What the Bible says about marriage
What the Bible says about marriage
Marriage is a DIVINE INSTITUTION Contrary to some contemporary opinion, marriage is not a human institution that has evolved over the millennia to meet the needs of society. If it were no more than that, then conceivably it could be discarded when it is deemed no longer to be meeting those needs. Rather marriage was God's idea, and human history begins with the Lord Himself presiding over the first wedding. (Genesis 2:18-25)
Marriage is to be regulated by DIVINE INSTRUCTIONS Since God made marriage, it stands to reason that it must be regulated by His commands. In marriage, both husband and wife stand beneath the authority of the Lord. Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it (Psalm 127:1)
Marriage is a DIVINE ILLUSTRATION In both Old and New Testaments, marriage is used as the supreme illustration of the love relationship that God established with His people.
Israel is spoken of as the wife of Jehovah (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:8; Hosea 2:19-20).
The Church is called the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32).
It can be said that the Christian marriage is sort of a "pageant" in which the husband takes the part of the Lord Jesus, loving and leading his wife as Christ does the Church; and the wife plays the role of the believer, loving and submitting to her husband as the Christian does to the Lord.
Thus Christian marriage should be an object lesson in which others can see something of the divine-human relationship reflected.
Marriage is a COVENANT
From the earliest chapters of the Bible the idea of covenant is the framework by which man's relationship to God is to be understood, and which also regulates the lives of God's people.
A covenant is an agreement between two parties, based upon mutual promises and solemnly binding obligations.
It is like a contract, with the additional idea that it establishes personal relationships.
God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants is summarized in the statement, I will be your God, and you shall be my people.
Marriage is called a covenant (Malachi 2:14), the most intimate of all human covenants.
The key ingredient in a covenant is faithfulness, being committed irreversibly to the fulfillment of the covenant obligations.
The most important factor in the marriage covenant is not romance; it is faithfulness to the covenant vows, even if the romance flickers.
Marriage is a WHOLE-PERSON COMMITMENT
God meant marriage to be the total commitment of a man and woman to each other. It is not two solo performances, but a duet. In marriage, two people give themselves unreservedly to each other (Genesis 2:25; 1 Corinthians 7:3,4).
What God has joined together let no man separate, declared our Lord (Matthew 19:6). Till death do us part, is not a carry-over from old-fashioned romanticism, but a sober reflection of God's intention regarding marriage (Romans 7:2,3; 1 Corinthians 7:39).
What the Bible teaches about divorce
Divorce is abhorrent to God (Malachi 2:15,16)
Divorce is always the result of sin
God's basic intention for marriage never included divorce; but when sin entered human experience, God's intention was distorted and marred.
Under perfect conditions there was no provision for divorce, but God allowed divorce to become a reality because of man's sinfulness (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:7,8).
To say that divorce is always the result of sin is not to say, however, that all divorce is itself a sin. It may be the only way to deal with the sinfulness of the other party, which has disrupted the marriage relationship.
There are two conditions under which divorce is biblically permissible.
Since divorce is a sinful distortion of God's intention for marriage, it is an alternative of last recourse, to be avoided whenever possible. However, Scripture does teach that there are two circumstances in which divorce is permitted (though never required):
In the case of sexual unfaithfulness (Matthew19:9)
In the case of desertion of a believing partner by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15,16)
Divorce carries with it consequences and complications
Divorce, because it is a violation of God's plan, carries with it painful consequences and complications.
God has made perfect provisions for the complete forgiveness of all our sin through the death of Christ, even the sins of sexual infidelity and unjustified divorce (1 Peter 2:24; Colossians 2:13).
Forgiveness, however, does not remove the temporal consequences of our sins, or the pain and grief involved in the death of a relationship.
Divorced singles, single parent families, remarriage, and the problems of "blended" families are part of the consequences of God's intention being thwarted.
The church is to minister to individuals and families suffering these consequences, and to seek to help them respond with maturity to their problems.
Reconciliation is to be preferred to divorce.
While divorce is permitted, it is never commanded. Forgiveness and reconciliation are always to be preferred (1 Corinthians 7:10,11).
What the Bible teaches about remarriage
Remarriage is permitted, where the former spouse is deceased (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39).
Where a divorce occurred prior to conversion, remarriage may be permitted.
If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold new things are come, (2 Corinthians 5:17).
When one becomes a Christian, all sin is forgiven; and all condemnation removed (Romans 8:1). Thus, pre-conversion conditions do not necessarily preclude remarriage to a Christian mate.
If the former marriage partner has also become a Christian, remarriage to that partner should be sought.
Where the former partner has not been converted, and attempts to share the gospel with him/her are rejected, however, remarriage to that person would be disobedient to Scripture (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Even though remarriage is allowable biblically, there may be consequences from past sins that continue, or destructive patterns from the old life that can carry into new relationships.
Thus a new marriage should be entered into with due thoughtfulness, and with the counsel of mature Christians.
Where a divorce has occurred on Scriptural grounds, the offended party is free to remarry. A person who has been divorced because of infidelity of a marriage partner, or desertion by an unbelieving partner, is free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:15).
What about desertion by a "Christian" spouse?
1 Corinthians 7 deals specifically with the case of a nonbeliever who refuses to live with a believing spouse.
The question then arises as to the remarriage of a believer who was divorced by a partner who also professed to be a Christian. Such a situation ideally should involve the church in the steps of disciplinary action outlined in Matthew 18.
A Christian who decides to walk out of a marriage without biblical cause is in violation of Scripture. Such a person who refuses the counsel and admonition of the elders and persists in following the course of disobedience ultimately is to be dealt with as though he/she is an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17).
The deserted spouse would then be in a position of having been deserted by one whose sinful behavior and unresponsiveness to spiritual admonition gives evidence of an unregenerate heart, and thus falls under the provision of 1 Corinthians 7:15.
Where a former spouse has remarried, remarriage is permitted for the other person. Regardless of the reasons for the divorce itself, if one of the partners has remarried, the union is permanently broken and reconciliation is impossible, and thus the remaining partner is free to remarry.
Scripture does not absolutely forbid remarriage of a person who has caused a non-biblical divorce.
Where there has been conversion (in the case of a person who was not a Christian when the divorce occurred) or the demonstration of genuine and heartfelt repentance (in the case of one who was a Christian at the time of the divorce), remarriage may be permitted for the offending party if
the former spouse has remarried or
the former partner refuses reconciliation (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Scripture recognizes the possibility of separation that does not lead to divorce.
Because of man's sinful nature, couples can, at times, be involved in a marital relationship that is destructive, either physically or emotionally, to the two marriage partners and/or their children.
It is possible that separation might become necessary because of the destructive nature of the relationship or the potential danger to one or more of the family members.
Such a situation does not provide grounds for dissolution of the marriage and the establishment of a new marriage.
Where no biblical ground for remarriage exists, a Christian is bound to seek reconciliation as long as there is a possibility of such reconciliation taking place (1 Corinthians 7:11).
Answers to some related questions
Is there ever a totally innocent party in marital discord or divorce?
No one is ever free from sinful conduct or attitudes, so in this sense there is no "innocent party."
However, there are some sins that nullify the marriage covenant, and some which, though they may be serious, do not.
In any case of marital discord, both partners should be encouraged to try to understand how they personally contributed to the conflict.
Will divorced persons be allowed to participate in service opportunities in the church?
Spiritual, psychological, and relational maturity are primary qualifications for service opportunities.
Divorce would be considered only one part of a much broader evaluation of a person's suitability for service. Divorce would not necessarily preclude serving.
A primary consideration must be the reputation the individual has in the Body of Christ and the community (1 Timothy 3:2,7; Titus 1:6).
What if there has been no sexual unfaithfulness in a Christian marriage, but two Christians decide to dissolve their marriage because they are incompatible?
The Bible does not recognize incompatibility as grounds for divorce.
Reconciliation must be achieved, and every means possible should be considered, including individual and/or marriage counseling.
If Christ is on the throne of two human hearts, conflict will cease. He does not fight with Himself.
A frequent reason given for seeking a divorce is that the original marriage was a mistake. The couple believes that they got married for the wrong reasons and are asking why they should perpetuate a mistake.
God's promise is that He is able to cause all things to work together for good, even our human mistakes (Romans 8:28).
The Bible does not recognize a "mistake" as grounds for divorce.
A deliberate, knowledgeable violation of God's revealed will for marriage is never an appropriate response to a mistake made earlier in life. "Two wrongs do not make a right."
What if a couple is separated or divorced, and both desire to have sexual intimacy with each other?
Sexual intimacy is the privilege of a marriage relationship.
If the couple is already divorced, such intimacy would be classed as fornication.
If the couple is not actually divorced, then sexual intimacy might be appropriate (1 Corinthians 7:4-7).
However, serious consideration should be given by each partner as to their personal motivation in the relationship. One of the considerations a couple must have is their reputation with their children and friends.