By Pastor Glenn Pease
Mary was branded as a backslider when she divorced her husband of 20 years. Her church asked her to resign from all her roles, and the outrage pastor demanded-how could you? Mary endured the pain of criticism as long as she could, and then she moved away. The pastor of her new church questioned her about her divorce. She burst into tears and sobbed, "No one knows what I went through. He was a homosexual, and we hadn't had sex for 14 years. I pleaded with him to go for counseling, but he refused, and would stay away for days with his friend. Finally, I told him you have 18 months to get counseling. If you don't, I'm going to leave you."
This man was a Sunday School teacher, a board member, and good giver to the church, but 18 months later she left him. They seemed like an ideal couple, but no one knew the reality of the situation, and so she was condemned as a wicked Christian wife. No one could help her until they left the level of the ideal, and began to deal with her on the level of the real. That, of course, could not happen until she shared the real, but she could not do that with people who refused to listen to the real. The ideal is for two people to get married, and have a lifetime of sharing the joys and sorrows of life. Adam and Eve had plenty of heartaches with the fall, loss of Eden, and one son killing the other. We do not have a record of all they endured, or of all they enjoyed, but it was a lifetime of both together, that is the ideal, even in a fallen world.
Unfortunately, the ideal is not always attained. Even God's people could not maintain the ideal, and so God permitted divorce for His people. You would think God's people could hold to the ideal, but it was not so. God is a realist, and He knew there was no point in expecting His people to reach the ideal when their hearts were hard. God accommodated Himself to man. He came down to their level of attainment for their sake. It was grace and mercy that brought Him down to the level of permitting divorce. Men were so determined to leave their wives for other women that if the law did not permit it unless their wives were dead, they would be tempted to murder their wives. It was to prevent this worse evil that God permitted divorce. Divorce was the lesser of two evils, and God is realistic. He will not demand the ideal if it leads to intolerable evil, for then the ideal is a sham. Better to permit the lesser evil than to promote the greater evil.
This is the principle that guides Paul as he deals with the issue of the Christian and non-Christian marriage. The ideal is to keep this marriage alive, and hopefully win the non-Christian to the Christian faith. Paul makes it clear, if the non-Christian wants the marriage, the Christian is to strive for this ideal, and not get a divorce. The real ideal is to always have two people married who are Christians. But the fact is, all through history you have deal with the mixed marriage of the Christian and non-Christian. This is a lesser level than the ideal, but on this level there are still ideals to reach, and so the Christian is encouraged to live with the non-Christian and make it work.
But someone will say Paul wrote to these very Corinthians in II Cor. 6:14-15, and warned them not to marry non-Christians, for what fellowship has light with darkness? Paul is trying to prevent the problem that leads to so much divorce by warning of the conflict such marriages produce. The ideal is to avoid the conflict by not falling in love with a non-Christian. But in our present passage, Paul is dealing with the real, those who have already missed the ideal. They are already in a marriage with a non-Christian. Does Paul say it is hopeless? Not at all. He says, if the non-Christian is willing to live with the Christian, the marriage can work. I know of marriages where the mates are happy, and truly love each other, even though one does not trust in Christ as their Savior. It is a problem, but people can have good marriages in a less than ideal relationship.
Is it a sin for the Christian to be one with the non-Christian? Not at all. It is a sin not to satisfy the sexual needs of the non-Christian mate. But if it is wrong to marry a non-Christian, how can it be right to live with them and meet their sexual needs. We need to see that an act of sin does not mean the same as a life of sin. If a Christian girl marries a non-Christian, that is an act of sin. It is the sin of rebellion, disobedience, and ignorance. They are out of God's will in marrying a non-Christian. Once they have committed this sin,they need to repent, and seek God's forgiveness, but this does not mean they must reject their non-Christian partner. They do not now live in sin, by remaining faithful and loyal to this one they sinfully married. On the contrary, they live in sin only if they refuse to be faithful and loyal to their mate.
God accepts their marriage as valid, and one they have an obligation to make work. Here is reality, a child of God married to a non-Christian, and the child of God is under obligation to this unbeliever. God did not want his child in this relationship, but now that it is real, they have an obligation to strive for an ideal marriage on that level.
Paul says in verse 14 that the non-Christian is sanctified, or consecrated, through the believing mate. The result is, the children born to such a union are not pagan children, but Christian children. Paul is saying, on the spiritual level the Christian genes are dominant. When a black and white marry, the children are always dark, and never totally white, because the black genes are dominant. So when a Christian and non-Christian marry, the child is always a Christian child, and never a non-Christian. In other words, God looks upon all children from a mixed marriage as a part of His flock. They are not saved by merely having a Christian parent, but they are a part of the Christian community where they will likely become part of the kingdom of God.
Timothy was a product of just such a marriage. In Acts 16:1 we read, "A disciple was there named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek." This implies he was not a believer. Here is a non-Christian father who gave birth to a son, and he became a leader in the Christian church. Many great Christians have had non-Christian father's or mother's. One parent being a Christian means that the children are not unclean, says Paul. They are not part of the pagan world in darkness, and cut off from the people of God. Not at all, they are part of the people of God, and set apart to be in the service of God.
A marriage of a Christian and a non-Christian is not ideal, but it is a tolerable reality that can even produce fruit for the kingdom of God. Therefore, the Christian is not to use the non-Christian as an excuse for divorce. The believer is not contaminated by the unbeliever, but just the opposite is the case. The unbeliever is made acceptable because of the believer. The non-Christian is not saved by being married to a Christian, but he does gain a unique status before God, as one who is part of the community of God's people. He is lost, but he is still part of the Christian community, and is having an influence in that community. If it is positive, and he is growing, then there is a good chance he will come to Christ, and become a full fledged member of the community. If he rebels, and finds the whole relationship intolerable, he will probably leave the marriage, and find a mate to his liking in the pagan world.
What this means is, if one partner is a Christian in a marriage, you have a Christian family. That family is part of the kingdom of God. It is not ideal or complete, but, nevertheless, it is included in the kingdom. God is not offended that the Christian loves, and makes love, to a pagan mate, nor does in considering the offspring of such a union illegitimate. Again, we see God adapts to reality. It is not the ideal, but he does not ring his hands in despair and refuse to have anything to do with the mess. He says, I will deal with the real, and bring good out of it.
Paul does not say, if a marriage is not made in heaven, you can treat it as of no value on earth. Not so-it is legitimate, and precious to God, and you can count on it, God will even hear the prayers of this non-Christian mate for his children, for God considers them His children. So we see, there is an ideal even in the less than ideal relationship. But in verse 15 Paul go on to deal with reality of not being able to maintain this secondary ideal. What if the non-Christian mate refuses to live with the Christian? If they refuse to seek the ideal, the Christian has to face this reality. Paul says the Christian is not bound. When the Catholic church refused to let Christians be free in such a circumstance, this became a major battle in the reformation. Listen to these words of Martin Luther:
"But shouldn't the Christian mate wait until his non-Christian
spouse comes back or dies, as has been the custom and canon
law until now? Answer: If he wants to wait for his mate, that
is up to his good will. For since the Apostle proclaims his free
and unbound, he is not obliged to wait for his mate but may
change his status in the name of God. I wish to God that people
had made use of this teaching of St. Paul, or would begin to make
use of it where man and wife run away from each other, or one
leaves the other sitting, for much whoring and sin have resulted
from them. This has been increased by the senseless laws of the
pope, which, indirect contradiction to this text of St. Paul,
compel and force the one mate not to change his status on pain of
losing his soul's salvation, but to wait for the run away spouse
or the death of the same. This means that the brother or sister
in such cases is truly bound in irons, because of the wantonness
and wickedness of another, and for no cause is driven into the
danger of unchastity."
The reformers were angry at the Catholic church because they were indifferent to the hardships they created for people because of their legalism. They would not make provision for people who were back in verse 2 of this chapter, where they were full of temptation. Paul said such should get a wife or husband. The Catholic church said no, not even if you have been divorced, or if your non-Christian mate has left you. The Catholic church clung to its ideal, even when it had already been shattered. They refused to come down from the ideal to the level of the real. The reformers said this is sheer folly. God knows better than that, and the church ought to follow His lead. You need to come out of the ivory tower, and meet people where they are. Luther said, any Christian who is divorced and finds himself in the position of verse 2, should remarry. Remarriage is always right, rather than living in immorality.
There is a great deal of guilt over this issue. Many people struggle with whether they have a right to remarry. Typical of many is the letter to Dr. C.S. Lovett. "Dr. Lovett, my husband divorced me 6 years ago to marry another lady. He is still living. Would I be living in a state of adultery if I married again?" Dr. Lovett replied that there is no such thing as living in a state of adultery. Adultery is an act of sin, and not a state. Of course, if you are committing adultery over and over again, you could be said to be living in a state of adultery. But is sex by any legally married couple, adultery?
Most agree that once adultery has been committed, and a marriage bond is severed, and a new marriage is entered into, even if the sin of adultery was the cause of the divorce, the new marriage is not a living in adultery. If two people sin by divorcing without a Biblical reason, and remarry, they do commit adultery, but they do not live in adultery, for once the former marriage is dead, sex in the new marriage is not adultery, but an obligation. The point is, once you are married to a pagan, or to an adulterer, or adulteress, you have all the same obligations as any couple who marry wisely. You may be guilty of sin for getting into such a marriage, but once you are in you are not living in sin. You cannot live in sin with someone who is truly your mate.
The woman, whose husband divorced her, and then she remarried, cannot commit adultery by remarrying, for she is no longer a married woman. Her husband, by remarrying, has shattered their marriage bond, and however guilty of sin he was in doing so, his present marriage is a real marriage, and he is not living in adultery. He committed adultery by getting married, but he is not living in adultery, for his new wife is his only wife. His former wife does not have a husband, and so if she finds herself, as a single, in great need of love, and cannot be happy single, there is no reason in the world she should not remarry if she finds the right partner. She would not be living in adultery, or even committing adultery, for she is not married, and if her partner is not married, there are perfectly free to marry with no sin whatever.
This is what Paul means in verse 15 when he says, the brother or sister is not bound. Not bound means free. There is no marriage bond binding once the unbeliever has deserted. The Christian is free to remarry because the union is dead. This is the key to all valid exceptions. If a marriage is dead, and cannot function to fulfill the purpose of marriage, and it cannot be restored, it is no longer a marriage, and people are free to remarry.
Paul prefers everyone to stay single. It is the perfect solution to divorce. Marriage is the primary cause of divorce, and so you prevent it by never getting married. But Paul is a realist and he knows people will burn with passion they cannot control if they don't get married. The divorce single is in this same boat. Paul's logic must be seen here also. It is best not to remarry, but if you are going to burn and be tempted, then get yourself a mate. Those who reject remarriage, and demand that divorced singles remain unmarried are idealists who refuse to deal with the real as Paul did. Nobody ever wanted people to stay single more than Paul, but Paul recognized this is not possible for a great many.
Those who force Christians to remain single when they could be happily remarried, often drive these Christians into an immoral lifestyle. They are actually forced to live in sin to avoid an act of sin, and this is folly. Paul would have all giving singleness a try, but if the sexual frustration is intolerable, his principle is simple, better to marry than to burn. That goes for never married, widows, and the divorced. To say the divorce single does not have this option is to say, it is better for them to become prostitutes, or live with somebody than to remarry, for remarriage is absolutely forbidden.
The facts of life make it clear, the divorced person is often in greater temptation than anyone, for they have enjoyed marital sex, and there need is usually greater than that of the never married. Men tend to see the divorced woman as a likely partner, because of being deprived, and she too is open to greater temptation because of this attitude of men. The philosophy of life that Paul teaches is, aim for the ideal; strive to reach the highest;stretch for the best, but when that goal is not attainable, make the best of the real level you are living on, for in those cases, the real lived at its best is the ideal.