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To Stay or Not

To Stay or Not

Words of Faith 6-2-17

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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Study in the Land of the Bible with Dr. and Mrs. Hoy. Two trips available –

December 26, 2017 to January 5, 2018

January 4-13, 2018

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1 Corinthians 7

   [10] To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. [11] But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

   [12] To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. [13] And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. [14] For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

   [15] But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. [16] How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?


       What about married folks? Some marriages in Corinth were in trouble. What's new? Shouldn't such people have a right to be happy? Makes sense. We hear that a lot these days. Paul had already given some marital advice regarding meeting the needs of your spouse. But what about marriages that are in trouble? Perhaps one partner is not a believer and things aren't working out. What about those situations?

       Paul's direction was careful, direct, and from the Lord. As believers, we are commanded not to divorce. We may have very difficult conflicts even as believers but, we are to seek reconciliation and healing. Believers are called to "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). If possible, we are to reconcile as a witness to the love and power of Christ. As believers we have a third partner in marriage, the Lord God. We have strength from beyond ourselves if we will only surrender our pride and hurt to the Lord.

       This does not mean that one should not seek safety in situations where abuse is occurring or danger exists. A woman or man should never stay in a home that is a danger to them or to their children. A believer should never abuse a spouse in the first place! We are called to submit to one another in reverence to Christ, husbands to love his wife as Christ loves the church, and wives submit to her husband (Eph. 5:21-27). If there is sinful abuse or violence between married believers, something is sick and healing counsel must be sought!

       Even when there is great dysfunction in a marriage, divorce is not the automatic answer for believers. The Lord hates divorce but He also hates a covering of violence. Safety must be sought and counsel gained. "I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith" (Malachi 2:16). We are not to cover up violence, return to abuse, tolerate violence, or cover our sin with violence.

       Such a situation often cannot be fixed. But such dysfunction does not mean we have an automatic scriptural right to divorce. Paul seemed even to anticipate even such intolerable situations saying that if a wife were to separate from her husband, she was commanded not to divorce him but rather to seek reconciliation. The same would surely be true for a husband as well. No, this does not mean one returns to a place of violence or abuse or destructiveness without change.

         Why do believers divorce? Often it is the sins of hard-heartedness and unforgiveness that prevent married believers from reconciling (Matt. 19:8). If one or the other will not surrender to the Lord and instead harden their hearts against Jesus, divorce is the likely end. Jesus said that the only circumstance in which divorce is allowed is if the spouse has been unfaithful (Matt. 5:31-32). He did not mandate divorce even in such a situation. If there is repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, God is glorified.

       What about a believer who is married to an unbeliever? Paul forbids that a believer initiate divorce in this situation as well, arguing that a believer "sets apart" the unbelieving spouse and may win that person to the Lord. The believing spouse will likely be used of God in the life of the unbelieving spouse.

       But if an unbelieving spouse deserts the believer, Paul advised that one should let them go. If an unbeliever divorces a believer, there is no control over that and remarriage to another person would be permissible (7:8-9). But every possible effort should be made to reconcile a marriage even to an unbeliever. A believing man or woman is not "bound" in such a circumstance. God has called us to live in peace. There is a time to move on when an unbeliever refuses to reconcile marriage to a believer.

       All of this is say that the patterns, methods and definitions of the world are not what we are to live by as believers. We are empowered and called to a different way of life. The world says that divorce and remarriage is a simple "no-fault" way to find a "soul-mate" and discover "self-fulfillment". Yet the probability of the next marriage ending in divorce increases with every divorce under the belt! If this trial and error method of the world works so well it certainly is not reflected in the statistics. The way of the world if filled with lies.

       As believers who have received the mercy of God's grace, we are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God as our spiritual act of worship. We are not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). Just because we live in a world filled with divorce and remarriage does not mean that we should practice the same. As God renews our minds, we will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

       We are called as believers to take the union of marriage seriously. Marriage reveals the very mystery of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:31-32). Marriage is not a social contract or a system for re-partnering in the various seasons of life. The covenant of one-flesh union between one man and one woman was instituted by God and should be honored, protected and enriched.

         The prophet Malachi pronounced the strong Word and heart of the Lord concerning a casual treatment of the marriage covenant, "Another thing you do: You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, 'Why?' It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel, 'and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,' says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith" (Malachi 2:13-16).

       Father God, give Your people the grace needed to heal and mend rather than separate and divorce. Strengthen the covenants made before Your altar. Give the resources needed to make the journey with a life partner. Give joy to the union of marriage with the spouse of youth. Help Your people to guard their spirits and not to break faith. In Jesus' Name.