Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Divorce and Remarriage

1 Corinthians 7:10-16

Teaching t05403


Paul now responds to questions Corinthians posed to him on a series of domestic issues. Today we will look at the most controversial of these issues: divorce and remarriage . . . 

There is a bewildering variety of factors pertaining to divorce and remarriage (EXAMPLES). Christians whose marriages are in trouble often want a proof-text to justify their chosen course of action, or a simple verse which tells them what to do. But it doesn't work that way. Neither this passage nor any other biblical passage gives us a case-by-case catalogue on what to do. Rather, God gives us a framework on this subject, and then expects us to prayerfully apply this framework to our own situations—taking full responsibility for our decisions. God's framework consists of these main truths:

God's provision for sexual union is marriage. Unless we have been gifted with celibacy (or no one will marry us), marriage is God's provision for our sexual expression (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:8,9).

God designed marriage to be permanent (Gen. 2:24). He hates divorce because it violates his design (Mal. 2:16). Jesus emphasized this in Matt. 19:4-6.

God recognizes that divorce is sometimes the lesser of two evils. He recognizes that because of hardness of heart (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:7,8).

Any position which does not apply all of these truths is not fully biblical. Let's see how Paul applies them in answering the Corinthians' questions . . . 

Christian Married Couples (vs 10-11)

Read vs 10-11. From the following context (vs 12), it is clear Paul is addressing Christian married couples—both husband and wife have personally received Christ.

It is also clear that some of these couples were having serious marital problems! What? Marital problems in Christian marriages? Nothing has changed in this area!! Christians are no more immune to marital problems than non-Christians (DAMAGE; SELFISHNESS)!

In spite of this, Paul is clear (he also refers to Jesus' statement in Matt. 19) that Christians should not cut out on the marriage when problems arise (vs 10b-11b). Instead, they should stay put to work on their marriages. Building a successful and satisfying marriage takes commitment and hard work. Here, we are called to stand in direct opposition to our culture which has destroyed the sanctity of marriage [1] , and provides us with convenient excuses to quit when things get tough. Consider these modern myths about divorce:

“Acknowledging the likelihood of divorce will help rather than hurt our marriage.” (PRE-NUPTIAL AGREEMENTS) This attitude is often fatal to marriage. It allows us to enter into marriage lightly, and it justifies impatience when problems emerge. Christians should enter marriage carefully and be fully committed to make it work. "Divorce" should not be in our vocabulary as we get married.

"I married the wrong person; we are incompatible. By getting a divorce, I am simply correcting an earlier problem instead of prolonging it." People are not incompatible by nature. They choose to be incompatible because of selfishness and hard-heartedness against God's conviction. This is why those who divorce with this mentality and remarry usually get divorced again. [2] Instead, we should focus on becoming the right person (LUTHER'S "SCHOOL-HOUSE").

"Getting a divorce is no big deal. I'll get over it soon and there will be no lasting consequences." What a lie! The fact is that divorce always brings great pain to both spouses, and when there are children involved, they will pay a price. [3] It is always preferable to work the marriage out if at all possible.

There is another reason why Christians should stay put and work on their marriages. The same God who calls us to do this provides us with the resources to succeed. With God's Word to inform us, with his Spirit to empower us, and with his people to assist us, we have all we need to eventually transform a nasty marriage into one that is rich and deeply satisfying! Marriage can be excruciating, but as long as both people are committed to following God's ways and depending on his resources, there is no marriage so messed up that God can't heal it.

So don't take the attractive "escape hatch" that leads to further misery—hang in there with the Lord and with your spouse and discover his transforming power!

But Paul knows that even Christians can choose not to trust God's provision. One Christian spouse can choose to harden his/her heart against God's will, and turn a marriage into a living hell (DRUG ABUSE; VIOLENCE; SEXUAL INFIDELITY). So Paul qualifies his insistence that Christians stay put by saying, "but if she does leave."

The language (chorizoo and aphiemi) could mean either separation or divorce. My own view is that Paul is referring to separation. Sometimes, when one spouse is severely hard-hearted, a separation may be needed in order to get the other person's attention. When this is the case, Paul warns the spouse who initiates the separation for this reason to be careful: be intent on reconciliation and don't get involved with someone else.

I don't think Paul is laying down a permanent restriction. If the other spouse refuses to work on the marriage and it ends, Paul seems to indicate that the divorcee is free to remarry (vs 8-9—"unmarried" is general; vs 27-28—"released from a wife" is different from single/virgin). However, like all Christians they should marry another Christian (vs 39; 2 Cor. 6:14).

SUMMARIZE the three truths . . . 

Christians Married To Non-Christians (vs 12-16)

Next, Paul addresses their question about mixed marriages. There are two ways this can happen: one spouse becomes a Christian, or a Christian (wrongly) marries a non-Christian. Read vs 12-14. Although Paul cannot quote Jesus on this situation, he can still apply God's revealed truth (and does so under inspiration).

Paul anticipates that the Corinthians in such marriages would get divorced because they believed such a sexual union would defile the Lord (6:16). Instead, he says such marriages are valid because God gave marriage to all people (Christian or non-Christian), so they should remain married. Furthermore, this union does not defile the Christian; instead it "sanctifies" the non-Christian spouse and children.

Of course, this doesn't mean that they are somehow saved. The Bible consistently insists that we must each individually choose to receive Christ in order to be saved (Jn. 1:12; 3:16).

Rather, he means that they are "set apart" for special spiritual influence through the Christian spouse—influence that may well result in their salvation. When a spouse (or any family member) receives Christ and faithfully walks with him, the non-Christian family members are convicted of their need for Christ in a powerful way. This is why we often see family members come to Christ.

But the Christian must be faithful to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through him/her. This is implied by "consents." Paul assumes the Christian spouse will be allowing the Lord to change his behavior and attitudes (FORGIVE SPOUSE; REPENT & ASK FORGIVENESS FOR SINS; INITIATE LOVE; MODEL CHRIST'S WAY OF LIFE). He also assumes that the Christian spouse will be firm in his commitment to spiritual growth (means of growth) and sharing Christ with family members instead of compromising these areas to "keep the peace." It is in such a life that the sanctifying influence is strongest, and the non-Christian spouse is often attracted to Christ.

However, Paul recognizes that mixed marriages sometimes don't work out. However faithful the Christian spouse is, the non-Christian spouse has free will and may be adamant in his/her refusal of Christ and even want out of the marriage. This can be quite overt, but it can also be more subtle (refusing to allow the Christian spouse to influence the children or go to fellowship). In such cases, Paul says to let the marriage end.

Don't feel that their salvation is dependent on the continuation of the marriage (vs 16). By fighting their desire to leave, you may only promote continual and destructive strife because of their hardness of heart—but "God has called us to peace."

Virtually all commentators understand vs 15b ("the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases") as Paul reminding the Christian spouse that he/she is free to remarry in such cases (see again vs 8-9; vs 27-28).

SUMMARIZE the three truths . . . 

Another Key Biblical Truth: God's Grace

I realize that many of you who have listened to this teaching may have made terrible mistakes in this area. Some of you may have ditched your marriages when they got tough when you should have hung in there. Some of you may have stayed married, but made it a living hell for your spouses so that they left you. Some of you may have left your spouses for another man or woman. Some of you may have had a string of loser relationships and marriages. Because of these failures, you may feel (and Christians may have told you) that God has had it with you. That's why, before we leave this subject, I want to emphasize another key biblical truth that applies to this extremely important and complicated area of life--the grace of God.

The grace of God means that, regardless of how badly you've blown this area, God still loves you and wants you to experience his love. The same Jesus who spoke so strongly against sexual immorality and divorce also spoke about God's grace to those whose lives had been shattered by these things. Look at what Jesus said to a woman whose life was riddled with marital failure (Jn. 4:18 >> vs 10,14).

The grace of God doesn't mean he will remove all the consequences of your poor decisions. He won't snap his fingers and unmake the past, or completely take away the pain. But he will forgive you completely and enable you to experience his love and acceptance. He won't transform your difficult marriage into a good one overnight. But he will begin to work in your life to make something beautiful and meaningful—if you receive Christ and begin to walk with him. I want to ask the Allen's to share with you how God's grace has affected their lives . . . 


[1] "Marriage, once a sacrament, has become in the eyes of the law a (mere) contract that is easily negotiated, renegotiated, or rescinded. Within a few years, no-fault divorce on demand became possible, after millennia in which such an idea would have been unthinkable. It is now easier to renounce a marriage than a mortgage . . . " James Q. Wilson (UCLA), The Moral Sense (New York: The Free Press, 1993), cited by William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators (New York: Touchstone, 1994), p 57."The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world. At present rates, approximately half of all U.S. marriages can be expected to end in divorce." National Commission on Children, Just the Facts: A Summary of Recent Information on America's Children and Their Families, cited by William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, p. 59.

[2] "Both cohabiting and remarried couples are more likely to break up than couples in first marriages." Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "Dan Quayle Was Right," The Atlantic Monthly, April 1993, cited by William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, p. 59. The average duration of marriage before divorce is only half as long for the second marriage and only one-third as long for third marriages. Duration of Marriage Before Divorce: United States (Hyattsville, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service, Office of Health Research, Statistics, and Technology, National Center for Health Statistics, 1981), p. 12ff.

[3] "According to a study of white, daughters of single parents are 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth, and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages." Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "Dan Quayle Was Right," The Atlantic Monthly, April 1993, cited by William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, p. 52. "Divorce has its most significant repercussions on girls with regard to future marital stability: a 1987 study found that white women who were younger than 16 when their parents divorced or separated were about 60% more likely to be divorced and separated themselves." Norval Glenn and Kathryn Kramer, University of Texas, cited in Barbara Kantrowitz, "Breaking the Divorce Cycle," Newsweek, January 13, 1992."Because of the shattering emotional and developmental effects of divorce on children, it would be reasonable to introduce `braking' mechanisms that would require parents contemplating divorce to pause for reflection." William Galston and Elaine Kamarck (Deputy Assistant to President Clinton for Domestic Policy), "Putting Children First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990's," Progressive Policy Institute, 1992, cited by William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, p. 60.