The Apostle's Teaching re: Divorce
10But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11(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.Commentary
12But 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. 13And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14For 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. 15Yet 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. 16For 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 Cor 7:10-16 NASB)
One striking, unusual feature of this passage is the "not I, but the Lord... I say, not the Lord" language that Paul employs. In using this language, Paul is not asserting that the first part of his teaching is under divine authority while the second part is under his own (lesser) authority. Rather Paul, in referring to the "Lord," is specifically writing about the Lord JESUS; the term "Lord" in the Pauline epistles, especially in instances when Paul is not quoting from the Old Testament, generally refers to the Person of Jesus, in distinction from the Father (see, for example, 1 Cor 8:6). When Paul writes, "Not I, but the Lord," he means to direct his readers to Jesus' teaching re: divorce; Paul basically reiterates His Lord's 'no' in regards to divorce. If a couple does get divorced (one can think of some highly unusual situations in which divorce would seem the only option), then they should either remain unmarried or be reconciled.
[I would argue, primarily based on the teaching of Jesus, but also on some other considerations, that once one member of the formerly married couple has either re-married-- in disobedience to the biblical command-- or has begun engaging in sexual immorality-- one thinks of the situation in which one former spouse moves in with his or her girlfriend or boyfriend-- then the other person is free to remarry: see the article from John MacArthur HERE.]
Hard Sayings of the Bible notes:
Thus, after appealing to the direct teaching of Jesus regarding the sanctity and permanence of marriage as intended by the Creator, Paul goes on... to apply the implications of that divine intention to the complex situation of marriages between believers and unbelievers. The thrust of the passage makes it difficult, if not impossible, to assume that Paul intended his words to convey a lessened sense of authority. (591)Sometimes Bible teachers speak or write as if Paul is adding an additional exception to Jesus' prohibition of divorce: i.e., the idea that, 'Jesus prohibits divorce except for immorality, whereas Paul adds *abandonment* as a reason that a couple may get divorced.' Notice, though, that in verses 10-13 Paul is directing couples to stay together in the first place and to seek reconciliation if a divorce does take place. Just as Jesus primarily addresses those who may initiate divorce, Paul addresses believers, and tells them not to get divorced from their unbelieving spouses, so that both the spouses and their children may receive some benefit of sanctification through the believer.
However, Paul answers a specific question not raised in the earlier Gospel text: i.e., 'what if my unbelieving spouse, who does not care about the teachings of the Lord and His apostles, initiates a divorce against me?' Paul counsels: "let him [the unbelieving spouse, seeking a divorce] leave." In other words: do not engage in a long, drawn out battle of emotions and law trying to prevent the divorce from occurring; instead, act in a peaceable, Christlike manner so that you may become a means by which God saves your [former] spouse.
Application: The Need for Biblical Church Discipline
The text under consideration speaks about believers with unbelieving spouses. The situation becomes much more ambiguous, however, when the person leaving his spouse claims to be a believer. And this is where biblical church discipline is so desperately needed. The New Testament consistently assumes-- from Jesus' statements about wolves in sheep's clothing and "by their fruit you will recognize them" (Matt 7) in the first New Testament book to the warnings in Revelation about false teachers in the last New Testament book-- that some people in the congregation will claim to be believers, and even reach positions of leadership, yet they will turn out to be unbelievers. In the matter of divorce, a professing believer may choose to disregard 1 Cor 7:11b (i.e., "that the husband should not divorce his wife"). In doing so, he has sinned against his sister in Christ, and the discipline process outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20 should begin. If the professing brother remains unwilling to listen to correction once the full discipline process is completed, then he should no longer be considered a brother, but should "be to [the Church] as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt 18:17); in this case, it becomes clear that the abandoned Christian spouse was married to an unbeliever, and therefore she [or he, if the situation is reversed] is to seek wisdom from 1 Cor 7:12-16.
[P.S. The person who has undergone the process of church discipline to its fullest extent may still object and say, "Well, I know in my heart that I am still a Christian," but such a one should consider the words of Jesus to His Church Matt 18:18, properly translated, "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." In context, the purpose of Jesus' words is to assure His followers that when His teaching regarding the discipline process has been carefully followed, the decision of the Church concerning the wayward member's spiritual state is reflective of God's view of the situation.]
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