“Husband of One Wife,” Part 2: Christian Divorce in 1 Corinthians 7

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Praise the Lord, church! Pastor D.M. here, back with another teaching on our “Husband of One Wife” series. Tonight’s Part 2 addressed Christian divorce: a Christian man or woman whose unbelieving spouse departs. Paul says that if the unbeliever chooses to stay, Christians should stay. If the unbeliever chooses to depart, though, let them depart. In other words, the Christian should not be so willing within marriage to divorce his or her mate, that coming to faith is no excuse to initiate divorce proceedings. As I say in the teaching, the Lord says that adultery is the only grounds for divorce within Scripture, so even as a Christian who is “unequally yoked” in a sense, the believer should stay in his or her marriage and thus, by doing, give glory to God and live out opportunities to witness to his or her mate. Of course, there will be some difficulty living out the marriage covenant in such circumstances, but marriage is designed to give glory to God — not run from it when the going gets tough.

Tonight’s teaching on Christian divorce initiated by the unbelieving spouse is another example of a situation where the believer is allowed to marry again. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:15-16 that “if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” By staying in the marriage, a believing husband or wife can be an important Christian witness; if the spouse wants to depart, however, it’s a sign that the believer has not likely had an impact upon the unbeliever.

The truth of the matter is that the human heart is so hard that some Christian spouses never win over their unbelieving mate, so there’s no guarantee that you will win them over by staying. And yet, marriage as a ministry is to reflect Christ, and those who evangelize witness to unbelievers with the same goal that you have for staying in your marriage (to win the lost). By staying, you give the Lord ample opportunity to do His work if the individual is receptive and willingly submits to God. Some spouses do not, though, and thus, the Christian spouse is freed from the marriage bond and its obligations to that individual.

The phrase “husband of one wife” has been said to mean “married only once,” but this isn’t true. If the Christian spouse is allowed to leave the marriage only because the unbelieving spouse initiated the divorce, then that Christian spouse is not condemned by God and is free to remarry in the Lord. God doesn’t hold the believer guilty for what the unbelieving spouse chooses to do: “a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases,” Paul says.

This means that there are now two instances in which the phrase “husband of one wife” cannot mean “married only once”: widowhood and divorce by unbelieving spouse. So, if a man or woman wants to serve as Pastor or Deacons with a divorce on his or her hands, it pays to discover the nature of that divorce before proceeding. Even if the divorce is not according to biblical standards, the Lord can still use the individual for His glory. However, the church must not persecute innocent victims of unbelieving divorce by denying them church office because their unbelieving spouse left the marriage. And we can only know the nature of the divorce by encouraging the person interested in church office to provide some insight on what happened.

Next week, I intend to cover the words of Jesus on divorce, adultery, and remarriage in the Gospels, so stick around for that. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing you on Sunday for our first Thanksgiving service. God bless.

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