


In practical terms the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever is more like a Christian marriage

than an unbelieving marriage


The presence of the Christian brings holiness to the marriage

The non-Christian gets all sorts of benefits from being married to a believer


For example their children are considered part of the covenant or church community




But what if an unbelieving spouse is totally turned off by their partner’s conversion?

What if an unbelieving is so disgusted by their faith that they decide to divorce?


Paul says:


 15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.


In other words, a Christian mate should never seek to divorce a non-Christian mate

(unless there is repeated sexual immorality)


BUT if a non-Christian mate seeks to divorce a Christian then the Christian can let them leave


Paul says that if the non-Christian initiates divorce the Christian is not bound to remain in the marriage


Now so far we have avoided addressing a crucial question


So far I’ve assumed that if divorce is sometimes permissible then so is remarriage


BUT many have argued that while divorce is sometimes permissible remarriage is never permissible


And it is true that the Bible does not come out clearly say: “Remarriage is also permissible”


BUT note here that Paul says that if the unbeliever divorces their believing partner

the believing partner is no longer bound to the marriage


And note what Paul says in verse 39 of this chapter:’


“A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.


But if her husband dies, she is free to remarry anyone she wishes,

but he must belong to the Lord.”


That is, if a mate dies the surviving mate is free to marry another Christian


The surviving mate is no longer bound to the first marriage


Craig Blomberg (140) comments:


“The verb for binding is different in this context, but seemingly synonymous.


If remarriage was universally granted to the legally divorced in both Jewish and Greco-Roman circles,

it would seem that Paul would have been much more explicit in forbidding it if that was his intention.”


In other words whenever divorce was spoken of in the Jewish or Greco-Roman cultures

remarriage was considered a given


And if Jesus or Paul had some other idea in mind, such as allowing no remarriage,

then surely they would have made this clear


Well enough technical details


Even if we’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, I’ve given most of you more than you wanted




Besides the key thing is not to endlessly debate when divorce and remarriage are permissible

When there may or may not be some other permissible times for divorce and remarriage


The crucial issue is to be committed to marriage until death parts us


Permissions pale in comparison to permanence


The point is permanence not permissions


And so no matter how difficult our marriage may become we should not be seeking loopholes

but remember that God designed marriage to last a lifetime


And to be committed to it to the death and to also remember that


3) God’s desire is always for reconciliation (Hosea 1-3; 1 Cor. 7:11)


The book of Hosea is records an amazing story and example for us


Hosea was a prophet whom God commanded to marry Gomer, a woman of poor character


God told Him to do this because God wanted Hosea to be an object lesson of His love for Israel


But sure enough Hosea took Gomer for his wife and she bore him two children

and then she abandoned him for a lifestyle of sexual debauchery


In a word Gomer pictured how Israel was treating God


And like God, Hosea, did not abandon Gomer


Hosea did not remarry but waited and waited and waited hoping for reconciliation with Gomer


If I remember right a couple of decades went by before one day Hosea saw Gomer being auctioned

as a slave


She was a wasted shell of a woman who would no longer even make a good slave


BUT Hosea not only purchased her, he took her home and made her again is wife


The story pictures God’s love for us but it also shows the kind of loyalty

God desires for us to have in our marriages


God never desires divorce

God always desires reconciliation


Divorce is always devestating to everyone involved


If we had time I could go on for hours illustrating the consequences of divorce


But let me conclude with one story that hints at it


Pat Conroy is one of my favorite novelists but back in Jan. 88 Reader’s Digest (109-112)

published a peice that he had earlier written entitled “Requiem for a Marriage”


It is one of the most eloquent descriptions of divorce that I have ever read


EACH DIVORCE is the death of a small civilization. Two people declare war on each other, and their screams and tears infect their entire world with the bacilli of their pain. The greatest fury comes from the wound where love once issued forth.


I find it hard to believe how many people now get divorced, how many submit to such extraordinary pain. For there are no clean divorces. Divorces should be conducted in abattoirs or surgical wards. In my own case, I think it would have been easier if Barbara had died. I would have been gallant at her funeral and shed real tears -- far easier than staring across a table, telling each other it was over.


It was a killing thing to look at the mother of my children and know that we would not be together for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying to say good-by, to reject a part of my own history.


How does it happen that two people who once loved each other, who felt incomplete in the absence of the other, are brought to that moment of grisly illumination when they decied it has gone irretrievably wrong? How can love change its garments and come disguised as indifference, anger, even loathing?


Divorce should be declared a form of insanity, or a communication disease (how often married couples seem to feel threatened around their divorced friends). I have seen no one walk out of a divorce unmarked; it makes you a different person. You can enter the sinister cocoon as a butterfly and stagger out later as a caterpillar doomed to walk under the eye of the spider. Or you can reverse the process. There are no laws of nature that apply-only laws of suffering, different for each individual.


When I went through my divorce I saw it as a country, and it was treeless, airless; there were no furloughs and no holidays. I entered without passport, without directions and absolutely alone. Insanity and hopelessness grew in that land like vast orchards of malignant fruit. I do not know the precise day that I arrived in that country. Nor am I certain that you can ever renounce your citizenship there.
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