Why you should understand remarriage before marriage.
“Till death do us part” seems to be the most prevalent and easily excused lie in our culture. Unfortunately, even devoted followers of Christ do not appear to believe those words anymore. At the very least, according to our actions, we should change the vows to “Till adultery do us part”, “Till abuse do us part”, and for many “Till unhappiness do us part.” Divorce and remarriage have been neglected subjects by spiritual leaders within the church to the point that it has become one of our “respectable” sins. Most of us go into marriage believing we will be together for the rest of our lives, even if we do not necessarily buy into the whole “till death do us part” thing. Therefore, we do not thoroughly study remarriage, and pastors do not seem to be in a hurry to speak the hard truths about it either. Why would it be important for us to understand what Scripture says about remarriage before we are even married or divorced?
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:8-9
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:31-32
Here we find Jesus’ response to some Pharisees trying to get permission to divorce for any cause. Instead, Jesus tells them that divorce was never meant to be an option. However, because of sin, it was allowed. This tells us that divorce is truly not meant to be an option under any circumstance. However, Jesus supplied what is called the “exception clause” in providing sexual immorality as the sole exception. He also verifies that remarriage is adultery. Some would interpret this passage as giving an exception to remarriage as well, saying that remarriage is acceptable if the divorce was for sexual immorality. That is an understandable interpretation, but we must take note of what Paul said as well.
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 7:39
Paul gives no such exception for remarriage here, but this of course does not nullify the exception Jesus provided for divorce. The difficulty is knowing whether or not it also applies to remarriage. When interpreting Scripture, we should always give more weight to what is explicit over what might be implicit. Jesus never explicitly says remarriage is okay if the divorce is on biblical grounds, though the implication is notable. Paul explicitly says to not remarry. Jesus might imply biblical grounds for remarriage, but we should not act like it is black and white. Instead, we should wrestle with God’s Word and be fully convinced in what we will live by while also having charity for our brothers and sisters who disagree.
Furthermore, we must not use Jesus’ exception as an automatic way out, like he is saying that we should get divorced for sexual immorality. Jesus and Paul both make it very clear that divorce is something that should never happen, no matter the circumstance. It is simply permitted for those with hard hearts, and the only biblical exceptions provided are sexual immorality or desertion of an unbelieving spouse who refuses to stay with a believer because of their faith. Even in these cases, divorce should be something avoided at all costs. Every possible effort must be taken.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27-28
If this is how we are to forgive, then there is no limit to our forgiveness in marriage or any other relationship. If we find ourselves believing our spouse is our enemy, what does God say about how we treat our enemies? If we practice this kind of forgiveness, then even sexual immorality is not an exception, which is why Jesus said it was never meant to be that way. Sure, if divorces were only for sexual immorality, I think any church would be much happier about that. However, we should not be satisfied even then. Too many believers are choosing this route, thinking that they are doing something right because it is permitted.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
When considering divorce, are you seeking out your own good or that of your spouse? Are they repentant, but your heart is just too hard to forgive? Have you tried every possible means to reconcile? If they are not repentant, should that even matter? There is sometimes a difference between being “biblical” and being like Christ. Is unconditional love, like that Christ has given us, actually conditional?
The question I posed at the beginning was why we should understand remarriage before we even get married. If God, expressed through Jesus and Paul, hates divorce so much, then does it not make sense that he would hate remarriage? If we are meant to actually be together “till death do us part” then wouldn’t it make sense that prohibiting remarriage would give you a strong incentive not to divorce? If you went into your marriage with a commitment to only be with that one person until one of you dies, then you would understand the severity of divorce. Divorce, for you, equals lifelong celibacy from that day forward, unless you are reunited to your original spouse. This means that even in the case of divorce, you would maintain a forgiving, prayerful heart for reconciliation someday.
Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6
We should not view a court document as a divorce in God’s eyes. The courts did not create the marriage, and neither do they end it. We make this argument for gay marriage, claiming that God created marriage between one man and one woman, so gay marriage is not legitimate in His eyes. Why, then, would we not see it the same way in our own marriages and divorces?
This is a hard but necessary truth. My personal position is that separation is absolutely necessary in some scenarios for physical safety. Separation is not equal to divorce, though. Time and prayer have the power to heal. I also cannot neglect Jesus’ exception given, but I denounce it as an excuse for a way out. Many people divorce for unhappiness while using infidelity as their scapegoat. Jesus’ exception is not a scapegoat. It is grace for those with hard hearts. It seems to me that even then divorce is not the best route in Jesus’ eyes.
Paul also speaks in 1 Cor. 7 to believers with unbelieving spouses, saying that they are not bound in the event that their spouse refuses to be with them because of their faith. This is equivalent to persecution for one’s faith. Certainly, there are all kinds of incredibly difficult situations families find themselves in, and we must practice patience, kindness, love, gentleness, and mercy. My heart hurts deeply for these families. Still, this does not give us an excuse to turn a blind eye when our brothers and sisters in Christ are headed down the wrong path.
I have made a personal commitment to be married to my wife until death. For me, divorce equals celibacy, because remarriage will not be an option. As a married believer, this brings the greatest possible incentive to practice forgiveness and reconciliation no matter the scenario. If you are a single believer, then how much more incentive could you possibly have to make sure you are making the right decision before you get married?