Message # 25 | 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 | September 18, 2016
Divorce is painful. It has often been said that a divorce is more emotionally painful than the death of a spouse. It often takes years to ever come and the divorce process can take years to settle. Everyone’s life is completely upset. There is a sense of guilt, shame, and failure. Sleep seems ungraspable and work suffers. Relationships are hindered, if not broken. People struggle knowing which side to take and at times take neither. The courtroom compounds the misery and devastation.
And then potentially there are children involved. They sense their own level of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Parents desperately hope that their children are not ruined or severely damaged due to the divorce. Custody and financial battles tear at the heart of both the children and parents. This awkward tension can last for decades as custody is awkwardly divided between parents.
What does the church do in scenarios such as this? It struggles along with them, or at least it should. But it often doesn’t know how. It desires to show compassion while at the same time not communicating acceptance of divorce or communicate a level of compromise. “People think that loving care is incompatible with confrontation—that the tenderness of Jesus and the toughness of his demands can’t both be love. But surely this is not right. . . . The great challenge to the church in the face of divorce and remarriage is to love Biblically. . . . The great challenge is to mingle the tears of compassion with the tough love of obedience. This alone will honor Christ and preserve the spiritual health and power of the church.”
Review the immediate preceding context. The Corinthian church had a lot of problems. In this particular issue they had two extremes. One side had given themselves completely over to their physical desires. “What’s the big deal? Our bodies are insignificant; it’s our souls that are saved. If our bodies hungry we feed, if it has passions we appease them.” Paul strongly confronted this sinful attitude by reminding them of a few things. First, their bodies were significant, otherwise God would not resurrect their bodies. Secondly, their bodies were part of the body of Christ therefore shouldn’t be joined together with a prostitute. Third, there are more severe consequences for sexual immorality so run from it. Forth, your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. And finally, you were bought with a price, therefore you don’t have the rights to do whatever you want with your body.
As is almost always true, there was one extreme that was giving into the passions of their bodies and another group that was embracing asceticism and celibacy by denying the passions of their bodies. Last week we took a look at this second group. Paul reminded them that even though celibacy was a good thing, it was not morally superior to being married and it certainly wasn’t for everyone. He exhorted those who were married to remain married and continue the intimacy of their marriage.
So then, let’s follow the logical course of thought for these Corinthian believers. If you had determined that it was more spiritual to be celibate yet you were married, what might be a logical question you ask? Should I get divorced? Paul addresses this question in the following section of 1 Corinthians 7. He first addresses it in the context of two believers that are married, and then he addresses the same question in the context of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever.
I, not the Lord. Before we go any further, let’s address a challenge that many will find in these few verses. In verse ten, Paul says, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord),” and in verse 12 Paul says, “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord). So simply put, verse 10 is from the Lord and verse 12 is from Paul. This has often been a challenge for people as they try to understand this passage. Some have concluded that Paul was giving a command from the Lord in verse ten, but offering his opinion in verse 12. Therefore, no one is bound to follow verse 12. In this case, it would just be a Pauline suggestion. Others have gone so far as to suggest that this isn’t inspired Scripture.
So then, let’s acknowledge what Paul is doing in these two phrases. We shouldn’t question the authority of either of these verses. Both verses are inspired by God and are beneficial to our spiritual growth. What Paul is acknowledging in these verses is the source of the statement not the authority behind the statement. Paul is not acknowledging that verse 10 carries the authority of Jesus whereas verse 12 only carries his personal opinion. Instead he is simply acknowledging the source of each statement. The source for verse ten is found directly from the teachings of Jesus Christ, specifically found in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. On the other hand, the statements in verse 12 and following are Paul’s further teaching or application of Jesus’ statements. Jesus taught the specific principle in Matthew and Mark but did not address every potential scenario in which that principle would need to be applied. Paul is now applying the principle given to us by the Lord in a specific context. We’ll look briefly at the statements made by Jesus a little later in this message. Let’s first look at the immediate context.
Marriage between two believers (10-11). Paul’s tone at this point is a little uncharacteristic, at least in the context of this chapter. Paul has offered pastoral direction, offered a concession and not a command, and now he offers a strong imperative. “I command you, don’t get divorced!”
It appears that divorce had been the result of a number of believers taking on a celibate lifestyle even though they were married. Likely, motivated by the naïve or pious thinking that satisfying physical passions was unspiritual, partners had withdrawn physically from each other. Broken and damaged marriages was the result. Apparently a number of them had resulted in divorce. Paul, quite clearly, commands them to not get divorced. He does so by reminding them of the command given by Jesus Christ in Matthew and Mark, that being
Mark 10:6–9 (ESV) from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
In one sense, this is very simple. If you are married, don’t get divorced. God intended from the beginning that a marriage would continue until death. Now, the discussion does get a little more complicated than that, but up front it’s pretty simple – don’t get divorced.
Remain unmarried. Paul goes on to say that if a divorce does occur, they should remain single. The reason for this is that remaining unmarried allows for the potential of forgiveness and reconciliation. If two people get divorced and one of them remarries, they no longer have the possibility of reconciliation. Therefore, Paul commands that two divorced people remain unmarried so that they can prayerfully reconcile sometime in the future. At this point you may wonder about the exception that is mentioned in both passage in Matthew. We’ll look at those in just a moment.
Marriage between a believer and unbeliever (12-16). Paul had applied Jesus’ principle to two believers thinking through divorce. He now applies the same principle to the marriage of a believer and an unbeliever. Might that be different? Remember that Paul had just stated that our bodies of part of the body of Christ and are temples of the Holy Spirit. Should the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit be joined with an unbeliever?
Consider the following. Two people are living in Corinth. They have never heard about Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers, until one day. The wife hears of the salvation that is offered through Jesus Christ and she gloriously comes to salvation. She begins worshipping with her church family and begins to hear about some of Paul’s teachings. He taught that a believer and an unbeliever shouldn’t get married. He taught that her body is part of the body of Christ and that she is the temple of the Holy Spirit. She begins to wonder whether or not she should leave her husband and find a man that is a believer to marry. What should she do? Paul answers her question in verses 12-16.
1 Corinthians 7:12–16 (ESV) 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
It is at this point that Paul applies the clear command of the Lord to a scenario that the Lord had not directly addressed. In these verses we draw a few conclusions. First, if the unbelieving spouse desires to remain married, the believing spouse should stay in the marriage. It is as well implied by the previous verses that they should as well continue satisfying the sexual desires of their spouse. Secondly, if the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, the believing spouse should allow them to divorce.
Spouse is made holy. Paul first explains why the believing spouse should stay in the marriage. He says, the unbelieving spouse is made holy because of the believing spouse. He is not saying that they are saved in some way. They are not declared holy or righteous through marriage. Instead, they are set apart in the context of a holy environment. The unbelieving spouse, hopefully, is seeing the reflection of Christ exhibited daily in their lives and they are hearing the gospel and the truth verbalized by the believing spouse. This may result in the unbelieving spouse coming to Christ. On the other hand, this could drive many unbelievers nuts and to the point of divorce . . . but if it doesn’t, the believer is commanded to stay in the marriage for the sake of the other partner.
It is possible that there is another aspect to this idea of being made holy. It would be logical for a believer to wonder if their marriage was unholy or immoral because they were married to an unbeliever. What Paul seems to indicate here is that the reverse is true. The marriage is not defiled by the unbeliever but instead the marriage is made holy by the believer. As well, the children in this marriage are not part of some kind of second rate family or broken household, but instead are part of a holy and sanctified house. The believing spouse brings this to the marriage.
You are not enslaved. What does it mean that the believing spouse is not enslaved if their unbelieving spouse chooses to leave them? That’s a tough question and has been debated throughout church history. If you were to read the early church fathers, you would find a great deal of variety as well. Modern pastors and scholars as well disagree. John Macarthur wrote in his commentary on this passage, “Throughout Scripture, whenever legitimate divorce occurs, remarriage is assumed. Where divorce is permitted, remarriage is permitted.” Others would argue that the believing spouse is not enslaved to meet up to the marriage vows but that this does not allow for remarriage. In this case you wouldn’t be enslaved to the marriage, but you wouldn’t be freed to remarry.
Most people agree that the statement frees the partner from any marriage responsibilities and duties. The debate surrounds the discussion of whether or not this individual may remarry. David Prior wrote the following in his commentary.
It seems clear that the Christian partner is not bound to ‘a mechanical retention of a relationship the other partner wishes to abandon’. But is he or she ‘bound’ or ‘enslaved’ to living as a divorced person with no prospect of remarriage? That is the question over which Christians of every persuasion will probably have to agree to disagree. The one consideration which, above all others, prevents the whole discussion from degenerating into ivory-tower theological ethics is the real possibility that Paul is actually writing out of the trauma of his own experience.
Many have argued that Paul was most likely married. Most Pharisees would have been. The fact that he was single at the point of this writing would indicate that either his wife died or left him due to his conversion. This discussion could have been very sensitive to the heart of Paul. The position of Cornerstone Church is that the two exceptions that are offered in the New Testament for divorce as well allow for remarriage.
God has called you to peace. There is quite a bit of debate about the phrase, God has called you to peace, and to what it refers. To some degree you can see the struggle in the different translations.
ESV In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
Logos WH οὐ δεδούλωται ὁ ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἡ ἀδελφὴ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις, ἐν δὲ εἰρήνῃ κέκληκεν ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός.
NASB95 the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
NIV The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.
The Greek sentence includes the call to peace. It could be translated, “but in peace you were called by God.” It seems clear that the statement is directly tied to the concept of letting an unbelieving spouse leave in peace. It would be natural for a spouse to fight a divorce. Many Christians have tried to keep a marriage together even when an unbelieving spouse wanted to leave. God commands here that, motivated by a sense of peace, the believer should let them go and not fight, cause division, make a scene, etc.
You don’t know whether you’ll save your spouse. The statement in verse 16 likely refers to either scenario. The reason you would stay in a marriage with an unbeliever is that you can’t know whether or not your presence in their lives would result in their salvation. In this case this statement extends a sense of hope. On the other hand, if you are in a marriage with an unbeliever and divorce occurs, you are to let them go. There’s no way for you to know whether or not they would have come to Christ by you holding on to the marriage. In this case this statement seems to be an encouragement to the believing spouse in a hard situation. “It’s okay. Let them go in peace. There’s no way for you to know whether or not they would have come to Christ.”
The ideal presented in Genesis 2. Prior to the Fall, God outlines for us the ideal marriage. God tells us in Genesis 2:24 that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus quotes these verses in Mark 10:9 and adds a concluding statement. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” This is the ideal. A man and a woman come together in the wonderful covenant of marriage. This covenant lasts the entirety of their lives. This is what God desires, so much so that he declares in Malachi 2:6 that he hates divorce. It was allowed by Moses as a means of concession to the people because of the hardness of their hearts, but divorce and broken marriages were never the original intent.
The concession offered by Moses. We find this concession made by Moses in Deuteronomy and mentioned by Jesus in Matthew and Mark.
Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (ESV) 1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.
In the context, the abomination is that a man would take a woman to be his wife that he had formerly divorced. The problem doesn’t seem to rest in the fact that he had divorced her. These statements made by Moses do seem to indicate that divorce is okay. In fact, Moses seems to allow for divorce for reasons as simple as finding “some indecency in her.”
Two Jewish sages in the first century BC and the early 1st century AD strongly debated this topic. They House of Hillel and the House of Shammai debated matters of ritual practice, ethics, and theology. The House of Shammai held that a man may only divorce his wife for a serious transgression, but the House of Hillel allowed divorce for even trivial offenses, such as burning a meal. The Pharisees, in Matthew 19:3, were likely referring to this debate when they asked Jesus about divorce.
Matthew 19:3 (ESV) And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
They probably were referring back to Moses statement in Deuteronomy. Instead of Jesus agreeing with either school of thought, he instead references Genesis 2.
Matthew 19:4–6 (ESV) 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
If this is the case, to what was Moses referring? That is what the Pharisees asked Jesus following his response.
Matthew 19:7–9 (ESV) 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Christ’s hard teaching on divorce, with one exception. Even the disciples, at this point, thought Jesus’ teaching seemed a little dramatic and hard to accept. They go on to say, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matt 19:10). Only in Matthew’s account does Jesus offer what has been termed the “exception clause.”
Matthew 19:10 (ESV) And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Matthew 5:32 (ESV) But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
The exception that Jesus offers here is simply an allowance, not a command or the ideal. While Jesus may be allowing for divorce in the case of adultery, Jesus is not saying that divorce must occur or that it is the preferred remedy. In fact, in keeping consistent with the rest of Scripture, the preferred solution to the presence of adultery in a marriage is forgiveness and reconciliation. With that said, Jesus simply acknowledges the reality that a marriage often struggles ever being restored following adultery. If a spouse continues in adultery, the “innocent” party can take the steps towards divorce at some point. Reconciliation is always the preferred solution, but sometimes that solution is not available. In these cases, divorce has been permitted by Christ. This exception is one of only two scenarios in which divorce is permitted for a believer. 1 Corinthians 7 is the other scenario.
Paul’s further qualification in the case of a believer and an unbeliever. Paul reiterates the ideal when he quotes from Jesus teaching on marriage. He simply states that a couple should stay married. Paul doesn’t even include Jesus “exception clause.” The only exception Paul offers in 1 Corinthians is when a believing spouse has an unbelieving spouse that desires a divorce. The believing spouse is commanded to let the unbelieving spouse leave in peace.
So then, the ideal is that a man and woman come together in marriage and that they stay that way throughout the entirety of their lives. Christ offers one exception to this. When adultery occurs, divorce is permitted even though it is not required. Reconciliation would be preferred. Paul also offered one exception to this ideal. When an unbelieving spouse desires to divorce a believing spouse, they should be allowed to do so in a peaceful manner. These two exceptions seem to as well allow for remarriage.
This discussion can be a little sensitive can’t it? There are a number of us in this church family who have experienced divorce and remarriage, either ourselves or in our families. A sense of shame and guilt can accompany this, can’t it? The church has often treated divorced people as second rate citizens. It is a situation that seems to result in years of baggage.
So what do you do? First, assuming that you were in the wrong, you acknowledge your sin, repent of it, and gladly receive the forgiveness that Christ so quickly and happily extends to you. Then continue on in your spiritual walk and service within the church, full well knowing you are as significant and precious as all the rest of the forgiven sinners in the congregation. If you were divorced without biblical cause, you are called to either remain single or restore to the spouse you divorced.
If you were the “innocent party” you have a couple of options. Paul would exhort you to consider the great benefits of remaining single and devoting your life to serving him without the restraints of familial responsibilities. Or, secondly, if you have physical passions that seem to consume your mind, look for someone to marry and rejoice in the gift of marriage.
If you are struggling in your marriage and divorce is being considered or discussed. Restoration, forgiveness, and sacrificial love are the preferred course of action. Accept and reach for the ideal, that being that God desires for you to remain in a committed relationship with your spouse.
 Bethlehem Baptist Church. A Statement on Divorce & Remarriage in the Life of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Accessed September 14, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-statement-on-divorce-remarriage-in-the-life-of-bethlehem-baptist-church
 Ambrosiaster wrote, “A marriage contracted without devotion to God is not binding, and for that reason it is not a sin if it is abandoned because of God.” Augustine made a similar statement when he wrote, “A Christian husband may leave his wife without any blame, even if they are lawfully married, if she refuses to live with him because he is a Christian.” Gerald Lewis Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 65.
 John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 167.
 David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 128–129.