By Clinton D. Hamilton
Sometimes a querist is concerned with an issue that has several aspects. Accordingly, a series of questions is expressed. Such is the case in this instance. Submitted below is the language of the querist in pinpointing the matters for consideration.
“Please comment on 1 Corinthians 6:1, Acts 16:25 and Romans 13 as it pertains to the following situation:
Husband and wife are having marriage problems. They have spoken with brethren about the problem. The husband abuses the wife. She calls the police. She gets a restraining order to protect herself.
Question 1: Should she have gone through the Matthew 18:15-18 process?
Question 2: Was she violating 1 Corinthians 6:1 or was she appealing to Civil Government as Paul did in Acts 22:25?
Question 3: When would it be proper for two brethren to appeal to Civil Government as it is ordained of God in Romans 13?
Question 4: How do you determine whether a matter is for the Church to decide or the civil government to decide? If Civil law is broken (wife beating) is that a civil matter?
If a husband and wife cannot work out their differences, should 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 apply? If I understand this passage, it allows for divorce but not remarriage as fornication is not involved.”
In this response, the description of the situation by the querist should be kept in mind.
Question 1: If a brother sins against another brother, then the second brother is to speak to him between the two alone in order to seek to remediate the situation. If he does not hear in the sense of being responsive to correct the relationship then the second brother is to contact one or two more brethren to accompany him to discuss the issue with the sinning brother. Given the situation in which the sinning brother still does not yield to these exhortations, then the brother wronged is to present the matter to the church or assembly. Failing to effect a change by all these efforts, the sinner is to be as a gentile and the tax-collector. So is the teaching of Matthew 18:15-17.
A wife being abused by a husband who is a brother in the Lord should certainly seek to follow the Lord’s instruction in Matthew 18:15-17. Brethren, directed by the Lord, are certainly more qualified to point out the Lord’s way to each party. The principles and instruction of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 demonstrate when this course of action is appropriate. It is entirely possible, however, that one may not respond to God’s plan for resolving the problem.
Civil government is authorized by God for this purpose: to punish the evil-doer and to praise them that do well (Rom. 13:3-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-15). Accordingly, Christians have the obligation to pay taxes in order that the civil ruler may attend to the work God ordained that he should do (Rom. 13:1-2,5-7). A Christian whose husband abuses her and refuses to hear the brethren in the matter of amending his ways would properly appeal to the civil government for punishment of the evil doer under civil law. She is to be protected or praised for her well doing. Therefore, civil government should fulfill its God-ordained role as set forth above.
A Christian calling on civil government in this instance is not in violation of Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 6 because she followed the proper course, as set forth in the preceding response, in seeking to bring about an amendment in the abusive husband’s conduct. Civil government’s ordained role is not antithetical to the kingdom of God. Its role, however, may be corrupted to put it in opposition to right and good.
Question 2: Paul’s appeal to his status as a Roman citizen in Acts 16:37 and 22:25 is not parallel to the situation described concerning which this question is directed. He was not abused by a brother. He did call on civil government to perform its God-ordained role. As a Roman citizen he had certain rights under Roman law, which law was consistent with the law of Christ. He appealed for the application of those rights to his situation.
If the abused spouse followed Matthew 18:15-17, prior to calling on civil government, she did not violate 1 Corinthians 6:1. She sought to effect a resolution through brethren rather than going before civil law. However, as a citizen she has certain rights that can only be enforced by the properly God-ordained agent. The abusive husband as described above refused to yield to brethren. The matter then passes to the realm of civil government.
Question 3: When brethren follow 1 Corinthians 6:1ff and in the particular case (personal sin against one) as set forth in Matthew 18:15-17, and a civil issue is involved, i.e. violation of a specific law, brethren can appeal to civil government. Let us look at this situation: A Christian’s spouse commits adultery and every effort is made by the other spouse and brethren brought into the matter but with a failure of the sinner to repent, the innocent spouse seeks to put the offending spouse away. In this case, appeal would be made to civil government for a legal divorce. In this instance, a Christian could appeal to civil government. The remedy sought conforms to the law of God as articulated by Jesus.
In the case of a dispute over a contract issue between brethren, and there is no resolution between them and among other brethren, then the dispute could be submitted to civil government. Contract law is rather minutely detailed by most well developed societies.
If an issue has been resolved by brethren between and among themselves there may be needed a legal declaration on the matter. In this event, brethren could go to civil government for the needed declaration. Government operating as God decreed is not antithetical to righteousness.
Question 4: The nature of the issue must be clearly defined and Scripture dealing with it would have to be applied. The Scripture’s context, language, and corroborative passages, if any, would need to be assessed for applicability. If through persuasive appeals from the gospel made to the wrong doer are devoid of the desired end, and if a specific, civil right is involved to which the Christian is entitled by both God and civil law, then an appeal can be made to civil government.
Crucial to this determination are a correct analysis of the issue at concern and a correct understanding and application of Scripture to it. There are instances when a brother, through a correct application of 1 Corinthians 6, would take wrong and even be defrauded (1 Cor. 6:7). Some brethren might use civil government to seek to defraud another brother (1 Cor. 6:8). In this instance appeal to civil government is prohibited.
There is yet another question posed by the querist in his final paragraph. The question centers on 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 as applied to the situation described by the querist.
The instruction given in the passage is for a Christian who is a wife not to depart from her husband and likewise the same instruction is given to a husband not to depart from his wife. If one’s companion does depart, no adultery being present, then they are to remain unmarried. In the event a Christian is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever departs, then the believer has no obligation or bondage to provide for the one who departed.
It is obvious from this passage that it is possible for a spouse to live apart, remaining unmarried, in irreconcilable conditions. The principle is clearly enunciated.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 2, pp. 41-42
January 16, 1992