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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 Marriage and divorce

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Paul has spoken to the unmarried and to widows about marriage and the possibility of remaining unmarried for service to the Lord. Now he turns to the state of married people who are both Christians (verses 10-11) and when a Christian is married to an unbeliever (verses 12-16).

10 I command those who are married (it is the Lord’s command, not mine): that a wife is not to leave her husband 11 (but if she does, she is to remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband). And a husband is not to divorce his wife.

Why does Paul say, “It is the Lord’s command, not mine”? He says this simply because Christ Jesus spoke about this topic directly during his ministry. We will see in the verses that follow, which are about mixed marriages in which there is a believer and an unbeliever, that Jesus did not address that situation directly, and we will see then why Paul changes his wording.

There are two different words here for “divorce.” The first is the passive of chorizo (χωρίζω), “to separate / be separated from.” It is often a word meaning simply “to leave” (Acts 18:1; Judges 6:18). The other is aphiemi (ἀϕίημι), “to dismiss, send away” or even “drive out” (Mark 1:34). The difference here relates to the way divorces were handled in the first century. Both would apply today, but at that time, a man could not merely dismiss his wife for any reason and call it a divorce, although some wanted it that way. Paul is saying: Do not leave, and do not send your spouse away. Do not be divorced.

Paul just spent a few verses talking about singleness being preferable to marriage, but now he wants to be clear: Marriage, once entered into, is not to be dissolved on account of one spouse or the other thinking that they would rather serve the Lord as a single person so that they can give more time to Christ. They have already committed to one another freely and without being forced to being married, a vow that holds for life. Jesus says: “What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9). Jesus also forbids divorce “except for marital unfaithfulness” (Matthew 5:32). That is to say, if one spouse (let us say the husband) is unfaithful and breaks the Sixth Commandment in such a way that the wife cannot imagine remaining with him any longer and her trust in him is shattered, she may seek a divorce and even eventually remarry. But the will of God is that men and women would not break the Sixth Commandment, that they would remain faithful to each other, and that they would be a comfort, a companion, and a blessing to one another for life.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day argued that a divorce could happen “for any and every reason” (Matthew 19:3). One well-known teacher said famously that a man could divorce his wife if she burned his dinner (because she was “trying to kill him”). This doesn’t stand up at all to Jesus’ judgment: “What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6).

A wife is not to leave her husband, and a husband is not to divorce his wife. If there was unfaithfulness, then a divorce is permitted, but not commanded. If there was unfaithfulness (whether infidelity or desertion or a physical attack) we would want that offending spouse to be brought to repentance. Often this will mean a great deal of counseling, because the roots of a sin can become intertwined with other sins over time. What may look like a clear case of fault often (but not always) has faults going back a long way into the past.

Let us be more direct about divorce: According to God’s institution, the marriage bond is permanent, lifelong, and indissoluble (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6). Only adultery and desertion by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15; “malicious desertion” is not a Scriptural term) which is equivalent to adultery, dissolves the marriage bond. However:

1, A spouse who has gone to jail or prison has not deserted the other.
2, A spouse who is away fighting a war has not deserted the other.
3, A spouse who is a prisoner of war has not deserted the other.
4, A spouse who is missing in action has not deserted the other.
5, A spouse who has been kidnapped has not deserted the other.
6, A spouse who is in a coma has not deserted the other.
7, A spouse with a severely debilitating illness, dementia, or amnesia has not deserted the other.
8, A spouse who has been raped has not deserted the other.

If a marriage is actually ruined and dissolved by adultery, the innocent party may divorce and then enter into another marriage. But if people divorce for other reasons, they would be adulterers. More, the people they marry would also be adulterers because the marriage would not be dissolved in God’s eyes (Matthew 5:32). This will be the case as long as the innocent spouse remains unmarried. If the offending spouse is repentant, he or she may remarry after the other (innocent) spouse has remarried or after that spouse’s death (Romans 7:2-3).

Professor Armin Schuetze compiled these twelve points about marriage, divorce and remarriage based on clear passages from God’s Word, most of which are quoted above:

1. Marriage is a union, effected also by God, and is to be terminated only by God through the death of a spouse.
2. The will of God that marriage be permanent must be emphasized among our Christians living in today’s society.
3. Although God wants marriage to be permanent, man can break the bond, but when he does, he becomes guilty of sin.
4. According to Scripture the sins of sexual unfaithfulness (adultery) and of desertion break a marriage bond.
5. Terminating a marriage bond by common agreement involves both parties in sin.
6. When a marriage has been broken, the one who sins is called on to repent of his/her sin.
7. The church (pastor) will assure the penitent person of the Lord’s forgiveness as well as the forgiveness of fellow Christians.
8. Repentance calls for proper fruits. Scripture does not outline these in detail in every situation.
9. Fruits of repentance may consist in efforts to preserve a marriage relationship or to reestablish one that has been broken.
10. Fruits of repentance for the divorced person may be the firm intention and promise to live a godly life in a new marriage.
11. The church and its pastors will carefully seek to avoid offense when ministering in the case of a broken marriage.
12. Our concern in dealing with these difficult cases is not the purity of the church nor simply the purity of life of the individual, but the proper application of law and gospel in the interest of the individual’s repentance and eternal salvation.

This is a difficult, emotional, and exhausting subject. We should remember that God gave marriage to mankind already in the Garden of Eden, before the fall into sin. It was always God’s plan for human beings to enjoy marriage and all its blessings in this lifetime: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord” (Psalm 128:1,3-4).

Serve the Lord with your whole heart in your present state, married or single, and praise him for all his gifts. Remember that there is forgiveness for the repentant, and that forgiveness knows no bounds. We delight in David’s comforting words: “He restores my soul.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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