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.
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.
Other Lessons in Christian Family
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Introduction
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson 1
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson 2
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson 3
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson -- 5
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson -- 6
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson -- 7
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson -- 8
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Lesson -- 9
- Christian Family, Free Online Correspondence Course Historical Notes
- Christian Family, Free Course, Tests