January 28, 2021

Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 3: One More Question

bigq.jpgDivorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 1
Divorce, Remarriage and the Gospel 2: A Map For the Road

On my way to the post office this morning, I got to thinking about Bible study- the #1 hobby of serious American evangelicals- and a basic question that should be asked before we spend hours and days chasing cross references and looking up types and shadows in Leviticus 18.

Once we get this information out of the Bible- about divorce and remarriage- what are we going to do with it?

That’s a very good question. Basic, but important. Since there isn’t a quiz, the point is going to come down to real life, and there we don’t always do so well.

I ask it for a personal reason. My fundamentalist church upbringing zeroed in on divorce as big sin #2. (#1 was beer.) Divorced people- like my dad- had little hope of coming to two services without hearing at least 2 minutes on the evil of divorce, and the even worse evils of remarriage. This was the most obvious line between the pure, holy folk and the sinful compromisers with ruined lives: divorce and remarriage.

In other words, my church used this information to make themselves feel better about their own righteousness- and that’s what your own faithfulness to your marriage is: your own righteousness- and to harass divorced people. (They would have told you they were warning the young people of the church to be serious about marriage, and that is probably true, but it came off as harassment of those who were divorced, and as anti-Catholicism. But that’s another story.)

Other churches use this information to make rules that are intrusive and controlling. The Roman Catholic church has elaborate church laws and even courts to handle marriage “situations”. I’m sure you are aware of the circus that goes on around “annulments” in the Catholic Church. Ridiculous. Unabsolved divorced persons can’t receive the Eucharist.

Is that what you want to do with this information?

What about people who want to join your church? Do you want to know if they are divorced and remarried? Will you want to investigate the circumstances of why a woman left her husband or why a husband split with his wife and married someone else? Could they work in the nursery? Play in the band? Serve as a greeter? Work with the middle school kids? Serve on a committee or ministry team?

How will your conclusions about Biblical teaching be implemented? How will it affect the lives and relationships you have with other people?

We know a few things for sure about the application of the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage:

1) The question was important enough for Jesus to address it directly, and I assume that it’s in the Gospels at least partially because the early church needed to know what Jesus said about divorce and remarriage.

2) Paul didn’t sweep it under the rug, but gave instructions to those in the Corinthian church who were advocating divorcing their non-Christian spouses.

3) It was probably part of the qualifications for leadership, as elders are to have exemplary homes and relationships.

What will be more challenging is to find out how this actually affects the way we treat divorced people. Divorced persons are sinners, and they aren’t a special category of sinners who are exempt from the Bible’s overall message to sinners. They aren’t sinners who are supposed to wear a special hat in church so we all know who they are. They aren’t sinners for whom we have an excuse note to say whatever we want in the name of honoring marriage.

Just as the teaching of the Bible on marriage must be honored, the Gospel’s message and community for broken sinners must also be honored.

If we come to conclusions about this topic, it does not make us more righteous to have the Bible’s teaching on a 4 x 6 card in our pocket. It doesn’t make us better Christians to talk about divorce and remarriage as evils. We’re a a New Covenant community. We have to live life and create community that is in line with the “Better” covenant that comes through Jesus. Running around being “right” about everything is often just annoying and useless, or worse, delusional and arrogant. The truth of Christ sets people free.

It wasn’t unusual in the old covenant for sinners to be told they were excluded from Israel or even punished with death for flagrantly breaking the law of God. In the new covenant community, we are aware of the dread of breaking God’s law, but we are also aware of the cross, and the perfect mediation of Jesus. This never drains righteousness of its character, but it transforms persons and creates a different kind of community.

It is a community that is created around the inclusion of sinners in the ministry of Jesus- including those with failed marriages and multiple relationships, and a new covenant word to “Go and sin no more.”

Paul described this community this way:

1 Corinthians 6:9-20 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything… 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The community of the Church is made up of persons who can say, “I once was __________________, but now I have been bought with the price of the life of God’s son, and I have been profoundly changed and given a new identity.”

Consider how this influences the way we will use the information we will gather about divorce and remarriage. Consider what a community will look like that does not banish sinners, but invites them to new life, new relationships and new behavior all aimed at glorifying the God who saves.

Is God glorified by the cruel, controlling, legalistic use of Biblical material? Or is he glorified when there is a “beautiful collision” between sinful human beings and the Gospel of Jesus?


  1. ddickens says

    I was reading Philippians this morning, chapter 2. It’s one of those passages that seems over-ignored when people bring up sin. The Spirit, through Paul, speaks volumes in just a few words.

    “each counting others better than himself”

    What a profound implication for our current dicussion and your very concern about what we will do with our new understanding of the Lord’s plan for marriage!

    Indeed, we are not to use special insight (prophesy or any other gift) for our own good, but all spiritual gifts are to be used for the body. How shall we use our understanding of the Lord’s design to bless those around us?

  2. Well Stated,
    The heirarchy of sin discussion is paramount this entire issue. Homosexuality (Bad) The idolatry of money (ok as long as the heart is right) Divorce (Bad) Wacking off to porn (Ok as long as I don’t hurt anyone). This is all part of the same discussion of grace and the same issue Christ faced with the religious of His day. When we compare our lives to another person we can stand in judgement over them, when we compare ourselves to Christ we fall at His feet.
    I am concerned divorce is just another way for the graceless to condemn those who have a public failure. Divorce was clearly not the intent of the marriage union but niether is most of creation exempt from the fall. Interestingly something like 90% of the marriages that don’t last are because of sexual issues or money issues (I can’t state the source so don’t accept that number as truth but it is very high). Sounds like divorce is more of the result that the casue of many personal failures.

  3. “I’m sure you are aware of the circus that goes on around “annulments” in the Catholic Church. Ridiculous. Divorced persons can’t receive the Eucharist.”

    This is a huge mischaracterization of Catholic teaching. Once a divorced person has been absolved of that sin, they are free to commune just like any of the rest of us absolved sinners. The complication comes in when the person attempts remarriage. If a person divorces and remarries outside of the Church, the second marriage is invalid and is equivalent to a person living in sin. This person is unable to receive the Eucharist due to ongoing presence of sin in his/her life, just as any other Catholic is not able to validly receive Communion in the presence of unconfessed, unrepentant sin. Now, should said couple decide to abstain from the marital act, repent and confess of the sin of adultery, then they would be able to receive Communion (or if the first marriage was declared ‘null’ and the second was convalidated).

    Whether or not the annulment process is a circus is an observation made without sufficient knowledge even of the character of the Catholic rubrics regarding divorce and the Eucharist. I’d suggest in the interest of Charity to refrain from pointing fingers when understanding of the issues involved is lacking.

  4. Actually I would think that divorce would be less the result of any kind of ‘issues’ one has with their partner, and more the result of a lack of patience, and a lack of wanting to try to work things out. I’m sure there are many examples of couples who have had money isses or sexual issues yet worked their marraige out just fine. Put, I think you’re right in that divorce is more the result of problems we have as opposed to the cause of them.

    Anyways, more on topic, I’ve seen firsthand the affect that the divorce ‘stigma’ creates in the church. It’s like…a vast space in between those who have lived a ‘good’ life and those who have gone the ‘wrong’ path, not realizing that it’s not the path behind us that is as important as the path that lie ahead, and even more importantly, the path the we can see now. And it’s who we’re followiing on that path that connects us all. We might have gone through life differently, but we have the same Saviour, and same God who brings us all together.

    Now I feel like starting a campfire and getting everyone to sing “Kum-ba-yah” (or however it’s spelled)

    Oh yeah, and that reminder of Phillipians 2 is gold…one of thoe things I have to keep reminding myself…

  5. Philologus says

    Christians have a tendency to shoot their own soldiers for some reason and I was one of those unfortunate victims who was shunned and shamed after my divorce. I mean “God HATES divorce!” right? Well, yea He does and if you have ever been through one you know why. Nobody wins in a divorce.

    My divorce was not by choice as I believe in the marriage covenant and I took my vows seriously. However, marriage necessitates the cooperation of both parties who comprise the marriage. In my case my ex left me for another man. Was I supposed to force her to stay? I prayed and prayed about it and the Lord gave me a word from I Corinthians 7:15 “If the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace”.

    For me letting my ex-wife go was the way to peace and it was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I learned many things through my divorce and one lesson I learned was that you cannot control another persons will. I can have control over my own will and desire to live right before God but sometimes people go astray and are out-of-control themselves. I am not at all saying that my ex-wife was/is and unbeliever. That is between her and God and for Him to judge not I. All I can do is look at the fruit she was exhibiting in her behavior at the time and she was acting as an unbeliever.

    Within six months of our divorce she remarried and I believed that reconciliation was no longer an option for us. Thankfully, the Lord had mercy on me, and rather than allow me to be without companionship for the rest of my life, He brought a wonderful sweet Christian woman into my life, who I love and adore as she does me.

    What looked at the time to be something hopeless sorrowful God has turned to joy. I would never have wanted to have gone that way but looking back at the experience has made me a better Christian today and I am much more understanding and compassionate of peoples failures than I was. It also helped me to examine myself and look at my own behavior and hopefully I am a better husband today to my current wife than I was to my ex. God is the God of second, third forth and 100th chances! He is a God of grace and mercy and we should be people of grace and mercy if we are to take after our Father.


  6. ddickens says

    Stream of consciousness to follow…

    How does Paul’s teaching on meat sacrificed to idols effect this discussion? In fact, I have a hard time reconciling any harsh condemnations in the New Testiment with the concept of “all things made lawful, but not profitable”.

    There are many people living in the Church “living in perpetual sin” within the context of the verses as I read them, yet they themselves not believing it is a sin. God’s grace is greater, but we are called to holiness.

    I am barren in the search for an answer. I do not like to broaden the point from marriage/divorce to all sin. But I believe the scripture is very plain on these points, yet I don’t feel the conviction of this sin the scriptures condemn.

    I once met a man who told me that you had to ask forgiveness for every sin you committed (1-to-1 relationship). Silly if you figure we sin often without knowledge, we would then be condemned with no hope since we were unaware. However, few are willing to say that a Christian in purposeful, deliberate violation of the scriptural teaching on a subject can find peace and purity of soul.

    If we stand defiant refusing to submit to His lordship, how can He forgive us?

    Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Maybe even the most vile offender, if he believes will enter into glory; but the Church shouldn’t accept these people because of the need to protect the community from the consequences of their sin?

    In Romans 6,7,8 Paul sets up a duality. On the one side is the flesh, sin and the law. On the other side is the Spirit, righteousness and grace. Perhaps all I need is Romans 7:24-8:2:

    “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am service the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

    I can’t approach this issue as an essay of “point and defense of said point”. This seems like something more thant needs to be explored rather than argued.

  7. BryanKMills says


    I am watching this thread with interest. My wife is bipolar and has a history of drug use. The last bout with meth I gave her an ultimatum: Do it again and I’m through.

    My brothers at church tell me I have no warrant for divorce. My counselor (marginally Christian) says I do.

    I’m not actively looking for an out, but I cannot allow her to continue to jeopardize the lives of our children, nor can I emotionally handle this anymore. And let’s not even bring up financial concerns.

    I don’t know why I share this, other than to say I am struggling with this issue in a powerful way and look forward to the discussion here. The book of Hosea particularly haunts me, not to mention Ephesians, “forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

    She’s been clean for 90 days and things are returning to “normal”, but I find myself carrying a large amount of dread around, waiting for the shoe to drop.

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