August 28, 2005

The One Shall Not Become Two-Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Corinthians Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7:10–11


The One Shall Not Become Two-Part One

1 Corinthians 7:10-11
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith

The following is an actual letter we received at my former church:

Dear Pastor,

First of all, I want to say that I have been the guilty party in all of this. I look at what I have done and stand in total disbelief. I had so much of God's blessing in my life and I trashed it all. While at the time I tried to justify my actions, the truth is that I left my wife and children shamefully. Of course there were problems in the marriage that anyone would say related to failure on both of our parts, but that never justified my leaving, my divorce, or my remarriage. If one believes that there are ever legitimate grounds for divorce, I did not qualify in any manner. I should have stayed and tried to work out the problems. I failed, not my wife.

I did not have the right to divorce and I certainly did not have the right to remarry. Shortly after I remarried, I was able to begin to view my actions from God's perspective. I have been on my face before Him and I am trying to determine what He wants me to do now. I have been living for myself and doing what I want. The Lord has convicted me of this as never before. Now as I have committed myself to doing His will, I have been confused.

If I could undo all of this and go back to my first wife, I would do so in a heartbeat. Not because I want to be with her, I do not. Not because I want to be with my children, although I desperately desire to do so. But simply because I never should have left. I have dishonored the Lord, His Word, the Body of Christ, and my family.

My question to you is, can I undo this? Other than my family, who I know deep down would want things restored, everyone is telling me that I must live with the consequences of my actions. As a missionary and as a former associate pastor myself, I always taught that the course to follow was to try to rebuild a relationship with the Lord and seek to honor God in the present circumstance. It seemed that the option of undoing the scrambled egg was precluded by scripture and that going back to a first spouse was never allowed.

My question to you is: Can I go back? Should I divorce my new wife and "remarry" my former wife? What does the Lord want me to do?

This letter painfully represents the tragic state of many marital situations. We know even those in the church are not exempt from making and experiencing selfish decisions that eventually lead to the termination of a marriage. What God has joined together, what should be a source of joy and fulfillment, what should be the greatest means to illustrate Christ's union with His church, has become a source of tension, divisiveness and strife. Emotional, financial, social, spiritual and even physical consequences rock everybody in the home and in the church when a couple decides to divorce. We see this in the letter I just read.

Furthermore, this letter also represents all the confusion surrounding divorce from a Christian perspective. We would be hard-pressed to find many other spiritual issues that rival the misunderstanding, uncertainty and complexity that surround divorce and remarriage. I'm sure the "what if" questions are flowing through your mind right now as we begin to address this subject.

I mentioned last week that chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians initiates Paul's response to the questions addressed to him from the Corinthian congregation. Last week we observed how he tackled the issue of sex and marriage. We learned that singles must be celibate, and married couples must not be celibate.

Now in verses 10-16 he addresses the issue of divorce and remarriage. Though we would have liked him to deal with every aspect of this topic, his primary instruction centers around two parties. First in 10-11 he instructs two Christians in marriage (we'll cover these verses this morning). Then in 12-16 he instructs a Christian married to an unbeliever (we'll cover those verses next week).

It is my prayer that is morning's message will not only instruct you as to what God's Word says about marriage, divorce and remarriage, but that it will also help you develop a greater appreciation for the wonderful gift of marriage so our current marriages and our future marriages in the church may bring us the joy and God the glory that He intends.

And may I say upfront, beloved, that I understand these are very sensitive issues. When we are dealing with sex before marriage and divorce, many of us come into this sanctuary having already fallen short in these specific offenses. I believe you all know me well enough to understand that it is not my intention to offend unnecessarily, to ostracize or to single anyone out. I know how painful these situations can be and any reminders can easily excite distress and guilt. I hope you have and will experience the forgiving grace of Christ in coming to the God of second chances. And please forgive me if I appear to be callous to your sorrow. It is only my intention to speak God's truth and minister to those with many of these decisions still before them.

Let's begin. First, Scripture provides God's counsel for an equally yoked union. That is, a Christian married to another Christian.

Please follow along in your Bibles as I read from verses 10-11. "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife."

Divorce today has reached epidemic proportions. 45-50% of first marriages end in divorce. 60-67% of second marriages end in divorce. And divorce rates for third marriages are between 70-73%. 1 Divorce rates have more than doubled, almost tripled, in the past 40 years. 2 And over one million children each year are affected by divorce. 3

That's the status of the twenty-first century. But the first century where the Corinthians found themselves was not much different. Seneca, the Roman writer said that women in the Empire counted their age not by the number of consuls they had seen, but by how many husbands they had been through.

The Jewish society was no better. All that was required at this time in Israel to divorce was a written sentence placed in the wife's hand, saying, "I am no longer married." From that moment on they were considered legally divorced.

You can see how there was much confusion in the church. You can see why Paul needed to address this subject. You can see he begins his instruction on this subject in verse 10 by reminding the church that his teaching is directly from the Lord, Jesus Christ. "But to the married," he says, " I give instructions, not I, but the Lord." This does not mean that he as an Apostle was any less inspired by the Spirit or that his words carried a lesser authority. It only means that Christ Himself already provided instruction on this matter.

Possibly the words that Paul was referring to was Matthew 19:5-6. In pertaining to marriage, Jesus said, "'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

Paul repeats this command from Jesus to the Corinthians. In verse 10 we read, "The wife should not leave her husband." And the end of verse 11 says, "The husband should not divorce his wife."

Now, a footnote needs to be inserted at this point. Much ado has been made about the different Greek words in both these sentences. You can see it for yourself in the English translation. "The wife should not leave her husband" (verse 10). And "the husband should not divorce his wife" (verse 11). Based on the differentiation, some have wanted to read God's permission for marital separation in verse 10. Allow me to say at this point that I believe extended marital separation is unbiblical. 4 And after much study, I believe Paul is speaking of marital divorce (or we could say separation by divorce) in both verses 10 and 11. 5 Time permits me from expansion on both these thoughts, but further study will be available on the sermon transcript.

We must not get sidetracked by the minutia and all the secondary issues that surround this passage. Satan would love nothing more than to see us micromanage this text and totally miss the main point. The primary issue stated by Paul as he echoed the teaching of our Lord was that marriage is built to last. And I believe that is the primary message God wants you to hear this morning.

Richard DeHaan in his little booklet entitled Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage stated, "Remember, therefore, the taking of a husband or wife entails one of the most binding and meaningful commitments in life. For that reason, marriage must never be entered into lightly or carelessly. When the wedding vows are spoken, the bride and groom, forsaking all others, are pledging their love, "For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." They are entering into a contract which neither they nor anyone else should ever violate. That's the way God wants it. And to disobey His will is to invite His judgment. In fact, apart from "the divorce exception" (involving adultery) the one who divorces and remarries while the first mate is still living is an adulterer or adulteress (according to) Jesus (Mt. 19:9)" (p. 4).

Married couples, do you realize that God expects you to remain married to the person you currently call your spouse. The thought of leaving your husband or wife should be the furthest thing from your imagination. 6 Your goal in marriage is always to preserve and strengthen the unity of your relationship. The oneness you share spiritually is manifested not only in the sexual union, but also in every facet of your lives together.

Let's remember the husband/wife relationship is to mirror our Lord's relationship to His church (Eph. 5:32). So just as Jesus promised to be with us always (Mt. 28:20), let us make that same commitment to each other. Just as Christ is in us and we are in Him, may we experience that same oneness with our spouse. God takes our wedding vows very seriously. And He takes our marital union very seriously as well. We should not be surprised in the Scriptures when He says, "I hate divorce" (Mal. 2:16)!

And single people, do you realize that you better think long and think hard, before you choose to get married. You could easily make a mistake that you will live with the rest of your life. You would be wise to heed the following guidelines I am about to mention with a sound mind, sober spirit and wise counsel before you rush and marry.

Most importantly, the Scriptures emphatically declare that you are only permitted to marry another in Christ (2 Cor. 6:14-18, 1 Cor. 7:39). I can't imagine why any Christian would wish to do otherwise! What in common can you have with a child of Satan? How could you ever expect to achieve unity in the issues of finances, childrearing and church involvement? How could you live without speaking about the most important One in heaven with the most important one you are living with on earth? On what foundation will you build your marriage? Moreover singles, I hope you are expecting more than just one who professes or a Sunday morning churchgoer. Is this individual devoted to Jesus Christ, seeking to glorify Him with every aspect of his or her life? Is he or she willing to put Christ first in the relationship? Don't settle for someone who loves you more than he or she loves God!

Additionally, you must remember, single people that marriage is not a solution to your problems. Oftentimes things do not get better once you have a ring on your finger. Any problems that you have in your dating will be only compounded if you bring them into your marriage.

Ask yourself the following questions before you chose to marry another. If you can't positively affirm all of these you may choose to postpone or terminate the relationship.

• Do we find ourselves arguing excessively?

• Is my partner irrationally jealous when I interact with someone from the opposite gender?

• Am I afraid to broach certain topics because of his or her reaction?

• Does my partner seek to control me though manipulation or intimidation or emotionalism?

• Is our relationship built more on love or more on lust?

• Am I continuing this relationship out of fear of hurting the other's feelings?

• Does my partner have difficulty maintaining commitments?

• Is my partner a "giver" or a "taker" in his or her other relationships?

• Is there sexual, physical, alcohol or drug abuse involved?

• Is there unresolved conflict?

• Have our parents given their blessing on this relationship?

• Has my partner changed his or her lifestyle once we began dating just to win me over? 7

Another good guide is to carefully observe how your potential wedding partner treats his or her parents.

Ladies, pay particular attention to how your boyfriend treats his folks, especially his mother. Does he cherish her and honor her? Does he speak kind words to her and about her or does he belittle his mother behind her back. Does he respect her opinion regarding the relationship? Ladies, you can almost guarantee that his attitude toward his mother will be reproduced toward you, his spouse, once the novelty of the marriage wears thin.

Men, does the woman you wish to marry honor her father? Does she respect him? Does she submit to his instruction or is she a self-willed, freewheeling and rebellious? Men, observe how a woman treats her father and other figures of authority in her life. Is this the type of attitude you wish to live with the rest of your marriage?

And singles please get the wacky idea out of your mind that living together before the wedding will guarantee a more successful marriage. Statistics reveals that the divorce rate doubles for couples that cohabitate before marriage. 8 It is common sense. How can you expect God to bless something He calls sin?

Because God holds the marriage relationship in such high regard and expects it to be permanent, be very careful single people that you understand your potential spouse and the expectations our Creator lays out in Scripture before you marry. The need to be sure you are marrying the right person is accentuated in verse 11. "But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband should not divorce his wife."

The Bible only gives three reasons for the permanent separation from a spouse. And the spouse must cause all of them.

• One, as I already mentioned is adultery committed by the partner. Jesus said in Matthew 5, "But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Mt. 5:32).

• The second reason we will be covering in detail next week. A Christian is no longer bound to his or her spouse if the unbelieving marriage partner chooses to leave the believing marriage partner because of his or her faith. 1 Corinthians 7:15, "Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace."

• And finally a marriage bond is obviously dissolved when the other partner dies. 1 Corinthians 7:39, "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" (cf. Rom. 7:1-3).

Since all three of these reasons permit the termination of the marriage, I believe all three of these reasons permit the innocent or surviving marriage partner the opportunity to remarry. However, when these stipulations are not achieved, an unbiblical divorce occurs. The admonition from Scripture is provided. Verse 11 again, "But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband should not divorce his wife."

If anybody seeks an unbiblical divorce, Scripture presents such a person with only two options: Stay single or be reconciled with your former spouse, period. 9 God does not approve of any unbiblical divorce, however He does accept the reality of divorce and forbids remarriage in these situations. People who leave their spouse through unbiblical means must confess their sin and remain single or be reconciled to their former spouse.

Now as I meditated on this injunction and recalled the many situations I have encountered in the past, five circumstances add difficulty to this principle.

• One, may a person be remarried if he or she had an unbiblical divorce before being saved?

• Two, may a person be remarried if he or she seeks reconciliation, but the former spouse is already remarried?

• Three, may a person be remarried if he or she seeks reconciliation, but the former spouse does not want to restore the relationship?

• Four, may a person be remarried if he or she seeks reconciliation, but the former spouse is dead?

• Five, may a person be remarried if he or she seeks reconciliation, but the former spouse is an unbeliever? 10

I don't have answers to these questions. Furthermore, I am not sure that the Bible clearly provides them either. When issues are gray, I believe we need to err on the side of grace and mercy. Oftentimes the individual in these situations simply needs to see what Scripture says and then personally stand before God accountable for their decision. Maybe God wanted to keep these issues surrounding divorce complex simply as a reminder that sin complicates life.

Regardless of where we land on all the intricacies of divorce, God's overall purpose of verse 11 is to preserve the marriage and when possible, bring reconciliation to the union. God takes a marriage relationship very seriously and therefore remarriage, which prohibits future reconciliation with the former spouse, should be entered with great caution.11

Because of the biblical exceptions, divorce may not always be sinful, but every divorce stems from sin. And with any sin, there are always consequences.

Statistics teach:

• Approximately 1/3 of divorced parents remain bitter and hostile several years after the divorce. 12

• Children in single-parent homes are more likely to drop out of high school, become pregnant as teenagers, abuse drugs and get into trouble with the law than those living with both parents. 13

• Only 63 percent of American children grow up with both biological parents, the lowest percentage among Western nations. 14

• I can keep going, but I think you understand the point! 15

So what's the solution to the problem of divorce? A Popular rock star recently said, "I think (marriage) vows should be changed, because they've been in existence for 600 years, when people used to live until they were only 35. So they only had to be with each other for 12 years, then they would die anyway. But now, it's a big commitment because you're going to be with someone for 50 years. It's impossible. The vows should be written like a dog's license that has to be renewed every year." 16

Is this the solution? Listen, lowering God's standards only forces us to settle for second-rate pleasures.

How about marriage partners following the precepts of God's Word, building our relationship on the rock of Jesus Christ? Maybe then, we won't consider divorce? Maybe then, we'll have satisfying and fulfilling marriages? Maybe then, we'll enjoy each other's company for more than "12 years?" Maybe then, our love for each other will not decrease, but increase with age?

The closing prayer that I recite at all the weddings I do ends with the following words. This is my prayer for all of our marriages this morning:

And when life is done and the sun is setting, may this couple be found then as now, still hand in hand, still deeply in love and still thanking You for each other. May they serve You happily and faithfully together, until at last, one will lay the other into Your loving arms.


  1. Jennifer Baker, Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, Springfield. Another study has the divorce rate for first time marriages at 44% (Divorce: Facts, Figures and Consequences, prepared by Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert, York University, for the Vanier Institute of the Family, 1998).
  2. National Center for Health Statistics (1957-2.2%, 1981-5.3%, 1994-4.6% of total population)
  3. Parents Apart Parents Handbook
  4. The following footnote is borrowed from Jay Adams, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Zondervan, 1980, p. 33-34 (fn. 3): Cf. Matt. 19:6; 1Cor. 7:10,11,15. The modern view of separation is an anti-biblical substitution for the biblical requirement of reconciliation or (in some cases) divorce. These two options alone are given by God. Modern separation settles nothing; it amounts to a refusal to face issues and set them to rest. The world may have no way of solving problems-and so opts for an uneasy cease-fire-but the church does, if she will only avail herself of the biblical means. Of all things, separation (in its modern form) tends most to disrupt the peace that God enjoins (1Cor. 7:15c) It keeps all parties involved on the end of the line, playing them like a fish in the water dancing on its tail. It violates the command in 1Cor. 7:5, disregards its warning and sets both husband and wife in a place of unnecessary temptation. The problem is that Christians, of all persons, are prone to turn separation, not only like others who disobey God's command for reconciliation to take place, but especially when divorce is called for (1 Cor. 7:15). They think, "Well, at least we aren't divorced!" This is because divorce-in all instances (even when justified biblically)-has been widely made out to be the great sin of all sins. It is time to say that in certain situations, separation can be worse-especially as a substitute for biblical action. Can separation provide for a "cooling off period" as some claim? Hardly, since it constitutes disobedience to God's command (1Cor. 7:5 views it as often leading to a heating up of the furnaces when they ought to be cool; marriage alone cools them - cf. v.9) Moreover, every counselor knows that the way to put people together is not by taking them apart. Separation heats up desire that it shouldn't, but cools concern that it ought not. The cooling that often occurs is due to a sense of relief from the previous problems, a false sense of peace that is interpreted (wrongly) as a solution to the problem. Nothing actually has been solved. But because of this temporary relief, it is very difficult to effect reconciliation. Often one (or both) of the parties says "I never had it so good" and is loathe to rock the boat. That peace will leave in time, but for some time can be so great a deterrent to reconciliation that it can destroy the prospects altogether. Separation is another means of running from problems instead of solving them God's way. The first think a Christian counselor must do, when dealing with separated persons, is to bring them back together again (at this point their great reluctance to return will be seen) so that he can help them to work on their problems in a context (marriage) where solution can be reached. Two people, under separate roofs, will find it nearly impossible to solve problems that occur when they are under the same roof. Separation, therefore, only widens gaps and deepens difficulties. Of course, very brief separations (a couple of hours, an overnight at a friend's house)-where one doesn't pack his/her bags and has no intention of leaving-may at times (when one is violent, confused, etc.) be desirable. But in such a case the brief separation is to avoid situations that destroy problem-solving and make communication impossible. The design (in contrast to extended separation, no matter what is said or thought to the contrary) is to make it possible to face and solve problems God' way-not to avoid them.
  5. Although different Greeks words are used (vs. 10 - chorizo - "leave"/vs. 11 - aphiemi - "divorce"), both these words are used interchangeably and mean divorce by separation. 1. This is the same word used by Jesus in Mk. 10:9 and Mt. 19:6 clearly referring to divorce. 2. This is the same word used by Paul in 7:15 to refer to divorce by separation as well. 3. If the word chorizo meant "separation" and not "divorce," the next verse (7:11) would make no sense. How can someone be remarried if he/she was currently married and only "separated?" How could they "remain unmarried" when they were already married? 4. The word chorizo ("separate") appears regularly in ancient papyri in bills of divorce. According to Moulton and Milligan, it had "almost become a technical term in connection with divorce." 5. Divorce in the ancient world was accomplished by a document, but most often it just happened. Divorce was divorce with or without an official document. Sometimes the wife was sent away (like in 7:11) or sometimes she just simply left (like in 7:10). Jay Adams says, "There was nothing of our modern view of separating (legal or otherwise) as we know it-a leaving of one's marriage partner without divorce" (Marriage… p. 42). 6. Paul makes it clear that he is reciting a command given by the Lord. The Lord gave clear instruction regarding divorce (Mt. 5:32; 19:5-6), but, as far as we know, was silent on the issue of marital separation. 7. Marital separation is unbiblical. Jesus promoted reconciliation, not separation. See footnote 4.
  6. 44% of unchurched teens consider it likely they will divorce one day (Emerging Trends (10-95), "To Verify," Leadership).
  7. Some of this is adapted from Bob Phillips, How Can I Be Sure: A Pre-Marriage Inventory, 1978.

  8. 1. Data from the University of Wisconsin provides a painful bottom line: couples that cohabit before marriage increase their odds of divorce by 50 percent. Researchers found that only 15 out of every 100 cohabitating couples were married after a decade (Terry Mattingly, Washington Bureau religion column (8-21-02).
    2. Practice doesn't make perfect. According to studies by the Barna Foundation and the Census Bureau, people who cohabitate before marriage-that's half of all adults under the age of 30-are more likely than others to get divorced, and 60 percent of second marriages eventually split up. With that kind of failure rate, perhaps it's time to stop practicing and get into the game for good. Marriage is for life (Break Point with Charles Colson, Vol. 1, No. 6, August, 1991).
    3. Recent research gives women a dire warning about cohabiting with men before marriage: Chances are your marriage won't last long. Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, has found that "men who cohabit with the women they eventually marry are less committed to the union than men who never lived with their spouses ahead of time." Men who eventually "drift" into marriage after a period of cohabitation or are "dragged down the aisle" by impatient women are high risks. Currently there are over five million unmarried American couples who live together. Of all new marriages today, between 50 and 60 percent involve couples who cohabited. A major factor influencing young Americans into this lifestyle is the fear of divorce. Many have grown up in a culture of divorce and don't want to repeat others' mistakes. However, the divorce rate for those who cohabit and then marry is higher than for those who marry without living together. Experts believe this is because many people who choose to live together first have a low regard for the institution of marriage (Karen S. Peterson, "Cohabiting is Not the Same as Commitment," USA TODAY online (7-8-2002).
  9. Potentially Paul had in mind Deut. 24:1-4. Obviously if the woman remarried she would be unable to return to her former spouse for reconciliation.
  10. Jay E. Adams in his book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, gives some reasonable answers to these questions. He believes that those involved in an unbiblical divorce must seek to be reconciled to their partner. If the partner refuses to be reconciled or is remarried they may be remarried if they are repentant. If the partner is an unbeliever, the Christian who pursued the divorce must evangelize the individual and return if the partner wants to be reconciled, but only after the partner professes Christ (see page 87). Furthermore, he states that from the date of our conversion we "start a new history from square one" (page 93 - 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 7:17, 20, 24, 26). This implies that we are free to remarry (assuming we are repentant) if the divorce, under any circumstance, occurred before we were saved. Furthermore, I think most would say that a person is free to be remarried, after pursuing an unbiblical divorce, if their former marriage partner dies. At this time I concur with most of these beliefs.
  11. There are many who forbid remarriage. Interestingly, there are verses in the Bible that encourage and even command remarriage (see 1 Cor. 7:8-9, 39; 1 Tim. 5:14).
  12. Reprinted from Parents Apart Parents Handbook
  13. Cited in The Los Angeles Times, (5-27-96), page A16
  14. Sharon Jayson, "Wedding Bells Aren't Ringing, but Neither Are Phones of Divorce Lawyers," USA Today Online (7-18-05)
  15. One pastor said, "It's a fact of history, incidentally I would draw your intention and indeed our nation's attention to the facts that lax views in marriage, wherever they are found in societies in history, always eventually lead to social corruption and the state eventually crumbles. When the marriage bond crumbles, the foundations of the state crumble, and I believe it will not be long until our society economically perhaps, certainly politically, perhaps even militarily, will be plunged into chaos - because before our eyes we are seeing the foundations of society being removed" (David Legge,
  16. Rock star Rod Stewart, cited from (5-3-01)

other sermons in this series

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Apr 15


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Mar 18


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