There are certain teachings and doctrines that I have greater confidence in being surely correct than I am about some others. There is no uncertainty about what the Scriptures teach on the matter of Christ’s atoning work and salvation. As I read it, there is not much debatable on that doctrine.
And I feel really quite good about the matter of eschatology – the doctrine of the last times. In the broad sweep of God’s plan for the ages, I believe I understand the future, though the exact times and names of the players will not be known until it happens. And if I get to heaven before the return of the Lord, and He tells me that I totally missed it on this doctrine, I’m going to say something like, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?”
But if in that time of review when all things become certain and clear, and He tells me I was rather messed up in my understanding of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, I think my response might be more in the category of, “Well, I’m not entirely surprised; that was difficult to know for sure in light of the many others who had very variant ideas on the subject.”
Yes, it is complicated. The Scriptures give us some very strong guidelines, as in this passage today that we turn to in 1 Corinthians 7. At the same time, there are so many situations that introduce shades of gray that are not specifically addressed in the Word of God. Over the years of ministry in a handful of churches, we have attempted to write policies to serve as interpretive guidelines on this subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Even so, it is not rare to have situations come before leadership with unique circumstances that are not addressed, and the policy gives scant help in making a decision about the validity of the divorce or the remarriage.
Here are some statements we can make about this broad subject from these 16 verses today …
- Marriage is a good thing, including the physical relationship aspect of it that provides for a fulfillment of natural desires, greatly easing opportunities for Satanic temptation.
- Paul gives a first statement of his own preference for singleness (that he’ll elaborate upon later in this 7th chapter), though he acknowledges this perspective is not universal by any means.
- Those believers who are married should not seek a divorce and remarriage. If divorce happens, reconciliation and singleness are the remaining options. (Yes, there are other passages that expand on this further and with more nuance, and Paul here is not talking about complicating factors like abuse, chronic adultery, etc.) The main idea here is that people cannot just decide they don’t like the other person over disagreements about chocolate cake versus white cake, and run off and marry someone else.
- The Christian man or woman who is currently married to an unbeliever should not initiate a divorce for that reason of a faith variance. But if the unbeliever leaves, let them go. Are they then free to remarry? Some think that this is assumed from the passage, whereas others say it is not correct to make any such assumption.
This is not my favorite chapter in the Bible; I’d rather be writing today about Hebrews 11 and the heroes of faith. Beyond that, for this series, I’ve given Tim Lester the blessing of preaching on this topic since he is our highly-compensated counselor dude at church. I’m very nice. Go Tim! … Don’t mess up!
7:1 – Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
7:8 – Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
7:10 – To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
7:12 – To 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. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For 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.
7:15 – But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?