“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. But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 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. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:10–16, NASB95PARA)
Paul had just finished saying that if the single person or the widow wanted to marry they were free to do so. In today’s passage he turns his attention to those who are already married and deals with the issue of remaining, divorce and even remarriage. This is a longer passage which represents only a portion of what Scripture has to say on the subject. Knowing that this is an important issue in our culture and recognizing that even within the church Christians are often ill-informed on what God’s Word has to say the leadership of Calvary Crossroads where I worked with them to prepare a document on the subject for the congregation. Rather than rewriting what came out of a great deal of studying, talking, praying and even giving and taking with each other in some difficult areas, what follows is a portion of that resulting document that deals specifically with these verses.
“Divorce is not God’s plan for man and woman. Yet it does happen. Husbands and wives abandon their spouses either to join in another relationship or to be free of the one they were in. They leave because they don’t feel like living together anymore or because they just don’t feel what they once felt. There are numerous reasons given for divorce. But we need to be careful as Christians to never fall into these traps and to carefully guard the treasured oneness relationship that God has granted husbands and wives.
“So important is this for Christians to remember that the Apostle Paul instructs two Christians who are married to one another and who may be having conflict in their marriage that they do not have God’s permission to leave or divorce one another unless one spouse has committed the actual act of adultery. But if one does leave, neither of them have the freedom to marry another. We read in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, “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, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.” There may be times when the conflict between couples becomes so great that there is no peace in the home. Because of the hardness of both of their hearts, they are blinded to the principles of forgiveness and the sacredness of marriage. At those times, if they leave, separate, or even formally divorce one another, God says that they both must remain unmarried for the purpose of leaving the door open for reconciliation. God wants each Christian spouse to be willing to work through the tough times, waiting upon His enablement, even if only one spouse is willing to try (1 Peter 3:1-2, which is true for both husbands and wives). It is here again that the love and grace of God are really put to the test. Jesus clearly set our example (1 Peter 2:21-25), and God is immensely faithful to see us through all of our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13).
“There is another instance in Scripture where divorce is clearly permitted, and that is in the case of an unbelieving spouse leaving or “abandoning” a believing spouse (abandonment refers to an actual geographical leaving and not, for example: failing or even refusing to financially support, sleeping in separate rooms, or a lack of physical or emotional intimacy). In 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 we read that the believing spouse is not to send or even drive his or her unbelieving spouse away, but rather is to live with that spouse in an agreeable fashion. However, should the unbelieving spouse leave of his or her own volition then the believing spouse is to consent to the leaving and then even be free to remarry at a later date.
[Not included in the document text is a consideration of verse 16, where we read, “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16, NASB95PARA) This passage points back to the unbelieving spouse and it deals specifically with the individual who refuses to let the unbeliever go believing that he or she was God’s instrument to save their unbelieving spouse. Paul wrote that the salvation of another is not within our power. Salvation is a gift of God and it is His Spirit who does the work. The believing spouse is freed to let the unbelieving spouse go knowing that ultimately his or her salvation is really in God’s hands and not their own.]
“Scripture does say in certain circumstances that a believer is no longer under bondage to his/her previous spouse and is free to remarry, but this does not apply to all divorce situations.
“In both the case of a divorce as a result of sexual immorality and that of an unbelieving spouse leaving, the remaining person is no longer bound by the marriage covenant and is subsequently free to remarry. This is also true of the widow or widower. It is important to note that being free to remarry is not in itself an instruction to remarry, but merely the granting of permission to do so without sinning.
“While we recognize that there are passages in the Bible which grant the freedom to remarry, we also need to be clear that Scripture does not extend this freedom to everyone, as we just saw in 1 Corinthians 7:11. Here the focus is clear; Christians are to remain pure to their marriage covenant before God and wait on Him to see what He might do to restore the relationship.
“In situations where restoration is no longer possible due to the death of one of these divorced believers or by one entering into another relationship either by marriage or some other means, then a remarriage might be permitted for the other. But then much time should be spent considering what work God has done in the life of the one who brought about the divorce, considering how his or her relationship with God has changed, and what other consequential steps might need to be taken if and before remarriage might be in conformity with Scripture as understood by the leadership of Calvary Crossroads Church [preparers of this document.
“It is important to remember that Christ did not die for those who were perfect, but He died for sinners. If you find that you have violated a teaching of Scripture related to this topic your response should be no different than it is to any other sin you have committed. Start by admitting to God the wrong that you have done before Him, thanking Him for His forgiveness, and committing to walking right with Him from this point forward. 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is true of our individual sins and of those sins we commit with others. His forgiveness extends to all who seek Him and put their trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. From there prayerfully consider what steps to restoration and/or restitution God might have you take with others who might have been involved or affected by your sin.
“So, even if your marriage is off to a bad start or you did something harmful to your marriage, remember that God is the one who is faithful to complete His good work that He started in each of us. Submit yourself to Him and follow Him with your whole heart, and you will find as the writer of Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Even a marriage that started wrongly is a marriage, and we must always remember that divorce is not in God’s plan for His people. He knows how to straighten out that which we have made crooked, and He is more than able to help us deal with the consequences.” [section except from Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage, A Consideration of Biblical Truth prepared by the Elders of Calvary Crossroads Church, Grants Pass, Oregon]
The purpose of including the text excerpt was both to express a significant understanding of the passages as well as express the grace and forgiveness of our God. If you are going through a difficult season and are desiring to speak with someone in greater detail I would encourage you to contact the pastor of your church. But never let the words of men ever replace your individual responsibility to look into God’s Word, hide it in your heart, and prayerfully study and think on it throughout the day. Between your own study, your listening to God through His Word, and seeking wise counsel I pray that you will be strengthened in your situation.
“There are times when we all need help, and God has placed us in a body of believers in order that we might find some of that help in times of need. Proverbs 1:5 tells us, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.””