1st Corinthians 7:10,11 – Paul’s Underlying Theology on Marriage and Divorce
This chapter is so important because it teaches us principles in dealing with intimate relationships. It addresses such issues as celibacy, marriage and separation, mixed marriages, and social and economic relationships. All of these are still issues that we struggle with every day. Let’s take a closer look now at what the Lord tells us through his Apostle to the Gentiles, and the underling theology behind his answer to marriage and divorce.
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Here Paul makes an important distinction. What he is about to say is not his opinion, rather it is the commandment he received from the Lord in scripture. The commandment is that we should not deal treacherously with our spouse. The putting away of a wife for no just cause, and to marry another is one such treachery. It is a violation of the marriage covenant and profanes God himself. (Malachi 2:14-17) Now if he were writing to only Jews, they would likely know this. However, the gentiles may not have been as familiar with the Law or the Commandments. So Paul informs them that it is the will of God that he now speaks. Since they are all now servants of the Lord, compliance with his will is an expectation not an option based on opinion. Interestingly, Paul does not quote scripture or Jesus, this would lead to believe that they were well aware of God’s view of divorce and were seeking a way to justify divorce for certain circumstances that were not written in the law originally. Possibly verse 12 has the underlying reason. Better yet we should look at all of the questions that were asked concerning marriage and how the relationship was affected by the new birth in Christ. Since we are new creatures in Christ and all sin is done away with, and our previous manner of living is to be left behind, does this include our marriages? This is a good question. What of the marriage we had prior to salvation? Are we bound by that contract? If we were married in a relationship that now would be considered sinful, how do we deal with that marriage relationship now? Paul will address these questions in detail later in the letter. What is important at this point is that Paul gives a stern reminder that God does not sanction divorce. For us we can take a look at Mark 10:2-12.
Here in Mark we see that Jesus trains his disciples in the very same way that Paul is teaching his disciples in Corinth. Jesus give the answer to the Pharisees. Jesus tells us that God created a man and a woman to be together, for life. This is the reason that a man should leave his family. They should cleave to one another. The usage of cleave here is to stick to one another. The husband and wife should be stuck with one another because they are stuck on one another. Nothing should separate them. Jesus says that this cleaving is so sealing that they become intertwined. God sees them no longer as individuals, but at one flesh. This is a picture of the triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit = 1 God). So a husband and wife are one person. A couple should not be treated as individuals. They should be viewed, treated, and act like one person. Individuality is lost in the relationship. The Jesus utters those famous words, “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)
Later to his disciples Jesus gives them a deeper explanation. If a man divorces a woman, and marries another wife, then he is guilty of committing adultery against his first wife, and makes the second wife commit adultery. The same is true for the woman who divorces her husband and marries another. (Jeremiah 3:1; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11-12) This is such a spiritual principle that Paul uses it in the letter to the Romans to illustrate the far reaching implications of the Law.
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. –Romans 7:2-3)
This is the will of God; that once a man and a woman have joined together, they should live in that relationship and treat one another as if their spouse were themselves. Anything less is sin. Now this is the truth, if we were to do this simple thing in marriage then we would not have to worry about abuse, infidelity, or simple irritations that grow into a mountains that could never be climbed. If we consider our spouse in the love that God gives us and apply it to one another there would be no need to look elsewhere for gratification, empathy, or compassion and forgiveness. Loving God first and then loving our spouse, as we love ourselves, would not allow us ill feelings towards one another. (Ephesians 5:33) This is very important to understand. This is the principle with which Paul basis the rest of his answer concerning marital issues on.
Astonishingly, if you were to ask Christians if divorce is wrong, they will immediately start defending reasons why it might be legitimate under certain circumstances. They would start the “what if” game, and try to get you to consent to their reasoning. They would totally avoid the simple answer. They will never admit the truth in God’s word, it is not the will of God, but a product of sin in full rebellion against the scriptures. Knowing the truth, Christians still move to divorce rather than repentance and forgiveness.
Keeping in mind the spiritual principle of oneness in God, we should understand that a husband and wife should never sin against one another, and should never have a reason for divorce or separation. Divorce and separation of a married couple is then spiritually unnatural. If such an occurrence should happen then the relationship should be restored as soon as possible. Because of the spiritual principle of reconciliation, neither should they marry someone else as long as the other ex-spouse lives. Christians then and now did not want to hear this. This is why Paul had to make a clear point to this.
If you separate or divorce, do not marry another. Notice also, this enforced celibacy is done so that the husband has no reason to divorce her for sexual immorality. This also infers that the husband does not commit sexual immortality either.(Matthew 19:8-9; Hebrews 13:4; Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Jeremiah 3:1; 1 Corinthians 7:39) We must keep in mind that not all couples separate or divorce for reasons of sexual immorality. Some divorce over issues of finances, work stresses, emotional or psychological issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and some just want a change in their partner out of selfish desires. In scripture, any separation of covenant parties is always meant as a means to allow repentance and reconciliation.
This spiritual principle of reconciliation is seen throughout scripture. It is the basis of our faith. That God so loves us that he gave his only Son that if we should believe on Jesus, then we would be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. (John 3:16). It is also included in Christs and Paul’s instructions of healing of relationships and restoring fallen brothers and sisters.
Scriptures on Reconciliation:
• Ephesians 4:32 – And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
• 2 Corinthians 5:18 – And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
• Matthew 18:15-17 – Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. …
• Romans 5:10 – For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
• Matthew 5:23-26 – Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
• Colossians 1:20 – And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven..
• Luke 17:3 – Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
This spirit of reconciliation is the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How is it that we who profess to being recipients of the love of Jesus Christ, who endured so much for us, cannot forgive one another. We who have had our sinful past removed should see a way to dismiss the past and look forward to the future with hope? The marriage relationship is the most important relationship in life outside of our relationship with Christ. It is so important that God himself uses it as an example of our relationship to him.
God even forgave our adultery against him, and in doing so made a way for us to be reconciled. He did not give up on mankind and just decide to turn his affections to some other creation. Make no mistake, God had every right to divorce us and put us away. Yet his love for us prevented his anger. We should have the same kind of love for our spouse. Love demands reconciliation. Love accepts repentance. Love hopes.