Some thoughts on divorce and Christian service

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a couple of pastors on the topic of “divorce“. Both pastors lead churches where the policy of the church is not to allow a divorced man to serve as a deacon in the church or to serve as pastor. That sounded okay at first but then it was revealed that it does not matter when the divorce took place (this is not the view of either pastor but a policy in the church constitution). I asked an obvious question, “What if the men were divorced before they were born again?”. The answer was a bit shocking (for me anyway). I was told (again, not the view of either pastor but the church’s policy) that it did not matter when the divorce took place, or the circumstances of the divorce, a divorced man cannot serve as a deacon or pastor. I know one of the pastors very well and he later told me his view on the subject but had no control over the established policy of the church. I immediately thought, “what does the Word of God teach on this subject?” I decided to go home and do some research.

I know that divorce is a terrible thing, no matter who it happens to or what the circumstances are behind it. There are no winners in divorce court (not matter who the judge sides with). I see the disastrous effects on a daily basis because I am a pastor. I counsel the children who are the innocent victims. They are scarred for life, even after they come to Christ and He changes them. I would like to take a look at what the Bible says on the subject of divorce and serving in the body of Christ, the Church.

The “when” of the divorce matters greatly. If you were a nonbeliever (not born again) when you were divorced then that sin cannot be held against you. Here is what God has to say through the Apostle Paul:

14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died ; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh ; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature ; the old things passed away ; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Let’s examine the passage and see what God has to say about those who come to Christ, repent of their sins, and are born again.

  • They do what they do out of love (punishing a person for sins that God has erased is not love)
  • They do not live for themselves but for God (if God forgives the sin and forgets it, should His followers not do the same for the past sins of their brothers in Christ)
  • They no longer recognize anything according to the flesh (the sin nature of the past, along with all of its sins, are no longer recognized, or in other words, forgotten and not held against them)
  • The old things of the person’s life have passed away, new things are to come (a lifestyle of sin and its condemnation are gone, a new lifestyle of service to God by serving others is here)
  • He is placed in the ministry of reconciliation (getting people together with God, and maintaining relationships with the other Christian brothers, it is hard to be “friends” when your own Christian brothers punish you for things that God has forgiven and forgotten)
  • Those who have been reconciled to God do not have their sins counted against them (the sins that they committed before being reconciled with God. Therefore, when we punish divorced men who were divorced before being born again, by not allowing them to SERVE as deacons and pastors, the we sin greatly by putting ourselves in God’ seat and making our own rules)

What is your stance on divorced men (who were divorced before “getting saved”/being born again) serving as deacons and pastors? Do you sit in the judgment seat of God, claiming to know better than He does by punishing a man for his sins, the sins which God has forgiven and forgotten? If this is your church’s “stance” on divorced men serving as deacons and pastors then you need to raise the question (in a polite, mannerly way), why are we condemning what God has forgiven and forgotten? May the Lord help us be obedient to His Word over the “traditions or men”.

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17 comments on “Some thoughts on divorce and Christian service

  1. Matthew 5:31-32: “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
    I think you are rationalizing a fairly explicit assertion by Jesus. Jesus clearly states that remarriage after after divorce is adultery, with the ONLY exception being sexual immorality. He didn’t say “except for sexual immorality or before you are born again.” The problem with your rationalization is that the marriage after divorce is adultery, so while God will forgive sins once one is born again, the remarried couple is still living in sin. A thief is forgiven of his sins once he becomes born again, but he is expected to stop stealing thereafter. Likewise the adulterer is expected to stop the adultery once he becomes born again and his past adultery is forgiving. But according to the bible, that marriage is adultery, so just like the thief is expected to stop stealing, the adulterer is expected to stop the adultery. The only way to stop the adultery is to get out of the adulterous marriage. If they divorced and never remarried, then they should be just fine once they become born again since based on what Christ says, divorce is not the problem, it’s the remarriage that is the sin.

    • Jesus is quoting from the Old T. as well as Jewish traditional teachings. This is part of the sermon on the Mount where He is making a specific point, “you (the religious people) would never be caught literally in the act of adultery (even though they had no problem with fantasizing about adultery) yet they were committing adultery over and over again, by taking a wife, living with her for a while and then finding a “reason” to divorce her (according to Jewish tradition, he could divorce her for burning the meal, or putting too much salt, or any reason he wanted). Then, the man would remarry and repeat the process multiple times. This is what Jesus is referring to when He teaches the sermon on the Mount. He gives another teaching on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19.

      8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.
      9″And I say to you, (I)whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

      People who divorce have a hard heart. All nonbelievers have a hard heart so for them, divorcing is something normal. A person who divorces before becoming a Christian is doing what nonbelievers do. If he repents and is born again after the divorce, the passage in I Corinthians clearly says that he is forgiven and it should not be held against him.

      There are situations when a believer can divorce (God does not like it but He allows it). In this passage, a believer may divorce if his spouse is unfaithful. In I Corinthians 7, we see a couple of other situations. If 2 nonbelievers marry and one of them accepts Christ after they have married but not the other, and the unbeliever wants to leave, then the believer is free to divorce and remarry.

      You have to interpret Scripture in the light of other Scripture. One section will never contradict another. Jesus has a specific purpose in what He says in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19. Paul gives further explanation from I Corinthians 7, and when the 2 are put together, you see the entire counsel of the Word of God. Remember, II Timothy 3:16-17, ALL Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable (for the man of God).

      There are cases when Christians are allowed to remarry. Not every Christian who has been divorced (after being born again) and remarried is living in sin. Please read the entire counsel of God’s Word. There is a great study that can help you Marriage without Regrets.

      According to your logic, if a man’s wife cheats on him, and divorces him for another man, then, you punish him a second time (the immorality and divorce were punishment enough) by not allowing him to remarry. Would you condemn the girl who was raped because she also “lost her virginity”?

      • You keep adding, extrapolating, interpolating the scriptures. There’s nothing to interpret in the scripture i sent previously. Jesus says there is ONLY ONE reason for divorce: immorality. You even referenced another passage where he repeats the only criteria for divorce.

        According to my logic, if a man’s wife cheats on him and then divorces him, he is free to remarry. Cheating on one’s spouse is IMMORALITY. Jesus never says that divorce is sin, it’s the remarrying that becomes adultery. I don’t understand how rape comes into the topic of discussion. A girl that is raped was never married to the rapist, so I don’t see your point there.

        However, according to your logic, if an unbeliever (let’s say a mormon) polygamist accepts Christ and becomes born again, he is allowed to keep his multiple wives because God has forgiving and forgotten his sin. I don’t think that’s the case. Just like the lady who was about to be stoned to death was pardoned by Jesus and told to “go and sin no more,” we are expected to purge ourselves of sin once we become born again. So the polygamist has to annul his multiple marriages just like the adulterer needs to annul the second marriage if he terminated the first one for something other than immorality.

      • Here is the passage from I Corinthians (BTW, I gave you the context of Jesus’ quote in Matthew 5, the context is very important but you keep avoiding it)

        10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband ), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband ; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave ; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband ? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife ?

        This passage does not contradict the teachings of Christ, but instead, it completes (helps further explain) what Christ taught. If you do not want to look at the Scriptures as a whole then you make a grave mistake.

        Plus, I do not understand, you accept homosexuality (which is immorality) but condemn a person who has been divorced by saying it is immorality if he remarried. I see a lack of consistency in your beliefs.

        As to the Mormon, he would have to stop having sexual relations with is “wives” and commit himself entirely to his first wife. He would still have to provide for the children of the other wives but he must cease from sexual activity with them. He is a new creation and must be dedicated to one woman.

        Once a person has been born again, if he is married to a second wife, he would commit adultery if he divorced her to go back to the first one (the one he married and divorced while being a nonbeliever).

  2. You keep bringing up “context” as if to imply that Jesus’ teachings on the subject were somehow not universal. The context you bring up is only relevant as to why Jesus said what he did. It doesn’t change the instruction, nor does it only apply to the people he was talking to at the time. If that were the case, then we wouldn’t be able to use the bible in our present world, since it would be invalid and outdated.
    Christ’s position on the subject of remarriage after divorce is EXPLICIT. It wasn’t a parable (subject to interpretation) but clear as daylight. Except in the case of immorality, you cannot remarry after divorce as that is considered adultery in the eyes of the Lord.

    Now the passage you quote above even further confirms my point. Paul makes two statements here; the first is the Lord’s instruction, and the second is his opinion. Even he clarifies the issue by saying “not I, but the Lord” and then “But the rest I say, not the Lord”. So the text you refer to has two standards, God’s and Paul’s, and Paul himself acknowledges that fact. Even by Paul’s standards, you shouldn’t divorce you spouse because he/she is an unbeliever; you are supposed to do your best to convert him/her. The issue is when the unbelieving spouse leaves you because of your beliefs; then it is ok to remarry according to Paul.

    Your last paragraph completely makes my point. Once the Mormon converts, he is expected to stop sexual relations with his 2nd, 3rd, etc wives and commit himself entirely to his 1st wife because those relations are adulterous. The same thing applies to the one who remarries outside the confines of spousal immorality in the first marriage. There is no difference. He cannot remain in the new marriage any more than the Mormon can remain in the polygamous ones. He must end the adulterous relationship. If he chooses to return to first marriage is entirely up to him (divorce is not the sin here, it’s the adultery from remarriage that is sinful).

    • Jesus’ teachings are universal. Don’t forget that every piece of literature has a context (Shakespeare, Plato, etc.) it all must be interpreted according to the laws of composition. There is a specific audience (which reveals much about the message itself). There is a specific reason why Jesus was teaching what He was teaching, yet if you avoid the context, then you miss the entire point.

      What Jesus taught goes right along with what the Apostle Paul was teaching in I Corinthians 7 (remember, Paul was taught directly by Jesus Christ Himself). I do not think that Paul would contradict his Teacher. Again, please read II Timothy 3:16-17:

      16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness ;
      17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

      What part of “All Scripture” do you not understand? If you want to understand a subject, like divorce and remarriage, then you need to see what the entire Scripture teaches on the subject and not just a couple of verses (pulled out of context).

      17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature ; the old things passed away ; behold, new things have come.

      If this teaching is true, then whatever happened in the old life (pre-new birth days) has passed away, you do not go back to it. If he were married and divorced before coming to Christ, then all of that was forgiven and forgotten. If he is born again, marries a believer, and then they divorce for any other reason than unchastity, then neither can remarry once they divorce, unless they marry each other again.

      Either you believe All Scripture is inspired by God or none of it. You cannot have it both ways. Everything that has been written and collected into what we call the Bible, has been inspired by God (even when Paul says, I say to you).

      • Why does Paul say “But the rest I say, not the Lord”? If there is to be no distinction between opinion and commandment, why in the world does Paul go out of his way to explain that he is stating his opinion on an issue and it should not be taken as the Lords instruction. I’d love to hear your explanation.

  3. You keep saying “out of context” yet never explain the proper context. What context does Jesus allow remarriage that is not stated in his command in Matthew 5? You bring up two completely contradictory statements. You seem to imply that Jesus’s teachings are universal, yet I am taking a message he gave to specific people out of context. That makes no sense. If the message is universal, then then context is still relevant today, regardless of the fact that Jesus was speaking to a particular audience. Surely you can’t be saying that Christ’s teaching in those verses were only meant for the audience He was addressing. That undermines the universality of Jesus’ message.

    I don’t know what to assume by your comment that “Paul was taught directly by Jesus Christ Himself.” Paul was not a contemporary of Jesus; even Paul mentions the fact that he never met Christ. Paul was no more “directly” taught by Jesus Christ than any other “man of God” walking the earth today.

    You quoted part of Paul’s opinion on a subject (an opinion Paul CLEARLY states is his opinion and not the Lord’s), I pointed it out to you and you send me a different quote of Paul’s. I had hoped you would focus on explaining what we were talking about before jumping to a different quote. Before we move on to Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, let’s focus on the remarriage issue. You seem to be somehow implying that what Paul CLEARLY states as his own opinion, not the Lord’s, is still somehow the Lord’s. What gives?

    • Jesus is quoting from the Old T. as well as Jewish traditional teachings. This is part of the sermon on the Mount where He is making a specific point, “you (the religious people) would never be caught literally in the act of adultery (even though they had no problem with fantasizing about adultery) yet they were committing adultery over and over again, by taking a wife, living with her for a while and then finding a “reason” to divorce her (according to Jewish tradition, he could divorce her for burning the meal, or putting too much salt, or any reason he wanted). Then, the man would remarry and repeat the process multiple times. This is what Jesus is referring to when He teaches the sermon on the Mount.

      The above quote is the context of the sermon on the mount. The audience is key to understanding what Jesus is teaching. This idea is repeated over and over again, “you have heard it said” (their religious teaching which they claimed to follow) “but I say to you” (Jesus explains the truth of how they should live and points out their hypocrisy). Read Matthew 5-7 which is the Sermon and gives the full context. There are some great studies on the Sermon on the Mount Here is the follow up

      All the teachings of the Bible can be applied universally, but you must first understand the intent of the author. If you do not catch the intent of the author then you will misinterpret and then apply incorrectly.

      Paul witnessed the resurrected Jesus Christ. He speaks of it in the New Testament (see Acts 9 for starters).

      Galatians 1

      11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
      12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
      15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased
      16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
      but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
      18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.

      These are the words of Paul. He admits to being taught by Christ Himself.

      The quotes are the argument for reading all of the Scripture as a whole. You are dodging the point and spinning. If you want to understand the subject of divorce, you have to reference all of Scripture, not just a portion.

      Here is another quote which helps explain why Paul wrote what he wrote:

      II Peter 1:20-21

      20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
      21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

      • I accept your context. I just don’t see how that changes anything, and you haven’t explained it either. Jesus does point out their hypocrisy, but that doesn’t mean His instructions are only geared toward them. They were finding loopholes in the Law of Moses, so Jesus sets them straight with the Ultimate Law on several issues (adultery in the heart, remarriage, etc). I still don’t see how the context somehow invalidates the instruction.

        I’m still waiting on your explanation for the other quotes you referred to annul Jesus’ command in Matthew 5. Even Paul agrees with Christ on the subject, but provides some clarity (which he states as his personal opinion) on cases where one member of the marriage is an unbeliever. What you are trying to do (maybe not you, but contemporary preachers) is assert that somehow future adultery is wiped away as part of being born again. There is no Scripture to back that up. Jesus’ blood wipes the slate clean, but the sinner has to then stop sinning. You are claiming that an adulterous relationship can be accommodated by God after salvation. I assert not.

      • Okay, I see your point, I think. Future adultery is not wiped away. It is the passed adultery that is wiped away. Jesus’ teaching is not invalid. If a Christian man and a Christian woman divorce for any other reason than marital unfaithfulness, the result is immorality. It is compounded if they remarry other people. That is only in the case of both being Christians. How do we know? Because Paul gives clarity on the subject when he writes to the church in Corinth. The problem in Corinth was, people were coming to Christ out of a very pagan lifestyle (lots of immorality). Many times, one of the partners in the marriage would repent and follow Christ, while the other would not. They wrote to Paul and needed help on what to do because many of the nonbelievers who had spouses who were believers, wanted out of the marriage. The Christians did not know what to do. Paul explains. To the Christian who has a nonbeliever for a spouse, “do all that you can to save the marriage and lead the spouse to Christ”. If the spouse does not want to stay, let him/her go and you are free to remarry. You cannot walk away from the nonbeliever but he/she can walk away from you. So, if a believer has a nonbeliever spouse, and the spouse wants to leave the marriage, he/she can go and the believer is free to remarry (will not commit adultery by remarrying). Having said that, God still hates divorce no matter what the reason, even if He allows it.

        The adulterous woman who was caught in the act (although the men did not bring the man from the immoral act) was not condemned by Christ. He forgave her. When a person who is divorced comes to Christ and repents, being born again, Jesus forgives his past sins (they were all part of the old life).

        According to what you are saying, it would be better for a man to murder his wife than divorce, because he can come to Christ and be forgiven and also be allowed to be remarried. (I would not recommend that but that makes more sense according to what your point has been so far).

  4. Well I’m glad we see eye-to-eye on this subject. However, this is not the doctrine of today’s church. I have not heard any preacher talk about this issue. There are a lot of “Christians” in this situation and nobody seems to be alerting them to their impending doom. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
    9.Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10. nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

    These adulterers are going to hell right alongside homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, etc yet we’re worrying about whether or not they can serve as deacon in the church. That’s irrelevant, as they will perish in hell if they do not terminate these adulterous marriages.

    I hadn’t ever thought of your final thought, but you’re right. One is better off killing their spouse, asking forgiveness and remarrying than divorcing them if they did not commit sexual immorality. The only issue will be weather they are genuine in their repentance for murder. If they can genuinely repent, they should be all good. Who would have thought, a spouse murderer has a better shot of going to heaven than the spouse who divorces her husband after years of verbal and physical abuse, and then remarries someone else who treats her really wonderful.

    • I agree, adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of heaven if they do not repent. The good news of the Gospel is that they can and God will forgive them. I must also add, that those who committed adultery before accepting Christ, their adultery was forgiven and forgotten once they repented and were born again. A divorced person (divorced before accepting Christ) also has his mistake forgiven and forgotten by God. Once he repents and is born again, he is free to remarry (because the old things have passed away and the news things are here, a new life in Christ).

      BTW, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus condemns murder just as much as adultery so in His eyes, they are both sins. The good news is, that the murderer and the adulterer can both be forgiven by God and transformed.

      • I agree with everything so said, except one thing. Divorce and remarriage during one’s unbelief doesn’t change the fact that the new marriage is adultery. One the person gets saved, they are supposed to stop the adulterous relationship, not stay in it. If the man who divorced his first wife (for something other than her cheating on him) and marries another gets to keep his new wife after he comes to Christ, then the gay man who married a man before coming to Christ should also get to keep his husband after he becomes born again. I think you are getting the divorce and the adultery of the situation mixed up. There is nowhere in the Bible that God condemns divorce. “God hates divorce” is just something contemporary preaches made up; it is not supported by any scripture. It is the adultery that God hates, and that comes from having sexual relations with someone else after one has been married. The only exceptions are if one’s spouse already cheated (so they have broken the marriage covenant), or if they are unbelievers and desert their spouse. You don’t get to continue an adulterous lifestyle just because you have confessed your sins and become born again. You are expected to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” In this case, it begins with terminating the adulterous relationship (or ending the gay marriage if the person had done something like that while an unbeliever).

    • Dear Adosa, if the new birth we receive when we accept Jesus cleans us of all past sin why are you exempting divorce from this being cleaned of all sin. Either the blood cleans us of all sin or it cleans us of no sin. You cannot have it both ways.

  5. It’s interesting that while you all are debating over this while I am going through a possible divorce. I am a Christian. My wife was a Christian. But she left me. God is showing me things about divorce very clearly. Read my blog at http://www.christiandivorces.com/.

    I am quite certain that God doesn’t want any divorce, whether Christian or non-Christian. Divorce is not in God’s plan but solely because of our sin. May He be proven always good and us, unworthy of His love.

  6. Ok, you two are debating God’s Word. Please do this in private as I’m trying to get material together about Divorced and Serving Him.
    How men an women can serve in areas that bring glory to God.
    I don’t see either of you doing that.
    Looking as I’m starting a connect group with my church.
    Something that says yes I understand what’s its like to be divorced, but know God loves you unconditionally !!
    I want to help those that are facing obstacles, an people that have nothing but judge mental attitudes are not the ones to listen to.
    As God is not like that. He gives us direction , an a purpose no matter who we are.
    He doesn’t discriminate an say your not good enough, that’s man arguing an trying to use the Word as a defense.

    I want those that don’t know Him to be able. To see God’s love, grace n mercy.
    To see Him as a good God,one that will never leave or forsake them.

    In Him,
    Mariam

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