Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson 4

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Irrevocable Covenant, Nor Modifiable Contract

Covenant of God: God, Husband, Wife  A wife is a “wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14, New American Standard),  and the covenant is the “covenant of her God.”(Prov. 2:17). The law of  man may treat marriage as an ordinary “contract” that is modifiable by  the mutual consent of the parties involved. The law of God, however,  treats marriage as a “covenant” involving three parties: husband, wife,  and God. When God is a party to an agreement, the agreement is a  covenant (covenant of God, Prov. 2:17), not a contract modifiable by  man. God never breaks the covenant, and for this reason, neither can the
other two parties.

In Old Testament times the sacrifice of animals and the shedding of  blood was typically part of the making of a covenant (Psa. 50:5; Heb.  9:16,17). This implies a commitment to keep the covenant at the cost of  life. The parties live for one another, and would die for one another so  that the covenant may be kept. See Genesis 15:9-21 where God made a  covenant with Abraham, and Exodus 24:1-8 where God made a  covenant with Israel, and He became Israel’s husband (Jer. 31:32).  Abraham’s children (Israel) later became unfaithful, but God remained  faithful to the covenant (Deut. 4:29-31; Psa. 89:34). 

Where do we see the sacrifice and the shedding of blood in connection  with the marriage covenant? It is Christ’s life-giving love and His  precious blood that won Him His bride, the Church. This truth is  reflected in every Christian marriage. The husband and wife have  solemnly promised to each other and to God: “I will live not for myself,  but for my God, and for my spouse. I will lay down my life for my God  and for my spouse.” By such a promise the husband and wife are  fulfilling Heb. 9:16–17: “For where a testament (covenant) is, there  must also of necessity be the death of the testator (one who made the  covenant)…” This is the nature of the covenant of marriage, a covenant of God. 

In such a covenant union the spouses are allowed to “know” each other  (Gen. 4:1, first mention of sexual union in the Scripture). In such  “knowing” the spouses experience the blessings of God in covenant  love. The covenant love and union between husband and wife reflect the  covenant love and union between Christ and His Body, the Church (Eph.  5:22-28). The union between Christ and the Church — The Head and the  Body — cannot be dissolved, no more can the covenant union between a  husband and his wife be dissolved. Jesus Christ said: “…What therefore  God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6, New  American Standard). 

Divorce and Remarriage: The Scriptures Did Jesus Christ absolutely prohibit divorce? Read Matt. 5:32 and  Matt. 19:9. These words of Christ permit divorce on the ground of  fornication. It should be noted however that where there is repentance,  there is room for forgiveness and this is best. 

Did Jesus Christ absolutely prohibit remarriage of the innocent  spouse unjustly divorced? Read Luke 16:18 and Matt. 5:32. In these  verses we have the case of a woman unjustly divorced, and is therefore  innocent. The remarriage of such an innocent woman would result in an  adulterous union. 

Let us apply the same principle to a faithful man who divorces his wife on the grounds of fornication, and is himself innocent; the remarriage of  such an innocent man would result in an adulterous union. (Note: Some  think that this applies only to the woman, not to the man. They base their  thinking on the fact that a man was allowed to have more than one  spouse in the Old Testament, but not the woman. The argument fails in  the case of Adam and Eve, which is what Jesus used (Matt. 19: 3-6) to  affirm Gen. 1:27 and 2:24; see also Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, Titus

Christ’s Words: “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and  whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt.  5:32, New King James Version). Let us ask: If a woman not guilty of  sexual immorality was divorced, and she remarried, how could she be  committing adultery? Was she not innocent and unjustly divorced? How  would it be wrong for her to remarry? Unless Christ had spoken, we  wouldn’t have known. There is extreme pain when the innocent suffer.  When we suffer, we commit ourselves to God (1 Pet. 4:19). 

Again we read: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another  commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and  marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12, New King  James Version). This verse speaks both of the husband and the wife.  Separation or Divorce Permitted, Not Remarriage: “A wife is not to  depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain  unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to  divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10-11, New King James Version). Matt. 5:32  would allow divorce – not remarriage – on the grounds of sexual

Does 1 Cor. 7:15 permit remarriage? Here the apostle counsels that if  an unbelieving partner leaves, the believing spouse is free and should  remain in God’s peace. Is the believing spouse free to remarry? Nothing  is said about remarriage. Paul’s silence on remarriage here is significant.  It shows that Christ’s prohibition of remarriage was well known.  Contrast this with Rom. 7:3 where Paul permits remarriage for the woman whose husband is dead. 

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Divorce and Remarriage: The Early Church  Following is a quote from early Christian writings (Tertullian, A.D.145-220) on Luke 16:18:  “Christ prohibits divorce saying, ‘Whosoever putteth away his  wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever  marrieth her that is put away from her husband, also committeth  adultery.’ In order to forbid divorce, He makes it unlawful to  marry a woman that has been put away… ‘put away,’ that is, for  the reason wherefore a woman ought not to be dismissed, that  another wife may be obtained. For he who marries a woman who  is unlawfully put away is as much of an adulterer as the man who  marries one who is undivorced.” (“Ante-Nicene Fathers”, Volume  III, pg. 405, 1989 Ed.) 

Here is another testimony from early Church history:  “In the second century the medical writer Galen was impressed by  Christian continence and especially the fact that many were  celibate. Justin in 150 presented his fellow-believers as heroes of  restraint, rejecting remarriage after divorce…” (“The Oxford  Illustrated History of Christianity” edited by John Mcmanners,  The Early Christian Community, Henry Cha
dwick, pg. 39, 1992  Ed.) 

Counsel Concerning Marriage and Divorce: In His authentic and final teaching about marriage in Matt. 5:32, Matt.  19:4-9, Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:18, the Lord Jesus Christ joined the  prohibition of divorce to the prohibition of remarriage; let us not  separate what Christ has joined. Men and women will fear to divorce if  the Church will fear to accept remarriage. This, and only this, shall  reverse the destructive divorce culture that is engulfing the Christian  churches in our day. Let us stand against the tide and intercede for God’s  people. 

How may we comfort those who suffer innocently? The Lord Jesus  Christ suffered innocently; we share in His suffering and in His glory.  “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the  keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator”  (1 Peter 4:19). 

God is a party to the covenant of marriage, and He never breaks the  covenant (“My covenant will I not break,” Psa. 89:34; Deut. 4:29-31);  and for this reason, the covenant of the first marriage endures unbroken  on God’s part, and therefore unbreakable by divorce and remarriage on  man’s part. “They are no more twain” (Matt. 19:6), and the “scripture  cannot be broken” (John 10:35). If Jesus said that they are no longer  two, neither divorce nor remarriage can make them two. Did God  dissolve the covenant of the first marriage when the divorce took place  under man’s law? No. Did God dissolve the covenant of the first  marriage when the remarriage took place under man’s authority? No.  Would God dissolve the covenant of the first marriage for any reason –- other than death – after the divorce or the remarriage? No. 

The following counsel is based on the premise that the first spouse to  whom God joined you to is your spouse “by covenant” (Mal. 2:14, New  American Standard), and the covenant is the covenant of God (Prov.  2:17). 

Counsel for Covenant Couples: Do not think of divorce except if your spouse is guilty of adultery, and  unrepentant. And, if you divorce at all, with or without any guilt in  either spouse, be warned that you do not have the option to remarry (1  Cor. 7:10,11); if you remarry, the union would be adulterous (Luke  16:18; Matt. 5:32). 

Counsel for the Divorced:  Never think of remarriage as an option as long as your spouse is alive; if  you remarry, the union would be adulterous. Your options are: (1) Do not marry again as long as your spouse lives, remarried or not; or, (2) Be  reconciled to your spouse if there is repentance and the spouse is free. 

Counsel Concerning Remarriage:  1. If you are remarried while the covenant spouse to whom God joined  you (Matt. 19:4-6) is alive, the remarriage is adulterous (Luke 16:18;  Matt. 5:32). Ask the Lord to show you a way to be released from the  remarriage, and still honor any wholesome obligations you are bound to.  Once released from the remarriage, either continue single, or, be  reconciled to your covenant spouse if there is repentance and the spouse  is free. 

2. Having never been married before, or having no living covenant  spouse, you are now married to a divorcee who has a living spouse; your  marriage is adulterous (Luke 16:18; Matt. 5:32). Ask the Lord to show  you a way to be released from marriage, and still honor any wholesome  obligations you are bound to. Once released from the marriage, if you  wish to be married again, make sure you are entering into a covenant  relationship for life. 

Does not Deut. 24:1-4 prohibit a remarried woman from returning  to her former husband? Yes, according to Deut. 24:1-4, whether the  spouse of the remarriage is alive or dead, a remarried woman was  forbidden to return to her covenant spouse. Some today use this to  justify existing remarriage. Concerning this let us note: 1. The second  marriage, according to Christ’s words, would be adulterous in the New  Covenant (Matt. 5:32; Luke 16:18). 2. The second marriage “defiled”  (Deut. 24:4) the woman; in the New Covenant Christ’s blood cleanses  the defilement if there is repentance. 3. The teaching given by Jesus in  the Gospel is the final word. 4. Therefore the “Counsel Concerning  Remarriage” given above applies. 

Are we not just human? How can we aspire to these principles? Our  Lord said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Satan  deceives by making God’s standards seem too hard or he introduces a  clever explanation to corrupt God’s Word. It is true that the way of  obedience is the way of the Cross. It is, nevertheless, the way of grace,  the way of faith, and the way of eternal glory. But we do not make any  standards for ourselves, nor for others. God is the only Lawgiver. He  also gives us grace to do what He has ordained for our good.  God is love. He made us, and He made the laws of life. Though we are  human, we do receive God’s life in us the moment we are born again. God gives us grace for what He commands. Also, by teaching these  truths to our children, we might spare them from much sorrow in the  future. 

“The Foolishness of God is Wiser Than Men” (1 Cor. 1:25)  The following is quoted from “The Biblical Doctrine of Marriage”,  Donald G. Miller:  “The Biblical view of Christian marriage, then, is that it is the  union between one man and one woman, through whose union  each finds himself in a new realization of being, created by God,  which can be broken only by the death of one or the other partner.  It is the unique function of the Church, both in its teaching and its  practice, to bear witness to this. It will be folly to the world,  whose standards are controlled by convenience, custom, desire,  and other motives. But it is not a new thing that ‘the foolishness  of God is wiser than men.’ ” (“The Biblical Doctrine of  Marriage”, Donald G. Miller, pg. 12, 1976 Ed.) 

In marriage God joins the spouses in a lifelong union of covenant love;  the two become one flesh. This “oneness” endures until the death of one  spouse. This oneness is harmed – not undone – by unfaithfulness on the  part of one spouse or both. The oneness endures even through  unfaithfulness, even through divorce, even through remarriage, until  death. This truth brings godly fear in our hearts, and the spouses remain  faithful in covenant love to each other and to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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