By Greg Litmer
Over the past twenty-one years I have officiated at many marriages. In every marriage that I performed I was absolutely convinced that the couple had a right to marry. In each one of those marriages the man and woman stood be-fore me and however many guests were present, and most importantly they stood before God, and promised vowed that they would remain married to each other through sickness and health, richer or poorer, whatever circumstances arose, until death caused them to part. These were the most solemn vows that they could possibly make. In each case not one of them had a shotgun to his head, nobody was forcing him to make the covenant that they were making with another and with God. Now, twenty-one years later, I really hesitate to perform any marriages because in so many that I have performed over those years, it turned out that one or the other of the parties involved just did not tell the truth. I say that because they did not keep their vow.
In Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, Solomon wrote, “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 it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”
In Numbers 30:1-2, we find, “And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded. If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”
The same idea is expressed by the Lord in the New Testament with slightly different language and emphasis. In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus said, “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all: neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall thou swear by thy head, be-cause thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” What was the Lord’s point? That whatever comes out of the mouth of a person should be the truth and should not have to be backed up with an oath. If you make a solemn promise, be a person of character and keep it. That is a basic, foundational, bedrock, biblical principle whatever a person promises before the Lord they must keep it.
In the book of Malachi we see this principle applied specifically to marriage. Judah had done many things wrong in the sight of God and one of the things that he strongly rebuked them for was the divorcing of their wives and remarrying that they had no right to do. It was a twofold problem; they did not keep their vows to their wives and God, and they added an additional sin by marrying those they had no right to. Malachi 2:13-16 (NAS) says, “And this is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, For what reason? Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and him who covers his garment with wrong, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Looking specifically at v. 14, we find that they were guilty of breaking the covenant they had made with their wives and God. They were putting away their wives when they had promised them and God that they would live with them until death caused them to part. He makes the point in v. 15 that no one with a remnant of the Spirit would have done as they had done. The Lord emphasizes his point by emphatically stating, “I hate divorce” or “I hate putting away.” The putting away was a sin marrying another was a second sin!
In Matthew 19:3-9, we read,
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God bath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whose marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
The first thing that I want to notice and pay particularly close attention to is found in v. 6. Jesus said, “What there-fore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Does anyone have difficulty understanding that simple command? God joins the couple together in marriage and no one has the right to sever that relationship. If you do “put asunder” what God hath joined together, that is sin. We are not talking about “remarrying” now, we are talking about putting asunder that which God has joined together, and we are specifically forbidden to do that. Secondly, we need to notice that marriage was for a man and a woman, together for life; not a succession of any number of mates. Thirdly, there is one reason, and only one, for which divorce is permitted. That reason is fornication. God permits a man, or a woman, to put away his or her spouse for fornication, and that is the only reason. The one guilty of fornication has no right to remarry, while the obvious implication is that the one who was innocent can remarry.
In the last year I have heard on several occasions the idea expressed that people can divorce for reasons other than fornication and as long as they don’t remarry that is O.K. There is no scriptural basis for that idea. “What God bath joined together, let not man put asunder.” That is clear. God “hates divorce.” That is also clear. To divorce for reasons other than fornication is sin. To say, “I will go ahead and get a divorce, than repent of getting that divorce, God will forgive me and everything will be O.K.” is also sin. It is the idea of trying to manipulate God. Part of what is required for forgiveness of any sin is repentance, and that scenario has no repentance in it at all.
Some have advised a brother or sister who was deter-mined to go ahead and get a divorce for a reason other than fornication to go ahead and do it. Then in the future, if their former spouse should marry someone else, they would be free to remarry themselves. Brethren, it is a sin to so advise a brother or sister. That is telling them something that is just not true. That is telling them something that is not ac-cording to God’s righteousness. If we look at Matthew 19:9 without the exception clause, the meaning is clear. If a per-son has been divorced for a reason other than fornication, they cannot remarry without sin. The passage, without the exception clause, says, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away cloth commit adultery.” Divorce is not an option where no fornication has been committed.
Others have advised, “Well, don’t get a divorce, just separate and live apart.” You might even hear the expression, “legal separation.” You may hear that, but you certainly do not find it in God’s word.
Brethren, when a marriage is falling apart, the goal is to fix it, not to destroy it. The marriage would not be in such a state in the first place if both of the individuals involved had walked with God as they should and a marriage will never be fixed by leaving God out of the solution. We must not think like the world, act like the world, or talk like the world. Our families should be the happiest of all.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 19 p. 10-11
October 2, 1997