Sex, Separation and Divorce
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I would much rather spend my time on Bible principles and on relationship with Christ. Some of these facts I don’t enjoy presenting as much but I think this one on sex, divorce and separation is really needed.
Our Father, we do thank You so much for the truth of Your word. We ask You to guide us as we touch on some of these things. We pray that we might have age abiding principles and that our hearts would be turned to Christ. I pray, Lord, that You would be able to give us a clear word from heaven on some of these things. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
As I suggested, this particular lesson is suggested by our study in Matthew 19:1-12 and because there is so much confusion today about the King’s teaching on divorce and separation, I’d like to present this as a special topic and since it’s a topic, we aren’t going to confine ourselves to Matthew 19. We’re going to look in all of the scriptures, so that we might get a clear word from the Lord. Be patient with me, because I know the desire is in something like this to roll up the sleeves, wade right in, and say “Let’s get to it!” But I believe with all of my heart that first we must lay down great principles. For years when I studied these particular subjects; sex, divorce, and separation, people I sat under just hemmed and hawed and cleared their throat, and just spoke in glittering generalities and when I was all finished I didn’t know any more when I was done than when I first sat down. I’m not going to do that. You may not agree with me in what I say but you will definitely know what I say. In other words, I’m going to use clear words, and you’ll know exactly what I’m saying.
I’m going to answer three questions from the Bible. #1 is sex a sin? #2 what does God say about divorce? #3 what does God say about separation? I’m going to ask you to turn to 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 for the first question, “Now, concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman, but because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife and likewise, also, the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but the husband does. Likewise, also, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another except by agreement for a time, that you may devote yourself to prayer and
come together again, less Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession and not command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. I say to the unmarried and the widows that it’s good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.”
Is sex a sin? Let me give the answer and then try to illustrate it from the passage. Outside the bounds of marriage, sex is a sin. Inside the bounds of marriage sex is a duty. Now, let me take that last part first. Inside the circle of relationship of marriage sex is not only a sin, it’s a duty. Glance, please, again at verses 3-5. As you know, marriage is God’s picture of union with Jesus Christ and the physical side of that intimate union is a picture of the intimacy of our walk and our union with the Lord. The principle that he lays down here is mutual subjection in love. Surrender is the great principle of union love. You’ve got the idea that the man is totally surrendered to the wife and the wife is totally surrendered to the husband. So complete is that surrender, that verse 4 says, “I no longer have authority over my own body. My wife no longer has authority over her own body. I willingly agree to subject myself to her and, likewise, she has agreed to subject herself to me.” There can be no happy marriage where this principle is not embraced; mutual submission in love. That is so necessary.
Let me caution you about books that try to deal with the physical side of marriage and try to solve problems. As a man of God and woman of God, you don’t need them. You don’t need to read all of that stuff. Just come to the Bible and you’ll find all you need about those kinds of things. You can’t get more basic than this; surrender to your life partner. That is as basic as you can get. Sex, according to this, is a duty. The KJV translates verse 5, “Stop defrauding one another.” It’s the Greek word which means, “to rob” or “to spoil” and it means to cheat and to steal. Why is withholding sex from a life partner a fraud? Why is it robbery? The answer is because it’s a debt you owe your life partner. It a duty and debt. To withhold sex from your life partner is to rob your life partner. It shows a lack of love and surrender. It’s just part of the great picture. I give myself totally to Lillian and she gives herself totally to me; total submission in love.
The Corinthians had this problem. They viewed sex as it was distorted by the pagans and the heathens, among whom they lived. They looked at all of those uncontrolled passions and they never saw the beauty of sex and never saw in the circle of God’s revelation, so they all distorted it. God brings it home in terms of the duty of our union with Christ. He said, “Yes, inside of marriage it’s a duty; it’s a debt and you owe it and you’ve got to do it. Outside of marriage it’s a sin; a horrible sin.”
Did you ever notice how practical the Bible is? Sometimes we like to be more spiritual than the Bible and sound more Biblical than the Bible. Let me create a situation for you and then answer it. I’m sitting in my study (this is not too far from true because this has happened), and a young man walks in and I invite him to sit down. He begins to pour out his heart and he tells a story of a lovely young lady that he’s met and he says, “We’ve been going together for some time now, but quite frankly, we’re having some problems on the physical side of dating life. I’m feeling some deep attractions and she’s feeling attraction and honestly some of these passions that we’re having from the weakness of our flesh is just driving us crazy. What should we do?” What would be good spiritual advice?
So, I’d say, “Well, I know what to do. Trust Jesus and look to Christ and load that thing on the Lord. He’s promised to give you victory. You trust Him and trust His grace. He’ll deliver you. There’s not temptation taking you… and I’d quote that verse. There’s a way of escape. Trust Jesus and look to Christ.” Wouldn’t that sound like good, sound, spiritual advice? It is not good, sound, spiritual advice at all. It sounds like good advice but the Holy Spirit doesn’t give that advice. See, He’s not as spiritual as I am. I speak as a fool. In 1 Corinthians 7:9 he didn’t say, “If they do not have self-control, let them pray.” It didn’t say that. He didn’t say, “If they don’t have self-control, let them trust Jesus and let them fast and let them claim the victory in simple faith.” He didn’t say that. He didn’t say that if they are having physical problems, let them study the Bible together and pray together. The Holy Spirit is more spiritual than I and He said, “Let them marry because it’s better to marry than to burn in passion and lust and desire.” Marriage and not prayer, marriage and not faith, marriage and not Bible study is God’s safe guard against immorality. That’s what God gives as the safe guard. Marriage is God’s means to bridle and restrain all extravagant lusts. That’s why he said that it’s better to marry than to burn. Sex inside of marriage is a duty but outside of marriage it’s a sin. To avoid fornication, then marry.
Look at verse 2, “Because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife.” Don’t dare have sexual relations outside of marriage. It’s immoral and a sin. It’s fornication and it’s wrong. By the way, fornication and adultery are used interchangeably in the New Testament and Old Testament. Some people say fornication is just for the single and adultery for the married. No, they are both used interchangeably. It’s the same sin; the sin of immorality. It’s very practical, isn’t it? If you can’t control your body, God says to get married. That’s God’s spiritual advice. Be down to earth.
Some have been confused about Paul’s statement about the invisibility of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1, “It’s good for a man not to touch a woman,” and verse 8, “I say to the unmarried and to the widows that it’s good for them if they remain even as I.” Don’t spend a lot of time arguing about the question of whether Paul was married. It can’t be settled.
I know this, at the writing of 1 Corinthians he was not married. Whether his wife died, I don’t know. But I know that he wasn’t married then. Verse 28, “If you should marry you have not sinned. If a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet, such will have trouble in this life and I am trying to spare you. This I say, brethren, the time has been shortened. From now on both those who have wives should be as though they had none.” Verse 32, “I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord and how he may please the Lord. The one who is married is concerned about the things of the world.” It sounds like Paul is against marriage. Is there a contradiction? Was Paul refuting Genesis 2:18, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Paul says, “Yes, it is. It’s good for man to be alone.”
Paul is not refuting that at all. In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 Paul describes those who forbid to marry and calls it the doctrine of demons. Certainly he wouldn’t line up with those who he calls “the doctrine of demons”. Also follow it to it’s logical conclusion. If Paul was against marriage and he willed singleness, he would have also been willing the disillusion of the whole world, as well as the church, because you’ve got to have marriage in order to keep the world going. Paul wasn’t contradicting God. There’s a Bible principle that can be summarized in these words, “Read your Bibles carefully.” Look at verse 1 Corinthians 7:26, “I think then that this is good in view of the present distress.” Mark that. 1Corinthians 7:1 is not the rule. It’s the exception. The Apostle Paul is not saying, “Don’t get married,” but, “in view of the present problems we’re having, it’s probably better to be single.”
At this time they were undergoing a tremendous persecution. The Lord was allowing the church to be persecuted and scattered and Paul was saying that in the light of this (he’s not saying he’s against marriage), you would probably be better off not having a wife and family because you’ll probably be thrown to the lions, or be used as a candle to light up Nero’s gardens, or you’ll probably be thrown to some other kind of animals. It’s like Jesus said in Matthew 24, “Whoa to those who are with child in those days. Pray that your plight be not in winter.” He’s not against babies. He wasn’t against snow. He just knew it was hard for pregnant women to run in the snow. He just said it would be better if it didn’t happen in those days. He said it’s better in light of all the persecution to remain single. But he said that if you are going to lust, it’s better to get married because it’s better to marry than to burn. He’s not against marriage.
Is sex a sin? No, not in marriage. In marriage it’s a duty. He said, “My advice is to you, if you have control over your passions, you are to agree with your wife for a while, for spiritual reasons, to be separated, that’s alright but then come on back.” It’s a duty. But outside of marriage it’s a sin. Alright, hold that question and I’ll ask you to go back to
Matthew 19 and the second question. What does the Bible teach about divorce? Before I give you the Bible answer to that, in order to keep our heart centered on the Lord, let me give four principles on how to approach this, as we seek God’s full revelation on this tremendous issue.
The first principle can be stated in these words, “Ask God to enable you to share His heart on the subject of divorce.” Let me tell you God’s heart on the subject of divorce. It’s Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce, sayeth the Lord, the God of Israel.” So, whatever we conclude with and whatever answers we find – what are the scriptural grounds for divorce? Is desertion grounds for divorce? Can divorced people remarry? Whatever answer we come up with on that, we must always have God’s heart on divorce. God’s heart on divorce is this; He hates it. It’s a tragedy. He abominates it all the time. It wrecks the home and it mars the picture of union with Jesus Christ. God hates it. If someone has a scriptural divorce, which we’ll discuss in a moment, and doesn’t share God’s heart on divorce, then that person has a spiritual problem. Be real careful if someone asks you, “Do you believe in divorce?” Don’t just say, “yes or no”. They are probably asking you, “Do you believe there are any scriptural grounds for divorce?” Don’t give the wrong connotation and don’t communicate, “Oh yes, I believe in divorce,” and neglect God’s heart on divorce. Your doctrine on divorce must include this, “God hates it.” Don’t take it for granted that they know that. Tell them. People never go away with what you think they know. They only go away with what you give them. So, tell them and let them know that God hates it. Whatever Paul’s answer is, this is the backdrop of everything, “God hates divorce.”
The second principle is this. Ask God along with that uncompromising attitude toward divorce, that You hate it, ask God to give you a heart of sympathetic love toward those who are burned by this. It’s easy to fall short of either one of those when you are dealing with people who are involved in marriage problems. It’s amazing how some Christians have never been touched by this thing and never been involved or burned by this and they are almost vicious in the way they deal with others who have been badly hurt and badly burned. I’m not saying to be sentimental and compromised. I’m saying to ask the Lord to give you a heart of sympathetic love. These are real people created in the image of God and because of some sin in their life or because of some quirk and circumstances, they’ve been hurt. You can still say that God hates divorce and have a heart of sympathy and love toward those who are involved in this awful thing.
The third principle is to make sure that you distinguish the principle from the application of the principle. It’s always good to press back to the principle. The principle is always clear but the application can get very thorny, especially when it comes to something like marriage. There’s no end to some of the complications. Sin complicates things horribly and the more involved it is in the heart strings, the more terrible that complication becomes. I know of nothing that is more complicated than some of these marriage
problems. Try to get away from all the problems and make sure your principle is clear. If you always begin with what is 100% certain, then you can move toward that which is not clear. But you start with what is clear.
If somebody has a husband and he’s off in Viet Nam and he shows up missing, and she has an unscriptural divorce and she marries somebody else and that person dies and then she marries somebody else and gets saved and then her first husband comes home from Viet Nam and then she says, “What shall I do?” Make sure that you have a starting place because your head will swim at some of the complications that can come up in some of these things.
One more principle and then we’ll look at the teaching itself. Distinguish the legality of the action from the expediency of the action. What do I mean by that? It’s one thing to say, “This is legal.” It’s another thing to say, “This is the will of God.” It might be legal and not God’s will. Make sure you walk softly before the Lord in that thing. Make sure you have the mind of God. Just because it’s adultery doesn’t mean that it’s God’s will for a separation or divorce. That will be clear as we go on. Ask God to give you His heart on divorce. He hates it. Ask God to give you a heart of sympathetic love toward those who are involved in it. Ask God to allow you to understand the principles and separate those from the application of the principles. Then make sure you distinguish between the legality of the action and the expediency of the action. First you’ve got to find out if it’s right or wrong but that doesn’t give the whole answer. Then find out if it’s God’s will.
Okay, let me give you the full teaching on divorce. I’ll give it to you in facts. Fact #1 I’ve stated this very definitely. Adultery on the part of the unfaithful one constitutes a scriptural grounds for divorce for the innocent party. I stress the innocent party. In Bible times things were so simple. The guilty party was stoned to death. It was all over. They were out of the picture; no problem. In our wonderful age of grace the guilty goes on to repent and to get right with God. Now what? And, so, we need to study the word of God. Because the guilty party can very easily become the innocent party through the wonder of justification. In giving the full Bible truth on divorce, I’m going to stick with what is 100% clear. What is 100% clear is that adultery constitutes a scriptural grounds for divorce.
Matthew 5:31&32, Matthew 19:3-9; here is the second fact. What constitutes a scriptural grounds for divorce? Fornication and adultery, automatically constitutes a scriptural grounds for remarriage for the innocent party, while the divorced person is still alive (not talking about if he dies), if he is still alive. Where do I get that? First of all, by the very nature of divorce. Divorce is not separation. If divorce is not separation, there must be a difference. You have to ask, “What is the difference between divorce and separation?”
According to 1 Corinthians 7:11 there is only one difference. The goal of separation is reconciliation. “If she does leave, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. The goal of separation is getting back together and getting reconciled. Separation is partial. That’s the nature of separation but divorce is not. Divorce is final.
Do you realize that everything the Bible says about divorce it says in terms of remarriage? Otherwise there would be no word for divorce. They would just use separation. Why even use divorce? Anything the Bible says about divorce it says in terms of remarriage. When a couple is scripturally divorced, that couple is just as completely estranged from one another as if they had never been married in the first place. That’s how strong divorce is. Suppose a couple has been divorced scripturally and then they live together again in the intimacies of the marriage bond? They’ve committed adultery by coming back together. That’s how strong divorce is. Divorce is so final. It’s a complete separation. The Bible says that it’s like one who has already died. Suppose somebody is scripturally divorced and five years later the person that they scripturally divorced dies. He is no deader to her marital affections now that he’s dead than he was when he was divorced. It’s just like a death, exactly like a death. If I don’t accept that, then I must say that divorce is only a partial separation.
Glance at Matthew 5:32, “I say to you that everyone that divorces his wife except for the cause of un-chastity makes her commit adultery. Why? It’s because she is still married. That’s why. God hasn’t recognized any divorce except for fornication. That’s the only divorce. So, if that person who is divorced on any other grounds – mental cruelty, incompatibility, not salting the food or any other grounds – it’s unscriptural. God’s word clearly goes against the laws of the state of Rhode Island. There’s no question about that and you don’t have to clear your throat on that. God’s word contradicts that; God doesn’t recognize it. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of paper you have in your hand, God will not recognize any divorce that is not by adultery. If anyone marries a divorced person who is divorced on any other grounds, he is marrying a married person and he commits adultery. That’s why it’s adultery. It’s wrong.
Look at Matthew 19:9, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another…” Yes, there is grounds for divorce and yes the divorced person can remarry. As a matter of fact that’s the point of divorce, to allow that person to remarry. You don’t have to wonder about that. That’s the great exception clause in 19:9 and that’s why He puts that in there. Some Christians, of course, have disputed remarriage. They say that you can be divorced and I can see that but there is no remarriage, even for the innocent party. To prove it they quote Romans 7:2&3, “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while she is living, but if her husband dies, she is released from
the law concerning her husband. So, then, if while her husband is living and she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulterer. But if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so she is not an adulterous, though she is joined to another man.” So, they say that the only way she is free to remarry is after death.
Well, what’s the purpose of this passage? The answer is to illustrate union with Christ. The whole idea is that we’re married to Christ. Verse 4, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another; to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit to God.” The idea is that I’m going to marry Christ and have union with Him and bring forth offspring unto Him. Since Paul was not writing about divorce and marriage in this passage, but writing about our union with Christ, he gives the general principle and doesn’t give the exception, obviously, because if He gave the exception he would ruin his illustration. He’s illustrating union with Christ. He can’t say, “But you can get divorced.” He’d blow his whole illustration. Matthew 19 is not talking about union with Christ. Primarily it’s talking about divorce and remarriage, so he brings in the remarriage. There is no contradiction there at all.
The question comes, if there’s only one grounds for divorce, how come people say, “Desertion is a grounds for divorce.” Is desertion a scriptural grounds for divorce? The answer is no. Desertion is not a grounds for divorce. 1 Corinthians 7:15 and I’ll give you the only verse in the Bible that people use to show that desertion is a grounds for divorce. “If the unbelieving one leaves, let them leave. The brother or sister (watch these four words) is not under bondage it such cases. God has called us to peace.” So, they say that right there it says that we’re not under bondage and we can get remarried. Here’s an important Bible principle.
How many verses does it take to prove a Bible doctrine? The answer is one, if it’s clear. Any clear word of God is good Bible doctrine. But if it’s not clear, be careful before you put a doctrine on it. And that four words in the whole Bible, “not under bondage”, and saying that you can get remarried if he deserted, you are reading an awful lot into that expression “is not under bondage”. Not under bondage for what? Not under bondage to remain unmarried? It seems to me like he’s saying, “If he wants to leave, let him leave.
You are not under bondage to try to keep him there.” But I wouldn’t read a whole doctrine in about desertion is grounds for divorce on that. You’re not under bondage to try to bring him back. Make sure you have a clear teaching. I think it’s dangerously presumptuous to base everything on “not under bondage”.
There is one grounds for divorce; not two and not three. One grounds only for a Bible divorce. Then the innocent party is not only free but is encouraged to remarry. Everything the Bible says about divorce is in terms of remarriage. Separation is a question all of its own and Paul deals with that, also. Is it God’s will for any reason for any couple to break up?
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 7 and try to answer that question about separation, verse 10, “To the married I give instruction, not I but the Lord, that the wife shall not leave her husband, but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband shall not send his wife away. But to the rest, I say, and not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband, otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. If the unbelieving one leaves, let them leave. The brother or sister is not under bondage under such cases. God has called us to peace. How do you know, oh wife, whether you’ll save your husband or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”
Let me start off by answering the question, “What does the Bible teach about separation?” And then I’ll give three principles from the verses we just read on why God gives that answer. You may be shocked by this answer but I believe with all of my heart that this is the Bible answer on the question, “Is it ever God’s will under any circumstances, for a Christian to initiate a separation? The answer is no. It is never God’s will, never, never, never. Divorce has one exception but separation has no exceptions. It’s never God’s will for a Christian to separate from his life partner. No matter how bad it gets for whatever reason. There is only one exception for divorce and there are no exceptions for separation.
In our day we have looked on separation as the right thing to do in lieu of a divorce. “It’s better to be separated than divorced.” That’s how we reason. Well, that’s wrong. Separation is not the right thing to do. It’s the wrong thing. You can’t get away from
1 Corinthians 7:10, “The wife shall not leave the husband.” Verse 11, “The husband should not send his wife away.” Separation is not an option, any more than divorce is. I think some Christians would be very shocked to hear that truth. They think, “Oh, it’s okay to be separated, as long as you don’t get divorced.”
I don’t have all the answers to all the questions that are raised on this thing. What about that poor woman that must be subjected to the brutality of a wicked man and live under the constant fear, dominion and oppression of a wicked man?” I saw a program on TV recently that was a horrible thing on wife brutality. I’ve seen it in reverse, too. They can get pretty tough on the men. Does he have to stay and take it? Does she have to stay and take it? Does a woman have to bear with a man who is a drunkard and thoughtless and hardhearted?
The other day I received a letter from a woman that I had never met but she told me that her husband has not spoken to her in eleven years. Isn’t that an amazing thing! They’re living under the same roof in the same house and he hasn’t said a word to her in eleven years. Her question is, “Do I have to take this? Do I have to continue under this neglect?” If a man has a nagging, cantankerous wife, especially if she’s given over to drugs or alcohol. Does he have to live with her? He can’t divorce her, perhaps, in obedience to God’s word, but can’t he at least separate for his own sanity and spiritual health? No. The Christian must never under any circumstances initiate a separation. Again, I don’t know all the ins and outs and how it applies in different cases but I know that God’s grace is going to have to be sufficient. And then you see the reasons that God gives and then you’ll understand why He says no.
Let me give you the three principles illustrated from this text. On these three truths He bases His doctrine that there is never a reason for separation. The first principle can be stated in these words, “Do not separate because marriage is a holy, sacred, inviolable bond and marriage is broken only by death with the one exception that we’ve talked about. Let me illustrate it. God is not naïve, obviously. Although separation is not His way and not His pleasure and not His plan and not His design. He anticipates it’s going to happen. Verse 11, “But if she does leave, let her remain unmarried.”
Don’t read verse 11 like it’s divine permission. God doesn’t give permission. He doesn’t give it here and He doesn’t give it anywhere else in the whole Bible. It’s not God’s will to separate but if out of rashness, or if out of fear, or if out of foolishness, or if out of frustration, or if out of disobedience, if she does, then what? God has not given His permission for separation but He’s going to meet us where we are. He anticipates that it will happen. So, He lays down principles, “If it does happen, it’s not My will, but here are the principles.” If God doesn’t have an ideal situation with which to work, then He works
with a situation that is not ideal. He deals with us where we are. We’ve got to praise God for that. I’m so glad that He deals with us where we are. He’s not going to forsake them because they blew it.
1 Corinthians 7:11, “If they do separate, she is to remain unmarried.” Why? The answer is because she is married. She can’t remarry because she’s already got a husband. God hasn’t recognized that break-up of marriage just because there is a geographical separation. They are still one. That’s why he says, “Or else be reconciled. That’s My real will. Get back together.” The goal of separation is reconciliation and to come back together and be reconciled.. You are still married. Be reconciled to your wife. You are still married. Departure doesn’t make the marriage void. The contract is not dissolved by separation. With a separated person, if you live a million years, that marriage would be just as in tact as the day they said, “I do.” Separation doesn’t do anything to the marriage. God says, “Don’t separate. But if you find yourself in a spot that you have separated, don’t dare date and don’t dare get remarried because you are already married. Get back together.” In the eyes of the Lord they are still married.
I’m amazed at the illustration the Lord uses to illustrate this; one of the strongest illustrations you can imagine. In order to drive home how much this is on His heart, He uses the illustration of a child of God married to a child of Satan; the saved married to the unsaved. There’s couple of ways you can get into a mess like that. You can be a bad Christian and get unequally yoked or you could be unsaved when you got married and then get saved during the marriage. Does God recognize the marriage of the unequally yoked? In order to drive it home again, and you don’t have to agree with me, but when you leave I hope you don’t say, “I wonder what he was talking about?” I’m using plain words and you know what I’m saying.
Here’s a lover of the Lord Jesus and I’m going to use an extreme illustration; a hater of the Lord Jesus. Here’s one who worships God in spirit and in truth and let’s say that person is married to a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist or let’s say a demon worshipper. Here’s someone worshipping Christ and someone worshipping demons. The one who is worshipping Christ says, “There’s something wrong here and something dirty and something unholy and there’s something that is not right with the worshipper of the living God sleeping in the same bed with an atheist and someone who doesn’t love and adore the Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 7:14 teaches many things and look at the last phrase, “For otherwise your children are unclean, but now are they holy.” What does that mean? I know one thing it means. If a Christian is married to a Hindu and has a baby, is the baby a bastard or illegitimate? It’s a legitimate baby. It’s holy and it’s not unclean. Why is the baby legitimate? The answer is because the marriage is valid. Even though it’s a saved person with an unsaved person, the marriage is valid and is holy and it’s sacred in the eyes of God because it pictures union with Christ. That’s why the one exception of adultery is allowed for remarriage because it ruins the picture. That’s the one thing that ruins the picture. God says the picture is ruined.
By the way, I’m backing up a little bit. Divorce is the only time I know of in the whole Bible where God gives you a choice. If your partner commits adultery you don’t have to get divorced. You haven’t sinned if you get divorced. You haven’t sinned if you don’t get divorced. That’s the only place in the Bible that you’ve got a choice and you don’t have to do it. Back to this. Christians shall not separate, not ever. It’s wrong and it never pleases the Lord, even if they are living with a good for nothing, inconsiderate, dirty, rotten no good, they are never to get separated. They’ll never have grounds for separation. They may have, some day, grounds for divorce but they’ll never have grounds for separation. The marriage contract is so binding, so holy and so sacred before God. Even if you are married to a rebellious sinner, the contract still holds before God. The Christian who finds himself married to an unbeliever needs to get God’s revelation on this. I talk to some who feel so polluted living with their life partner because they don’t know the Lord Jesus. I can understand that but you can’t go against the revelation of God. Their marriage is just as valid and pure and undefiled before God as Ananias and Sapphira.
If there’s an unscriptural separation, and it would have to be unscriptural, the goal is always reconciliation. Someone might reason something like this, “I could live a better Christian life that would be spiritually healthier to get out of the house or to send him away. If I weren’t living with this atheist… I’ll separate for my spiritual health.” No. You are far better off spiritually staying with the unbeliever; with a Buddhist, a Hindu, with the demon worshipper.
Someone might say, “What about verse 15, ‘If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave.’” What if I don’t initiate it? What if the other side initiates it, then is it okay? That expression “not under bondage” in some cases is clear enough. We’re not under bondage to keep it together. You are still married if they initiate it. But I’d be careful before I’d say, “You are ready to remarry.” Keep it in its context. Some Christians, though, try to make it real miserable for the unbelieving partner, so that they’ll leave. They’re nagging and unloving and they high pressure, and pretty soon the unbeliever says, “I can’t take any more of this. I’m leaving,” and the believer says, “Good. He’s initiated it.” No, he hasn’t. You
have. You are not allowed to initiate it. That’s as much initiating it as if you were to pack your bags and leave. You cannot initiate a separation, even in that subtle way, by driving out the unbeliever. The only offense that can drive the unbeliever out has to be the offense of the cross, the offense of your union with Jesus Christ. Our hearts are quite wicked. We think he’s initiating but he doesn’t.
Here’s the Bible emphasis. I must not only not initiate a separation but with a passion, the Christian must long that there be no separation, even from the unbeliever. We must long and pray that the marriage holds together. It must be the greatest grief of a Christian to see that unbeliever leave, not sigh with great relief when at last he’s gone. No! The opposite is true and especially, of course, if it’s the believer’s fault. Only the unbeliever can initiate it and even then the separation is not a divorce. You must remain single and you must realize you are still married and you cannot date another person and you cannot get married again. You are still married.
I hope one thing you are seeing here is that God does not view marriage lightly. Boy, I tell you, only two things in the world will dissolve a marriage; adultery and death and that’s it. Young people need to hear this. This is God’s greatest object lesson of union with Christ and it’s very precious to Him and He will not allow it to be tampered with. I hope if you ever get to deal with young people you can convey God’s heart to them. He loves marriage and He hates divorce. Let them know God’s heart.
Second principle. Don’t separate because marriage is a sanctifying influence. Verse 13 & 14 again, same chapter, “A woman who has an unbelieving husband and he consents to live with her, it’s better not send the husband away. The unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife. The unbelieving wife is sanctified through the believing husband, otherwise your children are unclean but now they are holy.”
Verse 16, “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? How do you know, oh husbands, whether you will save your wife?” The thing that makes this principle so wonderful is that God does a reverse on one of His great principles. I’m talking about 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Do you not know that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” God’s principle is the same as Galatians 5:9 and others. God’s principle is that leaven, yeast, are the illustration of evil and a small amount can soon pervade the entire lump. It spreads. A little sin is like the proverbial bad apple, and it’s going to spoil the whole bunch. The good will not make the bad good. The bad will always spread. That’s the principle. A little leaven, a little bad will go after the good. The good won’t affect the bad. That’s why we try to tell our young people, Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise.” Watch the company you keep. The bad will always influence the good,
except; except the marriage. He turns the principle around and the lump affects the leaven. This is marvelous. Marriage is the only institution on the earth in which the good affects the bad. Every place else the bad affects the good. Marriage is a sanctifying influence. God is saying, “Don’t separate because in that marriage tie you have a sanctifying influence and the Godly person, mate, life partner, WILL affect the unsaved.
Let me create a problem for you and then answer it. I hope I don’t raise more snakes than I can kill. Picture a marriage where the man commits an awful sin. I won’t use immorality because then we’ll go back into divorce, but this is a separating kind of a sin. Let’s say that he becomes a thief and he embezzles a lot of money from his company, so the local church, the whole assembly decides that because of his sin and his unwillingness to repent, that they will cut him off from the fellowship. They are just exercising another principle called “church discipline”. “We’ve got to kick him out.” They read verse 5:11 and it says, “Not even to eat with such a one.” So, now here’s a man and he’s kicked out of the fellowship, not even to eat with such a one. So, the woman says, “I’m in trouble because I belong to that assembly. Now what? I can’t even eat with my own husband?” She can’t divorce because he hasn’t committed anything except petty crime and she can’t separate because that’s against the will of God. What is she to do? Does she say, “Fix your own meals and eat in the cellar?”
The answer is not at all, because in the marriage relationship God has reversed the principle and she would be a sanctifying influence upon him. God has ordained that the righteous would affect the unrighteous. Sometimes you don’t know what a passage means but we can take comfort in what we know it doesn’t mean. I don’t know all that some of these passages mean but I’m glad I know a little bit of what it doesn’t mean. I know the sanctifying influence is not vicarious faith. In other words, the unsaved is not going to get to heaven on the strength of his wife’s faith. And the same way in reverse; the unsaved wife is not going to get to heaven because of him. But they are under a sanctifying influence. I know the children aren’t saved because of their parent’s faith. I like what D. L. Moody said one time, “God has no grandchildren; only children. That’s all. Only that first relationship.”
What does 1 Corinthian 14 mean? You can’t take sanctified in the absolute sense. There is only one other way to take it and that’s in the relative sense. That is that the unbelieving is brought under a sanctifying influence. With a believer in the family there is light in the darkness. There is a testimony there. There’s a chance. Now there is someone to love and to care and to pray and to weep. I think Paul is saying, that God is saying through Paul, “Don’t be discouraged, wife. I know it’s a hard time and you are in that marriage relationship. Don’t be discouraged. You ARE making an impact. Don’t be discouraged,
husband, you ARE making an impact. Live in union with Christ. You ARE making an influence upon those children. As usual, God doesn’t give you something to do. He gives you something to be. He calls you to be in union with Christ. If you are in that situation, trust God. What if I get killed? What if He kills me? That’s alright. You’ll go to heaven. You can’t separate. There is no exception to that. You are to trust God and that will be a sanctifying influence. The worst thing Christians can do is try to push their influence on their unsaved relatives or partners. Don’t do that. Just relax in the Lord. You ARE an influence.
I like the way Peter worded it. 1 Peter 3:1, “In the same way, wives, be submissive to your husbands so that if any of them are disobedient into the word they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.” Oh, how I love that. “Won without a word”! God is a million times more concerned with who we are than with what we say. Marriage is the place that God will best work in hearts. We cannot separate these two things. #1 Marriage is a holy, sacred inviolable bond broken only by death. #2 Marriage is a wonderful sanctifying influence; an instrument for good in the hand of the Lord, in working salvation in the unbeliever.
There is another illustration the Holy Spirit has given that is very tender and very practical. It can be stated in these words: Do not separate because it is a bad influence on the children. 1 Corinthians 7:14, “… for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.” Remember the context is—“Don’t separate because…” The idea to remain together for the sake of the children is very scriptural. The victims of divorce and separation are often the children. No matter how bad the marriage is, there is more of a sanctifying influence in staying together than in separation. Divorce or separation is a devastation to a child; to children. The Apostle Paul answers the second question: Is it ever God’s will, for any reason, for a Christian couple to break up? The answer is No! No! No! The marriage contract is a holy, sound, inviolable union. Marriage is also a sanctifying influence. The children are the ones often hurt the most.
I would like to ask three additional questions: #1 What if a person has become a Christian after an unscriptural divorce? #2 Should a Christian remarry someone who has been divorced on scriptural grounds? #3 Should a Christian marry an unsaved person? If a person becomes a Christian after he or she has been divorced on unscriptural grounds, and remarries, what is to be done? It is a fact, that whichever way that person looks, a problem is faced.
1 Corinthians 7:20 “Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.” When the Apostle Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote
1 Corinthians, he faced all sorts of marital snarls. In our American society, we have many marital tangles, but not nearly as many or as bad as they faced in New Testament days. Corinth, morally, was one of the worst places in the world. Immorality was actually considered to be an act of worship. 1 Corinthians 7:20, I believe, is another way of saying, “God deals with us as and where we are, to bring us to the place that He desires for us. God doesn’t deal with an ideal situation when He doesn’t have an ideal situation with which to deal.
Corinthians 7:12 along with 11 Corinthians 6:14! 1 Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.” 11 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” One is a special case in which it has already been done.
My heart goes out in sympathetic love for people who really desire to be right with the LORD now, but they carry all sorts of marital problems from the past. How are they ever going to undo it all? I think the Lord has given a clear principle of guidance. Stay where you are until the Lord makes clear that you ought to make a move. What a stabilizing influence this has been in my life and in my dealings with others. When some tell me of their sad stories, my head begins to swim in a pool of confusion. One might think: “If a person remains in this state, wouldn’t that automatically lead to a light-hearted and frivolous attitude toward marriage and divorce?” I think there are two great safeguards against such an attitude. The first safeguard is a present and total surrender to the Lord. A second safeguard is to accept the fact that there may be a present suffering. Sometimes that is true in the nature of the case; other times, He’ll bring a special chastening.
Should a minister re-marry those who have been divorced on scriptural grounds? Of course, the first question is really, “Should a minister be the one to marry people?” It is not clear at all in the Bible. Many think that is listed in the responsibilities of the Pastor-teacher. It is not! It may be a legal privilege, but it is not a spiritual responsibility. The thing that is 100% clear is, in itself, it is not wrong to do so. That is because, whatever constitutes a scriptural grounds for divorce, also constitutes a scriptural grounds for remarriage.
Here is how many apply it. Some will not marry divorced people because they do not have the means or the time at their disposal to investigate the case, whether or not the divorce was on scriptural grounds. I have found that you cannot always take the couple’s word as being infallible. My own personal policy is that I don’t marry any couple that comes along that asks me to marry them. In fact, I rarely agree to marry people. Under certain circumstances, I might agree to it, but it would be an exception.
This question is a little easier to answer. Should a Christian perform a marriage ceremony for unbelievers? There are two basic positions on this issue: NOTE: We are not now speaking about the unequal yoke—the saved marrying the unsaved—that is forbidden. But, if there are two unsaved people, is that an equal yoke? Some say yes, that is an equal yoke, because the Lord gave marriage to the human race, not just Christians. His blessing is on marriage as an institution for the world. Others say NO! Because when a Christian marries an unbelieving couple, He is, by that act, giving the approval of the church. The unsaved have no right to expect the blessing of the Lord or the approval of Christians.