From the dawn of human history, marriage has held a special place in the heart of God. It was God who ordained the institution of marriage when in Genesis 2:18* the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” In Ephesians 5, the union between Christ and the Church is used to illustrate the relationship between husband and wife.
God intended marriage to be a monogamous, lifelong union of flesh and spirit: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Although polygamy was sometimes practiced in Old Testament times, the Bible makes it clear that God intended marriage to exist between one man and one woman for as long as both of them remain alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians. 7:39).
For the Christian, the basis of all marital love is the love of Christ for the Church (Eph. 5:22â"31). Marriage is entered into in mutual covenant as a solemn, binding agreement before God and man (Mal. 2:14). In Ezekiel 16:8, marriage is used to illustrate the relationship between God and Israel and is described as a covenant entered into on the basis of swearing or an oath or a pledge. Therefore, men and women should enter marriage with a lawful contract and pledged vows, preferably solemnized by a Christian minister.
A believer should not marry a person who does not know Christ as personal Savior (2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 7:39). Love for Christ is never to take second place (Matthew 6:33).
Divorce is a departure from the purposes of God. Jesus explained that provisions for divorce in the Old Testament were an accommodation to the hardness of people’s hearts and a necessary evil (Matt. 19:8; 19:6). The church, therefore, should seek always to discourage divorce as a solution to marital problems. The Bible teaches that even when a Christian is married to a nonbeliever, the believer should continue to live with his or her spouse if at all possible (1 Corinthians 7:12â"13).
While divorce is always contrary to God’s intentions, it is permitted in certain circumstances. Jesus said in Matthew 5:32 and again in Matthew 19:9 that a person is not to divorce his or her spouse except for the cause of fornication. The Greek word used for “fornication” refers to habitual sexual immorality. It implies all kinds of immorality, including adultery, which desecrates the marriage relationship.
Divorce is expressly denied for the immediate purpose of marrying someone else (Mark 10:11-12). Therefore, a believer should consider divorce only as a last resort and because of sexual immorality—never as a reason to marry someone else. When one partner of a divorce has become involved in adultery, the offended spouse is permitted—though not required—to get a divorce. If an unsaved husband or wife refuses to continue to live with his or her spouse and departs, the believer may agree to this separation (1 Corinthians 7:15). Such separations may result in divorce, and in that case the Christian is guilty of no wrong.
Scripture permits remarriage after divorce under certain circumstances. If, after being divorced, one of the original marriage partners dies, the remaining partner is free to remarry. Romans 7:2 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 make clear that death dissolves the marriage relationship.
When an adulterous relationship has brought about a divorce, the party who is innocent of adultery has a right to remarry (Matthew 5:32). The right to marry anyone guilty of adultery is denied and as well as to marry anyone who obtained divorce for the express purpose of remarriage (Mark 10:11â"12).
The consistency between the Old Testament and the New Testament is recognized as Jesus interpreted it. The passage in Deuteronomy that Jesus quoted in Matthew 5:31 and Mark 10:2â"12 indicates that the “putting away” of a wife dissolves the marriage and allows remarriage. Jesus did not change the nature of divorce as dissolving marriage and permitting remarriage; He simply rejected all rationalization and excuse for divorce and made clear that only the innocent party whose former marriage was revoked by divorce could remarry without guilt.
According to 1 Corinthians 7, remarriage on grounds of desertion alone is not permitted. When two unbelievers have been divorced and one is subsequently converted and neither has remarried, the Christian should attempt to restore the marriage. If the non-Christian refuses, this makes the marriage the same as the kind described in 1 Corinthians 7:15.
If a person is divorced on other than the above scriptural grounds and his or her former partner remarries, that partner by remarrying has, according to scriptural standards (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9), committed adultery and has dissolved the original relationship.
Remarriage is never commanded; it is, in some cases, only permitted. Divorced persons who have scriptural grounds for remarriage should enter into such remarriage only with the greatest caution. It’s rare for a marriage to fail for any cause in which one of the partners is completely innocent. A believer who seeks to remarry should demonstrate an attitude of repentance for any part he or she may have had in the original failure. Such individuals should receive counseling from the church so as to avoid repeating destructive attitudes and behaviors.
Persons who remarry after being divorced on other than scriptural grounds are guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:32). A Christian clergyman should not perform such marriages.
Persons who have been divorced on other than scriptural grounds who subsequently become Christians are not absolved from the necessity to remain unmarried by having become Christians. While it is true that we are made new creations in Christ, we continue to bear legal and moral responsibilities that existed before conversion. Those who entered into marriage while non-Christians must honor the terms of their marriage contract even after they are in Christ.
Persons who were divorced and remarried without scriptural grounds prior to conversion should not feel obligated to withdraw from the subsequent marriage after conversion. The remarriage that was entered into wrongly constituted an act of adultery, which broke the former marriage. With the former marriage having been dissolved, the remarried person is responsible to be faithful to the new contract. Having broken the former marriage, a person is living in adultery only if he is unfaithful to his present marriage contract.
Persons who are divorced, or divorced and remarried on scriptural grounds, are entitled to the full privileges of fellowship and membership in the church. A believer who was divorced—or divorced and remarried—on other than scriptural grounds while still a nonbeliever should likewise be received into full Christian fellowship. The grace of God in Christ forgives all sin; the person in Christ is a new creation.
Discretion must be used in the choice of divorced and remarried persons for leadership roles in the church. While all believers are equal members of the Body of Christ, not all members are qualified equally for every office in the church. The offices of elder (spiritual leader) and deacon (business leader) in the church are to be filled by those of high moral and spiritual qualifications, whose pattern of exemplary Christian living is so established that it may be followed.
The church should discipline a believer who knowingly secures a divorce on other than scriptural grounds, knowingly marries someone who was divorced on other than scriptural grounds, or whose divorce was granted on other than scriptural grounds and who remarries. The believer should be granted the full privileges of Christian fellowship only after a demonstration of genuine repentance for deliberate departure from scriptural standards.