150. WHAT THE BIBLE HAS TO SAY ABOUT SINGLENESS, MARRIAGE AND WIDOWHOOD
(The Single Woman Series – Batch 3)
If you are a Christian that has surrendered your life over to Jesus Christ and are serving him daily, whether you are SINGLE, MARRIED or WIDOWED, it is important that you know what God’s will is in relation to your relationship status.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE SINGLE
From my own experience, being single appears to be considered to be taboo by the world in general, families and sadly, by most people in the Church.
As I explained in a previous Article (No. 146), this is the case in the Church because we have taken something good, beautiful and which was made honourable by God and turned it into an ugly idol.
Based on my experience and observations, it appears that Christian women, their significance, their value and the extent of their relationship with God are now, for the most part, measured informally by many in the Church, by their relationship status. There is a loud reverberating applause when a sister becomes engaged and gets married and a non-approving frown when another is considered to be of marriageable age but yet is still single.
The married (including those that are enduring horrible marriages behind closed doors) are regarded as having attained the ultimate level of success in life and those that have never married and are considered to be taking too long to change their status, tend to be viewed by many, as colossal failures.
I will admit, for the most part, that until God renews the way we think, we as singles, have our days and months and years, when we buy in to this lie and view ourselves as failures also. (SEE Article No. 142 where I discuss this issue in detail).
Yet, if we were to spend time studying the Word of God with the objective of thinking the way HE thinks about the subject of our singleness, we would realize that he does not think about our ‘situation’ as the wedding-crazed masses do. This realization would in turn, enable us to think differently.
So then, what exactly does the Bible say about single people and singleness?
Well, I would invite you to turn your Bible to 1 Corinthians 7. This Book and Chapter was written by the apostle Paul, a man who remained single all of his life (although seemingly by choice) and what he wrote with God’s guidance is quite instructive to us.
Before we move on, it is important to make it clear that people have different views in relation to their singleness and single people tend to fall in either of two categories.
Some are single for example, by choice, in that they have decided to spend the rest of their lives unmarried. Since love relationships are geared towards marriage based on God’s design and sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage only, based on God’s command, such persons have decided to forego all of that and to focus solely on their relationship with God, for the rest of their lives.
There is a second category however, where the persons are single but not by choice. This category is where most single women, including myself, belong. For singles in this category, they desire a love relationship, to be married and all the benefits that go with that, yet, no one worth marrying has approached them as yet. Such persons hold out hope that their single status will change (the sooner the better!) and some wait contentedly, while others operate desperately, to their detriment, sometimes changing their status by force, compromising as a result and regretting not waiting on God, in the end.
To the first category of singles, Paul says that those that have made a choice to be single, they are to be commended for their stance. In verse 37, he says: “Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity but hath power over his own will and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.”
In terms of his own view on the matter of singleness, Paul makes it clear that he personally believes that choosing to remain single in life and in so doing, foregoing a love relationship and sexual intimacy with someone, while focusing exclusively on God and his Kingdom business is better than being married. He makes it clear though, as people may have a different opinion on the subject, that this is not a command from God but merely what he has been permitted to speak.
In verse 1 and 7 he says “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman…For I would that all men were even as I myself…”
To the category of single people that desire a spouse however, Paul says in verses 2, 9 and 36, that, to prevent fornication (the sin of pre-marital sex), it is better that such persons marry.
He makes it clear that there are some such single persons that have great difficulty exercising self-control when it comes to sexual desire and so Paul says, that instead of them falling into sin, it is better that they get married, so that they can finally appease their flesh within the parameters of what God permits.
Given that an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and that this is a virtue that all Christians need to develop and strengthen, marrying because of a lack of self-control is of course not a good reason to get married. In my view, Paul is not saying, that it is. He is simply saying, that marrying for sex or to avoid sexual temptation, (while a poor reason to marry) is a better alternative than giving in to and engaging in sexual immorality.
Paul writes in verses 2, 9 and 36:
- “…It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband….I say therefore to the unmarried…It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn…if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.”
Amidst the category of persons who desire a spouse and are not single by choice however, there are two sub-categories worth mentioning, in my view. There are those, who as Paul mentions, operate as if they are on heat and have genuine difficulty in controlling their desire to experience being joined physically with someone of the opposite sex. To such persons ( although they err in their judgment), marriage is mainly about sexual gratification and everything else fades in comparison.
Yet, not every single person who longs for or desires marriage are sexually charged and pent-up. There is a sub-category of singles desiring marriage for companionship, friendship, support, encouragement, to start a family, to experience family life, to grow spiritually and to further their Ministry in this area. Among those persons are persons who, like most normal human beings, desire intimacy and are excited at the prospect of experiencing what it is like to be joined physically to someone of the opposite sex. However, the thought of having sex does not drive them and make them desperate.
Just typing these words makes my own heart flutter because it is an exciting prospect and I do have a desire to completely experience the beautiful act of sexual intimacy. In fact, there are days when I long to be in a man’s arms and the recipient of a million kisses.
However, offering my body to a man is not my main focus when it comes to wanting to get married, although it is definitely one of the factors. I also do not walk around, as far as I am aware, sexually charged and therefore, tempted to give my virginity to a man outside of marriage.
This sub-category of singles, of which I am included, desire marriage but do not walk around uncontrollably, thinking of sexual appeasement all of the time. We see the many benefits in marriage, both spiritual and natural and we desire to experience all of it.
What does Paul have to say about such persons? What advise does he give to the sub-category of singles (like myself) who desire sex yes but it is not their main and overwhelming focus when they say they desire marriage?
While it does not appear that Paul addresses such persons specifically (he only really specifically mentions the sex-crazed single individuals), he does indicate thankfully, how all persons, irrespective of the situation they find themselves in, should regard their single status.
Whether a person is single by choice or single and desiring marriage due to difficulty in controlling sexual urges or for additional reasons, Paul reminds us that nothing and no situation that we find ourselves takes place, without God allowing it. He reminds us that God is in control and wherever we may find ourselves on the relationship wavelength, it did not take God by surprise but instead, given that he has allowed it, our situation is where God has allowed us and therefore, called us to be.
In some cases, this call is temporary but in other cases it is not just for a season but for the rest of their lives.
Irrespective of how people tend to feel about singles and how we sometimes feel about ourselves, Paul urges us to be content in that state and to make no attempts to try to get out of it of our own volition, even if being single hurts. He encourages us to abide in whatever state God has called us in, whether for a season or a lifetime, to remember that God is in control and to focus on serving him in it.
If we do so, we give God and not our own desires, the preeminence and we allow him to work things out as he sees fit, whatever that may be, for our good and his glory.
Paul states that whatever our relationship status, it is not random or coincidental but a call of God and therefore, irrespective of how we feel about it, it is a gift, that we can use to bring glory to God and his Kingdom.
Some have a gift after the manner of singleness and others a gift, after the manner of marriage. Some are even called, in their marriages, to stay with spouses that are not Christians, even where those marriages are dysfunctional because in doing so, they bring glory, not to themselves but to God.
In verses 7 and 17-24 Paul states:
- “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that…But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.”
To further expand on his point, Paul talks about other statuses such as ‘circumcision’ versus ‘uncircumcision’ and the status of a ‘servant’ versus a person that is ‘free’. He emphasizes the point that all statuses in life, wherever or in whatever situation we find ourselves in, it is God’s calling on our lives and we should therefore contentedly serve him to the best of our ability in it and not try to get out of it.
In doing so, if God decides in his wisdom and according to his plan, to change our situation, then so be it but the emphasis of the scripture is that we should not try to change it for ourselves.
Paul states that the end of the day, what is most important and in fact, more important than life’s statuses and situations is our obedience to God. If our status should change therefore, Paul is saying, let it be the Lord’s choice to do so.
He therefore disapproves of anxiety and desperation which are opposite to being content in the will of God for our lives, whatever that may be.
When we are content to abide patiently and obediently in whatever situation or status we find ourselves in life, when we serve God faithfully wherever we are called and realize that, irrespective of how we may feel and the pain that we may sometimes endure, that where we have been called is a gift from God with whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning, then we leave it up to God to change our status, if and when he so desires.
For some, he does, thereby taking them from one calling and gift to another, whereas for others, it is his desire that they remain in that situation throughout their lives.
- “Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant…Brethren let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”
FOR THOSE WHO ARE MARRIED
The same principle of remaining content and abiding in the call, applies to those that are married. It includes those that are in an unequally yoked relationship due to their own disobedience or deception or due to a situation where they became a believer after the marriage, while the other remained in darkness.
Just like singleness is a gift and a call (no matter how painful it may sometimes be), marriage is also a gift and a call (no matter how difficult things may get).
I would like to note though that in Christianity, there are two categories of married people. The first is a couple where both parties are Christians and the second is a couple where only one party is a Christian.
Thankfully, the Bible gives guidance on what God wants a married Christian person to do in both situations, whether the marriage is really good, average or nightmarish.
Let’s take a look.
(i) Where both parties are professing Christians
One would expect that in a marriage where both persons claim to know Christ as Lord and Saviour, it would be phenomenal. However, in reality, this is not always the case.
In fact, sad to say, there are many Christian marriages that are dysfunctional because one or both parties refuse to properly submit to the Lordship of Jesus and what he has stated in his Word about marriage, in their marriage.
What should a Christian couple do therefore, when their problems have escalated to the point where they feel like they can no longer stand each other or one wants out of the marriage?
What the Bible says about divorce
Well, in Matthew 5: 31-32 (KJV), when comparing the law under the Old Covenant which applied to the Israelites with what he was now commanding under the New Covenant to the Church, Jesus said:
- “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
Based on this statement, Jesus made it unequivocally clear, that the only justifiable or excusable reason in God’s eyes for putting away or divorcing a spouse was if that spouse committed fornication. He makes it clear that when a person divorces a spouse for any other reason, if that divorced spouse then enters into a relationship with someone else and/or remarries someone else, he or she will be guilty of adultery.
Additionally, the person who divorced the spouse in the first place will be held by God as culpable, for causing that person to enter into an adulterous relationship. Further, the innocent third party who marries the divorced person, will also be regarded by heaven as an adulterer because in that so-called new ‘marriage’ (which God does not recognize), he has had sexual relations with someone who is still considered to be married in God’ eyes.
Some versions of the Bible omit some of what Jesus said in these verses and I firmly believe that this was deliberately done, so as to make the idea of remarriage (which is clearly wrong from Jesus’ words) more palatable to those who wish to indulge in this sin.
Some people lament the fact that in a world where there are so many issues in marriage, Jesus gave fornication as the only reason that entitled a person to get a divorce.
Of a truth, Jesus could have given a variety of reasons whereby a person would be justified in divorcing their spouse but yet, in his wisdom, he gave only one. As difficult as this may be for us to accept, we are not wiser than Jesus. He created us, this world belongs to him, he was fully aware of all of the other marital problems that exist and would exist and he STILL cited fornication as the only reason he would accept, as justifying a divorce.
Irrespective of how we feel about this, therefore, because Jesus Christ is Lord and all-wise, we have no choice, if we say we are serving him, to accept it. To reject it and do our own thing would mean that we are rebelling against his command and serving ourselves and our flesh and how we feel, not him.
Additionally, some people try to change the word ‘fornication’ that was used by Jesus, into ‘adultery’ or to state that he meant them to be used interchangeably. They do this because they want to get out of their marriage when a spouse has committed infidelity inside the marriage. Yet, the Lord does not make mistakes or confuse what he is saying or forget to say what he intends to say.
He is Lord and he is perfect. Whatever he says is both deliberate and perfectly said, without any error.
It is clear, in my view, that he did not intend fornication to be used interchangeably with the term adultery, as they are two different things. Fornication refers to sexual immorality with someone before marriage and adultery refers to sexual immorality with someone, while in the marriage.
In verse 32, he uses both terms. He states that ‘fornication’ is the only reason to put away one’s wife and that if a wife has been divorced for any other reason, if she remarries, both she (even if she was a victim) and her new husband have committed ‘adultery’.
What are we to glean from the term ‘fornication’ that was deliberately used by Jesus therefore and how is it relevant to a married couple?
Well, given that fornication means pre-marital sex, if Jesus was referring to the sin of pre-marital sex (as appears to be the case), he was saying that putting away a spouse was only permissible where that spouse committed fornication (not adultery).
How is that possible? Well, it is clear based on Israelite culture (the context out which the Bible emerged), that an engagement was considered to be an irreversible step, unless it was discovered that the woman had been either unfaithful during the engagement or possibly before the engagement, so that she was not a virgin.
This was evident in the story of Joseph and Mary in Matthew 1.
The Bible states in verses 18 that they were espoused or engaged to be married but Mary was found to be pregnant. In verse 19, although they had not yet officially tied the knot, Joseph is referred to as her ‘husband’. In verse 20 when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to explain what had happened, he referred to Mary as Joseph’s ‘wife’ and she is again referred to as his ‘wife’ in verse 24, although she was still his fiancé at that point.
This account therefore demonstrates how important engagements were viewed back then and that the parties were practically considered to be husband and wife pending the marriage ceremony and the subsequent consummation. Had Mary been unfaithful (which she had not been), she would have been guilty of fornication during the engagement period and the Bible states that Joseph, who thought that she had been unfaithful was considering how to “…put her away…” without her being made a public example.
Based on this, the term ‘put away’ therefore does not just mean divorce (which is the topic Jesus was specifically referring to) but ending an engagement with someone where the parties have not yet married.
Given though, that Jesus was definitely speaking about divorce and not an engagement when he used the term ‘put away’, I take it to mean that the sin of fornication can also be discovered within a marriage, which then entitles a spouse to divorce the one that committed the fornication.
How is this possible?
Well, research shows that a woman’s body has been designed in such a way, that the first time she engages in sexual intercourse, her hymen breaks and she bleeds. This was deliberately designed by God, to portray the fact that there was now covenant between her and her husband and that they were now truly joined as one flesh.
In the Bible days, it was expected that persons marrying would be virgins. It is supposed to be this way today still, in God’s eyes but sin has grown to the point where it has become almost normal for even Christians to enter marriage not being virgins. This is not the ideal though and it is only by grace that God still allows those who are not, to enter marriage and blesses the union, provided the offending party or parties have genuinely repented and he approves of the particular union.
However, although in the Bible days men only typically married virgins, some women duped their spouses (as some still do today) into believing that they were virgins during the courting and engagement period. In such cases, the man only found out that the woman had been unfaithful, when no blood was shed during their first act of sexual intercourse together. In such a case, the couple was in a marriage but the wife had committed fornication, which, according to scripture, entitled the man to end the marital relationship with her because she misrepresented herself to him, as being a virgin.
Based on the Israelite culture, it also appeared that the proof of a woman’s virginity in the bloody sheet or cloth beneath the newly married couple was to be retained for safekeeping.
In Deuteronomy 22:13-21, when God gave the Israelite laws under the Old Covenant, it reads:
- “If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And lo he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him. And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all of his days. But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house…”
Based on this Old Testament principle, Jesus therefore was saying, in my view, that under the New Covenant, which applies to the Church today, a man is still entitled to divorce his wife, if during sexual intercourse, he realizes that she is not a virgin, although she had represented herself deceptively to him during the courtship and engagement, as being one.
Fornication is the only reason given for divorce, as God’s intention for marriage has always been for it to be permanent, not temporary. He hates divorce.
In Malachi 2:14-16 (KJV), the Prophet states to the Israelites, of a man who had treated his wife badly and divorced her:
- “…the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord the God of Israel, saith, that HE HATETH PUTTING AWAY…”
It is important to note though, that although Jesus gave fornication as THE ONLY reason justifiable in God’s eyes for putting away a spouse (not physical, financial, psychological, verbal or emotional abuse or falling out of love or adultery taking place within the marriage or infertility or any other reason), he did not give permission for the person who put away or divorced the spouse justifiably due to fornication, to get involved with and/or remarry someone else.
He could have easily done so, had this been the will of the Father. However, it is clear, that in God’s eyes, even where divorce is justified due to there having been fornication discovered on the part of one spouse, remarriage is wrong.
What the Bible says about remarriage
To avoid all doubt on the topic (as the Lord knew debates on the issue of remarriage would arise), in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and in addition to what he already stated in Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus once again gave a clear command through Paul, on the issue of remarriage, by prohibiting it. In communicating Jesus’ position on the issue, Paul makes it clear that it is not his personal view that he was sharing but the Lord’s command.
- “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, LET HER REMAIN UNMARRIED, OR BE RECONCILED TO HER HUSBAND: and let not the husband put away his wife.”
Unless for fornication therefore, Jesus was therefore maintaining his command to us, that we should not divorce our spouse for any other reason. To do so, would be to disobey his Word. He also went further to state, that if we disobey him and divorce our spouse (which is not good), we should not make matters worse by marrying someone else but instead, should either seek to be reconciled with our spouse (through forgiveness, counseling, etc.) or remain by ourselves.
When people get a divorce therefore, they have disobeyed Jesus’ command and therefore committed a sin. When they go further and get involved with someone else, they have engaged in more disobedience and committed more sin. Jesus calls them adulterers and adulteresses.
Remaining unmarried and not involved when a person is divorced and for as long as the spouse remains alive is in keeping with 1 Corinthians 7:39 which states: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
Irrespective of the quality of the marriage between two believers therefore, Paul echoes the Lord’s commandment on the subject, in that once married and except for fornication, the parties are to stay married. It is a permanent union recorded in heaven, that cannot be severed through any man-made legal process.
If peradventure, one party disobeys and divorces the other, Paul states that that person is to either remain unmarried or reconcile at some future point with the living spouse, as they will forever be seen as one in God’s eyes.
If both parties are genuine Christians, then they will know that reconciliation is always possible through prayer, repentance, forgiveness and a re-dedication to properly serve and submit to the Lord, no matter what an offending spouse may have done. This is because all things are possible with God and no mountain is too high or too difficult for him to remove.
In some cases though, despite much prayer and although one party may be interested in reconciling, the other is not and they never reconcile. In such a case, the Bible makes it clear, that there is to be no remarriage by either of the parties, as they are bound to each other for as long as they both shall live.
Of course this is hard to do, especially if a spouse is quite young in age. However, if we say we are Christians, we are commanded to obey the Lord and to take up our cross and bear it. Painful as it might be to spend the rest of our lives by ourselves, once the spouse that we made irreversible vows before God to, remains alive, we are called to do just that and have absolutely no excuse for disobeying.
In such situations, instead of becoming involved with and remarrying someone else (which is a sin of adultery in God’s eyes), we should ask him for strength to remain single. When we do this, he will equip us with whatever we need, to be obedient to him.
It is clear from all the scriptures therefore, that, when it comes to those who are in the body of Christ:
1. God hates divorce;
2. Based on God’s intention and design of marriage, it is his perfect will that men and women remain married for a lifetime;
3. If fornication has been discovered in a marriage however (not adultery or any other reason), a person may decide to divorce a spouse;
4. If a person decides to divorce a spouse on the basis of the fact that there is evidence that there was prior fornication or if he or she leaves the marital home through separation for any other reason or has been abandoned for any reason, he or she is to take up his or her cross and remain unmarried (and sexually chaste) for the rest of his or her life, except that spouse dies or else he or she is to reconcile with that spouse.
This is not easy to swallow but it emphasizes the fact that marriage is serious and not to be entered into lightly. God sees it as a one way road and the parties are one flesh, until and unless one dies.
The reason why a divorced spouse is to remain unmarried is because the flesh to which he or she is joined is still in the land of the living. Only death can break that bond in God’s eyes.
The Lord’s position on this subject is again reinforced in Romans 7:2-3 where it states:
- “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.”
How much clearer can the scriptures get? God is clearly saying NO to divorce (except for prior fornication) and NO to remarriage!
People do not want to suffer or to deny their flesh, which is why so many in the Churches are trying to find reasons to remarry. However, it is not biblical. Those that do so therefore, are adulterers and adulteresses in God’s eyes and are living a life of rebellion, no matter what excuse they try to give about why they chose to disobey God and no matter how hard they try to pass off their new disobedient and sinful relationship as good.
Indeed, the seriousness of the lifetime bond is why the disciples of Jesus concluded, after he explained the permanence of marriage in God’s eyes: “…If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.”
(ii) Where one party only is a Christian
What about where one party is a Christian and the other is not? Does the Bible say anything different?
Well, as stated before, this arises in either of two situations: (1) The Christian chose to disobey God and marry someone with whom she was unequally yoked because he was an unbeliever or (2) The Christian spouse got married to the unbeliever when she too was an unbeliever but she later got converted.
Irrespective of how the situation arose and whether the marriage is great, average or really bad, the same principle of permanency applies in God’s eyes. He still hates divorce and this does not change in a marriage where the parties are unequally yoked together.
Verse 10 of 1 Corinthians 7 is applicable to this situation as well, where Paul states:
- “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”
In verse 12-17, Paul goes further to state though, that in a situation where the parties in the marriage are unequally yoked, the Christian should stay married to the unbelieving spouse, once that spouse wishes to stay married. A Christian is therefore not to leave an unbelieving spouse or to try to do things to provoke him to leave but to remain faithful to God by displaying Christian character, which may win over that unbelieving spouse one day and cause him or her to come to Christ.
1 Corinthians 7:12-17, 20, 24 states:
- “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches…Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called…Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”
What the scripture makes clear, is that it is the unbeliever’s decision to make, whether he wishes to stay in the marriage or not. It is not for the Christian to decide.
Unfortunately, the truth is that many times, where a Christian ended up in an unequally yoked marriage due to her own disobedience, the unbelieving spouse chooses to stay (although he does not love her), so as to torture that spouse physically, verbally, emotionally, financially, psychologically and otherwise. It is what has been reaped from the sin seed of disobedience sown.
Despite such a situation, the Christian spouse is not authorized by God to divorce her unbelieving spouse but to stay married to him. It is my view though, that in the case of physical abuse, the Christian spouse may separate herself physically from the dangerous situation by leaving the marital home, so as to preserve her life and sanity but she is not permitted to divorce him. If there is some other situation that she is facing (as there are different types of abuse), she may also (in my view), separate herself physically from the place where she and her husband are living. Separation is not divorce. While separated physically, she is still married to that man and therefore, not in breach of the scriptures. (Of course the same applies if it is the man that is being abused in some manner by his wife).
If on the other hand, the unbelieving spouse decides (of his own volition) that he wants to leave the marriage and initiates divorce proceedings, the Christian is not to fight (at least not naturally) to hold on to him. She is to allow him to go. If God, who knows everything and is in control of everything, allows him to leave the marriage, then he knows what he is doing.
If the unbeliever divorces the Christian, the Bible states that in such a circumstance, she will no longer be bound to him. However, this does not, to my mind, mean that she can remarry. Although the Bible states that she is “…not under bondage in such cases…” there is no express permission given here, in my view, for such a spouse to remarry.
It would therefore be presumptuous and dangerous, in my view, to assume that one can remarry in such a case, especially in light of all the other scriptures that speak out against remarriage and about remaining unmarried and that marrying someone that has been put away makes one commit adultery and the one who has been put away an adulterer.
In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus made it clear to his disciples, that irrespective of whether one party or both parties were believers or not, despite the Old Testament practice of divorce given by Moses, he was not in agreement with it and further:
- (1) If someone that had been divorced by a spouse, remarried or entered into a sexual relationship with another after being divorced, the one who divorced the spouse was culpable but the one who was divorced and chose to remarry, commits adultery (and therefore sins); and
- (2) Whoever marries that person that has been divorced, also commits adultery (and therefore sins).
Jesus, who is the ultimate authority on all matters, including divorce and remarriage, stated:
- “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. BUT I SAY UNTO YOU, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth HER TO COMMIT ADULTERY: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced COMMITTETH ADULTERY.”
On yet another occasion, when questioned on the issue of divorce and remarriage, Jesus’ answer remained unchanged and consistent. He did not change his mind on the issue and condemned both divorce and remarriage.
HIS ANSWER TO THIS ISSUE, GIVEN A SECOND TIME TO THE PHARISEES AND THEN A THIRD TO HIS DISCIPLES, WHO, FINDING IT HARD TO SWALLOW, AGAIN QUIZZED HIM ON THE MATTER WAS ABUNDANTLY CLEAR.
Jesus therefore left no room for doubt, speculation or misinterpretation. Divorce went against God’s will. Remarriage was not permitted and whoever chose to do so or to marry a divorced person would be an ADULTERER. He basically indicated, that once a man and woman were joined by God in marriage, that no man, judge or government had the God-given authority to severe that lifelong tie. If they attempted to do so, given that those persons still remained one flesh for as long as they both lived, meaning that this joining was irreversible except for death, if any of them remarry, he or she will have committed the sin of adultery.
A person is therefore an adulterer, whether or not that person initiated the divorce proceedings, if he or she remarries while his or her spouse is still alive he or she and the third party who marries a divorced person is also guilty of the sin of adultery.
Of Jesus’ stance on the issue, the Word of God states AGAIN in Mark 10:2-12:
- “And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
- And in the house his disciples asked him AGAIN of the same matter. And he saith unto them, WHOSOEVER shall put away his wife, and marry another, COMMITTETH ADULTERY against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she COMMITTETH ADULTERY.”
Jesus did not therefore classify couples as Christian or non-Christian on this matter. He said WHOSOEVER, meaning that this applied to every human being, whether a believer or not. Whatever Jesus said, has precedence over what anybody else said. One cannot therefore, in good conscience, ignore all of these scriptures and what Jesus himself has repeatedly said and state that they are relying on 1 Corinthians 7:15. As stated before, 1 Corinthians 7:15, which was written by Paul, a servant of Jesus, states: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases…”.
This verse therefore applies to a situation where one party is a believer and the other is not and the non-believer desires to leave the marriage. It tells the believing spouse that in such a situation, he or she is not under bondage.
Some people (who desire to condone remarriage) take this to mean that the believer who has been abandoned by divorce is free to remarry but the scripture says nothing to this effect. In fact, the verse continues, “…but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?”
Apart from the use of the word ‘but’ and what comes after, which is significant, it is important to remember that:
- ONE – The Bible does not contradict itself;
- TWO – Paul, who wrote the book of Corinthians was a servant of the Lord Jesus and therefore, whatever he said or sought to say (except expressing it as his opinion or position) would defer to whatever Jesus, the ultimate authority, already said and he (Paul), would have never had the intention in any of his writings, of going against anything that Jesus said or the position that Jesus took;
- THREE – From the scriptures read earlier, Jesus’ position on the issue of divorce and remarriage is abundantly clear. He is against it and prohibits remarriage, calling whosoever remarries or marries someone who was divorced (whether a believer or not), an adulterer;
- FOUR – Given that Paul, as the servant of Jesus, would never have intended to go against Jesus’ authoritative Word, already given earlier on when he was here on earth, we must conclude, that when Paul wrote what he wrote about a remaining spouse not being under bondage, he could not have meant and DID NOT mean that that spouse was free to remarry. He must have meant that God would not hold that spouse liable or culpable for the actions of the other, for example, if the other decided to remarry. This is reinforced by the fact that Paul did not say that the remaining spouse is not under bondage and so could therefore remarry. He said nothing on this issue and in his silence, we are not entitled or authorized to disregard what Jesus has already said on the topic, and say that his use of the term ‘not under bondage’, means that remarriage is permissible. If we take this position, we err and deliberately. Truth be told, that Paul said nothing about remarriage is not really surprising. For, there was no need for him to expressly state that it was wrong because that was already widely known. For, Jesus had already spoken about it on more than one occasion, made it abundantly clear that it was wrong for EVERYONE and in so doing, cleared up all speculation, doubt, ideas and controversy on the issue.
If in this particular situation, the scripture was condoning remarriage (as some people mistakenly think), then in cases where both spouses are Christians but one has messed up and even been unfaithful, the other may erroneously conclude that because of what he did, that he is not a Christian. If the spouse who offended, decides, in further disobedience to the Word, to leave the marriage, the one who was offended against may then try to remarry, claiming that although she thought that her husband was a Christian, that she realized that he was not.
However, he may be a Christian, despite what he did and in such a case, where does that leave the spouse who remarried? For, the scripture in 1 Corinthians 7:15 about not being under bondage was clearly only applicable to a situation where one spouse is a believer and the other, an unbeliever. And what if that spouse who claimed to be a believer and sought mistakenly to rely on 1 Corinthians 7:15 was not truthful as to what transpired in that marriage or self-deceived? Where does that leave the new husband who married her, not based on actual evidence but on what she told him?
This is why I say the whole issue of justifying remarriage is dangerous. It opens a whole can of dangerous worms. Whenever we try to justify something that Jesus has clearly prohibited, we find ourselves in problems.
If we are honest, the majority of scriptures that are non-ambiguous, state that remarriage is wrong. To take one scripture therefore and to remarry someone on the basis that it seems to possibly suggest from the use of the term “…not under bondage in such cases…”, that it is okay to remarry is highly risky and dangerous, especially when it goes against and contradicts what Jesus has already authoritatively spoken.
What if you are wrong? You would then be supporting sin and if you remarried, condemned in God’s eyes as an adulterer or adulteress. If you then do not repent of this sin, given that the Word of God makes it clear that no adulterer will be let into heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9), you will die in it (because you are not really a believer) and go to hell.
It is worth stating as well, that when it comes to an unequally yoked marriage, many Christians who try to rely on the term “…not under bondage in such cases…” to justify their own desire to remarry, do not even follow the procedure laid down in the surrounding verses when it comes to being married to an unbeliever.
Many Christians divorce their unbelieving spouse, which is disobedience to the same scripture. The scripture makes it clear that the choice to divorce and end the marriage is not for the Christian to make. It is up to the unbelieving spouse to decide (without pressure or manipulation) what he wants to do.
Even if he is treating the Christian poorly, if he decides he wants to stay in the marriage, the Christian has no biblical basis to go out and get a divorce, on any basis. The Bible states that the Christian is not under bondage, only where she has dutifully continued to serve God by staying in the marriage and being kind to her husband as ministry but yet he still decides that he wants out of the marriage and leaves it.
As stated before, it is clear, given all the other scriptures that speak out against remarriage, that the term “…not under bondage…” does not give licence to get remarried but it merely makes it clear that the Christian, in such a case, would not be held culpable by God for the divorce, which the unbelieving spouse initiates in Court and that in God’s eyes, she is no longer considered as being legally obligated to that spouse, as his wife.
To state though, that this gives liberty to remarry similar to that mentioned with a widow in verse 39 is presumptious and wrong. For, while verse 39, which also uses the term ‘bound’ expressly goes on to state clearly that a widow is free to remarry because she is no longer tied to law as it pertains to her deceased husband, notably, verse 15 which refers to a situation where both parties are still alive, makes no express mention of permission to remarry in a similar fashion.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that verse 15 states that where an unbelieving spouse leaves the marriage, the Christian is not under ‘bondage’ but verse 39 states that a wife, (irrespective of her situation) is ‘bound’ to her husband for as long as he lives. At first glance therefore, these verses appear to be a contradiction, as verse 15 states the Christian spouse is not under ‘bondage’ but the unbelieving spouse who leaves is clearly not dead.
However because God’s Word never contradicts itself, it is logical to conclude, that the term “…not under bondage…” mentioned in verse 15, means not guilty in God’s sight for the divorce which the unbelieving spouse initiated and not legally responsible as a wife, anymore, for his actions. This interpretation is consistent with verse 39, which makes it clear across the board, that no wife is at liberty to remarry, unless her spouse dies.
Once again, in addition to what Jesus already stated authoritatively on the issue on more than one occasion, this is further reinforced by Romans 7:2-3 where it states clearly of every marital situation, whether one involving two believers or a believer and an unbeliever:
- “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.”
Summary for those that are married
In conclusion, even in a difficult marital situation, whether with an unbelieving spouse or a fellow believer, God calls us to STAY married, except for discovered fornication. For those Christians that have disobeyed this command and gotten a divorce which they initiated in the Courts, God gives yet another command, that they are to then stay by themselves and not make things worse by getting remarried.
This is what God, who knew everything that would happen in your life, including your mistakes, has called you to bear, for as long as your spouse remains alive.
For those who have gone the divorce route or have been divorced and did not remain unmarried, you have disobeyed God’s clear command and therefore need to repent quickly for your sins. I believe, based on God’s Word, that there is forgiveness available for you, if you would ask for it and mean it. God wants you to repent for this sin, so that he can cleanse you from this unrighteous act.
When the Samaritan lady believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and confessed him as Lord, although she had divorced and remarried five times and had been living with a sixth man with who she was not married, provided that she turned away from her sin and to the Lord Jesus Christ, she was forgiven and cleansed of her filthiness.
For those of you who are currently in your second or even third marriages, once you have realized your sin, confessed it before God and repented of your wickedness, you can ask him to now direct your steps as to how you should move forward in your situation, which understandably, may be complex. Notwithstanding, whatever God tells you to do, make sure you obey. If he tells you to leave that second or third marriage and stay by yourself, then do it. To my mind, if you remain, you are continuing to commit adultery. To my mind, if you are truly repentant, you should therefore leave that situation, no matter how complex. Ask God for strength and OBEY.
Culture may increasingly now say that it is okay to remarry and this is prevalent like a cancer, even in the Churches today but God’s Word and his commands remain the same. Even if we move away from his truth and his standards, this does not make our actions, which are disobedience, right. Neither the Government nor the Church, have the right to make something permissible that God says he hates and is wrong.
It doesn’t matter how we feel about it either. Some people ask how we could expect a young, warm-blooded male or female to stay by himself or herself for the rest of his or her lives (provided the spouse is alive), after a divorce and without remarrying.
The answer to this is simple. God never made the institution of marriage for us. He made it for HIS glory. Even your very life and the breathe he put in it was not made for you to go after what you want and your comfort and your pleasure but for HIS purposes. Your body is also not your own.
When you realize that your life is not about you but about God’s purposes and that he owns your body, you realize how foolish that question is. You are commanded to obey, not to seek to satisfy or make things comfortable for your self. Obeying sometimes means to disregard our selves and our interests and what we want or crave. Obeying calls for sacrifice and this is sometimes painful. That is why Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
God expects us to obey his commands, no matter the cost, the sacrifice, the pain or the discomfort. It may be painful but the Bible says that, once you are a Christian, you can do all things through Christ that strengthens you (Philippians 4:13).
Where a marriage has not worked out therefore and one party divorces the other, God expects both parties to remain unmarried because in his eyes, there is no earthly law or Court or Judge that can break that lifelong covenant. They simply do not have the God-given authority to do so.
You are tied to that person until death does you part. Remember your vows?
Vows are a serious thing. We treat it too flippantly. However, when we make vows in the presence of the true and living God, he expects us to keep them or else there will be dire consequences. Here is what the Bible has to say about vows:
- “Be not rash with thy mouth and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few…When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is I that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin, neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4-6)
Remember Jephthah? In Judges 11:30-40, he vowed to God that if God allowed him to be victorious in battle against the Ammonites, that he would sacrifice the first living thing that came to greet him at the door when he came home, as a burnt offering unto the Lord.
Maybe he had a dog that usually ran to the door to greet him when he came home but he never expected when he returned victorious, that it would be his only beloved daughter that would appear first at his door. Yet, given the seriousness of a vow before God, as grieved as he was, he could not break it. He had vowed a vow to God and so he knew he had to keep it. As painful as it was, he had to kill his own daughter and offer her up as a burnt offering and in submission because she knew the importance of a vow, she accepted her fate.
In 1 Samuel 2, when Hannah vowed to God while praying, that if he granted her a child she would give him back to God, as much as she would have been attached to the child that God did eventually give her, she knew she had to honour her vow. She therefore gave her son Samuel to God, as she had promised, by sending him to live with Eli the Priest, in the house of the Lord in Shiloh.
Pain, heartache, betrayal, unfair treatment and stress are therefore not reasons to break any vow we make to God. When we vow to stay married to a person ‘til death do us part, God takes that vow seriously and holds us to it.
It is better that you don’t make a vow before God to stay with someone and love them for a lifetime, than to make it to God and then, when the going gets rough or you don’t like how you are being treated, to break it.
This is why as stated before, Jesus’ disciples concluded that, given the permanency of marriage and the seriousness of the vows we make before witnesses in God’s sight, that it is better for a man not to marry.
We should therefore tread carefully when it comes to marriage. It is not something to enter into flippantly because if we aim to obey God and not ourselves and what we want, then we know it is a lifelong covenant, There is no getting out of it and even if we separate or our spouse divorces us, they are still our spouse until death does them part.
Where a spouse has divorced us, if we know the Word and are true Christians that are submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our prayer would not be for God to send us another spouse. He sympathizes with our grief but his Word never changes. He will never send you someone while your husband is still alive and if he has purposed that you will be remarried, within his will, he will be sure to remove your spouse from the land of the living first.
Our prayer should be instead, for God to have his way and to give us strength to endure, for we would know, that for as long as our spouse remains alive (and we ought not to wish that they die), we are tied to them in God’s eyes with a bond that can NEVER be broken.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE WIDOWED
As mentioned before, for persons who were married but a spouse died, Paul states that they can opt to remain single (which he personally expresses as better because they will now be able to devote all of their time to serving God) or to remarry, if they feel they cannot control their sexual urges for physical intimacy.
In verse 8 he states: “I say therefore to the…widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”
In verse 39-40, he also states:
- “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.”
Such persons are therefore eligible to remarry, provided that they marry a Christian, given that the unequally yoked principle still applies. However, verse 20 and 24 make it clear that they ought not to go looking for another spouse or losing sleep over their ‘single again’ state or dissatisfied with it.
Instead, they are to abide in their widow state contentedly (hard as this may be), let go the reins of control completely and let God determine the course of the rest of their lives, including if they are to remarry, to whom and in what time frame. They are free to remarry but they ought to remain in their call to widowhood and let God determine if HE wants to send them another spouse.
Verses 20 and 24 state: “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called…Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”
Verses 20 and 24 make it clear, that in whatever situation we are called, including widowhood, whether this is permanent or temporary, we ought not to go seeking a spouse but to abide in that very calling and let God have his way, whatever that may be.
For some, it may be his will for them to be remarried (after a spouse dies) and if so, as we abide content in him, he will provide another spouse without us going out in search of one. If it is not his will however, we should not get anxious about our ‘single again’ state and discontented but should abide in that state, in God.
1 Corinthians 7 states generally therefore, that whether we are single, married or widowed, we should be content in that state and leave it completely up to God to change things, if it his will.
We ought not to try to change our status in our own strength, as some run around desperately doing because we are dissatisfied, feel lonely or unhappy in it.
Here is a news flash: There are benefits in every relationship status of single, married or widowed but all three also come with pain. No status is going to make you free from pain. In all three seasons, you are called to endure some suffering.
As we focus on abiding in the Lord, in whatever relationship status we are called, he will work out his purposes for our lives, as he sees fit.
For some, this will mean that their current relationship status will change. For example, in the case of a married woman who is suffering in her marriage but remains in obedience to God, God may choose to take her spouse’s life (although she is not to pray for it or wish it) and he may then choose to send her another husband in HIS own timing.
For some though, the relationship status that we are in in this season, is permanent because God has no intention of changing it. Either way, we must trust him and focus on serving him, as life was never about our relationship status in the first place but about God and HIS glory.
(Written on 26th October, 2018)
If you found this Article useful or interesting, then you will surely also be interested in reading the following Articles for more tips, information and details:
- Note 142 – ‘Single Woes – The Battles We Singles Fight Everyday’
- Note 146 – ‘Three Idols In the Church: Getting Married, Having Children and Working A Secular Job’
Additionally, under the ‘Married Daughters’ page:
- Note 1 – ‘The Seriousness Of Marriage and the Sanctity of Wedding Vows’