The fact that remarriage is addressed scripturally tells divorced Christians that God does not condemn remarriage per se. The Lord addresses the natural desire for partnership with tenderness and careful direction. Remarriage is not for everyone, but here are some points to consider.
What Is Christian Marriage?
Whether for the first time or the second, marriage is a solemn and joyous occasion. As “the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).
A wedding represents the disciple’s marriage to Christ. The man will protect his wife; the woman will follow her husband’s lead (Ephesians 5).
Genesis 2:24 describes the first marriage and the model for all subsequent marriages: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Marriage is symbolic of the unbreakable love of Christ for his bride, the church.
A Christian wedding also binds the church to a married couple. Every married couple at every stage needs other couples to model and reflect a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love for one another.
Older couples demonstrate how a union grows stronger by handling conflict with grace and honesty, and even how to avoid conflict by representing the gospel in their married lives.
A congregation agrees to guide, support, and even hold a husband and wife accountable. New couples pledge to support those who come after them. This wider union sets the stage for demonstrations of the gospel in day-to-day life: mercy, grace, forgiveness, charity, honesty, gentleness, selflessness, and so on.
Marriage is a testimony to the love and hope we have in Christ, which is a celebration for everyone involved. “Human cultures may seek to reinvent [marriage] or reshape it, but under God, it stands as an unchangeable foundation for human life.”
This quote from Christopher Ash suggests that childbearing and creating a family is a fundamental reason behind marriage, but there are other reasons as outlined above.
Moreover, the concept of “family” is reinvented by the gospel, so even remarriage and late-life marriage can potentially fit into this model. All adopted sons and daughters of Christ are also siblings with every other person adopted by the Father.
More importantly, Ash reminds us that God — not society — instituted marriage and he did so with the intention that it would never end in divorce; that it would never need to.
The wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
If they are living out their marriage as a picture of gospel love, leading each other to Christ daily, their spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being within that union will be mutually secure.
Divorce and Scripture
People are broken and, as such, marriages break. There are legitimate scriptural grounds for divorce including adultery, but also abandonment (1 Corinthians 7:15). Scripture does not condone oppression, abandonment, or violence.
No one is expected to gratuitously endure abuse. Each situation must be addressed individually with help from a wise gospel counselor. For example, separation might motivate a spouse to repent of abuse and seek help.
If reuniting is safe, their marriage might continue stronger than before, a reflection of the Father’s mercy and forgiveness towards all sinners. This is what God would like to see: warm-hearted willingness to restore the marriage.
Divorce is the last resort, but it was common in Jesus’ time. If a spouse shows no sign of repentance or even awareness of his or her sin over time, and the abused party has genuinely prayed for the spouse and lamented the situation, divorce might be the logical conclusion.
An individual, with sensitive counsel, has to decide how long is long enough before finally ending a marriage, if at all. Divorce could be the only way to ensure financial compensation is legally mandated to protect the wronged party and the children from hardship.
Remarriage and Scripture
Kevin DeYoung explains that “all scholars on every side of this divorce and remarriage debate agree that it was a given for first-century Jews that remarriage was a valid option after a valid divorce.”
In other words, there was such a thing as both divorce and remarriage, which the priests would condone. Paul states in the New Testament “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Yet, in verses 10-11, Paul stipulates that a woman should not remarry if she is separated from her husband. Jesus instructed that “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
Jesus says “that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).
According to Paul Carter, Jesus is not condemning divorce outright: he is demanding that the Pharisees be clear about the appropriate grounds for divorce and remarriage. “In any case where a divorce is biblically permissible, it is by definition also permissible for the wronged or abandoned party to remarry. [...] Jesus is simply saying that if a divorce is not legitimate, then the remarriage is not legitimate. If the divorce is legitimate [...], then the remarriage is legitimate.”
A Cautious Approach
Scripture urges believers to approach this topic sensitively and slowly. Completing legal paperwork is time-consuming, tedious, and expensive. Both marriage and divorce involve witnesses.
Priests were taught how to certify and thereby legitimize the state of marriage or its dissolution because, in their sin, people are inclined to disrespect others and disregard God’s laws. Many individuals act rashly, then shirk their responsibilities and hurt other people.
The time in which both Paul and Jesus spoke was a dangerous one for women who were abandoned or abused. There had to be a way for a woman to divorce legally and prove she was not committing adultery if she wished to remarry, which was a means of finding both protection and companionship.
Otherwise, she could be wrongly classified as an adulteress and persecuted as such. Women’s reputations in first-century Palestine were essential and fragile.
It is wise for prospective partners to explore their own sin leading up to or following a divorce and to demand honesty from a prospective partner about his or her sins and what that friend is doing about certain issues.
This could be a deal-breaker. Even the victim of a spouse’s sin has probably developed unhealthy coping methods, which are also sinful and pose the question: what does this person not believe about Jesus and his promises?
The same is true for one who is marrying late in life for the first time: habits of autonomy and selfishness need a closer look. Behavior is not the issue — is a potential spouse being honest with the Lord and yielding to him? How will the other party know this is happening?
A good marriage starts as a friendship ideally, and friends will lead each other to the cross of Christ, to his forgiveness and love, back into relationship with him as Savior and friend. Once healing has taken place, perhaps the pair is in a good place to entertain the next steps in their relationship.
Why Remarry at All?
People marry a second time for some of the same reasons as they married at first: for companionship; to have kids; for protection and financial security. This time around, however, one should be wiser. God counsels “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Tim Counts wrote, “When I’m in the Word daily and talking to Christ in prayer, I tend to reflect more clearly [Jesus’] love for my wife. But when I’m surviving on spiritual fumes, it’s so easy for me to grow impatient, selfish, and rude.”
If one came to Christ midway through marriage or had thoughts of converting the other party, experience has shown the wisdom of Paul’s statement. Certainly, no partner can complete an individual either: only Christ can fulfill every need.
Behaving otherwise places too much pressure on a spouse and leads to disappointment. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness” (Colossians 2:9-10).
Remarriage, as with a first marriage, begins by honoring and publicizing Jesus’ unique love for the church. God’s commands around marriage is this that each spouse viewing and treating the other as a neighbor, sibling, co-inheritor, and seeking to love one another with the rich love of Christ to his glory.
Co-heirs in Christ offer one another the deepest respect, encouragement, generosity, honesty, gentleness, kindness, and selflessness: essentially, love. Cohabitation is not a biblical alternative.
Cohabitation avoids the public and symbolic declaration of mutual responsibility between spouses and between the couple and their church; robs the congregation of a celebration and robs the Church of a testimony in which the husband and wife hand their union over to God for his protection and his disposition.
Cohabitation rejects God’s will and his glory. The official nature of marriage also necessitates and facilitates thoughtfulness, discussion, and caution whereas cohabitation can simply “happen” without as much thought, even though it is recognized legally.
Final Thoughts on Remarriage
One positive aspect of Christian remarriage is that a Christian divorcee has tested and revealed more of Jesus’ goodness in a personal and profound way.
Experiencing rejection, isolation, perhaps despair, and yet establishing a deeper faith, is a gift to both the sufferer and the person he or she marries in the future. One can emerge from the wreckage of divorce or even the death of a spouse with a greater understanding of God’s mercy and remarry into a far richer union.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.