Divorce, Remarriage and Fellowship
of Lesson, December 6, 1998
Hills church of Christ
Intro: A myth has been promoted in many areas about God's teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage (mdr) that it is too difficult to understand, that there is a lack of clarity concerning it, and that there are so many divergent views none can be sure about the actual truth. This is fallacious and a charge against the integrity of the inspired message of God. The Holy Spirit speaks to reveal, not conceal; to edify, not confuse; to unify, not divide. God has revealed the whole truth (Jn. 14; 16); it is understandable (Eph. 3:4; John 8:32), and we are foolish if we don't understand it (Eph. 5:17). Additionally, some claim that "honesty of heart" is a defense for the right of some to hold erroneous views. Being honestly wrong is not a license to teach or fellowship error (Acts 23:1).
The denominational world makes the same charge against other Biblical doctrines as does some of our brethren about mdr. Baptism, the church, instrumental music, imputed righteousness, the Lord's supper, etc., are all controverted subjects with diversity of views. They, too, plead for the right to practice error for the same reasons. Have you never heard: "It doesn't make any difference what you believe if you honestly believe it?" Our brethren are now singing the same denominational tune.
The myth that unity on mdr is not possible arises from those disenchanted with God's law and those wishing to fellowship the ones teaching the error. Seeking to escape the force of God's binding laws, all kinds of loop holes have been developed to do exactly what the Bible condemns: divorce and remarry "for every cause" (Mt. 19:3). The Pharisees did not like Jesus' answer then and some brethren do not like it now.
"Loop Hole Theology" will not change a syllable of truth. Seeking to evade the force of truth and substitute a lie has been the practice of the Devil from the beginning (Gen. 3:4, "You shall not surely die"). But Satan is a liar and all error is a lie, not of the truth (1 Jn. 2:21). Let us be sure that we understand that the various positions which would allow divorce to take place "for every cause" are lies that will send people's souls to hell. We are not talking about academic studies of "ivory tower" issues which are inconsequential. Adulterers have their part in the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8).
Let us emphasize that truth is knowable, teachable and livable in all parts of the world and in every circumstances of life. If that is so, we can know the truth about mdr, understand it, and abide in its blessings.
I. God's Law on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage
"One man, one woman, for life, with one exception"
B. The entire teaching of God's word supports this and every "loop hole" is a challenge to this truth.
C. Note the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels
- Matthew 5:31-32
a. The Law: "Whoever divorces his wife for any reason...causes her to commit adultery"
b. The Exception: "except for fornication"
c. The Law: "Whoever marries a woman who is divorced (put away) commits adultery."
d. No divorced (put away) person can remarry
(1) If put away for fornication, adultery
e. No one is allowed to marry a "put away" person. No exception to this.
(2) If put away for "any reason" (other than fornication)
(3) Only the innocent has a right to remarry; all else commit adultery
- Matthew 19:3-12
a. The Law: "Whoever divorces his wife...and marries another, commits adultery."
b. The Exception: "Except for fornication."
c. The Law: "Whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."
d. Jews had attempted to trap Jesus between two opposing current views (Hillel or Shammai). Jesus avoided the ruse by going back to Genesis.
(1) "From the beginning" (Gen. 2:24)
e. Jews attempt to trap Jesus again by citing the Law of Moses - Deut 24:1ff
(2) No divorce allowed at all at that time
(1) Moses allowed (did not approve - Mal. 2:16) of divorce
(2) Situation: Jews had "hard hearts"
(3) Lived in a "time of ignorance" (Acts 17:30)
(4) No longer allowed under the light of full revelation of truth
- "God's law too hard" (Mt. 19:7-12)
a. Jews react to Jesus' law as "better not to marry" (charge that God's law is too hard to obey)
b. Note: If Jews got what they wanted (divorce for every cause, v. 3), why were they dissatisfied with Jesus' answer?
c. Jesus did not authorize divorce and remarriage except for "the cause of fornication."
d. "A eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake"
(1) Some eunuchs are born in that condition.
(2) Some are made so by men.
(3) Some are such "for the kingdom of heaven's sake." What does this mean?
(4) A "eunuch for the kingdom's of heaven's sake" (in the context of the passage) is one who abides as a celibate, unmarried man, because he understands himself to be unable to be married in accord to God's law. He chooses to abide as an unmarried man in order to go to heaven rather than enter an unlawful marriage and lose his soul.
(5) If men can divorce and remarry "for every cause" and still be right with God, explain the phrase: "a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake."
(6) If divorce and remarriage is permissible for every cause, this statement is non-sense.
- Mark 10:2-12
a. The Law: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her."
b. No exception stated here, but Matthew's accounts supply it.
c. The Law: "If a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
d. Thus, God's law is the same for male or female.
- Luke 16:18
a. The Law: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery."
b. The Law: "Whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery."
a. Adultery is commited by one who divorces and remarries without cause of fornication by his spouse (Mt. 19:9; Mk. 10:11; Lk. 16:18)
b. Adultery is commited against the wife (Mk. 10:11) and with the new spouse (Mt. 19:9)
c. The put away wife is caused to commit adultery when she remarries (Mt. 5:32)
d. The one who marries the put away wife commits adultery (Mt. 5:32; Lk. 16:18).
e. The one who marries the one putting away commits adultery (Mt. 19:9).
f. Clearly, the only one permitted to divorce and remarry is the innocent one who puts away the spouse for the cause of adultery.
II. Fellowship With Error
B. We understand this principle of limited fellowship with other doctrinal sins: institutionalism, instrumental music, premillennialism, etc. An individual or a congregation who extends fellowship in doctrinal error participates in the same sin. Though some local churches adopt sinful practices and other autonomous churches recognize that to be their choice, the sinning church is no longer recognized as a faithful church.
- A pattern - 2 Tim. 1:13; Heb. 9:28.
We are bound by it - 2 Jn. 9-11; Rom. 16:17-18.
We can have no fellowship with those who teach and practice error - 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11; Rev. 21:8.
C. But some are making exceptions and insisting on fellowship with those who teach error on mdr.
D. Our allegiance to truth was tested during the institutional apostasy when many esteemed brethren departed from the truth. Many sacrificed life-long friendships because they loved the Lord more than man. Let us determine to avoid letting personalities become the issue and concentrate on what the Bible teaches. The issue of fellowship with sinful beliefs and practices is larger than any one person and needs to be addressed on its own merits.
- If a congregation decided to fellowship those who teach error on mdr, others are willing to allow it because of "local autonomy." Those who teach the truth and who identify the congregation are accused of "violating local church autonomy."
a. The scriptural principle of local church autonomy is fully recognized.
b. "Church to church fellowship" is denominational in concept. The universal fellowship among saints is individual, not congregational (1 Pet. 5:2; Heb. 12:23).
c. But when an autonomous church goes into apostasy, other saints and congregations can identify that church, warn of its error, and refuse scriptural cooperation with it.
- Some are willing to extend fellowship to another Christian who teaches error if the one doing the teaching is "honest," "an aged and honorable man," a scholar, one known for many good deeds, etc. Plainly, the fellowship issue became attached to the mdr controversy when the views of Homer Hailey became public knowledge.
Public Defense of Homer Hailey by Ed Harrell: "Homer Hailey: False Teacher?" Christianity Magazine, Nov, 1988, p. 326f. Brother Harrell teaches the truth on mdr, has stated that brother Hailey is wrong, but defends fellowship with him even as the soul-damning error of adulterous marriages is taught.
Defense of fellowship with doctrinal and moral differences as it applies to Romans 14: "The Bounds of Christian Unity," Christianity Magazine, Feb. 1989 - May 1990. This series was recently published in a tract, published by Christianity Magazine, indicating agreement by all the editors. No dissent to this series was allowed. This series has been printed in other publications, indicating wide agreement.
Bob Owen preached in a lectureship at Temple Terrace, Fl (Sept. 2, 1993) in which he stated: "I'm talking tonight about fellowship...in the context of a series of discussions on the marriage question." In Concord, NC (Feb. 19, 1995) brother Owen specifically denied that brother Hailey is a "false teacher" saying, "I agree with those people who are critical of him on the Bible teaching with regard to divorce and remarriage, but I differ with them on their interpretation and application of the fellowship issue."
III. Other passages that apply to Divorce and Remarriage issues.
B. The Alien who would come to God
- Divorce was never authorized by God in the Old Testament.
However, divorce was already rampant.
Law of Moses put Jews under the restraints of God's law to impede their practice.
"Writing of divorcement" allowed divorce for "unclean thing."
a. Not adultery (adulterer to be stoned - Dt. 22:22).
b. Not suspicion of adultery - Nu. 5:11-31).
c. "Unclean thing" indicated a weakness of some kind. Compare Gen. 42:9, 12 where spies look for a "weakness" in the land of Canaan.
- Dt. 24 and Mt. 5, 19 are not parallel teachings (Col. 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:6-16).
a. Jesus was not just "straightening out" the abuses of Moses' law among the Pharisees. Dt. 24 and Mt. 5, 19 teach different doctrines.
b. Mt. 5:31-32 "It has been said....but I say" (Mt. 5:32).
c. Jesus is Lawgiver of New Testament.
d. Mt. 4:23: He taught "things concerning the kingdom of heaven."
- Compare other items of Sermon on Mount to show that Jesus' law is not compatible to Moses' Law.
a. Mt. 5:21 - murder vs. anger
b. 5:33 - Swear vs. do not swear
c. 5:38ff - eye for eye vs. turn other cheek
d. 5:43 - hate enemy vs. love enemy
e. 7:21 - enter kingdom of heaven" (not just make better Jews)
- It is wrong to apply this passage to New Testament teaching.
C. Romans 7:1-4
- It is contended that "aliens (non-Christians) are not amenable to law of Christ."
As applied: Those who are not Christians can marry and divorce at will (serial polygamy) and not violate Mt. 5 or 19.
When such multi-married people obey gospel, some mystical marriage ceremony occurs in baptism by which past wives are "washed away" and a "marriage ceremony" takes place.
Fallacies of this view:
(a) Aliens are amenable to Christ - Mt. 28:18-20
(b) Why is it contended that aliens are not amenable to Christ's marriage law but are amenable to other laws (1 Cor. 6:9-11 - fornication, adultery, idolatry, etc.)?
(c) How could Corinthians be guilty of theft, idolatry, etc., ("such were some of you"), listed in this same passage, if not amenable to Christ's laws?
(d) If amenable to laws against stealing, idolatry, then why not amenable to God's marriage law; why were they called adulterers?
- Like all sinners under the gospel of Christ, adulterers had to repent of their sins (Lk. 24:48). Repentance is a "change of mind, followed by a change of life."
As they obeyed the gospel, Corinthians had to stop their adultery, just as they had to stop stealing, lying, worshiping idols.
D. 1 Corinthians 7
- Marriage is controlled by the law of Christ.
Note difference between "married." and "bound."
a. Herod and Herodias were married by civil law.
b. But John condemned their marriage because "it was not lawful" (Mt. 14:1ff). Herodias, married to Herod, was bound to Philip under God's law.
- One may be married to one person but bound by God to another.
Theory: "If one is loosed, both are loosed" is destroyed by this passage.
a. In text, an innocent party is freed from law of God by spouse's adultery.
b. The guilty party is still bound by God's law.
c. The guilty becomes an adulterer if "while her husband lives, she marries another man."
d. Yes, one can "live in adultery" (cf. Col. 3:5-7).
- Note: verse 1, "Now concerning" establishes context and shows answer to their questions.
Happy marriages are considered in verses 1-7.
Unmarried and widows are considered in verses 8-9.
Unhappy marriages are considered in verses 10-11.
a. Note that a divorce had taken place for an unnamed reason.
b. Law of Christ:
(1) Remain unmarried, or
c. Note: If it is right to divorce and remarry for every cause, why can this couple not divorce and marry others? Law of God says, "No," while laws of men say, "Yes."
(2) Be reconciled.
d. The ridiculous position of error:
(1) Some teach that the guilty, put-away fornicator can remarry and still be right with God.
(2) the people in vv. 10-11 have not commited adultery, thus are not permitted the right to remarry.
(3) or both of them needs to commit adultery then both of them can remarry!
(4) insults truth as being harder on the innocent than on the guilty.
- Mixed Marriages (believers married to unbelievers) are considered in vv. 12-16.
a. A true marriage exists in this case, though one is an alien (vs. 14).
b. The unbeliever decided to depart (get a divorce) unless the believer leaves the Lord - v. 15.
c. The believer can permit the unbeliever to depart rather than maintain the marriage and lose Christ.
d. Please note that there is no mention of remarriage in this passage.
e. The believer is not "under bondage" in such cases.
f. Note: Different words for two different kinds of bond
(1) Marriage - "deo" - used here, 7:39 and Rom. 7:2
g. Therefore, this passage is not a "second exception" to Mt. 5, 19 (sometimes called the "Pauline privilege" as though Paul taught something differently from Jesus.
(2) Slavery - "douloo" - (Thayer, 158. Perfect passive indicative, 3rd person singular. The believer is not now nor ever was under bondage [slavery] to the unbeliever so as to give up Christ.)
(3) "Not under bondage" could not refer to the marriage bond because it means "not now or ever" under this type of bondage. But verse 14 shows that there was a true bond in marriage, so it had to be a different type of bond (slavery) that never existed.
h. It is sometimes argued that Jesus did not address mixed marriages so Paul had to in order to complete revelation.
- Jesus did not address "believers and unbelievers" specifically but he did address marriages between "male and female".
Jesus took men back to "the beginning" (Gen. 2) when he "leave father and mother and cleave to wife" (Mt. 19).
But Adam had no father or mother (created by God), therefore God was addressing His universal marriage law.
Jesus referred to this in Mt. 19, thus addressing all men.
His law applies to "whoever" (Mt. 5:32), all men.
- Virgins considered in verses 25-28.
- "Now concerning" - keep the context
Present distress made marriages unwise - vv. 29ff
But if "loosed" (unbound, unmarried, a virgin) and decided to marry, they have not sinned - v. 28.
As applied to virgins, context agrees with rest of Bible.
But, as applied by some to guilty, put-away fornicator, it is a violation of context. They do sin when they marry, but the virgin does not sin if she marries.
God's law is clear: one man, one woman, for life, with one exception.
B. We are to abide in the "doctrine of Christ" (2 Jn. 9).
C. This charges us with the responsibility of refusing fellowship with those who go beyond that doctrine (vs. 10-11).
D. Special treatment is being demanded by some brethren in the desire to extend fellowship to those who teach and practice error.
E. Why is the sin of adulterous marriages or the fellowship of those who contend for adulterous marriages:
F. Why are those who teach error, author books, engage in debates and who aggressively further the cause of error treated with such respect, long-suffering and tolerance? Why are those who teach the truth castigated as "trouble makers," "brotherhood dictators," "watchdogs," "jingoists," etc.? Do we agree on the truth about fellowship with error or not?
- More complex and hard to understand than other doctrinal errors?
Why do some claim a "lack of clarity" on this and not other doctrinal sins?
Why is "honesty of heart" used as permission to extend fellowship to those who teach error?
G. So long as there is tolerance for error and animosity for those who oppose it, the situation is only going to get worse. Divorce is devastating the moral purity of the church. If every brother who is considered a "watchdog" quit preaching on these sins, the sin would still be with us. What are you doing to do about the divorce situation today? What are you going to do about the doctrine of fellowship with sin? Are there any so naive as to believe that the Devil is going to be content with the fellowship-with-sin-issue only as it pertains to adulterous marriages? No, once the principle of fellowship with sin is established, it will spread to other issues. Sin is always progressive. As a popular sermon has taught: "Sin holds you longer than you intended to stay, takes you where you did not intend to go, and costs you more than you intended to pay." This issue is no exception.
H. Given the moral climate of our nation, the rampant divorce rate, tolerance for error in the church and fellowship with those who support error, the church is facing a challenge that matches anything of history.
I. It is time for all those who believe in the sanctity of marriage, the laws of God that govern the home, the purity of the church, and for the sake of future generations yet unborn, that we "contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). It may be that this is a time "out of season," and that truth plainly spoken offends some, but we have no choice but to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1-4). The charge that Paul gave to Timothy is no less our charge, and it is "before God and the Lord Jesus Christ" that we must appear to give answer for how we have attended to our task.
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