This sermon is number 17 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 17
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 7:8-16
We are looking tonight at 'Marriage Matters', and we'll be covering quite a bit of ground with many issues related to marriage, but we're beginning our reading at verse 8 [of 1 Corinthians] and we'll finish at roundabout verse 17 or so.
"I say therefore to the unmarried and 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. 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. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband 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".
Now let me just say that in this evening's study I'll be touching on a number of very controversial subjects. The likelihood is that there will be some of you who will disagree, and disagree profoundly, on some of the things that I will say tonight. That's no surprise, because there are greater and more godly men than I who disagree with what I'm going to teach from the word of God this evening. Let me also say it is not my intention, in any capacity, to offend anyone unnecessarily, to ostracise anyone, to single anyone out or to make them feel uncomfortable. I hope that any of you who know me will know that there is no condemnation in my heart towards anyone. I hope you will take that from my heart, honestly and truthfully, as I express it to you this evening.
But yet, with all of these matters that touch us individually and corporately as families and among our friends with relation to marriage, divorce, widowhood, widowers and so forth; those who are single, and those who are virgins, nevertheless there comes times when we have to set aside our own individual circumstances and not allow them to prejudice how we understand and interpret the word of God. I'm seeking to do that, and I would request that you do it also. The last time I addressed the subject particularly of divorce, when we were going through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 on Sunday mornings, there was one individual - and he's not here tonight just in case you think you know who it is - but who caught me at the door and said to me: 'You don't realise some of the problems and the suffering and the pain that people who go through these experiences and circumstances have in their lives - for many people who are divorced it's not their fault'. Well, if he had been listening during the course of my message, I outlined the fact that for many people it is not their fault - we live in a day and age where divorce can be forced upon you without your consent. I did make that known, and I want that to be known tonight. I'm not saying that we have all the answers, and that we have yet perfected the application of these spiritual truths that we're going to look at this evening. If at any time in our study this evening I sound clinical, or I'm delving into details that seem to be unaware or ignorant to the pain that you are going through, forgive me - it's not my intention. But it is my intention this evening to get to the bottom, discerning what the mind of God is with regards to these spiritual truths.
Paul begins by speaking again to the unmarried, and this time he brings along with the unmarried into his conversation those who could be classed as widows. Our last study, verses 1 to 7, touched on those who are unmarried and have been such, and whether it would be right for them to get married or just to stay single. I would encourage you to get that tape to really understand the context of all the circumstances contemporary to the people in Corinth that Paul was speaking to. Tonight in verses 8 and 9 he talks about those who are unmarried and those who are widows. Now what I want you to notice before we even look at the subject of unmarried people and widows is how he begins this sentence in verse 8, because it's repeated right throughout this passage, and it will help our understanding and interpretation of it.
He says: 'I say therefore'. Now in the Greek language it's the same expression that's used in verse 10, where he says: 'And unto the married'. It's the same expression as verse 12 too: 'But to the rest speak I'. It really is a connective part of language, which in Greek is 'de', and in our English it would be better translated: 'now'. It's a verb that's used when a man is speaking or commanding something, so you could change verse 8, verse 10, and verse 12, the beginning of them to say: 'And now'. Verse 8: 'And now to the unmarried'. Verse 10: 'And now to the married'. Verse 12: 'And now to the rest'. So we see right away, by the connective verb of speaking, he is differentiating between classifications of types of people in relation to marriage bond that he's speaking to. Now that's very important as we go through this passage, that Paul is commanding things to different situations of people related to the marriage bond one way or the other - whether they're single, whether they're married, whether they're divorced, or whatever.
This phrase suggests that Paul is taking up these situations, and he's applying one specific rule to them all. That's also very important, because as you see in verse 8 he says: 'now I say to the unmarried'; verse 10 'now I say to the married'; verse 12 'now I say to the rest' - he's saying the one thing to all of them. Now you might think that that is to over-simplify the matter, but I think if you analyse it yourself you will see that he says to all of them: 'I want you to stay as you are...I want you to stay as you are'. Now we'll see this as we go through, but one proof of that is verse 17 where he concludes the whole matter, and he says: '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'. Verse 20 as well, and we'll see this next week as we enter into this realm: 'Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called'. So you understand that the main point and the main theme of everything that Paul is saying through these verses this evening is: 'Stay in the same place as you were when you were converted'. I think if we understand that it will help in our interpretation.
So we see this in verse 8, because he's reiterating what he's already said with regards to the single life. He extends it this time to widows, and he said: 'I wish that you were just like I am'. If you find yourself single, and you've got the gift of singleness - as we saw last week, and it is a gift - stay as you are. Don't be seeking to be married. He expands this to widows and he says: 'If you find yourself a widow', some would say this word 'unmarried' could actually mean widowers, 'if you find yourself in that predicament, stay as you are'. Of course, in these days in the early Church there was great pressure on folk who are unmarried to be married, but especially upon widows - more so than widowers, because women tended to depend more in those days on their husband to get by financially and in all sorts of ways with regards to support. There could be a temptation of them feeling insecure, and feeling lacking without being married - but Paul says: 'Hold your emotions for a minute, because as far as I can see it's better to stay the way you are'.
In fact, he uses the word that he used in verse 1 and he says: 'It's good, it's good for you to stay this way. It's good for them if they abide even as I am'. He uses the same statement to prove - as I've said, he's saying he wants you to stay as you are, verse 26: 'I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be' - it is good to stay single. What was the present distress? Well, people were being murdered for their faith, being martyred. He's saying to single people: 'What's the point of getting married, only to see your wife and your children slaughtered, and persecuted, and martyred?'. He's saying to widows: 'Don't get married again at the present distress, because the chances are you'll be widowed again, and you don't want that do you?'.
If you look at verse 37, again: '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', not get married, 'doeth well', or doeth good. The word right throughout those three verses is 'kalos' (sp?), the word 'good', and it means 'morally upstanding'. There is nothing wrong with staying single, or if you're a widow there's nothing wrong with staying a widow - in fact, the Bible commends it: 'It is good'. Now Paul says in verse 8: 'If they abide', and that insinuates that it is their choice, he's not telling them to do it, but it's their choice: if you abide as he is, well, that's commendable; but it's not the rule, it's not a command. This is shown in the fact that he says: 'It is good for them if they abide even as I' - 'I had a choice whether to get married or not, but I took the choice, not a command, but I can do it: stay single. It's good if they want to do it and they do do it'. It's not a right or wrong issue, we saw that last week. The emphasis is on Paul's conscious decision.
Of course, if you think about it for a moment, and if you read any of the Acts of the Apostles you would see very clearly that it would have been difficult, I'll not say impossible, but difficult for Paul to live the kind of missionary life that he did if he had been bringing a wife along with him everywhere. This is what Paul is trying to say: if you've got the gift of being single, it's necessary that you stay single. As we'll see in a couple of weeks time there are certain things that single people can do for the Lord that people who are married cannot do because of all the burdens of marital life and family life with children. John Berridge was a countryside preacher, and historians say that if he had lived in the city of London, or perhaps Edinburgh, he would have been one of the most famous preachers that ever lived. But because he preached around the little villages of England he became known as 'the countryside Whitefield'. He was quaint and eccentric, he probably would have admitted that himself, but all that did was add to his appeal as a preacher. The people came in their droves to come and hear him preaching in the fields. In fact we're told that in one year he led more than 4000 souls to the Lord Jesus Christ. He evangelised non-stop for 40 years of his life before he passed on to glory. John Berridge insisted that his ministry would be most effective if he remained unmarried, to such an extent that he became worried that the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield hadn't done likewise, and they had went and got married. Whitefield had married a woman with whom he had spent less than a week, and she died in 1768. Poor John Wesley had marital woes, his wife left him.
Writing to Lady Huntingdon, who some of you may know was the patron of those English evangelists in those days, Berridge observed these words, and I quote you, and listen to this carefully - here's some advice: 'No trap is so mischievous to the field preacher as wedlock, and it is laid for him at every hedge corner. Matrimony has quite maimed poor Charles Wesley, and might have spoiled John Wesley and George Whitefield if a wise Master had not graciously sent them a brace pair of ferrets' - what about that! 'Dear George has his liberty again, and he will escape well if he is not caught by another tenterhook. Eight or nine years ago, having been grievously tormented with housekeeping, I thought of looking out for wife myself, but it seemed highly needful to ask advice of the Lord. So, kneeling down before the table, with a Bible between my hands, I besought the Lord to give me direction'. And the Lord gave John Berridge Jeremiah 16 and 2: 'Thou shall not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place'. He relinquished all his thoughts of marriage and gave himself to pleasing the Lord, as Paul says, without distraction.
Perhaps dear John Berridge is erring on the side of those who said: 'It's good for a man not to touch a woman', and condemning those that are married. But he's right as far as he was concerned, that was the gift that God had given to him, and it made his ministry more effective. However, Paul says there is an exception to this gift of singleness and it's found in verse 9: 'If they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn'. There is a good reason why you should not stay single, and it's simply this: if you cannot stay single. That's the point! If you cannot contain, if you've a lack of power over your self-control, Paul says: 'Let them marry, for it's better to marry than to burn'. 'To burn' simply means to be inflamed with passion, a type of turbulent emotional struggle within you towards sin. If you struggle with this, and if you yield to it, it will distract you and devastate your whole spiritual inner life and outer life.
The only way to have an antidote against this is to get married. Let me say this: I don't think that Paul is just saying 'Get married if you're burning with lust', but I believe Paul is saying not just 'if you cannot control yourself', but 'if you are not exercising self-control'. That's the point: not just if there's a struggle going on within you, but the implication is that the people he's talking to here were doing what married people ought to be doing, but they themselves were not married. They were committing fornication, what he's already talked about at the end of chapter 6, and they were probably going to these ritual pagan prostitutes and exercising this idolatrous worship that was in the form of sexual rites and rituals. Paul is saying: 'Rather than do these things, it is better to marry and exercise your sexual passions and appetites in God's ordained way'.
Now often this verse is applied, and I don't think it's wrong in one sense to apply it to those sexual desires that inflame those who are young among us, but the specific application is to those who are already committing the sins of lust, that's who the application is too. Those who are not controlling, not 'cannot', but those who cannot contain and are not containing their sexual appetites. Paul says: 'If you're single, if you are widowed, stay as you are - with one exception: those who are not exercising continence'. I hope you can see that as regards to the unmarried and the widows.
Then he moves on to this next statement: 'And now to the married I command'. He's really touching on the subject of divorce, look at verses 10 and 11: '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'. Now I said this last week, but I have to reiterate it, that 1 Corinthians 7 is not an A-to-Z of marriage, it's not a textbook that gives answers to every eventuality and every question with regards to marriage, and it certainly is not a textbook on the subject of divorce. What 1 Corinthians 7 is doing is answering the specific questions that the Corinthians had, and therefore we must assume that if they had questions on marriage, and now Paul is addressing the subject of divorce, they must have asked a question that touches on the issue of whether Christians ought to be divorced or not.
Now I believe that the statements of Paul in verses 10 and 11, the brevity of it and the clarity of it are astounding, and also the things that Paul leaves out in these verses strike us and ought to make us sit up in our interpretation of it. One author said that this definition of Christians and divorce is simple, authoritative, uncompromising and uncomplicated. Let's not complicate things this evening, let's read the Scriptures as plain as they are within the word of God. The two questions that were in the Corinthians minds, I believe, considering the answer that Paul gave them, was first of all: 'What is the position when a wife separates from her husband, when a wife decides to separate from her husband?'. Verse 10, look at it: 'Let not the wife depart from her husband'. The second question is: 'Should a husband ever divorce his wife?'. Verse 11: 'But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband', there it is, 'put away his wife'.
Now in order to understand what these questions are asking, and what the answers Paul is giving to them are, you've got to understand that there are different Greek words used in this portion of Scripture. I want to take this slowly so we don't misunderstand everything. If you look at verse 10, look at the word 'depart': 'Let not the wife depart from her husband'. That word 'depart' in the Greek is the word for 'separate'. It is clearly the word for 'separate', yet there is a different word that is used in verse 11 where it says at the end: 'Let not the husband put away his wife'. Now in the English or Authorised Version they are distinct with different translations because they are different words. Verse 11 'put away' is literally the word 'divorce'. Now there is an error that many commentators and Bible teachers make, and that is to say that both these words mean 'to divorce' - they do not! If they meant 'to divorce', Paul would have used the same word in both instances, he would not have confused us in our understanding of these things.
The first means 'separate', the second means 'to divorce', that is quite clear. But when Paul answers their two questions, Paul answers it in a command, look at verse 10: 'To the married I command'. Now if you were with us last week, Paul was giving some advice, but at no point yet has Paul commanded believers to do anything. He is now doing something that he hasn't done before, this issue is so important that he says: 'I'm commanding you, and I can command you with authority because it's not really me that is commanding you, it's the Lord'. Do you see that? 'I command, yet not I, but the Lord'. Now why is he saying this? Because Paul is simply reiterating in verses 10 and 11 the teaching of the Lord Jesus. It's the Lord's command, he's echoing what the Lord has already said, and primarily he's reciting the portion of Scripture found in Mark's gospel chapter 10 verses 2 to 12. Now we don't have time to look at that, but if you want to look at it at home please feel free to do so, for it's so important.
So Paul says, in the light of what the Lord taught in Mark chapter 10, here's his answer: one, a wife must not separate from her husband - however, he goes on, there may be circumstances that will come into the marriage that leave it impossible for that woman to continue to live with that man, and she should try to remain married, but if she cannot she is permitted to separate but she is to remain unmarried in the position of separation. I think that's clear enough for you to see: 'Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart', or separate, 'let her remain unmarried' - she should remain unmarried. The reason being, in Mark chapter 10, the whole point of what the Lord Jesus was saying in answer to the Pharisees was: if you are divorced and remarried you are in danger of committing adultery, and that's what the Lord Jesus taught and that is simply what Paul is reiterating. If a woman is to separate herself from her husband, she is to remain unmarried. You will notice that in Mark 10 the Lord Jesus doesn't mention a second marriage, and Paul the apostle here, as he addresses divorce, doesn't mention second marriage at all - he doesn't mention second marriage as an option for a woman that separates with her husband.
I hope you're picking all this up as we go along. He's saying that the ideal is not to depart, don't depart; but he makes a concession. Do you see what he's saying here? Stay as you are! Stay as you are! The only concession is that if things get so bad - and I don't think God wants any woman to stay in a situation were she is abused physically, mentally, verbally, maybe even spiritually - if things get that bad and she has done all that she can, she is permitted to separate. Notice the different word, she is permitted to separate - but she must not marry! Is that not clear? 'Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried', the only other alternative is, 'or be reconciled to her husband'.
You see, I think that sometimes we get confused about these issues simply because Jesus and Paul were not as concerned about divorce as we are. They were more concerned with the permanency of marriage. In the Gospels and the epistles where Jesus and Paul address the issue of marriage and divorce, they are concerned chiefly to pronounce that if anyone after divorce remarries it is the equivalent of adultery. You can go through the passages where the Lord and Paul speak on divorce, and I think that you will see that very clearly. They are opposed to divorce, but the strength of their statements is to prohibit remarriage.
Now the big question that we need to ask in the light of the context of what we're reading here is: this permission and this concession Paul gives for a woman to separate from a husband, do you think it was because of the reasons that we give today? Now there are legitimate reasons, as I mentioned: abuse, physical or whatever - you can't expect a woman to live in that situation, or even, for that matter, a man. But do you think those were the cases that Paul was instituting in Corinth? I don't think they were at all, as a matter of fact the likelihood is that they were probably immoral cases where there was so much lust and sexual immorality and fornication that Paul has been dealing with already, and ritual prostitution, that the likelihood was that a woman could actually want to be separated from her husband in the sense of a sexual separation to perform ritual prostitution - and we know that these Corinthians believers faced this temptation. The other alternative explanation could also be that there were those who were saying: 'Well, I'm a Christian and surely it's better not to get involved with sexual matters because in my unconverted past they were source of real sin and condemnation to me. Therefore, would it not be better for me to just cut these off totally and to divorce my husband even though he's a Christian?'.
Paul says to both those situations: 'Even if your wife or your husband is tempted to go into this sexual ritual of worship in the pagan world, you're to stay with them as long as you can', and even in the other alternative, if you're wanting to cut off all relationships with your husband or wife because you feel that it's marked of your past, you're not to depart, not to separate from your spouse. Do you not think that if Paul was believing that there were grounds, as many say there are grounds to divorce on the ground of adultery and fornication, do you not think Paul would have brought this exception clause in here in the Corinthian situation? Do you not think he would say: 'Yes, it's OK if they've committed fornication, or if they've committed adultery'? But the point that Paul is wanting to bring across to these believers is the permanency of marriage. The question that we ask is the wrong question, it shouldn't be: 'When am I allowed to get divorced? Can I get remarried?', the question ought to be, long ago, 'Am I marrying the right person?' - because this thing is permanent!
Young people, I address you, and I'm not trying to condemn those who have been divorced or remarried, I'm chiefly trying to instruct our young people - as you will hear in marriage vows and ceremonies over and over again - this is not to be entered lightly or unadvisedly because of its permanency! Paul says to a woman who perhaps has a temptation to leave her husband: 'Stay as you are, with one concession, if things get so difficult you have to leave, and if you leave you're to remain unmarried' - that's black and white, I hope you can see that.
But he answers the second question saying that a husband must not divorce the wife: 'Let him not put her away'. It's a different word, the word for 'divorce', and really the first lesson that we get here is that there is a responsibility that's mutual in marriage. It's not just the responsibility of the wife to stay maybe in a difficult situation, and I'm not saying how difficult that situation can get - and we all know that in marriage we all will have difficult situations at some time or another, and if we're honest we may even admit that there's times we would like to get out. That's not speaking personally, by the way, just in case you quote me!
What Paul is making clear is: separation is undesirable, but it is permitted. But in verse 11 divorce is prohibited. Can you see the difference here? These two words that are used, they are different. The word for 'separation', there's a concession; but with regards to divorce it's just a clean break of prohibition: 'Let not the husband put away his wife'. It is concurrent with Mark chapter 10, Luke chapter 16, that tell us that marriage is permanent and that divorce is not for the child of God. There is significance in the fact that Paul doesn't quote from Matthew chapter 5, where there is the exception clause: 'except for the case of fornication'. Why does he not quote from Matthew 5, or Matthew 19 where it's repeated? Well it's significant that he doesn't do this, and it's so significant in the light that in chapter 5 of Corinthians he was dealing with a case of fornication, and in chapter 6 he's dealing with the theories and teachings with regard to fornication - you'd think it would be common sense when he enters into the realm of divorce, that he would bring the exception clause in 'except for fornication' - but he doesn't!
Why doesn't he? He doesn't because it is irrelevant to this particular situation. It's irrelevant to the discussion because Matthew's exception clause, as Matthew's gospel is primarily to the Jews so is that statement, and it speaks of a time, I believe, in the betrothal period which is a bit like our engagement period, where there was a covenant entered into which was almost akin to 100% marriage but it wasn't quite there, the consummation of the marriage still had to happen. But if the wife was found to be unfaithful in that betrothal period, the husband had grounds to terminate the covenant and officially have a divorce, and it was purely Jewish. That's why Matthew writes it to the Jewish mind, but when Paul comes now to speak to Corinthians where fornication is rife inside and outside of marriage, he leaves the exception clause out - why? Because it's Jewish! Because, for the Gentile believer, there is no exception to marriage, but marriage is permanent. When you consider that many of these pagans, even those who were converted, were going to pagan ritual prostitutes and committing fornication probably, Paul would have had every right if there was an exception to come in and say: 'These fornicators, you've got grounds to divorce them' - but he didn't do it! The Lord's command, and Paul is only reiterating what the Lord says, is that marriage is permanent, and God hates divorce - as Malachi 2:16 says.
He addresses the unmarried and the widows, he addresses the subject of divorce, and then he comes in and speaks into mixed marriages in verses 12 to 16. In verses 12 to 14 there's a Christian converted, this is the scenario, after he is married to an unbeliever he gets saved, and his partner is willing to continue with him. So this man gets saved after he is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever wants to stay with him. In verses 15 to 16 you have a different scenario: a Christian who gets saved, but their partner is not willing to continue the marriage. Now Paul address this and says: 'Now speak I, not the Lord' - now that doesn't mean that what Paul is going to say isn't worth the paper it's written on. It doesn't mean it doesn't have any authority, but what he's saying is that the Lord in Mark chapter 10 didn't deal with this type of problem, so I'm not quoting any passage - which proves that he was quoting Mark chapter 10 before - he says: 'I'm not quoting a command of the Lord, but I'm giving you advice', and as we look at verse 40 we see that that advice is from the Lord, because all Scripture is God breathed: 'But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God'. He's showing that what he says comes from God, but it's something that the Lord Himself didn't cover in His teaching upon the earth.
But it is the same advice...he's giving the same advice to the first couple and the second couple. The man who gets saved after he's married and his wife wants to stay with him, what does Paul say? 'Stay as you are', but there is one concession: that couple - the guy gets converted after marriage, and Paul says 'Stay as you are', but the other person that's not saved doesn't want to stay in a marriage, but Paul says that's the only concession, the only concession. Let's look at it in a bit more detail so that we don't misunderstand what Paul is saying. He says: 'But to the rest', verse 12, that means all the circumstances that he hasn't already covered in unmarried and widows, and those are thinking of divorcing their husbands. Here is a situation that's different. Now you've got to note couple of things, and I know we're being very detailed tonight, but this is important. You've got to notice that the situations in these verses are dependent upon the attitude of the unbelieving partner. It is not the Christian who's deciding whether to stay or not with a non-Christian, it's the non-Christian who's deciding whether to stay or whether to go. There is no insinuation that it is expected that a Christian should think of divorce!
I hope you can see that. The possibility of divorce lies only with the unbeliever in these verses. In verse 14 Paul gives the reason why they should stay as they are: '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'. Here's the reason why the Christian should remain married: because their husband or wife, who is an unbeliever, is made holy, is sanctified. The likelihood is that some of these over-zealous Christians in Corinth were saying: 'I've got to get divorced now, because I'm a Christian and my husband's not, so we've got to sever this bond. It's an unequal yoke'. Remember that they were married before they were converted, and then there's the other ones who are saying: 'Well, perhaps my wife or my husband is still engaged in this pagan ritualistic immoral fornicatory worship, I have to divorce them!'.
What does Paul say? 'Stay as you are' - why? What's the grounds? Here's the grounds: literally in the Greek 'sanctified is the unbelieving husband', and 'sanctified is the unbelieving wife'. They are sanctified! Even if your husband or wife is an unbeliever and you're saved, they are sanctified in you - now that doesn't mean they're saved, it doesn't even mean spiritual progressive sanctification that you have in the Christian life, but it's taking the naked word 'sanctified' in its literal meaning 'to set apart' - they are set apart in you! Because of that it makes them different, they are set apart socially. If I could illustrate it like this, say Thorndyke Street - I don't know who lives there, whether there's any believers live in Thorndyke Street - but take for instance that Thorndyke Street was more pagan than it already is, and there wasn't a believer in it. Then all of a sudden Sammy gets saved, gloriously saved, and he is the only one in his house that's saved - Paul is saying that his wife, even though she's a pagan, and still worshipping her pagan gods, is set apart. She's different now because her husband is saved, and he goes on to say even their children are different, they're set apart. He says that their children are holy.
Now what this simply is is holiness by association, you find it in Exodus 29:37 where the altar of God is described as most holy, and then Moses adds 'whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy' - whatsoever associates with the altar shall be holy. Now here's the train of thought that Paul is bringing to us tonight: if your wife is set apart, even though she's a pagan, even though she's maybe worshipping her pagan gods in awful rituals, there's no need to put her away or to separate from her because she is sanctified in the Lord. Now this is important, because many godly men and scholars who try to tell us that it's legitimate to be divorced as a Christian and then remarried, use Old Testament passages to prove this to us. They say that there are times in the Old Testament where God commanded His people to divorce, and that is true. God commanded His people in Ezra chapter 9 verses 1 and 2 to divorce the wives that they took from the false tribes they were forbidden to marry from. You find it in chapter 10 as well, they were told to divorce them; in the book of the Nehemiah you find exactly the same thing in chapter 13 - and they say: 'There it is, that there are some times that God allowed divorce'. But you can't use that as an example! Because these people were in an unequal yoke, but we are now in the New Testament and Paul is saying by revelation that in the New Testament, even when there's a husband saved and a wife not, that the wife is sanctified by the husband and they are made holy by association and there's no need to separate, there's no need to divorce!
The situation has changed, and if I could be pastoral just for a moment, does that not encourage your heart, dear soul? If you're married to an unbeliever, that if you were under law you would be cursed, but under grace you're blessed and your husband's blessed too and your wife, and your wee children also, because of Christ. Isn't that marvellous? My friend, we have to get to the bottom of this because there is a lot of confusion about it. In verse 15 Paul really ties the whole matter up, he says: 'But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart' - if the unbelieving separate, is the word, let him separate. So here you have the believer, but the unbelieving partner wants to terminate and finish the marriage and leave. They are determined on separation, and if that's the case, Paul says: 'You've got to put up with it, there's nothing you can do about it'.
Now I think what's being talked about here concerning the word is 'separation', but we live in a situation today where you're divorced and you can do nothing about it. We have to address and apply these Scriptures to these situations, but what is amazing to me as I've been studying today is the amount of expositors that assume that this expression 'not under bondage' is legitimate proof to say that you're allowed after a divorce to get remarried, if you've been deserted by another party that you're free to marry. The opening statement in verse 15, now I'm going to clear this up hopefully tonight - I'm sure not for everybody, but I'm going to try my best - verse 15: 'But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart'. Now there again is the inference, what is it Paul has been saying right along? 'Stay as you are'. Hasn't that been the point all along? Stay as you are - if they depart, let them, and stay as you are.
But he goes on: 'A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace'. He's not enslaved, and so, scholars say, this means that he is no longer under the marriage bond and he's free to get married again. Now you see this word 'enslaved', it is derived from the word 'doulos' in Greek, and if you go right throughout your whole New Testament every time Paul uses it it's used in a figurative sense. The ordinary word that Paul uses for a marriage bond is not the word derived from 'doulos', but it is a word 'deo', that's the word he uses when he's talking about a legal ritualistic dutiful bond of marriage - but that is not the word he's using here. Let me prove this to you, because later on in this chapter he uses the word for the bondage of marriage, verse 39: 'The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if he be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord'. So there is the marriage bondage, if you like, legally and spiritually in the eyes of God; and the only way that can be dissolved is at death.
But that's not the word Paul is using for 'enslaved' here, let me prove to you again - Romans chapter 7 and verse 2: 'For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law', 'deo' again, the word for the legal, spiritual covenant of marriage. But this is not the same word that Paul is using in 1 Corinthians 7. In fact, this is the only time that Paul ever uses the word in relation to marriage here. Here it is, but it doesn't mean that once you're divorced you're free to marry again - the point is that you're not bound to maintain a marriage when a partner has deserted you, you're not to try and make them stay with you, and try and convert them for the rest of your life. You can't restrain your spouse from departing from you, and in that case you're not bound to be enslaved to some kind of mechanical retention at all costs of a relationship that is totally abandoned.
Anyway, the word that is used for separation is not 'divorce', the word in verse 13 is 'to divorce', the word in verse 15 is 'separate' with regards to both husband and wife. Divorce is not in view. But here's the question: even if divorce was meant in that verse, to read into this phrase 'under bondage' that you're allowed to remarry is not only fanciful exegesis, but I would say to you it's irresponsible practice, because you're building on one little word that is disputed the whole marriage institution of divorced people getting remarried again. In my humble estimation that is a tragedy, if all you've got is a misinterpretation of one word in 1 Corinthians 7, and I believe that's all they have.
Add to that the fact that church leaders of the first five centuries, 500 years, with the exception of one, taught that 1 Corinthians 7 verse 15 does not permit remarriage to believers who are deserted. If you weren't convinced, the end of verse 15 says: 'God has called us to peace'. It's referring to all these matters of mixed marriage, that peace is to be the common denominator. Whether the partner that's living with you is willing to stay with you, you're to live with them in peace and let them remain, you're not to push them out - that's the point. But equally so, if the other partner refuses to stay with you you're not to try and coerce them against peace to stay when they're determined to leave, but you're to live in peace whatever the case is and only separate if necessary.
The chief reason to do this is found in verse 16: 'For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?'. Is that not encouraging to you who are married to an unbeliever? To know that, I'm not saying you should put up with things that are criminal and illegal and absolutely unforgivable, don't misunderstand me and don't twist my words - but I am saying that you know and I know that people who live with unconverted folk have to put up with an awful lot at times. But isn't good to know that what you put up with could lead to the salvation of your husband or wife?
Now give me a couple of minutes as I conclude tonight. This passage has been misused and abused to mistreat people who are divorced, people who are remarried, and treat them like lepers. I want to challenge this assembly that we are not to shun people like this or look down on them, and we have a challenge today more than ever in the climate that we live in to deal with these problems and apply these Scriptures to our contemporary situation. We must honour the biblical principles and apply them to our changing world today, and I want to say this clearly: divorce and remarriage is not the unpardonable sin! It's not! Whether before conversion or after conversion! What I don't want to come across as saying is that in some way everything else is almost forgivable, but this is not forgivable - that's not what I'm saying. What I am saying is that we must resist the current itch in evangelicalism to find proof texts where they cannot be found to legitimise divorce and remarriage among children of God, and it is rife today more than it has ever been. We must do what Paul was doing, what our Lord was doing: holding forth the ideal of marriage for our young people, who are now being conditioned to think that in certain circumstances I can get out of it and I can start all over again! We do them a great disservice. What the world needs to see is what these texts are teaching us: that when we are converted, that in whatever state we find ourselves - single, widowed, married, divorced - we are to stay as we are when we received the calling of God, and glorify God in it, even if our partner is unsaved and God alone knows perhaps one day they may be saved.
A lady had an unbelieving husband, she tried her best in every way and she sought advice of her Pastor. She said: 'I've done all to persuade him but to know effect'. He said: 'Madam, talk more to God about your husband and less to your husband about God'. It's not either or you know, both are necessary - but what will speak to your unbelieving husband, and what will speak loudest to an unbelieving world, is Christian marriages that hold together and don't look for divorce.
Father, we come before Thee tonight, and Lord we pray for each head bowed here - those in marriages and those outside marriages. We pray for those who have been divorced, and Lord we do want them to know that we love them, and we don't in anyway look down upon them - for many of them it was not their fault. Our Father, we live in an awful day where people are being hurt round about by immorality on every side. Lord, we want to love those folk and care for those folk, and even folk who are remarried - Lord, we don't condemn anybody, but we are seeking to walk in Thy word and according to Thy will. We pray especially for these young people here tonight, that those who are married and those who are considering marriage will not enter it lightly or unadvisedly, but with due consideration they will realise the permanence of it in the eyes of Almighty God. Lord, help us in our marriages - we pray for the single folk here and the widows who are trying to walk a path of purity that is very difficult at times. We just pray that all of us will put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for Jesus' sake we ask it. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the seventeenth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Marriage Matters" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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