On Henry Ford’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, he was asked for some advice on how to achieve marital bliss and longevity. He replied, “Just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.”
The Bible is crystal clear; divorce is a sin. According to the Bible, marriage is a lifetime commitment. Jesus referred to married couples by saying, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). Malachi 2:16 further reveals God’s heart in regards to this issue: “I hate divorce, says the LORD God ofIsrael.” Clearly, marriage was not intended to result in divorce.
Nevertheless, the Old Testament specified some laws that protected the rights of divorcees; especially women (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4). This indicates that God knows that sinful human beings will, in some instances, enter into a divorce from marriage. Yet, Jesus pointed out that these laws were given because of the hardness of people’s hearts, not because they were God’s desire (cf. Matthew 19:8).
The controversy over whether divorce and remarriage is scripturally allowed revolves primarily around Jesus’ words in two verses of Scripture (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). Matthew 5:32 plainly tells us that “fornication” is a potentially just reason for divorce, though the text remains silent about remarriage resulting from a “biblical” divorce. While many scholars believe that this refers to “marital unfaithfulness” during the “betrothal” period (Jewish custom considered a couple married even while they were still engaged), this interpretation is eisegeted rather than being derived from the text.
The term “fornication” is translated from the Greek word porneia, which can mean any form of sexual immorality. Sexual intimacy is an integral part of the marriage covenant, as God ordained that “the two will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Eph. 5:31). Thus, when this covenant is broken through sexual immorality, a valid and permissible reason for divorce has arisen.
Matthew 19:9, while nearly verbatim to Matthew 5:32, adds the caveat “and marries another,” indicating that divorce and remarriage are allowed in an instance of fornication. It is important to note, however, that only the innocent party is allowed to remarry. Although there may be instances where the “fornicator” is allowed to remarry, it is not explicitly taught in this particular text.
Several other considerations must be made when determining potential exceptions for divorce and/or remarriage. For instance, 1 Corinthians 7:15 seemingly allows remarriage if an unbelieving spouse divorces a believer. Despite mentioning remarriage, this verse only says a believer is not bound to continue a marriage if an unbelieving spouse wants to leave. Others claim that abuse (spousal or child) provides valid grounds for divorce, although not specifically mentioned in Scripture. In such a case, there must be faithfulness to the whole counsel of God, which tells us to honor our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). In the same manner in which we strive to honor and protect God’s house/temple/church, we must also protect our bodies. Yet the marriage must be salvaged in each situation if at all possible (according to Matt. 19:6).
Even when adultery is committed and divorce occurs, the temptation often arises to quickly remarry when, in fact, God might desire that they remain single. God calls people to be single so that their attention is not divided (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Any person who goes through divorce ought to intentionally pray and fast for direction and discipline, repenting for the broken covenant and seeking full restoration of the mind, body, soul, and spiritual strength. Remarriage after a divorce may be an option in some circumstances, but that does not mean it is the only option.
As a minister of the Gospel, I would allow remarriage to a member of my congregation in several different instances. First of all, I would be willing to remarry someone after the death of a spouse. This is actually encouraged by Paul (1 Cor. 7:8-9; 1 Tim. 5:14). Also, most marriage ceremonies contain a specific phrase that specify the covenant “until death do us part.” This is taken from Romans 7:2-3, and thus the principle of remarriage after a spouse’s death is completely biblical.
I will also allow remarriage if an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage without possibility of reconciliation (cf. 1 Cor. 7:12-15). Furthermore, I have no problems remarrying someone if his/her divorce(s) occurred before salvation. Once a person is saved by Christ, that individual receives the fresh mercies of God (Lam. 3:23) and becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). There are also extreme cases in which I may feel led to remarry someone, such as abuse, psychological disorders, etc. My decisions will be based upon fervent prayer (James 5:16) as the Holy Spirit guides me into the truth (John 16:13) about the proper decision.
While the divorce rate may be disturbing, that is all the more reason for ministers of the Gospel to show God’s mercy and grace. God’s statutes and covenants are holy, but God’s love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). The ultimate objective of a minister should be obedience to Christ and the restoration of broken people. Ultimately, any marriage policy enacted should seek to honor Christ, exercise mercy when it is appropriate, and allow for the flexibility to adapt to the unique circumstances that can arise in this sinful world. When dealing with sinful people, ministers will do well to handle sin in God’s way – with His amazing grace that convicts, corrects, and cleanses.