Sermon: Divorce and Remarriage
Scripture: Matthew 5:31-32
In this week’s lessons, we look at the subjects of divorce and remarriage, and learn what the biblical standards are for those who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Theme: God’s Standards
Now that is a high and difficult standard, and it is acutely difficult for many people who are involved in situations of estrangement, divorce, and remarriage. I therefore want to close by saying a few things to these people particularly. In the first place, we must say that these are standards for Christians, not for the world. This means that believers must not seek to impose them upon all men generally. We believe, of course, that to follow Christian standards would tend to make men happier than they would be apart from them, and we can point with justifiable alarm to any weakening of the family structure within our society. But the majority of men are not Christians, and it would be irrational to expect them to lead Christian lives. Because of this, I believe that C. S. Lewis was quite right in suggesting that “there ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”1
Second, because there are many persons who become Christians after they have been married and divorced, sometimes more than once, we must never forget that their previous conduct along with all of their past is wiped clean by their conversion to Jesus Christ and that they therefore have the right to marry for the first time as Christians. The church at Corinth must have been composed largely of persons in this category, for Paul writes that many of them were fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, and so on (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Yet, he terms them “new creatures” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Clearly, when a new creature in Christ meets another new creature in Christ and God leads them together, they have a right to marry and to establish a Christian home regardless of their previous history.
Third, there are cases in which one of the spouses is a Christian and the other is not. What is the Christian to do in these circumstances? Well, this is a situation that Paul also faced not only in Corinth but throughout the Greek cities. His advice was this: first, that the Christian should always stay with the unbelieving spouse if at all possible. For as Paul says, how do you know that you will not be the means by which God will save your husband or your wife (1 Cor. 7:16)? However, it is also possible that the unsaved spouse will not stay with the Christian. In that case, Paul’s second point of advice is to let the non-Christian go, but the Christian is thereafter to remain unmarried.
My fourth point is based on the fact that we live in an imperfect world. This means that there will always be circumstances in which a Christian will have to choose the lesser of two evils. In some circumstances, this could be divorce. For instance, we may imagine a woman married to a brute of a husband, a man who spends her money on drink and then deserts her while she must raise and educate the children. Now under the laws of the United States, if there is no divorce it is entirely possible for the man to return at some date, just when the children are ready to go to college on the little the wife has earned, and claim the money and waste it. In this situation I believe it would be better for the wife to initiate the divorce, even if she is a Christian. For her responsibility is also to the children and to their future.
Finally, it’s also true that Christians who marry out of God’s will and get divorced, remarry (often to Christians) and that God seems often in His great grace to sanctify and bless the remarriage. Does this mean that in this case God has changed His standards? Not at all. But it does mean that even divorce and remarriage, serious though they are, are not unforgivable and that God is always able to start with His children precisely where they are and bring blessing. The Church should never be closed to such people, and we above all men should show mercy. For perhaps even if such persons marry in rebellion against God’s will, He may bring repentance. And He may yet greatly bless the new home.
There is hardly a matter in the Christian Church today that is treated with more laxity than divorce and remarriage. As a result, it is always easy to get our standards from what other people do or say or from what we should like the Bible to say. But we must not do that. We must be people of the Book, and we must not lower its standards.
Perhaps you are saying, “But how can I do that? For me the standards are too high.” If you are, the answer is that God will help you to keep them. The Bible says that God “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). And if you are still saying, “But I have questions about the matter,” well, the answer is in John’s Gospel, where Jesus says that if any man really desires to know God’s will, whatever it may be, “he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). If you will desire that, God will lead you in the way that you should go. And he will bring blessing in your life and marriage, and through your life to others.
What is important to remember about someone’s past once he or she becomes a Christian?
Based on 1 Corinthians 7, what do we learn about how Christians are to live if they are married to an unbeliever?
Application: Are there any areas in your life where your personal standards may not be as high as God’s? What does the Bible teach about these areas, and what do you need to do in response?
1C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 87