Tag Archives: divorce

Letter to Remina

Dear Remina (not her real name). I understand your concern because today many people including believers, have various reasons for their actions, some trivial, others most dreadfully serious and some even life-threatening. Discernment is needed. Every case is different. All effort must be made to bring about reconciliation by God’s grace. God is for us and for stable and holy marriage. Yet that is not always possible.

And I agree with you there are “terrible situations of domestic violence that seem insane to remain in”. That’s why I say Christian leaders have to treat people with compassion and grace rather than simply washing their hands and dismissing people with an authoritative dogma.

Yes, as you say, in the John 4 story “Jesus didn’t say ‘go divorce your current husband’. She was not a Jew yet she showed fruits of repentance by witnessing for Jesus to all the townsfolk! But there is no suggestion that she had to divorce her current husband. In fact if she had divorced her current husband she might have continued to wreak havoc and confusion by breaking yet another covenant, another “one-flesh” union, destroying another home.

The Bible teacher you quoted sounds very correct. But in that article he leaves a lot left unsaid. The Pharisees took pride in “being logically and biblically correct”. But Jesus said to them “I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) He is for the powerless, the needy, the broken. “A bruised reed he will not break; and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20)

“Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1) “If I have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13)

In marriage, we are told to strive for peace (1 Corinthians 7:15). Much damage is often already done. We are under the New Covenant and God writes His words on our hearts. Certainly grace is not lawlessness.

With divorce, marriage has ended, the covenant is broken. This is not what God wants but it happens and nothing humans can ever do can change it. All we can do, as with many awful sins like abortion, wicked slander, vicious verbal abuse, etc, is to determine never to repeat them.  If we go on repeating sin we are living in darkness, slaves to sin. Is it really that okay to tell someone to go and undertake another divorce, to ‘put asunder’ again?

This subject is complicated and cannot be reduced to simple dogmatic assertions.

If we think we can make up for our sin by works, great sacrifices—for example, by the traumatic ending of another marriage, it may be just seeking to justify ourselves like the Pharisees both ancient and contemporary. This will not lead to freedom, but confusion, disruption, condemnation, guilt will remain. We cannot justify ourselves. Jesus has made the sacrifice for us, become sin for us. At great cost.

I agree “True repentance is not verbal admission only; one must cease or at least try to refrain from continuing in a sin in order to claim biblical repentance.”  But righteous action will depend on individual circumstances.

So in one situation, S Paul advised “if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Corinthians 7:15). He added “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them”(7:20). So how do we apply that to each situation?

And privately, Jesus’ disciples were stunned  by Jesus’ simple statement about divorce: “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” But Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given”. (Matthew 19:11)

The believer in a second marriage must be determined never to repeat known sin in any of its forms. And how can that be done if he or she is told to go and destroy another marriage? Especially a marriage that has the peace, the blessing of God upon it and both have married “in the Lord” and are committed to His kingdom and then by ‘putting asunder’, the other would be destroyed.


Marriage is God’s amazing design and reflects the heavenly fellowship of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. In His eyes, marriage is intended for life, not to be ended by human will.

Marriage is essential for the well-being of all peoples, the stability of societies and the guarantee of generations to come.

To God, marriage is so important, that He is more than willing to work in us by His amazing grace and power to sustain marriages and restore broken relationships. God loves us and wants us to be clean, to determine to make righteousness work. He is for us and “if God be for us who can be against us?” Romans 8.

Yes. If there has been adultery, the marriage covenant has been destroyed. It is done. Against God’s design. That cannot be changed by anyone. Divorce follows—a formality that follows something that has already passed away—a covenant now broken by adultery, by cruelty or by physical or virtual desertion of the unbeliever.

Adultery, fornication and divorce are things we humans, Christians and non-Christians alike, can do that cannot be undone by us or by anyone on earth.

Consider the religious, God-fearing people gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and hearing Peter’s powerful address. They were ‘cut to the heart’ by his words, stricken by the sudden realisation they were implicated in the murder of their Messiah, God’s Messiah! How awful! How could such an evil be committed?  What could be done now? How could such a deed ever be forgotten, forgiven? Surely this must be the unforgivable sin—to kill God’s beloved Son!

They cried out in utter despair What shall we do?

Peter boldly and without hesitation simply answered “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  ” And they did. A new world community began (Acts 2:38-42).

It doesn’t matter what we have done, when we turn to God, totally changing our minds and hearts and actions regarding our wrongdoing, unable to blot out any past, powerless to cover up anything before the eyes of the Living God who made everything and from whom no secrets are hidden—we are then cleansed, washed, forgiven, made new, given righteousness as a free gift! We go, determined to sin no more. That is repentance. Real repentance brings forth fruit.

So when we see we have done wrong before God, we likewise must completely change our thinking and will and desire only to please Him. And we receive His peace, His justification. Such wrongs—cruelty, rejection, hatred, adultery, divorce, lust, rebellion, independence,  are now in the past, and we move on in newness of life, walking in the light of His word and in the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

There is only one totally unforgivable sin and it is not divorce, adultery or fornication! (Matthew 12:31-32)

Believers are never told by God that they have to do something to make up for their sin. On the contrary God blots out our iniquities (Acts 3:19) and he remembers them no more (Heb 10:17). We are reconciled by the death of His son (Heb 2:17, 2 Cor 5:16-21).  There is nothing we can do to change the situation except to love Him!

Jesus “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins . . . . . . For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:12-14).

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:8-10)


I am writing this because I know of some Christian leaders who instruct divorcees who have since remarried another, to separate from their second partner, causing much turmoil and guilt for many, especially women–not surprisingly. This is wrong.

Sure, we must not treat any sin lightly. God hates divorce and true repentance and humility is necessary. Let us beware of self justification which is deadly! But neither should we turn hurting, confused and distressed people away with harsh words not seasoned with gentleness, love and grace, leaving them condemned and without peace.

So what about the situation where one of the married partners is not a believer? Let’s look at this matter and how the apostle Paul deals with this In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7, beginning at verse 12  . . . . .

But to the rest I—not the Lord—say, if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she agrees to live with him, let him not leave her.  The woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he agrees to live with her, let her not leave her husband.

Paul admits he has no word from Jesus here—he finds it necessary here to go beyond Jesus’ words.

The word ‘agrees’ in verse 12, is the Greek suneudokei  The NKJV has ‘is willing’ but the original word carries the idea of a mutual agreement (the prefix sun means ‘together’). Paul’s theme of gender equality /mutuality—so radical in the Ancient World— that we see in verses 2 to 5 of this section is continued here and also in the next statements of Paul . . . .

V14. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.

In a peaceful household the unbelieving partner is blessed indeed. Paul expresses the hope here which he repeats again in verse 16: For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?  The unbelieving partner who remains has the best opportunity to be saved along with the children.

V15. Yet if the unbeliever departs, let there be separation. The brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us in peace.

Paul recognises that some will opt out. The words ‘departs’ and ‘separation’ comes from chōrizō, and is translated ‘put asunder’ in Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9.  Men and women can put asunder what God intends to be permanent. Technically this means the deserted spouse who remarries commits adultery! Yet Paul appears to say here that wilful desertion by the unbelieving one sets the other party free.  That can only mean ‘free to remarry’ though Paul’s ‘best’ is to remain single.

The Greek word dedoulōtai translated ‘under bondage’ comes from douloō, ‘to enslave’. It is a much stronger word than the word Paul uses for marriage in verses 27 and 39 and in Romans 7:2. Paul thus advises freedom for the deserted Christian believer rather than continuing enslavement in a difficult union. Can two walk together unless agreed?

Paul sees God’s calling to peace as an important matter. There is no sanctification or peace in a household of chaos, or enmity, of fighting and brutality. The believer is not bound to the unbeliever if he or she leaves.

Christians must not by their advice, commit someone to suffer a ‘marriage’ in a lifestyle of slavery. Such a marriage is no marriage at all. God has called us to peace, insists Paul (verse 15).

If Paul can encourage enslaved people to be free from slavery (see verse 21), surely a battered wife or an enslaved husband may take this opportunity to be set free and is free to marry in Christian community without condemnation.

It is clear that a marriage between a believer and an unbelieving monster is contrary to the spirit and intent of God’s calling of peace in marriage—a clear case of the need to depart from an unequal yoke (2 Corinthians 6).

Paul is silent about the impossible situations which many traumatised women find themselves locked in today, many of whom are such committed believers that divorce is the very last resort, even when they are suffering unimaginable abuse and the children are in constant physical, psychological and/or moral danger.

If it is better to marry than to burn, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians here (see verse 9), then surely it is better to un-marry than to daily face threats, cruelty, beatings, enslavements, and even death.

In all situations, the believer must humbly seek the Lord and wait on God for wisdom which is promised freely.

Beware deception of attempting to justify oneself!  We are justified only, entirely, and to the uttermost, by Jesus’ death.

To be continued . . . . .


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 . . . . .


Hey, what a hugely relevant matter this is! And how very complicated it can be. And so many voices! So firstly allow me to share thoughts on Jesus’ answers put to him by the Pharisees and his bottom line to his disciples in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10.

Vs 2-4. Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  He answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written to divorce her.”

The context for this question was the ongoing discussion among the Pharisees regarding “for what cause can a man divorce his wife?” Rabbi Shammai’s tradition said “for no cause except adultery” and Rabbi Hillel’s “for any cause”. Big debate.

Vs 5-9. But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female.  For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Jesus takes the matter back to Genesis 1-2, God’s original plan, long before Moses and his ‘concession’ (repeated by Jesus in Matthew 5:31-32) and concludes bluntly that no one should separate those joined by God. That is sin.

Can we ask what circumstances, if any, exist when God has NOT joined two together? And then can man put then asunder? Are two gay men joined by God? Are two pagans joined together by God? What if two come together in lust for erotic, no holds barred experiences? Are two who write up a contract to legalise what happens in the event of divorce, really joined together by God?  What about one who has sex with a prostitute? What about a woman who is raped? Is she obliged to marry her aggressor? And what if one attempts marriage having had a previous sexual encounter? (see Deut. 22:13−21 and Matthew 1:18-25). Just asking! This is a complicated subject and one which we are not always given clear scriptural direction. In such cases we need to hear from God humbly and without trying to justify ourselves.

10-12.  In the house, his disciples asked him again about the same matter.  He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife, and marries another, commits adultery against her.  If a woman herself divorces her husband, and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus flatly and emphatically overthrew Moses’ tradition in his reply to his disciples. In Moses a woman cannot give her husband a bill of divorce. But for Jesus, neither spouse can divorce the other—he treats the wife and husband equally!

The gospel of Jesus brings with it forgiveness, grace, mercy. He welcomed ‘sinners’ but castigated the ‘righteous’. He did not condemn the Samaritan woman (John 4)—he did not say “divorce your current husband” but “drink the water I will give you”. He said to the condemned woman taken in the act of adultery “I don’t condemn you. Go and don’t sin anymore”.

In that dramatic story (John 8), Jesus wrote on the ground. Some think he wrote the 7th commandment re adultery. The context is Jewish and Mosaic. But Paul insists in his letters we are not under the Ten Commandments. Instead we are no longer to live in sin, not because we are under commandments, but because Jesus sets us free from the bondage, the enslavement of sin and we are under grace and now married to another. We are now under a New Covenant.

I cannot see Jesus saying to divorcees who are truly repentant of their sin but now remarried, “Divorce your second spouse”. I can see him saying instead, “I don’t condemn you. Go and don’t sin anymore”. There are things done which cannot be reversed e.g, abortion, murder, rape, divorce, adultery, illicit sex. These cannot be undone. But they can be repented of, renounced and left behind in the gospel. “Go and do not sin again”. David and Bathsheba comes to mind—Jesus’ ancestors!

Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor 6:9-11

A covenant can be broken. Moses smashed the 10 commandments, Israel broke God’s covenant (Jeremiah 31:31, Ezekiel 16:59) and God was said to have given adulterous Israel a bill of divorce (Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:8, Hosea 2).

Christian leaders have a responsibility to present the Gospel of grace to those broken, hurting and traumatised by a dominating, cruel spouse. They must not simply deal with people like the Pharisees did, by absolute commands supported by isolated texts dragged out of their Judean or Greco-Roman context, resulting in the imputing and retaining of their sin.

To direct one to remain married to a person who destroys the marriage covenant by repeated unfaithfulness, enslavement, serial illicit sex, constant abuse and the like is also contrary to the spirit of Jesus.

to be continued . . .  . .