Christians who advise or instruct those divorced and since remarried to separate from their second partner are in danger of imputing sin on them, which is grievously wrong. Such a direction has caused much distress, turmoil and guilt for thousands.
OK, we must not treat any sin, lightly (and God hates divorce). But neither should we legalistically turn people away, condemned and without peace, without the Gospel, quoting biblical statements out of context or without gentleness.
In First Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul deals with several scenarios. He first addresses those believers who are not married. It is important to remember that Paul is addressing believers exclusively and not pagans. Like Paul, we believers have no instructions for the pagan, ‘anything goes’ lifestyles of the society we find ourselves ministering into. We are to call people to repentance and faith in Jesus, to proclaim the Kingdom of God and salvation. Paul wrote . . .
V8. But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am.
Paul in this section of his letter keeps coming back to the ideal of singleness. He is writing in distressful times—see verses 26 to 35 and wishes people to stay unattached and not distracted by the responsibilities of marriage—to be single as he is, for “the time is short”.
V9. But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry. For it’s better to marry than to burn.
Paul prefers they remain single in the present situation, but he does not have a negative view of marriage. He goes on . . . . .
V10-11. But to the married I command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife not leave her husband, but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband not leave his wife.
Paul has additional content for the married woman from the Master—if she ‘departs’ she should remain unmarried (agomos) or otherwise be reconciled with the husband. The word ‘leave’ and ‘departs’ comes from the Greek chōrizō, ‘to put asunder’ which suggests that the wife was separated or ‘put asunder’ by the husband rather than the wife initiating the separation—the passive voice of the verb suggests this.
The husband, unlike his wife, is not specifically required to remain single if she departs, but we could assume that would be Paul’s preference. We also note that Paul speaks against the husband separating from his wife.
In the Ancient World women were generally forbidden to divorce. And perhaps that was a factor in Paul’s thinking. But the bottom line for Paul was that everyone, male or female, is better off single, if the situation allows for that. Again, the “present distress” drives Paul’s concerns.
But should it drive ours? Some would reply YES! Current news shows the world fast descending into chaos. Many Christians would agree with Paul’s words For the time is short. The Holy Spirit must drive our concerns and decisions.
Would Paul have anything different to say to us in our 2016 domestic circumstances while still maintaining the high and holy view of marriage we find in the scriptures? And what seems good to the Holy Spirit in these troubled times?
Thus there are a few open-ended situations which believers, who find themselves in similar circumstances to those with which Paul dealt when he answered the questions of the Corinthians in 60 AD. These will have to prayerfully resolved. Any sin or selfish attitude will have to be shunned and forgiveness and peace with God be experienced.
Humility, repentance and the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and the mind of Christ are necessarily called for in all these matters. Self justification must be eradicated in the process. We are all too ready to justify ourselves, aren’t we? He calls us to be holy and to put Him first, above all other considerations and to be conscious only of His righteousness freely given us.
To be continued . . . . .