By Jerry Crolius
The National Center for Health Statistics says there were nearly 2.4 million weddings in 1988. Some 10.7 percent of these marriages were divorced men marrying never-married women, and 10.9 percent were marriages of divorced women to never-married men. (There were no figures reported in the article about how many marriages united a divorced man with a divorced woman, but it is safe to say that in at least 30 percent of today’s new marriages, one or both spouses have been previously married and divorced.) “Everything is changing,” says Beverly Sitnick, bridal manager at the Claire Dratch women’s specialty store in Bethesda, MD. “I’m noticing so many combinations of divorced and single people. “
Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at John Hopkins University who studies divorce and remarriage in the USA, made these comments when the statistics were released: “If this says anything, it says divorce is becoming more acceptable and less of a barrier to getting remarried. There isn’t much difference between being divorced and single when you’re marrying a spouse.
From our society’s viewpoint, then, divorce and remarriage is acceptable. This phenomenon is greatly affecting the Lord’s church, and it is likely we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Brethren, we had better accept the Lord’s teaching about divorce and remarriage and contend for it earnestly if we are to remain faithful Christians and faithful churches in the future.
Jesus made his teaching on the sanctity of marriage very clear. All the fuss in the Lord’s church over divorce and remarriage is rooted in our unwillingness to submit to the Lord’s plain teaching. Jesus said in Matthew 19:9, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication (sexual unfaithfulness, JC, and marries another woman commits adultery.” In Matthew 5:32, Jesus said, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of fornication, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Jesus added that the woman “who divorces her husband and marries another is committing adultery” (Mk. 10:12). Is this so difficult to understand?
The Lord does not condone divorce, he does not allow divorce, and he does not allow divorced people the right to remarry. The only exception to this law is when one spouse divorces the other for sexual unfaithfulness, in which case only the “innocent” spouse may remarry without committing adultery. Jesus spoke this doctrine plainly and to the point.
What is the problem, then, in the Lord’s church? Many in the church do not want to accept Jesus’ plain teaching. Jesus spoke to the point of issue at hand. He stated his law simply and clearly. But many have made Jesus’ plain statement into one full of confusion and doubt, creating “loopholes” (under the banner of compassion) for divorced persons to drive sin through.
A strict doctrine will cost too much, people say. Too many people who divorced at a young age will have too high a price to pay, they say. Too many people who have been wrongly divorced by their spouses will suffer for a lifetime, they say. Too many divorced people will never become Christians because of this law, they say. Too many Christians with children and happy homes will discover that they are living in adultery and will have to change their relationship; or they will find a different church that allows them to continue in adultery; or they will stop attending anywhere, they say. It will tear up the church, they say. It will tear up families, they say. It will tear up children, they say. Sadly, many of these statements are true. But I suppose the disciples had similar things in mind when, in obvious discouragement, they answer the Lord, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Things haven’t changed that much after all, have they?
What would the Lord say in response to us in his church today? Probably the same thing he said in response to the disciples, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given” (Matt. 19:11). Essentially, Jesus said, “My statement (law) is plain. There are those who will accept it and there are those who will reject it.” Those to whom it has not “been given” are not able to accept it. Only the ones to whom it has “been given” are able to “accept it.” Jesus said there are haves and have nots. The haves will understand, receive and submit to his teachings on marriage. The have nots will not understand, receive or submit to his teachings.
But who are the haves and who are the have nots? Let Paul answer in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But an unspiritual man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually examined.” Those to whom it has “been given” are spiritually-minded people, i.e., they base their judgments on God’s revealed will through the Spirit, and are therefore able to understand and willing to accept God’s teachings. Unspiritually-minded people base their judgments on their own observations, desires, and opinions, and are therefore unable to understand and unwilling to accept the teachings of God as revealed by the Spirit. This is just what is happening in the Lord’s church on the issue of divorce and remarriage.
Those who advocate loose doctrines on divorce and remarriage are not able to understand Jesus’ clear teaching because they are unwilling to accept it. They base their understanding first on human thinking and desires rather than the revealed things of God’s Spirit (i.e., they are unspiritual on this subject).
Where in all these doctrines are the plain statements of Jesus? They are buried under the rationalizations and emotions of minds who do not want to accept the serious consequences of Christ’s law on divorce and remarriage. Man is going to find a way out of the difficult consequences of sin, whether or not God has granted him one. Man has been doing so since the Garden of Eden. (I remember a debate on baptism where the gospel preacher in his final statement quoted over and over Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, Galatians 3:27 until he finally said, “I don’t know what else to do. It’s so plain. Why add to or take anything away from it? ” Yet the Baptist preacher was unable to understand it. See the point?)
Notice that contained within all the intricate doctrines of men on divorce and remarriage are complex human reasonings, improperly re-defined words, out-of-context forced interpretations, and strong appeals to emotion, all of which combine into “rational” escapes from what Jesus plainly spoke. “He didn’t mean what he said,” is the core of these doctrines. “He was only talking to the Jews, not to us,” some rationalize. “He was only making a law for those who would already be Christians, not for people outside of his kingdom,” others reckon in sincere hope for the many. “In 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul adds another exception for remarriage to Jesus’ teaching,” others say with sympathy for those divorced by unbelieving spouses. “Already divorced people can ‘mentally divorce’ and remarry if their ex-spouse commits fornication at some time in the future,” many scribes tell us. “If people get baptized they can stay in their adulterous marriages because God has forgiven them.” And on and on. Loophole after loophole. We are guilty of the very sins Jesus condemned the Pharisees for in their doctrines on divorce.
Jesus had another thing to say in response to the disciples’ difficulty with his plain teaching. He said, “For there are eunuchs (those who remain celibate) who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). Jesus said there are some people who will stay celibate for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Singles may choose never to marry, perhaps even for reasons Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. Or unscripturally divorced people may submit to Christ’s law on remarriage and stay celibate because they are under Christ’s rule and want to please him above all things. They will control their sexual desires for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. They will accept the consequences of their (or their ex-spouse’s) sin of unlawful divorce, and not try to find a way out of Christ’s plainly taught law. Will spiritually-minded brethren sympathize with them? Certainly. Will they help them? Definitely. Will they compromise Christ’s law for them? Absolutely not.
Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage is clear. He intended it to be so. The disciples understood the consequences of it. They knew it was a strict law. The ones who are able to accept it, let them accept it. And if we want ourselves and our children to go to heaven, let us contend earnestly for it. The Lord’s church faces threatening times.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 15, pp. 462-463
August 6, 1992