No Christian should be trying to find wiggle room in God’s commandments, yet we see that in many areas. We should love God’s law. By definition, a person looking for wiggle room hates God’s law and is trying to find a way around it. His desires are opposed to God’s desires.
One area where we see this is divorce. In an effort to wiggle around God’s law, people started by ignoring what God and Jesus said about it, then misunderstanding what Paul said they introduced a hole called “abandonment”. Somehow this abandonment became a general escape clause for all Christians. Now, using Paul’s short sentence “God has called us to peace”, I see a new stretch on that called “psychological abandonment.”
So, where God and Jesus were perfectly clear, now some allow divorce for any reason. We find ourselves no different from the Jews of Jesus’ time who asked if divorce was allowed for any reason.
It’s amazing how we stretch God’s word out of shape. Why are we not more concerned that we might offend God than that we would offend our desires?
God’s point of view?
Malachi 2:16 “‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel”
God teaches by example. After all the times that Israel rejected him and turned away from him he never divorced her. Even though Israel killed her husband (Jesus) and thus destroyed the covenant between them, God intends to fulfill all the promises he
made to her while in that covenant.
How then can marriage end?
Paul talks about one way.
Or do you not know, my brethren, for I speak to those who know the Written Law, that the Written Law has authority over a man as long as he lives, 2 as a woman is bound by the law to her lord as long as he lives? But if her husband is dead, she has been freed from the Written Law of her husband. 3 But if while her lord lives, she shall leave for another man, she becomes an adulteress to him, but if her lord should die, she has been freed from the Written Law, and she is not an adulteress if another man should have her. (Romans 7:1-3)
Another way to end a marriage is when one spouse cheats on the other. Even so, divorce is not required. Instead God wants every effort to be made to work it out.
If they need to separate, that is OK, but they remain married and any sexual activity would be adultery.
Jesus talks about it this way.
The Pharisees came to him and they were testing him, and they were saying, “Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” 4 But he answered and said to them, “Have you not read that he who made from the beginning, made them male and female?” 5 And he said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife and the two of them shall be one flesh. 6 Therefore they were not two, but one flesh. The things therefore that God has united let not a man separate.” 7 They were saying to him, “Why therefore did Moses command to give a writing of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, confronting the callousness of your heart, let you divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” 9 But I say to you, “Whoever divorces his wife apart from adultery and will take another, commits adultery, and whoever will take her who is divorced commits adultery.” 10 His disciples were saying to him, “If the accusations are thus between a man and a wife, it is not expedient to take a wife.” 11 But he said to them, “Not every man can receive this saying, except he to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born so from their
mother’s womb and there are eunuchs who became eunuchs by men and there are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever can receive it let him receive it.” (Matthew 19:3-12)
- Verse 3 – “for any cause”, they are asking about the breadth of Moses’ law
- Verse 4 – “made them male and female”, male and female were made to be together
- Verse 6 – “the two of them shall be one flesh”, together they become one being in the sight of God. Therefore he sees divorce as ripping apart one person to try to make two.
- Verse 6 – “God has united”, God is the one who unites the two into one
- Verse 6 – “let not a man separate”, neither a spouse nor a third party may separate the unity
- Verse 8 – “the callousness of your heart”, Moses allowed those who would not accept God’s instruction to divorce for the sake of the community.
- Verse 8 – “Moses let you divorce your wives”, still not acceptable to God, like laws of man allowing divorce.
- Verse 8, 9 – “Moses let” “But I say”, I, Jesus, God was never over-ruled by Moses. Jesus is speaking to Jews here, not
- Verse 9 – “apart from adultery”, adultery is the only exception
- Verse 9 – “commits adultery”, if a person divorces (except due to ongoing adultery) and marries again, the new marriage is an ongoing act of adultery for as long as it lasts
- Verse 9 – “If the accusations are thus between a man and a wife, it is not expedient to take a wife”
- Expedient: convenient and practical, although possibly improper or immoral
- It would be morally unwise to take a wife in this situation
- Verse 12 – “There are Eunuchs”
- Eunuch: sexually inactive person
- In summary, some people are born sexually inactive, some are made sexually inactive, and some make themselves sexually inactive that they might be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’ point here is that a couple who have split must be sexually inactive.
- Paul says the same thing as Jesus but in a shorter form in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 “But those who have wives, I command, not I but my Lord: A wife should not depart from her husband. 11 And if she does depart, let her remain without a husband or let her be reconciled to her husband and let not a man forsake his wife.
If the couple are Christians living the Christian life they will not cheat on the other. If that should happen repentance and forgiveness should heal the relationship. It would only be when a spouse continues to cheat that divorce would be acceptable.
Most of the sins we commit are acts which we regret, repent of, and do our best not to repeat. It’s important to understand that the verses above describe a situation which is permanently unacceptable to God. No amount of asking forgiveness will correct the problem.
Repentance means to turn away from the wrongs you have been doing. How can that be done when every sexual act of the illegitimate marriage is a sin (adultery) and there is no intention of stopping that.
To one who is truly repentant, the only solution is to end that situation, the marriage.
The Israelites found themselves in that situation.
Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. 11 Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (Ezra 10:10-11)
Among the sons of the priests who had married foreign wives were found of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib and Gedaliah. 19 They pledged to put away their wives (Ezra 10:18-19)
The expression “put their wives away” means that they continued to care for them as though they were wives but there were no longer any sexual relations between them.
The third way
The third way is where we are going to spend some time. This is the kind that has become the source of the “abandonment” doctrine.
The verses come from 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul is talking about a very special case, when one spouse becomes a believer and the other is not.
Remember that we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. So Paul is not talking about a believer who married an unbeliever. Paul would have been against that marriage.
Paul is talking about two unbelievers who married and now one of them has become a believer. They are now unequally yoked. Yet that isn’t the reason Paul says the marriage can be ended. First we’ll look at those verses.
I am saying, not my Lord, if there is a brother who has a wife who is an unbeliever and she is willing to stay with him, let him not leave her. 13 And whichever wife has a husband who is not a believer, and he is willing to stay with her, let her not leave her husband. 14 That man who is an unbeliever is sanctified by the wife who believes, and that woman who is not a believer is sanctified by the husband who believes, otherwise their children are defiled, but now they are pure. 15 But if he who does not believe separates, let him separate. A brother or sister is not in bondage in such cases. God has called us to peace. 16 For what do you know, woman, if you will save your husband, or you, man, if you will save your wife? 17 But as the Lord Yahweh distributes to each man, howsoever God calls him, let each man walk; and so I command all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:12)
- Verse 12 – “willing to stay” “[do] not leave”, see Verse 17 below
- Verse 14 – “an unbeliever is sanctified by the [spouse] who believes”, an unbeliever is made holy (purified, separate) by marriage to a believer. The children from such a union are pure.
- Verse 15 – “if he who does not believe separates, let him separate”, this is not a divorce, you became a new creation when you accepted Jesus, you died, old things passed away, the marriage was broken by death. This teaching comes out of Judaism, which Paul knew well. Proselytes who became Jews became new men. Where Christians understand that as only a figurative expression, the Jews understand it more literally. As a new person you were no longer bound to commitments you had made and, in fact were not even a member of your own family. Those relationships could be re-established but now as a new person.
- Verse 16 – “what do you know [perhaps] you will save your [spouse]”, the life you live and the love you show may bring spouse to Jesus.
- Verse 17 – “howsoever God calls him, let each man walk”, whatever situation you find yourself in your new life in the Messiah, do not be in a hurry to leave it, (commitments, contracts, loans, associations, slave (1 Cor. 7:20-24), etc.)
Paul’s reason is that as a Christian becomes a new person all the old bonds are broken. Therefore this is a general teaching, not just for marriage. But Paul tempers that by saying, stay in your situation, at least for a while. In the case of marriage stay in the marriage unless your spouse will not accept you because you have become a Christian.
From a more general perspective, I don’t believe Paul would accept a new Christian who decided he was no longer bound to make payments on the mortgage. Certainly society will not accept that either. So there are practical realities to being a new man.
So when Paul says “God has called us to peace” he is saying that exercising your freedom as a new man may be necessary for you to have peace.
In summary, this special teaching only applies to
- A couple who were unbelievers when they were married, and
- one of them has become a believer, and
- the other will not accept the believer because of the beliefs
This is not a general “abandonment” clause that all Christians can use.