Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage

James B. Rankhorn

One of the greatest threats to this nation is the alarming number of divorces. Each is a monument to broken promises and shattered lives. While Hollywood glamorizes adultery and multiple marriages, let us remember that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).

THE MARRIAGE COVENANT is a contract between three parties: man, woman, and God. In Malachi's day, some men were unjust to their wives. Malachi reminded them "the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant." (Malachi 2:14).

In each wedding ceremony, the couple is reminded their vows are made before God; He is their witness. Earthly witnesses may, at some time, encourage the couple to divorce, but God will not forget their vows to cleave to each other till death.

The marriage covenant has many obligations. The husband is to love his wife "as Christ also loved the church" and provide for his family (Ephesians 5:25; 1 Timothy 5:8). The wife should be in submission to her husband "just as the church is subject to Christ" (Ephesians 5:24). They must give the "affection" due each other and are "bound by law" to their spouse for life (1 Corinthians 7:3; Romans 7:1-4). This is the law of God, and not man.

DIVORCE FOR ANY CAUSE? The Pharisees questioned Christ about divorce. He instructed them that God intended one man and one woman to marry for life, and that couple is "joined" by God, Himself (Matthew 19:3-6). They knew Moses allowed them to give a "certificate of divorce" (Matthew 19:7), but Jesus explained that God tolerated their immorality for a while, but "from the beginning, it was not so" (Matthew 19:8). Then Jesus explained adultery was the only cause for man to "put away" his wife (Matthew 19:9), which eliminates the "waiting game" played by some today. This is when a couple is divorced, then waits for the other to commit adultery. They claim this gives them the right to scripturally remarry. Remember, Jesus said the adultery was prior to "putting away" (Matthew 19:9).

Since God joins a couple together in marriage, only He can release them. A couple may marry by the laws of the land but not be joined by God. This is the case in Mark 6:17-18. John the Immerser told Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." He had married according to civil law, but the marriage was not "lawful."

WILL GOD FORGIVE DIVORCE? What happens when an individual, divorced unscripturally, wants to obey the Gospel? Will God overlook his previous marriage(s) and allow him to continue his present marriage? We must remind him that baptism is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), not the remission of marriages.

The discussion should not center around baptism but true repentance, since it precedes baptism. If one is in an unscriptural marriage, repentance demands that one put away the unscriptural mate. Repentance is a change of mind that brings about a change of life. Repentance is vain unless we bring forth "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Yes, Christ's blood will remit our sins as we are buried with Him in baptism (Romans 6:1-4; 1 Peter 3:21), but, first, we must repent of sins (Acts 2:38).

ARE NON-CHRISTIANS SUBJECT TO THE LAW OF CHRIST? It has been argued that non-Christians are not subject to Christ's law on marriage. However, when Jesus gave this command in Matthew 19, He was talking to the Pharisees. To these men Jesus said, "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). The word "whosoever" covers all men, Christians and non-Christians alike.

BREAK UP OUR HAPPY HOME? After explaining the law of God to couples living in sin, we are asked, "Would God want us to break up our happy home?" In Ezra's day, many men had married pagan women, ignoring God's prohibition of marrying from any of the seven nations listed in Deuteronomy 7:1-5. When they realized their sin and repented, Ezra said, "You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives" (Ezra 10:10-11).

Since creation, God has had one unchanging law governing marriage: one man and one woman for life! Scriptural divorce can be only for sexual immorality. Remarriage is for the innocent party of a divorce. We are all subject to God's law, it will judge all one day (John 12:48). -41 Woodland Dr., Chillicothe, OH 45601.


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