STUDY SEVEN: MORE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES
© Rosemary Bardsley 2004, 2006, 2016
In 1Corinthians 7 Paul addresses a number of questions related to marriage, some of which have some bearing on the question of divorce and the question of remarriage after divorce, additional to the biblical standard that remarriage after divorce [except divorce for fornication/adultery] constitutes adultery.
A. THE PERSPECTIVE OF SERVING GOD – 1Corinthians 7:1,8,26-28, 32-35
Life without marriage is part of that ‘not-yet’ world of which all believers are already members, but in which we do not yet live [Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:34-35]. The perfection of the Creation Factor affirmed ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ [Genesis 2:18], and married life is still the norm, with singleness occurring either by human choice, by divorce or separation, or by widowhood.
When the disciples reacted to Jesus’ teaching on the wrongness of divorce with the comment: ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry’ [Matthew 19:1-12], Jesus stated about singleness:
Some are eunuchs because they were born that way [congenital defect].
Others were made that way by men [castrated].
Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven [voluntarily celibate in order to serve the kingdom of God].
Some are gifted and enabled by God to be single.
In 1Corinthians 7 Paul, concerned above all for the glory of God and the extension of his kingdom, has these last two reasons for singleness clearly in his mind. He encouraged those who are single to stay single for the sake of God and his kingdom.
Read these passages. Reflect on this perspective that wholehearted commitment to God’s service has greater potential in singleness than in marriage.
1Corinthians 7:28, 32-35
Paul sets this priority: you can serve God more whole-heartedly single [which can be understood to include the divorced, separated or widowed], because you don’t have to give time and consideration to a marriage partner.
B. THE PERSPECTIVE OF GLORIFYING GOD – 1Corinthians 7:2-7
Yet Paul is a realist. He knows that we are not yet in heaven, that we live here on this earth as sinners who sin, and who face temptations to sin at every hand. He knew that the moral climate in the Roman Empire, and especially in Corinth, was extremely corrupt, with male and female prostitution, homosexual acts, paedophilia – including open peddling of catamites – all practised openly and without shame or disapproval. So he clearly sets a second priority. Although it is his preference for people to stay single and serve the Lord whole-heartedly without the distraction of a marriage partner, he also wants us to glorify God by our sexual purity. It is more important to honour God in the way we live than to dedicate ourselves to singleness and give in to lust, or be bothered by lust. It is also more important, within a marriage, to maintain normal sexual relations, rather than refrain from sex for religious purposes, yet find oneself an out of control victim of Satan’s temptations.
Study these verses, and consider the priority that sexual purity glorifies God more than singleness without purity.
Within this perspective married couples are commanded to fulfil their marital duty to each other. If this command was obeyed the potential for marriage breakdown in Christian marriages could be expected to be significantly reduced.
C. THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE GOODNESS, SANCTITY AND PERMANENCE OF MARRIAGE
Nor does Paul intend that his preference for singleness should make us conclude that we should terminate our marriages. Paul affirms the sanctity of marriage, and makes it clear that the marriage, bond once in place, takes priority over any advantage of the single state. [1Corinthians 7:10-16]
[The background of 1Corinthians 7:12-16 was a prevailing perception that Christians should not be married to unbelievers; this perception resulted in newly converted people leaving and/or divorcing their non-Christian partners, which brought the accusation that Christianity broke up families.]
Read these verses. Consider the priority that commitment to the marriage is more glorifying to God than a state of singleness that has broken the marriage bond. [Note especially the implications of this for the marriage where one partner has converted to Christ.]
D. THE PERSPECTIVE OF GOD’S CALLING
D.1 - 1Corinthians 7:15b-24: Paul states [7:15] ‘God has called us to peace’. In 17-24 he teaches that Christians are responsible to God to remain in the social situation they were in when God called them. He does this because of the many accusations that were being levelled against Christians. He does not mean that they were to refuse an offered change in their status [7:21], but that they were not to be the ones who disturbed the marital or social order by pushing for or illegally grasping for change. Such disturbance is not the way of those who know the Lord. The New Testament commands and commends the proactive pursuit of peace, so it is probable that the phrase ‘God has called us to peace’ should attach not to Paul’s previous allowance for the unbeliever to depart, but to his following statement of the possibility of the believing partner bringing the unbelieving partner to salvation. [There were no verse numbers or punctuation in the Greek.] Thus, the calling to peace and to be peacemakers within an existing Christian/non-Christian marriage takes priority over escaping the potential difficulties of living as a Christian with a non-Christian partner. God’s will is that married people remain peacefully married to each other, not that marriages break up.
Read these verses. Consider the priority of God’s calling us to live at peace and to be peacemakers, as it impacts a marriage where one person has become a believer.
D.2 – 1Corinthians 7:39; 2Corinthians 6:14-17: A different priority resulting from our calling is that it is wrong for a person who is already a believer to marry a person who is not a believer:
Write out and memorize the significant phrases from these verses. Consider the contrasts listed below, and the inevitable tensions that would result in such a marriage. [Note: The Old Testament is very strong on the wrongness of marriage to unbelievers. The evidence includes: Genesis 24:3,37; 28:1,6; Exodus 34:15-16; Judges 3:6; 1Kings 11:1-10; 16:29-33; Ezra 10:2,10-14,17; Nehemiah 13:23-29. The reason given is that unbelieving wives will drag their husbands into idolatry. ]
God has called us:
Out of wickedness into righteousness
Out of darkness into light
Away from Satan to Christ
Away from unbelief to faith
Away from our own gods to himself.
And he now calls us:
His dwelling place
Thus the state of singleness takes unquestioned priority for a believer over even the thought of entering so incongruous a relationship as a marriage to an unbeliever. [A ‘yoke’ implies submission to the authority of another, and/or a state of bondage. For a believer to choose to enter marriage with an unbeliever is to choose such a state, and is totally inappropriate, as the list of contrasts above reveals.]
E. THE PERSPECTIVE OF TRANSIENCE – 1Corinthians 7:25-31
In 1Corinthians 7:25-31 Paul makes three references to life’s changing and temporary nature:
‘because of the present crisis’ [v26]
‘the time is short’ [v29]
‘this world in its present form is passing away’ [v31].
In all of these he is reminding us that ‘the things of the world’ are temporary – whether it be marriage, or sadness, or happiness, or possessions – whatever belongs to this world cannot be forever, and we should not let any of this world’s things consume us or dictate our perspectives and priorities. Nor should we allow our lives to be influenced by the changing value systems of this world. Only the Lord’s affairs carry through to eternity. Only the Lord’s value system carries through into eternity.
What do these verses teach about the transience of the world, including human life.
Read these passages. Consider the radical difference they define between believers and unbelievers, particularly in regard to the mindset or paradigm in which both operate.
In the light of our transience, and our real present identity as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom, where a different mindset and value system is in place, what is wrong with:
 valuing a marriage on the basis of whether or not it is sexually exciting or sexually fulfilling.
 expecting the marriage relationship to meet all one’s expectations, and stressing out when it doesn’t.
 trying to get your significance, your fulfilment, your identity from your marriage.
 thinking that because a marriage is no longer vibrant or enjoyable it has to be terminated.
A note on 1Corinthians 7:29: We cannot understand this verse to mean that men should permanently abstain from sexual relationships with their wives, as Paul has expressly forbidden that in verses 3-5, except for a brief mutually agreeable time for prayer. There are Old Testament precedents for temporary ‘separation’ where matters involving the purpose of God were involved: Moses left his wife and children in Midian when he went to Egypt on the dangerous mission God had given him [Exodus 18]; the men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to leave their wives and families east of the Jordan, when they were commanded to help their brother Israelites take possession of the land of Canaan [Deuteronomy 3:19; Joshua 1:12-18]. Refraining from sexual intercourse was also commanded on an occasion of extreme spiritual significance, in order to maintain ritual cleanness [Exodus 19:15].
F. THE PERSPECTIVE OF COMPASSION – 1Corinthians 7:36
The state of singleness with its increased liberty to serve the Lord is also subjected to the perspective of compassion. Paul refers to an engaged couple who have agreed not to marry, or have deferred marriage, for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. But the woman is getting past the socially accepted age for marriage, or perhaps getting close to menopause. Paul states that it’s fine – it’s not sin – to change that commitment not to marry, and to get married out of compassion for the girl. [Note that the perspective of compassion was also the initiating factor in the Biblical divorce laws; in order to protect women’s reputation in the case of divorce for reasons other than adultery, the man was required by God to write her out a ‘bill of divorce’ so that it would be known she was not immoral. See Matthew 19:8; Deuteronomy 24:1,2.]
G. THE PERSPECTIVE OF GOD’S JUSTICE
In this section we come to the emotive question: does God require an abused spouse to stay in an abusive marriage? As Jesus pointed out on several occasions, the physical well-being of a human being takes priority over keeping the strict letter of the law [Mark 2:23-27; 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17].
So far we have learned:
We have seen that embedded in the Creation Factor is the priority of the marriage relationship over and above the parent-child relationship: that a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves only to his wife. This is an order of creation.
God forbids murder and related actions and attitudes which despise a human being and hold the sanctity of human life in disrespect. This means that God’s law forbids all forms of domestic violence – verbal, emotional and physical.
God commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, saying ‘After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church’ [Ephesians 5:30]. Abuse is totally contrary to  this example of the body and  this role model, Jesus Christ.
God leaves room for a woman to separate from her husband, and remain unmarried [1Corinthians 7:10-11].
Keeping all of this in mind let us turn to Exodus 21:12-35. Here we see God’s justice system in place for violence and abuse.
Read Exodus 21:12-35 to get a feel of God’s justice. Describe the abuse. Write out the penalty.
These two verses cover the whole range of abuse:
The word translated ‘attacks’ in verse 15 means anything from strike, to wound, to murder.
The word translated ‘curses’ has the meaning ‘belittle’ or bring into contempt.
In these two verses are included all physical and verbal abuse that causes physical, emotional, mental and psychological suffering.
The person who abused his parents in either of these ways incurred the death penalty; [whether or not this justice was ever meted out is beside the point]. According to the order of creation, a man’s wife takes priority over his parents, so although there is no Scripture dealing specifically with domestic abuse, we can reasonably conclude that in the case of abuse God’s justice takes priority over the marriage law, freeing an abused partner to leave the marriage. [A caution is needed here – ‘abuse’ can be seen as different things by different people, and also occurs in varying degrees. The counsel of a mature and compassionate Christian leader or counsellor should be sought before the drastic step of separation. ‘Abuse’ should never be used as an easy excuse for opting out of a marriage that is shaky for some other reason.]
H. THE PERSPECTIVE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The intent of these two studies on marriage is to bring our perceptions of marriage back to the Biblical foundations in the written Word. Why? For three reasons:
 As Christians we are supposed to glorify God in every aspect of our lives.
 God is our creator, therefore he knows how best we should live.
 We are all accountable to him, and he will require us to give account of the way we have related to our marriage partner and to his instructions about sex and marriage.
Thus our priority should always be that we are each responsible to our marriage partner to treat him/her as God commands, and we are accountable to God for any disobedience of his commands.
Identify how this accountability to God should put a boundary around the way we view marriage and the way we treat our marriage partner.
I. THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE TRANSCENDENT GRACE OF GOD
In this in-between ‘not-yet-in-heaven’ era in which we live, sadness and suffering is inevitable. Perfection in anything, including marriage, is impossible, because we ourselves are not yet perfect. It is part of this ‘not-yet’ factor that we each sin, and that we each by our sin cause others to sin and to suffer. God knows this. He doesn’t excuse or validate it, but he does know it. And he knows with understanding: in Jesus Christ he experienced our suffering and our temptations to the max [Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16]. When we fail, and when we find ourselves in relationship difficulties where every option has some element of sin, we who trust in Christ can, without excusing or denying our sin, have absolute confidence that God’s grace transcends our sin, and that our fragility and vulnerability in the presence of sin and suffering does not exile us from his kingdom or from his presence.
Read these passages. Think deeply about the phrases describing God’s grace. Allow his transcendent grace to wash over you setting you free from the guilt, shame and fear that threatens your peace with him.
Romans 5:2 - ‘this grace in which we now stand’
Romans 5:17 - ‘how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace …’
Romans 5:20 - ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ [This means that there is no sin bigger than grace, nor are there ever too many sins for grace to cover.]
Romans 5:21 - ‘so that grace might reign’ [Grace is in charge in Christ’s kingdom, not law or condemnation.]
Romans 6:14 - ‘you are not under law, but under grace’
Ephesians 1:7-8 - ‘we have … the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.’
Ephesians 2:7 - ‘the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus’
1Timothy 1:14 - ‘The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly’
TASK: Believe and rejoice in this text.
‘I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence, Jesus Christ, the righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins …’ 1John 2:1-2.
Implications of the transcendent grace of God. Because we are under the rule of grace and not the rule of law, and because of the sovereign power of God, God is able to, and does, take the lives of those who have sinned against him, and even the results of their sin, and weave them into his grand and glorious purpose. Thus we find:
Tamar’s story [Genesis 38]. This woman was widowed, unjustly refused marriage by the next brother, kept by her father-in-law, Judah, from marriage to the third son. In despair she disguised herself as a prostitute and offered herself to Judah for a one-night arrangement. She became pregnant and gave birth to twin boys, one of whom is an ancestor of Christ [Mat 1:3]. [Judah acknowledged that he was at fault, not her, for he had withheld his third son from marrying her according to the law concerning widows.]
Rahab, a Gentile prostitute and a liar, had faith in the living God. Having protected two Israelite spies from detection, she was saved from the destruction of Jericho, married an Israelite, and became the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth; she is in the ancestral line of Jesus Christ [Joshua 2; 6:22-23; Matthew 1:5]
Ruth, a non-Israelite, was married by an Israelite [against the law of God], and widowed; yet in the sovereign grace and purpose of God she is woven into his grand eternal plan of salvation as one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ [Ruth; Matthew 1:5]
David sinned greatly against the Lord in his adultery with Bathsheba and arranged murder of Uriah. The child born of this adultery died; but it was a later child of David’s polygamous marriage to Bathsheba who became the next king of Israel, whom God blessed with wisdom, and whom God allowed to build the temple. It was also this child, Solomon, whom God used to write two books of the Bible – Proverbs and Song of Songs, and possibly also Ecclesiastes. Solomon is also in the ancestral line of Christ.
These examples testify to the grace and purposes of our sovereign God reigning in the lives and circumstances of those who have unwittingly or deliberately acted in disobedience to his commands. They do not excuse or legitimize the disobedience in any way. But they do give us hope in the presence of our sin and its results.
Do we find ourselves in a divorce situation? God’s sovereign power and grace are greater.
Do we find ourselves single parents with children resulting from our fornication? God’s sovereign power and grace are greater.
Do we find ourselves married to an unbeliever because of an act of disobedience in our past? God’s sovereign power and grace are greater.
Do we find ourselves remarried for Biblically non-valid reasons? God’s sovereign power and grace are greater.
God’s grace transcends our sin and our situation. No matter what our sin, no matter what undesirable situation it has resulted in, God can and will still use us in that situation. God can and will still be glorified in that situation. God can and will use for his glory children born through our sin. Whatever our situation, whatever the sin that caused it, let us trust in his transcendent grace and commit to glorifying him by the way we live in that situation.
J. CRITICAL QUESTIONS
Critical questions for each Christian to answer in the current social climate are:
Is God’s word absolute? Are there absolute moral standards?
What is the Biblical standard concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage?
When is remarriage permitted by the Bible?
Is there life after divorce for a Christian?
Should the Christian enter marriage, like many non-Christians do, anticipating the marriage will fail?
How biblical is your understanding?
Below are listed some common attitudes to issues relating to marriage, divorce, remarriage and separation. How would you respond if a Christian friend or relative said these things to you? What could you say in support of the Biblical mindset? Try to validate your answers with Scripture verses.
‘We don’t love each other any more, so we’re going to get a divorce.’
‘She just doesn’t turn me on! But I’ve found someone who does.’
‘We’ve just got nothing in common any more. We’re going our separate ways.’
‘We’re getting married … if it doesn’t work out we’ll get a divorce.’
‘I love her; but if she needs to be free to fulfil her destiny I’ll let her go.’
‘”Till death do us part” – that’s old-fashioned man!’
‘But everybody gets married again …’
‘She deserves someone nice after all the trouble she had with her first husband.’
‘But we weren’t Christians when we got married. God didn’t join us together, so it’s okay to divorce.’
‘I just can’t forgive her … not knowing she spent the weekend with him.’
‘She’s just so immature, so irresponsible, I can’t handle it any more.’
‘I’ve got to stay with him, no matter how much he beats me up.’